Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Bonanza Of Details About The Panasonic GH3

The GH3 stands a chance at being the video/photo hybrid camera to own. I have high hopes for inevitable tests of the sensor and its video capabilities. Still, there are some points that are available now that are cause for concern.

The Sensor

Thanks to a recent interview over at Imaging Resource, we have a large number of great data points. First, and I think most importantly, we now know that physically, the GH3 does not have a multi-aspect sensor. The designers wanted to make a large number of improvements to the sensor, and the resources required to do this essentially negated the larger sensor. They seemed to indicate that they still wanted the multi-aspect sensor, so we may yet see it again in the GH4. I, for one, don't really care about this feature. It's not an issue with larger lenses attached with adapters, but native m4/3 lenses vignette more severely on the 1.86x sensor. For photography, not much of an issue. For video, though, it can be annoying.

In that same question, they also dropped that the sensor is going to be an in-house Panasonic design. There had been a lot of questions about whether the sensor was going to be a Sony, as is found in the Olympus E-M5, but the engineers said that they were limited by the sensors available from the "sensor group." It is always possible that the sensor group was working with extant Sony sensors, which would help to explain the lack of the 1.86x sensor, but I think that this confirms that the sensor is a genuine Panasonic creation.

The engineers provide an excellent data point that provides some insight into the sensor's dynamic range. They say that it is an "extended dynamic range," and if the numbers they provided are even slightly accurate, that's going to be very true, and a huge upgrade to the GH2. The engineers say that the theoretical limit for the pixel saturation should be 45,000. The actual number will be lower, but even if it is half the limit, it will be good. We can use SensorGen for actual data, and the E-M5 has an actual limit of 25,000. The comparatively pathetic GH2 has only 11,000. What's going to be most important is an increase in the quantum efficiency, in which Panasonic is weak since the GH1, which was both objectively and subjectively the best sensor that Panny has made.

Unfortunately, they also revealed some distinctly non-marketing speak details when they said that the "sensor isn't specially designed, so it just scans normally." They talked about this in reference to the read rate being 1/10th of a second, which does mean that the sensor takes 1/10th of a second from the first pixel to the last pixel being read. Apparently, with standard sensors, the read rate is based on the pixel count, and that means that the GH3's rolling shutter is going to be no better than the GH2. Disappointing, to say the least.


One place where the GH3 is not at all disappointing is in the feature department. The GH3 is so loaded with features as to be a little overwhelming. Thankfully, unlike many other companies, Panasonic's features are real features. You know. The kind that customers actually want and don't think that they want they read the sign when in the store.

The biggest one is the extensive connectivity features. Bluetooth and WiFi provide all manner of connections, including full video controls via a tablet or smartphone.

The biggest detail though is that usage of WiFi allows the potential for any and all kinds of connections, including XLR connections. The engineers in the aforementioned interview said that this isn't currently on the slate, but if it's possible, you can rest assured other companies and hackers will make it happen.

For me, the most important feature was always focus peaking. I was excited to hear that this would be coming to the GH3, but now, we hear otherwise. The GH3 will not have focus peaking, and that is a massive disappointment. The engineers were incredibly evasive on the question of this and zebra-striping to indicate overexposure.

They said that they have limited resources and must focus on many products. If this is indeed true, then Panasonic is still just as stupid as we've become accustomed to. The GH3 is the only Panasonic product about which anyone gives a rat's ass. It is the very definition of a halo product, and being affordable makes it the ideal halo product. That Panasonic isn't putting everything that they can behind it would be a display of magnificent stupidity.

Which is what makes me think that this reason is a lie. I suspect that Panasonic is holding off on things in an attempt to figure out how to squeeze more money from the situation. Their stupid pricing of their zoom lenses  illustrates this executive drive in action.

This is not the time for Panasonic to half-ass it. They need to go all-out. And if they don't, Sony will eventually pass them.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Trust Me, You Want The Blackmagic Cinema Camera

One River Media has produced a stunning example of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera's abilities. It's going up against the Canon 5D Mark III, which in comparison to most of today's digital cameras comes out looking pretty poorly, but even in the ways the the Canon is usually very strong, the BMCC comes out on top. In low-light performance, the BMCC does very well, and its dynamic range leaves the large-chipped Canon in the freaking dust. Truly, the stunning clarity of the sensor makes me want to write a movie and film it just so I have an excuse to use this camera.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what innovation looks like.

Comparing the Cinema Camera & 5D Mk III from OneRiver Media on Vimeo.

Canon EOS 1DX Is Identical To 1DC. WTF?

As if we needed more evidence to support the assertion that Canon sucks, here comes this doozy of a factoid: the upcoming, thirteen thousand dollar, EOS 1D C cinema SLR camera is fucking identical to the already released EOS 1DX. The only difference is the firmware.

Why would Canon do something like this? Because they are an arrogant monstrosity that likes to rip people off. They are, quite literally, bolting $6,000 in profit on to every 1D C that they sell and telling anyone who is interested to bend over and take it. How in the bloody blue hell do they expect to compete in an increasingly competitive market with that sort of internal business philosophy?

I thought Panasonic was bad when they priced their new lenses so high. I thought Hasselblad was bad when they wrapped an NEX 7 in leather and tried to sell it for $5,000. This blows them both out of the water. The only other camera that even comes close is the Sigma SD1, and while its overprice was worse, it was at least a unique camera!

It's amazing how often technology companies try to pull this shit. There are two examples in the world of computing that are prominent in my mind. Intel, back in the day, released a series of 486 processors that were, in all ways, identical. They were all a bunch of different prices, though. Why was this? Because Intel intentionally crippled the cheaper ones. An industrious user could, somewhat easily, change the settings to "unlock" the actual potential of their new chip. Later on, the chips were actually different, but for a good year or so, they were absolutely identical.

Similarly, there has been an ongoing debate in the world of high-end graphics cards for some time. A graphics card that is good for running games usually costs between $100 and $400, with a few mega cards as much as $1,000. Workstation cards, on the other hand, cost upwards of $6,000. What's the difference between the two types? No one knows. Most people suspect that there is almost no difference. Understandably, many pros are pretty pissed off when they think that their $3,000 is available to gamers for $300.

As such, it's not surprising to find out that almost every single graphics pro whom I know is running a standard desktop card. People don't like to feel ripped off.

The world of pro-level graphics cards supports this sort of rip-off, I think, because competition is borderline non-existent. There are two companies: Nvidia and AMD, and that's pretty much it. Similarly, back during the 486 processor era, you had one processor company: Intel. Companies in positions such as that can afford to be arrogant. It usually breeds contempt, though, and today we have companies running in droves to mobile processors to get away from Intel, and almost every computer power-user that I know hates either AMD or Nvidia.

