Nov 172014
 

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The New 27” Apple iMac 5k, Trick or Treat?

by Charlie Webster – See his Flickr HERE

For high-performance digital photography you need a great body. And, you’d like a great lens. Finally, you’d like a great way to view your results. A fundamental Troika. In analog, this could be a M6, 28 Cron and a really fine print. You get the picture.

I’m a photographer and ski instructor in Sun Valley, Idaho, where I’ve lived since 1978, but my main business is computer consulting. For years I had almost all my clients on Windows machines, and I built many of them myself. Since the introduction of Windows 8, I’ve been switching them all to Apple. After years with fast Windows machines, my main rig has been a Mac for two years now.

For me, it pays to keep up, so on October 16th I caught the live feed for the “Apple Event”. I’m cleaning the house while silly skits play to raucous fanboy cheers, etc, when suddenly the subject is a new “5K iMac retina”. My ears prick up like a labrador who hears a hand in the milkbone box. Rut-ro, 14 million pixels? Woof! 70% more than 4K display, which I’ve been drooling over! By the end of the presentation I know one thing: the earth has moved and I must have one of these. I smell the third leg in a digital troika: M9, M Lens, and now……. 5K 27” Retina display.

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To this point I’ve always built my own desktop machines. Never dreamed I’d buy an iMac. Build a hackintosh? Sure. Spend thousands on a big all-in-one? Not this chump! But the luscious Scoobie-snack prospect of seeing M9 files at near full resolution on a 27 inch monitor brushes my DIY ethos aside in an instant, and I dig out “the card”. Fundamentally cheap at heart, I pull the trigger on a basic model with one upgrade: a 3 TB fusion drive. I order an extra 16 gigs of RAM from a third-party vendor to save some money. I’m spending the value of a 50 Lux on the used market today for my brand new Apple 5K. Will it be worth it?

*See the new iMac 5k Right HERE*

I track the iMac from the factory in China, to Japan, to Memphis, to Salt Lake, and finally to Hailey, a few miles away. It arrives, I fire it up, transfer my stuff from Time Machine, set desktops/spaces to cycle my better shots, open several tabs in Safari to follow some discussions, then get into some of my huge libraries of Sony and Leica Raws in Lightroom, resizing some favorites to 16×9 to use every pixel. All the time I’m checking my desktops for the full size images they show.

How do the files look?

Remember when you opened your own full frame digital files for the first time? Maybe it felt like you’d left the earth and taken flight once you saw the rich depth in those images. The 5K gives that sort of rush; and then some. This is the M9 of displays, even calibrated with the same feel and rich contrast of color slide film. Words cannot describe a mountain landscape with the 21SEM pushed to your eyeballs by 14,700,000 pixels on the 27” Retina display. You feel at once astounded, and instantly entitled: of course my shots should look like this! I knew I was a genius!

My first days with the rig were spent figuring out the best ways to view and edit Sony A7 and Leica M9 images, while carrying on with day-to-day computing. On background, I learned there are some great 27ish 4K screens under $2000 which may have a wider color gamut and superior calibration potential for printing than the Apple 5K. Users report that Windows operating systems scaling to 4K, let alone 5K, renders icons, menus and even web pages in curious, not optimal ways. Ideally you would want a 2560x1440ish display for surfing and GUI interaction, and 4k to look at fine stuff.

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With the 5K iMac, Apple has tackled the scaling issue head-on. When “Best for Retina” is selected in display options, this beast runs 2 resolutions simultaneously! One mode is 2560×1440, like a standard thunderbolt display. So your dock icons look normal and webpages are normal size, but Velvia clear, with 4 pixels making one, or something like that. We don’t realize the pixel noise in a native 2560×1440.

Imagine Safari taking up a box about 40% of the total screen space with an interior resolution of 2560×1440, with Steve’s site looking creamy smooth, surrounded by a desktop background—glittering as if from another world. Maybe some sweet shot with a CV 35/1.2 and lots of character, or a sharp UWA landscape with lots of tiny details. What rez will that be? 5120×2880, AKA 5K. Right behind your Safari window! I’ve been using cmd + h to hide Safari and check out my backgrounds as they rotate every minute, then cmd + tab brings back your work window. When you see a favorite shot on the 5k for the first time…

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Some programs, or sites appear to do exactly the same thing. Flickr, for example, seems to really “rez up” images for the 5k. In Lightroom you pull up that sweet etching of light from a wide open 28 cron, and how do you see it? 5120×2880, while sliders and controls are normal size. That sight will drop your jaw and change your workflow. Here is the crux of this quantum leap: with an M9 RAW up on the 5K we interact with the whole image, like a great print. When we study a smaller part of the image, the rest is still attached. You want to know if your ZM18 managed to resolve tiny details deep in the corners? Just look. Don’t zoom, just look. It’s obvious. You want to really check it out? Move your head closer. You don’t see pixels till your nose is getting close. Both lens and image character are revealed in breaking clarity. You find yourself exploring parts of shots you made which you’d never really appreciated.

Only a high quality print could compare and I doubt many are sharper than this. If the color gamut is richer in print, colors still look great on the 27 Retina. As I read in board discussions, the Eizos and NEC monitors may have a wider gamut and can be better calibrated for printing accurately. Yet, in person the 5k Imac is routinely described as “the best display I’ve ever seen” by geeks who’ve seen all the wide gamut 4k stuff. Which is not to say it’s the best predictor of print colors.

The 5K 27” display has an aspect ration of 16×9. Of course, it should have been 5212×3468, like the M9, but oh well. Many of my shots go from pleasing to not so pleasing in composition when cropped 16×9. A few look better. You put the right shot in there and it looks awesome. In future, I make some images especially for this aspect ration with the M9. Meanwhile, pristine un-cropped images glisten with two thin border edges. They look fantastic on the thing. And you can put some icons on the sides, too.

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How does it perform? Well 14.7 million pixels require considerable attention, so this generally snappy rig does gasp here and there in the heavy lifting, like some tasks in full screen photo editing. It doesn’t freeze, but it will drop frames or hesitate at certain times. We are at the frontier of what’s possible, after all.

After playing around quite a bit in LR, my conclusion is: once again library size may matter. In my large catalog, I was surprised to see the machine hesitate to apply a 16×9 crop and stagger to adjust the orientation of a graduated filter, while in other aspects and other spaces the machine was running fine. Finally, getting this report ready, I made a fresh library to edit shots for this piece, and the machine really ripped, very smooth with all the features at full screen. Going back to the big library it seems better, perhaps there is some resizing of thumbnails going on etc, which will make a big library run fast in the future. But short-term, you may want to use smaller libraries if performance becomes an issue. There is also the option, with a few quick clicks, to reduce the overall resolution for heavy editing, which does increase performance, then return to “Best for Retina” for viewing pleasure. 5K quirky? A tad, but like with the M9, the pudding just tastes too good to really care.

My advice is to get as many extras as you can afford in configuring a 5K Retina. It’s Apple so there aren’t many. A faster Card, a faster processor and some drive and ram options, that’s it. Get everything you can afford, but if you can’t afford anything more than the base price of $2499, my advice is: order tomorrow. A few staggers with tough tasks is small ransom to release your images from the smeared filter of coarse sub-4k pixels. Let your images blaze on one of these things and they will inspire you all over again. Here is a new and fundamental piece of digital kit, like the camera body and lens. Finally…..we have a display at the level of an M9 and 50 Lux, which can show you those results with a click and little compromise.

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Bottomline: 5K iMac Retina is a game changer for digital photography and desktop computing. Nothing like this has ever been built before. Like a digital Leica, it’s a wonderful step into the future and an incredible tool to use. Not without quirks of course. Thumbs up, Cupertino!

Thanks to Steve for his wonderful site and I hope everyone enjoys my take on the new 5K. “K” is for “Keeper”!

