Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Pentax K3 Gets Its First Test Shots

I see the Pentax K3 as yet another piece of excellent innovation that neither Canon nor Nikon did. Because they don't do anything anymore except sit there and vacuum up money.

Regardless! The K3 uses its "ultrasonic" sensor cleaning system, which really does nothing more than vibrate the sensor very quickly, to shake and thus blur the image slightly. This gives it the effect of a low-pass filter.

An increasing number of cameras recently have been ditching the low-pass filter for two reasons. It absorbs a small amount of light, meaning that cameras without the filters do slightly better in high-ISO situations. It also adds a small degree of sharpness. There are many photogs who see this as "critical" sharpness, or that last bit of a good photo that gives the image an edge or "bite."

Generally, I would make fun of such ridiculous and idiosyncratic language, but it does actually make sense. That last little bit of sharpness in an image, when multiplied over an entire photo, can actually make a noticeable difference, even to an untrained eye.

So, how does the new K3, which gives you the on-the-fly option, hold up? Imaging Resource has posted its images, and we can actually draw a few conclusions.

First, the JPEG ISO performance is exactly where every other competitive camera is in the segment, making me further think that, at least currently, the ISO wars are over. In case you missed it, Fuji won. The X-Series of cameras is so far ahead of the pack as to really be... huh?

I captured Imaging Resource's images and did a huge blow-up of their corner resolution, where the effects are going to be smallest. For me, this is the most interesting part.

Make sure to view the full image.

It's impressive that even here, there is a difference. There is a small difference, to be sure, but one of the most eye-catching elements of the comparison is the slight increase in edge contrast along the black bars, as opposed to merely an increase in resolution. Right there, right in those black bars, is the "pop" that people talk about in images taken without the AA filter. That increased overall contrast is noticeable. As is easily visible even in the low-res preview above, the corners, but not in the center of the image, also suffer an increase in chromatic aberrations.

That is a very interesting aspect to an AA filter that I had never thought of. It acts as a small band-aid over slight variations in the alignment of wavelengths of light within the lens, thus hiding what chromatic aberrations would be there. It hides small defects in the lens design.

I recommend going over and viewing the full series of images at IR. There is a similar difference in the center of the image, where resolution is highest, and well worth a look.

A Horse Pull Incident

These are enormous animals. They have the disposition of overgrown dogs, but they are utterly enormous.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fuji Announces X-E2. Updates X100. Gets Me Excited All Over Again

I wanted to like Fuji's X Pro 1. I really did. I loved the design, I loved the innovation. I loved that a company was putting out lots of new, interesting products. But good god, the autofocus really was as bad as people say it was.

Also, the menu system and digital controls were designed by someone who was missing some very important part of the brain. The physical aspects were beautiful, and the early lenses were quality, but the cameras were just too quirky to really consider.

Fuji has kept at it over the course of the past two years, though, and has iterated its cameras more quickly than any other company before it, updated software, and continued to refine its design. Fuji deserves massive kudos for being, sadly, unique in the camera industry.

Before I get into Fuji's two new cameras, I want to send some props their way. They have updated the original X100 with new firmware that gives it a big performance boost. I want to stress that no other company has done this before. Even though there is no reason aside from greed, companies almost always tie new software to a new product. You want the newest menu system? Buy the newest camera! Every company does this, to the point of some companies releasing a "new" camera where the only difference is the software.

Fuji has not done this. The act of updating a camera that has been out for years, and superseded by another, newer camera, is unheard of. They have shown that they want to do what they can do to make the user experience as excellent as it can be.

So yeah, now back to your regularly scheduled camera release. The XE-2 is, unsurprisingly, the update to the XE-1. It has the usual bevy of tweaks and bits that most new cameras come with, but it maintains the same basic design. It's disappointing that it doesn't have a new EVF, since its old/current one is inferior to the E-M5... which is inferior to the E-M1.

The headlining feature is the release of a new processor/sensor combo. The processor is important because, as we've seen with comparisons between raw converters, the processing of X-Trans data is critical to a good image. To see this, just compare Aperture or Capture One to Adobe Lightroom with raws from a Fuji camera; the differences are stark.

The sensor sports PDAF focusing points, like seemingly every major mirrorless release these days (to be fair, Fuji was among the first with the X100S), and Fuji is claiming the fastest autofocus of any mirrorless ever. Since Olympus has been claiming this with every camera they release, and since Canon's PDAF-using EOS M still couldn't focus for shit, you should all know by now that this is useless marketing speak. What's important vis-a-vis Fuji, though, is that this is actually Fuji saying "Hey! Our AF doesn't suck anymore!"

That is a big deal. The Fuji X-Trans is a magical sensor when it comes to high-ISO work, but the original autofocus system absolutely fell on its face in anything but bright light, meaning that the camera rendered its own headlining feature pointless. With that problem possibly fixed, there are few reasons to not jump into Fuji's camp.

Fuji also released an "enthusiast compact" called the XQ1. No one cares about this camera.

