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tirsdag 29. august 2017

CaNikon and The Future The Middle Offer

The trouble for the big brands is that they won't be able to sell volume for long. Low range conpacts are missing from them now and even the Nikon 1 system bit the dust this month. Why ? Mobile phones and action cam's are taking over, and creeping up the ranks of camera quality.

When our second kid was at kindergarten, nearly all the mommies or pappas appeared with a DSLR slung round their neck at parties or sports day. Mostly an entry level Canon or D3000 with a kit do it all wide to mid zoom. That was 2009-2011. Then suddenly in 2012 they had left them at home and it was qaulity mobiles taking the snaps. The change was yes mobile phone cameras became somewhat better, but that the value of a photo changed from being a private memory on a chip, hard drive or printed album, to being one shared to friends, family and often all-an-sundry on social media. Suddenly the value of a really sharp peripheral field and high ISO were whiped away. The mobile became the take everywhere, and the action-mini-cam' the absokute go and do anything, anywhere. For an average DSLR diving house perspex body you can get two or three top end GoPro kits.

Quality hss also crept up. For FB, Insta' and Snap' mobile quality is going to be just fine and has been for a long time. High contrast, highly sharpened images out of mobiles are then compressed on the web sources to very few megapixels on screen indeed. The impact comes from a punchy shot, colour or very often timelyness. First to publish. First to share. It happened right now. Here is our special moment, streamed live. Also mobile phônés are a little less intimidating thanan up to eye camera. Frankly taking peoplé shots has changed for ever. Both candid and posed.

Can Mobiles Ever Take Overr From 'Quality' Cameras?

You cannae defy the laws of optics captain....mobiles have a limitation in three areas - high iso performance, nice blurry backgrounds and of course zooming without becoming a scene from Minecraft. Back up here on all these points. Firstly many mobiles have an 'old money' focal legnth of 35mm - a nice street shot, close portrait and landscape lens size. In fact just the type of lens which adorns and adores a typical mFT camera as part of a set of primes for keener photographers, and often it becomes the most used lens.  Secondly you can take amazingly DEEP depth of field images from close up with out having a really tiny aperture. You are turning a guffawing and patronising deswceitopn of a fundamental shortcoming into a fundamental advantage.  Thirdly just like stock galleries, social media likes bright images, not subtle shades of shadowy brown from a noiseless full frame, every pixel peeped upon.

You maybe cannot defy the laws of physics with a tiny glass lens set up, but you can make up for the shorcomings in post, or now first pass, in-camera-processing. Many top end phone cam's have twin cams now, with one being used to either create a simultanious out-of-focus background or more fancy detection of depth and range by parallax interpolations. Thus blurry backgrounds, once a crappy 'post' effect with a vignette, are now getting good and soon you will need to be an expert to tell the difference between an ( on line) image from a quality f1.8 dslr /milc and a mobile for the same field of view ie usually 35 mm. The time is nearing when 'bpkeh' images will be only discernably different by experts,  and the old formats of album, litho plate art book and enlargements on the walls are evapourating in the digital age.

Zoom too could be getting better- there are bound to be more attempts at those cam-phones with an optical zoom, but in the meantime we will see interpolation playing a bigger role in processing. You've seen CSI, can you enhance that security cam frame ? . We also have the floating sensor 'pixel shift' tehcnology coming to small cameras. Here we literally make a more detailed picture by moving the chip around to take many pictures very quickly. Combined the last two could make for a 28 - 100 mm walk around camera in a phone, and add a telescopic zoom with independently moving lens elements, and who knows ? 20 - 400mm with a quality fine for facebook, or even the cover of vogue?

All those years when D3 and D700 owners never knew they should not be making money publishing images in fashion magazines or for giant billboards because they had less than 12 mpx ! Well now 4k video with frame grab is all the rage, and those frame grabs have been used for high qaulity litho covers for famous glossy magazines.....in their glorious 8 mpx! Suddenly a native 8mpx sensor with a 35 mm lens becomes a useful tool in the right hands for film, at a nice focal lenght,  and frame grab. No cropping no interpolation from a factor of eight. OOC.

A but low light performance - small sensors are rubbish noisy and absolutely awful when you allow the ISO to rise above base. Well if we use 4K as a selling point and move back to 8 mpx sensors as above, then you can get much better iso due to the noise to signal being reduced. Dynamic range, ie where highlights become blocky or shadows pure black in mobiles has been an issue, and the same approachb of a move to 4K branding could help wing us back from 41 mpx on a sensor smaller than your little finger nail.

A Declining Differential

The demise of the Nikon 1 system shows that the differential for quality cameras people will buy for size and convenience, or generally their photographic and social media mores, needs to be bigger over mobile phone cams. Top end mobiles are now more expensive than entry level dslrs and compete with them for wallet space or credit repayments on a more frequent basis. However when you get below f3.5 in general use lenses ( below 200 mm eq) to faster glass, the costs of milc and dslr systems rockets.

