And the camera it could and should have been
|The mockup. Marginally larger but very much better ergonomically. The lens is as far to the left side of the body (as viewed by the operator) as possible opening up space on the right for a proper handle.|
At Photokina this year Panasonic announced several cameras.
One of these is the LX10/15 billed by Panasonic as “The ultimate compact camera”, with a “polished look” and a “sleek compact body”.
The blurb continues with …..“The aperture ring allows direct intuitive control of the aperture”….
I was looking forward to this camera’s arrival but am now disappointed. They messed up the ergonomics.
This post is not a review of the camera but some observations and comments about its ergonomics based on photos, early hands-on reviews and my experience with advanced compact cameras.
I feel reasonably confident that Panasonic will do a decent job with the picture quality, lens, autofocus and performance.
My concerns are with some obvious ergonomic mistakes which in my view should never have been allowed to appear in a supposedly advanced compact camera from a major manufacturer.
|From the left, TZ80, Mockup, RX100(4) Each fits comfortably in a Lowe Pro Portland 20 belt pouch. |
In the age of ever more sophisticated smartphones there are still some people who prefer to use a camera for taking photos.
* Many of these are expert/enthusiast users who enjoy the process of operating a well designed camera and will be mightily alienated if the device is not well designed as unfortunately is the case with the LX10. Online forums already have posts from disappointed users.
* These people want a camera which is really compact, able to be carried in a pocket or small pouch on a belt so it is ready for use at any time.
* It must make better photos than a smartphone.
* It must have very good performance especially in low light levels and with sometimes difficult subjects such as children at play.
|TZ80, Mockup, RX100(4) rear view|
Cameras do not scale up or down. The designer cannot effectively take a design and scale it up or down and expect it to have an efficient user interface.
This appears self evident to me as the hands which operate the device stay the same size.
The corollary to this is that very small cameras need a fresh approach to design.
Unfortunately camera designers appear not to understand this so we repeatedly see very small models which have a control layout just like larger models. The result is tiny buttons, cramped holding surfaces, and fiddly operation.
I take the view that to be worth buying and using, a camera must be different from a smartphone. The process of using a camera needs to be distinctly different from that of a smartphone.
If not what is the point ?
My concept of the Proper Camera encapsulates the attributes I think a camera must have.
* A decent handle and thumb support so the user can get a grip on the thing
* A fixed always ready EVF (not pop-up)
* A fully articulating monitor
* A JOG lever to move the active AF area instantly
* A full set of hard controls for the expert/enthusiast user.
1. There is no EVF and no way to fit one. The Sony RX100(Mk 3 and 4) each have a built in EVF. I have a Mk4 and I can confirm that this is better than no EVF but not as user friendly as a fixed, always ready type. I live in Sydney Australia where bright sunny conditions are normal making image preview almost impossible with the monitor on any camera.
It seems likely that the EVF was omitted to keep the body size down. I understand this but would very much prefer a slightly larger body with an EVF.
As it stands the LX10 is not a competitor for the RX100(3/4).
2. The aperture ring is a big mistake.
* This camera has a Mode Dial and two control dials. My studies on similar cameras (such as the TZ100 and LX100) show that changing aperture with a control dial requires fewer actions, each less complex than performing the same task using an aperture ring.
* The design of the ring fitted to the LX10 is most unsatisfactory. The only way for the fingers of the left hand to get sufficient purchase to turn the ring is by engaging with the two small serrated lands. The relationship of these lands to the fingers of the left hand will be different for each aperture setting and for landscape or portrait orientation, left hand over or left hand under holding style.
The aperture ring on the LX100 has the same dismally inadequate detail design. As a result I almost always used this camera in P Mode. Working the aperture ring was just so awkward.
(and working the shutter speed dial was worse so I rarely tried to use Shutter Priority AE)
Yes, I know people spring to the defence of the aperture ring on user forums and say they think it is a good idea. But I wonder if these people actually use the camera or just talk about it in an abstract fashion.
* The lens aperture varies with focal length. So if an aperture between f1.4 and f2.8 is set on the ring it will often be wrong depending on the focal length. If you set f1.4 then zoom out to the longest focal length the actual lens aperture will be f2.8 but f1.4 is showing on the ring.
The whole idea of an aperture ring on a modern electronic camera with a variable aperture zoom is ergonomic nonsense.
3. There is no proper handle and the front of the body is smooth like the TZ100. In their efforts to make the body “sleek” they have made it difficult to hold. In my view there is no excuse for this sort of styling affectation. Do people buy this thing because it looks “sleek” ? I don’t know, maybe some do but the result is an ergonomic kludge.
4. The monitor swings up but not down. That on the RX100(4) swings both ways. Fully articulated would be even better. A swing down monitor is very handy for overhead shots.
5. The 4way controller is not one of Panasonic’s best designs. In the photos it appears to be very similar to that used in the TZ100 which is just serviceable but the type used on the FZ1000 is the same size but much easier to locate and operate by feel.
6. In his ‘First Impressions” review of the LX10 on Digital Photography Review Richard Butler makes the following observations:
……The second odd decision is the way Panasonic makes use of the camera's command dial on its right-hand shoulder. In manual and shutter priority mode it controls shutter speed. In program mode it controls program shift. In aperture priority mode? Nothing.
But that's fine, you can customize its function to be exposure compensation. Well, fine until you move back to shutter priority mode or manual, at which point can no longer change the shutter speed. At all.
And just to top it all off, Panasonic is the only manufacturer remaining that won't let you use exposure comp in manual mode with Auto ISO, so the dial suddenly becomes non-functional.
This failure by Panasonic to allow the user to allocate sensible functions to the control dials is completely incomprehensible to me. Did the people allocating dial functions ever use the camera ?
7. Last, Panasonic perseveres with its 20thCentury auto ISO algorithms in the 21st Century. It is way past time Panasonic fixed this to allow ISO and therefore shutter speed to vary with lens focal length and to allow the user to set a minimum shutter speed for each focal length.
|Mockup in hand. The grip is secure with both the third finger of the right hand and the thumb well supported. The top control dial is immediately adjacent to the right index finger on the shutter button. The JOG lever is immediately to the left of the right thumb for easy access and operation. The entire user interface forms a coherent ergonomic whole.|
|Mockup rear view. All the controls are quite substantial, designed to be easily located and operated by the fingers but with minimal risk of accidental button presses. The JOG lever does the work of a 4 Way controller when required.|
Over the last five years I have made 13 plywood mockup cameras to test my ideas about ergonomic aspects of design. When making a mockup I specify a set of dimensions then evolve the shape by experimenting with different configurations. So for instance if I find a handle is not right I remove it and start over. I do not determine the shape with drawings but by experimenting with the relationship between various shapes and the functional anatomy of my hands and the hands of other family members.
My answer to the problem of the small-enough-to-be-pocketable advanced compact camera is shown in the mockup seen in this post.
I realised very early in the design development process that simply shrinking a larger model would not be satisfactory. So I took a different approach to produce a design which is still clearly a camera but with a user interface which I have not seen on any existing camera to date.
The mockup provides a secure hold on the device with a substantial, carefully shaped handle and thumb support. All the buttons and dials are decently large and easy to find by feel and operate.
It has a Mode Dial + twin control dial layout. The control dials are easy to find and operate by feel without having to change grip with either hand.
The built in EVF has a vertical height of 14.5mm which is sufficient for a decently functional viewing experience.
There is a substantial JOG lever correctly placed for easy access by the right thumb without having to move any other finger. The JOG lever allows direct control of the AF area position in capture phase of use and has the usual functions of a 4 way controller in other phases of use such as scrolling around menus.
There is a built in flash unit and the monitor articulates. I suspect that in practice a fully articulating monitor might require an extra 2-3 mm depth in the body of the camera. The monitor is slightly smaller than that on the Sony RX100(4) but quite adequate I think.
The final shape and configuration of this mockup arose from basic ergonomic principles guided by the functional anatomy of human hands and an understanding of the tasks required to operate a modern electronic camera and the actions required to carry out those tasks.
It is ergonomically and functionally coherent. It was made possible by thinking outside the usual box which appears to constrain camera design in the current era.
It is only marginally larger than the Sony RX100(4) but in production would provide a very much better user experience.
Obviously the mockup looks a bit rough but it would clean up quite well in a production version.
As to the shape and the “style”, form follows function as it should.
If the camera makers had the courage to step just a little outside the conventional envelope with a production model like this mockup, I think they would be pleased by the positive response from consumers.
|This chart has been doing the rounds of photo websites recently. You can see there was a brief golden age of camera shipments from 2008-2011 followed by a dramatic fall mainly affecting fixed lens cameras but also interchangeable lens types to s significant extent. Presumably the camera makers are concerned by this but their responses as evaluated by me based on current product offerings seem curiously detached from the reality of the crisis in which the camera industry finds itself. The camera makers appear to be sleepwalking into self imposed irrelevance.|
I analysed the design carefully and concluded that the X-T1 was burdened with many ergonomic problems which would make it slower and more awkward to use than, say, a current model Canon or Nikon prosumer DSLR. I compared the X-T1 to the Panasonic FZ1000 and found the FZ1000 had a much more effective, streamlined user interface.
