Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel


Embed this content in your HTML

Search

Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Channel Catalog


Channel Description:

The independent source for study and review of camera ergonomics.

older | 1 | .... | 3 | 4 | (Page 5) | 6 | 7 | .... | 28 | newer

    0 0


    Having trouble seeing the forest with all those trees ?
     
    Fuji Frenzy ?  In my summary of Canon's progress, or lack of it, with camera ergonomics, I accused Canon's product development people of having apparently gone to sleep.  The same could not be said about Fuji, which mysteriously calls itself FujiFilmin an all digital imaging era.  Fuji has a long history of innovation in imaging. In recent years they have delivered the EXR sensor then the X-Trans sensor. In short order they have delivered the X-Pro1, X-E1 and X-E2, X-M1, X-A1 and X-Q1.
    The Fuji guys are definitely not standing still but the direction in which they are heading seems unclear to me. Maybe that is just a comment about the camera industry as a whole, which appears to be unsure of it's direction.
    My Experience with Fuji cameras  In the film era I owned and briefly used a couple of fixed lens Fuji medium format cameras. These were "interesting" but did not last long in my camera bag as each had a very limited spectrum of capabilities. In the digital age, I have owned an X10 compact and  been completely baffled by the labrynthine complexity of trying to use the thing with RAW capture.  I  have had the opportunity to use an  X100 (the original version) and an X-E1. The family member who owned the X100 was extremely disappointed to find that a large percentage of photos of a never to be repeated family event were out of focus.
    What is Fuji's USP (Unique Selling Point)?  Fuji has probably wisely not tried to challenge CanoNikon on their preferred turf, that being the DSLR. Instead their leitmotiv appears to be..... "something different". The different something might be a unique sensor design or it might be a different approach to the ergonomic layout of a camera. I will concentrate on the ergonomics.
    Blending Traditional with Modern Design Elements  Many of Fuji's recent camera releases have attempted to blend elements of traditional design and styling with modern electronic operation. This works, to the extent the cameras make photographs, sometimes of excellent quality. But overall I believe the attempt to blend traditional with modern at the user interface has produced an inconsistent, muddled,  kludge of features nowhere near as simple as the classic M-Leica layout and less efficient than a modern electronic interface such as you find on, say, a Panasonic Lumix GH3.
    In The Good Old Days  We used all manual, all mechanical cameras. Examples would include Leica M3-M6 and Pentax Spotmatic. These cameras had a marked clicky dial on the lens for changing aperture and a marked clicky dial on the top plate for changing shutter speed. You only got to change ISO (which used to be called ASA or DIN) when changing film. The user interface was simple to the point of spartan. But it worked and with practice could be  reasonably efficient.
    Then Came Electronics  Soon we had Aperture Priority Auto Exposure, then Shutter Priority AE  then Program AE. In  many cases these new features were implemented using the existing aperture and shutter speed dials. But then someone (I know not who) came up with the idea of a Mode Dial and one or two mode dependent scroll wheels. When properly implemented this system could be faster than the old one, using less movements, each of lower complexity, to adjust aperture, shutter speed, both or ISO.  So most cameras now use that system as it can be more efficient.


    The Fujifilm Way  There used to be a saying... "There is the right way, the wrong way and the Navy's way"... In the case of camera ergonomics this could be rephrased as ..."There's the old way, the new way and Fujifilm's way".
    It seems to me there are two problems with the Fujifilm way.
    First, the attempt to blend the old style manual user interface with modern electronics just doesn't work very well. There is no need to have an aperture dial on the lens, just as there  is no need to have a shutter speed dial. These dials are superfluous. Any one of several versions of a more modern, streamlined user interface could do the job more efficiently.
    Second, Fuji's implementation of the Hybrid, ancient+modern interface across the many and proliferating numbers of models is inconsistent, to put it mildly.
    On some cameras we find an optical viewfinder, some have a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, some have an electronic viewfinder, some have none. Some of Fuji's cameras have a shutter speed dial others have a Mode Dial.
    Some lenses have an old fashioned, marked clicky aperture dial, some have an unmarked dial, some have none.
    Many have a prominent dial located precisely where the thumb wants to rest. So to keep the thumb from pressing this dial accidentally many Fuji owners fit an aftermarket thumb support which slips into the hotshoe. This, of course prevents use of the hotshoe and also impedes access to the shutter speed dial. All this folderol for a dial which doesn't actually do much during normal image capture.
    Most lack a proper handle, prompting many users to fit an after market one at considerable expense.
    Most have a fixed monitor, on a camera back with plenty of space for an articulated one.
    Some have buttons located in strange places. For instance some have the [AF] button on the left side of the monitor. This is the button which activates the process of changing AF area position. So to change AF area you have to release grip on the lens with the left hand,  push the [AF] button, return the left hand to the lens, release the right hand from the camera, push the 4 Way controller as required to move the AF area then return the right hand to normal grip position. Someone appears to have tapped the Fuji design guys on the shoulder about this, as I see on some recent models the [AF] button has moved to the [Down] position on the 4 Way controller.
    Summary  It seems to me that the Fuji guys are doing things differently just to establish a point of difference in the market place, not because Fuji cameras allow the user to go about the process of making photos in any more efficient or effective fashion than those of more conventional electronic design.
    The Crystal Ball   My crystal ball on Fuji's future is opaque. I value cameras with very good picture quality, performance and ergonomics. Some of Fuji's cameras deliver very good picture quality but many have suboptimal performance and ergonomics. So I have difficulty understanding why anybody buys them at all. Hang on, I bought some of them, why was that ???  I certainly sold them on pretty quick. My point is that there appears to by something about Fuji's products which appeals to some buyers. Maybe they seem like proper cameras, harking back to days of yore when a camera was a real camera not just an electronic gadget which happens to take photos. Is that it ??    I don't know.


    0 0


    Head in the sand, going nowhere
     
    An Illustrious History The Japanese corporation which was eventually named for it's most famous product, the Nikon camera, was founded in 1917. The first Nikon camera was produced in 1948. The Nikon name became synonymous with rugged reliability and excellent quality  in all things photographic. Nikon rose to the challenges of autofocus then digital capture and electronic operation.
    Nikon Corporation is, I believe, the only entity which derives most of it's income from the manufacture of cameras.  The camera divisions of Sony, Panasonic, even Canon, are but a small part of the total corporate venture.
    You would imagine then, that Nikon would be a leader in camera research and development and a leader in innovation in imaging practice. But some familiarity with Nikon's recent products would have to leave one wondering about that.
    My History with Nikon Cameras  In the film days I briefly owned a little Nikon branded film compact. It's picture quality and performance were dreadful. This year I bought, reviewed and ran comparison testing on a D5200 DSLR with 18-200mm superzoom lens. Our family owns and I have fully tested,  two (!!) Nikon 1 Series V2 cameras, each with 10-100mm superzoom lens. I might have been tempted to buy one of Nikon's recent compact offerings but each of them is deeply flawed in one fashion or another, so no deal.
    DSLR's   I think Nikon's golden era was 1950-1980.  The film SLR was the top camera for professional photojournalism and Nikon was the best SLR you could buy. The Nikon name was firmly established. Millions of people turned to Nikon when they wanted a top quality camera for personal or professional use.
    Then along came autofocus, followed by digital capture and electronic operation. Camera makers with deeper roots in the electronics business challenged Nikon's primacy. But, to their credit, Nikon rose to the challenge. However in the last few years Nikon has fallen into the same rut as Canon. The problem is that Nikon's main income comes from DSLR's and the DSLR as a camera type has no future. There is no evolutionary pathway for the DSLR. So Nikon in recent years has been iterating more pixels, fiddling with  button layouts  and  making minor incremental improvements to the same basic DSLR design.
    My review of the D5200 earlier this year hereshowed it to be a reasonably competent camera in some respects but it had many ergonomic flaws. Some of these are inherent in the DSLR concept,  others could easily have been fixed with better user interface design. The just announced D5300 is a very mild upgrade of the D5200 retaining most of the ergonomic deficiencies of the D5200.
    Some of Nikon's DSLR's, such as the D7100, receive better reviews, particularly for ergonomics.
    I see no consistency of ergonomic understanding at work  here. Various Nikon DSLR's have different control layouts for no particular reason that I can determine. Some have a fully articulated monitor, others have a fixed monitor.
    Compacts  In recent times Nikon has been making some interesting advanced compacts.  But every one of them  has a problem which I regard as deal breaking. The Coolpix A has no handle, no viewfinder, no articulated monitor and no zoom lens, but they want you to pay more for this than many DSLR's. Huh ????   The P3300 has very good image quality for a small sensor compact but shot to shot time for RAW capture was reported by one reviewer as 6 seconds. Again, no handle, no viewfinder.  After several tries Nikon almost got the advanced compact formula right. The P7800 appears to have all the ingredients: handle, articulated monitor, plenty of controls and finally an EVF. But shot to shot times for RAW capture are quoted by several reviewers at around 3 seconds.
    Mirrorless ILC's  Nikon has an entry in the MILC race, in the form of the 1 Series of cameras. By the way, the "1" designation is a reference to the diameter of the 1950's era cathode ray tube which might have been required to support an imaging sensor of about 16mm diagonal. The "4/3" and "Micro 4/3" designations arise from the same historical but now completely irrelevant source.
    With the 1 series Nikon's engineers delivered something quite remarkable. The V1 and V2 cameras have some capabilities unmatched by anything else on the market at any price. Continuous EVF viewing at high frame rates, huge buffer sizes, 15 frames per second with continuous AF and focus on every frame. Spectacular stuff.
    But the V1 has atrocious ergonomics. The layout and user interface is so poorly designed one has to wonder how it ever came to exist.  The V2 brings substantial ergonomic improvement but that camera still falls well short of excellence.
    I recently saw a Nikon promotional video stating that all Nikon design is done in house and all of it by the same dedicated team. I find this difficult to believe. There is almost no consistency of performance, user interface  or ergonomic execution between the various Nikon DSLR's, compacts and MILC's.  How come one camera (the V2) can fire off  49 RAW still pictures in just over 3 seconds (in continuous shooting mode), with AF and AE on every frame then continue firing but at a reduced frame rate, while another (the P7800) can only manage one RAW frame (in single shot mode) every three seconds ??
    Conceptual integrity  I think there is something fundamental missingin the Nikon design center. That something might be captured by the term conceptual integrity. The product development people at Nikon don't seem to have a clear direction as to the type of product which they should make or to which consumer this product might be directed.
    Their current offerings are all over the place. Some have excellent picture quality but compromised ergonomics. Some of the DSLR's do most things a DSLR could reasonably be expected to do but are an evolutionary dead end. Some look good on paper but have compromised performance and/or ergonomics. There is little conceptual or ergonomic consistency between one camera line and the next or even between one model and the next within a line.
    What does Nikon stand for today ?  On present offerings I would have to say...."Once great camera maker struggling to survive in a changing world but not managing very well".  Ouch.
    The Crystal Ball    Like Canon, I think Nikon is in serious trouble. They face steeply falling sales in all sectors of production. Nikon's answer seems to be to concentrate on "full frame" ie 24x36mm sensor, DSLR's.  Their latest little adventure with the DF camera seems to be nostalgic wishful thinking that harking back to past glories will somehow rescue the company from it's present woes.  They are dreaming.  Nikon's problems are in the present and the solution to them will not be found in the past.
    I don't pretend to know whence, or even if,  Nikon's salvation might come. However in terms of camera production the company is already sitting on a potential winner in the form of the 1 series of cameras. But Nikon having created the 1 series seems not to know what they might do with it. Well for starters, they could check out what Sony is doing with the "one inch" ie 15.9mm diagonal sensor.  There is the RX100 Mk1 and 2, now followed by the RX10 with very interesting specification indeed.  
    Nikon could evolve the 1 Series into a highly attractive stable of camera types, some with interchangeable lenses, some with fixed lenses, some short zooms some ultra compacts, some superzooms.
    Wake up Nikon, the big sleep beckons.


     


    0 0


    Climbing Mount Olympus ? Kilimanjaro in fact, but hey, it's a mountain.
     
    Foundations    The Corporation was founded in 1919 although the name Olympus was not adopted until 1949. According to Wikipedia the Greek mountain was chosen as a name as it is the home of the gods in Greek mythology. Apparently the gods left home sometime this century because in 2011 Olympus was hit with a massive financial scandal which almost led to it being delisted from the Tokyo Stock Market.
    Olympus' main business is medical and technical imaging, involving endoscopes, microscopes and similar. However the company has a long history of making cameras which it started producing around 1936. In it's heyday, in the days of film, Olympus had several big sellers, including a series of cameras branded Olympus PEN, another series called Olympus TRIP and a series of compact SLR's designated OM- and a numeral.
    Olympus struggled with the advent of the digital era, but it did survive, unlike many of it's peers which fell by the wayside.  Olympus joined the Micro Four Thirds group and started selling M43 cameras in 2009.
    My Experience with Olympus Cameras  Many years ago I owned a very small film compact called an Olympus μ-1, pronounced mew-1. It was impressively small, had a neat clam shell design and made pictures of reasonable but not excellent quality.
    Last year I  acquired an OMD-EM5 body, battery grip and a selection of lenses. I reported on this camera  here.
    DSLR's   Olympus and Panasonic  joined forces to make DSLR cameras to the [Four Thirds] standard. Panasonic soon pulled out of this venture leaving Olympus to carry on bravely but eventually without ongoing success in the marketplace.


    Compacts  Olympus has been making compact cameras for many years and continues to do so. Some of these have drawn favourable reviews, others a range of less favourable comments, mainly on the issue of ergonomics and the user interface.
    Olympus' latest compact venture is the Stylus -1 with a small [approx 9.3 mm diagonal] sensor, a built in EVF and a constant f2.8 lens with a diagonal angle of view of  75 degrees at the wide end to 8.2 degrees at the long end (equivalent to 28-300mm on a full frame camera). This is a highly attractive specification set and is very much a move in the direction I think camera makers need to go.
    Micro Four Thirds  Olympus' first M43 camera, the  PEN  EP-1,  was released in 2009. This was followed by 7 further PEN branded M43 cameras, none of which had a built in EVF. I regard this as having been a major problem for Olympus as cameras without an eye level viewfinder are very difficult to use in bright sunlight or with long lenses.
    At last in 2012 they introduced the OM-D E-M5 with a proper, and as it happened very nice, built in EVF. The E-M5 ticked almost all the boxes [except for the missing built in flash] for a desirable interchangeable lens camera of compact dimensions, good picture quality and performance. It was an instant hit and may have helped rescue Olympus' camera division from oblivion. A large stake by Sony in Olympus no doubt also helped, as did Sony's sensors which lifted M43 imaging performance considerably. My own experience with the E-M5 was mixed, my main difficulties with the camera being in the area of ergonomics, the user interface and user experience.
    Olympus' follow up to the E-M5, the E-M1 (Go figure, the M5 comes before the M1. There must be some kind of logic to that somewhere) appears to have rectified most of the ergonomic deficiencies of the E-M5. It has a well shaped built in handle, the thumb support allows the thumb to angle across the camera a bit more and  the buttons and dials are better laid out. It looks like a winner and most reviews are very positive.
    The Crystal Ball   Olympus' camera division has thus far managed to survive a very dark and bumpy road through life. Apparently it is still making a loss, like most corporations' camera divisions, but there may be light on the horizon. The latest OM-D M43 cameras with built in EVF are very appealing and competent. The Stylus-1 superzoom venture could also be a winner if they get the details right. Olympus might just manage to stay and prosper. Maybe.


