Plugged In: Spendy full-frames stealing the show

Redoubt Reporter ‘Fall into winter on the Kenai’ photo contest

 The Redoubt Reporter is holding another in its series of reader-submitted photo contests.

Photos will be judged and winners selected by a three-member panel. After each contest closes, we’ll publish and discuss some of our favorites in the Redoubt Reporter. Some of the selected photographers will be invited to frame and hang their photos at a Redoubt Reporter June 2013 group photo show scheduled at the Sterling Highway Kaladi Brothers coffee shop.

The deadline to enter is 11:59 p.m. Dec. 1, 2012. All submissions must be in high-quality digital format. Submit no more than five JPEG images by email to redoubtreporterphotos@gmail.com.

Entry rules:

1. Our theme is “Falling into winter on the Kenai” and submissions must fit this theme.

2. Entrants must be amateur photographers who are residents of the central Kenai Peninsula.

3. Photographs can be of any subject fitting the theme but must have been taken of the Kenai Peninsula on or after Aug. 1, 2012.

4. If you submit photographs in which people are recognizable, you must also provide us with their permission for us to publish any such photographs.

5. Please do not submit portrait photos. Do not submit photographs whose content would not be appropriate for publication in a family newspaper. Do not submit photos of illegal subject matter. All such photos will be deleted immediately without notice to you and at the sole discretion of the editor.

6. Photographers must include their name, telephone number, email address, town of residency and each photo’s date, location and description of subject matter.

7. Submitted JPEG images should be of the best possible technical quality. Good technique and technical quality are important, but originality, creativity, interesting subject matter, artistic merit and good composition are even more important.

8. By submitting photos, you agree to our publication of them in the Redoubt Reporter newspaper and on our website. The Redoubt Reporter will have the right of first publication of your photos. However, you will retain the copyright for all other purposes and your name will be listed if we publish any of your photos.

9. Our decisions about what’s published or selected for exhibition are final and are admittedly subjective. Space is limited, and the judging panel and editor reserve the right to choose photos at their discretion.

10. Retain your original digital files of all submitted images. We are not responsible for preserving copies of your digital images.

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Camera and lens makers introduced dozens of interesting, often surprising, cameras and lenses at Germany’s just-concluded Photokina 2012, photography’s largest and most-prestigious product exhibition.

Perhaps most surprising has been the abundance of new cameras using very large, full-frame sensors, including some vaguely affordable full-frame bodies from Nikon, Canon and Sony. The term “full frame” means that a digital camera’s sensor has the same dimensions as traditional 35-mm film negatives, 24 mm high by 36 mm wide.

Because a full-frame sensor is so large, full-frame cameras usually produce superior photographic results if you’re using a suitable (read: expensive) lens in front of that large sensor. Full-frame digital Single Lens Reflex camera bodies, until now, have been very bulky, very expensive and, thus, uncommon.

At this time, only Pentax among major digital SLR vendors is still “studying the full-frame market.” On the other hand, Pentax does market arguably the best standard dSLR, the K-5 Mark II, and also a very highly regarded ultralarge-sensor professional model, the 645D, which costs no more than top-end, full-frame models, yet uses a sensor that’s three times larger. No other mainstream dSLR vendor even markets a comparable camera, except for Leica’s far more expensive S3.

Sony, in particular, seems reinvigorated, announcing lots of cool (but expensive) large-sensor photo gear, including many lenses, a new A99 prograde system, a professional video camera and the RX1 compact camera, all based on Sony’s proven 24-megapixel full-frame sensor. Sony also introduced yet another APS-C compact-system camera, the NEX-6, whose design, kit lens and price seem pitch-perfect.

Both Canon and Nikon introduced entry-level, full-frame camera bodies, Canon’s 6D and Nikon’s D600, whose initial “street” retail prices hover around $2,100. Initial reports suggest that these supposedly stripped-down, entry-level cameras are excellent. Only a few years ago, less capable full-frame cameras cost two or three times as much.

These capable new “entry-level” full-frame cameras presage broad consumer purchases of full-frame cameras as retail prices continue to drop. Nikon’s D600 also uses Sony’s excellent, 24-megapixel, full-frame sensor, and image quality from any of the cameras using that Sony sensor should prove quite satisfactory. My preference here would be Nikon’s D600, because of the lower cost and the broader availability of affordable, quality lenses for the Nikon mount.

Compared to prograde cameras using smaller APS-C sensors, it’s expensive to completely equip a full-frame camera system. Not only are the camera bodies themselves costly, but appropriate lenses are significantly more expensive because much more is demanded of them optically.

It was quite surprising, then, for four major camera makers to introduce not the usual one or two slightly upgraded full-frame models, but a total of 13 new full-frame models this year, usually at substantially lower retail prices than the superseded models. Moreover, a few earlier models continue to be sold at a somewhat reduced price.

Full-frame

I’ve listed below all full-frame models currently on the market, including their estimated “street” retail price. Unless noted, prices are for the camera body only, without lens.

  • Prior full-frame models still marketed include the Canon 1Ds III ($7,940), Canon 5D Mark II ($2,068), Nikon D3x ($6,700), Nikon D700 ($2,200) and Leica M9 ($8,000). All are excellent cameras for professional and advanced photographers, each within their own niche. The Canon 5D Mark II is undoubtedly the best value, combining recent design, relatively low cost and fine image quality.

