Three Guys’ Picks and Pans of 2013


Well, 2013 was a quiet year, mainly with the two giants not releasing much, and everyone struggling to stay relevant in times of weak sales brought about by competent cameras that reduce the need to upgrade and convenient cameras in the form of smartphone cameras that make it easy to share photographs. Still, it was not all bad, and we have a list of last year’s most notable products. Read on and find out what they were!

Picks: Portable Cameras

Panasonic DMC-GM1 with 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 lens

Panasonic GM1

YS: Take a camera that is roughly the dimensions of the Sony RX-100, give it a larger Four Thirds sensor and the Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens mount, sprinkle it with one of the smallest zoom lenses to date, and you have the Panasonic GM-1 kit. It even comes in at a price very close to the second version of the Sony. It says a lot when the camera itself has a few things I do not like (no viewfinder, no properly placed main command dial), but I want it as a completely frivolous purchase.

David: Frivolous purchase is right – after I tried it, I thought that if I have the extra cash sitting around this would end up in my bag with the kit lens and my Olympus 45mm f1.8 as a compact travel kit – except that I don’t have the extra cash, and I have plenty of other compact travel options. But the thought of a pocket sized M43 sensor body is interesting.

CK: It’s interesting to see a Micro Four Thirds camera this size. I’d love to try this out myself. It could well be a good substitute to my Nikon V1 albeit with less reach as the focal length multiplier is only 2x compared to the V1’s 2.7. But what I get in return is access to a very wide variety of lenses.

YS: Can I have your V1 for cheap then? Or more importantly, your FT-1?

CK: I’ll still need that for Supermoon shots. If it appears, that is. I was lucky to have caught 2013’s and have it featured by National Geographic on their web site.


Ricoh GR

YS: We reviewed the Ricoh GR as part of the compact APS camera shootout, and it was our overall favourite, and with good reason. It had great image quality, my preferred focal length (I absolutely dislike the 35mm equivalent FoV), and a user experience that was second to none. I really liked the control layout of the camera, along with how customisable it was. All that quality and control housed in a small lightweight camera. Recommended.

CK: Three of us quite enjoyed that camera when we did a group test last year. Great controls and great image quality in a small package. I prefer the 35mm focal length of the X100S as a “general use fixed lens camera” but the Ricoh won me over in size and controls.

David: And it gets better with the latest firmware updates (and Ricoh is one of those companies which provide firmware updates for even previous discontinued cameras) – now you have, besides the 28mm equivalent focal length and the 35mm crop mode, a new 47mm crop mode you can use it RAW, That’s three focal length in one.

Picks: Serious Camera

Olympus E-M1 with 12-40mm f/28 Pro lens.
Olympus E-M1

YS: The Olympus E-M1 is in just about everyone’s list, because it is an example of a serious camera done right. A camera with an exemplary control scheme with plenty to customise, it also has fast autofocus, THAT image stabilisation, an awesome EVF which I suspect is the first EVF I can actually use to manual focus without the use of focusing aids, and most importantly, a very complete lens lineup full of great lenses that can be supplemented with the original and very highly regarded Four Thirds lenses. As someone who switched to a different Micro Four Thirds camera, can I also pintell you how light a complete pro zoom kit is?

David: Of course we had to pick this one – this is simply a better OMD than my OMD E-M5, and that was a superbly competent camera. Two words – well sorted comes to mind when I handled the E-M1 and compared it to my E-M5. The E-M1 simply improves the best (IMHO) m43 camera and brings m43 to a whole new pro level. Forget the naysayers on the internet who panned it – this camera is in one word, COMPLETE.

Picks: Lens

Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art
Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8

YS: APS-sized sensor DSLRs might not be in favour nowadays, but thanks to third party makers, 90% of DSLR buyers still have options for their lenses. Sigma might have been a brand we looked upon with disdain before, but their 18-35mm f/1.8 brings back not only the focal length, but the light gathering capabilities of a f/2.8 mid-range zoom on a 35mm-sized sensor. While it is not as wide and as narrow as your typical mid-range zoom, all accounts point to it being a very good lens otherwise. Kudos to Sigma for having the vision and drive to bring out this lens in a market incorrectly perceived to be less “prestigious”.

