News/Views

News and commentary about the Nikon DSLR world and photography in general. This page automatically updates with links for each new news/views story and is a good place to bookmark if you want to see the traditional bythom "front page" type of story. 

Latest News/Views stories (top is most recent):

How Companies Pick Lenses to Make

Fujifilm apparently had a recent change of mind about lenses, postponing the expected 120mm f/2.8 and deciding to go with a shorter focal length. At least if we’re to believe rumors. Why? Size.

But this brings up an interesting point. Why would Fujifilm make that change? Because something in their user surveying told them that really large lenses aren’t as welcome as small ones. For Fujifilm, which has very small unit volume still, putting their limited resources into something that’s less desirable to the small-but-loyal user base is a real ROI killer. 

Why am I not writing about this on the sansmirror.com site? Buzz, buzz (;~). Yep, it’s effectively another missing Nikon DX lens complaint. 

It seems that product management future planning in Japan consists of:

  • Look at what others are selling
  • Look at what’s sold best in the past
  • Simplify the audience into picky pros and convenience-oriented consumers
  • Look for single lens hits
  • Design fewer lenses that do more as opposed to more lenses that do less

Couple that with not being in clear contact with the actual user—both established and potential—and you can probably guess that Canikon ended up doing the same lenses over and over. At least while Canon and Nikon were selling far more of anything than anyone else in the industry. 

The vulnerability is this: as Canon and Nikon shrink back down in size, if competitors get the lens questions right and Canikon doesn’t, the shrinkage will be higher as those competitors steal customers. Note the word “potential” in the previous paragraph. More and more that potential customer is going to one of Fujifilm, Olympus/Panasonic, and Sony. Size is part of the reason. Lens choice is another part of the reason. 

Look, Canikon pretty much have the true consumer convenience customer tied up. I wouldn’t argue that Nikon should stop producing a Nikon D3300 type camera and a superzoom for it, though it should probably be mirrorless by now. But that customer is getting rarer, and the prosumer customer trying to fill specific needs is getting to be a larger proportion of the camera buying population. And they aren’t overly happy with what Canikon is offering them, which is why you see some of them getting siphoned off to the smaller competitors.

Not that Nikon actually understands this that I can see. Given how isolated the design decisions in Tokyo are from the actual customers, changes in customer patterns don’t end up getting reflected in Nikon products very fast, if at all. Canon’s doing slightly better at this, but only slightly. 

Fujifilm, meanwhile, is spending lots of time trying to hear what the customers are actually saying, and has a nice set of professional photographer advisors they proactively listen to that can speak ergonomics and modern photographic style and inform the Fujifilm design process. Part of that input clearly has had to do with size/type of lens. At present, Fujifilm is the only APS-sized sensor company that has 10 primes in their APS-sized lens set (with a rumored three more coming in the next year or so). This is on top of 9 zooms, two of which are APS echoes of the full frame holy trinity (14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm f/2.8 in Nikon FX). 

Why is that important? Because the APS size makes all the wide angle through low telephoto lenses smaller than full frame lenses. Fujifilm has correctly picked up on “size” being a factor in future camera system decisions. 

Indeed, there’s a Goldilocks thing that is happening, though the Three Bears (Canon, Nikon, and Sony) aren’t really responding to it well. The 1” and m4/3 systems are on the “too small” side. The full frame/FX systems are on the “too big” side. Guess where the “just right” size is based? Yep, still APS, just where Nikon started and built on for eight years before branching out. But which they never finished with a full lens set (buzz, buzz). 

But you wouldn’t know this if you weren’t connected to the customer base and surveying it constantly, looking for trend lines and strength points. 

So, does Nikon know what lenses people want? For the most part no. Oh, sure, Nikon knows a few lenses that have strong demand both historically and contemporaneously. As I’ve written for decades, you absolutely need a fast mid-range zoom for any competent ILC system. But do you need seven 18-xx zooms? No. Do you need small lenses? Yes. Can those be (should be) primes? Yes. Will they be used in video? Yes, though minimally for most still shooters. 

The trick is to get close to the customers. You need to know what problem they’re trying to solve, and then solve it for them. I believe Nikon thinks they’re solving the “small” problem. To Nikon, that means a consumer DX DSLR and a superzoom. How is this small? Well, it’s just one thing to carry, even though it weighs several pounds and sticks way out from your body when carrying. Nope. Hit the edge of the dart board, but didn’t score. Certainly didn’t hit a bullseye. 

Moreover, the hilarious part of this is that if the new DL series ever gets here and proves popular, Nikon will have solved the problem with something other than an ILC ;~). So the ILC market will shrink some more, and the user problems will continue to evolve. Indeed, they’re already evolving, and it isn’t about just “size” any more, but “size with competence.” 

For some reason I’ve gotten a lot of “what would Galen be shooting today” questions via email lately.

Galen Rowell was an adventure/landscape shooter known for carrying a small grip F4 with a 20mm f/4 lens most of the time. It was a “size with competence” choice. It’s possible that Galen would still be shooting Nikon were he alive today, and that he could cobble together some acceptable “go anywhere” package with current Nikon bodies. But I can’t help but think he’d look at a Fujifilm X-T10 and 14mm f/2.8 lens with envy. Small but competent.  

Thunderbolt 3 Delivers a Jolt

One thing that was clearly evident at NAB is that Thunderbolt 3 is the future. Or wait, USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 is the future. 

Before we get to that seeming contradiction (it mostly isn’t), let’s quickly review the history of personal computer connection technologies: parallel, serial, SCSI, USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt. All of those (and more) had multiple versions over time, some that were forwards and backwards compatible, some that weren’t. Apple tended to clearly use items that Windows machines didn’t, and vice versa, and moved faster through the ever changing connectivity landscape. All of which led to a lot of products being available only in one computer ecosystem, or requiring different handling or converters to be used in another. 

And if communication standards wasn’t confusing enough, we had different display standards, as well, with different cable options there, too.

Thunderbolt 3 tries to solve all that. It merges three things into a single cable: Thunderbolt, USB 3.1 Gen 2, and video display support. Pretty much anything you want to move from place A to place B will likely travel on Thunderbolt 3. 

Yet, there will still be great confusion even with a single standard. For instance, Thunderbolt 3 uses the current USB-C style connectors. The MacBook 12” has such a connector, though it isn’t Thunderbolt 3 enabled. Moreover, ask any two drive/storage/video vendors at the NAB show about “compatibility” between Thunderbolt 2 and Thunderbolt 3 and you’ll get five different answers. Truly. It seems that some booth personnel at the show haven’t gotten the Thunderbolt 3 indoctrination lecture yet. 

Thunderbolt 3 has three basic functions, as noted above:

  1. Implements Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt is a high bandwidth communication method and protocol. Thunderbolt 3 doubles the available bandwidth from Thunderbolt 2 to 40Gbps, though that’s broken down into directional channels, meaning that the fastest any given data piece travels from A to B is only 2.5Gbps. Still, that’s fast for data via cable, faster than we’ve had in the past; and some products might use multiple channels to achieve even faster speed.
  2. Implements USB. Everything you can do via USB—any variation—can be done over the Thunderbolt 3 cable. One of the more interesting aspects of this is power. Thunderbolt 3 enables 15 watts for bus-powered devices, and up to 100 watts for power charging. As with the MacBook 12”, most laptops will stop using a dedicated power cable, and most external devices you’d connect to the computer probably won’t need power cables, either. While the loss of a dedicated power cable simplifies things for laptop makers, it complicates things for the laptop user, as the MacBook 12” demonstrates: almost all of us have bought a dongle to plug into the USB-C connector on that computer to split signals out. The same thing is likely to happen with Thunderbolt 3.
  3. Implements Video. To be specific, DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 2.0 are directly supported. And there’s enough bandwidth for multiple displays to be active.

There’s even more to Thunderbolt 3 than those things, but those three items are the ones we’ll use the most, for sure. 

But here’s the problem and the reason why you couldn’t get clear answers to the compatibility issue at the NAB show: Thunderbolt 3 will need an adapter to allow you to plug in a Thunderbolt 2 device, and that adapter may be costly. It’s possible that some Thunderbolt 3 devices could be used on Thunderbolt 2 systems, but best case they’d only be serving Thunderbolt 2 capabilities (e.g. slower bandwidth, less power, and older USB/video standards). And again it probably will require an expensive adapter. 

Mac users have a bit of a problem at the moment, therefore. If you’re about to move to a Mac Pro (trash can style) or iMac Retina, you’re buying a computer with Thunderbolt 2 support. You’ll buy any of the current Thunderbolt 2 devices—of which there are many excellent ones—and you’ll be using the old style Thunderbolt cables. 

When Thunderbolt 3 hits—and I’m betting that the delay in updating the Mac Pro (trash can style) was partly due to this—you’re going to have issues with moving your Thunderbolt 2 drives and accessories to your new system. Just as we had issues with moving from Firewire, only this time it will be more costly now due to the expensive adapter that will be needed. 

On the Windows side you need to pay close attention, too. Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo all have Thunderbolt 3 capable laptop models on the market today, but they also have many more models that aren’t. Moreover, one of the big questions I kept hitting at the show was this: “who has a Thunderbolt 3 certified cable?” (Such a cable has the official Thunderbolt 3 logo on both connectors. Obviously, you could fake that and sell a cable that hasn’t yet been certified, which would cause confusion and problems, though you’d eventually be hit with a cease and desist order by the standards group.) 

So the good news is that we’re going to get a standard connection that Mac, Windows, Linux, plus specialty hardware companies like you find in the video business, will all be using. Finally. The bad news is that we’re still going to have a transition to go through, and it could be a bit of a rough one for some.

The question that comes up is this: should I wait to buy a system today? I would say yes if you were thinking about a Mac Pro. Not only will you get locked into a lot of Thunderbolt 2 gear, but you’re getting a box (can) that has slipped from a state-of-the-art (CPU, GPU) to start with. Some think that the about-to-be-announced next generation of MacBook Pros will be Thunderbolt 3, so if you’re in the market for a Macintosh laptop it might be wise to wait until June when those are announced to see if that’s true. 

