Sunday, December 31, 2006

Wrapping Up 2006-Miscellaneous Thoughts

Well, it's December 31,2006,and we're about ready to chalk up another year. I figured I'd write a blog entry and maybe come back and fill in some areas later,after New Year's. Now that 2006 has almost had its day,there are some changes underfoot. Gone are cameras from Minolta,and Konica-Minolta, replaced by the SONY brand name. Weird! Pentax and Samsung are now in cooperation in the d-slr business,and Hoya just bought up Pentax last week. Both Pentax and Nikon have hit the old 6MP d-slr category hard with brand-new six-megapixel d-slr's. The Nikon D40's out-of-camera JPEG flash pictures look pretty good to me after a little bit of shooting with both the built-in flash and the SB 600 accessory flash. FujiFilm's also gonna' hit it hard with a 6 MP d-slr in early 2007,and I eagerly await seeing results from the upcoming D200-based Fuji S5 Pro. Maybe the megapixel race _is_ slowing down a bit,finally. We shall see. Pentax,Samsung,Nikon,and FujiFilm will all have 6 MP d-slr cameras on the market,in a world that's now got no less than FIVE 10-MP models at "entry to mid-level" pricing. We'll soon see how much can be done with 6 MP in FujiFilm's hands.

We'll also see if Canon makes an attempt to address the area of in-camera dynamic range expansion in 2007. I expect Canon will get something on the market in an attempt to try and nullify FujiFilm's position as the Wide DR leader. In-camera processing or post-capture,in-camera image editing might be one way Canon will address this issue, similar to the way Nikon now offers post-capture in-CAMERA edits on files,doing such things as applying Nikon's D-Lighting software correction routines right in the camera to help bring up or "lift" shadow detail after the shot is made (D-lighting in Nikon-speak is very similar to Adobe's Highlight/Shadow tool). Being able to edit a RAW capture and then to use the camera itself to create JPEG image files with different filter effects,or black and white effects,or to down-sized or otherwise edit and adjust images is something I think we'll be seeing in 2007 and beyond. Both the D40 and D80 offer in-camera image editing.

Nikon's D40 marks the first Nikon that's unable to autofocus with the screw-drive protocol of the AF and AF-D Nikkor lenses made since the mid-1980's; this is less and less of a problem for most people,since AF-S focusing is now making its way into even the low-cost 18-55 kit lens that's sold in the D40 Kit. With many new soccer mom Nikkor zooms (the low-cost 55-200 for example) using a stripped-down version of AF-S focusing,as well as the abundance of professional-grade AF-S Nikkors with "old-school or DeLuxe AF-S", there's no shortage of both consumer and top-shelf Nikon glass that focuses perfectly on the D40. The D40 can shoot pictures with screw-drive AF Nikkor lenses, but does not focus automatically with them. Not a big deal. The new 70-300 AF-S G apears to be a pretty good revision of its other two lightweight 70-300 predecessors, but with better image quality than bother prior lenses, albeit in a larger and heavier package, but at a very fair price. The 70-300 VR has nice,round defocused highlight shapes thanks to its rounded, 9-blade iris, and I think its images look pretty good for a 70-300...the prior offerings at 70-300 were nothing to envy...but the new VR lens is well-executed.

Adobe is about ready to get Photoshop CS 3 finalized,and onto the market in 2007,it appears to me. Competition for raw file developer software and file browser software is heating up,and the competition from big players like Apple Computer signals a need for Adobe to rededicate its efforts,lest it fall behind and lose sales.

There's little doubt that this year, the year of the U-Tube generation,has seen the proliferation of photography as a hobby,passtime,and a downright obsession among millions of people world-wide. The ever-widening flood of people using digital devices to capture images has lead to a huge influx of people who've not been around photography for very long, but who are very,very passionate about their cameras and their software,and even their subjects. It's all a really dizzying thing, to see this huge,huge influx of new people brought in to photography by the lure of DIGITAL photography. The last tremendous influx was brought in by the Canon AE-1's and the Nikon FE's and EM's of the late 1970's. The era of the high-tech "Autowinder" was the last great period of new blood into photography that I can recall. The advent of the sophisticated 35mm Point and Shoot era beginning in 1988 or so was also a biggie. 2006 was another watershed year,similar to 1977 and 1988. Believe me, these new $599 and $699 d-slr kit prices are going to bring MILLIONS of people into slr photography.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Does Groupthink Extend to On-line Photo Forums?

Jaron Lanier's essay, "Beware The Online Collective" is the inspiration for this entry. His article is available at the web site at this URL,9171,1570745,00.html.

The sub-headline reads, "Web guru Jaron Lanier worries that,in the world of the Web, individual creativity is being replaced by dangerous groupthink."

Lanier writes in his newest essay that,

"Collectives tend to be mean, to designate official enemies, to be violent, and to discourage creative, rigorous thought. Fascists, communists, religious cults, criminal "families" — there has been no end to the varieties of human collectives, but it seems to me that these examples have quite a lot in common. I wonder if some aspect of human nature evolved in the context of competing packs. We might be genetically wired to be vulnerable to the lure of the mob." end quoted excerpt

This Lanier essay, "Beware The Online Collective" really resonates with me. I see tendencies toward groupthink in a lot of online photography forums. Alarming tendencies. I've blogged before about brand wars and camera wars,and so Lanier's two essays about collective thinking or groupthink have resonated with me. I've been the subject of a pretty fair amount of resentment for my outspoken opinions about cameras and lenses. I've taken a lot of shit from people for my opinions on Nikon's engineering decisions in its prime lens lineup (of which I own most of) and its AF lens lineup (which I own a lot of). I've made a hell of a lot more contributions to on-line discussions than many people have. I'm an independent thinker. And I actually write stuff that points out REAL-WORLD weaknesses and deficiencies in the photo equipment that I have bought. I am not a brand-loyalist kind of guy. I don't follow along with the group on many issues. I pride myself on telling things as I see them,and of bringing up weaknesses and limitations in cameras,lenses,and software. I talk about MY experiences and my needs and how those two things jibe with different brands of cameras,and dozens and dozens of lenses, not just one model or one brand of camera and half a doxen lenses made within the last five years. I've owned two Fuji d-slr's, four Nikon d-slr models, and one Canon dslr. Currently I own about 40 Nikkor lenses (one or two lenses a year over 20+ years,and 40-some lenses is not so hard to understand) and a handful of Canon lenses. I've been shooting all-digital since February 2001. I love photography,and have since 1973. I acquire cameras and lenses and learn to USE them; I don't buy and sell stuff off like today's newbie hobbyist does. I have a 24-year old 105mm f/2.5 AiS,and a 29 year old Nikon FM which is my favorite film camera. I bought the 85mm 1.4 and the 135mm f/2 in 1987 as AiS lenses, and then later replaced them in the 2000's in their AF-D versions. I buy a lens to learn how to use it,and plan to KEEP it as part of my arsenal of equipment. I don't buy lenses that don't appeal to me,and I usually buy used lenses in good condition.

My own,personal involvement with the Internet goes back only to the late 1990's. Lanier,like a few university professors,engineers,and techno-geeks, has been around the "Internet" since it was not the Internet, but the ancestral origins of what is now the Internet. Message boards, lists, Usenet discussion groups,and all those other things that are now "the Internet" were around before the world wide web and easy e-mail came on the scene. Lanier's one of those long-time,pre-world wide web Internet guys who was out there back when there were NOT 100,000 newcomers arriving mothly,with a new computer and no knowledge of netiquette. Ever retrieved your e-mail using an application named simply Pine? I started that way. Do you remember Netscape 1.0? I do. I'm not a truly old-hand like some 1980's college physics professor who occasionally looked at message boards on the university's five computer teminals, but I am far from a "newbie".

Over the last year or so,myself,and other posters on various Internet sites have commented and or written posts or blogs on the increasing problem of rude groupthink behavior,name-calling,poor signal-to-noise ratios,arrogance masquerading as knowledge, clannishness, mob-rule, warring tribal-like behaviors,and just basically RUDE,PERSONAL attacks on people whose views they disagree with,etc,etc. David Pogue addresses the issue of on-line rudeness in his New York Times column this week,eerily echoing Jaron Lanier's Time Magazine essay on rude,anonymous behavior on the Internet.

I've written a couple of blog entries dealing with the ever-increasing number of nasty,confrontational,and otherwise aggressively acting people on the Internet photography forums. Myself,and quite a number of other people have posted threads or written articles exploring the issues behind WHY there's so much "trolling" on the popular photography forums and boards by people with either hidden agendas or zealous ONE-brand agendas. Usually, the trolling involves people who have very deep brand loyalty agendas, such as ultra-loyal Canon or Nikon or Leica or Zeiss fans who will stir up trouble. It's gotten to the point now when almost anybody asks a question or makes a comment about a weakness in a brand or camera model, that some groupthinking Fanboi will pop out of the bushes and club the 'offender' to death while shouting out "Troll,troll!". Brand loyalism and zealotry has turned many forums into groupthink experiments in progress. A good case in point: for about two years now, Canon's sports and news camera, the 1D Mark II has had double the pixel count of the Nikon D2h sports and news camera models. The Canon has 8.2 megapixels, the Nikons 4.1 megapixels. Canon has had full-frame 24x36 sensors for several years, Nikon has nothing even close. Either of these two topics,broached in the wrong way will bring out the groupthinking Nikon Fanbois who will soundly criticise the poster who asks questions which dare expose any weakness about the "Brand". Hell, if the poster who asks a question is not a member in good standing, he'll be publicly tarred and feathered. Often by two or three men at one time. It's groupthink. Mob rule. It's everywhere now.

I've made mention of "Fanbois", which is a Japanese term,the plural of Fanboi. Japan has many,many very devout Nikon Fanbois, who absolutely worship everything Nikon makes,has made, and will ever make. Another term I have used is "brand warrior". I have also used the term I coined, which is One Brand Zealot. I've never heard the term One Brand Zealot before, but I did a blog entry mentioning them not that long ago. I have become very aware that in on-line photography forums, there exists a certain percentage of people who are EXTREMELY sensitive to what they perceive as criticism of their favorite brand, or model, of camera and also their favorite lenses. As well as computer platforms, Mac or Windows. These One Brand Zealots have become MUCH,much more numerous over the last few years,as digital cameras have proliferated. What if Jaron Lanier is correct when he writes, "We might be genetically wired to be vulnerable to the lure of the mob". Huh? Is it possible that we might be vulnerable to the mob mentality at some genetic level? Is that why the degree of brand-bashing,character assasinations,and closed-mindedness and groupthink has escalated so,so rapidly since the introduction of the sub-$1000 d-slr cameras, the EOS Digital Rebel and then a year later, the Nikon D70? The various on-line photo forums do seem to be very vulnerable to a mob mentality, filled with rudeness and closed-minded,fanatical devotion to particular,individual cameras. And lenses. It's weird,the way many people now interpret adult discussion and honest evaluations of engineering decisions, manufacturing problems, and quality control issues as "personal insults" to "their brand". It's become almost ridiculous.

