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.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Android Camera Revolution Is Not Yet Here

I have yet to comment on the upcoming Nikon S800c, which initially appears odd. I have frequently said that the company that is first to turn their cameras into a platform is the company that will rule the next generation of cameras. I expected that company to be one of the smaller players — Panasonic, maybe Samsung — and   that prediction may yet hold true. Oh sure, Nikon has announced a camera. And it does have Android. But to say that it's something special is something different entirely.

The S800c is a relatively low-end digital camera. Its ergonomics, build, design, optics, and sensor are all budget-level hardware. The only thing that stands out is the inclusion of Android. And that, right there, is the reason why this is nothing. Simply releasing a cell phone with a big lens and no cellular radio is not what I mean when I say a camera as a platform. I mean that Nikon needs to design and implement an entire standard around the OS. I'm talking a platform, with an API, a marketplace, and stadardized hardware.

A camera that will produce images barely in excess of the iPhone, will have no software produced especially for it, and still costs $30 more than most people will pay for an iPhone is not a revolution. It's not even an attempt. It's Nikon, hoping to trick a few idiots out of some money.

You may be thinking that Nokia has brought the revolution with their jaw-dropping 808 Pureview. While they could do this, they would need to completely redirect their efforts. The 808, and the eventual Windows Phone Pureview phones, are all cell phones first, cameras second. We need a camera company that is going to release top-flight, professional imaging gear with Android as the OS and their ordinary camera imaging software as either a parallel OS or an application.

We need a company that is going to lay down the foundation on which application developers can do great work. We need a company that is going to create a standard so developers know for what they are creating applications. The future belongs to the company that is going to create and than shepherd a tight integration of technology and software and make it easy for others to participate. It does not belong to a company that releases the products about which it actually cares with all of the same, old shackles and restrictions that they always have.

This camera is worthy of no attention. The inclusion of Android is a gimmick. It will fail to sell. It is not the future.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Is The Sony RX100 Selling Primarily To Amateurs?

There are two bits of contradictory info currently available. First, we have the Sony RX100's Amazon sales rank, which is #2 as of this writing, and the sales numbers that we can glean from the number of reviews. The RX100 has 75 customer reviews, more than the G1X, E-M5, GF3, and E-P3. This after only having been on the market for about two months. It has a ways to go to catch up with the Canon G12 and Fuji X100, but something tells me that both of them shall fall soon enough.

But whereas the E-M5, Sony NEX-7, and Fuji X10 exploded onto Flickr's camera charts, indicating solid uptake among professionals and enthusiasts, the Sony RX100 has not done so. In fact, the RX100 isn't on the Flickr charts at all. I suspect that there is some glitch to explain this. After the praise showered upon the Sony from respected websites like Luminous Landscape, EOS HD, and Steve Huff, one would have expected rapid and significant uptake among pros.

But what if it's not a glitch? What if this is because pros only make up a small number of the purchases. For Sony, this would be fantastic news. It would mean that they have produced something that causal consumers are choosing to use over their cell phones, which have been devastating the compact camera market for the past three-to-four years.

It's also a coup for the marketing department at Sony, since it means that they managed to get across technical information to a non-technical audience about why they should choose the RX100 over their cell phones. Most people know cameras in the sense that they press a button and either a good picture comes out or it doesn't. They understand a few bits of technical info, like shutter speed, depth of field, and sensor size, but beyond that, it's Greek.

Currently, if you search for tags on Flickr, you will get about 5,400 images tagged "RX100." Compare that to 45,000 images for "E-M5," 60,000 for "NEX 5n," and 50,000 for "X10." Those cameras have all been around for longer, but they haven't been around for ten times longer. This leads me to believe that there is some truth to the idea that Sony has connected with average consumers. That's big.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

It's Not All Bad For Canon: EOS 1DX Gets Solid Review

TechRadar, a solid website with good reviews, has posted its early review of the Canon EOS 1DX. This is, as far as I know, the first review for the new Canon. TechRadar is significant because they are usually the first publication that posts signal/noise charts and dynamic range charts for cameras. They were the first to show the Olympus E-M5's significant improvement in DR over earlier M4/3 cameras and the first to show that the Sony NEX-7 was indeed going to be a monster.

Unlike the EOS 5D Mark III, this camera is not a total disappointment. Its performance seems to be on par with the Nikon D4, with the D4 producing better stuff at low ISO, but significantly for a pro camera aimed at high-speed environments, the 1DX produces significantly better stuff at high-ISO. This is a pretty significant knock against the D4, since anyone interested in slow, low-ISO work will obviously choose the D800.

Oh yes. The D800. Sitting on the sidelines like some kind of bugbear. Its very existence made the D4 seem pointless, and it has a similar effect on the 1DX. When the D4 is $6,000, and the 1DX is a wallet-destroying $6,800, the limitations of the D800, at less than half the price, don't seem quite so big.

One thing that I can say for the EOS 1DX over the D4, though, is its speed: 12fps. It costs a lot, but that speed is truly impressive. But even here, the 1DX will not have this advantage for long, since all of Sony's upcoming Full Frame cameras will have equal speeds or higher.

The sheer price of the camera, combined with the existence of the D800 and Sony's upcoming cameras, make this a non-starter for a pro looking to enter a system. It also, again, reveals Canon's arrogance. When so much competition exists, and even more competition is soon-to-come, this would be the time to lower prices and push out new products. Canon isn't doing that.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Canon EOS M Is Aimed At Women? Ugh.

I will have a hard time putting to words how fucking stupid I find this, but I will try.

