January 15, 2012

Top 6 Announcements From CES

As the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) comes to a close in Las Vegas, NV, the photography industry is left with several game changing products.  There were dozens on photography related items announced over the course of the four day show but only six announcements stand out.  Let's take a look at these top six products and the details that make them great.

1.  Nikon D4 ($5,999) - Nikon announced their successor to the already excellent performing D3s.  The D4 appears to be a minor update in comparison to what Canon did with the 1Dx.  This is probably because the Nikon D3s was the market's top performer.  The D3s offered beautiful images from a 12MP full frame sensor, amazingly clean high ISO files, and AF speed and accuracy like nobody's business.  So how does Nikon improve upon the current beast?  Adding to the finer details.

Nikon did the general updates every new camera receives based on technology advances.  These include moving up to a 16MP full frame sensor, increasing the native ISO range to 100-12,800 (from 200-12,800), and adding 1080p video at 24 and 30 fps and 720p at 60fps (up from 720p at 24 fps).  These are all great specs for the flagship Nikon, but they're not what makes the D4 stand out.

The Ahh-mazing stuff:
- 91,000-pixel RGB 3D color Matrix metering system.  This new metering system analyzes the frame for color and brightness changes.  This information is then interpreted by the AF system offering increased face detection and AF tracking capabilities.  For reference, the D3s has a 1,005 pixel RGB sensor.
- 51 focus points, including 5 AF points at f/8 (only the center point is cross-type) and 15 cross-type points at f/5.6.
- AF at -2ev.  The D3s was able to focus at -1ev.  To give you some perspective, -2ev is the equivalent of light coming from a full moon.
- Illuminated buttons.
- Two joysticks.
- One XQD and one CF card slot.
- Headphone out port.  Being able to monitor the on-camera audio while working with video is a huge deal.
- Time-lapse shooting.  The D4 will create a fully finished movie file at a number of frame rates and shooting intervals.  This is a great feature if you are working on a deadline.

2.  Fujifilm X-Pro 1 ($1,700) -  The interchangeable lens Fujifilm X-Pro 1 was announced with three prime lenses:
XF 18mm f/2 R ($499)
XF 35mm f/1.4 R ($499)
XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro ($599)

The X-Pro 1 is an amazingly beautiful camera, just like its little brothers, the X100 and X10.  Once you get past the charming good looks of the X-Pro 1, Fuji slaps you in the face with a hefty price tag of $1,700 for the body only.  Throw in the fact that you will want at least two lenses, if not all three.  The X-Pro 1 kit will easily cost over $3,000, which is enough for a high end DSLR with a robust autofocus system, such as the Canon 7D, and several fantastic lenses.

So, who in their right mind would invest in a Fujfilm X-Pro 1?  Who will take a chance with Fujifilm's sub-par autofocus and menu system (at least with the X100)?  Most likely not the person who relies on the quick autofocus and huge lens selection of the DSLR market.  Professional photographers may find the X-Pro 1 too expensive for personal use.  The X-Pro 1 will also be out of the budget for most entry level shooters.  So who is the X-Pro 1 for?

The X-Pro 1 will find its home with the Micro 4/3 users who want a larger sensor for Depth of Field control and high ISO performance.  The X-Pro 1 will find its home with serious photographers who want to skip on the bulk of a high end DSLR kit.  The X-Pro 1 will find its home with a photographer who wants the experience of a rangefinder.

Important Specs:
- 16MP APS-C sensor
- Second generation Hybrid Viewfinder
- X-Mount with 17.7mm flange distance
- Leica M mount lens adapter coming soon!
- 1920 x 1080p at 24 FPS video

3.  Canon G1 X ($799) - Canon blew peoples' minds when they introduced the G1 X and its huge 1.5" sensor at CES.  As a matter of fact, the G1 X may have set the new standard for high-end compact cameras.  The G1 X is a dis-embarkment from the significantly less expensive G12 and its tiny 1/1.7" sensor.

The obsession with Micro 4/3 cameras and the Fujifilm X100 is based solely on the large sensors and compact bodies.  Larger sensors offer numerous benefits, including Depth of Field control and less noise at high ISO's.  But is that 1.5" sensor worth the $380 difference between the G1 X and G12?  It could be.

The Canon G1 X is great at being excellent at nothing.  Read that a few times.  The G1 X offers more functionality and better handling over most compact cameras, yet it loses pocket-ability doing so.  It has an outstanding non-interchangeable zoom lens focal length (equivalent to 28 - 112mm), yet the optics are not as fast as some had hoped (f/2.8 wide - f/5.8 tele).  The G1 X offers a tiny viewfinder which may be useful in some situations but worthless the rest of the time.

Now that I beat the G1 X down, let me build it back up.  The G1 X is extremely versatile.  More so than the popular Fujifilm X100, due to an almost identical sensor size, zoom lens, and Canon Speedlite support for E-TTL flash photography.  The G1 X is less expensive than a Micro 4/3 kit yet will yield higher quality images in comparison to the not-much-cheaper Fujifilm X10.

Who is the G1 X intended for?
- Photographers who want the image quality of an entry level DSLR but don't want to bother with additional lenses.
- Advanced photographers who want a do-it-all compact camera for personal use.
- Professional photographers who want a high quality compact camera for remote or underwater photography.

4.  Adobe Lightroom 4 (Beta - Free until March 31, 2012) - Adobe announced the update to Lightroom 3, the industry leading photo archival and editing software.  Lightroom 3 is simple, streamlined, efficient, and nondestructive.  Lightroom 4 looks to be a minor update with the addition of several welcomed features, including:

- Develop Module advancements
- Additional local adjustments including Noise Reduction and White Balance
- Soft proofing and DNG enhancements
- Video support
- Photo mapping
- Book module
- Modifying book layouts

Beta use of Lightroom 4 is free until March 31, 2012.  As with any Beta use, there will be bugs and flaws with the program.  If you run into any issues during Beta use, be sure to provide Adobe with feedback, after all that is what free Beta use is all about.  To be safe, be sure to keep a copy of your images in a Lightroom 3 catalog while using Lightroom 4 Beta.

5.  Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G ($499) - The announcement of the Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.8G has completed Nikon's update of fast and inexpensive prime lenses.  Hopefully this announcement will push Canon to update their fast, inexpensive, and ancient 50mm f/1.4 (released June 1993) and 85mm f/1.8 (released July 1992).

Both of Canon's primes are begging for an update.  The 50 f/1.4 desperately needs a Ring-USM autofocus motor to increase AF speed and reliability.  The 85mm f/1.8 can benefit from new glass coatings Canon offers to reduce purple fringing.  If these updates mean Canon has to bump the $350 price tag of the lenses to $500, so be it.  I will gladly pay $500 for bang-for-the buck performers like Nikon is producing.

6.  Fujifilm Limited Edition X100 Black ($1,699) -  Users and fans of the Fujifilm X100 have been asking for a black body since the X100's release in March 2011.  The X100 is a great compact camera, loaded with sleek and sexy styling, a 12MP APS-C sensor, a superb 35mm equivalent f/2 lens, and the optical-digital hybrid viewfinder.  Fujifilm is only producing 10,000 limited edition X100 black units, so get on the pre-order quick if this camera tickles your fancy!

To make the $1,699 price tag more justifiable, Fuji is also including the Genuine Leather Ever-Ready case, metal lens hood, and adapter ring - all in black.

There you have it, the Top 6 photography announcements from CES.  Are your Top 6 on the list?  If so, does your reasoning match mine?  If not, let me know why you think differently.  If you think a product from CES should have made it on the list but isn't there, post it in the comments below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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