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The independent source for study and review of camera ergonomics.

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    GX8 + 12-35mm

    When you get a new camera the Setup Menu is actually the place to start. However I changed the order for this little series because the big user interface issues arise around AF control, Fn button functions and Q menu assignments.


    Setup Menu


    Clock Set / World Time / Travel date    There is nothing much for me to say here. These are self explanatory.


    Wi-Fi  The Instructions have an extensive discourse on Wi-Fi starting on Page 285. I have nothing to add.


    Beep  This is all fairly self explanatory. Some users may be unaware that the E-Shutter being electronic is completely silent, any sounds being artificial and controlled through this menu item.


    Live View Mode  This adjustment applies only to the monitor. (‘Live view screen’)  Page 76 of the Instructions. Panasonic says that the 60 fps setting ‘displays movements smoother’  but uses more power. I use the 30 fps setting because I am usually viewing through the LVF for moving subjects.


    Monitor Display   NOTE !!  When you look through the viewfinder this item changes to [Viewfinder].  Some reviewers and users are unaware of this, not helped by Panasonic’s obscurantist approach to finding the LVF adjustment.


    Both the monitor and LVF can be configured to individual preference with adjustments for Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Red Tint and Blue Tint.


    I find the monitor looks good with all settings at default but the LVF requires Brightness +6, Contrast -6, Saturation -1, Red Tint 0, Blue Tint +1. These settings suit my eyes and  high subject brightness range subject conditions, typical of Australia. Others will have slightly different color sensitivity.


    Monitor Luminance  You can have Auto, Level 1 or Level 2. I leave it at Auto which seems to work well enough.


    Economy  Sub menus are [Sleep Mode] and [Auto LVF/Monitor Off]. Default is 5 minutes to auto sleep mode for each. Obviously for reduced power consumption you would set shorter times although I find 1 minute inconveniently quick.  


    USB Mode  See Page 79 of the Instructions.


    TV Connection  See Pages 80-81 of the Instructions.


    Menu Resume  Set this ON so the Menus open at the last used, and therefore probably most frequently used item.


    Menu Background  Take your pick from 4 options.


    Menu Information  You might want to have this on while learning the camera, then declutter the screens by turning it off.


    Version Disp. This is where you see which Firmware version your body and lens are running currently.


    Self Timer Auto Off     Definitely set this one to ON. The self timer will self cancel when you switch the camera off.


    Reset settings  Pages 82-83 of the Instructions.


    Pixel Refresh  Page 83.


    Sensor Cleaning  The Instructions say this is to ‘blow off’ the dust and debris on the front cover of the sensor. Presumably this is an oddity of translation from Japanese as dust removal is by the usual method of vibration of the front sensor cover element. This is done automatically when the camera is powered on and any other time via this menu item.


    Demo Mode  This is a bit of a mystery, with no description in my copy of the Instructions. It appears to be a promo of the new ‘Post Focus’ function.


    Format  Always format a new card in the camera or a card which has been in another camera.


    Rec Menu


    Photo Style  This is where you set the characteristics  of out of camera JPGs. There are plenty of presets such as standard, vivid, natural  etc. You can also make a Custom Photo Style from any of the presets by pressing the down cursor button and entering your own settings for the parameters.


    For the record my Custom Settings are Contrast -2, Sharpness +2, Noise Reduction -5, Saturation +1.


    I live in Australia where clear skies and high subject brightness range are common hence the slightly reduced contrast.


    Panasonic has a habit of setting over enthusiastic Noise Reduction by default so all my Panasonic cameras end up with the lowest possible NR setting.


    Filter Setttings  This item takes you to the same place as the Creative Control setting on the  Mode Dial. I don’t know why you can get there in two different ways. However you can allocate ‘Filter Select’ to a Fn button so maybe that is why it appears in the Rec Menu.


    Aspect Ratio   The GX8 does not have a multi aspect ratio sensor so you only get one ‘real’ aspect ratio which is 4:3. Anything else is a simple crop.


    Picture Size  You just spent a lot of money to get the latest 20Mp M43 sensor so why you would record at any lower level is beyond me. But you can.  Ex Tele. Conv requires a reduced image size.


    Quality  You can have 2 levels of JPG, RAW or both. I cannot see any reason you would opt for the lower of the two levels of JPG. I notice some people on user forums do so then wonder why their pictures are not as expected. Note that many camera functions are only available for JPG output.


    This is a good item to allocate to a Fn button. I have it on the ‘Delete/Return’ button, bottom left on the control panel.


    AFS/AFF     Page 142-143 of the Instructions. This is where you decide whether the camera will do AFS = AF Single or AFF= AF Flexible when the Focus Mode Lever is at the AFS/AFF setting.

    AFS is easy enough to understand. The camera finds and locks focus with a half press of the shutter button. If you want to refocus lift the finger and go again.


    AFF is a type of hybrid inbetween AFS and AFC (AF Continuous). When AFF is set, focus is acquired and locks just like AFS on a still subject. But if the subject moves the camera detects this and will refocus then stop again.


    I use AFS but some people report good results with AFF.


    Metering Mode   There are three options, Multiple, Center Weighted and Spot. In my experience the most reliable is Multiple so I set this. Some users prefer Center Weighted for some reason (previous experience, nostalgia ?).


    If you want to frustrate yourself try [Spot] which is just about the quickest way I know to get incorrect exposures most of the time. But hey, it’s there if you want to experiment.


    Burst Rate   You have, I hope,  allocated Drive Mode to a Fn button. I have it on the LVF button just to the right of the EVF. One of the Drive Mode options is [Burst]. The Burst Rate which the camera will use is set here in the Rec Menu.


    The options are H(igh), M(edium) and L(ow).


    You can read all about it on Pages 174-177 of the Instructions.


    As usual with Panasonic cameras there are many options.


    I use Burst Mode M. This is the fastest rate (about 6 fps, depending on the lens) which allows live view, AF and AE on every frame and works with RAW or JPG capture or both together. This is the best setting for moving subjects, sport/action and the like.


    If you want to photograph a subject which is static as to focus distance but otherwise moving, such as a golf swing, tennis stroke or similar, then you can lock AF and AE and use a much faster frame rate, up to about 100fps with JPG capture and E-Shutter.


    4K Photo   This is presented in great detail in the Instructions, Pages 178-192. I have nothing to add.


    Auto Bracket   Use the Fn button assigned to Drive Mode to set the camera to make an Auto Exposure Bracket series. Here in the Rec Menu is the place to set up your preferred sequence.


    The options are


    * Single/Burst Settings.    Burst is the one you want. The camera will fire off  the whole sequence as long as you hold down the shutter button or the button on a wired remote controller. I think you can also use a smart phone to trigger the shutter but I have not tried it.


    * Step. You get plenty of choice from 3 exposures spaced 1/3 stop apart up to 7 exposures with 1 stop (= 1 EV step)  between each.  I set 5 exposures at 1 EV step intervals.


    * Sequence. You can have 0/-/+ or -/0/+. The latter makes most sense to me.


    The one thing which unfortunately you cannot have with Panasonic Auto Bracket is linking timer delay with auto bracket. If this was possible it would not be necessary to press the shutter to make the exposure set.


    Self Timer   This is where you tell the camera what timer settings to use when  Drive Mode is set to Timer.


    The options are 10 seconds, 10 seconds with three shots, for selfies with group, and 2 seconds.


    Highlight/Shadow    Instructions Page 128.   This is a feature which I first saw on Olympus M43 cameras.  It allows you to manipulate the highlight/shadow curve before capture.  On a camera already overloaded with features I really cannot see the rationale for this one. No doubt someone will say they really like it.


    I guess Panasonic thought they had to keep up with Olympus.


    i.Dynamic  This is a JPG only feature which I have found to be quite useful. The idea is that when subject brightness range (SBR) is high the camera will detect this and underexpose the shot then apply a tone curve correction in camera to bring up the dark and mid  tones to normal viewing levels. 

    The purpose it to prevent blown out highlights.


    The options are Auto, High, Standard, Low and Off. I have found that Auto can be set permanently. 

    When SBR is low the camera exposes and processes the file normally but when SBR is high the camera automatically applies the correction.


    i.Resolution  (JPG only) I am not so sure about this one. I have tried it several times on several Panasonic cameras and not yet been convinced of a benefit. I believe the idea is that the camera will detect and sharpen only those parts of the scene which can benefit from sharpening.


    Post Focus  This feature is so new it has not yet appeared in my copy of the Operating Instructions.

    Post Focus can be assigned to a Fn button which appears to be the most efficient way to activate the feature.


    I have to say this is not a feature which I ever thought I wanted.


    Unfortunately Panasonic does not offer one feature which I do want and which was always easily available in the ‘good old days’ with manual focus lenses. That is the ability to preset a focus distance by scale, for instance 3 or 10 meters for street work or infinity for landscapes.  I would much rather see Panasonic put its R&D effort into making this feature available with current model bodies and lenses.


    iHandheld Night Shot  is a fully automatic function which only works with JPG output and when the Mode Dial is set to [iA]. To switch the feature on first turn the Mode Dial to [iA] then the item becomes active in the Rec Menu and can be accessed.


    The idea is that the camera automatically detects that it is hand held in dark conditions and makes a series of short exposures which are combined in camera.

    I was unable to get this to work during testing so I don’t know how useful it might be. 


    iHDR  is another fully automatic JPG only [iA] only feature which detects high subject brightness range and automatically takes a series of exposures which are combined in camera. This one did work for me but the benefit over a straight shot carefully exposed to avoid blowing out highlights is slight if any.


    I think the idea is to leave both these i-Functions set On permanently so they activate when required.


    HDR is different from iHDR.  Although a JPG only function it is not fully automatic and has to be initiated by the user.  It works in P, A, S, M  Modes.The camera makes three exposures which are combined in camera to a single output.


    Sub tabs allow you to set the separation between the exposures to 1, 2 or 3 EV or Auto as detected by the camera.


    Auto Align is used if the camera is handheld.


    I have tested this and it works and it could be useful for users who shoot only JPG. However I usually get better results from a single well exposed RAW capture with post processing in Adobe Camera Raw.


    Multi Exp    All right it’s true confessions time. I have never figured out how to use the Multi Exposure capability. Mea culpa I suppose but I really can’t be bothered with a feature the operation of which is so obscure that I cannot understand it.


    Time Lapse Shot    Here we go, another mea culpa, but also another function the operation of which I find  confusing so I don’t use it.  Page 197 of the Instructions.  The same comments apply to Stop Motion Animation.  Maybe I am just getting old.


    Panorama Settings  have been covered in an earlier post.

    Electronic Shutter  The phenomenon of shutter shock can be observed with many M43 lenses on the GX8 as with other M43 cameras. 


    The fix for this with general hand held photography is to use the E-Shutter.  But there are limitations on E-Shutter so it cannot be used all the time.


    Allocate the selection E-Shutter/M-Shutter to a Fn button. I have it on Fn 13.


    There is also now with the latest firmware an Auto option on this tab which will automatically set the Mechanical shutter for speeds 1/50 second or slower and 1/400 second or faster. The E-Shutter is set for speeds 1/60 -1/320 which is the shutter speed range in which most problems with shutter shock have been reported.


    This appears to be a reasonable way to deal with the shutter shock issue on the GX8.


    Shutter Delay  Page 173.   E-Shutter will not work for shutter speeds longer than 1 second at low ISO sensitivity settings or 1/8 second at high ISO. I do not know why this is so.


    When you have the camera on a tripod in low light with slow shutter speeds there needs to be an alternative way to avoid shutter shock. This is [Shutter Delay].  Panasonic calls this ‘Minimising vibration of the shutter’. This is the only acknowledgement I can find in the Instructions that a problem with ‘Vibration of the shutter’ exists.


    This is a good function to assign to a Custom Mode along with other settings appropriate to tripod mounted low light work.


    The sequence is press shutter button > shutter closes > Delay occurs> shutter opens > exposure takes place > Shutter closes > Shutter opens ready for the next sequence.

    The delay apparently allows vibration from the initial shutter closing to settle down. The subsequent shutter open action appears not to cause significant vibration.


    You can set the delay period to 1, 2, 4, or 8 seconds. I find 2 seconds is enough to prevent vibration from shutter shock and also allows camera movement caused by pressing the shutter to settle down.


    Flash   Page 229.     The GX8 has no built in flash. However like all Panasonic M43 cameras and some FZLCs the GX8 has extensive provision for sophisticated flash photography with on and off camera units.


    ISO Limit Set   This refers to the upper limit which the camera will set with auto ISO. I use 6400. Users who are grain averse might want to set a lower limit.


    ISO Increments  You can set 1/3 EV step increments but I don’t see the point as Aperture and Shutter Speed operate in 1/3 step increments.


    Extended ISO   Base ISO sensitivity for the GX8 is 200. Setting Extended ISO allows you to set 100. This provides marginally less digital noise than ISO 200 and thus might be useful for situations when high levels of image detail are required.


    But there may be downsides to ISO 100. I haven’t actually tested this with the GX8 yet but the ISO 100 setting on other Panasonic M43 cameras gives reduced dynamic range compared to ISO 200.


    In addition there may be false color with highlight recovery in Adobe Camera Raw and presumably other RAW converters. I have tested this and found that recovered highlights at ISO 100 appear to be unaffected by color shift, on my tests to date.


    My practice is to leave extended ISO Off.  ISO 200 gives excellent results anyway.



    Update: 29 January 2016: 

    Bill Claff at   http://www.photonstophotos.net/Charts/PDR.htm   has analysed many cameras including the GX8  and concluded that the GX8 has slightly better dynamic range at ISO 100 than 200. 
    As there appears to be no detriment to the use of ISO 100 with the GX8 I will try using it more often for a while, with the Extended ISO setting ON.

    Further update: 29 January 2016:  I have seen reports from other users that sometimes there is a magenta cast when highlights are recovered in a RAW converter from ISO 100 files.

    So I went back to setting the Extended ISO setting OFF. It seems the jury is not entirely in agreement on this issue.

    Long Shutter Noise Reduction  This only applies to long exposures with the mechanical shutter. The camera has algorithms which factor in the exposure time and ISO setting which is why the NR feature kicks in at different exposure times depending on the ISO setting. The camera locks up after the exposure for the same length of time as the exposure. During that time long exposure noise is removed.


    I generally set this ON but users doing very long exposures may find it inconvenient.


    Shading Comp.  Page 138.  This is active even with RAW recording which is interesting. Most lenses especially at their maximum aperture deliver loss of brightness toward the corners of the image. This feature is to compensate. I leave it off but I guess there is no great harm in having it on. 
    The extra processing required might slow burst performance. There will be a bit more grain in the corrected corners which might be visible if  high ISO sensitivity is used.


    Diffraction Compensation  Page 139. This one is also active with RAW recording so presumably applies to RAW files.  16-20 Mpx M43 cameras start to show loss of acuity as the lens aperture is stopped down from about f9. By f16 images are obviously soft due to diffraction of light at the aperture diaphragm.


    Presumably the Diffraction Compensation feature applies extra sharpening as the aperture closes down in an attempt to regain some of that lost sharpness.


    Ex. Tele Conv and Digital Zoom (Page 221-223)  These are JPG only features which seek to increase the zoom range by digital means. Both incur a penalty on image quality and in my experience neither is better than a simple crop of a RAW file.


    Ex. Tele Conv becomes active if the feature is  ON and an image size of M (10 Mpx) or L (5 Mpx) is selected.


    Digital Zoom claims to be a full 20 Mpx image but the 20Mpx are just obtained by interpolation in camera.


    Color Space    Set this to Adobe RGB. The color space will default to sRGB for JPGs anyway but you want Adobe RGB for the RAWs.


    Stabiliser   Page 216-217 of the Instructions


    The GX8 has some very sophisticated image stabiliser functions which can simultaneously utilise both lens based OIS (if fitted) and the In Body Image Stabiliser (IBIS).


    The description on Pages 216-217 of the Instructions indicates a rather complex set of options.

    To see what type of stabiliser function is active at any time press the Disp button repeatedly until the full info screen comes up. The Stabiliser icon is just below the top right corner. This indicates whether the stabiliser is set and if so what type is currently active.


    If the lens has an OIS lever, pushing the lever up sets Dual IS,  pushing it down turns both IS types off.


    If a lens without OIS is mounted the little icon indicates ‘Body’.

    For lenses without an OIS lever you need to make Stabiliser settings at this menu item or better, assign Stabiliser settings to the Q Menu.


    If Stabiliser is accessed from the Rec Menu there are three submenus


    * Operation Mode, Normal, Panning or Off.  All camera makers recommend that you switch the stabiliser off for tripod work.  In my experience this is good advice. Sometimes I have found that leaving OIS On with the camera tripod mounted produces no problems but at other times I have seen loss of sharpness. So best advice is to do as they recommend and turn the Stabiliser off with tripod work.


    * E Stabilisation for video. This uses an electronic form of stabiliser during video recording.


    * Focal Length Set. This is for 3rd party lenses which the camera does not recognise and allows correct operation of the IBIS.


    Face Recog.   This is another one of those Panasonic menu items which I suppose are there because they can. This can be set to recognise a specific person’s face and focus on that.


    Profile Setup  Page 212  This is for ‘Recording profiles of babies and pets on images’. Really. No kidding.


    That’s all for the GX8 setup series.








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    Photo courtesy of Olympus
    Lots of dials here, lots of round thingies too. Indeed, there is a strong 'round' theme going on all over this camera. I think one of the round things namely the viewfinder eyecup could actually be a good idea. It is more likely to match the human eye socket that the usual rectangular eyecup seen on mid range cameras.
    As to appearance, if anything, I think it looks more like an early Leica rangefinder than the original Pen-F.


    This is not a review but some personal observations and comments based on published specifications, photos and reviews of the Olympus Pen-F digital.


    February 2016   Sales of digital cameras have been falling for several years.  Presumably this has provoked manufacturers to search for a formula for sales success or at least some way to gain market share over competitors.


    I would guess that many, maybe most, people who buy cameras are like those who buy cars. They can relate to and have a preference about the appearance of the product but have little interest in, or knowledge about  the inner workings of the device.  Many car buyers neither know nor care if their chosen drive has the motor in the front or rear or if it drives the front or rear wheels or both.


    Neither do they have much idea about the placement and operation of the main controls. They just expect all that to work pretty much the same in all cars.


    Car makers operate in a heavily regulated environment which ensures compliance with safety, economy and emissions requirements.


    This is because cars are potentially lethal weapons which can and in fact do kill millions of people around the world.


    Imagine the carnage if a car maker decided to reverse the positions of the accelerator and brake pedals for some unknown reason. The death rate would be worse than you could find in a war zone.


    I doubt that a badly designed camera ever killed anyone, unless perhaps a frustrated user threw one off a high place and it hit a passer by on the head.  So camera makers are free to do as they like, even if that involves imposing suboptimal or dreadful ergonomics on the user.


    I design and make mockup cameras to test out my ideas about camera ergonomics. I showed one of these to a family member one day. Her immediate reaction was “That’s the ugliest camera I have ever seen”.


    I suspect that many camera buyers neither know nor care if the thing is a DSLR or a MILC or a FZLC. They just want it to look really nice and work as expected. 


    Everything is a fashion statement these days.


    Camera makers are clearly well aware of this and appear to be quite properly concerned about the immediate visual impact which their cameras make on prospective buyers.  If a buyer doesn’t like the look of a particular model they will not investigate it’s capabilities any further.


    Nikon Df.  Another fashion show camera which turned out to be an ergonomic disaster. There dials stacked on dials and dials stacked on levers. And they are the wrong kinds of dials. The dials you see here are for primary and secondary exposure parameters which are adjusted in Capture Phase of use. The proper function of this dial type is adjustments required in Prepare Phase of use.
    And look: this is a big heavy camera with a mini-handle to make sure you can't get a proper hold on it and a front dial right where the user's third finger wants to be.
    Nikon usually makes decently usable DSLRs but they really messed up this one.

    But what makes a camera  good looking ?


    I guess this is probably dependent on buyer demographics, with ‘Japanese-teenage-facebook-girl’ opting for something pink and cute. The most popular camera by sales is the Fuji Instax range which uses film to produce very small instant prints. The cameras are cute, colourful,  cheap to buy and Fuji’s marketing appears to be directed towards girls and young women.


    Likewise Casio digital cameras which are almost unknown in Australia but very popular in Japan.  


    But at the more ‘enthusiast’ end of the market the determinant of visual appeal seems to be dials.  
    Lots of dials. Open dials with some inscriptions writ, oops, not writ,  engraved  thereupon. Dials stacked on top of other dials. Preferably silver colored dials. Absolutely ‘real metal’ dials. Preferably festooning a ‘real metal’ body.


    No dials or body cladding made from recycled car tyres thank you very much.


    Why have silver dials become the fashion marker for enthusiast cameras ?


    I dunno. It’s a mystery to me.


    Maybe it is because dials are immediately obvious on first view of a new camera.  They form a key part of the immediate visual gestalt of a potential new toy.  
    By way of contrast a user’s long term appreciation of a camera depends on ergonomic factors not necessarily evident on first inspection. These are holding, viewing (of the subject, not the camera) and operating.


    But whatever the reason the reaction of some reviewers to the Olympus Pen-F digital camera has been like something you might expect in response to a reincarnation of Rita Hayworth.


    The sycophantic gushing from some reviewers has been extraordinary.  


    Olympus’  marketing blurb makes much of a romantic connection between the half frame Pen F  SLR cameras of the 1960s and the current Pen F digital.


    In fact just about the only similarity between the old Pen-F film cameras and the new digital model is the presence of a dial on the front of the body.


    Photo courtesy of Robin Wong
    The accessory handle has been fitted. Notice how the user's third finger lays directly on and is forced to press into that front dial.   If for some reason I had to use this camera my first act would be to cut off that front dial with a hacksaw.


    Are ‘Fashion’ cameras a good thing or not ?


    I guess it depends on whether fashion compromises function.  Unfortunately it often does.


    For instance that front dial on the Pen-F digital fouls the middle finger of the right hand as it tries to hold the camera.  I wonder what will be the response to this camera from users who actually use the thing on a regular basis as opposed to owning and looking at it.


    The Exposure Compensation Dial is redundant. EC is a secondary exposure parameter which requires adjustment in Capture Phase. This is better carried by the front and/or rear control dials, leaving the EC dial free for other uses such as  Drive Mode in Prepare Phase.


    The thing comes without a handle. Olympus has been rolling out some quite big heavy lenses of late with rumors of more to come. And no handle ?? 

    Oh, you can buy one separately. 

    But why not build it in there like the EM-1 ??   The reason is fashion. The handle spoils the  styling.


    The tripod socket is right at the front of the baseplate. There is even a little forward extension of the baseplate to accommodate the tripod socket.  That will be fine for small, light lenses but not for larger, heavier ones which could put excessive strain on the tripod socket. The heaviest such as the 300mm f4 and 40-150mm f2.8 have a tripod foot but the 75-300mm does not. It’s mass of about 450 grams with filter and hood is well in front of the socket and might cause problems.


    I am guessing that the tripod socket is at the front to make room for the IBIS module. Presumably if the socket were further back where it should be the camera would need to be taller.


    I could go on about the ergonomics, this is after all the camera ergonomics blog.


    But my point is that fashion often does compromise function.


    Fashion cameras are saying …lookatmeeee..!! 


    They are all about the camera when good design should be all about the user.


    Not lookatmeee !!  but   Get to know me.  I can deliver an excellent holding, viewing and operating experience when you learn how to use me. 


    The camera makers certainly have a problem. If buyers are not attracted to their products in the first place they will sell none.


    But too much reliance on fashion can lead to poor function with the user eventually feeling disillusioned, maybe even cheated.


    This can only be bad for the industry as a whole.


