Aaaaand here it is… (the first micro four thirds, Panasonic G1)

The first Micro Four-Thirds camera and leses dropped today from panasonic… DPreview has the hands on preview here

I have to say, my initial reaction was “somewhat dissapointed”.   The thing looks just like a regular SLR.  I thought the whole point of getting rid of the mirror box was to, well, get rid of the mirror box!  What’s with the big hump on top and pseudo-optical finder.  The whole point of this was to make a more compact interchangeable camera, so why do it half-assed?  Get rid of the finder completely, and either use EVF exclusively, or make a rangefinder style add on finder that mounts to the hotshoe.  (coupling it to the zoom would be easy).  Speaking of which – no primes?  Yeah, I know it’s just the first announcement, but “compact” camera system just *screams* for primes.  The 14-42 zoom it comes with is just “meh”.   To be fair, there is a 20mm f/1.7 on the roadmap for 2009 (40mm equiv – awesome), but hey – lets see a 12mm and a 40mm too.

After reading more of DPreview’s preview however, I was slightly mollified.  From the comparison images the thing *does* look pretty small (and light – 630 grams *with* battery and lens? holy cow!)  Check HERE for some size comparison and “in hand” images

from the reports, the biggest technical hurdle (making a usable contrast-detection AF) has been handled nicely as well, seems like AF is fine (and it has a built in AF assist light).

So what’s the verdict?

Well, it’s definitely cool, and I think a step in the right direction for opening up a new niche in the industry *but* I think they could have done more.  If you’re selling the concept of “small and light” go all the way – commit to the true rangefinder form factor, lose the big grip on the right side, lose the bulky pop up flash (stick it on the side if you must a-la the lumix LX3).  Oh yeah, and let’s see those primes.

Give us something like THIS


Honestly if it was something like one of those renderings, I probably would have sold my G9 and bought one on the spot.  As it is, I’ll wait and see what comes down the pipe

(and Olympus hasn’t announced anything yet, so fingers-crossed)

Is Olympus re-inventing the digital rangefinder?

pretty much since the advent of digital SLRs, there has been a group of photogragraphers (myself among them) clamoring for the release of a digital rangefinder (a niche market to be sure!)

There have been a few forays into this territory, Epson and Leica released true rangefinder bodies with digital sensors, using their existing mount, but they were recieved with… shall we say… mixed reviews 🙂 (plus the astronomical pricetag on the leica put it out of range for most casual shooters.

For the rest of us searching for the ever elusive “compact, quiet, unobtrusive ‘street'” camera, we’ve so far had to make do with high-end compact digicams, such as the Canon G9 (my weapon of choice) and the new Sigma DP-1

However it just may be that Olympus plans to change that…

Olympus just announced a new lens/mount standard dubbed “micro four-thirds” based on their current “four-thirds” standard.   The significance of this is it keeps the standard 4/3 sensor while making a smaller mount, and significantly shortinging the flange (lens->sensor) distance.  Additionally the specification of live vew, *completely eliminates the mirror box* which makes up the majority of the “bulk” in an slr body

What this means in english is that the mount will combine the benifit of interchangeable lenses with the compactness of a digicam (or rangefinder) body (in other words, it’s The fabled “E.V.I.L, or Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens” camera we have heard discussed ad-nauseum)!

Personally I think this is a great (and bold) move for olympus.   They seem to have recognized the appeal of a compact system while maintaining the flexibility & quality of an interchangeable lens setup.   In other words, they are looking at the traditional “rangefinder” market, but instead of trying to work with current mounts/standards they are totally re-inventing the concept, embracing the unique advantages of digital.   Particularly when combined with the absolutely stellar optics of the new zuiko lenses, this could be a real killer combo, and is *definitely* somthing I (and I’m sure many others) will be keepting my eye on!

the 15 second DIY adjustable snoot!

