Sunday, April 15, 2012

E-M5, 13 stop dynamic range?

TechRadar drops this article on us. It's the first test I have seen using DxO and to be honest I find the results nearly unbelievable. Most still think this is a "tweaked" G3 sensor; after seeing these test results I must say that either that is incorrect, or TechRadar somehow screwed up the testing process. There is simply no way a "tweak" could result in dynamic range so massive it even exceeds that of the Sony NEX-7.

Obviously I am hoping they are right and this is a groundbreaking sensor, but not getting my hopes up until we see some verification from other testers. (More)

Friday, March 16, 2012

"Chimney birds"

These guys are starting to hang out on our chimney and roof ridge again. Lots of chatter in the morning.

Focus change

For those of us who were working with digital cameras while they were still in their relative infancy (not talking early 90s Kodak SLR monsters, but rather late 90s-onwards, where digital cameras started becoming more common for consumers), it might appear that we have reached a point of "sufficiency" when it comes to camera gear. A decade back each new generation of cameras generally meant a big step forward in some way: resolution, ISO performance, dynamic range, card write performance, frames per second, autofocus performance and so on and so forth. But today, I would argue that for the average shooter the gains from upgrading are diminishing in significance with each new camera released.

Certainly, one can be impressed with the new 36MP D800, the ISO performance of the Canon 1DX, and other niceties that are showing up on the leading edge of digital. However, how much of a difference can these cameras really make to your type of shooting? Today the vast majority of digital images never leave the screen, and of those who make it to print few ever make it to large enough output sizes that the theoretical gains from a newer camera would actually make a visible difference.

Like many, I sometimes get suckered into pixel peeping and comparing ISO 25600 shots at 1:1, and judging that camera X is "clearly" better than camera Y. But if one were to take the very same files, post process and apply appropriate noise reduction, and print them to average print size, would this clearly visible difference still exist? In most cases, no. Furthermore, how many of us really need extremely high ISOs? For those of us who started out shooting film, ISO 1600 was an emergency only option. Now we sit and complain about ISO6400 not being perfectly clean. Has our needs changed so massively, or are these needs merely created by our obsessive pixel peeping and measuring? Sure, shooting in a very poorly lit room with an f/2.8 lens might require very high ISO for a proper exposure at reasonable shutter speeds, but what is wrong with using flash? I see example after example of images that "could not have been taken" with lower ISO, and quite often they are images where a flash could not only have let you used a more reasonable ISO, but actually made the image look BETTER thanks to removing some shadows and harsh lighting.

Again, there ARE EXCEPTIONS of course. Shooting concerts can be one, where you often deal with poorly lit venues that may not allow you to use a flash. Theater performances, ballet etc, as well. But how many of those clamoring for the next greatest high ISO rig will actually use them in this manner?

I think that what we should be looking for today is not the camera with the most loaded spec sheet, but rather a camera that really fits our needs. Today, just about any m4/3, APS or FF camera will be sufficient for the vast majority of the shooters. That leaves us with the option for finding the one we most like shooting with, the one that has the most suitable lens lineup, the one that fits our size needs and price range. While I would surely enjoy shooting a 5D3 or D800, I opted for the E-M5 because it is a compact, capable rig that meets my personal needs, and is small enough that I will be likely to carry it everywhere. And frankly, the performance of say the 5D3 would be completely wasted on me since I never print larger than 13x19 and really don't need useable ISO 25,600. So why pay the higher price and put up with higher weight and size when the end results would not be any better for my shooting?

Who of us really NEEDS these ultra high end cameras? Not saying we should quit buying gear, but maybe that we should all consider what strengths to focus on.

Full disclaimer: I own a 7D and 1DsII and intend to keep them both. The 7D I put to full use for bird and wildlife shooting where the AF performance really makes a big difference. The 1Ds II I can't defend other than having an irrational love for the thing. I really don't need it.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The gear we have

Canon 7D (released 2009), Tokina 35/2.8 macro

While it is fun to read and speculate about all the new cameras (and face it, 2012 is a heck of a year for gear nerds, with the D800, 5D Mk III, OM-D E-M5, NEX-7, etc etc being made available), the truth is that most of us likely already own all the gear we really need. People rush to declare gear obsolete as soon as the next great thing is out, yet the now "old" gear continues to work just as well as it did before.

