Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Report Card is in

BCN Ranking posted the dSLR market share for the Japanese market in 2009.

Amongst the top 20 cameras

Canon has 37.9%
Nikon has 28%
Panasonic 8.5%
Olympus 4.3%
Pentax 4.3%
Sony 4%

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why I would choose S90 over LX3


- I prefer the Canon because it is a true pocketable PnS
- Fully retractable lens which does not protrude like the LX3
- Built in auto lens cap, not like the LX3 with detachable lens cap which can be easily dropped
- Lack of a flash hotshoe keeps profile pocketable. If I want to lug around a flash, I will use an SLR
- The Canon is lighter and smaller than the LX3

Image Quality:

- Numerous reviews by and showed that the S90 does better than the LX3 in high ISO, especially in RAW. Camerablabs even finds it to outperform G11. The new 10mpx sensor have definitely overtaken the aged LX3 sensor in terms of high ISO performance.
- More useful zoom range 28-105mm instead of the LX3's 24-60mm which is more restrictive.
- The Canon colors is more preferable to me than the over punchy Panasonic colors. I am not into Panasonic colors, even the GF-1 cameras have a funny tone curve.


- The Canon powershot UI is easy to use. Very similar to IXUS and other Canon PnS
- The customizable control ring is convenient
- For those using Canon dSLR, the S90 is a natural choice because you can use the same set of software, DPP to handle all raw files from S90 to 1Ds Mark III.
- Canon does not restrict the use ad 3rd party batteries as strictly as the Panasonic. Panasonic requires users to use original Panasonic batts.

To LX3 credit:

- It is faster but not as fast as an SLR, so the difference in speed does not make a lot of difference to me
- Flash hotshoe. As mentioned earlier, if I want to lug flash and stuff, I will carry a dSLR
- LX3 supports lens adapters. This will again add weight and bulk to the system. For those using S90, you can buy Cokin add-ons if you want to use filters and adapters.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The new Sigma 17-70 f2.8-4 HSM OS

A few days ago, Sigma launched a new version of its prize winning standard zoom lens. Equipped with HSM, faster aperture and OS, Sigma is leveling the playing field against the original manufacturers. This lens is aimed squarely at the new Canon 15-85 f3.5-5.6 IS and the Nikon 16-85 f3.5-5.6 VR. Since the new Canon has recently been receiving favorable reviews, I would like to do a rough comparison in case anyone is deciding between these two lenses:

For the Canon 15-85:

- The 15-85 is a very sharp lens, as compared to similar lenses and very comparable to its Nikon counterpart (finally) while having a marginally wider zoom range. From the manufacturer published MTF figures, I think the 15-85 could be slightly sharper than the new 17-70 OS wide open. Currently measured figures shows the 15-85 to outperform the current 17-70 marginally.
- The 15-85 has a wider range (24-136 equiv). As a walkabout lens it is about as wide and as much tele as you need.
- The 15-85 seems to support MF better with a smooth focus ring. The 17-70 was thought to be a little stiff
- Being a Canon lens, its profile is available on DPP, so auto correction of vignetting, CA, distortions can be done at a click of a button.

For the Sigma 17-70 OS:

- The 17-70 is faster(2.8-4.0) than the 15-85, its max tele aperture is slightly bigger than the original 17-70 (2.8-4.5).
- From the charts, the 17-70 seems to show an improvement in terms of sharpness when compared to the 17-70 and could be closer to the 15-85. Actual measured results could be different though. We will never know until more data is available.
- The 15-85 is considerably more expensive. as an indication, on Amazon, the 15-85 is about US$700 while the 17-70 is about US$450.
- Other considerations include: Size/weight, Inclusion of a hood
- Vignetting performance is likely to be better than the 15-85 at certain apertures, but as mentioned, since the Canon lens profile will be available on the DPP, this is easily corrected.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Time for the Crystal Ball

It is December, the last month of the year. 2009, despite being a recession plagued year, has been a rather busy year for camera manufacturers. Numerous update models from the top manufacturers were launched. We also see a host of new innovative cameras in the form of the the Leica M9, X1, Canon 7D, the micro fourthirds based EP1, EP2, GF-1 and the interchangeable module Ricoh GXR.

There were also a host of sensor technologies being introduced this year, namely the Sony EXMOR-R, the Fujifilm Super CCD EXR and Canon's new 18mpx high sensitivity sensor which delivers impressive high ISO images despite being packed to the brim with photoreceptors.

Of all the manufacturers, Canon is most expected to release a number of new dSLR in the coming few months. Let me share my take on what will be released:

I think Canon will likely release the 550D around March and not forgetting the 2000D as well. From BCN ranking, while the 500D still dominates the chart, there are signs that sales is slowly weakening.

As of now, Canon has a strong set of offerings against Nikon in the 7D, 5D2 and 1DIV. They are still lagging Nikon in the D3x, D90, D5000, D3000 markets. The other manufacturers of the m43 cameras are also putting a lot of pressure on Canon in the low end dSLR market.

I expect Canon to address some of this. Thus releasing the:

1) 1Ds Mark IV vs Nikon D3x - I suspect only 30+mpx (not the widely speculated 40+mpx) with an improved AF system. Maybe the same 45pts all selectable, mostly crossed points like the 1DIV. I will not be surprised if Canon introduces some high-end video camera features into the 1DsIV. This would help Canon bring the 1DsIV into their traditional high end DV market as well, strengthening their position. Nikon was caught back footed when the market switched to digital and Canon being an electronic manufacturer capitalized on this and lead Nikon for a great part of the dSLR age. Now the market is slowly moving from still dSLRs to a hybrid video/still dSLRs. Again Canon, being a leading manufacturer of high end video cameras should capitalize on their expertise in this area to continue leading the market.

While Nikon's handicap in electronics can be mostly solved by buying sensors from Sony, it is a lot harder to buy video camera features from anyone.

2) 550D vs Nikon D5000 - I expect Canon to put in the 18mpx sensor from 7D into the 550D and that would be a killer cam. Also, they are largely expected to increase the number of cross AF points and up the video specs to 1080p 30fps (from 20fps).

Other enhancements may include adding the gapless LCD screen, flash commander mode, electronic leveling. That should put the 550D ahead of the competitors. On the other hand, keeping the Af points to 9, shooting speed to about 4fps (single DIGIC), the penta-mirror viewfinder at 95% coverage and non weather sealed lightweight body would differentiate it enough from the 7D.

3) 2000D vs Nikon D3000 - This may spot a 12mpx or 15mpx sensor. It would be nice if Canon can reduce the size of the 2000D to make it more competitive towards the m4/3. Perhaps Canon should introduce some chic styling into this range to make it less scary to first time dSLR users and more attractive to the PnS upgraders.

4) 60D vs the D90? - I don't really see a market segment for the 60D anymore. Nikon created the D90 because they wanted a low end built-in motor body to complement the AF-S D5000(D60 previously). A well engineered 550D can take on the D90 and D5000 at the same time, giving them more focus and make it less confusing to the consumers. Before long, the 7D's price would have dropped to somewhere close to the targeted launch price of the 60D anyway. Unless ofcourse, Canon decides to merge the xxxD series with the xD series.

5) EVIL camera? this could be in the SX20 or Pro1 format. I don't see Canon releasing a new lens mount.

I don't really see a market for the 3D. Unless it is a 5D mark III...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Which is the lightest travel kit for shutterbugs?

I am obsessed with weight. To me the image quality of the dSLR is as important as the weight. Many vendors can make a good dSLR but to make it good but at the same time lightweight, it is very very difficult. Here is a list of cameras, divided into different weight categories and what they are suitable for...

