Saturday, December 22, 2012

Full Frame NEX? Ugh. Why?

A rumor has exploded onto the Internet. And by exploded, I mean that it is being discussed by a few dozen guys. This is the camera industry, after all.

But yes, the rumor. Sony is apparently in the final stages of development of a full-frame NEX camera with an expected reveal in 2013. If this is true, and I'm not sure that it is, I would be very disappointed. Sony hasn't done shit-all with their NEX series of cameras. The lenses are, save for one of them, sub-standard. No, they're not bad lenses, but they don't impress, and they positively fall on their face on the NEX-7.

If Sony does release yet another system, they will be stretching themselves ridiculously thin. Unless they plan on tripling their investment in cameras, which is certainly a possibility, but even then, triple your investment in your current systems. Sony has half-assed many elements of their current products, and the only thing causing me to continue my recommendation is that they have great potential. But if Sony is going to just throw out a system, not support it, and move on to something else, only a maniac would by their products!

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Sony is indeed developing a full-frame NEX system. First, the larger the sensor gets, the more the size benefit is negated. The lenses on the NEX cameras are already much larger than 4/3, and full-frame will be larger still. We could assume that Sony will only product compact, prime lenses in the vein of Leica. But even on Leica, their more extreme focal lengths, like the 135mm, are large and slow.

Second, Sony's success with the RX1 is only because the camera is profoundly unique — a combination that is both unavailable and indeed impossible in other systems. But with an ILC, Sony will have a hard time making a good value proposition. Remember, size benefits are increasingly negated with larger sensors, and the performance of traditional, mirrored cameras will be more robust than the Sony. People with the cash to buy a camera that will undoubtedly cost as much as the FF-NEX would find a purchase hard to rationalize. Holding up Leica as a counter to this argument doesn't hold water, since Leica's sales are mostly due to the Leica name. Sony has no name, at least not in the photography world.

Third, Sony will now have another system that will need lenses. They've already shown little interest in developing the lenses in their current NEX line, and they're not doing too well with their APS-C and FF SLR cameras, either. Will they simply pop out an adapter for their current A-mount lenses? All that will do is further negate any size advantage, by adding a huge, honking adapter along with large lenses. WTF?

I will be very disappointed if Sony releases this. The thing that kept me from leaving 4/3 for Sony was its pitiful lens selection, and this seems to indicate that they won't bother with lenses anytime soon.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

First Small Price Drop On The Panasonic 35-100mm

Panasonic has instituted the first small price drop (a scant $50) on the new 35-100mm lens. I'd say that it's funny to watch Panasonic hunt and paw its way through the dark with its product pricing, but since I'm actually invested in m4/3, it more just pisses me off.

The 12-35mm has been selling slowly. Not so slowly as to call it a catastrophe, but certainly not with any exciting speed. This is partly expected — the lens is very expensive, and even in Cankon's systems, the expensive lenses sell with less vim and vigor. And if the numbers that I am gleaning from discussions with resellers and the number of reviews online had been achieved without sudden, large price discounts, I would say that I was wrong and Panasonic's pricing strategy was correct.

Only that's not how things are going. My local resellers had the lens sit on the shelf until they lopped $150 (or more) off the price. Even on Amazon, we saw similar large discounts straight from Panny, with the lens inexplicably dropping $200, then gaining it back, then losing $150, the gaining back $50. Used examples sell for well under $1,000, with many dipping below $900.

It seems that Panasonic's strategy is to drop the price, sell a bunch of lenses, and then increase the price, thinking that the early sales will cause some sort of "momentum." Or perhaps they want to sell the lens, but maintain that it is still "premium," with this charade of a pricing scheme. This is stupid.

The 35-100mm appears well on track to follow the same strategy. Not a single example  of the 12-35mm that I know of has sold for MSRP. I'm sure some have, but I don't know them. The 35-100mm similarly won't sell. Stop fucking around, Panasonic, and price these lenses at something the market is willing to accept.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Steve Huff's Review Of The RX1 Continues Piling on The Praise

Steve Huff is now calling the RX1 the Camera Of The Year. That's one hell of a statement in a year that brought us some stellar pieces of kit like the D800, A99, D600, RX100, GH3, and E-M5.

I can barely contain my excitement for this camera. Three years ago, I bought the GF1 at launch because of comments people made in early reviews talking about how the camera, combined with the 20mm lens, made them get up and go take photos in a way that no camera had motivated them to do for years. It was a new kind of tool. It was compact, fast, with great image quality for the size. It was more than just a tool; it begged you to use it.

This is the same thing. It is the GF1 on steroids. The comparison is closer than it would appear, since even though the GF1 was an IL camera, neither I nor anyone I knew ever really took the 20mm lens off. It was the lens that completed the GF1's raison d'être. With an equivalent of 40mm, it's only 5mm off from what the 35mm lens on the Sony has.

My only complaint, and I don't think it insignificant, is that the lens is not optically corrected. For the price, that is a shame. It's as though the one thing that other companies took away from m4/3 was that it is totally fine to release crap optics if you can correct them in software. NO! You correct the lenses optically, especially when you want to charge a bucket of money for them. It's why I will never, ever buy the 12mm Olympus unless I can buy it for a song. It's why I laugh at the Panasonic 12-35mm. When your lenses are rocking 6% distortion, they are bad fucking lenses.

There, with that out of my system, I certainly hope that the distortion is small. 2% or below is fine for me. If I was an architecture photographer, I would be pissed, but I am not... so I am not. Moreover, from what I have seen, the lens is sharp across the frame, meaning that any distortion can't be too bad, since anything significant would be lossy.

Steve also mentions again the autofocus — it hunts. This isn't surprising since the camera is CDAF-only, but after using the E-M5 and even to a lesser degree the G5, where autofocus seems to work in almost any light level, it's a small let-down. While I ranted and raved about Olympus not using current technology in their cameras, I should have also been ranting about how other companies couldn't make a functional autofocus if their lives depended on it. It's the one thing Oly nailed.

