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Another nail in the coffin of Canon/Nikon relative duopoly – Cactus introduces cross-platform radio remote TTL flash system

Saturday, March 25th, 2017

Since the 1960′s, Canon and Nikon have enjoyed a relative duopoly in the world of system cameras, especially amongst professional photographers.

In the late 1980′s, Canon took the lead with their totally redesigned lens mount system allowing fast AF, and it is only in the last decade or so that Nikon has again taken the lead with their even better AF tracking and metering technologies.

But as Olympus has shown with their Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II camera, the advantages of the Canon and Nikon dSLR systems are rapidly being lost to ever improving technological advances, especially with sensors, AF and mirrorless systems which, particularly in the case of Micro Four Thirds, offer adequate image quality (often better edge to edge image sharpness) , smaller, lighter, less expensive kits more suited to our travel and hiking needs, more accurate and often faster AF, faster burst speeds with accurate continuous AF, much better image stabilisation, hand holdable super telephoto reach as well as better run and gun hand holdable 4K video.

Part of the successful marketing strategy of Canon and Nikon is keeping their users loyal to their brand – once they have invested into their system, much like Apple users, they are generally too heavily invested to swap brands or even to use other brands with different user interfaces or incompatibilities.

If you had, or wanted to use Canon lenses to their full capability, you had to buy Canon dSLRs, likewise for Nikon.

If you had a Canon system, you had to buy Canon-specific flash systems if you want TTL or remote radio TTL flash – likewise for Nikon.

Canon dSLR owners could use other lenses, even Nikon lenses but with sacrifice of fast AF.

Nikon dSLR owners could not use non-Nikon mount lenses due to a physical design issue – the distance from sensor to lens mount is too long.

Enter the new world of cross-platform utility

My last blog post espoused the potential utility of using Sony full frame mirrorless cameras with a Sigma MC-11 adapter which at last provides fast AF with most Canon EF mount lenses on Sony cameras, but in particular, the Sigma branded ones.

This allows photographers increased choice – they could get a mirrorless full frame camera with a different sensor characteristics plus sensor based image stabilisation and face AF for their Canon lenses with better feature sets at the same price as the entry level Canon 6D dSLR- seeing that Canon has not shown interest in creating such a camera.

Now, Cactus has massively increased cross-platform utility by announcing a free firmware upgrade to their Cactus V6 II radio remote control flash system, which allows Canon, Nikon or Olympus flashes to be used with most other brand cameras with either on-camera TTL or remote radio cross-TTL capability!

This is awesome, but wait, there’s more, the Cactus V6 II x-TTL also allows:

  • remote control of flash unit output, even below 1/128th level for ultra short, motion-stopping shots
  • automatic zoom level control of flashes
  • Super FP or HSS mode (but Pentax and Sony cameras need a brand-specific flash for this to work)
  • Power Sync mode to allow a faster flash sync without losing flash output as occurs in Super FP/HSS mode
  • two unique new flash exposure modes:
    • Flash Compensate – store a desired flash exposure that will automatically adjust according to changes in camera settings.
    • Flash Power Lock – lock flash power output after a desired TTL exposure is achieved, for consistency in repeat shooting.

See my wikipedia page for more information of remote control of flashes.


Value adding to your lens collection – can a Sony a7 II + Sigma MC-11 bring new life to your Canon lenses without breaking your bank?

Monday, March 20th, 2017

Choosing a new camera can really value add to your existing lenses and give them a new life.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera adds extra dimensions to your Micro Four Thirds kit by giving them even better image stabilisation, awesome C-AF at 18 fps burst rates with Pro-Capture option and the option of 50mp HiRes mode (albeit requiring a tripod and static scene).

Many of us have a collection of Canon pro lenses and an old Canon dSLR camera which needs updating to value add to these lenses – but which camera?

Sure, you could adapt them onto your Micro Four Thirds cameras but these Canon lenses are not optimised for CDAF, so you need an expensive Metabones adapter to get reasonable AF – and the capability will vary with each lens – some, such as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro and one of my favorites, the Canon EF 135mm F2L lens will just not AF with a Metabones adapter – whether a straight adapter or a 0.71x focal reducer adapter.

You could buy a cropped sensor Canon dSLR, but unless you are into sports where the Canon 7D Mark II will be useful, the full frame lenses are just too big and poorly suited to cropped sensor dSLRs and Canon don’t make many pro quality lenses designed especially for their cropped sensor cameras.

If you have the money, the obvious choice are the superb Canon 1DX Mark II or the Canon 5D Mark IV but these are likely to break your bank at around $AU5000.

You see money is everything for most of us, if money was not an issue, we would probably buy a variety of best of breed cameras such as:

  • Hasselblad or Phase One medium format for landscapes and studio work
  • Nikon D5 or Canon 1DX with massive, expensive lenses such as a 600mm f/4 for sports or wildlife
  • Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II for everyday use and compact, light travel

But money is an issue for most of us, and so in the Canon full frame dSLRs at the entry level end we have the outdated Canon 6D or Canon 5D Mark III dSLRs, but although these will get you the full frame shallow depth of field and high ISO capabilities, these are not suited to sports, have an old sensor which has less dynamic range capability at base ISO than even the E-M1 Mark II, and in the case of the 6D in particular, has crippled functionality such as a shutter speed only to 1/4000th sec.

Can we do better at an affordable price? – Enter the Sony a7II

The Sony a7 mark II combined with the relatively new and affordable  Sigma MC-11 Canon EF lens adapter may well be a better option than the similarly priced older canon 6D IF you can live with a few major issues:

  • variable AF functionality depending upon the lens but unlike using the much more expensive Metabones adapter, the Sigma MC-11 adapter works really well with the Canon EF 135mm f/2L, so well, that it has made me consider the Sony a7II as a reasonable option! The Canon 50mm f/1.8 II works, but every time you turn the camera off and then on, the lens freezes, so you have to partly dismount the lens and mount, then turn camera back on to re-gain AF functionality.
  • terrible ergonomics – I am not sure what happened to all those Minolta camera engineers when Sony took them over, but, the Sony cameras are certainly not designed with the photographer in mind – if you think the Olympus menu system is confused and convoluted, Sony is worse, and with sometimes very strange  design options, and worse, the constant need to dig into the menu system for simple things such as switching from back button AF to half shutter AF modes, and unlike the Olympus, navigating the panel display settings is very clunky, plus for some reason, the EVF looks blurry even after adjusting the diopter, and countless other annoyances such as no button to switch from EVF to screen manually – yep, you guessed it – another deep dive into the menu system – if you can remember which screen its on! Plus, unlike Olympus, there is no context-sensitive help on the menus or the Scene modes (you just get a sometimes obscure icon).
  • did I mention terrible ergonomics?
  • did I mention the really loud shutter? – unlike Olympus, there is no silent mode – but at least your subjects can hear you taking the shot from 10m away!
  • cannot yet use Canon flashes in TTL mode – but they work fine in manual mode – thankfully, Sony got rid of the proprietary non-industry standard Minolta hotshoe! PS. the Cactus radio wireless TTL flash system is being updated in 2017 to allow Canon and Olympus flashes to work on Sony cameras and other brand cameras including Olympus cameras with full TTL remote radio wireless flash – but Sony and Pentax cameras currently require brand-specific flashes for HSS mode. AWESOME!
  • is not supplied with an external battery charger – what the??? You charge the battery via USB cable with battery in the camera – not very useful if tyou want to use the camera while the battery is charging! You can apparently buy one with a spare battery for about $100

What benefits does the Sony a7 II have over the similarly priced Canon 6D?

  • mirrorless – camera is smaller and lighter, 600g vs 770g
  • EVF instead of OVF means you can hold the camera to your eye for Live View including movies, plus, if you are like me and require reading glasses, you can get away without them by using the EVF for everything including diving into the menu
  • manual focus magnification with focus peaking in the viewfinder – fantastic for Tilt-Shift lenses which are otherwise difficult to focus
  • ability to use native Sony lenses as well as Leica M lenses – probably not a big deal unless you really want to invest in an essentially flawed design system -in my opinion, Sony made a mistake in designing the E-Mount sensor to lens flange distance so short and the mount diameter so narrow – sure it makes the cameras smaller, but that doesn’t help much on full frame as the lenses are gigantic, and furthermore, it cripples image quality with wide aperture, wide angle lenses and cripples the capabilities of a sensor based image stabilisation system – hence the Sony Steady shot IS is no match for the Olympus system, and according to the laws of physics is unlikely to ever be!
  • 24mp newer sensor with much better dynamic range compared to the old 2012 model 20mp sensor of the 6D
  • shutter speed to 1/8000th sec not just 1/4000th sec
  • 5 axis sensor based image stabiliser that works on all lenses (gives about 2EV benefit but requires compatible OIS lens for greatest benefit) vs NO sensor based IS on the 6D – or any Canon dSLR for that matter!
  • 117 PDAF autofocus points compared to 11 on the 6D which are all crowded in the centre
  • face detection AF even when used with Canon lenses – vs face detection only in Live View mode
  • eye detect AF with compatible lenses (not currently with the Canon lenses unless they are made by Sigma)
  • 1200 zone metering instead of 63 zone dual layer metering
  • flash sync 1/250th sec vs 1/180th sec – although my tests with Canon and Olympus flashes, the Sony a7ii only syncs fully at 1/200th sec – perhaps you need a Sony flash for 1/250th sec sync
  • 1.23m dot tilting LCD vs 1mdot fixed LCD (unfortunately, neither offer touch screen)
  • 1080HD 60p video vs 1080HD 30p
  • more accurate AF and much less need for AF microadjustment as the PDAF sensors are on the main sensor not located elsewhere and hence need calibration

Benefits of the Canon 6D over the Sony a7II:

  • similar interface to other Canon dSLRs, albeit a little crippled compared to its more expensive models
  • optical viewfinder for those who value such things
  • better batter life as no EVF
  • more reliable AF with Canon lenses but you are restricted to those 11 points in the centre, and you don’t get face detect AF through the viewfinder let alone eye detection AF
  • ability to use Canon flashes in TTL mode although the Cactus radio wireless TTL flash system is being updated in 2017 to allow Canon and Olympus flashes to work on Sony cameras with full TTL remote radio wireless flash – but apparently they can’t get HSS mode working at this stage!


In the end, you need to work out which is best for you and the style of photography you do – both solutions are a long way from being ideal – they are both budget compromises – which compromise works for you – only you can tell!

For me, having an image stabilised Canon 135mm f/2L lens with face detect AF and ability to do Live View manual focus magnification with focus peaking in the viewfinder while using Canon Tilt-Shift lenses on the Sony with a better dynamic range and 1/8000th sec shutter for sunny days makes this a compelling choice for me if I were to purchase one of the two.



The new Sony RX 1R II 42mp full frame compact fixed lens camera – a lovely but pricey serious photography tool

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

Sony has just announced their upgrade to the 2012 world’s 1st full frame compact fixed lens digital camera – the Sony RX I and the new camera is the Sony RX 1R II and packs some very important improvements, albeit with the same excellent Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens, but the RRP of $US3300 may be just a touch too high for most people!

Firstly, these cameras are fairly unique in packing such a high quality lens and full frame sensor into a small package much the same size as a Micro Four Thirds Olympus OM-D of equivalent field of view.

Leaf shutter:

Not only that but the shutter is a leaf shutter in the lens which gives 2 very important advantages over shutters at the sensor:

  • it is more quiet
  • it allows flash sync at full flash output at shutter speeds up to 1/2000th sec  (ie. no need for power sapping high speed sync modes such as HSS or Super FP)

Fast flash sync:

A fast flash sync is extremely useful in 2 particular circumstances:

  • allowing wide apertures to be used in bright outdoor situations at a distance – eg. wedding groups
  • allowing one to over-power the sun if the strobe is powerful enough and it’s full output flash has a very brief duration such as 1/800th sec or shorter – unfortunately many flashes require 1/300th- 1/500th sec duration for maximum flash output which does limit the benefit of fast flash sync somewhat.

Improvements over the Sony RX 1:

  • 42mp sensor and image processor as for the Sony a7RII E-mount mirrorless interchangeable lens camera
  • a much needed improved AF system now with 399-point hybrid AF system and C-AF capability
  • built-in flash replaced with a superb popup built-in EVF – 2,359,296 dot OLED TRU-finder EVF with 0.74x magnification, a 19mm eyepoint and a -4.0 to +3.0 diopter adjustment
  • rear LCD now tilts but still no touch control
  • new variable optical low-pass filter to allow user to decide upon maximum detail or minimal moire artefacts
  • 5fps burst with AF between each frame
  • shutter now to 1/4000th sec
  • can now define a minimum shutter speed for the Auto ISO sensitivity option
  • 50Mbps XAVC S movie mode at 1080 full HD at 24, 25, 30, 50 or 60fps
  • WiFi, NFC, smartphone remote control

What does it miss out on?

