Sunday, October 27, 2013

FujiFilm's latest mirror-less cameras

A while back, I questioned the need/desire to design today's mirror-less cameras like those of 50 years ago.  Fuji and Olympus were high on my list.  These two have been my favorite camera companies since I was a teen.  They have done some really impressive work over the years.  I wasn't sure why they wanted to return to other decades for designs.

FujiFilm was big in the news industry, although most photographers wouldn't even know that.  They still make some business-purposed cameras.  Most people now wouldn't even realize that their 135 format SLRs were fairly popular in the 1970s with the ST 601/605, 801, and 901 models, plus the AZ-1, their first auto exposure model that also signaled their move from Pentax screw mount to Pentax K-mount.  I knew a lot about them because I used to sell them, along with Nikon, Olympus, Minolta, and Canon.  I started with an ST605 as my first SLR.

Today, they're a very different company, especially since film is almost gone.

They looked back to some rangefinder/viewfinder cameras and did something the other companies weren't doing with mirror-less--hybrid optical/electronic viewfinders.

The trouble I remember with rangefinder/viewfinder cameras was getting the focus right.  Since you didn't look through the lens, you couldn't confirm focus at all.  Some of the cheaper cameras didn't even help you any scale in the viewfinder to guide you as to what would be in the photo.  Experimenting was expensive, but once you got the hang of it, you could remember what distance actually worked.

Today's Fuji X-series of interchangeable lens mirror-less rangefinders are much more helpful.  The rear display can give you a good view of your photo ahead of time.  The X-Trans sensors, for those bodies which have them, are quite adept at great image quality, surpassing other sensors of the same size.

What remains is the size and shape of the body and that polarizes most people.  It's the warm and fuzzy situation.  You're happy with the familiar and you don't want substitutes.  I want a good grip and a size that I can hold easily while using longer lenses.  Many people want something small that they can carry easily, especially when they can accessorize with a smooth leather case.  You'd think that I was talking about women, but the majority are men buying these cameras.

I guess my problem is that I'm just not a casual type behind the camera.  I take everything as a challenge!  That's probably why I'm better at sports than portraits or street photography.

However, I really admire what FujiFilm has done.  The latest X-E2's specifications look good, and the image quality will likely be slightly better than the X-E1.  Many of the models are impressive.  It doesn't surprise me that the company has gone their own way with the color filter.  For a while, they were putting their own sensors into Nikon bodies, similar to the way Kodak was working in the market.

Their auto focus has become faster and more reliable.  Their early problems with the sensors are gone.  They've added lenses, not that there are many, but they are sufficient for the kinds of cameras that they are.  I'm really thinking that they'll not be used for sports.  If they had an ultra wide angle lens, I'd probably buy one for that purpose alone.

I could see Ansel Adams using one, although I suspect that he could do wonders with a cardboard disposable camera.  He inspires me, and so does FujiFilm.

I saw the X-S1 in person the other day for the first time.   For a point-and-shoot, ultra-zoom camera, it's huge.  It was sitting between two Canon dSLRs and I didn't really notice it at first because it was a similar size.  Granted, the lens has much more reach because the sensor is so tiny, but the body size and the price were consistent with the others, also.  (Technically, it is mirror-less, but it's not a mirror-less system camera, so I just added it here.)

I just saw a rumor that Fuji make create a mirror-less dSLR-like camera body, probably grabbing the ST801 as a design reference.  If we wear the right clothes, start the 8-track tape deck, and use our fake 1970s cameras, it should feel as though the 1970s are back.

Update 2013.12.19: This new Fuji 10-24mm f/4.0 lens makes the system look even more valuable.   That, and an X-E2 or X-Pro1 would likely fill the rest of my needs for a few years.  Of course, they don't do anything for sport.

Update 2014.01.28: Given my previous bits about the 1970s, I think the X-T1 looks good, especially with the 70-200mm 135 format equivalent lens (50-140mm f/2.8) that is weather-sealed.  Maybe, they do sports after all.  It's not exactly  where I was thinking of going, but given the few alternatives, it might be the correct way to go.  If anything, FujiFilm really needs to find a way to provide a raw file with an ISO sensitivity outside 200-6400.  If images are usable past ISO 6400, a raw file would be preferable.

Update 2014.10.28: I tried the X-T1 in a store briefly and it was even more uncomfortable in my hands than the Olympus E-M1.  However, with extensive use, the E-M1 has become better, though the Panasonic GH3/GH4 is extremely comfortable.  FujiFilm has a grip accessory that fits on the front, as well as the battery grip.

FujiFilm continues to update their firmware and it's respectable.  Olympus actually updated the E-M1 firmware to version 2.0, which seemed unusual.  However, Olympus is selling quite a few bodies and FujiFilm is still working their way up.  It's sad that raw processing software has made it difficult to sell their bodies with an X-TRANS sensor.  It's getting better but hardly seems optimal.

In any case, FujiFilm seems to have created a Leica-like following of users.  They need a dedicated following, though not those who should be committed, if you get my meaning.  Their dedication to their users seems to have been met with dedication from the users.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Apple: revised for 2014

A few things stand out from the Apple presentation today:

  • No more 15 inch MacBook Pro with the older displays
  • iPad 2 continues to be sold, starting at US$399
  • Mac Pro is finally being updated, starting at US$2999

Of course, the iPad mini has been revised with a 2048 by 1536 resolution at 326 pixels per inch (ppi) display.  However, the price has also been revised US$70 higher, starting at US$399.  That seems a bit much, especially when they're still selling the (electronically) ancient iPad 2 for US$399 also (and people apparently want a full-sized tablet, even with low resolution but why shouldn't the price be $299?).  They have made their money back on the iPad 2, I'm sure, so why charge so much for the iPad mini revision?  Could it be that inclusion of the A7/M7 pair has upped the cost that much, along with the higher resolution display?  Alternately, they could drop the price of the iPad 2 to US$299 but that would disrupt iPad mini sales.  It would seem rather high cost given that the 9.7 inch iPad Air has the same resolution in a less dense display.  Also, there are still reports of low yields of the higher density 7.9 (what happened to 7.875, too much precision?) inch displays.

(Update 2013.11.06: I tried the iPad Air at the Sprint store and it was quite a comfortable beast.  It seemed rather warm just sitting on the plastic display, running the demo, so I can't imagine how it would be running Galaxy on Fire 2 HD.)

Apple, the whole "thinner, lighter" thing has been overdone.  My iPhone 4S has to wear armor to survive a fall, so it's bulkier and heavier, not thinner and lighter.  I appreciate that you want to design things with more aesthetic value, but there is a point where the devices aren't going to a museum display, and will be used by everyday people.  (I don't expect anyone from Apple to read this, and they don't seem to care anyway, but I thought I'd write it.)  I expect that the new MacBook Pro that is thinner and lighter will get some lawsuit about the palm rest being hotter and unbearable.

