No more reason left for buying an APS-C DSLR?

A few years ago, the main reason to buy and use DSLR where mainly the following:

Better images quality

Optical view finder
Great control of the depth of field (thanks to bigger sensor and faster lenses)
Better controls and ergonomics
Faster AF and many images per second
Access to a full photographic system of lenses, flashes and other accessories

Nowadays, thanks to enhanced sensors, mirrorless cameras, miniaturization, specialized cameras for every kind of photographers, most of these reasons have become less and less true. Of course it still makes sense for some professional photographers, of course I and many amateurs still prefer shooting with a DSLR but as a matter of fact, I like to say the main reason to still go for such a camera is: “I don’t want to compromise”. “I accept to pay a lot, to carry a heavy bunch of gear, to have several bodies and many lenses and accessories, because I will also accept to spend hours on post processes of my images. All I want is the best gear available to let me have the pictures like I want to”.

comparison full frame APS CThis means an  APS-C sized sensor (DX for Nikon) DSLR does not make sense any longer but for those who never tried beforeap one (like a Nikon D3200 which costs less, by far, than a mirrorless whereas able to make really excellent images). Frankly – I own a Nikon D7000, I don’t see the point having nowadays a DX DSLR when you are an “experienced” photographer. Full frame (FX for Nikon) cameras are becoming really affordable and are somewhere, the only consistent option for a DSLR given the present competition of great mirrorless cameras and excellent compact cameras. Back to before 2000, at this time, only such cameras existed!

It does not mean the manufacturers will stop developing lenses for DX, nor will stop releasing new cameras (Nikon refreshed its D7000 recently by the D7100), I just don’t recommend investing into a DX DSLR system. If you have one – like me – you can still use it a secondary system, or because it still works very well but the DX time, basically, sounds to be over to me. Buy FX DSLR cameras if you want no compromise, and middle format should you be able to afford it. Again, if you are on budget, a DX DSLR could be your first DSLR, but it will just be “temporary”. And don’t forget mirrorless, compacts and smartphone as complementary but “mandatory” cameras.

Nowadays, it does not really make sense to own just one camera. And certainly not a DX DSLR!

Further reading:
Why DX has no future
Full frame war
Full frame goes mainstream

Advertisements

The missing compacts

I am positively impressed by the quality and the numbers of new products released in 2012, and the compact cameras are becoming even much better. However, I am still missing a few ones:

The wide-angle compact

There are not really any small compact 16-35 mm (Eq. Full-frame), which is very sad because that would be a great zoom for a tiny and fully manual camera. A small sensor – I mean smaller than mirrorless or DSLR, would mean a bigger depth of field which is often even something you may look for such a length. Of course, it should be fast enough to let you both shooting action / low light pictures and play – at least a little bit – with the depth of field. It should be in the range 200 g / Canon S100 size and weight.

Why it is still missing: building a compact wide-angle and retractable zoom is not trivial. And it is not flexible enough for the mainstream. Too bad, this one would rock. I would have it always with me…

The RAW/manual underwater camera

Whereas you will find over half a dozen of outdoors cameras, none can shoot RAW – so far – and their controls are really those of basic point and shoot. If you want those features, you have to buy an expensive high end compact camera, and an underwater case also very expensive, which makes you camera not compact any longer by the way!

Why it is still missing: I see no reason. Just a missed opportunity which should end soon, hopefully.

Hybrid VF for a small compact

Whereas you may find terrific view finders (VF) on mirrorless / big compact cameras (Fuji X100, Fuji X-Pro 1, Sony NEX-7), there are no small compact with VF and the big compacts which have some (Fuji X-10, G-1X) have very basic ones. We need a small compact with a great VF!

Why it is still missing: it is obviously a technical challenge but I mean, what Sony did with the NEX-7 proves it is not infeasible… At this time, it looked impossible to have such a big sensor and a VF into such a small body. The other reason: cameras manufacturers have obviously a stupid problem with VF and try to avoid them as soon as possible. They may add a lot to the total costs whereas many photographers can’t care less about them. But we need this model…

Conclusion

The market looks still very conservative. There is room for niche markets. The manufacturer able to make money on them, would proves its dedication to photography and will make his brand much stronger.

And you, what kind of compact cameras do you miss?

