Sep 182014
 

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Re-Visiting the Canon Dream Lens, 50 f/0.95

When we choose and buy our cameras some of us fail to realize that the heart of our camera is not our sensor or the camera body itself, it is the lens. The lens is what makes the camera “see”..it is what delivers the image to the sensor..it is the eyeball of your camera. The better the lens, the sharper your image, the more correct and richer the color saturation and you will also have the least amount of distortions. Choosing the right lens for your camera is the same thing as a painter choosing the right brush for whatever job they are doing.

For example, if I want a nice portrait lens when I am shooting a Leica M, it is hard to go wrong with a 90 Summicron APO. if I want wide angle, there is the Voigtlander 15 or Leica WATE. When I want subject isolation , a 50mm Summilux or Noctiliux fits the bill. Each lens delivers a different look, this is a fact. Some lenses are soft, have distortions and issues, yet they can still create a nice image. Some lenses create sloppy or horrible bokeh and others will give you creamy bokeh that just melts. Again, choose the lens for what you are trying to achieve.

Lenses ARE the heart of your camera system yet so many of us skimp on the lens. I wonder why? Why am I babbling on about this? Well, it is a longish story but one that I am happy to tell because the lens I am talking about today is a special one, and even a controversial one at times, but it is a beautiful lens to me regardless. One of those lenses you pull out when you want THAT look that only it can give.

Over a year ago, in June of 2013, I wrote a review on a unique lens that had gained a cult following of sorts. A lens that was known for having a crazy “dream like” rendering when shot wide open at its uber fast aperture of f/0.95. Up there with lenses like the original Noctilux or the Canon 85 1.2L. The Canon was a lens that I never saw in the flesh but was wowed by in photos (sometimes) that were taken by others using the lens. It was a quality that I never saw in ANY other lens, cheap to crazy exotic. While a lens like the Leica Noctilux is technically superior to this “Dream Lens”, it can not do what this lens does and vice versa.

The Canon 50 0.95 “Dream Lens” was originally made for the Canon 7 Rangefinder film system of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The 50 f/0.95 was the super fast aperture solution when shooting the Canon 7, and when you look on E-Bay or classifieds for this lens today you will mainly see it in the Canon 7 Rangefinder mount which is unusable for Leica M shooters unless it is modified for M mount use.

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There have been a few of these 50 0.95’s sent in for a Leica M conversion and some have been done horribly bad, some have been done pretty nicely, and some have been done superbly, as in, they could not have done it better. Some have even added a 6 bit code to the lens so the digital Leica M will recognize it as a Noctilux and apply corrections. Pretty slick.

To those who own this lens in M mount, they usually adore it and most say they would never sell it. Because of this,  you do not see too many out there in great shape with a proper M mount conversion because if you do sell your mint M mount copy, chances are it will be very hard to find another just as good, ever. I should know, that is exactly what happened to me. After writing my review over a year ago I had a flood of e-mails offering me crazy money to buy my lens. I loved it and did not want to sell but I usually love money more than gear and get it when I can (money), especially if it ended up where I actually made a few bucks. So I sold my last version over a year ago which was an 8/9 out of 10 for condition, focus and IQ. It was so so good!

Of course, after I sold the lens I missed it within 2 days, even with $3500 in my bank account from the sale. I regretted that sale more than almost any other sale I have made in my photographic life. WHY? Not because this lens was such a technological marvel, or super sharp or up there with the likes of the Noctilux. Nope. I missed it because when I was shooting a 50 Lux the day after I realized I would never again have that special look that this lens gave me. In reality, this lens is a special effects lens when shot wide open and when shot from f/2 on it is like a normal fast lens but very sharp and with a very creamy draw. But it is the wide open use is what gave this jewel its nickname of Dream Lens. It renders the background into a dream like blur. A watercolor effect almost. It is pretty amazing IMO. As I said, nothing like it out there and to be able to use it on a Leica M or Sony A7, in full frame, as it was meant to be shot but with modern ISO capabilities..wow. Take a look at the Flickr page for the Dream Lens, which has been up for years and funny enough, was started by Ashwin Rao! LOADS of samples there that will show you what this lens does.

So yea, I missed it after I sold it. Damn! Even though my last copy sold for $3500, and I had a few who wanted it at that price, and even one offer at $4000 that came after I sold it, I still regretted the sale.

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So I started my search for another MINT copy

Since the last sale I kept an eye on e-bay and some classified sites searching for the perfect copy of this lens. I was picky. I was waiting patiently for the “one”, hopefully a 9/9.5 out of 10 and I wanted a hood, cap and 6-Bit coding. I was ready to pay up to $3k for one and did see some on E-bay from China that were selling for $2800-$3000 but was hard to trust those sellers as you never know just how the lens will be. Will the focus be spot on for the RF? Will it be clean without scratches or haze or fungus? It was a chance and shipping from China to the USA was a little risky, though it could have and most likely would have worked out fine. Still, I waited until I came across one that was either local or close to it.

Then I found one…

Then, as I was ready to lose patience and jump to buy a “92 out of 100″ rated dream lens on e-bay from a vendor in China I saw a a Facebook notification, as it was a sign.. it was a a post with images of a MINT M Mount Canon 50 0.95 with 6 bit coding. Hmmm. I even knew the guy, Jeff Warren, as he was at my last workshop in Nevada! He even lived in Los Angeles, a 5-6 hour drive from me. Jeff hinted that he MAY be selling in that Facebook post so I messaged him and we chatted, I thought for a bit and I bought it. He even sent it Fed Ex overnight, the same day, for no extra charge. I received the lens in less than 24 hours from the moment that I sent him the money via Paypal, 19 hours to be exact.

My main concern was that it would be off with the Rangefinder of the Leica because at 0.95 there is a VERY thin DOF. Any misfocus would be a nightmare as I have experienced first hand with a few fast lenses over the years.

Luckily it arrived and it looked amazing, a solid 9/10. The glass was/is perfect. No issues. I mounted it to the MM (no need for an adapter as this is M mount with 6 Bit) and fired away some shots. Perfecto! I mounted it to the A7s with a Voigtlander M to E adapter and even more WOW. Was so awesome shooting it on the A7s. Easy to focus with the large EVF and it felt really good on the A7s body. NOW THIS is a low light combo to dream for.

ULTRA THIN DOF at 0.95 – Sony A7s.  Some vignetting when used on the A7s at 0.95, that is the only issue. Look how TINY the in focus area is on the block wall. The rest is not lens softness, it is BOKEH, all out of focus due to the extremely small depth of field. 

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Regrets?

So after a couple of hours being happy as a newborn baby with a mouthful of milk I asked myself…”so, do you regret buying this for so much money“? My answer to myself was NO!! I was HAPPY, I was THRILLED, I was ECSTATIC. I told myself that I would not sell this one. But I have been here before, with many lenses that I swore I would never sell. None of them have tugged at me like this one though. Sure, I have owned them all – the Noctilux f/1 and 0.95, the SLR Magic 50 T 0.95 Hyperprime, the Mitakon Speedmaster and of course the Summicrons and Summilux lenses, which are all gorgeous and technically amazing. But this lens just does something special and while it is not an every day lens, it could be if you stopped it down to f/2 or f/2.8.

I am going to start using this lens with the A7s, MM and M in various locations and clubs shooting local live bands, which on many occasions shoot in near darkness to small crowds, ver small crowds. This is a lens that will do great things in these scenarios I think. I am also going to bring it out for certain portrait sessions, to add that extra flair and uniqueness that you do not see in many photos these days. I am not talking about just doing the whole shallow DOF Bokeh thing, but using it artistically and effectively.

I missed focus on this one with the A7s somehow, but I still like it :) A B&W filter was applied in processing.

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The fact is that this lens brings us a “draw” that no other lens does. Period. This lens is also pretty rare set up in an M mount with 6 Bit coding. It is even rarer to find this in a 9/10 condition. I am vowing to hang on to this lens!! Hehehe. We will see.

When I wrote about this lens in my 1st review I mainly used it with the M 240, which also rocks with this lens. Since I did that review with the M, I wanted to focus on using it with the A7s and Monochrom this time around, so this is what this article will be about.

The Canon 50 0.95 on the Sony A7s. I also have my JB grip on the camera as well as a ARTISAN OBSCURA sticky soft release.

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First up, the Sony A7s and the 50 0.95

With the new Sony A7 series, particularly the A7s (my fave of the three) this lens takes on a whole new world of possibilities. For one, this classic fast lens can now be used on a full frame mirrorless camera with integrated EVF and up to insane ISO’s. Much like the Mitakon I reviewed a while back, this lens will make the A7s a true king of the night. At f0.95 and ISO capability up to 100k usable, there will be no light that you can not shoot in, period. Add to that the moody possibilities and artistic weirdness that the Dream Lens puts out and you can create images that not many others can even get close to in style and flash. Of course, you have to know your stuff..know what you are doing, otherwise the images will look bad, even VERY bad.

But use your skill to its fullest and you can create some interesting images that are worthy of framing. Images that people will see and say “wow, how did you do that”.

When this lens is on the A7s using the Voigtlander close focus adapter you can focus in VERY close. MUCH closer than you can when using it on the M or MM. This is invaluable and will even make the dream lens MORE dreamy. It is true, when this lens was given the name “Dream Lens” it was for a reason. Just take a look at my original review to see some dreaminess with the M 240.

When I used this lens with my well used A7s, I think it was the best ever match for this lens, and the good news for A7 shooters is that you do not need to find the rare M mount version to use this on the A7. you can now buy a standard Canon 7 version of this lens, of which they are plentiful on e-bay, and use a canon 50 0.95 to E mount adapter. This can save you about $1,000 when buying the lens if you only want to use it on a Sony A7 body.

After realizing this, I started to really realize how special the Sony A7 series is. I mean, I knew it was already but there is no other full frame system out there that can do what the A7 series does, especially the A7s. This is the 1st ever camera, full frame, that will allow you to use this Dream Lens and even use it with close focusing, AND nail focus due to the critical focus you can achieve with the EVF and magnification.

I love this on my MM and M but for the ultimate Dream Lens experience I think it should be shot on an A7s. End of story. After using it with the A7s I wanted to carve my name in the side to assure I never am tempted to sell it for some quick cash. :) I did not do this of course but I have to say, I love this lens. Below are some images with it on the Sony A7s.

