It's that time of year again, the eagerly awaited and prestigious Soundimageplus awards. Unfortunately I could get neither the O2 arena (it was booked) or Taylor Swift to host them (same as the 02) so you'll have to make do with this.
SOUNDIMAGEPLUS FIRMWARE UPDATE OF THE YEAR 2014
A category I introduced this year to sing the praises of the Panasonic 4K Photo mode. You can do a screen grab on any video footage, but this addition to the Panasonic FZ1000's menu options allows you to set this up as a photo option, You can select the format, while still retaining the 8MP / 22MP file size and select your frame(s) in camera by scrolling through them one by one. It has all sorts of uses from portraits and documentary photography to sports and action. It's like having a totally silent, image stabilised 25fps motordrive on the FZ1000 and the images produced are capable of high level reproduction. An innovative and creative use of the cameras ability to shoot 4K video. If you click on the link above you will see an explanation of how it works and even a short video. Very impressive, very useful and respect to Panasonic for coming up with it.
SOUNDIMAGEPLUS SOFTWARE OF THE YEAR 2014
I have only been using Iridient Developer Version 3.0 Beta 4 for a few days, but knew the first time I used it that it was the raw processing software I'd been dreaming about for years. It lets me decide how to process, it bypasses all the background embedded 'corrections' and noise reduction that camera manufacturers and Adobe are keen to impose on us. It has 'Iridient Reveal' the best sharpening parameter I've ever used and it gives a unique look for both colour and contrast that I really like. It works for all my cameras and even does a nice job on my camera phone jpgs. This WILL improve my photography, because it makes the files I create with my many cameras and lenses look like I want them to. Other software lets me process as I want but IR 3 b 4 does it better and more in tune with how I think a digital camera raw file should look. A small company, but a big product.
SOUNDIMAGEPLUS LENS(ES) OF THE YEAR 2014
This is actually a tie, since I can't decide between them. The Fuji 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 and the Sony Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 are my joint lenses of the year. Both are stellar zoom lenses, with fine optics that produce images that are sharp across the frame and at all focal lengths, both have seriously good image stabilisation and both are well built and a pleasure to use to create pictures with. And of course both are incredibly useful. For me, in terms of a wide-angle zoom and a 'superzoom' I've never used anything better and these lenses show just how far zooms have come. It used to be that usefulness and range of focal lengths meant compromising on quality, but theses two lenses show that is no longer longer the case. Superb.
SOUNDIMAGEPLUS CAMERA(S) OF THE YEAR 2014
So what is the camera that succeeds the Sony NEX-5n, Nikon D800E and Sony A7r, previous winners of this award?
Well this again is a situation where I just can't decide, so I've bottled it again and I'm picking two. I did in fact write two separate posts about the two different cameras and was intending to come to a final decision. However, since this is just a fun thing to do I decided that I would publish both posts on both cameras. (It's not as though it actually matters!!) So, the two Soundimageplus cameras of the year are the LEICA T (TYP 701) and the PANASONIC FZ1000. Below are the commendations I wrote about each.
Well it's a camera that threw the rulebook out of the window, that stylistically ignored pretty much everything that came before, that looks like a work of art and is the most beautiful camera I've ever picked up. It is designed and engineered to be a sleek, minimalist image creating machine and gets rid of virtually all external controls to produce a lean, mean camera that dares me to create something special with it. It is my favourite ever camera, the incomparable Leica T (Typ 701).
This camera isn't just a show pony. It takes great images ( greatly enhanced by the winner of software of year) and has three class leading feature. The EVF, the Live View Screen and the software video stabilisation feature. That EVF is the best I've ever used in good light and the rear screen, which is used to access the touch screen menu system, is huge, bright and ultra sharp. And though no-one will ever tell you, both of those are incredibly useful in shooting very decent video. This video option is further enhanced by the amazing video stabilisation feature which works very well and eliminates the need for bigger lenses or a moving sensor and of course consumes less power than either of those options.
I described the Iridient Developer software in my previous post as grown up software and it's interesting how that software combines so well with the Leica T, which is very much a grown up camera. By grown up, I mean that the T doesn't attempt to do things for me and decide how a picture should be taken and it doesn't give me lots of complicated bloatware that offers me endless alternatives that I'm never going to use. It also makes the assumption that I know what I'm doing and that I'm in charge of the photography and keeps it's 'opinions' to itself.