There’s no reason for most of you to worry, though. If you’re just looking for a great system and are only going to hang a couple of big drives or RAIDs off of it, the difference between Thunderbolt 2 and 3 isn’t likely to come into play for you any time soon. You may even start finding Thunderbolt 2 devices coming down in price prior to the full transition to the new standard. 

But the big video rigs (Mac Pro) and the portable devices (MacBook Pro) might be a different story, depending upon how far you want to take them. The same is true on the Windows side, as well. Gigabyte is making the first desktop CPU boards with Thunderbolt 3, while the other Windows computer companies I mentioned all have at least one laptop/notebook computer with Thunderbolt 3 already. The Thunderbolt 3 floodgates are about to open.

OWC was displaying three of their products with Thunderbolt 3 at their NAB exhibit. LaCie was debuting their new 12Big with Thunderbolt 3, and was more illustrative of the way many will deal with the future: "For universal compatibility, users can connect to USB-C laptops—and even USB 3.0 computers via the included USB-C to USB-A cable.” In other words, the primary backwards compatibility with many of the Thunderbolt 3 products in the future will be USB-driven. 

So, one thing you’ll need to be aware of is the logo next to any USB-C port. Unfortunately, I don’t have the final logos available to me at this time, but here are the four significant variations for a USB-C port:

  • long established USB three wire logo: only USB 2.0 on connector
  • above + SS in front: USB 3.1 on connector at 5Gbs
  • above + 10 above the three wire bit: USB 3.1 on connector at 10Gbs
  • Thunderbolt insignia: Thunderbolt 3

There can also be a D next to it to indicate DisplayPort capability (assumed with Thunderbolt 3). And the logo can be in what looks like a battery, which indicates that the full power capability is there (15 watts external, 100 watts charge), also assumed with Thunderbolt 3.

Finally, one thing that a lot of people haven’t noted yet: Thunderbolt cable distances are highly limited, at least for wired cables, and it doesn’t matter which Thunderbolt we’re talking about. Thunderbolt 2 and 3 have a 3m limit (10’) to meet performance specifications. So what happens if you want to put your device further away? Well, you do what some of us have been doing with Thunderbolt 2: you buy an expensive fiber optics cable to extend the distance. Typically, these are Corning Optics cables, and they come in 18’ (6m), 33’ (10m), 98’ (30m), and 164’ (50m) lengths, and start at about US$180 (see below).


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More Troubles at Nikon

I find it a bit disingenuous that Nikon announced delays in products in conjunction with reporting impacts from the earthquake that hit Southern Japan earlier this month. The delays in products that Nikon reported weren’t due to the quake, and any future delays due to the quake are still as yet unknown. 

Let’s take that latter bit first: a number of fabs in the impacted area—including a key Sony image sensor fab—shut down after the quake, and as I write this it is still very much unknown how fast they’ll come fully back on line. Sony has indicated that there is significant damage at the Kumamoto plant that needs to be addressed before reopening it. That includes buckling on the floor that holds critical equipment.

That said, no one—other than perhaps Sony and the camera companies—knows exactly which cameras might be affected by the temporary closure of that plant. Rumors are, that among others, it makes the 24mp APS sensors. That would impact Fujifilm, Nikon, and Sony. 

But in addition to the Sony fab, there are other facilities in the area that camera makers rely on, and some of those are hidden component suppliers that are required for the sensor, ASIC, LCD, and other key part makers to produce items needed to make cameras. 

Thus, it’s quite possible that we’ll get another several month period where components aren’t readily available to the camera makers, as we did in 2011. This has potential to delay shipments of new products, and disrupt shipments of existing products.

But I wrote “disingenuous” in my opening statement. The announced delays to eight (!) Nikon products aren’t due to the quake. The DL models seem to be delayed by a problem with the new EXPEED chip they use. The KeyMission 360 is apparently delayed due to software. And the Coolpix are delayed for unspecified reasons. Oh, and the iOS version of the app necessary for SnapBridge 2.0 is also delayed due to software issues. 

I’d love to be at Nikon's year-end financial announcement conference on May 13th and be allowed to ask a few very pointed questions about what’s going on. 

Let’s back up a minute and relate what I think happened at Nikon in the last year, and how that has now led us to where we are.

The review of previous year results plus the CIPA data from the previous year and forecast year ahead are used each spring to make the big directional decisions. I believe Nikon management used that data about a year ago (+/- three months) to make a number of course-correction type decisions:

  • Snapbridge 2.0 was already in progress, but it was given higher priority and an “across the board” requirement (which somehow missed the D5 ;~).
  • Coolpix was entirely re-evaluated. A few simpler bottom models were announced but are now delayed. The middle/top models haven’t appeared yet, and there will likely be fewer of them.
  • The Nikon 1 was quietly cancelled—or at least severely cut back to bare bones survival—and the energies for 1” sensors refocused into the DL models.
  • The on again/off again mirrorless replacements for entry DSLRs were put back on again, originally targeted at Photokina 2016. 
  • The D500 was green lighted. Replacements for the D750 and D810 were green lighted, too. A new legacy-type camera (Df replacement) was green lighted for 2017. 

Here’s the problem: even simple consumer models tend to have 18-month development cycles, but 24-months is more typical. If you make big adjustments in product specs and design, you really need two years to make that happen. Nikon seems to have been trying to do that in far less time with some of their corrections. In particular, the DLs. 

Moreover, marketing gets messed up, too. If I’m right about the above, I personally would have cancelled the Nikon CES booth and launched the D5/D500 combo instead at NAB. Why? The attendee profiles more closely match the products, and these were Nikon’s first true 4K video products. Plus the extra time would loosen the critical path gatekeepers.

Of course, NAB 2016 clearly showed that Nikon is late to the 4K game. It’s not about 4K video any more, it’s now about 4K HDR. Launching 4K at a 4K HDR dominated show would have just revealed how far behind and out of touch Nikon is getting in the video realm. Still, I think NAB would have been the better launch venue, and it would have given the company more time to get those two products right and marketed correctly. Instead, we got a rushed feeling from the CES launch, plus the D500 turned out to need some more time to ramp into full production.

Delaying the D5/D500 to NAB would have had bad consequences, though. First, Nikon would have looked “quiet” for quite some time. They wouldn’t have had much of anything for CP+ in February, the home town show. 

But look at what’s happening to Nikon now: early launches and delays clearly weren’t better than remaining quiet for a long period and then launching with a bang. Nikon doesn’t seem to understand that their reputation is being shot all to hell by the publics’ perception of a continued series of problems. Adding new delays just tells everyone that Nikon hasn’t solved those issues, and this just hurts their reputation even more. 

Someone with Big Boy Pants in top Nikon management needed to step in last year and say “We’ve heard our customers, and apologize profusely to them for our recent miscues. We’re in the process of completely evaluating everything in our lineup, our QC procedures, and our manufacturing processes. Thus we won’t have any new significant product intros for a short period while we complete this task and right the ship. However when we do resume launching new products, we think you’ll find them exciting, compelling, and capable of things our competitors can’t match.” And, of course, that same Big Boy would have then had to back that up with action, especially internally.

I’m fairly sure that Nikon is now engaged in a domino sort of effect in engineering: the previously-announced products are still consuming their attention in order to correct and finish them. Thus the next batch of products gets a little less attention until the fixing process is done with the previous ones. And less attention means more likelihood of continuing issues. Lather, rinse, repeat. 

A couple of us analytical folk were talking about trends at NAB last week. For a long time the Big Two in prosumer/pro video were Panasonic and Sony. But it seems Panasonic’s problems—not all confined to the video division—allowed Canon to sneak into Panasonic’s position. Meanwhile, upstarts like Blackmagic Design and RED have strong footholds now. 

Similarly, Nikon is stumbling enough that Canon has no real worries from them on the still camera side. While Sony now has an opportunity that they could take great advantage of. Not that they will ;~). Still, Nikon is so exposed and vulnerable right now as to be almost in an existential crisis. Shrinkage and decline in the camera group at Nikon means shrinkage and decline in the company, period. Too much shrinkage and decline would put the company at great risk.

Let me point out that not a single of Nikon’s problems actually have technology or engineering issues at their core. Nikon’s engineering team remains at the top of the game (though the software side could use some shoring up). No, Nikon’s problem is one of management. It’s the decision making that starts at the top of the company and the pressure those decisions are putting on engineering and sales that is causing the real issues. 

The re-evaluation that came about a year ago that I hinted about earlier came from top management. New marching orders, basically. I have great empathy for the development teams trying to play by all the new (and old) rules that upper management is invoking. Top management is expecting the engineers to deliver more, and faster. Yet top management is also screaming for cost reductions everywhere. 

I’ve long disliked Nikon’s management structure. It’s a classic insulated-from-the-customer, self-replicating, old-boy network. Moreover, it’s a large, cumbersome group that works mostly by consensus, so it’s very slow to react to anything. 

This was obvious when Nikon’s surging camera sales suddenly made the entire company dependent upon camera sales. There was no tangible diversification effort made until too late, for instance. 

With most of the customer base outside Japan, and most of the disruption that’s bothering the camera market also coming from outside Japan, the lack of any non-Japanese in upper management or the board also seems wrong.

I guess the good news is that, despite the disingenuousness, Nikon did seem to reveal the real reasons for the delays and those were essentially admissions of internal failure (chip design, software not done). That’s a small step towards the transparency Nikon customers need to see in order to restore their faith in the company. 

Yet…the problems at Nikon clearly persist. The past several years have produced a series of issues that impact customers and let few of Nikon’s product introductions seem to come off cleanly. That’s typically indicative of a company “on the edge.”  

It’s time for Nikon to get off that edge and back on solid ground.  






 



The NAB Semi-Live Blog Page

This page, like my D5/D500 page, is a mini-blog within the dslrbodies.com site. Since my coverage of NAB is news oriented, this mini-blog page lives within the News/Views section of the site. The most recent articles will appear at the top, while older ones feed towards the bottom of this page. 

Be sure to bookmark this page and come back to it often from April 14 to April 21. On some days there will be multiple updates.