Recently announced full-frame cameras include:

  • Canon: 1dX ($6,800), designed for both sports and general professional photography, the entry-level 6D ($2,100), and an intermediate professional model, Canon’s 5D Mk III ($3,471).
  • Nikon: D4 ($5,960), a high-end professional model with excellent low-light performance; the general-purpose, extremely high-resolution D800 ($3,000), the even higher-resolution D800e ($3,340) and the entry-level D600 ($2,108).
  • Leica: The new M ($6,950), a substantially upgraded model with a new, 24-megapixel sensor and an optional electronic viewfinder; the M-E ($5,450), essentially a slightly updated M9; and the Leica M Monochrome ($7,950), a color-blind M9 that’s optimized for traditional black-and-white imagery.
  • Sony: The A99 ($2,800) is the electronic equivalent of a full-frame, prograde dSLR camera except, as with all current Sony dSLR-styled cameras, that it uses a fixed, semitransparent mirror, rather than a moving one. Sony’s fixed-mirror cameras include several useful imaging modes and other electronic wizardry, Sony’s forte as a major electronics company. These models substitute electronic viewfinders in place of the bright optical viewfinders traditionally found in dSLR-styled cameras, and electronic viewfinders are improving rapidly. Sony’s RX1 ($2,800) is quite a surprise. It’s a highly compact camera that uses a fixed, 35-mm f/2 Zeiss lens, along with a 24-megapixel sensor. I would be quite surprised if its image quality was anything other than excellent, as it should be for such a price. I suspect that the RX1 is something of a marketing test for an interchangeable-lens, full-frame, compact-system camera yet to come. The other surprise from Sony is its NEX-VG900 ($3,300) full-frame video camera, definitely the least-expensive, interchangeable-lens video camera on the market. The NEX-VG900 is designed to directly mount NEX lenses and can also mount Sony’s full-frame lenses using a full-function adapter.

Assuming that economics was not a major impediment, I would prefer Nikon’s D800e because of its combination of all-around usability, robust, 36-megapixel resolution and good low-light performance. However, those 36 megapixels demand real precision and care when making photographs. Otherwise, camera shake and insufficient optical resolution will waste much of those extra megapixels.

Most digital lenses are not designed to produce a sharp image from corner to corner across a full-frame sensor. Unfortunately, modestly priced full-frame lenses are not necessarily adequate. A good example is Nikon’s new kit lens for the D600, the 24- to 85-mm Nikkor. This affordable zoom lens actually produces great images when used with smaller, APS-C sensors, like those in Nikon’s D7000 dSLR, and would be an excellent choice for any Nikon APS-C camera. However, its full-frame performance is marginal at best, particularly away from the center, making it a good example that making a transition to full-frame digital photography is always quite expensive.

APS-C cameras

That brings us to the more common dSLR cameras using smaller APS-C sensors. These were overshadowed at Photokina 2012 by the unexpected blizzard of full-frame models and their attendant lenses. Except for quite unusual needs, a good, 16-megapixel, APS-C camera used with high-quality optics will produce images that are suitable for almost any foreseeable use.

  • Only Pentax introduced a new, APS-C, dSLR camera at this year’s Photokina, the upper-entry level Pentax K30 ($850), and refreshes of the excellent Pentax K-5, K-5 Mark II ($1,200) and K-5 Mark IIs ($1,300). All three models use rugged, weather-sealed bodies and newer versions of Sony’s excellent, 16-megapixel, APS-C sensor. The K30 is touted as providing the most features, robust construction and value among entry-level dSLR cameras. The K-5 Mark II is a modest refresh of an already excellent camera, mostly with improved autofocus and performance. More interesting is the slightly more-expensive K-5 Mark IIs, which enhances overall sharpness by eliminating the anti-alias filter in front of the sensor. That should produce the highest possible resolution among 16-megapixel cameras, assuming extremely sharp lenses.
  • Only Nikon’s D800e, which costs nearly three times as much, uses similar resolution enhancement. Almost all top-end APS-C cameras, including Sony’s own A57, NEX-3, NEX-5 and NEX-6 product lines, continue to use upgraded versions of Sony’s excellent 16-megapixel sensor. At this time, only three major APS-C cameras use a 24-megapixel sensor — Sony’s NEX-7 compact-system camera, Sony’s A65 and Nikon’s D3200 upper entry-level dSLR cameras. Considering that Canon’s and Nikon’s top professional cameras use 16-megapixel to 220-megapixel full-frame sensors, 16-megapixel APS-C cameras give up little, if any, resolution and image quality and remain the best current value.

Photokina 2012 also saw the introduction of many affordable compact-system cameras and premium compact cameras. Next week, we’ll look at what’s new in these strong product categories.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. He has published many articles about computer technology, law practice and digital photography in national media since 1990. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.

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1 Comment

Filed under photography, Plugged in

One response to “Plugged In: Spendy full-frames stealing the show

  1. Thanks for the share. Great article to know so many info. Thanks again!

    http://uniquepictureframesblog.org/

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