June 2020

Tuesday — June 30, 2020

A couple of new lenses:

Also: Fujifilm introduced new firmware for all three GF medium format cameras.

Monday — June 29, 2020

Friday — June 26, 2020

Quite a few opinions have formed about the Olympus divestiture statement. The problem is that most of them have built-in bias or are ignoring realities. The proper way to look at what has/will happen/ed is to look at the motivations involved.

Olympus is motivated to get the liabilities of Imaging off their financials. Before the outside investors got board seats, the Olympus execs and board members basically did the very Japanese thing of denying that there were any issues, while making constant statements of support for the group. Remember, too, that Olympus has a proven history of whitewashing bad financial information (e.g. they hid a US$1.7b investment loss for over a decade). Olympus now has board members that advocate for jettisoning the underperforming assets, and the company is still are under intense scrutiny worldwide for their financial and business practices. Removing Imaging from the company allows them to focus on their primary and highly profitable medical business.

Does Olympus (the company) really care what happens to m4/3 cameras and lenses any more? Not really. Sure, there's pride in what they've done historically, and it's very tough to lose face in Japan, but the time has come, and all that would be left to do is the bowing of shame. By pushing Imaging off to JIP, they avoid the bowing. Cameras are now JIP's problem, and if that fails, it will be JIP that will need to do the bowing of shame.

JIP is motivated to see what gems they can find in the pile of rocks they've been given, and to sell the gems while jettisoning the rocks. Japan's business practices and law, coupled with culture, made it nearly impossible for two things to have happened: (1) Olympus couldn't just close the Imaging group; and (2) Olympus couldn't sell the Imaging group to foreign companies or investors. JIP was the answer.

JIP is part of a fairly recent phenomena in Japan: the appearance of turnaround capitalism. Given the two things that can't be done I cited in the last paragraph, it only makes sense that someone in finance in Japan finally decided to mimic the equity buyout schemes that have been long present in Western business. It's just that JIP puts a very Japanese twist on things, trying to keep the result Japanese as much as possible. 

Olympus cameras were popular in Japan, as were Vaio computers. We're likely going to see the same approach with Olympus Imaging as JIP did with Sony Vaio: strip down the new company to its bones, concentrate on a limited product line moving forward, plus centering on the markets where the original product had the most success (and probably with mostly online sales to cut out middlemen margins). The only other reasonable choice for JIP would be to strip out the sellable intellectual property assets and sell them off, preferably to other Japanese companies. 

Both answers are possible. I'd tend towards the former, as Olympus m4/3 was extremely popular in Japan, and JIP has the expertise and experience to make a more limited m4/3 system continue to be available, much as they did with Vaio laptops. In Japan. Maybe not elsewhere. Okay, probably not elsewhere other than perhaps some Asian markets. 

Likely bottom line: Olympus washes their hands, avoids bowing in shame. JIP creates a small, lean, but viable entity that continues on in the home market. Anyone saying something beyond that needs to show their work: exactly how would what they expect to happen be possible? The bottom line has to be a profit for JIP in whatever happens next. Remember, Olympus sold only 340k m4/3 cameras last fiscal year, and they would almost certainly have sold significantly fewer this year (the COVID-19 virus virtually guaranteed that). Olympus' market share was about 3-4% of the ILC market, a market that is still collapsing. The one place where Olympus has had what could be called success is in Japan. 

Thursday — June 25, 2020

I should point out another thing that I haven't seen anyone mention elsewhere concerning Olympus' divestiture of the Imaging group. Olympus Imaging has an excellent optics design group. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the thing that best survives the divestiture of the Imaging group will be contract lens design, at least if that's fully included in the divestiture. If I were Nikon or Sony, I'd be trying to find out who to talk to at JIP about being first in line for utilizing the NewCo optics design group to help me with pushing out more Z or FE lenses. 

This, of course, doesn't help m4/3 users any. In terms of current cameras, Olympus has six (M1X, M5, E1, E10, PL10, and Pen F). Those six models sold 340k units in the last fiscal year, and I don't expect them to come close to that this year. It's an unsustainable model line, long term. Moreover, much of the recent "success" of the group has been lower end cameras (E10, PL10) sold mostly in Japan. Perhaps the camera side could do contract work with others (Nikon could use pixel shift and a few other Olympus goodies in their fight against Sony), but in terms of new product, I'm not sure where they could go. 

