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End of life for Denoise Projects, and special offer

18 Jul

The imaging software industry is in motion. While companies like Serif (makers of Affinity-branded software) and Macphun are making a dash from the Mac to the Windows platform, and following Google’s recent abandonment of the Google Nik Collection of plug-in and stand-alone applications for tasks such as black and white conversion, colour adjustment, film simulation, sharpening and denoising, another applicant for this market is now showing signs of slowing down.

Like Google, Macphun and others, German publishing house Franzis also develops a variety of tools in its “Projects” series for the above tasks, each usually sold separately. Among them are tools for HDR and focus stacking, and Franzis also develops and sells other imaging software not branded as “Projects”, and is the German distributor of Silkypix raw processing software.

Franzis has now announced discontinuing Denoise Projects Professional, a specialised program and plug-in for removing digital image noise. It is unclear if other discontinuations will follow.

According to the publisher, Denoise Projects automatically detects and removes “all” seven types of noise. Other Franzis Projects products work with a high floating point bitrate, and the tech specs for Denoise Projects imply that it requires 32 bit GPU acceleration, while the FAQ mentions it can save 32 bit TIFF. It was not explicitly stated whether 32 bit floating point processing is used internally.

Those interested can find a 70% off offer here.

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Nikon cancels DL series

13 Feb

Nikon officially dropped the bombshell that it has pulled the plug on three upcoming premium compact camera models that were announced in the first half of 2016 and initially expected to ship in June 2016. This cancellation therefore comes after months of delays as well as rumours of an imminent shipping date.

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Nikon DL24-500

Nikon cited electronics hardware problems and low projected profitability in the decision. The cancelled models would have had equivalent focal ranges of 18-50mm, 24-85mm and 24-500mm, making the middle model a direct competitor to Sony’s RX100 line, while the first model covers the focal range of two of Sigma’s DP models (which use prime lenses).

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Nikon DL24-85 in silver

Among other things, the cameras would have featured 20fps continuous shooting with autofocus, and in-camera perspective adjustment for architectural photography.

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Nikon DL18-50

This is the next major cancellation after Samsung’s withdrawal from the dedicated camera market. Nikon has also announced a voluntary retirement program to lay off 1000 workers.

Nikon D500 finally announced

5 Jan

After hopes and rumours, Nikon finally lifted the covers on the D500, successor to the D300S. Resolution will be 20.9 megapixels, buffer depth 200 RAW images – that’s 20 seconds’ worth at the 10fps maximum burst rate. Ruggedness is said to be comparable to the D810.

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Presumed to be Nikon promotional image.

This may be the model that firmly establishes XQD memory cards as beyond niche, although an SD card slot is also provided. So rather than dual anything slots, the camera has one for XQD and one for SD, with no word yet on whether they can be jointly configured so that the SD card gets the JPEGs and the XQD the RAWs, say.

153 autofocus points and 4k video round off the primary feature list. In terms of operability, Nikon offers a tilting screen, built-in Wi-Fi, NFC and continuous Bluetooth tethering with a smart phone.

I would speculate that the sensor is an in-house development and manufactured by Renesas, as is the usual case when Nikon doesn’t want to walk the mainstream road of stock sensors from a third party like Sony or Toshiba. There is also discussion that the Bluetooth feature was pilfered from Samsung, whom we’re expecting, as per rumours, to shortly give a clearer idea of the business relationship they may have entered with Nikon.

With a price tag of US$2000 at launch, it might be a while before the Pentax K-3 stops being nicknamed the “Nikon D400”. Or before you’ll stop trawling eBay for a used D800 with its similar and competitive crop mode, or new D750 with ambitions to similarly be an action compatible camera (but needing bigger lenses).

As a personal comment, the large buffer really makes me feel that someone out there is listening, and fulfils my prediction from 16 months ago. Combined with the very fast write performance suggested by the inclusion of an XQD card slot, the buffer performance alone may justify the launch price, particularly for sports and wildlife shooters.

Samsung and Ricoh: Different responses to a shrinking market

3 Dec

This week saw the announcement that Samsung would be slowly backing out not only of the German market for “digital cameras, camcorders and accessories”, but the UK as well. As of this writing, it seems that all products are still available, but this may narrow to a trickle and eventually cease. It’s certainly clear that Samsung will not be investing in advertising and promotions in this market any more.

