Review: The mystery camera

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A question of orientation

Post-CP+, and in a stunning reversal of recent events, I’ve been given a camera to test. Not just any camera; one that is not even currently available. It is light, portable and sits in a class of its own amongst all cameras I have used. I can’t say yet what this camera is, but I was told I can post a review and images from it so long as I don’t reveal anything about appearance or specifications for the time being. This is obviously a rather unusual state of affairs, but I felt that there were some greater lessons to be learned from such restrictions, so here we go. I’ll start by saying that this is a singular device: it is a professional’s camera ne plus ultra. You must know what you’re doing to get a decent image out of it, and if you do, it’ll reward you in unexpected ways. Read on, if you’re curious.


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Red splash

In the interests of full disclosure, I have been allowed to keep this camera after this review. All images were shot with this camera and processed in Photoshop CC 2014 from JPEG (no raw converter available yet; I’m sure that would increase image quality noticeably).

I am pretty sure none of the usual suspects have used or reviewed this with any degree of seriousness yet, which I suppose probably makes this a world exclusive. But, if they had, we’d have something like this orbiting cyberspace:

Fanboy: This thing is AMAZING! It’s just PRECISELY what we need…even better than last year’s model. Its the right amount of resolution in a really small and lightweight package. It’s so smart I don’t have to think even a little bit! The files don’t need any processing straight from the camera and it has 5x zoom and you can use many different types of batterys. It’s so cheap I’m buying two, so I can always make great photo’s, like these snapshots from the exotic locale the company sent me to at the launch party! I can’t wait for the limited edition version in platinum trimmed with marmoset, it’s gonna be awesome!

Gear snob: It’s not bad, but still not as good as my 50MP Massivflex and f0.95 lenses. And there’s a tiny bit of CA in the corners. It’s too light. It won’t do 15fps. It doesn’t have IBIS or a full frame sensor or 200 PDAF points or 4K video at 240fps. I don’t know how to use any of that and only take photos of my cat and bikini models at launch events, but it doesn’t matter. IT doesn’t have it. The photos I post on Facebook at a tiny portion of the actual size with heavy compression look terrible. I don’t care how it prints, I’m not switching until all my demands are met with a cherry on top.

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Reflection of a dream

With those alternative opinions out of the way, let me start by putting all of this into context: a camera is for making photographs, nothing else. Not posing, not winning forum arguments, not advertising your social status.  It should therefore be considered and evaluated as such. Secondly, this is not something that any of us would normally consider owning; it comes way out of left field. We are so low down the diminishing returns curve, I don’t even think we’re on it.  I was warned not to have any expectations before I was shown the unit, and told to use it with an open mind and give honest feedback thus. Thirdly, an opinion is only as valid as the objectivity and skill in application of its provider. You wouldn’t buy a car based on the proclamations of somebody who cannot drive…

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Opening

For a change, it is perhaps the first camera I’ve ever used whose specifications are utterly irrelevant. ‘More than sufficient’ is really the best description, and to a surprisingly wide variety of applications – and not just because I cannot reveal too many of the numbers. There is no need to use it on a tripod, though as always, it helps. Perhaps it is best thought of as a box of perspectives: 28-140mm equivalent. I say equivalent because it is of course not FF35. It is built with simplicity of purpose in mind. It is lighter than it looks and quite compact, and works off a variety of power sources. It looks like it would survive a drop and a little moisture without too much trouble. The curves and edges of the body are soft and comfortable in the hand. There are few but well-placed controls and one or two obvious ones missing or not yet implemented (bearing in mind this is probably not the final evolution of this device) – metering mode control is biggest surprise omission, though it makes up for that by having the first matrix meter I’ve encountered that does a very good job behaving as an ETTR device all the time. Surprisingly, it’s also not just cheap, but very cheap for what it is – much in the same way the 645Z really shook up the MF market, it really redefines the price-performance equation.

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Large scale Lego

It has a sensible pixel count. The lens is fixed, but it has a sensible zoom range. Maximum aperture is f2.7. It will record HD video. Controls are limited, though: your main photographic one is exposure compensation, which is fine, because the camera’s program mode and matrix meter actually seems to make the right choices most of the time. You could post process the files, but why bother? It’s difficult to make them better than what already comes out of the camera. I believe the sensor is a CCD, which accounts for surprisingly tonally rich B&Ws – assuming you convert from color afterwards, not use the in-camera preset (which is far too heavy-handed and turned up to 11, as are all of the presets – but this is to be expected to satisfy the wider consumer audience*). Color is actually accurate if you set your grey point in ACR afterwards; surprisingly little tweaking required to achieve something both pleasing and plausible.

*I was told during the handover meeting that this was included simply because ‘pro’ cameras are sold to moneyed amateurs than pros these days; that’s just a reflection of the commercial photographic industry and who holds the most buying power. If they didn’t accommodate this market, it’s unlikely they’d ever recover the development costs. At least raw files are full fat and losslessly compressed – though not much use at the moment because there’s no software to open them.

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Boomerang

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Out of place

There were clearly some optical compromises involved in the lens design – remember we are looking at a 5x moderate-wide to moderate-tele zoom in a very small space – and this is visible at times in the form of chromatic aberration, especially at the wide end of the range (which is also the weaker side of things). There is simply no way you’re going to pack an Otus-grade zoom in here, even if it’s no faster than f4 (nor does such a thing even exist). There is ED glass however to keep the contrast high and maintain color accuracy; you see little evidence of flare. It’s worth noting though that the optical compromises involved have been made in a way that shows some intelligent tradeoffs have been made: the lens is more than adequately matched to the sensor’s resolving power, and the size isn’t silly. Still, it’s worth noting that this lens is resolving somewhere of the order of 300lp/mm in the centre, at least by my estimates. That’s impressive by any stretch of the imagination. Practically, it takes some care to deploy all of this resolving power without encountering camera shake. Still, it’s a testament to the (leaf) shutter design that you can get away with 1/2x most of the time.

