Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Canon 7D and 1D Mark IV: new 1D and 1D junior

TL;DR version: A long diatribe on how the latest Canon releases completely underwhelm in the face of competition, especially from Nikon.  The 7D is a decent upgrade that’s completely overrated simply due to marketing. The 1D Mark IV sounds nice and has the capability the 1D Mark III probably should’ve had – unfortunately its functionality has been completely eclipsed by Nikon’s D3(s) and even D700, which unlike the 1D’s 1.3x crop sensor, are able to pull double-duty as both heavy duty sports bodies and general purpose cameras.

Canon's 7D, which is essentially a 60D with fancy marketing and a higher price tag

Canon's 7D, which is essentially a 60D with fancy marketing and a higher price tag

It’s interesting to see how much an effect marketing has on the general photography consumer. Over the past few months, Canon has released a couple of moderate upgrades, one of which has been hailed as revolutionary and game-changing, and the other which was met with a big collective yawn and cries that Canon has fallen behind the cutting edge and is playing catch-up with Nikon. The biggest difference? One camera was given an incremental version number, and the other was given a new model number as the start of a different series. (more…)

Panasonic does Micro Four-Thirds right with the GF1

In what many see as the next big evolutionary step for digital cameras, Panasonic and Olympus made a bold move with their introduction of the Micro Four-Thirds system, an electronic viewfinder, interchangeable lens (so-called “EVIL”) system that eschewed the mirror assembly found in traditional SLR cameras and offering image preview via a live view feed only.

Aside from the numerous advantages associated purely with live view (and could technically be realized with a traditional DSLR – it’s just that forcing live view only is likely to spur much more rapid development), the one key advantage to Micro Four Thirds (and upcoming systems like it, such as Samsung’s NX system) is that the removal of the mirror assembly allows lenses to sit much closer to the image plane, making for much smaller camera bodies and lenses.

The first few of these cameras – the Panasonic G and GH1 – failed completely to live up to the small form factor potential – they were shaped much like traditional SLRs, albeit slightly smaller.

Panasonic GH1

The Panasonic GH1 - one of the first Micro Four Thirds cameras which didn't quite realize the potential of the formfactor

Next, Olympus released a Micro Four Thirds of its own: the E-P1 “Pen” which harked back to Olympus’ historical line of compact film cameras. Unlike the G1, the E-P1 actually began to approach what some would call “compact” – it was just 1.4in thick, though that’s not taking into account the attached lens.

Now Panasonic is jumping in on the bandwagon with their E-P1-esque GF1, which sports a slim compact-like body. The specs are nothing to get excited about, though it does have the a built-in flash that was notably missing from the E-P1. In a puzzling decision though, Panasonic decided not to implement any sensor-based image stabilization, relying on lens-based IS to counter camera shake. Unless they were denied a sensor IS license by Olympus (a possibility), I’d say this is a rather bone-headed decision, since any stabilized lenses will add weight unnecessarily (or in the case of pancake lenses that are pretty much made for this kind of camera, impossible to add in), defeating the entire purpose of Micro Four-Thirds.

The two kit lenses offered with the GF1 are a bit more appealing than the E-P1 package: a standard 14-45mm OIS kit lens and a 20mm f/1.7 pancake prime. The prime still isn’t quite there to portrait range and gets even further away from all-around wide angle utility than Oly’s 17mm f/2.8 pancake, but it does offer a much larger f/1.7 aperture.

A comparison of the new landscape in premium compacts:

Panasonic GF1 size comparison

Camera Size Focal range (equiv) Aperture (equiv)
Canon G10 4.3x3.1x1.8in 28-140mm f/13-21
Fujifilm F200EXR 3.8x2.3x0.9in 28-140mm f/14-22
Panasonic LX3 4.3x2.3x1.5in 24-60mm f/9.4-13
Sigma DP1 4.5x2.3x2.3in 28mm f/6.7
Sigma DP2 4.5x2.3x2.3in 42mm f/4.7
Olympus E-P1 w/ 17mm f/2.8 4.7x2.8x2.3in 34mm f/5.6
Olympus E-P1 w/ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 4.7x2.8x3.1in 28-84mm f/7-11
Panasonic GF1 w/ 20mm f/1.7 4.7x2.8x2.4in 40mm f/3.4
Panasonic GF1 w/ 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 OS 4.7x2.8x3.8in 28-90mm f/7-11