My 2 cents about the recent best compact cameras

You want a small camera but you know what you are doing and demand the best: great image quality, great controls, total management of ISO/aperture/speed. The cameras makers like you, no doubt we are a kind of cash cow for them. New cameras are released every quarter and you have the choice: Fuji X-10, Canon S100, Canon G1-X, Sony RX100, Samsung EX2F, Panasonic LX-7  and I am sure I may miss one or two more.

The Fuji and the Samsung are quite stable when it comes to the zoom aperture, from f/1.4 to f/2.8. But for the others, it is highly variable. From a f/1.8 or f/2.8 to f/4.9 if not f/5.9. I understand why, but it does not make sense to me: like many enthusiasts or Pro,I am not used shooting with lens over f/4 if not f/2.8 or even f/1.4 and between f/1.4 and f/5.9 there are over 3 EV (three stops), which is really a lot. That’s the price for a bigger sensor. it may be a marketing clue, but for a photographer, it is more than an issue, it is a non sense. The Fuji and the Samsung look to me far more consistent. I prefer to sacrifice a little bit of image quality which is nowadays outstanding by the way with so many sensors, than using aperture I am not used to in terms of EV and depth of field, and which ruins the advantage of a bigger sensor (disclaimer: I have a Canon S100, a great little jewel, but with a stupid zoom at f/5.9 to its maximum).

The Fuji X-10 is actually a compromise to the X-1 Pro: not really pocketable, a great camera not so small and with some true limitations (an OVF better than many, but not sufficient either). The G1-X is too big too. It seems to be a compromise to Canon new mirrorless cameras.

About Controls

Controls are usually OK but not terrific. they are rarely if never 3 dials for the 3 main controls (ISO, aperture, speed) and the body’s controls are hardly customizable, whereas there are no two skilled photographers having the same controls requirements. Cameras makers still think too much “product” whereas they should think “plateform” for any high end camera, compact or DSLR or mirrorless.

Surprisingly, most of the bloggers and journalists insist on the image quality rather than the consistency of the body to a given user’s profile and don’t focus well at how critical the controls can be in a shooting. Either because they are too much geeks, or because that’s their readers which are too much geeks. But I may say they could educate us better!

The Panasonic LX-7 seems to be an exception: a missed oppotunity. They really worked well at improving the controls, but the job look unfinished to me. No flip-out display, a somewhat chunky camera, tiny and not customizable buttons, only 2 dials, and one does not seem to be customizable. Panasonic LX has failed so far to bring outstanding controls on their great bodies, they seem to confirm, sadly, this tradition.

The bottom line

High end compact cameras are great as a second camera for skilled DSLR owners. They cannot compete for lenses’ focal above typically 75-80 mm (FX equivalent), which is the minimum for a portrait focal but should not opened above f/2.8 too. I have owned compacts starting at 28 mm or 24 mm and believe me the 4 mm are a real difference. Such cameras should always start at 24 mm (FX equivalent). Controls are paramount and should include 3 dials customizable + typically at least 2 Fn buttons also customizable. They should be truly pocketable (e.g. like the S100) and it is OK if they can shoot only at say 800 ISO JPG / 1600 RAW, I mean it is not their primary role to excel at very high iso, as long as they are still good within this range. A flip-out display is a must, that’s a clear requirement. There are much more requirements but they are usually fulfilled yet. The Samsung EX2F looks to me to be the best match so far. Let’s see what the tests will say… and whether or not the public will agree with me! If so, the (stupid) race for “the bigger sensor in the smaller body and too bad if the zoom is at f/5.9” will at last be over.

Updated in October 2012: unfortunately, the ring around the lens is just ergonomic, and not a control ring like in the Canon S100 and the Sony DSC RX100. The handling appears to be not so good too. So I can’t find any winner! Canon S100/110 is really great but suffers from a stupid f/5.9 telezoon. Same issue for the bigger and better Sony DSC RX100. Both don’t have the great flip-out display of the Samsung.

I am certainly not a Samsung fan boy, but again this company understands what a user case means and seems to focus more at that than either Sony who believe still in marketing gadgets, or Nikon and Canon, my preferred brands, who look so obsolete so often or at least not capable to sacrifice their cash cow for a long term vision.

