Checking in on the whole noise bug-a-boo. Theater style. And some thoughts about current digital offerings.

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.


Jim Simmons said...

Given your stated desires in a camera experience I can't for the life of me figure put how you've not given the Fujis a whirl. I use the lowly XE1 and it is a fantastic shooting experience - very good EVF (highly tuneable to match capture results, visible and fairly trustable (optional) histogram to guide nudging exposure a bit if desired), broad range of quality lenses (image quality and haptics), and a god solid feel in the hand. You also get the feeling you're with a company that cares about photographer's needs and desires and not cynically working the market. Video is not where you need it to be, Kirk, but they could get there. I think you'd find some glass in their collection, though, that you'd want to stick with for a very long time.

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Agreed upon.

E-PL5: same sensor, the viewfinder even tilts up like the display, should become real cheap now that the E-PL7 is out.

E-M10: same sensor, two wheels, a free hot shoe for radio remotes, the viewinder is even built in for a price which is hard to beat.

Consumer DSLRs, compared to those two? Dinosaurs with focusing problems (focus accuracy, not speed which is their one and only advantage when tracking moving targets). My E-520 is still a fine camera with good build quality, but it doesn't have the slightest chance against one of those mirror free products when it comes to getting good results real fast.

Kirk Tuck said...

JIm. I wish the camera makers would announce their plans years in advance. Then I could make more rational decisions but when I first looked at the Fujis there were way to many issues. Especially with the Pro-1. Now the system is great. But when I started buying Panasonic GH4's and GH3's the Fuji system was not yet amenable to pro use. For me.

I still think the GH4 smokes the other cameras when it comes to video...

Anonymous said...

I hope that the Nikon has some redeeming value when used in a controlled situation for some portrait work, residential photography, and some situations where there is time to chimp. I feel that Nikon is quite a conservative company regarding holding back on technical innovations that indeed do benefit working photographers. How about keeping a glass prism that is dually capable of receiving a real time projected digital image at the flick of a switch?

Kirk Tuck said...

Oh sure. The Nikon files are sharp and high resolution, the color is good and the DR wide but so are many other cameras which handle better and give users so much quick feedback.

A dual finder? I guess Fuji has kind of been there but really, once they get the focusing speed equal and the screen resolution invisibly transparent in the EVF why would you want the extra weight, expense and complexity of a dual system?

Anonymous said...

Maybe a Nikon 85mm f1.8g would work nicely on the D7100.. could that combo save the nikon?

Anonymous said...

Question for you Kirk: I much prefer the optical viewfinder because I photograph nature and, especially, wildlife. I never shoot anything indoors or in a controlled, studio setting (I am a hobbyist, not a pro, so I have that luxury). When shooting animals, being able to see actions (as it is happening, not a split second or two later, as with EVF) and anticipate the next move is absolutely essential. The only other option is to spray and pray.
Yeah, I often wish the D7100 (which I use) was a bit smaller and its focus was more reliable (as it is, it is not bad - but could be better). But I have not yet found a mirrorless solution that works for wildlife photographers. Nothing in the market comes even close.
I am not asking this to be snarky - I am really curious - can you think of a way that mirrorless could do what us wildlife photographers (and probably sports photographers as well) need while using an EVF? Because I can't, and unless/until such an option is available, I can only hope that at least one maker continues to make competent OVF cameras going forward.

Frank Grygier said...

The Luminous Landscape weighs in.The Mirrorless Revolution

Anonymous said...

Canon is making it somewhat annoying so far for architectural photographers: Canon's 24mm tse, 17mm tse, and new 16-35mm f4 11 are all great.
Too bad, though, about the mirror, prism, and sensor. It's a bit silly to adapt those lenses to a mirrorless Sony to get a better sensor. There also a problem with mirrorless due to the pricy superwides available for those cameras... I guess we can't have it all yet.

Carlo Santin said...

