Thursday, June 30, 2011


From fō-tō-gră-fē

Olympus Does Right

In my recent Olympus hate-fest, I forgot to mention where Oly has gone super-right: their new lenses.

The new 12mm f2 lens looks scrumptious, and the 45mm f1.8 looks like an excellent companion to the Panasonic 20mm f1.7. The most interesting test from my perspective will be comparing the 45mm to Leica/Panasonic's 45mm f2.8, which was overpriced and unimpressive. The 45mm lens does suffer from a lack of stabilization, because Oly uses an in-camera method, but with a 35mm-equivalent of 90mm, and a fast aperture, stabilization will likely not be much of an issue.

The sharpness of the new Olympus 40-150mm lenses is also rather important, but I have doubts. If these lenses underperform in comparison to Panasonic's offerings, which include an upcoming 12-50mm f2.8, serious photogs in the 4/3's market will need to own a hodge-podge of Olympus and Panasonic gear, which only generally work well together.

The Panasonic 7-14mm is better than Oly's 9-18mm. Oly's 12mm will likely be amazing and much better than Panasonic's 14mm, but Panasonic's 14-45mm and 20mm lenses are much better than their Oly counterparts. The Voigtlander 25mm is in a class by itself, and if you have serious aspirations, your only choice is an adapter and Oly's Zuiko lenses. I don't even know where to put Panasonic's new 25mm f1.4 Leica lens. What a mess.

Regardless of any of that, this 12mm lens seems to indicate that Olympus has finally decided to move into the enthusiast market with some degree of gusto. Panasonic showed some interest in that regard with their early Leica-branded lenses, but nothing much came of that. We have the 7-14mm, which is good but not great, and the Leica lenses which all disappointed. So this is really the first sign that these manufacturers are starting to realize that, for success, you start with the high-end enthusiasts and work your way up and down from there.

Olympus E-P3 On DP Review

DP Review has posted the most in-depth "preview" of a camera that I've ever seen.

The part that interests me the most, though, is the photographic tests section, which they have posted for JPEG. It's here that the quality of the new/kinda'-new sensor will be revealed. And what a revelation it is! There's little perceptible difference between the E-P3 and the E-P2. At low-ISO, they are, for all intents and purposes, identical. And importantly, it's here that the extra four megapixels of the Panasonic G3 come to bear, with the G3 noticeably out-resolving the E-P3 in many areas of high-frequency detail. There are even a few areas, such as the spools of thread, where it appears that the JPEG processing of the E-P2 is actually doing a better job than the new E-P3.

Now change over to the E-PL2 and Panasonic GH2.

Even at this low-ISO, the cameras are all showing noise in their JPEG output. The E-P3 appears to be most aggressive with chroma noise reduction, and as such its dark-grey areas are the least affected by color blotching. In general, I'd say that the GH2 has the best JPEGs.

Move the ISO up to 1600, where most 4/3's cameras usually start to fall on their faces, and the new E-P3 is definitely outperforming the old E-PL2. This benefit appears to be primarily in shadow areas, which is great, and I'd say it's somewhere over a half-stop improvement. Of most interest, though, is that the new E-P3 is showing much better saturation retention, and color is always more important than detail. Crucially, though, the camera is still being noticeably beaten by both the GH2 and the G3. Moving the ISO up to 3200 only amplifies these distinctions, but it does reveal the stronger default noise-reduction of the E-P3.

Again, I remain unimpressed. Many functional issues have been addressed, which is great, and if this had been released as the very first Pen camera, I would have called it a masterpiece. But it's not the first Pen camera. This is two years later, and Olympus still lags behind the competition.

If Olympus really wants to disrupt the market, leave Panasonic, get in bed with Sony, and start using a goddamn up-to-date sensor.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Why I Don't Hate Olympus

I've noticed that, in my most recent string of posts, I've been hating on Olympus and Panasonic a lot, especially Olympus. I feel that I should clarify my position and explain why I don't HATE Olympus.

Far from it. I like Olympus a great deal. They have legacy that very few companies have. Perhaps it's because Canon and Nikon became so intertwined with journalistic work, but they are seen as the "working man" sort of camera. You buy these cameras because you need them, not because you are an artiste.

Olympus is one of the few Japanese companies with a sort of art air about them. Yes, they're riding a lot of the good will associated with their old cameras, just as Pentax is riding the good will associated with the K1000, but so what? They have legacy and a sense of artistic importance in their name.

