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photography

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    Sony Alpha 7ii

    For photography enthusiast, it’s always a dilemma deciding on what kind of camera to pack for a short trip. For us, our preference is always to pack light so that it doesn’t feel like you are lugging a suitcase everywhere you go.

    For our most recent trip to Thailand, we decided to bring along Sony’s latest mirrorless camera, the Sony Alpha 7ii. As the name implies, this is the second model after the hugely popular Alpha 7 launched last year. Although we have tried, owned and used many other brands of cameras, we have never really used a Sony DSLR or mirrorless camera other than the occasional fiddling of its dials and buttons at Sony showrooms.

    The lightweight and compact design of the Alpha 7ii has a lot of details we love and look for in a travel camera. It has a comfortable and secure grip and the body feels solid and well constructed. The comfortable weight also means that you can sling it over your neck or shoulder all day long without feeling the strain.

    As far as ergonomic goes, the dials and buttons are well positioned for both amateurs and professionals alike. Flip the on/off button, set your favourite shoot mode and image compensation preference and you are good to go. As this is the first trip with the camera, we are discovering new features as we go. One of these is the tilt screen. The camera is so compact that we totally missed opening up the tilt screen on the first day. It’s probably our fault that we didn’t check the manual before the trip. Digital camera 101.

    Sony Alpha 7ii
    The small and mighty mirrorless camera comes with the 24.3 megapixels 35mm full frame Exmor CMOS sensor

    Sony Alpha 7ii is a full frame camera with a 24.3 megapixel sensor. It is also one of the very first to introduce a 5-axis image stabilisation system inside a full-frame camera. That means that you don’t need to buy an expensive lens that comes with the image stabiliser function, the body itself is able to provide that. This opens up many possibilities to use quality lenses from other brands while giving the user a 4-stop advantage when shooting in low light.

    We must admit that having an electronic viewfinder rather than an optical one takes out a little bit of the fun when using a full frame camera like the Alpha 7ii, but the advantage is it allows you to preview your shot in realtime before you hit the shutter button.

    For the trip, we packed the Sony 16mm f/2.8 Wide-Angle pancake lens and the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom lens. As you can see from the unedited sample images below, these lenses are sufficient for most situations. The tones of the shots came out very natural, except for indoors, when it can be a tad cooler.

    As for video, the Alpha 7ii can only shoot up to a resolution of 1080p and not 4K. Unfortunately on this trip, we didn’t fully test out the video capture capabilities other than using it for occasional b-rolls. To start a video, you need to activate the button with a red dot located on the right hand side on the back of the camera. The recess where the button is located makes it hard for you to accidentally activate the video recording but it creates another problem–depending on how you hold the camera, turning it off after you are done with your recording can be tricky. For us, the best way to do this is to use your right thumb to lightly activate and deactivate the recording mode. Our first few clips weren’t ideal due to the shake from pressing the button. We will need to test out the video recording feature a bit more before deciding whether it will be our go to video camera for our YouTube channel.

    Sony Alpha 7ii - Chatuchak
    Outdoor: 16mm lens, Aperture Priority, scaled for web
    Sony Alpha 7ii - JJ Green
    Night shot: 16mm lens, Aperture Priority, scaled for web
    Sony Alpha 7ii - Chatuchak
    Evening shot: 16mm lens, Aperture Priority, scaled for web
    Sony Alpha 7ii - burger
    Indoor: 28-70mm lens, Aperture Priority, scaled for web

    One of our main gripes, though a solvable one, is the battery life. According to Sony, the battery lasts for 60 minutes when shooting continuously using the viewfinder. During the trip, the camera can last about half a day with intermittent shooting of stills and videos with the supplied rechargeable battery. You definitely need to invest in a few more batteries and keep them handy in your bag if you are going to use it more intensively.

    The camera body alone cost S$2,149 and adding the 28-70mm Zoom lens (kit lens) will bring the price up to S$2,549. Even though the body is compatible with a lot of lenses, like Leica and Sony full frame lenses, you will have to invest in another lens adapter to add to the system. Unless you have a lot of those lenses lying around (or cash), think about what you shoot most of the time and invest in a few key fast lenses for those purposes. As a travel camera, the Alpha 7ii is a very capable and versatile mirrorless camera that will allow you to produce high quality images and videos in most situations. Just make sure that your batteries are charged before you leave the hotel.

