Friday 31 July 2020

The Ever-Present Lure of Film

Lonely Vendor
Nikon FM10, Voigtlander Nokton 58mm f1.4 SLII, HP5+

Film continues to be an interest of mine. While I've pretty much stopped shooting it for the last few years, I'm always tempted to come back to it. I've dabbled enough over the last few years that I do still have a backlog of film to process.

There's a few reasons for this. 

First off, I like the cameras and process of shooting film. Manual, mechanical 35mm cameras in particular are just so very enjoyable to use. It's not surprising that I currently shoot the digital system that's closest to a classic Nikon film SLR in UI (Fuji that is, the X-T line is the closest thing ever done to a digital FM2n). I also like classic manual focus lenses. Unsurprising that the vast majority of my lenses even today are manual focus classics. They're just my bag.

Second I like the results. Film just looks good, we've been exposed to the look for so long that it's how we expect photographs to look. This is why Fuji's film simulations are so popular and why there's a big market for film mimicing presets and plugins for post-processing. This is especially true for B&W work, but of late we've seen a lot of attempts to mimic classic films like Kodachrome or Portra. Some of these were even successful (Fuji's Classic Chrome for example is clearly a Kodachrome simulation)

Third, I still do like the process, especially in the case of B&W. While I know find the workflow more problematic than I do for digital, the art of developing remains a meditative experience for me.

The odd thing is that I've never really liked shooting landscapes with film however I've always preferred film as a cityscape medium. That does explain a lot about my move away from shooting film as I've transitioned from primarily shooting Cityscape to primarily shooting Landscape & Nature. 

I really do need to get out and shoot some film. I also should really acquire a second Nikon body so I can load one with colour and one with B&W. I do find having only one body limiting in terms of film choice.

Thursday 30 July 2020

What Should Nikon Do?

The Milky Way
D750, Laowa 15mm f4 Macro

Nikon needs to get some movement with the Z system, here's what I think they should do.

1. Put a stake through Z DX. It's dead Jim, it's pining for the fjords. Serious crop shooters went Fuji, Olympus or maybe Sony and Nikon's current offerings won't pick up the folks now bailing out on Olympus. The consumer market is busy buying EF-M or maybe an A6100 if they even bother with a real camera instead of using their phone. Figure something out to apologize to the few Z50 buyers.

2. Get Viltrox, Tamron and Sigma releasing their lenses in Z mount. Whatever that costs Nikon, it will be worth it in the long run, especially if those lenses arrive in Z mount before R mount (and be sure they're already coming in R mount thanks to the R5/R6 announcement success)

3. Go wave some money at Kodak's remains and secure rights to the film names. Then come up with a set of Picture Controls that mimics those films and make them available for all cameras with Picture Control support (or at least the D750/D6x0 and consumer bodies, along with all Z's). Fuji's made a killing here and Kodak's far more legendary names are ripe for the picking now. 

4. Get even more aggressive on price with the Z5 ($1199 I think, with the 24-50 being a $100 add), and bring out a Z3 for $899. Start pushing consumer Z lenses now that the core f2.8 trinity is done.

5. Folks shoot DX because it's small and/or they like the reach it brings. For the former, small bodies combined with lenses like the 24-50 cover it. For the latter, Nikon needs some cheap and long lenses. A consumer 200-500/8 would work well here. Canon's F11 telephotos are their answer, Nikon needs its own answer. A small and cheap set of primes are also needed. 18 & 24 f2.8's, 35, 50 and 75 f2's. These need to be good performers, but not S level, and should sell between $150 and $400 USD. That fills the compact needs and the cheap needs, while still delivering solid performance. Fuji's Fujicron line is the pattern here, but without the fancy build that drives up the price. 

What should the Z3 be? A full frame Z50. Start with the Z50 body, stuff the Z5 sensor in it, delete all the ports except a USB-C PD port or two. Cameras have been suffering from port sprawl for years. The reality is that everything in terms of ports can be replaced by USB-C. Don't include a charger, the consumer will be happy charging from their phone/laptop charger. Do come out with a USB-C PD dual charger for the battery (same battery as Z50 of course) that's an available accessory (and actually on shelves at launch, unlike the Z6/Z7 battery grip)

This does need to be paired with a USB-C version of the remote release cable, but that's really it. By pairing this way, Nikon can support a larger selection of accessories while minimizing the hardware cost. USB-C can support HDMI output, audio in/out, power delivery, remote releases, external storage, tethering, etc. And thanks to being a USB variant, it can do all of those at once via hubs.

One thing that should definitely be supported is the ability to write to USB-C storage directly, with support for typical filesystems (FAT32, ExFAT, NTFS and whatever Mac OS is doing these days). More capability with less hardware is a win for everybody. The users get more camera and it costs Nikon less to deliver.

Where possible, any USB-C capability added should be given to all bodies in the line. 

No IBIS, but a cheap, small and slow 24-105 VR zoom for it. Make sure there's also a 70-300VR for Z users (that will sell to Z5 users and weight conscious higher-end users if it's as competent as the current 70-300 AF-P DX. It can also be slower at the long end to cut size/weight, f6.3 or f7.1 is viable). 

Next go pay somebody competent to write a new Android/iOS/Windows app for it and work with the firmware designers for the Z so that connectivity is seamless and sharing can be triggered from the camera (you want people able to post to Instagram or Facebook directly from the camera, via the phone). 