    0 0


    This picture has nothing to do with Panasonic or Lumix, but it's one of my favourites. The dog is taking it easy. Apparently there are more camels in Australia than any other country.

     

    Background Panasonic Corporation is a giant Japanese manufacturer which makes all kinds of stuff. It was, I believe, at one stage Japan's largest employer with hundreds of thousands of employees. In recent years Panasonic has fallen on lean times, posting successive annual losses of massive proportions. I believe the camera/ lens division regularly posts losses also. So why does Panasonic bother it's corporate self to make cameras ?   I don't pretend to know the answer to this question. It can hardly be to promote Panasonic brand recognition because the cameras carry a prominent "LUMIX" logo, which means nothing to most people of my acquaintance.
    Panasonic has no  history of making film cameras, unlike Canon, Fuji, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax and Samsung.
    Anyway, for whatever reason, Panasonic got  into the camera business in the digital era. It's first product was the LC5 compact of 2001.  I think this makes Panasonic the most recent entrant into the camera making world. Despite this, the company has built up a high level of in house capability, with expertise in aspheric and other  lenses and most of the mechanical, optical and electronic requirements of still and video cameras. From it's earliest days in camera and lens making, Panasonic partnered with Leica to share expertise between the two companies, one with a long and illustrious history of lens making, the other with electronic capability.
    My Experience of Lumix Cameras  The arrival of the Micro Four Thirds system onto the market was of great interest to me, so I bought a copy of the very first M43 camera, the Lumix G1. In due course this was followed by a G3, GH2, G5, GH3 and G6. I have a GX7 on order. Actually it has been on order for over two months, with no delivery date, about which I am more than a little peeved.  I have owned 10 Lumix lenses in the last 5 years. My regular camera for most of the last year or so has been the GH3 with 12-35 and 35-100mm f2.8 lenses.
    I also owned an LX2 and an LX5 compact for a time.
    DSLR's   In association with Olympus, Panasonic had a brief dalliance with the 4/3 system DSLR. They produced the L1 in 2006 and the L10 in 2007.
    Compacts  Panasonic in it's relatively brief history of making cameras has produced a multitude of different (but often only slightly different)  compact models. The LX2 made reasonably good JPG pictures and better RAW photos. But shot to shot time for RAW capture was about 6 seconds which was just ridiculous. A few years later I got an LX5 which was quite a nice camera. It made good quality pictures and had acceptable ergonomics except it had no built in EVF. This made it difficult to use in sunlight and difficult to hold steady in low light.  I came to realise that a camera without a built in viewfinder was no use to me.
    Micro 4/3 MILC's  Panasonic's first and my first M43 camera was the G1 of 2008.  My experience with this camera started my thinking and research into camera ergonomics, leading eventually to the creation of this blog.
    The problem, you see, was that the G1 had truly awful ergonomics, particularly as regards holding and operating. The shutter button was perched on the end of a small projecting handle, nowhere near where my index finger wanted to find it. The control dial was located beneath and in front of the shutter button where it was impossible to operate without completely releasing the right hand  from the camera. The cursor buttons were impossible for me to locate by feel so they had to be located visually which meant taking the camera down from the eye, completely disrupting the capture process to make adjustments which were required during that process.
    I made many mock up cameras and mock up handle modules, trying to understand what exactly were the problems with this camera.
    The 13 first posts on this blog, from February to April 2012 describe this process in considerable detail.
    I sold the G1 and got a Samsung NX10 which was a much nicer camera to use.
    After a couple of years I came back to Lumix M43 with the G3. This was another ergonomic disaster. The handle had shrunken to vestigial proportions. The cursor buttons were no better. The control dial moved to the rear but was so deeply recessed it could only be operated with the tip of the thumb, just below the nail bed. This was awkward, disrupted the grip and capture process and was painful.
    I was so annoyed with Lumix, I went back to Canon in the form of an EOS 60D and some very well regarded lenses. But this just confirmed my growing view that the DSLR has no future.  The 60D would not focus consistently and I get very unhappy very quickly when presented with multiple randomly out of focus pictures. The whole kit was far larger and heavier than I wanted to carry around and I found the disconnect between eye level view and monitor view disconcerting.
    So it was back to Lumix, this time in the form of the GH2. This camera still had ergonomic problems but it was a modest improvement on previous Lumix G Micro cameras. Then came the  G5 and that provided further modest ergonomic improvements. The handle was a better shape and the shutter button better located.  It appeared that someone in the Lumix design section was beginning to get the message about ergonomics.
    The GH3  provided the biggest jump in ergonomic capability from one model to the next that I  have ever  encountered  in 60 years of using cameras.  Holding, viewing and operating were all dramatically improved over the GH2. I now rate the Lumix GH3 as having very good ergonomics and in fact the best ergonomics of any camera which I have ever used. It is still not perfect however and I have considered  here what improvements could be made to bring it up to an excellent standard.
    Summary On my evaluation Panasonic, the most recent entrant into the camera making club, is also the most improved ergonomically. It's G Micro 4/3 cameras have gone from absolutely dreadful  just a few years ago to very good and in my judgement, better than anything else available right now.   As a bonus, there are now many excellent Lumix and Olympus lenses available for the M4/3 system which becomes more appealing as time passes.
    Crystal Ball  Panasonic has a lot invested in the technology of camera making. Much of this is very high tech with a high barrier to entry by newcomers. They can do imaging sensors, processors, electronics, mechanics, lenses and more. The company seems to be in the business for the long run. I think that  if Panasonic survives, and  if  it's camera division survives and  if said camera division becomes profitable, then Lumix could be positioned to provide some of the industry's better and more interesting products in the years ahead. Panasonic is now making good cameras which are appealing to photographers. But in Australia at least, their marketing is almost invisible. Panasonic really needs to get on top of this.


    0 0


    Rough Road Ahead, Nullarbor Plain. This was the main East-West highway across Australia in 1968. We made it from Sydney to Perth in the vehicle shown in the photo with only minor damage: one flat tyre, one broken windscreen.
     
    Memories of Pentax  I used Asahi Pentax SLR cameras for many years. In the 1960's, 70's and 80's they were the most popular camera for enthusiast amateur photographers.  I started with a Spotmatic then graduated to a ME Super. Many of my favourite old photos were made with these cameras.  I still have fond memories of using them, especially in the genre of street photography, which was much more viable those days than it is today.
    In the 1980's I was exploring options for improved image quality and for a time owned a Pentax 6x7 medium format film SLR. This proved to be something of a monster. A kit with 3 lenses actually weighed more than a 4x5 inch field camera with 3 lenses. It did not last long in my kit but the 4x5 field camera stayed with me for many years.
    Pentax was a technology leader, introducing many features such as through the lens metering,  which we now regard as routine.
    Then Came Autofocus   In the latter part of the 1980's autofocus for SLR cameras was invented. Pentax was late to catch that bus and in consequence fell behind Canon and Nikon in the market place,  never to catch up. Even today, I sometimes read posts on user forums bemoaning inaccurate AF with Pentax DSLR's.
    Our family bought a Pentax film zoom compact about 25 years ago. It worked reasonably well in good light, not so well indoors.
    Apart from that I have not encountered any Pentax product that I might want to buy in the last 30 years. I say that as a long time Pentax fan, so it means Pentax has not been developing products which appeal to me.
    Then Came Mirrorless  Last year Pentax attempted to join the Mirrorless ILC crowd with the K-01, one of the  least well conceived and  poorly executed  cameras  in recent  history. I call it the "Knock Out One", because it sure knocked Pentax' reputation pretty badly.
    The next bright idea from Pentax was the Pentax Q, an MILC with the smallest sensor of any interchangeable lens camera. Just to confuse things they changed the sensor size last year from about 7.5mm diagonal to about 9.3 mm diagonal. The precise purpose of this thing escapes me but apparently they sell reasonably well in Japan. I saw an advertisement for the Q10 in an Australian photographic magazine recently. The main selling point appeared to be that you could get it in "100 different color combinations".  Really, that was the pitch.
    What about Ricoh ?  Ricoh makes office equipment, machines, printers etc. It also has a small division which has been making cameras since 1938. In recent years these have tended to be niche market products.
    About 20 years ago I bought a Ricoh GR1 film compact with fixed 28mm lens. This was actually a nice camera capable of making very good pictures but the 75 degree diagonal angle of view was a bit much for my taste so it did not last long in my bag. 
    In the digital era Ricoh has continued to make derivatives of the GR1, to a generally favourable reception by a loyal band of Ricoh afficionados, who like to point out the camera's good ergonomics. Which is fine except the digital ones lack an eye level viewfinder. Oops.
    In 2009 Ricoh introduced the GXR camera concept, the defining feature of which was it's interchangeable "Lensor" (Lens+sensor in one module) modules. Unfortunately for Ricoh, the market generally ignored the GXR which will go down in camera history as yet another failed bright idea.
    Ricoh acquired Pentax in 2011, which is the reason they are grouped together here.
    The Crystal Ball  In the absence of some dramatic revitalisation of the Ricoh/Pentax camera division I think the future is bleak. Both Ricoh and Pentax are making cameras with at best limited appeal. Neither is flourishing in the marketplace. Both have tried to rescue the situation with brave new products which flopped badly. I hate to think that a camera brand which was such an important part of my early and formative photographic years is about to disappear but that does seem to be a likely outcome.


    0 0


    Photo made with Samsung EX-1.
     
    Samsung Cameras  The name Samsung describes a gigantic South Korean Chaebol (business conglomerate) which is involved in manufacturing almost everything from ships to (electronic) chips. Somewhere, almost lost in the Samsung behemoth,  is a tiny camera division. This made compact film cameras for many years. In the digital era Samsung briefly teamed with Pentax, supplying imaging sensors for co-branded Samsung/Pentax DSLR's.
    My experience with Samsung Cameras  In 2010 I bought a Samsung NX10.  This was Samsung's first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. For a first effort I thought it was pretty good. It featured quite good ergonomics and a likeable user interface. It was almost exactly the same size as the Panasonic Lumix G1 but was much better shaped, easier to hold and more efficient to operate. I  learned a lot about ergonomics by analysing and comparing these two cameras.  I discovered that two cameras which are the same size and which superficially look very similar can provide a very different user experience. I discovered that it is possible to analyse, name and categorise the ergonomic elements of that difference. The NX10 was followed by the NX11, a very mild upgrade of essentially the same camera. I briefly tried an NX100 but rediscovered that my camera must have an inbuilt viewfinder.
     I also for a time owned a Samsung EX-1 (TL500). This was a quite sophisticated compact camera with decent ergonomics apart from the absence of a built in viewfinder.  It was plentifully endowed with hard controls for the expert user. But it had a serious flaw in the form of  a strong tendency to overexposure with subjects having a high brightness range (bright sunny conditions). Since these conditions are extremely common in Sydney, Australia where I live, the camera did not last long in my bag.
    After the NX10/11   I thought Samsung's early MILC efforts showed real promise for future development.   It seemed to me that someone who understands cameras, photographers and the basic principles of ergonomics appeared to be influential in the NX camera design team.
    Maybe that person resigned or died, I have no idea,  but subsequent Samsung digital cameras started to veer away from the early photographer friendly style to a more "electronic" style, possibly in line with the company's smart phone business.
    Samsung brought the "i-Function" feature into it's lens collection. I analysed this feature  here  and found it to be without ergonomic merit. It was, in my view a gimmick, perhaps designed to create a point of difference between Samsung and other brands. 
    I bought a total of 10 lenses for the NX system over the years and found that as time went on it appeared to me that quality control in the manufacture of theses lenses was declining leading to an increase in faults and decentering errors.
    Performance was never a strong feature of the NX10 and 11 but I hoped it would improve with the NX20. It did not. The NX20 retained the sluggish performance and tediously slow shot to shot times of the NX10.
    So I abandoned Samsung and returned to the M4/3 system where they still make real cameras.  Samsung went on to make their cameras look ever more like "Smart phone with lens". The latest iteration of this theme is the Samsung Galaxy NX, which appears to be an attempt to merge a Galaxy tablet (in the rear) with a viewfinder (on top) and a lens (out in front)  This thing must be operated entirely by touch screen although actually doing so appears almost physically impossible. How anybody could hold the thing, look through the viewfinder and operate the touch screen all at the same time is beyond me.
    Actually the Galaxy NX looks to me like an example of asyndesis.  This is a disorder in which separate ideas or thoughts cannot be joined into a coherent concept. It is not uncommon in the drawings of people suffering from schizophrenia. It might appear as a car with a horse's head at the front,  or some similar juxtaposition which makes no sense to the viewer but generally has some kind of significance to the artist.  Presumably the Galaxy NX means something to it's creators but I don't get it.

    The Crystal Ball   I have no idea at all about the possible direction of  Samsung's future in the imaging business. Not a clue. The vast majority of photographs made with a Samsung device utilise a smartphone. I have no idea whether there is a place in the Samsung empire for proper cameras. Frankly I can't think of any reason why there would be. Most entities which have a camera division are making a loss on their camera business so why would Samsung want to go there ?  


    0 0


    Out of control ?
     
