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 next big tradeshow is Photokina on September 20-25th, and this is a probable venue for the announcement of the GH5.

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.