Users should also be able to configure the camera from the phone and create/trade Picture Controls loaded off SD or via the phone app. These capabilities should come to the other Z bodies as well, based on BT/Wifi connectivity. Heck, you should be able to trade Picture Controls in the field with another user, just leveraging the built-in sharing ability of the app (BT file transfer et al). the one mistake Fuji made is you can't share your custom Film Simulation beyond posting settings recipes in text form.

Wednesday 29 July 2020

Film Simulations on Your Nikon

Creek on 118
D750, Nikkor 20mm f2.8 AF

Fuji gets a LOT of love, and deservedly so for their Film Simulations, one of the signature features of the X and GFX camera lines.

Nikon on the other hand has delivered a more powerful capability starting with the D3 & D300, and left it largely ignored and poorly documented.

Fuji put a lot of time and effort into developing their Film Simulations, but there remains a lot of customization that Fuji users have done, and have traded recipes online. Sadly you can't simply export a recipe and share it with others, you can only document your settings.

Nikon on the other hand has stuck with a set of generic Picture Controls, their name for the various JPEG settings that you can pick when shooting Nikon. Far more poorly known is the fact that you can load anywhere from 3 to 9 custom Picture Controls onto your compatible Nikon camera, in addition to being able to edit the Picture Controls using the Nikon Picture Control Utility 2 app on your PC or Mac. And the camera can also edit and export Picture Controls.

There is at least one public repository of Picture Controls, along with an online editor at and this one included many similar options to the Fuji ones (Kodachrome 2 should match up with Classic Chrome). You can download from there and then import them on your camera directly by putting the files in a folder on the card called NIKON\CUSTOMPC\ or use the PCU2 app to manage them and write the ones selected to the card.

Why Nikon hasn't done anything more with this amazing feature, I don't know. It would be well worth them licensing some classic film names (I'm sure Kodak's remains would happily license their brands to Nikon for a reasonable cost).

The only downside is custom Picture Controls are only respected by Capture NX-D right now, and who wants to actually use that, so unlike Fuji's Film Simulations, they're less useful for the RAW shooter (although there may be some support coming in CaptureOne now that they have an official Nikon variant)

Sunday 26 July 2020

Random Thoughts on a Lazy Sunday

Highland Red
X-T2, XC 35mm f2

The above shot is from Highland Pond at the Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve. I do need to get up there and shoot some daylight shots on the hiking trails, as well as some night shots when the Milky Way is on the horizon (rather than in the middle of the sky). Really nice spot with some unique landscapes and should be fun when it's not over-run by comet watchers.

I've realized that I do shoot a lot more with the cheap little Neewer 25mm f1.8 than I do with the XC 35mm f2. It's sort of a pity, as I do love the XC35, but my tastes in an everyday lens have really shifted from a normal to a wide normal. I also do love the excellent close-focus performance of the Neewer 25mm, something unexpected for a <$100CDN lens and the one spot where it beats the pants off the XF 23mm f2 WR (great lens, except at MFD). The XC35 is a gem though, and I need to spend more time with it. 

One interesting aspect of the X-T2 is that the 24MP sensor has lost a fair bit of the X-Trans signature rendering that made the 16MP X-Trans bodies so controversial (it's really a love-hate thing, I'm a rarity in that I neither love nor hate that X-Trans look). This is largely a good thing from my perspective, as I always like the rendering from the bayer Fuji's better and the X-T2 renders closer to the X-A1 than the X-T1. 

The Nikon Z5 has got me looking seriously at where I'm going kit wise. The reality is that if Nikon had released the Z5 last year, I likely wouldn't be shooting Fuji right now. The Z5 is the Z body that hits all my needs, and it's shortcomings (speed mostly) are irrelevant to a guys who lives in manual focus and 3fps Cl or single-shot advance 95% of the time. However with the X-T2 in my kit now, the Z5 doesn't really bring much to the table for me beyond being a potential replacement for the D750 at some point. My D750 is quite high mileage (250k shots) and likely not economic to repair if the shutter fails. I just can't justify the spend on a Z5 as just a body for adapting my legacy Nikkors, especially not when I could just buy another A7II for half the money and I already have the adapters for the A7II (and it has better lens selection anyways). The one downside for the Z5 is for a photographer like me, all it brings for the cost difference from an A7II is a smaller and better kit lens and some ergonomic improvements. 

The thing is that all my UWA options are on the D750 right now. For wider than 23mm-e right now my only options are the Laowa 15mm and my Nikkor 20mm AF on the D750, as those become 23mm-e and 30mm-e on the Fuji's and D300. So the D750 remains a key piece of kit for me for landscape work until I can get some ultra-wide options on the Fuji side. It's also the best AF telephoto setup I have for ad-hoc wildlife shooting when hiking when paired with the 70-300D. Not the perfect setup, but it gets the job done.

What that means for the most part is that I need to concentrate on getting UWA options for the Fuji. The obvious one is to get the 7Artisans 12mm f2.8 ASAP, that's already on my list for the Cheap Lenses on Fuji series I've been posting, but I'd intended to get it after I wrapped the mild tele posts with the 7Artisans 55/1.4 and 60/2.8 macro. I'll be swapping that and getting those afterwards. Long-term there will be a Laowa 9mm f2.8 for sure, and probably a Fuji 10-24 eventually. 

I also need to get an AF telephoto zoom for the Fuji's. I'd always intended to get both the XC 50-230 (to pair with an XC 16-50 to have a 2 lens loaner kit based around my X-E2) and the 55-200 with the latter being the second lens in a 2 lens hiking kit paired with the 10-24. I think I'll have to accelerate that as well.

