Tag Archives: Sony

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.

Sony a99 II: No C-AF in manual video?

15 Feb

Here’s the relevant section of Kai Man Wong’s review of the a99 II, discussing its video capabilities, the f/3.5 caveat, and the missing option to have continuous autofocus when video exposure is set manually:

 

I take my hat off to Kai for delivering a more thorough review of this camera, and in a shorter space of time, than other frequented outlets.

Sigma brings back the moiré

3 Feb

I believe I’ve written on this subject before. DPReview just exclusively announced the results of DxOMark testing of the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 “Art” lens, announcing it to have achieved a perfect 36 “perceptual megapixels” on the Nikon D810’s 36 megapixel sensor. It therefore sort-of-ties with the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 macro lens, which achieved 42 perceptual megapixels on a 42 megapixel sensor.

Discussion immediately broke out on whether the Zeiss Otus 85/1.4 or Nikon 105/1.4 provided nicer bokeh and whether this was, in fact, more important than sharpness. The Zeiss, in particular, is almost tied with the Sigma for sharpness, and like it excels in many other technically measurable characteristics. The Nikon may be half a step behind, and in fact has a focal length of 94.8mm vs. the Sigma’s 79.9mm, so is more comparable than it sounds at first.

But back to my original point, which is the following:

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-23-44-40

Excerpt from DPReview sample image no. 30, of the Sigma 85mm samples.

That’s right, moiré. It is a physical certainty that if the sensor has no anti-aliasing filter on it, and the lens outresolves the sensor, you will see moiré on certain subjects (you can find technical details of moiré and aliasing on the Wikipedia pages, moiré pattern and Nyquist frequency). Many manufacturers have dropped the anti-aliasing filter to squeeze more resolution out of their images and as a small cost-saving, or installed a second filter that cancels the first (slight cost increase). Wisely, Canon added the 5Ds without the R to their line-up, which cuts back on moiré much better than the 5Ds R.

In Nikonland, it seems the highest resolving lenses and highest resolving sensors do not make a good pair. That being so, should we buy high resolution cameras at all, and what other choices do we have? Both the Nikon D600 and D610 have weak AA filters (link in Polish) – a bad idea for a lower-resovling camera as the range of lenses that outresolve it will be greater.

Pentax now releases its cameras with an AA filter that works up to shutter speeds of 1/1000s – presumably adequate for most portrait work, and hopeful that anything you’ll want to shoot above that shutter speed will be moving so fast that aliasing is not likely.

In spite of this, Pentax remains, as of this writing, a stalwart of compact lenses that value bokeh over resolution – partly, perhaps, owing to the fact that some of its lenses have been available for quite some time.

It’s well known that Tamron and Pentax have been sitting in a tree lately, and so it is fitting that Tamron somewhat recently launched a line of f/1.8 primes – more compact than the competition’s f/1.4 standard. DxOMark allows comparing Tamron’s 85mm lens with Zeiss’ Otus and Milvus, for instance, and there’s hardly a hair between them. Most surprising perhaps is the performance of the Milvus at less than half the price of the Otus.

Incidentally, while the three aforementioned lenses max out the D800E’s sensor at 36 perceptual megapixels, Sony’s new Gold Master 85mm lens reaches no more than the same value – 36 P-Mpix on an AA-filterless 42 megapixel sensor.

It’s worth asking therefore whether the trend for the second half of this decade is going to continue with lenses increasing in size, resolving power, and price, as exemplified by the Art and Otus, or a reconsideration of traditional values.* If the former, I hope consumers will be asking for strong anti-aliasing filters, and that camera makers, in spite of mobile phone cameras nipping at their heels, will grant that gift.

*An opportunity, perhaps, for Chinese lens makers trying to push into the market.

Update 7 February 2017: For differences between the Art and Otus, check out Roger Cicala’s blog post.

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!

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.