Tag Archives: MILC

Nikon is launching a full frame mirrorless

14 Jul

Nikon confirmed they are working on a mirrorless camera. While sometimes news have been blown out of proportion in the photo industry in the past, it seems likely in this case that they really mean they’re working on a new camera system. Nikon is not a company to throw up clickbait.

So how do I know the camera they’re working on is full frame? They said the camera would be Nikon-rashii, or Nikonish. Nikon has never made a medium format camera, so we can safely exclude that. Nikon is now best remembered for the F series, which dominated journalism for a decade or two.

But this is not about reliving the past. This is about competing in the current market. How many mirrorless systems are competing for the APS-C space? Mainly three – Fujifilm, Sony, and old rival Canon. How many are competing for full frame? Really only one – Sony. Nikon knows that there are things it can do better than Sony, ways to compete with Sony. When push comes to shove, maybe Sony won’t give them the sensors they want – maybe they’ll have to turn to Toshiba or Renesas. But for a company with Nikon’s heritage and customer relations, it would be way better to start in the full frame category and gain a following among professional photographers before Sony can fully convince them, than to try to mud-sling it out with Canon in the well-scoured APS-C swamp.

Craving full-frame? Read this first.

3 Jul

Reading this article might save you some money. No, I’m not sponsored to write this, so you may safely proceed. All you’ll get is technical insight and honest opinion.

Perhaps like many photographers, you’ve thought about going for a full frame camera. Perhaps you’ve heard about shallow depth of field, low light shooting and noise. Maybe you’ve heard that full frame is “one stop faster” or “one stop brighter”.

In this article, I’ll cover one of the reasons for going full frame – more light, and how much sense it makes, especially for your bank balance.

Frontal product photo of a black camera against blueish white background.

Ever wanted a Nikon D800E? Read on. (Image credit: Jastrow)

By going from APS-C to full frame – probably the most common move – you gain approximately one stop of light, i.e. you get twice as much light over the whole of your sensor. It would be approximately true to say that shooting ISO 200 on full frame, you get the same noise as shooting ISO 80 on APS-C. So you can shoot faster shutter speeds and, over the whole sensor, get the same noise. However, if you shoot 16 megapixels on APS-C, then shooting 36 megapixels full frame, you will get the same PER PIXEL noise, at the same ISO. So far, so good.

Small rectangle denoted APS-C next to larger rectangle denoted

Relative size of the two major DSLR sensor formats (Copyright breakfastographer / Chriusha (Хрюша) / CC-BY-SA-3.0)

So if we shoot the same apertures, we gain a stop of light. So we can ask the question, how much does it cost to gain a stop of light?

If you upgrade from an 18-55/3.5-5.6 APS-C kit lens to a 17-50/2.8 APS-C premium zoom, you gain 1-2 stops of light, and it might cost you 150 Eurodollars if you buy used. Or for about the same price, you could upgrade to a 17-70/2.8-4.5, which gives you almost exactly one stop advantage over the kit lens, and a bit of extra range.

If you further upgrade to an 18-35/1.8 zoom, you might pay about 600 Eurodollars used or a good offer new, and you would gain a stop over the 17-50/2.8 or over two stops vs. an 18-55/3.5-5.6 kit lens. But you shorten your range by about one stop of teleconversion. Don’t worry if that sounds technical – just remember that 35mm is 35mm and not 50, 55 or 70mm.

Black zoom lens pointing upwards with hood attached, and lens cap lying next to it, label up. Zoom ring indicates 17-24-35-50. White background.

Another possible upgrade path? The Tamron 17-50/2.8 (Image credit: Christian Fischer/CC-BY-SA-3.0 Unported)

If low light shooting, reduced noise or faster shutter speeds are what you’re after, and you’re still shooting with an APS-C camera and kit lens, you owe it to yourself to first invest the 150 to see if the extra light is worth it. This will put you in a much better position to judge whether you want to invest about ten times that amount (or more) to get to a full frame camera and appropriate lens. (Note that a full frame camera with an f/4 lens offers no light advantage over an APS-C camera with an f/2.8 lens!)