All of that is beside the point. The camera's gestalt is incredibly impressive. They have taken many of the characteristics that drove photogs into the overpriced arms of Leica and created a ground-breaking camera. If they can manage another version of the camera with a zoom lens, there will be no doubts: the RX1 in both guises will be the go-to compact camera for every photography enthusiast on the planet. And probably a few well-off soccer parents as well.

The RX1 is an amazing camera, and I cannot wait to own one.

Autofocus Matters: Olympus E-M5 vs. Canon EOS M

Not much to say about this. It's a knock-out. Good autofocus is an amazing photographic tool. There's a very good reason why its invention thirty years ago caused such a massive upheaval in the industry, resulting in the rise of Canon and Nikon and the nearly complete destruction of the old European photographic industry.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Nikon V2 Gets Images Reviewed

While at Focus Numerque, I noticed that they had posted images of the Nikon V2, the camera that fans of the system (if there are any) hoped would bring it up a notch and into better fighting shape against the Sony RX100.

Those fans are going to be disappointed. The V2 has its IQ ass handed to it by the RX100, its only sensor format competitor. Yes, IQ isn't everything, but the images aren't even a competition. Combined with the fact that the RX100 drops to ISO-50, there is no comparison. The V1/J1 were made pathetically obsolete by the RX100 and the V2 does nothing to alleviate that situation.

GH3 and E-M5 Compared... Finally.

Focus Numerique, a website that I like more with every upgrade to Google Translate, has posted its comparison shots taken with the GH3. They are near-as-damnit exactly what we were expecting for a camera based on the Sony sensor inside the E-M5.

The images posted are OOC JPEGs, but they also provide RAW files which can be easily and quickly dropped in Raw Therapee for deeper analysis. As expected, the JPEGs give the edge to Olympus at everything above ISO-800. The Oly manages to extract better everything from the data, but the extreme voodoo being applied sometimes causes images that look inferior to the GH3, so it isn't a complete a win for Olympus.

Moreover, once we view the files in RawTherapee, the differences become, at least as far as I can tell, academic. I think that the Olympus is still doing better, but even in RAW, the GH3 seems to be superior in some areas of the shots. I think that is all beside the point. I think that the real point is that the GH3's sensor is not a downgrade from the E-M5, which I, and many other people, were worried was going to be the case. Aside from the GH1 and to a lesser degree the GH2, Panasonic's cameras always had inferior image quality to Olympus' implementations of the same sensors, and both of them were significantly inferior to Sony's sensors.

Aside from the IBIS, the GH3 is lacking nothing in comparison to the E-M5 and brings many more goodies to the table. While better images than the Oly would have been some excellent icing on the cake, I can't be anything but satisfied with these results.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Woo Ha! DPReview Posts Sony RX1 Studio Shots (RAW Included)

DPReview has gone and posted its studio comparison of the new Sony RX1. As is expected with Sony cameras, the JPEGs are awful, with aggressive noise reduction and smeared details even at low-ISO. But who cares! It's the RAW that everyone wants to see, and they are... whelming.

Obviously, this is a studio comparison under studio lights, so we're only able to glean very specific things about the cameras performance. That said, the lens doesn't perform as well as I was hoping. Granted, it is a 35mm lens being compared to cameras that all sport 85mm lenses, which are always sharper. The field shots that I've seen reveal a high-quality 35mm piece of glass. I think that my expectations were set a bit too high.

The sensor is more than up to snuff. It outperforms the Sony A99, which is suffering the usual hit to performance caused by its SLT mirror. Of interest, considering Sony's boasting about this being the best sensor that they have ever made, is that the D600 outperforms it. It's such a small difference as to make no real difference, but it is noticeable on the pixel level, and by ISO-12,800, color is a bit better in the Nikon shots.

Unfortunately, they mention some issues with the autofocus. They say that it aligns well with the current crop of NEX cameras, which is good, but for nearly $3,000, I was expecting an upgrade. As far as I know, almost everyone is working with pre-release cameras, so the AF may speed up. I certainly hope it does, because having a camera that is excellent in low-light but has AF that falls on its face in the same environment is brutally disappointing. All one has to do to experience this problem is look to the Fuji X Pro 1.

I am going to be super-critical of the RX1 going into the future because while I am a huge fan of the camera and will buy it as soon as my budget allows, the price that Sony is charging for its accessories sets my teeth on edge. It's the kind of behavior that Nikon and Canon exhibit. Sony is fighting for market share. They shouldn't be pulling this garbage.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Steve Huff First Out The Gate With A Sony RX1 Review

I'm not sure how I missed this, but whatev's. Steve Huff, the man of none too few adjectives, has piled praise upon the RX1.

We already knew that Steve loved the RX1. He loved his short time with the camera earlier this year. He loved the very concept of the camera. Indeed, after his high praise, it appears that the RX1 is destined to become his go-to camera.

I can't help but be excited about the RX1 as well. It's far beyond my current budget, especially since I want to buy the Olympus 75mm and Voigtlander 25mm within the next three or four months. That does quite a bit to kill one's budget for camera gear. Still, the nanosecond I can afford the camera, I can see few reasons to prevent myself from totally and completely splurging.

Steve's work-up includes a expansive set of photos showing off how fantastic the included lens is. It seems quite sharp even wide-open, which puts it among the very best 35mm lenses available. This is wonderful news, since Canon, Nikon, and Sony alike all have pretty piss-poor examples of the classic lens in their systems.

And we cannot forget that the RX1 is completely unique. The only other camera out there that will achieve similar results in a similarly-sized body is Leica. Every other full-frame camera is large and sporting a focal plane shutter. The Fuji X Pro 1 may provide similar ISO performance, and the E-M5 may have faster lenses, but neither of them can produce the subtle and dreamy gradations of bokeh that a FF camera will produce.

Steve says that a noise comparison is incoming, but he did a quick comparison with the Leica Monocrom (which is just laughably overpriced), and the lens is right on par. Obviously, the Monocrom is sharper, but for the same reason that the Sigma Foveon is sharper: every photosite is a pixel. It is an illustrious beginning to what will undoubtedly become a seminal camera.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

How The Hell Did Having No AA Filter Become THE Feature To Have?

