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.

Fujifilm Updates

Fujifilm made multiple announcements today associated with their mirrorless product line. 

bythom fujifilm mcex16

First, two new products appeared: the MCEX-11 (11mm) and MCEX-16 (16mm, pictured above) extension tubes for macro photography work. These tubes will be available in mid-December, and give Fujifilm mirrorless users some additional close up capabilities with XF lenses. Both tubes have full electronic information passing, so autofocus and EXIF data is fully supported.

Curiously, the tubes still don’t get us to 1:1 with most lenses, even with the 60mm macro lens. The 16mm tube does net you 1:1 with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 and 18mm f/2, though. No prices were announced. 

Extension tubes are nice for close up work in that they don’t add additional optical elements to an existing lens, thus preserving the original lens’ abilities fully. Note that you lose infinity focus with a tube attached, though. I’m actually pleased that Fujifilm continues to build options such as these tubes that are photographically useful rather waiting for third parties to create them. They also address one aspect of the Fujifilm lenses that is a bit sub-optimal: very little close up ability other than the macro lens.

Another new product is HS-V5 (Windows only), which is Fujifilm’s tethered shooting solution for the X-T1. Unlike Olympus, it appears that Fujifilm will be charging for this program, though the price is currently not known. Tethering is done via USB cable only, and to get image viewing, analysis, and organization facilities, you’ll need Hyper-Utility3 installed. HS-V5 will be available in January 2015. 

I’m not so thrilled about HS-V5 as I am about the tubes. First, there’s the Windows-only and Hyper-Utility3 requirements. That just rules out a huge subset of the potential users, and Hyper-Utility is amongst one of the most confused programs I’ve encountered over the years. Fujifilm has proven over and over that they’re not really a great software company. The fact that it only supports the X-T1 is another bit of strangeness. But the biggest problem really is the use of USB 2.0. Tethering is something you want performance from, and USB 2.0 is going to be sluggish given the large file sizes the X-T1 creates. 

Finally, another “future” announcement: firmware updates. Ironically, the headline in the press release is “Firmware updates now available…” Now appears to be December 18th, so apparently I fell asleep for a few weeks. Sorry about that. I’ll go back and see if there’s anything I missed writing about…oh, wait, the headline is wrong about “now.” 

The X-T1 3.0 update is substantive, and there are a lot of interesting additions that camera user is going to like:

  • Silent shooting from 1 second to 1/32000 of a second via an all-electronic shutter mode.
  • The addition of the Classic Chrome film simulation.
  • Natural Live View allows you to deselect the real-time rendering in the EVF and see something more akin to what an optical viewfinder sees. Unfortunately, Fujifilm still hasn’t learned that this needs to be button-assignable.
  • The hue settings for the Rear LCD and EVF are separately settable.
  • Autofocus area selection can now be done directly from the Direction pad without having to first press the Fn button.
  • The AE-L/AF-L button is programmable.
  • The AF-L button changes focus area size during Manual focus.
  • Macro mode can be turned on or off without menu diving.
  • You can customize the Quick Access menu.
  • Support for 50P/25P/24P frame rates is now enabled.
  • Manual exposure control during video is supported.
  • Instant AF now uses phase detection, which should make “instant” more “instant.”
  • Spot metering can now follow focus area.
  • Program shift now extends to 4 seconds (was 1/4 second max).
  • Support for direct output to Fujifilm instax mini printers.
  • Buttons and dials can be software locked.
  • Custom white balance now supports as many as three user-created settings.
  • A new AF+MF mode enables manual override of autofocus.
  • Tethered shooting is possible (via HS-V5 software).

The X-E1 (3.0), X-E2 (3.4), and X-Pro1 (2.4) get simpler firmware updates, adding Classic Chrome simulation, Interval timer shooting, better WiFi functionality with the Fujifilm iOS/Android apps, and the AF+MF focus mode. 

Sony Updates the A7 Camera

bythom sony a7ii back

Sony today announced the Mark II version of the A7 camera. 

What’s new? Not a lot in terms of features, but most are substantive changes:

  • The sensor gets five-axis sensor-shift image stabilization, ala the Olympus E-M1. This new IS works in conjunction with OSS lenses, and apparently works together with the in-lens stabilization when it is present (i.e. in-lens or on-sensor stabilization isn’t deactivated; both are used). 
  • The focus system is the same, but Sony claims a 30% improvement in speed to acquire focus and a strangely worded “1.5x better tracking.” 
  • Video adds the XAVC S codec at 50Mbps. This not only gives better compression, but gets rid of the horrible BluRay folder mess. Sony also added S-Log2 as a choice to the in-camera picture settings. These log-type settings don’t look very good out of the camera, but they push all the dynamic range into data that can be later color graded far easier. Clean HDMI, including the ability to embed time code, has also been added.
  • The grip got bigger. As part of this the front dial and shutter release have moved to slightly better positions, as well. This also opened up another position on the top of the camera for another customizable button.
bythom sony a7ii grip
  • The front of the camera is now magnesium instead of plastic, and the lens mount has been reinforced.