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Enshrined glow

I won’t lie: this device has some serious limitations, and a lot of them. (This is one of the reasons there are no documentary images in this review; the other reason is that I’m simply tired of photographing that.) The limitations are no more than a very special-purpose tool has, though – think Sigma Merrill/Quattro or the last generation of medium format. The shooting envelope is very narrow, but that shouldn’t really be an obstacle if you are aware of it and work around its limitations. Again, much like the Quattro, the price point for this thing redefines the cost-to-image-quality equation to the point where you’re willing to take a chance and put up with it to reap the benefits. But in the interests of objectivity, here we go

  • You can really only work in good light. It’s very noisy to the point of being unusable above ISO 400 or so, which rules out low light and indoors most of the time. But remember: 300lp/mm! It is a specific tool, not a Swiss Army Knife.
  • Focusing is slow. Very slow. At least it’s also very precise, though.
  • The LCD panel isn’t the best; it doesn’t reflect the captured information well, and isn’t so much limited in resolution or size as gamut and dynamic range (surprisingly). This makes it very difficult to tell if something is clipped.
  • Battery life is not great. Not Sigma-bad, but not far off. Fortunately you do get a choice of power sources/ capacities, and spares are very cheap, so this is mitigable to some extent. There are even two batteries included in the box.

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Collapsed shade

The spec-chasers will complain. True photographers will just get on with it. It’s a camera, and we know the limitations of its shooting envelope. Granted, we are left with an envelope too small for an address once the stamp is affixed, but it’s better than nothing. I honestly think the shooting envelope is no smaller than 35mm slide film; the results are not much worse, either. Limitations force you to think; they force you to get creative, and getting creative means better images. Not being able to judge exposure is not a problem – this trains your own internal eye-meter. If you can only work in bright sunshine, it’s sunny 16 all the way anyway, and this takes care of noise above base ISO. If focusing is slow, prefocus or work with static subjects. If the monitor is bad, there’s no need to chimp. If power consumption is poor, carry spares or spend more time visualising the composition and less time messing around with the LCD. Lightness of weight and the slight notchiness of the shutter button are going to challenge your shooting discipline.

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Untitled

I think this camera is best thought of as the ultimate training device; if you can get a compositionally/ aesthetically satisfying image out of this, anything better should be a breeze. Make no mistake: this is not a beginner’s camera; in fact, it’s a murderously unforgiving one. But the attitude to take is not one of limitation, it’s the opposite: ask yourself what it does do well (accurate color in good light, pleasing contrast across the 4-5 principal stops, render everything in focus) and what types of images would benefit from these properties (graphic ones, for starters). And the satisfaction level when you see the results on a good monitor is really quite high; more so because your expectations are kept in check by the cost.

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The camera has rendered these waxy-looking leaves very realistically; they really were wax, I think.

I can’t honestly say I enjoyed shooting with the camera, because from a haptic point of view – this thing really needs some work. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but the hand-feel isn’t quite there yet. It could use some more sticky rubber on the grip, for starters. But I did appreciate the enforced constraints that forced me to get creative and sharpened my focus on light, subject, form, and previsualisation – the latter being especially important because there’s no room for error. This is perhaps the most important part of being a photographer: it is about making images, which in turn boils down to seeing and imagining first, and capture a very distant second. The sharper your vision, the better the image – the rest of it fades away. And as the kind of tool that really forces you to get out of your usual comfort zone, think more, and escape that slight reliance on technology to pick up the slack, this thing is unparalleled. Images that work are entirely on your own merit, and that gives a level of satisfaction that I’ve very rarely experienced from any piece of hardware – perhaps with the exception of mechanical/manual/meterless film cameras.

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Flame surfacing and all that

Carry one of these and nobody will mistake you for being a mere amateur photographer, which is just fine by me: it means I can concentrate on composing and shooting and being creative to work around the limitations of this thing rather than answering questions about my equipment or what people should buy. I suspect in fact its appearance is going to put a lot of people off; think of it as ‘functionally ugly’ – much like the 645Z or R9. In the unlikely event you happen to encounter another person using one of these, it was either an accident or they really know what they’re doing and will at most nod, smile and leave you alone. Perhaps you’ll even have an interesting conversation about the philosophy of photography. Accessibility and supply, not price, are going to be the limiting factors to obtaining one. From now on, if anybody claims they are a photographer, I’m going to hand them this thing to prove it, which makes it a good thing I don’t have to return the review unit. I’ve been instructed to keep it and use it as I please. Free camera aside, the combination of retail price, an independence from status-seekers and most importantly, the camera forcing me to really up my game are enough reasons enough for me to give it a highly, highly recommended rating, and an unconventional prize: this is probably going to be my Camera Of The Year, and will likely remain so even after the year’s releases are all said and done. MT

Coda: I’m a bit bothered by the guessing games that are going on, and it’s probably best if I don’t reply to any of these. I have no idea why everybody seems to think I used a Leica here, either – I’ll say it once and for all: it wasn’t. Final note: don’t judge image quality on web JPEGs. A first generation phone and medium format digital look little different by the time you’ve compressed and downsized to 800 pixels on the long side.

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Red window and overflow

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Comments

  1. Hi Ming and his fellows ! Do you remember the Ricoh caplio GX100 ?

  2. Wow, it’s like Borges’ “Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote”, in the tale it’s the review of a book that it’s actually the same as Cervante’s Quixote, but imagining it’s written today the reviewer free from prejudices can speak about the book without the weight of giving it the status of god or devil, and at the same time give a critic to the labor of critics or reviewers.
    Peaceful images.

