New photography (and video) equipment

Photokina is happening right now in Germany and a lot of new cameras and lenses are being introduced. Here’s my personal take on stuff…

The most practical tool seems to be the Nikon D600, already available for a price of $2100. That sounds costly, but the image quality should be much higher than the $3500 Canon 5D Mark III (my review). The D600 shares the 14+ f-stop dynamic range of the D800 but without the $3000 and the excessive-for-many-folks 36 MP resolution. See the D600 sensor test from DxO.

The Sony NEX mirrorless system has gotten a big vote of confidence from Hasselblad, which will sell you a $1000 Sony NEX-7 in a fancy case for $6500 (consumers are not impressed). The new Sony NEX-6 is my favorite camera in the line. It doesn’t run Android and therefore lacks full photo-sharing capabilities, but it does have Wi-Fi and can push photos to smartphones and/or to at least one Internet service (Facebook). It has some tricks in the sensor that are supposed to make autofocus work better. Given that the NEX-6 screen folds out, this should be a better videography tool than most DSLRs. Sony also introduced some interesting new lenses, e.g., a super wide zoom (10-18mm; 15-27mm equivalent) and a fast prime image-stabilized normal lens (35/1.8). Bizarrely, Sony also introduced a point-and-shoot camera with a 24x36mm sensor (“full frame” or the same as 35mm film) and a fixed 35/2 lens. This thing costs $2800. Ever since Sony acquired the Minolta line in 2006, I have been expecting Sony to make a serious effort at unseating Nikon or Canon in the DSLR market by coming out with a full professional range of lenses. Instead, the company seems to be putting out one random product after another.

The Nikon S800c compact camera should be the wave of the future. It runs the Android operating system so, in addition to being able to capture photos, it is capable of doing the stuff with photos that people want to do. Samsung supposedly is coming out with a “Galaxy Camera” that will be even better, e.g., with the true Android 4.1 religion installed and a 4G modem.

Panasonic DMC-GH3 seems as though it might be the most interesting four-thirds camera. It can record 1080p high-def video at a frame rate of 60 frames per second (60p). I wonder for whom this will be a significant difference. Sports?

I’ve been a Canon EOS user since 1994, but this year has been enough to challenge one’s faith in the company. Canon introduced a cheap full-frame camera, the EOS 6D, that costs $2100 and does basically everything that the 5D Mark III does. This will be another reason for 5D Mark III buyers to feel stupid, but it does not sound as though they have made any headway in terms of competing with Nikon on image quality. Canon has not introduced any new lenses, though some of their offerings are rather tired (e.g., the 50/1.8 with no USM; no 50mm lens with image stabilization; the 50 macro lens with no USM or IS; the 35/2 lens with no USM). If Sony can put image stabilization into its new prime lenses for the NEX, why can’t Canon do something similar for EF lenses?

For Californians who aren’t satisfied at having spent $327 million on a Web site, Leica offers a camera (the “M”) with the same specs (full frame sensor, 24 MP resolution) as the $2100 Canons and Nikons … for $7000. Leica is also selling  a new version of their 30x45mm sensor camera with 37 megapixels (same as a Nikon D800) for $22,000 (don’t ask about lens prices!). Hasselblad has a vaguely similar H5D system with up to 60 MP of resolution from a 37x49mm sensor). The big ‘Blad and Leica cameras are intended primarily for studio use.

Here’s a question for the techies reading this blog… why can’t the latest cameras capture 4K video? The 4K format requires only about 8 MP of resolution, so the sensors in any of the latest cameras put out enough pixels (at least if you’re willing to accept some interpolation of color data). Yet the only camera that I’ve heard of being able to record 4K is the Canon EOS-1D C (announced but not shipping). Is the problem one of CPU power for compressing data at those rates?

 

11 Comments

  1. dg

    September 19, 2012 @ 6:57 pm

    1

    > why can’t the latest cameras capture 4K video? The 4K format requires only about 8 MP

    For displaying an image, RGB = 1 pixel, so 4K video frame = 3840×2160 8.3M RGB pixels. For scanning an image each R, G, B sensor counts as a pixel, so for a 4K image you need 8.3M x 3 = ~25MP sensor (depending on the moiré pattern) x 30fps = too fast for current cameras.

  2. presidentpicker

    September 19, 2012 @ 8:26 pm

    2

    Fuji X-E1 despite the 1.5x sensor beats the hell out of “M”, not to mention NEX-6. Surprised you haven’t noticed it

  3. jay c

    September 20, 2012 @ 3:46 am

    3

    there is a lot of silicon ip available for image compression which wouldn’t take up too much die area in 45nm CMOS process, so I don’t think that is the issue…there may be other issues like rolling shutter artifacts (not sure). Getting that much information off of the chip and into A/D converters with sufficient speed and bits is non-trivial (240 million samples per second @ 12-14 bits/sec) but it is done in a different context in mass produced chips in things like 10GBASE-T (800 million samples/sec x 4 pairs @10-12 bits/sec). SSD drives are quick and low-power. I think the issue is thermal heating of the sensor, and designing a DSLR sensor with enough parallel paths to get the voltage or charge from the pixels.

  4. jseliger

    September 20, 2012 @ 3:58 am

    4

    >Bizarrely, Sony also introduced a point-and-shoot camera with a 24x36mm sensor (“full frame” or the same as 35mm film) and a fixed 35/2 lens. This thing costs $2800.

    I think Roger Cicala’s take is accurate:

    I see two possibilities. First, the Zeiss lens is of amazing quality and this becomes the cult camera of 2013 and you can’t buy one at any price . Or the Zeiss lens is of good quality, and you can buy this for half price by March, 2013.