Interestingly, this occurred only weeks after the latest Ditch the DSLR event stateside in Seattle, where interested parties could exchange their ageing Canon DSLRs (let’s be honest, that’s the bulk of them) for an entry level Samsung NX500 MILC (earlier events offered the perhaps more attractive, certainly higher priced NX30). I interpret that promotion as having the dual purpose of getting people talking about Samsung MILCs as well as creating a userbase for lens sales.

Ricoh has been following a similar fahrplan for the last 18 months or so, selling their K-50 and K-S1 camera models extremely affordably with a basic lens included, all at 200-300 USD – recently there was an offer at Samy’s for a K-S1 and lens at $179. A basic DSLR system is therefore now cheaper than most compacts. How is that possible?

Well, all camera companies are currently operating in a rapidly shrinking market – that much industry observers have known for years, and comes at no surprise to anyone. What’s interesting is that different makers have responded very differently to this change. Samsung is apparently deciding that in spite of being one of the electronics giants of the world, like Toshiba they don’t need to have a horse in this race, contrary to Sony and Panasonic. Sony and Panasonic meanwhile have sought to minimise R&D effort and instead keep old models afloat with firmware updates – lossless RAW in Sony’s case and the post-focus feature in Panasonic’s. An interesting model to watch for the future.

Ricoh, on the other hand, is putting the razorblade model into overdrive and capturing the last on-the-fence stragglers that felt they couldn’t afford a DSLR, thereby broadening its base for future lens sales. Because that userbase is now fresh, it will probably yield higher per capita follow-up sales than the more established user bases of Canon or Nikon (although those are considerably larger overall). It may have also put the hook in some people for Ricoh’s upcoming full frame camera, and may have lightened the load on current Pentax users so that they might be able to actually afford the full frame when it comes around. For those customers, this may almost feel like delayed bundling – get your replacement/second body now, pay your full frame later.

Ricoh has for the past few years consistently followed a pricing strategy that sees them entering new products at a price that’s almost unachievably high, to then gradually reduce the price over the next 12 to 18 monhs, to about half or less in the case of camera bodies, but more modestly for lenses. Samsung, on the other hand, has left its blockbuster NX1 camera at the same high price as when introduced over a year ago, at least in some localities – a price that some say is too high when one can get a full frame camera for the same money. On the other hand, the Samsung offers a slightly higher pixel count than those full frame cameras, allows for more compact and lighter lenses for the same effective magnification, is weather-sealed, shoots full resolution at 15fps (buffer of 1.3s RAW or 3.5s JPEG) and does 4k video. Nonetheless, offering rebates in price-conscious markets such as Germany could have driven more sales. On the other hand, the buying of extra lenses down the road are an unproven hypothesis in this unprecedentedly saturated market. Perhaps Samsung did not expect its customers to invest in macros, teles and superzooms – the 16-50/2-2.8 certainly offers a lot, but also sells for a premium.

Overall, one feels that Samsung is quitting just as they were starting to win. It’s sad to see them leave with such a well-specified product. On the other hand, that same test is still ahead for Ricoh when they make a late but much-anticipated entry to digital full frame in spring.

One project at a time – Ricoh’s apparent strategy for 2015

3 Aug

Watching Ricoh’s take-over of Pentax for the past few years, and especially this past year, has made one thing obvious: the company is extremely good at focusing business activity where it’s needed. As I’ve written before, Ricoh has gone on the record as the company who helped Pentax complete much-needed products like the long prime lens, the 1.4x autofocusing teleconverter, and an entry-level DSLR with a fully articulated display.

The selfie-proof K-S2 with its fully articulating display. (Yes, weather-sealed!)

The selfie-proof K-S2 with its fully articulating display. (Yes, weather-sealed!)

Having – in the shape of the K-S2 and K-3 II – delivered two major new DSLRs in the first half of 2015, it seems the imaging division is now working 100% on getting the full frame camera and lenses delivered. Two kit lenses are expected to be launched alongside the camera and already announced 70-200/2.8 and 150-450mm tele zooms. The only other camera to have recently had any refresh in the Pentax/Ricoh line-up is the Ricoh GR, and it was a rather minor update.

