Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What should a Canon Mirrorless be like?

I can't help but keep wondering what has mirrorless cameras brought to the table for photography apart from the promised miniaturization. Sure, there is faster CDAF and peaking but these are actually technology created to solve the issues brought about by being mirrorless in the first place (being no PDAF and optical manual viewfinder).

Many analysts would see this as another disruptive shift in the market almost equivalent to the shift from Film to Digital. I beg to differ. Unlike Film vs Digital which involved very key technological and fundamental changes in photo taking, a DSLR can do everything that a mirrorless camera can do, and more. That leaves us with miniaturization.

In the miniaturization department, I used the word 'promised' because many mirrorless vendors succeeded in miniaturizing the body but not the (zoom) lenses - resulting in a very unbalanced design in many cases. As mentioned the mirrorless vendors often deem it a must to create a new lens mount with only two or three lenses on offer, thus creating more issues for customers. A lens mount system is an investment, I would not want to invest in a system with only a few lenses and very uncertain future - I wonder how many of these new mirrorless lens mounts will last.

But miniaturization itself is a very attractive notion. I certainly hope, Canon's mirrorless strategy focuses on that  alone. That means:

  1. Use the PDAF capabilities of the 650D sensor and maintain complete compatibility with EF, EF-S lenses. If flange distance need to be reduced, then provide an adapter but maintain all electronic contacts and functional compatibility.
  2. If new lenses with STM motors are introduced for the mirrorless system, make sure they can work on DLSRs as well. The whole EOS interoperability need to be maintained.
  3. Achieve complete miniaturization of the body AND zoom lenses as well. Do not cheat with prime pancake lenses. The G1X lens range and size would be great (or the Panasonic X lens type). Ofcourse, some key improvements need to be made.
  4. Speed of operation should be comparable with the competitors. Many cameras with great picture qualities but disappointing operation speed have seen disappointing sales figures as well.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Is it just me or does the Galaxy S III look familiar?

The more I looked at the newly launched Samsung Galaxy S III, the more I felt that I may have seen it before. True enough, I could actually have seen it before - at least a similar one to it. A Google search through the iPhone 5 concept design immediately brought me to the popular one by http://www.ciccaresedesign.com/iphone-5-concept/

I put together a simple composite photo to compare the two and the similarity is reasonably obvious to my eyes. The curve at the top and bottom. Even the chrome lining at the vertical sides  of the Galaxy S III look like they are tracing that curve from the iPhone 5 concept design.

Anyway, I believe Apple did not commission that concept design and the iPhone 5 would probably not be using that design - at least not anymore. So this is no biggie.... 

Photo Credits: http://www.phonearena.comhttp://www.ciccaresedesign.com

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Making Sense of The Mirrorless Market

Canon has recently provided an insight into their mirrorless strategy. They are the last major camera manufacturers who are still without a mirrorless camera. Here are the main points of the interview:
  • Does a mirrorless camera really need interchangeable lenses?
  • Can we make a compact or DSLR that can beat the mirrorless cameras? (they believe they have it)
  • Higher sensitivity rather than high resolution (probably refers to quality over megapixels)

The mirrorless cameras are about compromises of various features. in my opinion at the current moment, no one knows what the right formula is. Panasonic and Olympus has been tweaking the various components for the past few years and I think this is still ongoing. This is evident from the product release schedule of about 6 months per generation. Every generation differs considerably from the previous generation. Sony has their own assumptions but while they have made great efforts, theirs may not necessarily be the best. Nikon, Ricoh, Pentax all employ very different strategies and no one knows for sure what would work.

Secondly, they whole appeal about the mirrorless market is camera size. While camera body sizes have shrunk considerably due to the removal of the OVF, the lenses have not. Sony's strategy to use the APS-C sensor gave it great advantages in terms of image quality but their lens sizes became their great weakness. Their 18-55mm kit lens is probably the worst kit lens in its class. Their 18-200mm is probably the best in its class in terms of image quality but the enormous size negates any advantages of using a mirrorless.

Thirdly, the impact of releasing a new mount. Sony and Nikon has no qualms in creating a new mount. Nikon's mount strategy is already so fragmented with AF, AF-S, DX, FX... it may not bother them too much to introduce a new mount. Canon has always focused on a single EOS mount strategy, introducing a new mount would mean customers will need to invest in a new set of lens. There is a niche market for users who wants to mount their Leica M and other classic MF lenses but most mirrorless users will not buy more than 1-2 lenses for their camera.

