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Review: The Light L16 is Brilliant… and Braindead

Posted on December 8th, 2017

On Oct 8, 2015, a completely unknown company announced a new camera which promised to change how we think about photography: “The L16 combines breakthrough optics design with never-before-seen imaging technology to bring you the camera of the future.”

The L16 would use 16 camera modules with varying focal lengths with folded optics instead of 1 single sensor, and use “computational photography” to fuse the individual photos together with depth data, producing results that would be “DSLR quality”.

The marketing promised a unicorn camera that prosumer/enthusiast photographers like me would want to carry around as an every-day tool. In theory, I would be able to leave my traditional cameras behind — today a FujiFilm X-T2, Leica Q and Sony RX100mk5 — and travel with just the Light L16.

2 years and 1 day after I pre-ordered my camera, my Light L16 finally arrived.

After two months with the L16, I can say it certainly has been an adventure. It’s a production camera with beta software, so the experience today represents the beginning part of a potentially long journey of software updates and improvements (my experiences here reflect impressions based off of the Nov 2017 update). But today, the L16 is an infuriating combination of brilliant and braindead.

It’s hard not to appreciate the brilliance of Light’s approach, and when it works, it truly is game-changing. With the L16, you have an impossible zoom range of 28–150mm packaged into a simple brick form-factor. You will get “reach” shots that are impossible in small form factor cameras today.

Light L16 at 150mm, original October 2017 firmware

However, be forewarned, it’s not small — it’s still a substantial chunk of kit, with quite a bit of mass. Protrusions are blissfully absent, so the L16 will slip into any bag or large pocket, like a jacket pocket. I find it amusing that Light’s marketing suggests you’re going to go biking with this thing in your back pocket. No way.

Top to bottom: FujiFilm X-T2, Light L16, Sony RX100mk5

Taking photos is simple point-and-shoot. As you would hope, once the L16 phones home and gets the latest software update, you’ll get your first photo quickly out of the box, just like any other camera. Certain things, such as zooming, are gesture-based, and others are embedded in on-screen controls. These will require a bit of familiarity to master; however, at the end of the day, it works very much like a smartphone, and it’s easy to adapt to the interface.

Photos taken with sufficient light (e.g. outdoor daylight) produce results that very good, and often excellent. This camera loves light and needs a lot of it. Do so and you will be rewarded.

Light L16, November 2017 firmware
Light L16, November 2017 firmware
Light L16, November 2017 firmware
Light L16, November 2017 firmware

The level of detail in the photos shot in the right conditions (and focal lengths) can truly be astonishing.

A 70+ megapixel image from the L16 at 28mm (left), and the same image zoomed to 2:1 (right)
A 70+ megapixel image from the L16 (left), and the same image zoomed to 2:1 (right)

However, as you learn to live with the camera, in all its beta glory, the frustrations mount.

Today, the output is sterile — less like a typical camera RAW image and more like a video shot in LOG format, a neutral image file that requires meaningful tone-mapping to be acceptable. I know what a good RAW file looks like, and this is simply not it.

Pictures are sharp but feel somewhat artificially sharp. If you’re looking for micro-contrast nuances in the output, the optics simply don’t lend themselves to this. If you’re looking for wide dynamic range with 2 stops of adjustment in either direction, the L16 RAW files don’t have this either.

I suspect some of this (such as dynamic range) will change dramatically and quickly over time with Light’s continuous updates, but today, it’s not where it needs to be. Expect to spend some time in Lightroom if you want images that pop.

Light L16 DNG, unprocessed (top), post-processed in Lightroom (bottom)

There are detail issues that are readily visible when viewing the large resolution photos as well. For the L16, ultra-high resolution doesn’t necessarily guarantee you sharp detail. Image merging issues and detail crush in areas like foliage make it impossible to count on being able to make Web-resolution crops of full resolution images.

100% crop of Light L16 DNG shot at 70mm. Note the soft cable pulley contrasted with the sharp crane.
100% crop of Light L16 DNG file. This is not handshake you’re seeing. This is a bad image merge.

Keep in mind, even if they nailed the detail edge-to-edge, the resolution is variable. You only get the “max” resolution at 3 distinct focal lengths, 28mm, 35mm, and 75mm. At some points, you approach camera phone resolution, such as at 69mm. Light explains this in great detail here.

Source: Light (https://support.light.co/l16-photography/explained-variable-resolution)

At 28mm, you add a new element to the results as well. The L16 uses multiple overlapping images to create one high-resolution image. At the outer edges of 28mm, there is no overlap. The effect is significant softness on the outer borders of the final image.

Source: Light (https://support.light.co/l16-photography/explained-variable-resolution)
When images don’t overlap, you will see artifacts like this (L16 image viewed at 2:1)
Artifacts from where the 28mm sensors end and the overlap of 28mm/70mm begins (viewed at 2:1)

The autofocus reminds me of the old SLR AF systems with in-body screw motors. Focusing is a (relatively) noisy affair of moving mirrors, and focus is prone to hunting. In its current iteration, it is also completely devoid of any features you would find on modern camera bodies, such as face detection, and object detection. If you don’t touch focus, you don’t get a depth map on the right subject as well.

Autofocus is imprecise at best. It is unclear how many discrete AF points the L16 has, but touch-focus seems to have its fair share of misses. Frankly, the L16 autofocus will have you begging for your smartphone camera. You’re not going to shoot any sports or action with the L16 unless you zone focus, and that experience is poor at best. Sure, you can do it, but even a bargain DSLR with a kit lens will do better. It will be interesting to see how much improvement can be made to the L16 autofocus via software, but again, today it’s simply not there. Even after the November 2017 update, which did improve the autofocus performance, we are not even close to a world where objects simply “jump” into focus.

There is no shutter priority. There is Auto, which works like P mode, and there’s Manual, which requires you to set ISO, and shutter separately. In Auto, everything is done for you, including ISO. Why Auto-ISO isn’t separated out is unfathomable. So you have to resort to manual to keep ISO under control. Photographers have been doing this for decades, so no big deal right? Try setting up that shot quickly on the L16. Without any dials, this camera is an ergonomic nightmare.

There is also no way to set aperture while taking the photo. While aperture can be adjusted AFTER the photo is taken in post-processing, it cannot be recorded when the photo is taken. What does that mean? If you go out and take 250 photos that day, every one of those 250 photos that you want to control depth-of-field will require fine-tuning in Lumen, the desktop software, BEFORE you go into your regular photo workflow. Furthermore, you will need to remember what your original intent was with the photo. Not an exercise I relish on a multi-day vacation.

Now, if you don’t ever shoot aperture priority, this is a non-issue. You can skip any workflow in Lumen and let the L16 do all the work, and it works like leaving your camera in P mode or full Auto mode. All your photos will come out at f/15, with everything in focus. Landscape shooters will love this infinite depth of field. However, if you do any amount of aperture priority shooting, this can add HOURS to your workflow. Remember, Lumen is only barely passable as a beta today and requires a fairly modern computer to perform, so it’s not a quick affair either.

Any errors in depth mapping will require you to “paint” them into focus. I have yet to produce a single image in Lumen that has nailed the depth map without needing correction. In many cases, like fine hair detail, I have all but given up and left everything as is, at f/15.

When depth mapping fails. Blueberry will never get her whiskers back.
Depth mapping errors in Lumen 2.0.58. Not even close.

Seriously, if you love bokeh, you want to love this product for the ability to adjust DoF and refocus. Lumen simply isn’t able to do it to any level of consistency. Shoot a few portraits, adjust the DoF to f/2.8 or f/4.0, spend the rest of your day trying to save edge details, hair, and poorly matched depth. Every one of the photos that Lumen misses on will make you wish you sucked it up and carried a different camera.

If you’re used to popping in an SD card into your computer, letting Lightroom import a few hundred photos while you watch TV, and then go into post-processing, the added step of doing everything in Lumen will infuriate you. It’s a pretty photographer hostile workflow.

Without any image stabilization, and with somewhat unknown sensor capability as of today, low light also challenges the camera, sometimes to a crippling degree. AF struggles as available light diminishes, and all those great long focal lengths are effectively useless.

There’s a reason why Apple is putting stabilization in the 56mm lens of the iPhone X — it takes a steady hand to shoot telephoto, and as shutter speed slows, camera shake will ruin the moment without image stabilization. Translated: you’re not going to be shooting 150mm handheld landscapes at night with the moon as your only illumination unless you have rock steady hands.

The lack of low-light capabilities is also readily apparent when the L16 is pushed above ISO 400. If you’re expecting to go out to dinner with friends, and bring the L16 to capture the moment, you’re going to be frustrated with many missed moments and some generally poor output with crushed shadow detail.

