Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 Year End Camera Review

2014 was a game of niches for the camera industry. The digital camera market isn't just past maturity, it's actually contracting. Most of the distress is or has already happened at the bottom with point-and-shoot devices, but the market contraction is being seen across the board. The exception to this is the mirrorless segment, but even that is a glass-half-full scenario, because it isn't necessarily a case of mirrorless cameras gaining market share on DSLR's (which they are) so much as DSLR unit volume is contracting whereas mirrorless unit volume is stagnant.

Hence the importance of niches. Markets are defined by products; a brand-new innovative product defines a market, but as that market grows and competition intensifies, the variations in products grows. Yes, that's right, product proliferation has a tendency to happen just about the same time that market saturation occurs; this is why its such a challenge to operate in a market that nears maturity. The alternative is to compete on price, which no competitor would prefer to do.

Note that is is essentially what is happening to the Apple iPhone. When it was first introduced, "iPhone" only meant one thing... the one phone that Apple offered. In 2014, the term can refer to the two variations of the phone (6 and 6s) or the previous versions (5s and 5c) that are still sold at the lower price points.  This is also why the German luxury car manufactures (Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz) offer so many variations of their high-end vehicles.

Thus, the camera landscape in 2014: competitors pushing out increasingly niche-focused cameras, often with the effect of pushing up average selling prices. It's not an environment that is necessarily friendly to the price-conscious consumer, but it's a necessity for the cameras to survive until something re-invigorates the market. This also means that the choices for the higher-end consumer have never been better.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 and Leica D-Lux Type 109 Review

There are very few surprises left in the age of the internet. It's not a surprise that Panasonic launched the m4/3-based DMC-LX100 at Photokina 2014; what is truly a surprise is the interpretation that they came up with. By letting go of the notion that they had to use the entire area of a m4/3 sensor Panasonic freed themselves to produce a camera that stayed within the mission of previous LX-series cameras: extremely enthusiast-oriented but small and elegant. This is something that the LX100 (like the RX100 cameras) does well in a way that the Canon G1 X Mark II doesn't; the Canon went for a large sensor and fast lens without truly considering how it would affect the overall design philosophy of the camera. The end result is something that is large and a bit unwieldy compared to the more nimble offerings that it has to compete with.

How nimble is the LX100, really? It looks big because it recalls the chunky 4/3 DSMC-LC1 of yore, but it is just a tad bit wider than the LX7... almost the same height and 1cm thicker. This puts it in roughly the same size territory as the Fujifilm X30, but the LX100 does this with a faster lens and a larger sensor. Correspondingly, the price tag is larger as well. The headline specs are:

  • 4/3 16mp sensor, multi-aspect crop to 12mp 
  • Lens is equiv. focal length 24-75mm, f/1.7-2.8
  • ISO range: 200-25600 (extended to ISO 100)
  • 4K video at 30fps, 60fps for 1080p
  • 3" LCD screen
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC
  • Hot shoe mount. Clip-on flash

The virtues of this camera speak for itself... but it is also a part of a worrying trend. Nearly ever new enthusiast-level offering in the "small and light" category... interchangeable lens or not... costs at least $600 USD or more. At least in North America, there simply aren't enough buyers willing to pay this much money for a "secondary" camera. All of the manufacturers have been racing ahead of each other to climb of the "premium price hill" but there is only so much room at the top. Will it be the first to get there who lasts (Sony RX100) or will the crown be past to a new comer like the LX100?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sony a7 II (ILCE-7M2) Hands On First Impressions

Sony's A7 will be updated on December 5th 2014 with an upgraded second version, available in Japan only. The new camera will ship globally in early 2015. The second version of the camera improves on the first generation with:

  • 5-Axis sensor-shift image stabilization
  • Improved autofocus speed and tracking
  • XAVC S video codec, 50Mbps
  • S-Log2 picture setting  à la Sony A7s
  • Redesigned front grip
  • Front command dial relocated,  à la Nikon

It's also important to also note what hasn't changed:

  • 117-point phase-detection and 25 contrast detection AF points: This is the same as the A7. By comparison, the Sony 6000 uses 179 phase detection points.
  • Same NP-FW50 battery. For reference, the A7 is rated at 340 shots under the CIPA testing standard
  • Rear control cluster is still the same. More about this later 

Quite frankly, the inclusion of in-camera image stabilization is enough to get many people excited., given how well the system on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 works. Sony will probably be coy, but its very likely that the a7 II's image stabilization system is descended from Olympus technology, given that Sony acquired part ownership of Olympus after the accounting scandal of 2011.

(First posted November 21st, 2014. Updated November 28 with hands on impressions with a pre-production unit at the 2014 Broadway Camera Black Friday Photo Expo.)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Just want to take time and thank all of my U.S. friends, and wish them a happy Thanksgiving. I'll always have fond memories of my time in LA and all of the friends I made over the years.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sony A6000 and A5100 Autofocus Guide

The Sony A6000 is an upper-level enthusiast's camera wrapped in a mid-level consumer body. There is a lot of extended capability to tap in to, but the potential is somewhat hampered by a user interface that doesn't always separate the casual aspects of the camera from the more advanced enthusiast-oriented functions. This is quite apparent in the way that the camera's autofocus system operates; it's extremely capable but the menu system does not give you an indication as to which methods are best with which situations. In cooking terms, the user design shared by the A6000 and A5100 has many ingredients but is lacking recipes on how to put them together. It also does not help that the owner's manuals are a bit on the short side for cameras with such a deep menu systems. Even with minimal user experience these cameras can be quite capable, but a little bit of understanding will go a long way towards getting the most out of their sophisticated autofocus systems.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Review

The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM  is the professional-level upgrade to the EF 100mm f/2.8 USM macro. The build quality is better and it includes image stabilization. (... and being a red ring lens, it actually includes a lens hood, wonder of wonders....) Ostensibly, Canon does not put much thought into the aesthetics of their middle-tier lenses, but the 100mmL looks the part for being a professional-quality lens.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sony A7s High ISO Still Image Quality Review

"Better pixels, not more pixels" has been something of a counter-culture camera refrain in the camera community in the post-Nikon D800 era. For the most part, the manufacturers haven't truly given this to users. Fujifilm has held the line at 16mp for their APS-C cameras, and Nikon only marginally bumped the 12 megapixel count of the D3s to the 16mp D4/Df generation, but nobody has offered less pixels... until the Sony A7s, that is. 