I wonder how many people use a Mac Pro now.  I haven't used one since the G4 days and I got mine at significant discounts.  Both were originally US$3999 each.  Of course, the base Apple II+ configuration was US$2495, as was the original Macintosh.  I believe the Macintosh Portable was US$6499.  Someone at work in 1990 had the Portable and I couldn't imagine spending that much money on any computer, short of a minicomputer system.

When people use Maya or other 3D software, or AutoCAD or various other technical design software, do they bother with Apple equipment now?  I know that Linux-based systems are often used on the back-end of projects but commercial desktop software is slow to move there.  As much as Apple and Microsoft and Google are herding us in a certain direction, we end up having to live with it because the commercial software we run isn't about to be moved.

The Macintosh operating system, (Mac) OS X, has been updated as Mavericks--something to do with a surfing spot in California.  As 10.9, it should be better, but I'm concerned about their slipshod implementations.  Look how long it took them to implement FileVault without losing data.  Resolution Independence never really took hold, but can be used on a per-application basis.  Memory Compression is their big, new technology and I think I'll wait, rather than having working memory corrupted, no matter how free they make it.  I wonder if anyone else remembers RAM Doubler from Connectix?  I used that quite a lot in one of my 1990s Macs, and it seemed to work flawlessly, but the Single-Tasking Mac OS 9.x (with Task Switcher) was much less complicated, although convoluted.

Let me remind you to take a moment or several moments to check the requirements and compatibility of your special, necessary software before you upgrade your operating system.

What I'm not saying is that I was ready for an iPad mini with the enhanced (but apparently not great, as far as color gamut goes) display--at US$349 but I'd want a 32 GB model, which would be US$100 more, and since reality hit, and it's US$50 more than what I expected, I'll be waiting.  I'd prefer to put money into an enhanced phone like the 32 GB iPhone 5c that has enhanced LTE band (2 bands on Sprint, my current carrier) support.  Since my iPhone 4S has no LTE support, and since LTE is starting to take shape, I'd like to be ready for 2014, when I'm expecting decent real-life LTE coverage and use.  (Yes, AT&T and Verizon have coverage, but putting LTE on a tower and saying that a town has coverage is not useful.  It has to work, and work well.)

Update 2013.11.17: I got the iPhone 5c and it's quite good, as you'd expect of what is mostly 1 year old technology.  I also looked at the iPad Air and it's very desirable, but only for situations where I wouldn't be trying to use it at stores or restaurants.  The Google Nexus 7 and EVGA Tegra Note 7 tablets are far more usable, if everything Android is in place and working smoothly.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Do you read what I read for photographic news?

There are a number of sources for information about digital cameras, whether they are dSLRs or mirror-less system cameras.  I'm not entirely trusting of many, especially when brand fanatics are behind them.

Here are some I read:

What Digital Camera is my go-to magazine and website.  They say what's on their minds and seem to be the less biased group of all.

DPReview probably has the most users of any forums, and the people behind the website do very intense reviews.  I find them to show their bias against equipment that isn't Canon or Nikon from time to time, but they generally do a good job and are worthwhile.

These people are good at making news useful in succinct articles.  They also have a gear-related reviews site.

Mr. Robichaud takes time to test and show people how to get things done, in a personal way that is both useful and endearing.  He talks mostly about micro Four-Thirds equipment at the moment but includes a Canon perspective at times, which is rather useful for those not quite ready to throw away everything.

Mr. Wong recently became an Olympus Malaysia employee but has been bringing interesting insight into Olympus equipment for some time now.  He has a sharp eye for street photography, especially in Kuala Lumpur.

The person behind this web site talks about micro Four-Thirds and Fuji equipment and does a real world style of testing that is useful and informative.

This site, perhaps obviously, has news and rumors about micro Four-Thirds and Four-Thirds equipment.  As with any rumor, anything is possible but I only believe it after I see it.

Related to the site are:

Are there other web-based sources?  Of course, there are but I don't use them normally.  Be sure to carry some salt with you when you visit sites, as you'll need to take some advice with a grain of salt.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Flash memory storage: cards and drives

Last night, I found an 8 GB Lexar Jumpdrive with a USB 3.0 interface for US$6.98 at Target.  That was about US$10.00 cheaper than expected but it was on clearance for some reason.  It claimed 100 MB/sec read speed (almost 20% of my SSD read speed) and 15 MB/sec write speed.  If you keep occasional information that should be transferred elsewhere, that's good.  (I've seen a similar inequality used in cards targeted toward cameras.  What good is the cheaper price, if you can't get the shot because the card is too slow?)  Obviously, you don't want to use it as a disk drive replacement.  It also included a download and activation for System Mechanic, a repair and optimization software.

When I checked the price, it was actually US$2.98.  I looked at the USB drives in their typical location and the 16 GB drives with a USB 3.0 interface were $39.99, somewhat more.  The only reason this one was cheaper was that it was pink and white with Target-style targets on it.  If I used it in public a lot, I guess I might care, but if I'm using it to hand photos to a non-paying customer, it's not bad.

I've been having trouble with an SD Card I got from SanDisk back in March.  I bought two of their Extreme Pro models with 32 GB of storage.

I've been satisfied with SanDisk since 2000 when I started buying SmartMedia cards.  Moving to SD Card concerned me, as it's small, and rather flat, though not as flat as SmartMedia cards although those handled Megabytes of storage, not Gigabytes.  CompactFlash cards, what I use most, are larger, and have the potential to use better, safer techniques for assembly.  It's always easier to test the latest and greatest in a bigger space.  As cameras have changed, so has storage.  In 2000, just a few digital cameras were using Compact Flash, and as far as I know, SD Card have not yet been developed.  Now, below US$3000, it's difficult to find a current camera that uses CompactFlash cards.

I have a couple Sony SD Cards which go into my Olympus E-5, along with my SanDisk CompactFlash cards, but my Panasonic GH3 only takes one SD Card, so I chose a 32 GB SanDisk Extreme Pro card.  The card was giving me various errors after a short time.  Apparently, a bad spot in the storage array was causing the problem.  I requested a new card since they have a lifetime warranty.  The company wanted me to jump through hoops.  I tried various things, documented what I could, and replied after about 1 month.  They sent me a reply with a UPS label and requested that I send the card to them, at no cost to me.

After about three days, they replied that the card was in the queue for shipment.  I'll have the replacement about a week after I sent my original card.

While I never expected to have a problem with a SanDisk product ever, they resolved it nicely.

Update 2014.03.16: The SanDisk card has been great since then.  I've used it quite a bit, including photographing a basketball game, so I'm pleased with the exchange/refurbishment.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why weather-sealed cameras and lenses are great

In the past 2 weeks, I've photographed cross country meets in the rain.  In one, it was an absolute downpour.  It was amusing to see people cradling and coddling their equipment because they didn't want to get it wet, while I stood boldly out in the weather.  (Yes, I was rather soaked but I got the photos I wanted.)