There is nothing this camera does with urgency. You may as well stick with your smartphone, which at least has face detection. This camera’s sweet spot today (November 2017 firmware) is sunrise to sunset. If you want a camera that you can carry into the night and shoot handheld, go and buy a FujiFilm X100 or a Ricoh GR and get a 90% hit rate on your photos — these are well-known compact APS-C based, low-light camera leaders. Honestly, even the 1-inch sensor on the Sony RX100 runs circles around the L16 in true low light.

Sony RX100mk5, ISO 3200 1/13 sec
Light L16, ISO 3050, 1/25 sec

So where does that leave us?

For those who don’t tinker with their photos much, the L16 is the only camera of its kind that exists as a brick form factor that can carry a 28–150mm equivalent zoom. Knowing the limits and adjusting aperture sparingly, you could convince yourself this is a manual camera that requires time and effort to take your photos. The subjects you tend to shoot will be things that can stay still for short periods of time (pets), or don’t move at all (landscapes, still life, plants, buildings, etc.). In many ways, it’s like a medium format camera — it’s slow, sometimes fussy, with only fair low light capability at best, but in the right hands with the right tripod stabilization, you can make awesome photos. And I do think you can get awesome out of this camera in the right conditions, provided you’re willing to follow a post-processing workflow in a tool like Lightroom.

For those that demand fast autofocus, image stabilization, proper low-light capabilities (clean and sharp ISO 3200-6400 is pretty much industry norm), and streamlined photo processing workflows, it’s hard to not wonder what else your money buys you. After all, the L16 is an almost $2000 camera. Granted, I paid much less as an early pre-order, but it’s hard not to compare it to the current market leader in compact pocket cameras, the Sony RX100 mk5, a $999 camera.

Sony RX100 mk5 resting comfortably inside the Utomic L16 bumper case

The RX100 may not zoom like the L16 (it has a 35mm equivalent 24–70mm f/1.8-f/2.8), but it offers 5-axis stabilization. The RX100 may not offer the same amount of megapixels (at 20.1MP) but it can shoot a convincing ISO 3200, and in some cases usable ISO 6400, with minimum noise. The RX100 uses a surprisingly fast 315-point phase detection (same tech as DSLRs) autofocus mechanism, and can even shoot daytime sports without fear of missing the moment (at up to 24 frames per second). The RX100 also actually fits in your pocket in a way that the L16 can never.

And therein lies the problem: for a camera that the Light L16 aspires to be (one that is competing with DSLRs), the closest competition I can think of is a pocket point-and-shoot from Sony that is smaller, less expensive and more capable today. And in today’s world where things are viewed at web and mobile resolutions, I have found even the iPhone X to be a formidable competitor to the L16 for casual photography. The iPhone X even shoots RAW directly into Lightroom.

iPhone X DNG (top), Light L16 DNG (bottom) viewed at scaled resolution

As much as the L16 is an engineering marvel, it is a camera designed by computer scientists and engineers and has little thought put in it for the actual photographer that will use it. In my opinion, it can be a downright terrible camera for photographers despite that it can often deliver great images in the right conditions. It makes me wonder if any of the professional photographers that shot the L16 for the Light blog would ever consider the L16 for their kit if it they were buying it themselves?

I’m sure Light’s tech is worth a lot, and they will get bought by a well-capitalized company that will do amazing things with it, but acquisitions are rarely kind to customers of tech startups. It would most certainly be the end of the L16.

Meanwhile, things that are important to the modern photographer are absent today. This is a laundry list of high value, but missing, features that are pedestrian, even on cameras well under $1000: fast power-on to first photo time, low shutter lag, quick autofocus speed, aperture selection at time of exposure, DoF preview, low-light capabilities, dynamic range, and friendly post-processing workflow. Everything about photography with the L16 requires a lot of effort, harkening days past where you had a 24 exposure roll of film, and you went to great lengths to make every exposure count. If that’s your shooting style, I guess you will be ok with the state of affairs. In my opinion, in 2017, these are terrible attributes for a go-anywhere camera marketed for convenience. To their credit, some of this stuff has gotten better since the November 2017 release, but we’re not even close.

The computational photography fans will be quick to note that this is a software-driven product and the camera will keep getting better. To some extent, this is true, although I find it hard to believe anyone will relish revisiting 6-month-old photos just to post-process again to get a better photo. Furthermore, the reality is also that the quality of photos will likely only get better up to a certain point — the question is when we will hit certain insurmountable limitations of the hardware, including low light and autofocus capabilities.

Don’t get me wrong — in ideal conditions, it truly behaves like a pocket medium-format camera, and you simply cannot get this kind of resolution in anything like it for under $10,000 today (e.g. a Fujifilm GFX50s with 32–64mm lens).

iPhone X DNG file (left), L16 DNG file (right), viewed at 1:1

But when daylight runs out, or when the right photo opportunity strikes, I always question whether the L16 is ready to take that shot. Unlike other cameras produced by current market leaders, even after the latest software update, I still find it hard to trust the L16 to be ready and capable when I need it to be. After two months, I never grab the L16 when I want to go out to take some photos — and that’s a problem.

On December 5, 2017, I made my peace with the camera and asked Light for a full refund. I really wanted to love it. I just don’t.

Would I recommend you buy it today? Absolutely not. Your mileage may vary, but it’s a lot of money for a rough product.

Do I think Light knows these are the issues and are feverishly working on addressing them? Yes, I do. Do I think they can fix a lot of this stuff fairly quickly? Sure.

The product is simply too unfinished today. Without roadmaps, we don’t know if we’re looking at weeks, months or years to get to a solid version 1.0. That’s troubling for a startup company that is already years late delivering a product. Maybe they figure it out sooner than I expect. I can always buy the camera again if it actually becomes great.

On the upshot, I do have a new found appreciation for how good the cameras I own really are. It’s like returning a terrible rental car and falling back in love with your car, all over again.


About the author: Albert Lee is a technology enthusiast who’s always trying new gadgets. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. This article was also published here.


Image credits: Header photo by Light

Shooting the Milky Way Handheld with the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art Lens

Posted on December 5th, 2017

After getting his hands on the new Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art lens recently, photographer Alyn Wallace decided to take it out into the Elan Valley Dark Sky Park in Wales to put it through its paces. His first test: shooting the Milky Way handheld.

“With the f/1.8 aperture you can let in so much light onto your sensor,” Wallace says. “This is the fastest super-wide-angle lens ever made. Sigma have totally defied the laws of physics to create this lens.”

Wallace went into the dark sky park (one of the darkest places in Wales) with the Sigma 14mm mounted to his Sony a7S II using Sigma’s MC-11 Canon to Sony adapter, which allows the lens to work with Sony’s SteadyShot in-body stabilization.

Wallace shooting the Milky Way handheld with the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art

Wallace ended up shooting a 1-second exposure at f/1.8 and ISO 51200:

The straight-out-of-camera image was very noisy and pretty dark, but after some adjustments and noise-reduction in Lightroom, Nik Dfine, Wallace was surprised by the result.

“This image turned out way better than I was expecting it to,” Wallace says. “The final image is surprisingly clean. It cleaned up really nice. The detail that’s left even after that aggressive noise reduction is so impressive.

“I think this is a testament to how well this lens resolves detail because noise reduction algorithms are programmed to look for edges and to try and retain detail in those edges by not blurring them and smoothing them out. Because this lens resolves detail so well, the noise reduction software has an easy job of knowing where to do the noise reduction and where not.

After doing his handheld test, Wallace stuck his camera onto a tripod and did further tests to see how well the lens would perform with ordinary use in astrophotography. You can watch those tests and Wallace’s thoughts in the 13-minute vlog at the top of this post.

“In conclusion, the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art lens… I can sum it up in three words: it’s a beast,” Wallace says. “It’s a beast in that it’s big and heavy, but it’s a beast in its performance — the sharpness and the detail that it resolves. It’s just second to none. It’s in a league of its own.”


P.S. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is another camera that performs well when shooting the Milky Way handheld. We’ve previously shared examples here and here.

Star Lens Shootout: Sigma 14mm vs. Rokinon 14mm

Posted on December 2nd, 2017

Here’s a 10-minute video from Nature TTL that looks at the best lens for star photography. Comparing the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 lens with the Rokinon 14mm f/2.4 and f/2.8 lenses, photographer Matthew Saville says that each has its place the astrophotography world.

Saville is quick to state that, having tested the lenses, the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 is the best of the bunch… but it’s also the most expensive at $1,600. The $1,000 Rokinon 14mm f/2.4 comes in at a close second should you want something a little bit lighter and less expensive.

