Gear

2 Quick Tips That May Help You Get Sharper Images on the Fuji X-E1 by Thomas Fitzgerald

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Over the months of shooting with my little Fuji I’ve discovered two things that can really help you get sharper pictures. While Fuji’s x-trans sensor and the excellent x-series of lenses generally produce sharp images, there are times when there are circumstances that may make for soft images, that aren’t necessarily bad technique on the part of the photographer. These tips may work for other cameras too, although the first one is specific to Fuji’s cameras.

Change the focus point size

I’ve found that occasionally when I take a shot, the focus can be ever so slightly out. At first I thought that I was either doing something wrong or I was going mad. However, putting the focus point over a clearly defined area of an image and focussing, would often result in an image that was slightly soft. At first I thought that this was just the way the camera rendered, until I was looking back at some photos from my older X-Pro1 and realised that they didn’t have this softness, so I figured something was wrong. I put the camera on a tripod and focussed on an easy to define point, then switched to manual focus and zoomed in on the LCD. Sure enough, it was slightly out and could be fixed by manually tweaking the focus.

There’s there’s no micro adjustments available in the camera that I’m aware of, (and also, contrast detect auto focus is generally devoid of alignment errors) I’m not talking a huge amount either, it’s only very slight, but it can result in a slightly soft image. There is a very simple solution however. All I did was shrink the focus point size and hey presto, the focus is now properly aligned.

If you’re unsure how to do this, the process is really simple. Just press the AF button on the bottom left of the rear of the camera and turn the control wheel on the back near the top right. This will enlarge and shrink the size of the focus point. In my experience, a smaller point works best. Here’s a short little video showing you how to do it. (Apologies for the audio quality)

The other thing this is useful for is for shooting in low light. If you’re having trouble locking focus, increasing the sample size seems to help a great deal.

I don’t know if this is just my specific camera or if this affects all models. I don’t think it’s necessarily a fault, but more of a function of the way it works. The newer Fuji’s have phase detection points on the sensor, so they may not have any similar focus alignment idiosyncrasies. Still, if you think your images are soft, you might want to try this trick.

Reducing Vibration

The other factor that can effect image sharpness has to do with the small size of the body, and can be a potential issue on any small camera . I noticed that in some cases, when shooting hand held, my photos would exhibit camera shake, even when my selected settings should avoid it. This was occurring even when the shutter speed was high, certainly high enough to avoid camera shake, but I was still occasionally getting slight motion blur on the images. I put this down to the fact that the body on the X-E1 is incredibly light. I find that for me it can feel unbalanced, especially with larger lenses on. To be fair, this isn’t just a fuji problem, it’s a potential issue with any mirrorless or small camera, especially the lighter ones.

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I think because the body is so light and the lens unbalances the camera away from a natural centre of gravity, that this causes minor vibration when the shutter fires. I could of course be completely wrong, which I’m sure people will let me know once I post this (that and how this is entirely my own fault.) Luckily the solution was really easy. I was planning on getting a third party grip or case to add weight, but I found that if I left the quick release plate from my (manfrotto) tripod on the bottom of the camera this little bit of extra weight was enough to help with the balance and stop the vibration. Now, I’m no longer getting motion blur on images taken at a reasonable shutter speed.


I hope these little tips have been useful. The Fuji X-E1 s a great camera, and so I hope it is understood that I’m only posting these tips to help anyone who may be having similar issues, and they’re not intended as a criticism.

Incidentally, speaking of the X-E1, the camera is selling amazingly cheaply on the second hand market right now. I found one at a local camera store for €499, with the kit lens. If you’re looking for a good inexpensive way to dip your toe into Fuji’s X-System, keep an eye out for bargins.

Nikon D750? Finally, A Successor to the D700? by Thomas Fitzgerald

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Nikon Rumors posted an interesting little tid-bit today, that I have to say has me quite excited. For some time now they have been reporting on the rumour that Nikon are to announce a new full frame DSLR at Photokina, but other information has been somewhat sketchy. Well, today, the site said that they’re pretty sure that the name of this mysterious new DSLR will be the D750. This little nugget sent ripples through the community of D700 lovers out there (present company included) as we’ve been waiting for a spiritual successor to the D700 ever since it was released, over 5 years ago now. (2008)

You’re probably thinking, wait, wasn’t the D800, and D810 the successor to the D700? Well, technically, yes, but for many D700 owners, the D80X (D800, D800E, D810) series was a different camera altogether targeted at a different market. The D80X cameras seem primarily aimed at the studio and landscape market, whereas the D700 was always a more general purpose camera. Then there’s the D600/D610. Apart from the infamous dust issue, the bigger problem with this camera, at least for D700 owners is that it’s not a pro body. Now, before you think that’s just us being elitist, it’s not. Nikon delineates it’s pro and consumer bodies by the layout of buttons, on camera controls and functions. Consumer bodies have one layout, and pro bodies have a different one. The D610 is lacking several controls and functions (some entirely just an arbitrary software decision - such as setting the set button to view at 1:1 on playback) , that D700 owners love and use on a regular basis. The control layout is one of the things people love about the D700.

Then there was the DF. When the viral campaign for the DF was running, some of us hoped that it would finally be the D700 replacement, if not in name, at least in spirit. It came so close. One of the things that made the D700 so popular was the fact that it was essentially a D3 in a smaller body. The DF uses the same sensor as the D4 so there’s that, but the rest of the camera is just odd. The controls are odd, and the price is odd, and well pretty much everything about it is odd. I’m sure there are lots of people out there who have a DF and love it. I almost considered one, but there were just too many weird things about how you use it. For example the fact that you have to do some finger gymnastics just to change the exposure compensation while shooting, meant that for me it just wasn’t something I would enjoy using.

As a company Nikon hasn’t been doing too well lately. Some have put this down to the company’s failure to fully embrace the mirrorless market, but I don’t know. I think it’s simpler than that. Look at the examples above. Over the past few years since the D700, Nikon has released 5 full frame DSLRs The D800, The D600, The D610 ,the D810 and the DF (not including the Pro Level D4 and D4s) and yet none of these were a real successor to one of its most successful cameras, the D700. Nikon’s full frame DSLR range has become fragmented. It’s as if they just don’t know what to do with that end of the market.

