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lørdag 8. november 2014

Light Field Cameras - Gimmick or Gold Dust

I sat down last night to get my head around how the light-field-camera system works, because it looked conceptually difficult ...I couldn't work it out at first run through, I was bewildered.

It took a few different approaches and looking at a Lytro video of their first series of interesting cameras, for the penny to drop. You can think of the technique as on the one side being like the compound eye of a fly, fusing together many individual shots in the 'brain' to make a map of the immediate world ahead of  you. Or you can think of it as grabbing more information from the light rays which enter the camera, which in traditional photography are simply trained onto a flat 2D image with much of what the lens can capture being simply reduced to a simple, easy to interpret image.

Think then this. Today we are very used to 3D CAD images, while I work often with 2 D output for actual practical engineering and manufacturing purposes. Plan view, side view and so on.... It is easy on the computer to flick between these two , the three dee for conceiving how it will look, operate and fit during installation and then the 2D for the nitty gritty of measurements, angles, threads, welds and so on, where 3 D would just be a mess of info overload. Usually the 3 D is made from the 2 D traditional drafting, and then the CPU brain makes the 3 D view.

This is a similar principle for light field cameras, where a traditional lens is followed up by an array of micro lenses, the fly's eye , which then allow for more information to be captured in terms of all the focal planes available ie many slices of depth of field, and then also the multiple stero/optic capture where a slight 3 D image can be recomposed. Each micro lens splits the detail up a little more from all the rays coming such that the rays of light render more information or more traces if you like onto the sensor. It has been done in film too, but is not practical for viewing before the advent of serious computing power.

We got used to the stunning quick time style composite images which were created by multiple camera capture, allowing for unbelievable 3 D images with about a 40 degree walk around. The rolling stones video was the first I can remember, and I wondered, how did they do that!??? Basically on a single sensor you can achieve a slight 3 d stereoscopic effect due to the distance across the chip being able to capture very slightly different angles of view

Depth of field contol is then achieved in post processing with Lytro's software suite for example and that is the biggest benefit for general photographers. For macro photographers, the 3D view also helps them but really it seems to be a bit gimmicky for general photography, it is only a few degrees.

The compromise of this composite single capture image is the eventual resolution though. The first lytro camera has a resolution as any one still jpeg image, or just 1.2mpx . This is fine for a VGA monitor but makes for a limited image size on anything bigger, or a poor quality large image. Whereas in fact the information processing is far, far higher than that of a normal 2 D camera due to all the extra computations, which links a camera with a reasonable ouuytput of 8mpx into needing serious on board processing in order to capture even one image per second and represnent it as a flat jpeg on its read monitor screen.

Howwever, Lytro have of course found out that it is not consumers who really gain from this small 3D effect in still images, it is the space imaging and military gun sight government research that this system can find most value and thus earn Lytro the most cash. For me I can see two other major areas if it can be made to work with microscopes and endoscopes, for  bio/medical imaging and for inspection work in engineering.

I dont think we will all be using Lytro cameras any time soon, but perhaps we will see a mobile manufacturer licensing in the lens array because then VGA quality in maybe a 2mpx image is worth the bother for the small screen size to overcome the normal DOF limitation and offer a quirky three dee image.

Micro Four Thirds is Dead....Long Live mFT

mFtf is basically dead for me, and as dead as it had been when i went in to a shop to buy an EPL1, walked out unimpressed and bought an E450 with three lenses on-line.

I am of course impressed  by the OMD range, but I need a weather sealed system and two lenses and that in OMD mFt is a huge investment with all the time the slightly poor trade off between depth of field and size being there. Also there is the fashion-over-ergonomics which is kind of fair  enough if it helps sell bodies, but at the top model really style is not important. How ugly are the D3 and the 5DIII after all?

Olympus have slowed up on selling the compact bodies and rightly so, they can get a far bigger price for the OMD range and people can suffice with their old PEN bodies as 2nd back up or pocket walk around, or buy them pretty cheaply indeed used or old stock. Not that they are much good with that 12mpx chip, but not that they are that bad when compared to the nealy all sub 1000 eurospondoolicdollars compacts.

Until now that is, with two cameras in fact from Panasonic and the related competition from Fuji in particular.
The FZ1000 finally places a reasonable size sensor into a "super zoom" or bridge camera, while the LX100 steals the show for a street camera based on the mFT sensor and a very fast lens.

The lx100 and its sibling the Leica branded Dlux type 109 change the game, big big time for all compact non EVF mFt compacts which are basically dead in the water IMHO for enthusiast buyers.

Interesting with both the LX100 and the FZ1000, Panasonic are stealing a march on not just compacts but also entry and mid level APS-C DSLRs and system cameras. The lenses are faster and better in range than the kit-shit of Canikon land, or most MILCs. The ISO performance is good enough for real photography in disappointing lighting.
The nirvana of shallow depth of field and good bokeh are checked off as if they have reached a mountain top and can take a pause for breath, while the competition look on from their foothills.

The lenses bring into question what the blazes these companies are doing in following the strategy of DSLR and making highly expensive lenses which in DOF / Speed terms are just mid level for APS-C. They have been able to pull off the less-is-more for many years and have ended up painting themselves into a corner, all be that a very nice couple of corners- Panasonic's genius hand played in video and range of cameras, Olympus with their enthusiast and pro appeal with OMD and the retro  style PENs. Nice corners to live in for the here and now, while perhaps the enthusiast market will desert them.

