Nikon D810 Review
Nikon Df Review
Three Guys’ Review: Nikon D5300

Olympus OM-D E-M10 II Released, Bringing 5-axis Stabilization At a Low Cost

Olympus OM-D E-M10 II

Olympus OM-D E-M10 II

Olympus has released Mark II of the OM-D E-M5 Micro Four Thirds camera with 16 megapixels and an ISO rating of 200–25,600. Improving on the previous generation of the E-M10, the Mark II now offers 5-axis image stabilization to photographers on a budget.

Also new on the E-M10 II are redesigned body, with metal dials, a thumb grip for easier one-handed shooting and a revamped physical interface for easier operation of the camera while shooting through the 100% viewfinder. With a 2.36-million-dot resolution and a magnification of 1.23x, it’s a big improvement over the original E-M10’s 1.44-million-dot one, which should offer a clearer and sharper view of your subject.

Also new is the Simulated Optical Viewfinder which offers a greater dynamic range that looks closer to what the human eyes see. I am not sure how this works though. While shooting through the viewfinder, the rear touch screen allows you to select your focus point simply by tracing your thumb on it, sort of like a laptop’s touchpad, I suppose. Like most modern cameras, the rear of the E-M10 II features a 3-inch tilting touchscreen LCD with 1.04 million dots.

Other new features include a continuous shooting speed of up to 8.5fps, a pop-up flash, 1080p video, 4K time lapse, focus bracketing, 14 art filters and creative shooting modes. Of interest is the Live Bulb and Live Time features for light-painting enthusiasts. I believe that should work well for fireworks as well.

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 II will be available in the USA from Sep 2015 for $650 (body only) or $800 when bundled with a 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.

 

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Nikon Announced a Trio of Lenses—24-70mm f/2.8 VR, 24mm f/1.8 and 200-500mm f/5.6VR

Nikon has announced a trio of lenses today, the AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR, AF-S 24mm f/1.8G, and the AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR. The lenses are suitable for both professionals and advanced photography enthusiasts alike.

Nikkor AF-S 24-700mm f/2.8E ED VR

Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR

Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR

This is an update to the classic AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED which has gotten a bit long in the tooth. The most notable change is the addition of Vibration Reduction (VR), giving photographers four-stops of image stabilisation. There is also a “tripod” mode for use on a tripod, which helps to counter slight tripod vibrations.

The lens now features an Electronic Aperture control, Nano Crystal Code for reduced ghosting/flare, weather sealing and a fluorine coating which keeps your lens nice and clean. The filter diameter is now a huge 82mm compared to 77mm on the older lens. Sorry, you’d have to re-buy your filters in 82mm after getting this lens.

The AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR will be available in late August 2015 at US$2,400.

Nikkor 24mm f/1.8G ED

Nikkor AF-S 24mm f/1.8G ED

Nikkor AF-S 24mm f/1.8G ED

Photographers who want a fast and wide lens will like this AF-S 24mm f/1.8G. It’s a smallish, lightweight prime lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8. If you have always wanted a 24mm f/1.4 but found it too expensive, this is the lens for you. The lens will be available from mid-September for US$750, a steal compared to the over US$2,000 which the f/1.4 version goes for.

Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR

And now, something for the telephoto lovers. Nikon must have noticed the popularity of the likes of the Tamron and Sigma’s 120-600mm telephoto zooms and came up with their own. Unlike the Tamron/Sigma offerings, the Nikkor has a constant f/5.6 throughout the zoom range. It’s also lightweight, coming in at 5lbs 2oz (2.3kg) including the tripod collar, making it easy to shoot handheld for extended periods of time.

The 200-500mm has an Electronic Aperture for consistent exposures during burst shooting, a 4.5-stop VR, a Sports Mode VR for high-burst panning shots and a minimum focussing distance of 7.2ft. A Silent Wave motor lets the lens focus silently and quickly.

The lens will be available from mid-September for US$1400.

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Woah! Canon Just Released a Camera Capable of ISO 4,000,000

Canon ME20F-SH with EF 50mm f/1.2L

Canon ME20F-SH with EF 50mm f/1.2L

Canon has released the ME20F-SH multi-purpose camera capable of an ISO rating of over 4,000,000. That’s right, a freaking 4 million! In short, it can basically let you shoot in near total-darkness.

The 35mm full-frame sensor can shoot Full HD video with subjects illuminated with nothing more than 0.005lux of light at its maximum ISO setting. This is dimmer than what you’d get on a overcast, moonless night with airglow (0.002 lux). The secret to this night vision capability is the 2.26MP CMOS sensor’s huge 19μm pixels—5.5x larger than what’s found on a high-end DSLR.