Before we continue any further, it should bear repeating that the A7s' strength is primarily as a video camera. The ability to 4K at extremely low light levels sets it apart from all other videography tools, including the well received Panasonic GH4. This is what business types affectionately call "the unique selling proposition"... it's the only one of its kind, and it's good at what it does. (However, the inability of the A7s to record 4K internally is a hassle for some.) As a stills camera, the A7s is not so much unique as it is superlative. There are other low-light cameras for stills photography; the A7s just so happens to be the best. Or is it...?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Review

Canon's 7D Mark II is late to the party. Very late, as in Chinese Democracy late. It's the camera that many people have wanted, but so much time has passed, one wonders if they've moved on to wanting something else by now. The original EOS 7D was announced in September of 2009, making its customers the second-most long suffering group in modern photography. The group that has waited the longest is the audience for the D300s successor; that camera was introduced a month ahead of the 7D. In the ensuing years, both cameras were much beloved by their respective camps. The Canon has arguably aged more gracefully, though that's not saying much since most of the EF-S lineup hasn't evolved as fast as the rest of the industry. The headline specs for the7D Mark II:

  • Magnesium alloy body
  • 20.2 MP CMOS sensor with Dual-Pixel CMOS AF
  • New 65-point AF, all points cross-type
  • Continuous shooting: 10fps
  • Dual DIGIC6 processors
  • ISO 100-16,000, boosted to 52,000
  • Shutter rated to 200,000 cycles.
  • New RGB+IR new 150,000-pixel metering sensor
  • 1080p video at 60fps
  • Built in GPS tagging

  • In other words, this is the consumer-level EOS 70D in semi-pro working clothes. That's the impression that you get from reading the specs, but in actual use, its more like a scaled-down 1Dx. Yes, 1Dx, not 5DmIII.

    Updated November 6, 2014: Image samples from production units added, content expanded upon in all of the article sections. It turns out that the image quality from the 70D holds up nicely against all other APS-C competitors. 

    Monday, November 3, 2014

    Canon Powershot G7 X Review

    Canon, more so than other camera companies, continues to rely on compacts at a time when the industry is shifting upwards away from the encroachment of mobile phones at the bottom of the market. Nikon was once omnipresent with numerous Coolpix iterations, but they didn't have a distinct stand-out brand identity and never captured the enthusiast attention in the way that their DSLRs do. Sony was also in a similar position not too many years ago, but has since made an obvious dash for higher ground by pushing the RX100 line upwards and proliferating the lower end of the NEX/Alpha lines.

    Canon, meanwhile, has a bit of a  "mom and pop" presence in the market. Though the compact market has not so much shrunk so much as it has collapsed, Canon has maintained clear lines of differentiation in their compact range... G-type cameras (G1 X Mark II, G16) continue to occupy the top, the SX series for superzoom lovers, the S120 for "higher-end" slim compacts and just about everything else for the budget-concious. Overall, the Canon range is easy the casual shopper to understand, as this product mix offers both breadth and differentiation. To make an expanded range like this work, you need a halo product to anchor it. Even though it is at the top of the heap, the G1 X Mark II does this poorly as it is neither compact nor is it affordable. Though it's shaped like a (very) big compact, it is functionally a DLSR replacement. This is where the G7 X comes in... small, yet capable. The headline features are:

    • 20MP 1"-type BSI sensor (same as RX100M3 and Panasonic FZ1000)
    • 24-100mm equiv. f/1.8-2.8 lens
    • Customizable control dial on lens
    • Flip-up LCD display screen
    • Dedicated exposure compensation dial
    • Wi-Fi with NFC

    So if you ever wondered what the RX100 would be like if Canon had built it, wonder no more.  When Sony launches a new product, its inevitably cutting edge, overly gadgety and unashamedly expensive. The G7 X is neither of those three things. Considering that the Sony is on the third iteration and the G7 X sincerely flatters the RX100 concept, its a device that won't win on charm or charisma, but there is something to be said about value. Many people have said that they would love to have a RX100 were it not for the price; the G7 X tests that assumption. At the time of its launch, it is priced less than the RX100M3 and has a longer and brighter lens. The RX100M2 sells for less, but also makes due with a slower aperture lens. On paper, the virtue of the G7 X speaks for itself. However, its never quite that simple.

    Saturday, November 1, 2014

    Leica X (Type 113) Review

    Leica X (Type 113) with leather half-case protector

    There's a first time for everything, and for many people, the X-series is their entry point into the world of Leica. Yes, the X Type 113, even with its large 16mp APS-C sensor at fast f/1.7 prime lens is an entry level camera... for Leica. Though a large sensor compact with a fast high quality prime lens has enthusiast appeal, the X series trades on that appeal but sells primarily to an entry-level crowd. This is an unsettling concept to reconcile with if you are a camera enthusiast, but it bears repeating that luxury marketing is not about selling to the 1% of in-come earners, but the aspirational 19% below that thin slice of society. There is a saying in Chinese about shoppers who want to do everything in "one step"... that is, if the means are possible to skip past the entry level and go right to the good stuff, the presumption being that the user will eventually grow into the capability of the equipment. You might not agree with that type of thinking, but its hard to argue that the X cameras aren't built for this type of mission. They are simple, elemental, and have the veneer of timelessness without requiring the dedication of the M series.

    The Type 113 continues on where the X2 left off in this regards.

    Tuesday, October 28, 2014

    Canon Powershot SX60 HS review

    For most people, photography is an activity to be enjoyed, not a craft to be honed. That is to say, taking pictures is a part of their lives, but their lives aren't devoted to photography. This is where the idea of an all-in-one super-zoom comes into play; something that can do many things but which doesn't make too many demands on its owner. The Canon SX series fits this mold, and the SX60 HS is an evolutionary upgrade to this line. At a time when the market is pushing ever upwards in terms of price (... here's looking at you Sony RX10 and Panasonic FZ1000...) the SX60 HS remains within the same price point of its predecessors. The headline specs are:

    • 16,1mp sensor
    • Digic 6 processor
    • 65x lens (21mm-1365mm effective)
    • 922,000 dot EVF
    • WiFi and NFC enabled

    This is very much a case of "evolution" rather than "revolution". Yes, the megapixel count is higher and the zoom is longer than on the SX50, but those don't matter as much as they would suggest on a camera of this type, and it's mostly a case of a myriad of little changes adding up to an improved user experience.

    Monday, October 20, 2014

    Nikon D810 vs D750 vs Df: High ISO Noise and Image Quality

    Nikon D750

    The D750 is Nikon's middle of the road  FX camera... it doesn't lack in key features in the way that the D610 does and it doesn't cost an exorbitant amount in the way that the D810 does. But does that make it a "just right" camera or an "average compromise"? Here's a short test of the camera at the cusp of acceptable image quality (tight detail shot at ISO 6400 and above) and how it fairs against the D810 (more resolution) and Df (cleaner image noise). Is there a "Nikon look"? Partly yes and partly no. Output across the different Nikons share certain similarities... good exposure control, crisp detail and wide dynamic range... but there are differences built into the default output of each model.

