Thursday, November 21, 2013

I Think That I Will Be Abandoning Micro 4/3 For Photography

Something hit me earlier today: a van. And while I was lying on the ground waiting for the EMTs to arrive, I thought about Micro 4/3 and my usage of the system.

Both Olympus and Panasonic talk about how their systems offer excellent image quality while also reducing the size of the lenses, and this is true, but only to an extent. To understand why, we have to analyze the way the various companies use the measure of focal length.

Focal length is really a rather useless measure. What's more important is the field of view, and this is measured in degrees. It is in this measure that lenses of various systems can be directly compared. For example, a 25mm Micro 4/3 lens has a crop factor of 2. This means that to determine the field of view in comparison to Full-Format, we need to multiply the focal length by 2. So a 25mm Micro 4/3 lens has the same field of view as a 50mm Full-Format lens.

It's important to remember that using Full-Format as the baseline is entirely arbitrary. That's why Medium-Format is larger than Full-Format. Back in the day, Full-Format was just called 35mm, or sometimes small format. There were as many "formats" of film as there were photographers, since you could mess around with your setup as much as you pleased.

So with 35mm set as the "default," we developed crop factor. The reason why crop factor is called crop factor, though, is because that's what it is technically doing. When you put a FF lens on an APS-C camera, the sensor is only seeing the center part of the image circle. It is taking a crop of the image circle. You could achieve the same effect by using a FF camera and simply cutting off the edges to "zoom" the lens.

So it is with Micro 4/3. A 25mm Micro 4/3 lens has the same field of view as a 50mm FF lens and is noticeably smaller than a 50mm FF lens. It is not much smaller than a FF 25mm lens, though! And from that wider image, you simply do your own crop factor by cutting away the edges of the picture until you produce the same field of view as the Micro 4/3 lens.

This is not a perfect comparison. There is still a size penalty, but it is not as large as Olympus and Panasonic would like you to believe. For example, the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 is 64x69mm and weighs 305g. Its 150mm focal length on FF is somewhat matched by the Canon 135mm f/2, which is much larger at 83x112mm and weighs a stonking 750g.

But take Canon's 85mm f/1.8. It is 75x72mm and weighs 425g. That's much more comparable, and from that, you can take a center crop to achieve a 150mm field of view. Again, there is still a size penalty, but not nearly as large.

Does this comparison hold true for zoom lenses? This is harder because the zooms of the Micro 4/3 system are mostly of medium to low quality, while the 4/3 Zuiko zooms are hard to directly compare to Canon and Nikon. The two stars of the show right now are the Olympus 12-40mm and the Panasonic 35-100mm, so we'll use them.

Canon has a 17-40mm f/4 that about fits the bill. The lens is a stop slower, but a FF sensor will be three stops better than a Micro 4/3 sensor, and the bokeh of a f/2.8 Micro 4/3 lens is actually the bokeh of an f/5.6 FF lens. So not only will that FF lens be better in low light, it will have shallower depth of field. The Canon lens is also $160 cheaper than the Olympus.

But, again, the size penalty exists. The Olympus is a featherweight at 70x84mm and only 382g. The Canon 83.5x96.8mm and 500g. For me, the size penalty is not enough to sacrifice what FF can give me, all while giving it to me at a lower cost. And considering the colossal failure that was 4/3, it's obvious that many people feel this way.

The Panasonic 35-100mm has sister products in the form of the Canon 24-105mm f/4 and the Sigma 24-105mm f/4.  The Panny is 67.4x100mm and weighs 360g. The Canon is 83.5x107mm and weighs 670g. The Sigma is 88.6x109.4mm and weighs a porky 885g. There is a lot of extra weight in those FF lenses, but not much extra size.

Is there a better comparison among the Zuiko lenses? Yes. Olympus has a 14-35mm f/2.0. That lens is two stops faster, giving it similar low-light performance to Canon's f/4, and has precisely the same depth of field. This monster is 86x123mm and weighs a Brobdingnagian 900g. It also costs $2,300. As you can imagine, not too many of these were sold.

