Category Archives: Gear

First Impressions on the Sony DSC-RX10

Sony’s new DSC-RX10 may not be as much of a game changer as their new A7 and A7R cameras, but it’s not too shabby, either. (Photos of the camera are grabbed from various spots on the web, other photos are mine)

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When the RX10 was first announced, I didn’t think too much of it. Then a friend of mine bought one and let me play with it and I realized that this camera would suit me on many levels. One week later I succumbed to temptation and bought one.

The Sony DSC-RX10 features a Zeiss 24-200mm equivalent zoom lens that is F2.8 across its entire range, coupled with the same 1 inch sensor to be found in Sony’s RX100 Mark II pocket camera. My initial thought might have been, “Why put such great glass with such a small sensor?” Thinking about it more, the answer became obvious – a larger sensor would have meant larger and heavier glass to achieve the same aperture, and would have made this too large and heavy. It also would have increased the cost significantly.  At US$1,300 list price, it’s certainly not cheap. But with a 24-200mm F2.8 zoom lens, I think the price is relatively reasonable.

rx10

 

Anyway, what I’m finding so far is that there is a lot to like about this camera.

  • Of course, the lens – I don’t have the most critical eye and won’t run this through batteries of scientific tests – basically I’m finding it sharp across the entire range, perhaps not as sharp as my Nikon 24-70 or 70-200 lenses, but each of those lenses costs more than this entire camera. And a lens hood is included.
  • The EVF (electronic viewfinder) is so good that I forgot it was an EVF and thought it was an optical viewfinder. And thank goodness there’s a diopter.
  • A PASM dial, an aperture ring on the lens and an exposure compensation dial gives me all the controls I want at my fingertips, and without digging through levels of menus. (The outer ring on the lens is for zooming, but if you switch to manual focus that becomes the focus ring, and you zoom via a lever in front of the shutter button).
  • Focus peaking
  • That LCD panel on the top of the camera (with a little button that lights it up)
  • Tiltable large clear LCD screen on the rear of the camera
  • Weather-sealed!
  • A “deep” grip means it’s comfortable to hold and shoot
  • Focusing may not be the fastest in the world but mostly I’ve found it to be quick enough for me
  • While the camera is certainly not light, the weight is reasonable.
  • My friend says this shoots amazing video – I haven’t tried that yet

My biggest gripe so far? Start-up is a bit on the slow side. Also, one has to charge the battery in the camera via the USB cable (or buy an external charger).

So while many are tagging this as an ideal travel camera, for me it may be an ideal every day camera. What I am looking for is something small and light enough to have in my day bag, but versatile enough that I can go into a club and use it to shoot bands at night. And here’s how that is working out:

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That shot above is the all-girl band currently playing at Hong Kong Cafe (formerly Neptune II) in Wanchai. It’s ISO 3200. And since Lightroom can’t yet deal with the RAW files from this camera, that shot is from the JPG, with a bit of post-processing tossed in.

The other thing for me is that while cameras such as Fuji’s X-Pro1, Sony’s NEX-7 and Olympus’s OM-D E-M1 look might attractive, I don’t want really want a second interchangeable lens system. I don’t want to have to go out and buy a range of lenses when I’ve already invested in a full range of Nikon lenses for my D800. This camera also addresses my major gripes with the RX100 – limited zoom range and a lens with a maximum aperture that drops to F4.9 as soon as you start zooming.

I’ve only had the camera for 4 days so it’s too soon to tell for sure. And of course I didn’t get a loaner or a freebie, I spent my own money on it, so I’m predisposed to liking it. Even so, I think this is going to work out fine. Here’s a few more very random shots from the past couple of days.

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(I admit I wasn’t paying close attention to the settings on this shot. I was in aperture priority mode and shooting from the hip so didn’t realize this was at just 1/40th of a second. BTW, this is also ISO 3200.)

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So this now becomes the camera I will carry on a daily basis. I’ll need to decide if I should sell off my Sony RX100. Given that Mark II is out and mine is Mark I, I don’t think I could get a lot for it and it could still be very useful to have a camera that fits in my jeans pockets. Then again, the camera on my iPhone 5S might be good enough in that regard.

 

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Mixed Feelings About the New Nikon Df

I’m a Nikon shooter and it’s a given that when Nikon announces a new full frame DSLR I’ll be following the news closely. I have to admit that I felt a bit disappointed when I first read the details on Nikon’s new Df camera.