I must express total confusion as to how having no AA filter became the de rigeur feature for digital camera to have. Both of Olympus' new cameras, the Mini and Lite, have none. The new Pentax K5-II, none. The Nikon D800E, goin' au naturale.

I'm confused by this because in the grand scheme of camera features that I want, no-AA filter is WAY down the list. I want more media choices, faster write times, better lenses, longer battery life, etc. I'm not even thinking about the sensor, since much of what the sensor does is out of the control of the company making the camera. All I'm thinking about are elements that can easily be bolted on from extant technology and features.

Like for Olympus, I want an adapter that lets me use the damned 4/3 lenses! They don't even need to make a new set of lenses! Just do what Sony did. But instead of that, Oly has given us... no AA filter? W the F?

The lack of AA filter does seem to increase the amount of light hitting the sensor, which is great. The upcoming Sony A99 is rumored to have no filter, and it will need it. The SLT mirror takes a big whack out of a camera's ISO performance. It also causes some softness, which will act like an AA filter. And for smaller sensors like those in 4/3, any ISO increase is desirable.

But again, what about the other features!? Why is everyone talking about the lack of AA filters as though it is the next thing from Apple? How in the world did this become the biggest point of discussion?

I think that it is a conspiracy to deflect our attention from other, more useful features that camera companies don't want us to have. It probably has something to do with the upcoming Mayan Apocalypse  Yes. That's it. Camera companies are actually run by Mayans! It's not the end of the world, it is the rise of the Mayans! They're coming back and they are using our cameras to do it!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Olympus 17mm Review Confirms What We All Knew

Lenstip has produced the first quantifiable review of the new 17mm Olympus and it is exactly what we expected: overpriced and underperforming. Actually, the data exceed the subjective tests in condemning the lens. Distortion is as high as I predicted, hitting nearly 6%. Vignetting is not extreme, but it's nowhere near good. Chromatic aberrations are terrible. Basically, everything is far worse than the 20mm. Even bokeh on the 20mm is better, although that's subjective.

Only a maniac would buy this lens.

Around Providence

Just a series of photos I shot while wandering around Providence, Rhode Island for a couple of hours.

The Rhode Island Statehouse.

Another shot of the Rhode Island Statehouse.

Davol Square at night.

The oil tanks on the Providence waterfront.

The Providence power plant.

A large expanse of land left behind after RT 195 was relocated.

At least the sidewalks are well-maintained.

I love doorway graffiti.

Providence has a lot of churches.

Yeah. Fuck the post office.

Abandoned storefronts get covered quickly.

A poor, orphaned shoe on the sidewalk. I hope it doesn't indicate a murder or something.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

E-PM2 Gets DxO Review

And we have the last of the Olympus triumvirate: the E-PM2. It's Oly's smallest m4/3 camera and when combined with the 20mm pancake is nearly pocketable. And while Oly has removed most of the pro-oriented controls and design touches, the guts remain fantastic. Overall, it is placed below the E-PL5 at DxOMark, but the sensor puts in the highest ISO performance of any 4/3 sensor, by far, and breaks 900 for the first time. The best APS-C sensors are still beyond this, as would be expected, but not by far.

That said, the difference between this camera and the E-PL5 is very small. It falls within the margin of error of DxOMark's measurements. Again, this appears to be because the camera has no AA filter at all. Also, the E-PM2 is only $100 cheaper than the E-PL5, which is a much more complete camera, thus making the Mini a bit of a puzzling creature. The camera will never be truly pocketable, so why bother trying. Spend the extra $100 and get all of the great controls and better screen.

Regardless, this is a good camera. I'm not sure it needs to exist, but at least it's not bad.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Early Sony RX1 Test Images

While not RAW, Focus Numerique has posted some JPEGs from the new Sony RX1 and they are pretty good. Unlike the A99 or, ugh, the A77, there is no SLT mirror to get in the way of the light, and as such the ISO performance of the RX1 is right in line with the other camera that uses its sensor, the D600. It is high-priced, certainly, but the RX1 is shaping up very well.

First NEX-6 ISO Comparison With RAW

DSLRCheck, as they always seem to do, is the first out the gate with an ISO comparison of a new camera. Well, what I should say is that they are first out the gate with a useful ISO comparison. Tons of crap websites produce early comparisons with no value.

The biggest point of value is that DSLRCheck usually includes RAW comparisons. And such it is with the NEX-6. Obviously, the NEX-6 does battle with Sony's current king, the NEX-7, and everyone had high hopes that the new generation, 16Mp sensor would perform better than the NEX-7's 24Mp ubersensor.

Sadly, this is not the case. There is nearly a full stop difference at ISO6400, but below that, they compare similarly. It seems to do very well extracting detail at lower ISO, and I will withhold any judgment until a full comparison is complete, but I was expecting superior performance across the board. Most importantly, I was hoping that Sony would bring something to the table that did better against Fuji's truly magical sensor in the X Pro 1 and XE-1.

As the author mentions, this is actually a regression for Sony, since there was no significant difference in ISO performance between the NEX-5n and NEX-7. Disappointing, but again, ISO is only one aspect of sensor performance.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

DxO Mark Reviews The Olympus E-PL5; Comes Out Looking Great

Today is a good day for Micro 4/3. The E-M5 proved that a small sensor could get close to larger, APS-C sensors in ISO performance. Even though we all know that they will never be a perfect match, with the gap shrunk to less than half of a stop performance, anyone seeking significant differences in image quality will basically be forced to use full-frame.

Unfortunately, both of the cameras that perform similarly to APS-C, the GH3 and E-M5, are very expensive — over $1,000. That means that there are literally dozens of APS-C cameras that perform similarly for hundreds of dollars less. Micro 4/3 desperately needed a cheaper camera. The E-PL5, while still pricey, sahves $300 from the E-M5, bringing it into a great category.

