Saturday, 4 May 2013

Product news

Recently, we have seen some interesting product launches. Here are my opinions on some recent camera news:

Panasonic GF6

The GF1 was the fist "rangefinder style" Panasonic camera. It had enthusiast friendly features, like a PASM mode dial, thumb control dial, plenty of buttons, and the possibility to attach an external viewfinder. Later, though, Panasonic seem to have had a hard time deciding what to do with the GF series. The GF2 and GF3 were all about making the camera as small as possible, sacrificing the enthusiast features like wheels, buttons and the flash hotshoe. The GF5 is quite similar to the GF3, but adds, e.g., a more ergonomic grip.



In April 2013, Panasonic are making a bit of a U-turn with the GF6, bringing it closer to the enthusiast camera territory where the series where born. It is no longer about being as small as possible, but grows a little bit while adding a useful tiltable touch LCD screen, and sees the return of the top mode dial. It also has a metal surface top plate, which I think looks a bit cheesy, but I think many will love it.

It has sensibly shaped grip surfaces for the thumb (rear) and middle finger (front), making it much easier to hold than the smooth GF3.

The GF6 has a sensor inherited from the Panasonic GX1, which should give you a good image and video quality.

It comes with the new Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II kit zoom lens, which is getting good reviews so far, being smaller and lighter than the predecessor.

Panasonic G6


The Panasonic G6 was announced in April 2013, almost half a year after the Panasonic GH3. Still, the GH3 is the better camera in virtually every way.



Not to say that the G6 is useless. Far from it. You may still be interested in the G6 for two reasons, mainly: It is smaller and lighter, and less expensive, while still packing most of the features of the Panasonic GH series.

It has a sensor from the GH2, however, with improved image processing. Sadly, it does not have the multi aspect sensor feature of the GH2. Even if the GH2 sensor on which the G6 is based is old, the updated processing adds a lot to the image quality. So you should still expect a good quality increase from the GH2.

In terms of video, it improves upon the GH2 features by adding 1080p resolution at 50/60fps (depending on PAL/NTSC), and also supports the extended tele conversion (ETC) mode.

When it comes to the design, it follows the GH3 trend by replacing chrome details with matte black. The overall shape bears a clear resemblance to the Leica R8 and R9, with elevated shoulders. While the camera is small, it has a generous grip, for better ergonomics.

This table sums up the size in comparison with the GH3:

CameraGH3G6
Width133mm122mm
Height93mm85mm
Depth82mm71mm
Weight550g390g

Another good news is that the G6 is the first Micro Four Thirds camera to feature "focus peaking". This feature highlights strong edges in the display, making it easier to focus manually, e.g., during video recording.

Panasonic Lumix G HD 14-140mm f/3.5-5.8


The superzoom lens Lumix G HD 14-140mm f/4-5.8 was the third zoom lens from Panasonic within this system. It was used as a kit lens for the Panasonic GH1, and then, later available on a stand alone basis. I was never entirely happy with this lens, as I think it is not very sharp in the wide and long end, and it's focus performance, despite the HD designation, is nothing special compared with cheaper lenses.

With this in mind, it makes me happy that Panasonic is now updating this lens. The new lens has better aperture specifications, about a third stop better in the wide end, and a sixth stop better in the long end.



The new lens is also smaller, and has a front lens thread of 58mm, rather than 67mm for the old lens. With the experience Panasonic has acquired since making the original lens, e.g., from making the excellent Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8, I'm sure they can do a much better job this time. If you have the choice, I suggest getting the newer lens.

Some might miss a motorized zoom. After all, if this is really a video optimized lens, why is the zooming done with a manual, mechanical ring? Zooming smoothly during video is almost impossible with a manual zoom ring. Most likely, a motorized zoom would be too complicated for such a lens. The motor would need to be very powerful, to be able to extend the duo cam front part of the lens.

Also, I expect this lens to have a pretty well dampened zoom ring. The Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8 sure does, making it possible to zoom quite smoothly even during video. Unlike the basic kit zooms, which have a quite sticky zoom ring.

Olympus E-P5


The camera was announced on May 10th, together with a new external electronic viewfinder, the VF-4.



Olympus E-P5, shown with the optional VF-4 viewfinder, and the Olympus 17mm f/1.8 lens

The camera inherits a lot of interesting and attractive features from the Olympus OM-D E-M5: It gets a tiltable LCD display, the new five axis image stabilization, now with automatic panning detection. Also, it gets dual control wheels near the shutter button. Using Panasonic lenses with OIS becomes easier, since the camera allows you to choose more easily if you want to use the in camera image stabilization (IBIS) or OIS.

As for the sensor, it is also the same as in the OM-D E-M5, which is good, since it has been hailed for the good image quality. You can take up to 9 frames per second in continuous shooting mode, although only 5 fps with autofocus enabled. For more easy manual focus with legacy lenses or during video capture, there is a "focus peaking" feature to assist you by highlighting sharp edges.