The term "newbie" is an Internet vocabulary term. Many people are not aware of what it really means. The D70 was the SINGLE best-selling Nikon camera in over 60 years of Nikon camera making history. The D70 got a LOT of both internet newbies and photographic newbies onto web photo sites like pBase and Flickr.The Canon Digital Rebel and the Nikon D70 launched the largest two armies of newbies EVER to come into d-slr photography at one time. I remember the Canon AE-1 influx in the 1970's...I've seen huge influxes of people into the hobby before, but the D-Rebel and the D70 were absolutely HOME RUN cameras, sales-wise; they were in a very real manner of speaking positively huge,like the Biblical floods.

I remember and dPreview before the Digital Rebel and D70 days....the on-line photo community was comprised of vastly different people than are there today. Old-time Internet people showed much more appreciation,and tolerance, for people with different experiences and different opinions. Things are a heck of a lot more One Brand Zealot-like these days. There are now more than ever a lot of relatively inexperienced people spouting off on the web about photo topics. One such fellow, Cousin Hank,I'll call him, bought his first interchangeable lens Nikon, a D70, in the summer of 2004. He now regularly defends his favorite camera company,and his favorite lenses, as if he's got a vast array of experience under his belt. As far as I can tell, he has owned a 24-120 VR, the 60 Micro, 70-300 ED,then an 80-200 Nikon 2-ring zoom,a Tamron 28-75/2.8 which was sold off and was then replaced by the 28-70 AF-S,and maybe another lens I missed in my research the other day; wow, five or six lenses over two and a half years, and he posts like an expert,and constantly loves to reinforce the capabilities of individual lenses,while taking potshots at people who point out that the 60 Micro is NOT a good portrait lens,and has focusing issues that hamper it at distance,and that it is NOT all that sharp at portrait distances or longer. Our good Cousin comes off affably to those who also like the annointed lenses,and seems to be a nice,friendly guy; but beware making comments that don't worship the 28-70 AF-S--the Cousin will go off on you,in public forums. And yet, our fair cousin has developed a cult of personality around himself. But remember, he's been shooting an interchangeable lens camera since summer 2004. And he's owned under a dozen lenses;although he comes off like an old hand,he's relatively quite new.

As Mr. Lanier asks in the conclusion of his article,
"What's to stop an online mass of anonymous but connected people from suddenly turning into a mean mob, just like masses of people have time and time again in the history of every human culture? It's amazing that details in the design of online software can bring out such varied potentials in human behavior. It's time to think about that power on a moral basis. From the Dec. 25, 2006 issue of TIME magazine" End of qouted passage. It seems as if even some real egghead types agree with my line of thinking. And no, it's not just MY opinion...the big photography forums and boards of the web have their Peter Phan and their T3's,as well as some other folks who are,really, pretty much One Brand Zealots whose job it is to spread dis-information.

I myself am not a One Brand Zealot. I've owned several Nikon d-slr models,beginning in Feb 2001 of the Nikon D1, then the Fuji S1 Pro, then the Fuji S2 Pro in August of its intro year, then the Nikon D1h a year later, then the Nikon D70 in June of 2004, then after half a year of D70 use, I put the D70 away in favor of a Canon EOS 20D I bought in Feb. 2005. My last d-slr purchase was the Nikon D2x in May,2005. I still use the 20D and D2x for almost all of my shooting,and still have the S2 and D70. I use the D70 as a travel/party camera,since it's the smallest and lightest dslr I own. But for my "serious" use, I use the D2x,and I use the Canon for sepia-tone work and for use with manual-focus specialty lenses using a Nikon lens to EOS-body adapter. I can't seem to sell off any of these bodies. My old S1 Pro and five Nikkor lenses returned recently from a roughly 18-month loan to a forumer Fuji SLR Forum member,whom I've never met personally,a nice fellow who lives in London,England whose equipment had been ripped off by burglars,so now I have a few more lenses floating around.

There is now, more than ever, an increasingly shrill chorus of defenders of the faith on the Internet's photography outlets. There are a TON of people who absolutely believe that the BEST pictures can only be made by a Canon. Or a Nikon. Or a Fuji. In about that order is where the One Brand Zealots are distributed. There are also the cult of personality people who appear to be a bit more moderate, but who actually represent the "party line" or the collective group-think positions quite well. They appear at first glance to be well-reasoned individuals, but there is an increasing tendency that I,and many others have noticed: a sort of group consensus exists about the relative quality of preferred tools in the various forums; those who dare question the group-think position about the tools will be dealt with,either angrily and aggressively, or alternately through much apparently polite writing that basically tells the dissenter that he's not welcome, that only the favored paty line be expressed,and that the 1)camera models 2)lenses and 3)engineering and software decisions are all "perfectly fine". No need for any engineering suggestions,no need for anything but the status quo. No need for ANY NEW IMPROVEMENTS, ever, in what the One Brand Manufacturer has offered for sale. There's a goodly number of people who defend the status quo,and their favorite manufactures against all criticism. They say things like, "Everything is great with my favorite products,so,shut up and go buy a @#$*. There are some "cult lenses", like Nikon's 85 1.4 AF-D and 28-70 AF-S that have cult followers that border on the fanatic in their defense of these two lenses,against and and ALL criticisms,however minor. Some of these lenses have even been given nicknames,like Cream Machine and The Beast. Groupthink is all about drowning out all the voices of dissent and disagreement. Groupthink is about feel-good unity,no challenges to the status quo,and on everybody being in lock-step unanimity.

When the Leica M8 came online recently, with its severe blacks-turn out-as-magenta problem (excessive sensitivity to infrared), there were many aggressive attemps to drum out NON-M8 owners from the forum, including very technologically savvy posters like Joseph S. Wisniewski. Thank God that Joe piped up in a post as wrote something like, 'This is the Leica forum, the place to discuss Leica equipment, and not the Leica M-8 'owner's club forum'. I want people to have all the facts, so I'm posting here.' Those were pretty much Joe's words. What Joe did was to stand up to the bullying and the shit-flicking he was getting because he didn't actually OWN a Leica M-8 camera, but was interested in discussing the M8's actual and severe fault so that people could make a truly informed decision without being shouted down by Fanbois. The Leica Fanbois who had bought M8's ($5,000 cameras most people can not afford) were VERY pissed off that somebody with engineering expertise, and also a very Old School long-time Internet person was attempting to engage in sensible,unemotional,dispassionate equipment talk in the forum. The unstated groupthink reaction was somewhat like, "How dare an educated,experienced person dare speak about the weakness of a very expensive product with real-world PROBLEMS in a forum where we proud,few new M8 owners wish to huddle and talk about how great our new cameras are?" Thank God for a person who stood up to the groupthink,and the mob mentality, to point out that even though he did not own the camera model of the day himself, that he had the right to discuss that camera model. The typical Leica M8 buyer is a devoted Leica M user. Leica has a large number of rabid,devout fans. No wonder--they've had the highest production quality and standards for over 75 years,and have made a couple of the word's very-best cameras ever,and many of the best lenses. People deserve to hear the unvarnished TRUTH about how expensive cameras perform,no matter if the groupthinking Fanbois get their feathers ruffled.

It's kind of interesting how this groupthink has come to characterize so,so many of the on-line photography communities. Some people might take comfort in assuming that the tendency to succumb to mob rule and groupthink is somehow within the DNA of humans,and that we're therefore somehow not responsible for falling into groupthink and mob rule. The tendency I've seen over the past two years has been a pattern of forcing out those people who don't happen to agree with the collectives which have taken over so many of the various online photography forums,or who disagree with the Cult of Personality leaders within the various groups. As Lanier speculates, perphas humankind evolved in the type of environment where tribes warred with one another, and nobody wanted anybody to question the status quo. People who spoke unflatteringly about the group were drummed out of the group. People who showed any disloyalty to the group,say by associating with another group,or questioning the "group wisdom" were viewed as traitors. As Lanier writes, "Collectives tend to be mean, to designate official enemies, to be violent, and to discourage creative, rigorous thought." Something to think about before you make the next mean-spirited,smartass comment about somebody or something in an on-line photography forum, or leave your next asshole-like,rude,ceepy anonymous comment on a blog or website like David Pogue's New York Times technology blog site,etc,etc.

I find Lanier's essays "Digital Maoism" and "Beware The Online Collective" to be particularly relevant to the various on-line photography web sites and web boards that are popular these days.

Please see,9171,1570745,00.html for the full text of Jaron Lanier's essay.
Where you can find Lanier's essay "Digital Maoism",with a short introduction.

the discourse and viewpoints of several intellectuals regarding the essay Digital Maoism--some VERY interesting stuff here!

Additional reading:search out and learn about the internet vocabulary words "newbie" and "sock puppet",as well as "cult of personality".

Friday, December 22, 2006

Better Low-Cost D-SLR's and The Wife's First D-SLR

Phil Askey not that long ago reviewed the Pentax K100D on his web site at He wrote that the Pentax K100D has, "stepped ahead of the D50 with better definition of fine detail," and his review's now-well-known sample comparison images allow the reader to, as he wrote, " your way down the crops and see a real difference in the amount of information delivered." (Better detail delivered by the K100D over the Nikon D50's level of detail.)

I have to agree---the Askey samples in the review show pretty convincingly that the Pentax K100D does deliver a BETTER IMAGE than the Nikon D50 does,in several different categories. The Pentax K100D also acquits itself VERY well at 800 and 1600 sensitvity settings,as shown in the samples on page 22 of the dPreview review at To my eye, the Pentax K100D offers the best Out of Camera 800 and 1600 JPEG image characteristics between the cameras compared there.

Similarly,in his very newest camera review, Askey points out a VERY SIMILAR, almost identical to my eye, improvement in the Nikon D40's out of camera JPEG image quality over the Nikon D50's out of camera JPEG image quality. The dPreview review of the Nikon D40 begins at

and on page 19 of the D40 review, Askey notes "how far in-camera image processing has come." It's worth stopping by.

Funny thing--on page 20 of the D40 review, Askey wrote: " Just over two weeks ago I was quite happy to proclaim the Pentax K100D as having the best image quality of any six megapixel, well looking at this comparison I may have to say that the D40 has just edged the K100D off its throne. In each crop we can see the D40 has a slight edge in detail along with a complete lack of artifacts (there are a few jaggies in the K100D image)."

So, two weeks ago, Phil Askey proclaimed the Pentax K100D had, and this is a direct quote, "the best image quality of any six megapixel." But now that the Nikon D40 has been evaluated, Askey has written that the D50 has edged the K100D off the throne as having the best image quality in the six megapixel category. And keep in mind that during the testing of the D40,Adobe Camera RAW was not able to offer D40 raw file decoding, so the image quality comparisons Askey has made have been based upon the Nikon D40's out-of-camera JPEGs doing the "work" to earn the title of best image quality from a six megapixel camera.