All images below are from the Sony A7s and Canon 50 0.95, WIDE OPEN. You must click on the images  to see them larger and in the correct way. If you do not, you will not see  them the way they were meant to be seen.

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As you can see this lens can perform well on the Sony A7s, in daylight or in darkness. In fact, I prefer it to the original Leica Noctilux f/1. It is sharper at the focus point and has a nicer draw for my tastes. It is also easier to hold and balance on the camera. The more I use this lens on the A7s and Leica cameras, the more I realize just how special of a lens it is. At the average cost of $3-$3500, it is a great lens to add to your collection if the look and capabilities it can offer are to your liking.

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On the Leica MM this lens is a wonderful match as is any classic lens. I feel the Mono is at its best with classic glass over modern analytical glass and this Dream lens helps to round it all out. The IQ is stunning and while not like a Noctilux 0.95 in perfection it has its own Mojo going on that can not be denied.

Before I keep on going on about my love for this lens, I will say that not everyone will like this lens. Some will HATE it. Many like what I call “The Summicron Look”, which is clean, crisp, sharp and even. Many who love that look HATE the look of the Canon Dream Lens. They will say the Bokeh is awful and busy and the lens is soft (it is not soft though). So before you even think about this lens,make sure you LOVE what it does because if you do not then you will tire of it.

With that out of the way, using it on the MM is quite lovely. You lose the closer focusing of the A7s but you are shooting in pure B&W and this lens loves B&W. It has a nice micro contrast  that is gentle and allows your subject to pop while the edges and background just melt away into a fantasy land. Wide open it is quite crazy. Stopped down it is nice and smooth.

The main issue with users of the Leica M or MM is you want to make sure the M mount Dream Lens you find/buy is good with your cameras RF. Many old lenses are off, and if your lens or your camera is off just a hair, the lens will be a challenge to focus. If possible, test the lens before buying, which in 99% of cases is impossible I know.

The B&W from the MM and this lens is richer than the A7s with B&W. It’s a whole different style of shooting as well, much different. RF shooting is something that will be rewarding when you get out there and get those shots using manual focus and manual controls.

Below are a few shots with this lens on the Monochrom.

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Getting the most from the Dream Lens requires a few things..

If you choose to buy or use this lens or even if you have one and are thinking, “My shots do not look that good, mine are low in contrast and softer and do not pop like these”, then read on as I will tell you how to get this look from this lens. The Canon 50 0.95 lens is a lens with lower contrast than most modern lenses so when you process the photos you must do a couple of things to bring out the goodness in the files :)

First, PLEASE shoot RAW. This is not an OOC JPEG type of lens. For you to get the best from it you need to bump the contrast and add some sharpening as well. I shoot RAW and when processing the RAW file I bump the contrast slider up until it looks good without going overboard. I also mess with the shadow slider to bring out shadows that were covered by the contrast slider. I may also tweak the highlight slider if needed. Add some sharpening and convert that file to a JPEG. That is all you have to do, but when you do it take s an OK image and makes it into one that will be much nicer looking. To those who complain about this lens saying it is soft, low contrast, or has issues..well, you either have a bad copy or are not using it correctly. I recently saw a comment on a popular forum that was a reply to someone asking about this lens..the reply? ” that lens sucks. A coke bottle would give you better images at f/0.95. It was mostly a bragging rights lens by Canon that was made especially for the bling-bling gold Rolex watch, silicon boobs, Lamborghini owners. My thing is bigger than your thing kind of thing……..” 

It is safe to say that this person had no clue as to what they were talking about. :) The lens is beautiful and sharp even wide open. In fact, I find it sharper wide open than the original Leica Noctilux F/1.

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My Original video on the Canon Dream Lens

I did a video over a year ago on this lens with my thoughts on it back then. If you missed it, take a look below:

Final Word on the Dream Lens

I will tell you what I told you over a year ago HERE in my original review…

If you lust after this lens, BUY ONE if you can find one in great shape. Prices have went up and will continue to go up. Mark my words. In two to three years this lens will be hovering around $5k for an M mount, mint, with cap and hood, 6 Bit coded, maybe more than that in 3-5 years. It offers just as much fun as the Noctilux 0.95 with more uniqueness for 1/3 the cost, 2/3 the size and 1/2 the weight. For me it even beats the old Noctilux f/1, which Leica created due to this very lens.

If you shoot a Sony A7 series camera it is so good on these bodies, a truly drool and lust worthy piece. If you shoot an M you can use live view for critical focus and on the MM it is a beauty. But do not expect perfection, not at all. This lens is not about being perfect. It has some vignetting, it can be soft looking if you mis focus and  the contrast can be slightly low if you do not tweak it. What makes this lens so sought after is the Bokeh, which is unlike any other lens ever made. You can really make some images that are very painterly with this guy.

At the current price of around $3200 for a mint M mount copy they will not be heading down or getting cheaper. If you like the look of the images here, in my original review, or on the Flickr group then this  is the only lens that will give it to you. Happy Hunting and if you own this lens, leave a comment letting us know how you like it, how you shoot it and what you shoot it on! Thanks everyone!

Steve

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 5 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 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. 

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. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

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Sep 122014
 

My first 6 months with the Sony A7

by Alfredo Guadarrama

Well, the first 6 months with my A7 went pretty fast and I thought it was a good moment to gather some thoughts on this system. I’m a former Nikon user that had a D600 and a D7000 before with a plenty number of lenses. I had the opportunity to have a variety on focal lengths that gave me a lot of versatility to take decent pictures in most of the common scenarios.

After having several problems with my D600 and D7000 due to oil spots issues in the mechanism that drives the mirror, I decided to sell all my Nikon equipment and look for an alternative system. This was a very disappointing quality issue. I spent a considerable amount of time removing oil spots in photoshop and lightroom. I thought this situation was unacceptable due to the high prices in this gear.

After doing extensive research on systems I didn’t have a lot of alternatives. I wanted a lighter body but also high performance with good quality lenses. The Canon system offered excellent quality with the 5DMIII and the 6D coupled with high-end lenses. The problem is that these bodies are as heavy as the D600. Most of the time I do travel photography, carrying a heavy body all day long is not very nice.

Then, I went to the Fuji X-system. The glass versatility and quality are great, but the bodies are not full frame. Despite this situation, I think that Fuji is doing a great job in terms of quality image. I think that the jpegs from the current line of cameras/lenses are superb. Finally, I decided to go with the Sony A7. I chose this body because it is full-frame. When compared to the A7R (A7S didn’t exist at that moment), I chose the A7 because it had a better autofocus system, lower megapixels (less hard drive space with very good image quality), and was significantly cheaper. The only downside was the lenses. The variety of lenses was and it is still very small with high prices. As we are seeing now with the appearance of new lenses (e.g. Loxia), my hopes of a larger variety of lenses is becoming a reality. I know that you can use third party lenses with adapters, but I’m not the best fan. I think lenses are made specifically to work well in a system, and second, I love having autofocus (I know that peaking mode works wonders in the A7).

So, the lenses I bought were the 35F2.8 and the 24-70F4 from Zeiss. Shot with the A7 and the Nikon 35mm f1.8G (Fotodiox Adapter)

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And here is the Sony A7 + 35F2.8 with a leather half case. Shot with the iPhone 5c

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Since I received my A7 I have had the chance to shoot 6000+ photos with the camera and I must say that it has pros and cons. To make it simple for readers I put them as a bullet list:

PROS

  • Lightweight when compared to a DSLR.
  • Small size that doesn’t take half of the space in your backpack.
  • Viewfinder screen, you see what you’ll get.
  • Superb image quality, especially with the 35 mm (Zeiss).
  • Intuitive and well positioned controls and dials, you have dedicated knobs for aperture, speed, ISO.
  • Internal Wi-Fi, the app works much better than the one for Nikon and the camera has built-in wi-fi. For the Nikon you need to buy a 50USD adapter.
  • Tilting screen is very useful when shooting over a crowd or close to the floor.

CONS

  • Battery life is ridiculous, cannot last one full day of shooting. I had to buy a lot of additional batteries (40 USD each).
  • Usually one stop slower than DSLRs in the same situation. I think this is related to the fact it is a mirrorless system.
  • Small variety of lenses, current line is very expensive.
  • Some distortion with the 24-70F4 at 24mm, the lens works pretty well as a general purpose lens (could be better for the price).
  • Extremely noisy. This camera has been hard to use while shooting inside a church or temple where you need to be quiet.
  • Not weather/dust resistant (would have been nice for travel photography)

I had the opportunity to use the camera in the Boston, Miami, NYC, London, Dubai and several countries Asia. I was surprised with the camera. It performed very well, it was very easy to use and despite being one of the first times using it, I didn’t have any trouble finding specific settings. The lcd screen is big enough to review sharpness and focus in the pictures. The wifi worked wonders when I wanted to share a picture with my family or in Instagram.

Here are some of the shots I have taken so far since I got the camera, most of them are edited in Lightroom with VSCO film presets:

Charing Cross in London, UK

Leicester Square Station

Ultra Music Festival in Miami, USA

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Boston, USA

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Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE

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Sumo tournament in Tokyo, Japan

Sumo Fight

Low light performance is astonishing for a camera of this size (no tripod was used in this shot).

Kyoto, Japan

Fushimi Inari

Geisha District in Kyoto, Japan

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Men playing cards near Guilin, China

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French Concession in Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China

The skyline in the shot below was taken using a mefoto tripod, Victoria Skyline in Hong Kong

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Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand

Soho, NYC

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In case you own a A7/A7R/A7S, I recommend you watching this video from Ralfs Foto-Bude in YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMQES0u-9Bw .

It presents an in-depth analysis of the different menus and options inside the camera. I found it pretty useful when learning how to use the A7.

As a conclusion, buying this camera was a very good choice, amazing are results. This camera was a good choice because it adapts to my photographic needs and delivers the quality I’m expecting. It is not a perfect camera, but is the best solution for me in the current market offering. Please share your thoughts and comments. They will be interesting to read.

Thank you Steve, for giving your website readers the opportunity to share their thoughts. Congratulations for your great work.

Alfredo

P.S. If you want to see more of my work using this camera please go to:

Portfolio: www.alfredoguadarrama.com
500px: www.500px.com/alfredoguadarrama

Sep 042014
 

CAMSLINGER 160 Paris Gray

Wear your mirrorless camera ALWAYS READY at your hip

Cosyspeed CAMSLINGER bags are a new and unique concept for carrying mirrorless cameras. Providing fast, one-handed access to your camera, the CAMSLINGER bag keeps it protected in a slim case while you upper body is free from straps and belts. CAMSLINGER bags are comfortable to wear and ideally suited for street, travel, outdoor and family photography.