I love my D700. Despite the fact that it’s my one of my oldest and lowest megapixel cameras, it’s still my favourite to use. It’s a combination of the beautiful image files the camera generates and the almost perfect handling. There’s just something about it, and that’s why many D700 owners like myself really love the camera. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have a higher megapixel version or one that shoots video, but none of the Nikon full frame cameras that have come a long in the mean time are my cup of tea. And while I will use my Canon 5D II whenever I need those functions, I still find myself going back to the D700. Some of my most popular and in my opinion my best photos were taken on the D700. The photos from my Paris book were all taken with the D700. I guess there’s no real rationale for it, but in my opinion it’s just a great camera. It feels like a film camera. It’s solid and a workhorse, and yet everything is intuitive, and physical. It’s hard to explain.

So hopefully the suits at Nikon have finally seen the light and decided that maybe they were on to something 4 years ago and maybe instead of going in all sorts of different directions at once, they might finally give users of one of their most popular cameras a real successor, and regain the excitement that people had for the device.

At the moment of course the D750 is just a name, and a rumour, and so we could well be disappointed, but I for one live in hope.

Or maybe that should be denial.

(Yes, this post is a bit tongue in cheek, so try and not take it too seriously! The D810 and D610 are great cameras in their own right - I’m not dissing them, and the DF, well, it’s unique anyway. ;-) )

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The Sony NEX–7, A Retrospective Review by Thomas Fitzgerald

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For a brief period the NEX–7 was Sony’s flagship mirrorless offering, until the A7 series came out. I’ve had the NEX–7 for over a year and the experience as been both maddeningly frustrating and incredibly wonderful. The NEX–7 is a camera that produces amazingly detailed, rich and vibrant images, yet it has a terribly designed operating system that is at times both perplexing and frustrating.

When I first got this camera I wrote my initial thought and first impressions of it. I had planned to write a full review but I never got around to it. Now that its been discontinued and the entire NEX line has been absorbed into Sony’s Alpha range, I thought that I would finally do that full review, but as a retrospective look back on my time with the tiny but powerful little Sony.

The Bad

I had problems with the NEX–7 from the moment I turned it on. I couldn’t format a card or even take a photo. The camera was powered on and most of the functions were working, but several just refused to do anything, including the important ones like taking a photo. After several hours of searching online, and on the verge of having to return it, I found the culprit. I had to reset the camera to factory settings, which was kind of a weird thing to have to do to a brand new camera. Apparently it had something to do with the internal battery running down or some such thing. Once I figured that out, it was relatively plain sailing for a while.

My first few shoots with the NEX–7 were great. It’s a very responsive little camera for the size of it. Having just replaced my Fuji X-Pro1 (which was still on the original firmware) with the Sony, it was nice to not have to wait every few seconds while the camera catches up. The Sony is very responsive, even taking several shots in a row doesn’t cause the camera to lag. The menus on the other hand are a giant mess. Luckily anyone buying the replacement, the A6000 will never have to deal with this as they’ve finally done away with the horrid mess that is the NEX menu system. The only good thing about it is that once you have the controls configured you rarely have to delve into the menus, and virtually all the controls on the NEX–7 are customisable.

In my first few weeks with the camera, I found that while I was getting some great images with it, there were a couple of things that were driving me mad about it. For a start the colour balance was way off. Images had a very strong purple tint. While it was fixable with the raw file, I didn’t want to have to be correcting the white balance on every single shot. Also, the colour temperature has a weird scale when brought into Lightroom. The slider can go into the 7000’s when warming up an image to a point which would be in the high 5000’s on other cameras. Finally after doing battle with the menus I managed to set a custom offset on the preset white balance settings to correct for the over-purpleness. I don’t know if this was an issue with all NEX–7s or just mine, but I have seen some images taken from other people online with the same purple hue, so maybe it is a setup problem.

A few other problems came to light while using the camera over the first few months. The first is the difference between the calibration of the lcd and the EVF. The lcd seems to have a much more blue/green hue while the EVF has a much warmer tone. There is a substantial difference between the two. The EVF in my opinion is the more accurate of the two, while the LCD appears to be way off. This is kind of a pain, but it seems to be an issue affecting a lot of mirrorless cameras in my experience. It just seems especially bad on the NEX–7. The LCD in general is a bit odd. I don’t know what it is about it that makes it seem worse than the LCDs on my other cameras. The screen certainly has the necessary specifications on paper, but whatever Sony is doing to display the image from the sensor seems to overly process it or something, because it always looks grainy and harsh. When compared to the LCD screen on my X-E1 for example, which has similar tech specs, it just looks awful. It’s not a major issue, and after a while you learn to ignore it, but I wish I understood what was going on here.

The other thing I found difficult to get to grips with initially, was the grip (pardon the pun). The camera’s small size is a little too small for my hands, and the body’s height means that when holding it I find that my little finger will be away from the bottom of the camera and looking for somewhere to go. This to me is quite uncomfortable, but luckily I solved it quite easily by getting the excellent Gariz half case for the NEX–7. With the Gariz case on the camera, the balance and grip is so much better.

Another minor thing that I’ve noticed about the camera, is that the battery takes ages to charge. It takes about twice as long to charge as the battery on my X-E1

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The Good

If it seems like I’ve been overly negative about the Sony so far it’s only because I wanted to get the issues out of the way before talking about the camera’s many good points. The biggest and most important of those good points is the image quality. The NEX–7 is capable of producing absolutely superb image files. When I took the first card load of images and loaded them into my computer I was blown away. I hadn’t even taken particularly interesting subjects but the results looked like something I would have taken with my Canon 5DII. There is a smoothness to the tones that is hard to describe. It’s very film like. The dynamic range on the files is particularly impressive too. You can pull an amazing amount of information from the highlights with the raw files, and you can push shadows quite a bit too. Although the shadows can become noisy, they lack the banding and fixed pattern noise that you can get when pushing files from the Canon 5D II.

