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The independent source for study and review of camera ergonomics.

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    G85   Could a full frame camera make a "better" picture of this scene? 
    What would "better" look like ?
    This hand held picture was shot at f3.5, 1/60 second and ISO 640. Time taken to visualise the subject, prepare the camera and take the photo --two seconds. Equivalent depth of focus with full frame would require f11 which in turn would require ISO 6400. This would reduce the resolution and dynamic range available from the lens/sensor system. I see little opportunity here for a "better" picture with any kind of camera. 

    For forty years in the second half of the 20thCentury and early part of the 21st Century I used film cameras.

    The way you got a viewable image from film was to print from a negative or transparency or project a transparency onto a screen of some kind.


    If you wanted to compare the “quality” of one film or one lens with another the procedure was to make prints and compare those side by side.


    Nowadays we have this new entity called “image quality” which consists of technical analysis  of the digital files produced by a camera sensor and its associated processor. 


    Characteristics reported by, for instance dxomark.cominclude color depth, luminance noise, dynamic range, signal to noise ratio and more.


    This analysis is very interesting and you can read all about it on the DXO Mark website.


    It enables, indeed encourages, reviewers and users to make judgements about the picture making capability of cameras without actually making pictures.


    It also encourages reviewers and users to the view that a high score is better than a low score.


    Of course in the technical sense that is true.


    But there are two things missing from this type of analysis and they are both questions.


    Unless an analysis of anything is directed to answering some question(s) meaningful to a particular user then it must inevitably be of unclear value.


    So here are the questions I ask:


    * The first question is —“Can this camera make pictures good enough for my purposes ?”


    * The secondquestion is --- “What do pictures from this camera look like when output in the user’s chosen medium (print, social media, website, blog etc) at the user’s preferred size ?”


    The technical approach to “image quality” also produces a fretful phenomenon which I call “measurbation neurosis” **.  I see manifestations of this all the time on user forums.  People work themselves into a froth because their chosen camera has a DXO Mark low light ISO number (or some other reported number) which is less than that of some other camera or some arbitrarily selected higher number deemed more desirable.


    A bit of history


    My favourite general purpose black and white film for many years was Kodak TRI-X. 


    But some users complained about the grain so after much research Kodak produced TMAX 400.


    Apparently TMAX 400 tested better than TRI-X on technical analysis. Kodak said TMAX 400 had less grain and better resolution than TRI-X.  I have to assume they knew what they were talking about and that this analysis was correct.


    BUT   Lots of film users myself included tried the TMAX, did not much care for it and went back to TRI-X.


    Why?    Because the best way to evaluate a film is to make prints and lots of people preferred the appearance of prints made from TRI-X.


    The reasons for this are probably still being debated but it seems to me that:


    1. The visible grain clumps in the TRI-X emulsion appear sharper in prints than the grain structure of TMAX 400. Call this pseudo-sharpness if you will but the cognitive impact on the viewer is of better sharpness.


    2. More pleasing tonal gradation. TRI-X is easier to work with at the development and printing stage and enables prints with better separation of the critical mid tones.


    3. TRI-X appears to have greater local contrast. I think of this as analogous to the “Clarity” slider in Adobe Camera Raw/Lightroom.


    Anyway the point of this little historical digression is that technical analysis does not automatically or always tell us which camera can make the best pictures.


    This reference to TRI-X and TMAX film is not entirely random. There are similarities in the relationship between the output of Micro Four Thirds cameras and those with larger sensors.


    Right from the start of the Micro Four Thirds system with the Panasonic G1 in 2008, I noticed that although the G1 fell behind its APS-C competitors on technical image quality analysis the camera produced pictures with very good local contrast and sharpness.  A kind of visual “bite” if that makes sense. Panasonic M43 cameras still have this quality which in my view gives pictures from these cameras an appeal which goes beyond  technical analysis.


    And so we come by a somewhat circuitous path to the subject of this post, the Panasonic G80/85.


    Question 1. I have been testing the output of this camera and in my assessment it can make pictures good enough for almost any purpose which any photographer might require. It certainly exceeds my humble requirements.


    Question 2. Pictures from the G85 can, if the original file is technically satisfactory regarding exposure and focus, be printed up to almost any size which any user might require and still retain very good image integrity.


    The files have far in excess of sufficient quality for posting on the internet, social media and similar.


    There are plenty of cameras which have higher DXO Mark scores than the G80/85. For most practical purposes however this is irrelevant if the G80 makes pictures which are good enough for the user’s purposes.


    Another question worth asking is:


    Question 3: “What can the G80/85 not do ?


    It seems to me the answer to that question is: “very little”.


    But maybe professional sport/action is one photographic task for which larger and much more expensive equipment might be more suitable.


    This is not because there is anything inadequate about Micro Four Thirds image quality. It has to do with


    a) Follow focus capability on moving subjects particularly in low light and


    b) Depth of focus characteristics. Cameras with a larger sensor can more easily render backgrounds out of focus. This is useful if the background is visually intrusive.


    Yesterday I read a review of the recently released Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mk3 (who on earth comes up with these confusing name designations ?). The reviewer wrote that the 16 Mpx sensor “is starting to look a little dated”, as if the thing was a fashion accessory, which come to think of it could be the case for some buyers.


    In fact the 16 Mpx Micro Four Thirds sensor does an excellent job with very high resolution and very good dynamic range.


    The entire congregation of makers, vendors and reviewers of cameras is dedicated to persuading you to buy more expensive camera gear.


    In the real world the technical advantage of cameras with larger and/or higher pixel count sensors is infrequently able to be expressed in the actual output and is therefore redundant.


    With a good lens mounted (and there are lots of these available in the M43 system) the G80/85 is able to meet almost any photographic challenge.



    ** Neurosis: Excessive and irrational anxiety or obsession.

    Measurebator (in photography): Someone who gets so caught up in the technical specifications of a camera to the point of endlessly repeating stats in numerous online forum postings and arguing which camera is better solely on specs; who conversely almost never takes any pictures.

    In other words they get so caught up in the numbers that they miss the obvious – in the case of photography that a camera is for taking pictures.







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    GH5 with PanaLeica 12-60mm f2.8-4


    The GH prefix  indicates Panasonic’s top tier Micro Four Thirds model, designed for high capability in stills and/or video recording.


    My experience with this line began with the GH2 of 2010. This camera looked very much like a G1/G2 with additional video capability.


    The subsequent GH3 and GH4 models had a larger body and continued the theme of increasing video capability while remaining competent stills cameras.



    So now we come to the GH5 which is a step up for both stills and video capability. Compared to the previous models the GH5 is larger, heavier and more capable in every respect.


    It is a highly evolved camera for professional use with specifications, features and capabilities unheard of just a few years ago.


    This camera’s features, image quality and performance for both stills and video have been exhaustively analysed and reported elsewhere.


    This being the Camera Ergonomics blog I will concentrate on an exploration of the ergonomic logic of the GH5.


    I have developed a schedule and system for scoring camera ergonomics.


    Using this system I give the GH5 a score of 90/100, the highest score of any camera I have yet tested.


    Concept


    Panasonic has clearly conceived the GH5 as a high performing all purpose device for still and video capture suitable for the professional or ambitious enthusiast user.


    They have succeeded in achieving this. The list of this camera’s specifications, features and capabilities is extraordinary.


    Given a suitable selection of lenses there are very few photographic tasks which this camera cannot carry out with distinction.


    Picture quality is so good that you have to seriously wonder about the relevance of cameras with a larger sensor.


    Performance with still or video is excellent.


    Is there anything this camera cannot do well ?


    I think not but for low light sport/action work I suspect that a professional full frame DSLR with very expensive glass would probably be more capable.


    I expect that in a few years with further development of Panasonic’s DFD continuous AF system and addition of some super tele lenses that even this advantage might become negligible.


    Mockup camera, same size as GH5.    I made the mockup several years ago. It is this size because it enables a very good fit for the adult human hand with ergonomically optimal layout and controls.
    This picture shows the comfortable position of the fingers allowing the thumb and forefinger to move freely to operate the controls.  The third finger of the right hand is tucked away under the overhang of the inverted L shaped handle.
    The picture shows the quad control set around the shutter button and thumb stick just to the left of the thumb but within easy reach.  The AF-on button is hidden by the ball of  the thumb Canon style.
    The Focus mode lever has gone allowing the thumb stick to come closer to the thumb and easier to reach. Focus mode would be allocated to the Q Menu or a Fn button.


    Size 


    In the early days of the Micro Four Thirds system Panasonic and Olympus strongly promoted the fact that mirorless cameras could be made smaller than DSLRs because


    a)  they do not need a mirror box so the flangeback distance can be reduced.


    b) they do not need a pentaprism.


    This is still true but over the years even mirrorless models have grown.


    As it happens the width and height  of a camera are determined by the dimensions of the monitor and viewfinder. 


    The body has to accommodate all the stuff in a modern camera including battery, electronics and circuit boards, sensor, shutter, in body image stabiliser and heat sinks.


    This will determine the bulk of the body regardless of the flange back distance.  The focal plane mark on the top plate of the Gh5 is closer to the front of the body than the back.


    Electronic viewfinders have also grown. The viewfinder in the GH5 is probably the best I have ever seen regardless of type but the big, bright view you get requires a big viewfinder, eyepiece optics and eyecup.


    So the GH5 is the biggest M43 camera ever but is still compact for a professional level model.


    Significantly it is just the right size to provide a full five finger grip for an average adult size hand.


    Samsung NX-1 showing the function buttons to the right of the shutter button and control dial. I call this a quad control set. The function of the buttons should be user assignable which is not the case here.  By the way, this picture shows some obvious ergonomic mistakes elsewhere on the top of the camera.  The LCD panel is redundant. It is just taking up some of the most valuable real estate on the camera for information which can be seen in the viewfinder or monitor. The rear dial is in the wrong place. The GH5 gets it right.


    Shape, handle and configuration


    The shape of most current high end cameras has been greatly influenced by the Canon T90 of 1986.


    This camera has a substantial handle with the shutter button forward on the top of the handle and a control dial just behind the shutter button.


    Current Canon DSLRs and the GH3,4 5 have this arrangement.


    The older, pre T90 shape  had a flat front, sometimes with a mini handle with  the shutter button in the top/rear position on top of the body.


    Some current model cameras still have some version of this layout. These include several prosumer models from Fujifilm (X-T series and X-Pro series), most Olympus M43 models and most compacts.


    Some people say they like the style of the mini handle/shutter button top/rear layout but I have done much work with mockups which demonstrates that the modern shutter forward on handle layout has many ergonomic advantages.


    In summary these are:


    * Much more secure grip on the camera without undue muscle tension. This is particularly so if the handle  has an inverted L shape with an overhang under which the third finger of the right hand can tuck for security. This also puts the shutter button in the optimal position where the right index finger wants to find it.  The GH5 has a variant of the inverted L type handle with a small but effective overhang.


    * Much more space on the top plate of the right side of the camera. This in turn allows for inclusion of more controls, more effectively disposed where the fingers want to find them.


    * More separation between the right index finger and thumb. This allows for greater freedom of lateral movement by both these fingers. This freedom of movement permits easier, more streamlined operation of controls for the thumb and index finger. In fact the camera can be driven by these two fingers most of the time without having to shift grip with either hand.


    This is a mockup of the right side of a camera with mini handle and top rear shutter button position. This is the "traditional" style. There are numerous problems. You have to hold the thing tight or it will fall. Unlike the mockup above or the GH5 there is nothing under which the middle finger of the right hand can tuck itself.  The fingers are close together which limits their ability to move side to side in the service of operating controls. This restricts the designers and users options for control systems.


    Thumb support and rear dial


    I have done considerable work with mockups over the last few years exploring various options for thumb rest and rear dial configuration.


    In summary I have found that the optimum configuration which works best in harmony with the functional anatomy of the hand, fingers and thumb is the one used in the GH5.


    The rear dial is embedded in the upper section of a substantial thumb rest.


    The right thumb can easily operate the dial simply by swinging to the right, without having to bend and without disrupting the user’s hold on the device.


    The thumb can also swing to the left to operate the thumb stick (a.k.a. Joystick) and back button focus (AF/AE-L button on a Panasonic) without the need to move any other finger and without disrupting grip.


    Together the handle, shutter button position, front dial position, thumb support, rear dial, thumb stick and back button focus allow the experienced user to operate the GH5 in a very streamlined, efficient fashion using the smallest possible number of low complexity actions.


    The front and rear dials are optimally positioned, project just the right amount and have sharp teeth which makes them easy to feel and operate.


    You really have to use the camera for a while to appreciate all this.


    Thumb stick and back button AF


    At last a Panasonic camera gets a thumb stick. I live in hope that some day real soon please Panasonic every camera will have one of these.


    The thumb stick is easily the most efficient way to move the active AF area.


    It does have to be in the optimal position and have optimal operating characteristics.


    The thumb stick on the GH5 is well positioned, has the right haptic characteristics and works as I expect it to. Move the stick left/right/up/down to change position, push it in to recenter the AF box.


    All good.


    By the way I have had some feedback from one reader on this blog who opined that the touch screen is preferable to the thumb stick for moving AF area.


    I suspect that when people get accustomed to the process of using the thumb stick they will fully appreciate its value.


    Mode Dial + Control dials or aperture ring/shutter speed ring/EC dial ?

    There is a band of fervent supporters of the notion that grafting an aperture ring+shutter speed dial+exposure compensation dial onto a modern  digital camera is a wonderful thing and the only kind of configuration that real photographers should use.


    Some of these supporters are rudely intolerant of any alternative view about camera control systems.


    Fortunately most photographers who actually use their cameras as opposed to arguing about things on user forums have realised that the mode dial+twin control dials configuration provides the most streamlined user experience permitting all camera operation tasks to be carried out with the fewest, least complex actions.


    Setup Phase of use


    The menu system on the GH5 has had a big overhaul with positive effect. The graphical user interface is as good as it gets. The submenu layout is easy to read and navigate. The Custom Menu now has five submenus grouped in ways which make sense to a photographer, namely Exposure, Focus, Operation, Monitor/Display, Lens and others.


