|P900 Focal Length Equivalent 220mm, 1/500 sec. Hand held. Bright sun, front lit, static subject. On close inspection at 100% there is some loss of detail in the fine foliage. However in the original you can see individual leaves on the eucalyptus trees behind the houses. Overall a very good result.|
On the basis of specifications and appearance the P900 seems as though it might be ideal for birds, wildlife, sport and action photos. In practice it does birds and some wildlife well (but with reservations) and sport/action not well.
Here are some of the details:
* The lens zooms from one end to the other in 3.5 seconds which I think is very good considering the amount of glass which has to move a substantial distance.
* Using single shot, single AF, ADL off, focussing on each frame, the shot to shot time is 1.0 seconds at the wide end, 1.1 seconds at mid zoom and 1.2 seconds at the long end.
|Most of my long zoom, running dog photos were out of focus or more often out of the frame due to the limited continuous shooting performance of the P900. Some like this were good. FLE600mm 1/1000 sec. There is loss of hair detail on the dog's back.|
* EVF blackout time. When you press the shutter button to make a photo the EVF blacks out for about half a second. Some time during this blackout the exposure is made.
This blackout has consequences. At the long end hand held, subject framing alters significantly between the action of pressing the shutter button and the actual capture. This produces a lot of incorrectly framed photos in my hands which are reasonably steady.
The slow shot to shot time and long EVF (or monitor) blackout time make it difficult to photograph moving subjects when zoomed out.
* AF speed. Compared to other consumer type superzoom cameras the AF speed is commendably fast and is quite adequate for static subjects. But P900 AF speed is not in the same class as some other cameras such as the Panasonic FZ1000 which I tested alongside the P900.
* AF accuracy. I found this to be very good outdoors with few frames out of focus. Sometimes the shutter would fire without focus having been attained and a few photos of dark subjects at the long end were a little off focus.
Indoors I found the AF system more reluctant to grab focus but at least it put up the red box to warn me that I should try again.
Generally a reliable performance with single shot capture.
|FLE1400mm, 1/500 second. The dog stood still for a second. |
* Continuous shooting/predictive AF. In order to capture sport/action a camera needs to have the capacity for predictive AF at a reasonable frame rate. The P900 does not manage this well.
In Continuous High the EVF locks up at the first frame so cannot follow a moving subject. This setting might be useful for checking, say, a golf swing.
In Continuous Low the frame rate is about 2 fps. The AF box disappears after the first frame. The view you see in the EVF is a review of the previous frame not a preview of the next one. The EVF blackout means you are looking at a black rectangle more than half the total time. These factors make it extremely difficult to hold a moving subject in frame especially if it is moving across the frame.
With cars moving slowly towards the camera and the zoom at FLE400mm I got about 60% of frames sharp. With surfers moving across the frame and FLE about 1000mm, I got no useful shots at all.
The camera locks up after shooting a burst of exposures while data is writing to the memory card. I used a Sandisk Extreme Pro 95MB/sec card, which is about the fastest available.
There is a Sports mode available via the [Scene] setting on the Mode Dial. Some users posting on forums are getting good results with this. However as described in the Reference Manual (Page 5 of the Reference section) exposure and focus are set at the first frame of the set of 7.
The P900 is difficult to use for sport/action with limitations on follow focus and continuous viewing.
I spent a morning at the local wetlands photographing birds, switching back and forth between the P900 and the FZ1000. I used the FZ1000 up to FLE800mm with JPG capture (i-Zoom).
I found the FZ1000 was better for overall speed and responsiveness, highlight/shadow detail, autofocus speed, autofocus accuracy, continuous AF/follow focus, EVF quality, EVF refresh, write time to memory and overall picture quality up to FLE600mm.
The P900 was better for zoom reach and picture quality above FLE600mm.
The point of this is that up to about FLE600mm there are better cameras to be had than the P900. So the P900 has to be very convincing in the higher focal length range to make a case for someone to buy one.
|Loss of highlight detail on the trunks of the Casuarinas. I forgot to set Active D Lighting. If the camera allowed RAW capture I probably wouldn't have to remember ADL at all.|
Auto Panorama is one of those features the market seems to think that consumer cameras must have these days. The P900 has it but the resolution and sharpness are rather low.
The self timer is easy enough to set but it self cancels after every shot.
I forgot about this every time I used the camera on a tripod. Proper cameras provide an option to hold the self timer function until the camera is powered off or a different mode is selected.
|FLE550mm, 1/320 sec, ISO 1600. Very good result for ISO 1600 from a small sensor. Note shallow depth of focus. The wing is sharp, the eye not quite sharp.|
Vibration reduction (VR) performance Nikon claims in its promotional material that “ ….shots are stabilised at a shutter speed of approximately 5.0 stops faster…..”.
Faster than what, they do not say.
A footnote says “..Based on CIPA standard measured at approximately 350mm (35mm format equivalent)”.
I ran as series of tests in controlled conditions and compared the results to my photos out and about.
The controlled test was to photograph a page of newspaper, hand held with VR off then on, with the zoom at widest, mid and longest positions, hand held, standing, viewing through the EVF.
|Slowest sharp shutter speed
|Slowest sharp shutter speed
|Real world slowest sharp shutter speed
* VR stabilises the EVF image and allows the remarkably long zoom to be used hand held, with some limitations, if the camera is held very steady.
* When I review my ‘out and about’ photos (hundreds of them) I find that the shutter speeds I need to use for reasonably reliable sharpness are higher than those obtained in controlled testing.
* VR works well up to FLE about 800-1000mm with a decently high percentage of sharp enough frames. But in my hands , which are quite steady with no rest or intention tremor, the percentage of sharp frames falls as focal length increases to FLE2000.
I am seeing photos published on user forums which would suggest that some other P900 users are getting better results at the long end. Maybe there is sample variation in VR effectiveness. Maybe other users have better technique than me. Many factors affect sharpness at the long end.
By the way, when testing I several times left VR ON with the camera on tripod, with no apparent ill effect.
Nikon advises switching VR OFF with tripod use but in practice it seems OK to leave it ON.
In fact it may be advantageous. The reason is that at FLE2000mm the preview image becomes unstable in the slightest breeze. In addition if the shutter is actuated by pressing the shutter button with the timer set to 2 seconds, which is my practice, the camera can take all of that time to settle down and leaving VR ON helps it to do so.
VR effectiveness on the P900 is of the same order as IS effectiveness on the Canon SX60 which I tested concurrently.
|Work boat about 500 meters from the camera. Bright sun. |
Hand held. FLE1500mm 1/400sec ISO 100.
|Bright sun, cross lighting. FLE125mm, 1/800 sec hand held. You can see the P900 has a very good lens, outstanding really considering the zoom range. But the JPG rendition is not up to the lens, smearing fine foliage details. The P900 would be even better with RAW capture.|
Setup Phase is generally well managed. The menus are easily accessed and navigated. The graphical user interface is well designed and easy to read.
There are enough options to provide a decent user experience and to configure the camera for most requirements.
It is not possible to configure the minimum shutter speed to change with zoom.
|The buildings under construction are about 1500 meters from the camera on a warm sunny day. The effects of atmospheric distortion are evident. FLE350mm.|
Prepare Phase is not so well designed.
The Main Mode dial is well positioned and easy to use.
Access to Active D Lighting (ADL) may frequently be required in the few minutes just before making an exposure but is only available in the Shooting Menu. It should be more accessible.
The Fn button provides access to AF Area Mode, ISO, Drive Mode, Metering, WB, Picture Control, Image Size, Image Quality and VR. These are appropriate to Prepare Phase but the user experience could be improved.
The list of adjustments assigned to the Fn button is not user selectable, neither is it possible to drop some unused items back to the main menu.
The user interface brought up by the Fn button is poorly designed. I have been using the camera intensively for several weeks and I still get confused by the user interface which requires much scrolling down then across to access various settings.
Many other cameras have an equivalent button. Canon has the Func. Button, Panasonic the Q menu and so forth. They all work better than the P900 Fn button.
The buttons on the upper part of control panel (to the right of the monitor) within easy reach of the right thumb, have good enough haptics. The problem is they are located for ready access to Capture
Phase actions but actually access Setup, Prepare and Review Phase functions with no option for user assignment of function. This is not the end of the world, just suboptimal use of high value camera real estate.
You have buttons for Wi-Fi and Playback in locations which would be better used for primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters such as ISO, [+/-] or AF start.
If the folks at Nikon can’t work out the difference between Prepare and Capture Phase tasks they might at least give the user the option to assign any function from the shooting menu to every button on the camera. Then users can figure it out for themselves.
|ISO 560, 1/320 second. The cockatoo is very close to the camera.|
Holding The P900 has a nicely designed handle and thumb support. The camera is comfortable to hold and easy to carry all day with the handle.
However the P900 is quite large and could easily accommodate some improvements to both handle and thumb support.
The handle is a bit short for adult male hands. My little finger keeps slipping below the bottom of the handle. The simple way to accommodate large and small hands is to raise the height of the handle.
There is ample opportunity on this body to raise the shoulders and thus the handle.
The height of the center of the shutter button is 72mm. When I make mockups I generally have the shutter button at 78mm. This might not sound like much but it allows the adult male hand a full five finger hold.
In addition the handle could use a more pronounced ‘inverted L’ shape like the canon SX60 which I tested alongside the P900.
The center of the shutter button on the SX60 is inset 30mm from the right side of the body and sits directly above the inside of the handle.
The shutter button of the P900 is 24mm from the side of the body and sits vertically on a line 7mm above the inside of the handle.
The SX60 handle and shutter button location allow the hand to adopt a more natural posture and the terminal phalanx of the index finger to fall more naturally onto the shutter button.
If the reader finds this all rather arcane and confusing a visit to this summary about handles and holding might be worth while.
My experience making 13 camera mockups has taught me that subtle differences in the shape of things can make a big difference to the user experience.
The thumb support is not optimal either. There are two kinds of thumb support.
1. Vertical, near the right side of the body, as seen on the P900 or
2. Diagonal, as seen on Canon DSLRs and Panasonic FZ1000.
The vertical type has two disadvantages.
1. It does not place the hand in the optimal ‘half closed relaxed’ posture for maximum strength with least effort.
2. In order to operate the P900 command dial the whole right hand has to hitch up a bit from the basic hold position. See below.
|The P900 is generally easy to hold. However the inner lens barrel exhibits considerable free play. I recommend keeping fingers off the inner barrel.|
Viewing The P900 has a fully articulated monitor providing good sharpness, color, highlight and shadow detail. Aperture and shutter speed are displayed in a gray box near the bottom of the frame.
In addition the least cluttered data set available by scrolling with the Disp button is rather busy.
Fortunately most of the clutter disappears when the shutter button is half pressed, except the aperture, shutter speed, battery status indicator (why does that stay up ?), AF box and framing assist lines.
Neither the monitor nor EVF can be configured for ‘viewfinder style’ with camera data beneath the image preview.
The EVF is of lower quality than the monitor which is disappointing as this camera needs to be used with EVF for stability any time the lens is extended.
Yes, I know, some people claim they can hold a camera steady with monitor view at the long end of a superzoom. They are kidding themselves.
EVF display style and data are the same as the monitor.
The EVF is small, provides inaccurate colors and low sharpness. The slow refresh time/long blackout time has already been mentioned.
Even with EVF brightness set to the maximum it still looks a bit dim to me in bright light.
When Auto ISO is set, there is no indication of actual ISO in the monitor or viewfinder.
The EVF eyecup is small, hard and rectangular, allowing stray light to intrude in bright conditions.
|This is fairly typical of many of my photos hand held at FLE2000mm. Hazy bright day. |
Nothing is really sharp.
ISO 220, 1/640 second. A faster shutter speed might help but that would push up the ISO.
Operating The key criterion for evaluating operation is : The camera should allow the user to adjust all primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters while looking continuously through the viewfinder and without having to shift grip with either hand.’
The better cameras can manage all this, the P900 cannot. If it were a cheapo general purpose snapshooter’s compact I would say ‘so what ?’. But to me the P900 looks like a camera suggesting bigger and better things.
The ‘bigger’ part of that is undeniable. The ‘better’ comes with expectations which I think owners of this camera are likely to have.
Aperture can be adjusted in A Mode but the right thumb has to drop down to the multi selector which disrupts grip with the right hand.
Shutter speed is adjusted in S mode with the command dial but in order to do that the right hand has to take little hitch upwards so the interphalangeal joint can flex and bring the distal phalanx to bear on the dial. This is a minor problem but again it does involve shifting grip with the right hand.