    Last but not Least in this roundup by manufacturer, we come to Sony. Like Panasonic, this is another very large Japanese corporation with a camera division. Also like Panasonic, Sony is heavily invested in the technology of imaging. It is a major provider of imaging sensors to makers of smartphones, surveillance equipment makes and, of course, cameras. As far as I am aware Sony sensors have found their way into one or several models from Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, and of course, Sony itself.   
    Sony and Cameras  Sony has no legacy of film camera making but was very early onto the digital photography scene. The Sony Mavica [Magnetic Video Camera] of 1981 was the world's first still video camera, if that makes sense. Sony has been making digital cameras ever since.  The company bought the photo imaging division of Konica Minolta in 2006 to boost it's presence in the DSLR market.
    My Experience of Sony Cameras  Is limited. I have never encountered a Sony camera that I wanted to buy for my own use, which is interesting because I have no brand affiliation and have bought cameras from most other makers over the years. I did buy an RX100 for a family member who was about to embark on an ultra long distance hike, solo, fully independent and camping. The requirement was for a very small, light camera with good image quality and the RX100 fit the bill. I would never have bought this camera for myself as it was not particularly pleasant to use in the ergonomic sense, and had no viewfinder.  
    Sony -vs- CanoNikon  Sony has been trying for years to capture the number 1 spot from Canon and Nikon but has thus far been unsuccessful.
    Sony and Innovation  Sony Corporation as a whole and the camera division in particular has a long history of adventurous innovation, often leading to interesting products but not always to commercial success.
    For instance the DSC-D700 of 1999 was very adventurous, acquiring almost legendary status over time.  The DSC-R1 of  2003 was an avant-garde Bridge Camera type design which to this day attracts enthusiast interest.
    But innovation risks inconsistency, as we shall see.  
    Superzoom/Bridge Camera Group   Sony generated considerable consumer interest with the R1, so what goodies awaited the Sony fans when the R2  was released ?  Well, none. Nothing. No R2. End of the line, folks.
    Sony has since then released multitudes of travel zoom and superzoom cameras none of which made a great impression on the market.  
    Fast forward 10 years and Sony has returned to the advanced  Bridge Camera  theme  just this month with the RX10, which is creating a great deal of interest on user forums. Imagine what user base they could have built up if they had stayed with the formula and been steadily improving the bridge camera breed over that 10 year period. By the way, the RX10 appears to have significant ergonomic problems as reported on this blog recently.
    Compacts Sony has turned out so many slightly different models of compact camera over the years it would be difficult to count them. What they failed to do was identify and stay the course with an appealing, photographer oriented formula like, for instance the Canon G compact series.
    Now Sony has at last produced an interesting compact in the form of the RX100/100Mk2. Will they stay with this and develop the theme or drop it like the R1 ?
    DSLR  Sony made it's entry into the traditional flipping mirror and prism DSLR market with the A100 of 2006. Then came the A700, A900 and A850 then..........they dropped this idea completely.
    The next big DSLR idea was a series of cameras based on the "Two Mode Live View" technology. This utilised a sub sensor in the hump for live view at eye level. This type of DSLR ran for about two years. In this time Sony produced many slightly different models. Some of these were quite well reviewed, others drew stern criticism from reviewers. One of them, the A380 I think, generated this comment form a well known review site....."The inadequate pinchy handgrip is frankly just annoying.."
    Looking at photos of this series of models (in the A350-580 range) there appears to have been litttle consistency of ergonomic execution. There are various different handle shapes, control layouts and user interface arrangements. They surely can't all be right but they could all be wrong.
    The next big enthusiasm was the SLT type of DSLR, with a fixed, non flipping mirror starting in 2010. Again the previous type appears to have been abandoned. Again Sony produced a multitude of models each so slightly and confusingly different from the other, that  one wondered what the point of the exercise might have been.
    Mirrorless ILC  Sony entered the MILC market with it's line of NEX cameras in 2010. These featured ultra compact bodies with APS-C sensor. Many reviewers roundly criticised the NEX ergonomics and user interface. Initial models had no EVF but eventually the NEX 7 then NEX 6  (the 7 before the 6, go figure) appeared with EVF. The NEX 7 also had the  unique and, in my view ergonomically irrational "Tri-Navi" control wheel system. Sony changed the name of this system to something else after a while but I forget what the new name was supposed to be.
    My point is that Sony keeps changing things, often for no apparent beneficial purpose and usually to the effect of confusing any actual or potential Sony customers.
    Now just this week, I hear the NEX line is no longer. Sony is up to it's old tricks again, starting camera lines then abandoning them just as the customer base begins to warm to that particular theme.
    At the same time Sony has announced the introduction of yet another camera/lens mount system in the form of the FE system, the first examples of which are the A7 and A7R MILC's. These cameras require lenses which are different from those for the A mount or the E mount.  On my early assessment the A7 appears to have significant ergonomic problems also.
    Here we go again. It's all change at Sony.
    So, why is Sony the adventurous not Sony the market leader ?  In my view:
    * Too many major changes to camera lines involving new lens mounts and completely new lens lines.
    * Too many enthusiasms, leading to camera lines being started then discontinued.
    * Too many similar models within each line.
    * Inconsistent ergonomics, often leading to compromised user interface, camera handling and operation.
    Motor vehicle makers understand these things. The market wants innovation, but not too much and not all at once.  For instance Toyota has a line of vehicles called Corolla. Cars of this name have occupied the same market slot since 1966 and become the best selling car nameplate of all time. Not one of them has been technologically adventurous but they all keep up with the times and reliably do the job required of them. If you move from the previous model Corolla to the new model you can hop in and drive it away with confidence because you know all the essential controls will be in the same, optimal place for safety and efficient operation.
    I don't think these fundamental and I would have thought obviously desirable qualities can be said to apply to Sony cameras over time.
    Sony -vs- CanoNikon again  In my previous posts in this little roundup series, I accused Canon and Nikon of falling asleep on the job. Sony appears to have the opposite  problem, namely a style notably at the hyperactive end of the spectrum.
    The Crystal Ball  Sony Corporation has the technology, capacity for innovation and energy to be market leader in the camera world. I believe the reasons they are not can be found inside Sony itself, not with any of their competitors. The prize of market leader is there for Sony to take. Can Sony sustain the necessary coherent, disciplined strategy for product development ?    I think the answer to that is.......maybe.........
    You see, I suspect that the Sony guys understand technology really well but have a much less coherent  understanding of cameras and their users.  We shall see..................


    0 0
  • 11/02/13--21:12: Who Uses Cameras ?

  • Casual snapshot made on my early morning walk. Lumix GH3 with Lumix 14-140mm lens.
     
    The Future of Cameras, Part 1 of 4


    Declining Camera Sales  The total number of cameras sold each year has been declining for several years. I read recent reports that the decline has now started to affect interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) as well as compacts. Despite or perhaps because of this manufacturers are pushing onto the market cameras which feature a multitude of different types, styles, specifications, sizes, sensor sizes and technologies.  To a somewhat jaded consumer like myself it looks as though they are blindfolded, throwing out  lots of different product variations in all directions hoping that one of them appeals to enough willing consumers to make it viable.
    Getting the Cart before the Horse   I read a lot of analysis and discussion on websites and user forums about cameras. All manner of things are discussed, such as size, pixels, control layouts, styling and much more.
    But it seems to me there is little to be gained by these discussions if we are unaware of the intended user and that user's requirements for a camera.
    I am just a consumer with no inside knowlege of any camera maker or vendor.  But it seems to me that over the last few years many new product releases advertise a selling point which has nothing to do with the likely requirements of many actual users.  Like, it comes in 100 color combinations, or it's really, really small, or it has some ridiculously large number of pixels in there somewhere.  I will return to this in Part 2 of this little series.
    Groups of Camera Users  This is a simplification, of course,  but  I think it provides a useful basis for thinking about the kinds of cameras which people might want to buy and keep on using.
    I propose that there are four main groups of people who make photographs and three groups who use cameras.
    Those who use smartphones
    These are mostly snapshooters.  Here we find  people who don't want to be bothered with apertures, shutter speeds and all that technical stuff. They have better things to do. These people make photos in opportunistic fashion. Pictures are incidentalto the day's events. This is by far the largest number of people who make photos of some kind. They use smartphones in a casual way and rely on the automaticfunctions of the device.
    Having said all that I know that some professional photographers use smartphones sometimes. Fine, but the smartphone is not their main tool of work.
    People who use cameras   
    Camera users relate to the capture process in a different way from smartphone users.  Their picture taking is  premeditated.  Making photographs is integral to the day's events. It is one of the events.
    I  identify three groups of camera users.  These are Aspirational Snapshooters, Enthusiast/Experts and Professionals.
    Aspirational Snapshooters still have their camera set to the [green camera symbol] or similar automatic mode on the dial. But they have aspirations. They want to learn more about using a camera on one of the "expert" modes.  Maybe they plan to attend a photography course some time soon. Manybe they aspire to better results, getting published or winning a photo competition.  These users will often select a DSLR or advanced compact bristling with buttons and dials which for the moment remain underutilised.  Maybe their self esteem is boosted by using an advanced camera.  My point is this group will select a somewhat advanced camera model not a simplified model which can only be used in point and shoot mode.
    The Enthusiast/Expert group is fairly self explanatory. These people are interested in the process of making photographs and like to work diligently to improve both their competence in the process of image capture and the quality of their results.
    Professionals have to make money from their photography so as a group they tend to be more pragmatic about equipment choices than the other user groups. They are little affected by marketing hype and more interested in using equipment which reliably gets the job done.
    Each of the user groups is likely to use cameras in a deliberativefashion, thinking about the process of camera work as a means to the imaging outcome. Professionals and Experts do and Aspirational Snapshooters would like to engagewith the  camera, to turn  it off automatic mode and  take control  of the capture process.


    Next, the user experience.


     


     


     


     


     


    0 0
  • 11/02/13--21:19: The User Experience

  • Feed Me
    This is hardly an example of excellence in bird photography. However I got the shot only because I had in my hand a light, compact micro 4/3 camera and lens combination at the time. This is a 5.4 Mpx crop of the original frame.
     
    The Future of Cameras, Part 2 of 4
    In the good old days  way back when when we used film, way back near the beginning of the Twentieth Century, Eastman Kodak  created the marketing slogan...."You press the shutter, we do the rest"...  With this slogan and the Box Brownie camera,  Kodak created the snapshooter.
    Prior to this you almost needed a degree in physics and chemistry to make any kind of photo at all.   In due course the Box Brownie was replaced by the ubiquitous film compact camera. This in turn gave way to the digital compact camera and then to the smart phone. 
    No longer do snapshooters need any kind of  separate camera at all.
    The Snapshooter  User Experience  In the smartphone era, the snapshooter does not want to carry a separate device just in case they want to make a photograph.  More easily than any camera the smartphone can genuinely be carried in a pocket and be ready for use in a second or two.
    The user does not want to engage with the smartphone camera's technical imaging function. He or she just wants to view on the screen, swipe to bring up the camera function and press. Selected pictures can be quickly uploaded to any accessible cyber location.  This type of photography emphasises spontaneity, speed, convenience and connectivity.
    The Camera User Experience  If my analysis is correct snapshooters will not need to buy cameras at all. Therefore they will not do so. In fact, already smartphones suit the snapshooter's requirements better than the great majority of cameras.
    This means the only users who will buy a separate, dedicated camera are the Aspirational Snapshooters, Expert/Enthusiasts and Professionals.
    Way back in those good old days of film the snapshooters used compacts and the other three groups mostly used single lens reflex cameras.  The key feature of an old style, all manual SLR was that in order to operate the thing effectively you had to engage with it. You had to learn about apertures, shutter speeds, film speed and depth of field. You had to practice using the device to gain sufficient competence to drive it effectively.
    I take the view that while camera technology has changed, some things have not changed. One is that cameras today still use the same primary exposure and focussing variables that cameras have always used.
    Another is that people's aspirations about photography are much as they have ever been. Some are casual about it, others more intense, involved and engaged.
    Consider also that camera user's functional anatomy has not changed at all. Their eyes, hands fingers and brains work exactly as they have done for thousands of years.  
    In the Capture Phase of  use, the user has to do three things: Hold the camera securely, Viewthe subject and key camera data and  Operatethe device. This means adjusting the  primary exposure variables (Aperture, Shutter Speed, Sensor gain) secondary exposure variables (Exposure Compensation, White Balance) primary focus variables (start/lock AF, MF) and secondary focus variables (position and size of the active AF/MF area, AFS/AFC). 
    The user who wants to take control of all this requires three things: A camera which makes these adjustments readily achievable in capture phase, a desire to do so and sufficient practice to enable all these things to be observed and adjusted effectively while making photographs.
    For many years, camera makers have promoted their products as being ......."So easy to use"..........I think they have been barking up the wrong gum tree.  Those who want easy to use will get a smartphone. In the past, they got a compact camera which operated on fully automatic.
    The key to enjoying the experience of using a camera is engagement with the process.
    In the next post I will describe the characteristics of cameras which facilitate this engagement.


    0 0
  • 11/02/13--21:27: The Future of Cameras

  • Plenty of imaging capability from a hand held micro four thirds camera with consumer
    10x superzoom lens.
     
