#516. Whither Sensor Formats? a.k.a Going Full Circle From Film

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Oct 06

Has there ever been a more fun time to be a photographer?

All the way back in the film-based middle-ages, it used to be that the medium and large format segments of the market offered tremendous a variety of shooting experiences that were not available in 35mm. These things came with bellows, shift, tilts, and a multitude of formats (6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, 6×9, 4″x5″, 6×17 and so on). All tried to fulfill the same promise of the maximum image quality in a variety of shooting conditions.

iPhone pano, Pascal Jappy

Mont Saint Michel at dawn – Samsung Galaxy S6

Digital has largely leveled the playing field. While I never did the maths, it wouldn’t surprise me if my old OM-D E-M5 printed better at 16″ than my even older film Hassy 500. And that my current A7rII significantly out-detailed my past Linhof Master-Technika 4×5.

Heck, even telephones create brilliant imaging, today. Just look at the photograph above. This is one of the best photographs from a recent trip to Normandy and Brittany. It was made with my, now ancient, Samsung Galaxy S6. My son owns the S7 and it is better in so many ways it hurts (smooth HDR, better colours …)

dsc07822-pano

A new dawn for digital – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM

That leveling has meant that the race to better image quality is now failing miserably as a marketing strategy. Rumours of a new 72Mpix sensor are spreading. This would mean more disk space and more powerful computers. But impact on real IQ is uncertain.

I’m not alone thinking along these lines.

Everywhere you look, Photokina 2016 is described as totally uninspiring. Nothing really new. More pixels. More AF zits on the sensors. More insignificant whatevers elsewhere. A reluctant entry in the mirrorless arena by Canon, and incremental – at best – improvement of DSLRs. Nikon ? Not really hyperactive either, right?

The truth is manufacturers aren’t slacking. It’s just that all of our gear is good enough and has been for a long time. Don’t expect major news anytime soon.

So why the excitement?

dsc07586

Holy sensor sizes, Batman ! Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM

It’s all about sensor formats.

There are so many, now. Tiny Smartphones, M43, APS, FF and medium format.

While some of the current actors will continue to waste marketing and development millions in a quantitative race to nowhere, others have clearly caught on to something far more interesting and important. A back-to-the-future of user experience. A variety of use cases and image looks that serve creativity well. As Ming Thein puts it, the industry has now matured.

 

A vast range of sensor sizes …

At the very top of the vaguely-affordable scale sit Pentax, Hasselblad and the newly introduced Fuji (to me, the magnificent Leica S is only meaningful to very affluent amateurs and pros who can justify the expense to their accountants. Ditto anything with a medium format back). Whether Fuji and Hassy met before there respective launches to discuss relative positioning, we’ll probably never know. But the two new cameras are such different implementations of a same internal heart that you simply have to bow in respect.

dsc07842-pano

Stoned – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM

Pretty-boy Hasselblad X1D is essentially a medium format smartphone. Now, before this sentence destroys all my credibility in Gothenburg, let me justify ๐Ÿ˜‰ This camera, and its lenses, seem as compact as physics will allow. It is super connected, feature-rich (yay for GPS) and beautifully intuitive. It lacks the ability to actually phone people, but who uses smartphones to make calls, anyway ? We have watches for that ๐Ÿ˜‰

Perfect ? Heck no !!! Whatever the price and size constraints, anyone who designs a lens without an aperture ring deserves to be beheaded, twice!

But, as Apple, Ford (Model-T) and many other industrial triumphs illustrate, simplicity is a wonderful asset. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (and my oh my, is that X1D a beautiful camera, to my eyes!) but simplicity is a universal quality. It must have taken guts to create that piece of genius and I hope it works (and sells) as well as it looks. Kudos.

On the other side of the ring, the Fuji GFX is a bit of an eyesore. It feels rushed, cobbled-up from bits and bobs like the cheapo bin droids of the Star Wars universe. But ever so lovable for it. It looks like a Lego set. Or a Transformer truck. It sends your imagination to places where you feet will never take you. It feels like a system you can disassemble and reassemble for every new need. And the large lenses let the optimist in me imagine that Fuji’s super competent design department have taken a no-compromise route to optical greatness.

Downers ? Yeah, quite a few. But nothing to dampen the enthusiasm and respect.