Charlie Webster
My Flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/55299472@N07/

I shot the images in this report with A7 + Bokina 90/2.5 and M9 + CV 35/1.2

*See the new iMac 5k Right HERE*

Sep 092014
 

The New Fuji X100T, 56 1.2 APD, Graphite X-T1 and 50-140 Zoom.

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The new X100T – The new flagship X100 – $1299, November ship date. Buy Here.

Well, the new Fuji stuff has been announced and so far it is everything I have been told it would be. Cool updates but nothing really “WOW” or groundbreaking..yet.  Today’s announcement brings us a new version of the X100 that will replace the “S” version, yes the X100T is now a reality. Basically it has a better build and improved Hybrid viewfinder. In reality, a rehash of the X100S. Coming in at $1299, this now Flagship version of the X100 will be shipping in November in black or silver.  The X100T has the same sensor and IQ as the X100s and will still work with all X100 accessories such as the wide and tele adapters. 

The X100 is a classic and IMO the best camera in the entire Fuji lineup. I’d take an X100 over any other Fuji camera made today. I expect the T will do well, but since it is a rehash, I doubt it will sell in the same numbers as the X100s or original X100. You are gaining a new Hybrid VF, enhanced controls and faster shutter speeds. Will be available in black or silver.

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Press Info for the X100T

“The X100T comes newly equipped with an advanced Hybrid Viewfinder with an Electronic Rangefinder that now gives users reduced display lag times, automatic brightness controls and a Natural Live View shooting display.

The new FUJIFILM X100T blends award-winning image quality with a renowned design that gives enthusiast and professional photographers the most important controls and functions at their fingertips. The X100T combines the resolution and power of the APS-C X-Trans CMOS II Sensor and EXR Processor II with a bright FUJINON 23mm F2 fixed lens for optical excellence.
And to give photographers a new type of film simulation to work with, the X100T ships with Fujifilm’s new ‘Classic Chrome’ film simulation that delivers muted tones and deep color reproduction for beautifully dramatic images.

Advanced Hybrid Viewfinder with Electronic Rangefinder
The FUJIFILM X100T uses an improved Advanced Hybrid Viewfinder with Electronic Rangefinder that allows focusing as if using a mechanical rangefinder. While in optical viewfinder mode, pushing the OVF / EVF switching lever to the left will switch the viewfinder to electronic rangefinder mode. Additionally, Focus Peak Highlight and Digital Split Image can be selected, and the magnification of the focused area can be changed. Compared to the X100S, the frame coverage in the X100T has been increased from 90% to 92%, and the field of view can now be accurately checked closer to the actual subject. The X100T also uses Real-time parallax correction for more accurate image composition. Reframing after bringing the image into focus is no longer necessary, allowing for a seamless shooting experience.

Photographers also now have access to Shooting Effect Reflection settings within the Hybrid Viewfinder to recreate selected camera effects, including Film Simulations. When turned off, users can see the natural view. The image within the finder is displayed at the maximum frame when shooting under dim light and dark areas such as night scenes, enabling shooting while looking at a smooth image, all while greatly reducing display lag time.

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Range of controls expanded, upgraded body
The FUJIFILM X100T now allows photographers to set the aperture to 1/3 steps using the aperture ring, while the exposure compensation dial has been extended to ±3 stops. Also, the command lever has been changed to a command dial, and through the adoption of a 4-way controller to improve operability. The X100T is also now equipped with 7 customizable Fn buttons for a truly personal shooting experience.

The FUJIFILM X100T has an upgraded body that is die-cast magnesium on the top surface and bottom of the body for a highly durable and functional design. The X100T’s aperture ring, shutter speed dial, and exposure compensation dial now have a groove shaped pattern for an improved feel and grip. The X100Talso features a high-definition 1.04M-dot 3” LCD has for extraordinary visibility.

New “Classic Chrome” film simulation
Fujifilm’s unprecedented image quality has been cultivated through the development of photographic films over the past 80 years and helps to reproduce warm skin tones, bright blue skies and rich green trees, just as photographers remember the scene. The X100T ships with the new ‘Classic Chrome’ film simulation mode, which delivers muted tones and deep color reproduction.”

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The Fuji X-T1 Graphite Edition – $1499, shipping in November 2014. BUY HERE.

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Fuji has also announced and are releasing a new flashy version of the X-T1 in a graphite finish and other enhancements over the original X-T1. I think it looks nice but you can check out the press info below:

“The new special edition FUJIFILM X-T1 Graphite Silver, a weather-resistant premium interchangeable lens camera with a large OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) that delivers an instant image preview. The X-T1 Graphite Silver also includes the latest generation 16.3 Megapixel APS-C X-Trans CMOS II sensor and the segment’s fastest autofocus of 0.08 seconds*1 for professional photographers and enthusiasts who want the ultimate in image quality in all weather conditions.

Triple layer coating for a remarkable Graphite Silver finish
The new FUJIFILM X-T1 Graphite Silver edition uses a triple layer coating to give it a unique and durable fit and finish. Following an antioxidant treatment on the magnesium body, a matte black undercoat (primer) is applied to the X-T1 as a first coat. The black undercoat tightens the colors of the shadowed areas and makes the highlighted areas stand out. Then, the X-T1 body is rotated at a high speed while thin coats of ultra-fine paint particles are layered using a computer controlled “Thin-film Multilayer Coating Technology” for a smooth and luxurious Graphite Silver finish. Finally, the X-T1 is given a clear coat for extra durability and a deep gloss finish that subtly changes its appearance depending on how it is struck by the light.

Natural Live View and increased shutter speed
The FUJIFILM X-T1 Graphite Silver edition has been upgraded with a new Natural Live View in the EVF that displays images just as the naked eye sees them. With the X-T1 Graphite Silver edition, users can disable the Preview Picture effects from viewfinder image while shooting to display a truly natural image composition just as they would see with an optical viewfinder.

The FUJIFILM X-T1 Graphite Silver edition is now equipped with a high-speed electronic shutter that has a maximum speed of 1/32000 second that can be set in 1/3 steps when using the FUJINON XF23mmF1.4 R, XF35mmF1.4 R, or the XF56mmF1.2 R lenses. Additionally, the mechanical shutter will not operate when any speed for the electronic shutter is selected for a completely silent shooting experience.

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New “Classic Chrome” film simulation
Fujifilm’s renowned image quality has been cultivated through the development of photographic films over the past 80 years and helps to reproduce warm skin tones, bright blue skies and rich green trees, just as photographers remember the scene. The FUJIFILM X-T1 Graphite Silver edition ships with the new ‘Classic Chrome’ film simulation mode, which delivers muted tones and deep color reproduction.

Exciting firmware update coming December 2014 (X-T1 Graphite Silver and X-T1 Black)
Fujifilm will release a free, comprehensive firmware update in December 2014 specifically for the new FUJIFILM X-T1 Graphite Silver and the original X-T1 Black that will give users exciting new features and controls to dramatically enhance their X-T1 shooting experience, including:

AF Area direct selection – Users can select the focus area with the 4-way controller, without pressing the Fn Key.
Function replacement for the AE-L/AF-L buttons – The currently locked AE-L/AF-L button function will now be interchangeable, depending on the user’s preference.
Focus Area size variability during MF – Users will be able to change the focus area in Manual mode during One Push AF with the AF-L button.
Macro Mode direct selection – Users will be able to directly turn ON or OFF the Macro function in Auto Focus mode to expand the distance measurement range to the short-distance range. This will be possible without accessing the pop-up menu screen.
Q Menu customization – The update will render the items and layout of the Q Menu, used for quick access of frequently-used items, changeable to the user’s preference.
Video frame rate selection – In addition to the existing 60fps and 30fps selections, 50fps and 25fps, as well as a 24fps selection will become available to users. 50fps and 25fps allow video editing in the PAL region, such as Europe and elsewhere, without converting the frame rate. The 24fps will offer movie-like video capture and play back.

