Wednesday, 30 December 2015

I hate landscape competitions...

I really,really hate landscape competitions.

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of competitions in general, along came the local societies Tom Tivey trophy for landscape and natural history photographs

This is a competition for the best natural history subjects. This sounds very specialist, but in fact coves a wide range of subjects. In fact it is easier to state which ones it does not cover than what it does, namely indor shots, domestic animals, portraits and errr, that it really.

This year I felt quite confident in my entries. Apart from some animal photos I had my infra-red photos from my converted camera that I was quite pleased with. This would be the first time I would be showing them in competition so I was interested to see the reaction, but I thought they looked great in print form.

However it was not to be. None of my entries got into the second pick.

I don't like to complain about the judging  (really!) and there is no doubt that judging is is not an easy gig. This time the judge did a good job of contrasting various images and showing how they could be improved, but one thing I did notice was that their picks were very conservative. Anything that was a bit left of center did not get far, while your standard landscape shots did well.

It was not only my shots that suffered in this way. A colleague had put in a great multiple exposure shot, but it got as far as my shots.

So maybe another day, another judge things might of gone better.

But that is not why I hate landscape competitions so much.

Unlike most other competitions, landscape and wildlife ones are skewed towards those who travel to the best locations and can afford the best equipment. While in other competitions you can offset these advantages with imagination, in this case it is difficult to compete against people who travel to far flung destinations or who can buy the fastest glass and have the time to use it.

Anyway below are my entries for you to judge yourself















Sunday, 27 December 2015

10 ways that you know your partner is a photographer



Is your partner disappearing out early in the morning without a word? Do they arrive late without explanation just after sunset? Do they disappear into their office regularly and spend long periods on the internet?

OK, maybe they are having an an affair. But more worryingly, maybe your partner is turning into a photographer.

Here are the key signs.....

1. You come home to find flowers. However you realise they are not for you, but for a photo project they have in mind.

2. On holiday they suggest going for a walk... 1 hour before sunrise.

3. Taking a family snapshot takes ages as they try different poses, angles and insist you wait because the light is just not right

4. You come back from holiday to find that they have not taken a single photo with you in it. Instead every photo is of the landscape and buildings, normally at weird angles.

5. A quick photo involves 30 minutes of manipulation via photoshop and lightroom.

6. A significant corner of the house consists of lenses, camera bodies, reflectors, hoods. Many of these have been used once, if at all.

7. You dread friends showing them holiday snapshots due to the unsolicited advice they will get about cropping, angles, artifacts  to be cloned out etc.

8. You lend them your simple camera to take a shot and when it is returned it is setup in some weird mode which means every other image comes out blurred or over-exposed.

 9. Family holidays will be based on photographic opportunities rather than beach access.

10. When going on holiday, half the airport luggage weight allowance is  taken up with tripods and lenses, most of which will return unused.

The Sony A6000 - A review

Disclaimer

This review has taken over 6 months. Partly I underestimated the time required to do a review full justice, but mainly each time I have used the camera, my opinion has changed. Of course I am aware that the longer time that I have spent writing this, the less relevant it has become, butt hey,ho.

However the A6000 is still sold and therefore some relevance. Also some of the points below also apply to the A6300.

So here finally is my review.....

The Review




To say that I vacillated about getting a new camera would be a major understatement.

My present Sony A-37 camera is a bit like an old Labrador, it's been a faithful companion, but nowadays it sometimes struggles to go where I want it to go, and its weight means that I don't take it out as much as I should.

While I initially considered an upgrade to another DSLR such as the  A77mkII, my experiments and fun with IR photography had convinced me my next camera would be of the mirrorless variety.

And as always  there is the budget to consider. While I would of loved a A7RII (or even a A7SII), the body cost and more importantly the cost of the type of lenses that would  do the camera justice meant that this was not an option.

I therefore considered a number of options, including cameras by Olympus, Fuji and Panasonic. The Fuji X-E2 was very tempting and I have seen people get great results, but Fuji's retro for retro sake styling I find off putting.

So finally in a moment of weakness, I pulled the trigger just before Christmas and got myself the A6000, which came with the standard kit lens

Of course as usually happens when I buy a camera, a month down the line and Sony announced the A6300. Fortunately however  (in terms of temptation) it is about twice the price of the A6000, so I did not feel I lost out.

