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.
Nauticam this week announced the NA-GH3 underwater housing for the Panasonic GH3 camera. As with most Nauticam housings, this one is engineered to withstand 100m depths and pretty much provides access to all the controls of the camera (which on the GH3, is a fairly large selection). Most controls are designed to be used even with thick gloves on. Support for the Inon and Sea & Sea underwater strobe lights is also included, as are Nauticam's usual 180° and 45° viewfinders.
Samsung this week released the source code that powers their recent NX-300 camera. That makes it probably the most high-level camera completely open to hackers (in the good, original sense of the word "hacker"). Working with this code is not a trivial task, and you'll need some familiarity with Linux, Tizen, ARM, Debian, and possibly even Webkit if you're really going to make substantive changes or additions to the camera firmware. The 10-step "build a package" instructions are in total geek, so beware.
Why is Samsung releasing the source code? Some of the components licensed in the firmware require that, as they're Open Source.
If you're interested in taking the NX-300 hacking challenge, head on over to Samsung's open source site, click on the Photography tab, and download the TAR file (the NX-2000's software is also here). Beware: the TAR, despite compression, is over 1GB in size.
Pretty much everyone has reported their fiscal year (or in the case of Canon, first quarter) results now, and it's interesting to look at how the various camera companies positioned those.
Panasonic had their second biggest loss, and such a big one that cameras really didn't come up much in their presentations and discussions, as the camera business isn't all that large compared to the rest of the company and its problems. Hidden away in some of the comments to the business press were indications that Panasonic might want to back away from low-end consumer cameras, plus they re-iterated their commitment to higher end products, but other than that they didn't say much that was useful in understanding how imaging is currently performing or will perform in the future.
Sony's financial presentation had a bit of good news: now that they've re-aligned divisions so that all the pro video and consumer still cameras are in the same imaging division, that division is (barely) profitable. Some of the rumors you're hearing about changes in Sony's future camera lineup plans are surely due to the reorganization and a renewed effort to bring the profit margins of that group up. What those mean in terms of actual products is still unknown though. Still, it's nice that Sony can now say that the group is profitable, as it takes a little of the pressure off and it makes Sony one of only three camera groups in Japan to show a profit for the year (Canon and Nikon are the other two).
Of course, the big news on Sony is that they now have a major Western investor asking them to spin out their media and insurance businesses. The idea is that the cash raised by doing so would make for a good investor payout (;~) and provide much needed cash to reinvigorate the consumer products businesses. My take is that this isn't going to happen, but it certainly has shook up the Japanese investment community as they consider the implications of what will happen as more Western money continues to pour in and starts trying to shake things up.
I've dealt with the Canon results earlier, and the Nikon's results are on the bythom.com site. Nikon, in particular, seems to be defying gravity, as it had the lowest readjustment downward of camera unit sales that I've seen so far. They missed their estimates, as did everyone else, but not by much. For the mirrorless crowd, the one nugget in Nikon's presentation was their goal by 2016 to have 25-35% of the mirrorless market and 45% of the DSLR market.
Olympus Full-Year Results
Which brings us to this week's main presenter: Olympus.
Olympus blamed an "unexpected degree of compact camera market contraction" on missing their goals, but remember, Nikon made their numbers in compacts and gained market share during that same period. But even mirrorless wasn't exactly hitting it out of the park for Olympus: their original estimate for the year was 42.5b yen in sales, and they ended with 37.8b yen in sales. That's an 11% miss. Olympus' original goal was a 1b yen profit, and instead they lost 23.1b yen, or about 21% of sales. True, reducing expenses and trimming staff and resources were part of what contributed to that loss, but remember, they thought they would make a profit, and they didn't. It isn't because they trimmed more than expected, it's straight out that they sold less than expected.
I should also point out that several analysts mentioned to me the same thing: the Olympus comments on the imaging group seemed like deja vu: it wasn't us, it was the market, and we'll just cut expenses and be okay. That's been a common theme in Olympus' reporting on their imaging business for three years now.