    Tuesday, October 14, 2014

    Fujifilm X30 Review

    Fujifilm's X30 is the followup to what has been on of the move beloved quirky camera lines of recent years. The first iteration was plagued by the notorious highlight orbbing issue, and in all honesty, the X20 was not bug-free when it first hit store shelves. Nonetheless, the virtues of an enthusiast-oriented compact camera with decent manual controls, a bright lens and a large(r) sensor speak for themselves. The pertinent specs of the X30 are:

    • 12MP 2/3"-type X-Trans CMOS II sensor
    • 28-112mm equiv. F2.0-2.8 lens 
    • New lens-mounted double control rings
    • Hybrid (contrast + phase detection) autofocus system
    • ISO 100-3200, expandable to 12800 (JPEG only)
    • 2.36M dot OLED electronic viewfinder with 0.65x (equiv.) magnification
    • 3.0" 920k dot 3:2 articulated rear LCD display
    • 12 fps continuous shooting
    • New 'Classic Chrome' film simulation mode
    • Built-in Wi-Fi, including remote control from a smartphone or tablet
    • 1080/60p, 36Mbps video, with built-in stereo microphone and external  input
    • Manual focus  during video
    • Improved battery life (470 shots CIPA) 
    • Initial price just under $600 USD

    The fair thing to say is that the X30 has many usability improvements over the X20... but of course, the bulk of the attention will be focused on what it does have (EVF) and what is missing (1/1" sized sensor)...

    Updated October 2014

    Sunday, October 12, 2014

    Can Improper Cleaning Damage the Nano Crystal Coating of a Nikon Lens?


    Nikon's Nano Crystal Coat technology is used in various professional-level lenses to reduce ghosting and flaring. It's a delicate 3-dimensional coating that incorporates not only nano-particles, but the air-spaces between them to create a delicate surface with an extremely low refractive index. Normal glass reflects between 8-18% of the light that it encounters, but the "N" coating has a transmission efficiency of over 99.9%.  Naturally, such an ephemeral construct would be easily damaged by careless cleaning... let alone any cleaning. So is it safe to wipe a cleaning cloth across that AF-S NIKKOR 24-70 F2.8G ED?

    Short answer: Yes

    The longer answer is also very short. There is a simple reason why you can't inadvertently damage the Nano Crystal coat on your dearly expensive lens...

    Friday, October 10, 2014

    Canon and the Perils of "Impossible" Marketing

    On October 6, 2014, Canon started a countdown timer on one of their marketing websites. Up on the screen was the bold yet flowery proclamation:

                                                                                    Canon USA, via DPReview

    Of course, Photokina 2014 had already passed, so the chance of a major camera announcement was nil. Canon was obviously not going to do a major announcement after spending significant sums for their Photokina effort. Most observant people knew this. Instead, when the countdown timer hit zero, Canon's "See Impossible" campaign site was revealed. The disappointment was, of course, deafening. The result was doomed to be disappointing and you could see it coming from a mile away... but hey, it's the internet and some people just want to be wronged. There are a number of reasons why this campaign has been so negatively received:

    • The blatant attempt to create hype where none was justified.
    • The fact that memories are short in this business; Leica had to backtrack from pumped up pre-launch marketing that the X Vario was going to be a "mini M".
    • The actual campaign site is slow to load and devoid of any informational content
    • The perception that Canon is letting their product fall behind technologically while continuing to spend on high-profile advertising campaigns

    Add it all together and you have one not-so-positive reception from the camera community. Aspirational campaigns like this one are rarely as effective as their creators hope them to be. They build up brand  image without creating an urgency for the customer to buy the product; the history of advertising is littered with the detritus of advertising efforts like this. One of the most famous was the Nissan 300ZX commercial from 1996:

    Nissan dealer network hated it. Even though the commercial is well regarded and fondly remembered, the 300ZX was an expensive low-volume car that was discontinued in the same year that this commercial aired. The ad rocked, but it did nothing to get people into showroom floors to buy Altimas and Sentras, the cars that Nissan was actually trying to sell.

    So if the ad people know that arty image ads have a low(er) chance of driving sales, why bother? Re-read the Canon ad copy above... in the measured dulcet tones of somebody like Richard Dreyfuss. In other words: because Apple did it and apparently it worked. Yes, Canon's "See Impossible" campaign is derivative of Apple's famous "Think Different" effort launched by the now famous "Here's to the Crazy One's" ad. Note that you could take Canon's wording and say it in the quietly resolute pacing of Apple's most famous ad. That's not a coincidence.

    There's only one problem with emulating Apple on this one: that ad, though now iconic, was launched in 1997 when Apple was at a particularly low point in its history. Back then, it wasn't a great ad; it was laughable bravado. Despite our rosy view of the past, the initial reaction was not positive. Apple was the company of past glories, the Macintosh and the Apple ][... they were irrelevant to what was going on in the rest of the computing world. To put it into perspective, Windows 95 of things was alive and flourishing during this time.

    Canon may have taken a page from Apple's ad history, but they have done so in multipleways. The first is obvious in that "See Impossible" is an echo of "Think Different", but the second reason is perhaps unintentional and a bit more ironic....

    Monday, October 6, 2014

    Nikon Autofocus Guide: D7000 to D810

    Give a man a hammer and the whole world looks like a nail. Give him 20 hammers and he won't know which one to pick up. The human brain isn't naturally adept at making quick decisions when given multiple options; it performs much better when the options are limited and concise. This is why it is so hard to decide on where to go to lunch when you have a large group of people and you ask everybody for a choice of venue. The same goes for autofocus. On paper, the Nikon autofocus system can look intimidating to a new user because of the high degree of variability. It does not help that the manner in which the manual describes the AF function is technically correct ("the best kind of correct") but does not give you a non-didactic sense of how it functions in practice.

    The increased amount of adjustability is a large strength of enthusiast-level camera equipment as you move up the price range. Yes, the image quality improves, but more importantly, the ability to adapt to any situation improves as well. It's the latter that is more important than the former, as there is no such thing as a good image of a missed opportunity. The AF system has many options, but fortunately, if you break down the Nikon AF system into principles rather than features its usability no longer becomes intimidating. Even though there are a multitude of settings, most situations can be reduced to a bi-polar either/or situation, making the decision making easy. in other words, am I shooting in situation A or situation B, and is the subject one type or another...everything else after that is a matter of judging degrees.

    Updated October 2014: D750 and D810 Group Area mode added.