What matters most is that these two manufacturers have so brilliantly taken opposite roads to a same market, using a same electronic parts bin. The two will appeal to very different user profiles and will help the market develop as a whole, driving variety up and prices down. Kudos, guys.

dsc07503

Morning wanderer – Sony A7rII & Zeiss C-Sonnar 1.5/50 ZM

Then, there’s Full-Frame. And Sony have slowly-but surely positioned their A7 range as the true jack-of-all trades swiss-army knife. Great stabilisation, a platform for some of the best lenses in the known universe, a sensor that seems to ignore the word limitation, real video capabilities and other truly useful features.

Downsides? Where do I even start? Few objects have ever infuriated more than my Sony cameras. But a part of this is probably due to the polarity switch from the deep love I feel when looking at the results they give me in tricky situations.

Pentax, with their K1 also have provided us with a very valiant effort, one which, hopefully, will bring great success to the mothership.

Leica, in their own quirky way, have done a lot to occupy a very creative niche of photography using this format.

And the big boys at Canon and Nikon, in spite of their pre-retirement cash-cow strategy of today, have worked wonders to serve many other niches using this format, particularly sports, landscape, wildlife … Visit any photo competition awards event and 90% of the photographs on the walls will have been made using cameras from one of these 2 manufacturers!

Further down the sensor size ladder sit Fuji, with two lines of superb APS cameras. When I last used one, during our Paris workshop, it was hard for me to hand it back to its rightful owner, Paul. Both produce OOC colours that others can’t touch with a pole and provide access to in-camera filters that appear to bring great joy to users. And the smaller sensor size has allowed the creation of a range of sublime lenses at prices that seem like a mistake when you come from the high-end FF universe. More importantly, the look from these cameras is quite different from the look from a FF camera.

Boats on Loch Farr

Boats on Loch Farr – Fuji X-Pro 2. (c) Paul Perton

Micro 4/3, for many reasons, seems to be losing momentum at the moment. But the open-system approach and the intensely satisfying shooting experience provided by some of the cameras in that segment have created a tremendous following and a lot of love. Plus a lot of brilliant photographs. The combination of great depth of field with a slightly lower dynamic range and glorious colour make for a distinct and lovable style. Would anyone object to a result like this ?

San Quirico, Belvedere Sunrise -Olympus OM-D (c) Steve Mallet

San Quirico, Belvedere Sunrise -Olympus OM-D (c) Steve Mallett

Compacts are dead. They were just a way to suck money out of innocent beginners and offered shameful performance. The Smartphone killed them off and for a reason.

20160923_084739

Mont Saint-Michel and Push-me Pull-you bus. Samsung Galaxy S6

Which leaves us with the Smartphone. Much maligned by serious photographers, but still worthy of a place in anyone’s kit in that it provides a very different look to most of the other cameras out there.

 

… and why that matters !

And, at the end of the day, the great variety of looks is what matters most, isn’t it ? Because, let’s face it, odds are that whatever brand you favour, you’re still buying a Sony in someone else’s clothing. Same internals, then, but the various sensor sizes lead to very different looks and user experiences, which is good news for all of us.

That’s why Fuji’s range makes so much sense. The past focus on APS now complemented by medium format is brilliant. Skipping FF altogether ensures radically distinct aesthetics between the two ranges. Yes, the GFX is positioned as offering better quality but that feels like nonsense given how good X-Pro files are these days. The GFX really is a whole different beast for different use cases and with different visual appeal. Which is why a GFX owner will probably still want to buy an X-Pro 2.

 

Test scene by Hans Strand - Hasselblad X1D

Test scene by Hans Strand – Hasselblad X1D

That’s why Smartphone manufacturers shouldn’t chase larger format cameras on purely technical terms (that would be fighting the laws of physics) but  continue to experiment with all sorts of devices to expand the user experience. Take a look at the Samsung images on this page. All very nice technically, but slightly slanted in one case and with minor panorama wobble in the other. This is where there is room for improvement (helping us keep straight and wobble-free), not in the dynamic range or resolution of the sensor. Keep the distinct look, improve the shooting and continue to press the advantage of Smartphone over conventional camera (rather than try to catch up with conventional camera).

