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The independent source for study and review of camera ergonomics.

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    Camera Ergonomic Score Summaries


    Here are the ergonomic score summaries for the cameras thus far evaluated and scored.


    This post will be updated as new cameras are added to the list.



    Camera

    Setup Phase

    Max15
    Prepare Phase

    Max 15
    Capture Phase

    Review Phase

    Max 5
    Total:

    Max 100

    Holding

    Max 20
    Viewing

    Max 20
    Operating

    Max 25
     Nikon1-V2
     7
     6
    12 
     10
     3
     46
     Panasonic G6
    11 
     10
     14
     14
     14
     66
     Panasonic GH4
     10
    13 
     18
    18 
    19 
     83
     Panasonic
    LX100
     10
     11
     10
    10 
     5
    54 
     Panasonic
    FZ1000
     10
    13 
     17
     18
     20
     5
    83 
    Sony A3500 
     5
     12
    39 
     Fuji
    X-T1
     10
     9
     13
    10 
    55 



















































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    X-T1 with 23mm f1.4 lens


    In February 2014  I posted an opinion piece on this blog titled ‘Fuji X-T1, an ergonomiccontrarian view’.    


    This was based on ergonomic analysis of many cameras and a discussion of the relative merits of the traditional [aperture ring+shutter speed dial+exposure compensation dial] control layout versus the modern [mode dial+control dial] layout.   With respect to the X-T1 the discussion was conceptual in nature.


    I recently had the opportunity to borrow an  X-T1 from a family member and use it for a week.  It was fitted with the 23mm f1.4 lens and was running Firmware 3.0.


    This is the Camera Ergonomics blog so I will concentrate on ergonomic issues in the next post.


    However I will make some observations in this post about image quality and performance.


    FZ1000


    X-T1  I don't know if the smearing effect in green foliage will be apparent after these images have been through the Google Blogger image upload system but it is quite easily seen in the originals at 100% on screen.


    Image quality  This has been extensively and favourably reviewed elsewhere, however I did note some issues which I think worthy of note.


    Overall the camera does a good job with particularly low luminance noise levels at high ISO sensitivity settings.  It is well suited to indoor use without flash, which is a good thing because the camera lacks a built in flash.


    ISO Range  luminance noise.  I tested the X-T1 against my usual camera, the Panasonic FZ1000.

    For my testing the X-T1 was fitted with the quite large but optically very nice 23mm f1.4 lens which gave good results right from f1.4. Stopped down a little, images were sharp across the frame.


    At low ISO sensitivity setting (200)  the X-T1 showed no noise at all. The FZ1000 at ISO 100 had just detectable noise.


    At high ISO sensitivity settings the X-T1 easily outperformed the FZ1000 with a two EV step luminance noise advantage at ISO 6400.   Unfortunately the X-T1 does not offer RAW capture at ISO settings higher than 6400.


    Files from the X-T1 at ISO 6400 had about the same amount of luminance noise as those from the FZ1000 at ISO 1600.


    I also noted clear differences between the two cameras in the character of the luminance grain.


    The FZ1000 produces sharp, clearly defined grains, reminiscent of black and white film of yester year.  Grain from the X-T1 is larger and softer in character, producing images with a less grainy appearance but also slightly less apparent sharpness.


    FZ1000 Chart center

    X-T1 Chart center.  Lower resolution than FZ1000 with JPG like appearance in fine detail of RAW files


    Resolution/sharpness (low ISO sensitivity)  


    I tested this by photographing subjects with fine foliage outdoors, several subjects indoors and also my standard test chart which consists of pages of classified newspaper advertisements on a flat board.


    For the test photos I had the camera on a tripod, used 2 second timer delay and directly controlled aperture,  shutter speed or sensitivity depending on the requirements of each test run. I did runs with autofocus, manual focus, mechanical shutter and E-shutter.  I used RAW capture converted in Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw.


    I got some unexpected and puzzling results, some of which I cannot explain.


    * On the test chart  at the same aperture (f3.1) and equivalent focal length  the FZ1000 out resolved the X-T1, even at the edges and corners.


    On the chart I have several strips of woven cloth. The FZ1000 resolved the weave detail clearly but the X-T1 did not.


    Considering the FZ1000 has a 16x superzoom lens and the X-T1 had one of Fuji’s best primes mounted, that was a surprise. The FZ1000 has more pixels of course, which helps, but in the past I have tested 16Mpx micro four thirds camera/lens combinations which produced better sharpness/resolution than the Fuji.


    Outdoors in general photography the X-T1 delivered sharper edges and corners. I can’t explain this unless the 23mm f1.4 has a problem with curvature of the focal plane. But that is not a convincing notion either because in several frames of the test chart the Fuji images were sharper in the corners than the edges, presumably due to optical correction of the curved focal plane.


    * In the fine foliage outdoors and in the center of the test chart the X-T1 files exhibit an odd appearance of fine details. They are RAW files but they look like oversharpened JPGs, with little double lines at fine detail edges.  Strangely the edges of the test chart did not show this effect.


    * In the outdoor photos with the X-T1 some areas of green foliage had smeared or smudged details while the same areas from the FZ1000 held detail.  This issue has been reported elsewhere and is  I believe, a well known problem with Fuji X-Trans files converted in Photoshop (or Lightroom).


    * I have 9 pages of text on my test chart. In several frames I found that just the bottom row of the pages showed marked unsharpness with double imaging effect. With other mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILC)  this doubling may be a sign of shutter shock.  But in my experience the doubling caused by shutter shock affects the whole frame, as you would expect.


    I have no idea what might cause the phenomenon to be confined to just one sector of the image. It was most marked at  shutter speeds from 1/10 to  ¼ second and was not evident when I used the E-shutter.


    Neither camera nor lens has an image stabiliser.


    I did not have the opportunity to pursue this matter further.


    FZ1000 sharp lower section

    X-T1 blurring with doubling of lower section at 1/10 sec, cause not determined by me.


    All I can say is that


    1. There are some issues, some of which have been reported elsewhere, with Fuji X-Trans .RAF files converted  by Photoshop Camera RAW and presumably Lightroom which uses the same process.


    2. I saw mysterious local unsharpness in test chart frames the cause of which I know not.  I don’t even have a hypothesis about it.


    Autofocus Performance  It seems that the arrival of every new camera these days is accompanied by claims that is has ‘the fastest autofocus in the world’. That was Fuji’s claim when the X-T1 was released.


    Presumably some of the zoom lenses focus more quickly but with the  23mm f1.4 lens mounted, auto focus speed  is quite pedestrian and slower than other cameras which I have tested recently.


    In addition the AF action is accompanied by a fair bit of whirring and clunking in the mechanism.


    By comparison the FZ1000 focusses so fast and quiet one is hardly aware that any focus action has taken place.   In most conditions the focus box confirms ‘in focus’ instantly with half press of the shutter button.


    I found (single) autofocus in the X-T1 to be mostly accurate however I did notice a few ‘just out of focus’ frames indoors and even outdoors at f5.6. 


    I did not have a suitable lens with which to test AF-Continuous performance.


    Manual focus   This works very well with the 23mm f1.4 lens on the X-T1. The manual focus ring on the lens is smooth and precise.


    Fuji’s implementation of peaking is the best I have yet seen on any camera and  with the Focus Assist button fast, accurate manual focus is possible. 


    The family member from whom I borrowed the camera has it set up for manual focus as a first preference for photographing children and other family members.  It works well.


    However to note an ergonomic issue I would point out that holding the camera, rotating the focus ring, looking in the viewfinder (or at the monitor) then pressing the Focus Assist button while keeping the subject in frame, requires a bit of juggling.


    The problem is that to get onto the Focus Assist button the right thumb must drop away from the thumb support. This might not sound like any kind of big deal to read about but in practice the action of lowering the thumb causes complete release of the hold which the right hand had on the camera.


    This in turn requires the left hand to support virtually all the mass of the camera and lens while continuing to rotate the focus ring accurately.


    This is not impossible but there are other camera designs which allow the user to do the job more smoothly, with better control and without having to juggle the mass of the camera from one hand to the other.


    Shot to shot times  With ‘Image Disp’ in the ‘Screen Setup’ tab in the Setup Menu  set to OFF  (it took me three days to find that, by the way) RAW capture and refocussing with AF on every frame, the X-T1 with 23mm f1.4 shot 10 frames in 7 seconds, giving a shot to shot time of 0.7 seconds.


    The FZ1000 made 0.3 seconds shot to shot time in the same conditions.


    Summary 

    I
    mage quality is generally in line with other current cameras having a 28mm diagonal (APS-C) sensor and is particularly good at high ISO sensitivity settings.


    Performance is also generally in line with the camera’s peers.


    Given this good but not remarkable performance what can account for the numerous rave reviews which the camera has enjoyed ?


    Maybe Andy Westlake’s comments in the Digital Photography Review ‘Shooter’s Experience’ report of April 2014 sum up the X-T1’s appeal:  

    There's no doubt that the X-T1 is a camera that will make many photographers drool. With dials and switches to operate almost every conceivable setting, it's almost the antithesis of the typical modern press-button-spin-dial interface (which arguably finds its apogee in the X-T1's most direct competitor - the Olympus OM-D E-M1). Match it up with one of Fujifilm's truly excellent primes like the XF 23mm F1.4R and you get an exceptional image making tool.


    I hear two things here:


    1. The dials and switches are to drool over. Lucky the thing is weather sealed.


    2. It is the antithesis to the modern camera user interface. For every technology advance, there is a counter-movement. Some people just lurrve their vinyl records, or say they do.


    In the next post I will discuss whether those dials and switches are useful for something more photographic than resisting  drool.


    Post Script:  As I was writing this Digital Photography Review published on 28 February,  an interview with Mr Toshihisa Iida, Senior Manager, Sales and Marketing for Fujifilm.


    I thought some of his responses to questions from DPR staff were unusually candid and one was a bit puzzling.


    The puzzling one was his assertion that ….”we think our 16Mp X-Trans sensor delivers a higher effective resolution than conventional Bayer 16Mp sensors”…..


    I have not found this and neither have some other bloggers writing about Fuji X-Trans cameras.


    The candid responses were to a question about feedback from X-T1 customers.


    Mr Iida said that there were three positive things (then listed four) namely lenses, color, portability and viewfinder.  Nothing here about image quality, performance or ergonomics which are the three cardinal qualities by which I evaluate a camera.


    He also said that Fuji wanted to improve ‘…operation, in terms of button layout and so on, autofocus performance and movie image quality’.


    I did not evaluate movie performance but I did find that various aspects of operation and autofocus performance could be improved.  Read more about ‘operation’ in the next post.

















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    Fuji X-T1 on the right. Panasonic FZ1000 used for comparison on the left.


    This review follows my usual schedule for evaluating, describing and scoring camera ergonomics.


    You can read about it here.



    At several points I compare operation of the X-T1 with the FZ1000 shown in the photo above.  The main purpose of  this is to highlight the differences between the hybrid/traditional  control system on the X-T1 with the modern [Mode Dial+Control Dial] system on the FZ1000.  

    Setup Phase


    The menu system is clearly laid out and easy to use. Navigating around the menus is easy.


    There are no deal breaker problems but the scope of adjustments available is a bit limited for a flagship product. 


    For instance the EVF is ‘viewfinder style’ with camera data beneath the preview image and the monitor is ‘monitor style’ with the data overlaid on the lower part of the image, but I could not find an option to configure them both the same.  Options for adjusting both the monitor and EVF are limited compared to some other cameras.  There are limited options for AF area size and configuration.


    There is no ‘My Menu’.


    There is only limited opportunity (with Firmware Ver3.0)  for user configuration of the Q Menu.


    Menu Resume works for Shooting Menu but not Setup Menu.


    The PDF Owners Manual is reasonably well written but offers olde worlde functionality with page thumbnails but no page jumps forward or back. This makes navigating the Manual a tedious business.


    Setup Phase Score 10/15


    Prepare Phase


    The Q Menu is readily accessible. Compared to a recent Samsung or Panasonic camera the user interface is inflexible, offers limited user input, carries a tiled list of functions which many users may never want yet lacks others which you might want.


    Drive Mode and Exposure Mode each have a dedicated set and see dial, in each case set beneath another set and see dial for use in Capture Phase of use. The Drive Mode dial is easy to access and use. The Metering Mode dial is awkward to use with the lever hemmed in by the EVF housing on one side and the shutter button housing on the other side.


    A typical modern camera control system has a Main Shooting Mode Dial allowing quick access to 10 or so functions.

    On the X-T1 there is no Main Mode Dial. This means switching from one Shooting Mode to another requires workarounds of various kinds depending on the task. Custom Modes cannot be accessed directly.


    The Focus mode lever is located on the front of the body. It is small and the lever is fiddly to operate. 
    Even with practice I found myself having to turn the camera around so I could actually see the lever and its three positions to be sure of setting the correct one.   This is a clumsy implementation  which could easily have been improved with a different design.


    The [Wi-Fi] Fn button is difficult to reach. Conversely the un-named Fn button on the front of the camera is too easily bumped accidentally, something which I did almost every time I picked up the camera.


    Many of the Prepare Phase issues with this camera are due to the top of camera real estate being occupied by set and see dials which control Capture Phase functions. But in Capture Phase the user is looking through the viewfinder and cannot see those dials anyway.


    I will run through a few tasks of Prepare Phase with the X-T1.


    * Change from Program AE Mode to Aperture Priority AE Mode.  This is the easiest mode switch for the X-T1 but there are still complications depending on the lens fitted.


    With a prime lens or constant aperture zoom, the left hand turns the aperture ring on the lens. Easy.  
    But there is no option to preset an aperture.  At least you can see the selected aperture indicated on the lens.


    On a variable aperture zoom lens it is first necessary for the left fingers to find the little lever near the back of  the lens barrel and move it off the [A] setting, then turn the aperture ring, which does not have markings.  So you can’t tell the aperture by looking at the lens. You have to look in the viewfinder, just as you would with a modern style control system.


    Some lenses, designated XC,  for the Fuji X system don’t have an aperture ring at all.  These are intended for use on one of the budget X models like the X-A1 which has a Mode Dial and control dial system.   I have not had the opportunity to check, but presumably these lenses will also work on the X-T1 using the front/rear control dials.


    * Change from Program AE Mode to Shutter Priority AE Mode.   This requires the left hand to support the mass of the camera and lens while the right hand leaves the handgrip to apply the thumb, index finger and third finger to the Shutter Speed dial, press the center lock button and turn the dial to the desired shutter speed. There is no shutter speed preset option.  This can be done while looking through the viewfinder but is easier with the camera brought down so the dial is visible.


    * Change from Program AE Mode to Manual Exposure Mode.  This requires  both the procedures above.


    So with the X-T1 changing shooting mode involves different actions depending on which change is wanted and what type of lens is fitted.


    By way of comparison consider carrying out the same tasks with the FZ1000. On this camera you always do the same thing to change shooting Mode. Shift up grip with the right hand. Apply the thumb and index finger to turn the Mode Dial. Retain grip on the handle with the other three fingers of the right hand.


    This can be done with the camera down from the eye but is just as easy with the camera to the eye. 
    All changes are indicated by an icon in the viewfinder. With a little practice changing modes can be done quickly and smoothly without having to think about what must be done.


    When shifting to a new Mode the setting will be that which was last used. This makes it easy to preset  Aperture and Shutter speed or both in M Mode for immediate readiness.


    Prepare Phase Score  9/15


    X-T1 in hand.  There is nothing 'wrong' with this hold and some users prefer it.


    Canon SX60 in hand.  This camera has the same width and height as the X-T1 above.  But the handle, shutter button location and thumb support are very different. This is an example of the 'inverted L' style handle. This allows the hand to adopt the optimal half closed relaxed position. This is both stronger and more relaxed than the 'scrunched up' hand/finger position required to hold the X-T1. In addition both the third finger on the right hand and the right thumb participate in supporting the mass of the camera without having to apply any squeezing force.


    Capture Phase – Holding


    Some users report they like holding the X-T1 and that is perfectly fine.


    However I make two points:


    1. There are four varieties of accessory handle available from Fuji and several more from independent suppliers indicating that more than a few users are looking to improve their holding experience.


    2. My studies of handle ergonomics indicate that the shutter button location and handle type used on the basic X-T1 are not optimal for relaxed, strong holding. I don’t wish to labour the point, you can read more about it here.


    Quite by chance I happened to have on my desk a Canon SX60 super/travel zoom camera at the same time as the X-T1. This camera is to a couple of millimetres exactly the same size as the X-T1.


    It has an inverted L type handle, forward/left shutter button location and a moderately deep, angled type thumb support.


    The SX60 provides a much more comfortable, natural holding experience right out of the box without resort to any accessories. You can get some idea of this in the photos but you really have to hold each camera to fully appreciate the difference.


    I will report in due course about other aspects of the SX60 user experience which are, unfortunately rather less enjoyable.


    Holding Score 9/20


    Capture Phase—Viewing


    * EVF:   The EVF is large, clear and sharp although I found that on the FZ1000 slightly sharper.   

    Color rendition is generally a little warm and  saturation  slightly overdone in some conditions.   Highlight and shadow detail is good.  Responsiveness is good.  Options for adjustment are limited for a flagship camera.


    In Portrait orientation camera data can be configured to appear on the lower part of the preview image but not beneath the image.


    Modern EVFs like this one make the argument for an optical viewfinder look very weak. The optical viewfinders of DSLRs with 28mm diagonal sensors are by comparison small, dim, unsharp and almost impossible to use for manual focussing.


    The camera tested was fitted with a Fuji Long eyecup EC-XTL.  This is a considerable improvement on the standard small round eyecup which allows excess stray light to enter.  So, why, I kept thinking, does Fuji not fit the better eyecup at the factory ???


    * Monitor:  This is of the swing up/down type which is more useful than a fixed type but less versatile than the fully articulated type.  Since consumer models like the Canon SX60 have a fully articulated monitor I think it reasonable to expect a flagship model like the X-T1 to have this also.


    Monitor sharpness, color, highlight/shadow detail and responsiveness are very good.


    The monitor display cannot be set to ‘viewfinder style’ match the EVF.


    There are good information displays in both the EVF and monitor.


    When the camera is mounted on a tripod the monitor will not swing open so this has to be done before the camera is secured.


    Viewing score 13/20


    Capture Phase—Operating


    At this point I need to re-iterate that I make a clear distinction between a user’s likes and preferences on the one hand and the results of ergonomic analysis by time and motion studyon the other hand. 

    Each expresses an aspect of the user experience but they are not the same thing.


    It may also be worth reviewing the section on CapturePhase—Operating,  in Ergonomic Scoring Schedules.


    Some people have indicated that they like using the X-T1 controls and user interface for their own reasons whatever those may be.  It may be that each individual who likes the X-T1 controls will have a different and personal reason for this. 


    Some might feel that the separate controls for aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation help them better understand how the camera operates.


    Some say they like the ‘direct’ controls, although that is something of a misunderstanding of the function of a modern electronic camera on which almost every control except manual zoom is electronic and remote. That aperture ring which seems ‘direct’ is just an electronic actuator which could be anywhere on or off the camera. Still, people may very well like the idea of direct controls.


    Whatever the reason all these preference are perfectly reasonable for each individual.  It is not for this blog to tell people what they should like.


    This blog is about ergonomics which can be evaluated by time and motion study and other means of direct observation.


    It is possible, in fact easy if one is systematic and prepared to record actions carefully, to note the number and complexityof actions required to carry out each of the tasks required to drive the camera in Capture Phase and to note any support actions (such as shifting grip with the opposite hand) required to facilitate the primary actions.


    Note that anybody with a camera and  the willingness to observe what actually happens when someone uses it can carry out these studies. Competence in quantum mechanics is not required.


