Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ultra Mega Super Turbo: A New Cafe

I am Kickstarting a new cafe. I need your help. I need this cafe to be scattered far and wide. I want as many people as possible to know about it. This is my shot, and I'm damn proud of it.

You can go directly to the Kickstarter page here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Open Source For The Win!

A momentous event has managed to completely escape my notice; the open source cinema camera from Apertus, the Axiom, has achieved its crowdfunding goal. The overexcited geek in me wants to say that this is the beginning of a new age in filmmaking, but as with all things, a bit of perspective is necessary.

First, the crowdfunding goal itself was conservative. I think that their original goal was $500,000, but when the campaign went live, they had brought it down to only $100,000. And as you can see, they only sold 51 cameras. It's absolutely, undeniably a start, but we can't get too excited.

Second, while I think that open source is the future of camera equipment to a point, the market is almost overwhelmingly competitive right now. Open source cannot be a selling point. Capability and price must be the selling point with open source as icing on the cake. I don't think that the Axiom fully achieves this.

Because we already have some amazing cameras for cheap. The Sony A7s, the Panasonic GH4, and the Blackmagic cameras provide more than almost any filmmaker could ever need. The Blackmagic camera comes with a free copy of Davinci Resolve, which is a freaking awesome grading, correction, and editing program. The GH4 is, out of the box, ready to produce 4K video. And the Sony A7s comes very close to seeing in the dark. That is stiff competition.

I don't think they should have pulled the stunt of telling people that the retail version will be over twice as much as the early-adopter cost. It's pretty obvious that they aren't doing this, because a $6,000 open source camera would get creamed by the major camera companies. They said this to prod people into ponying up the money now instead of later. Early adopters did receive a discount, but only of about $600, which is fine. This game they played probably convinced a lot of people who didn't have the money now to be dissuaded and simply forget that the Axiom exists.

All that said, this is still an immensely exciting moment. This was intended as a seed and so it is. It will grow. The Axiom offers many things that its competition does not, and since it is open source, we don't even know what features it will have in the future. Anything we want, it can be done.

That is freedom. That is power. That is value.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Photokina 2014: The Big Sleep

Another Photokina has come and gone and now we can make sense of what was announced. Before I touch on anything, I think it a significant point to recognize how Photokina has lost some of its luster in the past few years. Most big camera announcements do not come at Photokina. Think about it: The Fuji X100 and X Pro were both announced in early spring, as were Sony's A7 cameras. Olympus E-M5, Panasonic GH3 and GH4, Sony RX100: as far as I remember, none of them were announced at Photokina.

Still, it's the only photography-specific show with major, international coverage, so that will always make it something.

So, that said, moving on.

This was a very boring Photokina. Maybe I'm being spoiled by the world of cell phones, tablets, and computers, but I've come to expect some degree of surprise and excitement from big shows. This Photokina isn't a huge letdown, but it's far from exciting. We have Canon playing catch-up two years late. We have Nikon producing capably boring, or boringly capable, products. Panasonic continues its quest to make a m4/3 camera that is somehow smaller than the sensor. Olympus continues to release pro-thusiast gear at a glacial pace. And Leica released some products for prices that make me question the sanity of Leica fans.

The Good:

Panasonic LX100: For me, the star of the show was the Panasonic LX100, which further confirms that camera companies need to stop fucking using X's in their camera names. It has far exceeded the realm of stupid and has entered utterly baffling.

I very much like the Sony RX100 and even bought an RX10, but the images never fully lose that P&S look. The colors are never as rich as a larger sensor, the noise is always visible, and on and on. The 4/3 format is as small as you can go and maintain an image that stands up to pixel peeping, and even then, that is sometimes not true. The LX100's sensor means that this is the most compact, pro-level imaging device that you can buy, besting the Canon G1X by about a centimeter in every dimension.

All is not well with the LX100, though. The camera's viewfinder is underwhelming, and the controls aren't really the best, and it's overpriced by about $200. Also, it's too big to be pocketable, but too small to be usable with gloves, large hands, or with truly professional speed. It is at least progress, though. The Sony RX100 was the first, others copied, and now Panasonic is moving it forward again with more robust video features and a larger sensor.

Panasonic and Olympus have both hinted at the prospect of dropping m4/3 in the future. This is because they want to charge Canon-like prices for their products, but can't because they're products haven't really been all that good. Then Sony comes along with the RX1, A7, A7R, and A7S and can suddenly charge Canon prices while still selling as many cameras as they can make. Just as with the RX1, a good transitionary product for Panasonic could be a fixed-lens camera with serious video chops. It would be expensive, since video requires fantastic optical mechanics, but I bet that it would sell. I see the LX100 as a portent of this future.

The LX100 can be seen as a pocket-sized GH4 in many respects, and that is awesome. The battery is too small for significant video work, but perhaps an extended battery grip will be released. The GH4 is a fantastic product and the only product in Panny's imaging stable that is both impressive and well-priced. Some of its thunder was stolen by the amazing Sony A7S, but even then, the GH4 does many things that A7S cannot do, and does it for $1,000 less. If Panasonic isn't cowardly, they will wedge as many pro-level video features as they can into the LX100. That is the only way they will be able to justify the extreme price.

Otherwise, the $900 will be much better spent on a compact camera with interchangeable lenses.

Canon G7 X: All aboard the X train! Canon finally realizes that their P&S market will continue to erode unless they do something, and the best course of action is to copy Sony! So they did. The G7X is an RX100 with a Canon wrapper, and that's not a bad thing. Canon's wrapper is better than Sony's. It's unfortunate that the camera is priced at a premium, but ah well. Also, I will always trade a bit of size for image quality, and if I were in this market, I'd take the new LX100 over this any day of the week. But, to Canon's credit, I'd probably rather take this over the RX100.

Fuji: Fuji was pretty quiet this show. They released the updated X100T, which is a solid update. If you have the older X100's, I don't see you wanting to upgrade. If I wasn't so interested in video, I would have bought an X100 long ago.

The real progress is in Fuji's ever-growing lens system. They've produced some winners and losers, and these new lenses look like winners. I'm worried about the distortion on the 16mm lens, since Fuji has shown Olympus-like predilections when it comes to dealing with optical problems in software, but I withhold judgment. Also, Fuji appears to be getting a bit too confident as the prices on these lenses are rather high.

All in all, I like Fuji, and these does little to alter my opinion. In fairness to other companies, though, Fuji is able to do this simply because their lens system is small. Canon and Nikon have huge lens systems already and...... you know what? No. I take that back. I'm thinking as I write this, in case you couldn't tell.

Canon and Nikon could do this. They could release updates to their lenses, especially since many of them suck. But instead, they don't. They rest on lenses, some of which were designed in the 80's. So again, kudos to Fuji.

Leica D-Lux: Say wha?!... you may be saying. But yes, the overpriced Leica versions of the LX100 is a fine choice. Basically, it's because you get a license for Adobe Lightroom included with the camera, a $140-ish value. Along with what I consider to be a much more attractive design, the $100 final premium doesn't seem too bad.

Olympus E-PL7: This is almost bad, but I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. Olympus continues to work at the small, feature-packed, mid-range camera segment with good results. None of Olympus' cameras are selling terribly well, and Fuji and Sony are slowly but surely eclipsing the m4/3 format, but they still deserve recognition when they release a decent product.

It's unfortunate, though, because both Sony and Fuji have more impressive products for the price, and in Sony's case, cheaper. Even Olympus offers the E-M10 for only $150 more. I feel that this camera will be stillborn on the market, even though I'm sure it will be fine.

Sigma: Sigma continues to impress with their new lenses for great prices and their innovative Foveon cameras. I talk up Sigma a lot since they are truly innovating. They are truly providing new tools and new experiences, not just rehashes of old ones. Their DP cameras are utterly unique and I think that everyone should own one. And since their DP cameras are such unique tools, the new viewfinder attachments don't seem bulky, they seem like a new form of imaging, because they are. Definitely the domain of deliberate professionals and enthusiasts and all but useless for Soccer Moms/Dads, these cameras have captured my imagination.

The Bad:

Samsung: Samsung continues to plug away at this mysterious product called a cam-ehr-ahh. Nothing they have hitherto produced has been correctly priced or competitive with other companies. Their sensors only very recently entered the same league as Sony, Nikon, and even Micro 4/3. Their lens selection is poor and expensive. Their workflow is poor and slow. Their system is lean. And worse still, serious photogs seem to be a corporate afterthought for a company that is making most of its money from Galaxy cell phones.