- Suitable for traveling with family (with lots and lots of kids), business trips, bulk averse ladies/gentlemen, or as a backup camera. Apart from the GF-1 the other PnS are not comparable to dSLR in terms of image quality

Canon S90 - 175 g
Fujifilm F200EXR - 175g
Panasonic LX3 - 229g
Canon G11- 355g
Panasonic GF-1 - 315g + 150g(14-45 OIS lens) = 465g

500g-700g - Suitable for family trips (with a few kids), business trips with a bit of tolerance of weight and individuals who are demanding on image quality
Panasonic G1 - 360g + 150g(14-45mm lens) = 510g
Panasonic GH1 - 385g + 150g(14-45mm lens) = 525g
Olympus EP-1 - 355g + 150g(14-42 M.Zuiko lens) = 505g
Olympus E450 - 426g + 190g(14-42 Zuiko lens) = 616g

700g-1kg - Suitable for business trips, family trips and individuals who are particular about image quality and who are quite tolerant of a little bit of weight

Mostly entry level dSLRs with kit lens
Canon 1000D - 502g + 200g(18-55 IS) = 702g
Canon 500D - 520g + 200g(18-55 IS) = 720g
Pentax Kx - 580g +225g(18-55 AL) = 805g
Olympus E620 - 515g + 190g(14-42 Zuiko lens) = 705g
Nikon D3000 - 536g + 265g (18-55 VR) = 801g
Nikon D5000 - 590g + 265g (18-55 VR) = 855g
Nikon D90 - 703g + 265g (18-55 VR) = 968g
Sony A230 - 490g + 210g(18-55) = 700g
Sony A380 - 519g + 210g(18-55) = 729g
Sony A500 - 630g + 210g(18-55) = 840g
Sony A550 - 632g + 210g(18-55) = 842g

It seems like the A230 with 18-55 is the lightest kit around - apart from the olympus E450. Note that the E450 does not have in body IS. Up to this point I have to say that, on paper at least, the Panasonic GF-1 is unparalleled in terms of weight vs image quality...

>1kg - The options are quite limiteless. Suitable for photography trips. Enthusiats, prosumers, semi-pros and professionals. I did not include the kit lens weight as most users of this range of cameras would probably not stick with basic kit lenses...

Nikon D700 - 1074g
Canon 5D2 - 850g
Canon 7D - 860g
Olympus E3 - 890g
Olympus E30 - 665g
Nikon D300(s) - 938g
Sony A900 - 895g
Sony A850 - 895g
Sony A700 - 768g
Pentax K7 - 750g

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Thoughts on the S90

The in camera JPEG tends to be a little soft above ISO 400 as opposed to LX3 which has a much aggressive sharpening. As a result the LX3's JEPG is a little more grainy but seems to have retained more details. However, if you look closely, due to higher contrast, some subtle color transitions may be lost in the LX3 images but retained in the S90.

The general consensus is the real power of S90 will only be unleashed when shot in RAW. A properly processed RAW from the S90 can give it a 1 stop improvement. From my observation, when shot in RAW, the S90 can come within 1 stop of the micro fourthirds (out-of-camera JPEG). ISO 400 in raw is definitely usable. At ISO 800, the raw file can be used in the same way as ISO 1600 of MFT, in smaller prints.

When compared to the G11, although the S90 has the same sensor, it loses out when compared to details delivered by the G11. This is probably due to the superior lens of the G11 as the comparison was done with RAW and not out-of-camera JPEG.

Lastly, I think the S90 is a nice 'true compact' camera to carry around. I call it a 'true compact' because of its built in lens cover and minimalist design make it pocketable. Design wise, the S90 is closer to the Fuji F200EXR than the LX3 or the G11 which have hotshoe mounts and bigger profiles. I also find the 28-105mm zoom range to be significantly more useful than the 24-60mm of LX3.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ricoh GXR - Reincarnation of Minolta Dimage EX 1500?

Someone commented at engadget that the idea behind the Ricoh GXR is in fact not new. Minolta had a very similar idea/concept in the Dimage EX1.

hmmm... why did it fail again?...

Apparently Minolta only ever created two modules for this camera. Ricoh launched the GXR with two modules as well. Is it just me or there is an uncanny similarity between the two systems? :D

Ricoh GXR - m4/3 killer?....nah

Ricoh has always been known to make classy point and shoots with good image qualities. Today, they are going to launch an innovative camera system never seen before in the compact digital camera market. One with not only interchangeable lens, but an interchangeable sensor as well! In fact, the sensor and lens are a module which you can slide out and change at the same time.

The first two modules to be launched are:

1) The 50mm F2.5 A12 module has a 12mpx CMOS sensor and shoots video in HD mode. APS-C size.

2) The 24-70 f2.5-f4.4 VC S10 module has a 10mpx CCD sensor and shoots video in 640x480 mode only. 1/17" size (Probably the same Sony sensor as in G11 and S90)

£419 (US$549) - for the base
£600 (US$830) - 50mm module
£330 (US$440) - 24-70mm module
£219 (US$257) - EVF (920k)
£239 (US$280) - Flash

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Is that the E-P2 or your E-P1 is just happy to see me?..

I have expected the E-P2 to be a minor upgrade to the E-P1, but definitely did not expect it to be this minor.

Basically, what Olympus did was to include a port for an EVF, thus allowing an external EVF and microphone to be mounted on the E-P2. I suspect Olympus timed the E-P2 to be launched after Epson's 1.44mpx EVF goes into production not long ago.

Other improvements include
- TruePic V (is this just a renaming of the TruePic III+?)
- 2 new Art Filters (Cross Processing and Diorama),
- iEnhance
- AF Tracking.
- Full Manual Control of shutter/aperture in Movie Mode
- HDMI Control of camera's playback function using the TV Remote when connected to HDTV

I suspect these other enhancement could be added to the E-P1 via firmware upgrade.

What about the single most important improvement that we are all looking for? AF Speed. cnet-asia reported this about the AF speed.

"The unit we tried was a prototype, so we weren't not able to find out whether Olympus has fixed the slow focusing problem which plagued the E-P1. We'll know when a commercial unit arrives in our Labs."

In my opinion, there may not be a major jump in AF speed. I remember that dpreview tested the AF speed of E-P1 with multiple lenses, pitting E-P1 against the GH1. (link)

The conclusions are:
- AF speed is highly dependent on the lens used. The M.Zuiko 14-42mm produces the slowest AF speed amongst all the lens tested, namely the 17mm and the 14-140mm. The 14-140mm being the fastest.
- Even when using the same lens, the GH1 was 50% faster than the E-P1, except for the 17mm.

So, while there is hope that Oly may improve AF speed of the E-P2 with TruePic V, I am doubtful it will be drastic. Not if the same 14-42mm kit lens is used...

*sigh* so it is possible that Olympus packed in some new features that many do not care for into the E-P2 and left the single biggest issue with the camera, AF speed, unfixed.

Oh ya, the most improvement of the comes in BLACK!!!

At the same time, Olympus launched 2 new lenses for the m4/3 mount:

  • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6 super wide-angle zoom lens (first half of 2010)
  • M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 14-150mm F4.0-5.6 high-power telephoto zoom lens (first half of 2010)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Leaked Specks for EP2?

The improvements are rumored to be:

1) True Pic V+
2) External EVF 1.44mp
3) 3″ LCD 460k
4) 1080p 30fps
5) Flash Sync 1/180 or 1/250 and below
6) 3.5 ~ 4 fps shooting speed

Hope TruePic V+ will bring about a much faster AF speed compared to E-P1....

Thursday, October 29, 2009

E-P2 Launch Date 'Confirmed' reported that E-P2 is very very likely to be announced on Thursday 5th Nov 2009....

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

E-P2 on 31st Oct 2009?

The rumors have been rife about the E-P2. Apparently Olympus China accidentally (?) posted an option for E-P2 on the sidebar menu. There is no leaks on photos yet.... except for a few Photoshop attempts.

On the other hand, some other rumors said that there will not be an E-P2 on 31st Oct. Maybe it will be the E3 successor. Anyway, it is only a couple of days away. Let's wait and see.