As expected, the added IS to the Panasonic kit lens makes it much larger (22.6% longer) than the E-P1 setup. Panasonic’s pancake, however, is about the same size as Oly’s 17mm and with its f/1.7 aperture is by far the best in terms of large aperture performance (35mm equivalent of f/3.4)

If you’re in the market for this kind of camera though, the most sensible thing seems to be taking the E-P1 to get yourself sensor-based IS, and combining that with Panny’s 17mm pancake prime. Though you will be losing out on the built-in flash, which is somewhat of a must-have for a camera like this (since again, needing to carry around a huge external flash defeats the size advantage).

Pentax K-x

Pentax K-x (space white)

Following up on their K-7, Pentax has now come up with an entry-level K-x. While it doesn’t bring anything groundbreaking that wasn’t already seen on the K-7, it packs in many of the features seen on many competitors’ midrange model, and perhaps pending reviews on image quality and disregarding the overall Pentax system upgrade options, is probably the best choice out there currently for the beginning photographer/student.

The big headline features:

  • 12.4MP CMOS (different from the K-7 14.6MP sensor, but interestingly also uses CMOS unlike all previous Pentaxes which used CCDs)
  • ISO up to 12.8k
  • Live-view with face-detect AF
  • 720p, 24fps video
  • 4.7fps continuous shooting
  • $650 MSRP with 18-55 kit lens (and likely to drop further once it gets off pre-order)
With the specs listed, this is a camera you’d expect in the high-hundreds, competing with the likes of Canon’s Rebel T1i or Nikon’s D5000/D90, yet it’s got a price closer to that of the entry-level Rebel XS or D3000.

A comparison:

Pentax K-x comparison

Camera Canon Rebel XS Nikon D3000 Pentax K-x Nikon D5000 Canon Rebel T1i
Sensor, crop 10MP, 1.6x 10MP, 1.5x 12MP, 1.5x 12MP, 1.5x 15MP, 1.6x
ISO range 100-1600 100-3200 100-12800 200-6400 100-12800
Live-view? Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Live view AF Yes None Yes, face-detect Yes, face-detect Yes, face-detect
Video None None 1280x720, 24fps 1280x720, 24fps 1920x1080, 20fps
AF 7pt, 1 cross-type 11pt, no cross 11pt, 9 cross-type 11pt, 1 cross-type 9pt, 1 cross-type
Continuous FPS 3fps jpg, 1.5fps raw 3fps 4.7fps 4fps 3.4fps
Image stabilization lens-based lens-based sensor-based lens-based lens-based
Size 127 x 97 x 61mm 127 x 97 x 64mm 122 x 91 x 69mm 127 x 104 x 79mm 130 x 97 x 61mm
Weight 450g 485g 516g 560g 480g
Price (with kit lens, Amazon) $499.95 $529.95 $649.95 $719.63 $781.89

In a comparison with the $500 entry-level cameras, the K-x blows them away in nearly aspect, and goes toe-to-toe or even exceeds the D5000 and Rebel T1i in every single category, despite being significantly cheaper (especially once the street price drops lower from MSRP)

Interestingly enough, the Pentax K-x will come in a variety of colors, including an ultra-spiffy red (below), the space white shown above, and your ordinary black.

Interestingly enough, Pentax Japan features a site where you can come up with your own custom color scheme, and apparently order it as well, which personally is an insanely appealing prospect.

Pentax K-x (red)

Pentax K-x custom design - design your own!

Pentax K-x custom design - design your own!

I think this is a ranking of custom designs that users have created

I think this is a ranking of custom designs that users have created

Pentax K-x press release

Past three months in camera news: Nikon

Apologies to all for dropping the ball for the past three months – it’s been a whirlwind start to the semester here. Big, recent developments:

Nikon SLR Refresh

Nikon introduced a couple of new SLR updates, the updated D300s and D3s. The D300 is a pretty incremental upgrade to the mid-level D300, offering a modest +1fps improvement in continuous shooting (up to 7fps), and bringing the video capability that’s now standard on every new DSLR.