That is almost beside the point. The camera world is very competitive, and it is getting immensely more so. The world of pro-level imaging may have been receptive to this sort of cash grab in the past, but that is no longer true. When Fuji's APS-C cameras provide full-frame level performance from a small sensor, and Sony produced the NEX-7, capable of world-class images for around $1,000, and Panasonic's GH3 is more pro in may ways than Canon's $13,000 EOS 1D C(rap), when all of this is considered, Canon is essentially insulting us when they do this. They are saying "we think that you are stupid enough to buy whatever we give you."

Unfortunately for you, Canon, I'm not.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Hooooo-wee! Nikon D600 Tops The Charts!

Well, not quite. It's in third place over at DxOMark. Behind the D800 and D800E. So in the world of performance per dollar, it's #1. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this only further relegates the recently-announced Canon EOS 6D to "why the fuck do you even exist?" status. I'm still not the biggest fan of the D600 because they didn't drop the price to below $2,000, but this test result makes it much easier to like.

Yes, yes, it's only $100 more than that target, but I see the fact that they didn't go for the sub-$2,000 price as further evidence for the severe conservatism in place at Nikon. They were very aggressive with the feature set, which is nice, but that price sticks in my craw. And since this area of the market just got real competitive, real quick, it makes it all the more important to take bold steps in design and pricing.

Moreover, the price of the D800 makes this camera's price harder to see as, not reasonable, but sensible. When I can get the greatest camera ever (for the time being) for less than 50% more, why wouldn't I want and save up? It's smaller and a bit lighter, but in this size category, the lenses are going to negate any noticeable difference.

It must be recognized that Nikon is stepping up their game. I remember the shock and awe when Nikon priced the D3X into the Oort Cloud. The D800 and D600 indicate that they are never likely to do something that arrogant again, especially seeing as they lost nearly half of their market to Canon during the time that the D3X was king. We have a new king, and this time, he isn't handicapped with a ridiculous price.

Now let's see what Sony has up its sleeves.

First GH3 ISO Tests

And there you have it. The first tests of the GH3's ISO performance have hit the interpipes. They are good. I won't say spectacular because, first, they are only JPEGs and not RAW, and two, because even with that considered, they are only what we would expect.

Based on my "seat of the pants" analysis, the camera is a stop better than the GH2 at high-ISO. It also lags the E-M5 slightly. This is an admittedly limited analysis, but from what I'm seeing, I don't think there will be much to criticize. That doesn't mean there won't be anything to criticize.

At the minimum ISO of 200, there is some color banding in the shadow areas. And considering that this camera will be going up against the lower-priced Fuji XE-1, which is two full stops better, this is a point of serious consideration for anyone who's planning on buying into a system. I'd say that the ISO performance is good enough where Sony's APS-C cameras hold no specific advantage and if not for Sony's dedication to innovation, I'd say that m4/3 was the obvious choice.

All that said, the GH3 is a unique camera. No other company is even close to offering what this camera has. Based on these photos, I'd say that if you are only interested in still photography, then Sony or Fuji is the better bet. They simply have a fundamental advantage in the form of their sensors. But if you like shooting both stills and video, the GH3 is looking more and more like the camera for you.

More Info About The GH3 and Micro 4/3 In General

A few interviews with reps for both Oly and Panny have hit the webs and they provide some interesting, if not quite juicy, details.

First, Olympus is retarded. They denied any work on m4/3 versions of their Zuiko glass. Instead, they made some wan gesture toward a converter. I don't think that I can put to words how stupid this is. With Sony, the converter made perfect sense. Their Alpha lenses are a vibrant system, made only more vibrant with the exciting release of their SLT pro-level cameras. 4/3 does not have this advantage/limitation. 4/3 is dead. Drop the dead donkey.

But back to the good stuff, Panasonic. An interview over at EOSHD has given us some very cool bits of data. First, the sensor's readout time on the new GH3 is 100ms. I assume that means that it takes 1/10th of a second from the point the first pixel is read to the last pixel. This seems very slow to me. I don't know what other digital cinema cameras have, but considering what I've seen in rolling shutter tests from the likes of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Sony NEX 7, this read-out time is among the best.

Interestingly, the reason for the low bitrate recording on the GH2 was to keep internal temperatures within Japanese regulations. I suspect that there is some truth to this, but I also suspect that the bigger reason was that Panasonic didn't want to step on the AF100's toes, which was stupid. There is a brief mention in the interview of the AF100, where the rep claims that it was once popular, but now isn't. No. It was never popular. There's a big difference.

That point about temperature, though, is interesting. Temperature in chips has been a point of focus in the computer world for years. People all around the photography community were suddenly introduced to the problem when cameras like the EOD 5D Mark II started overheating like crazy during extended shoots. As pointed out in the interview, one of the reasons is that to get the sensor to read out at an acceptable speed requires powah, and that means heat. This gives me hope that future hacks of the GH3, when combined with  suitable heat sinks, could effectively be overclocked to increase the sensor readout. It's too bad that we are at least a generation away from a global shutter, though, specifically because of these issues.

The only video point that is very disappointing is the 4-2-0 HDMI out. Yes, it's uncompressed, but 4-2-2 is important for pixel-peeping. It's noticeable. Not terribly so, mind you, but enough to be a niggle. It's gonna' make one bad-ass webcam, though.

Panasonic X 12-35mm Loses Some Dollar Signs

The Panasonic X 12-35mm, which has really only been available for a very short time, has already seen its first price drop. This doesn't come as much of a surprise, seeing as I've spent the last few days posting repeatedly about Panasonic and how the X lenses will likely be a failure.

So where are we? The 12-35mm now costs $1,099. To me, this speaks of a company that is gingerly stepping in unknown territory where they should be taking bold steps: drop it to $999. For one thing, I think that it is optically only worth about one thousand dollars. That's a personal judgment so you can accept it or not. My other point stands perfectly well, though: Panasonic needs market penetration. This will not happen with half-steps. This will not happen with greed. Attack the market. Attack the competition.

Do not be like Olympus. I have no idea how they bumbled into the 75mm and E-M5, considering that everything else they've done, and everything else that they have announced, has been incompetent. For example, in a recent interview, an Olympus rep denied any plans for m4/3 versions of their top-quality Zuiko lenses.

All that said, this price drop is an excellent idea. I don't know whether this is in response to poor market response or merely a strategic choice even before the market has a chance to react. Either way, this is a good showing on Panny's part. I think that they should drop this to $999, but $1,099 will be much more likely to experience significant uptake among pro-thusiasts.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

New Domain Finally Live

Well, that was a nightmare.

After much ado, and nearly a week of a dead website, is now live. No longer am I some crappy little blog. I'm not a gen-yoo-wine website. I feel so validated. I'm going to celebrate with a new logo.

The GH3 Is a Weird (But Exciting) Camera

The website Discover Mirrorless has posted a video interview of various US Panasonic reps talking about the GH3. This is a peculiar video because these reps actually say things. Companies usually keep their executives and PR people on very short leashes. It's why talking to them is usually totally useless.

