Reviews with perspective

Listening to Wired’s review of the Olympus E-620 (rated 6/10), an entry level dSLR I’m not the least bit interested in, when I got to this discussion on high ISO performance:

I say “in theory” because the E-620 doesn’t really do all that well in low light situations. If the room is really dark, it takes time focusing and it won’t take really good pictures. If you crank up the ISO level beyond about 1000, the images start to look really grainy which is typical of cameras with much smaller sensors

My ear perked up.

This usually means I’m being fed bullshit.

Hmm, let’s see what Phil Askey has to say about this same camera:

Turning the noise filter down to ‘Low’ should produce results pretty much on a par with the best in class, up to ISO 1600. ISO 3200 isn’t terribly pretty but it’s no worse than you’d expect for anything smaller than a full-frame 24x36mm sensor. [Plus listing the control over noise as being a advantage in the conclusions.]

See for yourself…

Next gen entry level camera high ISO Noise performance from DPReview
Grainy at ISO’s > 1000? I guess this depends on what your definition of ISO is. ;-)

Compare the E-620 with its graduating class

More crap

There are few other points I want to emphasize about the Wired review.

The first is the most egregious. Absolutely no mention of sensor-shift image-stabilization. That bears repeating because this is the only camera of the entry level class this year to have it. In other words, the number one selling point of this camera isn’t mentioned!

I wonder if this guy will review the Canon 500D and forget to mention that it’s the only camera of its class to do 1080p high definition video and be missing an articulating LCD.

Another minor point is there is no mention of the Live View performance of the camera. Since Olympus was the inventor of this concept, it’s only fair to compare it to the ones that followed (Nikon and Canon).

The reason those two things are important is because one problem I have with DPReview’s in-depth reviews is there is a tendency to “spec” it out and “pixel peep.” A different review strategy is to focus on qualitative differences and feel. To miss image stabilization and pass on any discussion of anti-shake, dust reduction, size and weight advantages, and operating system deficiencies is to not do a qualitative review at all.

For instance, consider this review I wrote. In it, I mention the lack of sensor-shift-based image stabilization in Nikon and Canon models, the small size focus of Olympus (as evidenced now by the re-release 50 years later of the half-frame Pen), how lens quality makes up for sensor size weaknesses, about dust-shake and live view, and finally about how the 4:3 format is perfect for rangefinder-like designs (pointing toward the Micro-Four-Thirds format).

Then consider, I wrote this article over three years ago based on only a couple Olympus dSLR bodies and before they even had access to the sensor-shift IS patents, and coming from an admitted Nikon bias!

Discussing generalities in 2005, I did a better preview of this camera than Wired, who actually had the camera on release day in 2009, did.

Dropped!

In general is that there is a lot of mention of “other cameras” but no mention of what other cameras. It’s like Wired is comparing this camera to my $5000 Nikon D3, because that’d be pretty much the only way this review would fly.

For instance, take this quote…

The body is also kind of plasticy, lightweight feeling…so don’t drop it. I dropped my last Olympus and it was D.O.A.—and that was a drop of just about 12 inches. More solidly built cameras will survive.

To my knowledge, no camera in this class is “more solidly built.” Historically, the most solidly built of this class of camera is Nikon. But the D5000 introduces an articulating display and there’s some design compromises associated with it that compromise build.

What happened to his unnamed Olympus breaking has little bearing on this model. (And, by the way, if you fucking drop it, it’s not “Dead On Arrival,” it’s just fucking “Dropped Dead.”) Compared to the previous models, this model introduces fiberglass-reinforcement to the plastics. What did Askey have to say of this?

The handling was something we liked about the E-420 and E-520 and the newcomer does nothing to spoil this. It also retains what is probably the most convincing build-quality in its class, thanks to an excellent choice of materials – it feels rugged and well-made.

You know, the drop accident “test” is such a poor way to judge build quality. While packing, I once dropped my 24-70mm f/2.8G Nikkor onto carpet from about ankle high. The lens mount in the rear broke off. While moving, I dropped the more expensive and more fragile 14-24mm f/2.8G Nikkor from waist height onto concrete, watched it bounce! I almost had a heart attack, but nothing happened. So much for dropping.

(Aside: I relayed this experience to a friend who said, “I can’t think of this being equivalent to anything else but you dropping your own child, I’m horrified.” To which, I replied, ”When I drop my kid, I’ll tell you if it bounces also.”)

Memory lane

Which is all a long way to getting to the meat of things which is that every review needs to be prefaces with, “Nearly all digital cameras a really good now. You can’t really go wrong.”

We spend so much time pixel-peeping a camera with some egregious reference standard like the Nikon D3X, that we forget how far we’ve come. Let me remind you by comparing this class to my first Nikon digital, over half a decade ago, and about 2x the cost of this class.

Let me do it with screenshots.

What a difference a half-decade akes
Best image comparison between current generation entry level dSLR’s on the left (Olympus E-620-cheapest and Canon EOS 500D-most expensive), 2004-era dSLR’s on the right (Nikon D70-most expensive and Canon EOS 300D-cheapest). Click to view full size
What a difference a half decade makes (2)
High ISO (1600) comparison between current generation entry dSLRs on top vs, the 2004-era dSLRs on bottom. Image is of a Bailey’s Irish Cream label (drawing).

Consider that the lens technology hasn’t changed so we’re just looking at these sensors. They have only twice the megapixels, but the end up with twice the resolution—twice the megapixel should only have 40% higher resolution— and much less chroma and luminance noise.

Amazing, huh?

Sometimes we forget, we just want to take a photo.

Western Blue-eyed Grass
Western Blue-eyed Grass
Angel Island, San Francisco Bay, California

Nikon D70, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G VR, Canon 500D close up filter
f/5.6 at 1/500 second, 200mm (300mm)

Taken three years ago on a camera from five years ago, the immortal Nikon D70

3 thoughts on “Reviews with perspective

  1. Tracer

    Really good post. It’s amazing how people forget that technology is actually moving forward, things are getting better. Except for journalism is seems.

    Reply
  2. Andre Alforque

    Great post! I remember starting off with a Canon Powershot S110! I’ve upgraded through the years, but no matter what it always comes down to my love for snapping photos of my friends and relatives regardless of the equipment.

    Reply

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