Monday, October 19, 2009

1D Mark IV & D3s

Today, Canon announced their next monster to take on the recently announced D3s. Here are the highlights of the features:

- 16 mpx APS-H (New amplifier design to improve SNR, Deeper photodiode wells for higher DR, closer gapless microlenses to photodiodes)
- 10 fps at 14-bit RAW (121 JPEG, 28 Raw, 20 Raw+JPEG)
- ISO 100-12800 (Extended 50-102400)
- 45 pt AF (39 Cross type) All selectable with Ai Servo II
- Viewfinder Shutter to prevent flare from viewfinder
- 1080p video with control of frame rate (1080p @25/30fps, 720p @50/60fps)
- Live view AF

Photo credit:


- 12Mpx Full Frame Sensor
- 9 fps (12-bit?) (11fps DX)
- ISO 200- 12800 (Expandable to 100-102400)
- 48 Raw file buffer
- 51 AF Point (Multi-CAM3500FX)
- Two CF Card slots
- 720p Video 24fps

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

GF-1 Reviews

Over the past couple of days, reviews of the GF-1 have been rolling in. The general consensus has been very consistent vs the E-P1.


- The JPEG output of GF-1 produces some flat colors and weird color shifts in certain colors. Dpreview noted a pinkish shift in the blue skies while imaging-resource noted that yellow becomes muted and orange becomes brown. These are mainly observed in JPEGs and RAW output are generally free of such issues.

- Panasonic's JPEG output falls behind competition in terms of details and high ISO JPEG output.

- Lower Dynamic Range than E-P1


- AF, Metering and overall performance of the camera is superior to the E-P1.

- Better screen, flash and an EVF option

- Despite weak JPEG outputs, RAW outputs are great

Monday, October 12, 2009

Is Size a Matter of Perception?

The word out there is that m43 cameras are point and shoot size with the powers of dSLRs. It is true that the latest m43 are styled very similarly to PnS rather than dSLRs and when compared to conventional dSLRs such as 500D and the D3000, the m43 cameras look considerably smaller.

However, we need to take things into perspective here. These are cameras with a 4/3" sensor inside and thus are already supposed to be smaller to begin with. To see a fair comparison, we need to compare the m4/3 to the classic 4/3 in order to know what kind of miniaturization have been achieved with these cameras.

With the arrival of the m43, everyone seems to have forgotten the beautifully engineered e-4x0 (namely the e-410, e-420 and e-450), which was wearing the crown of the 'world's smallest dSLR' before the arrival of the micros.

I have done a patch-work image, putting together the GF-1, the E-420 and the G1 to show just what kind of achievements have been made with the m43 in terms of miniaturization. You can click on the image for a larger version.


From the front, you can see that the e-420 is very similar in size to the G1/GH1 series. The GF-1 is effectively the G1 with the grip and the EVF shaved off. Do note that if you were to mount the EVF on the GF-1 the sizes would be much more similar. From the top view, the GF-1 is notably thinner but being an interchangeable lens system, variations in the length and size of the lenses would reduce the impact on the thinner profile.


My conclusion? I suspect that functionally, the slight saving in terms of size may not make too much a difference in everyday usage. Although it is impressive that m43 cameras pack video, more AF points, image stabilization, evf and full live view into a package that is smaller than e4x0, it does lose some very important features of the dSLR - the optical viewfinder and the phase detect AF system. To some users like myself, these two features define the dSLR experience. No doubt Panny did achieve some engineering marvel with its lightning fast contrast detect AF, but at about 0.34s-0.4s, this is 2x-3x slower as compared to the 0.13-0.14s focus speed of the e-4x0 series.

Lets see, a full featured dSLR at a price of about US$400 (inclusive of kit lens) vs a slightly smaller m43 at double the price... I may just go for the e-4x0 series. Sorry, I just can't live with cameras with grainy EVF and sub-par AF speed at double the price of a perfectly usable dSLR. Especially when the reduction in size is somewhat short of being truly dramatic.


I think Olympus has a great product in the e-4x0. They could have done so much with it but didn't. What went wrong? It may have something to do with product positioning. Since the e-4x0 is aimed at new dSLR users, ladies as well as PnS upgraders, they should have taken the path that Panasonic took when it created the G1. They gave it chic colors are market it to the yuppies and PnS users.

Since Olympus is not planning a G1/GH1 type of camera, they can squeeze more out of their current offerings by transforming it a little. Some suggestions include:

- Streamline the design, add more colors and turn it into a desirable chic gadget.
- If possible, they can shrink the whole package a little more to be in line with the G1/GH1
- Add in video
- Add more AF points
- Use the same 12mpx LiveMOS sensor as the rest

This would inevitably increase the price of the e-4x0. Alternatively, Olympus can continue to sell this excellent camera at current price points and make the appropriate enhancements to it.

EDITED 15-Oct-2009:

Added some more photos. Credit: Olyigel on Flickr

The more I look at it, the more I feel that the size differences is not very wide.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What if Santa makes cameras...

I wonder if Santa's elves have the technical expertise to make advanced photographic equipments. If they do, I would like to wish for my dream camera this Christmas ... again. Even without Santa, my wish could come true, perhaps by next year. There has been some whisperings that Canon and Nikon may make compacts with APS-C sensors.

What's new? You might ask. We all know that compact cameras with APS-C sized sensors have existed for a while now. Roughly one month back, Leica had just announced the Leica X1 and Sigma have had a compact cameras based on the APS-C size Foveon sensor for more than a year. The Micro Four Thirds are compact wannabes with an SLR sensors in them.

Despite such recent excellent efforts by manufactures, I still have a wishlist that have yet to be fulfilled by any of them. In this post, I present my wishlist with an doctored image to match it.

  • Fixed Lens - For a compact camera, I don't care about interchangeable lens actually. If I wanted to invest in new lenses, I would buy them for my dSLR. Fixed lens saves weight, saves cost and are normally better matched with the sensor. Retractable lenses with built in lens cover is most preferred. Many owners drop the detachable lens covers of the LX3 and DP1/DP2 at least once every time they use the cameras.
  • Zoom - The current crop of compacts with APS-C sensors all come with prime lenses. A 24-105mm as shown in the diagram is more than good enough for me. Image Stabilized lenses would be geat. I can live with f4.0 on APS-C... ofcourse f2.8 would be better
  • WA and Tele Converterd - If the manufacturers can provide good wide-angle and tele converters for expansion, that would be excellent.
  • Compact Size - Although Micro Four Thirds are smaller than dSLR, they are still not real compact cameras. I would set the limits of compactness to the size of G11 or LX3. Having a non-detachable fixed lens will make the camera smaller.
  • Fast Contrast Detect AF - Most people know the story of Autofocus speed of the DP1/DP2... and to a lesser extend the E-P1. Enough said. Panasonic demonstrated that this is possible with contrast detect AF.
  • APS-C Sized Sensor - I think Four Third sensors are good but APS-C are still better. My feel is that APS-C hits that sweet spot, giving an optimum balance in sharpness, DOF, Drange, noise and cost.
  • High ISO Performance - If the ISO performance is not up to scratch, then there is no use for such a large sensor. Generally APS-C should be reasonably noise free up to ISO 800 and produces acceptable noise level at 1600.
  • Flash and AF Assist - PnS are for social snaps, mostly. So Flash and AF Assist light are essentials. A Flash with a guide number of 6@ISO100 should be enough.
  • HD Video - It would be great if this little camera can replace (at least partially) the function of your video camera. Video AF tracking would be useful as well... and ofcourse stereo sound!
  • Fast Shot to Shot time - This PnS will cost close to a dSLR. It is only fair that it should have a very good shot to shot performance to match.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Battle of the Brethen

They are almost of the same size, using the same sensor and conforms to the same m43 format. To many confused buyers, deciding between these two cameras is as tough as choosing tomatoes in the market. However, apart from the apparent similarities, these two cameras have significant differences which will sway buyers one way or another.

