Sunday, 13 March 2016

Cheap macro softbox

The great thing about photography as a hobby, is the big variation possibility. There are so many styles and techniques to explore, even without spending a lot on equipment.

One of the techniques is macro: To photograph small objects. This can be pursued by purchasing a macro lens, e.g., the Lumix/Leica 45mm f/2.8 or the Olympus 60mm f/2.8. Both these lenses are 1:1 capable, meaning that you can photograph an object the same size as the imaging sensor, i.e., 17mm by 13mm.

Another, much cheaper option, is to get macro extension rings (click on the link for an explanation). These can be used with the kit zoom lens at maximum extension (usually 42mm), or a tele zoom lens. Don't worry about the smaller maximum aperture you get with this option, usually f/5.6, versus f/2.8 with the specialized tele lens: Mostly, you will need to stop down at least to f/5.6 when photographing small objects anyway, otherwise, most of the picture will be out of focus.

One particularly difficult aspect of macro photography is lightning: Often the light will come from one single light source (a flash or the sun), making the picture look flat and contrasty. Which brings us to the subject of this post: Using a macro softbox to overcome this. A softbox simply makes the light go through a larger surface before hitting the object, so that the light comes from a larger set of angles, rather than one single angle.

A very simple and cheap softbox is a simple transparent wash bucket, which you may well have already. Ideally, it should be as neutral as possible, not having any colour tint at all:


The clue is then to put the object to photograph inside the bucket, and make sure to not point the opening towards the light source. Like this:


Here is what the picture looks like, with and without the softbox (click for larger images). I used the aperture f/7.1 for some depth of field:

With softboxWithout softbox

You probably agree that the picture taken with the softbox (bucket) has a more even lightning.

This softbox can also be combined with a flash, by pointing the flash towards the outside of the bucket. I am using the Lumix FL360 flash unit, with a TTL flash cable (the flash also works on Olympus cameras):


Again, I think using the bucket hugely improves macro flash images:

With softboxWithout softbox
a

Conclusion


Taking closeup images can be fun, but getting a good lightning takes some effort. A quick and cheap start is to use a transparent bucket as a softbox. It can be used with ambient light, or with a flash.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Mirrorless sales statistics from Japan

Not much exists in terms of solid statistics on camera sales. However, one yearly event is when BCN Ranking release their statistics for the sales of cameras in Japan. Their statistics cover most of the domestic sales.

The statistics tend to take different forms every year. Some years, they have reported the 20 most sold models, which is quite interesting to see. This year, reporting on 2015 camera sales, it is probably the least useful: Only reporting the market share for the top three brands.

When compiling this into a seven year time series, this is what I get:


As only the top three systems are reported, we only see Olympus, Sony and Canon here. The Panasonic market share is not specified for 2015, but we can deduce that it is at least lower than that of Canon, that is, 13%. The same goes for the other systems.

Panasonic started off very high, which is very understandable, since they were the only mirrorless system in the very beginning. However, they were soon overtaken by Olympus and Sony.

It seems that Olympus have gotten a boost in 2015, which I would attribute to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, which is very stylish, and at the same time, offered a very interesting feature set.

Sony, on the other hand, have focused almost exclusively on fullframe mirrorless during 2015. They have launched a number of Sony A7 models. These are very fine cameras, but they are expensive, and require an investment into newer, larger, and more expensive fullframe lenses. Hence, one cannot expect as many camera sales from Sony as before. They probably make a better margin from each camera, though.

We are still waiting for an upgrade of the APS-C mirrorless camera Sony A6000. A replacement camera is rumored to have a high resolution 36MP sensor. If true, this will be a game changer for APS-C sensor based cameras.

What surprises me, is that Canon gets an increase in the market share. They have improved their mirrorless cameras now, but the Canon EOS M3 is still not a very interesting camera. And with the limited palette of lenses, I would personally not have invested into this system today. The positive market development probably says something about Canon's market perception: Very strong.

With Olympus's new retro styled Olympus PEN-F, I expect their market share to remain strong.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

GH5 expectations

When looking at the row of Lumix GH series cameras below, it is natural to ask: What will the next in line, the Lumix GH5, be like? And when will it be available? So that is what I will speculate about here.


From left to right: Lumix GH1, Lumix GH2, Lumix GH3, Lumix GH4

In terms of form factor, we have had two styles so far: The first two cameras were quite small, but still had reasonable ergonomics. However, only one control wheel left quite a bit to be desired.

The Lumix GH3 introduced the larger camera body, and also deviated from the previously used oversized multi aspect ratio sensor. The larger body size allowed for a much better control layout, with three configurable control wheels. However, the eye level viewfinder (EVF) was not perfect.

The Lumix GH4 looks like it reuses the GH3 camera body, but there are in fact a lot of smaller changes which greatly improve the handling. Read about the changes here.