    Sony Alpha 7ii at a glance:

    Sensor: 35 mm full frame (35.8 x 23.9mm) Exmor™ CMOS sensor
    Lens compatibility: Sony E-mount lenses
    Pixels: 24.3MP
    ISO range: 50–25600
    Battery life: Up to 350 shots
    Viewfinder: 0.5″-type electronic viewfinder

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      Olympus Pen-F

      After I sold all my DSLR camera bodies and lenses a few years ago, the photographer in me has been secretly looking at latest models from Nikon, Canon and even Olympus because of their high performance Zuiko lenses. The reason I remained on the sidelines is that I want a camera that is light, versatile and mobile. Something that I will carry with me all the time. If you have been reading the features on GrateNews, you will realise that I have been mostly shooting using my smartphones, opting for portability over quality. Well, that was before I laid eyes on the latest Olympus Pen-F.

      The new Olympus PEN-F interchangeable-lens camera is a digital beast in a retro outfit. I don’t know about you but there is something extremely sexy about a camera when it goes old school with its dials and knobs. The concept of the Pen-F is inspired by an old Olympus line of film cameras produced from the 1960s and the build quality of the reboot model is simply exquisite. Comparing this camera to a Leica wouldn’t be fair, but I think Olympus did well to fuse aesthetics and digital power.

      Beating inside this camera is a 20.1-megapixel micro four thirds sensor, capable of shooting excellent high-res images. A multi-shot mode allows you to push the resolution up to 50-megapixel in JPEG. It also has a dedicated creative control knob on the front, allowing you to switch quickly between customisable shooting modes with features like monochrome settings, colour profile controls and various art filters.

      Front view of the Olympus Pen-F

      Top view of the Olympus Pen-F

      Back view of the Olympus Pen-F

      The Olympus PEN-F has a rear LCD touchscreen LCD panel as well as a high-resolution built-in 2.36-million dot OLED electronic viewfinder for you to see what you are shooting. And like previous Olympus models, the PEN-F comes with Olympus’ 5-Axis image stabilisation system to save your shots from unsteady hands. You may not realise it but this feature is extremely useful for low-light conditions and when shooting videos as well.

      The Olympus PEN-F will go on sale March 2016 and is available in Silver and Black. But be prepared to fork out USD$1,200 for the dials and all that jazz. Time for me to save up.

      Olympus PEN-F features

      20-megapixel Live MOS Four Thirds format sensor
      5-axis image stabilization with automatic panning detection
      2.36 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder
      Up to 10 fps continuous shooting
      Highly customizable interface, twin controls
      Swivel 3.0 inch Touchscreen LCD with 1.04 million dot
      50MP High-res Shot mode
      1/8000 sec shutter speed (1/16,000 with e-shutter)
      Full-HD movie with 5-axis IS stability
      High-res Shot captures 50MP JPEG or 80MP RAW shots
      Built-in Wi-Fi when coupled with OI.Share app for smart devices (iOS & Android) enables camera remote control; image and video transfer for social sharing

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        It is hard to imagine consumers buying a casual compact camera these days given the advancement in camera optics on smartphones, let alone one that costs S$1,399. But Instagrammers and trigger-happy selfie shooters may disagree with that if they know the images from the compact camera will give them flawless skin and awesome skin tone. Casio’s EXILIM TR70 is aimed at doing just that. An update to the EXILIM EX-TR60 launched in the middle of 2015, the EXILIM TR70 now touches up videos you shoot as well.

        Look-wise, EX-TR70 has a slim, wedge-shape design that tapers from the lens unit toward the monitor. Flipping open the camera releases a wedge frame that is used as a grip, allowing you to capture a selfie without having your fingers getting in the way. The frame also double up as a stand for hands-free photo-taking. The 11.1-megapixel camera has a bright f/2.8 aperture and a fairly wide 21mm (35mm equivalent) wide angle lens.

