When was the last time you picked up a compact camera? I’ve got one sitting in my drawer beside me (the Sony DSC-HX5V that I reviewed all those years ago) and it’s been there for the better part of 2 years, not seeing the light of day. I’d hazard a guess that everyone has at least one digital camera lying around their house somewhere that simply doesn’t get used anymore and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why. When the picture quality of your smartphone is comparable to your pocket cam there’s really no reason to bring it along, even more so when your smartphone has all those convenient options for sharing them instantly. With that in mind it seems a little odd that the major camera manufacturers still bother making them as it seems clear where the future of that segment is.
Indeed if you check out the recent financial results of both Canon and Nikon they both cite the lagging sales in compacts as a contributing factor to their recent decline in sales and profit. It’s not just isolated to them either, pretty much everyone in the camera business has been hurting recently and it seems to be all directly related to their continued presence in the compact market. Now I’m not saying that this market needs to disappear completely, there’s still people out there to sell them too, however when your bottom line is having an axe taken to it because of one particular product line it’s time to rethink your presence there. Indeed when the major player’s interchangeable lens system cameras are doing so well in comparison it seems inevitable that this is the direction they should take, although some would think otherwise.
Nikon’s president Makoto Kimura doesn’t want to abandon this sector and instead wants to “change the concept of cameras”, potentially with a non-camera device. As some analysts have picked up on this sounds an awful lot like they might be trying to enter into the smartphone market somehow but in all honesty that’s the last thing they should be doing. If Nokia’s attempt at bringing better camera technology to the mobile platform is anything to go by then I can’t imagine Nikon’s going much better, especially considering the luke warm reception their Android based pocket cam received. It would be far, far better for them to simply drop the whole sector together and then refocus their efforts on further improving their mirrorless and DSLR ranges which will always have a strong market behind them.
I’m not advocating that they just straight up stop making them, there’s still a bit of money to be made here, but it’s obvious that even super cheap compacts aren’t enough to pull consumers away from their smartphones. Instead they should gradually taper away their involvement in the area, reducing the number of models they produce significantly. It’s very possible that there’s a sustainable niche in there somewhere which could support a couple models and reducing the available product lines would show that. If they became unsustainable then it’d be time to drop that area completely and then put those resources to use in their other imaging sections. There’s also the possibility of licensing out their technology to smartphone manufacturers in order to get at some of the action that they’re currently missing out on although whether any of their tech is applicable is an engineering question I can’t answer.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for compact makers, all it means is that part of their market has been eaten away by technological advancements in other fields and it’s time for them to adapt. I think they’re all well placed to whether this change as their businesses outside their compact range are all strong, even growing in most cases. Whilst the loss of the compact sector won’t necessarily mean a boost to the DSLR/mirrorless sector it will mean they’re spending less money on a shrinking sector, something which seems like smart business sense. Hopefully they take this path sooner rather than later as I’d hate to see my favorite camera manufacturer suffer unduly because of it.
There’s only one thing that I don’t like about my little 60D and that’s the fact that it’s not a full frame camera. For the uninitiated this means that the sensor contained within the camera, the thing that actually records the image, is smaller than the standard 35mm size which was prevalent during the film days. This means that in comparison to its bigger brothers in more serious cameras there are some trade offs made, most done in the name of reducing cost. Indeed for comparison a full framed camera would be over double the price I paid for my 60D and would actually lack some of the features that I considered useful (like the screen that swings out). The rumour mill has been churning for quite a while that Canon would eventually release an affordable full frame DSLR at this year’s Photokina and the prospect really excited me, even if my 60D is still only months old at this point.
News broke late yesterday that yes the rumours were true and Canon was releasing a new camera called the EOS 6D which was in essence a full frame camera for the masses. The nomenclature would have you believe that it was in fact a full frame upgrade for the 60D, something that was widely rumoured to be the case, but diving into the specifications reveals that it shares a lot more with the 5D lineage than it does with its prosumer cousin. This doesn’t mean the camera is more focused on the professional field, indeed the inclusion of things like wifi and GPS are usually considered to be conusmer features (I’ve had them in my Sony pocket cam for years, for example), but if I’m honest the picture I built up of the new camera in my head doesn’t exactly align with what Canon has revealed and that’s left me somewhat disappointed.