That’s also why the 44×33 medium format may not be enough to make a huge dent in the FF market! As interesting as the cameras are, they offer about 70% more surface than full frame, which is just 30% along one dimension. Is that enough to place image style (not quality) in a different ballpark? Judging by initial photographs kindly sent to me by Hans Strand (see above and below) I’d say yes, probably. But Sony’s uncanny ability to improve their sensors with every new generation is not to be underestimated. So time will tell.

Painting - Samsung Galaxy S6

Painting – Samsung Galaxy S6

At the end of the day, just like in the old days of film, it seems like “full frame” (24×36) is the middle ground. The format for those who want to get the shot at all costs. The format that allows accurate AF, fast bursts, stabilization, acceptable dimensions, acceptable prices …

Whatever direction you depart from full frame, you both lose and gain.

Medium format gets you better dynamic range and a thoroughness of signal processing that guarantees sublime colour rendition, plus a range of superb lenses. A softer, more painterly look. What you loose is convenience and shooting envelope (size, shutter speed, cost, stabilization …) which means those cameras are for more deliberate photographers who are more willing to make the extra effort or those more interested in often creating something exceptional than worried about occasionally not getting the shot.

Smaller sensor sizes (than FF) lose you dynamic range and other factors that play a role in absolute IQ. But they offer a different look (more contrasted and delineated), smaller footprints and far lower prices, even for very inspiring and technically exceptional glass (Fuji 56mm f/1.2, Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8, anyone ?).

So we’ve come full circle from the film days. We once again have the luxury of a very segmented market place with a huge variety of formats, prices and use cases. Not bad for a dying industry, right ? Full circle, with one difference: quality from all the formats is now exceptional. Used intelligently and with an understanding of its limitations, any format can produce superb results. The main differentiator is the native look it produces. And that’s reason to be excited !

Balanced - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Otus 85/1.4

Balanced – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Otus 85/1.4

Maybe even that is not that meaningful. Maybe the real conclusion should be what our reader Jens kindly sent to me a few days ago (emphasis is my own):

photokina was interesting – though I didnโ€™t really find any novelties that grabbed my attention or inspired me. I guess I am a bit fed up with the whole idea of adding to or improving my equipment: I have a set of really good Zeiss and Leica lenses for my a7S and some leftovers from the Nikon collection. Iโ€™m reasonably happy with the a7S and will skip the a7S II.

The interesting part was looking more closely at what was shown in terms of images. Not only the very diverse show that Leica put on, but also all the stuff shown by the paper manufacturers like Hahnemรผhle, Moab etc. This is what my focus lies on at the moment – the final print.

Thatโ€™s why I have decided to get myself a decent printer (Canonโ€™s iPF Pro-1000) and explore this form of presentation and expression more closely – despite the fact that it is probably not really cost-effective to own and operate one of these machines privately. But what the heck! Agonizing about the IQ of pictures that only ever live on uncalibrated computer screens in meager resolution seems pretty futile to me at the moment.

Disko Bay - Hasselblad X1D (c) Hans Strand

Disko Bay – Hasselblad X1D (c) Hans Strand

So where do you stand? Are we still chosing sensors for quality or have we reached a point where we can focus more on aesthetics and experience?

 


Email: subscribed: 4
  • David A. Mack says:

    Hello Jappy;

    I really enjoyed your article and pretty much agree. I am a Nikoner using both the new D500 for wildlife/action and now the 810 for nature. I’ve been through now 4 of the D800 series. Sold the first for the “E” brand, had a tourist knock over my tripod at Yosemite on that one, bought a new one just weeks before the release of the 810. I just now dropped it on some rocks while removing it from my tripod and have replaced it with the 810 after checking to make sure a new version wasn’t in the offening. I relate this tale of whoa only to state two things: 1) always insure your equipment for first dollar replacement, no questions asked. and 2) Each time I was buying, I reviewed the market for a better camera. Absent a reasonably priced MF, I went back to Nikon. I really think Sony/Fuji are the future as we move to mirrorless. However, I’m really frustrated with Fuji and Sony both for having terrible hard to use menus. Sony promised (source B&H) to improve lenses to 60 lines/mm (not yet) and to furnish adaptors for other company lenses to facilitate switching camera companies and hasn’t done that yet either. I really like the A7 sony on paper, but still feel the company doesn’t pay attention to its customers and is not yet seemingly fully committed to moving to it in the immediate future.
    As you know, changing systems is really expensive and not just with the body/lenses, but also with all the peripherals, such as GPS, flash systems. etc to mention a few. Maybe I”m wrong here, but I think Sony just needs a few more years of demonstrable commitment to the market place.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi David,

      that’s quite a horror show you describe. As you say, it’s a good thing your cameras were insured.
      I’m not sure that the intended lesson here, but I’ll stay away from tripods even more than I already do ๐Ÿ˜‰