This does mean however that I am now reviewing 'old' technology. However since Sony seem to be determined to keep the A6000 around as the budget option, I feel this review is still valid.

First Impressions

 

The first thing you notice when you pick up the A6000 is it's size.

My DSLR is not the largest in its canon(sic), but it still feels huge compared to the A6000. While The size and weight difference is small, I really noticed how much easier it was to carry around. Also unlike a DSLR, you do not feel like you stand out in a crowd and is more discreet at social occasions.



It also feels nice and solid, and that it could take a few bumps or scrapes. Despite its small size however, its feels secure in hand. However I can also see when mated to a large lens, it could feel unbalanced and unwieldy.

The battery and SD card are placed together on the left of the camera. The SD card is fiddly to get in and out, and could of been better placed. One bonus is that the battery is the same type as my other Sony camera, so allowing me to use my spare batteries and the same external charger. This is just as well, since no external charger is provided, although the camera can be charged via a USB socket.

However my usual routine is to to have one battery always on charge, so I find a external charger essential. This is even more essential for the A6000 due to its battery life.

My original plan was to have this camera in the car, enabling me to take all those great pictures that I have been missing on my  way to work (both real and imagined ). However when I first tried this the battery was totally flat even though the camera had been off in the meantime. Other people have noticed this as well and it appears that the camera can consume battery charge even when in the off position.

This means that I now carry at least one spare battery at all times. More frustratingly the power drain appears to be unpredictable. Sometimes I have turned the camera on to see 90% charge left, then next turn it on to find the camera dead. My DSLR also has a EVF, but I find I with the kind of usage that means the DSLR battery will last a whole week, the A6000 will only last 2 day, so basically it uis a bit of a power hog.

The EVF is on the left hand side of the camera, rather than the center like my DSLR. There are plus and minuses here. As long as your right eye is OK, its a good location and I had no issues adapting to it. While it may not be  the sharpest EVF out there, it is perfectly clear and provides all the information you need. I especially like the 'dancing dots' in continuous auto focus mode. I have had no chance to test what the lag is between the view in the EVF and the real world.

The LCD screen, while not fully articulated, can be pulled out for low and high shots and is certainly a lot clearer than my A-37(but then again so is a muddy pond)

However It does not have a touch screen functionality. Why Sony, makers of mobiles and tablets, seem to have such an aversion to touchscreens on their cameras is baffling. While I do not believe that touchscreens are the  panacea to all user interface ills, there are still some situations where it makes a lot of sense. Not only that, but touch screen technology is mature and would add little cost to the camera

The instruction manual is typical Sony affair. You do not get a much more than a simple book in about 30 languages that tell you how to install the battery and memory card and little else. For a more complete manual you need to download a PDF and, if like me, you struggle to read electronic documents, you will need to print it off which will take a while.

The manual however provides little more than how to find and use the functionality, and you would be forgiven in thinking the authors were describing the controls for an air conditioning system rather than a camera. If you want to have a better understanding of the camera, i would recommend buying one of the books by Gary Friedman or Gary Fong. In fact I don't know why Sony bothers with the manuals at all. They should just provide a discount voucher for the books on Amazon or even better give the book away free with the camera.

The Kit and other lenses

 

The standard kit lens (16-50mm 3.5-5.6) has, let us say, mixed reviews. Some say its fine while others have complained about its poor optical quality.

I can see both points of view

Its size when the camera is off means that the cameras is very portable. However while it is fine for landscapes or portraits, I found the maximum zoom a little limiting.

While in good light it fine, it is not a particularly fast lens with a maximum aperture of f3.5. This is par for the course for kit lenses, but you feel that the camera is being held back by the lens, a bit like putting a tractor engine in a Ferrari.

The lens is also a power zoom, which means that zoom is controlled electronically rather than manually twisting the lens. The last time I had a power zoom was on my old Minolta film camera and personally I am not a great fan because it feels like you have lost that direct connection between you and the camera.

It also means that you have to use a electronic focus control in manual focus mode. This is equally fiddly and is slower and harder  to control than a manual control. While power zoom is no doubt a boon for video photography, I don't feel the extra cost and complication of power zoom has any advantage for still photography and would of preferred manual controls.