Olympus' (mostly old ;~) goals in imaging are simple:
- Minimize risks in the compact camera operations (hmm, sounds like Panasonic)
- Focus resources on high-margin mirrorless cameras (hmm, sounds like Panasonic)
- Improve responsiveness to market changes (hmm, sounds like last year)
The problem I see with what Olympus presented is that doing these things seems to still keep them in the red. They're cutting in half their compact camera sales, mostly by dropping the V line, which reduces their net income. It's unclear how much that lowers their expenses. Back-of-the-envelope calculations tell me that even if they could increase mirrorless sales 20%, the 50% expected drop in compact sales still means they'd probably have to figure out how to reduce their SG&A expenses by over half. Curiously, they are only listing a 21% reduction. How they achieve that 21%: close three of their five plants, cut R&D expenses by reducing models, reduce the imaging group staff by 30%, and consolidate overseas sales groups. At least two (and probably three) of those four will likely cause further write downs in the current year and produce a loss, though Olympus is predicting no profit and no loss for the coming six months and for the coming year, basically a 0 on the profit line. Long-term, a leaner organization they say will produce a small profit with no gain in sales.
There's also the "achieve strong growth in conjunction with mirrorless market trends." Uh, the mirrorless market isn't really growing at the moment and it actually shrunk for Olympus last year. The only way to grow at the moment is by gaining market share, but in the last quarter it appeared Olympus lost share again. Even more curious is that Olympus seems to be planning flat sales for all four of the next years (stuck at 100b yen). How that lines up with the term "strong growth" I don't understand. The "Medium- to Long-Term Direction" they reported looks mostly like a wish on the candle's of a kid's birthday cake: "we wish for flat sales but also that we figure out how to sell a mix of compacts and mirrorless that makes a small profit."
The bottom line on Olympus is simple: they're doubling down on mirrorless (which is good news to this site's visitors), though they don't think that's going to bring them any growth in overall imaging sales revenue over four years. They do think it will return them to some form of weak profitability. But we've got a new claim to remember: Olympus says they won't lose money on cameras in the first half of this fiscal year (April through September). So we've got a very near point at which we can measure whether they're managing what they say they will.
Coupled with the recently announced E-P5 and Olympus' stated upscale goals, my guess is that the OM-D E-M6 will be more expensive than the current E-M5. At least that's what I'm reading between the lines.
Overall, the medical sales continue to drive Olympus. It's their main business, it's profitable, it drives their cash flow, and it is the future of the company. Whereas Nikon has become more and more a camera company (now 75% of their sales), Olympus is going the other way: cameras are becoming less of their sales (currently 14.5%, and projected at 11% in 2017). One analyst put it this way: a healthy medical supply company with a small, unprofitable camera venture that creates financial drag. Even under Olympus' optimistic 2017 forecast, the camera group wouldn't provide real ROI or profit growth for them.
Panasonic has posted new firmware (version 1.2) for the 12-35mm f/2.8 lens. The update improves the performance of the Optical Image Stabilizer when taking video.
We've known about the 32mm f/1.2 for the Nikon 1 system for quite some time, as Nikon first gave us a development announcement on the lens last year. Today, it's been pre-announced. In June, it'll arrive. It's the old tell 'em what we're going to tell 'em, remind them what we're going to tell 'em, tell 'em marketing scenario.
The 32mm is a much awaited lens, as it's the equivalent of an 85mm portrait lens (35mm equivalent) and fast. This should finally give Nikon 1 users the ability to clearly separate subject from background, though at a longer distance than the larger sensor format cameras can do it. Given how good all the recently introduced Nikon 1 lenses have been optically, we're all waiting to see just how well the 32mm performs. At US$900 with nano crystal coating, our expectations are high.
As always, I've created a database page for the new lens.
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You may have noticed a few changes on the site lately.
The most obvious one is that I have replaced the Google Adsense advertisements with B&H advertisements that are highly targeted to this site's readers. Not only is this a better deal for sansmirror, but I think it is for you, too, as the site's ads will be much more relevant to the information you're looking at.
As part of putting those ads in place, I've also had to go through every individual site page again, so I took the time to add and update articles along the way. All of the pages in the Articles and Cameras sections have already been looked at again and I've updated comments, information, and links in these sections wherever something had gone stale or out of date. I'll be doing the same for the remaining sections soon. So if you see anything that's not current, correct, or needs elaboration, let me know and I'll see if I can fit it into the big site pass I'm working my way through.
There's more coming, including many more reviews, so bear with me. I've got a lot of plumbing and maintenance work I have to do first.
Also, as a reminder: it really does help this site when you do any of these three things:
- Use the social sharing (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, email, other) links on a page.
- Click on advertisements and follow product links.
- Use the Support this Site button prior to making any Amazon purchase.
I can only expand the offerings and content here if you help me out with these things. I've got plenty of new and interesting additions planned, but to get there I need your help with those three things. A big thank you to those of you who've been doing this; your support has helped this site get off the ground. Now that we have air speed, let's see how far we can make it climb.
