|FZ1000 hand held auto panorama stitched in camera. Thanks to the miracle of multi frame stitching software, cameras like the FZ1000 can make superwide photos. This one takes in about 170 degrees. You can see the result is quite good. The stitching software has somehow figured that there is only one speedboat in the right mid area. The sailboat further to the right has acquired two masts however. |
I think the future for enthusiast amateur photography lies with fixed zoom lens cameras (FZLC).
This briefly means it should have a high quality zoom lens, built in EVF, fully articulated monitor, ergonomic handle and thumb support, full set of controls for the enthusiast user, fully auto mode for the snapshooter, very good picture quality, fast responsive performance and excellent ergonomics.
It is a camera which enthusiast/expert users be they amateurs or professionals will want to own and use.
I have no interest in any camera without a built in EVF so I will not consider any such models in this post. This is a personal preference of course, but it is well grounded in experience.
There are two main problems with cameras lacking an EVF.
The first is that the camera is very difficult to hold still with monitor view especially at the long end of a zoom range. The result is blurred pictures.
The second is that even the best monitors are very difficult to see in bright light. I live in Sydney Australia where bright sunlight prevails, making monitor view a frustrating exercise most of the time.
Preliminary Comment Let us assume for a moment that I am right about this and the FZLC is really going to be the main camera type for the enthusiast/expert photographer in the near future.
My thinking is that the manufacturer best poised for success would be the one already offering the best selection of highly capable FZLCs and a history of making good cameras of this type.
Let us see what is available by manufacturer in alphabetical order with my comments at the end of each group.
Please bear with me if I fail to mention your favourite camera or one about which you wanted to read. I will probably miss a few models and may be unclear about whether a particular model is still available.
Canon Incredibly Canon appears to have just one FZLC with a built in EVF, the SX60. I own and have reviewed the SX60 and while it is not a bad camera it is outperformed by offerings from other makers.
Canon is not engaging effectively with the FZLC genre. They continue to churn out basic snapshooter compacts and travel/super zooms without an EVF.
I guess as long as people buy these half baked cameras Canon (and Nikon) will make them.
But I have to believe Canon’s weak offering will damage their reputation particularly as other makers are offering much better products in this category.
Comment: Either I am completely wrong about the future success of the FZLC or the product development people at Canon have lost the plot altogether.
Fujifilm A few years ago Fuji had many models in the FZLC category with updates every year. But recently they appear to have directed most R&D into the X-System of MILCs.
There is the S1, a weather resistant DSLR style 50x superzoom with the ubiquitous 1/2.3” (7.6mm diagonal) 16 Mpx sensor, presumably the same or very similar to that in many current superzooms.
Reviews suggest the S1 has more digital noise than similar cameras from other makers.
At a lower price point there are the S9800 and S9900W with a smaller aperture lens and without the weather sealing.
The X30 is basically an X20 advanced compact with EVF in place of the X20’s OVF. The X-Trans sensor filter array is retained.
Reviews suggest picture quality is not up to the standard set by the Sony RX100 and Panasonic LX100.
Comment: Fujifilm’s current FZLC offerings appear a bit tokenistic to me. Like….Yeah we make one of those………….you can buy one if you want but we would rather you come see our X camera range and fabulous lenses……….
Leica rebadges Panasonic FZLCs. They are the same inside.
Nikon has the P7800 advanced compact which I bought last year and have reviewed. It has good picture quality and a good lens but tediously slow shot to shot times with RAW capture, a poor EVF and mediocre ergonomics.
The P610 is a DSLR style superzoom with the 7.6mm sensor and a very long, good quality zoom lens and quite good picture quality but no RAW capture.
The P900 which I have reviewed on this blog has been attracting a lot of attention lately, with reason.
It is basically a P610 with the longest zoom ever offered on a consumer camera spanning focal length equivalent 24-2000mm.
It works well for birds and small animals with better picture quality than most cameras with the small 7.6mm sensor. Like the P610 RAW is not available and overall performance is limited by the Expeed C2 processor.
Comment: Nikon has the technical capability to score big in the FZLC world. They just need to upgrade the processor in their premium Coolpix line, or launch a new premium FZLC line and get the performance and ergonomics working properly.
Olympus has the Stylus 1, now in 1S version. This is styled like Olympus micro 4/3 cameras and carries a 10x zoom lens. The sensor is the 1/1.7” (9.3mm diagonal) type which should give better picture quality than superzooms with the smaller sensor but reviews suggest that expectation might not be met in practice.
With its constant f2.8 lens and comprehensive control layout the Stylus 1 should be a category killer but my reading of reviews would indicate that is not the case.
Comment: Maybe this camera would be revitalised with a better sensor. The specification is certainly interesting.
|FZ1000. This picture was made hand held from the same position as the panorama above. This time I used i-Zoom for a focal length equivalent of 800mm which is double the maximum optical zoom of the FZ1000. The result is quite acceptable for a small print.|
Panasonic has the largest and most diverse offering of FZLCs with built in EVF, not surprising as they have been making cameras like this for quite a while.
The FZ1000 has been extensively reviewed on this blog. It is the most versatile camera I have ever used and is the main source of my belief in the future of the FZLC genre.
The LX100 is probably the best advanced compact ever made, also extensively reviewed on this blog.
The FZ200 is a DSLR style superzoom which has been on the market for a couple of years with rumors of a replacement due sometime soon.
The TZ70 is the latest iteration of Panasonic’s popular travel zoom genre, also reviewed on this blog.
The FZ70 is similar in style to the FZ200 but with a longer zoom of smaller aperture. I have not reviewed this camera but it has attracted less enthusiasm on user forums than the FZ200.
The LF1 is an advanced compact with the 9.3mm sensor, 7.1x zoom and a built in EVF. Reviews indicate the EVF is not very good. This camera has also attracted little interest on user forums, usually a sign that it does not appeal much to enthusiast photographers.
Comment: Roll on, Panasonic, keep up the good work.
Ricoh/Pentax Do they still make cameras ?
Samsung has the very strange WB2200F which looks like a pro level DSLR with built in vertical grip but uses the standard 7.6mm superzoom sensor.
The WB1100F appears to be the same or similar but without the vertical grip.
Comment: Like Fujifilm, Samsung seems to think the future lies with APS-C MILCs. Samsung’s camera energy appears to be invested in the NX1 and lenses right now. I think Samsung and Fujifilm are heading in the wrong direction with both MILCs and the APS-C sensor size.
But, I could be entirely wrong about that. We shall see.
Sony has been one of the drivers of innovation in the FZLC genre and is probably the source of sensors for most current models from other brands.
The original RX100 was the first model to fit the 1” (15.9mm diagonal) sensor into a truly pocketable camera capable of good picture quality suitable for publication and substantial enlargement. This camera gained much well deserved praise. It has been followed up by the Mk2 and now Mk3 version which has a built in EVF although it has to be popped up from its hiding place for use.
Sony then put the same sensor into the RX10, a DSLR style camera with 8.3x constant f2.8 zoom.
There are the HX400 with 63x zoom and HX400V with 50x zoom, both with a 7.6mm sensor. I know little about these cameras as they lack RAW capability so are not of much interest to me. They were announced in February 2014 and have not since been updated.
The HX90V is a recently announced compact 30x superzoom which is even smaller than Panasonic’s TZ70. It has a built in EVF but like that on the RX100(3) it must be popped up for use. I have not yet seen reviews of this camera.
I find I need to use great care if I am to hold the TZ70 still enough for sharp pictures at the long end of the zoom range. The HX90V is even smaller with a vestigial handle and will presumably be even more challenging to hold steady. It will need a super effective image stabiliser.
It seems this year Sony is preferencing small size over SLR form in its approach to the FZLC.