There are other points to consider, of course, some of which I’ll touch on briefly. A full frame camera generally offers greater sharpness due to both an increase in resolution and easier manufacture and assembly of appropriate glass. The full frame format is more resistant to diffraction, typically tolerating f/11 rather than f/8 (APS-C) or f/5.6 (Micro Four Thirds) – note that these assumptions only hold for certain pixel pitch, i.e. a 36 megapixel full frame camera is just as sensitive to diffraction at the pixel level as a 16 megapixel APS-C camera. (Other assumptions apply, such as having comparable filter stacks in front of the sensor.) However, over the entire frame, the full frame camera is more tolerant. The flip side is that you need to shoot at those smaller stops to reach the same depth of field, meaning that in landscape shooting, there is no full frame advantage in available light, for the same positioning and framing.

Furthermore, full frame has greater limitations when it comes to designing zoom lenses – you may notice that a common superzoom lens specification for full frame is the 28-300mm lens, whereas on APS-C, the limit has been pushed to 16-300mm – the same versatility in focal length as a 24-450mm on full frame!

Similarly, compare the Sigma 18-35/1.8 to its full frame sibling, the 24-35/2. The smaller lens is both faster and, depending on your point of view, slightly more versatile. (The comparison is hampered by the full frame lens being the equivalent of a 16-24mm on APS-C – not an easy comparison!)

So a full frame camera is best suited to the shooter who knows what situations they want to cover and what their preferred focal lengths are. If you prefer spontaneous shooting and versatility, it is likely that a full frame camera will not make you happy.

Arguments about achieving shallow depth of field more easily on a full frame camera deserve a separate article.

Update 2/2/2017: Also check out my newer article, Low light photography? Affordable? Look no further! for the latest development, or check out a sample image.

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.

Why a camera can not be small AND have a deep grip

6 Aug

I keep seeing people clamouring for a system camera with a low depth, low width and a deep grip – see for example this recent thread on a popular forum. The hope, it seems, is that a mirrorless camera can provide this. Unfortunately, that’s not so. Mirrorless camera systems are designed on the idea that with the registration distance being shorter (because there need not be a space for the mirror), lenses can also be built to a more compact design. This comes with a number of challenges, one of which is illustrated below:

Sony A7R II with Vario Tessa 16-35mm f/4 lens.

Sony A7R II with Vario Tessa 16-35mm f/4 lens.

There physically isn’t space for a deeper grip, because it will not leave enough space for the fingers to fit between the lens and camera. I’d wager that for the same reason, it would be very difficult to design a similarly short 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, and equally this may be the reason why the A7 system’s 70-200mm lens is an f/4 rather than f/2.8. You quite simply have a problem if you want to fit a fat short wide aperture lens close to the camera body and have a deep grip for chubby man-fingers (no offence intended).

So there. I hope that covers that. Next time, I think I’ll include an X-ray of the fingers. 🙂

What’s the deal with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II?

7 Feb


Olympus this week took the covers off the E-M5 Mark II, which features a new mode where, over the course of one second, eight 16 megapixel images are taken and composited together into a 40 megapixel image. Between exposures, the sensor is moved a small amount, which allows more pixels to be simulated than are actually present on the sensor. This technology has been previously used on Hasselblad digital medium format cameras.

The new mode will mostly be useful to landscape, architecture, still life and product photographers due to its long recording duration. Imaging Resource has published a comparison of the new mode against the capability of the Nikon D810. The main conclusion seems to be that the Olympus mode lags the D810 in terms of dynamic range and spatial resolution (sharpness) although it has been pointed out that setting the Olympus lens at f/8 may have favoured the Nikon. Another less formal comparison against the Pentax 645Z shows similar differences.

The OM-D E-M5 Mark II’s native resolution is 16 megapixels.

If anyone was holding their breaths for 4k video – no, the E-M5 II won’t deliver it either, but note that the sensor in the E-M1 is 4k capable, and access to that mode may in future be given via the LightSnow firmware hack.

Why an electronic viewfinder (EVF)?

30 Apr

Much debate has surrounded the decision by some camera makers to replace traditional optical viewfinders with an electronic substitute, in which the user looks at an LED display rather than some direct optical projection designed to resemble the image captured.

Chief among these companies is Sony, who have gone as far as to implement such a system in a line of cameras that are direct successors to Minolta’s venerable film SLR business and early digital efforts (Sony continued the SLR legacy for a while after buying Minolta, then switched to its current “SLT” design). But why would you want a camera with an EVF?

