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!