At any rate, for those who haven’t seen the info elsewhere, here’s the details:

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(images all grabbed from here)

Essentially, the Nikon Df is Nikon taking the sensor from the D4 and putting it into a body that resembles their classic F series film SLR cameras. Here are some of the key specs:

  • Solid, magnesium-alloy construction with weather-sealing
  • 16.2 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor (same as the one in Nikon D4)
  • ISO sensitivity range of 100-12,800 (boost down to ISO 50 and up to ISO 204,800)
  • Shutter speed range of 30-1/4000s, flash sync-speed 1/200s
  • 39-point AF system (same as the one in Nikon D610), 9 cross-type sensors, focuses down to f/8
  • 2016-pixel RGB image sensor, full non-AI-S lens metering
  • EXPEED 3 processor
  • Large 3.2″ LCD screen with 921,000 dot resolution
  • Pentaprism optical viewfinder with 100% coverage and approximately 0.7x magnification
  • SD card slot
  • Maximum continuous shooting speed up to 5.5 frames per second
  • Measures in at 143.5 x 110 x 66.5mm
  • Weighs 760g with battery and memory card
  • $2749 body-only, $2999 with the new Special Edition AF-S 50mm f/1.8G lens

(specs from here)

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I think that in the wake of some of the major mirrorless camera announcements recently (I’m thinking especially of Sony’s AR7 and Olympus’s OM-D E-M1) people were expecting that this might also be a mirrorless camera with an electronic viewfinder.  So when the official announcement came out revealing it was a “traditional” DSLR with no EVF and no video capabilities, some people were outraged.

You think “outrage” is too strong a word for a reaction to a press release? Don’t forget how passionate some people get about gear. Like this guy:

Time to get off the fence I think. I absolutely hate it and wouldn’t be seen dead carrying one …

Well, fortunately, there are no Gear Police forcing you to buy and use gear you don’t want.

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I think a lot of people have forgotten about Nikon’s D700. It’s only out of production a couple of years, but when it was first released, people went nuts for it. Why? Because they took the sensor and guts out of the expensive D3 camera and essentially shoved them into a D300 body and sold it for not quite half the price of the D3.

When the D4 came out, everyone thought Nikon would do something to follow up on the D700, but that never happened. The D800 and D600 (and now D610) were clearly not that camera. So one might say that the Df is.  Because it’s got the same sensor as the D4 at not quite half the price in a body that may not be small or light but is definitely smaller and lighter than the D4.

Here’s the other thing for me. The reason I loved shooting with the Fuji X-series cameras was the beauty of the control layout. I like dials. I don’t like digging through menus. It made me feel very connected to the camera and the whole shooting process. The Nikon Df will shoot G series lenses, which have no aperture ring, but every other key function has a dedicated dial (and presumably aperture is adjusted via the unlabelled wheel top right rear).

An EVF, perhaps a hybrid viewfinder such as one finds on some of the Fuji X cameras, would have been exceptionally nice, especially given that Nikon’s LiveView is problematic. Video? Not an issue for me; I think in the year and a half that I’ve owned my d800, I’ve shot under 5 minutes of video.  Not pocket-sized? Not meant to be.

Reports are that initial pre-orders are low. I have no way of knowing how many Df’s Nikon was expecting to sell.  I have no way of knowing if Nikon is expecting this to be a best-seller or a niche product, which is really what it is.

Will I buy one? No. But that’s because US$3,000 for a second camera is totally beyond my budget.  Would I like to own this camera? I think the answer is yes. I think that if they didn’t goof up the insides, then the D4 sensor, smaller body, extensive controls and smaller price should add up to a device capable of creating some great images.

 

 

 

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New Cameras From Sony – I’m Intrigued

Sony has been making headlines with a lot of intriguing new camera announcements lately.

First came the QX10 and QX100 – seriously scaled down efforts that had a lens and a sensor and then use your smartphone for a screen and controls. Given that the QX100 uses the same sensor as the RX100, I was intrigued – until I found out it’s not capable of saving RAW images and watched a review done by the Digital Rev guys that really bashed the accompanying iPhone app (the review was here but seems to have been pulled).

