The much-anticipated Nikon Z7 doesn’t disappoint

It’s a very well-rounded camera for both still and video

Published on November 21, 2018

Photography is all about smartphones these days, but there are still situations where those little cameras will never manage to do the job of the real shooter. For photography enthusiasts and professionals, Nikon had a range of mirrorless cameras before the Z7 came along but they used a smaller sensor. The Z7 has comes in with a full-frame sensor making Nikon one of just three companies in the world to have this offering, the other two companies being Sony and Leica. Amongst the many advantages of a mirrorless camera is size. Nikon has managed to build a very well-rounded camera comparable to its flagship D850 in a much smaller footprint.

The Z7 looks like it is half the size of Nikon’s D850. It’s much smaller and yet has a super sturdy and solid feel like most of the Nikon line-up. Like many of the DSLR range of cameras it is also made of a magnesium alloy and is weather-sealed. An ergonomic design helps maintain the buttons in the right place (at least for Nikon shooters) and the grip seems to work rather well for a variety of hand sizes. In all, it just feels right in the hand.

Thoughtful Detail

Apart from the smaller size and weight of the camera, the next most noticeable thing is the size of the lens mount. The new Z-Mount is huge, at 55mm it looks like a giant, specially when compared to the other DSLRs. Knowing Nikon, it is not going to let the old classic F-Mount fade away into oblivion. They have promptly provided an F-to-Z adapter. This suddenly opens up the opportunity of using any F-Mount lens that you previously owned on the new Z7 and they work without any issues. Over 300 lenses are supported and the best part is, you do not compromise on the light or image quality by using the adapter. Some non-CPU based lenses do not auto-focus but at least they work, and protect your investment.

A new mount means new lenses. The Z7 has a series of lenses already available and more coming out soon. The kit lens, a 24-70 mm f/4.5, is a really nice and versatile lens for both stills and video. The lens is light and super sharp. One really nice touch is the new lens-lock. It prevents the barrel from sliding out and unless unlocked the camera will not shoot.

The Z-series lenses have been criticised for their pricing, they are a little expensive, but if one was to get the kit lens along with FTZ mount adapter then all your old lenses work just fine.

Intuitive use

Using the camera was quite a pleasure. If you are a Nikon shooter, you will feel at home right away. The LCD at the back is semi-articulating and touch enabled. The touch menus and systems have improved vastly compared to some of the older Nikon models. What initially felt like a gimmick is now an essential part of most photographer’s workflow and gets extremely useful in many situations.

The controls and buttons on the camera are all in the right place and very familiar to anyone who uses Nikon. For new users too, they are very intuitively placed and one would feel comfortable in no time at all. As with the pro DSLRs the Z-series also offers a lot of customisation and personalisation of the camera. Set it up for various shooting styles, be it stills or video, and be ready for any situation.

The image quality on the Z7 is simply superb. At 46 megapixels, the amount of detail that is captures is just incredible. Even the in-camera processed images are very useable for quickly being shared, but if you shoot serious stuff, then the RAW images have it all. Good dynamic range and a vast amount of detail. Images are about 50 MB in size so one does need large amounts of storage. Speaking of storage, that is one of the areas the Z7 is not doing very well. It has only a single slot XQD card. At the time of writing, the news on XQD cards is also not very positive with one of the prime manufacturers threatening to stop production.

Another first for Nikon is the in-body image stabilisation. A wonderful addition to the Z7 allowing you to shoot in many challenging situations and yet providing the best image quality and sharpness.

Electronic viewfinders have been the bane of mirrorless cameras. But Nikon paid extra attention to this and has built a very usable EVF. It is accurate, with little to no lag for most situations. Rapid action photo situations may suffer a little, but for the most part, it is actually very good. One thing I found odd to use was in a low-light situation the viewfinder was still showing a very bright image, but once you get used to it you do tend to trust it a little more. When you think of Nikon, you never think video. The Z7 is about to change that. It does video very well. Packed with features, 4K videos are suddenly so much easier to make. This camera would be very well suited to the budget film-maker.

Overall, the Z7 is a very well-rounded camera for both still and video. While it is not without problems the series will see improvements given the commitment of Nikon.