Video manual shooting – Users will be able to select ISO sensitivity prior to shooting videos, as well as adjusting the aperture and shutter speed during video shooting.
Phase Detection AF support for One Push AF – With One Push AF, operated by pressing the AF-L button during manual focusing, the update will enable Phase Detection AF with quicker focusing speeds.
Metering area focus area interlocking – The update will enable users to interlock the AF area position with the metering area when spot metering is selected.
Expansion of the Program Shift setting area – The update will enable the current Program Shift, in which the low-speed side is 1/4 second, to be shifted to a maximum of 4 seconds.

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The new Fuji 56 1.2 ADP – $1499, ships in December. BUY HERE!

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Then we have another Fuji rehash! A new version of the 56 1.2 that will have better 3D pop and smoother Bokeh because of the “Apodizing Filter”. When the Nocticron beat out the original Fuji 56 1.2 Fuji must have decided that they needed to update the lens, which is not even old, leaving original 56 1.2 owners out in the cold. For $1499 you can now have the 56 1.2 APD version, with a better/smoother and more blurred Bokeh.  Press info is below:

“The new FUJINON XF56mmF1.2 R APD (Apodization) is a fast and nearly silent lens for FUJIFILM X-Series CSC’s that has a maximum aperture of F1.2 to make it the world’s brightest autofocus lens for digital cameras with an APS-C sensor. In addition, the new apodizing filter makes it the ideal choice for portrait photography where every detail is crystal clear, with images set on a gorgeous bokeh with smooth outlines for pictures with a three-dimensional feel.

The XF56mm F1.2 R APD is constructed of 11 glass elements in eight groups, including one aspherical glass molded lens element and two extra low dispersion lens elements. Spherical aberrations are corrected by the aspherical glass element to deliver high resolution at the maximum aperture setting. Additionally, thanks to the combination of two extra-low dispersion lens elements and three cemented lens elements, chromatic aberrations are greatly reduced.

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The 50-140 F/2.8 Zoom – $1599, ships in December. BUY HERE!

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Finally, a new Zoom has been announced from Fuji, the 50-140 f/2.8 with a price tag of $1599. This will be like a 76-213 f/2.8 lens, so one for the tele zoom guys who love their 2.8 aperture. Press info is below:

The new FUJINON XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR has a focal length equivalent to 76-213mm, and a constant F2.8 aperture throughout the zoom range. The length of the lens barrel remains constant throughout the entire zoom range, and features a weather resistant and dust-resistant finish that can also work in temperatures as low as 14°F. Thanks to a high-performance gyro sensor, a unique image stabilization algorithm and the bright F2.8 aperture, hand-held photography is possible in a wider range of shooting conditions. The XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR also now uses the world’s first Triple Linear Motor for fast and quiet autofocusing and shooting.

The FUJINON XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR has a lens construction of 23 glass elements in 16 groups, which features five ED lens elements, and one Super ED lens element with low dispersion to substantially reduce chromatic aberrations. The XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR also uses a new Nano-GI (Gradient Index) coating technology that ensures this high-performance lens delivers the outstanding imaging results that photographers have come to expect from the award-wining X-Series.

So there ya have it, new stuff from Fuji just announced and super scorching off the press!

You can pre-order the new Fuji items at B&H Photo.

Jun 202014
 

Novoflex Leica M 240 Macro Extension Tube Visoflex III Adapter

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The Novoflex Visoflex III close up adapter for Leica M is a unique product. It is the 1st of its kind that is portable and allows macro photography with a Leica M 240 camera. Basically it is a series of screw on rings that allow focusing with almost any M lens in the macro range. I tested it with a 50 Summicron and even a 100mm Canon vintage lens and it did great. Many of you may know that Leica has a new Macro adapter out and it comes in at $600+. The Novoflex is made in Germany and fits the M camera like a glove with the usual Novoflex build, finish and fit.

See my video below:

I am not a macro kind of guy but Ken Hansen sent me one to try out and I am pleased that there is finally a solution for Macro shooting on an M camera! This will work only on the M 240 as you need Live View to use it (lens will not focus with the RF).

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Here is what Novoflex says about their product:

“Thanks to its variable design the new LEM/VIS-II adapter set adds several new applications for Leica M240 photographers. It’s adapter and extension tube in one.
The following options are available:

Visoflex II/III-lenses can be used at the Leica M240 camera without reflex housing (focusing up to infinity).
LTM-lenses can be used with all Leica M-mount cameras.
Leica M-mount lenses can be used for close-up and macro images. Variable extension is possible (3 inner rings, 10mm extension each).
Depending on the use of the 3 inner rings magnifications between 0,28:1 – 0,84:1 can be achieved (50mm Leica M lens)”

At $370 the adapter is very unique, versatile and allows you to get very up close and personal with your M. When the adapter is attached you can not use the lens as normal, so it is strictly limited for Macro duty. If you want one, email Ken Hansen at [email protected]

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Jun 162014
 

New Western Digital, Blacksmith Labs, Cecilia Straps and more!

Hey guys! Just wanted to share a new video I put up on my YouTube channel today (video is above). I had a few things that were sent to me to check out and I wanted to show off some of my faves.

 

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Western Digital My Passport Pro 4TB Travel RAID Drive

First of all is the Western Digital My Passport Pro 4TB hard drive, which is a portable drive I will use for my travel needs. This is a double 4TB RAID drive capable of 233 MBPS. It is a Thunderbolt drive and comes in at around $429. It is available at Amazon and I highly recommend it. You can see it in the video above.

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Blacksmith Labs iPhone Case

I have had one of the Blacksmith Labs iPhone cases here for a month or two and find that it is a very well made case. Soft supple leather and a great design with easy phone access, it is a nice attractive case. I am not one for belt clip phone cases but if you are, you will want to take a look as the quality is very high. I go over it in the video above so take a look! You can visit Blacksmith Labs HERE.

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Cecilia Camera Straps

Cecilia Gallery camera straps look like those old school wide strap camera straps and they are pretty much the same but with a couple of exceptions. They are made of full leather and 100% Alpaca Wool. So these are basically a sort of Luxury strap and they have many designs and colors to try out/check out. I have had one for about a month and found the strap to be comfortable and stylish, and different. They range from $90 to $100 and offer beauty, super construction and something unique. You can see more of it in the video above and you can check out the designs and straps direct at Cecilia by clicking HERE.

 

Jun 112014
 

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So who owns a Hasselblad Stellar? C’mon, be honest!

UPDATE: According to the poll below almost 50 of my readers here have purchased and bought the Stellar. Guess that they have been selling as this poll only represents the readers HERE. Thanks for voting!

So I was going through e-mails today and someone I know purchased an orange special edition Hasselblad Stellar. You know, the Sony RX100 clone made by Hasselblad for 4X the cost of the Sony RX100. Well, the RX100 can be had for $500 today and the standard Stellar goes for $1995.00 yet it is the SAME exact camera with some added bling and flash and pizazz. Believe it or not, some do care about these things as when you have a good-looking cameras that also performs well, it does indeed inspire confidence in those who like this kind of stuff. No, it does not create better photos than a Sony RX100 as it is the exact same camera on the inside and besides, it is the photographer than makes the photos and creates the images, NOT the camera.

I was remembering my time with the original Sony RX100 and thinking back to how great of a camera that it is. Now with the RX100 III coming out, I am excited to see the latest evolution of the model. The new RX100 III will feature the integrated EVF and other new features and it will come in at $798. If it lives up to the RX100 1, then it will be well worth the cost for those who want a high quality pocket rocket of a camera. The original RX100 is a HUGELY capable camera that some dismiss due to size yet it does so many things so well…I expect the III to be amazing.

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Which leads me back to Hasselblad and the Stellar. I was in NYC a while ago and was able to go into a shop and handle and examine the Stellar. At $2000 I was having a HARD time understating it and trying to figure out WHO would buy one and why. I asked the shop owner if he sold many and he said that yes indeed, it was much more successful than even Hasselblad had hoped. Well, I called BS and chalked it up to sales talk.