    There must be a balance to be found here somewhere.If not I predict a dismal future for the camera industry and those of us who appreciate cameras with good ergonomics.


     
    Pen-F digital. I suspect that poorly located tripod socket is going to cause trouble in due course.






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    This photo was made with the latest 50 megapixel zooperkamera mounted on a super 20 kilogram tripod. The shutter was released by remote control from a dedicated off camera electronic module. Special post capture software was used to ensure maximum resolution.
    Well...............not quite..............
    It is in fact a hand held shot made 10 years ago with a Canon EOS 20D and a budget 70-300mm lens. The 20D maxed out at 8 Mpx. This version of the shot has been cropped a bit to 7.5 Mpx.
    Does any of this matter ?   Of course not. The shot relies on the ship being berthed there on that day and the angle of the sun being just right for the subject.
    Modern cameras are giving us more and more pixels which are of little relevance to most photographic needs but falling way behind on performance and ergonomic development.

    I make no claim to expertise in camera technology, but I am a thoughtful camera user and can readily evaluate the effect of such technology on a camera's image quality, performance and user experience.

    As we engage fully with the new year it seems to me that the design of many cameras has gotten stuck in a rut and some are going backwards.


    If the image quality, performance and ergonomics  of these cameras had reached an apogee then lack of progress might simply be a sign that cameras had arrived at a point beyond which little improvement could be expected.


    But they are in my view nowhere near that point. I think there is a great deal of room for improvement in most cameras.


    Some are touted as new but on acquaintance are found to be little more than last year’s model with 1960s kitsch adornments.


    We are increasingly seeing

    * Camera centric instead of user centric design and implementation.

    * Fashion given preference over function.

    * Legend (or the myth of a legend) over logic.

    * Style over substance.

    * Marketing hype over capability.

    * Nostalgia for some mythical ‘good old days’ over effective design in the here and now.


    I was reading posts in a user forum yesterday and came across one titled “There are currently no cameras that I want to buy”.  The content and responses were of a jocular nature but beneath the humour I think there is a real issue namely that right now there are not many cameras that some of us would want to purchase.


    It appears that the market for opportunistic snapshot devices has been taken over by smart phones.


    The people still using cameras are expert/enthusiasts or beginners aspiring to expertise.


    Therefore all cameras of all types and sizes should be specified and configured for expert/enthusiast use with a built in EVF, a proper anatomical handle and a full set of hard controls (buttons, dials, levers).


    Beginners who think they don’t need or as yet don’t understand those controls can grow into the camera’s capabilities with practice.


    Camera types

    There are three common camera types:


    The first two are interchangeable lens cameras (ILC)


    1. Digital single lens reflex (DSLR). This type has just about reached the end of its evolutionary journey. Most supposedly new model DSLRs are really just moving the deckchairs around with minor changes of little import.  Some more pixels on the sensor perhaps, an upgraded AF module maybe. Some tinkering with the buttons to little effect.


    2. Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC).  I was an early adopter of this camera type. I bought a Panasonic G1 in 2009 and several models from Panasonic and Olympus since then.


    My view now is that the MILC type was released to the market prematurely, before the underlying technology was sufficiently evolved.


    On my analysis, there are three problem areas for the MILC type which have still not been fully resolved:

    * Image degradation due to shutter shock. The currently available solutions to this problem are E-Shutter and electronic first curtain shutter (EFCS). But each of these brings its own problems.

    A fully functional global shutter is required, but as yet no conventional still camera has one.

    Panasonic recently stated they are developing one but there is no news about when it might appear in a consumer camera.

    * EVF refresh rates. EVFs are getting better but still have some way to go. In burst mode (several frames per second) many cameras present the user with an EVF image of the previous shot made not a preview of the next one and EVF blackout rates are still too high on many cameras.

    * Continuous autofocus with follow focus on moving subjects. Again this is improving with on chip PDAF on some cameras and DFD type CDAF on Panasonic models, but many MILCs are still quite unable to follow focus on a moving subject.


    3. Fixed Zoom Lens Camera (FZLC)  This incorporates previously used categories like ‘compact’, bridge’ and similar.


    I think that the future of cameras lies with this type because the best ones are highly competent and provide an all in one photo capability in a single device with no need to change lenses.


    This camera type also has its problems, some shared with the MILC:

    * There is no issue with shutter shock, at least none that I have seen reported, as these cameras use diaphragm type leaf type shutters in the lens.

    * However the EVF refresh and follow focus issues also affect this camera type.

    * The other issue for the FZLC type is that these cameras generally use smaller sensors than ILCs and small sensors provide lower image quality than large ones.  This relationship between small and large sensors will presumably always be true but when the picture quality coming off small sensors becomes good enough for just about any purpose the matter will become academic.

    In the film days I used 4x5 inch (about 100  x 125mm) large format cameras for several years. These did indeed deliver better picture quality than the more popular 35mm (24 x 36mm film size) format but towards the end of the film era 35mm lenses, cameras and film were good enough that the large format became irrelevant for me and for most users and uses.

    I think the same thing will happen in the digital arena.

    Already digital cameras with the 34 x 36mm sensor are delivering picture quality equivalent to or better than 4 x 5 inch film and small digital sensors are outperforming 35mm film.



    This is my 50 years old Pentax Spotmatic. You can see the little film speed window. It was and still is an awkward, fussy thing to adjust.


    Manufacturers


    Canon  keeps churning out ‘new’ models each of which is barely distinguishable from the previous iteration. If the previous models had reached the pinnacle of perfection that might be fine although it would also indicate no need for a new model.


    Canon’s DSLRs are decent enough and work reasonably well up to a point but their ergonomics could be greatly improved.


    Look at the new EOS 80D. The layout is, with minor changes the same as that of the last several models. The configuration of the shutter button, front dial and buttons behind the front dial could be greatly improved but Canon is not doing it.


    The camera is large enough to greatly improve the configuration of the control panel (the right side of the back of the camera).  The rear dial should optimally be up behind the right shoulder, where it can be found on the Panasonic FZ1000 for instance. There should be a JOG lever (a.k.a. Joystick) for moving active AF area. There is plenty of space for one.  But again Canon is not doing it at this level of the model spectrum.


    Canon’s FZLCs are a disgrace and in my view an insult to their customers.


    Look at the G1X, G1X Mk2, G3X, G7X, G9X, G7X Mk2 and G5X. Each of these cameras especially the G3X with its long lens could benefit from a built in EVF but only one, the G5X actually has one.  

    The model which most needed a built in EVF has not got one. Go figure.


    Each could benefit from a fast processor so the camera doesn’t need a rest after each RAW capture but only one, the just announced G7X Mk2 has one.


    Does Canon think its Powershot customers are idiots ?


    Do Canon’s product development people think they have no need to make a competitive MILC ?



    Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review    dpreview.com
    This photo of the 'newly re-invented' (???) Fuji X-Pro2 illustrates two awkward ergonomic issues.
    First is that stupid little film speed adjustment window copied from 1960s era mechanical film cameras. The left side yellow arrow points to it.   What on earth were they thinking ?
    Second, you can just see the front command dial at the yellow arrow on the right. In order for the user to operate this dial he or she has to release grip on the camera, drop the hand down so the index finger can get a purchase on the dial which is awkwardly oriented at 80 degrees to the direction the finger wants to move, turn the dial then return the hand to its normal position. It appears the 'designers' of this camera could not be bothered to learn camera ergonomics 101.


    Fujifilmhas just announced the “newly re-invented” (whatever that means) X-Pro 2 with much fanfare. The basic design of the X-Pro 2 looks like something from a camera museum, which I suppose is the intention but the point of making a camera like this escapes me. It has no functional or ergonomic advantage over the modern DSLR style hump top shape with mode dial and control dial(s). I guess it is to photography what vinyl records are to Hi-Fi.


    The X-Pro 2 has one excellent feature which I think every new camera should have. That is a JOG lever (a.k.a. Joystick) for direct  control of the active autofocus area.


    It also has a feature so ill conceived as to defy belief. In the middle of the 20th Century, SLR cameras had a shutter speed dial. On the upper surface of this was a little window indicating film speed as ASA or DIN.   To change the film speed setting you had to lift up the dial and jiggle it around to a new position which was difficult to see and awkward to get just where you wanted it.


    It was the least user friendly aspect of a long gone generation of mechanical cameras which at best had only mediocre ergonomics.


    And they copied it in the X-Pro 2 !!!  What on earth were they thinking ?


    Leica  has a set of current models which in my view represent complete confusion about intentions and means in camera design. This is a camera maker which gives every indication of having no idea where it is going and therefore no idea how to get there.


    Nikon’s  fortunes are tied to camera production more than any other camera maker.  You might reasonably expect therefore that Nikon’s product development, design and technology would be absolutely top of the range.


    Indeed their DSLRs are probably the best you can get.  There is plenty of room for ergonomic improvement though, just as with Canon. Nikon’s DSLRs are good, no doubting that but they could be better designed with a more user oriented interface and better performance.


    Nikon does have a presence in the MILC business. Unfortunately they chose to use the ‘one inch’ (8.8 x 13.2mm) sensor size which has proven to be a better match for FZLC cameras than MILCs.


    The Coolpix line is similar to Canon’s Powershots.   Half  baked, with substandard performance especially when using RAW capture (in some key models RAW is not even available) and a suboptimal user interface.



    I believe the just announced DL trio of models each with a 'One Inch' sensor is a step in the right direction for most photographers, namely away from ILCs and towards FZLCs. I will post more about this soon. 

    Olympus  has again fallen into the trap of making cameras for fashion instead of function, for example the recently released Pen-F Digital. Presumably there will be some initial response from consumers beguiled by the visual appeal of the device but I expect that in due course the lack of development in performance and ergonomics will take its toll in the form of disenchantment with a product which works no better than the previous model or the one before that and the one before that.


    The Pen-F digital, like the X-Pro 2, copies a feature from the 1960s which makes one wonder if the people responsible for this camera ever used it before it was released to the public. The original half frame Pen-F in the 1960s had a quite prominent film speed setting dial on the right side of the front (as viewed by the user) of the camera. The Pen-F digital of 2016 copies this dial but uses it for a different purpose. The problem is that the dial sits exactly where the third finger of the right hand wants to lie when holding and operating the camera.  New users have already reported this to be very uncomfortable which I must say anyone could have seen would be the case by simply looking at the position and prominence of the dial.  


    Panasonic  I remain unsure why Panasonic bothers with cameras which must be a minuscule part of their overall enterprise. But if they are going to persevere with cameras they need to smarten up and do so pretty darn quick.


    Where are the new generation sensors ? Where is the global shutter ? Where is the fast EVF refresh ? 

    Where is the equal-to-DSLR-level continuous Autofocus ?


    Panasonic has developed some good technology for aspheric lenses, image processing, sensor and autofocus capability.  But they appear to be stalled along with the rest of the camera industry at a point short of optimal realisation in all these areas.


    I am invested in Panasonic cameras so I have a personal interest in this. I would like to see them put out fewer models each showing more real progress in the areas where I have identified deficiencies in the MILC and FZLC types.


    Pentax—Ricoh  have just announced a new ‘full frame’ (24 x 36 mm sensor) DSLR. This might have been real news for Pentax users had it come 10 years ago. But now…….. ????


    Samsung appears to have abandoned the camera business. Fair enough. I imagine it was a loss maker from the start and they are probably better out of it.


    Sigma  makes a few cameras but they are weirdly shaped, eccentric things each with a fixed prime lens and a very narrow range of capabilities.


    Sony  like Panasonic is still in the camera business but I wonder why. Since their entry into still camera production about 15 years ago Sony has played hide-and-seek with it’s customers. It has repeatedly introduced then abandoned models and entire lines, such as the DSLR.


    In more recent times Sony has made a big effort to establish a full frame (24 x 36mm sensor) MILC line, apparently with some success. But the A mount has languished, the regular E mount (APS-C) is getting little attention although the A6300 was recently announced but with a trio of FE mount lenses, go figure, and the FZLC lines are not getting much attention either.


    As I asked of Panasonic, where is the global shutter, where is the fast refresh EVF, where is the equal-to-DSLR-continuous autofocus ?  Sure they are working on several, probably all, of these issues and making some progress  but there is more to be done.


    Summary 


    I think all camera makers at the present time are pushing out too many not-really-new models and are excessively reliant on fashion in  (I believe)  an attempt to cover up for the deficiencies which burden their products.


    They are also (obviously) trying to induce you to buy a new model. But if you already have a good camera which works well and which you enjoy using it might be worth holding onto it.


    The latest crop of ‘new’ models gives little reason for anyone to trade up.


    If the industry wants to move forward in convincing fashion it needs products with better ergonomics, better performance and global shutters.


    I can’t help wondering if more co-operation and less competition might be part of the way forward.


    Various innovative technologies have been proposed as the basis for improved sensor technology with global shutter including the Bosch graphene sensor, InVisage Quantum Film and the Fuji/Panasonic organic film. 

    But none of these appears close to commercial production and if/when  that happens the technology will go first to smart phones, security cameras, self driving car sensors and similar industrial applications with consumer cameras well down the list.


    Don’t hold your breath folks…………….


    In the meantime there many cameras available which work well and give good results.


    Andrew’s picks

    This is a bit risky as individuals have their own ideas about the determinants of desirability in a camera. But I will have a shot at this anyway. The reader will understand that I have of course not used every camera model on the market so I have relied to some extent on reports from others in reaching these picks.


    DSLR   If I were in the market for a DSLR I think I would be looking at a mid range APS-C  model from Nikon. The downside of this is the surprisingly limited range of  Nikon DX lenses. Unfortunately Canon APS-C buyers have the same problem with the limited range of EF-S lenses.


    MILC   I am unable to find anything to recommend from this genre. I actually own a Panasonic GX8 which is one of the best MILCs available at the moment and I have recently also owned  a Panasonic G7.  These cameras are burdened by the issues to which I referred earlier in this post as are all MILCs on the market at the moment.


    The Sony A7R(2) got camera-of-the-year award from several review organisations last year but I remain very sceptical about Sony’s commitment to anything or anybody. The A7R (2) still has performance and ergonomic issues and the FE lens line has only just in the last weeks seen the arrival of 24-70mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8 lenses, which are as yet untested. As I read it existing FE lenses have a very mixed record with many reports of poor quality control and excessive sample variation. 


    The more fundamental issue is the one I referred to above with the comparison between large format and 35mm film.


    Basically, who needs full frame digital ? Who needs 42 Mpx files ? Who needs 80 Meg files ?


    Sure, some professional photographers who need to output to a billboard 20 meters wide will need all those pixels. But for the vast majority of  enthusiast and professional users the capabilities of full frame digital are overkill.


    FZLC  I can recommend one FZLC with very few reservations. That is the Panasonic FZ1000. This was Camera Ergonomics camera of the year in 2015. Our family has three of them. They have been used everywhere: the desert, the tropics, the arctic and antarctic and come through with flying colors.


    For those who want to know, I do not recommend the Canon G3X as it does not have a built in viewfinder. I regard any camera with a 600mm (equivalent) lens without a viewfinder to be a useless piece of junk and an insult to users. It also uses the same processor as the other G—X models which have poor follow focus capability.


    The Sony RX10 in Mk1 or Mk 2 versions has a conceptually muddled user interface, poorly designed handle, limited zoom range and poor follow focus capability.  


    I can recommend the Panasonic LX100 with some reservations. It has a ‘traditional’ control set with shutter speed dial, exposure compensation dial and aperture ring on the lens. Some people, not necessarily those who have actually used the camera, think this is a wonderful thing but my ergonomic analysis shows that the [mode dial + control dial]  layout found on the FZ1000 provides a more streamlined user experience. In addition in the first year or so after release the LX100 appeared to have a greater than average number of problems as reported on user forums.


    Apart from those two I see little that I could recommend. Many models from several makers look desirable on the specifications list  but are found in practice to be considerably less endearing with sluggish performance,  poor ergonomics and poor picture quality or all three.


    Canon and Nikon seem to think that handles and viewfinders are ‘optional’ on FZLCs. I assume they are getting this idea from somewhere, maybe customer feedback of some kind, but possibly not. In any event they are wrong. The user of a camera with a viewfinder can elect not to use it at some times and to use it at other times, such as in bright sunlight.  The user of a camera without a viewfinder has no such choice.  


    Some cameras have the option to add an accessory viewfinder which mounts in the hotshoe. This is another insult to users. The add on EVF costs about 10x as much as a built in one and once in place transforms a compact unit into an unwieldy one, higher than a DSLR with this stupid lump sticking up where it will get damaged if left on the camera and be a perpetual nuisance if it is removed every time the camera goes back in its bag.


    The accessory EVF is one of the worst ideas ever to blight the camera industry.


    Panasonic builds its EVFs into their cameras which is a hugely preferable arrangement. Some makers do get some things right, well some of the time anyway.


    Oh, by the way the second worst idea in the camera industry is the accessory handle. When are the camera makers going to grasp (pardon the pun)  this ?  


    Put a well designed ergonomic handle on the camera  at the outset. Job done. Thank you.


    Do DSLRs have accessory viewfinders and handles ? No ?  Quelle surprise ! The best selling type of ILC has the viewfinder and handle built in. Could there possibly be a message there somewhere ?


    ConclusionWell, that was a bit of a serve for the camera makers but I think they deserve it. Maybe we need fewer makers so the sales numbers and therefore R&D budget can be higher for those which remain. Maybe that might lead to better products, but really, I am not hopeful.    















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    A million Chinese tourists visit Australia each year. Most use a smart phone for their photos but I think there is plenty of scope for good quality fixed zoom lens cameras.


    In the ‘good old days’ of film   there were several formats available ranging from 4x5 inch (about 100x125mm and for the dedicated few even larger formats were possible) through ‘miniature’ (24x36mm now referred to as ‘full frame’) and  ‘half frame’ (about 18x24mm) down to the ‘subminiature’ size (8x11mm) used in Minox spy cameras.  

    Most popular was the ‘35mm’ (actual image size 24x36mm) format because it gave the best balance between imaging capability and cost/size/mass. The vast majority of amateur and professional photographers relied on 35mm cameras taking the ubiquitous 35mm double perforated film in cassettes. 


    Picture quality was good enough for quite large prints. Even today I make decent  600x400mm prints from scans of my 45 years old 35mm black and white negatives.  


    Fast forward to the digital era and we discover  two key technological developments.


    1. Digital sensors are capable of higher resolution than film.  In consequence digital sensors can be smaller than film formats yet still capture the same amount of information.


    2. There have been dramatic improvements in the capability of zoom lenses for consumer cameras. In the past interchangeable prime lenses were the way to obtain a range of focal lengths. Now a single zoom can replace many primes yet still provide good optical quality.


    These two developments are a game changer for camera design.  They make it feasible to produce small cameras with small sensors and fixed zoom lenses which are able to deliver a level of picture quality at least equal to the best 35mm interchangeable lens film cameras of the past.


    The two big advantages of these new generation fixed zoom lens cameras (FZLC) over the more traditional digital single lens reflex (DSLR) with a 24x36mm sensor and interchangeable lenses  are


    * They are considerably more compact, lighter and less expensive.


    * No lens changing is required.


    This raises the possibility that one single piece of equipment might suffice for many individuals’ complete imaging requirements with no need for accessories of any kind.


    Which brings us to the big question :  Which is the most suitable sensor size for this new generation of FZLCs ?


    That would be the smallest sensor which provides a level of picture quality which is sufficient for most users and most purposes. 


    In other words what sensor size gives picture quality approximately equal to 35mm film of yesteryear ?


    I believe and it appears from their products that the camera makers also believe that with current technology the ‘one inch’ sensor is pretty close to that mark or even better.


    What’s in a name ?  The designation ‘One Inch’ comes from the department of  incorrigibly obscure names.

    Once upon a time, way back in the 1930’s early electronic video cameras used a type of cathode ray tube called a ‘vidicon tube’ to create an imaging sensor. The size of the tube was described by its diameter in inches. A tube of one inch diameter could accommodate at one end a light sensitive element about 8.8x13.2mm (diagonal 15.9mm) if the 3:2 aspect ratio was used. Vidicon tube technology became obsolete many years ago but for some reason entirely unknown to me camera makers continue to refer to sensor sizes with reference to the vidicon tube which might have been required to house that sensor if anybody still used vidicon tubes which they do not.


    By the way the same loopy logic underlies the designation of the ‘Four Thirds’ sensor size. It is the sensor which would have required a vidicon tube one and one third inches in diameter.


    Anyway all current cameras having the ‘One Inch’ sensor use the 3:2 aspect ratio, sensor size of 8.8x13.2mm, diagonal of 15.9mm.


    This has 37% of the linear dimension and 13.5% of the area of a ‘full frame’ (24x36mm sensor).


    It is quite close in size to the old Minox ‘subminiature’ film format.


    Nikon 1 Series ILC


    Nikon was first into the arena of ‘One Inch’ consumer cameras with the oddly named “1” Series of interchangeable lens cameras (thus named for the sensor size) starting with the V1 and J1 in September 2011.


    Unfortunately for Nikon and anyone who bought a “1 Series” camera, which includes me (oops)  the “1 Series” was something of a disaster right from the start.  Nikon appeared to have no idea whether it wanted the “1 Series” to be a high powered super fast sports/action machine or a Japanese-teenage-facebook-girl fashion accessory. It was neither and fitted no other discernible market niche.


    Nikon’s whole approach to the “1 Series” was muddled and confused from the get go and this was obvious from the products which issued forth.


    But I think the underlying and more fundamental problem for the “1 Series”  ILC system is that the ‘One Inch’ sensor is ideal for cameras with a fixed zoom lens but not as well suited to ILCs.


    Sony RX 100 series


    In June 2012 Sony released the RX100 compact camera. This was the first FZLC using the ‘1 Inch’ sensor and it created quite a sensation.


    Here for the first time was a very small camera, requiring no accessories,  which could make professional quality publishable photos outdoors or indoors.


    Sony has followed the original with an updated version each year:

    RX100 Mk2  June 2013

    RX100 Mk3 May 2014

    RX100 Mk4 June 2015


    Compared to the original, the latest version has an improved RS (stacked) type sensor, a pop up EVF, wider aperture lens and a tilting monitor.


    It is also very expensive and many owners find it so small and the controls so cramped that the user experience is not terribly enjoyable.


    There are two RX100 (original version) cameras in our household. They make good pictures but tend to stay in the camera drawer because of their unappealing ergonomics.


    Sony RX10 series


    The original RX10 appeared in October 2013. This camera’s unique selling proposition (USP) was its 24-200mm (equivalent) constant f2.8 lens.


    This was the ‘One Inch’ version of  the classic professional photo journalist full frame DSLR body with 24-70mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8 twin lens kit.


    Of course the RX10 is dramatically smaller, lighter and less expensive than the full frame kit with no need to change lenses.


    The RX10 Mk 2 came along in June 2015 with the new stacked RS sensor but the same body, same poor follow focus ability with continuous AF and same muddled ergonomics. It seems to me that the RX10 Mk2 might have been starved of R&D funding.


    Panasonic FZ/TZ


    The FZ1000 was announced in June 2014.  This is like an upgraded RX10 with the same sensor, longer (16x)  zoom range, better performance and better ergonomics. Our family has three of these at the moment.  They are our go-to cameras for just about everything.


    The FZ1000 gets most things right with few downsides. It is on my evaluation at the time of writing the most versatile and capable ‘One Inch’ camera.


    No doubt Nikon is hoping to change that with the DL24-500 (see below).


    However I notice that FZ1000 prices have been dropping lately, a sign that a successor is probably in the wings. I would not be surprised if such a successor was released around the same time as the DL24-500.


    The Panasonic TZ100 was announced in January 2016 and is due to start shipping  shortly.


    This fits a ‘One Inch’ sensor and 10x zoom into a genuinely compact body. This camera seeks to redefine what is possible in the Travel Zoom genre (which Panasonic more or less invented). 