The new NX1 is an SLR-styled camera just as SLR style cameras are beginning their long, slow descent into sales Hell. It's APS-C just as Sony, Canon, and Nikon are beginning the rush to fill their product lines with Full Frame. It's among the most expensive APS-C cameras out there, besting everything that Fuji makes and cheaper than only the new, ridiculously over-priced Canon EOS 7D MkII.

The new camera will have only a single, high-end lens, which unsurprisingly is the lens they are releasing with the camera, the new 50-150mm f/2.8. That sounds like a decent lens, except that they will be charging $1,500. This isn't as badly overpriced as Panasonic and Olympus' lenses, but it's close. There is always the possibility that the image quality will be exceptional (for example, the Panasonic 42.5mm lens is priced too high, but at least the images are great) but since this is Samsung, I doubt it.

Moreover, if you are interested in saving money, you can buy very impressive lenses for cheaper than this lens from Sigma for Canon, Nikon, Sony, and even Pentax.

Basically, Samsung has given us no reason to ever consider their cameras, and this show doesn't change that.

Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8: Just as with Samsung, Olympus is releasing a similar lens with a similarly stupid price. Worse for Olympus, they have superior optical designs available in their Zuiko lens line, but they incomprehensibly refuse to release them.

Panasonic GM5: The strange success of the GM1 has of course spawned the GM5. It's slightly larger but has a few more features. Just as with Sony and their bizarre feature swapping with the various versions of the RX100, the GM5 loses the flash of the GM1 and replaces it with a viewfinder and hotshoe. I feel as though Panasonic is chasing the success of the Nikon 1, without realizing that the 1 only succeeded because it was a Nikon. It was actually a terrible camera.

Moreover, to me, this is Panasonic going down a market niche that is already dead. The GM1 was a surprise to me, but it wasn't a huge hit. It was simply a success. This area of the market — compact, fashionable phones — is doomed to die. Cell phone imaging has already reached a point where most people are happy with it for their uses. And as phone companies increasingly focus on their cameras, stylish, small cameras stand no chance.

The Ugly:

Canon EOS 7D: Canon's EOS 7D Mark II was a huge disappointment. The 7D, for reasons I do not fathom, was a legend. It was a huge success, selling millions of units over its five year life. Its sequel is an event. Leave it to Canon to make that event so thoroughly meh. The 7D MkII isn't even terribly competitive with other cameras from last year.

Canon has also spent the past five years showing everyone that it doesn't give a shit about APS-C as a viable professional format. Everyone thought the 7D heralded a new wave of pro-level crop lenses, but these never appeared. We got some in the form of Sigma and Tamron's excellent crop lenses, but none from Canon. Hell, if not for Fuji and Sigma, I would say that APS-C is dead.

Along with that, Canon will cripple its video so as not to step on the toes of their more expensive video equipment. And for the honor of owning this product, you will have to pay almost as much as the Sony A7R, nearly twice as much as a Nikon D7100 or Sony A77, and right about the same price as the Nikon D600 and Canon 6D.

There is only one conclusion to draw: Canon is insane.

The Open Camera Module: Olympus should be proud. They're the only company to make all three lists. Their Open Module display was just silly. To me, this was Olympus saying "Look! We innovate and stuff too! We've got, like, ideas!"

I make this highly negative assessment because even in their presentations they say that they are unsure as to why or how anyone would use this. This is Olympus screwing around and thinking that it was viable for public presentation. It's not. Try making something that people want.

Nikon D750: It seems pretty harsh to place this under ugly, but it's because this camera is much more than just a camera, it reveals the intransigence that still holds sway at Nikon.

Basically, the entire market is changing. Camera sales are dropping. SLR sales are dropping quickly and mirrorless cameras are not picking up the slack effectively, even though their sales are increasing. This state of affairs was predicted by me, certainly, but my many, many others long before I started writing. This isn't news. Lots of people knew this was coming.

So instead of changing with the times, Nikon is doubling down, apparently under the assumption that there are hidden islands of camera-buying demographics that their current product line-up somehow doesn't cover. That is the philosophy behind the D750: there are people for whom the D610 is too cheap and the D810 is too expensive.

I do not believe these people exist. There are people who would buy the D810 if it cost as much as the D750, but Nikon isn't doing that. There are people who would buy the D610 if it had more features, but Nikon isn't doing that. Instead, they are making yet another iteration in between the two and charging a premium for it.

Panasonic CM1: Panasonic's last effort in the cell phone space was two years ago with the Eluga. It had a rather cool commercial that was ruined by five solid seconds of branding and stupid slogans. It was a catastrophe that lost Panasonic a bucket of money. It was a nice cell phone, and was one of the first to be water sealed, but they tried selling it for $700.

The phone underperformed almost every other major phone on the market. If they had sold it for $300, they might have stood a chance, but that trademark Japanese Electronics Company arrogance came out in full force and they tried charging over twice that. And today, Sony is making the news because their own smartphone division is losing buckets of money because Sony continues to try to charge a premium for their products without any actual innovation.

Not to be outdone, Panasonic is back at it, with an even more ridiculous phone at an even more ridiculous price. Since Panasonic skipped the 1" sensor altogether with the LX100, they decided to put one in a phone. A very large phone. Actually, it's not really a phone, it's a camera with a phone in it. In fact, Panasonic is even calling it a smart camera. And they're so unsure of this Frankenstein creation that they're only releasing it in France and Germany... for some reason. Oh, and they're charging 900 Euros for it.

Everything is wrong with this stupid creation. First, before I rip it to shreds, understand that I think cell phone imaging is in need of significant innovation. I thought that Sony's QX cameras were a good start, and I own a Nokia 1020, warts and all. The prospects for imaging in our little, pocket-sized supercomputers are limitless. If they had left the CM1 in the oven for a while longer, it may have come out truly desirable, but in its current form, it's like trying to make a very small layer cake instead of just baking a great cupcake.

I could really go for a cupcake right now.

Setting aside my lack of cupcakes, let's look at this cameraphone the three ways available to us: as a camera with a phone; as a phone with a camera; as a hybrid.

As a camera with a phone, it sucks. It's nothing more than a severely limited P&S in a bulky body. This is irritating because I argue that the first company to release a high-powered product with an Android OS will own the future of imaging. They refuse to do this because that would require opening up their system, and none of them want to do this. They all want to be Canon and Nikon, with their walled gardens filled with their chattle, from whom they can suck blood at will. It's the same blind greed that stops companies from releasing cell phones that are truly open.

So basically, this is a bad camera with what will likely be a mediocre phone attached to it.

Looking at it the other way around is just as problematic. This is a terrible phone. It's wide and bulky and will never fit into a jean pocket. It's nearly twice as expensive as an unlocked iPhone or Galaxy S. No one with their sights set on a phone will give this a second look.

But what about the final way? How about looking at as a unique hybrid. This is undobutedly how Panny would like you to see the phone, since it's the only way this could make sense, but a hybrid is supposed to give you the best of both worlds, not the worst. The CM1 isn't compact like a phone nor feature-rich like a camera. It has the bulk of a camera without the features!

Perhaps Panny thinks they can add features in software, but that requires a company that actually knows software, and Panny doesn't know software at all. If they promised that this will be the first in a long line of CM cameras, developers might, might, fill the breach, but that is highly unlikely when they could instead release software for Android or iOS and reach a far wider market.

For the hybrid angle to work, the CM1 would need to offer something very similar to carrying both a phone and a camera, while offering the ease of a unified body. For 900 Euros (about $1,200), I could buy an iPhone (on contract) and a new LX100 and still have money left over! The iPhone fits easily in my pocket, and I'm quite accustomed to carrying a camera around on a strap. Basically, the CM1 is the answer to a problem no one has.

That doesn't mean I think that it's not a shot in the right direction. It is. But Panasonic has proven quite well that they are not a phone company. They are better at making cameras. And make no mistake, a camera with Android is still the future, but it will only be the future when the letters attached to it are S, L, and R.

All of this is unfortunate, since I would likely buy this camera... phone... Camerhone? Cameroon? Phonera? Who cares. I would likely buy this if it wasn't such a mess and for all for an eye-watering price. I've never owned a "normal" phone. I've always owned a strange phone from a faraway land. Back in the day I was importing Nokia N-series phones for their badass cameras. Before that, I was rocking an Ericsson that was originally on Vodafone in Germany. I have a thing for weird phones, so I am perhaps the person most likely to look upon the CM1 fondly, and I still think that it's stupid.


And that's that. Another year, come and gone. I'm not seeing the level of competitiveness that I would have hoped for, but even this boring year is way beyond the dreary 2000's, where each year brought nothing in the way of innovation save for more, overpriced Canon and Nikon garbage. That says a lot about the industry where even a bad year is actually pretty good.