  3. Could it be Sonys attempt to create a 3-Color Matrix FOVEON Sensor Style?
    The Zoom Range comes close to the legendary, old DSC R1 – Almost APS-C back into 2005, with a very good 24-120mm
    Zeiss T* Zoom built-into, so it was a Bridgecam back into it’s heyday, but a very good one. Still use mine seldom…

  4. most people will now think it’s a joke, a prank… either way, excellent essay and very good PR, thank you Ming (love the leaf on the yellow line) 😉

  5. Ming, thanks a lot for this! Your reviews are always very interesting & informative.
    It seems there is something special on the horizon.
    For me personally (a merrill shooter) it is quite clear that this must be a new sigma camera. Maybe some kind of dpZoom (there were rumors some time ago) with new design. It all sounds very much like the behaviour of the sigma merrills/quattros/sds. Even the comment about a possible ccd sensor makes sense (for me), because if you would say foveon it would be clear that it is a sigma. I don’t think nikon, canon, fuji etc. or even sony would bring a camera with such limitations and speciality.
    If its not a sigma but can deliver the image quality and make you think more about your shooting, i look forward to it.
    Did the company say anything about a release timeframe?
    Thanks

  6. Maybe the Device is Sonys LowCost A5 Fullframe Camera into NEX-5 Body Design, with a 28-140mm Lens attached?

  7. Am I the only one looking at this review and grinning while thinking about the “useless” Camera Of The Year awards that some “guru” celebrates in his blog? 🙂

    Ming, what you described is simply a camera without the bells and whistles that nowadays seem necessary to feel like a good photographer.

    Anyway, if this was also a hit to some sold guru gearhead, it was a good hit. 🙂

  8. Daniel Boyd says:

    Ming, the way you constructed the article is like a mystery novel… oh, wait, it IS a mystery camera!! I feel like I am watching CSI. Definitely buy this gear once it’s revealed.

  9. Hello,

    I’ve been a reader of your blog/reviews for quite some time, thanks for your work.

    These are very interesting parameters you are revealing. 300 lp/mm. Not full frame. Leaf Shutter. CCD. Some 4×3-ish crops (612×800) – some not quite 4×3 (635×800), (Not enough) Rubber on grip, basic manual controls. Good ETTR metering, Good out of camera files.

    I am reminded of the time I requested from a Fujifilm U.S. rep. that they take a GW series Professional body and put a digital sensor inside, much like the Epson RD1, but larger.

    Fujifilm or Mamiya both come to mind reading your review, both have extensive qualifications in the parameters you revealed, and both have the vertically integrated manufacturing to do it all in house.

    You say “It has a sensible pixel count.” So the question is are they re-using an existing CCD or have they made a new one? 300/lp/mm suggests 30-40mp.

    Also “From now on, if anybody claims they are a photographer, I’m going to hand them this thing to prove it, which makes it a good thing I don’t have to return the review unit.”

    I do hereby claim to be a photographer 🙂

  10. Let’s not forget that a combination of Mings great eye for photography, time of day, location, weather and post processing can make a photograph from any camera look good.

  11. After a review like this, do you still have a reason not to visit Kai Wong at DigitalRev and take the “pro with a cheap camera” challenge? 😉

  12. David Challenor says:

    Hi Ming, Great ploy, haven´t you made your point again that the camera is less important than the seeing eye. Your pictures are great and illustrate your skill in seeing what everyone else would pass by. I am sure you could have used any camera and got the same pictures. However, the number of comments clearly indicates you have excited the GAS aspect in many of your followers. Expect you will shock many when the end play is made. Many thanks for an unusual article.

    • GAS has been ignited in a big way, though I’m rather pleased to see that quite a lot of people also see the brand/hardware is not the point…

  13. Could you maybe include a photograph that contains a ‘reflection’ of said camera?
    As a Merrill user I love left of field products that can produce something special, am hooked with this mystery.
    Of all the compromises camera users have to juggle, I have learnt that top of my list is: Carry-ability then Compose-ability (Merrill fail).
    Does the mystery camera produce something special, carry around at all time & good to compose with, to merritt camera of your year?

  14. This article (well, not the article itself, but the pictures included in it – and yes I do know that it’s something of a satirical article written about a P&S camera – and yes, your point was well conveyed, but that is not overly relevant to me right now) made me remember just how much I miss seeing those wonderful CCD colours… I mean my scanner *does* have a CCD sensor in it and I now exclusively shoot on film, but there’s something about the look of just straight digital capture on a CCD sensor that looks a bit… different to film. I still sometimes miss my M8, and I will probably get an M9 in a few years (an M8 is out of the question, because I’d need to replace the lenses I currently use on my M2[or the lenses I will use in the future – I currently use a 40mm Summicron, but I’m switching to the Elmarit 28mm F2.8 IV which combined with my favourite film has the best colour transmission of any anything I’ve ever used, and possibly a 50mm Summicron of some description, either one of the newer contrastier ones or one of the really old low contrast high resolution ones, haven’t decided on whether I want the two lenses I’ll have to have the same signature, or to have access to a vintage and a more modern look…] because of the crop factor, despite it arguably having slightly better colours once an IR/UV cut filter is applied). I’m going travelling this year, so getting a digital M camera is out of the question, but I *might* buy a very cheap P&S camera with a CCD and use that. A month or two before I got my scanner, I went through old travel pictures from like a decade ago or more, ones I made with an old HP P&S camera, and the colours I got from that (from the JPEG files, after processing) were nothing short of stellar, different but comparable in terms of goodness to film and also the M8. A shame I managed to completely break that camera several years ago, otherwise I might use it again every now and then just for those lovely colours… however, I *might* get a cheap CCD sensor P&S just for those lovely colours.

    Anyways, thanks for reminding me of all that, Ming.

  15. Semaj Krik says:

    Very nice. Makes me want to dig out my 10 year old Canon A620 and go out shooting!

    • Branko Collin says:

      I’d still be shooting my A620 if it wasn’t broken. That was a lovely little camera. I don’t think Canon have ever produced something like it in that segment since they discontinued the line.