Canon’s Latest – The EOS RP

Entry-level Mirrorless Camera

The trend is very clear — manufacturers are slowly moving away from classic DSLRs to the new breed of mirrorless cameras. Canon is no exception. The EOS RP is a step in that direction, an entry-level full-frame, mirrorless camera. That is the best way to describe the latest offering from Canon. In the Canon family, its closest sibling would be the EOS 6D Mark II.

Canon EOS RP

As would be expected from Canon, the build and quality of the camera are top class — a magnesium alloy body, very ergonomically designed. The surprising part is how easily it seems to fit a variety of hands; big or small, the camera just feels right. I did have a little trouble with the AF-ON button at the back; I felt that it should be a little more to the left, but that is more a personal preference.

Getting started with the EOS RP, the only thing that feels odd is the electronic viewfinder, but that is true for all mirrorless cameras. Once you overcome that, it is actually a very comfortable camera to use. It is packed with features and shooting a variety of styles is very easy. In fact, as an entry-level camera, it does provide many modes to get you going, including portrait, food, sports, landscape, etc. An AI-based intelligent auto is also available and it does make some pleasing images with very little effort.

For the photographer who needs to be in full-control, it does offer the standard shutter priority, aperture priority and of course, full manual mode.

The addition of WiFi is also very handy as one can shoot and transfer to a computer or even to a phone, making the photos available instantly to share.

The EOS RP produces some pleasing and punchy JPGs straight out of the camera. The RAW files the professionals crave is a matter that still needs to be resolved. Most popular photo editing software is not as yet able to support the new CR3 file format. Updates will surely fix that, but for now either stick to JPGs or use a convertor.

The most interesting development along with the mirrorless cameras is the introduction of new lenses. Canon, not to be left behind, has started bringing some superb lenses to the collection. The RF 24-105 mm f/.4 is one such lens and can be bought with the body as a kit. Sharp and with an exceptional build quality, it would be the one lens you buy along with the camera. The lens also introduces a control ring which can be customised for your shooting preferences, which makes it very handy indeed.

The question is, who is the intended audience for the EOS RP? A great camera for a beginner or a general shooter or a traveller? The problem is the price. While it may be the cheapest full-frame camera on the market, it will be beyond most beginners’ budgets. At just under ₹2 lakh for the body along with a lens kit, there will be many other choices. Not mirrorless and not full-frame, but many good options even in the Canon stable. For professionals, this camera does fall short — single card slot for images and a tiny battery at best for not more than 200 shots — it will be difficult to justify even as a second camera.

Price: ₹1,10,495 for body, with lens kit is ₹1,99,490

Pros: Punchy images, light-weight, good auto-focus, wireless connectivity

Cons: RAW image support and quality needs to be resolved, tiny battery and poor battery life, slow burst modes, expensive

First published in Hindu Businessline on May 22, 2019

Smart Homes for Smart People

With everything being smart these days, why should homes be left behind? A good place to start with home automation is most certainly with lights. We all have a need for lights and they are usually all over the house. Now if we can start controlling them with our phones or voices or even with gestures and apps then wouldn’t that be smart?

Philips recently introduced the Hue starter kit to the Indian market. I took the kit for a quick test flight. The kit consists of two white ambience bulbs, a bridge and a remote control switch. Setting this up was fairly easy. The box contained a quick start guide which mentions how to connect the bridge to your network and provided the QR code for the app that could be downloaded either via the Play Store or the App Store. Really, that was all that was needed. The app takes you to the MeetHue website and you can create your account there and link your Bridge. Once that is done, it is ready for use.

The bulbs provided are the Hue White Ambience E27 type, popularly known as “मोटी चूड़ी” rather than the more commonly used B22 bulb types aka “pin” type. Since I actually have several lights with E27 sockets, no adapters were needed and in minutes I was ready to go.

If you thought Fifty Shades of Grey was bad enough, then here comes the super surprise. The Hue White Ambience lights are capable of 50,000 shades of white or different temperatures.  These range from warm to cool and everything in-between.

 

Webp.net-gifmaker
Alexa Controlling Hue

 

Open up the app, tap on the light and it turns ON! You can now setup lights in different rooms and start controlling them from the app. Isn’t that smart!