We already knew that the E-M5 and E-PL5 were appearing nearly identical, and we have the first of the three major publications to prove it. DxO Mark has tested the E-PL5 and it actually rates ever so slightly higher than the E-M5. Not surprising since the E-PL5 has no AA filter, and for a reason as yet unknown to me, cameras without an AA filter, or with an AA-negating filter like the D800E, perform slightly better.

The E-PL5 is absolutely the true successor to the GF1. It only took the Micro 4/3 group three and a half years to produce it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Olympus Confirms 17mm f/1.8, Fails To Impress Anyone

It's official: Olympus will be releasing a 17mm lens. That gives it a 34mm field of view, and with the E-M5 usually operating at something slightly less than the 4/3 sensor area compliments of its IBIS, that makes the lens near-as-makes-no-difference a 35mm lens. We can already see that the lens isn't terribly impressive optically, with merely good resolution characteristics and severe distortion. So where does that put the lens?

In a not very good place, that's where. Olympus also confirmed the price: $500. This lens is competing with other 35mm lenses that, at times, cost less than half as much. Granted, many of these lenses are awful, but some are not, and Olympus needs to concern itself with those that are not.

Pekka Potka is one of the few to have an overview of the lenses characteristics posted, and he is whelmed. He says it's basically a wash in comparison to the 20mm, but is otherwise disappointed, closing with
Neither [the 17mm nor 20mm] gets nearly [as good as the 12-60mm] at any aperture nor with any fancy sharpening. This is why I will keep on using this zoom and hoping that some day Olympus will learn to make THE REAL 17mm prime lens. Still, I will buy this new 17mm lens because, after all, it is a step forward in my use for reasons illustrated.
Well, that's a ringing endorsement.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Yep, the GH3 Is Using A Sony Sensor

We finally have a RAW comparison of the newest iteration of Olympus' sensor and Panny's new sensor, and the results are as close to identical as one could hope to get.

Obviously, there are subtle differences in the noise patterns, and the Oly appears to be achieving marginally better detail at low-ISO compliments of its complete lack of AA filter. If we're picking nits, and we may as well, the Olympus seems to be retaining color and fine detail slightly better by ISO 12,800. We'll have to wait and see whether the GH3's ISO rating are closer to nominal than the Oly, which was pretty far away, meaning that for every ISO rating, the Panny is slightly more sensitive.

Three-quarters through the page, they have a series of photos taken at ISO-200 and then over-exposed in Adobe. It shows a huge boost in dynamic range compared to the GH2. Impressive and much, much needed.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Olympus Readies Another High-Priced Disappointment

Don't ever say that I'm not forgiving. Olympus could burn down Japan and I'd still be saying, "Yeah, well they did make that 75mm lens." When a company truly brings their A-game, I turn into an all-out fanboi.

It is for this reason only that I do not spend the next post eviscerating Olympus for the overpriced 12mm lens and now this, a newly announced, and already disappointing, 17mm lens. I'm going to resist the urge to simply fling invective. I'm going to be measured.

One of the biggest disappointment of the most recent crop of high-quality m4/3 lenses is the extreme amount of distortion. The Panasonic 12-35mm produces distortion of nearly 6% at 12mm. It's even higher than the 14-45mm, and we only forgave that lens because it was so damned cheap.

This is something worth focusing on... no pun intended... because not only are Olympus's 4/3 Zuiko lenses almost free of distortion, but other companies are producing excellent optics for much less money. The 12mm Oly, for example, must compete with the 12mm SLRMagic lens, which costs $300 less, is faster, and produces almost no distortion. Why the hell can't Olympus and Panasonic do the same? Stupidity? Greed? They simply don't give a shit?

The new 17mm is no different. Based on the RAW photos available here, the distortion appears to be well over 5%. This is even more unacceptable when we consider that the Panasonic 20mm is cheaper, smaller, close in focal length, and has still lower distortion.

I understand what they are going for. They want to keep their lenses compact while also providing autofocus. This can be very difficult from an engineering perspective. I get it. But if Olympus is going to sell us concessions in a lens, they damn well better price that lens correctly. $800 for a 12mm lens with distortion that damn-near rips a portal in space-time? Not priced correctly!

I seriously hope that the 4/3 and m4/3 system is eventually, for all intents and purposes, taken away from Panasonic and Olympus. The 2x crop factor seems to be the absolute sweet spot between a smaller sensor and overall performance. Its existence has a good value proposition. If only Panasonic and Olympus knew how to use that to their advantage.


Even better, it's been confirmed that Olympus will follow in the tradition of its 75mm and 12mm lenses and not include a lens hood. Instead, they will try to sell one for $80. Greedy, shitty, and, oh right, I'm just going to buy a $10 hood on Ebay. Fuck off, Olympus.

Friday, November 2, 2012

First Measured Review Of The Panasonic 35-100mm Lens

Lens reviews are so annoying. We have crappy publications like PhotographyBlog and ePhotozine that rush out worthless reviews that contain literally no useful data. We have small blogs that produce slightly less-crappy reviews, but only ever provide a personal impression of the lens, which is almost useless unless we know that the person writing it has been working in photography for decades. And even then, that can cause problems of its own since photographers are notorious for being intransigent ogres when it comes to change.

So while pixel-peepers and chart-watchers are frequently lampooned by photographers, they are easily more well-founded in their analyses and criticisms than anyone who relies on some person saying that a lens is "good."

Lens Rentals is one of the least-known, but most useful, websites for lens analysis. The reason for this is that when they do a review, they test multiple examples of a lens, sometimes with wild variation between samples. This variation is what tells us to what tolerances a lens is being manufactured. Understandably, some variation is expected. Sometimes the lens mount isn't perfectly parallel. Sometimes a glass element is ever-so-slightly out of alignment. It happens.