Oh, and finally, there are rumors that Fuji is planning a full-frame camera in the near future, like 2014-ish. All I have to say about that, is this.

Nikon Starts to Sweat

I think that Nikon is starting to sweat.

It is perhaps not surprising that of the big two, Nikon blinked first. After all, they are significantly smaller than Canon — less than a fifth the size. But blinked they have, and change is coming in the form of two very nondescript horsemen: the D5300 and the D610. The D5100 was available for two years before being replaced by the D5200. That camera has now been available for less than six months and we have its replacement. It's a very small update, but is being advertised by Nikon as a full update, and really, that's the important part.

The same goes for the D610. Nikon is giving us the softer sell on this one. It's a small number change and a small camera change. The biggest point of interest is the lower price. That's important because camera companies rely on their networks to hide cheap cameras. They officially "sell" a camera for, say, $1,000, but no one actually pays that much. All of the official resellers are selling the camera for $800. This isn't advertised because the camera company wants to maintain an air of exclusivity and, hopefully, trick a few people into paying full price.

This again brings me back to my post about the D610 and EOD 6D selling at discount. Was that the first sign of trouble, when they had to sell their much-ballyhooed cheapest full-frames ever at an even lower price to gain traction? Had they simply assumed that a lower price would make people come running, and that didn't happen?

Regardless, the point of greatest significance in this is that Nikon has released updates to major cameras very quickly. They've never done this before in the digital age. They are trying to appear that they are iterating quickly to keep the market interested and excited about Nikon products, years after people stopped being excited about Nikon products. So, yes, they're late to this realization, but they have at least realized it. Canon hasn't even had the good grace to do that.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fuji 14mm f/2.8 Reviewed: Damn-Near No Distortion

One of the things that infuriates me the most out of Micro 4/3 is the space-time-ripping distortion levels on the lenses. They hide this optical flaw in software. Many times, this is invisible, but other times, it is not.

Fuji's lenses likewise have used this trick on a couple of occasions, the 18mm comes to mind, which pissed me off. But Fuji has brought out the big guns for its newest 14mm lens. I'm talking distortion of a nearly-imperceptible 0.22%. Compare that to Olympus' similarly-priced 12mm lens with distortion of a very noticeable 5.4%. The Olympus is faster by a full stop, but the Fuji is wider by 3mm equivalent.

This is a good lens at a fair price. It's a sad day we live in when we must praise a company for simply making a decent product.

Panasonic Releases Their Stupidest Camera Yet

I thought these days were done.

Panasonic spent years on its stupid quest to create a best seller by simply making very small cameras. I don't know why they kept tilting against this windmill, since the only successful cameras they or Olympus have made were the ones aimed at enthusiasts (GF1, E-M5, GH2), but they did.

I speculated that this was being driven by Panasonic's specifically Japanese perspective on design. Remember, these kawaii little cameras sold quite well in Japan. Both Olympus and Panasonic have seen great profits there. Everywhere else has been a total failure, though.

Do you remember when I ranted about Canon aiming the EOS M at women? Well, Panasonic has gone and done the next best thing. They've gone and released a "stylish" camera that "upgrades its cool factor," so you, the consumer, can "stay in style."

I'm taking these horrible quotes directly from the press release, just so you know. In fact, the first four paragraphs alone mention fashion or style twelve times.

Actually, I'm just going to copy the third paragraph completely. It's jaw-dropping.
A fashionable compact for your lifestyle
The LUMIX GM1 represents the most compact and fashion forward looking LUMIX G camera to date. Ground-breaking micro technology design has enabled Panasonic to pack the very latest imaging technology into the camera’s compact metallic alloy frame. Not only does this give the LUMIX GM1 an elegant look and feel, but the camera easily fits into your pocket and can be incorporated into day-to-day activities of any style-conscious enthusiast. Plus with many interchangeable micro lenses to choose from, creative options are nearly limitless.
Fashionable... for my... lifestyle? Is that a gay reference? Who knows! Panasonic certainly doesn't. I read this in the same sexist terms as Canon's EOS M. They don't specifically mention women as Canon did, but with the same focus on small size and fashion above all other things, the sub-text is clear: Panasonic thinks this is fer da' wimminz.

I don't know what women... actually, strike that. I know exactly which women Panasonic is selling this to: Japanese women. And even then, a very specific sub-demographic of Japanese women. Again, this has worked well for them in Japan. Sales are dropping off now, but they were good in the past.

But for every other market, for every other demographic, this shows a fundamental disconnect on the part of Panasonic. ILC cameras are driven by enthusiasts. The reason why APS-C SLR cameras sell is because pros and enthusiasts are using the higher-end stuff. People who are super-concerned with style don't have cameras anymore. They have iPhones.

This camera goes against everything an enthusiast would want. It's too small, too automatic, and the lens sucks. Yes, it has a bigger sensor than the RX100, but the lens is two stops slower! If Panasonic had included some amazing, prime lens... nope. Now that I think about it, not even then.

