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Sony NEX-5 versus Sigma DP2, looking for the perfect travel camera

August 16, 2010 15 comments
Check out the Tallinn Photos by clicking this image

Check out the Tallinn Photos by clicking this image

Here is a gallery of some of the photos I took while in Tallinn, Estonia.

The two cameras I used were the aging, yet still very capable Sigma DP2, and the new, hot off the shelf Sony NEX-5.

I pretty much stuck with the 16mm (24mm equivalent) f2.8 lens on the NEX-5, and when I needed a bit more reach I used the Sigma DP2 with its 41mm equivalent field of view.

And as happy (dare I say ecstatic?)  as I am with the NEX-5 and 16mm pancake lens, I do have to say that I actually prefer the images from the Sigma.  The sharpness, color fidelity, and dynamic range of the Foveon sensor continues to astound me.

While I was travelling, the excellent LCD on the NEX-5, and the comparatively horrid LCD on the DP2 had me thinking that the Sony was going to be the one with the superior image quality.   But after downloading the images and viewing them on a large monitor, I am once again caught between two systems.

I love the wider choice of focal lengths on the NEX-5 due to its interchangeable lenses, as well as its superb image quality at higher ISO’s.  The flip out LCD is also a great feature, especially when doing street shooting as it lets you shoot “Rollei-Style”, looking down at the LCD, instead of upright and pointing the camera from your face.  I could do with a few more external buttons and less menu digging on the Sony, but after a day of shooting that part became pretty transparent to me as I got more used to it.

Yes, the new Sony NEX-5 coupled with a pancake lens is a very compact, and portable travel camera.  It really is a pocket camera, and I very much enjoyed travelling light and not toting around a DLSR with a sack full of lenses.  Considering all this, it would seem that the Sony had pretty much nailed it with the NEX-5, making it the perfect travel camera.

But in situations with adequate lighting, the Sigma DP2, with its seemingly anemic resolution of 4.7 megapixels, actually mops the floor with the Sony NEX-5’s and its 14.2 megapixels when it comes to resolving power and pure sharpness.

This could be partly to blame because of the Sony lenses, which do not have a reputation for being very sharp.  But I think it has more to do with the sensor technologies being used, and the resolution advantages of the Foveon sensor technology compared to CMOS and CCD type sensors.

The Sigma is capable of producing astounding images, if you know what you are doing, AND you can put up with its horrid user interface which pretty much cripples what could have been an excellent all-around travel camera.

The DP2 used to be burdened with an extremely slow focusing system, but some recent firmware updates actually solved that problem.  (THANK YOU SIGMA!)  And while you are not going to be doing any sports type photography with it (not without manually pre-focusing anyway) it now has a respectably fast and responsive auto focus mode.

So once again, I have come to the conclusion that there is no single perfect camera.

Although, if a person were to use a Sigma DP2 with its 41mm field of view, AND a Sigma DP1 and its wider 28mm field of view, you may be able to cover most all of your bases for a lightweight travel cameras setup, the benefit of which would be you could share batteries and memory cards between the two, carry only a single battery charger, AND not have to take along a netbook or other portable photo storage device since more than 1,000 RAW images fir on a 16GB SD memory card.  This is all thank to that measly 4.7 mega-pixel resolution.   But don’t let number fool you into thinking the image quality will suffer.   The proof, as they say, is in the pictures.

Could the megapixel race finally be over?

August 21, 2009 13 comments

Click HERE for today’s photos.

Could the megapixel race finally be over?

Let’s hope so.

Here’s the headline: “Canon releases a new camera with lower resolution and better image quality.”

While this seems a bit counterintuitive, it does make sense.  You see, cramming ever more and more pixels onto the same sized image sensor is NOT the way to improve image quality.

In my view Canon did a VERY smart thing in reducing the pixel count with the G11.  And to make the news even better, they upped the sensor size, so you get a double whammy effect that results in larger photo sites, meaning a higher signal to noise ratio and lower overall noise.

I don’t want a super high resolution 100 megapixel image that is so noisy it looks like it was taken during a snowstorm.  I’d much rather have a sub-10 megapixel image from the same sized or larger sensor as that will dramatically improve final image quality.  Sigma, with their 4.7 megapixel Foveon sensors in their DP1 and DP2 cameras have proved this.  Granted Foveon sensor technology is something entirely different from CMOC and CCD, but the fact remains that the 4.7 megapixel resolution images have the sharpness, clarity, and detail of 10-12 megapixel images shot using CCD or CMOS technology.

The only thing that really puzzles me is why Canon decided to grace the new S90 with an f2.0 lens, whilst only giving the G11 a widest aperture of f2.8?  I am sure anyone who knows anything about taking pictures would have easily traded the 140mm zoom on the long end of the G11 for the 105mm on the long end of the S90 if it meant they could get an f2.0 aperture on the wide end.

S90: f/2.0-4.9 28-105mm (35mm equiv)

G11: f/2.8-4.5 28-140mm (35mm equiv)

In its defense, the G11 does have a very useful articulated LCD screen, although it is (marginally) smaller than that on the S90, AND on the long end of things, the G11 has the S90 beaten both on aperture, as well as reach.

