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Tuesday, 12 June 2007

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my perfect DMD would be either a digital CL for my Leica lenses or a Canon G type interchangeable lens rangefinder for my Pentax lenses, especially the delicious little flat 21, 40, and 70mm ones. Actually I would buy both if they were available - but not for the price of an M8......

But again, a compact digital camera with a large sensor is impossible without doing fancy things like off-setting the microlenses (ala Leica's R8). The large sensor requires the light to strike as perpendicular as possible thus requiring a very large lens if you want large apertures...thus completely negating the "compact" in compact digital camera.

There's a reason the Sigma only has an f/4 lens (that so many people like to bash). It would no longer be compact were the lens any faster.

So, either we're going to end up with a compact camera costing about a grand or we're going to have a "compact" camera that's not compact at all.

"...a compact digital camera with a large sensor is impossible without doing fancy things like..."

You're a sensor engineer, then?

Mike

There doesn't seem to be much middle ground for some reason. Either we get a D-SLR comparable sensor or a really tiny one. This seems odd, but probably has to do with economies of scale in manufacturing.

Why not have a sensor larger than 2/3" but smaller than 4/3" (or APS-C)? Coupled with a f2.8 lens suited to that sensor, might give us a DMD body that's smaller/lighter than DSLR's but larger than shirt pocket size. Once the camera is too large for a shirt pocket, then it seems to me it doesn't really matter much whether it's Yashica T4-sized or Minolta Hi-Matic size, you'll need to wear it around your neck regardless. But I could live with that a lot of the time. We used to.

Flickr's GX100 pool has some photos that were made in low light. It's hard to judge quality from an internet photo, but it looks encouraging.

And, Ricoh is available in the US. Popflash has them and so does Adorama. I like to support the little guy, so Popflash gets my vote.

I am very, very excited about the Sigma DP1. If it ever makes it to market (I'll buy one in an instant. It looks like it'll fit perfectly in a side-pocket of my motorcycle's tankbag, always ready to snap a pic of the landscape when stopped on the road's shoulder.

Yes, I could do this with any of eleventy billion other compact digicams already on the market, but they all seem to lack something. I want RAW output and a really bloody good fixed-focal-length lens.

The Leica M8 looks like a fantastic choice (superlative RAW output for B&W conversion as described by Michael on LL) but it is rather expensive for an amateur hack, and I'll happily admit that the lack of AF, no matter how good the reasons and how long the traditions, turns me off a bit.

I strongly suspect that the DP1 (particularly when coupled with a good external flash) would assume 75% of the duties that my Canon 20D currently performs, in addition to doing things that I don't currently do with the 20D because it is too unwieldy (it doesn't fit in the tankbag unless I take some other stuff out, for example)

Robert,
The "fashion" that particularly oppresses me is the one that dictates big=good and small=beginner. The manufacturers are just making assumptions as to who buys what camera for what use. They just don't see that street photographers might want/need a high quality camera with different features and small size, or any one of half a dozen other possibilities. Instead, every manufacturer makes its own lineup that is identical conceptually to their competitors' lineups. And photographers end up poorer for lack of real choice.

Mike

It looks like it is going to have a 14MP sensor. With a such a slow lens, it would have been better, I would think, to have something like an 8MP sensor to keep high-ISO noise to a minimum. Does anyone know how noisy the Foveon X3 sensor is? Perhaps noise won't be a problem?

I know! I know! Let's make convex sensors! (would that work for fixed lens cameras?).

I've definitely got my fingers crossed for the Sigma DP1. The shutter unit on my old Minilux has been dead for awhile now and there are times when even my smallish Pentax DSLR with a pancake 21mm seems a little cumbersome. What I'd really like to see is a DP1 style camera with a built in optical finder, an f2.8 prime lens in the 35-50mme range, and a decent RAW buffer. While I'm at it, I wish a camera company out there would implement an easy way to set your lens to it's hyperfocal distance. Leica did it on the Minilux and it was brilliant. I'd love to see a camera with auto, manual, and hyperfocal focus modes.