More Camslinger bags from Cosyspeed
At photokina 2014 – hall 4.1, stand C026 – Cosyspeed will present two new versions of its Camslinger 160 bag, which has been selling successfully since this spring. The two new Camslinger bags will be available from November for € 99.99 (inc. VAT) / $US 119.00 (excl. VAT) each.

For some, the current Camslinger models (http://www.cosyspeed.com/camslinger-105-and-160) were too dark, others found them too colourful. What most customers agreed on, however, was that there is no bag as convenient for carrying a mirrorless camera setup than the Camslinger, which adapts flexibly to the size of each individual camera setup. As for the choice of colours, Cosyspeed is now taking another step towards its customers. This fall, the Camslinger 160 – the most popular of the Camslinger bags – will be available in two new colour choices. Creating its bags in Germany and in permanent close contact to the manufacturers, Cosyspeed is able to react quickly to customer demand. This is why from November 1, 2014 two new versions of the Camslinger 160 bag will be available.

The Camslinger 160 Paris Gray was developed for those photographers who are looking for a more elegant design. The all-black Camslinger 160 Street Edition is ideally suited for street photographers who want to stay as unobtrusive as possible.

Like all Camslinger bags, the two new models share the following key features:

• comfortable carrying at the hip and always ready for the next picture
• quick one-handed access
• keeps the upper body free from straps
• unique system for adjusting the depth of the bag and fitting it to the individual size of a camera
• safety clip on the belt
• secure LOXX stainless steel latch made by Schaeffertec/Germany

In addition to the Fingercamstrap 10 VL, Cosyspeed will introduce the Fingercamstrap 10 BW black this November, at the same price of € 7.99 (inc. VAT) / $US 12.90 (excl. VAT). The Fingercamstrap 10 BW is made of a special tearproof material that is also used for making camera straps.

About Cosyspeed
Cosyspeed GmbH from Edertal/Germany is the first company in the world that specialises exclusively in accessories for mirrorless cameras (or Compact System Camera, CSC). All products are developed in Germany and are subject to strict German quality criteria. Production is carried out in Germany, Europe, Asia and Africa. Focusing on convenient and functional accessories for the daily routine of photographers using compact mirrorless cameras, Cosyspeed is concentrating deliberately on the new technology of the future in the area of digital cameras.

Cosyspeed Camslinger
The world belongs to Mirrorless Heroes – at photokina 2014 in Hall 4.1, Stand C026

Camslinger bags and accessories are now available at B&H Photo by clicking HERE.

Sep 042014
 

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The Sony A7s Experience: Ongoing thoughts on a Fascinating Camera

By Ashwin Rao - Follow Ashwin on Facebook HERE

Hi everyone, here’s an update with my thoughts on the Sony A7s. This is a camera that seems to be gaining interest, particularly for those individuals who enjoy low light photography or who have a set of rangefinder lenses in place and are looking for another body. I posted these thoughts at one of my favorite forums, and wanted to share them with you, along with a few new photos, just in case you were considering buying the camera in light of the 2014 Photokina announcements.

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In summary, I LOVE my Sony A7s. It’s given me a burst of creativity and joy in shooting that I haven’t experienced since my early days with the Leica M Monochrom (and M9 before). Here are my rolling thoughts. In general, it’s the best non Leica full frame digital solution for M mounts to date, though there are compromises (for some).

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Here are some thoughts, in no particular order:

1. The camera does well with Leica M lenses. Only the 28 Summicron ASPH lens has performed “poorly” on the camera, and even it is usable for non-critical work where sharpness at the edges may not be as important. Everything else that I have thrown at it works well or is easily fixed in post processing using the lens vignetting correction tool in LR5.

2. RAW colors are solid. The camera exhibits different palette than Leica’s M9 and M240 (I prefer the look from the M9, personally, but it’s a matter of taste), and the palette seems tweaked compared to the A7R and A7 cameras, though that may just be my own eyes fooling me. Skin tones tend toward orange, but it’s quite easy to fix (unlike the M240, which I struggled to get right for peoples’ skin tones). I find that it’s quite easy to get the look that you want from A7s files with a bit of post processing

3. Dynamic range: To me, solid, better than my M bodies (no banding through most of the ISO range), but maybe not quite as good as the A7R or A7 in recovering shadows and highlights…this seems borne out by DXO testing

4. The silent shutter option is amazing: Absolutely awesome feature, that I believe re-defines this camera for those who employ it. I am surprised that Sony doesn’t allow a programmable custom button to quickly access this feature. A firmware upgrade here would be perfect. I use the silent shutter feature for nearly all of my shooting, as it eliminates any shutter shake effect (the size and design of the bodies does not allow the present A7 bodies to be very well dampened to vibraation), and the silence makes photographed subjects not know when you are shooting, which can be helpful on the street. The silent shutter does not work well in low light scenes where fluorescent lights are at play, due to interference/banding effects due to the frequency of light interacting with the frequency of the electronic shutter.

5. Class leading shutter speeds: The other nice feature not spoken about regarding the shutter, is that it’s possible to shoot up through 1/8000 shutter speed, so in bright light, one can use very fast lenses for creating DOF without the need for a neutral density filter.

6. ISO: yup, it’s great. I have had no issues shooting through ISO 12,800 (though some detail and DR is lost at that ISO), and I have gotten usable shots through ISO 40,000+. I don’t typically push past ISO 40,000. I consider the A7s to be an “ISO-less” camera, in that I don’t consider ISO to be a limiting factor any more for my style of shooting. Paired with fast glass such as f/0.95- f/1.4, one can literally turn night scenes into day. Color fidelity appears to be preserved as ISO’s are pushed up, meaning that colors don’t get too muddy as ISO’s jump up into the stratosphere. That being said, the camera is just as good in normal light. What doesn’t get stressed enough is how good the camera is across its ISO range

7. Using the Voigtlander VM-E mount adapter with close focus opens up now possibilities with close focus and macro work with the M…this is MARVELOUS, for those of you who like to do macro. I am re-discovering macro in this manner. The adapter is pricey, costing around $300, but it’s worth it and allows standard and close focus use in a cleverly designed way. I have found that you have to be a tad careful about infinite focus, as the adapter seems to allow telephoto lenses such as the 90 summicron to focus just a smidge past infinite.

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8. Autofocus: The camera focuses much better in low light, but the change is not really revelatory. I have the 55 FE lens, which I enjoy, but don’t use much ,as I can manually focus faster in low light (or really in all light). The 35 FE is supposedly a lot better, but I don’t own it at this time.

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All in all, I have found the A7s to be a revelatory camera. The combination of camera design (flip up LCD, EVF, M mount capacity, silent shutter, ISO performance, close focus with VM-E adapter) allows me to be creative and to shoot discretely in ways that were not possible before. Is it perfect? By no means…here are some things that could get better.

1. EVF: Solid, but there’s room for improvement (higher resolution, faster refresh rate), particularly when using focus magnification and focus peaking in concert. Now that Zeiss is producing Manual Focus E mount lenses, I am hoping that Sony incorporates more design elements into future E mount bodies to maximize the utility of manual focus lenses

2. Megapixels. For me, the 18 megapixel range (m9, M Monochrom) is a sweet spot, balancing quality of pixels and size of files. I would hope that future A8s or whatever they are called will increase MP counts without compromising ISO performance or M Mount lens compatibility.

3. M mount lenses. As mentioned, they work great on this body…really! But put the 28 Summicron on the body, and you’ll see there’s room for improvement. Hopefully Sony will recognize that these bodies could really stand to use smaller lenses, in which optical elements lie closer to the sensor, and design sensors that accomodate smaller lens design (i.e. rangefinder/retrofocus lenses)

4.Camera haptics. Sony cameras don’t quite have the joy of handling as do other manufacturers (i.e. Fuji, Leica), and simple tweaks to camera button layout, grip, viewfinder placement, and menu structure could go a long way to making the cameras joyful to use for more people. I have many friends who love the quality of Sony files, but don’t really like how the cameras operate.

Okay, hopefully that “mini” review of my present thoughts helps some who are considering taking the plunge. I have zero desire to upgrade or change cameras, because the A7s is an outstanding photographic tool as is and does so much.

All the best,
Ashwin

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Aug 302014
 

Ten reasons why the Sony A7s is the best A7 body yet..

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I will keep this simple and quick but many ask me “why did you choose the A7s over the A7 or A7r”? For me it was a no brainer, simple and easy after using all three extensively. 

1. It has faster Auto Focus – This helps and is useful when you need it. The A7s will AF faster than the A7 or A7r.

2. It will focus in near pitch blackness, even without focus aids! – I was shooting last week in almost near darkness and the A7s with 35 2.8 was focusing fast and accurately, even when my own eyes could barely see the scene! No AF assist either. Amazing.

3. Has the best color and rendering of the three in my opinion!  – Richer color and more 3D pop is what I see. A bit warmer in the AWB than the A7 and A7r.

4. I can still print gorgeous 20X30’s with the A7s – I have printed two 20X30’s so far and they are gorgeous in-depth, color and yes, even detail. All I need!

5. The files are smaller than the A7 and A7r!  – No need to have a super computer to process the files!

6. High ISO capability is there when you need it! – No need to stop at 3200 or 6400. Nope, go up to 32,000 or even 80,000 in those super low light situations and get a usable image.

7. It’s the best A7 yet for Leica M glass use!  – Wide angle M mount lenses do not do well on the A7r and A7s (though the WATE does) but on the A7s you get the most compatibility with wide-angle M lenses. Lenses such as the Zeiss 21 2.8 or Voigtlander 15 4.5 do much better on the A7s than the A7r and A7.

8. It has a silent mode! – If you want to be super stealth turn on silent mode and no one will ever know or believe you took a picture. 100% silence!

9. Makes for a great ANYTIME, ANYWHERE camera! – This one camera will do what you need in any light. Bright, low or none. Versatile as all get out!

10. Best video yet for an A7 body – Has the most customization of the video to date for an A7 body and can do 4K (though I will not use that feature).

