compact cameras

Q&A: What's the best compact camera with an optical or electronic viewfinder?

Personally, I have a bit of a love relationship with the Canon S-series of cameras. Yes, they don't have an optical or EVF viewfinder, but think about it this way: In designing these cameras, Canon decided to create the highest-end compact cameras they could, and there was no way that they were going to stick a poor screen on there. Even in bright screen, my S95 (and, subsequently the S100 and S110) work fantastically well, regardless of situation: I've used mine extensively both under and above water (see for a rather broad sample), and I've never missed the viewfinder even once.

The other benefit of no viewfinders is that the screens can be far, far bigger, which has its own benefits.

TL;DR: Don't ignore cameras without viewfinders, LCD tech has gotten very far in the past few years.

Question via Quora.

What's in a name? Pentax Ricoh to become Ricoh

From 1 August 2013, the Pentax Ricoh Imaging Company Ltd will be no more. Instead, it will be the Ricoh Imaging Company Ltd. It took a little while in coming, but a new name wasn't wholly unexpected after Hoya sold Pentax to Ricoh in 2011. The Pentax name won't be going away entirely, however; it'll remain as the brand name for dSLR and interchangeable lens cameras as well as binoculars. The Ricoh brand will apply to compact cameras and new technological innovations.

After Olympus and Fujifilm axed the lower half of the compact camera ranges earlier this year, Pentax/ Pentax Ricoh/ Ricoh is taking a slightly different tack. Rather than axing the line (something that might happen in the future), the cameras are being severed from the Pentax name. That's one way to maintain brand integrity!

Super-sensitive, super-light graphene sensors: which manufacturer will bite first?

Image courtesy of NTU We're accustomed to stratospheric ISOs making their ways into camera specs, helping us to capture images in lower and lower light situations. But what if changing the material from which camera sensors are manufactured could make them even more photo-sensitive, and lighter and more energy efficient to boot? A team of researchers at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, led by Assitant Professor Wang Qijie, think they've cracked it. With graphene, the super-strong, rather flexible, heat-resistent carbon compound.

A graphene-based sensor has the potential to be 1000 times more sensitive to light than a current model CMOS or CCD sensor by making use of a light-trapping nanostructure that is able to retain light-generated electron particles for longer. In addition, graphene is lighter and more flexible than your usual sensor, with the potential to be five times cheaper. Rather than graphene-based sensors demanding a complete overhaul of the manufacturing process, it's possible to swap-out traditional metal-oxide semiconductor sensor bases for the new-fangled graphene versions without any major changes. It keeps getting better.

We're not just looking at more light-sensitive and more engergy-efficient sensors in our smartphones, compact cameras, or interchangeable lens cameras; being broad-spectrum sensors, they have roles in satellite technology and infra-red imaging, too.

Which major manufacturer will be the first to bite, then?

(Headsup to Tech News Daily, Will Jennings, and Nanyang Technological University)

It's a cannibal meat market

The camera market is a complicated place: technologically fast-moving, ubiquitous but hierarchical, and with blurred lines between professional and amateur. It has to fulfil a variety of different needs and market itself across a broad spectrum of consumers. This is no easy feat, and right now, I'm not convinced that the manufacturers are getting it right. Some consumers are falling through the cracks, manufacturers are trying too hard in some areas but seem to be oblivious of their strengths in others. It's time for a consolidated camera market fit for the 21st century.

The smartphone battle has been lost...

It's a truth, perhaps sad but definitely undeniable, that camera manufacturers have lost their battle to prevent a certain chunk of picture-takers defecting from compact cameras to smartphones. It is also a truth, probably even more sad and still undeniable, that they are refusing to acknowledge their defeat. You only have to look at the vast range of gimmicks that are being bolted on the constantly refreshed, garishly coloured swathe of compact cameras being churned out by everyone from Nikon to Panasonic to see that they are desperately scrabbling around for something, anything, that will convince the Smartphone-istas that a compact camera is what they need.

But for people who record their every coffee and croissant and subsequent pee and burp on Facebook, their smartphone is just what they need. They don't need a bright pink point-and-shoot with 12 filters and a dodgy wi-fi connection. Instagram is enough.

They've flown and they're not coming back. Get over it and move on, because trust me, there are people out there who really do want compact cameras.

... but there remains a market for compact cameras

So who are these mythical individuals still in the market for compact cameras? Well, they're not necessarily as trendy and it is likely that they're smaller than the share lost to Apple, Nokia, and Samsung, but they are real. So if you're listening Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Sony, et alios, give over, and go where you're wanted and needed.

