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

Some Updates

My cataract surgery went well, and I’m back to doing some work at the computer each day, though not as much as normal, so bear with me. As with my previous surgery, I got way more emails about this than for any other subject or comment in the recent past. Sorry if I didn’t reply to them all; it simply wasn’t possible. Thanks for your thoughts, support, and understanding.

I’ll be updating the cataract article next week. I’ve got one small correction, plus a bunch more notes on things to expect. Among all those well-wishing emails I got were quite a few from people who are on the cusp of needing cataract surgery. There aren’t a lot of great sources that speak to how a serious photographer might/should respond to such surgery, and I’d like to try to make my article at least a small sample of what’s needed. 

In the meantime, I’ve moved my Mac recommendations article over from dslrbodies and updated it to account for the latest Apple announcements. You’ll find it in the Reviews/Books section. Short version: stick with 16GB/512GB as your minimum and pretty much any of the M1/M2 Macs work quite decently for a photographer. It’s only the intense processors (multiple large files open and/or lots of use of GPU) and videographers that start to benefit from the Pro, Max, Ulta chips and the higher end machines, such as the Mac Studio.

Strange Things Said XXII

“Micro Four Thirds is a compact and lightweight system that enables hand-held photography in combination with a telephoto lens, which is not possible with full-frame…” Yosuke Yamane, Panasonic VP in interview with dpreview.

Lots to unpack here. First, the irony. The interview was conducted in conjunction with launching a full frame camera. Panasonic is in a position almost none of their competitors are in: they have different mounts for their crop and full frame sensor cameras (and video cameras, too). Canon, Nikon, and Sony are now normalized on their sole mirrorless mount. Really only Fujifilm plays the two-mount game, with different XF and GFX mounts for crop sensor and medium format. 

Because full frame is getting the most attention at the moment and m4/3 has had few new products over the course of the last year, of course Panasonic gets asked about m4/3. It’s a natural question (“what about m4/3?”) when launching a new full frame camera. 

The problem, of course, is that the quote is simply wrong. Ask any full frame camera user with a telephoto lens. Say a Sony A1 user with the 200-600mm, or a Nikon Z7 II user with the 800mm PF. Panasonic’s current GH6 is 29 ounces and has not-so-great-autofocus-for-telephoto-use. The Sony A1 is 25.8 ounces and has state-of-the-art autofocus when used with telephoto lenses. 

Since the Olympus E-1 appeared in 2003 (the first 4/3 camera), I’ve been critical of the smaller 4/3 sensor in largish bodies. When the E-1 appeared, I wrote “Olympus brought a knife to a gun fight.” For pretty much the 20 years since, the 4/3 and then m4/3 crowd has been crowing about small size and high performance. The problem with that is many of their “small sizes” are not actually smaller, and because of the smaller sensor the performance does not match up to what we now have, even in a Panasonic S5 II (26.1 ounces, by the way). Again, irony. 

When I got into m4/3 it was because the smallest Olympus fit in my vest pocket while I was using a 500mm lens on my DSLR. The E-PL1 with the collapsible kit zoom became my mild wide to mild telephoto camera on safari, not my telephoto camera. Even though my DSLR and 500mm lens weighed way more than my current full frame mirrorless set up does. And yes, I could hand hold it, and with today’s IBIS+lensIS systems, I could probably have held it even better ;~).

Yamane-san gets it more right with the initial quote in the interview: “[m4/3] has size benefits, and a shooting experience that can’t be matched by a smartphone.” Of course, not exactly with a GH6 (or even G9). It would really take the return of the pocketable GM series to do that, and you and I wouldn’t be using such a camera for telephoto wildlife work. We’d be using it for the things we’re currently using our smartphones for: the quick snapshots and casual photography documenting our daily lives and experiences. 

Personally, I think Panasonic’s inability to pick a lane is showing. It shows not only in their m4/3 and L-system cameras of late, but in their professional Varicam and other video lines, as well. They’re scrambling for a home run by changing their swing constantly. They’ll swing at anything (at least once). And then they get in a serious interview and have to invent stories to justify their approach.

The word “Creator.” —all over the net, and in every camera’s marketing these days

Stills, blogging, booking, gramming, videoing, vlogging, it seems like we keep trying to invent a new word for what people are doing. The current buzzword is “creator.” And that appears to come from a shortening of “social media creator.” So, these days that’s TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and a host of other Internet intermediators that have found that they can suck most of the money out of the equation by being the dominant middleman with the connections. Just like Hollywood and pretty much every other media that came before. I’m not sure why I’d want to be a “creator” in that environment and get the trickles instead of the torrent of money, but, well, egos...

I don’t have a lot of problems with the word creator, as, well, I’ve been one for more than 60 years now (e.g. as far back as I can remember). What I have problems with is that the camera companies are now using the word to describe what a large number of folk are doing with their products that weren’t designed to do TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, Indeed, they’d sell even more product if they were actually designed to service “creators.” 

I’ve been harping about this since 2007, so it’s not something new. The minute I saw what Apple had done with the iPhone I knew the future was about to change. In ways the Japanese should have figured out, but didn’t. The first cellular phone photo solution generally regarded as the first social use in the US (1997) was by Philippe Kahn (founder of Borland and inventor of Turbo Pascal). (Disclosure: in researching this article I discovered that one of the products I helped create made Time Magazine's list of the most influential products from 1923 to the present [Quickcam]. As it should have. It presaged all the “built-in” cameras you’re now using in all your devices, and was a Trojan horse to get the base of digital cameras increased so as to sell software for them.)

The Japanese phone companies were the first to catch onto Kahn’s idea, and started putting cameras in their phones. But just as in politics it never is about the crime, but the coverup, in tech it’s not about the hardware, it’s about the software utilization of it. 

The fact that the Japanese are just now getting around to “catering to creators”—they’re not, but they say they are—is a condemnation of them missing a critical turn. All of these so-called “creator-focused” cameras we’re getting still can’t communicate with TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, They have a difficult time just sending bits over to a mobile device, let alone doing anything that would be called integration with it. I outlined to a room full of Nikon executives exactly what needed to happen back in 2011. It hasn’t happened yet. That hasn’t stopped Nikon from advertising the Z30 as “Creator ready.” 

Marketing words that don’t live up to their implicit promise eventually become marketing anchors that sink the sales. 

Call yourself a creator. Use pretty much any camera to create stills and videos. But let’s not call what the Japanese are producing as something tuned to creators’ needs. Not even close. Missing the point is one of my pet peeves. The camera companies have missed the point. 