So there you have it. Took me about 7 minutes to come up with 10 reasons and write them down. I have used all three A7 bodies extensively and my favorites are the A7s followed by the A7 and then the A7r. The A7s does everything I need and to date, with almost daily use since launch I have never had an issue, a mis focus or a problem. It has not let me down (unless I made a mistake) and has been reliable, quick, and has provide for a couple of beautiful large prints. To those who trash it for only being 12MP, well, you are missing out. That’s about all I can say. The Sony A7s is still my pick for camera of the year 2014 SO FAR..unless something comes out and gets shipped before 2015 that knocks me off of my feet.

You can buy the Sony A7s at B&H Photo or Amazon.  My review of the A7s is HERE.

Aug 282014
 

VIDEO: The Leica M-P and Silver Monochrom

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Ahhhhhhhh, the beauty of Leica. No matter what anyone will ever say, there is nothing like the beauty and feel of a Leica M camera, and I feel this way about the M3, M6, M7, M8, M9, M9-P, Monochrom and M 240/M-P. To me, they are just what I want in a digital camera and have all that I could ever need (except an affordable price and super low light which the A7s covers for me very well). Even after all of these years the Leica M is the ONLY digital rangefinder on the planet (not counting the no longer made Epson RD-1) that is available. So if you are an RF fan, this is it.

Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus..none have even attempted it although I was hoping Nikon would do so a few years ago. So as of today, mid 2014, Leica is the only game in town if you want a real life back to basics digital rangefinder camera and NO, Fuji do not have ANY RF cameras (some seem to think they do).

With that out-of-the-way, here we are a couple of months before PHOTOKINA where all kinds of goodies get released and announced. I am sure Leica will have something new, Sony will have something new and huge and Nikon and Canon will probably have the same old same old. Olympus will have something new, probably Panasonic as well. But just a couple of months early Leica not only announced but released the black paint M-P.

The M-P is basically an M240 with a larger buffer, sapphire LCD screen and all black paint without any markings on the front. This means NO “M” and no RED DOT! On the top you have the classic Leica logo which appears just as it did in the M-9P (which was crazy popular, sold out at launch for months). The M-P is not selling out at launch and that is mainly due to the fact that at the price of $8,000 it is too expensive in 2014 even for a Leica. With Sony rocking the A7 series that have an even better sensor at 1/3 the cost it makes it hard to justify a digital Leica today. With that being the case, why did i just purchase TWO of  them? EEEK!

The deep rich tones of the MM (with a Zeiss 50 Planar, one of my fave M lenses ever due to bang for the buck)

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Well, part of it is passion. Part is foolishness. Part is from my heart and the rest is due to the fact that no matter how many times I drift away from Leica…I ALWAYS COME BACK. I have an emotional connection to the M and when I am out with it I enjoy it more than any other camera, even if other cameras can do more for me. The Leica M 240 is my favorite camera of all time, previous to this it was the M9. When the Sony A7s was released it was tied with my M 240 and I said “why would I keep this M when I love the Sony so much”. So I sold my M 240 and banked the money.

Two months later, while I still am in love with the A7s and have no desire to get rid of it, the M has creeped back in to my head. Just days before the M-P was announced I was looking for a used deal on an M 240 yet again. So away I go and email Ken Hansen who said “I will have the M-P week, if you want one let me know”. Too easy. Bam. Ordered. He also said “I have a few silver chrome Monochrom’s in stock” – and that was it, BAM! I went crazy..I was foolish..but do I regret it? No, because I now have an M-P which is the most beautiful M 240 yet and the chrome MM is a sight to see and about as unique and pure as a digital camera can get. Both have their uses as does my Sony A7s.

In fact. I will use my A7s for low light, macro,  and some times when I need a hassle free AF camera. I will use the MM on those occasions when a pure B&W mode strikes me and the M 240 on all other occasions. The great thing is that the lenses can be used on all three cameras without issues.

Here I am almost 45 years old and still being stricken with GAS. Today though I will acknowledge that the prices required to get into a Leica M system are way too high, but for those who gain happiness and joy from it then it doesn’t really matter as long as you can swing it. Life is short and I would rather LIVE IT than sit around on my couch all day watching TV, waiting for something good to happen to me. So that is what I do and how I live life.

So the new Leica M-P is available and shipping NOW! For those interested, you can order them at Ken Hansen, PopFlash, Pro Shop, B&H Photo, Amazon and Leica Store Miami. The Chrome MM is also available from all of those dealers.

Below is my video featuring both cameras. Enjoy!

Aug 272014
 

Shooting Cinema Film

By Mark Ewanchuk

Hi Brandon and Steve–I hope this email finds you well!

Inspired by prior posts from Brett Price and others, I decided to attempt to shoot and process cinema film. I have included five recent images, but this is more of a “how-to” for those so inclined.

More details may be found on my site at http://iftimestoodstill.net/developing-cinema-film/

The two main questions that I had getting started were:
How do I get the film off the 400+ ft roll, and into my bulk-loader?
How do I remove the Remjet with minimal mess and difficulty?
One of your readers (Thanks, Dominic!) http://blog.wakingmist.com/?p=1481 was most helpful in addressing some of these concerns.
I have since acquired large rolls of Kodak Vision3 500T, and Vision2 200T–of the two, I must say I prefer the 200T for it’s slightly finer grain structure.

As far as Question #1 goes: Into your standard changing bag, you will require:

Your bulk roll of cinema film (Take the sealing tape off the film tin, but don’t open it yet!!)
Your bulk loader
Some scissors
Some cellophane tape
An empty inner spool or roll, which will fit easily into your bulk loader. I used the plastic roll from a standard film canister–I had to drill out the core to ensure that it would slide freely onto the post of my bulk loader.
White cotton gloves (from eBay!) to avoid marking the film.
Once all above in the bag, open the film tin, then the inner bag, and find the end of the film reel. Next, (using a small piece of cellophane tape…) tape the leader to the inner reel you’ve set aside. Start rolling the film tightly onto the reel, ensuring that the inner surface (the emulsion side) stays IN. This will likely take you ~10 min to transfer ~50 feet of film, and make the roll approximately the same size as your bulk loader. When finished, cut the film, and load into your bulk loader in the usual fashion. Don’t forget to re-package and seal the bulk roll into the tin!!

The next part, you know how to do: Load your film into canisters, and shoot away!

As far as development goes, standard home C-41 works fine (I use the Tetanal kits)–but you need to get the Remjet off first. (Thanks again to Dominic for the tip!) I use 2 litres of SUPER HOT water, to which 2 tablespoons of standard, garden variety (well, home variety, I guess…) Baking Soda has been added. This step must be done before your standard pre-soak. Two litres should give you about six washes. The water will start black, turn to pinkish-grey, and should be clear by the final wash.

Process according to your standard method, then stop after your final wash (and before your stabilizer). Remove the film from the development canister and hang–wipe once with a soft sponge as carefully described on my site. Re-thread the roll, and run through the stabilizer…Surfactant and distilled water to finish up, and you’re all done!

Yes, it’s a lot of effort…but I really do enjoy the results.

;)

The film has a unique character, and really affords you some creative latitude. Thanks to all who have contributed to this ongoing odyssey.

Best regards,
Mark

PS: If anyone wants a roll or two, shoot me a line…I’m sure we can work something out!

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Aug 262014
 

Flashback: The Fuji S5 Pro. Gorgeous color reproduction

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Many of you may be surprised but one of my favorite digital cameras ever is a camera that I feel had the best Fuji color ever, even better than what we get with the newer X series. Yep, the now classic Fuji S5 Pro was built-in a Nikon D200 body, was slow to operate (for a DSLR) and did not have the most/highest resolution BUT it was and still is a camera capable of tremendous color reproduction. My time with the Fuji was spent back in 2007 and 2008 and during this time I also owned the Nikon D300, which had a better body, was faster, and did everything better than the Fuji, well, except for the color and Dynamic Range.

Direct from camera color taken on a gorgeous fall day in Wheatfield Indiana

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Before Fuji had the X100, X-E1, Xt1 or any X camera they were using Nikon bodies and producing DSLR’s with their own unique sensor. The lens mount was Nikon so all Nikon glass would work on the Fuji S1, S2, S3 and S5. (I have owned the S2, 3 and 5). When I started doing comparisons between the S5 Pro and the Nikon D300, I preferred the S5Pro in the IQ department but loved the D300 for its speed and higher resolution. At that time I ended up sticking with the S5 Pro longer than I did the D300 but I do remember coming back to the D300 later on.

Still, as I look back at my photos on an old hard drive I noticed a few POP OUT from my screen, and then I remembered…ahhhh yes, the Fuji S5 Pro!  Today you can still find S5’s for sale used and the prices range anywhere from $300 to $550 depending on condition. After looking back at some memories shot with the S5 I may one day buy one of the used ones up for an occasional burst of beautiful Fuji color. It isn’t so shabby in N&W either!

Who here has shot with or has owned the Fuji S1, S2, S3 or S5 Pro? If so, leave a comment and let me know what YOU think of the classic Fuji digital cameras! 

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Aug 222014
 

Unpolished pictures of unpolished people in unpolished Copenhagen

by Thorkil Brodersen

I felt that I just had to get up from the deep coach, when reading the article from 12. Aug. 14 by Howard Shooter, where he provoked by claiming that Copenhagen is spotlessly clean and beautiful, so are the buildings and even the people.

Therefore I just had to grab down in the picture-pile, to claim he is totally wrong.

Copenhagen, but I have only lived in it and close around it for about 45 years, is a living organism full of life and contrasts, but yes in this our highly praised welfare state, things are getting departed, the poor are getting poorer, the rich are getting richer, and the middle class too. And the poor and “normal” people are getting pushed out of the center while this is getting more expensive, and objects of speculation.

But the city has its own life hidden in the old streets, the old areas, the old walls and the hidden places. You just have to dip your toes a step further down and under the surface. You have to avoid the fancy places. You just have to sense the atmosphere, give yourself time to go inside cityrooms, backyards and old bar’s

Taken with Ricoh GR and GRIV

Best, Thorkil

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Aug 192014
 

Shooting with The Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 and the Sony A7 

By Doug Frost

I’ve been a happy owner of the Sony A7 since last December. For me, it won out over the A7r because of its slightly quieter and lower vibration shutter. It seemed better suited for handheld shooting than its 36mp sibling. And frankly, 24mp is plenty for me in most situations. I had been using the A7 with a variety of lenses with adapters. I have a few Zeiss Alphas which I love and I occasionally use it with my 50mm Zeiss Planar M-mount and a variety of vintage Nikon AI lenses. All great glass. I’ve always preferred shooting manual focus, and the A7 with its EVF and focus peaking makes it super easy to do.

