News/Views

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.

Photokina Mirrorless Scorecard

Now that the major announcements are all done and I can clear my head and contemplate the overall impacts on both the camera market and on each mirrorless system individually, it’s time to do some results scoring.

  • Canon — A no show. Nothing new in mirrorless from them, which leaves the field still wide open for the other competitors. While Canon did bracket mirrorless with the G7 X and 7DMarkII announcements, it appears that for the time being, at least, they’ll continue with PowerShot’s and Rebels/DSLRs as their defense against mirrorless. There was mention that there would eventually be more EOS M lenses, but that was a vague statement. Overall Grade: F
  • Fujifilm — A modest step forward, mostly centered around lenses and yet another firmware update. The 50-140mm f/2.8 adds a nice telephoto option, plus we got to see the 16mm f/1.4, 16-55mm 2.8, 90mm macro, and 140-400mm f/4-5.6 lenses for the first time. One downer: the 16-55mm doesn’t have OIS. Still, Fujifilm continues to slow roll the lenses with no replication (i.e. they’re filling gaps). The firmware updates are nice, but it seems that it’s really all about the X-T1 these days; one wonders where any other X-mount camera update is. Things appear to have slowed down a bit at Fujifilm. Overall Grade: B
  • Leica — The nascent T got two new much-needed lenses, the venerable M got a modest update plus a special no-LCD version, plus we got some new versions of Summarit M-mount lenses. As usual at Photokina, Leica had a lot to say and to show, but also as usual, it isn’t all available immediately, either. The new T lenses won’t show up until January, making for a Scrooge Christmas for T users. (I should probably report that Leica was extremely active this year, with new models across all their different camera lines. My count is that overall they introduced at least nine new cameras and as many new lenses. Leica’s all-in with the camera game, unlike a lot of the so-called camera companies, apparently.) Overall Grade: B
  • Nikon — A no show. Oh, the Nikon 1 cameras were there, but there was nothing new under the sun, not even a lens road map that I can find. Maybe an eventual V4 will finally get the V series right, but who knows when that will be now that Aptina has been bought by someone mostly interested in sensors for automobiles. Also, we got an apology for not producing enough 70-300mm lenses. Overall Grade: F
  • Olympus — The 40-150mm f/2.8 looks great, the E-PL7 was totally expected, while the unexpected firmware update—even if it didn’t seem to get the 4K video support that some thought it would—is a bit like Fujifilm: a very nice sign that Olympus isn’t sitting on their butts. Unfortunately, most Olympus cameras at dealers are sitting on their butts, apparently. Quietly in Japan Olympus disclosed that m4/3 sales are down year-to-year yet again, and quite disappointingly so. The Open Platform thing sounds interesting on paper, but we need more details before getting excited about it. Overall Grade: C
  • Panasonic — Surprise, surprise, a GM with an EVF. That fixes that problem (and probably dooms the GX7 style camera). The new 14mm and 35-100mm lenses are just nice little sweeteners (both are in the same design style as the new GM5), as was the prototype 30mm f/2.8 Macro that showed up as a surprise in their booth, even to some Panasonic personnel ;~). I liked the GM1, and think the GM5 might almost make it to love. Panasonic cited better-than-expected GH4 sales, too. Still, not a lot new, and the pro lens expansion seems to have retracted. Overall Grade: C+/B-
  • Pentax — Another no show. Well, okay, they showed up with a new name for the same camera and some new colors. Still, not a lot happening at Pentax at the moment in regards mirrorless. Overall Grade: D- (credit for at least announcing something)
  • Samsung — It appears that Samsung is swinging for the fences again. It’s a little early to tell whether the NX1 actually made it out of the park (or was a routine out, or worse, a foul ball), but the specs and technology sound just about right. The new f/2.8 lenses help, too (16-50mm, 50-150mm, and an eventual 300mm). It’ll all depend upon whether that 28mp BSI sensor ups the image quality, whether the phase detect autofocus really works well enough to justify that 15 fps frame rate, and whether the video side really delivers on the 4K promise, ala the GH4. I’d cautiously call the NX1 the “hit” of the mirrorless party at Photokina. Overall Grade: A- (pending confirmation)
  • Sony — No new cameras (other than a pro video one using the FE mount), but the slowly expanding lens scene is finally starting to make the A7 bodies look like an interesting choice. We’re still only at 9 lenses today (including Zeiss), with four of those not quite on dealers’ shelves yet (Real Soon Now), but Sony and Zeiss let in enough light at the end of the lens barrel so that we can see a pretty reasonable set of choices hitting us by mid-2015 (using Sony’s counting method, 15 “lenses”). Personally, I’m really curious about the 28mm f/2 plus the fisheye and 21mm converter for it. Of course, if the 16-35mm f/4 really delivers, I’ll be a little less interested. Still, Sony did what they needed to do in letting people know what’s coming for FE. Too bad they keep forgetting they’ve still got some meaningful gaps in the basic E mount and they need to get rid of that compression in A7 raw files. Let’s hope Sony isn’t making the same DX/FX mistake Nikon did. Overall Grade: B-

