I got a phone call today from Harold Schuurman of InktWereld.nl (a large local paper and ink distributor). He phoned me about my order of Ilford Gold Fiber Silk paper and about a brief e-mail exchange we had about its availability and its alternatives.
These were the conclusions (based on a few different sources):
The familiar Ilford brand (quite famous for B&W film and B&W photographic paper) was established back in 1879.
After severe financial problems in 2004, the company was split into essentially a B&W wet photography part (film and light-sensitive paper) anda inkjet paper (the papers used in the digital photography world) part:
Ilford Photo in the United Kingdom produces B&W films and still going strong.
Ilford Imaging Switzerland GmbH went bankrupt (again) on December 9th, 2013. This meant loss of a supplier of various mid-end and high-end inkjet papers used by photographers worldwide.
The new products have different packaging than the old ones. Except for Gold Fiber Silk paper (an Ilford flagship product) – the new papers are essentially very similar alternatives rather than being the original product: except for GFS, the paper is made in different factories than the originals. That makes a difference because high-end paper is a mix of science and craftsmanship: thus the new Ilford paper products will have somewhat different characteristics and somewhat different color profiles than the original Ilford products. Many photographers will notice, although probably most end-customers won’t.
For Gold Fiber Silk, there are multiple identical alternatives (all from the same Swiss factory), including Canson Infinity Baryta and Innova FibaPrint Baryta 310 gram IFA69 and the new Ilford’s Gold Fiber Silk.
for Ilford’s other papers you have to switch to a new brand and accept that you need a new ICC profile and may get slightly different results. In my case, I lost the ability to use Ilford Smooth Glossy Paper, and the replacement via InktWereld.nl is PRO-line Vibrant (Hi-?)Gloss Photopaper 290 gram. This is cheaper, and it is reported that photographers are happy with it.
For me, these conclusions are fine: I used Ilford GFS for exhibition quality and prints that I occasionally sell. I used Ilford Smooth Glossy for less critical printing. I will update this post if there is any news (I am currently waiting for the new paper).
Here is another update about camera sensors in cameras as tested by DxO Labs (www.dxomark.com). DxO’s test essentially covers the noise and dynamic range of cameras – it doesn’t cover resolution, focus speed, ease-of-use, etc.
Modern cameras span a range of over 70 points in this pretty rigorous benchmark. In reality the range is larger because DxO doesn’t test camera phones and other good-enough-for-a-selphie models. A 3 point difference is barely visible to specialists, 10 points is readily visible, 30 points tends to be noticed by everyone.
Since my previous posting, 18 new cameras have been tested by DxO Labs. I also rescaled the graphs to allow for scores above 100 and extended the timeline somewhat. For an in-depth explanation of what you are seeing here, check my January 2013 article at either DxO Labs or Luminous Landscape.
Some of the highlights hidden within the newer benchmark results:
Epic Dragon scores 101 points
The 19 MPixel Epic Dragon video camera can take better stills than any existing still camera. This is especially usual given that the Epic Dragon has a moderate sensor size. Because it is only a prototype, DxO did not include the Epic Dragon in its normal test result database. After all, you can’t buy it.
Note that the Epic Dragon is a component of a modular video system: without a lens, we probably wouldn’t recognize it as a camera.
But its score demonstrates that today’s APS-H (1.3x) and larger sensors can break the psychological 100 point DxOMark barrier. So it is only a matter of time before we see commercial cameras scoring over 100 points in this benchmark. This may be asking too much for the expected Canon 7D Mark II with a 1.5x sensor, but could be achievable for one of the new 50 MPixel medium format cameras with a Sony sensor (Hasselblad, Phase One, Pentax).
Some of the top models (highest performance in its price class) are now mirrorless cameras. Somehow these are all Sony models (A3000, A5000, A6000, A7, A7r). Sony is currently the leading sensor manufacturer. Manufacturers like Nikon use Sony sensors mainly to boost the image quality of their existing SLR product lines.
The Sony A7s has a very low resolution (12 MPixel) for a full-frame camera launched in 2014. Its score is a bit low for a modern-full frame sensor (except for its High ISO subscore). From a still camera perspective it is not obvious why Sony introduced a sensor with such large pixels: it already supplies higher image quality at with higher resolution sensors (e.g. A7 and A7r). The answer to the puzzle may be probably related to the A7s unique 4K video capabilities. I wouldn’t be surprised if the A7s is also partly intended to test the market.
Nokia Lumia Pureview
The Nokia’s Pureview smart phone models caught quite some attention with their 41 MPixel resolution. They score somewhat lower than cameras with a similar sensor size (e.g. Fujifilm X10). This is likely because the pixel size of just over 1 μm gives fill factor issues: a non-negligible percentage of the sensor area is lost as overhead and not used for light gathering.
Here is another update about new cameras tested by www.dxomark.com. The test only looks at the noise and dynamic range performance of cameras – it doesn’t cover resolution, speed, ease-of-use, durability, etc.
Since my previous posting, 5 new cameras have been tested by DxO Labs. Modern cameras span a range of over 60 points. A 3 point difference is barely visible to specialists, 10 points is readily visible, 30 points tends to be obvious even when someone is not paying attention to image quality at all:
Sony A3000/A5000 (78 and 79 points).
The pricing of APS-C system cameras with a state-of-the-art sensor has dropped below US$ 500 with the introduction of the Sony A3000 and A5000. Despite the Alpha branding, these are basically NEX models (Sony has dropped the usage of the NEX brand). They thus have E lens mount (as used in the NEX series) rather than the A-mount (as used in the Alpha 77).
