Feb 282014
 

I know a lot of folks like the looks of the Nikon 1 V2 (or Nikon V1 or J models for that matter) and are quite happy they have a great array of interchangeable lenses they can choose from. It is a nice camera for what it does. It is small and sleek, fast and handles quite well. The bulky looking EVF may put some people off – but at least it has got one. If you prefer not to have this EVF Nikon offers the option to buy a Nikon 1 J2 without EVF. So everyone should be be happy with that…

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Image of Nikon 1 V2 back: Nikon Corp.

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Image of Nikon 1 V2 top: Nikon Corp.

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Image of Nikon 1 V2 front: Nikon Corp.

 

Personally, I have tried it and liked the feel of it. But there is one thing I cannot understand. Why is Nikon limiting this camera to a 1 inch sensor? Why not develop an ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera) and incorporate a trusted APS-C size sensor? The smallish body size probably could be maintained. Other manufacturers like Sony and Fujifilm have proven as much.

Well, the answer may be very simple. The sales of DSLR cameras. IMO there would be no real reason to choose an equivalent DSLR if there was an ILC that basically can do the same thing.

There is even talk of a new Nikon 1 V3 coming out in a few weeks time. According to Nikon Rumors this cam will be much of the same internally, have a rebuilt camera body that leaves out the integrated EVF (probably offering an external EVF instead – only optionally available so it seems 🙁 ) .

I never quite understood why anyone would choose an ILC with a comparably small sensor over a compact camera like the Sony Cyber-shot RX100M2 (Mark II or coming Mark III). If you can make do with such a small sensor (which is not that bad at all) why would you have to have interchangeable lenses? OK, it has got super fast AF and start-up time, loads of fps…but who needs that in combination with a 1″ sensor? It does not make sense to me. But as always your mileage may vary.

The Sony Cyber-shot RX100M2 handles well, is quite a bit smaller and has a 1″ sensor that can more or less equal the one of the Nikon 1.  The lens covers most peoples needs (especially considering the compact size) with an equivalent 35mm focal range of 28-100mm and a fairly fast f/1.8 maximum aperture which is quite good in low-light providing shallow enough depth-of-field for adequate subject isolation in most cases.  Simply put: the lens delivers excellent results too.

 

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The anticipated new Sony Cyber-shot RX100M3 (or Mark 3) will have a few surprises in store and be hard to match spec-wise. Take a look at my earlier article at this link if you are interested. It will fight a hard battle against the rumored Nikon 1 V3 that will probably be announced in a short while too.

I know what I would choose. Do you?

Nov 262013
 

The Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH just happens to be my favorite wide-angle lens. Actually, this is probably the best wide lens I have ever used.

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IMHO nothing can compare to what can be achieved using this lens on a digital Leica. I had loads of fun putting the little gem to use with my Leica M9 and Leica M Typ 240. The results were nothing short of spectacular. 

I was pretty happy when I heard Sony was introducing a full-frame mirrorless ILC (camera with interchangeable lenses) which would let me mount my Leica M lenses using commonly available adapters. But would the results be adequate? Previous tests with the Sony NEX 7 did not work out the way most people thought, so there was always room for doubt. Using ultra-wideangle lenses might prove a problem – or maybe not.

 

Image: Sony Corp.

Image: Sony Corp. / Sony A7R with Carl Zeiss Sonnar FE 35mm f/2.8

 

Some early adopters and professional reviewers have already had the chance to try the new Sony Alpha A7 and Sony Alpha A7R and have posted first look (p)reviews. Some have been full of praise, especially in combination with the new Carl Zeiss Sonnar FE 35mm f/2.8 prime lens (as depicted above). Others have more than hinted there might be color shift and other complications using legacy lenses.

I was hoping I would be able to keep on using my Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH with the new Sony, so I had to give this combination a go myself. My local dealer finally gave me a call saying he had the new Sony body in shop and I was able to take a look at the offer. Unfortunately there was little time and I was only able to take a few quick snaps. Only JPG using Auto ISO and standard camera settings straight out of the box. Nothing professional, i.e. only some basic shots without interest in art or composition 🙂 .
I actually chose a quite demanding city setting simply to push the new Sony with the UWA Leica lens to its limits. I used f5.6, aperture priority, Auto ISO and OOC JPG straight out of the camera. No compensation for shadows and no post processing applied (except for change in file size and e.g. blanking out faces for use of the images in this blog). But see for yourself.