    The Fuji X-T1 uses an amalgam of traditional set-and-see controls for primary exposure variables together with a range of UIMs (user interface modules) allowing modern inventions such as Modes and other settings and functions to be set or operated.


    I find, in summary, that a camera (such as the Panasonic FZ1000 which I used for comparison) with a well designed modern control system (there are plenty of suboptimal or badly designed ones like the Canon SX60 featured in this post) based on Mode Dial+Control Dial allows most of the tasks of Capture Phase to be carried out with fewer actions, each less complex and requiring fewer support actions than the control system on the X-T1.


    The key criterion for ergonomic evaluation in Capture Phase is as follows:

    The user is able to adjust primary and secondary exposure and focus parameters while continuously looking through the viewfinder and without disrupting grip with either hand


    If I were to detail every action required for every task relevant to the criterion this post would become over long so here are  a few examples.


    * Change aperture in A Mode   With an XF grade lens this is straightforward. Just rotate the aperture ring on the lens with the left hand. This can be done as easily with the camera in landscape or portrait orientation. 

    With a fixed focal length lens the fingers can stay on the aperture ring while in Capture Phase.

    But with a zoom the fingers need to shift back and forth from the zoom ring to the aperture ring.


    Change shutter speed in S Mode  The right hand must lift up to place the index finger and thumb on the shutter speed dial and turn it.  This disrupts grip with the right hand. The left hand must carry the mass of the camera/lens as a support action. 

    Intermediate shutter speeds require yet another action as they are accessed by rotating the front or rear dial after making an initial setting with the shutter speed dial.


    Change aperture and shutter speed in M Mode  This requires both sets of actions detailed above.


    Change ISO sensitivity  The left hand must be completely released from the lens and all the mass transferred to the right hand. The left thumb, index finger and third finger then work together to press the center lock button and rotate the dial. Any subsequent turn of the dial also requires the lock button to be pressed. 


    I was unable to do this while continuing to look through the viewfinder.


    Change exposure compensation  This requires the index finger and thumb of the right hand to turn the dial which does not have a lock button. This in turn requires the right hand to shift grip but not as much as is needed to change shutter speed.


    With the FZ1000 each of these tasks is carried out with fewer, less complex actions requiring fewer support actions and less disruption to the capture flow.


    Aperture in A Mode and shutter speed in S Mode are changed by rotating the rear dial. In M  Mode I have the rear dial change shutter speed and the front lever change aperture. I have ISO on the Fn1 button just behind the shutter button. To change the setting press the button then turn the rear dial.  

    Exposure compensation is obtained by nudging the lever in front of the shutter button.


    All these actions can be performed without releasing grip on the camera with either hand and without taking the eye from the viewfinder.


    Fast tele zooms     Fuji wants the X system to become a tool for professionals. To that end it has released some fast zooms such as the 50-140mm f2.8. This is the APS-C version of the classic 70-200mm sport/action zoom. Its mass with filter and hood is over 1000grams and it is quite large, sitting between the f2.8 and f4 versions of  full frame 70-200mm lenses.  I would think anyone using this lens on the X-T1 will want the most secure accessory handle available.


    I find when using the FZ1000 that I frequently need to switch between A Mode and S Mode as  I zoom out. That is quick and easy on the FZ1000 but slower and less streamlined on the X-T1.


    Which way is value up ?  The process of operating a camera requires the user to adjust up and down values of imaging parameters such as f stop, shutter speed, exposure compensation  and ISO setting.   

    Smooth operation is aided if the fingers always do the same thing to adjust value up and the opposite thing to adjust value down.


    On the FZ1000 I push (the dial, lever or ring) right for value up and left for value down. That works for f Stop, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation and focal length.


    On the X-T1 the situation is more complicated and further complexity is introduced dependent on how the user’s brain interprets turning a dial.   


    If the dial is on a vertical axis (like the ones on top of the camera) is the front or the rear of the dial used as the reference for turning direction ? It matters because they are opposite. If you can see the dial while turning it that is not much of an issue but if you are trying to turn a dial while looking through the viewfinder it is very much a factor in the user experience.


    On the X-T1 value up is given by: aperture ring- right, rear of shutter speed dial- right (or front of shutter speed dial- left), rear of  [+/-] dial- right and rear of ISO dial- left.  There is no consistent direction.


    As I used the X-T1 I never got into a rhythm about what dial goes which way and found myself often having to look at the dials, thereby disrupting the capture process.


    For landscape and other static types of photography that is not much of an issue. But for moving subjects/sport/action it is.


    AF-L button This is poorly located over the top of the thumb support. To press the button the right hand must shift grip upwards disrupting the capture flow.  


    Haptics  The 4 Way buttons on the control panel (the back of the camera to the right of the monitor) are recessed, making them difficult to locate and operate by feel.  Many cameras have the optimal ‘rocking saucer’ type 4 way controller with edges raised about 1mm. This works perfectly. I think Fuji should change to this UIM type in mid production.


    Other buttons in this area are also recessed, with the same problem.


    Operating Score 10/25


    Review Phase  The user can readily enlarge an image,  scroll around and jump to the previous or next image at the same location on the frame and at the same level of enlargement.  I deducted a point because the front and rear dials are recessed, making them a bit awkward to use.


    Review Score 4/5


    Total Ergonomic Score 55/100.


    Concluding remarks


    When the X-T1 was introduced it generated many positive reviews and comments not all necessarily related to its presumed  role as a picture taking device.


    One reviewer said it has “chic hipster charm”. Another was effusive about the  “real metal engraved dials”.


    One wrote that  he “really enjoyed using these physical controls and the fast access they provide”.


    Several remarked favourably on the camera’s looks and style. Some were pleased it has a magnesium alloy body.


    I found that in practice it works well with a fixed focal length lens  mounted  and P or A shooting mode.  But in S or M Modes it becomes more awkward to use and I think the design is not well suited to operating a big, wide aperture sport zoom lens.


    In any mode the ISO dial is frustratingly difficult to operate and the haptics need a serious upgrade.


    I think that if Fuji wants the X series to convince professionals to come on board they need a model which looks and operates more like a modern DSLR with a full handle and modern  [mode dial+ control dial] control sytstem.  And better continuous AF and a sensor with standard Bayer filter pattern.


    In a recent interview with Fujifilm’s  senior sales and marketing manager Mr Toshihisa Iida,  Digital Photography Review staff asked “Are there any particular competitive cameras in the market that you really admire ?”


    Mr Iida replied “One of the most interesting cameras in the past six months or so was the Canon EOS 7D II…………The focussing system is very good.”


    You rarely encounter an executive from one camera  company endorsing a competitor’s product but there it is.  He said it.












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    This is a summary of the scoring schedules.
    For further discussion of the rationale behind the schedules see the Major Summary here.

    Maximum score allocations:    This represents a judgement call about which aspects of camera use are the most ergonomically important.  Obviously this is contestable but I think it is reasonable to allocate the highest priority to the process of operating the camera in Capture Phase. The actual numbers are somewhat arbitrary as they must be but they can be adjusted in the light of ongoing experience, should that be necessary.


    Phase of use


    Maximum score

    Setup


    15

    Prepare


    15

    Capture

    Holding

    20


    Viewing

    20


    Operating

    25

    Review


    5

    Total


    100


    Scoring  In each subsection the maximum score will be gained if a camera allows the user to efficiently perform all the tasks with a small number of actions each of low complexity, has all the hardware and positive factors with none of the negative factors. Total maximum score is 100.

    I rate all cameras against all other cameras using the same criteria. There is no division into entry, midrange,  professional or any other grouping.  I expect all cameras for all users to have excellent ergonomics.


    The overall score has three elements:


    1. Subscores.


    2. A narrative explaining the scorer’s reasoning for the subscore with reference to the criteria.


    3. A total score. 


    Some aspects of scoring rely on subjective impressions, for instance whether a handle is rated as ‘comfortable’. In this case long term experience with many cameras helps to inform the decision process.


    But many items on the scoring schedule involve rating the camera against  objective criteria. For instance can all the tasks of Capture Phase be carried out while looking through the viewfinder and without having to change grip with either hand ?


    Unscored features


    Modern cameras come with a plethora of features and functions such as ‘art filters’, special effects, scene modes …..etcetera. I do not include these in the ergonomic evaluation or score.

    I also do not rate touch screen capability. Some users say they have high regard for this feature but from an ergonomic perspective it is unusable with hand held operation and OVF/EVF viewing. It may be useful with the camera on a tripod for stills or video but cameras designed for stills or hybrid still/video (like the Panasonic GH4)  will still work just fine without the touch screen.  Some dedicated video cameras rely heavily on a touch screen interface.


    Setup Phase  [Max score 15]


    Tasks  Make Main Menu selections, Allocate My Menu items, Allocate Quick Menu items, Select Function Button and dial  assignments, set up Custom Modes, set up other functions such as Wi-Fi.


    Elements   Has a Main Menu, My Menu with user selected items and a separately accessed Quick Menu with user selected items for Prepare Phase.


    Most UIM's enable user selected function.

    Content  Menu headings and subheadings are logical, coherent, systematic and easy to navigate.  Like items are grouped together.


    User interface  All items are clear, legible and easy to read.  The process navigate>identify>select  is easily learned and becomes second nature.


    Negatives  Main Menu confusing, contains mystery icons or items, not logically designed, like items scattered about in different submenus.  No My Menu.  Q Menu items not user selectable.  No Custom Modes. Navigation complex or confusing.  Setup Phase UIM's located where Capture Phase UIM's need to be.


    Prepare Phase  [Max score 15]


    Tasks  Set Main Mode, set frequently used modes (usually Focus , Autofocus, Drive), set less frequently used modes and other adjustments required in the minutes prior to Capture Phase.  Clearly not all  these tasks are required for every shooting session but the camera should enable them for the times when they are required.


    Hardware  Has dedicated set and see (module with inscriptions indicating current setting)  UIM's (user interface modules: covers buttons, dials, switches, levers etc) for the most commonly used Modes.  Allows quick access to other modes and functions required in Prepare Phase, by Quick Menu button, Function buttons  or other quick access portal(s) on body and lens.


    User interface  Clear graphics, icons and displays on monitor and EVF when navigating and selecting items via Q Menu, Function buttons or other portal. UIM's for Prepare Phase do not displace UIM's for Capture Phase from top value locations on the body.


    Content  Quick access portals allow adjustment of other modes and functions, for instance flash, metering, recording quality, image size, ISO (if set in Prepare Phase) shutter type, image stabiliser, display, burst/continuous rate, electronic level, electronic shutter, grid lines, histogram  ...............and many more, as user selected.


    Negatives  Any Prepare Phase items only accessible via main menu.   Settings locked  while camera is writing files to the memory card. Q Menu items, functions of buttons and other UIM's not user assignable. Prepare Phase UIM's located where Capture Phase UIM's need to be.


    Capture Phase  [Max score 65]


    Holding  [Subscore 20]


    Tasks   Hold the camera in a relaxed but secure grip with both hands with right index finger on the shutter button in relaxed position.  Maintain this grip while carrying out the "operating" tasks below.


    Hardware  Built in ergonomic anatomical handle, inverted L type is optimal.  Ergonomic thumb support. Diagonal type is optimal.  Optimal shutter button position is forward, top left on the handle (as viewed by the user).


    User Experience  Handle and thumb support work together to allow the user's right hand to adopt the half closed relaxed posture in basic hold position.  Shutter button location enables this optimal holding posture.


    Negatives  Absent or poorly shaped handle. Handle only available as accessory.  Thumb support inadequate in position, elevation or orientation.  Sub optimal placement of shutter button.


    Viewing  [Subscore 20]


    Tasks  the operator can comfortably and clearly, in all conditions,  view in the EVF or monitor the information listed below.


    * Subject preview (live view) unobscured by overlays.


    * Major camera data, displayed outside the preview image, in either landscape or portrait orientation,  optimally below but possibly also above:

    Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, Exposure Compensation, White Balance, Battery Status, Capture Mode in use, Remaining exposures on card.


    * Secondary camera data/displays, superimposed over the preview image:

    Active AF Area position and size/shape, Grid lines, Histogram, Manual Focus Guide indications, others as user selected.


    Hardware  There is a built in high quality EVF with high quality viewfinder optics and comfortable eyecup.  There is a high quality monitor. Fully articulated type is optimal.


    Content  EVF and monitor gain up or down to represent exposure compensation. 100% accurate preview is provided.


    User Experience   EVF and monitor both provide the same information presented in the same way. There is a seamless segue from one to the other.  Look in the viewfinder, see the viewfinder;  look at the monitor, see the monitor.  Optimally there is no perceptible EVF blackout time after each exposure.


    Negatives  EVF not built in or not available, Camera data is only available superimposed over the preview image, EVF refresh rate slow, EVF delivers poor viewing quality in some conditions. Monitor fixed or only swing up/down.


    Operating [Subscore 25]


    Task list  While continuously looking through the EVF (or monitor, but the EVF is a more stringent test) and without shifting grip on the camera with either hand, Capture Phase requires that the following tasks be carried out smoothly and efficiently, without impeding the capture process.  Obviously not every exposure requires every one of these tasks to be performed but the camera should be configured so it is possible to do so:


    * Adjust primary exposure parameters: Aperture (f stop), Exposure Time (Shutter speed), Sensitivity (ISO).


    * Adjust secondary exposure parameters: Exposure Compensation, Program Shift, AE Lock, White Balance.


    * Adjust primary framing and focus parameters: Zoom, Initiate/Lock autofocus, Manual Focus.


    * Adjust secondary focus parameters: Change position and size of active AF area, manual over ride focus, AF Lock.


    Hardware  There are sufficient UIM's of appropriate design on body and lens with which to drive the camera as described  in the task list.  UIM's on the lens controlling zoom, focus and aperture (if fitted) are of circumferential type.  UIM's on the body can be operated by the right index finger and thumb without having to shift grip.


    User experience  With practice the user can learn to drive the camera like a motor car. The user looks through the viewfinder (windscreen) at the subject (traffic ahead) and operates the device by feel without looking at it. With further practice the user does not have to think about the process of operating the camera any more than a driver thinks about operating a motor car.


    Negatives  The camera is configured so the user has to interrupt the capture process, change grip with either hand or lower the camera from the eye in order to change one or more of the parameters listed above.  Poor/suboptimal UIM location or haptics.


    Review Phase  [Subscore 5]


    Task list  Tasks which photographers might want to perform in Review Phase may vary greatly according to individual preference. Some photographers do little in camera review, others a lot.  Ergonomically this is the least critical phase of use as the photo has already been captured.  As a minimum I would list:


    * Recall the last 1-9 photos captured and select one.


    * Zoom into and move around in a review image.


    * Jump from one image to the next or previous at the same level of magnification and the same location in the frame.


    * Delete one/many.


    Hardware  The camera needs UIM's to enable the tasks above to be performed. These need to be located low in the positional hierarchy on the camera.


    Content  Comprehensive data about each image is available and efficiently recalled onto the monitor screen or in the EVF in the same form.


    User experience  The task list can be carried out efficiently.


    Negatives  Essential file data is not able to be recalled.  It is not possible to scroll from one frame to the next at the same location and magnification.  Auto review cannot be disabled.  UIM's for Review Phase occupy high value locations on the camera which are better reserved for Capture Phase.



    Further reading
    On the ‘Pages’ bar of this blog, found at the top of the home page in most browsers, there is extensive discussion about many topics grouped under the ‘Basic Concepts’, ‘Design’ and ‘Measuring Ergonomics’ tabs.

    Each of the specific camera reviews also has commentary about ergonomic issues.


    End of this post











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    Rainbow Lorikeet photographed with a Canon SX60,  a FZLC


    Last week someone  posted a question on a photo user forum asking about the difference between cameras with and those without a mirror.


    Old guys like me who have been using cameras for 60 years need to be reminded occasionally that not everybody has a long personal history of camera use and that many people wonder what all the mirrorless debate is about.


    So I put together  this brief summary of the characteristics of each type, with a third one thrown in for good measure.


    Let’s start with a little acronym entrée:


    ILC: Interchangeable Lens Camera

    SLR:  Single Lens Reflex (Camera)

    DSLR: Digital Single Lens Reflex (Camera)

    MILC:  Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera

    FZLC: Fixed Zoom Lens Camera

    PDAF: Phase Detect Autofocus

    CDAF: Contrast Detect Autofocus

    OVF: Optical Viewfinder

    EVF: Electronic Viewfinder


    The SLR Camera  This is a type of ILC which arose in the mid part of the 20th Century. It was and to some extent still is, an elegant solution to several photographic problems:


    * How to provide a range of lens focal lengths from wide to long, there being no zooms when the SLR was invented.


    * How to preview the subject correctly oriented in a viewfinder then focus and frame accurately.


    * How to achieve accurate exposure metering through any lens mounted.


    * How to package all this in a compact device at a price point accessible to ordinary people.

    The SLR is a quintessentially 20th Century invention. It relies on mechanical and optical solutions to the problems presented.

    In due course camera makers replaced the film with a digital sensor and added electronic operation but otherwise kept the same basic design, thus creating the DSLR.


    DSLR Schematic


    This is a very basic schematic of a DSLR.


    When the flipping mirror is down, as shown here, light comes from the subject through the lens and strikes the mirror. Most of the light is reflected up to the focussing screen where it forms a visible image which is inverted laterally. Some light is passed through to the sub mirror and thence to the Phase Detect autofocus module.


    Light passing upwards from the focussing screen bounces around the pentaprism (or mirrors in some models) and in the process the preview image becomes correctly oriented laterally and vertically. 
    Some of the light is picked up by another little mirror and deflected to the metering sensor.


    The user looks in the eyepiece of the optical viewfinder to see a preview of the subject, with adjacent camera data which adds further complexity not shown in the diagram.  The focal plane shutter is closed.


    In this mirror position,  image preview, exposure metering and (auto) focussing take place.

    When the user presses the shutter button several things happen very quickly.


    The flipping mirror lifts up, the sub mirror flips up with the main mirror and the operator’s view is blacked out  for a short time.


    The shutter opens, the imaging sensor is exposed to light.


    Then the shutter closes to end the exposure and the flipping mirror drops down again, allowing the cycle to repeat.


    A DSLR can also operate in monitor view mode with the mirror held up, the shutter open and light passing directly to the imaging sensor. In this mode a DSLR works very much like a MILC. The image preview, metering and focussing are all generated directly on the imaging sensor. Image preview data is fed electronically to the rear monitor.

    You can think of a DSLR as in effect two camera types in one body, one with an optical viewfinder, the other with an electronic viewfinder (the monitor).


    DSLR Variant: Sony SLT

    Sony is the only manufacturer to offer this type of camera.  It is a DSLR but some of the inner workings are different from the standard version.


    The main mirror is a fixed pellicle type, not flipping. It transmits about 70% of the incoming light to the imaging sensor and reflects the remaining 30% up to a Phase Detect autofocus module located about where the front of the pentaprism would be on a conventional DSLR.  There is no focussing screen. Autofocus can operate continuously with no interruption for image capture.


    The viewfinder is Electronic, receiving data from the imaging sensor just like a MILC.


    MILC Schematic


    The MILC is a creature of the 21st Century. It replaces the fixed and moving mirrors and other optical parts of a DSLR with electronic data processing and transfer.


    You can see the MILC has fewer mechanical and optical parts than the DSLR, but it is more reliant on electronic data transfer and processing.


    The body has less depth because the back focus distance is less, there being no need to accommodate the flipping mirror and focussing screen.


    It may also be possible to reduce the height a bit as many EVFs are smaller than a pentaprism or mirror and there is no need to find room for the PDAF module in the base of the camera.


    Image preview can be fed to the EVF and monitor simultaneously although the camera is usually set to display one or the other to save power.


    All metering, CDAF and/or PDAF and image capture take place on the imaging sensor.