Comment: Sony has the technological capability to do pretty much anything they want. Sony’s problem with cameras has been a lack of direction and purpose revealed as multiple new models and types of camera with no continuity of lineage.
For instance there is no follow up model to the RX10 in sight. Why ?? They have the sensor, they have the capability, they have the target set by the FZ1000, what’s up ??
Verdict If this was a horse race which it is, kind of, well it’s a race of some sort and if I was a betting type person which I am not but anyway…………I would put my money on Panasonic.
Come to think of it I do put most of my money on Panasonic so I hope that particular horse comes home a winner.
I rather wish the product development people at Sony would get their act together and settle on a coherent product development strategy with a vision for the future as well as the latest enthusiasm.
That would put the sensor maker and the camera maker in the same tent which surely must be a good thing.
As usual…..we shall see………….
|LX100 Pink Roadhouse Oodnadatta|
It is time for a short user review of this interesting camera. I bought mine in November 2014 and have used it frequently since then except for a 2 month period earlier this year when the camera was in the repair shop awaiting a replacement main printed circuit board, the original having failed.
I have recently returned from a trip to Central Australia, using the LX100 every day generating about 800 frames in a variety of conditions.
The following remarks are a brief summary of my impressions with an emphasis on ergonomic issues. I have extensively reviewed the camera in other posts on this blog.
|LX100 Post Office Farina|
Concept Panasonic has successfully figured out how to fit a 4/3” sensor, albeit cropped to an effective diagonal of 19.2mm as compared to the full sensor size of 21.5mm, into a compact camera with a wide aperture zoom lens of good quality. Thus far no other maker has matched this although I read rumors that Sony may be about to do so.
The result is a camera which is somewhat on the large side for a compact and definitely not pocketable. However it does have a built in EVF which I regard as essential.
Some users like the size of the LX100 but having used it a great deal I think it is a betwixt and between thing. It is not pocketable like a Sony RX100 but it also lacks the ergonomic capability of a slightly larger camera.
|From the left, each with appropriate carry bag: Sony RX100, Panasonic LX100, My mockup about the same size as a Panasonic G5/5/7, Panasonic FZ1000.|
The protruding lens of the LX100 prevents it from fitting into compact camera pouches. It fits well into the Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 5 as shown here. But the considerably larger and much more ergonomic mockup requires a carry bag only slightly larger. The FZ1000 is a step up in both camera size and bag size.
Look at the photo above of four cameras each posing in front of its carry bag.
You can see that the bag required for the LX100 is much larger than that needed for the Sony RX100.
But the bag for the mockup camera is only slightly larger even though the mockup is a substantially larger and much more user friendly design, with twin dials, fully ergonomic handle and a full suite of controls for the expert/ enthusiast user. This mockup is a close match to the body size of a Panasonic G5/6/7.
Conceptually I would prefer to see the LX100 go one of two ways, either:
* Keep the size as is, but re invent the design for much improved ergonomics, as shown in the photos or
* Go up a size to that of the larger of the two mockups shown here. This is very close in body size to the Panasonic G5/6/7. I envisage a fixed zoom lens with wide aperture and approximately 4-5x zoom range. The lens can telescope back into the camera body allowing a wider aperture and/or greater zoom range than is possible if it were required to be interchangeable.
|It is possible to design a small camera exactly the same size (w x h x d) as the LX100 but with much improved holding, viewing and operating as shown by the mockup above. This is exactly the same size as the LX100 although it looks larger because of its shape and silver finish.|
Picture quality is generally very good even at high ISO settings. I have made very large prints from LX100 files. They look sharp and clear with a commanding presence on the wall. The modest pixel numbers are not a problem at all.
The only complaints I have are:
* The edges and corners are softer than the center of the frame at all focal lengths, particularly at the widest aperture.
* On my copy the left side is softer than the right side in 16:9 aspect ratio and full zoom.
Performanceis generally very good and much better than most compacts I have used. The camera responds promptly to user inputs. Autofocus is fast and accurate, good enough to follow indoor sports like basketball.
Ergonomics This is the camera ergonomics blog so I have most to say about this subject.
I find that some cameras become easier and more enjoyable to use with practice, others become less endearing. Unfortunately I find the LX100 to be in the latter category.
Here is a list of the things which continue to annoy me about my experience with the LX100.
* The [+/-] dial gets bumped off the zero setting about 50% of times I take the camera from its bag. If
I am trying to get a shot quickly this may go un-noticed resulting in incorrect exposure. There are various things Panasonic could do to fix this, the simplest would presumably be to put a lock button in the center of the dial.
* I repeatedly bump the [Menu/Set] button when handling the camera. This can result in inadvertent setting changes. The problem is that the control panel of the camera (the part of the back to the right of the monitor) is too small and cramped and too close to the right edge of the body.
* The Aperture ring is awkward to use. The problem is that the ring does not have serrations or grippable lands all the way around. It just has two small raised lands. These seem perpetually in the wrong place for my fingers and are almost impossible to reach in portrait orientation. The solution is a ring with full circumference serrations.
* The shutter speed dial requires two fingers to operate. This means completely releasing grip of the camera with the right hand. In practice I also find it is easier to have eyes on the dial as I can never remember which way to turn it for value up or down. This means lowering the camera to work the dial.
It is of course possible to work the dial while looking through the EVF as there is a shutter speed readout in the viewfinder. I just find it easier with eyes on the dial.
In addition the full range of shutter speeds cannot be accessed via the shutter speed dial. Slow and intermediate speeds require operation of the rear dial in addition to the shutter speed dial. This is a clumsy workaround. In my view the shutter speed dial is simply not an adequate means of changing shutter speeds on a modern electronic camera.
In his recent review for DPR of the Fuji X100T (which has the same kind of shutter speed dial as the Panasonic LX100) Richard Butler wrote …..”as I scrabble around with two separate controls to set shutter speed I’d put forward the argument they’re a design affectation rather than a functional benefit”. Precisely.
* The monitor is fixed. Having used fully articulated monitors on other cameras, I have come to appreciate their considerable virtues. This camera would be much more versatile with a fully articulated monitor.
* The EVF eyecup is too small and not deep enough for comfortable viewing. As a workaround for this I wrap my left index finger around the viewfinder to block stray light and achieve the correct viewing distance for my eye.
* The handle is too small. I made a mockup to show that this problem could be solved within the size envelope of the LX100 by redesigning the entire right side of the camera.
Summary: Betwixt and between concept, good picture quality, good performance, multiple ergonomic irritations.
That’s my take on the LX100.
The root of most of the operating issues I have with this camera is Panasonic’s decision, for reasons never explained despite large amounts of promotional blurb, to use a ‘traditional’ style control system instead of the more usual and practical modern system based on Mode Dial and Control Dial(s).
Panasonic knows perfectly well how to do a modern control layout as seen on the GH3/4, FZ1000 and G7.
Panasonic could fix all the problems easily enough either with a redesign at the same size point, as demonstrated by my mockup or by going up in size to a mini-SLR shape, which would be my preference as that option is easier to live with on an everyday basis and opens up more possibilities for the user interface.
|FZ1000 Tripod. The buildings on the hill are 6 kilometers from the camera. The sun set 15 minutes ago. I was easily able to focus manually in the EVF with peaking assist.|
The FZ1000 was announced in June 2014. I bought one when it became available in Australia and it soon became my preferred camera for almost everything.
I regard the FZ1000 as the most versatile and overall most capable single piece of photographic equipment I have ever owned and I am very fussy about picture quality, performance and ergonomics.
I was so happy to be rid of the burden of having to change lenses that I sold all my interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) and lenses and have never regretted doing so.
Panasonic really put everything they had into the FZ1000. It is made in Japan, has an excellent ‘one inch’ (15.9mm diagonal) sensor made by Sony, very good picture quality capable of very big enlargement, an excellent 16x zoom lens, very good performance with the new DFD autofocus, very good ergonomics and 4K video as a bonus.
