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The Good, the Luxurious and the Future

Thoughts after Photokina 2008 by Uwe Steinmueller

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Photokina is nearly over (at least we think all the major announcements are done). This year happened a lot in the camera category. Time to think about it.

Note: We write about our very personal view. Your own evaluation may differ.

The Good

Sony showed their new 24MP DSLR and Canon launched the EOS 5D Mark II.

We did not see both cameras. But we expect that the 5D Mark II (about $2,700) can deliver image quality that may even be better than the images from the EOS 1Ds Mark III ($8,000). We own a 1Ds Mark III for now 10 months and like it a lot (except the price of course). That is why we call this development "Good".

Note: we won't talk much about video because this is not our domain. But having video does not hurt if the still image quality is good.

The Luxurious

Leica was in for a surprise with the S2 announcement:

From a pure image quality perspective this will likely be a very nice camera. For our own work it is just too expensive and we think a Canon 5D Mark II or Sony Alpha 900 won't really be that bad in any comparison (read about lenses below). This means we personally are not much lusting for such a camera but still interesting to follow the way of the S2.

The Future

In the grand picture the digital revolution has not really started yet. Electronic Viewfinders (EVFs) are for us the future. Seeing images at 100% pixel level before you shoot is better than the best optical viewfinder. EVFs need sure to be improved (but it seems that Panasonic improved it a lot already in the G1). On the other side getting rid of the mirror is the future. Mirrors cause a lot of trouble:

  • Noise
  • Shake
  • Makes Liveview more complicated (mirror has to be out of the way)
  • Adds mechanical complexity and limits durability
  • Complicates lens design due to the required mirror box

That is why we are really excited about the new Panasonic G1:

Of course we have to work with the G1 to know more. We hope that Panasonic can manage to get lower noise with their sensors (we know the Olympus E-3 which would be an exceptional camera if the sensors were a match to the current Canon and Nikon APS-C sensors). On the other side we strongly believe that Panasonic is getting there.

Note: We have quite a few portfolio quality images taken with the E-3. This means that the sensor can deliver. Just in comparison to the best Canon or Nikon sensors there is some room for improvement.

Not to forget

In 2008 other excellent cameras have been launched.

Note: We cover Nikon, Canon and Olympus because these are the cameras we know. We are certain that other brands like Pentax and Sony also deliver great cameras.

  • Nikon D700 (D3 quality at 3K)
  • Canon 50D (yet to review)
  • Nikon D90 (12MP at about $1000, review in progress). Video as a bonus.
  • Canon XSi

We really think that 10-12 MP cameras are the current sweet spot of affordable DSLRs. We could go a long way using today's 12MP cameras.

Lenses, Lenses, Lenses

We think there is a lot of room to improve the quality of current lenses. Mainly because the cameras got so good we long for better glass. Today's high resolution 35mm DSLRs are limited by many lenses (especially zooms).

We personally want the flexibility of zooms. We think 2-4x zooms are the way to go. In our experience any larger zoom range will reduce the image quality. We also like fixed f/4 zooms to save weight. Here are some zooms we really like:

  • Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 (not light but excellent for this range)
  • Olympus 7-14mm (14-28mm 35mm equivalent). We just love that lens.
  • Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS. Light and good. Yes it shows CA and and some distortions but we can fix that.
  • Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 (good image quality but heavy, bulky, no IS)
  • Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 (good image quality but heavy, bulky, no IS)
  • Olympus has some more nice zooms and in camera IS
  • Mamiya 75-150mm digital 645 lens (very good zoom with low CA)

Note: We have never used the Sony Zeiss zooms and cannot comment on them.

For fixed focal lenses we love:

  • Canon 100mm Macro (would like to have IS though for our work)
  • Nikon 105mm VR
  • Likely the new Zeiss lenses for Canon and Nikon mount will be fun too. Too bad they are manual focus only.

We think there is some work to do:

  • Nikon: Top class light f/4 zooms
  • Canon: 14-24mm wide angle that matches the offerings of Nikon and Olympus
  • Olympus: Excellent zooms. Just would like to see a bit lower noise on the sensor :-)

A Rant

  • Cameras with Liveview need a swivel LCD (like the Olympus E-3 or the new Panasonic G1)

Note: We like Liveview because it can help with manual focusing a lot.


The better the cameras the more we complain. Let's take some pictures.


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