Finally, one other change: I've modified how this site deals with pre-orders in response to some of your comments. I now will link to a vendor for pre-orders as a convenience to site readers, but I also will note that this is a pre-order link and have written a pre-order page that describes what a pre-order means.
Okay, one more: I've lowered the price on the printed edition of my Complete Guide to the Nikon 1 while supplies last.
As part of their presentations in Japan to launch the new E-P5 camera, Olympus updated their "mirrorless market share" document a bit and offered a new statistic.
First the mirrorless market share graph:
While it's a little difficult to interpret from this quick screen grab, the overall sense is still there: mirrorless' portion of interchangeable lens camera sales has grown over time. Well, true. It started as zero, after all, so any sales at all would be seen as growth. Note that there was a spurt in many of the Asian markets in 2010. That was the year of the E-PL1, the NEX-3, the GF2, and lots of end-of-life sales on the E-P1 and GF1. I suspect that much of the acceptance then was based upon the confluence of low price and small package.
Olympus still hasn't stated exactly what these numbers are based upon—and given the Korean market's relatively flat results since the Samsung NX was introduced, I have to wonder if Olympus is even counting the Samsung mirrorless cameras—plus the numbers only seem to extend through the first quarter of 2012, which is also curious given the things I've been noting about mirrorless growth recently.
Along with that chart was another statistic: "90.2% of DSLRs are left at home." Again, no details were given about this claim other than it was from an Olympus survey. But note that we don't have an analogous figure for mirrorless cameras. It might be that 89.8% of mirrorless cameras are left at home, it might be 10%, but we don't know. This is an old reliable tactic: using an isolated statistic to apparently damn something. But in isolation, the statistic actually doesn't tell you anything. You have to know the context, and how alternatives fare to make any conclusion from it.
The overall context of Olympus' presentation went something like this:
- We invented the mirrorless market (and Instagram!*)
- Mirrorless is taking market share away from DSLRs
- We have the biggest market share in Japan
- People don't use DSLRs
- The new Pen works with your smartphone and you'll carry it
What's the sub-tone here? Olympus probably won't be making any DSLRs in the future ;~). If they do, then they have the age old back-tracking marketing movement to make, a practice I call Crabbing (not moving the direction you're facing).
What I was looking for in the Japanese presentations was something that told me how Olympus saw the E-P5 differently than the OM-D E-M5. The tag line for the product probably is the answer to that: Share Beautifully. In other words, the WiFi to smartphone connection. (I'll have a lot more to say about all these WiFi to iOS/Android app attempts soon.) Of course, the E-M6 is likely to have it, too, so other than the built-in flash and external EVF versus external flash and built-in EVF, I'm still not quite feeling the model differentiation.
* Art filters. A bit of a difference, though. Generally you need to take a photo when it happens: it's the moment that counts. If you risk taking that photo with a pre-applied effect, you may not get the photo you want. The whole Instagram thing was more discovering a style that fits the photo you took, not take a photo in a particular style. It's a subtle distinction, but an important one. As I write on bythom.com: for me a camera is a tool to capture "optimal data." I very well may manipulate that data down the chain, but I want the best possible data capture to fuel my manipulations. Heck, I may layer a manipulation on top of a manipulation, and I'll want to start both from a base set of data. I've personally never found the Art Filters all that useful, as they force me into a very specific manipulation in the original data capture, leaving me fewer choices downstream. That's not to say I never use them. They are certainly useful for examining spontaneous creativity.
With the product announcement now come and gone, it's time to consider how the new camera fits in.
I get the E-P5 in one sense: take all the OM-D E-M5 goodness and put it into a refreshed E-P# body and you have another new camera to launch, the E-P5. What I'm not seeing is the real benefit to users in doing so. Do we really need a EVF-less version of the OM-D E-M5 that has an optional EVF?
Olympus appears to be trying to cram a lot of camera choices into a fairly narrow space, and ones that don't make a lot of sense to me as a "line" of cameras. If everything is 16mp, has basically the same performance and menu/feature list at the core, then you really have to distinguish in the externals. Let's see how they're doing that (tongue partially planted in cheek):
- E-PM2 — few external controls, fixed LCD — US$450 body
- E-PL5 — more controls, tilting LCD — US$550 body
- E-P5 — more controls, add WiFi — US$1000 body
- E-M5 — built in EVF instead of an option, weatherproof but no flash — US$1000 body
Worse still, we have that giant VF-4 option for the new E-P5 and we get a, well, we get a OM-D E-M5 that's a bit ugly and even taller, but has a better EVF, but costs more.
