Tuesday, March 13, 2012

HX9V: The Survivor


Next month will mark the one year anniversary of my owning the Sony HX9V. I can't recall another camera in the last three years that I've owned for that long of a stretch which is kind of sad, but also says a lot about this compact marvel.

The key features that have kept it around are:

16x zoom - That's 24mm to 384mm which is an incredibly useful range in such a small camera.

Image quality - It's just average, but certainly gets the job done.

1080p 60p movies with Active Steady Shot - This is the key features for me. The 1080p 60p movies look AMAZING and the steady shot is the best there is giving you a near steady cam like smoothness. Racked out to 384mm, it's not quite as smooth, but still impressive. Watching these movies back from the PlayStation 3 or Vimeo is a real treat. This has replaced any notion of ever needing a dedicated camcorder.

Low light - For photos, the Auto+, Twilight, and Anti-Blur modes are are wonderful for getting good shots without flash in dark conditions. For movies, I've yet to find another camera that can shoot better low light footage outside of camcorder above $1000.


There was this falcon sitting outside the ledge of my office building. Everyone had their phones trying to get a good shot, but he was fairly far out. This shot was taken at the full 384mm focal length and in Auto+ mode and it came out killer. Because the HX9V is a compact cam, it is always in my work bag just for times like this.

Of course the camera is far from perfect. Like I mentioned, the image quality is not the best in its class and it's operational speed is a touch slow (turning on the cam, switching modes).

That brings us to the HX20V/HX30V which arrive in stores this May. The updated versions give us 20x zoom (25-500mm), a boost to 18 megapixels, and a new optical zoom tech that promises to deliver clear shots at 40x zoom. Those aren't really tempting features by themselves that would force my hand to upgrade so I'll have to see if it addresses my two most wanted improvement, image quality and operational speed.

If I do upgrade, the HX20V uses the same battery as the HX9V so I'm set there. If you are thinking of getting either camera, I highly recommend grabbing a spare battery or two. 

Friday, December 02, 2011

One down, three left

So the Nikon V1 is out. It was a great cam and a system I'd like to revisit once they get some fast primes and new bodies (lower prices wouldn't hurt either).

You can read the full story here.

Right now the FZ150 is the other cam on the bubble. The a850 and Nex-5N aren't going anywhere for awhile. Whatever my decision, I'm not sure I should part with the FZ150 too soon. The price has come down aggressively and stayed down since Black Friday so I would take a considerable loss if I sold it now.

The most prudent course of action is to shoot and enjoy the cam as much as possible until I greatly need the funds for something else. I could get lucky and the camera might run into shortages and the value comes back up a tiny bit. Either way, it's better to hold on. Especially since it's a great camera that produces wonderful shots...in great light.


Friday, November 18, 2011

The current line up

Not all can stay for long.

I’m still shooting mainly with the Sony Nex-5N and lately, the Panasonic FZ150. The Nex-5N is giving me pleasing photos, but there are three things that bother me:

1)    The AF speed is not very fast. It’s good for most shots, but I’ve missed some prime moments due to AF hunting.
2)    The HVL20S flash uses the battery power from the camera so the recycle times can get very slow. Not only that, it can only tilt upwards so you can’t shoot vertically if you want to bounce the light.
3)    Most lenses are too big. The kit lens is fine although still not that compact, but the 55-210mm and the 18-200mm are monsters.

Are these deal breakers? Not yet. While the AF speed is not great, it is miles better than the Fuji X100. I do miss the amazing X100 files as the 5N doesn’t quite match it, but it just got too frustrating using the Fuji. I’ve seen a lot of samples from the Fuji X10 and I’m not blown away. They are definitely good, but its smaller sensor is a noticeable step down from the 5N and X100.

Amid all this Nex-5N testing I added the FZ150 which has a generous 25-600mm zoom. The image quality is very, very good. Much better than the HX100V or HX9V. It’s still a compact cam sensor though so it has severe limits. The AF is actually very fast, maybe a hair faster than the 5N and the burst 5.5fps mode is wonderful as it autofocuses between each shot. I’m not sure how long term the FZ150 will be, but it’s a lot of fun to play with for now.

The surprise
I thought the new Nikon 1 system looked like a dud, but it does appear to deliver most of what it promises. What’s got me intrigued about the Nikon 1 system is that it addresses all three annoyances of the Nex-5N.