For comparison see the thumb support and rear dial configuration as found on the FZ1000 or my Mockup #13.
On these cameras the thumb takes up the preferred diagonal posture in holding position. To operate the dial the lower right corner of the camera stays in place on the base of the thumb which has only to swing right without flexing to work the dial without disruption to the grip.
Back to the P900: There is no direct access to ISO setting. ISO is a primary exposure parameter but yet again we see Nikon failing to provide direct access. In the last few years I have owned and used a D5200, V2, P7800 and now the P900 from Nikon and in every one there has been an indirect or roundabout access to setting ISO.
Exposure compensation is easily accessed although the right hand grip is disrupted.
You can zoom with the lever in front of the shutter button or with the one on the left side of the lens barrel. Zoom is prompt and reasonably precise for a power type.
Position of the AF box can be moved readily enough. Press [OK] and the box becomes active. Now it can be moved anywhere within a bounding box using the multi selector keys. A neat touch is that the camera will work with the AF box active. You don’t have to press the [OK] button first.
But the box only moves in single steps, one at a time. It takes 9 presses to get the box from center to one of the corners of the bounding box.
Then there is no ‘one press recenter’ function. You have to do all 9 presses to get it back to the middle of the frame. Fortunately a little dot appears in the middle of the AF box when it is recentered.
Now let us say you are out and about with the AF box at the default [Normal] size and you spot a little bird. You want to reduce the AF box size to [Spot].
You can only change the AF box size via the AF Area Mode and for that you must go through the Shooting menu or the Fn button.
Many button presses later….bye bye birdie………..
So you leave the AF box at the [Spot] setting but this camera uses Contrast Detect AF and a smaller area is likely to be less sensitive and/or accurate for general photography.
Proper cameras let you adjust AF box size on the fly just by turning the command dial when the box is active.
|High backlighting handled decently well by the sensor. FLE320mm, ISO 280, 1/400 second. |
Review Phase I found arrangements in Review Phase disappointing.
Each review image can be quickly enlarged with the zoom control.
But I could find no way to scroll from one enlarged frame to the next. I had to zoom back out to full frame before scrolling could proceed. The command dial could have been used for this as in other cameras but that dial just does the same thing as the zoom lever.
I also found that aperture, shutter speed and ISO are only presented on one of the three screen styles selectable via the Disp button. From that screen I am unable to scroll from one image to the next or last.
Total Ergonomic Score 50/100
Comment A score of 50/100 would be expected from a consumer compact with no pretensions to greatness.
But the P900 is touted by Nikon in its promotional material as having ‘superior image quality’, ‘performance that goes above and beyond’ (above and beyond what, I wonder ?) and being ‘designed to impress’.
It certainly looks impressive and in some respects such as the lens, image quality from the 7.66mm sensor, the VR and the price, it actually does impress.
But there is plenty of room for improvement.
I doubt that any single issue with the P900’s ergonomics would be a deal breaker.
But there are many small problems and operational issues leading to a suboptimal user experience.
I suspect some of these issues are the consequence of Nikon’s decision to use the old, slow, Expeed C2 processor.
But many are just a consequence of suboptimal design which could be corrected with existing technology.
Next: Summary and conclusions
|FZ1000. It was a warm sunny day, hinting at the approaching spring. The wattles were full of bees. There was no need for a special lens or tripod. Just hand held with the camera at its closest focus distance for the focal length. |
Full Frame (sensor 24x36mm, diagonal 43mm)
Way back in the good old days of film, about 25 years ago, I got the bug. Not influenza, something worse, the quest for ultimate picture quality.
I got medium format then 4x5 large format.
Success ! I got ultimate picture quality. I also got permanent back damage and eventually came to the realisation that, for me, ultimate picture quality was a goal not worth pursuing.
I discovered that the prints I could make from 35mm SLR negatives were good enough for me and my standards were then and still are very high.
Fast forward to the current era and we find that current model cameras with the 43mm sensor (so-called full frame) now have 36, 42 and even 50 Megapixels. These cameras can make pictures better than I could get with large format in the old days.
But they are big, heavy and expensive and they require a bag full of lenses which are also big, heavy and expensive.
I recently went on a group photo tour around Iceland. Most participants had a full frame Canon or Nikon DSLR and a backpack full of lenses. I noticed that the size and weight of each kit was about the same as I had in the old days with my 4x5 inch view camera.
Did the big cameras make better photos than the Panasonic FZ1000 and LX100 which I used ?
But what I do know is that if the light was unco-operative no camera could make a good photo and if the light was right just about any camera could.
My point is that the key determinants for good photos are
a) being in the right place
Back at home I find the photos I made with the FZ1000 and LX100 look just fine on the monitor and print up to around 400 x 600mm with no trouble at all.
I have no doubt that some professional photographers need what full frame offers in order to remain competitive in the commercial world.
But I take the view that the great majority of enthusiast and probably most professional photographers are able to make absolutely fine pictures with formats no larger than M4/3 which has a sensor diagonal of 21.5mm.
So, no full frame for me.
What about APS-C ? Canon versions have a sensor diagonal of 27mm, Sony and others use the slightly larger 28mm diagonal.
When digital sensors first found their way into DSLRs around 15 years ago full frame chips were very expensive so camera makers used the smaller size allowing a consumer affordable price point.
One of the early examples of this was the Canon EOS D30 of year 2000. This 3 Mpx (that is not a misprint) camera was described by reviewers at the time as having “excellent image quality” and “great resolution”. So much for people thinking they need 50 Mpx for decent pictures.
Such was the success of these early 27mm sensor DSLRs that the format became established as the preferred option for amateur and enthusiast photographers.
But technology has moved apace and now we see the 27/28mm sensor being challenged from both above and below.
Full Frame (43mm) sensors are now less expensive than they were and Micro Four thirds (M43, 21.5mm) sensors (and also the even smaller “one inch”, 15.9 size) are much better than they were.
So, does the APS-C format have
a) Most of the image quality advantages of full frame but at a somewhat smaller size/price point
b) Not significantly/substantially better image quality than M43 but much greater size/mass, particularly in the lenses and particularly the f2.8 zooms ?
I find the image quality from M43 and smaller sensors sufficient for my purposes so the extra size/mass of APS-C is a deal breaker.
DSLRs For many years from the mid part of the 20thCentury the dominant camera type was the Single Lens Reflex (SLR). When digital came along manufacturers basically exchanged film for electronic sensors and processing capability, creating the DSLR and leaving the SLR architecture intact.
But technology marches on. In 2008 Panasonic introduced the first Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC), the G1. Since then all manufacturers have joined the MILC cavalcade and the number of models has increased dramatically.
This new technology enables some significant improvements to camera performance and the user experience.
I used SLRs then DSLRs for 40 years. My last DSLR was a Canon EOS 60D in 2011.
Since then I have used only mirrorless cameras, both Interchangeable lens (MILC) types and Fixed
Zoom Lens (FZLC) types.
Advantages of the mirrorless type:
* More accurate and reliable single autofocus. AF is established right on the sensor so if the technology is implemented optimally (which is not always the case in every make/model) then AF is reliably accurate.
* Ability to quickly place the AF box anywhere in the frame and retain reliable focussing.
* Easier, more accurate manual focus. Mirrorless cameras can use peaking plus automatic preview image magnification to establish accurate manual focus quickly and easily.
* Mirrorless cameras use an electronic viewfinder. Early versions had problems but the latest crop of EVFs provide a greatly enhanced viewing experience and have many advantages over the optical viewfinders seen in DSLRs.
# Seamless segue from EVF to monitor, with all image and camera information presented in the same format and style in each.
# Much more camera data can be displayed on an EVF than in an OVF, the user can select which data is required and can cycle between data options including none. These include histogram, peaking, guide lines, level gauge, variable aspect ratio and many more.
# Image playback in the EVF if required.
* Silent operation if desired.
* These technologies permit a more coherent and streamlined user experience.
* No mirror slap, but see below about shutter shock.
* In the early days compact size was promoted by manufacturers as a major advantage of mirrorless cameras. It is true that for any given sensor size it is possible to make a mirrorless camera smaller than a DSLR.
However the difference is not great. Mirrorless camera bodies can have less depth and a bit less height than DSLRs as there is no need for the mirror box. But once a handle is added there is little difference.
Sometimes lost in the hype about smallness is the fact that lens size is mainly determined by sensor dimensions. The early MILCs had smaller sensors than DSLRs of the time and that was the main reason their lenses could be smaller.
Problems/issues/catchup agenda with mirrorless cameras:
* DSLRs have traditionally provided better continuous AF and predictive AF than mirrorless. This is still to some extent true but new technologies such as on sensor Phase detect AF and Panasonic DFD, together with faster data readout speeds are allowing mirrorless to close the gap.
* Shutter shock. Most mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILC) have a quadruple acting (close>open>close>open) mechanical focal plane shutter which imparts a shock through the camera and lens at the beginning of an exposure leading to blurring at some shutter speeds.
Manufacturers have developed two main fixes for this problem.
Some use electronic exposure start (so called electronic first curtain shutter, EFCS). This appears to be effective in preventing shutter shock with few adverse effects although some technical analyses have indicated impaired exposure with high shutter speeds, perhaps faster than 1/1000 sec.
EFCS is not offered by all makers or on all models, I know not why.
Some use an electronic shutter. In cameras not using the new high speed sensors, which is all MILCs at the time of writing,
E-Shutter presents several problems. These are
* No speeds longer than 1 second.
* Electronic flash cannot be used.
* Banding in fluorescent and other types of light.
* Rolling shutter effect (distortion of moving subjects).
* Reduced bit rate capture leading potentially to increased shadow noise and reduced dynamic range.
As you can see that is quite a list. I expect most or all of these problems will be fixed when high speed sensors become standard.
By the way Fixed Zoom Lens Cameras do not have problems with shutter shock as they use diaphragm type leaf shutters which operate without the shock of a focal plane shutter.
* EVF refresh rate. Optical viewfinders refresh at the speed of light. EVFs are a bit slower. I expect the new high speed sensors will fix this problem. At the time of writing only the Sony RX100 (4) and RX10 (2) have the super fast sensor.
So you can see that mirrorless cameras especially MILCs have still got some issues which have not yet been altogether fully resolved.
My personal solution to this is to use fixed zoom lens cameras some of which now provide excellent picture quality and performance, all the advantages of the mirrorless configuration, no problems with shutter shock and no need to change lenses. Ever.
|FZ1000 Offer of the century, Reykjavik|
There has been much excitement on user forums and internet review sites recently.
We have seen the release of hand held cameras with 24 then 36 then 42 and now 50 megapixels.
Suddenly, maybe, every camera owner wants 50 Mpx.
I bet that is what the makers hope anyway.
It seems to me that they are offering these previously unheard of pixel counts
b) because sales of most camera types have fallen in the last five years and they are looking for something, anything, to refocus (pun intended) potential buyers minds and money on cameras, preferably high value ones.
I guess there are professional photographers who are able to use high pixel counts to commercial and perhaps in some cases, artistic advantage.
But most photos are displayed in print or electronic media at much lower resolutions.
So for most photographers I really wonder about the benefits of super pixel counts.
|This is a crop indicated by the magenta bounding box at the lower right corner of the whole chart below. You should be able to read all the words even after the photo's voyage through the internet.|
The FZ1000 camera which made this photo has a sensor which measures just 8.8x13.2mm. How can all that information fit onto such small chip ?
|Whole Chart FZ1000 This has been downsized and compressed for the internet so I expect you will not be able to read all the words.|
Camera vision vs human vision
I have an informal lens test chart which consists of 9 sheets of small print classified newspaper advertisements taped to a flat board 900x600mm in size.
This does not give standardised measurements but it does allow me to compare one camera/lens combination with all the others I have tested.
It also allows me to compare my own visual capacity with that of my cameras.
My eyes function pretty well. When I go to the ophthalmologist and do the visual acuity test at 6 meters I can read the line on the chart which indicates I do not need spectacles, although I do have a pair of 1 diopter specs for close ups, maps and the like.
I can read all the words on one section of my camera/lens test chart with specs on and my eyes about 400mm from the chart. I cannot read all the words all at once.
But my cameras can easily do so.
Even my little 16 Mpx G7 micro four thirds camera with a $100 kit lens (The 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 (2) for those interested) can read all the words on the whole chart, including the corners.
The 20 Mpx FZ1000 is even better. It can easily distinguish all the words, even the smallest, right to the corners and could manage even smaller words if I had them on the chart.
Chart performance usefully predicts resolution of ordinary subjects in the real world.