    The focal plane shutter is open when previewing the subject. If the shutter is of all mechanical type it closes when you press the shutter button then opens to make the exposure and closes to end the exposure.  Some shutters have an electronic exposure commencement (a.k.a. electronic first curtain) and mechanical exposure termination. This is desirable to prevent shutter shock, see below.


    Mirrorless variant: The FZLC


    In this style of camera the zoom lens is not interchangeable. There is no need for a lens mount. The rear element of the lens can be quite large with a diameter equal to or greater than the imaging sensor, providing some optical advantages. This rear element can be very close to the sensor allowing further reduction in the overall depth of the camera.


    The shutter is usually a diaphragm leaf type located inside the lens. This allows for further reduction in bulk of the unit.


    Which is best ?    Each type has advantages and disadvantages.


    DSLR  Advantages:


    * For most non professional photographers I suspect the main advantage of the DSLR is incumbency. It is an established and widely recognised camera type. I suspect lots of people ‘know’ or think they do, that the DSLR is the camera type to get if good quality pictures are desired.


    * Pro-Am and Pro level DSLRs can effectively follow focus on a moving subject with an appropriate lens fitted.  Entry level DSLRs and many MILCs are less competent at follow focus, although MILCs are catching up with every new model generation. The situation is not static.


    * The long established DSLR makers have a huge inventory of lenses and other accessories from which consumers can choose. 


    * Some users still insist that the OVF of a DSLR is preferable to the EVF of a MILC.  That was true a few years ago but the new EVFs are now so good that in several respects the better ones have the advantage.


    DSLR Disadvantages


    * A DSLR requires extremely accurate location of several moving and still optical components. There is a manufacturing cost to this and also variation between samples. This leads for example, to each lens requiring AF micro adjustment on each separate body. This adjustment is not offered on entry/upper entry models. 

    This is a problem with accuracy which is the degree of closeness of a measurement to the true value, or in this case the closeness of the focus point to the correct one.

    No such adjustment is required on a MILC or FZLC which measure focus directly on the imaging sensor. 


    * The PDAF system used on a DSLR is inherently faster but delivers more variable results than the CDAF used on MILCs.

    This is a problem with precision  which is the degree to which repeated measurements give the same result.

    The CDAF system on MILCs and FZLCs is inherently more accurate and more precise than the PDAF system used on DSLRs.

    That, by the way, does not mean every MILC and FZLC has  more accurate and more precise autofocus than every DSLR. Some MILCs have CDAF implemented badly which is no use to anyone.


    * Mirror slap. The flipping mirror can cause vibrations which can lead to blurred images at some shutter speeds, usually around 1/8 second and therefore not usually seen with hand held pictures.


    * Cost: (soon)  For the moment, MILCs are either equal in price to the consumer or even more expensive than DSLRs.  Makers of  MILCs are playing catch up in several areas of technology at present, adding to R&D costs but I expect that in due course it will be less expensive to make a MILC than an equivalent DSLR as there are fewer parts.


    * Much has been made by manufacturers and users of the size/mass advantage which MILCs have over DSLRs. This is real but not as great as some MILC enthusiasts might have you believe. MILC bodies can definitely be smaller for any given sensor size, but the lenses are generally not and lenses make up the bulk of a multi lens kit.


    Sony SLT advantages/disadvantages


    * The main advantage would be the ability to perform continuous PDAF. This should  benefit follow focus with continuous autofocus and high frame rates. There is no mirror slap.

    There are also fewer moving parts than a DSLR.


    * I can think of several disadvantages though. 

    That pellicle mirror is always between the subject and the sensor, collecting dust and potentially degrading image quality.


    There is little if any size/mass advantage over a DSLR.


    But perhaps the main one is ongoing uncertainty regarding Sony’s intentions about the SLT type and about the A mount in general.


    MILC advantages


    * I expect that in due course mirrorless cameras will be less expensive to make and buy.


    * Size/mass is a minor advantage as pointed out above.


    * Advantages of the EVF and the ability to configure the monitor and EVF to display the same information in the same way making for a seamless segue from one to the other.


    * More accurate and precise single shot AF.


    * In the end I suspect that mirrorless cameras will prevail at least for amateur buyers simply because gadgets in the 21stcentury are characteristically electronic and DSLRs are at the core mechanical devices with their roots in the 20th Century.


    MILC disadvantages


    * Mirrorless cameras are still playing catch up to pro level DSLRs for follow focus on moving subjects.


    * Refresh rates on even the best EVFs have still not quite caught up to the DSLR OVF.

    These issues still make Pro and Pro-Am DSLRs preferred for sport/action/wildlife/bird photography.


    The gap is closing however as rates of electronic data processing and transfer increase with each new generation of mirrorless camera.


    * ‘Shutter Shock’. Some cameras with an all mechanical shutter  display blurring of the image, sometimes with double imaging,  with some lenses at some focal lengths and some shutter speeds, usually in the range 1/20 to 1/200 second. This is caused by the first ‘shutter close’ action vibrating the camera/lens unit.


    What about the FZLC ?


    With recent developments in the technology of small imaging sensors and high range zoom lenses using aspheric elements some of the latest FZLCs are starting to look like an attractive alternative to an entry/upper entry DSLR.


    The main advantage of this type is that it represents  an ‘all-in-one’ solution to many users’ desire for a go-anywhere-do-anything camera with no need to carry or change lenses.


    FZLCs typically have a greater zoom range in a more compact, lighter, less expensive package than any superzoom lens on a DSLR or MILC.


    The leaf shutter is compatible with flash at all speeds, is usually very quiet (most of the ‘shutter sound’ you hear is electronic and artificial) and does not cause shutter shock.


    The disadvantages are that there is no option to change lenses and high ISO image quality of FZLCs is not as good as that available from many ILCs, due to the smaller sensors required.


    But FZLCs are improving with every generation.


    What about lenses ?  


    In the ‘good old days’  lenses  were focussed manually by turning a ring on the lens barrel.  This moved the whole optical group back and forth on a helical mount.


    When autofocus was invented, lens makers kept the same basic helical mount but the user’s fingers were replaced by a little motor.  Some lenses appeared using just the inner/rear group of elements for focussing but still using a helical action.


    This worked (and still does) just fine with PDAF.  


    But cameras with CDAF are a very poor match for lenses with a helical focus action.



    PDAF vs CDAF Schematic



    The diagram above relates to the discussion below.


    With PDAF the AF module measures some light rays and figures out:


    a) which direction the focus elements in the lens need to move


    b) how far the focus group needs to move in order to achieve correct focus.


    Having done that the AF system says to the lens “go there” and it does. With a basic PDAF system the camera doesn’t check whether the lens is actually in focus at the ‘go to’ point.  I believe the more sophisticated (=expensive) systems may have a final ‘are we really there’ check before the shutter fires.


    A basic CDAF system cannot tell if the lens needs to move one way or the other to achieve focus.

    So it moves the lens and repeatedly asks ‘are we getting closer’ until the focus action overshoots the mark and the camera detects the focus action has to reverse. As indicated in the diagram above the process of finding correct focus involves several back and forth movements of the focus elements.


    This back and forth movement requires the focussing parts of the lens to accelerate, stop then reverse extremely fast.


    A helical mount is simply too slow even with a powerful motor.


    So most lenses particularly zooms, designed for CDAF have a different design. They


    a) utilise a few small optical elements in the interior of the lens for focussing and


    b) those elements, in a lightweight housing,  are driven directly back and forth on rails.

    This is much faster and has allowed cameras with CDAF to match or better those with PDAF for single shot autofocus speed.


    But basic CDAF is still not good for follow focus on moving subjects as it has no predictive capability.


    Camera makers have tried to deal with this problem in two ways.


    Most have converted some pixels (about 10,000 or thereabouts) on the imaging sensor to PDAF sensors. The idea is to use the PDAF function to drive the lens to where it estimates the correct focus point to be then fine tune with the CDAF.


    MILCs from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Samsung,  Fujifilm and Olympus have this technology.


    Panasonic uses a technology which it calls DFD (Depth from defocus) which uses data about the optical characteristics of out of focus images to estimate the direction and amount by which the focus lens must be moved.  It is a way by which CDAF might emulate the best feature of PDAF.


    For a first generation new technology it seems to work pretty well. My GH4 and FZ1000 with DFD are better at follow focus than my GH3 (without DFD), but still not up to the standard of a high end DSLR.  Maybe the second generation of DFD will boost follow focus even further.


    Which system will prevail ?


    In a recent interview a very senior Canon executive said he did not know whether DSLR, MILC or ‘Compact’ by which I think he probably meant FZLC, would the dominant technology for most camera buyers in the future.


    If he doesn’t know then I guess nobody does.  The buyers will decide, as usual.


    We live in interesting times.











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    Braldu River Northern Pakisan  This photo was made a few years ago with a Mamiya 7 manual focus, manual everything medium format rollfilm camera.  A reminder that photographers managed just fine for many years without autofocus or auto anything.

    This is a follow on  from the previous post, DSLR-vs-MILC-vs-FZLC.


    Some people, I was one of them, imagined that the MILC as a camera type would overtake the DSLR in popularity soon after it first appeared in 2008.  We were wrong.


    I guess the global financial crisis of 2008/9 didn’t help. Maybe the GFC prompted lots of camera buyers to take a cautious approach to their purchase decisions.


    But I suspect the main reason is just that Canon and Nikon have not fully embraced the MILC concept.


    These two manufacturers make most cameras. If they did shift  to MILCs as their dominant offering then MILCs would sell more than DSLRs.


    So why have Canon and Nikon not embraced the MILC category more fully ?


    I don’t know of course, being nowhere near the corridors of power in the camera world,  so I have to guess and I think there might be two reasons.


    1. The first is about sales.  I think that while Canon and Nikon are doing well with DSLRs that is what they will continue to make. I think that if DSLR sales fall even further than they have done then maybe CanoNikon will ramp up their MILC designs to a more prosumer level and increase output.  Maybe: but see below.


    2. The second is about lenses and focussing technology.

    In the previous post I talked about the focussing problems experienced when a lens designed for PDAF is mounted on a camera which relies on CDAF.


    Canon and Nikon each have a huge inventory of lenses designed for PDAF. 


    Obviously they want their existing DSLR lens inventory to work properly via an adapter on their MILC bodies. This would allow existing lens owners to transition to MILC without having to change their kit of expensive DSLR lenses.


    So they need MILCs with PDAF. In fact they do have  MILCs which have both PDAF and CDAF on the imaging sensor.


    But apparently DSLR style PDAF using dedicated sensors in the base of the mirror box is more sensitive, more accurate (if the hardware is in correct alignment)  and faster than the on sensor style PDAF of mirrorless cameras.


    The technical reasons for this are over my head. I read about it on photo.stackexchange.com, Wikipedia and cambridgeincolour.com. I don’t understand the technical exposition but I do get the message: on sensor PDAF is not as good as DSLR type PDAF.


    Canon appears to be trying to manage this in two ways simultaneously.


    Some EOS DSLRs utilise Canon’s ‘Dual pixel CMOS AF’ which allows every effective pixel to participate in PDAF as well as image capture. 


    But apparently dual pixel AF, while suitable for video,  is still not very good for predictive continuous AF on moving subjects with still photos, which might explain why the  EOS M3 MILC does not have this technology, utilising instead ‘Hybrid CMOS AF III’.


    I suspect this issue is actually a very big deal and possibly the main rate limiting factor affecting CanoNikon’s progress on MILC development.


    In a recent interview with staff from Digital Photography Review, Mr Masaya Maeda, a senior Canon imaging executive is quoted as saying  “ ..every day I’m saying, speed up, make it faster…” .


    FZLC

    Both companies are also in the FZLC market and I am guessing they will upgrade their design and production in this sector if sales figures tell them that is where buyers want to go.


    Trailblazing

    CanoNikon are allowing Sony, Panasonic, Olympus and others do the trail blazing and market making with new camera types, planning, I suppose, to move in when they are ready.


    The danger is of course, that previously faithful  CanoNikon buyers will drift away to other brands in the meantime and fail to return to the fold.


    Maybe Apple will do a run around all of them and collapse the established camera industry completely.


    The buyers will decide.


    We live in interesting times.





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    Canon Powershot SX60


    I wanted a backup camera to my Panasonic FZ1000for an upcomingholiday.The SX60 looked suitable based on published specifications. So I bought one and tested it over a two month period.



    Focal length Equivalent 81mm  I have printed up a frame from this series to 390x640mm actual picture size. The print looks strong, clear and sharp on the wall with no visible grain, although grain is easily seen on screen at full size.

    Description and features


    On paper and to some extent in the polycarbonate, the SX60 has considerable appeal.


    It is a mainstream entrant in the ‘all purpose, do everything’ travel/holiday superzoom genre.


    Size and mass are right in the goldilocks zone. It is large enough to have all the key features of a proper camera yet small and light enough to carry anywhere in a small bag.


    It has a well designed handle and thumb support, fully articulated monitor, decent EVF over the lens, built in flash, hotshoe, zoom range from very wide to very long, a decent lookingset of buttons and dials, programmable function buttons  and  [mode dial + front dial] control system just like a DSLR.


    It has RAW + JPG capture, single or continuous shooting AF, Macro function, video, Wi-Fi and all the usual features of a modern, all purpose consumer camera including such gems as ‘Smile Detect’ and ‘Wink Self Timer’ (really) for the inveterate gimmick lover.


    The ‘Frame Assist-Seek’ feature is welcome. Pressing a button on the side of the lens barrel pulls the lens back to a wide setting so you can find your subject. The lens zooms out again when the button is released.


    Macro Focus Mode is very useful. It allows the camera to focus on small objects like insects and little flowers while retaining useful working distance. This permits close ups on the run without having to use a tripod or any elaborate preparation. The fully articulated monitor makes the process even easier.


    The spec sheet and my initial ‘hands on’ with the camera were encouraging.


    Some reviewers have complained about the lack of a touch screen but for hand held work especially at long zoom, I find a touch screen is of little use.


    Other reviewers have complained about the lack of an eye sensor for automatic switching between the EVF and monitor.  Fair enough an eye sensor would be nice but it is not required. The EVF is active if the monitor is turned inwards. The monitor is active if it is turned out.


    Focal length E500mm  from RAW


    Picture Quality

    Just like similar superzoom models from other manufacturers the SX60 uses a very small sensor, measuring 6.17 x 4.55mm with a diagonal of just 7.13mm. This is less than half the area of my little fingernail.  Somehow they get 16 million photosensitive pixels onto this tiny area.  I can’t even begin to imagine how the micro engineering for this might work, but somehow it does albeit with some compromise to image quality.


    The moored yachts were about 750 meters from the camera. Hand held Focal length E1360mm, from RAW original with strong sharpening


    At its best the SX60 can produce images of very high quality, able to print up to A3 size and still look clear and sharp with a  commanding presence on the wall.


    At its worst the SX60 can turn out smeared images which resemble impressionist watercolours more than photographs.


    The camera can make images of very good quality outdoors in good light, especially at the near/wide and mid section of the zoom range.


    The more adventurous photographer who wants to work indoors, in low light, with moving subjects such as children at play with high ISO settings or at the long end of the zoom range will soon find him or her self struggling with the luminance noise in RAW files or the smearing, watercolour effect of heavy handed noise reduction in JPGs.


    The SX60 does close ups on the run very well. This Grevillea was at about waist height. I opened out the monitor, set Macro focussing and quickly made a series of exposures. Several were sharp even though a breeze was blowing the flower about. Focal length E180mm. 


    The built in flash might get plenty of use indoors.


    *  Exposure is excellent in all conditions.


    * Dynamic range (highlight and shadow detail) is quite good at low ISO settings with a mild tendency to blow out highlights if subject brightness range is high.


    * Colors look natural with RAW capture but unbalanced in the JPGs with oversaturated greens and yellows.


    * Luminance noise is evident in RAW files at base ISO sensitivity and is very prominent at high ISO settings,  detracting from resolution, sharpness and color. 

    JPGs utilise heavy noise reduction (NR) even with [HI ISO NR set to LOW] leading to watercolor effect which impairs rendition of human faces and hair. The effect is prominent at high ISO settings.


    General subjects without humans or cute furry animals fare better with the JPG rendition.

    JPG  Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation and Color Balance are adjustable via Func.Set>My Colors>Custom Color.


    JPG NR is only user adjustable via the ‘High ISO NR’ tab in the Shooting Menu. I set this to ‘Low’.


    Focal length E786mm. Hand held.  JPG original, uncropped.  I set Continuous Shooting AF and made about 250 shots of surfers that day and discarded almost all of them. This sort of photography is actually very difficult, mainly because it is extremely hard to keep the subject in frame let alone in focus. Many frames had the surfer more out of frame than in.


    * The lenshas an amazing 65x zoom range.


    Sharpness varies with focal length.


    At the wide end,  focal length Equivalent 21mm, the center of the frame delivers impressive amounts of detail but the corners are a bit soft and don’t really clean up when the  aperture is stopped down. 
    This might not suit landscapes but for most subjects the corner softness is not a problem.


    Very good results across the frame are obtainable from about E28 – E400mm focal length. When I think that these pictures are coming off a sensor only 7.1mm in diameter the results seem quite amazing.  I printed a test photo from this zoom range at an actual picture size of 635 x 390 mm and it looks really good with excellent detail and quite good highlight and shadow detail. Luminance noise (grain) at ISO 100  is not visible in the print .


    This is what happens when you shoot 500 meters across a local geographic hot spot, in this case a beach, on a warm day. The combination of the softish lens at the long end and atmospheric distortion  produce this impressionist painting appearance.  By the way, any camera with any lens would be equally affected by the atmospheric distortion. I just put this in for fun.


    But as the lens zooms out towards the long end it loses contrast and sharpness, with a tendency to local flare in bright conditions.  Which could be a problem because you really need bright light to hand hold at the long end of the zoom.


    I can still make good A4 prints and decently presentable A2 prints from shots made at full zoom.


    Chromatic aberration and distortion are well corrected presumably in post capture software.


    Purple fringing is common at high contrast edges and appears in JPGs. It is mostly correctable in 
    Adobe Camera Raw (and presumably Lightroom which uses the same process).


    * The Image Stabiliser works very well, allowing the careful user to handhold at the long end of the zoom. My tests indicate approximately a 2 EV step shutter speed advantage with the IS on.  This might not sound like much with some cameras claiming 5 stops of benefit. But it is still very useful. 

    In fact this camera would be unusable hand held at full zoom without the IS.


    The IS allows me to reliably get sharp pictures at the long end of the zoom from a shutter speed of 1/125 second with careful holding technique.


    JPG or RAW


    I imagine that many, perhaps the majority of this camera’s users will probably use JPG capture exclusively. If they keep to the wide-to-mid range of the zoom, outdoors, good light and reasonably static subjects I think most will be well enough pleased.


    But RAW capture and careful editing in a good RAW converter such as Adobe Camera Raw (which I use) can produce much better results.


    And therein lies the paradox of the SX60.


    The camera will very likely be used by the group least able to get the best image quality from the camera.



    ISO 1250, JPG straight out of camera.

    This is from the RAW version of the same photo as above converted in Adobe Camera Raw to the best of my ability. You can have either the watercolor look of the JPG or the sharper but more grainy appearance of the converted Raw file. The converted RAW file could be processed to look  like the JPG but I prefer the 'grainy but sharper' look.


    * Sharpening in Photoshop Camera Raw


    In the Sharpen Panel with files from most cameras I generally set the Amount slider to about 50 and the Radius slider to 1.0 pixels. 


    But with the SX60  I find files from the wide end of the zoom range require a different treatment  from those made with the long end of the zoom because the long telephoto shots have lower contrast and sharpness.


    For the wide end I set an Amount of 50-60 and Radius of 1.2-1.4 pixels.


    For the long end I experiment with an Amount of 60-100 and Radius of 1.5-2.5 pixels. 


