Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hurrah! DPReview Posts Fuji X Pro 1 Review.

DPReview has posted its review of the Fuji X Pro 1 aaaaaand pretty much everything that one could expect from a full review has come true.

They love the image quality, the dynamic range, the detail, and the ISO performance. They hate the operational quirks and the autofocus. They also measured something that I wasn't expecting, that all ISO settings are 1/3 to 2/3 low. I assaulted the Olympus E-M5 for having a similar problem — I actually suspect that Olympus did it on purpose to game tests — and the Fuji won't get off easy, either. Having accurate ISO measurements is important. If your camera does not have them, don't fuck around with the sensor, simply rename your sensitivity levels.

This also means that cameras from Sony don't perform quite as badly in comparison, since both the NEX-7 and NEX-5n measure higher, with the NEX-7 measuring 1/3 stop higher than nominal. That means that the NEX-7 is actually exposing a full stop more per ISO setting than the X Pro 1.

That difference is enough to make the Olympus look bad in comparison, which is why I suspect that Oly did it on purpose — also because Oly's last big camera, the E5, was wildly inaccurate, with measured ISO settings being a full stop below nominal. But the Fuji doesn't need to worry about this. It looks fine in comparison! It's still much better than the NEX 7. There is no reason to be inaccurate, so why not be?

Regardless, the camera came out with a mostly good review. If Fuji can fix the AF issues, which may require updated lenses, and functional issues that can likely be done in firmware, they will have a world-beater.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

First Review Of Olympus 75mm Lens

The new Olympus 75mm lens, one of a new breed of lenses where they won't include a lens shade and then try to sell it for $100, has received its first review. The early sample photos of the lens are born out in tests. It is awesome. The lens shade deal, something that Olympus did with the 12mm, pisses me off almost enough to simply not buy the lens. The only thing keeping me from doing that is the guarantee that cheap, aftermarket shades will be, if not already are, available.

Sharpness across the frame is fantastic. Aberrations, distortion, and vignetting are low. Build quality is top-notch. An amazing 150mm equivalent focal length. All for $900. This is the first Olympus lens that is an absolute must-have. The 12mm was a disappointment, the 45mm was good for the price, but not great. Every other great Olympus lens is for 4/3 and not Micro 4/3. Olympus has finally delivered, and done so in a big way.

Micro 4/3 now has some really excellent lenses at all focal lengths. The Panasonic 7-14mm, which is going to get an update soon; the Panasonic 14-45mm is the best kit lens on the market; The Olympus 12mm is expensive but, in fairness, it does better than Canon or Nikon's 24mm primes; The Pansonic 20mm prime is amazing; Voigtlander and Panasonic make excellent 25mm lenses; the list goes on. It's not a pretty mess, with no company producing a full compliment of good lenses, but between them all, the system is pretty solid.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why Is The Used Camera Market Absolutely Retarded?

I am, or should say was, on the hunt for a used Panasonic GH1. I love the GH2 for video, but the photo quality out of it leaves a bit to be desired. The lower-res sensor of the GH1 was always noticeably better with the blue channel. My quest came to an abrupt end when I saw how much people were trying to charge for the damned thing. One flaming assface wanted $1,400 for the body only. Average price on eBay was in the neighborhood of $400 body-only. I was blown away.

The GH1 is over three years old. Everything about it has been surpassed. $400 will almost buy you a new GX1, G3, NEX 5n, NEX C3, Nikon D3200: the list goes on. The point being that $400 buys you a fair hunk of any camera aimed at the lower-level enthusiast market. Yet resellers, and even a few customers, seem to think that this is a completely fine price.

The GH1 isn't an anomaly, either.

Leica haters will frequently rant about how ridiculously expensive Leica gear is in the secondhand market. Lenses can actually increase in value. It's not just Leica, though. Leica may be the most heinous manifestation of this, but smaller, less prestigious companies head in the same direction. The Panasonic GF1 is still being offered for $400 on eBay. $400! Anything that is even remotely considered desirable has a price far in excess of what common sense says it should have. Nikon D2H, nearly a decade old: $1,000. Canon EOS 20D, 8-years-old: $1,000.

There appears to be two elements to this: customers who are willing to pay far too much, and stores who are willing to charge too much, even in the face of no sales. I've noticed that electronic markets that are just slightly out in left field seem to frequently suffer from this. Unlocked cell phones that are many years old are being offered for hundreds of dollars. Smartphones from one or two generations ago that never sold well will continue to list for full price for months upon months, then suddenly plunge in price when the retailer seems to  have an epiphany about the way business works; you need a customer.

This is actually one of the reasons why I don't like an industry predicated on small retailers. I also think that I'm not alone in this hatred and it is the reason why these markets are being devastated by the Internet. Small resellers are very reticent to accept price drops. They clog the market with inventory, prevent customers from buying, and hamstring corporations who are interested in getting product into people's hands. Unfortunately, large retailers aren't much interested in small markets. Used unlocked cell phones and used cameras are relegated to the tiny shops, run by people who seem to think that a five-year-old camera is worth 90% of what it was when it launched.