But when a lens shows variation of nearly 100 lines on an MTF50 chart, that's cause for concern. The Panasonic holds up well. Not great. Just well. Everything is pretty good. And if the lens cost less than $1,000, pretty good would equal really great. But instead of doing that, Panasonic has priced the lens into the stratosphere. Worse still, the lens will be invariably associated with the GH3, which exists more as a videography tool than a photography tool. And with the 12-35mm well-lampooned and the 35-100mm lampooned even before its release as being useless for video, the X-lens/GH3 combo is caught between two worlds. It's not even a jack of all trades, much less a master of any.

Panasonic isn't being nearly as aggressive as it needs to be to prevent becoming another Sharp. To me, variance of this level, tear-downs revealing internals to be mostly cheap plastic, and extremely high prices indicates a company that is not yet ready to play in the same field as the big boys. It's unfortunate that Olympus is corrupt and incompetent, because they have proven an ability to run with the big boys.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Olympus E-M5 Has Focus Peaking! (Sort of)

We know the the E-M5 has a whole bunch of goodies locked up in its firmware. Why they did this is anyone's guess, especially considering how the E-M5 could have been an amazing photography and videography tool if they had not completely borked the video implementation.

While there were many issues, the biggest one for me was the lack of focus peaking. After Sony introduced it in their NEX line of cameras, it immediately became a must-have feature for photography and videography nuts. For photographers because it allows the easy use of non-AF lenses, and for videographers because AF during video blows chunks.

Importantly for m4/3 was that it allowed for easier implementation of Olympus' and Panasonic's 4/3 legacy lenses, some of which are some of the best lenses ever made. AF on this lenses is sometimes so slow that manual work with focus peaking is actually faster.

Everyone was hoping for it in the E-M5... and were disappointed. Everyone was hoping for it in the GH3, and were even told it was true... only to be disappointed.

Today, though, we are not disappointed. Today, we find that focus-peaking is secretly in the E-M5 in the form of one of its stupid "filters."

This works well for photographic work, although shooting in JPEG+RAW reduces the continuous shooting abilities significantly. Sadly, though, this is useless for video work. Again, we are left to wonder what the hell Olympus was thinking with all this. It's no surprise that Vitaliy Kiselev didn't even bother touching the E-M5.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Used Panasonic 12-35mm X Lenses Available For Less Than $900

The Panasonic 12-35mm lens is something of a disappointment. It's good, no doubt about that. But it's not great. And it really needed to be great. Worse still, it's priced as though it was great. $1,299 is too rich for my blood, but it is tempting. The thing stopping me is that Fuji has some incoming lenses of similar length that are cheaper and bound to be exceptionally sharp, and Olympus has its 12-60mm that outperforms the Panny in all ways except speed. The value equation just doesn't work out in Panasonic's favor.

But the same lens at $900? Now we're talking! And guess how much the lens costs, lightly used, on Amazon? Just about $900. At that price, even with the lens' rather severe distortion, I think it a good deal. If you're invested in the m4/3 system, this is a solid deal.

Monday, October 22, 2012

E-PL5 Gets First Full(ish) Test, Dynamic Range Unsurprising

Tech Radar is the first out the gate with some significant data. Granted, how they do their tests is a bit flattering to many cameras, and indeed, produces completely incomprehensible results for other cameras. Their results are at least comparable internally.

Most importantly is that the rumors of the sensor performing significantly better as regards dynamic range are unfounded, be it in JPEG or RAW. The E-PL5 performs identically to the E-M5. This is not a bad thing. It costs $300 less than the E-M5, and considering that it will probably be a sales failure, those who are interested in the m4/3 system will be able to net themselves a good deal.

I'm interested in the camera because the limitations of my trust GF1 have been becoming more apparent to me after having used so many exemplary cameras like the NEX-5n, Pentax K-5, and Fuji X Pro 1. At the same time, the superb size and ergonomics of the GF1 mean that the X Pro 1, K-5, and 5n are ersatz replacements. The NEX-6 is tempting, to say the least, but that would require investing in a new system.

So while seeing some test that blew away the E-M5 would have been seriously cool, it's not a huge disappointment to see results that don't. The E-M5 was already good and the much-needed performance upgrade that m4/3 was lacking. We now know that the E-PL5 will be the E-M5 in different clothes.

First E-PL5 ISO Comparison

DSLR Check, as is frequently the case, is the first website to post an ISO comparison of a new camera. The camera of course being the Olympus E-PL5. The camera performs identically to the E-M5. Both cameras do very well in retaining detail up to ISO1600, but ISO3200 and 6400 show significant loss of fine detail, with many areas turning into smudges of color.

Neither camera quite stands toe-to-toe with the compared Nikon D3200. It's close, and there seems to be less difference at 6400 than 1600 or 3200, but the difference is there. This is expected, seeing as Nikon really pushed boundaries by putting Sony's already-legendary 24Mp APS-C sensor in what's essentially an entry-level SLR.

Granted, this is almost not news. I don't think anyone was really expecting the E-PL5 to perform much better as regards noise. The really juicy information is the supposed large increase in dynamic range. We'll have to wait for some more tests for that information.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A 1:1 Sensor Is Possible For 4/3

Lloyd Chambers, over at Diglloyd, has posted an analysis of the image circle of Micro 4/3 lenses and found that they are huge. Most of the lenses could cover an APS-C sensor

That doesn't really tell us anything, though. We would need analysis of the degradation of the image, and I suspect that it would be pretty extreme on an APS-C sensor. What excites me about this is the prospect of a 1:1 sensor, which would be completely and absolutely unique in the camera world. I don't think there are even any 1:1 medium format sensors being made.

A 1:1 m4/3 sensor would have a diagonal of about 24.46mm. The smallest image circle was the Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 at 25mm, which just squeaks by. Basically, a 1:1 image circle is compatible with every lens he tested, even the cheap ones.

Considering that this sensor, if implemented, would be in pro-oriented product, the possible confusion associated with degraded image quality at the corners wouldn't need to be much addressed. Pros and enthusiasts understand the principles underlying photography and know quite well what the 1:1 ratio would entail.

