8.08.2020

Actively thinking about the camera I would like to buy next from Panasonic: It would be amazing and would restore the camera world to its previous stature.


Well, it seems to be a favorite thing for photo writers to dream about when none of the new cameras match their very, very particular tastes exactly. They start conjecturing about the camera they know X company should make right now. How it would see zillions of sales if only it had...blah, blah, blah. 

I rarely write this kind of stuff but I ran into a used copy of one of my all time favorite travel cameras and that sent me down memory lane and right smack into this writing subterfuge --- of imagining my own "ultimate" camera. The camera I re-visited, but just in passing, was the Mamiya 6. I had several of them. Along with the three dedicated lenses. It was such a fine camera. Google it. Salivate.

So here goes: It came to me clear as a bell. Panasonic announced (in my dreams) that they had just finished putting the finishing touches on a new variant for the S1 system. This camera, like the GX8 in their micro four thirds family, is set up in a rangefinder style. A viewfinder in the top left corner as you hold the camera for work. The eyepiece is big and generous. The screen is one of the latest 8 megapixel resolution OLED variants. 

The camera is a full frame model and features a new tri-color sensor that allows one to use the sensor as a bayer filtered machine with 60 megapixels or a blended filter which triples up on the pixels to create points that have all three colors but at 20 megapixels. I'll want to use it mostly in the 20 megapixel range where the bigger, combined pixel sites give me a different, and to my mind, better overall look. A look that seems to have greater acutance but at the expense of the currently fashionable higher res of its native 60 megapixels. 

The benefit, beyond the rendering, is also color that's halfway between that of a Sigma Foveon sensor and a conventional but miraculous sensor like the one in the Sigma fp camera. 

The camera is not small, nor is it overly angular. There is the now mandatory 3.2 inch 4 megapixel rear screen and it's worth using because Panasonic, in this new camera venture has drastically reduced menu complexity and made using the rear screen easy and fun for just about any control. That being written, the camera maintains all the major controls as physical buttons or knobs on the camera body. These include: Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO and white balance. 

In order to make the intended use of this particular model clearer to purchasers it is the one camera in the Panasonic line-up  that doesn't include any video capabilities. The idea being that this camera is for decisive moment photography, street photography and travel photography. It's not an all-in-one visual content buffet. 

Taking out the video stuff allows Panasonic to simplify the menu to make the whole camera much more responsive and intuitive for hard core photography buffs. The other side of the marketing coin is that if you love this camera and you love the L-mount lenses, but you absolutely require video, you are more than welcome; in fact, encouraged, to supplement the new rangefinder style body with a shiny, new S1H for all your video needs. 

The camera has the same basic mechanics of the S1 series cameras when it come to things like shutter life, rugged build quality and built-in image stabilization. Since the DFD focusing works well for me, and is at least as fast as the rangefinder in a Mamiya 6, I'm happy that they decided to keep the family focusing mechanisms the same. 

I'm thinking about naming conventions and Panasonic and I think we all agreed at the meeting where I forgot to sign my NDA that we'd call it the S1X. That's: S One X. But it can always be misinterpreted as "six" in order to pay homage to the well regarded and sadly discontinued Mamiya 6 film camera.

The camera will have a two position battery slot which will allow users to use either the S1 series battery or the GH series batteries thereby doing a favor to owners of either previous system or system used in tandem with the new 6. (S1-X, oh, that works). 

Since the finder in the top left is an EVF and not an actual, optical rangefinder there is no compromise when it comes to previewing shots. Nor did Panasonic consider pulling a "Fuji" and adding in a vestigial rangefinder since it represents too much of a compromise when using any lens longer or shorter than a normal lens. 

At the time of launch Panasonic also presented (fully ready to go along with the camera launch, NOT vaporware!) Three new L-series lenses made for the new S variant. Of course the new lenses will also be usable on existing S1 cameras as well as on Leicas but these were made with an eye to reduce lens size and bulk specifically for the very serious photography user the camera was designed and built for. 

The first lens is a 30mm f3.5 which though small is an advanced formula based on a Leica M lens but with optical corrections made to ensure it works most effectively with the sensor stacks in the Lumix S cameras. Sharp and diffraction limited even wide open it will quickly become the defacto standard street shooters paradise lens. No one will ever even think to ask for a 35mm or 28mm or even a faster version since the lens will be that spectacular. If you need a faster lens then look to the Sigma Art Series or browse through the Leica SL catalogs. 

The second lens is the 60mm f2.8 which will also define the state of the art for sharpness and three D quality. "Stunning yet small." I think I saw that tagline at the product meeting last year... It's longer than the regular 50mm or 45mm but it gives a new choice to people who prefer the longer focal lengths over the shorter ones. If you fall into the "shorter is better" camp there is always the current Sigma 45mm, the Sigma 40mm f1.4 Art lens and the Sigma 35mm f1.2 Art lens. All of which are superb. But some of us want a small, sharp, discrete long normal and since this is my fantasy I conjecture that those optical engineers at the Panasonic headquarters took my quirky request seriously. 

