Some Hopes for the OM-D EM-7

I was personally very impressed by the specs of Olympus’s new Pen camera- the Pen EP-5. I personally love the form factor, which as a ‘digital rangefinder’ builds on and definitely enhances the capabilities of my aging EPL-2. Having something similar, yet with a much more versatile sensor, not to mention such robust, retro-styled controls looks like a dream come true. Still, digital cameras are basically computers, there is always a more capable one around the horizon. (Which definitely is not a call to endless updating of the camera you have, so long as it works well for you). It looks like the real updates this year from Olympus will come in the successor to the incredibly well-received EM-5, the camera which seems to be having even full-frame users convinced the time for mirrorless has arrived.

In my typical greedy fashion, not to mention being loath to upgrade before the ‘best’ upgrade is released, I here go into the goodies I’d like to see on the EM-7, or whatever it ends up being called. With the recent partnership between Sony and Olympus, it seems we will have a good chance of seeing some technology boosts in the Olympus line, meanwhile Sony can benefit from Olympus’s long experience with lens design, not to mention their own unique and powerful image stablisation and gorgeous jpeg engine, to name but two.So, here are some wishes for the EM-7. The fact there are so few is a testament to the forward-looking nature of the current EM-5.

  1. A new sensor, with perhaps 18-20MP.
  2. On-sensor phase-detect as in the Nikon 1
  3. 14-bit raw. (Currently it’s only 12-bit)
  4. Better handling of video at 1080p, with 60fps and higher bitrates
  5. A streamlined shape without the hump, but not necessarily any smaller.
  6. All the enhancements of the EP-5, like the newer iteration of antishake, Wi-Fi.
  7. Higher resolution EVF, like the latest VF-4.

DX Futures- the View From 2013

Looking at my stats, as I find myself obsessively doing, I saw that one of my most often hit on pages is “DX Futures”, whilst others relate to Thom Hogan’s speculations, (which are now nearer lamentations) on Nikon’s plans for DX. Ever since the announcement of the Sony NEX 7, there has been some expectation of a D400 with a similar 24mp sensor. In actual fact, what came were better sensors, or perhaps uses of that sensor, in the more budget priced D3200 and more recent D5200. Those entry-level models, whilst capable of astonishing results in the right hands, are no-where near well-specified enough to be the main camera of a serious enthusiast. For this, you need at least the features of a D7000, in terms of speed and build, or preferably the ‘semi-pro’ standard of the D300(S). In fact, only the later makes the semi-pro grade and is currently the nearest a DX user can get to the ergonomics and security of a D800. So, for some time and perhaps still, a 24mp D400 has been expected, yet the future of DX definitely is cloudier now. I can tell you why in two words; ‘D600’ (if that counts as a word!) and ‘mirrorless’.

Whilst we probably will see a D7100 with such a sensor, if not better, it is far from certain that a D400 will make it to the living breathing world of reality. The D600, whist itself a little under-specced, is being offered as the D800 ‘lite’. Now a D400 may well make the cut, with presumably better video (1080p at 60fps) and HDMI out, the D800 AF unit and 7-8fps, which will be a very attractive camera for a lot of people, but if the price is high, it may be a hard choice between that and a D800 or even D600, for those who can’t get both and have actually been waiting for full frame. Plus, the D800 does offer 15mp DX shooting, with fantastic dynamic range, which for many purposes would be more than enough. Okay, but lets say the D600 is really treated the way it should be, as the second rung of full-frame, the D7000/D90 etc choice below the pro (D4) and semi-pro (D800) and above whatever lower-specced one Nikon might make yet. Suppose the D400 comes out and suppose it sells at least okay… which is a worry for Nikon, no doubt. What then, does that mean that there will be a new generation of serious DX lenses to go with it? I have to say, probably not. Yet the answer for that is the second magic word, ‘mirrorless’.

Sooner or later and preferably sooner, to be honest, Nikon needs to have DX mirrorless, or something like it. N1 is an interesting and even fascinating addition, but it’s inability to capture sufficient dynamic range or use existing lenses as anything other than near-telescopes (okay, I exaggerate, as telephotos one and all, though), not to speak of the impossibility of bokeh shots with today’s technology, all says that if Nikon is going to have a serious mirrorless, it will have some aspects of the Canon M. Yet I fully expect it will have much better build, EVF and the fast AF of the 1-series. Such a mount will be able to easily use DX or any AF-S lenses with an adapter, with full AF functions. even better, if the phase-detect is as good as the positively revolutionary Nikon 1. Yet they will be large and ungainly on the small body, they will negate the miniaturisation  slight as it may be compared to smaller sensors, but with pancakes and foldable optics very significant nonetheless. All they will do is entice current users to stay in the system… but a new system with new lenses, which undoubtedly are being planned and designed as we speak.