    This aggressive sharpening is often useful. The downside is an increase in the already prominent luminance noise (grain).


    On balance I find the sharpened-but-grainy pictures from converted RAW files more appealing than the watercolour look of the standard JPGs.


    Performance


    * Single autofocus generally works well. It is decently quick at the wide end of the zoom and acceptable at the long end and/or low light for subjects not moving quickly. Although not lightning fast the AF locks on smoothly without hunting back and forth. It is commendably accurate with very few misfocussed frames.


    * With JPG capture ‘Continuous Shooting AF’ works surprisingly well in bright light and around mid zoom range. I photographed cars moving towards and away from the camera at about 30 kph. At 5 frames per second  85% of frames were acceptably sharp and only 10% completely out of focus.


    There are three main problems which make the camera  much more difficult to use on moving subjects at the long end of the zoom:


    * The image you see in the viewfinder is not a preview of the next shot but a review of the previous one or the one before that.


    * The diagonal angle of view is only about 2 degrees, so it is very difficult to keep in frame any subject moving across the line of sight.


    * Autofocus slows as the lens is zoomed out.


    Birds in flight ? Not likely.


    * There is a manual focus function which I did not find to be useful. As described on Page 79 of the 
    User Guide  there is a rigmarole of button presses on the badly designed 4  way pad to bring up and activate manual focus all of which gets you to the “general focal position”. Then you activate “Safety MF” by half pressing the shutter button which activates autofocus to “fine tune” the focal position which you could have done simply by half pressing the shutter button in the first place.


    * In single shot mode and RAW capture with AF and AE on each frame, shot to shot time is 1.4 seconds.


    * The lens takes 2.5 seconds to traverse the full zoom range.


    Next post- Ergonomics and summary







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    SX60  Well designed handle.  Looks like a DSLR but doesn't work as well.


    This ergonomic evaluation follows my usual format. You can readabout it here.

    Setup Phase


    The Main and Func Menus use the standard Canon Powershot  layout which is easy to navigate and use and sufficiently comprehensive for this type of camera without being over complex.


    The graphical user interface is clear and well implemented.


    There is a My Menu, which is desirable,  but I could not find a way to allocate items from the  Setting Menu to it, which is annoying because I use the ‘Format’ command frequently and that takes 20 button presses.


    Setup score 10/15


    Prepare Phase


    The main Mode Dial with 13 positions is easily operated.


    Most functions required in Prepare Phase are accessible via the [Func/Set] button or one of the 4 Way keys or the Shortcut button and Red Dot (video) button both of which allow user assigned function.


    You don’t have separate set-and-see dials for Drive Mode and Focus Mode as might be the case on a more advanced camera but overall access to Prepare Phase functions is well catered for.


    The only problem in Prepare Phase is the flat, recessed 4 way pad which I found irritatingly awkward to use.


    Prepare Phase Score 9/15


    Capture Phase


    Holding


    Holding is the best aspect of the user experience with this camera.


    The handle is of the desirable inverted L shape. The center of the shutter button is inset 28mm from the right side of the handle which is just about where the index finger wants to find it. The Thumb support is of the desirable diagonal type.


    Holding Score 16/20


    Viewing


    The Monitor is the optimal fully articulating type. It provides a clear, sharp preview/review of images.   Camera data is overlaid on the lower part of the preview image which is not optimal as with some subjects the data is difficult to see.  There is no option to configure the monitor to ‘viewfinder’ style.


    The EVF provides a good viewing experience. It is clear, decently sharp, provides reasonably accurate although a little oversaturated color and good highlight/shadow detail. It is a bit jerky when panning in low light but overall is one of the better EVFs on a camera in this price bracket.


    For some reason which eludes me completely I find the EVF is less sharp in portrait orientation than  landscape. Strange…….


    Camera data is clear but is overlaid on the lower part of the image with no option to set ‘viewfinder’ style with the data beneath the image.


    Some reviewers have criticised the absence of an eye sensor for EVF/monitor switching but it is not really necessary. The monitor is active when turned out. The EVF is active when the monitor is turned in. Easy.


    The rubberised EVF eyecup is rectangular in shape. I think Canon’s designers need to get out more so they can check the number of humans with rectangular eye sockets.


    That would be……………none……………right. 


    Viewing Score 11/20


    Close up of the control panel with recessed buttons and epoxy blobs on the 4 way module.
    The flat 4 Way pad and recessed buttons are examples of poor haptic design. The look all right but in practice are very difficult to locate by feel and are awkward to operate even when looking at them. The epoxy blobs improve operation a bit but are no substitute for good  haptic design in the first place.
    Compare this with the photo of the control panel of the Panasonic TZ70 in a later post.


    Operating


    The SX60 doesn’t manage this very well. The controls look like those of a DSLR but they are not well designed.


    The principal criterion for evaluating operation is that all primary and secondary exposure and focus parameters should be adjustable while looking through the EVF  without shifting grip with either hand.


    The SX60 does not enable this due to numerous problems with the user interface.


    The Func/Set button, 4 Way pad and [+/-] button are recessed making them really difficult to locate and operate by feel.


    The [AF Frame Selector] button is in completely the wrong place on the thumb support and is recessed making it even harder to find without looking.  To change position of the AF box the user has to find and press the [AF frame Selector] button then find and press the 4 Way pad which is 30mm away and difficult  to locate and operate by feel.  To complicate matters further you have to press the Menu button (which is 45mm below the [AF Frame selector] button)  with the AF box orange to switch from large to small size.


    The only control which is reasonably easy to use without looking is the Front Dial, which changes 

    Aperture and Shutter Speed, depending on the Shooting Mode.  I would prefer this to be moved about 5mm forward, closer to the shutter button for easier access. Apart from that the dial has good elevation, sharpish serrations and is easy to turn.


    The irony is that the Front Dial  gets little use.


    Why ?  Bear with me, please. 


    This camera needs to operate with the lens at its widest aperture (smallest available f stop) just about all the time. This is to keep the ISO sensitivity as low as possible because high ISO settings are so noisy and damaging to image quality.  In addition the optimum aperture for the lens is around f 3.5-4.  In the mid range and long end of the zoom the aperture is already smaller than this so further reduction of the aperture will only lead to more luminance noise  (because the ISO setting has to increase) or more blur from camera shake (because of the low shutter speed) or reduced sharpness from diffraction at the aperture diaphragm.


    Therefore Aperture Priority AE setting is minimally useful. 


    But Shutter Priority AE can be problematic also, especially at the long end of the zoom range which is where it is most useful on other cameras.  If you set a high shutter speed it will demand a high ISO which impairs image quality.


    So I  set  Program AE Mode most of  the time, with the confusingly named Auto ISO ‘Rate of Change’ (which is really an auto ISO range setting) setting at ‘Standard’.  The camera keeps the ISO setting low which means using some really slow shutter speeds. But with careful usage practices (which means holding the camera really steady) the results are often decent enough.  Fortunately the image stabiliser works very well allowing me to use a shutter speed of 1/125 sec even at a focal length of E800mm and still get decent sharpness.


    Operating Score 6/25


    Review

    The camera enables the user to locate images easily, zoom in, move around the enlarged image and scroll from one image to the next at the same enlargement and position on the frame.

    The process of doing so is not elegant as the front dial is not used at all and the 4 Way pad is so darn user unfriendly.


    Review Phase Score 4/5


    Overall Ergonomic Score 56/100


    SX60 at the long end, focal length E1360mm. I used very strong sharpening for this original RAW capture. In ACR  Amount 100, Radius 3.0.


    User Improvements


    I dropped a little blob of 5 minute clear epoxy glue onto each quadrant of the 4 way pad and also the center Func.Set button.  This is not exactly elegant but does make the task of locating and operating the buttons easier than is the case with the unmodified product. Readers wanting to try this need to avoid getting epoxy in the gap between the outer ring and the Func.Set button.


    Best/worst features


    Best: Overall size/mass; handle/holding; picture quality with RAW capture in good light.


    Worst: Poorly implemented controls on rear of camera; High ISO picture quality, especially JPG.


    Who’s it for ?


    My guess is that the most likely buyer and user will be a JPG snapshooter who just wants to zoom-de-zoom then press the button.


    But the user who is most likely to make the best pictures with the SX60 is going to be an enthusiast/expert who understands how to operate the camera at the far end of the zoom (it’s not easy), how to get usable results in low light (that’s not so easy either) uses RAW capture and understands how to get good image files from the noisy sensor (and that requires a good Raw converter and the experience to use it to best effect).


    SX60  near the wide end of the zoom. Decent amounts of detail. Some highlights are blown out and unable to be recovered even in the original RAW file.


    Comparisons


    I have a Panasonic TZ70 and will be publishing a comparison with the SX60 in due course.


    How could Canon improve the SX60 ?


    Ergonomics: A few changes, costing nothing, could make a big difference.

    Some things are obvious enough, such as revise the 4 way controller from the present ‘rocking saucer with rim turned down’ to ‘rocking saucer with rim turned up’, plus making the [+/-] and [AF area control] buttons both available for user assigned function.

    I would prefer the front dial to be about 5mm closer to the shutter button for easier access.


    Picture Quality: This one might be a bit more difficult from either the marketing or technical perspective.


    My feeling is that this and several similar cameras are playing to the numbers (of pixels and zoom range) for marketing purposes and might be more effective picture taking devices if they had fewer pixels and a less ambitious zoom range.


    I compared the SX60 to a Panasonic LX100, a camera which makes 12 Mpx pictures. The LX100 can resolve more detail in photos, indicating that the SX60 is not utilising all its 16 Mpx.  In fact I would be surprised if it is delivering much above 8 Mpx resolution even in the best focal length range and base ISO.


    The lens softens quite a bit at the long end. When I look closely I see no more actual information in a photo taken at E1360mm than one taken at E800mm focal length. I just see the same visual information but enlarged. In addition the longest focal lengths are quite difficult to use effectively.


    If the lens zoom range was confined to, say, E24-800mm, I suspect it could probably have a wider aperture (smaller f numbers) and better optical capability at all focal lengths and apertures, making for a more photographically competent device.


    Do I think the SX60 is a keeper ?


    My original personal brief for the SX60 was to use it as backup for my main camera, a Panasonic FZ1000, in the event the FZ1000 should fail in one of the remote icy realms to which my group will be travelling.


    I found I can capture about the same amount of image information from the SX60 at E800mm as the FZ1000 at E800mm (that is, a 5Mpx crop from the E400mm full frame of 20mpx).


    So the argument for the SX60 is not strong.


    Sure, it’s only 55% the price of the FZ1000 but I wonder if a better backup might in fact be another FZ1000.  It is in all respects but the super zoom range, a very much better camera than the SX60.


    Upgrading from the SX50 ?


    Sorry, I can’t help with this question, having no experience with the SX50.


    However I read on user forums that many people bought an SX60 and returned it, electing to keep their SX50. Some sold their SX50 to pay for the SX60 then returned the SX60 and bought another SX50.  In each case where specified,  the complaint about the SX60 related to image quality.

    Users vote with their wallets so I take that as a vote for the SX50 and against the SX60.


    SX60 as a standalone camera ?


    The SX60 is not a particularly good all rounder mainly due to the mediocre performance indoors. But it is also not wonderful as a wildlife/birding camera either with less than very good lens acuity at the long end.


    I can’t help feeling that a camera with a larger sensor and less ambitious zoom range might be a better all rounder.


    Summary


    Overall I found the SX60 rather unconvincing as either a backup camera or as stand alone photo capture device.


    The types of photo which it can do well can be done even better by other cameras.


    Some photo commentators are predicting the demise of the very small sensor (“1/2.3 inch”, diagonal 7.3mm) but I think that with better implementation there could still be a future for the superzoom camera based on this sensor size as it gives lens makers a lot of opportunity for big zoom ranges at moderate cost and size.


    We shall see.  Early reports suggest the new Nikon P900 has a better lens. But no RAW !!!

    I despair………………..what on earth were they thinking ?????   This is a big camera with a huge zoom range which will attract enthusiast/serious amateur/bird/wildlife photographers many of  whom will want to use RAW capture. ………………….


    Do camera makers pay the slightest attention to their customers ???  I see evidence to the contrary with almost every camera I use.  And they wonder why sales are in decline..........................








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    TZ70 Focal Length E135mm. The TZ70 works well for close ups on the run.



    Panasonic has been  a player in the ‘travel zoom’/ ‘superzoom’ category for many years with several current offerings.


    The FZ70, FZ200 and FZ1000 each have a DSLR-like appearance.


    The TZ70 is completely different in shape, size and style being much smaller, scarcely larger than a standard 3x zoom compact.


    Panasonic has managed to fit a 30x zoom into a camera only 32mm deep, utilising a triple extension inner barrel system. This seems to me like a remarkable feat of optical and mechanical engineering.


    Compact size and light weight are the key features which define the TZ70, making it very convenient to carry in a small pouch or largish pocket.  By the way,  I never recommend that anybody actually carry a camera  in a pocket, a place almost guaranteed to hold dirt, lint and other bits of stuff likely to get inside and damage a camera.  In a drawstring pouch in a pocket maybe.


    But compact size and low mass are not advantages when one is trying to make pictures at the long end of the zoom. The TZ70 is not as easy to hold steady as larger, heavier models with a full handle.


    The TZ70 is well specified with most of the features expected of a modern electronic camera, including a built in EVF, Mode Dial with PASM , Custom, Scene and Panorama Modes, [iA] Mode for snapshooters and a decent set of controls and functions for the enthusiast including RAW capture and Wi-Fi.


    Unfortunately the [Photo Style] feature (which allows users to adjust JPG contrast/saturation/noise reduction/color) which appears on many Panasonic cameras is inexplicably and to my mind, inexcusably missing from the TZ70.


    This omission seems to me like one of those “what on earth were they thinking” mistakes. It’s just software after all and its absence will alienate enthusiast users while doing nothing for the snapshooters.


    Focal length E720mm  RAW capture


    Image Quality


    The TZ70 uses the very small 6.17 x 4.55 mm (diagonal 7.13mm) sensor with 12 Mpx.


    This sensor size is at once the main advantage and disadvantage for imaging capability of  the TZ70 and other cameras which use the 7.13mm sensor.


    The advantage is that the small sensor allows designers to fit a very long zoom, this being the raison d’etre of the superzoom type.

    The disadvantage is that the small sensor produces considerable luminance noise which impairs image quality.


    Exposure  is generally excellent with no problems noted.


    Dynamic Range (Highlight and shadow detail) is quite good for a small sensor camera with a slight tendency to blow out highlights when subject brightness range is high.


    Colorsare generally accurate in RAW files but JPGs show boosted colors especially greens.


    Luminance noise  is present at base ISO, becoming increasingly obvious as ISO rises. Image quality is impaired in RAW or JPG files by ISO 400 with loss of detail.

    This is a problem indoors at any focal length and outdoors at the long end of the zoom.


    Chroma noise  appears not to be a problem in the TZ70 and indeed most cameras I have tested in the last two years.


    Focal length E720mm from RAW capture


    The Lens  delivers variable results changing markedly with focal length. 


    At the wide end, center resolution is good but the edges and corners are noticeably soft.  This might be a problem for landscapes but is of less concern for other types of photo.


    In the near wide to mid range of the zoom, the lens delivers very good resolution across the frame.


    At the long end resolution and contrast decrease noticeably while purple fringing at high contrast edges becomes obvious.


    Focal length E720mm


    RAW vs JPG capture  While testing I shot RAW+JPG on every shot. In every case I was able to make a more pleasing picture from the RAW file with Adobe Camera Raw.  High ISO JPGs showed a posterisation effect on faces in addition to the usual issues with smearing due to noise reduction.


    Indoor image quality  The problem is that you want to use an ISO setting greater than base level in order to keep shutter speeds in a reasonable hand  holding range and that impairs picture quality.


    The flash can be used but I could find no way to adjust flash output so you get whatever the camera decides. I  find this unsubtle to put it mildly but you do get the shot.


    The other approach is to set P Mode  and allow a low minimum shutter speed (this can be user set) of about 1/15 second. This uses a higher ISO but gives a more natural, albeit grainy looking result.  The camera’s OIS seems to manage low shutter speeds quite well at the wide and near wide end of the zoom.


    Focal length E65mm. Very nice picture quality at this focal length in bright sun.


    Picture quality at the long end of the zoom  The issues here are:


    * The widest lens aperture is f6.4


    * The OIS is less effective (in my hands anyway) at the long end


    * The lens suffers reduced sharpness and contrast


    * You want to keep the ISO setting at base level if possible.


    Strategies for the long end 


    * You can use a tripod and timer delay. But the whole point of a camera like this is to go lightly with minimum gear and therefore no tripod.  If I were planning to go out with a tripod I would take a more substantial camera.  By the way, beware the lightweight tripod at full zoom. The slightest breeze will degrade image quality.


    * Handhold but make a ‘human tripod’ by holding the camera to the eye, sitting or lying down with elbows resting on knees or other surface and practice mini meditation.


    * Practice ways of holding the camera for optimum stability


    * Use the ‘two foot zoom’ ---go walk closer to your subject if possible.


    These strategies help but at the end of the day I found consistent difficulty getting decent picture quality at the long end of the zoom. I was testing the TZ70 alongside the Canon SX60 which had consistently better IS and picture quality at the long end.


    PerformanceThe TZ70 is generally a pleasing performer, responding promptly to user inputs.


    Autofocus is prompt, sensitive and accurate, slowing a little at the long end of the zoom and in low light. I tested AF accuracy and found no problems.


    The lens zooms from one end to the other in 2 seconds.


    Shot to shot time with RAW+ JPG  capture, AF and AE on every frame, is 0.8 seconds.


    Shutter response is almost instantaneous if the shot is prefocussed by half pressing the shutter button.

    OIS works well especially at the wide end of the zoom where I found handholding at 1/15 second possible.


    At the long end (E720mm) I found that if I stood unsupported and held the camera to my eye I could get consistently sharp photos from 1/200 second shutter speed.  If I used a different  holding technique with better support I could use a lower shutter speed.


    Next: Ergonomics and summary










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    TZ70  Very small for a 30x zoom


    This ergonomic evaluation follows my usualschedule which you can read about here.


    Setup


    Menus are well designed with a good graphical user interface and easy navigation.


    Function buttons allow user assigned function, but the Q Menu does not.

    Menu resume is not available on the main menus but does work on the Q menu.


    JPG settings are not user adjustable  (No ‘Photo Style’ feature).


    Flash output settings are not user adjustable.


    Setup Score 12/15


    Prepare


    The Main Mode Dial, 4 Way Controller, Fn buttons and Q Menu all work well and give access to most of  the adjustments (apart from those noted to be missing above) which the enthusiast user might reasonably require of a camera of this type.


    These include Capture Mode, Focus mode, Autofocus Mode, Drive Mode, Quality and others.


    Prepare Score 13/15


    Unorthodox left hand holding style in Landscape orientation, explained in the text.
    And in Portrait orientation


    Holding


    This is a slimline compact with mini handle so holding is never going to be as comfortable or stable as a full sized model with full handle.


    The right hand does however get a decent purchase on the camera. The mini handle and thumb support are well positioned.  The shutter button is well positioned for this style of camera.


    At no time did I accidentally bump a button with my right hand.


    However the normal holding position with the right hand sees the flash completely blocked by the third finger.  So if the flash is used a completely different and awkward right hand hold is required. 


    The flash is simply in the wrong place.


    The left hand is more problematic. The issues are:


    * There is not much of substance which the left hand can hold onto.


    * The fingers of left hand have to avoid pressing on the inner lens barrels. I have found in the past with other cameras that doing so can cause decentering of lens elements.


    * The lens ring is easily moved while holding the camera, changing whatever setting was assigned to it.