Moreover, JIP isn't a big entity. It's unclear how they report assets and their own valuation, but they would be a small player when compared to Western equity partners doing the same type of operation. JIP exists mostly to keep as much structure, intellectual property, and employment in Japan as is possible when a Japanese company reaches the point where it needs to downsize. It has much more value in cooperation of banks and government than it does cash to invest.

Ultimately, JIP doesn't care where the Imaging group ends up, as long as it ends up profitable and can be spun out to a new public company or the parts can be sold to other Japanese companies. 

People are reading too much into "still in the camera business" and not reading enough into "still in business."  Those are not the same thing. People also seem to forget that Konica/Minolta didn't sell all their "imaging" business to Sony. Konica/Minolta still has a lens design group that contracts with others. It's entirely unclear what Olympus might keep and what it might package in the carve out of Imaging to JIP.

Wednesday — June 24, 2020

Monday — June 22, 2020

It seems that a lot of the photo enthusiasts are now coming out of enforced hibernation caused by the COVID-19 virus. They tend to be in photographic torpor after the end-of-year holidays, anyway, mostly due to trying to catch up on work they didn't do in November and December. Spring and summer planning eventually brings them out of photographic inactivity. The confluence of the two factors I just mentioned seems to have created a recent surge in questions.

I can tell this just from my In Box. Two weeks ago the email started stacking up again in more typical fire hose volume, and with the usual questions I'm asked this time of year. I'm not sure the enthusiasts are back to buying in the quantities of yore, but at least they're contemplating it. It seems that the majority in this crowd believe that some photographic opportunities will be available to them soon, though perhaps not the ones they'd most covet (e.g. international travel, Alaska, cruises, etc.). 

Pros, meanwhile, are not exhibiting the same wakening. Sports is still a "what's happening" question for most. Events are still small scale only if they occur at all. Most businesses are in belt-tightening mode, so RFQs and other photographer-for-hire activity still seems spartan. 

Unfortunately, I don't think things are going to improve any time soon, for either enthusiasts or pros that want to go out and photograph things. As I've tried to point out, all the US has done is flatten the curve. We haven't established herd immunity, nor have we practiced enough distancing to begin a strong taper of the virus's spread. I really dislike the rating system my state is using, because counties being rated "Green" is being misinterpreted by everyone as meaning the threat is over, everything is okay. It is most certainly not okay. The virus knows only one thing: reproduce. We're still allowing it to do so, just not at an exponential increase.

So be careful out there. If your state is allowing you to now wander around and take photos again, please do so with social distancing still in mind. I carry masks with me everywhere and use them whenever around others, plus I have my pockets or photo bag stuffed with sanitizer and bleach wipes. I try to stay away from others whenever possible, wear my mask when anywhere in proximity of others I don't know and who aren't in my "bubble", and I clean public things I must handle as well as myself afterwards. If we all do that, we can eventually do more than just flatten the curve and get back to photography as we knew it.

Friday — June 19, 2020

Pixelmator Photo for iPad continues the trend towards tablets being useful mobile converter/editors. Version 1.3 adds new shortcut menus and batch photo editing. Available for US$4.99 at the iOS App Store.

Thursday — June 18, 2020

Two new lenses were announced:

Tokina officially published their Road Map for 2020: 23mm, 33mm, 56mm ATX-M lenses for the Fujifilm XF mount and the Sony E mount (not full frame), plus 35mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.8 ATX-M lenses for the Sony FE mount (full frame). A Tamron representative, meanwhile, has suggested that Tamron will support the Nikon Z mount in the future, though no specific lenses or dates were mentioned (likely the FE mount ones, but no timetable). 

Photoshop 21.2.0 released yesterday has a known bug in the Mac version: B&W adjustment layers aren't working correctly. The workaround is to go to the Performance panel in Preferences and turn off Legacy Compositing (thanks to Greg Benz on this). 

Wednesday — June 17, 2020

Adobe pushed CC updates to Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, and various iOS apps yesterday. At the obvious level, not many changes you can see, but under the covers things are happening, including the consolidation of how all the Adobe products work with raw files (check out the new Preference panes for Raw Defaults). Icons have been updated. 

Lightroom Classic gets localized HSL (Color Range Mask). The Tone Curve panel has been updated. The Canon 1DX Mark III is now supported for tethering. A ton of bugs were fixed. Photoshop gets an extension of the Select Subject tool for portraits.


NikonUSA service is once again open for mail-in repairs (walk-in customers are not allowed).  