As I see it, there are three primary consumers for compact cameras. I've written about this before, but indulge me with a recapitulation. First, there are people like me (and probably quite a few of you, too). My primary camera is a dSLR. However, I dislike being without a camera at all, so I want something little to live in my bag, and there are occasions when a dSLR is just too conspicuous, too cumbersome, or too illicit to use. In which case, I want a smaller, lighter, less obviously expensive alternative that enjoys full manual control and a good lens. I have a Canon S95 for this very purpose; other people prefer the Olympus XZ-1, and the Sony RX100 looks a hot new option. These are cameras that help to complete people's photographic arsenals. They are not insignificant.

Second, for people who enjoy recording their exploits up mountains, in deserts, and underwater, a rugged compact is an ideal companion. Tough compacts used to be the laughing stock of the photographic trade; they were cumbersome, badly specced, and resembled something designed for a toddler to teeth on rather than to take photos. Recently, however, manufacturers have been upping their game here and producing cameras capable of taking a decent image in sub-zero temperatures. The advent of the Sony TX200V, a well-specced compact camera that was casually all-weather, has opened up a new direction for compacts, too. You're sniffing at the possibilities here, manufacturers: you'd best run with them.

Finally, there are the people who want a camera that isn't in a phone. People like my parents who enjoy taking photos, who don't need something with interchangeable lenses, but haven't got smartphones and aren't likely to own one, either. People who are learning about photography, especially chidren, who need a dedicated camera, but one that is simple to use and inexpensive. Not everyone wants to use their phone, you see.

I told you, the market might not be as glamourous as the cocktail-sipping Twitterati, but it's definitely there, and it needs to be serviced.

If you want EVIL cameras to be taken seriously, treat them seriously

When I wrote my particularly scathing announcement article for Nikon's J2, one of my Twitter followers asked me why camera consumers aren't taking EVIL cameras seriously. Although the Japanese have embraced EVIL technology (sales of EVIL cameras amount to approximately 40% of the market) sales are much smaller in Europe and the US and might even be stagnating. Why? I'd posit that there are two branches of the same trunk governing this phenomenon: because camera manufacturers don't treat EVIL cameras seriously.

When so much R&D is devoted to EVIL cameras and they are being regarded as the breakthrough technology in photography, this might appear a contrary statement, so allow me to expand.

First, EVIL cameras are marketed poorly. The pace of change in the development of their technology does mean that new iterations are to be expected frequently, but this doesn't always give a great deal of incentive to consumers to purchase a new camera if it is going to be obsolete within six months. If tech lust gets the better of you, perhaps you will upgrade regularly, but when people are laying down in the area of £600 for a camera, they want to be assured that they're getting value for money. If manufacturers were to hold off on the 'release early and release often' principle favoured by coders, and instead release models with significant upgrades at less frequent intervals, consumers might be more tempted to bite. This is a far more sustainable model, economically and environmentally.

Furthermore, this constantly iterative process aligns EVIL cameras more closely with compact cameras, with their fast product cycling and large release numbers, than with flagship dSLR cameras. The product lifecycle for a dSLR is far slower than it is for a compact camera. This lends it gravitas: consumers recognise the research dedicated to developing it, and getting it right, and regard it as an investment rather than something more disposable, more like a compact camera.

At present, Olympus has six PEN models on the market, each with the same Micro Four Thirds, 12 megapixel sensor. I've argued for the benefit of choice quite passionately before now, but choice needs to be meaningful and not present for its own sake. When there is so little to discern the EP3 from the EPM1 or EPL2, it does nothing to suggest that these are carefully considered, designed, developed, and manufactured products. If manufacturers want us to take EVIL cameras seriously, they need to be cycled and marketed on a par with their other 'serious' cameras.

Second: the concept behind EVIL cameras can be overwhelmingly weak. If an EVIL camera is meant to be a serious alternative to a dSLR, fit it with a dSLR-sized sensor. Using a compact camera-sized sensor makes it nothing more than a glorified point-and-shoot; why would I spend £500 on a Nikon J2 or a Pentax Q when I can get similar results from a Canon S100 at £350?

Has Canon cracked it?

When you study the industrial revolution, one the key learning points is how, in the long term, the pioneers of change often suffered for being at the forefront of development. With the majority of their resources devoted to the initial breakthrough technology, the ability to adapt and to adopt refined versions was highly restricted. Sometimes this was a financial limitation, but occassionally, it was an emotional restriction, too: they didn't want to be seen to admit their mistakes or abandon their original technology.

The pace of change meant that second and third generation inventors and adopters often fared much better by biding their time and building on the platforms developed by the pioneers. They had the benefit of a bigger picture, working models, and a lack of emotional investment. *

A version of this model could be applied to the EVIL camera market, and in the words of one of Small Aperture's Twitter followers, it's why Canon has cracked it.

