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20 Years of Camera Ads

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A fun thing I saw online this weekend was this Petapixel article: Here is a Collection of Camera Commercials from the Past 20 Years.

These ads are fun to look at, and the early ones are kind of funny at times, but one thing really hit me: A bunch of the older ads were pushing cameras really hard based on kind of gimmicky things, or things that turned out to not really help image quality that much, and I’m sure none of us could be paid to use those cameras today. For instance, the Polaroid Talking Camera was a novel idea, and the ad with Sinbad was fun (somehow still holds up as funny even), but I’m sure the pics looked kind of blah, like from any other consumer Polaroid at the time. I remember there was also a Polaroid in the 90s, which I owned, that printed out extremely small photos, (and maybe had the option to buy sticker-backed photo paper for it?) While it was also fun, the pictures were pretty bad.

Sinbad is a funny guy.

The Tyco Video Cam in the article no doubt looked incredibly cool and fun to kids at the time, but I’d bet a trillion dollars that 99.9% of footage from every one of those is gone forever. I know there’s a big group of people who do stuff with old Gameboys (and any Nintendo stuff), so maybe there are some Gameboy Cameras still in operation, but honestly, ugh.

So what hit me was this: Camera makers sell cameras based on new stuff, they love to do this, but clearly not all the new things stand the test of time or hold up. In the end, image quality is still the main thing and will always be. Other things count, but that’s the bottom line – getting great photos that hold up over time and don’t look dated, etc.

What cameras, or features, are widespread and heavily marketed today, but we’ll look back on in 20 years and scoff? It’s hard to tell for sure, but I know one thing: Just saying “No no, everything is perfect now, what we’re prododucing now is the height of quality and will never look dated” is short-sighted. We might well be looking back in 10 or 20 years and shaking our heads at our puny 18MP pics with mediocre dynamic range that don’t look good at all when projected on our 150 inch LCD screens that we all own or something.

And don’t even start me on iPhone photos.

Link: A Brief History of Gear: Here is a Collection of Camera Commercials from the Past 20 Years

Gear Alert: The AFAITH Q555 and Q666 Tripod Are MeFOTO Knock-offs That Get Great Reviews (My Review Upcoming)

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Update: Since writing this article, I bought the AFAITH Q555 and tested it extensively during a few week period, in a variety of environments, and I’m going to write a review soon, but if you want the short version: This thing is great, I love it, and I’m extremely happy with the purchase.

I’ve been planning to get one of those compact MeFOTO tripods for a while, but I’ve sort of been dragging my heels. One reason is that I can’t decide whether to go with the Backpacker, which shuts down to 12 inches, or the Roadtrip, which is 15 inches long – and a bit wider – when it’s at its smallest size. Originally, I thought the smaller Backpacker was a no-brainer, but then I realized that limiting myself to a 5 foot shooting height (instead of 6 feet with the Roadtrip) might wind up frustrating me down the line.

In the end, I decided I’d probably go with the Backpacker, since I already have a large, very nice Manfrotto, and the whole point of getting a MeFOTO was just it’s small size and weight. I started keeping an eye on Amazon to see when it was cheaper, because its price does occasionally fluctuate on there for some reason. I’ve also toyed with the idea of getting one of the Dolica travel tripods that come in similar sizes to MeFOTO, but at much lower prices.

Well, yesterday I loaded my browser, searched for “MeFOTO” and I noticed that in the first 10 or 20 results, there was something called the AFAITH Q-666, selling for a good deal cheaper than those MeFOTOs, so I looked into it.

After reading the reviews and looking around, it turns out that AFAITH are essentially less expensive tripods, heavily inspired by MeFOTO, but what’s cool is that the reviews for them are actually very good.

The AFAITH Q-555 is on the left, and the slightly larger Q-666 is on the right.

Their 2 main models seem to be the Q-555, which is very similar to the MeFOTO Backpacker, and the aforementioned Q-666, which is closer to the MeFOTO Roadtrip. The heights and weights of these line up very closely, and the AFAITH versions have pretty close feature parity – for instance they have detachable legs you can use as a monopod in close quarters and that sort of thing.

The first difference that really jumps out is of course the actual look and colors. The MeFOTO tripods are known for coming in a range of really nice colors, and they do look really, really good. The AFAITH models are primarily black, with some gold parts, and look fine. I would personally say they don’t look as great as the MeFOTOs, but that’s not a big deal to me personally (and I think they look nicer than the Dolicas, although I’m judging all this from the photos, since so far I’ve only seen MeFOTOs in the flesh.)

Hard to argue with the looks of the MeFOTO tripods.

So the main thing that really intrigued me about these was the reviews. Although there are only a handful (all 5-star) for the Q-555, there are over 50 for the Q-666 right now, and there are a couple that are really good, in-depth and give me good confidence in this tripod.

