7 years ago, Sony introduced a UPhO, or Unidentified Photographic Object, the RX1, and the world went: OMG, what have they done?
A diminutive camera which, at first glance, could pass off as one of the then so-many compact cameras. Except for for a very, very un-minor detail. It had a very, very un-small sensor. It was full frame! In such a small body! Talk about pocket-rocket! It also sported a fixed 35mm f:2.0 Sony-Zeiss lens.
It packed so much IQ in such a small body, thanks to its excellent sensor and lens that it would for sure had been a perfect spy-‘tog camera, or Q-cam, for photographers of the James-and-Bollinger persuasion.
Though what happened next was a real Q camera. Enter the Leica Q. Same concept: fixed lens (28mm f:1.7), full frame. Not as small as the RX1 (and its later sibling the RX1 II), but still not overlarge. And while the Sony was pricey, it was still not Leica-pricey. The Sony went for roughly 3000€ and the Leica for 4000€. The modesty (for Leica, that is) of the premium for the Q over the RX1 led many to believe that the Leica was in fact a Panaleica, with much contribution -if not all- from Panasonic, fueled by the unique-for-Leica aperture of f:1.7, whereas it is usual with Panasonic.
Travel forward, and 2 new cameras are introduced. Not the expected, awaited even, Sony RX1 III, but the logical Leica Q2, and the totally unexpected and in some ways il-logical Zeiss ZX1.
The Leica Q2 is logical in that it is an updated Q with better specs, including the first 35mm high-resolution sensor (47Mp), which means it dramatically out-resolves its more expensive siblings the Leica M10 and SL. It perseveres with its fixed 28mm f:1.7 Summilux (hold that thought!), and early images look very nice indeed.
The ZX1 is il-logical in that it comes from Zeiss. In a way Leica’s rival for the crown of best lensmaker in the world, and German to boot. But very different in that Zeiss stopped making cameras (think Contax, think Ikon) rather than go digital, and swore that hell would freeze over before they re-entered the market.
And the ZX1 is different indeed. No memory card but a huge SSD (512Go), few controls, a black body redolent of the monolith in Kubrick’s “2001, a space odissey”, a fixed 35mm f:2.0 (a true Zeiss one, so no relation to the one in the RX1), built-in wi-fi and an in-built copy of Adobe’s LightRoom running on Android, for all-in-one, in-camera shooting-editing-sharing. Needless to say, its annoucement in late 2018 made huge ripples, as it contained lots of news. Zeiss back in the camera business. New features to try to replicate smartphone-like ease and speed of use (though some will say that Samsung made an attempt at the same already a few years back, and that it bombed badly on them).
People wondered: is it actually made by Zeiss, or is it contracted out, and to whom? Is it filled with Sony innards, Zeiss’ historic partner (hence the Sony-Zeiss lenses)? Is it actually the re-badged Sony RX1 III, which has been long in not coming?
What interests me in these 2 cameras is this: the Leica is a logical, predictable (or at least as predictable as anything from Leica) offering, and it was very well received, including by the core of DearSusan insiders. The Zeiss was lambasted by many despite (or because of) its ambitions and innovations, including by the core of DearSusan insiders (but not by Pascal or I). Why so much love Vs. so little?
One complaint against the Zeiss is that the fixed 35mm all-in-one is not for everyone, even at the pro-am level it is priced for. The other complaint is the price, at some 4200€
My take is this: forget the in-built LightRoom instant-post hoopla. The ZX1 is a premium fixed-lens high-resolution camera with German optics. Just like the Q2. The latter sports more resolution (47Mp Vs. 37Mp) but, because its 28mm Summilux has huge distortion (13%!), mandatory in-camera correction lowers that resolution according to Lloyd Chambers’ Diglloyd blog. So the Q2 and ZX1 are obviously going after the same potential customers. So why call the ZX1 over priced and the Q2 sweet?
