Monday, February 23, 2015

Reflections on CP+ 2015 Announcements

Allow me to share with you my quick reflections on the most important announcements in this year's CP+ show.

UPDATE: I have updated this post with the surprising announcements from Panasonic, and an almost confirmed rumor regarding their upcoming body announcements.

Update 2: I've added my own comments below as well. - Mic

Regular camera gear announcements cycle has become shorter than ever. There are more cameras and lenses announced every year than a few years back. And the competition between all the players is getting fiercer, and more exciting for the end user. Choice is never a bad thing. Or is it? Just look at the cameras announcements in the year 2013. Maybe I shall do a comparison with the year 2014. On with the list:

  • RICOH: a full frame Pentax DSLR shall be coming in the future. A 70-200 f/2.8 &150-450 K-mount lenses were announced. A Pentax KS-2 DSLR, an 18-50 weather resistant lens, and a weather resistant flash were announced too. I never saw or touched a Pentax or Ricoh product. Thus, I have no comments. 
    • Mic: My first DSLR was a Pentax and I liked it except the focusing was not fast enough for candid shots.  Also, the lighting system is primitive compared to Nikon.  But Pentax still has awesome handling and very good IBIS.  They also have pretty good selection of lenses.  I know Pentaxians have clamored for a full frame Pentax for a long time now, but I don't know if it will add any new users.
  • SONY: didn't seem to announce the rumored A7000, A9 or A7R II with 50 MP, but at least they showed new FE lenses for the FF alpha series. Maybe they will announce the rumored cameras later in 2015. Expect more cameras with IBIS. UPDATE: almost confirmed that Sony will announce the new bodies by the end of March/beginning of April.
    • Mic: I'm frankly disappointed that they didn't announce anything new.  Maybe their next cameras are not yet ready.  But now they have seen Samsung's tech, so I'm hoping their next cameras will meet or beat Samsung's sensor.  All they have to do is add BSI and if they add IBIS, even better.  But I'm trying to keep my expectations low.
  • NIKON: announced the D810A with a modified IR-filter for astrophotography and a slew of Coolpixes. I know some astrophotographers who will be excited about this camera. There are already people/shops modifying the Canon 6D & Sony A7x cameras for astrophotography, so this should address part of that specialized market.
  • SIGMA: there was a delightful addition to their Art series lens lineup in the form of the sharp 24mm f/1.4 lens (although I fail to see how f/1.4 would be desirable at such a wide angle except for astrophotography). They also announced the dp0 Quattro, which I am not excited about. And finally, there's the 150-600 lens announcement. I respect Sigma for producing some of the sharpest lenses with pleasing background rendering at great prices compared to OEMs. The $209 Sigma 60 f/2.8 Art lens is one of the sharpest lenses I have used for MFT, with deliciously smooth background rendering.
  • FUJI: didn't do much apart from showing an updated lens roadmap. Hats off to Fuji for producing quality lenses at great prices, and at a very fast pace compared to the other lazy dinosaurs. If I want APS-C today, and want to be in safe hands: I would buy a Fuji system, full-stop. I don't recommend DSLRs for my friends who want a camera to shoot their kids with anymore, they leave it most of the time at home because it is bulky.
    • Mic: I like Fuji's selection of lenses.  There aren't a lot of lenses but they are the kinds of lenses I would want.  I also like the Fuji colors.  But IMHO, the sensor is the bottleneck.  Using the DPReview studio comparison widget, the X-T1 has less noise but the Sony a6000 has far better detail than the Fuji X-T1 (I suggest looking at the high-frequency detail such as hair).  So even if Fuji lenses are good, the net result is that Sony is still better in my opinion.  In addition, Fuji lenses are quite expensive, and the X-T1 has only 9 phase detect AF points in the middle, so I have my doubts about whether it is suitable for candid family photos.  If Fuji improves their sensor then I think it is a good APS-C system, but they haven't improved their sensor since 2012.  I wonder if they don't have the capability to improve it any more.