There are a few features missing which really should be available on a camera at this price point such as:

  • weathersealing – this is a pity as I could imagine bushwalkers would love this camera if it was weathersealed
  • image stabiliser – this is a real pity as hand held, the camera shake is likely to waste all those 42mp of data and mean that low light street shooters would not get the maximum out of it
  • shutter speed to 1/8000th sec – another problem means one may need a ND filter to use f/2 in bright sunlight, although an option is to drop ISO to 50 and give up some dynamic range
  • 4K video which is now becoming the video to have
  • touch control of rear LCD screen – given this is such a small camera, touch control would be handy indeed

Why not just use an Olympus OM-D E-M5 II with 20mm Panasonic pancake lens?

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 II kit gives the following advantages at 1/3rd of the price and is only a touch larger and heavier:

  • camera is weathersealed (although this pancake lens is not)
  • can use almost any lens ever made
  • the world’s best image stabiliser which is just magic in video mode as well
  • touch control of rear screen which not only tilts but swivels
  • mechanical shutter speed to 1/8000th sec
  • 40mp HiRes mode without moire for static subjects with camera on tripod
  • 77mbps HD video with incredible image stabiliser
  • PC sync port
  • don’t need to pop up the EVF
  • some great in-built features such as Live Composite mode, etc

BUT the Sony does give a few benefits which may make it worth it for some people:

  • the shallower depth of field and lower high ISO noise of the full frame sensor
  • 42mp detail – although one really needs a tripod, fast shutter speed or flash to realize this detail
  • fast flash sync – but you need a short duration flash unit to make the most of it
  • 399 AF points instead of 81 points may provide some benefits

Or for a similar price, the Sony a7R II camera:

The Sony a7R II is only a little more expensive and substantially bigger and heavier, and lacks the leaf shutter, but gives you the following benefits:

  • camera is weathersealed
  • can use almost any lens ever made
  • a very good image stabiliser
  • mechanical shutter speed to 1/8000th sec
  • 4K video

Note that at present there is no dedicated AF lens for the E-mount which equates with this lens, the nearest are the Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 ($US799) and the new Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 (~$US2000). There is a manual focus Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 lens at $US1250.

Thus the Sony RX 1R II gives you similar image quality in a much smaller package and the benefits of fast flash sync and 35mm f/2 and if these are more important than the other features then it maybe a camera to buy but for most, the Olympus OM-D or Sony a7R II would be better options.

A very brief history of camera design – film sizes, mirrors, manual focus aides, and mirrorless

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

There are a lot of people taking up photography who are really only aware of the digital age and thus I thought it was opportune to bring them rapidly up to speed on why we have cameras they way we do and thus what the future may hold.

So let’s go back to the 19th century when film based cameras were first being developed – the initial ones are like those seen in Western movies – mounted on a tripod, while the photographer buries himself under a black cloth behind the camera and uses some kind of primitive flash to light the portrait. What was he doing under the black cloth?

These cameras used photographic plates which could be moved out of the back of the camera and replaced with large ground glass screen which would enable him to focus the image – as long as he could make it dark enough to see the faint image. Once the subject was focused, he would remove the glass plate and insert the film plate, and then he could take the shot. Given that the film speed in those days was so “slow” – perhaps ISO 4 or so, and the lenses needed to be used at f/22 or so for the large format film plate, the exposures would be too long without additional light.

Obviously, the above system was not conducive to the take up by consumers – it was a very technical and slow photographic process.

The Kodak Brownie

George Eastman started manufacturing paper film in 1885 then celluloid in 1889 and created his 1st simple camera, The Kodak, in 1888 with a fixed aperture, focus and shutter speed and a single roll of film that the camera needed to be sent back to the factory for processing – not a great option for the masses.

In 1900, Eastman Kodak needed to sell more film so produced the affordable ($1) and quite simple even for children (“you press the button, we do the rest”) revolutionary Kodak Brownie – a simple box which used a roll film of type 117 producing 6cmx6cm square images (what we call “medium format”). It had no viewfinder or focus mechanism, just V sighting lines on the top or an optional add on viewfinder and thus was designed to create the “snapshot”. Only the film roll needed to be sent for processing.

The Brownie series of cameras were popular for children and families into the 1960′s.

6×6 “medium format” film cameras

The Brownie created a large market for 6×6 film and this spurred manufacture of a whole industry of more professional and enthusiast cameras based upon 6×6 film types (including the very popular 120 film).

These camera manufacturers had to solve a few issues though:

  • how can the photographer compose the image?
  • how can the photographer accurately set a focus for the subject?
  • how can the photographer adjust exposure for different light intensities?

Adjusting exposure was a relatively easy technical problem to solve – add an adjustable iris diaphragm in the lens, and an adjustable spring operated shutter within the lens.

Setting focus and composition though was a different matter with various compromise solutions:

  • adding a reflex mirror which directed the view to the top of the camera allowing it to be viewed from above as a waist level finder, and then prior to exposure being made, the large mirror is removed out of the way so the light will hit the film when the shutter opens – this created heavy, big, noisy “SLR” Single Lens Reflex cameras which ideally had the mirror locked up well before the exposure to minimise camera shake and then had to be manually returned to view next image.
  • adding a 2nd synchronised viewing lens which moved in sync with the main lens during focus and usually a fixed mirror for this lens – this created a heavy, big, quiet “TLR” Twin Lens Reflex camera but what you see is not really what you get – there is parallax error for closer subjects which affects composition and requires correction mechanisms, useless for macro work, and you don’t get to see  effects of filters such as polarising filters. Nevertheless, the fact you didn’t need to lock up the mirror made these cameras extremely popular in the 1930′s (thanks to the more compact Rolleiflex in 1928) through to the early 1960′s for tourists and portrait photographers.
  • adding a small fixed viewing lens with a special mechanism to overlay images to show the photographer when the subject is in focus – the quiet, but large and relatively heavy rangefinder camera. This had similar issues to the TLR and in addition only worked with certain focal length lenses to match the rangefinder mechanism.

