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.

Nikon Updates V3 Firmware

Nikon today updated the V3 firmware to version 1.10. The primary feature added is full support for Nikon’s optional (for sale) Camera Control Pro software, which has also been updated to version 2.22.0. These two updates allow you to change all the settings for a V3 when connected to a computer running Camera Control Pro, as well as to shoot stills and record video when tethered. Camera Control Pro now also supports the unique Nikon 1 “best moment capture” ability that the V3 has built in.

Nikon Updates V2 Firmware

(news)

Nikon released version 1.21 of the V2 firmware, which fixed an issue with Eye-Fi cards that caused uploads to stop if you used any button other than the Record Video button to stop recording a video.

Samsung Updates NX1 Firmware

(news)

Samsung made a second large set of improvements to the NX1 firmware with the release of version 1.3. Most of the changes were to autofocus and video.

Autofocus performance was improved in low light, backlight, and spot light conditions, as well as in the corners with the 16-50mm lens. Face detect autofocus and video autofocus performance were also improved. A Zone Autofocus mode was added, and AF Area Size now has five steps.

In HD video, more data is read from the sensor, improving quality. Time Code gets a Rec Run option. The microphone now has an Auto On/Off capability. Histogram and other real-time information is now displayed during recording. 4K still captures from the video have been improved, and now include proper EXIF information. Time-lapse recording now can have up to 3000 individual shots.

Bulb mode now has no time limit. New Remote Studio software and a new SDK for it have been introduced, and the camera now supports a Tizen TV connection. 

There’s more, including a number of minor bug fixes and other handling improvements.

As I post this, the update doesn’t yet appear on the US Samsung support page, but should shortly.

Nikon 1 Repairs Outsourced in US

(news)

As of June 1st, all Nikon 1 products will apparently be serviced only by United Camera, in Illinois. Dealers have been receiving notices to send Nikon 1 repairs to this authorized repair center along with the notice that any Nikon 1 products sent to Nikon itself for repair will be forwarded to that facility. This new policy applies to Nikon 1 cameras, flash units, and lenses that customers return to dealers for servicing. 

Current Lens Availability

(commentary)

From time to time I like to update site readers on what lenses are available in the various mounts. For current mirrorless owners, it’ll give you an idea of how your system stacks up against the others, plus remind you of what you’ve got available. For those thinking about purchasing a mirrorless camera, this allows you to quickly compare the potential systems for suitability. 

Without further ado, here’s where things stand today (I’ve also added an X where there’s a lens pre-announced on a roadmap for this year):

bythom mirrorless lens availability

Notes: The Pentax Q line is tough to nail down due to the sensor size change. I’ve moved these lenses to where I think they approximate with the current Q cameras. The 300mm equivalent for m4/3 may not appear, while a 600mm equivalent should. 

As usual, I’ve had to round a few focal lengths here and there to fit into established 35mm equivalents. I’ve not listed third party options here, but they tend to mimic what you see here: Fujifilm, m4/3, and Sony get more support from third parties, while Canon, Leica, Nikon, and Pentax don’t get much, if any. Samsung falls somewhere in the middle.

Quite obviously, m4/3 still has a broader and deeper choice than the other mounts, partly because we’ve got two manufacturers—Olympus and Panasonic—contributing to the available lenses. While there are gaps in the m4/3 lineup still, for the most commonly used focal lengths there is plenty of choice. 

Fujifilm and Samsung have been filling out their lineup quite well, too, though each still has a few significant gaps they still need to fill, particularly when it comes to telephoto lenses. Surprisingly, the E/FE mount has a lot of near duplication in it. The original Sony E-mount is getting less focal length diversity than you’d think with the introduction of FE lenses, as the prime focal lengths pretty much just stack up on each other. 

When is a DSLR Not a DSLR?

(commentary)

Fujifilm and Panasonic today both introduced US$800, DSLR-like, mirrorless cameras. Both are following similar strategies. 

First, the price. The Fujifilm X-T1 and the Panasonic GH4 were well received cameras, but pretty much priced out of the range most consumers would consider. The new Fujifilm X-T10 and Panasonic G7 are essentially attempts to put as much of those top-end cameras into the middle of the consumer price range as possible. Indeed, the X-T10 and G7 both pretty much stack right up against a Canon Rebel T6i or Nikon D5500, the bread-and-butter cameras of the DSLR duopoly.  

So here we have two DSLR-like mirrorless cameras competing pretty much head to head against two DSLRs. So we’re headed right back to where we were in the camera business: everyone beating their heads against each other for market share. 

