dSLRs

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Can’t afford a mirrorless camera? Here is a brief guide to the budget dSLRs in Jan 2017.

Friday, January 27th, 2017

In 2017, the mirrorless interchangeable cameras such as Micro Four Thirds (eg. Olympus or Panasonic – see my previous post on budget mirrorless cameras) are probably the best suited for most people in terms of size of camera and lenses, weatherproofing, image stabilisation, hand held video capabilities, versatility, image quality, more fun and value for money.

However, the most affordable versions of these tend to be too compact and lack too many features, and for those on a strict budget who need better ergonomics and can do without weathersealing and the many features that mirrorless offer (eg magnified manual focus in viewfinder, image review in viewfinder without need for reading glasses, live histograms, focus peaking, etc.), they may have to resort to entry level cropped sensor dSLRs with their cut down features.

The sad fact is that both Canon and Nikon have largely failed to offer high quality dedicated lenses for these dSLRs so that users can grow into the system without having to resort to large, heavy, expensive full frame lenses to address their growth needs. Enthusiast photographers will generally quickly migrate to more expensive full frame dSLRs to make the most of these full frame lenses – but this is a path to financial pain as well as backache, and they will not be able to use their cropped sensor lenses on these full frame cameras without having to resort to a cropped view mode.

Unlike mirrorless cameras, if you want to shoot video, you have to put the mirror up and use the rear LCD screen – you won’t be able to see anything through the viewfinder. In addition, very few lenses for dSLRs are optimised for video work – exceptions are those with stepping autofocus motors (marked as “STM” on Canon lenses).

Canon cropped sensor dSLRs can use dedicated cropped sensor lenses (“EF-S”) or larger full frame lenses (“EF”).

Nikon cropped sensor dSLRs can use dedicated cropped sensor lenses (“DX”) or larger full frame Nikon F mount lenses.

All have rather dark, cropped view Pentamirror viewfinders rather than the brighter, 100% coverage of the more expensive dSLR pentaprisms.

Canon budget dSLRs:

All have 1.6x cropped sensors, optical viewfinder with 95% image coverage, 1080HD 24/25/30p video, flash sync 1/200th sec, longest timed shutter speed of 30sec, built-in flash, scene modes including Scene Intelligent Auto, ±5 exposure compensation, 3frames AE bracketing up to ±2EV, Face Detection AF but only fast in Live View with mirror up,  USB 2.0, single SD card slot, limited spread of AF points across the frame and minimal button customisations.

None have weathersealing, built-in sensor based image stabilisation or 4K video.

The older models up to and including the 700D (rebel T5i), and the smaller cheaper models all have similar outdated 18mp sensors 1st introduced with the Canon EOS 550D (rebel T2i) – ie. the sensors are old 2010 level technologies – a lot has happened since then!

The newer 24mp sensor is still not as good for high ISO and dynamic range as the Sony sensors found in Nikon, Pentax, Olympus and Sony bodies.

Canon EOS 1300D (Rebel T6):

  • this is the older, 2013, basic model with 18mp sensor, Digic 4+ image processor, 9 AF points, 3″ fixed 920Kdot LCD screen, shutter to 1/4000th sec, mono mic, no mic port
  • popup flash has GN of 9.2m at ISO 100
  • burst rate 3fps
  • AF is very slow in Live View or movie mode
  • 485 g (1.07 lb / 17.11 oz)), 129 x 101 x 78 mm (5.08 x 3.98 x 3.07″)
  • remote control via optional RC-6 cable or WiFi
  • built-in WiFi + NFC but compatible with Eye-Fi SD cards to transfer images wirelessly
  • in Jan 2017, body with basic 3x zoom kit lens will cost $AU433 after cash back from Canon

Canon EOS 100D (Rebel SL1):

  • this is the compact 2016 model with 18mp sensor, Digic 5 image processor, 9 AF points, 3″ fixed 1mdot LCD touch screen, shutter to 1/4000th sec, mono mic and a mic port
  • popup flash has GN of 9.4m at ISO 100
  • burst rate 4fps
  • basic 63 zone metering system
  • AF is very slow in Live View or movie mode
  • 407 g (0.90 lb / 14.36 oz), 117 x 91 x 69 mm (4.61 x 3.58 x 2.72″)
  • remote control via optional RC-6 cable
  • no built-in WiFi but compatible with Eye-Fi SD cards to transfer images wirelessly
  • in Jan 2017, body only will cost $AU399 after cash back from Canon, perhaps a good option is the kit with the EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens for $490 after cash back

Canon EOS 750D (Rebel T6i /Kiss X6i):

  • this is the larger 2015 model with 24mp sensor, Digic 6 image processor, 19 AF all cross type points (same as 70D), 3″ articulated 1mdot LCD touch screen, shutter to 1/4000th sec, stereo mic and a mic port
  • popup flash has GN of 12m at ISO 100
  • burst rate 5fps
  • new 7560 pixel RGB + IR metering sensor for more accurate metering
  • new Hybrid CMOS AF III uses sensor-based phase detection points for increased focus speed and accuracy in live view (this is different to the Dual Pixel AF sensor found on the more expensive 70D and 7D II)
  • Eye sensor for use with optical viewfinder
  • Flicker detection
  • 555 g (1.22 lb / 19.58 oz) / 132 x 101 x 78 mm (5.2 x 3.98 x 3.07″)
  • remote control via optional RC-6 cable or smartphone via WiFi
  • built-in WiFi + NFC
  • issues include:
    • poor subject tracking and face detection AF unless you use Live View
    • limited AF point coverage across the frame (mainly just in the centre – so problematic for portraits, etc away from the centre)
    • limited dynamic range
    • no exposure compensation in manual mode with auto ISO
    • auto ISO uses the 1/focal length as longest shutter speed to use, cannot program this
    • poor battery life compared with more expensive dSLRs
    • no ability to microadjust AF for each lens leading to possible inaccurate AF in all shots
  • in Jan 2017, body only will cost $AU755 after cash back from Canon

Canon EOS 760D (Rebel T6s /Kiss X6s):

  • as for 750D but $30 dearer and adds:
    • LCD information display on top plate
    • Quick control dial on rear but awkward to use for some
    • Servo AF in live view, which lets you track moving subjects when shooting in live view
  • competes with the Nikon D5500

Nikon budget dSLRs:

All have 1.5x cropped sensors, optical viewfinder with 95% image coverage, 1080HD 24/25/30/60p video, flash sync 1/200th sec, longest timed shutter speed of 30sec, built-in flash, ±5 exposure compensation, 3frames AE bracketing up to ±2EV, Face Detection AF but only fast in Live View with mirror up,  USB 2.0, single SD card slot, limited spread of AF points across the frame and minimal button customisations.

None have weathersealing, built-in sensor based image stabilisation, PDAF in Live View, or 4K video.

