Random Notes Bouncing Around My Brain. Saturday Evening.

Swimming Pool. Lisbon.

A lot of cameras have come into the market lately; most are iterations of existing models with various added features or specialized feature sets. It's nice that almost everyone is busy iterating new models but there is little, newly launched, that propels me from my chair at the dining room table to my office computer to engage in pre-ordering much of anything. 

Sony announced the new A7iii and it looks great. Key features are improved video chops and the new battery. Both are nice, and welcome, but hardly a big enough jolt to move existing A7ii buyers to  rush to the camera store. The "nerd" feature of the new model is a sensor that is purported to have wider dynamic range and I'm sure there are a few people out there who feel that this would be welcome for their work. For me? Heck, I'm not using up all the dynamic range I've got right now. As a first time buyer into the Sony system the new A7iii would be a smart acquisition. You get ample resolution from a full frame sensor as well as a myriad of little improvements that should make photography more fun. But in the end it's the same resolution as the A7ii, the same color family, the same EVF resolution, the same rear screen resolution, and pretty much the same stabilization parameters too. If all you want a camera for is to generate a nice, big file you might be a thousand bucks ahead to just source the previous generation (A7ii) and learn to put a couple of extra batteries in your pocket...

My thoughts about the A7Riii are about the same. A bit more dynamic range, a bit faster throughput but mostly the same imaging performance one can already achieve with the A7Rii. Already have the A7Rii? Save your money and wait for the next generation after the iii and you'll probably feel smarter. As always, if there's something unique for you in the new model (can't think of what it really might be....) and you have the cash then go for it. 

My question for the moment is: Where is Sony going with the A6x00 series cameras. While the A6500 and A6300 are very capable image generators and both are very good at AF and video do we really need to keep iterating all that imaging goodness in a body design that is so tortured? It was novel to make a camera with such great output as tiny as possible five or six years ago but I think we've learned our lessons. If you want to have a camera body that's comfortable to hold and use you need to make it big enough to fill the average user's hands, to provide enough square centimeterage 
of surface area for good controls and enough mass to help make the camera stable. Not to mention that a bigger body gets you a bigger, better battery and much better thermal management. I'd love to see an APS-C version Sony mirrorless in the A7 body style; or even bigger. The APS-C sensor is a logical choice for great video capture and a bigger body (a la the Panasonic GH5) would allow for twin UHS-ii card slots and the ability to run the camera in the sun without shutting down or compromising imaging performance. 

I'll sign the petition for a "pro" style body that uses the newest Sony A7xx battery and the faster cards. That, and a much bigger EVF window/magnification. Let's make sure when they get around to producing it (inevitable) they remember to put that headphone jack on the side....

I won't go into the A9 because it's just a stupid camera for the kind of work I do. To pay more for less capability than an A7Riii in every regard but speed is just amazingly stupid for anyone not requiring some zany speed metric for some highly specialized task. It's not sports. No one needs 20 fps to track most any sport. I conjecture that they make this camera just to torment Nikon. 

Nikon. In my mind, for my potential use, Nikon only makes two cameras. But both of them are still very useful and bright arguments for sticking with the lens system or for staying with DSLRs. Conservative but capable. I'm thinking mostly of the D850 and the D750. I've owned the D750 (the most recalled camera in recent history) as well as the predecessor to the D850; the D810. After playing and working with a D850 for the last few days I can honestly say that when it comes to sheer image quality it's probably the best all around camera you can buy in 2018. And considering the competition that is saying a lot. If I shot high end products or fashion all day long this is probably the camera I would own. The files are amazing when wrung out to their maximum potential. 

I was even impressed by its the overall look of the video files. But even as I was playing around and shooting test shots with the camera I could not help wondering how much better the camera could have been with a super high resolution EVF installed in the place of the traditional eye level prism finder. Wanna go into the photography business with one camera and one lens? Buy a D850 and the Nikon 24-120mm f4.0. Then put your credit card away and go shoot. 

If you haven't had the religious conversion to the power of the EVFs yet and you don't need endless resolution then the D750 is the perfect all around compromise of: traditional DSLR, sweet spot resolution, great handling and very nice, mature color. The one I owned went back for service once too often for me but I have many friends who love theirs and have made kilo-bucks in the past four years shooting them. I've seen them new for around $1700 but if you are on a budget and must go Nikon be advised that D610s use the same basic sensor, have the same color response and are dropping in price toward the $1200 mark, new. 

If you enjoy studying the history of photography you might want to buy a Nikon for your historical collection. If they don't come out with a convincing APS-C or full frame mirrorless camera in the next 12 months ----- they are toast. Not right away but ----- toast all the same. 