Canon S95 (released 2010)

Canon 10D (released 2003), EF 35/2

Canon 20D, (released 2004) EF 400/5.6L

Canon 1Ds Mark II (released 2005), EF 35/2


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Micro 4/3 glass praised by DXO

DXO Labs have been reviewing some m4/3 glass lately, and the results are pretty impressive. A lot of us prime fans enjoy a basic two- or three lens setup (wide + short tele/portrait, or wide + normal + short tele/portrait is a frequent configuration), and at this point I would say we are quite set at least in this lens mount!

The three lenses that have caught my own interest is the Olympus 12/2, Panasonic/Leica 25/1.4, and Olympus 45/1.8 . In "35mm format" terms that would be 24mm, 50mm and 90mm. 24 might be a bit wide for some, but there is always the 17/2.8 and 20/1.7 to fill the gap there.

Check out what they have to say about the 12/2 for instance: Pitted against the Nikon 1 NIKKOR 10mm f/2.8, this Olympus 12mm holds an overwhelming advantage. Even more impressive is the fact that this lens can compete with much bigger lenses, such as the Canon 24mm L-series mounted on a 7D.

In short, it really does seem that a high-quality, fully micro 4/3 camera-lens combination is perfectly capable of replacing an APS-C combination — and the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f/2.0 is a particularly high-quality micro 4/3 lens!

Links to reviews below:

Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12/2

Panasonic Leica Summilux DG 25/1.4

Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 45/1.8

It is certainly nice to see such excellent glass available in this attractive lens mount!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New E-M5 sample images posted

First "serious" samples I have seen so far, posted at Focus Numérique Looking good! (Note: if you get a popup for username/password it is user 'pavp' and password '33'!)

Of course, if you want this image quality at half the price and don't need all of the niceties of the E-M5, the Panasonic GX1 is always an option. While Olympus refuses to divulge details on the E-M5 sensor, smart money is on it being the same as in the GX1. (More)

Olympus E-M5 user manual now available!

Just spotted this posted elsewhere. Complete user manual for the E-M5.
E-M5 User Manual (More)

Monday, February 13, 2012

OM-D E-M5 on order and Pentax takes a belly flop

Quite recently, I commented on some interesting cameras showing up on the market. Since then, Olympus has made the then-speculated about "OM-D" official, and it appears to be about what everyone expected, which can be unusual these days.

The rumors and multiple "leaks" (which really no one believes is anything but controlled release of information from Olympus, they saw how well it worked for Fuji) were pretty much on target. While a lot of people wished for some magic to make existing 4/3 glass autofocus more rapidly, that was but a pipedream and no on-sensor PDAF ala Nikon 1 materialized. Then again, this was all wild speculation with not even a solid rumor to back it up.

What we did get is a nice evolutionary step in the micro 4/3 system. A compact, apparently quite well built camera with a 16MP sensor, integrated EVF and weathersealing that means business. No real surprise, but no disappointment either. The styling seems to be a point of heated debate on the 'net, but my personal opinion is that it nicely recalls the look of the original OM series while remaining fairly modern and up-to-date. Featurewise it seems fully loaded, including a pretty nifty "Live bulb" mode where you can see the exposure build up during long exposures. I am guessing that this will save some trial and error time when doing low light / night shooting where exposure times can run in the minutes. The camera overall made a nice enough impression on me that I placed a pre-order including the 12-50 (which seems an average performer but does have weathersealing unlike other current micro 4/3 glass). Silver, of course.

Meanwhile, Pentax went from rumor to disappointment in what seems to be a few days. The "K-01" started popping up on various rumor sites and in camera forums some time back; at that point it looked like an interesting development: A K-mount mirrorless. Since K-mount means a fairly long registration distance I expected this camera to have a new native mount and a capable K-mount adapter that retained autofocus and other niceties. With Pentax' huge list of K-mount glass from the 1970s onwards, it seemed like a potentially big hit. The few leaked pictures of it made clear the design was, well, unconventional, but I thought it looked like a cool and very different little machine. Then it showed up.

