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.

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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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

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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.

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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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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

Feb 132015
 

Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Lens Quick Review

by Brad Husick

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I have been a pro sports photographer for years and I always rely on the big hardware to get the job done right. For me that has been the Canon EOS series and the Nikon D3 and D4. I have switched between them several times looking for the next advancement in IQ or speed.

When the Fuji X-T1 was announced I was intrigued by the compactness and the manual controls of the camera so I bought one and tried it out on indoor sports. The early firmware wasn’t allowing the camera to keep up and the Fuji 55-200 f/3.5-4.8 lens wasn’t fast enough to keep pace with the Nikon D4. I wrote a review here on SteveHuffPhoto at that time.

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A lot has changed since then. The newest firmware gives the camera an electronic shutter option that’s silent and super-fast (up to 1/32,000 sec). Just as important, the new 50-140mm (76-213mm equivalent) f/2.8 lens with OIS is certainly up to the task. The focusing is lightning quick and the OIS is working extremely well. I have included some samples taking indoors in very poor light. The camera was set to ISO 6400 and the distance to the subject was 11 feet, shot handheld. The zoom was set to 140mm. As you can see, everything is tack sharp even at f/11 and 1/9 second exposure – handheld. I have also included an f/22 at 0.5 second exposure and there is some motion blur, but it’s surprisingly good for a half-second shot not on a tripod or resting on a bean bag.

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I have yet to try it in a challenging indoor sports arena, but my initial tests bode quite well for this setup.
Physically, the lens is very good to hold with smooth and surprisingly short throws for the zoom and the focus. The all-metal construction looks like it would withstand the rigors of shooting and it’s weather sealed as well with 20 seals. It’s also rated for low temperature environments down to 14 degrees F. I won’t go into a lot of the specs because it’s easy to look those up.

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Compared to the Fuji 55-200 f/3.5-4.8 lens, this is a major step up. The new lens doesn’t grow larger when you zoom – the 55-200 gets to be just as long as the 50-140 when fully zoomed. The new lens is weather sealed and to me the OIS works better. The new lens has a full marked aperture ring with the A setting at the end. The old lens has a separate switch for A mode and an unlabeled aperture ring. Most importantly, the new lens is much faster to focus and it’s an f/2.8 after all. The 55-200 is $699, so it’s considerably less expensive than the 50-140 ($1599). If the 70-200mm focal length is important to you I suggest you save your pennies and buy the 50-140mm lens.

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Compared to my Nikon 70-200 f/4 VR lens, it’s almost the same size and weight (both about 2.5 pounds). The Fuji of course is giving us a full stop more light albeit in the APS-C format. To get a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens in the full frame world, count on a much bigger and heavier (3.4 lbs) lens. I have included comparison photos of the Fuji and Nikon f/4 lenses side by side.

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The lens hood on the Fuji has an interesting feature – a small removable door on the bottom that allows you to stick your finger inside and rotate a polarizing filter if you use one. It’s a clever idea and the door is held in with enough force that it’s unlikely you will lose it when attached to the hood. I do think the hood is a bit large, but I don’t know what design tradeoffs Fuji made with it. The lens cap fits tightly and has nice large grips for removing it.

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When the lens is mounted to the X-T1 and the hood is used it’s almost comically large compared to the camera but the handling is still very good and the light weight of the setup compared to a full-frame DSLR is greatly appreciated. The case on my X-T1 is the Gariz which I do recommend. It extends the bottom of the camera just enough, and if this is not sufficient then you can attach the battery grip instead.

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I must thank my good friend Tony Rose at Popflash Photo (www.popflash.com) for loaning me this new lens for this test and review. Tony earned my business long ago when Leica had some defective sensors and Tony replaced my camera long before Leica even acknowledged a problem. This is a perfect example of the difference between a great dealer and a box-shipper.