So what about the quality of lens itself?

One should not expect too much from a kit lens, however when used in RAW mode, I don't think I have ever seen a lens with so much vignetting in the corner. While this can be corrected in RAW processing or in camera when taking JPEGs, it does not give you an lot of confidence in the lens.

One more thing about the lens. It has the smallest lens cap I have ever seen on a camera. It is so small that when I stick it in my pocket I often mistake it for a £2 coin. It is a lens cap begging to be lost and it is a pity that Sony could not have made it with a permanently attached lens cap.

After using the kit lens for a while you will be certain to want to add to your lens collection. After all this is one of the important advantages over a fixed lens camera.

My 1st new lens was the Sony 55-210mm zoom at the NEC photography show(word of advice, always leave your credit card at home for this reason). It is reasonable priced and is just about compliments the kit lens. However for a while i struggled with it. Again it is not the fastest lens, at a maximum aperture of F4.5 and is a bit short for wildlife work. Carrying it reduces the portability benefits of the camera. However I did find a niche where it worked very well and that was street photography where you wanted to take shots of your subject without disturbing them.

My only other lens is a 30mm sigma prime, which was a steal 2nd hand. This is relatively fast at F2.8 and at a equivalent  APC-C focal length of 45mm is a good portrait lens. In truth however I would like a wider prime and may well get the equivalent 19mm if possible.

Unfortunately however this is where the issues begin. The choice of native lenses for the Sony E-Mount is not good. For example there is no obvious extra wide angle choice, macro lenses are rare. Even a well priced super-zoom is difficult to find. Yes you can get an adapter to fit A-Series glass, but this in no real substitute for native glass.

Yes there are some great lenses for E-Mount, but there are not many and will cost as much as the camera plus kit lens itself.  Compare this to the huge range of Olympus and Fuji lenses and its not hard to feel a little inadequate and constrained


Ergonomics

 

The ergonomics of a camera defines how easy it is to pick up and use. It is what you notice first when you pick a camera up, and can make a huge difference in your level of enjoyment.

The A6000 ergonomics can only be rated as adequate, and could  of been so much better in a number of ways. Unfortunately this appears to be a common Sony trait with their cameras.

Menus

 

A lot of people complain about the Sony menu system. I have little to compare it with, but because they are very similar to my DSLR, I find them logically laid out and found my way around pretty quickly.

However 'logically' laid out is a bit of a back-handed compliment.Cameras should confirm to a photographers needs, not the system designer and I often wonder at what point Sony actually involves actual photographers in their design process.

90% of users will use only 10% of the functions, so these should be prioritized. However this would not be so bad if there was some way  to customize the menus allowing the most useful functions to be placed on one page. However Sony designers don't seem to understand why you would want to do that,

The other problem with Sony user interface is that using it you are too often forced to break the control cycle. The control cycle consists of the actions people do when they are trying to do an operation. This consists of working out what how to achieve, doing it and then assessing the feedback to see if they have achieved it. Any break in that cycle is frustrating, and Sony unfortunately does that a lot

For example, if you take a bracketed shot, the camera will lock you out of changing the shot mode until it has finished processing the images. What would be better would be for the camera to accept the change in mode, but only allow you to retake images when the processing is complete. The way Sony have implemented it means you have to keep going back to the menu to see if you can change modes.

There are also some weird decisions however. For example, Eye detect is hidden in a weird custom menu rather than adding it to the face detect menu.
 
Also a lot of functionality found in other similar cameras is missing. For example you cannot set minimum exposure and maximum exposure for Auto ISO. The camera has a tendency to go to maximum (and noisy) ISO far too readily, when a reduction in shutter speed would be more appropriate.

One other issue that has often frustrated me is that there seems to be no option to only allow you to take a photo only when focus is locked. This is especially important when  close to a subject, meaning you need to watch the green focus lines rather than relying on the camera to stop you taking blurry images.

Many of these faults could be fixed with relative minor software changes. However Sony don't seem to like to add new functionality into firmware releases, preferring to bundle new features into paid for apps. This compares poorly to other manufacturers such as Fuji, who seem far more willing to support legacy cameras by adding new and improved features.