Which all means that I don’t expect many, or even any DX primes, but rather for Nikon’s main efforts to go into DX-sensor compatible mirrorless lenses, which may well be sharper and better than DX ones, anyway, if the m4/3 system is anything to go by. I have no information about this, by the way, but it does make perfect sense. The process will indeed take years and yes, it is wrong of Nikon to keep DX users ‘hanging on’ for new lenses, but I think most of us know by now that it is an unrealistic expectation both technically and (for Nikon) economically, as their pros and serious users migrate to full-frame, only a minority of serious ones staying solely with DX and those same users would be better-served by a Nikon V2 with DX sensor, light adapter and grips to help use longer lenses. That, anyway is the way I see things going. Which is why I went into m4/3 for my primes, but keep using DX for other uses, as I currently have no need for Full-frame.

Would I get a D400, if it cost more than a D600? It’s a good question. It would certainly have much better performance in many areas. But it wouldn’t offer the wide-angle bokeh and supreme image quality of FX, so it is a toughie. I couldn’t promise either way. Would I go for a serious, competitively priced mirrorless DX, that effectively used my existing lenses and offered great video and high frame-rates? Now that is much more likely, even if it didn’t have a focus motor. It’s a price I’d be willing to pay. Assuming many others think like me, despite the potential for ever-greater sensors in DX as in other sizes, it seems likely that we will only have a turbo-charged D7100/D9000 which will attempt to amalgamate the D300S and D7000 into one body, but whether it will have the build quality of a true ‘D400’ isn’t clear.

Finally, despite their attempts, I don’t think Nikon will be able to tempt enough people into FX with their compromised bodies, or massive FX lenses as they would like. This means there will remain serious, lens-buying DX users who want newer technology than their aging cameras can provide, so Nikon will simply have to offer higher-end DX bodies, or else risk losing users. They also can’t ignore the fact that people leaving DX if they think it’s abandoned, may just as well go the route of Canon, or even m4/3, since they need to get new lenses anyway. Sony especially hopes to cash in here, though as ever their lens selection holds them back. So even if it means them using third-party lenses from Sigma or Tokina, who are making some very interesting options, Nikon would rather keep such users on board and perhaps at some point migrate them to DX-sized mirrorless, or get them over to the FX camp the next time round, when presumably the AF issues and low frame-rates are fully worked out.

More on Mirrorless

Like a lot of people, during many years of DSLR use, I’d been wanting for some time a lighter, alternative and I decided a few months ago to follow my heart on this and give M4/3 a try. Thanks to some superb pricing, I found myself with an Olympus EPL-2 with the twin zoom kit, something I’d had my eye on for some time, but already having an extensive Nikon system, had been loath to start investing in another one. Yet realising that without too much outlay I could have a pretty comprehensive kit that is very little trouble to carry around and a real pleasure to use, I took the plunge and haven’t really looked back.

Seeing the quality I could get and in many cases superior sharpness and colour, has been quite a revelation. Olympus and Panasonic have given me access to a new family of relatively small, light lenses of incredible quality, with the promise of more to come. Just looking at the results from the 25mm f/1.4 Pana-Leica, or Olympus’s groundbreaking 75mm f/1.8 or 60mm macro is just astonishing. No, I don’t (yet) have a complete system on it, nor do I need to, as I have the Nikons for that. What I do have is a highly portable, if not quite ‘compact’ sized system, with very good sensors, ergonomics and lenses that are in many ways better than their equivalents on DSLR systems, which may come as a surprise to anyone assuming that bigger must necessarily be better.

Meanwhile, I have kept building my ‘main’ Nikon system and have some of the reasonably priced Nikon primes. They are a lot more fun to use than zooms and are sharp and bright, but no way do they have the character and level of interestingness of my M4/3 ones. There is a reason for this.  Whilst my 35mm and 50mm f/1.8’s are in many ways excellent lenses, with fine sharpness, bokeh and usability, they are offered as Nikon’s ‘second best’ to their larger, f/1.4 cousins. Meanwhile, on M4/3, there is no ‘full frame’ to encourage users to ‘upgrade’ to… To mind almost as ridiculous as asking 35mm film users to go out and get a medium format camera if they want a good lens!