I think it is good that the flagship PEN style camera now comes with a tilting LCD screen. That is very useful. On the other hand, I think the lack of a built in viewfinder makes it less attractive. On the other hand, quite some people like using cameras without eye level viewfinders, so I guess it still makes sense from a market perspective. All in all, this is a modern camera with virtually all the features you could think of, in a somewhat classic retro design.

Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera


There is little doubt that, at the moment, the best Micro Four Thirds camera is the Panasonic GH3. However, the most interesting might very well be the odd Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera:



Not to say that everybody should rush out to buy this camera: Far from it. This is a very specialized camera. It does not take pictures, only video. And the video resolution is 1920x1080, nothing special at all.

However, since it is made for video, it has an imaging sensor optimized for video recording only, not photos. Hence, it is able to achieve much better video quality, especially in terms of dynamic range, handling of moire, and colours. It also supports higher bitrates, giving you less compressed video files.

Unlike the predecessor, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, which also came with a Micro Four Thirds mount, the pocket version has an active mount. This is a very crucial difference. With a passive mount, i.e., no electronic communication, most Micro Four Thirds lenses are useless on the camera, as you are not able to change the focus or the aperture.

The active mount of the pocket version makes all Micro Four Thirds lenses usable, though. You can operate the aperture and the focus, and OIS even works on the lenses that have OIS built in.

The Panasonic GH3 handles autofocus during video capture surprisingly well, as I have demonstrated here. Even if the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera features autofocus, you should not expect such a performance. Rather, you must probably rely on focusing manually during video capture, and there is a focus peaking mode to assist you.

On the negative side, the camera has a significantly smaller sensor that Four Thirds size. There is a crop factor of 2.88. This means that the Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 becomes a 40mm equivalent lens, i.e., a short normal lens. Finding a good wide angle lens might be difficult.

Also worth noting that the camera does not correct for geometric distortion, for the lenses that feature this. Quite many M4/3 lenses require software geometric distortion correction, and they will give you distortion issues on the Blackmagic camera.

This is a camera for video enthusiast, who want the best video quality in a compact and relatively ergonomic package.

After the release of the two Blackmagic Cinema cameras, Magic Lantern have announced that they will make available firmware upgrades for the Canon EOS 5D MkIII. The upgrades enables RAW video recording at 24fps, at 14 bits depth, suitable for movie makers. The firmware also adds other features like larger resolution videos, 2.5K, 3K, 3.6K and other sizes.

What's even more impressive, is that the features are expected to be ported to the Canon EOS 6D, Canon EOS 5D MkII and Canon EOS 600D cameras! This firmware development may well remove a significant part of the market for the Blackmagic Cinema cameras.

28mm APS-C compact cameras


Within the last months, we have seen two new cameras in the somewhat thinly populated class of large sensor compact cameras. This market segment has previously been pioneered by Sigma with their strange and quirky DP series. Fujifilm were the first to get a good impact here, with the retro design 35mm (equivalent) Fujifilm X100.

Nikon and Ricoh now want a place in this segment as well, with the Nikon Coolpix A and Ricoh GR:

Nikon Coolpix ARicoh GR

Both feature retractable lenses with a 28mm equivalent field of view, and an aperture of f/2.8. What's more, it is reasonable to believe that both feature the same APS-C sensor from Sony. The APS-C sized sensors are commonly used in consumer DSLR cameras.

The Ricoh camera is slightly wider, but slimmer and lower, and also lighter. They have similar features, and the choice largely comes down to what type of ergonomics you like. Beyond that, the Ricoh GR also packs built in ND-filter, which is useful for large aperture shooting outdoor in sunlight. It also comes with a significantly lower price tag. It appears that Nikon want to capitalize on their strong brand name by charging a premium price for their camera.

Given that one would often want a camera like this to be slim and fit in a pocket, I think the Ricoh version looks the most useful. The Ricoh also appears to have the upper hand in terms of optical performance, based on the tests I have seen so far.

Neither of the cameras have a tiltable LCD or the possibility to attach an external EVF, which is too bad, but hardly unexpected since they are intended to be compact and rigid.







3 comments:

  1. As a happy OM D user I am interested in the new E-P5, but it doesn't work for me because a built in EVF is a must for my old eyes and shooting style. That said I have discovered that the tilting screen on the OM D makes it possible to shoot at waist level like an old twin lens reflex - particularly at night when I can see it clearly. Still I would prefer this 'rangefinder' form factor to the faux SLR design of the OMD - if for no other reason than it would slip in and out of my pocket more easily teamed up with my 14mm Panasonic pancake. Also it seems worth saying that accessory viewfinders are an anachronistic kludge like the clip on viewfinders for the old Leicas. I've used the add on viewfinder with an EPl-1 and the set up time is just off putting compared to the built in EVF on the OM D.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Do you think that the GF5 with the 14-42 PZ curently offerede for about 2400 NOK is an ok deal? http://fotovideo.no/Produkter/Systemkamera/Panasonic/Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-GF5-PZ-14-42mm-Sort-12-1Mp--Touch-LCD--Full-HD-129609-p0000152597.aspx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I think that is a good deal. That is a lower price than that of the lens alone. So essentially, you get the lens cheaper and the camera for free.

      Delete