Sunday, 4 September 2016

Lumix GH5 news

There has not been any specific news about the upcoming Lumix GH5 from Panasonic yet, but we have heard more rumours. Here is a summary of what the rumors mean.

The Lumix GH5 will be the successor of four Micro Four Thirds cameras which have given us top video recording performance in a photography oriented camera body, at a reasonable price:


Timing


We have been waiting for a GH5 announcement since the Lumix GH4 was launched on February 7th, 2014. This is unusually long, more than two years.

However, keep in mind that there is a much lower turnover in the camera business now, since a few years ago. People buy much less digital cameras than around 4-5 years ago.


Looking at the announcement timings above, we can see that there are several cameras which are waiting for an upgrade: The Lumix GF8 is essentially the same as the Lumix GF7. So we should expect a less expensive entry camera soon.

Also, the GM-series is getting old, so perhaps we get a new miniature camera. Rumors say that we could get two new Lumix camera models this autumn, in addition to the Lumix GH5.

As for the Lumix GH5, rumors say that it could be announced at the Fotokina trade fair at the end of September, however, without the final product or specifications being available. The camera itself is expected to be available in shops early 2017, which is sad as they would miss the holiday season.

Video specifications


While the GH series has a photography oriented form factor, it is the video capabilities which sell it. The headline feature of the GH5 is rumored to be 4k video recording using the whole sensor area at 60FPS. Presumably, also 50FPS and 48FPS will be available, if the GH5 retains the very useful multi area feature of the Lumix GH4.

Using the whole sensor is a big deal. The GH4, and also subsequent Lumix cameras that support 4K, only record 4K video using a cropped centre area of the sensor, see the illustration below:


This means that in 4K mode, there is an additional 1.3x crop factor. So your kit zoom lens starting at 14mm effectively becomes 18mm in the short end. Getting good wide angle in 4K becomes difficult.

So why is this difficult? Using the whole sensor essentially means reading all the sensor values from the 16:9 crop of the sensor area, and then downscaling. And downscaling is the important key word here, as it is requires a lot of processing power. The GH4 simply couldn't get this done quickly enough.

The GH5 is also rumored to output 4K video at a 60p framerate. If it does, then this would be a very revolutionary feature. Sure, there exist cameras which can do this already, but they tend to be extremely expensive and also large. Only some large pro video camcorders can record 4K video faster than 30p these days.

When I record 4k30p footage using the Lumix GH4, I usually use the image stabilizer feature in Adobe Premiere Pro. This is needed when not using a tripod, in my opinion. In this combination, rendering one minute of video footage usually takes around 10 hours on my laptop computer. Upping the framerate to 60p would probably double this processing time. So make sure you have computer equipment to match the camera.

Photo specifications


The Lumix GH5 is rumored to get a 20MP sensor for photo use, perhaps the same used in the Lumix GX8.

It also brings a 30FPS 6K Photo feature, which essentially means that the camera will record a 30FPS video at 6K resolution, from which you can later select the still images you want to keep. This will only give you the JPEG image output, not RAW. This means that the camera must be able to read the whole sensor slightly quicker than 1/30s, meaning that rolling shutter effects will still be a problem, read more about it here.

In body image stabilization (IBIS)


The Lumix GX7 introduced image stabilization based on sensor movements in 2013, a feature previously reserved for Olympus cameras only. However, it was not super effective for photos, and could not at all be used for videos. The Lumix GX85 from 2016 has IBIS, and it works even for videos. So some are now expecting to see this feature also in Lumix GH5.

However, rumors say that the Lumix GH5 will not get IBIS. I guess professional users will have the camera on a tripod or a stabilizing rig anyway, so this might not be a big issue.

Price


No rumors about the price level yet. However, if the Lumix GH5 does deliver 4k60p video output, then the price could be quite high. Keep in mind that pretty much no affordable cameras support this today. Even the recently announced Canon EOS 5D Mk IV, which is Canon's most video optimized DSLR, only goes to 4k30p. And it costs US$3500.

I think the price level could well be around US$2000-2500 if it delivers 4k60p. If it "only" retains 4k30p like the Lumix GH4, then I think they cannot upp the price beyond around US$1600.

To give you an idea what you need to get 4K video recording at a 60FPS framerate today, here are some examples. The Panasonic HC-X1000 4K costs US$2700, and has a rather small 1/2.3'' sensor.

Snoy's competition is called FDRAX1 4K, and costs US$4500. It also uses a small 1/2.3'' sensor.

The Canon C500 can record high framerate 4K video using a big sensor, however, it costs a staggering US$20.000.