Those with long memories will remember that “mirrorless” (other than the Leica M) started with the m4/3 twins, followed by a mad rush from Sony, a maddening rush from Canon and Nikon, and then a made-in-Japan/Korea/Germany rush from the others. The dust is cleaning a bit at the moment, and quite frankly, Sony is the one playing King of the Hill at the moment (claimed 40% market share).

I’m still pretty much an m4/3 user when it comes to mirrorless, with a side of Nikon 1. A GM5 and E-M1 with a basic set of lenses go a long, long way for me. But when I think about what I’d like to personally explore in mirrorless moving forward, it really comes down to Fujifilm and Sony. The Leica and Samsung latest offerings also catch my interest and will eventually come for testing.    

So:

  • I still love m4/3 and Sony E but am not in love with them. 
  • I’m infatuated with Fujifilm XF and Sony FE.
  • I have a lust for Leica T and Samsung NX that might not actually be fulfilled by their actuality.
  • My Nikon V3 still nags me, but she has her moments.

The problem, of course, is that all these camera makers need sales. While mirrorless sales aren’t collapsing like compact cameras or in slow decline ala DSLRs, they’re also not setting the world on fire, either. Photokina didn’t really do much to change that. All I can say is that we had a lot of lens announcements, so please do support your favorite camera by buying one of the many new interesting and compelling lenses. That’ll help, I’m sure. 

Really, How Hard is it To Grind Some Metal?

Nikon has again issued an apology to Nikon 1 customers, this time for the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6, which is still difficult to find in many places around the world, including here in the US. So let’s start with that: how is it that Nikon didn’t know what Nikon 1 users were really using their V series cameras for? A highly competent 189-810mm (equivalent) lens for a small camera that can follow focus and even manage 20 fps doing that is a birder’s dream was going to sell in significant quantities. 

But apparently management didn’t realize that, and now has to apologize for not keeping production up to demand. Good thing I haven’t written my review yet, otherwise the darned lens would be completely sold out everywhere (yes, it’s a very good lens that allows you do do things that are otherwise difficult to accomplish; see shot below; yes, think about where I was when I took this shot and why it is at 810mm equivalent).

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But here’s the thing I don’t understand: the optional metal tripod foot for the lens has been on backorder now for three months, and I don’t know of anyone that has received one. See the headline: how hard is it to grind out a small hunk of metal and deliver that? 

This actually repeats a pattern that is disconcerting to say the least: Nikon accessories are notorious for being late and in short supply, including such things as extra batteries for cameras. Over the past three years, I’ve had five different Nikon accessories end up with backorder deliveries of more than three months from when they were supposed to appear, and one took over a year for them to produce.