The bigger story came a few months later, in the form of the D3s. While still not a revolutionary introduction, it is much more than a software refresh. Among the features of note were a video mode (at 24fps!, albeit only at 1280×720 (720p) resolution), 11fps available in a higher-res crop mode (it now crops only 1.2x instead of 1.5x), and an increase in ISO range, up to ISO12.8k natively with a boost to ISO100k. The D3s presumably packs a different sensor, though it still maintains the same 12.1MP resolution.

People have been going goo-gah over the last spec in particular, especially given such a high linear number for ISO (and from here, it’s just four more stops til we get to ISO1.6 MILLION), though it’s really just +1 stop natively and +2 stop boost over the previous D3. And it’s important to note that the simple availability of an ISO capability says nothing about image quality at that level – that would be the same mistake as having the maximum shutter speed expanded from 30 seconds to a minute, and somehow thinking this magically makes photos at 1/500s less blurry. Given that the resolution (and thus pixel pitch) remained the exact same, I certainly wouldn’t expect quality to be any worse than the D3, and quite probably will be a tad better (although I have extreme doubts about the ISO100k mode, which is digitally boosted 3 stops; things have always looked terrible at just +2 stops digitally, even boosting ISO100+2 to 400.)

All in all, about as much as you could expect from Nikon, who seems to do very incremental updates and waits a long time to deliver big, revolutionary refreshes. Here’s hoping we see that D3s sensor in a D700s soon, though 1080p at 24fps would be nice (and completely feasible: 1920x1080x24fps = 49.8MP/s throughput, while we definitely know that the D700 supports 12.1MPx9fps = 108.9MP/s throughput in its continuous shooting mode).

Nikon D3s press release (I don’t know why they keep referring to it as “D3S”, past history and even the logo in the image clearly denote “D3s”)

The Nikon DS3, now with 720p video and ISO up to 12.8K/100K(boost)

The Nikon DS3, now with 720p video and ISO up to 12.8K/100K(boost)

Nikon also announced a couple of lens refreshes, with Version II’s of their popular 18-200mm VR ultrazoom and a long-awaited update to the 70-200 f/2.8 VR to optimize it for full-frame (FX) sensors. As Nikon had long trumpeted 1.5x crop DX sensors before their introduction of the full-frame D3 in 2007, they cut corners with their introduction of the 70-200 f/2.8 VR in 2003, building a lens that was technically full-frame but had an abysmal drop-off in performance once you actually got to the corners outside of a 1.5x imaging circle. This wasn’t found out until a bit after the D3 was released, finally giving digital photographers a platform to test the lens’ full frame performance, which resulted in tests like these:

The new 70-200 II promises to fix all of these problems with a new optical design and coatings, and promises to throw in a more effective “4-stop” VR system as well. There haven’t been too many authoritative tests yet to show how it performs (if you’ve found any, send me a link!), but presumably they should have no problem building such a lens – Canon has had two 70-200 2.8’s that’ve performed flawlessly on full-frame, and Nikon itself had a great 80-200 2.8 lens prior to the 70-200 VR I.

The one stickler? As if Nikon’s $2019 price on the original 70-200 I wasn’t enough, the 70-200 VR II will now set you back a cool $2400.

Nikon 18-200 II and 70-200 2.8 VR II press release

A real TZ-killer: Fujifilm’s F70EXR

Possibly the biggest announcement in the compact sector since the Panasonic TZ1 – Fujifilm finally puts together not just a compact ultrazoom but an ultracompact ultrazoom (0.9 in thin), and manages to fit in a half-inch SuperCCD sensor to boot.  If ever a camera came along with the potential to dethrone Panasonic’s vaunted TZ/ZS-series, this is it.

Have got a big night tonight – will update later, but for now you can munch on the details of the press release and Imaging Resource’s short overview/analysis.

Olympus E-P1 – a size comparison

In a release that they’ve hyped for weeks now, Olympus finally pulled the covers off their first Micro Four-Thirds format camera, the E-P1.

Good product photography - sure looks dainty doesn't it?

Good product photography - sure looks dainty doesn't it?

For those of you not already in the know, Micro Four-Thirds is a new interchangeable lens system developed by Olympus and Panasonic which is the first mirror-less digital camera system to feature interchangeable lenses.  The removal of the mirror (and associated prism and optical viewfinder) and the exclusive usage of live view for image preview enables a drastic size reduction for both cameras and lenses, and as you can see here, the new Olympus E-P1 is tiny tiny tiny.