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Next is the Sony RX10 – a camera featuring a 24-200mm zoom lens with a maximum aperture of F2.8 across its entire range. I lost interest when I found out that this definitely-not-pocket-sized camera was pairing that lens with the same 1 inch sensor in the RX100 II. It’s not a big surprise that the list price for this camera is US$1300 given that sort of glass but I question who the target market for this camera might be.

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Finally we come to something a lot more interesting. After months of rumors about a “full frame NEX” camera, they’ve announced the A7 and A7R – two mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras featuring full frame sensors.

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The A7 features a 24 megapixel sensor and will sell for US$1,700 while the A7R has a 36 megapixel sensor and will go for US$2,300. Here’s the specs for the A7R, which I got from here.

  • Mount: Sony E Full-Frame
  • Sensor Resolution: 36.4 MP
  • Sensor Size: 35.9 x 24mm
  • Image Resolution: 7360 x 4912
  • Native ISO Sensitivity: 100-6,400
  • Boost Low ISO Sensitivity: 50
  • Boost High ISO Sensitivity: 12,800-25,600
  • Processor: BIONZ X
  • Metering System: Advanced 1200-zone evaluative metering
  • Dust Reduction: Yes
  • Weather Sealing/Protection: Yes
  • Body Build: Magnesium Alloy
  • Shutter: Up to 1/8000 and 30 sec bulb exposure
  • Storage: 1x SD slot
  • Viewfinder Type: OLED EVF, 2.4 million dots
  • Viewfinder Coverage: 100%
  • Speed: 4 FPS
  • Built-in Flash: No
  • Autofocus System: Fast Hybrid AF (phase-detection AF/contrast-detection AF)
  • LCD Screen: 3″ TFT LCD with 921,600 dots
  • Movie Modes: Full 1080p HD @ 60 fps max
  • Movie Exposure Control: Full
  • Movie Output: MOV, Uncompressed via HDMI
  • In-Camera HDR Capability: Yes
  • GPS: No
  • WiFi: Yes
  • Remote Control: Yes, PC control w/ remote video capture control
  • Battery Type: InfoLITHIUM® NP-FW50 (7.2V)
  • Battery Life: 340 images
  • USB Standard: 2.0
  • Weight: 407g (body only)

This image (from here) kind of sums up what I find intriguing about this camera:

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That’s a Canon EOS 5D Mk III on the left.  It’s probably comparable in size to my Nikon D800. On the right is Olympus’s new OM-D E-M1 – similar in size to the Sony but packing a much smaller M4/3 sensor.

So here’s what I started thinking – my Nikon D800 body weighs 1,000 grams. The Sony A7R, aside from its much smaller size, weighs less than half of that.

My most-used lens, the Nikkor 24-70mm F2.8 weighs 900 grams. The Zeiss 24-70mm F4 lens weighs in at 426 grams.

The Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 weighs 1,530 grams. The Sony 70-200mm F4 lens weighs 840 grams.

So I can walk around with 2,000 grams on my shoulder/around my neck or under 1,000. For you young kids out there the difference may not matter much but for an old guy like me, it very well could. On the other hand, an F4 lens is not an F2.8 lens and the differences could be important to me as well. And initially there is no Sony E mount equivalent to my Nikkor 85mm lens, an important lens for me as well.

I recall a couple of years back when I had the Sony NEX-7 that I loved the camera but was very frustrated by the lack of lenses that worked well with its APS-C sensor. The A7 and A7R will have just 5 lenses initially (the two I mention above plus a “kit” lens running 28-70mm with variable maximum aperture, a 35mm F2.8 and a 55mm F1.8). Of course more will come in time.

So the question becomes – would I trade off my Nikon D800, 8 lenses, 2 speedlights, battery grip and other accessories and convert to this new Sony system – primarily because of size and weight? It’s not a decision to be made lightly. I will be looking at reviews very carefully and also watching for new lenses. I don’t see myself making any moves right away, but six months from now it could be a different story.

Even if I don’t go down the Sony road, kudos for them for pushing the market. It will be interesting to see if and how Nikon and Canon respond to these new cameras.

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Sony QX100 – Something New Under the Sun?

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It’s not often that we see something that’s the result of such outside-the-box thinking as Sony’s soon to be released QX10 and QX100 “cameras.”

