Jun 302015
 
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Visiting CHERNOBYL. A Photo Diary

by Gary Mather

 

Here is some brief history –

On Saturday, April 26, 1986, a disaster occurred which has been widely regarded as the worst accident in the history of nuclear power in the world. The accident occurred when the fourth reactor suffered a huge power increase. This led to the core of the reactor exploding. Due to this explosion, large amounts of radioactive materials and fuel were released into the atmosphere. This lit the combustable graphite moderator on fire. This fire greatened the release of radioactive material, which was carried by the smoke of the fire, into the environment and atmosphere.

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Radioactive fallout drifted over parts of the western Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, the UK, and the eastern United States. Large areas of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were badly contaminated. About 60% of the radioactive fallout landed in Belarus. About 350,000 people needed to be evacuated and moved to other places where they could live after the accident.

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Once the seriousness of the situation was known, Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the USSR at the time, quickly gathered the top physicists and nuclear experts at his disposal to assess the situation. Thirty-six hours after the initial explosion, these experts decided the residents of Pripyat must evacuate. Residents were given two hours to gather their belongings. The evacuation of Pripyat’s 43,000 residents took 3.5 hours, using 1,100 buses from Kiev. Residents remember that everyone was in a hurry, but nobody was panicking.

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The residents of Pripyat were initially told they would be evacuated only for three days. However, to this day, the town is uninhabitable. Pripyat city was founded in the 1970s, when the nuclear power plant opened. The site today is practically a museum showing the late Soviet era. With entirely abandoned buildings, including abandoned apartment buildings (four of which were yet to be used), swimming pools and hospitals, everything inside remains, from records to papers to children’s toys and clothing. Prypiat and the surrounding area will not be safe for people to live there for several centuries. Scientists think that the most dangerous radioactive elements will take up to nine hundred years to decay sufficiently to render the area safe.
We were there for a total of 2 days and I can feel we only scratched the surface of what happened on that fateful day.

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I was 13 when this disaster accoured and my only fleeting memory was seeing clips on the news as a child. To me it was something that happened a long way away in a place I could not even pronounce. I have wanted to visit this site for quite some time now, and I was, for want of a better word, lucky to have had that privilage just a few months ago.

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It is only when you are actually there can you understand the impact of such a huge global disaster, the heroism of the firefighters and the people first on the scene. It will be a memory that will stay with me for a very long time, It’s just a shame our time here was so fleeting.

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We explored hospitals, schools and the fairground where stands the almost iconic ferris wheel still waiting to be ridden to this very day. The piano still standing in the music hall and the 3 empty seats left in the burn out lecture room. In the hospital maternity dept room full of empty cots sit silent. Of the whole trip the most poignant moment was seeing the childrens gas masks littered all over the floor of the elementry school in the town of Pripyat.

Gary Mather

Jun 292015
 
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Instax fun, fun, fun!

In memory of my father, Andre Lietaert.

By Ivan Lietaert

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On the 28th of February, my father, Andre Lietaert died. As my family and I were coming terms with this loss, we were going through old shoe boxes filled with pictures and old photographic albums, sifting through the pictures covering a whole life of 78 years. Then I suddenly came across a picture I had totally forgotten it even existed: a polaroid picture of me and my dad, shaky and awkward in color, between 35 and 40 years old. It must be the oldest picture I have of the two of us. In the days and weeks that followed, I was on an emotional ride, and my attention shifted to organising the funeral and more mundane tasks that needed to be done.

But that polaroid had nested deep inside my brain and soon after, I started doing research about instant pictures anno 2015. I quickly came across Fujifilm’s take on the instant picture: the Instax cameras. Until some weeks ago, I was so preoccupied with digital photography (and video), I didn’t even know that instant film is still around, or put to words even better: instant film is coming back. Polaroid stopped producing their instant film, but enthusiasts recreated the original film, and now have a huge following with their “Impossible Project”, I learned. And then there is Fujifilm’s Instax, quite popular in Asia, but less known here in Europe.

After quite extensive research, I decided to jump the wagon and I bought the Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic, Fujifilm’s most advanced camera, targeted towards the creative enthusiast.

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Now, the thing is that using this camera requires a whole different approach and technique compared to digital photography. There is no chimping, no snapping, no shooting tens or hundreds of pictures and then simply deleting the bad ones. No! Taking an Instax picture is an event, it produces a unique print, that will cost you about 1 euro or 1 dollar. So immediately it makes you much more considerate and careful about the framing and the lighting, and even then, you will from time feel guilty when a shot failed. Basically, as when shooting film, it slows down the whole photographic process, and then, of course, there is the exciting waiting game as the picture is developing right there in your hands. As the picture leaves the camera after exposure, a rolling mechanism spreads the developing chemicals across the photographic paper and the development starts. After a minute or so – speed depends on the ambient temperature – the first details appear, and the picture is fully developed after approximately 10 minutes, when the chemical process comes to a halt.

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So I took my little daughter to the park and shot my first packet of 10 instax pictures there. I soon found out that this kind of photography is definitely lo-fi, with quite unsharp results, and the lighting/metering is tricky as well, with various degrees of success. But I found the whole thing so intriguing, I was hooked, I guess, and by the end of the week, I had ordered an Instax 210 online, which takes Instax Wide pictures, double the size of the Instax Mini. Both Instax cameras have been around for several years now, and I find them to be both quite well built, though plastic, of course.

Instax has been marketed in various ways. First, there is the ‘fun approach’. Young children love instant pictures; they are fascinated by the pictures as they slowly, as if by magic, appear. Kids (and their parents!) will love it when you give them the pictures to take home, much more than staring at your phone, or the back of your camera. It is great fun at parties – for the young and the old – and the people take home a lasting memory of the event.

Second, Instax is also targeted towards the hipster crowd, male and female; the younger generation of creative people, fashionable, who appreciate the things that really matter. Especially the Mini 90, with its sleek, retro-modern Fujifilm design, seems targeted at young fashionistas and cool, macho hipsters.
There is yet another, more relevant argument to consider: Print It Or Loose It! As this campaign article explains, up to 70 per cent of the youth between 16 and 24 already have lost pictures of important events in their life (due to drive crashes, faulty memory cards, stolen phones etc). Not convinced? Read more about the phenomenon called data rot here. With the Instax camera, you get instantly printed pictures and they will last a lifetime, and beyond. So even in the scenario a global, cataclysmic event, in let’s say 50 years time, your Instax pictures will survive and be a testament to posterity! So here are a couple of my pictures that illustrate how families are likely to take advantage of the Instax cameras.

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None of the Instax cameras have a true manual mode; in fact, I tend to get good results in auto mode, but still the outcome of each shot is quite unpredictable. My Instax Mini 90 has a tendency to slightly overexpose, which can be a nuisance. Also, the flash seems to have a mind of its own, ignoring my input. Both cameras have a fixed aperture (F12), there is no zoom and there is little tweaking possible as far as exposure is concerned: one can darken or lighten a picture, and that is it. The Mini 90 has a built in macro mode which allows the closest distance to be 30 cm. The Instax Wide comes with a macro/selfie clip-on lens. The macro mode is interesting for detailed close ups, and it also allows to create a background blur… sort of.

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I have used both cameras for some weeks now, and I have still not made up my mind which camera I like best: they both have their positive sides, and their drawbacks. The Mini 90 is small and has lots of creative modes (macro mode, party, kids, double exposure, bulb, darken/lighten). The mini pictures are slightly smaller than a credit card. The Instax Wide is much bulkier, ridiculous really, but renders a picture double the resolution and size of the Mini; also, the great Robert Frank, yes the one of the legendary, groundbreaking photographic book ‘The Americans’, owns one and was quoted saying it takes pictures of “very high quality”. Mind you, this Instax 210 costs only about 70 euros… If you can’t seem to choose between the mini and the wide, like me, buy both because they are dirt cheap anyhow!

The Mini 90 has the most creative modes and my favourite is the ‘double exposure’; here are two results. Again, the outcome of the technique is quite unpredictable, which is actually a good thing, because it is all very exciting.

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Really, these Instax cameras stimulate creativity a lot, and soon I was laying out the pictures on my scanner, with various fabrics, cloths and shirts on top them giving this as a result, like a scrapbook. It is great fun, and if you don’t have a scanner, just organise the instants on a nice surface, take out your mobile phone, and take a digital picture of them. Remember: it is likely that the original instant picture will outlive yourself and the digital scan/picture you made of them!

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Admittedly, these two fun, dumbed down, plastic toy cameras had rekindled my photographic enthusiasm! I have even dreamed about them, really! But then I started wondering about how useful they would be in a more serious context. What about the unimpressive latitude/dynamic range of the Instax? And, when you start pixel peeping, these instax pictures are awfully unsharp, aren’t they? So my next step was to look at what could be done with them in post, creating a digitally remastered instant picture! I soon discovered that these Instax prints get even better when you add a bit of sharpness and detail. Then I discovered that they can be easily successfully worked upon in post, with various, very unique results. I prefer using the official Google+ app, these days, for my post work, and usually, adding just a few tweaks and effects, will give quite a spectacular, atmospheric result. Below is a picture I took at Polygon Wood, a World War One cemetery nearby where I live – the Ypres/Passchendaele region in Flanders, Belgium. The first is a scan of the original Instax. Those under that one are various tweaked images I got in Google+. Now, I’m not saying these are masterpieces, but they clearly illustrate my point.

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Finally, I must warn you, dear reader, on at least two points. First, shooting Instax is highly addictive, and it is not a cheap addiction. So before you go out with one of these, make sure you are in a serene, meditative, controlled mood; if not, Instax costs will eat your wallet empty soon enough.
Second, using Instax may open the gate to analogue photography. I may introduce you, like it did with me, to a whole different photographic universe of laid back, slow paced photography… which, of course, is not a bad thing, is it?

Ivan Lietaert,
Belgium

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ivanlietaert/

BUY THE INSTANX AT B&H PHOTO HERE

Jun 232015
 
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My Sony A7II and 55 1.8 Experience

by Simi Tometi

Hello Steve, Brandon, and fellow site readers. My name is Simi Tometi, and I am a biochemistry student from Dallas, Texas. School usually keeps me busy(and broke) for the most part but whenever I do have some spare time I indulge in photography.

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I recently sold my RX1(with the external EVF), to fund the purchase of a refurbished Sony A7II with a FE 55mm f/1.8 lens. Due to the simple fact that I’ve only shot with the 55mm a handful of times, I must admit don’t I feel qualified enough to provide a full comprehensive review. With that being said my initial thoughts regarding this lens are primarily positive.

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From a purely aesthetic standpoint, Sony ZA lenses are by far my favorite with their remarkable matte black finish, metal focus rings, and conspicuous zen blue Zeiss badges. As expected the 55mm continues the holistic tradition with its gorgeous utilitarian build, whilst being only a few millimeters longer than the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II.

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In regards to image quality there isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been said by countless more reputable sources. This lens is just flat out outstanding. DxOMark(the industry leader in comprehensive image quality evaluation) has it rated as the sharpest lens in current production, besting both the OTUS 55mm($4000) & 85mm($4500).

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As for focus speed and accuracy, I generally shoot this lens wide open yet it always hits its mark, but admittedly it isn’t the fastest.

My sole grievance with this lens has to be its price. Though it yields industry-leading performance, I often find myself asking if it was worth its initial price tag of $1000. This is likely due to the fact that it’s my least utilized lens. Having said that I don’t mean to deter anyone from purchasing this phenomenal piece of glass, it’s just that for my style of shooting I sometimes feel as that my money would have been better spent on the FE 35mm f/2.8 or FE 16-35mm f/4. Anyway, thank you for reading this and I hope you enjoy the photos✌.

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*All photos were shot in RAW and proceeded using Adobe Lightroom 5 with VSCO Film

*All photos were shot in RAW and processed using Adobe Lightroom 5 with VSCO Film 06*

Tumblr: http://justsimiphoto.tumblr.com/

Instagram: https://instagram.com/justsimi/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/simi.tometi

My Sony RX1 review: http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2015/01/23/6-months-with-the-sony-rx1-by-simi-tometi/

 

Jun 222015
 
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The Leica Q…in Review

By Ashwin Rao

Buy/Order the Q from Ken Hansen, PopFlash.com, or B&H Photo. 
Let me just start by saying that the Leica Q is one of the most engaging, inspiring cameras that I have owned to date. I would also suggest that it is this decade’s version of the legendary Digilux-2…read more below to understand why….

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If that’s all that you take away from the review, that’s great. An educator once told me that you should say what you are about to say, then say it, and finish by saying what you jyst said. With this article, I intend to proceed as such. The Leica Q is a great camera… Even at it’s price. Even though it’s not a rangefinder. Even though it’s unlikely to be a Leica through and through. It’s capable of harnessing one’s spirit, capturing the decisive moment, and challenging the photographer all at once, all in the most facile of ways. See there you go, I have gone and said it again, in a slightly different way. Okay, now getting that out of the way, let’s dig deeper.

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Hello, my friends and photographers. By now, many of you have read the glowing reviews that came alongside the announcement of the Leica Q. Such luminaries as Steve himself, Jono Slack, Ming Thien, Sean Ried, Michael Reichmann, and others deconstruct, reconstruct, and then deconstruct the camera again. I am not here to re-hash this territory, other than to say that I agree with much, if not all, of what these reviews have said in their uniform praise of the Q. I am here to give you my own impressions and take on the camera, it’s build, its DNA, it’s capacities as a tool for photography, and it’s operation, and I have now had the chance to spend a bit more time with the camera, having been one of the first lucky few to have received my camera from the Leica Store Bellevue.