      It’s difficult to discuss Sony as one entity. On the one side, their sensor division have worked so well and so hard that they have more or less wiped the world clean of competition. Good because of the quality of the offering. Bad, very, very, bad because monopolies have been horrible ideas, as they get to decide where the future lies. That alone would make me buy the competition.If there was a competition to buy, that is … On the other hand, the camera division is creating a very interesting breed of cameras that drive me nuts on (too many) occasions but have immense qualities also. The range of native lenses available is now very good and, using adapters, you can mount your Nikon / Canon / you-name-it lenses and even have functional AF. The system’s pretty rich, nowadays. What displeases me is the overly complex manipulation of what should really be a transparent tool. Too much left brain kills off the right. Reading the comments on many blogs, I realize that every photographer wants something different from the body. Some features people ask for simply baffle me. So it must be hard for a company to produce a consensual body. Photography really needs a Steve Jobs. But then, that person would probably give us a Smartphone ๐Ÿ˜‰

      The real lesson is enjoy what you use ๐Ÿ™‚

  • philberphoto says:

    Hahaha! I can’t believe it! A brilliant post on such a worthy subject, and the word “glass” is left out!

    Let’s track back to film days. Everyone used the same film, so a camera, beyond measuring light and allowing one to focus, basically had no influence on IQ. It was all about the user experience, look elsewhere for performance. For performance, it was all about the glass. Wisdom was, forget the camera body, invest in glass, that never gets old, and holds its value pretty well.

    So using Pascal’s logic that “digital is going full circle from film”, I conclude that “Sony sensors are the new film”. Choose your sensor size, and you can predict your results. True, but not quite, because not all manufacturers are as adept at processing signal out put from sensors. Noise, colour,etc… aren’t quite the same yet, but with maturing of the technology, it will get there.

    But then, where will be difference be? It’s all about the glass, stupid! High-density sensors stress glass like never before. Plus, we view results on screen at 100%, a magnification that increases with sensor resolution. So great glass will make an ever greater difference. Which goes some way to explaining why recent glass releases have been on the large and heavy, hence expensive side. Think Leica SL lenses, Zeiss Milvus and Otus, Canon 35L II.

    We have indeed come full circle, or at least, we are getting there. My choice could well not be Pascal’s. He’s about the experience, and Sony is not (yet) where he wants to be, and, if he takes the not-inconsiderable plunge, Hasselblad has him salivating. I am a sucker for glass, and a quasi-universal platform like the A7 (or possibly the Fuji mini-MF) is likely to get my money.

    Funny, as cameras get ever more like computers, smartphones and connected devices, the end product will -once again- be dependent on this age-old craft still redolent of witchcraft and pixie dust, glass-making!

    • pascaljappy says:

      I believe (the technical excellence of) glass only plays a critical role when pixel density goes through the roof. And making great images doesn’t require this pixel count. Nor does it require super high dynamic range. All systems available today are able to produce stunning images in the right hands, and photographs that can be printed 16″. I’m not talking web use only. The need for super expensive glass is only driven by the super high resolutions we are being force-fed when manufacturers should instead focus on usability. It’s pretty obvious to me this strategy is failing and will fail even more miserably in the near future.