The curious aspect of the A7II is that it was announced only in Japan, and appears to be going to ship for that market on December 5th. No other markets have been announced for the product. My guess is that there is still plenty of A7 inventory in the US and Europe and that the initial A7II production just started and  is barely enough for the smaller Japanese market at the moment. Still, it’s strange, as the net effect will be that A7 models will likely have to be discounted more now to get them out of the pipeline. I’m not sure what the positive impact of announcing the A7II now in Japan would really be, as that country is not in a buying mood at the moment (economy is in recession).  

The ergonomic changes are highly welcome, and I hope they roll through the entire A7 lineup. Other than that, the primary changes in this camera will mostly excite videographers, which has me scratching my head. The A7s is the videographer’s A7. 

Sony’s lead on the A7II has been the 5-axis image stabilization, apparently the long-expected cross license from Olympus. “5-axis” seems wrong, as I noted when the E-M1 came out. What the system really does is correct five types of destabilizations using three axes ;~): left/right shift, up/down shift, roll, pitch, and yaw. 

While on-sensor IS is a nice feature to have, I find it turn it off quite often on my E-M1. Why? Because it’s a little sub-optimal at certain shutter speeds. I’ll also be very curious to see how the 5-axis system works with the OSS lenses, too. One of the side effects of IS that I dislike the most is how it sometimes distorts out of focus areas in unusual ways. 

Still, it’s nice to have every lens optimized. Even legacy manual focus lenses mounted via adapter.

The Japanese price for the camera implies that the A7II body will probably sell for the same price as the A7 in the US and Europe. In other words, about US$1700. Technically, the current exchange rate would put it at US$1600, but I’d be surprised if Sony dropped the price for the Mark II immediately on introduction. 

Panasonic GH4, Olympus E-M1 Firmware Updates

The Panasonic GH4 will soon iterate to version 2.1 of its firmware, with embedded time code and control signals enabled on the HDMI output. You can also change the HDMI stream to 60P/50P while recording in-camera at 30P/25P. It may also include a new V-LOG picture profile that’s being tested. As part of the updates, the DMW-YAGH Interface Unit will also need an update to version 1.1. 

The Panasonic updates have been announced, but won’t be available to download until early December.

The Olympus E-M1 gets a firmware update to version 2.2 today, which helps deal with the bright spot problems some users reported. Note that updating to this version will reset everything in the camera other than the AF focus adjustments. 

Olympus Discounts

It’s that time of year. Couple the Christmas shopping season with a strong dollar against the yen and Olympus not hitting their unit volume numbers for the year so far, and it’s created a bit of a opportunity for those interested in getting into m4/3. 

First off, the E-M5 is now on the discontinued list and being highly discounted (to the point where it’s less than the newer, but lesser E-M10). That said, it’s a fine body that matches the image quality of Olympus’ best to date. You should get the E-M1 if you really need to use 4/3 lenses on your body, otherwise the E-M5 is a better deal that comes close to matching the E-M1 in most things. What do you lose by picking a E-M5 at discount over an E-M1? 1/8000 top shutter speed with 1/320 flash sync, regular microphone socket, PC Sync socket, WiFi, viewfinder previewed HDR blending, some corrections with the TruePic VII processor, and of course the phase detect autofocus with 4/3 lenses. 

But look at the price: body only is now US$600.

Coupled with this you can bundle Olympus lenses with the E-M5 body (or any current Olympus m4/3 body) to get further discounts. In particular, the excellent 12mm f/2 at US$600, the more-than-excellent 45mm f/1.8 at US$300, the phenomenal 75mm f/1.8 at US$800, and the strong fast 12-40mm f/2.8 zoom at US$800, are all very nice lenses with the E-M5.  



Support this site by purchasing from this advertiser (note that you have to add camera and lens to your shopping cart to see the extra lens rebates):

Olympus-lens-savings

Olympus Updates Camera Firmware

Olympus today released firmware updates for most of their m4/3 bodies. The only listed change is improved accuracy for autofocus when using the new 40-150mm f/2.8. 