    * I find that I need to hold my (right) eye a little back from the EVF eyepiece for sharp viewing and if I do so stray light enters, obscuring vision. In addition this ‘eye back a bit’ position prevents me pressing the camera to my head for stability.

    So I hold my left index finger around the left side and top of the EVF eyepiece. This blocks stray light and allows me to press my head against my finger for stability.


    This is all fine but it produces an unorthodox holding style seen in the photos.


    Very careful technique is required to hold the camera steady at full zoom.


    Holding Score 6/20


    Viewing


    The EVF is clear and sharp with good color and highlight/shadow detail.


    However it is small and lacks an eyecup so I have developed a special holding technique to manage this, described above.


    The monitor is also clear and sharp with good color and highlight/shadow detail.


    However it is fixed and is difficult to see in bright light.


    Both the monitor and EVF are adjustable for brightness, contrast/saturation, red tint and blue tint.


    I have both at default levels which works just fine for me.


    Neither monitor nor EVF can be configured to ‘viewfinder style’ with camera data beneath the preview image.


    Viewing Score 11/20



    Button haptics. Although this camera has a small control panel, shown here, the buttons and 4 Way pad are well designed. The 4 Way pad has a slightly raised milled edge (which forms the rear dial) which is easy to find and operate by touch. The Fn1 and Disp buttons which are used in Capture Phase of use have a slightly raised and sharpish edge (the edge is actually bevelled but the edges of the bevel are sharp) which makes them easy to find and operate by touch. The Playback button which is not used in Capture Phase is recessed so it will not be bumped accidentally but is stil easy to use while looking at the control panel.  I have never accidentally bumped any of the control modules shown here.
    Compare this example of good design with the Canon SX60  reviewed in a previous post.


    Operating


    It is possible to adjust primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters while maintaining hold with the left hand. The right hand and fingers are required to change position however.


    On a heavier camera this would be a problem but as the TZ70 is so light it can be held securely with the left hand while the fingers of the right hand adjust settings.


    Overall camera operation is pleasant and efficient. The controls are well shaped so they can be located and operated by feel.


    Operating score 20/25


    Review


    I could find no way to scroll from one enlarged image to the next at the same level of enlargement. I found it necessary to zoom back to full frame before being able to move on to the next image.


    Neither the lens control ring nor the rear control dial appear to have any function in image playback with the review image enlarged,  unless I missed something in the menu labrynth.


    The TZ70 also has one of Panasonic’s more irritating quirks, present in several other cameras. 

    Several seconds after pressing the Playback button to enter image review the lens auto retracts. So if you had a shot set up you have to set it up all over again.


    Review Score 2/5


    Total Ergonomic Score 64/100


    This is quite a good score for a slimline compact style camera.


    Triple extension zoom with built in leaf type auto lens cap


    Summary


    This camera’s most appealing feature is its compact size. Unfortunately that is also the source of one of  its  less appealing features namely the problem with  holding steadily at the long end of the zoom. 

    This is made more challenging by an image stabiliser which is less effective than that found in some of the competition.


    The TZ70 works best outdoors in bright light in the near wide to mid range of the zoom but there are plenty of cameras which can do that, many with larger sensors and better image quality.


    A superzoom camera needs to work really well at the long end of the zoom or the point of its existence is unclear.


    Unfortunately the TZ70 is weak at the long end which is exactly where it needs to be strong.


    My original purpose in buying the TZ70 and Canon SX60 (reviewed recently on this blog)  was to discover whether either might be a suitable backup to my FZ1000, in the event of failure by the FZ1000  on a trip far from photographic services.


    I decided that another FZ1000 might be better than the SX60.



    However the TZ70 is so small I would hardly notice it in my kit.  So it's a maybe. Maybe. 


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    Original RAW capture at E400mm focal length. This is a crop to half linear dimensions of the original, effectively a 5Mpx file at E800mm focal length.


    Panasonic FZ1000 at E800mm focal length


    The Panasonic FZ1000  is one of the most versatile cameras I have ever used, providing very good image quality in a wide range of conditions.


    The lens ranges in focal length from E25mm at the wide end to E400mm at the long end, where E= 35mm equivalent focal length.


    There are four ways to extend the effective focal length:


    1. Cropped RAW


    2. i-Zoom (JPG only)  Set i-Zoom ON in the Rec Menu.


    3. Extra Optical Zoom (JPG only)  Set Picture Size to M = 10 Mpx  or S = 5 Mpx in the Rec Menu.


    4. Digital Zoom (JPG only)  Set Digital Zoom ON in the Rec Menu.


    The three JPG zooms can be combined but with severe loss of quality so I will confine this discussion to a maximum of E800mm as this is a useful zoom level which can give good results and makes the camera readily controllable handheld.


    In each case this produces a file with 5 effective Megapixels. The higher Mpx counts on the Digital Zoom and i-Zoom files are just achieved by interpolation, they do not indicate any extra imaging information.


    In previous and current trials I confirmed that the three digital JPG zooms give identical results once the resulting images are brought to the same total pixel count, pixels per inch and output size.


    So for the comparison with cropped RAW I have used the i-Zoom frames.


    Same subject and camera using i-Zoom with the focal length indicator at E800mm, original JPG capture.


    The test


    With the camera on a sturdy tripod I photographed Casuarina trees about 200 meters away. These trees have fine soft needles instead of leaves providing a good test of the imaging system’s ability to resolve fine detail.


    For the RAW capture I zoomed to E400mm, cropped the file to half linear size (= E800mm = quarter area and therefore 5 Mpx) and sharpened the cropped file in Adobe Camera Raw.

    For the i-Zoom capture I zoomed out to E800mm using the E Focal length guide in the EVF. I sharpened this file and increased contrast as I have my JPG settings at low contrast.


    Then I adjusted the JPG file to the same pixels per inch and  picture size as the cropped RAW file.


    I opened both files together in Photoshop and examined them side by side on screen.


    This is a crop from the already cropped original RAW capture at E400mm. This picture has 0.69 Mpx.
    And here is the crop from the i-Zoom image. I hope that after its voyage  through cyberspace you will be able to see this version lacks resolution of  fine details present in the photo above this one.
    The difference is not simply due to sharpening which can up to a point improve either image. 


    Results


    The cropped RAW file showed better rendition of  fine detail.


    Apart from that the color  was different but that’s about all.


    Advantages of cropped RAW


    * The RAW file has all the captured information so is much more tolerant of digital editing.


    * Better rendition of fine subject details.


    * Better highlight/shadow detail.


    * Much greater capacity for highlight recovery when subject brightness range is high.


    * Ability to tailor noise reduction/contrast/sharpening  to each file individually as opposed to the batch processing approach of JPG rendition.


    Advantages of i-Zoom


    * The crop occurs at the point of capture with possible advantage for autoexposure and autofocus.


    * Suits JPG workers well.


    * Able to use JPG functions such as i-Dynamic and i-Resolution. (But RAW is better).


    I-Zoom, Extra Optical Zoom or Digital Zoom ?


    * I Zoom can be set ON in the Rec Menu and left on all the time if desired. If RAW capture is used it is inactive. Switch to JPG quality and the zoom indicator in the viewfinder now indicates a maximum E Focal Length of 800mm.  You have full control of the size and position of the AF box.


    * Extra Optical Zoom is a bit of a misnomer. No zoom beyond E400mm occurs in the lens in any zoom mode. This one is active if  Picture Size is set to [ExM 10M] or [ExS 5M] in the Rec menu.


    * Digital Zoom is like i-Zoom but you have no control over the large, fixed AF box once the zoom indicator passes E400mm.


    It’s all quite confusing.  I don't pretend to  understand the technology behind the digital zooms but I can view the results readily enough.


    Which to use ?


    RAW shooters look no further. Keep right on shooting RAW and crop.


    JPG shooters have to make a decision.


    I have found i-Zoom easy to use. I can leave it set to ON all the time with no effect if RAW or RAW+JPG Quality is set, but immediate effect if JPG only is set.


    Some users like Extra Optical Zoom but remember you get reduced picture size with all captures, zoomed or not.


    There may be some advantage for video with Digital Zoom but I have not explored this.


    Comment about pixel counts


    We now have DSLRs with 50 million pixels. Wow ?


    The Casuarina pictures shown in this post have 5 million pixels. You can see plenty of detail even though the pixel count is very low by current standards.


    In my view super high pixel counts are basically a marketing exercise. I guess a few professional photographers will be able to make good use of the potentially extreme resolution if their lenses and technique are good enough. But for the vast majority of amateur/enthusiast and I suspect most professional photographers 50Mpx is just overkill.


    This morning I printed up one of my tree pictures made with a hand held Panasonic LX100 in the Australian bush. At an actual picture size of 390 x 586 mm the print looks clear and sharp, with crisp rendition of fine details. Pixel count after cropping and some perspective correction in Photoshop is 9.6 Mpx.


    Viewers will like/dislike the photo on grounds of aesthetics or personal preference but I very much doubt many people will find grounds for adverse comment about technical issues.




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    LX100. Handheld, edited in Adobe Camera Raw

    Canon recently announced  a pair of full frame DSLRs each having 50 megapixels. Presumably this will give Canon a bit of an edge in the Canon vs Nikon pixel race.


    It reminds me of the not-so-good old days of motor car marketing when makers competed to have the most cylinders or greatest horsepower.


    Eventually car owners discovered that more power does not necessarily make for a better vehicle and might make it worse and that safety, reliability, economy, ride and handling are all more important for most drivers most of the time.


    I recently made the photo above with my little Panasonic LX100. After a bit of cropping and perspective correction in Photoshop it has 9.6 Megapixels.


    I printed it up to an actual picture size of 390 x 585mm. It looks just fine on the wall, sharp and clear with excellent detail, color and tonal gradation.


    Most photographers, most of the time do not need 50 Mpx.


    On the day, I shot a series of photos at this location,  hand held,  changing the aspect ratio for different compositions.  I spent about 10 minutes in this little forest and came away with several photos which I find pleasing.


    Could I have made a ‘better’ photo with a camera having more pixels ?


    Better for what ?


    I would certainly have spent a great deal more money on the gear which made the shot and probably used a tripod, thereby slowing down the whole process. That in itself might not be such a bad thing but I was travelling and had a destination to reach that day.



    I think very high pixel counts are over rated and are not a good basis by which to compare the merits of one camera with another.


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    Nikon Coolpix P900 lined up with the four other fixed zoom lens cameras which I used and tested alongside the P900.  From the left, Panasonic LX100, Canon SX60, Nikon P900, Panasonic FZ1000, Panasonic TZ70


    The Nikon P900 has been one of the most interesting new releases of 2015. 


    With an astounding 83 x zoom lens it redefines what is possible in a consumer level superzoom, all-in-one style camera.


    The remarkable zoom ranges from (Focal Length Equivalent) 24mm at the wide end to 2000mm at the long end, easily trumping the 65x zoom of the Canon SX60 which spans FLE 21-1365mm.


    On specifications the P900 appears to be the champion superzoom camera right now.


    But: is it any good ?


    The Port Authority vessel was 1500 meters away on a fine sunny afternoon. All the straight lines are wavy, the result of atmospheric distortion, one of the bugbears of ultrazoom photography. Focal Length Equivalent 2000mm, hand held.


    Next question: Good for what ?

    The answer to that question depends on the answer to two other questions:


    Who’s it for ?   and  What’s it for ?


    Individual camera users might have different ideas about this of course but my thoughts run as follows…..


    The P900 is big and bold . It is about the same size as a mid range DSLR with a mid range general purpose zoom lens. It also has a similar shape and control layout to a Nikon DSLR. 


    It is not compact or unobtrusive. It requires a mid size shoulder bag such as a Lowe Pro Apex 120 AW. While testing, I carried it in an Apex 140AW which is just 20mm wider than required.


    Common Mynah at FLE2000mm. The chest feathers are sharp enough, the eye is not, probably due to head movement. Notice the character of the rear out of focus grass. 


    The unique selling point (USP) of the P900 is that amazing zoom which rivals a spotting telescope.   

    When fully extended  the angle of view is about 1.2 degrees.


    I think the person buying a P900 will be doing so to get the benefits of a mega-super-zoom at a budget price.


    Consider this:  A new Nikkor 800mm f5.6 (FX) lens with included 1.25x teleconverter costs about $18,000. Add a camera and the kit costs about $23,000 and weighs about 6 kilograms.


    The P900 gives you double the effective focal length at about the same aperture and costs only 600 bucks which is 3% of the full frame kit price. Wow !!


    You know the old adage…… ‘If it seems too good to be true, maybe it is too good to be true’. Does this apply to the P900 or is it the real deal ?


    Our family acquired a P900 because one of us likes to photograph birds. She has a Panasonic FZ1000 and is happy with that. The FZ1000 can retain decent image quality with JPG capture up to an effective focal length of 800mm. (The optical limit is FLE400mm)


    But bird photographers are always wanting a longer reach if they can get it without having to spend $20,000+ and without having to carry around  many kilograms of superzoom DSLR lens. 


    Hence the P900.


    When I browse through online forums I see many users have the same idea. They use the P900 for wildlife and birds with the bonus that it is also a general purpose, do everything camera for landscape, people or whatever comes along, even close ups.


    Cockatoo. There being no opportunity for RAW capture, Active D Lighting is required when subject brightness range is high, as here.


    Specifications and features  You can read all the details elsewhere, this is a user report, but some things warrant attention here as they affect the user experience.


    There is a built in EVF, fully articulating monitor, built in flash which lifts up high to clear the lens and a reasonably full set of controls for the expert/enthusiast user. Not all these controls are optimally positioned or configured but I will discuss that in a later section of the review.


    There is a ‘snap-back-zoom’ button on the left side of the lens barrel which works well if you can locate it while using the camera. This is easy enough if you use the ‘left hand under’ position in landscape orientation but is very difficult with ‘left hand over’ position or with any left hand position in portrait orientation.


    There is an up/down toggle on the left side of the lens barrel, just behind the snap back zoom button. 

    This can be used for zoom or manual focus. I set it for manual focus which works well on this camera, aided by peaking which also works well.


    There are the usual scene modes, effects, a fully auto mode for beginners, a shooting mode which memorises one set of user defined settings,  wi-fi, in camera panorama, video and more…….


    There is no hotshoe.


    The P900 can do close ups on the run, aided by the fully articulated monitor. This specimen, past its prime, is about 10 cm across.


    The P900 uses the EN-EL23 battery which does a surprisingly good job considering the mass of lens which it has to drive. However the substantial sized body could have accommodated a larger battery.


    Charging is via USB directly to the camera.  When charging from mains power an adapter (supplied) is required.


    Some people like this system, others hate it.  The problem is you can’t use the camera while the battery is charging. Aftermarket chargers are available.


    The imaging sensor measures 6.17 x 4.55mm with a diagonal of 7.66mm and an area of 28 square millimetres. The area of the video button on the back of the camera is 38 square millimetres. The area of the nail on my little finger is 110 square millimetres. This is the same size sensor as many general purpose compact cameras and also the Canon SX60 and Panasonic TZ70 which I tested alongside the P900.


    The sensor is seriously tiny. Somehow they pack 16 million pixels onto it, a feat of micro engineering beyond my comprehension.


    Every digital camera has an operating system like a computer. The P900 uses one called Expeed C2. This is a Coolpix variant of the Expeed 2, an older type of processor.


    Nikon’s current model DSLRs use the latest and more powerful Expeed 4 processor.


    Who cares ?  Anyone using a camera with the C2 processor, that’s who.


    Some time back I bought a Nikon Coolpix P7800. This is a (not very) compact camera with a nice lens and decent image quality. I would probably still have it but for one thing: operating speed with RAW capture, specifically write to memory card time.  


    Shot to shot time using  RAW was 3.4 seconds with the camera locked up between shots.


    The P7800 also has the C2 processor.


    I don’t know why Nikon uses this in its premium Coolpix models.


    But from my perspective as a consumer with no brand allegiance it looks like a bad idea.


    Nikon appears to have ‘solved’ the RAW file write time problem of the P7800 by omitting RAW capability altogether in the P900.


    To me this seems like a  I-can’t-believe-they-did-that-what-on-earth-were-they-thinking ?  kind of decision.


    This is a camera which will attract enthusiast photographers wanting high performance, fast operation and  good results. Some will be happy to shoot JPG only but I bet many will be willing and able to manage RAW files and will expect a premium camera like this to enable RAW capture.


    One commentator has suggested cost containment as the reason for using the C2 processor. Maybe, but I wonder if there is something more fundamental. Maybe the electronic architecture (or mother board or whatever goes in there)  of the Coolpix cameras is not compatible with the faster new processor.


    Anyway, whatever the reason, the P900 outputs JPGs only. Fortunately they are pretty good but as with all JPGs there is a tendency to blown highlights and mushy rendition of fine subject detail.


    The camera is made in Indonesia which I take to be sign of the times. Is China getting too expensive already ?


    Focal length FLE1800mm.  This little bird sat on the branch for about 6 seconds, long enough for me to get off 5 shots. When I checked the camera data the shutter speed was only 1/100sec. The other 4 shots were blurred, this one is OK. I got lucky. This focal length usually requires a shutter speed of 1/400-1/800sec in my hands.


    Next: Picture Quality









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    Fuji X-T1 on the right. Panasonic FZ1000 used for comparison on the left.


    This review follows my usual schedule for evaluating, describing and scoring camera ergonomics.


    You can read about it here.



    At several points I compare operation of the X-T1 with the FZ1000 shown in the photo above.  The main purpose of  this is to highlight the differences between the hybrid/traditional  control system on the X-T1 with the modern [Mode Dial+Control Dial] system on the FZ1000.  

    Setup Phase


    The menu system is clearly laid out and easy to use. Navigating around the menus is easy.


    There are no deal breaker problems but the scope of adjustments available is a bit limited for a flagship product. 


    For instance the EVF is ‘viewfinder style’ with camera data beneath the preview image and the monitor is ‘monitor style’ with the data overlaid on the lower part of the image, but I could not find an option to configure them both the same.  Options for adjusting both the monitor and EVF are limited compared to some other cameras.  There are limited options for AF area size and configuration.


    There is no ‘My Menu’.


    There is only limited opportunity (with Firmware Ver3.0)  for user configuration of the Q Menu.


    Menu Resume works for Shooting Menu but not Setup Menu.


    The PDF Owners Manual is reasonably well written but offers olde worlde functionality with page thumbnails but no page jumps forward or back. This makes navigating the Manual a tedious business.


    Setup Phase Score 10/15


    Prepare Phase


    The Q Menu is readily accessible. Compared to a recent Samsung or Panasonic camera the user interface is inflexible, offers limited user input, carries a tiled list of functions which many users may never want yet lacks others which you might want.


    Drive Mode and Exposure Mode each have a dedicated set and see dial, in each case set beneath another set and see dial for use in Capture Phase of use. The Drive Mode dial is easy to access and use. The Metering Mode dial is awkward to use with the lever hemmed in by the EVF housing on one side and the shutter button housing on the other side.


    A typical modern camera control system has a Main Shooting Mode Dial allowing quick access to 10 or so functions.

    On the X-T1 there is no Main Mode Dial. This means switching from one Shooting Mode to another requires workarounds of various kinds depending on the task. Custom Modes cannot be accessed directly.


    The Focus mode lever is located on the front of the body. It is small and the lever is fiddly to operate. 
    Even with practice I found myself having to turn the camera around so I could actually see the lever and its three positions to be sure of setting the correct one.   This is a clumsy implementation  which could easily have been improved with a different design.


    The [Wi-Fi] Fn button is difficult to reach. Conversely the un-named Fn button on the front of the camera is too easily bumped accidentally, something which I did almost every time I picked up the camera.


    Many of the Prepare Phase issues with this camera are due to the top of camera real estate being occupied by set and see dials which control Capture Phase functions. But in Capture Phase the user is looking through the viewfinder and cannot see those dials anyway.