These days so many cameras, particularly from Canon and Nikon (but others too) are made to fit a price hierarchy structure. As a result entry and intermediate models lack features which could easily be included, presumably to encourage the buyer to move up to a higher price point thereby realising more profit for the maker.
But Panasonic loaded the FZ1000 camera with every feature, function and capability they could, thereby producing a really excellent product which is a pleasure to use. It is also offered at a remarkably low price point. I think that the lens alone, if it were supplied on a mount for an ILC would cost as much as the entire FZ1000 camera.
It seems to me that the FZ1000 continues to suffer from a lack of understanding by the market, resulting in modest sales rankings.
Today it ranks #71 in the Amazon ‘Point and Shoot’ list. All the cameras ahead of it are less expensive and some considerably so, but they are also less well specified, most substantially so.
In my view the FZ1000 is not appropriately regarded as a ‘point and shoot’ or a ‘compact’ or a ‘bridge’ camera.
It is a FZLC (fixed zoom lens camera) of considerable capability, able to replace an entry or upper entry DSLR or MILC and a bag full of lenses.
My research with mockups has demonstrated to my satisfaction that if well designed (some cameras this shape are poorly designed) the ‘humptop’ SLR shape with handle, Mode Dial and Control Dial used by the FZ1000 provides the best ergonomics and user experience.
Comments I read in online forums suggest that many camera users lump the FZ1000 in with small sensor superzooms and travel zooms, not realising that it is in a different class with regard to picture quality and performance.
It is my impression from the forums that many camera users are simply unable to believe that the FZ1000 is as good as it really is. So they keep on buying entry level CanoNikon DSLRs which are less expensive (with standard 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens) but also much less capable and versatile.
I think Panasonic’s marketing people need to do more to correct this apparent misconception. They have produced a ground breaking product which is not getting the market attention it deserves.
The FZ1000 is the first ‘all in one’ FZLC which has allowed me with confidence to divest myself of all my ILC gear. As such it has been very influential in my life. I now set forth on photo expeditions with just one piece of equipment in a compact Lowe Pro Apex 110 bag. I return home with excellent photos or if not excellent the fault lies with me, not the camera.
|FZ1000 Skulpcha Kulcha by the C|
Picture Quality I tested the FZ1000 against a Panasonic GH4 with 12-35mm f2.8, 35-100mm f2.8 and 100-300mm lenses.
Overall the FZ1000 delivered slightly more resolution and detail at most focal lengths than the 3 lens Micro 4/3 combination which cost 4 times as much.
The GH4 had about half to two thirds of an EV step less noise at ISO 6400 than the FZ1000.
I found that my M43 cameras and the LX100 which uses a cropped 4/3 sensor have slightly more highlight detail in some conditions than the FZ1000.
Current M43 cameras are reported by DXO Mark to have more dynamic range than the FZ1000 but in practice this is not a limiting factor for photo results.
The FZ1000 uses (I believe, Panasonic is ridiculously unforthcoming about this) the same 20 Mpx Sony ‘back side illuminated’ ‘one inch’ 15.9mm diagonal sensor as the Sony RX100 Mk 2 and 3 and the Sony RX10.
The Sony technology appears to be effective in extracting a level of imaging performance from the smaller sensor which is almost equal to the best available 21.5mm 4/3 sensors and even some Canon 27mm APS-C sensors.
Performance The FZ1000 responds quickly to all user inputs. Shot to shot times are almost as fast as I can move my right index finger up and down on the shutter release button. Single shot AF is fast and accurate. The camera can follow focus on moving subjects with a high level of accuracy, making it suitable for outdoor sports. Indoor sports are a little more challenging but still possible.
Manual focus with peaking is accurate and easy to use.
The zoom lens allows the camera to switch seamlessly from telephoto to wide angle to close ups with no need for extra equipment.
There is a built in flash always ready to use.
Some features of the FZ1000 and the FZLC genre in general are of considerable benefit but not particularly obvious in the specification sheet.
One of these is the diaphragm type leaf shutter. This is almost silent in operation, allows flash synch at all shutter speeds up to 1/4000 second and never causes shutter shock.
I was reading some forum comments about the newly announced Panasonic G7 yesterday. There was much chat about whether the focal plane shutter in this camera (and almost all ILCs) had electronic first curtain and/or whether E-Shutter is available.
All this reminded me that when I was using a GH4 with the 14-140mm lens I had to use the E-Shutter in general photography to prevent shutter shock, then switch to the mechanical shutter with sport/action/moving subjects with shutter speed above 1/400 sec to avoid the ‘rolling shutter’ effect then switch on ‘shutter delay’ with slow speeds on tripod to prevent shutter shock.
I found all this a complete pain and am disappointed to see that the same rigmarole will apparently blight operation of the G7.
With the FZ1000 I have no need to be concerned about all this hocus pocus with shutter types.
The leaf shutter works for everything unless I want completely silent operation or a shutter speed of 1/16000 second (which I have never done) in which case E-Shutter is available.
I note in passing that the FZ1000 Operating Instructions, Page 164, indicate that normal operation of the leaf shutter involves electronic start and mechanical end to all exposures.
Holding The handle and thumb support are substantial and mostly well shaped, but see my suggestions for improvement below.
The camera is easily carried by the handle.
Viewing The excellent monitor is fully articulating which is optimal. The EVF is excellent, large and sharp with fast refresh rate.
The user can segue seamlessly from monitor to EVF maintaining the same view with the same camera data.
Few cameras provide a better viewing experience.
Operating It is easy to adjust primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters while looking continuously through the viewfinder without releasing grip on the camera with either hand. Excellent. Not many cameras can match this. The FZ1000 is a very nice camera to operate.
Could Panasonic improve the FZ1000 ? Yes, of course, but I must say they got this one right in almost every substantive respect.
The cutaway shape of the thumb support is a bit odd and should be reshaped. There is a pressure point on the upper surface of my right third finger when I hold the handle. This could benefit from a mild reshape. People with smaller hands might not notice this.
Other things would include improved sensor performance as and when technology permits and improved follow focus on fast moving subjects, also as and when technology permits.
Maybe more advanced lens making technology could provide a longer zoom range and/or wider aperture.
One specific feature of the FZ1000 (and several other Panasonic cameras) really bugs me. If I am making a series of photos of a subject and press the Playback button mid way through the series to review the results, the camera waits some time, usually about 10-15 seconds then retracts the lens to the startup position. This is irritating as I then have to re zoom and re focus the shot. Panasonic should get rid of this annoying and apparently pointless behaviour or at least offer an option in the menus to disable it.
Summary With the FZ1000 Panasonic has produced a game changing camera which takes the Fixed Zoom Lens category to new levels of versatility and capability.
I checked listings before posting this but I was unable to find any [ILC+one lens] combination or FZLC providing equal picture quality plus 16x f2.8-4.0 lens from any maker at any price/size/mass point.
Some FZLCs with smaller sensors better the zoom specs but lack the picture quality.
Some DSLRs and MILCs have better high ISO picture quality but have a smaller aperture zoom and are heavier and more expensive.
None of them puts together a package to match the FZ1000.
I think the FZ1000 represents the dawn of a new era in camera design, capability and versatility.
The 20th Century’s way of providing multiple focal lengths was interchangeable lenses.
The 21st Century’s way is a fixed high tech zoom lens with multiple aspheric elements.
I hope we will see competitors for the FZ1000 from other makers. This might raise awareness in people who sell and buy cameras about the benefits of a modern FZLC and promote development of the genre.
ILC: Interchangeable Lens Camera.
MILC: Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera.
DSLR: Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera.
FZLC:Fixed Zoom Lens Camera.