    Desirable Characteristics of Cameras
    The Future of Cameras,  Part 3 of a 4 part Series


    Review  In the previous two posts in this 4 part series I offered some thoughts about camera user groups and also non user groups, then briefly explored the nature of the user experience.
    Good Cameras Now I want to explore what qualities and characteristics make a good camera. Specifically, what kinds of cameras provide a satisfying user experience.
    Engagement    The key word is engagement. The user is encouraged by the interface  to engage with the device in a collaborative picture making process.  Using the camera is enjoyable. That does not necessarily mean simple or easy in the sense that a snapshot device is easy. It means the device is designed for optimum picture making performance by a practised user.
    But what about the novice user and the aspirational snapshooter ?   Fully automatic Mode saves the day. The beginner can start on fully auto then graduate to the user control modes with more experience.
    Characteristics of individual cameras
    The Proper Camera  The first step on the road to good ergonomics is the proper camera. This the term I use to encapsulate some key characteristics which I believe every camera should have. These are the primary features by which a camera can be distinguished from a smartphone or some other multifunction device which happens to be able to take photos.
    I described it more fully  here  but to summarise, the proper camera has:
    * An ergonomic body the shape of which conforms to the hands  and fingers of ordinary humans. It has an anatomically shaped handle and thumb support.
    * A responsive, good quality built in electronic viewfinder. Yes, an electronic one, not an optical one. Read more about this here.
    * An articulated monitor.
    * A built in flash and with cameras above compact size, the ability to use accessory on and off camera flash units.
    * An ergonomic user interface. This enables the user to quickly perceive and adjust primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters while in the Capture Phase of use, without having to remove the eye from the viewfinder and without having to substantially shift grip with either hand on the camera. 
    * Responsive performance. The camera must respond immediately to the user's control inputs and not impede the flow of the picture taking process.
    Note that many cameras on the market today do not meet my Proper Camera criteria and in my view are damaging the reputation of cameras generally, thereby driving even more people to use smartphones.
    Camera line-ups   I think  there are far too many slightly different models of camera on the market today. In many cases the multitude of different types and models is confusing. Well, it's confusing to me and I know a lot about cameras.  Furthermore it seems to me that many of these models are not clearly targeted to one of the user groups which I outlined in the first part of this series.
    Here is my suggestion for a consumer camera line up which might be offered by one of the major manufacturers:  Note again I believe they should ALLqualify as Proper Cameras using my suggested criteria, including the compacts.
    1. Compacts:  with two levels of specification
    * Entry
    * Expert/professional. Yes professionals use compacts too.
    As envisaged by me a major manufacturer would offer just two compacts in the lineup at any time. Not twenty as is sometimes the case at present. This would enable  manufacturers to concentrate their energies on fewer products each properly executed and it would help  consumers make a choice.
    2. All in Ones  (a.k.a. bridge cameras) I think this type of camera has a big future. Why ?  Because the key to good camera design is good ergonomics and the least ergonomically desirable feature of interchangeable lens cameras [ILC's] is changing lenses.  I hate changing lenses and I bet many people do also. So if photographers can get a versatile range of focal lengths, good quality and good performance in a camera which does not require changing lenses, then they will go for it. The feasibility of bridge cameras has greatly increased in recent years with the improvement in performance of small imaging sensors and cost effective fabrication of aspheric lens elements, which allow zoom lenses to be made smaller.
    I think three levels of specification could be appropriate for this class of camera:
    * Entry
    * Expert/Enthusiast
    * Professional
    3. Interchangeable Lens Cameras  In my proposed and predicted camera universe these will all be of Mirrorless type [MILC].  I think two levels of specification would be appropriate for this class of camera:
    * Expert/Enthusiast.  Beginners can happily use this level of camera on  Fully Auto Mode. They can then graduate to the user control modes without having to buy a new camera body to get decent ergonomics and performance.
    * Professional. There is likely room for two sub levels in the professional category, for instance one model for high speed, sport/action and another  model for high resolution.
    So, that gives us a total of about 8 camera models across the entire line up of a major manufacturer.
    I think that most of the models offered by camera makers in their current line-ups are just product clutter. There are really not enough different user groups and not enough different operational requirements to justify the profusion of models which we see at present.
    You might ask,  why not ?  Why should the makers not produce a plethora of models as long as somebody is willing to buy them ?   Two reasons:
    *  Too many models increases the cost of every camera as each generates  R&D expenditure.
    * The process of churning out many models prevents designers and makers from fully developing the ergonomic design, user interface, function and performance of any of them. Us consumers are subjected to a stream of sub-standard products which are a credit to no maker and damage the reputation of the whole camera industry.
    * I could add a third reason, namely that less and less consumers are in fact buying cameras. Camera designers, product developers and makers need to review their entire product portfolios, with a view to making better products, not more products.
    Next:  Cameras without which the photography world will be a better place.


     


     


     


     


     


    0 0
  • 11/02/13--21:37: Cameras We Don't Need

  • Paper Bark. Lumix GH3 with Lumix 14-140mm lens

     

    The Future of Cameras,  Part 4 of a 4 part series


    Many cameras on the market today are promoted as having characteristics which are of dubious relevance to the craft of good photography. In  no particular order here are some of my pet peeves:
    * Really Small  One version of this is "We squeezed the biggest sensor into the smallest camera body"  As if smallness was an intrinsically virtuous attribute of a camera. Of course what usually happens is you get a teensy little thing with no handle, no viewfinder, no articulated monitor and a limited set of tiny, poorly designed controls.
    But look !!  It scores 3500 line pairs per image height on the IQ comparometer widget measurbator thingy. 
    Wow!! For people who want to spend the rest of their lives photographing test charts this camera is just the thing.
    As it happens I have shown to my own satisfaction here that it is possible to build decent ergonomics into a small camera. But very few actual small cameras on the market today are remotely close to ergonomic excellence.
    * Retro Styling  Why ?  Have today's camera designers run out of ideas ?  Why do they think that shaping a modern electronic camera vaguely like someone's supposedly favourite camera from the 1980's is a good idea ?  The user interface requirements of a camera which has a huge monitor covering it's back side and several million combinations of  control module options are going to be rather different from those of  a 1980's film camera.
    * Lots and Lots of Pixels  More is better, right ? Nonsense.  For the great majority of photographic purposes 8 megapixels does a fine job. Some professionals with specific requirements for very high image resolution will need and use lots more pixels but for most of us enough is enough.  I am getting from my 16Mpx Micro Four Thirds cameras about the same level of image information as I achieved with medium format film several years ago. More pixels per sensor demands better and therefore more expensive lenses, more in camera processing power and more computer power with little guarantee of detectably better picture quality in most circumstances.
    * Larger sensorCamera makers seem to be rushing to produce full frame cameras at the moment, presumably in the hope of generating better per unit profit and presumably seeking to upsell existing customers to something "better". I think they are launching a kite which will not fly well. Professionals  may need the amount of information contained in a full frame image but they are using full frame already.
    * Touch ScreensYes, I know, some people say they love their touch screens. I don't get it. I have done an ergonomic analysis of trying to operate a camera while looking through the viewfinder and it just doesn't work for me. My anatomy is the same as anyone else's.
    * Funky Features  Modern cameras are often loaded to the gills with these in numbers beyond counting.  Art filters, Motion Picture Snapshot Mode (or some such), Best Shot Mode (as if the camera could figure out better than you which is the best shot of a sequence).......and  on and on....... Some of these cameras are burdened with slower shot to shot times than I could manage in 1969 with an all manual film camera.  They would serve their users better by putting the camera's processing power to more effective purpose.
    * Digital SLR cameras  This is a bit unfair to DSLR's as there is nothing wrong with them as a camera type. They are just a manifestation of 20th century technology and we are now well into the 21st century. Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras [MILC]  have less parts and the parts which they do have are more amenable to mass production (ie. electronic vs optical/mechanical). Therefore they are inherently less expensive to make. They are lighter and more compact. They have many desirable features relating to operation and the user interface.  When they have resolved the issue of follow focus on fast moving subjects  (some of them are almost there)  I believe it will be game over for the DSLR.  Soon.
    * Cameras without an EVF   If a camera does have a viewfinder the operator has the choice to use it or not, depending on the circumstances. But if the camera lacks a viewfinder that choice is lost. Smartphones lack viewfinders. The presence of a viewfinder  needs to be one of the defining characteristics of a camera.
    * Cameras without an ergonomic handle and thumb support  Ergonomic shaping is another feature by which cameras need to distinguish themselves from smartphones. Ergonomic excellence should be a feature of every camera but so many of them are dismally awful.
    Summary  I think most of the camera types and models on the market today will or should disappear from the photographic universe. Us consumers need less models and less different types of camera, probably from fewer manufacturers. We need cameras which are better  designed with excellent ergonomics. Cameras which are a pleasure to use.
    The camera business is currently undergoing the greatest changes in history. Making the transition from film to digital was difficult enough but a minor event compared to the present situation.
    The challenge to established cameras comes from three disruptive innovations. One, the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera comes from within the industry.  The other two are from outside the camera industry. These are the photo capability of the smartphone and the internet.
    It will be interesting to see which if any of the camera companies rises to these multiple challenges.  Apple Camera, anyone ?


    0 0
  • 11/03/13--01:02: Calling Them Names

  • Fire's Out
     
    The importance of naming cameras and their characteristics


    What kind of camera is it ?  I was recently visiting with family. One person got a beaut new white Nikon 1 V2 camera with a 10-100mm superzoom lens for her birthday. She loved it. And it was stolen a few days later. Ouch.
    Anyway, back to my story........Another family member asked  "What Kind of camera is that ?"  Is it a DSLR ?  .....Well....no.....it's one of those other ones....It's a ...............oh,  heck........... it's a nice white one................good for the boys' soccer.................
    The Importance of Naming  Ideas, principles, medical conditions and devices all need a name. Until the idea or thing has a name it has not yet acquired a recognisable identity. People cannot identify it, ask about it or conduct a discussion about it. Something without a name hardly exists.
    Names of Camera Types  The names of established cameras have historical roots. So we have the "View Camera" so named because you directly view an  image of the subject on the focussing screen.  Then someone invented the "Twin Lens Reflex" [TLR] camera, which made it possible to preview the subject without having to look through the taking lens and without requiring the dark cloth. The "Rangefinder" camera was so named because it had a ........yes you guessed it......an optical rangefinder (messsucher with 3 s's in German) for estimating focus.  The Single Lens Reflex [SLR] camera found a way to eliminate the upper lens of a TLR and was perhaps the best camera idea of the 20th Century. Small film cameras with a simple optical viewfinder and mainly automatic controls were called "Compact", for obvious reasons.
    Fast forward to the 21st Century and things have become a bit more complicated. Compacts are still compact so they keep the name. SLR's got digital sensors so they become DSLR's.
    The new Camera Type
    But now we have this new (well, new since 2008 anyway)  type of camera with interchangeable lenses but which is not a DSLR. And so far there has been no general agreement as to what we should call it.
    Let us review some of the contenders for naming.
    CSC, Compact System Camera. This was initially adopted by several groups but has not  gained universal acceptance.  I think this is because the name does not really convey a sense of the nature of the device. Any such camera might or might not be "Compact" but so might any other kind of camera. "System" is a bit non specific. Any particular camera of this type may or may not be part of a recognisable camera/lens/accessory system.
    DSLM,  Digital Single Lens Mirrorless is Panasonic's recent attempt to name the beast, but has not been well accepted even in Panasonic World. I notice on various Panasonic National websites MILC, ILC and CSC also being used. Calling a digital camera "Digital" in a world where 99% of cameras are digital is just redundant. Calling it "Single Lens" in a world with no new "Twin Lens" cameras is meaningless.  
    ILC, Interchangeable Lens Camera.  Some of Sony's recent model releases have been advertised with this prefix. Some of the same cameras have also attracted different prefixes so I think you could say things are in a state of flux at Sony, or maybe total confusion.
    MILC, Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera.  Much as I dislike naming something for a component which it lacks, this name conveys several things  meaningful about the nature of the device. One day when interchangeable lens cameras with a mirror (DSLR's) have become a minor or absent player in the camera world, we can drop the M and just call them ILC's.
    So, MILC is my preferred name for the reasons given.

    Bridge Cameras  Several manufacturers brought these onto the market about ten years ago.    Presumably they did not sell very well because they slipped into the background until recently. Sony is trying to revive the type with it's RX10 "all in one" camera.  The name "Bridge" was a reference to the idea that this camera type might be a bridge between compacts and DSLR's.
    Recent improvements in the performance of small sensors and mass production of aspheric lenses have made these cameras more viable than they were previously. I think they could suit many photographers very well. But we can't keep calling them bridge cameras because they are not really a bridge from somewhere to somewhere else. If well executed one of these cameras could be all many photographers ever need.  So we need a meaningful name for them.  "All in one" sounds like some kind of kitchen appliance.
    After some doodling on the back of an envelope I came up with HPZ,  High Performance Zoom.  I think this encapsulates some of the characteristics of the type.
    Sensor Sizes  Once upon a time, way back in the good old days we had film sizes. There was 4x5 inch large format, various kinds of medium format and the ubiquitous 35millimeter double sprocket size which was actually based on  movie film. There was a bit of confusion with medium format film sizes and there were some "Half Frame" sizes on 35mm film but I think most camera users understood their film sizes pretty well.
    Fast forward to the early part of the 21st Century and we now have a profusion of sensor sizes.  Various naming attempts have arisen in haphazard fashion. Some are named for the cathode ray tube diameter which in 1950 might have been needed to deliver that particular size of light sensitive device. I could hardly think of a less relevant way of naming sensor size 60 years later but that is the basis of the Nikon 1 and Four Thirds/Micro Four Thirds sensor size names  The 24x36mm size which used to be known as "Miniature" is now called "Full Frame".
    Fortunately there is a simple, useful and consistent way to describe sensor sizes. That is by measuring and quoting the diagonal of the sensor. Easy. The table below gives the most common ones.


    Type

    Aspect Ratio

    Dimensions in mm Exact dimensions may vary

    Diagonal in mm

    Area in

    squ  mm

    Traditional 35mm

    3:2

    24x36

    43

    864

    APS-C Nikon, Sony etc

    3:2

    15.6x23.5

    28

    367

    APS-C Canon

    3:2

    14.9x22.3

    27

    332

    Four Thirds/Micro Four Thirds

    4:3

    13x17.3

    21.5

    225

    One inch, Nikon 1, Sony 1"

    3:2

    8.8x13.2

    15.9

    116

    2/3inch, Fuji X10/20

    4:3

    6.6x8.8

    11

    58

    1/1.7 inch, many compacts

    4:3

    varies but about 5.6x7.5

    9.35

    42

    1/2inch, some Fuji cameras

    4:3

    4.8x6.4

    8

    30

    1/2.3 inch, many small compacts, superzooms

    4:3

    varies but about 4.6x6.1

    7.72

    28.5


     

    Lens Angles of View  Once upon a time, when lots of photographers used 35mm cameras there was widespread understanding that a "28mm" lens was a wide angle lens and a "24mm lens" was even wider. A 600mm was a real super telephoto. Today very few people learn photography (if they ever learn it) on a camera with a sensor measuring 24x36mm. Most cameras have a  much smaller sensor.  But camera makers and reviewers persist in referring to the angle of view of the lens in terms of focal lengths which would give the same angle of view on a camera with 24x36mm sensor.  In fact some even inscribe "Equivalent" focal lengths on the data panel of compact camera lenses.     This is totally irrational and confusing to absolutely everybody.
    Thankfully, as with sensor sizes there is a simple and  robust solution to this problem. In fact it is so simple I am at a loss to understand why it has not already been widely adopted.
    The answer is to quote the diagonal angle of view of the lens and in the case of zooms the maximum and minimum diagonal angles of view.  You can see some of these in the table below.
    In this table I have given some focal length equivalents for 43mm and 21.5mm sensors.


    Focal length for 43mm sensor (so called full frame)

    Diagonal Angle of View

    Focal Length for 21.5 mm sensor (4/3 and m4/3)

    Description of angle of view

    14

    114

    7

    Ultra wide

    24

    84

    12

    Wide

    28

    75

    14

    Wide

    35

    65

    17.5

    Moderately wide/wide standard

    40

    57

    20

    Standard

    50

    47

    25

    Standard

    70

    34

    35

    Portrait

    150

    16

    75

    Short telephoto

    200

    12

    100

    Moderate telephoto

    300

    8.2

    150

    Medium long telephoto

    400

    6.0

    200

    Long telephoto

    600

    4.1

    300

    Super telephoto

     

     

     

     


     

    If this convention was promoted by photo websites,  publications and manufacturers I think it would  be accepted readily. I think camera users will easily be able to visualise an angle of view stated numerically together with a one or two word verbal description of the angle of view.