Whilst there are grades of lenses on M4/3, you can get some incredible ones without too much outlay. Thanks to the smaller and ‘designed for digital’ sensors to cover, you can get some really excellent glass especially developed for them, a situation we previously only found with the high-end compacts (though M4/3 sensors are so much larger than such compacts that you have a big advantage). What really showed me the strength of the system was reviewing my images, seeing just what I was able to achieve with them. Thanks to Olympus’s intelligently built-in shake reduction and lenses that don’t really need to be stopped down, I could get away with much lower ISOs, so avoid the disadvantage here. I started to get some really amazing results and being able to use the small cameras more casually is undoubtedly a factor in this. In terms of the lens designers, the format means they can much more easily make small sharp creations, that perform really well indeed.

Here are my lenses and a little comment on what it’s like to use them. These aren’t of course reviews, but in a sense user reports. They an’t objective tests, but my feelings of what it’s like to use them. The reference point is all I really know; my experiences with Nikon’s line, on DX, which has it’s own significant advantages when it comes to dynamic range and depth of field control, not to mention being light years better at higher ISO’s (especially compared to the aging sensor in the EPL-2).

(more…)

Why Zeiss Lenses for Nikon or Canon have no AF

In case anyone is wondering (I know I was) why Zeiss don’t make AF lenses for Nikon or Canon, here’s the real reason.

Due to international licences, it is not possible at the moment for companies outside Japan to offer AF lenses with EF- or F – mount. So we will concentrate on high-end manual focus lenses with those mounts within the next future.

Best regards

Carl Zeiss Lenses Team

 

I’d been thinking it was a technical difficulty, or (more darkly) because of some secret exclusivity agreement with Sony, but it turns out it’s a protective trade issue for the lens makers in Japan- well, at least that’s how I read it. A real shame, as I’d like more usable Zeiss lenses, MF being really hard on a conventional DSLR unless you add a special focusing screen and even then it’s probably hard to be as accurate. That’s not to say there isn’t a joy and beauty in manual focus photography, where you get that more involved in taking a photo, or that MF lenses aren’t (duh) much better for this. I’d just like the option to throw on a Zeiss prime and have some fun shooting with it.

I am thinking of getting a Zeiss 35mm f/2 for my Nikon usage, and just doing my best to MF it. The colour and contrast I see from these lenses is really out of this world and quite different from Nikon’s own output. I don’t say better, but different and the unique and high quality rendering would be worth having. Of course, many would simply say better, but I will have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, we do have this good news. Alongside their high end MF announcements, there are some Zeiss lenses planned for mirrorless systems, which I presume means NEX and M4/3. Even if they aren’t nearly in the same league as their full-frame cousins, they may retain enough characteristics to give that special, Zeiss touch. Certainly, my experience of my 25mm f/1.4 ‘Pana-Leica’ has shown me a scaled down version of a great maker’s lens can give impressive results, in many ways better than the usual. Let’s hope something good comes of this and it’s more than just name branding.

The Future of DX?

Note-the following is culled from my reply to a comment on the post The Future of DX- Some Predictions From Thom Hogan, an issue that I feel is even more relevant now, with mirrorless cameras gaining abilities so quickly, one wonders about the long-term future of the smaller DSLRS. I got so involved in writing it, I thought it best to make a full post, lest it be lost in digital obscurity.

Essentially, it maintains that the DX format is far from dead, nor is it really ‘killable’, whether at the lower end by M4/3, or the higher with full-frame, as it offers a great and times even high-end compromise with the virtues of FX. Digital allows for miniaturisation of resolution as never before and newer lens designs make for bright primes of incredible quality, even at lower prices, designed with the help of computers and mass-produced to exacting standards with modern processes. If phone cameras can make so much progress, can something as relatively large as APS-C really be too small for most uses? More likely too big!

Does DX have a future despite the advent of FX (full-frame) digital systems and their advances? Yes, I think so, absolutely. DX sensor size was and is a compromise format. Looking at it’s history, it was first an attempt to modernise film, though the ill-fated ‘APS’ Advanced Photo System films, which were certainly enough of an advance in convenience for most users, if film had survived as the mainstream media long enough to continue in the face of rising digital. Yet even 35mm film was originally a compromise, with medium format being the choice of pros, 35mm meanwhile offering either acceptable or in the case of specialised films and lenses, stunning quality in a portable package.

Things have moved on and people’s expectations have changed. Ultrawide and telephoto lenses are seen less as exotic and more as integral parts of any real system that wants to be taken seriously. DX quite simply can offer smaller versions of these, with acceptable or astounding (relative to the films that went before) resolution and dynamic range. It captures a lot of information and with the rise of 24mp sensors and presumably lenses to go with them, it could well evolve further.