And really, the design is not bad. It does have a "duplo brick" thing going for it, but there is nothing really wrong with that. What is wrong with it: size and lack of viewfinder. There is not even an add-on EVF available. I really have no idea just what Pentax was thinking with this one. Having the native K-mount means you have to leave the big empty space where the mirror used to flop around, making the entire rig nearly as big and thick as a DSLR. So we end up with a rig that marries the disadvantages of both mirrorless (no phase detect AF (except for the Nikon!)) and traditional DSLR (size!). But hey, it is at least available in bright yellow.

Pentax themselves claim it is for the "fashion and design market". Good luck with that.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A splash of color

Eventually summer will be back. 7D + 500/4L.


Interesting times ahead

Looks like 2012 will be quite the year for the large sensor mirrorless cameras. While we are still waiting for Nikon and Canon to join the frenzy (and no, the Nikon 1 doesn't count, nor does the G1X as nice a camera as it appears), I see at least 4 exciting cameras on the horizon.

Anybody who pays the least bit of attention to digital cameras has by now heard of the Fui X-Pro 1. After the X100 became a hit for Fuji (who opted to go a more creative digital route than Kodak which appears to have paid off), everyone was clamoring for an interchangeable lens version of it. Well, here it is; a similarly styled camera with an even better sensor, and a set of nice prime lenses to go with it. The downside? Price. It was initially rumored to land around 1300EUR including the 35/1.4 ("normal"), and though we are still waiting for a final, final price, it appears we are now looking at some 2200EUR for this setup. While still a moderate price compared to the Leica M9 I feel they will be losing quite a few sales at this price point. Hopefully we will see it below the 1500EUR mark including lens sometime this year.

The Sony NEX-7 is not really new for 2012, but courtesy of production issues it is still not generally available. With its apparently excellent 24MP sensor and high res EVF this looks like a great platform for the great lenses that Sony somehow have forgotten to create for it. Sure, we have the 24/1.8 Zeiss which appears to be a solid piece of glass, but a single high quality prime does not a system make. With the pricing on the NEX-7 they are clearly not shooting for the point-and-shoot upgraders, and the serious enthusiasts are going to want some great glass to go with that great body. Of course there is the option to adapt all sorts of third party lenses, but without at least a 35,50,85 equivalent native fast prime setup I am staying away from this camera...for now.

Ricoh GXR is not new either, but being a modular system it is pretty hard to define what constitutes a "GXR camera". What is rumored to happen this year is the replacement of the A12 M mount module (though it was newly released) with a 16MP Sony sensor based AA-less M mount module. Considering how well Leica glass performs on the NEX-5N which has this sensor (though with an AA filter) the output from the alleged A16 M mount module should be nothing short of spectacular. Coupled with the excellent focusing aids and generally photographer-oriented interface this can be a real winner. Price? It ain't cheap, but might just be worth it. Once the new module hits the market we will see.

Finally, we have what just might be the most exciting camera of the bunch: The Olympus "OM" digital. At this point a few leaked pictures of it and a pile of rumors as far as specifications is all we have to go on, but if the real thing is anywhere near what the rumors point to we might get one hell of a nice camera from the guys at Olympus. 16MP sensor, built in EVF, weather sealed body, upgrades image stabilizer and more; all this for a rumored 1100EUR or so with a kit lens. I will admit that I was not much of a m4/3 fan, but looking closer at the system I see that they have an excellent lens lineup, some very good cameras, and the output appears to suffice for my needs. Carl Weese wrote an excellent article on TOP which convinced me of m4/3's viability for my shooting. "OM-D" and a 25/1.4? Well, that just might be the ticket.

So, 2012 is clearly the year of the serious mirrorless. We will see what else comes along. Good times!


Saturday, January 21, 2012

First scans with V700

Mamiya 645E, 80/2.8, Ultra 50
Working on scanning in all my negs with the V700.

So far medium format looks flat out excellent; I would not hesitate to make a 16x20 or larger from anything. 35mm does not look quite as good, but I am unsure as to whether it is due to the less-than-stellar gear I used to shoot with, or a lack of resolving power on the V700.

Crop of frame:

Acceptable or not? It makes a decent 8x10 but would not push it further.