Oh, and here’s a very interesting thing – If you ignore the AFAITH brand name and just search for Q-666 on Amazon, or search for Q-555, you’ll see that whoever manufactures this tripod in China sells it to many different companies, who brand it under their own names. What’s sort of cool is that you can actually browse these versions under different names, and who knows, maybe you’ll find a cheaper price (although the AFAITH are the cheapest as of right now). What’s really nice is that these branded versions also get great reviews, so you can tell it’s not just a case of people in a certain reviews section getting into some kind of groupthink.

So, long story short, I’ve ordered a Q-555 for myself. I did think about getting the Q-666, which is a lot more versatile, and shocking only $6 more expensive right now, but my priority right now is size and weight – yours may be different. As I mentioned, I have a super solid Manfrotto setup that I love (but that weights 10 lbs and is huge), and if I were buying this as my only tripod, I’d definitely grab the Q-666. I’ll post my review (and try to remember to link it from here!) when I get it and run it through its paces.

I Don’t Get the Big Deal with the Fujifilm X100T

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I just read a review of the new Fujifilm X100T on Petapixel, and wanted to get some words down, because this is something that’s been bugging me for a little bit, about the camera and also the reception it seems to have received.

I don’t understand how this camera is well liked. It looks like an okay camera in a lot of ways, but it’s pretty damn weak, and it’s crazy expensive for what it is. I mean crazy, CRAZY expensive. Some people think the LX100 and RX100 and cameras like that kind of are pushing it price-wise (although that may be irrational of me), and those cost maybe $750 or $800 – this thing is $1300 and is a worse, bigger camera, and yet it gets glowing articles.

“What glowing articles?” you might say – well check out this love letter from The Verge to the X100T, it’s kiiiiind of over the top maybe. The basic gist of it is, and I paraphrase: “Wow this camera looks amazing, wow this camera takes much better pics than a smartphone, wow the uhhh controls are better?”

I’ve gotta admit, it’s a great looking camera.

I mean, I understand how powerful it is to have a small camera that takes great pictures, it’s an awesome thing. For years and years and years we’ve had to trade off quality for size in digital cameras, period. There was a time, within the last decade – maybe within the last 5 years – where if you wanted to take a good, clear, sharp picture (and you weren’t in a dream lighting situation), you needed a bigger camera, and that was it. It is natural and fine for people who lived through those dark times to be incredibly impressed by the idea of a small, high quality camera.

I also understand the allure of a retro design. The X100 line have a nice, retro look. It’s, uhh… nice. I don’t personally think it has any problems, but I also don’t think that in the world of retro designs it’s anything special. It’s an 8.5 out of 10. And guys, I do love retro camera design. I read Tokyo Camera Style and get jealous of all the cool cameras. I still have my oldest SLR, a Nikon FG, and I always try to keep it somewhere on display, just because it looks pretty darn good (I’d say it’s a 8.5/10 too).

But really, I think people are going a little too gaga over the X100T looks. I’ll be honest, I’d definitely pay $100 extra to get a well styled camera that looks nice and retro, but really, this thing is getting by just on its looks, the rest of it is not good.

The Verge article, as fawning as it is over the picture quality, admits that the lens is hazy at 2.0 and you should stop down to 2.8. This is terrible! How can you buy a $1300 camera on the basis of picture quality and then just accept that you can’t use the fastest aperture in all situations. It’s crazy.

The video on the camera is universally judged with a resounding meh, even by people who love the camera. Again, this is something that’s maybe not vital for everyone, but if you’re paying $1300 for a fixed-lens camera, it’s ridiculous to justify your purchase by saying “The picture quality is so great!” but then with the other side of your face go “But video quality doesn’t matter”. Do you value visual quality or not? Video is actually a much, much larger differentiator between cameras right now than still quality, so discounting it is just especially nuts.

Speaking of the fixed lens: Yes, this camera has a fixed lens and you will never be able to change it. Again, not the worst idea on its own, but this camera is expensive as hell, and getting stuck with one lens forever – and not even a lens with any zoom to it – is really boxing yourself in. Especially when it’s an f2.0 that even huge fans of this camera are saying doesn’t always look great at f2.0.

Also the size is supposed to be one of the best things about this camera, but it’s not really that small. It fits in a jacket pocket, but lots of cameras do – there is nothing about its size that sets it anywhere but the middle of the pack among the many new premium compacts. The size is fine but not great.

Anyway, I could go on and on about this camera, but again: I just don’t get it. If it was maybe $800 I would lighten up on it big-time (although I still don’t think it’s going to beat the LX100 or RX100 in anything but aesthetics), but holy moly, it’s $1300.

Maybe the most damning thing about this is how many times in even the most glowing reviews, people are like “Sure [some aspect of the camera] isn’t great, but ignore that, it’s not a big deal because [some justification]”. I mean literally, this happens over and over. I don’t think I’m allowed to quote from Amazon reviews, but if you look at their page for the X100T, there’s a whole lot of rationalizing in them, in my opinion.

Okay, okay, anyhow, enough of me complaining – I meant this to actually be quite a short thing, but 1000 words later, it becomes apparent that I may be physically unable to write short things.

