Friday, August 24, 2012

The Hypothetical Camera Comparison Chart

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What's Photokina without getting your hopes up, checking DC Watch Impress every five minutes, and feeling disappointed when it's over? I always write a list describing what I wish (reasonably or not) the camera companies would make or change on their current models, but this year I also did a pairwise comparison chart to rank them in order of my preference. There are 11 cameras total; at the last minute, I removed the upcoming Fuji X-mount camera(s) because one was just leaked.

The Results

1. Leica Mirrorless
Score: 10

Of course the one with the least information to work with gets first place. All we know is that it will have an APS-C sensor or larger, that Leica acknowledges the improvements in EVFs, and that they are impressed with the hybrid viewfinder from Fujifilm. Unfortunately, it may not be announced at Photokina as they had expected a year ago. I picture it being like the X100, only better.

- Galilean viewfinder with LCD projected framelines.
- Same controls and menus as the Leica S2 (shutter speed dial, small OLED display on top, rear thumb dial, no aperture ring on the lens, four buttons around the LCD).
- Fixed 35mm-e f/2 lens.
- Optical image stabilization.
- Ricoh-style snap mode that can cycle through a custom memory bank of standard focus distances.
- Fast autofocus down to EV1-3.
- PDAF on the sensor.
- Ultrasonic motor.
- No built-in flash or AF assist lamp.
- Standard hot shoe.
- Weather sealing.
- Modern, authoritative design.
- $3000-3500 is fine.

2. Fujifilm X200
Score: 9

I'm not expecting any big changes, which sucks. The X100 is around the bottom of my list, even though it has that all important Galilean viewfinder and lens spec. I'd happily buy my imaginary replacement model.

- Fast AF in low light.
- PDAF on the sensor.
- Cleaner, less disorderly design.
- Focus mode switch from the X-Pro1.
- Recessed exposure compensation dial.
- 1/3 stops on aperture ring.
- Standard filter ring and bayonet-mount for hood.
- No built-in flash or AF assist lamp.
- No video mode or microphone ports.
- 'Q' button.
- Four-way controller from X-Pro1.
- Better battery life and charger.

3. Pentax Mirrorless
Score: 8

As you'd expect, the more imaginary cameras outrank the cameras with a basis in reality. Among the mirrorless cameras with an EVF, the key feature is built-in image stabilization (or image stabilized primes). While Sony's Alpha system has Super SteadyShot, they decided not to use it for NEX to keep the bodies as small as possible, a lousy tradeoff if you asked me. By contrast, the Pentax K-01 still has Shake Reduction. After the Ricoh acquisition, it's unlikely that there will be a new mirrorless system from Pentax, but this is what I'd like to see if they gave it another try.

- Short flange back distance.
- Shake Reduction.
- APS-C sensor with PDAF.
- A good EVF.
- Tablet-shaped body, e.g. Leica M, Nikon J1, Canon EOS M. Not with protruding mounts and grips like Sony NEX or faux-prisms like the Olympus OM-D and Nikon V1.
- K-5 level controls: top LED panel, two dials, etc.
- Weather sealing.

4.  Olympus Pen Pro
Score: 7

This is one notch below the Pentax because of the sensor's aspect ratio. I couldn't care less about the consequences of its slightly smaller size and one stop reduction in "depth-of-field control." It's just that for street photography, travel, and casual picture taking (the reasons I want a digital camera at all), I prefer the 3:2 aspect ratio. Portraiture is another matter. It's too bad that full frame cameras are 3:2, and that those Super Four Thirds rumors are probably hogwash, because I want as big a sensor as possible for portraits, and I want it to be 4:3. I'd get a MFDB if I could.

Also, and I know it's stupid, but I don't like the OM-D even though it has nearly everything I want. Putting aside my preference for Galilean viewfinders, what the OM-D lacks is a rangefinder-based design. Pseudo-DSLRs are the complete opposite of what I want. If you look at a rear view of the OM-D, you can see the extra height added because of the clunky faux-prism. It would have been cooler if it was more like the Sony NEX-7 and Fuji X-E1, and the LCD would have stayed nice and clean instead of getting greasy from your nose touching it all the time. Left-eye dominant people will understandably prefer the central EVF position, but not me.

