Monday, November 28, 2005

Marching Into The Digitial Renaissance

Here it is,late Novemeber 2005,and I feel like we're sitting right on the endge of a new Digital Renaissance. A rebirth,of sorts. Full-frame capture is back for those who can afford the entry price of a Canon 5D or 1Ds or 1Ds Mark II. (Used 1Ds models seem like a sort of good deal to me BTW,and I've seen some mighty tempting FF,recent-vintage used Kodak bodies for as little as around $1145.) So, it the sense that full frame imaging is now better,and more-affordable, there's a rebirth. Cropped-sensor cameras have their advantages and disadvantages, but the area where FF shines is angle of view,working distances,and the actual lens base that's on the market. SHooting with a full-frame camera, a number of legendary prime lenses are available in fixed lengths of 20mm,24mm,35mm,50mm,85mm,and also 100 or 105mm,as well as 135,200,300,400mm lengths. Crop-field sensors such as 1.5x or 1.6x models greatly change the 85mm fixed telephoto lenses and their field performance. 300mm lenses also suffer tremendously when used on 1.5x or 1.6x bodies; with the reduced angular field of view a 300mm lens has on a cropped-sensor camera, the lens is rendered too doggone LONG for use at many,many types of sports venues. And that's a shame, because the prime 300mm lenses are usually some of the best focusing, and most high-grade lenses many people will ever own, but when the crop factor is present, the lens's narrowed angle of view causes forced cropping of players' bodies.
The smaller format of a cropped sensor camera also renders pretty deep depth of field,which is is many ways a benefit. But, if one seeks foreground/background separation as a way to de-emphasize,subdue,or to almost remove distracting backgrounds through varying degrees of out of focusness, the crop-field bodies deliver deep depth of field,and so even a 300mm lens no longer gives the same degree of "pop" or foreground/background separation that one might 'expect' from a 300mm lens. The 300mm lens is hit hard two ways: 1: Its field of view is made even smaller, more narrow and 2:The reduction in the physical size of the capture format means that depth of field with given lenses and given apertures is greater than when the film format is large,and focal length alone now plays a lesser role in the degree of background defocus achievable with given lenses and given apertures.
The biggest problem with a 1.5x sensor body is that one's super-performance lenses, like 85mm and 300 are actually TOO long to do the very critical,important jobs those lenses were designed for,and at the longer end of the spectrum, there really is NO 300 to 400mm spanning zoom lens that can approach the performace of a prime tele, except for ultra-costly things like the 200-400 VR Nikkor,and even that is too slow aperture wise if 2.8 is mandatory,as it often is.
I think Nikon full frame digital is around the corner. Not imminent, but right around the corner. And that will bring about a sort of rebirth to those of us who LIKED the bigger viewfinders and the lens lineups.Canon's now delivered showroom new, GOOD high-ISO, full-frame digital with the 5D, for a little over 3k US Dollars. What once cost $8k US from Canon, and $5k or $4.5k from Kodak, is now $3,299 US. Big,big,big deal.
Nikon has apparently had a bit of a re-birth there, with the introduction of the imminent D200. A "new class of digital SLR camera" seems to be what several reviewers who have actually held and shot with the camera are trying to tell the masses. THe D200 introduces environmental sealing, super-tough chassis materials, and a new level of solidity and fit and finish that has heretofore been absent from anything except flagship-grade Nikon bodies. And all for $1,699 US from the get-go! For those who have not used multiple Nikon bodies, let me say that Nikon has over the years offered design advances which more or less set the industry standard,and which delivered almost perfect human/machine interface and control performance for their era. F, F2,F2A, F3 HP, FM, FM-2, FE, FE-2, FA, F5, D1...these bodies were at one time the protypes, the benchmarks, which other manufacturers aspired to. I think the D200 will be a similar camera, a real benchmark camera from the Nikon family.
We're moving into the era of more,and better, RAW converter software application choices. RSE, as well as Capture 1, Bibble,and Adobe Photoshop CS and CS-2 have made software chores less tiresome and more fruitful than ever before. Canon's DPP software is a nice free effort, and Nikon is,allegedly working on NEW underpinnings for Nikon Capture (praise be!),so there's hope in every corner I think. Software is where it's at I think.
