Let’s talk about noise. Not the lovely Swedish lullaby my friend hums at me down the phone but digital noise in our photographic images. Most of us profess a serious allergy to it such that noise control has become a major USP for many camera models. One of the many features prospective buyers look for is noise control at higher ISOs. Models like the Nikon D4S and Sony A7s market themselves specifically as clean imaging devices, having listened to (preyed on?) the market’s feverish insecurities about the dreaded grain.
It has been interesting to observe the debate about “DSLR vs mirrorless” unfold over the past while. I would agree with Bob Vishneski’s point in his recent article that if one is comparing full frame cameras, the weight difference alone between traditional DSLRs and mirrorless is negligible. And, that slight difference in weight is really not worth the trouble and cost to change over to mirrorless for the vast majority of photographers who use full frame gear.
I recently sold my full frame Nikon D800 and almost all of my FX glass (I only have two lenses left to sell) and I have transitioned over to a Panasonic GH4 M4/3 camera for all of my client work. I thought some readers may have interest in getting some insights behind this decision as they may be going through the same dilemma that I’ve been having for the past year or so.
It is hard to visit any photography website without noticing extensive fanfare being paid to the mirrorless camera niche. Some tout it as the savior of the mid-to-high end camera market. Others have dubbed it the “DSLR killer.” A number of prominent photographers have created videos and articles articulating how mirrorless innovations caused them to shed pounds from their bag and reintroduce them to the joy of photography. And why shouldn’t they? The market for traditional point-and-shoot cameras is in a free fall as smartphones increase in usage, quality, and capabilities. Traditional DSLR sales continue to fall as well. The industry certainly needs something to cheer about. And of course, photography websites need something to write about.
Without a doubt, one of the most anticipated camera releases this year is the Sony A7R II, a mirrorless monster with world’s first 42.4 MP BSI CMOS sensor and a slew of features, such as in-body image stabilization, electronic first-curtain shutter, completely silent electronic shutter, high-resolution electronic viewfinder and 4K video recording, to make it worth seriously looking into. We have written about this release last week and based on our readers’ feedback, many are excited about the Sony A7R II release. I have been personally waiting for this camera for years, because it brings pretty much everything I want in a compact mirrorless camera – Sony did a great job in addressing most of my concerns that I have expressed on previous iterations of the A7 line. Although battery life is still a concern and 14-bit lossless / uncompressed RAW support is only a promise by Sony at this time, I will still go ahead and order the Sony A7R II for myself for a number of reasons. First, the camera already has most of the features that I want in a mirrorless camera. Second, with Zeiss backing up Sony with their new Loxia and Batis lines of lenses, along with Sony’s own high-quality primes, I don’t have any more concerns about native lenses. Lastly, the A7R II will be my reference camera for evaluating Sony-mount lenses, which I am planning to test and review more of. Sony has been working hard on the A7 line and it these cameras have now reached the point of maturity, so I consider them safe to invest in. In fact, if the A7R II turns out to be as good as the specifications promise, I might start using it heavily for my landscape photography needs. Well, today is an exciting day, because you can pre-order your copy of the Sony A7R II!
Panasonic has released the Lumix DMC-G7 mid-range mirrorless camera with 4K video and stills recording capability (up to 30 fps). In addition to the improved autofocus performance when compared to its predecessor, the G7 now comes with a higher-resolution OLED viewfinder with 2,360k dots, up to 8 fps shooting speed, built-in WiFi, UHS-II SDXC/SDHC memory card support and a fully articulated high resolution 3″ LCD screen with 1,040k dots. At $799.99 MSRP, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 will be one of the most affordable 4K-capable cameras on the market when it is released in June of this year.
Sony unleashed the Sony A7 and the A7R in October of 2013. With the Sony A7 aimed for general use sporting a 24 MP sensor and hybrid autofocus, the A7R differs primarily with its 36 MP sensor, therefore making the A7R more suitable for specific types of photography that need high resolution such as landscape, architecture, studio and product photography. I had an opportunity to test both cameras in 2014, however, I did not have a chance to write detailed reviews for a number of different reasons. Hence, this is more of a catch-up type of a review showcasing some images from my recent trips, along with the usual analysis.