One push-back I got from the camera companies is this: “we don’t control the social media, so we can’t really do anything there.” Nonsense. Apple doesn’t control any social media yet it sells many of the devices those creators are using both to produce and consume social media, and it does so because the products are well-designed for that use. Never tell a Hogan that something is impossible. It always is possible. It’s your imagination, knowledge, and discipline that keep it from happening. 

Our cameras are “creator wannabes.” They have a long way to go before they can be marketed as “creator productive.” 

"A 9-bladed circular aperture promises smooth, out-of-focus backgrounds when shooting with the aperture opened up.” B&H Exlora on the new Sony 20-70mm f/4G lens

“Opened up” would be taken by most people to mean “lens is being used at maximum aperture of f/4.” In most lens designs, there is no aperture diaphragm being used when the lens is “wide open,” so the B&H statement is misleading at best, wrong at worst. 

However, this leads us to a whole bunch of other discussions ;~). The use of the words “circular blades” by lens manufacturers seems to mean different things to different companies. The blades aren’t circular. The ends of the blades forming the aperture may be rounded (as opposed to straight). In almost no case have I seen an aperture diaphragm produce a “perfect” circle when stopped down from maximum aperture. As a matter of fact, what they produce tends to change as you stop down, and as I’ve noted in many reviews, at some smaller apertures the opening is no longer symmetrical, but has a blade bias that produces an ellipse, or worse, a clearly disjointed pentagon, hexagon, septagon, octagon, or nonagon. Typically with a “point” at one of the blade joins. 

Because of my long background in filmmaking (to 1972), one thing that seems to always catch my attention when I watch any video or film is what happens to spectral (or small light source) highlights in the background. I’ll count the aperture blades, check for symmetry, look for cats eyes, and then try to figure out which lens they used ;~). Sometimes that’s more interesting than the movie. Editors who work in New York/Hollywood media centers are really good at this game.

The Circular Path of “Information"

News—or in this case, the lack of news—travels in strange ways on the Internet these days. 

Nikon Rumors published an article last week refreshing everyone’s memory about the eight lenses on the Nikon Z-mount Road Map with the title “Nikon is expected to release eight new Z lenses in 2023”. Which then got picked up and mostly repeated by the Japanese rumor site Asobinet with the slightly more accurate title of “Summary of Nikkor Z lenses expected to appear in 2023”. Which then triggered an article on Mirrorless Rumors whose title is “List of all rumored Nikon cameras and lenses.” Curiously, Mirrorless Rumors adds a rumored Z70 camera to the list, which wasn’t in the Asobinet article, but is in Asobinet’s 2023 Rumored products list (a different article that’s been on that site for awhile). Joining the game was The New Camera blog in the UK, also cited Nikon Rumors as “the source.” (The actual source is Nikon’s Road Map, which has been out for many months, but my point is how one article produced on the Internet tends to trigger others.)

This is the way of news, rumors, and leaks these days: everyone is using “scrapers” that dredge up any article, and across many languages, that talks about any upcoming or new products. This isn’t just true of the camera sites, but you’ll find the problem repeated in basically all the tech sites, and it’s similar to what used to happen in the Hi-Fi and auto magazines, as well. 

Developing, cultivating, and working with original sources is tough. Over the course of 30 years of supporting (mostly Nikon) cameras on the Internet, I’ve had many good sources disappear and thus have had to cultivate new ones every couple of years or so. The few of us who do have direct sources for upcoming and previously unpublished information tend to be extremely careful about releasing it these days, for fear of damaging the source. Nikon, for example, terminated their relationship with two people who had provided information to me and others in the early DSLR days. 

For the most part I no longer write about upcoming products directly and with specifics. If I do write about something I instead only hint at a direction or change rather than being specific. I do use information I obtain early to start writing stories I’ll publish later, once the information has been either credibly leaked elsewhere or released by the manufacturer. I also adhere to date embargoes from the companies themselves, even when not under a direct NDA (non-disclosure agreement).

To put my “pre writing” in perspective, as I publish this article I also have 36 stories in progress for this site, about a half dozen that include some information that isn’t currently publicly available. (Don’t bother looking for them on the URL, as they’re not already there and hidden, but only on my office system awaiting release to the site.) I have similar lists of work in progress for my other sites, as well. Again, some with information that is not yet publicly available. 

However, let’s return to the lede and be clear about what those circular articles were writing about: Nikon currently has eight lenses on their published road map, two of which, according to statements from Nikon executives in published interviews, were supposed to appear by April 2022, but did not. Two have also have had development announcements recently (85mm f/1.2 and 26mm f/2.8). So:

  1. Given the current state of supply chain and logistical issues, it’s improper to put a time frame on anything at the moment. Products will appear when they appear. To my knowledge Nikon hasn’t ever backed away from doing any product on their Road Map, though there is some indication that they might have changed the attributes of one or more of the lenses along the way. A 24-105mm was originally strongly rumored and even discussed as such privately by some Nikon employees, and a spot for that lens which was unspecified in focal length was on the original Road Map. In the end it turned out to be a 24-120mm. I now wonder if the “extremely late” 200-600mm might have seen a similar change of some sort. Product development timelines and final specifications do change, not just during the early R&D phase, but sometimes as late as the release-to-manufacturing stage. (For those of you who don’t remember, I’ve described Nikon’s basic lens cycle as being a minimum of three years from concept to production, with three major engineering check points being what I’d call Final Conceptualization, Final Optical Design, and Manufacturing Prep. At the end of any of those steps, it’s possible that rethinking occurs and the schedule for that lens lengthens as a result.)
  2. Nikon very well may produce more than eight lenses in 2023, or perhaps a different eight than are on the Road Map. That was actually the case in 2021, where we got the surprise 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 DX and 28-75mm f/2.8 lenses. Likewise, the 17-28mm was a surprise in 2022. By my count we’ve had four “surprise” lenses so far. I will say that there are at least two very specific lenses I’m pretty sure are nearing release to manufacturing that aren’t on the Road Map. But I don’t know if they’re going to actually get released to manufacturing, nor do I know if they’ll appear in 2023. But at least one of them could. In the topsy-turvy supply chain world at the moment, anything goes.
  3. The game is afoot. Sony, who hasn’t tended to talk about future lenses publicly, reversed direction last week and announced that they have a target release date for a 300mm f/2.8G OSS lens “in early 2024”, which realistically is at least a year way. It seems that the recent Canon RF-mount and Nikon Z-mount telephoto parades are starting to have an impact on the FE mount with the wildlife, sports, and photojournalism communities. At over 100mm, Canon RF currently has eleven lenses, Nikon has five (plus a Tamron and three in the Road Map), and Sony eight. All three mounts have gaps that need filling, and no one wants to look “weaker” than the other in this critical high-end focal range. 