  16. THIS… got me thinking…

  17. A great post Ming, but I’m curious for your opinion about something: is there really no minimum level of investment in gear required? It’s clear that an enthusiast or amateur will not become a better photographer by going out and buying a new Leica or Otus. To paraphrase you, you’re much better off spending that money on tuition, or on a trip somewhere visually stimulating, than on new gear. At the same time, there are things you often mention as being ‘de rigeur’ for getting good output – a good example would be proper profiling of the camera sensor or the computer monitor. But colour charts, grey cards, and (for Windows users) a Spyder all cost money – in fact, you would have to forego several of your videos to have the money for those things. I suspect the learning would still be the better investment for the amateur or enthusiast, but I’m curious if you think there are certain tools that form a base that a photographer must have.

    As I said, great post. Your reviews, even (especially!) when tongue-in-cheek, always remind me that the limiting factor is not the camera but me.

    • Well, you’d have to obtain a camera of some sort, and I suppose whilst you could beg or cajole a spouse or friend, you’re probably off buying something to keep relationships happy. There is a minimum level, but it’s really, really negligibly low. Chances are that’s not even necessary because most people have them built into their phones these days. You can borrow a color chart since most people would only need to use it for monitor and camera initial calibration, and a piece of printer paper makes an acceptable grey card most of the time. I don’t use (and don’t advocate) a Spyder because the calibration is absolute not perceptual and results look slightly ‘off’ as a result – and the free Adobe/Mac calibration utilities have always worked fine for me.

      • Spent the morning discussing this with my wife. Because: I have just finished selling off all my APS-C gear in order to buy a good, very powerful computer and more importantly a very good monitor, to run Lightroom on. And, hopefully, some decent education. 😃
        I have kept only a quality compact (doesn’t matter which one, obviously 😉) and promised her that I will spend one year minimum proving that I can learn to take good pictures, and learn to PP, and not rush out to spend more money on the latest, greatest “thing” which gets talked about more than used. (Yet still I fell into the “what could this camera be?” trap that you so adroitly set.)
        We both agreed that this article was the final clincher, 😀, the best yet example of why I need to focus on taking, making, and producing good, well-curated photographs, and destroying the mindset that keeps whispering…”if you had X or Y, you could…”
        Thank you, Ming. This has been one of my favourite posts yet, and has accomplished harmony in the household as a benefit 😉😄.

      • Thanks!

  18. Andrea Franzius says:

    FOVEON SENSOR, probably in Sigma Quattro series, see also author’s allusions to poor higher ISO qualitiy and odd body shape/haptics. A new one has just been announced, the Sigma Dp0 Quattro.

    http://www.dpreview.com/articles/9334064140/sigma-dp0-quattro-provides-14mm-f4-lens

    Andrea

  19. I like how the picture is about “nothing” but everything that is going on around you when in reality there really isn’t anything there.

  20. I say cellphone – the DOF is a hint.

  21. At first I thought you’d gone and found a film camera, then thought better of that. Then wondered if Moment is coming out with a zoom lens for smartphones. That would be a real coup.

    • I pre-ordered the first batch of Moment lenses and found them honestly a complete ripoff for what they offered. Both lenses I got were decentered and very soft on one side. Lots of marketing hype, really disappointing product. I asked for a swap but they refused.

  22. Some of the leaves have browning and tearing, that would be unusually realistic for an artificial plant. The camera is a Coolpix L25? If so, good job keeping the highlights in these pics. If you know what you’re doing (and are willing to work at it), you can squeeze a good image out of just about anything.

    • Well, the plant looks like it had something thrown over it – there are a number of bars nearby, and judging from the noise level had a few busy nights… 🙂

  23. As I read Ming’s essay the message that came across was to invest in yourself, not your cameras and lenses.

  24. Great review again!!! It’s probably a Seagull CM9…

  25. Well, I went to sleep soon after this point, expecting this to end. I remember some time ago that you wrote a philosophical essay, something about a change of direction. Then me commenting that I thought that I knew where you were going with that. Then nothing, until now. I want to be amazed, but I can’t.

  26. Clickbait! So when are you switching to the Canon 5DS R with your Otus adapted to it?

    • Probably never? I’d consider adding one since as you point out F-mount lenses are mostly adaptable, but not switching since I’d have to re-buy the AF stuff and tilt shifts. I don’t think the incremental gains would justify the additional cost, especially since Canon themselves are claiming no improvement in dynamic range over the previous 5DIII – which itself lags considerably behind the D810. This is not to say I wouldn’t be all over it if I shot Canon routinely…

  27. I’m delighted and amused by this mystery review, sorry to hear that some of the guessing has gotten on your nerves, but a post like this is just catnip for us cats!

    My guess is that it is possibly a new Quattro zoom from sigma, (two batteries, high-resolution, difficult to use, lousy above ISO 400, accurate color).
    Cheers!

  28. Absolutely great story and/or lesson…Feel like a kid. Can’t wait for part II and the “revealing”.
    lol
    And if finally someone did give you a camera to use/keep then kudos to that company!
    I’m still amazed at your vision and how many of these subjects i would have walked by, or if I shot them how limiting my photo of that area would have been.
    That’s the real lesson for me in this story…

  29. I don’t know why, but he exifs read Nikon Coolpix L25. And it matches the few hints given. If it is really so, Ming, you deserve my highest esteem for understandment, seriousness and self-awarness. Now, what about your point of sufficiency…

  30. This is some next level trolling. Well done.

  31. I think it’s either not real at all or it’s something old. I think this is just a teaching lesson.

  32. my GUESS : a Ricoh GR like with zoom …

  33. 300lp/mm from a zoom lens sounds like a pretty tiny sensor, CCD of days gone by. Then there’s quite a bit of noise reduction at work – lack of micro-contrast on some surfaces. Standard battteries ? Nikon Coolpix L23/25?
    Why not ? I took some of my alltime favorite images with a number of Canon Ixus back then. No regrets, except for the limited print size. I still enjoy shooting my X10 on a daily basis, despite all those new super kids on the block.