An apparent ever-green: the Ricoh GR, now in its second iteration.

An apparent evergreen: the Ricoh GR, now in its second iteration.

What you should read between the lines is that the company has dropped almost the entire former Optio segment of compact cameras. The most recent entrant was the premium compact Pentax MX-1, which is still available new in a few places, but at 150% of its original launch price. Used copies have appreciated about 10% beyond the original launch price – a rare example of a non-antique photography investment that works out profitable without much user input.

Ricoh has also held on to the X (superzoom) and WG (weather-proof) lines, adding to the latter a true action-cam, the WG-M1. Everything else was clearly unprofitable and is gone.

Making a splash: Ricoh's action hero cam, the WG-M1.

Making a splash: Ricoh’s entrance into the action cam market, the WG-M1.

Out of the many camera companies still vying for a spot in the shrinking market, Ricoh is the one to have most clearly made a decision to only be associated with premium products. Pentax DSLR bodies for years have been known for being a great package for the money, and Ricoh is continuing to push for that sky. Ricoh has been wise to keep the Pentax 645D in the line-up, and to recently lower the price of that medium format camera to just under 4k, meaning it can now eat away at the Canon 5DS and 5DS R as well as similarly priced Nikon and Sony offerings.

The very professional Pentax 645D medium format camera

The very professional Pentax 645D medium format camera

The Pentax Q series hasn’t had, or needed, a substantial upgrade in years, and Ricoh is wise not to pursue one at this time, instead apparently pouring those resources into development of what at this point is almost certain to be one of the top five cameras of the year.

A camera universally described as "fun": the tiny Pentax Q10.

A camera universally described as “fun”: the tiny Pentax Q10.

There have been no new lens releases for any system other than the full frame camera in 2015 (although those same lenses will work on all APS-C DSLR bodies as well), and yet customers are happy because the lens line-up is finally very nearly complete again, with no obvious, serious gaps, and those same customers, whether actually looking to buy into full frame at this point or not, will be happy yet again when the full frame camera is finally released. In hindsight, some of Pentax’ previous mis-steps are obvious, and Ricoh’s mission was easy: Listen to customer feedback and provide the products customers are asking for. So far, sales of new products seem to be progressing well in spite of their cost (Pentax’ 150-450mm was launched at 2-2.5x the price of comparable entry level Sigma and Tamron products, but may be superior in image quality terms), and the overall impression is that attachment rate (a measure of whether a business can be run on the razorblade model) is high for Pentax.

The MX-1, a premium compact that now retails at 150% of its original list price.

The MX-1, a premium compact that now retails at 150% of its original list price.

The Ricoh take-over has also allowed the new division to abandon any notion of consistent product styling. In the new Ricoh line-up, each camera is targeted in its design to its specific purpose and clearly does not need to adhere to design guidelines. This has cemented Pentax’ reputation as an engineering-driven company, and allowed the Ricoh Theta, K-S2 and WG-M1 to happen, at the small cost of the occasional less successful camera such as the K-S1. It is this increase of variance in commercial success, the ability to produce – and Ricoh have used this exact word – some truly innovative new cameras that go on to become surprise hits, at the cost of a few duds, that will allow some camera companies to survive in today’s markets over those producing minor iterations of existing, only moderately successful models.

Not made in California: the Ricoh Theta.

Not made in California: the Ricoh Theta.

What Ricoh apparently brought to Pentax beyond a willingness to put money into customers’ wishlists is a new management focus and, I suspect, the ability to rejuvenate relationships with third party manufacturers who play an undeniable role in the growth of the Pentax ecosystems – none more so, historically, than the K-mount! It will be interesting to see if other camera manufacturers can be similarly successful in realigning their strategy to these rapidly changing conditions, and continue to supply an array of choices to the customer.

All images used are promotional images courtesy of Ricoh Imaging.

Most frequently returned new cameras 2014

1 Mar

Once again, the time has come for me to present the list of most frequently returned cameras, just as I did for 2013. Once again, the reasons why cameras are being returned are not known, and there are some obvious cases and some mysterious ones. Most interestingly, this year has a black horse, a camera that has apparently fallen off everyone’s radar but is being exceptionally well received by customers.