Just over a year ago, I argued that Canon's primary interest is in the video market, not the EVIL one. As a consequence, if it had any desire to play in the EVIL sandpit at all, it would only be if it could rock up and be reigning monarch. Canon had no interest in being seen as a pioneer there, those resources could be better devoted to video, it just needed to produce something good.

By biding its time and watching the constant iterations of EVIL cameras churned out by Olympus, Sony, and Samsung, Canon has been able to hone and refine its product. The result is the EOS M - a camera that is essentially a scaled-down version of the 650D. In terms of concept, what more perfect embodiment of an EVIL camera could you want?

We still love our dSLRs

Will the number of dSLR sales decrease noticeably? In the long run, probably, especially if the manufacturers get the EVIL product right and market it right. There are, after all, only so many photographers to go around. It doesn't mean that demand will disappear to nothing, it just means that camera manufacturers need to be aware of the different groups of people buying their products with different aims in mind. They need to produce to their different needs and market to them appropriately.

As a writer, you are always told to know your audience. Manufacturers need to know their consumer base.

Choice needs to be meaningful; the market must be sustainable

How and why people take photographs has changed; camera manufacturers cannot retroactively influence this by trying to convince the social media crowd that a compact is just what they need when they've found that their smartphone fits the bill. They can't assume that people will flock to EVIL cameras just because they have interchangeable lenses when their tiny sensors don't offer any significant advantage over cheaper and more portable compact cameras. They need to assess where the market is now and project why people will be buying cameras in the future. They need to consolidate their ranges whilst retaining the options that consumers want. They need to start thinking a lot smarter.

As it stands, camera manufacturers are succeeding in cannibalising their own market. Consumers want and need choice, but it has to be meaningful. When it is overwhelming, it serves best to deter people rather than convince them of the benefits of owning both a dSLR and a high-end compact; or an EVIL and to make more use of their smartphone camera. The current approach to R&D and marketing isn't sustainable. It's time for a rethink.

* This is an argument usually applied on a micro level to mill owners, but it can be transfered to a macro level, too.

Choosing your first dSLR camera

With a slightly better screen than the others, the Nikon is an attractive choice in the bargain-SLR category

Whenever a new excuse for buying stuff (Christmas? Birthdays?) rolls around, the retailers are rubbing their money-grabbing little paws in glee, in anticipation of making a killing over the holiday seasons. Be that as it may, fact remains that there is a lot of choice out there, and whether you are buying your first camera, or whether you are out shopping for a friend of family member, you might need a hand.

Welcome to the 7th edition (!) of my in-depth guide to choosing an entry-level dSLR camera: What should you be looking for, what should you be buying, and why? It’s all in our handy shopping guide, right here… 

Where should you even begin?

Once you’ve decided to start looking for a dSLR, you might have some reason in mind already. Perhaps you feel as if you’re outgrowing your compact camera, whether that’s creatively or technically. Maybe you’re not really feeling as if you’re challenging yourself enough as a photographer. Either way, you’ve decided to go play with the big boys – welcome aboard!

The first and most important thing you need to know is that there aren’t any really bad digital SLR cameras out there.

In fact I would argue that there aren’t actually any bad digital cameras on the market anymore in general – stick to a respected camera brand, and you’re home free. If we’re looking at compact cameras, you can buy a respectible camera for under $100 – the Canon Powershot A2200, for example wil set you back $99 or thereabouts, and is a lot of camera for your hard-earned dollars.

Anyway, we were talking about dSLR cameras. Here are a few things you should be looking at..

Things to consider before making your choice

Do you already own a SLR camera?

If you have already bought into a particular brand of camera, take a good, hard look at your lenses. If you’ve bought a lot of high-end lenses and flashguns etc, swapping from one brand to another might have a lot of hidden costs in them. On the other hand, if you have a lot of old, tattered equipment with scratched lenses, see it as an opportunity: eBay off the lot, and start afresh.

Canon or Nikon?

This is a perennial question which I’m not going to go anywhere near.I defy anybody to be able to tell the difference between a camera taken with a Canon or with a Nikon camera. Or a Sony. Or a Panasonic. Or a Sigma. Things have moved on hugely since the raging Canon-Nikon debates of the early 1980s (and they scarcely made all that much sense then).

Whichever camera system you buy into, you’re going to live with for a while (probably), so do think about it. You – not your camera equipment – is going to be the bottleneck, so don’t worry too much about what you might have heard form the old graybeards…

Buying into a system?

You know best what kind of a photographer you are. If you’re likely to start buying high-end lenses (or ‘fast glass’, as it’s frequently called among seasoned photographers), then you have two choices: Canon or Nikon. There are a lot of other people out there building great DSLR cameras, but once you start talking seriously high-end equipment, it’s one of the two big ones, I’m afraid.

On the other hand, if you are a semi-serious hobbyist, don’t discard other camera brands out of hand: Sony, Olympus and Panasonic are building some very capable cameras indeed – with some serious money-saving opportunities, too!