There was a need for smaller cameras – enter the 35mm “full frame” cameras

The movie industry had been using 70mm wide film for years, and from 1905 onwards various manufacturers were making cameras for 35mm cine roll film which was 70mm cine film cut in half long ways. These cameras started to gain popularity with Leica’s 1st camera in 1925 followed by a Contax in 1932.

But again it was Kodak who leveraged this popularity by creating a much easier to use 135 cartridge film in 1934 and a Kodak Retina I camera to use it with. In the late 1930′s the Japanese manufacturers started to create 135-type cameras. In the 1950′s Asahi Pentax had developed the instant returning reflex mirror which further increased the usability and popularity of the SLR.

Street photography became easier thanks to 35mm rangefinder cameras such as those made by Leica, and later, a multitude of Japanese versions were sold to families in the 1960′s.

Meanwhile professional photojournalists started giving up their large medium format rangefinders for more versatile, compact 35mm SLRs of the 1960′s.

In the 1960′s, Olympus created an even smaller Olympus PEN rangefinder system using half a 35mm frame as the image size – hence called “half frame” cameras.

In 1963, Kodak introduced their 126 instamatic square film cartridges to make loading film even simpler and easy for children to do, spurning a new generation of children taking snapshots.

The 1970′s saw an explosion in the popularity of the 35mm film SLR helped along by Olympus who further re-defined the product by creating their beautiful, compact, quieter OM system with off-the-film TTL flash metering.

Professional wedding and fashion photographers needing to create large prints were generally not comfortable with the large print quality from 35mm film and still used medium format SLRs, while landscape photographers used even larger film cameras such as 6cmx17cm image panoramic cameras.

In the late 1980′s, Canon changed the SLR world, taking an enormous risk in abandoning its popular manual focus FD lens mount system of cameras and lenses, and thereby making them redundant and practically worthless – not great for your fan base, and created a new autofocus SLR system – their EOS system with electronic focus (EF) lenses which were  to dominate the photojournalist, nature and sports professional photographer world for the next two decades while Nikon played catch up and Olympus lost their way, never really creating an autofocus film SLR system.

How did the photographer accurately focus these cameras without autofocus?

Autofocus was not mainstream in cameras until the mid to late 1980′s, yet generations of photographers have always been able to get well focused images, even of fast moving sports – how did they do this?

Part of the reason is that they didn’t have to have accurate focus – the lenses of the day for 35mm cameras were generally sharpest at f/8 hence the adage “f/8 and be there”. If you are shooting at f/8 you do have a reasonable amount of depth of field to play with, so one option is to preset the focus for your subject’s estimated distance – indeed, this is the only way you could do it on most instamatic cameras – set for people or landscapes and depth of field will handle the rest. This technique is called zone focus and users looked at the depth of field scale on their lenses and worked out a good focus to achieve what they wanted.

But what if you wanted to use wider aperture lens with narrow depth of field, you really needed to get more accurate.

Enter the focusing screen.

The focusing screen is the ground glass used on all optical viewing devices including on dSLRs made today.

Before autofocus, most professional SLR cameras allowed one to remove the screen and replace it with another style depending upon your needs and lens being used.

Commonly, these screens used either a central split image (you align the images for focus) or a central microprism (stops shimmering when in focus) as well as the surrounding ground glass for the user to accurately ascertain focus. Unfortunately the split image, microprism and even the ground glass did not work with all lenses, so we had a screen for macro work, another for astro work, etc.

Most modern dSLRs with autofocus now have a fixed screen without split image or microprism aides, and which is optimised for f/2.8 apertures – if you are using a f/1.2 lens, the camera may automatically close the aperture to f/2.5 or so to optimise the view on the screen.

Modern dSLRs are NOT optimised for manual focus although they often do have “AF confirm” – pressing the AF button whilst turning the focus ring in manual focus, the AF confirm light comes on when it detects focus is achieved as determined by the AF mechanism – this requires a CPU chip in the camera lens or lens adapter.

The latest evolution – the mirrorless camera

Now that we are essentially in a digital camera world with cameras having digital sensors instead of film, and electronic viewfinders are now giving very acceptable views and with many possible functions not available to optical viewfinders, there was no longer a need to have a clunky, noisy reflex mirror which added to camera shake.

Enter the mirrorless camera.

The electronic viewfinders continually improve, and now give even larger apparent views than the best optical viewfinders, allow display of far dimmer subjects making it easy to compose on star fields or with extremely dark filters in place such as infrared filters or 10x Big Stopper ND400 filters.

Not only that, they give you real time live histograms, highlight/shadow warnings, compositional grids, real time pre-visualisation of creative picture tonalities or colours, keystoning adjustments or even exposures.

Furthermore, unlike with dSLRs you still can hold the camera to your face for steady camera holding when using Live View such as in video mode, and there is no need to microadjust the AF system for each lens as is the case with dSLRs.

But wait there’s more – you now gain some awesome manual focus aids such as:

  • image stabilised magnified view
  • focus peaking
  • live boost II so you can see really dim subjects such as faint stars

By removing the mirror, the sensor to lens distance can be shortened and thus allow radical new designs of lenses, especially wide angle lenses, and the ability to mount almost any other legacy lens and still attain infinity focus.

And, just as in the days where there was a market for highest quality large heavy cameras and a market for smaller, compact, quieter, versatile take anywhere cameras, these markets are still with us today and thus enthusiasts and professionals can choose from:

  • high resolution, potentially very shallow depth of field full frame image stabilised mirrorless camera such as the newly announced Sony A7R II which has been optimised to autofocus Canon EF lenses
  • compact, light, versatile, high image quality Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the Olympus OM-D family

Why Micro Four Thirds?