    If this thing has the same picture quality as the FZ1000 it will make a very appealing proposition for the large constituency of photographers, travelling or not,  who want compact dimensions, long zoom range, a built in EVF, zippy performance and good picture quality in one convenient package.


    Canon G__X  series


    Canon’s foray into the ‘One Inch’ sector began with the G7X of September 2014. This appears to have been a response to the Sony RX100(3). Unfortunately Canon forgot the EVF. In addition the G7X suffers from excruciatingly slow performance with RAW capture.


    Next up was the G3X of June 2015. This has a 24-600mm (equivalent) lens but no EVF, very slow continuous AF and the same slow RAW performance. What on earth were the product development people at Canon thinking ?


    Then followed the G5X in November 2015 which has a built in EVF but still the poor RAW performance.


    Also in November 2015 came the G9X which is somewhat like the original RX100 with no EVF, very small size and a small aperture lens.


    The G7X Mk2 of February 2016 at last sees the introduction of a processor (DIGIC7) fast enough to give reasonable RAW performance. But still no EVF.


    Overall Canon’s contribution to the ‘One Inch’ scene has thus far been underspecified, underperforming and disappointing.


    My impression is that Canon is labouring under several impediments which I see as:


    * Attitude. The notion that built in EVFs, brisk AF Continuous performance and brisk RAW performance are somehow optional or not required for this type of camera represents in my view a complete misunderstanding of the likely buyers of this camera type.  A corollary to this is:


    * Camera centric product development when they should be engaged in user centric product development. If DSLR users expect, require and get built in viewfinders and handles,  fast  AFC and fast RAW performance why on earth would ‘One inch’ FZLC users not want these things ? They are mostly the same people after all and they are looking for a user experience similar to that provided by a DSLR. Canon actually promises this in its promotional blurb but totally fails to deliver on its own promises.


    * Quite possibly a lack of technological capability particularly for continuous autofocus. Nikon has on chip PDAF+CDAF, Panasonic has DFD which works quite well, Canon has thus far only had plain CDAF on all the Powershots including the ‘One Inch’ group.


    Nikon DL series


    All the ‘One Inch’ cameras from Sony, Panasonic and Canon to date have used one or other version of the Sony sensor.


    But Nikon used a sensor from Aptina for the first few 1 Series models.


    Now the new DL series of FZLCs, announced in February 2016, also appear to be using a sensor not from Sony (the pixel numbers are different)  but so far I have not heard where the DL sensor is coming from.


    The DL trio each uses the same sensor and each has on chip PDAF just like the 1 Series cameras.


    This gives the Nikon DL cameras their unique selling proposition which is dramatically fast (20fps) continuous capture with autofocus on each frame.  Not even the most expensive DSLRs can equal this. Mind you I don’t quite understand who actually needs AFC at 20fps. I wonder if this is yet another case of camera makers providing us with some feature because they can (like Panasonic post focus) rather than features we might actually want and be able to use productively.


    We shall see in due course whether these cameras are accurate as well as fast.


    The DL series also introduces a product development concept which seems logical and coherent to me.


    The DL18-50 is the compact wide angle model,


    The DL24-85 is the compact general purpose model which will suffice for most requirements of most photographers, apart from the lack of a built in EVF, see below.


    The DL14-500 is the long zoom/travel zoom/all-in-one model which is not compact but has a higher specification and greater range of capabilities than the other two.


    This looks like a much more considered use of the ‘One Inch’ sensor than Nikon managed with the 1 Series ILCs.


    The naming system is based on the equivalent focal length range, which buyers might be able to understand, unlike the muddled mess of meaningless numbers which we see in the Canon G___X range.


    Unfortunately neither the 18-50 nor the 24-85 model has a built in EVF.


    Some people apparently think this is OK. However I live in Sydney where on a bright sunny or bright/cloudy day outdoors all my cameras are basically unusable if I try to operate them using just the monitor.


    I suspect this will be particularly a problem for the 24-85 which buyers will expect to be able to provide a good user experience in all conditions.


    Panasonic manages to include a useful EVF in its compacts like the LX100 and the TZ range.

    If Panasonic can do it so can Canon and Nikon.


    What’s missing ?


    Most of the ‘One Inch’ sensor cameras covered in this little round up (apart from the dismally underperforming Canons) are interesting and I expect will find favour with buyers.


    But there is one camera type which could be based on the ‘One inch’ sensor which we have not yet seen.


    This is the advanced, semi pro type model with an f1.2-1.8 or f1.4-f2 lens and full specification to suit the advanced user. I suspect that when camera buyers come to realise that this sensor size has a lot to offer that such a semi-pro model might find enough buyers to justify the cost of producing it.


    Summary


    There are now 16 ‘One Inch’ FZLCs from 4 makers with more to come, I am sure.


    The bandwagon is rolling.


    I believe that this type of camera will make entry level ILCs (both DSLR and MILC)  redundant sooner rather than later. The better FZLCs are smaller, lighter and more capable than many entry level ILCs. Several have a lens two stops faster (wider aperture) than ILC kit lenses.


    The camera makers have an interesting problem. If they convince the market that a good ‘One Inch’ FZLC might be more suitable for many photographers than an ILC with kit lens how will that affect the viability of consumer level DSLRs and MILCs ?


    We shall see.






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    Offer of the Century.  Reykjavik.  Panasonic FZ1000 with the versatile 'One Inch' sensor

     Readers please note that I have no connection with any organisation which makes or sells cameras and I have no inside knowledge of the product decision making process used by Nikon or any other camera maker.  I am just a consumer who wonders what the heck is going on behind the scenes.

    Nikon entered  the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) market with the V1 and J1 cameras in September 2011. These were the first models of an entirely new camera system based on the so-called ‘One inch’sensor size.


    The actual size of the sensor is 8.8x13.2mm giving a diagonal of 15.9mm and an aspect ratio of 3:2.


    I remember thinking at the time…. Why…?


    Why did Nikon not join the Micro Four Thirds consortium ?  By 2011 M43 was an established and viable MILC system.  Nikon had no need to design the lens mount, just to build to the established specifications.


    I think Nikon (and Canon by the way) could have done quite well in M43 but both decided for their own reasons whatever they may have been to go their separate ways for better, or for worse as things turned out for the Nikon 1 System.   


    The Nikon F mount for interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) made its debut in 1959. It has been in continuous use since then for Nikon ILCs and has been  successfully  adapted to FX and DX digital bodies and lenses.


    It seems to me that  Nikon could have entered the MILC realm  using the F mount and the DX (APS-C, 15.6x23.5, diagonal 28mm) sized sensor.


    This would allow the millions of lenses in circulation to be compatible with the new MILC system.  It would also be possible  to develop a new line of lenses with AF systems better suited to the contrast detect autofocus used in mirrorless cameras. In other words a new system which would be both backwards and forwards compatible.


    The sensor would  need on chip phase detect autofocus in addition to contrast detect AF in order  to generate adequate autofocus speed with existing lenses.


    All of these things were entirely possible in 2011. Indeed the ‘One Series’ cameras did, and still do, have on chip PDAF running at very fast speed.


    The cameras which emerged from the ‘1 System’ showed signs of confused product concept and strategy.  


    Were they intended to be high powered sport/action cameras or were they fashion accessories in pretty colors ?


    The current top of the range V3 model comes with no built in EVF (oh…we can sell you an accessory one at great cost)  no proper handle (yes…we can sell you an accessory one of those too)  and no SD card, just a micro SD.


    Well….yes…of course….our DSLRs have the viewfinder and handle built in and they cost less.


    So why would you buy the V3 ? …………………..? ……hmmmm…………..


    At about the same time the Nikon 1 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 supertelephoto zoom lens was introduced.


    The full frame equivalent focal length of this lens is 189-810mm.


    This might have been of considerable  interest to wildlife/bird/sport/action photographers if the camera body had been appropriately configured.


    But the main problem with the 1 Series is that the 15.9mm sensor is better suited to fixed zoom lens cameras than to ILCs.


    I think the photos tell the story better than words:


    Photo courtesy of camerasize.com
    Here are three small ILCs, each with standard f3.5-5.6 kit lens . The Sony A6300 on the left has the largest sensor but is only marginally bigger than the Nikon 1 V3 in the middle with the smallest sensor. In addition the A6300 has both built in EVF and a decent built in handle. The smallest camera is the Panasonic GM5 on the right with a larger sensor than the one found in the V3. The GM5 also has a built in EVF.
    I think I could easily make a case for buying the A6300 or the GM5 but not the 1 V3.




    Photo courtesy of camerasize.com
    Camerasize did not have the Nikon 1 6.7-13mm lens in its files so I mocked up the correct size using the 10-30mm as a starting point.
    On the left is the Nikon 1 V3 with wide angle zoom lens focal length equivalent to 18-35mm f3.5-5.6.  On the right is the new Nikon DL 18-50 with a longer zoom range and two stops wider aperture throughout the zoom range. Yet the package is considerably more compact. So compact that I think quite a few camera users will be thinking it might make more sense to carry a DL18-50 than a wide zoom  for an ILC.





    Photo courtesy of camerasize.com
    Again Camerasize did not have the exact lens I wanted on file so I mocked up the 10-100mm to correct dimensions.
    On the left is the new Panasonic TZ100 travel zoom camera with the (presumably Sony) 'One Inch' sensor and 10x zoom lens (focal length range equivalent 25-250mm f2.8-5.9) with built in EVF and flash.
    On the right is the Nikon 1 V3 with 10-100mm lens (equivalent 27-270mm f4-5.6) and no built in EVF.
    Each camera uses the same sized sensor.
    Each lens has approximately the same zoom range. The lens aperture of the TZ100 is one stop wider at the wide end of the zoom and 1/3 stop smaller at the long end.
    Both cameras are pictured with the lens in collapsed position.  This photo shows how using a fixed, built in zoom lens with triple extension inner barrel can dramatically reduce the closed size of the lens for carrying. 

       

      
    I  would be very surprised if the “1 System” ILC line continues in any substantive way now that the ‘DL’ series of FZLCs has arrived.


    I would also expect Nikon to announce a DX  MILC using the F mount at some stage.


    They need to source an APS-C  sensor which has both PDAF and CDAF on the sensor.


    As it happens such a sensor can be found in the Sony A6000 and the new A6300 so that is not a constraint. Most of  Nikon’s sensors appear to be from Sony these days.


    As a minimum all Nikon needs to do at the outset is to copy the Sony A6300 but with a version of the F mount using a 25mm flangeback distance (or close to that) and provide an adapter for standard F mount lenses which need the 46.5mm flangeback distance.


    Nikon should be able to make a better set of dedicated MILC lenses than Sony. 


    The currently available Sony E mount lenses have a ….shall we say….mixed….. reputation with many reports of sample variation.


    My guess is that the R&D people at Nikon are probably already well advanced with something like the concept which I have outlined.


    If not, then I suggest they might be in  trouble.


    Addendum 6 March 2016:

    New N1 products each year


    Year

    Bodies

    Lenses

    2011

    2

    4

    2012

    2

    2

    2013

    5

    5

    2014

    2

    2

    2015

    1

    0

    2016

    0

    0


    You see the trend here ?



    Plenty of product releases  building up to 2013 with a decline since then.  
    At the same time Nikon has been releasing DSLRs and FZLCs at a considerable rate.


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    Hand held flower photos are easy with small sensor compacts like the TZ80
    This and all photos below hand held


    I bought my copy of the TZ80   just one day after it started to appear in Sydney retail outlets.

    Here are some impressions of the camera from the first two weeks of use and the first 1500 or so exposures.


    Target user group and purpose    Panasonic was one of the first makers to identify and make cameras for the ‘Travel Zoom’ genre.  They come in two styles, “small hump top’ and flat-compact’. 

    The TZ80 is the latest in the ‘flat-compact’ line.

    Panasonic’s product development people appear to have a good idea what they intend this camera should do and who is the intended buyer.


    The promotional blurb says this is a  ‘Pocket sized travel camera’  so the user can ‘Capture all those travel memories’. 


    That describes the TZ80 very well.It is refreshing to see a manufacturerwith a clear purpose leading to a well executed product which does just what the maker claims it should do.


    Plenty of detail and decent highlight and shadow detail in the mid range of the zoom


    Specifications and features  The TZ80 (ZS60) has received a significant boost in specifications and features compared to its predecessor the TZ70 (ZS50).  The pixel count has increased to 18 Mpx, we have 4K video/photo, adjustable Photo Style (JPG), peaking, zebras, touch screen, a larger BLG10 battery and more direct control points.


    All this makes the camera more configurable than its predecessor but also a bit more complex to set up. This is in line with a move up market for the whole fixed zoom lens camera sector as small, ‘bar of soap’ style compacts disappear in favour of smart phones.


    The lens, monitor and EVF all appear on the specifications to be carry overs but in use each seems improved in my subjective impression, without a TZ70 on hand for direct comparison.


    In addition the OIS seems improved with better results at the long end of the zoom when using low shutter speeds.


    Wide angle


    Picture quality  

    The f3.3-6.4,  30x zoom lens is a marvel of optical and mechanical engineering. It has 5 aspheric elements with 10 aspheric surfaces, optical image stabiliser,  triple extension inner barrel and the whole camera is only 38mm deep when powered down.  It focusses quickly and accurately and makes decent quality pictures at all focal lengths.


    Lens resolution and contrast in a broad central area of  the frame is best at the wide end of the zoom, falling steadily towards the long end.


    Resolution at the edges and corners is worst at the wide end of the zoom, best in the mid range of the zoom then falling away again at the long end.


    My copy is decently well centered which is no mean feat for the manufacturer considering the complexity of the optical and mechanical design and the low price point of the product.


    The sensor produces pictures with quite good resolution, decent highlight and shadow detail and good color rendition.


    For general photography I really cannot find anything about which to complain.


    Of course the tiny 6.17x4.55mm sensor exhibits more luminance noise than you would find from larger sensors. I did not have a TZ70 on hand for side by side comparison but my subjective impression is that the 18Mpx TZ80 sensor is no more noisy than the TZ70’s 12Mpx sensor if both are output at the same size.


    Luminance noise is readily visible in mid tones even at base ISO setting (80) but this detracts little from print quality even at quite large sizes up to A2.


    On my side by side comparison tests using RAW files at Adobe default settings the TZ80 has about 1.6 stops more luminance noise than my reference camera which these days is the FZ1000. So a picture made with the FZ1000 at ISO 1600 would have about the same RAW file luminance noise level at ACR default settings as one made with the TZ80 at ISO 500.


    When hand held, the TZ80 works best as an outdoor camera, where there is an abundance of light. This allows ISO sensitivity settings to be sufficiently low and shutter speeds sufficiently high for decent picture quality even at the long end of the zoom.


    However it is also possible to make pictures of good quality indoors. This requires judicious use of RAW capture,  slow shutter speeds in S Mode and keeping the lens at or near its smallest focal length which gives the widest aperture.  

    I have also discovered strategies for processing RAW files in adobe Camera Raw to enhance picture quality at higher ISO sensitivity settings and will post about these later.



    Judicious use of the flash can also sometimes be helpful although many people including me do not like the effect of on camera flash.

    I have carefully compared the TZ80 and TZ110 for lens quality and found the two cameras very close with neither having a clear advantage. However the TZ80 in the focal length range 160-250mm was in most test frames a bit better than the TZ110, particularly at the edges.

    Mid zoom


    Performance

    The TZ80 responds promptly to all user inputs with JPG or RAW capture or both. It has a faster processor and larger buffer than the majority of compact cameras.


    Shot to shot time with AF Single, Drive Mode Single  and AE and live preview on each frame is 0.5 seconds with JPG or RAW+JPG capture.


    With RAW capture, Burst M,  AF continuous and live view on each frame  it will shoot 16 frames in 3 seconds (about 5 frames per second) before the frame rate slows abruptly.  The buffer takes 14 seconds to clear after such a burst. With JPG capture the camera will keep firing indefinitely at 5 fps.

    AF Single is fast and accurate even in low light levels.  I find the AF assist lamp is never required.  In very low light the camera switches automatically to ‘low light’ AF mode which is a bit slower than normal but is reliable and accurate.


    Most  ‘pocketable’ compact cameras are good for still subjects but are unable to follow focus (a.k.a. ‘predictive AF’) on a moving subject.


    The TZ80 can  follow focus on a moving subject. I put this to the test with a range of subject types and lighting conditions.


    I discovered early in the testing process that  predictive AF with the TZ80 works best in  bright light, preferably sunlight.


    I found that an adult walking towards the camera,  motor vehicles travelling slowly and body board surfers close to shore are easily held in focus with a high rate of sharp frames.


    I found running dogs more of a challenge but was able to get some decent results as long as I kept the shutter speed at 1/640 sec or faster.


    So, sports photographers will not be rushing to replace their full frame DSLRs and big zooms any time soon. But for occasional sport/action use in bright light the TZ80 can do a decent job.


    Overall the TZ80 performs well above comparable models from Canon, Nikon or Sony particularly with RAW capture and moving subjects.  Many SoCaNik compacts do not offer RAW output at all and those which do are tediously slow.


    Long end of the zoom.  The moored yachts are about 750 meters from the camera.


    Ergonomics


    Setup Phase: 


    The TZ80 menus are an upgrade from those seen in the TZ70. In fact the TZ80 menus have reached almost micro Four Thirds levels of  options and choices. The upside of this is an increased level of configurability. The challenge, particularly for the novice user,  is coping with the increased complexity. I will post a ‘setting up’ series on the TZ80 shortly.


    The Panasonic menu system is reasonably logical and the graphical user interface is very good but I think that Panasonic needs to clarify, simplify and reorganise the menus with increased effort to group like items together.


    The Operating Instructions include both the TZ80 and TZ100. The instructions are reasonably well written but as usual Panasonic tells you at length what options you can choose but not why you would.    


    Prepare Phase:


    For a compact the TZ80 is unusually well supplied with user interface modules for making settings in Prepare Phase. In particular there are four hard (physical) Function buttons, any one of which can be assigned to Q Menu duty. The Q Menu is set, there being no Custom Q menu available, but it is comprehensive and very useful.


    Capture Phase:


    Holding the camera is easy and feels secure. There is a handle on the front and a thumb support on the back. The handle is a different shape from that on the TZ70 for reasons which escape me. I prefer the straight up and down shape of that on the TZ70.  I happened to have a Sony RX100 to hand as I was testing the TZ80. Although it is only slightly larger the TZ80 is much more comfortable to hold and also easier to operate.


    Viewing arrangements on the TZ80 are quite comprehensive.


    There is a built in EVF which is fixed, meaning it is always ready for use at any time. It is small but sharp and clear giving a good preview of the subject. It is particularly useful in bright light when the monitor is almost useless and at the long end of the zoom when viewing through the EVF allows as secure hold  minimising camera shake.   There is no eyecup so I curl my left index finger around the top and left side of the EVF. This blocks stray light and gives extra eye relief for more relaxed viewing.  With my left hand in this position the fourth finger sits on the lens control ring ready to adjust shutter speed if required.


    The monitor is sharp and clear. Both monitor and EVF can be configured to ‘Monitor style’ or ‘Viewfinder style’.  Both can be set up to present the same information in the same way for a seamless segue from one to the other. Both can be adjusted for Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, and Color balance.   Using the Disp button allows the user to choose what information is displayed.


    I would prefer a larger EVF and a fully articulating monitor, but both those things would make the camera larger and more expensive.


    Operating the TZ80 is a pleasant experience. Novices and snapshooters can set the Mode Dial to the [iA] position and let the camera do most of the thinking. Enthusiasts and experts can use the P,A,S, M modes for more control over the picture taking process.

    While using the camera I never accidentally pressed a button and found it easy to operate the Cursor Buttons (4 way controller) by feel.


    Aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation are easily managed with the Control Ring (around the lens barrel) and the (rear) Control Dial.


    I find it easy to control all primary and secondary focus and exposure parameters in Capture Phase of use although the actual process of doing so is not quite as direct as is possible with, say, an  FZ1000 or G7. The TZ80 does quite often require a visit to the Q Menu in Capture Phase.


    The only real ergonomic problem I have identified relates to the built in flash unit.  The EVF, monitor and flash on the TZ80 are built in and fixed. Presumably this makes them less expensive to produce and would also make the camera robust as befits its travel zoom role, there being no pop-up or swing-out modules to break. But when held normally the middle finger of the right hand lies right across the flash unit. So the user has to be aware of the flash symbol upper left on the screen and adopt a different and rather awkward hold with the right hand when this indicates the flash will fire.


    Body boarding a shore break


    Carrying

    The TZ80 is promoted as ‘pocketable’ which may indeed be true if one has largish pockets available in a jacket or similar. I carry my TZ80 in a Lowe Pro Portland 20 pouch from which I cut out the red tongue to make more internal space. The TZ80 fits perfectly with 1 or 2 spare batteries and several memory cards in the front pocket. The pouch attaches to a belt with straps and hook and eye type fasteners.

    Summary


    Spider with 7 legs. I like that the TZ80 enables shots like this with no tripod. I set AF Macro and made 8 shots in quick succession in a few seconds. This was the sharpest.


    The TZ80 is one of the better small compact superzoom/travel/holiday cameras on the market at the time of writing.  It packs a remarkable amount of capability into a very small package at a modest price point.


    It is an easy camera to recommend.





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    TZ80
      

    Basic decisions- touch screen, focus area, function buttons, dials


    This series of three posts concentrates on still photography. 

    The TZ80 is a very capable video camera with many options including 4K. However my interest and experience is with stills. Please consult other sources for discussion about video capture.

    Panasonic’s first model of the TZ (Travel Zoom) line was the TZ1 of  2006. This was well reviewed for its many desirable qualities but criticised for not allowing the user to directly control aperture and shutter speed.


    Over the years, successive TZ models have gained increased levels of user control. So now with the  TZ80 (ZS60) of 2016  we have a compact camera with a level of  features, configurability and control similar to that which you might expect to find on an enthusiast level DSLR or MILC.


    The TZ80 in [iA] Mode is still the snapshooters friend but it has much more to offer for the enthusiast/expert user who is prepared to utilise the camera’s full capability.


    The Operating Instructions for Advanced Features (which by the way also cover the TZ100/101/110) available online,  describe in considerable detail the many settings you might make but have little to say about why you might select one in preference to others.


    Snapshooters  and beginners to camera photography can leave all settings at factory default, set the Mode Dial to [iA], charge the battery, insert an SD memory card, set the time and date when prompted and start taking photos without further ado.


    This little series of posts is aimed at users who want to take more control over camera operation.


    Panasonic offers  [iA+] Mode on the TZ80.  Press the Menu/Set button with the Mode Dial at the [iA] position and see the [iA] icon at the top left of the monitor screen. Scroll right to select [iA+].

    Clearly Panasonic is prompting you to consider [iA+] as the next step up from ordinary [iA] Mode. 
    Indeed [iA+] gives you more features and capabilities than [iA].  By all means experiment with the options available in [iA+].


    However I find this Mode more confusing than helpful and recommend moving right along to the P (Program) Mode setting on the Mode Dial, then to the A, S and M modes.  These provide much more user control of the image capture process.


    To make best use of the options available some basic decisions must be made. Central to this process is selecting the method of moving the active AF area.  Just like more expensive cameras the TZ80 allows you to move the active AF area anywhere in the frame (and to change its size).


    The AF area position can be moved using the touch screen, with several options available or the Cursor Buttons (4 way controller) again with several options available.


    But wait: You also need to decide whether you are a left eye viewer or a right eye viewer.


    Why ?  Because it is easier for right eye viewers to use the ‘Touch Pad AF’ function described below.


    Why is that ?,   Because left eye viewers constantly find their nose touching the screen thereby causing unwanted actions.


    Therefore it is more likely that touch screen operation will find favour with right eye viewers than left eye viewers.


