Odd Things Were Written...

Writers like myself are also voluminous readers. Which means we see things. Things that raise our eyebrows and obviously warrant further discussion. Here are some of the things that caught my attention towards the end of 2019:

  • “...generally speaking, most photographers don't want framed prints of their own work to hang on the wall…” [dpreview]  This quote ties in with something I’ve been arguing with “photographers” about for some time: why are you photographing, and for whom? This devolves quickly into the craft versus art discussion most of the time. Photographers are okay with saying they attempt to master a craft, but most are leery of saying what they do might be art. Art hangs on walls. Craft gets stuck in closets (or on hard drives ;~). Thing is, having a camera and not showing what you accomplished with it is a bit like owning a copier but never putting paper in it. You go through all the early motions, then punt on the last. One of the big pushbacks I get about doing better communications and image sharing from cameras is centered on this, too: most DSLR users are taking pictures that’ll never be seen. What’s really going on here is that no one wants to show their failure rate. Not every photo you take will be dramatic, impactful, or display a clear story or thing of interest on its own. In fact, virtually all of the photos you take won’t meet that standard. That doesn’t mean you should avoid showing your work, though. 
  • "one of the advantages of shooting with APS-C, is that you can shoot with a much faster shutter speed compared to full frame.” [fujirumors] This was the conclusion stated from shooting the same scene with a Fujifilm APS-C camera at ISO 160, f/1.2, and 1/8000 versus shooting a Sony full frame camera at ISO 100, f/1.8, and 1/3200. I see this kind of thing all the time, where we get apples-versus-oranges comparisons and then odd, often misleading conclusions made from that. Both cameras were shot wide open at base ISO, but we have different “wide open” and different “base ISO.” We also have different capture areas of light, which would theoretically impact noise production. A lot of oranges in this apples comparison. Had the shooter in question simply matched ISO and used the same lens, would they say the same thing (I’ll leave you to figure out the math there)? Equivalence is a base concept. A way to compare apples to apples. It uses scientific method to attempt to explain what a difference actually means and where it comes from. In reality we often don’t get exact matchups when people write about gear, which leads them to trying to make sense of things and sometimes stating a conclusion that, taken on its own, will likely lead you, the reader, down a wrong path. Now there’s no doubt that there are non-equivalent rabbit holes you can fall down when comparing between brands. Brand X might not have an f/1.2 lens and Brand Y might not let you set ISO 100. That’s what I would call an attempt at a pragmatic comparison. But I’d never try to make a generalized overall equivalence statement from a pragmatic comparison. After all, the pragmatics might change ;~). A better way to look at things is this: can the system you are considering do what you want it to do, period. (And finally, “much faster” apparently means a little over a stop to the person writing this article. I’m not sure I’d use the words “much faster” here. Words matter.)
  • "...developing a mirrorless housing proves simpler than designing a SLR camera. On the other hand, the difficulty lies in the development of a wide range of optics in a very short time.” [Interview with Ricoh Europe General Sales Manager]  And people wonder why I constantly harp on lenses. There’s a missing part to Farreng’s statement here. It should read “development of a wide range of optics in a very short time that will sustain a system as competitive for a very long time.” I think there’s a distinction to be made here. And it’s key to why I’m so rough on Canon with the EOS M line: they’re not doing either. We don’t have a wide range of optics (only 8 after 7 years), nor is that going to last them a really long time (RF lenses don’t work on M, even with an adapter). Let me phrase things a bit differently: everyone’s problem is lenses. In a contracting market with the attachment rate (lenses sold per camera body) not increasing, this puts enormous pressure on the camera companies. Panasonic partially solved their problem with alliances (m4/3, L-mount). Sony has a good head start but still has clear holes in the lineup. Nikon is at full capacity trying to fill out a new mount. Canon, well, Canon is all over the board and difficult to figure (continuing EF, continuing to choke EF-S and M, and making RF lenses that clearly outperform their cameras). 