I had the temerity to post a link to this item on a Fuji camera user forum. The reaction was astounding. Well, astounding to me at the time anyway.
The Fuji fanatics reacted like a pack of wild dogs whose pups had come under attack by some predator.
Fast forward to today and I find that some things have not changed.
Some people will still offer nasty vicious comments online to anyone with whose views they disagree
There has been disappointingly little progress on the ergonomic aspects of camera design.
I notice that Digital Photography Review posted its review of the Fuji X-T2 on 19 October this year (2016)
Bearing in mind that DPR is owned by Amazon and the mission of Amazon is to sell stuff I find some of the reviewer’s comments appropriately diplomatic while trying perhaps to hint at some of the issues which I found with the X-T1.
For instance ….”direct controls give an engaging shooting experience”……..
My ergonomic translation: “In order to carry out the tasks required to operate the camera the X-T2 requires more actions, each more complex than are required by a well designed conventional (mode Dial + Control Dials) ILC or fixed Zoom model”.
And again………(The X-T2 ) …”offers an extensive array of direct control points to a degree that’s possibly excessive”…..
My ergonomic translation…….”The camera is cluttered with multiple redundant control points. It would be faster and more streamlined to operate with fewer, more thoughtfully considered controls”.
|On the left, my Mockup 13 incorporating the results of my research over the last 6 years into camera controls and ergonomics. On the right my Pentax Spotmatic from 1964. The Spotmatic might be a nostalgic favourite but is is a vastly less enjoyable device to hold and operate than the Mockup 13. You really have to get these cameras in hand to appreciate the difference between them. Some camera makers are attempting to re-incarnate some version of the Spotmatic in current camera designs to the immense detriment of their usability.|
Nostalgia for the "good old days" does not make for good camera design.
In today’s post I would like to deal with some fads, fashions and affectations which blight and burden some modern cameras making them more awkward to use than they could easily be with better ergonomic design.
I am assuming hand held operation outside a studio and using available light for the most part, supplemented from time to time by on camera flash.
Let us start with some basic principles of camera ergonomics:
There are four phases of camera use, Setup, Prepare, Capture and Review.
In each Phase the user must carry out some tasks, each of which requires actions, the number and complexity of which can be observed by anyone having the will to do so.
Note that in the Capture Phase the user is either looking through the viewfinder or at the monitor, not at the top of the camera.
In Setup Phase the user trawls through the menus and selects options for the multitude of functions on a modern camera including dial functions button functions and much more.
Prepare Phase comes in the minutes before making photos. This mainly consists of selecting the desired mode when conditions change. This might include the main shooting mode, drive mode, focus mode, autofocus mode, flash settings…..and potentially many others. These selections are best performed with engraved (set-and-see) dials on the camera top plate and/or various buttons and a Q Menu if available.
In Capture Phase the user must look at the subject, frame up, zoom, adjust exposure and focus then make the shot. One is looking either through the viewfinder or at the monitor, not the top of the camera and not the lens barrel.
In Capture Phase one might want to adjust primary (aperture, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity) and secondary (exposure compensation) exposure parameters and primary and secondary focussing parameters, all while looking continuously through the viewfinder or at the monitor.
The most appropriate type of control module for adjustments in Capture Phase is one or more control dials the function of which is mode dependent and which can easily be located and operated by the fingers without having to look at the dial(s).
So that is a quick summary of some basic principles.
Now let us examine some controls which keep appearing on modern cameras which offer the user a less than streamlined operating experience.
Aperture ring around the lens barrel This relic of the past appears on Sony RX, and Panasonic LX cameras and others and on some but not most micro four thirds and Fujifilm lenses, go figure.
In practice the main problems with this means of changing aperture are:
* It requires more actions each more complex to operate an aperture ring (requires entire left hand and two fingers to move) than it does to turn an optimally positioned control dial (can be done with right index finger only).
* In Capture Phase the aperture ring is invisible to the user (unless the camera is on a tripod) and therefore the f stop numbers marked on it serve no useful purpose. You can see the numbers on the ring when you don’t need to (in Prepare Phase) but cannot see them when you do need to (in Capture Phase).
* The f number indications will sometimes be incorrect with variable aperture zooms.
* The aperture ring takes up space which could be used for another purpose such as a focus ring or zoom ring.
Shutter speed dial This is another relic of the past which has multiple ergonomic problems.
* With the dial in the usual position on the right side of the camera top plate the user must release grip on the camera with the right hand, support the mass of the camera with the left hand then reach back with two fingers to turn the dial. A mode dependent control dial requires only a small movement of the right index finger to make the required adjustment with no need to alter grip with either hand.
* No dial can contain all the available shutter speeds including intermediates and long exposures. So for these speeds some additional control must be provided in the form of an accessory dial or similar. This is ridiculously clumsy and convoluted.
* You can see the shutter speed dial in Prepare Phase when there is no need to see it, but cannot see it in Capture Phase when you do need to see an indication of shutter speed. This therefore must be in the viewfinder or monitor making the speed inscribed on the dial redundant.
* The shutter speed dial occupies valuable camera real estate which would be better allocated to a control module for Prepare Phase adjustment for instance drive mode.
Exposure compensation dials have become very fashionable lately. Several ILCs and fixed lens models feature one of these often top right on the top plate of the camera. They suffer from several of the same problems as aperture rings and shutter speed dials.
* One very effective way to determine if exposure compensation is required is to view the appearance of zebras in the EVF or monitor. If the zebras indicate highlight blowout negative exposure compensation can be dialled in before the exposure is made. This process requires that the operator have full view of the subject and zebras in the EVF at all times in Capture Phase of use. An engraved EC dial on top of the camera is invisible and therefore essentially useless.
* Working the dial usually requires two fingers, causing disruption of right hand grip.
* A more useful module for Prepare Phase could be used in place of the EC dial.
* EC is more effectively carried out with a mode dependent control dial.
* If EC is adjusted with a control dial the setting can be configured to revert to zero when the camera is powered down or the exposure mode changed.
Stacked Dials There are variations on this theme. Some cameras have dial over dial, others have dial over lever module or similar. In either case it is not a matter of if but when the user will accidentally change a parameter unintentionally. Yet some new cameras persist with this feature which is entirely un-necessary for and counterproductive to a streamlined, fast reliable user interface.
ISO dial ISO sensitivity is a primary exposure parameter requiring fast adjustment in Capture Phase of use with the eye to the viewfinder and with minimal disruption to the hold of the hands on the camera. All this is easily achieved if ISO is adjusted with a control dial. The location of a separate, dedicated ISO dial on top of or sometimes on the front of the body is intellectually logical but ergonomically clumsy and inefficient.
Top plate LCD screens were required for SLRs and early DSLRs as there was no other place to display camera data. But now all LCD screen data and much more can be displayed on the rear monitor and/or EVF if fitted, making the LCD screen redundant. Yet these relics of the past keep reappearing on modern cameras (such as the Sony RX10, 1,2,3.) which have no requirement for such a display which takes up valuable camera real estate which could be put to better use.
No handle, no thumb support---No excuse !! With my mockups I have shown that even a pocketable camera can be fitted with a serviceable handle and thumb support. There is no ergonomic reason whatsoever for the ongoing appearance of cameras without a decently serviceable handle and thumb support.
Presumably their omission has something to do with “styling” which raises the question -----does one buy a camera to admire on the shelf or to use for the purpose of taking photographs ?
If the camera is in a studio, supported on a tripod or similar and the subject is lit primarily by studio flash then a different kind of control layout can be appropriate. In this case the camera will be used in manual mode with the aperture, shutter speed and ISO set according to the requirements of the shoot and the exposure determined by the flash output as measured by an incident meter at the subject.
In this setting it can be quite appropriate to have the aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings on engraved dials on the camera top plate, easily visible by the user looking down on the camera.
The new Fuji GFX50S medium format digital camera has an aperture ring on the barrel of each lens, an ISO dial and a shutter speed dial. In a studio setting this could be quite workable, even preferable. But for users planning to take the GFX50S out and about this control layout will not be optimal.
Back to the camera production chart
It is clear from the CIPA chart at the top of this post that the years 2008-2011 marked the apogee of camera production on planet earth.
Now here is the thing………….
The most popular cameras were, of course point-and-shoot compacts. The smartphone revolution has dealt this camera type a terminal blow. But we also see a sharp decline in the number of
Interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) produced.
What was the most popular type of ILC in the years 2008-2011 ?
Mostly Canon and Nikon (with some Sony SLT) entry to midrange DSLRs.
* Did not have a separate aperture ring.
* Did not have a Shutter Speed dial.
* Did not have an exposure compensation dial.
* Did not have a top plate LCD panel.
* Did not have an ISO dial.* Did not have stacked dials.
* Did have a proper handle.
* Did have a decent thumb support.
