Panasonic announce their new full frame mirrorless camera system – the Lumix S with Leica L mount

Written by Gary on September 26th, 2018

Just in case photographers were thinking of switching systems with the new full frame mirrorless camera systems being announced by Canon and Nikon to join the likes of Sony and also Fujifilm’s almost affordable medium format system, Panasonic have finally jumped in with a formal announcement of their new system.

The details are indeed sketchy at present, but they do promise to offer the professional videographers what Canon and Nikon have both failed to deliver thus far.

Lumix S

Two full frame mirrorless cameras

The Panasonic S1R with 47mp and the Panasonic S with 24mp – nicely named so that users can recognise the choice similarities with the other brands (eg. Sony a7III and Sony a7RIII).

Unlike Canon and Nikon’s announcement, Panasonic is looking to address the professional’s video needs right from the start with:

  • World’s first support for 4K 60p/50p video recording in a full-frame mirrorless camera
  • Dual IS – come on Canon, pick your game up!
  • Dual card slots – both Canon and Nikon have failed on this one and memory cards do fail and this is a potentially big issue for professionals who cannot accept failure!
  • Rugged triaxial tilting LCD screen
  • 100% weathersealed – this has been an issue with the current Sony cameras
  • deep learning AI
  • fast flash sync speed and high speed shutter
  • an even better EVF – perhaps their 4.4m dot 0.8x magnification EVF they created for the Leica SL
  • DFD CDAF autofocus – this may be a weakness
  • larger size and thus presumably better ergonomics than the Sony and Nikon cameras which is important given that full frame lenses tend to be big and heavy

The lenses

As expected, their lens line up will take some time to develop but they at least seem to be starting with a sensible trio – 50mm f/1.4 prime, 24-105mm standard zoom and a 70-200mm telephoto zoom with at least 7 more due by 2020.

They do have a couple of advantages over Canon and Nikon when it comes to native lenses designed for mirrorless cameras:

1. there are already some superb, albeit extremely expensive Leica SL lenses available (8 to date) which will be fully compatible apparently.

2. Leica, Panasonic and Sigma have joined in a Leica L mount alliance which should mean a more rapid capability to develop native lenses.

3. Unlike the Canon option which is not compatible with their Canon EOS M system, the mount is also compatible with APS-C cameras such as the Leica TL series and presumably Sigma and Panasonic bodies may be built in cropped sensor in the future – although I must admit I am not sure why anyone would want them when they have Micro Four Thirds.

There is a potential optical performance advantage for wide angle lenses over Sony (46mm diameter) in that the Leica L mount has a slightly wider lens mount diameter (51.6mm) which should allow more effective lens design. The Canon mount is 54mm diameter and the Nikon Z mount is 55mm diameter. Thus the Leica L mount may be an ideal compromise.

In addition Sigma is discontinuing their SA mount camera system which did not sell well, and will be offering two Leica L mount adapters:

  • Sigma SA mount to Leica L mount
  • Canon EF mount to Leica L mount

The widest range of camera sensors

The other advantage that users of this system will have is that they have a much wider range of sensors to choose from:

  • traditional sensors in either 24mp or 47mp resolutions
  • 8K video sensor camera from Panasonic in time for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020
  • Leica monochrome sensor
  • Sigma Foveon sensor (Sigma has announced a full frame Foveon sensor L mount camera is coming in 2019)
  • and perhaps if Olympus joined the alliance it might bring Sony sensors into the system
  • perhaps BlackMagic will join the alliance with their videography cameras

My thoughts

This system may prove to be successful, especially if the alliance is expanded further, and given Panasonic’s excellent past record in videography capabilities with their extremely popular Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the Panasonic GH5, one can expect videographers will love these new cameras as well and will be able to have a choice of sensor sizes with presumably similar user interfaces.

Time will tell how well Panasonic can address the needs of still photographers with these new cameras, and whether they can compete with Sony’s Eye AF tracking for portraiture and will they rely on their current DFD AF technology or add in sensor based PDAF technology to allow faster action AF tracking.

I will update my wiki page with further details as they come through.

The next question remaining is – What will Olympus do?

Should Olympus join the ranks of full frame mirrorless, and if so, who should they join forces with in terms of compatible lens mount – Panasonic, their Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds partners, or should they join with Sony or even Fujifilm?

There is a very valid argument that they should just stick with and concentrate on making their awesome Micro Four Thirds system even better – which I am sure they will continue to do, as will Panasonic.

 

Canon joins the full frame mirrorless camera fray with their Canon EOS R – some thoughts

Written by Gary on September 5th, 2018

Finally, Canon have been dragged into the full frame mirrorless world kicking and screaming – but what have they given us and will it be competitive?

The short answer based on specs and promo videos is that they have created a fantastic portrait and people photography camera – as long as you are not into action or sports – you will have to wait for their pro version to come for that!

Their approach to this Canon EOS R and their initial RF mount lenses is quite different to that of Nikon with their new Nikon R system.

Nikon’s approach seemed to be one of uncertainty – perhaps they did not want to take away from their pro dSLR system, perhaps they did not have enough self-belief in their mirrorless technology – but their initial lens offerings were certainly not aimed at enticing the pros into the system, but perhaps just to stem the tide of enthusiasts and pros moving from Nikon to Sony.

Canon’s approach was very different – sure, they had to develop a new lens mount, just like everyone else has done, but they have essentially created a mirrorless version of their Canon 5D Mark IV with a number of important improvements, some wonderful pro lenses and not one but three EF lens adapters to entice current Canon users to buy into this new RF system – including a rear filter drop in for those with ultra wide lenses or the Canon TS-E 17mm f/5 tilt-shift lens – this may be a godsend to many Canon landscape and architect photographers.

The new Canon EOS R

The camera is clearly priced to compete with the Sony A7III and the new Nikon Z6 – both of which are marginally cheaper, and in some aspects better.