Controls


The A6000 provides two types of physical controls for user input. There is the main control dial for mode selection, then a thumb wheel to select things like speed and aperture, depending what mode you are in. Additionally there is a 4 way switch/rotating dial to select other things such as ISO. The usage of this dial is customisable. Additionally there are two buttons that again can be customized.

Finding the thumb wheel tales a little getting used to. It is smooth and recessed. I would of preferred the dial to be on the front like  DSLR. Additionally two such dials , one on either side of the camera would of made more sense and improved usability.

Also 2 customisable buttons does not feel enough. I would of liked to see at least 4(Focus type, Exposure, App Selection, EVF selection).

This lack of customization is not helped by the lack of any other types of control on the camera. Probably the most annoying is the lack of a dedicated manual focus button. To get manual focus you have to dig into the menu. In most situations you will want to switch between manual and auto focus when trying top lock onto difficult subjects and this makes it particularly difficult.

Compared to the controls on a Fuji or Olympus camera, the physical controls feel parsimonious. Add the lack of a touch screen and you will find yourself hunting via menus far more than you would like.

Apps

 

One of the things that attracted me to the A6000 was the ability to extend the camera via apps.

There a number available, some free and some for purchase. I downloaded Smooth reflection, Bracket Pro and multiple exposure.  Of those I have used Smooth reflection and multiple exposure to various levels of success.

Smooth reflection takes multiple shots and merges them to smooth out running water, etc. This works well enough, but you need to be mounted on a tripod and as with the majority of apps only works in JPEG.

Taken using smooth reflection


Multiple exposure allows you to combine two shots in a number of ways. This is a mode I have missed on my other camera and being impressed by the work of artists like Christoffer Relander I was looking forward to trying it.

However it is poorly implemented. One problem is that the images must be taken in succession, so you cannot combine a present image with one taken earlier in the day and so restricts its usefulness. Another annoying omission is the ability to create horizontal reflections. It will also only merge with one image, and does not work in RAW made.

While the use of apps is useful in allowing the camera functionality to be extended like your mobile phone, some of the features should of really been provided by the manufacturer as standard rather than make you pay for it after. For example the focus bracketing mode of bracket pro.

However the biggest issue is the way apps have been implemented. They are stored in a separate menu section,  meaning to use them you have to break your control flow. Just as bad is that once you have to remember to disable them via the same method. It would of been better the app extended the control or menus so they seamlessly added functionality.

In consequence while the theory of apps is good, Sony's implementation is lacking. The user interface is clunky and inconsistent. You lose a lot of control over the image such as ISO, etc and they only work in JPEG. Some of the features, such as double exposure are provided for free in other camera makes in a neater way.

The worse criticism however is that it  shows how many things Sony could add with a simple firmware change,  but refuse to do so, forcing users instead to pay for additional features.



Performance

 

At the end of the day, a camera stands and falls by the images it takes.

To be honest it has taken me a little while to get to grips with the camera. Even now it does not feel comfortable in my hands.

One of my hopes with the camera was that it would be more capable in low light than my DSLR.

It does,  to certain extent, but perhaps not to the level I had hoped. While the noise with my DSLR starts becoming noticible at 400 ISO, the A6000 I can push to 800 before it gets too bad. Unfortunately the slowness of the kit lens mean that indoors I have to push it more than I would like. Again we are not helped by an over eager Auto ISO which will push the ISO all the way to 3600 rather than reduce the speed a bit.

One of the advertised features of the camera is the speed of the focus.

While it is undoubtedly fast, I did find that I could not always be confident of where it was focusing. This means you always need to be aware of the focus indications in the range finder. One really big annoyance is that it will take an images even when not in focus. This is particularly onerous when taking close ups. If you get too close and do not watch the focus indicator you will end up with a lot of blurred images. Also I found I could not always be confident of achieving focus lock of what I wanted, with a few blurred images from when the camera had focused on god knows what.

Certainly when it gets it right the images can be great, but this is a camera that you have to work harder than you should  to ensure you get the best results.

One feature that is great however is the bracketing. It is easy to fire off 3 or 5 bracketed shots in the blink of an eye. This means that you can then generate HDR images post processing, even hand held in most situations.(The camera has a HDR function, but again that only works in JPEG mode)

The extra resolution of the sensor also means that I can crop far more than my DSLR and still retain some sharpness. That combined the the greater noise in-variance mans it can be more forgiving a camera in tough lighting such as indoors.