The good news is this: in the month leading up to the big CP+ show in Japan we’re about to get a lot more clarity on many of the rumored items the photography press is ruminating about at the moment. I fully expect significant announcements from Canon, Nikon, and Sony. It seems unlikely that the other camera companies would miss this home field possibility, too, though Panasonic may have just made their early 2023 major announcement at CES instead (the S5 II and S5IIX). As I’ve written before, I believe Nikon was originally going to do the same (major CES announcement), but instead backed off to just the two-lens development announcement for items already on the Road Map. That says to me that a significant product originally intended to drop at CES turned out to not be ready. Let’s hope it is ready for CP+. 

Some of you with long memories will recall that there was a time in the teens when I pointed out that Nikon, and then Sony, had gone to a “let’s announce a new product every month” schedule In order to keep their products in the photography news stories. While both still tend to want to drop some form of press release as often as possible, in Nikon’s case for sure that has tended to be more diluted lately. 2022’s press releases gave us one camera, six lenses, and seven software/firmware updates. 

Thus, what happens is that we get lulls between anything of significance, and in the lulls, this circular Internet sourcing issue keeps going on for anything that might be considered a story. Mirrorless Rumors cited Absobinet. Absobinet cited Nikon Rumors. Had there been more to the original article, I suspect we’d have seen a chain or six or more in the circle (may yet happen, as I write this almost immediately after the initial sequence occurred). 

The Annual BCN Award Article Avalanche

It’s that time of year when various Web sites across the photographic world all jump on BCN’s published figures for the domestic Japanese market. This is often done due to cheerleading for a specific brand, particularly on rumor sites. 

Those of you with short memories will remember that I was one of the first, if not the first, Western site—not just photography site, mind you—to publish CIPA, BCN, NPD, and other numbers just after the start of the new century in order to provide support for my analysis of what was going on in the camera business. I predicted in 2003, for instance, that peak ILC (interchangeably lens camera) sales would occur in 2011; I was off by a year, as the quake, tsunami, and flood distorted the numbers in 2011 and 2012. 

I’ve moved away from doing such analysis when it became clear sometime last decade that things would follow the next path I had outlined: a collapse to some minimum number of sales. Basically, once I felt my analysis had been well supported with data, I saw no real reason to continue doing constant reporting of same. We’re still in an era where ILC sales will flirt with a bottom, and whether that bottom is 4 million, 5 million, or as much as 6 million units is difficult to say at the moment, as all sorts of problematic forces have been triggered by the pandemic and its side effects. To put it bluntly, lower volume with a price shift is still on: the Japanese camera companies are selling fewer product than they used to, so they want to try and make that product a more expensive one so as to keep their revenues up. 

They’ve done a good job of that. In 2021 (the last full year CIPA has statistics for) the total revenue was 488b yen. While 2017/18 were both at nearly 800b yen, consider that 10.7m+ ILC were sold in 2018, while 5.3m+ were sold in 2021. So units dropped by ~50% while money taken in dropped by 39%. That trend will continue for the foreseeable future. 

But what I wanted to write about today is the very narrow view which the sites that are citing BCN numbers are taking. First, of course, BCN only monitors about half the sales sites in Japan, and mostly consumer ones at that, not the big camera stores. Second, these articles only tend to talk about this year versus last and who’s on top (“Canon has taken over from Sony as the top mirrorless camera producer”). The historical data tells you a lot more, and raises some interesting questions:

bythom bcn japan

Let’s start with mirrorless in Japan: where’s Fujifilm and Nikon? Well, BCN only reports the top three players in their yearly “awards.” In 2022, Fujifilm, Nikon, and Panasonic shared about 26% of the Japanese market. 

But there’s a lot that’s unsaid in those numbers. If you look at the monthly sales lists from BCN you see what drives the unit volume, which is what the “awards" are based on: low cost cameras, and often earlier generation ones on sale. So the Canon M and OMDS PL models do well. Nikon’s Z30/50/fc tend to be too-high priced for the consumer store buying that BCN tracks. Moreover, move over to the DSLR numbers: Nikon’s been doing something interesting as they appear to be de-emphasizing shipments into Japan in favor of shipments into other companies where they can maximize returns. I’ve reported before that Nikon’s bean counters are wickedly efficient at both cost cutting the bean as well as moving beans around to maximize their ROI.

However, there’s another thing I wanted to point out that just doesn’t get mentioned in all these “BCN reports new winners” articles. Take a look at this chart:

bythom cipa japan

That’s ILC shipments (CIPA) into the domestic Japan market during much of the same time period shown in the previous graphs. That’s an 83% drop in volume in Japan, the market that’s being crowed so much about who’s winning. Worldwide, camera shipments declined only 69% in that same time period, which just reinforces what I wrote about Nikon beans: camera companies are not necessarily prioritizing Japan with their products, they’re prioritizing where they can take in the most dollars (yen) from them. 

I could go on, but I’m trying to get out of the analyst business (Disclosure: I used to have a client for that work, but for several years no longer do). Nevertheless, I wanted to point out that there’s much more behind the story than you’re reading elsewhere. Do I care whether Canon, OMDS, or Sony sold more US$500 mirrorless cameras through consumer outlets in another downmarket in Japan last year? No, and neither should you. 

The much more relevant numbers to watch are in the financial statements, and these have to do with cash flow and ROI. Those are the two things that all the Japanese companies are currently managing to, and how they evaluate their success (and even viability). We’ll have another round of quarterly financial statements soon that speaks to those numbers, and my expectations are that everyone reports reasonably rosy returns. The industry may be smaller than before, but as far as the companies that report out their Imaging group numbers, they all seem to be healthy at the moment. That would be Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, and Sony. (Panasonic, OMDS, and Ricoh/Pentax currently do not report numbers that would allow us to understand how their camera businesses are doing.)

Cataracts and Photographers

I’m having cataract surgery on my second eye, so postings may be slim for the next ten days or so as I let my eyes relax with time away from the computer. 

However, to make up for that, I’ve added a new article in the Improving the Photographer portion of the Technique section on cataracts. Enjoy.

