Rounding up a few significant recent releases:
The Nikon D500 is a milestone. The biggie camera companies' commitment to the smaller sensor has been less than inspiring overall—as is often noted, neither Canon nor Nikon have ever bothered to build even adequate offerings of APS-C-specific prime lenses, and, after a desultory hodgepodge of offerings, Sony backed away from providing a full lens lineup for its former NEX cameras. ("Get an adapter, sonnyboy"?) The central signal of this lack of interest was that after first committing to APS-C for its pro offerings, Nikon reversed itself and went to FF ("full-frame," 35mm size...which used to be called "miniature" when it was a film format, but never mind). The 300S was its last pro-level APS-C camera, and that came out almost seven years ago now. Users waited, and waited. The professional-grade APS-C DSLR became Nikon's lost child, wandering in the wilderness.
The D500 is the Prodigal Son coming home again. It can of course be used as a main camera for general shooting, but as a $2,000 body with no IBIS its main brief for actual professionals is to serve as a specialty camera for sports-and-action photography and for those who shoot telephotos and need the reach—bird photographers for instance should love the D500. It has a high frame rate, very fast AF using an array of focus points the width of the entire frame, and an AF-point selection joystick. And with an XQD card (that stands for eXtra Quick Damn card...no it doesn't, but that's how I manage to remember it) it can gobble captures impressively before pausing to burp.
It will also have a very good viewfinder. Why is that important? Because most APS-C DSLRs for amateurs don't. And it's nice to have that option.
The D500 is worthy of the great 17–55mm ƒ/2.8.
D300s fans who have been wandering in the desert for 40 digital years are back to the land of milk and honey.
One downside of the new Nikon D500? It's no smaller, and only slightly (150g) lighter, than the Pentax K-1, the long-awaited, do-everything FF body from Ricoh. (That is, without the battery grip shown here.)
Maybe I've been in this business too long, but the K-1 puts me in mind, a little, of the Minolta Maxxum 9, Minolta's 1998 swan song pro body. That Maxxum (called Dynax overseas) addressed longstanding gadfly complaints that Minolta didn't have a professional body (although it had tried back in '93 with the 9xi, a different camera than the 9). So Minolta finally gave in and produced one, and it was terrific...but it didn't have a pro system around it, its competitors were already well entrenched, and the market was shriveling because digital was on the way. So it kind of fizzled. Cut to 2016, and Pentax has endured longstanding gadfly complaints about its lack of a full-frame body. But its competitors are already well entrenched, and the market is, if not shriveling, at least contracting...
...And the all-new K-1 also looks to be terrific. In this day and age when multinational giants are competing fiercely with traditional cameramaking companies, Pentax is perhaps the only marque that is both: a fine old name (Pentax was the top consumer SLR in the 1960s) with the resources of a multinational giant, Ricoh, standing behind it. Can the K-1 compete, or is it too little, too late? Helping it along is a very nice price indeed for a camera packed with this much technology, especially at introduction—less than $1,800. I'll see one on my next visit to B&H Photo in New York City, in the meantime we'll hope it meets a better fate than the old Maxxum 9. But then this is manna from heaven for long-suffering Pentax fans, and Pentax fans are among the most loyal of all. The K-1 is currently back-ordered.
The very best thing about the K-1? Back to native angle of view for the wonderful Pentax Limited 31mm, 43mm, and 77mm lenses*.
It's kinda funny that everybody has migrated to FF just as APS-C gets surpassingly good. The story of Fujifilm has been one of the great success stories of the past ten years, growing from next to nothing. What was Fuji in 2006 but a maker of a modified Nikon with a funky sensor (the S3) and a bunch of point-and-shoots like the cute little Z1? The X100 created a bonafide international sensation in late 2010 when it first appeared, and speculation that was half rumor and half hopeful fantasy flew in all directions about an interchangeable-lens version. Fujifilm very promptly fulfilled expectations with the X-Pro1, which, when it came out in early 2012, was one of the most hotly discussed and widely desired cameras of the whole digital era.
Did Fujifilm then either rest on its laurels or reinvent its own camera? It did not. Thanks to David Hobby we got an inside look at how Fujifilm went about exhaustively refining every aspect of the older camera to make it better in every way—while not changing its basic character, shape, operation, advantages, or "gestalt."