Timing of the next generation


To speculate about the launch of the next generation camera, the Lumix GH5, it is good to look back at the historic announcement times:


There was a two year delay from the GH2 until the GH3. The GH4 was announced somewhat faster, probably because Panasonic needed to prove that they were still the top mirrorless system for video use.

With the recent downturn in digital camera sales, I would expect that the GH5 is announced at least two years after the GH4. That is, February 2016 or later. The CP+ camera trade show runs February 25-28th, and that could be the venue for the GH5 announcement.

A quite probable venue for the announcement is the NAB show (National Association of Broadcasters), April 16-21st in Las Vegas.

The next big tradeshow is Photokina on September 20-25th, but I think the GH5 announcement will come earlier than that.

On the other hand, one could ask: Why announce a new GH model now? The Lumix GH4 is a perfectly fine camera.

And it recently god a shot in the arm: In September last year, the V-Log L profile became available, making the camera much more usable for professionals. To learn more about what this is and how to get started using it, you can read this article.

However, as time goes, there are more and more features lacking from the GH4, which people would otherwise expect nowadays.

GH5 features


One major disadvantage of the Lumix GH4 is that is can only record 4K video with a crop factor: It does not use the whole sensor width. See this illustration:


This means that if you use the 4K video recording, you get an additional 1.3x crop factor: The Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8, it becomes like a 16-46mm lens, or 32-92mm in 135 film equivalent terms. So you will often need wider lenses when using the 4K video mode.

The GH4 applied this crop to avoid scaling down the whole sensor output to 4K format. That would have required too much computing power. The Lumix GH5 will surely record 4K video from the whole sensor width, though, avoiding this additional crop factor.

On the other hand, both more recent 4k capable Lumix cameras (Lumix G7 and Lumix GX8) share the 4k crop strategy to avoid downscaling, so perhaps Panasonic don't have a solution to this problem yet.

Some have speculated that the GH5 will record even higher resolution video, e.g., 5K or even 8K. I don't think so. 4K is still a quite new standard, and many have still not upgraded their TV sets to 4K. So I think 4K will be the preferred format still some more years. There is still improvement potential inside the 4K video format, and that is what the GH5 will aim for.

What might happen, though, is that the GH5 could record 4K video at a higher framerate. Currently, the maximum framerate is 30FPS with the GH4. Today, that is only topped by some very expensive and bulky cameras, like the Sony FDRAX1 or Sony PMW-F55.

If Panasonic can release a GH5 with 4K 60FPS video recording, that would be a game changer on the same level as the GH4 was two years ago. However, this would require faster sensor readout, and it is not obvious that it is possible with the current technology level at this price point.

In addition to high quality video output, the GH5 will also get the latest in terms of features, that includes:

  • 4K Photo. This mode was first introduced on the Lumix GH4, with the 2.0 firmware six months into the product life of the camera. Read about it here.

    However, the 4K Photo implementation in the GH4 was quite basic, and is already surpassed by more recent cameras like the Lumix G7 and Lumix GX8.
  • Post focus. A feature so far seen on the Lumix G7 and Lumix GX8. This allows the camera to scan through the focus range, and take one picture every time something in the frame is in focus. You can later select which photos you'd like to keep.

    Unfortunately, this feature is limited to 8MP resolution only, only to JPEG, and the pictures are taken over some time period, not instantaneously, of course.
  • The Lumix GH4 has the DFD, "Depth from defocus", meaning that it analyses the nature of the bokeh to guess how far off the focus is. This is based on a database of Lumix lenses. This technology can always be better, and I think the Lumix GH5 will still improve upon it.

    The GH4 does autofocus during 4K video recording, however, the AF speed is very slow. This will certainly be improved with the GH5. Here you can see a comparison between the AF speed of the GH3 and GH4 in 1080p, and also the GH4 in 4K resolution.
  • Electronic shutter. This is a very useful feature which allows you to take pictures silently, without the mechanical shutter. The downside is that the picture is scanned vertically fairly slowly. Anything moving during this time will cause "rolling shutter" effects, read about it here. The GH5 needs to further improve upon this sensor readout speed, for more reliable electronic shutter mode.
  • Rolling shutter. In 1080p mode, the images are scanned in around 1/100s, which is fast enough that rolling shutter is not a big problem. In 4K mode, though, the frame is scanned much more slowly, around 1/30s, which means that rolling shutter can be a big problem if you are handholding the camera. If the GH5 ups the framerate to 60FPS in 4K mode, then rolling shutter will probably not be a problem anymore, as the image must be scanned twice as fast.
  • Image stabilization. Some recent Panasonic cameras (Lumix GX7 and Lumix GX8) include In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS), which is a new direction for Panasonic. Seeing that recent Olympus cameras are capable of using this feature to stabilize also non OIS prime lenses, will Panasonic add this feature to the Lumix GH5? I think not. I think the GH5 sensor will need more cooling, which makes the IBIS setup harder to implement.Here is what the IBIS of the Olympus E-M5 Mark II looks like:



As for the form factor, I think the Lumix GH5 will be mostly like the Lumix GH4. The GH4 has a very good, ergonomic design, which is stable to hold and easy to use. I don't see the need for any major redesign of the camera body now.