    Saturday, September 27, 2014

    Nikon D750 Review

    Nikon D750 with AF-S 24-120 f/4 VR

    1. The D750 is not an outright action camera.
    2. It is also far better than an entry-level FX camer.
    3. It doesn't solve DX users needs

    ... With those points out of the way, it's fair to say that the D750 is an extremely capable camera in its own right. Nikon threw the proverbial kitchen sink into the D710. Except for the full metal body and "pro-level" control layout of the D810, the list of features not on this camera is fairly short. Though it's "another 24mp camera" the D750 has broader market appeal than the D810 and ticks off more of the check boxes that enthusiasts watch for than the D610. In other words, it's not as much of an "action camera" as people had hoped for, but it is ostensibly being set up to be a big part of Nikon's FX lineup. In that sense, the D750 is like the middle part of a restaurant menu; it's the option that they think most people will pick. It looks affordable next to the premium option, but it brings in more money that the value option that they hope you will steer away from.

    Update 1: Jan 2015: A few words about the flare issue that seems to affect some early units. 
    Update 2: Jan 2015: Nikon issues repair advisory

    Monday, September 15, 2014

    Launch Review: Canon 7D Mark II First Impressions

    Canon's 7D Mark II is late to the party. Very late, as in Chinese Democracy late. It's the camera that many people have wanted, but so much time has passed, one wonders if they've moved on to wanting something else by now. The original EOS 7D was announced in September of 2009, making its customers the second-most long suffering group in modern photography. The group that has waited the longest is the audience for the D300s successor; that camera was introduced a month ahead of the 7D. In the ensuing years, both cameras were much beloved by their respective camps. The Canon has arguably aged more gracefully, though that's not saying much since most of the EF-S lineup hasn't evolved as fast as the rest of the industry. The headline specs for the7D Mark II are:

  • Magnesium alloy body
  • 20.2 MP CMOS sensor with Dual-Pixel CMOS AF
  • New 65-point AF, all points cross-type
  • Continuous shooting: 10fps
  • Dual DIGIC6 processors
  • ISO 100-16,000, boosted to 52,000
  • Shutter rated to 200,000 cycles.
  • New RGB+IR new 150,000-pixel metering sensor
  • 1080p video at 60fps
  • Built-in GPS

  • In other words, this is the consumer-level EOS 70D, but in semi-pro working clothes.

    Friday, September 12, 2014

    Launch Review: Nikon D750 First Impressions

    The long wait is over. The D400 is finally here  nowhere to be seen and we now have even starker evidence that Nikon is serious about moving as much of the enthusiast crowd up to full frame as is economically possible. In many ways, the D750 is like the D3s; its a capable camera that few were expecting.The headline specs are:

    • 24 mp sensor with AA filter
    • 51 AF point, MULTI-CAM3500 II
    • AF functional down to -3EV light levels
    • Group AF mode (like D4s and D810)
    • 6.5 fps, does not change with additional battery pack
    • Aperture control during live view and video recording
    • 91k pixel RGB exposure sensor (same as D810)
    • Articulating 3.2" 1.23k-dot screen
    • Built in WiFi 
    • Same video capability as the D810
    • Simultaneous SD card/external video recording

    Nikon threw the proverbial kitchen sink into the D710. Except for the full metal body and "pro-level" control layout of the D810, the list of features not on this camera is fairly short. Though it's "another 24mp camera", it has broader market appeal than the D810 and ticks off more of the check boxes that enthusiasts watch for than the D610. In other words, not as much of an "action camera" as people had hoped for, but it is ostensibly being set up to be a big part of Nikon's FX lineup. 

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014

    Launch Review: Apple iPhone 6 Camera First Impressions

    With every new iPhone release, Apple has placed a greater emphasis on photography. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus seem to be a waning of that trend; though there are improvements the 2014 editions are more iterative than innovative. In many ways, this is a mirror of the dedicated camera market as a whole; the improvements are there but the actual benefit to the consumer diminishes with each gain. The headline specs are:

    • 8mp
    • Larger 1.5 µm photodiodes (iPhone 5s was 1.2µm)
    • f/2.2 aperture
    • Optical image stabilization on the 6 Plus 
    • True Tone flash carried over from iPhone 5s 
    • 240 fps slow-motion at 720p

    There are some interesting things going on, but the sum total isn't overwhelming this time around. Certainly not like the 5s introduction, which is almost as much a camera launch as it was a smartphone launch.

    Tuesday, September 2, 2014

    Olympus OM-D E-M1 Review

    The Olympus OM-D E-M1 on paper looks like a higher-spec version of the well-received E-M5. In real-life use, it is much more like the a shrunk-down semi-pro DSLR than it is a pumped up version of a mirrorless camera. This isn't to say that DSLR's are inherently better than mirrorless cameras, but that too often mirrorless cameras lean on the "consumer electronic" side of the equation rather than being "photographic tools." In your hands, the E-M1 makes you "feel like a photographer" in a way that cameras like the Sony A6000 or Samsung NX300 don't. The headline specs are:

    • 16MP MOS sensor with no low-pass filter
    • On-sensor phase detection
    • '5-axis' image stabilization with automatic panning detection
    • ISO 'LOW' (100 equiv) - ISO 25,600
    • Up to 10fps (6.5 fps shooting with continuous AF)
    • 1.04M-dot 3" LCD touchscreen display
    • Electronic viewfinder: 2.36M-dot LCD, 0.74x magnification
    • Built-in Wi-Fi 
    • Dust, splash and freeze-proof (to -10 °C)

    In almost all aspects, this is as contemporary as a camera can get in terms of a feature list. That says nothing about how well those features actually perform, and what is more important... is how those features work together.

    Thursday, August 28, 2014

    Firefly Digital Sensor Cleaner Review

    When it comes to sensor cleaning, you do the cheap and easy thing first. An air blower is inexpensive, easy to use and is the method that you are least likely to damage your sensor with. That said, it isn't foolproof. Air blowers don't remove oil spots and have difficulty removing stubborn particles that stick to the glass surface because of electrostatic charge. Eventually, particles and debris accumulate to the point where a physical contact approach, like wet cleaning, is required. This is where the  Firefly Digital Sensor Cleaner comes in; its unique selling proposition is that it has the easy of an air blower, but with better cleaning power. It works, but there are some caveats. 

    Monday, August 25, 2014

    Nikon AF-S 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR with D610 Review

    Let's face it, some people just don't want to change lenses. Even those who do might want a break from it from time to time. Hence, the existence of super-zooms. Jack of all trades, master of none. The Nikon AF-S 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR  falls into that category. Given that Nikon's post-D600 full frame focus, it seems natural that they filled in this particular checkbox in the product lineup, but is it relevant in today' world?

