Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Product news

At this time, there are some important trends in the camera industry:

  • Mirrorless cameras replacing DSLR systems
  • On-sensor PDAF detectors, for better autofocus with moving objects, and with legacy lenses
  • Removing the low pass (anti-aliasing) filter, for better pixel-level sharpness

We see many of these trends in the recently announced cameras. Here is a summary, as I see it:

Olympus OM-D E-M1


From a Micro Four Thirds point of view, the big news is of course the Olympus OM-D E-M1. It cleverly supersedes both the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the Olympus E-5 Four Thirds DSLR.



It does this by employing on-sensor PDAF (Phase difference autofocus) detectors. That way, it can focus even older Four Thirds lenses at a usable speed. Micro Four Thirds camera have previously not been able to focus non-CDAF optimized lenses fast, like for example the Olympus 50mm f/2 1:2 macro lens. Focusing this lens on the Panasonic GH2 camera takes around five seconds, see my test here.



Using the OM-D E-M1 with an appropriate adapter, though, the autofocus is as fast as with a DSLR camera, which is very impressive. This also goes for other amazing Four Thirds lenses, like the 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5. The OM-D E-M1 is the first Micro Four Thirds camera to focus these lenses at a reasonable speed, due to the PDAF technology.

The OM-D E-M1 has a new sensor, with the PDAF technology. However, beyond the new focus functions, the rest of the sensor is essentially the same as the predecessor OM-D E-M5. So you shouldn't expect any significant improvement in image quality. One difference, though, is that the OM-D E-M1 gets rid of the low pass (anti aliasing) filter. This gives you better sharpness at pixel level. However, the downside is that you risk getting moiré artefacts, e.g., when photographing textile patterns.

I was able to try the OM-D E-M1, and took similar pictures with it and the GH3 in the same lightning conditions. We see that the OM-D E-M1 gives you better sharpness at pixel level, but otherwise, the images are pretty much equal.

Pentax K-3


Pentax has so far not really announced any interesting mirrorless camera systems, in my opinion. However, their DSLR line is still doing well. They have a history of introducing high end functions in reasonably priced camera bodies, e.g., weather sealing and larger pentaprisms for better and brighter viewfinder images.

The most recent Pentax K-3 pretty much has everything you would expect from a modern DSLR, including a sensor that gets rid of the low pass (anti aliasing) filter. However, the really impressive innovation is that it can simulate an anti aliasing filter, for the times you need it, by shaking the sensor through the In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) system. Pentax claims that this will work for shutter speeds as fast as 1/1000s, which is quite amazing.



One could expect, though, that this may not work with flash exposure. The flash generally exposes the image very fast, faster than 1/1000s. And you are probably most prone to getting moiré artefacts with studio flash photography of fashion models, say, in which case the sensor shake may not be of much help as a substitute for an anti aliasing filter, with the flash being too fast for the shake mechanism to work.

Sony A7


It has been long expected that Sony would release a full-frame mirrorless camera. For example, the Sony NEX VG900 features a full-frame sensor, but it was released without any native full-frame E-mount lenses to use on it.

Finally, Sony is releasing their full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Sony A7R (36MP, no AA filter) and the Sony A7 (24MP, with PDAF). The two cameras are identical, except for the sensors and autofocus systems.



The cameras still use the same E-mount as the previous Sony NEX camera, however, to be able to use the whole full-frame sensors, you need one of the new FE lenses, with an image circle that covers the whole 36mm x 24mm sensor. They have a limited lineup of lenses so far, e.g., a 35mm f/2.8, 55mm f/1.8, and 24-70mm f/4. You can also use older A-mount SLR lenses, with an adapter. However, that defies the purpose of the small camera, as the lens with adapter is quite big.

Panasonic GM1 with Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Mega O.I.S.


Finally, to be announced tomorrow, the Panasonic GM1 camera is an impressively small mirrorless camera. It is designed to be comparable to an enthusiast compact camera in size, like the Panasonic LX7, while of course retaining the Micro Four Thirds lens mount. It will be the smallest Micro Four Thirds camera so far.



I would have liked to see a molded grip on the front of the camera body. That would make it easier to hold, I think. There is an optional accessory grip, though, which screws into the tripod mount, and adds a vertical aluminium grip on the front below the Lumix logo.

The camera comes in a kit with a new lens, the Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Mega O.I.S. The lens is similar in size to the Lumix G 14mm f/2.5, and is of the collapsible type. For the lens to be usable, you need to extend it by rotating the zoom lens from the closed position to 12mm.

From my point of view, the lens is the most interesting from the kit. There is a need for a compact, very wide angle lens, in my opinion.

So far, we have the Olympus 12mm f/2, which is fairly compact, but expensive. The Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 has a small diameter, but is very long. And while the Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8 is a fantastic lens, it is also large and expensive.

Perhaps the Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 is finally the compact wide angle lens I have been waiting for.

At the same time, they also announced a Leica co-branded Lumix 15mm f/1.7:



The lens is probably going to be priced similarly to the Lumix Leica 25mm f/1.4. The new 15mm lens is the first Micro Four Thirds lens to feature an aperture ring. Of course, the aperture ring doesn't control the aperture mechanically. The aperture is still controlled electronically, like most other lenses. So the ring simply communicates the preferred aperture to the camera, which can set the lens aperture electronically through the mount.

Summary


Here is a summary of some of the premium mirrorless cameras available today:

CameraCrop factorTilt LCDEVFIBISPDAFFlashCompactFocus peakingPrice
Lumix GX72xYesYesYesNoYesYesYes$900
Olympus E-M52xYesYesYesNoNoMediumNo$900
Olympus E-M12xYesYesYesYesNoMediumYes$1400
Olympus E-P52xYesOptionalYesNoYesYesYes$950
Lumix GH32xYesYesNoNoYesNoNo$1100
Lumix G62xYesYesNoNoYesMediumYes$750
Sony NEX-61.5xYesYesNoYesYesYesYes$650
Sony A71xYesYesNoYesYesNoYes$1700
Sony A7R1xYesYesNoNoYesNoYes$2300
Fujifilm X-Pro11.5xNoYesNoYesNoNoYes$1200
Fujifilm X-E11.5xNoYesNoNoYesYesYes$800
Fujifilm X-E21.5xNoYesNoYesYesYesYes$1000
Canon EOS M1.6xNoNoNoNoNoYesNo$300
Nikon 1 V22.7xNoYesNoYesYesYesNo$800

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