Compromises tend to do very well. DVD was originally a compromise, limiting resolution for lower processor needs for display and to satisfy Hollywood’s desire to control digital distribution. Then a more convenient distribution system came along (not always legally…), in the form of direct digital downloads. These evolved into HD and full-HD varieties and Blu Ray was unveiled, offering sumptuous quality and gorgeous sound… I know, as I enjoy using it. Yet since digital downloads are so perceptibly close for most users and also offer a decent enough advance over DVD for larger screen (a video equivalent to larger print sizes?), Blu Ray is having trouble gaining faction. Perfection has always had trouble competing with a combination of convenience and decent, if not absolute quality.

DX offers Nikon’s and a lot of company’s best chance of competing with the ‘engineered’ compromise of M4/3. DX will always offer a stop or two of advantage and has the benefit of many legacy lenses of all sizes, especially if we include the altered angles on FX lenses. It can be shrunk and even shrunk further, as we see on Fuji’s new Pro-1 system and the success of NEX (which at least shrink the bodies…) The idea of making FX mainstream is, in my view, doomed and not just for price. The lenses and gear generally are just too big and heavy for our digital age. Telephotos, especially, will have to be longer and with the popularity of capturing amateur sports and birding, etc, this is a clear disadvantage, which continues into the bulky ultra-wides. It’s only real advantage is the easy usage of legacy lenses, which with their lack of built-in motors or stablisation isn’t such an advantage after all, at least in the long run.

Nikon are evidently trying to push FX and will soon offer the D600; a smaller, lighter and well-equipped body, yet one that will need relatively humongous lenses in many cases. Legacy lenses often won’t have much in the way of IQ on high-resolution FX, with light falloff and soft corners. This wasn’t so bad on the D700 perhaps, but with 24mp sensors and up, it will increasingly show. I’m not sure how long people will put up with that in the face of the incredible quality being offered in smaller formats. In fact, my guess is they often won’t, especially as resolution rises, and newer and even larger lenses will need to be offered. My M4/3 25mm Pana-Leica is perhaps the best lens I own and had the format been any larger, the cost of perfection would have been prohibitive.

This isn’t to say that FX doesn’t have a great future- I think it does and may well buy into the D600, partly for all the lenses I already have. Yet Nikon should be careful to remember that due to technological progress, this is most probably the medium format of our day, medium format replacing large format and large format becoming increasingly obscure.

Canon has worked this out and made a foray into DX-sized mirrorless, even after their M4/3-sized (or so) sensor in the G1 X. Nikon should and I believe will do the same, yet in the meantime both companies have lost a lot of sales to the mirrorless makers, customers that it may be hard to win back in many cases. The reason for the neglect, to ‘push people’ to FX, a format they may really neither want nor need (except for specialised applications), a format that the D800 has shown needs the very best lenses to function well at higher pixel densities, is a very risky proposition. Other brands are making the DX primes and even wonderful zooms to go with them.

I have friends who say they don’t mind about weight, but then their actions speak louder than words, when they tend to use lighter lenses, or a smaller camera, given the chance. People with D700s and a 24-70 f/2.8 are picking up an Olympus OM5 (or Panasonic G1X) and saying, “Hey, this does everything I need to and without the chiropractor!” I think the D600 will be a wonderful camera and open up FX, with it’s fantastic control over depth of field, to a lot more people, yet it will never be as mainstream as, say, the D7000, or even more so, the D3100, or D3XXX. Beautiful, sharp, small primes are the future for enthusiasts. People who salivate over Leica will flock to Fujifilm or others offering something similar. In refusing to offer them and making ever-larger lenses instead, Nikon is looking to the past, to mediums format’s mantra of ‘quality at any size’ for inspiration, ignoring a huge and growing market segment as it does so.

And no, in case anyone is wondering, the Nikon 1 as it stands now is in no position to rectify this! Perhaps some time in the misty future when ultra-bright lenses are easily made and it can achieve depth of field control. I’m sure it can offer more than adequate resolution and even dynamic range (just look at the warm response to Sony’s recent RX100). Yet to offer the control over depth of field a larger format has on, say, an f/1.4 lens is talking f/0.8, or even less. Sorry if my maths are out, but whatever the exact figure, it’s science fiction with today’s technology and for me, at least, some control over depth of field and the resulting ‘bokeh’ is essential.

Looking forward to the far future and yes, of course the Nikon 1 system could reign supreme, with unimaginably good sensors and the lenses o take advantage of them. If Leica can make small yet immaculate primes for generations, it must be possible! But so far, no-one has been able to do so affordably. If a format lives or dies with its lenses, we will be waiting years for the 1 system to mature and for this user, at least, it makes more sense to use other systems like NEX or M4/3 in the meantime, alongside my trusty, yet also evolving, DSLRs.

Impressions of The Canon M… A Bridge to the Future

Canon EOS M: hands-on preview of Canon’s first mirrorless EOS: Digital Photography Review.

