Tag Archives: Fujifilm

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!

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APS-C vs. full frame – whither the future?

21 Feb

In a previous editorial, I suggested that Nikon had recently focused on full frame cameras, and this is true. Over the last 24 months, Nikon released a number of new models and substantial upgrades. The Nikon D600/610, Df, D750 and D810 were all aimed at what one might roughly describe as the enthusiast market, with the D810 and D750 also being serious considerations for the “professional”. (But see my previous editorial on the value of such classifications.)

The logic in this is sound: “Serious” cameras as a product category are under much less threat than those whose performance can be more easily approximated with a mobile phone camera. But is the market really going to see a long-term shift towards such models? Some indicators suggest this is true. Sony showed with its A7 series that full frame cameras no longer have to be substantially bigger than those from the film era. Furthermore, its cameras are also much more comparable in size to most APS-C models than was previously the case. However, the lesson is also being learned that the camera grip has substantially developed since the film era to give more control to the photographer, and that this improvement cannot be dropped by the wayside, meaning that a major determinant of the size of future cameras will be whether they try to adhere to the needs of the human hand, or those of the human shirt pocket.

However, many seasoned photographers will urge the newbie to invest in lenses, not camera bodies, and they are right. Lenses do not depreciate in value as quickly, and enhance the range of one’s abilities far more. Many general purpose photographers will end up with a number of lenses for various different purposes: the standard zoom, the telezoom, the wide angle or fisheye (or both), the macro, the portrait prime, the walkaround prime, etc. Often, the quality of the lens influences the quality of the final image far more than the quality of the camera does, especially when cameras are approaching the limits of physics as they have been doing recently.

Therefore, advances in lens technology improve our photography more than advances in camera bodies, and can currently be seen as predominant drivers of the industry. So which lenses have improved more, full frame ones or crop lenses? For me personally, some of the most exciting developments are happening in “cropped format” zoom lenses. I’ll pick on three examples. Just under two years ago, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens created a huge sensation for managing such a wide, constant aperture in a zoom lens, and at such a generally useful range of focal lengths. It is mostly very sharp with minimal chromatic aberrations, something of a Sigma specialty. The year after, Tamron announced its 16-300mm superzoom lens – with a zoom range that is unprecedented among APS-C lenses, and beats anything available for full frame by a very good mile. The image quality is said to be quite good considering this versatility. Then just recently, Samsung came out with its 16-50mm f/2-2.8 standard zoom – monstrously sharp in the centre, although corners suffer more than in other lenses. In all other respects, this lens keeps up flawlessly with the new 28 megapixel Samsung NX1 body – in itself a major, unprecedented breakthrough for superior image quality.

The APS-C format has been broadly adopted for new and successful camera systems such as the Sony E/NEX system, the Fujifilm X and the Samsung NX. Even Canon, with its so far unsuccessful EOS M system, has opted for a 1.5 crop factor rather than the 1.6 used in its Rebel DSLR line. So I think it’s fair to say that APS-C is a safe place to be, with a bright future.

Update 2/2/2017: You may also be interested in my recent piece, Craving full-frame? Read this first.

16mm is the new 18mm

1 Feb

Over the course of 2014, the kit lens landscape has changed significantly, with Samsung announcing not one but two new standard zooms, the 16-50mm f/3.5 to f/5.6 and its weightier sibling, the f/2 to f/2.8 with the same focal length range, both stabilised. Fujifilm also followed up its 16-50mm f/3.5 to f/5.6 from mid-2013 with a new f/2.8 variant at the same focal range just recently. Also during 2014, Tamron announced a 16-300mm superzoom lens for APS-C, at f/3.5 to f/6.3. Pentax has had a 16-50mm standard zoom at f/2.8 for many years, and in 2014 announced a new 16-85mm f/3.5 to f/5.6.

Man and Camel, Morrocco. Taken with Tamron 16-300mm at 16mm. Promotional image by Tamron.