I again express my absolute support for this sensor in the upcoming Olympus E-7. It needs a unique calling card. In a market with cameras like the NEX-7, X Pro 1, and full-frame cameras costing below $2,000, any Oly offering that costs in the $1,500 area would die a quick and inauspicious death.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

First E-M5/GH3 ISO Comparison Is Up

Photography Blog, a website I very much dislike, has posted images from the GH3. They are JPEGs, so they don't tell us the full story. This is especially true when one considers how poor Panny's JPEGs usually hold up. Go here for the Olympus E-M5 images, and go here for the Panasonic GH3 images. You can do your own comparison by opening up the images into new tabs/windows.

Obviously, these images tell us little about the dynamic range and full color capability of the sensor at various ISOs, but they do tell us how the camera will perform at just spitting out completed images. Overall, it is a big upgrade from the GH2. It's still something of a disappointment. Noise performance closely matches the E-M5 up to ISO3200, but ISO6400 shows a significant drop in comparison to the E-M5.

This could still be the same Sony sensor, and perhaps Panny's JPEGs just suck, but I doubt it. The difference at ISO 25,600 is so large that it simply has to be a different sensor. This might not be seen as a huge issue, but with the Olympus E-PL5 having even better performance than the E-M5, that puts Panasonic at a large disadvantage, especially going forward.

I remain excited about the GH3. ISO performance is only part of the equation, as we all learned well with the Fuji X Pro 1. That said, this is a disheartening moment. I might be more willing to overlook it if the video performance had been truly outstanding, but everything we have seen thus far has been, at best, whelming.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The NEX Lens Selection Is Getting Bigger

The single biggest issue holding back the NEX system is the crap selection of lenses. We have two. With only one of those being world-class (the Zeiss 24mm). We have a third coming out of the pipes, the 35mm, which is nice, but these lenses should have been available from the beginning. Fuji's X Pro 1 has been on the market for a scant six months and launched with three good-to-excellent lenses, we have a large and aggressive roadmap of other excellent lenses, and we already have another camera in the system!

But back to Sony. One advantage that the NEX system had was its access to Sony's full-frame and APS-C lenses with the SLT attachment. Not exactly elegant, but it did provide lenses. Still, even then, Sony's lens selection isn't exactly brimming over with top-quality glass. And when you have a camera as pixel-packed as the NEX-7, you need top-quality glass.

Enter third-party adapters. There are many problems with adapters working well with the electronics of cameras. First, most cameras are closed systems, meaning for a company to make lenses, they have to "hack" the coding of the cameras and lenses. Second, even though making adapters is a straight-forward enough process, no one wants to do it since, if they have the money to invest, they are also likely making their own lenses that they want people to buy. Thus, they don't want to make adapters for fear that people will use other companies' lenses. With facts like this, you can understand why so much of the camera industry makes me want to shoot people.

What I hope is that, with the rise of digital cameras and the ever-growing market, we will see an increasing number of smaller companies start making the tools, lenses, adapters, and accessories that the intransigent legacy companies refuse to make.

With that point in mind, I present today's video.


Is anyone else as impressed as hell with the NEX-6? I had a short time with it and loved how fast they've made it. It's not as fast as the Olympus E-M5, but faster than anything Panasonic has out. It feels like it flows. I wish I could have kept my images, because I am dying to see the comparison between it and the NEX-7.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Wacky Data About The Oly E-PL5 (And Something Amazing About The E-M5)

The time directly after Photokina always seems so dry. No new details jumping out every other minute. No new cameras. All we can do is wait for the various reviews that actually tell us something. These reviews stand in contrast to the millions of blogger reviews, that always come out first, that tell us damn-near nothing about the camera. They do tests with different lenses and at different exposures. They never upload full-res images. It is the equivalent of reading about some other person's afternoon.

We finally got a smidgen of data about the Oly E-PL5 of all things. The data is incredibly interesting though. Basically, the new baby brother of the E-M5 has over a stop of extra dynamic range. A stop! Where the hell did they find that? I always said that the E-M5 was the camera that Oly should have made three years ago, and because they are so far behind schedule, I was going to wait for the next version of the E-M5 before really considering a purchase. Even if the test turns out to faulty, Olympus would have a huge victory with merely a half-stop improvement. After years of the same damned sensor, we appear to be getting some actual development. Depending on the price, this might finally be the replacement for my trusty GF1.

The E-M5 isn't left in the cold, though. A rumor cropped on that website of rumors,; to wit, the E-M5 can be hacked. First off, Olympus is still just as fucking stupid as it always was. I'm glad to see that some things never change. Why such vitriol? Basically, a major problem with hacking the camera is that hackers do not have direct access to the firmware files. Olympus sends you a program that then connects to servers to deliver the firmware. Considering that the only reason why anyone ever bought the GH2 was because it was hackable, one has to wonder WHAT THE HELL OLYMPUS IS THINKING.

But that's neither here nor there for the purposes of this post. What is here and there is what can be done with hacking. If the tipster is to be believed, the E-M5 is an amazing little powerhouse of a camera. It has clean 4:2:2 HDMI output, can handle 120fps 1080p, and already has focus peaking in the firmware. If this is true, the E-M5's status has just skyrocketed.

I want the GH3 because it is a hybrid camera. I want extensive video and photographic functionality. The E-M5's biggest problem was that the video functionality was crap. The sensor was good. The IBIS was good. The codec and overall implementation of the software was awful.

If these features are implemented by hackers, it could all but kill any interest in the GH3. I don't consider that an overstatement. The only consideration that comes to mind is heat. The E-M5 is small, and 1080p is hot. Here's hoping some experiments come out soon, because inquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Panasonic Should Be Concerned About The GH3

As a writer of camera schtuff, I have a bit of insight that many don't. Namely, I can watch when traffic jumps, indicating interest in a particular camera. For example, I am still getting attention for posts about the Canon G13 that I wrote when I was predicting the release of a G camera with larger sensor... the camera that would become the G1X.

Similarly, when I wrote about the Fuji X Pro 1 or Nikon D800, I saw huge spikes in traffic for those keywords. I also see spikes now and then for my mentions of the Olympus E-7, and saw decent spikes when the Olympus E-M5 was announced.