There have been some interesting debates lately about what’s ‘wrong’ with the digital camera market as people try to understand the rather dramatic decline in unit sales that has been happening over the past 4 or 5 years, with volumes down by half from their peak. I let my old, porous brain muse on this for a while and have some perspectives to share. One way to look at this situation is to simply accept that there is nothing fundamentally ‘wrong’ with the camera market at all in terms of sales volumes. From a macro-economic perspective we could view the digital camera market as functioning exactly as every other market has done when a breakthrough technology burst onto its stage. If we look at the history of various product markets the basic rise and fall of market volumes are predictable when they have been impacted by fundamental technological shifts – in the case of cameras it was of seismic proportions going from film to digital. When any kind of ‘game changing’ technology takes hold in any market there are initial and dramatic volume surges as consumers leave their current technology and adopt the new one. That huge upward spike in initial demand then declines quickly as soon as the initial ‘change-over’ market demand for the new technology has been met. Product life-cycle planning is based on these fundamentals.
If you haven’t noticed, camera sales are down. I mean, they’re way down. Unsurprisingly, everyone’s scrambling to find a reason why. There’s a video floating around from Mayflower Concepts that, at the very least, explains what is not the cause for the camera sales drop. If you don’t have 50 minutes to watch it for yourself, here’s the “TL;DR” version: It’s not due to the rise of phones with cameras – at least, not in the way you think. It’s not because the economy is in the tank, as most camera manufacturers claim on their financial reports. There’s simply no strong correlation between any of the global financial crises, or the simple existence of cameras on phones, to have any reason to believe either is the cause for a huge drop in sales.
Someone at Sony must be finally realizing cameras don’t make a system. As numerous and capable (crippled RAW format notwithstanding) the A7-series cameras are, the real pull of any system is the lens lineup. And so the Japanese manufacturer has announced four new FE lenses for full-frame mirrorless cameras. It is very much worth noting that just one of the lenses is a superzoom with a disappointingly slow aperture of f/6.3 at the long end – the other three are prime lenses of 28mm, 35mm and 90mm focal lengths. On top of that, Sony has also introduced two new lens converters, one for wider angle of view, the other – for fisheye effect. Let’s take a closer look at the new products.
October 16 of 2013 marks an important milestone in the history of photography, because it is the date when Sony announced world’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Sony A7 and A7R. The Sony A7, being the cheaper model aimed for general use, sports a 24 MP sensor and offers hybrid autofocus, while the A7R with its high resolution 36 MP sensor is targeted at more specific types of photography including landscape, architecture, studio and product photography. Since the official release of these cameras, I had a chance to test both in 2014 as soon as they were available. However, I did not write detailed reviews for a number of reasons including native lens shortage and availability, all kinds of initial firmware bugs and lags, shutter vibrations (A7R), slow start up time, compressed RAW, terrible menu system, poor battery life and a number of other annoying issues. On top of that, 2014 was also a year of personal transformation for me, so I was incredibly busy trying to shuffle a lot of things at the same time. To put it short, my lack of time and my negative experience with these cameras contributed to reviews being put off for a later date. When Sony released the A7S a bit later, I did not see drastic changes aside from the camera sensor, so I put off reviewing that camera for a while as well. However, when Sony announced the second iteration of the A7-series, the A7 II, I immediately requested a review unit for evaluation. By then, Sony already had a few more native lenses to choose from and I had high hopes that Sony perhaps addressed many of the concerns from the original A7 in this new camera. In addition, the Sony A7 II came with in-body image stabilization (IBIS), which interested me a lot – with so many different adapters available for other lens mounts, the A7 II looked rather promising as a versatile tool that could stabilize pretty much any lens on the market. And that in itself sounded really good, so off I went with my journey to assess the new Sony A7 II.