Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sony Brings The Hurt

Sony's non-stop steamroller of innovation goes unabated. They have approved, apparently internally, production of a hybrid mount that will accept both E and A mount lenses. This unifies both the NEX and the Alpha systems in a way that neither Canon nor Nikon has done, even though it was an obvious advancement. Sony is playing for keeps.

This revelation has all but guaranteed that I will jump from Canon to Sony. While Canon's super telephoto lenses are amazing, their wide-angles are sub-par, and the 1DX has become, the more I think about it, a purely whelming camera. It is evolutionary in the blandest sense of the term. Sony is dancing around with revolutionary, and that's a lot more exciting.

Granted, I have a great deal of flexibility. I am not a working photographer. I earn very little money with my work. I think that if any of that were true, I would stick with Canon, but it is not. I am an enthusiast. My most expensive lens cost less than $2,000, and ergonomics and go-anywhere mobility is of great concern to me. Also of great concern is how flexible and dynamic my system going to be going into the future. In this regard, both Canon and Nikon have worked very hard to make sure that their systems are not flexible and dynamic.

That is why I jumped onto Micro 4/3 so early on. With two major companies behind it, I was expecting rapid and exciting development. Obviously, that has not happened, but it at least appeared that way in the beginning.

Even more exciting is what this development portends: a dual system of mirrorless and translucent mirror technology. This is fantastic. As I mentioned, I'm a bit underwhelmed by the sharpness and noise characteristics of their SLT cameras and would rather not have the mirror there. Ideally, they would give me the ability to simply move the mirror out of the way, but this is cool, too.

Thus, we have an incoming A-mount, Full Frame camera that will also accept E-lenses in a cropped mode. It's unknown if this will be a mirrorless camera. The optical characteristics of A-mount lenses seems to indicate that it must be, or it must have some internal corrective optics. What is known is that the design will skew toward the NEX style, which implies mirrorless.

Regardless, this is incredibly exciting news. It shows that, finally, a camera company has the balls to really shake up the market.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Thoughts On The Olympus E-7

Olympus has spoken rather candidly in a recent interview, indicating that all-new PEN cameras will be launched in 2012: not news. What was news, though, is that they indicated a successor to the E-5.

This is big news for anyone involved in the Olympus 4/3 system. Used Olympus lenses dropped in value after it became painfully apparent that the E-5 was a swansong of sorts, and the future for the company was Micro 4/3.

Many people thought that 4/3 was fundamentally flawed from the beginning. I am not one of them. There are significant disadvantages to a smaller sensor, certainly, but for many applications, the advantages balance the equation quite nicely.

Wildlife photography, for example. The 4/3 sensor doubles both the focal length and the depth of field for any given lens size/aperture setting of a full-frame camera. That is a HUGE benefit. I do not own any FF camera, but lenses I do possess quite a few. The few times that I have tried to shoot birds... photograph... photograph birds, I am always dismayed by the ISO and aperture that I must use to achieve similar shots on the larger sensor.

Combined with the fact that I consider Olympus' top-pro lenses to be the best lenses at their respective focal lengths, 4/3 always had an appeal.

As is seemingly always the case with Olympus, the problem was the sensor. The E-1, E-3, E-5, and the multitude of inbetween cameras were all pathetic in comparison to APS-C sensors. You might not always notice this in JPEG, but the differences are loud and clear when working with RAW.

Likewise, Olympus always seemed to position their E-x series in multiple worlds, as though they didn't know whether the cameras were for pros, enthusiasts, or consumers. Their top cameras are weather-sealed and are the only avenues into lenses that cost, in some cases, four times the camera, but are slow shooting, have control setups more in-line with consumer cameras, and have ridiculous "art" filters that are squarely aimed at casual shooters.

The successor to the E-5, the E-7 if their naming scheme holds, must reject everything Olympus has done and start over. Every element of the camera must be pro-level; size must be reduced in every area that doesn't affect controls and usability; camera processing must receive a massive upgrade; the sensor must be all-new and all-different (perhaps a 1:1 image ratio); everything that everyone else isn't doing, Olympus must do. If Olympus doesn't differentiate this camera, it will fail.

Olympus is already on the verge. If they release yet another limp-dicked product, they are doomed in the camera world. The level of corruption discovered by the recent accounting scandal only reveals that executives were, them all, brainless and incompetent fools, which is exactly the group that one would expect to have released Olympus' recent series of products.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

NEX-7 Gets REAL Review

DPReview, along with DxOMark, represents the best review site on the interpipes. They have finally produced a review of the system-making camera, the Sony NEX-7. Noise levels are about a half-stop higher than the Nikon D7000 or Pentax K5, but considering the amount of detail, I think that it is a worthy trade-off.

The most interesting factoid to come out of it is a small but noticeable difference in overall image sharpness compared to the A77 and A65. The lenses used are the same, which means that the slight sharpness drop is attributable to the translucent mirror. It's not a lot, but the noise difference was already enough to make me hesitate buying an Alpha. Adding a sharpness issue almost seals the deal completely.

That said, the A77 is still very good, but the NEX-7 is amazing. It is sharp as all get-out, has amazing color, and the noise floor is low. Moreover, the excitement being generated by this, and Sony's immediate release of a world-class prime lens in the form of the 24mm Zeiss F/1.8, indicates strongly that this is destined to be a large, vibrant system. It is the only system into which I feel even remotely safe investing. I think that there is enormous potential signaled by this camera.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Nikon D4 Vs. Canon EOS 1DX

Canon has officially announced its new C-Series cameras, along with a video-oriented SLR-style camera, and the EOS 1DX. Nikon's upcoming D4 has had some of its specs leaked, likely by Nikon itself. I'm not interested in determining which camera is better, since that's a pointless conversation, but instead what these cameras say about the underlying philosophies at their respective companies.

It's obvious that both companies understand the importance of video. Canon, probably because they have greater resources, have split off their video focus to an entirely new line. While Canon has touted the video performance of the 1DX, Nikon appears ready to completely leap-frog it. The D4 allows for a HDMI connection to external storage and a stream of uncompressed video. This seems like a minor decision, but I don't think that it is.

Canon has made the decision to leave out certain features from the 1DX. These features will likely be in the upcoming C-Series SLR, which is stupid. There is no reason why these features couldn't be put into any camera. The hardware is cheap. It's the desire to keep their cameras artificially delineated that motivated the decision. And it's that decision that gives me a window into the workings of Canon.

I have been a Canon fan for quite awhile. Their D-SLR cameras were easily the best for many years. That has changed in the last couple of years. Nikon matched and then surpassed them. Pentax and Sony were next. And now Fuji is surging. This should be the time that Canon throws everything it has into every camera that it makes.

Instead, we get artificial restrictions. Instead, we get Canon trying to push yet another system on people. These are not the behaviors of a company that is ready to deal with an increasingly dynamic, innovative market. It is the behavior of a company that is soon to be reduced to a bit-player by other companies who are willing to push boundaries.

I don't think that Nikon is much more willing to innovate, but this shows that they are at least somewhat. Mind you, I won't be caught dead buying into either Canon or Nikon, right now. The market is shaping up to be entering a stage of extreme upheaval, the likes of which we haven't seen since the shift from European companies to Japanese companies with the rise of autofocus. Yet Canon, more so than Nikon but not by much, is behaving as though things are staying more-or-less the same. When I see arrogance and laziness like that, I can't help but hope to see them fall flat on their face.

Friday, December 9, 2011

First Review Of The Panasonic X 45-175mm Lens

ePhotozine has posted a review of the new Panasonic 45-175mm X-series lens. It is not terribly worth mentioning --EPZ has terrible lens reviews; I don't know why they bother--- but a major review of this lens has been long awaited.

While the resolution charts are useless, the chromatic aberation charts are not, and the lens performs acceptably well on Panasonic bodies. Remember, these lenses all have automatic correct for this on Panasonic's bodies, so the real numbers are much higher. If the amount is near zero, that's fine, but at many lengths and apertures, the numbers are nowhere near it, meaning that the lens' actual, optical quality is very disappointing.