 

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These first snaps may not be a professional test under ideal conditions and the results may be somewhat limited. I simply did not have enough time for anything more. And I guess the resulting pictures (with bad light, out of box camera settings and not using RAW format) are quite o.K. – sort of…

I do not see myself as a pixel peeper. But these quick snaps with the Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH on the Sony Alpha A7 did not really get me overly excited. I had high hopes for this lens combo. Some minor color shift, vignetting and distortion at the edges may be manageable in post processing. But do I really want to go to all the trouble? Do I want to spend hours manipulating files in Photoshop or Lightroom? Not really.

There may be cause for hope. The Sony Alpha A7R with its offset microlens design might be able to handle Leica UWA lenses better than the Sony Alpha A7. But that remains to be seen. Due to the higher pixel count (36mp compared to 24mp) the results might be even more disillusioning. Native lenses for the new Sony Alpha full-frame  system will probably be the best bet. But there are only few to choose from right now. The Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 and the Sony 28-70 kit zoom are available right from the start but no UWA will be available for some time to come. The Leica Super-Elmar-M 21mm f/3.4 ASPH I was hoping to use with a Novoflex adapter does not seem to be an ideal stand-by player. I will probably wait on the sideline until there are more lenses to choose from.

The camera itself was a pleasure to handle. Just as pleasing as the Sony RX1 which I used quite extensively in the past few months. But I am just not quite willing to sell off any other camera in favor of this machine. The Sony sure is a great piece of equipment. But the glass is what really makes a system stand out and there simply is not enough to choose from right now. Adapting Sony A-lenses may be good for photographers with existing Sony equipment but adapting legacy lenses may prove to be more restricting – not only considering the lack of Auto Focus. I did not like the focus peeking on the Sony Alpha A7 too much. I just could not see it well enough (at least not with standard settings using red highlighting color). Split screen focussing or rangefinder focussing in general seems a lot easier to handle.

Nonetheless this full-frame camera offering is quite outstanding and will probably frighten the competition to death. In time no doubt this will develop into a killer system. Some more full-frame lenses is all it will take to push me over.

Aug 092013
 

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The previous marketing campaign for the “Mini M” was seen as misleading by many Leicaphiles who were hoping for a new kind of Interchangeable Lens Camera (ILC) with some brand new features from Leica. All they got was the Leica X Vario Typ 107. The final unveiling of this camera was a great disappointment (at least to me) and certainly was not what most people were expecting. See my earlier report via this link.

Now there is a bit of hope for all who have patiently waited for a Leica mirrorless camera with better features giving an alternative to the bigger, manual focus Leica M.

Several sites have reported a recent filing of a Leica C (Typ 112) with the Taiwan National Communications Commission (NCC) – see this link at digicame-info if your Japanese is any good at all 😉 .

There are not many infos you can derive from that except that the new camera will have built-in Wi-Fi capabilities. That fact and the tentative preliminary naming “Leica C” does suggest that there will be some kind of camera featuring an M-mount and possibly some other cool features. Maybe this will indeed turn out to be what many Leica followers were expecting the clumsily advertised “Mini M” to be in the first place.

The new camera will probably be announced this fall or next spring. In a recent interview published on Focus Numerique the CEO of Leica Camera AG, Dr. Andreas Kaufmann, almost said as much when he hinted at some new interesting products that would be introduced in this specific time span. Since he also stated that Leica is working on other solutions for the full format, this could even point to a full-frame solution for the Leica C Typ 112. Then again it might turn out to be just another point and shoot Panasonic clone.

 

My personal wish list for a new Leica C:

  • built-in Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) or possibly even hybrid OVF/EVF (but that is too much to hope for…)
  • 24 MP APS-C CMOS sensor without anti-aliasing filter (better still full frame…but let`s not get overexcited 😉 )
  • Auto-Focus
  • M-mount
  • 2 or 3 new zoom and prime AF-lenses to kick off the new line
  • compact camera body dimensions (comparable to Fuji X-E1)
  • body price below €4.500 / $6.000

 

That is about it. If this camera came true, it might entice a lot of photo enthusiasts to buy into this system. Alas, I am not convinced. I am pretty sure, Leica will not endanger their Leica M Typ 240 by introducing a strong competitor with features bettering the professional system. Building up another line of lenses is equally unrealistic. But maybe they should, to keep up with the game.