To put things into perspective Leica has the X2 which is $2000 new yet I prefer the Sony RX100 to the X2 for the speed, size, low light ability and overall versatility (video , macro, etc)  – so if I had $2000 and had to choose between only a Leica X2 or Stellar, I would take the stellar and I would have just as handsome of a camera with an equal build, more solid feel, faster AF, video capability, better lowlight, closer focusing ability and better resale.

Back to my handling with the Stellar…The shop owner pulled out the black carbon fiber version and the camera was housed in a glossy all wooden box. Had to be the fanciest packaging I have come across to date, even putting to shame Leica packaging. When I opened this box, the camera was perfectly nestled in its location with a luxurious and soft leather strap attached. I picked it up, turned it on and saw the “HASSELBLAD” logo pop on the screen. I have to admit, it felt much nicer than the Sony version. It was more solid and hefty and the grip was quite handsome. Still, 4X the cost of the RX100 (at the time it was 3X the cost) was overboard and I was not getting it. Sure we have the fancy luxury packaging. Sure we have the Hasselblad name and logo and yes we had the much more solid buttons and a better tactile feel to them. The fancy choice in wooden grips was also very cool. Wait.. now I was getting it.

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The more I held it and thought about it, the more I started to understand why some would choose to buy such a camera. It looked the part, it felt the part and it had the name that many associate with incredible cameras and optics. It was a much better feeling and looking RX100 and it gave a sense of pride. Of course, I did not buy one but I did try to get a discount offering to review it for the shop if he sold it to me at a discounted price. He offered me $22 off the price, and of course I declined. :) I was hoping for 50% off which I knew would never happen.

While I do not think I could or would ever spend 4X the cost of the RX100 for a “Stellar”, especially since the improved RX100 III is almost here for $798 I do understand it more after handling it and seeing what it was all about. I would pay about $1000 for one personally, as I did love the look and feel of the black one. The RX100, even Version 1 is still a pretty “stellar” camera as it is and capable of fantastic IQ. To have one in a more hefty and better made body wold be nice, and the grip felt great.

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I mean, would we expect Hassleblad to release it at $500? No! $1000? No, as it would not be worth it to them due to the added expense of the wood grip, packaging and the fact that they pay Sony to be able to use the body. Their price of $2000 is a little much IMO but about right for what you get. Those who DO buy it will value things like exclusivity and style and NAME. Leica does the same with some of their cameras. Models like the D-Lux are rebranded Panasonic models that go for a few hundred more than the Panasonic version. Leica offers a better warranty, lightroom software and better design and they charge $400-$500 for this. Hasselblad is charging a $1500 premium but there is a MUCH smaller market for the Hasselblad Stellar than there is the Leica D-Lux 6, so they will never sell as many which means they have to price it higher.

Now the new “Special Edition” stellar is here and comes in at $3300! Insane.

This takes me back to the start of this article. A guy I know and respect bought one and LOVES it. He had the RX100 and has a Leica M as well. He was thrilled with the orange SE stellar and had zero buyers remorse. He is not a rich guy, just an average guy who really loves to shoot. He loves his Sony RX100 so much he decided to splurge for one in his favorite color of orange. He is as happy as a man can be.

The bottom line is that when we use and shoot with what makes us happy then WE are at our happiest and most positive. This helps to motivate and the result CAN BE better photos. So nothing wrong with someone buying what they want and what they enjoy as long as it makes them happy. Many love to bash these cameras but there is no point to that really. Those who bash it are NOT the target market for the camera. Just as those who bash Leica will never buy one or own one. The fact is that there are those who do buy them and do love them and even if that number is very small in the grand scheme of things it just adds to the value of the item, even if it is a rip off of a dated camera :)

BTW, I will be reviewing the RX100 III and A7s soon and am looking forward to it.

So my question is to the readers out there:

WHO HERE HAS BOUGHT A STELLAR? Hasselblad says it has been a huge success, so who has bought one? Anyone here? If so, answer the poll below with a yes or no! 

May 192014
 

Experimenting with Digital Infrared

By Alexandra Shapiro

A few years ago, I began experimenting with infrared, or IR, photography (mostly landscapes). I am still a beginner when it comes to IR photography, and am constantly amazed at some of the stunning IR images that others produce. Although many of your readers may already be experts, I hope some find these thoughts and experiences useful.

Infrared light is not visible to the human eye, but can be captured on certain types of film and digital cameras. With film, it is necessary to use an infrared filter that blocks most or all visible light while allowing infrared light to pass through. This generally requires the use of a tripod and long exposures, as well as special infrared film. Most digital cameras filter out infrared light, so they are not great tools for infrared photography. However, there are companies that will convert a digital camera so that it can be used for infrared photography; you can also buy a conversion kit and do the conversion yourself. This is not for the faint of heart, since you can ruin a camera if you are not careful; most people probably use conversion services instead.

After doing a fair amount of research on various conversion companies, I decided to convert an older model camera using lifepixel (www.lifepixel.com). There are lots of potential pitfalls with the conversions, and not all cameras or lenses work well. There are a number of conversion companies that repeatedly get negative reviews, with users reporting that their conversions were botched, but Lifepixel consistently gets excellent reviews. They will convert a fairly wide range of cameras, and their website has detailed information on any unique traits of particular camera models that they convert. Panasonic, Olympus, and Sony mirrorless cameras apparently work very well, as do many Canon and Nikon DSLRs.

In addition, Lifepixel (like other conversion services) has several different types of infrared filters to choose from. The filters are installed inside the camera, after the filter that the camera came with to prevent IR light from passing through is removed. You can choose an IR filter that produces only black and white images, or a color filter. You can also choose a “full spectrum filter” that lets visible light as well as infrared light pass through to the sensor. This gives you more flexibility, but you will probably need to use IR filters on the lens to get IR effects.

During the conversion process, the camera is also adjusted to ensure that metering and auto-focus are adjusted for infrared light. Unless you send a lens for calibration, the camera’s auto-focus is adjusted based on a standard lens used for that manufacturer’s cameras. For example, Canon DSLRs are adjusted using a Canon 50 1.8 II lens unless you opt for the custom calibration service and send in the lens you prefer to have the camera calibrated with. Of course, fixed-lens cameras are calibrated using the built-in lens.

I like the look of black and white infrared, but prefer using a color IR filter to have the added flexibility, since obviously color images can be converted to black and white. I started with a small Canon DSLR, because I already had several good Canon lenses. I found a good deal on a refurbished Rebel T2i, a model that had been discontinued, and sent it to Lifepixel for conversion with their “supercolor” filter. I recently decided to upgrade to full frame and found a deal on eBay for a used Canon 5D (original version) that had already been converted by Lifepixel with an “enhanced color” filter. The IQ with the 5D is noticeably better than with the T2i, but there is a downside: the 5D does not have a live view function, which can be very useful with IR photography. Also since it is an older camera the LCD is small and the menu system and ergonomics generally are not as nice as on newer Canon models.

In order to get proper white balance, and have the most flexibility with the images, it is best to shoot raw. On many converted cameras, you can set a custom white balance that will allow you to use your LCD to check whether the white balance is correct. However, on some models (for example, certain recent Nikon DSLRs) that is not possible; the image will look quite reddish on the LCD, and you will need to use conversion software to fix the white balance in post. IR photography requires a fair amount of post-processing in any case. Most websites say that to fix the white balance (or to have your raw conversion software recognize the custom white balance you set in the camera) you have to use the camera maker’s raw converter. However, I recently learned you can create a preset for Lightroom’s “camera calibration” setting that allows you to convert your images from raw in Lightroom instead. This link has instructions for how to do this (http://www.luminescentphoto.com/blog/2013/07/15/setting-white-balance-on-infrared-images-with-lightroom-with-video/). I now do all my raw conversions in Lightroom instead of using Canon’s raw conversion software.