Golden Light in The Trees

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Riverboat and Customs house

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A lot of online reviews and commentary complain about the level of nose in the NEX–7 files, even at low iso, and while it’s true that there is a degree of noise in the images but there are a couple of things that mitigate this. For a start, the noise is quite grain like and not overly unpleasant, especially when you shoot raw and process the files with Lightroom. Secondly, the files show about the same level of noise as my Canon 5D Mark II, which is also quite noisy at lower ISOs. Thirdly, a small amount of luminance noise reduction in Lightroom will mostly eliminate any noise. The additional resolution of the sensor more than compensates for any loss of detail encountered from using noise reduction (and it is minor anyway). The noise never really bothered me, because as I said, the levels are similar to my 5D Mark II.

At medium ISO, it’s still pretty good. Up to 1600 ISO the camera is more than capable, and again, a little luminance noise reduction in Lightroom addresses most noise issues. I can shoot up to ISO 1600 and get fairly clean images with the NEX–7 and some basic NR in Lightroom. After that the image quality starts to degrade significantly, but I rarely shoot above 1600 anyway. I know that this is a requirement for some photographers, and in those cases the NEX–7 is (or should I say was) probably not a good choice.

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Farmland in the Midlands of Ireland

(Images above taken at ISO1600 from a moving train)

The only issue that I found with the image quality is that if your image is underexposed, flesh-tones can start to look muddy and false, even if you bring the image back up in raw. Saturation clearly suffers in underexposed areas. Now I know the obvious reaction to that statement is “just get it right in camera” and that’s absolutely true, but there are times when shooting in a high contrast situation that you might need to bring up shadows, or you might have just missed something and the shot is otherwise recoverable. Again, it’s not a major deal, but it is an observation. Because the camera is so good at maintaining highlight detail, you can afford to push it a bit on the bright side anyway.

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While the menus on the camera are awful, the controls themselves are actually quite good. The NEX–7 uses what Sony calls its “Tri-Nav” navigation system. This basically means that there are three controls which can control much of the cameras operations. There are two main dials on the top of the camera and one dial on the rear. In Aperture priority mode, which is the mode I use the most, one of the two top dials controls aperture, while the other controls exposure compensation, and the rear dial controls ISO. On the top of the camera there’s a function button and you press this to cycle through various option sets. Each set of options is in turn controlled by these three dials. It’s a bit confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can control most of the cameras options without having to go into the menus. The biggest downside to this “Tri-Nav” system is that it’s very easy to accidentally turn one of the dials as they’re quite loose.

Lenses

Lens wise, I have three lenses for the NEX–7. The 18–55mm kit lens that came with the camera, the Sigma 30mm lens and the Sony 50mm f/1.8.

I’ll be honest, the 18–55mm Kit lens is not great. It’s soft at the edges and it’s slow, but then it’s not expensive so you get what you pay for. You can get good images from it in the right situations and with some care. Stopped down to f8 it’s pretty sharp, but there’s still a lot of softness at the edge of frame. Having said that, I have taken some good photos with the lens, and in a pinch, it’s acceptable if not ideal. It’s certainly nothing like the Fuji 18–55 XF that comes with some the Fuji kits.

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The Sigma 30mm Lens I have is the first generation of this lens. Sigma have since reissued it with a different design, but the optics are still the same as far as I know. The 30mm is a superb lens especially for the price. It’s very sharp and has very little chromatic aberration. It focuses fairly fast and has great contrast. The only downside to it is the fact that it’s only f2.8, however it’s sharp at f2.8. You can get the current version of this lens new for $169 which is a steal given the quality of the lens.

The Sony 50mm f/1.8 is another good lens, but it has a few serious issues. Image quality wise it’s mostly superb. It has nice bokeh and it renders lovely smooth tones. It’s really nice glass. It is a little soft at 1.8 but it’s still useable sharpness wise. Stopped down to f/2 its very sharp and at 2.8 it’s even sharper. The big problem that I have with this lens is that it suffers from severe chromatic aberration and fringing. Wide open, and even stopped down there is severe red, purple and blue fringing, especially on high contrast edges. Even with Lightroom’s advanced colour fringing tools it can be difficult to fully correct some times. This is a real shame, because otherwise this lens produces lovely images. There is a really nice smooth quality to pictures taken with it that’s hard to describe, and if it wasn’t for the fringing you would think that the images taken with the 50mm f/1.8 came from a much more expensive lens. Incidentally the 50mm also comes with built in optical image stabilisation which works pretty well. It does what it claims to do, and there’s not much more I can say about it other than it’s very helpful when shooting video.

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Superman looks for his motorbike

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The NEX–7 plays well with non-Sony lenses too. Because of the e-mount’s short flange depth, it’s easy to add adaptors for lots of different mount systems The camera also offers some useful tools for manually focussing. It was one of the first cameras to make focus peaking a mainstream feature, and with it manually focussing is a lot easier, although there are still some quirks with the system. I have a Nikon F mount to E Mount adaptor and manually focussing with nikon lenses, I’ve found that the focus peaking is sometimes a bit misleading. You often need to roll the focus back and forward in and out of the focus zone order to get it right. It works best with fast lenses which have shallow depth of field, but I have found that more often and not, you need to check it by using the zoom in feature.

Street Photography

Over the years that I’ve had it, I’ve shot a lot of street photography with the camera. The NEX–7 is a great tool for street photography, and has a couple of features that really help you out when shooting candidly on the street. The first is the simple virtue of the camera’s speed. While focussing isn’t the fastest, the camera itself is fast. Changing functions, taking shots, using the menus, all have little or no lag. When you press the shutter button, there is virtually no shutter delay. This is a real help when shooting in fluid situations, where you’re moving and people are coming at you. Some of my other mirrorless cameras on the other hand have ridiculously long shutter delays, and can often lead to a perfectly framed subject having actually walked out of shot by the time the camera decides to catch up with your actions. I’ve never had this issue with the Sony.