The $300 Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 is a much cheaper lens, but it’s a good choice if you are just looking to experiment with this type of photography. However, the vignetting of this lens is quite evident when compared to the others.

Watch the full video above to see some sample shots and other key differences between the lenses. You can also subscribe to the Nature TTL channel for weekly wildlife and landscape photography content.


Full disclosure: I own and operate the Nature TTL channel.

Sony a7R III Scores 100 at DxOMark, Highest Ever for a FF Mirrorless

Posted on November 28th, 2017

DxOMark just awarded the new Sony a7R III a score of 100, the highest mark ever given to a non-medium format mirrorless camera. The score ties the Nikon D850 DSLR for 1st place among all cameras with a 35mm-sized sensor or smaller.

The Sony a7R III was particularly impressive in low-light ISO tests, DxOMark writes, with performance that’s only beaten by two medium format cameras — the Hasselblad X1D-50C and Pentax 645Z, the only cameras that have scored higher than the D850 and a7R III — and the Sony a7S II (a low-light monster).

Even though the a7R III scored the same overall score as the Nikon D850, DxOMark says the D850 is ranked higher on its leaderboard because it outperforms the a7R III in the Color Depth and Dynamic Range categories.

“[C]omparing the A7R III sensor to the Nikon D850’s reveals the advantage that the Nikon camera’s lower minimum sensitivity (ISO) value brings,” DxOMark writes. “Photographers who predominantly shoot in bright light or capture motionless subjects with the camera on a tripod will record the most information, be it color, tone, or detail with the Nikon D850 set to ISO 32.”

But if you shoot with higher ISO values, the a7R III will produce “marginally better images.”

“It’s clear that the Sony A7R III has a high-performing sensor that’s capable of capturing images with a broad range of color and tone, while keeping noise well under control,” DxOMark concludes.

This latest sensor quality test shows one reason why the a7R III is one of the most highly anticipated cameras of 2017 and one that has been delayed due to overwhelming demand. TIME just named the camera one of its top gadgets of 2017.

A Nikon D850 Review for Nature Photographers

Posted on November 21st, 2017

It’s finally here! My Nikon D850 review is finally finished! It took me 11 states, two countries, eight weeks, and 16,000 images to get it done, but here it is! This is a true field test loaded with real-world examples, advice, and tons of tips for getting the most from all the new features.

Yes, it’s a bit of a long review, but I didn’t want to simply tell you about the new features — I wanted to show you how to use them as well. Nothing more frustrating than a review that tells you about some amazing new feature but leaves you clueless when it comes to using it, right? Well, rest assured this will give you all that and more. So, sit back, kick your feet up and enjoy!

I also wanted to include some extras to go along with the video. These are either items that people have frequently asked about or that I referred to in the video.

D850 Bird In Flight (BIF) Settings

One of the questions I am getting a LOT is about bird-in-flight (BIF) settings. As with my other cameras, this sensor sees a lot of flying feathers, so you’re in luck!

As always, keep in mind that what works for me may not work for you and that’s cool – we can still be friends.

Focus Mode: AF-C of course. Since I use BBAF, I’m always in AF-C. However, if you’re more of a shutter release shooter, you’ll want to make sure you remember to switch to AF-C for action or face cards full of 46MP disappointments. AF-C is the only mode that can track/follow your subject, so, if you’ll pardon the pun, it’s the only way to fly!

AF Activation: For me, it’s always Back Button AF. It gives you the best of both AF-S and AF-C without all the switching back and forth. Rather than ramble on, I’ll refer you to this good-looking guy who did a video on the subject:

AF Area Modes: On the D850, I found myself once again gravitating towards Group AF for BIF shots, however, I also used the super-small D9 Dynamic Area as well – especially when the subjects were a bit slower or I needed more precise focus. Group AF likes to grab whatever is closest to the camera, so sometimes that can lead to sharp wingtips and cottony soft eyeballs. D9 gives you a little more precision in that department, BUT it is more difficult to keep on target.

Speaking of which, if you find D9 / Group is too tough, try a larger area like D25 or F72. As a general rule, always use the smallest AF area you can manage for whatever subject you’re after. Only go bigger if you can’t seem to stay on target.

For more on how Nikon’s AF modes work, see this video. Note that this was done prior to the D850 (and D500 / D5), but the way the modes (Group, 3D etc) work is the same.

Focus Tracking With Lock On (custom function A3): I mention this in the video, but I’d like to go into more detail here since Nikon has made some changes from the D810 to the D850. The first part of this setting is, “Blocked Shot AF Response” and the idea here is that if something comes between you and your subject for an instant, the camera won’t jump to the obstacle but instead hesitate just a bit and stay with your target until the obstacle has passed. Very handy if you’re tracking a bird flying by and a tree jumps between you and your subject as you pan.

The setting allows you to choose a value from 1 to 5. The higher the number, the “stickier” the AF system is. Of course, when people read that, the first thought is often to crank it up to 5 and call it a day. However, if the system is too sticky it will make it tough when you need to switch between subjects. Additionally, it can cause hesitation when you have an AF point on the wrong area of the subject and are trying to lock back onto the eye. I usually have this set to 2 or 3, but it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it option either. You may want to dive in and switch things up if the AF is letting go too easily or when it’s stickier than a three-year-old who just discovered the maple syrup jar.

The other part of this setting is “Subject Motion.” This new setting is a way for you to let the camera know how erratic or steady your subject is – especially when it’s coming at the camera. If you have a subject that likes to start and stop suddenly, you want “Erratic.” On the other hand, for a subject coming steadily at the camera, switch to “Steady.” For wildlife and BIF shots, I usually have good success just leaving it in the middle.

Custom Controls (Custom Setting F1): The D850 also has some exciting new options for the preview button, sub-selector, function button, and AF-On button. Here’s how I have a couple of mine set up.

For the PV (preview) button I have selected the “AF area mode” option, “Single Point AF.” This setting allows you to press the PV button on the front of the camera and regardless of what AF area mode you’re currently in, it will switch you back to single point as long as the button is held in (demo in the video). This is really handy when you’re in Group AF and your subject gets into a tight area (since Group AF loves to focus on the vegetation around the critter instead of on the critter itself).

For the Fn1 button, I have it set to cycle through Image Area Mode (1.2X, 1.5DX, etc.). The reason for this is that the buffer capacity of this camera is somewhat limited and switching to a crop mode will increase buffer depth. And, if I’m going to crop back home anyway, I figure I might as well just do it in the field and enjoy the gains.

To set, head to custom setting F1, and choose Fn1 button + dial turn (the right hand column). Select “Choose image area” from the resulting menu. You’ll also notice an arrow on the right of this menu. Give it a press and you can even select which image areas you want to scroll through. Way faster than setting this stuff via the menu!

Oh, and another cool option for crop modes is called “Masking” and is found under the Photo Shooting Menu > Image section. Look for an item called Viewfinder mask display. Turn that on and kiss those useless crop outlines goodbye. Instead, you’ll have a handy, semi-transparent mask to show you your image area. Try it, you’ll like it!

Frame Rate: This is set to maximum frame rate (7 or 9, depending on if you have a grip). Keep it at maximum for the best variety of wingbeats/expressions and shoot in short, controlled bursts whenever there’s something cool under your AF point.

Shutter Speed: I’ve been keeping my shutter speed at 1/3200 or higher for most of my birds in flight shots and that seems to keep my success rate pretty high. I have gone with lower speeds, but my keeper rate gets progressively more disappointing as my shutter speed drops (exactly like the D500 in fact). For faster birds, don’t be afraid to go to 1/5000th or higher if you have enough light.

F/Stop: This really depends on how much light I have at my disposal. Most of the time, I shoot wide open to keep noise to a minimum (usually F4) and capture those creamy, subject-isolating backgrounds. However, if it’s bright enough, I’ve been known to drop down to F5.6 for a little added depth-of-field fudge factor — especially with fast, tricky subjects.

ISO: This varies depending on the light of course, but I tend to cap out around ISO 6400 (preferring to keep it under ISO3200). Beyond that, I feel like I’m losing too much detail in the fur and feathers of my favorite subjects. About the only exception to that would be if something extraordinary was happening, but if I can get basically the same shot the next day in better light, I’ll wait (or grab the D5).

Also, I generally use Manual Mode with Auto ISO if I’m in an autoexposure kind of mood. With this method, I just set in the ISO range I want and choose the shutter speed and F/Stop I want to use. From there, the camera will float the ISO to give me a proper exposure. It’s either this or full manual mode, depending on the subject/scene.