It's a good time to take photos.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Sony A7S Mark II Is Your Next Camera

The Sony A7S is a wonderful camera. Bodily, it has all of the same minor issues as the other A-series cameras, and the interface still has some... quirks... but the image quality is fantastic. Now that I've had a chance to man-handle one, I've come away incredibly impressed. It is obvious that after the disappointment of Sony ditching their APS-C cameras, they have gone whole-hog into their new strategic direction. This is a major development, a great camera, and bodes very well for Sony's future.

I'm excited because the A7S makes me believe that ISO performance matters again. I had recently declared that ISO no longer matters, and that is still true for almost everyone. For people with serious professional demands or artistic ambitions that go beyond pretty landscapes, the A7S opens new doors.

Now I See from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

The A7S also opens a door that should have never been closed in the first place. Neither the A7 nor the A7R had good autofocus. It was a real killer for such an expensive camera and may help to explain why the A7 can be had for less than $1300. Both sensors were very good in low light, but the sensor far outstripped the capabilities of the AF. The A7S goes much of the way toward fixing that. The AF is still nowhere near the Olympus E-M5 and E-M1, or the Panasonic GH4, but seems on par with what I remember from Fuji's newest cameras.

This is significant because the A7S is more worth its price than the A7R was. The R had that crazy-high-resolution sensor, but no lenses to take advantage of it. And when the ordinary A7, itself no slouch in the resolution department, can be easily found for a thousand dollars less, well, the A7R made no sense. The A7S makes sense... lots of sense.

And the video is awesome! I didn't have much of a chance to deal with it, but you don't need me for that. Just head over to EOSHD and read his rolling review of the camera. If that doesn't get you excited, I don't know what will.

So, after all of that, why did I title this with the A7S Mark II? Because you shouldn't buy the A7S. You should buy its sequel, which is probably only a year away. The biggest problem with the A7S's video is the abysmal rolling shutter. It's very noticeable whenever the camera moves. Believe me, I very much appreciate how hard it is for camera companies to fix that and I do not blame Sony for this. They wedged way more into a super-tiny body than I would have bet possible. Moreover, the rolling shutter is bad because Sony made the big advancement to do a full-pixel readout from the sensor during video mode.

What that means it that when the sensor data is being stored on the memory card, it doesn't skip lines as it moves down the rows of pixels on the sensor. Back in the day, bandwidth and processing power necessitated this, and the act of skipping lines causes issues like jaggy edges and weird patterns to appear. A full sensor readout is a big deal, Sony should be commended for managing it in such a small body, and it should be pointed out that no one else is doing this. Still, the camera is expensive and when rolling shutter is so bad, that's a serious concern.

In fairness, and if you really want the A7S, it comes with an APS-C mode that uses a crop from the sensor that is about the size of a Super-35 circle. This greatly helps reduce rolling shutter.

Goodbye Jello! Hello Sony A7S APS-C vs Full Frame. Also some 720p 120 FPS. from Ed David on Vimeo.

Still, you get a full-frame camera to use the full frame. Taking a crop is a very useful tool when you want it. When one is forced to use it to avoid a problem... it becomes a problem.

So for that reason, I think that the current A7S is something that you should hold off on buying. I have complete confidence that this one issue, the rolling shutter, will be at least alleviated enough to warrant a purchase in the future, though.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Sigma Offers Try Before You Buy Program

Do you remember a number of years back, when Cinderella Man came out in theaters and wasn't doing very well? A large theater chain had such confidence in the movie that they offered viewers the ability to pay after viewing it, and would only have to pay if they liked it. The decision was made out of confidence, certainly, but also confusion. Why the hell wasn't the audience connecting with an excellent movie?

Poor Sigma finds itself in a similar situation. As esoteric camera equipment abounds, Sigma's perenial also-ran, the Foveon cameras, seem to be forgotten. And that's a bad thing! Are the Foveon cameras perfect, all-arounders? No. Not even close. They are slow, deliberate, and provide image quality that cannot be found anywhere else. They are utterly unique image-making tools. If you want to stand out, you should be using these cameras, and yet so few people are.

Sigma is obviously desperate to get photogs to take their Foveon cameras more seriously. They are offering a try-before-you-buy plan, where they will charge $999 to your credit card of choice and completely refund it if you send it back. Obviously, they're betting that you won't send it back because you love it so much, and for many photogs, that might happen.

I don't have the time to use my Sigma recently, since its ISO performance isn't terribly good. I can't take many shots indoors, and food photography requires studio lights. But in high-light and tripod scenarios, I love the Sigma. LOVE it.

My primary cameras are a Panasonic GX1, Canon EOS 50D, and Nokia 1020, but none of them offer what the Sigma has. I wouldn't trade them, but the mere fact that I would consider it should tell you something.

Go try it. You won't regret it.

How Did I Miss the A7S?

Was in a coma for the past month or so? It's the only way to explain that I was only recently made aware of the awesome Sony A7S. You know how I said that ISO performance no longer matters? Well, Sony didn't hear me and instead built a camera with the best low-light performance ever. This bad boy is nearing 4,000 on DxOMark's database. Four thousand!

Obviously, the tweaking that the sensor required to get that high required concessions. The dynamic range and color depth are both lower than the other two Sony A7 cameras, and lower than most other top-rated pieces of kit. But in this case, I don't think it matters. If you are buying this camera, you have very low-light situations in mind, and a bit of color and range is a fine trade for better night shots.

Sony is also progressing on the video front, making this the best video A7 camera yet. Rolling shutter is still dreadful, but if you won't be doing those kinds of shots, then it's not too much of a concern. That said, the rolling shutter is pretty bad. I would imagine that the heat coming from the sensor is the limiting factor. The A7 body is crazy-small, meaning that it can dissipate only so much heat.

In all ways, this is an exciting prospect that opens up new areas of image creation. If you are a journalist looking for night-time run-and-gun video shooting, we've found your camera. Because I love the GH4, but like Hammer, it can't touch this.

Very impressive.

Hey Sony A7S! Let's Rolling Shutter You Against Mr. Black Magic Pocket Camera BMPC from Ed David on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sony Drops Price of RX10 by over $300

An interesting addition to my article about the RX100M III. We now can see, without doubt, what competition can do. Sony's excellent RX10 (one of my favorite Sony products ever) wasn't exactly aggressively priced at $1299. There was a good reason for this: other camera companies weren't competing for shit. Sony was seemingly all alone in trying to deliver high quality P&S cameras.

Well, another company finally came along, the Panasonic FZ1000. It is likewise a very impressive product. It's made doubly impressive in that the lens is twice as long as the Sony, probably has superior video capabilities, and also costs $400 less.

No longer! Competition, I choose you! Sony has responded to the new Panny with a $301 price drop on the RX10, bringing it down to a $99 premium over the FZ1000. We will have to wait to see how the lenses compare and the cameras perform side by side to determine with the premium is worth it. It very well may be, since the f/2.8 lens on the Sony is a gem. Then again, if it proves to not be worth it, all Sony has done is let their arrogance shine through.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Apple One-Ups Its Final Cut X Failure; Completely Abandons Aperture

I don't own a Mac. I don't like Apple that much. In fact, I kinda' sorta' hate Apple. Not the Macolytes or iPhone fans or anything; I hate Apple itself.

One thing I don't hate, though, is competition. I love competition because it prevents companies from dragging progress down. When a large company dominates a market, it becomes difficult for smaller companies to succeed. Basically, the largest animal is eating all of the food that the smaller animals might use to grow. And since large companies are usually run by greedy nitwits, progress grinds to a halt.

Let's look at Adobe, another greedy company run by nitwits. They have released the near-universally hated Creative Cloud. With this, it is impossible to actually buy their software. You can only lease it. They are trying to say that it is intended to be beneficial to users, but everyone knows that this is a lie. It is intended to try to stop pirates... which it has failed to do. I can go pirate Adobe Photoshop CC right now.

So, as with so many (all?) attempts to stop piracy, all they have succeeded in doing is making life more difficult for their legitimate users.

You will notice a peculiar omission from their Creative Cloud, though:


Odd, don't you think? If Creative Cloud is so awesome for users, why isn't Adobe forcing Lightroom users into it? You can get it. In fact, if you go to Adobe's website and try to buy Lightroom, they only give you the option of ordering it in a monthly lease package with a minimum one-year commitment for $120.

But, and this is a huge but, I can still go to Amazon and buy it outright and for the rest of time for $135.