Why is this important? Because the K100D and D40 are very,very inexpensive d-slr cameras, and it has now been demonstrated that image processing in the camera,if it is done using state-of-the-art technology, ELEVATES the resolution of the six megapixel class sensors over what we've had since 2003,and over immediate predecessor models,from both Pentax and from Nikon. The Nikon D40 kit retails for $599 WITH AN 18-55mm Nikkor ZOOM LENS!!!! Also,I think it's refreshing to see how good the high-ISO images from the Pentax K100D look,particularly at ISO 800 and 1600. The Pentax K100D's high-ISO shots look snappier,sharper,and clearer than what Canon is offering in the same class, and a bit better than Nikon is offering at those two high ISO settings. This is all good news,since improved image processing,lower noise,and better pictures are what hobbyists,and professionals,want. At ever-lower prices.

Both the K100D and the Nikon D40 reviews show that it IS POSSIBLE for a six megapixel sensor to make a very good image,particularly when the very latest capabilities in signal processing and demosaicing and image processing and sharpening are all carefully implemented by the manufacturers. Newer is better. That kind of sums up the d-slr image quality paradigm,at least in my experience. Newer cameras with newer sensors usually deliver HIGHER IMAGE QUALITY than their immediate predecessor models,even when the same sensor is used in the old and the newer camera models. It now seems that image processing,at least in the newest Pentax and Nikon models, has been improved quite readily apparently to the human eye,and that the manufacturers are able to wring MORE out of the same old sensors,in part by improving demosaicing routines, and by better sharpening routines, and by improving the in-camera image PROCESSING routines and their overall quality. The lines of resolution both the Pentax and Nikon 6MP models are capable of delivering are still in what I'd term the 6MP class,rez-wise, but there's no doubt that looking at the Askey samples that the NEWER Pentax and the NEWER Nikon d-slr models are doing MORE with the SAME basic sensors used in prior cameras. Pentax went from simply dreadful OOC JPEG quality to class-leading OOC JPEG Image Quality. Then almost immediately, Nikon took the economy D50's OOC JPEG image quality and took it from extremely good to class-leading with the same imager in the D40. In other words, Pentax and Nikon have now figured out how to create and process 6MP JPEG images to levels that are better than what we've seen before in the 6MP class of d-slr.

The D40's boost in Image Quality over the D50's IQ is impressive. It's nice to think that the lowest-cost,most-basic Nikon d-slr offers class-leading image quality. That really makes me happy! The K100D's 1600 ISO out of camera images were impessive to me--sharp,detailed,and with good tonality, and a really nice feeling of information; the Canon Rebel XTi's higher ISO images looked less-sharp,but low-noise and clean, yet with lowered contrast and a flatter look out of camera t han the Pentax images. One could argue that the Canon and Nikon entry-level ($699 and $599 respectively,w/kit zoom) d-slr models offer a less-processed out of camera JPEG than Pentax makes at 1600, but frankly, I think the K100D's higher-ISO look is damned good out of camera, with the Canon and Nikons being merely very good.
This is indeed a great time to be interested in digital photography. I think the big strides in image processing combined with rather weak (non-destructive) anti-aliasing filter arrays Askey refers to is the last remaining,obvious, way to boost IQ while still maintaining 6MP sensor size on crop-field SLR bodies. Make sure the AA filter doesn't soften the images up too terribly much, and work at doing the BEST-possible demosaicing and the best-possible image processing and sharpening,and you've got yourself a damned fine 6MP imager. Simple,huh? But it hasn't been done,until recently.

While a lot of people look ONLY at the resolution figures in the dPreview reviews, it is important to look at the PICTURES as well, to see how cameras with similar chart resolution figures can have different IMAGE quality. Basically, test charts are test charts. What's important to realize is that image artifacts can plague in-camera JPEGs, and also that the way a camera handles resolution ABOVE the extinction limit determines how well textures are rendered. It's possible for two cameras to have very,very similar test chart resolution figures, but for one camera to consistently create a CLEARLY SUPERIOR image on real-world subjects. A good case in point is the Nikon D50 and Nikon D40...the D40's images are now very much free from the JPEG artifacting that was present in the D50's images. Not that the D50 was "bad"; no, the artifacting was slight, but definitely there. Even though both cameras have similar test chart resolution averages, the actual _pictures_ made by the D40 show an improvement in image quality over and above what the D50 produced. As resolution figures go higher and higher, it's important to look at the PICTURES a camera makes, to see how it handles the information above the extinction resolution. Resolution and noise figures are interesting,yes, but the PICTURES are what really counts, and this is one area where FujiFIlm has done a good job--making good-looking pictures with the S1,S2,and S3 Pro models.

I now have even higher hopes for the Fuji S5 Pro than I had even a few weeks ago! The image processing and image quality boosts that Pentax and Nikon have achieved in their newest, economy-priced models gives me a good feeling that FujiFilm engineers have also done their best to improve and optimize the AA filter system of the their patented SuperCCD-SR sensor in the upcoming S5 Pro model.

I happened to speak with a FujiFilm field representative this week,and he said , "end of February" in response to my question, "When do YOU think we'll actually be able to buy an S5 in stores?" Actually, I think that's reasonable, given the time frame of the D200 element, the cessation of S3 Pro's production recently in order to clear the channel of remaining inventory,etc,etc. Anyway, the Askey review of the D40, the sample crop comparisons,and the low price and small physical SIZE and weight (16 oz, w/o battery) made me opt for a Nikon D40 kit and an SB-600 for my wife's special Christmas present. I bought her a 1 gig SD card also,and she owns two 512 MB SD cards from her Minolta Vectis camera. I hope she likes the camera; her shooting has improved a lot over the last couple years,and now low-light AF problems and poor AF performance in general and erratic exposures in tricky lighting are hampering her. Compact bridge-type cameras like her Minolta Vectis are simply not as fast-operating as any SLR,and I think the D40's an excellent,SMALL slr camera, so I hope it works out for her.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Is The Hi-End Prosumer Digicam Nearly Dead?

I've been wondering if Nikon's new D40 d-slr at $599 with a kit Zoom~Nikkor lens is a harbinger of the imminent death of the high-end prosumer digicam category. I'm wondering how much longer the all-in-one EVF cameras like the higher-end Sony can possibly continue to live on as d-slr prices continue to drop. I beleive that many customers in the high-end or "prosumer" all-in-one category have a high regard for the bottom line....the line right there in the checkbook register, or the line right there by the signature on the credit card slip at the store. Why would anybody pay $799 to $999 for an all-in-one camera with slowish autofocus and a sluggardly shutter when he could have a real interchangeable lens d-slr camera for $599?

If the new Nikon D40 with its kit wide-to-tele zoom lens at $599 does not signify the death of the high-end prosumer digicam as a category, it surely signals that no longer must one with only $600 to spend on his camera forever be locked into ONE LENS,permanently mounted onto what most people would call a "good camera". The D40 has an economical 6 Megapixel sensor size, which is ample for most people who would have bought a high-end digicam as recently as six months ago. Six Megapixels in a d-slr-grade CCD sensor allows the photographer to shoot a very favorable nummber of RAW or JPEG frames on even a 1-gigiabyte storage card. With good-quality lenses, 6 MP delivers a pretty good image up to 8x10 inches with careful technique. Consider the new price point Nikon has put its D40 at...Six megapixels, Six hundred dollars. In the summer of 2002, I payed $2400 for a the six megapixel FujiFilm S2 Pro d-slr body,with no lens whatsoever.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Nikon Lens Buying Guidelines and Suggestions

This blog entry is about some thoughts I have on the subject of buying lenses for the Nikon F-mount in late 2006. BUYING BLIND,without having done any research, can be risky. Buying blind can lead to getting overcharged. Buying a new lens costs more than buying a used lens of identical model and vintage. Sometimes buying an older-style lens,like a manually focusing lens, can save hundreds of dollars over the cost of a newer,autofocusing model that has replaced the older lens design. As in most things, there are no universal truths,only good general guidelines. There are a heck of a lot of lenses.Some cost only a little,many cost a modest amount,while some lenses cost thousands of dollars. The answer to the question, "What lens should I buy now?" can be answered in very few words, as in, "Whichever lens you desire," or "the one that costs the most," or "the one the pros like the most", and so on. But it's impossible to fit every lens to every task, and there are many,many lenses. I'm gonna' give my take on some commonly-asked questions I've seen over the last few years.

Question-- Is Sigma or Tamron or Tokina the best aftermarket brand?
ANSWER-- It depends. Sigma's EX line and Tamron's SP-series lens models are the premier offerings those two companies make. Tokina calls its best lenses AT-X Pro. Sigma,Tamron,and Tokina make some DANGED good lenses! The best lenses these companies make are very,very good lenses,sold at fair prices. The 90mm Tamron,100mm Tokina ,and Sigma 105mm macro lenses are ALL fine lenses. So are the 150 and 180mm Sigma EX macro lenses,and the 180mm Tamron macros. IMHO, anybody who wants a 70mm macro (only Sigma makes a 70mm macro), or a 150mm macro (only Sigma makes a 150mm macro), or a 180mm macro lens,well, you simply MUST buy outside the Nikon lens line,and the independents have designed their macro teles for the new digital sensors,and have features that Nikon simply does not offer, like HSM focusing in a tele-macro of 150-180mm for example.Third-party lens makers have targeted the macro segment VERY directly, in an effort to make more-affordable lenses or lenses which the big makers cannot compete on in either price,or value for dollar. In the case of Nikon, there simply ARE no 50,70,90,100,or 150,or 180mm macro lenses made, and until the new 105 VR-G macro lens hit the street, there was NO Nikkor macro lens that had AF-S type focusing,with full-time focus override. Sigma's 150 and 180mm EX macros have hypersonic motor focusing and full-time manual focus override/touchup,making them possible double-duty field telephotos, which is an area where Nikon is kind of flat-footed. Nope, the 3rd party lens makers have made very specific,targeted attacks on Nikon and Canon in the macro lens arena,and deserve very serious consideration. Tamron's 90mm Di Macro, Tokina's 100mm f/2.8 ATX Pro Macro, and the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX HSM Macro are all outstanding lens designs,just for starters. If you don't own a telephoto macro lens, you're really missing something valuable for close-range photography.

In the 10-20 and 12-24mm ultra-wide zoom category, both Sigma and Tokina have pretty good reputations with their lenses. Nikon's 12-24 DX is not the best architectural use lens; you'd probably rather have the Tokina's distortion profile if you're an architecture freak who's gonna want to correct distortion in software. Sigma,Tamron,and Tokina all make a FEW really good lenses. Over just the last few years, barrel distortion figures have gone way down over the wide-angle settings, and overall image quality has gone UP in the better zoom lens models from both the camera makers and the 3rd party lens firms,and nowadays even the relatively low-priced $499 17-50mm f/2.8 Tamron delivers VERY low distortion figures, with excellent sharpness and contrast. In late 2006 it does not make much sense to pay $1400 or $999 for a lens in the 17-50 or 18-50mm zoom range,at least for most people. If there's a lens focal length range and aperture value you'd like to own,there's a good chance it's available both from your camera's manufacturer,or from Sigma,Tamron,or Tokina. And, there's a chance that a 3rd party ultra-wide zoom lens, macro lens,or fixed focal length telephoto or big-time zoom lens is a reasonable choice for MOST users.