In this post, I will try to summarize the core differences between these cameras and hopefully highlight that deciding factor which will help buyers make up their mind.

Why would one buy the E-P1?
  • Great color rendition - Following the tradition of Olympus cameras, the color rendition of the E-P1 is vibrant and very attractive to many of its fans. Colors are just sufficiently saturated and at the same time still pleasing. The GF-1 on the other hand is said to have a weird tone for yellow and orange. In some sample studio shots I have seen, the color produced by the GF-1 looked a little on the yucky side. Having said that, apparently the color issue can be fixed with post processing...
  • Greater ISO settings (100-6400) - Sometimes, the ability to move up the ISO alone is a good enough feature. In times of emergency, that would be precious. In terms of high ISO performance, I think it wins some and loses some. I see the E-P1 doing very well in high contrast black/white patterns at high ISO but the GF-1 on the other hand wins on certain color patterns details. All in all a neck to neck fight to the line.
  • 4/3 compatibility (AF) - The Olympus 4/3 adapter for the E-P1 preserves the AF capabilities of these lenses. That means that users get a bit more choices in terms of lenses. However, AF speed remains an issue across all the lenses.
  • 3rd Party Batteries - To begin with, some dealers in Asia actually bundle an extra battery with the camera. Batteries are a very important part of the m43 system. Why? Think 'full time LIVE VIEW', which translates to 'battery draining device' in any language. The certified 200 or so shots for such a cameras mean that a backup battery is not a luxury, it is a necessity. While Olympus graciously allowed 3rd party batteries to be used with the E-P1, Panasonic decided to intentionally create an artificial shortcoming in their otherwise flawless camera by disallowing 3rd party batteries to be used with them. Yes, you heard me right ... and they even took the pain to code it into the firmware.
  • Stereo Mic and Jack for external mic - This is another area that the Panasonic engineers seem to have fallen asleep while designing the camera. As you will read later, despite all the features that they manage to squeeze into and the technical marvels that they have achieved with the Panasonic GF-1, they left out a simple feature that puts a dent in the otherwise flawless video capabilities of the GF-1, an external microphone jack. Video enthusiasts worldwide will scratch their heads and wonder why they would buy the GF-1 for the supposed superior video capability (with silent, fast continuous AF) but are left with a sub-standard mono soundtrack to go with it.
  • Art Filters - The E-P1 comes with several simulated filter modes. Apparently it is attractive to some users who do not want to spend time doing these effects in post processing.
  • No RAW File Post Processing - The Panasonic cameras include PP information in the RAW files that the converters cleverly apply while converting them. This fixes lens and other issues quietly without the user's knowledge. Many photographers cry fowl as they feel that Panasonic has robbed them the ability to fully control RAW file processing. Some others also feel that Panasonic uses in-camera processing to replace true efforts in creating superior lenses. If in-camera processing bothers you, then the E-P1 would be the ideal choice.
  • In Body Image Stabilizer - One of the main draw of the m43 is the ability to mount Leica M and other old lenses via adapters. However, with a crop factor of 2, many medium focal length lenses becomes tele. In body IS means that any lenses, manual or autofocus becomes IS enabled. Yes, any lens new or old, AF or MF all become IS enabled. Although some may feel that optical IS is slightly superior to in body ones, I think that is a small price to pay given the amount of savings you enjoy since OIS lenses are much more expensive than non OIS ones.
  • Compact Kit Lens - The E-P1 comes will a cleverly retractable kit lens, giving the total package a smaller footprint than the GF-1. The reason why anyone is interested in the m43 is definitely because of size. Anything feature that decreases the size of the system, even if it is only for transport is welcome. Do note that this retractable feature comes at a price... please read the GF-1's 'Kit Lens' section for the trade-off.
  • Exterior Design - Many fans out there already describe the E-P1 as the camera their heart would tell them to buy, rather than one that their mind would tell them to. The retro PEN design is the deciding factor for many. I mean, if anyone wants to buy a black chunk of a camera that works flawlessly, they would have bought a dSLR right?
Why would one buy the GF-1?

  • Speed and Performance - The AF speed of the GF-1 is very close to the other G series cameras, the G1/GH1. If tested with the same lense, I suspect it will equal the GH1 which is close to or exceed the best entry level dSLRs out there. That means it could be about three times faster than the E-P1. If you are shooting any living things apart from very old people and plants, I think the AF speed of the GF-1 would really come in handy.
  • AF in Video and other Video Features - The GH-1 was dubbed the Video Cam and dSLR hybrid. the GF-1 aims to provide similar features. The video mode on GF-1 supports continuous AF and subject tracking. Currently, no dSLRs supports this feature in practical terms. The E-P1's AF speed in video mode is definitely not acceptable by any standards. The GF-1 also supports AVCHD light and a lot more several frame rates vs resolution settings than the E-P1. However, when it comes to sound recording for video, it is a different story.... (please read the E-P1 section)
  • Features - There is no denying, the GF-1 was designed by engineers while the E-P1 seem to have been designed by a bunch of romantics. Feature wise, the GF-1 handily beats the E-P1 by a very huge margin. Here are some of the highlights:
  1. The 460k LCD screen, the super high-tech built-in flash, the AF assist beam and an optional electronic viewfinder. While some may feel that the LCD screen does not help users take better photographs, I tend to argue that seeing a better representation of what was taken would quickly allow users to adjust settings and nail the next shot. While the 230k LCD screen of the E-P1 is pretty good, it loses out to the Panasonic's LCD screen.
  2. As for the Built-in Flash, some argue that it would be pointless as the result would never be acceptable by any decent photographer. In my opinion, many GF-1 users will be users upgrading from Point and Shoot (PnS) and one of the main functions of PnS are lowlight party snapshots. If m43 cameras want to fill that gap between PnS and dSLR, it has to be good at being both. Why would anyone buy a camera that is larger and much more expensive than their PnS when they can't even do regular things like party snapshots? So although the flash is a little weak at GN6@ISO100, it is already much better than many buil-in flash from PnS.
  3. AF-Assist Beam - This is a small but very useful feature in my opinion. Olympus can claim that they do not need a built-in flash because the E-P1 can handle high ISO very well. However, high ISO does not solve the issue with low light AF speed. In low light, the E-P1 AF system hunts frantically for a lock on, sometimes without success. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to take a shot at all because the camera's AF system fails. This is a situation that AF-Assist beams would really help.
  4. Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) - The external EVF is most useful in situations where there is bright sunlight. Under bright lights, most LCD screens would be almost useless. Being able to compose using an EVF would be helpful. Compared against the optical viewfinder (OVF) shipped with the E-P1, the EVF provides an almost 100% screen coverage and supports all lenses, including zoom ones. The OVF from Olympus only supports the 17mm fixed lens. However, do note that if one attaches the EVF, the GF-1's size would be closer to the GH-1. I am sure we all agree that feature wise, the GH-1 is definitely more desirable than the GF-1...
  • Kit Lens - Whether it is due to in-camera processing or otherwise, the 20mm f1.7 kit lens of the GF-1 has been very highly rated. AF performance is very good, it is very sharp edge to edge, bokeh is nice and the lens is very well behaved in terms of CA and Vignetting. Almost a perfect pancake lens. The 14-45mm zoom lens which was first seen with the G1 is also a very good lens. Imaging-resource has found some front element vibration issue with the E-P1's 14-42 kit lens which causes blurring when the shutter moves. This tilts the scale to the favor of the GF-1's 14-45mm lens although it is more bulky than the Olympus lens which comes with a clever retraction mechanism. The 14-45mm has a 52mm filter thread while the 20mm f1.7 has a 46mm filter thread. The Olympus 14-42mm lens has a filter size of 40.5mm, while the 17mm pancake has a 37mm filter size. Comparatively, I think the Olympus filter sizes are a little less common than the Panasonic ones, at least in the dSLR world. This means that getting filters for these two Panasonic lenses are pretty easy (52mm and 46mm are very common filter sizes)
So which one should I buy?

