Sunday, November 25, 2018

Canon EOS R, Nikon Z and Sony FE: Quick Thoughts

Having hands on-used all three full-frame systems, some thoughts in no particular order:
  • Sony in general is picking up users from both Canon and Nikon camps, whereas the Nikon Z and EOS R systems are primarily only attracting users from their respective ecosystems. At first glance this would seem like Sony has the bets momentum of the three, but my personal feeling is that Sony is preliminary taking the less tightly attached. Canon users are generally in their system for the EF L-series lenses and for the known quantity of the the Canon colour rendition. Nikon users generally stay within the system for ergonomics, focus and exposure accuracy. 
  • That said, the Sony A7 III and A7r III have the best current autofocus systems of the field; the reason why its not swaying more users from Canon and Nikon camps is because the users from the latter are looking for DSLR-levels of phase detection AF performance. Mirrorless sensor-based PDAF systems have come a long way but still are not match for the the likes of the best dedicated subsystems seen in higher end DSLR's.
  • Nikon users are the unknown here: There is a fair amount of overlap between Canon and Sony users because of videography. It's very common to see EF lenses mounted on adapters to Sony bodies, but there seems to be a hard core contingent of Nikon users out there that are hoping that a second and future iteration of the Nikon Z-mount will give them what they are looking for in AF performance.
  • Nikon really missed the boat by not carrying over the familiar control layout of the D300/D500/D850 to the Z6 and Z7. They did a good job with the menu system, which had already migrated to a touch interface by the time of the consumer-level D5500, but the traditional left-hand / right hand division of labour is gone, or at least different on the Z-series.
  • Likewise, on the back panel with the Canon with the  M-Fn Bar.... well there's a lot going on with it, but it a way it feels like how the car manufacturers took took the traditional PRND automatic gearshift control and started to experiment with different control layouts with their transmissions.
  • Nikon and Canon are making a big deal out of the bigger mount diameters, but in actual fact the benefits are nothing new. Leica makes a big deal out of the quality of their lenses, but a lot of the sharpness comes from the design possibilities of having the lens exist pupil closer to the sensor plane. If you compare Leica M lenses versus DSLR lenses, the M-mount lenses start hitting their sweet spot around f/2.8, whereas the DSLR lenses in general need to be stopped down further to f/4 to enter their peak resolving-power range. This is also partly why Olympus m4/3 lenses give good results on that system; the overall size of the mount (and lens exit pupil) are fairly large relative to sensor area.
  • Speaking of which, this is the weak point in the cycle for Leica. Each subsequent M-series looks new and relevant at the time of their launch, but the Japanese companies are on quicker product cycles and will have move the game on within two years. You can't justify the price premium of a Leica M, and that became harder with each subsequent entry into full-frame mirrorless.
  • That said, what a Leica M does offer is the a desirable lens quality-to-size ratio. Even though it can't match the sensor resolution of the Sony A7r III, a Leica M10 with a Summilux 35mm f/1.4 is a lot less unwieldy to hold your hand.
  • The Nikon Z 35mm and 24-70mm lenses are fairly competent. The specs don't look exciting but the optical quality is better than the equivalent DSLR lenses. Nikon didn't even make a 24-70mm f/4 for their DSLR's, but the Z-mount 24-70 is prosumer competent. It's not a lens that you will brag about, but it is one that you'll keep and use