I don’t mind the performances, controls suck

New DSLR, new mirrorless, new high end compact, new point and shoot, new smartphone. Every week will start with some good news with photographer. Sensors’ capabilities are now outstanding in low light, in high contrasts for landscapes, and for depth of colours for portraits. Other cameras’ performances are also always improving in terms of Autofocus, how fast the camera will shoot, and much more.

This does not matter so much to me

Cameras’ manufacturers are following the herd, that’s a marketing law. We, users, are supposed to be mostly early adopters and geeks. But we are not that much, we may even be deceit by this character. We are just photographer. Performances are right now really impressive, I will always need better ones, but that’s not the point. Manufacturers have forgotten the basics.

Three dials or nothing

It looks so trivial to me, I just don’t know why I am writing this: photography is first and foremost about f/, speed and ISO. That’s it. Shoot RAW if you don’t want to bother with anything less, and shoot JPG and take care of WB (White balance), DR (Dynamic range) and so on. But photography is mostly about these three parameters. Why can’t we change them so easily? Why these damned menus? (I know the answer…). When you are using programs, Av or Tv (Aperture / Speed priority), you still need the 3rd dial for correcting exposure. When you have shot a few times, let’s say a few dozens of thousands, more or less, sometimes much much less, you know the bias of your exposure, you also still need the ISO choice and the variable parameter. 3 dials or nothing. Period. How many cameras comply with this basics? Not so many.

Much more complex ?

But it is not that simple. There is also the AF mode, the WB, and much more. You will find hardly photographers shooting the same way. However, most of the cameras are still mostly products, not what I am calling photo platform with heavy customization capabilities. That’s a real pain because we are not the same, and we need to customize our control. We need customized display on buttons to remember what they are used for, we need much more “custom modes” (u1, u2 modes or C or whatever the name), we need to get control. Some manufactures are masquerading the past years, like Fuji, in a rather sensible way, what has been done before, which was not that stupid but which is already just obsolete. It was indeed stupid to remove the f/ control from directly the lens. Some are saying it was a way to build cheaper lens, but photography is not a cheap hobby, so that’s a wrong answer. However, I am very rarely impressed by controls efficiency of new cameras.

Few innovations, at the end of the day or too much to forget the basics?

There is obviously some common belief. New high end cameras are a plebiscite, mostly because of old fashioned controls and incredible performances. But it does not matter. I want a bigger view finder, I want my three dials back, I want great lenses, I want my customised controls. Nothing else really matter – at least that would not be missed.

Which camera manufacturer will not listen to the usual suspects, and will focus at what photographers really need? This blog might sound arrogant, fair enough, give me my three dials back (like in the Sony NEX-7 but for DSLR please), give me my great lenses back (not like the NEX-7!). Don’t forget my AF controls, my custom modes, my customized buttons, not just one or two, but all of them somewhere, don’t charge me 40% more for getting a bigger sensor I don’t need or a new lens line which bring nothing but a higher price and I will again accept that I am just an arrogant blogger.

Light field camera, a bright future or a dead-end?

Light field camera has moved from a technical concept to a mass consumer product recently. Basically, the concept is allowing you to focus after shooting, and theoretically to manage your depth of field (DOF) as you wish, so pretty much one can consider as a real innovation. DOF’s management has always been a real challenge for many photographer.

I don’t have much more to say about the product itself, DP Review published as usual a very exhaustive test and critic. No, my main question is more about the potential of the technology.

Don’t underestimate the existing sensors

Despite all the existing limits, I am still convinced it can really bring something unique. However, it has to overcome two main constraints: size and resolution. Compact cameras are so tiny that they are now embedded into smartphone, the clear future of casual shooters, and a must have for any photographer. On the other end, the performances of high end DSLR is more and more amazing, sensors are doing more than pushing the limits, they are just incredible if you think about what was possible only a few years ago. For both size and performances, I see no reason to stop the improvements. The  light field cameras look to me very chunky and their performances are yet pathetic, without saying using them is not as easy despite some real attempts to create an easy to use camera.