The Samsung NX500 Will Be My Next Camera (when it’s released)

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Update – Release Date: So a lot of people are wondering what the release date for the NX500 is, and I snooped around as best I could, and phoned a few stores, and I definitely wouldn’t say this is 100%, but someone from a local store (probably shouldn’t name it in case they get in trouble?) told me it was coming “the last week in March”. I said “oh really, that’s for sure?” and they said “uh yup”. So there you have it, a definitive “uhh yup”.

Samsung had a pretty exciting announcement about 2 weeks ago: They’re releasing the NX500, which will be a pared down, smaller version of their NX1 Mirrorless (which people absolutely are absolutely loving.)

The exciting thing about the NX500 is that it shares a lot of things with the NX1 – same sensor, same resolution (28MP stills, 4K video), same lens system, almost everything in fact – but it shrinks it into a smaller package and removes only some things that are nice to have but not essential – the EVF, weather-sealing, the patterned AF illuminator.

So it retains all the stuff that will really affect image quality, and it comes with a lens, and it comes in at a $799 street price instead of the $1499 of the NX1 (which, again, is without a lens).

Nice color choices!

To me, this is almost a miracle camera, because I’ve really been debating whether to get the NX1 or not. The thing about the NX1 is that it’s got amazing features for the price, and people who use it absolutely love and rave about it, but there are 2 small rubs against it:

  • First, it records to the h.265 codec which is not supported by all software yet. However, it will be, and you can just transcode files in the meantime, so this is not a huge deal. Transcoding adds a bit of time to your workflow, but that’s it. (Also worth noting I’ve been reading up on the h.265 codec lately and it’s actually amazing and will be great once all the software supports it.)

  • Second, I personally am a bit hesitant to get a $1500 camera from a manufacturer who is very new to the space. It’s a pretty big leap of faith to buy a whole bunch of lenses that will only fit the Samsung NX1 mount, and then basically just hope that Samsung doesn’t lose interest in photography and peter out. One nice thing is that so far, all signs point to them being very serious about these enthusiast cameras and they’ve been doing some very cool things – everybody raves about how often they’re updating the firmware and adding features for instance.

The fact they’re releasing the NX500, which has all the important stuff from the NX1 at a much lower price (and again, with a lens) is a fantastic move that might easily get people like me off the fence and dipping their toes into the Samsung ecosystem. And that’s a great thing for everyone, because the better they do, the longer they’ll stay in the game.

So yeah, for me, I have basically decided to get this camera when it comes out. I’m not sure if I’ll pre-order in the next few ways, or just wait till the release date (sometime in March, can’t figure out when exactly.) My only real choice is between the colors – it comes in black, brown and white. I’m leaning towards the black. The other colors look fine, and maybe the brown even fits the slightly retro aesthetic better, but I’m thinking the black is more my thing.

Links:

Samsung NX500 on Amazon

On Samsung’s site

Techradar review (summary: great camera with an unnecessary selfie mode)

Gizmodo overview – Very positive with no real quibbles

Samsung NX1 on Amazon

Did the Panasonic LX100 Dethrone the RX100 as King of the Premium Compacts?

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It’s pretty clear that for the past few years, SONY’s RX100 line has been the almost-indisputed champion when it comes to premium compact cameras. The original RX100 was ground-breaking in its quality and size, and is still sold today in fact, and then the second and third version managed to make very big improvements on their own.

At this point, the RX100 is a mature line of great, albeit pricey, point-and-shoot sized cameras that people love. And boy do people love them – if you search them out online, phrases like “best pocket camera ever made” are thrown around often. To be frank, the RX100 line just hasn’t had a lot of competition that can match its quality. Until the new Panasonic LX100 was recently released.

If you’re not familiar with the LX100, get ready, because it’s a doozy. This post will go into what it is, what it’s pros and cons are, how it differs from the RX100, and everything else you need to know. Before we get into that, here are a few things you need to know about it:

The basic things you need to know about the LX100:

  • It has a Micro Four Thirds sensor (bigger/better than most premium pocket cameras)

  • It features 4K video recording. This is a huge, almost unbelievable feature that’s not only a first for a pocket camera, but the big models of DSLR don’t even have plans for this yet.

  • It only packs 12.8MP (quite a few less than many other cameras, but there’s a notable upside to this we’ll discuss)

  • It has a Leica 1.7-2.8 (fast!) lens that goes from 24mm-75mm (almost the exact same as the RX100 M3)

If you wanted to summarize this camera, you could say that in many ways it’s an even more high-end version of the RX100 (a camera people already consider very high-end). However, does this comparison hold up under scrutiny? Let’s go through the camera and see. This whole review won’t really be a LX100 vs RX100 article, but I’ll bring up the differences/similarities when applicable.

  1. Image Quality

The lens is vital to image quality, of course, and the LX100 has quite a nice Leica 1.7-2.8. This lens is fast which means it’ll take much nicer pictures in low light than cheaper compact cameras. It’s a little bit faster than the RX100 M3 when you have it at the widest angle (ie. fully zoomed out), but the difference is not much, so they’ll behave about the same here.