My workflow is generally as follows: I import my raw images into Lightroom and use the camera calibration preset I created so I can see them with the custom white balance set in-camera. Then I perform adjustments to white balance, sharpening, and exposure in Lightroom, and export to Photoshop CS6 to make further edits after the raw conversion. The first step in Photoshop for me is usually channel-swapping, which is useful for getting the “deep blue sky” effect that many interesting IR images have. This involves changing the red channel to 0% red and 100% blue, and changing the blue channel to 0% blue and 100% red. Then if I want to keep the image in color I play around with levels and other adjustments to get whatever effects seem most interesting. For black and white, I generally convert using plug-in filters from Alien Skin Exposure 5 or Perfect B&W 8.

When I first started, I noticed that sometimes the images seemed very soft, or did not have the dramatic contrasts or deep blue skies or white foliage I was hoping for. I found that I could get sharper images when shooting in bright sunlight (the harsh sunlight in the middle of the day is great for producing dramatic IR landscapes); using small apertures (I prefer F8 to F16). Sometimes the AF is off, but if you have a camera with live view or an EVF it is easy to correct that with manual focus.

I shot the first eight images below during Steve’s Valley of Fire workshop this past February. That was the first time I used the 5D; the lens is Canon’s 24-105 L. The remaining images were taken with the T2i and various lenses; those were shot in Austerlitz, New York and Big Sky, Montana.

More of my photos can be found on this flickr page https://www.flickr.com/photos/27953454@N07/

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Mar 262014
 

A Month on the Road with the Fuji x100/Why It Is Still My Soulmate

By Andy Eclov

Hi Steve, thanks for the opportunity to share my story!

My name is Andy, I’m a 21-year-old musician from Chicago. I spend about 3-5 months out of the year touring with my band and, for a while, I would bring my 1D with several lenses and two-speed lights on tour, but that was ultimately too much to lug around and too much to risk losing.

I then spent about a year shooting photos only with my shiny new iPhone 5 so that I would be forced to compose with the provided lens, and have to work to get nice lighting situations. Just like Steve said in his recent article, I sometimes focus too much on the beauty and acquisition of photography gear and not enough on the process.

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The convenience was obviously there with the iPhone, but the quality was suffering, and so was my interest in taking photos. Being able to shoot a photo, edit it in-hand, and upload it to my blog in less than 5 minutes was an undeniable benefit that I didn’t want to go without by going back to the Canon gear. So I spent my countless hours of research and review-reading focused on the mirrorless systems. The Fuji x100 was an easy choice. It stood out to me physically, the viewfinder is attractive, and the photos have a certain sparkle to them when compared to similar cameras’ photos. Being a collector of 35mm rangefinders and SLRs made the Fuji impossible to pass up.

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I spent a couple of months carrying the x100 with me everywhere, spending as much time as possible getting to know it and it’s quirks. I scoured the internet in search of every accessory I could justify (or afford).

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But before too long, the snowy and freezing Chicago suburbs got in the way of any motivation to go out and take photos every day. Besides the studio project from time to time, my x100 was bound to taking photos of my puppy in the kitchen for a while.

Finally the time came to head out on another tour, and I was delighted to finally have an opportunity to shoot with the Fuji. I appreciate that I was able to spend so much time getting the camera set up just right for my exact specifications, it seems like a very customizable interface – once you get the hang of it.

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The camera came out every time I got out of our van. No matter what the scenario, it was beautiful to see it through that viewfinder. It gave me a reason to be the first one awake every day. I’d try to get an idea of what the city we were in each night was like, and then the next morning I’d walk and snap photos for a while before we moved on to the next place.

I used my wifi SD card to send my images from my camera to my phone, where I would edit them with VSCO cam and some other apps, and then post them to my blog right away. Before long I couldn’t stand the quality I was losing by compressing the original files through my iPhone anymore and decided to take the time to shoot RAW and edit more carefully and selectively.

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I think shooting with the Fuji x100 has made me a better photographer and I think it will continue to do so. More than anything, it keeps me in love with my photography. Though it may be nearly outdated already by some’s standards, I think this camera will stay with me for a long, long time.

I keep a detailed blog of my travels here: noctevolant.tumblr.com

 

Mar 212014
 

The CosySpeed Camslinger Camera Holster Review

The new CosySpeed Camslinger series of camera bags are here and they are quite unique and different from your ordinary camera bag that slings over your shoulder or chest. The Camslinger series is designed for use on your HIP, just like in the good old wild west days when cowboys wore a six-shooter on the hip. Instead of a gun, the Camslinger bags allow you to store your mirror less camera inside, sort of like a holster, where it is ready to rock and roll at any given moment.

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There are some very cool things about these new bags and I am always a fan of “different” and even though there were a couple of small irritations, I found them to be a very enjoyable product. Basically, these bags are are pretty nice and affordable solutions to carrying around a small mirror less system without the weight on your upper body.

The Camslinger comes in two sizes. The smaller 105 and the larger 160. I was able to fit a Leica M and one lens inside of the larger 160 bag. The smaller 105 is meant for smaller cameras and lenses, much like an Olympus E-M1 or E-P5. Think “mirrorless” as this is what the bags were designed for. Small system cameras and a lens or two. For this it works very well. I took out the 160 for a couple of days and it held an E-M10 and 12-40 zoom. It held it perfectly even with the larger zoom and I had it at my hip and at the ready at any given moment.

While at a party a few asked me a question when they saw me: “since when do you wear fanny packs”?

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Yep. It does look like a fanny pack and I am not a fan of fanny packs. As useful as they are I am just not the fanny pack kind of guy. With that said, I personally did not feel like I was wearing a fanny pack because I knew what it was and I knew that my camera was there at all times without me even realizing it. The fact is that while wearing the camslinger it literally put no weight on my body. I felt like I was out without my camera but there it was the whole time, on my side. I also had a lens pouch attached holding an additional lens.

These bags are aimed at street shooters and owners of mirror less cameras. I would also aim this bag at wedding shooters as with the accessories you can add to the belt it makes for one hell of a wedding set up (if you do not use large DSLR’s of course).

Would I use these on the street? Possibly… most likely. If I were going to bring one camera and two lenses, sure. If I were going to shoot somewhere that required walking around, for sure. It is so comfortable to use and wear as well as being 100% functional  that it was a pleasure to wear and walk around all day with.

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BUT, I do have a couple of niggles..

If you are out and about with this around you then every time you want to sit down (comfortably) you will need to remove it but to be fair, same goes with a traditional camera bag.  Also, sometimes the bag latch is a but tricky to unlatch and latch as it requires a pull out before unlatching (for safety reasons, which is good) but also, with practice it gets easier.

It’s a great concept and the company seems very well planned out with the two sizes, accessories to hold lenses, flash, memory or what have you. It is a complete camera holster system for mirror less cameras.

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They also sent me a very nice “cam pillow” which was pretty cool. It came with paperwork describing what it is and how it was made and a picture of the woman who made it along with her story. I really enjoyed that and thought it was a nice touch. I probably will not use it much, if at all, but again, nice touch.

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The Camslinger bags could be just what some of you have been waiting for. They are well made, adjustable, easy to wear and use (once you get the hang of the belt) and are a quality product that will not cost you an arm and a leg.

To read much more about them and order them visit CosySpeed HERE.  The USA order page is HERE.

Mar 142014
 

The Me-Foto Road Trip tripod review

By  Zev Hoover

Hello everyone! I have had the MeFoto Road Trip tripod since December, but I didn’t really see any point in making a first impressions type review, because the true test of a tripod is how it holds up over time. I have used it for almost every photo shoot since I got it, and my sister has used it for over 100 days of her 365 project. it has seen quite a bit of use. Let’s jump right in. (note, all measurements and weights are calculated by myself, not from the manufacturer)

The folded tripod (shown here with banana for scale), comes in at a puny 40cm (15.5″ish) with qr (quick release) plate. it manages to get so small by inverting the legs upwards. a really nice design I think, as it means the center column is already extended and ready for use. it fits inside carry on luggage with ease, in fact I kept it in my personal item backpack when I have flown trans-continental with it.

