Thursday, January 11, 2007

Welcome to 2007

Welcome to January of 2007. What lies ahead this year in d-slr photography? Well, a few things are for certain,but many things are simply unknown. Speculating on what's in store is sometimes fun, sometimes not. Sometimes one faces a hard reality that he/she's gonna have to switch systems to fulfill a particular need, or to have access to a particular lens or two. This is going to be one of those years; the past few months have seen an ever-lengthening list of people switching to Canon gear,and among the switchers have been many formerly almost fanatical Nikon shooters. Oh,yes,I've seen the stalwart Nikon guys, the Phil Flashes and others,switching to Canon.At other times one has to accept that he must simply bide his time and must wait for the camera he wants,which is where a lot of people will be in 2007. Right now, one of the few things actually known about 2007 is that FujiFilm is about to premier the S5 Pro, and there has been one really good beta tester report of the S5 Pro,and I have to say the buffer depth and write speed of the camera have finally been brought up close to standards for this era. There's still no raw compression,and the Wide DR .RAF file is 25 megabytes in storage space. But the S5's buffer and write time performances are finally what I would call "decent". I think this camera will have much,much more success than the S3 Pro had,both sales-wise and adoption-wise.

Pick up the February, 2007 issue of Popular Photography & Imaging magazine,and you'll see their cover story is a five-camera shoot-out of 10 megapixel d-slr's on the market right now. Overall, the Nikon D80 and Rebel XTi win most of the categories, but the Pentax and Samsung and Sony models also have a few real "advantages",in select aspects,and overall there's never been so MUCH image quality and so MANY features available in the $720 to $999 price range, and now there are five very solid 10 MP competitors.

If you're new to d-slr's, the Pentax Limited Edition series of amazing autofocus prime lenses of great light gathering power and high level build quality is something to consider as leverage in favor of a Pentax or Samsung-branded model. Pentax's announced, upcoming series of high-grade, digitally-optimized lenses with focal lengths ideally appropriate to 1.5x cropped sensor cameras is a great idea and shows that Pentax has at least SOME inkling of what people want and need in a camera that has a 1.5x FOV sized sensor. Pentax's idea of a roughly 4x ratio,constant aperture, pro-grade or L-series-like zoom is a nice idea. I think it's a roughly 60mm-250mm. For events and sports photography, I've been calling for lenses which bring back the older angles of view, which so far most makers have done mostly at the wide-angle end, with 10-20 and 12-24mm lenses,for example, or 17-50 or 17-55,and so on: Pentax is addressing the issue of 1.5x and lens angle of view by bringing out three pro-grade lenses designed to help shoot better on 1.5x bodies. Stop by The Luminous Landscape web site and see what site owner Michael Reichman had to say after a week or so of using not another in a line of Canon d-slrs, but the 10-megapixel Pentax K10D. And be sure to read his comments on what a rededicated Pentax company might mean to the future of the d-slr market--I think you might be surprised at how impressed Reichman is with the degree of innovation Pentax has shown, and I think you'll also be surprised at how utterly unimpressed Reichman is with Canon, as he writes about his perception of Canons as a Canon company that is kind of lagging behind Nikon in terms of photographic innovation. (My anology might be Nikon as creating Mac OX X 10.4 and Canon creating Windows Vista--one being innovative, the other not being innovative.)
Again, Reichman's comments are very interesting WRT to Nikon,Canon,and Pentax.

One thing people are speculating on is that Canon will soon refresh or replace the EOS 5D full-frame d-slr. I think it's possible that in late 2007, there will be a replacement camera for the 5D. Another thing people are speculating on is how Canon will try to address the idea of expanded dynamic range; Fuji's S3 Pro addresses expanded DR through a unique sensor design,while Sony's Alpha d-slr has an in-camera JPEG processing option that offers better highlight detail than most other d-slr's would preserve using "normal" JPEG processing routines,and it also expands shadow detail in a process I'd liken to Photoshops Highlight/Shadow command. I can easily envision a way to apply a highlight-preserving tone curve to a raw sensor capture so that it will "hold the highlights longer",and which will produce many wonderful,differentiated,delicate shades of highlight values,and which would make some very beautiful images. Sony's done just that in the Alpha 100, but only at one ISO value. Not that that's a problem, but it's interesting how specific and narrow this first incarnation of it is from Sony, and I truly think that Canon has the technical leadership and engineering excellence to figure out,and bring to market fairly soon,one or two Wide Dynamic Range-optimized "canned" in-camera JPEG processing routines, as part of the Canon Picture Styles concept.