Forget the 28-70mm f/2.8 AF-S Nikkor lens unless you're a big,strong person who likes lugging around a two-pound lens that's not very wide and not very telephoto. The 28-70 focal length range is very limiting on APS-C d-slr's from Nikon and Fuji, and has been supplanted by the Nikkor 17-55 DX for those who shoot a d-slr and want a wide-angle to normal lens. If you're well-off financially and want the best that can be had in 2006,buy the Nikkor 17-55 DX,and get what the 28-70 AF-S USED TO BE on full frame 35mm film. For everybody else, buy the Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 for $499. If you must have a 28-70-something,look at Tamron's 28-75 f/2.8-it's a very good lens for a very fair price, for those who want or need the roughly 28-70mm focal length range.

The next one: I need a lens for wildlife. Okay, define wildlife. Then, get a bank loan or a credit card with a high limit, because by the time you're through, you'll need SERIOUS money if you have to shoot undisturbed,free-roaming wildlife from far away,or under demanding conditions. However, if daylight hours are okay, and you're a Sunday aviary snapper, or a Metropolitan Zoo lion and giraffe snapper, you can buy a $100 500mm f/8 from a Ritz Camera store for use in bright lighting conditions. How about an $85 Nikkor 200mm f/4 Ai that's for sale right now at, hooked up to a used Nikon TC-200 2x telephoto converter? The quality of the 200mm f/4 Ai or AiS lens and a Nikon TC 201 or TC 200 2x teleconverter is every bit as good as the 80-400VR is at 400mm. Seriously. The 200mm f/4 t 2x TC is good in bright lighting only, but it's 400mm's worth of reach.

Need a cheap but dependable and LIGHTWEIGHT telephoto lens? How about a $75 Nikon 135mm f/2.8 Ai, with the same TC 200 or TC 201 converter, for a small,light 270mm f/5.6 with hair-trigger focusing? If you're in a marsh or riverine environment, a 135mm telephoto is actually a nice mid-distance lens,offering a nice selectivity of vision,and yet, with a certain amount of reach.The 135mm f/2.8 Ai or AiS Nikkors are cheap and sharp,and work "okay" with a 2x TC on them. The 200mm f/4 Ai or AiS Nikkor lenses are very compact,use 52mm filters, and are dependable and also very lightweight,and also available very affordably in the Ai mount in particular.

Under the heading of cheap but dependable are the 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkors made since the 1980's to the present year. And the 85mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor models made between the early 1990's and today are very nice lenses. Make no mistake--prime Nikkor lenses of 50,85,105mm,and 135mm are all reasonably good to excellent lenses,no matter if they are manual focus or autofocusing models. Anything made within the last 20 years is adequate,cheap,and actually pretty dependable. Most people are unaware of how good a 50mm f/1.8 or an 85mm f/1.8 Nikkor prime lens can be. The 50 and 85 1.8 autofocusing Nikkor models are VERY good lenses,and would be welcome additions to almost ANY shooter's bag.The 105mm f/2.5 AiS is a super performer,which is easy to focus,easy to carry,small,solidly built, and still fun to use.

For the best 'economy' long lens solution, well it has to be the 300mm f/4 AF-S Nikkor lens,paired with the 1.4x power Nikon TC14E or TC14e-II tele converter. The 300mm f/4 AF-S focuses very close for a 300mm lens, is relatively compact, and very sharp. It works acceptably well with the 1.4x converter added for a 420mm f/5.6, and while that slows down the autofocus and makes the AF somewhat more 'jittery', it does not cut sharpness too much on an F-mount d-slr,and it's hand-holdable and carryable for long distances. The 300 4 AF-S is a VERY good quality 300mm lens with a nice, narrow angle of view,and high-quality optics. AF speed is fairly high, but the lens does tend to hunt for focus under low-light/low-contrast situations,and it is NOT as good on overall autofocus performance as 'some lenses' for rapid-acquisition AF or under really high-pressure situations. Still, it's decent overall in all categories, and it's sharp,and it's CARRYABLE,and it works pretty well on its own,or with the 1.4x as a 420mm when you really NEED extra length. Still, with its converter added it's only effectively f/5.6, so....don't forget that.

The 300mm f/2.8 AFS-II is the current 300mm/2.8 I own. Its lightweight but strong magnesium alloy barrel and carbon fibre lenshood make it the lightest 300/2.8 AF Nikkor ever,and it's an excellent lens to buy on the second-hand market IF you want a 300mm f/2.8 lens that offers superior AF performance in the Nikon mount. The lighter weight and closer focusing of the Mark II AF-S model makes it seem the best buy of all the various AF, AF-i and AF-S models,to me. It's a bugger to carry,but this lens is designed for use on a monopod or tripod,and for that it's good. Its sharpness,contrast,and superb autofocus performance even under demanding conditions make it a great lens that delivers fine images,even at f/2.8. For action work,this lens is vastly preferrable to the 300/4 model because it focuses faster and better and more RELIABLY than the 300/4,which is only a middlin' AF performer. Not everybody needs the closer focusing or lighter weight of the AF-S II (second version AF-S model), and older,earlier model used 300/2.8's in AF are from $1,700 and up in price; the 300/2.8 VR-G is expensive. If you need a 300/2.8, you know you do. If you don't need one, it's absolutely foolish to buy one. Most people do not need a 300 2.8.

The 200mm f/2 VR-G Nikkor is a weighty lens,best used on a monopod. It offers beautiful bokeh--just incredibly beautiful bokeh! It is also a superb autofocus performer,and I've used it on indoor swimming,indoor basketball,indoor volleyball,available light portraiture,and track and field. It is one of the BEST-focusing lenses I've ever used on the D2x,even under the most difficult condition I face several times each year, which is late afternoon open shaded conditions paired with raindrops,and track runners coming mostly straight ahead. The 200/2 focuses very,very well using a group dynamic AF approach with the D2x at the ranges I most often use it at,and it gives exceedingly rich,beautiful saturated color,and it also shoots against the light pretty darned well for a long,fast telephoto.The 200/2 is one of the prettiest portrait imagers I've ever seen--it makes magnificently beautiful images of people. The cost is around $4k in the USA,making it an exotic lens in most ways. It _can_ be used with the TC14e as a pseudo 300/2.8 with pretty acceptable performance, but it's not the same thing as the 300/2.8. If you need aperture speed,and VR,and cutting-edge optics, this lens offers it, but it's so heavy and bulky that,for its focal length,the lens is suitable only for really "serious use". But for serious use situations, it rewards the user with stellar imaging characteristics and a very high degree of "impression" in its images. It makes very,very pretty pictures. That's the adjective that pops to mind; the images actually look 'pretty'. In air quotes!

Lenses which can give an "impression" on the photos they make. Well, this is the area where familiarity and experimentation with many lenses comes into play. Under the heading of subjective image quality is a category I think of as "impression",and it incorporates several things. Image saturation, bokeh, contrast, resolution, focal length in relation to film size, and angle of view,as well as a few oher intangibles make up what I call "impression". Some lenses put a very strong impression on the images they make. Lenses like the Lensbaby, for example. Or the Nikkor 135mm f/2 Defocus Control lens, or the Noct-Nikkor shot wide open at f/1.2, or the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L, or the 105mm f/2 Defocus Control Nikkor, or the 85mm 1.4 AF-D, or the 200/2 VR Nikkor for specific examples. The original model Lensbabywhen shot solo or when used with a 2x tele-converter puts a wonderful "impression" on its images. The Nikkor 45-P does a nice job too, but it's a very mild impression. Here is a short list of standout lenses in terms of "impression". Lensbaby,Lensbaby 2.0, Nikkor 85mm 1.4 AF-D, 105 f/2 D.C., 135 f/2 D.C.,300/4 AF-S, 300/2.8,and 200/VR, in about that order. The easiest lens to see a lot of lens "impression" in action on almost all images is the 135 f/2 D.C or Defocus Control Nikkor,which puts a strong,obvious "impression" on almost every picture it makes when used at appropriate f/stops. If I were to suggest owning just ONE reasonably affordable specialty lens for the effect of "impression" it would be the 135 Defocus Control lens. The 200/VR has an exceedingly high degree of "impression", but is,realistically, a PITA in everyday shooting, and it costs a fortune and even discussing it makes me feel elitist,sort of. The 85mm 1.4 AF-D and 105 f/2 DC Nikkors are also good lenses, but the 135DC lens really,really puts a distinct impression on its images.

For an all-in-one telephoto zoom lens of f/2.8 aperture, there are four sensible choices. Brand new, there is the 70-200 AF-S VR-G. Available on the used market is the superb but now-discontinued 80-200 f/2.8 AF-S and the two-ring 80-200 f/2.8 AF-D, which is a NON-AFS lens. There is also the Sigma 70-200 f/2.8. Any one of these is a good lens to own. Optical quality is similar between them all. Personally, I'd say that the 70-200VR offers excellent optical quality and bokeh and AF-S focusing and VR, which _REALLY_ does work,and work well too. The 70-200 VR can pinch hit for the 85,105,135,and 180mm prime Nikkors,and it pairs well with the 17-55 DX in a two-lens kit. The 70-200 VR is the best lens most people could own,and on a D2-class body with smart use of the AF system, it does pretty well on portraits and sports and all types of things from moving platforms. In WINDY CONDITIONS, a VR lens is an incredible asset,such as when at the seashore on gusty days, or when walking or hiking and slightly out of breath; Nikon's advanced VR technology takes the shake out of tired photographers, and helps calm you down a bit when the adrenaline's pumping. Its zoom and focusing,with full-time,switchless focus override, AF lock buttons, and slender barrel all make the 70-200VR a pretty sweet,sleek-tubed lens for action work,so if you can afford it, buy it. If not, buy the new Sigma 70-200 2.8 DG. ANY 80-200 f/2.8 zoom lens can be put to good use on a d-slr; I think Tokina's offering is the very weakest performer in the 80-200 2.8 class,and would suggest that the older 80-200 2.8 ONE-ring AF models from Nikon at $500 or so used, are still acceptable peformers for non-critical uses,and are also about a full pound lighter than the two-ring 80-200 Nikkors. If however, you need GOOD focusing, the 70-200 VR and 80-200 AF-S models are the only choices worthy of serious consideration, with the Sigma 70-200 being third place, but still HSM focus capable.