Friday 24 July 2020

Shooting in the Dark with the D750 and X-T2

South on York
D750, Laowa 15mm f4 Macro

I headed up to the Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve last night to shoot comet NEOWISE with a good friend of mine.

Not having any real experience with astrophotography, I pretty much filled two camera bags and hauled everything (seriously, I carried lenses I never bother with normally, like my 300/4.5 AI'd and my 50-135/3.5 AI-S. 4 lenses stayed home, and entirely because they were duplicated in my kit for each body already). That was too much kit. I used 2 lenses on the X-T2 and 4 on the D750. I swapped more on the D750 largely because the X-T2 was doing all the really long exposures (a few 8 minute ones and one 15 minute)

Some takeways

1. Nikon's long-exposure stupidity is really annoying. Nikon basically breaks all AE modes by disabling the metering readout switch once the EV gets low enough (but the camera will still do AE). Plus your longest timed shutter speed on the D750 is 30 seconds (the D780 and the Z's do fix the last bit) The X-T2 has timed shutter speeds out to 15 minutes accessible via the T setting on the shutter speed dial. This Nikon challenge has been there for years, it annoyed me on the F100 and the D300 and still annoys me on the D750. The latest bodies solve the shutter speed issue, but not the exposure display issue.

2. Direct access to ISO is very nice. The X-T2 is super easy to set from the dial, you press to unlock, then twirl with the setting always showing on the screen. Nikon is by feel, although once you get used to where the button is it's not bad.

3. The D750 and X-T2 both have playback and delete buttons in the same place on the left shoulder. Too bad they're swapped (play on the left on Nikon, delete on the left on Fuji). I'm damned lucky I didn't accidentally delete any shots switching back & forth between the two. Neither is incorrect, but it is a gotcha worth mentioning and one I tripped over regularly when shooting in the dark.

4. This was the first time I got to use the dual-flip screen on the Fuji while on a tripod. It's every bit as good as I expected. Single-axis articulation is an idea whose time is long gone.

5. Despite the relatively hard to find by feel buttons relative to the Nikon, I found the Fuji much easier to control in the dark. The combination of full data on the LCD (vs the D750 where I was switching between the rear LCD and the top LCD constantly to track info I needed), better communication of what the camera was doing (Fuji counts down long-exposure times on the display, and displays processing during long-exposure NR, sadly without a timer, while Nikon only communicates the long-exposure NR on the top LCD) and generally the Fuji is easier to control without actually looking at the camera.

6. I actually gave up on Live View on the D750 once it got dark, relying on test shots and hard infinity stops on my 15/4 and 105/2.5 to get the stars in focus. The Fuji did better in really low light, but eventually I gave up framing there as it got really dark and only used LV to focus when switching lenses. I used the 15/4 and XC35/2 on the Fuji and missed having a hard infinity stop on the 35 (which not only has an uncoupled focus ring, but can focus past infinity). On the Nikon I used the 15/4, the 24-50AF, the 105/2.5 and the 300/4.5 (the last for a couple moon shots early on). Most shots on the Nikon were with the 15 or 105, hard infinity stops are so useful for astro (unless you have a camera with star focusing, which is a gimmick unless your lenses don't have a hard infinity stop. Well played Olympus)

7. I now truly understand why astro shooters make such a big deal about UWA speed. I'd have killed to have f2 or f2.8 instead of f4 to keep the ISO down with exposures short enough to not get star trails. You can always stop down, but you can't always open up. I really did not understand how big the impact of a 1 stop shorter shutter speed can be in astro work. I do now.
8. Despite the small battery and really long exposures, the X-T2 did just fine in battery life. I used half a battery or so on the X-T2 and a quarter charge on the D750, and took about 50% more shots with the X-T2.

9. I do love that little joystick on the X-T2. So much quicker and easier than a D-pad. So Nikon, why does the $1400USD Z5 get a joystick, but the $2300USD D780 doesn't (and the answer most likely is that the D780 has been sitting around for 2 years waiting for release, it's clearly a pre-Z6 design in terms of control layout)

Overall, I'm reminded both that the D750 remains an amazing camera today and that the X-T2 is just a little further up the food chain in some ways, despite the format difference it really is oriented towards the same sort of user who would buy a D8x0 over the D750. This is mostly around things like dedicated physical controls over overloaded buttons that switch context.

Tuesday 21 July 2020

New Nikon Z5 and Some More XT-2 Thoughts

Spider on a Cattail
Fuji X-T2, Neewer (7artisans) 25mm f1.8

    Nikon announced the new Z5 today, and it's looking like a brilliant camera at a very reasonable cost, $1399 USD or $1899 Canadian. There's also a new and tiny 24-50 f4-6.3 kit lens to go with it, at reasonable cost. I expect this to be the first Z body that moves in any quantity.

    The Z5 is what the Z6 should have been. A lower-cost body with saner decontenting. It doesn't get a proper grip, but can share the largely useless battery pack add-on of the Z6/Z7, gets a new EN-EL15C battery and finally can be USB powered and USB charged via a USB-C port. It gets an older FSI version of the 24MP sensor (the same one from the A7II for all intents & purposes), a lower resolution touch screen (still a decent 1.04 million dot unit) and only 4.5fps advance. The real question will be how well will the AF perform with the older & slower sensor. The EVF is the same excellent 0.8x 3.69MP unit as the Z6/Z7, the vestigial top LCD is replaced by a mode dial in the Z50/D3x00 location and it gets the dual UHS-II slots the Z6 should have had.

    This is very interesting to me, as the decontenting (fps, top LCD, likely worse high ISO and AF) don't affect me, while it solves my major complaint with the Z6 (card compatibility). The real question for me is what does this bring real-world over staying with Fuji.