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Feb 122015
 

Canon 6D Long Term User Report

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By Jonathan Acierto

This is a long term review for the Canon 6D DSLR.  If that first sentence didn’t lose you, then please read on!  I know mirrorless/ILC/whatever you call them are the rage nowadays and truth be told, I did consider switching from my Canon DSLRs to one of the new fangled camera systems.  But I decided to stick with the Canon DSLR system for a number of reasons, all of which boil down to two: money and familiarity.  It was much cheaper for me to trade in my crop sensor DSLRs (Rebel T1i and 50D) and crop sensor lenses to get a Canon 6D.  I kept my EF lenses (24-105mm f/4L, 50mm f/1.4USM, 28mm f/1.8USM, and 40mm f/2.8STM) which were compatible with full frame.  And my fingers are used to Canon’s controls and menu system.  I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of learning another company’s control and menu quirks, and I wanted to get to taking photos right away.
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I’m also a musician and own a number of acoustic and electric guitars and an electric bass.  Whenever I get a new instrument, it takes a lot of time to get to know the instrument well enough to play it and make it sound its best.  There’s a lot of experimentation with string gauges, finding dead spots on the fingerboard, adjusting volume and tone knobs on the instrument and on the amplifier, adjusting string height at the saddles, etc.  But once you learn all the instrument’s quirks, you can make great music with it, even with its perceived limitations.  I tend to think the same way about cameras.  For me, it takes time to learn how the camera settings interact with the buttons, the way the light meter reads the scene I’m photographing, the lag of the shutter when you press the shutter button, the way noise looks in both dark and bright scenes, dynamic range of the sensor in dark and light scenes, the way different lenses interact with the camera both operationally and optically, etc, etc.  There are just too many variable to mention, but when you’ve had enough time with a camera, you instinctively learn how to get the best photos from it.

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After a year and a half with the Canon 6D, I’m really enjoying it as a photo making tool.  Here are my thoughts about the 6D in no particular order.
-I used to worry about taking photos at ISO 1600 and higher, but with the 6D, I no longer worry about noise at all.  Photos I take at ISO 12800 look cleaner than photos I took with the 50D or Rebel T1i at ISO 1600.  In good light, there’s really no discernible quality difference between the 6D and the crop sensor DSLRs I traded in, which is no surprise considering I’m using the same lenses.

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-There is definitely a noticeable difference in-depth of field between the 6D and the crop sensor DSLRs.  On average, to my eye there’s about a stop of difference.  Photos taken with the crop sensor DSLRs at f/2.8 are roughly equivalent to the 6D photos taken at f/4.  I say roughly because the difference in-depth of field is more or less noticeable depending on lens focal length, distance to subject, how busy the background is, etc.
-It’s nice to have a digital 35mm field of view to match the field of view I get with my 35mm film DSLR and rangefinder.  I’m getting a better feel for how the focal lengths actually look before I put the camera up to my eye, whereas I had to keep in mind the crop factor of about 1.6 changed the feel of the focal lengths on the Rebel T1i and 50D.

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I still use the half-press method of focusing and the shutter button on the 6D doesn’t have as good of a half-press feel compared to the Rebel T1i and 50D.  This annoyed me at first and I would miss shots, but once I got used to the feel of the shutter button and learned where exactly the half press starts and stops, it doesn’t annoy me as much anymore.

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I used to use a battery grip all the time with my DSLRs, partly to double my battery capacity, and partly for the convenience of a vertical shutter button for taking portraits.  Since the 6D has such great battery life, I’ve stopped using a battery grip on a regular basis.  The only time I use the battery grip nowadays is when I know I’ll need the vertical shutter button for portraits, and even then, I only put 1 battery in the grip to keep weight down.

My style of shooting has changed over the years.  With the crop sensor cameras, I had preferred using zooms lenses or the 28mm prime, which is more of a “normal” focal length lens on the crop sensor bodies.  With the 6D, I have switched to mostly using prime lenses of moderate to semi wide focal lengths.  As I mentioned above, I have a couple of Canon USM lenses and a Canon STM lens.  The USM lenses are small and light and focus quickly.  Sure, they’re not quite as “good” as Canon L lenses, but they’re more than good enough for my use.  I’m more interested in capturing moments and less interested in ultimate IQ (whatever that may be).  The lens I really love using is the 40mm f/2.8 STM, which is a tiny pancake lens, dirt cheap at $150, and weighs almost nothing.  When I have it on the 6D, it feels almost like just having a body cap on the camera.  It’s incredibly sharp wide open and although it’s a little slower to focus compared to the USM lenses, it’s plenty fast enough for capturing my little kids as they play.