Be SMART This Year

I’ve written about goals before, but it’s probably a good time for a refresh as you plan your photographic endeavors for 2023.

SMART is an acronym and stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. Both for photographic pursuits in the field as well as purchasing of new gear (GAS, or Gear Acquisition Syndrome), I’d strongly suggest that you use SMART to guide you in creating goals. Wait, what, you don’t have goals? Please read this.

Let’s start with photographic (image based) goals:

  • Specific — How many serious photographic sessions are you planning to make this year? How many really good photos would you be happy with? How much time do you want to allocate for post processing of images versus taking them? These and other related questions should all produce very specific numbers, not vague answers like “a lot.”
  • Measurable — For instance, if you said you wanted to spend 50 field days doing nothing but photography (Specific), you still have something you need to do: keep track of those days. Put the specific goal on a white board, and the current measurement underneath.
  • Attainable — Technically, this ought to go first, and the other items reordered, but then the acronym would be ARSTM, which you’ll forget ;~). As you come up with Specific goals, immediately assess whether they’re attainable. If not, you simply won’t meet your goal.
  • Relevant — Let’s say that you’re a wildlife photographer; coming up with a goal to use your 28mm f/1.4 lens 20% of the time probably isn’t what you want. Unless you have a specific goal to try to use focal lengths differently than other wildlife photographers, pursuing such a goal is probably pointless to your desired output (great images of animals). 
  • Time-based — If your goal is to become the greatest, most talked about street photographer on the planet, it makes a difference whether it is “before you die,” “within the next five years”, “by the end of the year”, or “this month.” The reason for a time base is to force you to re-evaluate when time expires. You’ll often find that you’re overestimating what’s attainable. 

With gear acquisition, SMART takes on a slightly different set of ways to think about it:

  • Specific — I see a lot of GAS that’s vague and just lust-oriented. If you have a specific need, great, but if it’s just a want, be careful. I’d say that you need to be able to answer the question “why do I specifically need/want this particular item?” 
  • Measurable — Like specific, measurable often gets vague when associated with GAS goals. “I need a better telephoto option” is more measurable than “I want newer gear,” at least in the useful sense. Note that “I need a better telephoto option under US$1000” is more measurable than the first way I put it, because it’s more specific. Measurable and specific go together. So the more you can get clear needs into your specifics, the easier it is to measure.
  • Attainable — Budget comes into play here. Did you set aside a photographic budget for 2023? Great. Does the specific thing you want to buy fit within that budget? Also great. Do all the things you want to buy fit in the budget? Oops. If you have the cash for all the specific things you want/need and have set that aside, great. If you need to use a credit card and pay things off over time, not so great. If you can’t afford more debt and you’re using a credit card, danger, Will Robinson. 
  • Relevant — This is where lust-to-need scale starts to be important. Need is relevant, for sure. Lust generally isn’t relevant, it’s just an emotional response that will only temporarily slake your thirst. 
  • Time-based — Finally, we get to where most people struggle. Nikon didn’t introduce a Z6 III, Z7 III, or Z8 in 2022. So if that was your specific need, you didn’t hit the goal of attaining that in 2022. Sometimes you don’t meet acquisition goals because other things get in your way (job, money, product introductions, etc.). That’s okay. Unfortunately, far too many folk get so upset about missing a GAS time-based goal that they jump ship (e.g. “I’m buying an A7R Mark V”). I’d say that’s not a useful response to your not meeting a gear acquisition goal. Why? Because it will trigger overbuying into the new system and getting rid of your current one (probably at less value than you expect), you’ll have a lot of learning and retraining to do with the new system, and your original desired item will appear soon enough to make you slap yourself on the side of the head.

So what are my goals for 2023? I won’t enumerate them specifically here, but my 2023 goals have to do with two primary things:

  1. Reduce the gear I own by half or more. Consolidate my use into a smaller set of cameras and lenses. This goal started in 2022 and I hope to finish it by the end of 2023. 
  2. Spend more time doing the things Galen taught me to do. That means more landscape work, and thus more trips to landscape-friendly locations. This is a new goal for 2023 that sits on top of my sports and wildlife goals I’ve been setting. 

Even in those simplified forms you can probably see the basis of SMART in both my overall goals. 

Try it. Be SMART this year. 

Do Lenses Have Character?

I've been as guilty as anyone in describing lenses. In an attempt to describe results I've often reverted to a generalization, using the term "old school" to refer to what the results look like. I'm probably past due in drilling down some as to what I (and others) mean when we try to describe a lens' overall characteristics.

Technically, a lens designer is balancing a large variety of attributes when they formulate the optical formula. No "perfect" lens can really exist—okay, maybe it might if price were no object and we could invent a few new technologies along the way—so a lens designer has to pick and choose which attributes they want to maximize and which they can ignore in the process. 

It's probably wise to describe some of the attributes that are being juggled: central MTF (contrast), corner MTF, spherical aberration, coma, vignetting, linear distortion, chromatic aberration (both lateral and longitudinal), field curvature, focus shift, spectral passthrough (color), flare (several types), to name the most important. 

If you want to dig deeper, you'll find plenty of other variables that come into play. For instance, aspherical polishing attributes. When we talk about onion-skinning in bokeh, that usually is attributable to concentric variations in how the aspherical aspect of the lens is defined. Some lenses have extreme changes in their outer curvature and more crude transitions, others have less extreme changes and more sophisticated transitions. An aspherical element may only have one surface that's aspherical (the other a normal curve), or it may have two aspherical surfaces. 

Short version: there's a lot of design variables to balance. And balance is the correct term, because as you optimize one variable you tend to de-optimize another.

In the film SLR days, virtually all lens design was done manually. It wasn't until late in the film era that we started to get computerized design tools that could model different potential designs and provide emulations of what the final results might be. Even today, those automated tools are only as good as what you've programmed into them. For instance, if you stumble upon a new way to polish aspherical elements, if that data isn't yet modeled in your program, you're not optimized to the final results. New forms of glass have to be programmed, and pretty much any new optical technology you come up with will need to be first added to your modeling and confirmed.

Even with all the computer simulation that's now available, you'll find that optical designs still tend to use known forms and known lens elements (particularly for curvature and polishing, probably because the mechanical tools for doing those jobs don't change rapidly). For instance, the following is the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 S (top) optical design versus the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G (bottom) (ray tracing courtesy of Photons to Photos Optical Bench).

bythom 1424S

You'll notice that the optical designs are quite similar (but note they’re not drawn to the same scale). From this simple 30,000' altitude, it's not easy to see how these lenses might differ in capability. You might notice that the S lens is doing something different at the back portion of the design and that it appears that its final ray patterns seem to be a little tighter (which might produce more telecentricity at the center and less potential pixel crosstalk at the edge).