When I first bought my Four-Thirds equipment in 2004, I bought the Olympus E-1, the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 and the 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5, all of which were weather-sealed.

Later in 2004, not satisfied with doing indoor sports and photos of flowers and animals and birds, I put myself and my equipment outside in three hurricanes.  Shooting in 75 mph winds is incredible, especially when rain is hitting you and reminding you that you can be hurt.

Olympus weather-sealed lenses are amazing

After each hurricane experience, I would go inside, and dry the equipment as much as possible and let it sit for a while before returning to the weather.  In numerous occasions since then, I've used my 50-200mm lens and Olympus E-1, especially for cross country.  It was only in late 2011 when it ceased to be my primary camera body, and an E-5 started to be.  The 50-200mm serves me regularly in outdoor sports, and can even be used on the Panasonic GH3, also weather-sealed, through a weather-sealed adapter.

I can't imagine taking out any other specification of equipment.  I have a Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens that was meant for the Leica Digilux 3.  It's quite sturdy but lacks the weather-sealing.  Considering that it was about the same price as the 50-200mm, it seems odd that it's not sealed but it is a Leica lens, even if it was supposedly hand assembled by Panasonic instead of Leica at about 1/3 the cost.

Seeing as how Nikon has embraced the ocean with their Nikon 1 AW1 and so many others such as Pentax are putting more of their lines into weather-sealed equipment, will the third parties finally do something?

As far as I can tell neither Sigma, Tamron, or Tokina have any weather-sealed lenses.  That would be a shame, especially with the Bigma 50-500mm lens.  To me, any lens priced at over US$500 should be sealed.  I'd hope that more companies would take care of it.  Can you afford to take your best equipment (or your only equipment) into a storm?

Update 2013.11.27: I'd love to take advantage of some of the lens deals out there.  The Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 looks a treat, and with a discount, even better.  However, the moment it's wet and stops functioning, I'd have to buy something else to replace it.  Similarly, the 75mm f/1.8 is great but could be affected by bad weather.  Within micro Four-Thirds, there are 5 weather-sealed lenses now: Olympus 12-50mm, 60mm macro, Panasonic 12-35mm, 35-100mm, and Olympus 12-40mm with the 40-150mm arriving in 2014.  I did everything with 3 lenses for years, though 150mm is not quite 200mm (40-150mm f/2.8 vs 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5), so I can't reach as far, although there is supposedly a 1.4x tele-converter due in 2014.

Update 2014.12.14: It's been over a year since my last update.  Pentax seems to be the least expensive way to get weather-resistant camera bodies, with the K-50.  They're also good enough to mark their lenses with WR to signify weather resistance.

micro Four-Thirds hasn't gained much ground.  The E-M5, E-M1, GH3, and GH4 are all weather-sealed camera bodies, but the number of corresponding weather-sealed lenses is still minimal.  The Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 has been released, as has its 1.4x teleconverter.  Yes, the teleconverter works with only one lens as of now.

That said, Olympus have a 7-14mm f/2.8 ultra-wide angle lens, along with a 300mm f/4.0 super telephoto lens scheduled for 2015.  A number of Four-Thirds lenses are still available, which work reasonably well with the E-M1 and GH3 and GH4 using auto focus.

As I'm now getting into video, I'm looking at certain adapted lenses that are not weather-sealed.  While this area is in drought, that's generally not a problem but for dust.  Someone recommended the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens with the Metabones (essentially a reverse tele-converter) Speed Booster adapter.  This is supposedly a great lens but the ART series lenses are not weather-sealed.

Update 2015.04.29: I recently added the Pentax K-50 to my bag.  Both the body and the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens are weather-sealed.  It's a good, low cost option if you're on a budget.  I don't have any other lenses for it, so I should pick carefully, but one of the lenses that has been on my list is the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 ART lens, which is not weather-sealed.  I have a hate-hate relationship with Sigma but they've come a long way in the last two years.  I'll probably buy their USB dock also, so I can fix the front/back focus problems that they usually have.

Otherwise, I could buy the Pentax 16-50mm f/2.8, which is a sturdy, reliable Pentax lens but that maximum aperture means a lot and if I'm more concerned about getting the shot indoors or in lower light, the Sigma would be better, even though its focal length range is very limited.  The Pentax lens is better overall.

Olympus has an 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens that will be available this summer--which likely means September 30th.   It will likely be the first fisheye lens I'll ever own, and since it is weather-sealed, it will be useful not just for skate parks, but for beach and bad weather photos too.

Update 2016.04.03: I gave away the Pentax K-50, and since then, I bought a Nikon D7200.  I've now got three lenses, none of which seems to be weather-sealed.

Sadly, I've been learning that outside Olympus, weather-sealing is not quite as comprehensive.  It seems that a lot of products are given a gasket to keep liquid from entering the camera body and perhaps, a fluorine coating on the frontmost lens element to resist liquids.  I would hope that there are also gaskets around zoom and focus rings, etc. but it doesn't sound as though it happens.

Considering that lenses last longer than bodies, why not do more for the lenses?

The Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens is well built.  I'm thinking that it is as weather-resistant as the 12-40mm f/2.8 and all of the Olympus Four-Thirds SHG and HG lenses.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Panasonic GM1 -- The micro micro Four-Thirds camera body

The rumors said that it was coming, but nothing had prepared us for just how small it was.

Many people complain that a certain camera body is too big.  They must have tiny hands.  The GM1 is the cure.

It's about the size of the Sony RX100, but with a larger sensor--another product in the Sony-Panasonic war to win the hearts and minds of the Japanese people.

Panasonic GM1 Width 98.5mm x Height 54.9mm x Depth 30.4mm
Olympus E-PM2 Width 109.8mm x Height 64.2mm x Depth 33.8mm

Compared to the Olympus mini, it's a bit smaller--micro-ish.

The 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 lens seems too good to be true.  Sure, it's not much for low light, but apparently, it has very high optical quality for a kit zoom.  The lens with the body is US$749.99.  I thought that was high, but is there another magnesium alloy mirror-less system camera anywhere close to this small?

Panasonic also announced a 15mm f/1.7 lens that should arrive in 2014.  That lens has an aperture ring, which is likely the first on micro Four-Thirds.  Leica-labeled lenses on Four-Thirds had aperture rings and this 15mm is definitely labeled as a Leica lens.  Does this mean that Leica have an intention to use this as a basis for their own tiny camera, as they did with the Panasonic DMC-L1 that became the Digilux 3?
Leica 15mm f/1.7 with aperture ring

The weird bit about the 12-32mm lens is that it has the zoom ring, but no manual focus ring.  There isn't enough room for that since it's a collapsible design.  Manual focus is implemented through the rear display.  I suspect that it would be easier to put the camera on a tripod and use the Lumix app to control the camera from a smart phone or tablet.