Whatever is driving the mirrorless market right now is novelty and the promise of point and shoot camera with dslr quality. A promise that has not been properly fulfilled even now. The m4/3 camp is doing better in terms of size, especially with the introduction of the EPL3/EPM1/GF3 and the panasonic X kit lens. However, as Leica has said, the m4/3 sensor is a bottleneck of image quality.

In my opinion, since there are many strategies out there and Pentax and Ricoh chose a 1/1.7" sensor in at lease one of their strategies, Canon's strategy to focus on the S and G series as their mirrorless strategy is not better nor worse than the others.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Canon's Road to Total Dominance

Two days ago, on the 17th October 2011, Nikon announced that they have produced a total of 65 million Nikkor lenses since 1959. Less than 24 hours later, Canon made a similar announcement, declaring that they have produced a total of 70 million EOS lenses and 50 million SLR camera bodies since since 1987. This seemingly mundane and regular announcements hailed a historic moment for Canon, which for the first time managed to surpass the total number of lenses produced by Nikon despite seemingly dominating sales charts for the past decade.

You see, Nikon was the dominant SLR maker before the digital age, and since 1959 millions of Nikkor lenses has been produced before the EOS mount format was even created. Canon had always played second fiddle to Nikon in the past. Moreover, Nikon had an almost 30 years headstart before Canon started selling their EOS based lenses. This is why, despite being the recent market leader, surpassing the total number Nikkor lenses ever to be manufactured is no small feat.

Having achieved that sealed the EOS system as the most popular SLR lens format of all time. Let's recap the road to dominance for Canon.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

It is the Powershot time of the year again!

After almost a year since my last post, I have decided it is time to hit my keyboard again....

It is almost August and in mid-August, Canon usually updates the Powershot G series as well as the its young sibling, the compact S-series.

So, it is speculation time again... What would Canon likely do to improve the already impressive range of cameras. A short scan of Sony and Panasonic sensor announcements in the past year did not yield anything revolutionary nor interesting. There is the new 12mpx 1/2.3" CMOS BSI sensor from Sony (IMX078CQK) which I believe has found its way into most of Canon's recent PnS cameras, but nothing much more. The fact that Canon uses mostly Sony sensors for its PnS, I think we won't be expecting anything exciting in the sensor department anytime soon.

Here are some potential sensor scenarios for the G13 and the S100 (? if Canon doesn't mind reusing an old model number).

  1. A new Canon manufactured sensor. This would likely be a larger sensor, maybe the often rumors 2.7x crop sensor or even m4/3 sized one. However, this would create a huge challenge in making the new PnS pocketable. Remember, the physics cannot lie, bigger sensor, bigger lenses, bigger cameras.
  2. Reusing the same 10mpx 1/1.7" CCD sensor which is pretty good and perhaps improving the NR algorithm but yawnnn...
  3. Using the same IMX078CQK sensor as the other IXUS and PnS offerings. The smaller sensor would allow Canon to increase the zoom range for the G and S series without increasing size. The picture quality seems to be on par with some of the bigger CCD sensors as well. You also gain high speed shooting and 10180p video recording.
From these three scenarios, I somehow feel the chances of (3) happening is pretty high, given its ability to allow much needed features to be added in order to catch up with the competitions. The shrinking down in the size of ILC (the cameras formerly known as EVIL) will definitely pressure Canon to redesign the G series, perhaps more than the S series.

What are some of the these features that Canon would likely be (pressured?) to add to the new compacts. Here is a list:

  • 1080p video recording - Almost a must. I mean come on, my phone can do it...
  • Higher frame rate shooting - Maybe 5 fps?
  • More filter effects, better and faster HDR, simulated bokeh, etc...
  • Better high ISO noise control
  • Faster AF
  • Smaller Size
  • Better lens - High Resolution, Bigger Zoom (24-200mm for G Series, 24-120mm or 24-140mm for S series), Faster (f2.0/f1..8)
  • Panorama Stitch
  • Electronic Leveling
  • Flash Commander Mode
Ofcourse, traditional features such as RAW capture and OVF (for G Series ) would likely stay. As you would probably have notice, many of these features, would only be possible with a smaller BSI sensor at 1/2.3".... Thus, this year, my head would be in control rather than my heart. As much as I want a bigger sensor compact, my prediction stays with a smaller BSI sensor, bringing with it size and a more versatile lens advantage....

