Apr 232015
 

My Adoration for the Sony A7 series and the Leica 50mm Summilux f1.4 ASPH Lens

by Jonathan Peterson

Steve,

To begin, I must say that I love your website. Like a ton. You’ve brought together a great community of artists and enthusiasts who gather to discuss photography and the wonderful products that show up on the shelves. I visit your website multiple times a day for inspiration and to read your views on some of my most beloved cameras.

I’m talking about the wonderful line of cameras from Sony: the A7, A7R, A7S, and A7II. I own the A7R, in particular. I LOVE this thing. I received it soon after its release and have loved it ever since. I paired it with the Leica 50mm Summilux f1.4 ASPH lens and have managed to create some decent images. I’m a U.S. Navy Sailor, so I get a chance to visit some very cool places. In fact, I’m stationed in Japan at the moment. Please enjoy some of my favorite images.

Thanks for your time and effort in this website, Steve. Please take care!

Very respectfully,

Jonathan

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Apr 212015
 

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The Sony Zeiss 35 1.4 Distagon FE Lens Review. Best 35mm Lens Ever.

Yep. I said it. The spoiler. This is the best full frame 35mm lens I have ever used in my life. But remember, I only review items I love and adore, so if there is something out there I have not reviewed it is because I am not a fan of it, plain and simple. Before anyone says “you like everything you review” – well, YES this is true as I have said over 1,000 times here. If this lens was a dog it would not have been reviewed. So what you see me review on these pages is all gear that I love and adore because if it sucks, it is not worth my time, my 40-60 hours that it takes to do a review like this. With that said, this lens is indeed the best 35 OPTICALLY I have ever used.

This image was shot indoor, f/1.4, and with only a bit of natural light coming in from my kitchen door window. Click it for larger. 

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Yes.

Better than ANY 35mm lens I have used in life, and that includes those from Nikon, Canon, Leica, or whoever…and I have used the best of the best. At f/1.4 it is stunning. Absolutely stunning. The lens is a masterpiece of optical quality from detail to color to bokeh. It is auto focus and the ONLY weakness it has is that it is quite large. I am used to Leica lenses, or smaller Sony lenses and this guy is a beast. No bigger than a Nikon or Canon or any DSLR lens, in fact, it is a teeny bit smaller than those beats income ways but not by much. Weight is around the same with this lens being about a few ounces heavier than the Canon and Nikon. (1.32lbs  vs 1.4lbs). Even so, after 2+ months with the lens, I am so impressed that I can confidently say this IS INDEED the best 35mm lens I have ever used, or reviewed or held. Yes, beats the Sigma 35 1.4 Art lens for those that were about to ask.

Below is the video I made for my 1st look report which was published HERE

Paired with the Sony A7, A7r, A7II or A7s, this lens delivers the goods but I especially loved it on the A7II. To me, the A7II is the pinnacle of the A7 series. The build, design, features, 5 Axis IS, Af speed, and superb low light capabilities really flesh out this system and mature it to another level. Yes, I own an A7s as well and have shot with the A7R and A7 extensively but the A7II, for me, is the most polished and nice A7 body yet. Notice I said YET as I know there is something else on the way,  I feel it in my bones, and hey, this is Sony..and they are on a roll..and I bet they want to strike while the iron is HOT. In the mirrorless world I feel Sony and Olympus are on fire with Fuji right behind. Nikon and Canon are seriously MIA with nothing new, fresh or competitive and the others keep releasing cameras hoping they will stick, and they never do. Leica is always beautiful but most can not afford a Leica setup. Sony is doing most things RIGHT today from design, performance, new lenses and price.

This lens is a tour de force of a 35mm. Versatile for low light and AF which is accurate and pretty fast for a 35 1.4 design. This was shot inside a limo at night. No problem ;) ISO 4000, ZERO NR, f/1.4

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Want to get up close and personal? The 35 1.4 has a minimum focus distance of .3 Meters which is GOOD.  1.4

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AF is snappy, even in dim light on the A7II – 1.4

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We can no longer say that “There is a lack of lenses for the Sony FE system”..because they now have MANY amazing lenses. The A7 system is less than two years old and Sony now has SO many good lenses..

1. The 55 1.8 Zeiss – A fantastic and sharp lens that gets rave reviews. 

2. The 35 2.8 Zeiss – Another fantastic sharp lens with the Zeiss pop. 

3. The 16-35 Zeiss – a superb wide-angle zoom, this one is one of the best I have tested for Ultra wide. (Review)

4. The 28 f/2 (stunner for cheap) – This is a must own lens, a superb value for under $450 (Review)

5. The new 35 1.4 (this review)

6. A new 90mm Macro! (Review soon)

7. Wide angle and fish attachment for the 28 (Review soon)

8. A pro level 70-200 – The standard 70-200 and this one is also fantastic.

8. Some mega pro zooms and some kit zooms

10. Zeiss Loxia Primes, the 35 and 50 (review of the 35 is HERE, the 50 is HERE)

and more.. From fisheye to ultra wide to telephoto to Macro Sony is now fleshing out the FE full frame lens system for the A7 series. They released lenses pretty fast and more will be on the way as there are many more planned lenses coming like a fast portrait prime. I feel an 85 and 135 will be here eventually, sooner rather than later.

This lens is stunning. This time at f/2. Crisp all the way around.

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I have quite a few image of Katie in this review as I used the lens for some of her Prom images..this one, f/1.4, converted to B&W using Alien Skin Exposure

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The Zeiss Magic & Pop Will Wow You

This lens is a Sony/Zeiss collaboration and it shows. Zeiss is a legend and has always been lumped in with Leica when it comes to image quality though they have always had their differences. With Zeiss you will usually get more 3D pop, richer and warmer color and USUALLY they are a tad softer than the Leica counterpart. With this lens, you are getting all of the 3D pop and color but even more detail where you need it over a Leica or other lens. At f/1.4 this lens could NOT be sharper. If it was, it would not be a good thing. As it is, it is PERFECT. When focusing on eyes (see and click on the very 1st image in this review) you can see what I mean. But it is here in all images I have shot with the lens so far and I have not had one hiccup with this lens, at all.

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With this lens, shooting wide open is where you will get the true character of the lens. If you want to shoot at f/2.8, you would be better off with the much smaller and lighter Zeiss 35 2.8 or Zeiss 35 f/2 Loxia. THIS lens, the f/1.4 Zeiss, seems optimized for wide open shooting, and this is where its beauty lies. Much like the Leica 35 1.4 Summilux FLE which is the lens that used to hold my title for best 35mm lens ever made for full frame digital. Today the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 take that title as it is just so good, again, with the only weakness being the size. There is no distortion, there is no offending CA or problems, there is no vignetting and there is no softness or focus issues. I feel the reason for all of this is because Sony and Zeiss REALLY took their time with it and wanted it to be a WOW kind of lens. This is also why it is large. If it were smaller it would have issues like distortion and other things so I think it is fantastic that Sony chose to go the route of optical beauty vs optical issues.

I have seen 1-2 reports of people buying this lens and saying it is “soft”. This is so not the case. If you are getting soft images with this lens you either have a bad copy, have an issue with your camera body, are not focusing in the right spot (shallow DOF here is VERY THIN at 1.4) or you are mistaking Bokeh for being Out of Focus. There is nothing soft about this lens in any way, shape or form.

As I look over the images I have shot with the lens I am thrilled that Sony did what they had to do as they created a masterpiece. Anyone who loves t he 35mm focal length will be THRILLED with this lens on any A7 series body. I used it mainly on my A7II which is the A7 I use 90% of the time these days. Still own and love my A7s  but the A7II just clicks all of my boxes.

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This lens is good for color or for B&W conversions as you can see above and below. You can go light on the contrast or heavy on the contrast. By default, this lens puts out a medium contrast  – not too hard and not too soft.

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But one thing remains a constant with this lens. It delivers the goods each and every time I bring it out or use it. From deep rich color, to beautiful black and white to nice creamy bokeh (background blur) that will not give you a headache, this lens shows what the Sony A7 system is capable of. I have tried the Sigma Art lenses. I have shot with the Canon 35L on a 5DII, I have shot with the Nikon 35 1.4 on a D800 as well as the Zeiss ZF 35 1.4. I have owned and shot with the Leica 35 1.4 Summilux, all versions. It is safe to say that I have had great experience with all full frame 35 1.4 lenses.

This Sony is the best one I have ever used for my tastes as it does everything right. Period. The one that comes closest is the Zeiss 35 1.4 Zf, then the Sigma Art 35 1.4. Last place would be the Canon 35L as it is getting a but long in the tooth, even when used on a 5DII or III. The size of the DSLR 35 1.4’s range from Large to Beastly and this Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 is at the large end. It’s a beast, and a few ounces heavier than the Nikon or Canon (1.4 vs 1.32lbs). After a few snaps you do get used to the size, though I admit I will always prefer a smaller lens. If this lens could be made in a small size it would be one of those legendary must own lenses.

The Leica 35 Lux is small, but manual focus only, a not so close minimum focus distance (.7 meters vs .3 of the Sony) and it does not offer the overall total IQ of this Sony/Zeiss. It is also $5400, so quite a bit more expensive. It is a jewel though, a beautiful legendary lens that was at the top of the heap for IQ. It is good to know that this Sony is up there in the same league as the Leica at a fraction of the cost.

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Before I end this quick lens review, let me show you a few comparison shots. Below you will find the same image taken with the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4, the Zeiss 35 f/2 Loxia, the 35 2.8 Zeiss, the 16-35 at 35mm and for grins, the Leica 35 Summicron at f/2 (I do not own the Lux). I will show each lens shot at f/2 to keep it the same aperture except the 16-35 will be at f/4 as  that is wide open for that particular lens and the 35 2.8 at 2.8 for the same reason.

It is a LARGE lens  – left to right: Leica 35 Cron, Zeiss 35 2.8, Zeiss Loxia 35, Zeiss 16-35, Zeiss 35 1.4

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I am not looking for detail or sharpness here, as ANY of these lenses will deliver on that. ALL are fantastic in their own right. But I am looking at color, pop, depth, bokeh, and overall character of image, which is why 99% of us buy these types of lenses…character. A lens like this is not bought for low light or high ISO use, it is mainly bought because so many of us LOVE the character of a fast lens.

YOU MUST click images for the correct view..

1st the 35 1.4 at f/2 on the A7II

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Now the Zeiss Loxia 35 f/2 at f/2 on the A7II

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Now the 35 2.8 on the A7II (at 2.8)

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Now the 16-35 at 35 at f/4

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and finally, the 35 Summicron on the A7II

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Which do YOU prefer? 

I still prefer the Sony Zeiss 35 1.4 but ALL are great, even the 16-35 at 35mm and f/4 renders a great image with contrast and pop. To me, the most amount of depth and 3D comes from the Sony 35 1.4 but all are great and most would have a hard time figuring out which is which. Goes to show, most lenses made today are good and get the job done though these lenses above are all $800 and up, all the way to $3300 for the Leica 35 Cron (though it is my #2 pick as the IQ is fantastic and the size is TINY). I will say if all you care about is corner to corner perfection your best bet is the Sony 35 2.8, but it will lack in Character compared to the 35 1.4, Zeiss Loxia, Leica cron, etc.

DETAILS!

Below is a 100% crop from this 35 1.4 Zeiss on the A7II. Plenty of detail for me! THIS is wide open!

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My Final Word on the Zeiss 35 1.4 for the Sony FE System

I love this lens. Period. For me, it is the absolute best 35mm 1.4 lens I have ever shot with, used or tested when it comes to image quality. As you know, I do not go by charts or graphs, I go by real world shooting. Using a camera and lens for what they are meant to be used for..images..memories…the main reason we take pictures! For pros, if you have a 35mm in your kit you owe it to yourself to give this one a try. It is a beauty of a lens and now takes the title as the best 35mm lens I have tested or used. THAT says a lot. If you have this lens and you are not getting astounding quality with it then you may have a dud, which is not cool, but it is NOT the norm for this piece of glass. For me, this lens is perfect for just about anything you want to shoot. Environmental portraits, fashion, every day life, landscapes, still life or what have you.

This lens takes the A7 series to the next level. AF is speedy for a 35 1.4 (bested the Art 35 1.4 when I used it on the Canon 6D) and 100% accurate on my A7II. Never did I get a misfocus. I also shot some personal images on my A7s and the results were just as fantastic as they were on the A7Ii with a slightly different feel due to the different look of the A7s sensor (slight).

So I highly recommend this lens. It’s the best of the native lenses I have used for the FE system. $1600 is expensive but cheaper than the competition while being better. Bam. Sony did it again.

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Where to buy?

You can BUY/ORDER OR PRE-ORDER this lens at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK – (not bookmark able) Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

Outside of the USA? Use my worldwide Amazon links HERE!