Unless another review produces some seriously good data, I'm not going anywhere near either X-series lens.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Phase One IQ180 Image Tests

Camera Labs has posted photo tests of the Phase One IQ180, the nine-million-dollar medium format digital camera that could resolve a golf ball on the surface of the moon. It's hard to really describe the power of these cameras. Just go check it out.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

First Review of The Sigma SD1 Posted, Still Garnering WTF's

It's one hell of a... something.
Photography Blog is the first out of the gate with the Sigma SD1, one of the most infamous cameras coming out of the pipes. A brief history, the SD1 uses a different kind of sensor from all other cameras. Most cameras have a red, green, and blue sub-pixel situated next to each other, all three of which are later interpolated into full-color pixels based on data from surrounding pixels.


The SD-1 has a red, green, and blue sub-pixel layered on top of one another. Thus, each pixel in the final image is a full-color pixel. This has a not-undeniable advantage of increased sharpness, since there is no interpolation to blur edges.

That said, the sensor seems to be at a distinct disadvantage in other ways, noise being foremost among them. Oddly, this new version of their sensor has low highlight dynamic range, according to the reviewer, which runs counter to the older sensor found in the DP2 which performed very well in highlight DR and only fell down in the shadow areas.

The single biggest problem with the sensor is that at sensitivities above ISO800, an odd color cast of greens and purples appears over the entire image. This was true of the old DP1 and 2, and it appears that they have been unable to eliminate the issue. Color saturation in general fell off of a cliff after ISO800, and that appears to be found equally on this larger sensor. Basically, color is more important than sharpness. That means that anything above ISO800 is useless.

This is very unfortunate. I wanted to like this camera. There are so many things about its concept that is appealing. Firstly, the file sizes are smaller for this camera than others. For someone who takes lots of pictures, file sizes are a major concern. It requires buckets of computing power to process the RAW files, and they start stretching into the gigabytes after a very short time.

With every pixel being made to display at maximum sharpness, photos are smaller and of superb quality. While I very much want a Sony NEX-7, the 24MP RAW files are not things to which I look forward. And if the Comparometer at Imaging Resource is any indication, the level of detail captured by 24MP appears to be identical to the amount captured by the Sigma. Granted, the RAW files from the Sigma can get pretty big, but the JPEGs never exceed 10MB.

Secondly, it's different! There are so few cameras out there that are truly different. The vast majority of them are using the same concepts, the same technologies, the same layouts, the same everything. This camera dares to be different. That's a great thing and is does present a certain value proposition.

That said, Sigma is balls-to-the-wall insane to charge as much as they are for this camera. I will make a bet with Sigma. I will give them $100 if they sell more than double-digits in any given market. I would honestly be surprised if they sold more than one hundred of these cameras in the entire world. Eight thousand dollars nears the Pentax 645D and it outperforms this camera in every conceivable way. No sane working or enthusiast photographer would ever buy this camera.

And as an aside, the review of the SD1 at Photography Blog almost destroys my confidence in the website entirely. This camera is a disaster. It does not meet its competitors in features, in performance, or in lens selection, yet they still give it four stars. Importantly, all of their test photographs seem to be designed to present as best an impression of this camera as possible.

There are no sample photos above ISO800, they don't mention the saturation issue, and the only images to exceed ISO800 are the "test" images, which are helpfully in almost entirely black & white, thus hiding the horrible saturation problem. Even here, though, one can see the blacks being clipped into oblivion and the total loss of color in the golden metal arms of the pocket watch.

They try their best to compare this to the "disappointing" ISO performance of the Nikon D3X, which exceeds comedy and enters a flat-out lie. The D3X is the number-4 camera of all time at DxOMark's website as regards ISO performance. They extol the virtues of the camera's weather-sealing, then try to rationalize the camera by calling it a "studio camera." Why would a studio camera need weather sealing? They also willfully ignore that the new Sony NEX-7 costs one-eighth as much but captures similar levels of detail, or that the Pentax 645D achieves significantly higher detail and is a true studio camera. This mealy-mouthed review conjures up every point it can in defense of the camera and actively hides points against it. It is a terrible review.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Big Reason For Staying With Micro 4/3

Obviously, I have made no bones about my dislike for the way Olympus and Panasonic are handling the Micro 4/3 system, but that doesn't mean that I am going to be selling out of the system just yet.

I pointed out how desperate the situation for them is when I said that the only reason for my staying with the system is not anything being done by those in the system, but by other companies. I want to buy into Sony's E-Mount, and possibly A-Mount, but I'm waiting on what Fuji may have in the pipes. I must admit, Pentax is also very interesting now that it has the financial backing of Ricoh, but it's Fuji that has my curiosity most peaked.

That was the negative, the positive is that Micro 4/3 still has the best entry-level video camera on the market: the Panasonic GH2. Almost everyone I know who is involved with online video production, or any video production that doesn't need to exceed 1080p, is using the GH2. It's penetration into the video market has been profound. As regards its significance, I consider it second only to the Canon 5D MarkII.

UNFORTUNATELY, this has nothing to do with Panasonic! The GH2 must be the most hacked digital camera on Earth. The enthusiast community that has developed around the GH2 is enormous and includes some of the most illustrious names in film production. Every software flub that Panasonic did, either by purposely crippling the camera or simply being stupid, has been corrected by the online community, providing video quality and resolution that is only bettered by the likes of ARRI and RED.

Combined with a growing lens collection that works wonders with film, I doubt that I will leave the Micro 4/3 system anytime soon. My amount of video production is only going up, and with the community around the GH2, it is simply to valuable to abandon. That said, this has nothing to do with Panasonic. It has everything to do with the things that Panasonic is not doing. That is bad. Canon did the same thing with the 5D Mark II. That camera was turned into the second coming of Christ by no action of Canon, but by all of the professionals who jumped all over what the 5D could do.

I expect Panasonic to actually have a part in making its market vibrant and viable. Having the core of your chosen system be a company that is either disinterested or incompetent is no system to be in. But, as it stands, it's the best system that there is.

A Girl Reading

From fō-tō-gră-fē Photographs

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Picasa, Color Space, and ProPhoto RGB

I have been wrangling with color profiles in Adobe Lightroom and Google Picasa for some time, and I hope that what I have discovered will help some people.

First off, if you are using Lightroom, or any major RAW editor if my information is correct, you will be working in the ProPhoto RGB colorspace. This is a very broad color space that is ideal for tweaking the colors of rich photos.

Before this became common, the most common was AdobeRGB, a color space that was created as a professional alternative to the sRGB color space that is the default of Windows and most other programs.

Unfortunately, not all programs play nicely with AdobeRGB, much less ProPhoto RGB. Picasa is one of them. I have found that a picture may look perfect in Lightroom, but like total crap in Picasa. It's because Picasa does not, apparently regardless of the color profile in which Windows is working, display ProPhoto correctly.

When displaying the images online, Picasa seems to be able to figure it out and provide correct photos, but not in the desktop software. This is doubly odd because Windows Photo Viewer seems perfectly capable of correctly displaying images that are in both the AdobeRGB and the ProPhoto RGB color spaces.

This is beyond annoying. I hate having to jump around in color spaces as opposed to using a single space from process to print. It also means that, when posting online, you have to specifically restrict your images to make sure that they display correctly in all of the most popular viewers, of which Picasa is certainly one.

I suppose that it's not the worst thing in the world, just make sure that whenever you are displaying images directly from Lightroom or ACR, encode them in the sRGB color space to ensure complete compatibility. But c'mon, Google! Even Microsoft managed to get it right, and they're idiots.

UPDATE: The color rendering problem also exists within Chrome. The following screen shot was taken of the same photo, on the same page of this blog. On the left, Firefox, on the right, Chrome. Seriously, Google, what the hell is going on?

A Latte Art Heart Swirl


From fō-tō-gră-fē Photographs

Friday, December 2, 2011

More Thoughts On The Canon G13

Canon has yet to announce the G13, but rumors of a fundamentally different camera have been bubbling for some time. Combined with a new statement that Canon has no interest in entering the small-sensored ILC market, and the unavoidable fervor created by both the Fuji X100 and X10, I think it highly likely that Canon is going to make a larger-sensored, fixed-lens camera of some sort.
The driving factor behind that determination is that Canon, as the largest imaging company on Earth, cannot and will not leave a market untouched. That said, they may be smart enough to realize what I and many others have: the compact ILC market is where enthusiasts who already own SLR cameras go for decreased size. The point-&-shoot crowd wants a camera with a button. They do not want a system. Nikon's V1 and J1, I suspect, sold so well because Nikon fans simply bought the newest Nikon to fill out their bag. Moreover, Canon's entry-level SLR cameras are already super-small. Simply paying some, any, attention to their EF-S lenses may be enough to keep their market happy.