The camera accepts EF and EF-S lenses with autofocus, and has a built-in IR block and ND filters, both of which can be disabled if required. Being a professional camera, it supports Canon Log and Wide DR modes for maximising the dynamic range of your footage.

All these does not come cheap of course. You can pick up this baby in December this year for a cool US$30,000.

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Panasonic’s Big Day: Lumix GX8 Announced, 25mm and 100-400mm In Development

Panasonic GX8 Front
Panasonic has made a number of announcements, and the big one is the DMC-GX8. I had thought that the middling success of the GX7 meant that Panasonic might consolidate their lineup, but here is the GX8. Slightly larger than the not-tiny GX7 it replaces, it adds a whole bunch of features, including an all-new 20 megapixel sensor, with speculation that it is likely from Sony, given their release of a 20 megapixel part. Sony has been very good at making noticeable improvements with each new generation of sensors for the past several years, so the GX8 is likely to raise the bar on image quality for Micro Four Thirds cameras. Regardless of the source it’s nice to see a new sensor being introduced!

Panasonic GX8 Top

Other new improvements include 4K video and stills modes, Depth-from-Defocus technology for fast autofocus, a proper XGA EVF, and a fully articulated WVGA OLED touchscreen. There is also improvement to the sensor shift stabilisation, which now boasts four axis (horizontal and vertical shift along with pitch and yaw) and can be combined with Panasonic’s optical stabiliser in the lens. It will be interesting to see how this pans out. Top frame advance is at 8 FPS, similar to the GX7.

A minor improvement that I like: Long exposure is now at up to 30 minutes. Previous Panasonic cameras were limited from two to four minutes, and the only cameras that provided much more than that were the GH cameras at 60 minutes. Good for those long exposures!

A downsize is in the upsizing of the camera, in both size and price. While I liked the GX7’s size, the improvements in the GX8 probably necessitated the size increase, and the need for profitability means the GX8 will debut at US$1200 for just the camera body in August. That has to be at least a 40% increase over the GX7’s debut price!

Panaosnic GX8 Back

 

Also announced were some working developments, aka “we’re letting you know so please don’t go elsewhere with your money” announcements. The 25mm f/1.7 and 100-400mm f/4-6.3 are in the works, so if you are interested in such lenses expect them to be out next year. No other details like weight and price are available.

The last announcement is an interesting one: A post-focus (think Lytro) trick that will be available to Panasonic 4K cameras that uses Depth-from-Defocus and a fast frame rate to take a scene and merge the images together. If anyone has used the Nokia Lumia 1520’s feature, this is probably what it will be like. For static scenes it will be better than a Lytro, since 8 megapixel images are better than just the measly one or four megapixels from a Lytro, and you still have a decent normal camera after that. Panasonic has confirmed just the GX8 as one of the cameras that will receive this feature.

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Samsung NX500 Review

Samsung NX500

Samsung NX500

In a market dominated by the big two camera makers—Nikon and Canon—for DSLRs and cameras, and the smaller players like Fuji, Olympus and Sony for the mirrorless sector, Samsung is probably not a name that comes to mind when one is shopping for a digital camera. But they do have a small line-up of mirrorless and compact cameras that offer you an alternative to the more dominant and well-known brands.

The NX500 is Samsung’s latest addition to their camera line-up, targetted at the “advanced amateur” photographer who wants something more advanced than a compact camera and interchangeable lenses without the bulk of a typical DSLR setup. It features a 28.2MP APS-C-sized Back-side Illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor—the highest resolution available in APS-C sensors so far.

Weighing in at just 0.63lbs (286g) for the body alone, it’s lightweight but still has a sold feel in the hands. The back of the body is dominated by a 3″ Super AMOLED touch screen for composing and reviewing your shots. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with an Electronic View Finder (EVF). The screen has a resolution of 1063K dots and is articulated, so you can flip the screen up and down to aid your composition. For selfie lovers, the screen can even be tilted upwards to face the front so that you can take 28MP selfies or wefies with ease!

aSamsung NX500 Tilting Screen (Selfie Mode)

aSamsung NX500 Tilting Screen (Selfie Mode)

The controls are pretty well laid out, with the typical PSAM mode dial, command dial and shutter release on the top plate alongside a “Mobile” and AEL buttons. The rest of the controls are at the side of the LCD behind the camera, consisting of a D-pad, few other buttons and another command dial. The front and rear command dials work pretty much the same way as a Nikon DSLR, which means I can get used to it pretty quickly since I have been a Nikon user for a long time. There is a video record button on the side of the body, a rather awkward place to put it. Sure, it prevents you from accidentally pressing it, but when you really need to engage it, it’s not easy to get at.