So I’ve done the cardboard snoot thing.  It’s cheap.  It works.  but I find they don’t last too long trashing around in a camera bag.   I really like the idea of a flexible snoot like the Honl speedsnoot, so I figured I’d try to make my own…

A quick trip down to Perl (art supply store) yielded the required materials.  2 9″x12″ sheets of “foamies” craft foam (it’s a thin, neoprene like foam material – flexible yet rigid enough to hold it’s shape) one white, one black and 4′ of velcro “wrap” (the velcro that has hooks on one side and loops on the other, so it can stick to itself if you wrap it around something)  The neat thing about the foamies sheets is that you can get them either plain or with one side covered in adhesive.   I opted for a plain black and an adhesive-backed white sheet.

total cost for materials: about $5 (the velcro was $3 and I think the foamies sheets were .59 each)

Once at home, I simply peeled the backing off the white adhesive side, and laid the black sheet on top.  Pressing firmly secured the 2 together.  They can bend and flex together without wrinkling or buckling.

I then cut 2 velcro wraps long enough to wrap around the flash head and secure it tightly.

TaDa!  instant snoot – total time to construct: about 15-30 seconds 🙂

the best part about this snoot is that it is adjustable.  For a normal throw, wrap it into a cylinder shape, and secure each end with a wrap.   If you want a tighter throw, wrap it into a cone shape.  You can get a very tight dot of light this way.

Another added benifit is that it can be used as a bounce card – simple wrap one end around the flash head pointing up, and leave the other end free.  presto bounce card.

For five dollars and a minute of work, this is something that will have a permanent place in my camera bag!

Dodge and Burn – Lightroom 2 beta vs Aperture 2.1

Preface: this is a “sequel” to my previous article on the new dodge and burn plugin in Aperture, so it’s best to read that one first!

Here’s a quick rundown of my experiences with the new dodge and burn tools in the Lightroom 2 beta, and how they stack up to the same in Aperture 2.1. After a weekend of working with both tools, I’m still of very mixed feelings:

there are a few things I *really like* about Lightroom’s implementation, but in a lot of ways I feel they fall short. I used the same image as I did with my Aperture article for ease of comparison. Once again, here’s the original image:

Now Lightroom and aperture seem to approach the whole “brush based tools” paradigm in a very different way. Here’s the basic interface panel for the new tools in Lightroom 2 beta develop module:

Clicking the little “brush” looking icon brings up this dialogue. You’ll see the adjustment you want (exposure, which is essentially dodge and burn together depending on if you set a positive or negative value for the tool) and the standard size/feather/flow for the brush.

Note that as far as I can tell there is no kind of pressure sensitivity control when using a pen tablet as with aperture. You have 2 brush “presets” A and B and can switch between them. I usually keep one as a soft brush and one as a hard brush.

Another interesting feature is the “auto mask” which essentially tries to keep the adjustment you are painting within the boundaries of the area you are working in (by finding the edges and containing it within them). This seems to work fairly well on some images (that have clearly defined areas/regions, like burning the sky against a building for example) and not so well on others. Still a neat addition.

Now here we come to a fundamental difference between the Lightroom and Aperture implementations. While Aperture essentially has a “layer” for each adjustment (dodge, burn, saturation etc…) which you paint into, Lightroom uses discreet “point based regions” for each adjustment. To clarify: in Lightroom every time you make a “new” adjustment it creates a “point” which is a little white dot around which that brush stroke adjustment is based. This is essentially the anchor for the adjustment region, and you simply paint on the adjustment you want.

You can also switch to the erase brush with the same controls (feather, softness etc…) or simply toggle it by holding the option key (alt on windows I believe)

The interesting this is that once painting, each “pinned” region becomes just another adjustment on the image and can be changed/refined after the fact, by selecting “edit” and editing the adjustment – you can adjust the amount of exposure (dodge/burn) etc…

Now the annoying thing (to me at least) is the fact that there is no way of toggling the “overlay” of the brushed/adjusted area the way there is in aperture. When you hover over on the the “pins” it comes up with the area highlighted, but only while you are hovering over it. Sometimes you really want to be able to fine tune the edges of your adjustment area, and it is difficult to do this without having an overlay view. Hopefully this is something that will be implemented by the final release. I also wish they would make the overlay a color rather than just a translucent grey/white as sometimes it is difficult to see when brushing an effect onto a bright/white area.

