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Our next meeting is on Thursday 15 Febuary 2018 at 19h00.

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Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

All articles from Digital Photography Review
Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)
  1. Fujifilm X-H1 versus X-T2: what does the new camera bring?

    Introduction

    The Fujifilm X-H1 sits at the top of the company's APS-C lineup, lifting expectations and capabilities beyond what was offered by the X-T2 that previously held the position.

    The price and feature set, as much as Fujifilm's claims, make clear that it's an additional model, rather than a replacement. So just what's changed? What's been added and who does the new model make sense for?

    Video

    The X-T2 offers 4K video, but the X-H1 takes things to a different level.

    Virtually every aspect of the X-H1's video feature set is upgraded compared to the X-T2. Thanks to its larger internal volume it can shoot 4K for longer (15 mins compared to 10), and while the two cameras both impose a modest 1.17X crop, the X-H1 boasts a maximum bitrate of 200Mbps and the option to shoot F-Log internally.

    The X-H1's new 'Eterna' film simulation preset is intended to provide a quick and easy way to shoot gradeable, wide dynamic range video footage. For the first time, you can apply dynamic range 'DR' expansion settings in video mode on the X-H1, too. When combined with the DR400%, setting, footage shot using the Eterna preset, Fujifilm says it should deliver a total of 12EV of dynamic range.

    Video

    Less obvious improvements, but equally significant to serious videographers include a video-specific shutter speed of 1/48sec, which will give a 360, 180 and 90 degree shutter angle for 24, 30 and 60p footage. If you don't know what that means, don't worry about it. But if you do, you'll appreciate it. Likewise support for time code display, and silent touch operation, which enables exposure control via the rear touch-screen.

    Missing are any kind of exposure warnings, which (we're told) would put too much stress on the X-H1's processor.

    Revamped AF system

    While it uses the same 24MP APS-C X-Trans sensor as the X-T2, the X-H1's on-sensor phase-detection autofocus system has been seriously upgraded. The most obvious improvements are to low-light sensitivity and focus tracking. The X-H1 can now focus down to -1EV (compared to the X-T2's limit of 0.5EV) and phase-detection AF should work even at effective apertures as small as F11 - i.e. when shooting at the long end of the XF100-400mm F4.5-5.6 zoom, when combined with a 2X tele-converter.

    In terms of tracking, Fujifilm quotes a substantial increase in autofocus hit-rate when faced with low contrast subjects and more reliable tracking during continuous bursts of images. Unlike the X-T2, the X-H1 can also continuously focus while zooming. Both the X-T2 and X-H1's autofocus systems look for horizontal, vertical and high-frequency detail, but whereas in the X-T2, this information is processed in series, the X-H1's AF system benefits from parallel data processing. Quite how Fujifilm has managed this without upgrading the X-H1's processor (which is the same as the one used in the X-T2) is a mystery to us, but it's impressive.

    New body design

    In terms of its external appearance, the X-H1 looks like a mid-point between the X-T2 and the medium-format GFX 50S. And in a sense (apart from the APS-C sensor) that's exactly what it is. Fuji intends the X-H1 to be more 'friendly' to DSLR users, hence the larger grip and top-plate mounted LCD. The LCD squeezed out the traditional Fujifilm exposure compensation dial, but exposure compensation (if applied) is permanently displayed on the LCD, even when the X-H1 is turned off.

    Bigger, heavier, tougher

    The X-H1 is a bigger camera than the X-T2 (140 x 97 x 86mm versus 132 x 92 x 49mm) and substantially heavier (673g versus 507g - with a card and battery). The magnesium-alloy body shell of the X-H1 is 25% thicker than the X-T2, too. It's also more scratch-resistant, and substantially stronger. As well as being physically stronger, the X-H1's body is well sealed against the elements, with 68 seals around body seams and control points.

    Quiet mechanical shutter

    The X-H1's shutter has been redesigned to offer a damped mechanical shutter mode, and electronic first-curtain (EFC) to reduce any risk of shutter shock.

    The other advantage is that this makes the shutter itself quieter. In use, both the X-T2 and X-H1 are pretty discreet cameras, but the X-H1 definitely has the edge in situations where the click of a shutter would be unwelcome.

    Improved EVF

    The X-T2's electronic viewfinder is excellent, and the X-H1's EVF is even better. It's fractionally smaller than the X-T2's finder (0.75X magnification compared to 0.77X) but brighter, and it offers a higher resolution of 3.69 million dots (compared to 2.36 million). A subtle but welcome improvement is the increased responsiveness of the eye-sensor, too. The X-H1's eye sensor can react in as little as 0.15sec, when your eye is raised to the finder (compared to the X-T2's 0.4sec).

    Touch-sensitive rear LCD

    The X-H1 features the same articulating 1.04 million-dot rear LCD as the X-T2, but it's touch-sensitive, allowing you to do all kinds of things, including place your desired AF point by touch, and quickly review and zoom into captured images with a fingertip.