For those of you who have not read the reviews, here’s the low down. The Leica Q is a fixed-lens autofocus, Leica M-styled camera that’s not an M camera at all. It’s built to an incredibly high standard and sports a 24 MP full frame sensor and a fast 28 mm f/1.7 Aspherical Summilux Lens. It sports an industry leading 3.7 megapixel non-OLED EVF with a solid refresh rate (read not many shuddering images while moving the camera through the scene) and a design that allows for easy use even with glasses on (thanks for thinking of us old folks wearing glasses, Leica). It’s not weather sealed. It has a mechanical leaf shutter that moves from 1+ sec through 1/2000 sec, after which an electronic shutter kicks in, capable of achieving shutter speeds as high as 1/16,000 sec (thus, there is zero issue with shooting wide open in the brightest of daylight settings). The leaf shutter is nearly silent in and of itself, and the camera is thus very operationally discrete, while obviating issues such as shutter shake. There’s no built in flash, but this can be added via hot shoe. It records video, for those who care about video (I don’t). It’s layout is very simple. 5 buttons to the left of the screen, and a click wheel to the right. There are only 2 other dials up top, one for shutter speed and one to adjust exposure compensation, which is not marked. There’s the On-off toggle switch, which houses the shutter release. Oh yes, that video button (I don’t use it, unless I inadvertently push it). The awesome 28 mm f/1.7 Summilux lens has a very “M-lens” like feel, with a hood that echoes the most recent Summarit line. The hood screws on, once you remove the included protective retainer ring. The focusing tab on the ring allows you to easily focus manual, as the lens has a nice, shot focus throw, but also readily clicks into full AF mode by turning the barrel fully counter clockwise until it clicks into place. There’s a macro ring, that can be turned to enable a lovely macro option, that allows focus between 0.17 and 0.13 meters, while the standard non-macro setting focuses between 0.3 meters and infinity. The menu system is very clean and simply laid out, more so than even the current generation of M digital cameras. The screen is a touch screen, and one can use finger touch to set focus if desired. In image review mode, images can be swiped or pinched to allow for zooming or image review. Finally, there’s a small unmarked button on the back of the camera just below the shutter speed dial, that allows you to enable 35 mm of 50 mm “frame lines”, basically a digital crop for those who wish to use the camera at “other focal lengths”.

These are details that most of you already know, but I wanted to summarize it all in one place. With that summary out of the way, let’s dig deeper.

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Colors

The Leica Q offers a moderately different color palette than either the Leica M240 or the M9 before it. Leica has not announced from whom the sensor comes from. I have my theories, and will get to that later in the article, but suffice it to say that colors are punchy even for out-of-camera DNG files. Unlike the muted palette of the M9 and M8, there’s a lot more color pop up front from the Q, which can take some adjustment. However, once you get adjusted, what you are left with is a camera that produces some of the best colors seen in Leica land.

I struggled mightily with skin tones and colors when attempting to use the M240 during my brief sojourn with that camera. Suffice to say, I was quite concerned about a “repeat performance” with the Q, but thankfully, this is not the case. For those of you who enjoy the M240’s color palette, prepare for a different experience. Same goes for you who preferred the M9 color palette. However, I must say that many of us M shooters who enjoyed the M9’s color palette may be quite pleased by what the Q offers.

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At times, skin tones can drift towards an “orange” bias, but this is easy to fix in Lightroom or other similar applications when encountered. Fact of the matter is that most of the time, colors coming out of the camera properly represent the color palette of the scene. The camera is nicely transparent in this ways. Auto white balance does great outdoors, slightly less so indoors, but this too is easily correctible during editing, and truth be told, most of the time, colors under incandescent or fluorescent light are appropriate.

All in all, the camera performs very well in this department.

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ISO performance

Let’s get this out of the way. This camera is middle-of-the-road for full frame ISO performance. It’s totally adequate and appropriate in the ISO department through ISO 6400, but once ISO 12,500 is reached, things can get a bit iffy, particularly if processing heavily. If properly exposed, you get a very useable file through 12,500, but in general, I would hesitate going any higher, due to noticeable horizontal banding that is encountered within shadows. But with a fast lens attached at f/1.7, I rarely felt challenged by any low light limitation. While the Q is no Sony A7s, it stands up quite well to the Sony A7 and other cameras considered to be low-light stars or keepers of the night.

 

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Image quality

The image quality coming from the Leica Q is astounding. The 28 mm Summilux is capable of achieving incredible detail, while producing a pleasant, non-distracting, painterly out of focus. If I were rating bokeh, as I have in the past, the Q’s 28 mm Summilux rates as a 9/10. Images are nicely sharp, particularly in the center, at f/1.7, and by f/4, the images sharpen up from corner to corner. I suspect that the lens produces a slight curvature of field that contributes to softer edges on plane when shooting brick walls, but in real world application, this slight curvature of field may actually enhance subject isolation (for aspects of the image that are in focus) while creating a 3 dimensional effect, which can be very pleasing even for a lens this wide. Coupled with a fast open aperture, the whole image is rendered beautifully. While I will leave it to others to do ISO test and aperture comparisons, I will say that the Leica Q has simply never let me down in the image quality department. Coupled with the color performance of the sensor, the lack of an anti-aliasing (AA) filter, the Leica Q becomes a powerhouse, if judged only by the retina-searing quality of image that it produces.

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The 28 mm lens

did Leica use a 28 mm lens? For many, 28 mm is too wide. It is nearly impossible to get a portrait shot, and if you do, you’ll get a ton of distortion, and your subjects will be mad at you, unless you step back a few feet.

Leica states that the 28 mm lens was designed in-house with a goal of allowing those who chose to use the camera a great option for street and reportage photography. While I think some of this is marketing know-how, I do feel that the 28 mm lens may well have been chosen for a few other reasons. First, the camera’s implementation and design makes it clear to me that Leica’s positioning itself for both its base (aging shooters with progressive vision deterioration), alongside a younger customer base with money to spend), bringing the camera’s operational capacities into the 21st century, with amenities such as wifi, NFC, phone apps for teathering, and a touch screen. 28 mm is exciting to the Leica base, as a lens that offers great opportunities for street and reportage photography. 28 mm is a popular focal length particularly popular with many shooters who don’t even know it: cell phone shooters. The iPhone, for example, has historically employed a 28 mm equivalent lens. It’s a great option not only for street photos, but for selfies, for family outings, for gatherings with friends. It’s the focal length that’s social-media savvy, and Leica knows it.

Second, Leica is trying to establish a branding identity and a sense of novelty in the market. Never has a fixed full frame digital camera been released with a fast-wide lens such as the incredible 28 mm Summilux. Most people who have shot the Q or thought about the purchase wonder: why not 35 mm or 50 mm for the lens? Leica saw the success of the Sony RX1/R with it’s 35 mm f/2 Sonnar lens, and saw an opportunity to make something similar, yet slightly different, to separate it from Sony’s past offering to which the camera is most often compared, as well as to any future RX2, which is likely to come sporting some of Sony’s latest and greatest tech.

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The lens does include a separate ring for macro photography mode. One turn of the inner most ring into “MACRO” allows the camera to focus (manual or AF) between 0.17 m and 0.3 M. In fact, turning the ring procures a separate focusing scale, which is hidden from view when the camera is used in standard operation. This feature is incredibly handily when shooting near-field objects (think food photography). The implementation of the MACRO ring itself is one of the camera’s few weaknesses, as it’s a bit hard to turn the ring when desired. Maybe that’s by intention, but it feels that the ring could have been designed for smoother operational execution.

I also suspect that Leica introduced the 28 mm lens, as it may have been particularly adept at working with the sensor that they are using in the camera. I find it incredibly fascinating that Leica is choosing not to disclose the manufacturer of the sensor, but here again, I have my theory, so read on to find this out . Ultimately, I suspect that to some degree, lens and sensor were designed with one another in mind, and the performance of the lens-sensor combination in the Leica Q is astounding.

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In hand

I find that Leica Q’s haptics to be fantastic. I have been using the camera since day one with the accessory handgrip and attached loop. The grip and loop make the camera very easy to hold steadily, with confidence and no fear that it may slip out of hand. The Q itself is a slightly airy camera, clearly lighter than the M line, but with the added grip, there’s an addition of slight heft that gives the camera more confident feel. Without the grip, the camera is truly a bit slippery, and the thumb indent that Leica added is positioned to far to the far edge of the camera to permit comfortable hand holding. The grip fixes this issue. ‘’

The camera’s edges are nicely rounded, and unlike the Leica T, with it’s more angular build, the Q does not seem to cut into skin as much. The Q is substantially heftier than the T series and it’s girth and bulk will feel quite familiar to users of the M system. Some may raise concerns that it’s not nearly as compact as Sony’s RX1/R, but then again, I think Leica made the proper choice in proportioning the camera as a Leica M to attract its base of M camera users. To the Leica M shooter, the camera will feel “familiar” in hand.

I do wish Leica would use traditional vulcanite leatherette, as the pebbled texture of Vulcanite used for older M cameras truly enhances the photographer’s hold on the camera. The Q comes equipped with a grip that may be familiar to X camera owners. It’s not as tactile, and looks decidedly more modern. It’s a decent look, but one that could use refinement.

With the accessory grip added, the camera’s haptics feel more complete. It’s heft is pleasant. The grip firms up the hold on the camera.

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In operation

It’s at this point that I will begin to GUSH about the Leica Q. Leica (and Panasonic) did their homework on this camera, and it shows. The camera is truly a dream to operate. The menu system is well laid out, complementing the camera’s operational simplicity. In fact, this is a camera that one can pick up, figure out within a few minutes, and begin shooting happily. It produces RAW files in the DNG format, thus immediately portable into most photo editing applications (in my case, Adobe Lightroom)

Autofocus is fast and accurate. This has not been talked about in glowing detail, but deserves to be highlighted. In my experience, the Leica Q has the most responsive autofocus of any mirrorless camera that I have tried. Not only is AF responsive, but also focusing is accurate. The Q gives the photographer the brilliant option of setting the focus point anywhere on the screen, and this system works well when the photographer is permitted the time to set the focus point (be it center or off to the side). Once focus zone is set, the camera nails focus every time. For many of us whose eyesight wanes with each year, having a camera with accurate and responsive AF in the design/build of a M camera (yes, not an M, but it sure feels like one, doesn’t it?) is a marvelous thing.

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While most of us will use the camera in single-shot focus mode (AF-S), the camera is quite adept at tracking focus if using the AF-C mode. Whole it’s not a sports shooter, it can easily track faster moving children and nail focus. The camera can be set to single- or multi-shot modes, and can acquire up to 9 frames in a second using the high speed burst rate. I was suitably impressed while employing AF-C with a high burst rate, while capturing fast moving children on a slip-n-slide, for example, to feel that the continuous AF mode coupled with burst shooting would allow me to capture a “mobile” decisive moment opportunity .
Using the lens in the field is also great. One can easily click into autofocus mode if one chooses, but one can also use the manual focusing option by rotating the focus wheel out of the AF position, at which point the camera uses focus magnification and peaking to aid the photographer in achieving focus. Coupled with the camera’s magnificent 3.7 megapixel EVF, focusing is not challenging. Added to the mix is diopter control, allowing the operator of the camera to adjust the diopter to his/her liking.
Menu layout is clear, clean, and intuitive, and the LCD screen can be used in broad daylight without much difficulty. Some may sight that the camera does not possess an articulating LCD, but this stands against Leica’s simplicity-is-utility design ethos, and I am fine with it. The less fiddly the camera, the better, in my opinion. With a clean user layout, and clean menu structure, operational simplicity, and very fast autofocus, what we are left with is a camera that is incredibly inspiring in operation. The Leica Q is a camera that simply does not get in the way of the photographer’s experience. I would say that the Leica Q’s operations enhance photographer’s user experience and motivates and inspires those who shoot it…to shoot it more. It’s that good. Really!

Crop Mode

I wanted to discuss crop mode briefly, as most simply cast this “feature” aside when discussing the camera. I belive that Leica considers the crop mode to be important, or else they would not have included a dedicated button to enable digital cropping. Implementation of the crop mode is fantastic. By clicking the button once, the EVF is “enhanced” by frame lines, thus producing a very rangefinder like experience. Shooting in 35 mm produces a 15 MP image, which is plenty sufficient to adjust in processing. Given that 28 mm and 35 mm are not that far apart, the camera can be used quite comfortably in 35 mm crop mode without much loss of feel.

Once cropped again, into 50 mm mode, things get a bit murkier. Now, the file produced is digitally cropped down to 7 MP. Editing becomes more of a chore, since less of the image is present to work with. Further, distortions present due to the 28 mm effective field of view are introduced, making portraiture in the 50 mm crop less than ideal.

I suspect that Leica envisions a certain group of photographers using the digital crop button to permit the camera to be used as a “Tri-Elmar” , but the compromises at play, while seeming acceptable at 35 mm, are less so at 50 mm.

All of that said, it’s nice to have a digital crop when operating the camera. Further, it’s nice to know that the camera has saved the full 28 mm field of view in the RAW file, so it’s easy to reclaim “lost data” in post processing if needed.

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Compared to the RX1

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Herein lies another question that comes up often, since the Leica Q was introduced. What’s Leica doing that Sony was not doing 2 years ago, when the RX1 was introduced and made its splash? Should I get the RX1 for it’s more desired 35 mm lens?

The choice of lens is a very personal. I would say that for those who don’t enjoy wide-angle photography and prefer 35 mm to 28, the Leica Q may not be an ideal companion. Further, the Q feels and is truly a bigger camera than the RX1, so if compactness is the ultimate goal, the RX1 achieves this better than the Q. Finally, image quality. The RX1/R produced and still produces brilliant files. This is no different today, and in fact, many, myself included, consider the Sony RX1 to be a modern legend in digital photography. Is the Q better? In a word: YES.

The fact of the matter is that the Q does so many things better than the RX1/R that the comparison is somewhat silly. The Q sports a built in EVF, which allows the camera to be used more like a traditional camera. Autofocus and operational implementation is far superior. The Q features a far more intuitive layout, with a less-is-more approach. While the RX1 is more compact, the Q feels fantastic in hand and retains enough compactness that it will fit in many of the same outfits for which the RX1 was purposed. Certainly, Sony’s RX2 (you know it’s coming) will feature a new degree of compactness, but Sony have never been known to design a camera for those who value simplicity and intention of use. Some complain that Sony cameras feel like computers. I don’t feel strongly, in this regard, but I will say that the Leica Q feels convincingly like a camera designed by and for photographers who appreciate simplicity of design. With the Leica Q, all of the key controls are readily accessible, while the rest are found easily in the camera’s sub menus.

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Compared to the Ricoh GR

Ricoh produced the pocket dynamite Ricoh GR 2 years ago, and it’s truly held up to the test of time as a camera that many street and documentary photographers carry in the pocket. Like the Q, the Ricoh GR sports a 28 mm equivalent lens, albeit on a APS-C size sensor.

The Ricoh GR has been one of my favorite cameras, and it’s a camera that I have had by my side for 2 years. It’s a dramatically different camera than the Q, as it is much smaller and is truly pocketable. Thus, the Leica Q will not replace or supplant the GR for my purposes. It’s form factor is just too different.

I would say that the GR’s file quality is more clinical, with better edge-to-edge sharpness wide open than the Leica Q demonstrates even when stopped to f/2.8. However, the Q offers a full frame sensor, Leica’s operational simplicity and haptics, and a fast/remarkable lens.

