Three Days with a Pile of E-Mount Lenses, an a6300, an a6000, an RX10 III, an iPhone 6s+, and a Couple of Bags: What Better Way to Stress Gear than at a Presidential Nominating Convention?

It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, but this time (unlike in April) I wasn’t official press. Forget about a tripod or monopod - Secret Service rules prohibited even selfie-sticks. Forget about a lot of glass, especially long, fast glass: not only would everything have to be hand-held, but those same rules stipulated no backpacks and no bags bigger than 18” x 13” x 7.” And then there were the closed-door meetings where even if I had been press, no press were allowed. Traveling small, light and unobtrusive were the orders of the week. Heads-up: this is a post about gear -- not politics -- but if you don’t want to see photographs from the Democratic National Convention in Philly (along with protests) you’d better stop reading here.

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Sony’s FS5 is the Best Get-It-Right, NO FUTZING AROUND Interchangeable Lens Video Camera for the Money Out There Today. Here’s Why.

Those of you who know me will remember that I’ve drooled over the Sony a7S II and again over the a7R II, yet my favorite camera these days is Sony’s a6300. I put it in my bag as I headed to Oaks, PA last month, part of a team covering a Bernie Sanders event (this is not a political post, don’t worry). I got some great footage with it. But the camera I chose as my primary was Sony’s FS5 with their Sony E PZ 18-105mm f/4 G OSS lens. Here’s why. 

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Finally! iPro Case for iPhone 6s+ is Shipping, Enables the Full Monty!

I left a Pelican 1510 full of Sony bodies and prime lenses at home as I flew to Vegas for NAB 2016 (don't get me wrong: I LOVE them), vowing to repeat my NAB 2015 party trick of filming all my interviews and taking all of my pictures with an iPhone. But it was only after I arrived that I finally got my hands on the updated iPhone 6s+ iPro case, cornerstone of Schneider Optics' iPro lens system. And then some. 

Of COURSE there are compromises when using an iPhone as your sole imaging device (more on that in a moment). But at a venue like NAB, they are far outweighed by the benefits -- at least for me. Incredibly small, lightweight and unobtrusive, the iPhone allows me to focus on the people with whom I'm speaking. 

I just didn't want to put it in a rig like I did for the cover of my eBook Apple's iPhone: The Next Video Revolution. At NAB, bulking it up like that would defeat the whole purpose. 

So I was stoked when NAB bud Niki Mustain of Schneider Optics snagged a just-shipping iPro case for the iPhone 6s+. I already had all the other gear I'd need to rock it - three iPro lenses by Schneider (Super-Wide, 2X and Macro), RØDE Videomic Me, Manfrotto's Pixi mini-tripod with integrated push-button locking ball head, and Aputure's not-yet-released-but-based-on-people's-reactions-Aputure-should-get-on-it Lightning Up micro-LED panel.

Apple iPhone 6s+, iPro case, iPro 2x lens, Manfrotto Pixi mini-tripod, RØDE Videomic Me, Las Vegas NAB 2016

Apple iPhone 6s+, iPro case, iPro 2x lens, Manfrotto Pixi mini-tripod, RØDE Videomic Me, Las Vegas NAB 2016

I've already posted some shots from NAB, and next week I'll be posting videos. But videos are also where those compromises are really felt.  I did an interview with Blackmagic Design bud (and Americas President) Dan May, but I REALLY could have used shallow depth of field. I also took no chances with audio, relying on a really great combo of gear (a TASCAM DR70-D field recorder and a pair of RØDElink Filmmaking Kits, packed in a little Domke bag). To be fair, I only used the RØDE Videomic Me once, and while it was credible, it wasn't nearly as good as my larger setup. Then again, acoustics at NAB are ALWAYS horrible -- it's just the nature of the beast.

PS: If anyone has a truly outstanding over-the-shoulder solution for one-man band hybrid video/stills shooter, let me know. Seems to me this is a hole in the market -- and I've looked at a lot of bags!

Pricing and availability:

  • iPhone 6s+ Amazon
  • iPro Lens Trio Kit for for iPhone 6 Plus [6s Plus not yet listed, though Schneider shipped last week)  [B&H|Amazon
  • Manfrotto Pixi Mini-Tripod  [B&H|Amazon
  • RØDE Videomic Me  [B&H]
  • RØDElink Filmmaking Kit [B&H]
  • TASCAM DR70-D  [B&H|Amazon
  • Domke F-5XA (black)  [B&H|Amazon

Canon Announces 80D... Controlled Descent?

At a moment in time where camera unit sales are in free fall, the 80D feels like an effort at controlling descent rather than lighting up the after-burners.