It appears to me that the camera makers (all of them) have decided to retreat to an alternative universe. In this very strange place they are abandoning a modern control layout which has been shown to produce good cameras which sell well in favour of a retreat to symbols of the 1960s for reasons entirely unclear to me.
It seems to me that the more cameras which are thrust upon us with slow, clumsy 1960’s era control systems the more the rush away from cameras will accelerate. I do not have to be much of a prophet to say this, the trend is in full flight for all to see.
Can camera makers rescue the camera industry at all ?
Not with their present strategies.
We are getting cameras with all kinds of extravagant technological capabilities which I never knew I wanted, such as being able to select focus after the shot or taking 24 frames per second of still photos each separately focused.
After hearing about these amazing capabilities I still don’t want them.
But I do want good ergonomics. I do want cameras which are a pleasure to hold and operate.
But all too often the camera makers are serving up technological marvels which are just not enjoyable to hold and operate at all.
They could easily fix this. But the will does not appear to be there.
|I actually made this picture with a Panasonic FZ1000 not one of the compacts discussed in this post . I think he is a bit camera shy because he moved to a different location the next day. |
The big appeal of these modern compact cameras is that they can reliably deliver very good picture quality in a compact package.
The picture quality is so good even indoors and in low light that I no longer have any interest in cameras which use a larger sensor.
But there is considerable room for improvement in the ergonomics, user interface and user experience provided by these cameras.
In this post I detail ergonomic issues with the design and implementation of the user interface of the
Panasonic LX10 and Sony RX100(4), then offer suggestions about measures I would like to see the makers implement to fix the various problems.
The diminutive size of these compact precludes them from having optimal ergonomics. They are simply too small to allow the fitment of an anatomical handle and there is very limited real estate for control modules.
Both models have been given smooth flat surfaces and sharp corners. Presumably someone in product development thinks this is ‘stylish’ but cameras with the best ergonomics like prosumer DSLRs have textured, grippy curved surfaces and rounded corners.
The Canon G7X (2) has a textured front surface, a decent mini handle, a decent thumb support which also helps stop the thumb from straying onto the screen and bevelled edges.
I never read anyone on user forums complaining about the appearance or ‘style’ of this camera but I have read several reports that it works better ergonomically than the Panasonic or Sony models. By the way I elected not to buy the G7X(2) because of reported issues with the lens, AF Continuous performance and the stacked dials (Mode Dial over Exposure Compensation Dial).
I would like to see all these cameras have the lens moved over to the left (as viewed by the user) as far as possible to free up space for a more robust handle as seen on my mockup in the next post.
So they are small which limits what is possible. However I think the main problem with the layout of these cameras is that they appear to be scaled down versions of larger models. There is simply not enough space on the control panel (the area to the right of the monitor) to usefully accommodate the 10 buttons which can be found there.
I will show some ideas for an alternative layout in the next post.
The main ergonomic issues with this camera are:
* The menus are a confusing muddle. They need a complete restructure and rewrite.
* There is no touch screen. I am usually no great fan of touch screens but on these little compacts the screen is readily accessible to the thumb(s) which greatly speeds up AF area selection and other selection operations. Sony could to advantage copy the Panasonic approach to touch screen operation.
* The lens ring turns smoothly. This gives the process of changing aperture and shutter speed a disconnected feel with no tactile indication of when one had reached the desired point. An option to make this ring clicky would help.
* A more prominent thumb support would help the holding experience.
* I wish Sony would include the stick on handle in the box. I paid AUD1188 for this camera. The AG-R2 accessory grip cost AUD18. I bet it cost Sony a dollar. They would make buyers happy by including it with every camera.
This camera has more ergonomic issues than the Sony.
* There is no EVF. This makes the camera difficult to use in bright sunlight or cloudy-bright conditions. The problem is exacerbated by the ‘monitor style’ of the screen with camera data superimposed over the lower part of the preview image. The option to set the screen to ‘viewfinder style’ with camera data beneath the preview image, available on most Panasonic cameras, is not to be had on the LX10. In bright conditions outdoors I find the aperture and shutter speed readouts impossible to read.
I have a Clear Viewer device on order and will report on this in due course.
I would like to see Panasonic incorporate a built in EVF into every camera they make.
* There is no proper handle on the smooth front of the body. Worse, Panasonic does not make an accessory handle available. You have to experiment with e grips, croc grips and home made stick on handles or put up with the insecure feeling of the slippery surface.
* The aperture ring is a gratuitous ergonomic abomination. Why ?
It is gratuitous because it does not need to be there at all. The thumb dial which is much easier to operate adjusts shutter speed in S and M Modes and Program Shift in P Mode. The logical action would be for it to adjust Aperture in A Mode but in fact it does nothing at all in A Mode.
The aperture ring itself is very badly designed. It can only be turned with fingers of the left hand on the two small raised serrated lands. These are awkward to reach and the ring is awkward to turn with left hand over or under in landscape or portrait orientation.
The finger of the left hand on the right side lug (as viewed by the user) bangs into the third finger of the right hand at f2.8 as the ring is turned.
I think the persons responsible for this ergonomic kludge should be consigned to street sweeping duties.
Panasonic could possibly rescue the situation with a firmware update to allow the aperture ring to be disabled and aperture selected with the thumb dial.
* The exposure algorithm in P Mode seems rather strange to me. In bright light the camera will hold onto the widest aperture until the shutter speed rises to 1/1600 second.
The Sony defaults to f4 in bright light, an aperture more likely to be appropriate for outdoor subjects.
* Panasonic is still using its old primitive Auto ISO algorithm which does not allow shutter speed to change with zoom and does not allow the user to set a minimum shutter speed.
I would like to see Panasonic simply copy Sony’s implementation of Program Mode and Auto ISO algorithms. Maybe they could incorporate this into a firmware update.
Next post- some of my ideas and suggestions to fix these ergonomic problems in a small compact camera.
|Panasonic Lumix LX10|
For many years photographers have wanted big camera picture quality in a small camera body. They can have it but there are two caveats. First ‘full frame’ digital compacts have a fixed focal length lens, no zoom. Second the few models of this type which exist are very expensive. For instance in Australia the retail price of a Sony RX1R(2) is $5275 and the not-very-compact Leica Q is $6289. Ouch.
But there is another type of camera with a smaller sensor, a much more consumer friendly price tag and picture quality good enough for most enthusiast photographers requirements.
There is a growing group of them on the market at the present time. There are the Sony RX 100 original and Mk 2, 3, 4 and 5 versions, Canon G5X, G7X in two versions and G9X, Panasonic TZ100/110 and most recently the Panasonic LX10. All these cameras use one or other version of the Sony ‘one inch’ sensor.
The LX10 competes most directly on price and features with the Canon G7X (versions 1 and 2).
These models have a touch screen but no EVF whereas the Sony RX100 (from Mk 3 up) models have a built in pop-up EVF but no touch screen. The Sony models are also considerably more expensive.
The LX10 is the sixth enthusiast compact released by Panasonic with the LX prefix. The line began with the LX1 of 2005. Panasonic sought to differentiate the LX series from the Canon G compacts and equivalent Nikon models with smaller size, multi aspect ratio sensor and wider aperture lens of good quality. The LX1, 2, 3, 5 and 7 each utilised a sensor having a diagonal measurement of approximately 9.3mm.
None of the series has featured a built in EVF but several including the LX7 could be fitted with an accessory EVF slotting into the hotshoe.
The LX10 uses a much larger sensor measuring 15.9mm on the diagonal with 2.76 times the area of the previous generation sensor. This enables much improved picture quality.
Despite the larger sensor the LX10 is actually smaller than the LX7 in every dimension. Both have a lens aperture of f1.4 at the wide end of the zoom.
This has been made possible by advances in aspheric lens technology allowing the overall size of a lens to be reduced while retaining high optical quality.
The LX series has always targeted enthusiast photographers who want high quality pictures without the size and mass of an ILC.
Features and specifications
Although very small, the LX10 has twin dial operation, swing up touch screen, plenty of controls for the enthusiast user and a wide aperture lens for low light work. It also has an Aperture Ring on the lens. This feature first appeared on the LX7 of 2012 for reasons not stated by Panasonic. The actual design of the Aperture Ring on the LX7 is better than that on the LX10 in having serrations around the entire circumference of the ring. The LX10 just has two raised lands with serrations making the ring more difficult to operate particularly when switching from landscape to portrait orientation.
Otherwise the LX10 has most of the features of a current model Panasonic camera including DFD AF, 4K video and auto panorama.
You can read all the details elsewhere.
The lens on the LX10 is quite ambitious with a 3x zoom starting at f1.4 at the wide end, but dropping quickly to f2.5 at (focal length equivalent) 28mm and f2.8 at 30 mm and thereafter.
On testing my LX10, which I bought and paid for, I found the lens to be extremely sharp in the central area of the frame at all focal lengths and apertures. Edge sharpness was less consistent being good at the widest aperture at each focal length but dropping somewhat with the lens stopped down a little then recovering by about f5.6.
I found highlight and shadow detail very good, better than the Sony RX100(4) which I tested alongside the LX10. I also found the Panasonic to make exposures to protect highlights more effectively than the Sony in conditions with high subject brightness range.