You can also follow me on Facebook, TwitterGoogle + or YouTube. ;)

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

Apr 172015
 

One from the Sony A7II and Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4

Many have been asking me when my full review for the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 Lens will be out. Well, I have been so swamped with all kinds of goodies lately, and I did not want to rush the Sony review so I will be wrapping it up within 10 days or so. For now, I will say that just as I thought in my 1st look report (see that here), this Sony 35 1.4 is the best 35mm lens I have ever shot with, period. For me it beats the Leica 35 1.4 Summilux, it beats the Zeiss 35 1.4 Zm, it beats the Nikon 35 1.4, and handily beat the Canon 35 1.4 L. It has an extreme sharpness at 1.4 but ONLY at the focus point. The background melts away into a beautiful bokeh and the color performance is top notch.

THIS lens, optically, is amazing. As good as it gets in the 35mm world. I will leave you with ONE shot I snapped an hour ago of my Stepdaughter Katie just before her Senior prom.

Review in about 7-10 days.

Indoor, NO flash (I never use flash) and just some soft window light. Shot at f/1.4. Click it for larger. Sony A7II. 

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Apr 072015
 

Lots of new stuff arriving!! Bags, Cases, Goodies..

Hey to all! Hope you are having a wonderful start to the week! It has been busy here for me with work, family time, hobbies and non stop LIFE happening. Time sure does fly when you are having fun, that is not a lie! In any case, just an update on some new things coming in, upcoming reviews and maybe a rumor or two…

The beautiful new Summarit 35..review VERY soon along with the 50, 75 and 90.

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LEICA

Leica seems to have been slipping a but lately but I am confident that they will bounce back with something new, special and WOW. I mean, they HAVE To. They have a new CEO yet again and maybe they are going to change strategies? If they got me into a meeting I would tell them to release THIS:

A REAL Mini M rangefinder. M mount. Basic, no video, no-nonsense. Just the camera, the exposure dial, the power button and the shutter. Make it mini-fied, not as solid as the M 240, but a compromise between a real M and something like an X. A mini rangefinder M camera WITH built in RF/EVF hybrid. A real RF though, not a fake on like Fuji uses. Price: $3500-$3700 MAX. THIS would be a hit. This and the new Summarits would rock the world. Will it happen? Probably not but one can dream, and it would boost Leica’s sales in a huge way.

Speaking of the Summarits, Ken Hansen (email: [email protected]) was kind enough to ship me ALL four new Summarits  so I can review them! (when I send them back he will be selling  them as Demo’s at a great price, so be on the lookout). I hear nothing but GREAT things about the new Summarit line and being Leica’s most affordable lenses, I am anxious to give them a try. My Safari M is waiting :) HOPEFULLY I do not fall for the 50, 75 or 90 as I will want to buy them. Being a reviewer has it’s pros and cons you know. Lol. I always review stuff that I want to keep.

So look out for the Summarit reviews in 2-3 weeks. 

Also for my Safari set I have a VERY cool bag and case on the way from Angelo Pelle. He is sending me his Henri bag in Camo as well as a Half case in Camo, perfect for the Safari. Angelo does amazing work, each case is hand stitched and takes a few days to make. He is working on mine as I type this. The bag will hold the Safari with lens and one other lens inside a lens pouch. Take a look at the bag, and the Camo case on a Sony A7II. Pretty sweet! When it arrives I will be doing a full video review of the bag, the case and my Angelo Pelle case for my A7II. Lovely hand made items for two amazing cameras.

See more at his website HERE. 

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Speaking of the Leica Safari M-P set, check with PopFlash.com and Ken Hansen if you want one while there are a few left. To me, it is the best deal ever for a Leica special edition as it comes in CHEAPER than if you bought the standard pieces separate! You save about $1000 and get a limited edition set with a gorgeous silver 35 cron. The cron is YUMMY. It’s a gorgeous set which I will also have a video on this week. But yea, the cron on the M is beautiful..

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All 35 Summicron, at f/2 – the color, the detail the “organicness” is all there..at least I see it! I chose to make them VIVID with color pop! All test shots to see if my RF was focusing correct and it was.

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So Leica will be getting some attention here on these pages REAL soon. The Safari set, the new Summarit line and maybe even more surprises. To get you Leica fix, as mentioned, check with Ken Hansen, PopFlash.com, The Pro Shop for Photographers or LeicaStoreMiami.com 

MORE BAGS!

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Check out  this beauty above. It is the HoldFastGear.com Roamographer Mini. I own the full size Roamographer and for me it is the highest quality bag I own, even surpassing the amazing and great Wotancraft bags for construction and quality. When the full size Roamograoher arrived I requested they make a MINI version, and they told me they were working on one, and here it is.

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I love my full size Roamographer BUT for me it is a tad too large. I have a Mini on the way and will be reviewing it as soon as it arrives. For me it looks like it can hold a Sony A7 system with a couple of lenses or a Leica M system with a few lenses or an Olympus system with a few lenses. It is small enough to remain compact yet not so small as to cause a problem. I use my Wotancraft Ryker EVERY single day. I love my Wotancraft THOR..will the new Roamographer Mini be my new fave? Check back soon for a full review. If you want to check out the Roamographer in more detail, see my review of the original full size bag HERE or see the website at HoldFastGear.com for more.  Yes, some of you will cry MAN PURSE but hey, these are amazing quality bags from build to style, and I am confident as can be in my masculinity, so I like Man Purses. They do the job when I have to carry goods around with me. :)

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SONY

I still have to finish my Sony 35 1.4 Zeiss lens review (1st hand on look is HERE). This lens is a BEAUTIFUL beast. Large, in charge and outputs some serious IQ, in line with the Leica 35 1.4 Summilux. Only neg is that it is LARGE. I also hope to try the wide angle converters for the new 28mm lens (my review here) and the new 90 Macro should be arriving SOON. Sony is always releasing new goodies and I have a hard time reviewing them all, so I stick with what I know will be FANTASTIC.

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VOIGTLANDER

The new 15 f/4.5 Heliar is GORGEOUS. It fixes all past issues when used on digital full frame bodies. It works perfect on the Leica M or the Sony A7 series. No more colored edges or soft corners. THIS is a true 15mm wide angle with no distortion and yes, is the BEST choice IMO for a 15mm view on your Leica or Sony full frame. Price is $750 but it is about equal to other lenses in the $2-$5k range as far as I am concerned. A true deal if you enjoy wide angle from time to time. You can buy it at CameraQuest.com with free shipping and free BW filter. HIGHLY recommended.

1st three is the new 15 VIII on the A7II

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2nd set, all on the Leica M

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Other than that I know there is new stuff coming from Olympus, Sony and others. As always I will review the best of the lot and what I think you guys would enjoy. New bags, new cases, new lenses, new cameras…all on the way. Stay tuned right here as always! Also, keep on the lookout for my new one on one Sedona photo adventure..details soon.

Thanks to you all!

Steve

Apr 062015
 

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The Sony 28mm F/2 FE Lens Review

By Steve Huff – Pre-order this lens at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE!

Wow. If I were to tell you that I have a lens here that gives some of the best quality I have seen in any 28mm lens, yet it comes in at around $450, would you believe me? I have been shooting with the small compact Sony 28mm f/2 lens and WOW, this guy is pretty incredible for the size, the cost and the lightweight build. In other words, the image quality is WOW!!! But! It is not perfect and has flaws, but these flaws are to me, nothing to worry about.

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When I saw that Sony was going to release a wide-angle f/2 prime, and it did not have the Zeiss or G moniker attached to it, I assumed it would be an average lens. Cheap build, large size and soft performance wide open. Little did I know that this lens would deliver some of the sharpest results I have seen in any 28mm lens. While not perfect, as in an “optical masterpiece” the cons are few and the pros are many. So take a look at some images I was able to get with the lens as well as my thoughts on this new semi-wide angle from Sony. :)

The Mighty 28mm f/2

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This little lens is just that. Small. While not as tiny as a Leica lens, this guy is basically a tad longer than the 35 f/2.8 Zeiss, which is tiny. The 28 is longer but not wider and it ships with a plastic petal type lens hood. The review unit was sent to me without a retail box but seeing that the lens ships in May (and my review unit was sent to me in March) they may not have had them made up yet.

Upon taking it out of the box I was surprised at the small size and light weight. BUT, I liked it as I love small lenses. Still, I “assumed” it would be soft at f/2, which is where I would want to shoot it.

I attached it to my A7II, took a few test snaps in my backyard and when I came in to look at the JPEGS I was WOWED! The sharpness, pop, detail, contrast, color and overall vibe was superb. For black and white the contrast is just right out of the camera, giving your photos some real pop.

Brandon – 28 f/2 – Sony A7II – B&W JPEG

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Debby – Color is great as well, and this was on a bright harsh day out in the desert. 

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I am not usually a 28mm guy but I have been tempted to order the Leica 28 Elmarit for my M but at $2200 I did not feel I would use it enough to warrant a purchase. With this new Sony 28mm, at $450 it is a NO BRAINER. I can shoot with the 28 when I like and will never feel guilty about breaking the bank for the lens. In fact, the 28mm f/2 shows some of the same character as my Leica 35 Summicron. Again, all for $450. Sony may have been wanting to make a statement with this one, showing us that they can produce a small fast prime, on the cheap, that delivers pro quality.

In fact, I have been shooting it quite a bit and I have not noticed any major issues. NO CA issues, NO speed issues (the AF is fast with this lens on my A7II and A7S) and no busy bokeh, no off color…this is a solid lens in ALMOST all aspects.

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So what IS wrong with the lens?

When I review lenses I just get out there and shoot them. I do not go set up a studio scene to test for detail (others do that), I do not shoot resolution charts (others do that) and I do not talk all scientific using big words that confuse many readers (others do that as well). What I prefer to do is USE the lens! When the lens was made it was built for one purpose…to mount on your camera and make memories. So I take photos with the lens and look at the quality, color, distortion, sharpness, pop, contrast and bokeh. I can instantly tell from the get go if a lens is a MUST OWN or NEVER OWN type of lenses.

Today there are so many lenses out there to choose from. Expensive, cheap, off brands…lots of jewels and lots of garbage. With a 28mm focal length and a speed of f/2, we usually have some kind of issues whether it is vignetting, soft corners, or distortion. So what is wrong with the Sony 28?

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It has some distortion. If you shoot JPEG in your Sony A7 series camera you will never see it, as the camera corrects for this automatically, and I admit, sometimes the JPEGS out of the A7II look better than my processed RAW files so shooting JPEG for me is not an issue. But since the lens is not yet shipping, there is no lens profile in Lightroom or ACR for this lens, so when shooting RAW, right now, you will see distortion. Much like the powerhouse Sony RX1 and RX1r, the lens will show some barrel distortion and it needs correction. I used the profile for the Sony 28-70 and it took care of it pretty good  – but even so, if you shoot RAW, the lens will need a lens profile to fix the distortion.

Below is a sample shot – One from RAW without any lens correction, one out of camera JPEG with the distortion fixed. This way you can see what to expect if you shoot raw and do not use correction. Click them for larger.

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As you can see, there is distortion but as I said, even the now legendary RX1 has this issue if you shoot RAW. MANY cameras do this today, have in camera lens profiles that fix the issues automatically. With lenses being made smaller, compromises have to be made and I will take in camera  profile correction any day over a lens that would be 4X the size. This is one reason why Leica lenses are so expensive. They are all optically superior lenses that will not distort and do not need correction. They are already corrected..and small. But the drawback is that they are UBER EXPENSIVE. The 28 f/2 from Leica is $4300. The Sony? $450 or almost 10X less expensive. So do not expect optical perfection, instead, expect a lens that will give you fantastic out of camera quality that is sharp, colorful, higher contrast and has load of pop.

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How could this lens be so good for under $450?

It just is. Sony has created a fantastic lens here. It is fast with AF, locked on quickly every time. It is light and compact and it provides smashing color, contrast and pop. Some may think it has too much contrast so you may want to lower the contrast in your favorite editor.

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So I am excited about this lens. After shooting it for 2 weeks I do not want to be without it as it has become glued to my A7II. The 35 1.4 Zeiss is stuck on my A7s. Both lenses are fantastic that propel the A7 system into the stratosphere in my opinion.

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Sony is maturing their FE line and it is looking fantastic. All kinds of lenses, all kinds of choices, the new bodies with more to come. They are on a non stop roll and if they keep it up, this will be the system to beat. Many predicted Sony’s doom, many said they can’t compete with Fuji or Leica.

WRONG!

Not only are they competing with Fuji and Leica, they are surpassing them quickly. The quality from a camera like the A7II and these new Sony FE lenses is nothing short of astonishing. If the A7II and 28 f/2 came out 10 years ago, we would be saying “THIS IS COMPACT MEDIUM FORMAT” and it would have skyrocketed to the top. But of course this new tech in sensors and bodies did not exist then, but I predict Sony has another Ace up their sleeve as they are always thinking forward and to the future which is the way to do it. I know many photo geeks who are thrilled to death with their Sony A7s and A7II cameras whether they use Leica glass, Sony glass or Zeiss glass.

My son Brandon, now almost 19 (where has the time gone)? Shot at f/2 with the 28 on the A7II – he never likes to make a serious face these days :) 

Click image to see the 100% crop.

