Monday, March 23, 2015

Panasonic Lumix X 35-100mm f/2.8 continues to disappoint

This weekend, I was photographing and video recording a skateboard and scooter competition.

Since the skate park was fairly spacious, and so many people were everywhere, I used the Panasonic Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 instead of the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8.

I have not really used the 35-100mm lens since sending it for repair due to a very ugly purple lens flare with the sun out of the frame.  That was over one year ago.  If I need such reach, I get one of my Olympus dSLRs (E-1, E-5) and use the Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 or 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5.

However, recently, Panasonic had developed and released firmware to make the Optical Image Stabilization better than it had previously been when recording video.  Apparently, it stuttered terribly.

In any case, I took 1014 photos and 23 video clips.  A buddy and I were going to work with the video clips today, and I tried to weed out the worst of them.  I was shocked at how horrible and jumpy they were.  I don't have such a problem with the GH4 and the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 or the Leica/Lumix/Panasonic 15mm f/1.7 lenses, and they're not stabilized at all.  (The still photos were reasonable, especially since it was afternoon and there was plenty of sun.)

This lens is unfortunate, especially at a retail price just under US$1500.  The image quality is good, especially for a lens that would cost $750 (compare to Sigma's 18-35mm f/1.8 for US$799.99), but it's only average for a $1500 lens.  The build quality seems weak for such a lens, although it is supposedly weather-sealed.  Zacuto mentioned in an online interview with Panasonic representatives that it seemed much less high quality (did he say "cheap-feeling construction"?) than the 12-35mm f/2.8 also made by Panasonic.

I swore off Panasonic lenses, but the 15mm f/1.7 was too good to ignore.  It functions well, aside from some low light AF hunting.

I was considering the 12-35mm f/2.8 because of the OIS but forget that.  I've been told that it was much better, but that was before the firmware release "fixing" the 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.  If this is normal behavior for the 12-35mm f/2.8, how are they selling any of them?  How can I be more disappointed than I already was?

After handling the Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 for 14 hour days, I wonder if Olympus' new 40-150mm f/2.8 will be a problem to hold steady on the GH4 or E-M1?

Update 2015.11.04: I shot a competition at a skate park more recently and the 35-100mm f/2.8 behaved fairly well.  I still don't believe the price is appropriate but I got the work done and the video was not entirely as bad as that from the previous competition.

More recently, I got the GX8 with 12-35mm f/2.8 and, not surprisingly, I've found the 12-35mm to be a much better lens.  It didn't hurt that I got it at a US$300 discount, due to instant rebates and the bundling with the GX8. 

It really does seem as though Panasonic went through some design compromises to get the size of the 35-100mm f/2.8 down to that same 58mm filter size.  I just wish that they'd made it a lens I could want to use.

Update 2016.11.16: There were rumors that the 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm f/2.8 would be replaced or their replacement announced at Photokina 2016.  That didn't happen, unfortunately.  I've seen some hate over the 35-100mm f/2.8 not performing well and the only people who seem to love it don't seem to tax it much.  It's close to half the original price, which suggests that it's about to be discontinued or maybe, Panasonic realized all along that they'd made a 2nd rate lens and still priced it as 1st rate, only to let it fall after they have reclaimed their R&D expenses.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Nikon has introduced the D7110, errr, D7200

After two years, the D7100 has been replaced/surpassed.  Strangely, it is a very minor update.

I'd commented a while back that they could have released a bigger still frame buffer in an updated camera body called the D7110.  This is practically what they've done.

However, the newer auto focus module is more responsive in low light, similar to how it works in the D750, down to -3EV.  It also has built-in WiFi, just like the D750.  It includes the Expeed 4 processor and better ISO sensitivity.  Interval shooting has been improved from 999 shots to 9999.  Auto bracketing has been improved.  Maybe, that's enough for a D7120.  Maybe.

At US$1199.99, is it enough?  In two years, the Canon 70D, 7D MkII, Pentax K-3, Olympus E-M1 and E-M5 MkII, Panasonic GH3 and GH4 (and various models from Sony, such as the a6000) have become competition.

I've wondered why it has taken Nikon so long to replace the D300 properly, as well as the D700.  It's not a surprise that the D7200 is so similar to the D750, just as the earlier two were connected.  (Ricoh-)Pentax' K-3 seemed a proper successor to the D300 with some great functionality, hampered with typically Pentax firmware.  (As a perennial underdog, I wonder if the firmware had been written by Olympus that the K-3 would take a huge share of the US$1000-2000 interchangeable lens camera market.)

I'm not saying that the D7200 isn't welcome.  I'm saying that it's just a bit late.  Those who were waiting might have gone for the D750.

It feels as though Nikon doesn't believe that the market is worth much, or any, development.  That seems reasonable since it took Canon 3 years to revise the 7D.  It seems as though there isn't much money to be made in camera bodies under US$3000 for Nikon or Canon.

Thankfully, the price is good at US$1199.99.  Hopefully, this means that the D7000 won't continue to be sold.

In any case, with the buffer handled, the D300 should have a proper successor, but in a more economical model.  The Expeed 4 processor and revised image sensor should clear up the noisy photos issue from the D7100.  The bigger range of ISO sensitivity speaks to the noise elimination in the sensor, and the better processing of the Expeed 4 processor.