I also preferred the Panasonic JPG rendition to that of the Sony which was often rather cool and lacking a little in color saturation.
At ISO 6400 the RX100(4) had about 0.7 stops less luminance noise than the LX10. As the two cameras use the same or very similar Sony sensor it would appear that Panasonic has emphasised highlight and shadow detail in the processor while Sony favours noise reduction. The difference is observable with matched subjects and conditions in both JPG and RAW files but I doubt it would be noticeable in general photography.
The LX10 responds very quickly to user inputs in all modalities of use. It focusses very quickly and operates very quickly even with RAW+JPG capture.
The position of the active AF area can be moved very quickly with the touch screen.
I tested follow focus ability in AF continuous and Burst M on a subject walking towards the camera from 5 meters to 1 meter. I found that the DFD AF works very well giving over 90% of frames very sharply in focus. The LX10 is very much more capable than the RX100(4) on this test. Sony’s answer to this is the RX100(5) but that is a much more expensive proposition.
This is the weakest aspect of the LX10. There is no proper handle and none is available from Panasonic. The Aperture Ring is awkward to use and aperture adjustment cannot be assigned to the thumb dial. There is no EVF and no way to fit one.
Overall the camera is serviceable but could be improved with an ergonomic rethink.
In many respects the LX10 is a very good camera. It makes excellent photos in a wide variety of conditions indoors and outdoors. It is fast and responsive in operation. It is reasonably priced particularly when compared to the Sony RX100 models.
Yet overall I feel a bit disappointed by the LX10 if only because it appears to be a ‘me too’ model, bringing nothing much new or original to the user experience.
But for the photographer who prefers the Panasonic user interface I can recommend the LX 10 with the reservations indicated above.
If Sony, Canon and Panasonic could combine their efforts and produce a camera with the best features from the RX, G7X and LX series, us users might have something really special. Sadly it will never be.
|Mockup #14 in hand top view. The right index finger can easily reach four control points (Shutter Button, Control Dial, control Lever and the button under the finger in this photo) with no movement required from any other finger. The thumb can easily swing across to the left to operate the JOG lever without disrupting grip. the camera can be driven easily with these two fingers of the right hand and one finger of the left hand on the lens ring.|
At a Christmas family gatheringa few days ago I was the only person with a camera. Everyone else used a smartphone to record the event. I think it likely that this scenario would be repeated in many families around the world.
I think the significance of this for camera design is that the only people still using cameras are enthusiasts.
Snapshooters use smartphones.
It follows therefore that every camera of any size should be designed for engaging, enjoyable use by the enthusiast/expert photographer.
The technology of compact cameras has improved greatly over the last ten years. Better, larger sensors and better lenses have given us pocketable compacts with imaging capability to rival that of full frame models of just a few years ago.
The big problem with these mini marvels is their compromised ergonomics and user experience. Most of them are utilitarian little things which can make very good pictures but are not much fun to use.
In a previous post I presented some ideas for an improved version of the enthusiast pocketable camera in the form of Mockup #10.
But the camera I really want is a bit larger, to be carried in a belt pouch.
Increasing the size just a little can have a dramatic effect on the possibilities for ergonomic design with better holding, viewing and operating and a much more engaging experience for the enthusiast user.
|Mockup #14 in hand rear view. Using the JOG lever to move active AF Area involves fewer movements, each less complex than are required for the same task using touchscreen. |
Some years ago Canon produced the G series line of Powershot compacts. These were typically small but not tiny. They had a box volume (width x height x depth) of around 400cc.
Then in 2012 Sony produced the RX100 with a larger sensor and better picture quality than the G series in a much smaller package having a box volume of only 212cc.
The G series and similar cameras from Nikon could not survive the technological onslaught from Sony.
But while the RX100 was a technological tour de force in 2012 it was and still is an unrewarding little thing to use. There is no handle, no EVF and the controls are all very cramped.
Canon, Panasonic and (soon) Nikon all played me-too-catch-up-with-Sony with a series of models all using the ‘One Inch’ sensor and most of them tiny just like the Sony RX100 series.
Now read what Digital Photography Review said about the Canon G10 in 2008:
“Coming from almost any other compact to this camera will come as a very pleasant surprise. This camera feels very comfortable and secure in the hand. The extra grip texture on the handgrip helps the secure feel. Metering and focus point selection, and AE Lock buttons are all within easy reach of theright thumb, but the location of the exposure compensation dial means it will usually be operated with the left hand. The camera never feels cramped, as long as it is used at arm's length.
Coming from a DSLR the G10 will be a revelation. This is one of the few compacts that feels as well built as a 40D/50D, and certainly feels better made than a 450D/1000D. While the G10 has retained the boxy rangefinder styling, and even the optical viewfinder. The further control enhancements over the G9 makes what was an intuitive camera to use even better for those who buy cameras to take lots of photos.”
You can see the DPR team liked to hold and use the G10. It was large enough to have a decent handle and thumb support and a proper set of controls for the enthusiast user.
I owned one of these for a time and always felt that while it was a very desirable size the actual design could be greatly improved.
My vision of such a redesign is embodied by my Mockup #14 which I present in this post.
This has a box volume of 407 cc, putting it right in the size range of the mid series Powershot G models.
But the design is completely different, drawing on my investigations of camera ergonomics over the last six years using actual and mockup cameras.
With reference to the photos, how would Mockup #14 work as a built camera ?
|Mockup #14 front with captions. The lens housing has a diameter of 62mm which is 7mm more than that on the Sony RX100(4). This would enable a larger lens aperture.|
The design is a flat top with a collapsing multi-barrel lens as this is the shape and style which fits most easily into a belt pouch.
Maximum use is made of the available width, height and depth.
This design also provides a perfect location for the JOG lever which I regard as an essential control module on a modern camera.
A hump top such as the Canon G5X is 8mm taller and provides no suitable location for the JOG lever.
I would envisage a ‘one inch’ sensor with a diagonal measurement of 15.9mm and a 24-100mm (equivalent) lens with an aperture of f1.4-f2.5.
|Mockup #14 rear. Layout designed for maximum efficiency of holding, viewing and operating, while fitting easily into a belt pouch such as the Lowe Pro Portland 30 with divider removed.|
You can see that there is a fully anatomical handle of the optimum inverted L shape. This allows the right hand to get a nice secure grip on the camera with the middle finger tucked under the overhang for security and the index finger right on the shutter button for immediate action.
At the rear there is a substantial thumb support with no embedded buttons to be bumped accidentally.
The combination of the handle and thumb support allow the right hand and fingers to adopt the optimal ‘relaxed, half closed’ posture while holding and operating the device.
I have allowed 18mm height for the EVF permitting a substantial sized panel to be used with sufficient magnification for relaxed viewing in all conditions.
The monitor panel is 45mm high which I think is quite sufficient for easy image preview and review although it is a little smaller than the one on the Sony RX100(4) which is 54mm high. The monitor is of the optimal fully articulating type.
Mockup #14 has a ‘full house’ of controls.
There are three dials, each with user assignable function: one around the lens, one behind the shutter button and one around the 4 Way Controller on the rear.
There is a control lever in front of the shutter button and a JOG lever on the back just to the left of the thumb.
On top there are two dedicated function dials with inscribed settings. One is the Exposure Mode Dial.
I would make the other a combined Drive/Focus Mode controller.
There is a built in flash unit but no hotshoe. There is room for one or the other but not both.
There are 10 buttons in addition to the 4Way controller.
You can see I have labelled one of these as [Alt Key]. The idea is that pressing [Alt Key] + any button or dial with assignable function brings up an alternative function thereby effectively doubling the number of control points and the degree to which the controls can be customised to individual preference.
The [Alt] Key is located so it is easy to operate with the 4th finger of the right hand without disrupting the 3rd finger or thumb, in landscape or portrait orientation but will not easily be bumped accidentally.
In the Capture Phase of use I want to quickly and smoothly change all primary and secondary focus, framing and exposure parameters while looking continuously through the viewfinder and without shifting grip with either hand.
There is a variety of ways this can be achieved depending on preference.
I would use the control dial behind the shutter for Program Shift in P Mode, Aperture in A Mode and Shutter Speed in S Mode. In M Mode I would change Aperture with the Control Dial and Shutter Speed with [Alt] + Control Dial (or the reverse if preferred).
I would use the lens ring for continuous or step zoom (as preferred) and the Control Lever in front of the shutter button for Exposure Compensation.
[Alt] + Lens Ring activates Manual Focus with automatic PIP enlargement of the active area.
The button to the right of the Shutter Button could control ISO sensitivity with Button > Dial and any other assigned function with [Alt] + Button > Dial.
The JOG lever has the primary task of directly moving the active AF area without having to change grip with the right hand. AF Area size can be changed with the top Control Dial when the AF Area box is active.
Video can be started with any assigned button or [Alt] + Shutter Button.
Thus the camera can be driven in Capture Phase of use with the index finger and thumb of the right hand and one finger of the left hand without shifting grip and while looking continuously through the viewfinder.