The other big feature that is a real benefit to street shooters, is the flip up screen. The lcd on the back of the camera is fully articulated, and you can flip it both down and up. I often use it in a horizontal position, with the screen facing straight up. This looks almost like a mini hasselblad (perhaps thats why Hasselblad produced its own re-badged albeit ridiculous looking, and ridiculously priced version of this camera) This makes shooting at waist level easy and less of a guess. Shooting from the hip like this is a great way to give a different perspective on your images too, and I find that you can get some great shots this way.

Another feature that I use occasionally when shooting street shots is face detect autofocus. For some, using such a feature is heresy but it actually works. It’s not the fastest mind you, but it does offer some unique opportunities. With the camera held low, and in a fluid environment, it’s still possible to shoot wide open with a very narrow depth of field and still have your subjects face in focus. This goes against the standard approach to this kind of street photography, which is to use zone focussing. Zone focusing requires your lenses stopped down, and this means you have a wide depth of field which keeps everything is in focus, and takes away from the impact you can achieve with a narrow depth of field. While the face detection isn’t perfect, it’s another tool to use in your arsenal and helps you capture different and unique images.

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The Smoking Man

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Street Performer in Temple Bar

Supermac's Bunny on O'Connell Street

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Taking the forklift for a walk down Grafton Street! For more: h

Chefs on a break

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Video

The camera also shoots descent, but not great video. It suffers from a degree of aliasing and moire. These issues aren’t as bad as some of the first generation DSLRs to shoot video, but it’s bad enough, especially compared to the current generation. With careful planning and framing you can mitigate these issues to a degree. A lot of reviews have pointed out the awkward position of the movie record button and how easy it is to press by accident. This is an issue, but for me it’s not that big a deal. Over the time I’ve been using this camera I think I only hit the record button by accident about 5 times. The biggest issue with the NEX–7 and video is the relatively low bit-rate AVC codec. Still, with the right combination of lens and careful approach you can get some good video from it. Here’s a little shoot I did as an experiment one day with a nikon macro lens and some lego!

Durability

As I’ve had the camera for nearly two years, and I’ve used it pretty extensively, I can give you a good idea of its durability. Overall it’s survived well, although there has been a few issues. The viewfinder eyecup was constantly falling off right up to the point where I lost it. I ended up making a replacement myself using sugru. The rear screen has also suffered some blotching resulting from issues with the coating being scuffed. I’m sure someone will point out that you should use a screen protector, but I don’t have one on any of my other cameras and I’ve never had this issue with any of them. (I’ve had many much longer than I’ve had the NEX.) It’s not a huge deal, and it doesn’t affect the usability, but it’s something to be aware of.

Conclusion

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Despite some of the niggling issues that I’ve reported on the NEX–7, it has served me well over the last few years. I’d like to say that I love the camera but I don’t. I don’t hate it either though. It’s a good tool, but I often find that, despite the fact that its capable of producing superb image quality, the experience using it can be frustrating. Having said that it’s hard not to appreciate the impact this camera has had on me as a photographer. I’ve taken some great shots with it and I still use it regularly. The unique form factor when the screen is tilted straight up and I’m shooting from the hip has helped me get unique shots that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Many of the issues I’ve reported have been fixed with the A6000. The only two things that really bother me about the camera is the quality of the image on the rear screen, from both a colour calibration perspective, and whatever Sony is doing to the image that makes it look so bad, and the issues with the white balance. While I’ve mostly fixed the latter, I still find that it’s often off, and because of the weird scale it can be difficult to correct in post.

If you can pick up a second hand NEX–7 I would find it hard to decide whether or not to recommend it. If you’re aware of the issues and willing to work around it, you can get great images from it. Having said that, the A6000 seems like such an improvement when it comes to some of the NEX–7’s more serious failings, that you would probably be better going for that instead. Then of course there’s the A7 range, but that’s a whole other post!

A Couple enjoys A Rainy Day in Stephen's Green last Autumn

Cherry Blossoms on a Cherry Tree Close Up

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I am a fine art Photographer and do not shoot commercial projects. I do my best to keep this site regularly updated with lots of tips, reviews, news and photography advice, all for free. If you like what you read here and want to help support the site, then please consider buying a Print, checking out my Lightroom Presets

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Fujifilm Releases XF18-135mm Weather Sealed Lens by Thomas Fitzgerald

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It’s been rumoured for a while but this morning Fujifilm officially announced the first X-Series weather sealed lens, the XF18–135mm. This new super-zoom covers a wide shooting range of 27mm wide-angle to 206mm telephoto equivalent, and Fuji is billing it as “Professional Grade”. The lens also features a new advanced image stabilisation engine for an incredible 5 stop image stabilisation. It is also dust proof and features weather sealing, for use with the XT–1.

This new lens is something that many photographers have wanted for the XT–1 for some time. The long focal range makes it an ideal walking around lens, and perfect for Travel photography when you need to travel light. Fuji claims that it will be a high performance lens too. From the press release:

Sharpness and rich contrast from the wide-angle to the telephoto, high-performance glass including 4 aspherical glass lenses and 2 ED glass lenses has been used. Multi-layer HT-EBC, which has high permeability (99.8%) and low reflectance (0.2%), is applied to the entire lens to effectively reduce lens flare and ghosting, which often occur in backlight conditions. Utilising the wide zoom range of the lens, there is more freedom in composition and selecting angles.

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There are lots of other interesting features of this new XF18–135 lens too, including:

  • Fast Autofocus: Fuji claims that its inner focus mechanism and linear motor technology are capable of delivering a maximum focus time of 0.10sec. when used in combination with the X-T1 and X-E2.
  • 5.0 Stop Stabilisation: This is apparently achieved using a new high-precision gyro sensor with quartz oscillators which detect movement from high frequency to low frequency bandwidths.
  • Weather Sealing: The weather resistance has been achieved by sealing 20 different locations on the lens barrel and also including special ventilated areas of the lens which prevent dust being sucked into the barrel when zooming.