See this video for more:

Nikon Approved Lenses For The D850

Now, for the “Nikon approved” lens list. As noted in the video, this list is chock-full of current lenses that Nikon wants to sell you. Many older discontinued lenses are NOT listed but would work just fine (like any big prime for example). Ditto for excellent third party glass. So, for what it’s worth:

Primes

AF-S NIKKOR 20 mm f / 1.8 G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 24 mm f / 1.4 G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 24 mm f / 1.8 G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 28 mm f / 1.4 E ED
AF-S NIKKOR 28 mm f / 1.8 G
AF-S NIKKOR 35 mm f / 1.4 G
AF-S NIKKOR 35 mm f / 1.8 G ED
AF-S NIKKOR 58 mm f / 1.4 G
AF-S NIKKOR 85 mm f / 1.4 G
AF-S NIKKOR 85 mm f / 1.8 G
AF-S NIKKOR 105 mm f / 1.4 E ED
AI AF DC-Nikkor 105 mm f / 2 D
AI AF DC-Nikkor 135 mm f / 2 D
AF-S NIKKOR 200 mm f / 2 G ED VR II
AF-S NIKKOR 300 mm f / 2.8 G ED VR II
AF-S NIKKOR 300 mm f / 4 E PF ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 400 mm f / 2.8 E FL ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 500 mm f / 4 G ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 500 mm f / 4 E FL ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 600 mm f / 4 E FL ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 800 mm f / 5.6 E FL ED VR
AF – S Fisheye NIKKOR 8 – 15 mm f / 3.5 – 4.5 E ED

Zooms

AF-S NIKKOR 14-24 mm f / 2.8 G ED
AF – S NIKKOR 16 – 35 mm f / 4 G ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 24-70 mm f / 2.8 G ED
AF – S NIKKOR 24 – 70 mm f / 2.8 E ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 24 – 120 mm f / 4 G ED VR
AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200 mm f / 2.8 G IF-ED
AF-S NIKKOR 70-200 mm f / 2.8 G ED VR II
AF – S NIKKOR 70 – 200 mm f / 2.8 E FL ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 70-200 mm f / 4 G ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 80-400 f / 4.5 – 5.6 G ED VR
AF-S NIKKOR 200-400 mm f / 4 G ED VR II
AF-S NIKKOR 200-500 mm f / 5.6 E ED VR

Macro / PC

AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60 mm f / 2.8 G ED
AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105 mm f / 2.8 G IF-ED
PC-E NIKKOR 24 mm f / 3.5 D ED
PC-E Micro NIKKOR 45 mm f / 2.8 D ED
PC-E Micro NIKKOR 85 mm f / 2.8 D
PC NIKKOR 19 mm f / 4 E ED

D850 ISO Comparisons

Next, we have the actual images from the video for ISO comparisons (100% crops, the D850 downsized to D5 and D810 size. The D500 was downsized to D850 DX size). Just click to enlarge and it will open on a new tab.

D850 vs D810

D850 vs D5

D850 in DX mode vs D500

D850 full frame downsampled vs D500 at ISO 6400

D850 Buffer Findings

Next, we have my buffer test findings. I may add more down the road, but for now this should get you started.

First, results from my normal, outside test scene (again, these can and will vary depending on the scene, don’t take the number as gospel).

14 bit 7 fps

FX: 35
1.2: 80
DX: 200

14 bit – 9 FPS

FX: 23
1.2: 36
DX: 46

12 bit – 7fps

FX: 84
1.2: 200
DX: 200

12 bit – 9fps

FX: 44
1.2: 70
DX: 86

Now, some figures I got with the lens cap on and viewfinder shutter closed. (The results are higher because it’s easy for the camera to compress and create a file when it’s just black.)

12 bit FX 9 fps = 48
12 bit 7 FPS = 193
14 bit FX 9 FPS = 26
14 bit FX 7 FPS = 51

I also tried a few rounds with higher ISOs. As you can see, the higher the ISO, the shallower the buffer:

12 bit 7 FPS ISO 6400 = 67
14 bit FX 6400 = 25
14 bit FX 5000 = 36
14 bit FX 3200 = 43
14 bit FX 1600 = 46
14 bit ISO 800 = 47
14 bit ISO 400 = 50

D850 Focus Shift Shooting Settings (Focus Stacking)

I also wanted to share the settings I typically set with I use Focus Shift Shooting (I wish they would have called it focus stacking, but what do I know…). Be sure to see the video for a quick intro.

Landscapes

Number Of Shots: 50+ (since the system stops at infinity)
Focus Width: 4
Interval Until Next Shot: 0 or 1
Exposure Smoothing: On (Off if you’re in manual mode)
Electronic Shutter: On

(I usually shoot landscapes between F/6.3 and F/8)

Macros

Number Of Shots: 20 (you can add more if needed)
Focus Width: 4
Interval Until Next Shot: 0 or 1 (set to 3 or 4 if electronic shutter is off)
Exposure Smoothing: On (Off if you’re in manual mode)
Electronic Shutter: On
(I usually shoot macros between F/8 and F/11)

D850 Sample Photos

Finally, a few sample photos.


About the author: Steve Perry is a nature photographer and the owner of Backcountry Gallery. You can find more of his work, words, photos, and videos on his website, Facebook, and YouTube channel. This article was also published here.

The Sony a7R III Eats Stars: New Report

Posted on November 21st, 2017

Has Sony actually fixed its “star eater” issue in the new a7R III? Photographer Drew Geraci tested the camera earlier this month and found that the problem “is no more,” but now new reports are suggesting that the a7R III does indeed still “eat” stars and cause them to disappear in long exposures.

DPReview sent engineer Jim Kasson a set of star photos from the a7R III to analyze, and after analyzing the spectra and generating a series of graphs, Kasson concluded that “the Sony a7R III eats stars.”

“It turns out that the spatial filtering, which is called the ‘star eater’ algorithm because of its effect on some kinds of astrophotography, is readily identifiable by looking at Fourier transforms of dark-field exposures,” Kasson writes. “You don’t need to shoot stars to tell whether the camera has an appetite for them.”

Kasson finds that once exposure time hits 4 seconds, “spatial filtering kicks in big-time.”

DPReview writes that after it examined star photos shot with both the a7R III and a7R II (running its latest firmware), only stars larger than 1 pixel appeared in the images, “suggesting that smaller stars are indeed ‘eaten’ or dimmed due to a spatial filtering algorithm.”

“This is a missed opportunity for Sony, and something dedicated astrophotographers will want to consider […],” DPReview says. “But for now, we can say this with confidence: while a lot of stars still survive ‘Star Eater’, the a7R III continues the trend of noise reduction that dims or erases small stars at exposure longer than 3.2s.”

These findings contradict Geraci, who found through examining his photos that there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable difference in the number of stars between 3.2- and 10-second exposures:

Crops of the 3.2-second exposure (left) and 10-second exposure (right) compared side-by-side. Photos by Drew Geraci.

Geraci says he agrees with Kasson’s findings but disagrees with his (and DPReview‘s) assessment that this is an issue astrophotographers need to worry about.

“Jim is correct in the fact that spatial filtering is still ‘active’ on the camera, but to the degree in which it actually affects the image is another story,” Geraci tells PetaPixel.

“If you do a side by side comparison of the a7R II IQ vs that of the a7R III IQ (from 2.5″ up to 5″ which is the range in which the original debacle began) you can visually see no change in star depth, and in all cases the stars increase in brightness value (as they should as the exposure increases),” Geraci says. “Compare that to the A7RII, where stars are literally being deleted, and it’s another story.

“A change in .06 to -.06 DB worth of spatial filtering, while present, I believe does not affect the image to the point it’s going to ‘eat’ stars, which is what my photos are meant to prove. I would love to see some of Jim’s tests actually showing it visually, verse that of a graph chart and a photo taken of a black body cap.”

Geraci also points out that comparing Kasson’s latest findings to his previous data on the a7R II, spatial filtering was 2 or 3 times higher in the a7R II compared to the a7R III.

“My honest opinion is that it’s a pixel witch hunt,” Geraci says. “I definitely wish Sony would give us a full uncompressed spatial filter free shot (and it may be coming) but also believe the situation is getting blown way out of proportion.”

DxOMark’s Pentax 645Z Review is Out After 2 Year Delay, Scores 101

Posted on November 20th, 2017

Last month, we reported that DxOMark had reviewed the Pentax 645Z back in 2015 and given it a highest-ever score of 101 before pausing its medium format camera reviews prior to publishing any. That Pentax 645Z review is finally out, and DxOMark still has glowing things to say about the camera.