The GH series was never intended to be a big seller, so don't expect to see low price on the unit when it comes. It is expected to sell only to the most video interested enthusiasts, and to some pro users.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Favourite m4/3 gear

I have used Mirco Four Thirds equipment for almost eight years, and some people ask me what I use. As you will see below, I don't use very new stuff, as I think what has arrived the last two years is not that interesting for me.

Lenses


These are my most used lenses. As you can see, they are all rather small, well, the first three anyway:


Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6

Contrary to what you might think, this very compact lens has an excellent performance. You might get slightly better images with the much larger and more expensive Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8, but barely significantly so.

Unless you must have the fastest aperture, the Lumix G 12-32mm (my review) does it very well.

To improve the handling a bit, I added a plastic strip for better grip when changing lens.

Lumix G 20mm f/1.7

One of the first prime lenses for Micro Four Thirds, the Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 became an instant classic. It still impresses today, with the combination of a small size, fast aperture, and sharp images.

Some will say that the focus is slow and noisy. Yes, it is slower than most other M4/3 lenses, since it is one of the very few to not have internal focusing. But with the exception of some of the earliest cameras, all M4/3 cameras can focus this lens at a speed which leaves little to be desired. This is simply not an issue anymore.

Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye (manual focus)

The Samyang 7.5mm f/3.5 fisheye (my review) is a compact, inexpensive, and very well performing fisheye lens. Unless you are worried about operating the focus manually, which is no big deal, I would say that this is a must have lens for wide angle enthusiasts.

It is a very good deal, better than many fisheye lenses which you have to pay twice or more for.

Lumix G 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 II

For the times when I want one lens to do it all, I bring the Lumix G 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 (my review). It is light, relatively compact for a superzoom lens, and performs well, even in the longest end. And the price is quite ok.

Cameras


These are the cameras I tend to use the most nowadays:


Lumix GH4

By far my most used camera is the Lumix GH4 (my review). While it is often seen as a video oriented camera, I think it is not: Primarily, it is a photographer's camera. By that I mean that it has classic photo ergonomics, and very good direct controls to make typical adjustments that a photographer needs: AF, drive mode, exposure compensation, PASM dial, and so on.

If the camera was truly video oriented, it would have had built in ND filters with direct control, white balance presets with a dedicated dial, and, not least, a camcorder layout. As you know, it doesn't have these things.

4K video recording is the headline feature of the GH4, though. However, while this works well, including V-Log colour profile, the 4K video does have some shortcomings, e.g.:

  • Autofocus is very slow in 4K mode, see an illustration here. Of course, seasoned video users will probably stick to manual focus anyway, but AF can be good to have for run-and-gun use.

  • There are rolling shutter effects in 4K mode. This is minimized with 1080p video, as the sensor readout speed is nearly 1/100s, however, in 4K mode, the sensor readout speed is just over 1/30s. Hence, if you keep the camera handheld and wobble a bit back and forth sideways, the image will be skewed.

The Lumix GH5, which is expected to be announced this spring, and probably available in December, is expected to improve upon these areas. Also, it might increase the framerate to a maximum of 60 FPS in 4K video mode, but this is of course speculation. See more GH5 speculation here.

It remains to be said about the GH4 that I think it is a joy to handle. Specifically, the autofocus does what I want most of the time, and it is very quick to change the settings so that it behaves like I want even when it does not in the "full auto" mode.

Lumix GM1

When I want to pack the smallest possible camera, I bring the Lumix GM1. You may think that this is an outdated camera: It was superseded by the Lumix GM5, which in turn is pretty much discontined now, and we may be getting a replacement this autumn.

However, the Lumix GM1 sensor is still state of the art for Four Thirds sensors, so no need to worry about the image quality. In terms of video quality, it is also very well performing, even it it tops out at 1080p in 25/30 FPS (depending on the country).

The GM1 does not have very good ergonomics, of course, as it is so small. However, with the very sensible Lumix layout of buttons and menus, it is easy to use. The lack of an articulated screen can make video recording difficult, though.

I have added a third party grip to it in the picture above, which I think makes the handling better.

Olympus E-M5 II

This camera did improve immensely on the predecessor in terms of ergonomics: A fully articulated LCD screen, and a better front grip makes it much better to use. Still, I don't think it cuts it for me as a photographer's camera. I tend to like the Lumix GH4 a lot more.

The sensor shift image stabilization, which also works in video mode (demonstrated here) is truly awesome and very useful. The camera also has a sensor shift high resolution mode, which I think is more of an overrated gimmick. Other than that, I don't find the features of the camera very impressive.

