Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Digital Man Yearning For Film

I am hard-core digital. I love digital photography and would always choose it over film. There are disadvantaged to digital, but they are vastly outweighed by the advantages. The big one is digital frees you to take photo after photo. Willy-nilly. Want to take 5,000 photos in a day? No problem. All you need are a few memory cards. Trying to do the same thing back with film was absolutely impossible.

But there is a quality to high-end film that digital has not yet matched, and even I have to admit that. It's strange. It's something that is difficult to, but somehow still can be, communicated over a computer monitor. Pictures taken with, say, Ilfochrome project a tonality and color gradation that even the best digital cameras have not yet matched. This is most blatantly visible in the gradations of rich colors into black, like green leaves in shadow. I can only assume that it is some fundamental limitation of the Bayer interpolation process that cameras use to deduce colors.

Every time I'm shown a high-end print from someone's medium format or 35mm camera, I wish that there was a reason aside from personal, hobbyist satisfaction to using them. I can't be a photographer in this high-speed world with film, and I sure as hell won't feed myself as an are-teest by taking purrty pictures. But film does have an aesthetic appeal. I'm sure that digital will eventually match film, but for now, I still kinda' wish that I had the time and the money to play around with film.

Friday, February 18, 2011

What I Want to See From Micro Four Thirds

I have fully embraced Micro Four Thirds. I have four lenses, along with one standard Four Thirds, and two bodies. It has quickly, albeit not completely, replaced my APS-C camera. This is what I, as an enthusiast consumer with a fair amount of disposable income, would like to see in upcoming products.

As far as lenses go, things are already looking incredible. Zeiss and Sigma both just signed on to the format, and they're likely to simply adapt their larger lenses at first. This means large, but high quality. I have all of the cheap lenses that I could want, and super-large, pro lenses aren't very appealing, so what I want are mid-priced ($1000), mid-sized prime lenses like Panasonic's Four Thirds 25mm Leica lens. These aren't so big as to be silly, but are large enough to eliminate many of the shortcomings of pancake style lenses. I figure that Olympus will be releasing versions of their pro Four Thirds lenses some time in the future, so if I do want pro, it'll likely be there, and the 12-60mm lens they produce is a good example of what I'm looking for in general. Also, Olympus' 50-200mm zoom lens is a good example of the upper-limit of size that I, and I think most m4/3's buyers, would consider.

A next generation sensor is a sure thing, since that's just the way the market evolves. Instead, I'd be very interested in different types of sensors. Be it sizes similar to Panasonic's multi-aspect sensor in the GH1/2, or maybe one from Kodak or Foveon. With no legacy hardware or market, the sky is the limit. I do not want to see conservative movements. Canon and Nikon give us enough of that, already.

I differ from most other bloggers in that I don't care if they make a weather-sealed body. None of the lenses are weather-sealed, and aiming m4/3's at such a pro market seems unlikely to meet with success. Pros spending that kind of bread aren't going to be willing to sacrifice the power of larger sensors in the quest for lighter bodies. This always seemed like the obvious reason that Four Thirds never took off in that market, even with Olympus' excellent pro lenses.

What I would like to see is a compact body with pro-level features, specifically Compact Flash. A jog dial would be nice, as well. Because once you've had a jog dial on the back of a camera, you never go back. I don't give a crap about an articulating screen, give me that dial! In fact, the Olympus E-5 would have been great if they hadn't left out a jog dial and priced the thing clear out of the solar system. Or, even better, the upcoming Fuji X100. Remove the lens from that camera and you'd be sitting at about $1000, and it's got everything I could want save for Compact Flash.