And since I love throwing this lens in the mix, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 blows them all out of the fucking water.

Micro 4/3 should be giving us a size and price benefit. That is the value proposition. Smaller sensor, less glass, lower price. Neither Panasonic nor Olympus want that. They want to earn the money that Canon earns. Well too bad. The world has changed. Sony realized that, and that is why they've ditched their APS-C systems.

I am well aware that simply comparing numbers isn't the best way to reach a conclusion. One 50mm lens can have the same numbers while being vastly superior to another 50mm lens. This could be called the "Leica Argument." First, anyone who thinks Leica's lenses are priced based on how much they cost to make is an idiot. You are paying a lot for the Leica badge. Second, I'm comparing well-regarded lenses to other well-regarded lenses. And while the Canon isn't quite as sharp, it doesn't have distortion bad enough that it releases Cenobites like all Micro 4/3 lenses.

So, yes, I will likely be leaving Micro 4/3 behind for photographic purposes, especially with the dynamite new Full-Frame gear from Sony. But I will absolutely not be abandoning the system. Video companies have grown to love Micro 4/3 and for good reason. Blackmagic and SLRMagic (no relation) both have put the full force of their development behind the mount, and while the GH3 is dead, the upcoming GH4 may have what it takes to compete.

This is no mean compliment, either. Video is exploding and becoming very important to a large part of the market. The "average" consumer will never move beyond their phones, but there are millions of people around the world who care immensely about video. And seeing as how Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, and Olympus are only vaguely aware that these things called "moving pictures" exist, the possibility that Micro 4/3 will become the default format for video is a real possibility.

For that reason, I will not only not be abandoning Micro 4/3 entirely, I will likely invest even more in it, just not with anything from the two progenitors of the system, Panasonic and Olympus. This is sad for me, because the new E-M1 from Olympus really is an A-grade product. I held it and I loved it. But a system is built on its glass and its price, and Panasonic and Olympus just cannot get their shit together.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Pink Flower

Maybe it's more pink-ish. It's not red. But it's not pink. Maybe crimson? I don't know.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sony Is Looking Good Again

Earlier this year, I posted an article about Sony being a huge disappointment. I'm not completely eating my words with that, but I'm at least eating a few.

What I doubted Sony was doing is precisely what they are trying to do. They're going about it in a way that I never expected, though.

Effectively, Sony is abandoning their NEX series of cameras. You'll still be able to buy them, and Sony will still make cheap lenses for the APS-C cameras, but all future development will be in the higher end Full-Frame gear. This is disappointing because that means using larger lenses than you would otherwise need on your always-going-to-be-awesome NEX-7 and NEX-6.

It also means they are abandoning their SLR, oh, excuse me, SLT camera business in favor of mirrorless. Even though Sony never said this directly, their strategy is to focus on FF mirrorless and develop everything around that. Mirrors? Gone. Crop sensors? Gone. Sony is denying this, of course. They claim that they are still dedicated to their extant camera lines. They say more products are coming.

I would imagine that their "dedication" to continuing development of their Alpha SLR lenses is nothing more than a PR stunt just as Olympus' "dedication" to their SLR line of Zuiko lenses was PR garbage. They are saying that purely to keep the market from collapsing, because when it is apparent that Sony has abandonded all of their extant systems in favor of a mirrorless system tilted toward Full-Frame, photogs will start to abandon the SLR system in droves and used lens prices will plummet. And since lens prices are partially determined by their value on the used market, if the used market collapses, so collapses the new market.

I don't think photographers will be much fooled, though. They sure as hell haven't been fooled by Olympus. Used prices for the Zuiko lenses is around 50% or less of retail. Sony's Alpha lenses are destined for the same fate. Sony knows this and has simply made the decision that their market share of the traditional market is small enough that its loss is insignificant in comparison to the gains possible from entry into the next great frontier of photographic development.

