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This page of the site contains the latest 10 articles to appear on bythom, followed by links to the archives.

Will a Camera Maker Clear the Cupboard?

In the first decade of digital, it tended to be that when a new camera came out, the camera maker stopped making the old one and closed out sales on it as quickly as it could. Moreover, in the run-up towards Peak Digital, many cameras were made in big batches, and then production shifted to other models to make other batches. Inventory was not a bad word, and production often didn't keep occurring right up to the generation change, making it easy to just go from Model 1 to Model 2. 

Beginning when peak sales occurred in 2011/2012, things began to shift. Nikon was one of the first to simply leave older generation cameras on the market, particularly consumer ones. As I pointed out at the time, Nikon used that to create US$50 price point positions from about US$500 to US$1000. Coupled with changes to manufacturing that didn't pile up large batches of most new cameras in inventory, this established the "making several generations at a time" practice we see companies using today.

For example, until this past week, Sony would sell you a new A7 Mark II, Mark III, or now a Mark IV. Parts shortages due to supply chain issues forced Sony to put an end to A7 Mark II production. What's currently in the retailing pipeline will probably be it for that model. I don't see Sony restoring production of it.

One thing that kept a lot of cameras in production was parts commitments. If you agreed that you'd buy a specific quantity of an image sensor, you risked price penalties if you didn't. So keeping a camera in production until you met that commitment became common. I wonder, however, if today the tide has shifted: would the semiconductor companies who are maxed out on production capacity rather produce higher priced, sophisticated sensors rather than the older generation stuff that has lower profit margins? If so, they might be willing to let those older sensor users off the hook. 

We're currently in a new manufacturing cycle that doesn't look much like past ones. Everyone is getting fewer parts than they have ordered, and they're having to choose which products they make with them. I keep hearing about shortages of parts that are relatively universal across camera and lens models, such as stepping motors for lenses, pre-amps for audio, LCD panels, and even some really basic components such as capacitors used in power circuitry. 

The big question is this: will Canon and Nikon use the supply chain crisis to simply stop making DSLRs and DSLR lenses? Even though those companies are in slightly different places with slightly different strategies, I could see either or both closing down the mirror-slappers completely. Of course, they wouldn't tell you that until there's no inventory left, but I'm pretty sure we'd figure it out before the last box leaves the dealer. 

But as we see with Sony, mirrorless isn't immune from the crisis, either, and models can (and will) be shut down. 

So I return to the headline: will we see any camera maker decide to clear the cupboard of all but the most current models? Consider this:

  • Canon — DSLRs are the big candidate here, EF lenses somewhat less so (because some of the Cinema cameras use them). The aging mirrorless models are the M's, the RP, and the R. Could we see Canon close some of those out and replace them with something entirely new? Doubtful. I think Canon will simply close down the DSLRs.
  • Fujifilm — The older GFX50's are one candidate, but I was surprised to see the X-H1, X-Pro2, X-T20, and X-T100 still listed on Fujifilm's X camera site. B&H is no longer listing them for sale, which really leaves only the X-E3, X-T30, X-T3 as the generational hold-outs at the moment. At least in the US. 
  • Nikon — Again, DSLRs are the big candidate here, particularly the crop sensor ones. While Nikon has been parring back the F-mount lens lineup, again that has tended to be mostly in the crop sensor (DX) side. Clearly, the D850 is still a reasonable seller, so they can't close out the F-mount without closing out the cameras. Given how long Nikon left previous legacy products on the market, I expect some minimal DSLR gear to live on while the devote themselves to mirrorless, much like we had a couple of film SLRs that lived into the DSLR generation. On the mirrorless side, the question is whether the original Z6 and Z7 will live on during this crisis. While they bridge the Z5-Z6II and Z6II-Z7II price gaps, is it realistic to continue them? I don't know. I can't imagine the original cameras living on past the III introductions, though.
  • OM Digital Solutions — One of the best-selling OMs right now is the E-M1 Mark II, at steep discount. OMDS's problem is that the E-M1X and E-M1 Mark III didn't really light the m4/3 world on fire. That, plus we have previous generation models available across the lineup, which means that the very low volume is split across at least eight models now. OMDS's problem is simple: at their low volume they need to sell high-end product, not older gear at discount. They should clear the cupboard, but they might lose even more volume in doing so.
  • Panasonic — Both the G and the S lines have too many models for their volume. But like OMDS, reducing models might reduce volume further. 
  • Sony — Sony took the Nikon approach, and embraced the generational models left on the market. In the crop sensor lineup, even the A6000 is still on sale (probably to establish a low entry price point), but their two most current cameras, the A6400 and A6600 have just been removed from production due to the parts shortage. The good news for Sony is that they've got enough product in inventory to make it through this holiday season (other than the ZV-10, which is pretty much out of stock), but I judge the APS-C lineup as needing a fairly complete makeover at this point. Sony currently has five models they're trying to sell, two of which are out of production for the moment, two of which are older models, and one of which is in short supply. On the full frame side, things are a little better, but we've now got 10 body-only full frame SKUs, which is pushing it. 