Is the square blue of Zeiss less exclusive than the red dot of Leica, and all this issue is snobbery? Is it because the inclusion of the SSD and LightRoom to fight off the onslaught of smartphones actually lowers the value of the Zeiss as a “serious camera”, and all this issue is clubbiness? Is it because the quick-post-online thingy is actually for a younger crowd than the well-heeled Leica and Zeiss aficionados, and all this issue is generational? Is it because how the Q2 will feel, behave and deliver is highly predictable so everyone has an opinion even without using it, whereas no-one really knows how the Zeiss with feel, behave and deliver, and all this issue is about the unknowns of innovation and resistance to it? Is it that the camera market has evolved towards more and more choice, options, menus, possibilities, add-ons, and the monolithic Zeiss goes the other way, and this issue is about innovation Vs. customer expectation?
As far as I am concerned, having more choice is good, so thank you both Zeiss and Leica. Having manufacturers dare, risk and innovate is good, so I welcome the ZX1, though it seems to be behind schedule (Q1 2019, when it was supposed to be released ends in 6 days). And the fact that neither camera (after all, high-priced fixed-prime-lens cameras are not for everyone) might be for me in no way means it is bad, stupid, overpriced or whatever negative comment has been hurled at Zeiss, especially before it is even released and reviewed by DS.
Just as the RX1 UPhO was a landwark camera, even though it did not sell in huge numbers, the Leica Q2 is a safe bet, it will play well to the Leica crowd, and the ZX1 a highly un-safe one, which could turn out to be a bomb or another landmark camera. Please forgive me for being more interested in the latter.
While I am basically a Ferrari guy, for years the innovation lay with Lamborghini (think Miura, Espada, Countach). Ferrari prospered, while Lamborghini had to be saved more than once, which shows that innovation, especially when execution is less than flawless, can be a road to ruin. But today’s super-and-hypercars look more like a Miura than like a Daytona. So, yes, I am sure the Leica Q2 is nice, very nice even. But the ZX1 is where I expect greatness. Hopefully enough to make happy-as-a-clam-with-his-Hassy Pascal teary-eayed…
They are named Novoflex, but should really call themselves the match makers. When cameras and lenses have Romeo and Juliet upbringings and their parents refuse to see them wed, Novoflex swoop in and make the romance happen. This post is the story of an unlikely and forbidden love between my best camera ever and my best lens ever.
But does it have a happy ending?
It’s funny how you procrastinate when you’re affraid of learning the truth about something important to you. Ever since my X1D arrived, I delayed the purchase of an M-mount adapter, fearing my beloved C-Sonnar 1.5/50 ZM (a.k.a. Cesar) might not fare as well as in my dreams, on the Swedish newcomer. I actually had no hopes at all for the Distagon 1.4/35 ZM (a.k.a. Audrey), based on Internet wisdom.
But the adapter arrived and, after a couple of casual shots made to confirm the disqualification of Audrey, my ears perked up like my cat’s upon hearing the sound of biscuits in her plate. Could it be that … ?
It sure could! It sure could! So I’ll investigate and report on Cesar’s behaviour later.
Test shot 1 (cropped)
Test shot 2 (cropped)
So, to go beyond a few test shots at home, I took the opportunity of a bread run in the village to make a few photographs in real-life conditions, to evaluate how well an old(ish) Zeiss lens designed for full-frame might work on a new(ish) Hasselblad small MF (44×33) sensor. Just like I would if this was a new lens being tested.
The results are unexpected. I’ve not had time to determine a best post-processing routine for this lens, obviously, and both Phocus and Lightroom were used to (hastily) process the images of the walk. So the aesthetics are somewhat … higgledy-piggledy
But this gives you and me an opportunity to determine whether there are some looks we like or not. Below are nearly all of the photographs from this 20-30 minute walk. I have only omitted some made by mistake (pressing the release button too hard while waking up the camera, eg) or that are close duplicates of those presented. Sometimes, two versions of a same file are shown, either because of different ideas for PP or to highlight the difference in rendering between Phocus and Lightroom (in general, I use Phocus for colour and Lightroom for B&W). Onwards.
My village takes pride in its fountains. If you drove through, you’d be forgiven for not even noticing them, but one close to my parking spot seemed like a great place to start, with the sun rays very oblique and grazing.