It seems funny, but I think the biggest threat to Canons new G11 is their very own S90.  The again, maybe not, since they seem to be marketed towards slightly different groups.  The S90, being very pocketable is a “take it with you everywhere” camera that is sure to be popular with everyone.  But the G11, while still compact, is certainly not something that you will want to stuff in your front pants pocket, not unless you want to make people think you are happy to see then anyways…  The G11 seems geared toward the same crowd as the G10, those serious about their pictures, and after an all-around best-fit camera to fit as many photographic situations as possible.

I also see that they left HD video out of both of them, further ensuring a solid upgrade path for those that buy into the current lineup.    So neither the S90 not the G11 are perfect cameras.

Smart.  Very smart.

And in truth, I don’t think it is in any manufacturers best interest to produce the ‘perfect” camera.  After all, their goal as a manufacturer is to make money.  If they made a perfect camera then why would people fork over more of their hard earned (or inherited, or ill-gotten, or whatever type) money for a new model?

Businesses are IN business to DO business.  Period.

That’s why we see such incremental product updates most of the time.  It cuts down on R&D and manufacturing costs while maximizing the mount of units being sold, and this translates directly into profit.

It is a fine line though, and I am sure Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, and everyone else I watching each other like hawks to make sure than no one manufacturer gets too far ahead of the curve and upsets the balance.   I can just see the CEOs of all the big camera companies getting together once every year to decide what features to release on the public, how much to charge, and what features should be reserved for future product updates.

Following is a brief summary of my thoughts on some digital camera manufacturers.  Basically, I attempted to describe each companies philosophy when it comes to making cameras:

Canon: Full frame is where it’s at, ergonomics are for pansies.

Nikon:  Full frame is overrated (oops, that was last years line…) “Full frame is where it’s at, and oh by the way, our ergonomics wipe the floor with Canon.

Olympus: Damnit, 4/3rds IS full frame!  (if you can accept the logic that the original Pen was a full frame camera this may make sense, otherwise, it’s a bunch of rubbish…), and lets make some really good glass, but lets also make the mistake to price it outside of most peoples ability to afford.

Panasonic:  Yes, we really do make cameras, not just electric shavers and flat panel TVs.

Leica: Screw sustainable business models!  We’re making rangefinders and medium format digital cameras that nobody can afford.  But just to hedge out bets we’ll partner with Panasonic and place one of our fabled red dots on a few of their models which will allow us to instantly charge $400-$600 more for the exact same camera.

Pentax:  It’s all about the glass.  (And they are absolutely right)

Sigma:  No, really, it really IS a 14.7 megapixel sensor!    (all the other makers roll their eyes)

Kodak:  Someone has to sell cameras to the people who bought Yugos

Mamiya:  Isn’t that Italian?

Casio:  Someone has to sell cameras to people who are ready to step up from Kodak.

Ricoh:  Yes, yes, I know this shot looks like it was taken during a snowstorm, but look at just how sharp that palm tree is!  Ricoh should sell their cameras with a disclaimer: “Use Only In Direct Sunlight”

Hasselblad:  Let’s make our equipment even more expensive than Leica.  That way we can feel exclusive and justify our high prices.  Never mind that our digital backs cost more than a mid-sized SUV.

Fujifilm: We’ll take a Nikon mount and put one of our bodies and sensors on it and instantly charge $400-$600 LESS than the comparable Nikon.

Epson:  Epson?  I thought they only made printers?

Contax: R.I.P.

Sony:  A little late to the DSLR game, but since buying up Konica/Minolta they have really come into their own.  Now if only they could increase their focus speed, and decrease their high ISO image noise.  They have been making solid point and shoot cameras for years.

HP: I thought they just made printers and computers?

No camera is perfect.  I know because I seem to have tried darn near all of them.  But it certainly is an interesting time to be alive with the steady progression of technological advances creeping ever closer to the end-goal of what had been developed in the film world years ago, but with the added bonuses of better high ISO image quality, huge storage capacity for pictures (can you even imagine changing your memory card after just 24 shots?), and immediate image/histogram review.
Click HERE for today’s photos.

Razor Phone

April 21, 2009 12 comments

Click Here for todays photos.

I have always been amazed at the features that have been added to cell phones over the years.  

You have GPS navigation, electronic money, pedometers, video and still cameras, mp3 players, mp4 players, calendars,…   yes, the list seems endless.  And then with the introduction of the iPhone things got even more interesting and it seemed the days of the famous Star Trek communicator had finally come true.

But just when I thought they could not cram any more useful features into a cellphone, here comes the Razor Phone.  

No, not  This Razor, I’m talkng about a true  Razor Phone, as in a cellphone with a built in electric shaver.  

Be still my beating heart!  

As strange as this concept first seems, I can see this being pretty popular with the salaryman set here in Japan.  It will be great for those office workers that get their five-o’clock shadow at 1 in the afternoon, or those salarymen that want to spruce themselves up before a last minute late in the day meeting.

I’m just not sure if it has a vibrate mode.  

My guess is no.  

Because if it did it might be easy to mistakenly (and quite literally) jump out of your pants if the thing started vibrating while you had it in one of your front pockets.  Nothing like the threat of imminent (re)circumsize by Razor Phone to get the heart going.

It looks like I will be taking part in another episode of Cool Japan sometime soon.  I’ll keep  you all posted as things firm up.

Categories: cool, technology