Finally, the GH5 will get a higher resolution. Nikon recently moved from 16MP to 20MP for their top cameras, the Nikon D5 and Nikon D500. Also, Fujifilm went above 16MP for the first time with the Fujifilm X-Pro2.

With this development, Panasonic also need to move up from 16MP, and the GH5 will most likely get a 20MP sensor, just like the Lumix GX8.


Alternative cameras


If you are into a video oriented mirrorless camera, one obvious, and high end, choice, is the Sony a7S Mark II. This camera has everything you could wish for in terms of professional colour profiles, for the best post processing (colour grading). As it is a full frame camera, though, the lenses will be much larger, and also quite expensive. On the positive side, the camera does not have any horizontal crop factor when recording 4k video, unlike the Lumix GH4.

Another high performance choice is the Samsung NX1, which gives you a lot of features for the money. On the other hand, there are uncertainties to the future of the Samsung NX format, so this is a choice with some risk.

For somewhat less cash, you can get the Sony a6300. It is an APS-C sensor sized camera, so the lenses will be somewhat smaller. Avoid the 16-50mm power zoom kit lens, though, as it is rather poor. This camera appears to have the best continuous autofocus performance while recording video in 4k in this class. Certainly much better than the GH4, which is quite poor in this respect.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Long lenses coming

I a few days time, two more long lenses will be announced. On January 5-6th, Oympus and Panasonic will launch their new premium telephoto lenses:


These are ultra long tele lenses, and not something you would buy unplanned, and bring along casually. Rather, people who buy lenses like this usually need them for specific applications, for example photographing sports or wildlife. They are not suited for casual snapshots.

With these lenses coming, it can be interesting to take a look at some other long lenses for comparison.

Most long lenses are, well, long. With the common construction, a telephoto lens needs to be physically long. However, some lenses avoid this, by using various tricks. Below are two 300mm lenses:



The Nikon lens, at 150mm (6 inches) long, sure looks like a long lens. However, by using a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens it achieves the 300mm focal length with a 30% shorter physical length than its predecessor lens. Canon also use the same trick, but calls their lenses "Diffractive Optics" (DO).

The Tokina lens, on the other hand, is not long at all. This is because of the Reflex construction, which relies on reflections from mirror surfaces, rather than refractions inside glass elements, which is the norm.

So why aren't all tele lenses mirror reflex lenses? They have serious shortcomings, for example an appalling contrast when there are strong light sources. Read more about this in my review.

Also, the Tokina lens is manual focus only. The focus ring is really nice: Well dampened, and it has a very long travel range, making fine tuning of the focus easy.

But can you manually focus a tele lens without a tripod anyway? Modern cameras have various tricks to help you, like magnified view or focus peaking. I tested the lens on the Lumix GH4 and Olympus E-M5 II to see how it went:



The Lumix GH4 has focus peaking, however, it never really kicks in when using the Tokina reflex lens. Also, with the very long reach, it is hard to hold the camera stably enough to focus. The magnified view does help, though.

The Olympus E-M5 II has in-body image stabilization (IBIS), which operates when you half press the shutter. However, half pressing the shutter also messes up the focus peaking and magnified view. The focus peaking does help to find the right focus, though, and you can see in the video that it does toggle on and off when I have the shutter half pressed.

Even if this is a manual lens, it does have electrical contacts. These transfer the focal length (so you don't need to set it manually), and they report to the camera when you operate the focus ring, so that it can give you the focus aids automatically.

But the bottom line is that to focus this lens manually in a reliable way, a tripod is needed. With the focus peaking and IBIS, the Olympus E-M5 II was the best camera here, though.


Olympus 300mm f/4 IS PRO


Unusually for Olympus, this lens is expected to have optical image stabilization (IS). Olympus typically relies on in-body image stabilization only (IBIS).

I would guess that they add image stabilization to make the lens more usable for Panasonic camera users, and also because IBIS may have shortcomings with so long lenses.


It is natural to compare this lens with the other 300mm f/4 lens discussed above, the Nikon 300mm f/4E PF VR. Of course, the Olympus lens can only be used on Micro Four Thirds cameras, where it becomes equivalent to 600mm.

The Nikon lens, on the other hand, can be used on fullframe FX cameras, where it is, naturally, 300mm. On crop DX DSLRs, it corresponds to 450mm, and finally, you can use it on Nikon 1 one inch sensor CX cameras, where it becomes equivalent to 810mm. Read more about using this lens as an ultra long 810mm tele lens here.