Body or glass?

If you have to choose between buying an expensive body and cheap glass or a cheap body and expensive glass, then go for the posh lenses. Every time. Personally, I am still using lenses that I bought nearly 10 years ago, even though I’ve changed my camera bodies half a dozen times since: You can take fantastic photos with an entry-level body and expensive lenses.

Putting bargain lenses on a top-level body is, frankly, a complete waste of money. Even better: Buy yourself a nice prime lens, and be amazed at what your camera body can do.


In general, don’t worry about megapixels – most dSLR cameras come with 10 megapixels or more, and that’s enough. Hell, there’s even a prominent group arguing that more pixels aren’t necessarily better, and that 6mpx is all you need, really. I’m inclined to agree – you very rarely use them at full resolution anyway. What I’m trying to say is that Megapixels should be the last thing you look for in a digital camera in general – and a dSLR especially.


The above photo was taken with... an iPhone. Proving that any camera can take a good photo.

So, to summarise:

  • Don’t worry too much about the brand of your camera body
  • Buy Canon or Nikon if you anticipate dropping a lot of money on lenses in the long run
  • Spend your money on lenses, not camera bodies
  • Oh. and also consider looking into EVIL cameras - they're smaller and lighter than SLR cameras, but you keep the ability to swap lenses, and they can take great-quality photos! (loads more info about EVIL photography here)

3 great bargains

So, you’ve decided to leap into the pool of DSLRs, but you want to spend as little money as possible? These three cameras are your best options:

Sony Alpha A390

93449.jpgThe Sony Alpha 390 is an absolute bargain, and a great entry into the world of SLR. You get 14.2 mpx (more than enough), RAW image format (which is a must), and an incredibly nifty little feature: In-camera optical ‘SteadyShot’ image stabilisation! This means that any lens you connect to the Sony Alpha camera will be image stabilised – this is a feature you pay tons of money for in the lenses of other camera manufacturers!

The Sony Alpha lenses are compatible with Minolta AF and Konica lenses, so you get a reasonably good choice of glass, and the camera has a pretty wide shutter speed range of 30 seconds to 1/4000th of a second.

On top of all this, the Sony can be picked up with a fabulous kit lens – sure, it’s not the best glass you can buy, but who cares when you’re eager to get started. You can always chuck away (or eBay) the kit lens later, and upgrade to something better, once you know what kind of photos you’re likely to be taking!

You can get the Sony Alpha 390 with a kit lens from for about $449 and from for about £349.

Canon EOS 1100D / Canon Rebel T3

canon_1100d_t3.jpgThe world of digital cameras has come a very long way indeed. I remember buying my first DSLR in the mid-to-late 1990s, and, well, you’d pay a small fortune for something that wasn’t all that amazing.

These days, though, you’re not needing to spend that much money to pick up a big-brand SLR camera. Obviously, Canon felt Sony and the other budget-DSLR manufacturers breathe down their neck, and they had to respond. And boy, did they respond: The EOS 1100D / Rebel T3 is one heck of a camera. Sure, so they’ve cut a few corners here and there, but, frankly, I don’t give a damn.

Personally, if I were to buy a SLR today, I’d buy one of two cameras: A Canon EOS 5D mk III (which costs a small fortune), or a 1100D / T3. Why? Because the imaging sensor is brilliant, and you can start saving up to buy lenses that will be with you and your camera system for a decade or more. When you finally out-grow the 1100D, eBay it and buy a mid-range camera (like the Canon 600D), or start looking at spending serious money for a serious camera (Canon 5D mk III if you want full-frame coverage, 7D if you don’t) – but none of the money you spent on lenses was a waste: It’ll all still be there, ready for you to snap away.

Of the bargain-snappers, only the 1100D / T3 has a CMOS sensor – which makes a surprising difference in image quality: Not necessarily better, but for some reason the grain on a CMOS sensor at higher ISO is a lot more similar to film than CCD sensors pushed to the limit… All of which means that the 1100D photos ‘feel’ more natural when you look at them.

You can get the  Rebel T3 from for about $490 or the Canon 1100D from for about £400 – both with a Canon EF-S 18-55 kit lens.

Nikon D3100

nikon_d3100_angle_medium.jpgNikon’s baby camera is the D3100 – and it’s another bloody strong contender to the bargain crown. It comes with a super-advanced light meter – the 3D Matrix metering system borrowed from far more expensive Nikon cameras, which means that the Nikon is definitely the most capable in terms of getting the light measurements right.

The other thing the D3100 gets right is that it has a fabulous 3-inch LCD screen on the back of the camera, which makes a huge difference when you’re checking your photos in the field, to ensure you've captured what you're looking for all right.

