Friday, November 30, 2012

Nikon V2 Gets Images Reviewed

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

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

GH3 and E-M5 Compared... Finally.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Steve Huff First Out The Gate With A Sony RX1 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 24, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Olympus 17mm Review Confirms What We All Knew

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

Only a maniac would buy this lens.

Around Providence

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

The Rhode Island Statehouse.

Another shot of the Rhode Island Statehouse.

Davol Square at night.

The oil tanks on the Providence waterfront.

The Providence power plant.

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

At least the sidewalks are well-maintained.

I love doorway graffiti.

Providence has a lot of churches.

Yeah. Fuck the post office.

Abandoned storefronts get covered quickly.

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

E-PM2 Gets DxO Review

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Early Sony RX1 Test Images

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

First NEX-6 ISO Comparison With RAW

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Yep, the GH3 Is Using A Sony Sensor

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Olympus Readies Another High-Priced Disappointment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, November 2, 2012

First Measured Review Of The Panasonic 35-100mm Lens

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

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

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

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

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