Photo Show Report: 21012, the Year of Nikon

Just back from the Focus on Imaging Show at the NEC. I was there to record a series of podcast interviews for the Outdoors Station but I know there are a number of you waiting for quicker feedback. This I took with me professional photographers, and hiker, Steve Walton and I hope this will give another dimension to our usual reports.

Judging from the show itself this is Nikon’s year. Many Nikon users (Bob included) have been frustrated one the last few years at how slow they have ben to update the D700 which is one of the most popular formats for serious amateurs and professionals alike. Now the D800 has arrived and not only is the Nikon user base relieved that it has finally appeared but many others ar somewhat stunned by its specification. Similarly, the top pro camera — the D4 — looks to be an exciting upgrade.

 

Steve rushed straight the D4 and shot of a number of continuous photographs. He was impressed by the speed of shooting and also by high ISO performance. As you’d expect this camera handles beautifully. Steve has one of these on order and seemed to be caught between being very impressed and frustrated at his wait for delivery! But it was the D800 that was attracting the most attention.

The D800 is the ‘full frame’ upgrade of the D700 and weighs in with a whopping 30 plus megapixels. Just when you thought that the megapixel war was over Nikon has raised the bar in a way few — even diehard Nikon fans — thought was possible. The camera is very reminiscent of the D700 in terms of its shape, dimensions and handling — and that is no bad thing. Later in the afternoon I was able to have a look at some demo images that had been produced with the D800. These images were human portraits and the big resolution of the sensor certainly did seem to add another dimension to the rendering of human skin. 30 megapixels takes us into the medium format are and the images that I looked at certainly had that medium format feel about them. From what I have seen this is a camera that could well be looked back on as a game changer.

There are two versions of the D800. The D800E has the anti aliasing filter removed. This is the filter that prevent moire or the blurring of colours that you see on your TV screen when someone wears a fine tweed jacket! The conventional D800 has this filter and costs a little less. Professional medium format cameras do not usually have anti alias filters and this is recommended to squeeze every last inch of quality out of sensor. The D800E is slightly more expensive but even with this camera moire can be removed at the processing stage of by careful reframing and refocussing during the shoot itself. But both of these models are expensive, £2,500 for the base model and £2,700 or thereabouts for the 800E. Maybe we have seen a big hike in performance but we have also seen a big hike in price. Anyone buying on these cameras will also have to be confident of the quality of the glass in their lenses. At this resolution all kinds of defects could well show up.

For me it was the diminutive Nikon V1 that stood out. The V range is Nikon’s (perhaps belated) response to the new world of small non-SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses, for example the Sony NX range and the Micro 4/3 cameras from Olympus and Panasonic. We took a close look at the V1. The first thing you notice is the quality of the construction. It is a very solid piece of kit that is made from the same magnesium alloys that are used in higher end cameras. If you’ve owned or used a Sigma DP compact you’ll appreciate the kind of construction that I was talking about. The V1 has a smaller sensor than the 4/3 cameras or the Sony NX but it still manages to pack in 10 megapixels.

What impressed me most about this camera was the electronic viewfinder. Personally, I can’t live without a viewfinder. A good viewfinder will present you with 100% of the image and in doing so will protect the eyepiece/viewfinder from sunlight and glare. Holding a camera close to your eye also makes for a far steadier shot that, say. a camera held out in front of you. The removal of the SLR mirror makes for a lighter and more compact camera — you loose the pentaprism — and for a steadier shot as there is no mirror action to worry about. But I’ve always been a bit suspicious of electronic viewfinders. This viewfinder is superb, the image in front of you being very bright — even when indoors — and very sharp. It is certainly very useable.

Whether or not the V range is the breakthrough that Nikon is looking for I doubt. The competition is well established and the Sony NX range is not much bigger and boasts a far bigger censor which usually means more quality. At the very least the V1 points the way forward for the future but if the new range of interchangeable lenses that Nikon have created for this range are good then the breakthrough may well come sooner rather than later.

These days video is an important consideration in a stills camera and each of these three cameras has an impressive spec for HD video.

The other brand which was attracting a lot of attention was Fuji. Fuji’s new range of ‘Rangefinder’-like cameras mirror the classic lines and design of Leica and are no doubt designed to cash in on the growing popularity of ‘street photography’. You have a few options in this range. One has a fixed length lens which is equivalent to 35 mm on 35 mil film format. 35 mil was the favourite focal length of Henri Cartier Bresson. The X Pro on the other has a new interchangeable lens format which apparently will eventually offer an adaptor to allow the camera body to be used with Leica lenses, generally reckoned to be the very best.

The Fuji’s also use an electronic viewfinder although these are hybrids — you can switch to an optical viewfinder for the brightest image or chose the electronic viewfinder for accurate picture size and on screen, electronic information.

These new Fuji’s look grab fun. They feel solid in the hand and are indeed slightly bigger than the 4/3 compacts new available. They also look solid although Steve felt the Nikon V1 system was more solid.

As ever at these kind of shows there were disappointments.

I was particularly keen to see the new Olympus OM D cameras. Back in the days of film I was a keen user of Olympus. Their dimensions were always quite modest and as so they were the perfect SLR cameras for hikers. But just when Olympus should have been at their height with the OM4 the produced a camera that was plagued with disastrous battery life. It took Olympus a long time to really make a come back in the DSLR market with their professional 4/3 system.

The OM D has a retro design that will be instantly familiar to anyone who used one of the OM range. This is a camera with an electronic viewfinder and lighter and more compact because of the absence of the mirror. But the styling looks as if there is  pentaprism in there; apparently, the height of the viewfinder in the classic design is about right. After being so impressed with the Nikon electronic viewfinder I was keen to take a close look at this new Olympus offering. But the Olympus stand was a joke. There seemed to be only one OM D on show. Most of the stand was taken up with a cat walk on which scantily dressed models paraded. All kinds of snappers — mostly Nikon and Canon owners — tussled with each other to snap the models. Steve and I were left quite confused as to what the point of all this was. So, we can’t report back on Olympus!

I haven’t yet mentioned Nikon’s nemesis Canon. For years Canon have had an important part of the market to themselves with the 5Dii turning in almost double the pixels than the Nikon D700. The new D5iii is pitched directly against the D800 and yet weighs in with a pixel count that is only fractionally larger than the D5ii. Canon would argue that this new camera has a new sensor, far better video performance and so on. But it seems to me that this new release in the main deals with the deficiencies of it predecessor. The auto focus on the D5ii was always poor and basically the system used in the original D5. The new camera has an up to 60 point focus system which is apparently a massive step forward.

But I can’t help feeling a little lukewarm about the new Canon. For me the 5Dii’s autofocus was fine for my kind of photography and the resolution of the sensor more than good enough for stunning landscapes and blow-ups. I made well be proven wrong over the next few months, and to be fair those Canon aficionados who were playing with the new machine seemed pretty excited with it. But I can’t help thinking this will be an interim camera. It was difficult to find anyone from Canon to talk to. I got the district impression that they were not used to playing second fiddle. It was all very low key and I’m certain Canon have been shocked by the specification of the D800.

Anyhow, you can hear more about these cameras — and other products  when Bob is back in the editing chair, which will be in a few weeks.

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