We shall see what Leica will do in the next few weeks to promote the new camera. I am sure they have learned the painful lesson not to proclaim greatness and then just deliver another perceived mediocre product that tees off a great score of their loyal customers.

 

Jun 252013
 

Lupico_130625_Fujixm1-05So now Fujifilm has decided to shrink the X too. By omitting the Electronic Viewinder (EVF) the body size was reduced substantially making it far more compact than the next of kin Fujifilm X-Pro1 and XE-1. New features have been added and operator controls have been simplified to make the camera more attractive for casual shooters. This will make it a direct competitor to the popular Sony NEX-5R and all the other more basic compact Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILC) aimed at entry-level photographers and enthusiasts who appreciate more pocketable solutions.

In their news release Fujfilm describes the new camera quite adequately: “Compact and lightweight, the X-M1 offers enhanced operability whilst bringing the outstanding design, picture quality and performance of the multi-award-winning Fujifilm X-Pro1 and X-E1 cameras not only to photo enthusiasts but also to a broader scope of users.”

 

The basic specs:

  • 16.3 MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor
  • lightweight and very compact body (when compared to XE-1 and X-Pro 1)
  •  3″ LCD screen with 920K dot high definition (tiltable)
  • built in flash plus hot shoe
  • ISO 100-25600
  • Full HD Video at 30fps
  • 49 point AF
  • In-camera RAW processing
  • film simulations modes and advanced art filters
  • Q button for quick view of frequently-used menus
  • built-in Wi-Fi for easy image transfer to smart phones and tablets
  • available in black, silver and brown
  • on sale from August 2013 for €679/$799.95 body only  (also offered bundled with Fujinon lenses)

 

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Fuji has finally jumped on the bandwagon and now goes without a viewfinder as well. Apart from that, another feature has been omitted from the new line of lenses that have been announced with the camera. Both the Fujinon XC 16-50 f/3.5-5.6 OIS and the new pancake Fujinon XF 27 f/2.8 R now come without aperture rings. According to Fujifilm this was again done to achieve compact and light dimensions.

This may disappoint a few of the Fuji followers who celebrated the X line of cameras for their great professional-like operability but may indeed attract a new clientele. Prospective customers who otherwise might have chosen smaller size Micro Four Thirds or Sony NEX products, now may think twice and go for the superb retro design.

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With the X-Trans CMOS sensor the new Fujifilm X-M1 will again deliver outstanding image quality. A tiltable screen for nicer on-screen previews and Wi-Fi to enable quick and easy transfer of photos and videos to mobile devices and computers are features that are highly welcome. Small dimensions and the ability for one-handed camera operation makes the camera more attractive as an alternative to point and shoots or as a backup device to accompany DSLRs or existing Fujifim X series cameras. This new product might steal some more market share away from previously dominant top dog manufacturers. Especially Nikon with its 1-inch sensor mirrorless offerings may lose out on sales in future. There are no preeminent size benefits to justify small sensors anymore. Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and now Fujifilm show headfirst what can be achieved using great sensor technology coupled with highly appealing design. Nikon may not want to jeopardize DSLR sales but they will have to watch their back. DSLR-class image quality is now possible in a far more compact package. Check my article on the death of the DSLR.

Will I buy a Fujifilm XM-1? I am not sure yet. I am addicted to the use of a high quality viewfinder and will probably stick with my Fujifilm XE-1 for now. But the pancake might fit the bill to make the X more pocketable. Shame they got rid of the aperture ring though…

All images: Fujifilm Holdings Corporation

All images: Fujifilm Holdings Corporation

 

 

Jun 142013
 
Cameras with mirrors - soon a thing of the past?

Camera mirrors – soon a thing of the past?

The DSLR is dead, long live mirrorless! This remark isn`t exactly brand new and similar discussions have been going on in numerous photo forums (like on dpreview or on Flickr) and all over the net for some time. Editorial and commercial photographer Zack Arias started it all off again reopening old sores with his musings on the death of the DSLR, accompanying his strong praise for the Fuji X100s (see his Fuji Istanbul Video below) and his follow up on “…life without DSLRs“. All very entertaining, nice video and a good read. It may be a little daring to claim the demise of the DSLR at this stage in time. But truth be told, it will not take a lot more to make it happen.