I guess despite writing a lot of words, I have not made coming up with this answer any easier :D This is because everyone's answer would differ. It is due to this fact that coming up with one that suites everyone would be impossible. Only a personal checklist would make it easier for an individual to come to a conclusion. I would imagine your checklist to include items such as:

  • Do I need a speedy AF speed? The E-P1's speed is more like an slow PnS.
  • Do I need pop-up flash?
  • Do I need to focus in low light?
  • Do I like Olympus color?
  • Do I take a lot of videos and need AF in video mode?
  • Am I particular about video soundtrack?
  • Which camera design do I like more?
  • Do I have a lot of Olympus 4/3 lenses that I would like to reuse?
  • Do I need the EVF?
  • etc.. etc..
A closing note. There has been a rumor that Olympus will release the E-P2 by the end of the year. Given the short time frame between the E-P1 and the E-P2, here is what I think the E-P2 would be:

  • A marginal upgrade to E-P1. There is no time to develop many new features. I feel the E-P2 will fix the major quirks of the E-P1
  • I am not sure the AF speed will be much faster...
  • There may be a built-in flash and even an AF assist light
  • LCD screen resolution may improve
  • Oly does not seem to have a good EVF technology so I believe there will be no EVF
  • Oly will fix the kit lens front element vibration issue

Monday, September 28, 2009

Did the "Chicken and Egg Problem" just made way for the "Phone or Camera Puzzle" ?

More often than not, I have been in occasions when I wished I had my camera with me. Let's face it, not many people carry a camera in their pocket everywhere they go (even Point and Shoot). On the other hand, most people carry a camera phone in their pocket.

So far, camera phones have not been able to match even the most basic Point and Shoot (PnS) camera in terms of features as well as image quality. While some of the latest camera phones are equipped with 1/2.5", comparable to many PnS cameras, phones lose out when it comes to lenses. Many of the current phones are equipped with mere pinhole-camera like lenses instead of the extending lenses of many PnS.

Here comes the SCH-W880. Finally one company, Samsung, decides to put some full fledged PnS quality features in a 3G phone (or vice versa). While this is not new, Casio released a phone version of the Exilim camera earlier, the Samsung phone is a full fledged 3G phone with a heavy weight 12mpx camera sensor. The Exilim phone has very basic 2G phone functionality and a less impressive 5mpx camera.

Efforts for device convergence have definitely taken a quantum leap.

- Model No. M8920 or SCH-W880
- 3G (UMTS)
- Bluetooth
- 720p HD Video at 30fps
- 3x Optical Zoom (with extending lens), 35mm-105mm Full Frame Equivalent
- Flash LED light (AF Assist?)
- Xenon Flash
- 3.3" AMOLED Screen
- 12Mpx sensor (Same as Pixon 12, Size:1/2.3")
- P,M, Auto, SCN, HD Mode Dial
- Dedicated Shutter Button
- Zoom lever around shutter button
- 115.8 x 56.9 x 16.3 mm

Updated: From new information that the camera starts from 6.3mm - 18.9mm and that of Pixon12 to be 4.9mm (28mm equiv), I deduce that the sensor in this phone is 1/2.3". This is unusually larger than most other camera phones and larger than many PnS. Sensor Size : 6.16 x 4.62 mm Crop Factor: 5.62x F-Stop: f3.0-f5.6 ( little slow)

This definitely looks more than a camera with phone features rather than a phone with camera features. One gripe I have with regards to this phone is the size, which looks rather big for a camera phone. If you see it as a PnS camera with phone function however, it is as tiny as it gets :-)


7D Gets High....on ISO

For the past 2 years, Nikon has been leading Canon in the high ISO battle with their D300, D90, D5000 and D3000 dSLR, all using the same 12mpx sensor. All Canon managed was a weak 50D as a response. Canon's latest model (prior to the 7D announcement), the 500D, fared a little better but in most reviews, the D90/D5000 are still hailed as the kings of high ISO in the APS-C market. Will the 7D do any better?

As a start, with the release of 7D, Canon seems to have managed to match (or exceed) almost every single aspects of the D300/D300s least on paper.

However, experience told us that what's on paper does not always translate to better image quality. For example, the 50D's gapless-microlens technology was supposed to give better high ISO performance but never really delivered what was promised. Canon fans have been waiting anxiously to see what the image quality of the 7D will be like. Will it be another disappointment?

Will Canon be able to squeeze in 20% more pixel into the 7D, making it 18mpx while at the same time, improving the high ISO performance up to the point that it matches the D300s, Nikon's latest? Sounds impossible... doesn't it?

I thought so too. Then a discussion on dpreview sparked some hope...

I began to make own observation of the image samples from ISO 1600 - ISO 6400. Finally, I picked the set from ISO 3200. Why ISO 3200?

ISO 3200, in my opinion is the most crucial battle front for high ISO supremacy. Most of the current crop of APS-C dSLR show only minor differences at ISO 1600, while ISO 6400 is normally too noisy to make any conclusive observations.

I also chose images with NR-OFF. This is because I am more interested to compare the 'raw' sensor performance rather than NR strategies.

Here are the crops of the images I was looking at, from

(click image for full sized version)

Images at ISO 3200

Noise Reduction - OFF
credit: (please make donations to

My observations:

  • Noise - The D300s is significantly noisier than the 7D. The red cloth swatch is grainier on the D300s than on the 7D. Also, the gray area between the two bottles is grainier on the D300s. The 7D remains reasonably clean while blotches (caused by chroma noise) start to appear on the D300s output, especially on the gray area between the two bottles.
  • Details - When a camera produces clean images at high ISO, it does not necessarily mean that it has better ISO performance. It could be that by default, it applies a strong NR (yes, some cameras do that even when NR is OFF.... hellooo Sony). If that was true, then details would likely be smeared. However, this does not seem to be the case here. The details of the 7D is still notably better than the D300s. For instance, the 7D retains very good details on the red swatch. Veins on the red leaves are still visible and they are visibly better than those produced by the D300s. Moving down to the lower images, 7D retains the horizontal lines on the word 'Pure Brewed' almost perfectly while in the D300s output, the horizontal lines are already blurred. Similarly, the 7D kept visibly better details on the HELLAS bottle, the mesh pattern on the black background has been well retained. On the other hand, the D300s starts to smudge the label and yellowish patches begin to appear bellow the word 'HELLAS'.
  • Color - The other effect of high ISO is reduced color intensity and decreased Dynamic Range. Looking at the red swatch, the 7D still produced vibrant red color while the D300s starts to produce visibly duller color. However, the D300s still produces a more saturated yellow for the liquid in the bottle. Overall, the Canon retains much of the color at this ISO, edging out the Nikon.

  • The Canon image is definitely the cleaner of the two. Ofcrouse, there is a possibility that Canon apply some NR even though the NR is set to OFF. Whatever Canon is doing, for sure it is not at the expense of image details.
  • The details of the Canon image at ISO 3200 is simply stunning. In most key areas, the Canon is out resolving the 12mpx sensor. This is by no means an easy feat (Remember that the G10 lost out to the LX3 in terms of details at high ISO, despite having 40% more pixels.)
  • Unlikely as it seems, especially with the recent disappointment with the 50D, Canon has managed to do the impossible - adding 20% more pixels to a sensor while improving the high ISO performance to a level at which it not only beat its predecessor, it actually matches or possibly even beat Nikon's latest and greatest APS-C camera, the D300s.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

7D - So far

So far, several sites have posted previews, sample images and measured performance on the 7D. They all carry the disclaimer of a 'beta camera' and promises an even better performance when the final version is released.

Here are my thoughts so far:

1) High ISO Noise - As far as I am concerned, I only use up to ISO 1600. ISO 3200 is a nice to have but I will only use it in extreme emergency. From the sample images, ISO 1600 is definitely better than 50D. Some sites says it is about 1/2 a stop better than 50D and that it is now a draw with the D300. In my opinion, it is still a little behind the D90. However, taken into consideration the 50% can in pixel count over D90, I think the high ISO performance is simply stellar.