If there’s one thing Audrey is good for, it’s recreating an ambiance, with great tonal subtlety and very immersive 3D. The X1D being superb for preserving tiny little nuances of shades and hues, I had high hopes for that scene. And you can see the great variety of looks that can be obtained with this duo.
I’ll let the pictures do the tour-guiding and will focus instead on the experience and results.
In terms of feel, this is a match made in heaven. The adapter is perfect. Snug. Wider and thicker than on Sony mount, meaning the release button can be mounted on the front and is smoother to operate. There is no slack in any direction. Zero.
Using an old-style lens on what feels like an old-style (i.e. fuss free) camera is pure bliss. Everything is where it should be, perfectly designed and perfectly smooth. This is honestly the most pleasant shooting experience I’ve ever had. It makes me lament once again Hasselblad’s choice to lose the aperture ring on its XCD lenses. Sure it’s more modern and tetherable to have everything done in-camera. But it feels so unfair when the needs of mere thousands of professionals, whose livelihoods depend on it, are put ahead of my personal amateur desires. Ugh.
All is not perfect in the integration, however. This being a purely mechanical mating, there is no EXIF or – more importantly – Auto-ISO (my default setting and so very freeing) or in-camera correction of any aberrations. What Audrey sees is what you get. It’s nothing new to me, obviously, since I had never owned a native lens on a digital camera in the past (my film-era white Canon zooms on Canon 6D don’t count as truly native). No deal-breaker, but certainly a big point in favour of XCD lenses here.
What about image quality? You be the judge …
In the 2 doubles above, 2 photos are processed in Lightroom and the other 2 in Phocus. LR automatically applies quite significant contrast reduction compared to Phocus’ true to life approach. Lightroom is preserving shadow and highlights but I admire Hasselblad’s approach to respecting tone rather than dynamic range. Kudos! Phocus also has better subtlety and stronger colour.
As you can see from the two frontal shots of the first fountain (different crops) white balance isn’t identical either. Of course the two can be matched more than this but, to me, Phocus always has a slight edge on colour photographs. In b&w, Lightroom absolutely murders Phocus, however. And I’m tempted to purchase a new copy of Nik to add the glorious Silver Efex to Lightroom’s repertoire. I wonder whether LR has a module for dumbwits who forget about the readout time of their sensor in silent shutter mode. Yup, did it again …
Whatever the processing software, however, vignetting will always be a part of the equation with this unnatural couple. The diminutive Distagon was never designed to cover the surface of the X1D’s sensor, and it shows painfully. This is undoubtedly the yuckiest fly in the scrumptious ointment.
There are ways to cover it up, of course. Cropping to a 33×33 square, for example. And, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no hardship in that. Or accepting the vignetting. In Lightroom, it can be reduced more significantly than in Phocus (which has no profile for Zeiss full frame lenses). And I often add vignetting to my photographs.
But the optical vignetting has quite a hard edge and doesn’t look very nice. It also comes free of charge with an unpleasant magenta cast that’s a lot harder to cover up. Which leaves conversion to b&w as a “last resort”. So, monochrome squares, anyone?
I’m breaking sequence for illustrative purposes here, sorry. But come on, how surprisingly nice is that?
I used to rant that 3:2 was not my fave format and that 4:3 is much cooler. Maybe I could snob my way of out this vignetting problem by declaring that 4:3 is passé and 6×7 is the new black?
One strong point in favour of the Hassy, however, is corner sharpness. Dunno what the specs are but it appears that the sensor stack is less thick than on the Sony A7r2, as corner performance is shockingly good right up to the edges and almost into the very corners, even without cropping. At all apertures! So cool!
If you can look past the vignetting issue, there’s a lot to look forward to. Colours are lovely. Not neutral, and curiously reminiscent of a Leica M9, but lovely nonetheless.
The hypnotic 3D of this lens is perfectly rendered in the Hassy’s files, even on totally flat subjects (see below, at full aperture).
And the files just look so alive …
At the end of the day, though, the tragedy needs its clash resolved. Audrey has to answer “Should I stay or should I go, now?”