Also in the table below, you'll find the older Olympus 300mm f/2.8 Four Thirds tele lens. This can be used with an adapter on Micro Four Thirds cameras. Note, however, that the Olympus E-M1 is the only M4/3 camera to autofocus this lens reliably, as it is, at the time of writing, the only M4/3 camera to use Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF) technology.

LensOlympus 300mm f/4 IS PRONikon 300mm f/4E PF VROlympus 300mm f/2.8 Four Thirds
PriceEUR2600/US$2500US$2000US$7000
Equivalent focal length600mm450mm (on DX), 810mm (on CX)600mm
Minimum focus distance1.4m1.4m2.4m
Length227mm148mm281mm
Diameter93mm89mm129mm
Filter thread77mm77mmNA
Weight1478g755g3290g
Optical image stabilizationYesYesNo

Looking at this comparison, the Olympus lens does look quite large, heavy, and expensive, compared with the similarly specified Nikon lens.

Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 Power OIS



The upcoming Lumix lens has a maximum equivalent reach of 800mm. This makes it natural to compare with the Nikon 1 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6, which corresponds to 190-810mm on the Nikon 1 system. It is seen below together with the previous longest Lumix lens, the Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6:



The Lumix G 100-300mm is not a bad lens, but somewhat uninspiring, perhaps, in the long end. See my review here.

The Nikon lens, on the other hand, is very good. It is currently the best choice for those who want a compact, ultra long lens, in my opinion. Read about my experience here.

LensLeica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4.0-6.3 Power OISNikon 1 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6Lumix G 100-300mm f/4-5.6
PriceUS$1800US$1000US$500
Equivalent focal length200-800mm190-810mm200-600mm
Minimum focus distance1.3m1.0m1.5m
Length172mm108mm126mm
Diameter83mm73mm74mm
Filter thread72mm62mm67mm
Weight985g560g520g
Optical image stabilizationYesYesYes


Again, just like with the new Olympus lens, Panasonic's lens does look quite large, heavy and expensive, compared with the competition.

One quite good news about the Lumix/Leica 100-400mm f/4-6.3 is that the maximum aperture remains quite large through the focal length. Here is a comparison of the three lenses above:


This tells us that the Lumix/Leica 100-400mm f/4-6.3 OIS has a maximum aperture of f/5.6 at 300mm (600mm equivalent), which is better than I had expected. Most ultra long lenses like this close down quite fast as you zoom in, like the Nikon lens above.

Conclusion


I think these lenses will be popular among people who are already fans of the Micro Four Thirds system. However, with the specifications and prices, I have a hard time seeing that they can bring a lot of new people into the system.

Micro Four Thirds has never been the first choice for wildlife and sports photographers, and for good reasons: While the autofocus has become very fast for non-moving subjects, it is nowhere near the performance expected by professionals for continuously moving subjects.

With no M4/3 cameras using PDAF technology with M4/3 sensors, I don't think this is going to change yet. The CDAF technology is still not good enough, even if Panasonic is developing their "Depth From Defocus" (DFD) image processing.

Professionals and enthusiasts go with what they know works, and for sports and wildlife, Micro Four Thirds does not so much have a proven track record.

Panasonic is introducing a technology to scan through a range and capture images at different focus distances ("Post Focus"). This may help for some static subjects, but for sports, it doesn't help at all.

You will get a lot more "bang for the buck" by going for Nikon or Canon here, rather than the new Micro Four Thirds lenses.

I think these lenses can allow Micro Four Thirds to get a presence in a new market segment, but probably at a rather high initial development cost.

Micro Four Thirds is a very good system for ultra wide angle and fisheye lenses. See this comparison, for example. But for ultra long lenses, I think it is not the best system today.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Using V-Log L with GH4

Some months ago, Panasonic released a V-Log L video option for the Lumix GH4. Here, I intend to give a short introduction to what this is, and how you get started with this video profile.

This is, of course, not a complete course. That would require a lot more than a short read. But this is intended to show you what V-Log L is, and how you get started, if you are interested.

For most people, myself included, V-Log L usage is not a big deal. Most of the time, I am happy with the normal video output from the camera, and I don't spend the extra time and effort with the V-Log L profile. So keep in mind that this is optional: You can still enjoy the camera without caring about V-Log L.

Some would compare the V-Log L profile to using the RAW image format, rather than JPEG, when taking still images. It is not exactly that: The video is still compressed (unlike RAW), and it is processed (not straight from the sensor, like RAW normally is).

However, this comparison still makes some sense, as you would use the V-Log L output much in the same way as you would use RAW: To be able to make adjustments to the colour and tone curves of the image. For video, this process is called "colour grading".

When enabling the V-Log L profile, the output is flat. What I mean with flat, is that it looks grey, with little colour saturation, and little difference between the light and dark areas. If you uploaded the video straight to Youtube, people would think it looks quite boring.