Both cameras are great. Choose the one that fits your needs the best. I chose both.

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Panasonic collaboration

Here’s the topic that no one’s really gotten into, and I wanted to shake a few trees and see what leaves fall down…Bottom line.: think it’s too much to say that Leica designed and implemented this most of this camera on their own. While the camera proudly reads “Leica Camera Wetzlar Germany” above the rear LCD, it does not clearly state “Made in Germany by Leica”, now does it? Nor does it say Leica Camera AG Germany. I say all this while laughing a bit, because none of it matters, other than in branding efforts. If you are reading this article, would you rather be buying a Leica or a Panasonic camera? I know where I’d fall in this regard
If one looks closely, the Leica Q has Panasonic’s fingerprints all over it. From implementation of the touch screen, to the wifi implementation, to the use of a Panasonic battery (DMW-BLC12) that’s been used extensively for Panasonic’s FZ1000 and Leica’s V-Lux line, this camera “reeks” of Panasonic influence. Heck, it’s clear to me that Panasonic had a strong hand in designing the Leica Q’s autofocus system. It’s too good to be a Leica design of its own. Some have gone as far as to say that it maybe Panasonic through and through, including the Summilux lens with an interesting f/1.7 maximum aperture, which is rare for Leica lenses but a common choice for Panasonic-designed lenses. Oh yeah, then there’s that sensor, which Leica refuses to disclose it’s source of manufacture, other than to say that the sensor is not manufactured by CMOSIS or Sony…Well, Panasonic is another company who sits ideally positioned, through its relationship with Leica, to offer up a chip of this high regard. Might not the sensor be of Panasonic manufacture? These are all of my theories, but ultimately, I suspect that Panasonic had a strong hand in designing the camera’s innards. From the outside, the Leica Q is truly, thoroughly a Leica, just like the Pana-Leica Digilux 2 before it….

Thus for me, the Leica Q is this generation’s Digilux!

 

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I find the Leica Q to be a fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable camera, one that’s inspired new levels of creativity in me. I am truly fascinated by the camera and would easily say that it’s one of my favorite digital cameras of all time. It’s really a perfect, take everywhere companion. It’s incredibly well thought out, laid out, and implemented in a way to appeal to photographers who want their camera out of the way and photographers who want to grow into their photographer ever more. The Leica Q forces you to grow, and for that growth, you will be rewarded by fantastic images.

I hope that you have enjoyed the photos, all taken during my first week with the camera. For those of you who want to see more, follow this link to my flickr site:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ashwinrao1/sets/72157654470404392
Enjoy the ride, and I will see you soon enough, just down the road, around the corner, Q in hand.

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Jun 182015
 
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The Mitakon Speedmaster 85 1.2 Sony FE Version Review

By Steve Huff

(all images here shot on a Sony A7II)

I have never been a 85 or 90mm lens kind of guy. While there are some GORGEOUS lenses in this focal length (Leica 90 Summicron APO, Leica 75 Summilux, Zeiss 85 Sonnar, Sony 90 Macro) I just always prefer a 35mm or 50mm, and sometimes a good 21mm focal length. When I shoot, my preference is to shoot people, and for people, I like to get in close to talk with them before I take their picture.

But even so, a nice 85mm lens has its place in my bag on occasion. Maybe I want to isolate a subject more, or get a little more reach than I am used to. Either way, two of my favorite 75-85 lenses have been the Canon 85 1.2 L lens, which is a beauty in all kinds of ways. When that lens is shot on a nice Canon full frame camera, the color, sharpness and Bokeh are outstanding, and unique. If I were rich, I’d have a 5D style camera and the 85L here just for those few occasions when I wanted that Canon 85L look.

The other lens I love is the Leica 75 Summilux. Not an 85mm of course but still a wonderful and beautiful lens capable of ethereal and organic renderings. The Leica 75 Summilux has been long discontinued and is one of those lenses that went from un popular to VERY popular after they released the M9. During the Leica M8 days, the 75 Lux could be found for $1200 all day long as no one wanted it on a crop sensor. After the M9 was released the prices went through the roof, and now a 75 Summilux will set yo back $3500+.

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So why am I mentioning a Leica 75 Summilux in a review meant for a Sony mount lens? Well, because this Mitakon 85 f/1.2 Speedmaster lens reminds me more of the Leica 75 Lux than anything. I am not saying it is just like the Leica, as it is not, but the rendering has that out there ethereal kind of vibe, and it’s way more Leica Lux than Canon or your typical Sony lens.

YOU MUST CLICK IMAGES FOR LARGER VIEW AND TO SEE IT CORRECTLY!

Here is a shot taken in NYC in the morning. I was walking and saw this stylish woman taking some shots of everything with her phone. She had style, spunk and personality so after this shot I asked her if I could take her portrait. See those below… But this one was at f/1.2 with the Sony A7II

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The Mitakon Speedmaster 50 Came first..which is better?

A while ago I reviewed the other amazing Speedmaster lens, the 50 f/0.95. You can read that review here as it is loaded with samples that show the character of that lens (and PopFlash.com sell them HERE). While not a competitor to the Leica 50 Noctilux, the 50 Speedmaster is a pretty damn fine lens for  the money. To see some amazing shots with it, click HERE.  So the first lens, the 50, for the money was stunning and comes in at about 11X less than the Leica Noctilux. $1k vs $11k.

This new 85 1.2 has grown on me the more I use it. First, I thought it was a tad dull as the contrast is low with this lens, and needs a boost in post processing to get that WOW POP we all love. Second, the color is a tad duller than I am used to with the mega lenses but again, easily fixed in post. After I figured out the signature of the lens, I realized just how good it was, again, for the money (it can’t be beat).

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As to which one is better, well, neither. Both have the same sort of signature and style, which as you can see in this review and the 50 review, that style is very “Bokehlicious” lol. The best thing to do if trying to decide between this 85 and the 50 is decide what focal length you prefer. That is all. Both lenses are built like a tank, literally. Both lenses are heavy and unruly, both lenses are manual focus and both lenses ship in a lovely hard shell case.

I prefer the 50 as it is my focal length but some may prefer the 85 and many may choose to have both, the 50 for normal shooting and the 85 for isolation or head shots.

1st shot was stopped down a bit to f/2.8 I believe..2nd shot was a close up of some red blood like water in the streets of NY and the last shot is wide open at 1.2 in my hotel room to show how well this lens is with subject isolation. All Sony A7II.

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Construction…

See my video below with the Mitakon 85 1.2 – It’s a dual video with a Sony lens but I also showcase the Mitakon so you can see how big it is and what I feel about it. 

Construction is quite good on the Speedmaster lenses. They are built SOLID and they are all metal, so yes, they are heavy and large. When I hold a lens built like this I think “QUALITY” as somehow, a heavy feeling just gives you that impression. SO yes, it FEELS amazingly well made like most Leica M lenses do. The focus ring leans more to the stiff side than loose, which I like and it has a long focus throw which is helpful for fine tuning the AF. The Aperture dial is solid but is clickless so no click stops. Many prefer this, especially for video work.

So for build it is top notch, and usability is nice a it gets for a lens of this type. As I said, it reminds me of my old 75 Summilux, just larger. :)

The three below, all wide open at f/1.2 on the Sony A7II – you must click them for larger. 

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DETAILS? With this lens? Sure!

Of course a lens like this will not give you corner to corner sharpness wide open, just not going to happen. This is one reason why Leica glass is so damn expensive..it is just about perfect. This lens, being a “fast budget lens” will not give you crisp sharp corner to corner goodness wide open at f/1.2. BUT!!! Stop it down a bit and wow, it sharpens up NICELY. The shot below is at f/4 and is VERY sharp.

CLICK FOR LARGER AND FULL 100% CROP TO SEE THE DETAIL AT F/4

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The CONS of the 85 1.2

Well, there will always be at lest one con, no matter how perfect a product is. Nothing made on earth is for everyone, so it comes down to personal preferences, needs vs wants and of course, cost. For me, the things I did not like about this lens was the WEIGHT and SIZE. I love small high quality glass, and this is a LARGE high quality glass. ;) It is heavy, it is BIG. So remember that. I also feel it could use a tad more contrast out of the box but this takes a few seconds to fix i post. Out of camera JPEG shooters may wish for deeper blacks and an image with more pop. Also, the color needs to be boosted IMO to give it that WOW pizazz.

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We can not expect perfection in a $799 lens but for the $799 that it costs, it is just about perfect. If it were $2000 I would have said no way, but at $799 it is a steal and a deal for anyone who wants an optic like this for their Sony, Canon or Nikon system.

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My time with the Speedmaster lens…

I have had this lens here for a while now and have used it sparingly, here and there as even when I review items, I tend to review what I like, and what I enjoy. What fun is writing about something you do not even like? The more I used the 85 f/1.2, the more I liked it..and today I love it. After quite a few shots under my belt I feel this is one of those lenses that are actually a deal. Fast glass is NEVER cheap, but when you get something built special like this, that is designed for full frame, and can be used on my Sony makes it a win win IMO.

This lens is called “The Dream Lens” by the maker, and is available on Sony FE, Canon EF and Nikon F mounts. AWESOME. The best part is? The cost is $799. Not $999, but $799, and to me, this is a bargain for what you get here as it will give you renderings much like a classic Leica lens for a FRACTION of the cost. While not up to Leica standards, it is 75% there and MUCH cheaper for the wallet.

This is a “Character Lens”  – full of those qualities that make people look at the results and say “WOW, how did you do that”?!?

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Where to Buy?

You can buy the lens direct from Mitakon HERE or check with PopFlash.com (not sure they have the 85 yet) as they are a dealer and sell the 50 0.95 all day long.  B&H sells the 50 as well HERE though its $100 more than PopFlash. Again, to see my 50 0.95 review, click HERE.

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PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS SO EASY AND FREEE for you to HELP OUT!

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple, and no, I am not asking you for a penny!

If you ever decide to make a purchase from B&H Photo or Amazon, for ANYTHING, even diapers..you can help me without spending a penny to do so. If you use my links to make your purchase (when you click a link here and it takes you to B&H or Amazon, that is using my links as once there you can buy anything and I will get a teeny small credit) you will in turn be helping this site to keep on going and keep on growing.

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website, in money and time. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

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Jun 102015
 
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Sony Creates a MONSTER! The new A7RII..see my hands on report!

I am writing today from NYC at a Sony Event held in the beautiful Le Parker Meridian Hotel. Myself and loads of other journalists, bloggers and camera geeks all packed into a meeting today with Sony to see what they were revealing. Not only did they reveal the A7RII, they also announced the new RX10II and RX100IV. ALL THREE are spectacular cameras with some amazing new tech that was very cool to see. Mirrorless cameras have matured..big time and Sony is leading the way without question.

Pre-Order the A7RII at B&H Photo HERE. Available to pre-order on June 17th..so get ready ;) 

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My brain, heart and soul instantly fell for the A7IIR  – as it is an entirely new beast from the old A7r..I mean, entirely new.

The A7RII now has a 42.4 Megapixel full frame backlit sensor which allow the camera to do all sorts of things. 40% faster AF (and yes, it is much quicker than the old A7r and even the A7II it seems), ISO up to 102,000 (we are talking A7s territory in a high res sensor), Tweak 5 Axis IS so the images are stabilized in body with ANY lens you attach, Full 4K video shooting with an option for Super 35 shooting that offers double the res of standard Super 35. Full pixel readout without pixel binning.

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It also boasts the world’s highest viewfinder magnification at 0.78. Let me  tell you, the EVF in this guy is amazing. Like a window. Of course it gas WiFi, NFC, and is compatible with all the Play Memories Apps but this A7RII is giving us the BEST of the A7II, A7s and old A7R.

We have the super high resolution of 42.5 MP..and usually there are drawbacks with this such as slow AF speed and not so high ISO capabilities. Sony changed all of that with the new sensor and processing and we get it all. Fast AF, high ISO capability and JAW DROPPING AMAZING photo quality and video quality. It has it all, and will be the most amazing A7 camera ever developed.

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Data output is 3.5 times faster than the old A7r and with technology like copper wiring layers, Sony has been doing their homework.

One other awesome feature is the new Reduced Vibration shutter along with a totally silent mode that we had in the A7s.

I had some hands on time with the A7RII, was able to shoot it, handle it, check it out and I was very impressed. By far the most complete A7 to date. Not sure how they do it but Sony keeps upping the game and they created a beast with the new A7RII. Will be great for pro video, pro photo, and give you the NO COMPROMISE features and capabilities you have always wanted.

No longer do we have to substitute high res for low light abilities. It does it all!

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Before you ask where the images are…well, we were not allowed to shoot with our own memory cards, in fact, the SD slots were all taped up as these are not final production cameras. So no images yet but I will have a full review unit available to me soon I am sure.

The price for all of this tech? $3198, shipping in August. Just a couple of months away. Exciting times…I mean..this camera is pretty incredible, and I have just seen huge prints and 4K video from it that were astonishing. Using it was a joy as well. This is nothing like the old original A7r. BTW, it has the new A7II body style.

BRAVO AGAIN to SONY for pushing the envelope and making the best sensors in the world (IMO).

So to sum it up, $3200, available in August and pre-orders will start on June 17th. I CAN NOT WAIT to review this camera. I will have more on the other two new releases, the RX100 4 and the RX10II in the next day or two, stay tuned!

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Here is the official press release from Sony on the A7RII:

 

Sony’s New α7R II Camera Delivers Innovative Imaging Experience with World’s First Back-Illuminated 35mm Full-Frame Sensor.

Sony’s Flagship Mirrorless Camera Features 42.4 MP Back-illuminated CMOS sensor, In-camera 5-axis Image Stabilization, Internal 4K Video Recording, Silent Shooting, Fast Hybrid AF and more

NEW YORK, Jun. 10, 2015 – Sony Electronics, a worldwide leader in digital imaging and the world’s largest image sensor manufacturer, has today introduced their new flagship full-frame mirrorless camera, the α7R II (model ILCE-7RM2).

The new α7R II interchangeable lens camera features the world’s first back-illuminated full-frame Exmor R CMOS sensor1, which realizes high resolution (42.4 MP approx. effective megapixels), high sensitivity (expandable up to ISO 102400)2 and high speed AF response up to 40% faster than the original α7R thanks to 399 focal plane phase detection AF points.

The camera also includes a 5-axis image stabilization system borrowed from the acclaimed α7 II model and can shoot and record 4K video in multiple formats including Super 35mm (without pixel binning) and full-frame format, a world’s first for digital cameras1. Additionally, it has a newly refined XGA OLED Tru-Finder with the world’s highest (0.78x) viewfinder magnification3.