Why give me the option at all? I can no longer buy Photoshop, or Illustrator, or Premiere. Why is Lightroom exempt from this tyranny?

Because of competition, that's why. Unlike so many of the markets in which Adobe plays, the photo processing market has a large number of options, with all of them fantastic in their own ways. Capture One, Bibble, DxO, and the quite usable open source RawTherapee are all alternatives to Adobe's Lightroom. Moreover, Lightroom has seen more and faster development than all of their other programs. Competition has forced Adobe to work.

So it is with a heavy heart that I report that the competition in that market has grown to be too much for an old stand-by. Apple is leaving the professional photo processing market and pulling the plug on Aperture. This is a big problem for me because Adobe will use any excuse they can find to stop working, charge more, and screw its customers. And since Lightroom is my application of choice, I am on tenuous foundations. Adobe could suddenly decide to pull a Creative Cloud on Lightroom, and I would either be forced to tag along or make the troublesome transition to another program. Neither option is very nice.

So the loss of Aperture is bad for Aperture users, but it is also bad for Adobe users. Aperture users have had the rug pulled out entirely from underneath them, but now our rug is looking like it might move at any moment. We need constant, intense, brutal competition to keep these companies in place, and the loss of any player in the game is going to be felt by all involved. I am very sad that Aperture is gone.

Maybe it's time to start donating to RawTherapee.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sony RX100M III Is Impressive, But Was Anyone Expecting Anything Less?

The first reviews of the Sony RX100M III are out, and really, we didn't need them to reach a conclusion: The RX100M III is even better than its predecessors. It damn well better be considering the price increase. $800 is a lot of coin.

And that's the difficult part. Sony was not exactly being aggressive with the original RX100 at $650. It sold, like, ninety buhjillion copies. The RX100M II sold for $750, an even harder sell. It still sold well, but sold less than half of the first. Granted, some of this is because the first camera ate up a great deal of demand. Let's face it, there are only so many people willing to plunk down the better part of a grand on a small camera. That said, that should have made Sony even more aggressive in keeping the price the same or even lower. Do you see Apple increasing the price of the iPhone or iPad every year? No. And considering inflation, that means that today's $200 iPhone is cheaper than the $200 iPhone from 2007.

Basically, the price increase was stupid on Sony's part. But, well, Sony is stupid. Their camera division is smart, but I guarantee that after the monster success of the RX100 that higher-level executives jumped in and fucked everything up. The price increase was a decision that was almost undoubtedly made by executives outside of the camera division.

And those executives are obviously still in control, because here we are, with the eight-hundred-freaking-dollar RX100M III.

Let's withhold judgment, though. Is the new camera worth the price? It has that viewfinder that everyone wants, which is a genuine upgrade, but it loses the hot shoe from the last RX100 camera. Its lens is brighter but shorter, meaning that there is even less chance of getting any bokeh out of the small, 1" sensor. At the same time, it keeps the flash that no enthusiasts would ever use. And who the hell else is buying this thing save for enthusiasts?

Sony has thankfully made some progress with the sensor. I maintain that ISO performance has stopped being a serious concern for anyone with larger sensors, but on smaller sensors, it is still a huge concern. DxOMark shows that the sensors of the M II and M III are the same, but the photos themselves are not. Sony made definite progress in making the photos look less like P&S images. Nikon's inane 1-series cameras and the first RX100 looked like P&S images. Unbelievably fantastic P&S images, but still P&S. The RX100M II also seemed like this in some shots.

It may just be the processing, but the new RX100M III looks better than the M II. This is a big deal. Because while these cameras may never be useful in low-light, they could become genuine tools for high-light situations. And the lens on this bad boy is awesome. It is tack sharp. You could easily take landscape photos and architecture photos with this camera.

Aside from that, and that is arguably a big deal, there is little in the way of real changes to this camera. And for that honor, we pay $50 more over an already overprices camera? Sony's price increase may come from the fact that there is almost nothing in the way of competition out there, and the competition that exists is even more arrogant and stupid. The Canon G1X II is utterly obviated by even the first RX100. It is over-priced, under-powered, and under-featured. And it is of course housing one of Canon's famously-crap sensors.

Likewise, the Nikon Coolpix A was a $1,200 piece of shit that targeted the Fuji X100. No one bought it. Seriously, the RX100 stood more-or-less alone and pretty much still does. There are rumors that Fuji has a camera coming out, and Panasonic undoubtedly will have a camera with the sensor from the new FZ1000 in it, but those are all in the future. Right now, it's Sony or nobody.

What's especially disappointing is that the original RX100 was groundbreaking. It was stupid that it took camera companies that long to release the first large-sensor P&S (I'm not counting Sigma's Foveon cameras), but it was still groundbreaking. For the large price increase to the M III, I would want to see more groundbreaking work. More pro-level features, more options, more connections, more tools. This is basically just a better RX100, and for the price, I don't think that it's much worth it.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Panasonic FZ1000 Is Genuinely Surprising

Bravo Panasonic. You've done Sony one better, and aside from the video-oriented GH series, that is a first.

The Panasonic FZ1000 is Panasonic's response to the phenomenal success that Sony has had with their 1-Inch sensor cameras, the RX100 and the RX10. It sports a 400mm lens, a rugged body, and all the doodads one would expect.

Before I go into all that, though, I want to again stress how shockingly dumb camera companies are. It was apparent to everyone that point-&-shoot cameras with small sensors were dead the moment that the iPhone came out. In 2007, camera phones weren't terribly good, but Nokia's line of N phones were already showing that they could be. I should know. I had the N93, N95, and an N86. I rarely wanted for a P&S when I had them.

As such, everyone with half a brain knew full well that to continue sales of P&S cameras, companies would have to start offering upgrades in the form of increased sensors, features, and capabilities. So, from the release of the Nokia N91 in 2005, it took Sony eight years to release the RX100. And that was worthy of praise!!!

I don't want to bash Sony too much, because at the very least they released the damned thing. The rest of the companies were doing less than shit. They were doing negative shit. That's a mathematical term. Its symbol is -S. Canon = -S. If Sony had not released the RX100, the FZ1000 would absolutely not exist.

But now that it does, it is a very good thing.

The FZ1000 is very different from the Sony. The sensors are the same size, but the Panasonic is noticeably larger. It's zoom range also extends to 400mm eqv while maintaining an F/4.0 at that length. For such a compact size, that's quite good. Obviously, we have lenses out there for APS-C and m4/3 that reach 400mm eqv, but their quality at that range is rather shite. If this camera can stay sharp, I think that Panasonic deserves a booyah. This is especially true considering the price: $900. That's precisely where newer, better P&S cameras should be. Pricey, but of course they're pricey; these are an upgrade from your iPhone.

Even if the camera softens up a bit on the far end, that extra range is a big differentiator from Sony. My biggest interest, though, is video. Panasonic admittedly has developed a good reputation for high-quality video in its camera offerings. The RX10 is already Sony's best video camera, so if Panasonic can bring something special, then it will be impressive indeed.

Noise performance on the sensor seems competitive, but that's unsurprising. Very few cameras are noticeably behind the curve when it comes to noise performance. I wrote a little while ago that ISO is no longer important, and with every new camera release, that is confirmed. Are there slight differences? Yes, but rarely large enough to be seen in actual situations.

That said, the 1" sensor still looks a point-&-shooty. I don't think that will ever change. That is, of course, only a concern for pro-sumer photogs. For anyone else, this will be so vastly superior to your old P&S or your cell phone as to be a breath of fresh air after living in Shanghai. And again, the price can't be beat.

This is progress. I really look forward to video from this camera. If they can produce something special, I know many a videographer who may pick one up.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Is Olympus Doomed?

If various business publications are to be believed, the bell has been tolling for Olympus for some time. I think most of these websites and magazines are just trying to write captivating articles, but whether Olympus has any hope for long-term survival is very much an open question.

As I've said many times before, Olympus' current position is its own fault. The company has displayed a shocking arrogance for one so dominated by much larger rivals and has done absolutely nothing to reward loyal Olympus users who invested large amounts into the 4/3 system when it was new.

It is this persistent arrogance that puts Olympus in real danger. The vast majority of Micro 4/3 cameras are being sold at discount. Cameras such as the E-PL3 don't make top-20 lists for sustained periods of time until they hit sub-$300 prices. For example, on Amazon right now, in their Compact System Cameras category, there are only three Micro 4/3 cameras in the top-20. The Olympus E-PM2 with two lenses for $399; the Olympus E-PM2 with one lens for $272; and the Panasonic GF6 with one lens for $469. No E-M1. No GH3.