Don’t misunderstand people real motivation as casual shooters

Huge DOF with a small sensor camera at f/8

Casual shooters want to have everything focused, they don’t care and don’t understand DOF. Tiny sensors are very much capable doing that, and will be more and more capable into the future. When they performances will improve, they will operate more and more at bigger f/ numbers, with a greater DOF. I know they are limited by diffraction though, but the potential looks real to me. Indeed, even with resolution getting worse with high f/, it is still so far ahead compare with light field camera, at least for the time being. I know it may change, or not as both technologies are moving forward.

Creativity has nothing to do with managing DOF

Again, if you want an almost infinite DOF, you should use tiny sensors, they are still much better and smaller and cheaper. If you want to refocus after the shooting, and are an experienced photographer, where is the point? I am asking myself the question, so I am taking usually a couple of shots focused at different subjects. Shooting one more picture cost nothing nowadays, thanks to the digital photography. And for the photojournalism / action shooters: again, tiny sensors look to me much more capable to deliver what they are looking for.

The future is not what you expect

That said, they are much more potential application for this technology, and entrepreneur may be able to transform their new toy into an useful tool. So yes, there is hope! But it is still quite fuzzy to say the less.

The final word

I am an engineer myself, so I know the two constraints (size and resolution, if not a third one: low light capability) can be much improved, but frankly, the gap is immense and whereas it would be interesting to follow the technology’s improvements, it is unlikely this technology may overcome the classic sensors before long. Like many innovations, it may be just too soon or may never really solve any issue. I am just believing the innovation will come from another angle, the existing motto looks to me unable to solve the problems they are listing. Time will say whether I am wrong or not…

Further reading: apart from the excellent DP Review, this article is just a jewel about light field cameras.

An off-beat apology of small sensors

Every month, a new camera is released and their is a real inflation of bigger and bigger sensors: mirrorless sensors at APS-C’s size are now more or less the norm whereas it used to be the micro 4/3 a few years ago. The rumour says a new Nikon D600 low cost full frame will be released in 2012. Sony released a competitor of the Canon S100 (expert compact camera very small) with of course a bigger sensor. Canon refused to release like the others a mirrorless, just to release a bigger new G compact camera, the G1-X.

It is a well known fact, the bigger the sensor, the better the quality. A better quality for either portrait photography (Colour depth), landscapes or actions shots (read DxO Mark for more information). So it seems to be a no brainer: take the bigger sensor available and shoot. That’s cannot be more simple no? Actually, that’s not so black and white. Let me be more specific:

Don’t follow the herd

First, one should notice that when the sensors’ sizes are inflating, so are prices too (Canon G1-X and Sony new camera DSC-RX100 are much more expensive than Canon G12, the precedent G camera and Canon S100, the most obvious Sony competitor).

Even more important, small body does not go so well with bigger sensor even if some manufacturers did miracles (Sony and the NEX cameras, Sony again with the DSC-RX100, and Canon with the G1-X). Conversely, some mirrorless with small sensor (Nikon 1) can be chunky compare with other cameras with bigger sensors. But I mean, if you want to make it small and light, small sensors have more potential.

More important, the depth of field (DOF) is always much significant with small sensors, it is actually quite dramatic. For many photographers, that’s a pain because many, like me, like to play with the shallow DOF. But in many occasions, a great DOF can make some of your pictures really better. Some photographers can make excellent pictures with small sensors, taking advantage of their huge DOF.

I have already explained why small sensors can suffice in many occasions. Nowadays, small sensors are so good in normal light conditions, you many not need a bigger one. AF speed, controls ergonomics, view finder are still often a pain, but that’s not a sensor’s size issue.

The final word: controls and ergonomics suck, not sensors

Don’t be a pigeon, don’t pay too much for something you don’t need. More important, take advantage of small sensors specificities. Learn the limits of your camera, and you will know which one you really need. It may be one expensive with a bigger sensor, or not, but as usual, don’t believe the marketing guy.

I may recommend manufacturers to rather focus at controls ergonomics which most of the time really suck. We don’t need bigger sensors with more pixels, we need cameras easy to use with direct access to the main controls we need so that we may focus on taking picture rather that “where is the damned option” or “How do I change this”. The issue is not trivial, and manufacturers are very conservative when it comes to ergonomics. I am no Apple fan boy, but who will be the Steve Jobs of cameras?