    Fear not lefties, you can use the ‘Direct Focus Area’ function of the Cursor Buttons as described below.  Of course right eye viewers can also use the ‘Direct Focus Area’ function.


    Holding the camera in landscape orientation. This is a bit unconventional but effective. The left index finger forms an eyecup around the viewfinder, excluding stray light and setting the eye at the optimal distance from the eyepiece. The left hand has a secure grip on the camera allowing the right hand to release grip completely as required. The fourth finger of the left hand rests on and can operate the lens ring to adjust aperture or shutter speed. The fingers must not be allowed to rest on the inner barrel(s) of the lens. This could lead to optical decentering or possibly damage to the zoom mechanism.


    Portrait orientation. This is not quite as secure as the hold in landscape orientation but is still adequately effective. The right thumb can still be used for Touch Pad AF or Direct Focus Area.


    Holding the camera

    Whether you decide to use ‘Touch Pad AF’ or “Direct Focus Area’ there is still the question of holding the camera securely.  This refers  particularly to the position of the left hand  and fingers which have to hold the camera while the AF area is being moved by either method as both require the right hand to release its grip on the camera. 


    Touch screen functions   Screen 7/8 in the Custom Menu, Pages 61-64 of the Operating Instructions.

    The TZ80 has touch screen functions,  previous TZ models did not. Some people are ardent supporters of touch screens on still cameras, others are less enthusiastic. 


    It may be that Panasonic added touch to the TZ80 in order to support the various 4K photo capabilities.


    Once you set Touch Screen ON,  the fields below become active. These are Touch Tab, Touch AF (with submenu options) and Touch Pad AF (also with submenu options).  Touch Pad AF will work only if Touch AF is ON.


    The problem for still photos is that it is difficult to utilise touch screen functions while looking through the viewfinder (EVF or in Pana-speak, LVF).


    Touch Pad AF is a method for moving the active AF area with your right thumb on the monitor while looking through the viewfinder. This works as advertised by Panasonic. The sub menu options are [Exact] and [Offset]. I recommend [Offset] which allows you to move the AF area across to the left side of the frame without your thumb having to go past midway on the monitor. It also allows you to ‘nudge’ the AF area which is not possible when moving AF area while looking at the monitor.


    I am finding this function works quite well with the TZ80. On larger cameras like the FZ1000,  I find  Touch Pad AF not very useful because of the distance which the right thumb must move from its normal position in order to reach the middle of the monitor screen. In addition the hump top location of the EVF causes the face to obstruct movement of the right thumb across the monitor screen. So on that camera I use and recommend ‘Direct Focus Area’ using the cursor Buttons.


    But the TZ80 is a much smaller camera, it is easily supported by the left hand, the EVF is at the far left side and the right thumb can easily reach across into the monitor screen area. So Touch Pad AF becomes a viable option on this camera.


    Before leaving this subject I just mention an odd behaviour which I encountered while testing the various touch screen options. If you have your nose or a finger touching the screen then touch the screen with a second finger and move that second finger it has the effect of changing the size of the Active AF area without moving it.


    The normal method of changing active AF area size is to rotate the rear dial when the AF Area Setting Screen is active  (AF area is yellow with four yellow arrows).  Press the Disp Button when the AF area square looks like this to return the square to center. Press Disp again to restore the AF square to default size.


    Moving  active focus area with the Cursor Keys

    If you are a left eye viewer or decide for your own reasons that you do not like Touch Pad AF then you can move the active AF Area with the Cursor Keys.


    As usual with a Panasonic camera there are several ways you can approach this.


    The two most useful are:

    1.  Assign AF Mode (Autofocus Mode) to a Function Button.  When you press that button the AF Mode screen displays. Then press the Down cursor Button to enter the [AF Area] screen with the AF area displayed with a yellow bounding box and four yellow arrows.  Now the Cursor Buttons will move the AF Area up/down/left/right.  Rotate the rear dial to change AF Area size. Press the Disp button to center the AF Area. Press Disp again to revert the AF area to default size.  Half press the shutter button to re enter capture mode.

    That method works but you have to press two different buttons to reach the point where you can move the active AF Area.


    2. Direct Focus Area.  Find this at the bottom of Custom Menu screen 2/8 and Page 156-157  of the Operating Instructions.

    When [Direct Focus Area] is ON you can directly move the active AF Area with the Cursor Keys without first having to press any other button.

    This is a wonderful thing but the downside is you have to find alternative access points for the default functions of  the Cursor Buttons:


    * Exposure Compensation and Flash Control can be found in the Q Menu.


    * Drive Mode and Focus Mode do not have a place in the Q Menu (and there is no facility for a Custom Q Menu on the TZ80)  or in any of the Main Menus so if you want to access these, and you most definitely do, you must allocate them to a Function Button. 


    So if you want to move the AF Area with the Cursor Keys this process leaves  only one Fn button with function as yet unallocated.


    Does it need to be this complicated ?

    NO !!!

    In my view it is way past time that all manufacturers fitted their cameras with a JOG lever (a.k.a.Joystick) There is a perfect spot for one on the back of the TZ80, centered on the ‘F’ of the Fn4/LVF button.


    The JOG lever does away with all the rigmarole currently required to setup a method for moving the active AF Area. The prime purpose of the JOG lever is to directly move AF Area around the frame. 
    The technology is well established with JOG levers having been fitted to high end cameras for many years.


    Q Menu

    The TZ80 has a fixed Q Menu. Many other Panasonic cameras allow a Custom Q Menu which would have been handy for the TZ80 but sorry, it doesn’t have one. (but the TZ100 does, go figure) 

    Fortunately most of the items which are provided are useful in the Prepare and Capture Phases of use.


    Principles

    Optimally you want to control primary and secondary focus and exposure parameters in Capture Phase of use with the shutter button and the front (lens ring) and rear (around the Cursor Buttons) dial, supplemented if required by Fn buttons.


    Any spare Fn buttons and the Q Menu are ideal for making adjustments in the Prepare Phase of use.

    Settings which do not require adjustment in Prepare or Capture Phases are best left in the Main Menu system. ‘Menu Resume’ allows the most often used items to be reached promptly.


    Function button assignments

    There are 49 possible functions which can be allocated to the Function Buttons. See the list on Pages 71-72 of the Operating Instructions and  Custom Menu,  screen 6/8  [Fn Button Set]  then click through to scroll through the 13 screens!  of options for each button.


    The number which can be assigned depends on:


    a) whether you have decided to use Touch Pad AF or Direct Focus Area to move the active AF Area.


    b) Whether you decide to use the ‘soft’ Fn 5,6,7,8,9  buttons or not.  These appear as flyouts from the [Fn] soft button  on the right side of the monitor screen when Touch Tab is set to ON.


    I suspect that people are going to love or hate these soft Fn buttons depending on their finger size and experience with texting on small screens. 


    I can only suggest you give them a try. They are the only way to get additional Fn button items once functions have been allocated to the four hard Fn Buttons.  I personally found the touch screen Fn buttons frustratingly small, fiddly and a distraction from the process of making pictures but some users with small fingers will very likely love them.


    Ring/Dial Set

    Find this in the Custom Menu, screen 7/8 and Page 75 of the Operating Instructions. You will see that in typical Panasonic fashion there are 17 functions which can be assigned to each of the front (lens ring) and rear (Control) dials.


    Decisions

    You will see that the options available for the Fn Buttons and Ring/Dial functions are a dog’s breakfast of Setup, Prepare and Capture Phase items jumbled together in haphazard fashion.


    Some of these items are duplicated in the Main Menus, some in the Q Menu, some nowhere else.


    As Harry Belafonte once sang, “it’s as clear as mud, but it cover’ de ground”.


    Each individual will have his or her own ideas about which functions they want to be quickly accessible so it is not useful for me to be prescriptive.


    So I will indicate what selections I use and why. The reader will have different priorities and thus will reach different conclusions.  Whatever you decide is easily altered at any time.


    I use Touch Pad AF to move the active AF Area.  

    Update: See below. I have decided the camera works better for me with the touch functions switched off.



    Ring/Dial Set: 
    I leave both at Default.  This means both have the same function in P Mode (Program shift) A Mode (Change Aperture) and S Mode (Change Shutter Speed). In M Mode the Ring changes Aperture and the Rear Dial changes Shutter Speed.


    It is tempting to allocate some other function to either the Ring or Dial. For instance you can allocate Exposure Compensation to the Rear Dial for quicker adjustment than is possible with the Up cursor button.  But then the dial will not change Shutter Speed in M Mode.


    So what initially appears to be a cornucopia of options may well amount to something less for users who want to use M  Mode.


    If you are quite sure you will not want to use M Mode then it could  be appropriate to allocate control of a primary or secondary exposure or focus parameter to one of the dials, leaving the other one to serve its principal function as described above.



    Note: There is a workaround for M Mode if the rear dial is set to Exposure Compensation. Shutter Speed can be changed via the Q Menu.

    Thus you might allocate  Sensitivity (ISO), Exposure Compensation or White Balance to one of the dials. Most of the other options are for Setup or Prepare Phase actions, more appropriate to a Fn Button or the Main Menu.


    Function Buttons:  My selections are: With touch screen functions ON:


    Fn1:  Quality (RAW/JPG)  Note that Quality is available in the Q Menu.  If you habitually use one quality setting and might only occasionally want to change it, then this Fn button could be used for something else.


    Fn2: Sensitivity (ISO)  This is also available on the Q Menu for users who typically set Auto ISO and only occasionally want direct control of the ISO setting. If so, this button could be used for something else.


    Fn3: Q Menu. I use this button for Q Menu because it is near the bottom of the camera in a lower priority position than Fn 1 and 2 which I use for more frequently accessed items. You must use one of the Fn Buttons for the Q Menu.


    Fn4: Stabiliser (OIS) If you never use a tripod then you probably never need to turn the Stabiliser off and can leave it in the Rec Menu, thereby freeing up Fn4 for some other function.



    Update  After working with the camera for a week I have decided for ergonomic reasons to switch off touch screen functions and use Direct Focus Area to move the AF area.

    I will post separately about this but in practice I have found that camera operation is more streamlined without the touch screen functions.  When the Cursor Buttons are used to move the AF Area my thumb stays within a small area while changing AF area, AF area size and returning AF Area to default position and size via the Disp Button.

    I have the lens ring set to default function which is Program Shift in P mode, Change Aperture in A Mode and Change Shutter Speed in S Mode.

    I have allocated Exposure Compensation to the Rear Dial for quick operation. Unfortunately this means that the Rear Dial will not change Shutter Speed in M Mode. All is not lost however. Shutter Speed can be adjusted via the Q Menu. This is cumbersome and means in practice I will rarely if ever use M Mode.  

    My Function Button allocations are: With touch screen functions OFF:


    Fn1: Drive Mode (Not available on the Main or Q Menu)


    Fn2: Focus Mode (Not available on the Main or Q Menu)


    Fn3: Q Menu


    Fn4: Stabiliser



    In the next post I will go through the Setup and Rec Menus.







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    TZ80 Plenty of detail, decent highlight and shadow detail. Luminance noise visible at base ISO.

    Setup and Rec Menus


    In this post  I will just run through the Setup and Rec Menus with suggestions about those items which I think deserve more explanation than can be found in the Operating Instructions for Advanced features. Some items like setting the clock and time zones need no input from me. Others like the Wi-Fi setup appear to be well documented in the Operating Instructions.


    Setup Menu


    Online Manual   I tried the URL listed but got nowhere. I find that Panasonic Europe is usually the best place to find the Operating Instructions. Keep clicking through from the ‘Support’ tab for the camera model. The file size is about 11.2 MB.


    Live View Mode  The choice is 30 or 60 fps. Page 78 of the Instructions.  Panasonic says 60 fps prioritises display speed over picture quality and uses more power than 30 fps. I set 30 fps for general photography.  The 60 fps setting might have been something to include in a Custom Mode for sport/action. Unfortunately the camera will not allow any Setup Menu items to be included in Custom Modes.


    Monitor Display   NOTE ! This item changes to Viewfinder when you look in the viewfinder.

    You can adjust Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Red Tint and Blue Tint in both the monitor and viewfinder.

    Individuals will have their own preferences of course.

    I leave all settings for the monitor at default.

    For the viewfinder I have Brightness +6, Contrast 0, Saturation 0, Red Tint 0, Blue Tint -3.


    Monitor Luminance You can experiment but I just leave this at the default setting which is [A].


    Economy  Again you can experiment but the default settings seem to be appropriate most of the time.


    Menu Resume  Set this ON for quick access to a frequently used Menu item.  The camera will remember which Menu item was last used and return to this when the Menu/Set button is pressed even after the camera has been switched off.


    Exposure Comp Reset  This is very handy. When you set this ON any exposure compensation used during a photo session is cancelled when the camera is powered off or the Mode Dial is turned to a different position.  This prevents inadvertent carry over of an exposure compensation setting from one photo session to the next.


    Self Timer Auto Off  This is similar. Set this ON so you don’t have to remember to cancel the self timer when you power the camera off.


    Rec Menu

    Photo Style  This is Panasonic’s term for user adjustments to JPG settings. The TZ70 mysteriously did not allow Photo Style settings which make a welcome re-appearance in the TZ80.

    You can use the presets, such as Standard, Vivid, Natural….etc  by scrolling across or create a Custom Photo Style by scrolling down from any of the presets.

    You can have several Custom Photo Styles if desired.

    You can adjust Contrast, Sharpness, Noise Reduction and Saturation.

    Individuals have their own ideas about this and some experiment is indicated. For instance if you regularly photograph in an environment with low subject brightness range you might want the Contrast set high. But in direct sun with a clear atmosphere you might want contrast low.

    You can change any setting at any time.

    I use Contrast +1, Sharpness +4, Noise reduction -5, Saturation 0.

    It has seemed to me that all recent Panasonic cameras have been using excessive Noise Reduction at default, leading to soft, mushy looking JPGs. So I have all of them set to the minimum possible NR.


    Filter Settings  Page 131 of the Instructions.

    You can apply filter effects usually found in the Creative Control Mode in other Modes such as P,A,S etc.. Exactly why you might want to do this is a bit unclear to me…………


    Aspect Ratio  This camera does not have a multi aspect ratio sensor so any aspect ratio other than 4:3 is achieved by a simple crop of the output picture.


    Picture Size  I sometimes see on user forums a novice camera user complaining about the quality of his or her pictures only to discover the person has set some picture size other than the maximum available (L). Always set L.


    Quality   This can usefully be assigned to a Function Button. You can have JPG in two levels, RAW and JPG+RAW. I see no point in ever setting the lesser of the two JPG levels.


    Sensitivity (ISO) This is another one which can usefully be assigned to a Function Button.  I use Auto ISO most of the time for hand held general photography and 80 for best quality when the camera is on a tripod or otherwise securely supported.


    White Balance  I have noticed over the years a steady improvement in Panasonic’s auto white balance to the point that I hardly ever use anything else. The camera actually enables extensive and sophisticated user adjustment of white balance setting with presets, color adjustment, setting specific adjustment and Kelvin settings.


    AF (Autofocus) Mode    Instructions Pages 149-155.  You would normally access this via the Q Menu.

    The options are 1 Area, Face-Eye Detection, Tracking, 49 Area.

    I find [1 Area] the  most reliable and useful for most subjects.  

    Face-Eye detect has its place for people pictures but sometimes fails to do its face-detecting thing.

    49 Area is the one you get in [iA] Mode, with all those little green AF squares, over which you have no control.

    Tracking tries to hold focus on a nominated subject element ( a dog, person’s face, whatever) as it moves laterally across the frame. It might also follow focus on the nominated thing as it moves towards or away from the camera. Or not, as can happen.


    AFS/AFF/AFC  Page 148 of the Instructions.   This is also found in the Q Menu.

    AFS is AF single. The camera finds and locks focus with a half press of the shutter button.

    AFC is AF continuous. The camera continuously works the AF mechanism seeking best focus. This is best for moving subjects for which the DFD function enables predictive AF.  It is however  not optimal for still subjects on which the camera tends to hunt as it seeks best focus.

    AFF is AF Flexible which is a kind of hybrid of  AFS and AFC but without the predictive function.

    The description on Page 148 of the Instructions is quite good.


    Metering Mode  Page 183 of the Instructions.

    Options are Multiple, Centerweighted and Spot. You would want a very good reason to use anything other than Multiple.  Spot will almost certainly guarantee unsatisfactory exposures in most circumstances.


    Burst Rate    Page 203 of the Instructions gives a good explanation with a table detailing the numerous options.  This is where you nominate the rate which will be set when Drive Mode is set to Burst. 

    For sport/action work I use M, which gives AF, AE and live view on every frame at about 5fps.

    To check a golf swing or similar you can select a higher frame rate with loss of some functionality.


    4K Photo  There is extensive discussion about this in the Instructions, Pages 184-198.

    This is allocated by default to the Fn1 button.


    Auto Bracket  Page 206-207 of the Instructions. This is where you tell Drive Mode what do when Auto Bracket is set.

    You can select from 9 options ranging from 3 shots at 1/3 stop intervals to 7 shots at 1 step intervals.

    The camera will fire the selected number of shots while the shutter button is held down. It  needs to be on a tripod or other secure support so all the frames are in alignment.


    Self Timer   Page 208 of the instructions.   This is where you tell Drive Mode what to do when Self Timer is set.


    i Dynamic  Page 143 of the Instructions. This applies to JPG images. When [iDynamic] is ON the camera underexposes to prevent highlight blow out, then lifts the tone curve to correct mid tone brightness before outputting the JPG file to the memory card. It is useful when subject brightness range is high.

    You have Auto, High, Standard, Low and Off.

    I set Auto and leave it on permanently. The camera detects when subject brightness range is high and applies the correction automatically. It does help to prevent blown highlights to which the TZ80 is somewhat prone.


    i Resolution   Page 142 of the Instructions.   This feature has been available on Panasonic cameras for several years but in the past I have never been able to convince myself that it was useful. However I ran some tests with JPGs on the  TZ80 and found that iResolution does work on this camera. When set to STANDARD  it cleans up the typical softness seen towards the corners at the wide end of the zoom.

    I also tested performance in AFC at Burst M with JPG, RAW and JPG+RAW capture. The camera must have a really fast processor because even with the extra work required to implement iDynamic and IResolution it performed almost as well as with those features switched off.

    With them both on the camera ran indefinitely at 5fps with JPG (max quality), ran for 16 frames at 5fps  before slowing with RAW capture and 14 frames at 4.5 fps before slowing with RAW+JPG quality.

    That is a very good performance for a compact camera and considerably better than many entry level DSLRs and MILCs.

    So my recommendation and practice is to leave i Dynamic set permanently to AUTO and i Resolution set permanently to STANDARD.


    Post Focus  There is a full description of this in the Instructions,  Pages 210-215.

    This is a wonderful new feature which I never knew I wanted and after reading about it I still don’t know that I want it. It looks like something Panasonic included because they can,  not because somebody asked for it.

    Anyway it’s there and by default access to the feature is assigned to the Fn2 button. So if you want to use it you need either to gain access via the Rec Menu or use up a Fn button, the opportunity cost of which is you cannot use that button for anything else.

    It seems a whole lot easier to me to just focus on the part of the subject which I want to be in focus and take the picture.


    i Handheld Night Shot  Page 91 of the Instructions.  This is a fully automated feature which only works in [iA] or [iA+] and only if Quality has been set to JPG (not RAW or JPG+RAW) for which you need  to set one of the PASM Modes. It attempts to get you a picture at night when you have no tripod by making a series of exposures then combining them in camera.


    i HDR  Page 92 of the Instructions. This is another fully automated feature which only works in [iA] or [iA+] modes with JPG capture. The camera detects a high subject brightness range, takes three frames in quick succession and combines them in camera for better highlight and shadow detail than would be possible with a single JPG photo. It works as advertised.


    HDR    Page 143 of the Instructions  Not to be confused with  [i HDR], HDR is also a JPG only feature but works with the P,A,S, M Modes.  When ON the camera makes three exposures in quick succession and combines them to produce a single JPG file. It is not found in the Q Menu. You can set HDR to a Fn button but the opportunity cost of that is displacement of a higher value item.

    The TZ80 has a simplified Off/On version of HDR. The TZ100 has the more fully specified version with submenus, usually found in Micro Four Thirds cameras.


    Time Lapse Shot  A full description can be found in Pages 216-218 of the Instructions. For a consumer compact the TZ80 has some rather sophisticated functions of which this is one.


    Stop Motion Animation   This is another sophisticated function well described at Pages 219-222 of  the Instructions.


    Panorama Settings  Pages 110-111 of the Instructions.

    The TZ80 has an auto panorama mode which works well and can if used with care and practice produce very impressive results. The camera will automatically set the lens to the wide end and E-Shutter is set.

    First turn the Mode Dial to the Panorama icon.

    Then enter the Rec Menu, when you will find the Panorama Settings tab active.

    You get options for Direction and Picture Size.

    You can make panoramas in landscape or portrait orientation sweeping horizontally or vertically, making a total of 8 options.

    I recommend and use for horizontal panoramas (the most common kind) the bottom of the four Direction options shown in the Direction submenu. Hold the camera in portrait orientation and sweep from left to right.

    I recommend setting Picture Size to STANDARD as WIDE is really a bit extreme for most purposes.

    Substantial practice is needed to acquire an understanding of which subject types lend themselves well to the panorama treatment and to develop optimal technique. Most bad results are due to poor subject selection or poor technique.

    Many natural subjects are managed well but diagonal architectural lines are not.

    You can get some amusing effects by including moving subjects in a panorama sweep.


    Shutter Type  The TZ80 uses a diaphragm type leaf shutter so the E-Shutter is not required unless shutter speeds faster than 1/2000 second are required. I have no idea when that might be.

    There is no issue with shutter shock as far as I am aware.

    Just set MSHTR and forget about it.


    Flash Adjust  This is where you tell the camera what to do when Flash Mode (at the Right Cursor button or Q Menu) is set to Auto or Forced Flash On.  I use -1 stop so the flash operates as an adjunct to the natural light not a replacement for it.  This can be quite useful when using the camera indoors, permitting a natural appearance to the subject while  allowing a lower ISO setting than would be possible without flash.


    Red Eye Removal  This fires the flash twice, the idea being that the first flash closes the pupil of the subject’s eyes, thus providing less opportunity for light to reflect back from the retina (red with blood vessels) when the main flash fires. Even if this feature is set OFF in the Rec Menu, it can still be selected from the Q Menu.


    ISO Limit Set  This sets the upper limit which auto ISO can set. Your tolerance for luminance noise (grain) will determine your setting. With RAW capture and careful processing in Adobe Camera Raw I have found ISO 1600 can produce good results.


    ISO Increments   Set this to 1 EV.  Aperture and Shutter Speed have 1/3 stop increments so there is no need for ISO to do likewise.


    Extended ISO  On most Panasonic cameras this applies to the lower ISO limit which can be set.  But on the TZ80 it just allows a 6400 setting which is one stop higher than the standard upper limit of 3200. On this camera 6400 is ridiculously grainy and not recommended.


    Diffraction Compensation  On cameras such as the TZ80 with a very small sensor, image quality due to diffraction at the iris diaphragm in the lens will start to become detectable in images at an aperture smaller than (a larger f number) about f4. This feature tries to correct for this presumably with extra sharpening. I have yet to test the feature.


    i.Zoom and Digital Zoom  These are JPG only features which in effect take a crop of the middle part of the frame and resize it to give the appearance of an extra zoom capability. By all means play around with this for fun.  However I find the results quite unsatisfactory. The problem is that the lens is borderline for sharpness at the long end of the optical zoom and will not tolerate cropping and resizing.