Man and Camel, Morocco. Taken with Tamron 16-300mm at 16mm.

The most active on the 16mm front is probably Sony – they’ve carried a 16-80mm f/3.5 to f/4.5 since 2006, 16-105mm f/3.5 to f/5.6 from 2007 and 16-35mm f/2.8 from 2009 as well as the 2014-introduced 16-35mm f/4 in collaboration with Zeiss – all in A mount. In E mount, there’s the 16-50mm f/3.5 to f/5.6, and again in A mount the much weightier and stabilised 16-50mm f/2.8. But with four major manufacturers fully embracing 16mm as the new wide angle limit standard, 18mm zooms may become a hard sell.

Woman pauses near vendor display. Fes, Morocco. Taken with Tamron 16-300mm at 16mm. Promotional image by Tamron.

Woman pauses near vendor display. Fes, Morocco. Taken with Tamron 16-300mm at 16mm.

Meanwhile, Nikon’s 16-35mm and 16-85mm are a few years old now, and while Canon released a 16-35mm f/4 in 2014 (and has an f/2.8 variant from 2007), it feels like Nikon is not really on top of this story (seemingly betting most of its money on growth in full frame cameras), and Canon does not see going wider as a priority – perhaps sensible given its 7% narrower field of view in the APS-C segment (Canon’s APS-C crop factor, due to a smaller sensor size, is 1.6 vs. most other cameras’ 1.5).

One wonders whether 2013’s star new lens, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, feels a bit left out – undoubtedly a compromise in design the lens to achieve the f/1.8 constant aperture, but a similar compromise will now have to be made by the buyer where wide angle shots are concerned. Ultimately, you’ll never escape the desire, in some situations, to zoom with your feet.

Model refresh – an appraisal

10 Aug

“It’s not enough of an upgrade” – a phrase frequently heard on gearheads websites when new models are announced for an existing product line. It was one of the responses to the recent Pentax Q-S1 as much as for the Canon EOS 700D or Nikon D3300. The air is getting thin in the digital camera market, and manufacturers need to cut corners – their manufacturing needs to become more modular, the model refreshes more incremental.

Sony did this masterfully from 2008 to 2011 – their Alpha 200 was chased by an A230, then an A290; likewise, the A350 was succeeded by an A380, then A390, almost at 12-month intervals. They repeated this with the A500 and A550 DSLR lineages. then the A33 and A55 SLT lines, the latter of which endures in the shape of the A58. Most of these models were relatively simple upgrades of a previous one, differing by a few megapixels or a small saving on the sale price.

The downside to this strategy is that not every new model will get fully reviewed by photography and tech publications. For instance, many did not review the Pentax K-50 because while the body was completely redesigned, the internals were nearly identical to the K-30, except that a higher maximum ISO had been enabled in the firmware. Similarly, in the Sigma DP line, many publications will review only one model from each generation as the DP1, DP2 and DP3 do not differ in anything other than focal length and the slightly different properties of the lens; however, even the widest aperture is the same among them.

Nonetheless, each new model release creates headlines in technical publications. Pentax has arguably followed a similar concept to advance coverage of its DSLR by announcing new colour choices or special editions at certain points in the product life cycle. Canon’s “Rebel” entry level DSLRs get extra column inches by having three names each – the 700D mentioned above is also known as the Kiss X7i, or Rebel T5i, depending which market you’re in. International coverage always has to try and address readers from all regions, so each name must be mentioned when referring to the camera. (At other times, redundant words are included in the model name, such as EOS, Lumix DMC, Coolpix or Cyber-shot DSC, in the belief that they confer a particularly sought-after brand identity.)

It is clear that some companies follow such schemes to a lesser extent. While Panasonic’s GH4 is in many ways an incremental upgrade of its GH3 model, it does include one big headine feature – 4k video. Other Panasonic interchangeable lens models have generally stood on their own in this reviewer’s impression. Olympus mixes up its models only in the PEN series (where the difference between E-P, E-PM and E-PL models is generally small, and some upgrades have been minimal), whereas each model in the OM-D series has been individually designed for its intended market.

