WARNING: long post with opinionated content
Yesterday, I was at Focus on Imaging 2012, held at the NEC in Birmingham (UK); I thought I’d share a personal ‘show report’ with anyone that’s interested. It was pretty quiet when I arrived and didn’t too busy all day. It was the last day of the show, but apparently there were far more visitors last year.
Of course I had to have a play with the 5D MkIII and D800, but I did a quick look around and some shopping first to let the queues die down a bit. Most retailers’ show price for the 5D MkII was £1399 body only, £1999 for the 24-105mm f/4L IS kit and £999 for the 7D (body only). If you’re in the market for either model, I’d suggest trying to haggle your chosen retailer down to at least this figure. It could point to possible price drops soon.
I know that if you’re reading this, then you probably want to hear about the 5D MkIII, so I’ll move straight on to this: I can’t actually tell you an awful lot from handling the 5D MkIII at a trade show, especially with a camera I’d never used before that wasn’t set up to my custom settings (sorry, not much time to fiddle around with a queue of wild eyed Canonistas behind me!).
There are a few repositioned buttons, just to irritate you; mind you the depth of field preview button is in a much better location than before. It is mostly the standard mid-range EOS interface with a few tweaks. The image review works differently. It’s enough to annoy you greatly at first, but once you’re used to it I’m confident that you’ll wonder why it wasn’t done that way before. The viewfinder doesn’t look much different to before, but in practice I’m sure 100% coverage will be useful. The main difference is the grid of flashing red lights denoting all the AF points when you press the AF selection button (I’m sure you’ll be able to customise how this is displayed). It’s difficult to make any judgements based upon snapshots at a trade show counter (especially as the camera I was playing with was fitted with the 24mm f/1.4L II – not the best choice for testing AF performance!) but it seemed perky enough. The Canon reps were trying to make the most of its low light performance with lots of expansive language about -2EV AF and showing us the LCD following a shot they’d taken at ISO 12,800. To me it looked very clean, but also like there was too much noise reduction applied. That’s not to say that the camera was poor, just that it was impossible to make a judgement based upon what I saw. More informative were the prints from the camera, which should have showed us how impressive the 5D MkIII was at high ISO and the increased dynamic range they were claiming in lower ISO shots. I say should have done
, because Canon didn’t actually bring any large sample prints for us to view “pre-production, not final firmware, blah, blah”.
The gentleman stood next to me (who was into wildlife photography) asked about the metering system; he had a 7D and likes to spot meter on his subject, but didn’t like the fact that on the 7D the spot meter is in the centre of the viewfinder and not linked to the active AF point. He asked the rep if this had been changed to the 1D X’s system; I told him that the 5D MkIII basically had the 7D’s meter and not the 100,000 pixel unit from the 1D X, so I though this was unlikely. The rep couldn’t answer to the gentleman’s question and so had to go and ask a colleague; the answer that came back sadly confirmed my assessment. I therefore decided to test the water and make a menace of myself by raising the issue of why Canon had not included their top-level meter on the 5D MkIII, whereas Nikon had on the D800 and despite this, Canon wanted £600 more for the 5D MkIII. The rep told me that the two cameras were not comparable in specification, so I pointed out that they quite clearly occupied the same position in each manufacturer’s line-up and again queried the price. The rep then tried to explain that Nikon did not pre-warn Canon of their intended price point for the D800 and if they had, Canon might had specified the 5D MkIII differently! [What, like not put in the 61 point AF system, reduced the frame rate and kept the old sensor?!!] I pointed out that Ford might not let GM know the exact price of their next mid-size sedan, but that it should be pretty clear to marketing what price range potential purchasers would be expecting to pay.
I decided that I should back off the guy a bit, as I was starting to feel sorry for him, so I asked him to sell the camera to me over the 5D MkII. He ran off the standard spiel about the AF system and low light capabilities, so I decided to put him on the spot again and question what value the new model was for landscape and studio photographers, for whom these aspects weren’t priorities. His answer was that the 5D MkII was still a production camera and that if I didn’t feel the MkIII’s features were worth the upgrade, then I should stick with/buy the MkII. I accepted his point, but stated that I didn’t believe that the MkII was still in production, or if it was then it wouldn’t be for much longer. I questioned what Canon would do then from a marketing point of view. His reply was that I should go and work for Canon’s marketing department, because I obviously knew more about it than them (touché). To be fair, he did a good job under my sometimes harsh devil’s advocate cross examination, but I’m not sure that Canon’s marketing department have entirely thought their message through. I feel there is still a need for the kind of high-megapixel, “big print” camera that Canon have become known for in the digital era.