  • The Canon RF 28-70mm f/2, on the other hand, is an incredible statement lens. The bokeh qualify is similar to the feel from the EF 50mm f/1.2L or EF 85mm f/1.2L, consistent across the range with evenly rendered out of focus transitions. Generally speaking, the EF 24-70mm F2.8L is a high bar to beat for Canon DSLR's, users switching from that to the EOS R system and the 28-70mm won't be disappointed. It is a massively heavy lens though...
  • The Nikon system with lenses feels like a more ergonomic alternative to the Sony systems. The Canon EOS R system with the lenses announced at launch isn't small at all. The overall potential is there, but out of the three systems, it poses the weakest alternative to a traditional DSLR system in its current incarnation; it's not significantly smaller and the AF is not as reliable as the EOS 5D  Mark IV.  Is it a better overall system than the the EOS 6D Mark II? For the most part yes, but 6D users as a whole tend to have less stringent requirements than 5D users, so the only fair assessment is if the EOS R system is with the 5D Mark IV, even if Canon isn't positioning the camera as a direct replacement to that level of a DSLR.
  • Can confirm, the Nikon Z 6 video output is up there with the Sony, and has the potential for being a solid platform for Nikon to do video with into future generations. My take would be that it's not enough to convince a Panasonic GH5 user to switch to Nikon, but it is enough for a Nikon Z6 user to feel that they don't have to add a GH5 for video. 
  • If we account for the passage of time and inflation, the Sony A7 III is the Nikon D300 of our time. It's a well sorted general-purpose prosumer level camera that costs roughly the same in inflation-adjusted dollars as the ubiquitous Nikon D300 of 2007. That crown doesn't go to the D500 today; high-end APS-C is now a niche slice of the camera market, and affordable full frame is the new  high-end APS-C.
  • Even though Sony has the largest selection of lenses, there are some gaps in the line-up, like a missing mid-range 35mm f/2 (very popular in the Leica universe) or a 24mm prime (the latter being filled in by the Sigma ART 20mm E-Mount instead)
  • Sony has gotten it right with the Z-series battery. We might never see mirrorless cameras that can last a thousand shots per charge like a DSLR, but the A7 III an A7r III are up into the usable ballpark territory. As for the old NP-FW50 battery from the A7 II generation... Sony users really ought to have given them more grief for under-batterying that generation of camera, if not just from the cost to the consumer but also because of the environmental impact of producing cameras that tend to compel users to go through a notably larger number of batteries than other brands. 
  • None of these systems are particularly small. We remember film cameras being small because they were largely shot with prime lenses back in the day. But even switching to primes only doesn't save much on size and weight because the expectations of lens quality are so much higher. Generally speaking, the better quality a lens is, the more glass elements that are required to bend the light until it reaches the desired level of precision. A Nikon AF-D 50mm f/1.8 from the film era has 6 elements; the Z-mount 50mm f/1.8 has twice that. 
Honestly, if you were to gift me any of the three systems for Christmas this year,m I would not be unhappy, they are all tremendously capable. If the photo community seems like they are picking apart every little thing about these camera launches this year just remember one thing; cameras have been good.... damn good.... for a number of years now. What we are now talking about is which view is best from the summit, but the majority of the mountain has already been scaled.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Quick Thoughts about the Nikon Z System