  • sensor size is small enough to allow relatively compact, light lenses with excellent edge-to-edge image quality – usually with much sharper edges than full frame lenses
  • sensor size is big enough to allow just the perfect amount of shallow depth of field for your portraiture when using the premium f/1.8 lenses
  • sensor size is big enough to give a good compromise of resolution vs high ISO noise performance – currently 16mp to ISO 3200, although this will further improve as technology improves
  • large range of lenses optimised for sensor size and silent, fast, more accurate autofocus – even AF on the closest eye
  • ability to use almost any lens ever made and have them image stabilised
  • ability to use full frame lenses with focal reducer adapters or tilt-shift adapters
  • optical image quality deteriorates exponentially the further from the centre and thus smaller sensor lens makers will always have the advantage in lens design
  • 99% of users do not print sizes greater than 20″x30″ and Micro Four Thirds can print to this size acceptably well
  • higher resolutions are possible by panoramic stitching or by sensor-shift technologies such as the Olympus 40mp mode which will be further improved to be usable hand held

And this is the dilemma faced by Canon and Nikon who are yet to really invest in mirrorless systems (not including the small 1″ sensor of the Nikon 1 system or the rather pathetic EOS-M system).

PS. Don’t get me wrong, the current Canon and Nikon systems are wonderful, albeit heavy and expensive, and I have well over $20,000 worth of Canon pro gear, and although they probably will still be around in 10-15 years,  I don’t believe that needs to be the way of the future for MOST people, and I far prefer to carry my compact Olympus gear which does not break my back, packs into cabin luggage on airplanes easily,  and is more affordable and fun to use, and it gives me just as good photos, if not better.

The new Sony a7R II – finally a full frame mirrorless that almost does it all – a game changer indeed!

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

In my last post I compared the current Sony full frame mirrorless cameras with the Olympus OM-D cameras, and had to conclude that for most people, the Olympus OM-D’s were probably the way to go given that each Sony camera had significant issues, not least the lack of lens selection.

But today, Sony has really upped the ante with their newly announced Sony a7R II NEX E-mount full frame mirrorless camera which hopefully addresses many of my concerns and in addition adds faster AF for Canon lenses plus internal 4K video!

Now that is pretty cool and Canon and Nikon should be worried – very worried indeed!

The specs beat their new Canon 5DS hands down assuming one is not going to quibble over 50mp vs 42mp, and beats the Nikon D810E dSLRs.

Sony now make 40% of all digital sensors and Canon is falling so far behind in the mirrorless and video race, it will take something special from them to pull back the lead.

Nikon use Sony sensors so potentially this sensor will find its way into their dSLRs, but neither Canon or Nikon have added sensor-based image stabilisation and this is a real issue for them, nor can they offer accurate, fast AF on a person’s eye via Eye Detection AF, let alone 4K video functionality as is implemented on this camera.

This may be THE BEST camera for your Canon lenses (although you do need to buy a AF adapter such as a Metabones adapter) – as long as you don’t need super fast AF for sports, etc.

image courtesy of

Sony a7R II specs:

  • world 1st back illuminated full frame sensor for improved high ISO sensitivity and faster data processing (3.5x faster than the a7R)
  • 42.4 megapixels gapless design with anti-reflection coating
  • ISO range 100-25600 (extended: 50, up to 102,400)
  • Fast Hybrid AF system
  • AF response time improved by 40% over the a7R
  • Eye-AF now allows C-AF tracking of closest eye with specific face preferenc via registration
  • fast, accurate C-AF at 5fps even with fast moving subjects
  • 399 on-sensor phase detect AF sensor points covering 45% of the frame = 67% coverage in each direction (larger than dSLR AF coverage)
  • 25 on-sensor contrast detect AF points
  • 5fps burst rate for 22 frames
  • 500,000 shot rated shutter – by far the best specs in the industry
  • 50% less shutter vibration than in the a7R
  • electronic front curtain shutter to reduce shutter shake
  • shutter speeds 30sec – 1/8000th sec
  • flash sync 1/250th sec
  • metering to -3EV, exposure compensation -5 EV to +5 EV (in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps)
  • no optical low pass filter for optimal sharpness and clarity (although this may cause some moire in videos – to be tested)
  • 3″ tilting 1,228.8k dot LCD screen (tilting up 107° and down 41°) and uses WhiteMagic technology which doubles the brightness of the display but still not touch sensitive
  • 4K video
    • internal UHD 4K 3840 x 2160p at 30/24 fps in XAVC S format at 100Mbps and 4:2:0 sampling at 8-bit
    • Super 35 without pixel binning or full frame read-out format
    • customisable picture profiles
    • S-Log2 Gamma – “squeezes up to 1300% more dynamic range into the video signal then traditional REC709, for increased post-production flexibility”
    • S-Gamut
    • time code – standard ‘Record Run” mode that only advances the timecode when recording, as well as “Free Run” timecode that advances the timecode even when not recording
    • clean 4:2:2 uncompressed video HDMI output
    • sensor based IS – hopefully now better optimised for video – but will it compete with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II’s amazing IS in video?
    • 3.5mm microphone input jack
    • compatible with the Sony XLR-K2M XLR Adapter for recording professional balanced XLR audio signals with phantom power and adjustable mic/line inputs
    • 3.5mm headphone jack as well as real time audio levels for a visual reference
  • 1080p video 60fps XAVC S7 codec at 50Mbps
  • 720 120p slo-mo video
  • silent shooting mode
  • 0.78x EVF magnification with 100% view coverage plus 4-lens system with double-sided aspherical elements for comfortable viewing and diopter – 4 to +3 m
  • magnesium alloy body with weathersealing
  • improved ergonomics – larger grip, re-shaped shutter button and moved forward
  • and taking a leaf from Olympus:
    • the same 5-axis image stabilization system found in the Sony a7 II – my dreams are coming true indeed!
    • the ability to assign any of 56 functions to any of the 10 customizable buttons for a more personalized setup
    • the Olympus mode dial locking system
    • Picture Effect modes: Posterization (Color, B&W), Pop Color, Retro Photo, Partial Color (R/G/B/Y), High Contrast Monochrome, Toy Camera, Soft High-Key, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-Tone Monochrome, Miniature, Watercolor, and Illustration.
    • Creative Style settings: Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Clear, Deep, Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night Scene, Autumn Leaves, Black & White, and Sepia (all with +/- 3 step contrast, saturation, and sharpness adjustment).
    • Face Detection is available to base exposure and focus on up to eight recognized faces. Furthermore, Eye AF can be used for even greater precision by maintaining critical focus on a subject’s eye – I do love this feature on my Olympus cameras
    • sensor dust reduction system as is now standard in most ILC’s
  • sweep panorama
  • WiFi and NFC connectivity
  • PlayMemories Camera Apps are supported via the built-in Wi-Fi connection, and allow you to personalize the camera’s features depending on specific shooting styles. Apps are available to suit creating portraits, detailed close-ups, sports, time lapse, motion shot, and other specific types of imagery.
  • battery: NP-FW50 Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery Pack
  • optional AC-PW20 AC Adapter
  • 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.4″ / 126.9 x 95.7 x 60.3 mm
  • 22.05 oz / 625 g incl. battery, card
  • $US3200
  • availability said to be August 2015

What makes it a better camera for Canon and Nikon lenses than their dSLRs?