      To a large extent, yes, choose your sensor size and you can predict the outcome. Yes, there is variation among the manufacturers using the same sensor. The fact that Sony aren’t yet using their own sensors as efficiently as other brands are is probably only a sign of their youth. Also, some brands specify a slightly different flavour of the same sensor, to optimise their output. A bit like using Agfa 100 rather than Ilford 100, I suppose ๐Ÿ˜‰

      All of these variations, and the impact of lens quality matter less than the size of the sensor. Whatever the brand, film or lens, the output from an 8×10 would always be recognisable as very different (and vastly superior) to a 35mm frame. Today, we’re not able to do such comparisons as the sensor sizes do not span such a huge range, but the sharp & contrasty to soft & painterly variety of looks still pretty much applies as you climb the size ladder. I think the photographs on this page illustrate that well.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    I can’t make up my mind – should I sit here all morning, staring at your photo of Saint Michel (oops – “morning wanderer”)?
    Sensors – it’s all getting too technical & way over my head – once upon a time, I could pull my car to bits and put it back together, and doing all the service & maintenance was “easy as” – now I simply wouldn’t dare open the bonnet & peer inside – and the innards of modern digitals have ended up like that, too.
    I used to think all we had to worry about was sensors, but apparently there’s a thing called a processor which makes all the difference to what a sensor can do, and then there’s a whole lot of other guff.
    I prefer to grab a cam & go take photos – that stuff gives me headaches – no doubt Ming is on top of it all, but he had a top drawer degree in engineering before he turned his attention to these things.
    That said – I have all but abandoned my compact – I did have a reason to get it, but those tiny sensors don’t “do it” for me. And for the rest of it, from my PowerShot up the range to my currently unattainable dream of a medium format cam, I think anyone who can’t get a good photo with ANY of them simply isn’t trying hard enough.
    Of course, if there are special considerations, you might HAVE to use a particular cam. Ming is a pro, and he definitely needs the larger format – even so, he happily uses an FF if he feels like it and there’s no problem arising out of client demands, involved.
    Why do I end up thinking “they are plotting”? – it’s beyond belief that all those manufacturers don’t have something else up their sleeve – something “new” and “different” on the drawing board. It wouldn’t be in their best interests to heave the lot out the window and make smart phones take over completely, so changes there are likely to be incremental and not revolutionary. But corporations feed off turnover, and nothing boosts turnover quite as much or as quickly as suddenly making our existing toys obsolescent or obsolete. Photokina didn’t set the world on fire, the general reaction seems to have been “ho hum, more of the same, with one or two interesting new items” – that’s out of character, and just as “nature abhors a vacuum”, it leaves me feeling that something is coming.
    Do I care? – no – I actually have “enough” cams, for me, for the time being. If it happens, I shall sit back and be entertained by whatever it is.
    One final point – you quote reader Jens and, towards the end of the passage you have quoted, he mentions he is on the verge of buying a new printer. Specifically, Canon’s iPF PRO-1000.
    On the basis there’s no such thing as the “perfect” solution to our printing problems, I have been looking into the Canon and Epson printers lately, and I think Jens might benefit from reading these two articles before he takes the plunge. Personally, I was rather put off by suggestions the manual is 750 pages, you need to read it all before you switch the printer on, and if you tilt the printer you might find you’ve just lost all the inks – to a value of (on average) about $500. Also the manual doesn’t come with the printer – you have to download it from Canon !!! – it seems that $2000 doesn’t buy anything much these days, just a printer !! The ink problem only matters if you move the printer after it’s set up – but that’s always a possibility, for one reason or another, and I personally found the description of that issue at the end of PhotoReview’s second (main) article rather horrifying.
    In terms of print quality, there’s not a huge difference between the Pro-1000 and Epson’s SC-P600, and at the moment, I am inclined to go with the Epson one.
    http://www.photoreview.com.au/reviews/printers/first-look-canon-imageprograf-pro-1000
    http://www.photoreview.com.au/reviews/printers/canon-imageprograf-pro-1000-printer
    Both articles are worth reading, and there’s another one I have a copy of here – unfortunately I can’t recall the URL for it, or find it again on the net, but if Jens would like a copy, perhaps he could let me know & I can email it to him (if I have an email addy for him)

    • pascaljappy says:

      Pete, the car analogy is a very good one, thanks. You and I (and probably many others from a similar generation) yearn for simplicity. And the youngsters, well they buy smartphones. Simple too.

      It simply staggers me, in an era when the business benefits of simplifications are so obvious everywhere, that camera makers insist on making their cameras such awfully complex contraptions. When I reviewed the Sony G90, I immediately fell in love with the looks of the images. But there’s no way I could live with a lens that has so many buttons on it. Forget it. A lens focuses and gives you control over aperture.Anything more simply reveals the maker’s inability to conceive an efficient UI.