Let’s be clear, this is not a sports camera, unlike the Olympus E-M1 II which can do 18fps with C-AF, or the Sony’s which can do 20fps, this Canon EOS R can only hit 5fps with C-AF, and only 3fps with tracking on.

Despite all the lead time, Canon has failed to release it with a silent electronic burst mode – they say this will come in a later firmware update – suggesting that perhaps Nikon’s announcement of the Z system has rushed their timeline.

A massive disappointment to me as someone with lots of pro Canon lenses such as the tilt-shift lenses which would be awesome on this camera is the failure of Canon to add a sensor based image stabilization system which has now become the de facto standard of modern cameras – but it seems Canon has staunchly refused to add to any of their cameras – sure, for people photography you can avoid it by using higher ISO, but IS allows those prime lenses to be used far more creatively hand held by dragging the shutter – so for me it is almost a deal breaker.

I was pleasantly surprised by Nikon adding sensor based IS to the Z cameras despite never having used this technology in prior cameras – perhaps Canon has not developed it or just is being stubborn, in which case it could end up being a significant factor against them.

Like Nikon they failed to address another need of the professionals – dual memory card slots – perhaps this will come in their pro version.

The new RF lenses.

Unlike Nikon’s new Z mount lenses which are somewhat underwhelming, the new Canon lenses are impressive – especially if you are a people photographer.

For portraits, Canon easily trumps the Nikon Z cameras as well as ANY dSLR available, not only with their DualPixel AF and Eye AF capability (we are yet to see how well this works compared to the Sony but at least it has this feature), but also with two awesome, albeit large, heavy and expensive lenses:

  • Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L
    • in their promo material, Canon announced this was the world’s 1st constant f/2.0 standard zoom lens – well they should have added full frame zoom lens because Olympus beat them many years ago with their brilliant 14-35mm f/2.0 and 35-100mm f/2.0 “Super Pro” lenses
    • nevertheless, this could be a ground breaking lens which brings the Canon pros into the RF fold – if they don’t mind carrying another 1.4kg expensive lens ($US2,999)
    • I can see it would be fantastic for the wedding and fashion photographer – just a pity the camera only has one memory card slot and no image stabilisation
  • Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM
    • almost 1kg and priced at $US2,299, this lens promises to be a far better portrait lens than it’s EF predecessor thanks to the far better AF including Eye AF and better optical design, plus the new controller ring

The other lenses are somewhat run of the mill expected lenses – a 24-105mm f/4 kit lens with IS and a small 35mmf/1.8 IS macro lens which would be great for street photography except it is not weathersealed, so a pain when you bump into that person eating an icecream!

There are two interesting features on this initial lens line up to ponder:

  • Canon has created a novel user interface – the customizable control ring on each lens which could be programmed to control aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.
  • The mix of AF systems:
    • the larger lenses use USM – albeit it seems in a fast, quieter version “Nano USM” (at least the 24-105mm uses this) – but how well will these fair with Eye AF and subject tracking compared to a stepping motor?
    • the 35mm f/1.8 lens uses a stepping motor as on nearly every other lens designed for mirrorless cameras

As usual, I will post specs and links to reviews on my wiki when they become available.

It is exciting times indeed, but I wonder if all this full frame hype may in a few years be taken over by medium format hype – after all, if everyone has a full frame you might want to be better than them and get a sensor that is 2.5x larger so it must be better right?

Well Fuji is bringing down the price of medium format rapidly, and looks like they might have a 50mp mirrorless on the market for the price of only 2-3 entry level full frame mirrorless cameras.

Meanwhile, I will stick to my compact, light, fun Micro Four Thirds system and watch how this all plays out.

When shooting well lit scenes with the pro lenses, you will have trouble discerning any differences in image quality on a 1m print taken with either a 20mp Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II or a Canon 5D Mark IV at twice the weight and price – don’t believe me – check out this Youtube video that tests this and even compromises the Olympus output by cropping it further to 3:2.

Next up into the full frame mirrorless arena is likely to be Panasonic – presumably sporting a Leica SL mount (given that they make the Leica full frame mirrorless cameras already) – why would Panasonic do this? Primarily to allow 8K video for the Olympic Games in Japan and at this stage there is no cropped sensor capable of 8K video.

 

Micro Four Thirds in a full frame mirrorless world

Written by Gary on August 25th, 2018

2018 will be remembered as the year the big guns finally got serious about full frame mirrorless cameras and their attempt to pull back some of the enormous influence Sony has propagated in this area over the past few years.

This week, Nikon finally unveiled their new Nikon Z system which will take them into the future thanks to their new lens mount – but it will be a tough time for the multitude of existing Nikon dSLR users who will have to decide when to give up their legacy lens system and when to make their move into native Nikon S lenses which will perform much better on this new system of the future.

We can expect Canon to follow suit later this year or perhaps early next year.

And of course we already have Fujifilm and Hasselblad medium format mirrorless systems.

Many Canikon fan boys are likely to suggest this may be the end of Micro Four Thirds, but I am very comfortable this will not be the case, and let me tell you why.

NB. These links below mainly take you to my wiki pages for more information, they do not take you to online camera retailers.

1. Micro Four Thirds allows smaller and lighter lenses

This is particularly true when it comes to telephotos.

Size and weight make a BIG difference to your photography gear.

Heavy lenses mean you either carry less lenses when you hike, travel or fly, or risk back injury, fatigue or having to put your gear in check in luggage with likely loss.

Very few photographers can do their best work or feel inspired if they arrive at their destination fatigued from carrying a big load, or indeed just hand holding a heavy telephoto for an hour.

This means photographers will enjoy their work and travels more if their kit is light and small, and this will translate into better imagery with more creativity – as well as mean you are more likely to bring your gear with you.

2. The difference in image quality is NOT important for 99% of use.

Yes, full frame cameras will probably always offer slightly better high ISO quality, more shallow depth of field options, a greater color depth, more dynamic range and better highlight roll off when you pixel peep.