As I understand it, each of these may just look like a lens, but when paired with your smartphone, they’re entire cameras. The “body” is a zoom lens, a sensor, a slot for a storage card, a shutter button, a function-assignable ring and a clip. The “body” clips onto your smartphone and uses the phone as the viewfinder, shutter release, back-up storage and presumably other functions as well. The “camera” communicates with your phone via WiFi or NFC – meaning it doesn’t actually have to be clipped to your phone to be in contact with it. You can hold it in the palm of your hand; you can mount it on a tripod – as long as you’re within 15 feet of the camera, you can use your phone as a wireless trigger.

The QX100 is essentially a slimmed down version of Sony’s new RX100 II. Same lens 3.6x zoom lens that’s F1.8 at the wide end. Same 20 megapixel 1 inch sensor. Same processing engine. Image stabilizer. Various auto modes and effects.  HD video recording. Weighing just over 6 ounces with the battery inserted. At a list price of US$500.

The QX10 has a smaller 1/2.3 inch 18 megapixel sensor. A 10X zoom lens that goes from F3.3 at the wide end to F5.9. For US$250.

These are available either in black or in a white/gold combination and are set to be released at the end of September.

Since the QX100 is a rethink of the already proven RX100 II, we can guess that it’s a very capable camera indeed.  Hopefully the necessary iOS and Android apps to run it are also capable. We’ll see if this is just a soon-to-be-forgotten experiment or if it catches on and inspires similar devices from other manufacturers. Either way, kudos to Sony for some truly imaginative thinking here.

But imagine walking down the street using this for street photography. Cupped in the palm of your hand, finger on the release button, most people won’t know you’re holding a camera or taking their picture.

Yes. I want one.

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Nikon’s Mirrorless Cameras – Dying?

Nikon released financial results recently that were way down, mostly due to lack of sales of their mirrorless cameras – the Nikon 1 series.  Following the announcement, the stock took a beating.  A few random thoughts on all of this.

First off – camera manufacturers were behind the curve in figuring out that smartphones were going to rapidly disrupt the lower end of their market.  Why spend a couple or a few hundred bucks for a pocket-sized point and shoot camera when your iPhone or Galaxy already has a serviceable point and shoot camera?  Not to mention what for some people is the most important feature – you can edit and upload a photo directly from your iPhone to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Very very few dedicated cameras have this sort of feature built in.

At this point, they’ve all realized that to continue to thrive in the market, they have to adjust their strategies by differentiating their products. On the upper end of the market we find DSLRs, which for the most point seem relatively immune from all of this. Everyone understands the differences and most hobbyists want one.

On the lower end of the market, we have a variety of pocket-sized and almost pocket-sized cameras with larger sensors inside, such as the Sony RX100. The average Joe or Josephine doesn’t understand the difference in sensor size and doesn’t care. But hobbyists seeking a second camera, advanced amateurs and so on do understand. I don’t know what the sales figures are for the RX100, the latest Ricohs, or similar cameras but I suspect they’re respectable enough.

But then you get to the middle range – the mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. Everyone’s got one now – Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic – you name it.  I don’t know sales figures so I’m making assumptions based on coverage I read around the net.  Fuji, Sony, Olympus and maybe Panasonic are doing okay here – Nikon and Canon aren’t.

I’ve already written about why I’ve turned away from this format.  It comes down to several factors for me, primarily size and price. Once you stick anything other than a pancake lens on one of these, it may still be smaller and lighter than a DSLR but it’s still big enough to require a bag of some sort – and I’ve decided that if I’m gonna take a camera in a bag, it might as well be my D800. Also, having a DSLR and a range of lenses for that, I don’t want to start buying a second range of lenses for a second body. I’d get more mileage from buying a smaller Nikon that would allow me to use the same lenses and accessories. And let’s face it – most of these interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras cost the same as lower end DSLRs, but their performance is no better and often worse (not to say they’re not good, just not as good).