    There is now a My Menu which can be populated with user selected items.


    Every camera should have a My Menu.


    So, although the GH5 is a very advanced camera with a huge number of options they are all easy enough to navigate.


    Prepare Phase of use


    The GH5 is fulsomely endowed with access points by which the user can make adjustments in Prepare phase.


    We have Mode Dial, Drive Mode Dial, Focus Mode lever, Q Menu, WB/ISO/+/- buttons and Function buttons. The camera can quickly be configured for any set of conditions.


    The learning curve required to make best use of all the available options is steep, but that applies to any pro level camera and some are much less user friendly.


    Viewfinder

    The GH5 has one of the best EVFs I have ever seen. It makes the argument for optical viewfinders seem increasingly pointless.


    Could it be better ?

    Of course. Nothing is perfect.


    * The only real standout which needs to be fixed with some urgency is that stupid Disp button. This is in the annoyingly wrong place on the GH3 and GH4 and they put it in the same place on the GH5. 

    What on earth were they thinking ?


    I bump it every time I pick up the camera. It is located right in the thumb support where accidental activation is inevitable.


    Fortunately I believe that the next firmware update will allow the Disp button to be disabled. But that is only a partial fix because you still need the Disp button to return the AF Area to default size with one press.


    If  Disp can be disabled and its functions allocated to a Fn button (I would use Fn2) then all will be well.


    Issues for the next version


    The GH5 has happily gotten almost everything right from the ergonomic standpoint. However there are a few detail improvements which could be considered for the next iteration which I am guessing will not be anytime soon.



    * The thumb stick would be even more useful with 8 way operation. In other words having diagonal movement in addition to the presently available up/down/left/right. It would also be useful if a double press on the stick reverted the AF area box to default size.

    * Users with small hands might find that reaching the AF/AE-L button and thumb stick could be a bit of a stretch. One option to rectify this is shown in the mockup photo attached.


    * I would like the thumb support to be more prominent with a steeper rise against the thumb for a more secure hold.  If I were keeping the GH5 I would experiment with some Sugru on the thumb side of the thumb rest to provide a more definite block for the thumb just there.


    * That’s about it really although you can see on the photo of the mockup my suggestion for a quad control set on the front of the handle. This puts the function buttons on the right side of the shutter button and control dial rather than behind them as is the case now. On my tests with the mockup the quad control set allows the right index finger to locate and operate the function buttons by feel more easily than the present arrangement.


    The ill fated Samsung NX-1 had such a quad control set showing that it can be done easily enough.


    Summary


    Overall I rate the GH5 as an object lesson in how to do it ergonomically.


    In my view other camera makers (hullooo…. Sony…and others…...) should look very hard at the GH5 and learn.


    By way of example, Sony has just announced one of this year’s most interesting cameras, the RX10(4). In typical Sony style this model appears to have amazing and groundbreaking technology inside but one of the most muddle-headed control arrangements I have ever seen. 

    Only the egregiously retro Fujifilm X-T and X-Pro cameras are bigger ergonomic mess-ups.


    The RX10(4) is the same size as the GH5 to the nearest millimetre or few. If Sony shamelessly copied the GH5 control layout they would be doing their buyers a power of good.




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    Panasonic LX100

    The essence of camera ergonomics is the number and complexity of actions required to control the device.

    For many years of the 20th Century the most popular enthusiast camera type was the single lens reflex. Most models used the classical shape and control layout made popular by Asahi  Pentax  as shown in the photo of my Spotmatic, still working after 50+ years.


    This control system is basically dictated by the mechanical constraints of the inner workings of these cameras.


    The aperture ring is connected mechanically to the aperture actuating mechanism so it has to be right on the lens.


    The shutter speed dial is likewise connected mechanically to the shutter mechanism so it has to be located where those mechanical connections are easily made. 

    Asahi Pentax Spotmatic showing traditional controls


    The only direct mechanical operation on a modern camera is the zoom mechanism on lenses fitted with manual zoom. All other control inputs are actuated by electronically monitored micro motors or similar machines.


    Any user interface module (button, lever, dial and others) can be located anywhere on or off the camera body and can be hard (a discrete physical module) or soft (touch screen or remote device).


    This gives designers great freedom with the shape, configuration and control layout of their products.


    You might therefore be surprised to find that some makers endow their cameras with a control layout the main features of which look remarkably like that of the Spotmatic.


    Why they do this I can only guess. I am not privy to the machinations of the product development teams at any of the camera makers.


    Here in some detail is why I think this is a bad idea.


    LX100 changing the aperture.



    Aperture ring


    1. With the most popular type of lens which is a variable aperture zoom, the markings on an aperture ring are often incorrect.  For instance on the Panasonic LX100 which I am using in this post to illustrate my points, the lens aperture varies from f1.7 at  (equivalent) 24mm to f2.8 at about 50mm and above. If you set the aperture ring to f1.7 and zoom out the aperture will progressively change from f1.7 to f2.8.


    2. Changing f stop on an aperture ring requires more actions, each more complex than is the case with a well designed [Mode Dial+Control Dial] control system. See the photos with this post.


    The LX100 is particularly bad in this regard as the ring has only two serrated lands which never seem to be where my fingers want to find them.


    Even if the aperture ring had serrations around the full circumference which should be the case, turning the ring still requires the whole left hand and at least two of its fingers to be recruited into the task of turning the ring.


    But with the FZ1000 which I have chosen as an example of a camera with a modern control system I can change aperture with a small movement of just one digit (the right thumb in this case) with no other part of the hands or fingers having to move at all.  Fewer actions, each less complex.


    3. One of the supposed benefits which I have heard given for the aperture ring is that the user can see the fstop reading engraved thereon. But in fact


    a) the engravings on the ring are invisible in Capture Phase of use when one is looking through the viewfinder or at the monitor and


    b) some of the time the engraved f stop indications are wrong anyway.


    4. Once I get to f4 the fingers of my left hand turning the aperture ring bump into the fingers of my right hand holding the camera. So I have to shift grip with the right hand to allow the left hand to turn the ring further.


    4. In the case of the LX100 the aperture ring turns the wrong way for value up. Other cameras/lenses have the same problem. My brain and I suspect most peoples, is wired to expect “value up” to be caused by => movement of the finger(s) on a lever, wheel, dial or touch screen. But on the LX100 value up is achieved by the opposite direction of movement at the top of the aperture ring.


    The reader may think this to be a petty complaint. But I find over and over that my enjoyment of using a camera is strongly influenced by the degree to which I can smoothly and efficiently control the device without having to think every time I make an action which way the dial, lever, wheel or whatever has to be moved.


    5. There is no possibility to pre set an aperture. With the [Mode Dial+Control Dial] system I can pre set an oft used aperture which will be applied very time I turn the Mode Dial to A.


    6. The aperture ring is redundant. It is not required to be there. There is no aperture ring on Canon or Nikon ILC lenses. These makers figured out years ago that there is a better way to change aperture which uses fewer, less complex actions. This is the control dial.


    Some camera makers put an aperture ring on some lenses but not others. That seems to me a sure way of keeping users confused. Fujifilm and Panasonic both do this. Sony sticks an aperture ring on its RX10 series cameras but not on others. Say what ???

    Imagine if some motor cars steered with the wheel and others with the foot pedals. Would anyone think this a good idea ?   The death rate would be catastrophic.



    FZ1000  Thumb adjusting aperture or shutter speed (mode dependent). You can see that only a very small movement of one digit does the job with no disruption to the grip of either hand.

    FZ1000 basic hold, ready to shoot






    Shutter speed dial


    1. There is insufficient space on a dial to engrave all the speeds of which a modern shutter system is capable. Therefore there has to be an accessory dial somewhere on the camera by which these speeds can be accessed. If the accessory dial is required anyway, what is the point of the traditional shutter speed dial ??


    2. Changing shutter speed with a dedicated dial requires the right hand to release grip on the camera shift up to get the thumb and index finger on the dial, turn it then shift back down to the regular position.


    If a well located control dial is used only one finger (thumb or index finger depending on the particular camera) is required and it needs to move only a small amount with no other finger having to move. Fewer movements, each less complex.


    3. The shutter speed dial is invisible with the users eye to the viewfinder.


    A consequence of  2. and 3. is that changing shutter speed moves from Capture Phase of use back to
    Prepare Phase of use. For slow contemplative work such as landscape this may be no problem but for sport, action, street, documentary, and many family photos particularly of moving children a much more responsive type of control system is desirable.


    4. A shutter speed cannot be preset. The user has to go click-click-click----to reach any desired shutter speed every time.


    5. Neither f stop nor shutter speed can be allocated to a Custom Mode setting.



    LX100 adjusting shutter speed. The right hand has to change position to enable this.  More actions, each more complex.



    Exposure compensation dial


    These have become very popular of late. I see lots of models sprouting one usually on the right side of the camera top plate.  The idea is not a carry over from the “good old days” but an innovative ergonomic kludge thought up by the new brigade of muddle headed camera designers.


    It is a kind of “traditional” control which is actually quite recent in the history of camera design.


    1. The dial is invisible in Capture Phase of use while looking at the monitor or through the viewfinder. The best time to use exposure compensation is while looking at zebras in the viewfinder. 

    These give a very good pre-exposure indication of the amount if any, of exposure compensation which is required.  Engraved markings on the dial are useless in this circumstance.


    2. Auto cancel cannot be set.


    3. A fixed purpose exposure compensation dial prevents that bit of camera real estate from hosting a control dial with user assigned function. For instance if a camera has a well designed twin dial control system the rear (or front if preferred) dial can be used for exposure compensation in P, A and S Modes. The dial can automatically revert to changing aperture or shutter speed (user set) in Manual exposure mode.  Easy peasy.



    Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review
    Fujifilm X-Pro. "Film speed" window. An example of slavish obeisance to "tradition" regardless of  negative consequences for the user experience. See photo below.

    Showing the little ASA film speed window on the Spotmatic. It is a fiddly nuisance to adjust.




    Lift and turn ISO setting


    One of the least user friendly control modules on an old fashioned  mechanical SLR is the lift and turn (ASA) film speed setting embedded in the shutter speed dial. This is a slow and clumsy way to change film speed but it didn’t matter much in the old days because you got to use the same speed for at least 36 shots. But on a modern camera where sensitivity (ISO) can be altered for every exposure this old system is ridiculously inappropriate.


    But incredibly Fujifilm stuck one of these little horrors on its recent X-Pro and X100 models.


    Oh…. But should you just possibly not like  changing sensitivity this way they provide you with a little wheel which can do the job.


    The perversity of this passes belief.


    Comment


    My guess is that some camera makers stick traditional controls on their products in the quest for a unique selling point or at least a differentiator from the mainstream CanNikon models.


    These traditional controls often find themselves on models targeted at enthusiast users.


    This may or may not achieve some marketing traction. I have no way of knowing such things.


    But I do know about camera ergonomics and  I can say that controlling a camera with traditional controls requires more actions each more complex than the same or better level of control with a well implemented Mode Dial+Control Dial system.


    It may be that some traditionalist or enthusiast/purist/minimalist users might say prefer the traditional controls anyway.


    Fair enough, people can enjoy their own preferences for their own reasons, whatever those may be.


    The thing which I find disappointing is the assertion by some users and reviewers that such-and-such camera model with traditional controls has “very good ergonomics” when the writer has made no attempt to define what he or she means by that.


     Note on camera selection  I would like to have used a compact with good ergonomics to compare with the Panasonic LX100. The Canon G5X might have come close but this camera's many well documented performance inadequacies prevented me from buying it.

    In fact to my great disappointment I have yet to find an advanced compact that I can fully recommend.




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    Introduction


    Ergonomics  is defined by Wikipedia as “ The study of designing equipment and devices that fit the human body, its movements and cognitive capabilities”.


    The term ergonomics can also refer to adescription of characteristics of a device which maximise productivity.


    I began studying camera ergonomics eight years ago when I discovered that some cameras can be controlled efficiently while others place barriers in the way of making photos.


    We have meaningful ways to describe image quality and performance. These allow comparison between one camera and another.


    However while many camera users and reviewers use the term ergonomics there is no agreement about what the word means with reference to cameras and no agreement about how to  describe or measure ergonomics.


    The result is a plethora of personal preferences with no organising theme.


    I have studied these matters using applied functional anatomy of the hands and fingers, experience with many actual cameras and work with many mockups of cameras and handles.


    This has produced a body of work published on this blog over several years.


    I have often been challenged about this. One respondent called my work  “gobbledegook”.


    Another suggested I summarise everything in two paragraphs.


    In the spirit of responding to these challenges, here we go:


    Core concept: in one sentence


    The essence of camera ergonomics is the number and complexity of actions required to control the device.


    Notes:

    1. An  enthusiast, expert or professional user and camera are envisaged. Snapshooter users and cameras or advanced cameras on fully auto setting are not the main object of this work.


    2. Control means being easily able to adjust all primary and secondary exposure focus and viewing parameters in Capture phase of use (see below) plus efficient control in the other phases.


    The four Phases of use


    1. Setup: This is conducted at leisure with the owners manual to hand. Menu items are selected and adjusted. Dial and button functions are set.


    2. Prepare: This is the few minutes before confronting a new photographic situation requiring a change in camera settings. This will usually involve setting third order parameters like drive mode, shooting mode, focus mode, autofocus mode and others.


    3. Capture:  This is the process of making pictures.

    In this phase the user will want to be able to quickly adjust first order (primary exposure, viewing and focus) and second order (secondary exposure, viewing and focus) parameters.


    There are three elements of Capture Phase: Holding, Viewing and Operating.


    4. Review: This is the process of reviewing captured photos.


    For each phase of use one can


    1. Draw up a specification set of desirable characteristics which can be noted as present or absent.


    2. Observe the number and complexity of actions needed to carry out the tasks required to control the device.


    Evaluation and scoring


    There are three elements of the scoring process:


    1. The specification schedule for each phase of use.


    2. An explanatory  narrative.


    3. Subscores and final score.


    Notes: 


    1.Scoring involves assessment of both subjective and objective elements.