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The focusing system of the 6D isn’t as sophisticated as other newer DSLRs (or mirrorless cameras for that matter), but I find it’s more than adequate for me.  The number of focusing points is the same between the Rebel T1i, 50D, and 6D, so I really didn’t have to adjust my style of shooting at all.  If a shot is out of focus, it’s most likely my technique and not the camera.  What’s really great with the 6D is that it has the ability to focus down to -3EV (same spec as the much-lauded Sony a7S), so I can take photos at night with nothing more than moonlight and street lamps and the camera will have no problem focusing.

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Sorry for such a long post, I’ll get to the real reason you’re still here, which is to look at some photos.  Enjoy!

To see more of my photography, please visit my Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/samuraislice/sets/

Jonathan V. Acierto

Jan 232015
 

RX1TTH

6 Months With The Sony RX1

By Simi Tometi

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

Last summer I was presented with an opportunity to purchase the Sony RX1(with viewfinder) in immaculate condition for roughly 1/2 of its initial price. With the Fujifilm X100S selling on Amazon for as low as $850(used), I was a bit hesitant. After reading countless reviews and analyzing the specs sheets I went with the RX1. To be honest the deciding factor was that I didn’t want to look back months later wishing I would have just spent the extra cash on the RX1 instead of the X100s.

It’s been just over 6 months, and I’m glad to say I’m more than happy with my purchase. Though the camera as a whole isn’t perfect, it never ceases to amaze me.

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When I purchased the camera, the first thing I noticed was its cold utilitarian build. The whole camera is composed of metal, giving it a solid feel reminiscent of the Canon 5D Mark III(however I’m not completely sure if it’s made up of the same magnesium alloy). The buttons and dials are laid out logically, except for the record button, which is positioned between the rear and right side of the camera. I didn’t find this placement problematic until I added a Black label braided silk strap to the camera, which often presses the button activating the movie mode function.

The Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens, is nothing short of a masterpiece. From its buttery smooth focus ring, to its clickable aperture dial, it just does not disappoint. Wide open, it’s just a treat to use due to how jaw-droppingly sharp it is. Stopped down sharpness really doesn’t increase much, yet the increase in micro-contrast may make you think otherwise. Optical performance is just stunning; rarely do I find any traces of chromatic aberration.

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In regards to ISO performance, the camera once again doesn’t disappoint. At 6400, noise is present but very well controlled with files retaining plenty of detail and files still being remarkably flexible.

Together, the Carl Zeiss lens, functional camera body, and full frame 35mm sensor(from Sony’s flagship a99) make a formidable little camera that best nearly every other comparable option. When shooting the rear LCD screen only gives you a taste of the outstanding 16-bit raw files did this beast is able to capture.

Admittedly, the RX1 falls short in numerous areas that can’t ignored due to its initial price tag of $2800.

Most notably the auto focus of this camera just plain sucks. It really is hit or miss. I feel as if this issue could be resolved with a firmware update, but the RX1 hasn’t received any since launch. For this type of investment one would expect more than this sluggish contrast detection AF system.

Regarding accessories, they’re just too expensive. I understand this is a premium item, and should be surrounded by such, but seriously… Why would anyone pay $250 for the Sony leather case(with no access to the SD card or battery when attached), when the Gariz version can purchased for $125? The Sony brand lens hood sells for $120, while the third-party metal hood that looks and feels the same is being sold on amazon for $7. Really the only individuals I could see purchasing these accessories are those who’ve previously considered purchasing the Hasselblad Lunar(rebranded Sony Nex-7) for $5000.

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For my style of shooting the EVF($450) is a must have, and without it I probably would have went with the Fuji X100s. I really wish Sony included it with the camera or implemented the same way they did in the RX100 III.

Weather sealing is something I feel Sony could have added at this price point. When you own something of this value, you’d like to be assured its protected against the elements(e.g. Unexpected light drizzle).

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To sum it up, the Sony RX1 is stellar tool for few photographers. If you can tolerate the sluggish autofocus and the daunting price tag, you’ll be rewarded with outstanding build, superb high-ISO performance, and top tier image quality.