    The touchscreen also enables the X-H1's silent movie shooting operation, which is intended to avoid the vibration and potential for operational noise associated with mechanical click dials and buttons.

    In-body stabilization

    Despite claiming in the past that it couldn't be done, Fujifilm has added a 5-axis in-body stabilization system to the X-H1. In general, Fujifilm's faster primes - without OI.S. - should offer slightly better stabilization as a result of their larger imaging circle, but ~5EV of correction will be achievable with almost all XF lenses. The X-H1's IBIS also works in video mode, which makes it more useful for 'run and gun' shooting, for example with the company's excellent new MKX cine zooms.

    Flickr reduction

    New in the X-series is flicker reduction for stills shooting. We've seen this function before in high-end DSLRs, and it works very similarly here: analyzing the fluctuation in brightness of certain artificial light-sources and timing exposure for the peak brightness. This avoids constantly fluctuating brightness when images shot in the same continuous burst. Continuous shooting speed is capped at 7fps in this mode with electronic first-curtain shutter, and 5.5fps with conventional mechanical shutter.

    Most useful when shooting indoor sports, flicker reduction is another feature that either you need it or you don't, but if you do, you really do.

    Dynamic Range Priority mode

    Fujifilm has been putting 'DR' dynamic range expansion settings in its mirrorless and compact cameras for years, but the X-H1 expands on this (no pun intended) with a 'Dynamic Range Priority' mode.

    This has two settings: weak and strong, which use the camera's existing DR modes in combination with flattening of the highlight and shadow ends of the tone curve. This gives a flatter, wider DR version of DR200 and DR400% modes, respectively. There's also an 'Auto' setting that selects which level to apply.

    Bluetooth + Wi-Fi

    As well as built-in Wi-Fi, the X-H1 also includes low energy Bluetooth (BLE) for full-time connection to a smart device. This can either be used to auto-transfer all the images to your smartphone (either at full resolution or as 3MP downsized versions), when you turn the camera off.

    Alternatively the Bluetooth connection should make it faster to reconnect the Wi-Fi if you want to choose which files to send.

    Same sized battery

    The X-H1 has been beefed-up in many respects, compared to the X-T2, but it still features the same battery. In one sense this is great news for X-T2 owners who might be thinking about upgrading to the X-H1, or adding one to their kit. However, the additional demands of the IS system sees the battery life take a small hit, compared to the older model. The X-H1's CIPA rated battery life is 310 exposures per charge, compared to 340 from the X-T2.

    Overall

    The additional video features mean the X-H1 has even greater appeal to stills/video shooters than the already capable X-T2. However, the in-body image stabilization is in itself going to make the X-H1 look more attractive to some stills-only shooters.

    As we've already seen in the comments, the increased size of the X-H1 is somewhat divisive. There are certainly ergonomic benefits to the larger grip but does mean the camera as a whole is substantially larger than previous X-series models. That said, Fujifilm's range of APS-C specific lenses mean the combination of lens and camera is still smaller than the (often more basic) full frame models available around the same price.

  2. Tiffen announces foot operated gas-lift Steadicam Air monopod

    Tiffen has joined the monopod market with the new Steadicam Air line, which uses a gas spring and a foot pedal to help photographers quickly and easily adjust the monopod's height.

    The Steadicam Air is a three-section carbon fibre model that features a foot pedal close to the base that, when pressed, assists in lifting the mounted camera to the desired height. The monopod will come in two configurations to hold either 25lb or 15lb, and are suitable for both still and movie photographers.

    Of the three sections, one uses a twist lock that allows the top of the monopod to rotate about 360°, while the other two are spring loaded for lifting the camera. A large rubber foot makes it easy to angle monopod without it slipping across the floor.

    Here's a look at the Steadicam Air in action:

    The Steadicam Air-25 is available now for $500, while the Steadicam Air-15 will go on sale "at a later date" with a price of $400. For more information, head over to the Tiffen website.

    Press Release

    THE TIFFEN COMPANY INTRODUCES THE STEADICAM AIR

    A Lightweight Carbon Fiber Pneumatic Monopod for Photographers and Cinematographers

    Steadicam, a division of The Tiffen Company and Master Cinematographers teamed up to release the Steadicam Air, a revolutionary monopod that is gas lift activated by a foot pedal for adjustable height.

    Setting a new standard, the Steadicam Air brings versatility back to the monopod. With its gas lift spring, the Air makes it easy for professional photographers and cinematographers to raise their heights and never miss a moment. Available in two different configurations, a 25 lb and soon after a 15 lb weight capacity, the Air is the perfect complement for professional image-makers to stabilize and support their equipment.

    What sets the Steadicam Air apart from any other monopod is that it’s gas lift and spring activated. Weighing only 3.5 lbs, the Steadicam Air is made up of three sections including one twist leg lock that allows for a 360 degree rotation. The height adjustment is activated by the rubberized foot pedal which allows for a non-slip operation.