I suspect that none of the camera companies will clean the cupboard and strip down to current models only. They've gotten too hooked on trying to micromanage the sales efforts via model proliferation, so they just work overtime during the parts crisis doing even more micromanaging. 

Nikon, for instance, has said that their strategy is no longer volume based, and targeted to only certain types of customers now. They could indeed easily strip down to Zfc, Z5, Z6 II, Z7 II, Z9, D850 (and D6?). But I don't think they will. As long as they can profitably juggle the D500, D780, D7500, Z50, Z6, and Z7 in the mix, they almost certainly will. A 13 model lineup looks better than 7 (and remember Sony's 5 APS-C and 9 full frame models [one of the 10 SKUs is a color change]). 

So, to answer my own question: no, I don't think anyone will empty their cupboard, even though two or three of the companies probably should. 

Gap, Adjoin, or Overlap?

A lot of you are contemplating new lenses this holiday season. So I'm publishing this article today. You'll also find it in the Technique section, which is the version you should link to.

As I was contemplating a new lens recently, I realized that there's a subject about lens choice I haven't really written about. 

The minute you move from using just one lens to more than one, you start getting into questions of why and when to change between lenses. Three basic overall scenarios developed over the years, which most photographers use in some form or another:

  1. Stack of Zooms. The zoom lens trio of wide-angle zoom, mid-range zoom, and telephoto zoom is one of the most prevalent choices among pros and many serious photographers, whether f/2.8 or f/4 or even variable aperture (Nikon, to its credit, made all three choices in the F-mount, as did Canon). The primary objective to this approach is getting a broad angle of view coverage, typically 14-200mm in terms of focal length, but sometimes different than that.
  2. Stack of Primes. Photographers who prefer certain angle of views of fast apertures sometimes gravitate to a kit of just prime lenses. Historically, we've had 14mm, 18mm, 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm, and 135mm as common focal lengths (plus 200mm+, which tends towards the more expensive exotic type of lens). In the basic set (from 20 to 85mm) we tended to have f/1.4, f/1.8, and f/2.8 lines of lenses to choose from.
  3. Zoom(s) plus Prime(s). The s's are in parentheses here because the most common scenario I encounter among amateur photographers is a variable aperture superzoom (or extended mid-range zoom) plus a fast wide or normal prime for low light situations.  

Obviously, other scenarios abound, as well. But in every scenario you have to think about angle of view coverage. What can you cover from where? The "from where" part is that most amateurs tend to overlook, or they simplify things by just saying "from where I am." "From where" is about perspective, and that's a very important thing to control in your photography. It's one of the key components to photographic style. 

"What you can cover from where" is all about focal length choices. In Scenario #1, for instance, the reason why photojournalists tend to carry those three zoom lenses is that the answer becomes something close to "anything from (almost) anywhere." 

But let's consider a two or three lens zoom set for a moment. You'll find that you actually have choices about how the lenses align with one another:

  • Overlap. Here, we have focal length overlap in play. For example, a 14-30mm and 24-200mm lens (e.g. popular Z System lenses) have a focal length overlap from 24-30mm. Advantage: in edge cases—in the overlap zone—you're not taking the lens on the camera off and risking missing a photo. Disadvantage: most of the "overlap" type lenses tend to be slower or variable aperture.
  • Adjoin. In this choice, we make sure that each zoom's focal range abuts the next. For example, a 24-70mm and 70-200mm lens (the most popular choices of the common zoom lens trio). Advantage: there are no gaps in your focal length coverage. You're also often able to choose fast or slower options, though strangely I see few mixing and matching (e.g. 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/4). Disadvantage: when you're working a lot in the edge case, you're changing lenses a lot.
  • Gap. The final option is to allow a gap between your focal range coverage. For example, a 16-35mm and 70-200mm lens duo, where you give up the mid-range (Disclosure: the mid-range from 35-60mm is some of my least favorite focal length, so I often choose not to carry it). Advantage: you might be able to drop from three lenses to two while still covering a wide range of focal length. Disadvantage: there are images you can't take (don't tell me that you can move; again, perspective is the issue here, as you'll encounter subject/perspective situations you can't create). 

Let me tell you where I was pondering the above in my own decision making for a moment. I need a faster telephoto zoom for my Sony E system (I've been using the 70-200mm f/4). I have a 200-600mm zoom. So, do I really need the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8, or might I consider the smaller, lighter Tamron 70-180mm f/2.8? 