Either ‘left hand over’ (lens) or ‘left hand under’ (lens) position can be used effectively in landscape or portrait orientation.
Operation in Setup, Prepare and Review Phases of use is assigned to the remaining control modules with the exact task of each to be determined by user preference.
So there you have it. My favourite compact camera which nobody has built yet.
The model which has come closest to my ideal over the last few years is the Panasonic LX100. I owned and extensively used one of these for two years.
Features of the LX100 which did not please me were
* The lens protrudes making the overall depth too great for most belt pouches. I had to use the larger Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 5 which I found just a bit too big for comfortable carrying on a waist belt.
* I strongly dislike the “traditional” control system with aperture ring, shutter speed dial and exposure compensation dial. Fortunately the camera worked well in “A-A-A” mode (the equivalent of P Mode on a camera with a Mode Dial) because using it in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority was awkward and slow.
* I ran comparison tests with the Sony RX100(4) and found the Sony to deliver better results in most conditions even indoors.
I think that a full featured compact along the lines of Mockup #14 described in this post is a much better device for general photography than any interchangeable lens camera (ILC) with a kit lens.
Kit lenses usually run from f3.5 –f5.6. The lens on the compact can be f1.4 – f2.5 which is 2.5 stops faster throughout the zoom range. Even the current Sony RX100 models are 2 stops faster.
But the latest Micro Four Thirds sensor (in the G80) has a DXO Mark score of 71 which is only one point better than the current Sony ‘One Inch’ sensor.
If we go up to APS-C size we see that the Sony A6500 sensor scores 85 which in the DXO Mark scheme of things represents a one stop advantage over the ‘One Inch’ sensor.
The compact still ends up with a one stop noise advantage.
Sure the larger sensors are better at high ISO sensitivity settings but I have found that I rarely need to use high ISO with my RX100(4) even indoors.
The compact is smaller, lighter, easier to carry and less expensive than many ILC + kit lens combinations.
For long lens work I use a superzoom, also with a ‘One Inch’ sensor.
And I never need to change lenses.
|Scaly breasted lorikeet at Taronga zoo Sydney. This picture was made with the zoom at (equivalent) 800mm and 1/30 second hand held, an amazingly slow shutter speed made possible by the excellent VR.|
Readers of this blog will be aware that I like the versatility of fixed zoom cameras. Some of them such as the B700 appear to promise an all purpose solution to a wide range of photographic requirements.
In their promotional material for the B700, Nikon says... …”Come face to face with fast moving wildlife or players on a pitch…”
This says to me that Nikon wants you to believe that the camera is suitable for photographing sports and “fast moving” wildlife.
I recently acquired one and have been putting the camera through its paces.
Here is a summary of what I regard as the camera’s best and most frustrating features.
* The concept This is a remarkably compact 60x zoom camera. It fits neatly into a Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 10 bag.
The combination of compact dimensions and moderate price make it accessible to a wide spectrum of ordinary consumers.
The most successful cameras over the years have been those which are accessible to ordinary people of modest means.
* The lens For a compact 60x zoom the lens on the B700 does a very good job. From the wide end through to the mid zoom range it delivers commendably good definition right across the frame.
Contrast and resolution fall away somewhat towards the long end of the zoom as is usual with this type of lens but resolution is decent even at full zoom.
* Vibration reduction Nikon knows how to do effective VR and it shows in the B700. I have some decently sharp pictures made hand held at the long end of the zoom (equivalent focal length 1440 mm) at 1/100 second shutter speed.
In the middle of the zoom range (focal length equivalent 300-600mm) I have sharp pictures in the shutter speed range 1/20 to 1/60 second.
That is impressive. In fact I rate the VR as this camera’s best feature.
Of course results like this demand careful technique by the photographer and a static subject or at least one which holds still for a few seconds.
* Handle and thumb support The handle on the B700 is well shaped and carries a heavily textured surface finish for grip. The shutter button is in the optimal position directly above the inner face of the handle.
The thumb support is well shaped and substantial with a soft rubberised insert providing a secure location for the thumb.
The command dial is easily reached and operated by the right thumb.
* Easy Panorama really is easy and works very well with generally artefact free stitching even with difficult foliage type subjects.
* Manual focus works well (I assign MF to the T/W lever on the side of the lens barrel) with peaking level adjustable on the fly without having to enter a menu.
* Fully articulated monitor This is the most versatile monitor type and it works well on the B700.
* Picture quality for stills and video is generally very good especially in the lower ISO sensitivity range.
I suspect that some photographers who would never think of using a camera with the very small 6.17 x 4.55 (diagonal 7.6mm) sensor might be surprised at what it can do.
I have been making prints up to 410 x 540 actual picture size from these small sensor cameras and they look absolutely fine with no grain visible at normal viewing distance.
I have been making photographs for 63 years with various types of equipment. I rate the picture quality produced by the B700 as about equal to color negative 35mm film from an SLR with a good prime lens.
Of course the depth of focus is different but in my view sharpness, color fidelity and grain are equivalent.
|B700 at the long end of the zoom hand held. I cleaned up some flare over the finch's beak in Photoshop|
So there is much to like about the B700
However………………there are some
Frustrating and annoying features
These range from substantial to trivial.
Unfortunately they are numerous which detracts from the pleasure of using this camera.
Starting with the most disappointing things first:
* Shot-to-shot times The B700 shares the same body and lens as its precursor, the P610.
The B700 adds RAW output for stills and 4K for video.
This requires a faster processor, particularly given the large size (31.5MB) of the RAW files.
Unfortunately this is precisely where the B700 is much less capable than it needs to be if any user is to photograph “fast moving wildlife”, or indeed anything moving at all.
I test shot to shot times as follows:
I set AF Single and Single shot drive. I point the camera at a subject on which it can easily focus then repeatedly press the shutter forcing the camera to AF, AE and live view on each shot. I use a stopwatch to time how long it takes to make 10 shots.
With RAW+JPG Fine and auto image review ON, the B700 took 20 seconds for a shot to shot time of 2 seconds.
With auto image review OFF the time dropped to 16 seconds, giving a shot to shot time of 1.6 seconds.
With image review OFF the user is presented with a blank screen for about half a second after each shot.
With JPG only and image review OFF it took 10 seconds giving a shot to shot time of 1.0 seconds.
To put these figures into perspective I ran the same tests on my little Panasonic TZ80 compact.
This camera made 10 RAW+JPGs in 4 seconds with no screen blackout. That is four times the speed of the B700.
* Continuous autofocus The B700 does not have AF-C. At all. Nada. Nothing.
It cannot follow focus on a subject moving towards or away from the camera.
This is very disappointing on a camera touted by its maker as suitable for fast moving wildlife.
The B700 does have various speeds of continuous drive but all of them fix focus and exposure on the first frame.
It also has Full time AF and Prefocus modes but these only work prior to the shot being taken.
Again using the little TZ80 compact for comparison, the TZ80 can follow focus on moving subjects at 5 fps with AF, AE and live view on each frame and approximately 90% of frames sharply in focus.
I have previously owned and used a P7800 and a P900 and found both those cameras lacking performance and desperately needing a faster processor.
Unfortunately Nikon is still failing to fix this problem.
So the technique for making still photos of moving subjects, sport, action and similar is the same as we used in the old days of manual focus.
That is to prefocus on a spot you know the runner, motorbike or whatever will pass, then press the shutter just before the subject arrives.
Unfortunately the B700 does not have AF Lock so you have to prefocus manually which is slower and in my experience less accurate than AF.
The really strange thing about this is that Nikon makes (or did make, they might have forgotten lately) the “1” series ILCs which are capable of continuous AF and follow focus at extremely high speeds, even faster than most DSLRs.
Clearly Nikon has the capability to give their mirrorless cameras super fast performance.
Yet they don’t endow their Coolpix cameras with this.
* Insufficient control points There is no My Menu, no Quick Menu and only 2 Function buttons.
There is only one command dial on top of the camera but there is space behind the shutter button for a Canon style command dial there also.
On many cameras the Delete button does double duty in Capture Phase as a Function button but on the B700 it sits there doing nothing.
There is plenty of space on the B700 for a more comprehensive control layout.
Unfortunately I find myself in the Main menus frequently when using the B700 just to adjust parameters which should be easily controllable via quick access portals.
For instance the active AF area can be moved about the screen. The sequence is:
Press OK > press up/down/left/right or up/down/rotate lower dial to move the AF area which is shown with a white bounding box and arrows when active.
At this point I expect to be able to change the size of the AF area with the command dial, as I can with other cameras. The dial is otherwise just sitting there doing nothing.
But no, not on the B700. The portal for changing the size of the AF area is [AF Area Mode] which you find on a completely different tab in the Shooting Menu. And to get at that you must either enter the Shooting Menu or assign the function to a Fn button.
But watch out there are only two of these.
Fortunately menu resume applies so it is reasonably easy to return to the last accessed item.
Also there is a User Settings Mode which allows the user to create two separate sets of settings with different allocations to the function buttons so in effect the camera can operate as if it has four function buttons.