    2. All cameras are scored using the same criteria.


    Ergonomics is not about……


    1. Personal likes and preferences. These are a separate aspect of the user experience but are not helpful for evaluating ergonomics as they are idiosyncratic (that is, specific to an individual) transient (people’s likes and preferences change with time and experience) and often inchoate (imperfectly formulated  e.g. “I know what I like but I can’t tell you why”)


    2. Speed of operation.  The concept as presented here is more about smooth efficient operation with economy of action.


    Links: on this blog





    Summary

    That is a bit more than two paragraphs and by the time you read all the material at the links it will be a great deal more.


    But I got the core concept into one sentence.  That is the bedrock on which the rest is based.





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  • 10/03/17--01:47: Pixelmania October 2017
  • LX100   9.9 Mpx.  This looks very nice printed up to 400x700mm, sharp and clear with all the daces clearly delineated.
    Panasonic LX100 11.7 Mpx

    Camera buyers are constantly bombarded by exhortations from sellers to trade up to the next greatest thing.

    Reviewers routinely praise every new record for the number of pixels which can be crammed onto tiny sensors.

    It's a wind up designed to part you from ever increasing amounts of cash.

    In fact I would say the whole pixel push is a con job.

    Those who make, sell and promote (in many cases under the guise of reviewing) cameras imply that you could make better pictures if only you had a camera with more pixels.  

    They usually don't come right out and say this directly because they know it is simply not true. 

    But as Marshall Mc Luhan so astutely observed  "The medium is the message".

    The medium in this case is the endless talk about pixel counts by camera makers, sellers and reviewers.  If everybody is talking about it all the time it must be important, right ?  

    Some users recruit themselves into this neurotic preoccupation with pixel counts and other forms of numerical evaluation of an elusive entity often referred to as "image quality".  They do this by bemoaning the failure by brand-x to incorporate more pixels in the latest model. 

    All this happens without much reference to any actual pictures.

    In fact cameras with pixel counts around the bottom end of the currently available range can make pictures which print up very well indeed.

    The pictures which accompany this post look just fine when printed up very large with excellent clarity and detail  and strong presence on the wall.  

     




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    Mockup #6 showing my realisation of the ergonomically ideal camera. This shows the anatomically optimal inverted L shaped handle topped by the quad control set. The mockup is made of plywood. I make the mockups silver so you can see the controls easily. 


    I have developed a systematic approach to understanding, describing and measuring camera ergonomics.


    All of this work is publicly available on this blog, free to anyone with an internet connection.


    I have com to the view that it is possible to craft a camera with ergonomically ideal size, shape and controls.


    Of course some people will disagree but that is more about human nature and individual experience than camera design.


    Basic concepts


    1. Ergonomics can be defined as


    a) The study of designing equipment and devices that fit the human body, its movements and cognitive abilities (Wikipedia) and


    b) Characteristics of a device which maximise productivity.


    2. With reference to cameras I propose that


    The essence of camera ergonomics is the number and complexity of actions required to control the device.


    Mockup #6 in hand, showing the right index finger operating the quad control set and thumb in normal position. The camera can be driven by those two fingers without having to change grip.


    Characteristics of the ergonomically ideal camera


    Fixed zoom lens

    The main advantage of a dedicated camera over a smart phone camera module is the ability to change focal length over a wide range. Zooming a single lens requires far fewer, less complex actions than changing lenses. 


    Obviously the more zoom range the better, ergonomically.  There are plenty of actual cameras which have a built in zoom ranging from wide or superwide at one end to super telephoto at the other end of the range.


    Mockup #6 rear view showing thumb stick and rear dial and other controls


    Size


    The vast majority of cameras are designed to be hand held by humans. This may seem to be stating the obvious but I make the point that no cameras are intended for use by possums or kangaroos.


    Human hands vary in size and to some extent in width/length ratio but absent disease or deformity they all have the same functional anatomy.


    I have discovered that it is readily possible to design a camera size and configuration which can easily accommodate small, medium and large human hands.


    The mockup shown here achieves that. I can hand this to any human from age about 12 and up and they will very quickly get a comfortable stable grip on it.


    The dimensions are width 130mm x height 88mm x depth 125mm. 


    This is about the same as a Panasonic FZ300 which I use frequently and find to be in the “goldilocks zone” for size and handling. The mockup has a slightly fatter, more evolved anatomical handle shape and control layout.


    The thumb can easily swing left to bear on the thumb stick, right to operate the rear dial or flex at the interphalangeal joint to operate the AF-ON button (hidden), without disrupting grip.


    Shape


    You can see the mockup has a fairly standard DSLR-like shape. This is not an accident or a copy of anything or evidence of any lack of research on my part. It is just that after years of experimenting with all manner of different shapes I have found this one is the most effective ergonomically.


    It provides the best fit for the functional anatomy of the hands which have to hold and operate it.

    Note that the mockup has high shoulders to provide the maximum possible handle height within the overall height of the camera. This allows a full five finger grip.


    Configuration


    There are two main configurations in modern cameras, with variations. The most common is [Mode Dial + single or preferably twin control dial]  as seen on many DSLRs and MILCs.


    The second is some variant of a hybrid traditional/modern layout with aperture ring on the lens, shutter speed dial on top of the body and often with a dedicated exposure compensation dial. This configuration has its advocates but the [Mode Dial + control dial] system allows the user to control the camera with fewer actions, each less complex.


    GH5 with 12-60mm lens. My ideal camera has a fixed lens but the GH5 body has several desirable ergonomic attributes.


    Holding arrangements


    Key features here are the handle and thumb support.


    I have spent several years experimenting with handle shapes in my mockups and using actual cameras with a variety of handle shapes.


    The optimum shape is the “inverted L” seen on the mockup. This provides a very comfortable, secure grip with minimal muscle effort and places the fingers of the right hand where they need to be for optimum operation of the controls.


    A nice inverted L handle can be seen on the Canon Powershot SX60 bridge camera. The EOS M5 has something similar.


    The optimum thumb support allows the right thumb to lie diagonally across the top right part of the control panel (the section of the rear of the camera to the right of the monitor). It needs to be deep enough to provide a secure grip without undue muscle effort. Many DSLRs and some ILCs and bridge cameras have a decent thumb support.


    The thumb needs to be positioned so it can easily swing left and right from the basic position to operate controls on either side.


    GH5 rear. This is good but could be improved with a more prominent thumb support.


    Viewing arrangements


    The ideal ergonomic camera has


    1. A good quality EVF with no blackout.  At the time of writing only one camera meets this criterion, the Sony A9. Others will follow in due course.


    2. A fully articulated monitor.


    Both EVF and monitor can be configured to look the same and both can be configured to “viewfinder style” with key camera data beneath, not overlaying the preview image.


    Controls

    Shutter button   Optimally this goes where the right index finger wants to find it.  The best position is shown on the mockup. Several DSLRs have the shutter button in approximately this location.


    Twin dials  The most effective control system is twin dials, one operated by the right index finger, the other by the right thumb.  I have written several posts about this but in summary the most ergonomically effective arrangement is that seen on the mockup and the Panasonic GH5.


    One dial controls Program Shift in P Mode, Aperture in A Mode and Shutter Speed in S mode. The other dial can control any user selected function but exposure compensation is one of the most useful guided by zebras in the EVF.


    In M Mode one dial controls aperture, the other shutter speed.

    The front face of the front dial is 5mm behind the rear of the shutter button. This is just enough to ensure the right index finger will not foul one when operating the other. Many cameras including most Canons have the front dial un-necessarily far back, then another row of buttons behind that. This requires excessive lateral movement of the right index finger.


    The rear dial is embedded in the upper part of the thumb support. It can be operated simply by swinging the thumb to the right without having to flex the interphalangeal or metacarpo-phalangeal joints at all.


    The haptic qualities of the dials are also important. The serrations on the dials need to be deep and sharpish in profile with just the right amount of clicky resistance to turning.

    If you don’t believe all this go handle a GH5 in a camera store.


    Quad control set  Many cameras have three rows of controls arranged front to back with the shutter button at the front (Nikons have the front dial at the front and down the handle away) then the front dial then a row of buttons. In order for the right index finger to reach those buttons it has to stretch quite a distance away from the middle finger.

    I realised that two buttons with user allocated function could easily be fitted to the right side of the shutter button and front dial. These are much easier to reach with the index finger. I call this arrangement a “quad control set”.  I would allocate to these buttons parameters which might need to be changed in the Capture Phase of use, such as ISO or exposure compensation.

    The ill fated Samsung NX1 had such an arrangement although Samsung messed up by not allowing the function of the buttons to be user set.


    Thumb stick  Every camera should have a thumb stick (a.k.a. Joystick, JOG lever) Most people will not yet have had the opportunity to use a camera with a thumb stick.

    It is a wonderful invention for quickly and accurately moving position of the active AF area and controlling AF function.


    It needs to be located in exactly the right place where the thumb wants to find it and its function needs to be configured with 8 way sideways action and options for press in function which include AF-ON.


    Auto ISO algorithms  

    Some cameras like my little Sony RX100(4) have really clever auto ISO algorithm. This is focal length responsive so it will increase shutter speed as the lens is zoomed out. It also has five shutter speed bands, slower, slow, standard, fast and faster.


    Thus if I am photographing still subjects in low light I might set the “slow” band.

    If I am photographing grandchildren running about  I might set the “fast” band. 


    This is an ergonomic issue because I don’t have to switch back and forth from A or P mode to S mode when the camera selects an unsuitable shutter speed for the conditions.


    Putting it all together


    The mockup shown here illustrates the external physical components of my ideal camera.


    I have also shown the GH5 which has the highest ergonomic score of the cameras which I have thus far tested.


    I think the GH5 handle could be improved a bit and the thumb support needs to be more prominent for better support. The GH5 also lacks the quad control set.


    Otherwise it is the right size for a full five finger hold and has most of the desirable controls in the right places with good haptics. The inappropriately placed Disp button can be disabled so it is not forever being pressed accidentally.




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    This exhibit is displayed in  a low level of light presumably to delay fading of the color. The LX100 had no trouble making a good photo at 1/30 second, f1.8 and ISO 200.


    Those of us who like to take pictures with a camera  have a surfeit of choices. There are so many makes and models that choosing between them may seem almost impossible.


    One framework which helps me is to consider the requirements for photographing indoors and outdoors.


    This little exercise assumes the use of fixed zoom lens cameras. I now use these exclusively for their convenience and versatility without the need to change lenses.


    The indoors camera


    The main requirements here are:

    * A wide aperture lens for low light conditions

    * A sensor which gives good results at high ISO sensitivity settings.

    * Autofocus which is very fast and accurate in low light and on moving subjects such as children.

    * Small size may be advantageous in many indoor situations where a photographer needs to be unobtrusive.


    Some indoors model suggestions


    For those who feel they do not need an EVF we have


    Canon G7X(2)

    Panasonic LX10

    Sony RX100 (1-2)


    For those who prefer a camera with a built in EVF we have

    Canon G5X (desperately in need of an upgrade to the new processor as seen in the G7X (2)

    Panasonic LX100 (now three years old and could benefit from an upgrade)

    Sony RX100(3-5)


    Also consider

    For buyers with lots of spare cash who are happy with a lens of fixed focal length we have

    Sony RX1 in various versions, the most recent being the RX1R2.

    Leica Q.

    Fujifilm X100 in various iterations, the latest being the X100F.


    My suggestions ?

    I will not buy any camera without a built in EVF. The main reason for this is that the indoor camera comes outdoors quite often and in Sydney where I live even the very best monitor screens are no match for the bright sunlight which often prevails.


    I currently have two indoor cameras, a Sony RX100(4) and a Panasonic LX100.

    Each works very well in low light indoors and gives good results even with difficult subjects such as people moving about rapidly.


    The LX100 has much better continuous AF and can be pressed into service for indoor sports.

    The RX100(4) has a built in flash which can be handy sometimes. The flash for the LX100 is a clip –on type.


     Notes  I do not consider the just announced Canon G1X(3) a prime candidate for indoors camera due to the small (f2.8-5.6) aperture of the lens.

    The swings and roundabouts work in favour of the models with the smaller “one inch” sensor (or cropped 4/3 sensor in the LX100)  and a wider aperture lens.

    Thus: The DXO Mark high ISO scores are:

    Sony RX100(4)      562

    Panasonic LX100    553

    Canon EOS M5      1262   (the G1X Mk3 is said to use the same sensor)

    So at high ISO settings the G1X Mk3 has slightly more than a one EV step sensor advantage.

    But it gives up 1.5-2 stops in aperture so it ends up approximately 0.5-1 stops disadvantaged compared to the smaller sensor models. The slightly greater pixel count is of minimal relevance.


    I have photographed this scene from the same  position with many cameras. This one made hand held with the FZ300 prints up very sharp and clear. Any improvement one might gain with a larger sensor camera would be barely visible in the print and then only on very close scrutiny far inside the comfortable viewing distance..


    The outdoors camera


    The main requirements here are:

    * Lots of zoom range

    * Very fast, accurate AF on still or moving subjects

    * Ergonomic design so the camera can be held steady at the long end of the zoom.

    * A built in EVF of very good quality preferably with no blackout or at least minimal blackout.


    Some outdoors model suggestions

    In this case the number of suitable models is quite small.


    Many bridge/long zoom/superzoom cameras lack an EVF.  If users think they can hold one of these steady at the long end of the zoom while viewing on the monitor they are kidding themselves.


    Many bridge/superzoom cameras are plagued by poor performance and/or poor picture quality.


    So my short list of suggested models is really short.


    Panasonic FZ1000.   This was announced in June 2014 so is now getting well into its product cycle. It is still available new however suggesting it continues to sell well. The FZ1000 is the first camera which convinced me I could give up all my interchangeable lens cameras and lenses. It is a classic with a nice balance between picture quality, performance and size.