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It comes with a lovely orange trimmed bag, a hex key for adjusting the leg tension, and spiked feet to replace the rubber ones if needed. the extra feet and hex key come in a nice little package that fits into an inside pouch of the bag. the rubber feet that it has work alright, but because the bottom leg section can turn, there really can’t be that much rubber on the ground plane, only a small section. this is an advantage of tripods with D shaped leg sections. more rubber on the ground = more grip = more stability. as you can see in the below picture, there isn’t a hex key. this is because security in Bergamo airport (Italy) confiscated it. No idea what they were thinking, and I doubt this is ordinary procedure anywhere else in the world. anyway, you don’t really need to adjust your leg angle tension on the go, so I should have just left it at home.

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The head that comes with the tripod is really quite nice. it has separate pan and ball locks, a ball friction knob, a bubble level and very smooth movements all round. It takes the Arca Swiss style qr plate, which isn’t my favorite but is pretty much industry standard and does the job. it locks onto the ball head with a knob, not a lever. this works flawlessly, and is very easy to tighten it to a point where there is no chance of the camera slipping, without busting your fingers.

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The only real disappointments with the tripod were with the qr plate. it doesn’t have the right rubber on top, so no matter how hard you crank it onto your camera, after a shoot or two (especially if you are shooting vertical) it will be loose. not a huge issue, right? just tighten it up. well, no. for some reason it requires a key or coin to turn it. this is the reason I don’t like Arca Swiss style plates, they all seem to not have hand operable knobs for tightening them on your camera. the turning problem can be solved by buying another brand’s plate, and if you are only using one tripod system, the fact that it needs a coin to operate won’t be an issue. but for me, it was a pretty big annoyance (as I do switch systems) so I went ahead and switched the plate holder from an old Manfrotto ball head and screwed it onto the lovely MeFoto ball head. perfect.

this is the original qr plate

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the Manfrotto plate holder on the MeFoto

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hand adjustability!

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The leg angle locks work perfectly, they can be either at a normal tripod angle (30 degrees ish) and the low down 80-ish degree angle. they are not sprung, so they don’t ‘click’ into place, but they feel very solid and work very well. the leg length locks also work well. it takes about a half of a turn to lock/unlock the legs, and they lock very solidly. I have used the tripod in heavy rain and snow, with no ill effects, and occasionally in sea water, but in those cases I always have been careful to not let the sea into the leg locks, other than on one occasion but I disassembled it and cleaned it afterwards (according to this fantastic guide on the MeFoto blog. shouldn’t every product come with a disassembly guide?). the leg locks feel as smooth and precise as new (which is to say, smoooth).

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One really cool feature of the tripod is that it can convert to a monopod! just unscrew one of the legs, take out the center column and put them together! it works very well, though I don’t really have much need for a monopod. speaking of the center column, the locking mechanism on it i not as nice as the ones on the legs. it feels like it takes about 3/4 of a turn to lock and unlock it, unlike the legs half of a turn.

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the carbon fibre version I have weighs in at 1.389kg (3.0625 pounds) with head. the tripod itself weighs 1.066kg (2.35 pounds) and the head weighs 323g (0.7125 pounds). the cheaper aluminum model apparently weighs 1.633kg (3.6 pounds). I am not sure if the difference of 0.5 pounds really is worth the difference in price of $140, but that is up to you. there certainly are more budget options in the world of carbon travel pods, but the aluminum one is a very good deal. also, for some reason the carbon isn’t available in all those awesome colors, which is a shame.

the tripod has a maximum hight of 153.7cm (60.5 inches), and a minimum of 38.7cm (15.25 inches) the monopod’s max hight is 161.3cm (63.5 inches) and its minimum is 71cm (28 inches). basically, the tripod is tall enough for any travel pod use, but maybe not short enough for a landscape enthusiast. a shorter center column would be a fantastic add-on. the monopod is tall enough for really anything, and I don’t know anyone who uses a monopod at anything but full extension.

over all, it is the nicest tripod I have owned (I have had a manfrotto 294 and an old aluminum gitzo) or used. for what I do, with the qr plate holder swap, it is pretty near perfect and I can’t see needing to upgrade unless my camera system gets a lot bigger. any light tripod will blow over easier, and not be as stable as a heavier one, but that is a compromise I am okay with making.

Thanks for reading!

Zev Hoover

You can purchase the Road Trip direct from MeFoto HERE, or at Amazon HERE.  You can see Steve’s early impressions on the Me-Foto tripod HERE. 

Mar 122014
 

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The new ONA Berlin Leica M System Bag

The new ONA Berlin is now available and I have had one for the past 7-10 days putting it through its paces around town. This is a bag made for the Leica M system, but could be used for just about any mirror less system available right now. So Leica, Fuji. Olympus, Sony, etc. BUT, this bag was “designed” to be a Leica M system bag right down to the red dot on the buckle strap and shoulder pad and what a beauty of a bag it is.

Excuse the lighting and poor color in the video below, I will be re-doing this video in the next few days  – going through some medical/health issues right now and when I did this I just got back from Doc/ER – sorry!

I love ONA bags as they are well made, look handsome and rugged and are one of the few brands that offer a taste of the higher end in the bag world. A bag that is not only functional, but stylish and looks good around your body. The new Berlin sits right in with the other luxury offerings from ONA and this is a GOOD thing because ONA makes some of the best bags in the camera bag business.

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ONA states that this is a limited edition bag and below are the specs from their website and description page of the “Berlin”…

Created to celebrate 100 years of Leica photography, the Berlin is a limited-edition ONA bag designed for the Leica M-System. The Berlin is handcrafted with full-grain leather that will develop a rich patina over time.

The signature Leica red interior is fully customizable, padded with premium closed-cell foam, and can accommodate one Leica M-System camera, two to three lenses, an iPad and small personal items. The Berlin also features a zipped organizer pocket, a convenient removable top-grab handle, antique brass buckles, red rivet accents and a streamlined back pocket.

Limited edition

Handcrafted with full-grain leather

Designed for Leica M-System

Removable top-grab handle

Exterior dimensions: 12.5″L x 10″ H x 4.5″ D

Interior dimensions: 11″ L x 8.5″ H x 3.5″D

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I like that it can hold an iPad as well as your M and 2-3 lenses along with other necessities such as your phone, battery charger, and even some film if you so desire. This is a bag that feels a little stiff out of the box but over time it will soften up and develop a patina while wearing in and showing that wear. The one I have been using still looks new but it has only been on a couple of local trips with me. I examined the bag inside and out and it is up to the same Ona standards as the Brixton leather, but smaller and lighter (which is good). If leather is your thing, and you own a Leica M system, this is a bag that may just be the “one” you have been waiting for.

But quality does not come cheap at $369. This is a luxury designer limited edition full-grain leather bag. This is not a cheap fabric bag but more of a “functional statement piece” much like Fogg and Billingham bags. Fogg bags are now running into the $600’s and up for cloth and leather (but they are beautiful bags) and Billingnam round the gamut from $250-$600 or so for a good M bag. The ONA bag is created to celebrate the Leica M, and it looks, feels and plays the part well. If you have invested thousands in your Leica M system, why not dress it up with a new bag?

I think it is gorgeous but I am a fan of the leather camera bags. To me it sort of looks a bit old school and new school and the red interior is gorgeous but the cool thing here is that this bag will AGE VERY WELL. In 5-10-20 years it will look like a true well worn classic bag, even if you have the M 980 in it by then.

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When I took out the bag I had my M 240, 50 Nokton, 90 Summarit and an E-M10 inside with a lens. I also had an iPad mini, my phone and a charger for the M. I had some room to spare yet the bag is not huge and unruly. I think those that appreciate quality and function will really be into this bag. I have used a ton of bags over the years and for quality of build, the ONA is up there with the best I have used and tested. I love Fogg, I like Billingham and I enjoy Artistan & Artist but for the money spent, it is tough to beat the ONA for a mix of everything. I previously reviewed the Union Street and Bowery HERE but those were not the leather versions. I also bought and owned the all leather Brixton which traveled with me to Ireland, New York ad other parts of the world. It wore in quite nicely and now looks like a 20 year old leather bag. That Brixton received MANY compliments during my travels and I am confident that the Berlin will as well.