  • SAMSUNG: announced the NX500 which is a small camera with the heart of the NX1. Samsung is not shattering the camera market right now, but I believe they will pave a way for themselves in the camera market by the sheer force of releasing a zillion products at all levels, featuring higher technologies and more features compared to the competition. Still, the APS-C crown goes to Fuji.
    • Mic: I wasn't interested in them before but I'm impressed by the NX1's sensor (the first APS-C size sensor to have backside illumination).  From the DPReview studio comparison widget again, it seems significantly better than the Sony a6000 sensor, and I like its red hues better as well.  The NX1 price is ridiculous but the NX500 price is reasonable and it's the same sensor, and even has 4k recording.  The NX1 and NX500 have hybrid AF, and in fact have even more phase detect AF points than the a6000.  In terms of lens selection, I think they have a better variety than Sony E-mount.  I just don't know how well it autofocuses in real life, and I don't know how they handle and I don't know how reliable they are.  But this is one system that would be on my short list if I had to start all over again.
  • CANON: mega announcements. Now we have two entry level bodies: 750D and 760D, with higher resolution sensors and wifi, we have the world's first full frame 50 mega-pixel bodies: 5DS and 5DS R (a la Nikon D800/D800E), we have a slightly less lousy EOS M3 third attemp from Canon at the mirrorless market, we have a going-to-sell-like-hot-cakes 11-24 f/4L lens, and we have a new G3X camera announcement that got drowned by the other announcements. Out of all those, the G3X is the one that sounds the most interesting. It has the same 20MP 1-inch sensor as the G7X, and a 24-600 lens. Stylus 1 competitor anyone? The 50MP sensors would attract a lot of product/landscape photographers who have the sturdiest tripods, and I really hope the new sensor can match the dynamic range and noise characteristics of the Sony sensors. The 50MP sensor doesn't sound like a lot if you think about it, the MFT cameras have 16MP sensors that are approximately quarter the size of a FF sensor. So if you multiply 16 by 4, you'd get a 64MP sensor!
  • OLYMPUS: lastly, we have 5 announcements from Olympus: E-M5 Mark II, Olympus Air, 8mm f/1.8 fish-eye PRO lens development, 14-150 lens, and finally E-M1 firmware v3. The updated E-M5 ticks many right boxes that makes it a worthy successor to the original E-M5 that paved the way for all MFT cameras: similar styling to the original, better buttons & dials from the E-M1, immensely enhanced 5-axis IBIS which allows it to shoot better videos and 40MP stills with better color accuracy than a D810, better video codec (with mic & headphone jacks), compatability with older battery grip, cool accessories (dot sight), and several other things. Bravo Olympus. The 14-150 lens will suit many one-lens shooters. The Olympus Air is a gimmick that will either silently die, or make a breakthrough in remote and aerial photography, thanks to small size and open source. Finally, I am extremely excited with the new firmware update for the E-M1. It will be officialy released on the 24th of Feb (in 3 days), but it has already leaked and things sound positively encouraging. The updated firmware will improve the continuous AF capability of the E-M1 from 6.5 fps to 9 fps, which is a LOT, especially that it essentially means it will improve the tracking capabilities of the camera in general. I will write a dedicated post to discuss this update.
    • Mic: Speaking of sensors, I have the same concern with m4/3 as with Fuji.  They haven't improved their sensor since 2012.  The 40mp still mode on the E-M5 II is very interesting and innovative, but it seems that the sensor itself hasn't been improved.  So I'm beginning to wonder if they have reached their limit.
  • PANASONIC: without warning, Panasonic announced two new MFT lenses that are available for pre-order now on B&H for $400 each. The lenses are a 30mm f/2.8 Macro and a 42.5mm f/1.7. Both lenses have optical image stabilization. No one knows how these lenses will perform, but if they turn out to be good, the 42.5mm will fill a nice gap for Panasonic users who want a fast 85mm lens with OIS, and don't want to pay $1300 for the f/1.2 version. Olympus will have a nice competition for its famous 45mm f/1.8. The macro lens seems to have a short focal length for insects and other scenarios where you need a longer working distance, but we'll wait and see.