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Another with a 100% crop embedded – click it

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At night in my bedroom. As I prepare for bed my dog took it upon herself to lay on my pillows. Used the light from the lamp on the nightstand. ISO 800 at f/2. Focus was quick and accurate. 

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Pros and Cons of the Sony 28 f/2 Lens

Pros

  1. Small and Light
  2. Priced RIGHT at $450
  3. Extremely sharp lens, even at f/2
  4. Higher contrast, deep color, rich POP
  5. Close focus ability of 0.96 foot.
  6. Smooth creamy Bokeh
  7. Fast AF, Accurate AF
  8. Seems like a perfect size for the A7 series

Cons

  1. Has distortion with RAW files  – needs a profile. JPEGS are fixed in camera
  2. Build quality is that of a $450 lens. Not tank like in any way.

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My Final Word on the Sony 28mm f/2 Lens

Sony has come a long way since the NEX-3 and 5 from when they started on this mirrorless path. Little did we know that a few years after these tiny cameras Sony would release a full frame system that no one else has yet to compete with. Not Fuji, not Leica, not Nikon, not Canon, not Ricoh, not Pentax, not Olympus..NO ONE. So for now, here in 2015, Sony is gaining serious steam. I see it in comments, in sales and in clicks. Sony is leading the pack in the enthusiast market.

Many used to complain that Sony did not have enough lenses for the FE system yet here we are a year and half from the start of this brand new system and we have tons of lenses to choose from. Many GREAT, some GOOD and some average. But the choices are there. We now have this 28mm, which has add ons for wider views and even fisheye effects. We have the 16-35 Zeiss and we have the 24-70 Zeiss and the 28-70 more affordable option. We have the 35 2.8, the 35 1.4 and the Zeiss Loxia 35 and 50 f/2. We have the 55 1.8, the  90 Macro (coming) and the supremos and even pro 70-200. There are more and more to be announced.

As for this 28mm, it is to me, a no brainer at $450. You will not find a better new production 28mm for full frame for this price, period. While not perfect due to the distortion that is present without correction or using a lens profile, it is easily overcome. Shoot JPEG and they are perfect out of the camera. Shoot RAW and you will need to apply the camera lens profile to fix the distortion, but when it is fixed the images will be gorgeous.

I liked shooting this lens JPEG as the color and pop right from camera was fantastic. I also shot RAW, and those were great as well. For me, this 28mm is a must own, and my pre-order is in. It will ship in May and is priced at $450.

Where to Buy the 28?

You can pre-order it at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Apr 062015
 

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A Change Of Perspective – The Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 III

By Alan Schaller – My Flickr linkhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/alanschaller/

Buy the 15 lens HERE at CameraQuest or HERE at B&H Photo

Hello everyone. First off, a big thank you to Steve for giving me the opportunity to write again on his great site.

I heard very good things about the first and second versions of the Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5, namely their low price, compact size and classy rendering. They were however known to colour shift on the M9, M240 and the A7 series, meaning many digital users used the lens as a black and white tool. From what I can tell from my pictures colour shifting has been completely sorted in this third version of the lens, which of course is a great thing. Also worth mentioning is the incredible lack of distortion.

I happened to have a holiday booked to the South of France a few days after I received my lens, and thought it would be the perfect place to let this super wide-angle flex its muscles! The region I went to (The Côte d’Azur) features crazily photogenic villages, street scenes, the sea and mountainous areas, so I had a lot fun shooting in a variety of environments with the 15mm on my Sony A7s and Leica Monochrom. The shots in this review were all taken on that trip.

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I had not extensively used a lens wider than a 35mm before getting this 15mm prime. My main reason for buying a super wide angle lens was to shake up my shooting style. I can confirm that it has, and recommend trying one if you haven’t already! I enjoy the 50mm focal length most of all, and being so used to looking for photo opportunities through the ‘eye’ of a 50, what I was seeing through the 15mm viewfinder initially seemed almost comical. The first day I had the lens, I walked around London with it on the Monochrom, initially marvelling like a child at how I could get whole buildings in frame whilst standing a few meters away from them.

I eventually calmed down and started thinking about how I could get the most out of my new lens. It seemed immediately obvious that it would be useful for shooting landscapes or epic sky scenes, but being primarily a street photographer, I wanted to try and use it on the streets too. Initial test shots proved this to be tricky! A lot of the time you have to get extremely close to the subject to make an interesting shot. The silent shutter on the A7s made me feel more confident to do so. It’s something I am going to enjoy experimenting with.

The thing I have found most interesting and creatively rewarding about using this super wide angle lens is the way it presents an image with such an unfamiliar perspective to the human eye. A 50mm lens is great as it is so familiar to our field of view, but I am really interested by the way this lens is so unfamiliar. Certain scenes that would be very mundane with a standard focal length can become surprisingly interesting when you use a super wide angle. This one was taken on the plane going to France:

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The Monochrom gets on very nicely with this lens! Images are detailed and have great contrast. If you stop down to f/8 the depth of field is impressive. Also, as the DOF is so deep on a lens this wide, at f8 the lens is focusing from its closest point of 0.5 meters all the way to infinity, so there is zero need to adjust focus! This is a welcome attribute as it takes more consideration to get a shot perfect with a 15mm due to the extra surrounding context inevitably being in frame, and not having to worry about nailing focus helps speed up the whole process.

I have found sharpening to be totally unnecessary when using this lens on the Mono. This lens and camera combo feels great to use, and is perfect in terms of size and weight. They feel seriously solid together in the hand, and look great too! Same goes when it is used on the A7s. It feels well-balanced.

I expected the lens to work fantastically on the Monochrom (as the previous version did too), but I have been super impressed with the results on my Sony A7s. The colour is to die for!

Sony A7s – ISO 100 – f/8 – 1/200 sec

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Sony A7s – ISO 100 – f/8 – 1/250 sec

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As many people know the A7s is a low light monster, which meant I could shoot at any time of night despite the fact that this is a pretty slow lens. Simply crank the ISO to 8 or 10 thousand and snap away handheld, knowing the images will retain great detail and colour. Simple! As I mentioned before, the edges retain their colour well, even under pixel peeping scrutiny, so hats off to Voigtlander for taking the time and putting in the R&D to revise this lens so well for digital sensors. Chromatic aberration seems very well controlled, but can still be spotted if you pixel peep. I am sure Voigtlander will sell many of these, as the price, although an increase from the previous generations of the f/4.5 15, is still way way below the outlay for similar offerings from Leica or Zeiss. Despite being relatively cheap, the lens is built excellently, has a metal hood and body, and takes sensible 58mm filters. Most importantly, from what I can tell, the image quality is right up there with those more pricey offerings from Leica and Zeiss.

Leica Monchrom – ISO 320 – f/5.7 – 1/125 sec

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I can already tell that this lens is a keeper, which means more of my shots taken with this lens will be going up on my Flickr page for the foreseeable future! So if you are interested in seeing more shots, feel free to have a look!

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

Mar 312015
 

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DUAL Review: Zeiss Loxia 50 F/2

by Bill Danby and Steve Huff

Hey everyone! I have been shooting the Zeiss Loxia 50 f/2 for 2-3 weeks now and LOVE it. I also received a guest report on the Loxia 50 and decided to post both my thoughts and Bill Danby’s thoughts at the same time. First, I will let Bill say what he thinks about the Loxia 50 as he says all that needs to be said! Enjoy!

Bill Danby Loxia Review:

Just about every discussion of the Loxia 50mm also mentions the most likely alternative, the Sony/Zeiss 55mm. (And now, I suppose, I have too.) But this is very rarefied air we’re breathing here. They’re both outstanding lenses designed specifically for the Sony A7 series cameras. Any idea that one will leave the other in the dust is entirely misplaced.

I have used my 55mm extensively; but this will not be a “This vs That” review. Just because there’s an elephant in the room, doesn’t mean you have to pet it.

I don’t do video, so this review won’t be helpful for photographers looking to use the Loxia for that.

I’m not going to be coy. I REALLY like this lens. But I’m not going to recommend it willy-nilly. I’d like to tell you about the lens, and let you decide. But as they say in the small print: The following is provided on an “as is” basis. Your mileage may vary, etc.

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So, why the Loxia 50mm?

The “Ifs:”
If you prefer primes lenses; and
if you prefer a “normal” (50mm) lens; and
if the manual focus is a serious plus for you; and
if you can live without some of the very attractive features of autofocus; and
if only having a manual aperture isn’t a practical negative,
then the Loxia 50mm might be the lens for you.

Image quality

The most important thing to know about the Loxia 50mm is that it’s balanced in terms of its qualities. Zeiss calls it a “flexible all-rounder.” There’s a lot of truth in that; but only for those that got through the “ifs” without having to think too hard about it.

The Loxia’s colour rendering and contrast are both great, and it has its share of Zeiss “pop.” Not OMG “pop;” but it’s a Zeiss Planar and it does what Zeiss Planar lenses do. Apparently the present level of contrast is more the result of the coating than the Planar design. The Planar design has almost 120 years of history and the Zeiss T* coating goes back almost 80 years.

It has extremely low distortion and very little chromatic aberration.

F/2.0 is pretty fast. To get to f/1.4 would have required a bigger lens and that would not have been in keeping with the brief. This is the same speed as its sister, the Loxia 35mm. You have to keep in mind that this is f/2.0 on a full-frame. That means that at f/2.0 on the full frame camera, depth-of-field is slightly more shallow than at f/1.4 with a 32mm (50mm equivalent) lens on an APS-C (crop sensor) camera. So, this affords acceptably narrow depth of field for isolation of a subject, such as for some portraits.

Apparently, the Inuit people have at least 53 words for snow. We seem to be working toward that number of adjectives to describe bokeh. The Loxia’s bokeh isn’t the very creamy style prized by some; but it’s not “nervous” either. I find the bokeh from the Loxia to be both attractive and useful.

This is an outstandingly sharp lens, with a slight softening at the corners, wide open. I had to look for it. It’s not a problem for me.

The lens is an equal partner for the Sony A7II. And from the other reports I’ve read, it also meets the demands of the A7r (which I don’t have).

It’s not a zoom

Prime lenses held pride of place for many years, but times have changed. The quality improvements in zooms have been revolutionary. So now, while there’s a bit of image quality in it, the main difference is lens speed.

Zooms for the A7 series (even the lowly 28-70mm kit lens) usually have their own stabilisation. So if you’re not going to be using an A7II (or, seemingly soon, the A7rII), then using the Loxia over a zoom will cost you the stabilisation as well.

Almost everyone who has had occasion to use my camera, has asked where the zoom ring is. Their reaction on learning there isn’t one, can only be described as pitying. Now, with the Loxia, they’ll be wondering why it isn’t focusing. (I fear that things will be moving from pity to something else.)

Manual focus

Manual focusing seems to have “old school” written all over it. It’s unfortunate that some think that manual focusing is just for “old guys” (apologies for the sexist terminology) trying to recapture their experiences from the day. Feeding such a view is the fact that old guys started in photography without any autofocus. So, they, or those with experience in using legacy lenses, adjust to manual focus more quickly.

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I hate thinking I’ve nailed the focus on a shot, only to find out when I get it into Lightroom that the system has chosen something else to focus on. (That, of course, is the camera rather than the lens.) So, while I still may occasionally miss the exact focus with the Loxia, I don’t get those surprises.

Any movement of the focus ring triggers an immediate magnified view. And a half-press of the shutter button brings you back the full view ahead of whatever timing you’ve set. You can, of course, turn that off and magnify when you want.

It took me a little time to get used to that magnification arrangement because I had been used to giving the shutter a half-press to force an autofocus.

Focusing with the Loxia is fast. It’s not always as fast as some autofocus systems, but it’s more reliable. Manual focus, however, rarely gets lost in the hunt. I usually leave focus peaking on, but I depend on the magnified view.

I’ve also assigned the magnified view to the A7II’s “C1″ soft key. That allows me to get an even higher magnification quickly when I need it.

If you’ve come to depend on Sony’s great, eye-focus feature (or faces, or smiles, or face recognition, or tracking focus), those don’t happen with the Loxia. Except for the loss of the eye focus (which is very accurate, and simple even on a tripod), I’m relieved. There’s no grid of phase detection points, or boxes around people’s faces, or green dots to signal focus.

It’s just point, focus, and shoot.

Zone focusing is not just for street photographers. Once you get used to a hard infinity limit and a hard close focus limit (at about 18 inches), then it’s easy to estimate where a shot is going to be.

I haven’t tried astrophotography, but my lens sets accurately to infinity. So, if you’re trying to focus on the stars, it’ll probably be easier on the Loxia.

It’s ironic for me that after years of watching the developments and discussing the relative merits of phase detection and contrast detection autofocus, I’ve decided to skip both — just when they’re getting really fast.

Handling

The lens is all metal, so it’s relatively heavy, although Zeiss calls it light. Zeiss says it’s 320gm, but with the hood and front lens cap mine was 358gm). My kit (the A7II with the Loxia, but without a strap, ) comes in at 970gm. With the strap, call it a kilogram (2.2lbs).

I find that the on-camera balance is perfect.

I’ve heard the lens called ugly. That, of course, is personal taste; but it doesn’t seem ugly to me.

