With manufacturers’ hands revealed, we can comfortably take stock of the trends and legacy of this momentous year for filmmakers.
Sony FS700 – Slo-mo for the rest of us
High framerate HD has long been the domain of luxury car-priced specialty cameras like the Phantom Miro. Sony changed this with its sub-$10,000 FS700 super 35mm all-rounder. With Full HD video up to 240fps (and reduced resolution up to 960fps), slow motion is no longer an expensive and costly imposition, but seamlessly integrates with the production workflow. That the camera inherits the FS100’s low light prowess, and is 4K-capable with a recently revealed add on recorder, means this camera will be a future-proof, affordable, swiss army knife of a camera for filmmakers and DPs everywhere. Check out our Sony FS700 interview at NAB.
Canon goes all-in on Digital Cinema
Little over a year ago, a “Cinema EOS” division was just a gleam in Canon’s eye. While other camera manufacturers seemed content to let their video capabilities on DSLR and mirrorless offerings act as value-added features to the core still-photography tool, Canon decided to take a gutsy leap into the Digital Cinema fray. By year’s end, it offers a full range of digital cameras, lenses and peripherals along a variety of price points, carving out a position among industry mainstays. We’ve seen customers enthusiastically adopting these cameras in all areas of the Digital Cinema industry: features, documentaries, music videos, commercials and more. Read our year one analysis of the Canon Cinema EOS line after our industry event.
Digital Continues its Hollywood Takeover
With a few notable exceptions (The Dark Knight Rises, The Master, which utilized IMAX or 70mm film stocks, respectively), many of the year’s biggest and most visually exceptional movies were shot digitally. Films like Prometheus, Skyfall, Life of Pi, The Avengers, Zero Dark Thirty and plenty more surreptitiously replaced their medium’s namesake for digital alternatives from ARRI and RED.
Sony Solves the Global Shutter Problem
While digital cinema cameras marched slowly toward film parity over the last decade, they always lacked a fundamental advantage of their film counterparts: a global shutter. Synonymous with film cameras, global shutters allow the entire frame to be exposed at once, rather than the progressive exposure of digital sensors. Fast processors and internal algorithms and post software were able to mitigate the problems inherent in rolling shutters, yet skew, wobble and partial exposures plagued even the most advanced cameras in use today, and required artistic compromises during the shooting process. Late in the year, Sony announced two spec-heavy cinema cameras in the form of the F5 and F55. The cameras were so its impressive in their own right, it was easy to overlook the monumental achievement the F5 added to its long spec sheet: the first global shutter on a digital cinema camera. Read about the F5, F55 and other Sony 4K news.
The Year of the Price Cut
If Martin Luther King, Jr. declared “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” the filmmaking equivalent would be: “the arc of technology is pretty short, and it bends towards Crazy Eddie prices.” The shadow of the DSLR revolution hangs over the industry, when “film-like” depth-of-field and color range came within reach of millions of idea-rich but cash-poor filmmakers. Yet the truly high-end sheen and clarity of Hollywood imagery remained tantalizingly beyond the grasp of Indie filmmakers and small production houses. But perhaps more so than any other year, 2012 saw the dramatic price drop of cinema-grade options. First, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and Sony FS700 ruffled players at NAB with pro-level spec sheets at consumer level prices. Then, to top off the trend, RED finished the year with across the board cuts to its entire line, in many cases practically halving the cost of camera “brains.” Of course, “cheap” doesn’t begin to describe cameras, especially when requisite peripherals are added to the cost, and renting remains the most cost-effective option for most DPs, but the fact remains – the price and quality gap between high end and low end shooting has never been smaller.
Blackmagic Ups the Ante with its Cinema Camera
Blackmagic, no stranger to bold shakeups in every area of the industry it enters, nevertheless shocked the filmmaking world at NAB by casting its lot into the mature camera market with the Cinema Camera. The specs seemed too good to be true: common EF and Micro Four Thirds Mounts, bleeding edge Thunderbolt I/O, built in SSD and, most importantly, 2.5K, 12-bit RAW codec – all for the price of a DSLR. Its encountered no shortage of setbacks since its announcement: from endless production delays (we’re the only rental house in the city with one), to buggy firmware, limited featureset, less than intuitive UI and massive files requiring huge post processing power. Nevertheless, its fundamental advantage, incredible internal codecs and pliable final output for post work put a serious wrench in the careful pricing strategies the major players use to protect price brackets along the product range. If the BMCC takes off, 8-bit compressed codecs on 5 digit price points will not hold water much longer. Now, its a question whether Blackmagic can resolve its production bottleneck and get it into the hands of more users. Follow our full coverage of the BMCC.