As such, I find it reasonable to assume that something is in the works at Canon that will have a large sensor without an interchangeable lens. I doubt that they will go up to a full APS-C, not just because the optical design would be difficult, but because Canon is stupidly conservative and would not want to step on the toes of their low-end SLR cameras.

I also doubt that they will go with a sensor in the 4/3 range. While many people supposed that Nikon didn't choose that sensor size because it came too close to their SLR cameras, I think that they also wanted to avoid, for lack of a better term, legitimizing the sensors inside of Olympus and Panasonic cameras. Canon would have no issues having a similar sensor size to Nikon, and as such, I think that the new G13 would have a 1"-ish sensor.

That is, of course, if the new G13 has this sensor. I feel confident that something like this is in development, but there is no guarantee that the G13 will be that camera. Canon might wait until next Christmas to put this camera out, and a G13 would likely come before that. They might launch a new line aimed at enthusiasts similar to the X100. They may also announce the camera at Photokina and then just not release it until November. All of these options seem feasible.

All I know is that Canon better act soon. The P&S to own is currently made by Fuji, and if Fuji can use that as a bridge to get people into their upcoming ILC system, Canon could see noticeable market erosion in the high-end P&S arena.

Now is the lack of a mirrorless camera a bad idea? That's an entirely different post.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sony NEX-7 Gets DxO Stamp Of Approval

Yeah. It kicks ass.
DxOMark, one of the most standardized camera testing methods available, has tested the sensor in the new NEX-7 and has returned exactly what most industry observers expected: significantly better ISO performance than the A77 and A65. Likewise, as was observed in earlier tests, the ISO performance lags behind current, 16MP Sony sensors such as those in the Nikon D7000 and the Pentax K5. Dynamic range in the older sensors was also slightly better in the Nikon, and significantly better in the Pentax. That has a great deal to do with the lack of an ISO50 or 80 option. One can expose to the right and then pull the image back in post to match this a bit, but the option would have been nice.

Regardless, 24MP. Let me repeat that, TWENTY-FOUR MEGAPIXELS, wedged onto an APS-C sensor, and it works near the top of its class in ever metric. This is a landmark sensor, and that is saying a lot, since the previous generation of APS-C sensors, at 16MP, were fantastic.

Official Fuji X-S1 Photos Posted

Fuji X-S1 Demo Photo: Dark Forest
Fuji has posted a series of official demo photos for the new X-S1, and it's looking... good? I chose the above image to post because it shows off the resolution of the lens at more moderate zoom, which is what most people will be using. It's adequate, but not at all impressive. As you can see from the downsized version above, the resolution is quite good at Facebook-level, but will Facebook people be buying this camera?

Most impressive is the extreme end of the zoom, seen in the photo of the lion. With an over 600mm equivalent, it is very sharp. If you want compact, extreme zoom, this is a good choice.

Fuji X-S1 Demo Photo: Lion
The rest of the zoom range, though, is whelming. And that's a problem. The images need to be much more than whelming to make the high price of Fuji's new little darling make sense. Is it good? Yes. But the price for good tops out at $500. At $800, this camera needed to produce great, which it didn't.

Obviously, I await the tests to come. The sensor performs as one would expect after seeing the X10, which is very good. Noise levels are noticeable in the sky photos, but that's about it. I also hope that someone does a lens test. It will be interesting to see where the lens peaks.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Samsung NX200 Review Posted

Photography Blog has posted a review of the new Samsung NX200. I was not a big fan of the original NX100 and, apparently, few people were. It was not a big seller. I think that Samsung's half-hearted effort behind the system has something to do with that.

Samsung is one of the few companies that manufacturers its own sensors. Sony, Canon, and Panasonic are the others. Kodak previously made sensors, but they have since sold that unit. Samsung's sensors were a step behind everyone, a position that was made even worse with the release of Sony's phenomenal new generation. Noise characteristics, which should be better in APS-C size, were inferior to even Panasonic's GH2, and terribly so in comparison to Sony.

Samsung has completely alleviated that issue with their newest sensor. The NX200 is competitive. JPEG processing still appears to be bad, but the magic touch of good in-camera processing appears to be lost on everyone but Canon, Nikon, and Olympus. Noise characteristics are excellent, and dynamic range is very good. Importantly, the same low noise-floor that Sony managed with its APS-C sensors appears to have been partially cracked by Samsung as well, with very low shadow texture at low ISO.

Overall, image quality appears to be better on the NEX-5n, especially once ISO increases. The differences remain under a stop, though, as you can see from this DPReview studio comparison. The new 18-55mm kit lens also appears to be sharp and generally even across the frame. Some of their sample images show noticeable distortion, though.

All-in-all, a competitive camera at a decent price. I would still opt for a Sony, though, since their dedication to their system has been better demonstrated.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Full Canon S100 Review Posted

Camera Labs has posted a comprehensive review of the new Canon S100 and it's looking good.

Noise levels are slightly better, possibly compliments of the new sensor. Other than that, most of the changes are incremental and evolutionary. Moreover, most of the changes appear to be primarily in the software, which is an annoying practice. This is why I want a camera-as-platform. That way, you don't need to buy an entirely new camera just to get the new software. Instead, you download and install it. As it stands, it's a giant rip-off.

Truly, Canon has done very little to beef up the actual camera. They have expanded the zoom range of the camera slightly, from 28-105eq/mm to 24-120eq/mm, but that has come at the expense of quality. DPReview's camera comparison shows that the new lens is much softer than the old one, which wasn't exactly tack-sharp to begin with. This of course means that the extra two megapixels in the S100 provide nothing except for larger file sizes.

I wish that Canon had gone the route of Olympus and attached some better glass. The Olympus lens is so good that it outweighs a sensor that is a step behind almost every other sensor in the high-end compact market. Granted, the XZ-1 is a bit larger than the Canon, but they should have, at the very least, kept the lens as good as the previous-gen S95. Canon's JPEG processing remains good, so if you are in the market for a super-compact camera, this should certainly be on your short list. I would still take the Olympus XZ-1, though.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Great Article On Lens Variation

The owner of Lens Rentals, which has a great logo, has posted an enormously enlightening article over at DPReview. He discusses variation in lenses and cameras, revealing differences to a degree that I didn't know was possible. He argues that trying to find a "good" example of any given lens is pointless, but the fact that some of the lenses he shows have variation wide enough where the lowest-quality example is significantly below the highest-quality example.

The most important take-away for me is the realization that lens reviews, especially those where two lenses produce very similar results, must be taken with a grain of salt.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Requests Of Sony

Seeing as Panasonic and Olympus have no interest in following the desires of their most ardent fans, I am going to start listing, for Sony's use, all of the things that I need to make my transition from Micro 4/3 a more painless affair. This will be an updated post. So Sony, here we go...

Small (Quality) lenses: Obviously, I don't expect lenses with an equivalent focal lengths of the Panasonic 45-200mm in a similarly compact package, nor do I expect them to be as cheap, but getting as close to this as possible is critical. I hear tell that you are refocusing on a series of pancake lenses, which is fantastic. Pentax's pancakes are pretty good, but they frequently underwhelm in regards to resolution and especially contrast. Avoid these pitfalls and trust me, the enthusiasts will be willing to pay. Just look at the sales of the NEX-7. We are out there, and we have money. Every enthusiast has at least one lens that cost $1,000 or more. Make sure that a Sony badge is on that lens.

Completely Open Your Lens Standards: I have written extensively about how the future of the camera world goes to the first company that is willing to produce a platform camera. The second most disruptive thing would be for a major camera company to produce a completely open lens standard. Lens companies pile on, accessory makers pile on, the size of the system grows exponentially, and before you know it, one company owns the entire SLR market. The Four Thirds alliance tried this, but only half-heartedly, and the rest of the system was so borked that it never caught on. They then promptly dropped this entirely for Micro Four Thirds. Open both the E and A mounts completely. The future potential of this would eliminate most anyone's hesitation about buying into your system. Become the standard, Sony. Become the standard.