It's strange, but I feel somewhat enthusiastic about this certain model.  I normally want something large enough to hold easily, such as the Panasonic GH3, but the GM1 looks easy to slip away, even with its pronounced grip.  They will have a grip available, but I would expect it to be tiny as well.  You can see from the photo that it's not entirely huge.

GM1 with huge grip

I was thinking that this would be a good camera to carry.  The other Four-Thirds models such as the Olympus E-PM2 and Panasonic GF6 aren't really pocket-able, and if it doesn't fit in my pocket, why bother?  I'll just continue to use my phone.

Update: 2013.12.04: I've seen a couple of great deals on the E-PM2 with two lenses.  One of the deals even lets you pay US$66.66 for each of 6 months.  It still won't make the E-PM2 pocketable but it will make the price more easily digestible.

Update: 2014.01.14: Tyson Robichaud takes a good look at the camera.  He seems to be thinking about what I've been thinking.

Also, they still haven't introduced the all black version here.  They have orange/silver and a black/silver versions available, but that's all for now.  It seems to be well-received overall.  I noticed that Panasonic is selling the 12-32mm kit lens separately for US$349.99, which seems a bit high for something that apparently doesn't have a manual focus ring.  Of course, if I complain about the 35-100mm being too small to easily manually focus, I suppose the 12-32mm is something I'd want on automatic.

Update 2014.02.18: The other day, I sent my Panasonic 35-100mm lens for repair.  I was considering buying a lens or this camera to keep me occupied--that sounds odd.  I have very little micro Four-Thirds equipment, so I'm down to the GH3, 45-200mm lens, and the Olympus MMF-3 adapter for Four-Thirds lenses.  I really like the all-black GM1, but I don't care as much for the black with silver and I really don't like the orange with silver.  The US$50 discount is great, but if I can't get what I want, should I bother?  Given that the lens by itself is so much, that leaves the body as US$350 with the current discount, about half the price of the set.  That isn't much for such a well-made, strong body.   However, US$699.99 is a lot when my GH3 could easily be replaced with the GH4, or I could buy an Olympus 12-40mm lens, or give up and move to the FujiFilm X-T1.

Update 2014.03.16: They must be having trouble selling these, as the price is dropping quite a lot.  It's almost US$100 cheaper lately.  I'd love to buy one, but my GH3 replacement has to be my priority, especially since I bought the Olympus 12-40mm lens.  I wonder if the Leica/Panasonic 15mm f/1.7 lens would be worth it.  The GH3 would still be big inside a restaurant, but a wide angle, bright lens would be useful.

Update 2014.04.26: So, the early word is that the lens is good but not great.  I thought they would have learnt their lesson after the 25mm f/1.4 lens turned out to be little more than average.  I really wish that they'd used more glass.  I've made mention in the past about the 46mm filter size but obviously, the front optic doesn't take advantage of all that space within the housing.  For US$599.99 it should use every optical means of resolving an image.  I can forgive that the 12-32mm f/3.5-56 isn't amazing, simply because it's a kit lens.

Still, the GM1 + 15mm f/1.7 looks like a potent package at US$999.99, and it is less expensive than the FujiFilm X100s.  The fact that I can put an adapter on my Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 lens and connect the GM1 to it makes it extremely powerful--and a bit of a spectacle.  It's probably a funny reason to have a tripod.  Obviously, that is not a good combination for food photography in a restaurant, unless they hire someone professionally.

GM1 with Four-Thirds Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4
Update 2014.09.15: About a week ago, I looked at the GM1 again.  It didn't have as good a price as I could have paid in June.  Plus, there was the possibility of the GM5 being real, so I didn't buy it.  I would like to have the EVF available and the GM5 has it.  The GM5 doesn't replace the GM1 but adds to the line.

Update 2014.11.14: I still haven't bought anything new.  The GM5 does look rather appealing, what with the viewfinder and the hot shoe.  There was a recent deal from Adorama on the GM1 that included a US$100 gift card and that made the effective price very inexpensive at roughly US$500.  It was appealing for about a minute, and I went back to thinking about the GM5, even though it still shows "Pre-Order" for October 2014.  US$900 seems high but not horrible.  I'm still wishing for a GM5/15mm f/1.7 kit.  I'm half-surprised that I haven't been back to the store to buy the 15mm lens, especially since I'm often across the street from there.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

New Sony a7 - a7R

I'm sorry Sony, but I can't stop laughing at the painful looks of the camera bodies you've mangled.

You took a very handsome, curved block that looked almost exactly like a Nikon 1 (not a good idea, considering what Nikon are telling Sakar/Polaroid with the lawsuit), plopped a viewfinder onto it, and riveted a grip onto it.

It looks home-made, like someone's $100 camera body mockup.  Frankenstein's creature was possibly less ugly.

Now, technically, it sounds interesting, but they need to show how huge the lenses are, especially the long lenses, mirror-less or not, it's still 135 format.  Trying to get a good day's work out of it is going to be heavy.

DPReview seemed incredibly supportive of Sony in their first look assessment.  The controls are there but seem illogically placed, as if the outer form followed the inner form, as if the design came from an electronics company.  Samsung and, to a lesser extent, Panasonic have been doing similar types of design work, but Panasonic finally got it right with their GH3, save the SD Card door and Display button.

Supposedly, the grip on the a7 and a7R is quite good, so it should be comfortable.

The lens selection looked a bit bizarre, and given their lack of lenses for their NEX line after these (3, 4, 5?) years, will they improve in their variety?

The features of the two bodies was interesting.  Choose the less expensive body and get a lower resolution (logical) sensor with a anti-aliasing/low pass filter or pay quite a bit to get a higher resolution sensor without the filter.  Of course, if you can afford the more expensive model, they're thinking that you already know how to handle moirĂ© patterns.

Still, I can't see the more expensive model going up against the Nikon D800E or any medium format camera.  I also couldn't see the D800E going up against medium format, although the resolution is plentiful.  Have I thought about buying one?  Definitely, and I've thought about the D800.

Are there people out there who chant "full frame full frame" as the universal panacea?  Yes!  Could this fix their desire?  Possibly.  However, I feel that those people will still have trouble getting the photos they want because they may never know their equipment, and could do much better with the equipment they have, until they've explored everything that a camera body can do.

Update 2013.11.05: Well, that didn't take long.  Nikon's new Df matches 1970s style with 2013 specifications and even allows lenses from as far back as 1959.  That's a lot of crossing time, and you don't even have to switch equipment brands.  The main difference for people trying to decide is whether they want better image quality or higher image density, since the Df uses a 16 MP sensor from the D4.  Of course, thinking about ISO 25,600 photos as clean as most ISO 1600 photos has appeal.  If you happen to photograph concerts for a living, you have a new backup camera body in the Df or your company could afford a couple of them instead of one D4.