Because make no mistake, the RX100 was destined to be a success, as was the RX1, the RX10 will also be a huge success, and this new A-series of cameras will be a huge money maker for Sony. Huge. The businessperson in me cannot fault their decision, but the consumer in me is pissed. Lots of dedicated photogs bought into Sony's NEX and SLR camera lines, and now they are left out in the cold.

Yes, yes, Sony is providing adapters so the lenses these people own will not go entirely waste, but being accommodated is a world away from being catered to.

This step also opens the door for Sony to do the same fucking infuriating crap that Nikon and Canon pull: selling things for ridiculously high prices. Remember the five-hundred dollar optical viewfinder for the RX1? Yeah. Expect more of that. Remember how Sony's Zeiss-branded lenses were stupidly overpriced for crap optics? Yeah. Expect more of that.

But Sony has done one thing very well, they are abandoning enthusiast-level APS-C cameras, but they are dropping the price of their FF gear. I don't know whether Sony always planned this or Canon and Nikon's sub-$2,000 cameras forced them to price their cameras lower than they wanted, I suspect a bit of both, but it doesn't matter. The end result is the same: a dynamite product that will sell like the dickens.

As with so many things recently, I look to both Sigma and Tamron, who have both made huge strides in their lens quality over the past five years. They are no longer the "discount" choice, they are now a genuine choice in their own right. As long as lenses like the Sigma 18-35mm keep being made, APS-C will live on. And as long as the two keep improving, I'll buy Sony's cameras, and then never buy one of their lenses.

Friday, November 8, 2013

WTF Leica X Vario!

I said that I would leave Leica users alone, and I am. But I said nothing about leaving Leica alone, and they just opened themselves up to a world of criticism.

Leica has a history of taking other companies' designs and kinda'/sorta' slapping their name on them and calling it a day. Sometimes, there is actual value in this, you just have to look.

For example, the Leica D-LUX series was just a copy of the Panasonic LX series, for which you paid hundreds extra. Buuuuut you got a copy of Adobe Lightroom included, which at the time was $300. So, you still paid a bit of a Leica premium, but not too much.

Then they went and released the Leica X1 back in 2009. It was $2,000 for an average APS-C sensor attached to an average f/2.8 lens. There was literally nothing special about it save for the Leica name and body, and for that they demanded a huge premium.

On second thought, no. Perhaps I'm being too harsh. This was 2009 and the competitive landscape was very different. There weren't two dozen large-sensor point-&-shoots running around like there are today. All P&S cameras had very small sensors, so while the X1 was a poor camera compared to the world of SLRs, in the world of P&S, it was somewhat unique. I don't think it was ever $2,000 worth of unique, but hey, I'm a cheapskate.

Leica then released the X2 in 2012. This was a simple update to the X1 for the same price. Granted, by now, the landscape was getting more difficult to explain the $2,000 price, what with the Fuji X100, Olympus E-M5, and Sony NEX series running about making things all awesome.

But now, Leica has outdone themselves. They've released the update to the X2 in the form of the X Vario, given it a cheap zoom lens, made it bigger for no apparent reason, and are now charging nearly $2,900 for it!

This cannot stand. I must mock them.

This is an insult to the photographic populace. I see it as an actual insult. This is one of the most arrogant products that I have ever seen (the worst was the Hasselblad Lunar). They are saying that their customer base is stupid enough to fall for this when they could have the already-legendary Sony RX1 for the same price. Or they could have the Olympus E-M1 or Panasonic GX7 and three great lenses. Or they could buy the new A7R and an excellent lens. Or they could buy into Fuji's system and even get a camera that feels similar to a Leica. Or they could go out to dinner at a nice restaurant, once a week for a year. Or they could fucking burn it in a nighttime ceremony to worship the moon ANYTHING IS BETTER!

Imaging Resource tries its damndest to make the camera sound good, and all they can talk about is how nice it is made. Every time they talk about the part where it, ya' know, actually makes pictures come out, they have to qualify every positive statement. They say that the lens is sharp... and? The Canon 18-55mm is also super-sharp across the frame. Same size, too. It also costs $200.

