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...