If a camera has but a few of these it is no big deal. Unfortunately the B700 has many.
Here in no particular order are some of them:
* Menus The B700 has a minimalist menu system. The advantage of this is there are not many
choices which must be made. The disadvantage is there are not many choices which can be made.
There are also some oddities.
VR is in the Setup menu. Why ???
Noise Reduction is on a separate tab from Picture Control. Why ??
* Displays The actual focal length is not displayed unless [Zoom Memory] has been selected.
But a) this does not work if Auto Mode is selected
b) When selected the focal length can only be changed from one set point to the next taking one pull or push on the zoom lever each time. If all the available set points are selected that is 14 actions of the zoom lever to traverse the zoom range once.
The actual ISO sensitivity is not displayed unless a fixed ISO is set.
Shots taken in portrait orientation to not auto rotate on playback or in Photoshop. Actually my notes say they do rotate when the picture was made in the Auto Mode. But now as I check this is not happening. ?????
Update: I checked this again and found some frames auto rotate and others do not, go figure…..??
There is no level gauge and no zebras.
The battery status indicator is inadequate. I changes very quickly from “full” to ‘almost empty” then ‘Empty”.
The EVF eyepiece is hard, rectangular and uncomfortable.
Battery charging is by USB only.
Auto ISO algorithms are basic with no way to have minimum shutter speed change with lens focal length. With a 60x zoom I think that is an issue which needs to be rectified.
The B700 goes some way to making up for this with its excellent VR but a more sophisticated auto ISO algorithm would be even better.
There is no way to change both aperture and shutter speed with the command dial as is normal practice on a DSLR.
On the B700, the command dial changes aperture and the multi selector dial changes shutter speed (or the reverse).
I find this irritating. I learn to drive a camera by muscle memory. If my memory says the command dial is the place to go to control primary exposure parameters it is disruptive to have to remember to go somewhere else for one of them.
You have to re-set the timer for every shot !!! I find this extremely irritating and routinely forget when I am working from the tripod.
Moving AF area This is easy enough to move but only one click of the multi selector at a time.
There is no [return to center] button. You have to click-click-click-click to get the AF area back to the center.
There is no [return to default size] function when the AF area is active. As described above you have to go to the separate [AF Area Mode].
RAW files display with uncorrected distortion in Bridge, Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw. Each has to be corrected manually.
By the way the RAWs have a field of view about 10% linear larger than the JPGs.
Playback I have not been able to find a way to scroll from one enlarged image to the next.
The only way I can discover to get from one image to the next in playback is to press the OK button to resume [fit on screen] size, then scroll with the multi selector.
I find this extremely irritating if, for instance I want to review a series of frames of the same subject
such as a person, and want to pick the best one.
Nikon has done a very good job with the basic bones of this camera. It is very compact and comfortable to hold. It has a very good lens with excellent vibration reduction. Image quality is good. It has some well implemented features such as easy panorama and manual focusing. Single autofocus is commendably reliable and accurate.
The camera is decently competent indoors with or without flash
It makes good quality video.
As a stills camera it works very well for a wide variety of subjects as long as they hold still for a few seconds at least.
For my usage the main disappointments of the B700 are the same ones I found with the P900 and the P7800 before that.
These are slow shot to shot times and inability to follow focus effectively on subjects moving towards or away from the camera.
In addition there are numerous quirks and foibles in the operating system each of which is perhaps minor but in sum they diminish my enjoyment of using the camera.
I find the B700 a more appealing model than the P900. It is more compact, has RAW output and a more useful focal length range.
With a faster processor and better implemented ergonomics Nikon could have made the B700 a category killer model.
As it stands the B700 seems to me like a half finished project.
There are so many impediments to smooth operation in the P,S,A,M modes that I usually just set the green [Auto] mode or P Mode and let the camera do its automatic thing.
This mostly works out quite well and often produces a good result.
Suggestions for Nikon’s product development people
The Coolpix series desperately needs
1. A seriously fast processor. Other Nikon cameras have one. Why is the Coolpix line being starved of speed ?
Are they worried that users will give up their DSLRs in favour of bridge cameras ?
Why would they care as long as the customers are buying a Nikon ?
2. The capacity to follow focus on moving subjects.
Panasonic has DFD, Sony has on chip PDAF and Nikon has on chip PDAF in the “1” series and the as-yet-unseen and often delayed DL series compacts.
3. The entire operating system needs a very big refresh and re-alignment with the performance potential of a modern digital camera. It needs to appeal to the expert/enthusiast user.
Nikon needs to grasp the idea that expert/enthusiasts want to use bridge cameras, as well as or instead of DSLRs.
Sony and Panasonic are running rings around Canon and Nikon with speed and capability in the fixed zoom category.
Nikon appears to have an edge over the competition with regard to lens quality, VR and to some extent picture quality but I doubt that will last forever.
|This was actually shot on my back verandah where we get lots of flying visitors.|
I recently spent a day at Taronga zoo in Sydney becoming acquainted with the B700 and finding it very suitable for subjects which will hold still for at least a few seconds.
The pictures can tell the story.
All the photos started as RAWs, converted in Adobe Camera Raw and run through Photoshop.
I shoot RAW + JPG Fine and find I can ALWAYS get a better photo from the RAW file with a bit of work in ACR and Photoshop.
The problem with the JPGs in the B700 and every other small sensor camera I have used is that the JPG engine tries to eliminate luminance noise even when the NR level is set to LOW.
Unfortunately this also eliminates fine detail which is readily found in the RAW files.
|This is the JPG from the TIFF from the original RAW file. compare this with the SOOC JPG below.|
File from the RAW original above, unmodified SOOC JPG below.
|Straight out of camera JPG. I selected this subject because of the high subject brightness range, usually a problem for small sensor cameras.|
but the RAW file above shows that substantial highlight and shadow detail are able to be revealed from the original RAW.
The photo below was made in the rainforest aviary.
|This metallic starling was shot handheld at focal length (equivalent) 400mm and 1/13 second which is 5 stops slower than the recommended inverse of the focal length rule.|
You can see the picture is not quite tack sharp but I think it is very good in the circumstances.
|B700, Noisy Miner take-off|
The B700 represents a very appealing concept let down by sub optimal implementation of the operating system and user interface.
This is decently managed although models from Panasonic and Sony typically have many more options from which to select.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this limited option set. It makes the setup process easier for beginners but locks out many options available in other cameras.
Menus are easy to access, navigate and read with a good graphical user interface.
Menu resume operates so it is reasonably easy to re enter the last used menu item.
Unfortunately there is no My Menu and no Quick Menu.
In addition there are some oddities.
For instance Vibration Reduction is in the Setup Menu which seems to me an odd place to put it.
Fortunately it can be allocated to a Fn button.
Noise Reduction is not in the Picture Control panel where logic says it should be.
We see much the same theme in the Prepare Phase of use. The available controls are easy enough to use, there just aren’t all that many of them. The camera is large enough to accommodate a more comprehensive suite of direct controls.
There is no Quick Menu and only two Function buttons although the Delete button sits there doing nothing in prepare and Capture Phases of use.
There is one User Settings mode on the Mode Dial which does go some way towards making up for the lack of direct access control points.
I find when using the camera that I have to go into the main menus more often than I think is reasonable.
The buttons on the 4 way controller and the Fn buttons are easy to operate.
|Nikon B700 rear|
The handle and thumb support are well shaped and positioned.
The camera a pleasure to hold.
I might prefer a slightly fatter handle and a slightly deeper thumb support but that would be quibbling.
There is a good quality EVF and a good quality monitor which is of the optimal fully articulated type.
There are limited options for the user to adjust the style and parameters of the panels but I find the default settings are good anyway.
There is a long (about half a second) blackout after each shot, an unwanted feature which reminds me of mirrorless cameras of five or more years ago.
There are limited options for guidelines and other on screen displays.
The actual focal length and ISO settings are not displayed in many Modes of use.
There is peaking but no level gauge and no zebras.
The camera is decently user friendly in one of the automatic modes (Auto or P), less so in the S, A and M modes.
The command dial is nicely positioned and easy to turn.
There are several quirks and foibles in the operating system and user interface.
There is no AF Continuous but no AF lock either for presetting focus on a moving subject expected at a particular location, such as a race car coming around a corner.
Aperture and shutter speed controls are on different dials. They cannot both be assigned to the command dial as is the usual practice on a DSLR.
The self timer infuriatingly self cancels after every shot.
Zooming with Zoom Memory operation is tediously slow.
The procedure for changing position of the active AF area is un-necessarily slow, requiring multiple clicks with no one-click return to center.
Changing size of the active AF area is via a completely separate portal to that used for changing AF area position.
The camera’s operational limitations mean that the user who wants to take control of the camera (as opposed to point-and-shoot) has to make many more actions than is the case with cameras having a more evolved ergonomic design.
I could not find any way to scroll from one enlarged frame to the next. If I am photographing, say, a person I might make 20 exposures and want to look at the face in detail in each frame.