The specs had leaked a couple of days before the official announcement, and they turned out to be pretty much right. Here are the updates verbatim from Canon’s press release: 

·      New 45-point all cross-type AF system

·      Intelligent Viewfinder with approximately 100% viewfinder coverage

·      Newly Developed 24.2 Megapixel (APS-C) CMOS sensor

·      DIGIC 6 image processor for enhanced image quality

·      Improved Dual Pixel CMOS AF for smooth, fast and accurate autofocus with video and stills

·      Built-in Wi-Fi®2 and NFCTM2 capability for easy transfer of images and movies to compatible mobile devices

·      1080/60p Full HD video to capture brilliant results in MP4 format for easy movie sharing on select social networking sites

·      Vari-angle Touch Screen 3.0-inch Clear View LCD II monitor enables flexible positioning and clear viewing even outdoors

After you finish reading them, you may be wondering: who is this camera designed to satisfy?

Is the 80D Competitive?

Don’t get me wrong: the 80D has Canon quality and ergos (some of the best in the business), and provides access to Canon’s vast array of glass (arguably the biggest and best overall). The improvements over the 70D  are real. There is even a new 18-135mm zoom designed specifically for a power zoom adapter and a new directional mic that slips into the 80D’s hot shoe.

But here’s the thing: none of these items appear to substantively address the shortcomings which placed its predecessor in the lower half of the pack (see, for example, dpreview or DxOMark), especially when it comes to video.

I mean: no 4K, limited dynamic range, limited low-light performance, no focus- or exposure-assists, no in-body image stabilization.

Will the 80D be a compelling alternative to the heretofore comparably priced Panasonic GX8 (originally $1,198 but now reduced by $200 to $997 plus $100 gift card at B&H) or Olympus OM-D E-M5 II (formerly $1,099 now also reduced by $200 to $899 at B&H) for video?

Panasonic Lumix GX8

olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk II

olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk II

Remember, the GX8 records 4K internally, has a tilting EVF (as well as LCD) and dual image stabilization -- while the Oly has 5-axis IBIS and 40mp high res stills mode (when used on a tripod).

Will the 80D be a compelling alternative to Sony’s a6000 (currently $498 after $50 instant savings at B&H) or its just-announced and soon-to-be-released $998 a6300?

Sony a6000

Sony a6000

Sony a6300

Sony a6300

 

Remember, the a6000 had -- until the announcement of the 6300 – arguably the world’s fastest autofocus, along with focus and exposure assists and a 24mp sensor superior to the sensor of the 70D and 7D Mk II. The a6300 not only records 4K internally but shoots up to 120fps in full HD with minimal crop, offers 14 stops of dynamic range with S-Log3 and improved low light sensitivity with a new sensor, and has what Sony is calling the world’s fastest autofocus. Sony’s UWP D11 wireless mic + SMAD-3 Multi-Interface Shoe Adapter not only connects directly without cables but offers a headphone jack, obviating the need for either (the a6000 has neither, while a6300 has a mic jack; even so, both send audio as well as video out through their micro HDMI port, allowing one to monitor sound through a variety of external means). Their $498 XLR-K2M uses that same smart hot shoe connection to add multiple XLR inputs and Sony’s own shotgun mic to the mix.

Then again, the 80D has built-in mic and headphone jacks. 

The reason I draw these particular comparisons is because with the addition of:

  • a power zoom adapter;
  • relocated on-board mics;
  • a new, optional shoe-mounted mic;
  • 60fps in HD (up from 30);
  • mic and headphone jacks; and
  •  a new zoom lens with new motor

most of the updates seem to revolve around video (oddly, the tag line for the camera from Canon is “focus with precision” – speaking of which, whatever happened to the Eye-Control technology of the EOS 3, introduced on that model in 1998? And how many lenses in the Canon line-up can actually take advantage of dual pixel autofocus? HINT: it’s fewer than you think).

So: Who is It For, Really?

Maybe the answer to some of these questions will turn out to be “yes,” especially if you’re already committed to Canon lenses, prefer Canon ergonomics, or really, really like touch screens.

Which is fine.

Maybe you're looking to move up from a point & shoot or a high-end smartphone, and it's easy to go with the market leader or the 80D just feels right in your hand.

And again, that's fine.

Still, given the 80D’s modestly updated specs in such a hotly-contested market segment, it seems to me that the 80D is ultimately designed more for Canon’s shareholders than videographers. Call it the minimum functional update required to move people contemplating  the 70D (now reduced from $1,199 to $999 at B&H) to pony up an extra $200 for the 80D -- or into the much higher-spec'd and priced Cinema EOS line starting with the newly-reduced $4,499 C100 Mk II (though it will cost you a minimum of $5,999 to get into 4K Canon hybrid stills/video camera, the just announced 1D X Mark II.

Gotta protect those margins.

Which, for the last time, is fine. If I were Canon, I might do the same thing.

Then again, maybe I wouldn't.

At a moment in time when camera unit sales are in free fall and smartphones are getting crazy good, the 80D feels like an effort at controlling descent rather than lighting up the after-burners.

If you want after-burners, start by checking out the Sony a6300.