Now, a note on my experience with this camera: While I’ve used it myself, I do not consider myself to be an expert on it. The camera was only released 3 months ago, and I’m not going to pretend I have done insane amounts of image quality tests on it. However, that’s fine, because in my opinion, you should never really just trust one source of information on Image Quality – quite often even smart, experienced people will have differing opinions on a certain piece of gear in this regard.

The best way to really judge the quality is to try out the camera of course, but also check out what other people are saying. (You can also review the images people have taken but honestly, everyone just posts their best shots, any almost any camera can take a few great shots here and there.)

SO, having said that, my personal experience is that all the shots I’ve taken with the camera are about on par with my RX100 M3, which is to say they look great.

A good image from the LX100 or RX100 is basically going to look just as good as one from a nice DSLR, so the real question is, how often are you going to take a good picture with the LX100? You can take some really nice photos now and then with a $100 point-and-shoot, but a majority of your pics will not be great, especially in non-optimal conditions (such as low light, weird lighting, etc.)

My experience with the LX100 is that most pictures I took were very good, even in low light or slightly wonky lighting conditions. The more automated modes are quite intelligent and choose decent settings, and the more manual modes (which are somewhat emphasized for the type of people buying this) are great.

Because of the f1.7-2.8 lens on this, you’re going to be able to get some nice, shallow DoF (depth of field) effects when you want them, although it’s not going to be quite as easy as with a full-sized DSLR and a nifty-fifty or other fast DSLR lens.

The DX100 has a Micro Four Thirds sensor, which is larger than the sensor in the RX100, and that should actually give you better low light performance and make it easier to get shallow depth of field effects, but sadly I never had both cameras with me at the same time to shoot comparison shots.

My tip for either of these cameras: If you’re taking a portrait, or some other shot where you really want the shallow depth of field, you’re going to have to work a bit harder than with a DSLR, so just think a few seconds ahead of time about how you can put a bit more distance between your subject and the background, or whatever you want more blurred.

Personally, I’m not a shallow depth of field junkie – I love the effect, but I really try to get a less pronounced version than some people seem to, and (luckily for me), that suits these cameras well. It seems like a lot of people get a DSLR, get a fast 50mm lens, and then start going hog wild with the shallow DoF, to the point where you can’t make anything but the subject out in any photo. That’s absolutely fine, and natural, but if you want your backgrounds to be somewhat blurred, but still recognizable, you’re going to be absolutely fine with most shots you take with this camera.

So, as I was saying about seeing what other people say: As of this writing, the camera has only been out for about 3 months, but a lot of reports have come in, and they’ve been largely positive. There has been a very small amount of talk that the pictures can be soft towards the edges, and I don’t honestly know what to think of it – I haven’t noticed it, and it’s not a universal complaint, but I did see enough people mention it that it probably is a concern in some cases. Perhaps there was a bad batch of lenses, or this only affected the earliest cameras? It’s hard to tell, but something to watch for I guess!

One last thing to note, and I think it’s actually a pretty big thing, is the fact that this camera is only 12MP. Now, there are definite technical reasons for it – it’s not like someone was asleep at the wheel or anything – but it is sort of strange to think of. I mean, on one hand, this camera has the absolute highest resolution video of any small camera ever, and yet for still photos it has one of the worst resolutions out there.

So without going into wild technical explanations, essentially the deal is that the camera is not actually using the full area of the Micro 4/3 sensor all the time, it’s just using different portions of it depending on what shape of picture you’re taking. Regardless, you’re not going to have as much latitude to do things to the photos after you take them – you won’t have as much room to crop for instance. The RX100 produces 20MP photos for instance, which is significantly higher than 12MP.

If you don’t plan to ever crop any photos, then having smaller files is not as huge a deal, although you’re still just dealing with less info when you do any sort of editing, such as color correction, etc.

There’s a real tendency in reviews to downplay resolution and just sort of go “ehhh, who cares, megapixels aren’t important, picture quality is important!”, as if the two are mutually exclusive. Facts are, with all other factors being equal, having higher resolution will give you a higher quality picture. People who act like it’s unrelated are just being disingenuous, and if they really think it makes no difference, they’d be snatching up all the 10 year old DSLRs that are overall great but shoot in 6MP. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Now, having said all that, there can be low-light advantages to have less pixels over a larger area, but I couldn’t actually find any good data on whether this is a factor with the LX100 or not. All things being equal, I understand they have to make trade-offs and that 12MP is not horrible or anything, but it still feels somewhat anemic. However, for the majority of users, it won’t end up being a problem.

So the verdict on image quality? It’s great! I’ve mentioned a few little notes in this section, but overall, the image quality is just fantastic, and head and shoulders above what you used to be able to get in a camera this size before the whole Premium Compact revolution.

  1. Video Quality

I don’t even know how much I need to write here. It is a truly amazing thing that this camera shoots 4k. And not only that, but the video is very good quality, and look great.

Some people might not think they need 4K video right now, but here’s the bottom line for them: Pretty much anything you film in 4k on the LX100 and then downsample to 1080p is going to look better than anything you film in native 1080p on another camera. The details are going to be way sharper, and hopefully you’ll keep the original 4K files for some day in the future when you want/need them.