But the one thing I lacked in my camera bag was a native FE mount lens. I had been considering buying the Sony Zeiss 50mm f/1.8 FE. The reviews of that lens have been very positive, and I was on the verge on buying one when Steve posted his first look preview of the Mitakon Speedmaster last April. I was immediately intrigued by the Mitakon. It wasn’t the sharpest 50mm lens by any means. It suffered from some light falloff at f/0.95, the bokeh could be a little quirky in some situations and it didn’t come with a lens hood. But there was a quality in the look of the sample shots I was seeing on Steve’s site and elsewhere that I really liked, especially when used wide open.

So, to make a long story a bit longer, I decided to get in on the pre-order discount price, and waited. And waited. And waited. The June delivery date came and went. The revised date in mid-July passed, and still no lens. The distributor, MXCamera, was apologetic. Their factory was having trouble getting the lens coatings right and they were shipping at a fraction of the anticipated rate. Finally, on August 6th, three months after I placed my order, I emailed them saying I was tired of waiting. To my surprise they replied the next day and said they just got a few units in from the factory and they’d ship one to me ASAP and gave me a tracking number. I was delighted.

The following day, MXCamera dropped a bit of a bombshell. The Mitakon Speedmaster had been discontinued! It was being replaced by a redesigned “pro” version of the lens that they dubbed “The Dark Knight”. Not only that, but everyone who had still not received the original version they ordered would now be getting a Dark Knight in its place!

Wow, I was taken aback. At first I was annoyed. Maybe if I hadn’t emailed them they would have sent me a Dark Knight instead. It was an odd situation, because a lens I had waited three months for, and was now finally enroute to me, had been discontinued before it even arrived!

But now that I have my Mitakon and shot with it, all is forgiven. I’ve decided that henceforth it will be known as the “Mitakon Speedmaster Classic”, a rare and highly coveted beast. Will The Dark Knight prove to be a better lens than the Classic? (It has yet to be reviewed as I write this.) Maybe. I have no idea, but more importantly, I don’t care. I love what my Mitakon does for me and that’s all that counts in the end.

I’m fortunate to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s one of the most beautiful regions on the planet and San Francisco is one of the biggest tourist destinations of all. For this user report I wanted to show what the Mitakon could do when used wide open in low light. I decided on ISO 1600 for all of the shots, because the A7 does very well at that speed and at f/0.95 I figured it would be fast enough.

I decided to shoot in the evening in a San Francisco neighborhood where there would be lots of tourists milling about on the street, so someone wandering around with an A7 would hardly be noticed, and that meant Fisherman’s Wharf. Me and my buddy Chris arrived at dusk on a Saturday to explore it with our cameras. As anticipated, the Wharf was swarming with tourists. Perfect for people watching. I always shoot in aperture priority mode, and I’m happy to report that the A7’s shutter speed never dipped below 1/400 the whole time, even when I was shooting inside the Museé Mécanique arcade, where the light is low.

I hope you enjoy these photographs. I had an absolute blast taking them. If you’d like to see more of my work, I invite you to check out my gallery: http://dougfrost.tumblr.com

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Aug 182014
 

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Got IQ? The Sigma DP2 Quattro Review. 

Here I am again with yet another Sigma DP body. This time, the newest super funky DP2 Quattro model. I have never seen ANYTHING quite like the design of this Quattro and after using it and shooting with it I can state up front that I actually adore the style and design. For my hands, it feels superb when out shooting and when held correctly it really is easy to shoot with, and a joy. The last time I was with a Sigma camera it was when I reviewed the DP2 Merrill. I loved the Merrill for its amazing image quality, which was the best I have seen in any small camera. Very much like Medium Format and in some ways even better.  Now the Quattro has taken that image quality, improved the AF speed and other aspects and then jammed it into an all new body that is worthy of a whole conversation in itself.

Out of camera JPEG of my Fiancee’ Debby. This is complete OOC. Just resized to 1800 pixels wide and no sharpening. You can see the larger size if you click the image. For me, this is gorgeous out of camera color and IQ. From detail to color to bokeh. It looks fabulous. 

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So what is the Quattro?

The Sigma DP2 Quattro is a super funky designed camera that houses a new Foveon sensor and it will give you some of the best image quality you have ever seen, period. Even when shooting JPEGS. IN fact, I much preferred shooting the enhanced resolution JPEG’s over shooting RAW as shooting RAW is a process. Why you ask? Well, shooting RAW means you have to process those files in the Sigma Slow Photo Pro software as the files from the Foveon chip are not compatible with any other software. This means, no using lightroom for your Sigma DP2 files.

The Quattro has a 29MP Foveon X3 Quattro CMOS image sensor which will give you 5424X3616 files. The color and detail in these files is absolutely beautiful. Some of the best I have ever seen.

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The Quattro has a unique design as well and does not look like any other camera I have seen or used. It is long, oddball and with a strange reverse grip. When I first held it I was saying “OH NO! What have they done? The grip does not feel right”!. Then after  few hours of use I was saying “This feels great! Shooting with two hands feels natural and easy”.

My Quattro Video Overview

Basically, the design..while odd..is very effective for me. I have small hands but the camera fits me well and the buttons and dials are easily within reach.

Image quality is through the roof and when browsing over images I took, which were mainly quick snapshots, I was continually blown away by the complete lack of adjusting the photos. No need for changing or adjusting color, no need to sharpen, no need to fix exposure and no need to change ANYTHING. Out of camera JPEGS were just so pleasing with a rich file and crisp 3D feeling images. The Quattro, IMO, offers the most pleasing IQ from any DP camera to date though I have found the Dynamic Range to be on the lower side when compared to other cameras like the E-M1, A7, etc. When you blow a highlight you will not be able to bring back the detail if it is severely blown.

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The lens is a 30mm f/2.8 that gives us the equivalent of a 40mm 2.8 with the APS-C sized sensor. The lens is sharp and with great color and rendering. The Bokeh is smooth and pleasing and there is plenty of detail to be found here. No complaints on the lens at all.

Build quality is also fantastic and a step up from the previous versions. It feels solid and well made but I do have one major complaint. I feel it is a big one. The door that houses the SD card is not a door at all but a rubber flap that has to be pulled out and moved to the side to access the SD card. Over time this rubber will break off and this will mean that the SD card compartment will be exposed to the elements of dust, dirt and moisture. Horrible design on the SD card part. Sigma should actually fix this in the current production and replace it with a legit door. Not sure who designed that or who approved of it but it is the worst design SD card compartment cover I have seen.

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The Sigma is also missing any kind of EVF or OVF and the LCD does not tilt or swivel. If Sigma would have added these two things they would have had a serious camera that would be tough to pass up for those who love their image quality. The brand spanking new Foveon X3 Quattro direct image sensor is quite a bit different from the previous Foveon sensor due to a new top layer with a higher res. This should now give more detailed results with faster image processing and overall speed. So Sigma has reworked their sensor tech and the 29MP Quattro is said to give the results and resolution of a 39 MP normal sensor. Pretty cool.

Here is what Sigma says about their creation:

“Unique and without peer among image sensors, the Foveon direct image sensor is similar to traditional color film in that its multiple layers capture all of the information that visible light transmits. Vertical color separation technology produces incredibly rich color gradations, which in turn make possible texture and expressive power that are immediately apparent to the eye. Even when you are photographing an object with a single color, the sensor captures the full gradation perfectly, with no discordant jumps between lighter and darker areas. Proof that capturing color accurately one pixel at a time really makes a difference, these perfect gradations are at the heart of what we call “full-bodied image quality.”

While delivering this rich, colorful, ultra-high resolution that optimally replicates what you see in the real world, the new dp offers image files of a reasonable size in an easy-to-process format. To achieve this combination, we thoroughly rethought and redesigned every aspect of the camera, including the sensor, engine, lens, body, and interior layout. The result is a camera that carries on the dp tradition and gives you unprecedented image quality.

To a radical degree, the new-generation dp series embodies SIGMA’s philosophy of creating cameras that produce works of art. Featuring the highest level of fundamental performance, this series unites artistic expression and daily experience as no other cameras can.”

As it stands, the camera produces some of the most gorgeous colors and files I have seen…comparable to real medium format files but are the weaknesses enough to put you off from buying it? Let us take a look at everything in a little bit more detail.

My son Brandon and my Nephew John while visiting the domes of Casa Grande, AZ. Sigma Sp2 Quattro at 2.8. This is from RAW. Click it for larger!

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The Auto Focus speed of the Quattro

With the DP2 Merrill the AF speed is what killed it for me. Even the write times to the card were horrible. I wanted to love the DP2 Merrill and buy one as I started to get addicted to the image quality. At the end of the day I could not do it as when it launched it was $999 and for me to spend a grand I need a camera that will not frustrate the hell out of me to get a shot. The DP2 Merrill with its quirks and annoyances put me off from buying one, even at the current price of $699. It is just too slow and doesn’t feel right in the hand to me. You can read my review of that camera HERE.

With the Quattro I had hoped that Sigma improved the Auto Focus speed. If not, it would be the same thing for me and the design would not have saved it.

After shooting the Quattro in many different conditions I have found the AF to be much better this time around but still on the slow side of the tracks. It will not compete in AF speed with the Olympus E-M1 or E-P5, the Fuji X-T1 or the Nikon 1 series. It is nowhere near DSLR Focus speeds either, but it is much better than the old DP2 Merrill. The camera is full of flaws but IQ is not one of them.

When shooting in decent light it is quick enough to get a grab shot though not fast enough to catch a super quick moment. Even with the speed increase, which also is seen in write times, it does not even come close to making the Quattro any sort of action camera. I still say that this camera is best for static subjects. Portraits, scenes, landscapes, urban decay, etc. This is where the camera will excel. I have found the images to have a medium format feel in color and details. In fact, the IQ is so special with this camera that I feel the speed increases seen, while still slow, make the camera worth a purchase for those who value superb color and IQ. For portraits this camera just gets it right and if used from ISO 100-800 you will not be let down by the IQ. If coming from a Merrill of even older DP2 you will find the speed increases very welcome indeed. Just do not expect a speed demon, as it is in NO WAY a speedy camera in operation.