The NAB Convention in Numbers

  • 1874 companies exhibited
  • 1,063,380 square feet of exhibit space was used
  • 103,012 visitors attended, 26,893 from outside the US and from 187 countries
  • 1608 registered press covered the convention

Compared to 2015:

  • 103,012 attendees in 2016 versus 103,119 in 2015
  • 26,893 foreign visitors in 2016 versus 26,319 in 2015
  • 1,063,380 square feet of space in 2016 versus 1,013,554 in 2015

You may want to know how NAB compares to Photokina. Photokina 2014 was:

  • 1074 companies exhibited
  • 155,000 square meters of exhibit space was used (1,668,406 square feet)
  • 183,297 visitors attended, 57,961 from outside Germany and from 160 countries
  • 5961 registered press covered the show

I’ll say this about being a working member of the press at both NAB and Photokina: NAB beats Photokina hands down in almost every respect, and the companies exhibiting at NAB are much more proactive then those at Photokina. Registered as press at Photokina brings a trickle of information to your in box; registered as press at NAB brings a fire house of information. 

Wednesday — A Quick Photo Tour

Today I thought we’d play a different game than new product descriptions. I’m going to walk you around the show a bit and show some of the more unusual things you'd see after walking (7.04 miles today) up and down all the aisles.

First up, have you ever wondered about those big scoreboard displays? You know, like this one:

bythom US NV NAB April-2016 A6300 19850


The back side of these displays is probably not what you thought:

bythom US NV NAB April-2016 A6300 19849


Yes, that’s the same display, I just moved a few feet to my right to show what’s on the backside. Lots of heatsinked, synchronized, sub panels all tied together with cabling. And it seems that the bigger the panel is, the more complex things get.

Wonder how all those low angle moving images of cars get done? 

bythom US NV NAB April-2016 A6300 19869


That’s a Canon DSLR down there below door level, held up with suction cups and magnetic grips. 

And speaking of cars, I want one of these four seaters (that’s a remote controllable video camera fully protected from sandstorms up top, by the way):

bythom US NV NAB April-2016 A6300 19929


But I can probably only afford this one:

bythom US NV NAB April-2016 A6300 19917


Yes, drones were everywhere, and some now come with wheels. They even come in VTOL versions now (note the near props in the helicopter position with the far props in the forward propulsion position):

bythom US NV NAB April-2016 A6300 19945


One of the cooler things I saw for the first time was a glass window that was actually a video display:

bythom US NV NAB April-2016 A6300 19893


And yes, it can provide a very reasonable video output (just don’t put bright things behind it):

bythom US NV NAB April-2016 A6300 19894


If that starts to make you wonder what the future might be like, well, according to Facebook it looks like this:

bythom US NV NAB April-2016 A6300 19889


It was actually amusing to watch folk sit through that VR presentation and react to what they were seeing. 

But one of the more interesting things in a show like this is all the ways that different companies gave you something to “shoot” with their products. I’ll give you just a taste of this. I’ve already shown what Atomos had:

bythom US NV NAB April-2016 A6300 19931


Some companies went simpler and more classy:

bythom US NV NAB April-2016 A6300 19927


Some went with faux celebrities, such as Rocky Balboa:

bythom US NV NAB April-2016 A6300 19928


There was a never-ending stream of shooting possibilities, that’s for sure. 

I hope you enjoyed this quick walk around the halls. I’m now winging my way back to the offices, so they’ll be a bit of a break before I report other things I learned or found at the show. Thom feet need rest.

Suffice it to say I gathered enough material for a whole host of articles—and yes, articles that apply to the still photography side, too—selected a bunch of products to review, and got answers to a number of questions that some of you have been asking me via email. All that, plus our regularly scheduled coverage will resume on Monday. 

Tuesday

I don’t have a lot to report today in the way of products as I’ve been doing booth visits and interviews for a number of upcoming articles I’m working on, two of which apply to both still and video shooters. I also spent some time walking the entire booth set in the South Halls, which I didn’t work yesterday (a bit over 3 miles, as it turns out, though I didn’t do the transect in a very inefficient manner, repeating my path a few times).

It would be interesting to “heat map” the show. There are some clear areas that are consistently jam packed, to the point where it’s very difficult to move, let alone find the right person to interview. Also, it’s clear that the early morning traffic is lower than the early afternoon traffic. A lot of people fly in for a day or two for the show from LA and other nearby areas, meaning they arrive mid-day, attack the booths, then head home the next day.

In the South Hall, there are clear “heat zones” at the RED/Blackmagic booths, which are large and right next to one another. It doesn’t help that a couple of other companies in nearby booths are getting a lot of traffic, such as NewTek. Adobe and Avid also have strong heat around them, partly because they have large presentation areas. Over in the main hall, Canon and Sony are safe bets for “heat zones.” Panasonic, Zeiss, and a few others are probably “hot” too. The drone area is far hotter than I expected, and at least “medium hot”.

What’s not so hot are the services, software, and even the storage areas. Within the storage areas there are some “warm” spots, but getting around that area is quick and not an endless series of dodging around people. 

I am amused about how many options there are for automating news broadcasts. Back when I was TD-ing such shows (TD = technical director), I had to set every key, wipe, split, and title on the fly. Lots of buttons and switches to master. It seems that too many TDs are making too many mistakes, because one solution I saw was basically this: program your 30-minute newscast once, then the TD just has to press the “next” button for each automated transition or effect or title. Of course, I don’t know what happens if the TD gets so far out of sequence that he’s four “next” ahead or behind. Probably something worse than what happened when you made a bad decision on the fly ;~). 

A few new products I caught in my walkabout:

bythom tascam dr-10sg

Tascam has a new shotgun mic coupled with built in amp and recorder, the US$199 DR-10SG, which mounts in the hot shoe of your camera. For those of you using a separate audio/video approach (e.g. via PluralEyes synchronization), the separate recording provides arguably better sound that using the camera’s cheap internal amps to record from a microphone. The DR-10SG can also pass through the sound to the camera. In addition, there’s an on-board slating facility for later synchronization. The microphone itself is highly directional and shock-mounted. It’s designed to reject ambient sound, including camera handling, and grab audio from the subject in front of the camera.

bythom smallhd 701

SmallHD joined the HDR bandwagon with some expensive, large, rugged, HDR field monitors. Available in 17”, 24”, and 32” sizes, these things had gorgeous displays and a ton of features, but the 17” starts at US$3999. But I can see if you’re shooting 4K HDR with a client tagging around where these would be very useful.

More in the budget of this site’s readers is the new 7” monitors, the 701 Lite and 702 Lite. While only 1200 x 800 pixels, they’re 450 nits in brightness and give you 3D LUT support, focus assist, focus zoom, waveforms, false color, and zebras, all in 10 ounces (without battery). US$700 for the HDMI 701, US$900 for the SDI/HDMI 702. 

This site’s exclusive advertiser carries the Tascam and SmallHD lines. Get the full list of new products B&H carries that were announced at NAB here [advertising link].

6.08 miles walked

What the Lytro Pivot Means

Tuesday Afternoon

Venture-based Silicon Valley firms aren’t exactly doing well at revolutionizing imaging, yet they are. 

What do I mean by that seemingly contradictory statement? 

Well, Foveon, for instance, didn’t exactly take over the sensor marketplace as they originally sought, but they did produce a sensor that is still unique and provides advantages to regular imaging sensors in some situations. A lot of people don’t know, for example, that after Sigma bought Foveon, they didn’t just put that sensor in their cameras, they used it behind the scenes in lens development and production for resolution testing. Indeed, I suspect that many of the real gains we’ve seen in Sigma’s recent lenses are partially due to that unseen use of the Foveon sensor.

But as a VC-based investment, Foveon was a bust.

GoPro did better, and revolutionized one sector of the video market, though they’re now struggling with both competitors and the fact that they saturated what may turn out to be a smallish niche market. I’ve seen fewer GoPro-for-production-video accessories and options than I expected to, with the most common one being Google Glass-like monitoring systems for the active shooter.

Lytro took two turns in Silicon Valley at building a new still imaging product that would revolutionize the photography world. The whole claim to fame of those cameras was really “focus after the fact.” Of course, you didn’t have even a 1080P image to do that with, and you needed to use Lytro’s own software to accomplish that, which had its own issues. 

Now Lytro has admitted that their still camera idea didn’t go anywhere and has pivoted to a new place down the road from Silicon Valley: Hollywood. Here at NAB Lytro was touting the new Lytro Cinema camera that they’ll rent to you, using the opportunity to show off and explain a short film they made with the new rig.

Why rent? Because the Lytro Cinema isn’t exactly a mass production device: 755mp raw capture at up to 300fps. That generates 400GB of data a second. Not exactly going to be something you stick on an SD card, is it? ;~)

The pitch Lytro is making to Hollywood is still based on the Light Field technology—micro lenses in front of the sensor(s) displacing the light in a way that helps you detect where the light came from—but with a few twists that very well may make it successful.

First, there’s the sheer data volume captured. In essence, the Lytro Cinema is attempting to collect a 3D set of data about the scene, and then via software pull that apart in ways that allow you to separate every object in the scene. They’re doing that at way more than HD or 4K levels, too (Lytro claims equivalence to 40K video). What that means is that everything in the scene is replaceable with 3D software. No more traditional green screens: simply send the data from the camera directly into your 3D modeling system. Mix, match, and replace items as you desire.

But beyond that, the sheer immensity of the data capture allows other things, such as post production dollies, camera shifts, focus shifts, depth of field changes, and shutter speed simulations. You can even do things like say “anything beyond X distance should be blanked out (made transparent)” so that you can layer the foreground material captured by the Lytro Cinema over a modeled or differently captured background. 

None of this comes cheap, and that’s part of the point of the pivot, I’m sure. Lytro will be renting the camera to Hollywood and other production companies, as well as providing cloud and plug-in services. In a way, they’ve taken on the technology side for realistic imaging much as Pixar did for animation. I suspect that this will be a success for Lytro, especially if the actuality is even close to the claims in the press materials and demos. I shared a cab ride over to the convention center with two Disney execs, and the one booth they wanted to hit was the Lytro booth.

So what’s this have to do with the photography audience reading this site? 

Simple: Lytro was way too early in attempting to get light field into the hands of the masses. Yet we’re starting to see simpler approaches hit the shelves, particularly the two-sensor smartphone models. While two sensors don’t provide you a “light field,” they do provide you additional useful data, which light field does in spades. 