Mike:

The choices are indeed difficult and limited. I've been using small sensor cameras, the Ricoh GR-D and Leica D-Lux 3, because I don't want the "exquisite" medium-formal film look that one gets with the Leica M8 because I've always liked the "35mm aesthetic"; nor am I blown away by its "gestalt" as a Leica-M camera, as you have written, apart form concerns about reliability and "botheration" factors, such as IR cut filters for color and lens indexing. Finally, like most DSLRs, the M8 doesn't have "live preview" and I've really gotten to like framing on the LCD, which leads me to a looser and more fluid shooting style: I just use the LCD for establsihing the edges of the picture and look at the scene rather than at the LCD when pressing the shutter.

The GR-D is a great little camera but it's limited to 28mm- and 21mm-equivalent lenses; and I use the D-Lux 3 to be able to shoot at 40-50mm equivalent, but files at ISO 1600 are unusable because, even in RAW format there is some awful in-camera processing when shooting at this speed.

I therefore looked at the new Olympus E410 and E510, but found two problems. First, the live preview is not fully real-time like on small sensor cameras because the SLR mirrrs has to go up and down. And, second the prime lenses, like the 25mm from Sigma and Leica are huge, the latter weighing some 750g.

—Mitch/Bangkok

I'm all for your second possibility -- small sensor cameras that do everything we want, and offer control over there settings. And I think the GR-D and GX-100 have gotten pretty close already. Their speed of shooting in RAW still sucks, but I like the grain and I love the enormous depth of field that you get when your normal focal length is less than a fingernail width. And Ricoh somehow understands ergonomics in a way that Canikon with their P&S products fails to catch.

scott

In benign lighting conditions, with unchallenging subjects (stationary, for example), there are ample online test results to confirm that small-sensor digicams can produce results comparable to large-sensor dSLR’s, given similar pixel counts. Where the great divide comes is in low light. Small-sensor noise has left many of us who are otherwise happy to tote a pocket-rocket perpetually disappointed with high-ISO results in such situations.

Even my beloved Fuji F20, a leader in the digicam “low light” pack, falls far short of large-sensor benchmarks. So, I have concluded (per Mike and Thom Hogan) that the breakthrough camera would sport a larger sensor. That is a given. Or is it?

Mike suggests a view contrary to his own past musings, and it makes perfect sense. Seeing the incredible advances made in digital imaging technology, why assume that a low-noise, small sensor with detailed, silky captures at ISO 800, 1600 and above is impossible?

I’ve changed my tune. It may not be this year, maybe not even next year, but I suspect the DMD will arrive sporting a small sensor, large capability, and then we can all relax and just take pictures.

The image quality from small sensors may eventually get better, especially at higher ISOs. That'll help. But my understanding of simple physics is that we'll never be able to get the shallow depth of field that I want because of the very short focal lengths of the lenses on compact cameras. My current compact has something like a 6-36mm lens, with that 6mm end being the same angle of view as a 35mm lens on a 35mm film camera. Even wide open, at any reasonable camera-to-subject distance, everything in the photo is tack sharp. Trying to blur out the background on a simple portrait is basically impossible. (Your sample shot from the Ricoh is an excellent example of this.)

I have this same issue shooting the DSLRs versus shooting with medium format film cameras. I love the look of an environmental portrait with a 65mm or 80mm lens on a 6x6 camera. At medium apertures, the subject just pops out of the soft background. Mmmmm, delicious. This takes more effort with a 35mm camera, and gets tough to do with an APS sensor. (Yes, I could buy a digital MF back. Then I could live in my car.)

I realize there are technical challenges to compact large-sensor cameras, but I would pay good money for a digital Olympus XA with a sensor approaching 24x36 and a 35mm f/2.8 rangefinder-coupled lens. It shouldn't be impossible to set up the microlenses on the sensor to match a specific lens in the 34-40mm range. Alas, I will be watching skyward for the flying pigs.

What dismays me about the specs of the DP1 is the focal length of its lens. A 28 mm equivalent lens single focal length lens is not very useful to me. The perfect version of this camera for me would have a 40 mm equivalent lens with an optical finder and image stabilization. I also could live with a 35 or 50 mm equiv. lens. The 21 mm RIcoh GRD was equally not useful. I like to capture candid moments of other human beings and 28 is just too wide. The minimum aperture is much less of a problem especially with image stabilization.