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For Leica M owners, the Berlin is a fabulous carry case for your valuable camera and lenses, if you like that sort of thing.

You heard it here first...I asked ONA to make this in black as I would personally prefer a black version with the red dots and red interior. It would look striking I think but this normal leather version is also VERY cool and classic..retro..M. How limited is it? Not sure, but if it catches your fancy, take further look at the ONA website.  You can read more or buy it.  $369.

As for my black request, only time will tell.

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Feb 172014
 

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My favorite ND filter for fast Leica lenses!

Finally! I found THE ND filter to own for my fast Leica glass (Thanks Ken Hansen)! Yes my friends, in the past I have owned many ND filters and I always had to figure out which one I would get. When shooting a Summilux lens or Noctilux lens an ND filter is MANDATORY if you want to shoot your ones wide open where they were designed and optimized to be shot. Over the last few years I have had MANY e-mails come in asking me “which ND filter should I get”..and I am happy to say that the one I own now is hands down my #1 favorite that I have ever owned/used.

It is a made in Germany Heliopan Variable ND filter that gives you a range to work with..from 0.3 all the way up to 1.8 or from 1 to 6 stops. This means you can use this single one ND filter for all of your ND filter needs. From slight brightness to brutal harsh light (like I shot the images in below), this ND filter will give you what you need with a smooth twist of the front ring. When Ken Hansen told me about it I had to give it a shot.

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If you are not familiar with the purpose of an ND filter I will break it down for you very quickly.

Let’s say you love shooting your Leica and Noctilux but you love shooting that lens wide open at f/0.95. If it is sunny outside or the light is bright you will not be able to shoot wide open because the shutter speed in your 9 or M 240 only goes to 1/4000s. This means that without an ND filter you will have to stop down the lens to f/4 or f/5.6 or in some situations even f/8.

With an ND filter in place you can shoot that lens wide open as the filter blocks some of the light. With this particular filter you can adjust how much light gets let in and it is marked from 1-10. I tested this filter in the super harsh mid day sun of Phoenix AZ and my filter was usually between #3 and #6 with the Zeiss 50 Sonnar at f/1.5.

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Using this filter it allowed me to shoot wide open to retain that classic Zeiss Sonnar look that disappears once the lens is stopped down. I shot the SLR Magic Hyperprime 0.95 M lens a couple of years ago with an ND filter as well, and all of the images shot in that report were with a Leica M9, the images below were shot with an M 240 and the Zeiss.

You can also use an ND filter if you want to shoot at longer shutter speeds, for example, a running waterfall. The ND will block the light to your sensor and allow you to drag out that shutter for as long as you need.

Anyway, this is an amazing ND filter and is the only one you will need for ANY situation. No need for 2-4 ND’s, just one. The build is superb and of very high quality, the ring to adjust the strength of the filter is smooth as silk and this filter is available from Ken Hansen in the two sizes any Leica shooter would need. 46mm (35 Summilux, 50 Summilux) or 60mm (Noctilux 0.95). These filters are NOT cheap but no good ND filter is. I believe this one goes for $260 but I found it to be a very worthwhile investment because it is the last ND I will ever need and will fit any 46mm lens I attach to my camera.

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I tested it with the Zeiss 50 ZM Sonnar which also has a 46mm filter thread and the filter presented no issues or problems at all. The Zeiss ZM Sonnar is a very unique lens and when shot wide open at f/1.5 it almost resembles a Noctilux in its rendering. Not quite, but close. The best part is that the Sonnar comes in at around $1100. B&H is back-ordered but Tony at PopFlash has one or two in stock right now (in silver) for anyone looking for this now legendary classic lens.

You can e-mail Ken Hansen here if you want one or have a question. ([email protected]) Not sure how many he has but he did tell me he had a “few” available in 46mm and 60mm filter thread sizes and I recommend this filter 100% for ANY users of these filter size fast lenses (Leica). 

Below are the images I shot with the ND attached, all with the Zeiss Sonnar 50mm ZM and all wide open at f/1.5 at the local Ren Fair here in AZ. BTW, it was almost 90 degrees in mid Feb and the sun was HARSH. AZ mid day sun sucks for taking photos, but I purposely took these at the worst time to test this filter, which did fantastic. 

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Jan 162014
 

Max HeMe-Foto Tripod Review and Give-Away!

At the end of this review there is a link where I am giving away a free MeFoto tripod on Facebook! Be sure to enter to win the exact tripod you see below!

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I admit..I am not a huge fan of tripods for my photography. I rarely ever use them (for photos) and in the past 10 years I probably used a tripod a handful of times and that was mainly due to HAVING to use them at specific events or for camera tests. Nope, just give me a nice light camera, a lens and some memory or film and I am off and running  – nice and light.

But even though I do not use them often I do indeed own a tripod and have had the same one for 15 years! I use it mainly for video and it has come in handy for that when I needed to stabilize my camcorder. There are times when long exposures also get me to pull out the trusty tripod as it is the only way to do such photography and get good results. Long story short, my tripod experience is limited as I just do not like to lug them and use them. I am not a landscape guy nor a long exposure guy so keep that in mind when reading this. All in all, this will be my quick thoughts on using the MeFoto tripods but remember, I have limited experience with other brands of tripod.

My intro to MeFoto

A few months ago I ran into a rep from MeFoto and he offered to send me a couple of tripods for review. I was hesitant (because I never use them) but when I saw the tripod he had in his camera bag (yes, in his camera bag) I immediately had to know more about these small and tiny wonders. As I looked at the smallest model called “The Day Trip” I instantly wanted one. Why? I am not sure but I instantly fell for the design, colors and teeny size/ease of use. Maybe the reason I never use tripods is because I did not want to lug around my beast. Hmmmm. After a demo and a few words he promised to send a couple my way and that he did.

The small and tiny “DayTrip” will  hold up to 8.8lbs and can be used almost anywhere. At $119 it is a great buy in the small tripod world and is super cool at the same time. Ball head, smooth controls and a well made feeling makes these tripods a contender for those looking for small, light and quality.

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Over the past couple of months I have been in possession of three tripods from Me Foto. The Daytrip, the Backpacker and the Road Trip. All three are very nice, very well made and VERY affordable. No, these are not $1500 rock solid big and heavy tripods. Instead they are small genius designs that are light, easy to carry and they simply just work.

For tripod and landscape gurus these may not be the #1 choice but for those who are like me, and prefer a small and light tripod to stabilize their camera then the MeFoto line is right up our alley. They will not break the bank, they will work very well and they are small and attractive as well. The few times I was able to get out and use them I had no problems, issues or complications. They are simple to use as the legs pull out with a simple twist lock. Twist and the legs fall out, twist again to lock in place. The Ball Head is smooth and easy to position and the bubble level helps to make sure you are level. The #1 thing that I love about these tripods is the weight. They are light yet feel solid and they fold up nicely to be very compact. For example…

The little DayTrip tripod is TINY and will fit inside most camera bags. It is not a full size tripod but will do for those times when you just needs something to hold your camera.

The Road Trip is full size and will even quickly convert to a monopod, which I find extremely useful and cool. At $189 it is a full featured tripod that would be all many of us need. I really love this model and in Titanium it very nice to look at as well.

They are sleek, cool, fun, small, light and functional. My only gripe is that you need an allen wrench to loosen and tighten the mounting plate to your camera. The tripods come with the tool but I lost two of them already and on one occasion could not get the plate off of my camera because I did not have the wrench. Throwing on a hand tightening mechanism would be much better IMO. They do come with a carrying case to hold the tool but I always find a way  to lose small little items and I never did use the carrying case as the tripod resided in my bag most of the time.