The focus ring is well placed and wide enough. The ring begins just behind the lens hood when the hood’s attached, so the ring is quick to find. Yes, yes, the focus ring is very smooth. It’s a Zeiss manual lens — it needed to be.

The full, focus rotation for the Loxia is 180 degrees — a manageable spin. But, that’s not the useful information. What you need to know is that the focus rotation to go from 2 meters (6 feet) to infinity is only about 35 degrees (about a tenth of a turn of the focus ring). This means that for most situations I can focus within that range without taking my fingers off the lens.

I wouldn’t have minded a slightly wider aperture ring. No big thing.

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Manual aperture

If you’re not a dedicated aperture-priority shooter, then the Loxia isn’t the lens for you. It’s an absolute manual aperture.

The Loxia’s manual aperture benefit, as with manual focus, is that you not only set it on the lens, you can see what you set; and you can see it even if the camera is “sleeping,” or off.

With an auto lens you can select aperture priority, or not. No such choice with a Loxia. (This means that you can’t put the camera on “auto” to hand to a bystander to take your picture.)

I rarely use the video on my camera, so I don’t need to switch off the aperture clicks. But I was curious to see if the small screwdriver from my Swiss Army Knife (usually used to tighten the screws on eye glasses) would work on the Loxia’s click/declick selector switch, that’s located on the lens mount. It’s not a great fit, but it does.

Exif data reporting

Because the lens reports the exif data to the camera, the f/stop appears in the electronic viewfinder as well. Cool.

The exif data, however, is not just information for idle curiosity. The information feeds the exposure calculations. And when images arrive in Lightroom, you’ll have aperture data with those shots.

The focus data is also used by the A7II’s stabilisation to afford the full, five-axis assistance, rather than the three-axis available to other manual focus lenses. This also means that when you attach a Loxia, the Sony recognises it and sets the system to the lens just as it does for Sony lenses.

The details

The lens shade is metal, but light. It reverses, but the hood is deep. So, when it’s reversed it pretty much covers the focusing ring. There’s only the slightest sliver of ring available in a pinch. You really have to remove the hood to focus the lens. I mentioned that it’s metal, but it has a plastic ring on the inside for the actual connection to the lens. The inside of the barrel of the shade feels as if it has a coating and it’s BLACK. It takes a quarter turn to lock it into place, so if you start with the Zeiss logo at the top, then a quarter-turn will lock it into place and bring the “Loxia 2/50″ to the top.

I shoot almost exclusively in RAW, so most of the “features” of the camera are irrelevant to me. I love the manual focus and I welcome the manual aperture because I used to shoot in aperture priority anyway.

On A7 lens mounts there’s a white dot for aligning the lens when attaching. The corresponding dot on the Loxia 50mm is blue, and almost invisible in poor light. I use the words “E-mount” in (noticeable) white lettering that’s right next to the blue dot as my guide.

The Loxia is a much tighter fit on the A7II than on the A7. That’s a good thing, because the lens mount has been strengthened on the A7II. The only problem is that there’s very little finger purchase on the Loxia 50mm in the space between the aperture ring and the camera for giving it that twist. It’s a bit easier to use the space between the aperture ring and the focus ring.

I haven’t done any testing, but without an autofocus motor, I think I’m getting better battery life.

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Conclusion

I have the Loxia, and I’m keeping it. It’s my everyday, “walking around” lens. And, I’m hoping for Zeiss to release a Loxia 85mm in the future.

I’d like to think that after reading this, you’ll come away with an idea about whether this is a lens for you. But it’s serious money, so if you’re in a big city, you might want to rent one for a couple of days.

Alternatively, when these lenses are more available, head to your local dealer, put one on your Sony, and take it for a spin (focus-ring play-on-words intended).

I have to agree that autofocus has become incredibly good on mirrorless cameras, and you can still manually focus those lenses with fly-by-wire. So, I admit that the Loxia’s manual focus may provide more lens control than actual photographic control. But I’ve used fly-by-wire manual focusing as an adjunct to “auto” on many autofocus lenses, and I don’t miss those experiences.

Good luck with your Loxia, or whatever lens you choose.

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Steve’s thoughts on the Loxia 50:

After my 35 Loxia review I knew I would have fun using the 50 Loxia. For me, this lens is fantastic in size, feel build, and use. I am one who is used to manual focus primes, so this is always my preference. I love Leica M glass and using them, so the Loxia was a natural fit for me and my uses and tastes.

The build is fantastic, feels almost like a Leica lens. At least feels as good as the standard 50 Summicron. Image quality wise it is also fantastic with very little CA, distortion and the lens is razor sharp.

My 1st shot with the 50 Loxia gave me 50 APO detail and rendering, all on my Sony A7S

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I will not repeat what Bill said above as he nailed it when he described the lens qualities. He basically said what I would have said, which is cool as now I do not have to write it all ;) Even so, this lens is priced VERY RIGHT at $949. For under $1,000 you can get a lens that performs almost to the level of  the Leica 50 APO which comes in at $7500 or so. See Brad Husik’s test HERE between this lens and the 50 APO. 

The A7II and the Loxia is a match made in heaven. Color, detail and pop. 

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The build and feel is much nicer than the M mount version from Zeiss. It is a perfect match for the Sony A7 system, and it works well on my A7s and A7II. Beautiful. From the packaging to the all metal lens hood to the silky manual focus feel to the auto magnify when you touch the focus ring, this lens is a winner in every way. If you love manual focus primes with some speed, then this is a lens you will adore. For me, this lens and my A7II is really all I ever need. Sure, I own wide-angle lenses and longer lenses but for me, the 50mm is the true classic prime delivering closest to what our eyes see.

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During my use with the lens I enjoyed every second of it. I never once had frustration nor did I ever wish I had a faster or different lens. I never yearned for auto focus as this lens is as easy to AF as the 35 was, and these rank among the easiest MF lenses I have used. With the auto magnify of the A7 series, it was a breeze to lock in critical focus. It is really quite fun to use the Loxia line.

All images below from the A7II and Zeiss Loxia at f/2 – Various ISO EXIF is embedded.

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Color is delicious, typical of Zeiss glass. It has the sharpness and detail, the build and feel, the great usability and the super pop and color that one would expect. All in a small prime under $950. A must buy for those who love this type of lens. I would take this over a Leica M 50 converted for use on the A7 series. Easy. In fact, this is one of my favorite lenses for the A7 series camera. I enjoy it much more than the Sony 55 1.8 (which I own) as the build is nicer, the lens is smaller yet heavier (better build) and again, I prefer the manual focus. I also feel the images have more character than the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8. Price wise, they are about the same.

Below are more of my photos with the 50 Loxia during my time with it. All on the Sony A7II (my #1 camera of choice today) – my A7II review is HERE.

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Where to Buy the Loxia Lenses:

PopFlash.com is an authorized Zeiss dealer and they carry the Loxia line HERE

B&H Photo also sells the Zeiss Loxia line HERE

Mar 272015
 

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Add-on Review of the Voigtlander Heliar 40mm f/2.8 on the Sony A7II

by Brad Husick

Recently Steve Huff wrote an extensive review of the Voigtlander Heliar 40mm f/2.8 on the Sony A7S.  Rather than repeat his conclusions, with which I agree, my intent here is to add on to his review by shooting the lens on the Sony A7II.

The photos here were taken at ISO 100, RAW, auto-exposure. The lens does not communicate aperture to the camera. They were opened in Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1 with Camera Raw 8.8. No adjustments were made in Lightroom. In the first series across the lake, the images were shot at f/2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11,16, 22. In all the subsequent series the images were captured at f/2.8, 5.6, 11, 22. In each case you first see the entire frame at f/2.8 followed by 100% crops.

The lens displays some interesting characteristics. There is vignetting when wide open at f/2.8 but not severe. The camera chooses an exposure for f/2.8 that is different from all the stopped down exposures and you can see this in the crops. I did not adjust for this in Lightroom so that you could see the effect.

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Also when wide open the focus plane is not uniform across the image when focused on infinity. There are some areas in focus and some out of focus as you travel across the image from left to right. This variation settles down as you stop down the lens, nearly disappearing by the time you get to f/8. This behavior is far less obvious when focusing on closer subjects.

By the time you stop down to the lens’ limit of f/22 you have passed the diffraction limit of the sensor. Without going into gory technical detail, the final image degrades at f/22 so you’re better off limiting yourself to f/16 or so. The lens does not have click stops in the aperture ring, so you can stop anywhere you like. It does have a tendency to move rather freely, so check each time when shooting.

Overall the lens produces lovely images and is about as compact as a lens could possibly be. Build quality is superb and typical for Voigtlander. The nickel finish adds a nice retro look to the camera. I shot all of these images in overcast / light rain conditions with the small built-in hood rather than the longer metal hood and lens cap provided with the lens. My objective was to keep the package as small as possible since that’s one of the key selling features of this lens. If you own the Voigtlander VM-E Close Focus Adapter for the Sony E mount (which you really should own as it is superb) then adding the Voigtlander Heliar 40mm f/2.8 lens should be a natural addition for your setup. You can almost stick the Sony A7II with the collapsed Heliar in a jacket pocket. Note: the lens REQUIRES the aforementioned adapter to enable focusing and it will not function properly without such an adapter.

Thank you to Stephen Gandy of CameraQuest.com for instantly loaning me the lens for review. He’s the best source for Voigtlander and always provides the best customer service. Shop there with confidence. 

The case in the photos is the Angelo Pelle leather half case for the A7II.

ALL IMAGES BELOW should be CLICKED on to see them the right way. Details are on the photos upper left text

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Mar 202015
 

Battle of the Champions. Part 2. The Leica 50 APO.

by Brad Husick 

See Part 1 HERE.

At the request of several readers, I have conducted some new tests using the Leica 50mm APO Summicron f/2 lens on three camera bodies: the Sony A7II using the Voigtlander VM-E Close Focus Adapter, the Leica M240 and the Leica Monochrom.

All these are shot RAW, wide open at f/2 and indoor shots are at ISO 1600, outdoor at ISO 200. All other camera settings were left on AUTO (WB, exposure, etc.)

The photos in this series are taken from the same positions in the same composition as the previous “Battle of the Image Champions” article, so I won’t include the full frames here again. These are all 100% crops and are labeled with the camera used. The indoor lighting matches the previous series. The outdoor conditions were overcast today, no wind.

The comparisons that include the Monochrom use a simple 100% desaturation in Lightroom rather than a more ideal black and white conversion that I would use if these were meant to be shown or printed for their artistic qualities. Again, these are not meant to highlight my skills as a photographer but rather to show the differences between cameras using the same high quality lens.

Enjoy and good shooting. -Brad

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Mar 192015
 

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The Zeiss Loxia 35 Biogon f/2 Lens Review on the Sony A7II

Here we are, another day, another week, another month and another year. Man, 2015 is here and it boggles my mind at how fast the time goes by. Seems like it was just yesterday that the camera world was a buzz about the Zeiss Touit lenses for Sony and Fuji. Those were some great lenses but today, for the Sony full frame system, we have something even better. The Zeiss Loxia line.

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The Loxia line of lenses consists of just TWO lenses for now, the 35mm Biogon f/2 and the 50mm f/2 Planar. Thanks to Zeiss,  I have been lucky enough to be shooting with BOTH of these lenses on my beautiful A7II camera (that has taken #1 top spot over the A7s for me) and let me tell you…once you shoot with this setup of an A7II and the Loxia lenses, you will not want to be without them. The only problem is that these are VERY hard to find IN STOCK as they have been much more popular than Zeiss imagined. I expect this review to make them even more desirable as both Loxia lenses are SUPERB.

Click images for larger and better view! All with A7II and the 35 Loxia

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The Size and Build

First off, the size of the Loxia lenses is on the small side. I know when these lenses were first launched many were thinking they would be large or bulky, but that is not the case. The Loxia line is smaller than the Touit line for APS-C and not much larger than their Leica M counterparts. THIS is good news. Also, the lenses feel fantastic in the hand and when on the camera. The build is solid, with metal parts and mount. The focusing ring is silky smooth and the aperture dial is solid yet never stiff.

My video showing the Zeiss Loxia Line of lenses for Sony FE

The Loxia line is all manual focus and I LOVE THEM for this. Because these are manual focus, the size was kept down and compared to DSLR lenses of the same spec (high quality pro DSLR lenses) these are much smaller. Even with the included metal hoods, these lenses are still small, and fit the camera just right. No front heaviness, no bulky huge monster size, no looking like you are pointing a bazooka in someones face when taking an image of them.

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From the packaging to the product itself, the Loxia line is quality all the way.

I used to be a huge fan, and still am, of the Zeiss ZM line, which is the Leica M mount line from Zeiss. Many use these on their Sony A7 bodies and are happy though some have corner issues. Some will have magenta sides, soft edges, and slight issues. The wider the ZM or Leica M mount lens and the more problems there are on the Sony cameras. With the Loxia line, those issues are gone as these are specially made for the Sony full frame sensors. They work, and they work well.

Click any image in this review for a larger sized and much nicer looking image. All with the Loxia 35 f/2 on the Sony A7II. EXIF is embedded.