        The most important feature and the key selling point of this camera is perhaps the Advanced Make-Up Mode – a Skin Brightening function that enhances skin tone and gives your complexion a certain amount of glow and radiance as well as a rosy tinge. The good news is that the Make-Up Plus Technology is now available for videos too. According to Casio, the technology is able to reproduce the smoothness of skin without any loss of skin tone gradation while capturing details down to each eyelash and hair. The EX-TR70 is also fitted with a large 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor that enhances image quality in dim lighting.

        Another enhancement is the addition of a Instant Movie button that allows you to record a series of short clips before stitching it together for a longer video. Users simply have to hold down the Instant Movie button to start recording and release it to stop. Pressing the button again will automatically add another clip to the storage. Once you are done, EX-TR70 will piece together these snippets to publish a complete video. If you are familiar with Instagram videos and Snapchat story, the end result is similar but prettier with the make-up effects on. This feature is great for users who have no intention of editing the footage further but prefer to share them immediately onto their social networks.

        Casio EXILIM TR70 colours
        Casio EXILIM TR70 is available in Gold, White and Pink

        Casio EXILIM TR70 is obviously targeted at women given its focus on skin beautification (save for some very metro-sexual guys). Casio say that the camera is “for women trying to express the ideal of beautiful skin, the new EX-TR70 not only makes their skin appear brighter, but also includes effects for making skin look more naturally beautiful, with the healthy complexion that women long to have”.

        The camera is available in Gold, White and Pink at all authorised Casio retailers in Singapore.

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          Ashley tests ASUS ZenFone 2

          For a sub-$500 smartphone, the ZenFone 2 is certainly one of the best value for money launched this year. It is also the first smartphone that comes with a generous 4GB of RAM and runs on a Quad-core 2.3GHz 64-bit Intel Atom Processor with LTE/4G connectivity. Coupled with its brushed aluminium finish, the ASUS ZenFone 2 definitely punches above its weight as far as price is concerned.

          While all that tech might stoke the interests of geeks, we were more interested in the performance of the smartphone’s . The ZenFone 2 comes with a 13MP rear-facing PixelMaster camera with an f/2.0 wide-aperture lens for capturing high resolution photos. We asked our (very) young tech and photo enthusiast, 4-year-old to use the ASUS ZenFone 2 for a day to test out the camera as well as ASUS’s claims on having the “world’s best HDR mode” and “world’s best low-light mode”.

          We followed her for a day to the wet market, National Day celebrations and fireworks and watched her teased the shots out of the smartphone.

          Ashley’s gallery

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          During the day, we helped Ashley with the selection of the various shooting modes like Auto, HDR, and low-light mode, without going into manual adjustments to keep things simple. The images were then slightly enhanced (sharpen, contrast) with VSCOcam before posting it here. For a phone camera, the ZenFone 2 is certainly capable of producing great images with quality that is as good as some point-and-shoot cameras in the market. Right off the phone, images can appear a little soft but we feel that the colour, contrast and details are pretty impressive. Like most phone cameras, images shot in the day are a lot better. Photos shot in low-light and at night with ASUS’s f2 lens are acceptable and able to capture enough details for a decent photo, albeit a little grainy.

          Ashley also commented that her fingers were partially blocking the lens of the camera on many occasions due to the size of the phone and positioning of the camera. It was something that frustrates her during the shoot due to the way she intuitively holds the phone.

          We would like to thank Ashley for the tremendous effort in shooting these images. She even fell down once while trying to frame a shot but got up quickly enough to complete her shot of the chicken stall vendor at the wet market. If you’d like Ashley to have a go and at your gadgets, please send your request to [email protected] with the subject ‘For Ashley’.

          PS: The ASUS ZenFone 2’s GIF mode is something we liked a lot. We sneaked a GIF of Ashley while she was attempting to take a selfie.

          ashley-asus-zenfone2-GIF

           

          Read more about the ZenFone 2 here:

          ASUS ZenFone 2 comes in four attractive colours (photo: ASUS)6 features the ASUS ZenFone 2 can ‘hoot’ about

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            Olympus Air - smartphone attached
            Image source: Olympus

            For a lot of people, the smartphone has become their primary device for taking pictures. From holiday snaps to selfies, the quality of pictures taken with the phone is definitely getting better with the constant improvements made to camera optics and technologies. At GrateNews, we are constantly looking at creative ways to improve everyday shots with our smartphones (check out our Sri Lanka photo series). In fact, we are so close to getting the Moment lens to improve our wide-angle shots that we have already placed it in our shopping cart. But we pulled the brakes after we heard about the new mirrorless camera from Olympus called Olympus Air A01.