That is why you go through the grading process first. Here, you apply a Look-Up Table (LUT) to convert the flat profile back to something that looks normal, and you can apply colour and tone corrections on top of that.

Recording in V-Log L


First of all, of course, activate the V-Log L profile, and you should see the corresponding symbol in the top left corner:


As you see here, the image is "flat" in the sense that it is grey and has low contrast.

You can use the normal exposure modes also for V-Log L. However, keep in mind that the camera will often underexpose in V-Log L, and mostly you'll want to correct for that. I usually leave the exposure correction at +1 stop when using V-Log L, as you see above.

For "run and gun" use, where you have varying lightning, this works well. I guess some seasoned videographers would frown at using automatic exposure, as opposed to full manual, but I don't think you should worry about that. Using auto exposure is a good way to get started.

If you use manual exposure, you'll need some tool to make sure that you have the right exposure. As the profile is so flat, it is hard to notice from the screen if the exposure is too low or too high. The "zebra" stripes is a good tool. Set to "Zebra1":


And adjust that to 80%:


That way, anything which is overexposed (burnt out) will get the zebra stripes in the display. Adjust the exposure so that you are just not getting the zebra stripes, for the optimal exposure. Some zebras are ok, but keep in mind that those areas don't get any details in the final output, due to overexposure.

In V-Log L, you can only use ISO between 400 and 6400. You can still use Auto-ISO.

Editing the video


As the video output is so flat, you cannot just upload it to Youtube, you must first grade it. I have been using Adobe Premiere Pro, but most serious video recording software can handle this.

You bring the footage into the editor as usual, and note that it still has the flat look, as it is not yet graded.

To get the right Look-Up Table (LUT), you can get Panasonic's official one from here, scroll to the bottom and look for "LUT (Look-Up Table)." This is a zip file, and inside you will find a file called "VLog_to_V709_forV35_ver100.cube". This is the one you input into the video editor software.

Add the Video Effect "Lumetri Color" to your video stream. Inside this effect, choose "Custom" from the "Input LUT" option. Here, you select the file you just downloaded from the Panasonic site.


After having done this, you can select the output style you want in the "Look" section. I have just selected "Neutral". You can look at the other ones as well, and see if you would like to test some retro film looks. And remember to select "Active" for it all to work.


This makes the video look normal again:


On top of this, I thought the shadows had some green tint, so I moved the centre of the "Colour Wheels" a bit for the Shadows and Midtones. Also, I took down the Saturation a bit, as I thought the colours were a bit strong:



These colour wheels are central to tweaking the video. A common cliche the last years, is to push the shadows towards the blue, and the midtones towards orange. This creates a contrasty effect, and makes the skin tones stand out a lot. You'll see this effect used a lot in, e.g., "Transformers" and "Iron Man 2".

Using an effect like this is going to make your video look modern today, but look dated in some years time. I prefer to keep them more neutral.

After having done all this, I can render the video as usual. Here is the output in Youtube:



Sadly, the focus was a bit off during a lot of this movie. I used the Lumix 25mm f/1.4 lens at f/1.6 and didn't foresee the focus issues it would have. The problem here is that the microphone in the front attracts the focus some of the time, and when the musician moves, the background looks more stable and easier to focus on for the camera. I could have prefocused on the musician's face, and turned off autofocus, that would have solved the problem. This is a lesson learnt for me.

The exposure was: f/1.6, 1/60s, ISO 640.

This video could have been graded better still. As you see, the face of the musician is a bit too red. However, I had a hard time finding the right white balance. I guess an experienced grader would have made this far better.

Conclusion


The V-Log L video option opens up for more possibilities to use custom video profiles in post processing. However, you need to spend more time on editing the video files, and you must invest in an editing software, like Adobe Premiere Pro.

Finally, you can get by pretty well without worrying about the V-Log L at all. Here is an example video I recorded using the normal video profile (not V-Log L), and uploaded directly to Youtube without any post processing:



Most of the time, this looks totally ok. Personally, I am not using the V-Log L a lot. For normal hobbyist use, the standard profile is just fine.

For  a professional, having V-Log L is crucial, since it allows for colour grading clips to match, even if they are recording under different lightning condition, or even by different cameras. But for amateurs, it adds an additional step of post processing, which may not add much extra value.




Sunday, 20 December 2015

Waiting time

We are in the "Advent" time in the Western hemisphere, which means expectant waiting. What we are waiting for is probably quite personal and individual.

One thing I may have in common with the readers, though, is waiting for camera news. So what cameras are we waiting for?

Olympus


The oldest Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera in the active lineup now, is the Olympus OM-D E-M1. Announced in September 2013, it cleverly replaced the E-5 Four Thirds DSLR, and became the top Micro Four Thirds camera at the same time.

It achieved this by employing on-sensor PDAF sensors, still the only M4/3 camera with this technology, to be able to focus the legacy Four Thirds lenses. It is the only M4/3 camera which can autofocus all the legacy Four Thirds lenses.