Even DPReview, a website that is so averse to writing anything negative that they won't review bad products like the Canon EOS M, was forced to write in question of this mutant's raison d'être.
There's no doubt that a camera like the GM1 isn't for everyone, but we don't want to sound negative. Panasonic clearly believes there's a demand for an extremely small camera with a very large sensor and interchangeable lenses, and with the GM1 its engineers have pushed the definition of 'pocketable enthusiast camera' to new limits. The GM1 is cute, fast, and packs an impressive sensor inside its tiny frame. It's quite a feat of engineering, and we can't wait to start shooting with a production-quality sample.
See what they did there. They pushed the actual judgment of the camera back onto Panasonic. Panasonic clearly believes that this camera is a good idea, so it must be, haha! Too bad Panasonic is on the verge of failure, so, obviously, they have mostly bad ideas. Coincidentally, the GM1 is one of those.

And don't forget, if the camera is too small, Panasonic will sell you a metal grip for $100. Yes. A piece of metal. For $100. What a deal. At least it's not as bad as the balls-to-the-wall insane as the Sony FDAV1 viewfinder for six-hundred-goddamned-dollars. Honestly, someone at Sony should be killed for deciding that was a reasonable thing to release to market. I mean, did they actually sell any?

But that, as I so frequently say, is neither here nor there. The GM1 is. And the GM1 is one thing: a ridiculous and late-to-the-party response to the Sony RX100. And at nearly $800 with a crappy lens, it is destined to fail. I wouldn't be surprised if this camera doesn't even crack quadruple digits in sales across the country. For all I know, it will sell a bazillion units in Japan. But in the U.S. and Europe, this thing won't just be an also-ran; it won't even show up for the race.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sony Announces A7 and A7R With Absolutely No Surprises

Sony has officially announced their new, full-frame, mirrorless system. Everything that we expected to be right with the system is right, and everything we expected to be wrong is wrong. The cameras themselves are very competitive in their price and feature set and I wouldn't be surprised if we see immediate discounts on the EOS 6D and Nikon D610. Of course, it would make the most sense for Sony to discount the A99, but this is Sony we're talking about. They don't have the budget to do two smart things in one go.

So what's right? Basically, the cameras. They are decently impressive. I'll have to wait to see what the speed of operation is to make a full assessment, but on paper, they are very good. Also, I am in love with the sizes of these things. Sony has crammed an immense amount of stuff into some featherweight bodies that make a Leica look portly.

Sony has given us clean, uncompressed HDMI out, which is nice. It's only 1080p, but with such a small body, that sensor is going to get hot. But as with the A99 and the VG900, it's the actual video quality that's important. I hope to see some serious upgrades to the video quality, although honestly, at this point, if I was interested in video and photo, I would just go with a Magic Lantern 5D Mark III. It's as close as we get to the magic, all-in-one camera.

It's a small thing, but I'm glad that Sony is using extant battery designs. That means that if you're already invested in Sony's NEX system, you already have the batteries you need. And with only 300-400 shots per battery, you're going to need a few.

What's wrong? Sigh. The lenses. They're slow, large, and overpriced. At least, I'm making the assumption that they are overpriced. I hope they aren't. They're slow, that's undeniable, but here's hoping that they sacrificed some speed for sharpness. The $1,000 price for the 55mm lens and the $800 price for the 35mm, basic lenses, are absurd unless they are as sharp as an X-Acto knife.

Both Canon and Nikon have 50mm and 35mm lenses for half those prices that are faster to boot! The only problem with them is that they are very soft wide open, so if Sony is selling one that's sharp at f/1.8, then that would indeed be a desirable lens. I hope that's true, because neither Nikon nor Canon have done much updating to their basic primes in many years and the lenses are showing their ages, very badly in some cases.

There was one surprise, but not a big one: the vertical grip. Obviously, they are targeting higher-end customers, so the much-desired vertical grip isn't a total shock, it hadn't been mentioned at all in earlier leaks. This will also likely hold two more batteries, giving you an all-day tool. So, yeah. There you have it.

Again, for me, the most interesting thing in this whole mess is the RX10. Assuming the lens is sharp, that is something we've never seen before — not even close. Superzooms have traditionally been marketed at people with money and no brains. I'm not kidding. The companies usually euphemize this and call them "active amateurs" or some such nonsense meant to imply soccer moms.

And while there are some superzoom cameras out there with very long effective ranges, and some rather good glass on them, they use supersmall sensors to achieve those numbers. It's very easy to make a long, quality lens for a sensor that's the size of a pinky fingernail. And when the sensor is that small, no matter the glass, the photos look like they were taken on a P&S... because they were. The RX10's output will be in a different league.

The companies are usually loathe to put anything good in this price bracket because, again, they don't want people to have good products. They want people to upgrade and buy into a system. And even then, they are loathe to give customers much good at the entry-point to the system, because they want to protect their higher-end products.

See. This is the reason why neither Nikon nor Canon have innovated anything at any price point for nearly a decade. Instead, they produce alarmingly stupid garbage like the Nikon 1 and the EOS M.

