Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Photography World Is Undergoing A Sea Change

So much stuff, so little time. I've been saying that the photography world is undergoing its largest shifts since the changeover to autofocus. The number and quality of competition is skyrocketing, what with Olympus and Panasonic finally putting up a fight, Sony really kicking ass, and Fuji delivering the most groundbreaking sensor since the beginning of digital. And while the video and mirrorless revolutions have not yet specifically unseated Canon and Nikon as the default camera companies, these were the vectors by which other companies have managed to gain footholds.

After the NEX-7, Olympus E-M5, RX100, and Fuji X Pro 1, what could possibly be released to top that? Plenty! First, today, Sony announced the NEX 5R. The successor to the immensely successful NEX 5N, the 5R's key feature is the inclusion of phase-detection pixels on the sensor, which have become the de rigeur technology to have seemingly overnight. What the 5R shows, though, is that Sony is deadly serious about grinding out updates, real updates, on a very rapid basis.

And it's not even the only NEX camera! We know that the NEX 7 will remain the flagship NEX camera for awhile longer, but apparently Sony thinks that there is some room underneath for another model. I'm not sure I agree and don't think that the camera will be a huge hit, but whatev's; Sony's trying. The NEX 6 is going to be rocking a viewfinder, possible the same amazing viewfinder in the NEX 7, but will implement the new 16MP sensor from the 5R instead of the thundering 24MP version in the 7. I said that the NEX series is getting white hot, and that is absolutely still true.

Fuji's sales of the X Pro 1 have flatlined pretty badly, or so I've heard. There was a big rush of interest, for obvious reasons, but that it died much more quickly than cameras usually do. Why this happened is fodder for another post, but Fuji was anticipating this and are not going to let their little sensor that could molder away in a high-priced camera that doesn't sell. As such, they are going to be releasing the X Pro's little brother, the X-E1! It will have the same sensor and a sexy body in its own right, but will be missing some of the X Pro's fancy doodads, like the hybrid viewfinder.

What's interesting though is that some leaked photos indicate that it will have a viewfinder, though, just not hybrid. This is a ballsy move on Fuji's part because it threatens to cannibalize some of the sales of the X Pro 1. Rumors are swirling that the X Pro 2 is only six months away, though, so Fuji may be looking at the Pro 1 as having spent its load.

I'm glad that Fuji is pressing into new price categories, since that's the only thing that's going to put serious pressure on Cankon. But at the same time, the thing that stopped me from buying into the X Pro 1 wasn't the price, it was all of the functional concessions that I would have had to make. The problem was that, aside from the sensor, everything about the Olympus E-M5 and Sony NEX-7 was superior, at times significantly. That's the kind of thing that you can't overlook when laying down $1600 on a camera body. Still, the lower the price, the less the motivation to resist saying "fuck it," and buying in regardless of any reservations.

What I really hope to see soon are the new lenses. The X-E1 is going to be using the same lenses as the X Pro 1, so even though the rumored price of the X-E1 of $1,000 let's me enter the XF system for $600 less, we only really have three lenses, and of those three, only two are worthwhile. The XF series is desperate for some more lenses. I mention this because Olympus just released the 75mm lens, which provides a 150mm equivalent, and it. Is. Amazing. That's very attractive to any enthusiasts and pros looking for compact size. I know that Fuji is going to announce a few lenses before the year is out, and I have high hopes that they are good. Because, man, Fuji's sensor is just unbeatable.

Being a Micro 4/3 man, announcements in that world are always exciting. The Olympus E-M5 was a bit of a disappointment for me in many ways, which is why I am holding out for the Panasonic GH3. Thankfully, the Panasonic AF100 has been a pretty big failure. This means that Panny is going to stop being like Canon and artificially segmenting their products as they did with the GH2 and the AF100. A large number of features that should have been in the GH2 were not, and were only unlocked with one of the firmware hacks that, oh right, everyone ever has, and that's because Panny didn't want to step on the toes of the bigger brother.

And as is frequently the case, when a company artificially segmented its products, it failed. Shocker. So with that bit of blithering stupidity out of their system, Panasonic is going whole-hog with the GH3. It's going to have a new sensor with a lower noise floor, weather sealed pro-level body, a high bit-rate mode, and hopefully enough connectivity to make your eyes pop. The magic of the IBIS on video on the E-M5 make it very attractive, but the lack of serious video functionality limits its appeal. The GH3 could be the the camera for budding videographers.

Finally, the first effects of the competition are being seen on Canon. While the C100 is an otherwise boring camera, the price is very interesting. It was going to be released for $8,000, putting it squarely in competition with the Sony FS700. In fact, this price was so set in stone, that sources and statements on the price up to now have all been quoting the $8k figure. Suddenly, though, pre-order pages are showing prices for £5,000 GBP. This is a last-minute course correction and the first visible sign that Canon even recognizes the existence of other companies and their products.

It's obviously a wan tilt of the hat, and I don't think that it will be enough to counter Canon's hitherto unfettered intransigence, but it is something, and something is more than nothing. Too bad the Blackmagic camera, GH3, whatever the hell Sony is cooking up, and number of other things on the horizon make Canon's products moot. They started going after the RED/ARRI market just as that market was starting to erode from the bottom up.

All in all, we have more competition than ever before, more innovation than ever before, and lower prices than ever before. Everything is looking up.

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