The next three images..all OOC JPEG

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What the DP2 Quattro is missing, in my opinion

While I have been enjoying my time with the little Quattro I have been wishing that it has a few things that it does not, and if it did, it would make it complete IMO. For one, I love the fact that it is so simple. It is a device built for one thing, all out image quality without any stress of color, sharpness or quality. In this regard, it just works. Image after image, even of plain old mundane subjects looked superb, reminding me of the old Leica M9 in many ways with the crisp yet pleasing details and slide like film color. Add in some medium format smoothness and you have a camera that REALLY delivers in the IQ department. I know I said this already but for me, the IQ is almost worth the asking price alone here. Add in the funky design (which I love) and the ease of use and you have a real camera that photo geeks and enthusiasts will really enjoy when shooting in good light.

But the DP2 is not perfect, far from it.

For starters, there is no EVF  here. An EVF embedded into the body would have just added so much to the experience. When out in bright light the LCD gets hard to see and framing your shot is basically not possible. It turns into a guessing game for everything. An EVF would have solved this and made it more enjoyable to shoot. Sigma is releasing an OVF (Optical View Finder) for the Quattro but there are issues to using an OVF with a digital camera.  For starters, let’s say you shot with the LCD off (which is as easy as a button press away) and wanted to frame with the OVF. You will not get an exact framing nor will you know where the camera focused. If you want precise focus you will need to use the LCD. An EVF would have been perfect.

Also, the LCD does not swivel and while I appreciate this being done to keep clean lines and save on thickness, it hurts the usability because without the EVF or a tilt LCD it takes away points for versatility. Then we have the shoddy high ISO performance. I have been using the Sony A7s as my main camera for months now and have become quite spoiled with the ability to shoot anywhere and at anytime. With the DP2 Quattro forget low light interior shots or ISO above 800. After ISO 800 the noise gets nasty and even with color I would prefer to stop at ISO 400. This is one area where the Foveon sensors just have not been able to improve upon. At base ISO and up to 400 the file quality is outstanding in color or B&W. After 400-800 you will want to go B&W only, and yes, you can get good results at ISO 3200 with B&W. OOC B&W mode looks great.

So while the IQ and design is beautiful (for me and my tastes) the camera still lacks due to not having an EVF, swivel LCD and not so great high ISO performance.

With that out-of-the-way, if one wants a camera for certain subjects like portraits, landscape or scenic type of stuff then the Quattro will deliver better than almost any other camera. I feel it has better IQ than the Leica M9 that came in at $7k. From color to detail, it is stupendous. If we treat it like a “Mini Medium Format” then it is understandable  that it is lacking in many ways but up there with the best of the best in other ways.

As long as you know what you are getting with the Quattro then it is highly unlikely that you will be disappointed with it. I recently saw a YouTube video review of this camera and the guy concluded with “It’s a piece of crap”. I have never seen such a horrible review as the guy had no idea how to use it to its potential. The Quattro is far from a piece of crap and is highly capable when it comes to making/creating an image. From the color to the detail to the rich file. You just have to realize what it is and what it is not!

The NONO’s: No action shots, no low light interior or night shots, no easy framing in harsh sun. Battery life is below average but camera comes with two of them.

The WOW’s!: Gorgeous MF like IQ & color, unique design and simple menu setup. OOC JPEGS look fantastic.

There more OOC JPEGS…

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The Shooting experience with the Quattro

The DP2 Quattro, as previously stated, is a unique design. I am a HUGE fan of those companies that go outside of the box when it does to design and features. I love to see companies push the envelope and do or try things that no one else does. When I saw the design of the Quattro before it was released I was very excited about it because it was something different from the normal ho hum camera shape. I found the DP2 Merrill to have an awful body design. The Quattro, while odd at first while holding it soon becomes comfy and natural. I had zero issues using the body, holding the body or controlling the camera. The magnesium alloy body feels solid and secure and everything is top quality (besides the dumb rubber SD card cover).

Brandon getting the shot with his Diana camera. OOC JPEG. Blown highlights outside in the sun. 

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Using Auto Focus with the Quattro is a much nicer experience over the DP2 Merrill, which was borderline unusable for most situations. At least now we have a somewhat snappy AF and while it will hunt in low light, it is not bad at all. I expected worse, so it exceeded my expectations in the Auto Focus speed department. The Quattro does not do the fancy tricks that other cameras do. Video? Nope. Fancy built-in effects? Nope. No panorama, no smile detect, etc. It is a simple camera with a simple design and button layout.

The Menu system is superb. Clean, elegant and easy to browse. I wish all were like this. It reminds me of a Leica menu in its simplicity and the quick menu is so clean, so easy to navigate and make changes. I love it.

When I washout shooting with the DP2 Quattro I always loved taking it out of my bag to shoot and I even had a few people ask me what it was I was taking pictures with. It is a conversation starter and stare getter for sure, so forget about being stealth with the Quattro. Never once did I have an issue with anything and it always delivered the goods. I had a wonderful time shooting with it unlike the previous DP2 Merrill.

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It’s all in the details

Even when shooting JPEG you can see the immense detail in the image. Below are three images with 100% crops embedded. You must click the image to see it with the crop. Remember, these are from JPEG!

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High ISO Test and Crops

The Sigma DP2 Quattro, or any DP camera for that matter is NOT a camera made for low light shooting. In fact, for best IQ keep this camera set to ISO 100-400 and no more than that. Yes, very low on the ISO scale but there are always trade offs as there are no perfect cameras. The DP2 Quattro is a camera to pull out of the bag when there is good light available. Then it will reward you with beautiful colors and results.

I am posting a few high ISO files below starting with base ISO 100. I them move on to 400, 800. 1600, 3200 and 6400. The best are 100 and 400 but see for yourself. Once you get to ISO 1600 problems start to creep in including odd color shifts and reduced DR. Stick from 100-800 and you will be just fine.

For best viewing experience, right-click and open each image in a new window. These are full size files from the camera, OOC JPEG

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JPEG vs RAW comparison

I have found that shooting the Quattro in JPEG  to be quite good. In fact, with all of the hassles of processing the RAW files of the DP2 Quattro I would just shoot JPEG for 95% of what I shoot. If I was shooting something very special that I was going to print large t hen I would process the RAW file for sure. Below are two images, one out of camera JPEG and one processed from RAW.

JPEG is up top, RAW underneath. Right click and open in a new window to see the files in their full size. 

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Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Outstanding Medium Format image quality!
  • Unique design and shape that works well for my hands
  • Conversation starter
  • Detail, color and 3D feel is all here
  • Camera ships with two batteries and full charger
  • 30mm f/2.8 lens is sharp corner to corner
  • Sigma’s best DP to date
  • Faster Af and processing over previous DP cameras
  • Great JPEG engine
  • Super JPEG size:  7,680×5,120
  • Superb for B&W shooting
  • OVF is available for those that want one
  • Good Dynamic Range up to ISO 800
  • Menu system is simple, clean and elegant
  • Most Unique camera of 2014!
  • IQ puts most other cameras to shame…really.

Cons

  • Still slow to AF compared to other (non DP) cameras
  • No swivel LCD
  • Must get exposure correct as it is tough to recover highlights
  • SD Card rubber “door” will break eventually
  • No kind of EVF even possible
  • Shape may be trouble for some
  • Battery life is not the best, sucks down quick.
  • Fixed lens means only 40mm equivalent
  • Limited ISO use, best from 100-400
  • Dynamic Range suffers after ISO 800+
  • RAW files can only be opened and processed by Sigma Software, which is SLOW as molasses.

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Who is this camera for?

The Sigma DP2 Quattro is a camera for camera pros, enthusiasts, and hobbyists. It is not a P&S for a new camera buyer or for someone without any knowledge of how a camera works. It is for those who crave detail, rich color and unreal micro contrast. It is for those who want a Medium Format look and feel in a camera that is much smaller and lighter, as well as cheaper. It is a camera for portraits, landscapes or still life. It is not for someone who wants to shoot running kids inside the house. No way, no how. If you shoot outdoor scenes, landscape or people and you want a camera that will deliver some of the most beautiful files you have seen, the this may be your camera. I find it works great as a 2nd camera for special situations or those moments when something like this will work for you.

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Final Word

As I sit here and think about my time with the DP2 Quattro I am extremely pleased and happy with the image quality. It exceeded every expectation and beats out some much more expensive cameras when shooting in the iSO 100-400 range. For IQ, this is one of those camera that just scream out with it. It doesn’t get better in IQ even in the 3K range! It was reminding me of such cameras as the Leica M9, Sony RX1R and even a few Medium Format cameras when it comes to IQ. That is some pretty impressive company, especially when you consider that the camera sells for $999. Well under the others I mentioned.

But will the IQ be enough for most of you who are in the market for a new camera? Probably not. The Sigma DP Quattro would not make for a good “one camera” to own because it limits your shooting to daytime or good light, ISO 100-800 for color shooting and it does not offer an EVF or swivel LCD. The Battery life is tough (but it does ship with two) and the camera does not do video or the gimmicky tricks that some other cameras do so well.

The DP Quattro is about one thing and one thing only…making memories in decent light with the best quality possible in this size and format for under $1000.

The Auto Focus has improved greatly from the DP2 Merrill I tested but it is still lacking in speed when compared to other cameras. I never found it unusable or missing the shot, not at all, but again…it is only good for still shots, NOT action or moving subjects and in low light it slows down and hunts. The DP2 Quattro has the all new sensor that delivers faster speed and better performance across the board and the 29 MP Foveon sensor is said to give the same results as a standard 39MP sensor. I would not argue that point. The battery life has improved from the Merril’s 50-60 shots per charge and now I can get about 120-140 shots per charge The two batteries supplied should be good for a day of shooting as long as you are not a speed demon machine gun shooter (if so, this is NOT your camera).

Shooting the Quattro is something you will either LOVE or HATE. If you can get along with the funkytown design then you will enjoy shooting with the Quattro. If you find the grip odd or off, then forget it.

Me, I love the design. I think it is the loveliest camera design of 2014.

