About compactness*** in photo equipment

With the venue of different new camera models from the manufacturers, I am encouraged by a renew effort to design and produce more compact models (with interchangeable lenses) such as the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III & EP-L9, the Panasonic Lumix GX-9 (Micro Four Third – MFT) and the Fujifilm X-A7 (APS-C), not to mention the Canon M200 (APS-C) or the recent Sony A models (APS-C). So, there is still hope for us who appreciate to work with smaller cameras and lenses in order to be less intrusive for our subjects and … less tired at the end of the day!

We are now facing a much mature market that is excluding all the use-to-be very simple and small camera models rightly replaced with a lot efficiency by the “photo-multi-use-smartphone”. The technical fundamentals of the photo camera seem to reach a kind of plateau and now the advancements are more in the fine sophistication of the things.

I don’t want to provoke a debate about the pertinence to have a specific viewfinder on a camera device and I concede that now many users are fully able to produce very good pictures with the help of the back-camera screen. So, there is no point there. But the good news is about the definition and the dynamic of the newest image sensors available which are the most important elements required for good to excellent picture quality.

Almost every modern digital compact (Interchangeable Lens System) camera models are including all the features to operate them from fully automated to a complete manual configuring set-up. Control dials and buttons as for the interface presentation may differ from one manufacturer to another but all basic functionalities are available plus many other additional special features that are offered by each specific system.

Stabilization optionality is now another almost obligatory basic feature asked by the potential users. More and more the newest models are incorporating the functionality inside the camera body providing the IBIS (In camera Body Image sensor Stabilization) variation. Many basic zoom or prime lenses are also giving an optical stabilization optionality, OIS (Optical Image Stabilization). Most of the newest camera model with IBIS will also work in conjunction with the OIS lenses. All these stabilization systems are trying to reduce the blurry effect generated by the photographer movements (shake).

In term of physical size of the compact ILS camera models, we have reached a certain standard. In fact, many people do prefer a little more larger camera body for ergonomic purposes mainly. Furthermore, they fully appreciate a larger back screen and a more usable viewfinder if available. Hand prehension and related space for fingers are other factors in favor to get a more traditional camera body dimension.

Compactness of the camera lenses is the other aspect to consider. The big lenses with very large maximum aperture praised by some professional photographers and more by certain advanced amateurs are not small optical units and combined with a compact camera body, these optics have a strong tendency to unbalance to say the least the whole set. Some manufacturers are doing a better job in offering an array of practical compact lenses (prime or zoom) that have a more flexible maximum aperture like F1.7, F1.8, F2, F2.4, F2.8.

If you are the kind of photographers who likes to strongly postprocessing your pictures or if you expect to print big enlargements, you may choose to get a larger image sensor size to maximize your final picture output quality. But for most of us, the MFT and APS-C sensor formats can fulfill the bill very nicely. Going in larger image sensor formats will cancel most of the compactness benefits and flexibility.

Compactness is still a big criterion for many photographers when it comes to select an equipment that will be use on a regular base. The photo equipment market is acknowledging this fact by proposing different camera and lens models that respond to that specific preoccupation. The future of compact photography is as always interesting and encouraging.

*** Compactness is a very subjective notion. On the extreme side, it will represent the smallest size possible to produce an operational camera device. But there are some physiological limits to be able to properly use a camera model with confort and confidence. Those limits are very personal. In my book, a camera viewfinder or a camera back viewing screen should be large enough to be able to judge roughly the accuracy of your photo composition and the sharpness of your subject. Control dials and buttons should be reachable and ajustable easily with a minimum of involuntary activation. But at the same time, the camera body-lens combination should be small and light enough to be brought all-day long in your hand or around your neck without fatigue. So it is still a question of compromise between handling and compact design.

Que reste-t-il de nos amours?

Que reste-t-il de nos amours

Que reste-t-il de ces beaux jours
Une photo, vieille photo
De ma jeunesse
Que reste-t-il des billets doux
Des mois d’avril, des rendez-vous
Un souvenir qui me poursuit
Sans cesse

– Chanson de Charles Trenet composée par Léo Chauliac

J’entends cet air indémodable repris par plusieurs artistes à différentes époques depuis sa première sortie en 1942-43. Car en ces jours bouleversants où plusieurs manufacturiers d’équipement photographique non seulement ne flirtent plus avec le format numérique 24 X 36mm dans la catégorie des appareils dite ‘sans mirroir” mais s’y engagent carrément, tous les passionnés d’appareils plus compact (dont je suis) se désolent de cette apparente trahison au profit du profit!

Bien sûr à court et moyen terme, i.e. de cinq à dix ans, il y a une certaine continuité à prévoir pour les tenants des formats APS-C, M4/3 et même 1″ mais serait-ce suffisant si l’effort des fabricants se consacrent surtout ailleurs? Heureusement les nouvelles et le passé récent nous rassurent tout de même. 

Pour un et Panasonic et Olympus continuent de présenter des nouveaux produits, appareils et objectifs, dans le format MFT. Idem pour Fujifilm dans le format APS-C. Mieux encore Nikon et Canon promettent de faire de même dans ce dernier format (APS-C). Et donc il y a lieu d’espérer car les appareils photo numériques compacts ou plus compacts recueillent toujours la préférence de beaucoup de photographes. Leurs principes de base sont connus: légèreté, faible encombrement, prix modéré, allure discrète et bonne qualité de fichier de l’image enregistrée. Et pour le moment les appareils et les objectifs de format 24 X 36mm peinent toujours à offrir cette combinaison de critères incontournables.

Alors il faut (absolument!) garder la foi envers cette philosophie du plus compact numérique de qualité supérieure surtout vis-à-vis les “phone-photo” qui sont aujourd’hui les “instamatics” numériques de notre société mais dont la finesse d’image reste inférieure à un véritable appareil numérique dédié à la photographie.

Que reste-t-il de nos amours? disait la rengaine, encore beaucoup de beaux jours pour nous les passionnés de la photo portable, discrète et universelle.

When compactness is no more the flavor of the month (year, decade…) ?

I must confess that I was not thrill at all with the advanced announcement of the Nikon and Canon mirrorless 35mm digital cameras-lenses systems. I had a strong concern about the will of these manufacturers to offer real compact mirrorless system. And I was not the only one with that fear of incomprehension from them to the very basis concept regarding mirrorless design.

Now that we are looking at Nikon and Canon answers to an anticipated decline of their customer bases it is not surprising that they simply import the D-SLR bias into theirs new model proposals. Big, somewhat already outdated and by far expensive photo devices couple with with very traditional bazooka lenses. Is this innovation? Certainly not. Is this photo equipment interesting alternative for passionate photographers who like now to travel and shoot lightly and be less intimidating for their subjects? For sure not!

So it is a profound disappointment for many of us who like photography as a visual expression of the everyday life. And so I must salute the courage of those other manufacturers who seem to be maintain the stand of compactness of mirrorless system like Olympus, Panasonic and Fujifilm. For Nikon and Canon all hopes seem to vanish in their D-SLR profit reassignment…