12Mpx cameras like my Panasonic LX100 make excellent photos which print up well even at large sizes.
16 Mpx models like the G7 are able to distinguish more details in a scene than I can see with my own decently sharp eyes.
20 Mpx models are able to resolve massive amounts of subject information, well beyond the capacity of most human eyes.
Conclusion: Camera makers want you to read about, get excited about and buy a full frame model with mega millions of pixels and a bag full of expensive lenses which are needed if the imaging potential of all those pixels is to be realised.
But for the vast majority of photographs, even those most professionals might make, a much smaller, less ambitious, less expensive model will easily do the job.
|Fun Run Panasonic FZ1000|
This little series will have 10 parts, or maybe more if I get carried away with the theme.
I will talk about the manufacturers in alphabetical order so Canon comes first.
In Chapter 1 I explained why I will not be buying any DSLRs, or Full Frame or APS-C cameras of any variety.
I have a long history with Canon cameras. My first was an EOS630 in 1990. This was followed by a string of EOS SLRs then DSLRs plus several G compacts.
I have no brand preference but my history with Canon and the fact that Canon Australia headquarters and service facility are a short drive from my home probably gives me some predilection towards the Canon brand.
This means if one of two cameras on the market each suitable for my needs is a Canon I would likely choose that.
The fact that with one disappointing exception I have not bought any Canon cameras for several years is not due to any change in brand preference on my part.
Canon was once the most energetic, bold camera maker of the lot, advancing through innovation to become market leader while many brands fell by the wayside.
But since the arrival of the first MILC in 2008, Canon appears to have become cautious, less inclined to innovate and unable to deliver convincing models in the MILC (mirrorless interchangeable lens) and FZLC (fixed zoom lens) sectors.
Even its DSLRs have become mediocre. I saw one of the latest release EOS DSLRs recently described by a reputable web review site as “fairly decent for a consumer class DSLR”. “fairly decent” is hardly a resounding accolade.
In the MILC sector I would describe the EOS M 1, 2 and 3 as ‘half baked” or “crippled” depending on whether I am in a benign or grumpy mood about cameras which claim excellence but lack an inbuilt viewfinder, require an accessory handle and have pedestrian performance.
A string of FZLCs (Fixed Zoom Lens Cameras) have likewise been crippled.
The G1X lacked an EVF and performed slowly.
The G1X Mk2 “solved” the problem of the hopelessly inadequate old OFV by discarding a viewfinder altogether along with any semblance of a useful handle. Add in image quality inferior to several smaller cameras and the package failed to appeal on any level.
The G7X uses the same sensor as the Sony RX100 (3) but ….ooops…..Canon omitted the EVF…..again.
he G3X uses the same sensor but …..ooops…..they forgot the EVF…..again
And this on a camera with an E600mm lens absolutely crying out to be held in a steady grip with the EVF firmly to the eye for clear image preview and stability.
Oh, you can go buy an EVF separately then what ?
Leave it on the camera which then becomes taller than a DSLR and exposes the hotshoe to the risk of damage every time the camera goes in to or comes out of its carry bag ?
Or take it off and forever be stuck with having to mount and remove it, then store it, carefully, somewhere.
Another thing they forgot…………there is no included lens hood and no filter thread on the lens.
But wait………… you can buy an accessory lens hood which comes with an adapter for mounting a lens protect filter.
Who on planet earth thought this was a good idea ? Why not simply put a filter thread on the lens ?
But there’s more, or should I say…less….Continuous shooting rate with RAW capture is …..….one frame per second.
This is not going to be the camera for sport/action, unlike the FZ1000 which I used for the photo at the top of this post, which works just fine for sport/action/BIF and the like.
All right it has a longer lens than the FZ1000. So what ? Using a lens this long without a viewfinder is simply a recipe for blurred shots.
Yes, I know, you see lots of people waving their DSLRs and FZLCs out in front of their faces, viewing on the monitor.
In places with bright sun they can’t properly see the monitor and sharp photos are a matter of luck.
By the way Canon promotes this thing as giving the user the “EOS Experience”. How’s that ???
The Canon camera which I actually bought this year is an SX60, small sensor, all in one superzoom.
It has a nice handle, very close in shape to the inverted L configuration which I regard as ideal.
In all other respects it is mediocre or worse. It is frequently rated by owners as delivering a step down in image quality from the SX50.
So what is Canon’s game plan ?
To me it looks like they are:
1. Churning out successive DSLRs each different from the previous model only in some minor detail and none really taking the lead with innovation or user satisfaction. ‘Stuck in a rut” would be my description.
If these DSLRs represented the apogee of the type that might be understandable. But each of them is capable of improvement to specifications, image quality, performance and ergonomics yet no urgency to make such improvements seems apparent.
2. Presenting to the market a succession of half baked, functionally crippled MILCs and FZLCs.
Does that suggest a plan of some description ? I don’t see one.
I have at various times wondered why Canon’s product offerings have become so mediocre.
Of course I have no knowledge of the decision making processes at Canon or any other camera maker, being merely a consumer.
But for what it is worth here are some speculative hypotheses:
#1. Maybe they have a technical problem. MILCs and FZLCs acquire autofocus (and manual focus) right on the sensor chip. Sony, Panasonic and others have now got this working very well with excellent speed and accuracy.
Canon has and presumably is continuing to develop its proprietary “dual pixel CMOS” on chip PDAF.
But this has thus far been used on only one DSLR (the EOS 70D) and the EOS Cinema Camera.
Apparently it gives smooth but not fast AF performance.
Maybe the research team is bogged down and unable to get either their on chip CDAF or the dual pixel PDAF system up to speed.
#2. Some user forum members have opined that Canon is serving up sub standard MILCs and FZLCs to “protect” its DSLR line. I am sceptical about this.
Presumably the idea is that if they make, say, a really good MILC then customers will buy that instead of a DSLR.
Maybe they will, but so what ?
Surely Canon will be happy if customers stay with the brand.
#3. Maybe they are responding to customer feedback.
How Canon or any other maker might be getting this feedback is a mystery to me.
I buy lots of cameras and I write this blog but no maker has ever sought my feedback about anything.
But…. Let us suppose Canon has a customer feedback process of some kind and let us suppose those customers are saying they don’t need an EVF thank you. And maybe they are saying they think those big handles are really ugly. And maybe they are saying we want smaller cameras please.
If something like that is the case, maybe the product development people have taken the feedback literally and removed the components which some customers say they don’t want.
The problems with this approach, if that is actually what is happening, are
a) people need to be careful what they wish for
b) literal fulfilment of customers’ stated wishes can and often does lead to unintended consequences.
For instance when politicians ask people if they would like to pay less tax they always say ‘yes’.
I see on the front page of the newspaper today that the Australian federal government will go into the next election promising to reduce personal income tax.
But if they do so society will end up with fewer health and welfare services and/or higher taxes of some other variety which might not be what most people want at all.
Camera design has a similar problem. Removal of key components like the EVF and handle leads to cameras with impoverished holding, viewing and operating characteristics.
This leads to user frustration and eventually to diminution of the maker’s reputation.
Is Canon struggling with, or perhaps failing to engage with, Clayton Christensen’s dilemma ? [Google it]
Will Canon go the way of Kodak ? We shall see.
|G7 in hand. It is difficult to show in a photo but this camera has very good holding and operating characteristics. The handle and control dial arrangements are a big improvement over the G6 and in my view represent one of the best ergonomic ILC packages on the market today.|
The Panasonic Lumix G1 of 2008 was the first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) and the first camera built to the then new Micro Four Thirds (M43) sensor and lens mount standard.
I bought a G1 then G3, G5, G6, GH2, GH3, GH4, and GX7.
The “G-with-no-other-letter” (or “Just G” if you like) series appeared to stall last year when no follow up for the G6 of 2013 appeared.
I posted on this blog a piece arguing that Panasonic needed to persist with the Just G series as it represents a core product line for the M43 system.
Now at last the G7 has arrived more than two years after the G6.
It comes onto the market at an attractive price point, below that of the GM5 and far below the GH4 and GX8.
I made a resolution early this year not to buy any more ILCs but then went ahead and bought a G7 anyway.
The rationalisation was that I would investigate whether the LX100 or G7 with kit lens would make the better all-day-walk-around-carry-around-street-and-field shooter. Indeed I have done that and will report my findings in detail soon. [Preview: The LX100 is a bit better indoors in low light, the G7 a bit better outdoors].
But on reflection I think the main reason I got the G7 was to discover for myself what Panasonic has done with the ergonomics. My studies of camera ergonomics began with the G1 and have been informed by each successive model.
Has it been worth the wait for the Lumix G faithful or is the G7 a case of too little, too late ?
I review cameras under the following headings:
* Specification, features and market position
The G7 is an upper entry to enthusiast level mini DSLR shape interchangeable lens camera (ILC).
It competes with DSLRs and other MILCs around the same price range.
Although the G7 lacks a standout USP (unique selling point) it impresses me as a very competent all rounder which can carry out a wide range of photographic tasks quickly and competently while providing an enjoyable user experience.
Features and Specifications
The G7 may look like a fairly innocuous small camera but it comes loaded to the brim with a multitude of sophisticated features and performance capabilities for both still and 4K video capture.
Image Quality The G7 uses the same or very similar 16 Mpx sensor and processor as the GH4 and has, as best I can tell, identical image quality. That’s a good thing, allowing the G7 to deliver very good quality pictures in a wide variety of conditions.
The 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 Mk2 kit lens which I used for the test proved to be a little gem. It only adds $100 to the basic body price but delivers remarkably sharp, clear results at all focal lengths and apertures, right across the frame including the corners.
Performance The G7 operates very quickly. It is very responsive to all user inputs.
Shot to shot time with single shot and AFS on every frame is basically as fast as I can get my right index finger up and down on the shutter button. The stop watch tells me that is 3.2 shots per second.
Single AF is extremely fast, sensitive, reliable and more accurate than a DSLR.
Continuous AF and predictive AF have been substantially upgraded using the new Panasonic DFD function. It was once the case that MILCs had inferior predictive AF to DSLRs.
That is no longer so. The G7 with a suitable lens (which does not include the Lumix 100-300mm) can hold focus on a moving subject at 6 frames per second with live view and CAF on every frame. With a fast memory card it can shoot 18 RAW frames before the buffer fills.
This performance is comparable to near-pro level APS-C DSLRs which are much more expensive than the G7.
Ergonomics The G7 has by far the best ergonomics of all the Just G cameras. Panasonic has finally got the size, shape, layout, handle and controls right. I have some minor quibbles about haptic details on the 4 way controller and buttons but overall I rate the G7 a big step forward for G series ergonomics.
This being the Camera Ergonomics blog I will be posting a detailed analysis of G7 ergonomics and user experience over the coming weeks.
|There are many of these Casuarina trees where I live. I use them for lens testing because their fine fronds challenge the resolution of the lens/sensor combination. The G7 even with kit lens performs admirably. This image had been downsized and compressed for the internet. In the original the fronds are rendered very clearly all over the frame.|
The G7 is one of the most capable and user friendly small ILCs which I have ever had the pleasure to use. On its merits it is a very good camera with excellent performance.
If it had been released a year ago I suspect it might have been a big success for Panasonic. Maybe it still will be, given its attractive price point and a growing consumer awareness of the capability of MILCs.
But this year’s market place has become intensely competitive with appealing cameras in the same or near price range on all sides.
These include MILCs and also Fixed Zoom Lens Cameras (FZLC) the latest crop of which are challenging the desirability of ILCs.
Some of the challenge comes from Panasonic itself with the admittedly more expensive 20 Mpx GX8 coming onto the market in the last few days and the very capable FZ1000 having proved its worth over the last year.
|G7 This is my right thumb in position to work the rear dial. I have lifted the thumb away from the camera body a bit so you can see the relationship between the thumb and the various camera parts. The thumb support is shaped so that I can turn the dial without having to release grip on the camera with the right hand and without needing to hitch the thumb up to get purchase on the dial.|
I embarked on a study of camera ergonomics several years ago. I had found some cameras easy to use while others proved frustrating. I wanted to find out why.
I happen to have for study right now several cameras which I will use to illustrate different implementations of the rear dial. I will show that some get it right and others get it not-quite-right.
To a casual observer the rear dial treatment on each camera might appear much the same. But there are detail differences and good ergonomics always involves getting the details right.
I am trying here to illustrate an aspect of the way in which the user physically engages with a camera. This can only be fully appreciated by actually having the camera(s) in hand and working through the action sequences. But that obviously is not possible in a blog so words and pictures must suffice.