So will I buy one? When B&H Photo sent me this camera to review I assumed I would “like” it but not “love” it. Well, I fell hard for the special image quality which does have some magic embedded in it. I also enjoyed the faster AF and write times and beefier design. I hate the flimsy rubber SD card “door” but overall enjoyed my time with the camera. I feel it is worth the $999 if you are after IQ for landscapes or portraits and as a 2nd camera for those times when you want the Foveon Look. So I have to ask myself if I would use it enough. I have a Leica, I have a Sony A7s and still have an Olympus E-M1 lying around. Do I need this one? NO, not at all. Do I want it? Sure, I would love to own it just for the IQ, color and design. I feel one day this camera will sit in a museum for its unique yet oddball design! It may be a flop sales wise but it sure is unique ;)

So would I buy one? Yes indeed, if I had the spare $1k to spend, without hesitation. If I can save some cash I may just go for it. I passed on all previous DP models but this one is my favorite without question. I can not image ANYONE being disappointed with the image quality. Just beware that you will need light because after ISO 400 or 800 the IQ degrades fast.

I would love to test this camera and the upcoming DP1 (28mm equivalent)  during my upcoming Southwest workshop as it would create some breathtaking images I am sure. I may have to buy one just for that trip :)

WHEN YOU SIT AND THINK ABOUT IT…the Sigma DP Quattro beats the Leica M 240, Sony A7 and others for Image Quality, has Auto Focus (the Leica does not) and comes in at $6k less (than the Leica) but includes a lens where the Leica does not. When you look at it in this way then it is a no brainer and worth the cost if you value high image quality above all. Just be ready for what this camera does NOT do well (low light, action, etc).

Overall it gets a recommendation from me, and a high one..but only if your main concern is image quality and you do not need a camera for low light or for fast moving subjects.

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Where to Buy

The Sigma DP2 Quattro is available at the links below from my recommended dealers:

B&H Photo – You can see or buy the Dp2 Quattro at B&H Photo HERE

Amazon – Buy the Quattro at Amazon by using my link HERE

Outside the USA? Use my Amazon UK, Germany and Canada links HERE.

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Aug 132014
 

A Pair of Fujis in Paris

By James Conley

France’s importance in the history of photography cannot be overstated. Some of the most significant documentary images in the history of photography were made in Paris, and it was the home of photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau. Today, the city is full of commercial galleries dedicated to photography. During any given week there are dozens of elaborate exhibitions and public displays of images. Photography is respected as an art, and it is actively promoted. Indeed, France is home to Jean-François Leroy, the founder and sponsor of Visa pour l’Image in Perpignan. Paris is at odds with itself, however. It’s an easy city to shoot, but a frustrating city to shoot in.

~First, the backdrop.~

Paris is divided by the Seine. The right bank is to the north, and the left to the south. The left tends to be rather rich (read: touristy) and the right bank tends to be more artsy (and frequently seedier). The right has interesting places like the medieval-streeted Marais, and the left was Hemingway’s stomping ground. The right is hillier, the left flatter.

Regardless of where you go, though, Paris is a victim/beneficiary of Georges Eugene Haussmann. Until the middle of the 1800’s, Paris had the same structure as it had during the Middle Ages—small, interwoven streets and cramped buildings. In 1794, under the influence of the miasma theory of the day that the tight quarters were the cause of illness, a Commission of Artists came up with a plan for redoing the streets. Nothing happened with the plan until Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte became emperor in 1852. He wanted the government to better control a capital where several regimes had been overthrown since 1789, and wanted wide avenues through which to move troops.

Napoleon III tasked Haussmann with reurbanization, and gave him broad powers to implement the plans. Haussmann used that power to seize property, require owners to make changes to building facades, and to completely level and rebuild parts of the city. Haussmann defined the maximum height of buildings, and their features—including balconies and roof pitch—was mandated. Neighboring buildings had to have floors at the same height, as well as matching exterior lines. Quarry stone was mandatory along the avenues. Wide boulevards, landscaped gardens, and monuments were designed to frame France’s imperial history. The plan and its result made the city look like an extensive palace.

What all this means from a photographer’s point of view is that the city provides a fetching backdrop for almost any picture, no matter what part of the city you’re in. It also means that no matter what part of the city you’re in, it runs the risk of looking remarkably like any other part. The buildings are beautiful in their own way, but they lack individuality. It’s as though Disney had the power to reface a major city.

Paris has some of the worst traffic of any major city. Cars are numerous, but mopeds and motorbikes are a close second. They are everywhere. Vehicles clog the streets and they park in any available place. Because of the chaos of so much traffic, Paris has placed a seemingly infinite number of three-foot tall poles to block walkways from vehicle parking. Parking on the streets is relatively unlimited, however, and there is almost no street that doesn’t have cars or mopeds lining it. This means that nearly every street scene will be blocked by either a pole or a vehicle.

Light is also an issue. Paris is a very northerly city. It is on a latitude similar to that of the U.S./Canadian border. In the autumn, this means that the sun is low in the sky, but it’s very bright. Shadows are strong, and highlights are glaring. Dealing with the contrast is not an insignificant challenge. Partly overcast is a friend to the limited dynamic range of a digital sensor.

Most of the traditional sites are worth seeing, even if their inspiration to make images is low. The Eiffel Tower is impressive. The Louvre is stunning. (Outside, at least. I think the Met is better curated, regardless of the difference in volume.) The city’s elaborate gardens are interesting and relatively attractive, if a rigid approach to horticultural design appeals to you. The streets are obtuse and there is no grid, which makes for convenient backdrops. The Latin Quarter and Ile Saint Louis stand out as particularly photogenic. As discussed below, however, many of the sites aren’t accessible to photographers. For example, Sacre Coeur doesn’t allow photography inside, nor does the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore. The Louvre, however, does. Most storefront businesses do not allow photography—including of the street. Most people out on the street will wave you off if they see you taking pictures.

~Second, the law.~

Contrary to France’s very welcoming approach to photography as art, it is also the home of two laws which restrict it: Droit d’image and La Loi Vie Privée. Basically, a French citizen can sue a photographer for using any image which includes the citizen or his property in the picture.  So, for example, you see an interesting farmhouse in Versailles. You snap a picture, and then want to use it on a blog which has advertising from which you profit. Unless you have the written permission of the owner of the property, under French law you can’t use the image. And what if the property gets sold later? That’s right—you have to get the new property owner’s permission.

The law against using someone’s likeness commercially is not particularly different from the protection other countries provide: you can’t associate someone with a commercial product without a model release. The French people, however, generally fail to understand that taking pictures of someone in a public space and using it for an artistic or editorial purpose is allowed. The French assume they have the right to interfere with all photography.

This confusion has led many photographers to avoid France, and to not publish their work in France. Whether or not these laws would be enforced against a particular photographer with a particular image, it certainly casts a pall over the desire to make images.

~Third, the people.~

Paris is a busy city. The streets are full of a variety of shops. People live in the city, and despite their cars, they shop very locally. The Haussmann design leaves little interior space for working at home, so people are out and about. Cafe tables are plentiful, and people loiter for hours working or talking. Pedestrian traffic is heavy, as is bicycle and motorized transport. Shops tend to close around 6 p.m., but cafes and restaurants are open later.

Despite (or because of) the number of tourists, people tend to be fairly aware of photographers. More so than in cities like New York, Parisians seem to be constantly on the lookout for someone taking a photo. There are few smiles in Paris, and even fewer when a camera is around. Shopkeepers will confront you if they even see a camera. They’ll also come out of the store if they see you taking pictures in the street. Signs forbidding photography are everywhere.

Outside of stores, the people on the streets are less confrontational, but it’s wise to be aware and not push the issue. It’s best to follow the fancy footwork of Cartier-Bresson and blend blend. He was a master at taking photos fast, with his subjects unaware they were being photographed. Zone focusing and the use of the rear LCD display on cameras so equipped is required practice. Waiting in the right spot for the right time is also handy—people get used to your presence and pay less attention.

~The Fujis~

I took an XE-1 and an X100s to Paris for two weeks. and racked up over 100 miles of walking around the city and its environs. I shot with two lenses on the XE-1: an 8mm Rokinon and 18-55mm Fuji. The X100s has a fixed 23mm. I found the Fuji X cameras to be very adept at the kind of speed required for Parisian street photography. The small bodies go unnoticed, and as mirrorless cameras the Fujis are quiet. The X100s is particularly easy to adjust for zone focusing and is virtually silent. The rangefinder style X series in general are well-suited to be quick to the eye, making stealth shooting easier.

Like any city, the best way to approach Paris as a photographer is to walk. There are opportunities for images on the plentiful buses and metros, but the action (as always) is out on the street. Having lugged 35mm and DSLR equipment for more years than I care to remember, the small and light Fujis are much easier on the shoulder and the back for extensive city walking.

Paris is a great city. The air and the water make delicious pastries and bread. The streets are picturesque, and there are interesting places to see. The art is impressive and ubiquitous. It’s worth a visit to the galleries and museums. But it’s a tough city to work in. The people are not friendly to photographers, and the traffic and poles make it a challenge to find a clean foreground, much less a background. The pollution is horrendous, and the noise is incessant. The most photographed places are the most accessible, which means being original is not just a challenge—it’s risky. Having a street confrontation in a foreign language does not a good trip make. But Paris is worth the challenge, and forewarned is forearmed.

website: fjamesconley.com
twitter: @Philatawgrapher

—James

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A woman on the Paris Metro reads among a plethora of geometric patterns.

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Aug 122014
 

Copenhagen with the Leica M 240 and 50 APO Summicron

by Howard Shooter

Copenhagen is a difficult city to shoot. The buildings are spotlessly clean and beautiful, the roads are spotlessly clean and beautiful and guess what…the people are spotlessly clean and beautiful.

This presents the street photographer with a problem; no urban decay, no old men with interesting creases which tell the story of their lives and therefore no photography which is focusing on the contrast of modern society. Denmark, like their most famous invention, Lego, is designed beautifully.

My wife and I managed our lucky annual weekend away without our gorgeous children to have a little of us time leaving our three children, happy as could be with the grandparents.

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Copenhagen is famous for Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid”, Canals that look like they are straight out of Amsterdam, (as a result of the Dutch building some of them), interior shops, posh designer food, beer beer beer, bicycles and a design ethos which is evident everywhere.

I was looking forward to using and testing my newly acquired Holy Grail of lenses, the Leica 50mm APO Summicron with the Leica M240.

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These shots are a miss mash of images and colours taken from around the city. I didn’t take hundreds of shots as I was there to relax and soak up the atmosphere rather than document it but I was pleased and I’m still learning all the time what this lens is capable of. I feel I always need about six months to a year to understand a lenses characteristics and this little gem is no different.