Simi Tometi

http://instagram.com/justsimi_

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

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

Jan 152015
 

2014 – My year with Leica

By Jason Boucher

Long ago I read Mike Johnston’s post on The Online Photographer about a year with Leica and it would make you a better photographer. I wanted to jump in at the time, but at that time couldn’t imagine spending that much on an “old” camera and it would force me to buy a new lens. I ended up buying a used Bessa as well as a used Voigtlander lens. While the original article suggested to commit fully, I committed to at least 1 roll of film per month. In that year I relearned so much about photography. It slowed me down. It made me intentional in my shooting. It also was my 1st experience with a rangefinder and frankly, the focusing became second nature and something I preferred over the split prism I grew up with. I was happy with my Bessa and my m43 digital and DSLR autofocus kits. That year with film and my Bessa really did help me.

A couple of years ago, things changed for me. I took a new job where I was not providing social content and digital image assets to the company I work for. This freed me a bit from photography as work. I could do photography for me and for me only. Coincidentally at the same time, my friend at my local camera store, National Camera Exchange, called me one day and said they got a used M9 in mint condition. I went in and held it in my hands. Wow. It was love and lust at first sight. But…cash was still a problem and I left instead with a used M8. Figuring I could give it a try and not loose much money. I had 1 M -mount lens at the time, a Zeiss 35 f2.8, I attached it and shot it almost exclusively for a couple of months.

Here are a few shots from my summer vacation and family visit in North Dakota with the M8

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It was a lovely set up and gave me a few images that I truly cherish. That old M8 has some quirky but special mojo. To be honest, it is still my favorite black and white, digital camera of all time and one day hope to own one alongside my newer Leica digital M camera. That missing IR filter does something amazing to skin and skin tones. But…I just could not handle the noise of shutter as well as the inability, at least with my single lens I owned, to shoot at higher ISO’s and in lower light, something I do a lot. So I put it away and shot it on special occasion.

About mid way through 2014, I took the M8 on a trip again and was reminded of both the experience and the glorious output. So…I sold everything else I owned including my new Fuji XT1 as well as the M8 and came home with a used M240. Over the course of the fall I slowly added some used M mount glass. I know much has been written about the M240 and how some folks prefer the M9 CCD sensor. I had some experience with the CCD with the M8 and in certain instances do prefer it, the overall shooting experience, capability as well as the higher ISO capabilities make the M240 an easy and preferred choice for me. It just works.

M 240 Images…

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My Leica M240 has become an extension of my hand as well as the most amazing creative tool I have ever used. I am no professional and shoot only for myself, but I am pleased with and believe the camera has in fact been a driving factor in changing my personal style and satisfaction with photography. I know that for each of us that we all respond uniquely to gear and many feel that Leica’s are a bunch of hype. I thought that too, but in the end, I feel that it did help me develop, grow and output better images.

So….Even though I really only starting using Leica cameras halfway through 2014, I still consider it my year of Leica.  Hope you enjoy them and my wish to all of you in 2015 is that you find that muse, that tool, that thing that inspires you and helps you develop your craft and art.

Cheers

Jason
www.imaginegnat.com

Sep 182014
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So I started my search for another MINT copy

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

Then I found one…

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

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

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

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

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Regrets?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First up, the Sony A7s and the 50 0.95

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using this lens on the MonochromSAMSUNG CSC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Original video on the Canon Dream Lens

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

Final Word on the Dream Lens

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

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

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

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

Steve

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

Hello to all! For the past 5 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple. 

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

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

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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Sep 122014
 

My first 6 months with the Sony A7

by Alfredo Guadarrama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PROS

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

CONS

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

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

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

Charing Cross in London, UK

Leicester Square Station

Ultra Music Festival in Miami, USA

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Boston, USA

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Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE

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Sumo tournament in Tokyo, Japan

Sumo Fight

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

Kyoto, Japan

Fushimi Inari

Geisha District in Kyoto, Japan

Geisha District

Men playing cards near Guilin, China

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French Concession in Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China

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

Hong Kong

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand

Soho, NYC

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

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

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

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

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

Alfredo

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

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

Sep 042014
 

CAMSLINGER 160 Paris Gray

Wear your mirrorless camera ALWAYS READY at your hip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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