  34. Stephen Syrotiak says:

    I don’t know what was more fun to read; This post, or the fanboy’s guesses…
    Thanks for another great page!

  35. > From now on, if anybody claims they are a photographer, I’m going to hand them this thing to prove it

    I tried that trick on myself. I bought an Epson RD1, and found it to be a great camera, and decided that if I ever got to the stage where that hardware was the limiting factor in my photos I would think about upgrading. Of course I don’t think that will ever happen.

  36. Hi, long time reader, really enjoy reading your posts and seeing the photos. They make me aware that great photographic opportunities are lurking everywhere, and most of us just don’t have the eye (yet) to see it. Hope to learn to see better from your articles.

    To today’s topic, I’ll put in my hunch here. No need to reply, as your post was not to start a guessing game about the hardware. But, as others have said, your review has made me extremely interested in trying it out. Really low price? My favourite 35mm, 50mm and 135mm focal lengths in one lens? ISO performance and other usability restrictions to inspire creativity? Can’t wait!

    Olympus will come out with a 80th anniversary camera model of… something, soon. Could this be it? A u4/3 sensor with a fast 14-70mm lens?

  37. How about some 100% crops (side by side with anything you find comparison-worthy) or even full sized images to show off that resolution?

  38. Survey says: Nikon 1 J5 😉

    • Flickr says Nikon L15 😱

      • I gotta believe that a guy that was under consideration for entry into Mensa would be clever enough not to forget to wipe exif from the offending camera file. More likely a ruse to throw us off the scent.

        • Nope, many – myself included – would argue I’m clearly not that smart since I chose photography as a career…

          • Okay then since you start the post with “stunning reversal of recent events”; does this article, in any way, speak to the Olympus rift?

            • Sadly, no. I wish it did. I am curious about the EM5II, but not curious enough to buy one or pay the import taxes on a loaner. I know it won’t let me do anything I can’t already do, so any experimentation/reporting is purely for the benefit of somebody else.

              By the way, ‘Olympus Rift’ sounds like a great name for an action movie or 3D headset. 🙂

    • Cancel that. I figured it out…dah. It reminds me of my S6 which was a damn fine little shooter in good light, back in the day.

  39. Steve Jones says:

    Well since we don’t know what the photographic device is we are left with the images. Don’t see anything in them that jumps out at me and says Wow,these look fantastic compared to Ming’s usual output, (which as we all know, is exceedingly good like the cakes!) They just seem consistent with it, so wonder what I’m missing? sharpness? colour? Micro contrast? A combo of all three? if they were “Polaroids” I’d be extremely impressed but since we’re told it’s digital,t I’d say many digital cameras can give this kind of image quality that I’m seeing on my screen, so what am I NOT seeing here in terms of image quality that makes this inconvenient Sherlock Holmes camera valuable ? Wouldn’t it be fun IF it was made by someone like… Kodak ?

  40. How does it handle when underexposing at low iso, and then opening up the shadows in post processing? Asking because the xz-1 showed noise even at iso 100. And the small sensor meant little flexibility in applying noise reduction and then sharpening.

    (All the above come from my experience. I was not an experienced shooter back then)

    Again, many thanks

  41. You know, if maximum aperture is f2.7, then maybe it will get the correct exposure at iso 400 indoors in artificial light?

    I’m saying this, because an Olympus xz-1 I had, was rubbish beyond iso 200, but it rarely needed to go beyond that, because it had a max f2.5

    Many thanks for your images, and for the input of your soul into what you show us.

  42. Ming, this is the first time I post, but I’ve been reading you for a long time: this is one of your best posts. I really liked the though behind this “mystery camera”: limitation is a force, and restricting yourself can be a very good thing. Shooting only with a single prime, shooting only a set number of frames, shooting with an L25 are all things that force you to be as creative as you can.
    It’s a pity that writing about it in an abstract way, using a mystery camera as an example, the first thing that anyone would think about is “I WANT TO KNOW WHAT CAMERA IT IS”; but it was full of meaning for me. Thanks!

  43. I think its a Nikon

  44. A little hint for the mysterious camera : look at the instagram of the sir more often. 😉

    • Ahahahaha, genius 🙂

    • …if it were from Nikon’s staple, something else would be striking here: it would be a wind of change, new hope – that the management there is on the path to work tighter with pro-photogs while developing, designing and finishing new products (although it’s too late in this particular case for any changes in product design, as mentioned by MingThein) and willing to try new ways – which should be beneficial to innovations and help overcome stalling/shrinking.

  45. That’s somewhat like driving my old ’92 1.9L 72ch atmospheric diesel, a charm to drive on empty roads at low pace from 0 to 90km/h, but a little nightmare otherwise.
    But it’s a rewarding experience in traffic, it forces me to anticipate a lot with its poor brake and acceleration. So, when I drive a modern car, I can be safer if I drive it like my trusty good old car.

  46. Maybe I missed something. It is early in the morning. You reference the Merrill and Quattro; in fact, it seems you basically describe the Quattro. In what aspect, if any, would this camera appear more attractive to current to owners/users of either of those two Sigma camera?

  47. It’s the Nikon Coolpix L25. A discontinued P&S camera. Should have wiped the EXIF on your Flickr uploads ! 🙂

  48. Looking at image size ratio it’s a 4:3 camera. That rules out APS-C. I’m betting on a 1″ size sensor compact from Panasonic or Olympus.

  49. Nice. Really good teaser, I’m looking forward to it.
    Too bad they didn’t give you a review unit much sooner – they could have save them one product iteration, bringing more matured product in the first one. Exciting times 🙂

  50. Oohh. Entertaining. Great images as always, Ming!

    I’ll bite on the guessing game… Tricky. The clues point in a few different directions. CCD rules out a number of manufacturers: Sony, Canon, Sigma, probably Fuji as well. CCD also points towards not being APS-C, quite possibly a larger sensor. Could it be a compact medium format camera? By Ricoh/Pentax maybe, since they have connections for large CCD sensors from the 645D. Or by Canon maybe? A 1″ RX10 like camera from Olympus? Nah, my guess is that it’s a discontinued compact with a tiny sensor, maybe the Coolpix L2.