In this case, the gap from 180-200mm isn't particularly meaningful (though I did study close focus distancing for both lenses carefully, another thing to consider as you're building out a general lens set). On safari with two bodies, one with each lens on it, would I miss 180-200mm? No. On the sidelines of a football game would I miss 180-200mm? No. I already use a big gap there, because I'm either using a 400mm or 500mm lens on the second body. 

So I decided that gap/adjoin didn't make any difference to me in that decision. 

On the other hand, I already mentioned that I don't particularly use the 35-60mm focal range much. If I were contemplating putting together a minimal lens set for my Sony E bodies, might I consider the Tamron 17-28mm and 70-180mm (or the Sony 16-35mm and the 70-200mm)? You bet. Indeed, some that think like me carry a small "normal" prime for the middle "just in case." The new 50mm f/2.5 compact lens would be a good choice for that (for me; you might pick differently).

Obviously, if you only use prime lenses, you have gaps ;~). In that case, the question becomes "how big of a gap would you tolerate?" For me, large gaps are the norm when I'm working with primes. As in 24mm and 105mm only. Maybe in some situations I'll also carry a 50mm. But that creates large gaps: 

  • 24mm = 74° horizontal
  • 50mm = 40° horizontal
  • 105mm = 19° horizontal

Aside: Lens makers almost all use diagonal measurements for angle of view, but I don't know of any photographer who thinks that way. Which is why I always convert things to horizontal coverage. Canon has a useful Angle of View calculator you can use that reports horizontal coverage.

Readers are always sending me their current lens lists and questions about what lens they should get next. The thing I notice in almost every one of those lists is that not enough thinking went into them, most were the result of spontaneous choices over time. Maybe a lens got reviewed well, maybe it was on sale, maybe it was the only one in stock at the time that was close to what they wanted. Peppered in with the zooms that person has usually are some seemingly random primes, too. The problem here often is FOMO. People get convinced that if they don't have a lens for every possible scenario that they will miss a photo. Note what I wrote about the advantage of "overlap": not changing lenses in borderline situations means you don't miss photos. Not carrying a dozen lenses means that you don't develop back problems ;~).

From time to time it makes sense to go back and rationalize your lens closet. So as you do that, strongly consider the alignment process you've picked. Are you an overlapper, an adjoiner, or a gapper? Why? In looking at your lens usage—Lightroom's a real help here, but there are other ways to do such analysis—what are you actually using? I've been doing that analysis lately and finding that there are number of lenses I'm not really using these days. Thus, when I get a chance, I'll be selling them and simplifying my gear closet. 

Have Yourself a Merry Little Acquisition

Last week my Internet friend Mike Johnston posted an article entitled "How to Buy a Camera (in Five Principles)" that dovetails tightly with my long-held thinking. Mike's thoughts are not only well worth reading, but extremely timely given that we're headed into the holiday buying season. 

I'm going to piggyback on Mike's discussion a bit, and simplify his five principles into three:

  1. Buy the best camera you can afford and will carry.
  2. Buy only the lenses you will carry and use most of the time.
  3. Use this kit as long as possible.

The reason I want to re-iterate what Mike wrote has to do with all the "should I sell my D850 and move to mirrorless" type of questions I've been getting lately. The answer for most people is no, you shouldn't ditch your D850. 

I'll reiterate that the D850 is still, to this day, the second best all-around camera you can buy. It might slip to third once I've had a chance to use and evaluate the most recently announced cameras, but there's little arguing that the D850 was definitely at the top of the heap at one point and remains very close to the top today.

Thus, Principle #3 comes into play for D850 users. You simply haven't used your camera as long as possible. Maybe in a couple of years that would be true, but I've been getting this question from people who have less than two years under their belt with a D850. 

Of course, it's imperative to the camera companies that they convince you otherwise, much like the auto companies want to convince you that you need to buy/lease a new vehicle every two years or so, even when the vehicles they build today are likely going to easily last a decade of constant use. 

The film-to-digital camera and the eventual gasoline-to-electric auto transitions are one-offs. There is indeed an implied benefit of moving to a system that doesn't require constant resupply of a critical and environmentally damaging element. But the DSLR-to-mirrorless transition doesn't have that same type of benefit: you're just moving to a different design. A bit like moving from a minivan to an SUV.

Moreover, the D850 may still be the best camera you can afford today. My #1 choice for all-around camera at the moment is the Sony A1, which is more than twice as expensive (and for a Nikon F-mount user would trigger additional costs in obtaining lenses for it). 

Simply put, you're not going to take bad or uncompetitive photos with a D850 today or even tomorrow. Unless, of course, you fail to master the camera or are sloppy in using it. So what's the real justification for wanting to move on? 

You don't need a justification to not move to mirrorless. You don't need to tell me that you don't like EVFs (you will when you move to them ;~). You don't have to tell me that you don't want to replace your lenses (you will when you move to mirrorless ;~). You don't need to tell me that you're fine with carrying a bigger, somewhat heavier camera (though you'd appreciate a smaller, lighter one that's as competent). If you own a Nikon D850 you have an incredibly competent and capable camera; you don't need any justifications to continue using it.