  • 4K video
  • sensor based image stabiliser which works on all lenses – much reduced need for a tripod for portraits with the 135mm f/2.0L lens in low light
  • at least as good, if not better image quality – Sony sensors generally have better dynamic range than Canon ones and this sensor should not be an exception
  • far better manual focus functionality thanks to full time Live View with magnification and focus peaking – awesome when using tilt shift lenses – and they become image stabilised
  • more accurate portrait AF with Eye detection AF – although we will have to see if this works on non FE lenses
  • more accurate AF as uses focal plane PDAF sensors
  • no mirror so less camera shake and no need for clunky mirror lock up modes
  • can use the EVF in either stills or video mode and the video hopefully will have excellent sensor based image stabilisation and thereby allow better run and gun video work without need for heavy, expensive stabilisation rigs
  • PDAF covers more of the image frame
  • C-AF tracking still not quite as good as Nikon’s 3D tracking but perhaps better than Canon’s iTR distance priority tracking
  • WiFi control

Compared to Canon 5Ds R

Similar resolution, burst rate, shutter speed range,

Sony a7R II Canon 5Ds R
Price at $US3200 $US3900
ISO range 100-25600 (expandable to 50-102,400) 100-6400 (expandable to 50-12800)
Weight 625g 930g
Size 126.9 x 95.7 x 60.3 mm 152 x 116 x 76 mm
LCD screen tilt screen fixed
HD video awesome image stabilisation 50Mbps 1080 50/60/24pp and 100Mbps 4K 30/24p, stereo mic, headphone port 1080HD 30p/24p average implementation and quality, no EVF and thus must use LCD screen; mono mic; no headphone port, no uncompressed HDMI out
sensor based image stabilisation 5-axis 4.5EV IS No
Manual focus support in viewfinder magnified view, focus peaking AF confirm
AF in view finder mode fast, accurate on sensor 399pt PDAF, 25pt CDAF, Eye detection AF fast 61pt PDAF (5 double cross, 41 cross) requires microadjustment for each lens but proven for sports
AF lamp Yes No, need speedlight attached
flash sync 1/250th sec but no PC port? 1/200thsec
Radio TTL flash No Yes
Sweep panorama Yes No
silent electronic shutter Yes No?
shutter rating 500,000 shots 150,000 shots?
battery life 290 shots 700 shots
CF and SD memory card slot No Yes
USB 3.0 No Yes
WiFi and NFC Yes No

What’s missing?

  • LCD screen is not touch sensitive – this is very useful on Micro Four Thirds cameras, and I would miss it
  • radio remote TTL flash
  • lossless RAW files – current 14bit lossy RAW files do show some posterization – firmware update may address this
  • whilst PDAF is more accurate, PDAF capabilities in low light is not as good as on dSLR
  • PDAF initial AF lock not as fast as a dSLR when using very out of focus telephoto lenses
  • timelapse recording? – via PlayMemories App?
  • USB 3.0 (still only 2.0)
  • colour rendition may not be as good as peers – Olympus jpeg engine is renown for its colours
  • none of the nice Olympus long exposure and low light options:
    • timed shutter to 60secs
    • Live BULB
    • Live TIME
    • Live Composite
    • Live Boost I and II for better EVF viewing
  • of course, the dedicated lens selection is currently very limited, but at least now, it promises to give faster AF for Canon lenses
  • not compatible with TTL flash from other systems such as Olympus, Nikon or Canon – perhaps one day they will be universal remote TTL flash capability, but this seems a way off yet


I still believe that the Olympus OM-D cameras are a better fit for MOST people who just need a high quality, light, compact, versatile weathersealed system.

But for the pros and enthusiasts who don’t mind the extra size, weight and cost (~$US4000 for basic kit)  and are wanting high resolution, image stabilised full frame, or the serious videographers wanting high quality 4K video, then this camera is indeed a game changer given that it has all these capabilities without being absurdly expensive!

It also provides an option as a 2nd system to go along with your everyday Micro Four Thirds system, although an alternative to this role could be the newly announced Leica Q which is a 24mp full frame fixed lens camera with a superb 28mm f/1.7 lens and a very quiet leaf shutter which allows flash sync at 1/500th second – a great combo for street photography as well as shooting groups at weddings outdoors or indoors with flash fill in.

Finally, will it live up to the hype and the specs?

Formal testing and user experiences will be required to answer a few questions such as:

  • how good is the image quality from the sensor?
  • how fast is the AF with Sony FE lenses and with Canon EF lenses?
  • how good is the video quality?
  • how effective is the image stabiliser for video?
  • how good is the ergonomics and handling?
  • are there any gotchas yet to be revealed?

Time will tell if this camera is the gem it appears to be.

Which mirrorless in 2015 – Sony full frame or Olympus OM-D?

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Mirrorless cameras are fast becoming THE camera type of the future thanks to the removal of the mirror which is holding back dSLR cameras from the many benefits of the new EVF world – in particular, the every increasing technological changes which in nearly all aspects have addressed the benefits of an optical viewfinder while adding in so many other benefits.

But which mirrorless camera system to buy?

I am going to discount the Nikon 1 system as the sensor is really too small for enthusiasts wanting a good compromise in size vs image quality vs shallow DOF.

For simplicity, I am also going to discount the APS-C cropped sensor systems (eg. Sony NEX, Fuji, Samsung) as they generally have larger lenses and very few are well designed for the cropped sensor cameras, and really, if you are going to have the larger lenses, you may as well go the whole hog and get a full frame camera. That said, many may find these cameras give them the compromise they need, particularly, the Fuji X system with their very nice lenses such as their 56mm f/1.2 portrait lens.

That leaves us with compact, light, less expensive, Micro Four Thirds 2x crop sensor cameras (Panasonic, Olympus, Kodak and Black Magic cameras) vs the relatively new Sony NEX FX cameras.