This market makes sense when talking about Leica because Leica is more an aspirational product. It's part camera, part jewelry. It's an objet d'art. That's totally fine! There's a lively market of people who all accept the value of Leica. Used lenses move quickly, bodies sell well for the price. It's not simply about the photos. It's about the experience of taking them, and that has a great deal of value. Fucking Panasonic does not have an experience. They sell their crap at Wal-Mart.

Likewise, this sort of behavior made some sense back in the days of film since major technological developments didn't happen every year. A Pentax K1000 would produce identical photos to the Pentax MX. The solid-state revolution had yet to take hold, and cameras didn't become obsolete every year. Well, now they do. A camera from five years ago will still take fine photos, but when a camera can be bought new that does everything much better, the value equation gets wildly shifted toward the new cameras. The older camera must be much cheaper to make up for the performance difference. This is a reality that home theater, computer, and car companies have had to deal with for many years. Every year pushes the boundaries of speed, processing, ISO, and size. Cameras are obviated very, very quickly. They are no longer a rare thing. They are no longer valuable.

If only someone would tell the people that are selling them.

The Nokia 808 Hurts Me

Reviews for the Nokia 808 PureView are trickling in from major websites and the conclusion that nearly all of them reach is the same: the 808's camera is truly amazing, everything else makes the phone unpurchasable.

This is depressing for an old Nokia fan like me. I owned the Nokia brick in the late 90's. I jumped through various phones, with even the downright bizarre 3650 and 7380 crossing my hands at one point. I owned the N93 — one of the first super-imaging phones — and finished up my love affair a couple of years ago with the N86. By then, it was apparent that Nokia, for whatever reason, was incapable of competing with Apple and the rising Android threat. The colossal disappointment that was the N97 was the final nail in the coffin.

If Nokia had chosen Android, I would have jumped on board. I just cannot see through to using Windows Phone. Microsoft has proven itself to be too corporate, too litigious, and too myopic to be a company that I can support. Google is far from innocent in these regards, but they are at least better; they at least try.

So I don't know what Nokia's internal state is. I don't know what the relationship with Microsoft is. I don't know what their market research data shows. Truly, I don't know anything about Nokia's operations. All I can say is that I, this one person, is not buying Nokia products because and only because Windows Phone is on them. And that hurts, because I want this camera phone but bad.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fuji's Lens Roadmap Is Impressive

The speculation can come to an end! Fuji has announced its lens roadmap for the rest of 2012 and all of 2013 and it is impressive indeed. The odd fixed aperture f/4.0 lenses are no more, replaced with zoom lenses with variable apertures that go all the way down to f/2.8 in the 18-55mm "kit" zoom. The 10-24mm maintains the fixed f/4.0, which considering the competition is rather expected. They are definitely taking advantage of the X Pro 1's exceptional low-light performance and being somewhat conservative in the speed of their lenses. This could be an excellent decision if they instead focus on sharpness and evenness across the frame.

With the lenses confirmed, I think that being somewhat effusive is called for. Sony's NEX system has been around for well over a year with only a single good lens. Micro 4/3 is nearing its fourth birthday and only in the last few months has it finally started releasing some good glass. Fuji's X Pro system will be less than a year old and have eight, count'em eight, lenses available. And if current lenses are any indication, they will be high-quality glass ready for even top-pro applications. Other camera companies should be ashamed.

I wish that the X Pro 1 wasn't such a mess in some truly critical ways, because I would jump on that train in a heartbeat. But as it is, I already have a lot of Micro 4/3 gear, the lenses are finally up-to-snuff, and the new Olympus E-M5 is, FINALLY, the camera that I wanted two years ago as a follow-up to the GF1. Granted, it's how good the GH3 is that will be the final deciding factor in whether I stick with the system, but the E-M5 is a great start.

This is about Fuji, though, and they deserve congratulations. A fantastic start to a nascent system.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Fuji Accelerating Lens Development

Fuji is apparently amping up its lens design in response to the huge success of the Fuji X Pro 1. The rumored lenses generally sound excellent, especially the rumored 14mm lens. As far as I know, that would be the widest-angle prime APS-C lens available. Canon's 10-22mm and Nikon's 10-24mm are available but are zooms, and neither of them are terribly impressive. A max-aperture of f/1.4 is possible, but this is doubtful. Currently, Nikon's 14mm FX prime is only f/2.8 and costs nearly two grand, and Canon's equivalent lens is $2,400! The APS-C sensor size will allow for smaller, and thus cheaper optics — as evidenced by the Pentax 14mm f/2.8 which costs $950 — but they would need Jesus designing and building their lenses to get a 14mm f/1.4 lens for a reasonable price.

The second piece of big news is the likelihood of a zoom lens. It obviously wouldn't be an extreme zoom, and would instead by a walkaround lens of 18-72mm with a constant f/4.0 aperture. The constant f/4.0 is a disappointment for such a conservative focal length, especially considering that Fuji will likely want at least a grand for the lens. f/3.5 would have been desirable considering that both Nikon and Canon have kit zooms that drop to f/3.5 and higher-end APS-C zooms that are f/2.8 constant. I doubt that this zoom will sell very well.