In one way, the philosophy behind it, it's typically Leica. But in terms of design and implementation it's a very modern approach and Leica have leapfrogged their mirrorless competition by not coming up with the (often confusing) menu / dial hybrid that seems to be the design template for virtually every other CSC or E.V.I.L camera. It's a camera for setting up in the way I want before I start taking pictures and then leaving me to use my eyes, the viewfinder and the shutter button to create the images I want. It's a camera that I use 'fiddle-free' and gives me the same 'Art of point and shoot' way of working that I love so much when I'm out with my smartphones.
And in the last couple of days I've realised that combined with the Iridient software, this is what I want from Digital Photography. I don't want to spend hours learning what all those menu options mean on my camera as that takes time away from actually taking and editing pictures. I also want my camera and my software to offer me the options I want and let me decide what I want to do. And yes in terms of what I use to create those images, I want something elegant, aesthetically pleasing and something that is a pleasure to own. And for me the Leica T is certainly that. It is, in fact, my favourite ever camera and I pretty much have to force myself to pick up anything else ever since I bought it.
And it may be the case that not very far in the future I may not even bother to force myself. I fully intend to buy both the 11-23mm and 55-135mm zoom lenses when they are released early next year and the 23mm f/2 prime is likely to be my Christmas present to myself. And in terms of how I work and what, where and when I create pictures that's pretty much all I need. I do have to resist the temptation almost every day to sell everything else and just buy another Leica T. And when I get the two zooms (which without ever picking them up or reading a review I can be sure will be optically superb) then that temptation may become impossibly irresistible. That's how much I love using the Leica T. And since these awards are purely personal I have no hesitation in making my camera of the year. In fact it was a foregone conclusion pretty much from the moment I picked it up for the first time and while I own many other fine cameras, this is the one that I always describe as my 'personal' camera. And if I was rushing back into my burning house to save as many pictures as I could, then I would certainly take the time to make sure I emerged with my T as well. Because my life would be poorer without it. And I don't think that very often about objects that I have owned, but the Leica T (Ty0 701) is a special case. And, as far as I'm concerned, a pretty special camera.
You get an awful lot of camera for your money with the Panasonic FZ1000. And you get an awful lot of lens too. This is a quite spectacular all-in-one package for stills and video, all made possible by that 1" sensor.
First thing I should mention is that I really struggle to tell the difference between m4/3 files and those from the FZ1000. At low ISO's I'm really not sure I could tell the difference. The image quality for stills at base ISO is pretty staggering, considering the size of sensor. The fact that you also get 20MP worth of image is somewhat amazing as well. And all in a relatively small, light and as far as I'm concerned, cheap package. Add in quite spectacular 4K video footage and this surely must be one of the best value cameras ever released. (If not the best)
It's a travel photographers dream come true, it shoots action and sports well, particularly with the 4K video mode which won the firmware update award at the top of the page and in the context of an outdoors / daylight camera I see little that competes with it's extensive feature set, speed of operation and overall versatility.
And to call it a 'bridge' camera, insults and demeans it. It bears no relationship whatsoever to those small sensor, zoom lens DSLR lookalikes that attempt to persuade their owners that they own something decent, but in fact fool nobody. The FZ1000 is bigger, better and more capable than any such previous example of the genre, except of course the Sony RX10 which the FZ1000 has copied and improved upon.
It's an all in one stills / video hybrid with a huge high quality zoom lens and a shining example of what technology can offer the photographer / videographer. Whenever I go out taking pictures with it, I'm amazed at just how good it is and that opinion is merely confirmed when I look at the results. Plus when I process the files via the winner of the software of the year award, Iridient Developer, the quality of those files is just breathtaking.
Watch out for the 1" sensor, it makes lots of incredible things possible and it could eventually take over a huge section of the camera market. Panasonic have already shown it's potential in smartphones and more and more small compacts are adopting it. The FZ1000 is a real photographers camera and one that, given a chance, will disappoint few. As a stand alone, self-contained image creating machine, i see nothing to beat it and the thought of what a MK II version of it could offer is mouthwatering. Superb lens, superb camera.
So there it is, this years awards. As ever, this is totally subjective on my part and based on how much I enjoy using gear and it's relevance to what I do. It's actually been a good year for gear with some quality stuff being released. Roll on 2015.