This is the last mexican stand off then between essentially CaNikon and the consumer market. Do the manufacturers stick to their now age old sell with a kit lens, make much more margin later on the faster lens upgrades ? This could see them shot down and left with only the Pro and serious hobbiest markets. Do the consumets gravitate to mobiles with better cams and strap on telephoto lenses, and pay over a grand a pop ? Or do the main marques admit defeat in the bottom end dslr market, and small sensor compact markets and regroup to offer the consumer faster lenses with their initial purchase? Here you put the cart behind the horse again because you need good, fast glass, but can upgrade body later.

The Necessary Gap in the Market

With Samsung pulled out, Fujifilm and Leica are the only ones offering faster f stop packaged lenses as standard on decent sized sensor milcs and fixed lens cameras,  with Panasonic offering the wonderful LX100 as a spanner in the works for both Nikon with their inferior one system cam at that focal range, and the 'G' enthusiast compacts from Canon. In my opinion faster glass on larger than one inch sensors up to full frame as packaged is the way to go if you want to keep the quality differential and get consumers buying into your branded systems, or higher end compacts with fixed lenses. Otherwise mobile phones and action cams are going to eat away not only at that entry to brand level, but in the lucrative upgrade. Why 'invest' in a series of f1.8 primes or a fabulous f2.8 pro zoom for two or three grand, when you 'need' the latest mobile which you buy every 2 years now?

By the mid eighties all the manufacturers offered their 35mm SLRs with a sub f2.8 'nifty fifty' 50mm packaged lens, and sub f2.2 35mm and portrait lenses of 90 or 120mm were emminently affordable. Zooms were hideous and heavy. Birders and sports pros bought big whites with manual focus back then too. Now decent mFT prime lenses cost more than the bodies, and the zooms are pro pocket prices. Outside gaurantee, or with any dents voiding said gaurantee, modern AF zooms can be a liability to repair too. It's become an expensive business for the punter, with sales declining for a decade, just picking up now, but being driven by Asian sales.

We see a spate of 'craft brewed' manual focus prime and speciality bokeh lenses popping up, and three non major manufacturers entering mFT, one using ironically, the Kodak brand. That brand passed in  a protracted death, at one point making great CCD sensors for the time and some half decent P&S conpacts before mobiles came in. Once a huge multinational, they shrivelled and died by not being ablento keep up with technology and the qaulity demands laid out by their OEM customers and the consumer. Woolworth's too. Big brands falling hard. Some say Pentax is next, but some may need to oook at their own camera bag to see a dinosaur.

Essentially the big brands stand at their own Kodak moment, with a last rise in sales from baby boomers retiring or passing their last ever mortgage payment and treating themselves. Asia is the new growth market and they have no relation to CaNikons western economy based mirrored offerings. The newly afluent were happy to buy the now myriad of retro looking MILCs when they could offer a differential and a 'cognicenti' image. But even like those DSLRs hanging round the mums' decks they could evapourate as mobiles get better and command a higher price for their top models with the latest and best cameras.

You could say that you can't get a Ferrari for the price of an escort. However today's focus offers a very refined driving experience for actually a more affordable price than an 80s escort. Fast glass is only really difficult to get right in zoom lenses, which dominate the levered income models for most of the main DSLR margues if not all.  You can of course lessen the stretch of a zoom and then also make it fully motorised so all elements can move independently as the focal length changes. Then you can pack in a better f stop. But good primes need not cost the earth.  And landscape or architectural photograpers, and even some portaitists would find manual focus is no big issue for them. Let the price come down so the quality of image creation increases per buck and makes system cameras with or without flippy up mirrors more relevant for the younger generations who will shape the future market.

tirsdag 25. april 2017

The LX200 .....Loading....Loading....

It really shouldn't be a surprise that the LX100, which came as a thunder bolt to the rather nichey enthusiasts compact market. A true wonder of shoe horning and mischievous use of an mFT sensor, something which I and many others forsaw years ago.

Where this camera should have placed is in the professional compact market, which is basically anything a pro will take as a back up camera and use for more candid or photo journalist work, or when taking a big camera would be impractical or attract the wrong sort of attention. That includes these days some serious work being done on top end Android and iPhones, so really image value counts more than absolute technical image quality.

Surely then the LX100 takes better shots than say an Olympus PEN of 1965 vintage, used by some of the true greats of the genre of candid, political leader imagery? What is pro-quality ? It can be argued that even medium format 120 Ektachrome shots are less than the equivalent 20mpx, and mid end lenses can't actually resolve below 12 on APSC!

Anyway, there are some features pros 'need' like a large buffer and outstanding autofocus apparently, funny how any of them made a living with thumb winder levers and 36 frames per reel  in days of film.  Pros though have always made their true living in the after work it has to be said, in terms of everything from choosing the coolest frame on a set of contact prints to burning in the salient areas for high contrast impact. So yes pros these days want high image quality OOC so that any lossy or other wise subtractive after effects don't influence the final output, which is likely to be printed at only 330 dpi anyway if you are lucky, or shown as a fragment on a 1080 resolution screen.