Further down the line brings more zooms, all, curiously, with an f/4.0 constant aperture. The 72-200mm sounds interesting, and the constant f/4.0 would be competitive, but I seriously doubt that it's going to very good. I also seriously doubt the successful implementation of the quasi-RF ergonomics with a 200mm lens. The 28mm pancake sounds exciting and will join Canon's new 40mm f/2.8 pancake in the long-belated chase of the exceptional Panasonic 20mm. The 23mm f/2.0 is just a 35mm equivalent that should have been available at or near the launch. 2013 is rather late.

Other than that, the X Pro 1 lens selection will be essentially complete for general applications after only eighteen months on the market. That is an exceptional achievement for a company that, until recently, had been reduced to even less than an also-ran. Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself. We must wait to see how the lenses actually perform. But here's hoping.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Nikon D800E Bests D800 In... ISO Performance?

DxOMark has run the venerable Nikon D800E through the ringer and it has come out on the very top of the digital camera heap. This is quite odd considering that it's the same camera as the D800, it only has one extra layer over the sensor.

The D800E is an odd sensor. One would expect a company to simply remove the AA filter if it wants to eliminate the AA effect. But apparently this would have been difficult, requiring two distinct manufacturing lines. Nikon's solution is to have a line that makes the standard sensor and another line that makes the AA filter sandwich. The sandwich has three parts, two of which are diffractive. One filter diffracts horizontally, the other vertically. The last step in that sandwich is switched from the vertical filter to another horizontal filter that acts like a de-diffraction filter.

With all of that optical jiggery going on, one would expect, if anything, a slight drop in ISO performance since no filter, no matter how perfect, will not transmit 100% of received light. Somehow, the D800E actually exceeds the D800. The only thing that I can think is that the act of diffracting a a serving of light over a larger area results in more light being lost to areas on the sensor that cannot collect photons, perhaps even off the edge of the sensor.

Also, it could just be variations between camera examples.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Nokia's 808 Will Blow Your Fucking Mind

"I can't believe that this is a cell phone," is what you'll say.

GSM Arena has posted its comparison of the Nokia 808 versus other phones. They have the iPhone 4s, representing the best that cell phones can currently produce. For fun, they also include the Olympus E-PL2 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III — both excellent cameras for their size and price. The 808, no surprise, blows the cell phone competition completely out of the water. Importantly, it also blows the Nokia N8, which was supposed to be the one cell camera to rule them all and totally wasn't, into another time zone.

What was a surprise, though, was that the 808 completely outresolves both the Canon and Olympus. Obviously, that has as much to do with the lens as the camera itself, but since the lens is built in, knowing that it is top-notch is pretty important. Obviously, colors from the Canon are smoother, with a lower amount of noise, but that is completely expected. The Canon's sensor is multiple times larger. The Olympus, though, has its ass handed to it. The Nokia is better in every way save for color rendition. The Nokia produces incredibly cold, blue images, which look very poor next to the warm, natural colors from the Olympus.

The detail, though, the detail is amazing. These are all likely OOC JPEG images, and as such, more detail is possible from the Oly and Canon, but I doubt that they would ever match the Nokia. In the first set of crops, look at the far left of the image. The doors and windows have a chain-link pattern that is only visible in the Nokia.

This is an epic performance, one that only drives home that cell phones will quickly become a threat for even standalone camera companies. That it took this long for Canon, Panasonic, Olympus, and the entrenched camera companies to respond to the unavoidable threat of cell phones is a disgrace. Once the final tests come out, this new Nokia may very well obviate the Sony RX100, Fuji X10, and Canon G1X. And Panasonic's and Olympus' ridiculous quest to turn micro 4/3 into the new point-and-shoot cameras will be their downfall. Will those cameras produce better images? In many cases, yes. But the fact that most compact cameras still outperform most cell phones hasn't stopped cell phones from ripping up the market.

The Nokia 808 portends a dark future for camera companies, unless they finally, finally, stop being arrogant, intransigent, old men, and start driving the market forward with innovation and investment.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Canon, Nikon, and Sony Are All Building Cheap Full-Frame Cameras... Why?

The Nikon D600
Oh the insanity. Photos of the supposed Nikon D600 have hit the web -no surprise, at xitech- all but confirming the existence of the cheap, full-frame camera. This combines with rumors that both Canon and Sony also have sub-$2,000 full-frame cameras in the works.

I'm sure that many people see this as shrewd behavior on the part of the entrenched players to keep their market shares secure. I think that it represents something much more pathetic... and puzzling! What this really indicates is that all of the major players in the traditional SLR industry have abandoned the APS-C market, even though it still has a great deal of interest in the enthusiast demographics. The fantastic performance of Sony's newest sensors, and the era-defining performance of the Fuji X Pro 1, confirm this.