Which brings me to a worldwide problem I find I keep having to deal with in dealing with people: lack of self esteem. People spend far too much time comparing themselves to others and finding themselves wanting. Then they wallow in that and use that to make poor decisions.

Let me put that in personal terms. I'm not the best photographer in the world. I'm not sure that's what I'd pursue even if I thought that were important. I'm a darned good photographer who spends time trying to get better. I know my limitations, and I know what I need to concentrate on to move another notch upwards. That's what I pursue, not trying to be "better than [Fill_in_Photographer_Name]". I have what I'd call appropriate self esteem.

It's rare that equipment is the thing that's holding me back from making forward progress. That's because of Principle #1: I buy and carry the best camera I can afford. Now admittedly, I do this more often than I suggest you do, but my constant camera churn is because that's what drives my business (reviews and books). I'd actually argue that moving between cameras and lenses constantly holds me back from getting better as fast as I could. 

Ultimately, you shouldn't be thinking about your equipment while taking photos. It should become second nature. Which, by the way, is one of the reasons why I've stuck with Nikon over the years. As much as complain about things Nikon has or hasn't done in new camera designs, there has been a core consistency to their controls, layout, settings, and other aspects that make it so I can pretty much pick up any Nikon body made in the last 50 years and be at one with it very, very quickly. (And yes, that's one of my key complaints about the Nikon Df and Zfc: they violate that consistency, with no real payoff for doing so.) 

If you're thinking about buying gear this holiday season, I suggest you do something first: rationalize your gear kit. What do you really need, and why? What is failing you, and why? What are you really using of what you own, and why aren't you using all the things that sit in your gear closet? 

When you have the answers to those questions and have pared your current kit down to the essentials, move to Mike's Principles: what's the best camera you can afford that you'll carry? Note that some of you already may have that (e.g. Nikon D850, but it could also be a D7500, D500, D780, D5, D6, 5D Mark IV, 1DX Mark III, and so on). What are the lenses you'd really use 90% of the time? 

Which brings me to a tangential point: remember that you can always rent a body or lens for a one-off situation, such as a once-in-a-lifetime trip. We're talking today about the gear you own that you use all the time. At home, at events, at work, on three-day weekends, and most of your vacations. That's the gear you should own. The rest you can rent short-term if you need it when the "special occasion" arises. 

Most of you reading this should probably be spending this holiday season buying training, computer/software that enhances workflow, or rationalizing your lens kits by selling the lenses that rarely go on your camera and making sure you have the right two or three that you'd use 90% of the time and that are the best you can afford. Perhaps some accessories are an appropriate acquisition also.

But that's not what the constant stream of questions in my In Box look like. Instead, I get a constant stream of "I have a [Perfectly_Fine_Camera] and am thinking about buying a [Must_Be_Better_Camera], what should I get?" Well, now you have upper answer: nothing. ;~)

Of course, that won't stop you from buying something. So, when you do figure out what it is you're purchasing this holiday season, may I ask that you do it by starting with one of this site's links to our exclusive advertiser? (Oh come on, you saw that coming, didn't you? I don't use popovers, constant promotion, or other aggressive tactics, and I've even buried B&H's banner ad at the bottom of the site pages instead of the top. But for this site to operate it needs a revenue stream, and B&H has been a long-time ally in providing that. I'm going to promote them from time to time when it makes sense...)

The Holiday Sales List (Updated)

Sales are going on all of this week and next, as the holiday buying season is now fully upon us. I'm not going to go into deep detail, but did want to point out what was on sale when. And, no, this won't be a mad posting of affiliate links (though many of the deals are available through this site's exclusive advertiser, B&H). 