And to top it off: The menus are just horrible to use. I am annoyed to no end by the menus, which doesn't make me want to pick up the camera in the first place.

Conclusion


You don't need to buy the newest to get good images, even two plus years old equipment is still competitive, in my opinion.

The big advantage of Micro Four Thirds is the small, and well performing lenses, made possible by the moderately sized sensor and short register distance.


Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Macro images with reverser ring

Many users have the Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II basic kit zoom. It is a good lens, and I use it a lot. Here is a quality comparison between kit zoom lenses. So don't be worried about using this lens, despite that some dislike the plastic construction.

It is possible to use it for macro images as well, by buying a very small and cheap accessory. By buying a reverser ring, it is possible to mount it backwards on the camera, which means that it can be used to take ultra high magnification images. Here I show how.

The picture below shows the Lumix GH4 camera with the Lumix G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II basic kit zoom lens:


In the front left of the camera, is the M4/3 to 52mm reverser ring As the zoom lens has a 46mm front lens thread, a 52mm to 46mm step up ring is also needed (on the right hand side).

When all of this is mounted to the camera, it looks like this:


From left to right in the picture above, you have the lens (mounted reversed), the 52mm to 46mm step up ring, the M4/3 to 52mm macro reverser ring, and finally the camera.

One specific trick to be aware of is setting the aperture. When the lens is mounted reversed, you can of course not control the aperture or the focus from the camera, or even manually from the lens. And using the lens wide open is just not possible, the depth of field (DOF) will be far too thin when using the lens wide open. So you'll generally need to stop down to around f/8-f/16.

You can stop the lens down with this crude method: Set a small aperture (large f-number) and a long shutter speed in manual exposure mode. Start the exposure. While the camera is exposing, remove the lens. The lens will then have your selected aperture. The focus distance is pretty much irrelevant here: Even if you could use the close or infinity focus distance, it doesn't matter much when using it reversed: The magnification will be very large anyway.

When mounted reversed, you cannot control the focus at all, so you'll need to move the camera back and forth to get your object in focus. However, you can use the zoom ring to change the magnification rate. It works best in the short end, where the magnification is the highest. Here is a short summary of the magnification rate at different focal lengths.

I have calculated this by photographing a millimeter scale. I also state the working distance, which is the distance from the object to the front end of the lens. Please note that when I say "front end of the lens", I mean the end closest to the object here, which is actually the rear end of the zoom lens.

Focal lengthMagnification rateWorking distanceImage
42mm1:1.1664mm
25mm1.2:1 (1.2X)33mm
14mm2.7:1 (2.7X)20mm

For comparison, the Lumix-Leica 45mm f/2.8 macro lens has a max magnification of 1:1 (1X), and has a more generous working distance of 60mm.

I took an example image at 14mm, for the largest magnification rate. As you see, I placed the classic Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 lens very close to the camera here: The working distance is only 20mm, which makes the lightning somewhat difficult:


The resulting image looks like this, taken at f/14:



Here you can see the matte finish of this classic lens, which I like a lot better than the glossy finish of the newer lenses. The matte finish makes it safer to handle the lens.

Here is more of a real life example as well. I took it at f/16, 1/60s, ISO 200, using a TTL flash and a sync cable to be able to hold it next to the lens. The fly sitting on my hand is very small, the body is about 2mm long. No cropping:



Conclusion


It is quite cheap to get a macro reverser ring, which opens up a new world of ultra high magnification. A magnification of 2.7:1 is otherwise only possible with specialized lenses like the Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5X macro.

However, the downside is that you'll need to stop down the lens in a crude way prior to using it reversed, which makes it hard to compose your image is low light. As the lens is reversed, no EXIF information is recorded whatsoever about the aperture or focal length, or even the name of the lens. Also, the working distance will be quite short.

If you like to tinker with your camera, this can be a fun and cheap project to explore the world of high magnification macro.

Other alternatives


The Yasuhara Nanoha x5 is a specialized ultra high magnification lens for Micro Four Thirds. It is capable of 4-5X magnification. It has a very short working distance, not much more than 10mm, which makes it somewhat hard to use. It comes with the apertures f/11-f/32, selectable in full stops. Perhaps this sounds like small apertures, but you need to stop down a lot to get sufficient depth of field.

A simple and cheap alternative is to buy . Read more about it here. If you combine both rings, this can give a magnification of around 1.2X with a typical kit zoom lens.