Enough about the other companies, though. The RX10 is so special that it may become a common piece of kit for professional photogs. The RX100's sensor is more than capable of producing fantastic, natural-looking images — nothing like P&S cameras. That f/2.8 lens with an equivalent focal length of nearly 600mm means that a photog could shoot damn-near an entire wedding with just that little wunderkind! Bird photography suddenly becomes possible for the average person! Nature shots! Distant landscapes! I cannot wait to try this thing out. It is a wonderfully positioned product in the market.

It's also a dangerous product, and one that I think Sony has balls for releasing. The RX1 and RX100 were not dangerous. The RX1 was aimed at a very specific, high-end customer. The RX100 was perfectly priced for people who wanted a P&S but were willing to pay a bit more, but not too much more. At $1,300, the RX10 is in precarious territory. I think that with good marketing, well-heeled families will eat up what this camera is serving, but marketing really needs to hit hard about its benefits, because hoooo-lordy, does it have benefits.

As I had said before, there is a part of this that pisses me off. Sony has abandoned its cheaper systems. Even though they won't admit it explicitly, there is nothing else of worth coming for those in the APS-C E-mount or the APS-C A-mount. Sony has done what Canon and Nikon did and shifted focus to larger, full-frame lenses that are "compatible" with the lesser cameras. This eliminates the advantages of designing lenses for those smaller sensors: size, cost, and complexity of the optics. Lenses should always be designed for the sensor. That's why the RX1, RX10, and RX100 are all amazing. That's why the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 is a freaking world-beater.

Taking optics and bolting them onto a smaller sensor is a disservice to everyone involved. Unless, of course, you're buying cheap, old lenses on Ebay and putting them on your Olympus E-M5 to see how they look. That's awesome.

Of course, there is one advantage in that there is nowhere else for Sony to run. They have chosen the last horse. It's safe to buy into this system because there are no other systems. Sony is sure as hell not going medium format, so they can't abandon this one. Hopefully, Sigma will continue with their Art line of lenses and keep APS-C alive, because there are some great, small cameras in that market that make excellent companions to these high-end pieces.

The final point I want to make in this rambling mess is that the innovation game has finally come knocking on the front door of Canon and Nikon's moneymakers: full-frame gear. There has been a whirlwind of innovation and work happening at the ~$1,000 price point, while Canon and Nikon blithely ignore it, looking down from on high with their $3,000 SLRs. Well, Canon, Nikon, you arrogant shits, the hungry, underdogs that you have hitherto been ignoring are finally coming to call. They're putting the money necessary into taking you down.

Olympus and Panasonic, for all of their faults, have a compact system that is leagues better than yours. Sigma's autofocus is finally getting as good as yours. Cell phones have destroyed your P&S business. And now Sony has undercut your previous full-frame gear by hundreds of dollars, all the while providing something that may be a superior product. This may not be a surprise, but it is still a fantastic announcement, the ramifications of which I excitedly await.

Competition, fuck yeah.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sony's A7 and A7r Have Me Possibly, Maybe, Somewhat Excited

Further details of the new A7 and A7r continue to come out. At this point, it's no longer "leaks" and is instead an effort from Sony to build up excitement over their upcoming system. It's sort of working. There hasn't been much excitement on the interwebs, certainly nowhere near Olympus E-M5 or Fuji X Pro 1 levels. Still, these are expensive products. Getting them up to a slow boil is better than trying to get them to explode on day one.

Let's talk about the technical stuff first. The sensors are said to not be the same old sensors found in the D800E and RX1. They were redesigned for the new flange distance. And by redesigned, they mean new microlenses... and nothing else. I would imagine that once these sensors are put through the DxO Mark wringer, the results will come out the same.

The spec sheet reads as impressive as we would expect for a camera of its kind. What's very important is that the prices undercut both the Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D. Granted, as near as I can tell, neither of those cameras has apparently ever sold for sticker price, so it's not an entirely fair comparison. Regardless, these cameras undercut both of Canon and Nikon's babies while offering many of the pro-oriented features that they lack, like a 1/8000th shutter and a flash sync of 1/250th. Depending on how well these cameras handle, Sony might very well have the billion-dollar product like that they've been looking for.

Sony isn't just putting pressure on those above, either. Every camera company who hopes to play above the magical $1,000 price point will be tangling with a serious contender. The PDAF-rocking A7 is only $300 more than the Olympus E-M1, and whatever Fuji's X Pro 2 has, it had better go no higher than $1,300. Sony is being as aggressive with this system as they weren't with the release of the idiotic A99. It makes me wonder if they plan on abandoning SLR-style cameras entirely. Time will tell.

Moving on, our earlier speculation that Sony had abandoned development of lesser systems in favor of developing glass for this system appears to be correct. Sony is, smartly, launching with four good lenses. They aren't amazing, but with Sony's rumored-aggressive lens road map, it's obvious that they are putting the force behind this system that they refused to put behind their other systems.

The kit lens, 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 is slow, and therefore a bit disappointing, but it's also huge. That may indicate some significant elements within its frame. Hopefully that translates to a tack sharp lens. An upgrade is available in the form of a Zeiss-branded 24-70mm f/4.0. Also slow, but we'll have to wait.