Just like the Canon camera, the Nikon is an opportunity to start climbing the ladder – Buy the most expensive lenses you can afford, get some tasty flashguns, and they’ll be with you for a long time indeed.

I have to admit that I’m a Canon man at heart (I’ve used Canon cameras since I stole my dad’s Canon A1 out of the cupboard when I could barely walk. I didn’t break it, luckily), but it’s starting to seem as if Nikon currently have a nicer progression through the cameras – the D3100 is a peach, and the D5000 or D5100 – which is the next step up without being that much more expensive – is a deceptively simple, yet very serious, camera, for serious photographers.

You can pick up a D3100 from for about $640 and from for £440 or so.

So… What should I choose?

If you want to take the step from compact cameras to SLRs, but foresee that you’ll continue being a casual amateur, go for the Sony. It’s a great little camera, a fantastic bargain, and the lenses available are not bad at all.

If you are ambitious in your photography, grab a dice. Throw it. Even numbers are Canon. Odd numbers are Nikon. They’re both absolutely brilliant cameras, and – considering what you get for your money – bargains. The Canon has a slightly better imaging sensor (but you wouldn’t be able to tell until you’re at higher ISO speeds) and the Nikon has a marginally better light meter (which doesn’t make that much difference in real life) and a better screen (which does). Seriously, if you’re having trouble making up your mind, throw the dice. It’ll save you a lot of headache.

Any final tips?

Buy a cheap camera body, then invest in some lovely lenses. You know it makes sense...

I know I’ve repeated this several times in this article, but if you’re new to SLRs, I would advise to buy the entry-level model from a manufacturer. Start taking photos – you won’t out-grow your camera body for a while, trust me on that, but you might out-grow your lenses. Start by buying a ‘Nifty Fifty‘ (a 50mm prime lens). Most manufacturers have a f/1.8 which is good and a f/1.4 which is great…

Once you have one of those, start thinking about the type of photography you do. If you want to start shooting macro, you’ll need to start looking into a macro lens. If you want to photograph gigs or wildlife, you’ll want a fast tele-zoom (I can’t recommend Sigma’s 70-200mm f/2.8 DSM lens highly enough – it’s a bargain for what you’re getting). If you’re more into in-door or landscape photography, you want to go wider – but only you know exactly what you want.

Buying cheap lenses is false economy – unless you don’t really know what you want to take photos of. If you’re just experimenting, flailing around a little (as we all are, at first), stick with your prime and your kit lens for a while. If you find yourself at the wide end of your kit lens most of the time, perhaps it’s a sign you need to spend a bit of cash on a wider lens. If you’re constantly at full zoom… well, you figure it out.

If you’re worried about spending hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars (or pounds, should you be on my side of the pond) on glass, go ahead and rent the lens you’re considering for a few weeks. Does it do everything you want it to? Is it too heavy? Does it feel right? Is it fast enough? If you’re not happy, rent a different lens, and keep searching. When you find the right lens(es) for you, you’ll know it – and that’s the right time to start shelling out the big bucks.

Seriously: Buy glass first. (If you want to learn more about lenses, I've got everything you could possibly want to know right here...) Worry about camera bodies later. By the time you have bought some serious lenses, you’ll know what you need from a camera (wide angle? Full-frame sensor. Sports? Fast, high-frames-per-second camera. Walking a lot? Buy a capable, but light-weight camera body… Etc)… But it’s a supremely silly thing to do to spend a lot of money on a camera body until you know what you really want/need.

So, Haje, what do you use?

I love my Canon 450D. Its cheap as chips, but does the trick!I’ve had a lot of cool cameras in my time – I worked as a freelance photographer for a while, and bought all the top-shelf gear. At one point, I drove around in a £1,300 car with £49,000 worth of camera equipment in the boot. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m a gadget nut, and a camera aficionado to boot.

… Which is why it might surprise you that currently, my main camera is... a Canon EOS 550D. It’s not the newest camera on the market anymore. It never was the best. But it does everything I need from a camera: It’s plastic, so it’s reasonably light weight. It’s relatively sturdy. It uses SD cards (which plug straight into my MacBook Pro – it’s a small thing, but I like it).

The five-fifty takes all my lenses (I have loads, but the ones I’ve used in the past 6 months are a Sigma 17-35mm f/2.8-4.0, a Canon 50mm f/1.4, a Sigma 70-200 f/2.8, and my Lensbaby G3 lens), and it doesn’t look too conspicuous. It’s also cheap enough that I’m not too crazy worried about it getting stolen or dropping it. All in all: Perfect for my uses. And it's one cheapest camera you can buy with a Canon badge on it.

This article was first published in 2007, but has been updated with the most relevant information every year since. It was most recently updated in April 2012.