    I will run through a few tasks of Prepare Phase with the X-T1.


    * Change from Program AE Mode to Aperture Priority AE Mode.  This is the easiest mode switch for the X-T1 but there are still complications depending on the lens fitted.


    With a prime lens or constant aperture zoom, the left hand turns the aperture ring on the lens. Easy.  
    But there is no option to preset an aperture.  At least you can see the selected aperture indicated on the lens.


    On a variable aperture zoom lens it is first necessary for the left fingers to find the little lever near the back of  the lens barrel and move it off the [A] setting, then turn the aperture ring, which does not have markings.  So you can’t tell the aperture by looking at the lens. You have to look in the viewfinder, just as you would with a modern style control system.


    Some lenses, designated XC,  for the Fuji X system don’t have an aperture ring at all.  These are intended for use on one of the budget X models like the X-A1 which has a Mode Dial and control dial system.   I have not had the opportunity to check, but presumably these lenses will also work on the X-T1 using the front/rear control dials.


    * Change from Program AE Mode to Shutter Priority AE Mode.   This requires the left hand to support the mass of the camera and lens while the right hand leaves the handgrip to apply the thumb, index finger and third finger to the Shutter Speed dial, press the center lock button and turn the dial to the desired shutter speed. There is no shutter speed preset option.  This can be done while looking through the viewfinder but is easier with the camera brought down so the dial is visible.


    * Change from Program AE Mode to Manual Exposure Mode.  This requires  both the procedures above.


    So with the X-T1 changing shooting mode involves different actions depending on which change is wanted and what type of lens is fitted.


    By way of comparison consider carrying out the same tasks with the FZ1000. On this camera you always do the same thing to change shooting Mode. Shift up grip with the right hand. Apply the thumb and index finger to turn the Mode Dial. Retain grip on the handle with the other three fingers of the right hand.


    This can be done with the camera down from the eye but is just as easy with the camera to the eye. 
    All changes are indicated by an icon in the viewfinder. With a little practice changing modes can be done quickly and smoothly without having to think about what must be done.


    When shifting to a new Mode the setting will be that which was last used. This makes it easy to preset  Aperture and Shutter speed or both in M Mode for immediate readiness.


    Prepare Phase Score  9/15


    X-T1 in hand.  There is nothing 'wrong' with this hold and some users prefer it.


    Canon SX60 in hand.  This camera has the same width and height as the X-T1 above.  But the handle, shutter button location and thumb support are very different. This is an example of the 'inverted L' style handle. This allows the hand to adopt the optimal half closed relaxed position. This is both stronger and more relaxed than the 'scrunched up' hand/finger position required to hold the X-T1. In addition both the third finger on the right hand and the right thumb participate in supporting the mass of the camera without having to apply any squeezing force.


    Capture Phase – Holding


    Some users report they like holding the X-T1 and that is perfectly fine.


    However I make two points:


    1. There are four varieties of accessory handle available from Fuji and several more from independent suppliers indicating that more than a few users are looking to improve their holding experience.


    2. My studies of handle ergonomics indicate that the shutter button location and handle type used on the basic X-T1 are not optimal for relaxed, strong holding. I don’t wish to labour the point, you can readmore about it here.


    Quite by chance I happened to have on my desk a Canon SX60 super/travel zoom camera at the same time as the X-T1. This camera is to a couple of millimetres exactly the same size as the X-T1.


    It has an inverted L type handle, forward/left shutter button location and a moderately deep, angled type thumb support.


    The SX60 provides a much more comfortable, natural holding experience right out of the box without resort to any accessories. You can get some idea of this in the photos but you really have to hold each camera to fully appreciate the difference.


    I will report in due course about other aspects of the SX60 user experience which are, unfortunately rather less enjoyable.


    Holding Score 9/20


    Capture Phase—Viewing


    * EVF:   The EVF is large, clear and sharp although I found that on the FZ1000 slightly sharper.   

    Color rendition is generally a little warm and  saturation  slightly overdone in some conditions.   Highlight and shadow detail is good.  Responsiveness is good.  Options for adjustment are limited for a flagship camera.


    In Portrait orientation camera data can be configured to appear on the lower part of the preview image but not beneath the image.


    Modern EVFs like this one make the argument for an optical viewfinder look very weak. The optical viewfinders of DSLRs with 28mm diagonal sensors are by comparison small, dim, unsharp and almost impossible to use for manual focussing.


    The camera tested was fitted with a Fuji Long eyecup EC-XTL.  This is a considerable improvement on the standard small round eyecup which allows excess stray light to enter.  So, why, I kept thinking, does Fuji not fit the better eyecup at the factory ???


    * Monitor:  This is of the swing up/down type which is more useful than a fixed type but less versatile than the fully articulated type.  Since consumer models like the Canon SX60 have a fully articulated monitor I think it reasonable to expect a flagship model like the X-T1 to have this also.


    Monitor sharpness, color, highlight/shadow detail and responsiveness are very good.


    The monitor display cannot be set to ‘viewfinder style’ match the EVF.


    There are good information displays in both the EVF and monitor.


    When the camera is mounted on a tripod the monitor will not swing open so this has to be done before the camera is secured.


    Viewing score 13/20


    Capture Phase—Operating


    At this point I need to re-iterate that I make a clear distinction between a user’s likes and preferences on the one hand and the results of ergonomic analysis by time and motion studyon the other hand. 

    Each expresses an aspect of the user experience but they are not the same thing.


    It may also be worth reviewing the section on CapturePhase—Operating,  in Ergonomic Scoring Schedules.


    Some people have indicated that they like using the X-T1 controls and user interface for their own reasons whatever those may be.  It may be that each individual who likes the X-T1 controls will have a different and personal reason for this. 


    Some might feel that the separate controls for aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation help them better understand how the camera operates.


    Some say they like the ‘direct’ controls, although that is something of a misunderstanding of the function of a modern electronic camera on which almost every control except manual zoom is electronic and remote. That aperture ring which seems ‘direct’ is just an electronic actuator which could be anywhere on or off the camera. Still, people may very well like the idea of direct controls.


    Whatever the reason all these preference are perfectly reasonable for each individual.  It is not for this blog to tell people what they should like.


    This blog is about ergonomics which can be evaluated by time and motion study and other means of direct observation.


    It is possible, in fact easy if one is systematic and prepared to record actions carefully, to note the number and complexityof actions required to carry out each of the tasks required to drive the camera in Capture Phase and to note any support actions (such as shifting grip with the opposite hand) required to facilitate the primary actions.


    Note that anybody with a camera and  the willingness to observe what actually happens when someone uses it can carry out these studies. Competence in quantum mechanics is not required.


    The Fuji X-T1 uses an amalgam of traditional set-and-see controls for primary exposure variables together with a range of UIMs (user interface modules) allowing modern inventions such as Modes and other settings and functions to be set or operated.


    I find, in summary, that a camera (such as the Panasonic FZ1000 which I used for comparison) with a well designed modern control system (there are plenty of suboptimal or badly designed ones like the Canon SX60 featured in this post) based on Mode Dial+Control Dial allows most of the tasks of Capture Phase to be carried out with fewer actions, each less complex and requiring fewer support actions than the control system on the X-T1.


    The key criterion for ergonomic evaluation in Capture Phase is as follows:

    The user is able to adjust primary and secondary exposure and focus parameters while continuously looking through the viewfinder and without disrupting grip with either hand


    If I were to detail every action required for every task relevant to the criterion this post would become over long so here are  a few examples.


    * Change aperture in A Mode   With an XF grade lens this is straightforward. Just rotate the aperture ring on the lens with the left hand. This can be done as easily with the camera in landscape or portrait orientation. 

    With a fixed focal length lens the fingers can stay on the aperture ring while in Capture Phase.

    But with a zoom the fingers need to shift back and forth from the zoom ring to the aperture ring.


    Change shutter speed in S Mode  The right hand must lift up to place the index finger and thumb on the shutter speed dial and turn it.  This disrupts grip with the right hand. The left hand must carry the mass of the camera/lens as a support action. 

    Intermediate shutter speeds require yet another action as they are accessed by rotating the front or rear dial after making an initial setting with the shutter speed dial.


    Change aperture and shutter speed in M Mode  This requires both sets of actions detailed above.


    Change ISO sensitivity  The left hand must be completely released from the lens and all the mass transferred to the right hand. The left thumb, index finger and third finger then work together to press the center lock button and rotate the dial. Any subsequent turn of the dial also requires the lock button to be pressed. 


    I was unable to do this while continuing to look through the viewfinder.


    Change exposure compensation  This requires the index finger and thumb of the right hand to turn the dial which does not have a lock button. This in turn requires the right hand to shift grip but not as much as is needed to change shutter speed.


    With the FZ1000 each of these tasks is carried out with fewer, less complex actions requiring fewer support actions and less disruption to the capture flow.


    Aperture in A Mode and shutter speed in S Mode are changed by rotating the rear dial. In M  Mode I have the rear dial change shutter speed and the front lever change aperture. I have ISO on the Fn1 button just behind the shutter button. To change the setting press the button then turn the rear dial.  

    Exposure compensation is obtained by nudging the lever in front of the shutter button.


    All these actions can be performed without releasing grip on the camera with either hand and without taking the eye from the viewfinder.


    Fast tele zooms     Fuji wants the X system to become a tool for professionals. To that end it has released some fast zooms such as the 50-140mm f2.8. This is the APS-C version of the classic 70-200mm sport/action zoom. Its mass with filter and hood is over 1000grams and it is quite large, sitting between the f2.8 and f4 versions of  full frame 70-200mm lenses.  I would think anyone using this lens on the X-T1 will want the most secure accessory handle available.


    I find when using the FZ1000 that I frequently need to switch between A Mode and S Mode as  I zoom out. That is quick and easy on the FZ1000 but slower and less streamlined on the X-T1.


    Which way is value up ?  The process of operating a camera requires the user to adjust up and down values of imaging parameters such as f stop, shutter speed, exposure compensation  and ISO setting.   

    Smooth operation is aided if the fingers always do the same thing to adjust value up and the opposite thing to adjust value down.


    On the FZ1000 I push (the dial, lever or ring) right for value up and left for value down. That works for f Stop, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation and focal length.


    On the X-T1 the situation is more complicated and further complexity is introduced dependent on how the user’s brain interprets turning a dial.   


    If the dial is on a vertical axis (like the ones on top of the camera) is the front or the rear of the dial used as the reference for turning direction ? It matters because they are opposite. If you can see the dial while turning it that is not much of an issue but if you are trying to turn a dial while looking through the viewfinder it is very much a factor in the user experience.


    On the X-T1 value up is given by: aperture ring- right, rear of shutter speed dial- right (or front of shutter speed dial- left), rear of  [+/-] dial- right and rear of ISO dial- left.  There is no consistent direction.


    As I used the X-T1 I never got into a rhythm about what dial goes which way and found myself often having to look at the dials, thereby disrupting the capture process.


    For landscape and other static types of photography that is not much of an issue. But for moving subjects/sport/action it is.


    AF-L button This is poorly located over the top of the thumb support. To press the button the right hand must shift grip upwards disrupting the capture flow.  


    Haptics  The 4 Way buttons on the control panel (the back of the camera to the right of the monitor) are recessed, making them difficult to locate and operate by feel.  Many cameras have the optimal ‘rocking saucer’ type 4 way controller with edges raised about 1mm. This works perfectly. I think Fuji should change to this UIM type in mid production.


    Other buttons in this area are also recessed, with the same problem.


    Operating Score 10/25


    Review Phase  The user can readily enlarge an image,  scroll around and jump to the previous or next image at the same location on the frame and at the same level of enlargement.  I deducted a point because the front and rear dials are recessed, making them a bit awkward to use.


    Review Score 4/5


    Total Ergonomic Score 55/100.


    Concluding remarks


    When the X-T1 was introduced it generated many positive reviews and comments not all necessarily related to its presumed  role as a picture taking device.


    One reviewer said it has “chic hipster charm”. Another was effusive about the  “real metal engraved dials”.


    One wrote that  he “really enjoyed using these physical controls and the fast access they provide”.


    Several remarked favourably on the camera’s looks and style. Some were pleased it has a magnesium alloy body.


    I found that in practice it works well with a fixed focal length lens  mounted  and P or A shooting mode.  But in S or M Modes it becomes more awkward to use and I think the design is not well suited to operating a big, wide aperture sport zoom lens.


    In any mode the ISO dial is frustratingly difficult to operate and the haptics need a serious upgrade.


    I think that if Fuji wants the X series to convince professionals to come on board they need a model which looks and operates more like a modern DSLR with a full handle and modern  [mode dial+ control dial] control sytstem.  And better continuous AF and a sensor with standard Bayer filter pattern.


    In a recent interview with Fujifilm’s  senior sales and marketing manager Mr Toshihisa Iida,  Digital Photography Review staff asked “Are there any particular competitive cameras in the market that you really admire ?”


    Mr Iida replied “One of the most interesting cameras in the past six months or so was the Canon EOS 7D II…………The focussing system is very good.”


    You rarely encounter an executive from one camera  company endorsing a competitor’s product but there it is.  He said it.












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    Active D Lighting on HIGH. Compare this with the next photo below. Look at the level of highlight detail in the sunlit boat superstructures then at the foliage detail. Fine foliage is smudged more in this photo than the next. Both this and the photo below have been edited in the Camera Raw filter in Photoshop. The unedited, out of camera  version of this photo has flat mid tones which I do not find appealing.



    Considering  the tiny sensor used in this camera, the massive zoom range and lack of RAW capture, the P900 can make pictures of very good quality in the right conditions.


    Output picture quality is dependent on many factors, some of which are as follows:


    Camera factors:  Shooting mode (Auto,PASM), ISO setting, shutter speed, lens focal length, vibration reduction effectiveness, JPG picture control settings.


    User factors:  Camera holding technique to minimise shake, experience with the camera and with monitoring exposure parameters during Capture Phase of use.


    Subject factors:  Amount and direction of light, type of subject (with or without fine detail, with or without human faces and hair), subject movement.


    All these things and more have a big effect on  photo output which can vary from very good to disappointing.


    At the time of writing I have made more than 1500 photos with the P900, experimented with many camera settings and tried a range of subject types and lighting conditions.


    Active D Lighting OFF.  There is less highlight detail but fine foliage is less smudged.


    My conclusion thus far is that the camera delivers best results hand held most of the time with the following settings:


    * Shooting Mode,  P  (on the Mode Dial) or  S when direct control of shutter speed is required, at the long end of the zoom and/or low light.


    * Picture Control,  Standard with Sharpness, Contrast and Saturation at default levels. (in the Shooting Menu).


    * Noise reduction filter at LOW (in the Shooting Menu).  Even at the LOW setting, images from the P900 appear to me to have a high level of noise reduction. There is very little granular type noise even at ISO 1600. I would like to see Nikon introduce a lower NR setting in a firmware update. That might overcome the mushy appearance of fine details which is easily seen in  P900 images.


    * Active D Lighting (ADL) OFF with front lit subjects or when subject brightness range is low.  (Set this in the Shooting Menu).


    * Active D Lighting HIGH with backlit subjects or when subject brightness range is high. (bright highlights, dark shadows).   


    The camera has menu resume (menu will open at the last used tab)  in the Shooting Menu so if you go to the [Active D-Lighting] tab when preparing the camera for an outing the menu will open there for quick access next time you use it.

    ADL works. It delivers improved highlight and shadow detail when subject brightness range is high. I suggest some experimentation with the levels available to see what is most effective.


    I noted in my tests that pictures with ADL on HIGH have slighly more smudging of fine details than companion images with ADL OFF.

    * Image Quality Fine, Image Size 16 M, White Balance Auto1, Metering Matrix, Single shot, AF-S, AF Area Mode Manual Normal, ISO Auto.  


    In general I have found it best to let the camera figure out the best combination of shutter speed, aperture (which will almost always be the widest available) and ISO sensitivity.


    The exception to this is with the lens zoomed out  and less than bright light levels when the camera will allow the shutter speed to drop below a safe hand held level.


    In my hands if I am holding the camera very steady, this is about 1/800sec at E2000mm and about 1/200 sec at E800mm.


    I then switch to S (shutter priority) Mode and control the shutter speed directly.


    At Focal Length E24mm shutter speeds of around 1/15-1/30 are achievable and even slower with a bit of luck but that takes no account of subject movement.


    I note that P900 users are posting in online forums decently sharp photos taken at lower shutter speeds than those quoted above. I too, have had occasional sharp shots at low shutter speeds but for consistency have found that in my hands the speeds above are more realistic.


    The camera does have a [minimum shutter speed] setting but it is fixed and does not adjust for zoom. 

    Nikon should reconfigure this in firmware if possible. I find 1/30 sec or slower is fine at the wide end but useless at the long end.


    I have read numerous posts in user forums about the P900, some in praise some in despair. It seems to me that several of the despairing posters might have been trying too hard to exert control over the camera, using M Mode, or using shutter speeds which are unrealistically slow or shooting through hazy hot air.


    There have been some reviews heavily critical of the image quality. One such review described the sensor as ‘hellishly crappy’ and the images as being ‘like oatmeal’ and ‘like porridge’.


    I have to say, my initial reaction to the P900 images was something like “oh, yuck, I can’t live with these JPGs”, having used RAW capturewith almost every other digital camera I have owned.  

    However after experimenting with various settings and becoming accustomed to the camera I am not quite so negative about the JPGs although I still wish Raw was available.


    As I see it, there are three main problems with JPG pictures, including those produced by the P900.


    1. Image editing is done by the camera according to its own algorithms then baked in and at least half the original data discarded. This means opportunities for post capture adjustment are limited.


    2. Overexposed and unrecoverable highlights are common when subject brightness range is high.


    3. Fine textures and subject details tend to be lost in the JPG creation process leading to a mushy appearance of some types of subject, typically fine foliage, hair and skin texture.


    However I must say that the JPGs from the P900 are  better  than those from the Canon SX60 and Panasonic TZ70 which I tested alongside the P900.


    By ‘better’ I mean they have less noise, more detail and generally more accurate color.

    The moored yachts are about 750 meters from the camera.  Overcast day. FLE 2000mm.  I made 10 exposures hand held at 1/400sec. This is the sharpest. I am unable to get reliable sharpness at the long end at this shutter speed. 


    The lens    I rate the P900 lens as quite remarkable, astounding even, given the price of the camera.


    It delivers very good to excellent sharpness right across the frame from the wide end of the zoom range to about E1200mm .  There is a bit of softening in the edges and corners but this is not noticed in most photos.


    From there to the long end  sharpness and contrast decline somewhat but remain capable of decent picture quality even at E2000mm in the right conditions (see below). My copy is a bit soft on the right side at FLE2000.


    In practice I found that the camera in P Mode selects the widest available aperture almost all the time and that works well.  I could see no optical benefit to stopping down the aperture.


    My strong suspicion is that the JPG engine is not allowing the lens to display its full potential.

    There is no appreciable distortion or chromatic aberration presumably as a result of software correction in camera post capture.


    Some purple fringing may appear at high brightness/contrast edges.


    Objects behind the plane of focus tend to exhibit double line type nisen bokeh which can be distracting with some subjects.


    Flare can be an issue with the sun or bright light shining towards the camera. There is no lens hood supplied.


    The lens takes a standard 67mm diameter screw in filter. I have a u.v. filter fitted permanently to protect the front element.


    On my camera the lens has about 2mm free play along the optical axis. I find this somewhat disconcerting as the lens flops in and out if the camera is shaken back and forth or tipped up one way then the other.


    This is the best frame from a run of 10 hand held at 1/800 sec. I got a greater percentage of acceptable shots at this shutter speed but you can see the increased granularity due to the need for higher ISO.