  • "Full frame is not for everyone." [Olympus Murata-san interview with dpreview] While not an odd thing to say, many of the comments people made on various fora about that quote are on the odd slide. First, some historical context: in the brands that have both crop sensor and full frame options, full frame has ranged from 5% to almost 20% at any given point in time in terms of volume; the remainder has been crop sensor. So absolutely, full frame is not for everyone. It hasn't been, currently isn't, and I don't see a time when it ever will be. One of the oddities with Murata-san's statements is the notion that you just transition m4/3 towards wildlife shooters, because, after all, that 150-400mm f/4.5 lens makes it so. The problem is equivalence. As I've noted many times, you can use a smaller sensor to make a smaller product, but you do so at the risk of a shutter speed/noise interaction for sports and wildlife shooters. The Nikon 1 with its 70-300mm lens was a great Sunny 16 camera, but struggled in deep shade, edge of day, and any low light situation. Quantum Shot Noise is a real issue you can't avoid in action photography, and one that any serious wildlife, sports, or event shooter learns about very quickly. The only real benefit the upcoming 150-400mm lens gives us that we don't already have is the constant f/4.5 aperture (Panasonic's already existing lens in that focal range is variable aperture). I do believe that there's a niche within the niche that m4/3 can exploit, but it's a narrow one, and it's not going to save Olympus's market contraction issues.
  • "Lens A on mirrorless is better than Lens B on a DSLR." [various] I'm seeing all kinds of this type of comparison these days, and even when we start putting the same lenses on the same camera (e.g. DSLR lens tested via adapter on mirrorless camera) the apples versus oranges problems can mask what's really going on. I tend to think that comparing an older DSLR lens against a new mirrorless lens is a bit of a mismatch, though we're all having to do it, for obvious reasons. For one thing, the design parameters and actual use case are different for DSLR and mirrorless. For instance, one recent comparison tried to point out that the corners of the 14-30mm f/4 S were better than the 14-24mm f/2.8G. The problem here is that something changed in lens design between the design of those two lenses. And that thing is "lens corrections." The 14-30mm is really wider than 14mm and has very high linear distortion, while the 14-24mm is a real 14mm and has—for that wide an angle—very low linear distortion, though a complex type. The 14-24mm was designed for a time when you didn't try to use a computer to "fix" a lens in post. The 14-30mm was clearly designed so that it will only be used with a computer to fix its faults in post. The "corner pixels" in any true test tend to be real for the DSLR lens, but invented for the mirrorless lens. Now pragmatically, yes the corners of the 14-30mm f/4 lens at f/8 look better than the corners of the 14-24mm f/2.8 lens at f/8, both on a Z7 (with or without lens corrections turned on in the case of the DSLR lens). But you're mostly looking at faux pixels versus real pixels in the corners, and yes, the faux pixels look better. But were they manipulated to be better (e.g. judicious contrast and sharpness application in the re-arrangement)? That's something I'm still investigating. All that said, clearly Canon with RF L, Nikon with Z S, and Sony with FE GM lenses are today designing to a higher standard, using mount differences to advantage, and have figured out how to make software lens corrections that tie in with the optical design to produce better final results. But let's not condemn the EF L, F G/E, and Sony A lenses quite so fast. Most of those older lenses hold up quite well against the best of today's designs.
  • "The twinning arrangement between Cologne and Kyoto..." [Photokina 2020 press release] So begins one of the strangest press releases I've ever read (and I didn't know that Kyoto was the center of the Japanese camera industry ;~). The press release wanders around not-to-the-point points before it gets to a sort of punch line: come see the photo gear that will be at the Tokyo Olympic Games by attending Photokina in May 2020. Uh, not exactly. Because Nikon and Olympus gear won't be exhibiting at Photokina (nor will Leica or Fujifilm). So the E-M1X and the lenses Olympus is launching for the Olympics, nor the Nikon D6 and the 120-300mm f/2.8 won't be there. Canon and Sony will be at Photokina 2020 doing what the press release suggests. The press release that Photokina 2020 actually needs is a "this is why you should attend" one. The problem is that with half the camera industry not supporting the show, the event needs a new identity and purpose, which at the moment isn't clear as to what that would be. At one point, the every two years Photokina show was the only place where you could see pretty much everything that was going on in the photography industry and community. In 2020 and every year after that, I don't know what purpose the show will actually serve. But the press release Photokina released actually convinced me more that 2020 is a year for me to skip Photokina. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't be the intention of the press release ;~).