TIPA 2012 - who won what

Every year the members of the Technical Image Press Association - representatives from 29 member magazines from 14 countries, plus the Camera Journal Press Club of Japan - gather together in some exotic location (last year it was Istanbul, this year they were sunning themselves in Cape Town) to thrash out what they think were the 'best' photo and imaging products released over the past year.

There are 40 different categories, ranging from best professional dSLR to best colour management programme (X-Rite i1 Display Pro), which is rather a lot of choosing. (And as a consequence, I've given you edited highlights; I don't want you falling asleep before the end.) But what do you think about their selections? Are these the best on offer by the photographic industry in each category?


Canon took the spoils for the high-end, but Nikon has had a good show generally. Fair?

  • Best professional dSLR: Canon Eos 1D X
  • Best expert dSLR: Nikon D800
  • Best advanced dSLR: Sony SLT-A65
  • Best entry-level dSLR: Nikon D5100


Canon all the way. Anyone surprised?

  • Best video dSLR: Canon Eos 5D MkIII
  • Best professional video camera: Canon Eos C300

Compact System Cameras (or EVIL, or mirror-less, or MILC...)

The love was well and truly shared out amongst the manufacturers here.

  • Best professional CSC: Fujifilm X-Pro1
  • Best expert CSC: Sony Alpha NEX-7
  • Best Advanced CSC: Panasonic Lumix GX1
  • Best entry-level CSC: Olympus PEN E-PL3

Compact cameras

Another spread of manufacturers for compact cameras. Given the mahoussive selection out there, it's not that surprising.

  • Best premium camera: Leica M9-P
  • Best expert compact camera: Canon G1X
  • Best superzoom: Fujifilm X-S1
  • Best rugged camera: Pentax Optio WG-2 (I still think it's ugly, all manner of awards will not change my mind)
  • Best general compact camera: Samsung MV800


A strong showing by the third-party providers for dSLR, and note the inclusion of mirror-less camera choices, after just two cameras - let alone their lenses - were up for awards last year.

  • Best professional dSLR lens: Canon EF 8-15mm f/4.0 L USM fisheye
  • Best expert dSLR lens: Sigma APO Macro 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM
  • Best entry level dSLR lens: Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 II DC OS HSM
  • Best CSC fixed focus lens: Olympus M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12mm f/2.0
  • Best CSC expert lens: Panasonic Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm

Best of the rest

You know, mobile stuff, editing software, and tripods.

  • Best photo software: Adobe Photoshop Elements 10
  • Best mobile photo app: Snapseed (Yay! for the awesome Snapseed!)
  • Best mobile imaging device: Samsung Galaxy Nexus
  • Best tripod: Gitzo New Systematic series
  • Best professional flash system: Nikon SB-910


If you'd like to check out the rest of the TIPA winners, such as best camera bag and inkjet paper, it's on the TIPA website.

Nikon's financial curate's egg


Excellent in parts! That’s probably the best summary of the Q&A that Nikon released today on its financial results for the second quarter of this financial year. Natural disasters and the release of some exciting pieces of new kit have combined to give investors good news and bad news, but overall, the situation’s not looking quite as rosy as it was at the end of September.

Not so many D5100s around at the moment

Until the awful flooding in Thailand submerged Nikon’s dSLR camera and lens production plant and forced it to suspend manufacture, sales for dSLR cameras had been up against like-sales for the same period last year. So instead of a projected 25 million sales of dSLRs and interchangeable lenses for the entire year, the figure’s been revised to 15 million units. The Thai plant is unlikely to resume production at all until January 2012, and it won’t be at capacity until the end of March 2012. Meanwhile, Nikon’s other factories are stepping into the breach, along with some partner organisations.

There’s been less demand for compact cameras across the market as a whole. I’m inclined to suggest that’s a result of improved mobile phone cameras and mirror-less cameras carving up demand betweeen them. Nikon, though, has bucked this trend and hasn’t seen its compact camera sales drop off. It reckons it’ll sell about 100 million of them this year.

Picking up the sales baton - the V1

As for the Nikon 1 – supply cannot keep up with demand. The J1 and V1 seem to be very popular pieces of kit. And Nikon wants to keep it that way. To help defray the losses from the dSLR disaster, they’ll be pushing sales and production of the 1 series. Let’s hope that the Chinese factories can up the supply.

The bottom line? Nikon has adjusted its annual sales and operating income figures downwards. It’s projecting ¥65 billion in annual sales and an operating income of ¥23 billion.

(If you’re so inclined, you can read the full Q&A here.)

Where's my 30x zoom SLR lens?

On SLRs, I prefer to go to the opposite extreme of long zooms...

The other day, I received an awesome question from Nick LaRoque via Twitter. He asks an understandable question: "I have a 30x zoom FujiFilm hs10, how do I get the same zoom range from a dSLR?"