Specifications (Via Fuji)

Name FUJINON LENS XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR
Lens configuration 16 elements in 12 groups
(4 aspherical elements and 2 ED lenses)
Focal length f=18-135mm
(35mm format equivalent: 27-206mm)
Angle of view 76.5°- 12°
Maximum aperture F3.5-5.6
Minimum aperture F22
Aperture control Number of blades: 7 (rounded diaphragm opening)
Step size: 1/3 step (17 steps)
Focus range Normal: 0.6m - ∞
Macro: 0.45m - ∞
Maximum magnification 0.27×
External dimensions:
Maximum diameter X length (approx.)
(distance from tip to standard mount flange)
φ75.7mm × 97.8mm (Wide-angle) / 158mm (Tele)
Weight (approx.)
(excluding lens cap and hood)
490g
Filter size φ67mm

Image Samples & More Details

You can see full resolution samples of the new XF18–135 mm lens over on Fujifilm’s product information page. I have to say, they look pretty impressive.

The Lens will retail for $899 and is available for pre-order from B&H Photo now.

Rico Pfirstinger has a first look at the lens over on Fuji Rumors.

Please Help Support This Site

I am a fine art Photographer and do not shoot commercial projects. I do my best to keep this site regularly updated with lots of tips, reviews, news and photography advice, all for free. If you like what you read here and want to help support the site, then please consider buying a Print, checking out my Lightroom Presets

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Video: "Sakura" Cherry Blossoms in Stephen's Green by Thomas Fitzgerald

sakura

I've been fascinated by Cherry trees for a long time. I love the beautiful delicate flowers that bloom for only the most fleeting of times. In Dublin we have quite a few trees about the city, but in St. Stephen's Green park in the centre of the capital there are some beautiful and large trees. I've been photographing them for many years, but this season I wanted to capture the delicate movements as the branches danced in the wind. I've also been a bit obsessed with Japan and Japanese culture lately too, and I love the traditions surrounding Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) and so I wanted to pay tribute to the Japanese traditions, spirituality and heritage of these beautiful flowers and trees in the video too.

Technical Details: This was shot on a Canon 5D Mark II using the "Prolost" settings. I also got to try out my excellent safari Tripod properly for the first time. Having a proper fluid head tripod for video makes all the difference in the world, and the Safari Tripod is great because it's small, light and cheap, but still has proper levelling controls and it's a proper fluid head even though it's small meaning you can do very smooth motions. The video was edited in Premiere Pro CC, and exported as an XML sequence to Davinci Resolve Light for colour grading. Once finished, I rendered the sequence back to Premiere for finishing, and then exported the final finished sequence as a relatively high bit rate H264 MP4 for uploading to Vimeo.

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A Quick Look at the new Fuji Colour Profiles in Lightroom 5.4 by Thomas Fitzgerald

Lightroom-Screenshots

Now that Lightroom finally ads colour profiles for the various picture modes that come with Fuji's X-Series cameras, I thought I'd give them a quick review. I've already played around wight the velvia profile and found it quite pleasant. Today, I was out shooting so I took some time to go through all the picture modes so that I could compare the Jpegs to the Raw files processed using the relative colour profile. As far as I can tell they all look pretty accurate. I've posted the pairs below so you can judge for yourself. A couple of caveats. I have the camera set to sRGB (as opposed to Adobe RGB) but I don't think that makes a huge difference as I'm exporting from Lightroom as sRGB anyway. Secondly, I didn't do any sharpening or lens correction to the raw files, so there's some chromatic aberration on the Raw images and they're a bit softer than the Jpegs. I literally just applied the relevant colour profile.

Provia / Standard

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Provia - SOOTC Jpeg

Raw with Provia Colour Profile: Provia

Velvia / Vivid

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Velvia Original Camera Jpeg

Raw with Velvia Colour Profile: Lightroom Velvia Profile

Astia / Soft

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Astia Original Jpeg

Raw with Astia Colour Profile: Astia Colour Profile in Lightroom 5.4

Pro Neg High

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Pro Neg High Jpeg

Raw with Pro Neg High Colour Profile: Raw with Pro Neg High Profile

Pro Neg Standard

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Pro Neg Standard Jpeg

Raw with Pro Neg Standard Colour Profile: Raw with Pro Neg Standard Colour Profile

Monochrome

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Monochrome Jpeg

Raw with Monochrome Colour Profile: Raw with Monochrome Colour Profile

Monochrome +Y

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Monochrome+Y Jpeg

Raw with Monochrome +Y Colour Profile: Raw Monochrome+Y Colour Profile

Monochrome +R

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Monochrome+R Jpeg

Raw with Monochrome +R Colour Profile: Raw - Monochrome+R

Monochrome +G

Straight out of the camera JPEG: Monochrome+G Jpeg

Raw with Monochrome +G Colour Profile: Raw - Monochrome+G

The only thing missing is the sepia picture mode, but I'm guessing that's not something that can be down with a colour profile anyway. I think they did a good job overall. The colours are mostly the same. The only one that looks a little off to me is the Pro Neg S. I only ever use Provia and Velvia anyway personally, and occasionally Pro Neg Hi, but I wouldn't use the profile as it's too soft. Velvia works great though.

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Shooting HDR with the X100 by Thomas Fitzgerald

DSCF7984_5_6hdr

I went out to shoot some street photos around Dublin yesterday and I ended up conducting an impromptu experiment. I had taken my two fuji cameras with me. My X100 and XE–1. The XE–1 had the 35mm lens on it and the X100 with its wider 23mm gave me a good amount of flexibility. However, I ended up just using the X100 the whole time. As I was walking through Dublin, I’m not sure whether it was the light, or the ridiculous amount of roadworks, or the fact that I was watching a class on the subject the night before on Kelby one, but I was suddenly more aware of the textures and grittiness all around me, and so I decided to try some HDR.

It turns out the X100 is a great little camera for HDR. While it can only do three shots on auto bracketing, this was perfect for what I wanted to do. The way it shoots them is really good for HDR too. They are taken in rapid succession, almost like it was one shot. It takes a while to write them to the card then, which in the past I have found quite frustrating, but in this case it wasn’t a big deal as I wasn’t in any hurry or trying to capture moving objects.

Back on the computer I put the shots together using a combination of Lightroom and Photomatix. I hadn’t actually used Photomatix in ages, and I’m quite impressed with the new version (version 5). Fixing ghosts and getting a good balance now seems easier than ever.