Why do I see this as an abandonment? First, let's look at some points.
  • I was puzzled when Canon and Nikon didn't double-down on their compact, entry-level cameras in response to Micro 4/3's early success.
  • Nikon's most exciting APS-C camera is the near-entry-level D3200, with 24-thundering-megapixels. I think that this is obviously targeted at Micro 4/3.
  • Nikon's DX lenses, though, are mostly crap. Canon and Sony are similar, with their APS-C lenses playing an absolute second fiddle to the FF gear.
  • Canon and Nikon have a complete aversion to prime lenses, with their 28mm primes being some two decades old.
  • Instead of releasing an APS-C mirrorless system to compete with Sony, Nikon releases the "1" and Canon releases the G1X.
  • Canon's 7D and Nikon's D300 haven't been refreshed in three years. And in that time, not a single APS-C lens has been released.
  • Sony's been rumored to have been working on a sub-$2000 full-frame camera for some time to replace the Alpha A850.
  • Sony has announced increased development of the NEX line, with an accelerated lens release map and cameras coming out every eight months.
  • The Olympus E-M5 is a break-out hit, becoming Olympus' most popular camera on Flickr after less than a month on the market.
  • The E-M5 has made the important step of reducing the performance difference between it and the APS-C competition to a level that doesn't much matter. To achieve a significant performance increase, users would need to upgrade to FF or the X Pro 1.
  • Fuji's amazing X Pro 1 has had the enthusiast community all a twitter in ways that Nikon and Canon haven't in years. I should know, every page I post on the X Pro 1 garners hundreds (and in a few cases, thousands) of page views. My posts on Canon and Nikon: no more than a few dozen in some cases.
All of these points taken together make it seem that the major three, perhaps in response to Fuji and Micro 4/3, are relegating APS-C to the sub-$1,000 market. Anything even remotely desirable to enthusiasts will thus be full frame.

This makes no sense to me. Cheap full-frames are great, but APS-C makes more sense in almost every way for products in the sub-$2k market. People who will be interested in this price range are also people who will be sensitive to lens prices and FF lenses cost more. And if people who have the money for FF are in the market, they won't be willing to downgrade on the camera since they desire the best out of their already-expensive glass.

There are those who desire something other than absolute image quality, such as myself, and instead desire other things. This is the thing that Olympus and Panasonic seem incapable of understanding: their Micro 4/3 cameras became super-popular among enthusiasts who already had gear because they were so damned small. Some people desire discreteness and portability. A company cannot provide that with FF equipment, especially the gigantic zoom lenses that Nikon and Canon love. Micro 4/3 has obviously proven to be the best at this, but Sony has shown that APS-C can definitely give them a run for their money. And if Sony can provide more lenses to go along with their Zeiss 24mm, many pros will simply skip the low-level FF gear.

Full frame will never compete with Micro 4/3 or APS-C in size. I would wager that the Leica M9 is as compact as FF could ever go, and the M9 isn't exactly petit, nor is it light. The M9 weighs 600g with card and battery. The NEX-5n weighs 269g. The NEX-7, 353g. The Olympus E-M5 is positively porky at 425g. The Nikon D800 weighs in at 900g, while the heaviest current APS-C camera that I could find was the Sony A77 at 732g. The heaviest APS-C camera that I could find is over 160g lighter than the lightest FF camera.

I ranted about how Canon should have shifted the EOS 7D successor into the APS-H design, and perhaps they are doing this. But that was because Canon's sensors are terrible in comparison to the newest generation of Sony/Nikon/Fuji, not because I thought that APS-C was fundamentally limited.

All Canon and Nikon had to do was stop treating their APS-C camera market like second-class customers. That's it! I always thought that they should have doubled down on their compact APS-C cameras, push out some high-quality primes, and call it done. Micro 4/3 would have been effectively competed with. But, no. Instead they gave Olympus and Panasonic enough time to actually manage some semblance of market share even though both companies are run by bumbling idiots.

I'm so angry, I don't even know why I'm angry. We are getting cheap full-frame gear, which is great. I think. I think that I'm pissy because they are fragmenting the market even more. Nikon produced the stupid "1" series of cameras, and that's annoying because it means that money that could be put into the development of better APS-C and FF lenses was instead put into an over-priced, glorified, point-and-shoot intended for soccer moms.

I also find this irritating because it appears that, based on these actions, that Cankon do not treat Micro 4/3 as legitimate competition for them. Nikon sends the crippled D3200 to do battle with the GX1 and E-M5. Is the sensor better? Yes. Is absolutely everything else worse? Also yes. And by disregarding 4/3, they are by connection disregarding those who use it. We see similar arrogance in Canon creating the Cinema series of cameras and ignoring the SLR market, because who cares about filmmakers who are on a budget? Fuck'em.

Again, I give Sony credit since they are actively trying to merge their systems with the NEX adapter for their Alpha lenses. It's obvious that they are treating the compact, APS-C market as a legitimate playground for enthusiasts. They are pushing video technology forward, keeping prices down, and creating innovative, exciting products.