We’re going to see more and more of this “additional data” gaining attention as we move further into the digital era. The traditional camera companies are lagging far behind. Indeed, they just seem to have recently discovered bullet time (the multi-camera use that produced the Matrix-style stop-time-and-move-position effects you might have seen, especially in SciFi and fantasy productions). 

At least today I can buy parts off the shelf to fire multiple Nikon bodies simultaneously and make my own bullet time rig. But where is the data connection and the software to make quick and effective use of that? 

What if I set up four Nikon D810’s in different positions and just took multiple pictures of a landscape? Manually, I could build a pretty decent depth map from that data. But Nikon’s doing nothing to help me with that, and as far as I know, they’re not really working with software companies to build the right data set for third party software.

So my point, I suppose, is this: Silicon Valley sees the future well. Sometimes so well it gets way ahead of the actual market possibilities, as Lytro did with its still camera initiative. The Japanese camera companies see the future far less well. They tend to see now, not the future. Sometimes they do this so poorly that they get behind the actual market possibilities in their products.

Serious shooters are going to be using multiple imagers simultaneously at some point in the not-too-distant future. They’ll be doing that because it gives them some advantage, and that advantage will be attained due to the software handling the data the multiple camera set created.

One point of looking orthogonally at a market as I am here at the NAB convention is that sometimes you can more easily see the future of your own discipline by looking at another. 

If you think Photoshopping today is “magic” with all its cloning and smart healing and layering capabilities, image a future where PhotoPieces basically lets you completely model the scene you shot in 3D and then move things in and out while leaving the rest of the image parameters intact. Want a tree behind your subject? Just remove what was there and replace it with tree data. Need to remove that soda can from your pristine landscape? Done, and replaced with what was around the can automatically. Call it Location Aware fill. 

In essence, Photoshop “layers” are going to be supplanted by “3D object manipulation.” 

Leica Video Lenses

You probably didn’t know that Leica makes lenses for the motion picture and video industry. They do, under the CW Sonderoptic subsidiary, and they have for a long time. You’ll find that quite a few such Leica lenses, actually, and they’re labeled Leica Summilux-C (t/1.4 lenses) and Leica Summicron-C (t/2 lenses) and come with PL mounts (what most of the bigger video gear uses). 

Here at NAB SW Sonderoptic is introducing two new Summicron’s, the 40mm t/2 and the 15mm 5/2. This makes the full line of Leica cinema/video lenses look like this:

  • Summilux t/1.4: 16mm, 18mm, 21mm, 25mm, 29mm, 35mm, 40mm, 50mm, 65mm, 75mm, 100mm
  • Summicron t/2: 15mm, 18mm, 21mm, 25mm, 29mm, 35mm, 40mm, 50mm, 75mm, 100mm, 135mm

These lenses all have geared focus and aperture rings. The focus rotation is set for long pulls (300° from near to far), and the designs within a family are done to keep them near the same in length and diameter, making them easy to change without disrupting your rigging.

As you’d expect from Leica, these are precision, high-quality optics. CW Sonderoptic likes to describe the image quality produced by these lenses as “creamy sharpness,” and believes that they work especially well with rendering skin without sacrificing clarity. 

Personally, I’ve not used these lenses, so can’t say how they work in real productions. I don’t have a PL mount video camera. But you’ve seen the results from them. On US television, for instance, Summicron-C lenses were used on Mr. Robot and Criminal Minds. And Oliver Stone’s just released Snowden was also shot on Summicron-Cs. 

Monday Afternoon

Eek!

When I sat down to write this morning’s entries, my In Box had 150 new press releases in it. As I sit to write up the afternoon’s visits, you guessed it, another 100 press releases. This is a seriously big show, with a lot going on.

ThinkTank, whose bags I’ve used and recommended for years, came to the show with a rethink of their bag lineup targeted at video users. I’m just going to say up front, I like the new video bags—even for still work—though with a small caveat: the way the outer walls are constructed, you’ll lose just a bit of interior space compared to the similar still rollers. 

The new video line consists of three sets: Workhorse, Transport, and Rig. 

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The Workhorse bags (above) are a set of three shoulder bags, but set up for carrying a small, medium, or large video rig that can be accessed quickly. Plus accessories, of course. These are designed to be working bags: protect the gear as you’re moving about, but have it fully accessible out of the bag quickly for shooting. The large one (25) seems a little big for me, but the two smaller ones (19 and 21) are a better solution than I’ve been using for my small ENG-type video rig. Oh, right, ENG: electronic news gathering. 

Acronyms. I’ll try to explain them all, forgive me if I forget a few. It seems that every conversation I have at NAB is mostly just acronyms back and forth, with a few verbs. 

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The Transport bags are like the ThinkTank rollers I’ve been using. There’s an International carry-on sized one (18) and a domestic sized one (20). These bags have reinforced outer shells (including the flap you usually unzip to reveal the interior). There’s a light metal frame near the top and bottom, too. These Video Transports hold their shape better than the ThinkTank rollers I’ve been using, and have more protection against bumps. 

But the thing I like about all these bags is that they hinge on the long axis (plus they have a holder that can keep the lids upright, rather than flopping over onto the ground behind. ThinkTank has changed their interior dividers, too, adding “pillows” and using both thin and thicker partitions. All the other usual ThinkTank touches pervade, including an outer zip compartment that can hold up to a 17” laptop. ThinkTank says “video body, four to six lenses, shotgun mic, small monitor, 4K recorder, plus accessories” would be a typical load.

Finally, there’s the Video Rig 18 and 24, which are big wheeled tubs—yeah they won’t like that I called them tubs, but they’re big and deep—which are designed to hold and protect a fully loaded video rig without dismantling it.

I also met with the Tether Tools folk, who were showing off their recently introduced Case Relay. This is a clever little accessory to extend power. For me, it’s most obvious use is shooting long overnight time lapses, but the Case Relay will find its place in the studio with tethered shooting and with DSLRs rigged for video.

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The Case Relay itself is a small box (black box in palm above) with a 1200mAh battery inside. It’s designed to operate with the in-camera DC couplers, such as Nikon’s EP-5, though Tether Tools can also supply the appropriate coupler for any Nikon DSLR (and many other cameras). You put the coupler in where the battery is, plug it into the Case Relay and…here’s the nice part…plug the Case Relay into pretty much any external battery pack that outputs 2.1v on a USB port, such as the orange one shown above. If you run your external battery pack out, the internal battery in the Case Relay will keep you shooting while you swap out the battery pack. Clever and useful. 

Here’s a closer look at one of the couplers that go into the battery compartment:

crc400 tether tools case relay camera couper 1

Versions for Nikon, Canon, Panasonic, and Sony cameras are currently available. 

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As I’ve written before, Nikon doesn’t have a booth at NAB this year. In fact, they’re downright invisible. I sort of expected that I’d see some Nikon guys and a presence at the Atomos booth, but no, at the humungous climbing wall with live climbers (!) there were a couple dozen cameras, with two lonely Nikon DSLRs at the end. More on Nikon’s invisibility in a moment, but first, Atomos. 

bythom atomos shogun inferno

The big news from Atomos was that they’ve updated their 4K recorders to HDR capability (for free). They also introduced an in-your-face bright Shogun Inferno model (1500 nits) that runs US$1995. Beside providing 4K 60P and 1080P/240 capability, that 7” monitor on it is so bright I doubt you’ll need a hood for it in bright sunlight. You might need a hood for it shooting indoors in dim environments, because it’s bright enough to use a modeling light. 

Update: Atomos was a bit coy in their wording, and it didn’t take long for everyone to figure it out. While the full line of their recorders are indeed getting updates, really only the Ninja Flame and Shogun Flame have displays that are capable of rendering HDR correctly. The other recorders will handle the HDR data, but they display it with a profile that sacrifices color and contrast.

Okay, back to Nikon. Their invisibility here—at least so far in the two halls I’ve been through—is a mistake if they think they really want to play in the video game in the future. I can’t count all the mistakes Nikon is making on the video side, even though they’ve been getting a few things right (uncompressed HDMI output, support for the Atomos protocols, etc.). 

I see a ton of Sony mirrorless cameras wandering around the halls. I see a number of Canon DSLRs in use. I haven’t seen a Nikon DSLR yet being used by anyone (I’m shooting with a Sony, mainly because I’m trying to finish reviews of two Sony cameras and a number of lenses for sansmirror.com). In booths, I see everything from A6300s and GH4s to Canon DSLRs to Canon C models to Blackmagic Design cameras all the way up to RED, and fairly ubiquitously around the hall. 

But here’s the worse thing for Nikon: I see competitors for the not-yet-fully-announced Nikon KeyMission 360 in a higher quantity than I would have thought. 

All of these cameras and competitors are getting plenty of visibility to the videographer customer, both to the 100k+ here at the show, but also to all the folk reading about the new products on the Web through dedicated video sites. Nikon is getting none that I can see. So Nikon trying to do anything other than “just include video with the DSLRs” would need to be dramatic to make an impact on the market now. The window is closed. Not closing. Closed. The fact that we haven’t gotten new primes that are video friendly seems to now be a foreshadowing: Nikon doesn’t get video. 

Meanwhile, the Canon C lineup is fleshing out nicely. The Sony A series are mighty little still/video competitors. Blackmagic came in and created a whole line of video cameras that are becoming go to products for the lower budget crowd. And Nikon is nowhere to be seen.

A lot more happened today than I’ve reported. I spent an hour interviewing the CEO of a data recovery firm, but I’m going to save that for a future article, as he had a lot to say you need to hear, both on the still and video side. So there will be some trickle of other stories, news, and more for quite a while after the doors of NAB close.

Miles walked: 4.59 at the convention center alone

Monday Morning

BlackMagic Design kicked off the morning press conferences with a sneak-around-the-back-of-the-convention-center and come in the back door event (show floor access even to press doesn’t start until 10am). 

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Unlike previous NABs, there’s no new camera from the company, but BlackMagic Design (BMD) continues to add to their offerings from bottom to top. I’ll get to what might be of interest in terms of new gizmos in a minute, but first I want to make sure that you understand BMD.

