With camera makers hellbent on filling out their product lines in the new Compact System Cameras category (or whatever it’s called at the moment), Olympus just announced another long-rumored camera inspired by its storied history, the OM-D E-M5. This is the new flagship Micro Four Thirds camera from the manufacturer, landing at $1,000 body only, which will most likely operate above the PEN line. Embroiled in its current debacle, it’s nice to see that Olympus can still churn out innovative and exciting cameras at regular intervals, as evidenced by this svelte little contender.
The OM-D E-M5 has a nice cadre of by-now expected features baked in, as well as a few new technologies that make the package especially compelling as a unique snowflake in the crowded market. On the pleasant but pedestrian front, the build quality has been upped with magnesium alloy chassis and weather sealing. Size-wise it’s on par with its direct competition, notably the NEX-7. The camera sports a (more…)
Every industry is subject to trends in nomenclature, and the photo business is no exception. It seems that somewhere around 2010, with the X100, it was decided that there is no better way to denote seriousness of intent than for a manufacturer to slap an X to its product name. Today, Canon introduced a serious camera indeed, with that dynamic letter suitably affixed. There’s been speculation of an pro upgrade to Canon’s G line for some time. The just announced G1 X (not to be confused with Panasonic’s recently announced GX1) is that camera. Most rumorizers had predicted a slightly larger sensor than the current G12 and some other performance enhancements to the storied G series… nothing too groundbreaking. Few suspected that this would be the long-hoped-for entrance of Canon into the large-sensor mirrorless market.
While most industry watchers posit that mirrorless (or as Trey Radcliffe recently christened them, “third generation”) cameras are indeed the future, each company has a different vision for what form this new breed will take. Fujifilm decided that sensor size and minimal form factor trumped the flexibility of interchangeable lenses with its X100, though today, with its just announced X-Pro1 mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, they threw their lot in with Sony and Samsung, which have decided that sensor size and interchangeable lens flexibility are essential, despite the attendant bulkier lenses. Nikon thinks diminutive form factor and speed trump the drawbacks of a relatively small sensor. Panasonic and Olympus have taken the middle road, opting for a generous enough sensor that will also allow for lens and body miniaturization, as well as that much sought after shallow depth-of-field. Pentax has decided that there is sufficient demand in the international superspy community for interchangeable lenses, but has a compact size sensor to accommodate the smallest system of all. And Ricoh has an awesome and unique approach all its own with its GXR swappable module system, which manages to fit into none of these paradigms.
This leaves Canon among major camera manufacturers, the long-awaited holdout from the game. This is the culminating moment we’ve been waiting for, when all major players show their cards. Canon has plenty of experience with mirrorless cameras, technically speaking: it prolifically releases point-and-shoots, and has, with its G series, long honed an impressive line of manually controllable, enthusiast-oriented compacts, hampered only by their tiny sensors.
With the mirrorless revolution, I’ve been flummoxed with the G series has continued to produce hit after hit. While relatively inexpensive and fully manual, who would bother with the relative bulk, equivalent in size to the likes of the NEX-5N and Panasonic GX1, when the sensor is so small, necessarily inhibiting dynamic range and achievable DoF? Sure, they have plenty of in-camera processing tricks to suppress noise, but software can only go so far in defying physics. The S100 is truly pocketable and retains much of the external control, outside of the viewfinder, hotshoe, and a few other direct access buttons, so that choice seems logical as a separate category.
This quandry was apparently not lost on Canon, and that missing ingredient, a large sensor, has finally been addressed with the G1 X. It is essentially a slightly larger G12 with an ample 4:3 aspect ratio sensor between Micro Four Thirds and APS-C in size.
Perhaps most remarkably the camera features a fixed zoom lens. Though not the fastest lens out there, it sports a jaw dropping 28-112mm equivalent range at F/2.8-5.8. In addition it has a built-in ND filter. The native ISO range is an impressive 100-12,800. The 14MP 1.5″ CMOS sensor can produce 14 bit RAW files at 4.5fps in burst mode. Canon’s new Digic 5 image processor is onboard, which guarantees substantial speed and low-light performance. Canon Technical Advisor Chuck Westfall even goes so far as to claim that jpeg and video output are cleaner than the 7D! Canon promises a four stop advantage with its built-in image stabilization. Beside the built-in flash, the hotshoe accepts Canon’s full range of pro speedlights, making this a great event photography tool.
Video is a mixed bag. The 920k dot full-range swivel screen like that on the G12 will be handy for video recording, but sadly Full HD (1080p) is reserved for 24fps only and the max framerate is 30fps. Also there is no manual control in video mode! But a couple nice touches in the video department: optical zooming and autofocus during recording.
At an MSRP of $799, this camera is set to grapple with some stiff competition, Panasonic’s GX1, Olympus’ PEN EP-3, Sony’s NEX-5N and Samsung’s NX200. But it’s well-spec’d and offers some compelling new twists to the genre. The consumers, and of course marketing prowess, will be the final arbiters.
Canon is positioning the G1 X as a second camera for pro shooters, but really this is so well spec’d it could compete directly with its own lucrative entry-level and even mid-level Rebel line, whose owners rarely look beyond the kit lens anyway (a fact certainly not lost on Canon. Perhaps this is why they are positioning it as a second camera for pros).
With the first large sensor mirrorless (not counting Leica) launched over three years ago, Canon was beginning to look hopelessly behind in this next generation arms race. But just in the nick of time, Canon brings us a worthy entry into the genre, which should slide comfortably into its overall lineup, as well as give the consumer ever more choice in this exciting camera segment.
Nathan Lee Bush is a fashion and fine art photographer and filmmaker in New York City. His work is on his site, vimeo and blog.
