Category Archives: Gear

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).

sony-qx100-on-phone

 

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.

zrx10beauty-l__small

 

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.

Sony-A7

 

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:

sony_a7_size_comparison-550x327

 

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?

sony-qx100-on-phone

 

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:

sensor-sizes-comparison

 

(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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Thoughts on Fuji, Leica & How The Camera I Want Doesn’t Exist

Fuji and Leica seem to be going at each other.  Leica’s newest camera has an X in its name while a newly announced Fuji has an M. I don’t think this is an accident or coincidence.

I don’t understand some of what Fuji was thinking with their new X-M1 camera. It’s sort of a junior X-Pro1 and has the same APS-C sensor as that roughly one-year old camera, as opposed to the newer sensor in the X100s that everyone is raving about. This makes no sense (sorry) to me. Why not put that newer sensor into it?

(If you haven’t already read this in 100 places already, Fuji announced the X-M1, an interchangeable lens camera with an APS-C sensor retailing for $699 body only or $799 with a kit zoom lens.)

I’ve hit this frustration point because what I want in a second camera should be simple enough and yet as near as I can tell, it doesn’t exist.

Sadly (or stupidly) it took my going through three different mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (Fuji X-Pro1, Sony NEX-7, Olympus O-MD) before I finally realized that for all the strengths of these different cameras, I didn’t want a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera.  For one thing, once you put any sort of a decent zoom lens on them, they became so bulky that there was no advantage to taking them every day as opposed to my Nikon D800.  More importantly, I realized that I could neither afford nor desired to spend hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars buying multiple lenses for these systems when I already have a fair investment in Nikon glass.  (And no, before you ask, I have zero intention of getting a Nikon 1.)

Of all of these various cameras, the ones I enjoyed shooting with the most were the Fuji X100 (but I felt stymied by having just that single focal length lens) and the X-Pro1 (didn’t want to invest in Fuji glass).  What I loved about them was the control layout – instant and easy access to aperture and shutter speed without fiddling through menus.  Today I’ve got a Sony RX100 which certainly takes a nice picture but I find the control system too fiddly and I don’t like having only that 3 inch LCD screen for framing; I like a viewfinder.

I suppose that the latest Leica, that X Vario, would be perfect for me but whether or not you want to quibble over the zoom lens being relatively dark, the $3,000 price tag puts it out of my reach.

So what do I want? It’s actually simple – I want a Fuji X100s with a fixed halfway decent zoom lens. I loved the controls on the X100 and I LOVED the hybrid viewfinder.  I want a fixed zoom lens, which lets out the Nikon Coolpix A. I want a large sensor, which lets out the Canon G series.  And I want it to cost under $1,000, which lets out the Leica.

If Fuji ever releases an X100s with a zoom, I will be there.

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If This is the New Leica Mini M, Who Would Buy This?

Leica has been teasing the launch of a new Leica Mini M later this month.  Now details and pictures are showing up on the web in advance of the launch, purporting to be the details of the new camera.  (I snagged this photo from Engadget.)

 

Is it real or is it Photoshop?  I can’t say.  But if it is real, all I can ask is, “what the hell were they thinking?”

I mean, plenty of people who don’t have a Leica M series camera would love to have one – me included – but they’re just financially out of reach for many of us.  So a smaller – and presumably cheaper version would have great appeal.

But first off, rather than Leica’s interchangeable lenses, this one has a fixed lens – and a dark one to boot. 28-70mm and F/3.5 – F/6.4.   Inside will be a 16 megapixel APS-C size sensor, which does make sense.

Here’s the kicker – the price, rumored to be 2,450 Euros, approximately US$3,150.  Three thousand smackers for a lens that will spend most of its time at F/6.4?  Who the hell will buy this, aside from Chinese billionaires who buy Leicas by the truckload just to impress their friends?  Yes, it’s much cheaper than a Leica M – but apparently it will have little in common with that camera besides the red dot.

Anyway – there’s one thing about this photo that suggests it could be a fake and that’s the focal lengths listed on the lens.  No one puts the full frame equivalent on the lens – they put the real numbers and leave you to work out the details on your own.  I don’t think even Leica would put out a camera with a fixed lens that has a full frame equivalent of 42 to 100mm.  It makes no sense.

Oh, by the way, someone has already reviewed it, even though no one knows for sure what it is. “So if you want a small light, extremely high quality, unobtrusive camera, look no further.”

Another web site asks, “Is this going to be the Mirrorless Leica System That Was Promised?”  Am I missing something here?  Is the Leica M a DSLR? Does it have a flip-up mirror inside?

In another 10 days, all questions will be answered.

 

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