Nikon D3400:

  • this is the compact 2016 model with 24mp sensor, Expeed 4 image processor, 11 AF points, 3″ fixed 920Kdot LCD screen, shutter to 1/4000th sec, mono mic but no mic port and no timelapse recording
  • popup flash has GN of 12m at ISO 100
  • burst rate 5fps
  • AF is very slow in Live View or movie mode
  • battery life 3x longer than the above Canon models
  • 395 g (0.87 lb / 13.93 oz) / 124 x 98 x 76 mm (4.88 x 3.86 x 2.99″)
  • remote control via optional  cable or smartphone via Bluetooth
  • Bluetooth Snapbridge only no built-in WiFi
  • in Jan 2017, body only will cost $AU535

Nikon D5500:

  • this is the compact 2016 model with 24mp sensor, Expeed 4 image processor, 39 AF points incl. 9 cross-type, 3.2″ articulated 1mdot LCD touch screen, shutter to 1/4000th sec, stereo mic, mic port
  • popup flash has GN of 12m at ISO 100
  • 17 mm eyepoint
  • burst rate 5fps
  • Multi-CAM 4800DX autofocus sensor module with TTL phase detection
  • 3D color matrix metering II (type G, E, and D lenses)
  • 3D subject tracking
  • no anti-alias filter and thus can give marginally more image detail than the above Canon models
  • no AE bracketing
  • AF is very slow in Live View or movie mode
  • battery life 2x longer than the above Canon models
  • Optional GP-1/GP-1A GPS module
  • 465 g (1.03 lb / 16.40 oz) / 124 x 97 x 70 mm (4.88 x 3.82 x 2.76″)
  • remote control via optional  MC-DC2 cable or WiFi via WR-1/WR-R10
  • Wifi
  • in Jan 2017, body only will cost $AU825

Nikon D5600:

  • as for D5500 but $70 dearer, half the battery life,  AE bracketing, Bluetooth,  NFC, timelapse recording, exposure metering using 2016-pixel RGB sensor

Conclusion:

The Nikon dSLRs have better sensors than the Canon in terms of dynamic range and perhaps more detail without the anti-alias filter, plus they have better subject tracking, better battery life and the video mode can capture 60 frames per second not just 24/25/30p.

The Canon dSLRs with sensor-based phase detection points have better Live View AF and all the Canons can use a much wider range of legacy lenses (eg. you can adapt a Nikon lens in manual focus only onto a Canon dSLR but you cannot use a Canon lens on a Nikon dSLR due to its long sensor to lens mount distance).

There are more expensive versions of these dSLRs which add weathersealing and improved autofocus as well as pentaprisms instead of the dark pentamirrors, but then, you probably would be better off buying a mirrorless camera such as an Olympus OM-D E-M1 or Panasonic GX85/80.

Canon – what where you thinking – a disastrous marketing campaign of excuses?

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

For those who may have missed it, Canon has just disappointed its fan base big time with a mysterious ad campaign “See Impossible” which appeared to suggest that they were about to announce long awaited new technology to make the impossible possible – only for the ad campaign to count down to a reality of it being nothing but an attempt to convince the world that their technology already does this.

There has been a massive back-lash to this marketing campaign which risks driving even their staunchest fans to the fantastic new technologies of Panasonic, Olympus, Sony, Fuji and even Samsung which ARE changing how we use cameras.

Cropped sensor dSLR development:

To be fair, Canon have recently announced perhaps the best sports dSLR for enthusiasts, their long awaited Canon 7D Mark II which took 5 years to replace the initial version – 5 years is a VERY LONG TIME in the digital camera world – and as good as the 7D Mark II is for sports, it just doesn’t cut it with the mirrorless cameras for every day use, and even for sports, disappoints in not giving 4K video quality which other cameras such as the Panasonic GH-4 is able to do – heck even the new Panasonic LX-100 compact camera can do!

Further, the Canon 7D Mark II is a crop sensor dSLR, yet unlike Olympus and Panasonic, Canon still staunchly refuses to create great lenses to maximise the smaller sensor and give smaller, lighter lenses – if you want a pro level lens for this camera, you really need to buy a big, heavy, expensive, full frame lens – very disappointing indeed Canon!

Lack of full frame development:

The other main stay of Canon leadership – the full frame dSLR has failed to demonstrate leading technologies of late, and Canon appears to be being beaten by Nikon on almost every front (although Nikon too appears to have lost its way in the mirrorless camera market which is rapidly eating into the dSLR market).

Nikon produced a 36mp full frame dSLR 2 years ago, and even Sony have produced a compact 36mp full frame mirrorless camera in that time, but Canon’s full frame dSLRs max out at 22mp and are themselves 2 years old, and it would appear there is no new version on the horizon this year – now I must admit that 22mp is probably all one needs, but there will be many pro and enthusiast photographers who want more.

And again, none of their full frame dSLRs can compete with the 4K video capabilities mentioned above.

Perhaps the only note worthy dSLR development in the past few years by Canon is their unique radio wireless flash TTL technology.

Lack of sensor-based image stabilisation:

Neither Canon nor Nikon have been prepared to add sensor based image stabilisation as Olympus and Sony and now Panasonic are doing – sensor based image stabilisation is really a no brainer – it IMPROVES image quality with every lens you put on it, and when you don’t want it, you turn it off. What’s more it means photographers don’t need to be updating their lenses to get the latest IS capability, they can just update their camera, and there is no need for image degrading, heavier, more expensive optical IS elements (astrophotographers do not like OIS lenses as they degrade star images).

Olympus 1st introduced sensor based IS 7 years ago, and it has been used on all their interchangeable lens cameras since and has proven to be amazing technology, with their latest flagship, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 allowing hand held exposures with wide angle lenses down to an unprecedented 1 second!

Not only that, but the sensor based IS is indispensible when trying to manually focus a lens at high magnification – it is simply awesome technology – yet Canon and Nikon have failed big time in this arena.

If Canon were to introduce a full frame dSLR with sensor-based IS, even I would be tempted to buy it so I can better use my many full frame pro lenses given that my aging Canon 1D Mark III is no longer worth its weight carrying now that we have the Olympus OM-D’s to give similar or better image quality, accurate eye-detection AF for portaiture and far more fun without the burden of weight and size.

In the interim, you have got to ask yourself – why buy a Canon or Nikon over an Olympus OM-D?

There are still some valid reasons (fastest AF for sports via the 7D Mark II, and, shallowest DOF via full frame are the two main ones) but these are diminishing each year.

Lost in the wilderness of very capable compact and mirrorless cameras:

Canon and Nikon have totally lost their way in the last few years of rapid onslaught of amazing new compact and mirrorless cameras by Olympus, Panasonic, Fuji and Sony.

Once upon a time the Canon G series ruled the enthusiast “compact” camera world – Canon’s latest iterations, their Canon G1 X Mark II and G7 X – both released this year, just cannot compete with the likes of compact larger sensor cameras such as the Panasonic LX-100, Panasonic GM-5, Fuji FinePix x100T, or the smaller sensor super zooms such as the Panasonic FZ1000, Sony RX10 and Olympus Stylus 1.

But even more telling is their pathetic attempt at a mirrorless camera – the Canon EOS M which was introduced 2 years ago, far too late and with such pathetic capabilities including poor AF, that it was a doomed camera from the start with no chance of competing with the brilliant Olympus OM-D Micro Four Thirds cameras, or even the compact Panasonic or Sony mirrorless cameras.

