Not so long ago, Olympus updated both the E-PL series (E-PL5 reviewed here) and the E-PM series with the OM-D’s sensor and other trickle-down technology. Thus it only made sense that it was also about high time for the E-P3 to be refreshed, too. They’ve taken a bit longer over this one; in fact, the new E-P5 has so much of the OM-D’s technology (and a few other things) that picking one over the other is no longer such an easy decision.
Following on from yesterday’s review of the Ricoh GR (Digital V) can only be one thing: the comparison shootout between the GR and its natural rival, the Nikon Coolpix A (full review here). Or is it the other way around, since the A came first? Doesn’t matter a single bit, it’s all about the images. Fight!
Not long after Nikon announced their 28/2.8, 16MP APS-C super-compact, Ricoh also decided it’d be a good time to launch an update to their cult GR Digital line. Version V has done a Leica and dropped the model number to confuse us (and Google searches for the new model), but gained a near-identical spec to the Nikon – also 28/2.8 equivalent, 16MP APS-C sensor without AA filter (it does have square and 35mm crop options, but you can always easily apply those in post). Neither one has IS. I covered most of the spec sheet in the preview, here. Now I’ve had some (albeit very brief) time with a final production prototype*, it’s time to report back here on how it actually fares in the metal.
*Meaning some things like image quality and focusing behaviour may undergo final tweaks before production versions ship, but apparently they’re pretty close to it. My camera is running firmware 1.11.
A continuously updated set of sample images on my Flickr is here.
Nikon’s 80-400mm received a long-deserved update earlier in the year; it’s in fact had a complete overhaul and optical redesign. The original lens was Nikon’s very first VR lens, and body-driven to boot – the large front element had a reputation for pinching fingers between the protruding filter ring flange and the zoom ring (I fell victim to this on my first outing with it). It’s gone from being a 17/11 design to a more complex 20/12, gained Nano-Crystal coating, a shorter minimum focus distance (1.75m in AF and 1.5m in MF vs 2.3m), a silent wave motor and internal focusing, second-generation VR, and plethora of additional switches. Gone is the aperture ring, so you’re not going to be using this on a pre-command dial film body. The hood is also now a petal-type design with the same kind of locking catch as the 17-55, 24-70 and 70-200 hoods. It reverses for storage. Unlike the old lens, it’s also fully gasketed and weather sealed. It’s also more expensive; about $800 more, to be precise.
Nikon has finally entered the large-sensor compact game (I don’t count the 1 series, which is a bit of an odd beast in that logically it’s all the system camera most people need, but not the camera that most people want.) The Coolpix A is a 16MP, 28/2.8 equivalent setup that’s built around a Sony DX sensor – an upgraded unit of the one in the D7000 and Leica X2, it seems. Unlike the D7000, and like the D7100 and D800E, this camera has no anti-aliasing filter. It’ll shoot full-fat 14-bit raw files at approximately 4fps, with a reasonably deep buffer. Focus is via a contrast-detect system, and there’s a fly-by-wire ring around the front of the lens for manual focus, plus two command dials – one on the top plate, and the other around the D-pad.
A continuously updated set of images from the camera can be found here on my Flickr stream.
I ended the last article on this note:
By far the most effective camera-for-when-you-don’t-want-to-carry-a-camera is a compact of some description; ideally one that’s small enough you don’t notice it, but is fast and responsive enough to react when you see something, and preferably be operable one-handed. I don’t want to feel like I’m carrying a camera. Of the dozens of these things I’ve owned, precisely none of them have fit the bill completely.
Advance warning: I’m going to butcher Hamlet here, or as close as I can to it. Modern English isn’t really suited to the meter, nor is technical photographic jargon. I’ve done my best.
MT: To carry, or not to carry – that is the question:
Whether ’tis more sensible to pack your camera
At only when the time and mood suits
Or to always be loaded for bear
And in preparation, bag the shot. To hear the shutter
The flow of pixels, the fizzing chemistry of halide
Whatever your medium. Tis a satisfaction
Confirmed by the rush of hits. To travel unburdened
With no magic box: ay, light of shoulder you be,
For who knows what frames yet unseen may lie ahead
The imagined torture of being able to see but
Unable to capture gives the photographer pause.
There’s the problem with going without.
For who would bear the unfortunate light,
The tripods and accessories, the TSA-man’s probe
The aching shoulders, the impatient spouse,
The ‘NO FOTO!’ shouted, and the frustration of
Lugging the gear without it seeing use,
When he might delude himself into making do
With just an iPhone? Whom but the most hardcore
Would insist on two bodies and four lenses?
But that dread of missing the shot,
The heavenly light, which transforms the
Mundane into the magical, frustrates the hell,
And makes us bring the f1.4s, and a flash
Just in case, rather than wing it and go blind.
Thus the anxious photocondriac in us all
At the least burdens pockets, usually bags,
Empties our purses upgrading, enforces visiting
Of the chiro and desire for just one more stop.
With this, I break down and hit order
Hoping this is The One. To the ‘Bay the others go.
O Hyperion, give me contrast but hold the range
My sensor is now but one-inch.