     


    0 0


    Powered By Zooperman
     
    a.k.a. 14-140mm Mk2
    Another little gem from PanaLumix
    Panasonic  has been rolling out some very appealing zoom lenses under the Lumix label in the last two years.  The 12-35mm f2.8 and 35-100mm f2.8 have set a new standard for others to follow. The standard kit zoom 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 Mk2 has been very well reviewed as has the even newer and remarkably diminutive 12-32mm f3.5-5.6.
    The Superzoom  From the early days of the M43 system PanaLumix had a 14-140mm f4-5.8 10x zoom which delivered decent but never inspiring performance. This year (2013) a Mk2 version was released. This is smaller, lighter and better optically than the original, making a much more convincing case for the "all in one" travel zoom lens.
    I have had one for several months and made about 2000 exposures with it in a wide variety of conditions, mounted on either a GH3 or G6 body.


    14-140mm on Lumix G6

    Description    The 14-140mm Mk2 is a very light compact superzoom lens for the M43 system. It is compatible with Panasonic Lumix and Olympus M43 cameras.


    Dimensions  I thought just for fun I would compare the M43 14-140 Mk2 with the lens which provides near equal angle of view and aperture range for a "Full Frame" camera ie. one with a sensor having a diagonal of 43mm. This actually exists in the form of the Canon EF 28-300mm f3.5-5.6.


    Lens

    Diagonal Angle of View

    Zoom Range

    Length

    mm

    Diameter

    mm

    Filter

    mm

    Mass

    grams

    Box Volume

    cc

    Price in Aust

    AU$

    Comment

    Canon EF

    28-300

    mm

    75-8.2 degrees

    10.7x

    194

    92

    77

    1670

    1642

    2931

    Push Pull zoom

    Trombone type

    Lumix 14-140

    mm

    75-8.8 degrees

    10x

    75

    67

    58

    265

    336

    765

    Rotating zoom collar


     
    The EF lens for full frame has 5 times the volume, 6 times the mass and 4 times the price of the 14-140 for M43. 
    If we compare the 14-140mm on a Lumix G6 with the EF28-300mm on an EOS 6D, the Canon kit has 3.7x the mass and 3x the price.
    The photo below shows the massive difference in size between the Canon EOS kit and the M43 kit (using a GX7).   The actual Canon lens is not black but ivory color as with other Canon L series long lenses.


    On the left, small Canon EOS body with mocked up EF 28-300mm to show relative size. The actual lens is off white.  In the center, Lumix 14-140mmm on Lumix GX7. On the right, Sony RX10 mocked up to show relative size.
     
     I included a Sony RX10 in this photo.   The Sony representation is a bit rough but is accurate as to scale.   With this interesting new release Sony is going after the all in one, high performance zoom market. It uses a smaller (15.9mm) sensor than M43 (which is 21.5mm). The  lens has a smaller zoom range (8.3x) but a wider aperture (constant f2.8) so they are not exactly comparable. It is interesting though, that the are almost exactly the same size and the Sony is heavier than the 14-140 on G6 or GX7.  
    Here is a table comparing the two:
    Camera Kit

    Width mm

    Height mm

    Depth mm

    Box Volume

    cc

    Mass with batt

    grams

    Diagonal Angle of View

    Degrees

    Zoom Range

    Lens fstop

    Price AUD in Australia

    Sony RX10

    129

    88

    102

    1158

    813

    84-12

    8.3

    f2.8

    1449

    Lumix G6 + 14-140mm Mk2

    120

    84

    126

    1270

    670

    75-8.8

    10

    f3.5-5.6

    1537


     

    All this is by way of putting numbers on the fact that the 14-140 lens on any M43 camera provides a very light compact 10x zoom, easily carried all day. 
    The 14-140mm fits easily (with the smaller bodies) or snugly (with the GH3) into a Lowe Pro Apex 110 AW shoulder bag.

     
    Other Physical/Mechanical Characteristics
    The 14-140/2 is, like other Lumix M43 lenses of varifocal design which means it has to be refocussed after zooming and cannot have a distance scale.
    It feels very well made (in Japan, if that is relevant), with a metal mount. It is not weather sealed. The zoom action is very smooth without creep. The front element does not rotate. The lens extends 44mm on a single inner barrel when zooming out. The manual focus ring (which activates focus by wire) is nicely damped so it does not spin too easily and rotates very smoothly.
    The lens is supplied with a reversible petal type lens hood (which I use all the time) and a soft pouch.

     

    There is an OIS  On/Off switch on the lens barrel. I did not formally test OIS effectiveness but it is certainly useful for steadying the EVF image preview particularly at the long end of the zoom range.
    With AF single the lens focusses very fast on any recent Lumix M43 camera. It is also very accurate with very few shots showing missed focus. Any time focus is missed it will be due to well known types of subject which pose a problem for any AF system.
    With AF Continuous the lens performs very well on the GH3. It can easily follow focus on cars approaching the camera at 60kph at about 4.5 frames per second with almost all frames sharply in focus.

     

    Optical Performance 
    Resolution  I test this mainly by making lots of photos of different subjects at various focal lengths and apertures. I also use a local grove of casuarina trees with very fine foliage to test sharpness/resolution. Overall the 14-140mm does a very good job at all focal lengths and apertures. Many zooms lose sharpness and contrast at the long end but this one holds up well at 140mm. There is some corner softness at the wide end and the long end, which cleans up if the aperture is closed down about one stop. As with other M43 lenses loss of sharpness due to diffraction begins at about f9.
    I rate this lens as slightly below the 14-45mm and 45-150mm in optical performance, but better than the 14-42mm Mk1 and 45-200mm. I have not tested the 14-140mm Mk1 but all reports which I have seen rate the new version to be a  big improvement over the original.

     

    Aberrations  Chromatic aberration is corrected on Lumix bodies so is absent in most frames. Distortion is also corrected in camera.
    Purple fringing can occur at light/dark boundaries with strong contrast at the edges and corners. This is correctable in Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw but the process may leave double imaging artefacts with some subject elements.
    Contrast  Superzoom lenses in my experience tend to low contrast particularly at the long end. However this one does better than most with good overall and local contrast across the focal length range.
    Flare  Flare can be induced with the sun just inside or outside the frame edge, but is not severe or prominent.
    Local flare can be an issue with subjects having dark structures such as foliage against a bright background such as a cloudy/bright sky. This can induce bleed over flare at the dark/light boundaries. In general however I had to deliberately provoke this in order to find it.
    Close up  Closest focussing distance measured from subject to focal plane is 210mm (at 14mm) and 490mm (at 140mm). One easy way to get closer is to fit a screw on 58mm close up lens. Mine is a Hoya +2 diopter which gives good image quality in the central region of the frame but unsharp corners.
    Defects and Decentering  In my experience zuperzoom lenses with their complex internal structure, tend to be more prone to decentering and other assembly errors than lenses of more simple construction. My copy has mild evidence of asymmetrical corner softness but you have to be pixel peeping to spot it. There were no dust specks or other foreign material in my lens on delivery or since.
    Bokeh  Out of focus rendition in front of and behind the focal plane is very nice with very little evidence of tramlining or optical nervousness.
    Shutter Shock  I have found that most M43 zooms can exhibit signs of shutter shock at some focal lengths and shutter speeds. So I routinely use the E-Shutter at shutter speeds slower than 1/250second with all my lenses. Using this approach there have been no problems with the 14-140mm.
    Summary  The new 14-140mm superzoom is a very appealing addition to the Lumix M43 lens range. It  provides a more than acceptable solution to the requirements of holiday/travel/walk around photography, where you want to travel light and compact without the need to change lenses. Highly recommended.


     


    0 0


    Canon Powershot G16
     
    A Frustrating Exercise


    Preparing for a Holiday  I have recently been preparing for a holiday which involves packing light. Weather conditions could be severe so changing lenses is not on the agenda. I selected for my main kit a Panasonic Lumix GH3 with Lumix 14-140mm  "travel zoom" lens mounted for the duration.  But I wanted a compact as backup in case the main camera or lens failed, got dropped in the ocean, eaten by a seal or some such misadventure.
    What Kind of Compact  I like cameras onto which you can get a decent grip as opposed to those onto which you can only place the fingertips. I like cameras which have good viewing arrangements, a user friendly interface and well executed ergonomics. Image quality sufficient for A3 or even A2 prints and good performance would be a bonus.  A zoom lens with about 5x zoom range would be required to keep one's distance from large creatures with teeth emerging from the sea. The facility for RAW capture is essential.  Also essential is that the RAW files are supported by Adobe Camera Raw. I have no interest in Video, Wi-Fi, touchscreens, art filters or Scene Modes.
    A superzoom might seem the obvious answer but these generally have a very small sensor to the detriment of picture quality and most are as large as a micro four thirds camera with lens mounted.
    What's on offer ?  There are many compact cameras on the market with quite a few  in the upper range, suitable for the expert/enthusiast photographer and potentially of interest to me.
    With so much apparent competition for the discerning buyer's dollar you might think that finding a suitable one would be easy.
    I say "apparent" competition because unfortunately, I found all of the cameras on my short list had significant deficiencies, mainly with regard to performance, ergonomics and the user interface.    On the basis of published reviews, all appeared to have sufficient picture quality for my needs, so that was not a deciding factor for me. 
    Canon Powershot G16
     
    In Alphabetical Orderthe cameras on my short list were:
    Canon G16  I have a history with Canon G cameras, having owned over the years the G7, G9, G10 and G12. Each had it's strengths and weaknesses, but worked reliably and had  a good lens. None was a wonderful camera but none was a disaster. 
    The G16 is like many recent Canon products: cautiously delivering minor incremental upgrades to an existing product line but  bringing very little innovation to the genre and failing to make worthwhile ergonomic improvements.
    The G16 has a good lens with nice wide aperture and 5.1x zoom range. The body is large enough to get ahold  of  and there is a reasonably comprehensive suite of  direct controls. The 12's articulated monitor has been deleted so the camera could be made slimmer. That should have been the trigger for replacing the antiquated optical viewfinder with an EVF of reasonable quality. But no, Panasonic and even Nikon got there ahead of Canon.
    At the time of purchase the G16 was priced competitively which was a significant factor for me.
    Fujifilm X20  Some years ago I bought a Fuji X10 and used this for several months. Fuji cameras have a history of innovation in sensor technology and user interface design. This tends to  make their products  interesting for techno- enthusiasts but not always successful as cameras. The X10 had a multitude of problems and issues including the infamous "white orbs", labrynthine complexity of  controls for the EXR sensor when shooting RAW and many ergonomic problems. The X10 did not last long in my camera drawer.
    Fuji promises the X20 is "much improved" .............well they would say that.  But I am wary of Fuji.  The company has a history of producing innovative new cameras which are loaded with bugs, faults and foibles. The problems are somewhat rectified over the next two or three iterations of that model sequence.   Then Fuji drops that model line and moves on to the next new big idea with a new round of  bugs and faults.
    The X20 body and control layout is basically the same as that of the X10 with a couple of  button functions switched around.  The much vaunted optical viewfinder has only about 85% (linear) coverage and is subject to parallax error as usual with "rangefinder" type OVF's. 
    Also, it's a somewhat largish expression of the compact genre.
    Nikon P7800  On paper, this one looks like the bees knees. Or to be more specific, the embodiment of my ideal  Proper Camera.   It has a handle, full suite of hard controls, fully articulated monitor, very nice lens with  7.1x reach, wide aperture and very good sharpness on all the tests I could find.  Picture quality appears to be at least up there with most of them.
    But it's sloooowwww  Slow to fire up, slow to write files to the card, RAW shot to shot times are excruciatingly slow. The P7700 and P7100 were grindingly slow. Nikon keeps snatching failure from the gates of success. To make it worse, the control layout was described  by one reviewer thus...."it feels as though the ........controls have been piled onto the camera at random".
    Oh, yes, and for a compact, it's not all that.......you know.........compact.
    Nikon P330   Here is another potentially nice and genuinely compact camera rendered useless to me by it's tediously slow shot to shot times especially with RAW capture.
    It is an enduring source of wonder to me that the same company which makes the super fast 1 Series V2 (the rocket camera) can at the same time turn off  buyers with the unbelievably and in my view unacceptably slow P7800 and P330.
    Olympus XZ-2    My only experience with Olympus is of the OMD-EM-1 Micro Four Thirds camera, which I found  "interesting" but in some respects incomprehensible. So I am wary of the Olympus way of doing things.  There is  no inbuilt eye level viewfinder. I had also read some very unflattering reviews of the XZ-1 user interface which did not bode well for the XZ-2.
    Panasonic LX7    At one time I owned a Lumix LX5. It was a rather nice little compact which really was compact and punched above it's weight for picture quality. I made some nice looking photos with that camera. The LX7 appears to be more of the same, with an even better, wide aperture lens. But there is no inbuilt viewfinder and one reviewer found the rear control dial hard to operate. In addition the buttons and 4 way cursor are small and difficult to operate by feel.
    Panasonic LF1  Yes! The small compact gets an EVF, at last. If the lens had a wider aperture at the long end I might be interested. But then it would be larger of course.
    Sony RX100/RX100Mk2  These cameras have generated an amazing amount of excited comment from reviewers and bloggers. Their main claim to fame is that they have the largest sensor and highest technical image quality scores of  all the compact cameras (Largest sensor, most pixels, highest DXO Mark score).  But there is a lot more to a camera than technical numbers.
    I recently tested the RX100 which had been purchased for a family member going on an ultra long hiking trip solo with full pack. So it was probably the right choice for that person. But image quality outdoors was indistinguishable from the G12 (although the RX100  was much better at high ISO levels indoors). The lens was acceptable but closed to a small aperture at the long end and was unable to reveal all the information potentially contained in a 20 Mpx sensor. Handling and ergonomics were unimpressive. The thing is so small it is hard to hold properly. There is no built in viewfinder.  You can buy one as a clip on for the RX100Mk2.  But with the (expensive) accessory EVF fitted the unit is no longer particularly compact.   The price, even without the EVF  was substantially higher than the other cameras. After using the RX100  for a week I was not inclined to buy one for myself.
    My Selection of the Best advanced Compact Camera is.......................None of them.   Every one of them has one or more serious deficiencies of ergonomics, user interface or performance which I suspect drives even more people to smartphones for their photographic needs. 
    So, what did I buy?  Which was the least worst of the bunch for my purposes ?
    I bought the Canon. Not because I think it is a wonderful camera because that is not the case.
    But Canon G cameras have in the past been  reliable tools for me and that, together with sharp pricing and a cashback deal from Canon Australia,  got it over the line. Just.
    The G16 desperately needs a decent quality EVF plus several performance and ergonomic improvements if the G lineage is to survive. I will post a review of the G16 in due course.


