Nikon DSLR and other non-mirrorless High-End Gear
This page documents things that were not expected that make for (mostly) surprises. Given the nature of how "leaky" the camera industry is this days, true surprises are likely to be few and far between. (For mirrorless camera surprises, see sansmirror.com)
Page last updated 9/24/12 at 10am EST (latest items on top)
- Sigma Lens Tuning--As part of Sigma's press conference where they laid out the new lens marketing campaign and one new lens in each, there was some additional information that I needed to chew on a bit: Sigma is going to come out with their own lens focus alignment software in 2013, and it'll allow you to tune different apertures and focus distances on each lens. I wanted to think about this one a bit before reporting it, because its fraught with implications. First, do users really have to now test every nuance of their system to tune it properly? That's a lot of work for small gains. Some of us, obviously, would do it for certain gains (e.g. if I could tune my 200-400mm f/4 properly for all zoom lengths and focus distances, I'd do it). Much of the market, however, will be annoyed at having to tune their gear. So here's a little guess about what might happen: if this practice gets any more widespread, we're going to see "gear tuners" pop up: send them your gear, they'll tune it for you. At a nice big cost (which will go down as they automated the process). What I can't quite figure out is how Sigma expects to do this when they reverse engineer the two big mounts (Canon EOS, Nikon F). As we all well know, Nikon seems to make small tweaks with every camera, and we already have the third party lens makers getting caught by this and requiring lens updates. With Sigma, that's always required sending the lens back to Sigma. So, unless Sigma can push their updating out to users quickly and conveniently, this won't work. But then it dawned on me: this announcement actually may be part of pushing out to users something they're already doing in house. Doh! Make the user do your updating.
- Nokia Lumia 920--There are surprises to everyone who comes to the show, and surprises to just me. I'm not sure which category this falls into, but I know I was surprised. I got to play with one of these Windows smartphones at the Zeiss booth briefly, and I have to say I was impressed. The sensor and lens seem to perform pretty well, but the most impressive parts were the image stabilization and really good focus. Nothing outlandish here, but it wasn't very long ago that an 8mp compact camera couldn't perform this well. Indeed, there may still be some of those on the market. We're still a little ways from things that would completely shut down the compact camera market--note all the really large focal length ranges on compact cameras lately: the camera makers think that's their key advantage, but I'm betting it's only temporary. Everything else is already there in the phone, including GPS tagging and more.
- Apple's Ive To Design a One-Off for Leica. This is indeed a surprise, and one fraught with potential embarrasment. On the one hand, Jonathan Ive--Apple's VP of Design--might produce something that is Leica-like but has Apple's exquisitive use of material, in which case Ive's reputation drops a tick (e.g. he's just a materials guy). On the other hand, he might actually design the darned camera, as in how we interact with it, and he might in so doing discover something that everyone should have been doing all along, in which case the industry should be embarrassed. I'm betting on the former, as the latter seems too difficult for the likely time frame and for a one off. Get ready to sell off all your wordly goods to obtain this best of brands creation, though. Leica specialty cameras tend to go for grand sums, and since only one of these will be made, this will be as grand as they get, complete with U2 singer Bono doing the auction. The real question here, though, is what happens if he creates something that everyone wants? What if the reaction is "yeah, Leica's good, but that's better?" So put your checkbook back away. If what Ive creates is that good, Leica isn't going to let it end at a one-off. At least I hope not.
- Google Buys Nik Software--Okay, that qualifies as a real surprise. Nik makes Snapseed (the likely reason Google wants them) and the various Nik plug-ins (HDR Pro, Silver Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, etc., some of my favorite Photoshop plug-ins), and was the designer/coder of Capture NX2 (but responsibility for that program returned to Nikon some time ago). The kicker in this is that Nikon was minority investor in Nik, so I'm assuming that Nikon's investment was bought out as part of the purchase by Google. No terms or price were disclosed, and indeed the actual deal was first outed today by the Web site The Verge, not an anouncement by Nik or Google. This is bad news for Nikon, as far as I'm concerned, though that train may have left the station a long time ago when Capture NX2 returned back to Nikon Japan for updating and maintenance. Why bad news? Because the camera companies need software expertise, and not just a bunch of competent coders in cubicles in Japan, but serious designers and dreamers and implementers. Like Nik. Otherwise we get me too software that doesn't work very well, doesn't survive OS updates well, and never gets any user oriented updates. Oh, wait, that's what we already have, isn't it? Well, it gets worse if we're going to count on Nikon's only crack programming team. That team that brought you the Sharp Pocket Wizard for the N90s to discontinue it. The team that brought you Photo Secretary only to discontinue it. The team that brought you the original Capture and all its excentricities. The team that brought you PictureProject only to discontinue it. The team that brought you Nikon scan only to discontinue it when they couldn't figure out how to change one line of code in the installer. The team that brought you an Android camera with Android 2.3, not 4.1. The team that promised plug-ins for Capture NX and delivered one, then broke it. Yeah, that Nikon.
The Internet moves fast, and the Silicon Valley companies move fast. Software programs age in dog years, and it requires you to be thinking five years ahead just to be competitive today. Google has just removed a company from the independent-sphere. More will follow. The Japanese camera companies won't be able to keep up, methinks. Communicating, Programmable, Modular. There went Programmable. Remember, Nikon has an Android camera now (as does Samsung). But if the camera makers let the best software be done elsewhere, all they are is commodity hardware makers, and the profit in that is low, at best. Ask HP about how the PC business is going these days.