Before I get into that though let me list off the things that are really quite awesome about the 6D. The full frame sensor in a camera that will cost $2099 is pretty damn phenomenal even if that’s still well out of the range of the people buying in the 60D range. It’s actually the cheapest full frame DSLR available (even the Sony fixed lens full frame is $700 more) and that in itself is an achievement worth celebrating. All the benefits of the bigger sensor are a given (better low light performance, crazy ISOs and better resolution) and the addition of WiFi and GPS means that the 6D is definitely one of the most feature packed cameras Canon has ever released. Still it’s the omission of certain features and reduction in others that’s left me wondering if it’s worth me upgrading to it.
For starters there’s the lack of an articulated screen. It sounds like a small thing as there are external monitor solutions that would get me similar functionality but I’ve found that little flip out screen on my 60D so damn useful that it pains me to give it up. The reasons behind its absence are sound though as they want to make the 6D one of their more sturdier cameras (it’s fully weather sealed as well) and an articulated screen is arguably working against them in that regard.
There’s also the auto-focus system which only comes with 11 focus points of which only 1 is cross type. This is a pretty significant step down from the 60D and coming from someone who struggled with their 400D’s lackluster autofocus system I can’t really see myself wanting to go back to that. It could very well be fine but on paper it doesn’t make me want to throw my money recklessly in Canon’s direction like I did with all the rumours leading up to this point.
One thing could sway me and that would be if MagicLatern made its way onto the 6D platform. The amount of features you unlock by running this software is simply incredible and whilst it won’t fix the 2 things that have failed to impress me it would make the 6D much more palatable for me. Considering that the team behind it just managed to get their software working on the ever elusive 7D there’s a good chance of it happening and I’ll have to see how I feel about the 6D after that happens.
Realistically the disappointment I’m feeling is my fault. I broke my rule about avoiding the hype and built up an image of the product that had no basis in reality. When it didn’t match those expectations exactly I was, of course, let down and there’s really nothing Canon could have done to prevent that. Maybe as time goes on the idea of the 6D will grow on me a bit more and then after another red wine filled night you might see another vague tweet that indicates I’ve changed my mind.
Time to restock the wine rack, methinks.
I had a rather fun and interesting weekend in terms of photography. As part of my whole pursuing my passions business I’ve set about trying to better myself as a photographer and part of that is challenging myself each week (or as close to that as I can) to take on a photographic challenge. The first one was something I was already comfortable with, landscapes, and flush with victory for that I decided to take on something that I haven’t really seriously tackled before: architecture. I had a few locations here in Canberra scouted out and so after swinging by the computer fair to pick up a new router I jumped straight in, looking to find that unique view of some Canberran architecture that’d catch my eye.
To put it simply the day didn’t go quite as I had expected. I figured buildings would be much like landscapes, big things that don’t move or complain so they’d make for easy photographic pickings. It’s completely the opposite of course as for landscapes you’re usually taking things from a great distance away and for buildings and architecture you usually don’t have the luxury of distance, especially if you’re in the middle of a city like I was. I haven’t had the chance to fully review all the pictures I took but suffice to say none of them really impressed me after I took them, so I definitely know there’s room for improvement there.
However during my journey I made a quick sojourn up to the iconic Parliament House as no photographic trip focused on architecture would be complete without a picture or two of it in there. As I approached it however I noticed a group of people out the front with many holding signs and a loud speaker amplifying the words of a lone spokesman. Intrigued I approached them and from what I could tell (many of the signs and speeches were in Arabic, I believe) were protesting the current asylum seeker legislation. Figuring this would be a good time to hone my photojournalisitc skills, which didn’t exist prior to this, I started snapping pictures. No one complained about having their pictures taken but it did bring back some horrible memories of stories of fellow photographers who had had some bad experiences doing the same thing.
Generally speaking if you’re on public property you have every right to take a picture of what you see, especially if what you’re taking a picture of is on public property as well. There have been numerous cases of people being harassed by police when taking photos of them (there were police at this protest too, but I didn’t want to invite trouble by photographing them) but you’re well within your rights to do that as well. There are of course exceptions to these rules as the link describes but for the most part as long as you’re sensible about what kinds of pictures you’re taking you won’t be any legal trouble.