Before leaving the Canon stand, I had a play with the super-teles (each with a 1D MkIV attached, except for the 200mm f/2, which had a gripped 5D MkII for some reason). The reason that I mention this is because I’ve never handled the 1D MkIV and was very impressed with the response of the shutter (and the AF system’s tracking –although following slow moving punters in an exhibition hall is hardly a torture test). I mention this because it hit me that this was after handling the 5D MkIII; I can’t say whether the MkIII is actually ‘laggier’ than the 1-series, but I don’t remember being struck by the MkIII in the same way.
I also took a look at the Powershots, well the G1X to be precise; I can confirm that viewfinder is truly worthless and it is a touch on the large side. I’ve got to say that I’m not enamoured with the G-series control interface, retro is fine but why not just make it the same as a mid range EOS (i.e. mode dial, twin control wheels)? For me, that would be far more appealing as a “DSLR owner’s second camera” that they seem to be pitching for. Also, what is the score with the non-functional metal ring around the lens? Surely this would be the perfect place to put an S100 style control ring? Combine it with a button for focus and it could do zooming and manual focusing in a far more comfortable way than the rocker switches on the back (especially with the lens fully zoomed out, this is really a two handed camera). I asked the rep when the version of the G1 X with an interchangeable lens mount would be coming out. He told me that Canon had no plans for such a camera as they felt there was no need for one. I therefore asked if I could order a G1 X with a fast prime lens and he suggested an 1100D; I replied that I thought the NEX 7 would be a better recommendation.
My last stop on the Canon stand was the C300, which is a lot smaller than I’d thought from the pictures (but much heavier than a DSLR). I asked about the 4K DSLR; obviously the rep was unable to give any details except that it will be launched later this year, sit between the 5D MkIII and C300 in the video line-up and share its body with the 1D X. I guess that it’s going to be closer to the C300’s price than the 5D MkIII’s.
So, over to the big yellow stand to find out exactly who “I am…”! I found a small queue for the D800, which the lady behind the desk was doing a very British job of marshalling into an orderly line. Apparently, people had been waiting for up to an hour earlier in the day, but now there were just a few people in line. I took the opportunity to sneak a look at the D4, as no one else seemed that interested. My impression was that it was basically a D3s with some improvements that I either couldn’t see (i.e. the sensor) or didn’t notice (I try not to get too intimate with other people’s partners). It had the AF-S 50mm f/1.4G attached, which was incredibly pedestrian to achieve focus and this is compared to my EF 50mm f/1.4 USM (not known as a speed demon).
Joining the ever-shortening D800 line I didn’t have long to wait to get my hands on the single camera they’d brought to the show (hello Nikon, the 5D MkIII was announced less than a week ago and Canon had three of them on display?). Again, I’d have to say that it was basically a D700 with some improvements that I either couldn’t see (i.e. the sensor) or didn’t notice. Sure, the (lame) pictures that I took looked good on the LCD, but it isn’t easy to judge quality from that. Where were the huge prints that the D800 should be capable of? “Pre-production, not final firmware, blah, blah”. Sorry this is no excuse, Fuji had some very brave (possibly hubristic) enlargements on their wall from the X-Pro 1 and that was announced before the D800.
Having mentioned Fuji’s latest flagship, I should give my thoughts having played with it. Obviously, the interface is even further removed from what I’m used to than Nikon’s, but it struck me that for all the attempts to echo the simplicity of a manual rangefinder, it is still an electronic box of tricks with a myriad of ‘fn’ and other buttons scattered over the top, front and back of the camera. I’ve got to say that I am not entirely convinced; the AF is not exactly rapid (I couldn’t judge accuracy) and manual focus requires you to change to EVF mode and magnify the image (I don’t think it has focus peaking). Combined with the size and weight (think M9, not NEX 7) I am struggling to see what advantages the new Fuji offers over an SLR or SLT. If they’d managed to fully integrate the EVF into the optical view (i.e. focus peaking overlaid onto the optical image), I’d say “look out Leica”. As it is, the X Pro 1 is a camera of two halves: one half is a rangefinder camera with contrast detect AF instead of the rangefinder and the other half is a compact system camera that isn’t very compact. Like the X100, the X Pro 1 is a very nice and well built toy, but I can’t see them making much impact in either the professional market or the compact system camera market. Close, but no cigar (yet).
Finally, it may strike you that I am just a belligerent git that killed some time at a trade show goading unsuspecting employees of camera manufacturers. Partly that’s true, but I also spend quite a lot of the show watching presentations on Photoshop and from various photographers (Sorry, but I had no interest in listening to presentations from camera manufacturers telling me how great their latest models were).