4K Goes Mainstream
NAB’s big cinema camera manufacturers all had optimized 4K theaters showing off the game-changing potential of a high resolution calibrated experience. It was such a startling event that all four ARC team members on the floor in Vegas wrote about the experience in our post-NAB report. It remains to be seen whether audiences demand the hyper-realism of high resolution, but savvy filmmakers aren’t going to ignore the future-proofing a 4K+ master provides. Astoundingly, even GoPro got in on the high res action at the end of the year with its Hero 3 Black Edition shooting 4K at 15fps for only $400. Read our 4K commentary from NAB.
Full-Frame Reaches Dedicated Video-Cameras
The full-frame “look” became so common during the 5D Mark II heyday that beautifully shallow depth of field and the focus searching that attended it became a common attribute of half the films on Vimeo, an aesthetic unto itself. Yet Super 35mm remained the de facto standard for dedicated digital cinema cameras, leaving filmmakers who wanted to achieve the distinctive shallow affect with a handful of cameras aimed at stills shooters. Sony took a step toward changing this with its E-mount NEX-VG900. While the camera has notable shortcomings for filmmakers – a somewhat muddy image for film work and auto-oriented camcorder layout and interface, it still was the first Full-Frame camera with such a thin flange-mount distance, allowing for a massive array of lenses to be affixed via adapters. Here’s hoping for more large-sensor offerings in video camera bodies to come. Follow the tremendous developments in full-frame this year.
GH2 Upsets at Zacuto’s “Revenge”
The hacked Panasonic GH2 claimed long-overdue credit as a formidable filmmaking tool when it upset the major players in a blind screening of Zacuto’s annual camera test. While the strictly controlled standard lighting scenario showed the cameras falling more closely along their price points, the GH2 was able to win over the audience (including Francis Ford Coppola) when individual teams were allowed to take on each camera and compensate for their weaknesses with additional fill light. While this was as much a victory for the DPs as the camera itself, it nevertheless showed off the surprising image quality of the hacked version of the camera, with its increased bitrates and added features. Now we can eagerly look forward to the GH3, which promises to bring many of the hacked features to the native firmware. Read our analysis of the test and our interview with “Revenge” test administrator, Bruce Logan.
OM-D E-M5 Image Stabilization – The Beginning of the End of Steadicam?
The diminutive Micro Four Thirds enthusiast camera got plenty of plaudits from the photography press this year, but most coverage highlighted the camera’s accomplishments for the stills shooter, with unprecedented image quality from such a small sensor, speedy autofocus and fantastic build quality and ergonomics. Video seemed an afterthought for Olympus, so much so that they somehow managed to leave out 24p, the standard framerate among filmmakers and a key ingredient in approximating the “film-look.” But the five-axis onboard image stabilization was a revolutionary leap forward for hand-holding filmmaking. Micro-shake is an inescapable reality, requiring heavy and cumbersome rigs or steadicams for even the most trivial hand-held shot, or unreliable post-tools. With this camera, we got to peak into a future of IS so advanced as to potentially remove the need for burdensome peripherals.
What do you think?
This roundup is just one glimpse into some of the massive changes we’ve seen in the industry this past year. It’s all come so fast, it’s actually been hard to keep up at times. What had the biggest impact for you this year? What did we miss? Add your voice in the comments!
Also take our poll below, which change was most important for you in 2012?
While residents in the New York Region were stumbling (or kayaking) out of their dwellings after the semi-apocalyptic Sandy on Tuesday, Sony gifted area filmmakers with a bit of solace as they tried to ignore that tree branch through the window and the water sloshing in the basement.