What started as bits and pieces to help videographers and broadcasters has turned into a pretty full end-to-end suite of products. They make cameras (from the low end and low cost m4/3-mount Pocket Cinema Camera up through full 4K studio cameras now). They make switchers, routers, and a variety of the distribution tools in the middle (I use a BMD product to grab HDMI screen shots off cameras). They make recording and distribution products. They make one of the best editor/grading packages in Resolve (free for the Lite version).  Heck, they even make film scanners to take a 35mm feature to digital. 

The new products today were mostly about filling in gaps and fixing things. More than anything else about BMD I like the way they work and think. They listen to users, they respond to users. How refreshing. 

bythom blackmagic design video assist 4K

The new product they introduced that most clearly fits into the realm for this site’s readers is the BlackMagic Design Video Assist 4K, the second in their off-camera video display recorders. The original Video Assist was HD with a 5” screen, the new one is 7” and records UHD (2160P/P30), as well as supporting mini XLR mic inputs. The 7” touchscreen display is also 1920 x 1200, so the status bar at the bottom doesn’t cover the 16:9 display feed. As with the original, the Video Assist 4K records 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes and DNxHD files to SD cards. The original HD Video Assist is U$495, the new 4K model is US$895. You wondered why Atomos has been dropping prices? Competition. And now BMD has a Shogun competitor, too.

BMD also announced a lot of firmware upgrades, and unlike what we’re used to from Nikon, et.al., these are actually upgrades with new features and capabilities. A few of those updates are available immediately (Resolve 12.5), others will be coming in a couple of months (the Ursa Mini). 

bythom blackmagic design duplicator 4k

One of the more interesting products they announced was something that is very interesting: a 25-bay SD card recorder called the Blackmagic Duplicator 4K (US$1995). Say what? It’s an interesting premise. 

You’re doing event video (wedding, sports, conference, etc.). Your switched feed is going to a recorder. But what if you plugged the Duplicator 4K into that stream? You could sell SD cards to the audience as they leave the event. And these things can be stacked. So you can record 25, 50, 75…1000 cards simultaneously. 

People ask how pros can make money. Well, Blackmagic Design definitely is thinking about that problem. At least for video event recording. I like the idea. I work with a theatrical group, for instance, and we’ve been discussing how to better monetize their plays, especially since they do original work that doesn’t repeat. I think the Duplicator 4K might be part of the answer. As the name implies, it records 4K ;~). 

Panasonic didn’t really announce anything of interest to this site’s readers, but I did witness something you don’t see very often: a Canon executive at a Panasonic press conference. Say what?

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Deja vu is happening all over again, it seems: format wars. 

Here’s the story: everyone needs to move video faster. Way faster. They need to do it over long and short distances and to a range of equipment. The solution that’s emerging as the go-to for everyone is called VoIP (video over IP). The question is what format that data is, and how does it interchange with the rest of the world. 

Well, I had just come from the BMD press conference, where they announced they had selected AIMS (Alliance for IP Video Services; everything is an acronym at NAB) with Tico codecs. Guess what Panasonic and Canon were announcing together? That they’ll support AIMS with Tico codecs. Indeed, the Canon and Panasonic booths at the show are connected with IP and are moving video back and forth showing their interoperability. 

Yep, Sony seems to be the only one of the majors that’s focused on the alternative NMI approach. There are others, including NDI. Update: a reader helped me out with this one: "Sony also offers significant support for ASPEN, another (mostly) proprietary and somewhat legacy-encumbered but more widely supported standard (the #2 behind the more open and somewhat more flexible AIMS). The bigger deal is that unlike in the Betamax days, Sony specifically stated that they were embedding their VoIP logic in FPGAs, which will allow them to update their existing and future products with a simple firmware patch to work with whatever emerges as the dominant standard (which I'm hoping will be NDI, but realistically looks like AIMS at this point, which isn't the end of the world).

And even more: Sony announced support for AIMS at the show. Moreover, the more I learn about VoIP the more interesting and tangled it seems. Sony’s preferred NMI and the more general AIMS seem to differ mostly at the codec level, and both are based on a standard that defines how to use an SDI signal over an IP line. 

In terms of other product announcements from Panasonic, it was mostly high end broadcast and feature cameras (the Varicam LT was the smallest and least expensive of the products they talked about, and it’s out of the league of what I’d write about.

Zeiss did something unexpected this morning: they announced Lens Gear Rings, which will take any Otus, Milvus, or Loxia lens and add a geared focus ring to it. The rings are made of premium aluminum coated with GumGum, a rubbery adhesive surface. No tools are needed to mount the rings, and they all feature a standard 0.8 pitch gear. To accommodate all the different-sized lenses involved, there are four ring sizes (Mini, Small, Medium, and Large).

I actually hit some other things this morning, but I’m pressed for time before the next round of appointments starts, so I’ll leave things here for now. Check back this evening for the next installment. 

Update: a previous version of this post incorrectly indicated that Sony was using NDI. This has been fixed and a reader comment added. In addition, I’ve added information about Sony announcing they’d support AIMS.

Shows Within Shows

April 17

NAB is like a warren of shows within shows. Tonight’s little sideshow is called ShowStoppers, which basically is one ballroom at the Encore stuffed with a number of smaller firms, and open only to the media. 

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DJI was there, and screened off part of the ballroom with a cage so they could fly their latest offerings indoors (there’s a big cage on the show exhibit floor that multiple drone companies share; I’m starting to dream of drone cage fights ;~). 

But I was more interested in finding products that are little more mainstream to this site’s user base. I found three. One, the SpectraCal monitor calibration system I’m going to wait to cover in any detail, as they’re sending me an evaluation unit to try, and I was already going to take a look at the new ColorMunki. So consider this foreshadowing: I’ll have a new article on calibration soon, and I’ll be putting a couple of mini-reviews at its core.

I will say it was refreshing to talk to the VP and get a rather broad-minded view of calibration. Basically, he said something I agree with: “for the most part it doesn’t matter what you calibrate with; but everyone needs to calibrate.” Of course, he went on to say that he felt their solution provided some depth and capabilities that others don’t, but it’s refreshing to hear someone talk mostly to the general need and not solely about their product. 

At the next stand over was G-Technology, makers of the popular G-Raid drives. Their new product to be announced at the show (tomorrow, I believe) is at the top end of what this site’s reader base might need: the new G-Rack 12 network shared storage. You pros that are running studios or are deep into video production probably already have a NAS or are contemplating one. G-Rack follows G-Technology’s usual vented aluminum styling and looks like a solid entry into that market. If you’re just downstream of needing a full-fledged shared solution but need capacity, speed, and reliability, the G-Speed (Shuttle and Studio) are something you should look at. They come in 2-drive to 8-drive models, and work over Thunderbolt to both Mac and Windows systems.

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But I was much more interested in products G-Technology introduced a bit earlier but hadn’t seen or used yet: the G-Dock (below) and the G-Drive ev ATC (above). The G-Drive ev ATC is rated IP66 (see my upcoming article on sansmirror next week about weatherproofing, particularly the end where I'll discuss IP ratings). With up to a 1TB 7200 rpm (HGST) drive in it, the ev ATC is a portable shell around a dockable drive. Literally, you pop the drive out of the protective housing and put it directly into the G-Dock ev. Or you use the ev ATC as a single drive in its protective housing (there’s a built-in cable that pops out, and which kept the unit from getting an IP67 rating). 

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The black drive in the lower slot was popped out of the ev ATC and put into the dock.

I’ve been looking for a better external drive solution to take into the rough situations where I teach workshops. Combining the ev drive with the dock provides me the ability to back up drives (via the dock), yet keep them protected most of the time (via the housings). Both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 versions of these products are available, again supporting both Mac and Windows. This site’s exclusive advertiser, B&H, carries the G-Technology products (use one of the links below, then search for G-Technology or one of the product names on the B&H site).

Another product that was just announced that I hadn’t seen yet was tucked into another corner of the ballroom, the new Sennheiser MKE-440 stereo microphone for DSLRs. Take a look. Here it is mounted on my Sony A6300:

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Unfortunately, Sennheiser’s “press kit” URL isn’t live yet, so I can’t give you all the details on that product, but I expect to see a number of these popping up in mirrorless and DSLR video use soon. Simple, compact, high quality, and sturdy (the shock mounting on the individual mics is unseen inside the V shell). The arrangement of the two mics is optimized for getting a clean left-right stereo presentation while putting a good emphasis on what’s straight ahead. Looks promising, and I can’t wait to try one.

Miles walked: 7.16 (I walked from the Sony Press Conference at the Hard Rock to the ShowStoppers at the Wynn Encore, then back to my hotel at the other end of the strip)

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This site is supported by B&H, the site’s exclusive advertiser and supporter for over a decade. The following is the B&H “NAB Just Announced” product list, followed by their “NAB Show Specials":

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Sony NAB Press Conference

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Beyond definition. That’s Sony’s big type message these days. A smaller message is "From the lens to the living room.

Here at NAB this year, there wasn’t much for the A7 to FS shooter in Sony’s press conference. The F5, F55, FS5, and FS7 all get a firmware upgrade, mostly to up the bit rate capabilities. 

The big announcement of the day was a new broadcasting camera whose output you might have seen (specifically, 14 times during this year’s Super Bowl broadcast, because the camera can provide an 8x slow motion stream of 4K resolution data). 

So, for readers of this site, not anything particularly of interest. 

Still, there’s a theme starting to emerge under the covers: 4K HDR. I’m barely a few events into the show and I’ve pretty much heard it mentioned every time. Indeed, I was struck by a comment made in a panel discussion about building all new 4K mobile broadcast trucks for sports, entertainment, and even things like Fox’s live version of Grease: “HDR may be more important than 4K.” 

So it’s probably worth repeating myself a bit. The S-Gamut3 that Sony has been putting into their cameras—even the ones I use—is bigger than REC.2020, which is the gamut used by the 4K HDR solutions. Remember I mentioned the color differences I saw in the SMPTE screening earlier: the thing I’m learning is that Sony is basically already all-in with providing capture devices that are capable of producing and displaying the content needed for 4K HDR. 

It’s coming to you soon: Sony is now producing 4K HDR-capable TV sets. 