Canon has, as expected, announced the EOS M – its first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. Based around the same 18MP APS-C sensor as the recent EOS 650D/T4i, the EOS M is the first model to use a new, smaller ‘EF-M’ lens mount. It is launched alongside two EF-M lenses that use STM stepper motors optimized for use with the camera’s hybrid AF system. As we’ve seen before in the mirrorless sector, the EOS M is predominantly aimed at the point-and-shoot upgrader market looking for DSLR quality and makes greater use of a 650D-style touch-screen interface. We’ve been using the EOS M for a little while and have prepared a preview, looking in more detail at Canon’s first mirrorless EOS camera and how it handles.

It may not be all there yet, but there are a lot of promising signs with Cann’s new mirrorless camera. Its actually the route I hope Nikon goes soon, too. Being based around an APS-C sensor that can autofocus with the EOS range of lenses with a simple, passive adapter fitted, there should be a lot of compatibility and no loss in image quality compared to their DSLR range. Yet such a design does bring compromises compared to smaller-sensor digital ranges.

Lets get those ‘dislikes’ out of the way first. An initial body with few manual controls and what looks like poor ergonomics. Reputedly slow autofocus, especially with most existing EOS lenses. No viewfinder, whether opticlal or electronic. EOS lenses will be comparatively large on such a small body and it’s questionable whether people will really want to use them this way, which will mean people need to buy new ones, anyway. With all this, the sensor is probably a generation or two behind the best ones from Fuji or Sony, as used to such great affect in other APS-C cameras. Lastly, the price is high for what looks loke a scooped up compact, even if it isn’t one.

Now let’s see those positives! First of all, there is nothing to stop Canon from fixing practically all these problems in a better body, perhaps one coming out as soon as this Autumn. An attachable EVF, or even a built-in one as in the Sony Nex-7 or Olympus EM-5 could be added and a newer sensor for better quality. The AF, which already has traces of on-sensor PD-AF, which is suitable for legacy lenses and movement-tracking, could be vastly improved. In the form of the G-series of cameras, especially the newest G1X, Canon has a great range with multiple manual controls and great ergonomics to upgrade to this mount with. In fact, many are surprised they didn’t do so already, though perhaps they are ‘testing the waters’ with a simpler model first. If the body is a tad bigger this way, perhaps like the Panasonic G, or GH models, that’s no problem as far as using existing lenses goes, which is surely the biggest advantage of this design choice.

Now it’s true that Sony and others have adapters that can do this, but they arenall flawed in ne way or another, especially by not offering fast autofocus. The Sony one that does is huge and expensive, making me wonder if a DSLR wouldn’t be better for this. The M4/3 ones have really slow AF, due to no PDAF on their sensors. The best AF is probably on the Nikon 1 series… But who wants a 2-7x multiplier in normal use? The inability to control depth of field here is also pretty limited, it’s no wonder most of the cameras targeted at serious users or pros are based around APS-C or larger sensors. Not everyone is looking for a ‘large compact’, leaving aside some of the exotically bright f/0.95 lenses for M4/3 for the moment.

So although this particular model is limited to the point of uselessness for the likes of me, it bodes very, very well for the future. Even the touch screen interface seems to do a lot right, being capitative and multi-touch (like a smart phone), rather than needing hard presses like the Panasonic models I’ve tried. Although I’d like many more manual controls, for the tactile feeling they bring, a good touch screen would certainly beat laborious menus for the increasingly complex features that digital cameras have these days.

Until a better implementation comes along, I’ll stop short of awarding this a Perfect Future award. This does in the longer term seem like the perfect bridge between DSLRs and mirrorless, especially for those with a large investment in glass. Wether it is successful and pans out to more sophisticated models remains to be seen, but with Canon’s success rate, I can hardly imagine it being a failure. And as a great copier of their ideas in so many fields, I’m hoping for a Nikon alternative, one which gets more right from the start, too (anyone for an APSC V1 with more controls… count me in!

Then sooner or later, though probably a bit later, we’ll have the full-frame mirrorless cameras, the first real competition to the stratospherically pricy Leica M9 range. My own view is that if enough fine, bright primes are made for APS-C sensors, this won’t be as necessary as it now seems, as Fujifilm seems to be demonstrating with their new range. We’ll have to see, though, as the is always room for more quality if there’s a market for it that is.

Life with the Olympus E-PL2

Finally, I got myself some mirrorless action and I have to say, I’m loving it! In many ways this is the camera I’ve been waiting for years and I just came around to realising it did indeed arrive, already. As a DSLR user, I love the image quality and ever-increasing features, but hate the bulk, and in some ways mirrorless cameras this Pen are a salvation from it. Looking at images on the computer screen, I’m seeing a lot of quality there already, some incredible colours and outstanding sharpness, even from the entry-level zooms I got with it. Sooner or later, I’ll be getting After a while I got the Pana-Leica 25mm f/1.4 and expect to be was beyond my wildest dreams even more blown away by results from this, the best prime lens I’ve yet to use.