Many people, myself included, want a camera for vacation/holiday/travel use. The last thing I want on vacation is to be changing lenses.
As I go out and about it is clear that many others have the same idea. Most vacationers/tourists and similar use a smart phone. Those with a camera mostly pick an entry level fixed zoom lens camera (FZLC).
I recently returned from a tagalong vehicle crossing of the Simpson Desert in Central Australia. Two of the eight couples in our convoy had high end full frame DSLRs with a backpack full of expensive lenses and a big tripod.
They missed almost every photo opportunity along the way.
The reason is simple logistics. It was simply too much trouble to stop, go around to the storage area of the vehicle, haul out the backpack containing the photo gear, unzip the backpack, select a lens, mount it and make the photo.
My partner and I had his-n-hers FZ1000’s and I also had an LX100 all ready for immediate use in the console between the seats. We were able to respond to photo ops as they arose.
|FZ1000 Cafe de wheels (sans wheels)|
Until recently the best ‘all-in-one’ camera kit was probably a DSLR or a MILC with vacation zoom mounted for the duration of the trip.
Then Sony introduced the RX10 with (equivalent) 24-200mm f2.8 lens and Panasonic soon followed with the FZ1000, using the same sensor with a much longer zoom range and improvements to ergonomics and performance.
These cameras suddenly presented a viable alternative to the ILC+vacation zoom.
I notice on user forums increasing numbers of contributors debating this question:
“Which is better for me, the FZ1000 or an ILC with a long zoom lens (a.k.a. vacation zoom) more or less permanently mounted ?”
The answer to the question will depend on individual preferences of course but a specifications comparison table can be drawn up easily enough.
I also offer some discussion about the relative merits of the two alternatives having had considerable experience with both DSLR and MILC types
|FZ1000 Graffiti or art ?|
I have selected one kit each from the M43, APS-C and Full Frame sensor groups for comparison, each with a travel/vacation zoom from the same maker as the body.
You can see that the FZ1000 is the lightest and least expensive option.
But does it have good enough picture quality and performance to replace any or all of the ILC kits ?
This question is not so easily answered as several factors come into play related to both the user and the camera kit.
Sensor scores vs lens sharpness
I do not want to get into debate here about the validity of DXO Mark scores. For the purposes of this discussion I will just take them as given.
Perusal of the DXO Mark sensor scores might have one thinking the Sony full frame camera would make the best pictures. It certainly represents a brave attempt on Sony’s part to bring full frame photography into the vacation/travel arena with a reasonably compact 10x zoom lens.
But wait, that 24-240mm lens has a really bad sharpness score of 9 Perceptual Megapixels (look it up on dxo.com) one of the worst full frame lenses tested by DXO and that was on a 36 Mpx camera.
That score means the lens can only resolve a quarter of the pixels on the sensor, which it seems to me completely defeats the purpose of going full frame in the first place.
In addition the A7(2) has the same loud, shock inducing shutter as the original A7, further degrading picture quality at some shutter speeds. Check out Sony user forums for further discussion about this.
|FZ1000 No ultrawide lens ? No problem. This was made with the in camera auto stitching panorama function.|
Sensor scores vs lens aperture
In the world of DXO Mark sensor scores 15 points is equivalent to 1 EV performance, which is mostly a measure of digital noise.
The Nikon D5500 has a score of 84 which puts it 20 points ahead of the FZ1000, equivalent to 1.3 EV steps or stops.
Now check out the lens aperture range. This is 0.6 stops slower than the FZ1000 at the wide end and 1.3 stops slower at the long end. An average of about 1 stop.
If one was to use each camera at the same f stop the D5500 would be 1.3 stops better than the FZ1000.
But in practice the FZ1000 will usually be operating at an aperture about 1 stop wider than the D5500. In landscape and similar situations it can achieve the same depth of focus at an aperture two stops wider than the D5500.
Therefore it can use an ISO setting 1 or 2 steps lower, thereby largely negating the sensor noise advantage of the D5500.
This leaves the D5500 with a small megapixel advantage on the sensor which the lens, at 9 Perceptual Mpx, cannot match. The lens does not allow the sensor to express its potential.
I have not had the opportunity to directly compare the FZ1000 lens with the Nikon 18-300mm lens.
But from reading lens test reports I have the impression that they would deliver similar levels of sharpness in the frame center with the FZ1000 maybe better at the edges. Unfortunately I have not seen much in the way of published formal tests of the FZ1000 lens but I have made thousands of photos with it and am able to confirm that it is very good.
Camerastuffreview.com published a FZ1000 review in October 2014 stating that the FZ1000 lens was better than any of the vacation zooms for ILCs which they had tested. But that review contains uncorrected errors (like saying the zoom range is 14x when it is in fact 16x) which diminish my confidence in the review.
I selected the GH4+14-140mm combination because I have considerable experience with this as a vacation/travel combination and have tested it against the FZ1000.
I found that the GH4 at ISO 6400 has about 0.6 EV steps less noise than the FZ1000. This is pretty much exactly in line with the DXO mark score difference of 10 points.
The 14-140mm lens is inferior to that on the FZ1000 in three ways:
* It has a smaller 10x vs 16x zoom range.
* It has a smaller aperture averaging about 1 stop across the focal length range which often requires a higher ISO setting from the camera thereby negating the initial small sensor advantage.
* The FZ1000 lens delivers better sharpness and resolution across the range of focal lengths and apertures, center, edges and corners.
So I sold the M43 kit with no regrets.
Summary: It might seem obvious to some people who sell and buy cameras that a full frame model would deliver better results than one with the next sensor size down and so on through the sensor size range.
But in practice the obvious is not obvious at all.
Of course the Sony A7 can make better pictures than a camera with a smaller sensor but only with one of the good lenses which are mostly large, heavy, expensive primes.
The D5500 kit actually runs quite close to the FZ1000 in mass although it is larger and more expensive. The picture quality will be better in some circumstances but not in all, depending on the aperture and ISO settings required for the conditions.
Plus the D5500 is a DSLR with all that entails including the flipping mirror, small optical viewfinder which makes manual focussing very difficult and complete inability to segue smoothly from eye level view to monitor view.
The GH4 with 14-140mm is a good travel kit which I have used a lot. But the FZ1000 is a bit better in almost all circumstances at half the price.
So, I keep happily using the FZ1000 which keeps on making excellent photos.
|Five Fixed Zoom Lens Cameras. One is pocketably compact, another compact but not pocketable. The other three are not compact at all. Each could be used in 'point and shoot' mode. I don't see any of them as a 'bridge' from anywhere to anywhere else.|
I would rate each of these cameras as being pitched to the enthusiast level user. Each has a built in EVF and a decent set of controls.
In August 2012 I posted an opinion piece about naming the then newly emerging interchangeable lens camera type without a flipping mirror.
I looked at various names in use including Compact System Camera (CSC), Mirrorless System Camera (MSC), Digital Single Lens Mirrorless (camera) (DSLM) and Electronic viewfinder Interchangeable lens (EVIL).
I rejected all these for various reasons and suggested that any kind of camera capable of accepting interchangeable lenses camera should be described as……...you guessed it……...Interchangeable Lens Camera (ILC).
An ILC with a flipping mirror would continue to be called Digital Single Lens Reflex (Camera) (DSLR).
An ILC without a flipping mirror would be called a Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC).
Digital Photography Review recently reported that the Consumer Electronics Association has decided to enshrine my suggested terminology into its official nomenclature.
I am not suggesting they did this on the basis of my recommendation on the Camera Ergonomics blog but it is nice to be vindicated by a major organisation with some influence.
Fixed Lens cameras
Now I want to consider the naming of cameras with a fixed, non interchangeable lens and suggest right away that any camera with a fixed lens be called…….yes, you guessed it again……………Fixed Lens Camera (FLC).
