PhotoPlus report – digital SLR and mirrorless cameras.

Camera & Technology

October 29, 2019 ·

Dan Wells

A Fujifilm X-Pro 3 in gleaming titanium.

PhotoPlus 2019 was the smallest it has been in the decade or more I’ve been attending regularly. Sony didn’t attend, preferring to host their own event nearby, which was both inconvenient for those of us who knew about it, and I talked to several photographers who said “where was Sony”, not knowing about the separate event. Apart from Sony and Pentax, all the major Japanese manufacturers of DSLR and mirrorless gear were there. Neither Leica nor Hasselblad were at PhotoPlus this year – both have attended at least sporadically in the past. It is relatively rare for a manufacturer to release a significant new camera after PhotoPlus (or Photokina, when that used to be in October). It is difficult to get a camera released too late into stores in time for the holiday shopping season. For professional models where the holidays matter less, it’s the end of year tax season that matters.

The three cameras that will photograph the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have all been at least pre-announced, but none made it on to the show floor. There were A9IIs at Sony’s separate event, but conditions were not great to try them out (e.g. nobody was running a major sporting event at the time). If Sony really wanted to make a splash, they should have rented Yankee Stadium and hired the Red Sox and Yankees to play an exhibition game or two. There was a rumor that there was a Canon 1Dx mkIII prototype or two around, but they were not being publicly shown. I didn’t hear anything about a D6 prototype being in New York during PhotoPlus, although there could have been one. While the top sports cameras were of significant interest to other photographers some years ago, because they were the first with new features, that has faded as they have become their own increasingly specialized niche.

The D3 set the pace for a whole generation of Nikon design, and modern Nikons still look and act a lot like a D3 (which, itself was not so very different from the groundbreaking F5). Nikon design language is established enough that I hardly expect the D6 to show us anything really new of interest outside of the pro sports community. I would expect most Nikon innovation to start in the Z series now, then move to the DSLRs as needed. Canon never relied on the sports cameras quite as heavily to introduce features. It was always the 5D series that set the pace for the rest of the line, more than the 1D series. Many years ago, both Canon and Nikon put their highest resolution sensors in the big body and sold them for a king’s ransom – Nikon called it an x model, Canon an s model – but those days are long gone. I would be shocked to see the introduction of a new high-resolution sensor in anything except a top-end mirrorless body now – then it might migrate to a midsized pro-body DSLR (5D, D850).

Sony relied on the A9 as a pacesetter more than either Canon or Nikon relies on their sports cameras – but the A9 II actually borrowed design cues from the A7r IV of a couple of months earlier. The original A9 introduced the big battery, and was the first a-series camera with any meaningful weather sealing – both picked up by the A7r III, then spread down to the A7 III. The A9 II got the new controls and body shape from the A7R IV, coupling them with A9 ports, notably Ethernet.

Fujifilm’s last major camera (excluding the nice little snapshooter X-A7) moved the image quality bar into previously uncharted territory. It was the very niche, but extraordinary if you need it, GFX 100… A review of the GFX 100 will be on Luminous Landscape shortly – I tested one for about three weeks this autumn and am writing up the findings, but the summary is that it’s a big, heavy camera with an inscrutable user interface (unusual for Fujifilm) – but the image quality is absolutely unparalleled, approaching 8×10” film. I have a very interesting Fujifilm interview that will be part of the review. Fujifilm is one of the few camera manufacturers who aren’t iterating on previous successful models – they’re off, as usual, successfully marching to their own drum. You either love the beautifully designed Fujifilm cameras or hate the quirky beasts, but there are lots of good reasons to love them, and there are two things they’ll never do: release a camera that’s just like everyone else’s or release a lousy lens. Right before PhotoPlus, Fujifilm released another quirky camera – the X-Pro 3. Internally, it’s an X-T3 with an unusual viewfinder – the feature set is nearly identical (with the exception of a few video modes that didn’t make it into the X-Pro 3, which is much more of a purist still camera). That’s not a bad thing – the X-T3 may well be the most competent APS-C camera on the market from a body perspective, and it almost certainly is when considering the lens lineup. Externally, it has several major differences that make it an unusual camera, even by Fujifilm standards. It has a version of the X-Pro series hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, of course.