I have seen no such spikes regarding the GH3. None. Zip. Barely a bubble. Now, obviously, I am not the ideal metric by which to gauge these things. I only get about 10,000 views per month, if I'm lucky. But I think that while I cannot be compared to other websites, I can be compared across my own posts. If one post only sees 100 views, and another 1,000, I think that indicates something significant.

I don't know what to make of this. Is it the price? Is it the lenses? To me, the GH3 is a success--a powerful tool, including most of the things for which anyone could ask. Obviously, the true test will come when video and RAW photo samples are released, but no one currently knows those variables. That shouldn't be affecting people's interest now.

But here we are. Is it the design? The Olympus E-M5 saw a spike and generated solid interest. Were people simply taken by its retro looks? Is it the brand? Has Panasonic simply lost any cachet it may have once had? The last success they've had was the GF1, and that was three years ago.

I'm sorry if I appear to be belaboring the point, but this has me legitimately confuzzled. Panasonic needs to do... something to kick up the interest in this camera. Their market share is dwindling badly, and this should be their knight in shining magnesium alloy, destined to save them from the dragon that is Sony.

Because Sony is weakened right now! As I mentioned in an earlier post, the video quality out of the new Sony A99 and NEX cameras is a big disappointment! The added dynamic range of the GH3 should be the ingredient necessary to push Panasonic into a league of its own, outgunned only by the Blackmagic Camera. Whatever it takes, Panasonic, generate more interest in the GH3.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Disappointing Results From The First Impressions of the Sony A99

EOSHD has posted impressions of the upcoming Sony A99 and VG900 and they are very negative. This is a huge disappointment. I have not been quiet in my support of Sony on this website; I think that they are the most innovative, the most willing to take risks, and the most technologically advanced. In most cases, they have been hitting balls clear out of the park.

The NEX-5, 5n, and 7 have put their still-new NEX camera system on the top of the mirrorless market in every country except Japan. And while their video hasn't compared to the GH2, their photographs are the top of the heap. The RX100 was a sensation, immediately becoming the compact camera to beat upon its release, and it had fantastic video quality to boot. Indeed, Sony has almost all hits and no misses.

Sadly, today, Mighty Casey has struck out. The problem? Moire, and loads of it. Mix in a healthy dose of jagged edges and compression issues and you have a wholly disappointing hybrid camera. As EOSHD pointed out, these issues are simply unacceptable in a $3,000 camera aimed at a premium market. When the GH2 has been producing world-class 1080p for over two years, to say nothing of the Blackmagic camera, this is absolutely unacceptable.

It wouldn't be as much a problem if Sony hadn't been touting the video aspects of the camera. In fact, almost every feature and doodad that a videographer would want on an SLR is there! One could say that Sony was trying to segment their product lines and leave alone their pro-level cameras like the VG900, but apparently the video from that camera sucks just as bad! What in the world happened, Sony?

Video isn't the only issue at hand, no. Luminous Landscape, while being more than a bit conservative with their viewpoint, has posted an only mildly-conservative early take on the A99. Remember, the primary writer over there was a Sony/Minolta guy for many years, building up a large set of lenses around an A900. He's no Sony hater. That said, he has a big problem with the camera's main feature, the SLT design.

I've made no bones about my dislike for Sony's SLT tech. I know that many people say they don't notice the difference, but I do. The images are soft and the light performance is reduced, as nearly every online review will show you. I could accept the softness, since at most sizes it's not noticeable, but the reduced noise performance is not something that I can accept. If Sony allowed us to move the mirror, this would be moot, but Sony does not seem to be interested in offering that feature. I shoot primarily free-hand, which means that I need a minimum 1/500th on many lenses, which means that in almost every environment, I'm going to be pushed up into the ISO200-400 range. Give me more ISO!

Luminous Landscape dislikes the SLT and accompanying electronic viewfinder for another reason: it disconnects you from the scene. I agree with this. It's an unavoidable consequence. I suspect that the experience is an accumulation of small, almost imperceptible things: the slight lag from event to display; the eye focusing on something near the face as opposed to distant through optics; the fact that no EVF will ever reproduce the full breadth of colors as seen through a glass. Regardless, this is very much a problem with the sensation, the art, of photography. My problems are more geeky and technical. What can I say? Once a pixel-peeper, always a pixel-peeper.

That said, his criticisms don't fall on deaf ears. I don't mind EVFs, but I must admit, that when jumping between EVFs and optical viewfinders, the old-fashioned optical ones are in a different league. There is a jarring and noticeable difference. Just naturally, I have always found myself preferring the optical equipment to the electronic. And remember, this is coming from a board-certified geek and technophile. I can never have enough gadgets.

And while I haven't used the EVF on the A99, he says that in a comparison of EVFs, the Olympus E-M5 would actually come out on top. If that's true, than his final point rings very true to me: staring through to a screen does not a premium experience make. It does not make the camera feel like a $3,000 camera. This disconnect is fine on the E-M5 since it is one-third the cost. One does not pick it up and expect to feel a certain je ne sais quoi. For me, and this is weird to say, the Nikon D600 looks like it will be the better choice, especially considering the huge price difference. Video sucks for both of them, and the Nikon will likely make better use of the same sensor.

As it stands, in the price category in which the A99 is competing, I have to admit that I think it outclassed. This is the first time that Sony has flubbed its market point in many years, and I hope that they adjust. Because currently, Sony is up against the Goliath that is the Nikon D800 and D800e, and Nikon's lenses are both better, more varied, and equipped with a mount that enjoys far wider third-party support. If the video quality had been a cut above the D800, which isn't very good, I'd be singing a different tune. But with crap video, the A99 has one hell of a fight ahead of it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Canon EOS M Gets First Review

Engadget of all places is the first to review the EOS M. Perhaps Canon gave it to them in hopes that their less photographically-critical writing base would go easy on the product that someone, somewhere in the company must know is total garbage.