If you want a lens for birds, I'd say buy a 500 f/4 AFS-II if you want the best. Following that, the Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX HSM would be my next choice,purely on length and aperture speed. Following that would be the 300/2.8 AF-S with TC20e. I'd also think about the 50-500 Sigma, or the 200-500 Tamron Di if shopping for a lens in the $899 range. For "some" bird use, I guess one could say the 80-400 Sigma OS would be a potential choice, but 500mm is MUCH better for most bird uses. Manual focus long Nikkors like the 600mm f/5.6 ED~IF would be sweet too,especially if they'd been CPU fitted. When figuring out exactly WHICH long lens you're gonna get, you absolutley MUST be honest with yourself about what the f/stop will be, at what ISO, at what time of day,and how much weight you can stand to deal with. Don't bullshit need to be using ISO 800 with the slowpoke lenses, and they WILL BE WIDE OPEN early and late in the day, and only in the brightest light will the slowest lenses actually work their best--at high shutter speeds! Like I said, don't bullshit yourself. It costs money to shoot bird or other outdoor/action photos in anything EXCEPT bright,bluebird weather. Take heart that seashore/desert areas have large expanses of highly reflective fill light sources, so slow-aperture lenses are more workable at the seashore/desert than in more conventional landscape/woodland environments, so lenses like the 50-500 Sigma are STILL workable at f/6.3 to f/8 in the better lighting conditions.

If you're interested in a stabilized 80-400mm zoom lens,you have two choices: the Nikkor 80-400 VR and the Sigma 80-400 OS. I've shot and handled the Sigma on large birds in flight on the D2x. Honestly, I can see absolutely NO REASON to opt for the Nikkor 80-400 when the Sigma is,well, so much better a performer,focus-wise. The Nikon might zoom more easily and more smoothly, but the Sigma is clearly a better focuser on birds in flight. I would suggest that the 80-400 VR is an outdated lens by comparison with the newer Sigma 80-400 OS.

If you want the BEST, buy it once,learn to use it, and then use it for many years. If you can't afford a lens you want, look for a used one,or consider a prior model variation, or a third-party lens that's close in specifications and design parameters, in that order. Keep your mind open to 3rd party lenses which might actually be as good as or BETTER than older,legacy lenses you might currently be using,such as the Sigma 80-400 OS for example. When buying expensive lenses now, consider that full frame Nikon digital is probably slated for late 2007 availability,so DX lenses are,well, not going to migrate forward as well as you'd like! (grin) There are no DX telephoto lenses,only wide-angle zooms,but some of the DX-series Nikkors are pretty costly,so be advised if you plan to go full frame digital or plan to shoot 35mm film.

As for researching lenses, the world wide web is a vast resource. On-line forums are the place to ask actual owners about _specific_ lenses, but beware of Brand Fanboi types and gushing,overly enthusiastic new owners who have had a lens a month or less. Some lenses are designed to operate in a fairly specific niche,while others are more generalist tools. All lenses are usable. Some are really well-suited to some tasks,and others are not well-suited to the same tasks. A bug lens is not the same as a sports lens. Ask around if there's a lens you're interested in owning. Realize that there are some pretty large pricing differences between the BIG online used lens retailers like KEH and B&H Photo than there are between much smaller camera dealers in places like Minneapolis,Sarasota,Seattle,Columbus,Charlotte,etc,etc. On high-ticket items like 300/2.8's smaller dealers will often sell such lenses on consignment for SIGNIFICANTLY less money than you'll find them selling for in the mega-retailers' stores or on their mega-web sites. Please remember when you finally want to buy that used 300/2.8 or that used 500/4 AF-S-that the best deals are ALWAYS to be found off the beaten path. And keep in mind--in actual WALK-IN retail camera shops, used lenses are starting to pile up a little bit,and I consider 2006 very much a buyer's market. Never offer full asking price on any used equipment--start low. Always. Don't be a sap...used equipment has very little sales appeal,so don't offer to pay what they're asking. Never. You are doing THEM a favor by buying used gear. Seriously. The sale of consigned used lenses will be followed by the sale of brand new,high-markup equipment for the dealer doing the consigning. Selling off a 300/2.8 can easily finance a new mid-priced d-slr body and a lens or two. You do the math.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Fuji's 12 Megapixel Claims: Fact or Fiction?

I simply can NOT believe the people who fall for the idea that a FujiFilm Super CCD sensor is a "real" 12 megapixel sensor! It's hilarious. The claims of a Fuji S2 or a Fuji S3 "approximating" 8,9,or even as many as 10 megapixels in terms of resolution is a mistaken notion that is not supported well by photoraphs made by the 6MP Fujis (S2 or S3) and the 8.2MP Canons (Canon's 20D,30D,1D-II and 1D-IIN with 2.5 inch LCD) and the newer,higher-rez 10.2 MP models by Sony,Nikon,and Canon. The first claims that a Fuji sensor could "approximate the output of a 9- or 10-megapixel camera"were made before there WERE ANY 8.2 MP or 10.2 MP d-slrs on the market,for an actual,real-world comparison. The claims of the 6 MP Fuji cameras "approximating the resolution of 9- or 10-MP sensors" were made by Fujistas as a compliment to the Fuji Super CCD's performance; however,as soon as Canon made the world's FIRST, actual PRODUCTION 8.2 MP d-slr, that old myth was debunked in head-to-head testing which showed that NO, 6+6 is not equal to 8.2 MP, let alone 9 or 10 MP, and that 6+6 MP is still not as good as 10.2 MP in terms of resolution. And yet the old Fujista-created urban legend that 6 =10 lived on!

Now that there are 12.4 and 12.8 MP d-slrs from Nikon and Canon,the newest myth is that 6+6 from Fuji is now somehow equal to 12.4 or 12.8 megapixel's worth of resolution! If the 6+6 sensor of the Fuji S3 is not even up to the resolution abilities of the 8.2 MP Canon models, how is it then able to compete with the 12 and 13 MP d-slr's from Nikon and Canon? Myths have a way of spreading,and in this internet age, there are people who love to prumulgate myths to bolster their favorite things.

Anybody who makes the claim that an S2 or an S3 resolves anywhere NEAR 12 megapixels is obviously not an owner or regular user of a Nikon D2x,Kodak 14n or Kodak SLR/n, or a full-frame Canon 1Ds series model, or a Canon 5D (which is rougly a 13 megapixel camera). Once you own and use a HIGH-megapixel d-slr, you'll see that resolution of all the 6MP models is below that of the 8.2 MP Canons, and that the 10.2 MP Nikon D80 out-resolves the 8.2MP EOS 20D and EOS 30D by a small but easily-seen margin. Just go and look up the resolution figures AND the pictures--and then you can see,literally see with your eyeballs, that the 20D betters the 6MP Fuji's, and that the 10MP Canons and Nikons out-resolve the 8.0 and 8.2MP Canons, and so on and so on. SIX million photosites is not equal to 8.2 million,nor 10 million,nor 12 million + photosites. It just is not.

Sorry to burst bubbles, but more is more. And less is never equal to more. Like the folks in the Memorex ads of yesteryear, keep in mind that when looking at photographs we can sometimes see what we WISH to see;and at times,with the aid of an impartial observer,we can be shown what REALLY is in front of our eyes, like in those nifty psychology department visual perception experiments where we can see how the SAME RGB color value may appear to be vastly,vastly,vastly brighter,or darker, depending on the context in which that RGB color value is presented. Expectations can taint our perceptions.

Just like with music recorded on tape,we don't expect "reality" when we play the tape,but instead we expect a damned fine representation of reality. And Fuji d-slr cameras DO deliver a damned fine impression of reality. But very careful analysis can show where the delivered 'reality' of the camera shows its shortcomings and limitations.

Tonight there is yet again an exploration of the "Is 6+6 actually equal to 12 megapixels?" question in dPreview's FujiFilm SLR Talk forum. Read it, and then see how Fuji users feel. There's NO WAY that the S2 or S3 approach the resolution ability of the Nikon D2x or the EOS 5D, two of the least-expensive 12MP or higher d-slr's currently on the market. But is resolution everything? NO, it's not.

What's sad is that so many loyal dyed-in-the-wool Fujistas seem to think that 6 million regular pixels' worth of information,and then 1,2,or maybe 2.5 million highlight pixels are used and that "somehow" one can upsample 6 million pixels worth of photosites and create 12 million photosites' worth of information content. Since the smaller R-pixels are sensitive ONLY to the very,very brightest tones, the S3 cannot possibly be using all 6 million of its smaller, much less-sensitive R-pixels to record anything except really BRIGHT lighting values. The S-pixels are sensitive to the lower light values, and those work in the normal,expected fashion of pixels everywhere. But Fuji's small, slow-to-respond R-pixels are sensitive only to BRIGHT light values....the BRIGHTEST light values of some scenes....they are not used,nor are they needed in low-key,dull,or low-ratio lighting situations. That is why the S3 Pro has an AUTO-DR feature,in which the camera decides if it NEEDS to use any highlight pixels,or some, or all of them; sometimes, there's no need foreither of the Wide DR settings the S3 ofers.

It's gotten to the point where somehow, the artifacting, the off-kilter and overly-optimistic ISO values, the built-in noise reduction, and the six megapixel resolution abilities of the Super CCD sensor in the S3 Pro are all somehow being elevated to the level of a 12 MP camera in the minds,and in the internet posts, of the diehard Fuji loyalists. Jeeeze....have these people ever really LOOKED, or SEEN, what a D2x file shot with pro glass looks like? How about the EOS 5D's files? Take a look at the infamous " tree crop" in the following dPreview comparison of the EOS 30D against the EOS 5D. You'll see that the smaller 8.2 MP Canon file has a LOT less detail than the 12.8 MP EOS 5D image shows....just go to the following URL, scroll down,and look at the tree crop and you'll see that the 5D is one of the first cameras Phil has ever tested which actually begins to show the true detail in the label

Fuji's 6MP S2 and S3 produce nice prints. But when the prints get larger, or the files need to be cropped, the 6MP SuperCCD files lose out to higher-MP files. Fuji SuperCCD sensors resolve well enough for making prints,especially small prints. But when one really looks _closely_ at Fuji prints, one can see that there is often an _impression_ of detail, a _sense_ of detail, a _feeling_ of vibrancy, and a subjective impression of fairly high resolution. But when one gets down and LOOKS,and I mean really LOOKS closely, an honest viewer will note that underneath the initial feeling or impression of detail being presented to the eye, is that there is an actual LACK of real detail at the very finest levels. The very smallest details in scenes shot at more than a few meters distant are where the 12+ MP cameras show their added,TRUE resolution abilities. The "first glance" resolution seen in a Fuji SuperCCD capture is high, but after close,critical examination the SuperCCD's file's degree of fine,fine detail resolution is simply not as high as say, that from a D2x or a 5D. Instead, the SuperCCD's use a unique pixel orientation concept to accentuate the FEELING of high resolution.

