On with the show from CES 2105! An unfortunate bit of memory card corruption on my Fuji XE-1 cost me some pics, so this post will have to do without. On that note, I am looking forward to having reliable Wi-Fi built into all cameras in the near future, avoiding the need to use the kludgy, slow, and only sporadically reliable Eye-Fi SD card to transmit photos wirelessly.
Panasonic showed a product that while not new, had yet to be seen in the U.S., their CM1 Android Camera/Phone, with 1”-sensor and f/2.8 Leica-badged lens. Upon its’ initial announcement (only for select European markets) in 2014, I was quite intrigued, as it looked to be just the sort of serious camera/phone mash up that I had been hoping would exist someday.
Panasonic got a lot right with the CM1, most importantly, the ergonomics and interface, which made it seamless to go from phone to camera (or from off to camera), and capture shots far more quickly than the cameras on most other smartphones. The control ring around the lens was great for controlling aperture or shutter speed in manual exposure modes, and the shutter button had a nicely damped feel that reminded me of a premium camera, again, not a phone.
The custom camera app ran very smoothly and quickly, and would be quite familiar to those who have used Panasonic Lumix cameras in the past. The only significant delays I experienced came when shooting bursts of RAW+JPEG, which did leave the camera app somewhat unresponsive for a few seconds at a time (though it was possible to return to the Android home screen and use other apps).
The Lumix CM1 is a success in terms of integrating a serious camera with a smartphone better than any of the other attempts I have handled (Samsung Galaxy Camera and Lumia 1020 come to mind), and doing it all in a rather svelte package that didn’t compromise phone functionality. However, it was let down by Panasonic’s typically mediocre JPEG processing engine and lack of optical image stabilization, producing shots that side-by-side looked only marginally cleaner in low light than the smaller-sensor (1/2.3”) Galaxy Note 4. I would think that processing RAW files from the CM1 would result in significantly better results, if my experience with past Lumix cameras is any indicator.
Given the popularity of large-screened phones like the aforementioned Note 4 and Apple iPhone 6 Plus, I’d like to see a future CM1-like device take advantage of the larger frame offered by such a size to address issues like the CM1’s trapped battery, and bring battery life in such a device up to the standards expected from smartphone contemporaries. Also, the Note 4 and iPhone 6 Plus demonstrate the huge advantages of an optical stabilizer to image quality on a smartphone platform, and no future phone serious about its’ image quality should be without one.
I commend Panasonic for taking such a serious first stab at this segment, and hope they stick with it, refine the concept, and come up with the true photographer’s smartphone, one that doesn’t compromise on what we expect from a premium smartphone, nor a premium large-sensor compact camera.
I also took a quick look at the LX100 and GM5, two small cameras approaching the high-quality go-everywhere camera from different angles, but a similar Micro 4/3 sensor and electronic viewfinder. The LX100 bears a fixed 24-75mm equivalent lens with a fast f/1.7-2.8 aperture, and a bevy of manual controls. The GM5 has fewer manual control points, but gains an interchangeable lens mount, and an even thinner body. Both have a small electronic viewfinder that will be welcome to mitigate camera shake and compose accurately in bright conditions. Both cameras performed admirably for their size, but ultimately, I prefer having a bit more depth-of-field control and signal-to-noise ratio from an APS-C sensor, even if it means a slightly larger camera/system.
I stopped by Sony primarily to see how their new A7 II model had evolved from last year’s initial foray into full-frame mirrorless cameras. While the new 5-axis image stabilizer in the A7 II worked just as impressively as the similar unit in the much smaller Olympus OM-D models, the body of the A7 II grew quite a bit in order to accommodate it. Given the popularity of adapting manual focus lenses to the Sony E-Mount platform, I don’t doubt that this feature will be a major boon for many A7 shooters, and potentially worth upgrading for alone.
Otherwise, the camera primarily changed in terms of handling, both for better and worse. I found the larger body and grip easier to handle, however the primary and secondary control dials for aperture and shutter speed were more difficult to turn, being further recessed into the body, which seems a potential nightmare for outdoor use with gloves. I didn’t notice any significant difference in autofocus speed or image quality, the latter still being marred by Sony’s sub-par JPEG engine and lossy compression of “RAW” files.
Hopefully the popularity of the A7 series will spur other competitors to produce more compact, mirrorless full-frame cameras and reasonable sized lenses for them. As much as I like the concept of the A7 series, Sony’s image processing, AF algorithms, shutter slap (on the 36MP A7R) and lack of compelling lenses make the system a non-starter for me. But a small and light full-frame mirrorless system with high-quality, reasonable sized prime lenses is many a photographer’s dream, including my own, we just need someone to step up and do it optimally.
Even if you don’t know the name, if you’ve ever used the pen/stylus on a tablet PC, Samsung Galaxy Note, or Microsoft Surface, you’ve likely used a Wacom product. The biggest producer of precision pen-input computer devices hit CES with two major new products, a 27” QHD version of their flagship Cintiq graphics monitor, and the Companion 2, a Windows-powered graphics tablet that can double as a Cintiq or monitor for a standalone PC.
The Cintiq 27 QHD comes in both pen/touch and pen-only models, both sporting the same gorgeous 2560x1440 screen, and 2048-level pressure sensitive pen input layer. This model also introduces a moveable, remote shortcut keyboard, that can be repositioned to suit each user’s needs, and up to 5 may be connected to one Cintiq simultaneously. The Cintiq 27 QHD becomes the premier desktop graphics display for photographers and artists who demand the precision control of a Wacom pen input for retouching and creating, even if it demands a bit more of your desk space than the previous model.
The Cintiq Companion 2 is a very interesting product, outwardly it is a 13.3” QHD tablet which runs full Windows 8.1 on an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, configurable with up to 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. Those are the sort of serious specifications for serious work that most tablets on today’s market lack. However, the Companion 2 doesn’t stop there, as it can be connected to any other PC, to function as a full Cintiq display and pen input for that computer as well. It can also be used as a monitor, even running from its’ own battery, for higher productivity even when away from an AC outlet.
The Companion 2 is a compelling product that is powerful enough to potentially be a photographer or graphic artist’s primary computer, depending on their workload. However, it does have a rather large footprint for a 13.3” display, and at nearly 4lbs, it isn’t quite as portable as most other current Windows tablets. For the right sort of professional, who demands high power in a transportable graphics tablet, the Companion 2 could be just right.
In the run-up to CES 2015, I was disappointed to read that Fujifilm would not have a booth at this year’s show. Not only do I use the X-System as my backup/lightweight camera system, and look forward to each year’s new developments from Fuji, but I’ve also found their representatives to be amongst the most affable and knowledgeable about photography. Oddly Fuji announced their new 16-55mm f/2.8 lens just before CES, so this made their absence doubly annoying.
Sigma was another major photo company unfortunately missing from CES 2015, though at least they did not announce any new products just before the opening of the show. Much like their counterparts at Fuji, the representatives at Sigma were always extremely knowledgeable and friendly, and were well oriented to photography, not just technology. Hopefully these absences are not a harbinger of things to come, but I fear they may be, as the mass market for photography equipment is largely saturated by consumer DSLRs and smartphones, until somebody comes along to disrupt the market again.