Of course FLCs have been around for a hundred years so they are nothing new.
First the rise of smartphones has rendered the previously ubiquitous consumer compact camera almost irrelevant.
Second is the dramatic development of small sensor and zoom lens technologies, making available to ordinary consumers high performance superzoom cameras the like of which has never been seen before.
Until now FLCs have been referred to by various names which I now suggest should be discarded as no longer useful.
* Compact We now have all manner of ILCs and FLCs in a range of sizes. Some of these cameras might be regarded as ‘compact’ but that tells us nothing about the type of camera.
* Point and shoot This term might be a descriptor of the user but it conveys little of value about the device. Some very advanced cameras have an ‘Auto’ setting for novices and snapshooters.
* Bridge This seems to express the idea of a camera occupying ground between something and something else. But with most of the ‘somethings’ undergoing radical change the concept of a ‘bridge’ no longer conveys useful information. There is a growing group of high performance fixed lens cameras which can stand alone as the only camera an enthusiast photographer need own.
I propose two subgroups of FLC:
* Fixed Zoom Lens Camera (FZLC), which is by far the most numerous and
* Fixed Single (Focal length) Lens Camera (FSLC). This is a niche product for a small group of enthusiast consumers who prefer a camera with a fixed lens of one focal length.
I would further describe any particular camera in the FLC group in terms of a hierarchy similar to that seen in the ILC genre, namely Entry > Enthusiast > Professional.
Entry level FLCs usually have no EVF, use a very small sensor and have a zoom lens of small size and aperture.
Enthusiast models graduate to a larger sensor, better performance, EVF and more capable lens.
Professional level FLCs are a bit thin on the ground at present. Some might argue that no such device yet exists. But I believe the march of technology will inevitably deliver pro level FLCs which will have higher all round performance and capability than existing enthusiast models.
This discussion about naming is not sophistry.
At present there are some very capable FZLCs which are not getting the market recognition which I believe they deserve, due in part I believe, to the market which describes them in demeaning terms as ‘compact’ or ‘point and shoot’ or ‘bridge’ models with the implication that they are second best to something else.
I have seen, for instance, the Nikon P900 and the Panasonic FZ1000 lumped in with ‘compact’ or ‘point and shoot’ cameras in retail outlets and websites. This is misleading to put it mildly. I doubt that many people who have handled a P900 would describe it as compact. Maybe someone whose only previous experience was with 4x5 inch large format.
People who sell, buy and review cameras need a more descriptive and useful basis for categorising various different product types.
Here is a summary of my proposals in table form:
|Interchangeable lens Camera ILC |
This schema is simple, factual and useful. It is not based on unhelpful, outdated, uninformative or misleading appelations.
It will better inform buyers in their search for a suitable camera, allow vendors to provide buyers with more useful information and help clarify the reviewing process for those of us who do such things.
It appears the photographic community may at last be moving towards a rational naming system for Interchangeable Lens Cameras (ILC).
It is now time for the same process to be applied to Fixed Lens Cameras (FLC).
|Pentax Spotmatic showing the aperture and focus rings on the lens barrel and the shutter speed dial on top. Leica M cameras to the present day have the same control layout but with a rangefinder instead of a pentaprism. To change shutter speeds the right hand must release grip altogether so the shutter speed dial can be turned. |
It is all very logical and simple but ergonomically awkward, slow and inefficient. That's my Spotmatic in the photo with me using it. I have a very long experience using this camera. For a modern camera to return to this control system seems to me one of the silliest decisions in the history of photography.
Why the traditional control layout is not optimal for a modern camera.
I have been using cameras for 60 years. In that time I have had the opportunity to work with almost every kind of camera on the market from 4x5inch large format to 16mm subminiature and just about everything inbetween.
I have found that some cameras are much more user friendly than others.
About five years ago I started investigating why this might be so.
This led me to study the ergonomic aspects of camera design. I have concentrated on Holding, Viewing and Operating, which are the three things you do with a camera to make it work.
I examined many actual cameras and also made many wooden mockups to test my ideas about what works well and what does not.
Through the middle part of the 20th Century the most popular camera type for the enthusiast or professional was the single lens reflex (SLR). Many such cameras looked very similar to the Pentax Spotmatic shown in the photo, 50 years old and still working.
You can see the control layout which is very typical of the mostly manual (no electronics, no automation) cameras of the era.
|Here I am holding my FZ1000 in operating grip. Notice the position of the right index finger on the shutter button and the right thumb just to the left of the rear dial. This is a very comfortable hold. From here changing aperture, shutter speed or exposure compensation require a few very small finger movements.|
In due course electronics, digital capture and much more came to the world of cameras which gradually changed shape and control layout to become the typical DSLR of the current era with a full handle, shutter button forward on the top of the handle, a Mode Dial and one or two Control Dials.
This layout can be seen on the Panasonic FZ1000 featured in this post. This camera is not a DSLR (it is a fixed zoom lens camera) but looks like one and in several respects works like one.
Then a strange thing happened. We started to see ‘retro’ cameras with a hybrid control layout which tried to retain elements typical of old style manual cameras but with modern electronic operation.
These cameras tended to reprise the appearance of a 1960s SLR or a Leica M rangefinder of the same era. Fujifilm is the main exponent of this trend but Nikon and Panasonic have tried their hand at the hybrid/retro look. The Panasonic LX100 seen in the attached photos is one such camera.
|Now my right thumb is changing aperture or shutter speed depending on mode dial position. You can see this requires but a slight movement without disrupting grip with either hand at all. I have only to move my right index finger forward 5mm to change exposure compensation. Finger logic in action.|
The key features are an Aperture ring around the lens barrel, a Shutter Speed dial on top of the body on the right side and an exposure compensation dial top right on the body.
Why ? The makers have never given any explanation which makes sense to me. I have read their promotional blurb which as best I can tell seems to be an emotional appeal to the supposedly glory days of the mid 20thCentury.
|Now I am holding my LX100 in landscape orientation. If I want to get my left fingers onto the raised lands of the aperture ring I have to use this hand/wrist position which I find cramped and awkward. The whole left hand must move to turn the ring. compared to the FZ1000, suboptimal posture, more movements each of greater magnitude.|
Some reviewers and some users in forums have expressed the idea that the traditional control layout is ‘logical’.
They say you don’t need a Mode Dial.
For Program Mode just set the Aperture ring and Shutter Speed dial each to A.
For Aperture Priority auto exposure simply turn the Aperture ring on the lens.
For Shutter Priority auto exposure turn the Aperture ring back to A and turn the Shutter Speed Dial to a marked position.
For Manual exposure turn both the Aperture ring and the Shutter Speed dial.
They say: see, it’s logical. And indeed it is.
The problem is that it’s head logic. That's the wrong kind of logic.
|LX100 Comfort hold. This camera has a viewfinder top left on the body. This allows stray light to interfere with my view of the EVF. So I make a kind of eyecup using my left index finger. But now I can't work the aperture ring at all and my 4th finger keeps bumping the lens ring which is set up to change ISO.|
But cameras are operated by fingers and the best way to ensure efficient streamlined operation is to employ finger logic.
This involves conducting a time and motion study of the actions taken by a user in the process of operating a camera.
That data is used to design a control layout which allows the operator to complete the tasks of use with the fewest and least complex movements with the least disruption to the capture flow.
This is a completely different process from the head logic often used to defend the traditional control layout and it leads to a completely different and more ergonomically efficient design.