Friday, 22 July 2016

Røde VideoMicro Review

The very first M4/3 camera, the Lumix G1 in 2008, did not have video capability. That was a strange omission, since the camera obviously had live view feed for the viewfinder, which could have been recorded to video.

However, all subsequent M4/3 cameras have been video capable, and video has been a very important feature in this market segment. And with video, the sound recording is also important.

The M4/3 cameras have onboard microphones, which are usually seen as a pair of small holes in the body, with the text "L" and "R" (left/right), "mic", or something similar. The problem with these in-camera microphones is that they are not directional, i.e., they pick up sound from all around the camera. That can be a problem in some cases.

One product which aims to provide better audio quality for system camera users is the Røde VideoMicro:


It comes with a small shotgun style directional microphone unit, a connector cable (3.5mm jack). There is also a shock absorbing mount for placing the microphone in the camera's flash shoe, as well as a furry wind shield:


When connected to the Lumix GH4, you'll see that the microphone is rather small:


The microphone itself has a body which is made from a ceramics coated metal material, which does seem very solid and well made. It has a high quality feel to it. The microphone unit is 80mm long (3.5 inches).

Generally, you'll need the wind shield when using the camera outdoors. Otherwise, wind noise will be a huge problem. Note that wind can still be a problem even when you do use the wind shield, if there is strong enough wind.

Many M4/3 cameras do have a microphone input socket which can be used. But not smaller cameras like the Lumix GM1/GM5, and not the Lumix GF7. Also, the Lumix GX7 did not have a microphone input socket.

You can also use the microphone on many Olympus cameras. A problem with a camera like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II, though, is that a microphone jack will limit the articulation of the LCD display. As using an articulated LCD display is very useful for video recording, this is a strange and unfortunate design choice. Panasonic Lumix cameras are generally better designed for video use.

Sound comparison


I have compared the video quality of the in-camera microphones on the Lumix GX7 with the Røde VideoMicro mounted on a Lumix GH4 in the video below.



For simplicity, here are direct links to where specific sections of the video start:



When using the Røde VideoMicro, the background noise becomes less of a problem, but is not completely removed. But this is as expected, since this was not a studio test, but rather busy city scenes.

I think the sound from the camera microphone is more "boxy": With the external microphone, you better hear the sound you want to pick up, and not so much the background noise.

Alternative products


The Røde VideoMicro is a small and relatively inexpensive microphone. What do you get if you buy a larger and more expensive microphone? Here is a quick comparison:

Røde VideoMicroRøde VideoMic Pro
Length80mm150mm
Weight43g85g
Battery requiredNoYes
StereoNo (mono)Yes

So a more "serious" microphone will require a battery inside the unit, while the Røde VideoMicro gets the little power it needs from the camera.

Also, note that the VideoMicro is a mono microphone: It will output a stereo signal, but with the same sound in the left and right channel. A more serious microphone of course gives a real stereo output.

On the positive side, the VideoMicro is small and easy to use for "run and gun" video style, and it does not scream "professional videographer", which can be useful.

Conclusion


The Røde VideoMicro is very quick and easy to use. It does improve upon the sound recording, especially when you have ambient noise that you want to avoid.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Beware of fake SD cards

One of the most counterfeited electronics item is probably memory cards. Brand awareness is very high in this market, e.g., a brand like Sandisk has a high confidence and can charge premium prices.

Also, the speed rating on memory cards can be confusing, and on top of this, many people buy faster cards than they actually need, and don't have any way of knowing what to expect from a given speed rating. With this background, it is only to be expected that someone will repackage lesser value cards as faster ones from a premium brand, and sell them at a high profit.

Sadly, I happened to buy one of these myself recently. The packaging looks nice, just what I would expect from a Sandisk Extreme 64GB Micro SD card. I have used this type of cards for years: It is fast enough for all the video modes on the Lumix GH4 camera, and with the adapter, it fits into most cameras:


However, when looking at the rear of the packaging, I started noticing the poor print quality. You would not find this mess on a genuine Sandisk card:


The card itself looks ok. Here, the fake card is on the top, while my older, and worn genuine card is on the bottom. The fake card has a strange font for the "4" number, though:


The rear side of the cards is quite different. The fake card has a weird hologram sticker, which I have never seen on a real card:


To test it, I downloaded the freeware program H2testw 1.4, which can be used to test the integrity of the card: Read and write speeds, data correctness, and capacity. Here is the test of my card:


It has a sustained write speed of around 20MB/s, which is way too slow for this kind of card. My other Sandisk Extreme 64GB Micro SD cards get 60MB/s write performance, and reports from the web indicate that you should get at least 45MB/s.