Another Adapter: Anyone who has seen comparison shots between the NEX-7 and the A77 has seen the noticeable difference in noise characteristics. That translucent mirror is great tech, but some of us really don't want it, which is why we want the NEX-7 and not the A77. Release an adapter for A-Mount lenses that relies on contrast-detect autofocus. Yes, yes, it's very slow. I don't care. I want every drop of ISO performance possible out of the camera. It would also be a smaller adapter, which would be great. I could already use M-Mount lenses with a super-tiny adapter, so make my use, and thus purchase, of a full Sony kit all the easier. UPDATE: Yes, I'm aware that there is an A-to-E mount adapter, but it doesn't support autofocus. There's no reason why it can't. Olympus 4/3 lenses can autofocus on Micro 4/3 bodies, it is simply slow.

Be A Camera Company: Olympus is a camera company, but is incompetent, and possibly nearing bankruptcy. Panasonic is not a camera company and does not seem to want to even pretend. Pentax is too small to really shake the Earth (to be fair, they are doing just that in the medium format world). Fuji is showing great, great promise, but they have quite a ways to go. Canon and Nikon, together, own the industry, and as such are hyper conservative. Sony, you can be the camera company that the industry needs. Focus on the cameras. Push them hard. Make your own accessories for cinema, photography, and production. Create an entire system of innovative products that other companies either can't, or won't, make. Make your system exciting.

Photographic Cliches That I HATE

There are a number of conversational cliches in the world of photography. Many of them are just demonstrably wrong, like "Olympus Color," or "The Leica Look." A few others are taken as damn-near gospel, even to the most cynical photogs.

Sharpness doesn't matter: This cliche is trotted out most frequently by Leica people who are trying to justify their hilariously overpriced lenses.1 But that doesn't mean that others don't fall back to this old canard. Anyone who is trying to defend their system of choice, even when said system has some lens that positively sucks, will try to argue that sharpness doesn't matter. It's how the lens "feels," whatever the hell that means.

Sharpness does matter and everyone knows it. Pixel-peeping is also more than a geeky pastime. By analyzing the smallest elements of the image, we can provide a semi-quantitative measurement for the later, full impression of the image. Anyone who has ever dealt with medium or large format film knows that all of that extra detail, even when printed small, combines within the visual field to provide an impression of texture. Only after pixel-peeing does one understand what this texture is or from whence it comes, and it is entirely predicated on how fine the detail is. Sharp lenses make images pop.

And that is only the artistic element to the argument! There is a large, practical argument as well. A sharp lens that extracts the maximum of detail from an image renders an image that is flexible. I have greater freedom to crop and cut the final image while retaining detail and texture.

The camera doesn't matter: This is something that I have only ever heard from internet commenters who want to think that they know what they are talking about.

It goes like this: person A asks "I want the best images. Should I get camera X, Y, or Z?"

Person B immediately answers with "It doesn't matter what camera, it's the photographer!"

This piece of total nonsense not only fails to answer the question, it insults the asker! Two birds with one moron. Said moron is doing this to show off their photographic bona fides, such as they are, and convince everyone that their "art" is just so damned good that they don't even worry about the equipment. The statement is not only insulting, it's completely wrong. If it was true, pro-level cameras wouldn't exist. We would all use cheap point-&-shoots.

For many environments, you need a very expensive camera to get the best shots. Wildlife and bird photography requires a lens the size of Ron Jeremy's naughty bits. Great landscape photography requires a giant sensor with the dynamic range of John Barrymore. Great portrait photography requires a lens that has an aperture the size of a dinner plate. All of these features cost lots of money. It is NOT the photographer; it is a synergy of artist and tools. Both need to be present.

*Insert Product Name* Color: Again, this tripe is spouted by someone trying to defend their camera company of choice. A very common one is Olympus color. I think that this is because Olympus has some cachet to its name and sells cameras priced within reach of enthusiasts. They then have to explain why they would buy an overpriced camera with a sensor that is always two steps behind the competition.

There was a time when color actually meant something. Lenses can cast very distinct hues over images, and a photographer's choice of film had significant effects on the final color of the image. Today, color can be set to whatever the photographer wants in a post-production program like Lightroom. There is no such thing as "color," anymore.

Three Dimensions: AGAIN, this nonsense comes from someone trying to justify their choice of camera system. This one is so abstract, so subjective, and so impossible to quantify that I essentially never hear it from those in the hoi poloi world of Canon or Nikon. Usually, this comes from an enthusiast who has bitten the bullet and bought a medium format camera. They now need to justify this purchase against those who bought a Nikon D3X and an entire briefcase of Zeiss lenses for the cost of a single digital back from Leaf.

Generally, a sense of three-dimensionality in a two-dimensional image requires shallow depth of field. This allows lines of contrast of varying degree to fade in and out and thus provide the eye with reference to infer depth in space. The larger the sensor, the more blur, and, sometimes, the more gradual the blur. But this is heavily dependent on the lens and similar effects can be had from a Canon or Nikon.

But that's not enough for these people! No! To rationalize the purchase, they claim extra dimensionality even when the aperture is set small enough to put everything in the image in focus. I don't think that I have ever heard this nonsense from top-pro photographers. They have medium format because they need massive resolution for their overly-glossy spreads in GQ, or whatever they do. Point is, they buy this for no other reason than to earn money. As such, they don't need to justify it. They need resolution; resolution costs a lot. It is a simple equation.

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1: I don't mean to disparage Leica. I mean to disparage the people who like Leica. And not even all of them.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Canon S100 vs. Fuji X10 Posted

EPhotozine has posted a comparison of the new Canon S100 and Fuji X10. It is odd because it runs counter to most of the other reviews that I have read. While their final conclusion is that the X10 is better, the images out of the Canon are noticeably better. The tests aren't the best since all of the Fuji's images were taken at ISO 400, while the Canon's were all taken at or below ISO 160. On a small sensor, ISO400 is pretty tough.

We are also comparing Canon's JPEG processing, which is excellent, to Fuji's, which is indeterminate. For example, the Olympus XZ-1 has, far and away, the best lens on the compact market. But from the JPEGs, you would never know that.

Based on other info, I still think it a definite that the X10 is better, but the Canon musters a good show.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

New Fuji X-S1 Is Odd

Fuji is continuing their X nomenclature for their cameras, seemingly using the letter to separate their current cameras that don't suck from their older cameras that do. I'd argue that they should use a different damned letter, because EVERYONE EVER is using X.


But about this camera; it is the new X-S1. Fuji is calling it a bridge camera, which is a market segment that I've never really understood. I think that a bridge camera is like the V6 Mustang of the photographic world. It looks kinda' like a DSLR, but it doesn't cost as much and isn't as scary. Thus, it is the domain of poseurs.

That works totally fine when the prices are low. An expensive point-&-shoot has the advantage of a small size. Bridge cameras do not have that advantage, and as such must cost far less than a true SLR camera. For example, the #1 bridge camera on Amazon is the Canon SX40 (more X names), at $379. Next up is Nikon Coolpix P500 at $294.

Fuji's X10 is expensive, but compact. As are the Canon G12, Panasonic LX5, and Olympus XZ-1. At $600, the Fuji is, in my mind, undoubtedly as far as one can go in that category and still have a valid argument to make for one's product.

So what has Fuji done? They've made a bridge camera that is as big as an SLR but with the image quality of P&S. It has the same sensor as the newly released X10, so it will certainly have very good P&S image quality, but it will still be P&S. They are also charging $800 for it.

So, their plan is to make a camera for more money than the market will bear, for a greater size than makes sense? For $800, I could buy a Sony Alpha 580 and lens, a Nikon D5100, a Sony NEX-5n: I could go on. The point is, $800 opens a lot of doors.

The only rationale that appears to make sense is providing a camera in a comparatively compact package that provides an enormous focal-length while maintaining high image quality. Look at the Olympus XZ-1. Its lens is so excellent that compared to higher-end cameras with bad glass, images frequently look better on the XZ-1.

