fmalan

Nikon's weight problem

Nikon, I hate to be so blunt, but you are fat. And no, it’s not just your lens, it’s your body too.

Nikon, as an honest friend, I should tell you something...

The two biggest players in the Digital SLR market are Canon and Nikon. These two giants offer similar equipment ranges. But how do they weigh up against each other… literally? I’ve handled them, and I’ve looked at the numbers. Nikon, you’ve got a weight problem. Shame on you.

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The Olympus PEN E-PL1 vs Nikon D3000 paradox

Petavoxel recently bemoaned the fact that the majority of sensors in recent micro four thirds EVIL cameras (or MILCs, if you prefer) perform poorly compared to contemporary APS-C sized sensors in digital SLRs. The only exception was the Panasonic GH1, which put up quite a respectable showing compared to its μ4/3 stablemates.

Yesterday dpreview posted their review of the E-PL1, and they were very happy with its high ISO performance. I quote:

Overall, the E-PL1’s images are the most natural and convincing here – avoiding the D3000’s overly contrasty, noisier images …  Most impressive is the E-PL1’s ability to produce results comparable with the EOS 500D and Pentax K-x, despite its smaller sensor.

But what does DXO Labs have to say? They disagree, showing that the big three leave the E-PL1 gasping for photons with a lowly 487  points in the low-light ISO stakes.

Hence, the paradox.

How do these two $500-ish cameras weigh up against each other?

How can this be? Is either DXO Labs or dpreview writing nonsense? The keen observer will notice that there are two significant differences in the way these two respected websites measure image quality:

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So, what's so great about "raw" files?

Have you ever heard an enthusiastic photographer saying something like “I shoot everything in raw”? But what is a “raw” file? Sounds like raw meat, doesn’t it? Why do people use these?

Few people think about it twice, but pretty much every photo on the internet is stored as a JPEG file. This also happens to be the kind of file you get out of most digital cameras. In fact, most consumer-grade cameras can give nothing else but JPEG output. This is no coincidence: JPEG’s been around since 1992, and it turns out that it’s a really great file format for photographs. JPEG allows you to store a lot of image information in a reasonably small file, and is quick to decode and write. Unfortunately JPEG is a lossy standard, which means you always lose some image information when creating a JPEG.

Contrary to common belief, this “lossy” property is not the main reason to avoid using JPEG. The JPEG algorithm is actually really clever in the way it loses its information, meaning the human eye often can’t see the difference between a lossy JPEG and its lossless equivalent. Look at the seagull below to see what I mean.

A JPEG file compressed at 95% quality. (click for detail)
File size = 78 KB
Scarcely any degradation artefacts, despite the fact that a losslessly compressed PNG would have required more than 300 KB.
Compressed JPEG at an extremely low 30% quality. (click for detail)
File size = 9 KB.
Compression artefacts are visible (sky, detail in lantern glass), but the image remains perfectly recognizable due to the clever way JPEG works. And this is an extreme example.

No, the reasons why you should be interested in raw files are more subtle…

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Volcanic beauty

I adore excellence in photography, and my breath was taken away by the amazing photographs taken of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano which is currently causing so much havoc in Iceland and Western Europe.

I have long observed that Iceland has a ridiculously high concentration of excellent photographers. This might have been because the (formerly) rich population of this small island nation had nothing else to do with all their krónur than drink and practice hobbies.

But that is only part of the story. With natural beauty such as this, who wouldn’t want to take up photography!?

Lightning and motion-blurred ash captured in a 15-second exposure. Taken at a distance 25 km from the Eyjafjallajokull craters on April 18th, 2010. (© Olivier Vandeginste)

The world's first μ4/3 professional video camera

On Sunday, Panasonic announced that they’ll be making the world’s first professional micro four thirds video camera.

The Panasonic AG-AF100 professional video camera, due for release end 2010

The AG-AF100 will be able to use any of the existing lenses available to the μ4/3 system, but of course it is especially well suited to Panasonic’s silent designed-for-video Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm lens, which was announced along with their GH1 camera.

Up to now the world of large-sensor video cameras, inhabited by exclusive cameras like the Red One, has been staggeringly expensive. A body would set you back something in the order of $17,000, and then you still need to add lenses which can easily go for $4000 a pop. Micro 4/3 system lenses are much, much cheaper than this, and most of them are razor sharp, easily providing enough detail for a resolution-hungry 12 megapixel sensor, let alone lowly 2-megapixel HD. Large-aperture primes like the 20mm f/1.7 pancake should also provide sufficiently shallow depth of field for some creative possibilities.