My question is this: who's been waiting for the E-P5? Not me. I was an early E-P1 purchaser and upgraded right up to the eventual OM-D E-M5. An E-P5 would be a step backwards, as far as I'm concerned. I'd also have to assume that the few new features we see in the E-P5 (focus peaking, WiFi, etc.) will make their way to the inevitable OM-D E-M6. So I'm good to go. But would someone buy into the E-P5 instead of an OM-D E-M5? That seems debatable.
Where's the value proposition for the consumer?
It's actually pretty easy to recommend the Olympus cameras at the moment: entry level buy the E-PL5, top level buy the OM-D E-M5. In the case of the former, the extra US$100 buys you a lot of very functional additions, as the E-PM2 is basically a "stripper" (as they say in the automobile industry). In the case of the latter, the E-P5 just doesn't make any real sense to me at the same price as the E-M5 (and actually, you can get an E-M5 for less with the current discounts).
Personally, I'd like to see some real differentiation in Olympus' lineup, or perhaps a more logical pricing ladder.
Update: some have suggested, and I'm perfectly aware of this, that Olympus may be picking up some sales they wouldn't otherwise get with a two camera line up (e.g. truly cost conscious folk at the bottom might buy the E-PM2 or nothing at all). I'm well aware of that. I'm not suggesting a two product line, I'm suggesting that the differentiation and the pricing be more considered. None of the camera companies are great at this partly because it requires a real product marketing group that's well connected to the user base. My basic point in this article is that the E-P5 and E-M5 are as close together as the difference in alphabet suggests, and priced the same, as well. While several of you writing me have tried, I personally can't make a case for the E-P5 over the E-M5. The best point has been that the E-P5 has a low-power built-in flash, but I just don't see that as a big deal.
As I've noted on bythom.com, we're getting dangerously close to Last Camera Syndrome now. The market is quite mature for cameras, and differentiating features and performance are getting more and more difficult to establish. That doesn't mean you should punt on that and just do some marginal differentiation, though.
My sense, especially given the "50 years after the Pen F" line, is that Olympus' ego is showing more than their product marketing skills. They've absolutely paid homage to the Pen F with the E-P5 design. One might even say that it was mostly an effort to make an E-M5 look like a slightly more modern Pen F. There are more CADCAM changes between the E-P5 and E-M5 than real ones, essentially.
The camera industry is already a tough place to stay competitive. It's going to get tougher. Spending engineering resources on marginal change won't really cut into the Canikon duopoly.
Today is the 50th anniversary of the original Pen F, and Olympus has used that occasion to launch several new products and variations: the E-P5 and E-PL6 (Japan only) cameras, the VF-4 electronic viewfinder, and black versions of their prime m4/3 lens set that hasn't had that option before (17mm, 45mm, 75mm).
The big news, of course, is the E-P5 and VF-4 EVF. Essentially, the E-P5 is an OM-D E-M5 without the built in EVF, styled slightly more like the original Pen F. There are a few changes from the E-M5, with a number of the subsystems getting small tweaks (focus, stabilization, LCD upgrade, etc.). One such change is the addition of WiFi. The imaging sensor and basic UI is basically the same as the E-M5, though, including front and rear command dials. The E-P5 is available in black, silver on black, or silver on white body styles. The E-P5 body only will sell for US$1000, the kit with the 17mm f/1.8 lens and VF-4 EVF is US$1450. The products should ship in mid-June.
The VF-4 is a 2.36m dot 1/2" LCD with eye detect capability that sits in the hot shoe and gets power from the accessory slot just underneath that. Like previous optional EVFs, it also tilt up to vertical. By itself, the VF-4 is US$280. As you can see from the above photo, the VF-4 makes for a substantial bulk above the E-P5 body, an even more pronounced hump than is on the OM-D E-M5.
The E-PL6 is a slightly tweaked E-PL5 that is only available in Japan. Only minor changes were made, including a shorter shutter release lag (on touch AF), a new ISO Low (100) setting, interval shooting from 1 second to 24 hours, time-lapse movie capture, and a built-in level function.
These products can be ordered from the following advertiser [note about pre-orders]:
It's said you're not really a serious photographer unless you have a closet full of bags you've decided don't quite work for you. We all strive for the Cinderella bag.
For over a year I've been trying to get the carrying bag for my mirrorless system just right. This has turned out to be trickier than I first thought. Back at Photokina last September I started a concerted effort to figure out the "perfect" carrying system for my mirrorless gear.
I mention that because ThinkTank will be launching their Mirrorless Mover bags next week. I first talked to them about this at Photokina, and I'm happy to report that they see much the same problem I do. [Disclosure: ThinkTank has sent me three different bags to test, which I'm still in the process of sorting through.]