Two primes look promising, because let's face it, a little system like this cries out for primes. Do you ever see Leica shooters with zooms? You do? Really? You know some weird Leica shooters. You should stop talking to them. They're bad news. Where was I? Oh right, the primes. A 35mm f/2.8 and a 55mm f/1.8 are both good basic lenses and are hopefully not overpriced. They are Zeiss-branded, and Sony has a penchant for pricing those lenses way higher than their optical abilities warrant. Both Canon and Nikon have fantastic lenses in those focal lengths that cost less than $500. If Sony doesn't follow suit... well, I will write a very angry blog post. And then they'll feel just awful.

All thing considered, unless Sony blows us away with a surprise on launch day, this is a whelming release. It's everything we would expect of a well-done launch for a new, full-frame, mirrorless camera system. Depending on how Sony handles this, it could become the poor man's Leica and the logical upgrade for someone playing around with cameras in the $1,000 area.

I wait to try one out.

Oddly, the most interesting camera for me is the new RX10 fixed-lens camera. It uses the RX100's 1-inch sensor, which is already tops in its class, and combines it with a an amazing-sounding 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. A constant aperture?! That sounds amazing! We also need to apply the 2.7x crop factor to those measurements, meaning that this little wonder-camera is going to have an equivalent field of view as 189-540mm! Hello bokeh!

So yes, $1,300 for a fixed lens, compact camera sounds crazy, but that is going to be an absolute workhorse. It could very well become the camera for soccer-parents the world over. Yes, yes. For people like you and me, photog weirdos who sleep with our lenses, this is not a camera that we are likely to consider a tenable purchase. But for others, if the lens is sharp, it will be killer.

The unknown in all of this is, of course, video. Video is increasingly becoming an important feature for digital cameras. People, not just photogs and videogs, are starting to expect it. The video on the A99, the RX1, and the VG900 were all awful. Panasonic appears to be the only company putting any effort into their video/photo synergy. Let's hope that Sony does the same.

Granted, you could always just buy a Blackmagic Camera.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Steve Huff Gives New E-M1 GLOWING Review

And I mean glowing. It is actually illuminated.

I'm rather excited to try the E-M1, but I don't think I'm going to be as impressed with it as Steve. He loved the E-M5 and I was mostly whelmed by it. Granted, I weigh video capabilities more heavily than Steve does, but even with that taken into account, I was just whelmed.

And make no mistake, this was actually a HUGE upgrade from previous 4/3 cameras, which were from the GF1/E-P1 forward, crushing disappointments. The worst one for me being the GX1, which I thought was going to be an actual replacement for the GF1. No such luck.

But as I said in my earlier posts, the lenses are still disappointments. And unlike Steve, I will not overlook that Sigma has released a lens that outperforms almost everything that Olympus has ever made for a fraction of the price.

Moreover, in his list of lenses he would choose are both of Voigtlander's f/0.95 lenses. I see this as a problem. If you are willing to go manual focus, you can get amazing lenses in any system. What makes a system are the available lenses that support all of the aspects of that system, such as electronic controls and autofocus.

He lists the Panasonic 35-100mm X lens. I find it a bit odd since you'd be better off with the 75mm and just crop to match a 100mm shot. But that's neither here nor there... it's over there!

Micro 4/3 still only has one gem — the 75mm. The 45mm is a contender, but 90mm equivalent isn't very impressive when you look at what other companies have at that length. Canon has a FF 85mm f/1.8 for the same price. Nikon's 85mm is an even better performer for only about $100 more. Even the Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 isn't all that impressive. It's just a 50mm equivalent. These aren't amazing lenses, they are basic lenses. Every system that wants to compete needs these lenses in it. Saying that they are special is like demanding respect because your race team remembered to show up with tires on their car.

That said, he does make a good point, and it is something that I have been ranting about for years, other companies either have abandoned, in the case of Canon and Nikon, their crop sensors, or appear to be in the process of abandoning their crop sensors like Sony. At least Olympus and Panasonic are trying.

In fact, I would almost say that Micro 4/3 is the system to bet on, what with Panasonic's new prime lenses coming out soon. As long as Panny doesn't try to price them as they did their X zooms, they may be worthwhile. Olympus has more lenses planned... I hope. And Panasonic appears to be getting its act together as regards camera design. These are all positive developments.

But I cannot get over the fact that both Panasonic and Olympus have murmured about full frame. Barring further developments, it is obvious that Sony is abandoning its APS-C NEX cameras to the same dust bin that holds MiniDisc, and all of these damned companies are chasing Apple.

I've coined that phrase, Chasing Apple, because every company that ever tries to copy Apple tries to copy Apple's profits. They want to sell their computers for the same price as Apple. They want to sell their phones for the same price as Apple. They want to lock people into their closed systems like Apple.

The camera world has the same thing, but here, they're chasing Canon and Nikon. Canon and Nikon could release total, non-functional shit for the next five years and barely see a dent in their profit margins. People are locked in. They can't easily leave. Every other fucking camera company is dreaming about that. They want to be able to rip off their customers in the same way!