And where the other manufacturers (except Nikon) have been producing fantastic new cameras every few months since then, each with even better features and technologies such as full remote control via smartphones using WiFi, 4K video, fantastic IS capability, fun jpeg rendering features, the fastest AF of all camera types for static subjects, introduction of phase detect AF for moving subjects and for use of legacy phase detect AF lenses – Canon is yet to announce a single new model.

Canon and Nikon users are sitting on a bucket load of “legacy” expensive lenses with a compromised future:

Micro Four Thirds is really showing the photography world where the future of most photography lies – mirrorless cameras with CDAF-capable lenses.

Very few Canon or Nikon lenses are optimised for CDAF – making them severely compromised in functionality with whatever mirrorless cameras these manufacturers end up bringing to the table.

Sure the new cameras are likely to offer sensor based phase detect AF as does the Olympus OM-D E-M1 – but they are just not as fast nor accurate at AF in mirrorless cameras as are lenses specifically designed for CDAF.

This must be a major concern to both Canon and Nikon – and their millions of users – no one likes to think of their prize collection of lenses becoming redundant.

Canon has started making consumer-level lenses with CDAF capability – their “STM” lenses but these are few and there does not appear to be any direction being given for existing users.

Not to mention their users must really love it when Canon or Nikon announce a new version of their $2000+ pro lens which offers better image stabilisation and immediately devalues their lens further.

I stopped buying Canon lenses years ago for just these reasons – unfortunately pro photographers won’t have this choice – they need their 24mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2, 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 IS lenses NOW.

Here is a list of MY BUCKET of Canon lenses – fortunately 3 are manual focus anyway:

  • Canon TSE 17mm f/4L tilt-shift
  • Canon TSE 45mm f/2.8L tilt shift
  • Canon TSE 90mm f/2.8L tilt shift
  • Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS
  • Canon EF 135mm f/2L
  • Canon EF 85mm f/1.8
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.8

In the meantime, Olympus and Panasonic in particular, have been rolling out new cameras, and just as importantly, fantastic new lenses so users can make the most of this system – just take a look at the great new lenses from Olympus of late – the 75mm f/1.8, 60mm f/2.8 macro, 25mm f/1.8, 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, and the absolutely awesome 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO and its matching 1.4x teleconverter – plus those from Panasonic such as their 42mm f/1.2 and yet there are more great lenses in the pipeline – the 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO and the 300mm f/4 PRO just to name two from Olympus.

There is enthusiasm and a bright future for those in the Micro Four Thirds camp while it seems Canon and Nikon seems stymied by their lack of progress and technological advances – much of the possibilities are actually the result of the presence of a SLR mirror which limits the use of electronic technologies which are driving the fun of using Micro Four Thirds cameras.

Khen Lim has written a very detailed treatise on the end of the dSLR – see here.

 

 

At long last – an updated Canon 7D dSLR, the Canon 7D II – could this be the best sports/action/wildlife camera available?

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

5 years is an eternity in the modern world of digital cameras, but Canon has finally announced an update to their current top of the line APS-C cropped sensor dSLR – their 2009 model Canon 7D.

There are not many reasons to buy a cropped sensor dSLR these days now that you can buy much more compact, lighter, quieter, more functional and fun Micro Four Thirds cameras and both Canon and Nikon have been feeling the heat.

Perhaps the main reason for buying such a camera is if you really need the fastest continuous AF tracking on fast moving subjects – as good as the latest Micro Four Thirds cameras are such as the Panasonic GH-4 and Olympus E-M1, they still can’t quite match the C-AF tracking capabilities of fully fledged phase detect cameras with double cross AF points, although the GH-4 is getting close with its new DFD technology.

Canon and Nikon desperately need to keep a significant advantage in this arena or they may find themselves rapidly without a market for their cropped sensor cameras.

On paper, Canon has not disappointed on this front – their new Canon 7D Mark II sports a number of enhanced features which would appear to give it the title as best sports/action/wildlife camera so far.

The enhancements over the old Canon 7D are considerable and in some areas even better their top of the range dSLR, their Canon 1D X.

Improvements over the Canon 7D:

  • 20mp sensor (not 18mp)
  • “4x more weather-sealed” – perhaps now you can be confident pouring a bottle of water over it as you can with an Olympus
  • button layout more consistent with the Canon 5D Mark III
  • new thumb switch to allow access to AF points pattern
  • dual SD and CF card slots
  • mode dial has a new central lock button as with the Olympus E-M1
  • 200,000 shutter (instead of 150,000)
  • 65 AF points
    •  all cross type, center double-cross
    •  center point is capable of focusing with lenses (or lens/teleconverter combinations) as slow as f/8, as well as down to EV -3 (not just 19 all cross with 7D and it gives a 1 EV advantage in low light compared to the 1D X and 5D Mark III)
    • although they cover a wider area, still do not cover as wide an area as Micro Four Thirds cameras and still do not offer the ability to AF on the closest eye as you can with Olympus cameras
  • 1080 60p/25p HD video with All-I, IPB, IPB-Lite and .MOV (not just 60p MP4) – similar to the Canon 5D Mark III
    • real-time lens corrections to video footage
    • C-AF only with STM lenses, or, USM lenses launched after 2009
    • recording restricted to 29min 59sec
    • can simultaneously output to HDMI but only 8bit not 10 bit like the GH-4
    • artificial light flicker warning
    • no slo-mo video capture like the GH-4 (96-120fps)
    • no variable frame rate mode
    • no log curve mode
    • no focus peaking
    • no touch screen to change AF point during video
  • new 150,000-pixel RGB metering sensor
  • metering sensor-assisted AF tracking – the latest version of the ‘Intelligent Tracking and Recognition’ (iTR) focus system from the EOS-1D X
    • this is also very useful when locking focus and re-composing, particularly with shallow DOF scenarios
  • on sensor phase detection Dual Pixel AF for Live View as with the Canon 70D but still no C-AF tracking in live view
  • spot-metering linked to AF point but still no Highlight or Shadow spot metering as with Olympus cameras
  • 10fps burst to 31 RAW (not just 8fps to 25 RAW)
  • built-in GPS
  • can now use exposure compensation in M mode with autoISO but cumbersome
  • higher capacity battery (LP-E6N) but can still use the old LP-E6 batteries
  • USB 3.0
  • still no sensor-based image stabilisation (IBIS), image stabilised magnified manual focus view, built-in AF illuminator, Timed BULB, Live BULB, LIVE Composite, focus peaking, nor flip out touch LCD screen as with Olympus

The 1.6x crop factor will allow it to have substantially more telephoto reach than a full frame dSLR, the metering sensor has 50% more pixels,  and the AF will work in lower light conditions than the 1D X giving it 3 important advantages when it comes to sports and wildlife photography.

At $US1799 it is not cheap for a cropped sensor camera but on paper, it may well be a very compelling camera for a niche sector who value highest performance C-AF tracking.

Those wanting the best video performance would be better looking at a Panasonic GH-4 which can do 4K video for the same price.