The X-Pro 3 version of the viewfinder has significant improvements to the electronic side – an OLED display with much better contrast has replaced the LCD module used in the X-Pro 1 and X-Pro 2. The contrast on the EVF is much improved – if you didn’t know you were holding an X-Pro, you might not realize it was a dual-mode viewfinder in electronic mode. It looks like a good, modern EVF. Unfortunately, the OLED takes up more space, so the dual-magnification viewfinder is gone – the optical finder has a fixed magnification that frames a 23mm lens at the widest, and is usable up to somewhere between 50 and 80mm, depending on how small a frame the user can tolerate. Personally, I found it usable past 60mm, but maybe not all the way out to 80mm. Theoretically, the framelines will zoom to accommodate any lens – but the 100-400mm at full telephoto will show framelines that look more or less like a dot ☺

Another unusual feature is the flip-down rear LCD (with the main LCD display located on the inside) – in normal use, the visible rear screen is a small, low-resolution status screen. Flip it down and there’s a big, high-res screen for image review or menus, but it extends below the camera – it doesn’t articulate and fold back into the body with the screen out. Fujifilm wants to focus the photographer’s attention squarely on the viewfinder. It’s almost like one of the screenless Leicas, except that the screen is there, tucked away, for menu settings and (inconvenient) image review. Interesting idea – almost certainly highly polarizing.

The last feature is that the top and bottom body shells are made of titanium – a wonderfully light and strong, but woefully difficult to machine metal that occasionally shows up on high-end cameras (the Olympus OM-4 TI, Nikon F3T and various special edition Leicas come to mind). The titanium parts are available conventionally painted, or (for a $200 extra charge) with a super-hard coating instead. The coated titanium looks gorgeous in a kind of champagne gold, evoking titanium camera bodies of old, although it’s a little darker than, say, an OM-4Ti. It handles beautifully in a few minutes of playing with it at PhotoPlus, and I look forward to trying a review unit…

Panasonic has been quiet for a while, but their last release made a lot of sense. The S1H is really a dedicated movie camera, and that’s long been the special reason to buy Panasonic. It’s a big, heavy camera with big, heavy lenses – just like the S1 and S1r. The difference is that it’s a big, heavy movie camera with big, heavy lenses. It’ll generally be used in a rig or cage of some sort, or on a significant tripod – the weight matters a lot less. The lens lineup is still relatively small, but improving as Sigma begins to add “real” L-mount lenses to their initial lineup of DSLR lenses with permanent mount adapters. 6K video, with the potential of 6K RAW video to an external recorder, in a very sturdy body with excellent image stabilization. If you’re a stills shooter, you don’t need it – not only will Panasonic’s own S1 serve you better, but why not use a Nikon Z6 or Sony A7 III for half the weight with a better lens lineup? On the other hand, if you shoot a lot of video, a S1H is about the best video camera you can get short of a RED or a high end Canon Cinema EOS or Sony F-series – and it shares batteries, lenses and most accessories with the capable 24 MP S1 and the 47 MP S1r. The S1H gives the whole Panasonic L-mount line a reason to exist. Without it, there were three full-frame L-mount bodies, two of which were similar to their Sony and Nikon competitors, except that they were close to twice as heavy (including lenses) with few advantages. They have a few niche features that nobody else can match, including spectacular viewfinders and a multi-shot mode that produces unparalleled image quality in a limited range of circumstances. For most photographers, those features aren’t worth the extra weight, cost and limited lens selection. The third body is the extremely niche Leica SL. Once you add the S1H, the whole line gels – the unique advantage Panasonic offers is that there is a range from high-end still to professional video that shares a mount and most other accessories. A really compelling possibility for photo/video shooters who want to keep similar controls and gear compatibility. Sony has three relatively recent releases – the APS-C a6600 (and a lower-end sibling, the a6100, which is pretty much a rehash of the venerable a6000), high-resolution A7r IV and sports specialist A9 II. The a6600 makes very little sense, as is true of most of Sony’s APS-C mirrorless range, especially the higher end (the $500 bodies make more sense, simply because they are better matched to the available lenses). The lens lineup simply isn’t there to support the serious photography one might buy a $1400 camera to do – much of what’s available is composed of low-end zoom lenses with compromised image quality.