So actually, I’ve been meaning to write a bit of an editorial/rant on this, but I want to cover the whole issue of 4K right now. As I’m writing this, it’s February, 2015, and 4K is still somewhat controversial somehow. Let me break it down for you:

The big camera companies – I’m talking Canon and Nikon – have not taken any steps towards making 4K video affordable, or even accessible to shoot for the average person.

If you want to film any 4K using products from these guys, it will cost you insane amounts of money. If you want to move to a Mirrorless MFT camera, you have a few choices. One of them is the Sony a7S, which seems to be a great camera, but has 2 massive drawbacks: First, it costs $2500 right now (without lens). Second: It doesn’t actually record 4K internally to your memory card, you have to buy a second device and output the signal to it, and this will basically double the price, and make you have to lug around a second piece of gear.

So in my mind, this whole thing about “Oh the Sony records 4K, just not internally” is baloney. The Sony camera does not record 4K. It can output 4k to a $2000 external machine to record, but no, it is not a 4K camera, sorry, it’s not.

The far, far, far better choice is the Panasonic GH4, which is a lot like the Sony a7S, but it actually does record the 4K “internally”. It also costs less, about $1500 as of this writing, if you get it without a lens, and maybe $2000 in a kit with a lens.

Now listen, if you are reading this review just because the LX100 has 4K, and you don’t actually care about the small size of the camera, and you don’t mind spending $2000, I’m going to say right here: Get the GH4. It’s an incredible camera, you’ll be able to swap lenses out, it’s great.

Ugh, digression, okay, back to the state of 4K:

So there are very few choices right now to get 4K video, and they are mostly insanely expensive, and guess what photography people do when something is out of their reach and seems like it’s going to complicate their lives? They say it’s bad!

So some people say “You don’t need to film in 4K, nobody even has a 4K TV!” and while they may be right about the TVs for now, they’re missing the point: You film things to watch them later. And yes, we all may be happy enough with 1080p TVs right now, but guess what, the TV manufacturers are are ramping up 4K production like mad, prices are going down, and in a few years we’ll all have 4K TVs.

Listen, I filmed a lot of home movies on a nice Standard Definition camera about 10 years ago, they looked great, but I’m going to tell you right now, they don’t look as hot on a 1080p TV. They look okay. That is how your 1080p videos will look on a 4K TV in a few years – they will look acceptable, but they won’t be amazing. But here is the real thing: A decade down the line, when the TV companies need to continue to sell TVs, they *will be selling us all 8K or 10K TVs, and your 1080p movies will not look as hot then.

So do you need 4K video today, right this second? Well… yes. If you are filming anything you plan to watch in the future, you really should future-proof it as much as possible now. If you can’t afford to, fine, but this whole ignorant attitude of “Nobody will ever need 4K because I own a 1080p TV” is just silly.

So after alllll that ranting, let’s get back to the LX100 and the 4K video and what the quality is like: I’ll tell you after using it firsthand, it’s great, but here’s the thing: Because it’s 4K and there’s a nice lens on the camera, of course the video is great, they would actually have to work really hard at making it bad!

Is the video going to compare favorably to something shot in a $5000 Sony/Atimos setup? (oh wait add $500-$1000 to that for a lens!) I don’t even know – I guess it won’t be as good, but I’d have to see them both on a nice big 4K TV before making assumptions. Of course a nice camera with an interchangeable lens will be much more flexible, but I am really just trying to go out of my way to really express how huge this 4K feature is in this camera.

It is massive, and I will actually sort of kill any suspense of this review and say this: If you plan to film a decent amount of video at all with this camera, and you’re choosing between it and any other camera in its class and price range, it’s not even close, the video alone is so much better you should simply buy this.

If you’re not that interested in video and buying this mostly for stills, you can I guess ignore this whole section, but really, you’re still basically getting the amazing 4K video for free if you compare this camera to the RX100 M3 (which is basically the same price)

  1. Size / Weight

So this is where the first gotcha comes up with this camera!

When I bought my first RX100, one word kept jumping out at me from every single thing I read about it: POCKETABLE. To me, and many others, the whole idea of a premium compact camera is that it’s pocketable, and in fact a lot of people call these things “premium pocket cameras.”

The LX100 is bigger than the RX100 iii (aka RX100 M3) in every dimension. Not by a crazy, crazy amount, but yes, it’s a bit wider, a bit longer, and a bit deeper.

I can fit the RX100 into the front pocket of my jeans, and I’m quite happy with that, but it’s close, and I can’t manage it with the LX100. Having said that, not everyone is wearing jeans, and a lot of people may wear looser pants than me (I tend to buy pants in between skinny-fit and relaxed, just medium straight leg.)

So really, as far as size, you have to decide what size is the maximum you can handle. If you’re sticking your camera in a purse, or a jacket pocket, then any of the premium compacts may be fine, but no matter what you intend, you should check out that it’ll fit where you want it. The whole idea of these cameras is to be small enough that you can take it everywhere, and replace a DSLR in many situations, so if the LX100 winds up being too big for you and you start leaving it at home, it’s not much better than larger cameras.