Let’s get right into it starting with:
Please refer to the photo above. Previous iterations of the “Just G” Lumix cameras explored various implementations of the rear dial.
The G5 and G6 had the dial set into the thumb support. But these cameras are quite small with a narrow control panel (the part of the camera back to the right of the monitor).
There simply was not enough space to implement this design properly. The dial had to extend around the right side of the thumb support which proved an awkward arrangement in practice. In addition the serrated teeth on the dial were too soft and rounded making the dial difficult to turn.
The G7 has a full twin dial configuration which is optimal for a camera designed to be driven by an expert user.
Implementation of the rear dial is quite clever. The thumb support is only 2.5mm high (that is, 2.5mm above the thumb pad). This is sufficient for a light camera. The cutaway shape of the upper part of the thumb support is critical to the operation of the rear dial. It allows the thumb to flex at the interphalangeal joint so the ball of the thumb can bear onto the rear dial and the thumb can move side to side to operate the dial without needing to shift up or down.
So although the control panel is only 30mm wide an efficient rear dial implementation has been realised.
|P900 This is the hand/thumb position which gives me best purchase on the rear dial and freedom of movement to turn it. The magenta line indicates the relationship between the metacarpo-phalangeal joint and the control panel. It is 14mm higher than you see in the photo below.|
P900 This is what happens if I try to work the dial by swinging my thumb to the right. I cannot reach the dial.|
This is quite a large camera due to the 83x zoom lens. At 910 grams it is not exactly lightweight either. So it needs substantial holding arrangements. These it has but the implementation could be improved.
Just concentrating on the rear dial for now please refer to the photo above.
To the casual eye the rear dial on the P900 might appear to be almost identical in configuration to that on the G7.
But there are detail differences which make for a different user experience.
The thumb support on the P900 has a height of 4.5mm above the thumb pad. This is high enough that it obstructs the thumb from moving side to side as it tries to operate the rear dial.
In order to get the thumb onto the dial and confidentlyrotate the dial the right hand has to release grip on the camera and shift 14mm upwards.
So what ? Do I hear you ask ?
Well, so quite a lot as it happens. This is a single dial camera so every time you want to adjust the aperture in A or shutter speed in S you need to turn that dial. And every time you want to turn the dial you have to release the camera with the right hand, support it with the left hand, hitch up the right hand 14mm, turn the dial then release the hand again to drop it back to the start position.
So the task of turning the dial requires several actions, each complex and requires support actions from the left hand.
Note: It is possible for me to turn the P900 dial without hitching up the right hand. In this case the thumb must be flexed at both the metacarpo-phalangeal and interphalangeal joints and the tip of the thumb brought to bear on the dial. This is possible but awkward. The dial is more difficult to move with the tip of the thumb and I find it often requires several short mini turns to make an adjustment.
By comparison turning the G7 rear dial requires a single action by one digit with no requirement for support actions.
The P900 has a control panel 50mm wide which is plenty of space for a much more ergonomic layout of the thumb support and rear dial, such as that found on the FZ1000.
|FZ1000 In this case there is no need to shift grip or to flex the thumb joints. The dial is embedded in the thumb support. It is easily operated by simply swinging the thumb side to side at the carpo-metacarpal joint, an action easily accomplished without disrupting grip on the handle.|
This camera has about the same width and almost as much height as the P900. Its control panel is actually slightly smaller at 45mm wide but more efficient use is made of the space available. The thumb support is 4mm high.
The wider thumb support allows the thumb to take up a more angled posture across the back of the camera.
This is stronger and more relaxed than the more upright thumb posture required by the P900.
The rear dial is embedded in the upper part of the thumb support, has just the right amount of exposure and nice grippy sharpish teeth.
This is the optimal location for a rear dial on a camera wide enough to fit the dial into the support.
The thumb needs only to swing from side to side at the carpo-metacarpal joint to engage and turn the dial.
The task of working the dial requires only one action which is simple and does not require any support actions. The lower right corner of the camera stays in place on the ball of the thumb.
|Mockup This embodies some advanced ergonomic concepts such as the handle canted back 10 degrees, the JOG lever and the rear dial embedded in the thumb support in a small camera. Rear dial operation requires a single simple side to side movement of the thumb.|
I made this mockup as a proof of concept for several of my ideas about ergonomics.
Quite by chance it happens to be the same width and height as the G7. The control panel is 42mm wide and the thumb support 9mm high.
The rear dial is embedded in the thumb support. This provides a rear dial operation experience similar to that of the FZ1000 but in a smaller body. The penalty for this is that the monitor has to be smaller.
It is 78mm wide while that on the G7 is 92mm wide. You can see in the photo the mockup also has a JOG lever in the top right corner of the monitor area, for super rapid shifting of the AF area.
There is a limited number of optimal ways to implement a rear dial and many suboptimal ways. This post briefly analyses some of these with reference to some actual cameras and one of my mockups.
|Volcanic landscape, Iceland. Panasonic LX100|
Until very recently Fuji was a prolific maker of small compact cameras and fixed zoom lens cameras (FZLC) of the superzoom/travel zoom type.
But lately they have been concentrating on the X line of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILC).
I will not be buying any of these for three main reasons:
1. The X-Cams use an APS-C size sensor. I have no interest in cameras with this size sensor. The problem is the lenses. Small primes and kit zooms with small apertures are decently compact.
But I would want a kit based on the f2.8 zooms and these are not much smaller than the equivalent models for full frame cameras.
F2.8 zooms for the M43 system are half the weight of the Fuji ones and deliver comparable picture quality.
2. X-Cams use the X-Trans sensor. This is a 16 Mpx chip with a (non –Bayer) filter array which is unique to Fuji. It may have some advantages at high ISO sensitivity settings but I use Photoshop which is apparently not the best RAW converter for X-Trans files. I simply cannot be bothered with the rigmarole of converting the files in another programme, (Iridient or whatever) then having to transfer them back to Photoshop for further processing.
3. Most X-Cams use some version of a hybrid retro style control layout, with aperture ring on the lens (but not all the lenses), shutter speed dial and exposure compensation dial on the top plate and a minimal handle.
My time and motion studies have shown that a well implemented modern style control system ( there are plenty of cameras with poorly implemented versions) based on a Mode Dial and one or preferably two Control Dials enables the user to carry out the tasks of operating the camera with fewer, less complex actions and fewer support actions.
In other words more streamlined more efficient operation.
Some people insist that they ‘like’ the X-Cams anyway for their own reasons whatever they may be and that is perfectly fine.
Fuji also makes advanced compacts such as the X-100 and X-30.
I have no interest in any camera without a zoom lens or the capability to fit one so the X-100 is not for me.
The X-30 is a warmed over version of the X-20. Both use a much smaller X-Trans sensor than the X-100.
Although it has some nice features the X-30 is comprehensively outperformed by the Sony RX100 in any of its manifestations and the Panasonic LX100 which I used for the photo above.
|FZ1000 82 degrees North|
I have been using Micro Four thirds (M43) cameras since 2009.
In 2011 I bought a Lumix 45-175mm power zoom lens. When I tested this lens on a Lumix G3 body mounted on a sturdy tripod I discovered severe blurring and double imaging the like of which I had never seen before.
There had been no notice or advice from Panasonic about this problem and to this day Panasonic has not, as far as I am aware, issued any statement or notice, or any acknowledgement of the existence of the problem or any advice for owners on managing the problem.
My unhappy experience with the PZ45-175mm was an introduction to the problem which I call “shutter shock”.
I eventually worked out that the blurring and double imaging which affects some lenses at some focal lengths at some shutter speeds is caused by vibration initiated by the focal plane shutter causing movement of the focus module in the lens during the exposure. I reported the problem on this blog.
Some of the more rigorous camera review websites such as Digital Photography Review and Imaging Resource also reported the problem.
The focal plane shutter of a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) goes through a close>open>exposure>close>open four action cycle every time an exposure is made. The first action immediately prior to exposure shakes the camera and the lens. You can easily feel this with a hand on the camera when the shutter fires.
Modern lenses for MILCs have focussing lens groups which are very small and light to enable fast AF. Unfortunately these small elements being easy to move are……...easy to move.
Shutter vibration can shake these elements and when this does happen the result is blur sometimes with double imaging.
Panasonic lenses well known to be prone to shutter shock are the PZ45-175mm mentioned above and the popular 14-140mm which is often bundled with a camera body.
Other lenses also suffer from the problem to varying degrees. You can read how to test for shutter shock below.
Today I tested the G7 with the kit 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 (II) lens which by the way delivers an excellent optical performance.
My shutter shock test findings for this lens on the G7 are as follows:
* Hand held with OIS ON, there is virtually no difference in sharpness between the test frames with M (Mechanical) shutter and those with E (Electronic) shutter. On intensive pixel peeping at 200% on screen I judged the E Shutter frames to be just ever so slightly sharper in the shutter speed range 1/40 -1/160 second.
* On the tripod with OIS OFF, the M Shutter frames showed definite blurring between 1/40 and 1/200 second, most obviously at focal length 42mm.
The E Shutter frames were all sharp.
Comment: Notice that the M shutter caused easily seen blur on the tripod but not in the hand. I have observed this with other camera/lens combinations. My hypothesis is that the hands act as a shock absorber to dampen the shutter induced vibrations. The phenomenon is real enough and reproducible.
Recommendations: Note: these recommendations apply to the 14-42mm kit lens.
* Hand held: For general photography use either the M Shutter or the E Shutter. I use the E Shutter as it is silent and therefore unobtrusive. I add a bit of electronic noise to reassure me that the picture has been taken. (Setup Menu>Screen1/5>Beep>E-Shutter Vol)
* For moving subjects, sport/action/children/pets and the like use the M Shutter and a speed of 1/320 sec or faster. Set the mode Dial to S to ensure this.
You can use the E-Shutter but with the risk of distortion of subjects which move during the exposure.
* On a tripod at shutter speeds faster than 1 second, use the E-Shutter and some form of remote shutter release or 2 sec timer delay.
Alternatively you can use the M Shutter with [Shutter Delay] as described below.
* On a tripod with shutter speeds longer than 1 second you must use the M Shutter.
Set [Shutter delay] to 2 seconds. Press the shutter button to initiate exposure. There is no need to use the timer delay.
The shutter/exposure sequence with [shutter delay] is:
press shutter button>shutter closes>delay occurs>shutter opens>exposure>shutter closes>shutter opens.
Presumably the initial shutter close action is the main source of the shock.
I create a Custom Mode with the required settings for long exposure times.
* For flash you must use the M Shutter.
Shutter shock test method
* You need to set up a test target which will be exactly the same for every one of several hundred test exposures. I use pages of classified newspaper advertisements taped to a board. The target needs to have plenty of detail so you can detect any sign of unsharpness.
* Set the Mode Dial to S (Shutter priority auto exposure). Let the camera work out aperture and ISO sensitivity setting.
* Hand Held, OIS ON. For a zoom do three runs, at the wide end, middle and long end of the zoom.
* Do the three runs with E-Shutter and another three with M-Shutter.
* Use shutter speeds from about 1/6 second to about 1/800 second at 1/3 step intervals. AF on each frame.
Note that the sequence of exposures will use small apertures (high f stop numbers) at one end and high ISO settings at the other end. Sharpness declines markedly with small apertures and high ISO settings. Absolute sharpness is not important in the context of this test schedule. The test is to determine whether M Shutter or E Shutter gives better sharpness at each shutter speed.
* As above but with the camera on tripod, OIS OFF, 2 second timer delay for each exposure.
This makes a total of about 264 frames for a zoom lens.
Now comes the boring job of looking at each frame at 100% on screen.
If I am not sure whether one frame is sharper than another I open them together in Photoshop and view them side by side (Window>Arrange>Float all in windows).
I realise all this may sound very tedious and it is. However in two hours I can have a definitive answer about the shock/blur characteristics of each body/lens combination.
With that information I can plan a shutter type strategy for any situation.
What about EFCS ? (Electronic First Curtain Shutter)
Some cameras enable this hybrid electronic/mechanical shutter technology. Each exposure is started electronically and ended mechanically. There is no shutter shock as no mechanical action takes place before or during exposure.
Several Panasonic cameras including the GM5 do have EFCS.
The FZ1000 does and I think the LX100 does based on my listening to its shutter operation.
The curious thing is that neither of these cameras needs EFCS to prevent shutter shock as they use a leaf shutter which as far as I am aware does not cause the problem. I might be wrong about that though. Although a leaf shutter produces minimal vibration it is located very close to the focus module in the lens so maybe there is an issue there.