This video, while much longer than it needs to be, and the host is just awful, has some useful information. For me, the biggest revelation is that the GH3 does in fact have a multi-aspect sensor. For some reason, it is just disabled in firmware. I don't know if they plan on enabling it in the future. I suspect that they do, because, why not? For many a filmmaker, this is a big deal. The GH2's 1.8x sensor resulted in some pretty serious vignetting when using anamorphic adapters and considering how popular iscorama adapters became for the the GH2, it makes a little sense. It's still very strange, though. Why not just provide the ability in the menu system? This is aimed at pro-thusiasts, and trust me, they understand how to change settings.

Adding to the strangeness is a clean, uncompressed HDMI output, but they won't be advertising that. Wha? Why not? That's a pretty big deal. Instead, they focus on the myriad wireless ways that the camera can connect, which are best for photographic work... even though they admit that wasn't the focus.

Their focus on video over photography is apparent even in what they explicitly say. They mention a focus on video with their new lenses, which leads me to believe that the video performance of them is going to be very good. They're still over-priced! They also talk about how making the argument to move over to the GH3 from existing systems is more difficult when looking purely at photographic applications. This camera was expressly built from the ground-up as a hybrid camera.

One point of severe concern in the video is the stuttering response to the question about low-light ISO performance. I guess we'll see when we see.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Panasonic Pulls Head From Ass

In a recent interview, a Panasonic rep has said that the company will be refocusing on the higher-end. The reason they gave is that the margins are higher. Good course, stupid reason. I'm embedding their press conference, even though it's painfully bad.

I love when companies admit that the past three years have been a disaster, but do it in terms like "well, we could have continued on as before if we wanted to, but it's just so dreary!" No, Panasonic. I don't buy it. You weren't catering to the amateur market, you were catering to the "soccer mom" crowd. There's a big difference. Your margins didn't suck, they didn't exist at all. No one was buying your cameras.

Regardless, I guess, Panasonic is making the right choice. The only people interested in ILC systems are pro-thusiasts. That's why Sony served them their own ass on a platter. Sony delivered compact, mirrorless cameras with exceptional image quality, and control schemes and designs loaded with pro-thusiast touches, all at a low price. That's why the NEX 5 and 5n were huge hits. Neither Panasonic nor Olympus had anything like that. They had crap for cheap, or decent stuff for high prices. Or as with Oly, crap for high prices.

Then, Olympus releases something like Sony (and partially made by Sony), the E-M5, and it's a gigantic hit! Shocker! Only I... and four million other photography enthusiasts knew that would happen. Somehow, the actual camera companies were some of the few who didn't understand that.

The prices of the new X lenses indicate that Panasonic has gotten greedy. Granted, the company has a history of doing this. They think that they will simply be able to start selling in this market and command the massive premiums that other systems have. Sorry guys, you won't. The GH3 is going to be a huge hit. The lenses, I'm not so sure. Especially now with focus peaking, I suspect that many pro-thusiasts will choose other lenses.

This level of stupid arrogance is beginning to drive me insane. It's like cell phone companies producing a flagship, and then pricing it high and expecting to sell iPhone levels (actually, Panasonic did precisely this with the Eluga). No. That doesn't happen. You need legacy, history, and loyalty.

It's the kind of blind greed and abject idiocy that drove Sigma to price their SD1 at over $9,000 at launch. Sigma won't admit anything, but considering that every, single dealer I know, and every dealer network with which I have contact, not a single SD1 was sold leads me to believe that global sales in the first few months were measured in the single digits. The SD1 still doesn't have any reviews on Amazon.

As I said, unless these new X zooms have fantastic video characteristics, I suspect that Panny will be highly disappointed with the sales. The 12-35mm is overpriced, the 35-100mm is very overpriced. Panasonic needs to take a page from Olympus's 75mm playbook and release world-class glass for less than the competition.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Welcome Back, Me!

I'm glad to be back!

Blogger has been dead for days! Apparently, the GoDaddy outage caused a major issue at Blogger, and I was unlucky enough to try buying a new domain right as the issue presented itself. I'm very angry. Blogger was aware of the issue and continued to let people buy new domains. Lord knows how many pages views I'm going to lose going into the future after being dead for a week.

Canon Reminds Us That They Suck With The 6D

As everyone else was announcing kick-ass stuff, Canon released the successor(?) to the 7D: the 6D. I argued that Canon should move their high-end DSLR camera range into the APS-H sensor design, for which they already have production lines and engineers from their work with the EOS 1D. Instead, Canon has released the 6D and gone full-frame to compete with the cheaper FF SLR that Sony will announce in the future and the current FF SLR price king, the Nikone D600.

I won't go into details, because the camera really doesn't deserve much coverage. Not because it's bad, but because it's boring as hell. What is bad is the mind-blowing arrogance that is evinced by the camera's existence. Even DPReview looked down upon it. And remember, DPReview is owned by Amazon, which means that it is in their best interests to never talk bad about any camera... which is the reason they so rarely do. From DPReview's preview of the 6D, emphasis mine:
Overall, though, it's difficult to shake the feeling that the EOS 6D simply lacks the 'wow' factor of its main rival. Whereas Nikon seems to have taken the approach of taking away as little as possible from D800 when creating the D600, Canon appears almost to have gone the other way, removing as much as it thinks it can get away with at the price. The result is the kind of conservative, slightly unimaginative design that's become the company's hallmark. It's still bound to be a very good camera, of course; just perhaps not quite as good as it could be.
In DPReview's world, that's the equivalent of saying that Canon's mother wears army boots. That is a profound statement. It illustrates how far Canon has fallen.

What's even more striking is how expensive the 6D still is. $2,100 for a stripped down economy camera with a big sensor. If the only thing you care about is the sensor, than perhaps this camera is for you. But even then, this is really damned pricey.

In fact, who the hell is Canon selling this camera to? If you already have a 7D, you will also have an APS-C lens set, meaning that to move up to this will require new lenses. If you're going to enter a new system, anyone in this price range will choose the D600.

Perhaps Canon's 7D market is already filled with FF lens owners who simply attach them to the 7D. But this also sounds unlikely, since anyone with the budget to buy a bunch of $1,000+ lenses won't just have a 7D; they already have a 5D Mark II or III. And even if they didn't, one would imagine working pros really missing all of the pro-level stuff that they paid extra for when they bought the 7D instead of Canon's cheaper APS-C cameras. If they really wanted FF that badly, they would have stumped up the extra cash for the 5D Mark II.

A cheap camera like this is generally used to lure people into a system, and it loses to Nikon and Sony pretty badly. It simply doesn't compete. And if the 5D Mark III's sensor performance is any indication, even the large sensor won't be very good. This camera needs to be a lot cheaper than it is, and it's not because Canon is arrogant.

Panasonic GH3 And Lenses Announced

Lookin' good.
We now have all possible information on the new GH3, and it is everything we thought it would be.