Then we have the close up lenses. Many years ago Nikon had a popular set of 52mm and 62mm close up lenses. It was pretty much a “must have” in every camera bag. Canon’s 77mm 500D version was another must have, mainly because Nikon didn’t make one that size, even though Nikon had more 77mm filter rings at the time when Canon introduced that filter. Sometime early in the digital age Nikon decided that the close up lenses weren’t necessary any more (wrong) and stopped making them. At Photokina they reintroduced a 52mm version. I wonder how fast this will sell out and become backordered?  And why isn’t there a new 62mm version? Even the hard-to-get 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 CX lens could use that ;~)

What Nikon should be apologizing about is losing the pulse of the camera market. The product delivery problems (over and under) Nikon is having is because they’ve not rationalized their product line nor have they coordinated it well, and that comes mostly by not understanding the changing (and in some cases like the close up filters, non-changing) customer desires. Nikon got into a “just push boxes” phase (clearly evident in the Coolpix and initial Nikon 1 releases) rather than stay in tune with the photographer. It’s about time they get back in tune with the photographer. 

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I don’t understand why every pro sports photographer doesn’t have a Nikon 1 somewhere in their kit. There are things the V3 can do that no other camera can (60 fps silent golf swing shots, for example). Yet Nikon doesn’t seem to be able to market to those that actually might purchase the product. The 70-300mm is another good example: it’s a better choice for birders than digiscoping, in my opinion. Of course, that brings up the internal competition problem, as Nikon makes scopes ;~). Still, that’s what top management is for: resolving how and why companies make and market different products. 

Update: Amusingly, I got emails from two readers outside the US who received their tripod mount for the 70-300mm lens, but not the lens itself. 

Phase One Offers Free Sony Converter

I haven’t been able to get official word on how this came about, but Phase One is now offering Capture One Express (for Sony) free on their Web site. Apparently developed in cooperation with Sony, this new Capture One Express 8 version is complete. 

What you don’t get (requires updating to Pro version) are tethered capture, camera live view, sessions, focus mask, local adjustments, repair layers, film grain, skin tone editor, CYMK support, image output recipes, soft proofing, customizable interface, multiple monitor support, scripting (on Mac), templates, and keystone correction. While that seems like a long list, the list of usable features is very extensive.

All Sony mirrorless cameras currently available or available in the past are supported by this converter. Note that if you have another version of Capture One version 8, the file name of Capture One Express for Sony is the same and you have to be careful not to install over the other file (e.g. drop and drop the application to the Applications folder on the Macintosh). Indeed, on my Mac, the size of the file and version number are the same.

Leica T’s Up New Lenses

Leica made a ton of announcements today, with virtually something for every aspect of their line up. But for the mirrorless folk it will be the two new T-mount lenses that are of interest: 11-23mm f/3.5-4.5 wide-angle zoom and 55-135mm f/3.5-5.6 telephoto zoom. Both are US$1950 and will ship in January 2015. 

This expands the lens set to four for the Leica T camera and with 18-200mm options. 

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More m4/3 Announcements

The E-M1 2.0 firmware update is now available. Eight new functions are included: tethered shooting, live composite mode for star trails, keystone compensation, the Vintage and Partial Color Art Filters, Aperture Lock for DOF Preview, Panning Shot mode, Old Film effect for videos, and a new Photo Story mode. In addition, 16 operability changes were made: reduction of EVF lag to 16ms, multiple settings in Live Guide, exposure compensation in HDR shooting, 3x mode in Live View, peaking focus has been improved, plus more. 

The 60mm f/2.8 macro lens software was also updated to version 1.1. Olympus also announced something called the Open Platform, a collaboration with MIT that basically looks like a Sony QX-1, but with an m4/3 mount.

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Voigtlander introduced a new Nokton 10mm f/0.95 manual focus lens for the m4/3 mount.

Sony’s FE-Mount Offerings Expand

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Sony announced two new FE-mount lenses at Photokina, the 28-135mm f/4 for video cameras and the Sony/Zeiss 16-35mm f/4. The US$1400 wide angle zoom (above) is the lens most A7s, A7, and A7r users have been waiting for, as it now gives the FE user 24-200mm f/4 options through three basic zooms. In other words, the A7 series now has a base set of lenses, so now what happens next?