“Sony continues to deliver game-changing imaging products that are changing the way imaging enthusiasts, hobbyists and professionals can see and capture the world,” said Mike Fasulo, President of Sony Electronics.

Kimio Maki, Senior General Manager of Digital imaging Business Group for Sony Corporation, added “By harmonizing high resolution, sensitivity and speed, we’re delivering a high-level full-frame imaging experience unlike anything else in market today, with Sony’s newly developed, world’s first back-illuminated 35mm full frame CMOS sensor.”

High Resolution, High Sensitivity and High-Speed Response

The newly developed 42.4 MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor is the most advanced, versatile and highest resolution full-frame image sensor that Sony has ever created, allowing the α7R II to reach new levels of quality, sensitivity and response speed. In the past, many photographers have been forced to choose between high-resolution and high-speed or high resolution and high sensitivity when selecting a camera. The new α7R II eliminates that sacrifice thanks to its innovative image sensor.

The 42.4 MP sensor combines gapless on-chip lens design and AR (anti-reflective) coating on the surface of the sensor’s glass seal to dramatically improve light collection efficiency, resulting in high sensitivity with low-noise performance and wide dynamic range. This allows the camera to shoot at an impressive ISO range of 100 to 25600 that is expandable to ISO 50 to 1024002.

Additionally, the sensor’s back-illuminated structure, with an expanded circuit scale and copper wiring design, enables faster transmission speed and ensures content can be captured in high resolution without sacrificing sensitivity. Data can also be output from the sensor at an approximately 3.5x faster rate compared to the original α7R.

An ideal match for Sony’s extensive collection of FE lenses (35mm full-frame compatible E-mount lenses), the new α7R II features a high-speed BIONZ X image processing engine that allows images and video from the camera to be captured with supreme details and low noise. There is also no optical low pass filter on the camera, ensuring that scenery and landscapes are captured in the highest possible resolution and clarity.

The α7R II has a new highly durable reduced-vibration shutter that realizes 50% less vibration from shutter movements compared to its predecessor, and has a cycle durability of approximately 500,000 shots4. The camera can also be set to Silent Shooting mode in order to shoot images quietly without any sensor vibration or movement.

The new image sensor features 399 focal-plane phase-detection AF points – the world’s widest AF coverage on a full-frame sensor1 – that work together with 25 contrast AF points to achieve focus response that is about 40% faster than the original model. The α7R II utilizes an advanced motion-detection algorithm combined with this Fast Hybrid AF system to achieve up to 5fps continuous shooting with AF tracking.

Additionally, the focal plane phase-detection AF system on the α7R II works well with Sony A-mount lenses when they are mounted on the camera using an LA-EA3 or LA-EA1 mount adapter. This allows users to enjoy the wide AF coverage of 399 focal plane phase-detection AF points, high-speed response and high tracking performance with a wider range of lenses. This marks the first time that the AF system of a mirrorless camera can achieve high performance with lenses originally designed for DSLRs.

5-Axis Image Stabilization Optimized for 42.4 MP

The new flagship α7R II model is equipped with an innovative 5-axis image stabilization system that has been fine-tuned to support its high-resolution shooting capacity. Similar to the system launched on the acclaimed α7 II model, this advanced form of image stabilization corrects camera shake along five axes during shooting, including angular shake (pitch and yaw) that tends to occur with a telephoto lens, shift shake (X and Y axes) which becomes noticeable as magnification increases, and rotational shake (roll) that often affects video recording. This camera shake compensation system is equivalent to shooting at a shutter speed approximately 4.5 steps faster5.

Additionally, the 5-axis stabilization works cooperatively with Sony α lenses with optical SteadyShot™ (OSS) to provide maximum stabilization and clarity, while also performing admirably via a compatible mount adapter with Sony α A-mount lenses6 without on-board stabilization . Effects of the stabilization can be previewed via live-view on the LCD or OLED viewfinder of the camera.

Unrivaled 4K Movie Shooting Performance

The impressive video credentials of Sony’s new α7R II camera include the ability to record movies in 4K quality (QFHD 3840×2160) in either Super 35mm crop mode or full-frame mode.

In Super 35mm mode, the camera collects a wealth of information from approximately 1.8x as many pixels as 4K by using full pixel readout without pixel binning and oversamples the information to produce 4K movies with minimal moire and ‘jaggies’.

In full-frame mode, the α7R II utilizes the full width of the 35mm sensor for 4K recording, allowing users to utilize the expanded expressive power of the sensor. It is the world’s first digital camera to offer this in-camera full-frame format 4K recording capacity1.

The camera utilizes the advanced XAVC S7 codec during video shooting, which records at a high bit rate of 100 Mbps during 4K recording and 50 Mbps during full HD shooting.

Additionally, the α7R II model features a variety of functions to support a professional video workflow including Picture Profile, S-Log2 Gamma and S-Gamut, 120fps high frame rate movie shooting in HD (720p), time code, clean HDMI output and more.

Enhanced Design, Operability and Reliability

The new full-frame α7R II has an upgraded XGA OLED Tru-Finder™ with a double-sided aspherical lens that delivers the world’s highest viewfinder magnification3 of 0.78x for crystal clear image preview and playback across the entire display area. ZEISS® T* Coating is also utilized to reduce unwanted reflections that interfere with the shooting experience.

The camera has an extremely solid, professional feel in-hand thanks to its light, rigid magnesium alloy design, and has a re-designed grip and shutter button compared to its predecessor. There is also a new mechanism to conveniently lock the mode dial, and an expanded range of customizable functions and buttons to suit the most demanding photographers.

The new α7R II camera is Wi-Fi® and NFC compatible and fully functional with Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile™ application available for Android™ and iOS platforms, as well as Sony’s growing range of PlayMemories Camera Apps™, which add a range of creative capabilities to the camera. For example, there is more creativity available now for time-lapse photography thanks to a new “Angle Shift add-on” app allows users to easily add pan, tilt and zoom to time-lapse images without any additional shooting equipment or PC software required. Learn more at www.sony.net/pmca.

Sony has also introduced a new LCD monitor model CLM-FHD5, an ideal companion to the α7R II for video shooting. A compact 5.0 type Full HD (1920x1080p) LCD monitor, the CLM-FHD5 features enlarging and peaking functionality for precise focusing, false color and video level marker for adjusting exposure and S-Log display assist to assist S-Log shooting.

Pricing and Availability

The Sony α7R II full-frame interchangeable lens camera will be available in August for about $3200 at www.store.sony.com and a variety of Sony authorized dealers nationwide.

The α7R II is compatible with Sony’s growing lineup of α -mount lenses, which now totals 63 different models including 12 native ‘FE’ full frame lenses. By early 2016, Sony will add an additional 8 new lenses to its FE full frame lineup, bringing the FE total to 20 lenses and the overall α -mount assortment to 70 different models.

 

 

Jun 102015
 
QREVIEW

QREVIEW

The Leica Q Real World Camera Review

by Steve Huff

When I was told I was being sent the new Leica Q camera for review, weeks before it was to be announced, I was excited. I have heard rumblings and rumors about what this Q could be, and most of it was pretty exciting, and sounded to me like Leica was finally getting it “right”. While I usually do not take stock in Rumor sites (as they have one mission, kill the surprises and to make loads of money) I was hearing some things that I liked about the supposed new “Q”.

It appeared that Leica was finally caving..giving us, the Leica fans, something very close to what we have been asking for all of these years.

I was  critical of the recent Leica Mirrorless concotions..Leica X-Vario and Leica X, and while I adored the original Leica X1, and loved the X2, the Vario and new X lagged behind for me due to many reasons. I did enjoy the T, VERY much, but it too was not what everyone wanted, so it lagged in sales. So if we look at the recent past 2-3 years Leica has had some not so successful cameras, and I feel that is because they were not listening to their base of users.

YOU must click the images below to see them correctly. DO NOT judge them from these resized soft samples. Click ’em to see them larger and better.

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What we asked for and wanted:

A TRUE Mini M. Full Frame. EVF/RF built in. Scaled down from the real M to allow a lower price so more could enjoy the true Leica quality and feel. Simplicity, Beauty and Built by Leica, not Panasonic. 

The First fail for me with the X was no EVF or VF built in. We were forced to buy a $600 external wart of an EVF that killed the looks and usability of the camera. Then there was the sensor size of APS-C. It appeared Leica would never release a smaller true M like camera with a full frame sensor as they would be afraid of hurting their M sales. So they kept releasing APS-C sized cameras, and each one lagged in sales as everyone was crying for full frame, and we were correct to want full frame, as we wanted to shoot our Leica’s but here we are with Sony who released the stunning RX1 and RX1r years ago..without an answer from Leica. To be honest, the RX1 was more leica like than the X Vario and X 113.

One of the main issues with the X Vario and X were the slow and clunky lenses they attached to them (well, the Vario anyway). Clunky, slow in aperture and in AF, these cameras just did not feel “finished”. Sure the lens on the X 113 was and is a Summilux f/1.7 but even so, the fact it was not full frame and had no EVF/VF killed it for me and while IQ was stunning I remember telling myself..“if Leica releases a full frame version of this with a nice fast lens and EVF, look out”!

Enter the new Leica Q

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Well, they have now done just that with the new Leica Q. The Q is a 24 MP full frame camera with a beautiful sensor that can shoot up to ISO 50,000. It has a built in EVF that is quite good and a great LCD on the back. It is not a rangefinder, nor is it an interchangeable lens camera, it has a great fixed lens.  So while it is not the true Mini M we had asked for, it is damn close.

The menus are very M 240 like and very clean and simple. The Lens is a 28 Summilux f/1.7. Not sure why they chose 28mm instead of 35 but I enjoyed having that slight bit of “extra” as I have been getting more and more in to the 28mm focal length. It shoots HD video and man, the color out of this camera is SO SO DELICIOUS. Best color I have seen from any camera since the original X Vario. Always been a fan of the color from the X line, and this Q keeps that color but improves on it slightly.

My 1st look video on the Leica Q. Check it out…

So yes…

I have used and shot with the new Q, and it is beautiful. In fact, for Leica, it changes everything as we now have a full frame M shaped body with fixed lens and EVF all in a pretty polished and finished feeling camera with gorgeous Leica like IQ, pretty fast AF and simple operation. 

YOU must click the images below to see them correctly. DO NOT judge them from these resized soft samples. Click ’em to see them larger and better. 

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While only having this camera for a whopping three days, I managed to take it with me EVERYWHERE I went over those three days as I wanted to get as much use with it as possible so I could write this review after having 72 hours with the Q, and wow, for the 1st time in years I am truly “wowed” by a Leica camera that is not an M version! This is good, for all of us and for Leica. 

This little Q has most things I/WE have been begging Leica to make for the past few years:

1. A full frame sensor and a damn good one. The color, detail and tones this camera can produce is stunning. It has the true Leica look with the full frame sensor and fast glass attached. It renders much like an X or X Vario but with the full frame look and rich files.

2. It has a built in EVF, and it is a good one. FINALLY! No need to add on that huge external ugly $600 EVF.

3. It has a fast 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens, and it is astounding in quality giving that same Leica X vibe but with a creamier rendering and faster aperture.

4. They kept it shaped and styled like an M. This is good as it keeps with the classic Leica design and feel. 

5. The camera is simplicity  – we have a shutter button, aperture on the lens, a macro feature (on lens), fantastic manual focus or pretty fast and snappy auto focus, and an exposure compensation dial (something the M doesn’t even have) and shutter speed dial. We have a movie button as well, and a great LCD on the back. This camera is beautiful in every way and I so want one. In fact, as soon as I tried it I contacted Ken Hansen ([email protected]) and said “Leica’s next new camera, put me on the list for whatever it is and whenever it comes out”. Seeing that I signed an NDA I could not utter the words “Leica Q”..so I hope he knew what I meant! 

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Here are the official stats, direct from Leica:

• 24-megapixel, full frame, CMOS sensor precisely matched to its lens. The Leica Q delivers richly detailed pictures with almost noise-free, richly detailed pictures at ISO settings up to 50.000.

• Fastest autofocus in the compact full-frame camera class. Precision focusing in real time.

• High speed burst shooting. The newly developed processor from the Leica Maestro II series sets an enormous pace in this category with continuous shooting at a rate of ten frames per second at full resolution.

• Integrated 3.68-megapixel electronic viewfinder. The highest resolution viewfinder of its kind displays both the fixed 28 mm view along with focal lengths of 35 mm and 50 mm on demand.

• Conveniently placed functions provide instant access to all the essential controls needed when taking a photo. Not only can you control the focus manually, but the Q is also equipped with a touchscreen that can select a focus point with a simple touch of the fingertip.

• Ability to save two versions of the photograph. The JPEG image files are saved in the selected framing, while the RAW files in DNG format preserve the entire field captured by the 28 mm lens.

• Video recorded in full HD. Depending on the scene, users can choose between 30 and 60 frames per second for video recording in MP4 format. The video setting also features a wind-noise filter which guarantees crystal-clear sound.

• A WiFi module for wireless transfer of still pictures and video to other devices. The app also allows you to remotely control settings such as aperture and shutter speed from your smart phone or tablet. The free Leica Q app to access these features is available on both the App Store and Google Play Store for iOS and Android.

• Free downloadable Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6. This processing software offers a comprehensive range of functions to enhance and edit your Leica Q images.

• Full range of accessories. Just like the camera, every item in the range of accessories and technical equipment for the Leica Q is functionally designed for easy handling and manufactured from only the finest materials to ensure versatility, reliability, and durability.

The Leica Q, priced at $4,250. 

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This mini review will be full of my thoughts on the camera and light on the comparison tests as I only had it for 3 days, and did not have time to do loads of comparisons. In fact, those three days felt like 6 hours..it went by so fast. When you are doing something you love and adore, time flies.

What I can tell you is that this Leica Q is stunning in almost every way. Every time I snapped a photo with it and saw it on my display at home my jaw would drop at the color and overall character of this lens and sensor combination.

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Shots that I thought were bad, soft or just not good turned out to be fantastic. I experienced no issues with focus, dynamic range, speed, reliability or ANYTHING. I was having a blast shooting this camera as it was such a joy to shoot. In many ways I felt like I was walking around with a true MINI M, but with an EVF and AF and fixed lens. It was a beautiful thing and when a camera is such a joy to shoot, you just want to shoot, shoot and shoot more. This happens with some cameras and not very often. The M gives me that feeling, the Olympus E-M1 does as well. The Sony RX1, which this camera is VERY close to, does as well.