How tiny?  The exact specs on the E-P1 are 121 x 70 x 35mm (4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 in) and 335 g (11.8 oz) – body only, with no batteries – which firmly plants it in compact camera category.  Of course, you’ll need to attach a lens at some point before shooting, which will add some bulk, but as of now the E-P1 indisputably offers the most compact interchangeable lens solution.

The following is a run-down of things you might have already picked up from other news sources or blogs. The real interesting stuff is the size and equivalent aperture/focal length comparison, at Size Comparison.


At last: Canon 5D Mark II gets manual video controls

Canon announces a new firmware update which provides full exposure controls while recording video – HUGE news for DSLR video makers.

Canon newsletter announcing a firmware update providing manual controls

Canon newsletter announcing a firmware update providing manual controls. Surprisingly unstiff coming from Canon's marketing =P


Vincent Laforet’s 5D Mark II video “Reverie” reposted

As some of you might have noticed, Canon had to take down Vincent Laforet’s sample 5D Mark II video Reverie after an enormous amount of traffic.  Vincent’s recently reposted the video up, now hosted on SmugMug.  You can find the link here:

There’s also a behind-the-scenes video you can check out here:

Some comments on the video from a previous post:


With the recent announcements of the D90 and perhaps more prominently the 5D Mark II (since it actually has the features to make video usable… like AF and external mic jack), photography circles have been alight with excitement (and a fair amount of naysayer criticism) about video on SLRs.


It’s probably no secret where I stand on video capabilities for still cameras.  While we’ve seen only boring tripod-mounted sample videos so far, Canon’s just put out a short film, Reverie, made by Vincent Laforet:

Image quality is absolutely stunning, but I have to admit, the 30fps just kills me while I’m watching it – the level of immersion is just not the same.  The video world needs 24fps (or better yet, variable fps to any number!).  PLEASE.

Vincent Laforet 5D Mark II Video

With the recent announcements of the D90 and perhaps more prominently the 5D Mark II (since it actually has the features to make video usable… like AF and external mic jack), photography circles have been alight with excitement (and a fair amount of naysayer criticism) about video on SLRs.

It’s probably no secret where I stand on video capabilities for still cameras.  While we’ve seen only boring tripod-mounted sample videos so far, Canon’s just put out a short film, Reverie, made by Vincent Laforet:

Vincent’s blog post here:

Image quality is absolutely stunning, but I have to admit, the 30fps just kills me while I’m watching it – the level of immersion is just not the same.  The video world needs 24fps (or better yet, variable fps to any number!).  PLEASE.

UPDATE: The links above no longer work, but the video has been reposted.

Adobe CS4 – new Pshop (Photoshop) and Bridge!

Adobe's new Photoshop CS4

Adobe's new Photoshop CS4

Today is the day Adobe announces the new Creative Suite 4 (CS4), which comes with a whole slew of new Adobe products for everything from grahic design to layout management to video editing to flash animation.  For us photographers, the headline here is going to be new versions of Adobe Photoshop CS4 and an updated Adobe Bridge CS4.

A quick headline of particularly interesting (to me) new features in the new Photoshop (here’s Adobe’s pdf if you’d like to read through all the changes yourself):