Yes, there are the FE lenses, including quite a few excellent choices, but there are two problems with using FE lenses on an APS-C body. Focal lengths are often (but not always) less than ideal. A 24-70mm zoom on APS-C, for example, is not wide enough to be a useful only lens in most situations (~36mm equivalent is limiting). Full frame lenses also tend to be significantly heavier and bulkier than APS-C glass. The a6600 ends up being a $1400 camera with a lens line made for $500 cameras. It also uses the excellent, but aging Sony 24 MP APS-C sensor – interestingly, the successor to that sensor is used in several Fujifilm cameras introduced before the a6600, as well as in the brand-new X-Pro 3 – why Sony didn’t use their own best sensor in the APS-C format is beyond me. There are two important competitors to the a6600 – the first is Fujifilm’s higher-end bodies. An X-T3 is about the same price, and it offers similar features with a wonderful lens line. The second is Sony competing with themselves. They like to leave older bodies on the market, and you can presently get an A7II for just about the same price as an a6600. The A7II has similar features, is almost as fast, but it gets its owner out of the dead-end Sony APS-C line and into the very active world of Sony full-frame. An A7II also makes a great backup body for a higher-end FE system – it doesn’t do strange things to your lens focal lengths.

Sony is certainly not the only manufacturer with an APS-C line that is hampered by limited lens choices. As a matter of fact, Fujifilm is about the only manufacturer with a relatively complete APS-C lineup without using full-frame lenses to fill in the gaps. Nikon and Canon DSLRs are in essentially the same situation as Sony mirrorless, perhaps with a few more decent APS-C lenses and with somewhat broader full-frame choices to fill in the gaps, mostly among exotic telephotos, tilt/shift lenses and the like. Both Canon and Nikon APS-C mirrorless systems are in worse shape than Sony, requiring adapters to attach the gap-filling DSLR lenses.

Sony’s other two recent releases are iterative updates to already excellent products, and one is a real niche camera. The more interesting to most Luminous Landscape readers is the A7r mk IV. The specifications and early reviews are already all over the Internet, and I am working on getting one in for review. Early opinions are pretty confident that it is the best A7r yet, but very much still an A7r. Image quality is almost certainly excellent – most reviewers are saying the best short of medium format, although Nikon’s very low ISOs on the Z7 and D850 produce an interesting tradeoff – the Sony will capture a little bit more detail, while the Nikon will produce slightly better color and dynamic range. Both are excellent, and both will require at least a 24” printer to see all that they are capable of.

It seems to be “still an A7r” in the good ways as well as the annoying ones. Among the high points of the A7r line are the image quality, the significant and expanding lens line, the image stabilization (since the A7r II) and the excellent battery on the A7r III, which carries over to the IV. The menus are still (and unfortunately) vintage Sony, the controls are improved, but maybe not up to the standards of Nikon’s or Fujifilm’s best. Sony keeps making relatively small improvements to things like grips and controls, with a cumulative effect that the more recent models are considerably more comfortable to use than the early A7 series. Sony claims to have significantly improved the weather sealing, and we’ll have to wait for teardowns and torture tests to see how true that is – the A7r III’s questionable weather sealing was a real consideration for landscape photography. The improvements in controls and sealing are probably at least as important as the new image sensor in how the camera actually works for real-world photographic challenges. I really look forward to using an A7r IV – yes, it’s an iterative camera, but it’s an iteration on the already excellent A7r III that seems to have some significant improvements.

The niche camera is the A9 II. If you are a Sony shooter covering the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for a major publication, you probably need one (or more). It’s also worth looking at if you are covering Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA or NHL or top-level soccer (football in most of the world) professionally. Similarly, if you are paid to photograph the Kentucky Derby or the Indy 500, this is your Sony. In almost every other case, there is another model in Sony’s lineup that will serve you better – either the cheaper original A9 or the much cheaper A7 III (or an older A7 series model for even less). Most of the improvements over the original A9 are not about taking pictures – they are about getting huge numbers of pictures off the camera quickly.