Hence, this is a cheaper card which has been repackaged as a Sandisk Extreme. It has a worse write performance, and probably not the same quality and durability as well.

The positive side is that if you end up with a fake card, most reputable web shops, like Amazon and Ebay, will refund your payment. However, my guess is that many users never notice that they have a fake card in the first place.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Product News

This is a somewhat slow time: It is summer, and manufacturers are holding off news until the upcoming Photokina tradeshow on September 20th. That is where we expect to see the new M4/3 flagship cameras: Lumix GH5 and Olympus E-M1 II. In the mean time, there is some interesting news.

Panasonic


Pretty much completely unexpected, Panasonic launched a new Leica co-branded lens, the sixth so far. The Lumix Leica 12mm f/1.4 Summilux is a high quality wide, fast prime lens. It corresponds to 24mm in traditional film format terms.

Like with the other Leica branded lenses from Panasonic, the actual Leica involvement is probably quite small. Panasonic uses the Leica name on their top lenses, as a sign of quality. And the cooperation gives the Leica company more revenue. So it is a win-win for them.


It shares the main design elements with the equally exclusive Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 portrait lens, including the aperture ring, and the physical autofocus/manual focus switch.

The lens is very sharp, delightfully free from chromatic aberration artefacts, and has a very smooth bokeh when used wide open. This makes it a very welcome addition to the Micro Four Thirds lineup of lenses, even if it is expensive.

To see why it is interesting, we can compare it with similar lenses from other systems:

LensLumix 12mm f/1.4Fujinon 16mm f/1.4Sigma 24mm f/1.4
PriceUS$1300US$700US$850
Format, crop factorMicro Four Thirds, 2xFujifilm X, 1.5xCanon EF, Nikon F, 1x
Equivalent focal length24mm24mm24mm
Lens elements/groups15/1213/1115/11
Weight335g375g665g
Length70mm73mm90mm
Diameter70mm73mm85mm
Filter thread62mm67mm77mm
Weather resistantYesYes
Minimum focus0.20m0.15m0.25m

As you see, the Lumix 12mm f/1.4 Summilux is the most compact of the lenses, however, it is also very expensive. Compared with the Fujinon 16mm f/1.4, it is fair to say that the Lumix/Leica lens does not have very good value for money.

In my opinion, though, the most interesting news from Panasonic recently is a less exclusive item, the Lumix TZ100. For the last decade, Panasonic have dominated this market segment of compact cameras with a long zoom, great for vacation and casual use. And this camera is not very impressive in this respect, with "only" a 10x zoom lens.


However, what is special about the camera is not the 25-250mm f/2.8-5.8 10x zoom lens , but the sensor. It uses a "one inch" type sensor, which is very large for this kind of camera. To get a so pocketable 10x zoom camera with a one inch sensor is truly amazing, and it comes with an EVF as well, albeit a fairly small one. On top of this, it comes with all the normal Panasonic features, like 4k video recording and post focus.

To illustrate how compact the camera is, it is enough to say that it weights the same as the Nikon 1 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 superzoom lens for Nikon 1 cameras, even if they both cover the same zoom range, and the same sensor size. And to use the Nikon lens, you must add a camera as well, obviously.

Nikon


Hardly news anymore now, but Nikon is also joining the large sensor compact camera club with three one inch sensor cameras: The Nikon DL24-85, Nikon DL18-50 and Nikon DL24-500. These cameras are expected to become available for purchase very soon.

The Nikon DL24-85 is a "standard" premium compact by today's standards, similar in specifications to the well regarded, albeit expensive, Sony RX100 IV, and to the Canon G7 X. As I see it, the Nikon DL24-85 doesn't really bring anything new to the table.

The same goes for the long zoom bridge camera Nikon DL24-500: You get similar specifications from cameras like the Canon G3 X and the Sony RX10 III.

The camera which really stands out, though, is the Nikon DL18-50, with a 18-50mm equivalent zoom range, and an impressively fast f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens. Such a fast, wide lens has never before been seen in a compact camera, let alone a camera with a fairly large one inch type sensor.


On the negative side, the camera is a tad expensive, and does not come with a built in eye level viewfinder. You can put an optional EVF into the left hand side, but it is quite large and awkward.

This type of camera opens up for brand new uses, never before been possible with a compact camera. For example, you can take a ultra wide angle picture of the night sky, at about 30s, f/1.8, ISO 3200 or so. A longer exposure would not be suitable, as the star movement would start showing up. Hence, the bright aperture of f/1.8 is crucial. It is not often a game changing camera like this shows up.

