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

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Digital photography in 2013: what can come out from the end of a revolution

The digital revolution may have began around 1999 or 2000 with the first real DSLR of Nikon and Canon. Almost 15 years later, evolution will continue, every quarter great cameras, software, or new web services are released, but I am more and more believing it is the end of the digital revolution. And that’s good news for photography because we may be able to focus again at what really matters: the picture, not the technology.

Ubiquity

Cheap point and shoot cameras and smartphones are making everyone a photographer. Modern sensors and skilled engineers allow everyone to take very decent shots, should they have no knowledge of photography. Digital filters and photosharing make the pictures looking even better and available right away for those who matters to everyone. Anonymous can become very famous thanks to Instagram, much more than many legendary photography. So what? That’s fine, just the consequences of the modern digital revolution. It is time to learn living with it.

Technology

We have learned HDR, digital filters, advanced post processing, and much more during the last years. We can now have a small camera with a x40 zoom for less than a fraction of the price of a whole set of lenses we used to need ten years ago. Or a mirrorless, or a tiny compact taking better pictures that DSLR a few years ago. We can store and share on line so easily nowadays. Much more will come, of course, and we will have to adapt. But I am wondering whether most of the breakthrough might not be behind us. And that’s also good news. Revolutions are exciting but they distract us, when they don’t exhaust us. A necessary evil, but still an evil.

Here above an example of how my pictures have evolved in 20 years while mountaineering! Is it better or worst? It does not matter, things have changed, and dramatically to say the least.

No revolution lasts forever

Mirrorless did not change anything to this revolution even if they are great cameras and improved the revenues of major vendors. I like to say they rang the bell: this is the end. We are entering a new era. Despite being a major innovation, it does not change so much the game. And I doubt that Lytro would bring anything significant too by the way.

Same for Google+ and Facebook recent photosharing improvements. Photosharing is becoming a commodity nowadays. It may be good for every one, but it won’t change the game.

The bottom line

We are getting bored with the revolution. We can now focus again at what really matters: taking pictures. We don’t have to spend weeks testing the new stuff, we have to spend weeks focusing at creativity, photography and what we want to show to the others. It’s no more about software and hardware, it’s about life and creativity.

Many photographers have never stopped working this way, fair enough, but I like to believe they were really lost in the turmoil of this revolution. The dust is settling done, so I want to see in 2013 the new raise of great photographers, not those showing HDR on Flickr, their meal on instagram, or selfie on Facebook but those who have something to say.

Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy – Franz Kafka

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.

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.

A genuine test of the underwater WP-DC43 Case for Camera Canon S100

I have bought the Canon S100 as a second camera (a Nikon DSLR is my main camera) and I like the idea to protect it to depths of up to 40m with the optional WP-DC43 waterproof case.

Indeed, whereas you can find a lot of underwater point-and-shoot cameras, none so far can shoot raw, and their sensors, even for the best (Panasonic DMC-TS4), are no match to the S100. Conversely, the cameras with better sensor usually propose underwater case at a price far higher, and are usually much bigger and heavier.

So the S100 + WP-DC43 looked to me like a nice compromise: not cheap but not too expensive for a full manual-raw camera with a great (small) sensor, a small and light body, and very capable of taking great pictures.

Whereas I have not yet dived with both, I have made my first tests, and I have been struggling finding online reviews from users. So these are my first impressions, which are, so far, the only genuine ones as far as I know:

I like: many details are making it “almost” professional: light diffuser for the flash (works quite well if you are not in macro mode and remember that the S100 flash is not exactly the best for its class), you can use a tripod. It’s easy to put the S100 inside the case and to remove it. The leash works quite well too. Last and of course not least: easy to handle, controls and buttons can be used with gloves, it’s really easy to use it in the case. It is even somewhere easier than without!

Issues: you cannot use any longer the rear wheel! You can still use the front one however. So basically, the S100 is not as seamless to use manually as without the case, but you can still have full control. It is an issue you can live with, but that’s a real one. Further more, there is no cap for the front window of the case, that’s really too bad. And there is no bag either for the case itself. One made in neoprene would have made sense. The light diffuser’s leash cannot be attached to the body without some additional small carabiner (not included of course). The buoyancy of the case and the camera altogether is really positive, you really need to add some weight to make it neutral. Of course it is written nowhere in the S100 mini-website (or show me where please), but you can purchase the weights (Canon WWDC1, image on the left), actually you really need them for diving.

Image quality for underwater pictures: remember, the S100 can shoot RAW, has some very nice low light capabilities and can open at f/2.0 at 24 mm, but cannot be synchronized with additional flash but the small one embedded. Please also note than the sensor is still quite small even if bigger than most of the point and shoot. Therefore, the depth of field is really significant, often too much. Conversely, in macro mode, that’s making the shooting straightforward compare with APS-C or FX sensors.

 
An extreme shot, close to some dangerous wildlife, WB auto, no flash, low light.

Conclusion: the S100 and its underwater case are not cheap, but they are a very decent option to take serious underwater pictures, for the fraction of the price of a DSLR and its 40 meters depth underwater case. However, they are issues and limitations, which could not be negligible for some, but which I believe to acceptable, even if regrettable for most of them.

Sorry, but instagram is no holy grail for photosharing

There is a common belief: smartphones will replace cameras and new photosharing websites are making the others obsolete. Since a few month, thanks to a skyrocketting growth, Instagram is the new kid on the block. I cannot disagree about some new trends and I will not say that photosharing is somewhere broken and must be fixed. But I don’t think things are so black and white. Some basic tests show that they can replace basic point & shoot ones, but certainly not more advanced bodies and lenses. Simultaneously, photosharing appears to be broken, and newbies can be very successfull. It does not mean the war is over. Instagram may be hype right now, and might be replaced by others players. I will more believe in the two following facts:

1. Cameras will be far better connected or, for some artists, you just don’t care

Some manufacturers are already or are going to improve soon dramatically the way you can process and publish your images, which is so far very old fashioned compare with smartphones. So in the (near) future, taking pictures with “real” cameras (DSLR, mirrorless, high end compacts) will mean publishing them the same way than smartphones do. Further more, some pictures need to be post processes, or some photographers want to post process them for their art, so for these people, the way cameras are working is just perfect and require no changes.

2. No holy grail so far for photosharing

There are actually more and more photosharing websites, and whereas some may or will disappear, many will stay alive and will specialize. You don’t need just one, you need many photosharing websites, depending on what you are looking for. And sorry, photography is not only for the masses. Many niches will develop, and that’s very good for art, and for the photography as a living art.

Conclusion

I am always a little bit annoyed by just hype and fashion. Life is rarely so black and white and there are no real “losers” or “winners”, even if some projects are really growing and others in dire straits. Most of the time, for such new trends and emerging technologies, it is more how you will get unique that matters, it is certainly not about raising money from Venture capitalists or being back-up by some famous people, even if it helps to get fame from bloggers or journalists.

As written by Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”.