I'm still upset by the 1/160th flash-sync and the max 1/4000th shutter speed, but I'll move on. Afterall, this is a hybrid camera, and by that they mean that video features are really the focus. And as I mentioned in my earlier post, this camera doesn't get any better for video. Well, I mean it could get better, but not by much.

It still includes a pop-up flash, because camera companies think we're all masochists. But other than that, the ergonomics are a massive upgrade. It puts it in the same size range as small SLR cameras, but that's like comparing and armor-clad Ford Focus to a minivan. Yeah, they're similar in size. My only real significant disappointment in the design is the lack of a second SD-Card slot.

The 71.something megabit video codec is exciting for two reasons. First, out of the box, this camera will be capable of broadcast-quality work. Second, the camera will of course be hacked not long after release, meaning that sky-high bit rates are not far off. And considering that the stock GH2 was able to handle some pretty crazy bit rates in stock form, I shudder to think what the GH3 will be able to do.

Sadly, we will have to wait to see what the sensor is capable of in photography. We're not completely without information, though. First, we know that the sensor is not a multi-aspect sensor. I suspect that this was because of the significant vignetting caused by using m4/3 lenses with anamorphic adapters on the GH2's 1.86x crop sensor. By switching to a standard 4/3 sensor size, anamorphic work will be much easier.

Second, with the official announcement now behind us, Phillip Blooms Genesis promo video has been made available for download, so we can see the full bit-rate version. The version embedded is the Vimeo stream, which is running at something like 8Mb. Head over. Download. Enjoy.

Panasonic GH3 launch film: Genesis from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

So what can we glean from the video? One, the video is noticeably superior to any other SLR-styled camera that I've seen. The 5D Mark III is the only other camera that support bit-rates as high as the GH3, and it's video quality lags the GH3 by a wide margin. There's good gradation in the shadows and sky, but not mind-blowing. Dynamic range does indeed appear to be much improved over the GH2, which gives me hope for the photographic tests and the inevitable comparison to the E-M5. Detail is fantastic. Unfortunately, the codec is blocking out some of what will be apparent in final photographs. So in the end, the video tells us more about the codec than about the camera. What it says, though, is promising.

In addition to the camera, Panasonic also dropped two new lenses, and both of them are absolutely drool-inducing. A 42.5mm f/1.2 prime, and a 150mm f/2.8(!) prime. These are both exciting and infuriating. They won't hit the market for eighteen months, and even then, if Panasonic's past is any indication, they won't be readily available because Panny will manufacture five of them. It also pisses me off because this stupid-early announcement is meant to do one thing: beg people to not drop Panasonic in favor of Sony.

Panny knows full well that Sony has kicked them in the proverbial balls over the course of the past year. One would also hope that Panasonic is aware that they borked the hell out of the significant lead they had in the mirrorless market. Sony has dominated the market, the conversation, and the innovation for twelve, solid months. Simply promising lenses nearly two years into the future is fucking pathetic. If the GH3 hadn't been a home run, I would have jumped over to Sony just to spite Panasonic. At least it's not as bad as what Canon released.

The one lens that Panasonic actually announced is the 35-100mm. It's price is even higher than the 12-35mm, at an eyebrow-raising $1,500. I was disappointed with the performance of the 12-35mm, and thought that it's actual price shouldn't have been over $1,000. At $1,500, this lens better be one hell of a performer. These prices also don't bode well for the eventual prices on the 150mm and the 42.5mm. Panasonic is getting greedy, with no reason whatsoever to do so. Still, they are at least not as bad as Sigma with the SD1.

Getting back to the GH3, was it worth the wait? I'd say yes. Assuming that the sensor is solid, it is the best m4/3 camera on the market. In most features, the E-M5 is much less compelling. That said, the E-M5 is much smaller. I see the E-M5 as the true successor to my beloved GF1 and the GH3 is the successor to... the GH1. If I was to choose one, I'd pick the GH3 any day of the week. It's larger and heavier, but it's a tool and was designed as such. The E-M5 was designed with size and style considerations. There's nothing wrong with that, but since I can't afford both cameras, I'm buying the GH3.

Obviously, I'm going to wait for the sensor tests, but if early impressions are correct, I think congratulations are in order to m4/3. I'm staying put.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

More Panasonic GH3 Details Leak

A few more deets on the GH3 have dropped and they reveal some things of interest. Most importantly, of course, is the price. It's higher than I would have hoped, but considering the numerous body enhancements, it's not unreasonable. Body-only is $1,299, a not-insignificant $400 more than the GH2 at launch.

Well, what do we get for that extra $400? We get a new sensor, but that's never worth an increase in price. The market is much more competitive than it was when the GH2 released, meaning that for the GH3's value equation to remain the same, it needs to actually be cheaper.

But back to the sensor; it appears to be another multi-aspect sensor as with the GH2, with 17.2Mp resulting in 16.05Mp images. I'm hoping that the sensor at least matches the new Olympus E-M5. It was the first sensor to make m4/3 a legitimate competitor to APS-C and if the GH2 doesn't do the same, it kills itself as a photographic tool. It may still be very useful as a video tool, but it will be camera non grata for those wanting to freeze moments. Regardless of what PR reps and arrogant, online photographers trying to justify their love of Leica say, the sensor matters a lot. If it's not up to snuff, the camera is crap, no matter how good other elements may be.

From the photos, it's obvious that the tactile interface of the camera has received a major overhaul. At the risk of sounding overly effusive, the camera looks fantastic. Everything about it exudes an aura of pro. I'm especially excited about the mechanical scroll wheel on the back of the camera. I'm glad that this feature appears to be picking up steam in the camera world.

The body is beefy as hell; much better than the plastic body of the GH2. This is a significant and welcomed upgrade. It's unfortunate that the camera isn't be called weather sealed. They say it is "dust and splash resistant," whatever the hell that means. Again, comparing it to the E-M5, it had better be the same level of sealing.

Contained within that body is the single most exciting element of the camera: a cooling system. Frequently, that's the biggest reason the frames for holding video hardware are so large; they must accommodate the heat sinks and sometimes even liquid cooling required of high-output digital sensors. I've seen people dismantle cameras to attach heat plates to draw away heat and allow for extended shoots.

The camera is going to have extensive tethering support for everything from laptops to cell phones. Could this camera get any better? Oh? It can? How? A 71-freaking-megabit codec, that's how! We'll have to wait and see how this plays out, but the few tid-bits available from those who have handled the camera are already lavishing it with praise. This is from a pure video perspective, mind you, and it's the photographic elements that are of slightly greater interest to me.