    If the lens performs like the $1200 Zeiss 35mm f/2s on the market, or in the same league as the $1300 Canon f / 1.4, and the autofocus is fast and accurate, then the camera might be exceptionally appealing to a larger number of people than you’re currently imagining. Like, say, me: I have a Canon T2i and use a Sigma 30mm 85% of the time, and I mostly shoot people and things. Having a fixed lens wouldn’t bother me, and the much smaller, more portable, and less intimidating body also means I’m a) more likely to have the camera with me and b) less conspicuous when I shoot.

    The camera isn’t bizarre. Unusual or quirky, yes. But not bizarre.

    Furthermore, I assume the camera won’t retail for MSRP.

    In any event, these discussions are mostly moot until the testers get their copies and can tell us about the lens and autofocus.

  5. jseliger

    September 20, 2012 @ 4:00 am

    5

    Oh—and in addition, Steve Huff has held one and loves it so far. First impressions aren’t everything, but I’m watching this camera. I’d like to replace my T2i—the outer autofocus points and lack of wireless flash are bothersome—with either a Canon 70D (when it emerges), or a cheaper 60D (if the 70D is underwhelming), or, conceivably, the RX1, depending on what happens with price / reviews.

  6. philg

    September 20, 2012 @ 9:46 am

    6

    J: Thanks for the link. I still think the camera is kind of bizarre because the 35mm focal length is a point-and-shoot focal length. It isn’t wide enough to be dramatic. It is too short for portraits. I would rather have a 50mm lens. But why not add a lens mount and make a 28, 50, and 90 available? The thing has no built-in optical viewfinder, right? So there are no framing issues. The rear screen just shows whatever the sensor sees.

  7. Jay

    September 20, 2012 @ 10:14 am

    7

    Haven’t you been paying attention? Canon released two wide primes with IS. (24 and 28 with more (like a 50) in the pipe) The 40/2.8 pancake. I don’t know what you are complaining about in terms of Canon’s new lenses and gear. They’ve also got the Canon EF 200-400 f/4L IS 1.4x in the pipe for this year and updated several super tele primes. The 1DX is also amazing.
    The 6D is basically a 5Dmkii with a newer processor chip and some other built in dodads (wifi, gps) that are admittedly cool that you can only get as expensive external addons to the higher end Canon bodies. I would be the next Rebel will have those features too. The Mkiii AF and metering is far superior.
    I don’t know how you can compare a 36MP image to 22MP quality wise. It’s just not physically/mechanically possible to get less noise/better quality on the same size chip with that many more MP.

  8. philg

    September 20, 2012 @ 10:49 am

    8

    Jay: not physically possible to get less noise and better quality with 36 MP? How do we account for the fact that DxO found that the D800 had better low light performance (up to ISO 2853, compared to the 5D III’s ISO 2293) and much higher overall image quality, e.g., an extra bit of color depth and more than 2.5 f-stops of additional dynamic range? Is there something flawed in DxO’s methodology?

    http://www.techradar.com/us/news/photography-video-capture/cameras/canon-5d-mark-iii-vs-nikon-d800-1082753/page:4#articleContent has some objective tests of the D800 and Canon 5D Mark III and they come to different conclusions than the DxO folks. The techradar.com article shows the dynamic range to be only about 1 f-stop better on the D800 and suggests that the Canon has lower noise (the test images look better at ISO 6400 to me).

    So maybe the DxO folks are missing something? If their results are right, Nikon has defied at least some of the laws of physics and engineering common sense. http://fakechuckwestfall.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/canon-5d-mark-iii-vs-nikon-d800-image-quality-dxomark-sucks-balls/ is a less-than-polite comment on DxO (“you’d be surprised by the sheer number of fucking morons who don’t seem to get it”).

  9. philg

    September 20, 2012 @ 10:55 am

    9

    http://nofilmschool.com/2012/05/markii-vs-markiii-vs-d800-candlelight-revisited/ is another interesting data point, albeit for video rather than still.

  10. jseliger

    September 21, 2012 @ 3:07 am

    10

    I still think the camera is kind of bizarre because the 35mm focal length is a point-and-shoot focal length.

    In many circumstances—though certainly not all—I think the focal length would work and work well. That might be because I’m shooting primarily at an effective ~50mm length most of the time, however.

    But why not add a lens mount and make a 28, 50, and 90 available?

    I assume this would make the camera physically larger and would also reduce the presumed economies of scale that come from making large numbers of a single lens, versus small numbers of multiple lenses. If the lens is really good—and that’s a big “if,” as I said before—then it’s a $1,000+ item. I could afford at most one such lens, not three, and it would probably be my only lens; my total lens investment right now is about $1,200, and that’s for three lenses. I wonder many people are in my shoes.

    The viewfinder point is well-taken.

  11. Vajina Estetiği

    September 25, 2012 @ 8:06 am

    11

    Well, I love the 5D camera, but to dismiss Nikon as a small company with clever optical engineers is, well, way, way off. No, Nikon cannot match Canon’s sensor technology;they are not the electronics giant that Canon is. But if Canon is so capable, why is their flash metering system so inferior compared to Nikon? Why can’t Canon create a metering system like Nikon’s color 3D matrix metering? Why can’t Canon make a wide angle zoom as good as Nikon’s 17-35 2.8? Canon’s wide zooms are good, but very far from the level of the Nikon. Canon still has a bit to learn from Nikon in some areas.

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