I have recently acquired a Ricoh GX100 which I plan to use primarily at a 40 mm equiv setting with a 40 mm CV optical viewfinder and the lens set at its hyperfocal distance. It is easy to store these settings on the camera using the "my settings" button. The other encouraging thing about this camera is that the "noise" of high ISO images appears very similar to the Tri-X film grain that I have always liked in this style of photography. So, I view that as an advantage rather than a disadvantage for BW work, and the smaller sensor may actually be an advantage in this regard. -- Steve Rosenblum

"Seeing the incredible advances made in digital imaging technology, why assume that a low-noise, small sensor with detailed, silky captures at ISO 800, 1600 and above is impossible?" because noise is due to random electrons captured by the sensor. Small sensor sites = more noise. There comes a point when the laws of physics get in the way.

Of course the Sigma DP-1 will be a "flop," commercially -- where can you buy Sigma ANYTHING besides online or in NYC?

However, Sigma's the kind of company that doesn't give up easily. On the lens side, they've gone from being the joke of the industry to being, for many mounts, the only "other guy" worth buying. On the camera side, they've put 7 years of development around the Foveon sensor -- an interesting alternative to the Bayer sensor that every other camera company has ignored.

So at the very least we can count on Sigma's dedication to the DMD.

While we are talking about alternative designs how about this quote from Alex Majoli.

"I miss the strongest of the old generation cameras -- Olympus OM-1, the Leica. The dream would be a digital camera the size of the C-5060 -- not bigger than a Leica, let's say -- with exchangeable lenses. Small lenses. I would like to see fixed lenses, not zooms. Maybe some bigger apertures -- f/1.8. The file is fine. I don't need 20 million megapixels."

For those who don't know, Alex Majoli is a Magnum Photographer who has been using compact cameras for photojournalism.

You can read all about it here in this now rather old article.

http://www.robgalbraith.com/bins/multi_page.asp?cid=7-6468-7844

Steve said: "I have recently acquired a Ricoh GX100 which I plan to use primarily at a 40 mm equiv setting with a 40 mm CV optical viewfinder and the lens set at its hyperfocal distance. It is easy to store these settings on the camera using the "my settings" button. The other encouraging thing about this camera is that the "noise" of high ISO images appears very similar to the Tri-X film grain that I have always liked in this style of photography."

This sounds to be right up my alley. Do you have a site of any kind that you post images to? I'd love to see how you get on with this setup.

Thanks

Charlie

I know the f/4.0 lens on the Sigma DP-1 was a deal breaker for me. If it had been a 2.8 or better a 1.8 I would be a a waiting list. As it is I'll stick with my R-D1 for a compact camera for street shooting.

Read Erwin Puts latest essay/comments as well - http://www.imx.nl/photosite/comments/c037.html

Hmmm, fixed lens and f/4, well...I do know that if my Fuji GA645 were one third of its current size and were digital and still took awesome photos that I would use it a lot more than I do at the moment. That's pretty much what I'm hoping the DP1 will be for me, a nice compact camera with a few limitations but overall very nice to use when picture quality is needed.

Come to think of it what is available now, the Ricoh GR-D and the GX100, is pretty good. Reflecting on my own experience: since I got my GR-D last July I haven't touched my Leica M6 and haven't shot one frame of film. At first I was sceptical about the wide field of view of a 28mm-equivalent lens and its huge depth of field. But then I kept on thinking that Moriyama Daido has for years been using almost exclisevely the equivalent Ricoh film cameras, the GR1 and the GR21.

Using the GR-D I found that the 28mm lens was often great for street photography, and you could eliminate the wide-angle look by closing up the space: I mean by having a strong background "plane" rather than letting it wander off into infinity. I found that I could even do interesting portraits by shooting in profile even shooting a little more thab head and shoulders as long as long as you look into the rest of the frame, which makes for good environmental portraits. Shooting the latter way, you are close to the subject and do get some bokeh in the background. And as I shot this way I began to feel that most portraits, taken at f/2 or f/1.4 with 35mm cameras that isolate the subject by taking the background to partches of bokeh are so overdone as to be a cliche. Similarly, I found that I could use the 21mm attachment on the GR-D — it's quality is amazingly good — in interesting ways.

But in the end, I did miss the FOV of a 40-50mm lens and therefore in December bought the Leica D-Lux 3: a fine little camera, the only problems for me being that it really isn't usable at ISO 1600, as exlained in my posting above, and that the controls become confusing when used together with the GR-D. In the latter respect the GX100, which has pretty much the same controls as the GR-D, would be better.