      I think Ming would agree that part of the problem for pros today, is that many clients are just as happy with a cheap photograph from an iPhone! That can be read in two ways: (1) the worl is so used to crappy photographs that brands don’t focus on artistic quality so much. (2) iPhones make great (technical) quality pictures. Of course, some shoots still require top gear and someone with Ming’s flair and technical ability to operate it. But it’s a shrinking market.

      Obsolescence comes in two shapes. Your product dies on you (that happened two me twice in recent years). Or something better comes along. These days, I think the whole idea of “better” is totally broken. We’ve had excellent enough for a long time now. And the only “better” I pray for is in reliability and user experience. Unlikely. Business history has more Titanics than agile recoveries.

      Printing is really interesting and really hard. I bought a really good Canon printer a few years ago and it occasionally delivered lovely B&W. But the effort is too high for the reward and these days, I just send my pics to labs. 750 page manuals … Again, guys, simplify or die. But some people who devote the time to it achieve wonderful results. Whatever the approach, Jens is right: focusing on the final image is so much more important than reading the specs of upstream components ๐Ÿ˜‰ Anyone needing formal proof of that should read the Valerie Millett interview on this blog !

      Thanks for the links, I’ll forward them to Jens.

      Cheers, Pascal

  • NMc says:

    Pascal
    From someone who uses much cheaper gear than DS contributors, I think it would be very disappointing if the camera industry is ‘mature’. The bulk of the camera turnover is still in the entry to (lower)enthusiast sectors and there is remarkably little to feel good about in that market sector, especially when it comes to lenses. How many very similar versions of standard and extended zooms do we need? Why is there very little differentiation between the brands/systems at this level?

    This seems completely counter intuitive to me because the high turnover/ broadest market sector is where companies should be able to innovate with the least risks. Sure, not much interest to many of your readers, just a thought from the lower slopes of the gear heap.
    Sorry for being grumpy on your site.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Noel,

      sadly, there’s not a lot to feel all that good about in the upper segments of the market either. I’m happy because there is ample variety but feel that cameras could and should be a lot better than they are, particularly at their high asking price. This is the topic of my next article (to be published tomorrow).

      Kit zooms are a highway to hell. In a way, what I’m saying is unfair. It’s impossible to create a wide range zoom that offers good AF, high build quality, high optical quality all at a reasonable price. Which is (partly) why I don’t own a single zoom. The other part of the equation is that zooms require extreme focus. They make me (and many others) terribly lazy. A good prime goes a long way. That being said, the fabulous Tuscany photograph made by Steve Mallett was made using a 40-150mm zoom that cost a lot less than you’d think. Bought when a newer version was introduced, it’s a stellar product at a very affordable price (a few hundred pounds, from memory). So it is possible to find great deals. But the best and latest is often expensive and rarely the best, agreed.

      The lack of differentiation is a good question. In my mind the major differences come from systems built around various sensor sizes rather than from individual brands. An m43 system feels quite different to a Sony FF, even though both are mirrorless. And, although you lose on resolution, you don’t feel cheated at all because it still is a system capable of producing astonishing results. Steve’s photo is just one in a long series that just blew my mind.

      As for our readers, they are mostly interested in photography, not the most expensive gear. So your comment is spot on. Thanks,
      Pascal

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Noel, I’ll go off on a tangent – I have top glass on the FF, a kit zoom on the HF and a powershot from Canon – yes I can do stuff with the Otus lenses on the FF that I can’t do with the other cams, but then again, I can take some very good shots with both the other cams. Of course there are quality differences – but nothing to be ashamed of, and I quite like some of the photos I take with them.

      And they ALL have advantages and limitations.

      The half frame with its kit zoom is great fun to shoot with, and as easy as anything to use. I actually find it quite fun and relaxing, and when I pick it up, I use it by choice – obviously, since I have alternatives in both directions. The same goes for the powershot – the controls on that, and the manual they provide, drove me crazy, so I use it mostly as a point & shoot, or – since I loath smart phones – a cam that I can take practically anywhere – small, light, and capable of producing some wonderful shots.

