Mirrorless Camera News and Commentary

News and commentary about the mirrorless camera world (latest on top). Click on News/Views in the gray menu bar above to see the full list of recent articles and folders containing older ones.

Samsung Updates NX1 Firmware

(news)

Samsung issued firmware version 1.2 for the recent NX1 camera, and the list of changes are quite substantial:

  • Video: can adjust audio and ISO levels while recording, 23.98 and 24 frame rates are choosable, additional Pro quality mode in 1080P, additional display options while recording including safe area markers, time code support over HDMI, new C and D gamma curves added as well as a Master Black level and Luminance limiting level, speed control over autofocus, and new tools for frame grabs from the video.
  • UI: several button pairs can be swapped (WiFi/REC, AF-On/AEL), command dial directions can be reversed, autofocus lock for video as well as AF/MF toggling, ISO and exposure control can now be done via command dial directly, additional buttons are customizable, new Trap Shot feature, and the Auto ISO items have all been grouped in the menu system.
  • Other: remote release via Bluetooth, thumbnail transfer to smartphones while shooting, multiple device support enabled, ability to update over WiFi, new Remote Studio software for tethered shooting.

Samsung firmware update site

Panasonic GF7 Aims at Selfies, Too

(news & commentary)

gf7colors.jpg

You’re so vain. At least that’s what the camera makers have decided. All that smartphone selfie action has now resulted every camera maker trying to come up with their 180° LCD swivel so that they, too, can get you selfie-ized. 

The Panasonic GF7 doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. In essence, it’s a selfie-ized and totally consumer oriented GM1 at the point where Panasonic has a very good GM5. Sure, there are some hardware and software driven improvements—240Hz focus information, lower light focus response, plus better noise handling and shadow recover in JPEGs—but does those things really push the camera beyond it’s vainglorious focus? Moreover, the lack of enthusiast-desired controls pretty much tells you what you need to know: this camera’s aimed at the true, vain, consumer.

If I have a smartphone, I already have a selfie capable camera that’s quite competent, and about to get much more competent with the next generation of models. Moreover, I don’t need to fiddle with “easier WiFi connections” to show my face to the world. Sure, with the GF7 I’d have a pretty capable m4/3 ILC camera I’m carrying around with me, but frankly, I just don’t see myself pulling it out to perform a selfie; I’ll do that with my iPhone should I ever get vain, thank you. And if I want a carry-everywhere m4/3 camera, I’d rather have the also small GM5, which is more enthusiast-oriented. 

This is the thing that keeps tripping up the camera makers: they’re well behind in enabling the types of photography that the younger generations are performing, such as selfie posting to Facebook. One reason they’re behind is that the camera makers not only don’t control the mobile software marketplace, but they’re distant participants, at best case. The WiFi-to-an-App solution is more convoluted workflow from a product that already has convoluted workflow, and the young recognize that immediately. Thus, the target audience for this camera probably won’t exactly embrace it. 

The exact goal—and it’s a moving target and subject to change—for a camera maker is this: convince the millennials and younger that they need a better camera and that in so choosing one, they don’t complicate the workflow their image goes through. All the things you do on a smartphone have to be done on the camera for that goal to be achieved, even if the actual transmission of the data eventually goes through the smartphone itself. Just adding pink as a color isn’t going to attract as many users as making the integration better would ;~).

Of course, that’s where the problem of not controlling the mobile software market hits hard: Apple and Google are iterating their operating systems annually, while Internet services are doing it even faster, both adding and changing abilities faster than any camera maker could ever take advantage of them. About the one exception to this has been Samsung, who has managed to get their NX cameras—including their selfie camera, the NX Mini—better integrated with their smartphones. But then again, Samsung is one of the leaders in smartphones and has some influence on how the smartphone market evolves. 

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the GF7 as a consumer camera. It is, after all, just the latest iteration in one of the longest surviving lines of mirrorless cameras. So yes, it does some things a bit better or faster than the previous model. The problem is that the previous model wasn’t exactly a best seller. The low end of mirrorless is starting to get cannibalized by smartphones, too. Panasonic themselves realized that when they introduced the GM line, the latest of which—GM5—is as close to a pocket DLSR as we’ve come. I’m not convinced that the GF7 and GM5 don’t essentially split sales rather than grow sales. 

A few other bits and pieces: the built-in flash is weaker, the flash sync speed is now 1/50, the hot shoe is gone, the battery is rated considerably lower than its predecessor (230 shots CIPA), the LCD no longer tilts downward, WiFi connects via scanning a QR code on the LCD (no NFC), the maximum frame rate increased, and the body is slightly thinner despite the flip LCD. Cost of the camera with kit zoom lens is US$600.

But here’s Panasonic’s thinking: the GF7 is a women’s camera, the GM5 is a man’s camera (apparently men don’t take selfies). Note that black isn’t one of the colors for the camera. The colors chosen by Panasonic are all “accessory friendly” for women. 