In terms of high-ISO, dynamic range or resolution, the results from the 12mp sensor are not really up to the standards of my Nikon D5100, but perhaps up there with earlier cameras, I’m not quite sure. I generally cap it at ISO 800, which is not even as good as the D5100’s 3200, but still the advantages are astounding. With full-time live view, I can see the results of exposure, picture styles or the special Olympus Art filters right up before I press the shutter button. Let me tell you, that in itself is a revelation. I remember the film days when you’d stop down the lens with a button to have a DOF preview, which was actually a pretty big deal them and you’d generally want a camera that could do this. This is the same thing, just 1000x more effective. You can be way more creative than ever before in this way, AS you take the picture, not at a PC afterwards, or to a lesser extent, checking the results afterwards. That whole, ‘take the picture now and get it ready afterwards’ takes away a lot of the thrill and pleasure of experimenting with photography, creating images that have never, ever been taken exactly that way before. This camera and the system it is a part of helps restore the excitement, at least for me.

The camera is small and light, the lenses too, being almost weightless, even the (slightly long by comparison), 80-300mm equivalent zoom (80-150mm). Putting IS in the camera was a remarkably prescient choice, allowing for such small, light lenses, and for absolutely every lens used to be stabilised, which is especially wonderful for immaculate primes. I just love it and find it very effective and the beauty is newer iterations will be even better, on the same exact lenses. I found I could  discretely take photos of people and things and dogs, for that matter, without any intimidation and with fast, accurate and face detecting autofocus (yes, even on the dogs). Seeing as I am getting this as a kind of replacement or grade to a high-end compact, this is a revelation and of course newer models will have even better AF and perhaps even phase-detect, as Nikon incorporates.

Did I say it already, but I love the colours! So vivid and natural and pleasing, perhaps the nicest I’ve yet seen from a digital camera, except perhaps my trusty old F30 largish-sensor compact by Fujifilm, that captured some very pleasing colours as well. I like my vivid Nikon colours, too, but they don’t quite ‘sing to me’ in the same way and certainly the skin tines don’t seem quite as good. I generally use them in Raw and fiddle around (less and less though these days, as the quality is outstanding there, too) but at least at lower ISOs, I’d happily use this camera in Jpeg. Fast, quick,responsive and a picture that’s ready to see straight from the camera.

The Art filters seem to me more usable and pleasing than I have on my Panasonic LX5 and are certainly more interesting than anything I’ve seen in another camera. Even ‘Pop Art’ looks good to me, though I’ve been playing around with the dramatic tone and grainy black and white options more, the later giving a super-contrasty look that suited a lot of images and the former, yes, you guessed it, an element of drama. I’ll put a few examples up here to see what I mean. Of course, all this is nothing you couldn’t do in a way at least on a computer afterwards, but where’s the fun in that, at least with a compact-sized camera suited for quick sharing. I like living now and shooting now and this helps me to do that. Of course, if you are anal like me, you can do the ‘Raw + Jpeg’ trick and have a regular photo too, at a cost in file-size and probably I’ll end up doing that sometimes at least.

I also love the built-in flash, which you can actually angle upwards and bounce. How intelligent is that?! A flash that’s always on the camera and can be bounced all the time. Sure, it’s not as powerful as an extra one, but it will be enough in many cases. Along with the built-in stabilisation, this really feels like a camera from the future and makes others that appear to have a built-in pressure to buy more accessories rather than the feature itself seem antiquated. I know, though, that lens based stabilisation and larger flashes are a lot more capable, especially for power users, but since there is nothing to stop them from being added if need be, it is a simple act of genius to include them in the camera body.

So, I am finding mirrorless even more enjoyable to use than I thought, much more so than any compact. Though I am now a member of the M4/3 club, it has opened my eyes up more to the advantages of such systems generally. The Nikon 1 system has a smaller sensor, but much faster and more flexible AF (very important, this, as MF will be hard on these small cameras) and even smaller lenses, the disadvantages of course being less ability to control the DOF, which for me is essential and the small lens selection right now, especially when it comes to primes. NEX offers much better image quality, but again, a small lens selection and whilst in both these cases you can use more with an adapter, that is hardly ideal and they are going to be massive and ungainly on the camera. Here the Nikon has an advantage, as it will easily AF the larger lenses, up to a point, but with the 2.7x crop, it’s really more for telephoto than regular usage. Anyway, just throwing that in, as other systems are also excellent, carefully designed and worthy of consideration. Who knows, I may get one from theirs too in the future, but for now I’m very happy with this and in fact looking forward to both more lenses and a better, E-M5 style body in the future, especially if I find myself using this more than I anticipated.