      What gives me a reality check on all this gear is post-processing my wife’s photos. She has an ageing Olympus compact – I’ve no idea what model, but they used to advertise it by saying you can drop it in a swimming pool without wrecking it. The sensor is probably smaller than some smart phones these days. It had problems with barrel distortion, the vibrancy & range of colours it captures and several other things that would drive me nuts. And despite ALL of that, she lands some bloody good photos with it – even though she has no interest in “photography”, in my terms. Believe me – it can be humbling, when a total amateur with a piece of junk like that takes a better shot than YOUR camera did – standing right next to you! ๐Ÿ™‚

      The FF is for more serious stuff. I’ll go back to my car analogy. I normally drive a small Honda, because it is as big as I need for driving around the city, economical, easy to drive, and a fun car. Over the years I’ve had quite a string of other cars, but it’d be nuts to use some of them to go shopping, or run down to the beach for a swim – they were meant for “serious driving” and performed accordingly. The FF really comes into its own, for me, when I’m doing Macro shots or available light shots – leaving the others way behind, in terms of what I could get out of them, taking the same shots.

      I agree with Pascal that zooms can make people lazy. There’s really no compelling reason why they should. What choosy people do with them is simply to use the fact they enable you to have all focal lengths in one lens – so if you should shoot with a wide angle, it’s there – ditto, for portraits – dial up a portrait lens focal length – and the same with telephoto. NOT just use that facility to avoid standing in the right spot, to take the right shot.

      • NMc says:

        Pascal and Pete
        I think the car analogy is very apt here, every brand has some sort of theme or identity, with a variety of different size base models tricked up for all sorts of users preferences . We cannot expect that level of choice for cameras, however no variety beyond a simplistic linear bigger, better, more expensive is just depressing.

        The only interesting thing I can think of recently is the Sigma 18-35mm, it is not for me however that is the only inovation that is not just a simple improvement on existing (Nikon promised a limited range wide angle zoom compact that has not arrived).

        As for buying second hand lenses and using adapter, no thanks. The time spent researching, looking, and learning to use is time I should be spending on improving photograph .
        Best regards

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          NMc – I can’t think of words to say how much I appreciate your last paragraph !!!!! Before I started taking digital seriously, I stayed with one camera for about 4 decades, and although I had three lenses, 99% of the photos I took with it were taken with the standard 50mm lens. Using it was second nature – like an extension of my mind, my eye, my hands. I now have what I want to do digital seriously, and I’m going to sit back & use it, while the rest of the traffic roars past me.

  • Per Kylberg says:

    A comment from Gothenburg: X1D and smartphone user interface lets the photographer concentrate on just that – photography! When Leica designed the T, they brought in a guy from Apple for the interface design. Interesting that old prestigious high end brands lead the direction of simplifying….
    Talking about image quality, it is all about the presentation: On the web or a 2 meter print? In the first case difference is clear but smartphone IQ still quite good. Present as a large print and it will be a different story.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Indeed, Per ! The X1D’s beauty is that it appears to let the photographer focus exclusively on his image rather than fuss with silly interface elements. And yes, presentation is everything. My article is based on the premise that 99% of photographers either never print or print small (A3 max). At those sizes, most of the systems out there are adequate from a technical quality standpoint and should focus on enhancing a specific type of experience rather than chase after the next level up. Cheers, Pascal

  • Wayne S. says:

    Philippe is right! It’s the glass and it’s rendering style that matters. I just got my Otus 28 to go with my 55 which I have had since they came out and have so enjoyed shooting with. After seeing your beautiful review images along with Ming’s, I took the plunge!
    Big lenses don’t bother me if I like what they give me. Then again i’m just a neanderthal/dinosaur shooting with a DSLR with a mirror. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Wonder if there will be another Otus released? 200 f2? I would get it.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Let’s settle on this: it’s the rendering that matters ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I’m glad you got the Otus 28. It is one of the exceptional lenses that you never regret and which always wow you. Have fun.

      A 200 f/2 would probably cost and weigh as much as a car. A I too would join the waiting list. ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Bumpy says:

    Perhaps the malaise in photography is in part because sensor technology is too far ahead of display technology. A cell phone display, like a good print, has pixel density over 300 ppi (up to 800ppi) but larger displays mostly scale up pixel size at similar resolution. A 55″ display at 300 ppi is 115MP. A current generation 55″ 4k display is 8MP, less than 10% of the pixel density of a good print (or cell phone). 8k displays are at prototype stage, so years from consumer market, yet still only 29MP. If the next generation doubles again to 16k we will finally have print resolution, 115mp, in large (55″) electronic displays. Maybe 25 or 30 years out?