    Made of carbon fiber, the Steadicam Air is lightweight and compact making it easy for travel. The Air is accompanied by a deluxe carrying bag with added protection and an ergonomic shoulder strap. It is ideal for nature, wildlife, sports, wedding, venue photographers and cinematographers alike.

    The Steadicam Air-25 will be available on February 2, 2018 for $499 USD. The Steadicam Air-15 will available at a later date for $399 USD.

    Features:

    • 100% gas lift, spring activated height adjustable monopod – activated by adjustable foot pedal
    • Made of Lightweight Carbon Fiber
    • 3 – Section Monopod with 1 – twist leg lock
    • Allows for full 360 degree rotation without compromise
    • Ergonomic foam padded grip point with debossed Steadicam branding on the handle
    • Removable aluminum top plate with reversible screw thread allowing for 1/4in-20 and 3/8in-16
    • Oversized rubber foot giving you extra stability connected to ball point
    • Quick twist rubberized leg grips
    • Non-slip, rubberized foot pedal allows for easy grip operation. Pedal also folds up with travel purposes and quick transport
    • Collapsed Height = 28in
    • Fully Extended Height = 62.5in
    • Sleek red accents
  3. Kodak Alaris is bringing back T-Max P3200 high-speed B&W film

    Film photographers are celebrating today after news broke that Kodak Alaris will resurrect another popular product: Kodak T-Max P3200 high-speed black-and-white film. After teasing the resurrection on Twitter, a brief press release confirmed the news this morning, revealing that the debut will happen some time next month.

    Kodak originally discontinued T-Max P3200 film in October of 2012 due to a severe drop in demand, directing its customers toward the T-Max 400 as an alternative. However, the film photography market has seen an increase in demand over the last few years, and Kodak Alaris is using that demand as proof that products like T-Max P3200 and the soon-to-be-rereleased Ektachrome film deserve another shot.

    The 'rebirth' of T-Max P3200 began on social media. In a tweet posted yesterday, Kodak shared an image that reads "Are you in the dark?" followed by a series of numbers that total 3200. The combination hinted at the T-Max P3200 film, which Kodak says can be push processed up to ISO 25,000.

    pic.twitter.com/hYiuy573yC

    — Kodak Professional (@KodakProFilmBiz) February 23, 2018

    Though the company didn't provide any additional details via that tweet, someone did spot an image shared by Australian film store Ikigai Camera on its Instagram account. The image—which has since been removed, hinting at an 'accidental' leak—showed the T-Max P3200 film box alongside the words, "Welcome back March 2018."

    Screenshot from the Kodak Alaris website.

    Fortunately, it's not just teasers and leaks anymore. The company followed up the unofficial news with an official announcement earlier today, saying it will begin shipping the product to US stockhouse dealers and distributors starting in March, followed by other markets "shortly thereafter."

    The company says the resurrected film is best suited for handheld street photography, as well as night shots and work in any "dimly lit venues where you can't use a flash."

    Press Release

    Kodak Alaris Revives KODAK PROFESSIONAL T-MAX P3200 Film / TMZ

    Multi-Speed B&W Film to be Available in March, 2018

    ROCHESTER, N.Y. February 23, 2018 –Kodak Alaris announced today that it is bringing back KODAK PROFESSIONAL T-MAX P3200 Film / TMZ, a multi-speed panchromatic black-and-white negative film. While the nominal film speed of P3200 TMZ is ISO 800, the “P” means it’s designed to be push processed to EI 3200 or higher. This film excels when shooting in low light or when capturing fast action. It is ideally suited for handheld street scene photography, night work, and in dimly lit venues where you can’t use flash.

    “It’s no secret that we’ve been looking for opportunities to expand our portfolio” said Dennis Olbrich, President – Kodak Alaris Paper, Photo Chemicals and Film. “Darkroom photography is making a comeback, and B&W Film sales are clearly on a positive trajectory. Given these very encouraging market trends, we believe P3200 TMZ will be a great addition to our lineup”.

    Kodak Alaris plans to offer KODAK PROFESSIONAL T-MAX P3200 Film in 135-36x format. Shipments to Distributors and Stockhouse dealers will begin in March in the U.S., with other regions around the world following shortly thereafter.

    To learn more, please visit www.kodakalaris.com/go/profilms

    Follow us on Twitter @kodakprofilmbiz and Instagram @KodakProfessional

    Like us on Facebook www.facebook.com/kodakprofessional

  4. Ex-Lexar execs have launched a new memory card company, here's why you should care

    ProGrade Digital is a brand new memory card brand founded by former executives of memory maker Lexar.

    In June 2017 parent company Micron unexpectedly announced the end of Lexar, but the brand was shortly after acquired by Chinese company Longsys. Now, a group of former executives from both managerial and technical backgrounds has teamed up to produce and market high-quality memory cards, directly competing with Lexar itself and other high-profile storage brands, such as SanDisk.