It's a fantastic question, and one that is asked every now and again by people who are used to the ludicrous zoom ranges found in the 'bridge camera' segment of large compact cameras. Nick's HS10 packs a 30x zoom, and there are even wilder examples out there, including the deeply impressive Canon Powershot SX30, which squishes a 35x zoom (equivalent of 24-840mm) into a relatively modest package.

How does it work on the ultra-zoom compacts?

sensors.pngWell, there are a couple of things the compact camera manufacturers do. For one thing, they tend to use rather small sensors; both of the cameras mentioned above use 6.17 x 4.55 mm sensors. That is... Tiny. Compare those numbers to the sensor used in Canon's top-of-the-range compact shooter, the PowerShot S100:7.49 x 5.52 mm; the APS-C sensors used in many digital SLR cameras: 22.3 x 14.9 mm; and the full-frame sensors used in high-end cameras: 36 x 24 mm.

By using tiny sensors, the camera manufacturers can reduce the sizes of the optical elements of the lenses, which makes it viable to create very, very long zooms. That's great news if you like to take photos of things that are far away... Or is it?

The Canon SX30 has a maximum aperture of f/2.7-5.8, and the Fuji is remarkably similar: f/2.8-5.6. The first of those two numbers is not a problem; a 24mm f/2.7 is a reasonably fast lens that is quite versatile. The second number is another story, however. It means that when you are fully zoomed in, you are 'losing' two full stops of light. So: If you were able to take photos at a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second when fully zoomed out, you would have to take your photos at 1/15 when you're fully zoomed in.

That doesn't sound very bad, but the problem is that when you are fully zoomed in, every little vibration of your hands is dramatically amplified. In order to combat that, the rule of thumb is that you need to use a shutter speed that is equal or faster to the inverse of your focal length. I know that sounds a little bit mathematical, but it's easy to grasp with a couple of examples: If you are taking phtoos with your SX30 fully zoomed out, it's the equivalent of a 24mm lens. That means your shutter speed needs to be 1/24 of a second or faster. If you zoom to 100mm, you need 1/100 of a second or faster. And if you zoom all the way in, you're going to need 1/840 or faster. In practice, you're talking 1/1000 of a second, which is a very fast shutter speed indeed.

Now the problem is this: When you are fully zoomed in on the SX30, you are already at f/5.8. If you also need to use a 1/1000 shutter speed, that means that you basically need to be outside in bright sunshine in order to have enough light to be able to take the photo.

The camera manufacturers make a couple of changes to their cameras to make this easier: They introduce optical image stabilisation, which makes it possible to shoot at 840mm at, say, 1/500 or even 1/250 of a second. In addition, they include wide ISO ranges; the HS10 goes to ISO 6400, and the SX30 stretches to ISO 1600.

Of course, optical image stabilisation isn't perfect, and comes at the cost of battery life. Similarly, high ISO comes at the cost of image quality and digital noise.

Ultimately, I'm not saying that superzooms don't have a space in the marketplace, but in my experience, physics (well, optics, really) get in the way of superzoom compacts being as good as they look on paper.

So why can't I get a 35x zoom for my dSLR?


The short answer: You don't want one.

The longer answer is that the superzoom compacts have a 28 mm2 sensor. A full-size SLR sensor covers 1620 mm2. Put differently, the surface area of a full-frame dSLR sensor is nearly 60 times bigger than that of the super-zooms. There are advantages to the bigger sensor: You get higher resolution sensors, less digital noise, and you are able to get more performance out of your expensive lenses. However, it does mean that the lenses have to be physically bigger.

If the sensor surface is 60 times bigger, it stands to reason that the glass that forms the rear lens element of the SLR lens also needs to be 60 times bigger; and this is where the problems start sneaking in. A compact camera lens might weigh about as much as an iPhone; or about 180 grams, which isn't all that much. Multiply that by 60, however, and you've got a completely different picture: suddenly, you're talking about a lens that weighs 10kg (over 23 lbs). It would also have to be around 70 cm (27") long. Finally, on a 840mm lens, the maximum apertures would be absolutely abysmal.

All of this means that if the SLR manufacturers built a lens that covered the 24-840mm zoom range, it would be so heavy that you could barely carry it, so long that you'd struggle using it, so dark that you couldn't actually take photos with it, and so expensive that you'd have to mortgage the house.

So.. No long zooms at all?


There are a few condenders in the SLR market for solid long-zoom lenses. One of the most popular ones is the Sigma 50-500 lens. It has some pretty favourable reviews, but it has its drawbacks as well. The f/4.0-6.3 maximum aperture range is about as good as they come, but if you need the longer end of the zoom range, you could be better served by more exotic lenses; such as the Canon 400mm f2.8, which is a whopping 2.5 stops faster at the same focal length, or the Nikon 500mm f/4.0... Which is also an incredible lens. Don't look at the price tags, though, you might pass out.