Yet despite the similarities in the basic optics of the two lenses, I find they perform quite differently. They have a very different character in how they image, thus answering our title. How so, you ask?

Well, the primary differences I found in my testing of both lenses are two-fold: the DSLR version of the lens has considerable field curvature, and the MTFs (contrast) look quite different. Here's Nikon's own theoretical MTFs (Z lens on top, DSLR lens on bottom):

bythom 2220
bythom 2219

The two observed differences are related. Some of the MTF difference—maybe most—has to do with field curvature, at least at the 14mm focal length. On flat subjects, for instance architectural photography, field curvature would be a real problem. Ditto on test charts ;~). On more 3D subjects, such as landscapes, the issue might not clearly be visible or even problematic. 

Which brings me to a common thing I observe in lens characteristics, and one of the things that forms my use of the "old school" shorthand: the older the lens design, the less likely it performs well as you move closer to the corners. Since many photos are framed and focused centrally (or at least in the rule of thirds “center"), the change in the corners often doesn't particularly show up in images, and over time we all formed an acceptance of center-better-than-corners that now "feels right" to many. This is the still photography equivalent to the long-established motion blur that we've become accustomed to in films and video (due to slow shutter speeds): we think it is "right" because that's what we're accustomed to. It's a "characteristic" we're comfortable with due to repeated exposure to it.

Experiments with center-and-corners-equal (and higher shutter speeds in movies/video) tends to shock the perceptual system. You'll often see people try to describe this as "too digital" or "unnatural." What they're really saying is that they've formed a perceptual habit that they don't like being violated. 

In truth, the most recent mirrorless lenses—particularly the Nikon S and the Sony G/GM designs—are just simply better in many of their optical characteristics. Sometimes startlingly so. It has nothing to do with “digital” and everything to do with better optical design that balances the variables differently.

Though that “better” sometimes comes with another compromise, because remember, optical designs are about balancing different aspects in how they handle light. 

The big difference between how I see lenses being designed now versus how they were designed last century is simple: a reliance on in-camera lens corrections. Instead of trying to balance linear distortion, vignetting, and even some levels of chromatic aberration, these "problems" are just left with the camera or the raw image processor to deal with. The "problems" that the lens designer mostly deals with these days are related to MTF (and its subcomponents). You can see that somewhat clearly in the Nikon MTFs, above: the mirrorless S lens' theoretical contrast capabilities are simply better than the older DSLR lens'. 

Indeed, that's what I'd tend to refer to as "modern school," versus film era and early DSLR lenses' being "old school." The design priority difference produces a visual character that's different.

Amusingly, for years I've been altering that characteristic—modern or old school—in post processing. In fact, I can trace this all the way back into my mid-1980's darkroom work. I spent a lot of time (and still do) working against lens designers' choices. These days I tend to add a bit of vignetting—what Scott Kelby refers to as his go-to "finishing move"—and I'll also sometimes look to destroy sharpness in peripheral areas. Back in the darkroom I tended to have to dodge against some portions of the vignetting and find ways to improve sharpness (contrast) in some peripheral areas. 

To some degree, how you view the visual characteristics of a lens and what you might do about them is dependent upon how you think your images will be viewed. I'd tend to say that the low bar of Instagram has shifted many towards a more modern school: sharpness, saturation, and contrast throughout the image, as it is not dominating your vision and the image’s periphery is just as important as its center. I'd also say that really large prints also benefit from modern school characteristic lenses, as the viewer—particularly if allowed to wander close to the print—tends to be looking only at a portion of it at a time, so that portion, whether center or corner, needs to deliver visual impact. 

It's the in between that's a bit of a problem, and unfortunately, that's where most photo enthusiasts live at the moment. From laptop to 4K monitor we're talking about something that is more midsized and viewed at a fixed distance. I notice that when I post process on my 14" MacBook I have tendency to want to do things a little differently than I do when I process on my 5K Retina iMac, whose display more than fills my central vision. (Generalized: we have vision that works best—sees detail—in the central 20°, and is defined by the primary binocular field of view of 60° where we see color and shape; everything else is peripheral vision, which doesn't have the same response as the central response and mostly sees just motion.)

Which brings us to this: does the character of a lens truly make a difference?

I'd argue: yes with a caveat. 

Remember, my primary thesis for decades has been this: collect optimal data. I'd argue that the modern school lens designs—even assuming lots of pixel correction for vignetting and linear distortion needed in post—simply produces more optimal data. I can always later compromise the data if I so desire ;~). Old school designs with compromised corner sharpness are just not optimal captures, in my book.

The caveat is this: most of you aren't close to optimal data collection coupled with optimal processing of that data. You're driven more by immediacy, and you're evaluating images via a fixed output (typically a computer screen of some sort, which could be smaller or larger or something in between). You respond to what you're seeing. And you have a built-in bias towards what you're used to seeing. Thus many of you like old-school lens designs, though without really knowing why.

Intelligence Versus Artificial Intelligence

Apparently I'm doing things all wrong, as virtually every software product these days is touting artificial intelligence where "every pixel is independently analyzed and properly exposed." (I didn't make that up, it's a real quote; I don't have that much imagination in my old, curmudgeon form.) 

"Forget about time-consuming manual" anything, it appears that all AI (artificial intelligence) marketing is telling us. Everyone wanted an automatic transmission and these days an automatic driving car, too, it seems. Or at least the marketing groups at companies seem to be telling us that. Next thing you know we're going to have houses created automatically for us. Oh, wait: 3D-printed homes are already a reality. 

As you've probably noticed over the years of reading my Web sites, there's a constant battle going on between "good enough" and "best possible." AI is just another variation playing off of that.

It's probably worth examining how we know something is "best possible." 

Because we say so! Of course your best possible will differ from my best possible, as we don't have the same values, nor do we have the same experience in terms of seeing all the possibilities, let alone being able to test for and judge them accurately. Still, the relevant thing about "best possible" is that it is often subjective, and formed from how many years of experience you have at the topic, whatever it is. AI doesn't care about best possible. You'll be served what you're served, and maybe you'll get a slider or two to make minor adjustments, or a button to cause a rethink.