I picked up my review sample from B&H on my first day in New York; I spent several days solidly shooting it alongside the Nikon Coolpix A, and the Olympus OM-D I normally travel with. Many of you are going to (and have already) ask why I didn’t review the X100s instead, all the more so given that the wide converter would turn the camera into a 28/2 equivalent. Short answer: there wasn’t one available, and it’s something I still hope to be able to try out at some point.
In part 1, we dealt with SLR systems. Today, we’ll look at what will probably be a secondary system for most serious photographers, or as primary system for less serious ones.
On paper, the system makes sense for consumers – it definitely doesn’t have the image quality required for commercial work – however, Nikon shot themselves in the foot twice: firstly with the obscene pricing, then by dropping it to laughable levels. And then they dropped an anvil on the same foot by crippling it with a whole slew of slow consumer zooms. I think it would have had a much stronger response with a series of fast pancake primes – two isn’t enough – because the sensor itself is actually quite good, and the camera’s AF performance is unparalleled in the mirrorless world, and rivals that of DSLRs. I can’t recommend this system at the original asking price, but at the last closeout prices of $350 or so, it’s a very interesting option against a premium point and shoot – especially given the larger sensor, built in EVF and interchangeable lenses. But I just can’t recommend it otherwise, unless you want to put your F mount glass on it via adaptor and use it for birding (then, it makes sense: 300/2.8 turning into an 810/2.8 with AF and VR, anybody?) It’s surprising how a company that makes DSLRs that are so ergonomically and functionally right can make both compacts and mirrorless cameras that are so bad.
Not so long ago, there used to be only two real choices for the amateur or beginning pro – I’m going to exclude the high end medium format systems and specialized large format systems because if you need that, you generally already know it – Nikon and Canon, Nikon and Canon, and that was about it. The last year or so has seen both smaller systems breach the limits of sufficiency, and larger systems possibly become overkill for most applications. From the general chatter online, in the comments and in my inbox, it seems that a lot of people are in the process of rethinking their gear: lighter and smaller is a definite trend. There’s a lot less thought given to switching than previously; the image quality differential these days is pretty much nil at the low to mid levels, and with the exception of the D800E, also true at the high end.
The confusion now comes from the fact that mirrorless is not only disruptive, it’s mature, alluring and possibly also cheaper – but more importantly, the promise of small and easy seems to have put the fun back into photography for a lot of people. Perhaps it’s because of the weight facilitating portability (and thus having the camera with you all the time), but I think it’s actually because psychologically, the smaller cameras aren’t seen as being quite so serious – thus encouraging experimentation and perhaps unexpected, but welcome, results.
I recently picked up review units of the Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji Finepix X20 at B&H – the store itself is an incredible experience for any photographer, by the way – after a few days of intense shooting during my Making Outstanding Images workshops, I’ve had a chance to put together a few quick thoughts on the two cameras. I will be doing more complete reviews once I get a chance to shoot further with them and pore through the hundreds of images. Until then, this should tide over the curious.
Continued from part one.
Are you paid by the camera companies to write good things?
No. I wish, because it would reduce the amount of hostile email and messages I get. If anything, my relationships with most camera companies are quite strained because it seems that they expect you to write good things about their cameras if you’re given the ‘privilege’ of a loaner. This is one of the reasons I prefer to buy my own equipment as I can remain as objective as possible; regardless, I’ll do so anyway, even though it means that there are probably marketing/ sales people at every camera company here who don’t like me. What they don’t seem realize is that in the long run, a lack of objectivity means that nobody will believe what you say anyway. Since writing the last article on this subject, it seems general degradation in the business side of things has meant increased sales aggression, and frankly, a degree of hostility towards objective reviews at a time when perhaps the companies need it most; this is incredibly shortsighted on their part (and perhaps indicative of a fear that your product is really crap), but then again, if you can’t see past your next year end bonus anyway, who cares?
I read your review of XYZ, but would like to get some more thoughts. What do you think of XYZ?
This is perhaps the most stupid and annoying question that I get asked on a regular basis. I’m not going to have anything more to say than I’ve already written in the review, which was a carefully written, considered and very time consuming exercise. Perhaps attending some English language classes might help: re-read the question you just asked me…
Just got an email from NPS: it appears that a lot of the issues with the D800/ D800E have been addressed (note: I didn’t say ‘resolved’, that remains to be determined after testing) in the latest firmware update A 1.01/ B 1.02. The list according to Nikon:
If it seems slightly odd that I have to write an article like this in the first place, that’s because I’ve been noticing several trends in my email inbox lately:
- Why don’t I review XYZ camera, or if I can review XYZ camera?
- Why didn’t I test for a particular feature?
- Why didn’t I test a particular combination of body and lens or some other accessory/ add-on?
- Why didn’t I post full size files, or raw files?
- Why do I postprocess the files/ test JPEG output?
- Are you paid by the camera companies to write good things?
- I read your review of XYZ, but would like to get some more thoughts. What do you think of XYZ?
- And of course the usual…”Should I buy X or Y?”
I’m going to add a few to this list myself:
- What’s the difference between my reviews and others?
- Why do I only review certain cameras?
- In the unlikely event I’m given or loaned a piece of equipment to review, then what?
I’m going to address these once and for all, and then return to the business of making images with the occasional detour into the equipment.