Even a storm closing the NYSE two days running for the first time since 1888 wasn’t enough to stop Sony from announcing a dizzying array of digital cinema goodies to update and extend its already formidable offerings. From two new 4k premium CineAlta bodies to PL prime lenses to the long-awaited solution unleashing 4K FS700 output to the first global shutter on a digital camera(!!!), there’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started…
The Sony F5 looks to be a placed as a complement to the F3, not a complete replacement. Pricing is unspecified but I speculate it assuming the pricing of the F3 at launch, probably stacked to against the C300, with the F3 taking a step in the direction of FS700 pricing, where it will still be differentiated by its S-Log and chroma sampling rates for users not in need of high framerates.
The F5 is an impressive top-to-bottom revamp addressing the F3’s few shortcomings, adding modularity, raw horsepower robust build and generous new internal and external codecs. Sporting a RED-style modular system and an Alexa style interface, the camera has borrowed some of the strongest elements of these two rivals. It also promises tons of pro recording options on-board, though with the caveat that many marquee features will arrive with firmware upgrades at unspecified future dates.
The newly designed Super 35 sensor is capable of quite a lot natively out of the box. Upon release, it will record a C300ish 8 bit MPEG-2 HD with 4:2:2 color at 50Mbps internally to SxS media, which will fit comfortably into existing broadcast workflows. But promised firmware updates will support an impressive cadre of internal recording formats, like 10-bit, 100 Mbps XAVC HD 2K at 4:2:2 at up to 120fps with no loss in (more…)
Last week a cadre of film industry professionals joined us in our fifth floor event space for a special Sony FS700 presentation. Tom Cubby of Sony gave a nuts-and-bolts breakdown of the hot new camera’s features and addressed audience members’ unanswered questions. After the presentation, guests were given an opportunity to go hands on with the camera, investigating the customized cage which will come standard with the camera on orders.
Sony shocked the industry at NAB with the announcement of the Sony FS700, which shared the spotlight with the Blackmagic Cinema Camera as the belle of the ball. Both were aggressively attacking the industry’s sacred cows with specialty features earlier confined to high-end cameras.
In the case of Black Magic, they were offering 12-bit RAW recording with 13 stops dynamic range for a mere $3,000. The FS100 similarly promised unheard of specs for its sub $10,000 price point: 240 fps recording at Full HD (and up to 960 fps at a lower resolution), as well as a 4K-ready sensor with a promised upgrade option in the near future. The camera builds on the hit FS100 strengths, while addressing many of the common complaints about that camera, such as an insubstantial top handle, and lack of built-in ND Filters.
Our kit makes the already-compelling camera even more drool-worthy, fortified with an included Movcam cage: rugged baseplate, shoulder pad, rails and top handle package. Hand grips like the CAS Spidergrips and a monitor like the TV Logic 5.6″ monitor would be ideal additions for a shoulder mounted rig.
The FS700 is available for rental on our website.
Sony: Corporation In Crisis?
Reading the financial press alone, one would be forgiven for thinking Sony is teetering on the brink of the corporate equivalent of a nervous breakdown. The Japanese electronics giant is often painted as a hopelessly overwrought, sprawling corporation that’s lost its innovative edge to a byzantine bureaucratic culture. It’s accused of creating a dizzying array of products, while managing to miss out on the biggest tech shifts of the decade, like the media player, smartphone, ebook and tablet revolutions, that rival Apple has effortlessly finessed with its laser sharp focus.
The Imaging Exception
If Sony were a person – which, according to the Supreme Court, it is 🙂 – the diagnosis would be multiple personality disorder, because this depiction couldn’t seem further removed from the first hand experience of the company from the perspective of the digital imaging arena. Over the past few years, its thrilling and inspired string of product releases reveal a well-oiled machine firing on all cylinders, bringing its expertise from its far flung operations to create truly original, high tech products with dazzling spec sheets at competitive pricing.
Eye to the Future
The RX100 large sensor compact is only the latest evidence of the zeal with which the digital imaging division is willing to sacrifice sacred cows of the industry, from pricing structures to design choices, in responding to market demands, and fortifying their position with far-sighted technological bets. All Sony’s strengths are on display in this revolutionary new compact. Barely bigger than an S100, but with a (more…)
ARC’s Nathan Lee Bush had a chance talk with Sony about its new FS700 4K-ready cinema camcorder.
We find out how Sony managed to include so much next generation technology at such an inviting price point and who the intended user is.