I would say that I would like to see a direct competitor to the X100, as in a point-and-shoot with a 4/3's sensor, but after holding the Panasonic GF2, I have changed my mind. When combined with the 20mm or 25mm pancake, that camera is so comically small in the hands that it basically counts as a compact.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

New Pentax and Nikon Mirrorless Cameras

The rumormill turns ever-onward. Apparently, both Nikon and Pentax's upcoming mirrorless camera systems will use very small sensors. Point-and-shoot small. If this is true, it's an interesting perspective on the market, because there is only one way to read this. Basically, Nikon and Pentax are saying that the real money is to be made in super-cheap interchangeable lenses. Olympus, in its marketing incompetence, seems to be bumbling in that direction, seeing as all of the m4/3's lenses that they have available are all aimed at the mid-to-low end.

Perhaps of greatest importance is that it seems to indicate a desire to avoid cannibalizing sales of their own SLR cameras. I've talked about how we should avoid buying Canon and Nikon because they don't want to take risks. Well, this is an example of them not taking a risk. They have their established SLR cameras, with which they command 40% of the market, and instead of competing with themselves to better future-proof their market share, they're content with letting Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, and Samsung try to dethrone them.

Still, even though I think it's an idea born of a desire to not compete with themselves, as opposed to blazing a new trail, this holds some interesting promise. First, we must change our perspective when looking at cameras. I come from an enthusiast/pro perspective, as such, seeing lenses for m4/3's that cost $300-$500, I think "what a deal!" But if I put myself in the shoes of someone coming from any other perspective, paying as much for a single lens as it costs to buy an entire, high-quality, point-and-shoot camera is ridiculous! In this sense, Penkon stands a better chance of capturing sales from the club-shooting, Facebook crowd.

But even then, I find the whole idea of a super-small interchangeable lens system no more than a novelty. I think that Olympus and Panasonic were correct to target enthusiasts and not the club crowd, because they will always be interested in size and style over quality. No matter how small they make the lenses, a compact camera will be smaller. So who will buy this system? Buyers of current super-zooms? That seems like a lot of work to capture a very small part of the market. And if they think that there are super-zoom owners with enthusiast aspirations, why not just make better super-zooms? And doesn't Nikon already sort of make a camera for them in the P7000?

Fundamentally, Olympus and Panasonic created cameras that act as replacements for SLR cameras, Penkon want to create cameras that act as replacements for point-and-shoots. With small sensors, they can create lenses that are super-super-compact, and sell them for $100. While I would never consider buying one, and don't think that their target demographic would either, it will be interesting to see to what degree the market bites. It's quite a gamble.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Abandonment of the Old Guard

I think that it's high time that everyone abandon Nikon and Canon. The various other companies on the market are pushing the boundaries of design and technology to a much greater degree. They're taking more risks. They're doing more of everything. They're the underdogs and have the least to risk, but Canon and Nikon, who have essentially dominated the digital market since it became viable, obviously have so much to risk, they're unwilling to do so. This makes them lazy.

Olympus was the first one to take a risk with 4/3's; it failed. But Micro 4/3's is proving to be a new paradigm of sorts. It already has copycats from both Samsung and Sony, and Nikon will likely be the third when they, belatedly, announce their own compact mirrorless cameras this year. Lord knows what the hell Canon is doing. They've got some big-ass laurels, and they are taking a big nap on them.

Look at Sony. Always successful in the compact market, their share of the dslr pie is minuscule. Six percent, according to Wikipedia. That's the same as Olympus. Compare this to Nikon and Canon at forty percent each. I can only imagine that their share of the top-pro market is even smaller, where seemingly every lens you see on the sidelines of a football game is Canon. Pentax is even worse off than Sony. Considering the age of their brand, and how legendary their K1000 is among enthusiasts, the fact that their market share is below five percent is really kind of shocking. They have no significant presence in any market. But suddenly, here comes a resurgent Pentax, with the best APS-C camera on the market, the first sub-$10k medium format camera, and renewed interest in their own optics. We have Olympus and Panasonic with the m4/3's market and an entirely new paradigm. We have Sony with its translucent-mirror SLR's. Even Sigma is experimenting with the Foveon sensor! Truly, the only companies on the market that haven't done anything groundbreaking are the two leaders. I think that it's time to vote with our wallets.