Update 2013.12.10: The a7/a7R duo have had mixed reviews.  They have a lot of potential but they're products of checklist engineering.  I think they'll be useful to the casual photographer.  I somehow doubt that a professional would consider them, but a few professionals have considered micro Four-Thirds, so why not this pair and the Sony FE-mount?  Any camera body currently available is good, and these have to be far about just good.

Update 2014.12.18: While I'm still not a fan of their electronics-oriented designs, Sony has gone further with these and produced a successor to the a7 and added the a7S with ISO sensitivity up to 409,600 and increased dynamic range.  The sensor has 12 MP, which should provide good enlargements with lower noise than most, given the low pixel density.

 The a7 II has 5 axis image stabilization, similar to what Olympus started with the OM-D E-M5.  This should improve quite a few blurry photos.

The company has come a long way from buying the assets of poor Minolta.

Update 2014.04.08: I'm glad they've revised the body greatly with the A7 Mk II.   It seems much better overall.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fresh start: Into what camera system would I buy today?

A lot of time has passed since my first film SLR and it seems in the digital era, that an equal amount of technology time has passed since 2004.

As a stills photographer, I'm wondering what I would buy fresh in 2013 without any old equipment to have an influence on my decision.

In 2004, it came down to Olympus (my long term brand), Pentax (the odd but sometimes great brand), Nikon (the brand of legacy), and Canon (the ergonomically-backwards brand), although there was Minolta but Minolta never did anything great in my view so it wasn't worth consideration.

Pentax had the *ist that didn't work well.  Nikon had the D100 but its image quality didn't really impress me.  Equally, the Canon 10D didn't impress.  The lower level siblings from Nikon and Canon were getting attention but they weren't as good.  I bet on the Olympus E-1 after a glowing review from What Digital Camera, a magazine I trusted to tell me what was wrong with any equipment.  93% was quite good.

Today, finding something that stands out like that is more difficult to find.  Technology has changed and the major brands all have camera bodies that impress, so I'm (mostly) back to judging by lenses.

In the same US$1000 to US$2000 range with a normal zoom lens, there are a few choices:

  • Pentax K-3
  • Nikon D7100
  • Canon 70D
  • Olympus E-M1
  • Panasonic GH3
  • Sony NEX-7

Nine years ago, I'd never considered something from an electronics company as my camera of choice but Panasonic has proven itself and Sony took horrible Minolta and made it something above average.

I need weather-resistant equipment.  How else do you shoot outdoors in the rain or snow, use an umbrella?  That eliminates the Canon 70D and the Sony NEX-7, as far as I know.  While Pentax and Nikon make it difficult to understand, they have enough weather-sealed lenses to make a go of it.  Olympus and Panasonic have almost no native weather-sealed micro Four-Thirds lenses except for the Olympus 12-50mm, 60mm macro, Panasonic 12-35mm, and 35-100mm.  Soon to be available is the Olympus 12-40mm, and in 2014, the 40-150mm.  That's not much but the Four-Thirds High Grade and Super High Grade lenses work and they're all weather-sealed.

For stills alone, I'd likely choose this order:

  1. Pentax K-3
  2. Olympus E-M1
  3. Nikon D7100
  4. Panasonic GH3

For stills, I'd love to consider the Nikon D7100 but it has too small a frame buffer to use for raw files in burst mode, something the K-3 fixes.  If Nikon really is replacing the D300/D300s with the D7100, they should have given it a better buffer.  Perhaps, a D7200 will fix that.  Like the K-3, the Olympus E-M1 has the stills capabilities and large frame buffer.  The GH3 is okay with stills photography but it sometimes feels like an add-on to the video capabilities.

If video is the priority:

  1. Panasonic GH3
  2. Pentax K-3
  3. Olympus E-M1
  4. Nikon D7100

The Panasonic GH3 has quite a bit more video capabilities than anything else short of US$3000.  The Pentax K-3 has been introduced with better than average capabilities.  Without a number of reviews, it is only supposition that the Pentax K-3 is not terminally flawed.  I'm hoping that Ricoh has injected new life into Pentax.  I like Pentax, but their Q series mirror-less cameras haven't helped Pentax' stream-of-consciousness decision making, and the K-01 was high on the odd scale.  The E-M1 and D7100 are only good if you're a stills photographer who needs to add a bit of video.

It would seem that I'm choosing the Pentax K-3.  I believe it has quite a bit to offer.  The odd focal lengths of the lenses may require more purchases to cover everything.  However, Nikon doesn't cover a range much more easily.  Neither company started from scratch going to digital technology.  One thing that I would clearly want to know is that each lens I would buy would have to be made for digital, not made for film and okay for digital.  Also, the lenses should be weather-sealed.  You can shoot in the rain and just hope that your U$2500 lens is safe.

The Olympus E-M1 is both the hopeful contender and a more stable choice, should Pentax continue its odd ways.  It has image quality and flexibility to outdo the others.  Remember that the K-3 and D7100 are at a high pixel density, as are the E-M1 and GH3.  However, Olympus and Panasonic have been dealing with the tight density for a while now.

 The Panasonic GH3 really gets my attention for video.  It's a good stills camera, but it is much more limited than the E-M1 or K-3.  Like the E-M1, it can use Olympus' fine Four-Thirds lenses, but if you need auto focus, it's slow.  Also, the high ISO capabilities are not as good as the E-M1.  If the GH3 arrives with the same sensor used in the E-M1, this will likely be much different.  Of course, the Venus HD engine really needs to be revised to work as well as Olympus' TruePIC VII (or is it 7 now?) engine.

The Nikon D7100 is such a good shooter, but the ability to buffer raw photos is on the slim side.  If a D400 had been released, I wouldn't have such a reservation.  I don't believe that Nikon would have crippled a more expensive camera body, especially when the D300s has the bigger frame buffer but for a lower resolution.  They're likely just concerned about a D400 making the D610 less appealing, and without the D400, they're pushing people toward the D800 for sports.

In the end:

  1. Pentax K-3
  2. Olympus E-M1
  3. Panasonic GH3
  4. Nikon D7100

Update 2014.01.21: FujiFilm is hinting at a 1970s-style mirror-less camera body resembling the ST801.  If they can fix their raw file handling and provide a great body, I'd be willing to re-think everything for their system.

Update 2014.01.28: May I change my mind?  That FujiFilm X-T1 seems quite good, at first glance.  It's in the same category I want, and there are weather-sealed lenses (such as a 75-210mm f/2.8 equivalent) that will be in the correct zoom ranges for me, plus there is a wide zoom, 10-24mm f/4.0 (15-36mm 135 format equivalent), that fits my need for ultra wide.