If Fuji can attach some really, truly fantastic glass in front of the sensor, that massive focal length range could provide a real selling point. That is a big "if" in my book, though. With a focal range of 24-626mm equivalent, even in front of a small sensor, a lens that delivers excellent quality will be difficult to design. And since there is no size benefit, whatever the camera provides, it must exceed what one can get from a Panasonic GF2 or Olympus E-PM1, which can be had with a 14-42mm lens for $300, and the Panasonic 45-200, which costs $260.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fuji X10 Gets Its First Real Review

Photography Blog has reviewed the new Fuji X10, and it's everything that we thought it was. It is easily the best compact camera on the market. The lens is very impressive in this review, which was the only element that had me worried. If the lens wasn't up to snuff, then the much-cheaper Olympus XZ-1 would have been a better choice. But no. Fuji nailed it. The lens appears as good as the Olympus.
Glorious, glorious dials.
They express the same concerns that others, myself included, have been expressing. Namely, the camera is quite bulky for a compact, and the price is stomach-turning. Aside from that, though, there is little to fault. The interface is simple and intuitive. There appear to be none of the baffling problems that plagued the X100.

As with the X100, image quality is exceptional. A bonus that I hadn't even noticed but they make a point to discuss is the excellent macro performance. A fun day at the flower house would be well within this camera's ken. RAW files reveal a sensor with excellent noise characteristics. I don't believe this sensor is a current-gen Sony, so much like the X100, Fuji has done great things with a slightly older sensor (You hear that, Olympus?!).

JPEG performance is a mixed bag. Color's looking pretty ho-hum out of the standard color curve, known as Provia. Other than that, the JPEGs show excellent color and detail retention up to ISO800-ish. Past that, detail loss is significant, but that's not really news. It's the fact that ISO800 is more than usable even on this small sensor that is worth noting.

This is a tough camera. At $600, it costs over $200 more than a Panasonic GF2/3 with lens. The sensor in the Panny is larger, but the lens is larger and it is nearly two stops slower. The only noticeable difference between the two cameras' images is noise, and the noise difference is a stop's worth at most. This means that in any given light environment, the Fuji would actually produce superior images. The same goes for the Olympus E-PM1. You could buy the exceptionally good Panasonic 20mm F/1.7, but then you lose the zoom capability. It's a tough choice with no right answer.

As a photography enthusiast, if the camera cost $100 less, I would have little qualms in buying it. For me, the deciding factor, considering that image quality is a wash, is the build. The build quality is excellent, it takes old plunger-style remote shutters, and has all of the manual controls one could want. It FEELS so great! But as it is, since I'm already so invested in Micro 4/3, there is little room for me to rationalize a very expensive, and needless for me, camera.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Olympus & Panasonic Releasing Lenses That They Should Have Released Two Years Ago

I am not secretive about my disdain for the way that Olympus and Panasonic have handled the Micro 4/3 format. I jumped on near the very beginning with a Panasonic GF-1, the 20mm, 7-14mm, 14-45mm, 45-200mm, bought a used Olympus 50-200mm, and felt sure that a torrent of enthusiast-level glass was on the way, considering all of the great lenses already being sold for 4/3. The Olympus 12-60mm is practically the only lens that I would ever need, if only the autofocus worked well on Micro 4/3.

But no. We are over three years into the existence of Micro 4/3, eight years into 4/3, and we still have a lens selection that's worse than even Sony's A-mount. One cool advantage, even in the face of this, was optical compatibility with essentially every lens made. But now, Sony's brilliant focus peaking has made their new NEX cameras the best choice for vintage lens fans.

I like vintage lenses and all, there is something distinctly personal about finding some long-forgotten optic, rigging up some adapter if one doesn't exist, focusing & setting aperture entirely by hand, and finally taking a shot that might not be tack sharp, but is entirely unique. This is great for some types of urban photography as well as landscape shots. All of that is great... but autofocus is the shit. There is a good reason why SLR's utterly dominated the previously esoteric, wild and wooly, cluttered world of photography. Autofocus is amazing.

A system is only as good as the autofocus of its lenses. If it's out of focus, it doesn't matter how sharp the elements are. That's why I don't own any Sigma lenses. The autofocus, be it for Nikon, Canon, Sony, or Pentax, is problematic at best for nearly every lens. I need to be able to jump from a landscape shot to a shot of a dog running through a dimly lit house and that lens needs to perform.

So what does Olympus do with its first Micro 4/3 camera, the E-P1? They make a camera with the shittiest autofocus this side of a point-&-shoot. And what do Olympus and Panasonic both do? They put out the same damned lens multiple times. And instead of confirming to enthusiasts that Micro 4/3 is a system worth giving a shit about, all of their lenses are aimed at the consumer crowd. The very same consumer crowd that doesn't give a rat's ass about Micro 4/3. Panasonic's 20mm is a gem, but other than that, the only lens that made people go "oh... wow!" was the 14-45mm... which they promptly replaced with the crappier 14-42mm.

Olympus was the most painful. Olympus' Zuiko lenses are amazing. They are, if not better than, as good as any lens made by any other company. I don't expect $3,000 top-pro lenses, nor do I want them. But the enthusiast-accessible 12-60mm, 50-200mm, and 50mm macro, should have been made available immediately.

Panasonic is finally releasing its two X-series lenses that won't be massive disappointments like the current two. A 12-35mm and 35-100mm will be announced later this year and then made generally available in the year 2076. I seriously doubt that they will have a constant aperture and will likely have a range of F/2.8 to F/3.5. Olympus is likewise releasing a lens in the 10-50mm range, possibly a micro 4/3 version of their venerable 12-60mm. It only took them over three years.

I don't know whether or not I should thank Panasonic and Olympus for dragging their feet. Because, if they had actually released all of those lenses at the beginning, I would have bought them. And then I would be seriously invested in a system that is being helmed by chimps. Then again, if they had released those lenses, that would have meant that the companies were actually being run by highly-intelligent chimps.

Then, we would not be facing a market where two companies have sold seventeen different cameras over three years, only three of which were fundamentally different from the other fourteen. At least Canon adds things to each generation. Olympus and Panasonic either took stuff away or simply called the camera a different name.

Rumors of the Panasonic GH3, or perhaps GX2, are leaking. The camera, whatever it is, will likely be weather sealed. I hope that under that seal is a an up-to-date sensor and no features that are crippled because Panasonic needs to protect sales of another camera.

C'mon Sony! Give me some better lenses for the NEX line! Give me a reason to leave!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Can A Cell Phone Replace A Camera?

Ars Technica has performed an acceptably complete comparison between an expensive compact camera, a Canon EOS 20D (my current APS-C camera), The Samsung Galaxy S II, the iPhone 4, and the iPhone 4S.


I have frequently discussed my love of the iPhone 4S's camera. It's a real wonder. It is leaps and bounds ahead of every other cell phone camera on the market and significantly better than all of the low-end P&S cameras that I have used. This comparison only confirms that.

As regards resolution, the Olympus XZ-1, with its superb lens, blows everyone else out of the water. The Canon would have made a better showing if they has used better glass, such as the 60mm macro. They bafflingly justified their choice of lens by saying "choosing a different lens, on the other hand, has its own series of trade offs." Yes, like better image quality. Regardless, overall, the iPhone 4S is only somewhat behind the Olympus in good light. Its rendering and lens are excellent.

But the question has never been whether the iPhone is better than a high-end P&S camera. Of course it isn't. The Olympus is still better in every way. The question was whether the iPhone 4S is better than cheap P&S cameras that are under $250. I think that the answer is most certainly yes. I wish that I had done comparisons when I had the chance, but you will have to take my word for it. If your current camera cost you less than $250 when new (not counting Chistmas discounts and the such), the iPhone 4S is better.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Treatise On Digital Noise

Noise measurements garner a great deal of flak on message boards across the interwebs. Much of this is directed at whatever website is doing the measuring by another website that doesn't have has many readers.

A website that receives more than its fair share of this flak is DPReview, which measures per-pixel noise in its charts as opposed to overall image noise. This means that camera with smaller photosites will usually have a disadvantage over cameras with larger ones, and cameras with higher pixel counts will lag behind competitors with fewer, even if overall noise is identical.

The only website of which I am aware that measures overall image noise is DxO Mark, but this has practical problems as well. I'm not sure why, but their measurements very frequently do not jibe with my everyday experiences with cameras. For example, I'm a Micro 4/3 fan, and they list the Panasonic GH2 as inferior to the GH1, even though every photo that I ever took confirmed that the GH2 was superior, or at the very least identical.

For many reasons, I fall on the side of DPReview. In much the same way that I argue pixel-peeping is actually a worthwhile endeavor, analyzing pixels as opposed to the image is important. The only reason that I will address today is low-light noise, which is frequently incorrectly analyzed when looking at an entire picture.