Samsung has only very recently shown inclinations towards incremental upgrades, whereas Fujifilm has only upgraded one X-series ILC so far, with the X-E2, which was widely considered a success.

In some cases, a quick succession of model increments can be an indication of the health of a model line – Sony’s RX1 was followed by an RX1R, and its RX100 is now on its third model iteration. Nikon’s 1 series has similarly exploded in model lines and generations – again, we are counting the third generation of this mirrorless interchangeable lens camera line. Both the RX100 and Nikon 1 series have undergone significant changes during their existence, however.

And while Olympus and Pentax (with their K-500) have succeeded in diversifying their price points in the entry market by adopting a more incremental and modular approach to design, none of these manufacturers can escape the truth that more radical redesigns are necessary from time to time. The ability of manufacturers to correctly judge the best time for such redesigns, and ability to get them right on the first release will be a large factor in their ability to stand their ground in this highly competitive market.

Q: Who is the most collaborative camera manufacturer?

13 Sep

A: As of June this year, the answer would have to be Panasonic. They are working with Olympus on the Micro Four Thirds standard, with Leica on compact and bridge cameras, and now with Fujifilm on sensor technology. An honorable mention goes to Sony, who provide their sensors to a number of other companies, including Pentax, Nikon, and Olympus, but do not integrate others’ technology into their own products, with the exception of Zeiss lenses. Sony has also been allowing Hasselblad to rebadge some of its cameras as fashion accessories, in a move that many believe is ill-fated on Hasselblad’s part but carries little risk to Sony.

On the flip side, the title of least collaborative company may go to Canon, and there’s not much to say about that, really. Among other less collaborative companies, we find Samsung, Pentax, and Nikon. Samsung uses Schneider-Kreuznach lenses in some of its cameras, and has previously shared sensor technology with Pentax, prior to the latter’s move to Sony. Nikon has recently switched its sensor supplier from Sony to Toshiba, for the D7100. Pentax also apparently takes Tamron lens designs and rebadges them as its own.

Can Panasonic reclaim the superzoom crown?

18 Jul

Just over a year ago, Panasonic rocked the world when announcing the FZ200, a superzoom camera with continuous maximum aperture of f/2.8 throughout the zoom range of 24 to 600mm equivalent. It’s a camera that largely gained very positive reviews, with fairly good video and macro performance, but an inferior sensor to its predecessor, the FZ150. Ever since the FZ50, this particular line of Panasonic’s has been the result of a collaboration with Leica, who provided the glass and possibly intel for the special lens of the FZ200, and always release a nearly identical version of each camera in the series half a year later, these being the V-Lux models in Leica’s classification.

Shortly after that release, however, Canon upped the ante by releasing a camera that, while having an aperture that declines from a slower f/3.4 to a maximum f/6.5 at the long zoom end, offered 1200mm equivalent reach. A blockbuster, if you will, that offered even better macro capabilities, a minimum ISO of 80 rather than 100, but mainly, twice the reach, or, looked at over two dimensions, the potential to record four times as much detail of very distant subjects. At this point, many who had considered the FZ200 switched their allegiance to Canon’s SX50.

Having broken down the wall where Panasonic had been content to keep its maximum at 600mm, the same as predecessor FZ150, a number of “me too” cameras followed Canon’s announcement, notably Fujifilm’s HS50, which was fit to compete in the enthusiast category by including RAW access, and S8500, which lacks that feature, as well as Sony’s rawless HX300. These cameras arrived with 1000mm reach at f/5.6, 1104mm at f/6.5, and 1200mm at f/6.3, respectively, meaning the HS50 at least on paper compares favourably to the Canon at the long end. In spite of this, the SX50 remains the camera to beat.