The reality is that FF, a better EVF and IBIS really don't add that much for my uses and the Fuji LCD is still better for tripod work than the Nikon single-axis LCD (plus, lets be honest, the Fuji's are just a lot more performance for the dollar, the Z5 is X-T3 money but X-T100 performance). I'll have to think about it, I expect I'll end up with one at some point, but the question is will that be anytime soon? At the end of the day, Fuji's lens line is still much better for my uses and it's more adaptable, and the bodies are better suited for my uses as well. A little DR and having my FF UWA's still be UWA's doesn't really change the overall conclusion that Fuji makes more sense as my primary system. 

    As to the X-T2, I'm finding that the little changes from the X-T1 are having as much impact on my use as the big ones. Sure the sensor is a lot better, the AF is improved and the joystick makes AF point selection much better, but the little things are adding up too.

    The slightly taller dials combined with push on/push off locks mean I can easily adjust shutter speed and ISO when looking through the viewfinder, which I couldn't on the X-T1 because of how the locks were and the dials being a little hard to grip sight-unseen. The exposure compensation is also easier to use. Auto-ISO now respecting focal length makes it a set & forget setting rather than one I change with almost every lens change. Similarly the MyMenu being able to have manual lens focal length assigned makes that a 2-click change instead of a menu-dive every time I change manual lenses. Lots of little improvements continue to add up. I've now got around 400 images shot with the X-T2 and I'm enjoying it thoroughly. Honestly, where the X-T1 was a great camera for its day, and a decent camera now, the X-T2 is just a great camera. Of all the other cameras I've owned over the last few years, the D750 is the only one I can say the same of. 

Saturday 18 July 2020

SD UHS-II vs XQD/CFExpress - What The Reviewers and Manufacturers Aren't Telling You

The Stream
Fuji X-T2, Neewer (7artisans) 25mm f1.8

There's been a lot of sound and lightning online about card slot choice in a number of newer cameras, starting with the single XQD slot in the Nikon Z6 and Z7, and also notable in the choice by Sony to put SD UHS-II slots in the A7RIV and A9II. Folks on a budget don't want to invest in new cards & readers with no backwards compatibility, and folks also don't want to give up dual slots notional reliability advantage, although almost nobody except event shooters ever uses those cards as mirrors. On the flip side, the long waits to clear the deep buffers of modern cameras annoys people, especially in systems where the UI is write-bound (Sony again) and not fully functional when the camera is occupied with writes.

Now XQD is technically superior to SD UHS-II. They're more robust in build and in electronics reliability and they're faster. SD gets backwards compatibility and the wide availability of cheap and good cards if you buy UHS-1 cards which are still fast enough for most non-action uses. It's hard to say no to $30 or less for a 64GB Sandisk Extreme Pro UHS-1 card.

But what nobody has bothered to note is that Nikon's XQD-equipped bodies, usually help up as the standard for write speeds, aren't actually exceeding what SD UHS-II can do. In fact Nikon's XQD bodies perform on par with the demonstrated write performance of similar-cost UHS-II XQD cards (like the Sony Tough cards). Of course Nikon's UHS-II implementations are 80-100MB/s slower, and Sony in particular is barely delivering 150MB/s in their cameras.

The real issue is that the manufacturers have found it cheaper & easier to deliver lousy performance from a faster interface than maxing out what the notionally slower interface can do. It took a very long time before UHS-I cameras actually came near the 95MB/s performance the interface allowed, and we're still stuck at 150-180MB/s in cameras when the same cards do 250-280MB/s write performance in a reader, dead on where the cameras with XQD and early CFExpress implementations can do. And some companies (Sony....cough cough) haven't even bothered to do that.

Wednesday 15 July 2020

A Lucky Deal

Hidden Bee
Fujifilm X-T2, XC 35mm f2

I'd honestly not really been looking for a new body. Sure, there are a few things I don't like about the X-T1, the D750 and even the A7II (when I borrow it back from my SO)

But a couple weeks ago my usual sales guy made me an offer I couldn't refuse on a used X-T2, so I got it for a ridiculously low price today.

The X-T2 solves a few issues I had overall with the X-T1 in particular and with my whole selection of cameras in a couple cases.

From the X-T1, it gets me back to the 24MP resolution that I have found to be a comfortable balance between good overall resolution & cropability and good noise performance. Another big thing is that the 24 & 26MP Fuji bodies have full support for their film simulations in RAW converters including CaptureOne (my go-to), while the 16MP bodies (and the 12MP X100) aren't supported for film simulations in RAW converters. That's something that I really would like as it allows me to set my starting point for conversion when shooting, although as I shoot RAW I'm not locked in.

There's also a number of firmware improvements, a better menu layout, support for proper BBAF, ISO extension now works in RAW (but not in Auto ISO), there's an extra stop of ISO range at the top end, a focus joystick (although sadly it can't trigger AF-on), the menu setup is better and includes a MyMenu implementation that lets me put manual lens focal length in an easily found place (albeit still not on a button where it belongs) and Auto ISO now respects focal length, even for manual lenses. The control wheels are now click wheels, albeit the front wheel's function is canned. It's also a touch larger, 60g heavier and the quality of the dials & switches is improved. It also takes classic threaded cable releases or soft releases like the X-E2 but not the X-T1, adds dual UHS-II SD slots (vs a single UHS-1) and can USB charge the battery, and with the right setup, can even run the camera off external USB power in a pinch. The dial locks are now push-on/push-off, rather than press & twirl and the on/off switch is larger and more positive, making it easier to actuate by feel. Additionally the quality of the focus peaking rendering is significantly better, on par with the A7II, where the X-T1's peaking kinda sucked, especially when magnified.