This camera is, in my opinion, the Olympus camera with the best ergonomics. Technology wise, though, it is lagging behind. I would guess that a replacement should be due soon, although I think no concrete rumor exists that it will be replaced soon.

Anyone with a cache of high quality legacy Four Thirds lenses, like the 150mm f/2, or 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5, are sure to be eagerly waiting for an updated E-M1, or any other camera with PDAF technology.

We have had specific rumors that Olympus is launching a new line of cameras, though, which may be called "PEN F". These are probably going to be similar to the Olympus E-PL7, but with a built in viewfinder, probably in the rangefinder style. A camera with the newer 20MP sensor, currently used in the Lumix GX8 will probably be announced. I would expect to see an announcement at the CES 2016 show, January 6-9.

In terms of lenses, after a long wait, we are expecting to see the Olympus 300mm f/4 lens at CES:


The lens will have optical image stabilization (OIS), making it useful also for Panasonic Lumix camera users. Further, it will be weather protected, like the other Olympus PRO lenses. The expected price is around US$2500.

Panasonic


The current top dog, the Lumix GH4 is starting to show its age now, as it was announced almost two years ago. However, it still isn't really lacking anything, so why update it? The GH4 was also given a shot in the arm recently when the V-Log L was added with a firmware update. I would guess that we don't see the GH5 announced at CES, but it will probably come in the first half of 2016.

A new GH5 will most likely feature the newer 20MP sensor (used in the Lumix GX8). Also, the GH4 has a drawback when it comes to 4K videos: They are recorded with a crop factor of 1.3x, read more about it here. This means that a 14mm lens behaves like a 18mm lens in 4K video mode. The GH5 will surely use the whole sensor for 4K videos, hence there will be less need for wide angle lenses.

Perhaps the GH5 will also allow for 4K video recording at a higher framerate. Today, the limit is 30FPS with all the 4K capable M4/3 cameras.

Other Pansonic cameras due for an upgrade (for the 4K treatment), include the Lumix GM5 and Lumix GF7. A version of the GM5 with 4K video recording is expected fairly soon.

Just like Olympus, Panasonic is expecting to launch a long tele lens, the Lumix/Leica 100-400mm f/4-6.3 OIS:


And just like the long lens from Olympus, this one is also expected to debut at the CES in January, and sell at approximately the same price.


Nikon


The big announcement due now, is for the Nikon D5. It is expected to come at CES (early January). Replacing the Nikon D4S, this camera will mostly be "more of the same". It will have a 20MP fullframe sensor, and most likely, will feature 4K video recording. This is a very expensive, large, and heavy, DSLR. It is for professional users, who want the very best in terms of ergonomics, ruggedness, reliability, and speed.


You could be wondering why the upcoming Nikon D5, the most expensive camera, only has a resolution of 20MP. Especially when you can get cameras at half the price with twice the MP count, e.g., Nikon D810 (36MP) or the Sony A7R II at 42MP.

The answer is that for most uses, 20MP is sufficient. And that is what the professional users of this series knows: With 20MP, you can cover almost any client need, including photos for glossy magazines. Some fashion photographers like to use medium format cameras with 40-50MP, but it is hardly needed.

The professional line of cameras has had a moderate MP count for a long time: Nikon D3 with 12MP in 2007, Nikon D4S with 16MP in 2012, and now the Nikon D5 with 20MP in 2016.

In the more distant future, I would expect an upgrade to their high resolution fullframe DSLR, the Nikon D810. Probably, a new camera with the 42MP sensor from the Sony A7R II, will be announced in 2016.

In the crop sensor DX line, all the cameras have been rehashed fairly recently. What enthusiasts are waiting for, though, is Nikons answer to the Canon 7D II: A rugged crop camera, especially for bird/wildlife enthusiasts. Such a camera will probably be called Nikon D500, and has been expected for years. Will it come in 2016? I think that is anyone's guess, right now.

Nikon has their Nikon 1 line of mirrorless cameras with a one inch sensor. This line recently saw the release of the Nikon J5, with a newer 21MP sensor from Sony, that gives much better image quality than earlier model, a much awaited development.

Now, the Nikon 1 fans are waiting for a replacement of the Nikon V3 enthusiast camera model. The V4 should have the same sensor as the J5, as well as the deeper buffer and quicker handling associated with the V line of cameras. And, not least, an eye level viewfinder (EVF).

There is a lot of uncertainty as to the future of the Nikon 1 line currently. I think at least one more generation of the V line will be produced. It may not see an announcement at CES, but it could come during Q1 next year.

Samsung


With Samsung, people are not waiting for one specific camera model, but they are waiting for news of the future of the NX system: Will there be any more cameras? As the system appears to be discontinued in parts of Europe, that does bring some doom and gloom feelings.