But to do that on the B700 I have to press the OK button to zoom back to ‘fit on monitor’ size, scroll to the next frame then pull the zoom lever repeatedly to return to the required zoom level then repeat the whole process on every frame.
This tedious procedure has unfortunately been inherited from the P900 and was one the things which annoyed me about that camera.
The B700 has RAW capture, a good lens, very good VR and good picture quality. It will attract the interest of enthusiast and expert photographers as well as the snapshooters who traditionally have used this type of small sensor bridge style camera.
There is a mis- match between the imaging capabilities which now have RAW output and the operating system which is largely inherited from the JPG-only P610 and P900.
A score of 64 is not terrible for this type of camera.
It is better than the P900 which I found less enjoyable to use and which I gave an ergonomic score of 50.
However the Panasonic FZ300 which is another small sensor bridge style model, scores better on all measures for a total of 79.
Let me put that a little more strongly: I believe that if Nikon is to survive as a camera maker it MUST do better.
|I actually made this picture with a beat up old Panasonic FZ70 because that camera happened to be in my hand when the butcher bird was eyeing me off hoping for a feed.|
The Panasonic FZ2500 managed to achieve the highest ergonomic score of any camera which I have tested, just beating the FZ1000 and GH4.
I believe other manufacturers would do their customers a favour if they were to take inspiration and practical guidance from the FZ2000 which could be used as role model for good ergonomic design.
This is the result of providing two lens control rings and a front control dial behind the shutter button, Canon DSLR style, in addition to the rear dial.
The FZ2000 uses the standard Panasonic menu system with some additions to the Motion Picture menu. It is reasonably well laid out, certainly better than the Sony and Olympus versions. The graphical user interface is very nice.
There is still no My Menu unfortunately but there is a Q Menu which can be user customised.
Front and rear dial functions can be configured to personal preference.
There are seven hard Function buttons each with user selectable function.
There are three Custom Modes available from the C icon on the Mode Dial. This means in effect that there are four separate ways to set up the camera. So, you could have one set for general photography, one for sport/action, one for video and so forth.
All you have to do is remember which settings apply to which Custom Mode.
Setup could be improved with a more user centric menu system (this comment applies to every camera I have tested) and the addition of a My Menu.
This is the period of a few minutes before capture when the user is configuring the camera for current conditions.
The FZ2000 manages this very well.
There is a hard Drive Mode dial and a Focus Mode lever easily reached by the right thumb. The combination of function buttons and Q Menu allows Prepare Phase settings to be quickly and smoothly made.
The memory card slot is separate from the battery compartment and very accessible, and the tripod socket is on the lens axis.
There are built in ND filters for video.
The anatomical handle is well shaped with modified ‘inverted L’ design for comfort and secure holding. I personally prefer a slightly fatter handle but others may not.
The thumb support has been redesigned from that on the FZ1000 and is an improvement.
The left hand can easily support the lens barrel in ‘hand under’ or ‘hand over’ position although one has to be careful not to accidentally bump one of the Fn buttons on the left side of the lens barrel.
The EVF and monitor screen are both excellent. Both can be configured to ‘monitor style’ or ‘viewfinder style’. Both are clear, bright and sharp providing an excellent subject preview and clear readout of camera data.
EVF refresh rate is fast with very little blackout in Burst Mode shooting.
The monitor is of the optimal fully articulated type.
The FZ2000 is a very pleasant camera to use. It is fast, responsive and smooth. All adjustments can be made with minimal disruption to the picture taking flow.
All primary and secondary exposure, zoom and focus parameters can be adjusted smoothly without changing grip with either hand and while looking continuously through the viewfinder.
Switching from AF to MF on the fly is very easy.
Exposure Compensation can be assigned to the rear dial and works very well with the zebras.
Few cameras offer a better operating experience.
The only things preventing an even higher score are:
* The camera is still using Panasonic’s antediluvian auto ISO algorithms which do not allow for a minimum shutter speed range dependent on zoom position. This means the user has to switch frequently to Shutter Priority Mode to achieve the optimum shutter speed for the focal length in use.
Panasonic needs to fix this ASAP. All they need to do is copy the Sony method.
* The camera has space for and needs a JOG lever for instant adjustment of AF Area position. The GH5 has one so clearly Panasonic has the technology.
* One minor niggle: I would like to see the front dial 2mm closer to the shutter button. My 73 year old hands are not as flexible as they once were. I expect younger users will not notice the distance between the shutter button and the front dial.
The FZ200 has a comprehensive suite of Review Phase capabilities all well implemented.
The only improvement I can think of would be to implement Sony’s practice of bringing up the AF area at 100% when the Playback button is pressed.
When a camera has very good ergonomics as this one does there is really very little to comment on.
Everything works very well and has been designed properly for smooth fast operation by an experienced user.
The camera is a pleasure to use.
With a few adjustments as suggested above it could be almost perfect.
Imagine a camera with a 60 x zoom lens spanning very wide to ultra long focal lengths, a built in eye level viewfinder of good quality, a nice monitor, a comfortable anatomical handle, a well designed thumb support, a comprehensive set of controls for the expert/enthusiast user, in a compact size easily carried in a small bag and all this at a budget friendly price.
In fact such cameras exist and are readily available to consumers.
Why do interchangeable lens cameras continue to thrive in the marketplace ?
The answer is picture quality and specifically luminance noise which can be prominent in small sensor cameras.
These superzoom cameras have a very small sensor usually measuring 4.55 x 6.17mm. The diagonal is 7.67mm and the area is 28 square millimetres. This size sensor is often confusingly referred to a ‘1/2.3 inch’ for arcane reasons which need not concern us here.
To give some perspective to these dimensions, this sensor is only slightly larger than the buttons on the back of these cameras. A round button 5mm in diameter has an area of 19.6 square millimetres.
An inexorable rule of photography is that image quality is dependent on sensor size and bigger is better, given equally advanced sensor technology.
The sensor in these superzoom cameras is the same size as that commonly seen in smartphones.
Outdoors in reasonably bright light these cameras are capable of producing very good picture quality.
But indoors and in low light they are less impressive, giving way to cameras which utilise a larger sensor.
The trade off is versatility, particularly in the form of huge zoom range and compact size, against image quality, particularly in low light levels.
The good news is that most sensor R&D is going into the smartphone and industrial sectors where small sensors are dominant.
I expect, well anyway I hope, that this will deliver advances in small sensor technology to outstrip that appearing in larger sensors, giving a boost to the acceptability of devices using the small sensor.
Just to put this discussion about picture quality into perspective, I have been making photos for 63 years. For most of those years I used film, in all sizes from subminiature through 35mm to 4 x 5 inch large format.
I have hundreds of negatives and transparencies which I have printed to various sizes from A4 to 1200 x 900 mm.
Using RAW capture and processing in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, I rate my recent shots made with the Nikon B700 as having picture quality equal to 35mm transparency film using a good prime lens.
I am finding that even when printed up to an actual print size of 410 x 540mm, pictures from the TZ80 and B700 look sharp and clear on the wall. Nobody who looks at them comments on any perceived issues with the technical quality of the prints.
My point is that for most of us, most of the time, these 7.6mm sensor cameras deliver good enough picture quality for almost any purpose.
As I write, the current players are Canon, Nikon, Sony and Panasonic.
Olympus, Fujifilm, Pentax and others appear to have dropped out of this market sector.
The pace of new model release has slowed with annual model cycles of the past being replaced by 2, 3 or 4 year cycles as sales and R&D budgets decline.
Models available in Australia in January 2017 are:
Nikon: Coolpix P900, P610, B700
Sony: Cybershot HX400V, HX350, HX90V, HX80
Panasonic Lumix: TZ80 (ZS60), FZ300, FZ70, (FZ80 coming soon)
Some of these are compacts. Those with the greatest zoom range are larger with a hump top, ‘SLR style’ shape.
I have not listed models without a built in EVF. I realise that people buy these things but I will not.
Maybe those people have ultra steady hands or maybe they just tolerate blurry pictures at the long end of the zoom.
There are two other features which I regard as important in deciding which, if any, of these cameras one might buy.
One is availability of RAW output. I often capture JPG + RAW. In my experience I can always improve on the JPG by working on the RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop.
The other is the availability of AF Continuous and the capacity to follow focus on a moving subject.
I have little interest in a camera which does not have all three of these features. Despite this I have been using the Nikon B700 quite a lot recently but am finding its limitations.....well......you know........limiting.
I realise that some users feel they have no need for them but others want to use those features frequently. If the camera has them the user can choose. If the camera does not have them there is no choice.
Theparadox of small sensor cameras
The people most likely to use a small sensor camera are snapshooters. These users will often turn the mode Dial to the [Auto] setting then zoom, point and shoot.
The people most likely to get the best results from a small sensor camera are expert/enthusiast users who will set one of the P, A, S M Modes, utilise RAW output, use all the camera’s controls to optimum effect and post process each image in a top quality RAW converter.
I review and report on these cameras from the perspective of the expert/enthusiast user.
This was announced in September 2014 so it is probably due for an update assuming Canon wants to stay with that model line.