First I had the Sony NEX-7. A great camera. I loved it.  Sometimes I wish I still had it. But when I did actually have it, I was frustrated with the lens selection, with just a couple of lenses capable of properly working with that 24 MP sensor. So I gave up waiting and sold it. Then I had the Fuji X-Pro1. Loved it. This camera had better ergonomics and controls than anything else in its class. But the lenses were too damned expensive, costing as much as DSLR lenses. And at the time Lightroom did a miserable job of processing the RAW files. So I gave up and sold it. Finally I went with the Olympus OMD. Also a lovely piece of kit. But with any decent lens it was huge – and yet offered a smaller sensor and poorer low light/high ISO performance than the Sony or the Fuji. I didn’t have the lenses I wanted for it and couldn’t afford them. So I sold it. (Luckily Hong Kong has such a huge secondary market that one can sell used cameras for respectable prices fairly easily.)  I took the money I got from selling the Olympus, bought the pocket-sized Sony RX100 (which does outperform my iPhone) and had a lot of money left over to bank.

I think Nikon really stumbled badly with the Nikon 1. A crappy looking camera, a smaller sensor, and not compatible with my other Nikon stuff right out of the box. (I understand the science behind this. Doesn’t change my feeling, even if you find that vaguely irrational.)  But Nikon has rarely built successful cameras that weren’t DSLRs. They’ve never dominated the field the way you’d think they could. Instead of being #1 or #2, they’re probably a distant 5th or 8th.  All I had to do was see this chart to know I would never even consider a Nikon 1:

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(Chart from here.)  For all the night time shooting I do, for the importance I place on low light/high ISO performance, this was a total turn-off.  Yes, my Sony RX100′s sensor is about the same size, but at least it fits in my pocket.

With this in mind, I’d like to share two recent excerpts from two other bloggers – one of whom gets it and one who obviously does not.

Let’s start with the guy who doesn’t. Steve Huff.

People were expecting more from the 1 system at launch. Namely, a larger sensor. Those who never owned or tried one trashed it and sadly, it got a bad rep for no reason. By the time real reviews came out with real samples and showing what the Nikon 1 system could do, it was too late. V1′s were being cleared out and sold dirt cheap, and THEN they sold in mass amounts.  I LOVE my V system and it gives me better out of camera colors than any camera I own as well as the fastest performance.

And now the guy who gets it, Thom Hogan.

I’ve been scratching my head lately trying to reconcile Nikon’s decisions in the Nikon 1 line. Let’s see:

  • Make lower end products (e.g. S1, 11-27.5mm), but keep DSLR-level prices.
  • Reduce parts count by an order of magnitude, but charge same price as DSLRs.
  • Make high end lenses (18.5mm f/1.8, 32mm f/1.2).
  • Make a high end camera that costs almost as much as a D7100, but leave off high end features.
  • Talk about marketing to women, but not really doing it.
  • Improve the FT1 autofocus but don’t really market it (e.g. just update the Web site downloads and hope people notice).
  • Fire sale price zips the cameras out of the store (well, maybe not the J1), but regular price has them sitting on shelves.

From a marketing and positioning standpoint, the Nikon 1 is a complete failure. First, the camera pricing was ridiculous. Taking needed shooting controls out of the high-end model, also ridiculous. No real sharing of accessories with the main Nikon lineup, again ridiculous. Mostly expensive, high-specification lenses for a line that’s had four out of six cameras entry level, strange.

The J1 is still around and selling for US$400 for the two-lens kit, brand new. That has to be the best <US$500 compact camera available (though the fire sale on EOS M gives it a run for the money). Got a compact camera budget but a DSLR-like quality fetish? Get a J1 while they’re still available. Have we heard Nikon say that? Of course not. Because Nikon sells 24 different compact cameras and 12 different DSLRs right now. If you’ve got a compact budget, Nikon wants to sell you a compact. If you have a DSLR quality fetish, they want to sell you a DSLR. Strangely enough, Nikon has done everything they can to not sell you a Nikon 1 and now are perplexed as to why you won’t buy one.

Really, I’m as die hard a Nikon fan as you’ll find and I spend far more time looking (and lusting) at Fuji’s X series.  I’d buy a Fuji X100s if I could afford it. And I wonder what their X-Pro2, whenever it comes, will do. And sometimes I wonder what Sony has coming next in their NEX series. I’d almost consider buying that Leica X Vario camera, if it wasn’t priced so high.

I love my Nikon D800. It is the best camera I’ve ever owned. I’ve had it over a year and feel no desire to part with it. (For that matter, I didn’t want to part with my D700 either, but I needed to sell it to have the money for the D800.)  I’d like to feel that same love for a smaller, every-day-walking-around camera as well.  But the technology just isn’t there yet.

 

 

 

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