I’m sure in the back rooms in Japan (and Korea) there’s a bit of celebration going on. CES and NAB each year try to establish some new technology that’ll drive new TV sales. 3D was a flop. Curved screens aren’t the answer. But 4K HDR might actually be something you want. It’s up to the content producers and the distribution systems to make it so.

Yesterday Ang Lee (oscars for Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain) introduced his new film Billy Lynn to an overflowing audience here at NAB with 11 minutes of footage. 4K, 3D, HDR, 120 fps. That’s pushing every button on the content, distribution, and technology side, for sure. I wasn’t there, but I’ll quote The Hollywood Reporter: "most of the reactions to Lee's footage were overwhelmingly positive, with viewers tossing out words like 'awesome' and 'unbelievable.’" 

So I’m reminded of what I learned back when I got my BA in Communications in the early 70’s: there’s a trinity of things that have to advance together. You need content, distribution, and technology to march together. And that march has to be appreciated by an audience, or you need to find another path. 

The current technology on the path is 4K HDR. It’s looking promising, but the content produced using it has to reach that Sony 4K HDR TV you buy or we’ll have another repeat of 3D.


Oh, you want to know what all those people were taking pictures of on the stage. The new products introduced, and the proud fathers of them:

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QuickTime Quickly Problem

April 17

Thursday the US Department of Homeland Security sent out an urgent alert telling people to uninstall Apple’s QuickTime for Windows. This was based on Trend Micro’s report of two reliable QuickTime vulnerabilities on the Windows platform. The background buzz at NAB is already on this problem big time and everyone is pondering what it might mean to the industry. But to Apple, I’d say: be careful for what you wish for.

Apple apparently hasn’t been updating security vulnerabilities lately with QuickTime for Windows, and has been planning to retire the program for some time. Well, consider it retired now. Most of the tech Web sites have reported the vulnerabilities and recommend uninstalling QuickTime for Windows. (Removal instructions here.) That’s despite the fact that there are no known exploits using the two security holes in the product. There will be, I’m sure, within a matter of days.

The problem is that there are still products on the market that rely on QuickTime, and removing Windows as a delivery platform is essentially going to make everyone rethink their use of QuickTime, even on MacOS (see how I snuck that name in? Foreshadowing ;~). Which products? Well, anything that uses Apple ProRes or Avid DnXHD codecs, as it turns out, as if you uninstall QuickTime you lose access to those codecs. Which is why everyone is talking about this at NAB. Everyone here uses ProRes or DnXHD.

The even bigger problem is Apple not telling users when products are no longer receiving security updates. How many other Apple products are no longer getting patches? Apple’s aggressive approach to deprecation of products—both hardware and software—means that it is difficult to build any product on their platform. It’s like trying to walk across a lake that’s iced over: you never know when you’ll fall in. 

Personally, I consider QuickTime dead. When folk at the NAB ask me about what I think of the QuickTime Windows problem, that’s what I’ve been answering: QuickTime’s dead. Apple’s own marketing basically positions QuickTime as “crystal-clear video playback.” Well, okay, sure, for the codecs QuickTime supports, which as it turns out are slowly becoming more of a subset of the ones you might encounter. Except, of course, for ProRes and DnXHD, which need QuickTime installed.

In the old days, QuickTime was about the only solution for playback that maximized your chances of playing a video. But Apple hasn’t kept up to the times, and there are plentiful formats that QuickTime won’t handle now. I’d say that QuickTime’s role has been pretty much supplanted by VLC these days.

As to what to do about the ProRes/DnXHD problem, no one knows. Simplest solution: Apple patches QuickTime for Windows.

Updated: to explain why NAB is talking about QuickTime.


Bracketing

No, this article isn’t what you’re probably expecting from the title. Read on. Updated

The world moves in mysterious ways. 

Perusing the press releases and media information I received last week I was struck by two particular ones that essentially tell us something useful. The Huawei P9 and the Hasselblad H6D represent a near perfect bracketing of what it means to be a “camera" these days. 

At the bottom of the photography market, we have smartphones, and as I’ve been noting for several years now, the next step for smartphone cameras is multiple sensors. 

bythom huawei p9

The Huawei P9 has two matched 12mp sensors and lenses co-developed with Leica. One of the sensors is Bayer (color), the other straight monochrome. 

Huawei is using one of the six different multi-sensor ideas I’ve seen that look promising: the second sensor gives you post focus capabilities (depth map), plus the lack of filtration on the monochrome side means that more light gets to that sensor and its data can be used to inform noise reduction and acuity on the color sensor.

It’s still too early to know how well the P9 approach works, but I was generally impressed with the sample images they provided. Certainly another step upwards in terms of smartphone image quality. 

But actually the thing that impressed me most was the Leica-designed software for the phone’s camera. It initially appears like most phone cameras: minimal interface. But a swipe up gives you the full set of camera and setting controls and you can pay attention to individual parameters. One of the better “full control” setups I’ve seen from a phone, and something that pairs well with better image quality, obviously.

So I’d say that the Huawei P9 is now at the bottom of the bracket of products for people who are interested enough in photography to greatly care about results and control how they got them.

bythom hasselbad 100C

At the other end of the spectrum we had Hasselblad pushing up their offerings to a new model that has 100mp, video, dual card slots, WiFi, faster tethering support, and a touchscreen for modern control. 

The new H6D100C is about as many megapixels as you can attain, and about as modern in features as we’ve got (though I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the PhaseOne XF got there first). For practical on-the-go and studio photography, these cameras define about the top end of what any serious photographer is using these days. 

So bookends. A pretty darned good 12mp 12-bit camera that fits in your pocket and produces images that would be the envy of compact cameras of only a few years ago, and a pretty darned good 100mp 16-bit camera that fits nicely into your studio and produces images about as good as we can get from commercial products. That’s the photographer-tools world we’re in today. Note that both cameras use touch controls and both communicate easily with the rest of the world. Both can create video.  

The real question is this: where are the customers at? What bar do they really set for their image quality? Is it closer to the 12mp 8-bit one that can be instantly shared, or the 100mp 16-bit world that has a more traditional workflow? 

Pretty obviously, we'll eventually have a billion folks or more at the lower end of that spectrum as smartphones update, and maybe tens of thousands at the other. How much room is there in the middle for Canikon and the Seven Dwarves? CIPA numbers suggest low tens of millions and declining. The problem is that trying to climb towards where Hasselblad and PhaseOne currently sit just nets you fewer customers at higher prices, and worse, many fewer customers than would make up for the higher prices you charged. 

Now I’ve defined this as 12mp 8-bit versus 100mp 16-bit, but that’s a false analysis. It’s an easy way to describe things, but it’s not the real reason for the camera market decline. How could it be? After all, we’ve now got 24mp cameras at less than 12mp camera prices that were less than 6mp camera prices a few years ago. 

No, the real thing to note in the bookends is the workflow. Swipe, swipe, tap, tap: image taken and shared. That’s the true lower end of the spectrum, versus plug camera into computer…oh dear, I don’t even want to go through all the steps before that image gets truly shared. Yes, Hasselblad tries to make it easier with a WiFi connection, but ultimately they want you to be running their Phocus software and using a more traditional camera-to-computer-to-client workflow.

Still, I have to point out that the workflow for Hasselblad and PhaseOne cameras in the studio is more refined than it is for Canon and Nikon cameras. See the problem?

Those of us who care about our images always want more pixels, more dynamic range, more speed, more bit depth, more everything. But what we’re actually missing is what is the real reason for the decline of all of those cameras in the middle of the current bookends: the workflow sucks. 

More and more, getting what we need out of those cameras is a nerdy, technical, time-intensive, multi-step process, let alone actually sharing the result. Until that changes, camera sales will continue to tank.

Update: a previous version of this article mentioned that the Huawei was 8-bit. All current Android devices can create 12-bit DNG files, so I’ve changed the article to reflect that. However, do note that the actual bit depth the data is recorded in does not usually reflect the accuracy of the data. Many cameras record in deeper bit depths than their ADCs accurate produce. For instance, the just released Nikon D5 records in 14 bits, but the accuracy of the data is about 12 bits.

CIPA Stress

(news & commentary)

The first two month’s data from CIPA in terms of camera shipments is out, and the declines in most data points continue unabated. Here is the ILC market shipping data for the first two months graphed for each year from 2012 to 2016:

bythom cipa ILC jan-feb

Mirrorless showed a slight blip upwards in 2016, DSLRs a slightly larger dip from 2015, but short periods like this are highly subject to variation due to new model introductions, and there weren’t really many significant shipments of new DSLR models in Jan/Feb this year. 

CIPA also publishes a more extensive summary and forecast in conjunction with CP+ each year. The PDF of the CIPA report is now available, and it has some interesting bits in it worth commenting on. (One note: some of the English translations are incorrect in the titles and comments.)

Let’s start backwards and look at the 2016 forecasts. Here is the 2016 forecast graphed with the actuals from previous years:

bythom cipa total ship

How’s that for a collapse of an industry? The peak in 2008 was 110m units. The 2016 forecast is something around 18m units. Okay, but that’s for all cameras, what about ILC cameras (mirrorless and DSLR)?

bythom cipa total ilc

The peak was a bit over 20m units in 2012, with the 2016 forecast now down to about 12.5m units.

A side note: CIPA shipment figures for an upcoming year tend to be mostly self-fulfilling. That’s because plans for new products and production of them is already in progress by the time the forecast survey is taken. If actual retail sales lag the forecast, we tend to get oversupply in the retail channels. 

I made that self-fulfilling note prior to my next snippet for a reason (buzz buzz). Here’s the graph that the Japanese keep looking at to justify their lens design decisions:

bythom cipa lens selection

This is a confusing chart, so I’m going to simplify it down some more and annotate it clearly:

What distorts this chart are several things:

  • A lot of consumer cameras ship with “standard zooms”, and those are counted in this chart. And most of those consumer cameras fall in the crop sensor group.
  • In terms of Canon and Nikon, they don’t make many crop sensor special purpose or prime lenses, so they don’t sell many ;~). The mirrorless companies aren’t shipping enough of these type lenses to make up for the Canikon distortion.
  • These are unit volumes, not value. If we graph value we get:

Note how the value of primes goes down for full frame while the value of primes for crop sensor goes up (despite the Canikon distortion). 