99% of photographers create imagery primarily for display on computers and for the internet rather than bothering with creating exhibition grade large prints (in which case medium format might be even better than full frame).

There are far more issues that change how your imagery is viewed (difference between monitors, prints, post-processing, colour management, etc) which will affect your images more than the sensor differences in ISO noise and color depth and sensor size is probably not critical even when it comes to large prints – as Apple has shown with their iPhone road size bill boards.

Pixel count too becomes largely redundant as most computer images are no greater than 8mp, furthermore, when shooting moving subjects such as sports, birds, etc, the subject movement even with fast shutter speeds results in image detail levels of perhaps only 10mp even if you have an 80 mp sensor. So all those 45mp images with massive file sizes taking up all that computer hard disk space and backup drives, while slowing down your post-processing are, for many cases, a waste of time and money.

Let’s look at a few scenarios:

Travel and street photography

  • most of the time you want everything in focus – the old full frame film street photographers generally used f/8 on their lenses to achieve adequate depth of field (and also lens sharpness is optimised at this aperture on their lenses)
  • you want to avoid changing lenses as this risks dust on the sensor, and opportunities for dropping your gear or having it stolen.
  • in the Micro Four Thirds world, you can choose an Olympus OM-D E-M1 II camera mated with an Olympus micro ZD 12-100mm f/4 OIS lens to give you class leading, weathersealed, highest optical image quality for an 8x zoom lens covering 24-200mm in full frame terms which will be much more compact and lighter than any full frame version. The image stabilisation at the wide angle even allows shutter speeds of many seconds hand held which is incredible and means you can gain low light or blurred water imagery without a tripod which is impossible with any other current system. This also provides one of the best image stabilisation if not THE best for video work. Will full frame kits achieve this level of image stabilisation – possibly, but they do have larger sensors to move and larger, heavier lens elements to contend with which will generally give MFTs the advantage.
  • Another example is the very compact 3x zoom f/1.7-2.8 lens travel camera – the new Panasonic LX100II which uses a MFTs sized sensor to achieve high image quality in a very small camera.
  • not only does MFT have the size and weight advantage here, but by being able to use f/4 for the depth of field required, they can use an ISO 2 stops less which removes nearly every advantage of full frame sensors.

Wildlife and sports photography:

  • if you need the BEST image quality, shallowest DOF then the dSLR with a $10,000 4kg super telephoto is the way to go
  • BUT for most of us, Micro Four Thirds offer twice the telephoto reach for the same size lens as for full frame cameras, and this means half the weight, size and often cost and more fun.
  • At the end of the day viewers do NOT CARE if an image is taken with a MFT sensor or a full frame sensor, in this genre, content is king and being there with a kit capoable of getting the shot by a photographer with skill and creativity will trump sensor size every time.
  • Take a look at this wonderful image which is being used to promote the current Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year for 2018 and not only appearing on the website promo material but also featured on illuminated bill boards in Adelaide – it was taken with the ground breaking but now very old 16mp Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera with the awesome, versatile Olympus micro ZD 40-150mm f/2.8 lens – no-one cares it was not taken with a full frame camera!

Australian National Geographic finalist

Portrait photography:

There are a few key elements that most photographers want from their camera gear for their portraiture:

  • precise depth of field to allow just enough to be adequately sharp from ear to tip of nose while blurring the background and foreground areas – in full frame terms this usually means an aperture of f/2.0-f/2.8 (wider apertures give too shallow a DOF for portraits but may be of use for full length body shots or for “creative” art imagery of faces where perhaps only the eyes are in focus)
    • in MFTs, the Olympus micro ZD 45mm f/1.2 provides this perfect level of depth of field wide open
    • perhaps the biggest issue for MFT for professionals is that you cannot achieve this level of DOF control with MFT zoom lenses while full frame users can use their 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses for this, but for the rest of us, we can avoid these heavy expensive lenses and use smaller prime lenses to achieve in shallower DOF.
    • the future though is for AI to post-process images automatically to provide even shallower DOF which will make the need for full frame more redundant – this is what the smart phone companies have started to do.
    • in studio work where backgrounds are controlled, professionals will often resort to f/8 on a full frame to ensure the highest image quality and in this regard, even the Olympus 12-100mm f/4 will suffice.
  • fast, accurate AF of the CLOSEST eye
    • this is one of the reasons mirrorless is FAR better than dSLRs
    • Sony leads in this technology which was initially introduced by Olympus – unfortunately the new Nikon Z cameras do not have this yet, and NO dSLR has this technology – some have face recognition such as the Nikon D850 but its not the same!
    • When I browse 500px and similar galleries I am constantly amazed how many otherwise good portraits are ruined because the dSLRs / photographer has failed to achieve sharp focus on the closest eye which detracts from the image significantly!

You don’t have to believe me – just check out Sean Archer’s work – he is perhaps THE BEST KNOWN PORTRAIT photographer on the net over the past several years and nearly all his works were created using Olympus OM-D gear. Someone convinced him to go full frame dSLR for a while but he soon gave that up and went back to his Olympus gear because it achieves the above better.

Sean Archer

Selfie or vlogger photography:

  • if you want to do a selfie, a small, light camera and lens makes this far more comfortable so MFTs is always going to have an advantage over full frame cameras
  • more importantly, the rear LCD screen needs to swivel so you can see what you are shooting – the new Nikon Z cameras do not have this.
  • the Panasonic GH-5 is still one of the most favored cameras for doing vlogging.

Conclusion:

There is no doubt the new full frame mirrorless cameras will seduce many photographers – much as a status symbol more than for any other reason – although pros will prefer to be able to use their f/2.8 full frame holy trinity zoom lenses and they need the Canon and Nikon pro backup services which are not there to any close extent by Olympus or Panasonic.

In my mind, Micro Four Thirds has a sufficient base to not only survive but I believe will only get stronger, especially when those who migrate to full frame mirrorless systems realise that they probably don’t really need to carry all that gear around and can achieve most of their imagery with a smaller, lighter, and less expensive kit.