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The Beauty of Zeiss mixed with the beauty of the A7II

The A7II (my full review here) is one hell of a camera. I have praised it to everyone I meet as it truly is a mature A7 body. It is solid, it is very well designed, and the sensor is fantastic. With the 5 Axis IS that works for ANY lens attached to the camera to the nice EVF and ease of manual focusing, the A7II is truly a fantastic camera. With lenses like the Loxia’s made for these cameras as well as the new and special Sony lenses coming out for it (35 1.4, 28 f/2, 90 Macro, etc) this system is now fully fleshing out. In just a year and a half Sony has pumped out MANY amazing pieces of glass for the A7 system, and today no one can complain about lack of lenses.

With the Zeiss Loxia line though, what we have is a special set of lenses that will appeal strongly to many, and not at all to others. Not everyone can get along with manual focus, and many are not even interested in trying. I do feel though that once someone tries these lenses on their A7 body, they will fall for them hard. There is a certain beauty of using these lenses with the cameras they were designed to be used with. The solid feeling, the smooth focus and the final image is just so nice.

As always, the Zeiss look is here with nice pop, color and separation of background from subject. At f/2 the lens shows its true character and is just what I would expect from a Zeiss lens. Zeiss color, Zeiss sharpness, and the Zeiss signature is all here in the 35 f/2 Biogon.

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What about the Zeiss 35 f/2.8 or the Zeiss 35 1.4 for the FE system?

With the Loxia 35 f/2, we now have THREE native 35mm lenses to choose from for the A7 system. First, we have the original 35 f/2.8 which is an amazing lens. Small, light, auto focus, and also has that Zeiss color and pop. The only issue with the 35 f/2.8 is the aperture. At f/2.8 it is not a speed demon, and today so many love their “fast glass”. Many want f/1.4, which we also have in the new Zeiss 35 1.4 for the FE system. My 1st look is HERE and that is one hell of a lens. Probably the best 35 1.4 I have ever tested, ever. The only issue with that lens is the size. It is a MONSTER. It is HUGE.

See the size comparison of all three of these lenses below:

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The Loxia stands in the middle ground for size, and on camera is the best feeling as well. I admit though, I do prefer the rendering and character of the Zeiss 35 1.4 over the Loxia but for many it will just be too large and cumbersome. Many will prefer the manual focus action and size of the Loxia and some will remain happy as a clam with their 35 f/2.8 Zeiss. You just can not go wrong with any of these. They are all beautiful in their own way.

More images from the Loxia 35 f/2 on the A7II – click them for larger!

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A QUICK COMPARISON:  35 Loxia, 35 1.4, 35 2.8

Below is a quick OOC comparison from all three 35mm FE Native lenses. First, since this is the Loxia review I will start with the Loxia. Then I will show the same shot from the 35 1.4 and again from the 35 2.8. THIS IS JUST to show RENDERING differences and what to expect from 1.4 to 2.8. Which rendering do you prefer? Here, I like the POP of the Loxia but the creaminess of the 35 1.4!

All three images are OOC RAW from the Sony A7II and each lens WIDE OPEN to show differences of Aperture, which is what the differences are here. CLICK THEM for larger!

1st, the Loxia and the A7II, at f/2 – click it!

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Now the awesome Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 at 1.4

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Now the Zeiss 35 2.8

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Before anyone says “these should have all been done at the same aperture..well, no, they should not have. The main reason to get one of these over the other is APERTURE speed! So the shot above shows what each lens will do at its fastest aperture speed. f/1.4, f/2 and f/2.8. Three different lenses, three different sizes, three different price points.

Crops and Full size images

While this is a short review as most lens reviews for me are, I will still show you two images that will show you more about what this lens will do when stopped down. Below are two shots. The 1st one is a simple shot at f/9 with a crop. Straight from RAW with no sharpening added. The second shot is a full size image from RAW at f/8. You can right click these to open the image in a new window or tab to see the full size out of camera file.

1st shot, click it to see a larger version with 100% crop embedded. This one was at f/9, no sharpening added. From RAW. A7II.

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This next image is a Sedona AZ scene shot with the Loxia 35 at f/8. Right click and open in a new window to see the full size file from RAW. A storm was brewing for sure ;) 

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For me, I always find the rendering of Zeiss glass to be pretty fantastic. Zeiss is up there with Leica, without question but the lenses from Zeiss offer a different character, a different color signature and a different kind of feel. Both are at the top of the heap but which you prefer is up to you. I love Leica M glass and I also adore Zeiss glass. The Loxia line for me strikes that perfect balance between M glass and FE glass. They have the build of the Leica lenses with the feel and smoothness of premium Zeiss glass. The size is nothing like a larger bulky DSLR lens, but instead in between M size and APS-C sized glass. The fit is perfect for the A7 series.

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Conclusion:

I won’t beat around the bush here. The Zeiss Loxia line has lived up to the Zeiss reputation and they have delivered two beautiful lenses in the 35 Biogon and 50 Planar. My 50 review will be coming in the next few days and for me, THAT one is the best of the lot. Even so, this 35mm is fantastic and I feel it beats the Zeiss 35 Biogon ZM when being used on a Sony A7 body, as the Loxia is MADE for the FE system. No adapter is needed and the build beats the ZM line from Zeiss as well.

The Zeiss pop, color and rendering are all here. The Bokeh of the 35 f/2 is not the best ever, but it is typical of the 35 Zeiss Biogon ZM, not much difference there at all. I have never seen a perfect Bokeh lens, ever. The best I have seen is from the Leica 50 Noctilux, the Leica 50 APO and the Panasonic Nocticron for Micro 4/3. The 35 f/2 Loxia is nice but Bokeh is a personal thing. What one person loves, another may say is “busy” or not good. I love everything about the Loxia from the detail to the tad bit of glow when shot wide open at f/2. For me, all Zeiss needs is a 21 or 28 and an 85 f/2 Loxia. THAT would be amazing to have a full set of Loxia lenses covering wide to portrait. I can only imagine how good an 85 f/2 would be as the old 85 f/2 ZM was magical.

I highly recommend the Loxia 35 f/2. If you can handle manual focus you will be in heaven. Speaking of manual focus, if you have never done it on the A7 series, using the Loxia may just convert you. It is a wonderful experience and I have had NO out of focus shots in all of the ones I shot with the Loxia line. It is very easy to do, especially as the A7II auto magnifies the scene when you turn the focus ring. Quick, easy, and a fun experience. When you hit that shot you feel rewarded for your work.

As for the Loxia 35 and A7II vs the RX1r? That is a no brainer for me. In fact, the Sony RX1r is $2798 today. The A7II with Loxia 35 is $2998. A difference of $200. With the A7II you gain a nicer body, faster AF, built in EVF (RX1 has no built in EVF), the opportunity to use so many other lenses, the 5 Axis IS, etc. The A7II and Loxia would be the much better buy today. No brainer.

As for the 35 Zeiss ZM vs the Loxia, well, they are very similar in output but with the Loxia you will not have any colored edges. The Biogon Zm and Loxia have nearly the same color signature, bokeh and detail but the Loxia is better made and feels much better in use, and it is made for Sony FE. There ya go.

Most of my shots with the 35 were taken on a stormy overcast day in Sedona AZ during a test run of trails with my new Jeep (that I will use for 3-4 one on one day photo tours this year in Sedona, info and video soon). It was a fun day, and the Loxia and A7II never disappointed. ;)

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Where To Buy?

The Loxia line is available at the recommended dealers below. ALL of whom I vouch for 100%! The Zeiss Loxia 35 f/2 is $1299 and worth every cent!

PopFlash.comThey have the 35 in stock NOW!

B&H PhotoTheir Loxia Page

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar 132015
 

A Sony A7r User Report: A Year of YESSS!!!

By Rob Lieber

Hello Steve, First of all thanks for the opportunity to write in my user report! I am an “enthusiast” photographer and have used entry-level DSLRs and the Sony NEX mirrorless system for the better part of 10 years. I first got interested in bettering my photographic experiences and technique when I visited the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC and got some macro-like images of the cherry blossoms and “magic- hour” shots of the monuments with my Casio Exilim point and shoot camera. I was hooked. These weren’t mind blowingly good images, but the comments from friends and family about my “good eye” were enough to get me going.

I bought the Sony a100 when it first released in the U.S., went back and forth between Nikon (D3000) and NEX (5 and 3N) cameras, but around 2012, I started researching more about sensor size and became just a teeny bit obsessed with getting a full-frame (FF) digital camera. The only thing stopping me was a budget of “nowhere close” to the 5-6K required for a body and lens. So I put the idea out of my head and kept rolling with my NEX 5.

Soon after, as I was still researching FF cameras, I came across Steve’s site and in particular a review about the A7 and A7r from Sony. After using different cameras, I had always liked the a100 and I was intrigued about what Sony was doing to develop a more pro-style offering. The real world perspective from Steve’s review is what helped me make the jump to a FF camera. Even at the time I didn’t fully appreciate the benefits of upgrading to better gear. “It’s the photographer who makes the image, not the camera right?”

While that is a different debate, I thought that a FF would be forever out of reach. I just couldn’t afford one, until Steve puts things in great perspective. This camera as a FF mirrorless was a game changer! And it is affordable for what you get. It is small and light, it is quality equipment and gets you excited to get out and shoot! That’s not a direct quote, but that was the message. The jump is worth it!

So I made the upgrade and got the Sony Zeiss 55/1.8 lens as well. I knew the lens lineup was severely  limited for FF E-mount, so over the next few months I also bought the “A to E-mount” adapter LA-EA4. This adapter allows for full control of AF FF lenses. I also acquired, little by little, a Minolta 100mm f2.8 macro lens, a Minolta 70-210 f4 (beercan) lens, the Sony 85mm f2.8 prime, a Bower 24mm f1.4 manual lens, and finally, recently acquired the Sony 70-300G (OH BABY!) to replace the 70-210. My wallet is now on ebay because I can’t afford money anymore.

I hope the audience can learn from my gear and images and decide for themselves if upgrading to a Sony FF, or if any upgrade in gear, is something they are considering to be worth it.

I have lived in Mexico City, Mexico (it’s not as dangerous as you think) for the last 6 years working for the U.S. Embassy and in the last year have travelled to Guadalajara, Oaxaca, Acapulco, and Miami. That’s where my images come from and that’s enough of the boring stuff! On to the photos 

Bower 24mm f1.4 with LAEA4 adapter

Let me start out with the manual 3rd party lens and Sony branded adapter. The adapter itself is pretty light and is great for AF lenses. If you are shooting manual though, it’s just a fancy adapter that will allow the camera to set white balance and ISO.

The lens is a bit heavy but its quality made with aluminum and plastic construction. I have used it for over six months and the only issues I have are the cheap lens cap and hood which keep falling off in my bag. I think the images I can produce with this 400 dollar lens are great!

Temple in Oaxaca, Mexico-Bower 24mm/1.4 ISO 320 1/1250 (manual lens does not communicate f stop data)

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This is one of the better examples of what the wider angle (wide for FF) does for you. I only had about 8 feet to step back from the balcony. I could not have composed this shot with the Zeiss 55. Otherwise, believe me, I would have.

Cloudy stars-Bower 35mm/1.4 ISO 1600 13 sec exposure AWB

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One thing I wanted to try was a star trail image or even just a night sky, but in Mexico City there is too much light pollution and it takes about two hours just to get to an area where the city lights don’t corrupt the image. So on a recent trip to Miami I took advantage of Key Biscayne National Park. Not what I was expecting but I thought it was a cool looking result.

As you can see on the above photo there is some barrel distortion in the corners at 24mm but this was from a lens made for A-mount FF cameras like the Sony A99. The bottom line for non-native lenses on any camera body is test before you buy. In this shot the barrel distortion doesn’t bother me, but to someone else it might be entirely off-putting.

Sony 30mm f3.5 e-mount (NEX) macro lens 

Smiley- E 30mm/3.5 Macro ISO 200 1/400th at f3.5 very light skin smoothing layer applied in Aperture

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It’s my daughter in the park on a bench smiling; what could be better? One of the fun things about having a full frame digital camera is the ability to put a “cropped” lens or an apsc sized lens on it and it will be able to crop the image it records so you don’t have to manually adjust and crop your image afterthe fact. It’s a neat trick and opens up your lens options a bit more. Besides, the apsc lenses are usually a bit cheaper.

Sony 85mm f2.8 prime + LAEA4 adapter (one of the best bargains to be had in a full frame lens!)

 Ice Cream Man-Sony 85mm/2.8 ISO 2000 1/6400 at f2.8

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I still change shutter speed to affect exposure more than anything and this guy was driving so I didn’t have a chance to check my other settings. I like that even at ISO 2000 there isn’t a ton of noise.

Minolta 70-210mm f4 (beercan lens) + LAEA4 adapter.

Truly one of the advantages of getting the A to E mount adapter is all the legacy glass from the Minolta cameras. There were some pretty decent lenses produced for that system and now you can get them for cheap rather than paying 1k dollars or more for the equivalent native e-mount lens today. I especially like this because it allows me to see if I like the concept of a particular lens, and if I do, I can almost always sell a used lens for about what I paid for it and invest in the more modern version. It really is a win-win.