As such, the companies never dedicate themselves to a product, and when they do, they always overprice it. I keep looking at Sigma and its SD-1 because it was the most salient example of this behavior.

Olympus and Panasonic want to be selling $3,000 cameras. That's why Olympus refuses to compete with its own Zuiko lenses, because it is still, right now, fantasizing about doing that. That's why Panasonic released the incomprehensible AF100.

Sony has found a way to do that. They're stuffing massive sensors into small bodies. They've made the decision to abandon their old products. It pisses me off, but I also can't be entirely surprised after the monster success of the RX100 and the RX1. They found a way to charge the massive prices that they want to charge.

So, of course, like the lemmings they are, Panasonic and Olympus are feeling the pull. They're looking at Sony's RX100/RX1, wanting those profits.

No company has ever become great by chasing profits. They become great by chasing products. They look at a market and design the best product that they can for the best price that they can. Everyone forgets that this is exactly what Apple did years ago. But the idiot executives who run companies don't see that. They don't see the twenty years of trials and tribulations that the company went through, all the while producing beautiful failures. They only see Apple after the release of the iPod and iPhone.

And that's why they all continue to fail. That's why Olympus' sales, even with the E-M5's giant success, have done nothing but go down. That's why Panasonic and Sony are both on the brink of collapse. That's why Microsoft is stumbling down the road like a drunk and HTC has shit the bed.

With that tangent complete, it's obvious that the E-M1 is a great camera. Combined with the 25mm, 45mm, or 75mm, it will be a true workhorse camera. But until something changes, it's not all that special.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I Now Understand Those Who Shoot Leica

I have often made fun of Leica and Leica users. Their products are wildly overpriced and philosophically rooted in the photographic dark ages. That said, as time has gone on, I've begun to understand them more and more. Now, I'm not about to go out and buy Leica — that's likely (Leicaly?) never going to happen — but I am completely stopping my mockery.

In fairness to me, I mostly stopped mocking Leica some time ago. My reasoning for this was that Leica, price and all, was a way for truly serious photogs to differentiate themselves from the Best-Buy-shopping, APS-C shooting, photographic hoi-polloi. The rise of digital, and Instagram, and everything else that has resulted in the majority of photos ever taken having been taken in the past five years, has concomitantly caused a severe drop-off in the work required and the prestigiousness of photography as an art.

Fifty years ago, walk in to a county fair and only a few people had SLR cameras. Go now and half the damned crowd is rocking Nikon or Canon. It's very difficult to feel in the slightest bit special in the face of that. It's hard to feel as though you are doing something that others are not.

How absurdly elitist and pretentious! you may be yelling. And there is a degree of that going on, I'm sure. But who cares!? Of course there is! We all want to feel as though our chosen hobby is something a bit unique. We want to feel as though we're doing something that separates from the crowd enough to be a part of an identity. Otherwise, what the hell will one person have to talk about with another person when they are all doing and thinking the same damned thing?

Moreover, I have heard too many stories of photogs showing up for work with standard gear only to see palpable disappointment on the faces of their employers. This disappointment immediately disappears when the Leica or Hasselblad comes out. Pretentious? Yes. But it's also good business.

This is also the reason why I think that both medium format and Leica have seen huge sales increases in the past few years. Leica went from nearly dead to the best sales of its history. Hell, even wacky, scanning backs have seen sales increases every year for the past ten years!

The second reason for my ceasing Leica-hate, and the reason for this article, is that Leica is the only company out there that doesn't fuck around. No, Mamiya, Phase One, and Leaf aren't fuckin around either, but they are medium format companies aimed and high-end professionals. Of course they aren't fucking around. I'm talking about SLR companies and companies that cater to enthusiasts as well as professionals.

What do I mean by not fucking around. I mean that Leica doesn't release a product and immediately orphan it. Leica doesn't release crap lenses for high prices to protect their higher-end products, or in many cases not release lenses at all! Leica doesn't release crap anything. Leica's design and philosophy is simple and well-known. They never create a bad lens. They never create a bad product for their philosophy. Leica is always good.

You have to pay through the nose for it, yes, but it is always good. It is never bad. Leica's philosophy may not be compatible with what you want or need, but you must admit that vis-a-vis Leica and its history, its products are always good.

No other camera company is doing that. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, all of them fuck around to no end. They release MOUNDS of garbage: crap lenses, shitty cameras, stupid products; and even if they release a good product, like the EOS 7D or NEX-7, they abandon them! Fuji is the only other company that even comes close, which, again, is why I give them a pass for their failings.

An example that sticks in my mind because it is in the news is lenses for current mirrorless cameras. Digital cameras presented a new opportunity for camera companies: software correction. In camera, previously destructive things such as aberration, distortion, vignetting, and flare could be reduced via software tuned to the characteristics of a particular lens. Olympus and Panasonic have taken this philosophy and run like Forrest Gump with it.