They fixed the battery slot; diopter correction is now built-in; there's a joystick for focus-point placement (double press it and focus resets to the center of the frame); there are two card slots (one UHS-II, if that matters to you); and about the only way that speed has not improved is in startup time...which is faster, just not enough to be really noticeable.
The unique viewfinder, denied even to Leica, was the original camera's most distinctive feature. But it's strongest point was its image quality. That has been significantly improved, and is the leading edge of the wedge as the Fujifilm X-Pro2 garners glowing praise from all over the world.
A unique camera that used to be good and is now superlative. Buy it with the new XF 35mm ƒ/2 normal, a lens that was made for it.
I like refinement: it's a sound idea. Take a good design and make it better by getting feedback, improving weaknesses, and building on strengths.
Sony's A6300 is the furthest development yet of its NEX concept, which began in 2010 with the NEX-5 and NEX-3, Sony's first "mirrorless" cameras (although it took a while for the world to settle on that term). In 2010 it was a formidable combination of a super-tiny camera and a sensor as large as most DSLRs had at the time. All that is not quite as special any more as it was then, and Sony's interests have moved on to greener (think FF, and "green" as in $$) pastures, but meanwhile the concept has benefited from six years of steady refinement and steady improvement over multiple models. The current iteration isn't so wee, because really, it's better to size a camera to fit the hands of humans. But it's been refined into a highly usable and very user-friendly camera.
The A6000 was evidently a huge bestseller, surprising even Sony. It just seemed to hit that magic sweet spot of high performance, small size and convenience, and low cost. The A6300 is a "no, we meant this" type of refinement—"better" in numerous small ways, including, notably, construction quality. (Cynics might say it's a way to come in on top of the A6000 in price-point for customers who are less price-sensitive, but we're not cynics.) It does have a claim to fame: fastest autofocus in the world. Asterisk, among ILC's with APS-C sensors. But still, super-quick.
The A6000 is still in the lineup, and continues to be the better choice for those conserving precious shekels. Fast, light, cheap, and not too hard to learn to use, I'd say it's the number one recommendation for parents taking pictures of kids.
Lenses? It doesn't make a huge amount of sense, because it's too big and too costly, but if for the dedicated enthusiast, the Zeiss 24mm ƒ/1.8, a lens I owned and still miss, remains a particular recommendation. It would be a shame to own an A6300 without also owning the Zeiss 24mm. I'd say it's worth shooting Sony's ex-NEX cam just to use that beautiful lens....
[To be continued next Monday...]
*There's no way for me to segregate the named lenses from the other Limited lenses at the link. Check FF coverage compatibility for the lenses you're interested in.
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Michael Murphy (partial comment): "For the best lens for the Nikon D500, get the Sigma 17–50mm ƒ/2.8 OS instead of the much more expensive Nikon. DxO rated the Sigma as the sharpest standard zoom on the D7100. I have both the Nikon and Canon versions. [...] Now I just wish I could find an equally low priced, good quality 70–200mm ƒ/2.8 or equivalent to match! Even Thom Hogan recommend the Sigma over the Nikon, when the Sigma cost $600+. At $419 it is a steal."
Richard: "Speaking of miniature cameras, did you know that the Manhattan Miniature Camera Club is still in existence? You should pay them a visit the next time you're in town, it might be worth a story."
Mike adds: From the Club's welcome page:
"Why 'miniature?' When our Club was founded, back in 1933, 'miniature,' or 35mm, photography was new and exciting. In fact, the Leica, the first successful 35mm camera, had been introduced only eight years earlier. The term 'miniature,' meaning the smallest standard format, was much used until the 1950s, and though the word no longer applies to 35mm cameras, we proudly keep it in the official name of our Club, both because it indicates that it is one of the oldest clubs in the metropolitan area and because it is the name by which the Club is widely known."
Jim R: "While it's not a flood, the number of people 'dabbling' in the K-1 is quite impressive. Source data = new member welcome page at pentaxforums, a USA user site. I never thought I'd see such a thing—multiple users of other brands coming to Pentax each day...and not just lurking!"