    Panasonic FZ300.  This camera gets plenty of use in my family and continues to make very good pictures outdoors on still or rapidly moving subjects. Many camera users, myself included find the FZ300 to be just the right size, large enough to fit a proper handle and controls but small enough to be unobtrusive and easy to carry.


    Sony RX10(4)  This is new to the market. I have not purchased or used one. On the specifications and early reviews it appears to tick all the boxes for a high performance premium bridge type camera.

    It is however quite large, heavy and expensive which gives me pause when I become tempted to buy one.  I am also no fan of the RX10 series ergonomics. I have discovered that if I don’t enjoy using a camera it just sits in the drawer depreciating in value.


    Some models which did not make it to my outdoors shortlist

    T
    he Nikon B700 has a decent lens, good VR and decent picture quality but has an old, slow processor which makes for tediously slow shot to shot times, excessive EVF blackout and absent continuous AF capability.

    The Nikon P900 cannot make RAW output and also has a tediously slow processor.

    The Panasonic FZ2000 has good ergonomics but my copy had a substandard lens. It is primarily directed towards video capability.

    The Sony RX10(3) should in my view never have been released. This camera needs the sensor in the RX10(4) and the RX100(5).


    What about an ILC ?

    The whole point of having an interchangeable lens camera is the ability to fit a different lens for each set of photographic conditions. This suits some users well and that is fine.

    But for me it just doesn’t add up.


    Indoors most zooms for any ILC do not have the wide aperture (low f number) which can be found on a Sony RX100 or Panasonic LX100. So you have to resort to primes (fixed focal length lenses) with large aperture. But those things are usually large and expensive. And they don’t zoom so you need several of them. This just doesn’t work for me. The kit is too large, too expensive and too complicated with the need to change lenses.

    Professional photographers use a “full frame” (using a sensor with a 43mm diagonal) ILC with a 24-70 mm f2.8 lens and often with a big flash unit on top of the camera. That’s fine for them but the kit is large, heavy and expensive.


    Outdoors any ILC needs either a large, heavy, expensive zoom, or two or a set of expensive primes and tele converters to achieve the focal length range of one of my suggested outdoor bridge cameras.

    Can this very much larger, more expensive kit make better pictures than one of the better bridge cameras ? My answer to this is yes

    1. But only if you have it with you when a photo op appears and

    2. That extra picture quality is probably un-necessary for most photographers’ needs most of the time.


    Summary

    I find the indoors/outdoors paradigm provides a useful structure for my camera buying decision process.

    I end up with nice gear which I enjoy using and which makes good enough pictures for my requirements.


    Those requirements are in fact quite challenging. I want to make clear, sharp high quality prints as large as my Epson 4880 printer can produce.  That is about 400x 520mm depending on the aspect ratio of the original.

    Each of my suggested cameras can do that, including the FZ300 with its very small (7.67mm diagonal) but surprisingly capable sensor.


    Here is a curious
    little piece of information:


    A  400x520mm print  from a small sensor (4.55x6.17mm) camera like the FZ300 has an area 7,429 times that of the sensor. Yet if properly focussed and exposed in the first place it can still look sharp and clear with strong presence on the wall.

    That seems quite amazing to me.





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    G1X Mk3  Photo courtesy of Imaging Resource

    Someone in the product development hierarchy wants  Canon to have a compact camera with a full sized Canon made APS-C sensor.


    Fair enough I guess.


    If nothing else it gives Canon a unique selling point (USP) and bragging rights to having the BIGGESTsensor in any compact camera with a zoom lens, built in EVF and fully articulated monitor.


    And they get to use one of their own sensors. Which might be important to the execs at Canon given that they have to outsource the sensors (mostly from Sony) for all their compacts other than the G1X series.


    I don’t know how many potential buyers care about any of this. Some, perhaps.


    A full sized Canon APS-C sensor measures 22.3x14.9mm giving a diagonal of 27mm.


    The G1X Mk1 used a cut down version of an older Canon APS-C sensor with a diagonal measurement of 23.4mm.


    The G1X Mk2 uses a crop of this giving a diagonal of 22.4mm, which by the way is only marginally larger than a Four Thirds sensor which has a diagonal of 21.6mm.


    The Mk2 has an (equivalent) 24-120mm f2.0-3.9 lens. This is a very desirable specification having both a wide aperture (small f stop numbers) and a very useful 5x zoom range.


    Now we see the G1X Mk3 with Canon’s latest and best full sized (27mm diagonal) 24 Mpx sensor with the nifty dual pixel AF capability and improved image quality.


    That all sounds good BUT


    In order to cover the considerably larger sensor the lens has to be larger if aperture and focal length range are to be preserved.


    And this is where Canon’s product development people made a decision which seems very strange to me.


    They decided to give the G1X Mk3 a “mini DSLR” humptop shape just like and only  2mm taller than  the G5X.


    Maybe the G1XMk3 is intended by Canon to be the update to the G5X.  Who knows.


    But it is not possible to fit a lens housing under the flash overhang of the G1XMk3 large enough to accommodate an optic with anything approaching the aperture and equivalent focal length range of the Mk2. There is just not enough vertical height there.


    So the G1XMk3 has ended up with a lens which is one stop slower (f2.8-5.6) and with a smaller zoom range (3x) than the Mk2.



    If you compare the Mk3 to the Mk2 and pretend that the photographic world consists entirely of Canon cameras then all is well.


    Looking a DXO Mark sensor scores we see


    Camera

    Color depth

    Dynamic range

    High ISO score

    Total score

    G1X Mk2

    21.5

    10.5

    581

    58

    G1X Mk3 (using data for the EOS M5)*

    23.4

    12.4

    1262

    77

    *The G1X Mk3 is said to use the same sensor as the EOS M5 and several other Canon ILCs.


    So we see the Mk3 loses one stop in aperture and gains extra dynamic range, a stop more high ISO score and almost twice as many pixels.


    So the Mk3 is an improvement over the Mk2, assuming the optical quality of the lens is good.


    BUT


    Poke one’s head outside the Canon tent and behold we see the Sony RX100 series of models and the Panasonic LX100. These cameras have smaller sensors but considerably wider aperture lenses.  I have both the RX100Mk4 and the LX100 and have discovered that the lenses on these cameras give sharp results right from the widest aperture of f1.7 (LX100 and f1.8 (RX100Mk4).


    The Canon sensor has approximately a one stop ISO advantage over the two smaller sensor compacts but a 1.5-2 stop lens disadvantage.


    So the G1XMk3 is going to be struggling to produce better or even equal low light picture quality than the Sony and Panasonic models. We shall see in due course when user feedback about lens quality and high ISO noise levels starts to come in.

    Mockup #15 front. This has the same box volume (width x height x depth) as the G1XMk3 but the flat top design with the lens right over to the left side (as viewed by the user) allows a lens housing of greater diameter to be fitted together with a much taller, fatter, anatomical handle with quad control set on top. 
     


    What it could have been


    I show here my Mockup 15 which I actually made a couple of years ago as an exercise to discover the largest camera I could comfortably carry in a belt pouch.


    By chance it demonstrates rather well what Canon could have done with the G1XMk3.


    The mockup is a flat top 76mm high. The G1XMk3 is 78mm high.


    The diameter of the lens housing on the mockup is 70mm and could be as much as 72mm if desired.


    But the diameter of the lens housing on the G1XMk3 is only 60mm (as measured on camerasize.com).  It cannot be any larger because of Canon’s decision to use the ‘Mini DSLR” humptop shape and to keep the whole thing very small. Even so it is still higher than the mockup.


    Mockup #15 rear. This design allows for large buttons everywhere, rear dial above the contoured thumb support easily operated by the thumb, thumb stick (JOG lever) easily accessed by the right thumb, full sized fully articulated monitor and full sized EVF. You can see how this approach to the design opens up space above the monitor for location of key controls.


    A camera built to the shape and dimensions of the mockup could house a lens of substantially greater aperture or focal length range or both.


    The mockup design brings many other advantages. It has a much larger, anatomical  inverted L shaped  handle with shutter button forward with front control dial behind the shutter button in familiar Canon fashion instead of the oddly placed control dial on the G5X and G1XMk3.


    There is a quad control set on top and at the rear a thumb stick and a properly located rear dial where the thumb can reach and operate it easily.


    Altogether the mockup is a much more coherent realisation of the concept than the actual camera.


    The mockup is very comfortable and secure to hold. It is easily driven by the right index finger and thumb with the left hand supporting the lens and doing zoom duty.


    Pricing and target user demographic


    Canon is pricing the G1XMk3 above both the EOS80D and EOSM5 with kit lens.

    That price point will only attract enthusiast photographers who expect something rather special for their money.


    Canon has made the  G1XMk3  a bit special in that it has a full sized APS-C sensor in a small compact camera.


    But it could have been considerably more special with a different approach to the design enabling a wider aperture lens and more ergonomic body and controls.


    Comment

    My assessment of Canon’s compacts over the last ten years or so, having owned and used many of them,  is that they are half baked,  underperforming things and I have to wonder why.


    Why, when presented time and again with opportunities to produce a REALLY interesting compact for the enthusiast user they come up with mediocrities. Cameras that aren’t totally awful but fall well short of a complete and fulfilling package.


    Are they afraid that a really excellent compact would take sales from their DSLRs and MILCs ?


    And if it did why would they care ?

    Surely if the buyers choose a Canon they will be happy especially at the price point of the G1XMk3.


    Or is there just some deep seated culture at Canon which says that compacts have to be less capable than ILCs ? And if so why ?

    It’s a mystery.








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    LX100. The best compact cameras can make very good photos, easily on par with an ILC.

    I recently posted   my thoughts about the ideal camera (ergonomically) as illustrated by my Mockup 6.  This concept includes my ideas about the ideal size, shape and type of camera.


    It’s not exactly compact by modern standards however.


    But lots of photographers including myself are very attracted to the idea of an advanced compact camera, small in size but not tiny, offering very good picture quality, good holding and viewing characteristics and a well designed set of controls to satisfy an enthusiast/expert user.


    Unfortunately out there in that peculiar space which passes for the real world these days, cameras fitting this description are very hard to find.


    Over the years since 2004, I have owned and used 21 compacts (not counting bridge type models), from Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm, Panasonic and Sony.


    I have not been satisfied with the ergonomics of any of them. It might be said that I am a grumpy old man and inclined to find fault with cameras.


    I am indeed sometimes grumpy and always old and I do often find fault with cameras.


    But I say the reason for that is the abundance of fault to be found especially with regard to the ergonomics of compacts.


    I get especially grumpy about egregious faults which did not need to be there. 


    Which are the result of inexplicable design decisions by the makers.


    Which could have been completely eliminated by a process of good ergonomic design.


    Since I started scoring camera ergonomics several years ago I have found the compacts cluster in the lower range of scores with bridge models and ILCs in the upper range.


    I score all cameras on the same criteria.


    The difference between them is partly due to size to the extent that it is easier to assemble an effective ergonomic realisation in a mid size model than a very small one.


    But the other part of the problem is that designers repeatedly burden their compacts with poor design elements which have not been imposed on them by the size issue at all.


    I don’t know why they do this so I have to guess.


    Maybe they are trying to make their compacts look as small as possible. That might go some way to explaining the absence of a useful handle and an EVF on several of them.


    Maybe they are still operating on the premise that the people using compacts are just the snapshooters who don’t care about a comprehensive suite of controls.


    Whatever the reason most compacts are ergonomically compromised little things which are not a joy to use.


    Compact subgroups


    I find it easier to tackle the ergonomic design issues by dividing compacts into three subgroups by size.


    Sony RX100Mk4 with Mockup 10


    Smallest size-pocketable


    I would never stick a camera into a pocket but some people do so there is a market for such things.


    This is the most difficult size ergonomically.


    Mockup #10 is shown with the marginally smaller Sony RX100Mk4.


    These tiny little things are really too small for a proper handle but mockup 10 has some innovations which would make it easier and more streamlined to use than the Sony.


    The mockup has a built in mini handle which allows for a reasonably decent grip.


    There is a good sized thumb support for stability.


    There is a top dial in the classic location, behind the shutter button where it is easy to reach with the right index finger without having to change grip.


    Behind and just below is the thumb stick (a.k.a. Joystick). This allows for instant repositioning of the active AF area without having to change grip. It is also mode dependent so it is used for scrolling through menus and playback images.


    The mode dial is top right.


    All the buttons are large for easy location and operation without having to look at them.


    The lens housing is as large as it can be in this sized body.


    This mockup could accommodate a “one inch” sensor with 3x zoom or the smaller 7.67mm sensor with a longer zoom.


    LX100 with mockup 14


    Mid sized- for a small  belt pouch


    Mockup #14 is shown with the Panasonic LX100. They are the same width and height but the LX100 is a bit deeper to accommodate the lens which needs to accommodate the image circle of 19.2mm which is larger than the 15.9mm of the “one inch” sensors.


    The modest increase in size makes possible a completely different and much more effective ergonomic design.


    There is an anatomical inverted L shaped handle which permits a comfortable four finger grip with the right hand. The handle brings the shutter button forward to a more natural position with front control dial in classical position just behind and at the same level as the shutter button.


    A  button with user assigned function sits just to the right.


    This is a mode Dial+full twin dial model.


    The rear dial sits just above the substantial thumb support for easy reach by the right thumb without disrupting grip.


    The thumb stick for changing AF area position lies in easy reach just to the left of the right thumb.


    The function of the lens ring is user assignable.


    This is a very comfortable camera which provides a high level of controllability for the expert/enthusiast user.


    It would work best with a ‘one inch” sensor which would permit a 5-6x zoom of wide aperture.


    I believe that any camera maker who produced a model to this specification would have a category killer on their hands if they got all the details right.


    I am in fact surprised and disappointed that none of  the numerous “one inch” sensor compacts on the market at the moment utilises this shape and layout.


    Mockup 15


    Large size (for a compact) –for a small over the shoulder bag or a medium sized belt pouch.

    Mockup #15 is the same size (to within a millimetre or two) as the recently released Canon G1XMk3 but is a completely different shape.