Last week Andrew Reid of EOSHD rumorized a 4K FS100 offshoot from Sony for NAB. It seemed too good to be true, as the very popular E-Mount pro camcorder from Sony was only a year old, and had already firmly established itself in the midrange between the DSLR and F3/EPIC price points, with incredible low-light performance, high customizability and 4:2:2 external recording. But today, it looks like his sources were spot on!
Sony has announced the NEX-FS700, an incredible package which will no doubt will shake up this already dynamic market! Expected to retail for around $8,000, the FS700 is “4K-ready,” meaning Sony will rollout a firmware upgrade to unlock this feature, and offer a proprietary 4K external recorder to record the footage. The FS700 also has a 3G HD-SDI output as well as built-in 2, 4 and 6 stop ND filters (one of the few common complaints about the of the FS100). Another standout feature is the mindboggling framerates for super slow-mo shooting. You can now shoot up to 240fps at full 1080p(!) for up to 8 seconds (16 seconds at 120fps), up to 480fps at interpolated 1080p, and up to 960 at a severely letterbox-cropped 200 line image. Another nice feature is the addition of 99 slots for customizable profile settings, which can be shared from camera to camera with an SD card.
The NEX E-Mount lens family is famously thin, though the kit lens 18-200mm lens is pretty decent. But with an adapter virtually any lens can be affixed to this bad boy. I’ve used a bunch of old Contax lenses on one music video shoot, and great Nikon primes on another, all with great results.
At “less than $10,000” with a lens (EOSHD suggested an $8,000 street price) at its June release, the pricing will be very aggressive. The closest competitors, the RED Scarlet X and Canon C300 both retail for roughly twice that (for the ready-to-shoot package). Feature for feature, this camera appears to match those cameras, at least on paper. Can’t wait to take a look at this at NAB in a couple weeks!
Last month, I had a chance to test the NEX-5N and NEX-7 (read my NEX-7 hands-on report here) for a few days and, considering purchasing one or the other myself as a carry-everywhere camera, I had skin in the game, so to speak, in considering which makes more sense for the discerning consumer. So it seems fitting that I should provide some perspective I garnered from my hands-on experience.
At What Price?
On the surface, Sony has placed these cameras in clearly different categories, pricing the NEX-7 body ($1200) at double the price of the NEX-5N ($600). In terms of pricing, the NEX-5N would seem to have a lot more in common with the Sony’s consumer offering, the NEX-C3. But a lot of enthusiast and pro photographers, who would normally default to the higher-end model, are taking a serious look at the 5N. As I argued earlier, if looking at pure image quality and the latest specs, it represents the best value for the money in the mirrorless market, if not the camera market as a whole. It has an incredible large sensor, by far the best to be found at this price point. The seemingly limited external controls are misleading, as the heavy customizability of the few function buttons available allows direct access to major features that consume 90% of a photographer’s day-to-day shooting needs. With one more function button I would have been on cloud nine, but the current layout passes the gauntlet of basic intuitive usability.
Spec-wise, the cameras have a lot in common, including the articulating screen, almost identical menu systems, and the same great video features, with 1080p 60fps AVCHD 2.0 video, as well as the standard 24fps, plus peaking, a video essential. So why is the NEX-7 twice the price? Let’s take a look at what differentiates the NEX-7 from the 5N:
Key advantages of NEX-7:
- built in EVF (available as attachable add-on for NEX-5N for $350)
- built in flash compatible with Sony’s pro flashes (an attachable flash add-on for NEX-5N can be had for $150)
- hot shoe
- Tri-Navi system
- exposure and AF lock button
- extra function button to cycle through Tri-Navi assignments
- New 24MP Sony sensor
That last point is contentious among internet pundits as an “advantage.” Although useful for large prints and crop-a-holics, many consider 24MP packed onto an APS-C sensor overkill. The sensor, shared by the A77, has been underperforming in high-ISO tests against lower megapixel APS-C rivals, like the 7D and D7000. The question of how much of that is owing to the Translucent mirror cutting off some of the light reaching the sensor will remain until we see scientific studio samples directly from the NEX-7. Considering we can expect the same high ISO performance out of the NEX-5N as the formidable Nikon D7000, as the sensors are very similar, the low-light advantage goes to the 5N. The 5N even has a higher max ISO, 25000 vs 16000.