     


     


    0 0


    In experienced hands it manages well


     
    The Southern Ocean   I recently spent 3 weeks on board a ship exploring the Southern Ocean including the New Zealand and Australian sub-antarctic islands.  There were plenty of opportunities for photographing birds in flight.
    Main Bird Types   We had on board many highly experienced bird watchers who could and did distinguish between species and sub species by minute variations in morphology. For my rather simplistic purposes there appeared to be three main types of ocean birds.
    * Big Ones: These were mostly albatrosses, with some giant petrels for variation. These birds glide along on outstretched wings, rarely flapping. They are relatively easy to photograph, especially if some helpful person chucks fish pieces off  the back of the boat to bring them in.
    * Mid Size: The commonest at this size were the Cape Petrels. These fly very fast, frequently changing direction and elevation. They are very difficult to photograph.
    * Little Ones: These were mostly Prions. These birds are only about 25cm long. They flap their wings a lot, dive, soar and change direction several times per second. I have no idea how they survive in the southern ocean which can be a very wild place. They were completely beyond my ability to photograph. I couldn't even hold one in the frame let alone get a focus on it.
     
    Camera Gear  I elected to go simple for this trip. I mounted a Lumix 14-140mm lens on a Panasonic GH3 and left it there for the whole trip. The only other camera which I took was a Canon G16 compact as backup in case the GH3 got trashed by some misadventure.  The GH3 and lens were subjected to plenty of salt and fresh water splashing plus extremes of cold and humidity. There were no equipment problems at all.
    Limitations of M43 system for B.I.F  I found that in fact the camera's autofocus system could keep up with the birds quite well. The main functional limitation is the EVF blackout time after each exposure. This makes it difficult to keep the birds in frame. I have plenty of practice working with this issue so got a reasonable percentage of in frame/ in focus shots but a newcomer to M43 might struggle.
     
    Camera Settings 
    * Focus Mode: AFC
    * Drive Mode: Burst (=Continuous) With a 95Mb/sec card this gives about 4.5 frames per second using the 14-140mm lens.
    * Burst Rate: M with live view
    * Autofocus Mode: 1 Area  (Do not use Tracking) I set the AF area to center position, size 1/4 or 2/4.
    Others: OIS on, RAW capture, Multi Metering.
    The GH3 is very pleasant to use as the settings for Drive Mode and Focus Mode are on hard control modules with the setting in use easily visible and quickly changed.
     
    Improvements Needed   The main limitation of M43 cameras for photographing moving subjects is the EVF blackout time. This needs to be greatly reduced before M43 can be widely accepted as a desirable camera system for sport/action type photography.
    These are just guesstimates but I put the viewfinder blackout time of a good DSLR at about 20% of the total time during continuous shooting. For the GH3 I guesstimate blackout time to be more like 60%.
    The capability of the autofocus system is actually quite good. On board our ship in the southern ocean there were many high powered Cano Nikons with very large lenses. Most photographers trying for BIF photos appeared to be running off  about 500-1000 frames per day and counting themselves lucky to get 5-10 really good shots out of that  number. My keeper rate, by which I mean clear, sharp printable frames, was about 5% with the GH3. This was similar to that of the DSLR's.  I know 5% doesn't sound very good but conditions were very challenging most of the time.
    Recommendation  At this time I would not recommend any Panasonic M43 camera for B.I.F. If Panasonic can substantially reduce the EVF blackout time and maybe increase the sensor readout rate for AFC from 256x to 512x per second,  I think M43 (even with contrast detect AF) could be very competitive with the best DSLR's for follow focus on moving subjects.


    0 0


    Macquarie Island. Panasonic GH3, 14-140mm lens

     

    How it all Started  Several years ago I became frustrated by the cameras on offer in the marketplace. It seemed to me that many of them were characterised by remarkably poor ergonomic design. Yet there was very little comment in published camera reviews about ergonomics or the broader issue of the user interface. I found that established camera makers made just as many ergonomic errors as newer arrivals to the camera making scene.
    I was, to be candid, totally amazed that major corporations with vast resources would locate a control dial where it could not be operated by any finger without releasing grip on the camera, adopting a different grip while operating the dial then returning the hand to the original grip position. But camera makers are still doing this and making many other egregious, totally un-necessary and perverse ergonomic mistakes in new camera models.  All brands are at fault.
    If camera designers were let loose on motor vehicles the road toll would skyrocket due to key controls being located in unpredictable and irrational places.
    Research  So I set about conducting my own research into the ergonomic aspects of camera design. I studied functional anatomy of the hand and fingers.  I analysed the primary and secondary camera parameters which needed adjustment in the various stages of camera use. I realised that there were 4 functional phases of camera operation, each with different functional and ergonomic requirements.
    Write a Book ?  At first I thought to publish my findings as a book. But I soon realised that a book is far too static a medium for the subject, which presents new designs and challenges every week. Fortunately I discovered Google Blogger and a way to reach many more readers than a book could ever do.
    The Camera Ergonomics Blog   Began with the first post in February 2012. The first 20 or so posts describe my basic research and some practical applications thereof. I initially wondered if I might see 5000 page views and was quite thrilled when this actually happened.
    The blog is entirely my own work. I am an independent amateur camera buyer and user having no affiliation with any person, corporation or organisation which makes or markets photographic equipment.
    Types of Blog Posts  Most of my posts are either equipment reviews or opinion/analysis/commentary of some kind.  The equipment reviews are by far the most popular type of post. However my own judgement is that the analytical pieces are more important to an understanding of camera design from the user's perspective, as they contain more of my thoughts about ergonomics and the user interface.
    The future, is there one ?  I have at various times become bored,  disinterested or just exhausted by the blog,  which requires a considerable input of time and energy. However I will probably keep it going for a while. My main reason for this is that the camera makers appear to be learning amazingly little about ergonomics as they continue to produce multitudes of new models every week or so. 
    Highs and lows  I am pleased that a significant number of people are reading the blog. I hope they have been stimulated to think about ergonomic issues in camera design. I hope that if enough camera buyers become literate in ergonomic analysis and expression this might influence  designers to lift their game.
    At the same time I find it quite depressing that many new model releases either repeat old ergonomic mistakes or invent new ones. There seems to be no end to the capacity for camera designers to locate major user interface modules where no human finger could reach unless the hand bearing the finger is removed from the camera thereby completely disrupting the image capture process.


    To be continued...................


    0 0


    From the left, 14-42mm (II), 14-42mm (original), 12-35mm f2.8, 14-140mm (II), 14-45mm.

     

    Four of the Six and a Ring In


    It seems the Panasonic Lumix Designers have a hobby.  Panasonic offers a remarkable 6 standard zoom lenses for it's Micro Four Thirds cameras. I recently had the opportunity to test 4 of them at the same time.
    Notes on lens testing.  There are two main approaches to lens testing.
    The first is to go forth and take lots of photos of many different subjects in a wide range of conditions. This is very informative but time consuming.
    Ultimately the most robust method is to pool the experience of many users of a particular lens over time.  User forums do provide this to some extent especially with lenses which have been on the market for several years.
    The second is to photograph some kind of  standard  chart in controlled conditions. I find this gives me about half the information I want to know about a lens. However it  is still useful for comparison purposes and for specific characteristics such as resolution, distortion, chromatic aberration and centering errors. I use a test chart made up of repeating pages of the classified adverts of a newspaper. This of course does not provide absolute measurements of resolution. However I find that just looking at the way each of the pages is rendered by the lens gives me a good sense of how the lens will perform in the "outside world".
    There are many lens characteristics not tested or not fully revealed by the chart method.  These include physical operation, effects of shutter shock, AF accuracy, field curvature, flare resistance and behaviour in optically stressful conditions such as very high or low subject brightness range and high local contrast such as when foliage is backlit against a cloudy bright sky.
    Another matter which came to light when I was testing these lenses is that sometimes the resolution of a lens focussed close can differ considerably from the resolution of the same lens focussed at a distance.
    I try to use both approaches, time and opportunity permitting.
    Notes about sample variation  This is a fact of life especially with zoom lenses built to a low price point. My rankings in this report are based on my observations of lenses in my posession. Others may differ on the basis of different samples.
    Performance ranking  I have found at most only minor differences between these lenses with regard to test chart resolution/sharpness in the central part of the frame. Most of the difference between them lies in their aperture range, resolution/sharpness at the edges and corners of the frame and  their behaviour in optically stressful situations.
    OIS  All Panasonic's M43 zooms have optical image stabiliser function. The more expensive ones have an OIS  On/Off  switch on the lens barrel.
    Lens Hoods  Each of the Lumix zooms which I have tested  comes with a reversible lens hood.  These are the non retractable types. I doubt if it is possible to reverse mount a lens hood on a retractable lens.
    Over view of quality  If these Lumix M43 zooms had been available 10 years ago they would have been hailed as the wonders of the photographic universe. They combine remarkable imaging capability with small size, light weight, fast performance and extremely low price. I think us consumers get a bit blasé  about the quality of current lenses and their remarkable value for money.
    Design trends  The original, and still available, 2008 kit zoom for M43 (the 14-45mm) has 12 elements including 1 aspheric. The latest little wonder,  the 12-32mm has 8 elements of which 3 are aspheric. So we see the number of elements decreasing, the number of aspherics increasing and the overall size and weight decreasing. 
    Which one should I buy ?  This is probably the most frequently asked type of question on M43 user forums. I hope this comparison review will help those who are trying to decide.
    Here is the lineup
    Lens

    Panasonic product code

    Tested by me

    ?

    Length

    mm

    Dia

    mm

    Box

    Vol

    cc

    Mass grams

    Filter

    Comment

    12-35mm

    f2.8

    H-HS12035

    Yes

    74

    68

    342

    305

    58

    Premium standard

    Weather sealed

    14-45mm f3.5-5.6

    H-FS014045

    Yes

    60

    60

    216

    195

    52

    Good reputation

    14-42mm f3.5-5.6 (1)

    H-FS014042

    Yes

    64

    61

    238

    165

    52

    Low contrast

    14-42mm f3.5-5.6 (11)

    H-FS1442A

    Yes

    49

    56

    153

    110

    46

    Very good performance on test chart

    14-42mm f3.5-5.6 X (PZ)

    H-PS14042S

    No

    27

    61

    100

    95

    37

    Retracting. MF and Zoom by lever

    12-32mm f3.5-5.6

    H-FS12032

    No

    24

    56

    75

    70

    37

    Retracting.

    No MF actuator on lens

    14-140mm f3.5-5.6

    H-FS14140

    Yes

    75

    67

    336

    265

    58

    Very Compact 10x zoom


     


    Total Elements and Aspheric Elements


    Lens

    Number of elements

    Number of aspherics

    14-45mm

    12

    1

    14-42mm (original)

    12

    1

    14-42mm (Mk2)

    9

    2

    14-42mmX PZ

    9

    4

    12-35mm f2.8

    14

    5

    12-32mm

    8

    3

    14-140mm (Mk2)

    14

    3


     

    The choice depends on your requirements.


    12-35mm f2.8   If you want the best, forget the rest,  the choice is easy, get the 12-35mm f2.8. Note that the main advantage of this lens over the others is it's constant f2.8 aperture. At the long end this is 2 stops better than the f5.6 of the smaller zooms. On my testing the 12-35 also renders fine textures with more "bite" than the other zooms. It focusses very close and is claimed by Panasonic to be weather sealed. I have not yet put this to the test. The 12-35 delivers very good results right from f2.8 at all focal lengths and focussed distances which makes it well suited to indoor and candid work. This is the M43 equivalent of the classic photo reporter's 24-70mm f2.8 zoom for cameras with a 24x36mm sensor. Sharpness across the frame at all focal lengths with this lens at f2.8 is as good as or better than the others at f3.5-5.6. The exception is the 14-42(II) which just edges out the 12-35 (at f2.8) when set to  25mm f5.3 and 42mm f5.6.
    14-42mm X PZ   If you want a collapsing lens specifically designed for video this is the one to get. Note that there is no zoom ring and no manual focus ring. These actions are both enabled via sliding levers on the lens barrel. On some cameras (G5, G6) you can also zoom this lens (and the 45-175mm)  with the front lever on the camera. This lens has a reputation for producing unsharp pictures attributed to shutter shock so it might not be the one to get if still photography is on the agenda.
    14-45mm f3.5-5.6   This was the original Panasonic Lumix kit lens released with the G1 in 2008. It's an oldy but a goody. I have had two copies of this over the years and made many photos with it. It delivers clear, sharp photos at all focal lengths and apertures with good resolution right across the frame. It reveals textures clearly. It is particularly crisp at the long end unlike some other lenses which can lose contrast and sharpness when zoomed out.
    14-42mm f3.5-5.6  (The Mk1 version although it is not so named by Panasonic) This lens has been offered as a kit with G5, G6 and other bodies.  On my tests it delivers notably low contrast images compared to the other zooms. Actual resolution on a test chart is quite good,  however the low contrast gives photographs a soft  look which I think most people would probably interpret as lacking sharpness. There is probably no reason for anyone to buy this lens unless it comes effectively free in a kit.
    14-42mm f3.5-5.6 (II)   This is the new version of the standard M43 kit lens and is quite interesting. It is very small and light. The optical formula uses 9 elements, 3 aspheric. Compare this with the 14-45mm which uses 12 elements, 1 aspheric. The 12-42mm (II) has a very large fixed rear element, which at 23 mm diameter is even larger than that of the 12-35mm f2.8 at 22mm. It also has a different zoom action being shortest at 25mm focal length. My copy of this lens out performs the 14-45mm on the test chart, with remarkable sharpness right into the corners at all focal lengths and apertures. In fact it slightly out performs the 12-35mm on the test chart, at some apertures.
    However  You will recall that earlier in this post I made the point that resolution moderately close focussed   (as for instance on a test chart at about 60x lens focal length) and the same lens focussed at or near infinity, can be significantly different.
    I found this to be the case with the 14-42mm (II). When focussed on distant subjects, over 10 meters from the camera, the 14-45mm was clearly superior with better sharpness. The difference was quite obvious.
    So, which is the better general purpose Lumix zoom lens for those users who do not want to move up to the 12-35mm ?
    This might all come down to sample variation. On the copies in my posession the 14-45mm is the better all rounder.
    12-32mm f3.5-5.6  This one is brand new, not yet released to the market so I can say little about it. However just on the specifications there are some worthwhile observations one might make. It is amazingly small.  It is of retracting type. There is a zoom ring but no means of actuating manual focus on the lens itself. Digital Photography Review reports that on the diminutive GM1 camera body, manual focus is achieved by touch screen.  Some users might be perfectly happy with this arrangement, others will not.
    14-140mm f3.5-5.6  Just for fun I included this Lumix superzoom lens in the test protocols. In the focal length range 14-42mm, the superzoom performed quite well. It was a bit soft on the right side at 25mm presumably due to some amount of decentering which is common in zuperzooms. This cleaned up with one stop reduction in aperture.  It delivered more convincing results than the 14-42mm (I), but was not quite able to keep up with the  other lenses, especially at the edges and corners. It was close though, indicating this is quite a nice lens. I recently used this lens exclusively on a GH3 while on holiday in New Zealand and the southern ocean. It reliably delivered clear sharp photos at all focal lengths, with just the edges and corners a bit soft in some shots. If you don't want the bother of changing lenses, the 14-140mm Mk2  is a very viable option especially if mainly outdoors subjects are contemplated.