Once I had processed them and created a tone mapped Image I sent it back to Lightroom where I used one of my Quick Lux presets to add some additional styling to the shots. I’m really happy with the way they turned out. I don’t do much HDR so I’m sure I’m breaking all sorts of HDR rules but it’s great to get such complexity out of such a small camera. I should point out that this is the older X100 too, not the X100s.

Anyway, here are some of the results of my playing around. Enjoy….

Wounded doors at Trinity College - HDR shot with x100

Roadworks in Dubliun - HDR shot with X100

O'Connell Bridge in Dublin - HDR shot with X100

O'Connell Bridge and Liffey - HDR

Dublin Lamppost - HDR shot with X100 and Processed with Quicklux for Lightroom

The Spire and the GPO

Moore Street This afternoon!

Camoflague

Tourist boat on the Liffey

You can see the full set over on my Smug Mug Page. Also, if you like these please visit my Streets of Dublin Project (which is what these shots are destined for)

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I am a fine art Photographer and do not shoot commercially. If you like what you read here and want to help support the site, then please consider buying a Print, checking out my new Lightroom Presets

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Shooting with a 35mm Nikon DX lens on an FX Body (D700) by Thomas Fitzgerald

Nikon Dx on Fx Check

About a month ago I was having coffee with a friend and he was showing some pictures he had taken with his 35mm DX lens on his D800. Because of the sensor resolution on the D800, even cropped you’re still getting a fairly large image. In his set, he also had a few pictures that he had taken with the DX crop mode turned off, and they were mostly ok, apart from some severe vignetting. This piqued my interest because I have the same lens but I’ve never tried it on my D700 because cropped it would only be about 6mp, but It had never occurred to me that it could be used with the crop mode turned off.

I went home that day and tried a few tests, and sure enough, with the DX Crop mode turned off on the D700, the 35mm DX lens still captures a full frame image, albeit with some pretty harsh vignetting. There’s a catch though. It only works when the lens is kept fairly wide open. After about f/4 to f5.6 the edge of the image circle starts to come into frame and there’s nothing you can do to compensate. Anyway, I had messed around with it for a bit, and then promptly forgot about the experiment until last week when I saw a post from Jared Polin who was comparing the old DX lens to Nikon’s new 35mm f/1.8 FX lens, and I thought that I’d give it a proper try.

First of all, you need to turn off the Auto DX Crop. On the D700 the option to turn off the Auto DX Crop is in the shooting menu under “Image Area”. I’m guessing it’s probably in a similar place on other FX Nikon cameras. In my shooting tests I kept the Aperture f/4 or wider. I mostly either went between f/2.8 and f/4. For the simple reason that this lens fringes significantly at F1.8 and is a bit soft wider than f/2. I would still use f1/1.8 in certain circumstances, but none of the images in this test were wide open, because I wanted to judge sharpness too. The results are actually quite surprising.

Firstly, the vignetting is definitely an issue, but you can mostly correct for it in Lightroom. More on that in a minute. Secondly, depending on what you’re taking, you can get away with a bit of vignetting anyway. While the Nikon 35mm Dx lens has a profile in Lightroom, that profile is designed for use on a DX body, so it doesn’t fully correct for the vignetting. Therefore, you will need to do a bit of manual tweaking too.

Here’s an extreme example, before doing any lens correction. As you can see the vignetting is quite severe:

35mm-dx-default

Here it is with the default, profile based correction in Lightroom. As you can see it’s better, but we’re not there yet.

35mm-dx-profile-correct

Here is the same image again with some additional tweaking. The vignetting is almost gone, but there’s still some minor issues at the edge of frame.

35mm-dx-manual

In this case it’s been exacerbated because of the blue sky. On an image that doesn’t have a plain colour to see the vignette agains’t you can get away with it, in fact there are times where it’s helpful.

If you’re not sure where the settings in Lightroom are, they’re in the lens correction section of the develop module, under the manual tab. You’ll need to adjust the Lens Vignetting Amount and Midpoint. In the example above the settings were:

Amount: +100 Midpoint: 83

I’ve created a Lightroom preset for the settings that I used, and you can download that here, but be aware that these will just get you in the ball park and you’ll need to tweak the settings further as the amount and darkness of the vignette seeps to depend on the distance to the subject as well as the f-stop.

Here are a few examples of street type shots, where I haven’t done any additional lens corrections other than the profile based one (which I have set on import). I've actually added some additional vignetting in some cases.

Nikon Dx on Fx Check

Nikon Dx on Fx Check

Nikon Dx on Fx Check

Nikon Dx on Fx Check

All in all, I’m pretty chuffed that this works so well. The 35mm DX was one of my favourite lenses when I was shooting with a D90 and it’s a great little lens for the price. While I wouldn’t recommend going out and buying a 35mm DX lens to use specifically on an FX body, if you’ve recently stepped up from a cropped sensor to a full frame camera, and have one of these lying around, it’s worth trying. While it’s far from a perfect solution, it’s perfectly useable within the limitations. Of course, now that I’ve gotten a taste of the 35mm focal length on my D700 I’m longing for that lovely Sigma f/1.4. But that’s a story for another day!

As Sony Looks Forward, Nikon Looks Back: Thoughts on the The Nikon DF by Thomas Fitzgerald

Nikon DF Front

df-twin-cameras To say the release of the Nikon DF was hyped is something of an understatement. I don’t know whether it was the clever and effective viral marketing campaign, or the fact that said teasing caught many people by surprise that led to the hype, but the result was one of the most eagerly awaited cameras of the year, despite the fact that it’s existence was unknown only a few weeks previously. Now that it’s here, the retro styled full frame camera has drawn a range of reactions from many people. A lot of the photographers who I've spoken to all have the same reaction: “Why?” and personally I’m not quite sure what to make of it either.