    Stabiliser  If you always use the camera hand held and never put it on a tripod or other support then you can leave the Stabiliser on all the time. But it needs to be switched off for tripod mounted (or equivalent) use and it is not to be found in the Q Menu. So I have it on Fn4.

    You can read about Face Recog  on Page 226 of the Instructions and Profile Setup  on Page 229.

    And that’s yer lot for Setup and Rec Menus.






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    TZ80  This spider was about 2 meters from the camera. I was unable to get closer. But the TZ80 allows photos of small creatures to be taken from a distance using the long end of the zoom and AF Macro.


     Custom Menu

    As usual with this series I will not elaborate on items which I think are self explanatory or are well described in the Owners Manual for Advanced Features.


    Cust.Set Mem.     Pages 128-129 of the Operating Instructions for Advanced Features.

    The TZ80 allows three groups of Custom Modes, accessible from the C position on the Mode Dial. Note the list on Page 128 of items which cannot be allocated to a Custom menu.

    Custom Menus can be a handy way to group together settings for particular subject types, for instance low light/tripod, low light/hand held…etc.

    You can still alter settings and use all the controls in a Custom setting but any changes made during a session will not be retained when you switch off or turn the Mode Dial to a different setting.


    Silent Mode  Turns off beeps and invokes the E-Shutter. Camera operation is totally silent. Note however that if you switch off the beeps, operation with the mechanical shutter is so quiet as to be inaudible to anyone whose ear is not right next to the camera.


    AF/AE Lock and  AF AE Lock Hold        This camera does not have an AF/AE Lock button. This function can be assigned to a Function button but I don’t quite understand why you would do that as the opportunity cost is losing that button to a higher priority function.


    Shutter AF  This is the normal mode of operation which the great majority of cameras use. Half press on the shutter button activates and locks focus.  Recommended.


    Half Press Release  For users in a hurry. The camera focusses, estimates exposure and fires the shutter on half press of the shutter button.  Sounds like an invitation to misfocussed shots to me.


    Quick AF  The camera tries to focus continuously even without pressure on the shutter button. This is one way to drain the battery quickly.


    Eye Sensor AF  Yet another option for the speedy set.


    AF Assist Lamp  Panasonic has one of the best low light AF systems in the business, making the AF Assist lamp redundant. Even in very low light the camera switches to low light AF mode which is slower than normal but accurate and consistent.


    Direct Focus Area    This was discussed at length in Part 1 of this 3 part setting up series.


    Focus/Release Priority   I always set this to FOCUS as I see no point in taking an out of focus shot.


    AF + MF   The TZ80 has some features usually seen only on much higher level cameras and sometimes not on them either. So you can autofocus set then touch up focus manually simply by turning the lens ring  while the shutter button is half pressed.


    MF Assist  and MF Guide  should be ON.


    MF Assist Display can be picture in picture or full. I recommend PIP.


    Peaking  The TZ80 even has peaking. You don’t see that on a budget compact very often.  It is an aid to finding the optimal focus point with manual focus. I recommend setting the Detect Level to High and the Display Color to the top one on the list, cyan.  The peaking display lights up maximally at the point of best focus.


    Histogram  I see Histogram as a legacy feature on cameras with Zebras so I switch Histogram off.


    Guide Line  I find guide lines very useful, especially for keeping the camera horizontal. I use the third option down with both lines crossing in the center of the frame. If you switch Touch Screen functions off, the lines will stay where you put them.


    Highlight  This refers to the highlight ‘blinkies’ seen on playback with overexposed highlights. I still find this useful even with Zebras in play during Capture.


    Zebra Pattern   This is s feature you will not find on any DSLR with eye level viewing. It is an import to still cameras from video practice which allows you to evaluate highlight exposure pre-capture and if required apply exposure compensation. If the zebras are flashing, that part of the subject will be overexposed.

    If Zebras are being used to prevent highlight clipping you can set one level for RAW on Zebra 1 and a lower level for JPG on Zebra 2.

    You will need to run your own experiments to see what levels suit your type of photography. However a starting point might be 105% for RAW capture and 90% for JPG.


    Monochrome Live View  The monochrome effect is applied to the monitor or EVF view only. The pictures come out colored as usual.


    Expo. Meter  This puts a great big Aperture/Shutter Speed equivalence display all over the screen. I don’t know why Panasonic still have it in the list. It doesn’t seem to be working on my TZ80 which is a mercy.


    Dial Guide You might want to have this on while becoming familiar with the camera. Then get rid of it to reduce the visual clutter.


    LVF Disp. Style/Monitor Disp. Style   Most budget compacts do not allow these adjustments. The idea is to pick a style which you like then apply it to both the monitor and EVF for a seamless segue between the two.

    I use and recommend ‘Viewfinder’ style with key camera data on a black strip beneath the image preview. This makes it easy to keep a running check on Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO Sensitivity setting.


    Rec Area   This sets the preview frame for stills (camera icon) or video (movie icon). Set it for stills (4:3) and it will change to video (16:9) when you press the red (video) button.


    Auto Review  This is set ON by default. But if you want to make several single exposures in quick succession switch it off. There is however one reason you might want to set Auto Review to HOLD.  Panasonic cameras have an irritating behaviour. If you take a photo then press the Playback button to review the shot, the lens auto retracts after a period of time (generally 10-15 seconds) so then you have to set up the zoom and focus again for the next shot of the same subject. User forum member have been complaining about this for years but Panasonic appears to be deaf to their feedback or is unaware of it, I know not.

    Anyway if you set Auto Review HOLD the dreaded lens retract does not happen and you can dismiss the review image with a half press of the shutter button.


    Fn Button Set  has been discussed at length in Part 1.


    Zoom Lever  You can set this to continuous or steps. Take your pick.


    Zoom Resume  On/Off take your pick.


    Ring/Dial Set  was discussed in Part 1.


    Eye Sensor  For ease of operation set the Sensitivity to LOW  and the LVF/Monitor Switch to AUTO.


    Touch Settings  were discussed in Part 1.


    Menu Guide  You might want to leave this on while becoming familiar with the camera, then turn it off to declutter.


    Well that’s it:  we are done with setting up the TZ80 for still photography.







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    TZ80 at ISO 1600 Original RAW capture processed in Adobe Camera Raw

    I recently read a ‘review’ of the TZ80 in a major newspaper which basically described the camera (here I paraphrase) as a piece of junk, unusable at any sensitivity setting above ISO 400 and hopeless at the long end of the zoom.  This reviewer’s intemperate remarks demonstrated that he had not made sufficient effort to understand the camera’s capabilities.


    He did get one thing right however. The camera works well enough for snapshooters on [iA] Mode but experienced photographers can get better results using the P, A and S Modes, RAW capture and post processing.  


    I suppose you could probably say that of most cameras so it should be no surprise that it is true of the TZ80.


    [iA] Issues


    I have been using the [iA] setting on the mode Dial over the last few days. This is not my normal practice but I wanted to see the results.

    [iA] is certainly very convenient., with auto-almost-everything operation.


    Photos made outdoors are generally clear and sharp with pleasing overall rendition of most subjects.


    Indoors in low light AF is very fast and accurate and face/eye detect works really well.

    The camera will reliably get a decent photo indoors with or without activating the built in flash.


    However [iA] pictures characteristically have a very ‘smooth’ quality to them, due to strong noise reduction.  

    Even at ISO 1600 there is no visible luminance noise (and no chroma noise) at all.  However fine textural details are banished in the smoothing process.


    P Mode, JPG issues


    The next step up from [iA] is to set the camera to P Mode on the Mode Dial and use JPG capture.

    You now have some control over the appearance of the JPG files via the Photo Style tab which is first item on the Rec Menu.


    This involves balancing noise reduction with sharpness. More of one produces less of the other.

    In the Photo Style tab you can create a Custom Photo Style from any of the presets, Standard, Vivid, Natural….etc


    This is a work in progress for me but my current settings are

    Contrast +2

    Sharpness +4

    Noise Reduction  -5

    Saturation +1


    These settings work well at low ISO sensitivity levels but can be problematic at high ISO levels with blotchy color distribution evident on Caucasian faces and a noise/sharpness balance which doesn’t quite get either right.


    A and S Modes, RAW capture


    The next step up in camera control is to use RAW capture and the A and S Modes on the Mode Dial.


    Capture Phase

    In low light with a fairly still subject you can set S Mode and explore options for slow shutter speeds. With Auto ISO the ISO setting which the camera selects will decrease as shutter speed decreases and lower ISO means better picture quality.


    With OIS enabled I have found I can reliably get decently sharp results at 1/15 second at the wide end of the zoom and around 1/40 second in the mid range of the zoom.


    Individuals need to make their own experiments with slow shutter speeds. Some have steadier hands then others, some have better holding and shutter release practices than others.

    OIS is no help at all for subject movement. Moving subjects require faster shutter speeds.


    Fortunately both the monitor and EVF on the TZ80 can be set up in ‘Viewfinder’ style with Aperture, Shutter speed, Exposure Compensation and ISO easily visible against a black background beneath (in landscape orientation) the image preview. This makes it easy for the user to continuously monitor shutter speed.


    Unfortunately Panasonic’s implementation of Auto ISO is still quite basic, even on more advanced models across the range. Thus the ISO setting selected by the camera is not responsive to the lens focal length in use. Panasonic would do its customers a power of good by upgrading this.


    The user should be able to set a minimum shutter speed to be set by the camera at each focal length.

    Ideally there would be three auto ISO program lines, each sensitive to lens focal length. One would allow slow shutter speeds for best quality with still subjects. One would set fast shutter speeds for situations where both the camera and shutter are moving. The third would be an intermediate.


    In the meantime, lacking this facility the astute user must keep an eye on both shutter speed and focal length and make sure shutter speed is kept sufficiently fast as focal length increases.


    RAW conversion post capture


    Here follows a high ISO  image management sequence which I have tested and found to give good results using Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom.


    1. In the Basic Tab adjust Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Clarity… etc to personal preference. I find that the high ISO files from the TZ80 often need a contrast boost.


    2. In the Detail Tab go first to Noise Reduction and move the Luminance slider to somewhere in the 30-60 range. The trick is to reduce but not eliminate luminance noise. 

    After some experiment  I leave Luminance Detail at the default level of 50.

    (chroma noise has been removed in camera and is not adjusted further)


    3. Go to the Sharpening Tab and

    Move the Detail slider down to zero.

    Move the Radius slider up to 3.0.

    Move the Amount slider up until the picture at 100% on screen looks sharp enough.  The Amount  frequently ends up at 100, but sometimes less is sufficient.


    Try moving the Detail slider up slightly, maybe to 5 or 10. If this produces too much grain go back to zero.


    I find these strategies usually produce a file which I can easily print up to A2+ size from ISO 1600 with good overall appearance and very low grain levels.


    ISO 3200 is  more challenging and gets print output into the ‘detail-free’ zone. However  decent pictures can still be made as long as one’s expectations are modest and big enlargement is not contemplated.


    Conclusion


    With thoughtful strategies at capture and RAW processing stages, the TZ80 camera can be used to make good pictures indoors and in low light at high ISO sensitivity settings up to 1600.

    Considering that the lens zooms from a wide (focal length equivalent) 24mm to a very long FLE 720mm the TZ80 can be considered a remarkably versatile camera considering its compact dimensions.


    The 1/2.3” sensor


    The TZ80 uses the so called 1/2.3” sensor the actual dimensions of which are 6.17x4.55mm, with a diagonal of  7.67mm and an area of  28.07 square millimetres. This sensor size is used in gazillions of smart phones and is therefore likely to be the recipient of abundant R&D funds.


    So, watch this space. In the few years I have been using cameras with this sensor size their image quality has improved markedly. I expect more to come and I expect to see cameras using this sensor size to become increasingly capable and versatile.


    The TZ80 is already better than some reviewers seem to realise.


     






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    TZ110 hand held shopping center interior at the wide end of the zoom. You can see the camera does a good job here. The subject is reasonably difficult to photograph with high subject brightness range, abundant detail and mixed light sources.


    Significance, specifications and features


    Four years ago  Sony redefined what is possible in a compact camera with the original RX100. The key new ingredient of this camera in 2012 was its ‘one inch’ sensor (actual dimensions 13.2x8.8mm). 
    Since then Sony, Canon, Nikon and Panasonic have used the same sized sensor in an increasingly sophisticated range of  fixed zoom lens cameras (FZLC).


    Some of these are now so capable they challenge the relevance of any interchangeable lens camera (ILC)  be it DSLR or MILC with the ubiquitous ‘convenience’ or ‘travel’ zoom lens.


    Some of them are also quite large, not things I imagine many people might describe as ‘compact’.


    Photo courtesy of camerasize.com
    This  is reasonably self explanatory. Each camera is fitted with an approximately comparable 10x zoom with an aperture range of f3.5-5.6 or close to that. The dramatic reduction in size enabled by the 'one inch' sensor and collapsing built in zoom is readily apparent.


    The dream 


    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if somebody could produce a camera which:

    * Is small and light enough to carry all day in a jacket pocket or belt pouch and hardly be noticed.

    * Has a 10x zoom for versatility.

    * Has a built in, fixed, always ready EVF to ensure a good viewing experience in any conditions.

    * Is able to deliver very good picture quality outdoors or indoors.

    * Has fast responsive performance in all circumstances with JPG or RAW output.

    * Has very good ergonomics.

    * Is pitched at a moderate price point.


    Does this sound impossible ?


    Until very recently it was.


    But with the TZ110 (a.k.a. TZ101, TZ100,  ZS100,  TX1)  Panasonic is trying to achieve the previously impossible.


    Have they succeeded ?


    I have been working quite intensively with my TZ110 over the last few weeks, making many thousands of exposures in a variety of conditions.


    My conclusion is that with some reservations, yes, Panasonic has been able to create the previously impossible and in the process significantly advance the evolution of fixed lens cameras.


    Photo courtesy of camerasize.com
    On the left is the TZ110. On the right is a Nikon 1 V3. This is an ILC which uses the same sized sensor as the TZ110. It has been fitted with a 10x zoom with similar focal length and aperture range to the TZ110. Actually the TZ110 has a wider aperture.   (Camera size did not have the 10-100mm lens in it's files so I mocked up the correct size for this photo).
    The V3 lacks a built in EVF.
    So even when the sensor size is the same the built in collapsing design of the TZ110 lens allows a dramatic reduction in size with no loss of function.


    TZ 110 Specifications and Features 


    The TZ110 specifications and features list reads like that of an enthusiast DSLR or MILC.


    Basically you get just about everything a modern, semi pro enthusiast camera has to offer.


    You can read all the details elsewhere but some notable items include:


    * Very fast, capable autofocus with decent follow focus capability on moving subjects even with RAW capture.  

    * Manual focus and AF + MF with focus assist and peaking.

    * AF area can be quickly moved anywhere in the frame.

    * Fast responsive overall performance.  The buffer holds 16 RAW files.

    * Configurable control layout which can be tailored to individual requirements.

    * Suitable for snapshooters in [iA] Mode or expert/enthusiasts in one of the P,A,S,M Modes.

    * It has all the headline features like touch screen, Wi-Fi, 4K video and 4K photo. However I have to confess that I switch off touch screen capability (I will explain why in a subsequent post)  and don’t use the other features. 


    The point is that those features are there for users who want them.


    The TZ110 also has a long list of useful photography features which do not attract headlines. 

    * The EVF is fixed, built in and always ready for use. You don’t need to pop it up.

    * Both the EVF and monitor can be configured in ‘viewfinder’ or ‘monitor’ style and both can be adjusted for brightness, contrast, saturation and color balance.

    * You get zebras which for those who do not yet know it are very useful for getting correct highlight exposure.

    * You get twin dial operation which is not often seen on a compact.

    * There is a very useful and configurable built in flash.

    * You can have M-Shutter or silent E-Shutter…… The list goes on and on……….

    So the TZ110 has many features and capabilities which have migrated down from larger, more expensive cameras.


    But it also has features derived from traditional compacts such as auto panorama which works well in practice.


    In addition there are many features designed to help JPG shooters make better pictures in an automatic or semi automatic fashion.  There is a long list of these but I just mention iDynamic,  iResolution HDR and iHDR.  These are not just gimmicks, they really work.


    All this fits in a Lowe Pro Portland 20 belt pouch with space for several memory cards and a spare battery. The TZ110 in the belt pouch can be carried all day and hardly be noticed.


    The competition

    As I write this in April 2016 the TZ110 has no direct competition. There are plenty of advanced compacts but none with the ‘One inch’ sensor, built in EVF and 10x zoom.


    I guess if the TZ110 does well in the market place Panasonic’s competitors will respond in due course.


    Next: Picture Quality










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    TZ110 

    Picture Quality


    The sensor  in the TZ110 is the now popular Sony second generation backside illuminated 20Mpx ‘One Inch’ chip the actual dimensions of which are 13.2x8.8mm giving a diagonal of 15.9mm.


    Experience with several cameras from Sony, Canon and Panasonic using this sensor has shown it to be very versatile.


    It is small enough that cameras built around it can be compact but large enough to deliver convincingly high picture quality even at high ISO sensitivity settings. 


    My main camera for the last two years has been the Panasonic FZ1000 which has a sensor which is likely the same as or very similar to that in the TZ110.


    On my tests the FZ1000 and the TZ110 produce RAW files with the same level and character of luminance noise at all ISO settings.   RAW files converted in Adobe Camera Raw exhibit minimal chroma noise at any ISO sensitivity setting.


    I have photos made in low light with the FZ1000 at ISO 12800 which make decent A4 or even A3 sized prints.


    Lens


    The second main determinant of picture quality is the lens.


    That in the TZ110 is quite ambitious and I suspect would have been impossible to produce  just a few years ago. 


    It has a 10x zoom ratio, triple extension inner barrel, 12 elements in 10 groups, 5 aspheric elements with 9 aspheric surfaces, effective optical image stabiliser and very fast autofocus. Somehow all this fits in a depth of only 44mm when the camera is powered off.


    There are two trade offs for this amazingly compact configuration.


    The first is the aperture which ranges from a respectable f2.8 at the wide end to a more pedestrian f5.9 from (35mm equivalent) focal length 160mm to  250mm.


    The second is optical quality which is very good at some focal lengths but not quite so good at other focal lengths.


    I have extensively tested my own  TZ110, which is a sample of only one, however my results appear to be consistent with those reported elsewhere.


    The lens on my copy of the TZ110 is generally very good but close inspection of test photos does reveal some subtle variations in sharpness which I have not seen or at least been unaware of  in any other lens, fixed or interchangeable.


    It is very sharp at the shortest focal lengths (focal length equivalent  25 and 28mm) except for softness at the edges at f2.8 which largely cleans up by f4.


    It is very sharp across the frame at 90mm right from the widest available aperture of f5.7.


    It is also quite decently sharp at the longest focal length of 250mm, the optimum aperture being f7.1.


    But the optical characteristic of the lens at the intermediate focal lengths is somewhat variable.


    At FLE 35mm the lens is quite sharp right across the frame at the widest aperture of f3.4 but drops a little on the left side when the aperture is reduced to f4.


    This pattern is repeated at FLE 50mm where again the lens is quite sharp across the frame at the widest aperture of f4.1 but drops slightly at the edges when the aperture is closed to f4.5 then falls further at the edges at f5.6.


    I found a similar pattern at FLE70mm with sharpness decreasing as the lens aperture is reduced from wide open.


    At FLE 135,  160  and 200mm my copy of the lens is slightly soft on the left side indicating a degree of decentering of the assembly.


    I noticed when making multiple shots of the same subject with the same framing that the degree of softness on the left side was variable for no reason apparent to me.


    I noticed local flare around bright subject elements particularly at the long end of the zoom.


    I have no idea why lens sharpness at the edges would diminish as the aperture is reduced and no idea why softness on one side would vary from shot to shot  and no idea why these paradoxical phenomena appear at some focal lengths but not others.


    I also have no idea whether I have a ‘bad copy’ of the lens or not.


    I ran all my chart tests three times and made several thousand photos indoors and outdoors to confirm that my findings are real and not just the product of some kind of procedural error.


    Notwithstanding all these peculiarities I have been able to make excellent photos with my copy of the TZ110 at all focal lengths, indoors and outdoors. I just have to be sure to set the best aperture for each focal length.

    This is the version of my hold for portrait orientation. The camera is held stable with the camera body and my right thumb pressing against my forehead. The left index finger keeps out stray light and holds my eye at the optimal distance from the eyepiece.

    This left hand position has several benefits. The index finger provides a kind of bionic eye cup, keeping out stray light and holding my eye at the optimal distance from the eyepiece. The middle finger can easily operate the lens ring. The camera is well supported and easy to hold steady.


    Autofocus 
    I have found that  autofocus single (AFS)  on the TZ110 is typically Panasonic, fast and accurate.

    AF Continuous utilises Panasonic DFD which is also very effective allowing the camera to achieve predictive AF at 5 frames per second with a high percentage of in focus frames on moving subjects such as people walking and running, cars driving towards or away from the camera and dogs running.  

    Image stabiliser

    The image stabiliser on the TZ110 is very effective. With a static subject, good camera holding and shutter release technique I can get sharp pictures at the long end of the zoom down to about 1/125 second.


    But if I am following a moving subject when, of course the camera is also moving to follow the subject, a much faster shutter speed is required, more like 1/400 second or faster if possible at the long end of the zoom.


    RAW vs JPG

    Over the years Panasonic’s JPGs have gradually improved. I think that JPG shooters using the TZ110 will be pleased with their results. At the highest ISO settings I can still get better looking results using RAW capture and processing in Adobe Camera Raw but in most situations the JPGs look pretty good to me.


    JPG output on the TZ110 can be adjusted to personal preference at the Photo Style tab at the top of the Rec Menu list.  You can select from various presets or make a custom setting from any of the presets.  This is still a work in progress for me but for the record my current Custom settings are:

    * Contrast +2

    * Sharpness +2

    * Noise Reduction -5

    * Saturation 0


    Hand held technique

    A camera like this will usually be used hand held as befits its ‘travel zoom’ designation and it works very well that way.


    I have found however that even with OIS in play, very good holding technique us required to achieve best possible results.


    Particularly at the long end of the zoom I find the most effective way to hold the camera steady is to look through the viewfinder and hold the camera as shown in the photo. This is a bit unconventional and not the classical ‘left-hand-under-lens’ hold usually shown in camera promotional photos, but it works well and that is the main thing.


    Low light strategies

    I have found the TZ110 to be quite useful indoors in natural or artificial light or a mixture of both.


    Strategies I have found useful include:

    * Use the wide end of the zoom to keep the aperture around the f2.8-f3.5 range.  This in turn allows the ISO settings to be kept as low as possible.

    * Use the viewfinder and stability hold as shown in the photo.

    * Try setting the Mode Dial to S and exploring low shutter speeds.  With a static subject you may be able to get decent shots at around 1/20 second with good technique. Practice is definitely advised.

    OIS is no help for subject movement of course.

    * Resort to using the built in flash.  I don’t like the effect of on camera flash and generally avoid it. However the effect can be acceptable is the flash output is set to about minus 1 stop, so the light used for the exposure is a combination of ambient and flash.  One problem with this can be white balance which, if P Mode is used, the camera will set at a position suitable for flash, which may result in yellow looking pictures depending on the artificial light type.


    Long end of zoom strategies

    The lens loses contrast and acuity towards the long end of the zoom. I have found this to be normal  with this type of small form/long zoom lens.

    * The lens is not at its best with distant subjects having large amounts of fine detail.

    * Good holding technique and careful monitoring of shutter speed and aperture is required.  It may be necessary to set M on the Mode Dial to obtain optimum settings for both.

    With a static subject and still camera I find I can use a shutter speed of 1/125 second at focal length (equivalent) 250mm with no problems.


    But as soon as the subject and therefore the camera start to move a much faster shutter speed is required.  I have found around 1/400 second gives a reasonable percentage of keeper frames, 1/640 is better if there is enough light.