As opposed to the Aperture paradigm of having a single adjustment layer with various intensities, here you are more likely to make multiple overlapping “point” regions, and adjust them individually after the fact. Unfortunately what I found was that this lead to a lot of “guesswork” for example when you want to lighten an area, first you have to guess how much exposure should be applied, then brush it in, then further refine it by adjusting the level, then if a “sub-area” need to be lightened/darkened more you have to create a new overlapping point region and again guess how much exposure is needed and adjust from there.

I give the win to Aperture’s implementation for ease of use and intuitiveness, but I can see the potential in having independently adjustable brush-edit regions.

Now after complaining about the implementation of the tool, I would like to point out the one incredibly awesome feature of Lightroom’s adjustments, that by itself may even be significant enough to swing the decision in it’s favor despite my favor for Aperture’s implementation:

that is the inclusion of the edits in the adjustment history for the image.

As mentioned before, Aperture creates a separate .tiff file from your master .raw when you invoke the burn and dodge tools. While not a huge drawback (it’s no different than roundtripping it to Photoshop for example) it adds a layer of complexity, as you are now essentially adjusting 2 images.

Lightroom on the other hand, makes the adjustments exactly the same as any of it’s other adjustments – meaning they they apply to the raw file, and are included in the history. Being able to step back and forth through the edit states of an image is just a fantastically useful feature, and a huge point in Lightroom’s favor.

In conclusion after using both tools for a short time now, I am really torn. I like apertures implementation overall better – it feels more natural and almost “painterly. I can definitely appreciate the approach of Lightroom’s implementation, but to me it isn’t quite “there” yet – there are a few annoying little details that make it less useful overall – the overlay is rather useless, with no toggling option and there really should be some kind of pressure sensitivity. It would also be nice to be able to label the “pins” to easily remember which pin went to which adjustment. I also really miss brush based blur and sharpening (both of which Aperture has).

Nonetheless, Lightroom gets big points for incorporating the brush tools into it’s standard workflow and history panel. This is simply an amazing feature which cannot be overlooked. If Lightroom can fix/improve the issues with the masking/overlay transparencies by the final release, it may still win out over Aperture. For now I reserve judgment – I will play with both and wait for the Lightroom final release 🙂

Another nice thing about aperture 2.1

I don’t know what kind of crazy voodoo the Devs over at Apple worked, but between 2.0 and 2.1 there is a *huge* performance increase.  Granted I haven’t given it a “full load” of thousands of images yet, but earlier versions would become noticeably sluggish even working with a few images.  With 2.1, I have yet to see a slowdown – even rotating images (the bane of aperture before) is completely responsive – (dare I say even more than lightroom?)

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RadioPoppers no longer vaporware!

For all of us “Strobist” folks using off camera flash, life will soon get a lot more interesting.  Most likely you ahve heard of these mystical devices called “RadioPoppers” designed to provide TTL flash functionality via RF signal (rather than the limiting optical signal transmission they normally rely on).  Many dismissed them as vaporware, but it seems they are finally materializing. According to the radiopopper blog, FCC approval has been granted and the actual first production batch is manufactured!  Some folks (including David Hobby of Strobist) have already gotten to play with the actual units. 

Color me excited.  I’m all about the manual off-camera flash, but having the option for RF based TTL is just too cool to pass up and opens up a bunch of possibilities (including non-line-of-sight high speed sync)  Pretty cool stuff.  

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Olympus makes pancakes!

And here I was getting all excited about the DP-1, along comes olympus and drops this unexpected bomb:

The e-420, a brand new e410 form factor slr (tiny), with the e-3 sensor, *and a 25mm/2.8 PANCAKE prime!*

Very cool stuff, this is practically a pocketable SLR – smaller even than my k100d+40mm combo. Plus the 50mm equiv. offering is a great general purpose focal length.