Nikon has announced its long-anticipated mirrorless interchangeable lens camera system, with two models aiming to bridge the gap between its enthusiast point-and-shoot compacts, like the P7100 and P300, and its DSLR market. The ‘CX’ system utilizes a 10MP CMOS sensor with a crop factor 2.5x bigger than the 1/1.7″ sensor found in most enthusiast compacts, while coming out behind its main compact system rivals at 1/3 the size of APS-C sensor used in Sony’s and Samsung’s offerings, and 1/2 the size of Micro Four Thirds standard adopted by Olympus and Panasonic.
The system will launch with two handsome little cameras (all available, along with lenses, in five colors), both tentatively scheduled for an October 20th release date. The introductory J1, with a MSRP of $650, has a hybrid contrast detect and phase detect autofocus system, shoots up to 10 fps, 1920 x 1080 @ 60i/30 fps video and comes with a kit 10-30mm (27-81mm equivalent) lens. The more advanced V1, at $900, has these same specs with a magnesium alloy construction, 1.4 million dot electronic viewfinder and accessory port for optional speedlight or GPS functionality.
Entering a Crowded Field
With roughly the same dimensions as the Sony NEX-5N, the similarly-priced Nikon J1 will have a slight advantage as far as lens size, leading to higher portability. But the advantages end there. Comparing the spec sheets side-by-side, Sony’s option is simply more compelling than Nikon’s. Offering a sensor three times as large: Sony’s 16MP ‘magic’ sensor very similar to that in Nikon’s own $1200 D7000, an LCD resolution twice as dense, three stops more high ISO range (up to 25k!), the Nikon offering is looking seriously outmatched.
It’s hard to discern the target demographic for the 1 cameras. At these prices and with this spec sheet, they are not competitive in the high-end mirrorless interchangeable lens market: pros and enthusiasts looking for a second “carry everywhere” camera when they are not on a shoot with their bulky full-frame or medium format camera. Likewise, consumers (the multi-color availability makes it look like a nod to this demo) looking to “trade up” from compacts will balk at these prices, considering the entry-level models of the established mirrorless players, like the E-PM1 from Olympus, the Panasonic GF3 and Sony’s NEX-3C are cheaper and better spec’d. It’s unclear that the consumer market really cares about interchangeable lenses, but the promise of baked-in DSLR image quality, or something approaching it, is more compelling, and that’s something the 1 system is in the least advantageous position to offer.
Too Little, Too Late?
All this doesn’t even take into account that Nikon is seriously late to the party. The other mirrorless systems have a few years head start, with all the advantages that entails, including a few generations of cameras to iron out the inevitable early kinks, shrink the bodies, and foster a relatively mature family of lenses with third party lenses now trickling out. Nikon will launch with four (relatively slow) lenses: the kit zoom, a 10mm f/2.8 (27mm equivalent) pancake, a 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 (81-297mm equivalent), and a 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 (27–270mm equivalent) PD-ZOOM and has promised an F-mount adapter.
At a time of tremendous industry upheaval, when dynamic, game-changing innovation is required, Nikon has taken a staunchly conservative position, choosing to avoid stepping on the toes of its entrenched interests – its bread-and-butter DSLR business and lucrative P&S market – rather than using its impressive engineering prowess to really tackle the elephant-in-the-room question head-on: “what will the camera of tomorrow look like?” It looks like they are depending on their brand name to sell these cameras rather than true innovation. As a longtime Nikon user myself, it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.
To borrow a metaphor from Thom Hogan, so much of the mirrorless war has been geared to finding a “goldilocks” solution, with the “just right” combination of portability, functionality, image quality and, of course, price. Only time, and consumers can tell us what that magic spot is, but I wouldn’t put my money on ‘CX.’
You have to hand it to Sony, with relatively little to lose, and much to gain, they are acting like an ambitious startup, rethinking every accepted convention inherited from the legacy of film cameras. Leveraging their extensive range of consumer technologies from their entire product catalogue, they throw every new feature they can into as tiny a package as possible, and with each iteration, add thoughtful touches that show they are actually listening to the desires of the marketplace.
Nathan Lee Bush is a fashion and fine art photographer and filmmaker in New York City. His work is on his site and blog.
Boxed In? Clockwise from top: Sony NEX-5, Olympus E-PL2, Panasonic GF2, Samsung NX11. Center: Nikon D700, Canon 5D Mark II
Like all technological revolutions, the onset of the digital camera age brought with it a major shakeup in the photo industry. Former film powerhouses like Polaroid (truly instant feedback made physical “instant” proofs obsolete) and Kodak (still catching up), rested on their laurels and receded into the background, while smaller players like Sony (which bought Minolta), Samsung, Panasonic and Casio invested in new digital technologies, rocketing up the ladder.
The Next Frontier
The transition to digital sensors brought it’s own technical hurdles, but the dominant interchangeable lens system of the past century remained single-lens reflex, with mirrors beaming the image from the lens into an optical viewfinder. It’s been acknowledged for years, however, that advanced digital sensors and screen technology could negate the need for a mirror box by showing you what the sensor sees directly on the screen, allowing much smaller camera bodies. But the necessary technologies had not yet converged to make this mirrorless – also often called EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) – future a plausible reality.
Fast forward to 2011. A thousand technical baby steps later, we seem to be entering the second phase of the digital revolution, as the promise of mirrorless technology is matched by its technical feasibility and cost-effectiveness. High-resolution screens allowed for acceptable fidelity and critical focusability. Moore’s Law, ensuring the exponentially increasing price-performance of processor speeds, delivered the essential miniaturization, enabling powerful on-board processing in a small package.
Niche players had been jealously eyeing the high margins of pro systems. Understanding the necessity of a critical mass of users needed to lock photographers into a new system, and with a nothing-to-lose attitude, they dove in feet first, attempting to (more…)