The G7 and most M43 cameras do not have EFCS.
Those without EFCS have to use E-Shutter with its attendant problems which include: No shutter speeds longer than 1 second (1/8 at high ISO), banding with fluorescent and some other light sources, no flash, rolling shutter effect with moving subjects and in some cases increased high ISO noise and reduced dynamic range.
As EFCS would appear to be the most versatile current technology for preventing shutter shock I do not understand why Panasonic has it on some cameras but not on others.
Panasonic provides absolutely no explanation about this at all.
Several other camera makers including Olympus do provide EFCS on their MILCs and DSLRs in Live View Mode.
The G7 Owners Manual (page 179) says you can use either the Manual shutter or the E-Shutter but provides no guidance of any description as to WHY you might select one or the other.
In addition there is an absurdly gratuitous warning about the privacy of the subject ending with “Use at your own risk”.
On Page 180 there is a brief note under the heading “Minimising vibration of the shutter”. This refers to the [Shutter Delay] feature.
The text reads “ To reduce the risk of hand shake or shutter vibration shutter is released after the specified time has passed.”
Even allowing for some loss of meaning in translation this provides no help to the user at all.
It is not a means to reduce the effects of hand shake and the instructions give the user no help in deciding when or why [Shutter Delay] should be used.
Even the description is incorrect. The shutter closes at the beginning of the specified time not after the time has passed.
I regard Panasonic’s egregiously obscurantist failure to acknowledge shutter shock as secretive, cowardly and disgraceful.
I believe they would better serve their customers and their own reputation by releasing information papers about shutter shock, discuss openly the measures which the company is taking to manage the problem, indicate the direction of research and development and offer recommendations for shutter shock management with various camera/lens combinations.
It is my view that Panasonic needs to find a universal fix for the shutter shock issue, sooner rather than later.
Whether this be EFCS, high speed E-Shutter or something else is probably immaterial to the camera user.
But it needs to be something which works in every circumstance of usage and can thus be a “set and forget” solution.
As things stand you can see from my Recommendations above that avoiding shutter shock blur with the G7 and similar cameras is convoluted. Some circumstances require E-Shutter, some M-Shutter and others M-Shutter +[Shutter Delay].
I have a great deal of experience working MILCs and still I found it quite difficult to figure out the combination of strategies which gives the best result.
I imagine newcomers to MILC photography will likely just use the M-Shutter all the time and wonder why some of their pictures are not sharp.
Or maybe they will use the E-Shutter then wonder why the flash won’t work, strange bands appear on photos under fluorescent light, the camera won’t set a shutter speed slower than 1 second and their grandchildren appear all bent out of shape in photos.
All the photos have been downsized and compressed for the internet. The originals reveal more information.
All made with the LX100 hand held at various apertures and shutter speeds, most with Auto ISO, Aperture ring on A and Shutter Speed Dial on A.
The interiors used f1.7 which gives nice clear, sharp results. I think this weakens the case for fast primes on M43 (or other) bodies for street shooting.
The LX100 is versatile giving good results indoors and out. I do wish it had a fully articulated monitor for waist level and overhead shots in both landscape and portrait orientation.
|This butcher bird sat uncharacteristically still for more than two seconds so I was able to get a shot with the P900. Pity about no RAW capture though. |
Of all the corporations which make cameras, Nikon may be most heavily reliant on cameras for its income. Most of the others make refrigerators, TVs….. etc….etc with cameras forming a minor division.
One might imagine therefore that Nikon would be the R&D leader in camera technologies. Maybe not, that would probably be Sony, however Nikon has produced some interesting cameras this year.
The mainstay of Nikon’s output continues to be DSLRs.
I have no interest in these as I explained in Chapter 1 of this little series.
But Nikon has the 1 Series of MILCs and also its long running Coolpix line of fixed lens cameras, most of which are zooms.
The curious name “1” for this series of cameras derives from the same quaint logic which led to the “Micro 4/3” name for MILCs with a somewhat larger sensor.
Way back in the bygone days, cathode ray tubes or something like that were used to capture video.
The diameter of the tube, expressed in inches, determined the effective size of the light receptive sensor at the end of the tube.
So the tube which might have been required to house a 17.3x13mm sensor (found in M43 cameras) would have been about 1.33 (4/3) inches.
The tube which might have been required to house a 13.2x8.8mm sensor (found in Nikon 1 cameras) would have been about 1 inch.
Hence the naming by numbers which appear unrelated to the actual product.
Nikon introduced the “1” series in 2011. Right from the start there was a very strange dichotomy between the internal workings and the external form of these cameras as if the team working on the internals had no connection to the team working on the casing and user interface.
The internals have been characterised by outstanding performance with extremely high frame rates featuring continuous AF and predictive AF on every frame.
The ‘V” versions of the 1 Series could be an enthusiast/professional sport/action/bird/wildlife photographers dream if well implemented.
But the casing and user interface has apparently been aimed at “cute teenage Facebook girl” with
Coolpix style compact camera layout, funky colors and jazzy functions.
It appears Nikon doesn’t know what it wants to do with the 1 Series.
Our family had a V2 with 10-100mm lens for a while but it went as soon as the FZ1000 came along with much better picture quality and performance from the same sized sensor.
The latest 1 series offering from Nikon is the J5. This is not a camera which I would consider buying due to the ongoing internal/external dichotomy.
However I am going to nominate it as the Most Interesting camera of 2015.
Why ? Because it has no mechanical shutter. It operates entirely with the electronic shutter.
Why is this interesting ? Because in my view the mechanical focal plane shutter is the curse of modern interchangeable lens cameras and the sooner it disappears the better.
Mechanical shutters create vibration during the exposure which can lead to degradation of image quality in some, not always predictable, circumstances.
Now it appears we have a camera running entirely on E- Shutter which can shoot 20 frames per second with predictive AF and (maybe) EVF refresh on every frame (not sure about that, the V2 couldn’t do it) shutter speeds from 2 minutes to 1/16000 sec and compatibility with flash.
I don’t know if there is a catch to this. Each of the other cameras which (probably) uses the same sensor namely the Canon G7X, G3X, Sony RX100(3), RX10 (1) and Panasonic FZ1000 has a mechanical shutter so maybe the J5 is missing some capability.
Never mind, the fact that it runs entirely without a mechanical shutter makes the J5 interesting and the 1 Series space definitely worth watching.
Some time back I bought a Coolpix P7800, a not-so-compact camera with an excellent lens and quite good picture quality. Unfortunately its performance in terms of operating speed was tediously slow so it did not last long in my camera drawer.
This year Nikon startled the camera world with the P900 and its amazing 83x zoom lens. One member of our household is very keen to make bird photos for which the P900 seemed ideal so we bought one and gave it a good workout over a period of two months.
But the P900 proved to be a sheep in wolfs clothing. That big lens is attached to a Coolpix body with the slow old C2 processor from the P7800 and other Coolpix cameras.
Our birdwatcher has gone back to the FZ1000. It zooms out to an effective E800mm with i-Zoom, has a better EVF, better picture quality and faster operation .
If Nikon really wants to capture the amateur/budget sport/action/bird/wildlife market they need to improve operating and processing speed. They already have the ability to do this. The J5 mentioned above uses the Expeed 5A processor which runs very fast.
So no more Nikons for me this year but I will keep a close eye on developments in the 1 Series and Coolpix lines which I believe have great potential if only the product development people would agree to roll out fully powered products unrestrained by artificial shackles.
But we can’t have that, can we ? They might compete with the DSLRs.
Leica did not get a separate post from me as the brand is somewhat of a niche-within-a-niche player.
I resolved some time ago to never again buy any camera without a built in EVF.
Not counting rebadged Panasonic Lumix models that excludes all Leicas but the recently released Q which has a single focal length 28mm lens on full frame.
In the film days I used compacts with fixed 28 and 35mm lenses. I found the 28mm too wide for general photography with the 35mm focal length being more versatile.
The other problem for Australian buyers is uncertainty about Leica’s commitment to warranty and servicing.
|G7 Control Panel showing the flat top 4 Way Pad and buttons. The little ridge on the right side of the control panel is easily seen in this photo. The thumb support is adequate for a small light camera and its shape allows the thumb easy operation of the rear dial.|
The camera was evaluated with the standard kit 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 (2) lens mounted.
The G7 uses the same menu system as other current Lumix MILCs and high end FZLCs. It is graphically very clear and for the most part well laid out. Navigation is easy. Access to the menus is easy.
There is a Q Menu for user selectable quick access items. [Menu Resume] is available.
The camera is highly configurable. Dial and button functions can be assigned to user preference from a long list of options.
There are a few negatives which prevent a maximum score.
There are a few mystery menu items such as [Constant Preview].
I think it is time for Panasonic to revisit the entire menu/submenu system with a view to breaking out some groups and consolidating others to new submenus. There are, for instance, [Focus], [Shutter] and [Display] items spread across several submenus. Various [Image Quality] items are in the Rec menu but would make more sense to me in their own submenu. I think the current Rec, Custom and Setup menus could be replaced with more meaningful groupings.
Current Panasonic G cams including the G7 do Prepare Phase well.
The Q Menu is user configurable as are several buttons and dials.
Set-and-seemodules are optimally used for prepare Phase items. These include the Drive Mode and
Main Mode dials and the Focus Mode lever. The layout designer has a good understanding of the relationship between Prepare Phase and Capture phase tasks and therefore which modules are best suited to each task group.
The G7 has the best size, shape and configuration of handle of the “Just G” cameras. I rate it with the GH3/4 for comfort and conformity to the natural position of the hand. If I were working on the next version I might locate the shutter button a touch to the left (as viewed by the user) and I might put the rear dial in a wider thumb support. But that would entail making the monitor smaller.
As it stands I rate the G7 as having just about the best possible holding arrangements given the overall size of the body.
The G7 provides excellent viewing via either the EVF or monitor. It really is a pleasure to use.
The monitor is the highly versatile fully articulated type. The EVF provides a large bright, clear and sharp view of the subject. My personal preference would be for a softer rubber material in the eyecup with a more rounded edge for more comfort.
Both EVF and monitor are highly adjustable to personal preference. I find the default EVF contrast too high but minus 5 contrast soon fixes that.
Both the EVF and monitor can be configured to “Monitor style” or “Viewfinder style”. The EVF and monitor display the same information in the same way for a seamless segue between the two.
Extensive data can be displayed (or not if desired) in both the EVF and monitor. This includes peaking (for very accurate manual focus) and zebras (for accurate control of highlight brightness).
|FZ1000. This shows the "rocking saucer" type 4 Way Pad with raised edges, seen on some Panasonic cameras. This type is much easier to locate and operate by feel. In my view Panasonic and other camera makers should standardise on this type.|
An ideal camera allows the user to adjust all primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters while looking continuously through the viewfinder and without having to change grip with either hand. Not many cameras fully meet this standard but the G7 comes close.
It is the first ‘Just G” model to utilise a full twin dial design which is well implemented. Both dials are easy to turn with minimal finger action being required.
With [Direct Focus Area] set, moving the AF box and changing its size are quick and easy.
Adjusting AF<>MF, AFC<>AFS, Changing Mode, adjusting aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation are all quickly and reliably performed without impeding the picture taking process.
There is a little ridge on the far right side of the camera back to prevent the palm accidentally pressing on the rear pad and buttons there. This works well and is an example of the way in which subtle changes can have a big effect on ergonomic characteristics.
The only blemish on this otherwise excellent performance is haptic issues on the 4Way Pad and rear buttons.
The 4Way Pad is of the “4 flat buttons” type which I hoped Panasonic might have abandoned by now.
The FZ1000 utilises the much more easily operated “rocking saucer” type, with a raised edge which is easy to feel. In addition the pad on the FZ1000 has a diameter of 17mm whereas that on the G7 is almost 20mm in diameter.
I fail to understand why they used a larger diameter pad on the smaller camera.
The pad on the G7 is usable but when doing so I am constantly a little unsure if my thumb is in the right place whereas with the FZ1000 I never have any concern about this.
It is an abiding mystery to me that different cameras use different rear pads. They are going to be used by the same humans with the same hands so why the difference ?
In addition the buttons in the rear control panel are not as easy to locate by feel as they should be.
They need slightly more projection. This is a guess but maybe an extra 0.2mm would do the trick.
Enough to make them easy to feel but not so much they will get bumped accidentally.
I would also like to feel a rough surface on the buttons with the Playback button having a very different texture from the Q Menu and Disp buttons.
