Legendary Austin actor, Jaston Williams on stage at Zach Theatre.
My wonderful friends in the marketing department at Zach Theatre asked me to come and photograph a dress rehearsal of Jaston Williams's one man play, Maid Marian and the Stolen Car. I packed up a little bag of toys and headed over on Tues. evening. I shot primarily with two cameras and two lenses. I was sporting the Nikon D7100 camera with the 18-140mm zoom and the Olympus EM-5 (in its natty black finish...) with the 25mm f1.4 Pana/Leica lens.
The slow zoom pushed me to shoot at 6400 ISO while the much more functional 25mm f1.4 allowed me to stick around ISO 800 with an f-stop around f2.5.
What's my takeaway? While the D7100 is very usable for this kind of work at ISO 6400 the quickly changing light is murder on exposure consistency and the slower feedback loop of shoot/chimp/correct/shoot/chimp/re-correct means far more missed shots than when I use a camera with a good EVF. The feedback loop goes something like: view/correct/shoot/shoot/shoot.
Yes, the finder on the Nikon is pretty and the sensor is big and gorgeous but I'll trade all that any day for nimble, accurate and fun-to-hold-and-shoot. Yes, we could have used faster lenses on the Nikon but that would have only changed the ISO I ended up setting, not the iterative nature of shooting with a (finely made ) last century paradigm.
Looking forward here's what I see in camera marketing: The camera company that is most successful with professionals and advanced enthusiasts in the future will be the forward thinking company that incorporates a great APS-C sensor; a wonderful EVF that cuts down on the iteration-chain for more effective, almost intuitive, shooting, great lenses that work well wide open and good video.
The Olympus system is almost there with the OMD EM-1 but it remains to be seen whether or not they can sustain profitability in the market long enough to continue consumer camera operations. The marketing hurdle with regards to the masses is always going to be the sensor size. It's too bad they haven't found a marketer/advertising agency who can succinctly and movingly explain the inherent advantages of the smaller format. ( I volunteer to give it a whirl. I couldn't do worse....).
Panasonic is in a similar boat but they've made a conscious decision (I think) to cut all the consumer crap out of their line and focus on the higher end products that we enjoy. The GH4 is 95% of the way there. A bit more work on the Jpeg processing and the EVF quality and they have a good shot of staying in the marketplace and adding market share.
Nikon had a good idea with the V system but destroyed whatever advantages they had when they screwed around with the formula and went gunning for rank consumer markets instead of forward thinking pros and competent amateurs. For Nikon to truly compete going forward they desperately need to create a camera with a sensor as good as the one in the D7100 but with a mirror less configuration that features a wonderful EVF and lightning fast response. Screw the idea of making a faux rangefinder. It's not the size that matters to most shooters, it's the tight feedback loop of full information we get in the EVF finders!
They have to get that figured out. If they do they can introduce cameras like the D810, the D610 and the D7100 but with brilliant EVFs instead of last century optical finders. Keep the same kinds of lenses, keep the big, hearty bodies. Fix the damn feedback loop! Oly shooters come for the size (supposedly) but they stay because of the finders. Make the finders nearly universal and a major advantage of m4:3 goes by the wayside.
I think Nikon will finally get it because they have little to fall back upon. It's morph or die. It's adapt or shrink into irrelevance. If they want to hedge their bets they can keep a few OVFs in the pipeline during the inevitable transition. That will make the traditionalists (over 50's) happier. But if they want to provide cameras for the post digital age they need to figure out that once we have almost automatic visual feedback and control we're never, ever going back. And that includes people like Michael Reichmann who only a few years ago pissed on EVFs as not viable. Now he's dumped all his Nikon stuff for a Sony A7r system---- partially because of the size difference but, in my opinion, his brain finally accepted the idea that seeing the final image before you pushed the button was------revolutionary, not evolutionary.
Good luck to you, Nikon. I hope you see the light and I hope it's coming through a small, wonderful eye level screen instead of dead glass....
But onward to everyone's current "golden boy", Canon. The mantra is that they will survive because they've got the momentum. They'll keep making the traditional DSLR cameras because they own so much of the market. And the other line I always hear is, "They have the resources to compete in mirror less any time they want." I maintain that they may of the resources but they lack the will and the foresight or the EOS-M would never have been such a cynically terrible camera. Deep down I'm starting to believe that they are the Japanese Kodak and they are so sure of their internal research and direction that they don't see the bullet train heading toward them on the same track.
The sad thing for all these guys is that the entire market is changing. Cameras in general are going away. They are being incorporated into all kinds of other products. They are being relentlessly de-valued by smart phones and combo computer products like tablets. If I ran Canon right now I'd jump in and start eating my own babies by making a line of incredible mirror less cameras in the full frame and APS-C spaces that required all new lenses and all new attachments and were the first line to implement the new generation of sensors that we've heard is coming down the line. And just wait until Apple successfully incorporates a great camera into a beautiful wrist watch that automatically loads the images to your iPhone....
My advice to Canon? Make a mirror free product that's demonstrably better than any mirror less product out there. Three models: good, better, best. Launch with a full line of lenses: extremely wide zooms, fast primes and small but high performing long zooms. And toss the lion's share of marketing into their promotion. They can "halo" the existing products. They can cannibalize sales from all the competitors. Canon has the overwhelming share of name recognition. They have the deep pockets. If they don't follow through I'll be waiting for their Kodak moment with their camera division.
But wait. Isn't there already a company out there that hits all the main criteria I've been pounding away at? Yep. And it's the only company whose recent products I haven't used. It's Fuji. And it's just right now that they got all their shit together in a meaningful way with the XT-1. Previous to that they had their share of software and firmware issues, zany non-compatible raw file issues, slow focusing issues and even the idiocy of launching a flagship product (the X Pro-1) without an adjustable diopter on the finder. A small point for most but they are still behind on the video front...
But to their credit they've kept improving and now they offer pretty much the golden triangle of good sensor, good (feedback loop) EVF and by most accounts, great lenses. It remains to be seen if they will act on their temporary supremacy and cement some increasing market share by advertising what they have to a wider market. Right now they seem to be the player with the mix. If Canon and Nikon want to aim at a competitor I suggest that they study Fuji and then take their best shots. It would be a waste of capital to aim at Olympus and Panasonic.
But really, this is all a discussion about marketing trends and the future of cameras as we know them. It's relatively inconsequential to me and you in the short run because I really do believe that nearly every good prosumer and above camera in the current market is more than good enough to serve as an optical-mechanical conduit to my own vision. But your mileage may vary.
I suggest that we have a bumper crop of choices in the stores right now. Enjoy it as I think the crop will hit some marked declines in the near future. There are no "permanent" players in the camera industry and now, just like the professional photographers they serve, the companies will only be as popular as their last round of products.
Other than that how did you enjoy the theatre Mr. Tuck? The play was hilarious and touching at the same time.... favorite camera? That was the EM5.