From tripod to monobod in seconds..

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Besides that little niggle I love these things and not only are they great buys and a bargain for someone seeking a light and very portable tripod,  one of these now resides in my own stable :) Good stuff and highly recommended!

Features and operation Breakdown: It is a tripod. You open the legs, attach your camera, set it up where you want it and shoot :) They are lightweight, have a built in bubble level, have an included very nice carrying case, 360 degree panning capability, two leg angle positions, a hook for adding more weight to the center for stability (or to hang your bag), easy twist leg locks. Great bang for the buck. You can see feature details HERE.

In use they are light and easy to carry (as mentioned) and even has a very nice carrying case that comes along with each and every tripod. I had no issues bringing any of these along with me. My son Brandon is using one for long exposures and even for his binoculars for night sky viewing. He really loved his time with the MeFoto as well.

All in all, a wonderful product that is very functional. If it had a finger screw base plate for attaching the camera  it would be perfect!

So there you go..my quick look. There really is nothing to dislike about these.

I did take many more photos of the tripods in use but somehow the Fuji X-E2 and 23 1.4 I was using missed focus in half of the product shots. (focused behind the subject). That means I will be going back to my tried and true Olympus E-M1 for product shots in my reviews! :)

Specs and Cost:

Day Trip – Max Load – 8.8 Lbs. – Max Height 24″ – Min. Height 9.4″ – 1.8 Lbs – $119

BackPacker – Max Load – 8.8lbs – Max Height 51.2″ – Min. Height 17.3″ – 2.6lbs – $139

Road Trip – Max Load  – 17.6 lbs – Max Height 61.6″ – Min. Height 15.4″ – 3.1lbs – $189 (the sweet spot in the line up IMO)

Globe Trotter - Max Load 26.4 lbs – Max Height 64.2″ – Min. Height 16.1″ – 3.7lbs – $209

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Where to Buy MeFoto and how to WIN one!

You can buy the MeFoto tripods at B&H Photo HERE

You can buy them at Amazon HERE

You can buy direct from MeFoto HERE (as well as see all of the color options, sizes and even Carbon Fiber versions)

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WIN A FREE DAYTRIP Tripod!

Win a free DayTrip Tripod courtesy of MeFoto and SteveHuffPhoto! Click HERE to enter on Facebook!

Jan 162014
 

How about some Canon or Nikon Coffee? Great deals on these LenZcups!

Just noticed that B&H Photo are now selling these famous lens cups/mugs and thermos bottles and at pretty nice prices. If anyone reading this is like me…then these may be something cool to grab (I ordered two t his morning). Every morning I wake up and within 2 minutes am at my machine making my 1st cup of coffee. Being such a photography and camera gear geek I wondered just today why I never picked up one of these cups! Especially since most of these are under $13!

I have seen these in the flesh before and they felt solid and nice. They are more of a conversation starter or for those of you who live to shoot. The thermos? Also very cool as you can bring it along on your photo journeys. Who here has ever left the house at 4Am in search of some nice scenery? I have and having a camera lens thermos would have pepped me up that extra percent :)

In any case these are now for sale and in stock at B&H photo starting at under $13. So click the link here to SEE ALL OF THEM! 

Enjoy!

PS – If you are a Leica shooter, yes, you can get a Leica mug as well – check it out HERE.  (image of Leica directly below)

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and the Canon/Nikon offerings…

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Dec 262013
 

Will the Smartphone ever replace the camera?

By Ibraar Hussain

For enthusiastic amateurs and those with more than a snap shooting interest in Photography, I’d say no, not now, not ever.

There are certain things Smart Phones lack, and even if you gave a Smart Phone Full Frame and a gazillion Mega Pixels; it’ll still never pass the test – I consider Ergonomics a powerful feature no amount of technical advancement can compete with.

Anyway, this isn’t a discourse on Smart Phones and Photography, it’s about Hipstamatic on the iPhone.

Hipstamatic, in my opinion, is the best thing about Smart Phone photography – and unfortunately at the time of writing it is only (to my knowledge) available for the iPhone, so sorry Androids and Windows.

If you haven’t used it before, it’s a Square Format Camera Application which mimics toy camera’s and vintage snap shot cameras of yore, with choices of lens, Flash and Film which one can select for so many different combinations.

The combinations and options are phenomenal, brilliant in simplicity, ease of selection and results.

We have BW Films galore, colour, cooked ones, XP, IR, expired, different flash types, and lenses ranging from soft ones, to vignetting or ones giving an illusion of shallow depth of field, ones that leak light and others that are completely bizarre – and the range vast, with creative possibilities limitless.

Want moody black and white Noir-ish Film with strong vignetting? Want a platinum look print with soft tones? Want a punchy Velvia like look with sharp lens? A burnt out vintage 70s look with a multi hued flash effect? Or a Polaroid look with loads of colour? It’s all there – and to make things even more interesting, you can order prints on-the-fly, from within the Application.

It’s all great fun and has a superb interface – simply look through the square viewfinder (on the screen) and press the yellow button – and press a button to flip over so you can change film, lens and flash with a swipe.

And of course, you can buy more and more stuff.

With use you’ll start knowing which combination to use for which subject and have personal favourites, and to be honest, even the most mediocre snaps can be made to look superb with the colour and effect possibilities.

There is some creative control – touch a part of the Viewfinder image and it’ll focus and expose for that, move the iPhone up and down and you’ll see the exposure change in real time.

Anyway, that’s all the fun and funky stuff out-of-the-way, you can have all the funky effect things in the world but ultimately, if you lack even a microgram of creativity and talent, it’ll all look somewhat like a turd rolled in glitter.

What I really love about Hipstamatic, is the ability to work on composition using the brilliant Square Format, and this is what I use it for (apart from family and friends and such snaps).

The 6×6 Square is a great compositional aspect ratio – there’s no room for messing around, and the simplicity enables framing to be easier than oblong aspect ratios.

One, with the large square view finder of Hipstamatic, can really go to town on working on composition, framing, using key subjects, lead in lines, rule of thirds – and one can do it with the minimum of fuss and headache – just open the Application and off you go.

And the user can select the appropriate ‘Film’ to take the scene using the different creative Film/Lens or Filters available, and interpret the scene however they wish and easily.

I have been working on composition with this Hipstamatic for a while now, and I think it has improved my ability to see and express a scene more so than traditionally (with a real camera Film or Digital).

I don’t worry about sharpness or resolution – as such things really don’t matter one iota to me, sure to others they may well do – colour, composition, mood, tones and subject matter make sense to me and for this, Hipstamatic on the iPhone 5 is what I enjoy using as and when I require it.

I’ve included several shots here, just detailing the sort of things I tend to work on, composition, arranging elements in a scene, subject matter, colour, light and tone. With some studies of different places (Stone henge for example)

Cheers!

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Dec 072013
 

Using a Nokia N86 for Photography

By Dougie Digital Dawg

Three years ago I wanted to get a mobile phone which would take decent photos.

By chance I read David Bailey had done an exhibiton called Alive at Night using a Nokia N86.

Nokia N86 announced February 2009, has a Zeiss Tessar 28mm F2.4-F4.8 8MP with Auto Focus. It also has a close up capability which I find useful. There’s no touch screen which I prefer for photogrpahy.

Whereas for various scenarios a much larger sensor, far higher dynamic range, and high iso capability is significantly useful, I have found a small sensor useful in so many scenarios. Small sensor compacts may sometimes get knocked down, especially the megazooms with 1/2.3″ sensor and slow lens such as Sony X50V 24-720mm however they do represent excellent photo taking capabilities.

It really does depend on the way we photograph and our subject.

dgd aka Dougie Digital Dawg.

Nokia N86 boat

Nokia N86 pavement

Nokia N86 leaf

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Nokia N86 underpass

Nokia N86 sunset

Nokia N86 highstreet

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