    Initially the new company will offer two lines of cards: The CFast 2.0 cards will be available in 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB capacities for $230, $350, and $700, respectively, and offer transfer speeds up to 550MB/sec. The UHS-II SD-card line comes in 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB capacities for $55, $95, and $190, respectively, delivering speeds of up to 200MB/sec.

    ProGrade says the controllers in all cards are optimized for use in professional cameras, and will each be tested from component-level down to individual memory chips before leaving the factory. Add a three year warranty into the mix, and the new cards look like an enticing alternative to the established brands for photographers who demand maximum reliability.

    The brand was officially announced last week, but rather than simply cover the news, we decided to send ProGrade a few questions instead. Specifically, we wanted to know what sets the brand apart, how they expect to compete with the big guys, and why they started the company in the first place.

    Mark Lewis, Vice President Marketing for ProGrade Digital, was kind enough to answer these questions:

    Do we really need another memory card company?

    Yes. With Micron’s sale of the Lexar brand and Western Digital’s purchase of SanDisk, there seems to be a shift in market focus for these two iconic brands and the future is uncertain.

    Their decisions to realign product lines and focus solely on higher margin industrial and OEM SKUs opens up an opportunity for a new player—one with laser-focus on the professional market and whose intent it is to fill the void and service this market of professional photo, video and cinema customers. We at ProGrade Digital are that new digital memory card company who will champion their cause.

    How will your company be different than the rest?

    We bring several competitive advantages to help us stand apart. First, it’s about the people involved. At the executive and engineering level our team brings extensive experience, having worked for numerous years with leading components suppliers and vendors in the design and delivery of precision products specifically for this niche. Our marketing and sales group also has deep roots within the imaging industry, including professionals who not only produce still and motion capture for ProGrade Digital, but who also regularly create for private clients. Plus we acknowledge our growing family of influencers and ambassadors from both the still and motion capture worlds, individuals whom you will soon be reading more about.

    The second way that we will stand apart from the competition is our product. I’ve already touched on the fact that, through our past employment, we bring a deep level of experience having built integrity into both the Lexar and SanDisk product lines. Our work here with ProGrade Digital not only lets us expand upon that foundation but, as a smaller firm, we now have the latitude and drive to make even better products specifically for the imaging markets. Two such ProGrade Digital imaging industry firsts include 100 percent in-factory test (to help us sustain a goal of zero percent failure), plus laser-etched serial numbers on each memory card. The serial number enables us to track firmware, controller and memory type. This ability to track a card’s manufacture gives us one more tool for being that much more proactive when it comes to supporting our customer base.

    Other product strengths: as executive members of the SD Association and Compact Flash Association (CFA) we work with device manufacturers and other industry leaders on the development of new technologies. ProGrade Digital products are competitively priced, and distribution is limited so that we may preserve quality and control, plus maintain a direct relationship with our customer.

    How can a David hope to compete against a Goliath?

    If you know the story about David and Goliath you may recall that, despite Goliath’s physical size, level of experience and massive army to back him up, it was a young, small and nimble David who took precise aim and used the right weapon. ProGrade Digital is tightly focusing on a customer that we know, and specifically developing best-in-class products able to meet the needs of the professional imaging market.

    What's the future for card form factors such as SD, CFast, CFexpress and XQD?

    The future for all memory cards continues to evolve. It is difficult to predict exactly what will happen to any particular form-factor, but the standards work currently being developed by the two memory card associations will help drive the direction.

    Specifically, plans are in the works to move to the PCIe interface; the PCIe interface will allow for speeds to advance beyond some of the limits of the SATA interface. Of particular note are efforts being done by the Compact Flash Association (CFA) on the CFexpress form-factor. Their work has support from the major device manufacturers, and ProGrade Digital is at the forefront of those developments. As new standards gain in popularity, I believe that we will see some current form-factors slowly begin to phase out.

    A big thank you to Mark for taking the time to answer these questions. If you want to learn more about this new memory card company or browse through ProGrade's whole product line, head over to the ProGrade Digital website.

    Press Release:

    ProGrade Digital Launches New Line of Professional-Quality Memory Cards and Card Readers for Use with Digital Cameras, Camcorders and Cinema Cameras

    Former Lexar Executives Start New Company: Pledge to Focus on Developing and Marketing Products of Superior Performance, Quality and Reliability

    SAN JOSE, Calif. – Feb 15, 2018 8:00 am EST-ProGrade Digital, anew company founded on a mission to provide the highest quality, professional grade memory cards and workflow solutions available, today announced a new line of products designed to uniquely fill the needs of today’s high-end DLSRs, camcorders and digital cinema cameras. Memory cards will be offered in a variety of formats and industry-leading capacities. The company will also design and market a selection of card readers, starting with a CFast & SD Dual Slot Workflow Reader that boasts a USB 3.0, Gen. 2 transfer protocol. ProGrade Digital’s new memory cards and card readers will become available in the month of February at www.progradedigital.com, Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video

    ProGrade Digital was founded by former executives from Lexar who held management or technical leadership positions at the company recognized as the pioneer in memory card development for digital photography. The team has more than 60 years of combined experience in the design, development and manufacture of memory cards gained while working for Lexar, SanDisk and other firms. Leveraging its experience and industry relationships, the team will focus exclusively on developing and marketing memory cards, card readers and software optimized for use within professional cinema and photography markets.