Indeed, I have to wonder about the camera industry as a whole: it just can’t see how to get to the future. Instead, it keeps heading back to the past. Yes, the SLR design is a proven one. Yes, lots of direct, basic control is what most still shooters want. Yes, the now aging camera enthusiast likes retro-type homages to past cameras. But is it actually selling more cameras? No. Is it selling cameras to the young? Is it introducing new audiences to still cameras? Not really, though Panasonic’s push towards 4K does at least invoke a feeling of being at the front edge of technology, rather than the tailing edge. 

This is nothing about the quality of the cameras we’re getting. I expect the new Fujifilm and Panasonic models to be very good products that can handle most shooters’ needs. In the sense that competition is good, more models that are basically clones in features and performance has to be registered as good. However I suspect that all this is going to do that consumers will see as good is push prices downward some more. Indeed, the image quality from both these new competitors isn’t expected to be better than the higher-end models they supplement, so they’re already pushing pricing down just by appearing. 

I know I sound like a broken record, but the Japanese camera companies are now just in a self-imposed tailspin. They’re repeating the same patterns in a declining market that they made in the last declining market, apparently expecting a different result. 

It’s going to take a bold, modern, well-thought out approach to still cameras in order to break the rush to the ground and eventual crash. Neither of today’s new cameras are that. Instead, they’re the old betting strategies re-instigated in a world where the game being played has changed. 

I’m sure many of us will enjoy the X-T10 and G7. It certainly will make it less costly to sample the higher-end X and m4/3 worlds for some of you. But these cameras also show that we’re in a rut. Next thing you know we’ll see tail fins and more chrome. 

One of the things I enjoyed about mirrorless was that it did start down a different path of thinking about what a still camera is and should look like, and produced something that was useful that wasn’t a DSLR. If the end result of mirrorless is that we just get more DSLRs, only smaller and without the mirror plus cheaper for the manufacturer to make, then we really haven’t progressed. 

The NEX-7 and NEX-6 held promise as something entirely new. With a different take on how you directly control the camera, a much more compact package, and the nascent communication and PlayMemories applications, I had high hopes for those mirrorless models showing the road to the future of still photography. It seems that this road has now looped back the road we were on before. 

Here’s hoping to the road not taken actually being taken again.

Panasonic Restarts the G Series with the G7

(news & commentary)

bythom panasonic g7

The G series cameras looked to be dormant even when the G6 appeared. Panasonic themselves indicated that they weren’t sure that they would continue this DSLR-like line, especially given that they had another DSLR-like line that was well received in the GH. 

Surprise, the Panasonic G7 is here. With the kit lens it comes in right at the US$800 mark. (I’ll have more to say on that in another article.)

Another surprise: the G7 does 4K video, even though that was thought to be the exclusive territory for the GH4 over the other Panasonic m4/3 bodies. While not quite as flexible in video as the GH4, the G7 does shoot 2160P/30 (4K) at 100Mbps compression, in theory matching what a GH4 can do in camera. The G7 also manages 60P with traditional HD video, and has a special 4K photo burst features that provide a short still burst sequence to be captured at high frame rates. With continuous autofocus in still shooting, you’re limited to 6 fps; with focus fixed on the first frame, you can shoot at 8 fps. 

The sensor is still pretty much the same 16mp Live MOS sensor Panasonic has been using and refining for some time now, though the Venus image processing engine that lives alongside it has grown in capability (now centered around a quad-core CPU). Panasonic’s DFD (depth from defocus) technology is used in the autofocus system, again like the GH4. 

Panasonic has also gone a bit more traditional with the camera controls, adding a dedicated Drive Dial to the Mode dial and dual control dials. As with most Panasonic cameras, there is an overabundance of programmable (function) buttons. 

In terms of seeing your images, the EVF uses a 2.36m dot OLED LCD at an eyepoint of 17.5mm (magnification 1.4x), while the rear LCD is a touchscreen that fully swivels.

Overall, the G7 seems like a very well specified m4/3 model at an attractive price.  

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Fujifilm Introduces the X-T10 Camera

(news & commentary)

bythom fujifilm xt10

Fujifilm today introduced a smaller and lower-cost version of it’s X-T1 camera, the new X-T10. Still styled to look like the old Fujica bodies, the new X-T1 is a bit more like the old ST-701 with a blunted pentaprism. Instead of an ISO dial ala the X-T1, the X-T10 gets a Drive Mode dial (curiously, the same as the other camera introduced today, the Panasonic G7). The X-T10 is a somewhat smaller camera than the X-T1, and has a few concessions because of that, including dropping the weather-sealing and a less pronounced hand grip. 

Instead of the X-T1’s external flash, the X-T10 gets a modest pop-up flash with a GN of 16 feet (5m) at ISO 100. Flash Sync Speed is still 1/180. The X-T10 doesn’t have a PC Sync socket, while the X-T1 does.

