Thursday, September 13, 2012

Digital 135 format photography in compact sizes this week

Remember when we could go out and buy a 135 format compact camera from US$50 to US$150?  The 1980s and 1990s were full of them and, for the most part, they delivered impressive images for not much money.

When digital technology arrived for consumers in the second half of the 1990s, it was expensive, low resolution, and generally too slow to be completely useful.  I bought an Olympus D300L for around US$999, which had a resolution of 1024x768.  That was decent resolution as a lot of computer monitors were still 800x600 at that time.

A lot has changed and you can actually get decent photos out of the latest compact cameras but they're still not very good.

Sigma tried to change that with their DP1 and DP2 fixed lens compact cameras.  Giving them larger sensors helped but their operational idiosyncrasies make them a pain to use.  They really could use a makeover and any of the camera makers, no matter how bad could make them better.

Sony introduced the RX1 this week.  It uses a 135 format-sized (35mm to consumers, but 135 format was 24x36mm) sensor in a compact body.  At US$2800, it's hardly for everyone and a far stretch from those US50 compacts.  That's about the same price as a Nikon D800, but it is compact.  It should prove interesting in changing thinking about what size body goes with what size sensor.

More affordable and soon to be available, the Nikon D600 has been announced.  It's a 135 format-sized sensor in what is essentially a D7000 body at about US$2100.  The D7000 is a good, smaller body camera that goes up against the Canon 60D, and readily takes sales away from the aging D300s.

The D7000 is weather-sealed and the D600 apparently increases that to a level consistent with the D800.  You won't need one of those cutesy clip-on umbrellas to keep your equipment dry.  Just remember that your lenses have to be weather-sealed as well or you'll be spending double your money on that lens that caught your eye when you're out shooting in the rain.

I'm particularly interested in the D600 for wide angle work.  I still like my Olympus E-1 and E-5 for telephoto work but the widest option is a 7-14mm f/4.0.  It's an impressive lens but at a multiplication factor of 2.0, that's not all that close.  The maximum aperture also precludes it from a lot of indoor work.  If I can get a D600 with a wider angle (weather-proofed) zoom, I'd be pleased.  I suspect the combination wouldn't be any heavier than what the E-5 and the 7-14mm would be.  It's only in the telephoto area where Olympus and the E-system really shine.

I'm interested to see more and more compact bodies containing bigger sensors, but mostly we need to get back to reason.  We no longer need huge digital bodies to create great images.  Those pseudo-professional fanatics whose Canikon camera bodies have the kit lens and are set to Auto mode with auto focus are crying about the changes, but they'll find that they'll be in the minority, as professionals seem to be picking up mirror-less system cameras for holiday.

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