Update 2014.02.17: I've been thinking how the Panasonic GH4 interrupts these thoughts.  However, if still photography is my goal, these two will likely still be better choices.  I viewed a video today by Guilio Sciorio, a Panasonic Lumix Luminary, and he commented that the GH4 is a much better shooter than the GH3.  It's good that you can pull an 8 MP image out of a video file.  I've also see Panasonic marketing materials saying that the image quality is better than many other bodies, but it didn't specify stills or video.  The video quality is a given, but stills quality?  I'm not so sure.

Update 2014.03.17: Obviously, the GH4 with a kit lens barely makes it into the price range.  It's a bit out of this league at $1699.99, much like my Olympus E-5 would have been in 2011 after it had been introduced.  Having bought the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens for my GH3, I have newfound respect for the GH3.  The color is finally great, as is the clarity.  I sent the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 lens to be repaired but I was told that there was no flaw.  The GH3 is still no match for the Olympus E-M1 for stills quality but it's a lot closer with a proper lens.  Therefore, I suspect, with a proper lens, that the GH4 will equal the E-M1 and X-T1 in stills quality, but it may only come close.

Update 2014.12.16: Isn't it amazing how a year has changed things? The K-3 didn't overcome its Pentax and Ricoh weirdness, nor did it overcome its video shortcomings. Pentax is relevant, but only just.  As well, the GH3 didn't overcome its still photography shortcomings, though firmware has helped.  Being able to focus at EV-4 is an advantage that firmware has added.  Firmware couldn't fix the EVF problems.  That took a total redesign that found its way into the GH4.

The GH4 has certainly become a great successor, and with a Metabones SpeedBooster (reverse teleconverter), the ability to use Canon- or Nikon-compatible lenses has become even more relevant.

I'm sad for the 70D but the 7D Mk II seems a happier compromise but has it outgunned the Nikon D7100?  The D7100 does so many things right for still photography.

Also, the Sony a7 II has made a credible entry into this list, for still photography.  It certainly pushes the K-3 and 70D further down the list, especially with a Olympus-workalike 5 axis image stabilizer.

Of course, the Sony a7 II with a 135 Format sized sensor presents the easiest ability to work in lower light, although FujiFilm has done well with the X-T1 and its sensor, though you can't go past ISO 6400 with FujiFilm's raw file capabilities.

The Canon 6D and Nikon D610 have often been seen in this same territory but they're really just visitors.  They're more than acceptable casual camera bodies and have agreeable sensors, but the rest of each isn't all that great.  If you have time to futz with them, you should enjoy what you get from them.  However, with Sony's a7 II, you probably should dismiss both of them.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Thinking: iPhone 5(s|c) or LG G2 or HTC One or LG Optimus G

I'm still thinking about a new phone.  Next month, will be the end of my two year contract.  I've been eligible to trade up since July.  One thing that keeps me thinking is service, billing, and support.

When I was looking for a mobile hotspot I tried AT&T, Verizon, and finally, decided on Sprint.  Why?

AT&T billing--they charged me for data when the device was being shipped
Verizon service--they had the worst service where I live now
Sprint--it wasn't as bad as Verizon, and I'd been a customer since 2000

Given that Softbank put a lot of money into Sprint, the LTE rollout should be accelerating, if that's even possible.  Also, decommissioning Nextel's network frees up the lower 800 MHz band, plus the 2.5 GHz band will be freed from WiMAX as they replace WiMAX in areas where it's already running.  WiMAX has worked fine for me, and LTE shows promise.

Sprint has started pre-orders for the LG G2, the successor to the LG Optimus G, a phone I really liked.  At a resolution of 1280x768, it was quite capable of showing video clearly.  Since the G2 has a resolution of 1920x1200 (or is it 1080?), it can show media in full HD resolution, which is awesome in a handheld device.  They've also added the Google Nexus 5 to their pre-orders.  It's based on the G2 but with various differences.  I like that it will have priority and a straight path to system updates.  I just wish that Sprint were selling a 32 GB version.  The 32 GB G2 is US$50 more at US$199.99 with 2 year contract and the 16 GB Nexus 5 is US$149.99.  They're US$100.00 cheaper for new customers.

LG has tried to fix Android to work better for their customers, as has HTC and Samsung and even Motorola made some laughter with their attempt.  Having tried the original Nexus 7 tablet, I'm not sure that Android can be fixed, and that's why I'm hesitant to return, having had 3 Android-based products that really didn't work well for me.

Apple is not without their problems.  They want you to like what they like, as with Mercedes-Benz years ago, but guess what?  Mercedes-Benz changed.  Apple won't.  They know better than we do about what we want.

The best thing about Apple is that I know that an app will work for me.  If I'm on a newer operating system on a device with reasonable RAM, an app will work.  My iPhone 4S, and previously my second generation iPod touch, proves that to me every day.

I've been watching developers struggle with 64-bit apps on the iPhone 5s.  I'd probably avoid it, unless there is a point where the mess is resolved.  However, the supplies are constrained and I probably couldn't find one until the new year.

The iPhone 5c felt great, worked quickly, and was better and faster than my current phone, plus it has LTE capabilities.  Since it's almost completely an iPhone 5, the technology has been worked out.  It would be good to have LTE data speeds (where available, disclaimers apply) although I suspect that LTE will be bogged down by all the people switching at once.

I'm still not sure about the HTC One.  I really like the style and the fact that there are two speakers on the front, but I really dislike the fact that the company might not survive.  Who will provide me with software updates, if the company is gone?  Unfortunately, no matter how many colors they have available, I think people know about a sinking boat and are ready to look somewhere else.

Service, software, and more keep me thinking.  I'll probably let my contract run out, something I've not done since 2002.  I used my Star Tac for a total of 4 years, 2 of which were without contract.  Two years after I replaced it, it still was able to power on.  If I went a couple of days without charging a current phone, I bet it would be completely dead.  Of course, software-wise, my iPhone 4S would be completely dead by 2015.

Update 2013.10.30: I've really been giving the iPhone 5c more thought.  It's priced nicely for what's basically year old hardware with extra LTE bands thrown into it.  Besides that, I don't need to learn all new quirks and foibles, as I would with LG or HTC Android-based phones, which work differently.  That's not to say that I've decided, but it does push me in a certain direction.  The HTC One has a lot going for it and so does the LG G2.

One thing may delay my decision: cases.  I checked four different stores for a Ballistic or Otterbox case for the iPhone 5c and found none.  You can order them through the manufacturers' web sites, and Otterbox has a pick your combination selection, but I need to coordinate that carefully.  No case, no phone.

Update 2014.11.14: One year later or so, the iPhone 5c has been good.  The HTC One M7 has been replaced with the M8, both of which are brilliant.  I've also had a 2013 Nexus 7 tablet from about the same time and I don't regret not having an Android-based phone.  The operating system needs work, even at version 4.4.4, though I find iOS 7 and 8 to be rough also.  It feels as though it will be 30 years before things will be really good.  Of course, if Google and Apple actually tested their operating systems with real people, they'd be surprised at how much they'd find to improve.