It is silent, stealthy and also has a touch screen LCD if you want to shoot by tapping the screen and pick you focus point. Works very well. Leica has finally caught up. :)

I loved the Sony RX1 and even made it my camera of the year when it was released. It had that special MoJo about it and it delivered amazing rich quality files. How does the Q stand up to the now 3 year old RX1?

Well, it not only stands up to it, it exceeds it in a many ways and says  “I’m the new premo fixed lens full frame mirrorless champ”! That is in NO WAY knocking the Sony, as it is still today a legend, a beauty and a camera capable of amazing things, better than most modern day cameras. It does need an update though with a built in EVF, better battery life, faster AF, etc. Maybe Sony is working on it right as I type these words ;)

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But yes, Leica delivers here and gives us a TRUE German made Leica with TRUE Leica images quality and design. Adding the full frame sensor really changed everything as full frame offers richer color, better dynamic range and in many cases better “everything”. It’s a camera that gave me no quirks, issues or problems during my little 3 days with it. The IQ is very different from the Sony RX1 image quality which I felt was organic, rich, delicate but beautiful and WOW. The Leica Q delivers snappier color, a wider angle lens that is slightly faster, and a crispness that I see in Leica X files but with a full frame character. In other words, the IQ is fantastic.

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Back to the old RX1..yes, I feel the Q beats the Sony RX1 in many ways. Body style, built in EVF instead of external, AF speed is a bit faster with the Q, manual focus the Q wins as it is just as joyful to Manual Focus as use Auto Focus. Manual Focus feels like true manual focus here.

The other areas where the Q wins for me is color performance and “SNAP”! These Leica files just pop with a crispness and bite that give it that “WOW” factor. Exposure is usually dead on or slight overexposed to give it some glow, and the focus locks on quick with 100% accuracy.

YOU MUST click the images here to see them in much better quality. DO not judge the IQ of these files unless you click them 1st!

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Leica seems to have finally created the camera many of us have wanted for so long. Like a true digital Leica CM.  Even in the dark, just shooting by firelight, the new Q had no issues with AF or getting the shot. The camera has an impressive ISO range and while not one of those night time high ISO kings, the Q does a decent job for being a Leica…a brand that seems to lag behind in the high ISO race. Even shooting at ISO 4000 in the dark yielded nice results.

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So finally Leica has created the camera I begged for since the original Leica X1. They have come a long way since that little slow poke of a camera that did so well for them. NOW we have a fully featured, matured and highly capable camera that I can see many enthusiasts wanting as it will be much less expensive than buying a true M 240 or M-P and a lens. Maybe 60% cheaper.

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The camera has no issue with sharpness or detail or color…

More images below that when clicked on will show you the color, detail and pop that the Q puts out.

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ISO Performance

Below are some samples from ISO 1600 to 50,000. When I get the camera for a longer loan (or when I own it) I will do a more comprehensive set of tests and comparisons. But take al look and click the images below to get them to pop up larger.

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My Final word on the Leica Q after my 3 Day Evaluation

The new Q is not cheap. Leica never ever is and while I was hoping for $3500 (I feel that would have been PERFECT and sold a ton of these for Leica), it appears the Q comes in at $4250, about $750 over my “hoped for” price. Yep, $4250. True Leica style ;) I loved my time with the Q. It felt nice (though not nearly as solid as an M), it looked nice and it shot like a dream. Quick (Though not Sony A6000 quick), and a joy to use and shoot. It inspired me, gave me excitement to want to go out and shoot and that is one way I judge a camera. If it makes me WANT to go shoot with it, then it is a winner in all ways to me.

The Leica Q does just that and if you have a spare $4250 and always have wanted a true Leica, the time is now as the Q has landed. You will get “better than M 240″ quality with better color, more crispness and more pop. The lens is, after all, designed for  the sensor and camera body. It’s a perfect match. Now to see what Sony comes up with…RX2 on the way? Hmmm.

Keep in mind the original RX1 was $2795 without the EVF which set us back an additional $450. So the Q is priced about $1000.00 over the RX1 and EVF at launch, beats the RX1 in mist ways, and is a true German made Leica. When you look at it like that, the price is fair for being Leica. To those who will moan about the cost, you must not know how Leica operates, it is normal and yes I feel this Q will indeed be the one  that breaks Leica’s slow streak.

At least I hope so, it is a lovely camera worthy of the Leica badge.

For now, I will say the Q is the best mirrorless fixed lens camera made today if IQ, beauty and simplicity are at the top of your list.

The only way this would have been better is if they made it in a body only version for $3500. Then we could have added our M lenses to the Q for more options. Then again, why would Leica kill M sales by releasing a Q version at half price? They wouldn’t , and there ya have it.

Below are pre-order options for the new Leica Q, all from dealers I highly recommend and use myself…

B&H Photo Pre-Order the Q

Ken Hansen – E-mail him [email protected]

PopFlash.com

Leica Store Miami

BEST THING about Pre-Orders? You are not charged until it ships, it is cancelable at any time, and you are 1st to get it ;)

A few more snaps I shot with the Q before I had to send it back…click them for better versions! 

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Jun 092015
 
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The Sony RX1 maintaining its relevance

By Chad Wadsworth – His website is HERE

Two years can feel like a lifetime in the digital camera market, with fresh faced models seemingly delivered on a frantic six month schedule. But that’s roughly how long my RX1 has been in service – two full years. It was the golden child back then, always with me, consistently impressing with the sweet render of its Zeiss Sonnar 35/2 and the jaw dropping dynamic range from the 24-megapixel sensor. But new interchangeable lens models were released by Sony and the RX1 would often be relegated to the drawer. The newer Alphas boast faster AF, built-it EVFs, higher resolution or better low light performance, and the ability to mount nearly every lens ever made for the format.

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Funny thing though, the RX1 still deserves a place in the current stable and an argument can be made that it represents something wholly unique and special that can’t be duplicated by its siblings. It is the camera that I grab when I want to travel, go out with friends or just don’t want to think about lens options. There is a power in simplicity and limiting yourself to a single, classic 35mm lens. I rarely feel restricted with the fixed field of view and find that it is well suited for intimate scenes, landscapes and even portraits.

Given this ongoing admiration for the RX1 I decided to break down what makes the camera relevant today:

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The Lens

Like the legendary Hexar AF film compact and its Summicron killer 35/2, the heart of the RX1 is its fixed prime lens with silent leaf shutter. When the RX1 was released, the review sites gushed over the Sonnar that Sony had literally shoehorned into the frame to achieve the compact stature of the camera. With no less than three physical rings – aperture, focus and macro – the all metal Zeiss looks and feels the part of a classic rangefinder optic. Today, that lens is no less sharp, tactile or well built. You won’t find any test charts here but I’ve never been disappointed with the Sonnar’s resolving capability and its lovely rendering of out of focus areas. At times I’ve flirted with switching to the R model with no AA filter for improved resolution but photography isn’t solely about sharpness or resolution and there is a coherence inherent in this lens sensor combo that consistently satisfies.

With a leaf shutter, the lens is nearly silent and allows discrete shooting that lends itself to street, movie stills, sound recording environments or any other application where a silent shutter is a necessity. I often forget about the importance of having this ability until it is required.

The Sonnar does have its minor faults, but unless you are using an Otus, what lens doesn’t? Most notably, there is some CA that will need to be cleaned up on occasion, as well as distortion and vignetting that is magically erased in-camera. I never worry for a second that the lens is somehow hobbled or deficient. I would rate it as one of the finest 35/2 lenses made, equal to the Leica Summicron (king of bokeh), and Hexanon, better than the Minolta AF.

Relevancy today (10/10)

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The Body

When released, the RX1 was a clear shot across Leica’s bow. It is considerably smaller than the digital M bodies with a similar level of build quality, yet houses a modern full frame sensor with exceptional capabilities. It truly was the first of its kind and has yet to be eclipsed. You often read words such as “exquisite”, “finest”, “teutonic”, “brick” or “tank” to describe its build and design. Nothing has changed over those two years, in-fact time has proven the validity of those early claims. The detents on all of the metal control dials and rings remain as firm as the day I unboxed the camera. Some mild brassing on the focus ring is the extent of visible wear, although I have encased the camera in a leather half case made by Ulysses in Japan. The camera comes from the factory with a small patch of griptec type material on the front right hand side and a modest thumb grip on the rear. These two features provide just enough surface tension to make single hand holding possible but there are many first or third-party options to improve the ergonomics if desired. The case I purchased provides a nice little leather grip integrated into the design and retains access to the battery and SD card.

Controls are decidedly manual, with the aforementioned aperture ring plus an exposure compensation dial with 3 stops of adjustment +/-. When shooting full manual or shutter priority, shutter speed is assigned to the rear thumb dial. Personally, I prefer this setup to a shutter speed dial on top of the body and find that the combination of physical dials and rings to be ideal for controlling aperture, shutter speed and exposure comp.

The display is perhaps the most contentious component of the design. In an apparent attempt to keep the body as compact as possible, the RX1 was delivered without an OVF, EVF or tilt-screen. You get a nice LCD with good visibility in bright light (on the Sunny Weather setting) but that’s it. Many refused to purchase a camera where you are required to use the stinky diaper technique of composition. Sony does offer an optional OVF or EVF solution but both are pricey and alter the compact form factor of the camera. Personally, I chose to purchase the EVF and find it to be an effective add-on that not only allows for eye-level viewing, but with its articulating eyepiece, you get a right-angle finder, rendering you less intrusive to subjects on the street.

It is remarkable to think that in many ways this CyberShot branded camera remains Sony’s finest design. I know I’m not alone in hoping that a new model will eventually be introduced that retains the same level of build quality along with the retro rangefinder aesthetic and maybe a few improvements. If not for the lack of a built-in viewfinder I would rate the body a 10/10 today.

Relevancy today (9/10)

Backstage at The Mohawk as part of the Red Bull Sound Select in Austin, TX, USA 13 August 2013.

Backstage at The Mohawk as part of the Red Bull Sound Select in Austin, TX, USA 13 August 2013.

Latasha Lee and the Black Ties - Portrait

Latasha Lee and the Black Ties – Portrait

Backstage at The Mohawk as part of the Red Bull Sound Select in Austin, TX, USA 13 August 2013.

Backstage at The Mohawk as part of the Red Bull Sound Select in Austin, TX, USA 13 August 2013.

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The Sensor

As of the the date of this article, the RX1 sensor is the second highest rated in a Sony body, higher than any Canon camera and higher than any Medium Format system sensor – per DXO ratings. Pretty impressive for a two year old model. With 14.3 stops of dynamic range (widest range of all the Sony cameras), the ability of the sensor to hold highlights and recover shadows is truly astounding. I routinely overexpose when shooting in daylight at f/2, 1/2000 and have no trouble pulling back the highlights. High ISO performance is excellent and as a concert shooter, I have no qualms about using 3200 or even 6400 in a pinch. I rarely rely on software noise reduction as I find the noise pattern to be acceptable and even attractive in a film grain sense. Compared to the sensor in my newish a7II, I feel the RX1 sensor to be absolutely equal if not slightly advanced.

Relevancy today (10/10)

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User Interface

All new alpha cameras use an updated version of the RX1’s interface. Comparing those new menus to the RX1 can be a bit of a letdown. The RX1 menus are spartan and lack many helpful features found in the more recent models. One example is the inability to assign a function to the rear control ring – on the a7 models I keep ISO programmed to the ring for immediate control. On the RX1 you must program a custom button to first access ISO and then select the desired setting from the menu. There is potential for significant interface improvement so it is disappointing that firmware has not been upgraded to better synch the interface design with the current models.

Relevancy today (6/10)

Memorial Day Weekend 2015 Middle Creek Ranch

Memorial Day Weekend 2015 Middle Creek Ranch

Memorial Day Weekend 2015 Middle Creek Ranch

Memorial Day Weekend 2015 Middle Creek Ranch

Memorial Day Weekend 2015 Middle Creek Ranch

Memorial Day Weekend 2015 Middle Creek Ranch

Memorial Day Weekend 2015 Middle Creek Ranch

Memorial Day Weekend 2015 Middle Creek Ranch

Memorial Day Weekend 2015 Middle Creek Ranch

Memorial Day Weekend 2015 Middle Creek Ranch

Memorial Day Weekend 2015 Middle Creek Ranch

Memorial Day Weekend 2015 Middle Creek Ranch

Processor

Along with Interface, this section is where the RX1 most shows its age. Autofocus performance has been greatly improved in the newer alpha cameras so living with the older contrast detection system in the RX1 can at times be frustrating. On the upside, AF is generally very accurate, more so than my DSLRs ever were, it just takes the camera a bit longer to get there. Things are generally fine in good light but the hunting begins when the light goes down or in strong backlight conditions. Switching over to manual focus is always an option but the fly-by-wire mechanism requires its own form of patience and skill. Still, to put things in perspective, I have used the RX1 in extreme concert lighting conditions with solid success, just don’t expect it to provide the speed of today’s advanced systems.

Relevancy today (6/10)

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The band Tobacco performing at The Mohawk as part of the Red Bull Sound Select in Austin, TX, USA 13 August 2013.

The band Tobacco performing at The Mohawk as part of the Red Bull Sound Select in Austin, TX, USA 13 August 2013.

A True Classic?

Given the frequency of product advancement in the mirrorless space, a photographer needs to be at peace with their purchase decision. Many agonize over the right time to buy or upgrade, scanning the rumor sites for hints at what is coming next. This cycle of advancement and obsolescence can paralyze or infuriate. With a camera like the RX1 I knew when I purchased it that there would be improvements in later models, specifically to the AF speed and interface. The question I had to ask myself was whether the things that made the camera unique were enough to warrant the considerable cost of the RX1. I did not buy the camera back in 2013 for the AF performance or the interface/menu controls, I bought it for the lens, sensor and body design/build and of course for its compact form. On its introduction the RX1 was the smallest full frame camera you could buy and two years later, continues to hold that title. Sony didn’t just make the smallest full frame camera in the world, they blessed it with arguably one of the finest sensor and lens combinations available and they wrapped it in a beautiful metal retro shell with manual aperture and exposure compensation controls. Due to its compact size and its handsome design – I’ll admit a bit of vanity here, I want to carry the camera with me all the time, confident that I am not compromising anything when it comes to the images it will help me produce.

Tomorrow Sony may announce a replacement with a faster lens, better AF and interface, maybe even an integrated EVF, but when it comes to the quality of the images, we are reaching a point of diminishing returns. What the RX1 produces today is without doubt at the top end of the spectrum, so good that I seriously worry whether a new model would “mess with success”.