So while that’s up to you, I do want to mention another thing, the weight: The LX100 is 13.9 ounces, which is significantly heavier (about 35%) than the RX100 M3 at 10.2 ounces. And the RX100 itself is not the lightest camera to begin with – it’s fine and everything, but it’s much heavier than traditional cameras of its size (thanks to it’s great workmanship and quality, as well as all the electronics and whatnot they have to pack in.)

For those of you outside the USA who might not be as familiar with ounces, this means the LX100 weighs 0.86 pounds or 0.39 kilograms. And the RX100 M3 weights 0.64 lbs, or 0.29kg

So, it’s not like it’s a huge anchor on you, but this is something to take into account. Size and weight is about as personal a preference as there can be with a camera, so make your own decisions.

  1. Value

So this is what a lot of it comes down to: Is this camera worth the money? I’m going to break it down for a few different situations, and you can pick which suits you more:

  • If money is no object, then just on a pure dollars/performance ratio, this camera is worth it, and it’s not even close.

  • If you’re choosing between this and the RX100 M3, again, the prices are almost the same (in fact this Panasonic is $50 cheaper as of this writing), and considering the fact they’re pretty darn similar in every respect except the 4K video, then again, yes, the LX100 is a great value, and I think the clear choice.

  • If you’re choosing between this and the RX100 M2 (which is still being manufactured), things are maybe a bit closer, since you could probably save $150 by getting the Sony. The main thing you’ll be losing out on the 4K video, which I personally think is well worth the $150, but if you’re mostly going for still shots, I think you could rate the two cameras as comparable values. You certainly would not be crazy for going with the RX100 ii.

  • If you’re choosing between this and the RX100 M1 (which is also still a current part of the RX100 line!), it’s kind of the same thing as with the M2: You’re going to save $250, give up the 4K video, and give up some other niceties that that RX100 M2 has, but let’s be honest, you’re now in the ballpark where you’ll be paying 33% less than the cost of the LX100, so this is not a crazy move.

SUMMARY:

All in all, I’d have to say the LX100 is an incredible camera, with a high price tag. If you’re relatively serious about photography and really value having the top of the top, I’d get it without hesitation. The only black mark you could really give it is that it costs a lot more than some of the entry level premium compacts.

If the $750 price tag is too much for you, you wouldn’t be crazy to get one of the older SONY RX100s by any means. They’ll still give you fantastic image quality in a very compact size (a little more compact than the Panasonic LX100 in fact.) I would, however, steer clear of the RX100 M3, unless there’s some feature on it you desperately want – to me, if the LX100 didn’t have the 4K video, the two would be very evenly paired, but with the 4K, it’s not even close and the LX100 is the clear winner.

The New Trend of Premium Point and Shoots

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One of the most exciting trends in photography is the recent resurgence in point-and-shoots. Specifically, very high quality compact cameras that take exceptional photos.

It’s actually quite weird. Until recently, the trend was that point-and-shoots were dying out, and people were switching in droves to iPhones/other smartphones as their portable cameras. But lately, a ton of camera manufacturers have started to come out with very high-end cameras with the small size and portability of point and shoots.

Really, these cameras should not be classified as point and shoots – which is why this website usually calls them compact cameras. They share the same size as traditional PnS’s, but that’s about all they have in common. Functionally, their role is to attempt to replace DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. They cost a lot more than point and shoots, they take great pictures, and apart from the size, they don’t really do what the more common PnS cameras do.

Most point-and-shoots are sold to people who want a cheap cam they can take a half decent picture on. The small size may be useful, but it’s not the focus of the cameras; it’s more of a convenience that most people don’t think too hard about.

These new premium compacts are essentially DSLR or Micro Four Thirds replacements and everything is aimed towards replicating the bigger-camera experience, with an emphasis on picture quality.

There are a variety of the new Premium Point and Shoots, and they do come in somewhat varied sizes now, but in my mind, the only ones that really matter are the ones that can actually be fit in a pocket comfortably and carried around casually by most users. I guess most of them can probably fit inside a purse with no problem, but that doesn’t really help a lot of people, and really, a lot of mirrorless cameras can fit in a purse too.

When you read reviews and user comments on these cameras, the one word that pops up all the time is pocketable. The whole idea of these cameras is that you can grab them and take them anywhere and not worry about missing any shots. Some of the bigger premium Point and Shoots really strain at this distinction, and it’s hard to really understand what they bring to the table to distinguish them from a small DSLR or Mirrorless (other than perhaps some cool retro styling in certain cases).

So there are some advantages and disadvantages to this kind of small, premium point and shoot:

  • The first and most obvious advantage is the size. You can take them anywhere.

  • The second advantage, that goes hand in hand with the first, is that the picture quality is much higher than other cameras of the same size. There’s obviously no point in having a camera you can take everywhere if it’s only taking pictures as good as your smartphone. (The sensor sizes in the premium PnS’s are generally a lot bigger than your iPhones or cheaper pocket cameras, and you’re going to get much nicer photos.)