Micro Four Thirds vs Sony FX mirrorless:

The main reasons to consider paying all that extra money and carrying heavier, larger cameras and lenses for a full frame system include:

  • more capabilities of achieving even shallower depth of field – perhaps 1-2 stops more shallow
  • ability to use full frame lenses at their native field of view
  • some niche $2000-$3000 lens options only available in full frame as yet, such as 17mm tilt-shift, 14mm f/2.8 ultra-wide capable of taking filters, 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2
  • access to higher resolution sensors to allow even larger prints
  • access to sensors with even better high ISO performance

But these Sony full frame cameras come at a cost:

  • larger and heavier kits
  • more expensive cameras and lenses
  • images are generally less sharp away from the centre
  • very small range of dedicated AF lenses
  • current lenses generally have poor close focus limits and smaller apertures compared to Olympus options
  • shallow depth of field is often your enemy
  • high resolution images will generally require use of a tripod
  • high resolution sensor cameras create much larger RAW file sizes and use up more space on memory cards and your hard drives
  • range of camera options is much narrower
  • less hand holdable telephoto reach
  • equivalent telephoto reach lenses are MUCH bigger, heavier, more expensive and require tripods
  • only one Sony camera has 5 axis in-body image stabilisation and it is not as effective as the Olympus OM-D/PEN implementation
  • none of them can compete with the video image stabilisation of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II
  • none of them will allow 1/3rd sec sharp hand held wide angle shots such as the Olympus cameras – eg. night time or when using ND400 10x filters in bright sun for blurred water effects
  • none will allow hand held night urban shots with adequate depth of field (compared to the Olympus OM-D’s and lenses such as 12mm f/2.0)
  • none of them have the handy functions of the Olympus cameras such as 60sec timed exposures, Live TIME, Live Composite exposures
  • each of the 3 current Sony FX cameras have gotchas which may prevent one from achieving what is hoped for:
    • ergonomics are not quite there
    • shutters are very noisy
    • the LCD screens are not touch sensitive
    • no timelapse recording
    • the Sony a7R 36mp camera has poor image quality at certain shutter speeds as one cannot use an electronic 1st shutter and thus is subject to shutter shake, no in-body IS, and only has 25 CDAF points and no PDAF, while flash sync is a miserable 1/160th sec while burst rate is a slow 4fps but would make a great landscape camera
    • the Sony a7S 12mp “low light”/”video” camera has RAW compression artefact issues, poor dynamic range, low resolution, no in-body IS, and only has 25 CDAF points and no PDAF, while burst rate is only 5fps but does make a great low light video camera
    • the Sony a7II 24mp camera finally has in-body IS, and PDAF with good dynamic range, but noise at high ISO, and only 5fps but does provide a way of image stabilising those Canon and Nikon prime lenses whilst retaining full frame characteristics although you do lose fast AF.

Let’s compare the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II vs Sony a7II:

These are relatively close in functionality, both offering IBIS, WiFi, weathersealing and similar resolution.

Olympus OM-D E-M5II Sony a7II
Price at $US999 $US1698
Weight 417g 600g
Size 124mm x 85mm x 44.5mm 127 x 96 x 60 mm
EVF eye sensor auto switching issues with eye sensor auto switching
LCD screen articulating touch screen not touch sensitive
HD video awesome image stabilisation 50Mbps 1080 50/60p better video quality but IS not as good
Burst rate 11fps 5fps
Top panel dual dial + 2×2 system Yes No
AF fast 81pt CDAF (need E-M1 for PDAF) 25pt CDAF, 117pt PDAF
Hi-Res mode Yes, 40mp No
Live BULB, Live TIME, Live Composite, 60sec timed, Live Boost EVF Yes No
Sweep panorama Individual shots stitched Yes
Auto hand held HDR Yes No
“14-28mm” pro lens 7-14mm (14-28mm) f/2.8, 534g, 106mm long, 0.2m close focus, no filter, MF clutch, $US1299 16-35mm f/4, 518g, 99mm long, 0.28m close focus, 72mm filter, OSS, no MF clutch, less sharp, distortion and CA worse, $US1348
“24-70mm” pro lens 12-40mm (24-80mm) f/2.8, 382g, 84mm long, 0.2m close focus, 62mm filter, MF clutch, $US740 24-70mm f/4, 426g, 95mm long, 0.4m close focus, 67mm filter, OSS, no MF clutch, very soft away from centre, complex distortion, $US925
“70-200mm” pro lens 40-150mm (80-200mm) f/2.8, 760g, 160mm long, 0.7m close focus, 72mm filter, MF clutch, $US1399, opt. 1.4x converter 70-200mm f/4, 840g, 175mm long, 1-1.5m close focus, 72mm filter, OSS, no MF clutch, no teleconverter, soft corners even stopped down, $US1498
“50mm” standard prime lens 25mm (50mm) f/1.8, 136g, 41mm long, 0.24m close focus, 46mm filter, $US349 (also other options such as Leica-D 25mm f/1.4) 55mm f/1.8, 281g, 64mm long, 0.5m close focus, 49mm filter, excellent optics, shallower DOF, but poor close focus and expensive $US998

Just look at those 3 main zoom lenses, the Olympus zooms offer better edge-to-edge sharpness, less distortions, substantially better close focus, and extra stop of light which partly addresses the shallow DOF and high ISO capabilities of the Sony full frame sensor, whilst being less expensive and offering the lovely manual focus clutch, and for the telephoto, the option of a 1.4x teleconverter.

The Sony zoom lenses being f/4 to allow a more compact, lighter and affordfable solution than the usual f/2.8 full frame lenses does not get you into the comfort zone shallow depth of field full frame f/2.8 zoom lenses and thus would miss the mark for portrait, fashion and wedding photographers who really do need the f/2.8 aperture.

Not only that, but Micro Four Thirds offer over 40 dedicated AF lenses in their system, while Sony only have 6 to date, and none of these are fisheye (let alone f/1.8 fisheye as with the Olympus), only 2 primes, and no macro lens. Micro Four Thirds has some lovely, compact lenses optimised for fast CDAF such as:

  • 8mm f/1.8 fisheye
  • 12mm f/2.0
  • 17mm f/1.8
  • 20mm f/1.7 pancake
  • 25mm f/1.4 or f/1.8
  • 42.5mm f/1.2
  • 45mm f/1.8
  • 60mm f/2.8 1:1 macro
  • 75mm f/1.8 (my favorite)

Olympus will also be bringing out their much anticipated 300mm f/4 super telephoto which will give hand holdable 600/840mm telephoto reach impossible to obtain on the Sony system as it would require a 600mm lens and they are big, heavy and expensive, and NONE are optimised for CDAF and face detection AF as the Olympus will be.