Professional large-sensor video cameras like the Red One were traditionally unaffordable. Is this about to change?

I’m not really into videophotography, but the point I want to make here is that all signs point to a ever growing overlap between mid-rage digital photography and mid-range professional videophotography. The shallow depth-of-field and excellent low-light ability offered by large sensor cameras was always unaffordably expensive to the video community, whereas photo cameras just couldn’t deliver the sustained resolution of HD video at proper video frame rates. With microprocessors getting faster and memory cards getting cheaper, these two limitations are now all but history.

To show you how far digital still camera technology has intruded into the realm of video, you need only to look at the news. Today I read that the season finale of the popular US TV series “House” was filmed entirely on a Canon 5D MkII DSLR, thereby giving the producers the ability to get some beautifully shallow depth of field.

If it indeed proves popular in the video community, the AG-AF100 will provide yet another boost to μ4/3 system, inspiring more lenses and wider use. Folks, Panasonic might just have a winner!

The dangers of having a BIG camera

Over the recent days there was a lot of media coverage due to fresh video evidence on the tragic death of Namir Noor-Eldeen, an Iraqi photographer working for Reuters.

A contributing factor in his accidental killing was when the gunner in an American Apache helicopter mistook his camera for an RPG.

Zoom lens: mistaken for an RPG

Zoom lens: mistaken for an RPG

Of course this is an almost-absurd event. War photographers might often actually be protected by their large and obvious cameras, identifying them as presumably neutral observers.
But this serves a good introduction to the point I actually want to make – the “best” camera is often not the best camera to have. You might be encumbered by it, or even worse, might not have it with you at all.

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Kodak announces Aromatography!

1 April 2010

Throughout the history of photography, the essential experience was limited to capturing light. Kodak, however, is set to change all of that. Today, they announce aromatography, a revolutionary way of capturing both light and aromatic scents from the world around you.

Kodak's aromaphotography combines sight and smell - both in digital photography and print

Imagine seeing an image of a field of wildflowers and the experiencing all the delicate and complex aromas that accompany the visual experience. It’s no longer just a dream, thanks to recent breakthroughs in Neuro-Optic-Nasal-Sense Imaging.

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Samsung’s advance

Samsung has been making cameras for some time now, but (at least I) never really took them seriously. Things might be changing…

Why? Because it looks like they’re doing something similar to Panasonic. But isn’t the obvious deal-breaking difference that Panasonic is Japanese, and Samsung Korean? Please bear with me…
Both Samsung and Panasonic are huge, well-known mega-companies.  Both make lots of different stuff. Panasonic Corporation used to make bicycles, makes every kind of imaginable electronics, and even acts as a mayor sponsor in Formula 1. The Samsung group is even more diverse, making electronics, ships (yes – those big things sailing the world’s oceans) and even being involved in construction as well as soccer and Olympic sponsorship. You could think that this lack of (ahem) “focus” would make them bad at producing cameras, but then you could be wrong.

Why do I put this logo in my "Samsung" article? Read to see why...

Panasonic came to the digital camera party around 2001, which is later than the classical photographic big boys such as Nikon and Canon. Sure, they’re Japanese, and the Japanese have a knack for making good cameras. But they had to be content with a teeny tiny market share compared to the big boys, who were solidly into digital photography by the mid 90’s.

The Lumix FZ3 was the first Panasonic camera to catch my eye. Great lens, and great ergonomics.

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An exquisite tribute to film and architecture

A friend of mine recently directed me to the beautiful tribute to architecture and its (video)photographic representation, “The Third and The Seventh” by “Alex Roman” on Vimeo.

Below is an edited shortened version on youtube (I still recommend the full 13 minute version linked to above)

If you want to read an interview with the creator of this amazing piece of art you can follow this link.

On exchangeable lenses for small cameras

A small fast prime goes wonderfully with a micro 4/3 camera. The small Nikon D3000 with its small 35mm f/1.8 looks huge by comparison.

My favourite camera review site, DPReview, just posted a short article on desirable lenses for small (read: Micro 4/3 and Samsung NX) cameras. This nicely complements my recent post on the rise and fall of the digital SLR.

The review can be found here.

As a user of a mid size DSLR I completely agree with the article – when at a social event I’d prefer to swap my Nikon D80 with its 35mm f/1.8 lens for a Panasonic GF1 with 20mm f/1.7.