    • * Coolpix L25

      As to Fuji & Sigma still using CCDs, I believe that both Foveon & X-Trans are CMOS based, but I guess that Fuji have some compacts with CCD sensors still.

  51. Gill Bennett says:

    Your images are fantastic!
    Two questions Ming, would this camera be any good in gloomy UK (ha!) and is it better than the Ricoh GR? G

    • Better is subjective and very much fit for purpose. A GR isn’t idea for large print landscapes, nor is a 645Z ideal for street photography…

  52. Based on the fact that this post was tagged with “Nikon”, my guess would be a Coolpix with the same sensor size as the 1 series cameras 😉

  53. Could this be the “Kodak instamatic 2014”?

  54. Looks like a successor of the Canon PowerShot A1400 to me 😉

  55. Fantastic images Ming, particular favourites are Large scale Lego, Out of place and Enshrined glow. As usual, I am not reading because I want to know the next camera purchase…I am more than happy with what I have, and working on getting more out of that, but dang…those images! Scenes that most people walk by day-in-day-out and don’t even notice, and suddenly there they are…distilled from amongst the chaos…visually arresting. I have seen plenty of big-name pho-blographers that couldn’t pull out these sorts of images from the most expensive gear.

  56. Paul Tirajoh says:

    Hasselblad Mirrorless APS-C sensor, based on Sony NEX-7

  57. If this ban mentioned I apologize as pushed for time and not read all the comments. How good is the dynamic range it looks good from your images and these are from Joegs.

  58. You are twitting us here. This review rather precisely describes any number of Panasonic LUMIX p&s cameras.

    The point is that it’s not the canes that matters but what you do with it.

    • It is not a Panasonic, but you’re absolutely right: it’s not the camera, it’s what you do with it. Regardless of whether it’s a phone or medium format. The limitation is always the driver.

  59. stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

    Frankly , I don`t understand this guessing game since in your words ” I’ve been given a camera to test. Not just any camera one that is not even currently available”.
    Qualitylike this reminds me of my first digital camera Kodak 4800 with only 3 MP CCD sensor. As long you stuck to 100 ISO you could print A3 picture of hundreds parked bicycles and count every spoke on them.

    • It’s not a guessing game, the commenters turned it into one. And it is impossible to judge anything about image quality from an 800 pixel web jpeg.

  60. Kristian Wannebo says:

    This sounds like a fairly small sensor,
    and as I don’t expect anyone to use a CCD,
    I guess it sounds like it might be the first generation of a new(er) sensor technology (which would probably be tried small first),
    and there is a rumour of two japanese firms…
    ( No comment expected, Ming.)

    Ming, congratulations for being invited! 🙂

    I do like the photos, and it IS a good read.

  61. Great a satire post. Ming Thein’s thesis of the whole article is something like: You don’t need anything but a shitty point and shoot to make good photos. If you’re a master of your art you can get anyone thinking you shot on the next generation affordable Leica.

    It meets all the criteria of his article:

    not even currently available = discontinued
    shoots HD video = 720p video
    f/2.7 just like the L25
    different types of batteries (can take AA or LR6/L40)
    28-140mm lens (equiv.)
    CCD Sensor
    Curvy body
    “built with simplicity”
    “More than sufficient”
    “very cheap”
    “sensor is a CCD”

    He is describing a Nikon L25 point and shoot

    • The photographer always matters more than the camera. This is nothing new. I’ve been saying this since day one, but everybody seems to be too obsessed by the latest releases to listen.

      I don’t understand this audience’s obsession with Leica, either. They have and will never make anything that is not a premium (read: expensive) product. And a Leica – nor any other brand – does NOT make you a ‘master of your art’.

      There are many current cameras that could fulfil those specifications, too, and for a reason.

      Lastly: please keep discourse civil. I will not tolerate rudeness and profanity here.

  62. What previous vintage (film) model does it resemble, if any?

    • None.

      • Camera companies, inmyopinion, need to figure out a way to entice the Millennials off of the iPhone tit and they are fond of all things vintage, I’m told (by my 3 collage age daughters 😉 so that’s disappointing. Otherwise, this mystery cam sounds like it could help bridge the gap between convenience and performance coming in at a similar price point as phonecams but with a real zoom.

  63. meficrypto says:

    I’d like to see more mystery reviews. Not as a way of creating suspense, helping some company launch their next product, but because reviews like this puts the focus on what the camera can actually do. Do another mystery review and let your readers wonder about the camera’s brand name for a day or two!

  64. Ming, Unless I missed it, you didn’t mention if it has an optical viewfinder or EVF?

    Thanks,

    ACG

  65. OM-D E-M5 II
    🙂

  66. I’m guessing it’s a webcam of some sort.

  67. This is the new Richo GRD.

  68. How does the shooting envelope of this compare to the Sigma Merrill / Quattro? Perhaps if this works for me the Sigma would also be an option…

  69. I read the whole article waiting for the punch line!
    If its far out of left field, I was also thinking Chinese but am relieved to hear its Japanese (I love a Japanese otaku product). In the spirit of speculation, could it be from Casio or Cosina or Konica/Minolta or someone like that?
    The thought of something so narrow focussed is very appealing to me. I love having something that in the right conditions can produce something special, regardless of what it can’t do in other conditions. As you referenced, the Sigma Merrills. I very recently bought one of these and am smitten. So much so that I am loathe to pick up my (humble) DSLR when its time to go to work.
    I find the limitations on the Merrill counterintuitively freeing and really look forward to using it. I am guessing that this new camera will be much the same.
    The fact that it has a zoom lens and its large range has me perplexed though I must admit. It screams “consumer model”…

    • Cosina doesn’t make digitals, sadly, and K/M got eaten by Sony…

      • Those pics seem to be noisy too. I don’t see anything incredible about the sample images, nice compositions etc but nothing to suggest anything technically revolutionary in my eye (am I blind?). I have seen a bunch of your pics recently with a very low end Nikon that looked as good as these.
        Everybody yearns for something new and exciting.
        I think we have to take your word for it that the results are special (i.e. more than is obvious at web res). I personally hope for a new GR or something quirky in the Pentax mould.