The Fuji SuperCCD system resolves diagonals very,very poorly at times,and many times angled strands of hair, angled building lines, or high-frequency detail like windowscreens or city buildings with many window frames or gridwork,etc all have _noticeable_ stair-stepping on diagonal surfaces,both natural and man-made. Also the SuperCCD imagers, all of them in the S1 and S2 and S3, have been somewhat prone to showing moire effects. Yet still, the _impression_ of high detail resolution in 6MP Fuji SuperCCD images from the S2 and S3 is very,very good; both cameras deliver what some people consider to be "eight megapixels' worth" of resolution. What Fujistas are experiencing is Fuji's rather high acutance. There is high acutance to Fuji images--they SEEM as if they have a lot of resolution of detail in them, but what they actually have is high acutance, or high acuity. A high-acutance Fuji d-slr image is really NOT a high-resolution image, but instead an image that has has high acuity, and wonderful color, and a nice depth and richness of tones. High resolution is not the same as high acutance. Fuji SuperCCD sensors are not really high-resolution sensors any longer; they've fallen far down the resolution path now that Canon has hit 16.7 and 12.8 MP and Nikon has reached 12.4 MP in the D2X series. Color,dynamic range,tone curve,acutance--those things are not what image resolution is about,despite what's said in that thread referenced above. High resolution is not the same thing as high acutance. Still, high acutance gives the IMPRESSION of a lot more resolution,and so,there's something to be said for a high acutance image. Fuji's got a wee bit of experience in imaging...

If one owns an 8.2 MP EOS 20D, one can see that the 6MP sensors from either Nikon or FujiFilm do not resolve even 8.2 MP worth of detail. Or, as Phil Askey points out, the 6MP Fuji SuperCCD sensors resolve more than other SIX MP cameras (like the original Digital Rebel and Nikon D70), but LESS than the EOS 20D, which is 8.2 MP. ISO levels affect resolution ability, and the Fuji SuperCCD sensors do a damned fine job with 6MP images at all ISO settings, but take up the file storage space of a 12MP camera's files (Fuji SLR's need more storage space,unfortunately). The problem is that the _impression_ of detail is good enough for many types of photography,such as portraiture, small-scale landscapes, and close-range shooting covering small physical areas--but when it comes to product photography,large landscapes, and high-fidelity work such as copying artwork or small product illustration, one needs REAL detail....the ACTUAL resolving OF fine,fine detail. That's why Nikon makes a 12.4 MP D2Xs,and why Canon makes two camera which hit the streets with 16.7 million photosites and 12.8 million photosites worth of resolution capability. I guess one could liken the Fuji 6+6 MP idea to MP3 music compression--PLENTY good enough for MOST uses, but still, with some sacrifices made.

But,to get to the title: is it real, or is it Memorex? Of course, photography is not reality,but merely a way to represent reality.

The idea underlying the Memorex ads was that, "Of course it's not 'real',but music recorded on Memorex tape will bring you a damned good representation of reality." FujiFilm's d-slr's have borne the name FinePix because with FujiFilm cameras, the camera is really about the pictures it makes. The pictures. The files. The photographs. The prints. The web images. The "pics".The Pix. The "Fine PIXs". Numerical superiority in terms of sensor resolving power is not as important as camera operation,camera suitability for the task, and of course, the pictures. How do the pictures come out? How easy is the camera to use? Is the camera well-suited to your photographic needs? As far as I am concerned, 6 to 8 megapixels is ample pixel count for MOST things. For most tasks, I've found that the EOS 20D's 8.2 million pixels bring me ample resolution with good lenses, and 8.2 MP offers me a nice compromise between image size (roughly 3,500 pixels on the long axis of each frame),resolving abilities, and write times/buffer flush times/card storage/computer storage/computer processor demands/archiving space requirements.

The D2x at 12.2 (effective) megapixels is a pain in the ass,storage-wise,compared to the 20D's 8.2 megapixel file size. The quality of the 20D's 8.2 MP CMOS sensor captures is quite nice when compared to the D2x's 12.2 MP Sony-made CMOS sensor's captures. I think the resolution of the images a d-slr makes is not nearly as important as how well the camera shoots and how well the PICTURES look for each task. FujiFilm d-slrs have always made nice pictures. Nobody is disputing that. But c'mon, let's get realistic on what resolution means. More is always more. Less is never equal to more. How the PICTURES look,or how the music sounds,will never be just like reality, but we do expect a damned good interpretation of reality. With a FujiFilm d-slr, oftentimes the photos turn out looking better than the reality that was apparent at the scene. And that's why it doesn't matter that FujiFilm's S5 Pro is gonna' be a 6+6 MP camera. It's about the pictures. Resolution? Fuji's 6+6 does not equal Nikon's 12.2 MP in resolution. But how will the S5's pictures look? I'd wager they will stack up well to those made with any competing Canon,Nikon,Pentax,or Sony. I'd bet my left nut that the FujiFilm S5 Pro will make absolutely BEAUTIFUL images. Seriously. The files will be lovely. The prints will be sweet. It will be a fine,fine image-maker. I can just feel it in my bones.

The problem however,as I see it, is that the "sales appeal" of the S5 Pro is going to remain low,unless Fuji can get some TOP-notch marketing people at work on the S5's advertising campaign,and pronto! Based on what's happened in the past, that ain't gonna' happen. FujiFilm is badly executing its d-slr strategy,and is reeling from vast changes in the film and photofinishing sides of the imaging industry. FujiFilm has no discernable direction,no clear message,and the potential buyers of the S5 have,as Seth Godin might say, no "STORY TO TELL THEMSELVES". FujiFilm is not handling the 2006/2007 d-slr marketplace very well,and FujiFilm will take some very bad lumps over the next year or more, yet still Fuji's S5 Pro will be the best-ever d-slr to wear the Fuji nameplate. And that is saying something. People can and will whine about the S5 Pro's 6+6 MP sensor, but the pictures will still be lovely. And the AF module will finally be DECENT. And the viewfinder will look GOOD! It'll be a D200 with Fuji guts! That will be a GOOD THING!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Fuji S5 Pro Fuss is Very Entertaining Reading.

Please see my newest blog essay at

where I explore how groupthink has come to permeate on-line photography forums. Thanks!

The Fuji S5 Pro fuss is very entertaining reading over on the world's largest digital photography site, dPreview. Right now, there are a handful of S3 Pro models being sold for around $1150 with USA warranty and software package. Fuji's September 25,2006 development announcement for the S3 Pro's successor model, the S5 Pro, disappointed many people who were expecting not a D200 body, but maybe an F6 body and a high MP count sensor--something along the lines of 10 Megapixels, or in Super CCD SR lingo, maybe 10MP-R pixels+10MP-S or in Fuji-speak what could be called "20-Megapixel Output" or "20-Megapixel Wide-DR capture",or something like that. But nope, FujiFilm has made its development announcement for the S5 Pro,and have referred to an early 2007 delivery framework; no firm dates have been stated that I know of for the S5, just "early 2007". What makes this entertaining is that the FujiFilm SLR Talk forum has had some whistling in the dark, some disgruntled, "I'm moving to Canon for my next camera" posts,some, "Let's all wait and see" posts, and quite an infusion of cross-brand posters who're merely stopping by to drop a comment or two,to troll,or to denigrate FujiFIlm's engineering or R&D efforts, etc,etc.

Whenever a new camera is released, the various forums are filled with talk,and gossip,and rumors,and misinformation. And,sometimes, I think even a little dis-information is spread. Dis-information in my vocabulary means maliciously-motivated or nefarious misrepresentation of the truth, or lying,or fearmongering,or just the promulgation of fear,uncertainty,and doubt (commonly known as a FUD). Right now it's early October 2006. Fuji says it'll have S5's available in early 2007. If the S5's journey to the marketplace follows in the footsteps of the S3 Pro's development announcement,the Early 2007 ship date could be postponed by months and months and months.Some say the S5 Pro might also,like the S3 pro before it, have its sensor re-designed and the product's ship date pushed back several months--like maybe six months. This is exactly what happened with the S3 Pro,which was announced with a development announcement, and it took FOREVER and a DAY to make it from announcement to actual cameras in stores. Yeah, Fuji made a big splash about the S3's radical new sensor design,complete with schematic drawings and multi-page web materials illustrating the unique design of having DUAL-site photodiodes in the sensor. However, there was a delay during the development phase,and NEW DRAWINGS were distributed thru the photography press, the S3 went on ice for several months longer, and it then finally,finally shipped with a NEW re-designed sensor that was decidedly different from the one that had been touted (and diagrammed out!) on the company's own web pages at the camera's development announcement phase. Based on the S3 experience,there are some people who are spreading the idea that the S5 will be held up by sensor re-design and that when the camera actually ships that it will have an 8+8MP sensor. Other people are speculating or predicting that there will be TWO models of S5; the first,being shipped with the 6+6 sensor,and a second camera costing more and to be announced later, once Fuji can up the pixel count or do 'something' to differentiate itself from the now 10MP entry-level Sony,Nikon,Canon, and Pentax d-slr's ALREADY in stores. Having read carefully some of what Eamon Hickey had written on dPreview forums, it's my interpretation of his comments that that will NOT happen,and that Fuji will go with _ONE_ model of the S5 Pro, with the 6+6 MP sensor exclusively. It's not been a popular or well-received specification,this 6+6 sensor that's basically similar to what's already in the S3 Pro. What I find interesting is how sooooooo many Fuji S2 and S3 users are not very warm to the idea of a good Fuji sensor wrapped in the best Nikon-made body Fuji's used yet, the Nikon D200, and are reaming on the upcoming S5 because of its 6+6MP sensor status.

It's simple,really. Fuji _is_ going to bring a 6MP d-slr to market in 2007. It'll be called the S5. It will have wide dynamic range capabilitiy,with what Fuji is touting as a decent AA filter in front of the sensor. The files will be larger than other 6MP camera files, which is a result of the Super CCD's design and pixel layout. The camera will offer numerous film simulation modes for in-camera JPEG creation. The body will be almost identical to that of a Nikon D200. The frame rate will be slowish--3 fps absolute TOPS, 1.5 fps or so in Wide-DR mode. The camera will meter in M and A modes with Ai and AiS lenses. The autofocus will be decent,for the first time ever in a Fuji d-slr. The camera will carve out a few niches, but it will not sell all that well for a d-slr. Some people will not buy it. Others will buy it. Fuji will slip farther and farther away from the main pack.FujiFilm SLR Talk regulars will love the S5. It will be a cult camera. It will send many away from Fuji and toward Nikon or Canon d-slrs. For the serious F-mount user, the S5 will be a very valuable d-slr for certain uses. But Canon's 2007 camera with expanded dynamic range capability will put a damper on the wide-DR position that FujiFilm has staked out,while Nikon's D80 and its POST-capture in-camera image adjustments and software tricks will bring the hobbyist/casual market to the D80 in droves. It's interesting to watch the S5 fuss because at this time, I am not concerned about the future of my d-slr platform the way I was when my S2 was growing long in the tooth,and then months later the way Nikon was offering the D2x at $5,000 while Fuji offered the S3 at $2,500--I went with the D2x 17 months ago now,not the S3 Pro. if Fuji brings the S5 to market at $2,400 or so in early 2007,it's gonna meet a slew of 10 MP competition beginning at $899. Even if the S5 is priced at $1699,there will be higher-spec'd 10.2 MP d-slr cameras for $899 and $999.