In a word: more primes. At their press conference at Photokina Sony outlined a plan to eventually get the FE mount to 20 lenses in 2016, with three new primes and one zoom by March 2015. The new primes are a 28mm f/2 (with two adapters to make it a 16mm fisheye and 21mm wide angle), a Zeiss supplied 35mm f/1.4, and a 90mm f/2.8 Macro OSS. The new zoom is a convenience super zoom, the 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS. They also hinted another f/1.4 prime, I think a Zeiss supplied 85mm, but I’m not sure I was reading the hints right. 

I do admire marketing ingenuity. Sony listed “13 FE lenses” under 2014. Uh, not quite. While they’ve announced 13 lenses, we’ll only be able to buy 7 by the end of the year. The other 6 come in February and March of 2015, and two of those are converters ;~). I’ve updated my general FE-mount lens page and roadmap.

Along with the lenses, a new HVL-32M flash, RMT-VP1K wireless remote controller kit, XLR-K2M XLR audio adapter kit, and LCS-PSC7 system bag were announced.

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Photokina m4/3 Announcements

Both Olympus and Panasonic made announcements of new m4/3 products today. 

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Olympus finally announced the long awaited 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lens. Available in November, this US$1500 lens also has a 1.4x teleconverter option (US$350). Like Olympus other top-end gear, the 40-150mm is splash proof and sealed in construction. Two powerful focus motors keep focus performance high.

Meanwhile, Olympus “re-introduced” the E-M1 with a new silver model and 2.0 firmware. The new firmware adds tethered shooting (via the free Olympus Capture Studio Tethering Application). Also added are keystone compensation for perspective correction, and two new Art Filters (Vintage and Partial Color), improved EVF performance. The new software (and camera style) will be available September 24th. 

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Panasonic announced the US$900 GM5 (with kit lens), basically a cleaned up GM1 with some new buttons, but most importantly, an EVF. This camera, ironically, competes against their just-announced LX100, and frankly, I think it ultimately wins. Sure, you don’t get a small 24-75mm equivalent fast collapsing zoom, but you also get a real 16mp and interchangeable lens choices in a nice clean, small design that’s jacket pocketable. The GM5 answers my one main complaint about the GM1 (no EVF) and even seems to clean up some of the UI a bit. I’m not sure of the location of the FN buttons, though (should have been one on the front, one near the right thumb position). Plus the lack of a front grip seems to be a common flaw that all the companies keep repeating for no good reason. 

As part of the “small” m4/3 that the GM series shoots for, Panasonic also introduced a new version of the 14mm f/2.5 lens and a 35-100mm f/4-5.6 Vario OIS zoom designed to compliment the GM5.

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Samsung Goes Pro

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Or maybe prosumer. 

The just announced NX1 is an APS sensor (1.5x) crop NX mount mirrorless camera designed like a high-end enthusiast DSLR: magnesium alloy body, weather sealed, lots of direct controls, and some very high specification. One interesting thing is that the sensor is the first APS-sized sensor I know of to use back-side illumination (BSI).

The NX1 becomes the highest density APS sensor camera to date, with a 28mp sensor that has 205 phase detect focus areas embedded on it, and those points cover 90 percent of the frame. The NX1 is capable of tracking focus at 15 fps, according to Samsung, and if that weren’t enough at the high end, it supports UHD (4K) video at 24 and 30 fps (1080P HD video at 60 fps). 4K video can even be uncompressed via the HDMI connector (8-bit 4:2:0). If that weren’t enough, there’s a 3” tilting touchscreen LCD plus a fast XGA-style EVF, WiFi with NFC, and an available vertical grip. 

Samsung has retained their tag-and-go style function, as well, meaning that the NX1 is one of the more smartphone/sharing-friendly cameras available. Bluetooth is used to bring time and location data from the smartphone to encode in the image metadata, as well. Basically, Samsung has thrown everything they know how to do into this camera, and it becomes the flagship of their line.