Moreover, while other companies have been pushing hard into video, such as Panasonic, Olympus remains about the picture. I like this core philosophy. Granted, they have no idea what to do with this philosophy, but at least they have it. It was this core that triggered their move towards the 2X 4/3's format. While that move would prove not as wise as they likely thought it, it was not a bad idea when it was first thought up.

No, I do not hate Olympus. But Olympus makes it very hard to love them. They have a truly different idea from everyone else on the market, and yet they have done NOTHING but fuck it up for the past four years. They totally borked their 4/3's market by essentially saying that the E-5 would be the last, have done nothing in the Micro-4/3's market to replace those sales, and are offering nothing to differentiate itself from their 4/3's brother, Panasonic.

If they offered a small, pro-level camera, they'd have camera aficionados lined up around the block for it. If they pushed their 4/3's lenses harder for Micro 4/3's, I don't think sales of those lenses would have collapsed so entirely. If they fostered the aftermarket more, pros would be less averse to entering the system.

Olympus has a great core, but the manifestations of that core are abysmal. That's why I both love and hate Olympus.

Olympus E-P3 Leaked

4/3 Rumors has a full leak of the new Olympus E-P3, and wow. I'm absolutely amazed. Amazed at how boring the announcement finally is.

We now have confirmation that the sensor in the new E-P3 and, assumingly, E-PL3 is just the old 12MP sensor we've come to know and tolerate. That means no boost in dynamic range or color depth, and a microscopic, at best, decrease in noise.

The ONLY new thing is the autofocus trick which uses infrared detector sites at the focus points on the sensor. This means that you will only gain an autofocus performance gain with new lenses, and any gain will be eliminated if your use a filter on the front of your lens.

I see this autofocus trick as nothing more than a gimmick, just like Fuji tried with their stupid S-Series of digital cameras. Hey Olympus, here's an idea, instead of throwing crappy gimmicks at us, use a current-generation sensor, bump up the size of the buffer, stop relying on massaged JPEG processing to fake better noise results, make each one of your camera models more than slightly different from the others. Or how about a pro-level body? More manual controls? An extended battery? Thethering? Get rid of the ridiculous flash and put a fucking viewfinder there.

Oh right. I forgot. Olympus has big plans to release this as their "pro" camera and charge more than anyone is willing to pay. Man. Canon and Nikon are shaking in their boots.

The most important thing about any system is its lenses. Where is the 12-60mm? Where is a good ultra-wide angle? Where's the 200mm that doesn't suck? Think about it. Would you rather spend $800 on this crappy new body, or spend the money on lenses.

If you're already in the system, this body has absolutely nothing to tempt you away from your current camera. If you're new to the system, the newest camera is the best, so it's a no-brainer. If you're thinking about changing systems, this does nothing to tempt anyone from anything. And if this is Olympus' plan for the next year, their market share slide is only going to get uglier.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pentax Has Gone Insane

I, like everyone else, just got to see the official shots of Pentax's upcoming super-teeny-weeny Q-Mount camera.

As with Panasonic and Olympus, Pentax seems to think that the money is to be made in trying to net people who are upgrading from point-&-shoot cameras. I have discussed why this is wrong. But, that shouldn't be taken to claim that there is no money to be made in that market. I'm saying that there isn't a lot, and that the market is very fickle.

If you go to Flickr's Camera Finder page, you can see which cameras are the most popular. The iPhone is now the most popular camera on Flickr. Followed by four rather expensive D-SLR cameras, including a $2,500 full-format camera. The top P&S camera doesn't even crack the overall top-30! Does this sound like a market that wants crappy pictures, even in a small body?

But, you say, Flickr is the domain of photographers and enthusiasts, and of course they are primarily concerned with image quality. That's why even the "most popular P&S cameras" chart has one of the largest cameras in the category, the Canon G11. Even the iPhone is explained by photographers liking Apple products a lot.

All true.

So if enthusiasts and photographers won't be swayed, then those who buy P&S cameras must be the ones that want these things, and the Micro 4/3's cameras that have so far failed to connect with that market must be missing that je ne sais quoi that the P&S buyers want, that when introduced, will turn the market into a massive, money-generating monstrosity.

Totally false.

If that assertion were true, then the GF2, which was significantly smaller and less pro-oriented than the GF1, should have sold better, or at least as well. It did not. It sold very poorly and is positively invisible on Flickr. Panasonic's most popular camera is still the GF1, which is now two years old.