CK: This is a game changer in the fast mid-range zoom market. I believe this would be successful in the wedding and event photography market. Until recently, I’ve always perceived Sigma as being low quality. Glad that they’ve upped their game with the new Art series which not only look good, but also deliver the goods.

Pans: Cameras

Leica X-Vario

YS: As you can tell by now, we generally have little patience for luxury brands. Leica straddles the line quite a bit, so they get a large amount of my ire still, but the X-Vario launch was just plain silly. Touted as the Mini-M, it was anything but. Instead of a small rangefinder that would trace its lineage back to the Minola CLE, we got an unwieldy fixed zoom lens compact. In addition to it being horribly overpriced as usual, Leica gets the nod for totally mismanaging expectations – a no-no for a luxury company trading heavily on marketing messages.

David: “We”? Who is the “we”? :P I love Leica and their rangefinders! Ok, the X-Vario is a little over the top in its pricing, but otherwise that lens is superb, if a little slow. Since the X-Vario does not offer anything unique compared to the competition for the price, I’ll grudgingly regard it as a pan of 2013.

CK: Between Leica and Hasselblad (more on that later), I think Leica is the lesser evil. But the X-Vario is just another piece of overpriced and underperforming camera. Worse, it was not what the photographers (both Leica and non-Leica lovers) had expected it to be. In short, a total disappointment.

Pans: Companies

Hasselblad Stellar

YS: It is a shame to see a company fall to a shadow of itself, especially before its corpse has become cold (like Rollei), but this is what has happened already. A lack of growth in the medium format market followed by silly ostentatious dressing up of Sony cameras with equally obnoxious pricing makes Hasselblad look desperate. Originally I wanted to make this category about a camera, but after the release of the Stellar, I realised the joke would be getting old, so here is me dumping the whole company into purgatory and calling it a day for the rest of the decade.

CK: Looks like Hasselblad (and to a smaller extent, Leica) ran out of proper things to sell, so they have to resort to selling more overpriced stuff. I’d say in this aspect, Hasselblad is the worse culprit, rebranding low cost cameras as premium models. Wait, Leica also did similar things with Panasonic and Fuji cameras…

David: I don’t quite know what to make of this – it brings nothing new to the NEX cameras. At least Leica made the DLux series sexier, and better looking, and throws in the full version of Adobe Lightroom in for the price…….

The whole bloody camera industry

YS: It says a lot when I am compelled to use the phone simply because it is easier to share images with, despite the much poorer quality of the camera. After all, the whole point of taking photos is for them to be seen. Even with Wifi cameras, it still is too much of a pain, if you ask me. Where is the smart integration that is needed to provide a compelling user experience?

CK: Your typical smartphone nowadays takes pretty good photos, given the right conditions. And the network/sharing features are a plus. So why not? And in more than a few occasions, the one from the phone somehow turned out to be nicer than the one taken using the “proper” camera. I do agree that the WiFi sharing feature of cameras (and also the WiFi-enabled memory cards like the EyeFi) needs to be improved to make the whole process much more seamless and intuitive.

David: I don’t know, I would think with the Sony A7 and the Olympus E-M1, or even the Leica C I tried. wireless sharing and connectivity is already here today.

CK: They are still far from seamless. Kludgy at best.

YS: I have a GH3, and I rarely use its Wifi capabilities. It just feels so out of the way to use. Engage Wifi on camera, make sure the phone picks up the camera’s Wifi signal, start the app, select a photo, and oh, make sure the photo was shot in JPEG. It is a two to three minute process easily for just one photo.

CK: Things are improving. At least the WiFi on the Nikon D5300 (review forthcoming) is quite reliable when I tried using it to retrieve files from the camera on my iPhone.

Marketing Fad of the Year


YS: Never mind how nonsensical the phrase really is: What is medium format then? Fuller than “full”? It seems that the original megapixel craze is now back with a vengeance, but now in another form: Sensor size, specifically, the irrational want for anything with a 35mm-sized sensor, whether it makes sense or not. If the much derided Nikon 1 is better than the DSLRs of a decade ago, which in turn were better than 35mm film, is there really such a strong need for this “full-frame” malarkey? Going by the reactions from the camera launches from 2013, it seems somehow you cannot be a photographer without one. Strange, I wonder what I have been doing the past few years. Expect more wishful thinking associated with this for the next couple of years at least.