LG has changed a lot with the G2 being the basic platform for the Nexus 5.  Overall, they feel like a company that you can trust.  The G3 is quite amazing, but as with Samsung, promoting a device through a power-hungry display seems a problem.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Pentax K-3, successor to the Nikon D300?

I've been dissatisfied with the available choices in dSLRs.  I wanted a (mythical?) Nikon D400, but ended up buying an Olympus E-5 to replace/supplement my E-1.  The E-5 was a great body for 2007, but it became available in 2010, replacing the slightly horrible E-3 that was two years late, which anti-aliased its photos to mush.  The Nikon D300 was a great body for 2007, but was more-or-less replaced by the D300s and then, the D7100.

Unfortunately, the D7100 doesn't have enough buffer depth for raw files in burst mode, so you wait more than you should.  That's what happens when you take a buffer from a 12 MP camera body, along with the AF module, etc.  The price of the D7100 is great and the plastics in the exterior are reasonable to hold the price down and it is weather-sealed, but performance (for me) isn't negotiable.

Today, Ricoh (omg, Ricoh?) announced the replacement for the Pentax K-5 II, the K-3.  (I'm waiting to see the follow-on bodies at lower levels since they had the K-50 and K-500--they already used the K-30 name.)

The K-3 puts a APS-C sized  (the same sensor as the D7100, apparently) sensor into a body based on the K-7/K-5, reworks the auto focus, auto exposure, and video, and turns out a camera body seemingly as good as a D300 replacement would be, and for US$1299.99, US$100.00 less expensive than the Olympus E-M1.

They also use the in-body image stabilization/shake reduction to work as an optional anti-aliasing filter, since they've removed one from the mix.   If you're dealing with a situation where moirĂ© patterns will be a problem, you can enable the "filter" to smooth things.  How this works at the same time with the image stabilization going is anyone's guess but it's great, unconventional thinking.

I normally have terrible things to say about Ricoh because they do some things that are beyond weird.  In this case, the mix of Ricoh and Pentax seems to have produced a hellacious camera body that should be able to take on anyone.  It certainly beats the hell out of the Canon 70D and 7D and puts the hurt on Nikon's D7100, and nails the coffin on the D300s.  It also takes some of the shine off the newly-revised Nikon D610, which seems to have changed minimally.

Will anyone buy it?

This is the big question.  The Canikon fanatics don't seem know about other brands, in general.  If they have anything to say, it's that the other brands are inferior, even if they use information incorrectly.  Pentax has for a long time, been a forgotten brand.

I sold the Pentax ME and K-1000 (and the Auto 110 SLR!) and they were very reliable camera bodies.  Given the other choices at the time, Nikon, Olympus, and Fujica/FujiFilm all had better and more interesting equipment.  Pentax' claim to fame at the time was the Gallium Arsenide sensor for the light meter, while Fuji was using something called Silicon Blue, and the others were less advanced.  Pentax were well known for their 6x6 and 6x7 cameras and commercial work beyond what an enthusiast's camera like the Nikon F2 could do.

Does the Pentax name have enough recognition now to climb out of the hole first dug by the *ist?  Barely, I believe.  When I've been out photographing sports, I've seen a few Pentax models.  That's a big change.  Of course, it's easy to see the Canikon equipment but I think people are realizing that they have to buy higher up with Canikon to get what they really want.  From what I see, you need to buy the Nikon D800 or the Canon 5D Mk III to get full-featured models.  Everything below them is cut-rate.

There seem to be quite a few modern lenses now, and with three levels (two of which are weather-sealed) of bodies on which to attach them, they look to have a sensible line.  With Ricoh's imaging (all those copiers have to do something, don't they?) enhancements, it looks quite a bit better.  Certainly, the Hoya people weren't doing a lot for Pentax, except dishing the money.

Barring some weirdness, Pentax/Ricoh seems to have a winner on their hands.  It may be my next dSLR.  Hmm...try to find a Pentax dealer these days.  There might be some medium format Pentax dealers, but no one seems to carry their dSLRs in a physical store.

What happens if/when Nikon responds with a D7200?  Will it correct the buffer issue?

Update 2014.01.11: Apparently, there is some weirdness that could be corrected by firmware updates.  Whether there will be corrections, I wonder, as this is one of the reasons I haven't jumped to Pentax time and again.

As far as the Nikon D7200 goes, Nikon USA tweeted about the D3300 the other day and I replied, asking where the D400 or D7200 was.  I realize that they want to sell the D610, but they need a real replacement for the D300/D300s.  The Pentax K-3 and 60-250mm look like a good combination for me, but I'm just not sure.

Update 2014.04.10: I have to laugh at DPReview's rather late review.  In particular one line caught my attention that they wanted to downplay the K-3's importance in the US$1000 to $2000 sector:
 The Nikon D7100 is a safer bet in this respect, too, though it is somewhat hobbled by its small Raw buffer - 7 images, rather than the K-3's 23-or-so.
3.x to 1 is "somewhat"?

I realize that they don't want to offend their Canikon users, but please, tell it like it is.  They have no trouble complaining about the variable focus speed of various Pentax lenses, but they can't say that there is a problem where the Nikon D7100 has to write and write and write to clear the buffer and the photographer has to wait and wait and wait?  Do all Nikon-made (or Canon-made) lenses focus at the same speed?  I thought that they had differing focusing technologies, as well.

It reminds me of the preview for the Olympus E-M1 where someone slipped a line like "but we don't know if the sensor can go beyond 16 MP" even though we don't know if APS-C sensors can go beyond 24 MP, either.  The line was removed for the review, but it was obvious that brand fanatics often write what they want to defend.

Update 2014.04.29: Seeing Imaging Resource's K-3 review and test images, I'm thinking that Pentax (by Ricoh) have made some odd mistakes.  The images at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 show the Olympus E-M1 to be better, which seems damned odd, even given that the sensors have a similar pixel density.  I really would have expected better performance.  Perhaps, it's still possible to re-work the firmware.  Right now, I wouldn't recommend it, sadly, even though Nikon don't seem to be in a hurry to fix the D7100's buffer issues.

Update 2014.12.25: It's unfortunate that there is always a bit of weirdness in Pentax products.  Adding Ricoh to the mix didn't push things toward the center, but thankfully, it didn't made things worse, as Ricoh products are usually more weird.

I wish there was a standard visual interface for cameras.  Pentax makes very desirable products let down by their firmware.  Back in their film days, products like the ME Super and Auto 110 SLR were great.

Pentax could really use a boatload of firmware developers who could put things right.  They should be selling loads of equipment.