    “Our goal is to be the professional’s source for top performing, professional grade memory cards and workflow solutions,” says Wes Brewer, founder and CEO of ProGrade Digital. “We will be committed to focusing our efforts on the digital imaging pro who is meticulous about his equipment and workflow-delivering the best service, plus best product quality and reliability.”

    Memory Card Key Features

    • Professional-level capacities for CFast 2.0 and SDXC UHS-II memory cards
    • Optimized controllers specifically designed for use in professional-grade cameras
    • Rigorous full-card testing with serialized tracking of key components and manufacturing data for the highest quality control
    • Component-level testing down to individual memory chips for optimal quality
    • 3-year warranty

    Card Reader Key Features

    • Dual slot reader for CFast 2.0 and SDXC UHS-II card formats
    • USB 3.0 Gen. 2 transfer speed of up to 10Gb/second
    • Supports concurrent full-speed flow of data from cards in each slot
    • Portable and compact
    • Includes two 18″ connection cables: one for Type A to Type C and one for Type C to Type C
    • Magnetized reader bottom firmly connects reader to laptop (using included metal mounting plate)
    • 2-year warranty

    ProGrade Digital memory cards are designed to provide the highest levels of performance, quality and reliability in high-end DSLRs, camcorders and digital cinema cameras from manufacturers such as Canon, Nikon, Sony and Blackmagic.

    ProGrade Digital cards and card readers are available online at www.progradedigital.com, Amazon.com and B&H Photo and Video.

  5. Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM Art will cost just $1,300, seriously undercuts Nikon

    When Sigma announced the 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM Art lens, the company held off on sharing pricing or availability. Fortunately, Sigma didn't make us wait long, revealing today that the ultra-wide angle zoom will ship in mid-March for the very reasonable price of $1,300.

    Sigma is not being bashful about this lens. The press release announcing the price and availability of the new Art lens reads:

    Designed for 50-megapixel plus cameras, the 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM Art achieves the legendary Art lens sharpness with three FLD glass elements, three SLD glass elements, and three aspherical lens elements, including one 80mm high precision molded glass aspherical element. With near zero distortion (less than 1%) and minimal transverse chromatic aberration, flare and ghosting, the new Sigma 14-24mm offers constant F2.8 brightness throughout the zoom range and delivers optimal image quality at every focal length and shooting distance. The high-speed, high-accuracy autofocus allows photographers to capture incredible, in-the-moment images that set a new standard in the era of outstanding high-resolution.

    Here are a few sample images from Sigma that purport to show off this optical prowess:

    The lens is available in Canon, Nikon, and Sigma mounts, with the Canon version boasting compatibility with Canon's Lens Aberration Correction function and the Nikon version featuring a brand new electromagnetic diaphragm. All mount options also feature Sigma's "Sport line level dust- and splash-proof design."

    It seems Canon users have a new ultra-wide zoom option, while Nikon users have been handed 600 very good reasons to consider the brand-new Sigma over Nikon's own 11-year-old AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm F2.8G ED that goes for $1,900.

    Press Release

    Sigma Announces Pricing & Availability for Its New 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM Art Lens

    The ultra-wide angle zoom will begin shipping in mid-March for a retail price of $1,299.00 USD

    Ronkonkoma, NY – February 23, 2018 – Sigma Corporation of America, a leading still photo and cinema lens, camera, flash and accessory manufacturer, today announced that the latest addition to its Sigma Global Vision lens offerings, the 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM Art, will be available in mid-March for $1,299.00 USD through authorized US retailers. Designed for 50-megapixel plus cameras, the 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM Art achieves the legendary Art lens sharpness with three FLD glass elements, three SLD glass elements, and three aspherical lens elements, including one 80mm high precision molded glass aspherical element. With near zero distortion (less than 1%) and minimal transverse chromatic aberration, flare and ghosting, the new Sigma 14-24mm offers constant F2.8 brightness throughout the zoom range and delivers optimal image quality at every focal length and shooting distance. The high-speed, high-accuracy autofocus allows photographers to capture incredible, in-the-moment images that set a new standard in the era of outstanding high-resolution.

    In addition to outstanding optical performance, the 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM Art features the Sports line level dust- and splash-proof design with special sealing at the mount connection, manual focus ring, zoom ring and cover connection, allowing for the lens to be used during varying weather conditions.

    The new Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG HSM Art lens supports Canon, Nikon and Sigma mounts and works with Sigma’s MC-11 Sony E-mount converter. The Nikon mount features brand new electromagnetic diaphragm, whereas the Canon mount is compatible with the Canon Lens Aberration Correction function.