I have tried to illustrate some examples of the different approaches with the attached photos.
|Changing Mode with the FZ1000. I have dropped the camera down for the photo but I can just as easily do this while looking through the EVF. I have retained a good grip on the handle with the other three fingers of the right hand.|
Some months ago I posted on this blog a two part review of the Fujifilm X-T1 camera. This uses a hybrid Traditional/electronic user interface which I found much less ergonomically efficient than cameras with a well implemented modern interface ( it has to be well implemented, some are not, the original Sony A7 cameras for instance) based on the Mode Dial/Control Dial model.
I had the temerity to post a link to this review on a Fuji X-Camera user forum. The response was ‘interesting’ and I have to say a sad reflection on some of the less appealing aspects of human nature.
The fuji fanboys attacked me like a pack of hyenas defending their pups.
|Working the shutter speed dial on the LX100. I have to release grip with my right hand altogether. A very practiced user might be able to do this while looking through the viewfinder but after six months and several thousand photos I still find myself needing to drop the camera down so I can see the dial. Then I discover that only about a third of the shutter speeds available to this camera can be selected from the shutter speed dial. The rest require an additional trip to the rear dial. Who on earth thought this was a good idea ??|
Of course these people were expressing a manifestation of confirmation bias in connection with a choice which they had made or in some cases were considering.
Unfortunately the sometimes vitriolic manner in which this is expressed makes pursuit of sensible discussion difficult and meaningful dialogue with that group impossible.
|LX100 Operating the rear dial. I have to release grip completely with the right hand to do this. That's not the end of the world but with the mockup below and with the FZ1000 I can retain a firm grip on the handle with three fingers. |
Some people say that ‘ergonomics is all subjective’ or words to that effect as if any camera design might be just as good as another if it can just find someone to ‘like’ it.
That is nonsense, an escape from thinking clearly about conceptually complex issues.
I use the concept of ‘finger logic’ to help myself and hopefully others to evaluate a camera’s ergonomic effectiveness.
This mockup is exactly the same size as the LX100 but has much better ergonomics. Here I am working the rear dial while holding the handle firmly with three fingers of the right hand for good control of the camera. |
I can do the same thing with the FZ1000 even though this is a considerably larger, heavier camera.
Significance for cameras and photography
Sony recently released two cameras each fitted with the new “one inch” (15.9mm diagonal) RS sensor which features both “back side illuminated” (BSI ) [presumably the “R” designation stands for “reverse”] and “stacked” architecture.
The cameras are the RX100 Mk4 and the RX10 Mk2.
In due course this sensor will find its way into cameras from other brands but for the moment it is exclusive to Sony.
The previous generation Sony 15.9mm sensor, with BSI but not stacked architecture can be found on the Sony RX100 Mk3, Sony RX10 (original), Panasonic FZ1000, Canon G3X, Canon G7X and probably the latest Nikon 1 series cameras.
15.9mm is currently the largest RS sensor size available. RS architecture can also be found in smaller Sony sensors.
The importance of the new sensors arises from their greatly increased data processing speed.
I don’t pretend to understand the technology but the possibilities arising from the increased speed may be of great interest to those of us who buy and use cameras.
In a nutshell I see RS sensors as the key technology which will allow camera makers to phase out the flipping mirror DSLR design (and the Sony fixed mirror SLT) and move to an all mirrorless product lineup both for interchangeable lens (MILC) and fixed lens (FZLC) types. Sony certainly appears to be headed that way.
A bit of history Early MILCs had some advantages over existing DSLR types, such as more accurate single AF, seamless segue from viewfinder to monitor, ability to place the active AF area anywhere and smaller body size.
But there were disadvantages.
* Single shot autofocus on the early MILCs was a bit slow. This was soon rectified with new direct drive focussing systems in lenses.
* Some MILCs which use focal plane mechanical shutters suffer from a phenomenon which I call shutter shock. This is caused by the close>open>close>open action of a standard MILC shutter.
Methods of dealing with this problem include
# Global Shutter. There is no mechanical shutter at all. Exposure start and stop are controlled on sensor. All the captured data for each exposure is downloaded off the sensor simultaneously and more or less instantaneously. This is shutter nirvana. I believe some video cameras have this feature but no still cameras. Yet.
# Electronic exposure commencement, a.k.a. Electronic First (shutter) Curtain (EFC). This removes the need for the initial close>open shutter action which is the main cause of the shutter shock. Some cameras enable this, some do not. Some cameras, for instance M43 models from Panasonic could greatly benefit from EFC but do not offer it while models from Olympus do.
# Electronic Shutter. The mechanical shutter is not used. Exposure is by scanning down the sensor. With standard sensors this takes around 1/10 -1/15 second. This avoids shutter shock but introduces its own problems.
These include banding in fluorescent and other types of light, shutter speeds longer than 1 second are not available, inability to synchronise flash, distortion of moving subjects (rolling shutter effect) and reduced bit rate capture leading to increased dark tone noise and therefore reduced dynamic range.
From early reports on user forums it appears the new RS sensors offer a substantial increase in scanning speed (Sony claims “more than 5x faster readout of image data”) with each exposure scan taking about 1/100 second at the normal bit rate.
If this is so it will make electronic shutters much more effective than is presently the case, with fewer adverse effects.
This leaves one area where high end DSLRs could outperform Mirrorless cameras, namely
Sport/action The two key functions here are:
* Viewfinder blackout times and
I was reading through the specifications for the RX10(2) on the Sony website yesterday. Sony rightly emphasises the impressive new video capabilities of the camera.
But then I saw this little note about stills photography: “Up to 14 fps continuous shooting without blackout”.
If that is true and does not come with some kind of nasty adverse effect it is very big news indeed.
It means that in one of the two key functions for sport/action work mirrorless cameras may be able to outperform DSLRs with a mirror.
Last but by no means least, we have predictive autofocus.
Mirrorless cameras focus right on the sensor with contrast detect or phase detect operation or both.
DSLRs use a separate PDAF module at the bottom of the camera. Until now this has for various technical reasons which I do not pretend to fully understand, been faster and more effective for predictive AF.
But to the extent that data processing speed can influence the process the new RS sensors should deliver better predictive AF than we have previously seen with mirrorless cameras.
Summary Sony is not claiming much in the way of improved image quality from the new RS sensors. But their greatly increased speed of operation may lead to a change in the types of cameras we use and the functions of which they are capable.
|Harpa Opera House Reykjavik, LX100 auto pano hand held. The off verticals are as per construction of the building.|
I recently completed a trip to Svalbard, Iceland and various European cities. Along the way several subjects presented themselves demanding to be shot as a panorama, or panarammaas the Americans in our group liked to say it.
Both my cameras, a Panasonic FZ1000 and an LX100 were well up to the task. The results were interesting, sometimes a bit weird but always fun.
I used both the in camera auto panorama function with each camera and also used Photoshop to stitch together multiple frames. Both methods were mostly successful.
Practice and good technique strongly influenced the number of keeper results.
|Skallafels, Iceland LX100 auto pano hand held|
Hints and tips--Auto stitching in camera
* Does your camera not have this feature ? Sell it.
* Are you considering the purchase of a camera without auto panorama function ? Stop right there. Don’t buy it. I am not joking. There is really no excuse for manufacturers which fail to include this feature on expensive cameras when it is available on smart phones and compacts.
A well implemented auto panorama function is fun and capable of making surprisingly good photos.
* In the setup process configure the camera to be held in portrait orientation for horizontal panoramas. This gives more height in each image than landscape orientation, thus more flexibility in subject choice.
* In the cameras I have used, you can tilt the camera up or down quite a bit and the software will somehow figure out how to join all the frames to make a good photo. Experiment with this.
* The camera will lock focus and exposure settings when you half press the shutter. You can do this with the camera pointed at any part of the final frame. If the output JPG is over or under exposed, try locking exposure on a different part of the scene. Hold the shutter button at the half press position while you move the camera to the start position.