The AF is super fast with leading class object tracking, the V1’s external flash recycles fast AND can twist as well as tilt, and the lenses are much more compact with the exception of the super zoom.

I’ll be trying one out soon and will have to see whether the 5N, Nikon V1, or FZ150 stay.

The disappointment
Panasonic just announced the GX1, the true successor to the pro-friendly GF1. The features that are attractive to me are the wealth of buttons and dials, the fast AF speed, the nice grip, the promise of better high iso performance, and the availability of a kit with the newer compact X zoom lens.

The buzz kills are that early samples of the X zoom lens appear to have focus/stabilization problems, there is no 1080p 60p option, the rear LCD is still 480K and not tiltable, and it has no built-in EVF.

The lower spec video is probably my biggest grip. That said, it uses the same battery as the G3. I still have two spare batteries for that camera (knock-offs), so if Panasonic hasn’t locked them out in the GX1, that could be enough of an excuse to give the camera a try eventually.


Monday, November 07, 2011

Nikon V1 will get a shot


I’m still shooting mainly with the Sony Nex-5N and lately, the Panasonic FZ150. The Nex-5N is giving me pleasing photos, but there are three things that bother me:

1) The AF speed is not very fast. It is good for most shots, but I’ve missed some prime moments due to AF hunting.

2) The HVL20S flash uses the battery power from the camera so the recycle times can get very slow. Not only that, it can only tilt upwards so you can’t shoot vertically if you want to bounce the light.

3) Most lenses are too big. The kit lens is fine although still not that compact, but the 55-210mm and the 18-200mm are monsters.

Are these deal breakers? Not yet. While the AF speed is not great, it is miles better than the Fuji X100. I do miss the amazing X100 files as the 5N doesn’t quite match it, but it just got too frustrating using the Fuji. I’ve seen a lot of samples from the Fuji X10 and I’m not blown away. They are definitely good, but its smaller sensor is a noticeable step down from the 5N and X100.

Amid all this Nex-5N testing I added the FZ150 which has a generous 25-600mm zoom. The image quality is very, very good. Much better than the HX100V or HX9V. It’s still a compact cam sensor though so it has severe limits. The AF is actually very fast, maybe a hair faster than the 5N and the burst 5.5fps mode is wonderful as it autofocuses between each shot. I’m not sure how long term the FZ150 will be, but it’s a lot of fun to play with for now.
 
The surprise

I thought the new Nikon 1 system looked like a dud, but it does appear to deliver most of what it promises. What’s got me intrigued about the Nikon 1 system is that it addresses all three annoyances of the Nex-5N. The AF is super fast with leading class object tracking, the V1’s external flash recycles fast AND can twist as well as tilt, and the lenses are much more compact with the exception of the super zoom. I’ll be trying one out soon and will have to see whether the 5N, Nikon V1, or FZ150 stay.

The disappointment 

Panasonic just announced the GX1, the true successor to the pro-friendly GF1. The features that are attractive to me are the wealth of buttons and dials, the fast AF speed, the nice grip, the promise of better high iso performance, and the availability of a kit with the newer compact X zoom lens.

The buzz kills are that early samples of the X zoom lens appear to have focus/stabilization problems, there is no 1080p 60p option, the rear LCD is still 480K and not tiltable, and it has no built-in EVF. The lower spec video is probably my biggest grip. That said, it uses the same battery as the G3. I still have two spare batteries for that camera (knock-offs), so if Panasonic hasn’t locked them out in the GX1, that could be enough of an excuse to give the camera a try eventually.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A New Challenger Appears!

Kind of ugly compared to the elegant X100 and X10, but I still want it.

Wow, as if answering my last post for the perfect travel camera, Fuji has just announced a 26x zoom fixed lens camera with a 2/3 sensor (the same as their upcoming X10)! It won't be available till early 2012, but I don't have any major travel plans this year anyway.

The camera has a ton of buttons and a hi-res EVF that enthusiasts demand.

There aren't many specs beyond that, but on paper the performance should be quite good for photos. If the video features are competitive and the price is right, this could be a seriously amazing camera.

Image Source: http://dc.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/news/20111005_481838.html

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Family/travel camera showdown

I’ve decided I want my photoblog to concentrate on actual photos and the new home of gear ponderings will be here since it’s been a ghost town for a while.