Here, there are a couple of disappointing elements to the design. First, the max shutter speed of 1/4000 is annoying, as is the flash sync of only 1/160th. Again, the smaller sensor allows everything associated with the sensor to be cheaper/easier to make. The sensor only drops down to ISO 200, an infuriating practice that seems to be growing more common. I suspect companies are doing this because it allows them to "trick" the sensor into doing something it otherwise wouldn't be able to do. I'm not sure how, but Olympus' wild mis-calibration of the E-M5, with ISO 200 being more like ISO 130, makes me confident that this is on purpose.

All things considered, the GH3 is shaping up to be a fantastic camera. It all hinges on that sensor. If it can match the E-M5's chip, the GH3 will be the m4/3 camera to buy, and will immediately become the video tool of choice for anything below the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. I think I know what I'm asking for from Santa.

Good Morning Glory

Friday, September 14, 2012

Olympus Goes Back To Disappointing Me

Olympus will be releasing a few new lenses. The first, a 15mm f/8.0 is one of the weirdest lenses ever released by a major company. It costs $79, which may seem cheap, but when you look at Canon's $100 50mm f/1.8, it's downright expensive. I have no idea for whom this lens is intended. Nor do I understand why Olympus would release something so weird while their proper lens collection remains pitiful and of low quality.

The second is the long-awaited macro lens for m4/3. Is it the same as the stellar 50mm f/2.0. No! Of course not. That would be smart. Instead, it is a 60mm f/2.8. 10mm more length, plus a full stop less light, for more money! What a great idea!

The third lens is almost as big a disappointment. It is the 12mm f/2.0, just black instead of silver. It comes with the hood, but costs $100 more than the silver lens. Gee. How generous of you, Oly. Seriously, did the department that produced the 75mm lens get disbanded or something? Or was that lens a fluke that slipped out by accident?

Why can't Olympus get it, now, and stop fucking around. No one cares about the E-5 and 4/3. Ditch the goddamn system, focus on m4/3, and start converting your optical designs over the new flange distance. Are you out of your fucking minds? Do it now! I don't mind the 50-200mm, but autofocus is shower than shit. I want native lenses, as do almost EVERYONE that bought the E-M5. Because to whom do you think the E-M5 is selling? Pro-thusiasts! Almost exclusively, I'd wager.

And while we're on the subject of lenses, Panasonic's new wunderlens, the X 12-35mm, has finally gotten a charted review. Some early comparisons with other lenses in a similar price range were very disappointing, with both resolution and contrast in the edges being noticeably behind Canon and Nikon's lenses. Photozone's review confirms everything that we all suspected from the test shots, both good and bad.

At 12mm, distortion is unacceptably severe: 5.8%. Both of Panasonic's other zooms, the 14-42mm and the 14-45mm had similar levels of distortion on the wide end, but those lenses were nearly one-quarter the cost. For prices that low, we'll accept some a concession or two. At $1,200, though, the lens better perform, and this lens doesn't.

Granted, the Olympus 12mm had a high distortion rate of 5.4%, and it's not even a zoom lens. And that's precisely why I never even considered buying the 12mm. It was overpriced and disappointing. But even it was four-hundred dollars cheaper.

The Panasonic is a mega-disappointment also because of Panasonic's other, wide-angle lens, the 7-14mm. At its widest, it is only 5.2%. Still pretty bad, but it's a 14mm equivalent! For an angle that wide, again, we are willing to make concessions.

The lens is tack-sharp in the center at all lengths, but wildly disappointing in the corners at all but the longest end. Considering the exceptional lenses made by the competition at these focal lengths and for prices that are sometimes lower, Panasonic should be very disappointed in this. Unless it has special, video-oriented features (like no focus-breathing and whatnot), this lens is absolutely not worth the price. When it drops down into the $800 range, we'll talk. But until then, I'll stick with the 7-14mm, 14-45mm, and 20mm that I bought for as much as this one lens.

And a point missed sometimes is that the 4/3 sensor is significantly smaller than both APS-C and full-frame. Lenses for this format are always going to be cheaper and smaller, and dollar-for-dollar, higher quality. If they are not, it's the fault of the company. Either their engineering department failed, or the company is greedy. Panasonic can take its pick as to which one is true.

I'm beginning to understand why so many photogs like Leica. It costs a fortune, but there is no fucking around. It seems like that's all the other companies want to do. Actually, that's a great idea for an article: Which Company Is Fucking Around The Least?

First Sony A99/NEX 6 Photos Released

The first test photos of the new NEX 6 and A99 cameras have hit the interwebs. The NEX 6 is very impressive and the A99 is... whelming. First, the good news.

The Fuji X Pro sensor appears to have given Sony the nudge it needed, because the NEX 6 sensor is very impressive. The images taken at the max ISO of 25,600 are usable. They aren't pretty, to be sure, but they are usable for small print or Facebook purposes.  It's still not in the same league as the X Pro 1, but it's a noticeable bump up from the NEX 5n.

The bad news, sorta', is the A99. The ISO performance is about as whelming as possible while not quite being disappointing. This isn't a surprise since the SLT mirror causes quite a hit to both resolution and ISO, and this effect was seen in grand fashion in image comparisons between the A77 and the NEX 7, which use the same sensor.

To be fair, these are all JPEGs, and Sony is notorious for god-awful JPEG processing. I'm sure that these cameras are no different, since even at low-ISO, there is significant detail smudging. Still, I wish that Sony had given us the ability to move the mirror out of the way.

Panasonic GH3 Is Enough To Keep Me Excited

Some details of the new GH3 have leaked out ahead of the full announcement, and considering that the "leak" was taken down then promptly put back up leads me to believe that it was on purpose. It doesn't matter. A very small number of people care about the GH3. This is never going to be Apple-level excitement regardless of how much tricky marketing Panny tries to do.

Basically, we already knew the details that were released. So no new data. What we do have, though, is lots of details and images about the body. Ignoring the hilariously translated text in the video with such winners as "mirrorless" Infinite Possibilities of Expression, and the flat-out wrong 1st Digital Single Lens Mirrorless, the video is good. Lots of action, and many clips that are obviously taken from the camera.

It's hard to tell from what was provided, but the dynamic range appears to be better, as we can see in the shot of the Corvette driving in front of the sun. Similarly, we can tell absolutely that rumors of a global shutter are false, and the rolling shutter "jell-o" effect is pronounced. You can see it in the aforementioned Corvette shot, but most noticeably in the shot of the subway passing by. Interestingly, the camera seems to read the sensor from the bottom-up. I don't know of any other SLR-styled cameras that do this. The lack of the global shutter is a big let-down, since that means we have no chance of seeing it for another generation of GH-series cameras.

That said, everything else about this camera is a big upgrade. The body is pro. The connections are pro. The accessories are pro. This camera has some serious aspirations, and I couldn't be happier. The single-biggest thing for me is the inclusion of focus peaking. That feature, more than anything, made me lust after Sony's cameras. I love buying old lenses off of eBay and seeing what I can do with them, and working with them with simple focus zoom is a nightmare in all but the slowest, most deliberate environments.