I'm not in love, but I'm definitely in like.

Update 2015.04.03: Having shot indoors at Woodward West during a scooter competition, ISO 3200 was a necessity, as 1/250th of a second shutter speed was a minimum.  Unfortunately, the Olympus E-M1 is as its usable (my opinion) limit, as is the Panasonic GH4 for still photos.  The GH4 1080p video looked okay, though.

While I don't regularly shoot in such situations, I have enough times that I might want a more capable body.  The D7200 is that body.  Is it good enough at ISO 3200 to make a purchase around US$2600?

Obviously, it's not just the US$1199.99 for the D7200 but the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 is the same price, and of course, taxes count.  The 135 Format-effective 22.5-45mm focal length range is slightly wider (but a lot shorter) than my current effective 24-80mm or 30mm fixed focal length.  I would prefer a bigger range but keeping good image quality is important.  If I used a superzoom lens, why bother with a better camera body?  I could just buy an ultrazoom compact camera and throw it all away.  Perhaps, a Pentax 645Z with a 3x normal zoom?  The D750 might be able to keep up, though I might have to switch the zoom range to 24-70mm but I suspect that will raise the price quite a bit to get a weather-sealed lens.  Is US$1199.99 enough for low light?

Update 2015.07.08: On Sunday, I bought the D7200 and Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, quickly replacing a Pentax K-50 and kit lens that was only an experiment.  Someone I know had a camera stolen, and I gave the Pentax K-50 to him.

I'm having many new user problems, especially since this is the first Nikon product I've used extensively since film.  I chose not to buy the D100 or D70 back in 2004.

The Black & White ISO 51, 200 and 102,400 modes are interesting.  They only produce JPEG files but they work.  It bothers me that the ISO selection shows both ISO Auto and ISO 100, for instance.  As far as I'm concerned, it should show one or the other, but not both.  Showing a specific Auto ISO range makes sense.

It's not difficult to find the metering choices, but the auto focus choices?  They seem to be impossible to find.  Hopefully, they are hidden in plain sight.  It seems to be a sub-selection on a left-hand, rear-side button, but working the button to get that function is odd.

I took the D7200 and 18-35mm f/1.8 out around 11 at night and it didn't work nearly as well as either the Olympus E-M1 or Panasonic GH4.  In many cases, the camera refused to work at ISO 25, 600, even though the E-M1 and GH4 would work.  Alternatively, I had trouble with the E-M1 and the GH4 in the daytime.  That wasn't amusing.

It will take a while to be accustomed to another brand, although shooting is fairly reliable.

I needed to update to Phase One Capture One Pro version 8.3.1 to have raw file compatibility.

Update 2015.07.27: I've been having too many new user problems.  It was confusing that there is a menu option for 51 or 11 auto focus points, but nothing about the pattern.  I found the control encircled by the AF/MF switch.  It still didn't seem incredibly intuitive.  The camera body is reliable.  It's amazing to have 6 frames per second though, and think of it as slow.  The Olympus E-M1 does 10 FPS and the Panasonic GH4 does 12.

I'm working on a full report of my experiences.

Familiarizing myself

Using the High ISO Black & White modes

Update 2015.09.20: The D7200 is a good camera body, but it's not incredibly better than the Olympus E-M1 or Panasonic GH4.  Yes, the sensor is bigger.  That gives the body great potential to be better.

Since I've got some experience with it, I'm getting better photos.  Having the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens makes it a good combination.  However, it's a very slight improvement over what I can do with micro Four-Thirds.  The Olympus E-M1 has great facial recognition, so accurate focus for portraits with it is easy to get.  The Panasonic GH4 and GX8 do fine, but they take more time.  Naturally, with Phase Detection AF, there is no facial recognition and a slight mis-calibration of the lens can mean auto focus will not be in the correct place.

For skate park photos, it's not bad but the burst rate isn't fast enough to get the action every time.  Got to say that the extra 1.3x mode is helpful, and I can get a similar effective focal length as with micro Four-Thirds.  Also, when it's dark, the GH4/GX8/E-M1 EVF is much more useful, as I can actually see what's happening.  With the D7200, I see the dark, just as I do with the Olympus E-1 and E-5.

Thanks to the bigger buffer (and the 6 fps burst rate), the D7200 doesn't fill up that quickly.  If you consider 12 fps from the GH4, 43 photos come pretty quickly before the camera slows down significantly, there is a difference from the D7200.

Update 2016.01.11: It's been about a week since the emotional replacement for the D300, the D500, was announced.

Had this been available at the same time as the D7200, my choice would have been for the D500.  The D7200 is sufficient, but doesn't feel substantially better than my micro Four-Thirds camera bodies, even if a few of the available lenses are worth the switch.

The extra US$800 gets you three times the focus points, a better metering array, a big buffer, and an Expeed 5-class processor for better stills work.  The ISO 1 million+ sensitivity probably isn't very useful, but it is there, at least, for bragging rights.  Having ISO 51,200 in the normal range instead of a high ISO black and white mode means that ISO 6400 might actually provide reasonable photos and ISO 3200 might be usable in everyday situations.  I'm not finding ISO 3200 to be all that usable, except for Instagram and the high ISO modes are only useful for getting the shot when the light isn't there.