    The G1XMk3 has an APS-C sensor with a diagonal of 27mm but I think this is a sensor size too large if a wide aperture lens is desired, which is the certainly the case for good low light capability.


    This sized camera would work perfectly with the “four thirds” sensor which has a diagonal of 21.6mm.  The latest Four Thirds sensors have the same DXO Mark score as the Canon one anyway.


    Mockup #15 is a “full house’ model with an anatomical inverted L handle tall enough for a full five finger grip by an adult make hand, shutter button forward, front dial in the ergonomically optimal position just behind the shutter button.


    It is a full twin dial model with mode dial. The rear dial is easily operated by the thumb without changing grip.


    The thumb stick for moving the active AF area is perfectly located just to the right of the thumb.


    There is a full sized fully articulated monitor and full sized EVF.


    The lens housing is large enough to accommodate an optic of wide aperture and a decently long zoom range, I guess about 24-120mm f2.0-2.8, with multi inner barrel design.


    Now that is a camera I would like to see.










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    Photo courtesy of Digital Photography Review.

    The yellow arrow points to the badly located front control dial.


    Sony’s latest Mirrorless FE mount full frame cameras have attracted considerable press coverage.


    Much of this has been about Sony’s amazing technology  which is cutting edge for the camera industry right now.


    But cameras are hand held devices for use by humans, not abstract exercises in techno-wizardry.


    If the ergonomic design is poor the device will be awkward and unnecessarily difficult to use thus diminishing the user experience.


    Unfortunately ergonomics is Sony’s weak point.


    I have owned and used several Sony cameras over the years and would sum them up as having good technology and poor ergonomics.


    The A7R3 and A9 continue this regrettable trend.


    For this post I will just mention the handle and front control dial as shown in the photo above.


    Bear in mind these are high end cameras designed to be used by professional and advanced amateur photographers with big heavy lenses mounted.


    1. The handle is not tall enough to enable many adult users to get a full five finger grip.


    2. The effective height of the handle is further reduced by the location of the front control dial in front of and below the shutter button.


    3. Look at the photo.


    The middle finger of the operator’s right hand lies immediately below and touching the front control dial.


    The problem: how to work that dial ?


    The user can try to do this with the middle finger but:


    a) the middle finger is the primary gripper and should be devoted to gripper duty full time.


    b) if the middle finger is used on the control dial it has to be lifted up which is not a natural action for this finger and doing so forces disruption of grip on the handle.


    Or the user can try to operate the dial with the index finger but:


    In order to make room for the index finger to get down there the third, fourth and fifth fingers must drop down. This  disrupts grip on the handle.


    So working the dial requires more actions each more complex than would be the case if the dial was in the optimal location (see photo of the GH5) and grip on the handle is destabilised as well.


    Panasonic GH5  Optimal location of front control dial: 5mm behind and at the same height (relative to the natural movement of the right index finger) as the shutter button. Simple, effective, efficient.
    The user can move the right index finger from the shutter button to the control dial without moving any part of any other finger.  Minimal number of actions, each of low complexity.


    Background


    My interest in camera ergonomics was triggered eight years ago by the Panasonic G1.


    This was the first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera and as such was something of a technological milestone.


    But the G1 had truly awful ergonomics.


    One of its problems was exactly the same as that seen on the A9 and A7R3: Front dial in the wrong place.


    I find it rather depressing that these basic ergonomic mistakes keep appearing year after year.


    Panasonic is learning from its own mistakes to the point that the GH5 has the highest ergonomic score of any camera which I have tested to date and the G80 is not far behind.


    But it appears Sony is not learning much.


    The second generation A7 cameras are better than the truly awful first generation models but are still burdened, or really the users are burdened, by Sony’s elementary ergonomic mistakes.





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    Kingfisher at Taronga Zoo Sydney


    I buy too many cameras.   True.


    But cameras and photography have been an abiding interest of mine since childhood.


    Along the way I have had the opportunity to use and evaluate lots of different models.


    This series of three posts is a summary of my impressions of some of those which I have used over the years, starting with  Compacts.


    I have a long standing interest in compacts.


    The best of them deliver picture quality as good as that obtainable from  an interchangeable lens model be it DSLR or Mirrorless ILC.


    The worst of them are little pieces of junk.  These have mostly disappeared from the market to be replaced by smartphones.  I see this as a positive development in the history of photography.


    But I still think there is a place for advanced compacts.


    These can have a proper viewfinder, zoom lens, articulated screen and a set of controls suitable for the expert/advanced/enthusiast user who wants to take control of camera operation.


    The only manufacturers which appear to be fully engaged in the compact business are  Canon, Sony and Panasonic.


    Olympus and Nikon have a few waterproof models and Nikon has a few legacy small compacts. 

    Ricoh, Casio and probably others also have a few models.


    Canon


    I have a long history with Canon compacts.


    My first ever digital camera was a Canon S70 in 2004.  I made a few decent pictures with this but overall it was a device of  modest capability.


    It did set one theme for Canon compacts (not including bridge types) over the next eleven years namely the absence of any inbuilt electronic viewfinder. 


    In fact at the time of writing (November 2017) the G5X appears to be the only Canon compact to have an inbuilt EVF.  The G1XMk3 is due in shops shortly


    The S70 was followed by an S90 with a bad lens.  That didn’t last long in my camera drawer.


    Then there were four Canon G models.  This series began with the G1 in 2000.


    The G series appeared to provide what many enthusiast/experts might want namely a user experience and most of the features of a DSLR in a compact, take anywhere package.


    For some reason which I now forget I did not buy into the G series until the G9. Then came a G10, G12 and last a G16.


    All the G series models had the same nasty, almost worse than useless, little optical viewfinder.


    Worse, towards the end of the line, some (marketing ?)  genius at Canon started progressively stripping features and capabilities out of  successive models.


    By the time I got to the depressingly disappointing G16 I was fed up with underspecified, underperforming Canon compacts and shifted to other makers, mainly Panasonic and Sony.


    It seems one family member did not get this memo. She came home one day with a Canon G1X which she bought because it had a nice handle.


    Indeed it did. And that was good. But nothing else about it was.


    The G1X arrived on the market with great fanfare from Canon’s marketing department which made the camera sound like the second coming of some kind of photographic deity.


    The reality was otherwise. The G1X had the same old dreadful optical viewfinder as the G series, poor performance, mediocre picture quality and a frustrating user experience.


    Canon’s subsequent models using the Sony “one inch” 15.9mm diagonal sensor have been depressingly mediocre, underspecified, underperforming things attracting little interest from me. I might have been interested in the G5X because it has an EVF but for the widely reported soft lens and poor performance.


    Nikon


    I did make one brief foray into Nikon land with the Coolpix P7800.


    This camera did have an EVF (but of low quality).


    It had a fully articulated monitor, a nice lens and decent picture quality.


    But you could almost make a cup of tea in the time it took to recover from one RAW exposure.  And the controls were a confusing muddle leading to a poor user experience.


    I saw the P7800 as yet another opportunity lost for Nikon which with a much faster processor and better design could have turned this into a really appealing compact camera.


    Nikon dropped the ball completely on compacts when it cancelled the DL project.


    Sony


    The RX100 of 2012 revolutionised the compact camera sector.


    Overnight, the previously ubiquitous small sensor compacts using 9.3mm and 7.7mm diagonal sensors were rendered almost irrelevant by the RX100 using the new 15.9mm Sony sensor which provided better image quality in an amazingly small  package.


    One family member in our household used the original RX100 for several years, making very good pictures all around the world.  This camera eventually died having had a well used life.


    I eventually joined the RX100 party with a Mark4 after the price dropped a bit.


    This camera is now two years old but still provides the most imaging capability in a pocketable package that I have ever seen.


    The lens and sensor are excellent and the pictures are suitable for very big enlargement.


    The only complaints I have about this model concern the ergonomics.


    The camera comes without a handle. Sony makes a stick-on accessory handle which I regard as essential. This should be included in the box in my view. It would add maybe $5 to the price.


    The pop-up-pull-out-push-back-push-down EVF is annoying but at least it has an EVF of decent quality although there is no eyecup so stray light entry is a  problem in sunny conditions.


    The buttons are all too small and crammed into too small a space on the control panel. The shutter button is recessed and not as easy to locate by feel as it should be.  I popped a dab of epoxy resin on the On/Off and shutter buttons so my index finger can find them more easily by feel.


    The menus are confusing and poorly laid out. However the Fn button is well designed making menu diving infrequently necessary.


    Some of these problems are partly due to the camera’s very small size but handling and operation could in my view be substantially improved with a fresh look at pocketable camera design.


    The Mark 5 has high speed capabilities which seem a bit irrelevant to me in this type of camera so I am not tempted to go there.


    Sony still makes some compact models using the small 7.67mm sensor but to date none of these allows RAW output so they have not been of interest to me.


    Panasonic


    In recent times most of my compacts have been from Panasonic. My experience with these has been mixed with some being very good, others dreadful.


    I keep coming back to Panasonic because most of their compacts have above industry average levels of specifications, capabilities and  performance.


    Most have a built in EVF, fast processor, 4K video, touch screen, fast accurate continuous AF, fast frame rates with minimal EVF blackout, zebras, many user configurable features and functions, RAW output, very good auto panorama and much more.  


    By comparison most of Canon’s offerings look decidedly under specified, lacking in capability and performance.


    Panasonic is the most prolific producer of compacts and other fixed lens types so there have been plenty of models to try.


    TZ series

    Let’s start with the TZ (travel zoom)  series. Panasonic more or less invented this camera type and has kept updating its model line annually when most other lines are back to a 3 year or longer refresh interval.


    These cameras pack a high level of specification, capability and performance into a near-pocketable package.


    The latest ones have a small built in EVF of serviceable quality, a 30x zoom of mostly decent quality, good handling and ergonomics for a compact and very good performance with RAW output, fast single and continuous AF, 4K video, high level of user selectable functions, and much more.


    I have owned the TZ60, TZ70, TZ80 and TZ90.  They keep getting a little bit better with each iteration.


    I have  few serious complaints about any of these cameras. The EVF could be larger but then so would the camera.


    The lens could have more consistent optical performance but then it would cost more.


    I wish the OIS was more effective.


    The flash is in an awkward place but there is nowhere else to put it within the current design envelope.


    They are not so good indoors in low light but I have used them in this situation with acceptable results.


    These cameras admirably perform the role for which they were intended. That is as travel companions to record memories of a trip as they are experienced.


    I decided not to keep the latest one, the TZ90 because I prefer the FZ300 in the travel companion role.


    The FZ300 is much larger and somewhat more expensive but is a nicer camera for holding, viewing and operating with better performance and picture quality.


    The TZ100 carries the TZ prefix but I don’t really understand why. Standard TZ models have a 7.67mm diagonal sensor and a 30x zoom.


    But the TZ100 has the much larger 15.9mm sensor and 10x zoom.


    Panasonic’s lens designers set themselves a very ambitious task with the TZ100. They had to squeeze a 10x zoom into a near-pocketable body and still cover the image circle required for the relatively large (for a compact) 15.9mm diagonal sensor.


    No other camera maker has produced a model to match this.


    I bought a TZ100, was very displeased with the lens, tried another one and was equally displeased.


    The lens on both my copies was quite soft at some focal lengths and apertures with unpleasant double imaging in just out of focus areas.


    I found the body smooth and slippery, desperately needing a proper handle and thumb support. The controls are not well designed and not nearly as user friendly as those of the regular TZ models.


    The whole thing seemed to me to be the invention of stylists rather than photographers.


    I should say some users reporting on forums have expressed full satisfaction with their TZ100s, but others appear to have had an experience like mine.


    LX series


    The LX series has for many years carried the “tiny but premium quality” banner, along the way gathering a solid base of enthusiast users.


    Most models have used the 9.3mm sensor, several with variable aspect ratio capability and all with a wide aperture zoom of good to very good quality.


    None of the LX-XX series has a built in EVF but some will take a clip on accessory EVF.


    I bought an LX3 with the 16:9 aspect ratio sensor. This model had decent RAW output but shot to shot times with RAW were woefully slow.


    I did not like the JPGs at all.


    Then came an LX5 which was a more serviceable model, capable of making very good pictures indoors or outdoors in almost any circumstance.


    But I hated the lack of a built in EVF which made the camera very difficult to use outdoors in the sun.


    The controls were not to my liking either. The control dial of the LX5 is very recessed and difficult to turn and the cursor buttons rounded and smooth making them very difficult to locate and operate by feel.


    LX10/15.  I bought one of these against my own rule never to buy a camera without an inbuilt EVF. 
    That was a mistake.


    Unlike the LX series up to the LX7, the LX10 uses the larger 15.9mm Sony sensor.


    Someone at Pana-world marketing seems to have insisted the LX10 be “stylish” like the TZ100. 

    Apparently “stylish” means no handle or proper thumb support, a smooth slippery exterior surface, no EVF and a minimal, poorly designed set of controls.  I absolutely hated using this thing.


    To make matters worse the lens on my copy had some strange characteristics. Maximum sharpness was at the widest aperture at each focal length. Closing the aperture even a third of a stop caused  obvious loss of sharpness with nasty looking double imaging especially at the frame edges.


    The LX100 is completely different from the previous LX-X series of models.


    It is built around a  Four Thirds type sensor (diagonal 21.6mm) but the camera only uses a 19.2mm crop of the sensor to permit multi aspect ratio capability and make the lens smaller than it would be if the full sensor area were used.


    I have used my LX100 extensively in Australia and on overseas trips and have acquired considerable experience with it.


    It has some excellent features and capabilities but also some less appealing qualities which leave me after three years feeling somewhat ambivalent about the camera.


    Things I like: Very good lens, useful focal length range, very useful aperture range, useful multi aspect ratio capability, quick operation of all functions, configurable user interface, good image quality indoors or outdoors, decent, built in and always ready EVF….. and much more. There is a lot to like about the LX100.


    Things I don’t like: The biggest problem I have is with the autofocus system.


