On New Camera Releases

This morning I awoke to the actual release of the Fuji XPRO-2 and the leaked images of the PEN F Olympus. Working in the industry until recently, I was aware if their existence, but the rumour mill made sure everyone else was pretty close to. Effectively in direct competition as the latest and best from the leading formats of mirrorless or CSC cameras, the next few months will be interesting.

All the buzz is of course about the levels of "better" that the cameras are offering and in respect to the Fuji there was plenty of improvement to be had in every area except image quality. I am still amazed how much Fuji users (my self included) will put up with to get that legendary, if a little over blown, image quality. 

The only important question to answered with the new flagship camera releases is whether the image quality is better. Not just bigger, but better,

A while ago I owned a Canon 450D/1000D combination after getting fed up with the weight of full frame cameras, not to mention the (for me) stress of having too much expensive and expectation tied up in my camera. Weight was also exaggerated by my preference for heavy and fast prime lenses. They were great for the times I actually used cameras seriously, usually for travel and they produced what I expected, clean usable images from flexible and forgiving files. Indeed the 1000D had some of the sharpest files I have ever seen as it apparently had a very mild AA filter. The temptation to upgrade was always there, but borrowing a 5d2 for a car show and comparing the 11x14'" prints put paid to that. Not even a visiting rep from Nikon could tell the difference.

 This file had the difficult combination of underexposed foreground and blown out background

This file had the difficult combination of underexposed foreground and blown out background

Flush with a successful transition, I resolved to stick to the bottom of the line cameras, but use them with the best prime lenses. When the urge to upgrade came, with a lot less guilt as my cameras were well used and the jump was relatively small. I purchased a 550D and expected what I had, but better. Pretty soon the bubble burst. This was my first, but not last, realisation that newer technology, in a field controlled by the constant need to be perceived to improve as fast as possible, is not always better or at least not better in every way.

The 550D's screen was gorgeous, way better that the 450D, the camera was a little faster, better laid out and the files were bigger. Were the files as flexible or "bulletproof"? Were they sharper ? No. They had lovely Canon colour, had some more resolution, with all the problems that entails including to possibility of smeared sharpness (I never really got on top of that satisfactorily) . The noise was smaller as the pixels were smaller, but the 450D and 1000D cleaned up better (It was always a mystery to me that Canon kept the maximum ISO setting on those cameras so low as they did a good job, even by todays standards), the files from the 550D had strange colour response in reds and purples if a little over exposed and pushing the colours went wrong, really wrong, very quickly. There was nothing basically wrong with the camera, but it failed to reach the basic standards I had become accustomed to from older cameras. The temptation now was to return to full frame where I could have more, but without the down sides. "Better the standard V8 than the turbo charged 4 cylinder" I would say. This almost happened, but the OMD EM5 appeared at that time and I took a leap.

 OK up to 8x10" prints, but this image is not sharp. Repeated attempts failed, but previous images, with older cameras were achieved without issue. 

OK up to 8x10" prints, but this image is not sharp. Repeated attempts failed, but previous images, with older cameras were achieved without issue. 

This was the first awakening. The second came with my "bowl of allbrands" period. 

Unsure that the Olympus "look" fully satisfied after Canon colour, I got a little bit back into Canon, tried some Fuji and added a little Sony into the mix. This period is the first period of true advancement for mirrorless cameras, The EM5 proved that speed could come with good IQ, the Sony NEX 7 had the highest pixel count on any crop frame sensor by a long way, the Fuji magic was becoming established and with their 18-55 zoom, the cameras finally had acceptable responsiveness. SLR's still ruled in system depth and AF tracking, so I felt I could justify a "camera for every mood/need" kit. 

The NEX 7 in particular showed me that the extra pixels added a lush, largeness to it's image files, but never produced the sharpness or balance that the Olympus or Fuji cameras effortlessly delivered. Great with their 50mm as a portrait option, but nothing else was fully acceptable. The camera was ironically an ideal fit for my multi pronged kit as it provided a look different to the others (sort of soft medium format film), but would have been disappointing to me if it was my only port of call.

 Looks good enough this size, but closer inspection shows smeariness and mottled noise, not what an Olympus or Fuji user is used to.

Looks good enough this size, but closer inspection shows smeariness and mottled noise, not what an Olympus or Fuji user is used to.

My hope with the two new offerings from my two favourite camera companies is that they give us more, without compromise or at least some more of some things without going backwards in other areas.  Most pleasing is the 20mp sensor in the PEN F as this is already known from the GX8 and looks to be un compromised. 

The message here is "look before you leap". Wait until the test results have come out, but be wary of purely studio tests as these are a long way removed from actual use. Make sure the upgrade does not undo the things you like about the camera you have and balance is maintained*. It does not hurt to wait, the cameras and a better perspective of their place in the world will be here in the near future. If you have money to burn, get a new/better lens. They are a better long term proposition and make more difference. 

* It is for a reason some people stick with their old XPRO-1 over the newer XT-1 or prefer the older EM5 to the newer models. I preferred the handling of the XE1/2 to any other Fuji I tried (The XT had a very stiff exposure comp dial-not my cup of tea) and found the files from the bottom of the line XA1 (different sensor and filter array) less prone to smearing landscape images than it's dearer siblings. The EM5 MK1 cameras are not perfect, but they are like a second skin to me now and that is priceless. The image quality in RAW is nearly identical to the newer cameras if a bit more contrasty.