The final new lens is, of course, the 90mm f3.5 which, like the other two will bring shivers of fear to the backs of Nikon, Canon and Sony. The lens will be such a stellar performer that all the competitors will abandon their races for fast, fat and plump lenses and reconsider owning lenses that are truly optimized for radically good performance. 

The S1-X camera will be big enough so that none of these three lenses are ever sticking below the bottom of the camera so they will never foul tripods or baseplates. 

The S1-X will be cast and machined from a block of very special aluminum alloy that is structurally rigid and impervious to corrosion of any type. The camera skeleton will act as a one giant heat sink and the camera will be the first of its kind rated to excellent performance at ambient temperatures of up to 115°. 

Of course it will be effectively weather sealed and, when used with one of the three new lenses, can even be immersed in water for up to 60 minutes. (Legal sez: No guarantees). 

The camera will only come in black and will use a highly scratch resistant paint as did the Fuji XH-1. 

Finally, the marketing folks decided that since the whole camera is crafted and assembled by hand from the finest materials that the cost to purchase would be commensurate with the quality. The purchase price is just a hair under $4,000 USD. Or, in a special kit with all three lenses for only $8,000. 

There are no other attachments or accessories to worry about. Just get the camera and a few batteries and get on with it. 

And that's my camera wish for the rest of the year. 

And with that, here are some samples of the kinds of work I'd do with the camera. All these were done with a wild range of cameras from Nikon, Sony, Fuji and Panasonic for Zach Theatre. But that's only because the S1-X did not yet exist. Once it comes out it will be the still camera of the decade....











 

Critical missteps in lens design? Or a plot to weaken the muscle strength of photographers?

Let's be Frank. Real photographers secretly enjoy buying their lenses by the pound. Or Kilo. A lighter lens represents surrender and infamy. Right?

It's so rare to see a lens introduction get so much press but it looks like the very recent introduction of an "improved" version of Sigma's almost perfect 85mm f1.4 Art lens from 2018 is setting the reviewer world on fire and revealing to me very clearly what the priorities of those weak and out of shape writers and V-loggers  really are. I'm not sure they care as much as they say they do about pure performance; it's beginning to look like all they care about is not being revealed as too weak and lazy to carry around a take no prisoners, super star lens. 

The big news about the new "DN" (mirrorless native) is not that it soundly and roundly outperforms our previous, big-boned (but brimming with personality) lens of the same speed and focal length but that it's shorter and weighs a pound less than the original. The trade off seems to be that the "new and improved" lens has much, much more pincushion distortion and also slightly weaker in performance on the edges and the corners than its endlessly lauded ancestor. Yes, the new one has even more elements, and those elements are even more sophisticated and complex, but one can't help but wonder if most of the complexity and preciousness of the new design is aimed at making it almost as good as the original....but in a smaller package. Downsizing engineering as opposed to the reckless pursuit of optical perfection.

I'm mostly kidding here and I've already pre-ordered one of the new ones. But I still wonder. The "science" of optical design can not have changed a tremendous amount in four or five years so you have to understand that the "new versus old" shift is largely a recalibration of compromises. Buy the new one and watch your left biceps atrophy. Buy the old one and suffer the dreaded effects of manual portage. Suffer the ruinous added weight of the original for the extra 1% of quality in the corners or choose the lightweight version and forever wonder how much optical magic they had to remove to get the lens corpulence under control.

I guess it's really a tempest in a teapot (as usual for web reviews!) since both lenses are demonstrably better than anything any of the major camera manufacturers can come up with in their own lens lines. 

I'll confess that I dislike the weight of the original lens. It's f-ing heavy. Especially if you plan to carry it around all day long. But having just used it almost promiscuously over the last three days I have to say that I'm in awe of its sheer capability to make photographs that make me and my clients go: "Wow."

I may or may not follow through on the actual purchase of my pre-ordered lens. I might wait to see if Panasonic's S1 system roadmap plays out according to plan. They have their version of an 85mm f1.8 coming along and that may just be the sweet one to buy for carrying around and hauling on and off airplanes (if we ever get to do that again). From my experiences with their other S-Pro lenses I'm fairly certain it will be good enough, optically, that we won't be able to see any differences from the results when we peek on our computer screens. The only question, given their monstrously huge 50mm f1.4 S Pro lens, will be whether they can build one that's smaller and lighter than the original Sigma 85mm Art...

If I do opt to pick up the new Panasonic lens I'll probably keep the original 85mm Art lens out of nostalgia and some nagging belief that it's still the best lens in that focal length in the world. And if I use it then some of its magical powers will convey into my own images and help to finally make me famous and loved by the multitudes... YKMV.

Reminds me of stories I read in old magazines about the re-design of the seven element Leica 50mm Summicron M series lens back in the 1960's. Leica reconstituted the lens and removed one of the elements. Leica aficionados, even as late as the early 2000's, were still locked in debate about the relative merits of each. The overwhelming majority felt that the original ( also available as a "dual range" Summicron) was magical and obviously superior. Might we feel the same way in this case, just a few years down the road?