The image sensor is unchanged from the original A9, and the autofocus is only marginally improved. Many of the body improvements of the A7r IV are also found on the A9 II, so it is not unchanged from a picture-taking perspective – but the changes aren’t huge (the A9 was already Sony’s most ergonomic body). The big changes are related to tagging images (voice memo has been added) and getting images off the camera fast, with both gigabit Ethernet and 5 gHz Wi-Fi on board to help transfer images in the press room. Unless you have an unquenchable need for speed, an A7III is just as much camera for less than half the money. If you need the autofocus speed of the A9 line, but not the enormous transfer speed of an A9II, the original A9 is a serious consideration for $1000 less – although a major improvement in weather sealing could change the calculation, especially for wildlife photographers.


A Z50 in hand – it really is tiny.

Nikon, whose Z system has been a pleasure to watch evolve, and to shoot with, made a couple of mistakes with their DX entry. The body and one of the lenses are tiny, which is an important advantage in the consumer market they are going for. I have a significant personal investment in my Z7 system, and after thousands of images, it impresses me with its quality every time – so, if anything, I was rooting for Nikon. I continue to be impressed with how well the Z mount lens line is filling out – I don’t mind the preponderance of high-quality f1.8 primes and f4 zooms, because lenses a stop faster would be twice the size and weight. One of the best features of the Z cameras is their ratio of size and weight to image quality, and the combination of excellent in-body image stabilization and very clean higher ISOs means that last stop isn’t as critical.


58mm f0.95 Noct-Nikkor dwarfing a Z7

Nikon is actually releasing lenses faster than Sony did in the early days of the FE mount, and they are much better lenses than many of the early Sonys. With all the G-Masters and other great lenses now, it’s easy to forget that FE started with duds like the 28-70 f 3.5-5.6 and the 24-70 “Zeiss”, both of which are still in the line. Sony built an excellent lens line from scratch, but there were significant concerns in the first couple of years. Nikon is not only working even faster than Sony did, they also have the FTZ adapter to access a huge line of first-party DSLR lenses, an advantage that Sony never had. Sony’s first-party adapters brought in a limited line of Minolta and Sony/Minolta lenses, which was not really under active development because the Sony/Minolta DSLR line of the time was primarily APS-C. It was something, but it was nothing like the advantage of easy, seamless compatibility with Nikon DSLR lenses. The Z-mount line itself is becoming fairly extensive apart from telephotos, with a decent selection of primes and zooms under 100mm and an upcoming 70-200mm f2.8. There is no very wide prime, no 28mm prime, and all the primes except the exotic 58mm Noct are f1.8, but the lenses are very sharp, reasonably spaced and reasonably priced (again, except for the Noct, which is $8000). A couple of macro lenses, several telephoto zooms and a 20mm prime are highlights of what’s on the way.


A Z7 complete with “105mm f1.4 VR” – it works very well

While the line still lacks telephotos, I have had the FTZ adapter plus a couple of F-mount lenses in for review, and both the good but consumer-grade 70-300mm f4-5.6 and the superb 105mm f1.4 (which becomes a 105mm f1.4 VR on the Z7!) perform very well on the FTZ. The 70-300 is clearly a weaker lens than any of the native Z lenses or the 105mm, but that is the nature of a $600 telephoto zoom on a 46 MP sensor – it is as strong or stronger than expected given the type of lens and the resolution of the sensor. I am hoping to try a 500mm PF lens on the Z system for the upcoming review. Much more on the full-frame Z system in an extensive long-term review, including an interview with Nikon, coming up in a few weeks.

As enthused as I am with the full-frame Z system, I was unimpressed by the Z50 announcement. There are three small disappointments, one medium-sized one, and one big disappointment. The small disappointments were the use of the older 20.9 megapixel sensor instead of the new 26.3 megapixel sensor Fujifilm has put in several bodies, the new, small battery (incompatible with anything else) and the loss of the top display screen and (perhaps more importantly) the joystick from the existing Z system.