  • Adobe — If you want the entire Creative Suite, you can get it for US$30/month on an annual contract. Students and teachers pay US$16/month. Through November 26.
  • Affinity — 30% off desktop apps, 50% off of iPad apps.
  • Atomos — US$100 off Ninja V/V+
  • B&H Black Friday deals page [advertiser link]
  • Canon — Most of Canon's holiday discounts so far are centered on selling older gear. The most notable of those, would be US$200 off for the Canon R mirrorless camera. It's a good camera, but it's UX is awkward, and Canon themselves have deprecated quite a bit of what constitutes the R. The aging RP is US$100 off. Still these are ways for Canon EF users to get into RF mirrorless at a reasonable price.
  • CaptureOne — 20% off on annual subscriptions.
  • DxO — 50% discount on Black Friday, ends November 29.
  • Laowa — Up to US$200 off a variety of wide angle lenses.
  • Nikon — Most Z System gear has a discount associated with it, with the most notable one being US$400 off the Z5, putting it at the US$1000 mark. Ends November 30 (some rebates will remain, but the big sale is over at the end of the month).
  • Olympus — Big discounts on the E-M1X and the older E-M1 bodies. The big bargain there is the US$750 off the E-M1 Mark II.
  • On1 — 25% off.
  • Peak Design — Up to 30% off, ends Cyber Monday.
  • Pergear — Discounts at their Amazon store through December 2 (may vary with country).
  • PlatyPod — Discounts on packs and bundles
  • Sigma — Many lenses are discounted, up to US$600. There's something for everyone. Note that the 18-35mm f/1.8 zoom is discounted significantly (US$120 off). Ends December 12.
  • SLR Magic — More lens discounts if you're looking for fast, manual focus lenses.
  • Smallrig — Discounts at their own site through November 28, plus a US$100 gift if you buy US$239 worth of gear. I also didn't know before that they have Flash Deals each day, much like B&H. It also appears that their discounts apply to pre-orders, for example, a Z9 cage.
  • Skylum — The price of the week is US$59 for pre-ordering Neo, or US$88 with the current Luminar (!@#*$). Through November 28th.
  • Sony — Discounts of up to US$800 on various cameras and lenses, with the most notable one being US$500 off on the A7R Mark IV. Also, the A7 Mark III is now on a US$200 discount.
  • Tamron — Many lenses have seasonal discounts, but only modest ones up to US$100 that last through January 2, 2022.
  • ThinkTank Photo — up to 40% off three most popular bags, expires November 29.
  • Topaz Labs — Full AI suite 67% off (US$199.98), Still AI suite 60% off (US$99.99), expires November 29.
  • Wandrd — Up to 60% off.

No One Can Review the Future

With a number of recent product announcements from major companies, I noticed that I was getting emails asking “where is your review of [not_yet_shipping_product]?”

That prompted me to look around at the photography fora a little more carefully. Sure enough, it’s easy to find “where can I find a review of [not_yet_shipping_product]?” 

It seems that a lot of folk are in a hurry to buy something they can’t buy yet. Or perhaps they were about to buy something and the new product now has them in FUD mode. (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) 

Meanwhile, Nikon has been pouring on the marketing for a product they can’t deliver (at least not to anyone that hasn’t already ordered a Z9).  

Buying in the photography market has turned irrational, in my judgment. There’s one group that wants The Next Best Thing, another group that buys Better Than They Need, and yet more folk that get flamed into purchase by Influencers. That’s just the start of the list. 

People still haven’t caught on that I have two sets of gear: gear that I use for professional work (sports, wildlife, some nature/wildlife, events), and gear that I use for enjoyment and casual use. In that latter category I need more than my iPhone, since sometimes carrying a camera around all the time results in photos I show others at full size, but I don’t need a D6 or Z9 or A1 or R3 or whatever the latest and greatest is. 

Practically speaking, virtually every interchangeable lens camera on the market has enough dynamic range for the vast majority of situations you’ll encounter, has enough pixels for output to a maximum desktop inkjet printer size (e.g. ~13x19”), and enough performance to capture just about any situation, whether static or moving. As much as I deplore “automatic” settings, left on all-automatic defaults, virtually all of those cameras also produce reasonable results these days. 

I’ve written it before, but it bears occasional repeating: your use and control of your camera is probably more important to the results than the camera and lens itself. I recently was showing someone an image at full size and they oohed over it and immediately asked “what new camera was that taken with?” Uh, Nikon D100, 17 years ago. 

Image impact starts with (1) where you’re at and what you’re pointed at, and then is further enhanced by (2) how you reacted and controlled the camera. Would I be using a Z7 II at that same spot if I had it 17 years ago? No doubt. A better tool helps me with #2, while more sampling is always better, and a Z7 II samples better in several ways than the D100 did. 

But here’s the kicker: I’ve been to that same spot where I took that image 17 years ago many times, but with better equipment. I haven’t gotten a better photo (yet). That’s because photographic opportunities don’t exactly repeat themselves. Subjects change, light changes, virtually everything in the scene changes in some way. Even my response to the scene might change if I’ve been there too often (one reason why I love walking through cities I haven’t been to before when traveling). If you’re trying to figure out your new-fangled, fancy-pants camera, you might miss the actual image you should have taken. Familiarity with your existing equipment is more important at capturing a moment in time.

We’re entering the holiday buying season, so I have some advice. Yes, there’s better gear available out there you can buy. But if you’re constantly upgrading your gear, are you also constantly upgrading yourself? The two really need to go hand in hand. 

So, as we all start to find our way in a COVID-19 endemic world and things return to (a new) normal, consider what you’re doing about upgrading yourself. Photo workshops are starting to transition from Zoom to Real World again. Careful travel opportunities are available. Events you might have been photographing are starting to return (though you may need Mask Recognition in your next camera ;~). You’re probably a bit rusty with your skills. I know I am, even though I’ve been doing some side practice at the local zoo and wildlands. 

