Olympus E-P2 Announced

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Olympus has announced a newer (and more expensive) successor to its first micro four-thirds camera, the E-P1. From my point of view, the key features of the new camera are electronic viewfinder support (hotshoe-mounted — very similar to the GF-1), continuous-tracking autofocus (will this make it suitable for photographing toddlers? according to dcresource the E-P1 and E-P2’s focusing have both improved since initial release — thanks to firmware upgrades — but both remain lackluster compared to the GF-1), and the option to shoot video with full manual control. Aside from these two new features, the new camera is black — sad, because I think the new model is markedly less attractive — and has a few irrelevant gimmicks.

Along with the new camera, Olympus will be offering a 9-18mm (18-36mm) wideangle zoom, and a 14-150mm (28-300mm equivalent) superzoom, making Micro Four-Thirds a pretty complete ecology (and quite likely offering superior optics at a given price-point than Canon or Nikon). This will leave Nikon and Canon sandwiched between Panasonic and Olympus (offering superior compact cameras) and Leica (offering superior high-end cameras). If Panasonic and Olympus can only get some camera bodies out at a reasonable price, they could do some serious damage.

While these may seem pretty minor changes, assuming the continuous-tracking autofocus doesn’t suck, it significantly changes things relative to the GF-1, since the E-P2 has almost everything (except a built-in flash, which I don’t care about) that the GF-1 offers along with image stabilization and better controls. In the end, however, this is really still a first generation product. I imagine the true second generation micro four-thirds cameras will be truly compelling.

The E-P2’s SRP of $1100 (which includes the new EVF) is steep, which remains a deterrent.

Meanwhile…

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It’s interesting to see Canon backing off its relentless pursuit of the megapixel, with the 1D Mkiv and G-10 both signaling that maybe it’s time to concentrate on pixel quality. (What’s with the zany crop factor of the Mkiv though? I’d have thought we’re past that kind of odd compromise.) It’s also interesting to see Nikon persisting with 720p-only cameras — how hard would it be to offer 1080p @24fps?

It seems to me that Canon right now has two very compelling cameras (the 7D and 5D mkii) while Nikon’s range is starting to look dated. (The 7D’s hefty introductory price tag does manage to make the 300s seem reasonably priced though.) Nikon’s cameras are all great still cameras, but their half-assed video support seems more like an attempt to tick a checkbox than offer serious functionality.

Right now, I want Panasonic, Olympus, and Leica to give Nikon and Canon more serious competition, because it seems that they’re all just milking their customers — especially early adopters. (It’s amazing that Leica’s cameras seem reasonably priced compared to Nikon’s. Indeed, the Leica X1 looks pretty competitive with the E-P1/E-P2/GF-1 coupled with the (~$500) 20mm f1.7.¬†If you don’t need autofocus, full frame Nikon prices look ridiculous.)

Snow Leopard: Collada Support

While Snow Leopard isn’t being sold on its new features, it probably could be. Here’s an interesting snippet of Apple’s Snow Leopard pages that a post on Cheetah 3d’s forums put me onto:

Collada Digital Asset Exchange (.dae) files are a popular way to share 3D models and scenes between applications. Preview now displays these files with OpenGL-powered 3D graphics, so you can zoom and rotate around a 3D scene and play viewpoint animations. You can also print the scene or save it as an image or movie file. And you can use Quick Look to display them as well.

A quick Googling of “Snow Leopard Collada” reveals that this little announcement is creating quite a buzz, and not without reason.

What’s Collada? It’s a rich 3d file format that — like FBX and unlike 3DMF — doesn’t suck and — unlike FBX — isn’t proprietary and subject to bizarre incompatibility issues every time Autodesk squeezes out a new version of the SDK.

By “rich” I mean that it enables 3d programs to store almost any information they would store in their own proprietary formats. By “doesn’t suck” I mean that other programs are generally able to get that information out again.

If Apple’s support for Collada goes deeper than simply being able to render .dae files in Preview and QuickLook, e.g. allowing programmers to relatively easily load, retrieve data in usable form from, save, and render Collada files, it could¬†lead to a renaissance of 3d on the Mac, and deliver the benefits that Quickdraw 3D promised and so spectacularly failed to deliver.

The second bit: “retrieve data in usable form from” is the tricky part, since Collada is a very hairy format, which means that an ideal implementation would support all the hairiness, but allow you to access raw data in a lowest-common denominator way — e.g. load in complex NURBS objects and then acquire them as meshes at a specified detail level. One thing Apple might do is pick which bits of Collada to support thoroughly and — if they pick well — effectively create a compatible subset of Collada which different software developers can depend on and treat as the defacto standard (kind of the way Photoshop 4.0’s file format is a defacto standard for interoperable Photoshop documents).

Apple’s support for Collada could also help give Collada the momentum it needs to gain stronger support in the 3d world. Right now, a lot of programs have so-so Collada support and superb FBX support (in large part because Autodesk makes supporting FBX pretty easy). But Collada is richer and less proprietary than FBX. In a sense, Collada is analogous to QuickTime in that it can serve as both a format for storing raw and working content as well as delivering optimized end-user content.

Supporting Collada at OS level could be a great “judo” move on Apple’s part. It would allow the Photoshop wannabes to easily offer Photoshop-like 3D support (easily embed 3d objects in layered documents, and provide texture-painting capabilities), and encourage everyone on the Mac — or interoperating with people using Macs — to support a single rich 3d file format. It creates an ecology where indie developers can create “do one thing and one thing well” 3d tools on the Mac that doesn’t really exist on any platform right now.

We’ll see.