For some reason, media keeps categorizing AI as having four stages or types. Unfortunately, no one can agree on the stages. For instance: toy, servant, caregiver, and parent. Or reactive mechanics, limited memory, theory of mind, self-awareness. Or foundational, approaching, aspirational, mature. And even where you find agreement on what the stages are, you find disagreement on what they mean. 

It's quite possible that an automated process can create something better than you can, but you would still have to verify that it's better ;~). How many times have you bought something on marketing promises only to eventually discover that there was a better choice?

Marketing of AI software is preying on your underlying desire to have things made easier and faster. You don't have to make a choice, the software will do it for you, and instantly! You don't have to tweak anything! If you want, it’s just a single slider. Coupled with that approach, of course, is that often you'll note that the results are "good enough" and just click Accept. 

Most of what is being labeled as AI in our software is really machine learning (ML). Curiously, ML often is also described as having four stages: collect data, analyze data, report pattern(s), predict data/pattern(s). ML is trained, and how good it is depends a lot on how good the training is. I note, for example, that the earliest versions of Topaz Labs AI Sharpen often produced obvious and hideous artifacts. Somewhere along the line, the program got more (and better) training, and that type of artifact is rarer these days. It still isn't as "clean" as my favorite-and-no-longer-available deconvolution sharpener, but the Topaz software is often better—when monitored and tweaked by the user—than you're going to get from the tools in Photoshop. 

I generally don't scoff at automation. Any reasonable automation makes my life easier. But I'm a "trust but verify" type of person, and I don't use AI/ML software without constantly monitoring what it's doing, and often getting directly involved and nudging it this way and that to get "better" results. I suggest you take that approach, too.

Strange Things Said XXI

"A customer is more agile than a manufacturer."

While I'm paraphrasing something I read, this is indeed true, and it's the core of many of our complaints about cameras. In recent years, camera companies have become less agile due to a confluence of factors both under and not under their control. Even the smartphone makers have become somewhat less agile in the COVID era, though I suspect some of that is that they’ve run out of the easy ideas and gains.

Thus, complaining about what companies haven’t done yet will be a feature of the Internet basically forever.

“For [phase detect autofocus] it is necessary to embed a sensor for distance measurement in the sensor, and since color information and luminance information cannot be obtained from the embedded location, the image processing engine must compensate for it… Conventional image processing has not been able to guarantee image quality that satisfied us.”

Also “…using [PDAF], pixel defects will inevitably occur.” — Panasonic manager interviews in Japanese press

Google translation didn’t do these statements any justice, but even the original Japanese didn’t explain things clearly. Moreover, there’s a lot of “avoid embarrassment” in the entire explanation. Nikon has been doing since 2011 what Panasonic said they couldn’t do, and both Nikon and Sony currently use the same approach that Panasonic is now adopting, and have for many years. I’d also suggest that an out of focus photo has way more “pixel defects” than an in-focus one captured with a phase-detect-on-sensor camera ;~). 

To clarify, most phase-detect-on-sensor is done via putting some number of secondary lenses in the microlens layer just above the image sensor. Nikon, Sony, and I believe Panasonic, do this on every 12th row of blue/green photosites. The tricky part of this approach is that some pixels on the image sensor have two potential outputs: focus data and exposure data. Because the microlenses above the PDAF photosites are different (to create the phase information), the exposure data these can attain has to be adjusted for the impacted cells to “match” the others. That was one of the things that caused banding in deep shadows on early Nikon Z6 and Z7 cameras: the adjustment was ever so slightly wrong on rows with high contrast in them.  

In short, Panasonic is trying to paper over the fact that other companies moved as much as a decade ahead of them. I and others have been saying for some time that Panasonic had their head in the sand vis-a-vis phase detect autofocus. They can try to come with any excuse that they’d like, but unfortunately, they’re trying to weasel away from the reality that they are just last to market with phase-detect-on-sensor. 

The Fujifilm X-H2S is as good as the Sony A1 in autofocus tracking. —general conclusion by many after viewing a test done by a German Photographer based upon his “bird test track.

That video and resulting discussion eventually produced two articles and a long discussion on FujiRumors. 

The problem here is trying to summarize from limited data, and then attempting to put a spin on the data, including the headline “How 61% AF Accuracy…are Better than 85% Accuracy…” Basically, the argument is that 61% at 40fps is as good as 90% at 30fps. And that ignores the fact that there’s still a 12.5% improvement in number of sharp images from the Sony A1. I guess 12.5% less is somehow better in some alternative universe ;~). 

There’s a lot to unpack here, including the original “bird test track,” which is relatively slow and linear compared to what happens in real life, and doesn’t really take into account varying flight patterns, backgrounds, or foreground/background exposure. 

The A1, meanwhile, is a 50mp camera and the X-H2S is a 26mp camera. So we’re also not accounting for any differences in “focus” we might decide upon if we downsized the Sony images to the Fujifilm size. All of the evaluation of “in focus” in these tests is subjective (what the tester sees), not objective (measured in some repeatable way). Setting up a faux measurable test doesn’t really change things.

At least dpreview has backed away from relying on their bike test to talk about autofocus accuracy, but I’ve seen plenty of other Web sites try to provide absolute numbers for focus. For instance, there’s one that’s been stating that the Nikon Z9 has a 96% hit rate. Uh, okay. I can’t replicate that exact number, so I’d say that the testing and measurement that produced that number is not sufficiently defined to hold up to any real scrutiny. 

And that’s the problem: the camera companies don’t even begin to disclose how they test and approve their autofocus systems, and to what standards they’re using to generate that. In most machine language (AI) techniques that are being used, you establish a goal level of performance and iterate until you’re above that, then see if you can go still further without creating new common situations that fail. It very well may be that in the test pattern each camera company has established, that they’re all hitting 93%+ using their standards in their labs. 

In the field, not so much. 

However, the key point I’d like to make is completely missing in any of the discussions that are going around the Web right now: you have no control over what was missed. Yes, the X-H2S may get 24 sharp images per second, but that also means it’s getting 16 unsharp ones and you won’t know which ones those they are until you look at them later. It’s very possible that those 16 unsharp ones are the ones you really wanted.

I’d argue that I’d rather have 15 sharp images every second at 15 fps than what the X-H2S is doing. Yes, fewer images per second, but an assurance that all the images I obtained are usable. Indeed, that’s where Patrick’s (FujiRumors site owner) argument just falls on its face: The Sony A1 is producing 3 out of focus images a second in the stated test, while the Fujifilm X-H2S is producing 16. The likelihood that “peak moment” of what was collected is correct on the Fujifilm is only two-thirds as likely. I don’t like "two-thirds as likely” as a statistic ;~). I’d want to avoid that, as it means there’s far too much a chance that the image I want won’t be in focus. 