Canon. Canon is such an enigma to me right now. Some great lenses. Some good lenses. Some mediocre lenses. A lot of good, nice handling and mature bodies (the 5D series, the pro bodies), some great AF technology and an interesting approach to sensor tech. Less low end DR. Shadows that recover into pointillist noise patterns. But when I walk out of my door and embrace the wide open world of photography it's the female segment of the market that is remarkably almost all Canon.  Every woman photographer I meet seems to be driving a 5D2, 5D3 or 5D4, nearly without exception. I get it. The color is pleasing and easy to work with in post production. The 24-105 + the 70-200mm combo is universally embraced and there's nothing else to buy (except for the A.I. powered new Canon flash). 

Seems the gear nuts are unable to embrace the Canon multi-verse because of the dynamic range controversy but the non-gear nuts are happy with tried and true technology that just works. I've shot with Canon cameras and they are, for the most part, great. Just think how much greater they'd be if Canon delivered a model with a really nice EVF. Since they've been introducing rank consumer models with APS-C sensors and EVFs I conjecture that it's only a matter of time before they begin to join the worship services already in progress over in the sanctuary of EVF-ness for full frame. They need only look to Sony for guidance....

If Nikon and Canon were the only two choices in solid cameras today it would be interesting to think about choosing one over the other. The Canons are fun to shoot and pleasant while the Nikon's are the precocious lab rats of the two. It all comes down to mindset ----- and the (perceived) need for super wide dynamic range. Confession: surging nostalgia for the Canon 5Dmk2+100mm f2.0, but equally balanced by the same kind of Nostalgia for the D610+85mm f1.8. 

Wouldn't it be a more interesting photo environment if both Nikon and Canon started introducing a choice in new camera lines? A D850 for traditionalist and a D850EVF for cognoscenti?

Olympus. It's time for Olympus to make some interesting "special edition" EM-1mk2s. Let's talk. 
I have a feeling we're going to be living at 20 megapixels in m4:3rd-land for some time to come so "new and improved" is going to have to come from features and style. I would love to see an EM-1 mkV that had a permanently attached battery grip, beautifully integrated into the overall design, that added all the capabilities that videographers who also moonlight as photographers would want. That would include space for a full size HDMI port, headphone jack, mic jacks, and a battery outside the core body of the camera in order to isolate the good stuff (sensor) from heat. I would also love to see a menu that you could choose in order to optimize for video. That would be separate from the Klingon language menus now being used for their mostly still photography control. 

Where Olympus is totally rocking it right now is in the lens department. I have experienced it first hand in the 12-100mm Pro and the 40-150mm Pro and I continue to be impressed and awed. I've been playing around with the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 for cropped cameras but it's just not quite there when used wide open. If anything the Rokinon has become my emotional brain's prime ally in the quest to buy the Olympus 45mm f1.2 Pro lens, which would be quickly followed by the 25mm Pro and the 17mm Pro. 

I teeter on the abyss of plunging back into the Olympus camp via an EM-1 mk2 just for the dual I.S. I'd get with the 12-100mm. I can't imagine it could be even better than it is right now.....

Which leads me to thoughts about Panasonic. The GH5 (classic) impressed me last weekend when I shot for a radiology practice. Batteries that last all morning long and then half of the afternoon. A perfect EVF finder. A great, flippy screen. And, at the end of the project, a great set of big raw files that are jam-packed with detail and perfect color. These guys get color science in a big way. 

My only regret was that there was not more video to be done. It's that camera's ultimate wheelhouse. 

I know they just introduced the G9 and it's fast and perky but what would I really like to see in the next generation of GH cameras? Um. The only thing I can think of would be the high res mode. Everything else about the GH5 is perfect for its format. 

But what about the GH5S? This camera is ultimately interesting to me but only as a curiosity. It's so obvious where the designer's inspiration came from. This is the micro-four-thirds version of a Sony A7S or A7Sii. Lower pixel count in exchange for higher ISO performance. But I think the performance improvement mostly pans out only in the video area and so it becomes only a specialty camera and not an everyday user. My friend James has one but every time he heads out to shoot something he seems to default to the GH5. It may be a compromise but life is made up of compromises and he seems to feel most comfortable with the classic... 

I'll wait for the G90. A rangefinder styled version of the G9. 

And that leads us to the eccentric system. Fuji. Like Olympus I think Fuji does lenses really, really well. They seem to have their fingers on the pulse of what higher end consumers would like in lenses and they tend to deliver it. I want to like Fuji but I'm a little afraid of them. You see, I was one of their early, unintentional beta testers. I worked with a couple of Fuji S2 cameras for while. When they worked they worked well and the color and tonality of the files was really great for the time. The S3 was good as well. But the S2 had two faults; it had two different sets of batteries and their individual exhaustion rate was never synchronized. Those cameras corrupted more CF cards than any camera in the history of my camera use experience. To this day I don't trust the bodies. 