Update 2015.03.03: Since Nikon has introduced the D7200, the hope for the Pentax K-3 is diminished.  The K-3 is a very good product, hampered by its firmware.  The company really needs to hire better firmware developers to take a fresh look at what they're doing and remove the quirks.

Update 2015.04.27: The K-3 Mk II is now out in the open.  Regardless, it doesn't seem as much is known, at least, as how the camera body will work in real life.  What I see are good, but minor changes made to a very good body.  What probably hasn't changed is the quirkiness of the firmware and operations.

About a week ago, I got a Pentax K-50 and I'm attempting to familiarize myself with the Pentax way of doing things, which isn't like any other experience I've had so far, except maybe for Canon.  No, I believe it's quite unique.

I hope that Ricoh, the company in charge of Pentax products, will find a way to make things very easy to use.  If they can make the operation of the K-3 Mk II as smooth as Nikon or Olympus, they should be able to gain many customers and make them very happy with their photos and even, their video.

I'm finding from the K-50 that it's very good for still image quality, and it looks as though the video is quite good, even if it's not as great as the Panasonic GH3.  The GH3 is formidable in its video abilities but is a bit lacking for still photography.  Pentax, like Olympus, excels in still photography, not video.

Since the Nikon D7200, there is an answer to the US$1000-$2000 range that was left open by the D300/D300s' retirement.  Is it enough?  The D7200 isn't a huge leap over the D7100, which wasn't a replacement for the D300.   The D7200 is good, but is the K-3 Mk II better?  In general, I think that the K-3 Mk II is better but are the lenses there, and will the firmware be a problem?

Update 2015.07.27: While the Pentax K-50 was very good, I ended up giving it to someone who had their camera stolen.  I looked to buy lenses that could be used with the Panasonic GH4 and Olympus E-M1 and the possibilities didn't seem so good with the availability of K-mount lenses or the adapters.

I bought the Nikon D7200 and I'm taking some time to learn how to use it best.  Even small things are a pain to learn.  Given that I have not used Nikon SLRs since film, it isn't a real surprise.  The controls don't exactly seem logical, even compared to the Pentax K-50.  It definitely feels good enough to replace the D300, though.

Update 2016.05.16: Since the K-3 has been revised and there is a new 135 Format K-1, the company has done well for itself.  They've also addressed the lack of familiar focal length lenses with the help of Tamron.  I suspect that they'll still end up a distant third (Sony isn't really involved in dSLRs or APS-C any longer) in the minds of people.  However, the price of the K-1 at around US$800 or $900 lower than the Nikon D810 has raised some eyebrows.

The fact that Nikon has brought to market the D500 pushes the D7200 and the K-3 Mk II further away than they were, if you have the extra money for it and then, only if you don't want the K-1.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A few hours with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 and E-M1

Today, I had the chance to extensively use the Olympus E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 lens, alone and with an Olympus-chaperoned group on a photo walk.

My first impressions of the lens are that it’s quite amazing compared to any other micro Four-Thirds zoom lens and as good as the 14-35 f/2.0 and 14-54mm f/2.8-3.5 lenses.  It’s well worth the US$999.99 that they’re supposedly asking for it.  The manual focus clutch mechanism was as odd and brilliant as it is on the the 12mm f/2.0 lens.

It should be in my camera bag before the end of the year.

Update 2013.12.29:  I read the account of one person (and there are others apparently) who has had a serious problem with the 12-40mm lens.  It broke apart, where the mount separated from the lens, not unlike the initial 18-55mm kit lenses that came with the Canon 300D so many years ago.  Those lenses had a plastic mount, though.  Apparently, Olympus was saving weight by using plastic or nylon screws and other parts.  This is disturbing, especially considering the abuse my 14-54mm and other lenses have seen.  My ZD SHG 35-100mm f/2.0 and E-5 fell from a seat to a pool deck and I continued to use them, and they're just fine nearly a year later.  How would the E-M1 and 12-40mm f/2.8 survive?

The E-M1 is not as clearly or easily great.

Yes, it’s very fast.  There is no half-press of the shutter release.  I got a photo every time, mainly because the button is mushy.  Those coming from the E-M5 will understand.  The Super Control Panel is different than what is on the E-5 but still amazingly useful, easily beating my GH3’s Quick Menu, for me anyway.

Holding it is uncomfortable.  Rather than the curves on the grip of the E-5 or GH3, it has angles.  This should not be a problem with the micro Four-Thirds lenses, including the 12-40mm f/2.8 because they’re so incredibly tiny and light.  I can see it as a problem using my light (for Four-Thirds) 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5.  I hold my current camera bodies one-handed by the grip at times.  I don’t think that would last long, as the angles would work into my hand.  I can appreciate that they wanted to make the body as small and light as possible, but professionals will be using it for hours on end, most likely (and they could use a larger battery to go into that larger grip).  It shouldn’t be designed as a casual tool.  It was sufficient to be tried with my ZD 35-100mm f/2.0 and ZD 14-35mm f/2.0.  They worked well enough.

Olympus E-M1 in hand, barely big enough
GH3 to the left, surrounded by an E-M5 and 2 EM1 bodies

That brings me to the next issue.  The rear display seems to be on most of the time, and of course, it’s not fully articulated, so you can’t turn it inward.  It would show me the photo I just took, even though that drains the battery and isn’t what I would want.  The clarity of the display is very good.  The EVF is much, much better than the EVF of the GH3.  Since I wasn’t able to photograph sports, I don’t know if it’s fast enough for manual focus in that situation.  I suspect it will be okay, whereas the GH3’s EVF is not so good.

The controls are not exactly easy to understand, coming from the E-1, E-5, or GH3.  The exposure compensation was not at zero when I was handed the E-M1 and it took some time to be able to change it with the unmarked button.  Sure, taking time to acclimate myself to it would do wonders, but it’s not intuitive, as the E-1, E-5, and GH3 are.

Live View worked well, and it was actually the first time I used Live View for more than an experiment, even though the GH3 and E-5 support it well with the fully-articulated displays.  The E-M1's display tilts but it was enough to get a good shot from a very low angle.
Since Phase One Capture One doesn’t yet support the E-M1, I only shot JPEG files and I find them to be quite good.

I added a photo album here: The photos were not corrected in any way.  They were re-sized for the album by Picasa and renamed, due to a problem with switching cards and the camera body not starting from the next sequential name.  To add to the problem, Picasa does not sort by name, only by the order in which it imported the photos.  Who knows?

E-M1 Pros
  • Better than a casual camera body
  • Great image quality
  • Super Control Panel still excellent
  • Phase detection AF allows AF with Four-Thirds lenses and tracking with micro Four-Thirds lenses
E-M1 Cons
  • Uncomfortable
  • Too small to be used effectively with larger SHG lenses handheld
  • Worse than a professional camera body, even though it can be used for professional work 
  • Mushy shutter release makes half-press difficult
  • Phase detection with many Four-Thirds lenses not very good.