Overall, the number of lenses purchased per camera has moved in a narrow range for quite some time (currently about 1.68 lenses shipped per camera shipped). Japan and the Americas tend to be higher, Europe and Asia lower. For example, the number was 1.85 for the Americas in 2015.

There are a lot more gems to found in the CIPA data, but I’ll leave those for you or others to find. My net take from both the year-ended and year-forecast-ahead numbers is that nothing is particularly changing other than maybe the ratio of DSLR to mirrorless. 

Compact and DSLR camera volumes are clearly still in decline, while mirrorless tends to be in a narrow range with a slight upswing. And while the average selling price has increased for pretty much everything over the past five years, that value is calculated in yen, so you have to look at how the currency exchange rate and regional volumes are distorting that. Bottom line is that the bottom line in the camera business ain’t so great.

Since most of you are familiar with my continued charting of the CIPA shipment for the two ILC sub-groups, let’s finish with that and a comment or two:

bythom cipa feb2016

DSLR to mirrorless is now approaching—for the first two months of the year—2:1 (down from 3:1). If that trend continues through the year, I think it pretty clear that Canon and Nikon will try to move in and dominate mirrorless. They will have no choice in the matter. 

Here are my final forecasts for 2016:

  • Mirrorless: 3.5m units
  • DSLRs: 8.8m units

Note that these differ a bit from CIPA’s number (I’m at 12.3m units, CIPA says 12.5m). I think Canikon will have to shift more of their DSLR volume to mirrorless this year, and this won’t be a simple or smooth process.

So Many Unanswered Questions

(commentary)

Here we are two months post D5/D500 announcement, a weeks after the DL announcements, and we have so many important, unanswered questions still. Here are the things I’ll be looking for answers to over the next three (!) months:

  • What’s the real scoop on noise and dynamic range performance? We’ve seen plenty of D5 JPEGs that are impressive, but these are processed images. What we need to see is what happens with raw with no noise reduction to be able to assess how far we’ve really come with the sensors. (Update: Bill Claff has some initial D5 measurements.) Moreover, the D500 specs seem to indicate that it’s significantly better than a D7200, which would be a real surprise, because the D7200 is in a class by itself, within a half stop of 24mp FX sensors. We need real cameras to test for this, and some controlled shooting in raw to get the full story. Fortunately, by next week the D5 characteristics should be well known.
  • When is the D500 really going to make it to market? The current belief is that it’ll ship April 21st. Still, I’m more suspicious today than I was in January that the D500 was a rushed announcement. The delay “due to demand” is also seeming to feel a little false the longer we go without any chatter from the Nikon Ambassadors about the camera being used in real situations. I suspect no one really has a version 1.00 firmware product in their hands yet, and a totally new sensor isn’t something you easily turn on in volume, especially if it’s stacked as some suspect. 
  • Why were the DLs announced over three months before they’ll appear? It’s a bit non-Nikon to be so far out in front of the actual shipment with product announcements. Yes, they’ve done it a few times before, but almost always with “development announcements,” not actual full product launches. As I’ve noted, putting them on the Web sites has pushed existing lenses off the first page of products, which seems a strange thing to do for a product that isn’t shipping versus one for which you’re trying to sell existing inventory. The fact that Nikon is taking pre-orders themselves on DL models puts them clearly into grounds where they’ll soon be in violation of the FTC’s “prompt delivery” rules. After 30 days, Nikon is going to have to notify all those customers that ordered on the Nikon Web site of their rights to cancel. Coupled with the D500 pre-announcement, I’m starting to wonder whether Nikon made all these announcements to try to tackle the short sellers of their stock. If so it’s a risky strategy, as it can totally backfire.
  • Does Autofocus Fine Tune actually work? This is one I’m going to be looking at very carefully. I’m guessing that Nikon is going to have a problem on their hands, and its name is 80-400mm AF-S VR. What? Why do I say that? For some time now, I’ve been aware that quite a few of the newer 80-400mm lenses don’t accurately focus in live view at 400mm. After encountering three such samples, I asked Roger Cicala at Lens Rentals to do a quick test on his stock, and he found the same thing as I: quite a few samples don’t reliably autofocus in live view. I reported this to NikonUSA, but got no response. Note that these lenses all focus just fine in normal operation, it’s only in live view that we’ve seen any issues. But the D5/D500 use live view to do the automatic fine tuning. So the very first thing I’m going to do is mount an 80-400mm that I know doesn’t accurately live view focus on my D810 and see what it does on the D5. So why I haven’t written about this before? Well, I’ve hinted at it, and I was actually hoping that I’d get a response from Nikon by now. But thing is, it would be rare that you’d use live view at 400mm. Extremely rare. So it ain’t a big thing. Except now with Automatic Autofocus Fine Tune, it might be ;~). 
  • Where does the Nikon 1 go? The DLs basically box in the Nikon 1, as I’ve noted before. It’s almost come to this: I’d rather have the three DLs than one Nikon 1 body and any three CX  lenses you can name. And those DLs would probably cost less. Ouch. If the Nikon 1 is a dead end as many of us now expect, that has implications on what Nikon does next. I don’t think, for example, that they can successfully introduce any new mirrorless system that doesn’t use the F-mount lenses. Why? Because the two times they’ve tried a new lens system (film APS and CX) it’s failed. But who knows, maybe Nikon is smarter than me. Maybe they have a secret plan for Nikon 1 that will wow enough people to keep it alive. I’ve asked a lot of folk whether they could think of any such plan and they’ve all come up empty, though. The best anyone can come up with is “fix the V series with a better designed V4.” I don’t think that saves Nikon 1, it just keeps some of the committed in place for awhile.
  • And speaking of lenses, where are they? We have those quotes from Nikon executives last year that people will be happy with the DX lenses that are coming. Uh, that would be the 18-55mm P and the 16-80mm E? Yes, I’m happy with the 16-80mm E, but is that it? You make a potentially seminal camera (D500) and give it one new lens that’s basically a replacement for an existing one? No, Nikon executives, we’re not happy with that. But moreover, we haven’t had any lens introductions other than the 18-55mm P kit lens this year. Nada. In terms of F-mount lenses, annual history goes like this in the digital era: 6, 5, 5, 3, 3, 4, 7, 7, 4, 9, 6, 6, 5, 5, 8, then 1 so far this year (I count the two versions of the P as one, as I have any previous VR/non-VR pairing). So we need to see some glass action from Nikon. The good news is that recent introductions have all been winners or good steps forward. But suddenly we’re not taking steps.

What I’m not looking for an answer for is actually the new autofocus system on the D5/D500. I’m assuming that we’re going to get a clear step forward there, and the few folk I know that have had a chance to shoot with the D5 seem to confirm that. Snappier, more accurate, and better tracking options are the early reports. I’ll obviously be looking to confirm that, but given Nikon’s track record on focus systems, I have no reason to doubt both Nikon’s claims and the early field reports. About the only thing that concerns me at all is the four obvious vertical gaps in the coverage, and even then primarily only on the D500, where they occupy more image area.

This is a year where we should get some answers to the big questions. Where exactly are Canon and Nikon going? Does mirrorless do more than run in place? Does the trend towards higher end really resonate and keep the camera makers’ heads above water? Do the 1” compacts become the new norm? 

By the time Photokina finishes in September, we should have a lot of answers. While it’s way too early to say anything useful, the January 2016 CIPA numbers were basically more of the same: DSLRs clearly down again, mirrorless still in the same basic range as before, though slightly up.

bythom cipa january 2016

Nikon Target of Short Sellers

(news & commentary)

Bloomberg late last week reported that Nikon is the most shorted of the Japanese tech stocks, with 16% of its outstanding shares covered by a short position as of last week. 

Shorting a stock means that you borrow stock hoping to replace it at a lower price in the future. You’re betting that the company will be worth less in the future than it currently is.

Strange thing is, Nikon’s stock is defying gravity at the moment. It’s up 7.8% for the year, and is currently trading around a PE of 30, the kind of number you’d normally associate with a growth company. Bloomberg attributes the current value bulge to Nikon’s producing higher net income for their just reported third fiscal quarter. I don’t. 

I believe the upward stock movement is the result of Japanese banks, investment groups, and individual investors betting against Western hedge funds. Essentially, betting on the home team. Given the yen’s recent reversal against the dollar, the on-going decline in camera sales, and Nikon’s lack of momentum in any of their businesses, there’s absolutely nothing that suggests in their numbers that Nikon stock is undervalued and that it can grow out of that high PE. 

All this short action has implications for camera customers. If Bloomberg is right that the recent Nikon stock price rise is attributable to net income increasing in the recently announced quarter, it means that Nikon is under even more pressure to lower costs, as that’s one of the key drivers of keeping their net income up. Even if Bloomberg is wrong about the reasons behind the stock rise, it doesn’t change the management task at the top one iota: Nikon needs to appear to do something to deserve that 30 PE. 

While all of us who went to MBA school learned about markets “always correcting to the right value,” what actually tends to happen in real life is that they over correct. Nikon probably deserves a PE in the 14-18 range, depending upon how you assess valuation. The short sellers seem to know that. The real question is how long those other 84% will cling to their belief that Nikon is valued correctly at a PE of 30.

That’s actually difficult to predict in a market where we have negative interest rates. The implication of that is that just leaving money in the bank losses you money. 

And no, this is not an article predicting that Nikon is about to collapse. It’s an article that says that Nikon is under increasing pressure to produce better results. Those are not the same thing. But one thing I’ve written about for some time is the slow collapse of Nikon customer support. The kind of pressure Nikon is currently under is not likely to reverse that, as customer support is looked at as an expense by almost every business like Nikon. 

The Real Lithium Story

(commentary)

I’m already seeing the usual paranoia and panic over news stories reporting that lithium batteries will be restricted on passenger planes starting April 1st due to the adoption of an interim set of regulations worldwide.

Don’t panic, and always remember to carry a towel.

Here are the real regulations when it comes to lithium batteries on planes:

<100 Watt Hours

  • If installed in equipment: may be in your carry-on or may be in your checked bag.
  • If carried as individual batteries (outside equipment): may be in your carry on, but not in your checked bag. There is no limit to the number of such separate batteries you can carry.
  • You do not need the approval of the airline for this.

