A new phone and a haircut.

Whats a haircut got to do with a phone?

Last week while on a job site some lowlife broke into my vehicle and stole my Samsung S6 which I had been planning to buy off the company I work for. By pure serendipity I had been viewing phone models that same morning, with the intention of replacing my wife’s failing ACE 3 from Samsung. It had come down to two phones the slightly higher specced Galaxy J5 Pro or the more modest Galaxy J3 Pro.

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Samsung Galaxy J3 Pro

To replace my S6 I went with the J3 Pro, as I didnt want to invest too much in what is essentially a “work” phone. I was concerned that the lower spec would show up in the performance area but I need not have been concerned. The speed of operation is almost as fast as the S6 and being newer than the S6 does seem to exhibit some faster performance in certain operations, not that the S6 was slow by any means. So I’m well pleased with all the essential tasks being performed very nicely. Bear in mind that while modest games can be played on this phone, for the bleeding edge stuff such as 4k video or high end gaming you would need to look elsewhere.

The phone comes equipped with a 5Mp front facing camera and a 13 Mp f1.9 rear camera. Sadly no image stabilisation, which could be a problem when shooting video ( not tested yet ) but seemed to be of little real issue when taking photos in part due to the fast f1.9 lens.

The camera did tend to hunt a little for focus on occasion but when you set the focus point you want it had no difficulty and for the most part didnt have an issue with focus in general. All of the images shown below are taken inside my favourite Hairdresser,  The Barber Shop,  Arawata Street, Te Awamutu. The internal lighting is Neon Tube and the camera had no issue with the white balance. I never changed any setting on the camera and shot straight out of the box, much as what most people would do with their phone.

The results were pretty good, images were sharp, colour balance is good and the focus was good with only a very small shutter release delay, certainly no worse than my S6 in this regard. One of the outstanding things I noted with this camera was its ability to shoot in these conditions at extremely low ISO with none of the images below being over ISO 80 and some as low as ISO 40. Thats an outstanding performance from a phone camera and bodes well for low light shooting which I will report back on once I have had more time to use this phone.

Note all images below are straight out of the camera with no post processing applied. I have tried a couple of edits for shadows on some of the darker images but there is not very much headroom in the files to recover shadows, so it will be a what you see is what you get type of output. I did note that the camera was set in HDR mode and it seems to be pretty good at retaining highlights but does seem to struggle with some of the denser shadow areas, but in general the output is certainly good enough for small/medium prints and for internet use. When viewed at full resolution you can see that the images dont hold up so well. I would be inclined to resize the images to a smaller format to maintain better image structure. Jpegs are  easy to do this to moreso that some file types. I dont think I would print anything larger than A4, but that should still provide a decent print.

My thanks to the lovely lady who owns and operates this barbershop. I’m pretty sure she wasn’t expecting to be the centre of focus for one of my blog posts. For a relaxed haircut and a chat, I cant think of anyone more obliging ( or tolerant for allowing me to do this ).

As always click the images for a larger size.

 

 

The new kids on the block…3

The third camera in the new entry level series is the Fujifilm XA5.

It looks almost identical to the XA3 or XA2 & 1 but there are some differences. The removal of the dedicated focus control on the front of the camera ( which only the XA3 had) has now gone.

The camera is also a few grams heavier, it is also a couple of millimetres taller to boot. The top and rear of both cameras remain the same. So what then do you get for your hard earned dollar.

Ordinarily you would say quite a bit, but the XA5 brings a few things to the table that really should have been in the XA3. Therefore this model is more of an upgrade of an already proven platform, rather than a completely reworked camera. That said the big pluses for me are the following,

  • Phase detect AF ( A major step forward ) xa5.0
  • Microphone jack
  • Bluetooth
  • Proper WI-FI remote app ( from the XA3 )
  • Better battery life
  • Improved film simulations
  • Improved Ev steps to +/- 5Ev

All the above should make the XA5 a very nice stills camera & good for the selfie set as well.

Some of the new inclusions with the camera I’m less certain about are to do with the video.

While a mic jack is very handy, for vlogging with hot-shoe mounted mic makes the whole exercise a little pointless by obscuring the screen, necessitating the use of an off camera mic. Not the end of the world , but a sizeable annoyance none the less.

The inclusion of 4k video would be a nice addition, but why hobble the camera to 15 frames per second? If you are going to offer 4k video then you should offer the minimum that video bloggers and most people want. They would have been better to leave it at 1080p but make sure that the whole system was aimed at 30, 60 & 120 fps recording rates with good filters and focusing.

The XC 15-45 mm f3.5-5.6 PZ seems at first glance to be a real oddity.  Let me state for the record I hate power zooms – period!! Yes I know that they are handy for video work, but Fuji would have been better in my opinion to improve the XC 16-50 lens by concentrating on making the lenses zoom silky smooth. When you add in the new phase detect AF you would have had a stellar MANUAL ZOOM lens that was also very good for video.

It is obvious that they wanted to reduce the overall size of the camera and lens and in this they have certainly hit the mark, and as the majority of these cameras sell in the Asian markets it would seem that this what people want most.

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This image shows the XA3 ( left ) with the XC 16-50 mm lens and on the right the new XA5 with the 15-45 mm PZ lens.

It remains to be seen just how well the PZ lens stands up against the XC 16-50 in terms of image quality. Knowing Fuji lenses it will in all likelihood be a perfectly adequate performer, whether it can be considered as a serious entry level lens remains to be seen.