The review is not kind. In fact, I would say that it is one of the most negative reviews of a product from a major company that I have ever read on Engadget. That's big. Because remember, Engadget is part of the old guard of blogs. The only gadget blog that is older, that could really be called a blog, is Gizmodo. Unlike Gizmodo, Engadget, along with the entire collection of Weblog Inc. sites was purchased by AOL in 2005, making Engadget part of an odd mix of old and new tech.

Sadly, Engadget has had less of an effect on AOL than AOL has had on it. In early 2011, Joshua Topolsky and almost the entire lead staff quit the site in protest of AOL's meddling with the website. Long story short, the end result is an Engadget of today that is no different from the print magazines of old--owned by advertisers, publisher of reviews where everything is great, and more interested in headlines that sell copies than headlines that talk about subjects in which the dedicated audience is actually interested.

They are willing to bash products from small companies, but big companies like Canon? They practically walk on water. This means that if a product from Canon receives any significant criticism, the product must actually be borderline unusable.

This may sound like paranoia, and perhaps there's a little of it in there, but the state of product-oriented magazines and their decline into wards of advertisers is well-documented and known. And when my own experiences with products diverge so wildly from some reviews that are published, I know that there is something going on.

But back to the camera. We know that Engadget wants to say nice things. So if they say something negative, it must be very negative. So digest these quotes.

...had the camera offered full DSLR functionality, including an advanced user interface, a $799 sticker might be justified. But the company has crippled its new compact shooter so as to avoid cannibalizing its still-successful full-size APS-C DSLR lineup...

Only the black model, which drops the glossy plastic housing in favor of a matte coat, offers the look and feel of an $800-plus mirrorless compact.

So, does $800 and up deliver direct access to shooting modes, advanced or otherwise? No, it does not. And, well, we can't express our disappointment enough here.

Now, back over to those rather horrid controls.

We were devastated to see that the EOS M's focusing performance falls just shy of that latter grouping -- the cameras that just plain stink at bringing a subject into focus quickly.

It's not the most sluggish focusing we've seen, but it's darn close.

Battery life, meanwhile, is far from stellar.

And this is my favorite quote, because it shows that even Engadget knows that Canon is releasing crap on purpose.

Canon surely could have done better here, but it didn't, and we can't help but think that call was made far up the food chain, amid some decidedly heated engineering debates.

This is a disaster for Canon, because it confirms beyond any doubt that they are a dead company. They are a lumbering zombie, fueled purely by the momentum that it has built up. Mirrorless represents a massive part of the new market, and Canon has just said without any equivocation that they have no interest in competing in it. Hell, the underwhelming 6D, the wildly overpriced 5D, and their ridiculous Cinema series of cameras shows that they are not interested in competing anywhere. They think that they are indestructible, and as such can do whatever they please.

I can scarcely wait to see them get punished for that arrogance.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Please Olympus, Make The E-7 Great

I loved the Olympus E-5, I really did. Its ergonomics, build quality, design, work-flow: everything was great. The truly amazing element was, of course, its lens selection. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that Oly's Zuiko lens line represents, in many cases, the best lenses available. Obviously, designing lenses for the smaller sensor is easier, so Canon and Nikon get a bit of a pass, here. But still, even if we take everything into account, Oly's lenses remain at the top of the top-pro heap. If only the E-5 was a worthy companion to those lenses.

At very low ISO, and I mean no higher than 400, the E-5 produced good images. The OOC JPEGs were bright and punchy, if perhaps a bit oversaturated. Unfortunately, Olympus' lenses would only truly sing at longer focal lengths. Oly's 150mm was the equivalent of 300mm on full-frame. That means that you would need a minimum of 1/600th to guarantee a sharp image. Even the extra stop of speed compared to FF lenses (most of Oly's top-pro lenses hit f/2.0, while Cankon rarely drops below f/2.8) frequently wasn't enough to get the camera exposed correctly at low ISO.

Basically, in all but the best light, the E-5's sensor just wasn't up to the challenge. The new Sony sensors change all that. They more than double the ISO performance of the old Panasonic sensors and make ISO 1600 usable. If they combined this sensor with the design of the E-5, I would be very tempted.

That said, with the release of the GH3, Fuji X Pro 1, NEX 6, and others, the E-7 cannot be simply an E-5 with a Sony sensor. It needs to be wholly different. First, it needs to take everything that it does to a pro level. If the camera has a feature, it needs to match other cameras three times the price in that feature. The E-M5 already has hints of this philosophy with elements like the 1/250th flash-sync.

Secondly, make it a hybrid 4/3-m4/3 camera. Based on comments by Olympus reps, this is absolutely one of their intentions. While the traditional SLR design may not be feasible, it's not needed. All they need is a PD focusing system in the camera. Sony's SLT technology gives an idea of how this can be achieved. Apparently, Olympus is thinking of implementing some optical adapter. Whatever it turns out to be, it better be good.

Thirdly, release updated lenses. Olympus was the company that started the autofocus wars, back when they were trying to convince people to buy their overpriced-and-underperforming Pen line of cameras. Now, the speed of the AF is a major marketing point. The performance of AF, whether it be phase or contrast, is predicated on two things: the processing speed of the camera and the speed of the lens' motors. Old lenses simply don't compare anymore. Is the difference small in many cases? Hell yeah. But this is about both actual quality and perceived quality. If Oly can't advertise the speed, then they need to make it faster.

And finally, make the E-7 different in some key way. A hybrid camera is a start, but it needs to go much further than that. Include extensive video features, as Panasonic is doing with the GH3. For the love of Pete, give it a 1:1 sensor; talk about unique! Take a page from Sony's NEX design book and step outside of the bounds of traditional camera design. Because your current tack, excepting the decent success of the E-M5, is getting the shit kicked out of you.

I liked the E-5. I liked the design philosophy behind it, and that's something that a company has a hard time ejecting or adopting, which means that I am only ever likely to get that philosophy from Olympus. That means that I want the E-7 to be great in every way--to be great enough where I have to come up with reasons to not buy it. Make me want the E-7, because I want to want it, and I absolutely want more Zuiko lenses.