Maybe the proclamation (and also the stated headline) simply is not precise enough. Rather one should say – sticking with Zack Arias`s basic tonality and none too prosaically: the good old DSLR is on its deathbed stricken in years. The royal household is waiting near by saying prayers. The end is near and the next generation of MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras) are waiting to take over the reign.

In the good old days there was no way around shooting DSLRs. To take professional grade pictures, these machines were a must have. Nowadays it has become more or less indistinguishable whether an image was snapped with pro Nikon or Canon DSLR gear or a mirrorless Fuji X, Sony NEX or even a smaller sensor Micro Four Thirds camera (just to name a few).

The movable mechanical mirror system plus necessary pentaprism and even the pellicle mirror solution (as seen on previous Sony models) seems like some sort of residue left over from an ancient world. There is no real use for it anymore. The next generation of electronic viewfinders will make it even more obvious. With resolutions between 2 and 4 million dots, you will almost have to strain your eyes to see much difference compared to the optical solutions that come with clackety clack mirrors in the package. And that is just for starters.

And don‘t forget there are mirrorless cameras out there right now that feature optical finders that are quite nice too. The Fuji X-Pro 1 and Fuji X100s both have hybrid viewfinders. Using the optical viewfinder you can still frame each shot with bright frames projected by an LCD panel with all the digital information you choose to have displayed. You can switch between optical and electronic finder at will. Whatever you need, whatever you feel like. It will be exciting to see what the next iteration of this invention will bring. The Fuji X-Pro 2 might pleasantly surprise some people.

 

 

Any arguments in favor of the mirror? I can`t think of one. A clear and bright 100% viewfinder frame coverage is nice to have. But what`s the fare? Larger camera bodies with gigantic lenses need to be carried. No one really wants to carry a wagonload of  equipment these days. In fact a lot of people are quite happy using their smart phones to do the job. When I read about the Chicago Sun-Times giving up on professional photographers in favor of the remaining journalist staff equipped with iphones, I was taken aback at first. Then it dawned on me, that most photographic images in newspapers or the net might already have been taken with comparably simple photo tools. You probably would not notice the difference anyway. It may be a sad thing but photojournalism probably will have to adept to the new mindset.

Today everyone can snap images on the go anyplace and any time – equipped with smart devices, affordable portable cameras or at best mirrorless system paraphernalia. A new trend will undoubtebly be a dual combination of smart phone with emphasized camera functionality incorporating a high quality lens and bigger than usual sensor. Future cameras in general may look more like small computers e.g. running on Android with apps to make things easier. Just look at the promised new Samsung Galaxy NX. You can see first pictures of that device (scheduled for June 20) on engadget .

There may still be room for professional grade gear in some cases: if you like to do art or shoot weddings or fashion gigs, for sports, birding, architecture or for some other special photo application. But let`s face it: even those strongholds of old are being undermined rapidly. Prominent features that are incorporated in DSLRs today will soon be adapted and developed further to fit the mirrorless crowd. Better AF speed, more frames per second plus some new tele lenses may be all that is needed in the end. Coupled with new wireless capabilities and GPS, a new breed of cameras might well rejuvenate the whole market.

More and more pros are seen using alternative gear, very happy to break the rules and to distinguish their work from the nondescript photography face. Maybe instead it will just be the medium format that will thrive next to diverse Compact System Cameras (CSC). Maybe megapixel giants from the dinosaur-like DSLR world will in turn challenge the medium format champions. But IMHO it is a fight that cannot be won in the end.

On the other hand DSLRs are hard to destroy – as proven by the guys at DigitalRev TV. A word of warning: this YouTube video is real painful to watch. 🙂
 

 
Zack Arias may have exaggerated and polarized a bit to start a discussion. But in a few years time no one will question his initial remarks. Today you can`t venture to go anywhere without encountering all sorts of photo amateurs proudly presenting their DSLRs with kit lenses or big zooms attached. Soccer moms and even kids that hardly know the difference between aperture and shutter speed are lugging around their huge camera kits. Pros are looking for unobtrusive alternatives that just work without fuss. Times are changing.

May 152013
 


According to Olympus, their newly announced mirrorless E-P5 is an homage to the PEN F which was one of the milestones for the company 50 years ago. Back then the PEN F happened to be one of the smallest portable film cameras with interchangeable lenses and quite affordable compared to bulkier SLR systems at the time.

