[REVIEW–SONY RX100 IV]

Price: $1200 (street price)
Still the one

THE LOW-DOWN: The fourth iteration of the Sony RX100 looks and feels like its predecessors (no bad thing) but has two standout new features. One is the very high resolution pop-up electronic viewfinder and the other is the new “stacked” sensor. (See tinyurl.com/qa5s7hk for technical details). What this means for the user is faster processing, a higher burst rate – 16fps – and incredible slow motion video shot at 1000fps. To use the 4K video function a 64Gb SCXD memory card is mandatory. The tough, elegant little aluminium body is unchanged, which means that the buttons and knobs are still tiny. The excellent Zeiss-branded 24—70mm f1.8/2.8 lens is as good as we remember it.

LIKE: The programmable lens-concentric ring is an excellent feature, particularly when used for manual focus with focus aids turned on for enlargement and focus peaking. Image quality is good, with one exception (see below). 4K video is brilliant.

DISLIKE: We found that using the Standard picture profile with default settings resulted in gross over-saturation of reds, with colour bleeding overwhelming all fine detail. We changed to Neutral and wound saturation down two notches and that improved things, but there is no excuse for the default settings.

VERDICT: Right from the first release of the Sony RX100 we have regarded it as the best compact and version IV is still the one to beat. The price is now very high for a compact, even one with the larger-than-usual 2.5cm sensor. The Canon Powershot G7X matches the Sony, spec for spec on all points except that it has no viewfinder, and costs $800. The Canon won’t do 4K video but for most people that will not be a deal-breaker. The verdict is that the Sony is best, but at a pause-inducing premium.

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[WHO NEEDS PHOTOSHOP?]

It is another of those truths, universally acknowledged, that a serious photographer cannot live without Photoshop. It is truly the industry – and hobby – standard.

Right now the Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom subscription is a bargain at $9.99 a month. As our dollar has sunk into the depths the price has not changed from when it was one of ours for one of theirs, but how long this will last is anyone’s guess. It would be wise to pay up for a year’s subscription in advance and for $120 you will get the best that money can buy.

On the other hand if you don’t care for the subscription method because when, or if, you stop paying you will have nothing, there is now an attractive and plausible alternative to Photoshop. It is called Affinity Photo and you can own it for $65, but only if you are a Mac Pixie. There is no Windows version. You buy it from the Apple App Store, which means it can be installed on all Apple devices linked to the same account.

What makes Affinity Photo unique among low-priced Photoshop alternatives is that it is not a dumbed down application with automated functions and restricted editing abilities. Serif, the company producing Affinity Photo, advertise it as a professional program and as such it makes no concessions to amateurs unwilling to come to grips with the fundamentals of photo editing.

AP looks like a Photoshop clone – or perhaps a hybrid Photoshop/Lightroom clone. However it has its unique quirks and nomenclature. For instance the concept of Personas had us stumped for a while. Photo, Liquify, Develop and Export Personas are similar to Library, Organise, Develop modules in Lightroom. When a RAW file is opened in AP it activates the Develop module which has a palette of controls on the right of the screen, much like Adobe Camera Raw. Once these basic settings are adjusted and the Develop button clicked the Photo module is opened with the converted image and that’s where the Photoshop-style tools are located.

Believe us, this is just about the software bargain of the century, even compared with the Photoshop subscription. The only drawback at the moment is the lack of a user manual, which means frequent trips to Help, user forums or the video tutorials during the learning process. No doubt there will soon be third-party guides for dummies.

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[REVIEW-PANASONIC LUMIX DMC-CM1]

Price: $1399 phone unlocked
Ultimate convergence device?

THE LOW-DOWN: The CM1 is a compact camera with an Android 4.4 smartphone attached. The 20mp 25mm sensor puts this near the top of compact camera specifications and well ahead of any in-phone cameras. The 28mm f2.8 lens is fixed focal length and is not stabilised. The metal ring around the lens can be used for exposure compensation, manual focus, white balance and “zoom”. There is a physical shutter button and also touch-focus-fire on the 11.75cm screen. There are all the controls expected in a top compact camera including RAW capture. Construction quality is excellent and the dimensions are close to other smartphones, except for thickness which is 21.1mm front to back. 4K video at 15fps is possible but the full HD 1080 mode is preferable.

LIKE: JPEG mage quality is good and RAW image quality is excellent. 1080 video is very good. The hybrid phone/camera controls work really well once mastered, particularly the lens-concentric ring to which functions are assigned on the touch screen.

DISLIKE: The “zoom” is a joke. What Panasonic call the optical zoom is simply a cropping of the image. Beyond the “optical” range it is enlargement by digital interpolation and the results are horrible. This is a good fixed focal length camera – why pretend otherwise? Pseudo zoom is not applied to RAW images.

VERDICT: Panasonic follows Samsung Galaxy K Zoom into this category of phone-in-a-camera. The Samsung has the added bulk of a true optical zoom but its sensor, and therefore image quality, is no match for the CM1. The CM1 is not as fat as the Samsung, but it is still thicker and heavier than any comparably priced smartphone. However, where we judged the Samsung to offer no better image quality than other phones, the Panasonic serves up excellent pictures from the extra bulk.

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[PHOTOS vs PHOTOS]

Photos in Windows 10

The global roll-out of Windows 10 has begun. If you are currently running Windows 7 or 8 then upgrading to 10 is free and relatively painless. It is worth doing for the better interface and slight improvement in performance.

Apple is also rolling out a beta version of El Capitan, the upgrade for Yosemite. And both Apple and Microsoft call their inbuilt photo editing and cataloging application “Photos”.

There are some changes to Photos in El Capitan that make the application more grown up in appearance and operation. Every editing fundamental is present, including tone adjustment, straightening, white balance, noise reduction, cropping, spot removal, black and white conversion, vignetting, sharpening and noise reduction.

Critically, for serious photographers, Mac Photos handles RAW files with ease. And this highlights the difference between the two applications with the same name.

At the time of writing Windows Photos can only handle some RAW files from older camera models. The available codec packs from Microsoft cannot be loaded into 10 because they are “not compatible” with the system. So we must wait for Microsoft to implement a regular RAW file compatibility update for new cameras, just as Apple does.

Microsoft may assume that there are so many free photo editing programs for Windows that there is no need to provide one in the system. This would be short-sighted. Windows 10, like Yosemite/El Capitan, links to other devices through the cloud, in Windows case through OneDrive. Mac Photos is fully integrated into the iCloud system in a way that third party applications in Win 10 will not be.

When we installed Win 10 we found that the unattractive Windows Live Photo Gallery was still working and that is an application with most of the functions found in Mac Photos. However, Photo Gallery is not as integrated into the operating system and cloud environment as the new Win Photos.

The photo applications from Adobe look and work the same on both platforms. In spite of the delusion amongst Mac users that their system is more intuitive and easier to use the fact is that they are close to identical. And Windows does have a few advantages over the Mac OS – easier and better file management; wider selection of third party programs, particularly freeware and backwards compatibility.

But if you want a decent photo editing application straight from the box then Mac Photos beats Windows Photos hands down.

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