Still it’s always something that niggles at the back of my head and I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve shied away from any kind of photography in a public place.I know I’m in the right legally I can’t shake the feeling that I’ll get accosted by people when taking photos near them, even if I’m not pointing the camera directly at them. I did get a couple looks (the Canon 60D with a 24-105mm F/4L lens and a 480 EX II SpeedLite can be a rather imposing beast to look at) but no one really seemed to care that much that I was taking pictures so that feeling is probably just more of my introverted side coming out more than anything else. Maybe my next challenge should be street photography to work that part out.
I don’t have anything to show you just yet as I don’t like to shoot in JPG + RAW because it seems redundant and the codec pack I’ve got for viewing RAWs doesn’t work on the x64 version of Windows 7. I’ve bought myself a copy of Lightroom though so once I get that installed and get comfortable with the interface you’ll then be relentlessly spammed with all the photographs from the weekend and I might update this post with a few choice shots from my little jaunt. Whilst it might not have been the most pleasurable experience (it was rather cold) it was definitely a learning one and it’s something that I’ll be looking to repeat in the not too distant future.
I don’t know if it’s an engineer thing or just me personally but I find I work best when I’m thrown into the deep end of something. I usually end up in this situation when someone asks me if something can be done and I can’t think of any reason why it can’t, and thus end up being the one developing the solution. More often than not this puts me far out of my current realm of knowledge so I end up doing extensive amounts of research in order to be able to achieve what I set about doing. I’ve come to call this process one of becoming a temporary expert as at either end of it I’m probably no more knowledgeable than anyone else on the subject, but for that brief period in the middle I’d definitely consider myself an expert.
Take for instance my on-again off-again hobby of photography. About 4 years ago I was planning a trip to New Zealand with my then girlfriend (and after the trip fiancée) and I thought I should get myself a decent camera for the trip. Before this though I hadn’t really done any kind of real photography but I knew the best kind of camera to get would be a digital SLR. The next month was filled with hundreds of online articles, reviews and guides from others who all had varying levels of opinions on what I should be buying. In the end, after digesting the massive amount of information I had shoved into my brain, I chose myself a Canon 400D and less than a week later I had it in my possession.
However as time went by I found myself no longer keeping up to speed on the various developments in the photography world. Sure the odd article or blog would cross my path but apart from buying another lens a couple months down the line my knowledge in this area began to fade, as would a foreign language once learnt but seldom used. Most of the fundamentals stuck with me however, but those extra bits of knowledge that made me feel like I knew something inside and out slipped away in the vast depths of my mind. It was probably for the best since photography is a rather expensive hobby anyway.
Most often I find myself going through this temporary expert process during the course of my everyday work, usually when I’m working in smaller IT departments. You see whilst bigger IT departments have the luxury of hiring many people with specific, specialist knowledge smaller areas have to make do with generalists who know a bit about everything. The most effective generalists are also quite adept at this temporary expert process, able to dive back into a technology they were once familiar with head first in order to become a specialist when they’re required. This process isn’t cheap however since the amount of time and effort required to attain the required level of expertise can be quite large, especially if they’ve never had any experience with the technology before.
I remember doing this quite extensively back when I was working for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. I had been hired on to revamp their virtualisation environment and a large part of that was working with their SAN. Whilst I had had experience in the past with their particular brand of SAN my last job hadn’t let me anywhere near any of their kit since they had a specialist who took care of it all. I spent the better part of a month diving through technical documents and resources to make sure what I was planning to do was feasible and would deliver as expected. The process worked and I was able to accomplish what they hired me for, unfortunately working myself out of a job. If you came to me today and asked me to accomplish the same thing I would probably have to do the same process all over again as my expertise in that field was only temporary.
I guess this rule applies to any skill you develop but fail to use over a long period of time. As someone who gets deeply interested in anything with even a slight technological bent I’ve found myself lost in countless topics over my lifetime, fully immersing myself in them for as long as my interest lasts. Then as my interest wanes so does my knowledge until the passion is rekindled again and the process starts anew.
I’ve been deep in the social networking world for a long time now and while I’m no expert on how to use them effectively I do recognise their power to drive a product or brand. Most recently this has led me to get involved in the YouTube community, albeit as a consumer more than a producer. Still I couldn’t push back the thought that this was something I’d love to get into, seeing it as a kind of evolution of my blogging efforts of the past couple years. Plus it would give me a great excuse to go gadget shopping and everyone knows I love me a good gadget.