Now I think this is a lens which once purchased needs some financial justification as it is stupidly priced. I am not rich, I am quite sane (sometimes), and I am not a man who easily jumps on bandwagons. However I am a professional food photographer, I did sell two lenses to help pay for this piece of glass and I do use the Leica for the odd professional celeb chef portrait when the opportunity arises. I had ordered one of these, cancelled it and then six months later wanted to see what all the fuss is about.

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I think with lenses there is a misconception about what quality is all about when all of these graphs and charts and grids are produced by scientists who are comparing various tolerances across various apertures. I’ve seen enough shots of bookcases and scenes of toys with colour charts to last me a lifetime. Lenses are not solely about sharpness and yet this lens is sold partly because of its incredible sharpness. This, in the grand scheme of things definitely isn’t the main part of this lens that interests me. I did have a Leica 50mm Summilux and on the M240 it does display a little softness but it is a beautiful, quiet lens displaying subtlety and beautiful bokeh which is arguably nicer than the 50mm APO.

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What this lens does better than any other on the M240 is incredible dynamic range to the point where shots properly look like medium format film. The bokeh is nice but not incredible in my opinion, but the 3D pop combined with the sharpness and dynamic range is remarkable. It gives this lens a versatility like no other. Images can be deliberately overexposed and look subtle and beautiful without the whites bleaching out, and yet dark shots are rich and saturated with black blacks and eye popping colour. Black and white converted RAW shots look so authentically Bressonesque in their tonal values that the digital Leica feels like it has come of age.

The big question surely is “is it worth the money?”….. well for me it makes using extra lenses on the Leica seem superfluous and to that extent if you have a few lenses and traded up to the 50mm APO you wouldn’t be disappointed… I wasn’t… but blimey…. how much!

Howard Shooter

www.HowardShooter.com

Aug 072014
 

Why cameras are important!

By Rudiger Wolf

Steve,

Your site really does provide inspiration. After the A7s review, I decided to try the low light monster. I had hefted the A7 before, and it just did not feel/sound quite right. The A7s arrived just before our annual family pilgrimage to Lake Tahoe. We try to enjoy family time together at Lake Tahoe every summer. This time it would be especially fun, because the grandkids are getting old enough to enjoy the festivities (2 and 5 years old). Many years ago, I read an article wondering why some professional photographers use the best cameras and lenses on their clients, and then use lower quality gear for pictures of their families… pictures that could bless the lives of family members for generations to come, long after the value of client pictures are gone. I took that lesson to heart, and use the best equipment I can on my own family. Here then, are a few pictures of our recent trip to Lake Tahoe, using the A7s and Zeiss 24-70.

Ok, well not quite always that camera and lens combination. In this case, it was the A7s with Leica 21mm f3.4. Shot at ISO 3,200, F3.4, 20 sec.

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This is my 5 year old grand-daughter. She woke up early one morning. I was already working on the images from the previous day. The light streaming through the glass doors looked like it might offer some interesting images. She is an absolute sweetheart, and agreed to model for our photo shoot. I used the A7s and Leica glass, but ultimately, this is one of my favorite shots. Leica M240 with 90mm at f3.4, 1/30 sec at ISO 800. The colors on the A7s just did not match up as well.

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There is no intention of a fake out here. The A7s is an impressive instrument. I did have the chance to use the A7s exactly as I imagined it. Auto ISO, shutter speed fast enough to capture the active grandkids, Zeiss zoom lens for auto focus and flexibility. It all came together with a series of shots in a pretty dark room and my two grandsons…cousins. Sony A7s, Zeiss 24-70, 1/125 sec, f4.0, ISO 12,800! This one will last a lifetime! Where is the grain? Awesome.

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Obviously, we also watched the fireworks. I had tried to get them from the boat before with my D800e. Don’t get me wrong, I love that camera. Like any camera, it has limitations. Again, the A7s showed it’s capability. This was shot with Zeiss 24-70 at 1/125 sec, f4.0 at ISO 51,200! Just a fantastic camera for low light.

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Did I mention my grand kids? They loved the show! Sony A7s, Zeiss 24-70 at 1/40 sec, f4.0, ISO 12,800.

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To wrap this up… Thanks for the recommendation on the Sony A7s. It has enabled me to capture images I will treasure for a long time. My kids and their kids will see these, and remember the great times we have had together as a family. I can think of no loftier goal than to invoke those memories and feeling of joy and love together as a family.

Rudy

digitalwolftracks.smugmug.com
Rudiger Wolf

Jul 282014
 

Good Things Come in Small Packages: My Sony RX1R Experience

 

by Daniel Stainer – His website is HERE.

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From the scorching Nevada desert to the sandy shores of Outer Banks North Carolina, I’ve had six months to put the amazing Sony RX1R through its paces.

For my landscape work, I mainly shoot with the equally capable (but different) Nikon D800e, although I find it a bit bulky for spontaneous street and travel work. I always say that when you’re working the street with a larger-sized DSLR, people either want to mug you or they think you’re a member of the paparazzi. Either way, larger cameras are not as discreet and can often impact the subtle dynamic and interaction between photographer and subject. This is where the smaller Sony RX1R really shines.

Light & Shadow (Old Rhyolite Prison) (1 of 1)

So after six months, you’re probably wondering…what is my overall opinion of the RX1R? In a nutshell, It’s like owning a Leica M with a 35mm F/1.4 Lux lens, but at a fraction of the expense (so long as you’re fine using a slightly slower fixed prime). For those of you with Leica lens lust like myself, this is certainly a viable alternative – and one that won’t elicit buyer’s remorse.

While I won’t go all DxO on you with lens peeping comparisons, I can tell you that the Zeiss optics and image characteristics are simply stunning – as is the camera body fit and finish. Dynamic range and low-light/high-ISO capability is quite frankly excellent – as is color rendering and micro contrast. Much like Leica, the bokeh characteristics have a 3D quality that really pops. I can’t believe Sony was able to fit such a good 24MP FX sensor into such a small body.

Rhyolite Ghost Town (Beatty, Nevada)

Surprisingly (and as many users have already noted), the camera was actually too small for my hands weighted against the built-in Zeiss lens. Paired with a Really Right Stuff L-bracket and grip, it now balances out perfectly without compromising on the small footprint or good looks. I did initially purchase the stylish Gariz leather half-case, although I ended up selling it because I found the RRS bracket set-up to be more practical for my tripod work (boasting better hand-held stability).

Some would call the slower AF system the Achilles Heel – and I would somewhat disagree. While it’s not as blazingly fast as some of the Nikon/Canon DSLRs out there, it is very respectable (especially once you get a feel for things). I tried it out many times in lower light, and it seemed to track well – especially when coupled with Auto ISO to maintain an optimal hand-held shutter speed.

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I absolutely love Sony’s Auto ISO capability. Shooting in aperture priority or manual, there’s not much this camera can’t handle – and even the high ISO shots are very clean – just about on par with my former Nikon D4 up to about ISO 6400. Combined with the speed priority continuous burst drive setting, and you’ll have a formidable dual weapon for sharply stopping action dead in its tracks.

Truth be told, the AF is not nearly as lackluster as many have reported. That’s not to say that a faster and more responsive AF wouldn’t be a welcome enhancement for fast action or street-shooting scenarios. But you can manage and mitigate these shortcomings with the right settings and technique.

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As for other weaknesses, some argue that the lack of built-in OVF/EVF is a deal breaker. I did get Sony’s optional EVF – which is pretty sweet. It does make the camera a bit more bulky, but the fact that you can take it on and off and go stealthy is a nice thing IMHO. Shooting from the hip or via the beautiful-rendering LCD can also have its benefits when you’re trying to blend in. So maybe not ideal for some, it was not a show stopper for me.

Forget-Me-Not (Disabled American Vet) Big Butler Fair, PA (1 of 1)

So what didn’t I like? Well – I’m not crazy about the organization of the menu system (being spoiled by Nikon). Too many non-intuitive tabs. Also, I think the camera has too many features and options (if you’re a JPEG shooter, you’ll love all the cool filters and snazzy pre-sets). But like anything else, you can choose to ignore most of them and focus on basic minimalist RAW settings. And if B&W photography is your thing, the RX1R converted RAW files are breathtaking – with deep dark blacks and plenty of contrast to satisfy even the most discriminating user.
Probably the biggest miss from Sony is the lack of proper weathersealing. As I’m writing this review, my RX1R has been mailed to Sony service to clean up some rather noticeable dust bunnies that made their way deep onto the sensor/inner lens element. I was hoping to avoid these issues with the attached lens construction.

Carny (Big Butler Fair) (1 of 1)

If you shoot wide open at F/2 everyday, all day – you probably won’t notice any dust. But if you stop down for any landscape work (even urban landscapes), they could become glaringly obvious. In all fairness to Sony, taking a non weather sealed camera to the desert or beach was probably ill-advised on my part. Even if you treat the camera with kid gloves, the RX1R was not designed for extreme environments (wind, sand, dust, water). Just don’t tell that to all the pros, semi-pros and advanced amateurs out there who refuse to put their cameras behind a museum display case. When all else fails, you’ve always got the clone/heal tool.

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Kennywood Amusement Park (Pittsburgh, PA) (1 of 1)

Lastly, I wanted to talk about the price. Sure, the camera with accessories can cost a small fortune. And I would agree that some of the accessories (like the obnoxiously-priced lens hood or lack of standalone charger) should be included. But when you consider the amazing optics and capabilities – it’s a veritable bargain. That Leica lens I referenced above cost $5,150 from B&H, without the camera.

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Make no mistake – Sony has created something very special in the RX1R. For those looking to augment their larger DSLR system for more discreet street and travel work, I can’t think of anything better than the Sony RX1R. It’s not perfect – but what camera ever is? But in the area that really matters (image quality and lens rendering characteristics), the Sony RX1R is the king of mirrorless as far as I’m concerned – and a very strong contender to the best that Leica (or any manufacturer, for that matter) can offer.

Abandoned Fun Park Mansion (Salvo, NC)

Best of all, you won’t have to sell off your first-born to own one (ha-ha), although you might have to sell a few knickknacks on eBay to cover the rather pricy accessories. This is one camera I won’t be parting with anytime soon – even given its quirks.

Faded Glory (Salvo, NC)

Daniel Stainer

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