All companies must increase value to survive. This behavior is increasing value through price alone. They can't just say "Hey! We made a camera that's rather similar to this more expensive camera, just worse in a few key ways! But it's cheaper!" The cameras need to provide something different. That's why the far-and-away most popular Micro 4/3 camera was also the most expensive: the GF1. It cost nine-hundred-dollars when it launched in 2009. That's a lot for a camera that was pretty soundly outperformed in most ways by the competition. It immediately became a monster hit, though, because it provided something different.

DPReview even said of the GF1,
Another clue as to how much we liked the GF1 is that people in the office have actually been shelling out their own money to buy them, something almost unheard of in an office with cupboards full of all the latest cameras.
That is the power of different.

There is one way that Cankon could blow my mind: a mirrorless full-frame camera. I seriously, seriously doubt that this will happen, but it would be very cool. It would provide the power of FF, be more compact than full-sized SLR cameras, and provide whichever company produces it an excuse to actually make some decent, compact primes. A compact, FF camera for under $2,000? That would sell very well indeed, and be complimentary to existing FF hardware.

That's what I want. I want entry, middle, high, and top-pro. Complimentary segments. Currently there is chaos. These actions will inject even more chaos because NONE of the companies will be willing to back up their cheap FF cameras with good glass. And if Cankon produce some mirrorless cameras, the lenses for those will be absolute crap as well. All we'll get is more goddamned zooms.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New Reviews Of Fuji X Pro 1 Lenses

Some real, charted reviews of Fuji's three X Pro 1 lenses have, at long last, been posted. I'm surprised that it took this long, but so be it.

The 18mm lens performs as expected: very sharp in the center and rather poor in the edges. The images were a disappointment and so are these review results. Chromatic aberrations are rather high, to boot. All in all, I would not buy this lens.

Their example of the 35mm performs within the range that was expected. I say that way because it actually performs worse than the example that I used. This is a subjective analysis, obviously, but their charts show the lens performing only adequately up to f/4.0. My experience with the lens had it performing very well at the image edge at f/2.0. Again, subjective.

The 60mm lens performs almost identically to the Canon EF-S 60mm macro as regards resolution and trades wins vis a vis chromatic aberrations and vignetting. There is no complete winner, but I would definitely choose the Canon over the Fuji for its AF that actually works.

The conclusions to be reached were reached some time ago from the various subjective tests released by famous online photographers: the 60mm and 35mm are both very much worth their price, the 18mm is not. Fuji should be proud. Two fantastic lenses at the launch of their system is more than 4/3, Micro 4/3, NEX, and Samsung's NX cameras. Hell, Pentax has had their APS-C cameras out for years and still doesn't have anything world-class. Good show, Fuji.

Now, if you can just fix that AF.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

DPReview Posts D800/D800E Comparison

DPReview has posted its comparison of the Nikon D800 and D800E. The results are... whelming. First off, if you don't already know, the D800E is exactly like the D800 except that it has an additional layer of sensor-level light diffraction that nullifies the effects of the AA filter. This increases the resolution of the sensor. After so many experiences with cameras with increasingly light filters, I was expecting to see a big boost. I didn't get it.

That's not to say that there isn't a resolution increase, there most certainly is. It's just not very big. I'm a pixel-peeper and proud of it, but this is some truly academic pixel-peeping. What can best be said for the difference is an overall, slight-but-noticeable increase in texture. It's as though a slight haze has been removed from the image, which is exactly what has happened.

But the dreaded moire is alive and well in the shots. If you take primarily nature shots, the increased resolution will probably be desireable, but for anyone who does work with textures or urban environments, moire can be a pain in the ass. As DPReview's various resolution tests show, even with today's AA filters in place, false color can be pretty easily coaxed from cameras. In the D800E shots, it's visible in repeating patterns in the houses, but it's also visible in the clover in the center of the scene.

Moreover, as soon as you leave the tack-sharp center area of the lens, the difference disappears. Similarly, the difference fades when stopped down to f/16. Still, the extra resolution is there. It is apparent. With the AA filter negated, the D800E is undoubtedly the resolution king of anything below medium format. Given the choice, I think the D800E is worth the extra two-hundred bucks, especially if you plan on doing a lot of post production work where you'll have the time to spot and remove moire.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sony RX100 Is What The G1X Should Have Been

Sony has again shown the incumbent companies how to do things correctly. They did it with the innovative SLT system. They did it with their generation-defining EXMOR sensors. They did it with the amazing NEX-7. They positively upended the mirrorless market by bursting in and shoving aside the extant players. The NEX 5n and NEX 7 are easily the top selling mirrorless cameras in the US and Europe (a success Sony desperately needed). Only in Japan are Olympus and Panasonic really tearing up the charts. Now, again, they are doing it with the RX100.

I am not alone in my assertion that camera companies, whose sales of P&S models is being decimated by cell phones, need to move their compact models upmarket. They need to provide a value proposition beyond cell phone cameras, which are very limited. Their failure to do this, even with the writing on the wall for years, has resulted in their entire market possibly being leap-frogged by the Nokia 808 PureView.