Those wanting the shallowest depth of field possibilities will want a full frame camera, the rest of us will have more fun buying a Micro Four Thirds camera of which there are a multitude of options now.

New full frame cameras – mirrorless Sony and the retro Nikon Df

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Nikon today formerly announced their new retro styled full frame dSLR – the Nikon Df.

The Nikon Df presumably is in response to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the Fuji mirrorless cameras which have enthused the enthusiast and pro photographer world with their great retro styling and classic ergonomics.

 

Nikon Df

Nikon Df

The Nikon Df is bound to be a hit with Nikon die hards who will fall in love with its nice styling but unlike the Olympus OM-D E-M5, instead of combining great retro looks and ergonomics with cutting edge technologies and awesome new versatility such as brilliant image stabilisation down to 2 secs hand held, almost waterproof features, WiFi control by smartphones, etc, etc, Nikon has produced a camera with no new technology but instead less technology and functionality  than is currently available in equivalent but less expensive cameras – such as their Nikon D800 dSLR.

It certainly has more aesthetics than Nikon’s other dSLRs, but at a cost of less customisation options – unlike the OM-D cameras, the top dials cannot be customised to other functions as needed and some dials such as the exposure compensation dial will be redundant in manual exposure mode.

The Nikon Df is a hybridization of:

  • Nikon F-series film camera:
    • body resembles that of Nikon’s F-series 35mm cameras, complete with dials for shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation.
    • unfortunately the utility and ergonomics of these dials is not great, especially if you have your eye to the viewfinder as these dials are difficult to unlock without viewing directly
    • furthermore, the argument the dials display all the data falls down as they don’t show aperture, and if you want more flexible shutter speeds, will not show that either as you use the front dial instead, plus you have the LCD screen to display all this anyway.
  • the Nikon D4 pro dSLR:
    • the 16mp full-frame CMOS sensor
    • EXPEED 3 image processing engine
    • 1/250th sec flash sync
  • the Nikon D600 mid-level dSLR:
    • the 39 point autofocus system from the Nikon D600
    • same boring fixed non-touch 3.2″ 921K dot LCD screen as the Nikon D600/D800/D4
    • same optical pentaprism viewfinder as the Nikon D600/D800/D4
    • same limited shutter range as the Nikon D600 (30sec-1/4000th sec)
    • same limited 5.5fps burst rate
    • “environmental sealed” as for the D800
  • minus a few features:
    • only +/- 3EV exposure compensation instead of +/- 5EV
    • only 1 SD card slot and no CF slot
    • lighter at 760g, it is lighter than the other Nikon full frame dSLRs (the D610 is 850g)
    • no movie mode
    • no scene modes
    • no timelapse recording
    • no built-in flash

In summary, lovely looking camera with great image quality with excellent high ISO capability designed for the still photographer only, but no built-in image stabilisation, and unlike the Sony option below only takes Nikon-mount lenses or larger format lenses.

Unfortunately the aesthetic design gets in the way of ergonomics and functionality instead of improving it as is the case with the Olympus E-M5 and E-M1.

and the hands on preview at dpreview concludes with “As such, although I hate to say it: from a cold, hard practical point of view, I can’t shake the feeling that the Df is a little bit… silly.”

Unless you really, really want the 16mp sensor, or you need to use very old Nikon lenses, you would be better off with a MUCH CHEAPER 24mp Nikon D610.

Now for the Sony mirrorless full frames – the a7 and a7R:

These two camera represent an the start of the future of full frame cameras – removing the old optical pentaprism and noisy, heavy mirror box and replacing it with modern high quality electronic viewfinders allows the cameras to be made much smaller, lighter, less expensive, and best of all, capable of using almost any 35mm full frame lens ever made, including Leica rangefinder lenses.

The Sony a7 camera is a 24MP camera with on-sensor phase detection sensors for faster continuous AF tracking and some AF capability with lenses not optimised for CDAF technologies.

The more expensive Sony a7R has a similar sensor to the Nikon D800 at 36mp with no anti-alias filter for highly detailed images but no phase detect sensors.

Time for Olympus to go full frame too?

Olympus and Sony are collaborating, and I only wish Olympus produce a full frame version of the their Olympus OM-D E-M1 with its wonderful features such as awesome image stabiliser down to 2 secs hand held which works on all lenses,  almost waterproof, cool Live BULB and timed BULB modes, WiFi control by smartphones, fast, accurate CD-AF, and a flash system compatible with Micro Four Thirds (although hopefully with new radio TTL flash system added).

Of course this would mean Olympus would need to develop a new range of CD-AF compatible full frame lenses but as there is really no-one else seriously doing this apart from Sony, this would be an awesome time to get in first and become a leader as they have done with Micro Four Thirds in the cropped sensor mirrorless genre.

 

The writing is on the wall – the end of the digital SLR is nigh – 1st 9 chapters of Khen Lim’s treatise now published

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Khen Lim continues his lessons of history with the 1st 9 chapters of his 20 chapter treatise on “The end of the dSLR” – see http://www.ayton.id.au/wiki/doku.php?id=photo:kl:dslr:dslr_end1.

While Khen is preparing the final 11 chapters, here are my thoughts on this issue.

1. cropped sensor dSLRs have little future other than sports

  • their lenses will always be bigger than Micro Four Thirds and the image quality of Micro Four Thirds is adequate for 90% of scenarios, so why carry bigger, heavier lenses?
  • Canon and Nikon really just viewed these as consumer and enthusiast level cameras with no real pro versions of either cameras nor lenses although the aging  Nikon D300S and the Canon 7D are at least semi-pro level cameras.
  • very few lenses are pro quality, so if you want pro quality you need to buy a full frame pro lens and if you are going to pay and carry these heavy, expensive toys then you may as well have a full frame camera to get the best use out of them
  • Micro Four Thirds cameras are less intrusive, more portable, quieter, and the electronic viewfinder adds far more functionality than is possible with an optical viewfinder
  • electronic viewfinder and electronic shutter technologies will advance far more rapidly than old optical technologies
  • they are still useful for sports as they give more telephoto reach than a full frame camera and the higher end cameras offer better C-AF tracking with less viewer blackout than current mirrorless cameras.

2. full frame dSLRs will increasingly be replaced by more versatile, smaller, lighter full frame mirrorless cameras

  • the shorter sensor to lens mount distance of mirrorless cameras means that almost any lens ever made can be fitted
  • the electronic viewfinder allows far more functions than optical viewfinders, including movie mode, face detection AF, live histograms, magnified view or focus peaking for more accurate manual focus
  • the cameras will be smaller, lighter and cheaper
  • now if only Olympus would make a full frame version of the OM-D E-M1 with weatherproofing and built-in image stabiliser, even better if they can add a global electronic shutter for full output flash at all speeds.
  • as more and more non-professionals enter the increasingly more affordable full frame market, professionals will move to the medium format dSLR market to distance themselves in the marketplace from what full frame  non-professionals can offer, this will further squeeze the full frame dSLR sales.

see also:

It’s now a new world with the latest Micro Four Thirds – why would anyone bother buying a cropped sensor dSLR anymore?

