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GoPro Hero 7 Black Deal: $70 Off Right Now

By Scott Gilbertson
The Hero 7 is still a great deal at $329, with superb image stabilization and awesome time-lapse video.

Sony’s new A9 II mirrorless full-frame camera has the speed sports photographers need

By Darrell Etherington

Sony announced a successor to its popular A9 mirrorless interchangeable lens full-frame camera today. The A9 II carries over some of the specs and stats of its predecessor, like the 24.2 megapixel stacked imaging sensor, but adds an upgraded BIONZ X image processor, which powers the much more powerful autofocus capabilities in the new camera.

Sony debuted a number of improved AF features on its A6400 APS-C camera earlier this year, and its brought those and more to the A7R IV it launched at the beginning of September, and on this new iteration of the A9. There’s real-time eye autofocus for both people and animals, with right and left eye selection for animals, along with real-time eye AF during movie shooting, and the company’s real-time object tracking, which basically sticks your focus point to whatever you want to point it at remarkably well, based on my experience with it in other modern Sony cameras.

Other new features to the camera include a body with upgraded dust and moisture resistance, which Sony also brought to the A7R IV, as well as a beefier design with a deeper grip that should be a welcome change in terms of ergonomics, especially for photographers with bigger hands. And while it uses the same battery, it also is rated for slightly more shots.

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Sony also brought its new digital audio interface to the hotshoe on the camera, again something it first introduced in the A7R IV. That will let you use their new shotgun mic and XLR adapter to pipe audio from external sources into the camera when recording video.

This camera is really intended to meet the needs of photographers who need high-speed capture capabilities, and Sony has bumped things up there, too. You get blackout-free, silent continuous shooting at up to 20fps, with a buffer size capable of capturing 361 JPGs or 239 of Sony’s ‘compressed’ RAW files in one continuous go – it can also calculate AF and auto exposure at up to 60 times per second, so each of these should be in focus and properly exposed even in changing lighting conditions.

The new A9 II goes on sale in November, and will be priced at $4,500 for the body only.

GoPro launches new Hero8 Black and MAX action cameras

By Darrell Etherington

GoPro has released new versions of both its Hero line and its newer 360-degree ruggedized action cameras. The $399 GoPro Hero8 Black’s most significant change is that it gains a new body design that incorporates GoPro’s signature mounting system right into the case, so that you no longer need add-on frames to attach it to selfie sticks, suction mounts, body mounts and more.

The GoPro Hero8 Black shoots at resolutions between 1080p and 4K, and also gains HyperSmooth 2.0, the aptly named second-generation version of GoPro’s proprietary digital stabilization technology. The first version, which premiered on the GoPro Hero7, was hailed for its effectiveness, and the follow-up is apparently even more powerful — plus, it provides new adjustment options so you can tweak how aggressive it is.

GoPro’s proprietary variable speed recording mode TimeWarp also gets upgraded to 2.0, and there’s better on-board wind suppression for mic-free recording. The body changes mean that the lens is no longer removable, but GoPro is planning to release a new mounting system for filters soon to make up for this limitation.

On top of the new design, there’s a series of new aftermarket add-ons, which GoPro calls “Mods,” to provide add-on features. There’s a Media Mod ($79.99) that includes a built-in shotgun mic; a Display Mod ($79.99), which has a flip-up LCD viewfinder for vlogging; and a Light Mod ($49.99), which has a 200 lumen LED continuous video light source.

The other new camera, the GoPro MAX, is a $499 successor to the GoPro Fusion, and provides 360 capture. It’s designed to also produce great single lens, traditional wide-angle footage, and has its own version of HyperSmooth stabilization called Max HyperSmooth (which you know must be extreme because it’s called “Max”).

The MAX seems less oriented at 360 video and more at advanced content creators who want maximum editing flexibility and the ability to more easily vlog, as it also includes a front-facing display.

GoPro faces increased competition from legit sources in their home category, including competing devices from DJI and Insta360, but the slate of new upgrades here really do sound like quality, meaningful improvements versus the existing Hero7, and the new all-in-one body design should make it even more convenient for general use while out on the go.