    Saturday, August 23, 2014

    Sony E-Mount 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS (SEL-55210) Review

    "Small" is relative. By the standards of the film era, modern digital cameras... DSLR's and compacts alike... are all smaller than their 35mm film precursors. That in itself is a good thing, but for many people, cameras cannot be small enough given how much bigger they are relative to cell phones. When you shrink a DSLR into what is the modern mirrorless class of cameras, "small" not only becomes relative, it actually reveals itself as a situation quality. Mirrorless cameras are only small when they have small lenses attached to them. If you need longer or brighter focal lengths, the practical working size of the cameras isn't that much less than your average entry-mid-level DSLR.

    Inevitably, compromises have to be made. The Sony SEL-55210 is one such compromise. On the one hand, it gives a very useful extension as a 55-210mm zoom in APS-C format. On the other hand, it's a slow variable-aperture lens that only ranges between f/4.5 to f/6.3. By DSLR stands, that would make it a mediocre lens, but in the context of Sony's mirrorless system, it's a sensible buy. It's all about context

    Tuesday, August 19, 2014

    Nikon D810 High ISO and Fixed Pattern Noise (Updated)

    Though the Nikon D800 was arguably already the best camera on the market from an image-quality standpoint, the natural progression of things means that the D810 has been tweaked somewhat. The most significant improvements come for videographers with the lower base ISO.... but that won't stop traditionalists from asking: "How is the high ISO image quality?"

    It's fine, thank you very much.

    Aug 2014 (Update 1): Nikon has now issued a service advisory for bright pixels accumulating during long exposures. See the follow-up below for details. 

    Aug2014 Update (2):  An example of a post-service advisory unit.

    Monday, August 18, 2014

    Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70 F2.8G ED Review (Mostly on DX)

    "Real pros don't use normal zooms."


    It would be a brave event shooter who didn't have a AF-S NIKKOR 24-70 F2.8G ED in his/her camera bag; after all, few would dare juggling with primes during a wedding shoot. The truth is, even if photographers end up specializing on specific focal lengths, the versatility of he Nikon 24-70mm speaks for itself; hence, one of Nikon's best-selling FX zooms.

    Another reason why that ascertain doesn't seem to ring true is because of the sheer cost of this lens; maybe it's true that the majority of shots are done between 24mm and 70mm, but the truth is that the majority of people don't have, can't afford or are saving up for the 24-70mm lens. Though its practically a bargain compared to the price that Canon is asking for their version of this lens, it still tends to occupy a lot of Nikon shooter's wish lists.

    Thursday, August 14, 2014

    Street Shooting With the Nikon D810

    The problem with having a capable camera is that it asks a lot of its user. That is precisely what stepping into a high-end DSLR like the Nikon D810 is like; if you are a conscientious user, you will be constantly asking yourself how this camera is better than the one that you had before. Why is that? The reason is because the Nikon D810 is perhaps one of the most capable sub-medium format cameras on the market, and its price tag gives pause for thought for many people. This is both true of those who have already been shooting with the D800 as well as those who have longingly lusted after a full frame camera. The problem is that cameras like the D810 usually require some form of justification, whether that be as a productive professional tool or as an admittedly non-professional but affordable hobby. Rise higher into the rarefied air of the Leica M system and the camera non longer requires justification: an M240 is indefensibly expensive; you either have it or you don't... there's no point justifying it. The D810 is premium but it doesn't command this kind of

    Why should that matter? The problem is that the D810 is a massively capable camera that currently (the month after its launch) asks a premium price for its newness. That cost is quite hefty considering the price gap to the remaining D800 units. There isn't enough improvement to financially justify the switch to the D810 for the majority of D800 owners, but nevertheless, there are enough improvements to make the D810 a notably better camera. 

    Saturday, August 9, 2014

    Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 Review:

    You could make an argument that Panasonic products are Sony products which are "done right." Sony by philosophy and intention aims for the high ground when they are in an innovative mood. On the other hand, Panasonic is your prototypical Japanese corporation that produces high-quality and high-performance products, but often with a little bit of the techno-geekery polished into something a little more human and usable. Sony products tend to be great technological pieces, where as Panasonic products are more like great tools.

    "Premium technology" was certainly the case with the RX100, which redefined what people were willing to accept in a high end compact, and which was carried forward to the RX10, which raised the bar for what an all-in-one camera could do... and cost. So it is inevitable that you cannot mention the Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 without mentioning the RX10. Sony certainly thought so, and lowered their premium pricing in advance of the FZ1000 arriving on store shelves. The pertinent FZ1000 specs are:

    • 20.1 megapixel 1/1"- sized sensor
    • 25-400mm equiv. F2.8-4 "Leica" lens
    • 5-axis lens-based image stabilization
    • 4K (3840x2160) video at 30p, 100Mbp
    • 1080p at up to 60p, 28Mbps (MP4/AVCHD)
    • 120fps slow-motion 1080p
    • 3.5mm microphone socket
    • Clean HDMI output
    • Zebra pattern and focus peaking
    • Wi-Fi and NFC

    Even though these are similar cameras, the traditional pattern holds true. In most ways the FZ1000 is a more usable camera, but in some ways the RX10 has the technological edge.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2014

    Book Review: The Rules of Photography and When to Break Them by Haje Jan Kamps

    "You've got to know the rules before you break them." 

    If it were only that simple. "The Rules of Photography and When to Break Them" sounds like solid subject matter for the aspiring photographer, but it's method of presenting the material is based on a faulty assumption: you either follow the rule or you don't. This creates the logical fallacy of equal presentation time: if you have two sides to the story, then you must devote equal attention to both sides. That's not the best way to critically think about things, but it is the way in which the subject matter is presented: here is the rule and here is how to break it. The problem that arises from this is that there isn't a deep discussion about how often a photographic rule should be broken, and when it is best to stay within the lines.

    Monday, August 4, 2014

    Nikon D3300 Review: Comparsion with D3200

    Left: Nikon D3200    Right: D3300

    Though mirrorless cameras are ostensibly the way forward for the future of the camera market, there are still good reasons to have a DSLR. DSLR's are faster, have longer battery life and for the same price, have better autofocus performance than their mirrorless competitors. A huge advantage for the North American DSLR market is that it constitutes the large bulk of the interchangable lens sector, meaning that Canon and Nikon have economies of scale to keep costs down. Indeed, one of the biggest hindrances of the mirrorless segment is that you almost always have to pay more money for the equivalent image quality and performance of an entry-level DSLR.