The big add however is that this gives me a camera with a 2-axis tilt LCD for tripod use. All of the cameras I was using either have single-axis tilt or a fixed LCD. The X-T2 has a unique 2 axis tilt system which is ideal for tripod use and far, far superior to flip/twist LCD's. Sadly, only 3 cameras have this system (the X-T2, X-T3 and X-H1), although Panasonic clearly looked at this setup and adapted it for the S1R, which has flip/twist and tilt via a similar system.

The 2 axis tilt setup solves both basic issues with rear-LCD use for stills shooters. It flips up/down behind the camera exactly like regular tilt screens, which is pretty much ideal for waistlevel usage as well as landscape format usage on the tripod, but when shooting portrait orientation, you get limited tilt as well, where most cameras with a tilt screen (including the X-T1, and all X-Tx0's, E-M1, E-M5, D750, D7500 and D780, Z6/7, and all Sony A7/A9 bodies) are stuck with a fixed screen the moment you want a portrait oriented shot. Honestly, for selfies using the phone app for control and view beats any flip-forward LCD.

Is it perfect...No. Like all the Fuji's, the AF-L and AE-L buttons are badly located and hard to make out by feel. There's still useful items in the menu that should be assignable to buttons and the click action on the joystick & front dial should be assignable. And the manual lens slots still have only 2 of 6 being user-configurable, the other 4 are fixed as 21, 24, 28 & 35mm. Oh, and the camera doesn't disable the EVF when the screen is flipped out, although like the X-T1 the sensor is calibrated FAR better than the A7II's so as long as you don't have the camera pressed up to your body you won't accidentally switch (the A7II however requires at least 30cm or so of clearance to not trigger, which is extremely annoying). There's also a new VIEWMODE of Eye Sensor + LCD playback where even if you have Image Review disabled, if you shoot via the EVF and then immediately take the camera away from your face you get the last image displayed on the LCD instead of the live view feed. This mode should be an option in the Image Review settings rather than a VIEWMODE option. Heck, I'd love to be able to pick the VIEWMODE options because I only ever use 2 of the (now) 5 options and would rather not cycle through EVF only and LCD only which I never use.

So overall, the X-T2 is a great refinement of the X-T1, solving most (but not all) of the annoyances while bringing better AF and IQ across the board. I'm looking forward to shooting a lot with this camera.

Tuesday 14 July 2020

Grab The Classics Now, Before They're Gone

Swamp and Sky
D750, Nikkor 20mm f2.8

I was talking to one of the owners of my local camera store the other day, and he remarked that he'd stopped buying used X-T1's.

That reminded me that some of the best classic digital cameras for the user on a budget are getting thin on the used market as their value has gotten low enough that stores can't make money re-selling them and users will just keep them as they're no longer worth the hassle of selling. 

The D200 and D300 are largely in this situation right now, and the D7000 and X-T1 are getting there as well. Even some FF bodies, notably the D700 and 5D classic are there, and I expect the original A7 to be approaching it. 

That doesn't mean these bodies are unworthy of acquisition, just means they're going to be harder to find. Personally I'd still rather like to own another D200 and D700, just for fun, I'd also be interested in the original D2X if I ever found one cheap enough. I'd also like to have a full set of lenses again for my D300, specifically the Sigma 10-20, 16-85VR, 70-300VR and 35DX setup I used to have. That's a good and inexpensive do-everything setup for DX (I still have the 16-85VR hanging around) that I'll look to build around as I run across deals. I may not shoot much with the D300 anymore, but that doesn't mean it's not still a very capable camera. That kit would actually support pretty much any DX body quite well (although I'd replace the 70-300VR with the AF-P DX on more modern bodies that support it, it's cheaper & better). 

These classic bodies are cheap and still very viable for folks shooting for web and print up to 16x20 or so. While newer bodies deliver better IQ for sure, there's absolutely nothing wrong with the IQ from these classics. Many of them are also surprisingly capable as cameras overall, although some, like the D200 and the 5D Classic, do have limitations like low max ISO or no auto ISO, that make them more of a fun camera that a serious primary.

We're living in a golden age of cheap cameras right now, and glass isn't too bad. The transition to mirrorless also leaves a lot of interesting kit on the market cheap.

Sunday 5 July 2020

A Few More Thoughts on the State of the Industry

Three Seasons
A7 II, Nikkor 105mm f2.5 AI-S

Well, it looks like we're headed into the season of major camera announcements.

Olympus just updated their roadmap with a neat new 8-25mm f4 Pro to add to the list of new lenses that have been announced but nobody actually expects to ship anymore, along with the 150-400 f4.5 and 100-400, plus a couple new placeholders for lenses that they can announce but never ship (yes, I'm a little skeptical of Olympus announcements).

Panasonic announced a neat little VLogger-oriented G100 that continues the evolution of their m43 stuff into a primarily video-oriented line as the G line joins the GH line as video-primary bodies, leaving only the GX's as primarily stills-oriented.

Canon has a major event scheduled for July 9th, with 2 new R bodies and a boatload of lenses coming.

Nikon has an expected announcement in late July with at least one Z body and a few lenses expected.

Sony has announced that they're going to announce the long-awaited A7SII replacement sometime soon.

Fuji is rumoured to have two new mid-range X bodies coming, although what those actually end up being is anybody's guess, remember the X lineup includes Fuji's large-sensor P&S models as well as X mount and the X100 line. I'm betting an X-T30 or X-E3 update and a large-sensor P&S.

