Plugged In: Lower-end cameras hang up on cellphones

  • Redoubt Reporter photography contest

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. 2, 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 Web site. 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

Olympus and Fujifilm are only the most recent camera manufacturers to phase out their lower-end consumer cameras, part of a market shakeout caused by the popularity of cellphone camera functions.

Although cellphone cameras generally have relatively minimal photographic capability, they’re often all that many consumers need or want. After all, most of the several hundred billion digital photos taken each year are simply posted to the Internet or a computer screen at a mere 72 dots per inch, so high-quality image files are not really necessary unless you plan on making any sort of display prints. Moreover, most of those several hundred billion photos are of people and objects physically close to the camera, which reduces the need for more-advanced capabilities like good low-light performance and the ability to use interchangeable wide-angle and telephoto lenses.

As a result of all these factors, revenues for photographic business lines are static or shrinking for most camera manufacturers, except Canon and perhaps Nikon. That’s unfortunate because those other vendors, particularly Fujifilm, Pentax and Olympus, often design and market the most innovative and cost-effective consumer camera gear. As the low-end market is cannibalized by cellphones, vendors are trying to move consumers up-market by emphasizing high image quality and good versatility in very compact and elegant packages whose styling is reminiscent of classic high-end cameras from the 1960s and 1970s.

At the moment, consumers can find some excellent bargains as older camera lines are closed out, particularly Pentax’s K30 digital SLR and among some better Micro Four-Thirds cameras, like Panasonic’s GX1 ($200, body only) and Olympus’ E-P3 ($369 with 14- to 42-mm kit zoom lens), both at http://www.adorama.com, and Olympus’ widely available E-PL5 ($550 with the same kit zoom lens). While the K30 and E-P3 have simply been superseded by upgraded models in the same product lines, I’m not sure why Panasonic’s GX1, one of its current flagship models, is being sold at such a low price. No GX1 replacement model has been announced so far and it’s an excellent camera even though it doesn’t include the same sort of versatile, in-body image-stabilization hardware used by Olympus in all of its Micro Four-Thirds cameras.

Olympus’ E-P3 was recently superseded by the significantly more capable E-P5, which packages into a smaller camera body the same superb 16-megapixel Sony sensor and five-axis magnetic IBIS hardware used in Olympus’ acclaimed OM-D. The E-P5 costs a cool $1,000, body only, with several package deals available. One such package includes the new E-P5 body, Olympus’ very good though not spectacularly sharp 17-mm f/1.8 prime lens, and the new VF4 electronic viewfinder.

The visual quality of the detachable VF4 is reputedly as large, bright and sharp as the top-end optical viewfinder found in Nikon’s flagship D800 dSLR camera. Although I personally prefer the convenience of a built-in electronic viewfinder, that would have resulted in a bulkier camera, no built-in flash, and a smaller, lower-quality viewfinder image.

Olympus also dropped the price of its intermediate E-PL5 model to $599, including a good kit zoom lens. That’s $200 lower than its late 2012 introductory price. Average retail price is about $550, making the E-PL5 one of the best buys around for a compact, yet high-quality system. The E-PL5 body is mostly made of high-grade metal alloy and it uses the same top-end, 16-megapixel Sony sensor and processor as the E-P5 and OM-D (E-M5). The most significant difference is in its image-stabilization hardware, which is not quite as effective as the magnetically controlled IBIS stabilization hardware found in the E-P5 and OM-D.

Assuming, though, that you’re on a budget and don’t require the utmost in image stabilization, then the E-PL5 is a best buy among compact-system cameras. It’s the nearly unanimous choice among professional camera review sites because of its excellent image quality in a very small package. One highly respected review site, http://www.imaging-resource.com, termed the E-PL5’s image quality “simply astounding” for a compact camera at its $550 price. Take that, iPhone!

Rather unexpectedly, Pentax just introduced its K50, a $799 replacement for its relatively recent K30 model, introduced in late 2012. The K50 uses the same 16-megapixel APS-C Sony sensor found in all Pentax dSLR cameras. Like the K30, the K50 is a weather-sealed camera built around a stainless steel frame. Both the K30 and K50 are rugged enough for serious outdoor use and by far the least-expensive weather-sealed APS-C dSLR cameras on the market.

Although 16 megapixels may not seem unusually hefty anymore, it’s quite adequate to make high-quality 24-by-36 prints when used at low ISO settings. That’s enough for nearly anyone, including professional users. There’s really no objective reason to change sensors for one with a higher megapixel count and, in the process, compromise Pentax’s excellent low-light capabilities. There’s also a less-expensive entry-level Pentax K500 ($599) using the same sensor and processor as the K30, but without quite the same robust build quality and weather sealing. The K500 would be an excellent camera for a student or light-duty use.

Kits for the new K50 will include a series of inexpensive weather-resistant lenses. Although Pentax’s 18- to 55-mm WR lens is reasonably sharp at smaller apertures like f/8 to f/11, the 50mm-to-200mm WR lens isn’t a particularly sharp lens except in the middle of its magnification range, where it’s very sharp at f/8 and f/11. On the other hand, both WR lenses are weather sealed at a price far less than the competition.

If it’s a choice between missing a great shot when it’s raining or using a middling lens, then I’ll take the shot and use the middling lens any day. In fact, I’ve used both these Pentax WR zooms on an older Pentax K20 body for years, for precisely that reason.

As the K50 enters the market, I expect to see K30 bodies sold at a very favorable price. The K30 is capable of virtually the same image quality as the new K50 and Pentax’s flagship K-5 IIs, so it would be a very cost-effective upgrade for anyone who needs a robustly built, weather-sealed camera with excellent low-light capability. As with Olympus cameras, the K30, K50 and K500 include in-body image-stabilization hardware, so any lens that can be physically mounted on the camera becomes inherently image-stabilized, a real plus.

Recently, I compared the sensor performance of several dSLR cameras aimed at intermediate users, including the Nikon D5200, Canon’s T4i and T5i, Sony’s A58 and Pentax’s K30 and K-5 IIs. The Nikon, Sony and Pentax cameras had virtually identical performance for image noise, dynamic range and low-light performance. Canon’s offerings noticeably trailed despite comparable or higher retail pricing. Unless you already have a series of Canon lenses, entry-level and intermediate dSLR cameras from the other vendors make more sense.

  • Photo show opening: If you’re in town July 12, stop by the Kenai Fine Arts Center between 6 and 8 p.m. for the opening reception of my new photo show “(Mostly) Shallow Art,” a collection of fun images that have few pretensions of depth and hidden meaning. Note the “mostly” modifier, though. I’ll not say more.

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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