I like the E-M5, and I especially like the IBIS. If that camera gets hacked to fix many of the crippling issues with its video output, it could become a serious hybrid tool. But as it stands, the GH3 is the most exciting Micro 4/3 camera out there, and it hasn't even been announced yet.

P.S. There's a rumor floating around that Sony is behind the LVF, screen, and sensor in the GH3. I wouldn't be surprised by this and rather hope that it is true. Panasonic's GH1 sensor was good, but the GH2 was a step down. And every sensor after that has been a big disappointment.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Sony Can't Get All The Attention!", Says Nikon's D600

Sony is getting all of the attention recently, and rightfully so. The RX1 is groundbreaking, and both the NEX-6 and A99 are incredibly competent cameras that push things further than Canon, Nikon, Olympus, or Panasonic have proven willing (capable?) of doing. The only other company out there that is even in the same ballpark as Sony is Fuji.

But that doesn't mean that the others are sitting still. Well, maybe it does, but we have a week's worth of announcements coming up before we find out. Next up: Nikon. Sony shot first, probably because Sony had the best stuff, but that's beside the point. The point is... what is the point? Don't do drugs is the point.

Where am I? The D600! That's where. The new D600 is a cheap, FF camera. It will cost $2,099. And trust me, that price is the most exciting element of the camera. I actually find the rest of it underwhelming. For example, the flash-sync is only 1/200th. That may seem like a small thing, but I see it as representative of a greater philosophy surrounding this camera. The maximum speed is only 1/4000th. That is base-level APS-C camera territory. It can do 5fps, but I don't know if that is some sort of speed priority or not. If not, that's good speed. It is weather-sealed, so it will be a suitable working camera.

The price is decently exciting, I must admit. Nikon jumped to where I think Sony should have already: compete with pro-thusiast APS-C cameras with cheap full-frame. I'm really puzzled about why Nikon didn't drop the camera to $1,999. It would have been only $100, and only $50 of which would be felt by Nikon. That would undoubtedly be made up for by the increased number of customers who react to the psychological barrier of sub-$2,000 pricing. This smacks of a company trying to "fit" a product into their selection of other products.

The other element of this camera's philosophy that is classic Nikon is the intransigence inherent in its genesis. Basically, this is Nikon doubling down on its traditional designs. There are two ways to increase value for a customer: increase product, or decrease price. The former is the domain of driving, innovative companies like Apple. That's not a fundamentally better place than a company that drives down prices — just look at Wal-Mart — but it is the place that evinces life inside a company. Ideally, most companies should be a combination of both, thus remaining competitive in all ways.

Nikon is only doing one. Instead of innovating, they are simply reducing their prices. And as I mentioned with my confusion over the price, they aren't even doing that very well. Nikon abjectly refuses to accept that the market is shifting. We are experiencing a large shift toward cell phones and mirrorless cameras. The market doesn't care that Nikon's system is built around a mirror. Nor will the market accept a half-asses piece of crap meant to fit in with extant products like the Nikon "1", which, by the way, has essentially been confirmed as dead with the release of a single, simple lens by Nikon.

So yes, the Nikon D600 is a pretty good camera. It should be $1,999. It should have some features expected in a camera of its price. It shouldn't be the most innovative camera to come out of Nikon in over half a decade. I don't count the D800 as a Nikon innovation since the sensor was designed and built by Sony.

Will any photog who buys this be happy. I'm 100% sure that they will. Images produced by yesterday's technology are still great images. But this isn't just an issue of images and cameras, it's an issue of technology and market development. Nikon is standing still, stubbornly so, and demanding premiums for the privilege of standing with them. It's one of the things that pisses me off about Leica, which has turned that behavior into an art form. When companies like Fuji, Sony, and to a degree Olympus and Panasonic, are willing to innovate —  to find new ways to implement technology —  not only do I see no reason to stand with Nikon, the arrogance required to claim that I should pisses me off.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

As The RX1 Marinates

I'm continuing to think about the RX1 and what it represents.

In the world of pros and enthusiasts, as opposed to consumers, people want three things: a large, tank-like camera, a compact camera that provides similar quality, and a selection of lenses from compact primes all the way up to $10,000 zooms. That's why Nikon and Canon came to conquer the entire freaking world; they offered these three things while no one else did.

With the advent of digital, old camera companies seemed hamstrung by their design and implementation philosophies. Thus we have cameras that have no need for a prism hump having prism humps. This meant that the second thing pro-thusiasts want, size, was not met as well as technology allowed it to be met. Cankon released good SLR cameras, but their compact cameras had sensors the size of insects in them. Thus, yes, they were small, but so was their quality. And now, these companies have large legacy markets that they don't want to cannibalize, so expecting innovation from them is like expecting a man to give birth.

On the other side of the coin, we have camera companies that stumbled into making compact cameras with pro features — cameras like the GF1 — which sold well, but those companies revealed that they had no freaking clue why they sold well. They promptly tried to desperately turn their compact cameras into "transition" cameras for a market that doesn't exist.

I don't know why Sony appears to have understood what no other company has yet to. Lord knows, Sony's corpus is not known for being smart. But here we are, with the only camera company that is releasing exciting stuff being Sony.

With all that considered, let us return to the RX1. It is an odd beast, certainly. It is undeniably pro-oriented, yet carries the Cybershot moniker. It will probably be less versatile than the RX100, though costing over four times the price. It seems to be aiming at Leica, but doesn't offer a viewfinder that's found on Sony cameras that cost 1/3 the price. It has HDMI, a mic input, and high-quality video, with a fixed prime lens. This thing is indeed a Frankenstein.

But don't think about that. Think about the core of what it offers. It offers something that I don't think many pros really thought possible: not just similar quality, but identical quality in a compact body. They are making a large number of concessions for the price in comparison to a tank-like SLR, but I have to admit, having a FF camera in my pocket is a prospect that, even before holding it, seems to outweigh the limitations. That is the reason why, so often, I pick up my GF1 and not my other cameras, even though I know the images aren't as good, and I'm limited to the 20mm f/1.7.

Would I have liked to see an interchangeable lens? There's a part of me that says yes, but the more I let it stew, the less I think that. Again, this represents the inevitable FF mirrorless that is in the offing, but in Sony's market, it just doesn't make sense to invest in a completely new system yet. It's easier to make one-off products, and when those products are the RX1, they are a great way to innovate and keep people excited. Sony needs to focus on the current NEX line, because their lenses are seriously lacking and not in line with the people buying the cameras. Every NEX owner I know is a pro-thusiast with a big camera budget. Every "soccer mom" type that I know either relies on their cell phone or has a Cankon SLR.