        • The Nikon L25 was what I was thinking of. Still not really sure what that is. But i guess that is the punch line…

        • How can you judge quality from an 800 pixel compressed web JPEG?

          • When noise it so obvious that you can see it at 800 pixels, one must assume the quality isn’t great

            • I *do* see JPEG compression (as expected in skies and smooth tones) – where specifically are you seeing it?

              • I don’t expect compression artefacts at that image size. It is in smooth tones (i.e. windows, car paint, cafe walls, sky, car rims, car windows just off the top of my head) but I wouldn’t accept such issues in my images (and I am not the harshest of critics by any means) and I submit my images in JPEG at 800 pixels everyday for my work. Are you saying that these issues are unrelated to quality?

  70. Ming,
    Another very enjoyable review. You have to give something here –
    1. has it got a tilt LCD screen or a touch screen?
    2. has it got an EVF in built?
    3. has it got a flash?
    4. does it use proprietary battery?

  71. Will you be using this camera a little or a lot during this year?
    Review seems good, for what it is (whatever it is), but is it good enough?

  72. Regardless of which unobtainium unicorn camera this is, I think anyone would be proud to produce images like these on any camera!

  73. Not sure I follow the point been made here. Almost every camera ever performs well for static subjects in full sun?

    • Nope, there are actually plenty of inexplicably popular cameras with insufficient dynamic range, odd tonal response etc.

      • I suppose I’m not experienced enough to know for sure when it’s a fault of the sensor, rather than my lack of exposure discipline. Is it the CCD that makes the difference then?

        • Not at all: this is not a straightforward thing because there are a lot of things in the imaging chain that can influence it – sensor, DSP, file compression, processing choices etc. E.g. The D810 is a much better ‘highlight camera’ than the D800E because it seems to bias dynamic range towards the highlights instead of being linear; however how much of this is due to the sensor and how much the processing engine is impossible to say. Not every camera handles very bright light (and the implied highlight transitions) well.

    • I think that’s exactly the point. Most cameras will be technically OK in bright sunlight, but there are plenty of people who could not make a good image with any camera in bright sunlight to save their lives.

      • Sometimes even for those of us who know what we’re doing, we have to make creative choices we don’t want to: shadows, or highlights? But not always both…

  74. “…that gives a level of satisfaction that I’ve very rarely experienced from any piece of hardware – perhaps with the exception of mechanical/manual/meterless film cameras.”

    I use mechanical/manual/meterless film cameras precisely because of the satisfaction I feel when I have created an image. I didn’t feel this way when I tried digital. Perhaps this is the one digital camera that could woo me back. Well, probably not since I also prefer the look of film to digital. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to hear that there’s a digital camera coming out for those of us who like to drive stick.

  75. Hi Ming,
    seems to be, that you’re switching now from NIKON to an LYTRO camera!

  76. Can you make a phone call with it?

  77. That rumoured canon compact from their gx range?

  78. Large format digital camera.

  79. I am excited to see the big reveal! Fun guessing/wondering what it is!

  80. It is possible to divulge a bit more about the factors that make this your likely camera-of-the-year? I note several positive points made in the post (good metering, well-placed controls, price-performance ratio, the high resolution and tonal information) but it’s not clear which of these made it THE camera-of-the-year. Or is it not all the above, but the challenge-reward that it provides?

  81. Very interesting, you’ve left a lot of people wondering now…. My guess (and I’m not expecting you to confirm if I’m right or wrong) is something along the lines of those camera modules Sony and Panasonic released that can link with a phone. Probably not exactly that, but I reckon it’s an attempt to move away from the current conception of cameras, whilst still being able to take good photos. (Which is why they gave it to a good photographer to test!)

    I’ll also make a small bet with myself that it’s not a product from a Japanese company.

    How long before they’ll reveal the product? Weeks, months, years?

    • I’ll double that bet for you. 😉 somehow, I think…a Chinese product?
      And yes, hugely intrigued that I am now, would love to know when it is likely to be seen “in the wild”…?

      • “In the unlikely event you happen to encounter another person using one of these, it was either an accident or they really know what they’re doing” – or they read blog.mingthein.com….😉

        • Or that!

          • And you can look at me strangely, lol!
            I have a Nikon L29 sitting in my drawer, f2.7, 5x zoom, very poor rear screen, “limited modes” 😬 , rather limited dynamic range, came with 2 alkaline batteries in the box (but I use rechargeables, loll) dare not exceed ISO 200 (let alone 400) and I bought it *precisely* as a digital replacement for a disposable film camera that I could shoot concentrating purely on the picture and not the gear.
            Jokes on me, for sure.
            *Great* post! Now I’ve just put new batteries in it…see you on the streets of KL, and you can you can shoot me a “told you so!” glance….heh. 😉😄

    • Soon, and it’s Japanese and a mainstream brand. I can’t say anything more than that.

      • Hmmm, that’s why I only like to make bets with myself, I’d lose large amounts of money otherwise 🙂

  82. Chuck Colht says:

    It’s too bad you gave us any specs. You could have reviewed the production model and left us wondering…was that it?

  83. As a bonus, you can buy batteries at your local DIY home supply store in packages of 36 for US$14.95. No need to pay the overnight shipping charges to B&H.