* Practice improves results. No tripod is required outdoors. Indoors will see slower shutter speeds which might require a tripod. Practice swinging the camera round at a steady speed. If you go too fast or slow artefacts will become numerous or the camera will stop recording.
Practice holding the camera steady and level side–to-side.
Subject elements very close to the camera provide the most difficulty. Try to avoid these.
|Landmannalaugar, Iceland LX100 handheld auto pano That hill on which I am standing really is green and not a blade of grass or moss in sight.|
Hints and tips – Stitching in Photoshop
* Set focus, aperture, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity manually so they stay exactly the same for every frame. Experiment with the exposure settings. Likely some frames will be over exposed, some under. You can bracket after a fashion by making sequences at different exposure settings.
* A tripod is not usually required outdoors but one may be advisable indoors.
* The camera can be tilted somewhat up or down. The software these days can handle this. Try to keep it level side to side though.
* As with the in camera auto pano function subject elements very close to the camera may cause problems.
* The latest versions of Camera Raw can make a RAW panorama which is very welcome. You end up with a fully adjustable stitched RAW file.
* If CR baulks and says it can’t make a RAW merge, just use the old method which is:
Bridge>Select>Tools>Photoshop>Photomerge> Follow the prompts. That usually works.
* With the merged file open in Photoshop I often use (Select) Edit>Transform>Warp to push and pull the image around until it looks right.
|Sometimes it just doesn't work. Try again, see below|
Amsterdam Centraal LX100 hand held auto pano|
I had six tries at this. The crowd of people walking about made panorama acquisition problematic to put it mildly. This version has had some tweaking in Transform>Warp but the towers have still ended up different in height. Some of the people have had their anatomy rearranged.
Summary The panorama format gives added presence and impact to many subjects. Modern technology makes the production of good quality panoramas easier than ever, in camera or in Photoshop (and other photo editing software).
Appendix August 2015: Panasonic Panorama Menu settings
Panasonic M43 ILCs and FZLCs have had the auto panorama function for a few years. It gets better with each new batch of models. The new G7, GX8 and FZ300 will all have the latest version of panorama.
Here are some Menu settings hints derived from practice with the FZ1000 and LX100. I expect the new cameras will be similar but maybe not exactly the same.
Several posters on user forums have asked about making horizontal panoramas with the camera in portrait orientation.The cameras will make either vertical or horizontal panoramas in either landscape or portrait orientation. (4 options).
The following is based on the FZ1000.
1. Set Quality to JPG Fine. (not RAW+JPG).
2. Find the place where Panorama is accessed. On the FZ1000 it is under the [Scn] icon on the Mode Dial. On the LX100 it is in the Drive Mode menu.
3. Press Menu/Set and enter Rec Menu. Scroll to Panorama settings. (This tab is greyed out if the Mode Dial is at PASM)
4. Press Menu/Set, up comes the [Direction] tab.
Press Menu/Set, now see 4 options. Select the bottom one with the arrow pointing up. This looks wrong but press on.
5. Exit the Menu.
6. To make the panorama, hold the camera in portrait orientation and sweep left to right.
|LX100 Amsterdam Centraal correctly focussed. Good image quality at f1.7|
On user forums over the last few months there have been some posts referring to situations where the LX100 may experience difficulty achieving correct autofocus.
I have now made several thousand exposures with my LX100.
In the vast majority of cases the camera achieves single AF very quickly with great accuracy and reliability.
I was recently on a photo tour of Iceland with a group of enthusiast photographers, most wielding current model full frame DSLRs and big fat lenses.
Some of the photo chat each day consisted of various grumbles, mostly about the light which was frustratingly overcast but I also heard quite a few complaints of pictures out of focus.
As in…..Darn….didn’t quite nail focus on that one…..
I gave up using DSLRs years ago mainly because of their unreliable single shot AF.
Compared to the DSLRs in Iceland the LX100 was a shining little light of AF reliability.
LX100 Continuous AF in Burst Mode is also very competent, enabling coverage of close up sports such as junior/amateur basketball and the like, indoors or outdoors
However there is one particular type of subject which can trip up the LX100s AF system.
|From the same camera position as the top photo, OOC JPG. The image is not in focus. The AF box was central, default size. The problem is the bright light coming through the window just to the right of and below the center. The camera was racking focus back and forth, indicating a problem. I moved the focus box to the left of center with no further problems.|
The issue is not so much the subject itself but the character of the light coming from the subject to the camera.
The photos illustrate this.
The camera’s AF system gets confused when confronted by multiple small bright light sources or sometimes, as with Amsterdam Centraal, a few large bright light sources.
|Waterfall in Iceland with a little ladder for the fish. (on the left) Really, that's what it's for. AF box was in the center. The camera indicated "In Focus" but as you can see it is not. The sun shone for a few minutes producing bright sparkly reflections on the water. I think that is what has confused the AF system.|
Not shown in this set of photos, I have also seen the problem in a shopping center dressed up with multiple bright Christmas lights.
I have tried to deal with this using manual focus but not had much luck. In fact I find AF more reliable than MF on the LX100. I find the manual “in focus” point difficult to see without peaking and no better with peaking.
Indeed in some of my tests I found the peaking function difficult to use as it is not “peaky” enough and will appear to indicate some subject element in focus when that is not the case.
I have no trouble with MF and peaking on the FZ1000 in the same situations.
|Sydney this time. AF box central. Sparkly backlighting coming through the leaves has produced an out of focus result with no warning from the camera.|
Summary There is a predictable situation in which the LX100 is likely to autofocus incorrectly. The solution is
a) to be aware of the subject/lighting type which can be troublesome
b) to move the AF box to a visually calmer part of the scene.
|This shows the custom grip in place|
I recently returned from travel in Central Australia and several locations on the other side of the planet. The LX100 came with me all the way and performed very well in all conditions.
But as readers of this blog will be aware I have ongoing concerns about the LX100s ergonomics, related to holding, viewing and operating.
There is nothing I can do to improve the viewing and operating arrangements but it occurred to me that I might be able to improve holding with an accessory handle.
I went about this in my usual fashion, by direct fabrication in the wood, guided by my fingers.
I held my right hand on the camera in the position which felt most natural for my fingers. This left a space to the right and front of the existing handle.
I then crafted the accessory handle to a size and shape which filled that space, provided a more secure grip for the fingers at the front and a more prominent support for the thumb at the rear.
As you can see in the photos the resulting shape is quite complex.
It was a bit tedious to make in stacked plywood layers with a fretsaw, screws, bog and glue and no template. Like the freeform craft precursor to 3D printing.
Being a custom, one off product it blocks access to the tripod socket and battery/card compartment.
For hand held work I just start the day with a fresh card and battery which is good practice anyway and for tripod use I remove the accessory handle.
|Off the camera. Anti rotation plates front and back.|
I have to confess to being rather pleased with the new handle.
It improves holding and handling quite substantially. It also makes the camera easier to carry.
The camera with handgrip attached fits nicely into the same Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 5 carry bag which I had already been using.
|Holding the camera with the accessory grip fitted. It is difficult to demonstrate the improvement provided by the accessory grip because I am trying to describe in words and pictures something which can only be properly experienced by feel. |
The right hand and fingers take up a more natural open posture. The thumb lies diagonally which is strong and comfortable. The hand and fingers are no longer scrunched up as is the case with the standard arrangements.
Yes that is how I hold the camera with my left hand. The specific reason for this is so the left index finger can act as an accessory eyecup to block stray light from entering the viewfinder. I have been rudely castigated by armchair experts on user forums for holding the camera this way. It is unorthodox but hey, it works.
This is not how I would approach the design from scratch.
|The silver mockup on the right is my proof of concept exercise. It is the same height, width and depth as the LX100 but features a very different and much more ergonomically effective design.|
The way I would do it is shown in the silver mockup which has the same dimensions (wxhxd) as the LX100 but a completely different and much more ergonomically effective shape and control layout.