  • E-M1 version 2.1
  • E-M5 version 2.1
  • E-M10 version 1.2
  • E-P3 version 1.6
  • E-P5 version 1.5
  • E-PL3 version 1.5
  • E-PL5 version 1.3
  • E-PL6 version 1.1
  • E-PL7 version 1.1
  • E-PM1 version 1.5
  • E-PM2 version 1.3

I’ve updated the Olympus camera database section with the new current firmware numbers.

State of the Mirrorless DSLR

With Photokina behind us, I thought it might be fun to look at the current state of the market. In particular, mirrorless camera systems that someone might select instead of a DSLR:

Mirrorless DSLR Replacements
System Max Pixels
"DSLR" Types
Primes
Fast Zooms
Nikon 1
 18mp V3
28, 50, 85  
m4/3  16mp E-M10, E-M1, GM5, GH4
24, 28, 30, 35, 40, 50, 85, 90, 120, 150 14-28, 24-70, 24-80, 70-200, 80-300
Fujifilm X
 16mp X-Pro1, X-T1, X-E2
21, 28, 35, 40, 50, 85, 90 15-35, 28-85, 75-210 
Leica T
 16mp T (with EVF)
35  
Samsung NX
 28mp NX-1, NX-5
24, 30, 45, 90, 130
24-75, 75-225
Sony E
 24mp A6000
24, 30, 35, 45, 50, 75
15-28, 24-105, 28-155
Sony FE
 36mp A7, A7r, A7s
35, 50
16-35, 24-70, 28-135, 70-200


By way of comparison, here are the primary DSLR options at the moment listed the same way:

DSLR Options
System Max Pixels
"DSLR" Types
Primes
Fast Zooms
Nikon DX
 24mp D3300, D5300, D7100
50, 60, 130, +FX primes at 1.5x
18-35, 28-80
Nikon FX
 36mp D4s, Df, D610, D750, D810
14, 20, 24, 28, 35, 45, 50, 58, 60, 85, 105, 135, 180, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 800
14-24, 16-35, 17-35, 24-70, 24-120, 70-200, 200-400
Canon EF-S
 20mp SL1, T3i, T5i, 60D, 70D, 7DII
40, 100, +EF primes at 1.6x
28-85 
Canon EF
 21mp 6D, 5DIII, 1DX
14, 20, 24, 28, 35, 40, 50, 65, 85, 100, 135, 180, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 800
8-15, 16-35, 17-40, 24-70, 24-105, 70-200, 200-400
Sony APS
 24mp A58, A77M2
50, +A FF primes at 1.5x
24-75
Sony Full Frame
 24mp A99
20, 24, 30, 35, 50, 85, 100, 135, 300, 500
16-35m, 24-70, 28-75, 70-200
Pentax APS
 24mp K-3, K-5, K-50, XG-1
22, 30, 45, 50, 60, 75, 105, 150, 300, 450, 840
18-35, 28-105, 30-60, 75-210, 90-375


Basically, DSLR owners considering mirrorless has six clear mount choices at the moment, two from Sony and one each from Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus/Panasonic, and Samsung. A couple of notes about the charts:

  • I’ve listed only the current generation of cameras that apply, and only those that can be used at the eye (EVF). Many of these mounts have previous generations you could pick up on fire sale or used, or more compact-style cameras.
  • I’ve only listed lens options from the camera makers themselves. Third party lenses add quite a bit to the m4/3, X, and E/FE mount offerings (and all the DSLR offerings). At the moment third parties don’t add anything useful to Nikon CX or Leica T mounts except through adapters.
  • I’ve left off some speciality type lenses, such as fisheyes and tilt/shift. 
  • All focal lengths listed are in 35mm equivalents to allow for more direct comparison. Many values have been rounded a bit.
  • By “Fast Zoom” I mean any zoom that doesn’t stretch beyond f/4 at the telephoto end. That includes constant aperture f/2.8 and f/4 zooms, as well as a few zooms that have specs such as f/2.8-4 maximum aperture.
  • The Pentax DSLR lens lineup will look a bit strange to their user base as I’ve had to apply APS crop to all the lenses to get equivalents (they only offer APS crop bodies at the moment, even though many of the lenses were designed for full frame). 