I’ll point out that I practice what I preach here. I set my Z6 II at 5.5 fps, not 14 fps, and for a reason: the way the viewfinder works and intrudes on autofocus performance on that camera. At 5.5 fps I can follow action and keep the autofocus system doing what I want it to, while at 14 fps I’ll lose framing and focus system positioning due to the slideshow viewfinder lag, and thus start getting out of focus images. Using 5.5 fps also forces me to not do long continuous bursts (though I can), but to be more selective about when I press the shutter release. As you probably have noticed, I get the image with my Z6 II. Pretty much always. Not 61% of the time, but somewhere >90%, just like I do on my Sony A1 and Nikon Z9. 

Everyone wants to declare winners and losers. Everyone wants their chosen brand to be the winner. In the end, what determines the winner is your understanding of a focus system and your consistency in driving (controlling) it to its best possible results. The “numbers game” that is being discussed on the Internet to declare winners and losers is not just misleading, but often wrong.

As if to further prove my point, today as I edit this article, Fujifilm has announced a firmware update to the X-H2S to improve subject detection and focus tracking. So it’s not as if they haven’t seen the same thing I did in my review sample.

“RAW means raw data” New York Times explanation

I don’t know why we’re still dealing with this problem, and I, too, sometimes fall prey to using the wrong capitalization due to varying uses by various companies. I think it was about 2006 when I started hearing complaints about referring to the capture of original data as RAW files. All caps is used to refer to acronyms, and there is no acronym involved here.

At some point not long after, I started trying to consistently refer to raw files as, well, raw files. My current standard in my books is to use “raw” to refer to such files generally, NEF to refer to a Nikon raw file specifically (and no, it’s not NEF raw, as NEF is always raw and doesn’t need the add-on). 

The problem is that camera and smartphone companies continue to misuse the language. For instance, the NYT didn’t catch that Apple actually refers to their iPhone raw file format as ProRAW. Why RAW is capitalized in that name, I don’t know, particularly because Apple’s video formats are referred to by Apple as ProRes. Sony, meanwhile, uses the term RAW generically for their ARW files, apparently to match the capitalization of JPEG and TIFF (both of which are acronyms, by the way). As does Fujifilm. The only company that might be justified in capitalizing their use of RAW is Panasonic, because that’s their actually file type (extension), and extension names are usually capitalized. 

Canon actually goes mansplaining on you, much like the NYT did: “It takes the name “RAW” because the data is raw.”  Yeah, really useful explanation there. It would be like me saying my name is THOM because my name is Thom. I call this concept negative data. There’s less information presented than needs to be presented ;~).

Which brings me, and likely the New York Times—though again, they missed what Apple calls their format—to have to come up with a standard by which to document things. Basically, we follow “style sheets” to try to come up with a consistent usage for our readers. 

Merriam-Webster is a common dictionary we writers and publications use, and they define “raw” as (2c) "not being in polished, finished, or processed form", which is exactly what a raw data file is. M-W’s definition is not capitalized. Adobe even gets this right: ACR is Adobe Camera Raw, not Adobe Camera RAW because you don’t put an acronym within an acronym (oh lord, why do I think some science fiction writer is now going to say to themselves, why didn’t I think of that, and thus come up with names that are names within names?*). Wikipedia gets this mostly right, though for some reason they call it “Raw” rather than “raw”. 

I will try to continue to be consistent, though being the sole editor of everything I write I do make mistakes from time to time that I don’t catch. I’m sure you’ll remind me when I get it wrong ;~). I’ll use the term raw to refer to the type of file generically, and I’ll use RAF, NEF, CR2, ARW, DNG, etc., when referring to the specific file type (and most of those are acronyms, thus justifying the capitalization). 

*Update: it was pointed out that GNU, PHP, SPOOL, HAM, and a few other of the more geeky sides of Unix take on this recursive form. I should have remembered that, as I was once one of those geeks. 

Outlandish Predictions

This is the time of year that we’ve been seeing predictions for the coming year (2023) from Web sites. In the first decade of DSLR I made yearly predictions, with a success rate that ranged from 50-70%. Given that those were typically very specific model, feature, timing predictions, I’d call that success rate good. 

However, about ten years ago when I split my sites, I stopped doing such predictions. So have many others. First off, we don’t get as many model introductions and iterations as we used to. Second, the pandemic-caused parts and supply chain breakdown makes it tough for the camera companies themselves to predict when they can announce a product. And third, ultimately, model level predictions are mostly now just predicting when the frog will jump, and how far. It will jump, but it might land behind, on top of, or in front of the other frogs. If you’re a betting person, then predicting frog jumps probably appeals to you. I’m not a betting person, so it doesn’t.

However, one reason why I wrote about what the camera companies might/will do in the future was to provoke thought and discussion as to whether that was the right thing for them to do. As consumers of cameras, we don’t get near enough attention or consideration from the very isolated R&D engineers in Japan. A patriarchal culture mostly has the camera companies saying to customers “here’s what you get” and expecting the customer to take it.

While I’m not into click baiting—there’s no real financial incentive to increase my page views—I am into provocation ;~). Presenting absurd hypotheses and challenging students to attack them was something I did regularly when teaching at the University level. Doing so absolutely provokes thinking, and I believe that thinking is good. 

So what I’ve decided to do this year is put out some “out there” predictions (plus a couple of simpler predictions). They’re not so much predictions as paranoid projections based on current trends and the practices of the camera companies themselves. While it’s possible that some of them might come true, I’m not going to suggest that any will. Nevertheless, for the sake of creating interesting discussion, these predictions ought to do the trick. 

Remember, I’m trying to be provocative here. I’m absolutely going to put my tongue in cheek and take some pot shots. Go ahead, knock any of these predictions down that you’d like, but do so with careful analysis and good debate practices, please.