2) AF speed - The measured full AF speed by imaging-resource put it at almost double that of the Nikon D300. While pre-focused, manual focus and contrast detect focus speed is behind the D300, it does show Canon's new AF system hold tremendous potential

3) Resolution - From my visual observation, the 18mpx seems to have been given a slightly lighter low pass filter, giving it a good resolving power. I have yet to see a comprehensive MTF chart on this but with 50% more pixel, I doubt Nikon can pull any more tricks to match the resolution of the sensor. (Nikon managed to somehow match resolution of the Canon 15mpx 500D with the 12mpx Nikon D5000 when ACR is used to convert the raw files.)

Other unmeasured aspects include:

1) Dynamic Range - This should be interesting to see.
2) True MTF Resolution
3) AF Tracking accuracy and speed

Other aspects of the camera which cannot be truly appreciated by just reading include:

1) Viewfinder
2) LCD screen
3) Feel of the grip
4) Overall responsiveness

Monday, August 31, 2009

7D Arriveth

There were rumors that it would be FF, there were rumors it would be 1.45x crop. Well, the press release says that it will be the standard 1.6x crop. The other specs remain true.

Here they are, if you have not already read it somewhere else:

  • 18mpx high sensitivity sensor - New manufacturing process supposed to create a low noise sensor with the same gapless microlens technology as the 50D. I am really excited about the low noise claim. Since Canon has once again crammed more pixels into the sensor, let's just hope that they did not screw up like the 50D again.
  • 8 fps - At 14bit, this is undisputedly the fastest prosumer SLR around.
  • Popup flash commander mode - Yipee, now we can have a built in flash trigger, bye bye ST-E2
  • 100% viewfinder at 1x magnification - Drool
  • 19 AF points - These can be grouped together, like what the D300 could do. The centre AF pt is double crossed making it faster and more accurate. Continuous AF speed has also been improved. The rumor is that this has been ripped from the 1D series and stuffed into this baby.
  • 63 zones metering
  • Exposure compensation is now +-5ev
  • Magnesium Alloy body and better weather sealing - This now covers the batt compartment, memory card slot and button. Apparently weather sealing is as good as pro level cameras now
  • New 3" LCD - It was reported as 92 million dots, but I think it is more likely to be 920k (you see, the report seems to have been run though the Goolge translator). The new LCD has a maximum viewing angle of 160 deg diagonal as well as vertical. Apparently, Canon managed to eliminate the gap between the LCD and the protector glass panel. This is supposed to reduce reflection and improve visibility under intense sunlight.
  • True HD Video - 1080p or 720p at 30/25 fps and 640p at 50/60 fps.
If I behave well, maybe Santa will give me the 7D as a gift :D

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Alphas Arrive

Sony has decided to pre-announce the new Alphas. You can read it here and here. As of now, there are no sample images to show the performance of the EXMOR R sensors.

As expected the A850 is just a scaled down version of A900 aimed at the lower end market. Hopefully, the high ISO performance of this new camera would be improved over the A900. Several reviews has shown that the A900 is a little weak when compared to the competitors.

The A5x0 specs did show a few exciting innovations such as:

  • In Camera HDR Mode - The camera takes three bracketed consecutive images and create an HDR image in camera. This was first seen in Pentax K7 and Alpha users will be happy to see it in the new A5x0 series. While this may not be as convenient as the pixel grouping technology of the Fujifilm Super CCD EXR which takes two images in one shot, it is a step forward in making it easier to create hassle free HDR images for photographers. These photographers may find themselves reaching for a tripod a little more often though.
  • Faster Shooting Speed - The A550 can shoot at 7fps at speed priority mode. The speed priority mode means that the focus and exposure is locked. Focus lock may work with a small aperture when shooting moving objects, however that would neutralize the advantages of faster lenses.
  • Two mode live view - There are two modes of live view for A550. The first is just like any other cameras in the market, using the main CMOS sensor. The mirror will lock up and the optical viewfinder will be blocked. However, the A550 does not support contrast detect. Thus this mode of liveview only supports manual focus. In the second mode, the A550 uses a second sensor for liveview and the optical viewfinder is totally unblocked. So users can take photos as they would before liveview was introduced in dSLRs. In this mode, AF functions as per normal, using the fast Phase Detection mode. You can read more here.
  • 3" 921k dots articulating LCD - While the A500 only supports a low resolution LCD, the A550 is the first dSLR with an articulating LCD at 921k dots and 3 inches.
  • EXMOR R sensors! - To me, this is the single most exciting component of the A5x0 cameras. The A500 spots a 12mpx one and the A550 spots a 14mpx one. I am definitely not the only person who is glad that Sony is not using the improved light sensitivity of the EXMOR R to pack more pixels but instead improve the performance of current sensor configurations. I would prefer the A550 to be 12mpx but I guess Sony, whom some people attribute as the starter of the dSLR mega pixel war, would not accept the idea of downscaling the pixel count of their dSLR. I guess staying put is in itself a commendable effort by Sony.
  • Better battery - What can I say? Sony makes batteries. They are one of the biggest manufacturers of batteries for laptops, gadgets as well as standard consumer batteries. Even other brands use their batteries. Better batteries gives more shots between charges. Great news to event and wedding photographers. Great news to holiday makers and travelers.

What I find lacking in the A5x0 series:

  • Video - Some might argue that they do not use the video functions of their dSLRs but I do see some pretty impressive clips on the internet shot with video capable dSLRs. My personal take on this is that at least adding video would give Sony's marketing department and distributors on less major dent to fill when they polish and spin their sales pitches.
  • Built Quality - By looking at the price level of the A550, I suspect the A550 will invade into the territories of prosumer models such as the Pentax K7, the Nikon D90 and the Canon 50D. At least on paper, the weight and materials used on the A550 suggests that it may not match some of these other models.
  • No AF in live view mode - With all the point and shoots and digital video cameras that Sony built, one would think that Contrast Detect AF would be an easy feat for Sony engineers. I am little surprised to find Contrast Detect AF missing in the normal liveview mode of A550. Again, some might argue that CDAF is never fast enough or useful on dSLR anyway. Besides, the innovative "optical viewfinder enabled liveview mode" supports the highly responsive Phase Detect AF. Well, I figure that if Sony wants to support Video mode in the future, the main sensor definitely has to learn do contrast detect. You cannot shoot video with the mirror up, unless the second liveview sensor in the A550 (currently used specifically for liveview) is upgraded and is able to shoot video... now that is an idea! A dual sensor dSLR. A dual processor dSLR have been around in the forms of A900 and Canon 1D mkIII for a while now, why not a dual sensor dSLR?

Updated: My mistakes, it seems like the A500 & A550 do not use the new EXMOR R sensors. They are the old EXMOR sensors. Sigh, what a disappointment.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The rumored Alphas - Advanced commandos or mere clones?

In the past year or so, Sony seemed to have lost some some steam in their dSLR line up. After their historic launch of the affordable full frame body A900 and the highly acclaimed A700, they only managed a series of lackluster launches in the form of Alpha 230, Alpha 330 and Alpha 380. Feature wise, these shooters are not up to the marks set by their competitors and they are simply put, uninteresting. The recent review by dpreview proved this.

"If you shoot mainly at base ISO, in live view and Auto mode the Sony DSLR-A380 is worth a closer look. For everyone else the camera can only become a consideration if its price drops significantly. At the Sony's price point there are currently several better alternatives available."

The rumors are rife again for a set of new Alphas. Namely the A500, A550 and A850. Here are the rumored specs.

Alpha 500
  • 12 Mp EXMOR R CMOS sensor
  • New Quick AF Live View
  • 5 Fps

Alpha 550 - This is essentially the same as A500 except for a higher resolution sensor.