- EVF in the corner like a rangefinder.
- PDAF on the sensor.
- Design style like the E-1, a modern classic.

5. Ricoh GXR MkII
Score: 6

It's been three years since the GXR was announced, so a MkII is probably on its way. The one thing I would add is an EVF in the corner. What else is there to do? Not much, because Ricoh knows what they're doing. More lensors would be nice, too.

- EVF in the corner of the body unit.
- 35mm-e f/2, 50mm-e f/1.4, and 75mm-e f/2 lens units with 16mp APS-C sensors.
- PDAF on the sensor.

6. Sony NEX-7n
Score: 5

The imaginary version of one of the hottest cameras of the last year should be higher up on my list, shouldn't it? In the realm of the actual, the NEX-7 is near the top of my list, but small things that I don't expect to change prevent it from maintaining its position in my alternate universe. Tri-Navi? Pretty cool, but I don't like that there are no detents on the dials and that the settings are only visible on screens, nothing external and physical. An LED panel would change my mind, and I've yet to test White Magic in the sun, which is more likely. IBIS? Not a chance. Style? They've got plenty, but sometimes it's not enough (or the right kind).

- PDAF on the sensor.
- No built-in flash.
- Standard hot shoe.
- White Magic LCD or top LED panel.

7. Panasonic GL-1
Score: 4

Again, one notch below the Sony because of the aspect ratio. Assuming that built-in image stabilization is not going to happen, my biggest wish for the Panasonic is that they hand the design over to the people who worked on the L-1 and LC-1. The GF-1 and GX-1 just don't compare.

- EVF in the corner.
- PDAF on the sensor.
- Design like the L-1 and LC-1.

8. Canon EOS M Pro
Score: 3

Canon is off to a slow and late start in mirrorless. The 35mm-e f/2 pancake is great news, but there is still no word on its quality. Worst of all, the PDAF on the sensor is slow. Hopefully it will speed up with firmware updates. Something I do like is the simple design of the EOS M; I would lose all interest if the enthusiast model looks like a pseudo-DSLR. The new system may be worth looking at in a generation or two.

- Faster PDAF on the sensor.
- EVF in the corner.
- Weather sealing.
- L-series prime lenses.

9. Nikon V2
Score: 2

The consumer-oriented interfaces of the J1 and V1 made a lot of enthusiasts complain, but more levelheaded pros were impressed by their fast PDAF and overall performance. I don't think it would take much to win enthusiasts over. I'm somewhat interested in the possibilities of deep focus with the smaller sensor (watch this video of Sam Abell), assuming that dynamic range is good enough to handle contrasty light.

- EVF in the corner.
- Standard hot shoe on the other side of the EVF, flush with the top like a rangefinder.
- Standard mode dial and exposure compensation dial (see the Fujifilm X10).
- Fast prime lenses.

10. Ricoh GR Digital V
Score: 1

The Sony RX100 changed everything. Sort of. The lens is slow at the long end and I don't see the point of it being as long (or short) as it is. If the lens only went to 50mm-e, and the maximum aperture stayed at f/1.8, I would have bought one like everybody else did. That's probably not going to happen.

The best thing that can come out of this is that maybe Ricoh will put a 1'' sensor in the next GRD. I'll keep dreaming about that zoom lens, too. How big could it be? It's a small sensor. Do it already! In case someone thinks I'm against fixed prime lenses, which is possible since nobody reads anymore, there is another imaginary camera where I'd like to see a fixed zoom lens: a dedicated small sensor macro camera with a 50-200mm-e f/2.8-4. Uh, what were we talking about?

- 1'' sensor.
- EVF in the corner.

11. Leica M10
Score: 0

It's too expensive. The sensor is overkill. It's kind of heavy. The design is great, but it's not perfect. There's nothing left to say.

- 24-36mp CMOS sensor.
- Live view.
- Weather sealing.
- A good LCD.
- Remove the USB port and Brightness Sensor.
- Thin it down to Leica MP dimensions.

Now that's taken care of, I should probably do a comparison chart for cameras that actually exist. After Photokina.