With that out of the way, my latest thoughts concern the ideal family excursion camera. The key criteria for this category are in order of importance:

1.    Size/weight – Nothing too big or heavy
2.    Operational speed – Has to be very responsive so I can catch action as it happens
3.    Video quality – Minimum 720p @60p with stereo sound. 1080p 60p is even better
4.    Image quality – I’m willing to take a hit in this category, but not too much
5.    Reach – This only factors in when visiting places like the zoo or ball game where zooming is the only way to get close to the action
6.    EVF/OVF – For sunny days, this can be a lifesaver although not critical for some situations
7.    Discreetness – It certainly helps if the gear you wield is as unintimidating as possible, silent shutter is a plus

My two current cameras for this are the Sony HX9V and the Sony Nex-5N. The HX9V nails #1,3, 5, and 7. Operational speed is not great, image quality is average to below average, and it has no EVF.
The Nex-5N pretty scores points on everything except for reach and discreetness. I could add a 18-200mm lens, but then the size gets a bit out of hand. I also prefer the video of the HX9V over the 5N mostly because the smaller sensor keeps more things in focus which is important for family movies.

The new contenders




Panasonic FZ150 ($499, available October 2011)
Panasonic recently revealed the FZ150 superzoom camera. I owned the previous model, the FZ100 and was mostly pleased with it. I wasn’t surprised by noisy pics in low light since the cam had a small sensor, but the videos also suffered from excessive noise in lower light. On the other hand, the HX9V handles low light video like a superstar. Panasonic was aware of this problem and has reduced the megapixel count of the FZ150 from 14 to 12 which is great.

Initial photo tests on DPReview look extremely promising. The sensor of the FZ150 holds its own against larger sensor cameras quite well. The FZ100 nails 6 out of the 7 criteria points (it’s not very discreet looking, especially with the lens hood on).  If the video quality of the FZ150 is up to snuff in low light, this can be the camera I’ve been waiting for.

The initial asking price of $499 is high for a camera in this range these days though. Also, the active steady shot feature of the HX9V is the top of its class so the FZ150 has its work cut out for it if it’s going to convince me that the large size of the FZ150 is worth ditching the compact HX9V.

Fujifilm X10 ($599-699, available November)
The Fuji X100 is a great camera, but it didn’t suit my needs in this category. Its little brother is looking very interesting on paper. It’s smaller, has a nice zoom range, better video capability, and faster operational speed. It’s going to come down to how good the image and video quality is and if the camera is actually more responsive than the X100.



Sony Nex-7 ($1199 body, available November)The only way I would pick up the Nex-7 is if I sell BOTH my Nex-5N and Sony a850. That scenario is unlikely, no matter how heavy the a850 is. More high quality e-mount lenses may eventually force the issue, but that is quite a bit into the future based on the known Sony lens roadmap.
 Nikon V1/J1 ($899/$649 available October)Just recently announced, Nikon’s first foray into compact mirror-less cameras is a bit of a head scratcher. On the plus side, the size of the camera and lenses is relatively compact and the shooting/video performance is looking interesting. The big sticking points are the small sensor and high price compared to its immediate competition. Time will tell if they catch on, but it’s not really in the running for me.

Panasonic GFX1 (Rumored)
The hottest rumor that comes from reliable source EOSHD is that Panasonic will unveil the GFX1 camera in November. If this follows suit of other Panny announcements, the camera will be available 2-3 months later. The most exciting aspect for me is that rangefinder styling with a built-in EVF. The G3 was great, but the body was dog ugly. For me to go back to micro four thirds, the performance would have to again take a good leap that the G3/GF3 made from previous generation in terms of photo quality. The video performance is already there in spades. Because of the vast lens selection, a well specified GFX1 would be the ultimate high performance compact travel camera whenever it’s released.

Olympus?I have a big soft spot for Olympus cameras as I’ve owned the E-P1, E-PL1, E-620, and the legendary E-1. As primarily a JPEG shooter, I love how the Oly cameras handle the processing of the image and deliver wonderful colors. The Sony cams can come close after some post processing though. I would give Olympus another chance if they were able to deliver a Pen-styled (read: rangefinder) camera with a built-in EVF and top notch video. I have no doubt they can do it. They would have to work on the video part though as the AVCHD implementation on the latest Pens is still not as good as on the Panasonic cams.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Third String

Bit of a dry update spell here, but I have some fresh updates on my two other blogs on game outfits and photography. Enjoy!