Speaking of Renaissance, or rebirth, Ai- and AiS Nikkor lenses will be given new life as metering optics on the D200.Thanks Nikon. The smartest,best engineering choice won out in the D200's design. Designing the D200 so that it would meter with Ai-or-Newer was a brilliant choice on Nikon's part. All in all, times haven't looked so good in digital photography. Sony's moving the DX-size into the fixed-zoom lens hi-end prosumer EVF digicam right now,and that's interesting. iPods now can play video...a new era. Konica-Minolta has brought workable, body-based image stabilization to the market in two successful designs with the Maxxum 5D and the Maxxum 7D S-SLR's; with the new Sony-Konica-Minolta alliance now a reality, who knows what the future will hold. Consider that K-M and Sony make perhaps,arguably, the best pro-sumer digital cameras in the A2 and the 828,and that the unique selling proposition of body-integral anti-shake systems that K-M has perfected holds at least SOME potential upside in D-SLR sales. All in all, I see 2006 as the beginning of a Digital Rensaissance, as manufacturers successfuly revist old technical or manufacturing problems and economies of scale, and to now find new ways to actually overcome prior technical or manufacturing sticking points. I expect soon, to see EVF camera performance notched up to D-SLR-like specifications. It's a matter of when, not if. Olympus has announced its intention to re-focus the company away from compact digital sales, and more toward D-SLR sales. I've alwyas had respect for Oly as an engineer's company...a company whose products were always,always,always governed by sound engineering fundamentals. No bells that didn't work on Olympus gear.Sound technology,implemented right,has always been an Olympus hallmark.I'm not sure if Oly can make a viable run at D-SLR production and sales unless it REALLY delivers on something, like bang-for-dollar...I cannot see a 4/3 option being a viable money maker unless prices are modest and there's tremendous volume, but I will never underestimate Olympus as a camera-maker.
Konica-Minolta and their partnership with Sony..hmmm. I like the sound of that. A lot. It's interesting to live during an era when it _feels_ like there's a Renaissance going on.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Look at the State of Flux We're In Now

We live in interesting times. Popular Photography & Imaging magazine's December 2005 issue is out,and their Camera Of The Year Award goes to...drumroll...the Canon EOS 5D. The magazine's editors state that the EOS 20D _had_ been their Camera Of The Year choice for most of the year, but the new full-frame Canon model displaced the 20D. Full-frame digital for less than $8000 from Canon. Wow-what a big drop in the entry price for a Canon full-frame camera! And also,according to the folks at Pop Photo, there are now 20, yes count 'em, 20 D-SLR models, with prices on bodies ranging from around $620 to about,well, $7995 for the EOS 1Ds-Mark II, the new 16.7 megapixel pro flagship digital from the folks at Canon.
So,where's the "flux", you ask? The flux is all over the place. Kodak has recently abandoned the D-SLR market and its F-mount and its Canon-mount offerings,so it's bye-bye to Kodak in the D-SLR field. According to Popular Photography's Herbert Keppler, last year Canon and Nikon combined for 90 percent of the D-SLR market's total sales, leaving Fuji, Sigma,Pentax,Olympus,and Konica-Minolta to split up the remaining paltry TEN PERCENT of sales FIVE ways. Meaning that D-SLR sales were pathetic for all companies except Canon and Nikon. Meaning that Fuji's S3 Pro's sales figures were poor. Fuji is in a state of flux, having lost a significant amount of its S1 and S2-generation users to more-attractive offerings from Canon with the 20D, and also to Nikon with the D70s and the D2x,and soon, FUji will lose a significant number of its users to the upcoming Nikon D200. Fuji tried to stay with its higher-than-expected retail price of $2500 on its S3 model far too long in the face of bad press and bad reviews,and the camera's specifications and oddball $2500 retail price basically killed Fuji's S3 sales big-time. Users who had been with Fuji since the S1 Pro and the 2002 S2 Pro models were state of the art were confronted in 2005 with a very compelling choice when it came time to upgrade; namely, the EOS 20D for $1499 with 8.2 MP, 5 frames per second,and superb handling (for a Canon) and a tremendous amount of VALUE-For-Dollar or Value-Per-Euro spent. Look at the sales figures. 90 percent of D-SLR sales went to 1)Canon then 2) Nikon and then 10 percent of sales were split between basically, five other brands. Nikon went to its first-ever CMOS sensor in a digital SLR when they plopped a SOny-built sensor in the is that for a state of flux?