Unlike the 16-50mm, the 50-250mm DX is not a pancake lens – it’s still reasonably matched to the body.

The medium-sized disappointment is the initial lenses. Given the quality of the full-frame Z lenses, I had hoped to see Nikon move in the Fujifilm direction with the DX Z-mount lenses – higher quality than an average APS-C lens, while remaining compact and somewhat reasonably priced. Instead, what we got was a pair of decidedly consumer-focused lenses with f6.3 maximum apertures at the long end, with only one more DX lens on the roadmap of upcoming lenses. While the forthcoming 18-140 has no listed maximum aperture, the 11:1 zoom range and the slow maximum apertures of the existing DX lenses cause me to suspect that it is almost certainly also f6.3. While most of the full-frame Z lenses are little gems, at least compared to the behemoth ultra-fast designs that are being released these days, I see limited reason to hope that the DX Z lenses are anything but cheap consumer zooms. Most of Nikon’s F-mount DX lenses have fit in this category, although there have been some notable exceptions over the years

The big disappointment is the loss of the excellent in-body image stabilization from the full-frame Z system. Nikon has boxed themselves into a corner here, since few of any of the full-frame Z lenses will have in-lens VR (Nikonese for lens-based stabilization). Why add the cost and weight, when the bodies are stabilized? They may use lens VR on a few long telephotos, where it can be more effective than a body-based system, but I wouldn’t expect it in any lens under 100mm, and probably not under 200mm. The combination of the unstabilized, but excellent full-frame lenses and the unstabilized Z50 means that a Z50 with a full-frame lens is an unstabilized system.

For casual photography, which the Z50 is meant for, image stabilization should probably just be turned on and left on – most casual photographers don’t use tripods, and any minor deleterious effects at high shutter speeds are almost certainly compensated for by not missing shots by forgetting to turn your stabilizer back on. Image stabilization is one of the biggest image quality advances in decades in many situations, and putting a decent lens on the new Z50 gives it up. Ironically, the only way to mount a stabilized lens other than the uninspiring f6.3 consumer zooms is to use an F-mount lens with lens-based VR on the FTZ adapter.

The combination of Nikon apparently not planning to release higher-quality DX Z lenses and the lack of stabilization using a full-frame lens on a DX body makes the Z50 much less attractive to existing Z system photographers than it could have been. There are now two, only semi-compatible Z lens lines – the high-end full-frame lenses which eschew stabilization because they are meant for stabilized bodies and the low-end zooms for the Z50, which require lens-based stabilization.

When I spoke with Nikon at PhotoPlus, they indicated that their expectation was that very few people would use the Z50 with full-frame lenses. The Z50 was really meant as an entry-level camera that will be used with the lenses it was bought with (it comes in one-lens and two-lens kits). For this market, the positioning of the stabilizer doesn’t matter at all. The 16-50mm DX lens is a pancake, a fact not immediately obvious from all of the press photos, which usually show it extended, and which leads to a remarkably small and light package (~18.5 ozs, 530 grams). The Nikon is substantially lighter than the Olympus E-M5 mk III with its kit lens (although the Olympus kit lens is a 14-150mm travel zoom), and is only an ounce heavier than the Olympus with its own pancake zoom. For nearly double the sensor size, that’s remarkable. The Nikon is slightly heavier than the lightest of the Sony APS-C bodies with the pancake lens, although almost exactly the same weight as the feature-comparable a6400.

Simply adding in-body stabilization to the Z50 would have meant that it could mount essentially any Nikkor ever made, either directly or through the FTZ. The only lenses that would have lost functionality would have been older screw-drive AF lenses that wouldn’t autofocus (but otherwise work fine). Manual focus lenses wouldn’t suddenly gain autofocus, of course (and really old lenses wouldn’t report their aperture correctly) – but everything would work. By leaving the stabilizer out, Nikon has created an additional incompatibility – brand-new Z lenses with a directly compatible mount become unstabilized when they weren’t meant to be, because they expect a stabilized body. Nikon claims adding the stabilizer to the body, while deleting it from the lenses