This is another aspect of design detail where small changes can have a big effect on usability.
I scored the G7 down a few points because of these haptic issues which I think Panasonic could and should fix in mid production.
With its twin dial operation the G7 is easy to use effectively in Review Phase. Scrolling between enlarged frames is easy. The review experience could be improved a bit if Panasonic implemented the “jump to AF point” on zooming in, as seen on some other cameras.
Comment This is a good score for a small ILC, reflecting the generally very good user experience.
If Panasonic could fix the haptic issues the camera would score even higher.
|There was a very large brightness range between direct sunlight on the stained glass windows and the darker parts of the interior. Using the zebras on the windows I applied negative 1.33 stops of exposure compensation then adjusted the darker tones in the RAW file later in Adobe Camera Raw. The little G7 camera has handled the dynamic range decently well. |
I think about and experiment with various camera control systems.
Today’s post is an ergonomic analysis of approaches to the control of Exposure Compensation (EC).
I will use some actual cameras to illustrate points and show that there are ways to achieve optimal control of exposure compensation and ways to get it not-quite-right.
I was stimulated to write this piece by the almost simultaneous release of the Panasonic G7 and GX8 ILCs. Although ergonomically similar these two cameras differ in their approach to the control of exposure compensation.
I have no idea why the designers at Panasonic chose to give each of these M43 cameras a slightly different HMI (human machine interface).
My analysis leads me to the view that one of these systems is optimal, the other not-quite-right.
Principles as applied to cameras
There are four phases of camera use: Setup, Prepare, Capture and Review.
Prepare Phase comes in the minute or few in which the user prepares the camera for a new set of circumstances. For instance shifting from “landscape” to “moving subject” or “hand held street “ to “tripod at night” and so forth. Adjustments in this phase are generally made with the camera held down, away from the eye. In this position the user can see the external parts of the camera and its controls.
Set-and-seemodules (engraved dials or other modules with fixed function such that the setting is visible on the module) are ideal for Prepare Phase.
Capture Phase describes the process of image capture. In this phase the operator is viewing through the EVF (or OVF or monitor) and optimally is able to adjust all primary and secondary exposure and focus parameters without having to lower the camera or alter grip with either hand.
Exposure Compensation is a secondary exposure parameter. (Primary exposure parameters are aperture, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity). As such it should be easily adjusted during Capture Phase.
The ideal control module for this phase is a dial with mode dependent function, which can easily be worked as described above. This is usually described as a Control or Command dial.
Set-and-seemodules are not ideal for Capture Phase for four reasons:
1. The dial is invisible in Capture Phase. The parameter controlled by the dial therefore needs an EVF (+ monitor) readout and the dial will be operated as if it was a Control/Command Dial.
The inscriptions on the dial are visible when they are not required (Prepare Phase) but are invisible when they are required (Capture Phase).
This distinction is highlighted (literally) if the camera has Zebras in the EVF for still photo. Note DSLRs cannot have zebras in the OVF, one reason I no longer use such cameras.
Zebras can give an immediate visual indication of highlight clipping, allowing accurate EC to be applied before exposure. Inscriptions on an EC dial contribute nothing to this process.
2. The opportunity cost of assigning Capture Phase adjustments to Set-and-seedials is that Prepare Phase adjustments are excluded. The G7 has a Drive Mode Dial which is very useful in Prepare Phase but the GX8 cannot have one as the place which a Drive Mode Dial might have occupied is taken up by the EC dial.
3. A twin dial camera (like the G7) becomes a triple dial camera (like the GX8) with two rear dials. Early reports from GX8 owners are that some are happy with this arrangement, others find it overcomplex and awkward. Regardless of an individual’s likes, the triple dial setup is inevitably more complex than twin dials.
My studies of ergonomics indicate that if the job can be done efficiently with two dials, and it can, then three dials is redundant and imposes un-necessary complexity on the HMI.
4. In some locations such as the top right corner of the camera, the EC dial is forever prone to being bumped inadvertently, thereby applying unwanted + or – exposure.
In “safer” locations such as on the GX8 the dial is less likely to be moved accidentally but there is another problem.
If a Set-and-see EC dial is set to, say, +1/3 then it remains there, whether that is appropriate for the current circumstances or not.
If a Control/Command dial is used to set EC it can be configured to default to zero on changing Mode or switching the camera off. This way you always start a photo sequence with EC at zero.
|G7 Well implemented 2 dial system. Exposure Compensation can be directly adjusted with either the front or rear dial.|
Twin Dial system, G7
The G7 is a very configurable camera. Function of the buttons and dials can be assigned to the user’s preference.
For instance I have the front dial change Program shift in P Mode, Aperture in A Mode and Shutter Speed in S Mode.
In each of these Modes I have the rear dial assigned to adjust EC directly. If desired I could switch dial functions. This camera also permits one of the buttons to be used like the ‘alt’ key on a computer to assign different functions to the dials.
The HMI is streamlined, efficient and configurable.
|GX8 Three dials to change values in Capture Phase but .....oops......... there is no place for the Drive Mode dial.|
Triple dial system GX8
On the GX8 the EC dial does EC and that is immutable.
You get more dials and therefore more complexity yet the Drive Mode Dial has gone and you cannot reassign function of the EC dial.
The control system on the GX8 works, no doubt about that, but it uses three dials when two will do the job more efficiently and you lose the Drive Mode dial.
This is my regular camera. It has zebras. It has a ‘one rear dial’ system with a front lever around the shutter button which can be used like a front dial for some functions.
I have it configured so the rear dial adjusts aperture in A Mode and Shutter speed in S Mode. I have assigned EC to the front lever. This is a fast, efficient system although it has a front/rear functional relationship which is the opposite of that which I use on the G7.
The use of Set-and-see dials for Capture Phase functions is not optimal on a modern camera. This applies particularly to Shutter Speed dials and Exposure Compensation dials.
I have discussed Shutter Speed dials elsewhere on the blog.
This post discusses Exposure Compensation dials.
I regard both as manifestations of a design process which preferences style over function.
|Panasonic G7. I noticed on reviewing this image that the message on the pale blue banner mid left reads "A curious world of nostalgia awaits". I thought this vaguely appropriate to head this post. If Olympus was a little less concerned with nostalgia and substantially more concerned with improving ergonomics and the user experience, their cameras might have wider appeal.|
By the way this casual indoor snapshot illustrates that the M43 format sensor need no longer be regarded as second best in any way. Both the sensor and the $100 kit lens perform very well indeed.
The main business at Olympus and the source of profitable operations is medical imaging equipment.
However the company has a long and continuing tradition of camera making.
Like other camera makers Olympus has drastically cut its output of compacts to concentrate on the Micro Four Thirds system of ILCs.
This has apparently been successful with the camera division posting a profit recently for the first time in years.
I think it is fair to say that Olympus has long sought to present cameras which have been deliberately “different” in some way to the mainstream CanoNikonPentax SLR style models. In the film days Olympus strove to make its cameras smaller than others with some success particularly from the “Pen” half frame film compacts.
In the digital era Olympus dared to be different with its “Four Thirds” DSLRs which used a smaller sensor than the market leaders. This failed basically because sensor technology at the time made the 21.5mm diagonal sensors uncompetitive with the more popular 27-28mm ones from other DSLR makers.
In 2008 Olympus teamed up with Panasonic to introduce the Micro Four Thirds system. This is a Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens camera system also using the 21.5mm sensor. This has had more success but the going has been hard for Olympus.
Part of the problem has of course been the burden of introducing a totally new system right at the start of the global financial crisis. But I think part of it is Olympus’ ongoing determination to be different from the opposition yet romantically wedded to the myth of past glories. One manifestation of this was a long string of digital Pen cameras none of which had a built in EVF.
My first foray into the Olympus M43 system was the purchase of an EM-5 when it was released, together with several lenses and the accessory handle which I discovered I needed in order to hold the thing securely.
The EM-5 polarised opinion among those who used it.
It was hailed by some owners as the best camera they had ever used.
Others including myself were less enthusiastic. I found the menus incomprehensible and I have a great deal of experience decoding camera menus. I found the HMI (Human Machine Interface) awkward and un-necessarily fussy to use.
So I sold the EM-5 and have not returned to Olympus since.
I notice from reviews of the latest models that the menu mess is still in place and possibly worse with new items having been added without consolidating previous items. The only model with a handle fully incorporated into the body is the EM-1.
Would I buy an EM-1 ? I have certainly given it some consideration. But almost 2 years after release and presumably near the end of its model cycle, the EM-1 is still more expensive, even with cashbacks, than the new G7 which I did buy and which in my view has better ergonomics together with at least equal image quality and performance.
Olympus also makes the Stylus-1, a fixed zoom lens camera (FZLC) which looks really interesting on the specification sheet with a 10.7x zoom in a very compact yet well appointed body. Unfortunately according to all the reviews I have read, picture quality is not up to expectations for the 9.3mm sensor size.
They also make waterproof/shock proof/tough cameras which would have obvious appeal for users with specific requirements.
So, no Olympus for me this year.
|G7 Highlight recovery, Extended ISO 100, ACR 9.1.1 The pretty magenta/pink color is entirely an unwanted artefact.|
Many Panasonic Lumix cameras have a regular ISO range with the option to select [Extended ISO] in the Rec Menu.
For reasons beyond my comprehension low extended ISO settings can cause problems with image integrity if highlight recovery in Adobe Camera Raw is utilised.
I tested three cameras for this today. The test consisted of applying plus exposure compensation in 0.3 EV step increments until the image was obviously very overexposed in the EVF and monitor.
In Adobe Camera Raw 9.1.1 I dragged the Exposure and Highlights sliders to the left for a best subjective result.
|G7 Same amount of highlight recovery as the top photo, ISO 200|
* At ISO 200 the camera handled +3 EV steps of overexposure very well. With highlight recovery a good result was achieved.
* At ISO 100 the +2.66 EV image went a bright magenta/pink color when highlights were recovered.
|LX100 Extended ISO 100 Loss of detail with highlight recovery|
|LX100 Highlight recovery with ISO 200|
* At ISO 200 the camera handled EV+2.66 steps with no problems. Recovered highlights looked good with no color cast or other problems.
* At ISO 100 there was no color cast but the amount of detail able to be recovered was markedly reduced.
* At ISO 125 highlight recovery from +2.0 stops gave no problems.
* At ISO 125 highlight recovery from +2.3 stops gave a slight blue color cast.
* At ISO 80 and +2.0 EV there was a small amount of magenta/blue color shift after highlight recovery.
For general photography with each of these three cameras I do not use Extended [low] ISO settings.
For special situations where I know there is limited subject brightness range and highlight recovery will not be required and I want absolute maximum resolution, I set the minimum Extended [low] ISO available.
Auto ISO does not utilise the Extended Low ISO settings.
Overall the two cameras with a 21.5mm sensor (although that of the LX100 is cropped to 19.2mm) allowed slightly more highlight recovery than the FZ1000 with the 15.9mm sensor.
|Iceland landscape. Made with a Panasonic Lumix LX100. Mirrorless but not an ILC.|
I call cameras of this type "Fixed Zoom Lens" (FZLC)
Camera makers have a penchant for strange names.
Witness Nikon calling an entire new camera system the “1 Series”
Or Oly/Pana calling a new imaging system “Micro Four Thirds”.
Or most of them deciding to stick the letter “X” in the name of their cameras thereby confusing many of their actual or potential customers.
Or Panasonic calling all its cameras “Lumix”. This seems very odd to me. Panasonic spent years building global recognition of the “Panasonic” brand name and in 2008 changed the name of the corporation from “Matsushita Electric Industrial” to “Panasonic”.
But Panasonic cameras bear the name “Lumix”, which I suspect many potential buyers would not associate with the Panasonic brand. Maybe they wanted the camera name to suggest the working association which Panasonic has with Leica. Both names begin with “L” and Panasonic uses a stylised [L] logo on its cameras.
I still think that using the name “Lumix” is a bit strange. I imagine a customer choosing between one model labelled “Canon” (high brand recognition) and another model labelled “Lumix” (low or nil brand recognition). Which will they select ?
In 2008 Panasonic and Olympus introduced a new type of camera which allowed lenses to be interchanged but which dispensed with the flipping mirror, focus screen, pentaprism and submirror focus module of the established DSLR type.
But nobody agreed on a name for this new camera type.
It was referred to by some as “Compact System Camera” which made no sense as some of them are not particularly compact and some DSLRs are quite compact.
One well known vendor calls the type “Mirrorless System Camera” which makes more sense.
Other names such as “Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens” (EVIL) have hopefully passed from use.