Pentax actually published a lens roadmap, which has a FF 21mm Limited and a 16-50 update, along with what looks like a super-tele zoom of some sort, all coming in 2020 or later.

So where does that leave us.

For Olympus, some folks expect a new body, I'm one of them. the new body will assuredly be the OMD E-M10IV and it will either be an E-M5III in an E-M10III body (most likely), or a Pen E-PL10 in an E-M10III body (less likely). I think they'll be trying to get down to one sensor across the line, which is why I'm betting on the E-M5III being the basis for the E-M10IV, making the 20MP sensor common across the OM-D line, with the last PEN standing being the only outlier. They need to ship some of the lenses they've announced, but I'm not betting on that as I suspect that they simply won't have the income stream to support production of these new lenses.

For Panasonic, I'm expecting a GH update at some point, but the real news would be a compact L body to go with the brilliant little 20-60 zoom they just announced. A 70-300 for L mount would be great from either Sigma or Panasonic. The 20-60 just doesn't make sense without a compact body to mount it. An off the wall possibility would be an L mount GH body, using an APS-C sensor. All this is speculation though, as nothing has hit the rumour mill yet.

Canon is making its play now to become as dominant in FF mirrorless as it is in crop (yes, EF-M is actually the best-selling crop system as it sells a lot of low-end bodies). The R5 and R6 look to be major winners if they can deliver the promise of their spec sheet. And there's a ton of lens accessories coming, including TC's and new super telephotos. Given that EF lenses adapted to R mount deliver basically native performance, this will put Canon in the drivers seat in a lot of ways unless Sony has an october Surprise waiting. Canon's answer to how to get amateurs on a limited budget to buy FF seems to be 'sell them the RP and cheap & slow lenses', which in a lot of ways is the right answer. The R is expected to drop in price to $1599US list, meaning it will almost assuredly be a $1200 body on sale this fall. This is IMHO the right play for Canon. They're getting aggressive on price, accelerating lens releases and using their installed base well via the adapters, including some unique features (like filters on the top-end adapter) to grab back the EF shooters who have been adapting to Sony FE bodies. They just needed a better fleshed out lens line and competitive bodies and July 9 seems to be on track to deliver both.

Nikon's expected announcements are much smaller. Then again, so is Z mounts relative success. Honestly Nikon delivered a better pair of bodies than Canon did, and a better thought out lens line, but got hauled over the coals for idiotic decontenting (no vertical grips, single card slots), a lack of useful fast lenses (and the f1.8 S lenses were expensive and large), a card format choice at odds with what the market wanted (XQD on the Z6 instead of UHS-II SD) and pricing higher than the comparable F mount body. Unsurprisingly Z hasn't been a sales success, and the Z50 just added to that, as it didn't even have a real lens line to go with it, and was too expensive compared to the X-T200 and A6100 it competes with  (it's just not quite enough body to compete with the X-T30 and A6400). So we're getting what appears to be a Z5, which is rumoured to be basically a Z6 with dual SD cards and some light decontenting, plus a few lenses, most notably a 50/1.2 and a 24-50 zoom, with the latter likely being a ultra-compact zoom. This will need to be priced at or below the EOS R's new pricepoint to move, so Nikon will actually have to be competitive on price for once. Nikon reportedly has a Z30 in the pipeline, but again, that's going to have to be D3500 money to move. Nikon needs to get aggressive and is showing few signs of it, they can't rest on their name and the F mount installed base, especially when the adaptation of F mount lenses is such a crapshoot, the reality is that screwdriver AF lenses are basically as usable on any other mirrorless system as they are on Z, and that's still the majority of AF Nikkors out there.

Sony needs to get the A7SIII out the door. They also need to get an A7IV out the door, and frankly that needs to have more significant updates than the A9II or A7RIV got, or Sony will find itself in the same boat both Canon and Nikon did when Sony dropped the A7III, where their new body is competing against older, cheaper bodies in spec. Sony also needs an A7000, or to go all-in on consumer FE mount and start moving the top end of their APS-C market to FF more aggressively (the rumoured A6 could do that if it's basically an A7III in an A6600 body). The latter requires some FE zooms though. Sony really needs a plan on their lens releases, rather than the current semi-random releases. They're filling gaps, but they keep releasing less needed lenses instead of more important ones, for example they need an FE 70-300 for a reasonable price to go alongside the FE 28-70, and it could easily have replaced the E 70-350 which while a brilliant lens, is not something the lineup actually needed (the 70-300 G covered the need for an overpriced 70-3xx lens well enough). Basically Sony needs to honor the threat from Canon and also start  acting like they have a plan for the system, not their current spaghetti model of releases where they throw lenses at a wall and see what sticks.

As to Fuji, they're in a good place overall. Olympus's slow walk out of the market has left Fuji as the only real option for the serious crop stills shooter. That said, they need to respect the stills market a little more. The X-T4 is a great body, but it pissed off a lot of stills shooters who feel with good reason that it gives up stills-oriented handling for better video capability. Combine that with the mixed reception that the X-Pro3 got and they really do need to communicate their dedication to the stills shooters. Additionally they need to start updating older lenses with faster and quieter AF motors and aperture mechanisms and weather sealing. They also need to bring weather sealing to the lower-end bodies. Frankly, Fuji has a real chance here to replace Olympus as the go-to bodies for poor condition shooting and should jump on it. Fuji also needs to release some telephotos. The XF 70-300 is a start, but Fuji's real weak point right now is their single current lens over 230mm long. Crop gives them a pixel density advantage to start with, and they have solid AF, they just need glass to match.