Samsung NX500 Tilting Screen

Samsung NX500 Tilting Screen. Here you can see the awkwardly-placed video recording button.

Settings like ISO, exposure compensation, AF and drive modes can be easily changed via the D-pad buttons; others have to be accessed via the Fn button or the “i” button on the lens itself. The rest can be accessed via the reasonably intuitive menu.

To keep things nice and compact, the NX500 does not have a built-in flash. However, Samsung bundles a cute little pop-up flash which you can attach to the hotshoe, much like Fujifilm’s EF-X8 which came with the X-T1 camera.

The review unit came with the Samsung 16-50mm f/3.5-4.5 Power Zoom kit lens, which covers a nice, common focal length range suitable for most people. You can zoom the lens using the zoom buttons on it, or by twisting the fly-by-wire zoom ring. The latter becomes a focus ring if you set the lens to manual focus.

Performance

The camera starts up pretty quickly within a second, so it’ll always be ready for your shoots. It might be a bit faster if used with a prime lens, since it wouldn’t have to extend like the power zoom would.

The 3″ AMOLED screen is bright and colourful, much like Samsung’s Galaxy phones in normal lighting conditions. However, once used in bright sunny Singapore streets, it becomes hardly visible. This issue is not unique to Samsung of course, and this is where an EVF or OVF would come in useful. The refresh rate of the screen is very fast, with very little lag, which is a good thing.

The Auto White Balance of the NX500 tends towards the “cooler” side of the colour temperature scale, giving this photo a slightly blue tinge.

With the bundled kit lens, the AF performance is decent in day light. Compared to the Fujifilm X-T1, the AF speed is slightly slower. When light level falls, the camera begins to hunt and sometimes fail to acquire focus. Under the same lighting conditions, my X-T1 didn’t have any issues focussing. Strangely, I also had some random issues with the AF locking but the resulting shot is out of focus. I am not sure what could have caused this as I was photographing something static.

At the widest setting of 16mm (equivalent to 24mm on a full-frame camera), the lens exhibits some barrel distortion. Nothing too major here, and this is quite typical of most low-cost lenses. You can see it in the photo below, where the grid lines on the building is slightly curved.

Slight barrel distortion can be seen at the 16mm end of the bundled 16-50mm kit lens.

Slight barrel distortion can be seen at the 16mm end of the bundled 16-50mm kit lens.

The Samsung NX500 is able to shoot at up to 9fps, but that’s not a feature I use often. Sports and action photographers would probably find it more useful. I didn’t really test this in detail, but with RAW+JPEG, the buffer filled up rather quickly and the camera has to pause to clear the buffer. It should perform much better in the JPEG-only mode.

SAM_0352

Image Quality

Pictures taken by the NX500 and the kit lens have good colour rendition, with a nice contrast and most importantly, sharp. As with most recently-produced cameras, the NX500’s sensor does not have an anti-aliasing filter on it, and this probably contributed to the sharpness. Dynamic range of the camera appears to be decent, being able to capture everything from shadows to highlights easily.

Highlights are kept within control, while shadow details are still good.

Highlights are kept within control, while shadow details are still good.

SAM_0362

One thing I noticed from my test shots is that the NX500’s Auto White Balance (AWB) tends to render colours on the cool side. My daylight shots end up slightly bluish. From the files, I noticed that the camera used a white balance value of about 4800K, which is lower than the typical 5000–5500K used in daylight white balance. Perhaps, Samsung love things on the blue side, something I noticed on the Galaxy-series phones’ bluish screens as well. To get around this, it’s best to set the white balance manually before shooting, even if you are shooting in RAW.

In terms of high-ISO performance, images are generally usable till about 3,200. Above that, things start to get really coarse. I wouldn’t use anything above ISO 6,400 unless I am desperate. ISO 25,600 really looks like crap. Like most cameras, it’s probably there only to try to win the numbers game.

Samsung NX500 ISO Comparison

Samsung NX500 ISO Comparison

Other Features

Most cameras nowadays feature some sort of wireless connectivity, usually via WiFi, and the Samsung NX500 is no exception. With NFC connectivity, all you need is to tap a NFC-enabled smart phone to the camera’s bottom, and it’ll be automatically paired. You do need to download the Samsung Smart Camera app before you can do anything useful.