Tuesday — June 16, 2020

A few words about COVID-19. I've just bounced across the country twice to deal with a family issue. My observation is that there's a great deal of variation in how different areas of the country are following CDC advice. Use of face masks here where I live in PA is being followed almost 100%, not nearly so much in CA, and definitely not in the busy Denver International Airport. United's pre-flight email warning of "fairly full" seems to mean "every seat will be filled." I watched a United pilot violate the company's own mask regulations. With no clear guidance and support from the very top of government and businesses not always following their own guidelines, the US is experiencing great variability in dealing with the disease. 

So COVID-19 is virtually as prevalent in the US today as it was at the start of the so-called quarantines. Just because we've lowered the Rt (rate of transmission) to near 1 doesn't mean the virus goes away. Just the opposite. A value of 1 means the virus stays present at about the same level. It takes an Rt of <1 to make it go away over time, and the less the value is under 1 the longer it takes for the virus to disappear.

Meanwhile, parts of Africa seem to be trying to open up to safari this summer, particularly Tanzania. The US State Department still has travel advisories in effect for most of Africa. Accurate reporting of the virus spread is not happening in a lot of areas in Africa, too, which increases the risk. Other areas are trying to open, too. The Galapagos wanted to re-open on June 1, but Ecuador has a runaway pandemic still going, and the US State Department has a Level 4 warning in place. The Galapagos does not have ICU facilities that can handle extreme cases of the virus. There's been talk of opening one of the Galapagos airports to direct International flights to avoid the virus problems in mainland Ecuador, but that opens up new issues. A quick survey of cruise operators show some not planning anything sooner than July, others not planning any resumption until October. 

Flattening the curve is not the same as getting rid of the virus. I want to get out there and lead a normal life as much as the rest of you, but it seems clear to me that this won't happen until we have either an effective treatment or a widely-available vaccine. Sadly, the virus is going to impact photography for some time to come. Be safe and be careful. Practice the basics if you do have to go out (masks and social distancing in public, hand-washing after touching public items, etc.).

Monday — June 15, 2020

Today only, B&H has the full CaptureOne 20 download (all cameras, perpetual license) for US$100 off (US$199 total)[advertiser link].


Thursday — June 11, 2020

Amazingly, the “what camera/lens should I get” questions have started up again. Not in the volume I’d usually field this time of year, but clearly trending that direction. The economy wants to recover. How far it will recover is another story. But this is modestly good news for the camera companies. Unfortunately, it may come too late for some walk-in camera stores. We’ve lost another two that I know of, probably permanently. 

Wednesday — June 10, 2020

Work has progressed on updating the dslrbodies site up through the cameras section. I still have Lenses, Accessories, and Technique sections to update. Since I just went through updating my camera ratings and recommendations, I generated an article about that subject:

Tuesday — June 9, 2020

Every year about this time I start to get a certain type of email: “Hi, I bought a new <Fill-in-Camera-Name-Here> last week and am now on vacation trying to use it.” From there the email usually continues either with (a) “I wasn’t able to download your book from the plane/ship/hotel, send a new link”; or (b) “Can you help me set up X feature(s) correctly?”

I was sure I wouldn’t be getting that type of email this year due to the COVID-19 virus—no vacation travel and very low camera purchases—but lo and behold, yesterday morning there were two such pleas in my In Box. 

I understand the temptation, but you must resist it, otherwise you’ll end up missing shots, or worse still, discovering your new purchase doesn’t work properly and needs to be replaced when you’re no longer home. You need to give yourself enough time on a big new camera or lens purchase to learn how to use it, how to get it set comfortably for your preferences, and testing it to make sure it is working properly well before you get on a plane. Like at least 30 days. The more incredible and once-in-a-lifetime the trip is, the earlier you should be obtaining, testing, and configuring your new gear. What’s worse: (1) only getting 36mp of that lion leaping with your old camera, or (2) missing the shot with a new 45mp or 61mp camera, or worse still, non-working camera? Yeah, I thought so.

Where things change—for instance having to learn a new focus system—you need time and practice with that, too. Before I committed to taking just mirrorless to Africa, I did a test run here in the US. That allowed me to learn the nuances and hone my techniques, as well as verify that my new cameras worked properly.

Iridient Developer has been updated to version 3.3.13, with raw support for the Nikon D6 and Sony ZV-1.