            Although the Moment lens and the Olympus Air are not of the same product class, the Air is an option to consider before hitting the ‘buy’ button.

            Olympus Air - Body Olympus Air with 14-42mm lens

            Olympus Air is a handheld interchangeable lens camera that can be attached to and controlled with smartphones. Olympus basically flattened the mirrorless camera to about the size of a 50mm portrait lens that has its own sensor, storage, battery and other camera functions.

            The device weighs only 147g and can be clipped onto your smartphone with an attached smartphone holder. The smartphone then acts as a camera control centre and a viewing screen after pairing over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This combination allows you to capture 16-megapixels images at 1/16,000-second maximum shutter speed, and shoot 1080p HD videos. The Air also boasts a burst shooting speed at 10 fps (frames per second), an ISO range of up to 12,800 and a 81-point autofocus system. A full charge on the built-in battery can last approximately 320 shots according to Olympus. And since it is not directly attached to any port on your smartphone, you can detach the Air for selfies and use it for odd spaces and challenging positions that might not fit a DSLR camera.

            While smartphone attachments offering DSLR-like features are not new – in the market, there are Sony QX100, Kodak Smart Lens and DxO One – Olympus Air turns your smartphone into an interchangeable lens camera allowing you access to a range of Micro Four Thirds lenses.

            Olympus Air with with Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F2.8 lens
            A little creativity goes a long way. A custom rig with Zuiko Digital ED 300mm F2.8 lens (Image source: http://dc.watch.impress.co.jp/)

            Although we may still end up getting the Moment lens for our phones, the Olympus Air is a great high-quality, lightweight option that we will definitely consider when we work on our future travel features. Unfortunately in Asia, the Olympus Air A01 is only sold on the Olympus’s Japan online store. But with the Yen  hitting new lows, that may not be such a bad thing. The Air is priced at S$400 for the body and S$590 when bundled with a 14-42-mm M.Zuiko Digital ED lens.

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              Richard Prince's

              Never been good at taking pictures? No worries, it’s now been proven that artistic talent isn’t always required to make money off art.

              Take Robert Prince, for instance. According to Vulture, this man recently sold a collection of Instagram prints for US$90,000 a pop, and get this – none of those prints were even taken by him. In fact, these “New Portraits” displayed at the Frieze Art Fair in New York were simply Instagram screenshots of famous artists, porn stars, and various random hot women, inkjet printed on 6-foot tall canvas.

              Prince has quite the controversial track record in reproducing art pieces of others. He makes “minute changes” before releasing them as his own piece of art. Yeah, apparently that’s legal.

              It really gives new meaning to the point of not posting anything you wouldn’t want the public to see, on your social media accounts. It also serves as a timely reminder that we do not truly own whatever we post online, despite an Instagram spokesman telling The Washington Post that it is well within the rights of Instagram content owners to enforce their legal rights (just don’t get Instagram involved).

              In short, it’s a lot of trouble to press charges against Prince, and do it at your own peril; a lawsuit was previously awarded in his favour for his “transformative work”.

              Actually, we think there’s something captivating about some of Prince’s selected prints, but really, why would people pay US$90,000 for these, again?

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                Image source: Justin Crowe Studio

                When it comes to selfie or wefie time, don’t we just wish we had a ‘selfie arm’? A tool that allows you to get a distant all-encompassing shot that doesn’t look like a cold, mechanical stick.

                All hail the new selfie arm. It serves as an extension for selfies and looks just like a human arm. The lightweight selfie arm is made from fiberglass and is designed by Justin Crowe and Aric Snee. Love the invention? Don’t hit the stores just yet as it’s still in prototype stage.