  • 15 Mp EXMOR R CMOS sensor
  • New Quick AF Live View
  • 5 Fps

Alpha 850

  • 24.6 Mp Full Frame EXMOR CMOS Sensor
  • 98 % Viewfinder
  • 3 Fps

Now you may think that Sony has produced a set of uninteresting clones again. Look closer. Sony has recently announced a new breakthrough in CMOS sensor design which was said to greatly improve high ISO performance, the EXMOR R. This is good news because sensor noise and poor Drange has been the main issues plaguing modern sensor with such high pixel counts. If a new technology can solve these issues, it simply means that photographers can shoot in extreme low light conditions without worrying about the loss of details due to image noise.

Sony has since release two point and shoots, the DSC WX1 and the DSC TX1 using this sensor technology. Initial sample images from these two sensors showed mixed results. While the high ISO performance was good, it seems like the low ISO performance is a little weak. We will have to wait for a proper review to know the real verdict.

If the A500 and A550 indeed uses EXMOR R sensors as said in the rumors, I think they will be interesting cameras to look at. However we have to understand that sometimes technologies, being technologies, may not deliver what they promise. An example is the Super CCD EXR which promises good high ISO performance. Lab tests have shown that the conventional CCD in the LX3 has better high ISO performance than the fanciful Super CCD technology.

As for the A850, this could be Sony's answer to the rumored Canon 7D. It seems like it is not using the EXMOR R technology which has not found its way to full frame sensors. If priced right, this could be worth a look. Otherwise, the A850 would be just another clone from Sony's clone factory.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Promise of a new m43 knight?

As the compact digital cameras market become commoditized, it puts a tight squeeze on the margin of manufacturers. Consequently, manufacturers bring their battle to dSLR market where there is a little more room for differentiation and the margins are, well, marginally better. Traditionally, the best selling dSLRs are the entry-level models. Growth in this segment, however, have been stifled by the complexity, bulk and weight of dSLRs.

Despite manufacturers' efforts to shrink the size of these cameras, the mirror boxes and minimum flange focal distance limits the amount of shrinking that can be done.

A year or so ago, Panasonic and Olympus jointly developed a class of warriors in this segment, the micro fourthirds (or m43 as some calls it). They basically redefined a standard for interchangeable lens cameras without the mirror box and a flange focal distance which is 20mm, shorter than most flange focal distances out there.

Panasonic released their first m43 camera last year, the G1, and their second with video functions this year, the GH1. Both models were excellent cameras. The autofocus speed (the main concern with cameras without a mirror box) was on par with many entry level dSLR and they are feature packed. However, the G1/GH1 was broadly criticized for not making full use of the m43 specifications to shrink these cameras.

Then came the Olympus E-P1, the camera tipped to deliver the m43 promise to the fullest at least in terms of size. While the image quality of the E-P1 has been nothing short of stellar so far, some tests show the autofocus speed of the E-P1 to be sub par even when compared to some compact cameras. That has generally been the Achilles Heel of the E-P1. The lack of a built-in flash has also been a shortcoming for some photographers.

So on one hand, you have a camera with a fast AF and great features but needs intense dieting. On the other hand, you have a camera that is a little more petite but is slow in AF and lacks a few key features. Why merge these two together and get a winner?

Well, this is what the rumored Panasonic GF1 plans to deliver. The leaked picture above showed a camera in a very similar dimension to the E-P1 but has a built-in flash and a possible electronic viewfinder. Some say that the dimensions might be a little smaller than the E-P1. Given Panasonic's excellent track record in m43 AF speed, I believe this camera will be as fast as the G1/GH1 in AF.

The rumor for the launch of the Panasonic GF1 on the 1st/2nd Sept has been going so strong that a rumor site have given this rumor a 'It's done' or 'confirmed' rating.

So if the GF1 did indeed come true, do we have a perfect m43 now?

Nope, according many Olympus fans. They accuse Panasonic of applying too much in camera processing to the images. Reviewers have found that Panasonic corrects CA, distortions, vignetting and other image issues either in camera or by default when using the Silky Pix and Adobe RAW file converters. Many Olympus users also like the color rendition and texture of the E-P1 better than the Panasonic line up. I believe many E-P1 users will feel that GF-1 will not be the ideal answer to their prayer.

So is the GF-1 is the "last hope" for m43? As Yoda said, "There is another one."

A new rumor has surfaced that the E-P2 is on the horizon. The rumored date of release is some time in December 2009. Personally I don't care for an EVF or any other new features. All I am hoping for is for them to shrink the size a little and I really really hope they will speed up the AF considerably. A built-in flash may also be useful for emergency situations.

60D - The Empire Strikes Back?

The D300 was an important camera to the Nikon camp. For the first time, they created a camera that bettered Canon's best prosumer offerings in almost every department. To many that was the turning point of the Canon dominance in the dSLR market. The noise control was good, there were more AF points, the frame rates (at least in 12 bit mode) was better and at that time, the 12 mpx sensor was miles ahead of the then 2 year old 8mpx 30D.

What followed did not help Canon. The 40D and 50D hardly put a dent to the (perceived?) superiority of the D300, at least specs wise. For so long, Canon struggled to find a good answer to the D300.

So after years of being taunted by the Nikon fans for failing to produce a proper response to the D300, is Canon finally delivering that knockout left hook that Canon fans have been waiting for? In fact, it could be a double combo. Apart from the 7D rumor in my previous post, there is also rumor of a second APS-C based camera.

The top of the camera posted above could be the 7D or the 60D but I tend to believe it is the 60D. Rumors of an upgrade to the 50D has been rife. Since its release, the 50D has been much criticized by reviewers and users for its less than ideal per-pixel sharpness and high ISO noise. Here are the rumored specs on the 60D:

  1. 15mpx sensor - The 500D has demonstrated that a lot can be squeezed out of this sensor. With a few tweaks, Canon engineers manged to improve per pixel sharpness as well as high ISO noise control. If Canon engineers can further improve the performance of this 15mpx sensor, the 60D might be a worthy upgrade to some 50D users. See the DRange and Noise Control section for more details.
  2. 98% VF - This would be nice.
  3. 19 pt AF, all cross type - This would be the much awaited improvement to the EOS prosumer cameras. Since the D300, Nikon has had 51pt AF and even the D90 has more AF points than the 5D2. What is the use of so many AF points? You may ask. It is true that many photographers have said that they only use the center AF points. However, I have heard wildlife and sports photographers saying that numerous accurate AF points would be really useful when shooting fast moving wildlife or sports action. At the very least, having a few more AF points would make Canon systems look less handicapped in this aspect.
  4. Better DRange and Noise Control - Many Canon users find the Drange of the 50D more than enough in real life situation. However, after being faced by an onslaught of criticisms by reviewers and users based on the DxO mark ranking of sensors, I think it is time for Canon to start chalking better measured results on this sensor.
  5. 1080p Video (30fps) - The Digic IV or V chips have the capabilities to deliver HD video so why not?
  6. 7-8 fps - If the 60D can deliver 7-8fps in 14 bit mode plus 19 pt AF, it would be the equivalent of the baby 1DIII. What would be even better is if Canon allow the 60D to shoot 10fps at 10mpx/8mpx at reduced resolution.
  7. New Higher Capacity Battery - More shots between charges would always be better.
Other things on my wish list:
  1. In Camera HDR with multiple bracketed shots
  2. Popup flash which can be used as a flash commander for off camera flash (Nikon already has this)
  3. In camera correction of CA, distortion
  4. Faster Contrast Detect AF
  5. Better video controls
  6. Lighter weight
  7. SD Card support, which makes lighter weight possible
  8. Faster FPS at reduced resolution
  9. Image Quality x 100000......