The E-P5 wants to follow in the footsteps of its great ancestor offering the latest digital camera technology in a retro-design lightweight all-metal body. Indeed, Olympus takes pride in proclaiming the “best-ever image quality achieved by a PEN“.

These are some of the basic specs:

  • seamless full-metal body design with no visible screws
  • 16MP CMOS sensor (same as E-M5)
  • 2 x 2 Dial Control system with 2 metal dials and a switch for full manual control
  • new mechanical shutter allowing speeds up to 1/8000th second
  • up to 9 frames per second burst mode
  • focus peaking
  • 5-axis image stabilization
  • fast auto focus with Super Spot AF and Touch Shutter AF
  • high resolution touch LCD (approx. 1 million dot resolution)
  • built-in flash
  • WiFi with smartphone interactivity
  • priced at € 999 / $ 1.399 body only and available from June 2013
  • bundle with optional viewfinder VF-4 and 17mm f1.8 lens possible

ID: 3586

 

The listed specs show this camera has a lot going for it. When comparing the OM-D E-M5 to this newly announced E-P5 you can`t help but notice the PEN is the technologically more advanced camera. It incorporates WiFi, focus peaking and a higher resolution touch screen. The mechanical shutter with speeds up to 1/8000 will be a good enough reason for many to choose the latest PEN as their go-to camera or as a backup to rival even the latest DSLRs. High speed can be of great benefit when wider apertures need to be used in bright lighting conditions or if motion freeze is of importance (e.g. when shooting sports).

ID: 3554

 

The OM-D has something up its sleeve though: It has the built-in EVF most serious photographers demand. And it has to be considered that the PEN will be a lot less pocketable with the separate viewfinder on top. But for most users the 3“ tilt-angle screen with its 1 million dot resolution will probably be all that is needed to check for composition. Personally I do not fancy cameras without built-in EVF or OVF – but many people just do not care or even see the external viewfinder as an advantage e.g. because it can easily be upgraded to newer versions when they appear on the market.

ID: 3602 ID: 3865

 

The OM-D also has weather sealing and might eventually come a little cheaper than the E-P5 when bought with the additional VF-4. If you want the best of both worlds you will have to hang around for the OM-D successor or the rumored OM-D pro, one of which might appear late 2013 or early next year. That is, if you are into Micro Four Thirds at all and don`t need bigger sensors for even better resolution.

But resolution and pixel peeping is not what Micro Four Thirds is all about. It is more about size and speed and this is where the new EP-5 excels. Apart from the above mentioned shutter speeds this PEN also features incredibly fast contrast detect auto focus. Choosing a very small AF point will enable very high precision focussing with minimal shutter lag. This is very useful when doing macro photography.

Users of Apple or Android smart phones will be able to operate the camera remotely. It will even be possible to embed GPS information using the Olympus Image Share 2.0 software.

The current range of Olympus lenses for Micro Four Thirds

When it comes to lenses for mirrorless systems, there is nothing like Micro Four Thirds. Favorite focal lengths can be picked from a wide pool of more than 40 lenses not only made by Olympus but also produced by Panasonic (who jointly developed Micro Four Thirds with Olympus). Aside from that there are numerous third party lenses available from Tamron, Sigma, Voigtlander and other manufacturers.

 

Manual focus can be a lot more precise with the added Focus Peaking finally also made available in this Olympus camera. Manual control of the camera should be a breeze in general. Olympus uses dual function thumbwheels on the rear and front of the camera. This „2×2 dial control“ also comprises a switch that enables choosing 2 different settings alternately. If you get to know your way around you can easily switch between iso and white balance or aperture and exposure time setting for example.

Shooters that prefer not to do too much in post processing will enjoy the numerous digital art filters or scene modes such as Cross Process and High Key. Not to forget video: H.264 stereo recording with a resolution up to 1920 x 1080 (30p) is possible and should be adequate for most non-professional filming needs.

 

All in all this little cam could be just the ticket for fans of Micro Four Thirds. The stylish metal body design without visible screws (except for on the base of the camera) will appeal to photography enthusiasts that are not easily attracted to more modern looking designs (e.g. Sony NEX) and prefer full manual control and tech features that can usually only be found on much larger DSLRs.

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