Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Handling and Ergonomics of Nikon Film Cameras

  • Nikon FM2 is small; too small for me to hold comfortably. I think adding the MD-12 will improve matters. The shutter speed dial is not easy to manipulate with the camera held to the eye. This is generally true of all the older generation film cameras; the newer command dial approach is easier to manipulate without taking eyes off the viewfinder. The FM2's film winding and shutter operation are very smooth for a mechanical camera; smoother than the F2. The viewfinder magnification is the best amongst all Nikon SLRs; makes manual focusing easier. However, the eyepoint is a mere 14mm which isn't helpful for glass wearers. The exposure, shutter and aperture information are each located on three different sides of the view, which is a nuisance. The exposure LEDs are good, but the shutter speed and aperture are hard to see in the viewfinder.
  • Nikon F2 - I like the F2 better with the hard leather case on, as it provides a better grip on the camera. Haven't tried with the motor drive on, but it seems the combination will be too heavy to be practical. Shutter speeds are harder to change as you have to reach the dial which is at the top of the finder. On both F2A and F2AS the shutter speed, aperture and exposure meter are displayed at the bottom of the screen, which is very nice. The F2AS has LEDs which light up to show exposure, just like the FM2. On the F2AS there is an additional switch to light up the shutter speed as well. The viewfinder magnification isn't bad, and can be made very bright by installing the G1-4 focusing screens. These screens are plain glass with a large central microprism. Makes the view brighter than all the other cameras. The handling is not as smooth as the FM2. Shutter and mirror are louder.
  • Nikon F3 - superb with the MD-4 attached. I had no idea how good this feels; no wonder most F3s were used with motor drives. The combination is visually appealing and a joy to hold, although with 8 AA batteries, it does become heavy. The F3 viewfinder has the shutter speed, meter and aperture displayed at the top of the view, which isn't as good as the F2. The LCD that displays the shutter speed and meter is small and the settings not so easy to see. But the aperture readout is much better than FM2 or F2, as it appears magnified. Viewfinder magnification is fair, and focusing is similar to the F2. The shutter speed dial is harder to reach with the motor drive attached. There is a small button for lighting up the viewfinder LCD, but this is fiddly.
  • Nikon F100 - feels very similar to D300/D700. Ergonomics are better than the manual cameras, generally. The grip is very holdable, and the dials are more easily handled without taking eyes off the viewfinder. Not as good as the F series cameras for manual focusing as there are no screens available with split-image or micro-prism rangefinders. Motor wind is much quieter than the F3/MD-4. 
  • Nikon F5 - I haven't used the F5, but having played with one at a shop, I think the F5 has better handling (subjectively) than the F100 or F6 due to its integrated vertical grip. This makes the camera more stable, and also the grip is better.  The camera feels solid in the hands, and is generally smaller than the other cameras with the motor drives/grips attached.
  • Nikon F6 - The F6 handles very similarly to the F100/D300/D700. The good thing is that there are focusing screens available with additional focusing aids. I think the F6 is too similar to a digital SLR to be really worth the money; why not buy a full frame DSLR instead? But it is tempting from a collector's viewpoint as it is probably the last Nikon F film SLR, and isn't being manufactured in great quantities. And amongst film SLRs it is probably the most refined.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

What the Nikon F6 should have been

How many of Nikon F series cameras have been made? My estimates are given below:

CameraProduction datesEstimated production
Nikon F1959-1974862,600
Nikon F21971-1980816,000 
Nikon F31980-2001751,000
Nikon F41988-1996500,000 (close to 600,000 as per Nikon F4 FAQ website)
Nikon F51996-2005235,000 (estimated from serial numbers)
Nikon F62004-Present30,000 (estimated from serial numbers)

Clearly the advent of the D1 in 2001 affected the sales of F5, but Nikon had also lost ground to Canon during the F4 era, which must have impacted F5 sales. F6 sales are very low, understandably, as everyone has moved to Digital.

This poses the question about what kind of camera F6 should have been? As the Nikon Behind the Scenes interview on F6 indicates, there was no point in trying to compete with digital. Therefore the camera had to have some unique qualities. Did Nikon succeed in making F6 unique?

I think that Nikon ultimately failed. If you pick up an F6, you immediately see the similarity with the latest digital cameras, the D300, for instance. The F6 feels like a clone of its digital cousins. Of course, anyone who has only used film cameras, will see the F6 as unique, and as bringing in some of the more advanced features available in digital cameras.