The LX100 seems to have attracted controversy and 'haters' from the word go. Some of them had pretty thin profiles on the chat rooms at DP review and elsewhere it has to be said, and perhaps there was some outright comercial trolling going on from areas which would rather no have such a plumb camera with such a fast lens at such a good price point. There are though enough 'flamers' out there looking to comfort their older purchases or appear like geek gods that this is unlikely., but I was surprised how much negative buzz the camera attracted and how several of the negative threads include no images from the OP nor on their profile!!

For a travel camera you are generally looking for something which does the wide to mid end admirably and you are able to live with some compromises. In the good old days, and for many ILC compact users today, that means planting a 35mm lens on and enjoying a jacket pocket sized camera which could be hidden from Genoa's worst street thieves, known to grapple SLR owners to the ground by their camera straps! Shoving a zoom with a bit of reach ( and a crop zoom) plus image stab' meant that cameras like this and some of the Canon G's are much more than an ILC with a 35 despite being smaller!

Expectations and Wish Lists for the LX200

There is some debate as to whether Panasonic will launch the 200 or not - given they came with the LX15 - but just as the LX100 came as a pleasant surprise I reckon that they will be launching one this autumn or latest at consumer electronics shows in the spring 2018.

They can afford to take their time. The camera was a little GH3 in some of its workings but with the wow factor of 4K video, which technically is not all that difficult. So our first expectation can be that there will be some exciting elements in the 200, while also it will pull from established Panny technology.

Here I think we will see a crop factor to the mFT 20 mpx chips, because is it not the case that it is a cropped 16 now? Or a 14mpx mFT sensor? Now this doesn't really help 4k much, because it is a compression to 8mpx per frame so the more in, the more processing and resulting heat in those hard coded compression circuits.

20 Mpx though means that the alternative crop aspect ratios will perform better for stills though, and that any application of digital zoom will be far superior in this new outing for the 'hundred' series LX

Upgrading to a newer sensor may also bring better high ISO performance, which has been criticised with 1600 quoted as the top 'workable'. There may also be some better colour rendering and better microcontrast, but the main issue with all this technical chip IQ improvements will be the resolving power of the lens, and the buffering and write to SD ability of the wee black box itself.

A lens upgrade is 'demanded' by the sceptics and pixel peepers who see the soft edges wide opened and also point to the lens's 'front focus' problem. These are to my mind non issues in the 200 - the latter was/is an annoying foible in landscape fotography which can be worked round in several ways, the former is well, what do you expect? A lens as good as the 'pro' level mFT wide end zooms? It is a compromise not worth adding extra size to the camera snout over imho.

The next upgrades which are 'anticipated', or rather would be on the project punch list if this was a crowd funded camera, are to do with the wee screen at the back. To me the ethos of this camera is that you have far more control over how you actually capture and you will most likely not just be sitting in a P modus, you will be flicking around. The screen being a 2010 vintage type is not an issue , it is a place to do menus and check an image quickly for sharpness, composition and so on. But there are whole armies of photographers out there  who just must have a tilting screen so they can get those catwalk shots from above the madding crowd, or capture that bee on that flower on the ground because no bee has ever pollinated a daisy before nor will ever again. Once in a life time that you have to be able to tilt, and live with an extra chunk of plastic box and a very big, vulnerable mechanical system to go wrong or get damaged. No, the screen for me can just have touch ability for menus and focus point as an upgrade.

One thing I do expect is an upgrade in the price though. The camera sold more initially than anticipated, going onto back order in some outlets,  but there are rumours that it is just a steady seller and that Canon has stolen its' muster. I expect that they will use a price hike to sell some units of the LX100 out in the supply chain and make way for the new on as the display model and soon, only one available.

Now here I come to my own point, that Panasonic should sod the casual photographer who thinks they could maybe go pro, or the enthusiast who wants great value for money, and get this camera to really work at pro level. This would mean a sharper lens and something cool like weather resistance. In fact why not just make as near to the 12-35 as possible and shoe horn it down as a collapsing lens ?  Then you have a camera which could retail for maybe three times the current list prices for the LX100 on the internet shops. It is a margin- volume trade off though, but that is where their once rich adoptive child, Leica, still play of course when they are left to their own devices.

I expect rather that the price point will be up around 15% over the launch price in 2014, and that the camera will have a touch screen, 16 mpx effective sensor, touch screen, better EVF and some form of connectivity to microphones and headphones since the 4K is so darned good. Also I think we will see what all enthusiasts 'hate' but which always helps sell more units to 'dumb people' who want to take fireworks. In this I think we will see more on the in camera pre-effects, such as with focusing and digital bokeh - waf-fer thin deh-oah- eff monsieur Creosote? Soft focus, high key photos?

To bore you all then I hope that the camera is more about internal evolution rather than external, bulky revolution. There will be changes and they will be for the better and there will be of course an LX200 You read it here, April 25 , 2017!