Conclusion


So what is my overall opinion of this camera?

Each time I come back to this blog post, my conclusion has changed based on how I have used the camera and come to terms with its strengths and weaknesses. Ask me tomorrow and I will probably give you another opinion. One I have noticed since I bought the camera is that generally it is my "goto" camera when I am go out, unless I am doing birding or require a large wide angle lens.  Its size and weight make carrying it a breeze.

Let us also state that for this price point there is nothing  really that will touch this camera. The equivalent Fuji is about the same price, but you only get the body. Sony new A6300 in contrast is over 50% more expensive. Others cameras at this price point come without key features such as a viewfinder.

So if you want a compact camera with interchangeable lenses and a viewfinder at a bargain price this is the only game in town. No surprise then that it is one of Sony's best sellers.

It also provides a great package in a small size.  It is a camera that will, with a bit of effort, get you great images in most conditions. It is especially good in situations where a DSLR is just too bulky or obvious. For example I found it a great camera to take images at social events where a DSLR would just be too obvious.

If you are already a Sony DSLR owner. the case for it is even stronger with the ability to re-use A-series lenses (via an adapter).

But( and there is always a but)....

While this is a camera that deserves respect,it will probably never garner the same level of love and loyalty in the same way that Olympus and Fuji owners lover their cameras.

This is due, in part,  to Sony being primarily a technology company. Unlike the aforementioned camera companies, Sony designers just don't seem to get the psychology of photographers.  Cameras can be a very personal object, however Sony treats camera design like any other technology item such as a TV.

The most frustrating thing however is that this could of been, with a few additions and changes, a great camera rather than just very good.

So whats the difference between good and great devices?

All great designs allow you to interact with them in a natural way such that they almost becomes a extension of your body. The controls and menus of the A6000 just don't do that and get in the way at regular intervals. Still now I not felt really comfortable using the camera. Too often has the user interface got in the way of what I'm trying to do. These are little things but they add up  and will consistently frustrate you.

That is not to say that I feel the retro feel of Sony and Olympus camera are the way to design cameras, but I feel Sony have pushed to far in the other direction by giving too few physical controls, poor menu layout and lack of customization.

Also the controls that do exist, are not always placed in the best position. Controls like the main control dial feels in the wrong place and too often I mistake it for the main mode wheel. This is also a camera that could do with  a second dedicated control wheel

The control I really miss however is the manual focus switch. Having to go through 3 button presses to enable manual focus is ludicrous. I could program a button to do this, but with only two custom buttons to play with, I have quickly run out of options (the A6300 does sport a manual focus button meaning Sony does sometimes learn from its users)

Sony could also help themselves by allowing the customization  of menus to allow users to pare down the menu system to the critical items.

Then there is the lack of touch screen.

Why Sony, maker of tablets and mobile phones, do not provide touch screen functionality is one of the enduring mysteries in camera design and are now probably the only major camera manufacturer who do not provide touch screens on at least some of there camera line up. .

Apps

 

One of the big selling points for me with this camera was the ability to add functionality via apps.
However the implementation by Sony is poor, making them clunky and less useful than they should be.

Also a lot of the functionality should of been by rights part of the standard  camera. You get the impression that Sony have deliberately left some of these features out, so they can extract money from you later via paid applications.

For example, In Camera MultiExposure or ICM is one area that Sony cameras fall well behind equivalent Nikons. Apps could of narrowed the gap, but the fact it does not and in fact emphasizes the lack of functionality is a damning indictment of Sony's app system. All this at extra cost too!

This highlights another issue that Sony just don't support older cameras as well as other manufacturers. For example Fuji will update firmware to add and extend functionality. Sony only do it to add lens support and fix bugs.

Lenses

 

All lens design is compromise.  For example a fast lens, needs larger glass, which makes it heavier.

Therefore you should not expect too much from a kit lens, which was clearly designed by Sony to create a zoom lens with a small a footprint as possible. This makes the camera look more akin to a bridge camera than one which has interchangeable lens. However such design compromises has a effect on the lens quality.