Pre-orders are live now for the cameras, with shipping starting on October 15 for the GoPro Hero8, and shipments for the Max starting on October 24.

GoPro teases next-generation action camera announcement for October 1

By Darrell Etherington

GoPro’s successor to the Hero 7 is likely coming on October 1, as the action camera maker has posted a teaser with the date to its official website. The tagline “This is Action” appears over a fast cut mash-up of variety of shots, including off-road racing, underwater diving and what looks like close-up footage of Frank Zapata (or someone else with a jetpack) flying around, along with the date.

The mostly shadowed image above is the closest we get to an official product shot, but we’ve seen leaks sourced from photo-focused rumor site Photo Rumors that suggest a redesign with added expandability options for advanced accessories including front-facing display monitors and external flash. These leaks also include some potential specs, like a new GP2 chip to help with on-board image stabilization, better lenses and image quality, and a new 12MP sensor, in addition to the new optional housing and accessories.

this is action gopro

GoPro’s Hero 7 introduced HyperSmooth stabilization, which provides gimbal-like results without the actual gimbal thanks to advanced digital stabilization technology that GoPro developed in-house. But the company also saw the introduction of its strongest-yet competitor in the market this year with the DJI Osmo Action, a GoPro-like action camera from drone and gimbal-maker DJI, which is at least on par with the Hero 7 in terms of stabilization and quality, with added features aimed at the vlogging market like a built-in front-facing display.

The slogan “This is Action.” could actually be interpreted as a dig against its newest rival, since Action is capitalized and the DJI camera is literally named the “Osmo Action.” Hopefully GoPro does indeed get a little spicy about its competitor, since it’s a market that could definitely stand to benefit from some genuine competition in the higher end of the category.

Fujifilm’s upcoming X-Pro3 camera has a unique design sure to appeal to film photographers

By Darrell Etherington

Fujifilm is teasing its forthcoming X-Pro3, the successor to its popular digital rangefinder mirrorless camera, ahead of its official full introduction on October 23. During its X Summit event going on today, the company showed off the X-Pro3 in detailed images (via Fujirumors), revealing for the first time its innovative new rear display design.

The X-Pro3 has an LCD on the back, as do most modern digital interchangeable lens cameras, but it’s definitely unique: The screen is hidden in normal use, facing inward towards the camera back while the outward side of the rear door instead offers the photographer a small OLED “mini screen” that contains only basic info about shooting settings.

The rear display will show details like shutter speed, f-stop, ISO and film simulation and file size settings, and if you want to actually see a preview of the virtual viewfinder image, you’ll need to flip down the screen to reveal the color LCD. The downward flipping display is therefore ideal for doing things like shooting from a low angle, with the photographer looking down to check framing – just like you could do on classic film cameras with waist-level viewfinders.

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The X-Pro3 still offers an electronic viewfinder, but that’s also more akin to film photography vs. digital, since photographers using the camera will be much more likely to either use the viewfinder or shoot waist-level with the flip down screen – while also being able to check their various settings at a glance by quickly pulling the camera way from their eye and looking at the back.

Fujifilm’s lineup of APS-C digital interchangeable lens cameras have already won many fans thanks to their film simulations, which mimic types of film the company offered previously. The X-Pro3 will focus even more on replicating a film-inspired experience backed by modern digital photographic technology, and will also include a new film simulation called “Classic Negative” as well.

Classic Negative

Other details about the camera include titanium construction, which is going to make it a super durable but lightweight camera, and three different color options to choose from.

New X Pro3 colorsNo pricing or availability info is out yet, but we’ll find that out along with full details on October 23.

Ricoh’s Theta Z1 is the first truly premium consumer 360 camera

By Darrell Etherington

Ricoh has a well-earned good reputation when it comes to building smart, technically excellent photographic equipment — including the almost legendary Ricoh GR series of pocketable APS-C cameras, which are a favorite among street photographers everywhere. Earlier this year, the company released the Ricoh Theta Z1, which builds on its success with its pioneering Theta line of 360-degree cameras and delivers a step-up in terms of image quality and build that will feel at home in the hands of enthusiasts and pro photographers.