Sony achieved a rarity when they designed the RX1 – they produced a camera that many will claim has already reached cult status, which in the throwaway and upgrade world of digital cameras, ensures its relevancy for many years.

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Leave a comment below if you still own an RX1 or would like to.

Jun 082015
 
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The Mitakon Dark Night 50 0.95

By Isi Akahome

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Hi, my name is Isi, and I’m a bokeholic. It all started when I first shot with a rebel t2i in Target, and I fell in love with blurred backgrounds. Ever since then, I’ve chased after the widest aperture lenses. I remember drooling over the Leica Noticlux 50mm 0.95 when Steve and Digitalrev did their reviews on the lens. I wanted one, but unfortunately, the acquisition cost was laughable. My favorite lens on my old Nikon D800 was the 50mm 1.4, and then mirrorless cameras came out and that opened up the opportunity to get even wider apertures on a full frame sensor. Last November, I got the AMAZING Sony A7S and I started looking into moderately priced manual lenses with good optics. The thought of manually focusing was scary, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. The first lens I got was the Canon fd 58mm f/1.2, but it wasn’t as sharp as I would have liked and didn’t provide the amount of contrast I was looking for. This image below is a perfect example. The lens does render bokeh quite nicely.

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Then the Mitakon lens was announced! 50mm f/0.95 for under $1,000? It was like a dream come true. I remember scouring the internet for reviews and sample images for weeks. The comparison Steve did with the Noctilux was very helpful, because the difference in performance wasn’t nearly as close as the difference in price. In fact, in my opinion, it was negligible. After a lot of contemplation, I decided to get one. I found a demo copy on eBay for $750. The packaging was exceptional. It made me feel like I just purchased a priceless work of art. The box the lens comes in is quite spectacular, and the lens has a nice heft to it. It looks very well built, and for the price, I have no quibbles about the build quality. I decided this was going to be the lens I would use for most of my assignments. It seemed like it would be up to the task. I just had to master focusing with the lens wide open with that razor thin depth of field. The results have been nothing short of amazing. The subject isolation I was getting was just so unique that I was only shooting at f/0.95.

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Getting sharp focus accurately and consistently is quite challenging, but focus peaking comes in quite handy, and my accuracy has gone up substantially. Sometimes I just move a couple of inches back or forward as my subject(s) move, instead of turning the focus ring, and that makes a world of difference in getting shots in focus. When the focus is spot on, the sharpness wide open is very good, especially for portraits. Here a few shots I did for clients in varying situations.

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The one advantage that’s rarely mentioned about wide aperture lenses is the amount of shadow detail you get in situations when the subject is backlit. The faces of subjects are much brighter than with any of the other fast lenses I’ve used. Even in this photo with the harsh backlight from the sunset, the amount of shadow detail is quite impressive.

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Wedding season is about to start, and I’m both nervous and excited to use this bad boy to shoot full weddings. I think the difference between f1.2 and f0.95 is noticeable, it could be due to the fact that the lens has a certain look and character that makes the images unique to my eye. I don’t really have any complaints, except for the distracting bokeh rendering of foliage or busy backgrounds I sometimes get.

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I also shot the lens at smaller apertures because I had to in studio conditions, and it performed just as well as I would expect. These were shot at f5.6.

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I am very pleased with the results I have been getting with this lens. Even for random shots, it works fantastically. I took this as our plane was taking off from New Jersey.

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Mitakon has done something special with this lens. It is such a bargain considering what the lens can do. I would recommend this lens to anyone looking for a fast 50mm lens for their Sony A7 series camera, or other bokeholics who just want the shallowest depth of field with the added benefit of a versatile focal length. It’s a lot of fun to use, and you get all the bokeh you can handle. Don’t worry about manually focusing either. With focus peaking, it’s a breeze, and it almost forces you to compose your shots with more thought, purpose, and precision.

Thanks for reading. You can see more samples of my work on: www.isispiks.com.

Keep up the awesome work Steve! You’re a rockstar.

Isi Akahome

Jun 032015
 
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When Leica announced the M60

By Kristian Dowling – http://kristiandowling.com

My Leica M quest started some 22 years ago with the Leica M6 (classic). I haven’t shot film for over 12 years, and in this time I have developed an insecurity that has been derived from digital technology, allowing me to view images immediately after pressing the shutter button. This insecurity has led to many missed opportunities, missed moments, and ultimately – missed shots, and this results in a form of failure. Sure, I’ve learned to accept this failure by knowing that the security of ‘being sure’ I have the shot saved on a plastic card is reassuring enough to understand it’s all worth it…..but what if the LCD was taken away?

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When Leica announced the M60 (LEICA M EDITION “LEICA 60”), the news was met with a lot of mixed emotions. Its claim to fame is that it is the only Leica M camera ever made in complete Stainless Steel. Described by Leica as ‘The essence of photography’, and ‘an homage to the art of photography’, you wouldn’t really understand unless you shot with a Leica film rangefinder camera…..or with the M60. Why? Because they decided to remove what’s most valuable feature to the modern photographer. The one thing we all rely on, and the one thing that makes us insecure when shooting – the LCD. Now I know what you’re all thinking. “I’m not insecure because I use the LCD. I don’t NEED the LCD. Why would they remove it, when it’s the one feature that completes a digital camera and truly makes it useful?” – let me answer that shortly.

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There were 600 Leica M60 packages produced, and they’re almost completely sold out now, yet I haven’t seen many photographers out shooting with them. This is a shame because while it is a highly collectible camera, it’s also designed to be a ‘shooters’ camera, and in my opinion, begs to be used! I first came into contact with the unique camera in Singapore recently, where my good friend Alwyn Loh showed me his new baby. When placed into my hands I could not believe the feel of it. Super solid, sharp lines, more heft than any M, and looks to die for. The finish on the camera is impeccable and really shows that Leica has maintained their standard of first class finishing into the 20th century.

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A week later in Bangkok, one of my friends, Lawrence Becker pulls out what looks like an M60, only he tells me it’s ‘not quite an M60’. Upon further investigation I see that it’s actually an M60 prototype, 9 of only 11 made, with matching lens and body. The beauty of purchasing Leica packages like this is that you can be assured that the body and lens are calibrated perfectly to each other, ensuring ultimate calibration, and perfect image quality. After doing some research I haven’t been able to find any information that points out the differences between the prototype and the M60, so felt there’s only one thing left to do – shoot!

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The design of the M60 is minimalistic and clean. There is nothing on there that is not essential to basic picture taking. The shutter release has no option for soft release, and there are no lugs, so there is no way to attach a strap, unless you use the included leather case/strap combo, or buy an aftermarket strap that attaches to the tripod socket on the bottom plate. As there is no LCD (replaced by ISO selector), there are no menu options. There is no way to select white balance (AWB only), but there is a button allowing you to see how many frames you have left, as well as battery percentage in the viewfinder – very smart, and needed. All files are recorded in RAW only.

In the hands, the camera feels like no other digital camera I’ve handled before. It is the same thickness and shape as the current M240, yet has a higher weight, and the edges are much sharper. The covering is grippy and really well done, with little grove cut-outs I’ve not seen on an M camera before. The finish is smooth to touch, and doesn’t show finger prints, unless you have a lot of oil on your hands. Put simply, it’s the best-finished digital M to date, possibly alongside the M9Ti.

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Walking around carrying this exquisite piece of Stainless Steel in your hands comes with an initial fear of dropping it, and exposing the steel underneath the finishing. After a while, the fear turned into confidence once I got my feet wet and snapped a few frames. After using standard M’s all my life there is something special about carrying around such a unique piece of machinery. Sure, it’s essentially an M240, but the heft, finish and rarity instil a feeling of excitement too.
The M60 is designed to feel and function like a film camera, with the versatility of being about to record images in digital. Where the LCD is usually positioned, on the back cover, you now find the old ISO selection wheel, completing the film-camera look and feel.

When shooting, the first thing I noticed was the shutter. I assume it’s the same in all-digital M240 variants, but what changes is the sound. Due to the acoustics of the stainless steel frame, the shutter sounds sharper, faster and quieter. The next thing you notice is that what made you insecure when shooting is no longer present, and now you’re in withdrawal. It’s an empty feeling knowing that you cannot view the picture you just took, especially when you know you’re using a digital camera. At that moment, I’d never felt more insecure shooting, ever.

Upon shooting my next few frames, Déjà vu struck! I began to reminisce about the good old days where I would shoot without thinking about the camera, or the photos. Photography was ‘all about shooting’, and not reviewing, and now I could be free of my insecurity and be 100% in the moment. I can’t explain how refreshing this feeling was. Needless to say, I was happy, and felt my love for photography starting to re-evolve. I know it sounds corny, but wow, what a feeling of relief.

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The next question I asked myself was ‘what do I do about exposure?’ In the past I used a handheld meter and rarely relied on the built in meter. Sure it is good as a guide but it’s certainly not 100% trustworthy because it meters off reflected light, and not the actual ambient light falling onto my subject/scene. Since moving to digital, I’ve never used a light meter in a camera. My 22 years shooting in manual with a hand held meter allowed me to record a mental database of exposures I recall and input into my camera……but, I usually use my LCD to confirm I am correct, or at least close, then adjust accordingly.

Seeing there is no option here, I would have to rely on my mental database, and use the built-in meter as a guide if I was unsure, as I had no access to a handheld meter at the time. Once I became comfortable with this, I was free to shoot without concern. I only had about an hour with the camera, but in this time I could see why Leica took a chance and created the M60. From the very beginning, Leica cameras have always been about keeping things simple, and putting total control into the hands of the user, without gimmicky functions getting in the way or becoming a distraction. The less the user has to think about the camera, the more they can focus on the moment and capturing it with total focus and concentration.

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I even noticed that interacting with subjects is easier because they can see that I’m not looking at my camera to review images, and this has a huge effect on my ability to get what I need from a situation. While there are a lot of benefits from sharing the images with subjects during a shoot, there are a lot more benefits of not sharing, especially in street and documentary scenarios.

The M60 (prototype) is ALL about the experience of shooting – taking photographs in the exact same way as you would with film, yet with the advantage of being able to view, edit and distribute the images immediately with convenience of digital technology. The results were pin sharp, as sharp as I’ve ever seen from a 35/1.4 ASPH on any Leica M, somewhat like the pin-sharp results from an M-Monochrom. Again, this shows how important it is to have a lens and body perfectly calibrated to obtain the best possible image quality.

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From my limited experience, I believe the M60 concept is a winner. Not just for collectors, but for those who value top quality Leica products – along with the added benefits of shooting in such a pure way. The price of the kit has just dropped by 12%, and there are some good deals to be had. Worst case, in years to come, the lens alone will hold the value of the kit, considering there are no more stainless steel lenses/kits like this produced.

Blending the worlds of analogue and digital may sound like a stretch on paper, but in reality it really proved to be a rewarding experience, and one I would love Leica to pursue further. I’m not saying they should remove the LCD’s from all their cameras, but it would be nice to see them releasing a version of the M without an LCD to cater to those who value the true and traditional M shooting experience. I know for me, it’s a very good fit for those times I want to shoot and be completely in the moment and focused the way I’m supposed to be.

Kristian Downling

http://kristiandowling.com

You can buy the M60 from Ken Hansen ([email protected]) or Leica Store Miami.

Jun 022015
 
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Zeiss Batis 25mm and 85mm hands-on, plus Sony FE 28mm f/2 comparison

By Chad Wadsworth – See his website HERE

Don’t expect this to be a well controlled, thoroughly tested discourse on the new Batis lenses. I literally had each lens for about five minutes at Precision Camera here in Austin, TX where the store was hosting a dealer day. Lucky me when I strolled up to the Sony display and there they were, the new Batis lenses – apparently the only copies in N. America.

With a promise that I wouldn’t run away with the lenses, I was allowed to head outside for some quick test shots. We are talking about a bright strip-mall parking lot – not exactly photo shoot friendly, but I made the best of it. In the short time I had my grubby hands on the lenses, I was able to assess a few things about these new Zeiss jewels.

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First off, they look to be very well built with a design that hews more to the mold of the Otus than the Touit. Since I’m not a huge fan of the Touits’ build I was deeply impressed with the construction of these Batis lenses and I think most photographers will be as well. I didn’t shoot in manual focus mode but did test out the focus ring and found it to be smooth and nicely dampened. With no other control on the lens, it has a minimalist, stout, dare I say handsome look.

Second, the Batis are not small but not large either; a Goldilocks “just right” perhaps? The 85mm is very close in size to the ZA 85mm/1.4 but saves on the weight in glass and bulk of the LA-EA adapter. I’m sure someone out there will be outraged that the lens isn’t rangefinder tiny but it feels great and balances well on the a7II. Same with the 25mm – bigger than the FE 28mm – more so in girth, than length but it still feels right on the camera.

Third, based on my sad selection of available test targets – save the nice model who agreed to let me snap a quick portrait – I’m comfortable making some very early comments about image quality. Keep in mind, these are likely pre-production so yada yada, final product may differ.

We have all seen early samples criticized only to learn the true performance of the lenses at a later date so let’s be patient and take these images at their value – as early indications of what the performance of these Batis may be but not the final word – not even close.

25mm and quick comparison to the FE 28/2*

* note that the comparisons here were shot at different times (10 minutes apart) and aren’t perfectly controlled examples. I tried to match up f-stops but wasn’t always successful. Images were edited to my taste but edits were applied equally between the two lenses (same levels of sharpness, etc.)

I unequivocally adore the FE 28/2. I’ve said it previously and stand by my claim that the lens is a bang for the buck champ – sharper than just about any other 28mm ever produced with equally impressive bokeh for a wide-angle. Of course the FE has its issues, but for a budget optic with this level of sharpness and bokeh, I can live with software based distortion corrections and some occasional CA cleanup, and so should you. Given my admiration for the Sony 28mm, I didn’t think for a second I would have any interest in picking up the new Batis 25mm. I was wrong.

FE 28mm @ f/2

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Batis 25mm @ f/2

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Where the FE 28mm is in-your-face sharp, the Batis looks a bit smoother, yet zoom in to pixel peep and you will see that there’s a similar level of sharpness and micro contrast. The render of the Batis very much reminds me of the ZA 24mm f/2 but without all the field curvature AF issues that were endemic to that A-mount lens.

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Batis 25mm @ f/2

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To test distortion, I shot some straight lines with both lenses and the results were as expected. Without any software corrections, the Batis looks more controlled for distortion than the FE does even with its LR software profile activated. No surprise, but still nice to see. I expect that the Batis will be a boon for architecture and interiors photographers.

