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.

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