One thing is for sure, just a few minutes with a mirrorless camera will convince you that with their quick, easy operation and excellent image quality, this is the way of the future and DSLRs will find themselves in increasing competition from them, after a while finding it hard to survive. I wont be selling my gear and moving camp, though, as I’m very confident that Nikon (and Canon) will make APS-C and eventually full-frame mirrorless models over the next few years and my lenses will be just as relevant on them for decades to come.

First Plunge into Mirrorless

I’ve finally taken my first plunge into the great ocean of mirrorless cameras! It’s something of an historic moment for me, as after 15-odd years of using Nikon SLRs, I’m finally buying into another system (not including a host of compacts). After a lot of careful (some would say obsessive) research and window-shopping, I finally clicked the buy button, on an Olympus E-pl2. It’s kind of interesting, as my first cameras were Olymouses, compacts that looked easier to use than an SLR and full of the latest technologies, at least for that time. Today, unusually for a tech-lover like me, I went for something a generation behind in performance for the consistent retro-styling and a sense of being fun to use. I really love the EP-2/ EP-3 styling and the E-pl2 is the most recent scaled down version of this Olympus has made. In fact, I’ve had my eye on this camera ever since it was first announced and the fact that I can now buy it online for a mere ¥42,700 (I know, the price keeps changing), with a two-zoom kit pushed this shopper over the edge. That’s what I’d generally spend on just one DSLR lens, or a high-end compact. I’d really like the EP-3, a truly beautiful and fast camera but it comes at a much higher price and contains a lot of outdated technology when you compare it with the soon to be released EM-5, so any kind of big purchase like that is something I’d do in the future, or perhaps never do, with all my investment in Nikon gear. This way, I get to dip my feet in that great ocean without too much risk of drowning in it.

So with all the choices out there, why did I chose this? One big influence was this blog post by Jonathan Fleming, which shows what wonderful images you can get straight out of this unassuming camera. Another one was the peculiar price oscillation I saw for this on Amazon. Though according to CamelCamel.com the price has been gradually sinking over the past few months, it actually alternates every few days between 42,700 and 51,000 yen, so that’s a pretty decent saving for timing it right. For me, online shopping is a bit like hunting a wild animal, you need just the right amount of planning and cunning if you are to get the killer deal! Of course, there were many other possibilities and still are. Mirrorless certainly offers a lot of variety, but the good thing is that if you stay away from the latest and greatest,  they are generally priced so affordably that you could buy more than one if you really wanted. Still, no-one wants to waste their hard-earned money and I recently made a fairly exhaustive study of the options out there right now, in my post, A Mirrorless Ocean, which is probably too long for anyone to do more than glance at, but if you scroll down to my conclusion, you’ll see what I mean.

Other Options, Other Opinions

Small but massively heavy, more the first of the robo-cameras than the last rangefinder.

If you look at that post, you’ll see that initially my favourite was the Nikon 1 series, so why the second choice? Well, trying out the Nikon J1 and V1 in my hand basically put me off them. I realise they have excellent performance (in good light) and sharp little lenses, but they really feel like bars of molded soap. In the case of the feature-rich V1 though this is more like a smooth brick; at around 500kg, that thing is heavy and not exactly good-looking. The J1 loses a lot of its advantages, but it is lighter, though I had to wonder, do I really want to whip out something so toy-like and amateur-looking everywhere I go? This is all the more relevant in a walk-around, social camera, than one I’ll be relying on on photography-centric trips. Answer- resounding ‘no’. Then, at our camera show in Ginza, one of the members was taking photos with an elegant EP2 and asked me to take his photo. It felt so nice in the hand and after all, shouldn’t the things we use feel good? This is a published photographer, who used Contax rangefinders and medium format around the world. The fact he used only this EP2 on a month trip around Europe last summer was a pretty good advertisement. Style and performance in one- and the E-pl2 is a direct descendant of that model (which I’ll admit feels a lot nicer to use).

Maxi-LX5?