DxOMark says the 51.4-megapixel camera has extremely good image quality scores, and the large pixels on the sensor gives the camera the best low-light ISO scores ever recorded up to this point among all cameras.

“It’s clear from our testing that the Pentax 645Z’s sensor is extremely capable, coming within a whisper of matching the performance of the Hasselblad X1D sensor (our highest-scoring sensor to date),” DxOMark says. “The 645Z’s high dynamic range and color sensitivity make it ideally suited for capturing the types of scenes that are traditionally favored by medium-format photographers — landscapes, weddings, portraits, and still lifes (commercial).”

The camera is interesting to compare against the Nikon D850, DxOMark says. The Pentax has a sensor that’s 1.7 times larger, but the D850 is about 3 years newer. The Nikon D850 actually stacks up well against the medium format camera thanks to Sony’s sensor manufacturing prowess.

“While the 645Z beats the Nikon sensor in our tests, the Nikon comes closer than you might expect, given the size difference,” DxOMark says. “If Sony made a medium-format sensor with the same design as the D850, it would beat the sensors in both the Pentax 645Z and the Hasselblad X1D-50c.”

If you’d like a medium format camera that has the look and feel of a 35mm DSLR and fantastic image quality, the Pentax 645Z is one option you may want to take a look at these days. It costs just $5,500 new now, which is a significant discount from its original retail price of over $8,500.

Testing Sony’s New Pixel Shift Feature in the a7R III

Posted on November 18th, 2017

The new Sony a7R III has a new function called Pixel Shift. This function basically increases the resolution of your images by 4 times. In short: the camera takes 4 photos and shifts the sensor 1 pixel in between. By combining these images later (the camera itself doesn’t do this) you get an image that has 4 times the resolution of a normal raw image (4 x 42 megapixel).

This does NOT mean your file is suddenly 168 Megapixels. The files you get are still 42 megapixels but they contain way more detail, especially noticeable when you zoom in 100%.

So how exactly does this work? By shifting the sensor by 1 pixel in every direction the sensor captures the full RGB data for every pixel. This is explained in this Sony video:

Advantages of this function are the removal of aliasing and moire, increased color accuracy, and most of all a great increase in sharpness. Of course, I had to test this myself. For testing purposes, I took a still scene with some detailed objects in it.

Test scene with a painting and some objects that contain small details.

Testing

I set up the Pixel Shift function on the C3 button of the camera so I could quickly turn it on/off. This could be useful in the field when I quickly want to activate the function. Upon pressing the button you can select the interval you want the pictures to be taken. This is by default set to 1 second, and you can’t set this lower, only longer. You would want a longer interval if you were working with flashes and need to wait for it to recharge, for example.

After you activate Pixel Shift, it’s a matter of pressing the shutter button and waiting for the camera to finish. All the shots are taken in Silent mode with the electronic shutter, which makes sure there are no vibrations — it is very crucial that there is no movement because the shift is only 1 pixel. It’s recommended that you use a remote or turn on the timer in camera before using this function. Because the camera is using the silent shutter, certain functions are not available. For example, you can’t go lower than 100 ISO and bracketing is unavailable (which is obvious).

When the camera is done you end up with 4 photos. Note that these are 4 uncompressed raw files, even if you set up your camera to shoot compressed raws.

Here’s a video of me shooting a still scene with the Pixel Shift function:

To combine the 4 images, use Sony’s new Imaging Edge Software that can be downloaded here.

Open the Viewer software, select your images, right click and choose Create and Adjust Px, Shift Multi Shoot, and Composite Image. The software now combines the 4 images and creates a new file with the .ARQ extension. You can now export or edit this final file.

So how does the final file look? The detail increase when zoomed in is great. It really ‘pops’ and it has this 3D look. You can very easily notice the resolution increase. Here are 2 crop comparisons:

Without pixel shift. Less detail.
Pixel Shift result. Check the painting textures very closely and they look ‘more 3D’.

Here’s another crop comparison:

No pixel shift.
Pixel shift result.

If you’re having trouble seeing the difference (there’s some sharpness applied on the images on this site), you can download the full-res photos here. I also included the full resolution JPEGS from both the shift result and without pixel shift. Note that no editing was done, not even lens correction profiles have been applied.

I also tried pixel shift with a cityscape and I have the following observations: it works as expected, and detail in the bricks is insane — way sharper than without pixel shift. However, there are downsides. I’m not sure how the Sony Imaging Edge software stacks the 4 shots together, but it does NOT work well with moving parts in between images. I tried combining several sequences of 4 images and they each came out with artifacts on moving parts.

An ancient gate close to my house which is perfect for trying the Pixel Shift function on. The bricks on this one create moire on some sensors. The bricks are super detailed and sharp with the pixel shifting function. However, the moving parts like water and clouds (these are also long exposures, short exposures are even worse) get artifacts when combining the images. Here’s an example of the artifacts:

You can see weird things going on in the clouds.

I am very interested in the technical side of this as I want to know the algorithm that the software uses to combine the 4 images. I thought it would be a similar algorithm as the stacking functions in Photoshop (median and mean on smart objects) but this was totally not the case. I tried stacking the images with multiple stacking techniques and they each came out worse than the original. This is probably because of the slight pixel shift that works differently here. The Imaging Edge software is using a different algorithm.

I could still use this technique to get sharper results in certain parts of the image and blend them together with other images. This is a bit of a hassle though and I would only use it in some situations. My advice would be to not use the pixel shift function when you have moving parts in your image for now.

TL;DR

  • The Pixel Shift function creates higher resolution images with better sharpness, color accuracy and less moire.
  • The camera takes 4 shots with a minimum of 1-second interval. Therefore it can be tricky to shoot a scene with moving subjects. It is meant to use for still scenes.
  • The camera shoots 4 uncompressed raws, even if you set up your camera to shoot in compressed raw.
  • You have to manually combine the files with the Sony Imaging Edge software. The camera doesn’t do this automatically for you.
  • The final file you get Is still 42 Megapixel. It’s not a file with more Megapixels (some people think that).

Conclusion

So in short: this function is not a gimmick, it really works. Will I use it as a landscape photographer? I will definitely try. I love to shoot images with as much detail as possible. In reality, I will often not be able to use this function because of moving subjects. However, as I am blending images lots of times I can definitely see this function being integrated into my photography.

Think of very fine stones on buildings, churches, mostly ancient structures. I would sometimes see slight moire when shooting these. Shooting with Pixel Shift completely eliminates the moire. Also, I could blend a pixel shift image with ‘normal’ images to overcome the moving scene issues. There are definitely possible situations in which I will use this technique.

It’s also super fast to activate, and if you have your camera on your tripod waiting for a sunset, why not shoot a pixel shift image while you’re waiting?


About the author: Albert Dros is a 31-year-old award-winning Dutch photographer. His work has been published by some of the world’s biggest media channels, including TIME, The Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, and National Geographic. You can find more of his work on his website, or by following him on Facebook and Instagram. This article was also published here.

Lytro might open source its light-field photo sharing platform

Posted on December 11th, 2017

Last week, light-field photography pioneer Lytro announced that it would discontinue the pictures.lytro.com platform, which allowed Lytro users to share their refocusable 'living' light-field images with others online and through Facebook.

The move, which is a direct result of Lytro changing its focus from consumer products to the professional market, was not received well by existing owners of the original Lytro and the Lytro ILLUM cameras. This more or less made their images unsharable in their interactive form. All may not be lost, though.

It appears the company has received enough negative customer feedback to consider allowing the developer community to host its 'living pictures' online without its involvement. In other words: Lytro might open source the platform.

Lytro explained this potential move in a new announcement, which reads:

We are currently evaluating this request but have not yet reached a conclusion. Although we fully trust that the passionate community of developers around Light Field photography can come up with brilliant solutions, there are some challenges to resolve around intellectual property and we cannot promise that it is possible.

If you currently own a Lytro camera you can sign up here for email updates on the issue. No matter how the story ends, it is a sobering reminder that today's complex imaging hardware can far too easily lose some—if not all—of its functionality once software support ends.

Lumoid gear rental service has been shut down

Posted on December 11th, 2017

Lumoid, a startup that offered photography gear and other gadgets for rent, has been officially shut down. The process had actually been underway for months, but was only officially revealed to the public late last week. According to company founder Aarthi Ramamurthy, who recently posted about the matter on Facebook, the team had "gradually wound down Lumoid" over the last four months, including selling its IP and assets.