My Predictions: Total Image Quality, comprised of color,tonality,and overall image acutance with the camera shot in JPEG mode will probably be the S5's strong suit. It will also have a pretty decent viewfinder image,a good body control system,and reasonably fast and modern AF and shutter systems,and adequate battery performance. It will be the _BEST_ and the _HIGHEST-GRADE_ camera plaform Fuji has built upon in the S- series. All the fuss before the camera comes out makes for interesting reading. I think Fuji (as a company) is blowing it,again. But then, I said that same thing when they announced an under-spec'd S3. And while the S5 will be under-spec'd for the 2007 d-slr market, if the price is right, I think I might just buy an S5. I think it'll be the best Fuji d-slr ever,by a wide margin. Not many people will care how good it is, but those who own one will like it.

Addendum, 23 December,2007: I spoke with a FujiFilm,USA representative today and he said he expects retail S5 Pro availablity in late February,2007. I told him that,in light of the new strides in image processing that Pentax with the K100D and Nikon with the D40 have made with a 6MP sensor, that I am now more that EVER, HIGHLY optimistic that with the right antialiasing filter array,and with better demosaicing routines,and better sharpening routines, that the S5 Pro's 6 MP sensor will deliver really awesome image qualiy from 6MP + 6MP in an S/R configuration like the S3 Pro pioneered. I bought a D40 Nikon kit for my wife today a few hours after speaking with the FujiFilm rep,and was muchly pleased that a 6MP d-slr with superior image processing and an 18-55 AF-S kit lens was only $599 retail,all boxed up nicely. Oh,and by the way, I'm not "disgruntled" ,despite what Anthony says. And, a shout out to Anthony, for his blogging efforts. Anthony's working on improving his flash lighting skills and model photography,and Anthony is one of the many dedicated dPreview S2 users who never elected to actually buy a Fuji S3 Pro camera, but who instead opted to stick with the S2 Pro,and waited until the D200 came out to pick up a really "good" second body. Anthony's D70 experience was,like many peoples' D70 experience,a mixed bag--after seeing how good OOC JPEG was in the S2 pro, Anthony was not all that thrilled with Nikon's D70. Anthony's passing over of the S3 and going to the Nikon D200,now more than ever, really looks like a good plan. The D200 has been a MAJOR hit,sales-wise and implementation-wise. Neither myself, nor Anthony, actually BOUGHT an S3 Pro for ourselves,since I think like many people, we decided we needed faster cameras, with things like compressed RAW if/when needed,good software options,reasonable file sizes,and good control over flash exposures,etc. The Nikon D200 at $1699 was a steal; the Nikon D80 at $999 is a steal! A fantastic deal! Now the D40 at $599 with 18-55mm zoom? Simply a lot of value for dollar spent!

I think the S5 Pro,scheduled to be priced at $1999 full kit w/software and $1899 in reduced-kit form, represents,at least from the specifications, one hell of a lot of Fuji goodness,in a camera body that's finally got semi-pro Autofocus, metering with the 20-something AiS manual focus Nikkors I own, PLUS finally being brought more up toward parity with the Nikon bodies with their i-TTL or Creative Lighting System through the lens flash metering and flash control systems. I am actually old enough to have shot the Nikon system before TTL flash metering was possible with a Nikon,having been using Nikon 35mm motorized cameras since 1982. When the Nikon FE-2 came out with TTL flash control,I saved up my hard-earned dollars and bought an FE-2 and SB-16 spedlight after about a year's worth of penny-pinching. A camera body that can NOT meter with a manual focusing Nikkor lens is not worth much to a guy like me who wants to leverage the AiS lenses I built up over two decades of buying used lenses as time and money warranted. The S5 Pro's ability to meter with Ai and AiS lenses will be a big boon toward FujiFilm offering a real semi-pro camera body that will compete in many fields,except where AF speed/surety is paramount,like demanding sports situations and some wildlife/nature where the autofocusing advantages of the D2-series is really where even small-time pros are putting their dollar investments.
I seldom buy version 1.0 of anything,especially if it costs $2,499. The S5 pro will be version 2.0 of the SuperCCD S-R type sensor,and I am really,really hoping that Fuji has fine-tuned the AA-filter they're installing in the S5, and I hope that Fuji has worked really,really hard at getting rid of the JPEG artifacts the S3's sensor suffered from. I bought an S1 and S2 Fuji,and I KNOW, first-hand, about the problems the SuprCCD sensor suffers from. If Pentax,and Nikon can both squeeze class-leading image quality out of the K100D and D40, then Fuji can surely work on the AA filter,the demosaicing routines,and the in-camera image sharpening. Fuji has a chance to tweak the S5's sensor to output outstanding files. Here's hoping Fuji does what Pentax and Nikon both did,which is turning the engineering focus on the anti-aliasing filter array, the demosaicing of the sensor data,and the image processing and sharpening of the image before writing it to a JPEG.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Is The F-mount Now For Soccer Moms? Nikon's New Ads

So, I'm watching a college football game on TV yesterday,and I see the occasional athlete going out of bounds shots,where the photographers covering the game have to scurry out of the way as the athletes,often two in number,stumble out of bounds. NCAA rules state that photographers must position themselves NO CLOSER than six feet from the playing surface in football stadiums. As these going out of bounds/photographers scurrying shots are beaming into my TV set, I notice that not too many people covering NCAA college football are still shooting Nikon cameras and lenses. Sports photography has come to be dominated by Canon d-slr's, and I think we all know that. Yet still Nikon has a lot of people using its cameras and lenses. I'm invested enough that I can't justify a full-blown move away from Nikon and toward the Canon body and lens system. I can however, manage a small amount of Canon gear, which currently is one EOS 20D body, and a Canon 50/1.8,a Canon 100/2.8 macro, an 18-125mm Sigma, and a Lensbaby in EF mount. Plus, and this is a big plus, I can use ALMOST all of my Nikkor lenses on my Canon d-slr with a lens adapter I own. So, even though I might be shooting a Canon digital body, I'm still using F-mount lenses.

Canon is the best alternative to Nikon cameras and lenses,I believe. But now Pentax,Sony,Olympus,and Leica are marketing professionally oriented cameras and lenses, or are trying to create a belief that they are companies with professionally oriented aspirations and ideas. Pentax for example, has stepped up to the plate and created a series of three professionally oriented zoom lenses designed SPECIFICALLY to address the problems of using a 1.5x FOV sensored digital SLR. Pentax's creation of a 60-250mm f/4 with ED glass and ultrasonic motor autofocusing pleases me greatly; while not the 50-250mm lens I called for Nikon to make, a constant aperture 60-250mm f/4 with low dispersion glass and_switch-free_ full time manual focusing override is a HUGE,HUGE step toward addressing the real-world concerns of people who shoot with a 1.5x camera. Pentax arrived VERY,very late to the digital slr business, and Pentax digital users are somewhat few in number. I have however seen MORE Pentax d-slr's in actual field use than any of the other "off brands". Pentax's commitment to the development of NEW lens types, such as an ultra-wide fisheye zoom lens (10-17mm fisheye),its prestiege "Limited" series of autofocusing,metal-barreled prime lenses, and its new three-lens line of pro optics,shows a commitment to the new film-free camera paradigm. The Pentax Limited series of prime lenses include the high-speed 31mm f/1.8 wide-angle, the 43mm f/1.9 "true" normal lens, and the 77mm f/1.8 telephoto.

Olympus has some beautifully made lenses in the 4/3 mount. Olympus has some fine engineers and some nice ergonomics,and its 4/3 aspect ratio E-1 has a small following. Old-time Oly 35mm lenses CAN be adapted to the new 4/3 lens mount,and used on Oly d-slr cameras, but not many people are aware of that,and not many people I suspect actually have an adapter. But Olympus digital users are, by my perception,very rare people. I have not seen very many new Olypus d-slrs in field use...two that I can actually recall.

So...who is still using the F-mount? I would say hundreds of thousands of serious amateurs,as well as several million snapshooters with their first d-slr model D50,D70,D80,or D200. There are also tens of thousands of professional photographers across many disciplines of photography,all having their needs met by F-mount d-slrs. Most F-mount users are Nikon users, a small number are Fuji d-slr users,and an even samller number are those using the last few Kodak d-slr models DCS 760,14n,and SLR/n. The F-mount is still VERY,very much alive and kicking. Nikon and FujiFilm continue to make F-mount d-slrs.

Ever since Nippon Kogaku (aka Japan Camera, aka Nikon) made the first non-pro Nikormat and Nikomat models, and especially since Nippon Kogaku dropped the amateur-oriented naming convention of Nikomat or Nikormat for amateur-oriented models and changed ALL its cameras to simply "Nikon"in the late 1970's, the cameras from Nippon Kogaku have become more and more oriented toward amateur users and amateur buyers. The "dumbing down" of the Nikon brand that was embodied in the Nikon EM back in my younger days was the first step toward a Nikon-branded camera which was to be aimed at the newbie buyer. Today we have the Nikon D50,aimed at the beginning d-slr photographer,and we have the D2Xs,aimed at the most serious of d-slr photographers. And in between, Nikon has the D80 and D200 and D2Hs models. Nikon has cameras for every photographer. Including the Nikon F6,which is the latest film 35mm SLR Nikon has made, and the Nikon FM-10,which is manufactured by Cosina for Nikon. Nikon has cameras for every photographer, but how is Nikon doing on LENSES for every photographer?