My view is that the F6 should have been an all mechanical camera, with perhaps advanced metering, data back, etc. A mechanical camera offers something that no digital camera can; the ability to shoot in extreme temperatures, as well as the ability to survive over long periods of time. Electronics evolve rapidly and in a few years time, parts become scarce. But mechanical parts can be produced over a long period of time.

If I could design the F7, I would make it a modern F2. Fully mechanical with a data back and modern  metering (colour matrix, spot etc.).  Separate motor drive as in the older cameras. The idea would be to create a camera that could provide unique features that digital cameras cannot provide, plus a longevity that digital cameras cannot match.

Given the production numbers of film cameras, I do not think that there is any chance of an F7 seeing the light of day. F6 is probably the last film SLR made by Nikon.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

50th Nikon F anniversary and no commemorative model

This is the 50th anniversary of the Nikon F camera and surprisingly, Nikon have not released a commemorative model. I think a limited edition Nikon F or F2 would have been appropriate. Perhaps the economic downturn has something to do with it.

Katz Eye Focussing Screen on D300

I have a number of manual lenses which I would like to use with my D300. The problem is that I struggle to get the right focus; I don't usually carry a tripod with me, and no I can't use live view to get accurate focus. To solve this problem I have now got a Katz Eye screen installed.

First impressions are:
  • With AF lenses, Nikon's AF seems more reliable than manual focus using the Katz Eye screen.  This may be because I need to get better at manual focusing.
  • Even with the Katz Eye screen installed, manual focusing is not as convenient as in my other film SLR cameras. I compared the D300/35mm lens combo with the FM2/50mm lens. The FM2 is easier to focus as the viewfinder magnification is higher.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Nikon D3 versus Canon EOS 1D - AF module

I do not own a Canon 1D Mark III or the Nikon D3, therefore my analysis below is just speculation, and should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Like everyone else, I have read the reports of AF problems with the 1D Mark III. The question is what could have caused these problems and how likely it is that the problems have been resolved in 1D Mark IV.

The AF sensor design changed between Mark II and Mark III. The design of the Mark II design is shown below, followed by the sensor design in Mark III (extract from Canon white paper).

Note that the cross-hair sensors are all clustered together in Mark II, whereas in Mark III, they are interspersed with line sensors. Now look at the Mark IV layout (from Canon white paper):

Although the Mark IV has more cross-type sensors, the layout in automatic mode is the same as that of Mark III. In manual mode, the layout allows more cross-type sensors to be used. The horizontal line sensors are usable with f2.8 and above, whereas the vertical line sensors are usable with f5.6 or above, except for the center AF point, which operates as cross-type upto f4, and as a line sensor upto f8.

Comparatively speaking, all of Nikon's cross and line sensors are fully operational at f5.6 and above.

My take is that the Mark IV may not provide as significant an improvement over Mark III as it could have. I think Canon should have clustered all the cross-type sensors in the middle, just as the Mark II did, and as Nikon D3 does. Another potential issue is the lack of vertical sensitivity below f2.8 in any except the central sensor.

Apart from the AF sensor and the AF algorithm, the other factor that affects AF performance is the mirror operation. The Mark IV specification of the mirror hasn't changed from Mark III. Blackout time is still 80ms, and shutter lag is still 55ms (with 40ms only at max aperture). It seems that the shutter lag is limited by the speed with which the aperture can be closed. Canon has maintained the top speed of 10 fps in the Mark IV.

The Nikon D3 has a shutter lag of 37ms and a blackout time of 74ms. Despite this, the D3's maximum firing rate is limited to 9fps, which means that the D3 has more time in between shots,  both for the mirror bounce to settle, as well as for AF calculations. Of course, we do not know how good Canon's mechanism is for reducing mirror bounce; the better this is the more time will be available for AF operation. It may well be that Canon's active mirror control mechanism, first introduced in the Canon EOS 1V, is more efficient than Nikon's.

For an interesting insight into Nikon's implementation, have a look at this video (credit: the video was posted at by user Tokyo24 on 28 Nov 2009):

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Comparison of Viewfinder Magnifications in Nikon cameras

I think that the FM2N is probably one of the better cameras for manual focusing due to the high magnification of the viewfinder image of .86%. Compare this with .70% in D3.