Similarly, Sony needs to overhaul their FF lens selection, which has always been a bit behind Canon and Nikon, and this problem is becoming more apparent with updates from Cankon and the release of Fuji's X Pro series. Basically, Sony has a lot of work ahead of them to not only bring synergy to their disparate systems, as they have stated they want to do, but to bring their systems up to par with the competition. For example, Fuji started less than six months ago, and already has three APS-C lenses that are better than everything Sony makes. They have three more coming out this year, all of which will be better than everything Sony makes. And to add to this, they have the sub-$1,000 X-E1 coming out to open up new markets to this lens selection.

The more I ponder it, the better I think the RX1 is. This could very well become a pro-thusiasts number-one. With this released, I want to see the NEX system given the lenses it deserves. I'm talking five or six, $1,000+, pro-level primes. What I don't want to see is this 16-50mm nonsense, with image quality that looks like it's straight out of a cell phone.

I mentioned Fuji, and that's because I see Fuji has the only company that is in the same league as Sony. Olympus' E-M5 and 75mm lens are impressive, but not nearly enough to counteract three years of stagnant, overpriced crap. Only Fuji has groundbreaking stuff out, and coming out. The X-E1 and X Pro 1 are the only cameras that comes to mind when I think about competition for the RX1 (Seriously, guys, WTF with all the X's?). Fuji's lenses are an order of magnitude better than Sony's, but their autofocus is truly terrible. If reports from the NEX-6 are any indication, it appears that Sony has caught up to Olympus in the AF department — that is to say, very good.

So which would you rather have? Good AF, or good lenses? I would always choose the former,  though either one has the prospect of being engineered better. It's a profoundly difficult call. I would have said to choose Fuji, since before this time, their perspective alone was definitively pro-thusiast. But with Sony's release of the RX1, it reveals them to have shifted in the same direction as Fuji. Basically, the consumer market is dying. It will eventually be completely subsumed by the cell phone market.

And we always have Micro 4/3 as a genuine option. Its sensor is the smallest (although I hold out dreams for a 1:1 sensor update), but that provides significant advantages in many applications. Olympus has released two world-class lenses that have held up to scrutiny: the 75mm and the 12mm, and Panasonic is going full-bore into the world of video, which is a similar tack to Sony, which has revealed a strong focus on video capability with the RX1.

Three systems. Fuji is all about photography. Micro 4/3 and Sony are about video and photography. For me, it's a choice between the latter two. I'm awaiting the GH3, as I have been for months, before I make a decision. But as it stands, Sony is really impressing me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sony Drops The (RX1, A99, NEX 6) Bomb

The first bits of Sony's camera explosion are hitting the interwebpipes. Steve Huff has sex with the RX1 in his preview, DPReview posts their more measured take on everything, and the camera world in general trembles in the face of true innovation. Bravo, Sony. Bravo.

The Sony may seem overpriced at $2799, and it is, but not by much. I am of course assuming that the lens is stellar. If it's not, then the camera's value plunges off a cliff, but I think it nearly impossible that Sony wouldn't put top-pro-level glass on the front of their new wunderkind.

The pro-oriented details of this camera are fantastic. The leaf shutter is silent and will likely have a flash-sync of 1/2000th (the shutter limit) when released. And here I was pining for a camera that had 1/250th. For anyone who has a standalone microphone, this compact camera comes with a microphone socket. A microphone socket! I hope that the HDMI output is clean. And praise the lord, a mechanical scroll wheel on the back! I can't describe how long I have waited for that.

This is the camera for the enthusiast community. It blows everything else out of the water. It will sell like crazy. Obviously, all of this effusive language must be put into context. The enthusiast community represents a small niche of the larger market. When I say "sell like crazy," crazy means tens of thousands of units.

I must admit, this camera is a bittersweet thing for me. Sony has hitherto been aggressive in both design and price. Nothing about this camera is aggressive in price. In fact, it evinces a degree of arrogance that I find unsettling. The accessories are priced in the sky. I'm talking stupid prices with mark-ups undoubtedly measured in quadruple digits. I thought the $80 lens hood for the Olympus 75mm was batshit stupid, but the Sony has it beat. Its lens hood costs $179, the thumb grip costs  $249, and the optical viewfinder (that simply sticks on the top of the camera), costs a sphincter-clenching $599. Sony is so far out of their fucking minds with those prices that it makes me think them a joke. Time will tell.

Moving away from super-expensive, niche cameras, we find that, from the perspective of the general market, and by association in many ways, the enthusiast market, the NEX-6 is the most interesting camera to be announced.

Firstly, it's yet another camera in the burgeoning NEX line of cameras and fills a price gap between the $600 NEX-5n and the $1,100 NEX-7. Secondly, while the NEX-7 was a great camera, its sensor was beyond the capabilities of every NEX lens. The only one that even came close cost more than the camera itself. While Sony accelerated its lens development, it still takes time to engineer top glass, grow the crystals to make the lenses, ramp up production facilities, and get the lenses to market. It was obvious that Sony needed to fill the gap with a different camera.

The NEX-6 has everything that the 7 has save for the 24Mp sensor, and that's a good thing. This new sensor supposedly is a noticeable step ahead vis-a-vis ISO performance and autofocus, which is really what we want and need out of these APS-C mirrorless cameras. With very few photos being printed, and the pros who will be printing interested in greater cameras, the APS-C market can sit quite pretty in the 15-20Mp range. I think Sony is smart to have the option of the high-res camera on the market, but the NEX-6 is the recipe for success. Good enough for the pros, cheap enough for everyone. I think that it's going to be huge. Millions of units huge.

The A99 is, again, precisely what everyone thought it would be: a full-frame camera with the SLT technology inside. Not Earth-shattering, and perhaps a bit boring after the annoucement of the RX1, but still very important. Sony takes its pro equipment seriously, and we can expect significant development in its lenses as they work to unify their SLT and mirrorless lines. That said, some of the camera's specs are underwhelming, specifically the slow shooting speed. I was expecting 10fps, or more, and instead got 6. The video performance better be world class to justify the price.

These three cameras, and the ongoing work that they represent, again causes me to consider making the jump to Sony. If Olympus hadn't released the world-class (and cheap) 75mm f/1.8, I would have made the jump to Sony and sold my Micro 4/3 gear yesterday. Perhaps that's just me being pissy. We've still got a lot of announcements to go. Micro 4/3, Fuji, Sony, and Nikon are all very tempting systems into which a new user could dive and be very happy and they all have stuff to announce this week. Photokina, bring it on!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Sony RX1 Is The Harbinger Of Change

Ok. Excited gibbering time.

Sony has been the source of almost every major advancement in digital camera for the past three years. Olympus' IBIS system is very impressive, Fuji's X sensor is a full generation ahead of everything else out there, and the GH2 has been unbeatable for video (no thanks to Panasonic, though), but everything else is all Sony. As such, Sony is really the only company that, when something about them leaks, I stand up and listen.

