Plugged In: Next big thing? ‘4K’ needs more time

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

The annual Consumer Electronics Show is now history and some interesting new photo gear was introduced, so we’ll do a roundup of new equipment now and defer deeper topics until a later date.

  • The big news at CES has been the movement toward “4K” video and televisions, which have double the resolution and four times the pixel density of our current high-definition TV and video standard, which measure 1,920-by-1,080 pixels. Setting a new standard and selling upgraded hardware is the only way to stay solvent in the highly competitive flat-screen TV market where traditional market leaders, like Sony and Panasonic, have been losing both market share and billions of dollars to less-sophisticated but lower-cost Korean and Chinese manufacturers.

Panasonic hints at a “4K” Micro Four-Thirds camera while several PC vendors announced first-generation “4K” computer monitors, including Dell, whose $699 P2815Q is among the least expensive. I’d wait a year for this technology to mature before considering any purchase.

The basic technical limitation on “4K” video is whether the camera sensor reads fast enough to transmit an 8-megapixel image frame up to 30 to 60 times each second and whether the camera’s internal hardware can process and store that higher density data stream fast enough to shoot full-speed video. Current “high-definition” video, by contrast, only uses a 2-megapixel image frame, about one-fourth as much data per second. Within two to three years, however, sensor read-out speed and in-camera processing and storage performance should be quite adequate to support “4K” video at consumer-friendly prices.

  • Photo shows to see:  Stop by the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus on Friday between 4:30 and 6 p.m. for the free opening reception for the traveling portion of this year’s “Rarified Light” statewide juried photography show. This is the premier annual photographic exhibit in Alaska and showcases much of Alaska’s best photography. The show hangs at KPC through early February. Call KPC at 262-0300 for gallery hours.
  • Mark Pierson and Maria Duran have a very nice joint photo show hanging through January at Kaladi Brothers on South Kobuk Street in Soldotna, across from Trustworthy Hardware and ACS. Some of these images were previously selected for inclusion in the Redoubt Reporter’s photo contests.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center is soliciting proposals for 2015 and 2016 solo and shared exhibits in all 2-D and 3-D art media. To be considered, send a summary of your proposal and not more than 10 images to ourkfac@gmail.com by Jan. 31.

Updated gear — Several updated products announced at CES caught my eye, including:

  • Nikon 3,300, a 24-megapixel version of its current, D3200 entry-level digital SLR product line. As with so many others, Nikon has dropped the anti-moire filter to marginally improve sharpness.
  • Nikon D4s, an updated version of Nikon’s full-frame professional D4 with an improved sensor, which is oriented toward sports, journalism and wildlife photographers rather than more general use.
  • Nikon Df, an overpriced, full-frame camera that combines the excellent D4 sensor with traditional styling and exposure controls. The Df has no video capability despite costing more than most full-frame cameras that include video.
  • Fujifilm’s FinePix S1, the only superzoom camera on the market that’s weather-resistant, a nice plus if you’re out in the rain while using that 50-power magnification zoom lens. Supertelephoto zooms are becoming quite the rage, with some vendors announcing cameras with even higher top-end magnification. Although weather-resistant build is always welcome, over-steroided telephoto zooms make little sense. Aside from weight, bulk and cost, such lenses rarely are sharp enough to satisfy more experienced users and are nearly impossible to hand hold without excessive camera shake.
  • Panasonic announced several revisions to its long-established and well-regarded ZS line of compact, travel-zoom cameras designed to fit in a shirt pocket. Of particular interest is the new ZS40/TZ-60, which includes (finally) an electronic viewfinder, 18-megapixel sensor, RAW file support and a 30-power optical zoom range. The specs look quite promising, so this should be a really handy travel camera if optical and sensor quality are reasonably decent, something that’s never a sure thing with the small sensors and high-zoom lenses used in compact cameras of this sort. Wait for the reviews.
  • Canon has announced its G16 premium compact camera, the latest in a long and well-regarded product line. The G16 retains the same excellent lens and optical viewfinder as prior models but with an upgraded sensor and improved performance. Although not a technology leader, it’s hard to go wrong with a G-series Canon as a serious premium compact camera. Canon’s entry-level EOS M2 compact system camera, on the other hand, continues to underwhelm reviewers.
  • Optics: Sigma announced both a 50-mm f/1.4 normal lens for full-frame cameras and an 18- to 200-mm consumer wide-angle to telephoto-zoom lens for APS-C cameras. Sigma’s been on a quite a roll in the past year or two, introducing several new lens designs that are very good both optically and mechanically, yet sold at relatively low prices. Although not every Sigma lens is an optical gem, particularly some older designs still on the market, many of the newer models in their top-end “Art” series exceed the quality that you’ll get for comparable lenses from brand-name manufacturers charging higher prices. As always, first check reviews at some of the better lens-review sites, such as http://www.slrgear.com, http://www.ephotozine.com and http://www.lenstip.com. Sigma’s lens naming tends to be a confusing jumble of acronyms, so be sure that you know exactly what you’re buying. Some of their older lenses have names that are easy to confuse with top-quality new designs.
  • One Sigma lens that’s garnered universal praise is the 18- to 35-mm wide-angle-to-normal zoom. Although big, heavy and expensive at $800, this lens produces very sharp images. It’s available for most dSLR lens mounts. Many review websites have named this Sigma zoom the best new lens of 2013.
  • Olympus’ new 12- to 40-mm wide-angle to short-telephoto zoom for Micro Four-Thirds cameras ran a strong second to the Sigma. Olympus’ new weather-sealed prograde zoom lens works with any Micro Four-Thirds camera but it’s really intended for Olympus’ new E-M1 flagship camera. By most accounts, this is one of the best zoom lenses on the market. Although large for a Micro Four-Thirds lens, it’s still much smaller than an APS-C camera mounting Sigma’s comparable 18- to 35-mm, which is nearly 5 inches long.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website, http://www.kashilaw.com.

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