     


    0 0


     
    It could so easily have been better

                                                 The hand that giveth, also taketh away



    My history with Canon G compacts  Over the years I have bought, owned and used a G7, G9, G10, G12 and now the G16. So I am very familiar with the breed. I used the G9-G12  a lot especially bushwalking when I did not want to lug along my (then) main camera kit which was Canon DSLR based.
    Why the G16 ?  I recently travelled by ship to the southern ocean, visiting assorted wet, windy islands. My main camera kit was a Panasonic GH3 with 14-140mm superzoom lens. I wanted a compact as backup in case an elephant seal ate my main camera, or more likely it got drowned in salt water. In the event there were no problems with the GH3 even though it was subjected to quite a lot of salt and fresh water in very cold conditions.
    I looked at all the compacts on the market and to be quite candid was not impressed by any of them. I posted my thoughts about this here.  The G16 was selected more or less by default as the least worst of the options available and also because all my previous G cams had at least been reliable which is a big deal when one is 2000 kilometers and an ocean from the nearest service facility.
    G16 usage  I used the G16 for several weeks before thetrip away and made several hundred photos with it on the trip. So it got a pretty good workout which enabled me to evaluate it's capabilities reasonably well.
     
    Market position  Canon popularised the advanced compact camera genre with it's early model G cams. However the world into which the G16 has been launched is very different from that which greeted the original G1 in September 2000. Compact camera sales have been slashed by the rise and rise of smart phones. Some cameras with interchangeable lenses are smaller than the G series compacts. So Canon really needed to deliver something special with the G16 to keep the advanced compact category and Canon's presence in that category  thriving.
    Unfortunately that has not been the case.
     
    Progress from G12-G16   The G12 had a fully articulated monitor, which went some way towards  making up for the dismal optical viewfinder which is still present and incorrect on the G16.  Unfortunately Canon fitted the G16 with a fixed monitor, presumably to make the body slimmer.  Image quality has improved a bit. Lens aperture has seen a welcome increase from f2.8-f4  to f1.8-f2.8.  Operational speed has improved a bit.  Control modules on the top of the camera have been rearranged a bit.
    So, compared to previous iterations the G16  has mostly a bit more of  things which matter such as image quality and performance but also less of other things, such as the articulated monitor.

    Camera Concept  The G16 sticks fairly closely to the original G cam concept which is for a compact, competent, do-almost-anything- camera for expert and professional users who do not have or want  their big camera kit in hand right now. The G16 has plenty of external interface modules for direct control of primary and secondary exposure and focussing parameters by experienced users.  With one glaring exception these work well.
    Larger than the Sony RX100/100Mk2, the G16 is easier to hold and operate than the Sony cams.
    Picture Quality  The G16 makes pictures which are good enough for most purposes including publication and printing. It delivers good results indoors or outdoors. AF, AE and color balance are consistently accurate. Dynamic range is good. Recovery of highlight and shadow detail from RAW images is good even when subject brightness range is high.
    The lens is of good quality and is consistent across the focal length and aperture range, providing very good resolution in a large central area of the frame with noticeable but not objectionable softening towards the edges and corners. Canon has apparently optimised the lens performance for central resolution which works well for most photos.
    I would rate pictures from the G16 as equal to or better than those which I could get from 35mm film about 10 years ago. I think that if this camera had existed 10 years ago it might have been hailed as the 9th wonder of the modern world.
     
    Performance  Published reviews say the G16 operates faster than the G15 (which I never tested) and G12 (which I used extensively) This may be true however the G16 is no speed demon. With RAW capture,  using a fast 95MB/sec memory card I clocked the G16 at a shot to shot time of 1.7 seconds with AF and AE on every frame. Compared to my Micro Four Thirds cameras that's a leisurely pace and slow enough to impede the picture taking process on occasion.  Switch on/off, AF speed and response to control module inputs are all decently but not remarkably brisk.
    Holding  Being larger, the G16 feels more secure in the hand than say, the Sony RX100 but it could still be better with some minor changes to the shape. The handle at the front and the thumb support at the back could both be slightly deeper without affecting overall dimensions, appearance or price of the camera.  The G16 is at the large end of the compact camera spectrum. To justify it's size I think this camera could and should provide a more secure holding experience for the user.
    Viewing  I found viewing to be the least satisfactory aspect of using this camera. You get to view using either the zooming optical viewfinder or the fixed monitor.
    The monitor works well indoors or in low ambient light, in which case you can see the image preview and usually also the camera data superimposed on the lower part of the image.
    I had not realised until I started using the G16 just how useful was the fully articulated monitor of the G12.  The articulated monitor enables off center viewing, overhead  and  low camera position with landscape or portrait orientation. It is very useful.
    In bright sun the G16 monitor is almost useless. The image preview is very difficult to see and camera data superimposed on the image are impossible to read. There is no option for configuring the monitor with "DSLR" type layout with the camera data on a black strip below the preview image.
    The zooming OVF is the same one which Canon has been putting on it's G cams for many years and in my view is long past it's use by date. It provides a view 77% of the final image both vertically and horizontally. 0.77x0.77 = 0.6 which means you get to see only 60% of the actual image area. This makes composing very difficult. You know the final image will be considerably larger than the view seen in the OVF but guessing the actual amount is something of a lottery.  In addition there is parallax error, the lens protrudes into the OVF image and there is no camera data, gridlines, histogram etc available.
    Operating  Most of the user interface modules (buttons, wheels etc) on the G16 are sensibly located and operate efficiently enough. The camera can be driven somewhat like a mirrorless ILC or DSLR.
    There is one glaring exception however and that is the Front Dial which is very poorly located. The G16 has a "Mode dial + control dial" type of user interface, like most DSLR's.  Contrast this with the "Aperture Dial + Shutter Speed Dial"  interface found classically on Leica M cameras and in modified form on Fuji X- MILC's.
    For the "Mode Dial+Control Dial" system to work properly the Control Dial (Front Dial on the G16)  must be located and angled such that it can be easily operated by the right index finger or thumb without having to release grip on the camera to get a finger onto the dial.
    If you look at the photograph below you can easily see that with the camera held normally the Front Dial lies beneath the right middle finger and is inaccessible without completely releasing the right hand from the camera.  In addition the dial lies in a horizontal plane whereas the right index finger moves in a plane about 80 degrees from horizontal.
    The front dial is hidden beneath the right middle finger and is inaccessible with the fingers in this normal shooting position.
     

     

    This is the kind of elementary ergonomic mistake one hopes not to see from the camera market leader, but there it is. Why is the Front Dial so located ? I have no idea and have no inside knowledge of Canon or any other maker's design processes. But if I have to take a guess, which I do, I would guess the dial is there because it looks  neat and tidy, sort of tucked in there out of the way. It certainly is out of the way which is exactly the wrong place for it.
    In order to get the right index finger onto the Front Dial the grip on the camera with the right hand has to be released and all four fingers moved down. After the dial is adjusted the fingers have to move back to their normal shooting position

     

    Another, lesser issue is that the shutter button is set about 15mm too far to the right and about 5mm too far back, as viewed by the operator, for a really comfortable finger position.
    The whole top deck of this camera needs to be redesigned to put the shutter button and Front Dial in ergonomically effective locations. There is nothing difficult about this, but in the process the camera will end up with a different appearance.
    As it stands the G16 is an example of style having been preferenced over function and the camera's user appeal suffers badly as a result, especially since the target user is an expert/enthusiast photographer.
    How Canon could fix the G16's deficiencies  (My prescription for the G17)
    * First they could get serious about making good cameras which photographers might enjoy using.  In the 1980's and 90's Canon was a leader in innovation. They dropped the old  FD breechlock lens mount to introduce the all electronic EOS mount. They introduced a string of consumer friendly DSLR's. They started the G line of advanced compacts. ...........................and then ran out of steam, or courage, or whatever it takes............
    * Specifically the G17 needs three things
    1) A good quality EVF, configurable to DSLR style appearance.
    2) Bring back the fully articulated monitor, also configurable to match the EVF in style and appearance.
    3) Redesign the handle and top deck of the camera to relocate the shutter button and Front Dial for greater ergonomic efficiency.
    4)  Yes, I said three things, but faster shot to shot times would be a bonus.
    Yes, the resulting product would cost a bit more. But Sony is asking and getting a lot more for it's RX100/100Mk2 than Canon is getting for the G16.
    I think that mediocre products like the G16, not bad but not fully realised to maximise the potential in the genre, will not appeal to buyers in the long run.

     


    0 0


    Clearing Storm Macquarie Island.   Panasonic GH3 with Lumix 14-140mm f3.5-5.6 lens.
     
    Micro Four Thirds Again
    The season for awards  Most camera related websites and blogs offer some kind of recognition for achievement by camera makers at this time of year. This usually takes the form of  a camera of the year award with subcategories. This provides information or possibly confusion for prospective camera buyers and is a bit of fun for those of us who get to pontificate about the merits of various products. 
    I take the view that selecting a camera system is the first step in the decision making process. I think that the long term viability and appeal of the system is more important that the attributes of any one particular camera model at a point in time.
    So Camera Ergonomics again nominates a "Most Promising Camera System" of the year.
    Last year  I picked the Micro Four Thirds System [M43] as the most promising. This year it's M43 again, going from strength to strength as some of the other systems struggle to find  direction and momentum.
    Let's briefly review the contestants, in alphabetical order:
    Canon   Canon is still the market leader and was once very adventurous in pushing the envelope of camera design and technology. In my view Canon is now the market leader because  of it's legacy of past innovation.   But in recent years Canon has been iterating models with at most only very slight improvements from one to the next. Canon's main problem is that it is locked in to the DSLR, a camera type at the end of it's evolutionary journey.
    Canon's foray into the world of the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera [MILC]  has been unconvincing. It's EOS M cameras are underspecified and overpriced relative to DSLR's, presumably because Canon doesn't want to compete with it's established product lines. The question is whether the EOS M can compete with anything.
    Fujifilm  Why does Fuji insist on keeping the word "film" in their name ? Maybe it's all part of the retro-style appeal of it's camera lines. Fuji's MILC system is the X series of interchangeable lens cameras.  Some of these are based on a faux rangefinder shape with OVF or EVF top left on the camera body and a control system based on aperture ring on the lens and shutter speed dial on the top plate. Fuji has also invested in innovative sensor technologies such as the current X-Trans sensor which does have the benefit of low noise at high ISO settings but presents difficulties to the designers of RAW converter programs. Having used and tested an X-E1 recently I find the retro style control system less streamlined and slower to operate than the "Mode Dial + Control Dial" system on recent Panasonic M43 cameras. Fuji has a history of spawning  multiple models of a theme. Thus we have the X-Pro1, X-E1 and 2, then X-M1, X-A1 and X-Q1.
    This market review is about camera systems and it is here I find problems with the Fuji lineup. One of these cameras has an OVF, some have an EVF, some have no viewfinder. Some have the traditional "aperture ring and shutter speed dial" control layout, others have the "mode dial and control dial" system.   None of them has a decent built in handle. Some lenses have an aperture ring some do not. In my view the Fuji X system lacks coherency and consistency. I don't really see it as positioned to move forward to become a fully comprehensive, all purpose system. Maybe Fuji is content to occupy it's present niche.
    Leica  Trading on an illustrious reputation and possibly the most recognisable brand name in the camera world, Leica is still in business following several close encounters with corporate death. I read recently they are even opening new production facilities to increase output. Leica still makes the M system of rangefinder cameras. These are real rangefinders with an old fashioned optical viewfinder / rangefinder and  manual focus lenses.  The fact that this type of camera survives in the electronic era and the even more remarkable fact that customers are prepared to pay astounding sums of money for such relics of the (good ?) old days  is quite remarkable. I suspect this says more about human nature than cameras.  Anyway there are rumors Leica may be about to release a new interchangeable lens system with bodies to be built by Panasonic, with whom Leica has a long standing relationship.
    M43  [Olympus and Panasonic] 
    Olympus  Appears to have survived a corporate near death experience resulting from massive fraud and to have been re-invigorated by an infusion of capital and sensor technology from Sony. Olympus had good  success with the  EM5 model now followed by the considerably more convincing EM1 with better performance and ergonomics. Olympus appears to have managed to make it's existing, highly regarded 4/3 system DSLR lenses compatible with the EM1, a bonus for Olympus fans with legacy 4/3 DSLR lenses.
    Panasonic  corporation suffered from major financial losses in the last year but is restructuring and may be recovering. Well, I hope they are, my cameras and lenses are all Panasonic. The M43 camera division while not yet profitable, is pushing ahead with innovative new products, some of which redefine the concept of a camera. With no significant DSLR legacy acting as a brake on development, Panasonic has been free to concentrate on the M43 system with evident results. 
    The GH3 is an excellent professional workhorse, the G6 and GX7 a pleasure for enthusiasts to use. The GM1 has attracted much attention by being the world's smallest camera with interchangeable lenses. I personally have no interest in the cult of smallness and would never buy a camera with such limited ergonomics. But it is getting Panasonic in the photographic headlines and maybe that is the point of the GM1.
    M43 Lenses
    Olympus and Panasonic users benefit  from the growing list of lenses from many makers which can be used on the M43 mount. Lenses with M43 mount are made by Olympus, Panasonic, Voigtlander (Cosina), Sigma and Tokina. The M43 official website lists 25 zoom, 2 macro and 17 single focal length lenses with M43 mount. Using adapters, a multitude of current and legacy lenses from many makers can be used on M43.
     Panasonic's lens line is expanding at a great rate. There is now a full spectrum of zooms and primes from full professional models to ultra tiny and light but still optically excellent kit zooms.  The only missing piece of the Panasonic high performance zoom lineup is the 100-300mm range where the present offering is of budget price and quality.  
    Nikon  The market number 2 has had problems similar to those experienced by Canon, notably Nikon's dependence on DSLR's for volume and profitability. Nikon is doing much the same thing as Canon with it's DSLR offerings because they have no real alternative. Sensors improve every year or two and there are minor changes to the user interface with each new model. But overall the DSLR is not evolving because there is no direction in which it can evolve.
    Nikon does have an ace in it's corporate hand but appears not to know quite how to play it. I refer to the Nikon 1 system, the top tier models of which have some remarkable performance capabilities. I think that if Nikon were to focus more attention on developing the 1 System it could become very attractive to users seeking a compact alternative to  the  DSLR.
    Ricoh/Pentax   I am a Pentax user from way back and would love to see this once proud brand  return to market prominence. Sadly that appears unlikely with market share and product rollout declining each year.  Ricoh's experiment with the GXR system appears to have failed to the surprise of hardly anybody.
    Samsung   This mega corporation (chaebol) makes just about everything from ships to (electronic) chips and also has a camera division which makes up a tiny percentage of total production.  Samsung entered the system camera market with a model sharing agreement with Pentax then went alone with the NX System which is still in production, but with a limited model lineup and no clear sense of direction as far as I can tell. Samsung's recent interest appears to be less about cameras and more about  devices which blend the characteristics of camera and smart phone. The recently released Galaxy S4 Zoom is an example, featuring a 10x zoom lensor module fixed  onto  the back of a smartphone module.
    Sony  To my mind Sony is the most adventurous and innovative of all the camera makers, not always to Sony's or it's customer's benefit. Sony entered the ILC market with the purchase of the Minolta camera business and made DSLR's for a short time, using the A mount. Then they dropped the traditional flipping mirror DSLR and introduced the fixed mirror SLT variant of  the DSLR type camera also using the A mount. Then came the MILC NEX system using the new E Mount with very short (18mm) flangeback distance and 28mm diagonal sensor. But now it seems the NEX name is no longer to be used.
    Recently we saw the arrival of the new FE mount which squeezes a full frame (43mm diagonal) sensor into the E mount. The sensor is longer on the diagonal than the internal diameter of the lens mount.  That could be thought of as "courageous", in the sense the word is used in the classic TV series  "Yes Minister".  It means no lens designed for that mount will ever be able to have a rear element with a diameter equal to the diagonal of the sensor. This means the light rays going to the corners of the image will always strike the sensor at an angle. Digital sensors have to utilise special design features to enable corner sharpness, brightness and color fidelity with such arrangements. Presumably the Sony engineers figure they have this issue under control but it will still be interesting to see what lenses are developed for the special requirements of the FE mount.
    Sony's promotional material says the A mount continue but  if so what type of camera will it support ?
    What lenses will fit on the FE mount and will they give full coverage on the sensor without vignetting or sharpness problems at the corners ?
    What is Sony's overall product strategy  ? What system is Sony going to promote and what lenses are /will be available for it ?
    You see the problem here.  We are so many years down the evolutionary pathway of digital cameras and yet it is not clear to me (and I follow the photographic news with reasonable diligence)  where Sony is headed with all these recent changes.
    Sony has a history of introducing  innovative new ideas, but has thus far struggled to  translate  those ideas into a market leading camera system.