    Sensors of any size, on the other hand, are now rarely under 20MP, in 4×3 format that is about right for an 8k monitor if you black bar the sides. FF 50MP has very good iq, and the smaller medium format 50MP is fantastic iq and within reach of well heeled enthusiasts in a consumer friendly for factor. 100mp medium format remains in the pro realm, but exists as a commercial offering, nearly two generations (doublings) ahead of large format display technology. Even if you downgrade sensor resolution because of the Bayer array, sensors are far ahead of displays, a decade at least.

    As much as I hope for an affordable and practical sensor (and lenses) that can capture 115mp (non bayer, 16×9), if one were available the benefits of using it would mostly be for future generations to enjoy. By the time large displays top 300ppi, my eyes are unlikely to be able to out resolve 8k up close on a 55″ display. So for my future enjoyment 42mp is probably good enough. Future generations will probably find 42mp as quaint as I find unrestored b&w tv, so those shooting for posterity would do well to hope the megapixel race continues to at least 115mp non-bayer….but more so we should all hope for display technology to advance more rapidly lest the stills camera market stall for lack of displays that allow consumers to experience the benefits of capturing more pixels (and color gamut, and DR).

    • pascaljappy says:

      Bumpy, that’s a very interesting point. My standard for measurement is always the print. And 24″ is already larger than most of us ever print. It’s also roughly the equivalent of a good 42mPix image, non up-resed. But the perspective of displaying photographs on great digital displays (on our walls, not just on our computers while working on them) changes the game and the requirements. It’s unclear to me how far technology can improve resolution without hitting a technological wall, but impression was that 2 micron pixels are really a no-go for the best quality. If that’s the limit, we can expect 18.000 x 12.000 pix FF sensors (216Mpix), at some point. More in MF. So at least 60 inches in high-res screens. The costs (lenses will need some serious optimising) and processing resources are daunting, but technology evolves so quickly, who knows?

      • Bumpy says:

        Pascal you clearly get my point. Great display is the game changer the camera industry needs.

        Most of the world today views on 2mp ‘hd’ displays, with a few high end cell phones and 4k tv up to 8mp. Only the 27″ retina iMac at 5k (~14mp) is even close to prior generation 16mp capture. I have the iMac and it is amazing how little a 42mp file changes between fit to screen and 1:1 – you see about 33% of the image at 1:1. By comparison 1:1 42mp onto an hd display shows 5% of the image, on 4k 1:1 shows 20%. I don’t print often, but the iMac screen is pretty ruthless to poor images, while great images are glorious – kind of like how printing magnifies both weakness and greatness. Gives me a sense that great displays will be a lot like prints in level of technical demand placed on the image. It is those displays that will get consumers interested in cameras that significantly out class cell phone cameras.

        Imagine (or find a 5k iMac and try it) what a 2mp capture looks like upscaled to 14mp – 7x is a lot of uprezzing. Less though than nearly 10x for 24mp uprezzed to a 216mp display. The 24mp capture of today is not going to look great on a 60″ 216mp display, but 100mp capture will probably look pretty decent. I bet few of today’s photographers, even those who wish their images to stand the test of time, have thought that through. Those that have are probably why we are seeing a resurgence of MF – as you point out pixel density for 200mp FF is uncomfortably high, but not so bad for MF – and 100mp on smaller MF in pentax/blad/fuji seems likely on a five year horizon and supports pretty big hi res displays.

        If my 25-30 year timeline guesstimate for high resolution display proves accurate the desirability of >100mp capture will begin to be obvious to consumers decades from now. The challenge for the camera industry is how to bridge the multi decade gap without going broke. In the interim only those who print exceptionally large or envision the 200mp displays of the future will care much about capture over 16mp, maybe rising to 32mp in 15 years. Capture is too far ahead of display for the health of the camera market.

        • pascaljappy says:

          Interesting. For prints, I would say that most people do not have enough wall space for loads of 60″ prints. But a single hi-res 60″ screen could be a game changer, who knows.

  • >