Interestingly, I noticed yesterday that Nikon bought three pages of advertising beginning on Page 149 of the November 2006 issue of Parents magazine. A cute campaign,its introductory page shows two rows of four self portraits on the top of the page, then in the middle of the page is a very short piece of ad copy that says, "We gave them the new Nikon D80. What they gave back was stunning." Then below that are two more rows of four self-portraits. Sixteen moms and dads,I assume.Moms and dads,each with the Nikon D80 that Nikon says, "we gave them." And guess what? TURN THE PAGE of the magazine and you're greeted with two more pages,facing each other, with Nikon hyping the web site that was created to show off the photography of these allegedly regular,everyday people. Nice-looking people in their late 20's and early to mid-30's for the most part,with a couple of early 40-somethings thrown in. The women,seven in all,are all nice-looking I'd say. The men are a bit less-attractive lot,but look pretty real to me. It's all very slick. Turn the page,and the ad copy gets a lot smaller, but it features web addresses where we can see the work of these newly-minted Nikon D80 shooters. Here are some of the URL's. and as well as and rounding out the four highlighted web addresses is . Well, maybe the ad copy has it right on Page 151 of Parents magazine,where it is written, "They shoot for photo sites like Flickr. They shoot for family photo albums. They shoot because they're passionate about taking pictures. What did they capture with the new 10.2 megapixel Nikon D80? See more of the jaw-dropping highlights at "

But that's not all. Turn the page one more time, and on Page 153 of Parents magazine, November 2006, there's a whole bunch of Nikon ad copy about the new D80 model. Nikon gets in such tidbits as: 10.2 Megapixel, DX format sensor,high-resolution image processing engine, and, "Up to 2,700 images per battery charge." They also get in some additional specs, like 0.18 second startup time, and "a fast 80ms shutter response". They're pitching the D80 in the ad with the new ,"18-135mm 7.5x Zoom AF-Nikkor lens for just $1299.95." This makes me wonder--is Nikon now actively going after the soccer mom and football dad market? Nikon's recent lens development efforts have centered around slowish consumer zoom lenses,as more and more people take the entry-level plunge into d-slr-dom. Let's face it--consumer photography now has got damned little to do with film. 35mm film SLR's are dead at the volume sales level. Dead. Now it's time for the camera companies to really get out there and to start selling NEW cameras. It seems that the most money is at the bottom of the market, and over the last 18 months, Nikon's been focusing the MOST lens atention on lower-end,or maybe I should say "kit" or "travel" lenses, as well as socccer mom lenses like the 55-200 and the new 70-300 with VR. Nikon's been really hitting it hard to try and make some new LOW-cost zooms for low-cost bodies. Now Nikon's pitching d-slr's in Parents magazine? Yup! And the same,exact ad is running in the November issue of Popular Photography & Imaging magazine. Along with the Pop Photo's official production camera D80 review. The big news? Fantastic in-camera editing features (new files are created,so originals are not destoyed),and one can trim imageses in-camera, apply D-lighting in-camera,and one can reduce redeye in-camera too. Fantastic resolution off the new 10.2 MP sensor--over 2200 lines! Over 1700 lines of resolution at ISO 3200! The best ISO 1600 performance of any Nikon d-slr, according to Pop Photo's editors. The D80 marks a big step forward for Nikon's control over sensor noise. Pretty neat stuff,coming from a $999 camera. I'm sure that the Nikon F-mount will have many,many,many entirely new converts before New year's Eve 2007.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Leaked FujiFilm Development Announcement Disappoints Many

Sept 24.Well, Steve's Digicams web site had a bit of a gun-jumping today with an early FujiFilm S5 development release. Steve has currently pulled the photos and the text, but in a very few minutes, it will be 3 AM EST,and Tallyn's and other dealers will soon e-mail the details to thousands of potential customers. Bottom line for the S5? The sensor will be called the Super CCD SR Pro,and will use FujiFilm technology that delivers good dynamic range, beautiful color,and very impressive,snappy photos even when shot in JPEG mode. The big disappointment (seven full pages and part of an eighth page at dPreview) is that the S5 is supposed to be a mere 6+6 MP Camera. (balance of blog entry of Sept 24 deleted,due to new information becoming available) See the S5 announcement here and read the official Fuji press release at this dPreview link

Sept 25. OKAY,the announcement has been OFFICIALLY made,and the S5 will be a 6.17+6.17 MP,dual-photodiode sensor,which is similar to what Fuji did with the S3's wide dynamic range sensor. Fuji has added additional Film Simulation modes,and has announced that the S5 pro will be (as was predicted by many) built upon a modified Nikon D200 body. Availability will apparently begin sometime around early 2007,with NO PRICE POINT mentioned in the development announcement. Fuji's announcement was a development announcement,not a product availability announcement. We probably will not be able to buy S5 cameras until February or March of 2007,at the absolute earliest. Read the development announcement press releaseand you see that FujiFilm is trying to make the point that the QUALITY OF INFORMATION is of greater importance than the size of the file or the size of the sensor. And they are claiming that they have good Noise Reduction, and better-than-competing-camera ISO 3200 capability. Some big claims.

There are a LOT of disappointed people who had hoped the Fuji S5 would have a higher MP sensor. A sensor capable of being accepted by most,if not all,stock photography houses,and capable of very LARGE prints in the style of high-MP d-slr models like the Canon Full Frame models and the Nikon D2x and D2Xs models. But no, Fuji went another way, with a dual-photosite style of sensor that will use 6.17 million S-sensors for the normal image data and as many as 6.17 million much,much smaller R-pixels for brighter light sources and the ability to offer expanded dynamic range over competing cameras. Also, FujiFilm has announced that they've worked hard on the AA filter array to cut down on moire and artifiacting problems. And c'mon,doggone it, let's be honest about it-moire and digital artifacting were the biggest knocks against the S1,S2,and S3 models. Fuji's unique sensors in the S1,S2,and S3 have all had a very real,very easily-seen problem with either artifacting like stair-stepping,or moire, on some subjects. I've made tens of thousands of images on the S1 and S2 cameras,and the Fuji's I've owned have all had the moire problem and the "jaggies" on diagonals and edges and on various types of subject matter. Not always a problem, but for some subject matter, it's best to have an camera that has a low incidence of digital artifacting visible in the images. Fuji d-slr's have had image artifacting problems,and Fuji is wise to address concerns about how they have tried to fix one of the S3's most serious image quality deficit areas--artifacting and moire.

No mention if FujiFilm has figured out how to remedy the S3's various white balance weaknesses, but I assume that stepping out from the Nikon N80 body slums and stepping up to the 21st Century D200 donor body will bring with it better white balance capability,as well as vastly better and faster autofocusing. The various white balance problems the S3 is plagued with have been detailed well by Mr. Stacey and Walter Matthews,and others, and it's weird how Fuji did so well with the S2's WB system,and how they did so poorly with the S3's WB system. Shot-to-shot drift,oddball flash+ambient color effects, and poor shade and incandescent WB on the S3 were some of the worst S3 White Balance issues which conscientious shooters acknowledged with the S3.

FujiFilm's S5 development announcement mentions their in-camera image processing technologies and ideas,which is sort of where they've been heading with their pocket digicams with their Real Photo technology; for the S5, FujiFilm has adopted the name Real Photo Processor Pro technology for its image processing engine.Canon has named its image processing engines the Digic and Digic II. Sony has decided to name its image processing component, which in Sony-talk is called the Bionz image processor. And of course, Fuji has decided it needs to play the same name game. Nikon so far has not dreamed up a clever name for its image processing engine, but once they do dream up a clever name for their image processing engine,I bet they name it!

I see an S5 from Fuji as being a very GOOD THING for the F-mount. It probably will NOT be bargain basement priced though. I expect a hefty original price point from FujiFilm,to rake in all the pent-up demand and early-adopter gold they can. Then one price reduction maybe six to eight months later. After the first price drop has been in effect six months or so, the price will probably erode somewhat. I hope I am wrong about this. I fully expect that the S5 will be another Fuji-badged camera which people will be expected to pay a premium price for,based on things like MP count,etc. In other words, don't expect that the S5 will be priced to compete against the Nikon D80 or the Nikon D200 or even the Canon EOS 30D. Nope...the Fuji S5 will not be in direct competition with any other camera models. Or price points. Buyers who understand what a Fuji sensor in the first truly respectable mid-priced Nikon D-SLR body means will pay for it. And they will not be numerous. But they will understand photography,and they will appreciate what Fuji brings to the table as compared with Nikon or Canon. I expect $2499 to $2700 as the initial price point. The fact that there has been NO INITIAL PRICE announced is of some interest, and I think it's good poker playing not to tip one's hand. I expect that Fuji is sitting back and monitoring discussions of its S5 and evaluating the mood of the public,right now,to help forecast demand and to just gauge how successful they have been in designing their S5 model.

The real question I think is ,"How well will a 6+6 MP d-slr fare in a marketplace featuring three,then maybe four or even five 10 MP d-slr's,all priced at under $1,000? 10MP has become the new ENTRY LEVEL for d-slr models in late 2006; if the S5 arrives in mid-2006,will it then be perceived as DOA,or as "hoplelessly behind the curve?" By the masses, yes,I expect the S5 to be perceived as behind the times,and probably overpriced and under-spec'd with its 6MP sensor. Somebody opinied that the S3 would have been a GREAT camera--two years ago! I don't think that's a fair statement. Sensor MegaPixel count is not the most important selling point for an S5,as I see it. The S5 will have decent D200 AF module,it will share the D200's decent viewfinder quality and brightness and usefulness, it will have a Standard and Wide-DR sensor with numerous Film Simulation modes, it will offer beautiful FujiFilm color and tonality,and "Wow!" type in-camera JPEG image processing options simply not available from Canon or Nikon bodies. So, how well will a 6 MP d-slr sell in the year 2007,under the new 10MP and Up market paradigm of 2007? Well, I doubt that annual sales figures for the new Fuji S5 will even come close to the number of units Canon sells on any one of its three lowest-tier d-slrs. l expect truly niche market sales of the S5. But I think now that Fuji has FINALLY PROCURED A DECENT BODY to build upon, that they have a chance to make a lot more people truly happy than they ever could with the N80-based S2 and S3 models. I do not think the S5 will hurt D200 sales much at all,nor will it siphon off many customers from Canon. If one believes that FujiFIlm sold only around 30,000 S2 models, and even fewer S3 models, I'd suspect that the S5 will out-sell either the S2 or S3 bodies,simply due to the quite-respectable D200 foundation the S5 will be built upon; the D200 is a HELL of a lot better camera body than the Nikon N80 aka S2, and also a hell of a lot better than the highly-modified N80/S3 body.

I do think the S5's improved autofocus, and the metering with Ai and AiS lenses will attract some longtime Nikon users, but that the majority of S5 buyers will be wedding/event shooters,and that they will be very,very happy with what FujiFilm brings to the table with what some folks have dubbed Fuji Goodness: a combination of file size/color/tonality/high acutance/JPEG-optimized workflow/"look". Total sales at introductory price will probably be very modest; if prices are reasonable,the S5 could easily out-sell what the S2 did,or what the S3 did.

I expect that a LOT of S2 users who skipped the S3 will buy the S5. I expect that wedding/event/portrait people will love the S5,since they'll finally be able to use a really modern,up-to-date body with Fuji digital goodness inside. I'm not sure, but some people think that Fuji might try and really BROADEN its appeal,by selling these things at a lower than expected price, like $1499, but I don't anticipate that. I'd love to be proven wrong however, and maybe Fuji learned something from its past mistakes. In five,six,or seven months, we ought to see how this all shakes out when the rubber meets the road. Currently, there's a LOT of complaining about the inability to advance the sensor over the past three years, not enough MP,not acceptable for large stock image submission,and numerous complainints that, "The S5 Pro is the camera the S3 should have been", etc,etc. Yeah, I can agree, the S5 is very UNDERWHELMING,at least in terms of on-paper specifications,and the very slow frame per second speeds in Wide DR modes are distressing,and so is the apparent lack of RAW file compression; however, I have an overall feeling that the S5 will be the best 6MP camera ever made in terms of image quality and image beauty. I really think that a new AA filter pack might help the S5's sensor perform quite wonderfully; my complaint with the S2 was never the lack of resolution,but the tendedncy toward jaggies,and the coarse exposure and coarse ISO setting adjustments and the cheap AF system and SLOW mechanicals of the N80 part of the camera.