Monday — June 8, 2020

As part of my regular site updating, I’ve been working through dslrbodies.com to remove totally stale content, fix bad URLs, update articles that need it, update recommendations, and even rewriting/editing articles that have been on the site for a while. So far that includes fixing issues in the news/views section, updating the Nikon product announcement and Nikon corporation section, and working through a number of the articles in the Camera section. This work will continue until I get through the entire site, then I’ll do the same for sansmirror.com. As part of this work, I ended up generating a new article:

B&H’s online version of Optic (outdoor photo/travel travel imaging conference) is still running today. As part of the conference, B&H has a lot of special pricing on various products. For instance, the Canon RP I reviewed earlier this week is now US$899 (or US$999 with the 24-105mm kit lens) [advertiser links].

Sunday — June 7, 2020

B&H’s online version of Optic (outdoor photo/travel travel imaging conference) starts today and runs through Monday. As part of the conference, B&H has a lot of special pricing on various products. For instance, the Canon RP I reviewed earlier this week is now US$899 (or US$999 with the 24-105mm kit lens) [advertiser links].

Thursday —  June 4. 2020

Multiple sources now tell me that the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 S won’t ship in June. At the moment I can’t confirm a ship date on the lens. 

Meanwhile, TowerJazz has repeated the "Growing market share with a leading DSLR maker” comment on their most recent financial statement, though this time they show two Nikon cameras with the comment, which appear to be the Z50 and D7500 (see page 32). This makes me wonder if Nikon transferred their 20mp APS-C sensor work from Sony (nee: Toshiba) to TowerJazz. 

Wednesday —  June 3. 2020

The “A” for creativity this week goes to Olympus USA, who has a buy-three-lenses-get-a-free-camera-body offer going on. Want a free E-M1 Mark III? Just buy the 7-14mm f/2.8, 40-150mm f/2.8, and 300mm f/4 lenses and it’s yours. But wait, you can choose an E-M1X body instead! (This site’s advertiser, B&H, also offers this deal.)

In one sense this is a smart promo: it gets a customer locked into an expensive lens set. Customers that take up this option are not likely to switch mounts after putting US$5800 on their credit card. On the other hand, it’s a terrible promo: it values bodies at zero, and it's going to devalue lenses, too. I can see some folk thinking “I want the 7-14mm and the 300mm and I’d love to upgrade to the latest body, so I’ll just sell the extra 40-150mm I end up with.” We’re likely to see a bunch of 40-150mm’s on eBay soon, and more 7-14mm and 300mm than we’re used to, too. The other bad aspect of this promo is that it basically values the E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X as “equal.” That tells us how well the E-M1X has been selling. As in naught.

Thing is, the high middle to low top of every camera maker’s lineup is where the sales volume really needs to be. For Olympus, that should be the Pen F and E-M5 Mark III. That Olympus is making such an emphatic push on their highest-end gear tells me they have unsold inventory that needs to move.

This strikes me as a fairly desperate attempt to move expensive inventory, which is never a good sign. Moreover, it’s unclear to me how much inventory it’s going to really move. Still, “A” for creative thinking. 

DxO today updated the Nik Collection plug-in suite to version 3.0. The big news here is the addition of Perspective Efex (for geometric adjustments), plus a better, now non-destructive interaction with Lightroom Classic. Launch price is US$99 (US$59 for upgrades). The Nik plug-ins have been tools I’ve used in my workflow pretty much since they first appeared. While I believe there are now better ways to do some of the tasks these plug-ins do, the thing is that Nik is a full collection of them with a consistent interface, and still has some unique abilities. Moreover, if you take the time to understand the U-point interface, it’s easy to quickly adjust effects that apply only to limited areas.

Tuesday —  June 2. 2020

I sometimes get pushback on my comments about lack of customer interaction and poor marketing on Nikon’s part, so today let me give you just two very different data points (out of hundreds I’ve collected) that illustrate what I’m writing about.

Let’s start with the so-called Yellow Box promotion (“buy a Z50 and try it for a month; return it for a full refund in 30 days if you don’t like it”). That promotion was very successful here in the US. But I also know of many Z50’s that were returned and have talked to those “owners." Did NikonUSA send a survey to those returning the camera to find out why? Nope. 

Then we have a well-known photography blogger in the UK who was working on a book on tilt/shift lenses. He contacted Nikon UK about getting loaners. No go. His book publisher contacted Nikon UK about getting loaners. No go. His large and well-known camera dealer tried on his behalf. Nope. Thus, we’re going to get a book on tilt/shift lenses that’s heavy on Canon detail and light on Nikon.

