Plugged In: Buy the right way — research before upgrading

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Good journalistic practice requires a crisp lead paragraph concisely setting out an article’s theme. So, bowing to tradition and The Associated Press Stylebook, this week’s theme is “Disorganized catchall — photo gear edition.” On with the show!

  • Nikon’s recently introduced P330 is a pocketable and capable premium compact camera that punches well above its weight class. With a $380 list price, it’s among the least-expensive, premium-compact cameras and includes a medium-size, 1/1.7-inch sensor, optional RAW image formats, and a sharp, f/1.8 to f/5.6 zoom lens that reaches between 24-mm (equivalent) wide angles and 120-mm (equivalent) moderate telephoto magnifications. The P330’s sensor has the best DXO sensor rating of any comparable premium compact on the market. Image quality is quite good up to ISO 800 and the zoom lens’ image-stabilization and fast f/1.8 maximum aperture at wide-angle settings helps a lot in dim light. This would be my choice as a first serious camera for a departing college student.

  • Sony’s HX50V is likely the most pocketable camera that includes a zoom lens with stretching from 24-mm (equivalent) superwide angle through 720-mm (equivalent) ultratelephoto magnifications. As with all superzoom, consumer-grade cameras, the HX50V uses a small, 1/2.3-inch sensor, in this instance a 20-megapixel sensor. Overall image quality is decent in bright light, but there’s a bit of noise even then, which only gets worse in dim light or at higher sensitivities. The 720-mm supertelephoto magnification is beyond virtually anyone’s ability to hand-hold the camera without at least some camera shake degrading the final image, particularly since there’s no eye-level viewfinder to provide additional bracing when taking a high-magnification image. Still, optical quality is reasonably sharp at wide-angle settings, and more or less usable at supertelephoto magnifications, assuming you can find a way to steady the camera. This is a decent and versatile travel camera, but its hardware specifications are overly ambitious and seem dictated primarily by the marketing department.
  • Pentax-Ricoh’s new pocketable GR, previously mentioned, takes an opposite, technically conservative, approach. Its large, 16-megapixel Sony APS-C sensor performs better than Canon’s similar 18-megapixel sensors used in Canon’s 7D and 60D semipro models. Blending such a capable sensor with its excellent, wide-angle prime lens, the GR proves that very small digital cameras can produce big-camera image quality.
  • On the other hand, Sony’s NEX-6 and NEX-7 series APS-C compact-camera systems were characterized by excellent, innovative camera bodies hampered by an inadequate lineup of optically inadequate lenses. That put Sony at a competitive disadvantage relative to other camera makers with similar prograde compact-system cameras, such as Fujifilm and Olympus. Recently, though, Sony’s principal optical partner, Germany’s famed Zeiss, started producing a line of excellent lenses for Sony NEX cameras, including the 24-mm Zeiss that’s now considered the top lens for NEX systems, eclipsing Sony’s own offerings. Some of the newer Zeiss lenses, including the ultrawide-angle 12-mm, are part of a new Zeiss lens lineup called Touit, an odd name apparently derived from a tropical bird. Initial reviews of these lenses, priced in the $900 range, suggest that they are optically and mechanically superb and, despite their high price compared to consumer-grade lenses, a very good value. Zeiss is covering its bet, though, by producing the Touit lenses not only for Sony NEX cameras but also for Fujifilm’s surprisingly popular X-Pro1 and X-E1 compact-system cameras. Sony’s also covering its bets. Last year Sony became the largest single shareholder in camera rival Olympus, recently rated along with Zeiss as the top two lens makers in the world. As part of Sony’s investment, Olympus agreed to supply Sony with optical expertise while Olympus was freed from dependence on Panasonic’s lagging sensor technology. So far my sense is that the serious photography consumer wins from this very Japanese combination of competition and cooperation.
  • Image courtesy of Olympus. Figure 1 — the new Olympus E-P5 with optional VF-4 viewfinder and 14- to 42-mm kit zoom lens.

    Image courtesy of Olympus. Figure 1 — the new Olympus E-P5 with optional VF-4 viewfinder and 14- to 42-mm kit zoom lens.

    Speaking of Olympus, the company finally announced its long-awaited successor to the top-end Pen E-P3 compact-system camera. To my disappointment, the new E-P5 does not include an eye-level viewfinder, something that comparable Sony and Fujifilm cameras do include. As you can see from Figure 1, Olympus took a somewhat more traditional approach — a detachable optional eye-level electronic viewfinder. Ordinarily, I would find that hardware approach less desirable but Olympus puts a twist on its new VF-4. Although fairly reasonably priced at $280, the VF-4’s image is exceptionally large, bright and sharp, on par with the highly praised optical viewfinder in Nikon’s full-frame D800 flagship dSLR prograde camera. In the long term, it’s likely that new, higher-quality electronic viewfinders will largely displace traditional moving mirror optical viewfinders. That will result in simpler, more compact cameras better adapted for video work and without the autofocus alignment problems that plague moving mirror digital SLR cameras. Sony’s already headed in this direction with its recent dSLR-style A58, A65 and A77 consumer and semipro cameras and its A99 full-frame, all-out professional model. Olympus’ new E-P5 does include the same highly praised sensor, processing chip and advanced magnetic image stabilization hardware found in the OM-D, while adding some newer technology in an intentionally retrostyled body. The E-P5’s optional top-mounted viewfinder is actually

    Figure 2 — Alfred Eisenstadt’s iconic photo of V-J Day in Times Square when the end of World War II was announced.

    Figure 2 — Alfred Eisenstadt’s iconic photo of V-J Day in Times Square when the end of World War II was announced.

    very retro, as well. Most readers will recall the single most famous photo of the World War II era, the sailor enthusiastically kissing a nurse in Times Square when the end of the war was announced on Aug. 15, 1945. That photo is this week’s Figure 2.