For the companies that literally created the category, that is a startling failure.

But even in the face of that humbling reality, Olympus is not humble. For further evidence of this, one need look no further than a recent article at 4/3 Rumors. Basically, the E-P5 finally got focus peaking, a feature that Sony has had for years. It wasn't as good as Sony's, but hey, it worked. An update was ready to go, giving those who had bought the E-P5 more features, but Olympus executives cancelled its release. They want to give all the goodies to the next Pen camera.

Remember, this is software only. There is no reason to not release the update for previous customers other than arrogant greed. Compare this to Fuji, which recently released a large firmware update for the original X100.

Fuck you, Olympus. Fuck you. You should be grateful that people chose your cameras over the manifold alternatives. The camera industry is lousy with options, and your cameras aren't any more special than anyone else. Even your precious 5-Axis IS isn't enough to differentiate you. Canon can be arrogant. You cannot.

It's not even the particular feature that is being held back, it is the mere act of holding back that is significant. I don't even care about focus peaking! But if my hardware supports it, and I gave you money, I damn-well better get the feature. I don't buy the whole "You got what you paid for," argument. No. I didn't. When I buy a product, I expect support in the future. I download updates for Windows. I download updates for my cell phone. It is expected.

No. I don't expect updates for the next decade for something as small as a camera, but the E-P5 isn't even a year old. When Fuji is updating cameras that are three years old, Olympus has no excuse.

Fuji's behavior indicates a company that is ready to compete. Olympus' behavior indicates a company that thinks it doesn't have to.

And that is deadly.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Does The GH4 Hold up?

It's been about a month since the release of the GH4. While I still await the review from EOSHD, I think it safe to say that the GH4 mostly lives up to the hype. ISO performance is very good, resolution is excellent, color is good, and on and on.

I am disappointed that the increase in sensor read speed is countered by the increase in resolution, meaning that rolling shutter is actually worse than the old GH3. As such, the GH4 is pretty much useless for high-speed action shots.

It's interesting to note that sensors are "clocked" in much the same that computer CPUs are clocked. You can set a sensor to run slower or faster. Setting it faster uses more power and generates more heat, which is where design concessions come into play.

I suppose, then, that a dream feature would be the ability to add a cooling fan and "overclock" the sensor, thus reducing rolling shutter. Panasonic wanted to keep the camera usable for stills, though, and hardware like that would make the camera look more like something that Blackmagic might design.

Most importantly, unlike the GH3, which was loaded with artificial crippling, the GH4 is truly limited by the hardware. This is important, because it means that Panasonic has genuinely made the best product they could for the price. This is not an arrogant product.

Panasonic should be concerned, though, because they also have their X lenses, which are arrogant products. The 42.5mm lens is laughable for its price. And seeing how popular the GH4 already is, the nearly complete lack of people using it with Panasonic lenses is rather conspicuous. Granted, most people talking about the camera online are talking about it as regards video, but still; you would expect at least a few people to be using Panasonic lenses. Instead, everyone is using Sigma and/or old Olympus 4/3 lenses.

The Micro 4/3 industry is still, sadly, very small. Outside of Japan it is being left behind by both Sony and Fuji in terms of interest and mind-share. As I've laid out in my writings, this is entirely the fault of Panasonic and Olympus. Their sheer, unmitigated stupidity has stunted the growth of a camera system that should have taken the world by storm.

I hope that the GH4 succeeds. I think that it will succeed. But Panasonic will have to bring their A-game in a big way for the holiday season. They need far more than one camera; they need well-priced glass, and lots of it.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Go Sigma, Go Sigma, Go! New Sigma 50mm Art Lens Destroys All Comers

Well, maybe not all comers. The already-legendary Zeiss Otus stands tall. But considering that the Sigma costs one-quarter the cost of the Zeiss, who cares? Fuck the Zeiss, I'm buying Sigma.

Also, the Sigma has autofocus. Beat that, Zeiss.

Read the review at SLRGear for a detailed analysis of the image quality and check out the Lenstip review for a more digestible analysis of its resolution and distortion. Lenstip is important because all distortion analysis is done on RAW files, meaning that in-camera corrections aren't possible (I'm looking at you, Panasonic and Olympus.)

Sigma just keeps hitting home runs. It's amazing. Combined with companies like Blackmagic, Fuji, and even Sony to a degree, Sigma is fracturing the foundations of the contemporary camera industry. They are producing exceptional — exceptional — products for prices far below the competition. They are also producing unique products in the form of their Foveon cameras.

Sigma deserves praise and recognition for what they are doing. And unlike Fuji's first attempts with the X-system, they also deserve sales. Lots of sales. Seriously, if you don't already own all of Sigma's new Art lenses, there's something wrong with your medula ob-lon-gata. That's a Waterboy reference, son. Try to keep up with the jokes.

As a bonus, if you consider yourself a videographer, be excited. Attach the new Sigma to the Speedbooster from Metabones and you will have an f/1.2, top-pro, 50mm lens with which to shoot buttery-dreamy scenes. If you shoot video or photo, it doesn't matter; buy this lens.

Similarly, if you consider yourself a true photography enthusiast, you need to own at least one Foveon camera. Their images aren't just good or bad, they are different. Fundamentally different. How many Canons or Nikons fulfill that?

I lampooned the Panasonic 42.5mm lens with it came out as overpriced. Yet again, Sigma has produced a piece of glass that is top-pro. It's true full frame, with image characteristics that exceed everything except a $4,000 piece of kit from one of the most famous lens companies on Earth. Companies like Panasonic, Canon, and Nikon should hold their heads low in shame.

This is one of the greatest lenses ever made. Congrats Sigma on your great work.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Sigma Continues Its Trend of Upending The Camera Market

The very first test images from Sigma's new 50mm f/1.4 Art lens have hit the pipes. It is amazing. It's only competition is the Zeiss Otus that wowed the world two months ago.

 These shots are all wide open, so we don't know how it does stopped down yet, but it doesn't matter. To my eye, it's not quite up to the Otus, but the differences are so small as to make no real difference, especially considering that the Otus costs $4,000 while the Sigma only costs $1,500 and the Sigma has autofocus.

The important thing is that the Sigma blows the Sony/Zeiss and the Nikon out of the water and back into more water. It is amazing. Bravo Sigma for again showing other companies how it's done.

This is a great time to point out the review of the Nikon 58mm lens at Lenstip. You can always spot a good review website when they really let harsh words fly when they are called for. Most websites are terrified of pissing off the companies that buy advertising space, meaning that bad products rarely get the reviews they deserve.

The Nikon 58mm is an overpriced piece of crap, and their review says it all.
Perhaps I am naive but I admit when Zeiss announced their Otus 1.4/55 and Nikon – the Nikkor AF-S 58 mm f/1.4G I though we were going to deal with two lenses which were a match for each other. It seems, though, that only Zeiss was serious about it and Nikon was joking all along, trying to sell you a rough piece of trash for a lot of money under a cover of a storied Nikon legacy. I really don’t intend to torture the tested Nikkor any longer because it is not worth the time and trouble.
This is why Oly and Panasonic piss me off so much. This is their fantasty! This is their goal! They want to be able to have such control over their closed system that they can charge comically huge prices for garbage and pad their profits on the backs of those who bought their cameras. It's bad enough that we have two companies doing this (Canon's included). The last thing we need is two more.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Voigtländer Does It Right; Gives 25mm Lens New Stepless Aperture Dial

As I have said before, Micro 4/3 is an exciting system to be in because of all of the companies that aren't Olympus and Panasonic. Voigtländer and their fantastic f/0.95 lenses are at the top of that list of companies.

It may seem odd to hail such a seemingly small change, but it speaks to the focus of Consina; they understand the enthusiasts and pros. They understand the small things that we want.

This also makes the 25mm lens even more of a must have for videographers. You can now smoothly and dynamically control depth of field during your shot.

The stepless aperture dial had previously been available on their other f/0.95 lenses, the 17.5mm and 42.5mm lens. Even without autofocus, all three of them are must-have lenses for the Micro 4/3 system.

In case you are unfamiliar with these lenses, they are so special because they are the only lenses in the Micro 4/3 system, aside from lenses attached to the Metabones Speed Booster, that will give your photos a full-frame look. And by full-frame look I mean that shallow depth of field and the smooth gradation between out-of-focus and in-focus areas of the image. On a small crop sensor, you need extreme aperture to achieve this.