So when the camera or lens you lust after isn’t available this holiday because of supply chain issues, consider going a different direction and making this a year to upgrade yourself.

_____________________

Self-serving promotion: I have one opening for one of my 2022 workshops in Africa. My goal is always to have students who finish the trip as far better photographers than they were. This year’s trips are being run with a 9:2 student-to-teacher ratio, meaning you’ll get lots of attention.

Data: The Short Story

With any digital camera, you collect data. This seems like a simple enough thing to understand, but it's surprising to me how many people don't grep that, or worse, do acknowledge that but go on to make incorrect assumptions. 

The data you collect is the data you collect. This, too, seems like a simple thing to understand, but is often skipped over. The data you obtain will not be the most optimal set of data that could be collected, though these days our image sensors and lenses are getting remarkably good and do a better job than ever before. Wait, I just added lenses into the equation. That's right: the actual equation for "resolution"—which seems to be a term those of you seeking "better" always bring up—is a chained equation that is a series of of things that all contribute, not a single thing. But let's not get too far from the thread: you get one chance to collect data. Once collected, that's the data you have to work with.

It's easy to discard data. Indeed, if you take JPEG images, you're doing just that—discarding data—and considerably so. The fact that you can't see a difference in the visual result isn't meaningful: by using JPEG you just threw out a ton of data. You did so with bit depth, you also did so with compression. Those two factors together can cause you to simplify 30MBs of data into 2MBs.

Whatever you discard in terms of data, you can't get back. Here we hit the crux of my long-time argument, and why I try to collect optimal 14-bit uncompressed (or lossless compressed) data in the first place. If you end up with 2MBs of JPEG data in the camera, you can't get back the other 38MBs that might have been in the raw file. Moreover, there's a relative to this that Sony users have to understand: setting lens corrections in camera changes the raw data. You can't get back to what was actually collected either way, whether you discard or change the data.

If you add data, you've definitely entered an alternate universe to the "real" data. One thing that a lot of people seem to think is that there is some magical software that can add back data. Once thrown away, data can't be restored (my previous point).  But to my point, this tenet of adding "faux" data comes up with resizing products. Yes, Topaz Gigapixel AI is a pretty good way to increase the number of pixels you have to work with, as is Adobe's Super Resolution function. Both make (mostly) visually appealing additions to your data set. But now you're in the realm of making up data, not recreating data that should have been there. Indeed, the whole raw conversion process for Bayer and X-Trans image sensors is already doing a bit of this, as both require the software to interpolate (make up a reasonable value) for missing color data at each photosite position. 

So here's the thing: I talk all the time about optimal capture of data, optimal processing of data. I don't want to discard data, I don't want to add (interpolate) new data if I can avoid it, and I don't want to have to change or worse still, add data.

It's “changing data" that gets a lot of people in trouble, and fast. 

The most common situation I see is someone complains about the dynamic range of their camera being inadequate. But when I take a close look at their image data, they've been underexposing. They didn't collect optimal data during the capture. Then they took the data that they did collect—which often wasn't the optimal data set they could have collected—and they move the pixel values to make up for that (changing data). Then they complain about what they see, such as more noise.  (And obviously, if you see noise at all, your camera must be rotten ;~). 

Other examples abound: missed white balance settings, use of non-neutral imaging demosaics, missed focus points, too long/short shutter speeds for the subject, use of the wrong ISO value, and many, many more. Get the data capture slightly wrong and you give yourself downstream issues to correct. Process the data capture slightly wrong, and you generate further downstream issues you'll be correcting. 

Presently, there are only two currently defensible positions in terms of image data: (1) what you collected looks visually good enough to you, so you have no issues and do no or minimal processing; and (2) what you collected in data was optimally captured and optimally processed, but you probably still have very small issues you want to address (or would want the camera/processor to eliminate). 

The in-between position is where all the arguments start. False flag arguments in many cases. Which makes it even more difficult to tell the real problems/solutions in the cantankerous world of the Internet. 

I recently tried to catalog all the issues I could have with data collection. I gave up after I had a list of over 100 items, some of which are (mostly) out of my control (e.g. fixed pattern noise). And this was if I did everything “perfectly” in data collection. 

So, as you ponder updating your gear this holiday season, consider something else, too: what are you doing to guarantee that you’re getting the best possible data collection as you photograph? The more you find wanting in that question, the less you need a new camera and the more you need more training and practice. 

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Yes, The Camera World Changed

Photographers as old as I am have gone through a number of sea changes in cameras: exposure metering, autofocus, DSLR, mirrorless, and now shutterless. Curiously, Nikon has been early in all those things, though not always with their final solution (witness the Nikon 1 versus the Z System for mirrorless). 

But we need to discuss what's going on with these changes, and how something fundamental is at the root of it. 