    Full technical specifications can be found on the Sigma website at: https://www.sigmaphoto.com/14-24mm-f2-8-dg-hsm-a.

  6. 'Perfect' sensors may be possible, but might not come to cameras
    Fossum's team has created a prototype chip with a variety of pixel designs and readout methods. This included combinations with sufficiently low read noise to allow individual photons to be counted.

    The future could include sensors that perfectly describe the light in the scene, that offer new computational possibilities and give film-like latitude in the highlights. And yet we may not ever see them in cameras, says father of the CMOS sensor, Professor Eric Fossum.

    We spoke to Fossum shortly after he received, alongside three other pioneers of digital photography, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering for his work on CMOS sensors. But the topic of our conversation is the future, rather than his past achievements. He now leads a group at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, New Hampshire, working on what he calls Quanta Image Sensors (QIS). The team has recently published a paper announcing a breakthrough using the same fabrication process used to make CMOS image sensors.

    The perfect sensor?

    The principle is to use nanoscale, specialized pixels, called 'Jots' to capture light at the level of individual photons. They work in a binary fashion: they've either received a photon or they haven't (as opposed to conventional sensors which accumulate the charge generated by lots of photons during exposure). These jots are read repeatedly to see whether another photon has arrived since they were last checked.

    While Fossum is keen to stress that other teams are having some success in the same field (using a slightly different approach), his own team's work is looking very promising. The paper in the journal Optica shows the team's technology has been refined such that a 1MJot chip can be read 1000 times per second while still exhibiting sufficiently low read noise that it can distinguish between individual photons.

    We can count every photon: you can't do any better than that

    "The Holy Grail is no read noise," says Fossum: "so that the read signal is proportional to the signal as it arrived." And the team's latest paper says they've got very close to this, with noise levels so low that the sensor can distinguish between individual photons without getting confused by read noise. This opens up the possibility of cameras that could perfectly describe the light in the scene, even in near total darkness.

    A mathematical model showing how noise levels (measured in the root mean square of the number of electrons), affect the ability to interpret small signals. The lower the read noise, the more accurately you can distinguish between individual values in the signal.
    Diagram from the team's paper in Optica

    Eliminating read noise from the sensor wouldn't mean totally noiseless photos, since the randomness of the light being captured is a key source of noise, but it's the best any sensor can possibly achieve. "We can count every photon: you can't do any better than that," he says.

    The paper, perhaps conservatively, says the technology could be suited to scientific, space, security and low-light imaging applications, but Fossum has clearly also been thinking about conventional photography.

    A classic response

    "Because it's binary in nature, its response is comparable to old photographic film," he says. "In film, when the silver halide was hit by a photon, it's reduced to a silver atom that isn't washed away [during processing]. If it's hit by two photons, it doesn't make any additional difference."

    This ends up meaning that in bright regions of the image there are ever fewer unexposed silver ions as the exposure goes on. This, in turn makes it less likely that the last few ions will be hit by a photon, so it becomes increasingly difficult to fully saturate the system. The same is true for the tiny, binary Jots: as more of them become saturated, it becomes increasingly difficult to saturate the last few.

    "The response is linear at moderate exposure but it trails off to give significant overexposure latitude. It's a pattern first observed by Hurter and Driffield in 1890," says Fossum: "they showed the same curve that we measure, experimentally, in our QIS devices."

    Diagram showing the Jots' exposure response, in comparison to mathematical models of different read noise levels. Note the roll-off at high exposures, comparable to the Hurter Driffield response curves of photographic film.
    Diagram from the team's paper in Optica

    "That has obvious interest both for still photographers who're used to shooting film and for cinematographers who're looking for that kind of response."

    The use of such tiny pixels has other benefits, too: "Jots are below diffraction limits in size. This means the resolution of the system is always higher than the resolution of the lens, which means we never have to worry about aliasing." While the group's prototype sensors feature one million Jots, Fossum says their target is one billion.

    Beyond conventional photography

    Fossum isn't just thinking about photographic history, though. The tiny size and the approach of repeatedly reading out the sensor challenges the existing concept of single exposures. "At the moment we make motion pictures by shooting a series of snapshots. With QIS it's more like the reverse process," he says: constructing still images from precisely captured movement.

    Professor Fossum has already been responsible for one revolution in photography: the invention of the CMOS sensor. In December 2017 he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering for his work.

    Essentially, taking lots of short, sub-frames during an exposure gives you an extra dimension to your images: time. "If you take a single frame, you get a bunch of ones and zeros. If you take another, you quickly build up a cube of ones and zeros," Fossum says: "For example, if you shoot 100 frames at 1000 frames per second, you get a cube that's x pixels wide by y pixels tall, but also 100 frames deep."

    This presents some interesting questions, he says: "What do you do with that data? How do you create an image from that very faithful map of where photons arrived?"