    Some final comments about the M43 system  It has been my view for several years and remains so,  that M43 represents the best balance between image quality and compact size, when considering a camera system with bodies and lenses, including long telephoto types. 
    If, dear reader, you don't  believe me, consider the new (for 2013) Lumix 14-140mm 10x zoom lens mounted on a Lumix G6, GX7 or GH3 body.  In no other camera or system can you find such an effectively realised combination of compact size, light weight, superzoom all-in-one convenience, image quality, performance and ergonomics. Check it out.
    An abiding mystery to me is that Canon, Nikon, Sony and Fuji did not join the M43 consortium and have not produced M43 cameras. Canon, Sony and Fuji MILC's use the larger 27-28mm sensor.  The Nikon 1 System uses the smaller 15.9mm sensor.
    My theory on this is totally speculative and based on nothing other than the absence of M43 in the models being offered by  those companies.  You see, Panasonic is the most recent of the corporations reviewed here to enter the camera making world.  That includes Samsung which made compact film cameras for many years before the digital era.
    I wonder if the reason is pique, as in... "that upstart Panasonic went with M43, and the buggers got there first,  so we will go somewhere else, so there."  Maybe I am being a touch paranoid here. Maybe Canon, Sony and Fuji simply thought the 27-28mm sensor would make a better system. But that doesn't explain Nikon going to an even smaller, 15.9mm sensor than the 21.5mm M43 one.  To the slightly cynical observer (me) it looks as though they went anywhere else except M43.
    I guess we will never know......................


     


    0 0
  • 12/17/13--20:00: Why Mirrorless ?

  • Panasonic GH3, Lumix 14-140mm lens
     
    What is a Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC)
    and
    In what ways does it differ from a Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera (DSLR) ?

     


    Why am I writing this article ?  I was talking about cameras with family members recently. The subject of discussion was a Nikon 1 V2 camera. The question was put ..."What kind of camera is that" ?  I said  "It's a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, not a digital single lens reflex camera, OK" ?  They replied..."What are you talking about, we don't understand any of  those words".
    These particular family members are pretty smart people but they are, like most other people,  just not camera geeks.
    (very) Brief Historical Background  For many years if you wanted to step up to better picture quality from a compact camera, you got a Single Lens Reflex (SLR).  In due course film gave way to digital and the SLR became a DSLR.
    Leica can probably claim to have been the first to introduce a MILC with it's original 35mm film M series rangefinders dating from 1954, and also the first to introduce a digital MILC with the M8 of 2006. But M Leicas occupy a select niche with manual operation and very high prices.
    The MILC  entered the electronic era with the 2008 release by Panasonic of  the G1 which was the first camera made to the new Micro Four Thirds (M43) format. Olympus soon followed with it's own M43 cameras. Other makers were not far behind with their own interpretations of the MILC theme, using a variety of different sensor sizes and proprietary lens mounts.
    Now all the makers of interchangeable lens cameras offer some kind of MILC. Some, such as Panasonic, Olympus and Fuji are fully committed to mirrorless ILC's. Others such as Canon, Nikon and Pentax remain heavily involved with DSLR production. Sony appears (although this is not entirely clear)  to be in transition to an all mirrorless model  lineup (maybe).
    The DSLR  Has it's roots in mid 20th Century technology. It is essentially a mechanical/optical device  onto which has been grafted autofocus and digital image capture. It's effective operation is highly reliant on optical and mechanical components which must be manufactured and assembled with a high degree of precision. These include the flipping mirror, submirror, autofocus module, focus screen and  pentaprism.
    The MILC  Is a creature of the 21st Century and of electronic technology. The MILC does away with the mechanical components referred to above. It replaces the optical viewfinder (OVF) with an electronic viewfinder (EVF).
    What are the advantages of the MILC ?
    Size/mass   Much of the manufacturer's promotional material for the MILC concept strongly emphasises the reduced body size made possible by the new technology. This is all true of course but maybe not as important to consumers as the makers appear to believe. There could be several reasons for this. 
    * Cameras can get smaller but the hands which hold them do not, so there reaches a point at which the camera body is so small it becomes difficult to hold and operate confidently.
    * DSLR's can also be made quite small.
    * We are talking about cameras which use interchangeable lenses so we need to consider the size and weight of a camera body with several lenses. As it happens, lens size is mainly determined by sensor size which is unrelated to the question of DSLR vs MILC technology.
    EVF vs OVF   The debate about the relative merits of the two types of viewfinder continues to find energy on camera user forums. However as EVF's improve with each iteration and given that the OVF reached the end of its' evolutionary journey many years ago, the balance is gradually shifting in favour of the EVF. 
    OVF advantages
    * A good quality OVF provides better highlight/shadow detail than even the best current EVF's,  especially in bright sunny conditions, but the gap is closing.  
    * With continuous shooting an OVF preview image refreshes at the speed of light which we all know is pretty darn quick. The best EVF's are not yet as fast.
    EVF advantages 
    * Preview image brightness can be configured to remain constant in bright or low light. It can also be set to emulate the effect of exposure compensation.
    * The EVF can be adjustable for brightness, contrast/saturation and color balance, to suit individual requirements.
    * The EVF can be configured to a variety of image preview and review formats. The aspect ratio can be selected. The preview type such as SLR style or Monitor style, can be selected.
    * A large number of user selectable image overlays can be displayed or not displayed, to user preference.
    * The EVF typically displays a 100% accurate image preview size and boundary.  Most OVF's do not.
    Segue from eye level view to monitor view 
    The DSLR  is really two cameras inhabiting the same body shell. With eye level viewing the light path passes through the lens, is partly reflected off the flipping mirror, travels up through the focussing screen, pentaprism and viewfinder eyepiece.  But switch to monitor view (often called live view in DSLR parlance) and the light path is completely different. The mirror flips up and the camera now functions like a MILC, with image preview, focussing, and exposure measurement all derived from the imaging sensor.
    With the MILC  there is no need to switch from one view to the other. They are the same view, streamed directly and continuously from the imaging sensor. The EVF and monitor can be configured to have exactly the same appearance and  features. [note: not all MILC's currently offer this facility.  They should, it makes a big difference to the user experience.]  Look at the monitor, you see the monitor. Look at the viewfinder, you see the EVF.  The segue from one to the other is seamless.
    Whenever I use a DSLR I am reminded of just how clunky and discontinuous is the DSLR experience when switching view modalities, compared to the smooth and seamless experience with a good MILC.
    Auto Focus  In a DSLR there are two completely different autofocus systems. (Sony SLT's  use one system). 
    With eye level view AF is managed by a module in the base of the camera. This receives light passing through the semi reflective flipping mirror, onto a submirror, then to a series of prisms and lenses making up the AF module. This system has two characteristics
    1) It can be very fast
    2) It is prone to inaccuracy from two sources
    * The slightest misalignment of the optical/mechanical components of the AF pathway will lead to repeatable AF error, i.e. always  too close or always too distant.
    * The Phase Detect AF technology used is subject to random type errors. This is because the PDAF system determines where it thinks a lens focussing module should be sent and does so. This is fast, but does not confirm exact focus hence the inaccuracies.
    With monitor viewing the DSLR uses the imaging sensor for autofocus just like the MILC described below.  However many DSLR's focus very slowly in monitor view as their on sensor AF technology is not as advanced as that in MILC's.
    With a MILC autofocus is always determined right on the imaging sensor. It can utilise phase detect (PD), contrast detect (CD) or some combination of both.
    The AF speed of early model MILC's was slightly slower than typical DSLR's. However as I quickly realised when I started comparing my early model Panasonic MILC's to my mid range Canon DSLR's, the Panasonic MILC's were very much more consistent and accurate in all conditions.  It was  in fact this inconsistency with Canon DSLR  AF which caused me to move to MILC's.
    AF speed in MILC's has now increased to the extent that many are now both faster and remain more accurate than DSLR's with single shot capture.
    Continuous Autofocus (follow focus on moving subjects)  While many MILC's are now comprehensively better at single shot AF than DSLR's the same is not true for follow focus capability.
    One of the issues here is EVF blackout time in MILC's. Because viewfinder blackout is longer (than a DSLR) after each frame, using the MILC for continuous AF at high frame rates is difficult. The other issue is that the makers of MILC's are not yet quite up to DSLR speed with their on sensor AF-C  systems. There are some exceptions to this, notably the Nikon 1 series V1 and V2 cameras which allow 5 or 15 frames per second with AF on each frame.
    Mirror Slap vs Shutter Shock  DSLR's can produce unsharp photos at certain shutter speeds (often around the 1/8-1/4 sec range)  due to vibrations caused by the flipping mirror. Some MILC's can also exhibit unsharpness with some lenses in some conditions  due to the initial closing action of the focal plane shutter. This has been reported in the shutter speed range 1/20-1/160 second and is often referred to as "Shutter Shock".
    Cost  At the moment, DSLR makers are working to retain  market share with aggressive discounting. And it must be said MILC makers are doing the same thing with runout and discontinued models. However when the silly season is over, assuming it will ever be over, and the makers of MILC's have recouped more of  their R&D costs, there are reasons for believing that MILC's can be inherently cheaper to make than DSLR's. They have fewer components to make and assemble, fewer components which require accurate location in three dimensions and more electronic components which should be cheaper to mass produce and easier to assemble.
    Evolution  The DSLR evolved from the film era SLR. In the 1980's the SLR acquired autofocus and in the 21st Century it replaced film with digital capture.  In the process it acquired a monitor screen on the back and lots of buttons to control the electronics.  But the  basic architecture remains. There is a discontinuity between eye level view and monitor view. The flipping mirror and other optical/mechanical components remain in place. Sony tried, with some success, to address these concerns with it's SLT variant of the DSLR theme. But these cameras have a translucent  mirror permanently located in the image forming light path and they do not permit reduction of the flange back distance. For these reasons I suspect the SLT variant is unlikely to have long term prospects.
    In effect DSLR evolution has come to an end.  The basic architecture is locked in. Most of  the recent technology advances seen in DSLR's, such as improved sensor and image processing technology,  could be applied to MILC's or any other kind of camera.
    The MILC however can be any shape or size, almost without restraint. The EVF can be located just about anywhere. Technology will improve EVF and AF-C performance.
    As many operations on a MILC are drive by wire, the function of user interface modules can be user assigned for a high degree of  configurability.
    What do MILC's need to improve ?
    I nominate three main areas in which improvement is needed.
    1. Improved EVF appearance, smoothness in low light and refresh rate.
    2. Improved follow focus capability.
    3. Elimination of shutter shock by moving from mechanical to electronic shutters.
    I believe each of these challenges is amenable to a technological solution. Many current model MILC's already incorporate partial solutions to each.


older | 1 | .... | 3 | 4 | (Page 5) | 6 | 7 | .... | 28 | newer