Nikon arrogantly produced the "1" series of cameras: an evolutionary dead-end if there ever was one. Canon produced the ridiculously overpriced G1X. Fuji's X10 is even more overpriced than the Canon. Olympus and Panasonic have been doubling down on their still unproven belief that Micro 4/3 is a replacement for P&S for THREE YEARS.

But now we have Sony, seemingly the only company with any real grasp on what the market wants. The sensor is as big as the Nikon "1", but it's placed inside an actual, compact camera. None of this faux SLR crap with bad lenses. No! Sony has attached a real lens, taking full advantage of the smaller format of the sensor to produce a stellar f/1.8 max aperture. That also eliminates one of two major disadvantages to the Canon G1X, seeing as its glass is quite slow for a compact, integrated lens.

And while on the subject of the Canon G1X, can I just say how stupid I found it. It's an $800 camera built on pretensions. What do I mean by that? First, it's eight-hundred-freaking-dollars. Second, it has a viewfinder on it. It's not a real viewfinder!! It has no data in it. It's not a rangefinder or TTL. It's nothing. It's the very expensive equivalent of the little flip-up plastic squares that were attached to cheap 110 cameras. That's freaking absurd. Ditch the useless VF and give me a larger screen, smaller body, or more physical controls.

But back to the Sony. TechRadar has posted a review of it, Focus Numerique has posted test images, and Imaging Resource has posted their full overview, all showing the camera pretty soundly beating its only direct competitor, the Nikon "1". It's lagging the Canon G1X slightly, which is expected considering its larger sensor, but otherwise performs excellently. It even manages over 12EV of dynamic range in TR's review.

TechRadar complains about some limited RAW functionality, but I consider it a small problem. I think that Sony has produced the best possible camera for the size and price. This is precisely where a P&S should be. It should be good enough as a back-up for enthusiasts, but should primarily focus on people who want higher quality photos out of a camera that they simply turn on, aim, and press a button: the very raison d'être, of point & shoots everywhere. That means that it can't cost too much.

If it costs a bundle, enthusiasts will contemplate whether the camera is worth it or simply a faster/smaller lens for their existing system. Upgraders will be dissuaded since they don't enter the situation with the same value equation that enthusiast photographers have. That's why the Canon G1X was such a stupid creation. I said in my first impressions of it that it would be a much more attractive prospect if it had been priced $100 lower. Well, Sony went and priced theirs one hundred and fifty dollars lower. I think that they should have gone for $599, but $649 is probably going to be very acceptable to the market.

In comparison to the other camera in this general market, the Fuji X10, the Sony again shines. The lens isn't quite as good, with the Fuji lens only dropping to f/2.8 instead of f/4.9 like the Sony lens. But that doesn't matter. The Sony sensor is almost precisely twice the size of the Fuji, giving it a massive performance advantage. The Sony may not have the sexy body, but the Fuji has that same worthless viewfinder that the G1X has. As with the Canon comparison, the Sony wins.

I am very impressed with this camera. It is what it needs to be, a P&S, just a better one.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

DxO Mark Hails The Nikon D3200 (With Caveats)

As with Camera Labs a couple of days ago, DxO Mark has published their analysis of the Nikon D3200, and the results are fantastic. It achieves a total score of 81, putting it second behind the Pentax K5, which was a masterpiece of signal processing.

It's DxO Score is also equal with the new Canon 5D Mark III, but remember, the Mark III's ISO performance is more than double that D3200. It makes up for it in the dynamic range and color depth. That has been the real selling point of these new Sony sensors, the DR and color. They are just mind-blowing, as exemplified in the world-beating Nikon D800.

Something that I didn't specifically notice, but was discussed in the review, reminds me why I'm still angry at Nikon, even though not so much as I am at Canon.
Deprived of bracketing mode as well, the D3200 will be tough to seriously consider for users thinking about HDR photographer or those who are used to taking multiple photos to ensure correct exposure. This limitation, by the way, is strictly a matter of software and a deliberate choice on Nikon’s part in order to create differences between camera lines. The D5100, offered at the same price, is equipped with bracketing function.
For as much as we salute Nikon’s bold strategy of putting the best sensors into cameras designed for the general public, we cannot help but regret the quality of the JPEGs that the D3200 generates, which seems a priori below that of its competitors… due to the limitations Nikon has imposed on its software.

That is arrogance. Pure, unadulterated arrogance. When a company purposely and arbitrarily differentiates products for the sake of squeezing more money from its customers, it is dying. It may take awhile, but we're seeing it in the Sony corpus. No matter how big and proud a company is, it can die. Canon in its current form is doomed, but Nikon should also be worried.

That said, the D3200's performance is excellent. Compared to the Sony NEX-7, the slight ISO advantage that can be seen in some tests is mirrored, with the Nikon scoring 100 more points than the Sony. Color and DR are essentially identical, but that noise performance is somewhat visible. Nikon's pipeline and Sony's sensor should be praised. As DxO says, if you are willing to process RAW files, you will get some amazing, pro-level photos out of this camera.

