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.