That said, there are a few areas where full frame currently does have advantages but these will reduce and perhaps disappear for all practical purposes as sensor technologies continue to improve and AI post-processing addresses DOF and image noise issues.

The big question is whether Olympus should join the fray and create a full frame mirrorless system as well.

I personally would like this as for the few times I want to use full frame, I could use the same ergonomics and user interface as I am used to with the Olympus OM-D cameras.

Having multiple interfaces by using different brands does adversely impact your photography, and I really dislike having to get my Sony a7II full frame mirrorless out to shoot – so it rarely comes out – and it may go the same way as my Canon 1D Mark III dSLR – sit in the closet as a remnant of a past age.

 

 

Australia’s drought – time to help the farmers out – photographers maybe it is a time for a trip to the rural regions?

Written by Gary on August 25th, 2018

Australian farmers generally have a hard time of surviving in many areas, and climate change has made this increasingly difficult as long droughts seem to become more common, and along with those come grassfires and bushfires, and the occasional massive floods to really make life hard.

Many towns in NSW are now running extremely low on even town water for the occupants let alone water for the farms.

courtesy BOM

The above shows the vast areas of south-eastern Australia with the lowest rainfalls for a 7 month period which not only highlights the drought issue but the risk of major fires as we head towards another hot, dry summer.

16 month drought, courtsey of BOM

Looking over even 16 months, we still see lowest levels on record in most of these areas.

The above are courtesy of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).

Perhaps photographers can help a little – by touring these areas to not only capture and highlight the drought, but bring much needed money into these communities – and for posterity document historic features which may become destroyed in bushfires – an ever present risk in Australia which results in substantial losses of our heritage nearly every year.

PS. bring your own water!

 

Wow! Nikon has indeed created a compelling mirrorless full frame system – the new Nikon Z6 and Z7 cameras

Written by Gary on August 24th, 2018

We have been waiting a long, long time for Nikon to finally release a full frame mirrorless camera.

They were well behind the ball game compared to Sony and doubts were being raised as to if they could be competitive given the 5 year head start they have given Sony.

This new Nikon Z system will not be a Sony killer yet – but perhaps in 5 yrs time when the system starts to mature, it may be.

From the specs announced today by Nikon, they have learned from the Sony design mistakes and not only created a competitive camera but a system design which is likely to outperform the Sony for ultra-wide angle lenses thanks to its more sensible lens mount design.

Nikon Z6

Essentially the Nikon Z6 and Z7 are much the same as the Sony a7III and Sony a7RIII cameras but with a larger lens mount diameter which will allow improved edge image quality, especially with ultra-wide angle lenses with more future proofing, and better ergonomics including larger grips – and a far better menu system. The Z6 offers potentially better video thanks to its 10-bit HDMI compressed video out feed, 12 stop dynamic range N-log flat video profile and 1080/120p as well as the now usual 4K 30p mode.

These cameras are not revolutionary, but they will be another nail in the coffin for dSLRs which will increasingly struggle to compete with the many advantages of mirrorless, and the ability of mirrorless technology to further rapidly evolve and surpass dSLR.

These cameras have many advantages over their dSLR counterparts – the Nikon D750 and D850 – particularly in terms of the image stabilisation, the lovely EVF technology with limited blackout, much improved AF coverage across the frame, improved video capabilities, as well as the size and weight is much reduced – and they will be able to use the next generation Nikon lenses as well as almost any other legacy system lens ever made.

But there will be many questions to be answered over the forthcoming weeks on how well do the specs actually perform in real life when compared to the Sony cameras – especially the areas where Nikon has not proven its technology – the 5 axis sensor based image stabilisation is new for Nikon as well as the Dual IS capability and Nikon is not exactly known for its fast autofocus in Live View mode so it will be interesting to see how well it performs for eye detection AF and continuous AF, especially with the legacy Nikon F mount lenses which are not optimised for CDAF technologies.

Nikon have taken the best features from various cameras (such as the 5EV 5 axis sensor based IS which Olympus first introduced in the OM-D series, the top LCD screen from Fujifilm, menu system, weathersealing, batteries, etc from their D850) and created two awesome cameras on paper EXCEPT ONLY ONE XQD memory card slot – this may be their Achilles heel for the pros – I am not sure what the designers were thinking here!

Other potential issues:

Another feature they did not include which is common on many other cameras is Touch Pad AF to allow selection of the AF point.

The two front function buttons are almost impossible to access while gripping the camera.

Subject tracking AF is more clunky and slower to access than the 3D Tracking on Nikon dSLRs – and a big negative is that they do NOT have no Eye AF like the Sony or Olympus.

Rear screen does not swivel so not great for selfies of vloggers.

AF Assist light is an annoying green on-camera light and for some reason does not seem to activate an on-camera flash AF Assist beam.

No pixel shifting to give higher resolution images as with the Olympus cameras.

Limited buffer for burst mode – seems restricted to 16 RAW images which is quite poor if this is confirmed on production models.

Appears to have significant rolling shutter issues in electronic shutter mode.

4K video is only 24/25/30p, not 60p, but you can do 120p in 1080 mode. The Panasonic GH5 will still be king for video for most vloggers as not only does it do 60p 4K and 180p 1080HD, it is optimised for video, has two SD card slots, has a swivel LCD and a massive line up of native video and C-AF optimised lenses.

However, given the initial line up of mainly f/1.8 lenses, I suspect Nikon are targeting these cameras at enthusiasts rather than the pros at this stage, and we could then expect a pro level camera to be announced in 2020 once the trinity of f/2.8 zoom lenses are available.

Using legacy Nikon F mount lenses on these cameras is a significant compromise when compared to a native optimised lens (as has occurred with Sony, Olympus, Canon EOS-M – most of these lenses do not have modern fast stepping motors but the older USM motors designed for dSLR technology):

  • the lenses will probably be bigger as they have not been able to be optimised for the short flange distance
  • it will require the lens adapter which can become a weak point for weather issues and for movement/electronic contacts issues
  • you will lose your 5EV 5 axis image stabilisation effectiveness as you will only get 3 axis IS
  • even if they introduced Eye detect AF, this is unlikely to work on these lenses
  • continuous AF tracking will not work as well as it does on a dSLR – you will need a native lens to get this level of C-AF.

