micro four thirds

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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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 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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