    Summary

    Despite its minor idiosyncrasies the TZ110 is quite capable of producing very good photos in a variety of subject conditions.


    However the expert user does have to work a little harder to obtain optimum results than might be the case with some other cameras.


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    TZ110


    Panasonic released the TZ110 (a.k.a. TZ101, TZ100, ZS100 and TX1) and the TZ80 (a.k.a. TZ81,  ZS60) at the same time, March 2016. They are very close in size, have the same general shape and they even use the same Operating Instructions.


    In the past Panasonic would release TZ series cameras in pairs, one with slightly higher, the other with slightly lower, specification.


    But this time each model of the pair has a very different sensor,  price point and zoom range.


    The exercise of this post is to show that what might seem at first to be minor differences in detail between the cameras can, and in this case do,  have quite significant effects on the overall user experience.


    I have been working with both cameras side by side for several weeks, making several thousand exposures with each. So I have become very familiar with the holding, viewing and operating characteristics of both.


    It quite often occurs to me that there are similarities between the analysis of camera ergonomics and aircraft crash investigation. In each case  problems may begin with a decision early in the design of the device, leading to a sequence of compensatory decisions ultimately resulting in a crash in the case of the aircraft or  ergonomically suboptimal operation in the case of a camera.


    TZ80 on the left, TZ110 on the right. Not quite identical. The handle on the TZ110 is a custom addition by me.


    Dimensions


    Width mm

    Height mm

    Depth incl EVF mm

    Mass grams

    W/Batt,card

    TZ80

    112

    66

    39

    280

    TZ110

    110

    64.5

    48

    315



    The TZ80 and TZ110 each fit easily into a Lowe Pro Portland 20 belt pouch (first cut out the red divider with a sharp knife). There is room for several memory cards and one (TZ110) or two (TZ80) spare batteries.


    Let us examine some of the design decisions which affect the user experience of these two cameras.


    Some of these (like the curved ends on the TZ110) might seem trivial at first glance but actually have significant consequences.


    Others (like the non- handle on the TZ110) might be more immediately apparent to a larger cohort of users.




    The handle  (or lack of one in the case of the TZ110)

    On the front of the camera to the right (as viewed by the operator) of the lens the TZ80 has a small but useful handle. It is made of grippy material which permits the user to get a decent hold on the device.  If I were the designer I would make that handle a few millimetres deeper  and a few millimetres closer to the lens for an even better grip.


    The TZ110 does not have a salient handle at all. The front surface of the body is smooth and slippery with a soft vertical ridge 2.5mm high between the lens and the right edge of the body. Many users have complained about this on forums. There is now a thriving do-it-yourself mini industry in solutions to the problem which Panasonic could and should have avoided at the design stage of product development by the simple expedient of  providing a proper handle.



    TZ110 control panel showing custom thumb bar. The curved end reduces the width of the control panel so much that there is insufficient space for a thumb support.


    Curved ends

    Someone in their wisdom decided to bless the TZ110 with curved ends.  Us mere users have no idea why.


    The TZ80 has part curved, part straight ends.


    So what ?


    The curved ends encroach on the width of the flat part of the rear of the camera.


    Therefore there is less space on the TZ110 for the Control Panel. This is the part of the rear of the camera between the monitor and the right side, host to most of the control modules.


    The Control Panel of the TZ80 is 25mm wide. That on the TZ110 is 19mm wide. That 6mm difference might not sound like much but this is the most crowded part of the camera and every bit of space is important.


    In particular there is insufficient space for a thumb support on the TZ110 whereas the TZ80 has space for a decently functional one. 


    So the TZ110 has no salient handle and no thumb support.

    When I use the two cameras side by side the TZ80 clearly easier, more comfortable and more secure to hold.


    I  wonder why the premium priced product was given less effective holding arrangements than the budget model.


    I  wonder whether anybody in the TZ110 design team actually used the camera before releasing it to a distinctly unimpressed user cohort.


    TZ80 control panel. Sufficient space for a decent thumb support and better button spacing.


    Rear Dial

    Both the TZ80 and TZ110 have a twin dial control system. This is pretty hot stuff for compact cameras, allowing the user a high level of control over primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters. Even entry level DSLRs often have only one control dial and a lower level of user control than the TZ compact duo.


    Each has a dial in the form of a ring around the lens barrel.


    But the FZ110 has a rear dial on the top plate while that of the TZ80 is around the Cursor Buttons (a.k.a. 4 way controller).


    Is one easier, more efficient or in some way better to use than the other ?


    Before going further I will say two things:


    1. The optimum location for a rear dial is that seen on the Panasonic FZ1000 and GH3/4, that is; embedded in a broad thumb support. This allows the thumb to work the dial without having to bend and without the need to shift grip with the right hand. 


    There is simply not sufficient space on a compact camera for this configuration. So the rear dial must be placed somewhere on the top plate or around the 4 way controller.


    2. The controls of both these cameras would be vastly improved if a JOG lever (a.k.a. Joystick) was provided. The purpose of this is to directly move the position of the active AF area without having to press any other control first, without having to use the 4 Way Controller and  without having to use a workaround such as ‘Touch Pad AF’.


    The optimum location would be right where the AF/AEL button now is on the TZ110 and centered on the F of the LVF button on the TZ80.


    My strong view is that all cameras would be greatly improved by incorporation of a well designed, and well located JOG lever.


    Getting back to the rear dials:


    Those on the TZ110 and TZ80 are multifunctional and mode dependent.


    In Capture Phase of use their functions include:

    * Changing aperture or shutter speed in A, S and M Modes.

    * Applying exposure compensation if thus configured at [Ring/Dial Set] in the Custom Menu.

    * Changing size of the AF area.  This can be done with the touch screen but that is awkward, particularly with eye level viewing and requires the right hand to be removed from the camera altogether.


    Neither dial is well positioned to carry out all these tasks efficiently.


    On the TZ80 the right thumb has to drop down 50mm to work the dial.  But once there it can work the 4 Way controller and reach the adjacent Disp button with no trouble.


    On the TZ110 the dial is 50mm above the 4 way controller and 60mm above the Disp button. So if you are using the rear dial to alter AF Area size and the Disp button to recenter the AF area and return it to default size, the right thumb has to travel from the 4Way Controller (or middle of the monitor screen if Touch Pad AF is used), up to the rear dial then down to the Disp button. All this disrupts the flow of picture taking, forces the right hand to relinquish grip on the camera and requires eyes on the thumb because the Disp button is difficult to locate by feel.


    The rear dial on the TZ110 is the easier of the two to use in portrait orientation.


    After using both cameras side by side for several weeks I find both get the job done, neither in a particularly elegant fashion (see below for further comment about this) and on balance the TZ80 arrangement is slightly more user friendly.


    Bevelled edges

    The TZ80 has bevelled edges all round. The TZ110 has sharpish edges to the top and bottom plates.  

    To the casual observer this may seem like a mere styling issue. However the TZ80 is more comfortable to hold. This is partly due to the handle and thumb support as described above but also partly due to the bevelled edges which are easier on the hands and fingers.


    TZ110 Recessed AF/AE Lock  button

    This button can be handy in several situations. I use it to lock focus and exposure before making a series of exposures intended to be stitched to make a panorama in Photoshop.


    The TZ80 has space for such a button but does not have one.


    The TZ110 does have one but it sits in a recessed area of the back between the monitor and the Mode Dial.  What the right thumb wants to do in order to press this button is swing left from the basic hold/operate position and find the button without having to flex the interphalangeal joints because doing so disrupts grip on the camera.


    What actually happens is that if  touch screen is ON,  the thumb touches the upper right corner of the monitor sending the AF Area to that position, which is not the desired action , but cannot press the AF/AEL button as it is recessed.


    So to press the AF/AEL button without sending the AF Area to the corner the right hand has to release hold on the camera and lift up so the thumb can flex to put the tip of the thumb onto the AF/AEL button.


    All this is unnecessarily complex and could easily have been avoided by better detail design of the controls.


    Flash

    Both cameras have a built in flash which can be handy at times.


    That on the TZ80 is fixed and located just above the handle as on previous models in this series. Presumably this location makes the flash unit robust and of low production cost. Unfortunately it is located directly behind the third finger of the right hand. So to use the flash the right hand must change grip completely prevent the fingers from obstruction the light.


    The pop up unit on the TZ110 is more user friendly but no doubt cost more to produce.


    Cursor button module (4 way controller)

    Panasonic is forever changing the design of its cursor button modules for reasons completely beyond my comprehension.  They have two versions which work well:


    When there is a rotating dial around the cursor button cluster, the design found on the TZ80 and LX100 works very well. The raised edge of the dial with serrated upper surface is easy for the thumb to locate and operate by feel.


    When there is no dial incorporated into the cursor button group the ‘rocking saucer’ type found on the FZ1000 is the best type in my experience. The sharpish raised edge of the module is easy to locate and operate by feel.


    Unfortunately Panasonic does not use this design in all the cameras where it would be appropriate. 
    They experiment incessantly with modules having 4 separate outer buttons and one central one. The latest version of this is found in the TZ110. This is serviceable but the process of locating and operating the buttons is not as positive as is the case with the FZ1000 and TZ80. The module on the TZ110 gives the thumb less tactile feedback. Thus when using the TZ110  I am always less confident that I am hitting the desired button than is the case with the TZ80 or FZ1000.


    Touch screen operation

    Both the TZ80 and TZ110 offer a range of touch screen operations and they work the same way on each camera, with the same advantages and disadvantages on each.


    I will discuss this in more detail in a post on setting up the TZ110.


     Monitor screen surface

    This is not exactly an ergonomic issue but I had to find some place for it. Although nominally the same, the monitors of the two cameras are actually slightly different.


    That on the TZ80 has a very smooth glossy surface which resists picking up fingerprints and dirt. But the TZ110 monitor has a different surface which picks up fingerprints, dust and dirt more readily.  A minor issue no doubt but something I noticed very quickly.


    Strap lugs

    This is another minor issue but these little details do accumulate. The strap lugs on the TZ80 are of the ‘handle’ type almost flush with the outer surface of the body. The lugs on the TZ110 are of the outside loop type which protrude from the body.


    Zoom lever

    The zoom lever on the TZ80 is twice the size of that on the TZ110, with four distinct lands on the upper and front surfaces. It is easier and more comfortable to operate than that on the TZ110. Again this might sound as though I am quibbling about a minor detail but when using these cameras that zoom lever is in constant use and is just one of the many design details which make the TZ80 more user friendly than the TZ110.


    The vanishing zebras

    Both cameras have zebras which is a wonderful thing for evaluating highlight exposure pre-capture. They may be the first compact cameras to have this very useful feature.


    Unfortunately there is a glitch in the way zebras are implemented in each of these cameras.

    The zebra display vanishes while you are in the process of applying exposure compensation and reappears after the compensation has been applied.


    On the FZ1000 for instance the zebra display behaves the way you want it to do which is to remain active while exposure compensation is being applied.


    Which way is value up ?

    Human brains develop spatial cognitive patterns and expectations. For instance we expect that a motor vehicle will turn to the right when the steering wheel is rotated clockwise. If some vehicles were configured to turn left with clockwise rotation the resulting carnage on the roads would make a war zone look mild by comparison.


    Cameras have the ability to control many exposure, focus and other parameters. Each of these has a value up< >value down dimension.


    For instance as shutter speeds change from, say 1/20 to 1/30 to 1/40 second I think most humans would regard that as a ‘value up’ transition. Even though 1/40 second is obviously a shorter exposure time than 1/20 second the ‘number’ increases as does the ‘speed’.  We say that 1/40 second is a ‘faster’ shutter speed then 1/20 second.


    I think most humans would also regard a progression of apertures from, say, f2 to f2.8 to f4 as a ‘value up’ transition for the same reason. The numbers increase even though the actual aperture decreases.


    An ISO sensitivity sequence is more straightforward: progression from ISO 100 to 200 to 400 is obviously ‘value up’.


    Similarly zooming from focal length 20mm to 40mm to 60mm is obviously ‘value up’.


    These values are controlled by the lens ring and rear dial.


    I would expect that to produce ‘value up’ the lens ring and/or rear dial should rotate so that  the top of the lens ring and rear aspect of the rear dial move to the right.  Ergonomically, the finger working the dial moves to the right.


    But on the TZ80 and TZ110 the opposite happens.


    But not always. When the rear dial of the TZ110 is used to adjust exposure compensation it works the way I expect it to: Pushing  the rear face of the dial to the right  produces ‘value up’.


    All this is confusing, inconsistent and completely un-necessary.


    Again I wonder if the people who produced these cameras actually used them before release.


    Summary

    The TZ110 and TZ80 are feature rich compact cameras with a level of user control greater than many ILCs.


    With practice the user can operate each efficiently.


    However there are several ways in which the ergonomics and user experience of each could easily be improved.


    Some relate to glaring and silly faults such as the TZ110’s missing handle and thumb support.


    Others are the result of minor but cumulatively significant design decisions all of which could easily have been avoided or rectified in pre release evaluation of the user experience assuming there was any.





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    The TZ110 makes good auto panoramas in camera. Access to this function is right on the Mode Dial.


    The TZ110  packs a large number of features and capabilities into a very compact body.


    In addition the function of many of the controls can be selected by the user from a long list of options.


    This is a wonderful thing as it allows each user to configure the camera to their personal requirements.  

    However those unaccustomed to the Panasonic way might find themselves challenged by the number of permutations and combinations available.


    The first major decision  is whether or not to use touch screen features and if so which ones.


    As I write this,  Digital Photography Review is conducting an online poll of readers to discover their attitude towards touch screen capability. 


    9.5% said they couldn’t get by without it.


    27.8% said they dislike touch screens.


    The remainder were not concerned either way.


    The TZ110 can be operated with or without the touch screen.


    Touch screen operation does have benefits but it also has a fairly high nuisance factor. I read numerous complaints on user forums about this.  The AF area and grid lines tend to go walkabout unexpectedly and if the on screen ‘soft’ Fn buttons are also active (which by the way I do not recommend) then  settings allocated to the soft Fn buttons are liable to change without notice as one’s fingers brush against the screen.


    Reasons you might elect to use touch screen functions

    * You make frequent use of  4K Photo functions.

    * You shoot a lot of video, especially on a tripod.

    * Setting up the Custom Q Menu is easier with touch than without.

    * This next one is a bit convoluted so please bear with me. It goes like this:


    If you set Direct Focus Area you lose access to Exposure Compensation via the UP Cursor Button.


    You can allocate Exposure Compensation [EC] to the rear dial.  That works fine in P, A and S Modes with the lens ring working to change Program Shift, Aperture or Shutter Speed.


    But there is a glitch in the firmware when M Mode is set. If EC is not allocated to the rear dial then in M Mode the lens ring changes aperture and the rear dial changes shutter speed. The firmware should be configured so that if EC is allocated to the rear dial then when M Mode is selected the rear dial reverts to changing shutter speed (because exposure compensation is not required in M Mode).


    But that does not happen and the result is you have no direct way to change shutter speed in M Mode if EC has been allocated to the rear dial.


    This is a silly programming error which suggests to me that the maker sought insufficient feedback about the user experience before releasing the product to market.


    The problem is avoided if the touch screen is used to move the focus area.  


    Reasons you might prefer not to use touch functions

    * The guide lines and active AF area box are forever going walkabout. Usually the right thumb touches the top right corner of the screen sending the AF area to that location.

    While moving the AF area the guide lines are also often moved inadvertently.

    * If you have the soft Fn buttons (the on screen ones) active, expect many changes to camera status without notice as your thumb brushes against one or more of the soft Fn buttons.


    A compromise – using some touch functions

    The compromise which I use for the TZ110 is as follows:


    Find the [Touch Settings] on screen 8/8 in the Custom Menu.


    There are four submenus, I set

    * Touch Screen ON

    * Touch Tab OFF (That gets those pesky soft Fn buttons off the screen)

    * Touch AF set to AF.  If  OFF  is selected at this tab you cannot use touch to move the AF Area on the monitor.

    * Touch Pad AF   OFFSET.   This feature allows you to move the AF area by touch while viewing through the EVF. The OFFSET setting allows the right thumb to move the AF area anywhere without having to move across to the left side of the monitor screen.  A ‘nudge’ capability is built into the OFFSET function.


    The second major decision  is whether or not to use Direct Focus Area.


    Reasons you might want to set [Direct Focus Area]   at screen 3/8 in the Custom Menu.

    * You became irritated by unintended shifts of the active AF area and/or guide lines when the touch screen is active.

    * You have a preference for hard controls when operating a camera.

    * You are happy to allocate exposure compensation to the rear dial and don’t use M  Mode.


    Reasons you might not want to set [Direct Focus Area]

    * You lose access to Exposure Compensation on the UP cursor button.

    * You also lose access on the cursor buttons to Focus Mode, Drive Mode and White Balance although these are readily reallocated to the Q Menu or a Function button.

    * You make a lot of photos in portrait orientation. This one is a bit out of left wing however I have found that in landscape orientation Direct Focus Area is slightly easier to use but in portrait orientation Touch Pad AF is easier to use. (assuming a ‘right hand up’ hold)  You have to use the camera quite a bit to notice this.


    If  the TZ110  had a JOG Lever  all this convoluted decision making would not be necessary.

    It is now my very strong view that every camera should have a JOG Lever (a.k.a. Joystick) for direct control of the AF area position.


    A JOG lever could be located right where the AF/AEL button now sits but would need to be a larger module set back towards the user so that operation of the JOG lever would not cause the thumb to touch the screen.


    Function Button task allocations

    It will be clear from the discussion above that the functions which you will want to allocate to the Fn buttons depend on decisions already made about touch screen use and Direct Focus Area.


    In addition your use of video and of 4K Photo functions will strongly determine which functions you want ready access to.


    Function button task allocations are described on Pages 70-72 of the Operating Instructions for Advanced Features.


    You will see there are 54 functions and only 4 Fn buttons one of which must be used for the Q menu.

    So you need to put considerable thought into making selections, which by the way can be changed at any time as your experience with the camera informs your decision making process.


    This setup guide is intended to be informative not prescriptive as each individual has his or her own ideas about control priorities, however her are some suggested principles:


    For still photography allocate functions required in the Capture Phase of use to the hard controls.  

    These include primary and secondary exposure and focus parameters.


    The hard controls are the Control Ring, Rear Dial,  Cursor Buttons and Fn Buttons.


    Primary exposure----Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO sensitivity.


    Secondary exposure---Exposure Compensation, White Balance.


    Primary Focus-----Zoom, start AF, perform MF


    Secondary Focus---Change position and size of AF area, switch AF<>MF, switch AFS/AFC.


    If you use video and 4K Photo functions then deciding what tasks to allocate to the Fn buttons is more difficult.


    Whatever function you allocate to a button or dial the opportunity cost of doing so is that no other function can be allocated to the same control module.


    Q Menu function allocations

    You can use the Q Menu in default configuration and with the TZ110 (but not the TZ80) you can also create a Custom Q Menu.


    The mechanics of this are best done using drag and drop with the touch screen active.


    Please refer to Pages 68/69 of the Operating Instructions.


    Functions best allocated to the Q Menu are those which require adjustment in Prepare Phase of use.

    This includes the various Modes which control drive, focus and flash and other operations.


    My copy of the Operating Instructions does not have a list of functions which can be allocated to a Custom Q Menu, however they can be found readily enough in the camera itself.


    There are 5 screens each with 8 items so the number of options could be daunting.


    The Custom Q Menu can have up to 15 items but only 5 are visible at any time so 5 is the optimum number of items to allocate to a Custom Q Menu.


    Control Ring/Rear Dial functions

    Continuing the theme of bewildering overchoice, Panasonic allows you to customise the function of the Control Ring (around the lens) and the Rear Dial.


    The default functions can be found on Page 50 of the Operating Instructions and the 16 alternative functions for each dial are listed on Page 74. Why are they not on Page 51 ? beats me………….


    Anyway….my suggestion is: be careful what you wish for.


    By this I mean that it may be tempting to allocate one of the alternative functions to the dials.


    But  the opportunity cost of doing so is that you lose the default function.


    Still… if you only ever set P on the Mode Dial this could free up the dials for alternative functions.


    Menu settings

    The TZ110 and TZ80 use the same Operating Instructions and share most (but not all) Menu settings. 
    Please refer to my posts on setting up the TZ80 for more discussion on the Menu settings.


    My setup

    I mainly shoot still photos with only occasional use of video and then only MP4/FHD/50P.


    I  have not yet found a pressing reason to use any of the 4K Photo Modes, which are no doubt very clever but I don’t really see where they fit into my workflow practice. Others will have their own views and practices.


    My setup profile:

    * Control Ring/Rear Dial: Default.

    * Touch screen: On, Touch AF> AF, Touch Tab> Off, Touch Pad AF> Offset.

    * Q Menu: Focus Mode (AF/MF/Macro),  Drive Mode,  AF Mode,  AFS/AFF/AFC,  Flash mode.

    * Fn Buttons:

    Fn1: Quality

    Fn2: ISO

    Fn3: Q Menu

    Fn4: Stabiliser

    * I have Direct AF Area OFF.


    Auto Panorama setup

    First turn the Mode Dial to the Panorama icon
    Next enter the Rec Menu, screen 5/8 and scroll to the [Panorama Settings] tab
    There are two submenus, Direction and Picture Size.
    In the Direction tab I set the bottom of the four options available. It might not be obvious from the pictogram but this enables you to hold the camera in portrait orientation and swing from left to right when recording. This enables greater image height than is possible if the camera is held in landscape orientation.
    I use the WIDE Picture Size.

    And that’s yer lot for setting up the TZ110 (alias TZ101, ZS100, TZ100, TX1).





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    The TZ80 manages bush birds quite well with its fast accurate AF and AF area adjustable for size.


    This post follows  my usual schedule for scoring camera ergonomics which you can read about here.


    Setup Phase


    The TZ80 uses a standard Panasonic Menu system which is very comprehensive, in fact near prosumer level in the number and variety of options available. The TZ80 gains Photo Style                 (Panasonic’s term for user configurable JPG settings) which was missing in the TZ70.


    Both EVF and monitor can be configured to ‘viewfinder style’ or ‘monitor style’ and both are extensively adjustable.


    The Q Menu is fixed, with no custom Q Menu being available.


    I think it is time Panasonic reviewed its menu system for greater clarity through more coherent groupings of items.


    Setup Phase score 12/15


    Prepare Phase


    There are plenty of options to make adjustments in Prepare Phase.


    There is a comprehensive Q Menu.


    There are three Fn buttons available after one is allocated to the Q menu. The function of each can be selected from 50 options.


    If Touch screen is used the cursor buttons are also available for Capture and Prepare Phase adjustments.


    Prepare Phase score 12/15


    Capture Phase: Holding

    There is a decently usable handle and a decent thumb support. The edges are bevelled for comfort. The camera is more comfortable and secure in the hands than most compacts.


    Holding score 7/20


    Capture Phase: Viewing


    The monitor is bright, sharp and clear but fixed.


    The EVF is also sharp and clear and always ready for immediate use, not requiring to be clipped on or popped up. It is however small.


    Both monitor and EVF are user configurable.


    Viewing score 10/20


    Capture Phase: Operating


    The TZ80 rewards the enthusiast user with twin dial operation and a decent set of controls. However the lens ring and rear dial turn the ‘wrong’ way for value up when adjusting some parameters but not others. The right hand has to release grip on the camera to operate the rear dial.


    The flash is badly placed, blocked by the third finger of the right hand in normal holding position.


    Operating score 19/25


    Review Phase

    It is easy to recall pictures onto the monitor, enlarge each and scroll from one to the next at the same level of enlargement  and same location in the frame.