What I am absolutely not doing is claiming that Nikon and Canon are making bad cameras. I have a Canon EOS 20D that awakened me to the possibilities of digital photography. I love it. Nikon has grown increasingly impressive since the release of the truly stellar D3; with the D3x variant being a camera that I've never had a chance to play around with *single tear*. If anything, within the boundaries of traditional cameras, Nikon and Canon undoubtedly are making the best hardware. Their ergonomics are excellent, their lens selections are unmatched, and their second-hand markets are enormous. What I'm saying is that their reluctance to move away from that traditional model is inhibiting advancement that is happening slowly, where it could be happening quickly. And they will have little incentive to change as long as they together hold over eighty percent of the market.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Useless Camera Reviews

I just read a review of the new Olympus XZ-1 enthusiast compact. Reviews for it are very positive, with everyone commenting on how the lens is truly a cut above every other compact on the market. Unfortunately, the ISO performance is a cut below all of the other high-end compacts.

What annoys me is how photo review sites gloss over negative aspects of cameras. As with the Olympus E-5, the refrain from the review sites was "it's a great camera, if only its price was a little lower." A little? Just say what you're thinking and we're all thinking, it's a great camera for $1,000. For $1,700 with no lens, it's terrible. A Hyundai Accent is a great car, unless they tried charging $50,000 for it, then it becomes terrible.

As it is with this new compact. They talk about how ISO 1600 is only borderline usable for Facebook-style sizes, and 3200-6400 are useless. But they always say "but don't worry about this, since you won't be using these ISO's much." Screw off! I and everyone I know would use every drop of ISO allowed us. At night, even a decently-lit room requires ISO-1600 to achieve acceptable shutter speeds. Stop glossing over glaring problems with products in an attempt to please sponsors!

Reviewers are essentially critics, and they're meant to be critical. Don't point out issues, then immediately backpedal. Don't tell us to not worry. Tell us the cold, hard truth about a product and let US decide whether we need to worry about an issue or not.


This equally applies to websites that simply never mention problems at all and just wax poetic about everything that they get their mits on. Cnet was REALLY bad in this regard. They used to employ a 1-10 scale, where 5 was average. You would then expect all product reviews to average together to, I dunno', five? You would expect that. And you would be wrong. They averaged together to somewhere between seven and eight. That means that they're either lying, or they're not doing real reviews. Cnet didn't help its credibility when, for years, they would list retailers rated at up to five stars. You would, again, expect that this meant that people had really great experiences with these sellers. Again, you'd be wrong. All the star rating meant was that the seller met certain criteria. It had nothing to do with quality. Included in their list of five-star sellers was an army of "Brooklyn Camera Shops."

Those shops are no longer listed. Cnet now has only top-flight, big brand sellers. But we're still talking about a website that, for quite some time, had no problems sending its readers to websites that were borderline frauds. That sort of thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Friday, February 4, 2011

On Nudity

I've never done any official nude work. I don't because I hate it. Every two-bit art student on the planet thinks that doing nude work is deep and meaningful. Fuck. Off.

I remember a few years back when I was doing research on the human form for cartoon drawing. I couldn't even count the number of "artistic" websites filled to overflowing with naked women in "artistic," yet somehow blatantly pr0nogfik poses and sets. Tellingly, all of them required membership fees. If you're paying a membership for access to a bunch of photos, it's porn. I'm sorry. You're jacking off to it, you're not admiring the artistic merits.

Don't get me wrong. I love porn. I have porn. I've watched porn. I even recognize that there is art in porn. What I do NOT do is try to rationalize or legitimize my enjoyment of porn by wrapping it up in faux-artistic pretensions. I even remember the very first time I was exposed to this clap-trap, in the form of the magazine Black + White These publications exist so self-important men can whack off and still feel superior to those who whack off to such lowly publications like Penthouse. Fuck. Off.

Say what it is. It's high-quality porn. That's all. Trying to say otherwise just makes you look like an ass.