In a well-lit environment, where every pixel is exposed beyond the noise floor and thus each pixel has true data, an overall image analysis is very accurate. But the instant that light levels fall and the environment gets more challenging, pixels will start to fall below the noise floor. One large pixel when exposed to a poorly-lit environment is much less likely to fall below the noise floor than a smaller pixel. So even if you have four pixels, averaged together, they've all fallen below their noise floor, resulting in no actual data. I use images from DPReview to illustrate that they are correct in their method.


In the above images, we have the SLT A77, A55, and the NEX-7. According to DxOMark, and a recent article at an A77-defending/DPReview-attacking website, the A55 and the A77 should be identical, and that any difference is the fault of DPReview's analysis protocol. Look at the 100% patch of darkness at the top. The A77 is much noisier than either the A55 or the NEX-7. "Ohhhhhh", they will say, "that is at 100%! We must analyze the whole image!"

Ok. Fair enough. Again, DxOMark and this website say the A55 should be almost identical with the A77. Then why, even at the small size I am using for the actual article layout, is the A77 noticeably noisier? Look at the blue cast, the reduced reds and greens, and the overall loss of contrast. Click on the image to get the large version and the difference is even more obvious. DxOMark shows no difference. DPReview does. In the actual end result image, there is a difference. Not a small, kinda'-sorta' there difference, either. An obvious one, even at low-resolution.

This impression is only strengthened by appeal to DPR's Studio Comparison tool. At every ISO setting, even when controlling for variances in exposure, the A55 pulls more detail out of the dark areas. That means that DPReview is right, DxOMark is wrong, as is the website attacking DPReview.

It is in this environment that ISO becomes critical to good images, and it is in this environment where overall image analysis becomes less important than a quick check at pixel-level performance. Because why bother with an overall analysis when one can quickly analyze a small group of poorly-exposed pixels and immediately be aware of the sensor's characteristics?

DPReview is the lord of camera review sites for a reason. They get shit right. They may not be as scathing in some of their reviews as they should be, but the raw materials to make your own conclusion are uploaded at high-resolution, without stupid crops and page-after-page of self-congratulating talk about art and photography. That is the reason why they are far and away the #1 photography website on the planet. They have no pretenses. They review cameras. That's all.

All of that said, I think that since cameras are tools, a website should start reviewing them based on tasks completed. For example, to determine the quality of a sensor, a color chart should be placed on a wall with a very dim, white light. Then, don't just publish the images, publish what settings were required to successfully image that chart such that all of the colors were represented correctly. That lets the photographer know in how extreme of an environment the tool will still successfully function.

Oh, and I should add that I do not dislike DxOMark. In fact, it is my second favorite photography website behind DPReview. Its data is something that should be taken as part of a gestalt of data from it and other websites , but very few websites are as thorough, extensive, and expansive as DxO. Most of the time, my personal experiences jibe perfectly well with DxO, but that is compared to DPReview, where my personal experiences essentially always jibe with their work.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Some Political Garbage

From fō-tō-gră-fē Photographs

Production Samples of Fuji... X1000?

OMGOMGOMGZ!

Someone at Fuji, possibly Fuji itself, has leaked images of a pre-production X1000/X1, I'm not sure what to call it. Whatever the name, it is Fuji's ILC and it looks super-impressive. The images first popped up on that wonderfully leaky Chinese message board, Xitek. They appear to have been taken down since then, but they are now being hosted at Photobucket by 43Rumors.com.

My first thoughts are of concern. That camera looks very large. Fuji had already said that they wanted to leave APS-C for the X100 and move into something with greater image quality. Most people took this to mean full-frame, but then, Fuji said that they wanted even larger than that. This camera doesn't give us much insight into what may be inside, but I'm almost positive that it's bigger than APS-C. Comparing that image to one of the X100, it is quite a bit larger.
My second reason for concern is that Fuji was previously hanging out in the non-insane enthusiast market. The X100 cost $1,200. That is quite affordable for any camera lover. If they are going up to, or even past, full-frame for this new camera, how much will it cost? $1,500? $2,000? $3,000? That is a strange place, and somewhere Fuji does not want to be. With prices that high, the enthusiasts can't afford it, and the pros who could do not care about retro styling or the tactile feel of the camera. They care about efficiency, speed, and workflow.

I can scarcely wait to see what this camera is. The X100 was very impressive, and I hope that many of the mistakes that they made with that camera will act as a lesson for this new camera. I remain reticent, though. The price for this camera is going to be very high. Like, very high. Up in that territory, the competition vis-a-vis quality is much stiffer than in the lower-end. The Nikon D700, the Canon EOS 5D, and the incoming Sony FF cameras are all under $3,000. If Fuji can put out an even larger sensor for a similar price, they'll have something to sell, but if it is simply a retro-styled FF camera, they might have a hard time.

I guess that we will just have to wait. Oooooooh. I hate waiting.

First Fuji X10 Review Available

ePhotozine has posted the first review of the X10. Their impression is very similar to my by-proxy impressions of the camera. Namely, the camera is excellent, but the cost is quite high and difficult to rationalize.

The camera has many benefits, including shooting speed that blows away other compact cameras. Even using RAW, it manages 6fps for a 1-second burst, then still manages 1.4fps after that. JPEG is faster by 1fps, but who cares about that? Pfft. JPEG.

I would call this a killer app, except that I suspect that every compact camera in the next generation will have similar speeds. This feature has been further leapfrogged by the Nikon V1/J1, which can take photos at 4,345,716 fps. Although, if you wanna' talk about over-priced, the Nikon is even crazier than the Fuji.

I think that my previous statement covers how I feel. If they drop the price by $100, I will give it serious consideration. But currently, a $600 compact camera is just a bit too dear.

UPDATE:

ePhotozine wasn't really the first review. Luminous Landscape also posted a review a few days ago and reached similar conclusions. Still, he was highly impressed by everything about the camera. One point that he made that I forgot to mention about the X10/X100 was the dedicated RAW button. It makes NO sense at all. I spend all of my time in RAW and over the course of three days with the X100, never once touched that stupid button. I like the shutter dial. I don't mind that it is not user-assignable. But this button should have been useful for something.

Monday, November 14, 2011

New Fuji X10 Samples Gallery

DPReview, the lord of all photographic review websites, as uploaded a new samples gallery for the Fuji X10. They are all JPEG, and, at low-ISO, show an excellent amount of detail and color. As with other images, Fuji seems to be very even-handed with noise reduction, resulting in images that are a bit noisy even at base-ISO. Of course, this results in highly-textured images with all of the detail that the lens can muster, which is a good amount, but not as good as the Olympus XZ-1. Similarly, the image processing on the upcoming Canon S100 appears better. Both of these facts go a long way toward making the very high price of the X10 difficult to justify.

That said, the high-ISO performance is very good. It appears to be at least a stop better than the Olympus, and around half-a-stop better than the Canon. This noise difference is visible throughout the ISO range, but not to the degree seen above ISO-800. Much more importantly, though, is the color retention. Overall color performance and dynamic range appear to exceed the Canon.

These images are merely the teasers for a real photography enthusiast. It is the RAW images that I want to see. It is in those where we will see the camera's actual performance.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Completely New Canon G13?

The Canon G11 is basically an S90 with a better lens. The G12 is basically an S95 with a better lens. Will the G13 be an S100 with a better lens? Some signs are pointing to "no."

I don't buy it, yet. Canon and Nikon are both conservative to the point of myopia. I'm mentioning the new G13 because it is being mentioned right around the same time that I published my previous post about shifts in the compact camera market.

The only real interpretation of the rumors that makes sense is that Canon is planning a larger sensor. If true, this is interesting because it means that the executives at Canon were actually able to see past the fat in their heads and recognize the enormous excitement generated by the Fuji X100.

But the X100 isn't the only possible interpretation of that ideal. For a fixed-lens camera, the X100 is quite heavy and more-than-a-bit large. Obviously, there are many combinations between the now-outdated small sensors and the super-large APS-C. I think that Canon could produce a compact camera with a 4/3-type sensor, or, if they are worried about optical costs, use one closer to 1". All of these would have either cost or quality advantages.

Again, I am not sold on Canon having the balls to do this. It is very good business sense, seeing as the market is undergoing a violent shift (one needs only look at Flickr's camera finder, where the iPhone has been the #1 camera for nearly two years. And, as Flickr says in its details, cameraphones do not frequently record their identity in EXIF data, meaning that they are underrepresented). Unfortunately, whenever a company is in the leadership position, good business sense is not something to which they frequently subscribe.