The APS-C format DSLRs cannot be directly compared here because the specification of viewfinder magnification is in terms of a 50mm lens, but to get the same field of view as a 50mm lens on full frame, one has to use a 35mm lens on the APS-C DSLR. The effective viewfinder magnification of an APS-C DSLR is therefore lower than the specified one. Rough testing leads me to believe that the D300, for instance, which is specified as 0.94% magnification using 50mm, only provides an effective magnification of .75% when using a 35mm lens. This is not bad when compared to D3, but the Nikon FM2N is better for manual focussing.

Viewfinder magnification using 50mm at infinity
Viewfinder Coverage
Nikon FM2N
Nikon FM3A
Nikon F

Nikon F2

Nikon F3

Nikon F3HP
Nikon F3AF

Nikon F4
Nikon F5
Nikon F6
Nikon D3
Nikon D700
Nikon F90x
Nikon F100

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Nikkor 85mm F1.4 versus 50mm F1.4 and 105mm Micro VR

I rented the AF Nikkor 85mm F1.4D and the AFS Micro Nikkor 105mm F2.8 VR over the weekend to try them out. Unfortunately, due to poor weather I was unable to shoot as many pictures as I had hoped. Nevertheless I was able to take some test pictures comparing the bokeh of the three lenses. The tests can be seen at:

Flickr Set 1
Flickr Set 2

Following are my general observations.

The 85mm has a very nice bokeh at F1.4, and it is sharp enough to be used at this aperture. However, there are color aberrations that are visible at maximum aperture. I found that it was difficult to get accurate focus on moving targets (a child) with this lens and the D300. Focusing wasn't slow as such, but somehow the camera did not track very well. This could be a user error as I am not used to taking action pictures. The lens is very well built, and is made of metal. I found that shooting subjects with a bright background created a loss of contrast due to flare. The lens I was using has a serial number 213792 and appeared to have been well used; so this could be just an issue with this sample.

Overall I was happy with the 85mm F1.4 but main concerns are ability to get correct focus and the color aberrations at maximum aperture.

The 105mm Micro VR is a huge lens. It is amazing how big it is compared to my 105mm F2.5 manual focus lens. It is fat and ugly, and looks too large on my D300. The lens appears to have at least part metal build; the focus is very fast at normal distances. The AFS motor just zips into focus; it is much faster than the 60mm F2.8 AFS lens, and the 50mm F1.4 AFS. Perhaps the size of the AFS motor makes a difference to the speed. This was my first experience with a VR lens; I was surprised to hear noises coming out of the lens when VR was enabled. For the test shots I disabled VR. I think VR is useful but I worry that it may make the lens more susceptible to break downs in the longer term. I also feel concerned that a VR lens by its nature is likely to suffer from centering problems, as the VR unit has to move up/down inside the lens.

From a bokeh point of view, I found that the 105mm Micro lens has a smooth bokeh, which can challenge the 85mm F1.4 at equivalent apertures. Of course, the 85mm has a larger aperture, which allows it generate the best bokeh (when used at F1.4) amongst the three lenses. The 50mm F1.4 generates the worst bokeh, as can be seen from the sample pictures.

The 85mm has the best build quality of the lot, and I hope that Nikon does not replace it with a more plastic bodied lens. As the construction is relatively simple and lacks a focusing motor, I presume that this lens is also the most robust and likely to survive the longest.

Ricoh GXR - a mistake?

I like my GR Digital III because it has a sharp fast wide angle lens. So much so that I am now thinking seriously about pairing it with a Nikon D300 equipped with a fast medium telephoto such as the 85mm F1.4 AF - this will be the perfect combination of portability and quality.

The recently announced Ricoh GXR camera doesn't excite me at all - in fact I think it is a very silly idea. Ricoh could have made a camera that used the Leica M mount, or even the micro-thirds mount. But to come up with a camera where the body itself has no functionality other than the display, the battery and the menu system is very silly, in my opinion.

The only cost saving it generates is for Ricoh. We as consumers must pay higher cost for the camera and lens combination; and new lenses will be more expensive than they need to be. And as many have pointed out, you do not want your lenses to become obsolete because the sensor attached to them is obsolete.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The quest for the ultimate film camera

Is the Nikon F6 the ultimate film camera?