This week, Panasonic announced the FZ70, part of its budget lineage that runs alongside the 50-stepped models, and likely a first shot in the direction of regaining dominance in the superzoom category. As expected for that model, which will not be appearing in a Leica V-Lux version, the lens is not Leica-branded. Going it alone, Panasonic is showcasing a 1200mm lens with widest aperture of f/5.9 at the long end, beating the Canon offering by about a quarter stop. Should we expect the Leica version, presumably an FZ250, to have a shorter zoom range? I doubt this.

If Panasonic wants to only hold its current market position, the FZ250 should have a continuous f/2.8 lens ending at 860mm equivalent, and a sensor at least as good as the FZ150. If it wants to reclaim the market, the pressure is now on to produce a camera with 1200mm equivalent reach, with pushing that f/2.8 further through that zoom range than in competing offerings – perhaps Panasonic can engineer a camera that holds f/2.8 until 600mm or more, with narrowing of the maximum aperture starting only closer to the 1200mm end. If other features such as focus speed and accuracy, continuous shooting speed, and RAW buffer length are competitive, this could be the camera that once again redefines the category.

People have talked about handholding beyond 1200mm using, for instance, Panasonic’s DMW-LT55 1.7x teleconverter, but until someone tests this, we may safely assume this to be the domain of tripods and bean bags.

For completeness, I must mention that in a piece of sleight of hand, Panasonic are promoting the FZ70 as a 60x zoom, which results from being wider with 20mm rather than 24mm at the widest end. Most potential customers can safely ignore this, as wide angle photography is not usually a priority with superzoom cameras.

Penta-X-Trans?

21 Feb

I previously wrote about how it might be interesting to have two of the more innovative but commercially less successful camera manufacturers pool their technologies, suggesting the Fujifilm and Panasonic could be two such candidates – fully aware, of course, that Panasonic already has a partnership with Leica as well as, separately, with Leica and Olympus (for Live MOS), which could complicate negotiations.

But Fujifilm is an interesting company. There was a time when they made DSLR bodies without having a lens line-up – they used Nikon’s F mount, which made a large number of lenses available to be used. At some point, Fuji gave up on this business, presumably because competition from Nikon was too fierce, and the idea of differently branded bodies and lenses confusing to customers. Since then, Fuji has released DSLR-styled bridge cameras – I assume as a replacement of sorts.

I suspect with SLR cameras being one of the more stable remaining segments in the market, Fuji may be interested in renewing its ambitions and getting a slice of that pie. Pentax has recently made great headway in the segment with releasing the K-5 IIs, which according to reports gives not only great sharpness, but also high colour fidelity. Again, it feels like something so bold and brazen that only an innovative underdog like Pentax could pull it off. But the truth, I think, goes deeper. Pentax had its back against the wall. They’d released the K-5 to great acclaim two years previously, and made a serious impression on anyone in the APS-C industry and market. They had to release an update, but there wasn’t a new sensor, either due to a lack of new negotiations amid the Ricoh take-over, or because the existing contract specified a minimum volume that hadn’t been met. Usually, you would want to release a higher-resolving sensor with an AA filter, so that resolving power could increase without adding moire or aliasing to an image. But Pentax, for one reason or another, hasn’t seemed to have that option. So now the bets are on for a next generation 24 megapixel sensor from Sony, but what if that’s all wrong?

What if Fujifilm’s X-Trans platform could be developed to a point where it’s competitive with Sony’s 16MP model? It’s clear that Fujifilm’s JPEG quality already beats Pentax’ platform with that Sony sensor. A question Pentax might ask is whether the next generation Sony sensor will get them ahead again, or if software support for Fujifilm’s photosite arrangement will have progressed far enough to make X-Trans the more attractive platform. All of this assumes, of course, that Fuji doesn’t have its own ambitions to get back into the SLR game.

Sony, meanwhile, is aware of the pressure, and is anticipated by some to release a whole range of Foveon-style sensors at some point in the near future, which would eliminate Sony’s disadvantage in the aliasing and moire department. It looks to me like the current full frame mania may just give Sony enough time to save its position as the provider-of-all-sensors.