What I found when I started using the GR-D and the D-Lux 3 is that my shooting loosened up sigbificantly and my style became more fluid, which I like. I shot more than with the M6 and a higher percentage of "keepers." So what am I missing? The GR-D has a very gritty ISO 1600 capability, but only in JPG, while the D-Lux 3's 1600 RAW files have in-camera processing that renders them unusable. So I just need a little improvement in ISO 1600 files and it would be nice to have an f/2 lens, but if that is going to make the camera much larger forget about it. In that case a small improvement in ISO 1600 together with image stabilization is a good substitute for an f/2 lens. I think we're virtually there for the DMD that Mike wrote about.

If you want to see the results of my shooting, you can click on my name below to see a flickr slideshow of my Bangkok series, which has 112 photographs, of which 48 were shot with the Leica M-6 on (mainly) Trix but also some HP5+ and Neopan 1600, while all the rest were shot with the GR-D except for some 10 that were shot with the D-Lux 3.

—Mitch/Bangkok

Charlie- As I've only had the camera for a week I have no photos to post yet. I hope to post some in the next few weeks. However, if you go to flickr.com and search under "gx100 BW" you will see many other folks photos posted. I hope that this helps.

"Small sensor sites = more noise. There comes a point when the laws of physics get in the way."

Absolutely. However, there's no indication that we're approaching the limits of sensor technology yet. When the larger sensors are less noisy, that will trickle down to the P&S cameras.

Isn't Canon's 1D Mark III supposed to take usable shots at ISO 6400? P&S cameras based on that in a couple of years will be noisier than the 1D Mark III, but less noisy than P&S cameras today. And on and on. up to the edge. The question I have is, how close are we to the edge? I don't think we're there yet.

For a while Casio was producing a couple of little gems in the Exilim "P" series. I wrote a review of my P-600 here:

http://redskiesatnight.com/Articles/Casio_Exilim_P600/

Nice Canon 2.8-4.0 "L" 4X lens, manual override everything, RGB histogram, AE-lock (a MUST have), 6 Mpx, very usable at ISO 50 and 100. You could even squeeze a RAW image out of it with a little work. It was no DMD, but it was close.

Sadly, I think Casio has abandoned the "bridge" camera market and left it to Panasonic, Canon and Ricoh. It's too bad because the camera ergonomics really feel like a photographer designed it.

If only Fuji would buy the design and slap one of their F30 sensors into it...

"Isn't Canon's 1D Mark III supposed to take usable shots at ISO 6400?"

It does in-camera noise filtering to get acceptable results (like Nikon does as well in a recent model). We really are getting fairly close to some real limits, noise-wise.

So what if it only has an f/4 lens, hopefully with a sensor that large hopefully a iso 3200 should cover all eventualities. Ok so you may miss out on really nice bokeh, but it would be impossible to keep every possible consumer happy, they are trying to pick a niche, and lets hope they do. There seems enough interest in the market.

Mike,

I am not a sensor engineer. And yes, my use of "impossible" was done so for emphasis.

But you seem to enjoy ignoring physics, so why bother arguing?

When discussing the "state" of the DMD idea, it's interesting when you think about the IP that's currently out there.

I think the state of sensors has been discussed to death by other commenters, and in earlier posts on this blog. It's clear that things have improved tremendously in a scant few years, and Fuji is certainly the undisputed king of small sensor high ISO performance.

Setting aside for the moment, the stuff that lies behind the sensor (image processing, noise reduction, etc.) lets look at what sits in front of the sensor. Does anyone else remember that old f/1.8 zoom design that Olympus had on their C-5050 a while back? Or the f/2 zoom that Canon used to have on it's G-series compacts (before the line "jumped the shark" c.f. G7 vs. G6). The first batch of 8MP prosumer cameras also had some really interesting and innovative (read: huge) glass. I'm thinking of the lenses on the the C-8080, DSC-828 and the Pro-1. They all went down to 28mm-e and were f/2.4 or brighter on the wide end.

Now unfortunately, most of those lenses were designed around 2/3" sensor sizes, which is not the size-du-jour nowadays. But the bigger size of the sensor would be an advantage, not a disadvantage for the intended market, if they chose to revive that sensor size. If they decided to use one of these lenses unchanged on current 1/1.8" sensors, the modest FOV crop would probably put them at something like 35mm-e on the wide end. That's not great, but considering the speed, personally I'd be able to live with it.