Where's the additional flux? Nikon's new D200 has seen pre-order figures through the roof world-wide. Nikon is _finally_ coming out with a significant upgrade for D100 users. Nikon now has a serious,serious contender for the semi-pro/serious hobbyist/utility camera market which the EOS 20D captured so well. In other words, the state of flux we are in now has Kodak out of the picture, Fuji with an almost-stillborn and very slow S3 model and no word of an S3 follow-up, Nikon's D2Hs was also a lead balloon. Canon and Nikon are no longer concentrating just on the highest end of the D-SLR market, but are now producing and selling HUGE numbers of low-end D-SLR models like the D70s and D50 for Nikon, and the EOS Rebel and Rebel XT for Canon. Canon alos has runaway sellers in the 20D,and the EOS 5D is taking off nicely. The state of flux has Kodak and Fuji suddenly with almost no market presence,and the market has HUGE numbers of new Canon converts, and also huge numbers of people entering the Nikon camp with the lower-end D50 and the moderately-low-priced D70s. Also, large numbers of Fuji and Kodak shooters have abandoned ship and bought Nikon's D2x.Right now, clean Kodak SLR/n and 14n models are available for as little as $1100 to $1700 used.Kodak-made full-frame cameras which were retailing for $4995 not that long ago are now very low priced on the used market. That's a sign of a market in a state of flux.
Nikon took a huge hit when the D2h's target market went to Canon and the EOS 1D Mark II 1.3x in order to get superb High-ISO performance,8 FPS,with twice the MP of the D2h. Canon's 20D and now the EOS 5D have set new standards for performance, as well as for price/performance ratio. NIKON has now jumped into the price/performance ratio battle with the D200,and I fully expect that new model to be a landmark camera in terms of consolidation of F-mount shooters back toward Nikon,and away from Kodak and away from Fuji.
Right now, people all over are considering their next D-SLR model. There are twenty models to choose from. With prices as low as a little over $600 US dollars. THAT is part of the state of flux;where a year ago there were a mere handful of models to choose from and we had too few choices, this year we have an entirely new landscape unfolding,with smaller,lighter,and more-affordable models, as well as exciting new innovations like body-integral anti-shake systems, as well as new partnerships announced with Sony joining forces with Konica-Minolta, and Panasonic also apparently ready to enter the D-SLR arena.Here at the end of the eyar 2005, I feel that we'e really going to see the flux hit the fan during 2006.Will Fuji continue its niche dominance in the "beautiful file" category? Will Sony help bring Konica-Minolta into the Digtal SLR's 21st Century? Will we finally be able to buy $500 D-SLR bodies which are "good enough"? Will Nikon finally stem the tide of defections to Canon? How will the Nikon D200 stack up against Canon's offerings in 2006? I think the answers might be surprising, but more importantly, I think we need to consider that no matter what happens, we are all starting to want more and more for less money. The 5D and the D200 show that Canon and Nikon are prepared to give us "more" for "less money",and that is a postive direction which will help to kick off 2006 in a very,very positive way for both Canon and Nikon shooters.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Welcome To Derrel's Photography Blog

Well,finally I've gone and done it--I've gotten myself a photography blog! "Omigosh, he's grabbed the microphone,and who KNOWS when he'll stop yakking! Waitress,another round of drinks over here,doubles,and hurry please!"
Not that I have anything to say,but this blog really is a way to share my thoughts about digital photography with a group of people whom I've met through the dPreview website fora,which have become so filled with newbies and little sandbox idiots that the signal-to-noise ratio there has become simply unbearable at times.Dufuses,Trolls, troll-calling,and one-brand zealots have made me turn to my own space, where I discuss what I want to discuss,without all the infantile remarks from dufuses and the facile.Currently I am shooting the EOS 20D and the Nikon D2x for most of my pictures, and there are things I like about each camera. Welcome to Derrel's Photography Blog. I hope I can keep you entertained.