In good light it will do a decent job, but it doesn't really do the camera justice. On the plus side it does make the camera portable, but I would be willing to sacrifice some of that portability for longer zoom and a wider aperture.

Sony have a bigger issue with there overall lens range. It is only after when you start looking for a something that will replace the kit lens with something with greater reach and/or a little faster that you realise the paucity of reasonable priced choices.

What I would really like is reasonable priced super zoom to replace the kit lens with something of longer range. However there is little choice in this type of lens. The SELP18105G is the closest you will get, but will cost as much as the camera.

Final thoughts

 

In the DPReview review of the new A6300, the reviewer cited 2 major concerns of a otherwise fantastic camera which are the  user interface and lens choice.

Unsurprisingly the Sony A6000 suffers from those as well. While lens choice is something that may get fixed in time, the user interface is totally under Sony control.

It is strange then, that Sony seem to be blind to the issues.

Sony really need to take a step back and reconsider how people interact with cameras. The lack of a touch screen these days is an amazing omission and makes the camera stand out like a sore thumb. Why Sony, makers of tablets and mobile phones, find it so hard to see this is frankly a symptom of the malaise in Sony's design process.

What was most disappointing was the apps. The way they are implemented means that rather than extending the camera functionality, they often inhibit it.

This is disappointing, because there is a lot to admire about this camera, but it could of been so much better.

Some example images taken with my A6000...










Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Nostradamus returneth...



In December 2014, a bit like Nostradamus (but without the world ending predictions), I stuck my neck out and made my predictions on how camera technology will evolve over the next 12 months.

12 months on it is time to pay the piper and see how well my predictions compared to reality.

So here is my review of last years predictions.

1. Mirror-less cameras will continue to make in-roads into the professional market, taking market share from DSLR's, even at the top end.

Score: 8/10

This year we saw a never ending stream of high-end mirrorless cameras from Fujifilm, Panasonic, Sony, and Leica (of all people). It would seem at first glance therefore that I was spot on with this prediction.

For example, lets take the Sony A7R II.

 It is hard to remember another camera for which there had been so much hype about before it came out.  As a result, it was perhaps not surprising that in the end the camera could not meet all those inflated expectations.

Despite gap between the hype and the reality, there is no doubt that the A7R II  is a fine camera, and may well point the way forward in future camera design. On the other hand it still suffers from some of the issues seen in most mirrorless cameras. For example, while auto-focus technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, in some areas it still cannot compete with a DSLR. Take fast moving objects coming toward the camera. Even the best mirrorless cameras still struggle to keep up with the best DSLR's. However saying that in virtually all other photo tasks the A7RII  matches or beats comparable DSLR's, while doing so in a smaller, lighter and more convenient package.

So why only 8/10?

Well, the one thing I forgot to factor in, was that professionals are not the typical demographic who will pick up this kind of camera. They are not generally interested in the latest and greatest camera technology. For them what they want is 100% dependability, reliability and conformity. After all if their camera fails at the critical moment, they don't eat. Therefore they are a lot more conservative in what they use, sticking with the tried and trusted Canikon products.

Also to a pro, the quality and range of the glass is as important as the cameras bells and whistles. At the moment mirrorless is playing catch up with DSLR's in this respect. After all DSLR's have had 30 years or more to get the glass right.

However from purely anecdotal evidence I have seen, is the mirrorless cameras has been taken up by a lot of Pro-am photographers i.e people who take and sell photos, but it is not there main job. I have been to a number of lectures where they have said they have moved to mirrorless, if not for any other reason, than the size and weight convenience.

These kind of people can afford the risk of being early adopters and can reap the rewards of any new technology, without worrying if things do not work out.

So what needs to happen for mirrorless to take over the rest of the world?

Firstly the range of lenses need to be increased. A lot of lenses for DSLR's have their roots all the way back to the film days, so it is perhaps not a great surprise that the range for mirrorless lenses do not have the same range of lenses. Sony made a smart move by providing adapters to for Canon lenses on the A7 range, but people still prefer native lenses if they can.

Secondly, they need to add more pro features such as dual SD slots. These are things taht matter little to occasional photographers, but are essential in ensuring the clients shot are not lost.