Following features really interest me:
  • Accurate metering - the colour matrix metering is supposed to be very good. The great thing about the F6 is that colour matrix metering works even with non CPU lenses, just like the D300/D3.
  • Data imprint between frames - including date and exposure details - perfect!
  • Interchangeable focusing screens - and a screen type that has a central micro-prism to aid manual focusing.
  • Support for older non CPU lenses - and even non-AI lenses (after modification).
Other aspects that are equally interesting:
  • Quiet and vibration free operation - I would love to compare the F6 with the Leica M6.
  • Build quality - pro Nikons are built to last forever.
  • Relatively small size as compared to F5, or the D series professional SLRs.
Pity that one can't rent the F6.

New ones are now exorbitantly priced - £1700 in the UK. That's the same price as that of D700.

I guess if you shoot film, then the F6 is the ultimate camera. It is perfect because it seems to have the best set of features amongst all film cameras.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Nikon D3s and Canon Eos 1D Mark IV

Nikon has lately been quite aggressive with its DSLR line, determined to hold on to its current market share I presume. Given that the imaging business is now the main revenue earner for Nikon, this is hardly surprising. I think that no one expected Nikon to completely revamp the imaging sensor in a point upgrade to the D3. A new FX sensor within 2 years of the old one, kudos to Nikon!

It is uncanny how Nikon and Canon appear to produce cameras with the same feature within a few weeks of each other. The Nikon D90 had HD video, and soon after the Canon 5DII came out with HD video. The same pattern has been repeated with the latest announcements - Nikon comes out with 102400 ISO, and Canon follows suit a week later.

Looking at the specifications, it seems that Canon has targeted sports photographers, sacrificing the FF sensor to keep to the 1.3x format. This along with the higher resolution should allow sports photographers greater reach and ability to crop.

The Nikon D3s, on the other hand, seems more targeted towards news photographers, although also thrown in is the 1.2x crop mode as a convenience to sports photographers. Thanks to the upgraded imaging sensor, the D3s is able to compete with the 1D Mark IV, despite being a two year old model.

Only time will tell which of these design choices is a winner.

Canon has an obvious advantage when it comes to the video implementation, due to its long experience with professional and amateur video cameras. But quite apart from this, a bias may be evident in how the video has been executed. The Canon appears to be targeting Videographers, whereas the Nikon is targeting primarily still photographers who want to take advantage of the occasional video.

These are just speculations on my part; it is unlikely that we will ever get to know the real reason for Canon sticking with the 1.3x format sensor, or for Nikon avoiding the 1080p HD video format. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that Canon believes 1.3x format is better for sports photographers, and had not anticipated the upgraded D3s. A 1D Mark IV with support for 102400 ISO and HD video, compared with the original D3, would have been a clear winner.

The introduction of D3s just before the announcement of the 1D Mark IV has despoiled Canon of a clear victory here. But Nikon's choice of 720p format video is puzzling. My guess is that the Expeed chip isn't fast enough, and that we will not see 1080p HD video until the next generation Expeed chip comes along.

The best thing with these two cameras is that each has its strengths, and there is no clear winner. Therefore photographers using either brand can get on with the job of taking more photographs, rather than agonizing over the superior features of the competitive brand.

Nikon would hit a home run if they introduced an upgrade to the D700 with the same sensor as in D3s. I for one would buy such a camera immediately. The D3s is too serious a camera for an amateur like me, therefore I could never justify buying one.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Ricoh GR Digital III - Part 4

Things about GRD3 that I wish were different.
  • I wish the lens cap was a bit less fragile. As it stands, I feel scared that something will push it in and scratch the lens.
  • The LCD can be switched off using the custom settings; but when you do so, it stays off and there is no way to check the camera settings, which makes it less than useful. I wish there was an option to just display the camera settings on the LCD rather than being completely off. As it is, I think it is better to leave the LCD on even when using the external viewfinder.
  • Wish the external viewfinder were povided with a central AF square - as this would really make it useful in spot AF mode. As it is one has to guess where the focus point will be. 
  • Now this is an odd one; I actually wish that the lens did not retract into the body and was completely fixed instead. This would make the lens more sturdy and the camera would be more responsive. But this would of course completely destroy the compactness of GRD3. 