The 1st 3 chapters of Khen Lim’s 10 chapter treatise on the history of the Micro Four Thirds system – now online

The 1st 3 chapters of Khen Lim’s 10 chapter treatise on the history of the Micro Four Thirds system – now online

Friday, October 4th, 2013

As promised, Khen Lim will be contributing to my photography wikipedia.

Here are the first 3 chapters of his incredibly detailed and insightful treatise on the history of mirrorless cameras and, in particular, the Micro Four Thirds system.

Click HERE to take you directly to the 1st chapter in which he describes the advent of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras and how this will be a disruptive technology to the photographic industry as a whole.

My view of his line of thinking are as follows:

In 1990, no one would have believed that in a mere 10-15 years, film cameras would be almost totally replaced by digital cameras.

Digital photography was extremely disruptive and forced the closure of many well established companies, even taking down Kodak.

In the beginning of dSLRs, it made sense to create cropped sensor dSLRs ONLY because it was too expensive to create full frame dSLRs.

Cropped sensor dSLRs were clearly seen by both Canon and Nikon as a stop gap measure until the price of full frame sensors came down.

Canon and Nikon clearly demonstrated this by refusing to make high quality pro lenses designed for these cropped sensor dSLRs – only a few of the lenses were of high optical and build quality.

In 2000, few saw that smartphones would consume the low end point and shoot digital camera market – but this is exactly what is happening and many manufacturers are now substantially reducing their exposure to this market.

In 2008, few saw that the advent of mirrorless interchangeable lenses would again change the face of the photographic world, and led by Micro Four Thirds, they are certainly making their mark and over the next decade should consume the cropped sensor dSLR market.

The advances in EVF technology far outpace the advances being made in optical viewfinders, and have now reached a point where they are much more useful than optical for most situations.

These mirrorless cameras offer similar image quality and much more functionality in a smaller, lighter kit than a cropped sensor dSLR kit, and even areas led by dSLRs such as C-AF tracking will soon be completely overtaken by new technologies of dual AF sensor designs coupled with face recognition, etc.

Even now, Sony and Olympus appear to be teaming up to create a new mirrorless full frame system which will need a range of new lenses optimised for CDAF – this indeed will be interesting and very challenging for Canon and Nikon who have an extensive range of lenses but few if any will be optimised for the new technology of mirrorless full frame cameras.

I can’t wait to have bird facial recognition AF with electronic shutters at 40fps for truly awesome birding in 10 years time – this just won’t be possible on optical dSLR systems without resorting to clunky mirror lockup modes and the rear LCD screen. The global electronic shutter mode would not only be fully silent for wedding receptions, etc but potentially allow full output flash at all shutter speeds making over-powering the sun with flash units easy without having to resort to very powerful studio strobes with battery packs. A wedding photographer’s dream indeed!

I suspect also, that having mirrorless full frame system will not only be smaller and much, much quieter, but that they would design the lens flange distance so that many different types of lenses could be fitted, and just as with the E-M1, all would be image stabilised.  Affordable, through the lens live view Leica full frame with image stabilisation, focus peaking and live magnification .. hmmm… delicious indeed.

With mirrorless full frames eventually being more useful than full frame optical dSLRs for travel, fashion, weddings, sports, photojournalism and sheer fun of photography … where will optical dSLRs be … in cupboards like our film SLRs?

I wonder if the future in 15 years will be reduced to 3 main camera types:

  • waterproof, drop-proof smartphones
  • a middle of the road compact – and the best candidate for this is Micro Four Thirds as its lenses will always be smaller than APS-C sized mirrorless
  • full frame mirrorless cameras

Very interesting times indeed and there will be much gnashing of teeth by the losers and the winners will be grinners.
EM-5 compared to dSLRs

Olympus E-M5 size compared to the APS-C based Nikon D3100 with equivalent standard zoom lens fitted Image courtesy of www.camerasize.com

It’s now a new world with the latest Micro Four Thirds – why would anyone bother buying a cropped sensor dSLR anymore?

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

There maybe some good reasons to buy a Canon or Nikon cropped sensor dSLR including:

  • they are cheap and still take great photos
  • you have lots of Canon or Nikon lenses and want a 2nd camera body as backup or for telephoto reach, or plan to compliment it with a full frame dSLR
  • you desperately need radio TTL remote flash capability using Pocket Wizard modules

Hate to disappoint you but they are really the ONLY reasons now, and for the rest of us who can afford a Panasonic GX7, Olympus E-M5 or the new Olympus E-M1, you will find they offer far more versatility with much less weight, size, the same or better image quality and they are much more fun to use as they don’t have the archaic noisy, annoying mirror.

Top of the range cameras from each camp:

The Olympus E-M1 vs Nikon D7100 vs Canon 7D (although this is well overdue for a replacement being 2009 technology).

The advantages of the E-M1:

  • the best sensor dust cleaner – I have never had to clean my Olympus cameras yet my Canon 1D Mark III plagues me continuously
  • in-camera 5 axis image-stabiliser which is the most effective of ANY camera AND works on ANY LENS even old legacy manual focus ones AND is very effective in movie mode negating the need for heavy, expensive stabilising rigs
  • much reduced need to carry a tripod – the image stabiliser even allows hand held shots as slow as 1 second with wide angle lenses for those flowing water or moving crowd shots – awesome indeed!
  • the highest level of weather protection – it is almost waterproof as long as it is not subject to underwater pressures – just check out the videos online of using it under a shower and in a puddle of water! Makes it easy to clean, and you will feel much more comfortable in dusty places or in the rain!
  • an awesome electronic viewfinder which offers some great advantages over optical dSLR viewfinders including:
    • live histogram so you can keep an eye on blowing out highlights
    • image stabilised live magnification to make manual focus far more accurate and easier
    • focus peaking for an alternative mode of accurate manual focus
    • the EVF is far better than optical for accurate manual focus of tilt lenses
    • can set most settings without your reading glasses or taking your eye away from the viewfinder
    • ability to still visualise the scene and focus when using a dense filter such as a Hoya R72 infrared filter or a ND400 filter.
    • ability to pre-visualise effects such as Art Filtered or monochromatic images with filters applied and various levels of contrast and desaturation
    • ability to see panoramic stitching guides
    • ability to pre-visualise different aspect ratios
    • you can hold the camera to your eye for better stability in movie mode
    • NB. other EVF functions in other Micro Four Thirds cameras:
      • the GX-7 and some forthcoming cameras can use truly silent electronic shutter mode with potentially even faster burst rates with camera held to viewfinder
      • the GH-1 and presumably other GHx cameras also allowed pre-visualisation of shutter speed effect, displaying the extent of flowing water effects, etc
  • far more autofocus points when using the viewfinder – 800 CDAF + 37 phase detect easily beats 51 phase detect for the Nikon and 19 phase detect for the Canon – this means you can AF on ANYWHERE in the frame
  • faster, more accurate AF for slow moving subjects – on sensor AF sensors means that AF does not need microcalibration as with dSLRs and the AF is incredibly fast
  • ability to accurately and quickly AF on the closest eye of your subject anywhere in the frame – this is awesome and one of my favorite functions!
  • quiet shutter – much, much, better for shooting in quiet events such as wedding ceremonies, classical music concerts
  • no mirror-induced camera shake at high magnification – no need to go into clunky mirror lockup modes
  • extended shutter speed range to 60sec – great for astrophotography
  • unique Timed BULB and Live View BULB modes – long exposures are now much easier – just watch the image “develop” on the screen and terminate the exposure when you are happy with it
  • 10fps burst rate (w/o AF or IS) with up to 50 RAW shots (the 7D will only do 15 RAW in a burst and limited to 8fps)
  • automatic hand holdable HDR modes as well as traditional HDR bracketing modes
  • WiFi built in allowing almost full remote control and wireless tethering to smartphones or Apple iPads – you can see the LIVE image on your device, change settings and then even touch a subject and the camera will AF on that subject then take the shot – absolutely awesome capability which will allow new creative imagery to be achieved, placing the camera in dangerous situations or spots where a human cannot control it directly, yet still be fully controlled by WiFi.
  • tiltable touch screen – again, you can just touch the rear screen and it will AF and take the shot  – the screens on the Nikon 7100 and Canon 7D are fixed and do not have touch capability, and even if they did, AF is very slow in Live View mode
  • light – the E-M1 is only 497g, yet very nicely laid out for ergonomic use even with larger lenses. The dSLRs are around 800g.
  • smaller – 130.4 x 93.5 x 63.1mm
  • ability to convert almost any full frame legacy lens into an image stabilised tilt or shift lens
  • more telephoto reach for same size telephoto lens
  • ability to use a wider range of legacy lenses such as the superb Leica M rangefinder lenses, as well as a new range of f/0.95 manual focus lenses, and have them image stabilised.
  • ability to use the superb, cropped sensor optimised Olympus Four Thirds lenses with fast AF.