The EVF is mostly the same as the X-T1 in terms of ability, though the eyepoint has been reduced to 17.5mm and the magnification reduced, as well. Likewise, the rear LCD was downsized to 920k dots, as well. 

What’s new? The autofocus system has been improved (and the X-T1 gets a firmware update to bring it up to speed). As usual we get tweaks to the rendering engine, too, most notably in the noise handling. Video has been reworked a bit, with 36Mbps encoding of 1080P at frame rates from 24 to 60 fps. Manual exposure can be set during video recording.

One small bit: I notice that Fujifilm has finally removed the words “eliminate moire” and replaced them with “reduces moire.

Overall, the X-T10 puts into question whether Fujifilm will continue with the X-E models. I’m not sure what the distinction would be between a possible X-E3 and the X-T10, as the X-T10 is getting down to X-E size and weight. Maybe they have something up their sleeve there, but I’d bet that the X-T10 is going to sell better than the X-E2, and by a considerable margin.

Along with the X-T10, Fujifilm also announced the 90mm f/2 lens.



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Olympus Formally Introduces new Pro Lenses

(news & commentary)

bythom olympus8mm internal

Now that’s a complex fisheye!


Olympus today formally announced the long-ago leaked 8mm f/1.8 fisheye and 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro lenses for the m4/3 mount. The “news” essentially is the details of specifications, pricing, and expected availability. I’ve linked to the specifications in the first sentence. The pricing of the 8mm is US$1000, while the 7-14mm is US$1300. Both are expected to ship sometime in June, though that’s subject to change.

This now gives the m4/3 user an interesting competing set of high-quality lenses from fisheye to moderate telephoto:

  • Olympus: 8mm f/1.8, 7-14mm f/2.8, 12-40mm f/2.8, 40-150mm f/2.8
  • Panasonic: 8.5mm f/3.5, 7-14mm f/4, 12-35mm f/2.8, 35-100mm f/2.8

The Olympus lenses are splashproof and give you a bit bigger range, but are larger than the Panasonic lenses, which tend to feature built in image stabilization and smaller designs. A working m4/3 pro now has two competing lines of pro-quality lenses to pick and choose from, something no other mirrorless system has accomplished to date. Both companies have leaked development of longer telephoto lenses to further extend the set (Olympus 300mm f/4, Panasonic 150mm f/2.8). 

Along with the lenses, Olympus made the somewhat lame announcement that it would build 7000 Titanium versions of the E-M5II. This limited edition version of the camera differs basically in having the bottom and top plates made with a dark metallic finish. This is classic “what do we do when we need to sell more cameras” Japanese thinking: make a limited edition with a cosmetic change. You’ll pay US$150 extra for that (using today’s prices). 

Finally, Olympus announced firmware updates for the existing E-M5II and the E-M1. Basically the E-M1 gets the Live View boost setting of the E-M5II, and both cameras get an Underwater Picture Mode.


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Fujifilm Updates the X-T1

(news & commentary)

Fujifilm today announced a firmware update for the X-T1 that won’t be available until next month. Why there’s urgency to announce firmware that isn’t available, I’m not sure. Oh, wait, I am sure: marketing. The X-T10 will be introduced soon with these same new abilities, so you can’t have the lower end camera outperforming the high end, can you? Moreover, by first announcing the firmware, then the new camera, then the firmware again when it’s available, you get three press releases for the price of two.

What’s new in version 4.0 of the X-T1 firmware? A lot to do with autofocus. Indeed, it appears that the entire autofocus system has been revised. Performance is said to be significantly improved, and it was already very good. There are new zone and wide-tracking modes for moving subjects, eye detect autofocus, improvement of focus accuracy (especially in low light), an auto macro mode so you no longer have to press a button to initiate macro focusing, plus improvements in video focus, as well. In addition, four other small changes were included in the update, including exposure compensation in Manual exposure mode with Auto ISO active and finer lines when using the framing grid in the viewfinder so that subjects aren’t obscured. Silent Mode has been renamed to Sound & Flash Off to better indicate what it does.

bythom fujifilm newaf

You can see a video of the new focusing features in action on Fujifilm’s dedicated X-series site. A number of people watching that video wonder why certain lenses are suggested with certain video modes. You can actually see a bit of the reason why in the video: autofocus motor performance in the various Fujifilm lenses varies a bit. Some are more optimized for motion tracking speeds than others, while some are more “languish” in moving focus elements (e.g. the 60mm macro). I noted that Fujifilm was careful to show lenses that were optimized for the task they were showing. That’s not to say that you can’t do zone or wide-tracking with lenses that weren’t in the suggested lists of the video. Indeed, you can use any of the modes with any of the lenses. But some lenses will show off the new performance a bit better than others in certain situations.


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