So if you are shooting moving subjects with Nikon F mount lenses, you would be well advised to stick to the dSLR for this purpose.

One other thing that did surprise me is that their planned super expensive NOCT lens, the 58mm f/0.95 is said to be manual focus only – this would be quite disappointing if it cannot be made to leverage the main advantage of mirrorless by having fast, accurate Eye detect AF which is so critical for such a shallow DOF lens.

Would I buy one?

Not at the moment (although if I were a Nikon shooter, it MIGHT make sense to change over now while you can still get good re-sale value on your Nikon F mount lenses, and if you are getting into full frame photography and you really like Nikon and can put up with the issues, then the Nikon Z system will be future-proof for you).

These two introductory cameras suggest Nikon is just dipping their toes in the water to test the feedback from the photography community – the design is far more future proof than the Sony design but these two cameras lack critical features for pros, vloggers, portrait, wedding and sports photographers (yep doesn’t leave much does it?) – but all these issues can be resolved with future camera and lens releases – assuming Nikon survives financially – if they don’t address the above issues soon and users now realise their Nikon F kits have a limited life, the release of this system may have a paradoxical effect and see their customers and potential new ones jumping ship to Sony or Canon – or even to Micro Four Thirds when they realise they probably don’t really need full frame for 99% of their pics.

Perhaps the best utility of these cameras as announced thus far will be for landscape, architecture or Milky Way astroscape photography where use of adapted lenses will not be an issue.

The Sony a7III and Sony a7RIII, for all their ergonomic foibles and lens mount design issues provide 3 critical functionalities not YET available with these Nikon Z cameras:

  • wide variety of native lenses to maximise the benefits of this technology (legacy Nikon F lenses can be used but with limited functionality and responsiveness)
  • awesome Eye AF – the Eye AF on the Sony cameras is perhaps THE prime reason I would buy one (it is even better than the Olympus version and Olympus was the first to bring it out)
  • dual card slots – a big deal breaker for critical work and for pros – memory cards do fail unexpectedly, and have a backup will save your butt – this is a big mistake by Nikon on their introductory cameras!

The fact there is no Eye AF and no native 85mm f/1.4 lens to make the most of it means the Sony will be FAR better for portrait / fashion / wedding photographers – and given their announced timeline, it doesn’t look like this will be changing at least until 2021.

The fact that there are no native telephoto lenses on the timeline means that the Sony will be a far better mirrorless option for sports and wildlife at least until 2021.

See my Wiki page for comparison table with the Sony cameras and with the Nikon D750/D850 as well as more details and reviews as they come in.

What about the other manufacturers?

Now to see what Canon comes up with and will they be able to be competitive – at least they have had a few years with their EOS M mirrorless system and their DualPixel AF sensors have given great Live View AF – but they still have to develop the sensor based image stabilisation, fast Eye detection AF, improved dynamic range sensors and a range of STM full frame lenses in their new mount to be competitive.

Now would be a fantastic time for Canon and Nikon to work together to share this new Z mount and end all this proprietary mount nonsense – no longer will Canon users be able to adapt Nikon Z mount lenses onto their cameras unless they do this – but of course, that is not the way most competitive companies work (apart from Panasonic and Olympus who should be praised for agreeing to unify their Micro Four Thirds mount – if only we had a near-open full frame mount standard as well!).

As good as these cameras are they still need larger, heavier lenses than Micro Four Thirds, so for me there will always be a place for the Olympus OM-D range of cameras and lenses, but perhaps Canon may tempt me to add a full frame mirrorless camera to my kit to replace my Sony a7 II which I am not a big fan of, and which I rarely use because I hate the ergonomics and the size of the Sigma EF 35mm f/1.4 lens just kills me.

Professional photographers may wish to further distance their “quality” from the hordes of full frame “photographers”, and jump ship to medium format mirrorless cameras such as the Fujifilm GFX or Hasselblad X systems – especially if they are mainly doing studio or landscape work.

 

The new Panasonic LX100 II – large sensor 3x zoom compact camera

Written by Gary on August 22nd, 2018

Most manufacturers have largely given up on the digital compact camera scene given that smartphones have essentially replaced their utility, while enthusiast photographers generally will go for an interchangeable lens mirrorless or dSLR camera for more versatility.

Today, Panasonic has announced a version II upgrade of their 2014 original model LX 100 compact camera.

Why would you consider buying it?

Well there are some very good reasons indeed!

Smartphones are great because you always have them with you and they provide adequate image quality for many purposes, but they are quite restricted in many aspects and the image quality and burst rates, and flash capabilities are not going to come close to what a large sensor digital camera like the LX 100 II can achieve.

My Apple iPhone 6 only gives a field of view range of 30mm-150mm in full frame terms – so it never gets that wide, and the quality when you zoom it is debatable, not to mention it is slow to focus, and terrible image quality in low light.

You could get most of the LX 100 II’s capability and image quality and burst rates with a Micro Four Thirds camera such as a entry level Olympus OM-D EM-10 or a Panasonic G80/85 or GX80/85 but although these cameras have many advantages over the LX100 II such as ability to change lenses, they are larger, heavier, and depending upon the lens, more expensive.

The LX 100 II has a few extra tricks up its sleeve to make it a great travel camera.