    Vibration Reduction (VR)   This camera and all other super zooms would notbe usable hand held without a highly efficient vibration reduction system. The P900 has one of the best VR systems I have encountered but it does struggle a bit at FLE2000.


    It allows me to hand hold (with careful technique) down to about 1/400 second, sometimes slower,  at a focal length in the FLE600-800mm range.


    Towards the long end of the zoom I find I need to use at least 1/800sec or faster for reasonable consistency.


    At this point a tight little nexus between focal length, ISO, shutter speed and picture quality sets in.


    The problem is that if shutter speed is increased to counter camera shake then ISO must increase and that brings increased noise reduction which impairs picture quality.


    So there must always be a balance between focal length, shutter speed and ISO setting.  I suggest each individual photographer run trials on this to determine the optimum relationship for that person’s own camera technique.


    In light levels which are less than bright  it may be impossible to achieve hand held sharpness at the long end with any camera settings.


    Bear in mind that VR does nothing for subject movement.


    Now the same thing on tripod, with timer delay 2 sec. With ISO at base level and no camera shake this is the best  result. Only the individual photographer can decide whether the benefits of the tripod outweigh the drudgery of carrying it.  The fact that I am even suggesting the use of such an amazing focal length without a tripod is remarkable.


    Sharpness at the long end  Over more than a thousand frames I have repeatedly found that my rate of sharp photos declines as focal length increases, particularly over about FLE1000mm.


    This could be and probably is due to several factors. To mention a few:


    * Atmospheric haze and turbulence distortion with distant subjects.  This can be a major issue on a sunny day in the afternoon.


    * Camera shake hand held.


    * VR is very good, but in my hands which are  reasonably steady,  not quite good enough for reliable sharpness at the long end.


    * Just framing a subject is difficult enough at the long end let alone holding the camera still.  The ‘Snap-Back-Zoom’ button is useful for locating a subject.


    * The lens loses some sharpness and contrast at the long end which is of course just when sharpness and contrast are most needed.


    * It is possible that AF is not as accurate at the long end. I have several photos which are not sharp, apparently out of focus.


    I usually find it is possible to improve sharpness at the long end by mounting the camera on a VERY sturdy tripod, with no breeze at all and firing the shutter by timer delay or remote device.


    Beware the lightweight tripod for long zoom work. The slightest breeze can move the camera enough to make sharp results impossible.


    The tripod socket is off to the left side and quite forward in the baseplate of the camera which doesn’t help at all. 


    If Nikon does a follow up model I would like them to redesign this part of the camera for better tripod stability.


    As it stands you have 185mm of lens (at full zoom) cantilevered out in front of  a 15mm support platform (the distance between the center of the tripod socket and the front of the baseplate). This is  not sufficiently stable and makes setting up a tripod shot at the long end difficult as the lens drags the camera down even with the tripod head controls locked.


    Wattlebird. Small birds like this  make themselves hard to see clearly, ducking behind foliage repeatedly. Anyway I finally grabbed a shot of this one about to take off.  All right, they are always about to take off.   FLE 1100mm.  
    I got one reasonable shot in  20 of the wattlebirds that day.


    Sharpness at the long end:  Tripod vs VR.  I ran a series of tests at two distances, 19 meters and 750 meters from camera to subject.


    I found that with a static subject, no breeze, ISO 100 and 2sec timer I reliably got better picture quality with the tripod at either distance.


    ISO range image quality  I found with that with camera settings as detailed above and with the provisos also mentioned above about smudging of fine textural detail and the risk of blown out highlights, image quality is very good at base ISO and declines only slowly as ISO is increased with gradual loss of sharpness, detail rendition and color.


    I found JPGs from the P900 to be visibly better especially at high ISO settings than JPGs from the Panasonic TZ70 or Canon SX60 which I tested concurrently with the P900.


    I am happy to use the P900 at ISO 800 or even ISO 1600. This is the best high ISO performance I have seen from a camera with the 7.66mm diagonal sensor.


    This makes the P900 usable indoors without flash.


    It also gives me cause to rethink the potential of the 7.66mm sensor in modern digital camera practice.


    As mentioned above I think Nikon could and should include a lower setting for NR which would hopefully boost fine detail rendition. I doubt the increase in grain would be a problem.


    JPG vs RAW workflow considerations   I use Adobe Photoshop.


    I have found that in the great majority of photos I can improve the out-of-camera JPG by editing with the Camera Raw filter in Photoshop.  

    S
    o I do just as much post capture editing on JPGs as RAW images but with less useful effect.


    At the capture end of the workflow cycle, shooting RAW (where available) is much easier than shooting JPG. I don’t have to worry about setting Active D Lighting or not and don’t have to worry about applying exposure compensation or thinking about other settings which will be ‘baked in’ to a JPG.


    The point is that for the user who does normally run a RAW based workflow, JPG capture is more troublesome and less effective than RAW capture. 


    Next: performance












     










      


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    P900 Focal Length Equivalent 220mm, 1/500 sec. Hand held. Bright sun, front lit, static subject. On close inspection at 100% there is some loss of detail in the fine foliage. However in the original you can see individual leaves on the eucalyptus trees behind the houses. Overall a very good result.


    On the basis of  specifications and appearance the P900 seems as though it might be ideal for birds, wildlife, sport and action photos. In practice it does birds and some wildlife well (but with reservations) and sport/action not well.


    Here are some of the details:


    * The lens zooms from one end to the other in 3.5 seconds which I think is very good considering the amount of glass which has to move a substantial distance.


    * Using single shot, single AF, ADL off, focussing on each frame,  the shot to shot time is 1.0 seconds at the wide end,  1.1 seconds at mid zoom and 1.2 seconds at the long end.


    Most of my long zoom, running dog photos were out of focus or more often out of the frame due to the limited continuous shooting performance of the P900.  Some like this were good. FLE600mm 1/1000 sec. There is loss of hair detail on the dog's back.


    * EVF blackout time. When you press the shutter button to make a photo the EVF blacks out for about half a second. Some time during this blackout the exposure is made.


    This blackout  has consequences. At the long end hand held, subject framing alters significantly between the action of pressing the shutter button and the actual capture. This produces a lot of incorrectly framed photos in my hands which are reasonably steady.


    The slow shot to shot time and long EVF (or monitor) blackout time  make it difficult to photograph moving subjects when zoomed out.


    * AF speed. Compared to other consumer type superzoom cameras the AF speed is commendably fast and is quite adequate for static subjects.  But P900 AF speed is not in the same class as some other cameras such as the  Panasonic FZ1000 which I tested alongside the P900.


    * AF accuracy. I found this to be very good outdoors with few frames out of focus. Sometimes the shutter would fire without focus having been attained and a few photos of dark subjects at the long end were  a little off focus.


    Indoors I found the AF system more reluctant to grab focus but at least it put up the red box to warn me that I should try again.


    Generally a reliable performance with single shot capture.


    FLE1400mm, 1/500 second. The dog stood still for a second. 


    * Continuous shooting/predictive AF.  In order to capture sport/action a camera needs to have the capacity for predictive AF at a reasonable frame rate. The P900 does not manage this well.


    In Continuous High the EVF locks up at the first frame so cannot follow a moving subject. This setting might be useful for checking, say, a golf swing.


    In Continuous Low the frame rate is about 2 fps. The AF box disappears after the first frame. The view you see in the EVF is a review of the previous frame not a preview of the next one. The EVF blackout means you are looking at a black rectangle more than half the total time. These factors make it extremely difficult to hold a moving subject in frame especially if it is moving across the frame.


    With cars moving slowly towards the camera and the zoom at FLE400mm I got about 60% of frames sharp. With surfers moving across the frame and FLE about 1000mm, I got no useful shots at all.


    The camera locks up after shooting a burst of exposures while data is writing to the memory card. I used a Sandisk Extreme Pro 95MB/sec card, which is about the fastest available.


    There is a Sports mode available via the [Scene] setting on the Mode Dial. Some users posting on forums are getting good results with this. However as described in the Reference Manual (Page 5 of the Reference section) exposure and focus are set at the first frame of the set of 7.


    The P900 is difficult to use for sport/action with limitations on follow focus and continuous viewing.


    I spent a morning at the local wetlands photographing birds, switching back and forth between the P900 and the FZ1000.  I used the FZ1000 up to FLE800mm with JPG capture (i-Zoom).


    I found the FZ1000 was better for overall speed and responsiveness, highlight/shadow detail, autofocus speed, autofocus accuracy, continuous AF/follow focus, EVF quality, EVF refresh, write time to memory and overall picture quality up to FLE600mm.


    The P900 was better for zoom reach and picture quality above FLE600mm.


    The point of this is that up to about FLE600mm there are  better cameras to be had than the P900. So the P900 has to be very convincing in the higher focal length range to make a case for someone to buy one.


    Loss of highlight detail on the trunks of the Casuarinas. I forgot to set Active D Lighting. If the camera allowed RAW capture I probably wouldn't have to remember ADL at all.


    Auto Panorama   is one of those features the market seems to think that consumer cameras must have these days. The P900 has it but the resolution and sharpness are rather low.


    The self timer  is easy enough to set but it self cancels after every shot. 

    I forgot about this every time I used the camera on a tripod. Proper cameras provide an option to hold the self timer function until the camera is powered off or a different mode is selected.


    FLE550mm, 1/320 sec, ISO 1600. Very good result for ISO 1600 from a small sensor. Note shallow depth of focus. The wing is sharp, the eye not quite sharp.


    Vibration reduction (VR) performance    Nikon claims in its promotional material that  “ ….shots are stabilised at a shutter speed of approximately 5.0 stops faster…..”.


    Faster than what, they do not say.


    A footnote says “..Based on CIPA standard measured at approximately 350mm (35mm format equivalent)”.


    I ran as series of tests in controlled conditions and compared the results to my photos out and about.


    The controlled test was to photograph a page of newspaper,  hand held with VR off then on, with the zoom at widest, mid and longest positions, hand held,  standing,  viewing through the EVF.



    Zoom range

    Slowest sharp shutter speed

    VR OFF

    Slowest sharp shutter speed

    VR ON

    Advantage

    Stops or EV steps

    Real world slowest sharp shutter speed

    VR ON

    Wide FLE 24mm

    1/20

    1/10

    1.0

    About 1/15

    Mid FLE 240mm

    1/100

    1/20

    2.3

    About 1/125

    Long FLE 2000mm

    1/1000

    1/320

    2.0

    About 1/800


    Notes:


    * VR stabilises the EVF image and allows the remarkably long zoom to be used hand held, with some limitations,  if the camera is held very steady.


    * When I review my ‘out and about’ photos (hundreds of them) I find that the shutter speeds I need to use for reasonably reliable sharpness are higher than those obtained in controlled testing.


    * VR works well up to FLE about 800-1000mm with a decently high percentage of sharp enough frames. But in my hands , which are quite steady with no rest or intention tremor, the percentage of sharp frames falls as focal length increases to FLE2000.


    I am seeing photos published on user forums which would suggest that some other P900 users are getting better results at the long end. Maybe there is sample variation in VR effectiveness.  Maybe other users have better technique than me. Many factors affect sharpness at the long end.


    By the way, when testing I several times left VR ON with the camera on tripod, with no apparent ill effect.


    Nikon advises switching VR OFF with tripod use but in practice it seems OK to leave it ON.


    In fact it may be advantageous. The reason is that at FLE2000mm the preview image becomes unstable in the slightest breeze.   In addition if the shutter is actuated by pressing the shutter button with the timer set to 2 seconds, which is my practice, the camera can take all of that time to settle down and leaving VR ON helps it to do so.


    VR effectiveness on the P900 is of the same order as IS effectiveness on the Canon SX60 which I tested concurrently.


    Work boat about 500 meters from the camera. Bright sun.
    Hand held. FLE1500mm 1/400sec ISO 100.


    Next: Ergonomics




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    Bright sun, cross lighting. FLE125mm, 1/800 sec hand held. You can see the P900 has a very good lens, outstanding really considering the zoom range. But the JPG rendition is not up to the lens, smearing fine foliage details.  The P900 would be even better with RAW capture.


    This ergonomic review  follows my usual schedule which you can read about here.


    Setup  Phase  is generally well managed. The menus are easily accessed and navigated. The graphical user interface is well designed and easy to read.


    There are enough options to provide a decent user experience and to configure the camera for most requirements.


    It is not possible to configure the minimum shutter speed to change with zoom.


    The buildings under construction are about 1500 meters from the camera on a warm sunny day. The effects of atmospheric distortion are evident. FLE350mm.


    Setup Phase Score 10/15


    Prepare  Phase   is not so well designed.


    The Main Mode dial is well positioned and easy to use.


    Access to Active D Lighting (ADL) may frequently be required in the few minutes just before making an exposure but is only available in the Shooting Menu. It should be more accessible.


    The Fn button provides access to AF Area Mode, ISO, Drive Mode, Metering, WB, Picture Control, Image Size, Image Quality and VR.  These are appropriate to Prepare Phase but the user experience could be improved.


    The list of adjustments assigned to the Fn button is not user selectable, neither is it possible to drop some unused items back to the main menu.


    The user interface brought up by the Fn button is poorly designed. I have been using the camera intensively for several weeks and I still get confused by the user interface which requires much scrolling down then across to access various settings.


    Many other cameras have an equivalent  button. Canon has the Func. Button, Panasonic the Q menu and so forth. They all work better than the P900 Fn button.


    The buttons on the upper part of control panel (to the right of the monitor) within easy reach of the right thumb, have good enough haptics.   The problem is they are located for ready access to Capture 

    Phase actions but actually access Setup, Prepare and Review Phase functions with no option for user assignment of function. This is not the end of the world, just suboptimal use of high value camera real estate.


    You have buttons for Wi-Fi and Playback in locations which would be better used for primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters such as ISO, [+/-] or AF start.


    If the folks at Nikon can’t work out the difference between Prepare and Capture Phase tasks they might at least give the user the option to assign any function from the shooting menu to every button on the camera.  Then users can figure it out for themselves.


    ISO 560, 1/320 second. The cockatoo is very close to the camera.


    Prepare Phase Score  6/15


    Holding  The P900 has a nicely designed handle and thumb support. The camera is comfortable to hold and easy to carry all day with the handle.


    However the P900 is quite large and could easily accommodate some improvements to both handle and thumb support.


    The handle is a bit short for adult male hands. My little finger keeps slipping below the bottom of the handle. The simple way to accommodate large and small hands is to raise the height of the handle. 
    There is ample opportunity on this body to raise the shoulders and thus the handle.


    The height of the center of the shutter button is 72mm. When I make mockups I generally have the shutter button at 78mm. This might not sound like much but it allows the adult male hand a full five finger hold.


    In addition the handle could use a more pronounced ‘inverted L’ shape like the canon SX60 which I tested alongside the P900.


    The center of the shutter button on the SX60 is inset 30mm from the right side of the body and sits directly above the inside of the handle. 


    The shutter button of the P900 is 24mm from the side of the body and sits vertically on a line 7mm above the inside of the handle.


    The SX60 handle and shutter button location allow the hand to adopt a more natural posture and the terminal phalanx of the index finger to fall more naturally onto the shutter button.

    If the reader finds this all rather arcane and confusing a visit to this summary about handles and holding might be worth while.


    My experience making 13 camera mockups has taught me that subtle differences in the shape of things can make a big difference to the user experience.


    The thumb support is not optimal either. There are two kinds of thumb support.


    1. Vertical, near the right side of the body, as seen on the P900 or


    2. Diagonal, as seen on Canon DSLRs and Panasonic FZ1000.


    The vertical type has two disadvantages.


    1. It does not place the hand in the optimal ‘half closed relaxed’ posture for maximum strength with least effort.


    2. In order to operate the P900 command dial the whole right hand has to hitch up a bit from the basic hold position. See below.


    Holding Score 13/20


    The P900 is generally easy to hold.  However the inner lens barrel exhibits considerable free play. I recommend keeping fingers off the inner barrel.


    Viewing   The P900 has a fully articulated monitor providing good sharpness, color, highlight and shadow detailAperture and shutter speed are displayed in a gray box near the bottom of the frame.


    In addition the least cluttered data set available by scrolling with the Disp button is rather busy. 
    Fortunately most of the clutter disappears when the shutter button is half pressed,  except the aperture, shutter speed, battery status indicator (why does that stay up ?), AF box and framing assist lines.


    Neither the monitor nor EVF can be configured for ‘viewfinder style’ with camera data beneath the image preview.


    The EVF is of lower quality than the monitor which is disappointing as this camera needs to be used with EVF for stability any time the lens is extended.


    Yes, I know, some people claim they can hold a camera steady with monitor view at the long end of a superzoom. They are kidding themselves.


    EVF display style and data are the same as the monitor.


    The EVF is small, provides inaccurate colors and low sharpness. The slow refresh time/long blackout time has already been mentioned.


    Even with EVF brightness set to the maximum it still looks a bit dim to me in bright light.


    When Auto ISO is set, there is no indication of actual ISO in the monitor or viewfinder.


    The EVF eyecup is small,  hard and rectangular, allowing stray light to intrude in bright conditions.


    Viewing Score 11/20


    This is fairly typical of many of my photos hand held at FLE2000mm. Hazy bright day.
    Nothing is really sharp.
    ISO 220, 1/640 second.  A faster shutter speed might help but that would push up the ISO.



    Operating   The key criterion for evaluating operation is : The camera should allow the user to adjust all primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters while looking continuously through the viewfinder and without having to shift grip with either hand.’


    The better cameras can manage all this, the P900 cannot. If it were a cheapo general purpose snapshooter’s compact I would say ‘so what ?’. But to me the P900 looks like a camera suggesting bigger and better things. 


    The ‘bigger’ part of that is undeniable.  The ‘better’ comes with expectations which I think owners of this camera are likely to have.


    Aperture can be adjusted in A Mode but the right thumb has to drop down to the multi selector which disrupts grip with the right hand.


    Shutter speed is adjusted in S mode with the command dial but in order to do that the right hand has to take little hitch upwards so the interphalangeal joint can flex and bring the distal phalanx to bear on the dial. This is a minor problem but again it does involve shifting grip with the right hand.


    For comparison see the thumb support and rear dial  configuration  as found on the FZ1000 or my Mockup #13.


    On these cameras the thumb takes up the preferred diagonal posture in holding position. To operate the dial the lower right corner of the camera stays in place on the base of the thumb which has only to swing right without flexing to work the dial without disruption to the grip.


    Back to the P900:  There is no direct access to ISO setting.  ISO is a primary exposure parameter but yet again we see Nikon failing to provide direct access. In the last few years I have owned and used a D5200, V2, P7800 and now the P900 from Nikon and in every one there has been an indirect or roundabout access to setting ISO.


    Exposure compensation is easily accessed although the right hand grip is disrupted.


    You can zoom with the lever in front of the shutter button or with the one on the left side of the lens barrel. Zoom is prompt and reasonably precise for a power type.


    Position of the AF box can be moved readily enough. Press [OK] and the box becomes active. Now it can be moved anywhere within a bounding box using the multi selector keys. A neat touch is that the camera will work with the AF box active. You don’t have to press the [OK] button first.


    But the box only moves in single steps, one at a time. It takes 9 presses to get the box from center to one of the corners of the bounding box.


    Then there is no ‘one press recenter’ function. You have to do all 9 presses to get it back to the middle of the frame. Fortunately a little dot appears in the middle of the AF box when it is recentered.


    Now let us say you are out and about with the AF box at the default [Normal] size and you spot a little bird. You want to reduce the AF box size to [Spot]. 


    You can only change the AF box size via the AF Area Mode and for that you must go through the Shooting menu or the Fn button.  


    Many button presses later….bye bye birdie………..


    So you leave the AF box at the [Spot] setting but this camera uses Contrast Detect AF and a smaller area is likely to be less sensitive and/or accurate for general photography.