Reasons to let Audrey go are :
I kinda promised to sell it to Philippe …
The XCD 30 is a superb lens (review coming up)
I desperately need to sell stuff to pay back for the unexpected outlay (I hadn’t planned on buying so many lenses with the X1D) and selling that lens was always part of the plan. Particularly now that traiterous DS contributors have convinced me to re-invest in HiFi …
Non-attachment practise. My soul needs my ego to be Teflon.
The risk of becoming locked into a single photographic look.
Reasons to keep Audrey include :
The greatest shooting experience of my life.
The sexiest 28 f/1.1 lens mankind has ever seen. Even with a bit of cropping it’s even better than on the Sony due to corner sharpness.
They said it couldn’t be done.
Stealth. The lens feels a perfect fit for the camera and nobody takes any notice of the black combo.
The search is over. If 30 minutes can produce this, think about 10 years. Heck, I might even sell a print …
For our third challenge this year, we’d like to continue with the Japanese philosophical trend and dig even deeper, with something difficult : visual haiku.
Morning frost, grazing sunlight, revealing shapes and colours.
First because no easy definition of (poetry) haiku exists beyond the formal description. And that only works for the Japanese language and its fast syllables.
Secondly because turning written poetry concepts into visual art is perilous at best. The sheer amount of individually interesting, but completely mutually inconsistent, visual haiku posts/pages/groups you can find online harshly illustrates that point.
Thirdly because the very topic of traditional haiku (an observation of nature) is very hard, photographically, in itself.
So, this challenge can serve several purposes : I’m hoping it will force us (you and, very selfishly, me) to think harder about the concept and discover a whole new aspect of your (my) work. And it can serve as a collective effort to help better define what a photographic haiku is.
We’re not starting from scratch, however. In the remainder of this post, let me try and explain what a traditional haiku is and what a good base for photographic exploration could be. Most of what I have seen online has taken into account the formal aspects of haiku without really digging into the interesting deeper parts. This is what this challenge is about.
So, what’s a haiku?
Most definitions will point you to a short 3-line poem constructed in a 5 – 7 – 5 syllable pattern, without rhyme, most often describing an observation of nature. Unfortunately, you can ditch most of this, because:
Syllables in Japanes (called ‘on’, in haiku poetry) simply do not correspond to syllales in English. Some of ours would count as double in haiku counting, for instance. And, generally speaking, 5 – 7 – 5 on sound a lot shorter than 5 – 7 – 5 English syllables. Besides, modern Japanese poets have eschewed that traditional structure Anyway. Finally, who cares, in photography ? How ever, what I see in this that can be important for your submissions, is a sense of symmetry!
The same minimalist poetry approach can be taken for other subjects than nature. Senryu, for instance, deal with human nature using the exact same structure. So, let’s open up the challenge to other subjects.
Rhyming in photography … well …
Three aspects of the haiku approach that do matter to us are spontaneity, essence and juxtaposition.
Haiku are all about spontaneous observations (of nature). There is an evident ‘freshness’ and sense of discovery. Butterfly flies away, dewy petal falls. While this is not technically a haiku, it does carry some of the essentials : the sense of awe at observing something unexpected, and the reduction of the description to its most essential components. There’s nothing you can remove from this without losing some important element of the description and nothing you can add that creates more emotional (or informational) value.
That short sentence also highlights the final aspect we can focus on in photography: juxtaposition. Most haiku describe an event and a consequence, or some similar dichotomy. Wikipedia writes : “The fundamental aesthetic quality of both hokku and haiku is that it is internally sufficient, independent of context, and will bear consideration as a complete work. The kireji lends the verse structural support, allowing it to stand as an independent poem.” The kireji in question is a word that ends one of the sentences and brings the poem to a halt (temporary or final), most often to separate the two components of the haiku. 18 such words have typically been adopted in this style.
So what about photographic haiku? Challenge guidelines.
There’s so much depth in the idea and so little I understand about it that it would be silly for me to be very directive in these guidelines. What I would really like, is to see photographs that respect the spirit of all this, more than the formal definition. And note that not one of my photographs on this page really does this well. I will be embarking on this project from scratch with you.