The NEX-7’s hotshoe is a great addition, giving accessibility to the flashes for Sony’s pro bodies, as well as, via an adapter, Canon and Nikon flashes, as well as Pocketwizards for studio work. And the pop-up flash gives a surprisingly pleasing flat Terry Richardson, Yashica T4-style look, if you like that quality.
But in my experience, the decision came down to the Tri-Navi system and EVF. These two features for me singlehandedly justified the lofty price, catapulting the camera into an uncompromised, DSLR-like experience.
The electronic viewfinder is so good, that I consider it indispensable. As nice as the 920k dot LCD screen is, it just can’t compare to looking through a 2.4 million dot OLED viewfinder, especially on a bright day. The detachable EVF is available for the 5N for a handsome sum, $350, significantly closing the price gap between the two. The image quality is identical, but it feels plasticky and significantly bulks up the otherwise pocketable formfactor. It’s so ungainly, I found myself removing it, leading to a jumble of elements in my jacket pocket, and then reassembling it when I got to my shooting destination. Since my shooting style depends on discovering the world in realtime, this led to a few frustrating moments in which I found myself fumbling around and hurriedly screwing it into place as the shot dissolved before my eyes.
As fast as you can adjust your settings with the NEX-5N given its stripped-down controls, the NEX-7 is simply in a different category. The control dials of the Tri-Navi system are so well-machined, with just the right amount of torque and sensitivity, that changing key settings is ridiculously quick and responsive. The function button that cycles through the various Tri-Navi controls gives an added dimension to the on-camera direct-access experience that not even many DSLRs can match.
Obviously, these are just my observations, and each photographer has to consider his or her shooting style, needs and, of course, budget. But when the NEX-7 starts trickling into stores (the massive flooding in Thailand has significantly delayed production), I’ll be the first in line.
David Paul Larson had a chance to talk with Sony rep Mike Bubolo about the new flagship MILC, the NEX-7 and the flagship APS-C A77. They discussed Sony’s choice of going ‘all-electronic’ and the new technologies implemented in the cameras.
In a previous post, I extolled the virtues of the Panasonic AF100, hailing it as a gift to independent filmmaking and the DPs who work so hard to make art with as little as possible. At the time, I hadn’t shot anything with the since-released Sony FS100, their answer to Panasonic’s AF100. While the Sony F3 inhabits the tier above the AF100, boasting higher recording bitrates and the S-Log upgrade option, the FS100 meets the AF100 eye-to-eye on price, codec, recording media, and size. So it seems only natural that when I spend two weeks shooting a TV show with the FS100, I would have to write another post comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the two “DSLR killers” against each other.
The FS100’s image is less noisy than the AF100’s. There, I said it. We usually shot at 0db gain (ISO 500), with an expanded dynamic range picture profile, but when we bumped to 6db (ISO 1000), there was no visible change in the image; it remained very clean. Conversely, pushing the AF100 past ISO 640 introduces definite noise. It’s not terrible looking, but it’s there. Oddly enough, a lot of this noise isn’t visible when the AF100 is projected from Blu-Ray.
While the FS100 excels in lower light, the AF100 is the king in daylight. Its three levels of internal ND (plus clear) mean that exteriors have never been easier to shoot with a camera this small. Futzing around with filters and screwing fader NDs onto the FS100’s lenses brought me to muttering back to the DSLR days. If you’re going to be outside and you have to adjust exposure quickly, the AF100 is a better choice.
I’m sure we’re all sick of having “crop factor” beaten like a dead horse, but it’s something to consider. The FS100 sees about 10% wider than the AF100, and gives a little shallower depth of field as a result. The DOF isn’t noticeably different to the eye; the field of view is. After two weeks with the FS100, I had to re-adjust to the AF100’s smaller sensor size. We used Nikon AF lenses with a Novoflex adapter on the FS100, which yielded some really nice clean results (although the tiny iris barrel range of the adapter and the inability to determine or lock off actual F-stop was somewhat frustrating). When the Birger Canon EF adapter is released for both cameras, it will make this issue a bit easier to deal with.
The FS100, true to Sony form, renders skin tones well, but tends to give most images a somewhat sterile cast, compared to the AF100. It cannot match the vibrancy of Panasonic’s in-camera image processing. But it handled highlights well, and was overall detailed and well-rounded. I’d say that if there’s an area where the FS100 has an edge, it’s the image in many situations.