Nikon needs to produce an updated news/sports camera IMO. The D2Hs is probably the next professional Nikon body that truly NEEDS an update or a refresh,and I expect the refeshed or new model to be available in mid- to late 2007. I myself understand the value of smaller-sized files for sports/event shooting,but I also like the idea of being able to shoot and then feeling secure in knowing that I can crop a SMALL amount too. Nikon's professional-grade,professionally-capable news/sports/event camera with pro-grade autofocus,weather-saling,and high FPS rates and deep buffer needs to have a better-than 4.1 Megapixel sensor. What is needed is a reliable,fast-handling,fast-shooting camera with a comprehensive set of features, custom-talioring ability,and a reliable flash metering system. With good autofocusing. And a good viewfinder. In shorts, what is needed is a pro-grade body and body features. Megapixels alone are not enough. A refresh of the D2Hs might involve a 6.2 or 8.2 MP sensor, not a 4.1 MP sensor.However, I expect a better effort at a D2Hs upgrade in 2007 from Nikon,really I do: I expect a D3h to have something like a 10.2 MP sensor, 8 fps body with multiple choices on image widths (full, 75%,50%) and maybe even two different FOV factors, like 1.52x and 2.0x for example, like the D2x series. But in 2007 I really,really do think Nikon must update the D2Hs from 4.1 MP to something comparable with what Canon's 8.2MP 1D Mark II-N offers--ie at least 8 megapixel resolution,a 2.5" LCD, great finder,8 fps,big buffer,configurability,and awesome in-camera sharpeing, and this is critical-VOICE ANNOTATION for captioning in the superb Nikon D2x-style, with the same basic user-configurable way of doing your voice comments. For sports and events, the voice recording in the D2x implementation is outstanding,and extremely useful for getting names and faces together,in a 50-100k WAV sound file that plays with the image with most modern sorting apps. A 6.2 to 8.2 MP refresh of the D2Hs,called the D2i would be welcome, as would a full replacement or new model called perhaps the D3h for D3 as in 3rd Generation, high-speed firing,high-speed-mirror capable,etc,etc, as a 10 to 12 MP sports/event/High-ISO machine geared to shooting in the nitty gritty world of PJ/event/sports/wildlife. This includes brilliant wireless triggering of shutter and or flash AND, and this is a big Generation 3 feature, put in a really good built-in flash system. Yes, put in a pop-up flash,for Pete's sake. Please Nikon,give the D3 generation model(s) a good pop-up flash. It's time. It's really,really,really time.

For macro and non-coupled lens setups,like using an extension tube, or when using weird combos of filters,or using separate flash units,or whenever there are lighting ratio comments or comments on technical data, in-camera voice annotation is an outstanding tool for keeping track of a whole list of technical data that can,sometimes, be important. For sports, caption information, comments about positioning,order of batters, which play was the double play,etc,etc are all well-handled by the D2x's voice annotation system and option set. I hope to see voice annotation become more common.

In-camera image editing of RAW captures,like the system in the Nikon D40 and D80 is nifty! It's nice to be able to create "edited" versions of one's captures without the absolute need for a computer. Applying after the fact filtering and color and tint effects,using the camera as one's computer, is a great feature. I'm all for it,myelf, I really am.This feature had better be in the D3h body. The original RAW file is not harmed,and the camera ALWAYS creates a brand-new JPEG file when doing this editing,so it's safe and non-desructive of one's original captures.

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