100 to 160 Watt Hours

  • If installed in equipment: may be in your carry-on or may be in your checked bag.
  • If carried as individual batteries (outside equipment): you may carry a maximum of two such batteries in your carry on, you cannot have any in your checked bag.
  • You may need the airline’s approval to carry batteries of this size.

> 160 Watt Hours

  • Cannot be on passenger planes. Must be presented as cargo and shipped according to IATA Dangerous Goods regulations.

You determine Watt Hours by multiplying Amperage Hours times voltage [actual formula: (mAh)*(V)/1000 = (Wh)]. An Nikon EN-EL15, for example, is 14Wh (1900mAh * 7v).  

The full update can be found at IATA site, look specifically for the “Lithium Battery Passenger Pamphlet."

March Nikon Lens Rebates

(news & commentary)

It’s that time of year again, when Nikon is trying to clear out inventory prior to their fiscal year end. As always when Nikon offers lens-only rebates, I provide a lens by lens analysis of whether these are deals you should be interested in or not. The new rebates are in effect already and last until April 2nd. I do not expect them to continue after that, as Nikon is starting a new fiscal year and has a lot of new product in the pipeline that should give them the sales they seek for the next quarter. 

Coincidentally, my reviews of some of these lenses will appear very soon, too. Still trying to get images done for them. 

Bold items are what I consider to be true bargains; italics indicate lenses whose reviews should appear shortly; underlines to lens reviews already available:

  • 20mm f/1.8G US$50 rebate — A very nice lens, definitely one of two you’ll want to consider if you’re looking for a very wide prime (the 24mm f/1.8G isn’t on rebate, though). 
  • 28mm f/1.8G US$100 rebate — At US$600 now this becomes a lens that’s more desirable. My problem with it is that it just isn’t wide enough for the indoor work I do, ditto outdoors. But some will appreciate the 28mm over the 35mm, and if so, they should pick this up at the new—for Nikon—reasonable price.
  • 35mm f/1.4G US$100 rebate — Meh. It’s a nice lens, sure, but you really have to need the f/1.4 to choose this over the f/1.8, and even then I don’t think you choose it. I didn’t. Since the f/1.8 isn’t also on 
    Instant Rebate, one has to conclude that it’s selling well, thus many of you made the same choice as I.
  • 35mm f/1.8G DX US$20 rebate — If you’re a DX shooter and don’t have this in your bag, I’m questioning your sanity. A small, sharp, reasonably-priced lens that has a fast aperture is not exactly something you find in the DX lineup. When you do, snap it up.
  • 40mm f/2.8 DX Micro Nikkor US$30 rebate — I’m not a fan of this lens. Oh, it’s small and sharp and now at US$250 very inexpensive. But it’s not fast enough to be a short portrait lens, and it’s too short to be a useful 1:1 macro lens. Maybe if you’re troubled at getting a little closer to subjects like flowers in the normal focal range it’ll work for you, but it’s not the goto macro lens for a DX user, IMHO.
  • 50mm f/1.4G US$50 rebate — With the new rebates you'll pay twice as much for the f/1.4 over the f/1.8 and get very little more. At f/2.8 the lenses are nearly identical, and at f/2 they've very close. So you really have to need that extra fraction of a stop to warrant paying extra money. Low light shooters might want to opt for it, others should just get the f/1.8G.
  • 50mm f/1.8G US$20 rebate — And whoop, there it is. Another US$20 clipped of its price puts it just at the US$200 mark. A worthwhile lens in the FX kit, especially for Df, D610, D750 users (e.g. smaller bodies that benefit from smaller lens). 
  • 58mm f/1.4G US$100 rebate — My brain is failing me at the moment: is this the first time we’ve seen rebates on this? Even if there was a past rebate I don’t remember, it’s rare Nikon has pushed this lens much, yet, they probably should. This is best corrected Nikon prime for astigmatism and coma, and the rest of its attributes are pretty darned good, too. While it’s not a focal length that FX users get a lot of excitement about, it makes a perfect portrait lens for the DX user, and the D500 user ought to consider that.
  • 60mm f/2.8G Micro-Nikkor US$100 rebate — Like the 40mm DX, this is just a little short of the mark you really want for 1:1 work. Why? Because the working distance gets too tight. I wish Nikon would pay a little more attention to the field macro shooter and stop making these copy stand lenses.
  • 85mm f/1.4G US$100 rebate — Sorry, but I just don’t find the f/1.4G worth the money. At f/2.8 the f/1.8G easily matches it. You’re basically paying almost US$1000 for that last stop of gain. Moreover, the 85mm f/1.4G has a reputation for small focus misses. I’d rather put that money into a newer, better body at this point.
  • 85mm f/1.8G US$50 rebate — At under US$430, this is almost a no-brainer. This is one heck of a good lens for that price, and I’ve never had focus issues with it (other than a slightly slow initial focus acquisition). I like it better than the f/1.4G, especially given the price differential.
  • 105mm f/2.8G US$100 — This is a classic lens, and quite a good one, at that. It's probably Nikon's best macro lens in modern form at the moment, and with the price now down to US$800, it's definitely on sale. Well worth considering.
  • 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 DX US$100 — Seems like a number of the few DX lenses Nikon makes are on sale just in time for the D500 user. Well, they would have originally been on time. Now they’re early ;~). I’m fine with this lens, but all the wide angle zooms for DX have small issues, just different small issues. This one is as well rounded as most, but a little slow when you compare it to the Tokina offerings, which I think fit the D500 user profile better.
  • 14-24mm f/2.8G US$200 rebate — Not normally a lens Nikon discounts, and a classic optic that many pros love. If you need it, this is now a very good price. 
  • 16-35mm f/4G US$100 rebate — a more modest post price change rebate than previously. Sharpness is very good, and so are most of the other characteristics except for one: linear distortion is highly visible if you don't correct for it. Still, I find myself using this lens more than my 14-24mm these days because it takes filters and is smaller. The VR is just another small plus, as is the lower price. 
  • 16-80mm f/2.8-4 DX US$70 rebate — Okay, Nikon has priced this just so it now gets just under the US$1000 mark, and just in time for new D500 owners to consider it. This lens is better than the 16-85mm it replaces, but awkwardly more expensive than the sharpness differential might suggest. Personally, I like this new lens, and I look forward to using it on the D500. 
  • 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 US$100 — D610 and D750 (and maybe even D4/D5) users take note. This lens is better than most people realize, and is very appropriately sized for the smaller FX bodies. Not a great bargain, but definitely a less expensive way to pick up a good wide angle zoom for FX. I don’t tend to recommend this lens for D8xx users because the edge performance is clearly lower and the higher resolution of the 36mp sensors will clearly record that. Still, the central area is very sharp and well behaved. So if you’re looking for a wide angle for events or more casual shooting, this might be the one.
  • 24-70mm f/2.8G old US$100 rebate — Let’s start with this: I sold my 24-70mm f/2.8 and the replacement for this lens isn’t thrilling me, either, though it’s clearly better. I just don’t think the old version lives well in the modern world. Yes, it’s optically decent, but there are plenty of lenses that beat it on the D810 in this focal range, so it’s showing age in the optics. No it doesn’t have VR, while most of its competitors, even from Nikon, do. It’s big, heavy, and the lens has been prone to a number of issues over the years (e.g. light leaks around the focus distance scale). While the rebate is okay, it just seems like a lot of money to pay for a lens with so many small issues.
  • 24-70mm f/2.8G new US$100 — Oh so tempting, especially for all those D5 users about to come on board. I wish this lens weren’t so darned big, and I wish that the optical advances went even further, but if you need a fast midrange FX zoom, this is the beast. Yes, the corners are better. Yes, the lens performs a bit better in most everything than its predecessor. Yes, it doesn’t seem to score well on flat test charts. But proof is in the shooting: you should notice a difference, even though it isn’t a huge one. 
  • 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G US$100 rebate — Bargain alert. Small body FX users (Df, D610, D750) take note: this is a darned good lens and worth more than the new US$400 price. I like this lens a lot, though the corners aren’t quite up to close inspection, especially on the 36mp bodies. But for a long time, this was the lens in my bag instead of the 24-70mm f/2.8, which should tell you something. 
  • 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G US$150 rebate — Yes, I know there was a very famous person who swore by this lens and wrote that it was all you needed for travel. I disagree. There’s a lot of compromise in this lens, and it shows. Moreover, I don’t know how you travel without 24mm, and if you’re going to carry two lenses, I’d suggest that the 24-85mm just above and maybe a 300mm f/4 would be a far, far better choice. Still, now that the lens is US$800, I’m sure that a lot of folk are considering it. Don’t. Get the 24-85mm instead and save some money. 
  • 70-200mm f/4G US$100 — If you don’t need f/2.8, get this lens for your moderate telephoto zoom. It’s just really well behaved optically, gives up nothing in focus performance, and is smaller and lighter so makes for a better travel companion.
  • 70-200mm f/2.8G II US$200 — I really like the f/4 version, as I just noted. Smaller and lighter, very accomplished optics with no real issues, and easier to AF Fine Tune than the f/2.8 optic. The f/2.8 version, however, has a lot of warts to it (focal length breathing, for one), and really needs redesign. Even with the discount I don’t consider it a bargain. If you need it, obviously such a large discount is nothing to scoff at. But I rarely shoot with this lens now that the f/4 is out unless I absolutely need f/2.8.

Interestingly, the lenses on sale are basically most of the primes and most of the pro critical zooms. Obviously, Nikon is trying to entice those new D5 and D500 to pick up an optic or two, too. 

I’ll also point out that I don’t expect these rebates to repeat soon. This is the traditional inventory clearance prior to the fiscal year end, though it comes a little late this year. Once April 3rd rolls around, I think you’re going to find Nikon reluctant to discount the pro and prosumer bodies, as well as the pro and prosumer lenses. Of course, further decline in camera/lens sales might change that, but I believe that Nikon feels confident in their offerings starting the new fiscal year (D5, D500, DLs, a couple of other things that haven’t been announced yet). I suspect they’ll try to hold the line on the high-end pricing as long as they can in the April to August time frame. 

Recommended DX Lens List.

Recommended FX Lens List

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