Hasselblad


Again a bit of a surprise, as Hasselblad launched a new mount: A new mirrorless medium format system. So far, only a wide angle and a standard lens have been announced, but more lenses are expected. The 50MP sensor comes from Sony, and the electronics probably comes from Fujifilm, but enough assembling have been done in Sweden to warrant the "Hand made in Sweden" badge:


The camera is very small and compact, for a medium format system, anyway, and includes most features you would expect from a system camera today, including an EVF, Wifi, movie mode, weather protection, and it can even use Nikon flashes. It does not have a tiltable LCD, though, which is a bit of a shame.

So why would you want a medium format camera, rather than a high resolution full format camera? It has a high resolution, obviously, at 50MP. However, the Sony a7R II has 42MP. The difference, 20%, is just enough to be noticeable, in theory, as 20% is the rule of thumb resolution increase you must have to see a real difference.

A larger sensor also gives the possibility for more selective focus. This camera has a crop factor of 0.79x compared with full-frame. This means that their wide angle lens, which is specified as 45mm f/3.5, becomes equivalent to 35mm f/2.8 in full-frame terms, with regards to the angle of view and depth of field.

Hence, you get exactly the same selective focus capability by buying the Sony a7R II and Sony 35mm f/2.8. And Sony also has the Sony 35mm f/1.4 if you want even more selective focus. You could get all three items at less than half the price of the Hasselblad system. So Hasselblad is not the way to go for selective focus.

The other Hasselblad lens announced is 90mm f/3.2, which corresponds to 70mm f/2.5 in terms of full-frame angle of view and depth of field.

Another positive aspect of medium format cameras is the possibility for higher dynamic range, i.e., larger difference between the darkest and brightest details the camera can capture at the same time. However, again the Sony a7R II is capable of near 14 stops dynamic range, which is probably the theoretical ceiling for the Hasselblad as well. So I doubt there is any significant difference.

As I see it, you probably get mostly the same image quality performance using the Sony a7R II, so the Hasselblad X1D is for those who absolutely want a portable medium format camera. The Hasselblad X1D may give slightly higher resolution. Of course, this is mostly a theoretical assessment, the real proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Voigtländer


The Cosina brand has released the Voigtländer 10mm f/5.6 manual focus extremely wide angle lens for Sony fullframe E mount cameras. It is the widest rectilinear regularly available lens today, surpassing even the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4.


The lens will give an out of this world wide angle effect that you could otherwise only get by defishing a fisheye image.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Cheap macro softbox

The great thing about photography as a hobby, is the big variation possibility. There are so many styles and techniques to explore, even without spending a lot on equipment.

One of the techniques is macro: To photograph small objects. This can be pursued by purchasing a macro lens, e.g., the Lumix/Leica 45mm f/2.8 or the Olympus 60mm f/2.8. Both these lenses are 1:1 capable, meaning that you can photograph an object the same size as the imaging sensor, i.e., 17mm by 13mm.

Another, much cheaper option, is to get macro extension rings (click on the link for an explanation). These can be used with the kit zoom lens at maximum extension (usually 42mm), or a tele zoom lens. Don't worry about the smaller maximum aperture you get with this option, usually f/5.6, versus f/2.8 with the specialized tele lens: Mostly, you will need to stop down at least to f/5.6 when photographing small objects anyway, otherwise, most of the picture will be out of focus.

One particularly difficult aspect of macro photography is lightning: Often the light will come from one single light source (a flash or the sun), making the picture look flat and contrasty. Which brings us to the subject of this post: Using a macro softbox to overcome this. A softbox simply makes the light go through a larger surface before hitting the object, so that the light comes from a larger set of angles, rather than one single angle.

A very simple and cheap softbox is a simple transparent wash bucket, which you may well have already. Ideally, it should be as neutral as possible, not having any colour tint at all:


The clue is then to put the object to photograph inside the bucket, and make sure to not point the opening towards the light source. Like this:


Here is what the picture looks like, with and without the softbox (click for larger images). I used the aperture f/7.1 for some depth of field:

With softboxWithout softbox

You probably agree that the picture taken with the softbox (bucket) has a more even lightning.