The two key features of the type are that they take interchangeable lenses and they operate without the mirror and other stuff inside a DSLR.
So I call it Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC).
The Consumer Electronics Association (based in USA) has recently endorsed the terms “Mirrorless” and “Interchangeable Lens Camera”.
Hopefully this simple and logical nomenclature will become widespread.
But Panasonic has yet to get the message.
The company has been calling it a “Digital Single Lens Mirrorless” (DSLM) type.
This makes no sense to me.
* Calling a camera “digital” is a waste of descriptive capability. Panasonic makes no other type.
* The term “single lens” is a reference to the DSLR (digital single lens reflex) type.
The “single lens” descriptor distinguished this type from the twin lens reflex which was popular in the mid part of the 20thCentury but is no longer made, so the description is pointless.
Worse it is confusing, suggesting that maybe the camera has but a single lens when in fact it can accept any one of many.
The term DSLR makes no more sense but is now so entrenched by time that a change would serve no useful purpose. In due course this type will decline in popularity due to image degradation caused by vibration produced by the flipping mirror and mechanical focal plane shutter.
The discussion is not academic.
It is not possible to effectively market a product unless the people who make, sell and buy it all clearly understand the name of the thing.
|G7 Even with E-Shutter the camera manages high subject brightness range well. There is direct sun on the skylights and very little light at all on the legs of the diners at the bottom of the frame. Puling up the dark tones in Adobe Camera Raw does increase noise but not to an objectionable level in my view. |
The Panasonic Lumix G7 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC).
MILCs are, or may be, prone to degradation of image quality with some lenses at some focal lengths and some shutter speeds due to vibration produced by the mechanical focal plane shutter.
Below is an excerpt from the Digital Photography Review G7 Review of July 2015 by Richard Butler and Samuel Spencer.
However, the camera's shutter appears to shake (and soften) the image, especially at shutter speeds of around 1/160th of a second. This can be eliminated (and its imapact assessed) by using the camera'selectonic shutter mode - either by specifying electronic shutter or by engaging 'silent mode.' The resultant images are sharper but risk exhibiting rolling shutter, if used with fast-moving subjects, and come at some cost to dynamic range and a slight increase in noise at the highest ISO settings.
I can confirm from my own tests that DPR is correct about the Mechanical Shutter causing image softness, particularly on tripod, at least with the 14-42mm zoom lens which I used.
I also ran my own tests to discover how much of an issue is the loss of dynamic range and increased noise at high ISO settings with the E-Shutter. See E-Shutter Noise Tests, below.
I am now starting to read reports of the same problem in the new ultra high Pixel count full frame DSLRs. Even with mirror lock up and tripod mounting the disturbance caused by the focal plane shutter opening to commence exposure can be enough to impair the resolution of fine detail.
I mention this to clarify that this is not a Panasonic or M43 problem but potentially an issue for any camera with a mirror and/or focal plane shutter which moves then stops suddenly immediately prior to exposure. I have not heard of any case where an in lens diaphragm type leaf shutter has caused sufficient vibration to impair image detail but I guess it could be possible.
From my perspective as a consumer, Panasonic’s solution to this problem appears to be
a) Pretend it is not happening and refuse to acknowledge the issue but simultaneously
b) provide a solution in the form of E-Shutter.
For reasons unknown to me Panasonic provides Electronic First Curtain Shutter (EFCS) on some models but not others. The G7 does not have it.
As far as I am aware the only Lumix ILCs to have EFCS are the GM1, GM5 and GF7. These cameras use a small, light focal plane shutter driven by stepper motor giving a fastest speed of only 1/500 second.
In addition Panasonic provides no help or indeed any information at all about when and why the user might use one or the other shutter type.
Mechanical Shutter (M-Shutter)
* Enables shutter speeds slower than 1 second.
* No banding with fluorescent light.
* No rolling shutter effect with movement.
Disadvantages of M-Shutter
* Image degradation due to shutter shock with some lenses, focal lengths and shutter speeds. Every lens has to be tested separately for shutter shock image degradation.
* Audible noise of operation.
* Super fast shutter speeds not available.
Electronic Shutter (E-Shutter)
Note:E-Shutter is always used for motion picture (video) capture.
* No shutter shock problem with any lens.
* Silent operation if required (switch electronic beeps off).
* Very high shutter speeds available.
Disadvantages of E-Shutter
* No shutter speeds longer than 1 second at low ISO, 1/8 second at high ISO.
* Not compatible with flash.
* Banding in fluorescent light.
* Rolling shutter effect (distortion) with movement.
* Potential for increased digital noise and reduced dynamic range at high ISO settings.
* You must use the M-Shutter when the E-Shutter is inoperative.
This is when using flash and with shutter speeds longer than 1 second. With long shutter speeds on tripod or other support utilise the [Shutter Delay] feature to prevent camera and/or shutter shake and set 2 second timer delay or activate the shutter remotely.
* On the G7 the fastest M-Shutter speed is 1/4000, E-Shutter goes up to 1/16000 sec.
* Burst rate varies with shutter type. For the Panasonic G7 see Page 182 of the Owners Manual for advanced features.
E-Shutter noise tests, Lumix G7
In order to increase scanning speed camera makers may use reduced bit rate capture with E-Shutter.
With Panasonic M43 the standard bit rate is 12. Bit rate for E-shutter may be 10. I say “may be” because manufacturers including Panasonic adopt an obscurantist position on such things.
I photographed a subject with plenty of highlight and shadow at ISO settings from 100 to 25600, using the M-Shutter then the E-Shutter.
I compared the resulting files in adobe Camera Raw both at ACR default settings and adjusted for best result in my subjective judgement trying to achieve a balance of noise reduction, sharpness, color and contrast.
I found no significant difference between the E-Shutter and M-Shutter results at Low and medium ISO settings.
At very high ISO settings I noticed the M-Shutter files had
a) Darker near black dark tones and
b) Less noise in the near black dark tones.
This was noticeable at ISO 12800 and 25600 and evident only on pixel peeping at 100% on screen.
For general photography without flash the G7 E-Shutter does the job quietly, without the risk of shutter shock and without noticeable adverse effects on picture quality.
I compared my recent ISO 12800 photos made with the G7 camera with my scans of 15 year old photos made with ISO 400 black and white and color film.
The G7 12800 RAW pictures have more detail and less grain after processing in ACR.
Minor quibbles about dark tone noise levels at very high ISO settings are of little significance in the greater scheme of things.
|Panasonic G7. This is a crop from the full frame below. Even though the G7 has "only" 16 Mpx and for this photo is "only" using the $100 kit lens it is capable of recording an amazing amount of information with excellent rendition of fine details and very good highlight and shadow detail.|
|Panasonic Lumix G7 with kit lens|
Matsushita Electric/National/Panasonic is a global electronics and technology giant making all kinds of products for consumers and industry.
Their first foray into imaging appears to have been with a VHS camcorder in 1985. The NV-M1 was described as being “very light, only 2.5 Kg”.
How technology has changed. The current GM5 makes better video and at 211grams, has less than a tenth the mass of the NV-M1.
Panasonic continues to make camcorders for consumer and professional purposes.
The first still cameras and the first to bear the “Lumix” sub brand were the LC5 and F7 of 2001, both fixed zoom lens types. These cameras featured Leica branded lenses signalling the relationship between Panasonic and Leica which continues today.
The first Lumix interchangeable lens camera (ILC) was the L1, a 4/3 format DSLR of 2006. This was the first DSLR with live view.
The L1 featured retro controls and faux rangefinder styling without the usual DSLR pentaprism hump.
I think someone senior in Panasonic must really like the idea of the L1 as several modern models reprise the styling and Panasonic’s own promotional material has several times harkened back to the L1.
In his introduction to the DPR review of the follow up L10 model in 2007 Simon Joinson wrote “…
The L1 failed to translate all that launch interest into actual sales.”
The camera and indeed the whole 4/3 DSLR enterprise were not commercially successful, so Panasonic dropped the idea and with Olympus launched the Micro Four Thirds mirrorless interchangeable lens system in 2008.
The first model of this project was the G1 which looked and mostly operated like a very small DSLR.
I bought a G1 and got my first experience of bad camera ergonomics, in due course leading to the creation of this blog.
Since then Panasonic has invested considerable energy and presumably a great deal of R&D funding into the M43 line and also its ongoing series of fixed zoom cameras.
In the last few years Lumix model output has been prolific with Panasonic apparently emulating Sony to some extent, releasing multiple slightly different variations on a few basic themes presumably hoping some will find favour with buyers.
In the last year or so we have seen new models in the G, GM, GX and GF series of MILCs.
In the Fixed Zoom lens group there have been the FZ1000, FZ300, TZ70 and LX100.
The product development people at Panasonic have been very busy.
Some months ago I had decided I was so pleased with my FZ1000 and LX100 fixed zoom lens duo that I would not buy any ILC this year.
But then I got intrigued by the G7 and wanted to explore its ergonomics so I bought one and am currently reviewing it.
The G7 is a good, even very good camera but it is not perfect. It lacks the EFCS offered by several competitors and there are some haptic issues with the control panel.
I have decided to pass on the GX8. I am not a fan of the faux rangefinder style for ergonomic reasons and I have already posted my negative analysis of the dedicated Exposure Compensation dial. Plus I get picture quality very close to that of the GX8 at a much more attractive price point with the G7.
The FZ300 does not appeal. It has the same sensor and lens as the FZ200 which our family had for a while two years ago. We found the picture quality disappointing.
I have a sense that Panasonic and to some extent the whole camera industry are busily making stop gap products at the present time.
Sure, there are innovative technologies being introduced.
DFD autofocus is one which I have found really works well. Advanced lens design and manufacture is another. This has allowed, for instance, the excellent lens on the FZ1000 to be produced.
Many models from several makers are putting more pixels on the sensor. Fair enough although high pixel count/small pixel pitch is actually causing problems not seen with lower pixel counts.
Sony is causing a stir with several new technologies in the A7R(2) and the new high speed RS sensors in the RX100(4) and RX10(2).
There are ongoing improvements to image quality, performance and capability, all true.
But I think the big restraint on development right now for high quality, high pixel count/small pixel pitch ILCs, which includes most of them, is the focal plane shutter which clatters about inside the body impairing image sharpness.
Panasonic’s answer to this is mixed. Some cameras have an Electronic First Curtain Shutter (EFCS) but other do not.
All have an Electronic Shutter (which is required for video) but the use of this for still photos brings its own problems.
When Panasonic and the industry as a whole can find a reliable, set-and-forget, use-all-the-time solution to the shutter shock issue I think there will be a big advance in the capability and usability of our cameras.
Samsung is a giant business conglomerate (chaebol) which makes just about everything from ships to chips including gazillions of smartphones. I don’t know why they bother with cameras.
I have some history with Samsung MILCs beginning with the NX10 which I bought in 2010 with various zoom lenses. I thought the NX10 had much better ergonomics than the Lumix G1.
I subsequently got an NX11 then NX20. Over a period of several years I owned and used quite a few lenses as well. These cameras all used the 28mm diagonal sensor.
For a while Samsung appeared to lose interest in the NX line so I switched back to the M4/3 system which was evolving more rapidly.
A year ago Samsung released the much larger NX1 with a set of equally large pro style wide aperture zooms. This camera and its big zooms are not much smaller than full frame gear such as the Nikon D750 with f2.8 zooms.
Even without the various problems which affected the initial rollout I would not be interested in the NX1.
If I wanted to go up in format from M4/3 it would be to the Sony FE mount full frame system not any system with a 27-28mm sensor.
Pentax was once a major player in the film SLR market producing a series of models which were very popular with amateur/enthusiast users but never quite succeeding in the professional market.
Pentax lost momentum when it was slow to adopt autofocus in the late 1980’s and has never recovered. There must be a loyal band of Pentaxians out there continuing to support the DSLRs which the company continues to make.
My last Pentax purchase was an ME super SLR in 1984. Nothing since then has attracted my interest.
The K-01 mirrorless camera of 2012 was a complete disaster.
The Q series of mirrorless ILCs uses the small 9.3mm sensor which makes much more sense behind a fixed zoom lens than a series of interchangeable lenses.
I had a Ricoh GR1 film compact at one stage, I think it was the GR1v, with a 28mm lens. It was quite a nice camera but I found the lens too wide for general photographic use.