Finally revolutions do not happen overnight. They are gradual processes until a tipping point is reached, when suddenly everything changes quickly. The technology compared to DSLR's is still in it's infancy, but is evolving fast. After all the DSLR format has been around for a long time and any adoption of new technology always has a inherent inertia. However as more photographers grow up using with mirrorless cameras that will change.

Not only that, but I feel the smart phone generation want something different from their cameras. They are not so interested in EVF vs OVF debates. They use a EVF all the time from their phones. What they want is camera that is flexible and connected to the outside world.

So the world is changing, but we still a little way from the mirrorless future.



2. Nikon and Canon will produce their 1st full frame mirror-less cameras. Nikon's especially will not gain much market share due to commercially driven design compromises.

Score: 0/10

I was sure this would be the year that Canikon would try and compete against Sony in the FF mirrorless arena. To do nothing would mean watching Sony eat their lunch, and surely the two camera market leaders could not allow that to happen.

But Canon and Nikon have done little to react this year, apart from hinting more to come in the future.

What was more worrying for Canikon fans is that the they did little even with their non-FF mirrorless offerings to show much hope that they were taking the challenge seriously.

Canon produced the M3, which was so outstanding, that for a while they could not be bothered to sell it in the majority of the world; almost as if they were embarrassed to show it. Nikon have persisted with the J1 range. While this has some nice features, it size of sensor precludes it use in low light situations.

So what's going on?

Well maybe Canon and Nikon are keeping their powder dry till they can produce something world beating. However Sony's aggressive release cycle has shown that this is a fast moving target and there is a danger that in doing so they will just fall further behind in this area, while at the same time spending billions in development.

It has been interesting to see some of the Canikon fan-boys trying to justify their favourites inertia. Some have suggested that there is a Sony killer in the wings just waiting to be unleashed on the world like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat. Personally I believe if making a FF mirrorless camera was easy, both Canon and Nikon would of done it by now. Instead I think the problem may be that both companies are having to learn new design skills.One of the challenges will be creating a suitable range of glass offerings for a new camera format. But surely if Sony can provide adaptors for Canon glass, Nikon/Canon could do the same, but more easily for their native lenses.

One thing seems certain however, Unless Canon and Nikon do something in the next year they risk becoming a Polaroid or Kodak.



3.There will not be much increase in maximum pixel counts in cameras. Instead efforts will be made to increase the sensitivity of existing sensors by going full frame with fewer pixels on mid-range cameras

Score: 1/10

I hoped this would be the year that we pulled back from the mega-pixel wars and started concentrating on what is for me, the more important aspects of photography. i.e. low ISO noise and higher dynamic range.

 Unfortunately with the Canon 5DS and the Sony A7R pushing 45 MPixels and with bigger sensors hinted at in the new year, this does not look like it is stopping any time soon.

For me just adding more MPixels to a camera introduces more problems than it solves. It introduces higher demands on your glass, making them more expensive. Files are bigger, and processing them takes longer and is more memory intensive.

On the other hand, fewer pixels on larger sensors allow you to have better noise control and better dynamic range. This means your camera becomes almost ISO insensitive, allowing you to use slower lenses more effectively. OK you may lose some detail, but the chances are unless you are planning to blow up your photo to the size a house or use magnifying glasses, you are unlikely to see that extra resolution. For example recently I have been using an old 7 MP camera and often I am as happy with those results as with my 18 MP main camera.

The only camera that came close to my prediction was the A7 S II.  I think until the camera buying public get better educated on camera physics, we will be stuck in the playing top trumps with the  world of camera specifications.Mores the pity.




4. Sony will continue to indicate their continued support of the Alpha series  DSLR's, while doing bugger all to actually back up the claim by filling out the product range with a model between the A57 and A77II. In the meantime they will produce 2 new mirrorless cameras, the A7S II and the A7R II.

Score: 6/10

Sony surprised the world (i.e me) by announcing their 1st new A-Series DSLR for almost 2 years, the A68.

So at first glance it would appear that I am totally wrong here. It would look like Sony are fully intending in maintaining their investment in the A-Series DSLR range and SLT technology in general.

Well lets be too hasty. Lets look more closely at the A68 and see if it heralds new dawn in SLT camera design....

Firstly compared to the A7 range, this camera was not so much announced with a fanfare, but more a corporate memo.