To me, the three aspects mentioned above are important. Spontaneity is key. Think street photography rather than tripod at sunrise on a perfectly flat lake. Co-conspirator Philippe describes these discoveries as Wilsons. In other words, inner dialogues (Wilson being Tom Hanks’ imaginary friend in Cast Away). Any time you get that tiny “oh-wow” feeling that makes you click, that’s potential haiku material.
Then, there’s essence. Reducing something to its most essential elements and eliminating anything superfluous is key to good photography. Painters start from a blank canvas and add along the way. We compose from a busy scene, eliminating anything distracting and manipulating the relationship between remaing elements through lens focal length and placement. So many potentially interesting photographs are wasted because the author failed to remove a lot of gunge from them.
To me, the ability to react to an instinctive micro-oh-wow and to distill it down to essentials is the guarantee to become an excellent photographer. It is both difficult and supremely rewarding.
This, in its original 3×4 format, has too much sky for its own good. A lower square is much better. It is about winter on the French mediterranean sea. The dichotomy is between the sand being kept safe from storm erosion in fabric barriers, and the surfers making the most of the remnants of a storm. The sky plays no part in this. 80% of it, or all of it, must be removed.
This leaves juxtaposition. Possibly the hardest part, because it should be joining a cause and a consequence. Not easy in a photograph. I leave this entirely to your imagination. For example, you could evoke the consequence (the sound of a bell can easily be imagined, if we are given the proper visual incentives, for example). Or you can use composition (weight balancing between objects) to suggest a relationship. Frame format can be used, squarer for greater tranquility, more elongated for a sense of action. And what could a visual kireji be? All yours to explore
Post processing? No rules here. Whatever works and adds to the feeling. The photograph below is a quick’n’dirty exploration of background blurring to create a mood. No PP is just fine as well. Nowhere is calligraphy mentioned in the definition of haiku. Haiku is about meaning, not technique. It doesn’t matter whether your photograph is made with a lousy lens and littered with noise, if it conveys something deep. The opposite, much more frequent these days, and the absolute bane of good photography, is what we are trying to combat in this challenge
A final guideline concept, optional but important to come close to the original intention, is contemplation. Ideally, your visual haiku should convey serenity and invite contenplation. A simple photograph that invites deep thinking.
So, there you have it. This challenge is an opportunity to dig very deep in what makes photography meaningful to you. It could also help us collectively create a better definition of photographic haiku. The more entries, the better. Please share and encourage your friends. Tell them we are not monsters who devour others (my efforts so far wouldn’t rate very high, from a haiku perspective, they’re still nice to look at and a good starting point for me to build on …) but try to learn from them (and, hopefully, vice versa). Please send your photographs to pascal dot jappy at gmail dot com.
Here’s looking forward to many contributions. I’ll publish results towards the end of the month or early April.
This was my 2nd trip to the glorious Dolomites. The seasons were quite different! My first trip was in May 2011 and was part of cycling tour with my local club in Sydney.
The mountains change so much in 3 months May 2011
My photography then consisted of a Sony point and shoot. It fitted into the pocket of my cycling jersey. It was used to record the scenery and some of my exploits.
Conquering “Stelvio”, it only took me a little under 3 hours for me, the pros about 40 minutes! May 2011.
While on this cycling adventure I got the photography bug and thought, ah, I will get better pictures if I had better camera (how wrong was I – its not all about gear) so on my return home I purchased a Nikon D5100. Shortly afterwards cycling became a past passion for various reasons and photography has since filled the void.
February 2019, as the sun goes down.
The Dolomites scenery is nothing but spectacular no matter the season. The craggy snow capped mountains peaking through low cloud or brilliant winter blue skies is something to behold and try to capture.
My time this trip was spent in 5 different locations centred around Cortina d’Ampezzo. All spots within about an hours drive on icy snow covered roads snaking around valleys with new vistas at each turn.
The workshop, of 8 participants, I attended was conducted by Erin Babnik and co-lead by Sean Bagshaw. It was a privilege to spend time and learn from these 2 extremely experienced landscape photographers.
The serenity of being out alone with nature in the fresh snow was something I’ll never forget. Also being able to shoot, what I will refer to as, virgin vistas was something to embrace and highly recommended.