Ricoh continues to use the GR designation for its digital compacts which have an enthusiastic band of supporters. Unfortunately they still have the 28mm (equivalent) lens and no built in EVF.
|G7 E-Shutter You can see there are different types of light source here. Sun at the top, then something with a magenta color next down. The mid level looks a bit green maybe due to the color on the walls. There is a yellow color cast at the bottom. This shot used 1/100 second, but others in the series used intermediate speeds such as 1/80 and 1/125 with no sign of banding on any of them. I have no idea what type of technology the interior lights use.|
The G7 is a MILC with a mechanical focal plane shutter which can cause loss of sharpness with some lenses at some focal lengths at some shutter speeds.
The Electronic Shutter prevents blurring but brings other problems. One of these is banding under fluorescent and possibly other light sources such as LED.
The Owners Manual has this brief and not very helpful note on Page 179:
“When the electronic shutter is used under fluorescent or LED lighting, etc., horizontal
stripes may appear on the picture. In such cases, lowering the shutter speed may
reduce the effect of the horizontal stripes.”
There is no explanation about the reason for the “stripes” or any explanation of the connection between shutter speed and the “stripes” or any information about the technology of the E-Shutter at all.
I think this represents disgraceful dereliction of Panasonic’s duty to communicate with its customers who are after all the reason for its continuing existence.
I tested the G7 under fluorescent light using standard Australian 50hz alternating current power supply. I used shutter speeds from 1/8 to 1/800 second in 1/3 EV step increments.
I repeated the test under the LED lights which happen to be in my study.
|E-Shutter 1/50 sec. 1/25 and 1/100 sec look the same|
I found no banding with the LED lights. Presumably some other type of LED light could cause banding but I have no knowledge of any details about this.
Under fluorescent light I found:
* At 1/25 second or slower there was no sign of banding. (the slowest available shutter speed is 1 second at low ISO settings, 1/8 second at high ISO settings)
* At 1/50 and 1/100 second there was no sign of banding, but there was banding at the intermediate speeds, 1/30 (very faint), 1/40, 1/60, 1/80.
* At 1/125 and faster there was banding at all speeds, becoming more prominent at higher speeds.
|G7 E-Shutter 1/125 sec. Faster speeds show more obvious banding.|
When using the E-Shutter in situations where it appears there is or may be a problematic light source the appropriate action appears to be either
a) Make some test shots and inspect for any sign of banding when reviewing on the monitor.
b) Turn the Mode Dial to S and select 1/25, 1/50 or 1/100 second (may be different in countries running AC at different hz) depending on requirements to manage camera shake.
I have done quite a lot of indoor photography under a range of mixed lighting sources and not had a banding problem unless I went looking for it as for the tests reported here.
|This photo was made with a Sony A7, tripod mounted, timer delay shutter release, EFCS, 24-70mm lens.............or ..........maybe it was a quick hand held shot with a micro four thirds camera and $100 kit zoom. Can you tell ?|
Almost last but by no means least in this little series we come to Sony.
Like Panasonic, Sony entered the imaging business with camcorders initially using the Sony developed Betamax tape format.
The Handycam label was introduced in 1985 and quickly became synonymous with any portable consumer video camera.
The first Sony Mavica (Magnetic Video Camera) was introduced in 1981. This was an electronic still video camera. This sounds like an oxymoron but it used video technology to produce still photos. The Mavica was photographically quite sophisticated with SLR design and interchangeable lenses.
It was the first electronic still camera although it produced analog images from a CCD sensor.
The Sony Cybershot DSC-D700 appeared in 1998. This was a true digital camera.
It weighed 900 grams, had a fixed zoom lens, TTL viewfinder and a full suite of controls for the expert user. Sony was announcing its intention to be a serious player in the digital still photo camera market.
In 2005, Sony formed a relationship with Konica Minolta to jointly develop DSLRs. All the Minolta DSLR assets were transferred to Sony in 2006.
The first Sony branded product of this venture was the A100 DSLR of 2006. This was followed by many models using the Minolta A mount, using both 28mm and 43mm sensors.
Although Canon had in past years used a fixed pellicle mirror on some specialised SLRs, Sony brought the technology to consumer A mount DSLRs using an EVF instead of the traditional optical viewfinder.
Sony’s first mirrorless ILCs were the NEX 5 and NEX 3 of 2010. These cameras introduced the new “E” lens mount and NEX label which Sony abandoned in 2014, deciding to refer to all its ILCs as “Alpha” models.
Thus buyers were faced with multiple manifestations of “Alpha” cameras, leading to confusion all round.
There were A Mount full frame, A Mount APS-C, and E Mount APS-C. Soon along came the FE mount which somehow fitted a full frame sensor behind the E mount, the inner diameter of which was no larger than the diagonal of the sensor.
It appears that Sony has overtaken Canon as the most innovative camera maker right now.
Sony has been especially energetic and productive in the development of new sensor technologies and the engineering of compact camera bodies.
Unfortunately this technology has not always, and I would suggest not often, found expression in good cameras.
From my perspective as a consumer I see two main issues with Sony’s offerings:
The first, as it seems to me anyway, is an emphasis on technological advancement with ergonomics and the HMI (Human Machine Interface) a secondary consideration.
So we got products like the RX1 of 2012 which showcased Sony’s ability to squeeze a full frame sensor and a 35mm f2 lens into a tiny compact body. No doubt this was a significant technical achievement but with no inbuilt EVF and no handle I would not want to own or use one.
More mainstream is the RX100 series now in Mk4 version. There is an RX100 (original) in our house but I never use it and neither does its owner. It is so small that it is not comfortable to hold and the controls are fiddly. A recent reviewer of the RX100(4) described the controls and the pop up EVF as “dinky”, meaning attractively (or disappointingly, depending on your expectations) small and neat.
I made the mockup camera (shown in the photos) which is marginally larger than the RX100 (3) or (4) as a proof of concept exercise. I showed that with a more ergonomic design it is possible to have a camera in the same size range as the RX100 but with a useful handle, decent thumb support, Mode Dial + Control Dial control system like a DSLR or good MILC, built in always ready EVF, fully articulated monitor, JOG lever and large buttons.
It’s all about ergonomic design which could easily be improved in the RX100 series. The cameras are small, neat, smooth, stylish even, but not engaging to use.
|On the left RX100, original version. On the right proof of concept mockup. Yes there is a better way ergonomically.|
The layout of controls on the RX10 (1) and (2) is an ergonomic muddle.
There is an aperture ring on the lens, like that of a traditional manual control lens from the film era.
But the RX100 is neither traditional nor manual.
It is a modern electronic camera with all electronic operation. The aperture ring on the lens does not work the lens aperture at all. It just actuates a motor driven mechanism. This would be more efficiently operated using a well located and designed front dial like the one on the Panasonic G7 which I am currently reviewing.
People may well say they “like” the aperture ring but the dial does the job with fewer, less complex actions.
The RX10 has an LCD information panel on the top plate just like a DSLR. But it is not a DSLR.
The LCD panel on a DSLR is there because it is difficult or impossible to present all that information in the optical viewfinder.
The RX10 is a mirrorless camera. All the relevant information is available if required in the EVF and/or monitor. The LCD panel is redundant. Worse, it is occupying camera real estate which would better be allocated to the Mode Dial. That would allow a Drive Mode dial to go where the Mode Dial now resides, for a more coherent user interface.
Next it has an Exposure Compensation dial on the far right side of the top plate. These things are a curse. There is one on the Panasonic LX100 which I have used a lot. It gets bumped about 50% of times I take the camera out of its bag. Plus the dial is visible in Prepare Phase of use when you don’t need to see it, but invisible in Capture Phase when you do need to see it.
The ergonomically preferred and much more effective alternative is a well designed twin dial layout for which there is plenty of space on the RX10.
There are ergonomic issues with the handle. It is thin, with the shutter button perched right on the tip.
This forces the palm of the right hand away from the right side of the camera, weakening the grip.
This is exacerbated by the thumb support location at the far right of the control panel when the panel is plenty wide enough for a diagonal thumb support Canon DSLR style, which gives a more relaxed but stronger hold.
When Sony introduced the A7 series of full frame cameras based on the FE mount they used a completely different handle, control layout and user interface from the A99, the equivalent A mount full frame model.
Granted the A7 cameras are smaller due to their mirrorless design but the hands which hold and operate these cameras remain obstinately the same size no matter which model they hold. With the second round of A7 cameras they changed the handle for better holding and operating but further improvements to the HMI are needed.
The other problem which seems to be endemic at Sony is a record of starting models and model lines then abandoning them.
For instance the R1 of 2005 was a very innovative large sensor, long zoom fixed lens camera with high specification. It soon drew a cohort of fans who eagerly awaited the next exciting instalment of the (hoped for) series…..and waited…..and waited……nine years until 2014 when the RX10 arrived.
Arising from the collaboration with Minolta, the full frame DSLR A900 was released in 2008. This showed promise as the start of a potential line of conventional flipping mirror DSLRs. Sony supporters bought the camera and lenses and waited for the next model in the line to come along. ……and waited…..and waited…….and are out of luck because no direct successor ever materialised.
What did come along in 2012 was the SLT A99, a fixed pellicle mirror full frame camera on the A mount.
Well, OK maybe buyers thought the future is with SLT technology. Maybe Sony thought so too at some stage, but there has been no follow up for the A99.
Indeed there has been much of nothing much in the way of follow up SLT models using either full frame or APS-C sensor.
I would guess the SLT line is probably dead and that is probably a good thing. I would not and did not buy any camera with a fixed mirror gathering dirt and dust between the lens and sensor. Yes, I know it can be cleaned but why put it there in the first place when alternative mirrorless technologies are and were available ?
Indeed it appears the fate of the A mount is in doubt. I recently read a report of an interview with Sony execs in which they were described as “evasive” when asked about the future of the A mount.
I am just a consumer or in the case of Sony a non consumer of cameras so I know nothing of the discussions which lead to the product development decisions which in due course appear as products.
But from my perspective as a, …..well…… potential consumer it looks to me as though Sony has backed itself into a difficult corner with regard to its ILCs.
The Minolta A mount is likely obsolete and probably was on arrival in Sony land. So they need to get out of that and go all mirrorless which they have declared to be the corporate intent. Fair enough but the way they are going about this seems a bit strange to me.
First they created the E mount for the NEX series with 28mm (diagonal) APS-C sensor.
The E mount has an internal diameter of about 43mm which is large enough for the 28mm sensor. It is not over large however. The M43 mount has an internal diameter only slightly smaller at about 40mm, but a substantially smaller sensor with 21.5mm diagonal. That works well on M43 and allows lenses to be built with a rear element of slightly greater diameter than the sensor. The Canon EF mount also allows large rear lens elements to be designed for full frame.
Anyway, in due course Sony’s clever engineers figured out how to fit a full frame (43mm) sensor into the E mount. They have made it work too, much to the surprise of some naysayers who said it couldn’t be done.
However I read a recent interview with a Sigma exec who was reported as saying that Sigma would like to make lenses for mirrorless ILCs but It’s a bit more difficult to make ART (Sigma’s premium line) lenses for the Sony FE system because of the not so large diameter of the mount. We don’t know why Sony did this. Likely because the E mount was meant for APS-C first and only after that they did use it for FF too.
So it looks as though Sony will abandon the A mount, keep the E mount for its “amateur” (erstwhile NEX) interchangeable lens camera lines and use the FE system for the “advanced/professional” ILC models.
We shall see how all that works out.
I will stay well clear of Sony until the dust settles, assuming that ever happens.
I nearly forgot: I actually did buy a Sony camera last year. The DSLR look-a-like, Alpha ILC-E, A3500 became available new, retail, for 300 bucks with a lens. I bought one to see for myself whether Sony could put a decent ILC on the market for that incredibly low price.
It turns out they could not. The A3500 came with so many compromises to features, performance, ergonomics and the whole user experience that I decided the camera was not worth buying at any price.
Anyway, in typical Sony fashion that potential product line has not seen further development.
Not yet anyway. You never know with Sony. The problem, I suspect, is that maybe they don’t know either.
Last and I have to say in the scheme of things least, we come to Sigma. Sigma once made inexpensive lenses for ILCs, using low price as a selling point. A few years ago they changed strategy, confined manufacture to Japan and started to specialise in optics at the high end of the quality spectrum. Apparently these lenses are very good.
They make the Foveon triple layer sensor which has resolution advantages over standard Bayer pattern sensors at low ISO settings.
They also make the dp Quattro set of four cameras utilising the Foveon sensor. These cameras are the strangest things I have ever seen and they win my Camera Ergonomics special reverse award as the most ergonomically peculiar cameras you can buy. I even made a mockup of one to experience what it was like to hold and try to understand how it might be operated.