News/Views

I Could Use Some Suggestions and Help

The lens database section of this site is now getting into the thousands of pages of lenses. The proliferation of mounts and third-party providers now makes it likely that I’m adding or updating several of those pages a week.

My first big problem is organizational. Right now I have two major sections: lenses from the camera makers for their own mount, and lenses from third parties for all mounts. Moreover, lenses no longer produced (earlier versions now replaced by a newer version, or just retired) take up a lot of space. 

So my first question is whether or not you are using all this data, and how? 

The proliferation of low cost Chinese optics—and now we’re seeing different OEM labels on the same lens, too—also takes up a good bit of space, as well. Some of those lenses are selling in the hundreds of units lifetime. 

My second question is whether or not the database needs to be complete in covering every maker, or are there makers that I should weed out?

Video lenses can be the same lens with gearing, t/stops, and other minor changes (e.g. Xeen versus Samyang). 

Third: should I split video lenses completely out into a new section? Do you even care about video lenses?

Any other comments or suggestions you have about the lens database section would be helpful as I consider this summer’s site changes (I make a full pass through each site’s existing organization and information each year).

Canon's R3 Development Announcement

So now we have three top-end mirrorless bodies that will be duking it out soon (Canon R3, Nikon Z9, and Sony A1). Since Canon and Nikon are both simply at the development announcement stage, it's not possible to compare much.

What I find interesting is that all three are stacked BSI image sensor designs. What this tells us is that none of the big three think that they can improve bandwidth fast enough on the basic CMOS of the imaging sensor itself. It also portends the next development—which Nikon gave us a preview of with their 1" sensor development announcement earlier this year—and that is that we'll see "smarts" start to appear in the stacked side of the chip. 

Eventually, we'll see the image sensor and SoC combined is my guess, much like Apple has done with throwing all the silicon bits into their M line of processors. This is the ultimate thing about semiconductors: they get more sophisticated over time and you end up with one part that has all the electronics in it, not boards of components. Dedicated cameras are a little late to the electronic consolidation game, but the A1, R3, and Z9 are indications that we'll get there.

bythom canon r3

Meanwhile, what else do we know about the R3?

  • Integrated vertical grip body ala 1DX, and with Canon's best weather sealing
  • Canon will be resurrecting their focus-where-the-photographer-looks system in the EVF
  • 30 fps electronic shutter, with low rolling shutter
  • Still dual-pixel (not quad-pixel as some expected)
  • Additional subject detection (beyond face, eye, animal)
  • A new Mobile File Transmitter app for your mobile device

You know what excites me most? That last bullet. Particularly if Canon has recognized that the camera workflow needs some additions, as well. If I can push selected and annotated images through my smartphone on the sidelines to my client, Canon has a winner. Take out two of the words (selected and annotated) and not so much a winner, but an improvement over current state of the art. 

Numerology

With all the recent announcements, we're now going to have a Sony A1, a Canon R3, and a Nikon Z9 as top models. Apparently the Canon is three-times better than the Sony, the Nikon three times better than the Canon ;~). 

This, of course, introduces a real issue for Panasonic. They now need to call their eventual top end model the S27. Or will OM Digital Solutions beat them to the punch with an E-M27? 

Yes, camera naming is absurd. It's always been fraught with inconsistencies, skipped numbers, and unusual progressions. Sony now has "top" models at both ends of their numbering system in the A1 and A9, a plethora of A7's, and no logical place to put an entry full frame camera (A5? since when is the middle the bottom?). 

Canon's in worse shape, with an R, RP, R5 (current top), and R6. Nikon placed their bottom at 5, leaving themselves only five numbers to work with. OM Digital Solutions boxed themselves in a corner by not having a number lower than 1 to use for their highest end camera; enter the X factor. 

Every one of these companies had a chance to "start again" with their numbering—they all seem averse to naming—and then got the math wrong. 

Frankly, if you can't get the model numbering logical and ordered, it seems unlikely that you can get the camera capabilities logical and ordered. Moreover, not getting model numbers logically arranged appears to also indicate that the camera companies didn't see very far into their future when they started their current numbering schemes. Almost every camera maker is sending terrible signals to its customer base at the moment just in their numbering schemes (and don't get me started about Fujifilm's letters ;~). My take? None of them correctly anticipated exactly what their immediate model future might look like. Either that or they've been drinking too much sake in the naming meetings. 