    AF on the LX100 is very fast, sensitive (too sensitive ?)  and mostly very accurate BUT I have found the camera repeatedly misfocusses when the Active AF area is placed over a part of the subject with specular light sources. This could be sunlight reflecting off foliage or backlit foliage or multiple pinpoint light sources or similar. In these situations I have to use the AF/AE-L button to lock focus on a part of the subject without specular light sources. Sometimes I forget and the penalty is misfocussed pictures which looked OK in the viewfinder.


    Users on forums have reported another focussing problem with the LX100 which I have not experienced. That is misfocussing on distant subjects with focus achieved on the foreground.  I am not sure about the reason for this but there are plenty of reports about it.


    Other things I don’t like are the hybrid traditional/modern control system (which some users say they do like) lack of articulated monitor and absence of a more substantial anatomical handle.


    Several users have reported that the LX100 is very prone to dust/dirt ingress into the lens and onto the sensor.


    So the LX100 is something of a flawed gem. If Panasonic fixed the problems in an update model they would make a lot of enthusiast compact users very happy.


    Likes and preferences


    I have to say I am not greatly enthused by any of the compacts described in this post. All of them have compromised ergonomics and many have numerous other faults and failings.


    Recommendations ?


    Two camera series stand out for me as being the most coherent. By this I mean they know what they are trying to achieve and do so.


    The first is the Sony RX100 series of which my pick is the Mk4.


    It tries to fit the greatest possible imaging capability into the smallest possible package and succeeds in doing so.


    The ergonomic shortcomings make it somewhat less than a joy to use but it does get the job done and the results are excellent.


    Second is the Panasonic TZ series particularly the TZ80 and TZ90.


    These cameras are designed to be travel companions which offer a lot of features including a 30x zoom at a budget price.


    They achieve this rather well.


    They trade off the outright image quality of the Sonys for the versatility of the long zoom with better ergonomics and a much lower price into the bargain.


    What’s next ?

    The most popular post on this blog at the moment is “PanasonicLumix LX100 What’s next ?  August 2017”.


    Canon has announced and is about to roll out the G1X Mk3.  If this camera has a good lens, sharp at the widest aperture at each focal length, I might buy one despite the ambitious initial price point. Or maybe I will wait until the price eases down a bit.


    Either way this is the first Canon compact in which I have had any interest at all for several years.


    Panasonic will surely need to counter this with an LX200 of some description.


    We shall see.













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    Helicopter ? Drone ? Sony A9 and huge expensive lens ?
    No,  just a Panasonic FZ300 held by me standing on a hill.

    This question has already been debated  at length on user forums, with many experienced photographers saying…”but I don’t need 20fps, I don’t want the size of it and I don’t want the cost of it”.  Or words to that effect.


    Fair enough but these people’s needs are readily met with one of the mid range models like the G80.


    I think the reasoning behind the G9 probably goes like this:


    1. History shows us that the makers which survive and prosper are those which manage to capture a substantial slice of the professional camera market.  Those which don’t fall by the wayside or linger on with a few niche products.


    2. Why ?


    After all, professionals make up only a small percentage of those who buy cameras.  Most of the money comes from amateurs buying lower priced models.


    The key issue is that many amateur photographers simplify their camera selection process by electing to buy the same brand and type of camera that professionals use.


    In recent years this has been mainly Canon and Nikon and mainly DSLRs.


    3. Canon and Nikon are top dogs in the Pro arena just now. Sony is pressing hard with high tech products to achieve dominance in  that market.


    4. If Panasonic wants its camera division to survive and prosper it must also gain a significant share of that pro market.


    5. The future for the high end of the ILC market is mirrorless.


    Why ?   Because only mirrorless cameras (and SLT but Sony is not pushing ahead with development of that camera type) can offer continuous, real time view in the viewfinder while capturing still photos at high frame rates with continuous autofocus.


    6. There is an opportunity here for Sony and Panasonic because Canon is yet weak in the mirrorless arena and Nikon currently has no mirrorless ILC at all (apparently having abandoned the 1 Series), making it very vulnerable to competition.


    7. Panasonic has apparently been doing very well with the GH5 which has proven popular for keen videographers.

    This group appears not to have been been put off by the size and price of the GH5 which are greater than that of previous Panasonic M43 models.


    8. So I am guessing that Panasonic figures it’s time to introduce a high end, high speed high capability  model aimed at professional sports, wildlife, reportage and wedding photographers.


    9. If Panasonic can get a substantial cohort of professionals using their top tier Lumix models amateurs will follow suit with less expensive models. 


    I think that’s the plan anyway. 


    And the LCD panel ?


    There is no functional or ergonomic reason for the top plate LCD panel. All the information which can be seen on that panel, and much more, can be displayed in the EVF or on the monitor.  Or not displayed if the user chooses.


    So what the heck is it doing there ?


    It takes up a great deal of high priority camera real estate. The opportunity cost of this is that the main mode dial has to be shifted over to the left shoulder and stacked on the drive mode dial, a suboptimal arrangement.


    And the on/off button ended up on a collar around the shutter button which is convenient but this pushes the front dial back (compared to the GH5) which requires extra lateral movement of the right index finger which some users might find a stretch.


    I think the reason for the LCD panel is all about perception and marketing and  goes like this:


    1.  Current model pro level cameras are DSLRs which have an LCD panel.


    2. Panasonic wants to make the G9 look as much as possible like a high end model so it gets an LCD panel.


    That’s it.


    Not very sensible from an ergonomic perspective but who knows, maybe it will help with the marketing.








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    Panasonic Lumix LX100 using 16:9 aspect ration in portrait orientation.
    I find that for indoor use one of the better advanced compacts is less obtrusive and provides a better user experience than any ILC. Results are indistinguishable.


    There have been some recent model releases by Sony and Panasonic which I think signal a significant shift in thepower balance between camera makers.


    The bottom has dropped out of the camera business.


    This started with the smartphone revolution but has not stopped there.


    It seems to me there are three groups of people who want to make photos:


    Group 1.   Snapshooters. These are the opportunistic photographers who once used small compacts but nowadays use a smart phone.  The key word for this group is convenience.


    Group 2.  Enthusiast amateur photographers who are trying to get decent photos of their holidays and grandchildren but are not trying to win a National Geographic photo award.

    The best device for these people is one of the higher performing fixed lens cameras.


    Indoors one of the advanced compacts with a wide aperture zoom will serve very well.  These cameras are smaller than any ILC and arguably do a better job.


    Outdoors one of the better long zoom bridge cameras can do a fine job at a sensible price point without anyone ever having to change lenses.


    This group does not need an interchangeable lens camera (ILC) and in fact will mostly be better off without one.


    The key word for this group is versatility.


    Group 3. Those-who-must-have-the-best-gear-no-matter-the-price-and-can-afford-it.


    This includes professional photographers who actually need the best gear plus a quite substantial cohort of wealthy-enough amateurs and semi-professionals who have visions of winning the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award or something like that and will just not be happy with gear they might think is second best.


    If there is something “better” (as defined anyway you like) on the horizon, these people want it and they will buy it.


    The key words for the professionals in this group is capability.


    For the others, I think  some are after reassurance that they have the best. The logic is   If-I-get-a-better-camera-maybe-my-pictures-will-be-better.  They won’t but the camera companies are never going to say so.


    Others might want status symbols. 


    Implications


    So if I am more or less on the right track  about all this, what follows ?


    1. Small point-and-shoot compacts will disappear. This is already happening, no need to guess about that.


    2. (a) People will stop buying entry level ILCs (DSLRs and MILCs) or sales will fall to a level which makes continued production uneconomical.  

    There are signs this is already happening.  For instance Nikon has abandoned the 1 Series and  Panasonic stopped the GM series. I think we will see more of this.


    2. (b)  There will be a small but probably sustainable market for high end compacts and high performance long zoom bridge cameras.

    These will sell at a price point which seems high by 2017 standards but which will be necessary to sustain low volume production.


    Already the Sony RX100 series, RX10 series and Canon G1X Mk3 are examples of this trend.


    3.  AllILCs will be high end products aimed at Group 3 of my hypothesised user groups.  


    There will be no place for entry level, low spec, budget ILCs. 


    This will be driven by two forces:


    First, consumers will buy fewer of them because their needs will be better suited by fixed lens type cameras.


    Second, the manufacturers will stop making them anyway because there is no profit in them without very large volume.  The per unit margin is negligible.


    Therefore it is essentialfor any organisation wanting to make and sell interchangeable lens cameras to move up market and do so pretty darn quick.


    This trend is already under way. 


    Sony is apparently doing well with the A7R3 and A9 models right at the top of their price hierarchy. 


    Fujifilm has reported good sales of their GFX-50S medium format model despite several reports that cameras using the smaller 24x36mm sensor can actually make better photos in many situations and of course most of them cost less.


    This is not about the logic of cameras or photography.


    It is about the logic of the market and the way gear acquisition syndrome plays out at the high end of that market.


    All of which I think explains why Panasonic has brought on the G9. This is a high speed, high end sport/action model for stills photographers intended to compete with the Sony A9 on performance but at a lower price point.


    The G9 has all the very latest bells and whistles for a top of the range high speed model including 20 fps continuous autofocus and no EVF blackout. 


    Some users such as professional or even amateur sport/action photographers might actually be able to make use of these amazing performance capabilities.


    For most I suspect those capabilities will just be part of the buzz which Panasonic’s marketing people  hope will convince the customer that he (it will mostly be a he) is getting the very best gear that lots of money can buy.


    Key technologies and marketing logic


    The list of specifications, features and capabilities of a modern camera assails the reader with  a blizzard of information. It is very difficult for even the informed spec reader to figure out what might be most important for their personal needs.


    I think it very likely that many, perhaps most amateur camera buyers, who by the way greatly outnumber professionals, simplify their decision making process by getting a camera of the same brand and type as the ones professionals use.


    That at the moment is mostly Canon and Nikon and mostly DSLRs.


    So the way for other brands to gain greater market share is to get professionals using their products.


    What would persuade them to do this ?


    This might involve many things including timely professional support services however I think the key issue when actually using the camera is the viewfinder experience when shooting still photos using continuous autofocus and burst drive at high frame rates.


    All DSLRs and most MILCs have viewfinder blackout after every frame.


    This makes the viewing experience like that of a very early 20th Century silent movie, jerky and flickering, particularly when the user is trying to follow a subject moving across the frame.


    Much better and impossible for any DSLR to provide (although SLT types could potentially) is a viewfinder which provides a continuous, real time  view (not a delayed view) of the subject while capturing high frame rate still photo sequences.


    If all else is at least equal, in particular the AF is accurate and reliable and the camera itself is reliable and has good ergonomics, professional photographers will go for this and might even be persuaded to give up their existing (and very expensive) kit in the process.


    Do any cameras offer continuous, real time view in the viewfinder with high frame rate stills ?


    There are now some which do offer continuous view. The ones I am aware of are the Sony A9 and A7R3 and now the Panasonic G9.


    It is not so clear to me however whether they also have real time view or whether what the user sees in the viewfinder is a playback of the last frame captured.


    Do or die

    An oft quoted aphorism is that a rising tide floats all boats. The flip side of this is of course that a falling tide leaves some or maybe all of them stranded.


    From about the beginning of the 21stCentury camera sales rose strongly following introduction of digital capture technologies. This encouraged many players into the game.


    But from about 2010 sales slowed then fell precipitously.


    The fall out from this is under way with Samsung pulling out of camera making altogether to concentrate on more profitable business ventures, particularly smart phones.


    I have little doubt others will follow as shrinking volumes make production uneconomic.


    All the camera makers are trimming off underperforming model lines and all of them are looking to move upmarket where profit margins are higher.


    Battle for the high ground


    We the consumers are witnessing a battle for possession of the high ground of the professional photography market.  Those who can establish tenure in this market will survive.


    Those who don’t will have to appeal to a niche market, maybe you might call it a boutique market.

    Buyers in this market want something “different” however defined.


    Something “special” which is not the same as all the regular, boring run-of-the-mill cameras which will be dismissed as “consumer” products which are “ugly”, lacking “soul” and “character”.

    Fujifilm is right onto this market and is apparently doing quite well in the process.


    Olympus might find a sustainable niche here too.


    My predictions ?


    Predictions are always wrong but can be fun anyway so here goes.  The reader should take what follows with a pinch of salt.


    Canon  wants to win the battle on all fronts and will do everything it can to achieve this.

    But Canon is vulnerable to attack by Sony and Panasonic because Canon’s mirrorless technology is lagging far behind that of the two big technology giants.

    Specifically Canon is nowhere near to making a camera with no EVF blackout.


    To date the EOS M5 is their only mirrorless ILC to even have an EVF and that is reported to have a very long blackout time compared to models from other makers.


    Fujifilm   As suggested above, Fuji appears to be carving out a little niche for itself in the market with mid to high end products which appeal to a group of photographers looking for something “different”.


    Hasselblad  Has always been a niche player and might survive as such.


    Leica  Has faced failure several times but has come back like Lazarus each time with eccentric products which are wildly overpriced and pay no attention to the rest of the market at all. Maybe they can survive with this, who knows ?


    Nikon  Right now looks disturbingly like a dying tree shedding branches in a last ditch bid for survival.


    Opting out of the entire Brazilian market seems very strange to me given that is a populous and economically advancing country.


    Nikon had a fast mirrorless system in the 1 Series but appears to have abandoned this leaving it with just the DSLR lineup and a few ageing Coolpix models which should have been upgraded years ago.


    Nikon needs to get out a very convincing mirrorless ILC tout suite.


    Olympus   Has also been dropping off product lines in the form of compacts and bridge models., leaving just the Micro Four Thirds lineup and a couple of waterproof models.


    With M43 Olympus is trying to move upmarket with some big, fast lenses. But only one current model (EM1 Mk2) has a proper handle built in and a level of capability which might appeal to some professionals.


    Olympus tried this “big lens” strategy with their Four Thirds DSLRs ten years ago with notable lack of success. We shall see how things go.


    My guess is that Olympus will likely survive as a niche player like Fujifilm, with a small but dedicated cohort of enthusiast supporters.


    Panasonic  I have to wonder why Panasonic bothers with cameras at all.