This X Vario is a laughable piece of equipment. It's a slap in the face by Leica. As the market became more competitive, they released an inferior product for more money than they had in the past. I can barely believe it.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The New Nikon Df Is Far More Ridiculous Than I Was Expecting

Seeing as information is short right now, so will be my commentary.

The press embargo of the new Nikon DF has ended and all of the major websites are talking about it. It is a stunningly tone-deaf product. It is not an arrogant product in the way that Canon produces arrogant products, but it is a stupid product.

First, the price is eye-watering, especially in the face of the already-released Sony A7 and A7R. $2,750 for just the body places it in D800 territory, and seeing as the size of this camera isn't that much smaller than other SLR cameras, only a maniac would choose this over the D800 or D610.

After learning that the D600, and now likely the D610, will be selling at discounts from the MSRP at most dealers, that means the DF will sell for a one-thousand dollar premium over the D610, which is better-specced in every way.

Everything about this camera is a step backward technologically. This is Nikon seeing the huge success of the Olympus E-M5 and Fuji X-series, and thinking that they can throw a dash of retro appeal onto a camera and jack its price way up. Nope. Sorry, Nikon. The market no longer works that way. The retro appeal functions only to keep your product competitive. It does not give you an advantage that allows a sky-high price. Because make no mistake, this is a sky-high price.

The Fuji X-Series sold well because it was cutting edge while also being retro. The Olympus E-M5 was the best Micro 4/3 camera to date while also being retro. The Sony RX1/10/100 sell well because they are the bleeding edge. Nikon has none of this!

This is perhaps Nikon shooting for a bit of Leica, but as with every computer company and their attempts to sell their products for Apple prices, people don't buy Leica. They buy Leica. The name accounts for the majority of the value for most Leica customers. There is legacy, and history, and a romantic narrative. Nikon has absolutely none of that.

This is a big disappointment. When I saw the first images of this camera, I must admit, I got a bit excited. This is such a let-down.

Long story short, don't buy this camera. It will be discounted down to around $2,000 within six-months of release. Then, don't buy this camera. Buy the D610 instead. It may not look retro, but it's a much better tool. And while I'm more than susceptible to the romance of photography, even I recognize that a camera's primary job is as a tool for producing images.

The Epidemic Of Crap Mirrorless Lenses Continues Unabated

I love Fuji. I will probably be buying my first Fuji camera soon, maybe the upcoming X Pro 2, and appreciate their focus on the enthusiast.

That said, even Fuji has partaken of the odd habit in the mirrorless world of designing and building crappy lenses and then correcting those lenses in software. This applies to all aspects of bad lens design: aberrations, distortion, vignetting, and even flare. Micro 4/3 has been the absolute worst, with many of their lenses being full-priced while having distortion and vignetting that would cause a Leica engineer to literally crap their pants. And I mean literally literally. Poop would leave their butt and drop into their pants. This would be amazing because Leica is German, and as we all know, Germans do not poop. They just hold it until they die of old age.

Oh, right. Fuji. Well, Fuji had produced some lenses with less-than-ideal characteristics. The 18mm had noticeably bad distortion, and the 60mm macro had difficult-to-correct pincushion distortion. But Fuji has truly outdone itself with its very own overpriced piece of crap, the 16-50mm.

But, you may ask, how could a $400 lens be overpriced? That's not too expensive. Well, it is. The 16-50mm produced an eye-watering seven-point-two-percent distortion at 16mm. As Photozone points out, that's nearing fish-eye territory. The distortion is so bad that the corrected distortion is nearly 1%. Good god, Fuji!

Perhaps if the resolution was amazing, but it's not. It is decidedly average. And the average in this category includes lenses that cost $200 and are superior in every single way.

This is a major disappointment from a company that has done nothing but innovate and price their products well. I suppose that every company makes a mistake now and then. I just hope that this is Fuji's first and last.