Next up, a quick look at the app shows you a very interesting option for location-based awareness. If you allow the Hue app to have access to your location data, it does two smart things, a) it figures out when you are home and b) it figures out the sunrise and sunset times for your area. Based on this, you never have to walk into a dark room again, nor fumble to pull out your phone to use the app. The lights just come on as you walk in thirty minutes after sunset or whatever it is you decided. That’s pretty smart!

With voice assistants being omnipresent, the next thing I am sure you would like to try is to have a conversation with your lights. I tested this with an Amazon Echo, Apple HomeKit and Google Assistant and it worked out-of-the-box. Setup was quite simple, each assistant only required me to link with the Hue account and it was ready for use. So, “Alexa turn on the bedroom light” worked perfectly. As did “Siri, turn the brightness down in the Den”. Getting the shades of white was not that easy, though warm and cool worked perfectly.

The final smarts now come from using a variety of different apps. The Hue app features many of them. With coloured lights, you can convert your lights to strobes in time with the music or if you just want to set up more complex routines, use an app like Yonomi. The possibilities are endless.

The one downside of these smart lights is the price. The Philips starter kit is ₹12,000/- a bit steep to get started. The bridge can support up to 50 lights so if you do put your money down, you can get started. Compare this with Amazon’s deal on the Echo Plus. For ₹15,000/- you get an Echo Plus with a built-in smart hub and a free Philips Hue smart bulb.

Pros: Easy to setup, easy to use. Endless possibilities.
Cons: Steep price for a starter kit and individual bulbs.

WhatsApp on iPad

While we all love our instant messengers, WhatsApp seems to be the current favourite in India. A good testimony to that is the billions of messages sent on New Year’s causing a major meltdown of the servers.

On the phone, it is a great app, but every now and then one feels the need for a larger screen. WhatsApp is clearly aware of that and has created a version for most web browsers and even desktop editions for Mac and Windows.

This, however, leaves out the folks with iPads. I’m not sure if this is an Apple thing or a WhatsApp thing, but it sure would be nice to get a working WhatsApp on the iPad.

In the meantime, here’s a simple hack. It requires you to have a phone with WhatsApp running on it and it makes use of the phone just like the web version does. The problem is when you open web.whatsapp.com on the iPad it just takes you to their main site.img_0229

The trick around this is to get the iPad to show you the “desktop” site instead of the mobile/iPad site. From the menu on the top right, select “Request Desktop Site”.

IMG_0232.JPG

You should now get the familiar screen with the QR code to be scanned by the phone.

IMG_0230.PNG

The rest of the process is pretty much the same as you would use for a desktop browser. Use the app on the phone to scan the QR code and you should be all set.

IMG_0231.JPG

Enjoy the goodness of a large screen, till Apple or WhatsApp or both release an app for the iPad. In the meantime, don’t blame me for wasting more time on it.

Update: One of the reasons I wrote this post was the impending launch of WhatsApp for Business. I assumed that with India and Brazil both being big consumers of WhatsApp, they would actually launch the product in these markets first. Well, they did launch, but not yet in India. Hoping it happens soon.

Cheers…Kishore

A Leak Year

Barely a week into the year and we are already seeing major security issues cropping up. While 2018 is not a leap year, my gut says it will be another leak year.

The year started with a bang. Spectre and Meltdown came into our lives affecting computers, mobiles and even the cloud. These are complex vulnerabilities, and enough and more has been written about them. One thing is clear though, the time has come to reboot chip design with security in mind. In the meantime, manufacturers are scrambling to patch the vulnerabilities and the rest of us are celebrating them. Love the two logos created by Natascha Eibl for these. Welcome to #chipmageddon

403px-Spectre_with_text.svg247px-Meltdown_with_text.svg

Next up we have Aadhaar. Has it leaked or not? Saying there is a breach could now have the cops after you, but a lot of people are losing faith rapidly. Wonder what the next steps would be, scrap it and start over, or keep linking with every aspect of our lives! IMHO, it is time for an Aadhaar 2.0.

It is a grim start, let’s hope it gets better. If it doesn’t don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Cheers…Kishore