Monday, 28 September 2009

My thoughts on rumored Nikon D3s

It is often that rumors are just wish lists, rather than reality. If a D3s was released, how likely is it that some of the rumored specs will be true?

  • Better high ISO performance? Probably yes.
  • 14 fps? I seriously doubt this unless this is in live view mode without the mirror flapping. As far as I know the Canon F1n High Speed camera with 14fps was the fastest ever SLR camera, but it used a fixed pellical mirror. In terms of speed, the runner up was the Nikon F3 High Speed camera, with a top speed of 13fps, but utilizing a pellical mirror as well.
  • HD Video? Almost certainly given current trends, but I do hope it is not 720p again - that would be disaster in marketing terms, because Nikon's competition is sure to offer 1080p.
The D3 and D700 utilize a Nikon designed CMOS sensor unlike the D300 series, which uses Sony sensors. This means that we cannot necessarily draw conclusions about D3's capabilities from the specifications of the D300s.

I wish that Nikon were more forthcoming about their designs and limitations and challenges they face. As a customer I would appreciate if they explained why the D300s is limited to 720p, or why the 14-bit mode shows down the camera and increases the shutter lag. Is it a limitation of the sensor? Is it a limitation of Expeed processor? It would be good to know. Leica seems much more open about its designs, and this is widely appreciated.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

To Leica M9 or not

One of the coolest things about Leica film cameras is that they seem to live for ever. My Leica CL is over 30 years old but I had it serviced by Leica recently, and I hope that it will now last another 30 years. The fact that Leica still service the CL, which was not even made by Leica, is amazing.

Leica equipment does not lose its resale value as fast as other brands. Therefore, owning Leica equipment is a sound investment in the long term as you can sell off stuff and get a decent amount of your investment back.

With the digital cameras, of course, this model may not work that well. As soon as the next camera is released, the older model starts loosing value immediately, and in a few years time, is worth a fraction of the original cost. You can already see that prices of used M8s have started falling. Nevertheless, I hope that Leica M8 cameras will hold their value longer compared to other brands. This will be true if Leica continue to service these cameras for several more years. Unfortunately it is hard to imagine that the M8 will be useful 30 years from now.

The problem with owning the M9 is that it is so expensive that you would be nervous carrying it with you everywhere. Certainly for someone like me, it would be big investment, and I would be worried about it getting stolen. Whereas the Ricoh GRD 3 is much cheaper, and pocketable as well, therefore I am carefree when I have it with me. And should GRD 4 come out next year, it would not cost much to upgrade.

For anyone addicted to upgrading their digital camera every year, investing in compacts makes more sense. Of course, when it comes to the quality of images, the large image sensor of the M9 or the DSLRs are much better.

So should I start saving for the M9 or not?

Maybe not. I am content for now with the combination of Nikon D300 and the Ricoh GR Digital 3.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Ricoh GR Digital III Review - Part 3

A few random observations:

If you switch from AF to MF, the GRD3 remembers your focus point and shows the corresponding distance on the scale. I am not sure yet but this may be the best way of setting the manual focus distance for snap shooting. Best thing is that if you assign the AF/MF toggle to the FN1 key, then it takes only a single press of the button to switch from AF to MF or back.

I acquired a used GV-1 for about half the price of a new one. Haven't used it enough to form an opinion, but so far experience is that it is easy to use. The center AF point is not marked so if you are using AF, you have to sort of guess where the center is.

The shutter lag of the camera is minimum - unless you are shooting macro. The macro focusing seems to take a bit longer. I find that in normal shooting, the lag is almost absent. I have not had to wait at all, and the picture is taken instantaneously. Of course, in most cases, as you frame the picture, the camera has a chance to acquire focus, and then you can take a picture as you soon as you depress the shutter button.

At first I was puzzled by the default 5 minutes timeout for the camera to automatically switch off. I had assumed that it should switch off sooner to conserve battery. But while using it in a real situation I found that it was more convenient to just leave the camera on, so that it was always ready to take the next shot.

When using the optical finder, I wanted to have the lcd switched off. I may be wrong about this, but I found that if you switch the camera off and switch it back on, it forgets about the lcd setting so that you need to turn it off every time you switch the camera on.