And yeah, an aperture of below one does that.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sigma's New DP Quattro Impresses Impressively

Sigma is a company that has made one major mistake: the initial pricing of the SD1. Aside from that, they have been doing nothing but great things. Their Art lines of lenses is superior and cheaper to alternatives from other companies. Their 18-35mm is the only must-have lens for APS-C SLR cameras. And their Foveon sensors are beloved by those who don't mind how cripplingly slow they are. I like Sigma.

While I made fun of their SD1, I wanted it. I couldn't bring myself to buy it, even at its not-entirely-unreasonable $2,000 price, but I did want it.  The color and detail of low-ISO Foveon shots is amazing. Unparalleled. Eye-popping. And other such words as well.

Likewise, I wanted their DP1, DP2, and DP3 Merrill cameras, which I actually consider steals at their prices of $899. They are Medium Format-quality landscape cameras that fit in your pocket. Just amazing.

As with the SD1, though, they were special-purpose cameras with many concessions in design. I have limited funds and have to make decisions based on how often and widely I will use my purchase. A camera that is slow as a snail and essentially useless over ISO-600 isn't high on my priority list... although how I wanted it to be.

The new DP Quattro apparently goes some way toward alleviating the issues. Well, color me excited.

In case you don't know, Foveon sensors don't work with the standard array of red, green, and blue sensor sites as in most cameras. Instead, there is a red layer, a blue layer, and a green layer of sensors all stacked on top of one another. As such, each pixel that is recorded in the final picture contains red, green, and blue data.

Previously, the Foveon sensor used a full array of red, green, and blue on each layer. According to Sigma, this was one of the reasons for the slow speed of the cameras; there was a butt-ton of data to be processed. To me, the solution to this is a better processor, but I digress. Sigma's solution involves redesigning the sensor and making only the topmost blue layer a full array.
According to Sigma, this results in no loss of image quality. I have to admit, I'm not sure how that's possible, since data is being chucked away, but I will await judgment. I tend to believe them since a lie like that would kick them in the ass.

They have also put it in one of the coolest-looking cameras that I've seen in a long time. Not since the Fuji X100 has a camera been so eye-catching and different. I cannot wait to wrap my hands around one. That's because this camera is different. It looks like the future of imaging. Unlike so many others... apparently... I do not get a thrill out of holding a digital camera that looks like an old camera. I don't need some nebulous romance based on the past to be attached to my cameras. I want a tool that produces images. I get a thrill out of holding the newest, best, most advanced image-producing tool that the industry has. I want something that dares to be different so I can see what I can do with it. I know what I can do with an SLR or yet-another-mirrorless camera! I want to discover what I can do with something new. I get that thrill from this.

Good show, Sigma. Good show.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Canon's G1X Is... Better

Canon has a habit of producing overpriced crap. And remember, when I say crap, I use the word in a relative sense. There are no bad products, only bad prices, and Canon has some god-awful prices.

So it was with the stupid G1X. The lens was slow, soft, and slow to focus. The camera operations were slow and cludgy. And the price was way beyond what was warranted.

Irritatingly, it was still a decent hit. Not as big a hit as the inexplicably popular EOS M (I think it was because the camera dropped below $400 less than a month after launching), but it was still a solid success for Canon. It's amazing what a large network of resellers can do for your product.

Canon has released the inevitable follow-up, and it is... an upgrade. Based on the numbers alone, I still don't think that it will prove worthy of its price, but it's... No. I can't bring myself to do it. I want to like something Canon produces. Anything. But this camera ain't it. It's an acceptable product for a price that should only be attached to something innovative and market-leading.

The two most notable differences are the body and lens. The body ditches the bloody-stupid "viewfinder" of the old G1X, which is good, but it also ditches some of the physical controls, which is bad. Again, who the hell is this camera for? Anyone willing to plunk down the cash for this will want pro features. Why take them away?

The second big change, the lens, is the only major upgrade and one worth recognizing. It has a wider range than the old lens while also being faster by a full stop at the wide end, and over a full stop faster at the far end. That is impressive. The lens is almost enough to make me say "Hunh... yep, that's a camera," but it's still not a complete enough package, especially in a market where a similar price will buy you an E-M5.

This is Canon responding to the increasing erosion of their compact camera business. The original G1X was supposed to be that response, but, well... yeah. This is a legitimate response. It's too little, too late, and for too much, but if Canon had released this for $499 or $599, they could have stood a real chance of regaining some market share. But since this is Canon, they're releasing it for $799.

Obviously, if you're looking at this camera with a desirous eye, wait. Wait for the camera shows later in the year. Other companies are not standing still, and both Sony and Fuji are producing amazing things.

Perhaps, if Canon's market share collapses in the same way that it has been collapsing in Japan, they will finally get off their asses and produce the amazing products that they are damn well capable of producing.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Blackmagic 4K Cinema Camera Drops $1,000!

As I said, Blackmagic has been doing a damn fine job of competing with itself. The Cinema Camera, the Pocket CC, and the 4K CC are amazing products with amazing abilities at amazing prices. Have I mentioned how amazing they are?

But true competition is always good. It keeps markets active and alive. So it goes with the GH4. If everything holds up, the GH4 will be Panasonic's best camera since the GF1, released those many moons ago. It is competitive. And boy howdy, has Blackmagic responded. They have officially launched and priced the 4K Cinema Camera and it comes in a full $1,000 lower than it was originally set, at a drool-worthy $3,000.

I doubt that this is because of efficiencies in manufacturing. I think that is because the GH4 is a good product. Indeed, we can take this as an endorsement from Panasonic's direct competition that the GH4 is a good product and one worthy of our attention.

The videography market just got real exciting, real quick.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Olympus 12-40mm drops below $900

We're getting there! The Olympus 12-40mm has dropped below $900 in advertised prices. The advertised part is important, since camera companies operate on the desirability principle. By that I mean that a company advertises a very high price to make a product seem desirable and exclusive, even if the product never sells for that price. Cameras, watches, stereo equipment... now that I think about, really anything that an upwardly mobile bachelor would own... all of these things are well known for advertising a price that is far higher than for what they are actually selling.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I knew that the Oly 12-40mm, just as the Panny 12-35mm before it, was almost never selling for full price. Panasonic pulled stunts where they would sell it at discount for very short periods of time before raising its price again. Olympus didn't do that and are instead allowing resellers to advertise prices more in line with demand. That means that with a motivated reseller, you could nab one of these lenses for $850, or maybe even less. At that price, I still wouldn't, but if you do, I at least won't make fun of you.

I'm sounding a bit like a broken record on this, but the Sigma 18-35mm has changed things. If the 12-40mm had been released eighteen months ago, it would have been praise-worthy. But coming as it does after the significantly better, significantly faster, and significantly cheaper 18-35mm, it is a non-starter. Every product should be a reason to buy into a system. The 12-40mm is a product only for people already dedicated to Micro 4/3 and with no other options.

That said, the 12-40mm is a good lens. Once it drops below $800, which I consider an inevitability, it will be an adequate deal. It would need to drop to $500-$600 to be truly impressive, and while Oly would be smart to do that, they won't. Until that time, if you're desperate for a Micro 4/3 zoom, you could do a lot worse than this.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The GH4 Saves Panasonic From Itself

It's no secret that neither Olympus nor Panasonic, the two progenitors of Micro 4/3, are doing well. Damn poorly is probably a better way of describing it. Obviously, neither company sells only cameras, and as such success or failure in the camera market can only go so far in changing the fortunes of the broader companies. That doesn't mean, though, that their cameras aren't a very interesting window into the companies and their problems.

Both Olympus and Panasonic are "old world" Japanese companies. Their executive structure is very Japanese, their culture is very Japanese, and their product philosophy is very Japanese. Sony was like that, too, which is why they brought in Howard Stringer, a Brit, in 2009 in an attempt to de-Japanify the company to encourage a turnaround. Obviously, that hasn't happened.

Olympus actually tried the same thing when they hired another Brit, Michael Woodford, to run the company. Not only did he, by his own description, clash with Olympus's corporate culture, he uncovered a movie-worthy, multi-billion-dollar corruption cover-up!

Amazingly, Olympus has been doing the best of the two. Panasonic recently saw its stock price go up after their cost-cutting efforts saw some rather impressive success, but aside from that, the company has been a shit-show.

Long story short, Panasonic and Olympus haven't been terribly competitive. And as can be seen in Panasonic's intransigence in its other markets and Olympus's twenty-year accounting scandal, the cause of this poor performance is arrogance. Pure, unadulterated arrogance.

I think that the arrogance was fueled by the fact that the companies were, in many ways, making good products. No one was buying Panasonic's televisions, but they were good televisions. No one was buying the Olympus PEN series, but they were pretty good little cameras. Simply making a good product isn't the same as being competitive, though, and that is something that these blasted companies cannot get through their heads.