As it turns out, there are a number of reasons, all controversially discussed at length among camera enthusiasts.

  1. An EVF protects your eyes. An EVF allows a manufacturer to completely control the spectrum emitted by the device. Therefore, UV radiation may be absent from such images, and there is no risk of blinding yourself by turning the camera at the sun – the image will never be brighter than the LEDs are capable of. Better to stress the sensor than your eyes, right?
  2. An EVF allows exact control of manual focus. While in SLR cameras, your eyes can compensate and thus give you a false sense of sharpness, an EVF gives you an image ”as the sensor sees it”. In this case, if the image is blurry, your eyes or brain can do very little to make it seem sharp. However, equally keep in mind that your assessment of the sharpness is limited by the resolution of the EVF, and small detail that would have been visible at the “retinal” resolution of your eye plus sharpness of your lens, may not be resolved by the EVF’s display.
  3. If sensor stabilisation is used, currently only an EVF can show you the image post-stabilisation, as it would appear on the sensor. So you’re getting a clear, jitter-free image. However, a brief excursion into stabilisation technologies is necessary here. Lens-based, “optical” stabilisation will give you a stable image no matter how you capture the image after it has passed through the lens – directly with your eye or through a display intermediary. Only with sensor-shift stabilisation technology does it make a difference where you capture the image. To give a full explanation of the pros and cons of lens- vs. sensor-based stabilisation, there will be another article in this series. What is important to remember is that image stabilisation never works perfectly. and so having to rely on it is always a flawed compromise. The combination of optical viewfinder and sensor-based stabilisation is perfect in at least this one sense, that it disciplines you to stabilise your camera properly, by giving you the means to learn how to do this. If the image is shaky, you will see it. And you will be able to counteract the shake – in fact, you will inevitably do so in an attempt to see the image better yourself. Additionally, keep in mind that sensor stabilisation drains your battery – this could lead to overall compromises such as a heavier camera with a bigger battery and bulkier grip, or the need for carrying spare batteries and swapping them out more often. In an OVF camera, the stabilisation will only be active during image capture, saving you battery life.
  4. An EVF allows displaying a brightened image in very dark conditions, where a “slow” lens on an OVF may not allow you to see much at all. However, this is counteracted by bullet point no. 4, as the above-mentioned alternate uses do not return the light for use by the sensor, but rather whisk it off to the side somewhere, in a little light prison. While an EVF may still not allow you to see in pitch darkness, it may be useful for older people whose night vision has declined. Also note that whatever noise the sensor generates will affect the EVF image, so younger people will likely prefer an OVF at night, especially with fast lenses.
  5. Compared to a through-the-lens optical viewfinder, which requires a mirror to be placed in front of the sensor to deflect the image towards the photographer’s eye, exclusive use of an EVF allows the mirror to be dropped from the design. This allows for a slimmer camera, but has several other benefits: (a) it eliminates camera shake that’s caused by the mirror, which is a major source of image blur at certain exposures (typically 1/100s), (b) it may allow lower shutter lag and higher frame rates because the mirror does not need to be used, and (c) it reduces the auditory noise emitted by the camera, useful particularly in street and wildlife photography. Additionally, in theory there does not need to be any blackout with an EVF; however, in practice, the image processing abilities of current-day cameras lag behind this theoretical tenet, for no particularly good reason.

Okay, that all sounds fairly good, so why wouldn’t you want an EVF? Disadvantages:

  1. We’ve touched on the lack of resolution.
  2. We’ve touched on the shorter battery life due to image stabilisation being permanently active except when the camera is already stable (e.g. tripod-mounted).
  3. Viewfinder lag. In the same way that we’re still waiting for blackout to be eliminated, we’re also being disappointed so far in that the transmission of video from sensor to viewfinder is not instantaneous with an EVF. Since there’s also no sufficiently large image buffer to allow shots to be recorded after they’ve happened, and panning decisions may have to be made instantaneously (or as close as you can get giving human reaction times) by the photographer, current-day EVFs can be frustrating to sports and wildlife photographers.
  4. No image when battery is drained. You can’t use your camera as a binoculars replacement. You may therefore have to additionally carry a pair of “binos”.