Early on, automation was the primary change to cameras. Adding metering and later autofocus were both basically additions to the existing film SLR; they added automation for the user, but didn't really change the core mechanical aspects of the camera. In essence, this era was about adding electronics to what had originally been a mechanical device. 

The DSLR started a process we're now deep into: silicon taking over from mechanical. This is not just a camera thing: silicon takeover has been happening across a wide range of industries and products. Why? Because producing silicon is an automated manufacturing process where costs go down with volume (the old Texas Instruments discovery). Moreover, two other trends have been going on with silicon: (1) feature size reduction that allows you to put more on a chip; and (2) the creation of additional functions on a single chip due to #1. 

Initially, DSLRs didn't take full advantage of those trends, it was just more about removing mechanical film transport mechanisms and providing an all-electronic imaging system. DSLRs were still adding automation to the camera, too, which started to coalesce into a system on chip (SoC), such as Canon's DIGIC, and eventually Nikon's EXPEED, and Sony's BIONZ. 

Because compact digital cameras date back to the 80's and don't have mirrors, the camera makers got a lot of experience with the imaging sensor doing "more tasks" as digital progressed. It was inevitable that as this experience advanced the camera makers would start to think about how they could apply that to interchangeable lens cameras. Mirrorless was the predictable result of that. Why? For the same reason as DSLRs replaced film SLRs: taking out a mechanical parts (mirror system) makes the cameras easier to make, and less expensive to produce, too. 

Which brings us to the latest change: removing the shutter. 

Nikon isn't the first one to take out the mechanical shutter, but the Z9 is the most important iteration of this change (just as the Nikon D1 was in the film-to-digital transition). Like the D1, the Z9 is a bold statement about the future. Nikon has tended to make these bold statements first in their flagship cameras, then work to move that technology down into their entire range. Canon, Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony now all have to think about doing the same. 

Which gets us back to why silicon is at the core of these changes now. The other camera makers have to respond because Nikon just took out parts costs, as well as assembly/maintenance/repair complexity and costs, and did so without removing function. As silicon progresses, Nikon will add function and performance. 

No, I'm not going to start noshutter.com, but the change that is now about to happen to interchangeable lens cameras is not stoppable at this point. 

You're probably wondering "what's next?" 

Again, that's relatively predictable, though exactly how exactly it will work for cameras is still somewhat unknown; several paths exist, and it's not clear which one the Japanese will take. But look at what Apple is doing: complete SoC integration (CPU, GPU, ML, RAM, etc.). Moore's Law predicted this type of increased function, and it has clear benefits to both the producer and the user.

Back in the 70's at a tech conference I also predicted that the third dimension would have to be exploited at some point with silicon. Stacked image sensors are a basic form of that: image capture happens in one layer, data storage happens in another. Nikon themselves have shown something beyond that, though, with their 1" prototype sensor: control of the imaging layer from the second, stacked layer. 

Image sensors were an easy point for exploiting the third dimension: converting a photon to an electron and doing something with that isn't intensely heat producing. It would be more problematic, for instance, to put a RAM layer below a CPU layer, for instance.

Still, I wouldn't be surprised to see another layer added, though this will have tough heat issues to deal with when you start making every layer into a "processing" layer. But I'm sure we'll see more integration into silicon, and it has to go somewhere. Some of it will go alongside the imaging area, some below. 

The problem the camera companies have is one I wrote about well over a decade ago: volume. Think about this new shutterless revolution from Nikon's standpoint: they now need a DX sensor that is shutterless, as well as another FX sensor that is shutterless, at a minimum (it's possible that a Z7 III could just use the Z9 sensor, perhaps even using binned—not image binning, but the semiconductor process of selecting out "best" chips from the batch—versions that don't suss out some of the more advanced features. Still, that's a minimum of three different image sensors to get produced, for a company that's currently under the 1m annual volume level in terms of units sold. The initial cost of building that first chip is huge. You get payback by selling a ton of products with that chip. 

That's one reason why Nikon tends to start their new eras at the flagship end of the product line: the higher customer cost returns pays R&D investment back reasonably fast.

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Bonus: Guess what's the new "most complex" mechanical thing left in cameras? Hint: it was added recently. That's right, it's sensor-based image stabilization. Three axes of that can go away electronically (left/right, up/down, rotation ;~). Indeed, we see hints of that with Nikon's Electronic VR in video (as well as similar implementations from others). But, as fast as it was added to cameras, I have this strange feeling that it will disappear, too. Not the ability, just the mechanical parts. The tricky bit will be the tilt components of the IS mechanics. But remember, we're starting to get depth maps produced by image sensors. 