Granted, none of these cameras were small and that had a lot to do with the lenses involved, but I think it had as much to do with styling for the target market. If they set a design goal of "compactness" (not postage stamp tiny), and designing around the physical dimensions of the lenses, any of these manufacturers could probably field something close to a small-sensor DMD at this time, just by doing a little bit of work re-use existing technology and leverage existing R&D.

We may be approaching limits with the technology used in the current crop of sensors (although we will see). That doesn't mean that other technologies won't help. For instance:

http://theonlinephotographer.blogspot.com/2007/05/major-low-light-digital-photography.html

(It'll probably take years for that to filter down to P&S cameras, though.)

This discussion suggests to me that no one DMD design can satisfy all those wanting one.

Tim: "It looks like it is going to have a 14MP sensor...it would have been better...to have something like an 8MP sensor..."

It's a Foveon sensor, so there are only 4.7 million photosites, each with three sensor layers. AFAIK it is the same X3 sensor used on the SD14 SLR. I'd guess the DP1 will cost at least as much as an SD14 body.

Basically OK with your old DMD article. A thing like the Hexar AF.

But just go ahead for something more radical : since storage is no more a problem, I want no jpeg mode, just raw (remember it's for enthusiastics) + no rear screen, just an optical viewfinder - but excellent - which matches perfectly with the "only raw" option ... Might let us think just about photography, kind of old way. Plus, a kind of elitism way that could help selling tons and tons of this DMD.

No lightmeter too ... (I'm kidding).
Sensor stab or not ... f2 or f2.8 ... 6 Mpix or 10 Mpix, who cares ?

but which company would go there ? Sony for the DSC-R1 + Minolta for the stab + Konica for the hexar design, they're all together, so - please - just do it (under a thousand bucks please again).

I am really tempted by the GX-100. The ricoh digital cameras are also available in the US from Tony Rose at popflash.com, and as of today (June 13) he as well as Adorama had the camera on back order.

Hmmm, seems to me that a slightly boxier camera could have an f/2 lens and an APS sensor. (Or--oh the humanity!--it could have a bellows.) The "pack of cards" form is nice, but I don't see that as a requirement; if the technology requires a slightly different form for best results, so? It would still be smaller and lighter than a DSLR.

As to larger issues, it seems to me that the concentration on DSLRs is marketing-based, just as it was with 35mm SLRs; the industry can sell DSLRs and then sell lots of expensive lenses. Fixed-lens DAPS cameras could gut SLR lines, and most companies aren't going to risk that; Sony even killed its excellent R1, rather than risk it.

I would love a digital Olympus XA, it could have the 4/3 sensor. IS would be nice.35 mm equivalent lens is a must, although if they could do a 28 that would be nice (I've just rediscovered my old XA4). I don't want built in flash. Optical view finder essential.

I've just returned from Beijing where I used my Panasonic FX 01 as my stealth camera. It was OK, but I missed the control over depth of field and an optical view finder. I also took my Bessa R2 with 35 and 75 mm lenses. I must say it was really nice to shoot film again. Maybe I should just get myself an XA?

http://www.dpreview.com/news/0706/07062001fujibigjob.asp

There's some really strange cognitive dissonance going on in my head, when I see camera's like this being created for an incredibly small, very "niche" market and presumeably not available to the general consumer, and for that matter apparently originally not even available out of Japan--while we're still getting on with incredibly repetitive me-too designs from everyone.

I’ve been following the progress of the Sigma DP-1 with more than passing interest and have tried to think laterally about the compact camera/large sensor package since it seems an awful lot of money to spend on a one trick pony.

Whilst the advantages of it as the nearest thing we have to the Holy Grail of the DMD are obvious, I think some of it's inherent qualities will free us from the burdens of a fully packed rucksack in other genres and that we shouldn't forget them.

One in particular has caught my attention and that is in teaming it up with one of the more lightweight panoramic adaptors. OK so the inability to easily use ND grads may require some bracketed RAW exposures, fast footwork and image blending but I'm quite happy to invest some time in making enough mistakes to make it work.

I'm sure it would be short sighted of us here to think of the DP-1 solely as the DMD since I think it, and it's subsequent peers, could turn into a whole lot more camera than that.

I just hope it's a commercial success and we get the opportunity to explore them.

A better sensor would be great.

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