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Fujifilm Aims X-A2 at Selfies

(news & commentary)

bythom fujifilm a2front

Fujifilm today announced the followup model to the X-A1, the X-A2. What’s different? Well, it comes in different colors and the LCD now tilts 175° up to provide a front of camera view for selfie-taking. When you do that, the camera also invokes a new eye recognition focus system. To fit the tilting mechanism, the camera gains a slight additional depth to it. Other than that, the specifications are pretty much identical to the previous model, including weight.

Probably because of the selfie focus, we also get new versions of the 16-50mm and 50-230mm XF lenses, with the former now focusing to 6” (0.15m) at the wide end and the latter having a dedicated macro mode.

All in all, not a lot to report here. Personally, I like the Samsung Mini NX with the 9mm lens for this type of vanity shooting. It’s smaller, competent, and has basically the same fold-up LCD feature to frame selfies with, plus it links up to mobile devices better (especially Samsung phones and tablets). But we’re seeing this selfie trend rolling through a number of companies now, probably just in time for the selfie fad to die out ;~).  

How Internet News Distorts Things

(commentary)

dpreview today published an interview with Samsung executives about the NX1. Their title for the piece was “CES 2015 Samsung Interview: Mirrorless to Outsell DSLRs ‘in three years’”. I’m pretty sure that little headline will go viral in the photo community pretty fast. 

However, the actual quote in the interview is “In the last year…market reports are predicting that in 2018/19 mirrorless cameras will outsell DSLRs.” In other words, Samsung was quoting one of those private, for-money-only market analyst reports. I say “one” and not “reports” because I only know of one that makes the prediction Samsung claims. Others that I’m aware of say something slightly different. Indeed, there’s great disagreement amongst analysts on where DSLR sales will eventually settle (if they don’t just decline into oblivion). 

I’d also point out that, even if that analyst report quoted by Samsung turns out to be correct, that doesn’t necessarily mean great things for mirrorless cameras. Mirrorless cameras peaked in sales two years ago and have been flat since. The report Samsung referenced assumes that significant current DSLR volume will become mirrorless volume, for example. 

Oh, and did I point out that these expensive reports are targeted at…you guessed it…camera and camera accessory makers, companies like Samsung? Thus, in the case of Samsung you have them parroting something they paid money for that tells them what they wanted to hear. I note that Samsung didn’t mention other aspects of that report that might be unflattering to Samsung, or other reports that disagree entirely. In other words, Samsung was picking and choosing what to repeat.

But again, it wasn’t Samsung’s words in the first place that dpreview put in the headline. But I’ll bet that even before I can post this we’ll see the “Samsung says mirrorless will overtake DSLRs” statements all over the photography side of the Internet. And it all will have started with dpreview’s lazy and sensationalist headline.

Look, I believe we should have the debate over what ILC cameras should be like in the future. They very well may end up being predominately mirrorless at some point. However I think a lot of whether that will happen or not will be up to what Canon and Nikon decide to do. Those elephants in the room can hasten or stall the point where a crossover might happen just by how they iterate their consumer DLSRs. Note that Canon stuck their toes in the water both ways (EOS M = mirrorless, SL1 = smaller DSLRs). 

Meanwhile, there’s a bigger elephant in the room—call it a dinosaur—and just choosing mirrorless or DSLR doesn’t change the fact that it’s more important to the health of the camera industry: DCF and all the baggage that came along with it pretty much defines an inefficient and film-like workflow that is now holding back camera sales. The smartphone workflow won the day, and the camera makers still haven’t responded.  

Firmware Updates on Parade

(news)

A couple of firmware updates appeared in the mirrorless world this week:

  • Sony A7II — Version 1.10 makes several changes to the 5-axis image stabilization feature of the camera to improve performance. 
  • Zeiss Touit Lenses — Version 02 is available for the 50mm f/2.8 lens to correct several problems that occurred with focus and flash use. Version 02 is also available for the 12mm f/2.8 and 32mm f/1.8 lenses that support the phase detection and hybrid autofocus of the latest Sony cameras.

Meanwhile, Samsung pre-announced a massive firmware update for the recently released NX1 camera and demonstrated it at CES, with a ton of video, UI, WiFi, and other improvements. One interesting side note is that a Windows-only SDK will be available for developers wanting to provide remote access and control of the camera.

The Good News, Bad News Mirrorless Problem

(commentary)

I’ve written before about how the mirrorless camera makers are playing catch up. Fujifilm, in particular, went on a long road to updating the X cameras’ software to improve performance and add features to get more into parity with what a DSLR user would expect.

That’s part of the good news. Fujifilm, and now Sony, appear to be iterating towards “DSLR equality.” Olympus to a large degree was already there with the E-M5 and E-M1 (though they need to seriously iterate their menu organization and naming practices). Likewise, we saw a lot of features in mirrorless that were progressive in nature, such as the inclusion of WiFi, and where the DSLR makers are still playing catch up. 

The bad news is that, other than m4/3, we’re pretty much still waiting for lenses with many of the mirrorless systems, and we’re also finding that the further you go into the telephoto realm, the less competitive some of the mirrorless systems are. The Sony A7II, for example, has IS that works fine with the existing FE lenses, but we don’t really have any good way of getting past 200mm, and it’s appearing that the built-in IS on that camera doesn’t deliver as much IS once you’re out past 100mm anyway. 