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The force is strong in the 7D

The rumors are getting stronger, 7D seems imminent. Here are the reasons:

  • Previously, as reported by canonrumors, there were some leaks on Best Buy. Apparently some employee mistakenly listed certain unannounced Canon products on their online store. Some of these products are G11, SX20, SX120 and S90. All these have been announced yesterday. Apparently 7D was also one of the leaked products. So the chances of it being real is quite high.
  • The leaked photo above has been scrutinized by members of the forums. They adjusted the levels of the picture in photoshop which would expose and patching or cut&paste. There were nothing suspicious so the photo look genuine.
  • The rumors for 19th August and 1st September came at the same time. The 19th August rumor was genuine. There is a very high chance that the announcement of new Canon dSLR should be real.

BTW, some of the rumored specs of the 7D and my thoughts on them:

  • 12mpx FF Sensor - probably an improved on from the old 5D. That sensor is still as good or better than most of the recent ones.
  • More AF Points - I am doubtful about this, it should be the same 9pt AF. Afterall, FF cams are mostly for landscape/portait or wedding photographers. These guys don't need too many AF points. I think the rumor of the the 60D having more points is more credible
  • 1080p Video and live view - This is obvious. Even 500D has it.
  • Digic IV - This is obvious, even G11 has it (although it is probably a different processor called the same name)
  • 3" OLED - I doubt it, it should be the same 920k dot screen
  • 3.9 fps - Unless purposely slowed down, the Digic IV processor should be able to have faster fps. Unless the mirror mechanism hits a limit at 3.9fps.
  • Flash - This is a possibility, since everyone has been complaining about the 5D series's lack of flash while D700 has one.
  • ISO 100-25600 - This is possible. The old 5D with Digic II could do ISO 3200 pretty well albeit having some chroma noise. I did an experiment to remove the chroma noise before and the picture still retains a lot of details as if it is 1-2 stops lower. I expect the 12mpx sensor to be usable up to at least ISO6400 or 12800. I expect the improved 12mpx sensor to be better than the 5D2's 21mpx sensor in terms of noise control. Why? Well, simply because the photosites are much bigger.
  • HDR mode - I am wondering whether this will be a 'tone curve assist' kind of trick by Digic or there will actually be successive bracketed shots taken and merged like Pentax K7.
  • $2700? - I think a better price range should be $1700. That would be closer to the D300s pricing. If I don't remember wrongly, Canon does not have a good offering in between the 50D and 5D2. The 500D has been pitched against the Nikon 5000D. The 50D has been pushed down towards Nikon D90 and there is nothing against the D300/D300s currently.
If executed well, I think the 7D will create a new low end FF market... really exciting.

S90, the Mini-Me of G11

Image soure: Canon USA

Having written a bit about the G11, I think I will also mention the Mini-Me of G11, the S90.

I had a look at the specs, the main advantages that the G11 has over the S90, at at least on paper, are:

  1. Faster max shutter at 1/4000s
  2. Flash hotshoe and compatibility with EOS accessories
  3. Better built quality
  4. Swivel Screen
  5. Longer zoom of 28-150mm vs 28-105mm
However, the S90 has certain advantages over the G11 as well, they are:
  1. Faster, f2.0 lens
  2. Faster fps at 1.9fps vs 1.1fps of G11
  3. Half the weight 175g at and a much smaller size at 100x58x31mm (about the size of a mobile phone)
  4. That cool looking but functional control ring
For all practical purposes, I think the S90 would be a better camera for me. If I wanted to use all the EOS bells and whistles, I will use my dSLR.

Many people underestimated the power of being able to slip a camera into the jeans pocket. If a camera can be slipped into my jeans pocket and it has an identical IQ as another similar but bigger camera, I think my choice is made.

What I like about the Canon G11 and what can be improved

Image soure: Canon USA

Again, it turns out that the rumors are true. From a few weeks ago, and other rumor sites had been predicting that there will be an announcement on the 19th Aug for several Powershot cameras. The most famous Powershot being the G11. There were also predictions that it will be a 1/1.3" backlit CMOS and other features. Well, this part is not true but we have the next best thing, the 1/1.7" High Sensitivity CCD.

Already, many people are complaining about the specs. I decided to look at this camera starting with a positive attitude and think about I do like about this new least on paper.

  1. 1/1.7" 10mpx High Sensitivity CCD. Well apart from the name, there is not much details about this technology but I do give it the benefit of a doubt that it will be as good or better than the LX3. I can almost hear many enthusiasts cheering for this 'end of megapixel war'. While I like this sensible decision, I must say I was impressed by the amount of details the G10 can resolve at base ISO which out resolved the EOS 1000D in this test. Many manufacturers start to use CMOS in PnS but strangely most articles you read about CMOS vs CCD would tell you that CCD has lower noise and higher sensitivity. Some even mentioned that CCD are for high end cameras while CMOS are for cheap low quality cameras. Canon's own product the SX1 IS demonstrated that CMOS is not actually better than CCD for PnS. I am actually glad that Canon stuck with CCD in this case instead of just following the crowd. Hopefully the DRange would be as good as promised.
  2. 1/4000s max shutter speed. This is comparable to the entry level SLRs like 450D and 500D. Having a fast shutter speed is useful in preventing blowout highlights. Another use for high shutter speed would be for exposure bracketing. In this mode, the camera will take 3 successive images at a maximum compensation of -4ev to +4ev (eg, -4ev,-2ev,0ev or 0ev,+2ev,+4ev). Note: +-4ev if achieved when you bracket at a range of 2ev and apply an ev bias of +-2ev. In the past, -4ev in good light is difficult to achieve with a shutter speed of only 1/2000.
  3. Swivel LCD. This is great when you want to take pictures in a crowd. Just raise your camera up, adjust the LCD and you can still compose. Also, you can take pictures from very low angle without looking really stupid.
  4. 1/2000s max flash sync. I am not very good at flash techniques but all I know is a fast sync speed allows you to freeze very short moments of an action. Humming birds in the dark, droplets of water and any kind of very fast action is dark environments.
  5. Compatibility with Canon Accessories. This is not new but I hope it can be improved. I am especially excited about the flash compatibility. There will definitely be caveats but it could beBold possible to bring a G11 into a studio, attach the same wireless flash trigger and trigger the studio flashes. Also for weddings, photographers can use the G11 as backup bodies and use the same off camera flashes as their other EOS 5D(2) or other EOS dSLRs. I am very sure there are some caveats but I am excited about the possibilities.
What I hope to be improved further:

  1. Faster shooting speed. 1.1 fps is definitely a little too slow. What happened here? I thought 10mpx files would be smaller and faster to be processed. Perhaps the Digic IV chip is doing more processing here. Lets see what happens when sample images comes out. A speed of about 3fps would be enough.
  2. Faster lens 28-140mm is a good range but it would be better to make it about f/2.0. Some people would prefer 24mm but I think that is not as important as having f/2.0. Creating a wide angle adapter for the G11 would solve the issue of wide angle.
  3. Bigger Sensor Canon has put in most of the dSLR features into this camera, all it lacks is a bigger sensor. This does not only mean lower noise. The crop factor of the 1/1.7" is about 4.7x which means an f2.0 lens is giving aboutf9-f10 in terms of depth of field (DOF). In comparison, a 1/1.3" sensor would give you about 3.5x crop. Also, Drange and CA controls would also be improved with a bigger sensor. Bearing in mind potential technical challenges (given the 5x zoom lens) and size factor, I think a 1" sensor with a crop factor of 2.7x may just do it for the G range of cameras.
  4. 30 Seconds shutter Canon has already achieved 1/4000s, why not match the longest exposure of the dSLRs?
  5. HD Video I don't personally take videos with my still cameras but hey, in every post that I read about G11, everyone is complaining about the lack of HD video on the G11. There has to be some real needs for it right?

UPDATED: I found a post on dpreview describing the sensor used on G11. Apparently it could be this Sony sensor. It was said that this sensor did have a sensitivity which is almost double that of normal CCD sensor. (330mv vs 170mv) at 330mv, that should be only 50% less sensitive as than a Sony SLR APS-C Sensor at 500mv. I am starting to think that this sensor holds a lot of promise...