By Edmund Ronald
As I live in Paris, I always spend a day at the autumn camera show. This year’s big news was the well-received Nikon Df – it took me twenty minutes to snag the silver demo sample. I then learnt that Nikon’s retro camera has a really really nice finder, build and control feel; however it is closer in heft to the chunky and massive F2 than the svelte FM2. Also, the number of dials and levers is frankly a bit bewildering compared to the simple, spare, FA or FM2 of yore –steampunkis the word which comes to mind.
It needs to be said that with the D4, the D800, the D610 and now the Df, Nikon now offers a somewhat bloated and expensive full-frame lineup for enthusiasts; knowing the Japanese passion for mass marketing I would expect at least one low-price full frame camera at Photokina. A full-frame plastic fantastic seems in the cards, maybe at Photokina.
Is that a camera in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? The most advertised camera of the show is also one of the smallest, namely Panasonic’s GM1. This is a cigarette-pack sized full-featured interchangeable lens pocket camera built around a 16MP 4/3 sensor, with a completely standard micro 4/3 lens mount. As sold now it is bundled with a tiny collapsing, optically stabilized, 24-64mm equivalent zoom lens. And yes, built-in flash and wifi. To define the GM1 as the guy’s toy, it helps that the build quality is superb, and a variety of leather finishes are available. A fast flat Leica-branded pancake lens and a grip have already been announced.
As it stands, the teeny GM1 with the zoom lens folded down will certainly drop nicely into a jacket pocket, so it will compete with Sony’s bestselling RX100 luxury compact. If this thing actually works anywhere like speced, I would expect it to sell like crazy and start a new luxury interchangeable lens mini-camera trend. Indeed Panasonic know what they have got, and they are pushing their pocket rocket with swag marketing, handing out GM1 T-shirts and iPhone covers to all comers.
Sony also have a big presence in Paris; paradoxically their new slim and light full-frame Alpha 7 models are much closer in heft to the old mechanical SLRs than anything now made by Nikon or Canon. In fact I’d rate Sony’s new fullframe bodies to be a worthy parallel of Nikon’s cult FM2 and the superlight film Olympus OM-D. Also, the new Sony electronic finders strike me as being the best I’ve seen so far in an SLR design.
While DSLRs are too often a bit kludgy, the Sony Alpha 7 bodies are nicely shaped, far better suited to a photographer’s grip than the awkward NEX series. Now that the NEX mount has transitioned to full frame, Sony seems to have bounced back with a winning lightweight form-factor to wrap around their superb sensors.
It remains to be seen where users will find a complete range of high resolution yet compact lenses for the new fullframe ALPHA/NEX mount – Sony sure ain’t got them. But I’m sure that if royalties on the mount were waived Sigma and Zeiss would be glad to oblige. In the mean time the short flange to sensor distance and electronic finder are an invitation to use the best legacy lenses, including Leica glass.
Speaking of Sigma, the European pricing for the Foveon sensor SD1 dSLR has been slashed in half, to about a thousand euros, and the company’s cult high-rez Merrill compacts have all seen their pricing cut by about 30%. I guess at some point the market may start paying attention to the spectacular image quality from these quirky designs.
No visit to a show would be complete without some medium format rumors; my take is that Phase are still a year out from delivering a new camera body, so we can expect camera previews around Photokina. Also, CMOS and liveview might finally arrive on the medium format scene, but the timing here is not so clear.