    Though the Nikon D3300 and its predecessor D3200 are often looked down upon by owners of upmarket cameras, Nikon has been successful with luring in new-DSLR owners with cameras like this ever since the D40. The one disadvantage, though, is that for new camera owners, anything larger than a cell phone is "big" even though cameras like the D3300 and the Canon SL1 are positively lilliputian by DSLR standards. This is perhaps the single biggest threat to entry-level DSLR's, as it takes a bit of educating on the part of Nikon and Canon to dissuade consumers from looking for something smaller.

    Nikon has taken a subtle approach and has tackled the problem in a less overt way than Canon's SL1. The SL1 is possibly too small to have broad appeal. The D3300 takes a different approach. Rather than shrinking the body at all costs, it does various nips and tucks that don't immediately jump out at you, but add up to an improved shooting experience. Even though they look similar, the D3300 feels substantially smaller and lighter in your hand than the D3200.

    Sunday, July 27, 2014

    Nikon D810: Tactile and Operational Impressions

    There is something refreshingly Nikon-like about the D810 refresh. Even though there is nothing earth-shattering about the technology, there are a multitude of changes throughout the camera that synergistically add up to an improved shooting experience. Though  it is true that much of the sensor-level improvements relate to video work, the overall stills photography experience with the D810 is also improved... and in a way that does not easily come across when you run down the spec-sheet.

    Friday, July 25, 2014

    Vancouver 2014 Honda Celebration of Light Guide

    This weekend marks the start of the annual fireworks festival in Vancouver. The pertinent dates are:

    • July 26: USA
    • July 30: France
    • August 2: France

    Some resources to help you our if you are in town and want to try your hand at fireworks photography:

    Fireworks nights are not just about the pyrotechnics, but given the logistics of getting to one of the viewing venues, its almost always about soaking in the ambience of being out on the town in the afternoon and evening before.

    Tuesday, July 22, 2014

    Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM versus Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART

    Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART on Canon 5D Mark III

    Sigma's new 50mm ART started off life with some bold claims about its resolving capabilities: as good as the Zeiss Otus. It has (mostly) lived up to the hype surrounding its launch, and is legitimately a "premium" lens. You can mention it in the same breath as the pricey Canon 50mm f/1.2L, so how does it fair against the venerable Canon 50mmL in real world terms?

    Sunday, July 20, 2014

    Manfrotto BeFree (MKBFRA4-BH) Tripod Review

    Small, strong, or cheap: when it comes to tripods the conventional wisdom is that you can have two but not all three. There hasn't been any product to definitively break this rule, but nevertheless there are whole hosts of photographers who are looking for a tripod that is small, sturdy and cheap. In economics this quest would be known as "rational behaviour." That is to say, it is rational for photographers to want a tripod with these three qualities, even if expecting that one exists is most likely irrational. The Manfrotto BeFree (MKBFRA4-BH) doesn't fulfill this ideal but it does shift the points of the Venn diagram inward by being unarguably small, relatively sturdy, and not exceedingly expensive. Depending on your point of view, that makes it either well-balanced for its price point or somewhat compromised in terms of its design. The truth, as always, is a little bit of both.

    Manfrotto 560B-1 Video Monopod with RC2 Quick Release Review

    Video is one of the last remaining frontiers of digital photography. Most photographers are comfortable with their stills gear, but video gear is a whole new world to explore. The Manfrotto 560B-1 video monopod is the little brother to the version with the more useful 500 series fluid drag head. The higher-model is more useful, but the560B-1 does have its charm.

    Friday, July 18, 2014

    Eyelead Sensor Gel Stick Review

    Eyelead's Sensor Gel Stick is a novel approach to cleaning dust off of your camera's sensor. Rather than blowing or wiping, the product takes the lint-roller approach to lifting dust off of the low pass filter of your camera sensor... that is, by straight up adhesion. To be precise, the cleaning action is a "dab," but the mechanics are the same. This product is reputedly used by the manufactures themselves (Leica, Nikon et al) so is something that is good enough for the camera companies good enough for you?

    Wednesday, July 16, 2014

    Lenspen SensorKlear II Review

    SensorKlear II with articulating head and cap
    Dust is either the mortal enemy of the modern digital camera sensor or it is an overblown bogeyman that warrants too much concern. The truth isn't somewhere in between; everybody's truth is different. The obvious choice for sensor cleaning is to use a blower, but that's not always enough. Wet cleaning and any other method that involves physically touching the sensor (actually, the sensor filter cover to be precise) is a taunting task for many people. What if the process was actually....easy? Cleaning a cameras sensor will never be a casual affair, but the Sensorklear II is unassumingly user friendly in this regards.

    Monday, July 14, 2014

    Nikon P7800 Review

    For many reasons, Nikon never quite established a hold in the advanced compact category, but not for a lack of trying. In the early days of digital, that opposite was true, and the Coolpix line, though not consistent, did meander through a number of well regarded offerings. Cameras like the innovate Coolpix 900 with its swivelling body, the competent Coolpix 5400, which was an early fore-bearer of what we now think of as an advanced compact, and the Coolpix 5700, which we recognize today in cameras like the Panasonic FZ-200. None of these aforementioned cameras were ground-breaking, but they did demonstrate a commitment on Nikon's part to cater to the needs of enthusiast photographers. That was a different time, and in the years that followed "Coolpix" became synonymous with "entry-level consumer."

    Times change. The Coolpix P7800 is probably one of the most enthusiast-oriented compacts on the market, but the industry is now chasing after this group of users with 1/1" sensor compacts. This may or may not work, as price points have crept up significantly. At one time 1/17" sensors were considered "large." That is no longer the case, but the trade-off is a difference of $300 USD or more. It might not be leading edge, but the P7800 still has its place.

    Wednesday, July 9, 2014

    How Fast Does A SD Card Need To Be For My Camera?

    The memory card isle at your typical camera/computer shop can be often be a bewildering array of sizes and prices. This is a classic example of what is known in economics as price discrimination. Memory card product positioning does not have to be this complicated, but the wide array of price and selection is a mechanism designed to identify who is willing to pay how much for a memory card. The memory card manufacturers have to balance two sets of customers; those seeking value and those seeking performance. The key to product positioning and pricing is to maintain low prices for those that are the most cost-conscious while differentiating the high-end enough so that those who are willing to pay more will not be tempted to settle for the lower cost alternatives. This is also somewhat affectionately known as "Starbucks Pricing,"  as the strategy is to offer an overwhelming amount of choice without having the customer feel like he/she is being lead along a sliding price-scale experiment.Naturally, this makes finding the appropriate memory card for a given digital camera a little more than simple for the initiated. Fortunately, there's a very simple answer....