Nikon’s PR and marketing problems are systematic, and getting worse in my view. It’s just so much tougher to sell cameras if you don’t have a strong relationship with potential and existing customers. Not that any of the other camera companies are great at this. That’s another of my points: when a company does do more to engage potential and actual customers—think Sony’s Kando events—it stands out. It’s time Nikon did something to stand out.

Meanwhile, let’s look at Nikon’s current ILC pricing:

Note that the D3500 and D610 prices include a basic lens, as you can’t get a body-only price for them. The rest are body-only prices (though the Z50 can also be had with the kit lens for the same exact price!). All here in the US, and in dollars.

Does that graph make any sense? No, not really. For roughly the same price you can buy a Z50, D610, or D7500. For roughly a different same price point you can buy a D500, D750, and Z6. Exactly what is NikonUSA doing to point a potential customer to the right camera for their needs? Not much. Nikon, like all the other camera companies, still thinks in terms of just selling boxes, and they use only pricing to micromanage sales. The contraction of the camera market has cluttered everyone’s offerings with previous generation models, which compounds the problem.

Now let’s look at that same data a bit differently (I’m going to eradicate a couple of models for clarity [or is that dehaze?]):

Pro is blue, mirrorless prosumer is gold, DSLR prosumer is red. Note how proper grouping makes it easier for you to figure out which product is for you. From just this bit of re-organization I can tell you that DSLR prosumer and mirrorless prosumer pricing is not exactly rational (the D780 is more expensive than the Z6, the D7500 is the same price as the Z50). There’s also a clear low, middle, high price in each category, and yes, you’re clearly getting more at each bump up within a category.

But how is Nikon presenting this to the user? Confusingly, I’d say. Moreover, the NikonUSA site tends to overlay “latest deal” boxes hawking just the thing they want to sell most today.

Monday —  June 1. 2020

What prompts today’s comment was YARE (yet another repeating email): "Would you buy the Nikon D6 from a company (Nikon) that is in dire financial straights (i.e. would you be worried about quality control issues)?” Well, (1) Nikon is not in dire financial trouble, and (2) I’m not aware of any change for the worse in Nikon’s quality control. Maybe the opposite. But this emailer was triggered by their reading article after article, post after post, seeing YouTube after YouTube video, all asserting that Nikon was going to fail. 

The “Nikon is going to die” posts continue all over the Internet, which simply tells me that a lot of people can’t read financial statements. Or that there are too many folk that have some nefarious interest in bad-mouthing Nikon. Also that Nikon doesn’t know how to do PR ;~). 

So, let me state it boldly: Nikon will keep making cameras and lenses, probably for as long as anyone is making cameras and lenses. Nikon has 20% of the camera market, and they’re not going to let that go without a fight. They’re preparing to keep or increase that share even if the camera market drops by half again. Yes, there’s substantial financial stress on them due to the contracting camera market (and now the virus’s impact on the overall economy), but it’s not currently at a level that is division threatening, let alone corporate threatening.

Here’s Nikon’s real problem: they’re really good engineers. Most of the company is filled with hard working engineers, right up through the Chairman of the Board. The rest of the company is filled with accountants and bankers. What Nikon doesn’t have is any clue about is how to deal directly with consumers. That last bit is actually the biggest problem Nikon has, not the still-contracting camera business. 

Nikon’s lack of a clear connection with their camera and lens buying customers is a giant friction that just makes it harder to sell what are, for the most part, excellent products. Nikon’s talented engineers generally save the company’s bacon, over and over, but the way the company holds its customers at arms length—Nikon was into social distancing long before it became necessary—means that they never sell as much product as they should. I’d argue that this has been true since this Web site was created in the late 90’s.

We’re not talking about a small problem. I’d judge the keep-customers-distant stance of the company costs Nikon tens of millions of dollars a year, maybe hundreds of millions. And this isn’t a recent, short-term problem; it’s been going on for several decades, and has gotten far worse in the last decade as the camera market started its downslide. 

In a tough market you really want to do the opposite of what Nikon is doing: you want to embrace and engage your customer base. You want them to feel secure in their buying decisions. You want them to see that you have their best interests in mind as you develop new products. You want to delight customers. Nikon, of course, isn’t exactly doing that, so they’re making their problem bigger, not smaller.

But no, Nikon is not going away, they’re just slowly backing up.

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