This softbox can also be combined with a flash, by pointing the flash towards the outside of the bucket. I am using the Lumix FL360 flash unit, with a TTL flash cable (the flash also works on Olympus cameras):


Again, I think using the bucket hugely improves macro flash images:

With softboxWithout softbox
a

Conclusion


Taking closeup images can be fun, but getting a good lightning takes some effort. A quick and cheap start is to use a transparent bucket as a softbox. It can be used with ambient light, or with a flash.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Mirrorless sales statistics from Japan

Not much exists in terms of solid statistics on camera sales. However, one yearly event is when BCN Ranking release their statistics for the sales of cameras in Japan. Their statistics cover most of the domestic sales.

The statistics tend to take different forms every year. Some years, they have reported the 20 most sold models, which is quite interesting to see. This year, reporting on 2015 camera sales, it is probably the least useful: Only reporting the market share for the top three brands.

When compiling this into a seven year time series, this is what I get:


As only the top three systems are reported, we only see Olympus, Sony and Canon here. The Panasonic market share is not specified for 2015, but we can deduce that it is at least lower than that of Canon, that is, 13%. The same goes for the other systems.

Panasonic started off very high, which is very understandable, since they were the only mirrorless system in the very beginning. However, they were soon overtaken by Olympus and Sony.

It seems that Olympus have gotten a boost in 2015, which I would attribute to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, which is very stylish, and at the same time, offered a very interesting feature set.

Sony, on the other hand, have focused almost exclusively on fullframe mirrorless during 2015. They have launched a number of Sony A7 models. These are very fine cameras, but they are expensive, and require an investment into newer, larger, and more expensive fullframe lenses. Hence, one cannot expect as many camera sales from Sony as before. They probably make a better margin from each camera, though.

We are still waiting for an upgrade of the APS-C mirrorless camera Sony A6000. A replacement camera is rumored to have a high resolution 36MP sensor. If true, this will be a game changer for APS-C sensor based cameras.

What surprises me, is that Canon gets an increase in the market share. They have improved their mirrorless cameras now, but the Canon EOS M3 is still not a very interesting camera. And with the limited palette of lenses, I would personally not have invested into this system today. The positive market development probably says something about Canon's market perception: Very strong.

With Olympus's new retro styled Olympus PEN-F, I expect their market share to remain strong.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

GH5 expectations

When looking at the row of Lumix GH series cameras below, it is natural to ask: What will the next in line, the Lumix GH5, be like? And when will it be available? So that is what I will speculate about here.


From left to right: Lumix GH1, Lumix GH2, Lumix GH3, Lumix GH4

In terms of form factor, we have had two styles so far: The first two cameras were quite small, but still had reasonable ergonomics. However, only one control wheel left quite a bit to be desired.

The Lumix GH3 introduced the larger camera body, and also deviated from the previously used oversized multi aspect ratio sensor. The larger body size allowed for a much better control layout, with three configurable control wheels. However, the eye level viewfinder (EVF) was not perfect.

The Lumix GH4 looks like it reuses the GH3 camera body, but there are in fact a lot of smaller changes which greatly improve the handling. Read about the changes here.

Timing of the next generation


To speculate about the launch of the next generation camera, the Lumix GH5, it is good to look back at the historic announcement times:


There was a two year delay from the GH2 until the GH3. The GH4 was announced somewhat faster, probably because Panasonic needed to prove that they were still the top mirrorless system for video use.

With the recent downturn in digital camera sales, I would expect that the GH5 is announced at least two years after the GH4. That is, February 2016 or later.

The next big tradeshow is Photokina on September 20-25th, and this is a probable venue for the announcement of the GH5.

On the other hand, one could ask: Why announce a new GH model now? The Lumix GH4 is a perfectly fine camera.

And it recently god a shot in the arm: In September last year, the V-Log L profile became available, making the camera much more usable for professionals. To learn more about what this is and how to get started using it, you can read this article.

However, as time goes, there are more and more features lacking from the GH4, which people would otherwise expect nowadays.

GH5 features


One major disadvantage of the Lumix GH4 is that is can only record 4K video with a crop factor: It does not use the whole sensor width. See this illustration:


This means that if you use the 4K video recording, you get an additional 1.3x crop factor: The Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8, it becomes like a 16-46mm lens, or 32-92mm in 135 film equivalent terms. So you will often need wider lenses when using the 4K video mode.

The GH4 applied this crop to avoid scaling down the whole sensor output to 4K format. That would have required too much computing power. The Lumix GH5 will surely record 4K video from the whole sensor width, though, avoiding this additional crop factor.

On the other hand, both more recent 4k capable Lumix cameras (Lumix G7 and Lumix GX8) share the 4k crop strategy to avoid downscaling, so perhaps Panasonic don't have a solution to this problem yet.