We have a multitude of photos of the new A99, the 24Mp full-frame, SLT camera that (maybe/hopefully/please god) will allow the user to move the semi-translucent mirror out of the way when a shot is taken, maximizing the abilities of the sensor. One thing that the images confirm beyond any doubt is the disappointing lack of CompactFlash support. SD cards are much faster than they were in the past, but they still can't compete with the fastest CF.
Also, and while this has been known for some time, I'm a bit disappointed that they didn't opt for the 36Mp sensor for the A99. 36Mp is beyond my applications, and handling RAW files of that size would literally require a new computer, but it's the newest and best sensor that they make. And as tests have shown, operating in 20Mp mode results in tack-sharp images beyond would ordinary 20Mp sensors can achieve. Perhaps this is indicative of the mirror in fact not being mobile, forcing Sony to use a lower-res sensor to avoid nasty ISO/sharpness comparisons with the competition.

All things considered, the A99 is about what we thought it would be. It is Sony's extant design and engineering philosophy applied to a full-frame sensor. This isn't terribly exciting, but nor is it boring. It is the first major advancement to the FF world since the advent of digital, and that is certainly worthy of note.

Ohhh, but don't think that's the only trick Sony has. There have been rumors bubbling around for awhile of a "pro" level NEX camera for some time. I doubted them because Sony's doing very well in the pro and enthusiast market with the NEX-7, and as far as I've heard, it continues to sell strongly. Moreover, Sony still has a metric crap-load of catching up to do as regards lenses. Why release a pro-level NEX camera, possibly with a FF sensor, when they haven't even exploited the current NEX market?

Apparently, Sony felt the same way that I did. What they are releasing though, is much, much more interesting.
The RX1, the bigger brother to the already-beloved RX100, is going to be dropping in the next couple of months. It is a FULL FRAME COMPACT. This is amazing. Even Leica didn't have the balls to produce something like this.

There are scant few details about the camera, but we do know that it will have an f/2.0 Zeiss 35mm lens on front and cost somewhere slightly south of $3,000. That price is a bit high, I think, even if the lens is excellent. It makes me worry that Sony may be getting a bit arrogant. But that's speculation, I'll wait for further information.

What I take from this announcement is that the rumors of the pro-level NEX camera were real. As I mentioned, I don't think that Sony should invest in a pro-NEX system until they have some good lenses in the current NEX system... where they only have one good lens. But what is a compact camera but a camera with a very short flange distance? And what is a mirrorless camera but a camera with a very short flange distance? I think that the RX1 is the first experiment in a line that will inevitably result in a full-frame NEX camera sometime in the future. When that future will arrive is, of course, the question.

Obviously, Sony has some big plans for intercompatibility between the Alpha and NEX systems. The problem is that once you get up to pro-level work, they are not going to be as tolerant of "band-aid" fixes like the EA-1 adapter. They want native lenses. Granted, the jump to a full-frame NEX isn't as problematic as the crop APS-C, since putting the EA-1 adapter on a FF mirrorless simply creates a fully-functional FF camera, with the lens being completely utilized. But then, why bother making a mirrorless camera if you're simply going to put a mirror on it?

I suspect that what is going to happen is that Sony will dedicate their entire entry-level camera market to APS-C mirrorless and market a large selection of cheap and enthusiast level native lenses for that format. They will compete with high-end APS-C by pushing their FF cameras down below $2,000. The Alpha a850 was already there, and I think Sony has more room to maneuver (They should really shoot for $1,500). This opens up the Alpha line of FF lenses to a larger market without design concessions. Sony will supplement this market with a small mirrorless full-frame series of bodies and prime lenses intended to compete with Leica. Needing at attachment for high-quality zooms isn't as much of a band-aid since they are already long and heavy.

At least for awhile, Sony will continue to make and sell the APS-C SLR cameras, since the SLT technology is unique, and they've already designed the lenses, so they may as well use them. Moreover, if the only people using SLT cameras will be pros and enthusiasts, the cachet associated with them will actually grow, meaning that Sony may want to maintain their cheap SLT line for those who want to fake it. I guess that it's all a matter of market size. Since the NEX-5, 5n, and 7 quickly became Sony's most popular cameras, that leads me to believe that the market size for cheap SLT's just won't be large enough to justify the continued support and development.

As we get closer, I'm inclined to agree with Steve Huff: this will be the best Photokina ever. The market is heating up so much, and the release of the RX1 means that not even Leica is safe from competition. The times they are a-changin'.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Fuji X-E1 Is Exciting If and ONLY If...

Fuji announced the new X-E1 today... or yesterday depending what timezone you're in. It looks great, comes with a good lens, and sports that retro-sexiness that has been carrying Fuji quite well since the release of the X100.

I opened this with an if, and it's a big one: autofocus. I know that many people have found the autofocus speed tolerable. I did not. I found it atrocious. It was, all things considered, the thing that made me reject the possibility of buying the X Pro 1. Basically, the XP1 was an absolute marvel in low light. It's low-ISO performance was on par with other APS-C cameras, but past ISO-800, it just started to sing. It was noise performance that I'm not sure I would have ever expected out of an APS-C camera. It was in a different league.

That would make working in high-speed, low-light environments an ideal playground for the XP1. It was not to be, though. The AF speed literally crashes in low-light. Light levels that would require ISO-1600, and the places where I'd want the Fuji sensor, were no-man's land for the XP1.

Fuji is claiming an increase in AF speed, and I hope that's true. $999 for the body is much more tenable of a price and puts this camera right where it belongs: up against the NEX-7 and the E-M5. The Fuji also comes to the fight with what I'm sure will be a vastly superior kit lens that drops down to (heavenly trumpets) f/2.8!

I'd say that the NEX-7 is at the biggest risk, seeing as it is $200 more than the Fuji for the body only. Do not be surprised when the 7 magically has a $200 price drop in the next few weeks. The kit will cost $100 more than the Olympus kit, but that's immaterial at this price range. The Oly kit and the Fuji kit are essentially chasing the same people. What this does is show how ashamed the 4/3 group should be of their lenses, when Fuji can release a premium kit lens on an APS-C sensor, and the smaller 4/3-sensor zooms rarely drop below f/3.5.

This is a great time to be a camera enthusiast. We now have a whole messa'cameras around the $1,000 price point, and they all offer great things. And I'm not just talking about mirrorless, either. The upcoming Nikon D8000 will be here, as will Pentax's K5 successor. And ageing though it is, the Sony A65 is still a great camera. Move up the price spectrum and we can include the sub-$2,000 full-frame cameras that are rumored to be coming out from both Nikon and Sony.

While the $500 range will always represent the greatest number of sales, the $1000-$2000 category has essentially become the most competitive, exciting place to be. It's good to be alive.

P.S. I know that this is a small thing, but have companies just given up on having a flash-sync of 1/250th? The Olympus E-M5 has it, and for that it will always have a nod of respect, but the X-E1 doesn't. Isn't $1,000 enough for that feature? Is it something to do with the mirrorless design? I've noticed that many sub-$1,000 SLR cameras have this. WTF, people!