FE 28mm @ f/5.6 with Lightroom Profile Correction

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Batis 25mm @ f8 – no software corrections for distortion

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I didn’t notice much CA from the 25mm Batis (there is some) but would need to shoot in more varied conditions. To be fair, I didn’t see much from the FE shots that day either. There was some vignetting in the Batis that I corrected to match-up more closely with the FE shots – not a big deal. This next particularly uninspiring shot was composed to check corner performance in the top right and no color edits were made on these two.

FE 28mm @ f8

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Batis 25mm @ f/8

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Alpha shooters are going to be very satisfied having the Batis 25mm in their stable soon. I’ve already added it to my 85mm preorder. For photographers that don’t need the extra 3mm (7 degrees) of view or don’t want to spend the hefty sum of $1,200 on the Batis, the FE 28mm remains an impressive optic, and easy choice.

85mm – quick portrait

For the 85mm, the strip mall presented even fewer targets, but there were a couple of models inside the camera store that were helping out with the dealer demos, so I asked one of them for a quick portrait. She obliged and we snapped this one in about 20 seconds – not ideal, but it gives us some impression of what the lens is capable of. Focus was quick, sure and accurate. Pixel peeping shows excellent sharpness and detail. Bokeh is difficult to fully address here as we had the subject in shade and a challenging bright background, yet the highlights reflecting off automobile rooftops melted away admirably. Some have commented that there is CA visible in the portrait when viewed at 100%. I don’t believe it to be excessive or even unexpected in these backlit conditions. I was intrigued by these comments though so dug into the archive to look at some photos I took with the well regarded ZA 85/1.4 on the a900 a few years ago. I was shocked to see how much CA was present in some of those images, even at f/2.2, so the new Batis may well be a considerable improvement in that area.

Having previously owned said legendary Zeiss 85/1.4 for A-mount, I have been anxiously awaiting an FE replacement but was concerned that the lens would be too large or too slow. Again with the Goldilocks reference but the Batis seems to nail it with just the right dimensions, weight and image quality.

After my brief time with the 85mm I am guessing that it will become a must buy for many Alpha shooters.

Batis 85mm @ f/1.8

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Pre-Order the Batis Lenses:

B&H Photo

PopFlash.com

Additional samples…

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Jun 012015
 
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A Black & White state of mind. The Leica Monochrom Typ 246 and Zeiss 35 1.4.

(NOTE: All images here were shot on the new Monochrom with Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM lens)

It seems like just yesterday that I was in Berlin, all excited to test and try out the original Leica Monochrom. Back then I fell in love with the camera after just one hour of use on the streets of Berlin and have been enamored and  fascinated by this unique niche camera ever since.

That original Monochrom came and went and came again into my life because at first I could not swallow the fact that I paid so much for a camera that only shot in B&W. I felt guilty and ended up selling my 1st MM and using the M 240 and just doing conversions to B&W. It was close, but not the same. For me, there was just something special about those Monochrom files and while I would not want EVERYTHING to always be in B&W, using a camera dedicated and devoted to the art of B&W photography just gave me more motivation and had me looking for scenes that would look just right in B&W.

 

It is indeed a special camera as it is one of those that has a way of pulling at your heartstrings. When you own a Leica Monochrom, new or old version, you know you have something special.

Click for larger. The new Monochrom Typ 246 is here and it’s one hell of a camera, keeping with the tradition of the original but with so many improvements all the way around. These two shots of Carl at the old Washoe Club in Virginia City, NV were taken with the Zeiss ZM 35 1.4 Distagon, which is a GORGEOUS lens. 

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I have to say that when Leica announced that they were releasing a new version of the much-loved M9 based Monochrom, many had their doubts. Gone would be that CCD sensor that had so much pop and snap. Many thought it would be a huge difference like what happened with the M9 to M 240 (which I feel is a 100% improvement but the files are much different with the M 240 vs M9) and many were afraid the camera would become something that did not keep with the Leica philosophy.

Well, I was one of the 1st to get this new Monochrom 246 after its release and I have been shooting with it for a while now and I absolutely ADORE it. Believe me when I say the new 246 keeps the same feel, vibe and heart tugging magic as the original..but get this..even more so.

All shots on this page were with the Zeiss 35 1.4. EXIF embedded on all shots.  MUST CLICK them for larger versions!

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with the old Monochrom we had a camera that gave us a new way to look at the world. Sure, we can shoot any camera in color and convert to B&W but this is different. With a true Monochrome sensor we get TRUE Monochrom images, as well as the benefits that come along with it. The new MM uses a CMOS sensor instead of a CCD sensor and I can say with authority that this new sensor (over the CCD sensor) is astonishing. Better. In every way.

You still get that true Monochrom look but we also get a much improved body, much improved battery life, much improved LCD, much improved RF experience, a feeling of a more solid construction, a new 2GB buffer for faster shot to shot times, much improved high ISO for low light and yes, even the addition of true Monochrom video.

The Zeiss is a killer lens with some superb POP on this camera..

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The new Monochrom uses the M 240 body much like the old MM used the M9 body. THIS is a good thing. This body, while slighty more beefy than the old one just feels so good in the hand. It feels polished, finished and lovely. It inspires confidence. It works just as well with modern lenses as it does old classics and gone is that slight harshness that the old MM had in certain lighting. For me, I see a nice Dynamic Range improvement in the new Monochrom. The old one would always be tough in harsh lighting with blow outs but so far, this new version has not blown out any highlights for me, no matter the lighting.

Even high ISO is astonishing and I truly feel that this version of the camera gives the same detail, sharpness and even better tones that the overly gray tones of the original.

Below is a shot taken at NIGHT at ISO 12,500 hand held. Click it to see larger and see just how good ISO 12,500 is, even when shooting in the dark. 

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When I have the Monochrom 246 with me (which from now on I will refer to it as the MM for M Monochrom) I feel good. I feel special. I feel like I have a tool that not many others have and I feel blessed and lucky to own one. When it arrived from Ken Hansen I was excited to open it and fire it up to see if the image quality has changed, and if so, if it was a good or bad thing.

The 1st photos I shot were the usual shots this reviewer takes when a new camera comes through the household. My family, dogs, backyard..just to get a feel for it. Then I took some graduation shots and realized that this camera is so versatile and gives us stunning quality files. In the right hands, this camera has the ability to create masterpieces of art and beauty. With the right lenses, the right light and the right scene, it could be magic.

My use with it is limited to the last couple of weeks around my house and wherever I have roamed during that time. Even with that, I came away with some fantastic memories and images for my personal collection.

Click this for a larger version to see just how good this camera and lens combo is. My beautiful Debby on the right and her daughter Alison on the left. 

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Graduation Day!

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One of the things with the old Monochrom was the vast amount of detail and resolution it gave us. Even with only a 18MP sensor, the old MM seemed to defy the laws of physics with the sharpness and details it gave us . The new MM is a 24 Megapixel monster and we may think that it would give us even more resolution and detail. Well, it does gives us that superb sharpness and detail that we remember from the original but I would not say it gives us loads more of resolution. I do prefer the tones from the new MM though as they are much easier to post process and as I mentioned earlier, this sensor seems to do much better with highlights.

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The three images below are just snaps but take a look at the 100% crops embedded. This is what you can expect from the new MM with a Zeiss 35 1.4 Zm attached :) YOU MUST click these to see the larger versions and true 100% crop!

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The B&W tones of the MM 246 are quite nice. Deep blacks, deep grays, deep tones all in between. I like to do my “Tree Trunk Test” when testing B&W performance and below you can see the two shots that have rich black and grey tones that a true Mono sensor delivers. It just has that little but of extra something that makes you say “Hmmm, there is something to this B&W thing”…

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Many will read this post and think to themselves..“why would anyone pay $7500 for a B&W camera when you can shoot with any color camera and convert to B&W” and believe me, I GET IT. 

In fact, if I did not work out a huge trade deal for this one, I would have NEVER been able to get my own, and in the beginning I had my doubts but after shooting with the new MM for a while I can safely say that I love it, and yes, I love it even more than the original.

It can give us those delicate tones and it just feels right…

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Keep in mind that at $7500, this camera is NOT cheap. It is a Leica after all and if you have been reading my site for the past 7+ years you will know that Leica is expensive. To those who still complain about that, get over it! It is what it is. Leica is not for everyone and even I go in and out at times with Leica as on one hand I feel they are overpriced and crazy..yet on the other I know how special they are not only physically but the effect it can have on you mentally, in a very positive way.

One way to explain it is that while I was out on a trip I brought my Sony A7II for color and my Leica MM 246 for B&W. I planned to shoot the Sony more as I figured I would want to shoot color. As the days went on I found myself always going for the MM 246! Why? Well, it gave me more joy and happiness to use it, it feels so good in the hand and the manual experience of shooting is just a joy. A pleasure. It motivates me just as the Leica M 246 and Leica MM and Leica M9 did before it.

It is after all, a true Leica.

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So while this is not a breakdown review of the new MM 246, it was meant to go over my true feelings for it while sharing some snaps I shot with it using the Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM. In all reality, the old MM is just as special as this new one, and both have similarities. You can read my review of the old MM to get the idea of what this whole “MM” thing is all about but after using both extensively I will say AGAIN that this new MM 246 easily beats the old one in every way. There is nothing with the OLD MM I prefer to this new MM, and the battery life of this new MM is astonishing. I went all week on one charge and I still have battery left.

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A Quick Comparison..Sony A7II and Zeiss 35 1.4 FE vs Leica MM and Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM

Many have asked me if I could shoot the same subject with the Sony A7II as the Leica MM, both using their respective Zeiss 35 1.4 lenses. Now, the Leica setup is MUCH smaller and much easier to carry around and hold but the Sony keeps up with the Leica MM here. Both had the same Alien Skin Neopan 100 filter applied to make it even.

Click image for larger size and true 100% crops. To my eye, they are very similar but the Leica feels much better when shooting = physically, emotionally and usability wise. 

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If you are someone who loves true Mono images, you can not get any better than the Leica Monochrome. Old or new, you will get beautiful images that at times can be stunners. If you want the latest cutting edge for Leica, buy the new MM. If you want to save a few grand, go with a used old version. Just be aware old and used means no warranty, and if something is off Leica will charge a pretty penny for repair. Kind of like owning an old Mercedes or BMW…upkeep, if needed, can be pricey.

The new MM is actually less expensive than the old one started out at. At $7450 for the new vs the old $8000 price for the old (now down  to $6999) you are getting much more for less money. Keep in mind, that is a price without a lens! To use this camera one will need to purchase an M mount lens which will take the price up another $1000-$11000 depending on what you get.

I now own the new Monochrom and it is now sitting on my shelf looking pretty until our next outing. I even named her..yes, mine is female (lol) and her name is “inspiration” . I love this camera and for me it represents the pinnacle of B&W photography. As for B&W film, sure that is all nice and all but the Monochrom digital is WAY more versatile and even less expensive in the LONG term over film, and for me, the MM does not replicate film, it improves upon it just as the old MM did. With the right processing we can get close to the look of ANY film, but as I said, for my tastes, even better.

You will never be stuck with a low or high ISO film in your camera, limiting your shots. You will never have only 36 frames on the camera, with the right card you can store thousands at a time. You will never have to worry about the costs and time of developing, processing and scanning film. All you will need to concentrate on is the shot.

To run it down again, the improvements over the old MM are:

  1. M 240 body, which is a huge improvement in all areas
  2. Nicer shutter sound
  3. Much better LCD
  4. Much improved high ISO
  5. Improved Dynamic Range
  6. HUGE HUGE improvement in battery life
  7. Much better RF experience with color choice of frame lines (white or red)
  8. Now you can shoot true Mono video
  9. 2GB buffer for faster shot to shot times (3X faster)
  10. Richer and nicer looking files, no harshness
  11. Easier to process the files, no real learning curve like the 1st MM
  12. Cheaper than the original was at launch
  13. Live view as with the M 240 is available (but clunky as with the M 240)

Those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. It is a truly spectacular camera and I can not wait to attach and try other lenses ranging from cheap old classics to the top of the line modern m masterpieces like the 50 lux and APO cron.

You have to LOVE and ADORE the art of B&W shooting to plunk down this kind of cash for a B&W only camera but if you do, you will NOT be disappointed in this new MM.

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Accessories I recommend for the MM 246:

1. Walter Contrast Eyepiece. I own one and love it. See more about it HERE.

2. The JB Leica M hand grip which is my fave hand grip for any Leica M (240 or 246)

3. The Hard Graft Leica camera case and strap (I own this for my MM 246, strap is in the video on this page)

4. Wotancraft Ryker Bag.

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Where to Buy the new MM 246?

My MM came from Ken Hansen. You can email him at [email protected] and see what kind of a wait list he has. Just as with the old MM, this one has a wait list at most dealers. You can also buy this camera from PopFlash.com, Leica Store Miami or B&H Photo. 

ALL HIGHLY RECOMMENDED OFFICIAL LEICA DEALERS. 

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May 252015
 
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TITLE90SONY

The Sony 90mm Macro 2.8 G lens for the FE (A7) System

I will start this review off by saying I am NOT a Macro shooter. I seriously lack the skills for this kind of photography and while I have always been fascinated by it, I just never really invested in a Macro lens for myself, to use, to learn, to get up close to my subjects.

With that said, Macro lenses are popular as many LOVE to shoot the little things of this world in a way that makes them appear larger than life. That is what it is all about, and this is a lens that allows us to do just that, if we have the skill to do so ;)

With the Sony FE A7 system, users have had a lack of lenses up until recently. These days Sony has released a load of lenses onto this full frame system, and we now have some amazing lenses for use with our A7 cameras. Lenses like the amazing 35 1.4 or 28 f/2 are ones I use almost daily and now Sony sent me the new 90 2.8 G Macro to test out, and I was happy to attach it to my A7’s and shoot!

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The lens is large but the lens is of great quality. One thing I have been appreciating lately is the way Sony has been stepping up their game. Sure, their premium lenses are on the large side, but the quality is top-notch, leaving you wanting for nothing more. They are making sure they are releasing SUPERB quality glass for their superb A7 system. Even the little inexpensive 28 f/2 is ASTOUNDING for the price point. You can see my review of that lens HERE.  My 35 1.4 review is HERE.