And that shall be the cliffhanger by which I hold your attention through the rest of the list. Overall, return rates have markedly increased over last year, showing that customers are even more reluctant to hang on to cameras amid ongoing economic crisis and market saturation. Online retailers are apparently still accepting cameras back in large and increasing numbers, but are also cracking down on serial returners. According the data I have (which probably overestimates returns), typical return rates in 2014 were in the range 10-30%.

The most returned camera for which a sufficient sample size was available was the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II – a large sensor compact camera, you may recall, that had a worse sensor than its smaller brother, the G7 X. Similar return rates were experienced by the Fujifilm X30 and Panasonic GM5. Not good time to be a small camera, apparently. However, the Nikon D3300 did not fare much better, nor did the Canon PowerShot G7 X itself. Somewhat surprisingly, the Sony a5100 and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 were also frequently returned. The Sigma DP2 quattro is less of a surprise given the angry noise from Sigma users over the new sensor and the abandonment of Sigma’s unique selling point.

Among the less often returned cameras, we find the Samsung NX30, Olympus PEN E-PL7, Sony RX100 III and Nikon D750 at between 12 and 15% returned. The top five of least returned cameras are made up, in ascending order, of the Fujifilm X-T1, Nikon D810, Olympus OM-D E-M10, Sony a6000 (8% returns – perhaps this the model that buyers of the oft-returned a5100 eventually turned to). Finallly, the grand winner and black horse of the contest, as promised, is the Sony A77 Mark II. It seems to have been liked by almost everybody that bought it, being returned by only 3.8% of customers (or fewer, since this should be an overestimate). Just as Sony are slowly backing out of the DSLT niche, they apparently managed to deliver a nigh-perfect camera. Shame, but congratulations nonetheless!

Europeans benefit from Adobe customer exit

13 Feb

The malcontentment of many customers over Adobe’s new rental-only policy is well-documented. Many are looking at ways to turn their backs on the company. While Adobe Lightroom is currently still available as a perpetually licensed product, it’s unclear how long this will last, and many feel it’s better to leave Adobe’s clutches earlier rather than later. At the same time, Adobe scored a temporary stay of execution by providing the even unluckier customers left in the dust by Apple’s abandonment of its Aperture RAW processing software, with a way out. Adobe within weeks of the announcement provided an exporter that allowed customers to reasonably transfer their existing Aperture photo edit settings and catalogue data to Lightroom.

However, the long term strategy for many will be to leave, but what options are there? Several companies will be keen to jump into the gap left behind, chief among them British company Serif Europe, who make Photoshop competitor PhotoPlus for Windows and recently announced an open beta for the Mac equivalent, Affinity Photo. Serif offer a full platter of Adobe competitors, including the highly regarded PagePlus (DTP) and DrawPlus (vector graphics) as well as Affinity Designer (vector graphics) for Mac. If you prefer to have a Photoshop replacement with a uniform appearance across both platforms, look no further than German product PhotoLine. Whatever share of the Photoshop gap on the Mac side isn’t taken by the above two may well be mopped up by Pixelmator, a Lithuanian effort that continues to be a little less full-featured but very aggressively priced. There’s a Windows exclusive, too, in the shape of British-come-German effort Xara Photo & Graphic Designer – a program with about as long a history as Photoshop itself. But none of these offer compelling RAW editing capability.

So where does one turn for that? Well, the two major competitors that have been in continuous development for the last few years and can be considered reasonably up to date are DxO Optics and Capture One, the former from France and the latter from Denmark. Moreover, DxO also offers ViewPoint, a product that offers only the optical corrections that are the strong suit of the company, which allows integrating it into a workflow using another RAW editor or raster graphics editor.

The only major non-European outfit that could benefit from the Adobe escapees is old rival Corel, but while its renewed development effort in very recent times is showing great promise, there is a little bit of catch-up to do before its trio of AfterShot Pro, PaintShop Pro and Draw can bring back memories of their glory days. Meanwhile, the Europeans will be growing a healthy customer base for their unencumbered products.