They need to create interesting products. Exciting products. Inventive products. Products that are different from every other company and are cheaper than every other company. Instead, both Panasonic and Olympus try to be Canon, just as every cell phone company tries to be Apple.

It's hard to decide which company has been the biggest disappointment. Olympus has refused to redesign their 4/3 lenses and bring them to the Micro 4/3 market while Panasonic has produced an entire slew of overpriced and under-specced lenses and cameras. And both companies release lenses that feature zero optical correction and as such have distortion that could almost be classifiable as dubstep.

In the end, it's an academic question. Micro 4/3 is exciting because of other companies. Blackmagic and SLR Magic are producing exciting products. Metabones Speedbooster will put a nearly limitless selection of glass at our disposal. The stuff coming out of the two original companies has been constantly disappointing.

The GH4 does not appear to be a disappointment. It is a groundbreaking camera. It puts true 4K recording ability into the sub-$2,000 market and features pro-level features that could put GH4s on movie sets. It's that good. If the photographic abilities are good, this becomes the 4/3 camera that the GH3 should have been.

It will also stand as an example of what other companies should be doing. I'm looking squarely at Nikon and Canon. With the processing power in their cameras, their video quality should be far higher than it is now. The only Nikon camera with decent video quality for the price is the 1-Series, which is awful in most other ways.

Importantly, the GH4 is a unique product! For that reason, it is impossible to say that it is overpriced. Is Panasonic seeing ridiculous profits from the camera? How should I know! There are no other products on the market that do what the Panasonic does for its price. The next cheapest 4K camera, the Blackmagic 4K, costs over twice the price and is a pure video camera. The GH4 is unique, and at $1,999, it is impressive.

I speculated about whether it was going to be a global shutter or not, and we now have our answer: no. While that's mildly disappointing, it's not surprising. Global shutters are very difficult to design and implement.

Panasonic has managed to increase sensor read-out by 50%, and the video will use a 4K crop of the sensor, which makes the video area very similar to the Blackmagic Cinema camera, which is the GH4's primary competition. That center crop means that actual readout is going to be very quick since, I'm assuming, they don't need to dump the unused pixels. They can simply dump the pixels being used and reset the sensor more quickly. Rolling shutter won't be non-existent, but I would imagine that it won't be bad.

The GH4 is an important product because it finally brings some competition to Blackmagic. I'm not saying the BM needed competition. Lord knows, they've been competing like crazy without anyone else. Still, having two companies mix it up is better than one.

If you are an average user, it's important to understand what the GH4 is not. It is not the Micro 4/3 camera to own. This is not the one camera to rule them all. This is the camera to own if video and video quality is of significant importance to you. If you will use it primarily for photographic applications, it is much too expensive. A 4/3 sensor will never provide $2,000 worth of technology for photography alone. The E-M1 costs $1,500 and is already overpriced, which is likely why no one is selling it for sticker.

Video is another banana completely. For video, sensor size is of much lower importance. Very rarely is the shallow depth of field allowable from full-format cameras ever used in video. It's fun to have, but it is very much a niche tool. Indeed, the smaller sensor provides a large number of distinct advantages. $2,000 for that sensor in an otherwise robust package is a reasonable price to say the least.

I cannot wait to get my hands on a GH4. $2,000 is too much for my pockets right now (my GH2 will have to serve its master for a bit longer) but used cameras will hit the market eventually. And when they do, I'm going to make a 4K film, simply because I can.


On a side not, EOSHD recently complained about how companies like Olympus seem almost psychotically averse to including video in their products. 

Last year Olympus gave what I thought to be a very strange reason for their video modes being a pale imitation of Panasonic’s.

Olympus don’t want to be too good at video, in-case their cameras become known for it. They want to be associated with photography professionals and not cat-video YouTube uploaders, just in case they might get popular with filmmakers and sell us lots of cameras.

I can really sympathise with Olympus, it must be a terrible prospect to have better image quality on your cameras and higher sales. Canon also recently became extremely worried that video might improve on their DSLRs (thanks to Magic Lantern) with terrible consequences. The nightmare scenario of offering their customers better video absolutely scared the life out of one rep who said the threat of better video would be dealt with by their lawyers!

Joking aside (or I am?!) why doesn’t Olympus want to be known for video? From the perspective of Olympus looking at the video features and their users, it might look like video users just sit around uploading clips of kittens to YouTube and editing in iMovie. (Maybe that’s true!?) But if we’re pointing the finger here, I’d say leave off the pop-art filter and HDR images, you photographers! There are as many casual stills shooters as there are video shooters and the 1500 euro E-M1 should not compromise one bit for any of them. Put the gimmicks in the lower end stuff instead.

Indeed on the E-M1 photographers get a raft of serious features and improvements like a 1/8000 shutter and weather sealing and video users get some new funky special effects for their 1500 euros. If you press the left button whilst recording video the image echoes and then returns to normal. If you press the down button the image ghosts and leaves a trail. Case closed.

This is an example of that arrogance that I mentioned earlier. It's not that Olympus doesn't want to be good at video. It's that they want to be known for video when they choose to be known for video. Then, they can try to squeeze money from it. He mentions Canon without making the connection.

Canon released the 5D Mark II which blew the world away with decent video. The Mark III comes out with identical video, and Canon was furious when Magic Lantern came out, going so far as to threaten the group with a lawsuit. Panasonic did the same thing with the GH3. They locked out hackers, crippled aspects of its design, and tried to sell the AF100 for $4,500.

If these companies can't squeeze money from you, they don't want you having it, logic, reason, and value be damned!

Canon can afford to be that arrogant, at least for now, because of their size and reach. Olympus and Panasonic cannot, cannot, afford to be that arrogant, and the fact that they are trying that reveals a corporate obliviousness that enters the realm of pathological.

If nothing else, the GH4 signals a crack in that pathology. That is a good thing. Of course, it could also just be a fluke. Because lord knows, neither the GH1 nor GH2 became legends because of Panasonic's doing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Increasing Disillusion With Micro 4/3

DxOMark recently reviewed the newest version of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens. It performs fantastically. It is easily the best lens in their tests. It has autofocus and costs only $900. And this is the rub: with a Metabones image reducer-type adapter, this would become a 17mm f/0.7 on m4/3. F/0.7. For $900.

Note: I converted the focal length into 4/3 terms. The image actually seen on the frame would be identical on full-frame or 4/3.

Tell me again why Panasonic is trying to sell its 42.5mm f/1.2 for $1,600? On what fucking planet do they live?

The Olympus E-M5 is a great camera. I love it. The E-M1 is great. I even feel much better toward the GX7 now that I've had a chance to use it. But the Speed Booster just makes the entire system untenable. A $600 adapter opens up the lenses of other systems and turns the market on its head.

To play Devil's advocate against myself, I understand that some degree of design must go into keeping the lenses at a particular size. Yes, the FF lenses are significantly faster, but they are also larger — often by a great deal. That said, it doesn't matter. Any photog on Earth would happily trade a little size for a lens that is faster than f/1.

Metabones hinted at a live micro 4/3 adapter, and that would be peachy keen. I do like my tiny lenses and frequently go back to my beloved GF1. Especially when I don't want to truck along a Nikon as when just going to a restaurant with friends. And while FF equipment is usually larger, it isn't always by much. Canon's 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm primes aren't very large and wouldn't appear out of place on a small body. And again, with the Speedboster, their apertures are all below f/1.0. But whither Micro 4/3 with that ability at hand? A system of small cameras that people buy to then use their Canon lenses?

The prices of 4/3 lenses are just becoming too big a burden for the sake of maintaining the system. The Panasonic 42.5mm really drove that home in grand fashion. I've felt a bit ripped off with my current lenses and their public statements indicate that they will be making no course corrections in the future, meaning I will feel even more ripped off then. The Speed Booster has made it so I can no longer abide this. Not when the Sigma 35mm becomes f/1 on the Fuji X Pro 1, a camera that can shoot ISO6400 without much breaking a sweat.

You can see in the freaking dark. Nothing in Micro 4/3 offers this, and if it did, they would try to charge a bazillion dollars for it. That I will not accept.

There is a concept in economics called the opportunity cost. It's the sort of thing you learn in econ-101. Basically, when you spend money, you are not just spending the money, you are spending the opportunity to buy other things. So when I spend $500 on a lens, it costs me the $500, any other lens I could have bought, a wardrobe, four pairs of shoes, one-hundred $5 Footlongs from Subway, and on and on.