I must confess to getting caught up in the hype prior to the actual release. I have been a Nikon D700 owner for several years, and I absolutely love that camera. The original D700 was effectively a D3 in a smaller body, so when the D4 came out, many people, myself included were hoping that a replacement for the D700 would be a similar product, based on the D4, or the D3x. Instead, we got the D800, which is a fine camera, but for many people, the megapixel count is excessive for what they need, and would have preferred the high sensitivity of the D4’s sensor over the resolution of the D800's. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great camera, but for some people it lacks that something special that the D700 has.

D700 lovers hopes were raised again when the D600 was rumoured, but instead we got another oddly positioned offering from Nikon. This time we got a more reasonable megapixel count, but in a consumer level body. Flash forward to a few weeks ago, and the rumours of the DF start to appear. From the beginning of the teaser campaign, Nikon promises a tool focussed on “pure photography”. The rumours start floating around of a Nikon D4 sensor in a compact, body. In other words, what many D700 owners had hoped the D700 replacement would be. Would this be the long awaited spiritual successor to the D700 many pondered? Well, unfortunately not really.

With the DF, Nikon has jumped on the retro bandwagon that has brought so much success to Fuji lately, but this is where my issues with the DF start. With Fuji’s cameras, the retro styling, and more importantly, the retro control layout offers obvious advantages in ergonomics. Most of the people that I know who use any of Fuji’s X-Series cameras, love the control layout. The combination of aperture ring, shutter speed dial and exposure combination dial make operating the camera a seamless and almost second nature affair. I’m sure this enthusiasm for hands on ergonomics is what Nikon were trying to tap with the DF, but the result is a little different.

What do I mean by this? Well, Nikon added physical dials and controls for just about every parameter, but you still have the standard nikon control layout too. Because most modern Nikon lenses don’t have an aperture ring you still control the Aperture with the control wheel on the front. To select shutter speeds in increments of 1/3 of a stop you select the 1/3 function on the shutter speed wheel and use the back control wheel. In other words like every other Nikon. This combination works really well, and there’s no real reason that having a dedicated shutter speed dial makes for any better ergonomics. In fact, because you have to depress the unlocking knob on top of the wheel to release the dial in order to turn it, the physical button is decidedly less ergonomic than the standard controls. Then there’s the mode selector dial. They have a physical mode selector button, but in order to turn it you have to pull it up and then turn it, meaning changing modes is also unnecessarily complicated. For decades cameras have had mode selection dials that you just turn, so why do you need this extra step? There doesn’t seem to be any reason to make it like this, other than for nostalgia’s sake. There’s a video on you tube of someone trying to change modes (see below) and it looks really fiddly and difficult. Again, the retro controls offer nothing of an advantage in terms of ergonomics. And speaking of the mode dial, what happens if you’re in Aperture priority mode and the shutter speed dial is set to something other than the 1/3 step function? Does it just inure the shutter speed wheel? On the Fuji’s there is an “A” setting on the shutter speed wheel that puts the camera into Aperture priority mode, therefore you always know by looking at he wheel what the shutter speed is, be it manually set or on automatic, bit on the DF it you have it set to 125 for example, but are on Aperture priority, that means nothing. Once more, this defeats the purpose of having physical dials in the first place.

Then we get to my personal favourite, the exposure combination dial. Whoever thought the location and design of this was a good idea, really needs a different job. On Fuji’s cameras, and Sony’s RX1, and new A7 cameras, the physical exposure compensation button is positioned so it falls nicely under your thumb position. It makes lots of sense and really helps with instinctive operation of the camera. On the Nikon however, the exposure compensation dial is on the left hand side of the prism, nowhere near where your hands fall naturally, and even worse, they have the awkward locking pin on that too, so in order to use it you have to first push down on the pin and then turn the dial.

If you regularly shoot in Aperture priority mode, as many photographers do, you probably use your camera's exposure compensation all the time. You want it to be simple and easy to use and you want to be able to do it without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. On the DF, that’s not going to happen, unless you can set the rear command dial to act as exposure compensation, in which case, once again why bother with the dial in the first place? It just defies logic, especially considering the teaser campaign promising a photographers camera, and this to me seems more like an exercise in designing something as a design exercise rather than filling a need. I really have to wonder did the engineers talk to a real photographer at any stage during the design process?

By the way, in case you’re wondering, I started my photographic passion with an old manual film camera many years ago, so it’s not like I’ve only grown up with modern digital cameras. I shot film for years, and I love the feel of an old camera, so it’s not like I’ve never used a camera like this.

I realise that I’ve just spent several paragraphs bashing the camera, so If I seem completely negative on the DF, don’t get me wrong, there are things to like about this camera too. The D4 sensor is an excellent sensor, with amazing low light capabilities. The camera’s size and weight are an excellent combination too, and the ability to use vintage non-ai lenses is a great addition. A small and light camera with these capabilities is pretty impressive. However I just can’t get past the bizarre retro for the sake of it ergonomics. I hope I’m wrong. I hope when this camera gets into people’s hands my concerns about usability are unfounded, but Nikon’s control layout is already really great, having been honed over years of design and development, so why did Nikon decide to throw all that away just because it’s a trend right now? Come to think of it, even Nikon’s consumer body D610 seems like a better, more rounded camera. The only reason to go with the DF over the D600 is if you need super low light performance, or you really like dials, or you really, really hate the idea of video on a DSLR.

Then there’s the price. It’s priced more expensively than the D800 but it has a lower resolution sensor, and it is without video*. Considering Sony’s recent release of the A7 and A7r, the DF seems a massively excessive, price wise in comparison. And then there’s the philosophical differences too. Sony’s cameras are incredibly forward looking, offering a raft of future technologies, newer sensors in smaller and more competitively priced bodies. I’ve said it many times but Sony’s camera devision is unencumbered by legacy technologies and have no qualms about trying something new which is what the’ve done with the new A7 and A7r. Nikon on the other hand don’t seem to know what to do with their full frame offerings. I know it might be unfair to compare the offerings, but I see nothing to recommend this camera over pretty much any other full frame camera. Certainly not at the current price. Again, maybe I’m wrong, in fact I rally hope I’m wrong and the DF will sell like hotcakes, but at its current price I will be really surprised.