I’d been eyeing off the new Canon DSLRs for quite a while since I’d heard they were capable of doing full HD video recording. Looking over some of the sample videos posted around the Internet the Canon 550D was shaping up to be a good replacement for my 400D, and the camera body by itself could be had quite cheaply. However after bumping into an old friend of my brother he extolled the virtues of the Canon 7D to me, what with its dual processor loveliness and full magnesium body. The camera itself wasn’t too expensive although certainly more than the 550D, and so I resigned myself to get one before our trip over to the USA.
Of course right after that, I started looking at accessories.
Now I’m just a hobbyist photographer and I haven’t invested too much into my kit yet, probably somewhere on the order of $1,500. The 7D by itself would almost double the amount I’d spent thus far but that would still leave me with an expensive camera and only 2 lenses (one of them a not so good kit lens). I then decided I’d need another lens if I was going to do this video thing properly which bumped the total investment up to a point where I started to question just how much I wanted to do this. Thus I decided I should find a cheaper alternative first before sinking almost $3,000 into a hobby that I might not even be interested in.
And so enters the Sony DSC-HX5V.
I had only 2 requirements when I was looking for this camera. The first was that it had to be a compact, not a scaled down DLSR or anything that would be comparable in bulk to my old Canon. Secondly it had to shoot full 1080p HD video as that meant that as long as the quality was at least halfway decent at that resolution I could always scale it down to 720p to get a pretty decent picture. After looking at various Micro 4/3rds and other interchangeable lens cameras I stumbled across Sony’s latest line of compacts and I must say their specs were impressive enough for me to investigate them further.
In particular the HX5V stands out thanks to all the wizardry that they pack into this tiny, pocket sized device. Not only does it support full 1080p video at 50fps but it also does 10 megapixel stills with a 10x optical zoom. Additionally the camera comes equipped with a GPS sensor and a magnetometer so your photos not only have their location in them but also the direction you were facing when you took it. They also managed to fit a stereo microphone on the top of it as well.
Although the camera body is made entirely out of plastic the build quality is good with the whole camera feeling quite solid. The optical zoom action of the camera is quite smooth and is very quiet, great for when you’re using it during video mode. For someone like me with giant hands the camera is actually a bit too small as I can’t hold it comfortably without covering up most of the camera. Still the size lends it to fitting well in your pockets without feeling too bulky so I’m willing to make the trade off for portability. The battery pack is quite adequate for taking hundreds of photos but will run dry rather quickly when recording in full HD video. I think I’ve got about 30~60 minutes total on a full charge, which is pretty reasonable considering its size.
The menu system on the DSC-HX5V is a little confusing at first but most of the regular ones can be found after a few minutes of stumbling around. Thankfully the large LCD on the back informs you what each of the little symbols on the mode dial mean when you switch as some of them (like the auto HDR one) don’t really convey their meaning very well. There’s a button on the back of it to go straight to movie mode which is a nice addition and saves you from having to navigate around unnecessarily.
So how does it shape up as a camera? Well rather than blather on about picture quality and all that I’ll just let the pictures do the talking, below is an album of some pictures I’ve taken over the course of the past month that showcase the camera’s abilities in various conditions:
Ah but I hear you asking, what about the video? Well you won’t be disappointed I’ve compiled a video of some of the footage I’ve taken as well, although I’ve replaced the sound as there wasn’t anything really worth hearing in any of these videos (highly recommend hitting the 1080p button for this one):
Overall I’m very satisfied with this little compact. Whilst it wasn’t exactly cheap by any stretch of the imagination, about $400 on Ebay, the capabilities it provides are well worth the price of admission and it’s the perfect substitute for when my DSLR would be overkill. The picture and video quality are quite good and the auto HDR function provides great pictures even in extremely low light situations. If you’re a budding vlogger or film maker I’d highly recommend this camera as a starting point before you sink thousands of dollars into professional kit. It does unfortunately lack some features (external mic in, bluetooth) which would’ve made it a technological dream but for the price I couldn’t find anything to beat the Sony DSC-HX5V in every area consistently. That might change with the product refresh cycle coming around for this holiday season but that would just mean you could pick one of these up for a bargain price, and I’m sure you wouldn’t be disappointed.