The Form Factor
Fortunately for the sake of my comparison, both my AF100 rig and the production company’s FS100 rig used the same gear: Zacuto universal baseplate and follow focus, 15mm rods, and a rods-mounted Anton Bauer gold mount plate on the back. Couldn’t have asked for a more level playing field.
These cameras were released on the bleeding edge of the prosumer market, and as a result, both feel a little off. For the AF100, it’s the viewfinder; there’s no real reason for it to be there. I almost never use it, preferring to use an onboard monitor or Cineroid EVF. Obviously it’s a leftover from the HVX200, used to help support the top handle and the menu buttons. On the bright side, the AF100’s top handle is very sturdy and I have no qualms about picking up my rig and throwing its weight around. Sony tried something new with their topside LCD with loupe viewfinder, but didn’t quite hit the mark. I used the LCD when it was convenient or absolutely necessary (two or three times over the course of two weeks), and never even took the loupe out of the case, sticking mostly to the onboard monitor. Unfortunately for the FS100, the LCD’s position makes it difficult to place a top handle in a useful spot…and the Sony top handle is a pitiful, vestigial piece of plastic. We supplemented with Letus articulating handgrips, but the FS100’s 1/4-20 tapped screwholes actually loosened themselves from the camera body, so we resorted to a Redrock handle mounted directly to the rods (which had to be on the back of the rig, making it an impractical solution for balanced carrying). Zacuto has just released an FS100 handgrip, which looks like a decent solution, but the loose screwholes are still worrisome.
The upside of the FS100’s design is that it can build very small and flat if necessary. With no top handle and no EVF, the Sony stands roughly 2/3 as high as the Panasonic, which means a slightly lower center of gravity and less hitting of overhead obstacles (useful for me, at 6’4″). The button placement on the AF100 and FS100 is about the same, and while Sony lacks the easy frame rate dial of the Panasonic, the rest of its functions are easily accessible. The one downside is that the Sony’s buttons are easier to press with your cheek or ear, and the front Record button is a little hard to find with your finger. After two weeks, there was still a bit of fumbling, and the button itself seems slightly too small.
The two cameras are based on the same concept (larger chip and interchangeable lenses), but ended up very different, physically; the AF100 would be better on its own, with the removable handgrip on the side; the FS100 requires a rig, so be sure to budget for accessories. And with the same support gear, the AF100 can build smaller than the FS100, for a more compact profile. But ultimately, both need another generation of tweaking before they feel totally comfortable.
Both cameras record 8-bit 4:2:0 AVCHD 1080p to SD cards. However, the AF100 provides many more options for transmitting and viewing that signal, as well as having two SD card slots compared to the FS100’s one. The FS100’s only output is HDMI, and although it’s a full-size port (not the Mini-HDMI of DSLR infamy), it’s still not as secure as a locking BNC port for SDI. The AF100, on the other hand, offers HD-SDI, HDMI, and Composite SD video, simultaneously. The combinations of outputs is numerous, and allow flexibility while managing signals on steadicam, jib, dolly, handheld, whatever. No matter what the situation, there’s going to be a video output for everyone with the AF100.
Of course, anyone migrating from DSLR to the FS100 would be likely to have the converter boxes necessary to make the video signal work…but these cameras are supposed to be a step forward. No one wants to continue the days of mounting, powering, and managing dicey ports on a BlackMagic or AJA box. Our saving grace for the TV show was the TVLogic VFM-056WP monitor. It’s lightweight, takes powertap or battery power, and best of all, converts HDMI to SDI inside the monitor (as well as accepting, and passing through, an SDI signal). The 720p image is nice and sharp too, and its peaking and waveform are well-realized. I wish it had a false color filter, but I learned to live without it. The only downside of the TVLogic was its $1400 price tag, but if I had to buy a monitor to cover all my needs, this would be the one.
To sum up, the FS100’s chip is a nice piece of work, taken straight out of its big brother, the F3. The rest of the camera leaves something to be desired. The outputs, build quality, and form factor are inferior to that of the AF100. So choosing between these two cameras boils down to what you’re shooting. Day exterior? AF100 is quicker. Night exterior? FS100 is cleaner. Run and gun? Use the AF100 by itself, or FS100 with a few accessories. As always, you pick the right tool for the job. I’m still happy I chose the Panasonic AF100, and I’d make the same choice again…but for someone else, FS100 may be a better fit. I’d love to hear your stories about which camera you chose, and why. Leave them in the comments below!