On its face, this sounds great. A poor lens can be made to seem like a better lens. But as Panasonic and Olympus have proven, they take this ability and then try to charge the same amount for their lenses. Go to a website that measures raw distortion of the 12mm, the 12-35mm, the 35-100mm, or any other of their laughably overpriced pieces of shit. The distortion is mind-blowing. I'm talking 6%. Back in the days before software correction, a 6% distortion would be considered a broken lens.

But with software, these companies have completely abandoned fixing these problems via in-lens corrections. They now rely on software. If we received a discount on the lens price, then this would fine. But we don't. They create a shitty lens, hide the shit with software, and then try to charge full price for the lens.

No. Fuck you.

Leica would never do this. Leica would never correct in software. If someone ever even floated the idea, that engineer would be forced to commit seppuku.

Make no mistake, this is a conscious choice on the part of these companies to best rip you off. For example, there are two 12mm prime lenses for the Micro 4/3 system: the SLR Magic f/1.6 and the Olympus f/2.0. The SLR Magic has distortion of 1.26% and costs $500. The Olympus has distortion of 5.4% and costs $800! Moreover, the SLR Magic is nearly a full stop brighter. In fairness, the Olympus is sharper and does correct aberrations in-lens, but in the battle of optical quality, the SLR Magic wins... and does it for cheaper.

This makes me angry and it should make you angry. They are tricking you into buying something of lower-quality. Abandoning systems should make you angry because the value of a lens is at least partially dependent on how much I can sell it for in the future. Crap lenses should make you angry because if other lenses are much better, the value of my purchased lens will drop as better lenses are released. Why do you think Leica lenses frequently increase in value after they are released.

Because, again, Leica has never released a bad product.

So, after all is said and done, I would never buy Leica. I respect Leica and their history, and respect those dedicated enough to deal with the system, but I just could never buy it. They are incompatible with the way I shoot and what I want to shoot. But I will not longer hate on them and those who use them. They may be expensive, but they are also unique.

And how do you put a price on that?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Is Pentax's new K3 A Game Changer?

Hats off to Pentax. They have done something different. In case you haven't already heard, Pentax has introduced a new optional "low-pass filter." I put that in quotes because it's not technically a filter.

I don't mean to take away from the, um, coolness, of what they have pulled off, though. It's impressive and something I would have expected a bit sooner. Basically, the K3 shakes the sensor very quickly on a sub-pixel level to add a tiny amount of blur to the image, effectively providing a low-pass filter effect. This can be turned off whenever maximum detail is desired.

It's probably a rejiggering of an extant technology. Most IL cameras have a sensor that sports some sort of "sonic" dust removal system to keep the sensor clean. By sonic, they mean that the sensor shakes the dust off. So to me, this is an implementation of technology that's been long in the making. It's still good, don't get me wrong, but not a huge shift... pun unintended.

I have also been waiting for a camera company to use the sensor to take multiple, quick exposures while moving the sensor to set locations to increase resolution. I could have sworn one of the MF camera companies was doing this already, but now I can't find it. Regardless, we are already doing it for HDR photography where the camera quickly takes three shots in succession. One sub-pixel shift to the left or right would theoretically double resolution.

But forget all that. Thank you Pentax for giving us something new. We now have Sony, Pentax, Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic, and especially Blackmagic all giving us new, or at least new-ish, stuff. Now, who's missing... who's missing... oh right! Canon and Nikon! Who are off doing fuck all.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Does Noise Performance Matter Anymore?

I am an unrelenting, pixel-peeping, anal-retentive, curmudgeonly prick. For many years, when a new camera came out, all I cared about was what it looked like at ISO-3200 and would berate cameras that fell short. Because, at the time, that really mattered.

After many years of sensor development, I'm beginning to think that we have reached a critical point — the point where ISO performance for nearly all major cameras is enough for nearly all applications.

Hitherto, I was an advocate of more ISO, all the time. The better the noise, the more psychological barriers are eliminated. Moments and situations where a person would never have previously considered using a camera are suddenly open to capture. The epiphany moment for me was when I first used a Nikon D3s. With a good lens, that camera could see in the goddamned dark.

But that was years ago. That was a time when Canon, Nikon, and Sony's consumer cameras couldn't exceed ISO-800 without shitting themselves. ISO truly was the limiting factor in most photography. But look at most cameras today. For most of them, ISO-3200 is a cakewalk. No, none of them approach the extreme nighttime prowess of the D3s, but some get close. The Fuji X-series is just jaw-dropping in its low-light capabilities.

In all likelihood, things will get even better. Soon, APS-C cameras will be able to hit ISO-6400 without breaking a sweat. Taking photos of a black bear under a new moon? Psh! Ask me to do something difficult.

That's one of the reasons why my curmudgeonly focus has been increasingly turning to lenses. The only company whose sensors still suck is Canon, so just buy whatever camera offers the most features for the lowest price with the best workflow and rest assured that the sensor will keep up.

We may not be there quite yet, but it's getting close. And what a great place it will be.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

New York Wanderings

I recently went on a trip to the area around St. Johnsville, New York. Nice area. Lots of Amish. Lots of photos.