Tamron had a go as well, with their 18-270mm zoom lens. That's still only 15x - a far cry away from the 35x record from the compact camera world - but with f/3.5-6.3 maximum apertures, they've done an amicable job with keeping the aperture range relatively low.


Canon has a 18-200mm  f/3.5-5.6 lens that only works on crop-frame sensors (known as an EF-S lens). This is because the lens intrudes further into the body of the SLR; by putting the rear lens element closer to the sensor, and designing the lens especially for the smaller sensor, they can keep the amount of glass used in the lens down, which means smaller and lighter lenses. Unfortunately, of course, if you buy one of these, and upgrade to a full-frame sensor later, you can't use your lens on your new camera.

Finally, there's a 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 from Nikon as well. The review of this lens on DPreview summarises my take on superzooms rather well; "the phrase 'jack of all trades, master of none' springs immediately to mind. It's a lens which delivers somewhat flawed results over its entire zoom range". 

In general, the general rule of thumb is that the longer the zoom range of a lens, the more compromises the lens designers had to make in turning the lens into a reality. The real question is; do you really want to invest in a SLR camera body, only to be held back by zoom lenses that become the bottleneck of your image quality?

So, instead, for SLR cameras, it's worth exploring the availability of the opposite extreme. To get the most from that fantastic, huge imaging sensor, don't ruin it all by adding inferior glass. A good prime lens, might perhaps be a good choice... Or you could consider a less extreme zoom lens with a solid performance.

Or, finally, if you're in love with the extreme zoom lens on your superzoom compact camera, perhaps you're the person they invented the genre for. When the time comes to replace it, buy one with a higher-resolution sensor, and keep on snapping.

Photo Credit: The man with the long lens: A Longer lens than Me (cc) by Robbie Shade

The grand CES round-up

Olympus E-PL2

Camera announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show are usually focused on developments in the world of compact cameras, and this year has been no exception. So amongst FujiFilm’s unveiling of 16 cameras, Polaroid’s live webcast announcement that featured Lady Gaga, and Sony pushing its make.believe concept (yes, it really is pronounced make dot believe), what were the photographic highlights of 2011?

I’ll start with Olympus. They unveiled a clutch of new cameras, but topping the list were probably the XZ-1 and the E-PL2. The XZ-1 looks every bit as if it means to take on Canon’s S95 at the high end of the compact camera market, with its sleek, neat body, pop-up flash, and control ring. Oh, and its 28-112mm lens with 4x optical zoom and 10 megapixels of resolution, RAW capability and movie mode gives it a similar spec. Will it compete?

Olympus XZ-1, giving the Canon S95 a run for its money?

The E-PL2 is an upgrade on the E-PL1, with faster shutter speeds, increased ISO range, an increased exposure bracketing range, and not forgetting its 22 different scene modes, as opposed to 19 in the E-PL1. It also has a Live Wheel, for controlling key functions. It’s looking like a fairly fearsome mirrorless offering.

Olympus E-PL2, an upgrade on the E-PL1

Casio’s Tryx is the camera equivalent of a contortionist. It sits in a frame, but can pop out of it and rotate, whilst the LCD touchscreen is on a swivel, too. It means that you can shoot left-handed, right-handed, or no-handed. Kinda useful, I suppose.

Canon didn’t release a whole lot, but what they did bring back was the optical viewfinder on a compact camera. You’ll find one on the PowerShot A1200. A while back I was talking to the audio visual team in a leading UK department store, who said that people frequently asked for an optical viewfinder on a compact camera and left disappointed. It seems as if Canon might’ve been listening.

Fuji let loose 16 different cameras in one go, from a 30x optical zoom-enabled bridge camera, to an upgraded Z70, which is now the Z90, and rugged go-anywhere, throw-anywhere, drop-anywhere camera. Take a look at Gareth’s low-down on that lot.

Sony did the unthinkable and put 3D cameras on the open market, which leaves me shuddering, quite frankly.

The TX10, one of five 3D-capable cameras from Sony. Also available in shades other than urine yellow.

And there was Polaroid and Lady Gaga, with their camera-sunglasses, digital instamatic, and portable bluetooth-equipped printer. The printer could prove useful, but I get the feeling the rest are just fashion statements for Lady Gaga fans.

Polaroid's GL20 sunglasses, for space invaders

So what’s the verdict on CES 2011? If you ask me, quite a lot of quirk but not a lot of substance. There’s nothing that has made me go ‘Wow!’ and nothing that has left me drooling in a state of envy, desperately trying to prise my credit card from my wallet. What the rest of 2011 holds, who knows. But for now, my bank manager is feeling relieved.