It's fun to speculate. I think there are some woeful times ahead for camera companies, all of them, and I don't think there's a damn thing any one of them can do about it. Soon the idea of a camera will be obsolete. I said camera, not a photograph or the need for such. Photography will morph into something else entirely. Smart phones are on the verge of some big technological breakthroughs. Soon they will takes photos and video that are more than good enough for about 98% of the population. They'll morph with tablets and laptops somehow and will be able to do everything for you including taking nice pictures. Very soon there will really be no need for anyone to buy a camera, or bother with lenses and bags and other silly things to weigh you down. It's already happening. Teens aren't really interested in cameras they way we are (I say we in the assumption the VSL readers are for the most part, mature). Sure some are, but most see a big DSLR or even a small mirrorless camera as "cool" but a gadget which serves no real purpose for them. I work with teens every day, I hear them every day. They don't give a rat's ass about cameras. They do love photographs though, especially those that feature themselves and their friends, and a good smart phone above all else. Having a crappy phone equals social humiliation and I'm not being facetious. Their entire world, their entire identity, is wrapped up in that phone. These kids are the future. It's not me, I'm almost 50. Sure Nikon can sell me shit for the next few decades but what about after that? Most kids don't even know what Nikon is...you mean Nike? Olympus is from the mythology unit we do before Christmas. Sony makes Playstations and tv's. Panasonic? That's what I use to make popcorn when my friends come over to watch vines and hang out. When the phone morphs into something else...well good luck trying to sell a camera to that generation of consumers.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, if it weren't for their too-sparse lens line and some wierd ideas about ergonomics, the D7100 replacement you want would probably be the a6000, or a slightly hot-rodded version of it with a better EVF like the EM-1's.
The paranoid in me keeps thinking that the reason that there isn't a Nikon APS-C mirrorless, even at the entry level, yet is that Sony is now releasing its best tech first in its own products. Nikon's implementation of OSPDAF on the Nikon 1 was great for its time, but is now eclipsed by that of the manufacturer of the sensors in its most market-dominating DSLRs of the recent past. Sony is not gonna let that opportunity to gain market share get away from it. Nikon will get its sensors, but I suspect not with Sony OSPDAF technology in them. And without it, Nikon can't move into large-sensor mirrorless and keep its fabled IQ leadership.
Besides that, Nikon is spending all its exploratory money these days on buying up health care companies. It doesn't see cameras as a profitable area for investment and risk-taking anymore.

David Kay said...

Kirk, If your wishes are for "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." Why no mention of Sony? I love my OM E-1 and Pany G3, but Sony seems closer to your ideal. What's wrong?

Ray said...

@Ken:"When shooting animals, being able to see actions (as it is happening, not a split second or two later, as with EVF) and anticipate the next move is absolutely essential."

With respect, you really need to beg/borrow/rent a recent mirrorless body. In the EVFs in the last couple generations of MILCs that lag just doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with Carlo Santin. The kids like photography, but they don't think they need a separate camera. Within a year or two we will see the younger generation shooting covers and high-end advertising with camera-phones.

Yeah, APS-C/DX is nice, but lens size is as important a camera size.

Govis said...

Poppycock. The handling on Olympus cameras short of the EM1 (which I havent tried) is poor compared to mid-level Nikons. The Panasonic G3 series is nothing great to right home about.

Let me know when Olympus decides to allow the user to change the shutter speed where Auto-ISO kicks in, or lets you use AE-L hold and an AF-ON at the same time. I'm waiting.

The EVF (for some things) and their size are their only advantages. They're also very overpriced compared to DSLRs and lenses, which is definitely holding them back.

Anonymous said...

I am also politely curious about the nature of your experience and (negative?) impressions about Sony A7, A6000, etc..
Do they simply not feel like photographers' cameras ergonomically? Or is the lack of priority of designing accessible lenses for their camera systems?
Maybe Fuji is the best choice; but a lack of bracketing options other than -1, 0, and +1 ev baffles me.

Dave Jenkins said...

Mirrorless has many advantages, but shooting with flash isn't one of them. Unless someone figures out a way to pre-chimp flash, I'm afraid I'll have to stick with an optical viewfinder for a substantial portion of my work. Either that, or go back to reading exposures with my Minolta Flashmeter.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the rumoured Samsung NX1 is the right one..
time will tell.

Tarjei T. Jensen said...

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

The sales of the mirrorless cameras has been disappointing outside Japan. Probably because people have expectations about how a DSLR should work. And they will adjust their workflow to that.

I see no desperate need for Canon to go more mirrorless. Live View appears to be good enough. It is certainly good enough for me.

With the new generation of sensors we get faster AF in Live View than we used to have.

If I want more screen area, I can hook up my iPad or an Andoid pad to the camera (very disappointing that the new 7D2 appears to not have WI-FI).

There is a bullet train on the track, but contrary to your belief Canon DSLR users are already aboard.

Finally : People who believe that money can't buy you happiness are definitely not photographers.

Anonymous said...

"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."

Yes, that's right, but it's too late for smart 'disclaimers' like that. They're futile. You already opened the Pandora's box. Using the word "noise" in the header, and talking about Canikon and mirrorless vs. dSLR in the actual post is guaranteed to lure in all the usual suspects. I predict three times the usual amount of comments. ;-)

"But I have not yet found a mirrorless solution that works for wildlife photographers. Nothing in the market comes even close."

Sounds like you haven't actually used any of those options, Anonymous. There are plenty of wildlife shooters, both seasoned pros and amateurs, who are delivering stunning images of bears, wolves, eagles and other wildlife these days, and not complaining about the gear. I for one haven't had any issues worth whining about, either, and I never spray and pray.