Advantages of the dSLRs:

  • don’t need to turn camera on to see through viewfinder
  • slightly better C-AF tracking but not in movie mode – however, C-AF will only get better as technology improves with mirrorless cameras
  • in addition to 30p movie mode, 24p movie mode plus 60p on the 7D – however, if you want the best video – look at the GX-7 or GH-3 Micro Four Thirds cameras
  • full compatibility with their respective full frame lenses albeit in cropped view – although the new Metabones Turbo EOS adapter may give this capability to Micro Four Thirds as well
  • radio TTL remote flash option not just light-based remote TTL flash – however, hopefully this will be addressed soon, although there is already a 3rd party option
  • a very cheap portrait lens option – the 50mm f/1.8 lens but no eye detection AF as with Olympus (~$199 vs $349 for the Olympus 45mm f/1.8)

The all important standard zoom lens:

Let’s compare the E-M1 with the 12-40mm f/2.8 lens with equivalents on the Nikon 7100 (Nikon DX Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8G lens) or Canon 7D (Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM).

The additional advantages of the Olympus kit include:

  • 24mm wide angle of view in 35mm terms instead of only 26mm for the Nikon and 27mm for the Canon
  • 4 stops image stabilisation compared to 2-3 stops with the Canon and NONE with the Nikkor lens.
  • yes, that means you could hand hold this lens down to half a second, perhaps 1 second at the wide angle range, while you would be lucky to achieve similar results on the Nikon at 1/20th second.
  • almost waterproof
  • lens is almost half the weight at 382 g compared to 755g for the Nikkor and 645g for the Canon
  • lens is more compact being only 84mm long compared to 111mm and when mounted on the camera the differences are even greater as the E-M1 is not as thick
  • cheaper filters as you only need 62mm instead of 77mm for the Nikon and 72mm for the Canon
  • closer focus of only 0.2m giving 1:3 macro compared to 0.35/0.36m respectively for the Canon and Nikon
  • movie silent fast CDAF autofocus as well as phase detect AF capability – the Canon and Nikon lenses are not optimised for CDAF and are quiet but not movie silent
  • customisable lens function button on the lens which can be assigned to a range of roles
  • superb image quality – it will be interesting to see how the Canon and Nikon compare, but given the reviews I think I know the answer!
  • despite all the benefits above it is a similar price to the Canon and significantly more affordable than the Nikon ($999 vs $1399 for the Nikon)

To be fair, there is ONE advantage of the Canon and Nikon zoom lenses – 1 stop more depth of field versatility, however, this is easily addressed by supplementing the Olympus with one or two very small, affordable prime lenses such as the Olympus mZD 17mm f/1.8, Panasonic 25mm f/1.4, Panasonic 42mm f/1.2 (coming soon), or Olympus 45mm f/1.8, or if you really want a different lens to compliment the zoom, add the awesome Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8.

Autofocus macro lenses:

The main options designed for the cropped sensors are the Olympus mZD 60mm f/2.8, the Nikkor DX Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G and the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8.

The Olympus lens has it all over the competitors with advantages such as:

  • better image stabilisation (although IS is not as effective in the closest macro ranges but still can be handy)
  • almost waterproof (neither of its competitors have any weatherproofing)
  • almost half the weight at 185g vs 355/335g – this is really important for hand held macro work as tired hands waiting to time the shot start shaking!
  • movie silent fast CDAF autofocus as well as phase detect AF capability – the Canon and Nikon lenses are not optimised for CDAF and are quiet but not movie silent
  • optimised for live view mode, and when combined with the E-M1′s tiltable screen means getting down low or high for those macro shots are far easier and far more fun
  • focus limiter switch included which further speeds up AF and allows immediate access to 1:1 focus – neither of its competitors have this
  • more affordable than the Nikon ($449 vs $635) and higher quality than the similarly priced Canon

Low light urban street walking capabilities:

When travelling, one of the great experiences for photographers is to walk the streets at dusk and capture a very different view of the cities – without a tripod and with a small discrete kit.

The GX-7, E-P5, E-M5 and E-M1 cameras blow away the dSLR competition for this purpose as they are much smaller, even jacket pocketable, have similar high ISO image quality, have much better image stabilisation for longer hand held shots in the dark and, particularly, if combined with the 12mm f/2.0 lens or 17mm f/1.8 lens, make awesome night time hand holdable street cameras.

The E-M5 can hand hold a 12mm lens down to 0.3secs comfortably while the E-M1 can do 1sec or perhaps more.

What wide angle low light autofocus primes are available for the dSLRs?

Canon offer an EF 24mm f/2.8 IS or the much more expensive EF 24mm f/1.4L lens or the 14mm f/2.8L but neither of the latter have image stabilisation.

Nikon offer 20mm f/2.8, 24mm f/2.8 or the much more expensive 14mm f/2.8 or 24mm f/1.4 lenses but NONE have image stabilisation.

There are no cropped sensor optimised EF-S or DX wide angle prime lenses, let alone image stabilised versions of these!

Neither Canon nor Nikon offer affordable cropped sensor dSLR low light solutions with AF with effective focal length wider than 30mm even without image stabilisation!

The Micro Four Thirds absolutely eats the cropped sensor dSLRs for this very common need.