Mirrorless cameras are turning into smaller, lighter, excellent performers that do well in a limited range of focal lengths, typically 16-105mm. It’s when the subject starts moving fast and/or you need lots of reach that those three adjectives (smaller, lighter, excellent) tend to disappear. 

I’m not convinced that those three things will be “fixed” in the near term, if ever. Once you get into longer telephoto lenses, the lens size and weight tends to be dictated by focal length and aperture and less by sensor size. A 300mm f/2.8 lens will be at or near 300mm in length and the front element will be over 100mm wide. Sure, m4/3, with it’s crop length, can produce a 150mm f/2.8 lens that’s “equivalent,” but it will still be 150mm in length and feature a 58mm front element or larger, and technically it has a two stop disadvantage to a full frame 300mm f/2.8, so we really should be comparing to a 300mm f/5.6. An APS system will need a 200mm lens, and it’ll have a 72mm front element at f/2.8 and just over a one stop disadvantage. In other words, there’s some scaling, but the size/weight of telephoto options tends to start creeping beyond the small, light category and aren’t delivering the same subject isolation at f/2.8. 

I’m also not yet convinced that we’re close to totally solving the autofocus differentials that mirrorless cameras show vis-a-vis DSLRs. Sure, focus has gotten fast, and it does work decently at following some types of moving subjects, but it’s not at equivalence for the more extreme camera uses (sports, birding, wildlife in general, even pets/children to some degree). Moreover, what a lot of people are saying is “focused” with mirrorless cameras is not what I’d call nailing the focus. I see a lot of near misses in autofocus sequences with my mirrorless cameras on moving subjects. 

That said, mirrorless cameras are certainly ready for prime time. They definitely get above the 80/20 bar, and maybe even the 90/10 bar for most photography work. My suspicion is that DSLRs are the new Medium Format. In other words, the ones who are truly serious about extracting all they can from their imaging will still use DSLRs, while the rest will use mirrorless cameras. 

Canon and Nikon both recently told Japanese press that they’re seeing softness in low-end DSLR sales and that they are doubling their mirrorless R&D efforts in response. That’s good news for the mirrorless world in general, though it could be threatening to some individual companies. More competition means the bar is likely to get raised faster for mirrorless. 

What do I expect in 2015 for mirrorless? 

Well, unfortunately, mostly more pixels from the existing players. Fujifilm will likely climb to 24mp, Olympus has a 40mp “trick” up its sleeve, and Sony is threatening 46mp on the A7 series. More pixels is something the Japanese camera makers know how to do, so they’ll do it. I also expect continuous refinements in feature sets and video capabilities. Maybe we’ll see some additional and modest focus improvements. But we’ve already made the big leaps to highly competent mirrorless cameras from many players. 

Now the problem is how to polish that into something even more refined and to push performance parameters when you can. I expect few really surprising developments in mirrorless in the coming year, unless you regard something in what I’ve written above as surprising. 

The wild cards in the coming year are Canon, Nikon, and Pentax. Can any of them manage to put something into the market that will challenge Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony? Canon is making noises again about their mirrorless efforts, and I know Nikon has prototyped a D3xxx level DX mirrorless camera. Personally, I’d bet on Canon more than Nikon at this point for getting a truly competitive mirrorless product going, as I think it’s an easier move to go from the EOS M to what they need than for Nikon to come in with yet another new system. Nikon has too many toes they can step on (Nikon 1 models, and D3300), and technically a truly competent DX mirrorless system from them would eradicate the need for both the Nikon 1 and the low-end DSLR. I just don’t see them making such a calculated self-cannibalization move. 

I’m sure that some are going to misinterpret or misquote this article, and accuse me of being a DSLR-apologist or something. Please read carefully and note my other article this week (mirrorless in Costa Rica). I’m a fan of mirrorless and use it myself. I just don’t think mirrorless is the be-all, end-all product that DLSRs had been for so long. Maybe there isn’t one any more, and you simply use mirrorless for one set of tasks and DSLRs for another. 

Fujifilm Announces 16-55mm f/2.8 Lens

(news & commentary)

bythom fujifilm 16-55 f28

Fujifilm today announced the expected 16-55mm f/2.8 lens for the X mount. This fast mid-range zoom (approximately 24-85mm equivalent) slots nicely alongside the previously released 50-140mm f/2.8, giving the Fujifilm X series cameras two pro-caliber lenses to cover the 24-200mm focal range with that f/2.8 aperture. 

Oddly, the new lens does not have OIS, Fujifilm’s image stabilization system, which some will find a slight drawback to a US$1200 lens. The front element is 77mm, and the lens isn’t exactly light, coming in at nearly two pounds (655g). Still, this is a pro-level lens with aperture ring, nano coating, multiple special elements to reduce or correct aberrations, and a very close focus distance of 12” in macro mode.

Lens data page

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