There's nothing wrong in using and preferring dSLR gear for wildlife photography, but one should be honest to oneself and admit that it's not about the gear. It very rarely is.
There's usually always something to work around with any gear, as no gear is perfect. Way more than gear, it's about personal preferences. It's a matter of taste.

"Why no mention of Sony? I love my OM E-1 and Pany G3, but Sony seems closer to your ideal. What's wrong?"

I believe it's because Sony's still way too close in the counter-clockwise direction on the gear wheel, as he only recently traded his Sony gear (albeit A-mount) to mFT gear. Nikon is on right now, and the next likely gear to appear would be either Fuji or perhaps even Samsung, if their soon to be launched flagship product will be any good. Or maybe Canon's on next, and Sony will re-appear eventually, when the gear wheel spins through another full circle. ;-)

No offence intended, Kirk, I'm not criticising, just kidding a bit, as this 'wheel of gear' can sometimes be not only entertaining, but also quite useful to us readers. :-)
No need to take ourselves too seriously, right?

Anonymous said...

"Teens aren't really interested in cameras they way we are [..] I work with teens every day, I hear them every day. They don't give a rat's ass about cameras. They do love photographs though, especially those that feature themselves and their friends, and a good smart phone above all else."

They're just kids. They're not much different from us in our teen years. Most of the teens didn't give a rat's ass about proper cameras and photography back in the day, either. Only a very few took photography as a hobby during their teen years back in the day, but some did, and some still do today. The smartphones haven't really changed that. The kids that do get hooked into photography will buy a real camera, which they'll use alongside their obligatory smartphone.

Besides, the selfies and snapshots taken by the flocks of teens (or adults, ftm) aren't really 'photography' in the first place. They're just instant snapshots, not to be preserved for prosperity or later use like normal photography.

The smartphone has already made snapshooting instant and easy for everyone, not just for the teens. The smartphone itself is superficial, it's just a prominent piece of today's mainstream technology. But the teenage behaviour underneath is pretty much the same as ever. Before smartphones there were other "must have" items every teen had to have. But we all grew up eventually, didn't we. Quite a few of us did, anyway.

The point being that the smartphones have already changed the world, they are already as prominent among the grown-ups as they are among kids. Those who need or are interested in quality photos or video will end up getting a proper camera eventually, anyway.
I don't think the cellphones and tablets are going to replace them. Sure, the overall sales of cameras will shrink even more, certain kinds of cameras may fade away completely, but cameras in general won't go away any time soon.

typingtalker said...

Canon and/or Nikon will develop and ship the DSLR equivalent of the heads up display. The camera driver will have the choice of a through-the-lens optical view of the world or an EVF picture of the world projected through the same hole on the back of the camera. Maybe a little tiny flip up mirror or a half silvered mirror for the EVF image.

It will be magic.

Thomas Kr├╝ger said...

Using the Sony A6000 together with a Canon 6D, and I'm pretty happy with this combo.

Rufus said...

Talking of gear, I do not understand why Kirk is not all over the Sony A7 system.

The A7S has a silent shutter, amazing video and adds low light capability to the mix. The A7R offers mind boggling resolution and crop-ability.

Lenses are limited in range but all that Kirk is likely to need are available. And they work great with old lenses through adaptors.

They have great EVF's.

Heck, Kirk would even find the menus familiar as they are the same as his old A99.

The A7's seem to have the resolution and high ISO performance of Full Frame together with the small size of M4/3. Seem to be the perfect compromise for a shooter like Kirk and his portrait work.

I dont understand why he's ignored them.

Stan Yoshinobu said...

One sad thing about CaNikon is that they have all that they need on the shelf to build amazing mirrorless cameras.

For example, Canon could take a 70D sensor, stick in an eos M and a GH4-size body, add EVF, stop crippling the video codecs, and throw in the adaptor for EF-M to EF lenses. They already have the biggest distribution system and CPS. The suits worry about cannibalizing their other lines, but either they have to do it to themselves or someone else will do it (Sony, Panasonic).

Anonymous said...

I cannot see that younger generations will want to shove their cameras up to their faces to look through any kind of a viewfinder. EVF's are a transitional technology.

the lounge lizard said...

I think when the younger generation try to take anything in bright sunlight, they'll see the merit in having something which lets you see what you're doing!

Kirk Tuck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirk Tuck said...

I can never find the diopter on the rear screen of my camera.... And I can't see it very well in bright sunlight. And, and, and,

JasonT said...

I sort of agree with the "Canon can make a mirrorless anytime they want" crowd.

I'm not sure the Canon corporate brain is savvy enough to do so, but I am sure they can if they choose.

Because Canon in effect already have a mirrorless 35mm camera with an EF mount lenses.

The C100 and the C300.

OK they don't do RAW stills and they're only 8MP or so, but the technology to take still is clearly extant.