What's the problem?
Well, let's assume for a moment that you're not a convenience shooter. Convenience shooters tend to hang their camera around their neck with a big honking superzoom sitting on the camera. In the FX world, that's a 28-300mm (making for a four pound neck weight), in the APS/DX world it's often an 18-200mm zoom, in m4/3 it's a 14-140mm, and in CX it's a 10-100mm. These folks tend to not use a lot of accessories, and they're essentially using their camera as a fixed lens camera, just a humungous fixed lens. They know how they'll carry their camera: neckstrap. And if they want to protect the camera when not in use, they want the old classic drop down camera case—basically a leather or similar shell that unfolds to reveal the camera for use. These folk only put their "system" in a bag for transport between photographic locations.
But you and I bought mirrorless cameras because of the interchangeable lenses, and we think of our cameras as part of a system, and we want that system handy all the time, both when we're engaged in moving from one location to another (transport) and when we're shooting somewhere. Maybe we don't carry dozens of lenses and accessories, but we carry enough that we want to somehow deal with carrying "the system," having it protected, but also having it accessible.
With my FX DSLRs, my system is almost always in a really large backpack (these days a Gura Gear Bataflae). Indeed, the usual weight of my complete FX system, all encumbered, is typically 30 pounds. What do I mean by "all encumbered"? Batteries, cards, filters, and a host of other odds and ends. Sometimes there'll be a flash or two stuck in, too, which adds more batteries and accessories. I don't count tripod weight in that, by the way, even though while hiking I will strap the pod to the pack.
Typically, I don't tend to carry nearly as much gear when I shoot with my Olympus OM-D E-M5 or Nikon V2. Plus many of the things I might carry, like filters, are smaller and lighter.
You'll find a good number of generic bags at your camera store (or even Best Buy). For awhile I satisfied myself with some of these, but often their overall quality isn't quite as robust as I need, and their layouts and specifications seem a bit random. There's also the problem of one size doesn't fit all: a Fujifilm X-Pro1 body and lenses are definitely a different size than a Nikon 1 body and lenses, and we've got Leicas that are still bigger, and a lot of stuff "in between."
I was excited when F-stop produced the Andro series. I happen to like my F-stop Loki hiking backpack. It's well made, comfortable, and while a bit funky in design, works very well for some hiking situations I encounter. One of the things that intrigued me about the Andro was that besides the shoulder strap, it had a removable belt strap that would help secure the bag when I hit the trail.
As it turned out, the Andro is exceptionally well made. I really can't fault it for that. But it has a trait that I keep finding in a lot of smaller bags: it's tight. The front pocket, for example, can take very little depth in what you stick in it, and has no stretchiness to it. Finding something in the pocket, should you manage to get it in there, becomes a constrained reach. The end pockets are tight, too, as are the pockets in the flip top. On the one hand, this helps hold everything in place and doesn't let it bounce or drift around, but in the end I just didn't like getting my hands into those tight places to dig things out.
Some of you might actually like the Android, but in the end, it wasn't my cup of tea, especially at the US$170-200 price.
At the other extreme, there's the Gura Gear Chobe, a laptop bag that doubles as a small system bag. This thing is opposite of the Andro: expandable, not constraining. Heck, the thing just swallows my MacBookPro 15, iPad, iPhone, and full Olympus kit. I don't at all feel constrained by the bag. But it's big (as big as 15x11x8.5" —36x53x21.5cm) and it weighs in empty with straps at 3.8 pounds (1.7kg). One thing I like about it (and a few other bags I've tried) is that the internal system area is actually a removable padded "tray" that you can partition as needed. Since I tend to have the need to carry different systems, I can just buy extra trays, load them up, and stuff them with gear, and sub in the tray I need for the trip I'm on.
But the Chobe is big. Bigger than the biggest ThinkTank Urban Disguise. And so as a portable shoulder bag for walking longer distances (e.g. hiking or perhaps extended travel photography in a city), it's just too big, in my opinion. If I were doing more photojournalism with vehicle support, it might be perfect (albeit a little big for the small systems: I can carry a dual m4/3 system with one heck of a lot of lenses and accessories with the Chobe).
I'll have a lot more to say about bags soon, once I get done testing the latest ThinkTank ones. The one I had sort of decided was my current urban bag of choice was the ThinkTank Retrospective (a 5, 7, or 10 depending upon which system I'm carrying), but the release of the Mirrorless Movers means I need to do some more testing.