mirrorless cameras

A stabilized Sony 50mm f/1.8

Photozone.de just published their review of Sony’s new stabilized 50mm f/1.8 lens, available for their NEX mirrorless system. The thing that makes this lens special is the fact that it combines a big aperture with optical stabilization. In fact, to my knowledge this is the fastest (lowest f-number) stabilized system lens (of any focal length) ever built!

Large apertures are great in low light situations. It enables you to gather more light, thereby letting you use a lower ISO value or faster shutter speed. Lower ISO means less image noise and better colours.

The “problem” with traditional 50mm primes (like those of Canon, Nikon) is that when you’re shooting hand-held you have to use a fast shutter speed (e.g. < 1/80) because they lack stabilization. If you had stabilization and were shooting a static subject you could probably have gone down to 1/10 and have used an ISO value 8 times lower.
The large f/1.8 aperture gives about 3 stops extra light compared to a 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 “kit zoom”, but you lose the 3-stop advantage you would have gotten with the kit zoom’s image stabilization. Since the advantages cancel out you instead have to use the same ISO value for either lens at its minimum usable hand-held shutter speed. But with the new Sony you can choose to apply that large aperture either for low ISO (useful for static subjects) or for fast shutter speeds (useful for moving subjects). In one word: versatility!

Why you want a large aperture:
fast shutter speed (less motion blurring) and shallow depth of field

The advantages of a “nifty fifty” go further than being able to use fast shutter speeds. These lenses are almost always sharp (at smaller apertures), small, light, and can render backgrounds with beautiful shallow depth of field blurring, known as “bokeh”. By also being affordable (often < $300) you will find one in the bag, or on the camera, of every serious photographer.

For the reasons stated above a “nifty fifty” works nicely as a portrait lens on cropped sensor DSLRs. For a great example, see this photo by Ana Santos :

An example of the great results you can get with a 50mm f/1.8
(such great bokeh is unachievable with a 18-55mm kit lens).

Reading the review we see that this new Sony lens has nothing to be ashamed of, and at $300 (available for pre-order at B&H) it is good value for money, too! It is not the sharpest lens at large apertures, but renders beautiful out-of-focus background “bokeh”. If you want sharpness you just have to stop it down. And, it is stabilized!

Conclusion: a very harmonious offering. The unique double advantages of a classical fast 50mm prime and image stabilization. Sony NEX users can count themselves privileged.

The 1 Nikon system came!

The news is out! Nikon indeed came with a big announcement at midnight yesterday, and it is indeed a whole new system.

The 1-Nikon system has been announced and is initially available in two bodies – the cheaper J1 and the premium V1. Highlight features include:

  • 2.7 crop factor called “Nikon CX” (a 10mm lens is equivalent to 27mm in traditional full-frame/film)
  • Very fast shooting rates – up to 60 fps full-resolution photographs
  • Advanced video capability
  • Lots of accessories, already including 4 lenses, speedlight flash, GPS, external microphone and F-mount adapter.

To give you a sense of scale, this is the new V1 in hand:

The new Nikon V1 with (obviously) no lens attached and the sensor visible

 

Nikon is coming…

An ever-so-slightly dubious name-choice for Nikon’s countdown timer:

http://www.iamcomings.com/

Ummm?

But jokes aside, the question is of course WHAT might be coming. In slightly more than 24 hours (at time of writing) we’ll know.

In Nikon’s marketing-speak: “I am curious”!

All rumours seem to point to a new mirrorless system camera, also known as EVIL, MILC, etc. This means that you can exchange lenses like on a DSLR. However it does without a mechanical mirror meaning it will be much smaller, lighter and quieter.

A picture from one of Nikon's "EVIL" patents

This new camera is rumoured to have a sensor that falls between current high-end compacts and the micro 4/3 system. Meaning it won’t be a viable option for pros, but might be very cool for the general enthusiast public.

The new camera is expected to try and fill a new niche in the sensor sizes available on the market

Alternatively the announcement could refer to the successor to the ageing full frame D700, D3s or D3x models, although I’m not expecting it.

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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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.

The rise and fall of the digital SLR

During the latter days of film photography, almost every photographer used 35mm film, and almost every serious photographer used a 35mm film SLR. In the early days of digital photography the SLR was almost forgotten, only to make a huge comeback since 2003. There are signs that this is again to change. Why? This blog post will try to sum it up.

SLR is an acronym for “single lens reflex”, and means that the photographer physically looks through the lens by means of a rather complex mirror and prism setup. In the film days this was the only way to accurately show a photographer how his picture was going to look, since his eye was physically seeing the same image that was going to be projected onto the film when the shutter was pressed.

The complex path that light travels in a (digital) SLR camera

Compact “point and shoot” cameras had separate optical viewfinders through which the user framed the picture, but suffered from parallax error (especially when looking at close subjects), and could not properly show focus, depth of field or exposure.

A 35mm point and shoot camera

All of this changed with the advent of digital photography.

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