Nikon might make this worse? There is some talk of a consumer-level full-frame Z body without the in-body stabilizer. This will create a third messy category of lenses! Assuming that it’s not meant to be used without stabilization most of the time, there will need to be stabilized full-frame lenses to go with it. For full stabilized functionality, there would be three classes:

Z6, Z7, new full-featured Z bodies : Any Z lens except DX, any F mount lens except DX (FTZ) – watch out for old AF lenses (no AF).
Z50 and other DX cameras: Stabilized Z DX lenses, possibly a stabilized Z FX lens or two (meant for low-end FX Z bodies without stabilization), VR Nikkors (FTZ)
“Z5”: Stabilized FX Z lenses, FX VR Nikkors (FTZ)

Nikon may release a higher-end DX Z with stabilization, which would have a reassuring lens compatibility chart:

“Z70” – why not Z90 to honor the legendary old D90 and the N90/F90 before it? Although the D70’s not a bad camera to invoke, either… : Everything – watch out for old AF lenses (no AF).

Sony has this problem, too. Most of their APS-C bodies are unstabilized, while most of their full-frame bodies are stabilized. The only unstabilized full-frame bodies they ever made were right at the beginning of the full-frame A7 system. They have, however, continued to release stabilized FE lenses, particularly zooms (whether to support the old bodies or unstabilized APS-C bodies) – while Nikon has chosen to rely on in-body stabilization to make the full-frame Z lenses smaller. Because of the stabilized lenses, Sony shooters face fewer unpleasant surprises when mounting a full-frame lens on an APS-C body…

If Nikon needlessly confused their mirrorless lens lineup, Canon is still trying to sort theirs out. Their APS-C and full-frame lens lineups are entirely incompatible – no adapter will fix it, because the mounts are too similar in depth. Either one will mount Canon DSLR lenses with (different) adapters. Since no Canon body is stabilized, many lenses are, in all three mounts.

The lenses reflect no visible mirrorless strategy on Canon’s part – the APS-C EF-M lenses are composed primarily of inexpensive f6.3 zooms, with one f1.4 prime, one f2 prime and an inexplicable 28mm f3.5 macro lens – at full macro, the working distance is pretty much nonexistent. The higher-end EOS-M bodies deserve better than these lenses, which were really meant for the lowest-end bodies. The newest EOS M6 mk II is the highest resolution APS-C camera to date (tied with its EOS 90D DSLR stablemate), and is a full-featured body aimed at relatively serious photographers. That’s probably not an ideal fit with f6.3 lenses aimed at extreme compactness and very low prices.

Canon has other EOS-M bodies far better suited to their lenses, but only a couple of prime lenses suited to the EOS-M6 mk II. Inexplicably, the body is also viewfinderless, although any kit with the body and a lens also includes the viewfinder – why make it detachable in the first place since it has no mounting flexibility, only fitting in the electronic shoe atop the camera? If it were a wireless viewfinder that could be mounted in several positions on the body or used away from the camera, or even if there was an extension cord available, the detachability would make sense.
Canon has the opposite problem with their R series full-frame bodies – the lenses are very high-end, fast and with gorgeous image quality. The bodies are decidedly midrange at best, and not what one would ordinarily use with lenses like that. The PhotoPlus lens releases did absolutely nothing to change the fundamental problem. One of the two releases was a remarkably compact 70-200mm f2.8 – a bread and butter professional lens – but there is no true pro body to use it with. The EOS-R body is comparable to something like an EOS-6D or a Sony A7 mk III, neither an especially fast body nor an especially high-resolution one, but a competent, midrange advanced amateur/enthusiast camera that meets the needs of a variety of photographers. Not what most people use with a $2700 lens… Canon’s only other body is the stripped down EOS-RP, which would be the cheapest full-frame camera on the market, except for Sony’s habit of keeping cameras a couple of generations old around at cut-rate prices. Canon’s other lens release was a “defocus smoothing “ version of the existing 85mm f1.2 portrait lens – an exotic upgrade to an already borderline exotic portrait lens. Of ten Canon lenses for RF mount, there are:

3 f1.2 lenses (or 2 plus a variant, depending on how the 85mm DS counts)
3 f2.8 zooms
1 f2.0 zoom
2 zooms slower than f2.8
1 prime slower than f1.2 (a very short 35mm macro lens).