  84. Talk about a tease! (Well, you did…😉) As has already been suggested, you are going to leave hundreds of people wanting one, before they even know what it is, lol.
    Mind swirls with implausible possibilities, but looks like it’s not for me anyway considering what you have written. But intriguing indeed.
    (“we are left with an envelope too small for an address once the stamp is affixed,” – hah! Great phrase…will remember that one!)
    Lovely pictures too 😄

  85. aw. I was so hopeful it was a Leica.

  86. There is only one such device that comes to my mind: Google Glass

  87. Did anyone get to the summary? The waxy leaves?

  88. Not surprised at all you managed to get great images out of something like this. I must say, they are definitely some pretty cool pics.

    Makes me want to see what I can get out of that Canon mirrorless with the CCD. Coincidentally, it also has a 4x fixed lens, but it opens to f/2.6. I think we’re seeing something very interesting in the market, as I believe there are quite a few manufacturers with similar offerings. Or, at least, that’s what I’ve heard from people in the know.

    • Thanks. I see it as the market being forced to innovate since the conventional product lines are largely saturated and hugely competitive…

      • Looking at the recent past is an excellent way to innovate. I am very excited for this section of the market; I hope for a Renaissance-like period, and I’m sure it will come. With the advent of relatively powerful devices of image capturing in our phones, innovation is the only way to “capture” the image-making populous, both professional and recreational amateur alike.

  89. I am hoping it something special from Lytro but alas that may be wishful thinking.

  90. Presets are to satisfy a consumer audience, but they are on pro cameras? I’ve never used my presets on any camera that I have and I’m no pro. On the other hand I hope every pro camera on the shelves is bought by whomever can afford them. The larger the profits of these companies the more likely that they will have money to toss at at equipment that may be outside of mainstream demand. This brings even more of us to the hobby and in the long run everyone is happier.

    • Yes. Remember the 645Z has scene modes/ presets, as does the D750 and Ricoh GR (at least an auto preset). I’d say those are pretty serious tools…I’ve never seen anybody carry either the 645Z or GR and not have a pretty good idea of what they were doing.

      The overall photography/camera market is inverting – amateurs are buying ‘pro’ tools, and pros are managing sufficiency. Reality is if you’re in a studio with controlled lights, the most basic entry level 24MP DSLR is going to give you results that your clients won’t complain about if they never saw the hardware. Sadly a lot of this business still remains perception-driven.

      • Even the Leica M8.2 has a similar “preset type” mode, the S – snapshot mode on the shutter/mode dial. A JPEG only mode, with auto everything that’s possible (shutter, ISO, WB) and an on-screen instruction for what’s not possible to automate – aperture. You are shown cute little drawings with apertures for different shooting situations, so you become the automatic hardware – relieved of the burden to think.

  91. Hi Sifu,
    Although its not April yet. I hazard a guess …
    Camera Make: MITI
    Camera Model: MT1

    GONG XI FA CAI
    XIN NIAN KWAI LE

    Ken

  92. Amusing!

  93. Dear Mein,
    This is a great review! On one plane it is, as is intended, a serious review of the camera at hand; but on another plane, it is quite funny too. It is like introducing a speaker to the audience without disclosing his name, his domain, his experience etc. etc. , only asserting that he is a great speaker (and succeeding at that). I couldn’t help laughing. You are right. Constraints forces you to be more imaginative and innovative. You have demonstrated this amply in this piece. Although you haven’t disclosed anything about the camera, you have succeeded in creating a very positive impression about it in the reader – to the extent that, I’d request you, when the company allows you to do so, to do another piece, giving reference to this one. Also, by that time, hopefully, the manufacturer will have fixed some of the things you have complained about.

    You have created such a positive impression about this camera in my mind, that I am looking forward to purchasing it, and fight it out with it!

    Lots of thanks. Great work!

    • Thanks – that’s the plan. I was in two minds about writing anything because of the anonymity problem you described – but hey, a camera is for making images, and if it enables you to achieve those results as desired – does it not achieve its design objectives?

      I don’t know how far along the evolution cycle this thing is, but it might be too late for some of the changes. Perhaps we will see them in a future evolution.

  94. Great photos and a very interesting review. I hope we get a follow up with the “big reveal”!

  95. What a tease! Just for fun, I googled “28-140 f2.7” and the only hit I got was this

    http://www.quesabesde.com/camaras/nikon-coolpix-s5100

    and I’m assuming that’s not it!

    Now of course you’ve backed yourself into a corner: if you name this mystery camera, then we’ll all go out and buy one on the strength of your recommendation, and thus ruin the sense of exclusivity 🙂

    (BTW, while I enjoy your take on the “fanboy” review, I don’t think there were enough spelling or grammar errors, nor did you use the word “FACT” several times. BTW, can you contact ghosts with this mystery camera?)

    • No, it’s definitely not a S5100.

      Unfortunately, you can’t buy one, so it’s actually not useful information.

      There are only so many spelling/grammatical errors one can include in five lines – and the only ghosts I saw had optical sources…

  96. HomoSapiensWannaBe says:

    Nope, checked my calendar and it isn’t April fools day… yet?

    Something about this article suggests a tease / joke + learning lesson is in play. It will be fun when “resolved.”

    Ming’s photos are excellent as always, no matter the camera.

  97. CCD? While I know you won’t reveal, I’m guessing this isn’t from the usuals and more from a company like Leica.

    • It isn’t a Leica. And they definitely don’t let me release prototype images, much less write about them.

    • Reality Check says:

      Yes! Please be a camera with an updated, full frame, low density CCD and highly selective CFA optimized for color fidelity and tonality at base ISO. The practical limits this old school digital technology impose would actually do much more to return us to the pure essence of photography than another blasé hipster camera with retro controls!

Trackbacks

  1. […] maybe a zoom foveon sounds very interesting ,,and I don't think its an april fools joke.. Review: The mystery camera […]

  2. […] can read the full review here – really intriguing. Here are few quotes that describe the […]

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