The Theta Z1 is what happens when you push the limits of what’s possible in a portable form factor 360 camera, both in terms of build materials and what’s going on on the inside. Like its more affordable, older sibling, the Theta V, it shoots both stills and video in 360 degrees — but unlike the V, it does so using two 1-inch sensors — unprecedented for a 360 camera in this category. Sony’s celebrated RX100 series was pushing boundaries with its own 1-inch sensor in a traditional compact camera, and the Ricoh is similarly expanding the boundaries of 360 photography by including not just one, but two such sensors in its Z1. That translates to unmatched image quality for 360 photographers — provided you’re willing to pay a premium price to get it.

Design and build

The Ricoh Theta Z1 feels a lot like previous iterations of the Theta line — it’s essentially a handle with two big lenses on top, which is a pretty optimal design overall for a device you’re mostly going to be holding up to take 360 photos and video. It’s a bit bulkier than previous generations, and heavier, too, but it’s still a very portable device despite the increased size.

Ricoh Theta Z1 7

With the bulkier build, you also get a magnesium outer case, which is textured and feels fantastic when held. If you’ve ever held a pro DSLR or mirrorless camera, then the feel will be familiar, and that says a lot about Ricoh’s target audience with this $1,000 device. The magnesium alloy shell isn’t only for making it feel like it’s worth what it costs, however; you also get big durability benefits, which is important on a device that you’re probably going to want to use in remote locales and off the beaten path.

The build quality also feels incredibly solid, and the button layout is simple and easy to understand. There’s a single shutter button on the front of the camera, just above an OLED display that provides basic info about remaining space for images or video, battery life and connection status. A single LED indicates both mode and capture status information, and four buttons on the side control power on/off, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, photo and video mode switching and enabling basic functions like a shutter countdown timer.

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Using the hardware buttons to control the Theta Z1 independent of your smartphone, where you can remotely control all aspects of the camera when connected via Wi-Fi and using the app, is intuitive and easy, and probably the way you’ll use the Z1 more often than not when you’re actually out and about. There’s little to worry about when it comes to framing, for instance, because it captures a full 360 image, and you can handle all of that after the fact with Ricoh’s editing tools prior to sharing.

On the bottom, there’s a USB-C port for charging and wired data transfer, and a 1/4″ standard tripod mount for attaching the Z1 to tripods or other accessories. This is useful, because if you use a small handle you’ll get a better overall image, as the Z1’s software automatically edits out the camera, and, to some extent, the thing that’s supporting it. There’s also a small lug for attaching a wrist strap, but what you won’t find is a flap or door for a micro SD card — the Theta Z1 relies entirely on built-in storage, and offers just under 20GB of usable storage.

Ricoh Theta Z1 9

Still images

Ricoh’s Theta Z1 has two 1-inch sensors on board, as mentioned, and those combine to provide an image resolution of 670×3360. The camera captures two 180-degree fields of view from each lens, and automatically stitches them together in software to produce the final image. The result is the sharpest, most color-accurate still photos I’ve ever seen from a 360-degree camera, short of the kind of content shot by professionals on equipment costing at least 10x more.

The resulting images do incredibly well when viewed through VR headsets, for instance, or when you use Theta’s own 360 viewer for web in full-screen mode on high-resolution displays. They also make it possible to export flat images that still look sharp, which you can crop and edit in the Theta+ app. You can create some truly amazing images with interesting perspective that would be hard to get using a traditional camera.

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Indoors in low-light situations, the Ricoh Theta Z1 still performs pretty well, especially compared to its competitors, thanks to those big 1-inch sensors. Especially in well-lit indoor environments, like in the restaurant example below, details are sharp and crisp across the frame and colors come out great.

In settings where a lot of the frame is dark or unevenly lit, as in the example at the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo below, the results aren’t nearly as good when operating in full automatic mode. You can see that there is some blur in the parts of the scene with motion, and there’s more grain apparent in parts of the frame, too. Overall though, the audience is pretty well captured and the colors still look accurate and good despite the many different tones from different sources.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 still does its best work in bright outdoor settings, however — which is true for any camera, but especially for cameras with sensors smaller than full-frame or APS-C. It’s still definitely capable enough to capture images you can work with, and that provide a great way to revisit great events or memories in a more immersive way than standard 2D images can accomplish.