The funny thing is this: there really are only two variables the camera companies are dealing with: (1) sensor size, and (2) model level. Nikon probably comes the closest to an understandable mirrorless naming structure at the moment (which in itself is a surprise): (a) two numbers are crop sensor, one is full frame; (b) higher number is better model. But again, they put their bottom model at a middle number for some reason, leaving themselves very little naming room. Moreover, where would a medium format or larger sensor camera go in such a system (0 numbers? ;~). 

I'll stick with my thesis here: the confused numbering systems show that the camera companies can't see into their future. At all. The Sony A1 (better than previously top A9) was just an opening salvo in the "dumb numbering" wars. We'll see worse. 


Where is Sony Optically Weak?

The Sony A1 is now sitting on my desk beginning its testing. In terms of my own photography, the natural places to test the A1 in extremis are with landscape photography and in wildlife/sports work. Which led me to contemplating the lenses I needed to pull out of the gear closet to put on the A1.

If you're not familiar with Phillip Reeve's list of Sony FE lenses, you probably should go check that out (you can also explore the Sony and Third Party lens lists on this site, though that will resort in you doing a little manual work to consolidate what's available). The total FE autofocus lens list right now is approaching 100 lenses.

For landscape testing, there are a plethora of great lens choices. I tend to use 24mm or wider for landscape work, and if I include the two Zeiss 25mm lenses, I've got 38 choices. The problem happens at the other end of the focal range, where I'm looking at lenses for wildlife and sports work. Above 100mm, we have exactly eight autofocus lenses. It's probably worth listing them:

  • 100-400mm f/5-6.3 Sigma
  • 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 Sony
  • 135mm f/1.8 Sony
  • 135mm f/1.8 Sigma
  • 135mm f/2.8 Zeiss
  • 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 Sony
  • 400mm f/2.8 Sony
  • 600mm f/4 Sony

The last two of those list for US$12,000 or more, so aren't in my gear closet. The 135mm primes aren't flexible enough for my testing. That left me with the 100-400mm and 200-600mm choices. Yes, we've also got possible 70-180mm, 70-200mm, and 70-300mm choices, but those probably aren't going to push my testing enough to see what the camera can really do.

But this does introduce the problem that the Big Three all have in differing degrees: the mirrorless systems "aren't all there yet." Canon's missing the top body and a slew of native lenses*, Nikon's missing the top body and a slew of native lenses*, and Sony's still missing some lenses that would make them fully competitive, though they do now have a top body.

* Both Canon and Nikon have DSLR lenses that work just fine on their mirrorless bodies, but those are not optimized lenses for the system, and the double mount introduces potential other issues.

It's pre-mature to conclude that any full frame mirrorless option is fully fleshed out, though Sony does indeed come the closest. They should, given their long head start. 

My guess is that Canon will now be pedal-to-the-floor and will get to "complete" right behind Sony, with Nikon not quite matching that, but within shouting distance. I don't think the L-mount cameras will get there, as about the only lens maker that could fill in some needed exotics is Sigma, and none of the L-mount systems really have the AF systems necessary to take full advantage of them. 

The Not New New Model

Sony today dropped two new full frame mirrorless cameras into the market, the A7R Mark IIIa and the A7R Mark IVa. 

The only two changes to the previous non-a models appear to be an upgraded rear LCD (now 2.4m dots, up from 1.4m), as well as updated USB 3.2 capability (5Mbps transfers). The LCD change drops the CIPA battery numbers by 10 shots for each camera (not significant). 

I believe this is the first of perhaps many “parts shortages” issues we’re going to see over the coming year. Camera companies, like everyone using electronic parts, are scrambling to balance their supply chains with their production. Sticking higher specification LCDs into models that fetch top prices frees up more of the lower specification LCDs for the lower-priced models, in all likelihood. 

I’ve elected not to split out new models and just add comments about the “a” variants in the data pages.

Meanwhile, the fact that we got an A7R Mark IIIa means that the Mark III is still being actively made (the Mark II didn’t get a change). So, in essence, Sony has two “current” A7R models priced US$700 apart. How long that will last, I don’t know, but it does seem to indicate that Sony has adopted the old Nikon tactic of leaving previous generation models in production at lower prices. Companies do this to make a product line look broader and to have more price points at which to capture a sale. 

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