Okay, Props Where Props are Deserved

Nikon's introduction of the Z9 this morning was about the best marketing I've seen out of Nikon. Certainly in recent years. Very nicely done. A few comments are necessary to point out the things they did right:

  • The teaser campaign was just that: teaser. I'm not sure everyone got the metaphor in the final last minute teaser, but in the first three 30-second videos Nikon revealed just enough information to intrigue, while leaving things to still be found out at launch. The 20 fps in the teaser turns out to be "no limitations," but there's 30 fps (JPEG only) and 120 fps (11mp only) options if you really need insane speeds.
  • Storytelling abounds in the launch videos. Storytelling is most powerful form of marketing, and I don't know if it was entirely by choice (McNally is a natural story-teller), but the selected pre-production users pretty much all told stories. Even Nikon's own marketing spiels tended towards story telling rather than specifications. I suspect specification-concentration comes next, because it answers specific questions that might come up.
  • The launch videos were themselves almost a story: the various sub-video elements were all woven together very nicely, not devolving into boring talking heads for very long, and moving from benefit to benefit very nicely. This was NikonUSA's launch—Nikon puts the lead in different subsidiary/regions for each big announcement—and this was the best I've seen them.
  • Nikon took some subtle swipes, comparing a few capabilities to "competitors" directly (see above), without mentioning who they were. Very Japanese passive aggressive, but still nicely done. 
  • Nikon didn't dead end into an endless discussion of "newness", leaving many things to be still discovered and to be marketed in subsequent sessions. Marketing emphasis was exactly where it should be: a complete, pro, do-anything camera with unique capabilities, not on a specific feature.

There's a lot we still need to learn about the Z9—remember I already write 1000+ page books on these cameras—but that's okay in a launch presentation. Nikon did an almost perfect tease and launch. Now they have a lot of details to fill in, and I'm hoping they do it as well as they've done everything else so far. Fingers crossed.

Amazingly, Nikon is letting people discover one critical aspect of the new camera for themselves: price. US$5500 is well below where most people thought this camera was going to be priced. US$5500 turns out to be a "delightful surprise" as people pick up on just how capable the new Z9 actually is. I already know several Nikon DSLR pros who weren't planning to pick up a Z9 that changed their mind, and it's the coupling of capability with price that did that. I'm pretty sure the Z9 will be sold out for quite some time.

So, as harsh as I've been on Nikon's marketing recently, I'll give credit where it's due: great job so far on the Z9 launch. Keep it up.

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And yes, the engineering team needs some kudos, too. But that's a story for another day.

Where's My Z9 Coverage?

I've gotten a few emails asking where my Nikon Z9 coverage is. Well, exactly where it's supposed to be: on zsystemuser.com

Besides my announcement article (tl;dr), I've got two other articles plus data pages on the new gear Nikon announced. That coverage will be updated periodically throughout the day (which removes the images temporarily during the update, as they are resized by an external engine to the pages themselves). 

More coming...

Well, That's One Way to Solve the Problem

Sony today introduced the new Xperia Pro-I smartphone. While it has three cameras like most modern high-end smartphones, one of them is a 1" sensor with a Zeiss 24mm f/2 lens (also can be set to f/4). Potentially a better solution than the Sony RX-0 for small 1" work. 

Okay, maybe not as good as the headline stats seem to suggest: while the image sensor is an improved one from the RX-100 Mark VII, the Xperia Pro-I is only using about 60% of the image area (e.g. 12mp rather than 20mp), which effectively starts to put the Xperia Pro I in iPhone 13 territory for the main camera. The good news is that the smartphone does have a BIONZ X processor, has phase detection, and can perform eye-detect focus in real time. Coupled with the 12mp pixel count and fast image sensor, the smartphone can run very fast still image bursts, and apparently even do 4-frame image alignment to reduce noise.

bythom sony xperiapro1

What's being solved? Being able to push a higher-end photo/video capture to the Internet. Wait, what? How do you do selfies or vlogging, as the display is on the wrong side? With a small set of selfie/vlogging accessories, which include a grip/handle, audio and monitor options. I wouldn't be surprised if the monitor and audio accessories came fairly directly from pulling apart a ZV-1.

The result ends up a bit more awkward than the Sony ZV-1 (which also has a 1" sensor, though with 24-70mm equivalent zoom), but not a lot more awkward. But it also means that you can stream directly, post directly, and basically solve the communication problem that cameras have now long had in the post iPhone era. 

As with other recent high-end Xperia's, this new version also works well when connected to the Sony A1, opening up new capabilities there. 

It seems that the R&D merge of smartphone and camera groups at Sony is now producing interesting products that Canon and Nikon would have difficult making themselves.

Thing is, we've been expecting smartphones to start nibbling away at the 1" market (even with smaller image sensors). Here we have a clear example that they may do more than nibble. 

Of course, one problem with the Xperia Pro-I is the price: US$1800, and the selfie/vlogging accessories push that up another US$300. Also, for some of us, we're not going to introduce Android into our ecosystem. 


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