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But today I want to talk little about the new 90 Macro. I was able to shoot a few images with it, and as I said, I am not a Macro guy, so take my words as what they are…a Novice macro shooter talking about a macro lens that he enjoyed using ;) I have reviewed and LOVED the Olympus 60 Macro but this Sony is up there  – a step above in build quality over the Olympus, and the IQ is fantastic as well, just what I would expect from Sony in 2015. The only weakness is the size, but I have used other Macro 90mm lenses that are just as large or larger and again, this is a full frame lens, so they are always larger than Micro 4/3 or APS-C.

See my 1st look video on this lens and another new lens for the FE mount…it basically gives you the lowdown on the lens

As you can see, the lens is on the larger side, it is a teeny but larger than the 35 1.4 and 16-35 but smaller than the 70-200 :) As I used the lens at Butterfly Wonderland in Scottsdale AZ I was having a rough time getting AF because when you are up close to you subject it is VERY hard to handhold and stay within your depth of field. Any movement will render the image soft or useless as you will be out of focus, even with a breath of you lungs.  This is why most serious Macro shooters use a tripod, and manual focus..this ensures an in focus shot. Me, I did not have my tripod handy, so had to stick with wide open and handheld. The good news is the lens has built-in optical steady shot, so minor hand shakes will be compensated for.

The Bokeh is creamy, color is rich and the detail, when you nail focus, is superb. I had no issues with CA, distortion or other nasties we sometimes see with lenses on digital cameras.

click images for larger and crisper view

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The last image above reminds me of something that would come from a Leica Noctilux, which is an $11k lens. The reason it appears that way is that the 90 2.8 offers smooth as silk Bokeh when you are up close to your subject, making it a creamy bokeh fest. I found  the 90 Macro to be suited to just about ANY shooting one would do with any 90mm lens. Portraits, distant shots, close-ups, doesn’t matter. The Sony 90 Macro 2.8 G lens delivers.

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The AF, being a Macro lens is not the speediest. Macro lenses in general have slower AF as they work harder when up close to get that perfect focus. Macro lenses are just slower, that is a fact of Macro life, so if you buy this lens, be sure you want to use it for its intended purpose as  you may not be 100% happy with the AF speed if shooting normal scenes. With that said, it is not slow by any means. It is just slower than what a normal 90 may give you. I did find it focused slightly quicker on my A7s over my A7II but both were acceptable to me.

Ist image is actually a reflection in a Koi pond of a little girl watching the fish. She was fascinated with them, so I snapped her reflection which almost looks like a double exposure. 

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I think this young one thought that he may fall into the water :) F/2.8

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This post is short, as all I have to say about this lens is good. It’s built very well and has none of that hollowness that some lenses have. It is solid, has selectable on or off Optical Steady Shot, and it has a selectable focus distance so if you are NOT using the close up macro feature you can set it to full for quicker AF with normal shots. With the A7II you can choose to use the cameras 5 Axis IS worth lens OIS. I tried both and found both worked well but I concluded that the OIS in the lens was a little better, at least for me. So I let the lens do the Steady Shot duties.

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I found I was using the lens more and more for normal 90mm shots, and the lens did well. Great color snap, great pop, great detail. Click the image below to see a true 100% crop within the image. Plenty of detail. See the shot above (click on it) of the cowboy, it is sharp, has fantastic color, and there is nothing macro about it, so yes, it can be used as a general 90 2.8 lens. Below see the crop.

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I really enjoyed my quick couple of weeks with the Sony 90 Macro and I am confident that anyone who loves to shoot Macro and owns a Sony A7 system camera, well, you will adore it. I have shot with maybe 5-6 macro lenses in my life, my fave two are this Sony and the Olympus 60. Can’t go wrong here. I am just happy to see Sony release lenses that we want, from ultra wide to telephoto. While there is no native 300-400mm lens yet, I am sure there will be. Sony is dedicated to pushing forward with the FE system, as it is insanely successful for them. The A7 series is selling well for them, especially when you compare the sales to other manufacturers right now. Digital camera sales have slowed down massively over the past few years as many feel the tech has peaked, so they are keeping what they have longer.

I am seeing that over the past six months though, sales are picking up. New Sony cameras, Olympus…they are pushing the market ahead of others. Now Leica is perking up a little again with the new Mono and rumors of exciting new cameras on the way. Could be a sign that 2016 will be big. Not 2012 big, but bigger than 2014 and 15.

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The Sony A7II is still my #1 camera. It is my goto no mater what, when or where I shoot. If the lights get really low I reach for my A7s. With all of these great lenses now out there, we have a choice. Choice is good.

Some of my most recent Sony Lens reviews:

Loxia 35

Loxia 50

Sony 35 1.4

Sony 16-35

Sony 28 f/2

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So at the end of the day, another winner from Sony. I am seeing many raves for this lens from others who have had a shot at it, and some fantastic work is out THERE using this lens on various A7 bodies. Congrats to Sony yet again! The 90 Macro 2.8 G lens comes in at $1098 and is scheduled for release in July. July 7th to be exact.

PRE-ORDER/ORDER:

You can pre-order this lens at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE or directly from Sony HERE. 

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Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website, in money and time. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

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One other way to help is by donation. If you want to donate to this site, any amount you choose, even $5, you can do so using the paypal link HERE and enter in your donation amount. All donations help to keep this site going and growing! I do not charge any member fees so your donations go a long way to keeping this site loaded with useful content. Thank you!

May 212015
 
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The Olympus Pen F – from Large Format to Half Frame thanks to W. Eugene Smith

By Ibraar Hussain

Steve, Brandon and every viewer of this site!

it’s been a fascinating year so far, and stevehuffphoto.com is as good as ever! Exciting camera news and excellent photography.
I really enjoy the daily inspirations and inspire they do!

After the recent Punjab trip I sold my Panasonic Lumix GX7 and was looking to go up into the world of Large Format, View cameras and 5×4 photography. My winning bid for an MPP Micro Technical camera with quick load Film holders, a Schneider lens and all the accessories had to be cancelled as the seller updated me with some information about the lens having some fungus inside.

I was disappointed as my advancement into the realm of LF had been put on hold, so until I find another one that has to wait. I was browsing the Web and came across a superb vintage Olympus advertisement showcasing their Olympus Pen F camera. It featured one of The Greatest Photographers and War Correspondents of all Time: W. Eugene Smith, composer of possibly, in my opinion,  The Most Beautiful and Magical photograph of all time: A Walk To The Paradise Garden. A photograph whose composition and making of is a story unto itself and worth looking up, and a photograph which does nothing but inspire. It inspired me to clean up my neglected darkroom and dust off everything, to gather my cameras again and shoot, to invest in an Epson SC-600 13”+ Printer and some Epson Exhibition Fiber paper and make some prints.

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Anyway, I digress.

Smith, with his ultra cool look had with him an Olympus Pen FT. I don’t know whether he used it much, and I am not really bothered about that, but I used to have an Olympus Pen F which I regret ever selling, as it’s a wonderful camera. It’s built as well as anything, solid metal housing and beautifully crafted, small and compact with tiny lenses and a wonderful portrait format finder.

I love everything about this camera, and it is a shame Olympus were unable to copy it instead releasing the Digital pen series which are nothing like this work of art, designed by the genius of Yoshihisa Maitinai himself.

The camera is unique, in so many ways. It is not a rangefinder like the Leica M series, but a true SLR. It lacks a Pentaprism and is thus oblong in shape with no un sightly prisms, humps and angles, instead it is sleek, with a low profile and an almost RF look about it – yet so very different as it is an SLR and not anything else. The Pen F was produced from 1963 to 1966 and was in turn followed by the Pen FT and FV models.

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I prefer this over any other model for a few important reasons.
Firstly, it’s the Original design and features the glorious and striking gold gothic F logo which is reason to buy it in itself.
It has a very bright large finder, which isn’t dark and cluttered like that in the FT (which has a meter and readout in the finder making it cramped). It has the double stroke wind lever which I prefer and lacks a light meter which makes it simpler and more spartan- but this is the beauty of it.

The construction is up there with the Germans, it is a solid hunk of crafter metal, a solid and satisfying shutter button, the shutter mechanism is a Ti Rotary Focal Plane Shutter and along with the Half Frame (APS sized) negative is very much like that on a Cine camera.
The Portrait format finder is like this as it is a Half Frame camera, with a 18x24mm negative which when exposed resembles that of negative stock shot with a 35mm motion picture 35 camera.

It has a nice set of compact lenses, with the 38mm f1.8 being the usual standard lens. 38mm on half frame is equal to 55mm in Full Frame Format.

I managed to get an almost Mint example from a seller in Japan with the fast 40mm f1.4 lens (pristine condition) and the Gothic F lens cap!
I also procured a classy leather strap and a 43mm Tiffen Yellow Filter to go with it.

Needless to say I absolutely adore this. It has so much character, it attracts so much attention and is so different and unique. It features nothing but the shutter button, the Shutter speed dial at the front, the wind lever and Film crank and that’s about it! it’s all i need! This is a keeper, especially the mint version I have.

Shooting with this is a different style altogether.

The portrait format with the half frames gives another dimension to the photography, and I am forced to think out side the box, to compose and shoot differently within the constraints of the narrow 60mm focal length of my 40mm f1.4 G Zuiko and the upright view finder I explore different compositions and subjects, with the added creative benefit of having a go at Penography – of shooting three consecutive pictures as a sort of three frame panorama, and using the unique format to create pairs of frames, telling a story or portraying something in chronological order, such as a triptych or montage. The possibilities are endless and with the fine grained sharp Film available Grain or resolution isn’t an issue. And I forgot to mention, one roll of a 36 exposure Film goes on seemingly forever! You get double the amount of frames courtesy of the Half Frame format!

The lens is a beautiful piece of work, solid in construction with an aperture ring and a depth of field preview button, and it has some interesting bokeh and gives delightful shallow depth of field effects. It is sharp at f4 and above and a very nice lens to own and use.

Using and owning the Olympus Pen F is a pleasure and will open many opportunities in creativity and satisfying and interesting results. It won’t make you into W. Eugene Smith, and you won’t look as cool as him, and nor will you be as great as him, but it sure as hell puts a smile on my face and has kindled the love of photography in my heart again.

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I took it for a trial run to some of my favourite walks in Epping Forest near my home (Strawberry Hill Ponds and Great Monk Wood and Wanstead Park for those interested). I used my trusty Minolta Autometer III and took the reading from the shadow areas this time!
The rest I left to experience and managed to gauge the light levels and loaded with Rollei Retro 400s (fast becoming my favourite 400 speed Film) I played with light and shadow of the sun beams amongst the trees.

I then took it to the woods in and around Burnham Beeches in Berkshire with the Missus, the Film eventually finished and I loaded it up with some Agfa Ultra 100 colour Film for some fun and games with the magic of the Bluebells and ancient Oak and Beech around here – but that is for another story!

The results were vey pleasing, and the double frames an interesting way of portraying photographs. I have used it as a gimmick though and haven’t really used the two frames or any triptych as they should be used here, though I did take a triptych of my Missus which is superb (but she’ll kill me if I upload any of her photos). I’m going to have a go at ‘Street’ photography with this delightful and beautiful camera soon, as I usually shoot Nature, travel portraiture and architecture I am pretty useless at reportage and street – but i think this camera will be ideal!

So in searching for a 5×5” Large Format Micro technical camera I’ve bought a Half Frame instead thanks to W. Eugene Smith and his über cool look. Anyway, for those bored of nature and trees, look away now. These snaps are a first roll trial.

All snaps:

Olympus Pen F
G. Zuiko Auto S 40mm f1.4
Rollei Retro 400s
Developed in R09 Rodinal
Scanned with Plustek 8100
Digital darkroom using Photoshop CS4 and Apple Aperture 3.6

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May 182015
 
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New Leica Monochrom Typ 246, 1st Look Video & Samples

NOTE: YOU MUST click on the images here to see them correctly. If you do not, you are seeing resized and resampled softer images. Click them for larger size, and to see the correct sharpness. 

It has only been 2-3 days with the new Leica Monochrom but man, I can say with 100% authority that yes, for ME, this is a huge improvement over the last Leica Monochrom (M9) in EVERY way from file quality, to body, to features, to battery, to LCD, to Rangefinder, to the modern features like video and live view (which I will most likely not use). Just as the M 240 did over the M9, the new Monochrom Typ 246 does the same over the old M9 Monochrom.

The new MM 246 with my $30 Jupiter 8 50mm f/2 lens. The MM works well with old, cheap, classic lenses. Click for much better version!

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Now..before anyone gets in a HUFF over my words, as I know there are many die-hard fans of the original Monochrom and M9, what I say here is MY opinion, for my uses and needs. To me, and many others, this new MM is a full mature camera, a niche camera of course, but a full mature camera capable of astounding B&W imagery. It is like having an all B&W camera loaded with EVERY B&W film ever made, as your files can be made to resemble many B&W films. Of course digital will never replicate the look of film, but I feel what this camera can do…well, let’s just say I think it can output BETTER than film, without the hassle, costs and time involved. Personally, I would not choose a B&W film over a Monochrom 246 if given the choice. Of course, others will disagree, the film crowd.

A quick test shot after getting the new MM. 75 Summarit, f/2.4 – click it  to see it how it is supposed to be seen

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I feel the new MM is fantastic. It has the amazing battery life of the 240, the MUCH improved LCD, the MUCH improved menu system, quieter shutter, faster operation and larger buffer, increased DR (yes, it has more DR than the previous MM) and much improved high ISO performance. It is now 24 MP vs 18 MP and while the old MM was a detail MONSTER, I am not so sure yet if this one offers any advatage in resolution. This is something I have not seen, but will have to test.

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When it comes to IQ, the differences are that the new MM has files that are more creamy and rich, where the previous MM had files that were more RAW and hard. Just as those who moved to the M 240 from the M9, if moving from the old MM to the new MM, there will be a period of 1-2 weeks of solid use where you will need to get used to the differences.

Another with the little Jupiter lens at f/2.8 – click for better view

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I can say that the files from the new MM are much easier to process. With the old version, there was a learning curve. The new version seems much easier to get where you want to go when “developing” those RAW files.

This is NOT MY REVIEW, I repeat, this is NOT my review. This is simply my very 1st thoughts after having the camera for 2-3 days. My review will be up after I get to use the hell out of it with carious lenses. I’d say 2-3 weeks.

For now, take a look at my 1st look video of the new MM. Enjoy. My MM came from Ken Hansen, you can email him here for your Leica needs. You can also order the new MM at PopFlash, The Pro Shop B&H Photo, or Leica Store Miami. The new MM is $7450, a bit cheaper than the previous which came in at $7995.

© 2009-2015 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved
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