The advantages of the LX 100 II:

  1. much more compact, lighter kit than any interchangeable lens kit with the same lens capabilities at only 392g and measuring only 115 x 66 x 64 mm (4.53 x 2.6 x 2.52″) – the G80/85 and GX80/85 cameras weigh in at around 450g for body only then you have to add in the weight of a comparable lens – of which none exist with those specs.
  2. the sensor is multi-aspect 17mp output no matter which aspect ratio you choose, so for Instagrammers, just choose 1:1 and you don’t end up having to crop almost half your image off like you have to do with a Canon, Nikon or Sony camera with its 3:2 sensor ratio. On the other hand, if you are shooting portraits then you can enjoy the fatter image style of 4:3 Micro Four Thirds, or if you are shooting landscapes you can go for a wider 16:9 aspect ratio.
  3. the leaf shutter is within the lens – this is great for strobists as you can shoot at shutter speeds up to 1/4000th sec without having to resort to high speed sync modes and this gives you a better chance of being able to over power the sun when using powerful flashes – great for shooting creatively outdoors as well as indoors, and of course it has a hot shoe so you can attach a radio wireless remote flash transceiver and fire off remote flashes at will.
  4. despite it’s small size, the 24-75mm eq. lens has a incredibly wide aperture for such a lens – f/1.7 at 24mm to f/2.8 at 75mm – for comparison, the extremely popular Micro Four Thirds “pro” zoom lenses cover this range but only at f/2.8 throughout the range. Oh, but it doesn’t zoom as much as my smartphone – well if you use digital zoom you will still get better image quality than the smartphone.
  5. extremely fast, accurate autofocus with 0.1sec response time and also ability to AF on stars – the 24mm wide aperture at f/1.7 in theory will mean this camera could be used for Milky Way astroscapes at ISO 1600, but we will have to wait and see how good this lens renders stars.
  6. Bluetooth LE for faster image transfer to your smartphone and thus faster internet uploads.
  7. USB charging – you don’t need to carry a bulky battery charger on your travels.
  8. Retro style functionality you can see the aperture (aperture ring is on the lens), shutter speed and exposure compensation by looking down on the camera without it being turned on.
  9. Power zoom lever next to shutter button for one handed zoom and shoot.
  10. Makes a great 2nd camera for those with a Micro Four Thirds camera fitted with a longer zoom or a portrait lens.
  11. Much more discrete for use in more risky areas where a larger camera could make you a target for theft or a bashing or both.
  12. Silent electronic shutter mode to 1/16,000th sec.
  13. Great macro functionality – close focus to 3cm, focus stacking mode – albeit in 4K 8mp Photo Mode.
  14. 11fps rapid burst mode – 11 frames per sec at up to 33 RAW images in a burst (5.5 fps with continuous AF and presumably 40fps in electronic shutter mode with fixed focus)
  15. EVF is mounted to far left allowing one to view EVF with right eye while left eye can view the scene for situational awareness, composition support and timing aid.

But, it’s not for everyone!

There are compromises of course.

It’s a really small camera and not as well suited to big hands.

You can’t change lenses, so you can’t replace the lens with a lovely portrait lens to really blur the background, nor can you zoom in on wildlife (unless you use digital zoom).

If you want to really blur the background out (as with your smartphone), this is not the camera for you (although it will for close up macro shots, and for portraits it will blur the background a lot more than your smartphone).

The video mode uses a 1.34x crop so you can’t get as wide angle as you may like but instead it effectively becomes a 32-100mm eq lens, much more like your smartphone. There is no mic or headphone port.

The EVF is not an OLED one but uses field sequential technology which can cause a colour smearing effect at times.

The touch screen is fixed and not tilting nor swiveling – so not so good for selfies.

Not weathersealed, nor “tough”, no image stabilisation and USB port is only a slow USB 2.0.

It is not cheap – RRP $US999 (although the much heavier and larger Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens is around $US799 and the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 OIS lens is $US899 and you still need to buy a camera) and it is expected to be available in Oct 2018.

That said, many people will find this camera invaluable for their travels or perhaps even as a strobist camera.

See also:

 

The new Arsenal AI Smart Camera Assistant remote control has arrived, initial tests with the Sony a7II mirrorless camera

Written by Gary on August 17th, 2018

After a long wait from the Kickstarter campaign, I finally received my pre-order of the Arsenal AI Smart Camera Assistant which is designed to sit in the camera’s hotshoe and plug into the camera’s USB port and then you take control of the camera via WiFi connection to your smartphone using the Arsenal app.

 

This device and app will have a variety of functions to extend or make it easier for you to use, the camera’s more complex functionality such as:

  • AI algorithms to determine optimal camera settings for a given image by measuring subject speed, camera shake, exposure data, and comparing to a bank of vectored test images.
  • Remote Live View and remote touch AF
  • Multi-touch AF to then allow the app to determine the most appropriate focus point to get those points in focus as optimally as possible using a modified hyperfocal distance calculation
  • Whole Scene AF – the device determines the AF point – this is mainly for landscape or architectural imagery
  • Full manual remote control
  • Timelapse – interval 3secs to 10 minutes and 2-10,000 images, it then automatically tells you how long this will take and then how long to play back at 24fps, and “coming soon”, the option to allow the app to change exposure settings over time
  • Video recording with option of delay start from 1sec to 3hrs
  • Battery meter display for both the camera and the Arsenal device
  • HDR Exposure Stacking – manual or automatically determined by device
  • Focus stacking – manual settings or automatically determined by device (auto mode is “coming soon”)
  • Long exposure blending – manual settings or automatically determined by device (auto mode is “coming soon”) – this mode may allow avoiding the need for ND filters in some circumstances
  • Display compositional grids – Rule of Thirds or Golden Ratio grids
  • Focus Peaking
  • Zebra Stripes
  • Refocus before shot
  • Mirror lock up – On/Off, or automatically determined by device
  • Night focus on stars – device takes a series of images of stars at different focus points then determines which is sharpest – this apparently occurs seemlessly when Smart mode detects a night scene.

In stacking modes, RAW files are merged into a single RAW file within the device – “Arsenal is capable of merging multiple RAW exposures into a single 16-bit DNG file on your camera. This file format is supported in most modern photo editing software. The files are merged on the Arsenal device and written back to the card in the camera, resulting in one image file”.