    "You could choose a number of pixels in x and y but also in the time axis. If you wanted a very sensitive pixel in low light you could combine 10 x 10 Jots in x and y and then maybe combine the data from 100 frames: it's essentially like increasing the grain size in a more sensitive film."

    Of course you can achieve something comparable to this in conventional digital photography by downscaling an image, but Jots allow greater flexibility, Fossum says: "your pixel size could vary between different parts of the image, so in some places you'd have bigger but more sensitive grains."

    What is the object of photography? Is it artistic or an attempt to perfectly recreate the scene as it was?

    The time component also opens up additional possibilities, he says: "if an object moves during these hundred frames, instead of adding all the values from the same location, you could add them at an angle that corresponds to the movement," so that all the pixels relating to the same object are combined. "We could take out motion blur or remove the scanning effect of a computer screen in video."

    The idea of combining multiple frames in interesting ways is, of course, already becoming a core part of mobile photography, and Fossum says finding all the things that are possible is a challenge he is leaving for others: "From my point of view, we're building a platform for computational imaging, it's for others to develop all the ways to use it. A camera would have to take account of the new sensor capabilities."

    But it'll ask interesting questions, he believes: "What is the object of photography? Is it artistic or an attempt to perfectly recreate the scene as it was? Some of the things we associate with photography are artifacts of the way we capture them."

    Not the only future

    With all this going for it, it might seem odd that Fossum isn't promising to deliver a second revolution in digital imaging. But, having devoted a career to developing technologies and teaching about the challenges, he's realistic both about the work left to do and the competition any product would face.

    "What we've already achieved is wonderful. The next challenge is adding color [awareness], but I don't think that's going to be particularly problematic. Then there's power: we've shown we can produce a large chip that doesn't consume or disperse a prohibitively large amount of power. We're currently at around 27mW but scale it up by 1000 [to get to one billion Jots] and that's 27W, so we need to cut that by about a factor of ten."

    His concern is more about the current state of the rival technologies: "In order to bring a new technology to replace the existing one, it has to be compellingly better in a number of ways," he says. "For a few niches, [our technology] is already compelling." But for photography, the bar is already set very high.

    I don't want our startup to be another esoteric imaging product that fails to find a market

    "CMOS technology is pretty awesome right now," he says, before almost embarrassedly stressing that he's not claiming the credit for this: "where it is today is the result of the input from thousands of engineers from different companies who've contributed towards where we are now."

    Professor Eric Fossum pictured with Dr Jiaju Ma, one of the co-authors of the Optica paper and a co-founder of the spin-off company, Gigajot Technology.

    But, for all his cautious words, Fossum is convinced enough by the technology's potential to have created a company, Gigajot Technology, with his co-researchers. "Finding a sweet spot in the market is a really important part of challenge. It comes back to the things I teach: 'who is your customer?' 'what is your market?' 'how are we going to get there?'"

    "I don't want our startup to be another esoteric imaging product that fails to find a market," he says.

    While it's by no means certain that QIS sensors will make their way into mainstream cameras, it already looks like the technology has tremendous potential for niches such as scientific measurement. This alone shows just how far the technology has come from Fossum's original idea. As he readily admits: "When we first started this project I wasn't even sure it could be made to work."

  7. Tokina unveils the FíRIN 20mm F2.0 FE AF autofocus lens for Sony E-Mount

    Well, that didn't take long. Less than 12 hours after Nokishita shared some leaked photos and specs of the unreleased lens, Tokina has officially announced its latest piece of Sony E-Mount glass: the FíRIN 20mm F2 FE AF.

    The new lens is only the second prime lens in the FíRIN series of lenses designed specifically for mirrorless cameras, and it's actually a followup to the first. The original FíRIN 20mm F2 FE was a manual focus lens, and the new AF version uses an identical optical design. But it doesn't so much replace the old lens as sit next to it in Tokina's lineup, giving users "two options ... to choose [from] according to the purpose and style of shooting."

    Like its predecessor, the FíRIN 20mm F2 FE AF boasts 13 lens elements in 11 groups, including two aspherical elements and three Super-low Dispersion elements that promise to do away with as much spherical aberration, distortion, and chromatic aberration as possible.

    Unlike the manual focus version, this lens features a ring-type ultrasonic motor coupled with a GMR sensor for fast and silent focusing, and Tokina promises full compatibility with Sony's Fast Hybrid AF system and all AF function settings, "providing the same AF performance as with common E-mount AF lenses."

    The FíRIN 20mm F2 FE AF lens is tentatively scheduled to arrive at the end of April for Japanese customers, and end of May worldwide, but if you happen to be at CP+ next week, you can check out a prototype of the new lens at Tokina's booth.

    No pricing info has been released as of yet.

    Press Release

    New Tokina FíRIN 20mm F2 FE AF

    February 22nd, 2018 – Kenko Tokina Co., Ltd. is proud to announce the new Tokina FíRIN 20mm F2 FE AF, the second prime lens in Tokina’s premium lens series “FíRIN” for mirrorless cameras.