  • "Instagram isn't for photography and your best work will never get as much attention as some coed posting bathroom selfies in a bikini." [reddit] While there's some truth behind this statement, it's also deceiving, dismissive, and disingenuous. You of course are free to promote your photography wherever you'd like, though I tend to think that Instagram isn't the place, mostly due to the way it insists that photos are square and only 1080 pixels wide. And, no, you may not get as much attention, just as the statement suggests, though that part seems a bit misogynist to me. But is the purpose of a photograph to get the most attention possible? It definitely seems like the smartphone crowd and their selfies think that's the case, but photographs inform, inspire, and engage—among many other possibilities—and the key is always to make sure how your work is getting displayed matches its intent. 
  • "Of those ten [Z mount] lenses, all five of the zoom lenses cover the same focal range as the primes, and none of the primes are what are considered top-end optics except for the nigh unattainable 58mm NOCT." [petapixel] Oh my, three problems in one sentence. And this isn't the only sentence in that article with over-the-top and misguided statements. Let's start with the zoom lenses. Don't all zoom lenses cover the same focal range as primes? Moreover, the statement actually isn't true unless you consider a DX lens as overlapping an FX lens (the current Z FX lens zooms go from 14-70mm, but we have an 85mm prime. Apparently I also missed the class where it said that only f/1.4 or faster primes qualify as "top-end." As I've noted, every prime Nikon has offered so far for the Z mount has been the best performing prime of that focal length Nikon has ever made, so taken further, the writer would have to say "Nikon never made a top-end prime." So once again the Tyranny of Numbers has shown up on the Internet, where f/1.4 is automatically better than f/1.8. Finally, I'd point out that the NOCT is only nigh unattainable to the author, apparently because their credit card limit doesn't go that high or his local store doesn't carry it.
  • "Although the Z7 was billed at its launch as the top-end mirrorless camera that Nikon would be producing, in the face of the criticism Nikon walked that back, saying that a higher-end mirrorless would be coming." [petapixel again] I just went back and re-read Nikon's launch documents. Nowhere do I find a statement from Nikon saying the Z7 would be the top-end mirrorless camera Nikon will ever produce. I do note other sites using the term "flagship" and "top-end" in their descriptions of the launch, though. I'm also not aware of Nikon "walking back" a statement. Umatate-san did eventually make a comment to Nikon Kogyo Shimbun, a Japanese trade paper, that a higher-end mirrorless camera would be coming. But what I see here is an author taking two statements in other media and adding "in the face of the criticism..." I've tried to be clear in my assessments of the Nikon mirrorless cameras so far: they all shoot a tiny bit lower than the equivalent DSLR (e.g. Z7<D850, Z50<D7500). This seems to be a clear and consistent product management decision. Not one that I agree with, but it still seems clear to me that Nikon was attempting to protect its remaining DSLR business with its initial models in the Z series. Obviously, one would have to guess that this would change over time as DSLR sales continue to drop while mirrorless becomes the dominant ILC. 
  • "There are now seven RX100 models currently on the market that you can buy. Should you save a few bucks and go with less than the latest-and-greatest?" [dpreview] Okay, the statement itself isn't odd, as it is factual (and I've previously pointed out the same thing). What's odd is that this has happened. The engineering iteration was carefully managed in a way that allowed Sony to create this problem. At this point, "any sale" is the mantra with the Japanese camera makers. They haven't distinguished their new products enough to make them absolutely compelling, so they'll happily sell you their old products at a lower price just to sell something. In tech, this sort of thing—generational buildup—typically happens just before the storm waves they've been fighting overwhelm the industry. As a long-term strategy generational buildup sucks, as it erodes your margins and establishes lower price points you have to keep matching. It's the definition of a downward spiral. Personally, I'm still waiting for the camera company that realizes that the way they've been doing things no longer works and does a complete reset of both their offerings and how they're sold. Let me pose it this way: which would you rather have? (1) An RX-100 Mark VIII appears with a few more tweaks and performance upticks; or (2) An RX-200 appears with completely rethought and photographer-focused UX/ergonomics/controls, plus better integration into the mobile world? Thought so.
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