Bottom line: the Japanese companies should have been picking up Silicon Valley software talent, keeping them in California, and listening to them as they outline the future of imaging.
- Meanwhile Canon Launches 1709--Okay, I get that naming software is difficult. It was my job for a number of years, and I came up with gems like Connectix Videophone, which was, yeah, a videophone from Connectix. Of course I also had better succes with names like RAM Doubler, Speed Doubler, and QuickCam, amongst others (I didn't name Connectix; that was already a done deal when I joined). Canon 1709 was named for, well, today, September 17th. That's a little dangerous, as imagine what would have happened if you launched a product called 9/11 in the year 2000.
So what the heck is 1709? Flickr? my Picturetown? ;~) Hard to say, as it doesn't feel fully fleshed out yet to me. But it has deep organizational abilities, and deep sharing links (mostly through Facebook). That's a start (see above story). But my problem is navigating the press release. If 1709 "seamlessly bring[s] your entire photography collection together," does it really need tight and deep integration with Facebook, who wants to do the same thing?
The press release is also filled with "no, not reallys." Consider: "enjoyable new way to view images" together with "timeline ribbon" and "tag-based filtering options." Uh, new, no. Maybe new to Canon.
Then there are the five core principals: store (in cloud), find (via tag filtering), improve (nope, not buying their description), enjoy (limited, plus heavy reliance on Facebook), Access. Ugh, with a Web browser. What I wanted to access within Photoshop to improve my image? Anyone care to guess what happens? Buehler? Yep, it's more of the "don't understand workflow" problem (though they seem to get it when told by Facebook how to integrate ;~).
Absolutely no details on cost, private beta only right now (though you can express your interest in this likely 2013 program launch at the 1709 Web site. Which makes the name all the more curious. Shouldn't it be 1709B?
- Canon G15--Somehow none of us were expecting a G12 successor so soon after the G1x. Or maybe it's not a successor. Some people are going to be wondering why I didn't put it in the disappointment page since it drops the articulated screen of recent previous G's. But it does gain two things that might make up for it: the lens is now a 28-140mm f/1.8-2.8, so a stop and a third faster than the old 28-140mm f/2.8-4.5, plus the LCD is a higher resolution 920k dot one. Autofocus is faster, too. And if that's not enough, the new camera weighs in as 17% smaller than the G12. Bonus: 2 extra megapixels on the sensor. I didn't catch a price or ship date, but will try to find them out.
- Samyang 10mm f/2.8--That Samyang has another new manual focus lens to show off isn't the surprise, it's the nature of the lens itself: let's show a little DX love, people! Yes, this is a DX wide angle (also will be available for Canon APS cameras). A fast, really wide DX prime lens? Yeah, that escaped the dance cards of the camera makers, but once again we have a third party stepping up to the stage, and I suspect they'll get wide applause if their performance is even half good. Given Samyang's previous lenses, I'd expect better than half-good on the optical side. This is a pre-announced prototype being shown at Photokina; no details yet and a end-of-year ship date is expected.
- Sony RX1--Full frame compact camera with a Zeiss f/2 lens? Sign me up (though keep reading). This US$2800 available-in-November surprise is another assertion of an aggressive and assertive Sony. If you've lost count, Sony now has two large sensor compacts (the 1" sensor RX100 being the shirt pocket one), ten NEX cameras (four still, six video), two 16mp APS DSLRs, and four 24mp DSLRs (including the just-announced, but expected, A99 full frame). As they say in the business, Sony is pushing metal. The RX1 looks, feels, handles, and shoots great. We can quibble about few details, though it is a bit larger than most of you are thinking when you hear the word "compact" (closer to a Leica M9 in size than a NEX-7).
Here's the thing, though: is it the right camera? Consider the Fujifilm XE-1 and the Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 lens, for example. Same DOF isolation capability, likely similar high ISO results, but you get an interchangeable lens camera, a built in EVF, and you pay half the price. Sure, we're at 16mp instead of 24mp, but the non-Bayer Fujifilm performs above the 16mp mark for the most part. And yes, we're at 50mm equivalent instead of 35mm, but we also have flexibility the RX1 doesn't have.
Thus, we're getting more of the "logical buying" versus "emotional buying" that the consumer electronics makers love to milk. The RX1 is an emotional buy, not a logical one. Sony's going to point to "biggest sensor," "Zeiss quality," "Retro styling," and other emotional aspects to get you to buy. Technically, the Sony A99 delivers "more camera" for the same price (and the Nikon D600 will deliver "more camera" for less price).
That said, us old-timers will immediately resonate with the RX1. In our nearing-senility minds it looks like a camera should. Here's what to watch for, though: the focus system. f/2 on a full frame sensor needs focus snap (both in autofocus and manual) to be fully useful. Plus: do you really want to add on a viewfinder to frame at the eye? Those two questions will determine just how successful the camera will really be.
- Pentax 560mm f/5.6--It probably shouldn't have been a surprise, since the one thing that Pentax does do more so than some of the other big mount companies is continually innovate with lenses. A 560mm f/5.6, even at US$7000, is still something we haven't really seen from Nikon, after all.