Nikon has announced its long-anticipated mirrorless interchangeable lens camera system, with two models aiming to bridge the gap between its enthusiast point-and-shoot compacts, like the P7100 and P300, and its DSLR market. The ‘CX’ system utilizes a 10MP CMOS sensor with a crop factor 2.5x bigger than the 1/1.7″ sensor found in most enthusiast compacts, while coming out behind its main compact system rivals at 1/3 the size of APS-C sensor used in Sony’s and Samsung’s offerings, and 1/2 the size of Micro Four Thirds standard adopted by Olympus and Panasonic.
The system will launch with two handsome little cameras (all available, along with lenses, in five colors), both tentatively scheduled for an October 20th release date. The introductory J1, with a MSRP of $650, has a hybrid contrast detect and phase detect autofocus system, shoots up to 10 fps, 1920 x 1080 @ 60i/30 fps video and comes with a kit 10-30mm (27-81mm equivalent) lens. The more advanced V1, at $900, has these same specs with a magnesium alloy construction, 1.4 million dot electronic viewfinder and accessory port for optional speedlight or GPS functionality.
Entering a Crowded Field
With roughly the same dimensions as the Sony NEX-5N, the similarly-priced Nikon J1 will have a slight advantage as far as lens size, leading to higher portability. But the advantages end there. Comparing the spec sheets side-by-side, Sony’s option is simply more compelling than Nikon’s. Offering a sensor three times as large: Sony’s 16MP ‘magic’ sensor very similar to that in Nikon’s own $1200 D7000, an LCD resolution twice as dense, three stops more high ISO range (up to 25k!), the Nikon offering is looking seriously outmatched.
It’s hard to discern the target demographic for the 1 cameras. At these prices and with this spec sheet, they are not competitive in the high-end mirrorless interchangeable lens market: pros and enthusiasts looking for a second “carry everywhere” camera when they are not on a shoot with their bulky full-frame or medium format camera. Likewise, consumers (the multi-color availability makes it look like a nod to this demo) looking to “trade up” from compacts will balk at these prices, considering the entry-level models of the established mirrorless players, like the E-PM1 from Olympus, the Panasonic GF3 and Sony’s NEX-3C are cheaper and better spec’d. It’s unclear that the consumer market really cares about interchangeable lenses, but the promise of baked-in DSLR image quality, or something approaching it, is more compelling, and that’s something the 1 system is in the least advantageous position to offer.
Too Little, Too Late?
All this doesn’t even take into account that Nikon is seriously late to the party. The other mirrorless systems have a few years head start, with all the advantages that entails, including a few generations of cameras to iron out the inevitable early kinks, shrink the bodies, and foster a relatively mature family of lenses with third party lenses now trickling out. Nikon will launch with four (relatively slow) lenses: the kit zoom, a 10mm f/2.8 (27mm equivalent) pancake, a 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 (81-297mm equivalent), and a 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 (27–270mm equivalent) PD-ZOOM and has promised an F-mount adapter.
At a time of tremendous industry upheaval, when dynamic, game-changing innovation is required, Nikon has taken a staunchly conservative position, choosing to avoid stepping on the toes of its entrenched interests – its bread-and-butter DSLR business and lucrative P&S market – rather than using its impressive engineering prowess to really tackle the elephant-in-the-room question head-on: “what will the camera of tomorrow look like?” It looks like they are depending on their brand name to sell these cameras rather than true innovation. As a longtime Nikon user myself, it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion.
To borrow a metaphor from Thom Hogan, so much of the mirrorless war has been geared to finding a “goldilocks” solution, with the “just right” combination of portability, functionality, image quality and, of course, price. Only time, and consumers can tell us what that magic spot is, but I wouldn’t put my money on ‘CX.’
You have to hand it to Sony, with relatively little to lose, and much to gain, they are acting like an ambitious startup, rethinking every accepted convention inherited from the legacy of film cameras. Leveraging their extensive range of consumer technologies from their entire product catalogue, they throw every new feature they can into as tiny a package as possible, and with each iteration, add thoughtful touches that show they are actually listening to the desires of the marketplace.