You can adjust settings, including aperture to optimize your photo capture, as well as choosing between f/2.1, f/3.5 and f/5.6, with higher apertures offering higher-resolution images. The built-in lens has been designed to reduce ghosting, purple fringe artifacts and flare, and it does an outstanding job at this. RAW capture allows you to edit DNG files using Lightroom, and it works amazingly well with Lightroom mobile for advanced tweaks right on the same device.

Video

The Ricoh Theta Z1 does video, too — though the specs for the video it produces are essentially unchanged from the Theta V on paper. It can capture 4K video at 30 fps/56 mbps or 2K video at 30fps/16mbps, and live stream in both 4K and 2K. There’s a four-channel built-in microphone for immersive audio recording, and it can record as much as 40 minutes of 4K or 130 minutes of 2K footage, though each individual recording session is capped at 5 minutes and 25 minutes for 4K and 2K, respectively.

Ricoh has tougher competition when it comes to video in the 360 camera game — Insta 360’s One X has been a clear winner in this category, and has led to this camera even finding some fans when compared to action cameras like the GoPro Hero 7 and the DJI Osmo Action, thanks in large part to its fantastic built-in image stabilization.

The Ricoh Theta Z1 just frankly doesn’t impress in this regard. The sensors do allow for potentially better image quality overall, but the image stabilization is definitely lacking, as you can see, and overall quality just isn’t there when measured against the Insta360 One X. For a fixed installation for real-time live-streaming, the Ricoh probably makes more sense, but video isn’t the device’s strength, and it’s a little disappointing given its still shooting prowess.

Features and sharing

The range of editing options available either via Theta+ or using the DNG files in both mobile and desktop photo editing software for the Theta Z1 is outstanding. You can really create and compose images in a wide variety of ways, including applying stickers and text that stick to the frame as a viewer navigates around the image. Sharing from the Theta app directly works with a number of platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and theta360.com, where you can get embeddable 360 images like those found in this post above.

Ricoh has done a great job making sure you can not only capture the best possible 360 images with this camera, but also share them with others. It’s also leading the pack when it comes to the range of options you have for getting creative with slicing up those 7K spherical images in a variety of ways for traditional flat image output, which is not surprising, given the company’s heritage.

Bottom line

Simply put, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is the best 360 camera for still photos that you can buy for less than $1,000 – even if just squeaks under that line. It’s the best still photo 360 camera you can pick up for considerably more than that, too, given its sensor arrangement and other technical aspects of the device, including its selectable aperture settings and RAW output.

The $999.95 asking price is definitely on the high end for this category — the Theta V retails for less than half that, as does the Insta360 One X. But I mentioned the Sony RX100 above, and the pricing is similar: You can get a compact camera for much less money, including very good ones, but the latest RX100 always commands a premium price, which people are willing to pay for the very best-in-class device.

If what you want is the best still photography 360 camera on the market, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is easily it, and if that’s the specific thing you’re looking for, then Ricoh has packed a lot of cutting-edge tech into a small package with the Z1.

SimShine raises $8 million for home security cameras that use edge computing

By Catherine Shu

SimShine, a computer vision startup based in Shenzhen, has raised $8 million in pre-Series A funding for SimCam, its line of home security cameras that use edge computing to keep data on-device. The funding was led by Cheetah Mobile, with participation from Skychee, Skyview Fund and Oak Pacific Investment.

Earlier this year, SimShine raised $310,095 in a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. It will use its pre-Series A round for product development and hiring.

SimShine’s team started off developing computer vision and edge computing software, spending five years working with enterprise clients before launching SimCam.

The company plans to release more smart home products that use edge computing with the ultimate goal of building a IoT platform to connect different devices, co-founder and chief marketing officer Joe Pham tells TechCrunch. SimCam currently integrates with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, with support for Apple Homekit in the works.