Pentax? What Pentax? They have lenses coming, they have 3 solid bodies, they have almost no userbase left. Frankly Pentax's one ray of hope is the fact that they're in a position to outlast Nikon as the other DSLR system alongside Canon as all Pentax needs to do is not lose too much money to annoy Ricoh, Nikon actually depends on its camera division to keep the company afloat.

Wednesday 1 July 2020

A Few thoughts From the Field - D750 vs X-T1 vs A7II

RedwingA7II, Vivitar 70-150mm f3.8 on C/Y Adapter

Took the A7II out for a walk today, and I'm reminded how thoroughly competent a camera it really is.

That also prompted a few thoughts on it as compared to the two bodies I use the most, the D750 and X-T1.

The X-T1 is the oldest of the three, announced in January 2014 for $1299USD. It is in some ways the most pro oriented, being the top of Fuji's line and coming in with the best sealing and the fastest framerates of the 3 (at 8fps), although the RAW buffer is marginally smaller than the A7II. At 16MP it features both the highest pixel density of the three and the lowest pixel count. It's the smallest & lightest of the three, in part from being the only APS-C body.

The D750 was announced in September 2014 for $2299 USD, and thus was the most expensive of the three new. It's the only body of the three with an OVF and dual card slots. Naturally it's also the largest & heaviest in large part due to being the only DSLR. At 6.5fps it's middle of the pack for speed, but the buffer is both heavily card & setting dependent, and the smallest of the three bodies by default.

The A7II was announced last of the three, in November 2014 for $1999 USD. It's the only IBIS-equipped model of the three and is an odd mix of pro features (like the shutter) and consumer build (by far the worst build of the three and the smallest viewfinder). At 5fps, it's the slowest of the three by a solid margin, although that is offset by having the deepest buffer (sort-of). 

The D750 has the best combo of button layout and grip. The X-T1 is a definite second, especially if equipped with a grip extension, although the buttons are not pronounced enough. The A7II suffers from a lack of finger clearance with some fatter lenses and adapters and frankly lousy button placement.

In terms of button assign-ability the X-T1 comes out on top and the A7II dead last. The Fuji not only has the most flexible assignments, you can change them on the fly as needed by long-pressing the button in question.

The A7II and D750 both get two custom settings banks on the mode dial, which is nice. Fuji puts 7 in the Q menu, but with reduced settings covered. Frankly 2 full banks beats 7 partial ones and I only use the Fuji ones for managing Film simulations.

Fuji manages modes by selecting a combo of Aperture ring, Shutter speed dial and ISO dial settings (A for auto on each). They've even figured out how to do that when using a lens with no aperture ring (A is the setting past minimum aperture, and changing aperture on the dial shifts back to aperture priority). Nikon's never figured out how to make aperture rings and dials seamless. Sony handles things like Nikon with a G lens, unless you have a aperture ring-equipped lens, where it's controlled by the lens's A setting (but Sony has real program shift). Fuji > Sony > Nikon here.

Nikon's Auto-ISO is by far the best, respecting manual focus focal length when set. Fuji's is second, as you can at least set the shutter speed changeover..and assign it to a button for easy access. Sony's auto-ISO is useless for most manual lens work, as it's just on/off and defaults to 1/60th if a non-electronic lens is mounted.

Likewise Nikon's manual focus lens interface is the best. It can be assigned to a button to select lenses, has 9 slots, all of which are configurable, records data in EXIF and as noted above, is used for Auto ISO. Fuji has 6 slots, only two of which are configurable (the other 4 are 21mm, 24mm, 28mm and 35mm) and needs menu access, but does record in EXIF. Sony's a single setting, which can be assigned to a button but only affects the IBIS system, it doesn't record in EXIF or feed Auto ISO. Nikon > Fuji > Sony here.

RAW files are a mixed bag. Nikon's are both the most configurable (12 or 14 bit, lossy or lossless) and the best quality. Fuji's are 12 bit uncompressed, across the board. Sony's are 14bit uncompressed or pseudo-12 bit really lossy (it's a terrible algorithm and delivers 10 bit data in a 12 bit package) and silently switches on you if you select continuous advance. That's both the source of the 28 RAW buffer on the A7II, and the reason why you can get a deeper buffer from the D750 if you select 12 bit lossy (maxing out at 33). The end result is the Nikon is the most efficient on card space and buffer and Sony the worst on card space, but still about 5 shots more than the X-T1 in buffer. 16MP and 12 bit means that the X-T1 is not a major card hog unlike the A7II.

In terms of IQ, sensor size matters and the X-T1, while excellent for APS-C, is just not up to the much larger FF sensors. Fuji does deliver more pleasing colour than Sony, but lacks in DR and ISO performance. The D750 tops out on all 3 in RAW.

For JPEG, the sensor size matters much less except at high ISO's and Fuji's JPEG's are IMHO the best of the three, followed by Nikon. Sony's JPEG's are competent but suffer from Sony's neutral colour rendering vs the less accurate but more pleasing Nikon and Fuji colours.

In terms of ISO range, the Fuji is oddly limited, with no extended ISO range available when shooting RAW (the 24MP bodies fixed this oddity). It also exposes about a stop hotter than the other two, so it's really an ISO 100-3200 range (200-6400 on the dial) when normalized to the other bodies (JPEG is 100-51200 on the dial, 50-25600 normalized to the other bodies in exposure). The other two both have 50-51200 extended ranges although Sony has an extra stop of non-extended range at the high end (25600 vs 12800 on the D750). Generally I find there's a real world 1.5-2 stops extra at the high end on the FF bodies.