  • That V-J Day photo was taken by Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstadt using his prewar Leica IIIa camera and the same sort of top-mounted supplemental viewfinder.  Eisenstadt later noted that this was a very quick shot, made within the few seconds available. Today’s Figure 3 shows that very camera and its top-mounted viewer, both recently auctioned in Vienna. Nearly 50 years after taking his famous V-J Day photo, Eisenstadt used that same Leica IIIa to photograph newly inaugurated President Bill Clinton and family. The moral? Good-quality equipment, when used with experience and skill, is timeless. Eisenstadt, by the way, is arguably the single most important and influential photojournalist in American history. He initially arrivedin the U.S. as a Jewish refugee from the Nazis when about 37 years old and,
    Image courtesy of Imaging-Resource.com. Figure 3 — the Leica camera with which Life photographer Alfred Eisenstadt took the image of Figure 2, and also, 50 years later, the official Clinton White House family portrait.

    Image courtesy of Imaging-Resource.com. Figure 3 — the Leica camera with which Life photographer Alfred Eisenstadt took the image of Figure 2, and also, 50 years later, the official Clinton White House family portrait.

    within 10 years, had risen to international prominence as America’s most famous photojournalist on sheer ability. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush awarded Eisenstadt the National Medal of Arts at the White House. Eisenstadt’s photos, mostly portraits, adorned a record 90 Life Magazine covers.

  • Canon’s range of dSLR cameras continues to do well. Canon’s top-end consumer dSLR cameras are now the T5i, a modest upgrade from the preceding T4i and T3i models of recent years, and the compact new SL1, the smallest moving-mirror dSLR on the market. The SL1 is, presumably, Canon’s interim response to the growing popularity of mirrorless compact-system cameras. While the T5i remains competent but not very motivating, the SL1 is more interesting. Early reviews indicate excellent image quality in a relatively small, lower cost body. Canon’s also upgraded its 18- to 55-mm kit zoom lens to the STM IS version, which is better optically, beefed up mechanically, and now uses a silent autofocus motor.
  • Canon’s newest semipro-level full-frame camera, the 20-megapixel 6D, has received a great deal of praise recently, not only because of its comparatively low price but also because the 6D is capable of turning out very high-quality photos. It also includes some useful new features, such as GPS and wireless connectivity. Currently selling for about $1,700 body only, the 6D is currently the least expensive full-frame camera on the market, undercutting Nikon’s competing D600 by a few hundred dollars. Nikon’s D600 uses Sony’s 24-megapixel full-frame sensor and also has excellent image quality. Either of these cameras would be an excellent full-frame entry point for serious photographers. I expect that both of these fairly affordable full-frame cameras will undermine similarly priced semipro models from the same makers, such as Canon’s 7D and Nikon’s D300s. Why bother with models using smaller APS-C sensors when full-frame is finally becoming affordable?
  • Acquiring suitable lenses is the most significant cost in moving up to full-frame cameras. Full-frame lenses need to cover a larger sensor area with sterling optical quality. Doing so is expensive. Although some OEM lenses, such as Canon’s 50-mm/f1.8 normal lens, are quite cost-effective, it’s usually more practical to buy top-end, full-frame lenses from independent manufacturers Tamron and Sigma. Tamron and Sigma zoom lenses are often image-stabilized, something of a luxury among traditional full-frame lenses. In the standard zoom range, Tamron’s newest 24- to 70-mm standard-range zoom lens seems to be optically superior to comparable standard zoom lenses from Nikon and Canon, yet the Tamron has a list price about 40 percent lower. The newest 70- to 200-mm image-stabilized telephoto zooms from Sigma and Tamron also show excellent optical performance at a lower price point. Full-frame macro photography is amply covered by Tamron’s newly stabilized 90-mm macro lens, and by Sigma’s broad range of updated macro lenses, all of which are quite sharp and well-regarded. Sigma’s macro lens lineup includes 70-mm, 105-mm, 150-mm and 180-mm models. These macro lenses are also excellent general-purpose prime lenses. Finally, Sigma’s new 35-mm f/1.4 lens seems to have become the new standard of excellence against which all other normal-magnification full-frame prime lenses are being measured.

 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.

Photography contests

  • The Redoubt Reporter is holding another round of its reader-submitted photo contest, this time with the theme, “Capture the Kenai.” We’d like see your take on what makes the Kenai, the Kenai. What images say life on the Kenai Peninsula to you? Is it salmon in the Kenai River? Alpenglow on Mount Redoubt? Your favorite seasonal activity? Potholes in gravel roads during breakup? Moose poop in your garden? We want them all — the good, the bad and the ugly, as long as they speak to the unique character of this place. And as always, we’ll be looking for good photography, regardless of how “good” the subject matter might be. The deadline to submit photos is Aug. 23, 2013. 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 “Capture the Kenai.”

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.

  • June 4 is the submission deadline for Alaska’s annual statewide Rarified Light fine art photography show. You can get complete information at the Alaska Photographic Center’s website at http://www.akphotoctr.org.
  • The Eagle River Camera Club’s 2013 Bear Paw Festival photography contest has a June 14 submission deadline. For more information, contact Marco Gutierrez at gutierrez@gci.net, or Bob Martin rdmartin@alaska.net.

Speaking of bears, some Alaska Peninsula brown bears recently tried to eat a BBC Go-Pro video camera. The surviving video is seriously cool. You can find that URL on our web site at http://www.redoubtreporter.wordpress.com.

1 Comment

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One response to “Plugged In: Buy the right way — research before upgrading

  1. jack sun

    mathew brady is generally considered to be the “father of american
    photojournalism”… both photographers work is more than notable.
    so many roads…………

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