                Image Source: Justin Crowe Studio
                Image Source: Justin Crowe Studio
                Image Source: Justin Crowe Studio
                Image Source: Justin Crowe Studio

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                  Samsung NX500

                  Samsung’s latest camera, the NX500 is a powerful beast. Its features put more costly professional DSLR models to shame. The compact NX500 comes with a 28-megapixel APS-C sensor, a best-in-class DRIMeV image processor, NX autofocus system and even shoots 4K videos. Samsung basically shrunk the bigger, more burly cousin, the high-end Samsung NX1, into a tiny body and offer you a 50% discount for it.

                  The compact mirrorless camera can shoot up to 9 frames per second and has an impressive ISO range of between 100-51200, which means you will be covered for action shots and most low-light situations. Its 3-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen can also be tilted upwards to easily record selfies. A ‘Mobile’ button located on the top of the camera beside the hotshoe mount allows you to quickly access the camera’s wireless connectivity options like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. An array of options are available for you to either email, backup or share the images directly on social media.

                  Speaking about the capabilities of the new camera, Eugene Goh, Vice President, IT & Mobile, Samsung Electronics Singapore said, “We have recognized that taking a photograph has gone beyond just capturing moments for sentimentality and nostalgia – users want to share these moments instantly from wherever they are. That is why Samsung has built the NX500 in such a way that caters to everyday photographers. With its compact size, revolutionary shooting and focus speed, consumers enjoy superb image quality photos, capturing signature moments in every shot.”

                  Samsung NX500 top view
                  Samsung NX500 top view
                  Samsung NX500 front view
                  Samsung NX500 front view

                  Other than shooting high resolution 28-megapixel pictures, the camera is also a capable video recorder, supporting both 4K and Ultra HD resolutions. One thing to note, the Samsung NX500 records only the centre 60% of the screen in 4K mode. Your videos will appear cropped as if you zoomed in with the lens when taking the video. So you need to keep that in mind when taking videos. The recorded video will also use a new video codec called H.264 HEVC Codec that compresses the videos to half the size without losing quality.

                  The Samsung NX500 is available in black, white, and brown and is now on sale at all major electronics stores for an affordable price of S$1,159 (body only).

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                    Lexar 512GB CF card

                    Hands up those who used to carry around multiple 1GB or 2GB compact flash memory cards (CF) for their DSLR camera. Heck, back in those days (5 years maybe), Lowepro, a popular camera bag maker even had a stylish pouch (in a geek sense) for photography enthusiasts to carry them in.

                    Little did we know that these ‘memory tiles’roughly the size of an After Eight mint chocolate, have made such tremendous progress in storage capacity. Lexar, a well-known brand of flash memory products, have successfully created the mother of all CF cards, a 512GB juggernaut. This card can read up to 120MB per second and write files as fast as 75MB per second. In layman terms, it means you can shoot 25 3MB pictures in a single second. Based on memory, we can’t think any DSLR camera that has that high a frame rate.

                    Which means to say, if you insert this card into a high-end professional camera like the Nikon D4s (that costs S$8,799 just for the body, by the way), you can shoot and store an unbelievable 13,800 RAW format files and a mind-blowing 347,000 basic JPEGs on the full-frame 16.2-megapixel camera! To put that into perspective, the Nikon D4s can last a total of 400,000 shutter actuations (shutter count) before the shutter fails. So this one CF card is all you’ll ever need to shoot the entire life-span of a professional grade DSLR camera. And that’s just scary!

                    With more memory comes more responsibilities and this card is definitely not for the casual shooter. We wouldn’t want to run the risk a storage glitch and end up losing all 300,000 plus images. So unless you are shooting 4K videos or a lot of full HD videos, we would recommend that you stick to your current CF cards. Furthermore, these cards cost a bomb. The 512GB Lexar Professional 800x CF card is going for S$2,025 (US$1,500). But if you really have to, Amazon is having a huge sale and is selling it for only S$1,188 (US$879).

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                      Canon's new 5DS and 5DS R (photo: Google Images)

                      It’s that time of the year again when camera enthusiasts (Canon fans, in this particular scenario) can ogle at new gear announcements.