Waiting to parade-Minolta 70-210/f4 ISO 1000 1/200 at f4 180mm

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The above image was taken while waiting for a military parade down Paseo de la Reforma, one of Mexico City’s busiest avenues, on Mexico’s Independence Day last year. The road was shut down so tens of thousands of people lined the streets in anticipation of the parade.

Commemorating Memorial Day in Mexico-Minolta 70-210/f4 ISO 320 1/320 210mm at f5

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In Mexico City there is an American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) cemetery to mark the American soldiers who lost their lives in wars abroad. Most of the names on the walls here were from the Mexican-American war, but each year on Memorial Day there is a small ceremony. This past year Ambassador to Mexico Anthony Wayne spoke and the Marine Security Guard (MSG) detachment, which is assigned to protect the U.S. Embassy, presented the flag and colors. It is an honor to visit each year and remember those in our military who have given the ultimate sacrifice in service.

MSG presents colors- Minolta 70-210/f4 ISO 320 1/320 210mm at f5

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Minolta AF 100mm/2.8 macro lens

One of the amazing things about photography is macro. I love seeing details that you don’t normally think about. Disclosure: These images were shot at a butterfly sanctuary and not in the wild.

Hanging out-Minolta 100mm/2.8 ISO6400 1/250 at f4 adjusted for contrast, exposure, saturation, and vibrancy in Aperture.

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Leggy-Minolta 100mm/2.8 ISO 2000 1/100 at f5 adjusted for exposure, shadows, saturation and vibrancy in Aperture

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Macro photography is fun and I love exploring new ways to look at the world around me.

Sony G 70-300/4.5-5.6 + LAEA4 adapter

This lens is super fun because of the zoom capabilities. You can use the full zoom range just hand-held if there is plenty of light. Unless you are cropping 100% you can just support it with your left hand and shoot away. I have shot a few different sessions for over an hour with this lens and have not yet gotten tired from using it. That said it is ideal if you have a monopod to say, walk around the town.

Angel Monument 1- Sony G 70-300 ISO 1000 1/250 300mm at f5.6 edited for contrast, exposure, highlights, shadows and converted to B&W in Aperture.

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There is a famous monument on Paseo de la Reforma called the Angel de Independencia (Angel of Independence)

Angel Monument 2- Sony G 70-300 ISO 1000 1/250 250mm at f/5.6 (no adjustments except for resizing).

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Both of the above images were shot completely hand held at sunset, across the street. To me, it amazing to think we have these types of technology that make it so easy to make great images. It’s all about sharing that moment and this image captures that sunset moment just as I remember it.

Angel of Independence-Sony G 70-300 ISO 1600 1/125 230mm at f9

angel

The top of the monument shows the Angel of Independence. This angle is from almost directly below the 5-story column and shows detail not usually seen with the naked eye or in other photos I have seen of the same monument. That’s the fun of the versatile 70-300 and even though it’s relatively heavy for a lens, I almost always take it with me for more possibilities.

Now for the cream of the crop: Sony Zeiss 55mm/1.8 ZA FE Lens

This was my first lens for the A7r and is definitely still my favorite. I keep coming back to it because it works so well. And after a year of getting tossed around inside my bag and shoots on the beach and in dusty Mexico, you might expect it to have dust or perhaps spots, but it works as well as the first day I got it. The mounting ring is still a tight connection to the body and the images produced in my opinion are worth every penny. And that is what it really comes down to for all our gear. The question is “Are you still excited to shoot with it?” With the A7r and the Sony Zeiss 55, a resounding yes. I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

Cathedral section-Zeiss 55/1.8 ISO 200 1/320 at f11 converted to b&w in Aperture

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The amount of detail drawn out with the 36MP sensor is amazing. To see the detail in a small image, you realize is something special. And then you can zoom in 100 percent and still get a usable image. I love it!

Angel wings- Zeiss 55/1.8 ISO 200 1/1000th at f2.2

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This photo was taken not far from the crowd parade image, just on a different day. It’s a pair of wings that many people take a photo posing in front of. I got in close and angled up to try and minimize the steel frame which holds up the wings and focus on my daughter. There is too much going on in the background to get a good image and framing the entire thing.

Acapulco Sunset-Zeiss 55/1.8 ISO 800 1/100 at f10 adjusted for white balance, shadows, contrast, definition and saturation in Aperture

Acapulco Sunset

Birthday girl-Zeiss 55/1.8 ISO 500 1/160 at f2.2 (Fill flash w/F43M; sony’s intermediate flash unit) adjusted for saturation, exposure, slight skin smoothing and contrast in Aperture.

dress

This dress is a typical one from Oaxaca. It was hand made and cost around 35 USD. It was my daughter’s birthday. Mom put on makeup, which I usually don’t like, but it makes a nice image.

Overall it has been an incredible journey to look back on the last year and not only have images to show where I’ve been but to have amazing equipment that challenges me to get better. And I know I have a ton to learn still.

As far as the cons go, it is a bit disappointing to not have focus tracking. It makes it difficult to be confident offering photography to families with little kids. The shutter noise makes the camera borderline inappropriate for weddings and taking photos inside cathedrals. Wedding receptions are no problem but anything with an intimate or reverent setting may be distracting (A7s here I come!). On the other hand when taking portraits your subject knows when you have pressed the shutter and can relax between frames. I have yet to have someone say, “Did you take it?”

I could also do with better battery life but it’s usually okay. I have one note on batteries and that is I have used both Sony batteries and aftermarket. The aftermarket batteries only gave me a problem once. The shutter locked up and I had to remove the battery and reset the camera because no-matter what button I pressed, the camera wouldn’t respond. I attribute it to the battery because as soon as I put in a Sony battery the issue no longer continued. That was enough to get me off the aftermarket batteries, though I reiterate that I had used them for a long time without issues and it may have been something else altogether. But I figure why risk it to save 30 bucks? And that is really it for me for the cons.

My FF camera has been a great teaching tool, not just for the FF experience, but also for all the other capabilities that comes with owning a flagship type device.

For example, the customizable buttons, extra dials and overall layout of the A7r are so much better than any of the entry-level cameras I have used before. These dials and buttons are what define and distinguish the experience between an entry-level camera and a FF camera. It allows you the satisfaction of changing settings instead of dreading digging through endless menus. It creates joy because you are using the camera to setup your shot. The camera becomes a tool. And a fun one at that!

Many of you may know this already, but I didn’t before I got my A7r, and I think it’s important to know for those who may still be deciding on upgrading their system.

The bottom line, and what I hope you learn from my experience, is that you can be quite happy making images with whatever gear you have. And that is important! It’s not healthy to keep chasing new gear, unless your name is Steve Huff and you have a website, of course.

You can also learn quite a bit from upgrading to more advanced equipment. I consider myself self-taught insofar as I will read or hear or watch a new technique or see an image and then try to acquire that skill through trial and error. Techniques, lenses, cameras, you name it; you can learn and get more consistent results if you invest a little time and money into your hobby and into better lenses. You can have that eureka moment; a little “YES!” That is what made the upgrade to the A7r worth it. It keeps me excited to get out there and shoot.

I have a camera backpack and take my gear everywhere because I love to capture moments for others and myself. And sharing those moments, either in print or digitally, and spreading the excitement of photography and the wonder of discovering something new…well, isn’t that why we do all this stuff?

I encourage you to find the equipment that will give you that drive to keep discovering and keep learning. Mine was my first full frame digital and a Zeiss branded lens.

Adios from México

For more please check out www.shoeboxfoto.smugmug.com/browse or look for shoeboxfoto on Facebook. Thanks!

Mar 132015
 

The Sony A7s with the Zeiss Loxia 50mm Planar and the Leica 50mm Summicron V5.

By Alan Schaller

Flickr link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/127753524@N02/

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I am sure everybody reading this will be aware that Zeiss and Leica prime lenses are fantastic. This article is not going to be focused around laboratory grade comparisons of which one delivers the sharpest corners wide open, or the most pleasing bokeh or the nicest rendering. I shall go into my findings regarding these things a little bit later on, but surely it is safe to say that at this level of lens construction everything is more than good enough to help capture great images!

The Sony A7s has replaced my beloved Leica M9, which I sold after trying out the Sony in a camera shop in London. The M9 can deliver outrageously nice images in the right conditions, but I feel my reasons for wanting to keep it after trying the A7s were emotional rather than practical. The A7s has delivered stunning image quality in pretty much every environment in which I’ve used it, and as a bonus is compatible with my Leica lenses (50mm Summicron and 35mm Summicron ASPH). I am keeping my Leica Monochrom however, which to me still has unique qualities, but having said that the A7s does make some worryingly impressive B&W conversions, this one using Silver FX:

Sony A7s -Zeiss Loxia 50mm – ISO 2000 – f2.2 – 1/100 sec.

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I have never used a camera that gets out of your way and lets you be creative like this one. Yes the Leicas are purer in operation, which I love, but with the A7s you don’t have to worry about noise at high ISOs (within reason, I have found up to 64000 to be really useable), and consequently you don’t have to worry about setting high shutter speeds or not being able to stop down your lenses in lower light, which is so liberating!! Also, it can be set to be completely silent.

I am one of those people who prefers using a great feeling manual focus lens over anything else. I prefer the experience to using autofocus to the point where I shot a wedding last month entirely using manual focus because I feel I deliver better results that way. I consider myself first and foremost a street photographer, and when in a street environment, being able to pre focus and having a small discreet manual lens suits my needs well, and outweighs the potential benefits of having a machine gun autofocus beast of a lens!

The Loxia series of lenses have been designed specifically for the A7 range, and have been optimised for digital sensors. These two bits of information got me sufficiently interested to check them out. When I first twisted this updated 50mm Planar onto the A7s, I was struck by the high quality feel of the focus ring, which has a considerably longer throw than my 50mm Summicron. I must admit I have never thought to myself “I wish my Summicron was capable of more precise focusing”, so initially I thought it was a bit unnecessary. After using it for a few days however, I got used to it, and it soon blended into the background, letting me get on with snapping.

It feels great mounted on the A7s and is at the same time reassuringly weighty but not overly bulky, reminding you every time you interact with it that it is a quality 50mm lens. Being well accustomed to the tiny retractable hood of my 50mm Summicron, the twist-on metal hood of the Loxia appeared quite large at first, but in reality, the A7s/Loxia combo is still very compact and discreet compared to Canikon offerings capable of comparable image quality.

The colours it produces are natural and at the same time characterful. The files show a touch less contrast than that of the Leica lens, and the colours are not as bold (or are more neutral depending on how you look at it!), but I find this great for editing purposes, where the relative honesty and neutrality of the Loxia means you can have great scope for saturating the colours and boosting contrast without the risk of them looking ugly.

The Sony A7s has inspired me to shoot in colour again. The main reason for this is simply that the colours out of this camera are amazing. They speak to me in a way the colours from my M9 did not, for some unquantifiable reason! Colours as you will see, come out quite differently on each of the two lenses:

 Sony A7s – Leica Summicron 50mm V5 – ISO 250 – f2.0 – 1/100 sec.

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 Sony A7s – Leica Summicron 50mm – ISO 50 – f16 1 – 1/125

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The Loxia to my eyes is a bit more ‘forgiving’ in terms of sharpness wide open than the Summicron, and appears a little softer at f2, which I think is a great thing for portraiture, where the Summicron can be brutally honest! By the time both are stopped down to f4, the sharpness and detail these lenses capture is incredible. I shoot wide, or close to wide open most of the time, so it is great to see the Loxia performing so nicely in this way. I can’t see a particularly modern character in the rendering of my Loxia images, unlike the ones I took on the blisteringly sharp Zeiss/Sony 55mm 1.8. Whilst being an outstanding performer it looks a bit clinical to my eyes compared to the Loxia and Leica glass I have experienced. This is in no way an attack on that lens, for many people it will be a perfect choice. I just like a smoother classic character voicing to my lenses.

Both lenses perform equally well, albeit differently, for B&W duties. The Loxia 50mm is more than capable of the famous ‘3D’ effect, which is more exaggerated than that of the Leica lens. The Loxia’s ability to focus 25cm closer to a subject than the Summicron is a welcome feature. Both lenses draw the OOF areas very nicely, and the Sony’s fantastic full frame sensor helps this along too.

Zeiss POP! Sony A7s – Zeiss Loxia 50mm – ISO 250 – f2.0 – 1/160 sec

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 Sony A7s – Lecia Summicron 50mm – ISO 1250 – f2.0 – 1/200 sec

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 Sony A7s – Leica Summicron 50mm – ISO 2000 – f2.0 – 1/100 sec

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One thing the Loxia lens does on the A7s which the Leica cannot, is automatically magnifying the image onto your subject when you turn the focusing ring. I have found that I am getting close to rangefinder focusing speeds with this feature, after only a week of practice. This should improve over time. Unlike rangefinders however, you can be 100% guaranteed that you have focused accurately using the magnification function, and when looking through the EVF, you get a 100% accurate representation of your framing, unlike the quirky Leica rangefinder system! This is something I have come to appreciate. The Summicron has to be attached to the Sony A7s via an M to E mount adapter. I chose one by Novoflex, as it felt well made. As it is attached by the adapter it cannot transmit the aperture data to the camera body, and it cannot automatically trigger the magnifier. This is not an issue unless you want to use the focus magnifier obviously, and I am sure some people will not.