Secondly they are not exactly prioritizing its production. It will not be available till March, a full three months after it's announcement, so Sony do not seem to be in much hurry to get it onto the general market. It will also be interesting to see it's availability. I also predict finding a Sony DSLR in general camera shops can be a dispiriting experience. Sony have already pulled there DSLR's from a number of markets such as Australia.

Then there is the camera itself. Rather than something containing Sony's cutting edge technology, it is instead a mongrel of a camera made up of bits of kit from things like the A6000 and the A77ii, at the same time leaving out features such as Wi-Fi access. In truth there is nothing in this camera that could not of been brought out 18 months ago.

So why now?

Some have argued that the camera stacks up well with equivalent Nikon and Canon cameras in this price range, and they may well be right, but those camera are at least 18 months old, so you would assume Canon/Nikon have replacements lined up which will make this camera look poor value. Bringing out a camera on the downward slope of the release cycle makes little sense.

Finally why this camera? What a lot of people were hoping for was a replacement for the A99. This is getting very long in the tooth, but would be a perfect vehicle for the new Sony sensor technology seen in latest the A7 range (which is not going in the A68). It would also herald a new release cycle of Sony DSLR cycles, allowing them to re-generate the entire line from top to bottom.

So what's going on?

I have a theory. I believe there is a faction in Sony camera division that do not like the A-Series DSLR's. Let's call them the young Turks. They feel that this is hang over from old technology inherited from Minolta and the way forward is mirrorless. Considering the amount of investment in new mirrorless models over the last year it is clear that they are winning the argument.

But that leaves Sony with a quandary. The A-series DSLR's consist not only the bodies, but the lenses and other gubbins that go to make up a DSLR system. There is a lot of investment there, which cannot be just canned without serious losses. So Sony needed a way of keeping the DSLR users on-board and buying lenses until they can get the mirrorless technology down to a point when most users can switch. However corporate Sony refuses to make serious investment in what they consider yesterdays technology.

So what to do?

This is where the A-68 comes in. A camera that fills a hole in the product range, but using off the shelf components which can be put together with minimal investment.

So rather than heralding a new range of the A-Series DSLR's. I think this camera shows that Sony thinks the technology has little future.

I know all in all it sounds like some sort of conspiracy theory, but if anyone has any better ideas, then I would love to hear them....


5. High end cameras to use more smart phone technology in their OS. Not only the ability to upload photos via mobile networks, but also download apps to add new functionality to the camera. Also it would be great if cameras opened up their SDK so allowed programming of new functionality. Why limit yourself to 5 stop HDR where you could expand your camera to do 10 stops and focus stacking at the same time. Preferably using some sort of graphical programming environment. (This was not mine originally but borrowed from Mark Abeln, but was too good not to include )

Score:1/10

Again if seemed such a no brainer that camera manufacturers would start taking design cues from the mobile world and creating interfaces which adapted to what the user was wanting to do and could be extended to add new functions and new modes to their cameras.

However it seems that this year was not the one it happens. In many ways we appear to have taken a backward step with the glorification of the retro look.

To be honest, camera user interfaces are pretty awful. While there have been some advances such as better ways to set focus points, most cameras use the same layouts and controls they did in the film days.

A modern camera is now more about the software than hardware. We have seen a number of manufacturers adding extra function post production such as Panasonic's focus stacking and Sony's uncompressed RAW modes. This shows there is a lot you can do in the modern camera just in software. All it needs is the effort and desire by manufacturers to open up those API's to allow 3rd part developers to create extensions to the standard camera functionality.

As well as adding extra functions, it would be great to be able to create your own workflow in camera. For example "take 10 bracketed shots, all at different ISO's". There is no reason why this cannot be done apart from the willingness of camera manufacturers to give us the control.

To do so will take a new mindset from a camera manufacturer. Unfortunately it does not look like this will happen soon.

In Summary


So that's this years predictions dissected.

It has been a year that promised much in terms of camera technology, but some how failed to fully fulfil it. Next year some big decisions need to made with falling DSLR and compact sales, and mirrorless coming more and more prevalent. Prediction is a tricky game to play, but fortunately unless Nikon/Vanon/Sony/etc my future doesn't depend in getting it right.