                      Often referred to as G.A.S., gear acquisition syndrome can be a very real condition, and we’re about to help perpetuate that ‘illness’. Seriously, Canon’s new full-frame DSLRs, entry-level DSLRs, wide-angle lens and compact are getting us really excited as well and we’ve got to watch our pockets.

                      Canon's new 5DS and 5DS R (photo: Google Images)

                      5DS and 5DS R full-frame bodies

                      Canon announced two new full-frame DSLR cameras that push the limits of camera resolution for such bodies. Breaking the 50 megapixels barrier with their two new 5DS and 5DS R, Canon’s new 50.6 megapixels behemoths set a new bar for mainstream photographers.

                      The difference between the two models is that the 5DS R comes without an optical low-pass filter, which seems to be the ‘in’ thing these days. An optical low-pass filter, also known as an anti-aliasing filter, softens the image ever so slightly to reduce the likelihood of moiré patterns happening. However, due to the increase in camera pixel density these days, there isn’t much of a need for the optical low-pass filter now, and its removal will result in more detailed, and sharper in-camera images.

                      So basically what that means, in layman terms, is that the images on the 5DS R will turn out sharper than those from the 5DS.

                      They will be out for sale in June, retailing at US$3,700 and US$3,900 for the 5DS and 5DS R respectively.

                      Canon's new Rebel T6i and T6s (photo: Google Images)

                      New entry-level DSLRs

                      These new entry-level bodies are known as the Rebel T6s and T6i in the United States, but over here, they’ll be better known as the 760D and 750D respectively (the disparity in naming convention really annoys us).

                      First impressions are that Canon’s getting serious on their entry-level offerings, with both new cameras coming with 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensors. For the uninformed, APS-C sensors are smaller than their full-frame brethren, and have a crop-factor of 1.6x. This shouldn’t be a real concern for entry-level users, but you may read this if you’re interested to know more about the differences.

                      Back to the new cameras, video is a big focus on these two models with both offering 1080p video at 30fps and 24fps. The 760D will also offer an LCD screen on the top of the camera, much like the higher models, with deeper controls for video recording available like a mic-in port. On the other hand, the 750D will have controls targeted to a more ‘beginner’ crowd.

                      That said, images and videos from both cameras will be of exactly the same quality.

                      The 760D and 75oD cameras will be available at the end of April. The 760D will come bundled with an 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS kit lens for US$1,200 while the 750D will come the standard 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 IS II kit lens for US$900 at the end of April.

                      Canon's new EF 11-24mm F4L ultra wide angle lens (photo: Google Images)

                      This is targeted at the full-frame camera users, but APS-C body users (e.g. 7D, 70D, 60D, 700D, 650D) can certainly get this as well.

                      This would be Canon’s widest non-fisheye zoom lens, with the current most popular ones being the 16-35mm F2.8L USM and the relatively recent 16-35mm F4L IS USM.

                      Just to offer a quick comparison, the 11-14mm boasts an angle of view of 126° 5′, whereas the 16-35mm offers an angle of view of 108° 10′.

                      The 11-24mm F4L USM will be available in late February for US$3,000.

                      Canon PowerShot G3 X (photo: Google Images)

                      PowerShot G3 X

                      While Canon didn’t exactly announce this compact camera, it did confirm that it’s on the cards, and consumers can expect to see this in their line-up in the not too distant future.

                      What we know for now is that this camera will come with a 1″ sensor, which is huge for a compact camera. This puts it in the same league as Sony’s RX100 and RX10 cameras, often praised for its huge sensor.

                      However, the optical zoom range on the G3 X beats that competition hands down, with it slated to be an insane 25x! If you want that in numbers, its lens zoom range will be equivalent to 24-600mm. The Sony RX10 comes closest to matching that with an 8.3x optical zoom range of 24-200mm – significantly shorter on the telephoto end.

                      Apart from sensor size and optical zoom range, no other details have been released for this. However, based on the photos, the camera’s handgrip looks pretty big, and not surprisingly, so is its lens – which makes the “compact” camera far from pocketable, unlike its Sony rivals.

                      We’ll be keeping our eyes and ears peeled for more updates on this front, so check back again in the future for more updates on new releases from the photographic world.