The Samsung NX1 is their top camera, styled like a pro DSLR, and it has a class leading 28MP APS-C sensor, capable of 4K video recording. The same sensor, and much of the same features, sit in the entry level Samsung NX500, very competitively priced.


Still, it is hard for them to gain a market foothold, especially since photography interested people tend to be conservative, and only reluctantly look outside of the "big" camera brands. On the negative side, though, the Samsung NX lens lineup is a bit uninspiring, even if it should be more than sufficient for most.


Sony


Recently, Sony have focused almost all their effort on fullframe cameras and lenses. And for a good reason: This is where the bigger margins are, and this is where they can differentiate themselves from the competition: No other manufacturer has a fullframe mirrorless system. I am disregarding the Leica SL system here, as it is hideously large and expensive.

Still, we know that Sony has not dismissed the APS-C sensor mirrorless system completely: A camera replacing the Sony A6000 has been expected for some months now, perhaps it will debut at the CES.

Pentax


From Pentax, the expectation is that they will soon release their fullframe DSLR. How can they compete against Canon, Nikon and Sony here, though?

Their camera is going to be fairly compact, and weatherprotected, at a reasonable price. That will be their niche.


Also, Pentax still has quite some loyal fans, with collections of older fullframe Pentax lenses. They will probably contribute to keeping the sales up. And, they are already quite good at waiting. Historically, Pentax has not been very good at delivering on time.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Blog economy

Some of you have probably noticed that there are links to webshops on this blog. And here is a disclosure: If you click on the link, and buy something, I'm getting a commission from the purchase.

So does this mean that writing this blog is my day job? And should you also start a blog, and get rich quick?

Blog traffic


Anyone can write a blog, but to get people to actually read it takes a lot of time and effort. Here you can see the statistics for my blog:


I haven't done much in particular to attract the readers. I could have been more active on social media and so on to draw more readers, but I prefer not to be pushy.

Rather, most of the traffic comes from people using search engines. And it takes time before search engines consistently direct traffic to your blog. You should expect to write quality articles for a long time, probably at least a year, before you can expect to gain any significant traffic from search engines.

From the statistics, you can see that the traffic peaked around late 2013, and has since been in decline. This is partially due to that I don't write quite as frequently, but mostly, I think, due to more competition. Competition from fellow bloggers, but more importantly, competition from serious review sites like DPReview.

Back when I started, there was not much resources about Micro Four Thirds on the internet, and more people, relatively, came to my blog. Nowadays, more alternatives exist, and, to be frank, at a higher quality, too. But I think some readers like to see independent articles as well, and some of those find their way to my blog.

I think there are some handful of individuals who started blogging very early, and are now getting a lot of search engine hits. They probably get a lot of traffic. But for a new blogger to reach this level takes a long time. Expect to work hard on the writing for years to get many readers.

Commission


I'm using the American Amazon store for the webshop links. If anyone buys something I have linked to, I get a commission: 4% of the sales amount. For non-electronics items, the commission can be higher, around 6-7%.

For each click on a webshop link, around 2.5% actually buy something. This is called the conversion rate, the rate of clicks converted into a sale. Perhaps you think 2.5% sounds low, but this is a quite common level.

Actually, I think the level normally is a bit higher, around 3-4%. But non-American readers of my blog are less likely to buy anything from the American Amazon shop, and that brings the rate down a bit for my blog.

I could have implemented a system to direct readers to a webshop in their own country. However, to make those changes now would be extremely time consuming for me, and the reward would be fairly marginal. So I retain only the American links for now.

When someone buys something, most of the time it is something inexpensive. Like lens caps or adapter, which give me only cents in commission. Once in a while, someone will buy a lens, which earns me some tens of dollars. But it is rare.

On a monthly basis, this commission amounts to around US$70. Given that I usually spend around 20-30 hours per month on the blog, this is of course far from sufficient to pay for my time.

And here I come to my point: Bloggers should not expect to get any significant monetary reward. Only some very few bloggers reach a number of readers that makes them a normal wage. Most end up with peanuts.

If you work hard and write good articles frequently, you will end up with a fair number of readers. But breaking even, in terms of getting well paid for the work, does not come easy.

Videos


You've probably seen the ads on youtube videos. Surely, those who make the videos get rich?

The most viewed video I have made, is this one, showing the very impressive IBIS inside the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II:



This video was featured on the technology portal Gizmodo about a year ago, and has had a total of 115.000 views at this time of writing. Now, it has around 500 new views per month.

The total ad income on this video is US$50. Given that I spent around five hours creating the video, at least this gained me an ok hourly wage, didn't it?

Sort of. But this simple calculation fails to take into consideration the 100 other videos I have uploaded, which have not gained any significant income. Considering also the other videos, the hourly payment again goes down to a negligible level.

Conclusion


You should not start blogging, expecting to get paid well. Only some very few, very active bloggers can expect that. Most get paid next to nothing.

