With so many new cameras and lenses launched recently, now is the best time to take a look at how the latest technology will likely play out in the coming year. We see three trends reshaping photography in the near future: Lenses evolving to accommodate the needs of video capture, sensors emerging in new sizes and designs, and Wi-Fi connectivity being built into more cameras.
Remaking the Lens:
Taking their cues from camcorders, lens makers have begun to add silent electronic zooms for video, while retaining the manual zoom controls stills shooters are used to. And lighter, smaller, more versatile optics are proliferating.
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With the new kit lens for the inaugural body of its new OM-D line of Micro Four Thirds cameras, Olympus has created a do-it-all 12–50mm (24–100mm equivalent) that lets you switch between electronic and manual zoom and focusing, and can operate as a macro lens with 1:1.33 reproduction. It even has weather sealing.
While the fundamental laws of optics will not change, there is a lot more to a camera lens than just the glass elements—especially with zooms. Both electronics and mechanics play a key role in performance. With the advent of contrast-based autofocus in interchangeable-lens compacts, lenses for these systems have developed more robust communications with camera bodies.
Plus, new designs, such as the Olympus 12–50mm f/3.5–6.3 EZ M.Zuiko Digital ED kit lens for the OM-D line, let you switch between manual and electronically controlled zooming and AF. “You’re able to uncouple the zoom motor from the mechanics that move the elements, and operate it manually," says Rich Pelkowski, an Olympus product manager for DSLRs, Pens, and the OM. "Then you can seamlessly switch back for three-speed electronic zooming that’s great for movies. There’s no more mechanical linkage with the body, so your imagination can run wild as to how you control the lens.”
Take the button on the new 12–50mm lens that converts it to macro mode. While it won’t afford life-sized 1:1 magnification, it’s a great feature to include in a kit lens for users who might step up to an ILC from a true compact and miss the close-focusing capabilities of those small cameras.
Samsung has put its lenses on a diet. “In our case,” says Jay Kelbley, senior marketing manager, imaging division, “since it’s a new lensmount and our optics are designed for APS-C from the ground up, we have an advantage in terms of weight, which translates to faster AF, and lenses can be sharper since they’re designed to focus down to a smaller pixel pitch. Our 85mm f/1.4 is 40 percent lighter than anyone else’s.”
Such improvements don’t come cheap. Mark Weir, Sony Digital Imaging's senior technology manager, notes, “Some of the materials, such as the rare earth that’s used to make certain elements in the more advanced lenses, are going up in price significantly.”
While we may not enjoy an era of falling prices, we will see smaller—if not lighter—lenses. Darin Pepple, senior product manager for imaging at Panasonic, says, “For us, the challenge is to make better use of aspheric lens elements. When you look at our 14–42mm X-series power zoom lens, it has four aspherical elements, compared to two in the standard version of that lens. Making the optics smaller and still making them sharp means using more aspherical elements.”
Sally Smith Clemens, Olympus product manager, notes, “When we include our dual aspherical elements, which employ aspherical surfaces on both sides of a lens, we can reduce even more size and weight than when we use regular aspherical elements.”
The next frontier: Video. Electronic control like that offered by the new Olympus lens translates into seamless and silent zooming handled through the camera, not mechanically on the lens barrel.
You can expect to see such features move swiftly into lenses made for DSLRs. “Going forward there will definitely be more optimization for cinema,” says Chuck Westfall, Canon’s technical information advisor for professional engineering and solutions. “Personally, it seems that a lot of the things that people have come to take for granted in the camcorder world that haven’t existed in SLRs will have to port over at some point.”