Update: As pointed out by Chaka (see comments), custom settings do allow you to have the LCD turned off. It seems this cannot be done with the normal menu. I suppose that this makes sense in a way as turning off the lcd is a relatively big decision and you don't want it to happen by accident.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Ricoh GR Digital III Review - Part 2

I dislike post processing images in software ... the greatest pictures are those that come out the way you wanted them, requiring no post processing. Film photography is good because the film records exactly what you shot, and no matter what, you have the negative to prove the original.

This is perhaps a silly point of view, as even film photographers used the darkroom to modify and enhance their images. I guess that the ultimate beauty of an image is something else, it is different sort of achievement than taking the perfect picture.

Digital cameras and software have made it so easy to produce great images that is hard to know what makes a great photograph any more.

I like images of people, and taking perfect pictures of people is challenging. I don't know how you as a photographer can become invisible so that people do not notice you any more. The Ricoh GRD3 is certainly suited to this type of photography. As many people have pointed out, it is small and inconspicuous, and as it is not a DSLR, people don't take much notice. But I think that it would be better if the camera had a viewfinder, so that you could bring it your eye, rather than having to hold it at arms length. I suppose this is why people like to add the optical finder as an accessory. The camera allows you to switch off the lcd for this type of usage.

The optical finders are unfortunately not cheap, and having spent already what I think is a high price for a camera, do I want to invest in a finder? I would be glad to know the experiences of other people who use add on finders with the GRD cameras.

I notice that the rear lcd gets smudged easily. And I have been a bit worried about dust getting into the camera; read somewhere that this is a potential issue.

The lcd shows an electronic level to help you ensure that the camera is horizontally aligned. I find this useful but also distracting as I keep trying to make this thing go green and then loose my framing. You can turn this off, but I will keep it on for now.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Ricoh GR Digital III Review - Part 1

I have been playing around with the settings, trying to customize the camera to my liking.
I have assigned FN1 to AF/Snap mode selection.
FN2 is set to switching metering modes.
MY1 is configured to use Auto, with multi-zone metering and spot AF.
MY2 is configured to use Aperture Priority, with multi-zone metering and spot AF.
MY3 is configured to use Manual Exposure, with spot metering and spot AF.
The zoom button is assigned to exposure compensation (default).
The adj lever is set to White Balance, ISO, Bracketing and Image Quality. I am not sure I like the adj lever very much - but it is useful way of getting to frequently used settings.

The way you select the snap focus distance is frustrating. You have keep pressing the up button and turn the front wheel. Why can't this be a single button job? Or even better using a focus wheel?

AF seems fast enough for most uses I am going to put this to. For people shots I would probably stick with the snap focus mode.

It seems that if you want the camera to be ready to take pictures, you should keep it switched on. If you switch off, the lens retracts inside and then switching on takes a short while (about a second). It is annoying to continuously switch on/off with the lens moving in and out. Am more used to DSLRs where the lens stays put.

Manual Exposure mode is cool. The exposure is actually shown on screen and you can see the scene becoming brighter or darker as you change the shutter speed and aperture combination. I like this.

The depth of field display when using snap focus in AE/MF mode is nice as it lets you pick the right aperture to get the maximum area in focus.

I dislike the up/down/left/right buttons. It would have been better to have a wheel like the Canon G10.

Now for some samples:

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Ricoh GR Digital III First Impressions

The rear lcd is cool.
The fast lens allows relatively low ISO to be used even indoors.
The manual focus seems to operate in steps from 1m onwards. On my camera, the focus steps erratically when the up/down buttons are pressed; sometimes, two steps backward rather than one. The magnified view isn't very helpful as it doesn't seem to offer high enough magnification.
I think that when manual focus is selected, the image should be automatically zoomed. Having to press and hold the OK button is stupid.
I like spot focus better than multi focus.
The camera seems very light weight. The Canon GR10 felt more robust probably due to size.

If the manual focus is stepped, the AF must be stepped too. So we probably can't get the most accurate focus for distant subjects - it will be like zone focusing.

Which is the best digital compact camera?

One of the problems with a digital SLR is that it is a fairly large piece of equipment, and you need to lug a camera bag of reasonable size. Taking a DSLR with you is always a deliberate decision, and you do it only when you are certain that you will be taking pictures.

I also find that I am self conscious taking out in public a large DSLR with potentially large zoom lens sticking out; it just attracts attention.

The great thing about the compact cameras is that they are small and can be carried around without too much effort. It also seems less conspicuous to take out a compact camera. Ultimately a camera that is likely to be used more often is also likely to produce better (as in aesthetically) pictures.