Most of the features are designed for remote control of your camera which is mounted on a tripod.

You can however, set the device to “hands-free mode” by holding the device’s power button for 3 secs, and then you shoot using the camera as normal however, the device will control the exposure settings depending upon the scene data it receives – in this mode, you take the photo as normal, using the shutter button on the camera. HDR, focus stacking, etc will be disabled in this mode.

It does not actually need to be mounted in the camera’s hotshoe (although it needs to for the Smart mode to detect camera shake), but for convenience when connected via USB cable it can be. If you need to use a flash in the hotshoe, that is fine, but the device will only work as a remote shutter trigger with remote manual exposure settings.

AI Smart Photo

Smart photo mode detecting scene and camera movement

Multi-point focus mode

Determining optimum focus position to achieve multiple distances in focus

Getting started with the device:

The first thing that occurs when you try to connect the smartphone app to the Arsenal device via WiFi for the first time is that it detects the firmware version and then insists on advising downloading the latest version (almost 500Mb), and if this stalls due to the internet being busy or the server being busy, you must close the app, restart it and then start all over again – it does not just start back at where it stalled.

Once downloaded to the phone, the phone will then send the firmware to the device and update it which takes about 15 minutes.

There does not seem to be a way of stopping the download and using the current firmware – this could be an issue if you have not used it for a while and then go out to do your astro work and find that you have to download 500Mb through your phone provider to get it working.

So I am now using the current firmware as of 16th August 2018 which is v 0.8.51.

Note also that the device has a smallish battery which will only last a few hours and needs to be charged via the microUSB port on the RIGHT side – you may need to bring along a USB power bank if you are going to be using it extensively on a shoot.

The current reality with the Sony a7II (and a7RII):

The Arsenal developers seem to have run into issues with certain cameras including the Sony a7II (and all version I and II Sony a series cameras) in that the direct USB cable approach does NOT work with them, and instead, you need to turn the camera’s WiFi on (ie. aeroplane mode to OFF), and have installed the Sony PlayMemories Smart Remote App (downloadable from the Sony website in-camera once you have a Sony account and connect the Sony WiFi to your internet). See here for details on setting everything up.

The first time you connect the device to the Sony camera, you need to follow these steps:

Once you have set the camera to run the Smart Remote App, press the camera Trash button to display the password that you need to enter into your smartphone Aresenal app to allow the Arsenal device to connect via WiFi to the camera.

Open the Arsenal smartphone app and once you have joined the Arsenal device’s WiFi network (this may take a few goes), you then choose Connect to Sony camera on teh app and it will prompt you for the Sony camera’s password.

Subsequent use:

You just put the camera into the Smart Remote App, turn the device on, open the smartphone app, join the Arsenal device WiFi and then the camera connection should occur automatically.

Current features not available:

  • auto modes for focus stacking, long exposure blending
  • Multi-touch AF
  • Whole scene AF
  • auto exposure of images during timelapse
  • video capture mode
  • no white balance settings appear to be possible within the app
  • the final timelapse video does not seem to display in app, only the last image is displayed

The issues with Sony focus may apply to these cameras when doing focus stacking – see here.

I have not tested the Night focus system on stars which apparently should come into play automatically when Arsenal detects a night scene (in which case it will also tell the Smart mode to limit the shutter duration to the 500-rule for earth’s rotation when doing Milky Way astroscapes).

Other gotchas:

It only works with some cameras such as the latest Canon, Nikon or Sony cameras.

They promise support for other cameras in the near future such as Micro Four Thirds Olympus or Panasonic.

It is not weathersealed – although when used in WiFi mode, this is not an issue as you don’t have to connect it with the camera physically, and it could be carried in a pocket as long as you don’t need the Smart mode which needs to calculate camera shake.

Battery lasts 4-5 hours, but at least there is a separate port for USB charging while in use – however using this on the Sony a7ii with its poor battery life, means you will run its battery down as well, plus your smartphone’s battery – especially if you forget to turn them off!

There is no current iPad app or Android tablet app as yet, only the smartphone apps.

You can only control one camera at a time, and only one device from a smartphone at a time.

Does not do panoramic stitches at present.

At $US250, it is not cheap, but for many it may be worth it as it may make their photography easier – particularly if you do macro, architectural, landscape or astrophotography or you wish to create timelapses.

For other options of remote control, see my wiki.

 

Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 and Olympus OM-D E-M1II makes a formidable sports combo

Written by Gary on July 1st, 2018

The Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 lens for Micro Four Thirds combined with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera makes an amazing compact sports kit providing 400mm field of view in full frame terms in one of the sharpest lenses ever made mated with excellent continuous AF at 18fps in silent electronic shutter burst mode.

When using a prime lens at a sports event, you have perhaps a quarter of the field where you could capture the action without being too close or too far away.

This lens allows a spectator near the fence to capture great action imagery from around 10m to 60m from the camera.

For these test images of the combination at a stadium event at night under lights, I used manual exposure of 1/800th sec, f/2.8 at ISO 1250 with optical IS on, although, I presume at this shutter speed the IS probably does not add much. The AF was set to central 9 AF regions and I applied the in-camera AF limiter to 5m – 65m to ensure the camera did not focus lock on the background spectators or advertising hoardings. This is an amazing technology unique to this camera and makes C-AF all that more accurate by avoiding accidental locking!

To avoid the ens being too intrusive for spectators behind me, I did not use the lens hood and a UV filter was on the lens as a protective filter.

These images have been cropped a little and have had some clarity applied to the in focus players to give them a more rugged appearance, although I did forget to apply noise reduction in LR.

Click on the images to see a sharper, larger view.

afl

afl

afl

I also tested C-AF on a player running towards the camera at 18fps and it kept focus lock admirably well.

I did not need the Pro-Capture mode in this scenario but this is another great feature of this camera for sports.

One complaint I do have is that there is a significant delay between turning camera on and having the lens ready to AF – one does need to anticipate the action if one turns the camera off between plays.