* Speaking of price, in the US it's $2995 (with lens), but here in Europe it's going for €3350, which in dollars with the current exchange rate is equivalent to $4,496. Even if you take the dollar price, convert it to euro and add Vat, there's still close to a €650 in the difference. Just sayin'

Incidentally Thom Hogan has a great write up on the DF too, expressing many of the concerns that I have. On the other hand Joe McNally seems to love it.

Sony's Game Changing New Mirrorless Cameras: The A7 and A7r by Thomas Fitzgerald

A7-Black

A7-Black I’ve written quite a bit recently about Sony’s camera devision, and how the company, unencumbered by a legacy in the camera market, has really been pushing the envelope. Well, today, they have done it again. This morning Sony launched three new cameras, two of which are major game changers, and have the potential to take significant market share from Canon and Nikon. Those two cameras are Sony’s long rumoured e-mount full frame mirrorless cameras, the A7 and A7r.

When Sony launched the RX1 last year, the little full frame compact camera captured the interest of may photographers, and while those who have used it have marveled at the image quality for such a small camera, the general response was that it was great, but it would be even better with an interchangeable lens. Well, now we pretty much have that in the new A7 and A7r. The rumor mill has been speculating about these cameras for quite some time, and to call them "highly anticipated" is something of an understatement.

The new cameras take their design cues from Olympus’s OM-D mirrorless camera, but instead of a micro four thirds sensor, they have a full frame 35mm sensor, in a body that, apparently is not much bigger than the diminutive Olympus. It’s quite a feat of engineering, but it doesn’t stop there. The A7 features a new 24 megapixel sensor, so it should be comparable to the Sony A99 or the Nikon D610, but the A7R features an impressive, AA Filter-less 36mp sensor, putting its output up there with the Nikon D800, all in a relatively tiny and light camera body. That is all very impressive in and of itself, but you are probably expecting such miniaturization to come at a significant cost, right? Well, you’d be wrong because the A7 will sell for $1698 (B&H) and the A7R will sell for $2298. Compare that to the Nikon equivalents. The D610 sells for $1997 and the D800 currently retails at $2995. With these new offerings, Sony has shattered the entry price to full frame.

Sony Alpha A7 front and back image

There’s lots of other nice things about these cameras too. Sony seems to have learned from the original Nex rollout and is launching these cameras with a relatively strong lineup of high quality glass. The lenses use the same e-mount as the Nex cameras, but are now FE (full frame E) instead of just E. The launch lenses consist of the following:

Sony 28-70 f/3.5 - f/5.6 Kit Lens Zeiss 24-70 f/4 Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 Sony G 70-200mm f/4

Sony FE lenses for full frae e-mount

Some people on various comments have already moaned about the maximum aperture of some of these lenses, but they are still high quality and potentially sharp lenses. Also, by going with f/4 instead of f/2.8 Sony have kept the size down so the lens doesn’t overwhelm the size of the body. Also, they have announced plans to have 15 FE lenses by 2015, which means we can expect another 10 lenses to be introduced over the next year and a half.

The other huge advantage of this camera when it comes to lenses is that, because of the E-mount and the short distance between the mount and the sensor, you can adapt lenses from just about any manufacturer to fit the system. This has always been true of the NEX line, but now you can do this with full frame lenses and get the full potential from them. Metabones even have an adaptor for Canon lenses that will let you use autofocus (albeit slowly) with canon glass, and this works with the new full frame e-mount cameras too. (The Camera Store used it in their video test of the new Sony’s) Coupled with Sony’s excellent manual focus aids, this should be a great camera for using legacy lenses (or Leica glass) with.

All that is pretty great, but there’s even more good news! One of the biggest complaints about Sony’s Nex Cameras is the menu system. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s gone, having been replaced with the more photographer friendly system from Sony’s RX line. It still maintain’s Sony’s traditional level of customization though, and you can assign pretty much any control to do what you want. And speaking of buttons, the camera has plenty, including a nice exposure compensation dial.

Video seems to have gotten some attention on these cameras too. It supports up to 60p and includes support for 24p, although it remains to be seen if the camera is region switchable or region locked. They both also have microphone and headphone sockets, and both support Sony’s smart accessory shoe so you can add xlr inputs via Sony’s own accessory. The cameras also have video friendly features such as onscreen audio levels , full manual exposure control in video and various zebra modes. The codec is unfortunately still the rather weak AVC-HD, however the cameras support uncompressed HDMI out, giving a 4:2:2 uncompressed stream that you can record on an external recorder. This all sounds very nice, but it’s hard to tell whether or not it can be used for broadcast quality video until some professional video people get their hands on it. It dos sound like Sony put some thought into it though.

There’s lots more interesting things about these cameras such as the high end electronic viewfinder and the built in wi-fi and NFC not to mention the weather sealing and 14-bit raw output, but rather than ramble on I’ll share some links where you can read some more about it at the end of the post.

Personally I’m very excited about these new cameras and this new system (was that not obvious?). It offers all the advantages that I have come to love about the mirrorless form factor and marries them with best in class sensor technology and the high end features one expects from a DSLR. These look like Sony wen’t all out (or all in depending on the metaphor you want to use!) I can’t wait to see what the real world results will be when photographers start getting their hands on these cameras.

Some commentators have made the point that this is a big gamble for Sony, and I suppose that is true, but I also think that Sony are one of the few companies who would take this risk in the first place. There is no way Canon or Nikon would have made a camera like this. Sony aren’t afraid to upset the apple cart as it were, as they don’t have years of camera legacy to protect. If these cameras are successful (And I'm betting they will be) I suspect other manufacturers will have to take notice. When you think about it, the DSLR is just an evolution of the SLR and the technology has been pretty much the same for decades. Mirrorless was a step away from that tradition, and the early mirrorless cameras were the first step, then these new cameras from Sony seem like the first giant leap. Sony’s putting it’s money where it’s mouth is and investing heavily in this new format. I’m guessing it will be a pretty big success.

For More Information there is some great coverage out there on the web this morning...

Sony Alpha Rumours has an extensive list of coverage from around the web

Steve Huff's First Impressions

DPReview's First Impressions

The Camera Store TV hands on field test (including a great video review)

(Images courtesy of Sony PR)