For non-NFC phones, there’s always the good old way of manually connecting to the camera’s WiFi hotspot, then launching the app to control the camera or download images. You can also change camera settings via the app.

One notable feature which really impressed me is that the NX500 is able to connect to your home wireless network and download firmware updates directly. I have not seen any other cameras do this, and it’s certainly something that other camera makers can implement.

Samsung NX500 Firmware Upgrade Screen

Samsung NX500 Firmware Upgrade Screen

For time-lapse lovers, the NX500 features a Interval Shooting mode which can also compile the shots into a single time-lapse movie. Unlike other cameras with a similar time-lapse mode, it also keeps the individual images captured, in additional to the final movie. There are advantages and disadvantages to this of course. With the original images, you can have the option of processing and combining them yourself in the software of your choice if you didn’t like what the camera did. Of course, this is at the expense of storage space on your card. At 8-12MB per large JPEG and 35-46MB per RAW file, a card fills up quickly. A 16GB card can only take about 270 shots if you choose to shoot in JPEG+RAW like many photographers do.

But my main gripe of the time-lapse is the movie produced. Compared to the time-lapse taken by a Nikon D810 or even an iPhone using iOS 8’s time-lapse feature, the NX500’s time-lapse is noticeably jerky. Samsung also chose to use the relatively new H.265 video codec instead of the more common H.264, so in order to work with the video or even to upload to YouTube, you’d need to convert it to H.264 first. I am not sure if this is the cause of the jerkiness that I’ve experienced.

Conclusion

Overall, the Samsung NX500 is a nice little camera to use, if you are able to live with the little “faults” here and there. If Samsung can improve the AF and AWB a little, it’d be a much better camera. The features are certainly innovative (there’s also this auto-beautifying function in the selfie mode which I did not try), and the image quality is great. What’s not so great is the price. At a SRP of S$1,159, Samsung faces quite a bit of competition from the other, more well-known camera makers.

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DxO Releases the ONE Camera to Rule Them All

DxO One

DxO One

French imaging company, DxO, known for extensive photo gear tests and digital imaging software, has announced the ONE, a 20MP “Connected Camera” with a 1″ CMOS Backside Illuminated (BSI) sensor. The camera is designed to be small and compact, relying on a iPhone or iPad for composing and viewing shots. The connection is done via the swivelling Lightning connector on the side of the camera, and that brought back memories of my first digital camera—the Nikon Coolpix 950, which also has a swivelling LCD screen. Unlike the Coolpix’s display which can rotate 270º, the ONE only tilts up and down by 60º.

The companion iOS app lets you control the ONE’s settings including aperture, shutter speed, ISO and capture modes. The built-in lens offers a 35mm equivalent focal length of 32mm (similar to the Coolpix 950) and an aperture of f/1.8.

According to DxO, the ONE obtained a DxO score of 70, on par with many DSLRs and outperforming smartphone cameras. A “SuperRAW” mode, which takes 4 RAW images in quick succession and then merges them into a high-quality image, the ONE is able to achieve an even higher score of 85.

For aspring filmmakers, the ONE captures video at 1080p at 30fps and 720p at up to 120fps. The latter is great for those slow motion shots.

The DxO ONE can be pre-ordered on the DxO website for US$599 and will start shipping in September 2015.

YS: Oh wow, I am glad someone is trying out something different for this digitally connected age. Why did it have to be for iOS only? There are plenty of things that I like here, starting with that swivelling connector; similar to CK I had one of those Coolpixes, a 995 in my case, and I dearly love that functionality. Trust an outsider to the industry to bring back. Wish it had a more interesting focal length though!

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Sigma Photo Announces 24-35mm F2 DG HSM Art

Sigma_24-35_lrgSigma has announced a new Art lens, and this time it is a zoom lens for 35mm sensors. The 24-35mm f/2 Art is a moderate wide-angle zoom that is f/2, and while the size and weight is on the large side (nearly a kilogram), I think the image quality should be on the level of their Art releases. I’m not too excited about the focal lengths though. No word on pricing or availability yet.

CK: I think it’d be awesome if Sigma releases an APS-C or M43 equivalent of this lens for the mirrorless users. A Fuji X-mount one will be great. On APS-C, the lens would be 16-24mm f/2.0, which can be made smaller/lighter. On M43, it can be made even smaller! It could even be possible to make it 16-24mm f/1.4 on APS-C and 12-17mm f/1.0 on M43 if size is not an issue!