So apart from size and picture quality, which are huge advantages and the main reason you’d buy these cameras, there are some disadvantages.

  • The first is that the sensors are much bigger than traditional point-and-shoots or iPhones, but they’re still not as big as Micro Four Thirds or especially DSLRs. This is not the biggest deal, because the picture quality is still outstanding, but you might not quite get easy, shallow depth of field effects under as many conditions (but you can still get them.)

  • Another big disadvantage is that you can’t change lenses on these. If you actually take one of the smaller Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras and you compare it to one of the bigger Premium Point and Shoots, the defining difference would probably be that on the MFT, you can actually change the lens. This is an extremely valuable option to have. It allows you to do tons of things that you can’t do with just one fixed lens.

A note: I have noticed a tendency in reviews of these premium compacts – Quit often the reviewer will kind of wave his hands over the fact you’re stuck with one lens and basically say “oh boo hoo, most people just buy a DSLR and never use anything but the kit lens anyway” (and quite often there’s a real air of superiority attached to this statement). I don’t think that’s really true these days! When I’m out and about, I see a ton of people using non-kit lenses for all sorts of stuff.

More importantly, I think making statements like that in reviews is a way for reviewers to just try to sell you on whatever camera they’re reviewing. It’s a subtle way of downplaying the bigger disadvantages of cameras they’re trying to steer you towards, so be somewhat wary of that if you see it.

Sure, some people probably never use anything but the kit lens on their DSLRs, but the kit lenses are pretty nice these days, and usually have a pretty usable zoom range, and a lot of people don’t need anything else.

You know, I really love these premium compacts, but I’m not going to pretend just having one lens for every shot is ideal. It’s a compromise you have to make, but it’s something to be aware of when choosing between one of these cameras and a Mirrorless or DSLR. It would be really nice to have interchangeable lenses for these types of cameras, but it’s basically impossible because of the size constraints. There’s no real practical way around it, and it’s not something that I expect to ever show up on Premium Point and Shoots.

In a year or two, these cameras will surely start showing up with features they don’t all have now, like 4K video for instance, but it’s prettttttty unlikely they’ll ever end up having interchangeable lenses, so it’s just something you have to accept at the start.

Anyhow, enough of that digression! Having said all that, the new premium PnSes do tend to have great lenses. In this article I’ll mostly talk about the camera I have the most experience with, the SONY RX100 line, which have really great Carl Zeiss lenses.

But first, back to the disadvantages. Another big one is that these things can seem kind of expensive. You can see this two ways really, and I tend to vacillate between the two:

  • On one hand, these cost maybe 3 or 4 times what a cheapo point-and-shoot would cost, and it seems sort of outrageous.

  • On the other hand, if you ignore cheap P-n-S cameras completely, you can realistically look at these models as just smaller, more portable versions of high quality DSLRs or Micro Four Thirds. They do share a lot more in common with these big, higher quality cameras than they do with the small, cheapo ones. So, if you think of it this way, then the price is pretty much justified, because you’re getting a high quality camera with a nice (albeit permanent) lens, and the bonus of portability.

If you count the extreme portability as a fairly even trade-off with the slightly decreased versatility, then maybe it only makes sense that the camera should be priced as high as a DSLR or Micro Four Thirds.

I guess really, I mostly agree with this second way of looking at it, but it’s still pretty tough to get over the initial sticker shock, since these things look so much like cheap traditional point-and-shoots and we’re so used to those being very inexpensive.

As a side note, I talked to a salesman at one of the big camera chains here recently about them, and I was lamenting how much they cost – how it’s just enough that it feels painful. He said something I think is exactly right: These nice compacts are unique and kind of amazing to a lot of people, and, in his words, “the camera companies know exactly what they have”, and they’re of course pricing them accordingly. I think that’s right – these cameras really fill a need for a lot of people, and the camera companies are betting that the cameras provide enough value to merit higher pricing. They seem to have been proven right so far!

Regardless, it doesn’t look like they’re going down in price anytime soon. In fact SONY, who were up until recently the only game in town for these, have actually increased the price of the RX100 line as they bring out new versions.

When the second version (the RX100 M2 aka RX100 II) came out, it cost $100 more than the original, and when the RX100 M3 (aka RX100 III) came out, it cost $150 more than the Mark 2. As of this writing (February 2015), the Mark 3 actually costs $200 more than the Mark 2, because the first 2 versions dropped about $50 in price recently.

And it’s worth noting that as of right now, all three versions are still being produced and on sale, with the first (as of this writing) being $500, the second $600 and the third a whopping $800.

Now, this is obviously very opposite to how technology usually works: When a new version of a product comes out, the price often stays the same, maybe goes down, but it’s extremely rare that it goes up, but to be fair to SONY, they really have improved these things tremendously and there are very good, justifiable reasons why the price has jumped. The Mark 3 is quite a different camera than the original, and SONY are definitely not ripping anybody off or being greedy by increasing the price. They’re just pushing the limits of what the camera is and moving the price accordingly.