    Sunday, July 6, 2014

    Sony DSC-RX100M3 Review

    There's an old maxim in business that if you are standing still, you are actually moving backwards. Sony seems to have taken this to heart with the RX100, quickly producing two iterations of their flagship compact model. This is quite an aggressive roadmap considering that the original RX100 would still be the best compact camera on the market in 2014 were it not for its successors. However, the camera market is suffering through a decline in 2014, and the compact segment is being (has been) obliterated by the rise of smartphones. Consequently, all of the manufacturers are paying attention to the premium end of the remaining viable market segments with the hopes of maintaining margins. Ostensibly, 2014 is the year of the 1/1" sensor and the other manufacturers are now finally bringing their advanced compacts to this level. Panasonic is pushing ahead with 4K video with the FZ1000 while Fujifilm is (at the time of this writing) all but sure to enter the market with an X-Trans successor to the X20. Sony has gotten out ahead of this new era with the RX100M3, and Sony being Sony, will want to keep their stamp on this market segment as the premium product leader. Will they be successful?

    Thursday, July 3, 2014

    Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM APO Review

    Even though the weather is dreary this time of year, the past couple of months were the start of birding season here in the Greater Vancouver region.  This is the time of year when the bald eagles return, and there are multiple spotting opportunities along the waterways. Of course birding means long lenses, and the rule of thumb is that you can never get close enough with the lens that you have. By it's very natural, bird photography is an expensive hobby. This is where the Sigma 150-500mm enters. It's still not an inexpensive lens, but it's much less expensive than any other lens of a similar focal length. Compared to the "Bigma" 50-500mm, the 150-500mm is a more focused device for long range photography.

    Updated July 2014: Added comparison sample with Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR

    Monday, June 30, 2014

    A Day with the Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G (on the D7000)

    Let's be clear. The Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G is inappropriately matched on a DX body for everything other than portrait work. Though not heavy, the lens is big, fat and more importantly, expensive. It's obviously good for use at night and for gorgeous full-frame bokeh, but it's overkill compared to the 50mm f/1.4G on crop-frame. So with that in mind, this is an account of what street shooting with the 58mm is like on a D7000....

    Wednesday, June 25, 2014

    Launch Review: Nikon D810 First Impressions

    There are few opportunities to surprise and delight customers; the majority of the time, you would do well enough merely to satisfy them. The Nikon D800/800e surprised people; the D810 will have served its purpose if it merely satisfies them. To understand why the second time around is so tepid, it helps to think back to the end of the D700 era. The D3s had just been announced, with an unexpected high ISO bump that took many by surprise. Naturally, the fanbase wanted the D3s in the D700 body; it's not hard to image that such a camera would have sold well. But the problem with marketing is that there is a disconnect between what customers say they want, and what they actually end up buying. If Nikon had indeed delivered on the hypothetical D700s, it would seem a little long in the tooth compared to the Canon 5D Mark III of today. 

    Nikon basically re-aligned their high-end full frame lineup with the D800. Gone went the D2x/D3x style pro-body, leaving only the high-speed D4 and D4s to maintain the high end of the professional market. Not by coincidence, Canon went through a similar re-alignment at the same time. Why? There isn't one particular reason, by a mixture of a number of factors:

    • Professional level APS-C cameras for professional use has waned with the increasing affordability of full frame cameras. Whereas semi-pros were using Nikon D300's and Canon 7D's before, it would be harder to maintain professional competitiveness today without full frame.
    • Conversely, casual users of semi-pro APS-C cameras have been slowly drifting downard to smaller and lighter alternatives. The crowd that was previously using the Nikon D300 and Canon 7D for non-paid use now has alternatives in cameras like the D7100 or 70D.

    Though the 36mp resolution of D800 turned off some people when it was first launched, history has shown that it was more or less the right decision for Nikon in the long run, as the combination of ultra high resolution and extremely wide dynamic range made for industry-leading image quality. Up until the D810, the D800/800e was the best camera on the market from an image quality standpoint. Had the D810 not been launched, that would not have changed. However, in business, standing still means moving backwards, so

    Craigslist Used Canon DSLR Postings, U.S., June 2014

    This is a rundown of Craigslist asking prices for Canon DSLR bodies across the U.S. for June 2014. There aren't many surprises, but overall, prices are trending downward across the country (See the September 2013 survey for past results). The number of listings is trending upward, apparently in anticipation of new camera announcements later in the year at Photokina. If you are buying or selling used Canon camera equipment, hopefully this write-up will help you determine your target price and get you closer to your goal. The data is more indicative than it is prescriptive; it can't be extrapolated to any one given circumstance, but it does paint a broad picture of the used market.

    Friday, June 20, 2014

    Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art Review

    What's better than being excellent? Being good. The pro-level Nikon D3x was excellent. Years later, the entry-level Nikon D3300 is merely good, but even at the same resolution, it arguably delivers cleaner and crisper image files under ideal conditions. Yes, of course, you can't compare apples to oranges, and no matter how good a consumer camera, it doesn't do the job of a professional one. At least in image quality, the Canon EOS T5i has the benefit of time and the march of technology over the 1D Mark II. That's not a fair, accurate nor appropriate comparison, but there is a little bit of truth to it.

    So let's try this again. The Zeiss Otus is excellent. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art is good. And yes, this time, you actually can mention both in the same breath.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2014

    Nikon Coolpix AW120 Review

    For many people, summer means sand surf, the beach and lots of water. There are a few waterproof/shock resistant cameras available on the market for those occasions, the AW110 being possibly the best received of the previous generation. Nikon's AW series has been successful enough to bifurcate the branding into two lines: the AW120 and the more upscale Nikon 1 AW1. The AW120 improves upon the the AW110 with a few key features:

    • Same 16mp 1/2.3" BSI sensor
    • Lens is 24-120mm equiv (28-140mm for the AW110)
    • Maximum aperture is now f/2.8-4.9 (previously f/3.9-4.8)
    • Higher resolution OLED EVF
    • Improved battery life

    The AW110 wasn't a camera that you expected much of in terms of image quality, but for most people that wasn't the point.  Does the AW120, then, raise photographic expectations?

    Friday, June 13, 2014

    Launch Review: Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 First Impressions

    2014 is shaping up to be the year of the 1" sensor. Sony has solidified their lineup with the third addition of the RX100 cameras. The replacement to the Fujifilm X20 (X30?) is expected to be announced on July 3 with a 1" X-Trans sensor. A wild-sounding rumor that has so far not come to fruition has been circulating that Canon will get into the act with a 1" super-zoom as well, though that sounds far-feteched given how close to the G1X Mark II specs that rumor comes to. Which brings us to Panasonic. The FZ1000 is the first of a two-pronged launch of 1" sensor cameras; first as a superzoom in the classic "FZ" DSLR-replacement form factor, and ostensibly later in the form of the rangefinder-esque LX series (DMX-LX8).