I found these conditions ideal to shoot very minimalist images which added to my enjoyment of the conditions in which I found myself immersed.
The gear used on this trip was a Nikon Z7, Zeiss Milvus 21, 50, 135 and Nikon 80 – 400. The Z performed faultlessly during the time I spent in the mountains. The temperature was mostly near or sub zero, we shot in snow a few times. Battery life was similar to what I would have expected from my D850 which by the way didn’t leave my bag in the hotel rooms.
5 shot hand held Pano using 50mm
Full Disclosure: The writer paid all his own expenses on this adventure. I’m open to sponsorship for future photographic trips as most of us would be..
The lone, tree I consider this to be in my Top 5 shots of all time.
I met Nancee Rostad at a photography workshop in Page, AZ some years ago. I really enjoyed her abstract, colourful work and have one of her prints at home. We became photobuddies and keep in (ir)regular touch as our lives continue on two different continents. Nancee lives near Seattle and in recently visiting Japan, discovered Wabi Sabi, Pascal’s own recent fascination.
I spotted Nancee’s Wabi Sabi images on her Web site a couple of weeks ago and asked her to contribute some of her exquisite photographs to our knowledge pool at DearSusan.
I first became interested in the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi during a trip to Kyoto in 2017, but I never consciously attempted to capture it with my camera until recently. Even then, it only occurred to me that these images felt like wabi-sabi while I was trying to name the galleries for my website. Originally, all of these images were titled “The Pavement Project” and even though they expressed wabi-sabi as a group, I could see that there were two distinct ideas which would result in two galleries: “Wabi-Sabi” & the tongue-in-cheek entitled “Still Life with Storm Drain.”
These images came about when our area was recovering from a recent snow event – rare in Seattle environs. After most of the snow had finally melted, I started to notice how interesting the paved areas in front of our townhouse became in different light and with differing amounts and kinds of moisture (rain, ice, snow melt, etc). Serendipity had struck again! I found it amazing that something as pedestrian as asphalt paving could look so beautiful in, what I came to realize was, a wabi-sabi way. Each day brought new photographic opportunities which represented many of the characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic, including asymmetry, roughness, simplicity & austerity, in other words: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.
Typically, I tend to be a rather independent photographer, purposefully traveling to a specific location with plans to photograph local iconic objects and/or vistas, yet wandering off to photograph something which happens to catch my eye. I’ve frustrated more than one workshop leader while ignoring what they wanted me to photograph, only to find a another subject which I preferred – just ask Paul Perton. My preference is to photograph alone without numerous distractions or long conversations about gear. I only own two lenses, so any discussion about gear is going to be a short one.
Over the years, I have developed a style of photography with little or no negative space. Whichever subject I’m shooting, the resulting composition simply fills the entire frame. I don’t know why that’s my style, and I guess it doesn’t matter if I like the resulting images.
The weekend of March 16th to 19th will see the UKs biggest camera and photography show, imaginatively titled “The Photography Show“, held at its regular venue in the heart of England at the Birmingham NEC. It has been through different organisers and names, but the formula has remained basically the same – stands from most of the major manufacturers, lots of stands for everything photographic from lenses through accessories to printing and framing services, and a few manufacturer sponsored talks to promote their brand. I first went with a colleague who was also a keen amateur photographer some years ago, and I have attended every year until this one, when I’m simply not interested enough to be bothered.
Star. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
To understand why, let’s look back at the brief history of cameras during my time as a photographer. The single lens reflex (SLR) camera rose in popularity in the 1960s, when the innovation and convenience of being able to compose and take a photograph through the same interchangeable lenses combined with the affordability of Japanese mass production. Over the decades the cameras were refined with metering systems, programmed exposure modes, TTL flash, and autofocus, until they became highly capable general purpose tools. By the 1990s SLR cameras had fully evolved with models to cover every price point and niche, and what had started with innovation had followed the typical product lifecycle which ended in small incremental development. Although each of the major Japanese brands had a different culture and took a slightly different path, some more innovative and some more conservative, they all ended up at more or less the same place, with a lens mount, a range of cameras and lenses, a user base and an ecosystem to feed them.