The reason why we keep hearing about leaks of users from DSLRs to Fujifilm, Olympus/Panasonic, and Sony mirrorless systems should be clear from these tables: those three mirrorless mounts have a pretty strong set of choices in place. You can already get more primes in m4/3, X, NX, and E mounts than Nikon has produced DX primes or Canon EF-S. The same is true of fast zooms, too. 

m4/3 continues to be the most “built-out” alternative, with four current DSLRish bodies, 10 primes, and 5 zooms in place. With Olympus and Panasonic working together, they’ve managed to fill out the m4/3 system fast. Fujifilm and Sony are also moving quickly with their systems, though they lean on third party lens makers to help. 

Were I to also graph the “consumerish” side of the mirrorless mounts, a few other things would definitely stand out:

  • Nikon is making DSLR-like primes and consumerish zooms for the Nikon 1 system, which is yet another of those design dissonances I keep writing about. Someone at Nikon really needs to figure out which thing they’re doing, or they need to step things up and deliver both consumer and prosumer in more consistent form.
  • Leica T is mostly consumerish! Odd for a high-price maker, but I’ll have more to say on that when my review of the T appears shortly. 
  • Fujifilm isn’t overly focused on the consumer side. I suspect they’d rather sell consumers the X30. 
  • Samsung started on the consumer side, but most of their more recent offerings seem to be focused on the higher end DSLR-type user. 

So what’s my takeaway? In terms of DSLR or DSLR-like cameras with a broad non-consumer lens set you can choose: Canon EF, Fujifilm X, Nikon FX, Olympus/Panasonic m4/3, Pentax K, or Sony E/FE. Canon EF-S and Nikon DX also come into play because they can use those companies’ full frame lenses, though that tends to make them a bit telephoto-heavy and wide angle light. And that last bit is just one reason why Canon/Nikon DSLR users are leaking to the mirrorless systems: to stay small and light, the Canikon crop DSLRs are forcing lens compromises on customers. 

What I haven’t discussed here is the sensor size issue. This is a bit tricky as it really depends upon what your output intentions are. Frankly, up through about what the desktop ink jets can produce (e.g. 13x19” prints), I’m not sure there’s enough differential in capability in the ISO range up to about 1600 to make that a primary consideration. Sure, if you’re primarily a low light shooter or have some specific low light needs, then bigger sensor is better, all else equal. But frankly, these days I don’t think much about the difference in sensor size between APS (DX) and full frame (FX). I do think about it a bit with m4/3, though I should note that m4/3 has a lot of fast lenses that help those cameras in low light. About the only system that I consider mostly a “good light” system and problematic in low light is the Nikon 1. 

Update: added full frame primes to the crop sensor boxes for DSLRs. However, note that the larger image circle for full frame primes tends to make them bigger than they’d have to be for a crop sensor camera up through about 100mm.

Nikon 1 Lenses

I’ve posted two reviews of Nikon 1 (CX) lenses (18.5mm, 70-300mm) today. But in thinking about those lenses I’ve also realized that Nikon needs a slightly better lens plan than it has produced so far. 

nikkor18.jpg

Right now we have a paucity of primes:

  • 10mm f/2.8
  • 18.5mm f/1.8
  • 32mm f/1.2

Nikon appears to be hoping that covers the 28mm/50mm/85mm equivalent prime requests. Well, it does, but oddly. 

The middle of the group—18.5mm, or “normal” prime—pretty much is right where I think it should be (read my review). Small, competent, affordable. The other two are odd in different ways. The 32mm (85mm equivalent) is wicked fast and really good, but that also makes it big and expensive. I keep finding myself having to write about “design dissonances” in the Nikon 1 lineup, and the 32mm is a good example: the Nikon 1 really should be a small, competent, affordable system (especially when you consider that Nikon thinks they should be selling more S2’s and J4’s than V3’s). The telephoto prime probably ought to be a smaller and more affordable 32mm f/1.8. (Don’t misquote me here: the 32mm f/1.2 is a remarkably good lens, maybe the best Nikon makes for the Nikon 1 series. It’s just a bit out of place on anything other than a V series camera, and even then it just keeps pushing the costs of a Nikon 1 system into DSLR territory.)

Meanwhile, the 10mm is a 28mm equivalent that’s on the slow side. It’s small, but it’s also not as competent as the other primes Nikon has made. Nikon’s initial prime lineup probably should have been:

  • 13mm f/1.8
  • 18.5mm f/1.8
  • 32mm f/1.8

In the zooms, we get all convenience zooms (with some overlap at the kit position):

Nikkor10-100mm.jpg
  • 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 10-100mm f/4-5.6
  • 11-27.5mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6

The problem with these lenses is that f/5.6 aperture at the long end. As I point out in my 70-300mm review, that makes them "Sunny 16 lenses” given the small size of the sensor in the Nikon 1 bodies. In sunlight, f/5.6 at base ISO generally nets you 1/800 or slower, depending upon actual light conditions. That’s not terrible for the wide angle and mid-range zooms, but all the telephoto ones start reaching levels where when the light goes down, you’ll be leaning on the VR or else getting noisier results as you bump ISO to keep shutter speeds up (and remember, Auto ISO is missing some useful values, which makes things worse, yet another design dissonance). 