    What this proves goes to show is that if you don't have a 1" sensor in the advanced-compact category for 2014, you won't be competitive. The previous standard was the 1/1.7" sensor size found in cameras such as the Panasonic LX-7 or the Canon G16. The Sony RX100 was the first to push upwards, and now everybody is following. There's little wondering why; smartphones are eating the camera industry from the bottom up, and DSLR's are continuing to push the image quality envelope for consumer devices. An advanced compact camera has to to two things: first it must be sufficiently better than a smartphone or entry level camera, and secondly, it must credibly come close to DSLR or mirrorless camera in order to maintain credibility. That's a fine line to walk. Here are the headline specs:

    • 20.1MP 1" sensor
    • 16x Zoom Lens, 25-400mm f/2.8-4 equivalent 
    • 62mm thread, no built in ND filter
    • 4K QFHD video at 30 fps
    • WiFi and NFC
    • 5-Axis OIS image stabilization
    • "Light Speed AF" with DFD focusing

    There's one more spec in that equation and that is the weight: 831g; even more than the Sony RX10 of which it is ostensibly gunning for. As with the FZ200 before it, there's a lot going on here, so it's helpful to break down the moving parts.

    Monday, June 9, 2014

    Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM

    Few things live up to the designation "no-brainer."  Nikon's consumer range has something of that sort in the AF-S 35mm f/1.8G DX, which has the dual virtues of being both sharp and extremely affordable. It could be said that Canon's EF-S 50mm f/1.8 comes close to that ideal, but as incredibly inexpensive as that lens is, it simply won't let you forget that it is a cheap lens.

    The  EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM is a good candidate for being an insta-buy lens for crop-frame Canon users. At just under $300 USD, it has a MSRP that is $180 less than the former low-cost ultra-wide champ, the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM. If you compare it against its big brother, the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, the 10-18mm is half the cost. If that was the only selling proposition, it would be enough... but low cost isn't its only virtue.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2014

    Leica T: From Block to Camera

    Yes, what you see there is the block of aluminum that a Leica T camera body is carved from. Literally. Leica's have always been camera jewelry; the T is perhaps the first step towards cameras that are built like Swiss watches: as polished on the inside as they are on the outside.

    Thursday, May 29, 2014

    Sony DSC-RX100 III: Effective Aperture Comparison

                                                                                            Sony USA

    Depending on how you look at it, the combination of a large sensor and large aperture in a small camera body is either the Holy Grail of photography... or its the unicorn. The Sony DSC-RX100 III is probably the closest thing to that ideal, having a maximum aperture range of f/1.8-f/2.8. It's easy to be seduced by numbers; this is a fairly bright lens, but it is mated to a sub-DSLR/mirrorless sensor. As large as the 1" 20mp Sony sensor is for a small camera, how "fast" is the RX100M3 in terms of equivalent aperture and depth of field in comparison to the "real thing" (i.e, enthusiast-level APS-C cameras)?

    Tuesday, May 27, 2014

    Nikon Zooms: 70-300mm VR versus 70-200 f/4 versus 70-200 f/2.8 II

    Left to Right: Nikkor 70-300mm, 70-200mm f/4 and 70-200mm f/2.8 II

    There's a long(ish) zoom lens for every budget in the Canon and Nikon lineups. Nikon's catalog is perhaps a bit simpler and more straightforward; you pay more, you get more. Naturally, when users upgrade to full frame, they feel compelled to go with the "pay more option" because they feel that they need to "get more" from their FX body. There's a certain logic to this as it makes little sense to spend a lot of money on a FX body only to try to save money on an inferior lens. Note: "inferior" not "cheaper." While everybody wants the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens, few can justify it. Surely, the consumer grade 70-300mm VR can't be spoken with in the same breathe... can it?

    Monday, May 19, 2014

    Bokeh Shootout: Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G vs Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART

    The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM was the lens that launched the reputation of the refreshed Global Vision ART series of lenses. That's no small feat for a third-party manufacturer, but the key advantages of this lens can be summed up in two words: cheaper and better. Against its Canon counterpart, the Sigma is most definitely cheaper and and it is demonstrably better; the Canon design is getting on in years whereas the Sigma has the benefit of the latest in optical design.

    Compared to the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G, the comparison is not quite so black and white. The Nikon lens is also a "modern" design, so you would expect it to be at the top of the class regardless of price. Ordinarily, you would think of the Sigma as being an alternative to Nikon's second-tier lenses, namely the Nikon AF-S 35mm F1.8G ED in this case. However, despite being more expensive than the f/1.8 Nikon, Sigma shoppers are skipping past the entry level and directly comparing it to the pro-level lens. So how close does the Sigma come?

    Bokeh Shootout: Nikon AF-S 58mm f/1.4G vs 50 mm f/1.4G

    The Nikon 58m f/1.4G was an immediately controversial lens when it was released at the end of 2013. Even though it is the dream of every enthusiast photographer, there are fewer opportunities to shoot wide-open at night than in more reasonable lighting conditions during the daytime. Thus, the 58mm lens immediately developed a reputation for under-performing relative to its price tag. That in itself is not new; none of the Nikon f/1.4 primes are truly justifiable if you aren't shooting for a living. However if there is one malady that gear-heads suffer from (just one?) it is that many fall into the trap of thinking that if something is not good for them, then its also not useful for others.... and so, vast quantities of forum chatter are generated based on this logical fallacy.

    For examples of what the 58mm as a NOCT lens is good for, have a look at these nighttime shots. Otherwise, read on for what this lens does under daylight conditions. As with all good stories, there's nuance to this one:

    (Updated May 2014: Additional bokeh samples by aperture.)

    Sunday, May 11, 2014

    Sony A6000 Review

    Familiarity is a good thing when it comes to tools. Cameras are tools, and too often, people look for wholesale change for change's sake with each new generation. The Sony A6000 is the replacement for the NEX-6, and even though the NEX-6 was a continuation of sorts for the well-regarded NEX-7, the new Alpha-branded series of cameras (A5000/A6000) are the true second-generation of the E-mount. New for 2014, the headline features for the A6000 are:

    • 24.3mp APS-C sensor
    • 179 phase detection points
    • 11 fps with subject tracking
    • Electronic diffraction correction
    • Clean HDMI output
    • NFC and WiFi connectivity

    This amounts to a capable camera, considering that the MSRP is just under $800 USD for the body + kit lens option, but do the additional specs actually make for a better camera? (For an in-depth explanation of the A6000's autofocus system, go here, otherwise continue after the jump for the complete review.)