To summarise, I think the Zeiss Loxia 50mm is a perfect mate for the A7s. The images are just plain great. If you are more into your 35mm lenses, the Loxia 35mm Biogon is equally capable I am sure. If you already have a 50mm M mount lens that you use on a Sony camera, I think it is justifiable to have both, as they present images differently, and offer a different user experience. If you do decide to get one or have one already, you have chosen well and are in for a treat!

Mar 032015
 

Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM Distagon (Leica Mount) on the A7s part 2

by Sean Cook

See Part 1 HERE.

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Hello again Steve!

It’s been two weeks now that I’ve had the Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon ZM on my A7s, and despite my initial reservations, and a lot of mental back and forth, I’ve happily concluded that I’m keeping the lens and it will become one of the three lenses I regularly use (replacing the actually wonderful Sony 35mm 1.4G on the LA-EA4 adapter). It is still not a perfect fit for the Sony A7s (nor is there a perfect E-mount MF 35mm 1.4), and I will be the first in line when a Loxia version is announced, but its character and rendering are just beautiful, and I love the ergonomics, so I can work around the issues.

Much like the A7s itself, there are things that I would change about the Zeiss, and that I will forever work around, but given the options available, and my needs, its beauty and potential as a tool outweigh its shortcomings, and make it a better choice than any other 35mm (again, for me). It’s like deciding to use a Noctilux all the time; you accept its flaws as part of the price for the rendering. (I know that’s a silly comparison, but I think you get the idea).

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My wife and I just took a short vacation to Austin to visit some dear friends, and I was able to use the lens in the way I will be using it in the future — mostly outdoors, in the sun, with couples, wide-open. Now, being that they are dear friends and it was a short trip, I again wasn’t aiming for portfolio photos. Moreso I was just trying to see how the lens reacted to different situations, so forgive that it’s mostly photos of people looking at phones, and of backlit cats. :-)

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To me, the take-home message from the photos below is that if you are shooting a subject within 6 feet or so, you can shoot 1.4 and it will produce magic; the closer the subject, the more incredible. Beyond that, do yourself a favor and shoot at f2.0/2.8. Every photo below, except for the vertical photo of the couple (f16) and the very backlit tree (f2.8), is shot wide open.

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You can see that the photos where the subject is within a few feet (which again is mostly how I will use this lens), the background is a gorgeous blur of colors, and the subject is sharp, with a smooth transition from in-focus to out-of-focus. There is a softness without feeling hazy, and everything is exactly what I want from a high-end 35 1.4.

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However, when the subject is further away than that, things get a little dicey, especially toward the edges. The best example of how to use this lens at a distance can be seen in the different between the photo of the man riding the bike through the alley, and the very backlit tree. The trees to the far left in the man-on-bike-in-alley photo are a CRAZY wash of coma, haze, and blur. But the closeups on the backlit tree (shot at 2.8) show a great retention of contrast, and wonderful sharpness all over.

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Three other things to note in the photos. First, one of my biggest concerns with the lens was that because of the double-image thing, if the subject was slightly out of focus, they would look crazy, and way out of focus despite only being a little out of focus (anyone out there who shoots a lot of manual focus knows all about this; you can’t nail focus everytime, so you need the lens to do you the favor of retaining clarity, even when it’s not sharp). However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. If you look at the vertical photo of the cat, it is not in sharp focus, but still looks satisfyingly clear. A good sign.

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The second thing to note is the vertical photo of Joe with a flare splotch on his face. I included it to show the worst I could get the lens to flare. That is wide open, super backlit, and placing the flare right on the subject. Otherwise, that T* seems to be really doing its job.

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Lastly, look at that cat on the balcony! Not only is it the cutest cat I’ve ever seen, but the bokeh is so rich. I personally enjoy a little more character to the bokeh, and not just completely clinical flatness, and the Zeiss delivers. The super close-focus shot of the cat (yes, is a little out of focus — can’t blame the lens, it’s a cat, at minimum focus with the VME adapter, at 1.4) has some of the most gorgeous bokeh I’ve ever seen.

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Other than that, I think the photos should tell you everything else you need to know. They are once again edited in LR using VSCO, so they have artificial grain, and mostly haven’t been sharpened at all (the exception being the 100% crop of the cat on the balcony — that is no grain added, normal LR sharpening applied. I know it’s not a mountain focused at infinity, but if this is a real world review site, consider that a real world sharpness test ;-) ).

If you have any other questions about how the lens works for me, feel free to comment below, or check out the flickr album full of more photos for more pixel peeping (which is not the way to enjoy this lens, I assure you).

Thanks again for reading, and I hope this has been helpful! Again, part 1 can be seen HERE. 

Sean

www.SeanCookWeddings.com

BTW, PopFlash.com has this lens in stock, in black. 

Feb 272015
 

Back to Sony after 30 years away and why the RX10 works for me

By Chris Lamle

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What? I hear you cry… but Sony didn’t make cameras 30 years ago! It’s true, they didn’t, but way back when I was an graphic design student I had 2nd hand Minolta XG-7 (see the Sony connection?), upon which I cut my photographic teeth and learned the basics of taking photographs as well as processing and printing the images.

Fast forward a few years and there’s marriage and kids. The Minolta has long since died and I ditch my wifes’s Canon AE-1 for a Pentax compact (what was I thinking!). Sacriledge I know, but I was looking for something easier and simpler to use and that had autofocus and a zoom. I guess I was a lazy photographer.

Fast forward a few more years and a succession of film compacts, an early Minolta Dimage bridge camera (Sony again!!!), various other digital compacts and a Fuji bridge camera. All were pretty convenient and took, to my eyes at the time, pretty ok snapshots.

I had always enjoyed taking photographs but never considered myself an enthusiast and had only minimal knowledge of such basics as ISO, noise, sensor size and suchlike. I just stuck the camera in ‘P’ and hoped for the best.

It was only after briefly using a friend’s Nikon D90 that I realised that I was missing something. Well a lot really… like rich colours, image detail, bokeh, low light performance, a decent viewfinder. You name it.

So I decided that I would take my photography more seriously and started reading up. And boy did I read… magazines, websites, online reviews, offline reviews, watched video reviews and became immersed in everything to do with photography and cameras, to understand what I was missing.

So what was I looking for in a camera (in no particular order)?

Image quality
Convenience
Versatility
Usability
Quality
Shooting experience

What I didn’t want:

Bulk
Weight
Faffing about

After what seemed like months of research I came within a hairs breadth of getting a E-M5. And probably would not have regretted buying it. Then a friend mentioned the RX10. This, he said, was the Holy Grail for what I was looking for.

So I read up all I could on the RX10, including Steve’s review here. And took the plunge. A big deal for me, especially as I paid launch price for it. That was 4 times more than I’d EVER spent on a camera in my life.

The Basics:

I won’t detail full specs here as there are plenty of online reviews that go into much greater detail. For those unfamiliar with the RX10, it is basically the RX100’s big brother. The headline features are the same 1” 20Mp sensor as the RX100, but paired with a constant F2.8 Zeiss 24-200 equivalent zoom.

So why does the RX10 work for me?
Convenience.
Just 1 camera for stills and video. 1 fixed lens for pretty much all the situations that I like to shoot, whether it be portraits, street photography, landscapes, architecture. It’s reasonably compact, especially given the extra lenses you’d need to bring along from a comparable ILC system. And then there’d be the tiresome bother of changing lenses. Some people argue that the electronic zoom is slow. And it is, compared to a manual zoom. But people forget that while you’re changing out your 24-70mm for a 70-200mm, you’ve just missed the shot that I just got. And the zoom, in video mode, is pretty much silent.

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Versatility.

It’s the Swiss Army Knife or Gerber Multitool of cameras. Excellent at lots of things and just really handy to have around… need more reach and better quality than a compact? Yep. Want better video than an E-M5? Yep. Full manual controls like a full sized DSLR? Yep. Good EVF so you can shoot in bright sunshine, or because your eyesight is so poor you can’t see an LCD screen without glasses? Yep. It can’t take stones out of horses hooves, but there’s not much it isn’t capable of tackling… high speed sports and wildlife excepted.

Usability.

The RX10 scores really well here. Buttons and controls are numerous and customisable. I particularly like the aperture ring on the lens and the dedicated exposure compensation dial. Combine these with the function buttons and dials and I can easily change camera parameters without taking my eye from the viewfinder or delving into menus. And the camera isn’t overloaded with buttons.

The Sony menus seem intuitive and easy to navigate. Plus there is a Fn button that brings up a customisable view of functions that you can change quickly – like metering, drive mode, special effect, ISO, ND filter on/off. Nice.

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Quality.

I’ll divide this into build quality and image quality. Build quality is superb, as to be expected from a camera at this launch price. But it’s a really great feeling piece of kit. It features a magnesium body overlaid with high grade plastics. The Panasonic GH series cameras and entry level DSLRs are like plastic toys in comparison. The lens is a precision engineered chunk of glass and metal befitting its Zeiss badge, with the electronic zoom and aperture ring feeling very slick. The peripheral dials and buttons have that ‘hewn from solid’ feel that you know will last.

Image quality.

The pairing of Sony’s excellent 1” sensor and 24-200 Zeiss lens make a winning combination. The lens is sharp and produces punchy images. I shoot a mix of Raw and JPEG. I find the JPEG processing, although a little mushy when you’re pixel peeping, is more than adequate if I’m taking photos at a social event where the images are only going on Facebook. For landscape shoots or when I want to control the final image more, I’ll shoot RAW. There’s more noise than you would get from a bigger sensor, obviously, but at the A3 sizes I print it’s fine for me. I reckon I can recover plenty of shadow detail from Raw images – see sample of the Cabo Sao Vicente – Europe’s most south westerly point.

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I’ve also included (shock horror on Steve Huff Photo) images of a brick wall!!! I know this isn’t meant to be a hugely technical review and my comparison isn’t hugely scientific or methodical, but shows how how the RX10 stacks up against an APSC camera (in the shape of an EOS M) at ISO 200 and ISO 1600, all SOOC JPEGs. There’s a smidge more noise at 1600, but damn this 1” sensor stacks up well given it’s half the size. The image from the RX10 is actually punchier and more contrasty to boot.

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Shooting Experience

So it may have all these great features, but what’s it like to shoot with? The size is more traditional DSLR than an M4/3 system, but then it does come with a 24-200 F2.8 lens built-in. To to add that range onto a DSLR or even an M4/3 body will add more weight combined, than the RX10 alone. At around 800 grams it feels comfortable to use all day. It doesn’t drag on my neck and neither does it feel heavy to hold for long periods. The grip is a good size and feels nice and comfortable in the hand. Well my hand anyway. The dials and buttons all feel ‘right’ and in the right place. The buttons actuate precisely without any sponginess, ditto the dials which I’ve never had accidentally shift to another setting.

Being a mirrorless camera it has an EVF. Not as bright as an OVF, but good enough for me, and even better than an OVF in low light. The live view is brilliant for getting a more realistic idea of what your image will turn out. Subtle adjustments to aperture and the EV compensation and you can instantly see changes to exposure and/or depth of field. All without taking your eye away from the scene in the viewfinder.

Autofocus speed is good. Maybe it’s not as snappy as an E M5 or an A6000, but it’s good. I rarely find myself thinking ‘just bloody focus will you’. The only times have been at the tele end in low light and low contrast.

There’s also the option of the excellent manual focusing, which you can use with focus enlargement or focus peaking. I haven’t really got the hang of focus peaking yet, either that or it doesn’t work for stills. It never seems to be in quite in focus using this method. Maybe there’s a technique I’ve missed.

Tracking focus is another story. But then this camera is not really aimed at sports or wildlife, which probably includes kids and dogs. You need to take a different approach to this type of shooting, either using zone focusing or presetting a focus point, which I used in the pool shot.

So what do I think it’s good for?
Landscapes. Good dynamic range and an excellent focal length range means it’s great for anything from stunning wide vistas to detail shots, both inside and out.

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Street shooting: the near silent shutter is a bonus, but the fact it looks more like a DSLR and the size make it a little more obvious and intrusive. But, again, the focal range means you can be switching between views and grabbing open street scenes or more intimate moments

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Portraits: subject isolation is possible at its widest aperture and a longer focal length.

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Events and social gatherings: the zoom range and wide aperture makes it great for capturing people at social events. Again the near silent shutter is great here.

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What it’s not so great for:

Basically anything requiring 200mm+ reach is out.
Fast moving subjects using tracking focus
Fitting in your pocket. This is strictly a bag only cam.
If you want ultimate low noise high ISO image quality

A few more images..