  • “Adjustments panel” with nondestructive tools: One of the great things that Lightroom showed photographers was non-destructive adjustments – things like curves or saturation adjustments could be applied and undid later, and the adjustment settings could also be picked up and applied over on other images.  While this has been possible for awhile in Photoshop with adjustment layers, I know that I’ve simply opted to go for a direct curves or saturation adjustment most of the time because it’s so much quicker to access, so maybe this changes things.
  • “Vibrancy” adjustment: Users of Lightroom or even Adobe Camera Raw have probably seen this – vibrancy is simply a sort of saturation+local contrast enhancement tool.  Nothing that couldn’t be done before, but surely a tool that those who’ve never experimented with local contrast enhancement will be delighted with.
  • Photostiching tools: The new CS4 also features a “Photomerge” tool that promises to blend together multiple images into panoramas, complete with “vignetting and geometric distortion corrections”, as well as automatic detection of extreme fisheye distortion, apparently.  I haven’t been totally happy with current photo-stitching program, Autostitch, thus far, so maybe this is a real answer.
  • Content-aware scaling: Some of you may have seen this video of resizing algorithms known as “content-aware scaling” or “seam carving”. Rather than directly scaling an image (which will often distort the information) or cropping an image (which cuts out useful information), seam-carving looks for vertical or horizontal “seams” of least-important image data, and deletes these, resulting in a downsized image (or upsized, even) that preserves the detail and proportion in the most important image elements. While it’s not going to have much practical application in everyday photo-editing, there are certainly some useful applications, especially if you can apply seam weights to remove certain elements of the image. Content-aware resizing video:
  • Focus-bracketing autoblending: By far one of the coolest, exciting, most useful tools to be introduced in Photoshop.  Macro shooters are well aware of the limitations of depth of field – even stopped down to something absurdly small like f/32, depth of field can still be razor thin, depending on the magnification.  Focus blending works by blending together bracketed focus distnaces, combining the in-focus regions of each image to effectively generate an image with larger depth of field.  For example, if your depth of field only extends +/- 1 mm, you can take a shot at 10mm distance, 8mm distance, and 12mm distance, and get a depth of field range spanning 7-13mm rather than 9-11mm you’d get from the 10mm distance shot by itself.
  • Leveraging the GPU: Photoshop CS4 also promises to make use of the extra processing potential available in video card GPUs – potentially a boon when doing intensive tasks like scaling images, especially at scales that aren’t binary powers of 100% (50%, 25%, 12.5%, 6.25%).
  • Localized adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw 5: Adobe Camera Raw has been in many ways a groundbreaking new approach to image processing compared to the old, stale formula that Photoshop used to use (and still does, to an extent).  With its slew of sliders to apply filters on top of an image, rather than using filters to transform the actual data of an image, ACR provided non-destructive editing in a simple and quick interface (something that Adobe Lightroom also features).  The limitation that prevents ACR from almost completely replacing Photoshop for the most basic edits is a relative limitation in the fine-tuning of filters (ACR gives a single “fill light” slider, for example, while Photoshop offers a Shadows/Highlights tools with three paramters for amount, threshold, and radius) and the lack of localized edits (applying that curve adjustment to only a portion of the image, rather than the whole thing).  ACR5 promises to address the latter issue, at least, with a “paint tool” to designate areas where filters are to be applied, much like layer masks in Photoshop.
  • Tabbed image interface: The trend of tabbed interfaces has proliferated everywhere, although I’m not really convinced of its usefulness for something like an image editing application.  Tabs work great for browsers because you’ll want to open up other pages and perhaps switch back and forth quickly.  In my processing workflow, I’m usually opening up one image at a time, processing it, and closing it before moving to the next one.
  • 64-bit support!: Adobe is finally moving to 64-bit with CS4 (for Windows only – sorry Macfans).  Despite mainstream digital cameras now moving to 20+ MP and their increasing filesizes, most users probably won’t see huge dividends from the move to 64-bit, although you might if you’re processing large numbers of images at once or dealing with ginormous TIFFs or RAWs from the medium format megapixel monsters like the Phase One P65+.
  • Live-preview for healing brush and clone tool: thank goodness, one of the most annoying usability limitations of these tools for a long while (clone and healing tool basically copies in other pixels into an area whose pixels you want to replace.  Needless to say it’s been a pain doing this semi-blind).

The verdict?  As always Adobe introduces a bevy of appealing and honestly useful goodies.  The UI and performance improvements will have to be test-driven before anyone can make a real judgement, but the feature list of new tools is strong, if leaning a bit to the power-user side (how many average users would really use seam-carving or focus-blending tools on a regular basis, even if they’re fascinating pieces of technology?).

Despite all the new tools, I don’t see the possible of Photoshop workflow changing in any fundamental way (à la processing through Lightroom or ACR), which is a bit of a shame because I think the non-destructive and replicable adjustments offered in Lightroom are far better suited to the workflows of most photo processors – they just need some of the fine-tuning options and localized editing that Photoshop offers to make them complete.  But at this point, Photoshop’s workflow has been so deeply embedded into the habits of so many that I don’t think Adobe could fundamentally change Photoshop if they could, which is why you’ll increasingly see Photoshop development centered on graphic design and 3D imaging and animation, as with the Photoshop Extended version of the program.