On Canon user forums I read many complaints from users who updated from the SX50 to the SX60 then wished they had not done so, feeling the SX50 to be the better camera.
I bought and tested an SX60 and was not impressed. It has a nice handle and a good EVF but those are about the only positive things I could say about it.
It has an amazing 83x zoom lens of quite good quality. But it only shoots JPGs (slowly) and there are numerous ergonomic problems.
In addition I found it difficult to get decent pictures hand held at the long end of the zoom.
It uses the old, tediously slow Expeed C2 processor which desperately needs a major upgrade.
Nikon Coolpix P610 and B700
The B700 is an upgrade of the P610 using the same body and 60x zoom lens but with the addition of RAW output.
The 24-1440mm (equivalent) lens is about as long as I can manage if decently sharp hand held pictures are the desired outcome.
I have been using the B700 for several weeks and find it to be an appealing camera with some significant deficiencies in specifications, features, performance and ergonomics.
It works well for still subjects however with a good lens, very good VR (stabiliser) and generally good picture quality, although the lens gets a bit soft at the long end.
Unfortunately shot to shot times are slow and AF Continuous is not available.
I did not buy any of these due to the absence of RAW output. I looked at sample images made with these cameras on various websites and was not pleased with the JPG rendition which appeared to me to have excessive noise reduction and sharpening.
If someone asked me to recommend the most versatile and capable all rounder of this group of cameras it would be the FZ300. Its 25-600mm f2.8 lens is the best optically and has the widest aperture of this group making it the most suitable for indoor as well as outdoor use.
It is weather sealed and can easily follow focus on moving subjects. It has very good ergonomics and is a pleasure to use.
It is an easy camera to recommend for all types of general photography including sport/action.
However the lens is a bit short for small birds and distant wildlife. For these subjects one of the models with a longer zoom might be more suitable.
The main argument against the FZ300 is the FZ1000 which is only about 25% larger and more expensive but makes better pictures.
An FZ400 with an effective focal length to 800mm might make a better case for the small sensor model.
This is my favourite compact camera. It has a 30x zoom, all the latest Panasonic bells and whistles including zebras and peaking, 4K, AFC and much more. It can follow focus on moving subjects and does a decent job with a wide range of subjects from landscapes to small birds. It is nice to use with a decent handle and thumb support, a built in EVF and a good set of controls. Yet it fits into a Lowe Pro Portland 20 belt pouch with room for spare batteries and memory cards.
Yes of course the Sony RX100 series make better pictures if you pixel peep them at 100% but the Sonys cost a lot more and have one tenth the zoom range.
The TZ80 is a keeper in our family.
I bought on eBay and have been using a banged up old FZ70 just to check out the lens. My copy is quite decentered making the pictures soft on one side at the wide end but quite good in the mid zoom range and acceptable the long end
The FZ80 due in mid March may be more promising although it uses the same lens.
These cameras have an interesting focal length range which goes from a super wide 20mm to a very long 1200mm. I find focal lengths longer than this are difficult to manage in real world hand held use.
I plan to buy a FZ80 when it becomes available in Australia and will report on its capabilities in due course. I will have to figure out some way of weeding out bad copies of the lens.
|Photographing birds in flight is probably one of the most difficult tasks you can ask a camera to perform. The FZ300 does just fine. The main limitation on success is the experience and skill of the user.|
Panasonic announced the FZ300 in July 2015.
I bought one as soon as it became available in Australia and used it for a short time.
At the time I was very much engaged in learning about the FZ1000 and deciding to leave the world of interchangeable lens cameras forever.
The FZ300 seemed at the time like a poor cousin to the FZ1000 so I gave it perhaps less attention than it deserved.
Since then eight things have prompted this re-appraisal of the FZ300 and other fixed zoom lens cameras using the “smart phone” sensor.
1. I have gotten older and my priority has shifted towards finding the most compact solution to my all-in-one camera requirements. My wife who likes to photograph birds has the same idea.
The FZ300 and FZ70/80 are large enough to hold comfortably and steadily for minimal camera shake but small enough to fit into a Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 10 bag.
|Running dogs are not quite as difficult to photograph as birds in flight but they are still plenty challenging enough especially when backlit as here.|
2. My notions of acceptable picture quality have become more pragmatic. I recently completed and printed to A4 size a portfolio of 350 family photos dating from 1925 to the present. Some of the originals were poor quality contact prints only 50 x 70 mm in size.
Yet when family members view the prints not one of them asks what camera made the picture and no one has commented about the technical quality of the prints. The content is what matters.
3. Over the last two years I have been exploring the level of picture quality available from cameras which use the so-called “1/2.3 inch” sensor which actually has a diagonal of around 7.67 mm. The exact size can vary from one iteration to another.
This is the same sized sensor found in many smartphones.
I have found that even budget small sensor cameras such as the Panasonic TZ80 can produce pictures which I can print up to an actual size of 410 x 550 mm, about the largest size my Epson 4880 printer can output.
These prints look just fine, clear and sharp with good presence on the wall, good highlight and shadow detail, good colour and no grain apparent at normal viewing distance.
|I was on a ferry travelling at 17 knots in the opposite direction to this powerboat which is doing about 20 knots. The FZ300 had no trouble following focus on the power boat.|
4. In either compact or “bridge” style, small sensor cameras can have a much greater zoom range than any other camera type. In addition the bridge style models in particular can have excellent ergonomics (although not all actually do) providing an engaging, enjoyable experience for the user.
Some like the FZ300 featured in this post meet my criteria for a “proper camera” with a very nice EVF, fully articulated monitor, proper anatomical handle and thumb support and a full set of controls for the expert/enthusiast user.
5. I realised that the better digital cameras using a 7.67mm sensor have an output with about the same quality as the best I could get 15 years ago from 35mm film in a high quality camera with a good prime lens.
I figure that if 35mm film was good enough for me and just about everybody else, which it was, then digital cameras with the 7.67mm sensor will do me just fine.
6. I tested several small sensor cameras in a range of challenging situations including subjects with high brightness range, birds in flight and many others, and found they performed well enough for my purposes.
7. I revisited Adobe Camera Raw and re-acquainted myself with the many sliders to be found there. This revealed the potential capability of ACR which I had not fully explored previously.
I realised that by shooting RAW and working on the files in ACR I could obtain surprisingly good output even from high ISO (1600) files.
|You could probably photograph the sailboat with AF Single as it is moving slowly compared to the powerboats whizzing around on Sydney harbour. I used AFC and burst mode with all the 20 or so frames sharp.|
8. Far and away the camera type most frequently purchased by individuals is the one in a smart phone.
Cameras for CCTV and industrial uses are also vastly more numerous than dedicated consumer cameras for individuals wanting to take photos.
Many of these cameras use a version of the now ubiquitous 7.67mm sensor type, often made by Sony or Samsung.
I figure that most of the R&D effort is probably going into this sensor type with the expectation of improved picture quality in the hopefully near future.
There you have the eight things. I think that together they make a strong case for the camera with a “smart phone” sensor.
So I bought another FZ300 and have been using it extensively in a variety of challenging situations.
My wife liked the feel and size of the FZ300 so we got one for her also.
The photos which accompany this post illustrate the ability of the FZ300 to follow focus on moving subjects.
At the time of writing The FZ300 is the most capable of the 7.67mm sensor cameras at this task.
It is the only one I would use for birds in flight which it manages quite well.
|This is from the RAW file worked in Adobe Camera Raw and converted to a JPG for publication.|
|This is the JPG straight out of the camera.|
Conventional digital camera wisdom says that small sensor cameras have poor dynamic range. This means they struggle to render detail in highlights and shadows when subject brightness range is high.
DXO Mark reports that the FZ300/330 has an overall RAW score of 38 and a DR score of 11.0.
These results might tempt a prospective FZ300 buyer into thinking that the camera would be of little use when subject brightness range is high.
So I put it to the test with many difficult subjects.
Here are some pictures which illustrate the camera’s capability.
For all but the most extreme situations the camera manages just fine as long as RAW capture is used and the full range of options in a good RAW converter are utilised. I use Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop.
Of course this illustrates the paradox of the small sensor cameras.
This is that the people most likely to use such cameras are snapshooters who leave the Mode Dial on the [iA] setting and always shoot JPG.
But the users most likely to get the best results are the enthusiast/experts who capture RAW and process thoughtfully in a RAW converter/image editor.
See the difference in the pictures above and below:
|This version stared as a RAW with work in adobe Camera Raw. There is direct mid day sunlight shining through the clear glass roof onto the flagstones below. I would normally not bother to press the shutter button with light like this no matter what camera I am using as the subject brightness range is so high, but I wanted to stress test the FZ300 . You can see here the peak highlights have blown out but overall the result is quite pleasing I think. |
|This is the original JPG straight out of camera.|
Here is one from the rainforest
|Rainforest in direct sun on a clear day is one of the most difficult subjects to photograph due to the extreme subject brightness range. The tree in the center has blown out as have a few other highlights but overall I think this is quite a good result. As with the QVB above I normally would not bother pressing the shutter button on a day like this.|
|This is the out of camera JPG|