I have been looking for a digital compact that is small and pocket-able as a backup to my DSLR; and also as a camera that I can always have with me, even when I go to work. I ultimately settled for a Ricoh GR Digital 3, and this is the story of how this came about.

I spent a fair amount of time researching various models before buying the GRD 3. The cameras that interested me were Panasonic GF1/LX3, Canon G10/G11/S90, Leica X1, Olympus EP1, Sigma DP1/DP2, and Ricoh GR Digital 3. All of these are high end compact cameras. I did not look at the lower end models as I wanted something that had the best possible image quality while being compact.

It would have been nice if I had tried them all out, but not having access to the cameras, I based my selection on published reviews, and a careful assessment of the features that matter to me. Here are my thoughts about what I liked or disliked about each one of them.

Panasonic GF1
  • My initial reaction was that this was the ideal small camera, sufficiently high quality, and yet compact.
  • But on more consideration, I realized that although it is small compared to the DSLR it is still too large to be considered pocket-able. Therefore it didn't really meet my requirement for a truly pocket-able camera.
  • I am unsure about the quality of the new pancake lens and generally speaking , the approach being taken by Panasonic with regards to lenses. They seems to rely too much on correcting aberrations through software.
  • The GF1 is almost a replacement for the DSLR and is a system camera in its own right. It seems to be a better choice for people who haven't invested in a DSLR yet. When you add interchangeable lenses, its size advantage compared to DSLRs is diminished quite a bit, and it becomes more a matter of personal taste.
Panasonic LX3
  • This was the chief contender for being a pocket-able competitor to the GRD 3. I liked the idea of a zoom lens, and the LX3 has a relatively fast lens.
  • It is also significantly cheaper than the GRD 3.
  • Plus has HD video capability - not that this interests me very much but it is good to have the option.
  • The high ISO performance is also reported to be good, although dxomark puts the G10 above the LX3 in this department.
  • What really put me off was that Panasonic claimed that the Leica lens had much less distortion than other lenses; this is a blatant lie, as it is now well known that the lens suffers from distortion and this is corrected in software. How can you trust a vendor that makes such a false claim?
  • The LX3 is also not as compact as the GRD 3, especially because of the protruding lens.
  • Has been out for a while and may be due for replacement soon.
  • I would have liked to check out the manual focus capability - given that this is reportedly quite usable on GF1, it may also be good on the LX3.
Olympus EP1
  • Reports of very poor AF out me off. Also the pancake lens is not fast enough.
  • Most of what I have said about the GF1 also applies to this one.
Canon G10/G11
  • I tried the G10 at a shop. Build quality seemed great.
  • The zoom is slow and the AF is slow as well. G11 has the same zoom; hopefully they have improved AF performance.
  • I like the fact that the lens retracts in the body, which means that although the body is relatively large, this may be more pocket-able than LX3. Need a side by side comparison to be sure.
  • According to dxomark, high ISO performance is better than LX3.
  • The slow lens and the slow AF put me off. Also, the manual focus mode is useless as the zoomed image is a joke.
Canon S90
  • Seems perfect on paper, but lens is too slow at the long end.
  • Looking at the specs, I have the impression that the lens quality will not match that of the G11. And the G11 itself doesn't have the perfect lens.
Leica X1
  • This one is way too expensive for what it is. For the same price one can get a used M8. I can't see why anyone would buy this camera; I think Leica should have retained the M8 as a cheaper alternative to M9, rather than introducing this camera.
  • LCD appears to be very low resolution, so MF will be useless.
  • Leica claims to build this but specs seem close to that of GF1. I do hope that the AF is good, because if it isn't, then this will be a total waste of money.
  • Only for Leicaphiles who want anything branded Leica. I own and love Leica stuff, but am not blindly in love.
Sigma DP1/DP2
  • Reports of very poor AF put me off.
  • Image quality is reportedly smashing at low ISOs.
  • The fixed lens is quite slow - Sigma should put in a faster lens given that foveon sensor is not the best in low light performance. But I guess this would have made the size bigger.
  • Sigma do not appear to have a very good reputation when it comes to quality control.
Ricoh GRD 3
  • The main attractions were the lens, the relatively good high ISO performance, and the size.
  • The lens seems of high quality - no coma, sharp to the edges (comparatively speaking), very little color fringing or chromatic aberration. The fact that part of it moves aside when it is retracted bothers me - I hope the assembly and the mechanism is precise enough to provide the performance that Ricoh claims.
  • Smallest of the lot, closest to being pocketable.
  • What bothered me most was the lack of a zoom. But then the size wouldn't be what it is, and the quality of the lens would be compromised.
  • The lens is fast, which should help in low light shooting.
  • I think it is too expensive, but couldn't wait for the prices to drop
Well, these were my thoughts before I made the purchase. Now I am going to find out whether I made the right choice!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Interesting Website