    Overview

    FíRIN 20mm F2 FE AF is the long-awaited autofocus version of the existing FíRIN 20mm F2 FE super wide angle lens for full-frame Sony E-mount. Adopting the same optical design as in MF model, now we offer two options for end-users to choose according to the purpose and style of shooting.

    Optical performance

    Being optimized for full size camera sensors in terms of size and resolving ability, the optical design adopts 2 aspherical elements and 3 lenses molded from Super-low Dispersion glass to significantly reduce any type of aberration including spherical aberration, distortion and chromatic aberration while assuring high resolution and stunning performance even at wideopen aperture.

    Functionality

    Keeping along with the basic development concept of the previous model FíRIN 20mm F2 FE AF is made compatible to autofocus and other functions of the camera providing perfect functionality and usability for the photographer.

    Ring-shaped ultrasonic autofocus motor

    For AF drive system FíRIN 20mm F2 FE AF adopts quick responsive and silent ring-shaped ultrasonic motor. Coupled with GMR sensor AF performs fast and accurate focusing.

    Full compatibility to AF system

    FíRIN 20mm F2 FE AF is fully compatible with Fast Hybrid AF system and all AF function settings, providing the same AF performance as with common E-mount AF lenses. Fine manual focus adjustment is also possible.

    MF Assist function

    Accurate focusing is supported by compatibility to MF Assist function, when fine focusing adjustment is operated by manual rotation of the focusing ring with the simultaneous interlocking with image enlarging function and bar distance display on the monitor.

    Optical correction

    Due to the data transmittance ability via electric contacts the camera obtains necessary data from the lens chip to correct shading, distortion and lateral chromatic aberrations. Optical corrections can be done by the camera as well.

    Image Stabilization

    By transmitting focal length data FíRIN 20mm F2 FE AF is able to get maximum use of In-Body Image Stabilization function of the camera.

    * When in-built camera flash is used vignetting may occur. Please use external flash.

    About sales release:

    Sales release in Japan: end of April, 2018 (tentative)
    Sales release worldwide: end of May, 2018 (tentative)

    A prototype of Tokina FíRIN 20mm F2 FE AF will be displayed at CP+2018
    Kenko Tokina booth location: Exhibition Hall(1F), booth # G-57

  8. New Sony release cable enables dual-shooting with the RX0

    In addition to the new HVL-F60RM wireless flash, Sony also debuted a new release cable that might be of interest to owners of the company's ultra-compact DSC-RX0 sort-of action cam. The VMC-MM2 cable is Sony's "convenient dual-camera shooting solution" for users who want to shoot with their Sony ILC and RX0 at the same time.

    The cable is used to sync your Sony alpha (or Cyber-shot) camera up with an RX0 enable simultaneous photo/video capture using only the main camera’s release button. To quote Sony:

    This form of dual-camera shooting is especially useful for wedding, event and press conference photographers and journalists. It offers the opportunity to capture multiple perspectives using different angles of view that can be edited and packaged into an impactful series of work.

    The new VMC-MM2 release cable will be available starting in April for $50 USD (or €55).

    Press Release

    Sony Introduces Dual-camera Shooting Solution for RX0 with Launch of new Release Cable

    SAN DIEGO, Feb. 22, 2018 – Sony Electronics, a worldwide leader in digital imaging and the world’s largest image sensor manufacturer, has today announced the latest addition to its family of RX0 solutions with the launch of a new Release Cable, model VMC-MM2.

    Helping to break down barriers to shooting style and image expression, the VMC-MM2 is a new solution for convenient dual-camera shooting, freeing the user to capture two different perspectives simultaneously.

    The ultra-compact dimensions and superb image quality offered by the RX0 make it the ideal accompaniment to other cameras for dual-camera capture. By mounting an RX0 to the Multi Interface Shoe™ 1 or bracket/rig, users can use the RX0 to shoot high quality images concurrently with their main Sony α™ or Cyber-shot® camera body2. The VMC-MM2 cable realizes simultaneous photo/movie shooting3 with just a single press of main camera’s release button. This enables the user to capture one moment in two different ways, with a variation of angle of view, depth of view or frame rate. The cable also has a coiled design with a right-angle connector to minimize clutter and keep it clear of the EVF during shooting.

    This form of dual-camera shooting is especially useful for wedding, event and press conference photographers and journalists. It offers the opportunity to capture multiple perspectives using different angles of view that can be edited and packaged into an impactful series of work.

    Pricing and Availability

    The new VMC-MM2 will be available in North America in April, 2018 priced at approximately $50 US or $60 CA.


    1 Shoe Mount not included

    2 Refer to the Sony support page for camera compatibility information http://www.sony.net/acc/mm2/

    3 To synchronise movie REC/STOP, the main camera must assign “Movie w/ shutter” to its release button

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