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Short Review on the Nokia N8

I have managed to try this phone several times at the Nokia showroom. You can probably find lots of camera samples and image quality comparisons. I will not talk about those things here. Here are my opinions from the usability perspective.

The general GUI and performance of the phone seems acceptable. scrolling is smooth and responsive and the pages follow my finger pretty closely as I swipe it across the screen. I would say at a glance, the performance is almost comparable to Android and iOS.

The main draw of this camera is supposed to be the 1/1.83" 12 mpx sensor which rivals the advanced compact cameras such as G12, LX5, EX1 and the S95.

However, I find the camera interface to be a huge disappointment.

- The amount of control on ISO is limited. You can select a range: high, medium, low but you are not able to select the exact ISO value. For a phone touted to have an large-advanced sensor I find it surprising that Nokia would limit the ability to set ISO. My opinion is that people who does not know about ISO would not even bother to set the range of the ISO. On the other hand, those who bothers to set ISO would probably like to be able to set the actual ISO value, not just a cryptic range. Now Nokia really baffles me here.

- There is no display of shutter speed. Every shot I took was a gamble. I could only hope that the phone would get it right and there were no camera shake.

- There is no option to change the metering mode. Even my 2 year old Sony Ericsson C901 supports 'spot metering'.

- There is no ability to zoom into an image immediately after a shot is taken. Most photographers shooting with digital cameras have the habit of immediately zooming into an image to check for motion blur or sharpness. After a shot is taken, the N8 preview does not allow you to do much. You will have to select 'edit', wait some time for the image to load and then be able to zoom. This is a major irritant to me. To get back to shooting mode, you have to exit the edit mode and select 'back' again to return to the camera.

- The focus area is really huge. This limits the ability to focus on smaller objects.

- The camera menu is not well thought of. Instead of the usual important settings such as ISO, Macro, Metering mode, EV compensation, there is only a flash button on the main page. If you access the settings menu, you are presented with a bunch of less important settings like the sharpness, the contrast, etc... Perhaps the designer of N8 should buy him/herself a proper PnS camera to see how to design a camera interface.

To conclude, I find the N8 to be a camera phone with all the right hardware but the wrong firmware. The picture quality is good and Nokia has to realize that the camera is the main selling point of this phone. With such a great sensor and lens, this should have been a home run for them. I cannot believe they screwed up the most important part of the phone, the GUI of the camera.
It is like giving you a car with the most sophisticated turbocharged engine but it comes only with the steering wheel and accelerator, without any mechanism for gear change or gauges to display engine parameters.

Hopefully there will be a software update or a 3rd party camera app which provides a better camera GUI.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The G12, again...

There has been a leak on the new G12, surprisingly from Cnet Asia this time. Numerous sites have posted the leak, so I will not repeat it here. In summary,

- There will not be a new sensor, it is likely to use the same sensor as the S95, i.e. pretty much the same as the current G11
- A couple of new features here and there include HDR and HD movie (720p) and multi aspect shooting
- The most significant cosmetic change is a new dial, similar to Canon dSLR in front of the shutter button

Now, here is something I learnt from all this. Canon do not make their own PnS sensors and from the looks of it, they do not plan to do so. Therefore, any sensor they use in their cameras are off-the-shelf parts from the likes of Sony.

Sony hasn't announced any new sensors since the BSI-CMOS one which is used in the Ixus series, including the recent Ixus 1000. It does make sense for Canon to reuse the sensor in G11 or the BSI-CMOS one. Like I said in the previous post, it would be really funny if Canon decide to use a smaller sensor in the G series than the one used in the Nokia N8 smart phone :)

For the upcoming G12, I only hope for the following:

- New Digic and circuitry to improve noise processing
- More NR options
- Improve on details by tweaking lens and perhaps AA filter. The G11 lost out to the LX3 on details.
- Faster shot to shot speed
- Faster AF speed and accuracy
- Reduce clipping
- Support longer exposure (30sec) in Av mode
- Support remote trigger
- Graduated ND on top of built in ND

So there you go, there is still hope that the G12 can be a significant improvement to the G11...