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.