More details:

I have created a detailed comparison table of the above and more on my wikipedia – see here.

For those concerned about the marginally less shallow depth of field in certain circumstances, they can resort to f/0.95 lenses, or consider the future technology – already the E-M1 uses intelligent jpeg sharpening of only the in-focus areas so it would not take much imagination to assume it won;’t be long before the user can “dial-in” a degree of extra blurring of the out-of-focus regions.

The end of the cropped sensor dSLR is nigh – I would be surprised if they exist in another 10 years.

Furthermore, one has to wonder what Canon and Nikon will do with their lens range which is generally NOT compatible with CDAF when CDAF becomes increasingly important with the advent of full frame mirrorless cameras.

There is a limit to what can be achieved with on-sensor phase detect AF alone compared to what can be achieved with CDAF combined with phase detect AF.

If I was a betting man, the whole range of current Canon and Nikon lenses,  just like the Olympus Four Thirds lenses will lose substantial value in 10 years because they are not CDAF compatible and will be replaced with more versatile lenses.

 You have to ask yourself – why would I even think of buying a cropped sensor dSLR – get a full frame dSLR if you really need that extra shallow depth of field  or go Micro Four Thirds for much more fun and versatility.

 

The new Canon EOS 70D dSLR and ramifications of its new sensor technology for the future of camera development

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Those who read this blog will know I am a big fan of mirrorless cameras and believe that they will be the future for most photographers.

Mirrorless cameras such as Micro Four Thirds have several important advantages over current dSLRs:

  • they can be made smaller as they do not need the mirror, nor the pentaprism
  • they are quieter to shoot as there is no mirror bouncing around, and also have far less camera shake at high magnification photography
  • the lenses can be redesigned with shorter sensor to lens flange distances making for simpler wide angle designs and smaller, lighter lenses
  • the shorter sensor to lens mount flange distance allows a greater range of legacy lenses to be usable
  • AF for relatively stationary subjects is extremely fast, accurate and one can even automatically AF on a given eye (using Olympus cameras) almost anywhere in the frame
  • no need for AF microadjustment calibrations
  • use of an electronic viewfinder instead of optical allows more information to be visible without taking your eye from the camera such as live histogram, etc., and allow live magnification with image stabilisation, as well as live boost of low light situations for improved visability (particularly handy for astrophotography and when using legacy lenses stopped down)
  • the electronic viewfinders continue to improve in viewing quality and refresh rates

BUT the current mirrorless cameras have one major flaw – limited or no ability to AF on fast moving subjects, limited tracking AF capability and very slow AF when used with non-CDAF lenses.

Olympus in particular is working hard to develop new mirrorless cameras which address the above issues and also allow fast AF with Four Thirds lenses.

Of all the manufacturers, Canon appeared to have been twiddling their thumbs on this front, even their mirrorless camera – the EOS-M was not taken seriously given that it’s contrast detect AF was so slow compared with the competition, and no new competitive technology had been created since 2009 – 4 long years allowing Nikon to take the advantage in dSLR markets and Olympus, Panasonic and Sony to take the strong lead in the mirrorless sector.

Now, with their announcement of a revolutionary new “dual-pixel” sensor in their Canon EOS 70D dSLR which promises to not only provide contrast detect AF as with traditional mirrorless cameras but also the most capable and fast on-sensor phase detect AF system yet made. If their claims are true, one should be able to use most of the EF lenses and have fast AF with tracking and even face recognition with these lenses anywhere within 80% of the image area in Live View mode.

This is awesome news if the claims are proven and will again give Canon an edge, particularly when they introduce this technology in the mirrorless cameras.

BUT it may be a double-edge sword for Canon who have relied upon its dSLR sales to date.

If this sensor is as good as they state, I for one would want to be using the Live View Face Detect AF with my Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens for portraits as the shallow depth of field of this lens makes accurate AF on the eyes difficult with the current optical viewfinder.

Unfortunately with the 70D and other similar optical dSLRs, to use Live View means holding the camera away from your face and looking at the rear LCD screen. This is NOT a good method, particularly when using a telephoto lens when camera shake will potentially ruin your image, not to mention the ergonomics of holding a heavy lens in this manner.

If most people find that this new AF has substantial advantages over the old optical AF system as I suspect may be the case, then they would be best advised to buy a mirrorless version rather than a dSLR version, because there are now almost no reasons to have a mirror in your camera.

It will be very interesting to see how good this new AF system is, and, what will Olympus in partnership with Sony come up with in Micro Four Thirds cameras to compete with it.

Fascinating times.

Now if only Canon will make me a weatherproof, full frame mirrorless with an EVF built-in using such a sensor (even better if they add in-camera image stabilisation as Olympus do) !

Post Script:

It seems that reports on the pre-production model indicate that the AF is NOT as fast for static subjects compared with the current Micro Four Thirds cameras, and the Live View phase contrast is not as good as the optical phase contrast – the question will be – is it good enough for most of us, or just another compromise – time will tell, but at least the AF in movie mode seems to be nice and organic.

The new Canon 6D and Nikon D600 entry level full frame dSLRs compared to the new Sony SLT alpha A99

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

It has been an exciting week with the announcement of of new cameras from all the major manufacturers.

I am sure all of the cameras for which I have posted blogs this week will be fantastic cameras capable of brilliant image quality.

As excited as I am about the new Micro Four Thirds gear, such as the new lenses on their road map, the new PEN cameras with their important image quality upgrade, and the awesome videographer’s camera, the Panasonic GH-3, it is the raft if entry-level full frame dSLRs that have been announced which finally bring full frame dSLR photography to the enthusiasts for around the $2000 mark which may be the most significant of all the announcements.

Why is this such a significant event?

If you can buy a full frame dSLR for about $2000, why bother with a cropped sensor dSLR unless you are primarily doing sports or wildlife photography where you need all the telephoto reach you can get?
After all, unlike Olympus, neither Canon nor Nikon really have committed to making great lenses for their cropped sensor cameras – all the really good lenses are designed for full frame sensors, so you may as well buy a full frame dSLR rather than a $1,000+ Canon or Nikon cropped sensor dSLR.

Let’s compare the new full frame cameras.

The most exciting of them in my mind is the Sony SLT alpha A99 as it is the only one truly optimised for Live View and thus videography and accurate manual focus using magnified view assist, as it is the only one with full time electronic viewfinder and fulltime phase contrast AF system (although we do need to wait and see how well it really does perform given past SLT cameras have not quite matched their hype in this regard).

Not only these features, but of critical importance to those using prime lenses for still photography is that the Sony SLT has sensor-based IS built-in – something that neither Canon nor Nikon have in any of their cameras.

The Canon 6D and Nikon D600 are both good cameras missing some features of their more expensive counterparts.

Their AF system has been scaled down – in the Canon 6D it only has 11 AF points instead of 61 points on the 5D Mark III, while the Nikon D600 has 39 points instead of 51 on the Nikon D800. This means gaining AF outside the central area requires AF then recompose techniques – this also applies to the Sony SLT A99.