Night bike. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
By the 1990s, there was a disturbance in the force, as a market for digital photography had started to evolve, often coming first from leftfield and niche manufacturers who didn’t have a lot of history in camera systems, such as Kodak and Casio. At first, the major manufacturers made high end, high cost sub-frame SLR cameras aimed at the professional market, until gradually the innovation that had come from companies at the sidelines gave way to the conformity of the major brands as they simply took their SLR film camera systems and adapted them for digital capture, until lower prices put them into everyone’s hands.
Rear window. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
So what has any of this to do with whether I attend the photography show? For that, we need to reflect on more recent history. During the development of mass market digital SLRs for everyone, there was another disturbance in the force, or rather two. Olympus and Sony, who had largely been left behind by Canon and Nikon and realised they could never launch a successful conventional assault on the big two, innovated and realised that if they took away the mirror they could make cameras that were much smaller than SLRs with similar image quality that were easier to manufacture and could appeal to consumers who might want something that was better than their mobile phone, which was fast becoming the de facto device for them to take photos with. The (micro) four-thirds and NEX E mount systems were born, and offered something very different to the conventional SLR cameras on offer elsewhere.
Dance Dance Dance. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
The other pair of disturbances in the market were the innovation of mirrorless and the growing importance of video. Whilst many DS readers will no doubt eschew the significance of video in still cameras, one must reflect on the fact that with the exception of stratospherically expensive Hollywood cameras, most digital video cameras had really tiny sensors, whilst the growing selection of digital stills cameras had much bigger sensors (m43rds, APS-C, FF). This gave the stills cameras significant advantages over dedicated video cameras as they could give that “cinematic” look associated with larger formats and shallow depth of field, plus the added benefit of much better control over noise and the ability to shoot in available light without the use of a Hollywood lighting rig. DSLRs were not well suited to video since their mirrors prevented focusing when shooting video, whilst mirrorless cameras which had already done away with the mirror had also had to deal with the issue of focusing without one, and so were much better suited to live view and video.
Parallel Lines. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
The challenger brands clearly realised there was a perfect storm of innovation, changes in consumers buying habits caused by mobile phones, and interest in video and live view, and devoted significant effort and resource to capitalise on it. What happened was a product development lifecycle that compressed several decades of slow incremental development in SLRs into less than a decade of mirrorless. The original Sony NEX-5 was released in 2010, and arguably by around 2017 they had a full frame camera with abilities that matched or surpassed most SLRs, with other challenger brands matching with similar innovation. As sensors became ever more powerful or cheaper to manufacture, there was also an explosion of new fixed lens cameras from pocket models like Ricoh’s GR1 and Sony’s RX100 through Fuji’s X100 to do-it-all utility knives like Sony’s RX10 and Panasonic’s FZ1000. It was arguably another golden period for camera buyers, perhaps like no time before when a market in chaos combined with significant innovation, to create new camera systems, formats and form factors as the manufacturers tried – sometimes desperately – to find things that consumers wanted to buy. During this time, I could visit the Photography Show every year and be guaranteed to see new cameras and lenses, as new camera systems with new lens mounts always needed new lens models to satisfy every focal length and every perceived need. In addition, there were new cameras in new form factors and with capabilities that most of us could probably never have imagined.
Block chain. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
Now you can buy a tiny camera that will easily fit in your pocket with a very good quality fast 28-100mm lens that shoots excellent 4K video without pixel binning and can capture 20+ frames per second. Arguably, the maturity of the mirrorless camera was signalled last year when the 2 incumbents Canon and Nikon finally entered the market with their first serious offerings. With the significant benefit of waiting whilst everyone else innovated and solved the technical problems of a new technology, and putting pointless minor nit-picking and spec sheet comparisons to one side, they released capable and relatively mature products, which in a segment that had already matured so quickly, actually managed to seem somewhat… well… boring. Lacking any significant innovation. A bit… “me too”.