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Canon Officially Announces the Powershot G3 X

20150205_thumbL_psg3x_3qOk, so it is official now. You know what the camera is like, thanks to the development announcement. A few more tidbits: The camera will be weather-proofed, does 1080p video, and can do 6 FPS continuous shooting. Like the G7 X, no viewfinder of any kind will be present. The sensor is still the same 20 megapixel 1″ sensor, with the 24-600mm equivalent f/2.8-5.6 lens. Arrives in July for US$1,000.

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Ricoh GR Gets Updated to the GR II, Includes WiFi and NFC

Ricoh GR II

Ricoh GR II

Ricoh has announced the GR II, the update to our favourite compact camera in our mirrorless shootout, the Ricoh GR. Everything down to the 16.2MP APS-C sensor and 18.3mm f/2.8 (28mm equivalent) lens remains the same as the original GR, but what the new GR II adds is wireless connectivity in the form of WiFi and NFC.

With the new wireless connectivity, the camera can be paired with the new GR Remote web-based app that lets you control the camera settings, view and transfer photos just by using a web browser. It is also compatible with the Ricoh Image Sync App for transferring and viewing images on your smart phone.

The camera will be available from July 2015 at US$800.

YS: I am slightly disappointed that it is not using the newer and better 24 megapixel sensor. I guess they wanted to keep R&D cost down and not have to start developing a new piece. Still, it remains a great camera.

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Leica Q Image Quality

Yesterday, Leica launched their Leica Q full-frame compact camera, getting Leicaphiles all over the world excited. There was a press event here, and one of my friends Wilson Wong of WilzWorkz sent me a DNG file of a test shot that he has taken in the event. He was rather concerned about the presence of banding lines in the dark areas of the shot.  Here is the original file:

Leica Q @ ISO 100. Photo courtesy of Wilson Wong of Wilzworkz and used with permission.

Leica Q @ ISO 100, 1/4s @ f/2.8. Photo courtesy of Wilson Wong of Wilzworkz and used with permission.

Initially, I didn’t really see any banding, so I decided to boost the exposure in Adobe Camera Raw to +3.6EV. The following is a 100% crop of the area shown by the red box above. Wow! OH WOW. JUST LOOK AT THAT!!

10)% crop of Leica Q @ ISO 100 Boosted +3EV (Red box in the full shot above.) Photo courtesy of Wilson Wong of Wilzworkz and used with permission.

100% crop of Leica Q @ ISO 100 Boosted +3EV (Red box in the full shot above.)
Photo courtesy of Wilson Wong of Wilzworkz and used with permission.

We were also puzzled by a rather weird phenomenon. The bokeh “balls” appear to have some dust in them. Look at the black spots in the bokeh below. Since this was a ISO 100 shot at f/2.8 and it’s a fixed-lens camera, it is probably not sensor dust.

Dirty Bokeh from Leica Q (Yellow box in the full photo above.) Photo courtesy of Wilson Wong of Wilzworkz and used with permission.

Dirty Bokeh from Leica Q (Yellow box in the full photo above.) Photo courtesy of Wilson Wong of Wilzworkz and used with permission.

Just to give a comparison, here’s a shot from my Fujifilm X-T1 @ ISO 1600. First, the entire image.

Fujifilm X-T1 @ ISO 1600

Fujifilm X-T1 @ ISO 1600

Now, let’s look at the area in the red box, also boosted by +3.6EV.

Fujifilm X-T1 ISO 1600 Crop

Fujifilm X-T1 ISO 1600 +3.6EV

Let’s take it up to +5EV.

Fujifilm X-T1 @ ISO 1600 +5EV

Fujifilm X-T1 @ ISO 1600 +5EV

You can see that it’s mostly noise. Bear in mind this is ISO 1600 compared to the ISO 100 of the Leica Q.

Just for kicks, here’s a ISO 1600 image from a Nikon D100 shot in JPEG mode.

Nikon D100 @ ISO 1600

Nikon D100 @ ISO 1600

Here it is again, boosted by +3.6EV. LOTS and LOTS of chroma noise, but hardly any banding. Bear in mind this is a 13-year old camera.

Nikon D100 ISO 1600 +3.6EV

Nikon D100 ISO 1600 +3.6EV

Yes, it’s not the same lighting conditions, but regardless of that, the banding should not appear. This is not the kind of image quality which a US$4,000 camera should deliver.

I’ll be meeting up with Wilson to get a more hands-on experience and to get further tests done. But at the moment, it sure looks disappointing.

Many thanks to Wilson for letting us post his sample.

YS: Once again the Emperor has no clothes. I’m looking forward to the flames.

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