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.