The Lumoid website is still live and showing various gadget rental categories; however, clicking on any given rental item shows that it is no longer in stock. Speaking to TechCrunch, Ramamurthy indicated that it was Lumoid's deal with Best Buy earlier this year that led to the decision to close the service down. The company was ultimately unable to get the money it needed to scale up the business to meet Best Buy's needs.

Though Lumoid is gone, other camera and lens rental services remain, including the newly merged Lensrentals and LensProTogo, and Borrow Lenses.

Smartphones dominated Flickr's 2017 uploads, but DSLRs are on the rise

Posted on December 11th, 2017

Photo by Max Delsid

The iPhone has dominated Flickr's annual 'top devices' list, representing 54% of the site's top 100 devices in 2017, as well as the majority of the site's 10 top devices list. These figures were published as part of Flickr's end-of-year analysis, in which the platform reveals what cameras are most popular among its users, as well as highlighting the site's top photos of the year.

Flickr's 2017 Year in Review report shows that smartphones were once again the device of choice among the site's users, increasing from 48% in 2016 to a full 50% of uploads in 2017.

But it's not all smartphones this and smartphones that. In fact, DSLRs were used to take 33% of the images uploaded to Flickr this year compared to just 25% in 2016. And in an utterly predictable turn of events, the use of point-and-shoot cameras dropped from 2016's 21% to a paltry 12% this year.

Mirrorless cameras were the only ones to hold steady, boasting just 4% of uploads in both 2016 and 2017.

Looking at brands specifically, Apple dominates Flickr's 2017 annual review, with its iPhone representing 54% of the top 100 devices of the year. Flickr says that 9 of the top 10 devices were iPhone models; only the Canon 5D Mark III tarnished that record, coming in at #9. Canon, overall, was the second biggest brand on Flickr this year, accounting for 23% of the top 100 devices. Nikon came in third at 18%.

Flickr has a very large user base at 75 million, making its annual report a notable insight into which devices are most popular with the general public. Just like its top 25 photos of the year give us an idea of the photographic styles that appeal to the most people.

NiSi launches variable ND filter without the dreaded X-effect

Posted on December 11th, 2017

NiSi Filters has announced a new variable ND filter that, at least according to the company, does not produce the dreaded X-effect at its most extreme settings. The NiSi Filters Pro Nano 1.5-5-stop Enhance ND-Vario offers between 1.5 stops and 5 stop of density variation to allow for moderate long exposures for stills photographers, and reduced light intensity for videographers needing to control apertures.

The ‘density’ of the filter is controlled by turning one polarizer against another, with a geared knob that turns the forward sheet of glass for added accuracy. The company also says that it has avoided the dark X-effect that many variable ND filters suffer from when used at their densest settings, but it doesn’t say how. The filter is said to enhance color too, but at the same time retains a neutral cast. Finally, the new ND comes with a slim-line frame to prevent vignetting when used with wideangle lenses.

The NiSi Filters Pro Nano 1.5-5 Stop Enhance ND-Vario will be available in sizes from 67-95mm. No price has been released yet, but more information can be found in the NiSi Filters website.

National Geographic photographer shares heart-wrenching video of starving polar bear

Posted on December 11th, 2017

Video Screenshot. Credit: Paul Nicklen

National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen's Instagram account typically features breathtakingly beautiful scenes and stories from around the globe. Whales, penguins, and polar bears make up the brunt of his latest posts, all of them the kinds of photos wildlife photographers dream of capturing.

One of his latest videos, however, is the exact opposite.

Six days ago, Nicklen shared a heart-wrenching video of a starving polar bear scrounging for food—a shadow of the powerful animal it had once been. The video has spread around the web like wildfire, a testament to the effects of global warming on this species, which some scientists believe will become extinct within the next 100 years.

"My entire @Sea_Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear," writes Nicklen in the video's caption. "It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy."

We've embedded the video from Nicklen's Instagram below, but be warned: this footage is not for the faint of heart.

My entire @Sea_Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear. It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy. This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death. When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner. There is no band aid solution. There was no saving this individual bear. People think that we can put platforms in the ocean or we can feed the odd starving bear. The simple truth is this—if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems. This large male bear was not old, and he certainly died within hours or days of this moment. But there are solutions. We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth—our home—first. Please join us at @sea_legacy as we search for and implement solutions for the oceans and the animals that rely on them—including us humans. Thank you your support in keeping my @sea_legacy team in the field. With @CristinaMittermeier #turningthetide with @Sea_Legacy #bethechange #nature #naturelovers This video is exclusively managed by Caters News. To license or use in a commercial player please contact info@catersnews.com or call +44 121 616 1100 / +1 646 380 1615”

A post shared by Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen) on Dec 5, 2017 at 8:52am PST

The point of the video isn't just to depress animal lovers the world over. As Nicklen explains in his caption, there are solutions:

The simple truth is this—if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems. This large male bear was not old, and he certainly died within hours or days of this moment. But there are solutions. We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth—our home—first.

You can see much more of Paul's work on his website and Instagram account. And if you want to learn more about what Nicklen is talking about in his caption above, visit the Sea Legacy website.

Our favorite gear, rewarded: DPReview Awards 2017

Posted on December 11th, 2017

DPReview Awards 2017

Here at DPReview we handle a lot of gear. This year, plenty of amazing cameras, lenses, accessories and other products came through our doors, and we hope you've enjoyed reading about them as much as we've enjoyed writing about and testing them.

We also enjoy arguing about them – about which camera is better than which other camera, and which lens is the best, etc. So we've spent the past few days going through this year's products as a team, and ranking our choices, to make a shortlist for what we think was the best gear released in 2017.

After all that, we're pleased to announce the results. Click through the slides above to find out which products made our list of the best gear of 2017!

If you'd like to have your say, make sure to vote in this year's Reader's Polls for best products of 2017, which will be running through December 18th.

Best accessory

Shortlist:

  • Affinity for iPad
  • Godox Ving V860 II
  • Atomos Ninja Inferno
  • Peak Design CaptureClip 3

Runner up: Affinity for iPad

While perhaps not as sexy as the high-value cameras and lenses that we get our hands on every month, there are some amazing accessories out there, with a lot to offer the modern photographer. And among the most important are the various software suites that enable us to turn our Raw (literally) images into finished photographs worthy of printing and sharing.

The arrival of high-powered tablet computers like the Apple iPad Pro means that imaging software is no longer limited to desktop and laptop computers. Affinity Photo for iPad is a full-fledged image editor that offers all of the major features you'd expect from a serious desktop Raw editor, for only $20. Impressed? We certainly are.

Read our review of Affinity for iPad

Winner: Godox Ving V860 II

A good flashgun (or two) can really transform your photography, but wireless TTL flash systems from the major camera manufacturers can be extremely costly. The Godox Ving V860 II kit is a powerful third-party flash solution that competes with options from the major brands at a considerably lower cost.

The V860 II is the latest Godox offering for Canon, Nikon and Sony users, and it provides TTL metering and off-camera control via a wireless 2.4GHz radio system. When we reviewed the kit back in June we praised its strong and reliable wireless connection, high standard of construction and great 650-shot battery life.

Among a competitive shortlist of high-quality accessories, the Godox Ving V860 II is a worthy winner. If you're looking for an affordable solution for wireless off-camera flash triggering, we'd highly recommend checking it out.

Read our review of the Godox Ving V860 II

Best smartphone camera

Shortlist:

  • Apple iPhone X
  • Google Pixel 2
  • LG V30
  • Huawei Mate 10

Runner up: iPhone X

Love it or hate it, the fact is that a lot of people take pictures with their smartphones these days, and it's in modern smartphone handsets that we're seeing some of the most exciting technological developments in photography.

The iPhone X is Apple's flagship iPhone and a significant milestone for the company, marking the 10-year anniversary of the very first iPhone – arguably the product that kicked off the 'smartphone revolution' all those years ago. As well as twin stabilized wide / tele cameras, artifact-free 4K/60p HEVC video and a bunch of clever effects like Portrait Lighting mode, the iPhone X also offers one of the best, brightest and most color-accurate screens of any smartphone. The P3 images that its camera generates take advantage of the display's wide color gamut, and the iPhone X is also the world's first device to support the HDR display of HDR photos – something we've only seen in the video world (HDR10, Dolby Vision).

The iPhone X is a beautiful thing, and a worthy runner-up for best smartphone camera of 2017.

Read mode about the Apple iPhone X

Winner: Google Pixel 2

Google is at the forefront of developments in computational photography and the Pixel 2 is a superb example of the difference that some very clever technology – and a lot of computing power – can make to a camera.