Some thoughts about the future of DSLR and cameras market

Two critical shifts

The two main shifts of this industry look to me so clear I have no doubt the DSLR market will evolve significantly soon, and actually may have already started to: smartphones & mobile device are making many point & shoot cameras obsolete, if not many entry level DSLR. Not because they can challenge them in terms of image quality or performances & controls, but because they are proposing something unique: having always with oneself a camera, and sharing the pictures so easily, two things the other cameras can’t do.

Simultaneously, the mirrorless products are invading the markets and are a fast growing market. Not only they are smaller and as good as DSLR, but they are so innovative that many will continue adopting them. They are not only refreshing the market, they actually fit better with many photographers specification. DSLR was not for many want they really wanted, but only a way to take better pictures, or hoping taking better pictures. Both the reality and the dream now belong to mirrorless. DSLR just mean “being a Pro” or “living his passion whatever the price and the weigh”.

Why DSLR (and Point and Shoot) will continue to exist

However, writing articles about “why smartphones have killed the other cameras” or “DSLR is dead” look irrelevant but to attract readers to the journalist’s stuff.  High end Point and Shoot are very promising, but need to adapt their publishing services and DSLR are certainly not dead. They indeed propose something unique too, unchallenged so far by both smartphones and mirrorless: an optical view finder. As it exists so far only one full frame mirrorless (awfully expensive and quite specialized, the Leica M9), the full frame DSLR also propose bigger sensor, a must for shallow depth of field. DSLR have other advantages but I am not sure they will last (performances are now similar most of the time, if not overcome for some features by mirrorless, and low light advantages of big sensors are becoming less important as the other sensors are becoming so good).

Shallow depth of field and optical sensor can make your photo experience unique. So as long as the other cameras won’t challenge them for these two things, DSLR will resist for the long term. For the short term, Pro and wealthy amateurs will continue buying DSLR for many other reasons.

Long term future

However, the two main advantages of DSLR may not last forever. Nothing prevent manufacturers to release full frame mirrorless. And it would be dangerous to believe EVF (Electronic view finder) won’t be able to challenge if not becoming better than OVF (optical viewfinder) eventually. Or rangerfinder-like camera (dominated so far by Fuji) combining altogether OVF and EVF features are just proposing the best of two worlds. It looks however unlikely to convince many demanding photographers as the rangerfinder ergonomics certainly not fit everyone requirements.

What does it means for us

Unless you are investing for the long term in photography – either as a Pro or a serious amateur, I don’t really see the point for newbies to invest in DSLR. For those who must for their job or want for their passion, DX DSLR look uninteresting but for a pricing motivation, which unfortunately, overcomes everything else as usual. Therefore, concept like the rumoured new Nikon D600 looks great, as it will allow to make a kind of bridge between the “entry-level” DSLR world, and the real one (Full frame bodies), by working easily with both systems. That’s why I believe DSLR DX is dead but for entry-level, or rather should die as I find it not very attractive nowadays. OMHO, it would make more sense “learning” photography with mirrorless or high end Point and Shoot and invest in full frame bodies later, but whenever possible. By the way, the price of some excellent full frame cameras is rather going down, so this is not an option now impossible to consider for many people.

The final words

My bet:

Smartphones will become better and better cameras, introducing zooming, low light enable sensors, and better autofocus to replace definitively most of the point and shoot. This market will not disappear, but will get specialized (megazoom, waterproof, fully customizable& RAW capabilities, …).

Mirrorless will continue to destroy the entry level DSLR market, too bad for Nikon and Canon who have preferred milking the cow rather than surfing the wave, and some mirrorless will become excellent second body for those who will continue to love the full frame DSLR, or other medium format cameras.

And you, what do you think?

A Mirrorless overview for dummies

You want to follow the herd, you need – with some excellent reasons – a mirrorless. Well, actually there are so many options, I felt it was important to over simplify the landscape just to explain it with simple words. I don’t claim having right, I am just giving my basic opinion about main mirrorless cameras. So let’s start the show:

Olympus OM-D E-M5: an ugly name for a great body and a very mature system. If you don’t understand anything to the mirrorless’s mess, just buy this one. It is great.

Sony NEX-7: the best body. Best quality image, best controls, great look. Too bad, the lens systems sucks. Forget it until Sony will propose lenses good enough for such a jewel.