    Proper cameras let you adjust AF box size on the fly just by turning the command dial when the box is active.


    High backlighting handled decently well by the sensor. FLE320mm, ISO 280, 1/400 second. 


    Operating Score 8/25


    Review Phase   I found arrangements in Review Phase disappointing.


    Each review image can be quickly enlarged with the zoom control.


    But I could find no way to scroll from one enlarged frame to the next. I had to zoom back out to full frame before scrolling could proceed.  The command dial could have been used for this as in other cameras but that dial just does the same thing as the zoom lever.


    I also found that aperture, shutter speed and ISO are only presented on one of the three screen styles selectable via the Disp button. From that screen I am unable to scroll from one image to the next or last.


    Review Phase Score 2/5


    Total Ergonomic Score 50/100


    Comment    A score of 50/100 would be expected from a consumer compact with no pretensions to greatness.


    But the P900 is touted by Nikon in its promotional material as having ‘superior image quality’, ‘performance that goes above and beyond’ (above and beyond what, I wonder ?) and  being ‘designed to impress’.

    It certainly looks impressive and in some respects such as the lens, image quality from the 7.66mm sensor, the VR and the price, it actually does impress.   


    But there is plenty of room for improvement.


    I doubt that any single issue with the P900’s  ergonomics would be a deal breaker.


    But there are many small problems and operational issues leading to a suboptimal user experience.

    I suspect some of these issues are the consequence of Nikon’s decision to use the old, slow,  Expeed C2 processor.


    But many are  just a consequence of suboptimal design which could be corrected with existing technology.


    Next: Summary and conclusions









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    Corella. Equivalent Focal Length 240mm, 1/125 sec ISO 100. With cooperative birds like these good photos are readily made.  This and the photos below all hand held.


    The P900  brings to the consumer camera genre specifications and capabilities never seen before in the history of photography.


    This is Part 5 of a user review






    FLE650mm, ISO 560, 1/400sec.


    The unique selling point  is that 83x zoom lens spanning Focal Length Equivalent (FLE) 24-2000mm.


    This has been enabled by:


    * Modern lens making technologies including aspheric elements which allow the construction of compact super zooms of very good quality at an amazingly low price.


    * Nikon has somehow extracted from the humble 7.66mm sensor better imaging performance than I have previously seen from this size sensor.


    * Effective vibration reduction allows ordinary mortals to use the lens handheld with some expectation of usable results, although the long end is difficult to use effectively.


    Unfortunately   there are numerous small problems, adversely affecting picture quality, performance and ergonomics. 


    I would not think any one of these to be a deal breaker but in sum they do diminish the experience of using the camera and the results of which it is capable.


    FLE1500mm, ISO 220, 1/400sec.


    At the beginning of this 5 part user review of the P900 I asked two questions; ‘What’s it for’ ? and ‘Who’s it for’ ?


    To these questions I now add ‘What can it do’ ?


    Let’s run through  the list of common camera uses and see how well the P900 is suited to purpose:


    Landscape:  The problems here are


    1. Mushy rendition of fine details caused, presumably, by noise reduction in creating the JPGs which are the camera’s only output and


    2. A tendency to highlight clipping. This can be reduced by setting Active D Lighting but that is not entirely a solution to the problem.


    So: The P900 is not really at its best with landscapes.


    By way of comparison the little Panasonic TZ70 which I tested along with the P900 delivers clearer, more detailed (RAW) landscapes in the wide and middle range of the zoom.


    FLE1100mm, ISO140, 1/400 sec.  Some reviewers have expressed dislike for the rear out of focus rendition (bokeh) here showing  nisen double line phenomenon. 


    Indoor groups and portraits:  I rate the P900 one of the few cameras with the small 7.66mm sensor which can usefully be used indoors without flash. I have used it up to ISO 1600 with quite respectable results.


    Birds and other creatures   These subjects make best use of the super zoom capability and I think are the subjects which the P900 manages most successfully. 


    But there are reservations. 


    * The camera is difficult to hand hold effectively at the long end of the zoom.


    * AF speed, EVF refresh rate and overall operational speed are quite slow compared to other cameras which are available, including other FZLC (Fixed Zoom Lens) camera models.


    * Low light soon sees the camera run out of  aperture/shutter speed/ISO  options when zoomed out.


    Sport/action    The P900  struggles with follow focus and continuous shooting. It is not ideal for sport/action.


    * Macro/closeups  Yes the P900 can do closeups. There is a macro setting in the Autofocus Mode which utilises just a short section of the wide end of the zoom. Unfortunately you have to get very close. So close the camera itself blocks light from the subject and might spook any tiny little creatures.


    VideoYes the P900 can do video. This review is about still photo capability. Please refer to other sources for information about video.


    General travel/holiday photography  Yes the P900 can do this quite well but so can lots of smaller, lighter, less obtrusive cameras. 


    It seems to me that for the ordinary photographer whose main interest is not birds and small animals it is actually quite difficult to find subjects which might require or could benefit from the full zoom capability provided by the P900.


    FLE320mm, ISO100, 1/800 sec. Close inspection reveals loss of detail in foliage.  I doubt the JPG rendition is doing justice to the excellent lens.


    Can the P900 be improved ?


    Yes, of course it can. I have two lists of suggestions for Nikon:


    1. Suggestions for a firmware update:


    * Allow RAW capture, even if it means tediously slow shot to shot times like the P7800.


    * Provide an extra, lower, user selectable level of noise reduction for the JPGs.


    * Provide an option to have the self timer remain active with repeated shots until the camera is powered down or a different mode is selected.


    * Reconfigure the minimum shutter speed to allow it to change with zoom focal length.


    * Allow user assignment of function to all buttons.


    * Improve the Fn button user interface and operation.


    * Allow direct access to Active D Lighting via a button.


    2. Suggestions for a follow up camera:


    * The P900 is basically a P610 with a longer lens.

    My experience with the P900 suggests that it is difficult to achieve consistently good results hand held in the focal length range E1200-2000, particularly in less than bright sunlight.


    * Maybe Nikon could rethink the P900 as a more premium product with a zoom of FLE 24-1200mm but with a wider aperture than either the P610 or P900  now has.

    The Panasonic FZ200 has FLE 600mm at f2.8.   Maybe FLE 1200mm at f4 might be possible.

    I think that would be more useful than 2000mm f6.5.


    * This thing really needs a fast processor. If that means completely redesigning the inner workings of the Coolpix line, so be it.  Nikon should have dealt with this issue years ago.


    Here is the thing: Nikon has let the ultra zoom genie out of the bottle and it won’t go back in.

    The P900 will unleash consumer’s expectations about performance which only a fast new processor can meet.


    * As detailed in parts 1-4 of this user review, the camera needs a range of upgrades to holding, viewing and operating.


    They look cute but do massive damage to Australia's agricultural land. FLE950mm, ISO 1000, 1/320 sec.


    A final thought: they have a problem  


    If Nikon does not move to produce a camera like the one I have suggested above, they will have raised unmet expectations leading to a tribe of customers wanting  better performance.


    However, if Nikon can bring its corporate self to make the camera which I have suggested above they might have an even bigger problem, that being: who needs a DSLR  and four lenses?


    Hmmmm……………….


    We live in interesting times.












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    Until recently fixed zoom lens cameras have struggled in low light. This hand held photo was made with a Panasonic LX100. ISO 1600, f1.7, 1/40 second.  


    There has been much discussion  recently in blogs and camera forums about the contest for market dominance between Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR)  and Mirrorless  (MILC) interchangeable lens camera types.


    However this contest  may be sidelined by the rise of two other camera types.


    The first of these is of course, the smart phone which has become the favourite picture taking device in the modern world.


    Until recently if you wanted better picture quality than a smart phone you had to get a DSLR or MILC.


    But there is another camera type which is capable of making very good pictures.


    That is the Fixed Lens camera (FLC). Some of these come with a single focal length lens, attractive to a very small buyer group happy to live without a zoom.


    But the great majority have a zoom lens (FZLC) which is more appealing to a wide buyer demographic.


    Like most FZLCs the Panasonic FZ1000 does not have an ultrawide focal length. But Photoshop comes to the rescue. This panorama was made from a sequence of hand held RAW captures, stitched in Photoshop to produce a RAW panorama file. The stitching software has coped well with potential parallax errors which could have arisen with the juxtaposition of near and far trees.


    Sales figures for these cameras are presently unknown as they have been buried in the ‘compact’ category.


    This category includes budget compacts, advanced compacts, superzooms and travel zooms of various configurations. Some of these are not compact at all as anyone who has held a Nikon P900 will know. 


    Some have been called ‘bridge’ cameras, presumably suggesting they are some kind of intermediate between compacts on the one hand and DSLR/MILCs on the other.  


    But cameras like the Sony RX10 and Panasonic FZ1000 are not a bridge from any camera type to any other type. They are a fully fledged, stand alone,  all purpose solution to the majority of photographic requirements for the majority of photographers.


    Shipments of cameras in the ‘compact’ category fell precipitously from 2012 to 2014 but appear to have steadied since the beginning of 2014 according to CIPA data of shipments by Japanese camera companies, published in Mirrorless Rumors 01 May 2015.


    It is possible that the apparent plateau in ‘compact’ sales since the beginning of 2014 might be due to advanced compacts and superzooms.


    I think that the future of cameras for the great majority of amateur users lies in the Fixed Zoom Lens (FZL) category.


    The FZ1000 has a maximum optical zoom of FLE400mm which is not great by modern FZLC standards. But a few years ago 400mm was regarded as a superzoom lens. The surf club in the foreground is 1.3 kilometers from the camera, the city buildings in the background are 14 K away.
    Plenty of detail in this hand held shot thanks to the very good lens and OIS.


    Last year I sold all my interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) in favour of a Panasonic FZ1000 and have never regretted that decision. 


    Interchangeable lenses and interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) are the 20th Century’s answer to the problem of providing a range of focal lengths from very wide to very long.


    The ILC strategy is successful but the downside is the need to buy, carry and change lenses as subject requirements alter.


    This is a simple crop of the photo above this one, from an original RAW capture. This is a 6.3Mpx crop from the original  FZ1000 20 Mpx photo. The original is good enough that the crop is successful and retains quite good picture quality. This crop was chosen to match the maximum optical zoom of the TZ70. When printed with the FZ1000 crop beside the TZ70 full frame, I found the FZ1000 crop shown here to be slightly sharper than the TZ70 version at the same size.
    The focal length equivalent is 720mm. 


    The 21st Century has seen great advances in the technology of compact, high quality budget priced  zoom lenses and small sensors.


    These developments have allowed manufacturers to create cameras with fixed zoom lenses covering almost all the angles of view most photographers will require, together with picture quality good enough for most purposes most of the time.


    This allows the photographer to have an entire camera kit in a single device with no need to change lenses, ever. This is less expensive, lighter and more user friendly than a multi lens kit on an ILC.


    Until quite recently the main argument against the FZLC has been poor picture quality compared with an ILC, especially in low light when high ISO sensitivity settings are required.


    This is still to some extent true particularly for cameras with small sensors but some FZLCs now have sensors as large as the smaller ILCs so the picture quality gap is closing.


    The second argument against  FZLCs is that none of them has an ultrawide zoom setting. For many users this will not even register as a problem.


    However for those times when an ultrawide view is required a multi frame panorama is a workable solution in many cases.

    There are two ways to achieve this.


    Many cameras now offer in camera auto panorama stitching, some providing very good results.


    An alternative is to make multiple overlapping exposures and merge to panorama in image editing software. The latest version of  Adobe Photoshop (or Lightroom) can do this even with RAW files and output a RAW file for further adjustment.


    The third argument against FZLCs is that as a result of the small sensor sizes used in these cameras, focal lengths are short making it difficult to render backgrounds smoothly out of focus.


    This characteristic might be a problem if the background is required to be completely out of focus for instance in sport or portraiture but could also be an advantage for documentary work where everything is required to be sharp.


    Wide aperture lenses are a partial solution to achieving smoothly out of focus backgrounds.


    However there are some situations such as sporting venues which present very busy, intrusive backgrounds which I suspect will always benefit from a full frame sensor.


    The Panasonic LX100 which I used for this photo is quite capable of holding follow focus on the action. But the background is intrusive. In fairness to the LX100 I would have to say this background would likely look intrusive with any camera as it is so close to the playing area.
    ISO 1600, f2.6, 1/250 sec, AFC, Burst M. I will use 1/500 sec next time as the fast moving players were too often blurred at 1/250 sec.

    Next: five FZLCs compared




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  • 05/12/15--20:58: Five Fixed Zoom Lens cameras


  • LX100 hand held

    I have been using and reviewing   several fixed zoom lens cameras over the last few months.

    Here are some brief comments about each.


    Panasonic FZ1000  was announced in June 2014.   The groundwork for this camera was laid by Sony with the RX10 announced in October 2013.  The FZ1000 uses the same 15.9 mm diagonal Sony sensor as the RX10 but increases the zoom range from 8.3x to 16x and delivers improved performance and ergonomics.


    At their introduction the RX10 and FZ1000 (and Sony RX100) had the largest sensor seen on a FZLC with a consequent big jump in picture quality from previous models.


    The FZ1000 is the most versatile single piece of photographic equipment I have ever owned.  It can replace an ILC for most non professional photographic purposes and even quite a few professional requirements.


    It delivers excellent picture quality at all focal lengths, good performance for still subjects or sport/action with very brisk response to user inputs and very good ergonomics, with 4K video capability.


    I quite often read posts on user forums from former users of APS-C DSLRs and M43 ILCs who have, like me, traded in their ILC kit for a FZ1000 and have been very happy with the result in terms of both picture quality and user experience.


    The only deficits of the FZ1000 when compared to full frame (43mm) or APS-C (27-28mm) sensor ILCs with several lenses, is a lack of ultrawide and ultra long zoom range and  more noisy picture quality at high ISO sensitivity settings.


    Ultrawide photos can readily be made using the inbuilt auto panorama mode or by merging several RAW or JPG frames in Adobe Photoshop.


    Respectable shots up to FLE800mm can be had simply by cropping the original RAW capture from 20 Mpx (FLE400mm) to 5 Mpx (FLE800Mpx). 


    I found these 5Mpx crops to have better picture quality than one might imagine given all the hype recently about cameras with 50 Mpx.


    Somewhat to my surprise, Sony has not yet answered the challenge of the FZ1000 with no update to the RX10 yet announced.


    Even more surprising to me is that no other manufacturer has released a competitor for the FZ1000.


    Either I am wrong about the FZLC being the future of amateur photography or a lot of product development people are asleep at the corporate wheel.


    Here are the five cameras referred to in this post


    Panasonic LX100  was announced in September 2014.


    This is a major step up from previous cameras in the LX line with a much larger 19.2mm diagonal multi aspect ratio sensor from Panasonic.


    The trend to put a large sensor in a compact camera was started by Sony with the RX100 followed by the Mk2 then the current Mk3 versions which use the same sensor as the RX10/FZ1000.


    The LX100  is considerably larger than the RX100(3) but still qualifies as a compact. It delivers excellent pictures, good performance and reasonable ergonomics with a fixed (no need to pop up) built in EVF.


    I believe  the LX100 is probably the best advanced compact available right now. The RX100(3) comes very close (some say equal to) the LX100 in image quality but its user experience is less engaging. 

    I would  find that pop up EVF irritating.


    Richard Butler in his review for Digital Photography Review described the LX100 as “one of the best photographer’s cameras on the market”  and   “probably the best zoom compact ever made”.


    I am not a fan of the LX100s ‘traditional’ control system but can live with it well enough.  A fully articulated monitor and a Mode Dial based control system would improve the user experience.


    The LX100 works very well as a street camera. It is unobtrusive, fast and responsive. It is ideal indoors or outdoors. The camera’s exposure algorithms make good choices for aperture, shutter speed and ISO when set to A on the aperture ring and shutter speed dial with auto ISO.


    The LX100 was announced in September 2014.


    Again we as yet see no effective response to the LX100 from any other manufacturer.  Maybe Panasonic’s move took them all by surprise or maybe those product development people on the other teams are still asleep at the wheel.


    LX100  hand held


    Small sensor/Long zoom   or  Big sensor/short zoom ?  It’s a trade off.


    The LX100 has a large (for a compact) sensor with a zoom range of just 3.1x.


    The FZ1000 has a slightly smaller sensor with a very substantial zoom range of 16x.


    The next three cameras have a very much smaller sensor with a diagonal of just 7.66mm and a much longer zoom range.


    They work best outdoors in good light particularly at the long end of their zoom range which has a restricted lens aperture of around f6.5.


    They are most suitable for still subjects (even if like birds they are only still for a few seconds)  not moving subjects or sport/action.


    Canon SX60  was announced in September 2014. It is the latest in a long line of Canon SX superzooms.


    I would like to say it is also the greatest but that appears not to be the case.


    It has a nice handle, is nice to hold and has a behind-the-shutter-button front control dial just like an EOS DSLR.


    Unfortunately picture quality is noisy with RAW capture and exhibits excessive noise reduction in JPGs.


    Performance is slow and operation awkward due to the flat, recessed 4 way controller and adjacent buttons.


    Canon needs to upgrade every aspect of  the SX60 which is lagging behind its competitors in picture quality, performance and ergonomics.


    User forum posts would suggest the SX50 may be a better or at least not less capable camera.


    LX100


    Nikon P900  The SX60 has  a remarkable 65x zoom lens but the P900 announced in March 2015 trumps that with an amazing 83x zoom going all the way out to focal length equivalent (FLE) 2000 mm.


    The P900 is at its best photographing birds and small animals.


    It has an excellent lens which is good even at full zoom and a good VR system which  allows handholding at ridiculously slow shutter speeds with the reasonable expectation of a usable result.


    Unfortunately RAW capture is not offered and performance is pedestrian.


    An alternative to the P900 is the P610 which appears to be basically the same camera with a slightly shorter but still huge zoom range.


    Panasonic TZ70 (SZ50)  Unlike the two cameras above, the TZ70 is very light and compact in dimensions.  Into its diminutive frame Panasonic has somehow fitted a 30x zoom of quite good quality.


    The TZ70 which was announced in January 2015 is the latest in a long line of  Panasonic travel zooms.  Apparently these sell well and the reason is easy to see.


    With good picture quality, good performance and good ergonomics, the TZ70 does just what it sets out to do which is to provide travellers with an all purpose  photographic device in a very compact package.


    Of the three small (7.66mm diagonal) sensor cameras described here (SX60, P900, TZ70) I rate the TZ70 as having the most coherent  realisation and the most engaging user experience.


    On my testing it also makes the best pictures in the near-wide to mid range of the zoom (RAW).


    FZ1000.  I have photographed this scene many times over the years with a variety of cameras and lenses. The Canon EOS 60D with EF 70-200mm f4 L IS did a good job but in my hands the Panasonic GH4 with Lumix 35-100mm f2.8 delivered slightly better detail and the FZ1000 is slightly better again.  I find the FZ1000 gives away nothing  in picture quality to M43 and APS-C ILCs in most conditions and is sometimes better.


    What’s next ?


    Sony is currently the leading camera sensor manufacturer. On this website   http://www.sony.net/Products/SC-HP/IS/sensor2/products/index.html   there is reference to the IMX204,  a 1/1.7” (about 9.3mm diagonal) 20Mpx Exmor RS sensor, available to other camera makers. 
    This appears to be the first RS type sensor offered to the market.


    R, (presumably for Reverse) indicates a back illuminated type.


    S indicates Stacked, which is a further development designed to improve sensitivity.


    The 9.3mm sensor has about 1.5x the area of the common 1/2.3’, 7.6mm type seen in the TZ70, SX60 and P900 referred to above.


    The increased area and new architecture should provide a significant improvement in image quality.


    I hope this sensor finds its way into a FZLC sometime real soon.









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