If you do start blogging, it should be out of a genuine interest in the writing. As a hobby. That is what I do.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Google Photos review

Some time ago, Google added the Photos service to their portfolio. So, what is it, and should you use it?

The Google Photos service aims to help photo interested people by providing a free cloud service, where it should be easier to search for your images later. There are essentially two versions of the service: The one most people probably use is the free - in the gratis sense - version, where your photos and videos are stored compressed. You can still upload an unlimited number of items.

There is a second version where Google stores your material uncompressed, but then you need to pay for the storage through their Drive service.

Uploading


To upload your images, it is easiest to use a batch uploader, available for Mac and Windows. This is a simple program running in the background, which scans for new images and videos, and uploads them for you. I've used this program for Windows, and found that it is a big unstable.

Sometimes, it crashes, it does not always find new photos automatically, hence, I must restart it to have it upload new images. Also, it seems to skip the largest videos, in size above around 1GB. I've found that I often need to upload these manually.

Which brings me to the manual upload possibility. From the main page, you can click on the cloud symbol (far right below) to upload single files, or multiple files in a batch.



The advantage of this latter method is that you can upload photos from everywhere. If you are on the move, for example, you can upload your photos over a wifi network in a cafe, not needing to wait until you are home.

The downside is that Google will never store the catalogue location of your photos, even if you use the batch upload program: The directory path where your images resided, e.g., C:\photos\holiday\2015\London, is lost, and you cannot search for these keywords later. So how do you navigate your photos, you may ask yourself?

Browsing photos


Google Photos offers a handful of ways to browse your photos. First of all, you can scroll them all in chronological order. Which is all well if you have some tens of photos, but if you have thousands, that becomes increasingly difficult.

Next, you can navigate by places and things:



Places categorizes your pictures into where you took them. If your camera or smartphone has a GPS device, this is the source for the geographical location of each photo. However, the photos and videos can also be categorized by some pattern recognition algorithm.

This means that when someone uploads photos that are GPS tagged, the information about what objects reside where is used to map other people's photos which are not GPS tagged. This seems to work quite well.

When a picture is GPS tagged, you can see a map showing where it is taken. If it was not GPS tagged, but located with the pattern recognition algorithm, you can only see which city, typically, it was taken in, not the exact location.

Things aims to group your pictures according to what you have photographed. The categorization is solely automatic, you cannot yourself select which category each picture should go into. This works quite well, even if it is not very accurate. In the examples above, you see scooters categorized as "bikes", and to the right, you have a hawfinch in a pine tree categorized as a "flower".

You can also search for any word, and the results are sometimes helpful, sometimes not. Here, I have searched for "sparrow". This yields a lot of birds, but none of them are actually sparrows:


EXIF information


If you select one photo, you can see some key EXIF informaion: Time and date, original filename and resolution, aperture, shutter speed, ISO and focal length. It also shows what type of camera was used. However, you cannot search from this information.

So you cannot search for photos taken with the Lumix GH4 camera, for example, or images taken at 14mm focal length. Which is a strange limitation. If you key in "Nikon" in the search field, you will get pictures of Nikon cameras, not pictures taken by Nikon cameras.

Compression


Image resolution is reduced to a maximum of 16MP, which is mostly quite sufficient. In addition, they are also compressed further in a new JPEG file. The original JPEG file you uploaded is not saved, unless you are using the pay-for-storage solution.

You could upload RAW files as well, but then Google will convert them to JPEG and discard the original file.

Video files are compressed to a maximum of 1080p.

Here is an example picture. You can download the original photo, and the compressed photo created by Google Photos:

Original, click to download4608x3456 pixels, 8.54MB
Compressed, click to download4608x3456 pixels, 2.14MB

To help you in comparing them, here are 100% crops from both images:


It is hard to find any real evidence that the compressed image is worse.

"Creations"


If you upload certain types of photos, Google will create "Creations" for you. For example, if you pan while taking several photos, you will get a "Creation" which is the stitched panorama. If you photograph a similar scene several times, you will get an animation.

And if you use the bracketing feature on your camera, Google will make an HDR for you. Here is an example of the latter: I used the five picture bracket feature on the Lumix GH4 with the Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye lens, and set the difference to one stop. This gives me five pictures:

+/-0
-1
+1
-2
+2

Google combines these for you automatically, and gives you this HDR picture. It looks somewhat cheesey, but is sure to give you many likes on social media:


Conclusion

Google Photos can be a good search and archive tool. But it is not perfect: It doesn't have the functions you would typically want, like searching for images taken with specific cameras, or taken at specific focal lengths or apertures.

People who are concerned, or, if you want, paranoid, may say that Google will use the information from the images you upload to profile you, and generate more specific ads tailored for you. That is probably true. So the service is not truly free, you are probably paying with your own personal information.