Presumably, the 6D will have the same deficiency as its expensive cousins, the 5D Mark III and 1D X – inability to AF when using a lens with aperture smaller than f/5.6 such as an f/4 lens with 2x tele-extender – this will limit the utility of these cameras for wildlife photographers!

The burst rates are modest ranging from 4.5fps for the 6D, 5.5fps for the D600 and 6fps for the Sony SLT.

In particular, their shutter system is lower end with a fastest shutter reduced to a consumer level of 1/4000th sec and a flash sync reduced to 1/200th on the D600 and only 1/180th sec on the 6D – heck even the new Olympus PEN cameras have a flash sync of 1/250th sec!

This is VERY important for fashion and outdoor portrait photographers using lenses such as the 135mm f/2.0 and fill-in flash. Without image stabilisation, a shutter speed of only 1/180th second is really pushing your luck in allowing sharp hand held photos consistently.

In this regard, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera with its built-in 5 stop image stabilisation system, matched with the superb Olympus 75mm f/1.8 lens and Olympus FL-600R flash which can sync at 1/250th sec, accurate closest eye, face detection AF anywhere in the frame (no need to AF and recompose and worry about AF microadjustments) will most likely give you far more accurately focused and sharper photos whilst still having a similar perspective and a shallow enough depth of field to make your subject really pop.

On this same matter, if you need even shallower DOF at 35mm focal length and you are doing flash photography outdoors, then the new Sony RX-1 full frame fixed lens compact with its silent leaf shutter and flash sync to 1/2000th second would be ideal although at $2,800 it is not cheap!

Of note, the Sony SLT A99 gives you the best of all worlds in this regard – sensor-based IS plus flash sync of 1/250th sec, and a fastest shutter of 1/8000th sec.

For video work, the 6D and D600 only have mono mics, and 30p/25p/24p frame rates and thus no option for slo-mo work whereas the Sony has a more usable 60p/24p plus stereo mics, but none will really compete in functionality and image quality with the new Panasonic GH-3, although the D600 and the A99 both allow the option of uncompressed video output.

For a detailed table of the main differences between all the current full frame dSLRs, see here.

 

Mirrorless cameras overtaking entry-level dSLRs in Asia – how will Canon and Nikon react?

Friday, September 9th, 2011

I bought a Panasonic GH-1 Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera in 2009 when it first came out because I could see it had many significant advantages over entry-level dSLRs whilst still having adequate image quality.

Panasonic decided very early that their was limited future in the consumer level dSLR and decided to cease production of them and instead, embarked upon developing the revolutionary Micro Four Thirds system and introduced their 1st of these mirrorless cameras in 2008.

Olympus in 2010 re-affirmed this by apparently deciding that the future of entry-level dSLRs is limited and will most likely be replaced by mirrorless cameras, they have not produced a new entry-level dSLR since and instead have concentrated on creating super fast autofocus for their mirrorless Olympus Pen cameras – the E-P3, E-PL3 and their new mini Pen. Olympus have not abandoned the dSLR market but will concentrate on producing mid-level and semi-pro dSLRs.

This year Sony has really progressed their mirrorless offerings with their NEX-7 model just beig announced, although they still offer entry-level dSLRs.

Now the share market investors of Canon and Nikon are becoming concerned as news that mirrorless cameras now account for an unprecedented 40% of the dSLR market in Japan – up from only 5% of sales in 2009!

Global sales of mirrorless cameras are up 500% in 2010 to 2 million units and account for 16% of the global dSLR market, and expected to hit 23% this year.

Sony is expecting sales to reach 13 million units in 3 years.

Canon sold 5.9 million dSLRs in 2010 and has 45% of the dSLR market with Nikon having 30% of the market in 2010.

The brilliant new mirrorless models from Panasonic, Olympus and Sony are sure to change that very soon!

Nikon is expected to announce a 2.5x crop mirrorless system perhaps this year, while Canon seems to be working on a 2x crop system similar in size to Olympus and Panasonic.

Canon and Nikon still have not entered the mirrorless market, even though mirrorless cameras are cannibalising their lucrative, formerly dominant, entry-level dSLR market.

According to this Bloomberg report (from which the above data is derived), last year, Mizuho Securities Equity Research analyst Ryosuke Katsura wrote that the mirrorless technology may be the biggest “paradigm shift” in the SLR industry in six decades.

Thanks to Rob Galbraith for the heads up on this report.

Bottom line – if a Panasonic GH-1 is good enough for me to take on my travels and leave my heavy Canon 1D Mark III home, then it is not surprising to expect mirrorless cameras to subsume the entry-level dSLR market as well as cannibalise the compact camera market.

A further example, this article on macrophotography just posted on dpreview.com shows the author using a Canon dSLR to photograph insects – but he is using it as one would use a mirrorless camera in Live View mode – he would be much better off with a mirrorless camera in the first place for this type of photography.

Canon and Nikon appear to be just playing their usual game – let the innovators spend money on R&D on “fringe technologies” and test the market, and if the new technology works, initially criticise it until they can introduce it into their own cameras.

We have seen this when Olympus introduced the sensor dust removal system, live preview LCD, flip out LCD screens, “art filters”, “scene modes”, and when Panasonic introduced HD video capabilities – these are now all pretty much standard on Canon and Nikon dSLRs.

Technologies which Canon and Nikon are yet to adopt include mirrorless cameras, EVF’s in dSLRs, built-in image stabilisation, ultra-fast contrast detect AF, etc.

This catch-up in technology has worked well for Canon and Nikon, but until now, they have really not had to compete with electronic giants such as Panasonic, Sony and Samsung, and now that cameras have become primarily electronic consumer items, Canon and Nikon may see a tough decade or two ahead.

Nevertheless they will be hoping their upgrade pathway and compatibilities will be enough to sway mirrorless users to their systems. For instance, they would focus on ability to use same flash system, and potentially the same lenses (albeit big and bulky on a mirrorless camera) throughout their range of pro dSLR, sports pro dSLR, mid-level dSLR, entry-level dSLR and smaller cropped mirrorless camera.

Their decision not to create a APS-C sized mirrorless is, to me smart – it differentiates their mirrorless from their dSLR better and maximises the compact size afforded by smaller cropped sensor lenses.

This is where Sony and Samsung have, in my opinion, chosen poorly with their APS-C sized sensors – there is little advantage to a mirrorless if you still need large heavy lenses – unless perhap if you put a full frame sensor in it and create a true Leica-like experience.

A further risk with both Canon and Nikon is that their pro dSLR market which they currently dominate in 35mm full frame size will also be increasingly cannibalised by larger format dSLRs such as Leica S2, Mamiya, Pentax, Hasselblad and Phase One, perhaps leaving them with just the pro sports market intact.

If you want to see why mirrorless cameras are taking over entry-level dSLRs- see here for a comparison between a Panasonic G3 and a similarly priced Nikon D3100 dSLR – the Nikon wins on 3 parameters only (phase AF for fast moving subjects, remote TTL flash and presumably noise at high ISO), the G3 wins on every other parameter but in particular, image quality with non-pro lenses at similar price really shows the benefits of the Micro Four Thirds system.