And, in fact, I'm not sure I trust the camera body designers. I saved up all my money from returnable bottle deposits and from begging on street corners just to buy the original Fuji X-Pro-1 when it came out. I rushed to the store with my bags of nickles and quarters and dimes, I asked to see the demo model and pulled it up to my aging eyes. Blurry finder. I asked the salesperson to help me find the diopter adjustment knob only to be told that this particular camera did NOT have an adjustable eyepiece diopter. After that I've never been able to take Fuji cameras seriously as "user" cameras. Just not contenders....

I understand that they've improved by leaps and bounds. And, of course, the lenses... So I tried once again and bought a X-100T. That was a nightmare of a camera and one I could not understand, tolerate or appreciate. It's tainted my perspective ever since and that's sad because I've heard such great things about the XT-2 and even the X-H1. You go ahead and buy one. I'll go with the theory of "thrice burned means I am an idiot."

Great color. Great lenses. Nice styling, but I keep checking under the bed for monsters...

I think the overlooked Fuji camera right now is the EX-3. A nice body style with a reasonable price and the same sensor as the top of the line cameras. At around $1299 with the good 18-55mm what is there not to like? If I was to test the Fuji waters yet again it would be this camera that I'd pick up and put through its paces. Ah, here in the EX-3 is the Fuji gateway drug.

Who have I left out? Well, there's Leica but I won't go there. I believe they make insanely good lenses and that they used to make insanely good film bodies. I tested several Leica M series digital bodies and I'll have to say that the translation from film to digital didn't do Leica any favors. For the price of an M digital body and a standard lens you could pretty much equip an entire studio using other brands. When I make my next million I might reward myself with an M10 (or by then, M22) but maybe I'll just keep the money in the bank... 

Finally, there's Pentax. They lost me, existentially, when they came out with a camera that had a grip that lit up. Really! A light show on the handgrip. Amazingly tacky. Trump level tacky. In fact, had they come out with gilded version I think we could be hawking a bunch right now on Pennsylvania Ave. While the newest K1 mk2 might be an exemplary full frame body with the heft and density of a classic I falter when I look through their inventory of full frame compatible, designed for digital, lenses. 

Wouldn't it be great if the K1 Mk2 was similar to the Sony A7 series in that one could use just about anyone's lenses on the front of it? If I was an artist instead of a commercial user I'd love to try the K1-2 with a single, hand selected lens. Perhaps the perfect 50mm. It's a camera whose ethos cries out for a tiny handful of prime focal length lenses. As such it's a "pass" for most working stiffs.

So, where do I see the whole industry moving? 2018 has started out with a cough and a wheeze when it comes to sales. Maybe it's because we finally like and are satisfied with all the stuff we just bought. Maybe it's because official unemployment numbers dropped to something like 4.1% and everyone is too busy working to give a shit about cameras anymore. Maybe photography has become boring. Everyone is heading over to YouTube to glaze out on videos. Maybe, just as it's too much trouble to read it's also too much trouble to look at still images. Maybe it's like the Matrix where everyone is hooking in and endless video feeds them their reality. I think the malaise is because we've collectively decided to stop shooting literal and start shooting figuratively, shoot surreally, shoot impressionistically. Shoot ideas instead of proofs of technical process. All of which means that hyper detail, hyper sharpness and perfect focus are becoming much less important than having an interpretive style. And maybe we don't need new cameras if we're going to actively mess stuff up and post process the crap out of it. Maybe that's the short term future.

editor personal notes: Sorry to be out of touch this week. Taking care of a parent's entire existence seems to be a full time job. I've diversified investment accounts that no one has paid attention to in perhaps a decade this week. I've arranged for physical therapy and then, with feedback from my father, cancelled it as well. I've made claims on half a dozen insurance policies for my late mom's estate. I'm trying to clear out a house that's packed with 38 years of memories and memorabilia. I'm working with my parent's CPA on this year's taxes (while working with my CPA on my taxes!). And all the while I'm trying to visit and have meals with my dad at the memory care facility an hour and half from my home, at least twice a week. Throw in a few swim practices and something has to give. Last week the blog got short shrift. The week before it was just lack of sleep. Who knows what next week will bring?

Thanks for waiting and thanks for coming back. We'll keep writing. It's good practice for thinking. 

If you know where photograph is headed drop a line and let me know. I'm pretty sure cameras will follow along if we are smart enough to identify the trends...