Sony NEX-5N: a great body too, but the lens systems still sucks, like for the NEX-7, that’s the same system.

Nikon V1 or J1: like a point and shoot, but bigger and more expensive. Great Autofocus, great video. Perfect for your kids, what most photographers like to shoot at. Controls sucks if you want something else than a fully auto mode.

Canon G1-X: that’s a compact masquerading the quality image of a mirrorless. Canon sucks trying to avoid cannibalization of its DSLR sales.

Fuji X-Pro1: a great body, my preferred one actually with Sony NEX-7. Great lenses but my preferred focals are missing (35 mm equivalent FX and ultra-wide angle). Too soon unless you like a 50 mm (equivalent FX) and are pleased with a non ultra wide-angle. The 3rd lens (90 mm equivalent FX macro) is great however. If you don’t like fixed focal, this is not a body for you, not just right now.

Leica M9: the price sucks, And not only the price. The body is really outmoded in many ways by newcomers. Leica still believes that “with great strengths come great weaknesses”. They should buy a DVD of Spiderman, they misundertood the quote.

Samsung 3 bodies NX1000, 210, 20: they are OK. Like Raymond Poulidor, they are never the best but always close to the best. Which makes me believe they suck too because there is always a better choice. Only their publishing services really rock.

Panasonic with bodies DMC-GF5, GX1, G3, GH2: failed to have the best bodies, but all are good (GH2 outmoded and to be replaced by a likely to be great body GH3). The lenses system is the best, but expensive. Buy a Panasonic body if you need several great lenses. High end bodies and lenses threatened by Fuji X-Pro1 system.

Pentax Q: the smallest sensor. Like a point and shoot but much more expensive. Funny if you have an unlimited budget or if you work as a secret service agent with the need of a tiny versatile camera. Not convinced yet, the lens system must improve to justify the costs and to explain why not buy rather a Canon S100 or a bigger mirrorless.

Pentax K-01: too bad its main strength seems to be its look. Not a bad body though, but not the best. A good choice if you like nice cameras, not my choice however. I like to take picture, not to attract attention. Cameras are not sun glasses.

There are a few other bodies (Other Olympus bodies but OM-D E-M5 have outmoded sensors but are still good cameras, Sony NEX-C3 is a good entry level mirrorless, but too big for a beginner omho), not my best choices.

My advice: read more in details reviews of these cameras, and if like many people you don’t have so much time, focus at your preferred choice.

Mirrorless cameras: are Nikon and Canon too greedy?

We, photographers, don’t care about profits and shareholders objectives. We want better cameras. We do understand that is make sense for a company to improve its financial results. But too often, the self-proclaimed leaders can become somewhat arrogant and are forgetting the “golden rule”: make good products for your clients, and they are no cash cows. The objective is not, at least not the prime objective, to make money. It is to be better than the competition, to innovate and to produce over-the-top quality products. Thanks to that, a company will be able not only to make money, but to literally print money! It is simple, but it is not easy. That’s basically Apple’s philosophy, it’s no secret – and I am not an Apple fanboy!

When they released Nikon J1 and V1, I understood Nikon main objective was to prevent any phagocytosis of their entry-level DSLR by their mirrorless new cameras. They obviously broke the golden rule… Not that the cameras are not good – I mean they are great and quite unique point-and-shoot high end cameras – but, because that was not what the Nikon’s fan were waiting for.

Similarly, Canon preferred to release a new high end compact – the G1 X instead of some mirrorless, again, I assume, to protect its entry-level DSLR. And they are charging us much more for a somewhat not so innovating camera.

Now Nikon seem to continue its blindness rationale. I am quoting Nikon’s executive from the (excellent) techradar: “we want pros to be buying our DSLRs“, and don’t seem to be so keen avoiding the competition of high-end mirrorless cameras like the great Fuji X Pro 1. They may release an enthusiast/pro mirrorless in the future, or maybe not… to protect their revenues. Am I dreaming?

I have been a fan of Nikon and Canon, and have owned cameras from both manufacturers for years but come on guys, you can be better than that: come back to the basics, please. We will decide which cameras we want to buy, and so far I just know I will buy a mirrorless camera from your competition. Too bad, but one should never broke the golden rule. Client’s first, not profits.