Conspicuously missing—as in DX recently—are any attempts at fixed aperture zooms. The Nikon 1 series could absolutely use the following two zooms:

  • 9-25mm f/4 (24-70mm equivalent)
  • 25-75mm f/4 (70-200mm equivalent)

Better still, make those f/2.8 lenses, though then they start to be more V-only types of lenses due to size and weight. 

Frankly, I don’t get what Nikon’s optical experts have been up to lately other than maybe in FX. Even in FX it seems that Nikon is not reworking needed lenses, such as the 24-70mm f/2.8, and spending more time on convenience zooms. It appears to me that Nikon got hooked on volume and pursued convenience zooms over everything else. Yet what we’re seeing is a return to niche as unit volumes plummet in camera sales. Only Nikon isn’t exactly returning to niche with lenses. 

As I’ve written elsewhere, any interchangeable lens camera system needs a base set of lenses: three to six fast primes (24/28, 35, 50, 85/105), two fast zooms (24-70, 70-200), and yes, a small sampling of convenience lenses (wide angle zoom, super zoom covering 24-200mm, telephoto zoom). In the case of a small sensor system such as the Nikon 1, you also need a design goal that’s consistent: small, competent, affordable, which will likely dictate some compromises (e.g. f/1.8 instead of f/1.4, f/4 instead of f/2.8). Compromises are not the same as dissonances, by the way.

More and more I’m coming to the cynical view that Nikon mostly wants to sell a boatload of what I call “closet cameras”: cameras that people buy because they think they need them but they end up mostly sitting in the closet unused. The funny thing is that the two lenses I’ve posted reviews for today are the antithesis of that, so it’s not exactly that Nikon can’t do what we want, it’s that they mostly don’t.  

Which Chart is Right?

There’s a Panasonic presentation chart making the rounds at the moment that trumpets mirrorless camera growth. It looks something like this (based on actual CIPA data for the periods; I’m leaving off the 2016 projection since there is no official projection out that far to rely upon):

bythom 13

But there’s another way to look at that same set of data:

bythom 12

While Panasonic is trumpeting the first—mirrorless camera “sales" are growing as a percentage of overall interchangeable lens camera “sales"—the second is much more telling: mirrorless camera “sales" are flat, DSLRs are declining. (“Sales” is in quotes here because it appears that Panasonic is using CIPA shipment numbers, which are not sales to customers, but sales from corporate into distribution.)

If I were at Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, or Sony looking at that data, my immediate response would be: when will Canon and Nikon decide to convert DSLRs to mirrorless and attempt to marginalize us again? Given Canon’s recent projection that 2015 interchangeable lens camera sales will once again grow for them, I’d say “soon.” Real soon, as in January/February 2015 given the camera maker’s typical release schedules. 

Of course, it’s not at all certain that Canon and Nikon can immediately remove their mirrors and push the current (mostly) mirrorless-only players aside, but I think it’s pretty certain that they’ll try. Nikon has already tried once, with limited success once they started discounting. I suspect that just gave them more data on where they need to be with their next iteration (basically US$500-700, DX DSLR-equivalent performance, still F-mount compatible) and what it will cost them in marketing dollars to squeeze in. Canon was more tentative, as if they were really just scouting the territory. 

I’ve written this elsewhere, but it’s worth repeating here: just moving functionality and IQ from DSLR to mirrorless and making the camera somewhat smaller and lighter won’t resurrect the camera business. The pond is drying up for interchangeable lens cameras for a reason, and it doesn’t have to do with whether the camera has a mirror in it or not. In order to restore growth in the camera business, cameras will have to have something disruptive that makes current cameras seem not so interesting any more and worth replacing. The two things I said to target in this respect back in the 00’s were: communicating and programmable (and the two really have to be done together). Just having a WiFi link is not enough. You have to solve the user’s workflow issues from beginning to end, and WiFi is just a transport mechanism, not a solution itself. 

And, of course, you have to effectively market the disruption ;~). 

July-September 2014 News/Views

April through Jun 2014 mirrorless camera news and views:


April-June 2014 News/Views

The news and views for April through June 2014 from sansmirror.com:



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