CK: Full-frame is overrated. With modern sensor technology, there’s no longer a need to go full-frame to achieve excellent image quality any more. APS-C and even Micro Four Thirds cameras can already deliver a very high image quality that, dare I say comparable to full-frame. Printed at say, 16×24”, you probably can’t tell the difference between a print made from a full-frame camera and one made from an APS-C camera. The oft-quoted noise issue is no longer an issue in today’s sensors.

The only logical reason I can think of for people wanting full-frame are that they are Nikon/Canon users who want their prime lenses to work at the “correct” focal length. For example, there isn’t a proper 35mm f/2 for both company’s APS-C cameras. Neither is there a 28mm f/2.8. Nikon does have the AF-S 35mm f/1.8G which is roughly equivalent to a 50mm f/1.8, but Canon doesn’t have anything equivalent. Going full-frame allows these group of photographers to use their favourite focal length primes once again.

Makers of mirrorless cameras like Fuji, Panasonic, Olympus etc are quick to fill this gap, offering small and fast primes that covers these popular focal lengths (24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and so on).

Other than that, I can’t really think of any other reason to want, let alone need, full-frame.

YS: Indeed. As we were putting the final touches to this article, Fujifilm announced a new lens road map. On it were 16-55mm f/2.8 and 50-140mm f/2.8 zoom lenses. Pretty amazing combination on a system with really good image quality.

David: CK, at 16” x 24”, you WILL be able to tell the difference, especially if the print features lots of fine details. Full frame, aka the standard size of a 35mm piece of film, is still as relevant today as in the past – how else can you get shots at 35mm equivalent with a f1.4 lens? or shots at 24mm equivalent at f1.4? Answer is, you can’t. Period. The Fuji lenses do try to mimic the full frame focal length equivalents, at the right aperture too, but that X-Trans sensor isn’t delivering detail like it should, not with today’s RAW converters.

CK: That’s what I said. Getting the native focal lengths back is the only reason to use full frame. I’d still wager that at 16×24”, you can’t tell the difference between a print made from a full-frame and an APS-C, or even a Micro Four Thirds. Noise and resolution are no longer the main reasons to go full-frame. So that leaves us with equipment lust.

The One That Got Away (Honourable Mention)

Sony A7 / A7R

David: Sony burst onto the scene late in 2013 but still managed to steal the thunder from everyone, including the much vaunted E-M1 mentioned above. Two words defined this entire range of two mirrorless cameras – Full Frame. Sure, the native lens set isn’t quite there yet, the build quality of both the A7 and A7R are not up to the standard set by the E-M1 or the Leica M series, and the menus, while largely improved, still feature some weird oddities. However, plenty of enthusiats and pros alike, including myself, are happily using these 2 cameras with a wide variety of lenses of various makes from Leica, Canon, Nikon, Olympus (the old OM lenses), Sigma, Minolta, Sony A lenses and other SLR lenses of different vintage using adapters. Seen in that context, this powerhouse pair of cameras are unbeatable, and with the A7R, offers unmatched resolution in a 35mm based digital body of that size, and is only matched by the Nikon D800 if one ignores the elephantine size of the Nikon.

CK: The A7/A7R is a “could have” camera. It could have been great, but in Sony’s rush to release it to the market, we end up with a “system without a system”. I don’t get what’s the big deal over adapting lenses. You are essentially crippling the camera using those lenses which are not really optimised for digital sensors, let alone full frame ones. Then there’s the embarrassingly slow AF. A friend even commented that the A7’s slow AF reminds him of the Fujifilm X100 before the firmware update. I’ll give Sony credit for coming up with a relatively compact camera with a full-frame sensor and at a very reasonable price though.

YS: David really wanted this camera to be in (he bought it after all), and I was humming and hawing over it, but I decided that, at the end of the day, a system camera needs to be evaluated as a whole with its system, and between the prices involved and Sony’s track record of lens releases as well as flitting from concept to concept, and system to system, I am not convinced. This is essentially a one-trick pony (mirrorless with 35mm sensor) with a very desirable trick.

CK: And it opened up a whole market for people who are bent on adapting rangefinder lenses to it because of its relatively short distance. I am sure many people bought it for this reason alone. Of course, not all lenses work well on it as they are not really optimised for digital sensors, so your mileage will vary. By a lot.

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