Some have speculated that the GH5 will record even higher resolution video, e.g., 5K or even 8K. I don't think so. 4K is still a quite new standard, and many have still not upgraded their TV sets to 4K. So I think 4K will be the preferred format still some more years. There is still improvement potential inside the 4K video format, and that is what the GH5 will aim for.

What might happen, though, is that the GH5 could record 4K video at a higher framerate. Currently, the maximum framerate is 30FPS with the GH4. Today, that is only topped by some very expensive and bulky cameras, like the Sony FDRAX1 or Sony PMW-F55.

If Panasonic can release a GH5 with 4K 60FPS video recording, that would be a game changer on the same level as the GH4 was two years ago. However, this would require faster sensor readout, and it is not obvious that it is possible with the current technology level at this price point.

In addition to high quality video output, the GH5 will also get the latest in terms of features, that includes:

  • 4K Photo. This mode was first introduced on the Lumix GH4, with the 2.0 firmware six months into the product life of the camera. Read about it here.

    However, the 4K Photo implementation in the GH4 was quite basic, and is already surpassed by more recent cameras like the Lumix G7 and Lumix GX8.
  • Post focus. A feature so far seen on the Lumix G7 and Lumix GX8. This allows the camera to scan through the focus range, and take one picture every time something in the frame is in focus. You can later select which photos you'd like to keep.

    Unfortunately, this feature is limited to 8MP resolution only, only to JPEG, and the pictures are taken over some time period, not instantaneously, of course.
  • The Lumix GH4 has the DFD, "Depth from defocus", meaning that it analyses the nature of the bokeh to guess how far off the focus is. This is based on a database of Lumix lenses. This technology can always be better, and I think the Lumix GH5 will still improve upon it.

    The GH4 does autofocus during 4K video recording, however, the AF speed is very slow. This will certainly be improved with the GH5. Here you can see a comparison between the AF speed of the GH3 and GH4 in 1080p, and also the GH4 in 4K resolution.
  • Electronic shutter. This is a very useful feature which allows you to take pictures silently, without the mechanical shutter. The downside is that the picture is scanned vertically fairly slowly. Anything moving during this time will cause "rolling shutter" effects, read about it here. The GH5 needs to further improve upon this sensor readout speed, for more reliable electronic shutter mode.
  • Rolling shutter. In 1080p mode, the images are scanned in around 1/100s, which is fast enough that rolling shutter is not a big problem. In 4K mode, though, the frame is scanned much more slowly, around 1/30s, which means that rolling shutter can be a big problem if you are handholding the camera. If the GH5 ups the framerate to 60FPS in 4K mode, then rolling shutter will probably not be a problem anymore, as the image must be scanned twice as fast.
  • Image stabilization. Some recent Panasonic cameras (Lumix GX7 and Lumix GX8) include In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS), which is a new direction for Panasonic. Seeing that recent Olympus cameras are capable of using this feature to stabilize also non OIS prime lenses, will Panasonic add this feature to the Lumix GH5? I think not. I think the GH5 sensor will need more cooling, which makes the IBIS setup harder to implement.Here is what the IBIS of the Olympus E-M5 Mark II looks like:



As for the form factor, I think the Lumix GH5 will be mostly like the Lumix GH4. The GH4 has a very good, ergonomic design, which is stable to hold and easy to use. I don't see the need for any major redesign of the camera body now.

Finally, the GH5 will get a higher resolution. Nikon recently moved from 16MP to 20MP for their top cameras, the Nikon D5 and Nikon D500. Also, Fujifilm went above 16MP for the first time with the Fujifilm X-Pro2.

With this development, Panasonic also need to move up from 16MP, and the GH5 will most likely get a 20MP sensor, just like the Lumix GX8.


Alternative cameras


If you are into a video oriented mirrorless camera, one obvious, and high end, choice, is the Sony a7S Mark II. This camera has everything you could wish for in terms of professional colour profiles, for the best post processing (colour grading). As it is a full frame camera, though, the lenses will be much larger, and also quite expensive. On the positive side, the camera does not have any horizontal crop factor when recording 4k video, unlike the Lumix GH4.

Another high performance choice is the Samsung NX1, which gives you a lot of features for the money. On the other hand, there are uncertainties to the future of the Samsung NX format, so this is a choice with some risk.

For somewhat less cash, you can get the Sony a6300. It is an APS-C sensor sized camera, so the lenses will be somewhat smaller. Avoid the 16-50mm power zoom kit lens, though, as it is rather poor. This camera appears to have the best continuous autofocus performance while recording video in 4k in this class. Certainly much better than the GH4, which is quite poor in this respect.