Battery life is a near-tie between the A7II and the X-T1, although the X-T1 is a bit worse if you use the boost functions, but you gain faster response and an improved EVF experience from it. The D750 is wildy better, having 5-6 times the battery life in the real world unless you use a lot of Live view, but even then it's a solid doubling when only using LV.

Viewfinders are interesting, the X-T1's is the biggest, and despite having the same spec panel as the X-T1, the A7II isn't even vaguely competitive aside from one specific area, as the A7II downrezzes the LV/EVF feed in a bunch of circumstances and the X-T1 doesn't. Plus the A7II is only 0.71x and ~60fps vs the 0.77x and up to 100fps refresh on the X-T1. The D750 is 0.75x and frankly mostly matches the X-T1 in all but the lowest light. The one caveat here is the X-T1's focus peaking implementation is crap compared to the Sony's, especially in magnified view. The D750 doesn't have focus peaking of course, but does have AF confirm which works reasonably well.

All 3 have similar LCD implementations, with flip-out LCD screens with a single tilt axis. The D750's isn't 1-finger adjustable, but is also the most robust. Generally the LCD spec is similar although I find the A7II is harder to view in bright light.

In terms of quick-access to settings on the rear LCD, all three are good for button-access items, but Nikon's quick-access/setting display is a bad joke, with two different buttons giving 2 different UI's only one of which can be used for settings access. Sony's is competent, Fuji's is very good and also the most configurable (more settings displayed and more can be chosen)

Image review is odd on mirrorless. Nikon sets the standard, showing all the necessary info and allowing selection of different display pages with tons of useful info. Fuji's is good, basic shooting data is shown. Oddly Fuji doesn't show you how many images are on the card. Sony's is mostly on par with Fuji, although for some reason you cannot display the image's filename (which drives me nuts), but it does tell you how many images are on the card. All can be configured to not show images after shooting.

Controls are an mixed bag. The Fuji has the most dedicated ones, with 2 control wheels, a dedicated exposure compensation dial, dedicated shutter speed dial, dedicated ISO dial, metering mode switch, dedicated viewfinder mode button and a drive mode switch (which includes access to the canned modes). The Sony gets 3 control wheels, a dedicated exposure compensation dial and a mode dial. Nikon gives you 2 control wheels, a mode dial and a drive mode switch. Both the Sony and Nikon put canned modes and custom banks on the mode dial. The Nikon has the most buttons by far, but the Fuji has the most flexibility in assigning, the Sony is in between.

In terms of shutter, the Sony has the best mechanical shutter, with 1/8000 max and 1/250 sync. The Fuji has the worst sync at 1/180, but while it shares a 1/4000 max mechanical shutter with the Nikon, it can go to 1/32000 electronic and can seamlessly switch between the two. The Sony also gets EFCS, although there's no seamless switching and the Nikon is purely mechanical with 1/4000 max and 1/200 sync.

The Nikon comes with a built-in flash that can CLS command, the Fuji comes with a clip-on body-powered flash, the Sony doesn't have any flash capability in the box, you have to buy one separately.

Adaptability, well the Sony wins by a good margin. Basically everything is adaptable to it, including smart mount adapters for EF, Nikon F, Sony A, Sigma SA and Contax N mounts. Fuji is second, trailing due to the lack of smart adapters other than EF mount. Nikon F is basically not capable of having anything except MF lenses adapted to it, although it's a great source of lenses.

Cheap lenses, zoom AF category. Nikon wins by a mile, with plenty of cheap zooms available new or used, as long as you're willing to compromise a little on lens performance. Fuji is second here, as they have 3 cheap zooms (15-45, 16-50, 50-230). Sony is dead last, as it only has the 28-70 (For APS-C shooters there are options, but not on FF). Both Fuji and Sony can expand this via EF adapters, and Sony can also get some cheap AF zooms using the LA-EA3 & LA-EA4 A mount adapters.

Cheap lenses, prime AF category. Nikon wins by a small margin over Sony, thanks to the plentiful selection of older screwdriver AF primes and Yongnuo line. Sony comes in second thanks to the Samyang/Rokinon and Tamron primes. Fuji only really has the Viltrox selection and the XC 35/2.

Cheap lenses, MF prime category. Very close, but goes Sony > Fuji > Nikon largely due to adaptation.

AF performance, unsurprisingly the D750 takes it, especially for AF-C and tracking performance, but the Sony and Fuji both can limp in CDAF mode out to the edges of the frame. The D750 also might as well be manual focus only in LV mode (it AF's, but at a glacial pace). Fuji and Sony both have Face Detect, but it's not fast unlike the newer bodies. Fuji does beat Sony overall on this generation, so Nikon > Fuji > Sony

Wireless implementations here are all WiFi only, no BT, although the Sony can connect via a NFC tap. Nikon's software sucks the most, but 3rd party options are solid. Fuji's software works well and is reliable. Sony's is oddly limited, requires using the built-in Smart Remote App for control and has a collection of silly limitations, and is unreliable at basic image transfer. Fuji > Nikon > Sony here, with Nikon's base reliability and straightforward usage making up for the limited feature set.

Overall, all three bodies are great options for the user on a budget today. The Fuji is dirt cheap, while the Nikon and Sony will run you at least twice as much. But for a full kit you're looking at surprisingly similar numbers because lenses rapidly end up being your biggest expense on systems where you're under $1k for the body.