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?