And that's the rub: if you process RAW. Their JPEGs are not good, meaning that this camera will never be a great choice for your average family customer who just wants to point, press a button, and have the camera magically make photos happen. It's as though this is Nikon's response to the growing popularity of enthusiast cameras in the Micro 4/3 and NEX line, seeing as the overpriced Nikon "1" series sure as hell doesn't compete.

And maybe that's it. This is not meant for the average consumer. This is meant to keep people away from Micro 4/3 and Sony. Those people process RAW. Those people care about sensor performance. Those people may be lured away by one of the smallest mirror-&-prism cameras on the market and be willing to make some concessions in size for a sensor that absolutely outperforms everything in the 4/3 system and has more lenses than the NEX system.

If that's the case... that's remarkably shrewd. This is what I always expected the major companies to do, and they... sort... of... never did. I expected Canon and Nikon to double-down on their entry-level, small, APS-C cameras in response to Micro 4/3 and push the advantages of their sensors. Instead, Canon didn't do shit with their sensors and Nikon produced the laughable "1" series.

If this is intended to do battle with 4/3, they should have released this two years ago.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Camera Labs Posts D3200 Review

Cameras Labs, one of the very few camera websites that I read and take completely seriously, has posted its review of the Nikon D3200. If you don't already know, the D3200 is Nikon's new entry-level SLR camera that's rocking the same 24MP sensor as the Sony NEX-7 and A77/65.

The D3200 is a great camera, and further evidence as to why Canon should be very worried. The Nikon has 24MP... 24MP, and it outperforms the similarly-priced Canon 550D/600D even though that only needs to handle 18MP.

Noise performance in the tests is similar to other tests, placing the D3200 ahead of the NEX-7 at some ISO's and behind it in others. How odd. Something that is very noticeable, at least to me, is better sensitivity to blue compared to Sony's implementations of the sensor. In general, though, I would describe the image quality as nearly identical to the NEX-7.

The D3200 is about as small as you're going to get with a full mirror-&-prism set-up, and with the excellent workflow of Nikon, and access to Nikon's FF lenses if desired, the D3200 is really shaping up to be an excellent entry-level camera. The only issue that I see is that cameras from Sony, and even Panasonic and Olympus, offer greater speed and better per-pixel ISO performance, which isn't surprising with 24-freakin-megapixels wedged onto an APS-C sensor.

If you are considering this in comparison to a Canon, the choice is a no-brainer: the Nikon. Even with 24MP, the Nikon outperforms all of Canon's APS-C cameras as regards noise levels. But if you are looking into Sony, Panasonic, or Olympus, your choices are more difficult. The new Olympus E-M5 offers better noise performance and exceptional speed. Doubly to their advantage is the speed of Micro 4/3 lenses, with many cheap lenses having two, or even three, stops performance better than anything that Nikon makes for its smaller-sensored cameras. The 20mm f/1.7 lens is small, optically excellent, and less than $400 (when it's not sold out and being used to gouge customers by shit-head camera shops).

And while Sony's APS-C lenses are either ultra-expensive or just as slow as Nikon's (with a pretty standard max-aperture of f/3.5), their translucent mirror technology slaps a turbocharger into their cameras. Sony's SLT cameras offer so much speed that you would never miss a shot. Just point and press. That speed advantage is the reason why I would still opt for the Sony A57, especially if the primary mission is just that of a family camera. But if you are an aspiring landscape photographer on a budget, I can't think of a cheaper and more appropriate entrance into the 20MP club.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Very Short Time With the Fuji X Pro 1

I recently had a chance to play around with the Fuji X Pro 1 over the course of a couple of days. I figured that I would add my voice to the cacophony of reviews littering the web. I found that I used the optical viewfinder rarely, so issues with framing lines that many people had were never a problem for me.

Me Likey:
  • Image quality is amazing. Review photos barely do it justice. It's not quite up there with a 5D Mark II, but it's very close. Color saturation is excellent. Detail at high-ISO is amazing, but color saturation drops off at about the same point as most other APS-C cameras.
  • The body is very light. Some have complained about this, and I get their point, but it's much easier on the arms than a FF camera. Still, I enjoy the feel of my GF1 more.
  • The 35mm lens is critically sharp.
  • The 60mm macro is a noticeable upgrade in almost all optical ways compared to the Canon 60mm EF-S.
  • I found very few interface quirks that I disliked, unlike the X100. To be fair, I only used the X100 before the firmware upgrade.
  • The dial and button layout is excellent.
Me No Likey:
  • Autofocus is awful. Really, truly, amazingly awful. It's worse than the X100, the Olympus E-P1, and even the crappy point-&-shoot cameras that I had lying around. Compared to newer mirrorless cameras, it's not even a competition. This AF issue kills any advantage that the 60mm macro has over the Canon equivalent. I like to photograph fast-moving bugs with my lens, and the X Pro 1 is useless in that regard. The AF problem also affects my opinion of the lenses, since companies like Samyang are producing amazing glass for dirt-cheap... they just don't have AF. AF is the primary reason to buy within a company's system.
  • The 18mm lens is a huge let-down. Early shots seemed very good, and they are not. The other two lenses are worth their price, no doubt in my mind. The 18mm is not.
  • RAW converters still seem to be having a hard time figuring out what to do with the X Pro 1's sensor. It's been out for, what, two months and no updates? Currently, the Out Of Camera (OOC) JPEG's do a much better job of extracting fine details than Lightroom or Capture One. I don't know whether to blame the software companies or Fuji.1
  • I didn't encounter the serious metering issues that many did, but the camera did have a hard time getting it right on a few occasions.
  • I had some problems with reds not looking right. I don't know what to make of this.
  • Yet another mirrorless camera without focus peaking.
  • Bad video, but that's not too big of an issue. I have a GH2 for that.
  • The camera is still quirky. After coming from the slick, speed-oriented interface and workflow of Canon, it takes some adjustment, some of which I'm not willing to make. I don't need to feel deliberate and methodical to feel self-important about my photography. I shoot bees and my friends. I'm not photographing presidents.
  • No image stabilization system.
I wanted to like this camera a lot more than I did. I still am 100% behind it. Fuji is shaking up the industry and boy howdy does it need that. Everything about this camera is very Leica-y, though, and that only works for Leica because they are Leica. They are a prestige product. People don't own Leica because the photos are fundamentally better. They own Leica because of how it makes them feel when they take the shots.