In addition, a 0.72x focal reducer on an Olympus OM-D combined with a Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L lens effectively gives you an image stabilised 200mm f/2.8 lens in full frame field of view and depth  of field characteristics, and it should not be too long before we see these with faster AF.

If you don’t like the video quality of the Olympus cameras, there are always the Panasonic GH-4 4K camera and Black Magic video cameras.

Furthermore, you can carry the Olympus E-M5 camera and a few prime lenses in your jacket pockets!

I think I have just convinced myself not to head down the Sony route even though there is the tantalising prospect of the very shallow depth of field options – I think I can manage this aspect with focal reducer adapters!

HOWEVER, the 36mp Sony a7R may be worth it for landscape photographers wanting to make larger prints and who are willing to carry a tripod for every shot, and avoid those shutter speeds where shutter shake is problematic – so it would be great for waterfalls, blurred water seascapes, etc and much more affordable than a Nikon D810 dSLR or Canon 5DS dSLR.


At last, a full frame “Olympus OM-D” by Sony – the Sony alpha 7 II introduces 5-axis sensor IS

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

There are several things I want out of a camera these days:

  • high image quality
  • compact and light camera AND lenses
  • fast accurate AF
  • fast flash sync
  • great range of high quality affordable lenses
  • effective sensor based image stabilisation so manual focus is easy and all lenses can benefit from sharper imagery
  • a nice EVF with live view and all its benefits instead of clunky mirror systems
  • excellent support for manual focus – eg. image stabilised magnified view, etc
  • preferably weather-sealed

Until now, the ONLY cameras which fulfilled these requirements are the wonderful Olympus OM-D cameras such as the E-M1, E-M5 and E-M10.

This month Sony has announced the 1st full frame camera to have 5-axis sensor based image stabilisation similar to the OM-D cameras and said to offer around 4 stops of stabilisation, although currently it is let down by lack of dedicated  lens range, but this can be expected to change over the next few years, and this at least is a great start having the sensor based IS included in such a camera.

The Sony a7 II:

  • 24mp full frame mirrorless camera with E-mount
  • sensor has 117 phase detect and 25 contrast detect points and although presumably the same sensor, it is said to have substantially improved AF and AF tracking over its predecessor, the a7 which did have issues with slow AF ( see here)
    • note that the Olympus OM-D E-M1 has 37 phase detect and 800 contrast detect points and can shoot at 6.5/10 fps, flash sync 1/320th sec,  timelapse, Live BULB/Composite modes, touch screen, and much more.
  • tilting 1,230,000 dot LCD although not touch sensitive
  • 2,359,000 dot EVF with 0.71x magnification
  • shutter speed 30sec – 1/8000th sec
  • no built-in flash, but flash sync a very reasonable 1/250th sec
  • 5fps burst rate is not going to set the world on fire but is OK
  • exposure compensation is +/- 5EV
  • built-in WiFi and NFC for smartphone tethering
  • no timelapse recording
  • has some very nice HD video specs:
    • 1080 in 60p/60i/24p and supports XAVC S codec at 50Mbps and S Log 2 flat picture profile
    • uncompressed HDMI output
    • stereo mic
  • 599g
  • 127 x 96 x 60 mm (5 x 3.78 x 2.36″)
  • at $US1600 it will certainly put some pressure on Canon and Nikon who still have not come to terms with the future being mirrorless cameras for most people

As mentioned, the current poor range of AF lenses dedicated to this camera is a major issue – I would love a 24mm f/1.4, a 35mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4 and 135mm f/2, but instead, all we have is 35mm f/2.8, 55mm f/1.8 and 3 zoom lenses – none of which are f/2.8.

If indeed, Sony and Olympus are collaborating on the development of this system – Olympus is said to be providing input regarding the 5-axis IS (although Sony appear to be claiming it is their own technology and it appears that it is a very different mechanism – see here, and that it is not as effective in video mode), and help with lens design, it would be quite nice if Olympus were to produce an Olympus version which would be compatible with their Olympus flash system and OM-D user interface – even if they kept the Sony E-Mount, this would not be an issue from a photographer’s perspective, and having such a full frame camera would provide a nice compliment to their OM-D cameras.

See more about the Sony E-Mount system on my wiki

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.


Best cameras of 2012

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Best cameras for 2012 depends upon what purpose the camera is needed for.

Nevertheless, a poll of 14,807 readers on gave the following:

Olympus OM-D EM-5 23.3% (3457 votes)
Nikon D800/E 22.1% (3273 votes)
Canon EOS 5D Mark III 14.4% (2133 votes)
Nikon D600 7.8% (1156 votes)
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 7.1% (1056 votes)
Fujifilm X-Pro 1 6.2% (914 votes)
Sony Cyber-shot RX1 5.6% (831 votes)
Sony Alpha SLT-A99 4.2% (617 votes)
Pentax K-30 3.3% (485 votes)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 2.2% (328 votes)
Canon EOS 650D / Rebel T4i 1.8% (266 votes)
Sony Alpha SLT-A57 1.2% (172 votes)
Olympus PEN-Lite E-PL5 .5% (79 votes)
Olympus Stylus XZ-2 iHS .3% (40 votes)

This list would certainly be a good starting point for those looking to buy a new camera as it does list the most important cameras of 2012.

If one wants a high image quality, compact, versatile, interchangeable lens camera, then Micro Four Thirds system is probably the best for most people and these are represented here by the Olympus E-M5, Olympus E-PL5 and the Panasonic GH-3 – the latter having the best video quality and features of all the listed cameras.

If one does not care about interchangeable lenses and just wants good image quality and compact camera size, then the Sony RX100 and RX1 along with the Olympus Stylus X-Z2 should be high on your list – see dpreview’s roundup of best compact digital cameras for enthusiasts.

If you want a digital SLR, then the full frame cameras are the way to go if you can afford them – the Nikon D800 and its cheaper version, the Nikon D600, the Canon 5D Mark III, or perhaps the Sony Alpha SLT-A99.

Wish you all a Happy New Year for 2013.

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.