Of these, only the 24-240 travel zoom (and the 35mm macro, if that makes any sense at all) make sense on the EOS-RP. Add the 24-105mm f4 to the list for the more capable EOS-R. There are seven beautiful lenses looking for a home – Canon, won’t you please adopt them and give them a nice high-res camera to play with? The next (and only relatively confirmed) EOS-R body is an exotic astrophoto version of the EOS-R. Pretty specialized, but at least it benefits from the fast lenses… There are continuing rumors of a high-resolution EOS-R pro body that would make sense with these lenses…


Two Sigma fp setups – the one on the right has Hollywood ambitions

Sigma was showing the fp – the first time I have actually held one of those. It’s a beautifully built little camera, and it’s a little camera. It is remarkably small with Sigma’s 45mm f2.8 on it – you’d almost take it for a Micro 4/3 camera, but it’s full frame. Any other currently shipping L mount lens looks and feels huge and out of place on the diminutive fp. The real surprise about the fp is how well it handles cinema rigs – several of the bodies Sigma had were festooned with rods and rails, and they matched the body very well. The disappointment is that they don’t have a stills-focused viewfinder out yet (the camera doesn’t natively have one). The only “viewfinder” they were showing was an optical magnifier/hood for the rear screen – a classic video accessory that works better in that application than for stills. In the dark PhotoPlus hall, it was quite comfortable to shoot with just the rear screen as long as it had the 45mm lens on it – anything else was too heavy for cell phone type shooting. I wonder about that rear screen style of shooting in brighter conditions. I couldn’t get comfortable with the cine type finder in the few minutes I had with it – I suspect it’s meant for using the camera on a tripod, or held by some part of a cine rig… I really look forward to playing with a fp in more detail, because I suspect more and more cameras will be basic blocks that photographers add grips, viewfinders and the like to. High end cine cameras are already going that way – Sigma was nice enough to give us a shutter button and a lens mount, both of which are optional on RED cameras.


A wet E-M5 III – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an Olympus marketing image featuring a dry camera.

Will somebody please make a sensor for Olympus? They were showing their E-M5 mk III, a tiny little body with their unbelievable image stabilizer and Olympus-grade weather sealing. I’ve never tried it, but I’ve heard stories of people washing an E-M1 mk II with a hose, which the camera apparently survives. The little E-M5 mk III is supposedly sealed to the same level. I have shot a friend’s E-M1 mk II down to ¼ or even ½ second handheld, with the 12-100 mm lens that provides the best stabilization performance (set somewhere around 25mm, “normal” on Micro 4/3). Sharp images at ¼ or ½ second are remarkable – I trust most stabilizers down to something between 1/10 and 1/20 second in similar circumstances…

It includes most of an E-M1 mkII in a much smaller package. Some of the ridiculously fast burst shooting capabilities of the larger camera are gone – it’s not a “mini D5” in the same way its big brother is… Since it retains the stabilizer and the sealing, the other two primary capabilities of the E-M1 mk II are intact.

The paradox of the E-M5 mk III is the eternal paradox of Micro 4/3 – the small sensor enables the features we all love, but the small sensor also robs image quality. When the E-M1 mk II was released in 2016, the 20 MP Micro 4/3 sensor was the lowest performing sensor in a widely marketed interchangeable lens camera, except for the older 16 MP sensor in the same format. Here it is, three years later and Olympus has just released another camera featuring the exact same sensor. Sensors have gotten significantly better in that time, and the Micro 4/3 sensor has stood still.

Modern sensors are so good that there are many applications for which the lowest-quality sensor around is still more than good enough. If the photographer is mindful of the dynamic range limits (about three stops less than the best current cameras, partially because of the rather high minimum standard ISO of 200) the 20 MP sensor won’t look much different from 100 MP online. At reasonable ISOs, it is more than adequate in resolution for any desktop print, although noise does affect it more quickly than cameras with larger sensors.