I made this as a proof of concept to show that with optimal ergonomic design a very comfortable, efficient user interface can be developed even within the constraints of a compact form.
Readers please note: The accessory handgrip featured here is a custom one off model. Please do not ask me to make you one.
However you might want to show the photos to one of the established accessory handle makers and ask if they might be interested in making something similar.
|Puffins are the funniest birds to watch taking off with a frantic burst of flapping wings and running on water. This series photographed with some difficulty from a small boat in Reykjavik harbour packed full of tourists (including me) with intermittent light rain falling.|
On a recent trip to Iceland and Svalbard I had several opportunities to shoot birds in flight (BIF) with the FZ1000.
I rate the FZ 1000 as the most versatile single piece of photographic equipment (no need to change lenses or add accessory equipment) ever produced. One of its capabilities is BIFs as shown by the pictures here.
However I should warn newcomers to BIF work that the keeper rate is extremely low with any kind of equipment. If I get 5 out of 100 frames clear and sharp I am well enough pleased. A single BIF session could easily involve several hundred frames.
I rate BIF as probably the most difficult photographic challenge for any camera and its operator.
In the majority of my shots the bird is not in the frame or is unsharp for various reasons, including camera shake and not-quite-in-focus or completely out of focus.
With the FZ1000 I set Quality to JPG Fine for long bursts with fast buffer clearing.
AF Mode 1 Area with the AF box central and default size or larger if plain sky is the background.
Burst Mode M gives about 5 fps with AF and EVF preview on each frame.
I have i-Dynamic on Auto to reduce the risk of blown highlights.
I generally try for a focal length of E400-600mm. The camera will go to E800mm with i-Zoom but I find it extremely difficult to keep flying birds in frame at the longer focal lengths. Any longer focal length (for instance with Ext-Opt-Zoom + i-Zoom) sees a serious drop in quality.
Shutter speeds need to be fast to combat both camera and subject movement. I find around 1/800 sec is generally satisfactory but if light levels permit, faster is better.
In post capture I almost always need to crop substantially. Fortunately the FZ1000 has 20 Mpx to start with so cropping down even to 5 Mpx can produce quite acceptable results.
|Brunnichs Guillemot. Difficult to photograph from a boat. They are only 40cm long and fly fast.|
|I got a low keeper rate with the arctic terns, they are such aerial gymnasts. It was breeding season and the terns were busy trying to peck us on the head. They have been filmed driving off a polar bear, testament to the effectiveness of their defense of the eggs which are laid on the ground without a nest.|
I recently spent a day in Amsterdam doing the tourist thing which is trying to avoid being mown down every few seconds by a phalanx of bicycles ridden as if they have right of way everywhere, all the time. Which may be the case, I never figured it out.
Well I figured out enough to get out of the way erg snell.
For photographs I cowered behind a tree, if I could find one, or any other structure which appeared likely to protect me from the stream of bicycles.
The LX100 proved to be very suitable as a street shooter. It is responsive and makes better pictures than one might imagine from the 10-12 Mpx (depending on aspect ratio) image size. It handles indoors, outdoors and both in the same frame.
I used RAW capture with processing in Adobe Camera RAW.
The pictures you see here have been reduced in size and compressed for the internet. The originals make very good quality prints around the 400 x 600mm size.
|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.|
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|
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 7.66mm. 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 7.66mm 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.
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.
* 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 EVF or monitor black out for about 0.6 seconds after each single shot exposure.
* The lens takes 2.5 seconds to traverse the full zoom range.
Next post- Ergonomics and summary
|SX60 Well designed handle. Looks like a DSLR but doesn't work as well.|
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.
Items which appear in the Func. Menu can be selected from a list and those not required sent back to the main menu.
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.
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.
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.
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 which seems to be the fashion across brands at present but I cannot imagine why as nobody has a rectangular shape eye socket.
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.
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.
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.
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.|
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: 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.
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.|
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.
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..........................
|TZ70 Focal Length E135mm. The TZ70 works well for close ups on the run. I often set Burst Mode for hand held closeups when both the camera and subject are moving. One of the frames is often sharper than the others.|
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.
I carry the TZ70 in an old Lowe Pro D Res 20 AW pouch which is a little larger than needed but does allow the camera to go in and out easily.
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.
Battery charging is via USB connection with the battery in the camera. Some people like this, others hate it. I prefer to use a separate charger so I can continue to use the camera while the spare battery is charging. I bought an inexpensive aftermarket charger for this purpose.
|Focal length E720mm RAW capture. This is typical for hand held pictures at the long end of the zoom. Tripod mounting improves sharpness.|
The TZ70 uses the very small 6.17 x 4.55 mm (diagonal 7.66mm) 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 7.66mm 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, as a higher than base level ISO setting may be required.
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 with focal length.
At the wide end, center resolution is good but the edges and corners are a little 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 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 and near the wide end of the zoom.
I found that with some judicious work in Photoshop I got quite decent results up to ISO 800 with even 1600 usable for small prints.
|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.
However my tests with cameras tripod mounted in controlled conditions with a test chart showed that at Focal Length Equivalent 720mm, the TZ70, FZ1000 (cropped), Canon SX60 and Nikon P900 each delivered almost identical sharpness and resolution.
So the main issue is camera shake and the quest for ways to minimise this.
* You want to keep the ISO setting at base level if possible but not if that reduces shutter speed too much.
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. I found that attaching the camera to a mini tripod then hand holding the camera and tripod together helped to reduce camera shake.
* Set Burst Mode ON. The camera will shoot 8 RAW frames before slowing. My experiments thus far suggest that the second 4 frames tend to be sharper than the first 4. This makes sense as the act of pressing the shutter is one of the causes of camera shake.
* Experiment with shutter speeds around 1/400 second, faster if conditions will allow.
* Use the ‘two foot zoom’ ---go walk closer to your subject if possible.
These strategies help to improve consistency at the long end of the zoom.
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.
Manual focus is possible and assisted by peaking. However the actual process of focussing manually involves much twirling of the lens ring back and forth, often with no definite point of sharp focus evident. The rear dial can be used for manual focus.
But most of the time I find autofocus works much better.
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 fairly satisfactory photos from 1/400 second shutter speed. If I used a different holding technique with better support I could sometimes get good results with a lower shutter speed.
I tested the TZ70 alongside the Canon SX60 and Nikon P900, both of which had more effective IS/VR than the TZ70 especially around focal length E700mm.Tripod mounting improved sharpness further.
The TZ70 does enable follow focus on subjects moving towards or away from the camera. I tried it on cars moving towards and away from the camera at about 30 KPH. At 3 frames per second with AF on each frame and a shutter speed of 1/400 second, I got 70% of frames sharp, 20% slightly unsharp and 8% blurred. Not a bad result.
However with subjects moving across the frame the results were much less satisfactory. The problem is that after the first frame of a burst sequence the EVF shows a review of the previous frame not a preview of the next one. In consequence it is almost impossible to keep the subject accurately in frame.
Panorama The TZ70 has in camera auto panorama function. It can be configured to sweep horizontally or vertically in landscape or portrait orientation (i.e. total of 4 options). I found it to work quite well in a variety of conditions, producing results suitable for showing on a monitor or social media.The camera had trouble making smooth curves on architectural subjects but that is quite a common issue with in camera pano functions.
Best results do require some practice and selection of appropriate subjects.
Next: Ergonomics and summary
|TZ70 Very small for a 30x zoom|
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.
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.
|Unorthodox left hand holding style in Landscape orientation, explained in the text.|
|And in Portrait orientation|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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|
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.
|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:
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.|
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.
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.
* 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.
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.
|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 ?
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.
|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.
|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.
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…….
|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.|
|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.
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.