First some generic predictions:

  • Photography — Kodak started the whole "everyone should take photos" thing, but now we might want to contemplate who's going to end it ;~). Photography has always had a tinge of fad to it. Polaroid was faddish. Instant cameras were faddish. Digital cameras were faddish. Most recently smartphone photography has been faddish. GoPros are faddish, as are 360° cameras. You detect fads after the fact, by the way, because they're characterized by rapid build up, followed by a (usually brief) period of use and stability, followed by market collapse. The interesting statistic to track with smartphones is the installed base versus overall population, which is now stabilizing, and the number of photos saved per smartphone (currently 2100), which is also stabilizing. Outlandish prediction: The number of photos actively taken a year worldwide will start to decline soon (it did during the pandemic, but then, pandemic!). Note I wrote "photos" and not "videos", which are still rapidly increasing. Note I also wrote "actively," as opposed to statically (security cameras, front doorbell cameras, etc.). 
  • Selfies — Google says that 18 to 24 year olds take a selfie every third photo (on Android devices). Of course, we older folk know that we used to hand our camera to someone else to take a picture of us at some unique location; we didn't have a name for that, but we were doing essentially the same thing. The need to document us and a place simultaneously has always been around, and will continue for the foreseeable future, but: Outlandish prediction: Selfies is another fad (see previous), and we'll see other ways of documenting us-and-place appear. I shudder to think that one of them will be "search for me at X" on the Internet and the results will be, well, a selfie produced from the nearly 1 trillion images already on the Internet (and rising rapidly). Call it a Virtual Selfie. No, wait, let's call it a Googlie. 
  • Stock Photography — Want to know why it's difficult to make money off of stock photography these days? Well, there's over a billion stock images available (though some may be duplicates at multiple agencies). That's a far cry from the days of film. It's basically an excellent illustration of the supply versus demand price curves taught at business schools (I'm sure Getty can track that specifically over time). Outlandish prediction: higher priced stock will return. Of course, it will have to be unique, stand out from the noise of the billions, and may even require exclusivity for the use. 

Curious aside: in researching this article, I found one statistic that claims that Africans take about twice as many photos a day with their smartphones than Europeans. Let's go, Europe, you're falling behind!

Now, company by company:

  • Canon — Canon has stuck to their “must have 50%+ market share” goal for quite some time. It doesn’t seem to matter to them how they achieve it, or what happens with the cameras they sell—most are in closets or disposal sites—just as long as they sell a lot of them. Sell, sell, sell. Prediction: Canon will eventually have to let third-parties make autofocus lenses for the RF mount. Or they’ll have to lower prices in order to keep market share. Bonus outlandish prediction: Canon will become #2 in market share, and at least in consumer-facing cameras, Canon will become the new Nikon ;~).
  • Fujifilm — Given Fujifilm’s overall size, digital cameras are almost a footnote in their financial reports. The XF and GF systems are virtually the definition of “hobby business,” and their success or failure isn’t going to really do anything meaningful for the overall bottom line. Prediction: short of anything that cripples the overall company’s finances, the hobby will continue on. Like many hobbies, though, things will happen on whims of those involved, not necessarily a clear, carefully considered goal. Dials, no dials, redials, all are probable.
  • Leica — Leica has managed to make the “same” camera since forever. Even when they introduce something entirely new (e.g. SL), that’s mostly just a different skin on the same animal. Leica has proven they can do this profitably, by positioning themselves as a cult object for the rich (be sure not to get any Grey Poupon on your lens). Outlandish prediction: Leica will continue to succeed right up until the next People’s Revolution when the guillotine makes a comeback. Or maybe it’ll just be jail cells for the rich. Either way, no more rich customers means Leica’s eventual demise.
  • Nikon — The Precision and Imaging groups that defined the company (90% of sales) for decades no longer define the company. Bankers have decided that Nikon is a business-to-business supplier (which does favor Precision, if only they were competitive with ASML ;~). Supply semiconductor equipment to others. Supply glass to others. Supply metal tools to others. Supply robots to others. Supply, supply, supply. Outlandish prediction: When Imaging sales get lower than 25% of the entire company, Nikon will spin out the Imaging group, much like Olympus did with theirs. Bonus outlandish prediction: Nikon will go all FX, as DX won’t give them the high average selling price they need for their volume.
  • OM Digital Solutions — With full frame cameras getting smaller, OMDS really has to make incredibly small m4/3 cameras or change lanes. The problem for them is that they continue to return to my “brought a knife to a gun fight” comment from 2003. If an OM is the same size as a A7, less light is collected, pixel count is lower, and more. The primary advantage of m4/3 becomes “semi-equivalent lenses are smaller.” That was a tough marketing proposition in 2003, 2013, and remains one in 2023. Outlandish prediction: OMDS will take the OM-# cameras and make them full frame. In order to do that, they’ll have to adapt the L-mount. Irony alert: once they were the ones who designed the mount and got others to agree, for full frame someone else would control the mount and OMDS will have to agree. Bonus outlandish prediction: OM Digital Solutions takes over the Panasonic m4/3 lineup (or at least some of it).
  • Panasonic — Panasonic makes great batteries. Some good appliances, too. If you remember the brand names Matsushita or Technics, you can probably guess what my prediction is going to be ;~). Outlandish prediction: When OMDS goes L-mount, Panasonic won’t be able to continue in m4/3. Meanwhile, Varicam also can’t continue without its own consistent mount or remain somewhat dependent on EF lenses. So…either Panasonic wraps everything into the L-mount and continues, or it just shuttles the camera group to OMDS and gives them a head start on getting to full frame.
  • Pentax — From most popular interchangeable lens camera to least popular in less than three decades. The original Asahi company eventually became a situation where the parts were worth more than the sum of the parts (not easy to do), and the Hoya then Ricoh acquisitions eventually stripped out all the things that weren’t cameras, leaving a small group of aging engineers and salarymen to fiddle with the remains. Outlandish prediction: once the last of the original Pentax employees retires, the Pentax brand will disappear at Ricoh. 
  • Sigma — Yes, they make cameras. They’ve done so all the way back into the film SLR era, but at such low volume that they make Leica look like a large supplier. Their CEO has stated they’ll continue to do so, so there really isn’t any need for a prediction, but here it is. Prediction: Some time this decade we’ll see a new Foveon-based camera.
  • Sony — I give Sony full credit for rationalizing their professional and consumer imaging products, and properly positioning their business from bottom to top. This was necessary if they wanted to stay in the camera business (other than perhaps television cameras), as they just didn’t have the efficiencies and volumes to achieve the profit levels that a large corporation like Sony must maintain. Imaging—unlike at Fujifilm—threatened to be another drain on the financials had they run with their original plans. Today, Sony is executing consistently and well, more so than any of the other camera companies. That’s usually the point where people start taking their eyes off the road and looking at distractions. Outlandish prediction: Sony is going to design themselves out of the still camera business. The alignment of still and video designs has started skewing too much towards video. Irony alert: this will help Canon maintain market share. 

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