I see that there will be a range of LX hundred series and even a bridge mFT camera in the FZ range. So far it looks like the LX100 is a big seller on Amazon and this is for the same reason I want to buy one - it is a fast lens which can deliver creative depth of field and it is a jacket pocket camera with a view finder. It trumps having to buy a boxy mFT compact and two or three lenses in the mid range.

mFT MILC will still take slightly better technical image quality but the fast lens for under a grand just beat entering the system, and in fact I can see a lot of olympus first and second generation PEN owners dumping their gear to get an LX100, and I can see that people looking for a good long zoom for nerdy-birding could ignore the pixel peepers and plunge into an FZ1000.

Panasonic would be wise to look at doing an mFT version of the lens , to replace the 12/35 video optimised lens and indeed consider creating a range of fast zooms which are compact but sub f3, perhaps with a little less reach such as doing yep a 12/35 but say a 30/100 f2 for portrait and best dof seekers. The genie is out of the bottle, they have achieved a very good lens with only slight compromise which has no relevance to the buyers and intended use of the LX100. The fast lenses from Oly in particular are not all that small, and relative to many APS/C f3.5s they are actually slower due to equivalence.

Why have a kit lens and an mFt for less money and have to spend lots and then change lenses all the time or end up wasting time trying to set up a shot to isolate the subject, when on the LX100 we simply click open the aperture ring and shoot.

For me then, mFT is dead but has a long future in non interchangeable enthusiast compacts.

onsdag 5. november 2014

Painful Decision to Wait on The LX100 - DLux 109

All the reasons are there to buy this new LX100. I need a jacket pocket, glove-compartment take with me camera more than any new lenses for my dslr or say a do it all am-cam like the new FZ1000. It is better than the canon and the sony, and much better than its incongruent predecessor in the lx range, the seven. It has also great DR and mid ISO and OIs and better video than my current jvc camcorder.

However it is a relatively expensive camera which is showing not only its strong sides, but also some weaknesses.

The big point of this camera is a combination of the big chip and the fast lens. That trumps the XZ2, which i had my eye on, and btw can be had new for less than half then original rrp now on line.

It also trumps just about that is, any mft camera with any kit lens, apart from maybe the 12-50 oly at the two extremes of focal length. Why? The fast lens.

Why then not just dash out and buy one, cash down and the rest on credit?

The real reason on the back of my mind is that i am hoping olympus will make a competitor.

What would be so good from oly? Firstly amd most of all, far better out of camera jpegs, which is important in a compact camera which will document the minutiae of oir family lives as much as it will take any images of artistic, photojournalistic or heirloom framed images. My general dslr shoots are in a way warm ups for owning a pro-am FF dslr, in another way they are fun and only when i see the beautiful shot dono turn to raw. I cannot batch process by in large for all sorts of reasons, so frame by frame raw optimalisation is just too time consuiming for me.

Secondly the lens would be sharper, maybe not as fast, but sharper. Also in combination with that it would be a Sony chip with less noise, better resolving ability and better colour.

Panasonic have fallen short , not by much, but just a little short.

1) Soft when open wide below f4
2) noisy and colour abberrant on the edges
3) annoying NR softness, i.e.  default high smoothing
4) little bit short on the long end at eq 75mm
5) other foibles,: auto iso , sensor warm outs on 4k, filters button stupid place, some others yet to be found.
6) out of camera jpegs needing post!

Any one of these points as the single isloated issue on the lx100, would not stop me getting one. But together and with that biggie in 6, they hold up my wallet peel.

I am stalling, i want to handle one but i can see it is going to be nice ftrom the videos. I am not convinced by the on line jpeg galleries, even though the test shots in the so called laboratory conditions say it is class leading.

If only olympus would do this as well!

It is currently a little unclear if there will even be an XZ-3. I guess they are either waiting for something cool from sony's sensor department for the current sensor size, or are reworking to either sony's one inch or hopefully the mFT format.

Panasonic have been able to use Leica to design ground breaking lenses, while having the R&D biudget in sensors and body equipment to now stand head and shoulders above the compact competition with their FZ1000 and LX100. The other manufacturers are who knows, maybe over a year behind in being able to put these size of sensors with so fast glass, enthusiast control elements, and not fogetting the video capability, all into sub 1000$€ packages.

Canon seem to be pretty happy with themselves but their G cameras which take good enough images but are quite bulky and no where near as good as the new GM or existing Epm with their kit lenses. Nikon just cannot do compacts or the milc one syste,, maybe they are too worried about the differential to their dslrs. Users are veryr happy, but they are brand-blinded. Panny are lucky to have had the deep pockets to align with Leica to get the edge and keep it.

Olympus are struggeling outside OMD - they have probably saturated the style seeking market and enthusiasts have fallen off PEN upgrades for omd, and have good enougj back up EP bodies. Omd is a fine fine place to be.

Stylus is not. They need an absolutelty top pair of sensors in order to carry on with the same hardware, otherwise the nice handeling and enthusiast features melt away for those consumers prone to buying the next generation phones with real zoom cameras, and cutting out the middle man on the way to facebook.

I suspect olympus are either consolidating on the up market cash cow omd, or are beavering away on something to really scare the competition in compact land. Hopefully the latter is the case!