Fuji understands that insofar as they are charging much, much less for their camera than Leica does. But the weird interface issues, slow autofocus, and lens choices make it obvious that Fuji is shooting not just for the enthusiast crowd, but the Leica crowd.

I am not the Leica crowd. I want every element of the workflow and interface to be flawless. I am willing to make concessions for image quality, as I've frequently said, and this camera's images are very impressive... buuuuuut, no. I just found myself, even after only a day, reaching for other cameras when I went out with friends and needed to get shots quickly before my friends had a chance to yell at me for taking photos.

This camera will absolutely be kept on my back burner. I loved so much of it. Unfortunately, Micro 4/3 has gotten very exciting, very quickly, and that did much to temper my excitement over the Fuji. Similarly, Sony's NEX system is growing quickly, providing further competition. I am not saying that they are superior, I'm only saying that they get so much right that the Fuji gets wrong, that it's hard for me to really drool over the Fuji like I did when it was first announced.


I should have pointed out that I see little difference between this camera and other top APS-C Cameras at low-ISO. Compared to a Pentax K5 and Sony NEX-5n, noise is visible in solid colors like blue sky that is not visible on the Fuji, but that's it. There is no other difference. I wish I had a 24MP Sony sensor to down-res to 16MP in a base-ISO comparison. I suspect that in that comparison, the Sony sensor would actually be superior.


1: A member of the Fred Miranda forums posted about watercolor artifacts in RAW conversions. He suspects that Fuji is to blame.

Another Bee On A Farm

You really lose all fear of bees after you spend enough time stalking them with a camera.

From fō-tō-gră-fē Photographs

Friday, June 1, 2012

Micro 4/3 Brings The Win

I have the spent the better part of my photographic blogging career complaining about Micro 4/3. I bought into the system with the Panasonic GF1, a brilliant camera, and then spent the next three years being disappointed. The lenses implied by the existence of the GF1 never materialized. The future cameras implied by the existence of the GF1 were never born. We finally got a wan follow-up in the form of the GX1, but by then, the market had moved on significantly, leaving Panasonic in the dust.

But now, in a come-from-behind surprise, Olympus has produced the first true follow-up to the GF1, the E-M5. I've used it for a short time, and while it's not everything for which I could have hoped, it is most of it. ISO performance is great, operational speed is excellent, the body feels great, and the video performance is surprisingly good. I think that it's a bit pricey, but beyond that, it's a very solid product.

The real excitement, though, has nothing to do with the E-M5 or any possible aspects to the upcoming GH3. The real action is in lenses. Olympus finally, finally, released lenses worthy of attention with the 45mm and 12mm. Then they announced a 75mm f/1.8, and even at $900, it's a bargain. Panasonic, not to be outdone, and after much... anticipation(?)... finally released their long-known-about X Lenses that don't suck (the first two X lenses, the 14-42mm and the 45-175mm were underwhelming).

The early reviews of the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 are very good. Sharpness is on a level that one would expect. Distortion is minimal. Truly, the kind of lens that Panasonic should have made at the beginning of this whole mess. Again, as with the E-M5, the only real criticism is that the price is too high. At $1,300, the 12-35mm will be the most expensive lens in the Micro 4/3 stable, and that's not a place a lens wants to be.

Since these cameras and lenses will likely be used as secondary camera for people who already own full-format gear, when a lens costs that much, it becomes a question of whether the person would rather invest that money into more FF lenses. That possible problem aside, I know that I will be willing to pay the price, and if we use me as an experimental sample and generalize out into the US market, 100% of the population wants to buy this lens. That's impressive.

Micro 4/3 just got real exciting real quick. I want both Panasonic X-lenses. I want the Olympus 75mm. I want the SLR Magic Hyperprime 17.5mm. I need to start saving.