The only reason why cameras as cameras do well is because of their association with serious photography. Cameras as toys do well for other reasons. Making a super-tiny camera won't get a company anywhere. They need to appeal to all of the other things that people in that market want. They want colors and style. They want flashy advertising and the ability to slide it in anywhere, be it purse or pocket. This will NEVER HAPPEN with an interchangeable lens camera (ILC) system. It's just mechanically impossible.

But still, there are many out there who want in on the ILC game, but can't afford the crazy-expensive lenses. Even Micro 4/3's lenses can exceed $1,000 for a single lens. That is most definitely the enthusiast domain. And that's a viable point. I think a toy-like ILC might be tenable. So maybe that's what Pentax has in mind. They don't want either market. They want a new market of people who are curious about playing around with cameras.

Yeah! That's a great idea! Lenses that don't cost much more than $100 each, and a camera that costs maybe $300 would be... wait. What? The camera is going to cost $800? Are you serious? I'm Googling this...

Yes! It DOES cost $800! Is Pentax fucking insane!

Yes. They are. It's the only way to explain this.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Micro Four Thirds Needs to Get Its Shit Together

I am a happy micro 4/3's user. I was one of the earliest adopters, buying a Panasonic GF1 when it was released, loved the 20mm pancake, and was blown away by the quality of the 14-45mm zoom. Truly, after dealing with APS-C and full format lenses, the super-tiny lenses were a revelation of usability. I was though, and remain, less-impressed with the camera's sensor. It's noisy as hell.

It's here that 4/3's desperately needed to advance. They left the gate already a generation behind everyone else on the market, and instead of at least staying there, they've fallen behind. Both Panasonic and Olympus continue to release camera after camera after fucking camera with no advancement. No development. It's infuriating.

The reason it's so damned annoying is because the lenses of m4/3's are just so great! The optics of a smaller sensor allow super-small lenses. As Leica users know, and as Fuji has shown with the X100, larger sensors can have small lenses, but not if you want a zoom lens. The 14-45mm lens from Panasonic would be twice the size, easily, on any larger formats.

For me, the m4/3's format all but obviated APS-C cameras because of the lens advantages, and while the quality is not up to APS-C snuff, and never will be, if you care about quality that much, and are already willing to accept weight and cost, stop pussyfooting and buy a full-format camera. Truly, m4/3's was like the same rebirth of enthusiasm that I had for photography after I bought my first EOS 20D and suddenly no longer had to worry about film. It felt like the future of an entire section of the market.

But, no. Instead, we have the only truly disruptive force in the imaging world fucking around. Poor marketing, poor design, and poor ideas. I'm sticking with m4/3's. No doubt about that. The advantage of the lens size is just too big to ignore. But with the way that Olympus and Panasonic are completely shooting themselves in the foot means that if Fuji does something with its new X100 format, or if Sony stops making total crap for its E-Series cameras, I'll jump ship faster than the GF1's shutter.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Olympus is Dead

Well, 4/3 Rumors has some solid information on the new cameras that Olympus will be releasing. The details are not good. Basically, there is no new sensor in sight, which means that while EVERYONE else on the market will be using either current or last-gen sensor technology, Olympus will be relying on sensors that are three to FOUR generations old.

Furthermore, in case you wanted more evidence that Olympus has one of the worst marketing departments on the planet, they will be releasing three, count'em three, new cameras, all of which are only vaguely different from the others.

The E-P3 is almost identical to the E-P2, except that it has a bunch of the new software that Olympus has developed. This is the same software that no one cares about.

The E-PM1 is super small. Larger than the new Panasonic GF3, but smaller than the GF2. Why they would do this is beyond me, since the GF2 sold very poorly! It was the larger, more feature-packed GF1 that was the runaway success.

Finally, the E-PL3 is exactly like the E-P3 (Which is almost exactly like the E-P2), except the body is entirely plastic and it has no built in flash. BUT, it has a pop-out swiveling screen. Why they wouldn't put all of these features into a single camera is beyond me.

So, what we're looking at is Olympus selling the same fucking camera for three years, AND they've managed to make this process of selling a single camera very confusing. So that's an achievement.

One would think, even two or three would think, that Olympus would have been given pause by the success and attention lavished upon the Fuji X100. Truly, that camera saved Fuji, which was on the verge of absolute irrelevance.

Instead, Olympus has decided that it would rather be irrelevant. At least we have Panasonic. They're also very stupid, but they at least seem to understand this whole camera-makin' thing a little bit better.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Wednesday, June 1, 2011