The other main complaint I have always had with this camera is that you cannot select more than 9 AF regions without having to select all focus regions – Olympus could you please add a middle range such as 15 AF regions so one has a little more flexibility with composition as the subject moves across the frame.

That said, the default AF settings did very well in ignoring a foreground player momentarily passing in front of the subject during C-AF burst shooting, and by using the focus limiter, it does not lock on the background when the subject moves out of the AF region.

What a brilliant compact, silent, minimally intrusive, weather-sealed kit thus is also great for classical music concerts or the tennis.

 

Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 lens vs Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens and Canon 1.4x TC on Micro Four Thirds

Written by Gary on June 28th, 2018

The Panasonic Leica DG 200mm f/2.8 lens for Micro Four Thirds is now readily available, and very expensive ($US2999 with the bundled 1.4x TC which was NOT used in these tests), so, after having ran some tests with other Micro Four Thirds and Four Thirds lens options in a previous post, I decided to test it against the flagship Canon prime lens – the Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens with and without the Canon 1.4x teleconverter – mounted on the same Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera to ensure there were no differences in sensors, and I used a bounce flash with no direct light onto the lens to remove issues of camera shake, image stabilisation etc. Both lenses were used without any filters and with their long lens hoods. The Canon lens was mounted via a Metabones adapter and as this does not allow AF with this particular Canon lens, I used careful, magnified view manual focus.

In each case, the actual AF target chart was the focus point to ensure their were no flatness of field issues.

I performed the exact same image processing in Lightroom – import RAW file, cropped to the top right corner lens testing chart, and exported as jpeg without any further resizing but with LR’s default sharpen for screen applied.

Note: the links on my posts take you to more information on my wikipedia, not to online retailers!

at effective f/2.8 center corner
Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 comparison comparison
Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens with Canon 1.4x TC to give 189mm f/2.8 comparison comparison
Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens shot at f/2.8 but moved closer to chart to give similar magnification, better resolution than with the TC on, but still very soft contrast! comparison comparison

With the Canon lens with TC, I did try to achieve similar magnification but the size for the corner shot indicates I was a touch too close, nevertheless this should have given a resolution advantage to the Canon combo but obviously the combo was no where near a match for the Panasonic lens!

The Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens is renown for its internal lens flaring when direct light hits the front element, and this can be used to effect to soften portrait images without having to apply Vaseline to a front filter, but in this test I took great care to avoid this in this testing, and yet the micro-contrast is very poor in comparison with the amazingly superb results of the Panasonic lens which is much more expensive, but is also better weather-sealed, has optical image stabilisation, focus range limiter, much faster and more accurate autofocus system (compatible with CDAF cameras and face recognition eye detection AF), and a Lens Function button.

The optical deficiencies of the Canon 135mm f/2L lens is one of the reasons I moved from full frame Canon gear to Micro Four Thirds as the superb Olympus micro ZD 75mm f/1.8 lens provided far better microcontrast and faster, more accurate autofocus, especially for portraits, as well as gaining 5 stops of in-camera image stabilisation which is incredibly useful when you need lower shutter speeds for fill in flash in full sunlight.

That said, the Canon 135mm f/2L lens is still a useful lens, and when you need that extra shallow depth of field on a full frame camera, it can be useful, and of course, if you want that soft low contrast look then this lens gives it to you in spades, plus, it can be useful for deep sky astrophotography such as comet photography with a guided equatorial mount.

Panasonic 200mm lens bokeh examples straight out of camera:

bokeh

bokeh

bokeh

And even after the end of a bushwalk in cold conditions, the image stabilisation is so good that this image without a lot of care, was shot at 1/8th sec hand held – that is incredible for a 400mm effective field of view lens:

bokeh

and here is a quick “close up” image of some dew to show the bokeh at closest focus (this one has had a matte colour grading applied):

bokeh

 

How to use your Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II to measure distances

Written by Gary on May 15th, 2018

Using your camera to measure distances can be very useful, even if you are not a golfer.

You could focus on a subject and read off the focus distance on the lens but this is very imprecise.

Another useless method would be to just measure how wide your camera is and then mark out how many cameras it is to your subject, but this requires a calculator and is time consuming and very impractical, and often impossible.

An alternative AFTER you have taken the shot and got the image on the computer is to drop the file onto exiftool(-k).exe and this will display a lot of EXIF information in the image file including the recorded focus distance. You can download this free and excellent EXIFTool file from Phil Harvey’s website.

BUT, the E-M1 Mark II has unique magic – measure BEFORE you shoot!

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera is the first, and still, the ONLY camera that I am aware of which has two unique, in-camera, brilliant focus functions:

  • Preset Manual Focus distance (most pro cameras only have this function available on some lenses and although these lenses can set a focus point it won’t give you a read out of the precise distance set), and,
  • in camera AF focus limiter (other cameras only have this available on some lenses and even then you only have 1 or 2 options which are mainly designed to speed up AF but do not give you enough flexibility to ignore foregrounds or backgrounds)

To measure a distance:

In the Super Control Panel, go to the focus mode section and select Preset MF, then press the INFO button.

Now when you lock AF on a subject (eg. half-press shutter button as per usual) it will display the estimated distance to 0.1m precision which seems accurate on my brief testing.

You then can use these values to set the in-camera near and far AF focus limiter range which is an amazingly good function which allows the AF system to ignore anything closer (eg. foreground subjects, dirty windows, wire fences, etc) and ignore anything more distant (eg. the crowd in the background). This function could save you a LOT of frustration and also potentially avoid out of focus images – just don’t forget to turn it off when it is no longer needed.

Use the AF Limiter to make AF on stars MUCH easier:

AF on fainter stars can be a frustrating experience as the lens runs through the full range of focus distances trying to find maximum contrast.

You can address this issue superbly by setting the in-camera AF Limiter to something like 900m close limit and 999.9m further most limit (this essentially is treated as infinity by the camera).

Makes astrophotography sooo much easier!