Pham says edge computing protects users’ privacy by keeping data, including face recognition data, on device, while also decreasing latency and false alarms, because calculations are performed continuously on the device (cameras connect to Wi-Fi so customers can watch surveillance video on their smartphones). It also means customers don’t have to sign up for the subscription plans that many cloud-based home security cameras require and reduces the price of each device since SimCam does not have to maintain cloud servers.

This charming little camera prints instantly to receipt paper

By Devin Coldewey

I’m a big instant camera fan, but the film is expensive and the digital printers just aren’t very good. So I was delighted to see this alternative seeking funds on Kickstarter: the Alulu camera, which prints photos in black and white on receipt paper. Why did no one do this before?

The idea is so simple that you’ve already gotten it — no explanation necessary. But because explaining things is my job I am going to do so anyway.

The Alulu is an idea incubated by three friends as they left college, each heading their separate directions but looking to take a shot at making this cool gadget a reality before doing so. Right now it only exists in prototype form (they only thought it up in May), but it works more or less as intended, and it’s as silly and fun as I wanted it to be; I got to test one out, as it happened that one of the team members happened to live in my neighborhood.

The camera is a little box about the size of a fat point-and-shoot, with charming little dials on the top to select exposure mode or a 10-second timer if you want it, and a shutter button that’s hard to miss. On the side is the charge port and a button to advance the paper. And the back has a little frame that flips out and helps you set up your shot — very loosely, I hardly need add.

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Inside the 3D-printed, acrylic-plated exterior, the guts of the camera are simple. An off-the-shelf camera stack that does all the hard work of actually taking a picture — but don’t worry about the megapixels, because they don’t matter here. The camera sends its signal to a custom board that prepares and optimizes the image for black-and-white printing.

To be clear, we’re talking black and white, not shades of grey. The printer inside the camera is a standard receipt printer, which uses heat-activated ink that’s either transparent or black and nothing in between. You feed paper in via a little chamber on the bottom.

alulu

Thankfully creating the appearance of shading in 1-bit imagery is old hat for computer graphics, and an algorithm dithers and tweaks the picture so that more or fewer dots in various patterns create the illusion of a wider palette.

The results are… well, photos printed on receipt paper. Let’s keep our expectations in line. But they’re instantly printed (with a little stutter like a dot matrix printer) and charming little artifacts indeed. You can even use receipts you’re given at stores or restaurants, if they fit, and you can always fold it over a bit if it’s too large.

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(By the way, if you’re worried about being poisoned by receipt paper, don’t be. The stuff with high BPA content was generally phased out a while back, and you can order non-poisonous rolls of paper easily and cheaply.)

I think this thing is great, though I’m afraid that the projected $99 retail price might be too high for what amounts to a novelty. The idea, I was told, was to drive the price down with mass manufacturing, but until they do so they want to be honest about the cost of the parts (the printer itself is the most expensive piece, but like everything else the price goes down when you order a thousand or more).

Whether it makes it to the factory or not, I think the Alulu is a great idea. We need more weird, one-off devices in this world of ours where every function seems to devolve to the smartphone — and I’m tired of my phone! Plus, it can’t print on receipt paper.

The Alulu is currently looking for backers on Kickstarter. Go give it a pledge.

10 Best Instant Cameras: Instax, Lomography, Polaroid, Etc

By Scott Gilbertson, Brendan Nystedt
Despite nearly dying off a decade ago, instant photo printing has come roaring back. These are the best instant cameras you can buy, and our favorite instant printer.

5 Best Compact Cameras for 2019: Cheap, Rugged, 10x Zoom

By Jess Grey, Brendan Nystedt
Your phone's portrait mode is no match for a real point-and-shoot camera's portrait lens. These are the best small pocket cameras we've tested.

Hasselblad X1D II Review: A Compact Hasselblad

By Scott Gilbertson
Hasselblad greatly improves its X1D mirrorless medium format camera, which can do things DSLR's can't, but it's still slow and pricey compared to rivals.

3 Mirrorless Cameras Tested: Canon EOS R, Sony A7III, Nikon Z6

By Stinson Carter
Recent innovations—and several new entries—make mirrorless cameras a category worth watching.
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