Leica S medium format (76 points).
The Leica S medium format camera, despite its $28,000 price, does not really have a state-of-the-art sensor. It “still” uses a CCD sensor technology, although recently medium format models with a Sony-built CMOS sensor have been recently announced (by Hasselblad, Phase One and Pentax). CMOS sensors should manage to make medium format cameras more all-round cameras again. Arguably, because medium format cameras are often used in studios or tripods, they historically had more emphasis on resolution, color fidelity and lens quality than on low light or high dynamic range.
Leica X Vario (78 points).
Leica also gives you the option of buying the X Vario which actually performs similarly to the Sony A3000 or A5000, but at a Leica price.
Olympus Stylus 1 (51 points).
The Olympus Stylus 1 scores surprisingly low for a new camera with its SLR-like looks. But looks are misleading here. If you look carefully at the specs, it turns out to have a very small sensor with a 4.66x crop factor. This puts in in the same league as the Canon Powershot S120. The Stylus 1 (51 points) is outperformed by the more compact S120 (56 points).
In this January update, ten new cameras and four extra labels were added. Sorted on descending price, these are:
Sony A7 (a 24 MPixel full-frame mirrorless camera)
Sony DSC-RX10 (performs like Sony’s two RX100 models)
Sony NEX 5T (likely the last NEX-branded model)
Sony A3000 (great image quality at low cost)
Note that all four happen to be Sony. I add labels in the (a) graph to cameras that are notable from a technical perspective, and to the (b) graph when they have an interesting price for their performance level.
Although not tested yet, it will be very interesting to see how the two medium format backs perform with Sony’s new 50 MPixel sensor. They might becoming the new record holder (although the Phase One IQ250 doesn’t allow you to shoot about 6400 ISO).
Assuming you care about low light and high dynamic range performance, the best cameras have full-frame sensors (the blue dots). You knew that – right? Well, surprisingly full-frame sensors beat even larger (purple, pink, red) sensors. So don’t bother spending big money on a medium format camera unless you really need the super-high resolution. Or need it show that your equipment is clearly on a price class of its own.
The so-called APS-C cameras with 1.5x or 1.6x sensors have improved. Examples: the Nikon D5200 and D5300.
The Sony NEX-5R mirrorless (which is 1.5x) has a slightly higher price than an APS-C SLR, but the body is smaller and the performance is competitive. Mirrorless models should have the same performance as an SLR with a comparable sensor. A mirror doesn’t add image quality – it just makes a click sound like ke-lick.
Canon still has a long way to go to catch up with its APS-C sensors (1.6x). The Canon 70D performs slightly better than the old Canon 7D, but a comparison to Nikon or Sony tends to be embarrassing.
Recent Micro Four Thirds cameras (Olympus & Panasonic) have improved and are even ahead of Canon’s APS-C (1.6x) models.
The Sony RX100 and RX100-II are still doing fine – at least considering their small sensor size (2.7x or 1/1″ ). The Nikon Series 1 is technically not state-of-the art, but nice if you like white or pink gear: it targets a young Asian lifestyle market.
The premium pocket cameras have improved. Especially the 1/1.7″ sensor models such as the Canon Powershot S120 and G16 and their Nikon equivalents.
The best deals if you need a high quality model can be found at the top edge of the cloud in diagram “b”: you get the highest quality in that price range. Note that the prices shown are official prices at introduction, and will differ from current street prices. These deals include:
The Nikon D600 and D610. These are essentially the same camera, but the D610 resolves a dust issue.
The new Sony A7R mirrorless. Note that this model uses Sony E-mount lenses, but actually requires new Sony full-frame E-mount lenses called “FE”. So it will take a while until there are enough lens options.
The Sony RX1 and RX1R. These look overpriced (and probably are – although I ordered one myself), but their price does include an excellent 35mm Zeiss f/2.0 lens. On the other hand, they do not come with an optical or electronic viewfinder. These cost about 500 US $ or Euro extra. Lens hood pricing is joke (so look into the Photodiox accessories).
The Nikon D5200 or D5300. Both have a 24 MPixels state-of-the-art sensor, but the newer one gives sharper images (no AA filter) if your lenses are up to the challenge.
The Nikon D3200. Also 24 MPixels with state-of-the-art sensor technology.
The Pentax K50 and K500. A somewhat overlooked brand.
The Nikon Coolpix P330. A “take me everywhere” camera at a lower price point than the excellent Nikon Coolpix A or FujiFilm’s X-100s models.
Note that some major new camera models are not shown because DxO Labs simply hasn’t tested them yet. These include:
The new full-frame Nikon Df (with the professional Nikon D4’s 16 Mpixel sensor). It should score about 89 (D4) for $3000 – nice, but not sensational unless you insist on a retro look and feel.
Most FujiFilm X-Trans models have not been tested. Tests may be delayed because they have a non-standard color filter array (complicating raw conversion). The CFA design allows the sensor to work without a low pass filter. Alternatively, the missing tests may be because FujiFilm is not enthusiastic about their cameras’ DxOMark scores (pure speculation on my part, but the FujiFilm X-100 didn’t score exceptionally well). FujiFilm high-end cameras are getting a lot of attention from serious photographers who prefer small, unobtrusive cameras with a classic mechanical feel.
The Sony A7. Many people wouldn’t really benefit from 36 MPixels (Sony A7R) without an image stabilizer or a tripod or high-end lenses.