Sculptural. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
So now, with what seems like all the major innovation in mirrorless camera systems complete, we have mature products which iterate on longer product development cycles. Enthusiast models are now released every 2 or 3 years, rather than every year or so, and consumer models often don’t get refreshed for half a decade. The result is less to excite us, and an ever decreasing list of reasons to make us want to upgrade. Having been through a series or upgrades that took me from a Sony A850 DSLR to a Fuji X Pro-1 and Sony A6000, I now own cameras like the A7S, A6500 and A7R2 which are so capable that I have no burning reason to replace any of them. Whilst I know that for many amateurs wanting a new camera is driven more by desire than need, I think my lack of interest in attending The Photography Show is because on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs I’m already there quite near the top. I suspect even Canon and Nikon will find that once they have fulfilled the initial demand from their brand devotees who want to convert from DSLR to mirrorless, demand will probably fall away. People who simply wanted a mirrorless camera will already have switched brands, and the big two offer little to differentiate their products that will entice users back.
There surely is only so much innovation which can drive sales before we are all so generally satisfied that the law of diminishing returns sets in and nobody bothers to upgrade any more?
Full disclosure – I’m waiting patiently for a Sony A7S3 with a new sensor – hopefully a higher pixel count and even better noise management than the original 12Mp sensor. For me it could come with enough resolution and the low light performance to be the universal camera. In the mean time I’m using my tiny Sony A5100 as a surrogate mobile phone for random snapping and enjoying the touchscreen and the simplicity of point and shoot whilst I continue to not be bothered enough to use any other camera.
There is no person more virtuous than a reformed sinner. Such is my case, a self-professed bokeh slut. Here is proof: Why am I such a bokeh slut?
As you know, in my Last Post for the year (2018), I proclaimed that the Lens Of The Year 2018 was “the super-fast lens.” Since then new announcements have come think and fast, as already mentioned last week (the Mitakon-Zongyi 50mm f:0,95). This week, the Sony 135mm f:1.8. The Voigtländer 24mm f1,4, and 50mm f:1.2. In the interim, Canon has gifted its EOS-R with a 50mm f:1.2. Etc…
My question is: why? Why such ridiculousness -or is it ridiculosity-? (to describe something ridiculous, one needs a ridiculous-sounding word, don’t you think? “Ridicule” alone doesn’t cut it, IMHO). Super-fast lenses offer the possibility to deliver shots in very dark lighting, and with half-an-eyelash deep DOF. How many such shots do we actually wish to take? How many of us live and shoot underground? Or are refugees in churches, a la Assange in the Ecuadoran embassy? Or live to shoot ill-lit stage shows? Or desperately want to out-shoot the late Stanley Kubrick, who had f:0,7 lenses made specially for him to shoot Barry Lyndon?
The answer is: not many. Not many at all. Fact is, in exchange for hyperspeed, lenses are (a) anywhere from not cheap (Mitakon et al from China) to hyper expensive (Noctilux from Leica), and (b) not well corrected, making them suitable primarily for wide-open-or close use only. No-one would seriously buy such a lens to shoot at f:5.6, right?
The answer to this question why? lies in a couple of directions IMHO. First, because, to the uninitiated, and/or to the having-more-money-than-sense-crowd, faster intuitively means better. A faster car is a better car, so a faster lens has got to be a better lens, right? Then because, just as “more megapixels” have been primarily a marketing tool to indicate “better camera body”, “faster lens” works great for marketing, so much more at ease with raw numbers than with anything as subtle and hard to pin down as image quality.
There are two fatal flaws to this faster-is-better theory, even beyond the under-corrected nature of such beasts. One is that minimal depth-of-field makes autofocus almost impossible. For example, the 58mm f:0,95 Z-mount Noct-Nikkor is actually manual focus only when it is wide open, ’cause the AF just can’t deal with the thin DOF. The other #FakeNews is that you need high speed for bokeh. Modern lens design allows high-quality lenses to offer great bokeh even at moderate speeds, like my lovely Zeiss Loxia 25mm f:2,4. But not everyone can design for bokeh the way Zeiss do…
So, tell me, people of DearSusan, who among you are willing to join my former cult of Bokeh Sluts, and who will let marketing “experts” who have never held a camera in awe, love or anger score a(nother) resounding fail?