So those are the advantages and disadvantages: In a nutshell, you’re getting a smaller, much more portable camera, that could conceivably replace a Mirrorless or DSLR camera, but you’re giving up the versatility of multiple lens choices, and the image quality is not going to be quite up there with a really nice camera with a really large sensor.

Check the other articles on this site for more info on specific models, and which I think are the best to buy in different situations, etc.

Cheap Flashes for your DSLR or Micro Four Thirds Camera

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One of the first purchases a lot of people make after buying a DSLR or Micro Four Thirds camera is a flash. It’s a smart thing to buy, because you’re inevitably going to be taking a lot of pictures indoors, and a proper flash is a huge improvement on the flashes that come built-in, and will make pictures look great.

But here’s the thing: when I say a proper flash, I don’t mean an expensive flash. I just mean a flash that lets you bounce the light off the ceiling. 99% of cameras with built-in flashes just point the flash directly at your subject, which usually makes those pictures look harsh and bad.

So do you need an expensive flash? Definitely not. If you buy one of the Canon or Nikon branded ones, you’re going to pay a lot, but there are some very nice cheap alternatives which are basically just as good. The camera companies are used to creating extremely high-tech cameras that have to do a lot of things very precisely, and those companies put high prices on those things.

A flash, however, is a very, very low-tech device: All it really needs to do is create a huge flash of light for a moment. It contains no glass that has to be exactly perfectly made, it doesn’t have to open a series of little metal blades for 1/2000 of a second, none of the fancy stuff. It just has to go POP for a moment and flash a bunch of light into a dark area. It doesn’t really make sense for it to cost 50% or more of what a DSLR costs, that’s just crazy.

I’ve owned a Canon 430EX for a few years, and even though I got it on sale at a decent price, I still feel completely ripped off, because of this Yongnuo flash, which is essentially a clone of Canon’s 580EX or 600EX flash (both better than the 430EX), except at maybe 20% of the cost. There are a couple of things it leaves out, like weather-sealing and E-TTL, but nothing that justifies paying 5 times more. (There’s also a more expensive version that does support E-TTL, which I’ll mention later.)

I’ve used the Yongnuo a decent amount and it’s great, it works just as well as a Canon. The reviews on the web are amazing too, everyone loves this thing, and more than a few people have pointed out that you can buy 4 or 5 of these, as well as some accessories, for the cost of the corresponding Canon or Nikon product.

If you’ve looked around Amazon or Ebay for cheaper photo stuff very often, you may have seen a lot of items by a company called Neewer, who produce a lot of third-party stuff. Cheap batteries, lens caps, whatever, Neewer makes a ton of things, and they also have a few cheap flashes available. This one, the Neewer TT560, seems to be their most popular, and I would imagine it’s because it’s only about $35 (as of this writing, early 2015), and you can almost not go wrong for that.

I have to admit, I don’t have any experience with the Neewer flashes, but the reviews are absolutely fantastic. For $35, it’s hard to imagine being too disappointed with this thing. One thing I read actually said that originally, this flash was prices at the same level as the Yongnuo mentioned above, but that in 2011, they dropped the price on this one, which is sort of interesting.

As I mentioned, I’ve used someone else’s Yongnuo a lot and thought it was great, but I’m currently in the market for a cheap flash of my own, to do some 2-flash setups, and I’m leaning towards the Yongnuo. I couldn’t really find any good head-to-head comparisons of the two, but it does seem clear that the Yongnuo is a slightly better or more versatile flash. Does that justify it costing twice what the Neweer does? Probably not, but since both cost peanuts compared to the big-name flashes, I’m happy enough grabbing the Yongnuo that I know works fantastically for me (and thousands of others, as the reviews show). I may be a chump, but I don’t always feel the need to cheap out every single dime I can.

So things to note about either of these flashes is that they don’t support TTL metering, which is the automatic system that judges how much flash you need in a given picture. To me, this isn’t a huge problem, I have found the Yongnuo works fine just set as it is for most pics, or with minor adjustments in some cases.

Your mileage may vary, but if you really want TTL metering, you can grab the Yongnuo YN568, which does fully support all the nice TTL stuff, but costs an extra $50 or so (as of this writing).

That’s about it I guess, and I’d like to add some info on my experience with flashes: I am not the world’s biggest expert on them! I got my first external flash in college, many years ago, and used it on my 35mm SLR. It was a cheap thing, I probably paid $40 or so for it in the 90s, and it was a dumb beast, it just took a bunch of AA batteries (as these do), sat on the SLR’s hot shoe, and shot off a crazy bright blast when I took a picture. As primitive as it was, it increased the quality of my indoor photos about a trillion percent.

I really prefer not using flash if at all possible – I am a much bigger fan of fast lenses and available light – but sometimes you have to. So over the years, I’ve used a number of external flashes (and the built-in ones in a pinch), but I’ve never actually become a big expert on them, probably because the 430EX I currently have just sits there and makes every picture look nice and well-lit, so I haven’t had to. Recently though, I’ve been wanting to do some more creative things with multiple flashes, and I started looking into this stuff, trying out the Yongnuo, etc.