Sunday, 22 August 2010

Digital versus film photography

We all know the convenience of digital photography. It is hard to be a bad photographer with a medium that lets you immediately check whether the picture was good, and retry if necessary; and any flaws in the image can be tweaked subsequently very easily so that the final image is visually appealing and perfect.

Compared with this film photography is slow, and requires skill to get things right, because you can't check the results immediately. Even with good scanners, such as the Nikon Coolscan V, the quality of the scanned image is not a match for digital photographs from the latest generation of cameras.

So is film photography dead? Many of us hope that it isn't but will an ever diminishing market support an industry that is probably no longer profitable? Maybe we shall end up with a handful of film types, mainly B&W and color transparency, and a few labs that provide processing at a high cost. It is a prospect that is depressing but the world inexorably follows Darwinian evolution of the fittest, and the writing on the wall is clear even from a distance.

The digital revolution is a boon for the vendors, as it ensures that they can keep making us buy a new camera every year or two years, by tempting us with new capabilities. It is good that the technology is evolving rapidly, but the worst aspect of this is the continuous churn. The sensible amongst us will renew their equipment only when necessary, and not because they must get the latest and the greatest. But for those of us want to own the best, the best is an ever moving target.

Nikon D3100 Observations

There has been some talk on the internet about the new 14megapixel sensor used in D3100, as it does not resemble past Sony sensors used in cameras like D90, D300, D3X, etc. Here are some images of the sensors used in recent Nikon cameras:
D90 Sensor

D300 Sensor
D3X Sensor
D3S Sensor
D3100 Sensor
It seems that the D3100 sensor has some similarities with the D3S sensor, whereas the D90, D300 and D3X sensors all have some family resemblance. This is very interesting as it may imply that Nikon has decided to use a different supplier for the D3100 sensor, probably the same supplier that makes the D3S sensor. If this is true, then it could mean a lot of things.

The rumored D90 replacement may turn out to be a 14mp camera after all, if it uses the same sensor as the D3100, or else it may use a Sony 16mp sensor. I can't quite believe that Nikon would have another APS size sensor with a higher resolution ready.

If Nikon is now taking more control of the sensor design in the cheaper models (previously they only designed the sensors in the professional models, starting from D1 to D3 series); then it means that some of the performance features of the professional sensors may trickle down to the cheaper models.

The other interesting aspect of the D3100 is that for the first time a model at this level is actually using the EXPEED processor. The D3000 model does not appear to use the EXPEED processor, although it may use the same software. Perhaps the new EXPEED processor is necessary to support full HD video, and therefore Nikon had to use it in the D3100. The good thing is that the with larger volume of sales, it should provide greater economies of scale and reduce cost.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Boring choices

None of the current crop of cameras excites me. Each has some feature that I like, but none has the combination of features that would make me think that this is it - the perfect camera. Here is a quick run down of cameras and my likes/dislikes:
  • Nikon D3s - great camera but too expensive and not really suitable for amateur use. I would be terribly self conscious carrying around a D3s.
  • Nikon D700 - Lacks video, and prices are still too high in UK. 
  • Leica X1 - way too expensive for what it is.
  • Leica M9 - the much cheaper D700 is a better buy, and will make you a better photographer. The Leica is something to lust for, but the D700 is I suspect for real photographers.
  • Ricoh GR Digital III - image quality is not as great as expected, otherwise great camera. Limited as it only offers a fixed length lens.
  • Panasonic LX5 - great but performance will be limited by the small sensor format. 
  • Panasonic GF1 - Only makes sense with a limited pancake lens; costly compared to DSLRs and not much smaller if you use anything other than a pancake lens.
  • Panasonic GH1 - attractive for video but too expensive otherwise, and only has one proper video lens.
  • Nikon D300s - video isn't exciting enough; why not pay more for the D700.
  • Canon EOD 7D - nice but expensive, and I am not a Canon user.
  • Canon 5D Mark II - also nice, but expensive, and again, not good enough to switch to Canon.
  • Olympus PEN E-P2 - nice on paper, but too slow and like the GF1, the size advantages start to disappear as you use zoom lenses, etc.
Will the photokina bring cameras that have substantial new features? I hope so. My dream camera is one that is as fast as the D3, with as good a sensor, but much smaller in size, with equally small lenses.