CES 2012: Thoughts on the new cameras

This year seems to be yet another bonanza year of choice for photographers – and gearheads, especially. What follows is a few quick thoughts on the recent spate of introductions – specifically, those I find interesting or worth commenting on:

Nikon D800/D800E
50% more resolution – maybe as much as 75% on the E variant – and less than half the price of the D3x? It’s interesting to see just how far technology has come in the last few years. Not only is there more resolution, there’s more speed AND it’s 14 bit data off the sensor. I’m not worried about noise; downsize to say 15MP and you’ll find the files will be surprisingly clean, with very crisp detail at the single-pixel level. The resolution champion outside medium format? Easily. It’ll print well, too. I broke down and ordered a D800E via NPS. No comments on video specs, it’s just not something I do at the moment. Interestingly, it’s lighter, too. Minus points for the new battery system – what are legacy users going to do with their spares?

Warning to people who just want ‘more’: this camera is going to be punishing on both technique and lenses; poorer lenses may never get sharp at any aperture. And forget 1/focal length: you’re going to have to double that to be critically sharp at the 100% level. Sloppy photographers are probably better off sticking to more forgiving (and lower) resolutions. I know this definitely won’t be the camera I grab when I have to wear the photojournalist hat.

Nikon D4
It’s interesting to see that 16MP is considered enough for the flagship; that’s because it is. If you can’t print an enormous wall-sized enlargement that looks good from sensible viewing distances, you’re probably not doing something right. I remember the days when the D2H’s measly 4MP was sufficient for billboard work – and that was cropped down, too. Remember that as the print gets larger, you’re going to be further and further away. For fine art and pixel peepers, there may be reasons to have more resolution, but seriously – nobody was complaining when 12MP was state of the art. And these are much, much higher quality pixels than before. Again, minus points for the new battery system. Spares are expensive. I don’t see myself needing one of these – it’s too big and heavy, and has no built in flash to trigger slaves – but man those backlit buttons are cool.

Olympus OM-D E-M5, ZD 75/1.8 and ZD 60/2.8 Macro
I find myself going through phases with this one. I think the final verdict will boil down to size and sensor output quality. Not having seen either, it’s hard to make a call. It’s very difficult to tell from the product images – maybe the industry needs a standard sized hand or something. I like the idea of this camera – I really do – but frankly I think the design just isn’t that coherent. By the numbers it seems blazingly fast, though. Maybe this is what M4/3 should have been all along.

Much more interesting are the two lenses accompanying the announcement: 150/1.8 equivalent, anybody? Should make a killer portrait and fashion lens. The 60/2.8 macro is interesting to me because it a) goes to 1:1, which is really 2:1 equivalent on a full frame body; and b) it’s 120mm equivalent, which means a decent amount of working distance.

Pentax K-01
Firstly, it’s hideous. Secondly, it’s pretty intelligent: pancake lenses with most of the optics inside where the mirror box should be, keeping the size down; whilst retaining the original flange distance to allow use with legacy lenses. But sorry, the missing EVF is an unforgivable omission. I really have no idea who this camera is aimed at.

Fuji X-Pro1
Fuji is taking the success of the X100 and X10 and smacking Leica on the head with it. Then, just to make sure nobody missed their intentions, they displayed the camera with an M adaptor – which will also be released with the camera. Nobody doubts the image quality will be good. But my fear is that as with its siblings, the horrendously unstable and poorly implemented firmware is going to make or break this. I do like the initial lens choices though – the 28, 50, 90 macro combination feels like it was tailor made for me.

Canon G1X
Too little, too late. It’s bigger than competing mirrorless offerings, but lacks the interchangeable lens option; its only saving grace is going to be if the image quality is superb. I wouldn’t expect anything worse than the current crop of Canon APS-C cameras, which is to say pretty competent. But I just can’t see where it fits in for most photographers.

Final thoughts: Overall, too many of those damn confusing Xs in names. I think it’s time to get back to the photography, now.

Product images from press releases and DC.Watch.Impress