All the images have all been taken over the last year and have mainly been taken in Spain, in and around a small town in Andalucia called Olvera. Others are from my home in West Yorkshire and from a short trip to Portugal. It’s a mixed bag as you can see, with a bit of everything from food photography for a local bar, to friends and family, people and places. Sharp eyed Game of Thrones fans may even spot Missandei (actress Nathalie Emmanuel) when we did a spot of papparazzi as the show was being filmed in our neck of the woods in Spain.

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Downsides

OK, so there are some. It’s size does mean it’s not at all pocketable. So maybe I’ll get an RX100 one day as a companion. Ideal for simply popping in a shirt pocket. Battery life is barely a day. Typical for a mirrorless camera I guess. But batteries are cheap enough that it’s not an issue. The switch that alternates the clicky/clickless option on the aperture ring is prone to be activated accidentally. Again, it’s a nitpick really. You need to remember to pull the LCD screen away from the camera before mounting on a tripod, as it won’t slide out otherwise. Not sure if the focus peaking actually works properly, or whether it’s just me. The screen isn’t fully articulated, where I guess most videomeisters would prefer it was.

Conclusions

A great travel and family camera in a moderately compact form. It offers a real step up in quality from a standard P&S, and is not that far behind M4/3 and APSc. For many people it’s literally all the camera they could ever need. No need to bother with lens swapping, no need for a separate video camera. Just get it out and start taking great pictures. Yet it also enables advanced users the option to get fully creative with the manual controls, which are all to hand like a ‘proper’ camera. It’s great for both stills and video.

Talking of video… why no mention of it. Well (cough, shuffles feet), I’ve barely done any. The few clips I’ve done look excellent to me, but I’ve hardly scratched the surface of what it does video-wise. But it’s nice to know it’s very capable, should I get the urge to create a movie sometime. Despite the lack of 4K video it offers serious pro-level features, like a clickless aperture ring. silent zoom, headphone socket, no line skipping full sensor readout.

At the price I paid I thought it was a great all-in-one camera. At its current price of around £650 in the UK, it’s a positive steal.

Hope you enjoyed the review, and the pics.

Thanks Steve.

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B&H Photo has the RX10 for $999 – See Steve’s original RX10 Review HERE.

Feb 202015
 

28 images from the A7s, A7II, E-M1, E-M5II, Fuji X-T1, Fuji X100T, and M 240

Hello to all and HAPPY FRIDAY! After I posted my recent E-M5II Camera review (see it HERE) many have been asking me THIS question:

“NOW I AM CONFUSED! What camera do I buy? The E-M1, E-M5Ii, A7II, M 240 or Fuji?!?!

Yes, I get these questions daily and I never give a definite answer as this choice is personal. That would be like asking “what car should I buy” or “which house should I get”? A camera is a personal choice and the reason these reviews are written is so all of you can read and make an informed decision. I understand how hard it is, believe me. But just know that any of these cameras mentioned are truly fantastic and can get the job done. If you are in love with PHOTOGRAPHY and the art of making memories and making art, ANY of these will do.

If you are a pixel peeper it is best to go for something super high res like a Sony A7r as that will give you something to zoom in on and measurbate to. Me, I prefer real photography and making memories as I go on this long journey that we call life. A camera, to me, is made to capture those moments we lose and those memories that in 10-20 years will be very foggy for our aging brains. Looking back at images remind us of the many good times, the family, the friends, the sad times and the exciting times. THIS is what it is all about for ME. I do not pixel peep, I am against it. I occasionally will post crops just to show those who love that sort of thing how much detail we can get but overall it does not matter. At all.

Any of the cameras below can make LARGE prints (I have a 20X30 from E-m1, it is gorgeous. I have larger from my A7II, beautiful). So remember, ANY camera will get you the memories you want to capture but the main difference between them is HOW YOU GET there!

Yes, some cameras make it a joy to get your memories while others make it a pain. Some will get you there with amazing technology and others with their simplistic charm. Some will offer you bold looking files and others a more natural looking file. Some will offer you tools to help you (such as 5 Axis IS or a nice large EVF) while others make it a challenge (Leica M RF).

Below I have chosen 7 images from the A7 and A7II, Olympus E-M1 and Em5II, Fuji X-T1/X100t and the Leica M 240 so you guys can see in one place, the differences between full frame, APS-C and Micro 4/3. Depth of field will be different, color will be different and the overall vibe will be manufacture specific. I have no secrets here on this blog and I always tell it like it is..FOR ME and MY tastes. Not everyone will agree. But enjoy as I share my thoughts on these different mirrorless systems.

SONY A7s and A7II

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The Sony A7 series appeared with a bang when the A7 and A7r were announced. Full frame small mirrorless cameras that performed amazingly well with rich files, rich color and decent usability. While slow in Auto focus and a bit clunky with the early models, the newer A7s and A7II improved things such as AF speed and accuracy, high ISO capability and in the case of the A7s, amazing capabilities with Leica M glass. I love the A7s and A7II with a preference to the new A7II for its better build, 5 Axis IS, and gorgeous IQ (for me, the best of the A7 series IQ). If you want that full frame creamy look with massive shallow depth of field, Full Frame is where it is at. APS-C or Micro 4/3 can not do it to the level of full frame.

If you want the most dynamic range, usually a full frame sensor will give it to you as well. On the other hand, shooting fast lenses on full frame can be difficult as the Depth of Field can be so slim and narrow many times people misfocus. But when you nail it, it can be gorgeous.

The Sony system is still somewhat new, less than 2 years old yet there are many lenses out for the system already, and me, I like to use Leica M glass and old exotic lenses with my Sony’s.

CLICK all images for larger and much better view

The A7II and Leica Noctilux at 0.95

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ISO 32,000 with the A7s – Mitakon 50 0.95

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The A7s – click the images for moire detailed versions! What you see here is NOT the best way to view them. You must click them!

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The Sony A7s and 55 1.8

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A7s again..

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A7II and Noctilux..and amazing combo

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An OOC JPEG at ISO 8000 using the 35 2.8 Zeiss lens

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The Sony A7II represents the best of the Sony A7 line for me. It has all you need to create beautiful rich files. Wether you use native lenses or Leica M glass or old vintage rangefinder lenses, this is the camera that can handle it. The A7s is the king of the night, with amazing low light and high ISO abilities. The A7II can not come close to this ISO performance but IMO beats the A7s in overall IQ. The A7 series is doing VERY well for Sony, above expectations so this is good and can not wait to see what they come out with next.

Fuji X-T1 and X100T

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Ahhh, Fuji. Many love Fuji and they have some hardcore fans, that is for sure! Me, I like Fuji. I used to LOVE Fuji back in the days of the S5 pro and original X100. Today I feel they went a bit backwards with the X Trans sensor. I just do not like it as much as the original sensor from the X100. When I look at any Fuji images (not just mine) they have a look to them from the X Trans that while nice, is not my preferred look. In fact, its at the bottom of the heap for me. There is something un-natural about the files for my tastes but even with that said, this is a personal thing and what I may dislike, someone else may love to death.

Many love Fuji and that can not be denied. They sell well and they do “Fuji Color” very well. Where it falls flat for me is true low light ability. The files get “dirty” and “mushy” in low light and this is why all of the really great Fuji images in recent years were shot in amazing light. Give the X Trans amazing light and it will reward you. Give it dull or low light and it will not. For me, the Sony files and the Olympus and Leica files below beat the Fuji when it comes to overall IQ.

Body wise, the X-T1 is fantastic. Its a wonderful body but still compared to the A7II, E-M1, and M 240 it feels the lowest quality of build. It is not bad in build, but when you compare side by side with the competition, it feels a bit lacking and hollow. Much better than previous Fuji bodies though. Fuji has come a long way since the X-Pro 1. Now they have much faster AF, world class EVF (best there is), nice external controls for all of your needs and great usability. If Fuji still used the old X100 sensor I would own an X-T1 :) That X-T1 above looks AMAZING doesn’t it?

Typical Fuji look in normal light..

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I always have issues with the X-Trans blowing highlight, even if using the extended DR modes (which make the image look very flat imo) – Here the bird is exposed correctly but the highlights have blown. There are many examples of this and i never have this issue with my other cameras. Nothing I did could save the blown out highlights here or in other X-T1 images. 

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The good thing about Fuji is they support their cameras NON STOP. Firmware releases are regular and they fix bugs that pop up, improve AF speed and do good things AFTER you buy the camera. They are improving their bodies non stop as well, and the X-T1 is a winning body without question and I am sure they will keep coming out with better and better cameras. One of these days I will buy myself a Fuji :)

Olympus E-M1 and E-M5II

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To me, this system is so mature and so well executed today that these are some of the best cameras you can buy today, regardless of mirrorless or DSLR. There are a thousand reasons for this from size, build, pro level features, freeze, shock, weatherproof…huge EVF, super fast AF, amazing 5 Axis (best in the world), awesome video in the new 5II as well as the rich files with superb color richness as well. Some of my favorite images of my life were shot on 4/3 and Micro 4/3 systems and I place this just behind the Sony A7II and Leica M for IQ.

Today, the E-M5II and E-M1 meet or exceed nearly all APS-C cameras for build, speed, features, capabilities, color and yes IQ. It can not beat a full frame model for Dynamic Range, Details or high ISO but it holds its own and then some for APS-C and for me, the E-M1 is probably the best camera body I have used, ever. I am talking about the whole package… build, features, speed, controls, versatility, what is possible with them, etc. As I said, IQ is just behind the full frame models. It really is.

Even so, Olympus is doing great things and they are the inventors of Live View, Dust Cleaning in camera, 5 Axis IS, and more. Good to see them still innovating. I also feel the best lenses next to Leica M are right here for Micro 4/3, from the Nocticron to the 75 1.8 to the 40-150 to the 12mm f/2 to the f/0.95 Voigtlanders. So many choices.

Shot with the 17 1.8 at 1.8. Amazing lens with just the right amount of detail and tones.

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The 40-150 – the color here is WOW. JPEG. The way I brought this out is by using SPOT metering. 

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The 12-40 f/2.8 pro zoom. One of the best standard zooms I have used. 

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The 17 1.8 again, smooth, sharp and wonderful bokeh.

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Nocticron goodness…f/1.2

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The Voigtlander 25 0.95 at 0.95 – THIS is a special lens. 

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Olympus have created quite the tool for the PHOTOGRAPHER who puts his priorities at capturing the image, the moment, the memories. The Af doesn’t let you down, the controls are spot on and the build is the best of the lot. Lens choice is plentiful and its only weakness is that it will not give you full frame shallow depth of field (but neither will APS-C). For me, the E-M1 and E-M5II beats most APS-C camera as a whole, without hesitation, even factoring in size. Now there are some great bodies by Panasonic as well but for me, they do not have what it takes to take on Olympus’s E-M1 and E-M5II.

Leica M 240

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Ahhh, the system I loved and used for many years, ever since the film M7. I have had an M ever since from the M8 to M9 to MP (film) to M9P to M-P 240 to Monochrom. I have had them all and loved them all. For me, this is the pinnacle of simplicity. Real photography. Not much in the way of features but this is how it should be with an M. Just you, the camera, and the subject. Nothing to worry about  – just focus, set your aperture/exposure and shoot.

The Leica M is an all time favorite of mine, hands down. The only issues today is with cost. Buying an M 240 and 50 APO will set you back $15,000. Buy a used M and used Voigtlander lens and it will still set you back $6k. You have to be majorly dedicated and have a nice padded bank account to jump in today,  so not everyone can.

Today with cameras like the Sony A7II leica seems to be losing some ground. Back in the M9 days they ruled the roost as there was nothing quite like the M9 in use or in age quality. Today, there are  a 1-2 mirrorless cameras that meet or exceed the M 240 image quality and color and for much less money. While you will never get the experience of the M from a Sony, Fuji or Olympus and you will never get that true pride of ownership with anything else (once you feel and shoot with an M it is tough to go to anything else) you will get IQ that can beat it from other cameras. Today Leica is not “the best” in IQ but they are “the best” in lenses, experience, build, and feel AND simplicity. The M lenses are the best in the world IMO and they are SMALL and built like mini tanks.

I love Leica, and I love the M 240. Period. It’s has some magic in the bloodlines but today it is getting harder to justify unless you REALLY only love RF shooting and have a big fat bank account.

The M with the 50 APO

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The M with a Voigtlander 50 1.5

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The M with a 90 Elmarit

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50 APO again

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Noctilux

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35 Cron

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As I look back at these random images I chose for this article I study them and not only am I looking at the file quality and character but I am remembering the times I had shooting those images and according to my memory, the most fun I had shooting was with the Leica M, hands down. Then it would be the E-M1 and E-M5II, then the Sony A7II and A7s and then the Fuji. All have the capability to capture your frames in high quality but the one you choose will be part of your personal journey. The one that speaks to YOU, not ME. So next time you get ready to send an email asking “What should I buy” – ask yourself this question and go with you 1st gut instinct. That is usually the correct choice :)

You can see my full reviews of the cameras listed above:

Sony A7IISony A7s Fuji X-T1Fuji X100T Olympus E-M1Olympus E-M5IILeica M 240

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