The nearest competition for me was the Panasonic G1X. With better movies and AF in a decent body, along with a newer 16mp sensor, it is an attractive option. Yet there were strikes against it, too. For one thing, it doesn’t have an affordable twin-zoom kit and I think I could well use these little cameras for their telephoto ability, which becomes very large on DX and simply massive on FX. I actually often use my Canon G9 in this role, with its generous 35-210mm lens and decent 1/1.7” sensor, sometimes with a 2x converter. Having something an order of magnitude better for this without too much extra size is very attractive. Yet buying lenses separately quickly becomes very expensive and I’d rather invest in my Nikons that way. More to the point, the G1X feels too serious for me, just too minimal and cold. Plus the menus are not only horrible to look at, but only in Japanese (here), for some bizarre reason. Small points, perhaps, but I want a camera I actually enjoy using. Picking it up, it feels solid and capable, but not really all that much fun, which I suppose is the idea of styling something as more tool than toy.

Mini-G1X?

From what I’ve seen, though, similarly to my LX5, the pictures from it come out dull and lifeless, so you have to PP to get them looking as vibrant as Olympus Jpegs. No problem if you use it in Raw, though it’ll probably take time to get them looking just right and I find with things like skies, Panasonic goes for some weird colours that are really hard to correct, though it may be possible. With Lightroom camera profiles you can shoot in raw and generally only need to adjust exposure or white balance a little, but Panasonic needs much more than that to look good enough. Aside from this, it really is an excellent little camera and it is a very hard choice between it and the E-pl2, it also having it’s own retro style and solid controls, being a bit like a scaled-up LX5. It has an attractive twin lens option at ¥51,000, with both the prime 14mm f/2.4 and a stabilised 14-42mm zoom and whilst  I like that set if only for the prime, I would much prefer the excellent 20mm f/1.7 Panasonic makes, which I’ll probably end up getting and using as my main lens. Yes, it’s that good, so much so that the set with the GF1 it first came out with has actually appreciated with time and is offered for a hefty 80,000 online! Panasonic’s original kit zoom 14-45mm is also reputedly the best in class, despite it’s size, so I may well get one of those some day. That’s the great thing about M4/3, the variety of good lenses, small and relatively affordable, something I’ve been waiting in vain for on Nikon DX mount.

Then we have the newer Pen models. The E-pl3 improves on this in so many ways. It brings a tilting LCD, faster AF and 1080p video, but it also brings a super-slim compact style body with no built-in flash. I just didn’t like the feel of it, especially with the kit lens on it, the same way I feel about the NEX models. It is elegant in its own way, but has few control and none of that retro, cool style I look for in a Pen. I can see why it exists and they made a great job with it, as similarly to a lot of Panasonic users it is aimed fairly and squarely at those upgrading from a compact who probably don’t really want to carry around a DSLR, though would like at least some of its performance. I’m certainly not dissing it as a camera, though at the end of the day, it costs quite a lot more for the same kit as I have (¥66,000 vs ¥43,000), yet it both loses the retro styling and doesn’t add a newer sensor. Essentially, a well-taken photo will be the same. I figure that the Pens are refreshed so frequently that soon there will be a nice model with all those and more features, especially the new 16mp sensor and 5-axis optical stabilisation of the E-M5, perhaps even with a new pancake lens improving on the current, dark 17mm f/2.8 Olympus makes. I prefer having various bodies with lenses than changing lenses and missing a shot, so having this in addition some day might be an option, though I’m tired of waiting for it to appear, as not only will it take a while to come out, but it will start off being around twice the price, which is more than this consumer wants to spend on such fast-changing technology.

You pays your money and you makes your choice.

So you pays your money and you makes your choice! I’m anticipating really loving the style and feel of this camera, though perhaps feeling a bit frustrated by its performance. Hopefully it’ll be enough, but we’ll have to see, as I’m generally shooting still things anyway. In a sense, though, the body’s being thrown in with the lenses, probably in the hope that I’ll buy more of each in the future. We’ll have to see about that, though I definitely have my eye on that Panasonic 20mm, which would make for a fantastic little set and probably all I’d want or need in many situations; yes, it sounds that good! A rangefinder for the new millennium. The zooms are really just for their convenience, though I do love their small size and smooth, fast, silent focussing, which will be great for video (even if this cam is a bit backward in that area, not a major concern for me as I won’t use it much). This has actually been a long time in the making, I’ve had my eye on a Pen for years now and really desired something like that, with built-in IBIS and a small lens to take around with me. Who knows, I might like the results so much it gets chosen instead of my Nikons. I’m really looking forward to playing around with it, taking some semi-macros and using the art filters, possibly in RAW+Jpeg mode, so I have a ‘regular’ photo as well. It’s certainly going to be a big just up from my compacts, my only other choice for really traveling light and one I was never completely satisfied with, with their tiny sensors and fixed lenses.

* Note, product photos were taken at the 2012 CP+ Show in Yokohama, Japan. No cameras were hurt in the making of this blog post.

Straight, No Chaser.

A Traditional Photography Blog - dehk © 2016

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