    Surely they will do much better financially by making millions of lithium ion batteries for Elon Musk and equipping self drive cars with sensors and control systems.


    But for whatever reason they are still in the camera business.


    What’s more the GH5 and G9 show they are making a serious attempt to grab a share of the pro market off  Canon, Nikon and Sony.


    Panasonic’s weakness in the pro domain is their poor support and backup services which often attract adverse comment on user forums. Not a good look for pros.


    Panasonic does have a very nice lineup of compacts and bridge cameras which apparently sell well. 


    I suspect that if they can’t break into the pro market over the next five years or so Panasonic might pull the plug on cameras altogether.


    Which would be a pity as they have some excellent technologies. Maybe some other maker could buy these. Canon Lumix anyone ?


    Pentax  Behold the walking dead. There are limits to the extent to which sentiment can keep a camera maker going.

    It must be nearly the end of the road for this once proud market leading brand which was my favourite for many years.  

    Pentax failed to convert enough pro photographers to its LX system in the 1980s and has been in decline ever since.


    Sony  Has supplanted Canon as technology leader and is charging hard for dominance at the top of the pro market.


    Sony wants to knock Canon off its perch and become  number 1 in all categories.


    I think it may very well do just that.

    Sony makes most of the sensors in cameras of most brands and has developed their camera technology faster than all the other brands.


    Sony’s weaknesses are reliability and ergonomics which often attract adverse comment from professional users. And me.


    Right now Sony has the most advanced technology but Canon understands cameras better. If they worked together instead of competing us consumers might have better cameras.


    Anyway that’s enough for now.

















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    Bridge cameras like the FZ1000 used for this photo give me  pictures  which are good enough that I have given up ILCs altogether.


    I have been making pictures for 64 years.  In that time I have had the opportunity to use just about every camera type that has been available to the general consumer.


    For most of the second half of the 20thCentury and the first 15 years of the 21st century my main camera was some kind of interchangeable lens type (ILC).


    In the old days there was no such thing as a zoom lens for the consumer market so if you wanted to change focal length you had to fit a different lens.


    In the manual focus days I was a Pentax SLR user, starting with the Spotmatic then graduating to the ME super.


    But in the late 1980’s autofocus arrived. Unfortunately  Pentax missed that bus. They did not develop   a workable AF system for several years and in the process lost a massive amount of market share, never to be recovered.


    I went with Canon in the form of a string of EOS mount SLRs from the EOS630 up to the EOS1V. 


    These were basically good products blighted by chronically inaccurate AF.


    Along came the digital era and I stayed with Canon in the form of the 20D, 40D and for a short time a 60D and a 450D.


    Again these were basically good cameras except for their  inaccurate and inconsistent autofocus.


    I got fed up with this and tried the Panasonic G1 when it became available on the Australian market.


    This was the first ever digital mirrorless ILC and I could see even in 2008 that this technology was the way of the future.


    Suddenly I had a camera which managed accurate AF single almost all the time with any subject even in low light.


    In other respects Micro Four Thirds technology was not competitive with current DSLR  products of the time.


    But I persevered through Panasonic’s efforts to transform a good idea (the Micro Four Thirds concept) into a viable product for the market.


    To be fair to Panasonic they had it tough, launching an entire new system from a standing start into the chaos of the global financial crisis of 2008.  I guess the wonder is that the M43 system and Panasonic’s imaging division survived at all.


    Adding to the pain, along came the smartphone revolution leading to a freefall in overall camera sales from around 2010.


    The G1 was burdened with many deficiencies of image quality, performance and ergonomics. But it was a start.


    After the G1 I had the G3, G5, G6, G7 and G85.


    The G3 was a little ergonomic disaster.


    Panasonic’s designers got the concept back on  track with the G5 and 6 which shared the same body.


    Image quality and performance improved but shutter shock reared its ugly head, blighting the next few models with nasty double imaging with some lenses and some shutter speeds.


    Shutter shock dogged the G series right up to the G7 which is fitted with the old spring loaded shutter which causes the problem.


    Somewhere in there I tried an Olympus OM-D EM5, also a Micro Four Thirds camera type.


    Some people say they really enjoy the Olympus experience, I hated it.


    I disliked the way it felt in my hands, all hard and edgy, I thought it ridiculous that I had to buy an accessory handle to get a decent grip on the thing, the labyrinthine menu system was bizarrely complex and difficult to understand and AF continuous was hopeless.


    In addition some of the lenses were terrible, notably the much unloved 12-50mm which by the way is still in Olympus’ current catalogue.


    Around this time Sony offered its bottom of the ILC range  A3500 for $350 in Australia.  So I bought one and tried it out for a while. I gave it my worst ever ergonomic score and wondered why the thing exists. Incredibly this model is still available from photo retailers.


    It seems altogether incongruous to me that Sony which is now putting out the most technologically advanced high end models in the history of photography could at the same time continue to make the woefully inadequate A3500.  


    I  tried the Panasonic GX7 when it came along but did not like the flat top/mini handle design at all. 
    It never felt secure in my hands and I had many issues with the controls.


    The GH series started as a kind of upper spec but still very small version of the G series. My engagement with the this series began with the GH2 which made good pictures but inherited most of the body shape of the original G1 and many of  its ergonomic problems.


    I graduated to the GH3 and GH4 both using the same body which was considerably larger and much better designed than the GH2.


    With these models Panasonic began to differentiate the GH series as a specialist high spec video line which also made good stills.


    These were (still are if you have one) very good cameras but they suffer from the dreaded shutter shock problem especially with the 14-140mm lens which I liked to use.


    I think the first Panasonic M43 model to finally lay the shutter shock demon to rest was the G80/95, thanks to a new electro-magnetic shutter design.


    I owned one of these for a while and found it to have very good picture quality. In many respects the GX85 is a very sophisticated model with many advanced features.


    But as with the GX7 I could not get to like the flat top/mini handle design which forever felt as if it was about to fall out of my hands.


    Panasonic needed to put the guts of the GX80 into a G8  model and at last they did.


    But somewhere along the way they decided to change the numbering/naming convention without explaining the reason.   


    Anyway the G8 emerged as the G80/85 just to confuse everybody.


    I bought and owned a G85 for a while.


    I rate it the first fully de-bugged G model ready to take on any competition from any other maker or camera type.


    It is a very capable and sophisticated camera with many advanced technologies which work really well.


    Panasonic got it right at last. On the seventh try and nine years after the original G1.


    The only fault I could find with it is the flat Cursor Button module. I fixed this with some Sugru on the buttons.


    My most recent and probably last ever foray into the ILC world was the GH5 which I sold recently along with all the M43 lenses.


    I found the GH5 to be an amazingly capable and sophisticated device with excellent image quality, performance and ergonomics and an extraordinary level of specifications and capabilities for both stills and video capture, with strong emphasis on the video side of the equation.


    It really was more camera with much more video capability than I can use or even understand, so it went to someone who I hope will make better use of its capabilities than I ever could.


    My preference now is for fixed zoom lens models.


    No more changing lenses.


    I have happily given up some of the capability of ILCs for the versatility of compacts and bridge types which have good enough image quality for me.   










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    Simpsons Gap Central Australia FZ1000


    The name ‘bridge” has been applied to a   group of fixed zoom lens cameras which were for some years seen as creating a transition , or bridge, between compacts on one side and interchangeable lens models on the other.


    They are creatures of the digital era.


    The usual features of modern versions of the bridge type are


    * A hump top DSLR looking shape with a substantial handle and a fixed non removable power zoom lens,

    * Very big zoom ranges have become the norm, ranging from about 16x up to 80x,

    * An EVF in the hump which sits over the lens,

    * A rear monitor, often fully or partly articulated,

    * In current models the sensor is either the “one inch” 15.9mm diagonal type or the much smaller 7.67mm diagonal type. The latter allows greater zoom range, larger aperture or smaller overall size or all three, the penalty being reduced image quality especially in low light.


    The better current models are not really a bridge from somewhere to anywhere else, but fully fledged and highly capable do-everything devices in their own right.


    However the name “bridge” has stuck probably because nobody appears to have come up with anything to replace it.


    The type has its origins in the earliest days of digital technology around 1998 and 1999. Some of the early models from Sony utilised a very avant gard design. However in recent years bridge camera design has settled down to a more predictable and arguably more ergonomically functional form.


    Most current model bridge cameras are from Sony and Panasonic.  Fuji and Olympus appear to have abandoned this sector. Canon and Nikon have limited offerings not recently updated.


    For me the keyword which best captures the spirit of the bridge camera is versatility.


    Which is why it has become my favourite camera type. 


    Plus I never have to change lenses. Ever again.


    If memory serves, my first experience of a bridge camera was the Canon SX20 of 2009.  I remember this had one of the most slippery handles of any camera I have ever used, with no overhang under which to tuck the third finger of the right hand. It also had very prominent chromatic aberration and purple fringing. It did not last long in my camera drawer.


    In 2014 I had another go at a Canon model, this time the SX60 which by the way is still in Canon’s current catalogue and desperately in need of a major update.


    In contrast to the SX20, the SX60 had a really well designed handle, in fact one of the best implementations of an inverted L type handle I have seen on any camera at any price.  Unfortunately nothing else about the SX60 pleased me at all.  Canon user forum members often rate the Previous model  SX50  a better camera.


    From Nikon I bought and used two models.


    The P900, introduced in 2015 has an amazing 24-2000mm (83x) zoom lens of quite decent quality, very good VR and decent image quality although without RAW output. I bought and used one for a while but didn’t keep it. I found the overall performance and responsiveness was very slow, AF unreliable and the longer reaches of the lens very difficult to use in practice.


    The B700 is a more recent and more compact model which does enable RAW output. This too has a lens of decent quality, very good VR and good image quality. But again performance is sluggish with long EVF blackout after each exposure and long shot to shot times especially with RAW. The more I used the B700 the more frustrated I became with it.


    This camera desperately needs a major processor upgrade.


    None of Sony’s small sensor (7.67mm) bridge models allows RAW output so I have not tried any of them. I hope that changes sometime soon.


    I have owned and used four small sensor bridge models from Panasonic, the FZ70, FZ80, FZ200 and FZ300.


    I could never get consistently sharp results from the FZ70 or FZ80. The problem appears to be a sub standard OIS mechanism because results on the tripod could be quite good.


    In most other ways the FZ80 is a remarkable piece of kit for the very low asking price. AF Single and AF Continuous are very fast, the camera is overall very fast and responsive to user inputs, the specification list is extensive and the ergonomics quite good.


    Maybe I got a bad copy of the FZ200. Many users report getting very good results from this model but I never did.


    The FZ300 is a big step up from the FZ200. Although on paper the sensor and lens appear to be the same I found everything much improved. The FZ300 has a really nice viewfinder, good ergonomics very good performance and good image quality outdoors and in reasonably well lit interiors.

    The FZ300 is easily my pick as the best of the small (7.67mm) sensor models. It can follow focus sport and action quite well and is the only model of this group which can do BIF (birds in flight).


    The only real complaint I have of the FZ300 (our family having tried four copies) is one which affects many modern cameras which are built to a price point. That is considerable copy to copy variation in the optical quality of the lens. I would much rather pay more if it made getting a good copy of the lens probable rather than hit-and-miss.


    In 2012 Sony revolutionised the compact camera world with its new and very capable “one inch” (15.9mm diagonal) sensor. The first camera to get this new sensor was the RX100, a very small compact.


    This was followed in 2013 by the RX10, the first bridge type to get the 15.9mm sensor.


    The 24-200mm (equivalent) focal length range of the RX10 did not interest me  and neither did the rather pedestrian autofocus system so I passed on that model and the Mk2.


    Then in 2014 Panasonic got hold of the Sony sensor and put it in the FZ1000.


    This has been a landmark camera for me.


    It is the only camera which I have seen fit to give a Camera Ergonomics Camera Of The Year award.


    It is the first camera which enabled me to part with all my ILC gear and not feel I was giving up anything that mattered.


    For me the FZ1000 has been the most important camera ever.  


    It has an extensive list of specifications and features,  very good performance including follow focus on fast moving subjects and very good ergonomics.  Image quality is good enough for my requirements which are in fact quite demanding. I want to be able to make A2+ prints from my image files and the FZ1000 easily enables this in most cases.


    The only real complaint I have with the FZ1000 is the same one as I have with the FZ300 namely inconsistent optical quality of the lens. Our family has had 5 copies of the FZ1000 over the last three years. One of them had a really superb lens, very sharp at all focal lengths. Unfortunately this copy got a bit of junk inside the lens. This was speedily removed by the local Panasonic service agent but the lens was never the same again.


    The copy I am currently using has a good lens so it is a keeper. The lenses on the others have been a mixed bunch, good at some focal lengths but not others.


    I did try a FZ2500 when it came out. My copy had a sub standard lens as did many others reported by reviewers and  users on forums. Some owners have reported their FZ2000/2500 lens is very good so again we see the inconsistency problem rearing its ugly head.


    My take on the FZ2500 is that it seems to me like a model heavily biased towards video capability. 

    As such it is not the update to the FZ1000 which some might have expected but an alternative model geared to video. It seems to me to be the bridge camera equivalent of the GH line in the Micro Four Thirds system.


    What about the Sony RX10 Mk4 ?  Hmmmm……… I’m still thinking about that one. On paper it ticks all the boxes. 


    However it is big, heavy and expensive. I don’t like the ergonomic layout and some of the controls and operation. Some of the major camera review sites have not yet posted final review results and I wonder why.


    We shall see………







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    FZ1000 


    The Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 was announced  in June 2014. So it has now been on the market for over three years and is still available new from camera stores.


    The FZ2000/2500 was announced in September 2016.


    At the time the FZ2000 appeared to be the follow up model to the FZ1000. I bought and used an FZ2500 and came to the conclusion that this model is more a video centric alternative to the FZ1000 than a direct update.


    I see the FZ2500 being to Panasonic’s bridge camera lineup what the GH series is to their Micro Four Thirds series.  Panasonic has just announced the G9 as their top stills model to give the company a presence in the high end stills camera ILC market.