Included in that cost are all of the other competitive camera products out there. Some of them are truly amazing. And that's the rub, right there. That's why camera companies are so desperate to get you into their closed or semi-closed system. That dynamic alters the value equation. Because then, when you spend $500 on a lens, you are not spending the opportunity to buy another lens, because you would have to buy into an entirely new system. It reduces the number of alternative uses of your money, reduces the opportunity cost, and thus increases the value of the lens beyond what it would be in a perfectly competitive landscape.

The art of pricing is thus determining how far a camera company can squeeze its adherents before they start to jump ship to another system.

I bought into Micro 4/3 at the very beginning. I even bought some old 4/3 lenses. And I have felt squeezed ever since.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Will Olympus Disappear?

Every year, various financial publications love to put out link bait in the form of "dying companies" lists. You know the type. The headline is usually "X Companies Fated To Die in 2014," or "Which Companies Won't Be Around in 2015?"

Well, one company that's getting a lot of attention is Olympus. 24/7 Wall Street has put Ol' Oly on the chopping block for 2014, and aside from the Oly faithful who are screaming no, I find little to disagree with. Olympus is in bad shape.

This is heavily Olympus' fault, too. They have tried desperately to be a premium brand while what they sell can never be premium. A 4/3 crop sensor is never going to be adopted by wide swaths of the photographic world, especially those with significant budgets.

That should have been fine. The prices for the 4/3 sensor are much lower than full-frame sensors, and the prices for lenses are much lower as well. If Olympus had passed these prices on to consumers, I think that Micro 4/3 could have been the dominant crop system on the market, providing good enough image quality for a significantly reduced size and price.

Olympus hasn't done that, though. Panasonic hasn't done that. Indeed, Panasonic's recent 42.5mm lens for sixteen-hundred-fucking-dollars shows how deep the delusion runs. Panasonic's previous high-end lenses, the 12-35mm and the 35-100mm, only ever sold in volume when discounted.1 So instead of lowering prices to compete, they just keep charging ahead, confident for some unknown reason that their fortunes will turn around.

You know that definition of insanity, where you try the same thing repeatedly while expecting different results? Yeah. This isn't bloody quantum mechanics. It's camera sales.

The article at 24/7 Wall Street says that "Except for market leaders like Canon, Sony and Nikon, no one wants to be in the digital camera business anymore." That's only true because everyone wants to be Canon and Nikon! They all want to have the same robust customer base from which to squeeze money.


Canon and Nikon reached their dominance because of fundamental technological shifts in the camera market. First came the rise of autofocus, then finally, the killer blow for old-world companies: digital. The Japanese companies were perfectly situated to take advantage of the technological shift.

Unless Olympus has some technological shift up their sleeves, they will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, achieve the success of Canon and Nikon.

So, not surprisingly, companies that are not trying to be the next Canon and Nikon are making waves. Fuji released its own 80mm-ish portrait lens for only $1,000. Sigma's Art line of lenses continues to upset the lens status quo. If your company is willing to actually compete, there is opportunity in the camera industry. Death only comes from following the leaders.

Panasonic is perhaps in better shape because they made waves. When the GH1 and GH2 came out, they were unique. They were cheap, compact cameras that produced video quality that met or exceeded cameras that were many times its price. If Blackmagic had not released its line of Cinema cameras, Panasonic would still be viable.

Olympus has nothing but the success of the E-M5 and the as-yet-unknown success of the E-M1. Panasonic had never relied on compact camera sales for their revenue as Olympus did. And even here, Olympus utterly failed to produce a response to the Sony RX100. Instead, Panasonic does! While I think the GM1 is a stupid camera, it is a genuine response to the RX100 that plays at least a bit to the strengths of the m4/3 system. What did Olympus produce? Yet another small-sensored, over-priced piece of crap.

An important point that many people are making is that a company does not need to have significant market share to be a success. That is true. It is also naive. In a highly competitive industry that requires engineers, research, and manufacturing, if a company does not have sizable revenues, they are inherently unstable. They could be stomped on by the leaders at any moment, and that's where Olympus sits: right under the feet of the leaders.

In the end, all of this is unfortunate. The E-M1 is a wonderful camera. It is fast and powerful. It is a great tool for producing images. Because in the end, that's what a camera does. It produces images. But when the market is so filled with excellent image-creating tools, Olympus needs to bring its A-game in every way possible. They aren't doing that. They're not even really bringing their A-game in any way.

This is a good time to mention something very important: while Olympus and Panasonic are weak and stupid, the Micro 4/3 market is not weak. It is becoming the system for low to mid-range video equipment, and the release of the Blackmagic cameras in m4/3 mount have all but solidified it as the choice for enthusiast, semi-pro, and pro videographers. The upcoming GH4 4K further excites the m4/3 market for video.

Seriously, if you are a videographer, go out and buy some m4/3 hardware immediately.

But for photography, m4/3 has some significant problems that its constituents are doing poorly at remedying. Olympus needs more lenses like its 75mm f/1.8, which is still its only exceptional lens. Olympus needs to ditch its absurd 4/3 lenses and stop pretending like they're going to do something with them. In all ways, Olympus needs to stop pussyfooting around, focus on a few things, break new ground, and do so at a price lower than everyone else. They need to disrupt the market.

Because they're currently the shortest person on the dance floor, and the other dancers all have big feet.


1: I am making that statement based on limited information. It could be wrong, but I suspect not.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Fuji Again Impresses With Its Lens Roadmap

Last year, Fuji impressed with its lens roadmap. This year, they're doing it again. I feel safe in saying that Fuji and Sigma are showing every other company how its done, at least as far as lenses go.

We finally get our first glimpse of a super-telephoto zoom that isn't blah like the 55-200mm. We also get our first glimpse of a very interesting 16-55mm, which is the long-missed 24-70mm equivalent zoom, with even more on the long end, extending out to 82mm equivalent. Granted, that zoom extreme will likely be too soft to be of much use.

I very much hope that Sigma gets into the X-mount game. It's not yet a replacement for a giant system like Nikon or Canon, but it is getting there much more quickly than Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, or Olympus. Bravo.

Panasonic GH4 4K Has Me VERY Excited

Micro 4/3 companies have a tendency to do this to me. Panasonic's GH3 caused a lot of excitement, but that was tempered when it finally released as a whelming product, and that was further tempered by the release of Blackmagic's Cinema Camera and the ever-evolving nature of Magic Lantern on Canon cameras. Long story short, the GH3 ended up dead in the water. It wasn't bad, but competition combined with Panasonic's push to lock out hackers really rather doomed the camera.

One of the things about the GH3 that annoyed me was that it was filled with restrictions. Most of these restrictions were explained as technically required because of a hybrid design, and anyone who looked much into it could tell that this was nonsense. The restrictions on the GH3's abilities were put there to protect the professional hardware that Panasonic was trying to sell, like the ill-fated AF100.

This was likely rooted in the arrogance that Panasonic had developed after the truly amazing success of the GH2 in the pro and semi-pro market. Honestly, every single videographer that I know owns a GH2. No, it never sold twenty million units, but it did sell millions, and to a very special demographic. That is a significant achievement.

Hopefully, Panasonic's pain has slapped a bit of sense into their collective head. The GH4 4K must both be cheaper than and better than the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. The latter point is subjective. Panasonic could easily be better than the BCC in many ways.

It was the former point that was in question, and it appears that Panasonic has that covered.

Rumors have the price of the GH4 4K at less than $2,000. If true, that will make the GH4 a killer product. I don't know if the sensor will be global shutter, but that could be one way for Panasonic to become super-relevant very quickly. The Blackmagic 4K currently has a global shutter, but its sensor is smaller than 4/3 and the camera costs $4,000, so even if Panasonic doesn't manage a global shutter, its real competition is the $2,000 2.5K original Blackmagic Camera, and if Panny undercuts them by a couple hundred bucks, the GH4 suddenly becomes a required piece of kit. My GH2 may finally be replaced.

That is of course assuming that this is a hybrid camera. I've heard that it could be fully video-oriented with only a smattering of photographic tools. Even if that is true, I wouldn't much mind. I've already split my photographic and video tools into two sets, as have most other pro-thusiasts.

I should point out that I have a great deal of affection for Panasonic still. The GF1 was fantastic and was the first camera that I used that managed to have excellent video just sorta' thrown in. I want Panasonic to succeed. I will not hold my tongue, though, when they fail. They shouldn't fail. Failure is a product of greed and stupidity, because they obviously have the engineers.

I have high hopes for the GH4 4K. Please don't let me down, Panasonic.