Despite only featuring a single camera module, split pixels and some clever software allow the Pixel 2 to create a surprisingly accurate and continuous depth map, which enables a very pleasing and effective 'fake bokeh' portrait effect. And thanks to the constant 9-frame image averaging of HDR+ the depth map and resulting image are often noise free, even at shutter speeds needed to freeze modest motion indoors.

Autofocus uses the entire dual-pixel sensor, so it's fast even in low light and with moving subjects like kids. Although color and white balance tend to be less pleasing than an iPhone, the sheer quality and detail of the 12MP camera even marks a new standard in smartphone imagery.

It's not just stills – dual pixel AF in video and the combination of both optical and electronic image stabilization make for the some of the sharpest and smoothest, glidecam-esque footage we've ever seen. If you're looking for the best camera on a smartphone, look no further.

Read more about the Google Pixel 2

Best prosumer camera drone

Shortlist:

  • DJI Spark
  • DJI Mavic Pro Platinum
  • DJI Phantom 4 Advanced

Runner-up: DJI Mavic Pro Platinum

Drones are becoming a popular photography tool as they allow anyone to capture high quality images from the air. All of the drones on this year's list of finalists are made by DJI, but that's not surprising given how quickly the company cranks out new models, each representing a good value in its own way.

The DJI Mavic Pro Platinum is an update to last year's Mavic Pro, which won our Editor's Choice award in 2016. It adds quieter operation, thanks to redesigned props, as well as a few more minutes of flight time. Combined with its ability to capture 4K video using a good codec, 12MP Raw image files, DJI's Active Track technology, and a folding design that makes it great for travel, the Mavic Pro Platinum gets the nod as runner-up.

Winner: DJI Phantom 4 Advanced

When it comes to getting the highest quality images from a drone, one model on our shortlist stands out: the DJI Phantom 4 Advanced. Its camera is built around a 20MP 1"-type sensor, similar to what you would find in a high end compact camera like a Sony RX100, resulting in higher resolution, better quality images, and more malleable Raw files than small-sensor models.

It also has the most impressive video features on the list, including 4K/60p recording using a 100Mbps codec, an option to use the more advanced H.265 codec, and produces very usable Log video. Of course, it also gets all of DJI's intelligent flight modes. Thanks to its high image quality and advanced feature set, the Phantom 4 Advanced wins our award for best drone of 2017.

Best zoom lens

Shortlist:

  • Fujifilm GF 32-64mm F4 R LM WR
  • Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G
  • Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM
  • Tamron SP 24-70mm F2.8 Di VC USD G2

Runner-up: Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G

A lot of lenses get released every year, and it's always a challenge to whittle the year's releases down to a shortlist – let alone to pick a winner. That said, this year several lenses stood out from the pack.

To say the Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G is an excellent wide-angle zoom would be an understatement: it's optically as good or better than far bigger lenses weighing nearly twice as much. For some landscape photographers, that weight advantage may be enough to buy into the Sony system, and its super-wide angle of view will also be useful for architecture and interiors. For the sort of edge-to-edge sharpness this lens provides in such an immensely small and lightweight package, the 12-24mm could easily have won in this category, instead just losing out to...

Read more about the
Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G

Winner: Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM

...its big brother the Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM. More versatile than the 12-24mm, Sony's pro-grade 16-35mm F2.8 is built to an exceptionally high standard and offers excellent sharpness, making it an ideal companion to Sony's new a7R III.

For many years, Sony was criticized for offering a relatively small lineup of high-quality lenses, but products like the new 16-35mm F2.8 GM prove that the company has what it takes to make world-class optics. Sharp even wide open, fast to focus and capable of producing some of the nicest sunstars we've ever seen, this lens will be useful for everything from landscapes to indoor sports to weddings. The Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM earns our award for best zoom lens of 2017.

Read more about the
Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM

Best prime lens

Shortlist:

  • Canon EF 85mm F1.4L IS USM
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm F1.2 Pro
  • Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art
  • Sony FE 85mm F1.8

Runner-up: Sony FE 85mm F1.8

There were so many excellent prime lenses released this year that picking an overall winner and runner-up was very difficult. From high-quality wides to fast-aperture telephotos, the options have never been better, and 2017 saw some amazing lenses released from all of the major manufacturers.

In the end though, we narrowed the field down to four lenses, all of which would have made worthy winners. Sony's FE 85mm F1.8 takes the runner-up spot for its combination of excellent image quality, speedy autofocus, attainable price and compact size. For anyone looking to get into portraiture using Sony's full-frame lens ecosystem, we wholeheartedly recommend the FE 85mm F1.8.

Read more about the
Sony FE 85mm F1.8

Winner: Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art

After much discussion, our pick for the best prime lens of 2017 is the Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art. At the opposite end of the spectrum to the Sony FE 85mm F1.8, the Sigma 14mm F1.8 'Art' is a niche lens, but one that offers a unique perspective for certain kinds of photography where sharp, distortion-free images at wide apertures can make a huge difference.

Astrophotography is an obvious example, and shooting the Aurora Borealis, but the Sigma 14mm F1.8 is surprisingly useful for a range of other photography, too, including conventional landscapes and cityscapes. We've been in love with this lens since we first used it in Japan back in spring. The Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art is our pick for best prime lens of 2017.

Read more about the Sigma 14mm F1.8 DG HSM Art

Best compact camera

Shortlist:

  • Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III
  • Fujifilm X100F
  • Olympus Tough TG-5
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV

Runner up: Fujifilm X100F

This year was a relatively slow one for compact cameras, even in a market segment that has contracted significantly in recent years. But several of the models released in 2017 were truly excellent, and any one of our shortlisted cameras would make a worthy winner.

Our runner-up pick for best compact camera of 2017 is the Fujifilm X100F. A well thought-our successor to the proven X100T, the X100F incorporates a higher-resolution sensor, bigger battery, and tweaked user interface including an AF positioning joystick. With the X100F, one of our favorite large-sensor compacts just got even better.

Read our review of the Fujifilm X100F

Winner: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV

Our expectations of compact cameras have shifted a lot in recent years, thanks in no small part to Sony. The Cyber-shot RX100 and RX10-series have shaken up the compact market by offering better image quality, faster shooting, and much more advanced video capabilities than most competitors, amid a product refresh cycle that is, frankly, exhausting.

Although it might look like a relatively minor update to last year's RX10 III, the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV is a considerably more attractive camera thanks to the addition of phase-detection autofocus. It rarely hunts for focus even at 600mm. While it can't manage DSLR-level subject tracking, it's impressively capable for both stills and video, and this combined with the razor-sharp 24-600mm stabilized zoom lens makes for an unbeatable combination. As such, the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV earns our award for the best compact camera of 2017.

Read our review of the
Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV

Best consumer stills/video camera

Shortlist:

  • Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV
  • Sony Alpha a9
  • Sony Alpha a7R III

Runner up: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV

The days of dedicated stills cameras and dedicated consumer video cameras are almost over. Pretty much every camera released in 2017 offered a high-quality video mode, and 4K and even 6K features are becoming common in mirrorless ILCs and DSLRs alike. The ability to smoothly transition from shooting stills to capturing high-quality video footage is invaluable to multi-media professionals, events photographers and casual social photographers alike.

All of the shortlisted cameras in this category offer excellent video features, centered around high-quality 4K capture. For its combination of versatility, portability and (relative) affordability, runner-up in this category goes to the ultra-versatile Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV.

Learn more about the
Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV

Winner: Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5

When reviewing the cameras shortlisted in this category, one product kept coming up again and again. The Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 is a stunning stills/video hybrid camera, offering an unmatched 4K video feature set, alongside solid stills photography features.

The more recent (and more stills-focused) G9 offers more stable autofocus in video mode, but in terms of expandability, and the sheer quality of its 4K/6K footage, the GH5 is a clear winner. As such it's incredibly versatile for everything from 'run and gun' videography to high-resolution reportage and easily earns our award for best consumer stills / video camera of the year.

Read our review of the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5

Best entry-level ILC

Shortlist:

  • Canon EOS M100
  • Canon EOS Rebel SL2 (EOS 200D)
  • Canon EOS Rebel T7i (EOS 800D)
  • Olympus OM-D E-M10 III

Runner-up: Canon EOS M100

Entry-level cameras are among the most important products in every manufacturer's lineup. Once a new photographer has invested in a system, the hope is that they'll stay loyal, growing their investment in lenses, accessories and – in the future – more advanced cameras.

Canon refreshed virtually its entire entry-level portfolio this year, across both the EF and EF-M lines. One of our favorite entry-level cameras this year (and any year) was the tiny EOS M100, which earns the runner-up spot for its combination of stress-free handling, excellent autofocus and solid image quality.