A recent story popping up on various Canon rumor websites has a representative from Canon saying that the new EOS M series of cameras is aimed at women because they don't like "bulky" cameras.

First, this is stupid from a marketing standpoint. The problems with all of the earlier small cameras had nothing to do with their lack of target market. Because, oh yes, the Panasonic GF3 would have sold like hot cakes if only Panasonic had known to say that the camera was meant for women. It's brilliant!

Second, this is stupid because it is mindnumbingly out of touch with reality, and insultingly sexist to boot! According to Canon, "women" is a term for social-yet-technically-incompetent people. This is of course women. Women only know how to get pregnant and cook.

Not only do I find this absurdly sexist, it doesn't even apply anymore as a social trope. It hasn't applied for a long time. Granted, it only took marketing departments all around the world up until, um, now, to find out that women are insulted by commercials where the female is an annoying harpy intent on taking a man's car away. Similarly, marketing companies have been happily insulting the majority of the male population by saying that nearly all of them are hard-core drunks who subsist on sausages and emotionless sex.

For all I know, this applies perfectly well in Japan. Kawaii girls, covered in bright makeup, strutting down into Shibuya, armed to the teeth with super-tiny versions of everything that one would expect to find in your average apartment, likely would want a small camera with which to document everyone making peace signs. Obviously, this strategy has worked well for Panasonic and Olympus, both of which saw decent success with their tiny cameras in Japan.

This stupid viewpoint doesn't apply anywhere else. At all. It's why sales of Micro 4/3 cameras have been doing nothing but going down or flat-lining in Europe and the US, and why Sony came in with their NEX cameras and absolute devastated the 4/3 crowd.

Moreover, if women are actually the ones who want this camera, why bother posting images of it attached to gigantic EF lenses like the photo I used? These women would never want a lens so large and complex. They couldn't possibly figure it out and, heavens, they might break a nail! But Canon also said that they could have achieved greater size reductions, and thus reduced stress on lady hands, by using the G1X's sensor, but they needed compatibility with the EF lens line.

Why?! Why bother? Women won't want those lenses. Size is what matters. What are they trying to achieve?

Nothing. They are trying to achieve nothing. What this actually says is that Canon has no fucking clue who they think is going to buy their camera. They can't target any actual demographics because they're too cowardly to risk cannibalizing some of their traditional SLR cameras and lenses, which Canon is charging a silly amount for (while innovating and progressing very little), and have a lot of profit tied up in it. They figure that all they have to do is produce crap, slap the Canon name on it, and people will line up.

I cannot wait to see this arrogance served up what is inevitable: complete market erosion.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

New Info On The Olympus E-7

The Olympus E-5: Never a good camera.
The rumor mill is churning about the upcoming Olympus E-7. It's not good. After the impressive design and implementation of the E-M5, people were understandably excited about the prospect of something truly innovative on Olympus' pro line. This is especially important considering that Olympus has some of the best (and in many cases the best) lenses on the market in their pro and top-pro glass. The earlier E-series cameras were never a fair match. But while early reports indicated the expected ground-breaking changes, new reports are indicating the exact opposite. The E-7 will be nothing but a warmed-over E-5.

One super-cool feature that is practically tailor-made for the 4/3 format is the 1:1 sensor. Most sensors are either 4:3 or 3:2. The 1:1 ratio is beloved by large-format and medium format photogs because it eliminates many framing considerations. You never have to hold the camera sideways. And specifically of interest to 4/3 is that it would allow them to increase the surface area of the sensor, netting image gains, without having to redesign any elements of the lenses and standard. Everything would still work.

Any format could do this, but with most full-format cameras, the camera body is already as small as possible around the sensor. The 4/3 sensor is small enough to allow a 1:1 ratio with no impact on body design.

The fact that Olympus is likely not bringing something like this to the game is very, very disappointing. I hope that this is not Olympus being Olympus... again. The release of the world-class 75mm and the E-M5 elicited hope from many long-suffering Micro 4/3 users. I hope that we don't need to start suffering again.

Some Orchids

Thursday, August 2, 2012

It's Seeming More Likely That The E-M5 Sensor Is, In Fact, A Sony

A recent interview with a Panasonic executive wandered into a discussion of sensors. Interestingly, the sensor in the upcoming LX7 is not a Panasonic, which makes me guess that the LX5 was also not a Panasonic. I'm not surprised and am almost entirely sure that the sensor is a Sony, since Sony is the only company out there, aside from Fuji, producing groundbreaking sensors. And as a sensor gets smaller, the importance of the sensor's quality becomes increasingly important.

The exec also mentioned that the upcoming G5 and the E-M5 absolutely have different sensors. I was more interested in whether the E-M5 had the same sensor as the G3, not the G5, but I assume that it would have come up if so. With this comment, my skepticism is essentially eliminated. But now, as I mentioned in a previous post, we're left with the question of why the new E-M5's sensor underperforms the Canon G1X, even though Canon's sensors are two, maybe even three, generations behind Sony's hardware. Has Olympus lost its magic touch? Oly's sensors were always better than Panasonic's manifestations of the same sensor because Oly was so good at designing pipelines and processing hardware. Moreover, why is the Oly's sensor's ISO so inaccurate?

I know that I'm harping on this, but the marketing garbage, which sometimes borders on outright lies, that flows unceasingly from the mouths of camera company reps has become intolerable for me. It's like that old joke "How can you tell if a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving." I feel the same way about camera companies. It provides some degree of therapy when I can vehemently attack them in a public venue for being so full of shit.