I hope that Canon wows me. I hope that Canon makes a compact, pro-oriented camera with a HUGE sensor in it. I doubt that they will, but I hope.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Shifts In The Compact Camera Market

I have written a few times about my thoughts on an APS-H successor to Canon's EOS 7D. Basically, I think that the entire camera market is either already undergoing, or a short time away from, a flatline. Some companies are seeing growth, but this has come to the detriment of other companies. The overall market has been long-since off of the upward spiral that started with the emergence of consumer digital cameras in the late 1990's.

This isn't really a surprise. It happens with every major technological shift in photography. The last one before digital was autofocus, which hit the big time in the 1980's. People bought like crazy until pretty much everyone who wanted one had one, and the market flatlined. Camera companies are not stupid. They know the nature of their business. They have been trying their best to combat this inevitability with an almost hilarious level of tiny, incremental changes.

For example, my first camera was the Pentax K1000. I had the special edition with the brown grip. *Thumbs up!* This camera remained nearly unchanged for over two decades. Compare this to my first serious digital camera, the Canon EOS 20D. Since its release in 2004, it has been succeeded by the 30D, 40D, 50D, 7D, and 60D. Yes, megapixels have gone up, but the vast majority of the changes are quite minor.

The newest generation of sensors from Sony represent the first real technological development that really changes the way we can take photos. The ultra-low noise floor and incredible dynamic range positively blows the old sensors, like those in the entire line of Canon cameras, so far out of the water that they would need a plane to get back to the beach. So, basically, we had the EOS 20D in 2004, and the Nikon D7000 in 2011. The only reason for releasing a gazillion cameras in that time frame is to try and stave off market stagnation.

Well, it's here anyhow. The only ways that I see to move forward from here are to more strongly delineate the market, provide each segment with strong reasons for being in that segment, and develop different technological directions. The APS-H sensor in the semi-pro Canon cameras is only one element.

I think that compact cameras are going to move up-market. Canon and Nikon have had their little enthusiast cameras for some time, then Panasonic showed that the playground was big enough for three kids. Then Olympus came and showed them all that it's the lens that really matters. And now we have Fuji, charging even more than the other four with the largest sensor of them all.

Nikon has a fantastic sensor for this market. They should take the V1/J1's sensor and put it in a fixed-lens body. It's small enough to maintain good DOF, but large enough to beat the pants off of other compact cameras. Selling that camera for $500-600 should be easy.

Likewise, Panasonic should put a 4/3 sensor in the successor to the LX5, which I assume will be called the LX7. This has problems in that the lens will be bigger and slower, but wide-angle shots will be much easier and DOF will be more dramatic. This will also allow them to achieve GF3-like size without removing all of the dials and pro-oriented features that people actually want.

Instead of doing this, both companies are fucking around with ILC systems, thinking that enthusiasts want that. Nikon is positively insane to charge so much, but they won't listen to anyone right now since their system launched very well (That won't last). All the while, Panasonic released the GF1, 2, and 3 over the course of just eighteen months. Along the way, they removed features and lowered the price. Instead of increasing sales, as lower prices usually do, combined, the GF2 and GF3 haven't sold as many cameras as the GF1 did. Constant iteration without purpose or development and crappy cameras will not succeed in this brave new market.

The entire market is being pushed up. The iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S II both have amazing cameras. They are as good as, and frequently better than, any and all point-&-shoot cameras currently on the market. They are also the only cameras that act as platforms, allowing people to develop new abilities for the cameras. Hence we have Hipstamatic and its ilk.

This will kill low and mid-range cameras. There will be no cameras sold for less than $250 in the near future, and those that are will be Vivitar-branded pieces of crap sold on TV at 1:00am. This will also raise the public awareness of higher-end cameras and that market will likely grow. But for all intents and purposes, that market is at its technological peak. An engineer can only go so far with a tiny sensor.

Panasonic and Nikon are betting that the revolution will be in the form of ILC systems. This could not be more wrong. People upgrading to better cameras DO NOT WANT A SYSTEM. They want a fucking camera. They want to turn it on and press a button. To capture these people, make a fixed-lens camera of the utmost quality. Look at the Fuji X100. It's selling like hot cakes. Look at the excitement brewing over the X10.

The lens system makes a bit more sense vis-a-vis the enthusiast market... which is precisely the market that these companies are ignoring. Enthusiasts want quality, they want control, and they want quality. Did I mention control? Do not remove features. Even if the price is lowered as well, sales will drop. If increased sales are wanted, keep the camera identical and lower the price. Or do what camera companies have been frantically doing for six years: add little doo-dads every year and keep the price the same. Becuase ya'know how well that's turning out.

But back to the compact cameras. 1/1.7" is the new standard. Nikon shot straight to a 1" sensor, which would have been a HUGE deal if they had put it in a compact camera for $500. They didn't. They put it into a half-assed Micro 4/3 competitor for a minimum of $650, and that includes the crap lens.

Fuji's new X10 has a 1/1.5" sensor, which has already shown itself to have better noise characteristics than smaller sensors, but I don't think that it's enough to really whip the photography world into a tizzy. No, I think that Nikon's sensor stands the best chance of being the new standard for compact camera sensors in the future: 1" for compacts, APS-C for consumer, APS-H for enthusiast, and full-frame for pros. Large price differences between segments. Large differences in ability and quality. None of this crappy, quasi-differentiation designed specifically to confuse consumers and maybe milk a few more dollars from them.

Will it happen this way? Probably not. But with your average John or Jane Q. Public, who don't know jack about cameras nor do they care, consumed by the cameras on their cell phones, higher-end companies are left to deal with enthusiasts and pros. We do care. We do pixel-peep. We read reviews, talk to each other, write blogs, and are almost comically cynical. We do not make it a habit of falling for the shit that spews from marketing reps' mouths. We are photographers. And we are your new customers. You better get used to it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Fuji X10 Photo Tests (UPDATE)

We have a winner!
PhotographyBlog has posted test photos of the new Fuji X10. I quickly ran a comparison test between it and a few other compact cameras. First, it is hands down the best compact on the market as regards JPEG image quality. It is very light on noise reduction, resulting in images with a large amount of detail.

At low ISO, I saw little difference between it and the Nikon V1, but the V1 noticeably pulled away after ISO 400. Considering that the Nikon costs over 50% more, that's a good performance. In the X10's more direct competition, comparisons with the Nikon P7100, Canon G12, and Lumix LX5, again, had the new Fuji easily in the lead. The only compact with a lens anywhere near it was the Olympus XZ-1, which was much noisier.

Unless Fuji absolutely borks the menu system, I cannot imagine that this will not become the undisputed leader of compact cameras. It's beautiful, the image quality is the best in its class, in fact, the only problem is the high price. At $600, it is also the undisputed leader as regards cost.

I have some problems fully digesting that. It may be the best, but is being the best compact camera on the market really worth at least $100 more than any other camera. I'm not sure. That puts it squarely in entry-level APS-C and Micro 4/3 territory. Really, at that price, I doubt that I will pony up the required scratch, but if they drop the price by $100, my ability to rationalize my way around it may disappear. It looks that good.

UPDATE:

EPhotozine has also uploaded X10 comparison shots that are much more comprehensive than any other site thus far. They have provided full color cards of all available ISO settings and studio shots. These are all JPEGs which are of course a combination of actual sensor performance, lens performance, and image processing. We can infer performance of certain characteristics based on differences between the ISO settings, but as Sony has shown, if the image processing is crap, it's hard to pick out any hard data.

As regards ISO, the Fuji is the best. Not surprising considering its larger sensor, but the difference between it and the Olympus is huge. The Lumix LX-5 retains color very well but the noise is slamming detail by ISO 800. The same criticism holds for the Nikon P7100. The new Canon G12 does very well, nearly matching the noise characteristics of the Fuji. All of the cameras are usable up to ISO 400, with the Olympus falling away pretty quickly after that, the Lumix and Nikon are next, and the Canon and Fuji are very usable at ISO 800. None of the cameras seem to suffer posterization, instead opting to allow noise the simply degrade the image "naturally."