    Review score 5/5


    Total score 65/100


    Comment:

    The TZ80 scores better for ergonomics than any other small  compact which I have tested. It is pleasant to hold and can be operated efficiently.  It is a likeable little camera which is easy to live with.







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    The TZ110 makes a good street camera with compact dimensions and fast operation.

    This follows  my usual schedule for scoring camera ergonomics which you can read about here.


    The TZ110 (TZ100, ZS100)  breaks new ground in camera design by squeezing a 10x zoom and ‘one inch’ (actual dimensions 13.2 x 8.8 mm)  sensor into a sleek, stylish,  compact body.  Unfortunately as is so often the case with modern cameras that stylish appearance has a somewhat negative impact on handling and the user experience.


    Setup Phase of use

    The TZ110 has a very comprehensive, menu system which is more like that of a recent Panasonic prosumer ILC than a compact.

    The graphical use interface is very nice, easy to navigate and easy to read.

    The extent to which the user can configure the camera to personal requirements is very high.

    I do however think that Panasonic’s menu system is due for an upgrade to improve clarity and better group like items together.


    Setup score 12/20


    Prepare Phase

    There is a Q Menu with Custom Q Menu able to be set by the user, with up to 15 items from a very long list of options. I find the Fn button on the Sony RX100(4) (which occupies the same place in the capture workflow as a Panasonic Q Menu)  to be easier to set up and use. I would like to see Panasonic adopt the Sony system for this particular aspect of the user interface.

    There are three hard Fn buttons in addition to the one which must be allocated to the Q Menu. The function of each can be selected from a long list of options.

    If the touch screen is used all four Cursor Buttons can remain active.

    Overall a decent Prepare Phase capability for such a small camera with limited real estate for hard controls.


    Prepare Phase score 13/20


    Capture Phase, Holding

    The bad news is that holding the TZ110 is not very secure.

    For reasons quite unknown to me but perhaps related to styling, the TZ110 lacks a salient handle. The front of the body is quite smooth with a soft vertical ridge which does not provide adequate purchase for the fingers of the right hand.

    The good news is that the problem is easy enough to fix either by applying some stick-on grippy material to the front of the camera or by adding a handle of some kind. Some users have reported that an upside down Flipbac does the job.    Richard Franiec makes a metal stick-on handle. I made a wooden handle and stuck it on with epoxy resin.

    Any of these approaches makes the camera much easier and more secure to hold.

    At the rear there is no thumb support. This is a bit more difficult to fix as there is insufficient space back there for a proper thumb support like the one on the TZ80.

    Some users stick on a patch of grippy stuff. I made and stuck on with epoxy an aluminium thumb bar. This is not as secure as a full thumb support but is better than the original which has nothing to support the thumb.


    Holding score standard camera (as supplied, without any accessory handle or grip) 4/20


    Capture Phase, Viewing

    The TZ110 has comprehensive viewing arrangements with a monitor and built in EVF both of which provide a sharp, clear view of the subject. In addition both can be configured by the user with many options for the appearance and amount of information which can be displayed.

    The only downsides are that the EVF is quite small and the monitor is fixed.


    Viewing score 10/20


    Capture Phase Operating

    In many respects the TZ110 works like a prosumer DSLR or advanced MILC with many hard controls and the option of touch screen capability. There are twin dials plus the Cursor buttons, four Fn buttons and several other hard controls.

    There are a few minor deficiencies which Panasonic could fix easily enough I imagine.

    The auto ISO algorithms need to be re written to respond to the lens focal length in use, Sony style.

    The lens ring turns the ‘wrong’ way for value up. An option to reverse this could be provided as on some other cameras from Panasonic and others.

    There are some other issues with dial function which I have described in previous posts.


    Operating score 15/25


    Review

    The camera enables scrolling from one review image to the next or previous at the same level of magnification and the same location on the frame.


    Review score 5/5


    Total score 59/100


    Comment

    The TZ110 breaks new ground in the ongoing adventure of camera evolution with a specification  not yet seen in any other make or model.

    However in their  quest for a smooth, stylish  external appearance the designers have given up some ergonomic capability.

    The total score of 59/100 is not bad for a compact but the less expensive TZ80 scores better at 65/100 with a reasonably decent handle, a functional thumb support, a body which is more comfortable to hold, more space for buttons on the control panel and a slightly more workable rear dial arrangement.






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    This picture was made with a humble little Panasonic TZ80. I included it to remind myself that even basic compacts can make very good pictures.

    The Sony RX10 Mk3 got my attention when it was announced in March this year. My regular, all purpose, do (almost) anything camera for the last two years has been the Panasonic FZ1000.


    I use this for static and moving subjects of all kinds. The prospect of an increase from 400 to 600mm equivalent focal length at the long end looked very appealing, particularly as the f4 aperture would be maintained.


    Somewhat surprisingly there were few if any rumors about the RX10(3)’s imminent arrival and the camera was in the hands of early adopters before formal reviews appeared on the major camera review sites.


    The specifications of the RX10 (3) read like a dream package for sport/action/wildlife/bird photographers.


    But realisation of that dream would depend on the camera’s ability to predictively focus on moving subjects, assuming it had a good lens.


    The sensor is a known quantity, being (presumably) the same as that in the RX100 (4).


    So I have been diligently reading user reports on forums which in some ways are more useful than formal reviews as they reflect real user experience.


    These reports confirm that the lens is very good throughout the focal length and aperture range.  I have seen no negative reports about the lens or the sensor.


    Unfortunately there have been many less positive reports about the autofocus performance.


    To summarise:

    * Focus hunting at the long end and in low light with AF Single.

    * Low follow focus capability on moving subjects with AF Continuous.  


    Several users report that the camera can follow focus on slowly moving subjects but that it is not suitable for sport/action/birds in flight.


    Users who photograph static subjects including perched birds mostly report they are happy with the RX10(3). Presumably the focus hunting is an occasional rather than frequent issue.


    The problem appears to be that the RX10 series and by the way the RX100 series cameras, do not have on chip phase detect AF like the A6000/6300 and other Sony cameras and they do not have a Sony version of Panasonic’s DFD, which does enable the FZ1000 to follow fast action including BIF.


    So the RX10/RX100 cameras are stuck with standard type contrast detect AF which although fast is not really suitable for moving subjects.


    Quel dommage !!


    And that is really the end of the decision making process for me. There will be no RX10(3) in my camera drawer.


    However to round out the discourse, there are some other features of the RX10 series design and control system which are unappealing to me.


    This is the Camera Ergonomics blog so of course I am very attuned to the ergonomic capability of  any camera.


    With the RX10 series, including the Mk3 I find a complete ergonomic muddle.


    To explain:


    If you look at the top plate of a mid to high end DSLR you will see an LCD screen. These appeared in the early days of the DSLR genre because there was no other way to provide an easily accessible display of camera data beyond the basic aperture/shutter speed which appeared in the viewfinder.


    But these days all the data which might appear in an LCD display and a great deal more can be presented in the EVF and/or monitor and can be configured to the user’s preference.


    There is no need for the LCD panel on the RX10. But, perversely, it has one.


    Why ? I have no idea. It is just taking up valuable top plate camera real estate which could  host  more useful things such as a drive mode dial and/or other control modules.


    Next, let us consider the two basic camera control styles.  These are


    1) ‘Traditional’, with an aperture ring on the lens, a shutter speed dial on the top plate and (usually) an exposure compensation dial also on the top plate. The is the classic Leica or old style SLR control layout sometimes reprised on modern cameras like the Fuji X series and Panasonic LX100.


    2) ‘Modern’,  consisting of a Mode Dial and one or two mode dependent Control Dials. This is the standard current DSLR/ILC layout and is used in most professional and prosumer cameras.


    Both systems are logical and either is serviceable although a well implemented ‘Modern” layout gets the job done faster.


    But the RX10 cameras are trying to have it both ways which in my view is not a success.


    They have an aperture ring on the lens. I have already read several complaints by users about this, with reference to the Mk3. The problems are


    a) The aperture ring is difficult to locate and operate by feel while looking through the EVF. The ring is quite small, has a low profile and shares the lens barrel with two other rings, for focus and zoom.


    I have also read complaints that if the left hand is held under the lens in traditional style the fingers of the left hand turning the aperture ring hit the fingers of the right hand holding the handle. This might sound like a minor issue to someone reading about it but in use is likely to be mighty annoying.

    b) There is apparently no other way to change the aperture which cannot be changed with the control dial even when the Mode Dial is in the A position.  In my view this is perverse.


    There is an exposure compensation dial on the top plate. These things have become fashionable in recent times but my analysis shows them to be more of a hindrance than a help to the capture flow.



    There are various other ergonomic issues which I will just touch upon:


    Because the top plate is taken up with the LCD panel the Focus Mode Dial has to be squeezed down into the little space below and to the left (as viewed by the user) of the lens on the front of the camera. Here it is invisible to the user and difficult to operate by feel.


    From reading the operating instructions it appears not to be possible to assign exposure compensation to the zoom lever in front of the shutter button. So you have the zoom ring and zoom lever doing the same thing which is a waste of user interface resources.  Some cameras, for instance the FZ1000 do allow EC to be assigned to the zoom lever (or not, if you prefer).


    The Control Dial is not optimally located. My work with rear control dials shows they are optimally embedded in the thumb support. You can read more about this here.  The Panasonic FZ1000 is the same width as the RX10 (3) and does have the rear dial in the optimal location as does the slightly wider Sony A77.  The A77 is also a full twin dial model. The RX10 (3) is big enough for a full twin dial layout but does not have it.


    There is no JOG lever for direct control of the AF area position although there is plenty of space on the control panel for one. The A77  has a JOG lever indicating that Sony has the technology but for some reason is not using it on the RX10 (3) where it would be very useful.


    Summary

    The Sony RX10 (3) will regrettably not find a home in my camera drawer because:

    * There are some issues reported with hunting in AFS.

    * AFC is not well suited to predictive AF on moving subjects.

    * The control layout represents in my view an ergonomic muddle.


    Comment

    It appears to me that Sony cameras usually embody good, even excellent engineering but inconsistent understanding of  users and the user experience.

    The RX10 (3) appears to be an example of this. It has a very good sensor and by all reports an excellent lens but the user experience is diminished by the poor continuous AF performance and the ergonomically muddled control layout.

    I have, by the way,  no preference for any particular brand of camera. I recently purchased a Sony RX100(4) which will probably displace the Panasonic LX100 as my preferred compact model as the RX100(4) has better picture quality.





      








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    Sony RX100 Mk4. This hand held photo was made on a clear windy afternoon at focal length equivalent 49mm.  See the crop below.

    I have been a compact camera enthusiast for many years. In the film days I would usually have an SLR and a 35mm film compact. My favourite was a Contax T2 with a 35mm prime lens.


    In the digital era I complemented a DSLR or MILC kit with a compact for those times, increasingly frequent as I age, when I did not care to carry the larger kit.  For several years this was one of the Canon G cams of which I had several up to the G16. But Canon’s failure to fit any of the G cams with an EVF and the rise of models with a larger sensor put an end to the G series for me and probably Canon.


    These days I have given up ILCs altogether in favour of a Panasonic FZ1000 as my main camera. But there are still times when I want to have something smaller but preferably no less capable than the FZ1000.  I also want a compact which works well in low light indoors without flash most of the time.


    What about travel zooms ?  Many of these do a good job for their purpose. However all but the Panasonic TZ100 have a small sensor, most with a diagonal of about 7.7mm and modest image quality as a result.


    Travel zooms have their place but not as a high quality complement to the FZ1000 in my kit.


    What about fixed prime lens compacts ?  Those for whom ultimate image quality is of primary importance may well be attracted to one of these models.


    I am very fussy about picture quality and like to make large prints of my favourite photos.   For my purposes the quality I get from, say, the Sony RX100(4)  is good enough for my purposes.   Modern zooms are so good I find no need to give up their versatility for primes.


    When I look closely at 40 x 60cm prints from the hand held RX100(4) I see more information than I could get from my tripod mounted Mamiya 7 medium format camera in the film era. That’s plenty.


    This is a crop from the photo above, from an area about half way between the center and the top right corner. The crop is 1436 x 925 pixels for a size of 1.31 MB.  You can see that despite the extreme crop, subject detail is quite well preserved. All this from a pocketable compact with a sensor about the size of the nail on a little finger.


    In their 2014 review DPR’s Richard Butler and Jeff Keller described the Panasonic LX100 as “probably the best zoom compact ever made”. I bought one and have been using it frequently for the last 18 months.


    In their 2015 roundup of advanced zoom compacts DPR nominated the Sony RX100(4) as best with an “also consider” recommendation for the LX100.


    Moving on to 2016  and DPR posted an updated roundup of compact enthusiast zoom cameras, again nominating the Sony RX100(4) for the top spot.


    Our family has had two of the original RX100 models for several years. I have never been attracted to this camera due to the awkward controls and user experience.


    But the RX100(4) promises improvements over its predecessors in several key aspects of picture quality, performance and the user experience so I bought one recently.


    The main subject of  this post is a comparison between the LX100 and RX100(4). They are both interesting cameras but each takes a different approach to the same problem, namely how to get top picture quality into a compact package.


    I find the functional and ergonomic comparison interesting.


    But before going further  I will just mention some cameras which I did not buy and which also did not get the top ranking from DPR.


    Most of Canon’s G_X series compacts use the same 15.9mm diagonal (a.k.a. “one inch”) sensor as the Sony RX models (the G1X 1 and 2 use an even larger sensor). These cameras should be competitive with the Sony RX100 models but suboptimal lens quality, sluggish performance with RAW capture and ergonomic deficiencies (no EVF on most of them) keep these Canons out of the running for my purposes.


    I read on a camera industry website yesterday that Canon Australia made a loss last financial year. If they continue to produce second rate cameras like the G_X series I suspect that trend might continue.

    The Fuji X30 lacks the image quality I desire. In addition this camera is not particularly compact by modern standards considering the small sensor inside, which is of the X-trans type, of which I am no fan as it does not work well with Adobe Camera Raw.  The X-Q2 has no EVF.


    Panasonic’s TZ100 breaks new ground in camera design and specifications, packing a 10x zoom in front of a ‘one inch’ sensor in a genuinely compact body with a built in EVF. But the lens maximum aperture is a bit small and lens quality while good is not outstanding.


    I looked at but did not buy the Sony RX100 (3) and am pleased I did not as AF performance in the Mk4 is reported to be significantly better. In addition some of the other upgrades in the Mk4 are important to me such as the user adjustable auto ISO implementation.


    Nikon has nothing on the table that might be suitable for my requirements. Nothing.  I had a P7800 a while back. This thing has a decent lens and quite good picture quality but uses the old Expeed C2 processor resulting in tediously slow shot to shot times (3.5 seconds) with RAW capture.


    They announced the DL series of three cameras with a ‘one inch’ sensor in February but thus far no product has appeared. Nikon is citing the earthquake in Japan as the reason for delays and that may well be the case, but I wonder if something else is holding up the works there.


    I noticed just today that Olympus has discontinued the Stylus 1 and 1s along with a bunch of other compact cameras.


    All of which leaves Sony and Panasonic the two most recent entrants into the digital still camera marketplace to battle for the top enthusiast compact ranking.


    I have the view that the dominant camera type in the very near future will have a fixed zoom lens with advanced specification, picture quality, performance and ergonomics.


    Thus I regard the outcome of the battle for best advanced compact to be a guide to the future prospects of the various camera makers.  And right now it is not looking too good for Canon and Nikon……or Olympus, Fuji, etc…..  I could be wrong about this of course but I do not know anybody  who likes changing lenses. Consider that.


    Returning to the main theme of this post let us look at the Sony RX100 (4) and Panasonic LX100 in more detail.


    The RX100(4) is smaller than the LX100 and so is the carry pouch required. The RX100(4) will fit in a smaller pouch but I use the Lowe Pro Portland 20 on a waist belt. This pouch has room for the camera, two spare batteries, microfiber cloth and memory cards.  The LX100 goes in a Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 5 with two spare batteries, microfiber cloth and memory cards. The TTMM5 has straps for belt fitting or over the shoulder carry style.


    Lineage

    The ‘LX’ prefix has been used by Panasonic for several years for a series of compact digital cameras based on the ‘1/1.7’ inch sensor, actual size about 9.35mm diagonal. Although the LX100 uses the same naming prefix it is a completely different camera, using 19.2mm of the 21.5mm diagonal of a standard ‘four thirds’ sensor.  As such it has no real predecessor at all. There is also thus far no follow up model nor rumors thereof.


    The RX100 Mk4 is the fourth in a series of RX100 cameras each with the same sized 13.2x8.8mm, diagonal 15.9mm sensor. The RX100 series has evolved and improved with each iteration having more features, better picture quality, better performance and better ergonomics than the previous model.


    Dimensions

    Model

    Width, mm

    Excluding lugs

    Height, mm

    Depth, mm

    Including filter and lens cap on LX100

    Mass, Including battery and card

    Box Volume cc.

    WxHxD

    Sony RX100(4)

    102

    59

    41.5

    295

    250

    Panasonic LX100

    114

    67

    74

    400

    565


    You can see that the LX100 has more than twice the box volume of the RX100(4). It is a substantially larger camera and it requires a substantially larger bag or pouch in which to carry the camera.


    You can see the different approaches to the user interface here. The Panasonic has a fixed monitor, fixed EVF and traditional style controls. The Sony has a swing up/down monitor, pop up EVF and Mode Dial+Control Dial controls.


    Controls

    The LX100 has a hybrid traditional/modern control layout with aperture ring on the lens, shutter speed dial  and exposure compensation dials on the top plate. Some people say they think this is a really great system because it is ‘logical’ (it is, but that is head logic not finger logic) and it provides ‘direct’ control of the aperture and shutter speed (which is not quite the case as all controls on modern cameras are electronically mediated)  

    However I find it slower to operate than a well realised version of the modern ‘Mode Dial+Control Dial’ system as found on the RX100(4). As it happens I don’t think the  control layout on the RX100(4) is as efficiently implemented as it could be but I still rate it more streamlined than the LX100 particularly if you want to use the P,A,S,M Modes and switch from one to the other.


    Try using the LX100 in shutter priority mode and you will discover how awkward this is with the shutter speed dial.


    The basic layout of the RX100(4) works well enough but the camera has more functions and options than there are controls to work them. So inevitably choices have to be made about what items can  be allocated to the hard controls and which have to stay in the menus.


    Both cameras are serviceable but each has its idiosyncrasies,  quirks and irritations.


    Specifications,  features and functions

    Each of these camera comes absolutely loaded, some might say overloaded and I would be inclined to agree, with a multitude of features and capabilities for still and video capture at a high level including 4K.

    There are more similarities than differences but some of those are worthy of note.


    I will mention just a few in no particular order:


    * Auto ISO. Panasonic’s auto ISO algorithm is very basic.  It takes no account of the lens focal length, does not allow min/max shutter speed settings and does not allow the user to nominate slow/medium/fast shutter speed range. The RX100(4) does have these capabilities, which Panasonic should implement  ASAP.


    * Changing AF area position. My view is that all cameras should be fitted with a JOG lever (Joystick) for this purpose although that would require a major design rethink in the case of the RX100 as there is no space for one on the current body configuration.


    Both cameras use the 4 way controller for changing AF area position. On balance I find the Sony implementation slightly preferable as full function of the up/down/left/right keys is retained but if Panasonic Direct Focus Area is used the default cursor key functions are lost.

    The underlying problem for Panasonic is that the Menu key is allocated to the center button of the 4 way controller. Sony has the Menu button elsewhere which frees up options for the 4 way controller.


    * Each camera has a close up mode (‘macro’) mode but each works properly only when the lens is very close to the subject which is not well suited to many subjects. Of the two I prefer Panasonic’s approach which allows you to control aperture, shutter speed and AF area position. The Sony implementation is fully automated, providing hardly any user control at all.



    Update: I discovered that the Sony can be brought very close to the subject with the A setting on the Mode Dial. This allows decent close ups with full control over exposure and focus parameters. 

    Both the Panasonic and Sony only allow close up work at the shortest focal length which can bring the camera inconveniently close for some subjects.

    * Raw + JPG. Inexplicably, Sony only allows RAW + JPG Fine but not Super Fine.  Why ??


    * There are issues with Exposure Compensation on both cameras. Most Panasonic cameras allow you to set EC to revert to zero when the camera is powered off or the mode is changed. But of course the LX100 has the EC dial so no auto reset is possible.


    Unfortunately the RX100(4) doesn’t provide for an auto EC reset either although it presumably could with a firmware update.        


    * Panasonic Q Menu and Sony Fn button have a very similar function, being particularly useful for adjustments to be made in the Prepare Phase of use. I find that setting up and using the Sony system is easier than the Panasonic.


    * The LX100 comes with a separate battery charger, the RX100 models use battery-in-camera USB charging which I dislike as I cannot use the camera and charge a battery at the same time. The problem is exacerbated by poor battery life from the small Sony batteries.  I bought a separate charger and three spare batteries for the RX100(4).


    * Sony allows auto exposure bracketing to be combined with the self timer. Thus AEB can be done without the user having to touch the camera during exposures.

    Panasonic does not have this desirable feature.


    * Both cameras support auto panorama in camera and both do a good job. The Panasonic allows a considerably wider and slower sweep so is easier to use. Both systems have difficulty with very fine foliage and diagonal architectural lines.



    * The RX100(4) has a built in, pop up flash which can be useful for fill light in many situations, but no hotshoe.  
    The LX100 has the hotshoe and a separate flash unit supplied in the box. As the LX100 flash is separate and will not fit in my TTMM5 carry bag I have never used it. So much for the separate flash idea.  Of course you can use all kinds of sophisticated on and off camera flash setups with Panasonic's advanced multi flash capability but I doubt many users will choose the LX100 for that role.

    Picture quality

    * The stacked BSI sensor in the Sony is smaller than the 4/3 chip in the Panasonic but is of more advanced design with more pixels and a higher DXO Mark score. This translates to the Sony having visibly (but not dramatically)  greater capacity to render detailed information in a subject with no penalty on luminance noise, color rendition or dynamic range.

    I am no great fan of either Panasonic or  Sony JPGs but at least  Panasonic (but not  Sony) allows user control of noise reduction which can be dialled down to minimise smearing and watercolour effect at high ISO sensitivity settings.


    * Each camera has a lens of similar specification although that on the LX100 is more ambitious as it has to cover a larger image circle. Maybe this explains why the RX100(4) has better sharpness across the frame and into the corners at all focal lengths and apertures.

    The RX100 (4) lens is very good but not quite perfect. I noticed mild softness in the corners at the wide end of the zoom and at the widest aperture. In some shots the out of focus parts of the image showed a double line effect and in others I saw a ‘bright donut ring’ out of focus appearance.


    I did notice on close examination of matched photos that although the RX100(4) reveals slightly more information (detail) in a subject the LX100 has better acutance. This is the subjective perception of sharpness related to edge contrast. In practice, for those readers familiar with Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom,  RAW files from the RX100(4) will often benefit from moving the ‘Clarity’ slider to the right.


    The combination of more pixels and a better lens results in slightly but consistently better picture quality for the RX100(4) at all focal lengths and apertures and all ISO settings.


    I have to admit I was a bit surprised to discover this when I tested the two cameras side by side. I had been using the LX100 for 18 months in a wide variety of conditions with very few concerns about picture quality. The only real problem I found was decidedly soft edges at 75mm focal length and 16:9 aspect ratio. Otherwise I have hundreds of photos which look just fine  printed up to 40 x 60 cm size.


    The LX100 delivers very good picture quality. The RX100(4) is consistently just a bit better. 


    Performance

    Both cameras have commendably fast, accurate AF Single. I had read comment from users about AF problems with previous models in the RX series but I have thus far had no problems with the Mk4.

    In fact during tests I noticed a few incorrectly focussed frames with the LX100 but not the RX100(4).