If you already have a Fuji camera and a couple of lenses then XA5 would no doubt be a handy back up camera. Put an XF 18 -55 lens on it, coupled with the Bayer sensor and you should get very good images requiring little work to have them printable. I am a fan of the Bayer sensor, moreso than the X-trans as I find the the X-trans lacks a little of the warmth of the Bayer output. It is of course a matter of taste and I just happen to prefer slightly warmer tones.

Is this camera for you? Well only you really know.

With an as yet to be proven lens and crippled 4k video, video shooters may well be disappointed. However for the still photographer there is much to like about the upgrades as compared to the XA3. Whether its enough for you to shell out $1049.00 NZD is for you to decide. Considering the XA3 was $950.00 NZD at launch here approx two years ago the price tag of the XA5 doesn’t seem so unreasonable, until you consider what other options you have.

Unless you definitely want a small mirrorless camera the two new entry level DSLR’s from Cannon or the X-A10 at $698.00 represents a lot better value for money at the entry level point.

In conclusion is the Fuji XA5 value for money. In my opinion no. There isn’t anything radically new that would sway me to part with an XA2 or XA3 or the XA1 or an XM1 for that matter. As a stills photographer primarily the one real benefit would be the increased performance in the AF with the inclusion of a Phase Detect sensor, something that should have been implemented on the XA3. I will be giving the XA5 a miss until I see a substantial price drop. Then I may be tempted.

 

What has gone before Vs what is still to come.

The changing face of photography.

In this previous post I talked about what I liked in a camera and why those cameras had appeal for me in particular.

Since then I have been looking over the current possible replacements and I have to report that there are few that would be adequate.

Most of the possible contenders are too expensive ( over $1000.00 NZD) or too small to hold comfortably. Some of the larger units such as the FZ1000 are a little too large and start matching the heft and bulk of a DSLR, which I want to avoid.

Basically for size, anything over the size of the HS20 is going to be too large to use on a day to day basis as I am always mobile and size and weight then become an issue.

Speaking of size, even the smaller style mirrorless XA3 for example are too big to keep in a small back pack and be easy to grab at a moments notice and there were many occasions when this was true of my HS20 as well. The Fuji s5700 (s700) was the one exception to this issue as its lens, while motorised was internal so the overall body size never changed and being a small camera was less of an issue where size mattered.

To the matter of cost. Some may be wondering as to why the limit of $1000.00 NZD is the ceiling. In my case I have a fixed income and as the only income earner in the household cost saving is paramount. Add to this that there are a good many less affluent pensioners currently, or about to be a pensioner that would also like a new camera for their retirement travels and again cost is a major issue. Another group are the less well off younger people/ students who like what a modern camera can provide but haven’t the means to procure a good camera, and have most likely  opted for a expensive mobile phone for its flexibility. Cant pay your bills online with a camera ( well not a enthusiast model or compact at least). Some of these new smart phones are very good cameras as well and I have had to eat my words from a post I did about 10 years back at Dpreview forums when I stated that it was unlikely a phone would ever replace a good camera.

Well thats no longer the case. There are some very good smart phones that come equipped with a camera thats as good as an entry level travel compact. A quick search of the internet and Flickr  photo sharing site soon shows that photography is alive and well, just in a different format. Not only is it alive and well but through all the history of photography it is unlikely that the level of current uptake was ever envisioned by the pioneers of the craft. According to the likes of Apple and Samsung there are more and more people beginning to use their smart phones as there primary image recording tool and I find that at present that now includes me.

Now I hear the gnashing of teeth from my Fuji followers, but at present Fuji has nothing in their range that attracts me back to a ILC camera, although the rumoured X-T100 has got my interest piqued a little.  The closet contender at the moment is The Panasonic LX100, a very nice piece of kit, and has seen favour with these folks as well, and when on special would be a nice addition to my kit. However I currently have a Samsung S6 provided by my employer, which I will now spend some time using.

So why a smart phone?

Here’s some reasons to consider a smart phone as a go anywhere any time camera. Based on Samsung S6.

  • Portability
  • Small size
  • Communications both WiFi & Phone
  • Fast camera lens f 1:9 @28 mm fixed
  • Built in editing on the fly
  • Good image storage capacity ( 1 hr or more video storage)
  • Spontaneity

Thats just a few reasons, I haven’t even touched on what you can do with the rest of the phone as thats not central to this quest for a new camera.

For me at present as a stop gap between now and my next dedicated camera the S6 looks like it will do a reasonable job. One of the things I have been really impressed with is the dynamic range this camera has from low light to bright daylight, just using auto mode it does a commendable job.

Below is an image I can say with certainty would never have been achievable with my HS20 and I’m not sure my XA2 would have done too much better either given the conditions, but for a small sensor the S6 did pretty well. You can see larger versions of these images in the S6 Gallery.

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Multiple light sources created a large amount of overexposure. This was a relatively well lit internal scene and the S6’s camera was set to auto with HDR on. Now with a bit a cropping and some adjustment in RawTherapee and a general calming of the image you get the following:

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You can then make the image a little more isolated and get the following:

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While a little more muted than the  previous edit this shows how much head room the images from the S6 can provide, and if we compare this to some of the small/mid level travel compacts on the market it becomes more apparent that the quality on the higher specs smart phones doesn’t lack for much as a general purpose snapshot camera, certainly better than the Kodak Instamatic of my youth.

I have also found that standard prints are very good too and I have printed A4 prints from the S6 with very good results and as long as you take a little care when taking your images if you are going to print them then your results should be more than adequate.

The only real drawback to the S6 that I miss at present is the manual zoom that my HS20 has, but like most photographers working with a single focal length I will need to adjust to the limitation. When you look at the images posted on Flickr ( see the Flickr link above ) the results can be very pleasing.