This was my favorite photo. Oh, early 80's. How I miss you and your absurd video game systems.

I'm not a big fan of B&W, but this called for it.

Like a lot of old mill towns, Little Falls has its fair share of decay.

The antique stores there had tons of creepy, old, and hilariously racist dolls.

Ok. Straight from a horror movie.

Lovingly racist.

Holy crap-level racist.

Not racist, just creepy as hell.

Fun fact: the lock in Little Falls is the tallest on the Erie Canal.

This gargantuan bicycle chain is what they use to open the locks.

A lot of old bridges in these parts.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sony's Upcoming Full-Frame NEX-9 Makes Me Angry (UPDATED: Names are A7 and A7r)

The NEX-7's abandonment; the RX1 and RX1R; the stagnation of Sony's other camera lines; the dual E/A mount VG10: all of these were clues. Everyone knew that Sony was working on a full-frame mirrorless camera, but that doesn't make its impending release any less infuriating.

A full-frame mirrorless sounds pretty bad ass. Why the hell am I pissed? Because, in Sony's schizophrenic charge to find the next billion-dollar camera, they are abandoning everyone who got on board earlier. Imagine how angry a pro-thusiast now is who bought the NEX-7 when it launched with the Zeiss 24mm? They're pretty damned angry! If it wasn't for the Speed Booster and focus peaking, the NEX-7 would be a dead. Fucking. Camera.

It's especially infuriating because I'm seeing hints of Canon in Sony's behavior. The release of the EOS 7D made me think that, perhaps, Canon had decided to dedicate some actual resources to their APS-C line of cameras. Of course, that never came, and the 7D became this bizarre, mutant orphan that Canon hasn't updated since its release four years ago.

The lenses are still total crap, Canon moved its EOS xxD line of cameras down-market with the cheap 60D, and instead released the overpriced shit-show known as the Cinema Cameras. Their obsession with protecting their full-frame line has crippled the company's ability to innovate, and as such they simply squeeze money from their existing customers.

Sony abandoned their SLT cameras in favor of a joint E/A mount with a focus on mirrorless. Now they're abandoning them in favor of a full-frame line that will undoubtedly be too highly priced. I know this because somewhere in Sony a conference went like this.
Executive 1: We're Sony! Everybody loves us!
Exec 2: Damn right! Look at the RX100 and RX1. They sold like crazy.
Exec 3: Exactly! This means that we can charge whatever we want, again! Just like the old days before... Apple.
(Everyone in room vomits)
If they were actually interested in being competitive, I wouldn't mind any of this. A full-frame mirrorless camera will be a unique proposition on the market. That will be good. That will have value.

But just as Canon and Nikon have done in the past, Sony is assuredly going to try to artificially segment its cameras. Everything they make will be part of an attempt to create a closed, expensive, high-end fiefdom in which they will try to trap customers. That's the only reason Canon and Nikon earn the kind of money that they do; they've trapped people in their systems and work hard to keep it that way.

The EOS 7D: Forgotten, but not gone.
Just as Canon forgot about the 7D, Sony will forget about the NEX-7, NEX-6, and everyone who bought in. And as Sony has abandoned cameras and systems along the way, they've tricked small numbers of people into their fiefdoms, only to leave them high and dry. I encouraged people to buy into the NEX system, a lot of people. Now I regret that, because this upcoming NEX-9 confirms that Sony has already forgotten about them. There will be no more good lenses, because they will now need to protect their full-frame system from internal competition.

A flagship product should be a flagship naturally. Making a flagship by making sure that lower-priced alternatives remain crappy is bad goddamned business.

I may attack Olympus and Panasonic for being stupid, because they certainly are, but at least they aren't abandoning their customers. The Olympus 75mm f/1.8 alone makes the Micro 4/3 system worth it.

*Breathes heavily*

Ok. I'm trying to calm down, I am. I will wait to see what Sony releases. I will wait to pass judgment. I don't have much hope, though, because every move Sony makes etches their intentions on the wall. It's the case with every damned camera company. Aside from Fuji (which is why I give them a pass for whatever issues their cameras have) no camera company, not one, has zigged when everyone expected a zag. Not one company. As such, getting angry before something is even announced is completely reasonable.

And boy, am I angry.


The names of the two cameras are apparently the A7 and A7r. Based on the naming scheme, I'm assuming that the A7r, which sports a 36MP sensor, will also have no AA filter, just as the RX1R.

The A7 will have a 24MP sensor, probably the same as in the RX1, and the A7r will have a 36MP sensor, probably the same as in the Nikon D800.

They will undoubtedly have an A-mount adapter available at launch, so they'll excuse their lack of launch lenses with a selection of old lenses that will work like crap on the CDAF sensor.

Of course, Sony hasn't been developing much of anything... at all... for the NEX line and the RX1/RX1R could really be seen as a prototype for this new system. As such, they've had two years to do nothing but concentrate on this. There's a good chance that they will have three, four, maybe even five lenses ready to go.