    Panasonic utilises the ‘low light’ AF feature for slightly more reliable AF in very low light levels than the Sony.


    Both cameras can combine AF +MF but I find the Panasonic way of doing this more user friendly. On the LX100 if you set AF+MF in the Custom Menu you can half press the shutter button to achieve AF then while holding the shutter button half pressed simply turn the lens ring for instant MF with PIP display and peaking.  After focus is achieved the lens ring returns to its normal function as set by the user.


    The Sony equivalent is DMF which does the same thing BUT the normal function of the lens ring is always disabled in favour of MF. This makes DMF most unappealing for me.   


    Panasonic has DFD which makes AF Continuous and follow focus on moving subjects more effective on the LX100 although the RX100(4) can keep up with slowly moving subjects with a reasonable percentage of sharp frames.


    This is not really much of an issue as neither of these cameras is likely to find much use for sport/action  work.


    Ergonomics


    Setup Phase: Menus

    Both cameras are burdened by such a multitude of options that their menu systems are quite dense and complex. The Sony menus have gotten more criticism from reviewers than those of Panasonic but I find them very similar in ease of use which is low and  capacity to bamboozle the new user which is high. Both makers need to rethink their menu structure for greater clarity and coherency.


    Prepare Phase: Fn and other configurable buttons and dials

    Prepare Phase is the few minutes before starting a new photo session. This will usually see the user wanting to set the various modes such as focus, drive, AF, exposure and so forth. Both cameras have a similar problem which is that there are far more items to adjust than there are control modules to do the work. The LX100 uses set-and-seedials for Capture Phase parameters when those dials could be more productively used for Prepare Phase actions. The RX100(4) is so small that there is not enough real estate for the number of hard controls the user might like for optimum control of the many variables.


    So both are serviceable, both get the job done but with more workarounds than would be required on a well designed larger camera.  


    Capture Phase:


    Holding   Note: my comments about the RX100(4) all relate to the camera with the Sony AG-R2 stick on handle in place. I regard this as essential and would prefer to see Sony include it routinely in the box with every unit.
    The LX100 is larger, has a larger handle with more width on the right side (as viewed by the user) of the front of the camera, a much larger thumb support and a bit more mass. So it is easier to hold with the right hand and easier to keep still.


    The LX100 is also better configured for the left hand.  I have found after much experiment that the best holding position for my left hand is with the wrist straight, index finger around the EVF eyepiece and third finger on the lens ring. I find the left-hand-under-lens position usually shown in promotional photos of these cameras to be awkward,  uncomfortable and a bit unstable  with excessive twist on the wrist. Young people with more flexible joints might wonder what I am talking about.


    This works fine on the LX100 but when the RX100(4)  EVF is up it disrupts this posture in both landscape and portrait orientation.  A serviceable position of the left hand can be found but it is not elegant.


    Viewing

    The ergonomic challenge for these small cameras is to provide a built in EVF.


    Panasonic’s solution is an ergonomic one, namely build in the EVF so it is always ready for use.

    The pop up Sony EVF is an engineering solution to an ergonomic problem. It works in the sense that it provides a built in EVF in a very small camera body but it is not so good ergonomically. The EVF has to be popped up and pulled out every time you want to use it, there is no way to fit an eyecup so stray light gets in and the left hand hold on the camera is adversely affected.


    Of the two approaches I find the Panasonic one easier to live with.


    Operating

    Both cameras are serviceable but their operation is suboptimal in various ways.

    The Sony has insufficient real estate to house the number of controls such a complex camera really needs. The buttons are small, flat and recessed, even the shutter button, making them difficult to find and operate by feel.  The shutter button has no clearly felt ‘half press’ position.  Fortunately the rear dial is easy to find and operate by feel.


    The Panasonic has more buttons which are slightly easier to find by feel. The set-and-seemodules for 
    Capture Phase adjustments take up a lot of real estate which in my view could be better used for  a standard Mode Dial + Control Dial layout.


    There is no consistency about which way the LX100 dials turn for ‘value up’.

    The action of the Sony lens ring is a bit disconcerting in practice. It is smooth with no clicks so moving from one aperture or shutter speed to the next has a disconnected feel about it. Fortunately the ring moves in the proper direction (push right at the top of the ring for ‘value up’) and the head up display which pops up as the parameter is being adjusted is rather nice.


    So both cameras get the job done but both have numerous impediments to optimal operation.


    I have made several mockup cameras with the purpose of investigating how the ergonomics of small cameras could be improved. I will describe my findings in a separate post.  


    Review

     * On playback the Sony can jump in one step to a 100% enlargement at the focus point. This is very useful for checking correct focus. The Panasonic cannot do this.


    Conclusion

    Either of these cameras can make excellent photographs in a wide variety of circumstances.


    Is one better than the other ?


    The Sony is smaller and can produce slightly better pictures.

    But smallness is not always a wonderful thing when you are actually using the device.

    The Sony has been reported to have overheating problems when recording 4K video.


    The Panasonic being larger is easier to hold and the always-ready EVF is more user friendly.


    I suspect that each individual’s priorities will determine which of these cameras they will prefer.


    What’s next ?

    Each of these cameras is well into its product cycle.

    People on user forums are posting quite frequently asking about the advent of an LX200 and a RX100(5).


    I have no idea what is coming of course but I can express my own desires for follow up models.

    I think Sony has gotten itself the kind of problem a camera maker would like to have. The RX100(4) is so capable I suspect it will be difficult to improve the camera if the same size and control layout are retained. I do have some thoughts about this on which I will elaborate in a post about my compact mockups.


    Panasonic has a different kind of problem. They can go after Sony with the same sized camera using the same (Sony) sensor.


    But I would rather see them pursue the ‘larger-than-the-Sony-but-still-compact’ theme started by the LX100 but using the Sony sensor.  


    My preference would be for them to renounce the ‘traditional’ control layout and concentrate on a well designed ‘Mode Dial+Control Dial’ layout with a lens starting at f1.4 at the wide end and with a bit more range, say up to 90mm equivalent at the long end.  This camera would have much more appealing ergonomics than the RX100 series Sonys.


    I have put my thoughts about this into a mockup which I will describe later.








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    RX100 Mk4   Appearance after adjustment in Adobe Camera Raw.


    I have been  using and testing my new RX100Mk4 over the last few weeks and will be posting about this interesting camera over the coming months.


    Today’s post is just to show how malleable are the RAW files from this camera’s Sony RS  ‘one inch’ (actually 13.2 x 8.8mm, 15.9mm diagonal)  sensor, about the size of the nail on an adult little finger.


    The photograph is of a scene with extreme brightness range from the clouds above to the foliage in shade below.


    The photo at the top of the post is the result after adjusting the sliders in Adobe Camera Raw.


    The  photo at the bottom of the post is the appearance of the RAW file at default settings.


    Both files have been converted to JPG for posting but this did not change their appearance.


    You can see that what at first looks like a hopeless case of subject brightness range beyond the camera’s capability turns out to be decently manageable in Adobe Camera Raw. Of course the foliage showed quite a bit of luminance noise but that was easily tamed in ACR with no need for HDR strategies.


    This camera continues to impress me with the quality of the pictures which I can make with it.


    RX100 Mk4   Appearance at default ACR settings




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    Sony RX100(4)   Modern compacts are capable of excellent picture quality even when, as here, subject brightness range is very high.


    The technology of small imaging sensors and zoom lenses has improved so much in recent years that current model compact cameras are capable of putting out images the quality of which would have required a full frame (24x36mm sensor) camera just a few years ago and medium format in the film era.


    The ‘full frame’ Canon EOS 5D of  2005 had 13 Mpx and a DXO Mark score of 71.   The Sony RX100(4) of 2015 has 20 Mpx  and a DXO Mark score of  70.


    The main challenge  for the designers of these mini marvels is to upgrade their ergonomics.

    Modern cameras have a multitude of features, capabilities and options for still photos,  video and both simultaneously,  jammed into a small package and sharing space with a large monitor screen.


    Control of all those features and capabilities requires a suitably well configured user interface. But there is just not enough real estate available for all the modules which these cameras might reasonably need, given current design conventions.

    In addition many compacts are so small they have little space for a decent handle and thumb support.


    But the need to hold the camera steady at the point of exposure has never been so pressing. Small, light cameras with extremely pixel dense sensors tolerate camera movement from any source (camera shake, shutter shock, mirror slap) very poorly.

    In their 2015 review of the Sony RX100(4) the editors of  Digital Photography Review suggested  in the section on handling that the camera needed “a little more of a rethink of the ergonomics”.

    DPRs attention was mainly on the level to which the user could configure the various buttons and dials. I agree there is work to be done in this area.  But that is only part of the story.


    My main theme of enquiry is the physical design of the camera and its controls.


    I investigate this by making mockups each of which explores ideas about camera design and establishes a proof of concept.  There have been plenty of ideas which ended up in the bin. I keep the ones which appear promising.


     I have no interest in ‘bar of soap’ style snapshooter compacts which are rapidly dying out in favour of smart phones.


    Advanced compacts for expert/enthusiast/professional users are much more capable and sophisticated devices. 


    RX100 (4) on the left, Mockup11 on the right.


    Size

    There is a range of sizes within the compact camera genre.  My personal criterion for calling a camera ‘compact’ is its ability to be carried in a small pouch which can be attached to a belt or carried in a purse or small handbag.


    Some people refer to the smaller of these cameras as ‘pocketable’.  I never carry my camera in a pocket as all kinds of stuff which I would not want to find its way into a camera  accumulates in pockets.


    I understand however that some people do carry their compact camera in a pocket and that being able to do so is important to them.


    RX100(4) on the left, Mockup 11 on the right


    Mandatory features

    I take the very strong view that every advanced compact for use by enthusiast/advanced/expert and professional photographers should meet my criteria for a Proper Camera.


    My assumption is that most photographers who never aspire to be more than snapshooters are or soon will be using smartphones. This is supported by industry sales figures which chart the collapse of the previously ubiquitous ‘point-n-shoot’ compact over the last few years.


    The only people left using compact cameras are those expert/enthusiast/professional photographers who want an advanced model with full user control and high performance.


    I am mighty displeased by the ongoing practice by some makers of offering compact cameras without a built in handle, or a proper thumb support, or a built in EVF, or a lens which is good enough for large prints or  an articulated monitor or an imaging processor which permits fast operation with RAW capture. 


    I regard the failure to provide these things as an abomination and an insult to camera users. Some makers do provide all these things so there is no excuse for those who do not. I hope that buyers shun these half baked cameras in droves.


    You can read more about this here but in summary the proper camera has the following features:

    * A high quality zoom lens with a wide aperture across the focal length range. I appreciate that some people are attracted to fixed prime lens cameras but I have no interest in these.

    * An ergonomically shaped, anatomical handle and thumb support.

    * A built in EVF which is always ready for use (no need  to pop it up).

    * A fully articulated monitor.

    * A full set of controls and an imaging processor suitable for advanced/expert/professional use.  This includes a JOG lever for direct control of the active AF area position. It should also include a fully realised Mode Dial and twin control dial configuration.


    From the left, Panasonic TZ80, Mockup14, Panasonic LX100. The mockup makes better ergonomic use of the available envelope of dimensions than the two production cameras.


    Basic design decisions

    Making mockups is an interesting and revealing exercise. It makes me appreciate the design decisions which must be made to accommodate all the desired components for holding, viewing and operating. 

    This is a zero sum game where the opportunity cost of increasing the space allocated to one  user interface module is offset by the need to reduce the space for other modules.



     Dimensions and box volume
    Model

    Width, mm

    excl lugs

    Height, mm

    Depth, mm

    incl EVF on each

    filter and cap on LX100

    Box Volume,cc

    RX100M4

    102

    60

    42

    257

    Mok 11

    104

    62

    42

    270

    TZ80

    112

    66

    39

    288

    Mok14

    113

    68

    53

    407

    LX100

    115

    68

    75

    586


    * The RX100M4,  Mockup 11 and TZ80 each fit in a Lowe Pro Portland 20 pouch (with divider removed). In terms of ease of carrying the RX100M4 gains little over the Mockup11 and TZ80. However the improved ergonomic design of the Mok11 and the slightly greater size of the TZ80 enable significant ergonomic improvements, not fully realised in the case of the TZ80.


    * The Mockup 14 is a bit larger, requiring a Lowe Pro Portland 30 pouch. This is still easily carried on a waist belt. The opportunity for an improved control layout is considerable.


    * The packaging problem for the LX100 is the depth which with filter and lens cap is 75mm. This makes the camera difficult to fit in a standard camera belt pouch. The Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 5 bag which I do use can be fitted on a waist belt but is really on the upper limit of size which can be comfortably carried this way.



    From the left, Panasonic TZ80,  Mockup 14, Panasonic LX100


    Rear of body

    This hosts four main modules: EVF, monitor, control panel and thumb support.

    Let us take these one at a time.


    EVF   I have used many actual cameras having a ‘flat top’ design style and EVF located top left as viewed by the user.

    The critical ergonomic dimension of the EVF module is its height, including any eyecup, although this style of camera design leaves little room for a proper eyecup.


    Camera reviews routinely tell us about the number of pixels or ‘effective pixels’ in an EVF. They do this because, in my view, the reviewers are lazy. So it is easy for them  to regurgitate the pixel number  provided by the maker.


    This number is  not entirely irrelevant but the physical size of the module and the ability of the eyecup to block stray light are much more important to the user experience.




    Model

    TZ80/100

    Mockup 11

    RX100(4)

    LX100

    Mockup 14

    EVF height (mm)

    12

    14

    15

    17

    18

    Comment on user experience

    Acceptable

    Acceptable

    Acceptable

    Pleasant

    Pleasant


    This is my personal evaluation of course but I read a lot of user reports and reviews and they are generally similar.


    The 12mm EVFs on the TZ80 and TZ100 (they use the same unit) are entirely serviceable once one becomes accustomed to the small size of the eyepiece window.  But they are just a bit small to provide a pleasing experience.


    The pop up EVF on the RX100(4) has no eyecup at all, there being no way to include one in the popup design. So although it is 3mm taller than that on the  TZ80/100  the overall viewer experience is just acceptable, no more.  There are also issues with the disposition of the fingers of the left hand with this EVF type.


    With the LX100 we come to a size which I find approaches pleasant to use. I have spent a lot of time with this camera and never felt the EVF impaired my user experience.


    On Mockup 18 I have allowed 18mm for an even better viewing experience.


    Monitor  In the early days of the digital era monitor screens occupied a small proportion of the rear of cameras. But over the years monitors have grown and cameras have shrunk so that some models now have space on the back for nothing but the monitor, relying entirely on touch screen operation.


    I have researched touch screen operation and come to the conclusion that it is at best an adjunct to  the preferred mode of operating digital cameras which is via hard controls.  You can read about it here.


    Therefore there needs to be a balance between the space taken by the EVF, monitor, control panel and thumb support.


    The height of the monitor will be given by h – evf = mon 

    where h = overall camera height, evf = EVF height and mon = monitor height.  

    This assumes the EVF is built in and fixed, not add on (which is an abomination) and not pop up 
    (which is ergonomically suboptimal).


    The width of the monitor will be determined by the monitor aspect ratio and whether it is fixed, swing up/down or fully articulated, this being the most versatile and therefore preferred configuration.




    Control Panel  This is the area between the right side of the monitor and the right side of the camera body. On modern cameras it is the most crowded and ergonomically difficult part of the design due to the expectation that it will host many hard controls in a space insufficient for the job. 


    All the compact cameras I have used in the last few years try to jam more modules (buttons, dials, levers etc) into this panel than there is space for them.


    The result is buttons which are excessively difficult to locate and operate by feel due to being small, flat, featureless and recessed or not recessed and prone to unintentional activation.


    Control panel configurations which work reasonably well on larger cameras are not satisfactory when scaled down. This is an example of a general rule which I discovered early in my exploration of camera ergonomics namely that cameras do not scale up or down. They have to be designed to a articular size for effective operation.


    No compact camera on the market today has a JOG lever but  my mockups have been designed to accommodate one which I now regard as essential for all cameras for efficient control of the AF area position.


    Thumb support  A quick look at current model compact cameras reveals that many have neither a proper handle at the front nor a thumb support at the rear.

    In my view that is a big mistake. Modern compacts have extremely pixel dense sensors and are very light.


    The pixel density means they are very sensitive to any source of camera movement and the light weight means they have minimal inertia due to mass.

    In plain language little cameras are not as easy to hold steady as larger ones and the penalty for movement is greater.


    Perhaps in the early days of compact cameras this was not such a pressing issue as user’s expectations of the output from these cameras was not great. 

    However in the current era,  the amount of  detailed imaging information available from say, a Sony RX100(4) is quite remarkable but suffers substantially if the camera is not held steady at the point of capture.  My work with this and other recent compacts shows that IS (OIS, VR, SS) can complement but not replace good practice in holding the camera steady.


    Therefore a compact camera needs a proper handle and thumb support.


    Both mockups rear view showing JOG lever correctly located for use by the right thumb without shifting grip. The shutter button has a fixed function.  The function of the other buttons is user selectable from a long list of options. This makes initial setup a bit challenging but operation once setup very fast and streamlined. 


    Front of body

    This houses the lens and the handle and requires enough space between them for the fingers of the right hand.


    Lens/lens housing    On a compact this should have the largest possible diameter (to maximise the widest available aperture)  which for practical purposes is equal to the height of the body. 

    The lens is best located very far to the left as viewed by the user to free up width on the right side for the handle.  Some cameras such as the Panasonic TZ80 do this to advantage. This camera has a built in EVF so there appears to be no technical reason  for placing the lens more centrally on the body.

    Unfortunately many cameras do so, reducing  body width available for the handle.


    Handle  There are in my view no compact cameras on the market at the time of writing with a decent handle. Even models like the TZ80 which does have a handle could easily fit a larger and more ergonomically functional one within the existing envelope of camera depth.  It could be 4mm deeper and of a different shape for a considerable improvement in holding stability.


    I have spent considerable time making various handles for my compact mockups. One of the advantages of a mockup is that I can try several variations and discard those which don’t feel right.


    I have found that at the smallest size a mini handle as seen on mockup11 is the best option as there is insufficient space for a larger type of handle.

    But when the size is a little larger but still in the compact range a more sophisticated, ‘inverted L’ type handle with more top plate controls can be used. I will show this on  mockup14.


    Both mockups showing the Alt button which is positioned so it will not be bumped accidentally but is easily pressed by the fourth finger of the right hand without having to release grip on the handle.


    Top plate

    The top is like the Control Panel. There is not enough space for all the components which might reasonably find a home there. So the design must prioritise those modules which most need to be there.


    On the left there is the EVF housing.

    Moving right we will expect to find  either a hotshoe or pop up flash module. Of the two I favour a pop up flash which I find more useful on a compact model.

    Further to the right we will expect to find the shutter button with maybe a control lever in front, and a Mode Dial and On/Off  lever or button close by. Good space utilisation will also allow inclusion of a Control Dial on the smallest model  (Mockup11) and several more modules on the larger-but-still-compact version (Mockup14).


    It has become fashionable to stick an Exposure Compensation Dial top right on compact cameras. This module is used to adjust a secondary exposure parameter in Capture Phase of use. This is suboptimal use of a set-and-see module. Several arrangements provide a more ergonomically efficient way to control exposure compensation. On a twin control dial camera one of the dials (user selected) can be used in P,A,S Modes. A lever in front of the shutter button can also be used, again user selected.  A fixed set-and-see dial is better used for a Prepare Phase adjustment such as Drive Mode.


    This is not mere personal preference, it is the outcome of many motion studies which I have done on a range of cameras.


    The small (pocketable) advanced compact.

    The most advanced example of this type on the market today is the Sony RX100(4).  This little camera is capable pf producing remarkable image quality from a sensor about the size of the nail on an adult little finger.


    But the camera’s ergonomics and the user experience could be substantially improved.


    I built Mockup11 as a proof of concept, namely that with a marginal increase in size and no significant reduction in portability, a different design could deliver much improved ergonomics. It is by the way called Mockup11 because it is the eleventh full camera mockup which I have made.


    Features of Mockup11

    As you can see from  the table above M11 is 2mm higher and 2mm wider than the RX100(4). Total depth and body depth are the same. The lens housing is 2mm greater in diameter so a slightly faster (smaller f number)  lens might be possible.


    Controls consist of  Mode Dial + Twin Control Dials + JOG lever + Control Lever + 7 hard buttons each with user assignable function + Alt button such that [Alt] + Button > alternative, user selected function for that button.

    There is a decent handle and a secure thumb support, pop up flash, built in, always ready EVF 13mm high, and a fully articulated monitor.


    The 4 Way controller had to be removed and the monitor height reduced a little in order to make all this possible.


    The Control Panel of M11 is actually 2mm wider than that on the RX100(4) so it would be possible to fit a 4 way controller and rear dial in there. But the Control panel of the RX100(4) is way too crowded for easy operation by feel, so the 4 Way controller had to go.


    All up/down/left/right scrolling operations can easily be carried out with the JOG lever the function of which changes with camera use Phase (Menu, Capture, Review).


    All the buttons and dials are large and easy to find and operate by feel, but none is placed where accidental actuation is likely to occur.  All the buttons and dials are located where the fingers want to find them.


    The monitor is 9mm lower than that on the RX100(4) but the same width. So the image preview/review will be a little smaller but a fully articulated monitor design is possible and of course the EVF can be fixed and always ready.  The fixed monitor allows easier holding of the camera with the left hand which can also be used to shield the viewing eye from stray light and also help hold the camera steady at the optimal eye distance from the EVF eyepiece.


    That’s it really. A bit of lateral thinking can lead to a dramatic improvement in the ergonomics and user experience of the very smallest advanced compact camera.


    Now let us move a little up size but still within the compact realm.


    The slightly-larger-but-still-compact advanced camera.

    My ideas about this are embodied by Mockup14.  This evolved out of some previous mockups which 
    I made exploring the idea that I could improve on the ergonomics of the LX100 yet arrive at a smaller overall size.


    M14 is only 9mm wider, 6mm higher and 11mm deeper than M11. It fits easily into a Lowe Pro Portland 30 pouch (with the divider removed) with space for spare batteries, cards and lens cloth. 

    This is easily carried on a waist belt.


    The relatively small increase in size allows a much more comprehensive set of controls to be used, placing this design up with full scale professional models in respect of  the level of user control which can be achieved.


    M14 has twin Mode Dials + triple Control Dials + Control Lever + JOG Lever + 10 hard buttons + [Alt] key giving direct access to 20 functions via the hard buttons.


    There is a fully realised  inverted L style handle with shutter button and quad control module on top.


    The thumb support is large and of the optimal diagonal type.


    The EVF is 18mm high allowing the same excellent viewing experience one would have with a large hump top model such as the FZ1000.


    There is a pop up flash and the monitor is of fully articulated type.

    The body is contoured to fit the hands which hold it with none of the sharp edges which seem to be fashionable in cameras these days.


    The lens housing has a diameter of 61mm. If the sensor were of the ‘one inch’ type I imagine a wide aperture (small f number) lens could be fitted, probably f1.4 with a 3x or 4x focal length range.


    Summary

    The better compact cameras on the market today are mini marvels of image quality. Some also feature good performance.


    But their ergonomics and user experience ranges from dismal to acceptable at best.


    Current models lack fresh thinking about the user interface tending instead to reprise control layouts derived either from larger models (which do not scale down) or from point-n-shoot compacts (which are inadequate) designed for a user group which has graduated to smartphones.


    Every one of them could be greatly improved with a fresh approach to all aspects of the controls and user interface.


    In this post I present two mockups which represent a proof of concept that good ergonomics is possible in small cameras.


    Good design costs no more to make than bad design.


    I believe there is a strong place in the market for advanced compact cameras with excellent design which is entirely achievable with current technology.





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