The second conundrum of Micro 4/3 is the lenses. There are certainly tiny lenses for the format, and there are certainly excellent lenses for the format – but they tend not to be the same lenses. The Olympus 14-42mm f3.5 – 5.6 is a tiny lens weighing around 3 ozs./90 grams, but it is a very slow lens and not a great performer – remembering the affect of format size on depth of field, it has the subject isolation of a f11 lens on full frame. The 12-40mm f2.8 Olympus Zuiko Pro is a great lens – but it weighs almost as much as the also excellent 24-70mm f4 Z Nikkor – and, despite appearing a stop slower, the full-frame Nikkor actually has a stop more subject isolation. Once you start getting into Zuiko Pro lenses, Micro 4/3 rapidly loses its weight advantage over Fujifilm APS-C, and the advantage isn’t as big as it could be even over full-frame. Keeping the size and weight advantage often requires using compromised lenses.

Even at the same size and weight as something with higher potential image quality, an Olympus system has the advantages of extreme durability, speed and that incredible image stabilizer. If you include a tripod in competitors’ weight calculations, Olympus does awfully well… What would a Micro 4/3 camera with a really modern 20 MP BSI image sensor with all the latest technologies look like? It wouldn’t have higher resolution, but what about dynamic range, color quality, etc? Better still, what if a future Micro 4/3 camera got an organic image sensor, or a version of a Foveon-type chip that really took advantage of that technology, before the technology was there to build a much larger version? Without something like that, I am afraid for the future of Olympus’ camera business – and that means potentially losing two of the most interesting features on the market today.

Pentax, Leica and Hasselblad haven’t introduced anything since the summer, and none of the three were present at PhotoPlus this year. Pentax was present as recently as last year, Hasselblad in 2017 and Leica in 2016. Hasselblad has a relatively interesting medium-format line that appeared in the recent mirrorless roundup – including options for mingling current X-system lenses and classic V lenses. Some Hasselblad gear would make an interesting review, as many of us probably have fond memories of using V system cameras at some point between the 1950s and the early 2000s. How will those lenses hold up to a 50 MP back with a much smaller image area? Leica is rumored to release a new version of their SL full-frame camera using the 47 MP sensor from the Panasonic S1r in the next few weeks. How will it differentiate itself from the much cheaper S1r?

Pentax continues to run a small-volume business putting Sony sensors in little-changed DSLR bodies. The sensors are excellent, and the bodies are unique (I am not aware of any non-Pentax DSLR with in-body image stabilization, but most Pentax bodies have it). Much of the fun of Pentax is using vintage lenses – old K-mount lenses are all over yard sales, and they all not only work, but gain stabilization. How long will parent company Ricoh keep this little business going? It may be relatively cheap to do, so it is conceivable that it is actually profitable, even at the low volumes they manufacture. The three reasons to consider a Pentax are:

You have old Pentax lenses.
It’s a “just for fun” camera, and the idea is to search out some old Pentax lenses to go with it.
You really value both water resistance and in-body stabilization, you want to pay less than a Z6 would cost and you’re willing to trade off support and modern lens choice to get a larger, higher quality sensor than Olympus offers. The other option here is a Fujifilm X-H1, which is the only Fujifilm body with a stabilizer (short of a GFX 100!).

Dan Wells

October 2019

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Dan Wells, "Shuttterbug" on the trail, is a landscape photographer, long-distance hiker and student in the Master of Divinity program at Harvard Divinity School. He lives in Cambridge, MA when not in wild places photographing and contemplating our connection to the natural world. Dan's images try to capture the spirit he finds in places where, in the worlds of the Wilderness Act of 1964, "Man himself is but a visitor". He has hiked 230 miles of Vermont's Long Trail and 450 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail with his cameras, as well as photographing in numerous National Parks, Seashores and Forests over the years - often in the offseason when few people think to be there. In the summer of 2020, Dan plans to hike a stretch of hundreds of miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, focusing on his own and others' spiritual connection to these special places, and making images that document these connections. Over years of personal work and teaching photography, Dan has used a variety of equipment (presently Nikon Z7 and Fujifilm APS-C). He is looking for the perfect combination of light weight, ruggedness and superb image quality.

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