This is very encouraging – along with the success of the canon G9, the DP-1 and now this seems to indicate that there really is a strong market for a compact form factor paired with high IQ and robust features. If Olympus makes a 17mm pancake to go with this (35mm equiv), it could almost tempt me to switch from Pentax! olye420top-down.jpg

Sigma DP-1 sample photos

…one step closer to release!  Sigma has added a gallery of sample photos from the DP-1.  The images look very good, I’m impressed.  I’d love to play with some .raw files though…  Most are at iso 100, but there is one at 400 and one at 800 right at the bottom, both look great – obviously infinitely better than a small sensor digicam. 
I hope the dp-1 does well, spurring other makers to follow the lead with large-sensor digicams. 

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The sigma dp-1. Still coming. Maybe.

I have to say, I wasn’t blown out of the water by the announcements at PMA.  Some nice new stuff, but nothing earthshaking or market-changing. 

One announcement that stuck out though was by Sigma that, yes, the dp-1 is not here yet, but still coming.  Hopefully soon.  (they actually released some pre-production sample photos, which is a good sign!)

For those who aren’t familiar, the DP-1 has been that ever elusive vaporware- tantalizing the legions of pros and pro-ams who have been clamoring for a pocket camera with a slr sensor. (as a backup/travel camera).  Personally I couldn’t wait for the DP-1, so I went with the G9, and love it.  But for those who hold out, the DP-1 promises quite a bit – aps-c sized foveon sensor in a G9 sized package.  Juicy!  Of couse it has some downsides, the fixed 28mm f/4 lens is somewhat limiting, especially with the max iso of 800 (although that will likely be a *usable* 800, not like
other pocket cams).

But hey – this camera is definitely billing itself toward the “rangefinder” niche (compact, unobtrusive street photography) so just pretend you are Gary Winogrand – he did 99.9% of his work with a 28mm lens IIRC!

Price will also be an issue.  Nevertheless, it is an extremely intriguing piece of kit, a niche camera to be sure – but if the g9 success is any indication it is a pretty big niche.

Dpreview lens reviews…

For all you MTF-Chart peepers:

Dpreveiw has launched a new section dedicated to formal lens tests.  they’ve only got 4 lenses up so far (2 of them are Pentax!)  but their little interactive chart-thingee (that’s the technical term) is awesome. 

As always though, I caution not to get too hung up on “the numbers” – they don’t always tell the whole story with a lens.  One of my absolute favorite lenses (the da21 limited) has rather average MTF numbers (for a prime) but produces some spectacular images that just have a wonderful, hard to define “character” to them that looks great in print.

Anyway, check it out:

dpreview lens tests

pentax k20d and k200d announced!

The official announcement is in! K20d and k200d are here

seems like a nice upgrade to the k10, although not compelling enough to make me switch.  The new sensor does look interesting though, especially if iso6400 is useable. 

Frankly though I think pentax needs to do better.  As the market becomes increasingly competitive, and price points keep getting driven down, they need to release something to “run with the big boys” or risk going the way of KM – great cameras, great lenses, but just too little too late to keep up with the market.  I really hope pentax dosn’t fall into that trap! (and as an ex-KMer I really don’t want to switch systems again!)

Benjikan, over at has been hinting for months that there would be a new camera that would blow us all away, and frankly this isn’t it… One can only hope that this is just the teaser, release at the beginning to whet the appetite for the big announcement

(this new sensor in a 1d or dx level body would qualify!)

musings on shutters and sync speeds

So this has been bothering me for some time…

So the maximum flash sync speed for a purely mechanical shutter on a dslr is the fastest shutter speed where the flash can fire while the shutter is “fully open” (ie any faster and the 2nd shutter curtain will cut off part of the flash, leaving a black bar over the image)

On the other hand a camera with an electronic/hybrid shutter can theoretically sync as fast as the actual flash duration, since the mechanical shutter is open for a relatively long time, and the “shutter” is actually just the electronic “slice” of the exposure (yes I know that’s not technically entirely accurate, sue me)
Continue reading musings on shutters and sync speeds