When the total packages are considered, though, the comparison gets a little tougher. I know that the Olympus has an amazing lens, but the JPEGs, even at low-ISO, frequently are so smeary that this fine detail is completely gone. The Canon has exceptionally high detail in the center of the frame, and its image processing is easily the best, but lens detail drops off noticeably in the corners. The Lumix is very even across the frame, but not the sharpest, nor is it the best processed. The Nikon has a good lens, is even across the frame, and has good processing, but anything past base ISO starts to get super-smeary. The Fuji, like the Lumix, is very even across the frame, but its noise reduction can get smeary at times. It seems to handle highlights better than the other cameras, which again is not too surprising considering the larger sensor.

These were all JPEG images, with some RAW from DPReview to help with my conclusion. The sensor benefits of the new camera make themselves known in shadows, highlights, and in overall ISO performance. The only other compact on the market that really compares is the Canon G12. The Olympus XZ-1 would be better, but its noise levels are just too high. Truly, it's the only camera in the market segment where the noise difference is large enough to notice without pixel-peeping.

What these new images reveal is a camera that will not be a slam-dunk, at least as far as JPEG production goes. To be fair, I never expected this. Every single one of these cameras does much better when they are unleashed by using RAW. The Olympus enters the realm of amazing, and the ISO performance capable from the Canon and Panasonic are impressive considering that the sensor is the size of a fingernail. It also further cements my opinion that for the Fuji to be a real contender, it will need to shed about $100. The Canon G12 is right behind the Fuji in every way, and costs over $150 less. And at low ISO, the lens on the Olympus is essentially perfect.

I would not consider the Nikon, and the Lumix is getting rather long-in-the-tooth, but both the Canon and Olympus are legitimate contenders, and both are much, much cheaper. I want the Fuji. I want it BAD. But I can't rationalize that cost.

A Watery Forest Scene. In A Forest. With Water.

From fō-tō-gră-fē Photographs

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Panasonic GX1 Soundly Disappoints (UPDATE)

Basically full information the Panasonic GX1 has leaked. Considering that excitement over this camera is very low, I'm guessing that this was a corporate sponsored "leak." (UPDATE: A full announcement has been made. My impressions are at the bottom of the post.)



This impression is further cemented by the fact that the video has yet to be taken down. If this is the case, Panasonic should be very worried. This video has been on YouTube for over twelve hours as of this writing and has fewer than 300 views (UPDATE: The video has since appeared on Gizmodo and Engadget and has rocketed up to 13,000 views). Not like this is a big shock. Absolutely nothing about the camera pushes boundaries. In fact, the camera doesn't even keep up with the proverbial Joneses. All of the hardware is years old. The sensor is over a year old, every feature from the touch screen to autofocus is two or even three years old. And, as with the ridiculous E-P3, these bits of technology were only competitive when they were released. Now, they are downright pathetic.

I am pissed off because Panasonic apparently thinks that this camera is a worthwhile replacement for the GF1, which the enthusiasts adored. It is not. If they sold this camera for less than $400, I would buy it. But no. Instead, they are insane enough to say that this camera will be worth $800. While I will happily admit that good photos do not require sharpness in the way that they require color and dynamic range, I love sharp lenses. It increases my flexibility to cut and crop which is very important for someone who photographs parties a great deal. That said, the wonderful lenses of Micro 4/3 are having an increasingly hard time offsetting the horrible cameras coming out of the pipe. The new Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 for Sony's NEX cameras shows that Sony cares, and I am not far away from making the jump.

UPDATE:

And she is official. Panasonic has announced the GX1 and the first images are hitting the interwebpipes. The in-camera image processing appears to have finally caught up with Olympus, so that's a plus. Saturation retention is also good. I can't make any assessments about dynamic range or overall color since that can only be determined in post. Other than that, detail drop off after ISO 800 is severe, and much like the GF1 that I so love, I would never want to venture past ISO 1000.

Panasonic has made much ado about nothing. I do not want this camera. No one I know wants this camera. Interviews with Panasonic representatives have them talking about an NEX-7 style camera, while the NEX-7 is already on the market. Panasonic's PR representatives lines of bullshit did nothing but make me angrier. Not as angry as when Olympus released the E-5, thus confirming to all 4/3 users that the system is dead, but still quite angry.

The second issue with the philosophy of the camera is that it is SMALLER! No, no, nononono! The GF1 was perfectly sized. It was just small enough to be small, while still being large enough to not feel stupid with big lenses or be unwieldy. Insanity, it is.

This new X-Series of cameras supposedly represents the "pro" stuff Panasonic has to offer. If this is truly the best that they can do, we are about one year away from Panasonic and Olympus being essentially reduced to bit-players in the market that they created. The GX1 was ostensibly the release of a new camera, but it was actually the trumpet announcing the arrival of the new king, Sony.

A Twig In A Stream

From fō-tō-gră-fē Photographs

The Wonder Of Ten Thousand Dollars

I don't usually talk about video hardware on this site because, well, look at the name. But the release of Canon's C300 and then, almost immediately afterward, down the street, RED launching the long-anticipated Scarlet, has made me interested. The C300 is a bit over my magic $10k barrier, but I wouldn't expect it to be there for long, what with Scarlet being all like "I don't give a damn." Or maybe that was Rhett, but it doesn't matter. Rhett didn't know shit about photography.

The amount of photographic and video hardware to make your eyes melt has been increasing as the prices have been going down. Undoubtedly because as the prices go down, the market size increases. In this venerable bracket we now have the Pentax 645d, a RED, a Canon, the Nikon D3X successor, and under that we have the new Canon 1D-X, the Panasonic AF-100, and lord knows what wonders Sony is going to release in the coming months. Being a high-end enthusiast has become incredibly exciting in a very short time.

I suppose that we have the Canon 5D to thank for this. Without it, the explosion of interest for video in the lower price brackets would have taken much longer to develop. And as the RED/Canon meeting has shown, the high-end will come down, and the low-end will go up, and where ever they meet, cool shit will undoubtedly result. That meeting place appears to be at around $10,000.

When the Pentax 645d came out, I was sure that I would own one within a year or two. With these developments, my money might very well end up somewhere else. Best Picture, here I come!

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Fall Tree

This photo was taken with a Panasonic GF1 with and the Panasonic 45-200mm lens. It's a great lens as far as resolving ability, but has big problems with contrast. You have to stop down to F8 or smaller to really get good contrast across the frame. The lens is so good, though, that the limitations of the sensor are all the more glaring. Again, it's such a tough situation to be in. I love the lenses, but hate the sensors. With APS-C, I love the sensors, hate the lenses.

From fō-tō-gră-fē Photographs

The Death of Marketing

I was reading a recent rumor on the upcoming Panasonic GX1 and it got me thinking, as sometimes happens. Panasonic is obviously leaking this information to the enthusiast websites and has used a very special set of code words that seem to be increasing in popularity in the camera world "excellent-looking JPEG images."

This has become code for "it looks identical to your old camera and you really have no reason to buy." Truly, I feel bad for these marketing wonks. They're trying their best with a piece of hardware that would underwhelm just about anyone. And since they are lying, this means that they know that what they are lying about is important enough to lie about. Therefore, by process of elimination and the distributive property, we can assume that the people who don't know that it is important are the people running the company. Helloooo Olympus!

What the title of this post means is that, with the advent of the internet, marketing to the hard core has died. It no longer works. Obviously, pretty pictures and fancy slogans will always work for the general populace, but for those who are truly dedicated to the market, marketing no longer works. The enthusiasts see right through everything that is said. Even if a new enthusiast is fooled, they are only ever fooled once.

I think that this is one of the big reasons why Apple has done so well. They have NEVER, not once, tried to fool their core market. They have always been honest if secretive. And they have been this way since the very beginning, so I don't find it at all surprising that they built up a small but intensely loyal following throughout the 1980's and 90's.

Obviously, marketing is still important, but if a company is always honest with their core, the company will always have cheerleaders. To use Apple again, how many websites are out there which are dedicated exclusively to Apple gear? I think that countless is a good word. Now try to count the number of websites dedicated to Microsoft, Panasonic, Toshiba, Lenovo, Olympus, Samsung, and their ilk. You might, might, need your toes.

Moreover, if a company is always honest, the marketers' job is much easier. They can focus on image, personality, and the true characteristics of the products without having to try to cover up the problems. Because even when they do, we the enthusiasts see through them as though they were made of glass.