Tag Archives: mirrorless

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.

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. 🙂

The myth of the “cheaper mirrorless camera”

21 Jul

Having heard this more than once now, I think it’s time to speak out.

DSLRs and mirrorless both have their entry level price point at around $300 – that gets you a Pentax K-X0 or an Olympus E-PMY, for some value of X and Y corresponding to the current generation of camera systems. Then you have a typical enthusiast/semi-pro camera around $1000 body-only, and finally you might have a full-frame pro camera that’s $2k-$2.5k.

Now, that just gets you a camera, not a system. You also need some lenses. Let’s assume you want autofocus. Then you can forget about adapting DSLR lenses on a mirrorless system. You have to buy native. Well, native lenses haven’t been around for long, so there won’t be a real bargain on eBay yet for your mirrorless system. Likely you’ll have to buy new and pay in the region of $400-800 per lens, maybe more, depending on your needs. Well, for a DSLR camera, you may be able to buy a good used copy, and pay three quarters or even half, if you’re lucky, of the current new price. However, when you factor in that some DSLR lenses have been on the market for a while, allowing for new prices to also slide, you have quite a compelling value proposition on the DSLR side.

If you want a budget system, don’t buy mirrorless, or be very sure that you know exactly what you’re doing!

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

7 Feb

E-M5_II

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.

Nikon presents a waterproof mirrorless system camera…

19 Sep

…and two matching waterproof lenses as well as an anti-fogging “filter” to attach when in beach or underwater use. Welcome Nikon AW1, may you hold what you’re promising.

product_01bproduct_01

Who will try to compete with this? Pentax? Olympus?

Affordable DSLR that works great with video – or rather something else?

5 May

Someone recently asked about buying their first DSLR when their main interest is sports photography and video, at the entry level price-wise. The question also included Canon and Nikon as examples. I’ll try and answer that question here.

First things first – currently, all entry level DSLRs are capable of “professional” quality output. There may be specific applications where these cameras will not be competitive, but image quality is not typically a major problem.

Having said that, Canon is currently lagging behind in sensor technology, with higher noise levels and lower dynamic range. This will also limit the amount of light you need to take “reasonable” photographs, regardless of what personal criteria you may set for considering your output “reasonable”.

However, Canon is also generally held to be the better choice for video. The major challenges for video in a DSLR camera are continuous autofocus and noiseless operation (in terms of auditory noise). Panasonic is generally regarded as having the best video features, but they don’t currently sell any true SLR cameras, but rather opt for the mirrorless format, where your preview is indirect through the rear display or an electronic viewfinder (EVF). This may mean that your view of the scene is delayed, so it’s worth checking out reviews that have tested for this.

Principally, the characteristics of photographic output will feature again when recording video, so a camera with good dynamic range (DR) in still image output will also usually have high DR in video. This would be a considerable benefit from using a relatively affordable pro camera such as a Pentax K-5 or K-5 II. Remember that all DSLR cameras currently in production include HD video as an output option at upwards of 24 frames per second, so you won’t need to worry about that too much.

I will, however, add two more points for consideration. You should look not only at frame rates and resolutions when judging video, but also at the compression used. This will tell you how much you’ll spend on memory cards and hard disks to accommodate the length of filming you’re interested in, and it will also tell you whether there are situations where artefacts will show up in your movies. My experience comparing H.264 vs. Motion JPEG suggests that artefacts will occur with fast movement or sudden changes of lighting in the H.264 format, but will be absent from Motion JPEG. However, Motion JPEG will generate huge files by comparison which you should factor into your budget.

In terms of features, you should consider whether you’ll want to do time lapse or high speed video – for high speed in particular, there are no viable workarounds, so you’ll need a camera that can already do this. For time lapse capture, clunky external features may be required on various cameras including current Canon models.

Remember also that there are affordable video devices such as the GoPro Hero set of cameras that in a lot of ways, may be more flexible and fun than a big SLR setup, as well as all-in-one solutions such as Panasonic’s rather affordable FZ200, a superzoom bridge with plenty of video features. What a DSLR camera gives you is the ability to swap lenses, but each new lens will cost as much or more as a new or fairly new compact or bridge camera. If you think you have the discipline to stick with one camera and get really good at using it, then try leaning towards a DSLR, but if you think you’ll always want to keep up with the latest imaging technology, you’ll be far better off cost-wise looking at superzooms.

Eventually, only you can know whether your interest in video is strong enough to merit a choice of Panasonic over Canon, or whether even Pentax or Nikon might be viable choices due to the higher photo output quality, or whether you’ll want to pursue an alternate adventure with a GoPro-type camera or a compact/superzoom.