    As a stills camera the FZ2500 didn’t offer me much in the way of advantage over the FZ1000 and it had a lens which offered poorer sharpness and a smaller aperture.


    Many reviewers and users posting on forums have reached the same conclusion.


    So I would like to see Panasonic come out with a G9 equivalent in the bridge camera lineup.


    This would need to answer the challenge of the Sony RX10Mk4 and to do that would need a very convincing set of specifications, capabilities, image quality, performance and ergonomics.


    Sony has shown that a high price point is not an impediment to sales as long as the capability is there.


    It seems Canon is also discovering this. In Australia the G1X Mk3 went straight from pre-order to back-order due to strong initial demand despite the high price point.


    I have used the FZ1000 extensively over the last three years in a wide range of conditions. In the process I have come to some clear understanding about what I want to find in an upgrade model.


    The concept


    The idea of an all-in-one-do-almost-anything camera is highly appealing.


    I think this will become the preferred camera type for enthusiast photographers when more of them realise than ILCs are un-necessary for good photography.


    The lens


    I think Panasonic has to at least match the Sony RX10 Mk4 with its impressive and versatile 24-600mm f2.4-4 optic. The RX10 Mk4 is only 13mm deeper than the FZ1000 so the size need not be a great problem.  But see below-“now here’s a thought”.


    I find I use the 600mm focal length on my FZ300 very frequently. It is very handy for sport/action and birds, perched or in flight. Focal lengths longer than 600mm (equivalent) present increasing difficulty keeping a moving subject in the frame.


    Build quality


    * More consistent optical quality in the lens.  My family has owned five FZ1000s over the years. One of them had an absolutely stellar lens, which by the way tells us that when it is built and assembled properly the lens is capable of excellent results right across the focal length and aperture range. This copy got a bit of junk in the lens which was removed promptly by the Panasonic Australia service agent but the lens was never the same again.


    The copy I am currently using a good to very good throughout and is a keeper but the other three delivered mixed results, good at some focal lengths but not others.


    This issue of lens quality control has been a bugbear of Panasonic models for several years. They really need to fix this.  If that means raising the price point, so be it.


    Performance


    There is room for several improvements here.


    * More consistently accurate focus in Burst Mode with AFC when following a moving subject.

    In Pana-world this presumably means fitting the latest version of DFD and combining that with upgraded lens focussing operation.

    I took the FZ1000 out a few days ago and was a bit disappointed to find a lot of my action shots were not quite in focus.


    * Auto ISO algorithm. The algorithm used in the FZ1000 and most current and past model Panasonics is almost antediluvian in the world of camera technology. Come on Panasonic. Just copy the focal length sensitive system which Sony uses. ASAP.


    * No blackout EVF with real time image preview even at high frame rates.


    * A global shutter would be the icing on the cake of performance enhancements.


    * Much larger RAW buffer.


    Design/layout/controls


    * Twin dial control layout similar to that on the G9, GH5 and FZ2500 but reworked for improved ergonomics.


    * Thumb stick (a.k.a. joystick) with 8 way action to move the active AF area.


    * Allow user choice to disable the annoying lens retract with image review.


    Image quality


    * Any bit of extra dynamic range (highlight and shadow detail) would be welcome.


    * Any reduction in high ISO noise would be welcome.


    Things I don’t need


    * More pixels.


    * Any burst rate faster than about 10fps is just overkill and produces masses of files which have to be managed and  reviewed.  I find that 5-6 fps is plenty for most action photography.


    * Larger size, however I would tolerate a bit of extra depth (lens length) to get the focal length upgraded to 600mm at the long end. But see “now here’s a thought” below.


    Now here’s a thought


    In many ways I prefer my FZ300 to the FZ1000. The FZ300 is smaller, lighter and has a longer, wider aperture lens. Zoom, focus and general operation are very fast and responsive.  The lens is quite small with a filter thread of only 52mm.


    But the FZ300 uses the much smaller 7.67mm (diagonal) sensor which cannot match the image quality of the Sony 15.9mm sensor used in the FZ1000, particularly in low light levels.


    I have long wondered if an intermediate sensor size might be the solution. For several years the 9.3mm (so called 1/1.7 inch) size was popular but in recent times no cameras have been released with this sensor size. Maybe nobody makes it anymore. 


    The so-called “2/3 inch” size with a 4:3 aspect ratio used in Fujifilm compacts a few years ago measures 6.6x8.8mm for a diagonal of 11mm.


    I think that a new generation sensor with a diagonal measurement of about 10mm and high ISO noise levels significantly less than current models could be key to finding the ideal bridge camera formula.


    I think a model about the same size and mass as the FZ1000 could accommodate a 24-600mm lens with an aperture range of about f2-f2.8 and a filter thread about 67mm (the same as the FZ2500). 

    Now  thatwould be really interesting.


    If I were on Panasonic’s product development team I would be thinking not to match the RX10 Mk4 point for point  but to outflank Sony with a lighter, smaller product having a smaller sensor and  wider appeal.


    If Panasonic or any other maker could get this right they would only need to make one model bridge camera, saving heaps on R&D and production and marketing costs.


    I have used plenty of superzoom bridge cameras and found that when the focal length gets longer than 600mm and certainly any more than 800mm they get very difficult to use. Moving subjects are hard to follow, focus and image quality are problematic with atmospheric haze and distortion.




      



      




       


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    The back came off easily and out popped the plate between the rear screen and the electronics. Some corrosion there.


    I bought a used and abused Panasonic FZ70 a little while ago. It expired in due course so I undid all the little screws that I could find and pulled it apart to see what was inside. Lots of electronic stuff, it turns out.



    All the bits, well most of them. I prised the front element off the lens and jiggled the rear element out. This sits almost touching the sensor with the camera powered off. You can see the tiny sensor.
    I could not figure out how to further dismantle the lens without breaking something.
    You can buy the follow up model to this (the FZ80) new for about $500 Australian. I don't know how they get these complex devices on the market at such low price points.





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    LX100 f1.7 ISO 200  The lens works just fine at f1.7, allowing use of the base ISO setting on this camera for a good result.


    I use the indoors/outdoors paradigm as a framework which guides my choice of cameras. I no longer use interchangeable lens models. I find fixed lens models relieve me of the whole tedious lens changing chore and deliver good enough results for me.


    A camera for primary use indoors does not need a long zoom lens. It does need a wide aperture lens though in order to keep ISO settings as low as possible and the lens needs to be sharp wide open.


    Some models fit the bill as indoor cameras rather well. I use the Panasonic LX100 and Sony RX100Mk4. Both work well indoors.


    This post is about the LX100.



    I will let the pictures tell the story.


    I think that some users of cameras with larger sensors might be surprised to see how good a zoom lens can be at f1.7.

    f2.5 ISO 200. Plenty of depth of field at f2.5 and the base ISO setting can be used.

    f5.6  ISO 200. Plenty of highlight and shadow detail here. The subject brightness range was very high.

    f1.7  Plenty of depth of field with f1.7 and ISO 200

    Nice clear picture with no preparation at f1.7 and ISO 200.


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    FZ300 at (equivalent) 600mm. 


    I use an indoors/outdoors paradigm for  choosing cameras. I hate changing lenses so ILCs are off my menu.


    For mainly outdoor use enthusiast photographers are likely to be drawn to the Sony RX10 Mk4, Panasonic FZ1000 or FZ2500. Each of these cameras uses a version of the Sony “one inch” (15.9mm diagonal) sensor for very good image quality in a wide variety of conditions.


    Cameras with the much smaller “1/2.3 inch” (diagonal 7.67mm) sensor get much less attention from reviewers and  users posting on forums.


    However I have been using cameras with this sensor size quite extensively over the last few years and come to realise that with thoughtful use at the point of image capture and in post processing of RAW output, the better models can make surprisingly good pictures.


    Good enough in fact to make very nice looking large prints, certainly up to the maximum size which a 17 inch (432mm) printer can make.


    Having owned and tested all those which enable RAW output I have found that the best current model camera using the 7.67mm sensor is the Panasonic FZ300.


    This camera manages to fit an (equivalent) 25-600mm constant f2.8 lens into a compact body with good ergonomics and performance at a very attractive price point.


    What’s not to like ?


    The main thing is a level of luminance noise greater than that seen in cameras with larger sensors at any comparable ISO sensitivity setting. There is usually also less dynamic range (highlight and shadow detail when subject brightness range is high) from the smaller sensors.  


    But I will let you into a little secret. Noise levels which seem excessive when an image is viewed at 100% on a high resolution monitor are much less apparent when the picture is printed out. Luminance noise (grain) is noticeably less apparent and also less obtrusive in a print than in an image viewed on screen.



    At 600mm.  In the original I can read the sign "Welcome aboard"above the entry way. Not bad for a budget camera, hand held on a sunny/hazy spring day with significant atmospheric distortion.

    600mm, AFC and Burst-M at about 5 fps. No problem with follow focus on moving subjects.

    There are often lots of helicopters flying about over Sydney harbour. I can reconfigure the camera from single shot to burst with follow focus in about 4 seconds.

    In another 4 seconds I can reconfigure the camera to close up settings without the need for any additional equipment and get decent photos without needing a tripod.


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    G1X3

    I have a long history with Canon Powershot cameras.   My first ever digital camera was a Canon Powershot S70 in 2004. Then followed a series of G compacts. If memory serves correctly I had the G7, G10, G12 and G16. Last and definitely least of the G cams was the underwhelming G16 of 2013.


    Our family also had a G1X for a while in 2012. This was a highly compromised model which did not last long in our camera drawer.


    I became disgusted with Canon’s roll out of model after model with mediocre specification, capability and performance. 


    It seemed to me that Canon had morphed from being a camera company to a marketing organisation trading on their high value brand name to sell cameras at the lowest specification which the market would bear.


    The thing is that Canon did not get that brand power by making mediocre, half baked products.


    The brand is strong because for many years through the 20th and first part of the 21st Centuries Canon made products with industry leading technology and product development.


    It seemed to me that if Canon continued to make half baked products the customers would eventually go elsewhere.


    In the fixed lens category that meant Sony and Panasonic, both of which have had a much more adventurous approach to product and technology development than Canon in recent years.


    So I bought no Canon products from 2013 to 2017.


    The G1X3 is the first Canon camera for many years to attract my interest so I bought one as soon as it became available in Australia despite the eye watering initial asking price of AUD1499 plus $69 for a spare battery which is essential. With a $100 cash back offer the purchase price therefore came to $1468.


    Luckily I already had a 37mm B+W MRC protect filter or that would have added to the cost.


    By the way I mounted the filter and have left it there permanently.


    I tested the lens with and without the filter and found no difference. So the filter stays on. I find it  much easier and safer to clean the filter than the front element of the lens. In addition I have found the B+W MRC filters actually do resist dust and stay clean without much intervention on my part.


    At  the time of writing I have made 750 shots with the camera in a variety of settings and am beginning to get a feel for its capabilities.


    On the left G1X Mk3, in the middle EOS M5 with standard kit 15-45mm lens, on the right EOS 80D with kit 18-55mm lens. Each of these units has about the same imaging capability using the same or very closely related sensor and similar lens specifications. Actually the compact lens has a slightly larger aperture than either of the ILC lenses despite its diminutive size, courtesy of the collapsing multi barrel design. 


    What is it ?

    Since the original G1X of 2012 Canon has been spruiking the G1X series as having DSLR/ILC image quality and performance in a compact body. The G1X (original) and G1X Mk2 failed to live up to this lofty promise but at last,  the G1X3 does.


    Yes it really does offer ILC image quality (equal to several current Canon DSLR and MILC cameras with the Canon APS-C, 27mm dual pixel AF sensor) and EOS-M standard performance in a compact body.


    Who’s it for ?

    Enthusiast amateur photographers who want a compact zoom camera without having to compromise on image quality or capability and who can afford the asking price.


    Specifications and features

    On paper the G1X3 appears to tick most of the boxes required for an advanced compact at the top end of the price scale.


    It has the latest Canon 27mm diagonal dual pixel AF sensor, RAW output, a good EVF in the right location with a good eyepiece and eyecup, a good, fully articulated touch capable monitor, built in flash and hotshoe, a full set of controls to suit an  enthusiast user,  a serviceable handle and decent thumb support, auto panorama capability (at last !)  and  lots of connectivity options including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.


    A few things are missing including 4K video, e-shutter and zebras.


    The NB-13L battery is pathetically small for a camera with so many electronic features and write to card speeds are tediously slow.


    But in everyday use these negatives do not intrude themselves into the user experience which is generally very good.


    Image quality

    Optical quality of the lens is excellent at all apertures and focal lengths.


    High ISO noise levels from the Canon sensor are decently good for the sensor size, although Sony sensors are better in this regard.


    The camera is capable of making highly detailed, sharp pictures with pleasing color and good highlight and shadow detail in a wide variety of conditions.


    The only weakness is low light when the small aperture of the lens (f2.8-5.6) demands high ISO settings. Of course there is always the flash for these conditions if desired.


    Performance

    The camera responds promptly to user inputs. In everyday use with single shot settings it does not impede the picture taking process. Shot to shot times are commendably short.


    AF speed is prompt although not class leading. AF accuracy is very good with static subjects, provided you can get the AF confirmation beep and green box before fully depressing the shutter button.


    The AF can follow focus easily on a walking human approaching the camera with a very high percentage of frames sharply in focus in bright light using Servo AF.


    The G1X3 is not super quick like recent Panasonic and Sony fixed lens models  but I think it gets along fast enough to satisfy most users.


    Ergonomics

    I have not finalised my ergonomic score for the G1X3 yet but I expect that on the final count it will probably earn the highest score yet of a compact camera. That is not actually saying much as most compacts score poorly. In my view Canon could have done much better with the ergonomics within the width x height x depth size envelope. I will post more about this later.


    Overall

    This is the best Canon compact yet and arguably the best compact from any maker. I will be testing it alongside the Panasonic LX100 and Sony RX100 Mk4 over the next few weeks and posting results on this blog.











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