Coupled with the splash proof 16-50mm f/2-2.8 lens with image stabilization and the also announced 50-150mm f/2.8 companion, Samsung is clearly aiming at the prosumer market, if not the pro market as well.

Price is US$1500 for the body only, US$2800 with the 16-50mm f/2-2.8 kit lens. 

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Fujifilm’s Mirrorless Photokina

Fujifilm today announced items that had been already disclosed through leaks, though additional details are now available.

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First up is the US$1400 X-T1 Graphite Silver camera. This is an X-T1 that features a new silver “panda” type cladding, achieved by using a multi-layer coating approach. More interestingly, the new model has ten new functions or changes to functions not currently in the X-T1 (though these will be in a December firmware update for the original X-T1 model). Included in these changes are many that were some that responded to strong user requests. For example: direct autofocus area selection, Q menu customization, manual exposure control in video, and spot metering that follows focus.In addition, 24, 25, and 50 fps are now available as video frame rates. There are three functional changes in the new version of the X-T1, as well: 1/32000 second electronic shutter speed; the ability to change the live view to a “natural,” non-processed view; and a new Class Chrome film simulation. The new Graphite Silver body will be available in late November.

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Two “new” lenses also were announced, the most significant being the 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR (above). This weather resistant, fast telephoto zoom, while expensive at US$1600, fills a clear need for more and better telephoto choices in the XF system. Some are already complaining that this is a big, heavy lens, but that’s what fast telephoto zooms are: big and heavy (relative to the sensor crop size). One of the things keeping the X-T1 from really winning over some DSLR users has been the poor telephoto options, so I believe that pretty much any new telephoto lens is welcome for the XF mount. Given the X’s penchant for fast lenses and low light work, this lens is right in the wheelhouse of what’s needed, size notwithstanding.

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Meanwhile we get another version of the 56mm f/1.2 lens, this time with APD (apodization filter). Yep, a new word, apodization. Basically this lens adds a gradient filter to the lens design. One of the goals of that filter is to remove the so-called onion rings that sometimes show up in out-of-focus highlights. The downside to the new lens is that it can’t use phase detect autofocus, because the filter is changing the data the PD circuitry gets; it can still use contrast detect autofocus, though. So basically, to get better bokeh, you pay US$500 extra and get worse focus performance. I can pass on that. The original 56mm f/1.2 isn’t particularly bad in its bokeh to start with, though, yes, there tends to be a clear ring at the outer edge of OOF highlights. 

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E-Mount for Smartphones

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Sony today introduced a number of products at IFA in Europe, including the QX1, a US$400 smartphone accessory that accepts E-mount lenses, essentially making your smartphone into a mirrorless camera of sorts. While I was intrigued with the idea, I wasn’t thrilled with the actual QX10 and QX100 (the first models in the line, which have fixed lenses). Sony now seems to be trying to push the concept to its extreme by introducing two new models (the superzoom fixed lens QX30 is the other). Personally, I believe Samsung has the better idea about “connected cameras”: you don’t want to be juggling both your phone and camera; the phone ought to stay in your pocket and act as the communications hub for your camera, and you should be able to control where images go from the camera. Attaching your lens/camera thing to your phone just makes for an awkward phone and an awkward camera, and still forces you to deal with workflow issues.

In essence, the QX1 is like a Sony A5000 without the big LCD out back. Or much in the way of direct controls ;~). Or a hand grip ;~). In short, you have to use the smartphone to do all the heavy lifting, and last time I looked, the communications between the QX modules and iOS weren’t all that reliable, and had considerable lag. (Sony will release new software along with the QX1, so maybe this has improved.) 

As someone wrote me, it seems like the QX idea is a marketing-designed product that never made it past the initial conceptual idea to full rationalization. My suggestion: virtually all of the current Alpha E-mount cameras can do much the same thing with a smartphone, and they work better on their own, too. The QX1 seems like a product without a customer to me, though Sony’s marketing will likely get enough people to buy it.

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