Read our review of the Canon EOS M100

Winner: Olympus OM-D E-M10 III

One camera stood out among entry-level models this year for its attractive combination of advanced stills features, 4K video and lightweight design. That camera is the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III. While its M43 sensor can't match some competitors for resolution, the addition of 4K video and provision for 5-axis in-camera stabilization make it among the most versatile entry-level cameras on the market.

Despite being very small and light, the E-M10 III offers generous manual controls, and an accessible user interface that still provides a lot of customization options – ideal for a photographer just starting out, who wants a camera that gives them some room to grow. For these reasons, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 III wins our award for best entry-level ILC of 2017.

Read our review of the
Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III

Best midrange ILC

Shortlist:

  • Canon EOS M6
  • Fujifilm X-E3
  • Nikon D7500
  • Pentax KP

Runner-up: Fujifilm X-E3

This year's collection of mid-range interchangeable lens cameras makes for stiff competition in this category. They all come with plentiful controls, APS-C sensors, and well thought-out (if distinctly different) ergonomics. This made choosing our winner very difficult, as all are highly capable photographic tools.

In the end, we decided that Fujifilm's X-E3 is our runner up for this category. We love the JPEG output, and we're fans of its new and useful touchscreen, revised controls and smaller size relative to its predecessors. The autofocus joystick in particular makes this camera a great shooting companion, and it slots in well alongside the company's X-T20 as a rangefinder-styled alternative.

Read our review of the Fujifilm X-E3

Winner: Nikon D7500

Taking the crown is a refined DSLR that's supremely capable in almost any scenario - the Nikon D7500. We've long been fans of Nikon's midrange DSLRs, and the D7500 is no different. With a capable autofocus system, great image quality, comfortable ergonomics and an expansive lens ecosystem, the D7500 has a lot going for it.

Whether you're into sports, portraiture, landscapes or low light work, there's really not much the D7500 can't do. The crop in 4K mode is a little extreme (though the video quality is quite good), and it's not the most compact of its peers. But the D7500 remains supremely versatile, and for that, it takes the top slot in its category.

Read our review of the Nikon D7500

Best high-end ILC

Shortlist:

  • Fujifilm GFX 50S
  • Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5
  • Nikon D850
  • Sony Alpha 7R III

Even without flagship professional DSLRs from Canon and Nikon, the competition in the high-end ILC marketplace was fierce this year. Fufifilm's GFX 50S (announced in 2016, but released in early spring) shook up the medium-format market, while Sony's a7R III and a9 redefined our expectations of professional mirrorless cameras. Meanwhile, Panasonic made a play for professional and enthusiast videographers with the Lumix DC-GH5 and Nikon pulled out all of the stops with the D850 – arguably its most ambitious DSLR yet.

After a lot of discussion, we couldn't decide on a single clear winner in this category. So we opted to recognize two cameras as joint winners, both of which are excellent for slightly different reasons. Drumroll please...

Joint-winner: Nikon D850

It shouldn't come as any surprise that we chose the Nikon D850 as our joint winner for best high-end ILC of 2017. It's hard to imagine how much more advanced a DSLR could be. Offering a combination of incredible resolution, speed, equal best-in-class dynamic range and excellent autofocus, the D850 is a winner whichever way you look at it. A highly respectable 4K video option is the icing on the cake.

Performance is excellent, handling is luxurious, and it's out of stock pretty much everywhere – for good reason.

Read our review of the Nikon D850

Joint-winner: Sony Alpha a7R III

Our second joint-winner is a similarly impressive camera, that pushes the boundaries of mirrorless technology. The Sony a7R III is a technological tour-de-force, incorporating a tweaked version of the 42MP sensor used in the a7R II, now with even more dynamic range, and one of the best autofocus systems we've yet encountered in a mirrorless camera.

While it can't quite keep up with the sports-focused a9, the a7R III is no slouch, and offers a combination of speed and resolution that make it very attractive for a range of different kinds of photography. Equally at home capturing 4K video as it is 42MP stills, the a7R III is capable, versatile and more than a match for anything with a mirror. As such, it earns the title of joint winner, in our category for best high-end ILC of 2017.

Read our review of the Sony a7R III

DPReview innovation award

Shortlist:

  • DJI Zenmuse X7
  • iOS 11 / HEIF
  • Google Pixel 2 computational camera
  • Sony a9

Runner-up: iOS 11/ HEIF

Our runner-up is the HEIF (‘heef’) image format. Consumer digital photography has been stuck using 8-bit, sRGB JPEG images for more than twenty years, despite periodic touted replacements. The HEIF format, developed by the MPEG working group, can be used to contain all sorts of multi-image data, whether that’s a high res image and a low-res preview, multi shot bursts, focus stack groups or variants of images rendered for HDR and standard DR displays.

Its adoption by Apple not only in its latest desktop operating system but also on the much more widely-used iOS 11 mobile OS increases the likelihood of its wider adoption, particularly on the iPhone X, whose HDR display will help its users to appreciate the value of the 10-bit images (in the wider-than-sRGB P3 colorspace) that its camera shoots by default. This push towards fairly widespread adoption and perhaps appreciation, might finally see a more sophisticated format dethrone the all-conquering JPEG. And just in time to let us all shoot natural-looking wide dynamic range images for the HDR screens that are becoming ever more common.

Winner: Google Pixel 2 computational camera

After much discussion, the Google Pixel 2 'computational camera' wins our 'Innovation of the Year' award. With the Pixel 2, Google shows us that computational photography not only renders most compacts obsolete, it's coming for your camera as well. That's not meant to be as ominous as it sounds. In fact, it's great news.

The Pixel 2 camera wins because of the sheer image quality it can produce from minimal hardware thanks to computational approaches. The camera is always maintaining a 9-frame full-resolution buffer at at least 60 frames per second. Dual Pixel AF means your subject is most likely pre-focused before you even press the shutter button, and when you do, the camera goes back in time to those last 9 frames, combines them, and thereby reduces noise by over 3 stops compared to a conventional sensor of that size. In high contrast scenes, the Pixel 2 exposes to not clip highlights, then averages those frames to reduce noise in shadows. And all of this happens at the press of a button.

Probably most impressive is its Portrait mode, which generates a depth map from the tiny stereo disparity between the split pixels behind the lens. The results are nothing short of impressive: look at the progressive blur, both in front of and behind, our main subject here.

DPReview product of the year, 2017

Shortlist:

  • Nikon D850
  • Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G
  • Sony a9
  • Sony a7R III

Runner-up: Nikon D850

'What was the best product of the year?' That's a very difficult question to answer even in a quiet year, but as we've seen, 2017 saw the launch of some seriously good cameras, lenses and accessories. But as we get close to the end of the year, two products really stood out, for their combination of features, power and flexibility.

Our runner-up this year is perhaps the most advanced enthusiast DSLR ever released. Combining almost class-leading resolution with unrivaled speed and one of the best autofocus systems on the market, the Nikon D850 earns the runner-up spot in this year's DPReview Awards for Best Product of 2017.

Winner: Sony Alpha a7R III

You guessed it – one of the last cameras released in 2017 ended up taking the top spot. The Sony a7R III is a truly impressive camera, which combines advanced stills and video features in a body designed to satisfy the needs of professionals and enthusiasts alike. While the a9 is faster, and features an autofocus system better optimized for shooting sports, the a7R III is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera for the rest of us, and a well-deserved winner of our award for the best product of 2017.

As we approach the end of the year, we'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your support, and your feedback. For a chance to vote for your own favorite product of 2017, our Reader's Polls are open, and can be found here. Voting in the first round closes on December 18th.

2017 Buying Guide: Best cameras for beginners

Posted on December 11th, 2017

Maybe you want better photos in low light. Maybe you're tired of digital zoom. Whatever the reason, if you're looking for a capable, beginner-friendly camera to grow and learn with, we've got you covered.

Olympus 17mm F1.2 Pro sample gallery

Posted on December 10th, 2017

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The Olympus 17mm F1.2 promises to open up new possibilities for Micro Four Thirds shooters seeking razor-thin depth-of-field and smooth, 'feathered' bokeh. We've had access to one for a little while, and we've been shooting with it both close to home and on the road on an Olympus-organized trip to Charleston, South Carolina.

Take a peek at our extensive sample gallery.

See our Olympus 17mm F1.2 Pro
sample gallery

About the Author

- "The Back Page" was developed by Kristakov & Co. as an aggregation resource tool for sharing tips, techniques, inspiration and news with the larger photographic community. The site is threaded with information that is produced for or can be found around the web in disparate sources. The Back Page serves as a means of bringing those disparate sources together for discussion, comment and insights.

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