Found this Italian website with very unusual collection of information.

Amazing stuff. Wish it was all in English.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Zeiss ZF 35mm F2

A short while ago I wrote about my dream lens. I did not think such a lens existed. However, I now think that the Zeiss ZF 35mm F2 might just be the lens I was wishing for. From all accounts this lens seems to be superlative. Like Leica lenses, its widest aperture is fully usable. The lens appears to be extremely well corrected for coma; this is confirmed by Diglloyd. 

The build quality of the lens seems like that of the Leica Summicron. The same all metal finish. Even the texture of the metal focussing ring is the same.

I can't wait to put this lens through its paces. 

I used to own the Zeiss ZF 50mm F1.4, but I sold it because it suffered from severe coma at the widest aperture. 

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Leica R-E

I have added a Leica R-E 35mm SLR camera to my film camera collection. Leicas have always been so costly that owning one has been beyond my reach. But in recent years prices of used Leica R equipment has fallen significantly. I was able to acquire a used R-E and a 50mm Summicron-R for less than £450. The M series cameras are way more expensive.

The R-E is a cut down version of the R5. It has aperture priority plus manual exposure, and has shutter speeds upto 1/2000 sec. Spot metering is available in both modes, plus average metering is available in aperture priority mode. The camera is relatively small in size.

The 50mm summicron-r is built beautifully. The focusing is silky smooth. I have yet to develop the first film I shot with it, so can't comment on image quality yet. But holding the lens is a pleasure and you can see straight away that these lenses are built to a very high level of standard.

My first impressions are that the Leica R-E is quite well built - though not as good as the Nikon F2 or F3, both of which feel sturdier. The Summicron-R is, however, definitely better built that the 50mm Nikkors.

Here are some pictures of my Leica:

dibyendumajumdar's Leica R-E photosetdibyendumajumdar's Leica R-E photoset

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Nikon F2A and Nikon F3

Recently I acquired a used Nikon F2A, fully serviced by Sover Wong, and a used Nikon F3. I have wanted to own these for more than twenty years ... so I am really pleased.

Sover sent me some pictures of the F2A as he serviced it; this was a unique experience, and made the whole purchase very individual and satisfying. Thank you Sover!

The F3 was a bit beat up - and the seller had not been completely honest about the condition. Anyway, I took it to FixationUK to have it serviced - to my great disappointment, they no longer open up F3s for CLA. All they do is clean from the outside, check that everything is okay, and replace the foams. Wish there was someone like Sover who was willing to service F3s!

Here are pictures of my new beloved toys. The internals of F2A were taken by Sover Wong.

dibyendumajumdar's Nikon Equipment photosetdibyendumajumdar's Nikon Equipment photoset

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Nikon D300 opens the doors to some old manual focus Nikkors

I bought a couple of old manual focus Nikkors from last week, to use with my D300. This has been made possible thanks to the D300's ability to setup non-CPU lenses so that you can even use matrix metering with these lenses. Amazing freedom! Suddenly the old manual focus lenses are usable again!

The first lens I bought is the legendary Nikkor 105mm f2.5 AI. I have always longed to own this lens; it feels like owning a part of history. According to Robert Rotolini, this (its rangefinder predecessor, to be exact) was probably the lens on which the Nikkor fame was built.

The second lens is also a 105mm, this time the 105mm f4 Micro Nikkor. I had always wanted to buy a micro lens, but the very high cost of the newer lenses had prevented me from buying them.

I haven't had much time to shoot with these lenses, but preliminary results show both are sharp and usable on the D300. With the f2.5, achieving accurate focus at f2.5 is tricky. Once I get a chance to take some real pictures (UK weather permitting) I will post samples.