Some quick thoughts about the Nikon Z6 and Z7 cameras, in no particular order:

  • As usual, the internet chatter about the single card slot if overblown. Dual slots is preferable for serious work, but almost all of the main competition the secondary card slot is slower than the primary one. The most demanding will need the second slot, but if you look at the grand aggregate of users and typical usage, the majority of people function out of one card slot. 
  • That said, Nikon could have paid attention to past discussion and avoided the whole thing by spending a few more dollars into the build and adding the second card slot.
  • Neither of the Z 6 or Z 7 could be said to be "pretty" cameras. Part of that is because of the size of the mount in relation to the rest of the body, but the cameras do not automatically convey a sophisticated design language that the past Giorgetto Giugiaro designed Nikons have.
  • In particular, the familiar red "swoosh" under the shutter button is now just a shadow of its familiar incarnation.
  • Of course serious photographers don't care how a camera looks, but from a product design standpoint, Nikon tended to not make owners  of older cameras feel left behind. If you still have a D200 from days gone by, it still looks like it belongs to the family of cameras today. Not sure if the designs of the Z 6 or Z 7 will age that well.
  • Really surprised that the Z 7 does not have the familiar "pro" control layout of the D850 and D500. In this day and age, even users at the D7200/D7500 level tend to prefer the layout without the mode dial (once they try it). You can operate the QUAL/WB/Metering/Mode control pod by touch without looking at it
  • The naming scheme is horrendous; the problem is the space between the "Z" and the number; this looks ugly in print and tends to make it more troublesome for some search algorithms. 
  • The battery life is a letdown, but is in line with what Sony had to go through
    • Sony NP-FW50 (A7 I/II generation) - 1020mAh at 7.4V. Holdover from the NEX days, woefully inadequate for the Sony full frame cameras. CIPA rating for A7r II is 340 shots per charge, real world usage varies but tends to be less.
    • Sony NP-FZ100 (A7r III and A7 III) - 2280mAh at 7.2V. CIPA rated at 530 shots per charge. Camera seems to perform to expectations, users aren't spending hundreds of dollars on multiple batteries.
    • Nikon EN-El5a/b  - 1900mAh at 7V- CIPA rated at 330 shots per charge. Early usage suggests that real world performance may be longer.
  • In other worlds Nikon couldn't abandon the EN-EL15 series for the same reason that Sony couldn't let go of the W series battery; it's a bridge for existing users to step into the new system. Either way, they will need to address this point sometime in the (near) future.
  • Not having the focus mode selector button on the left side of the camera is a letdown. One of the most ergonomic controls in all modern camera focus systems.
  • Traditional Nikon control scheme is "press and twirl". Usually it's press a button on the left side of the camera and twirl a dial on the right side. With the smaller mirror-less body this presents some challenges, but the tactile logic of the Nikon control scheme was one of the most consistent things since turn of the century.
  • Video had to be competitive and it for the most part is. People aren't going to immediately switch away from the ingrained Canon/Sony or Panasonic GH systems that are commonly out there, but it's a little more possible to think of setting up a stills/video system in the future that is all Nikon. Think of all wedding shooters that were long-time Canon-based but then moved to Sony or Panasonic for video production and you'll see the challenge.
  • Nikon users are going to ignore the 24-70mm F4 kit lens, and it will be mostly due to old habits. They've never had one before, and never quite had the middle ground between variable lens and f2.8. 
  • If you have either a D750 or a D850, there isn't a rational financial reason to switch, other than video; both are very good cameras, even if the D750 is getting on in years. By this late date, most loyal Nikon users are in the system for specific reasons, which tend to be the core strengths of good data output, good exposure control and class-leading auto-focus. The last is key, Nikon has for the most part had consistently good autofocus tracking, and even when users had not been happy (as with the D4), the complaints were so esoteric that they were above the pay scale of most typical shooters. 
  • Like any political fight, the first group of customers to pay attention to is the base; if the existing pool of Nikon users gets excited and jumps in, then the Z-series would have achieved an important primary goal. It won't convince existing Sony users as their system is fairly mature at this point with much more lens options, both native, adapted and third party.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

You Shall Hear of Cameras and Rumors of Cameras

It's late January, with the holiday season but a memory now. Hopefully you would have gotten the camera that you were hoping for. If that doesn't describe you, then hopefully the camera that you have is the one that are happy with. Why? Because a new year brings a fresh season of camera rumors. Just a few tips to remember if you find yourself hoping for the next thing on the horizon:

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What the Camera Industry Did not Learn from Apple

Back in the years leading up to Steve Jobs' passing in 2011, Apple was well and truly on an ascendant path. New products every year, incredible growth in unit sales and an expectation that there was always going to be something new on the horizon. It's not so much today in 2017, where their product lineup can best be described as evolutionary and their strategy to be one of consolidation. But never mind that; those of us roped into corporate strategy meetings at the time were subjected to one too many gatherings that basically revolved around the theme of "How can we be like Apple?" Actually, what our corporate masters meant was "How can we make more money like Apple"...  because why bothering making the tough choices that Apple made and doing all of the hard work when you can just emulate their success? /sarcasm

Here's one of those "be like Apple" moments in history:

Source: Apple via CNBC

There's a gem in the data and it's clear as day. Do you see it?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Vancouver in Anime Form

This one certainly caught the locals' eyes here in Vancouver.

This is the short anime commercial "Warm, Winter Canada," complete with famous Canadian tourist destinations rendered in anime form. (Banff, Vancouver,  Niagara Falls, Toronto) The promotion piece was produced by studio CoMix Wave Films of "Your Name" fame. What's amazing about the Vancouver portions of the film are how instantly recognizable they are, but in a romanticized way. Take these two cuts from Granville Island:

First, the entrance to the public market: