Mar 242015
 

paul

LENS BATTLE: CANON  vs LEICA 

by Paul Bartholomew

Dear Steve

This is my second user report I’ve written for your great site but this one is quite different from my last one (An Englishman in New York).

I’ve been a Canon user for years having had a 5DMK II, a 7DMK I and the camera I shot for part of this review the excellent Canon 5D MKIII. I have a little Olympus E-PL 1 and a Canon G11 too but my pride and joy is my Leica M240. That camera is the second M I have owned having upgraded from an M9 about 18 months ago. And what an upgrade! I really can’t understand those who prefer the M9, the colours, the noise, the dynamic range – all much better on the M240 to my mind, with live view to boot with EVF support (this is important for this article).

I’m not exaggerating when I say the Leica M240 is the camera I had hoped the M9 would have been, but whenever I shot with the M9 I found the images a little muddy in their tones – like the files were missing some information – not so with the M240.

After bumping along happily with both the 5D MKIII and the Leica M240, I realised the Canon was mostly staying in its foam-lined drawer in my study, I preferred to shoot with the M240. This wasn’t something that had happened with the M9 – the 5D MKIII gave me better images, but not so when compared to the M240. So, I began to wonder whether I actually needed the 5D MKIII… Of course letting go of the body was one thing but letting go of the lenses was quite another. At this point in time I owned a 300mm f/2.8L (easy to get rid of, I seldom shoot long), a 24-105 f/4L – a nice enough lens but not one that I actually used that much, a 16-35mm f/2.8L II – a lens I was nervous to lose (the widest I had for the Leica was 28mm) and a 85mm f/1.2L II – a gem of a lens that I loved. These two lenses were the anchor of my Canon system – they were preventing me from moving on.

However, when I sat down and worked out how much I would get by selling the Canon kit new possibilities opened up, but first I needed to see whether I could fill the niches of my Canon anchor lenses with a couple of Leica compatible lenses. Here’s what I bought: For the wide end a Voigtlander 21mm f/1.9 and for the fast portrait niche a Leica 80mm f/1.4 Summilux R (with a Novoflex R to M adaptor) – my EVF for my little Olympus would be put to good use! These two lenses complemented my existing M lenses – a Zeiss 28mm f/2.8, a Jupiter 35mm f/2.8, a Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 (calibrated to f/1.5) and a Jupiter 85mm f/2. To be honest, I never really used the Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 that much – too long for street work and for portraits I found it to have too much contrast for my taste.

Once I’d secured the lenses I thought I would do a comparison shoot before I made a decision whether I could/should divest myself of the Canon kit (although by this point the 300mm had already gone). So, I booked a model that I’d worked with on previous occasions and set to work. Some notes first though… I’d never done a lens test before so apologies for any errors in the process I may have made, also – the M240 doesn’t record lens data from my non-coded lenses and estimates the aperture based on the exposure settings. In some of the pictures my model Holly is holding up fingers to help me record the aperture I was shooting at.

Long end first – the Canon 16-35 f/2.8L II @ f/2.8 at 21mm (TOP) vs the Voigtlander 21mm @ f/2.8 (Bottom) – click images for larger!

Canon21mmf2.8

Voigt21mmf2.8

Of course with all of the camera and lens changes, I forgot to let Holly know that the Canon would collect its own data! Indeed the EXIF data let me know that I was actually at 22mm, not 21mm.

I don’t think there is that much in it in terms of sharpness but the Canon lens shows less divergence of vertical. Nonetheless I prefer the tones from the Leica. I also think more shadow detail is captured, look at the purple sofa and Holly’s dress in the Leica/Voigt. combination. Unsurprisingly, both lenses show some chromatic aberration in the window frame.

At f/5.6 both lenses now have the chromatic aberration broadly under control:

Top is Canon, bottom is Voigtlander. Click images for larger!

Canon21mmf5.6

Voigt21mmf5.6

Differences in colour balance / colour rendering aside, the Leica/Voigt. combination seems to hold much more detail now and is much sharper at the edges of the frame, look at the green Tibetan chair-bed bottom left.

Peripheral sharpness picks up on the Canon at f/8 (TOP) but it is still outperformed by the Voigtlander (BOTTOM):

Canon21mmf8

Voigt21mmf8

This was enough to convince me that despite the 16mm to 21mm wide end variance, the Leica and Voigtlander would look after me. And…. The Voigtlander could shoot at f/1.9:

Voigt21mmf1.9

I then went a little longer and compared the mid-range of the Canon with my Zeiss 28mm f/2.8. First, wide open. TOP is CANON, bottom is ZEISS, both at f/2.8:

Canon28mmf2.8

Zeiss28mmf2.8

Here, it’s a mixed picture, more chromatic aberration in the window frame with the Canon but it is giving better shadow detail (look at the front of the cabinet) and it is sharper in the peripheries of the frame. The Zeiss is sharper in the middle and could be said to have greater contrast (the flip side of the lower shadow detail). I prefer the colours with the Leica/Zeiss combo though.

At f/5.6, the Canon looks really good, the chromatic aberration is under control , central sharpness is higher too. Slight exposure differences aside, the Canon is still showing less contrast than the Zeiss – which is now showing sharpness to rival the Canon right across the frame.

At f/8, it’s really only the higher contrast of the Zeiss that is separating them:

Canon28mmf5.6

Zeiss28mmf5.6

So, after all that I felt I was OK at medium wide – especially give the relative sizes of the two setups!

Just for fun, I thought I’d compare the long end of the Canon 16-35mm with my diminutive vintage Soviet – the Jupiter 35mm f/2.8 – I was not expecting comparable images and the differences were clear at f/2.8. Canon on top, Jupiter and M on the bottom:

Canon35mmf2.8

Jupiter35mmf2.8

The Canon, even wide open at the long end of its zoom range, seems to control chromatic aberration well and is offering significantly more contrast than when zoomed out. It’s pretty sharp right across the frame too. The Jupiter is another story altogether, unable to control the bright window light, the veiling flare lowers the contrast significantly and although centre sharpness is at least as high as with the Canon, it drops off drastically as we move away from the centre. Look at the candle on the left and even Holly’s feet on the right. I do like that vintage look though, it’s why I bought the lens.

Canon35mmf5.6

Jupiter35mmf5.6

As shown above, at f/5.6 there’s little to complain about with the Canon and it is significantly sharper than the Jupiter everywhere, including in the centre of the frame. And although contrast and sharpness is better with the Jupiter than it was at f/2.8 it can’t keep up with the Canon. This is the same for f/8 too, as shown below. Canon is the 1st image, the Jupiter is the 2nd.

Canon35mmf8

Jupiter35mmf8

Of course, the Jupiter was never going to be the equivalent of the Canon, but it is a fun little lens to have nonetheless. However, I may need to get myself a higher fidelity M lens if I want to shoot with precision at that focal length.

Now for what I think is probably the main event of this head-to-head review – a comparison of portrait lenses. Mainly, it’s about comparing the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L II with the Leica 80mm f/1.4 Summilux R. But, I’m going to throw in the Soviet 85mm f/2 for good measure too.

First of all, at the widest common aperture of f/2, they really are quite different. The Canon is sharp and exhibits high contrast – it is crisp, as one might expect. But when you cast your eye from that image to the clearly softer and lower contrast Leica image, the Canon begins to look a little ‘crunchy’ – I wonder if others would agree? Then comes the Jupiter, like its 35mm cousin it is low in contrast, but nonetheless it does appear to be pretty sharp:

TOP: Canon 85 L at f/2, MIDDLE: Leica R 80mm at f/2, BOTTOM: Jupiter 85 at f/2

Canon85mmf2

leica80mmf2

Jupiter85mmf2

At f/2.8 things aren’t particularly changed – same differences, perhaps just a little less extreme:

Canon, then Leica, then Jupiter

Canon85mmf2.8

leica80mmf2.8

Jupiter85mmf2.8

Of course, one really buys these lenses to shoot wide open – we’ve seen the Jupiter wide open but what about the other two? Firstly, both at f/1.4:

TOP: CANON – BOTTOM: LEICA

Canon85mmf1.4

leica80mmf1.4

I don’t believe the Canon is any sharper now – look at Holly’s eyes on both. The Canon still has more contrast, but I am struck by the sophistication of the Leica image – sharp and soft and the same time. Also, look at the decoration on the wall and the edge of the sunlight, the Canon is exhibiting some chromatic aberration. OK, let’s see the Canon at f/1.2 – that aperture is the reason for buying this lens after all:

Canon85mmf1.2

To me, on the eyes – this looks a bit sharper that the f/1.4 shot. I was shooting from a tripod but perhaps this is just the difference between hitting the eyeball with the focus point rather than the eyelashes. I just don’t know – although Holly’s mouth is sharper too.

All this out of camera comparison is a bit artificial though isn’t it? I’m never going to shoot models (or any portraits for that matter) without editing – I pretty much edit everything. So, given that – if I had to work on the three wide open images from each lens (I pretty much always shoot portraits wide open), what do I get? I’ve deliberately over-edited a little – particularly the eyes (using a detail extractor) because I wanted to see what information was there to be had and to share it with you. They are all edited slightly differently but with the aim of them bringing the best out of the lenses while getting them to a fairly similar end point:

1st CANON, 2nd LEICA, 3rd JUPITER – all wide open

Canon85mmf1.2Edited

leica80mmf1.4Edited

Jupiter85mmf2Edited

I found the results surprising. The ‘crunchiness’ of the Canon (something I’d have never attributed to it prior to putting it against the Leica) was difficult to overcome. Transitions between light and shade seemed to accentuate really easily in the edit and I found the highlights difficult to control too (perhaps related to the sensor rather than the lens). The Leica on the other hand is, I think, quite beautiful – I’ve been able to reveal the sharpness of the lens (look at the eyes) but the softness and smoothness puts the Canon to shame – at least in my view. Then there’s the Jupiter – a dark horse: with a careful edit, it performs really well. Given that it cost me less than 5% of either the Canon (new) or Leica (used) that’s remarkable. I should say I used the EVF for both the Jupiter and the Leica. The Leica isn’t coupled so that was a must, but my Jupiter was designed for another camera and can be a bit focus shifted on an M.

For me the quality of the Leica has surprised me and shows that sharpness on its own can leave you wanting. This test allowed me to be happy to let the Canon 85mm f/1.2 L II go, and with it the 5D III and the other lenses too. That’s allowed me to buy a Sony A7 II, a Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8, a Voigtlander close focus M to E adaptor and a Canon 50mm f/0.95 rangefinder coupled lens, which I will get back in a few days when its conversion to M mount is done. I’ve also bought a dinky Nippon Kogaku (Nikkor) 5cm f/1.4 SC for a bit of fun after having let my Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar go too. I’m finding I’m preferring a more classic low contrast look nowadays. So with those bits of kit and some LTM to M adapter rings, I can use all but the Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 on both cameras and I’ve kept some autofocus capability for shooting moving targets too. Additionally, I think the A7 II with its in-body stabilisation might be useful for some low light work when the need calls.

Altogether I feel I have gained flexibility from making the change.

A final word on the Leica 80mm f/1.4 though… It might not stay. I love how it looks, I’ve included a couple of real (non-test) shots below, but as an R lens it is a bit of a pain to use. Shooting it wide open requires precise focus and it doesn’t exhibit enough contrast for focus peaking to be effective so focusing through the EVF (it can’t be done any other way) needs to be done in zoom. Since there is no coupling, this requires the button on the front of the camera to be pressed, the eyes located, precise focus found (without peaking), the button pressed again to de-zoom, and the frame recomposed. By which time your subject is frustrated. As am I.

So there you have it, a long and rambling lens comparison posting that started out as an exercise for me to inform myself. I hope sharing it will be of interest to others too. I’m not sure how many comparisons between those particular portrait lenses are out there – I haven’t come across any.

At the moment then, I’m really looking forward to getting the 0.95 Canon back, something I wouldn’t have been able to justify buying without selling on the Canon SLR kit and I do feel broadly happy with the lenses I have. I may yet get a stronger 35mm and I may yet swap out the Leica R too.

So, thanks for reading and I’ll leave you with a couple of shots that I made with the 80mm f/1.4 Summilux R. After all, I may not be keeping it for long…

Canal1

Canal2

I hope this reads alright Steve. I’ll send the images on in following emails – it might take two or three.

I hope you will be able to let me know whether you think it is suitable – I hope it is!

Cheers

Paul

—–

From Steve: As always, for your Leica needs I recommend Ken Hanson, PopFlash.com and LeicaStoreMiami.com

Mar 112015
 

What I learned from trading a DSLR for a phone.

By Brandon Labbe

NOTE: All images in this post are phone images. 

It is expected that a photographer wouldn’t revert to a lesser camera once they’ve used a professional one, however my experience has proven otherwise, and while I did indeed go back to using a professional camera in the end, I learned a lot along the way.

I could go into painstaking detail on the cameras I’ve owned, how they compared with each other and with other brands, but that would take much too long. I’ll at least name what I was planning on upgrading to, the Canon 6D, because for subconscious psychological reasons I don’t have the time or credentials to delve into, I am one who normally practices a sort of brand loyalty that could be described as borderline religious. That being said, in the year 2014 I had not shied away from photography itself, but from dslrs. In the years before, I’d taken a dslr nearly everywhere with me, but I’d noticed something in 2014 about my camera that I hadn’t noticed before. There was dust on it. Without even being aware of it, so much time passed between the few times I used it that a noticeable amount of dust gathered on it like one would expect to find on a book. An even bigger surprise met me at the end of the year: I had only taken the camera out of the house 4 times, as opposed to 40 times in 2013. When I was trying to think of what could explain the dramatic decline in my photography between the two years, it hit me: at the end of 2013, and I mean quite literally the very end of 2013 (it came in the mail late in the afternoon on December 31st), I had bought my first smart phone, a Samsung Galaxy S (not an S5 or S4, just a plain old S).

2014-05-30 15.28.45 1500

 

I’d owned phones with cameras before, but as anyone who ever used those would know, flip-phone cameras are pathetic. They took pictures that were never really meant to leave the phone, as on a computer they only looked good when viewed at the size of a thumbnail, but I digress. On the night I received the phone, I was heading out to view the New Year fireworks, and even though I hadn’t had the phone for more than 3 hours, and I used the camera on it only once to test the quality, when it came time to leave, I made a last-minute decision to just take my phone and leave my dslr behind. I didn’t know why I did it. I’d never done it before, but it just felt right to leave it. I just knew I wouldn’t miss it. I think you can see where this is going. Throughout the year there were many times I felt comfortable enough with my phone to leave my dslr behind, and after some months there wasn’t even a question about it. I just packed my dslr into its never-used camera bag to keep it from getting dustier, and I practically forgot I even owned it. Sure enough, by the end of the year I’d amassed 1500 photos on my phone. Not nearly as many as I took with my dslr the year before, but still quite a lot.

2014-05-30 15.34.53 1500

Why did I do this? I didn’t think about it at the time, but it was the weight and size of the dslr that I apparently found repulsive compared to the phone. That much was obvious, but the amount of photos was a curious thing. Why did I take much fewer photos with my go-to camera (the phone) in 2014 than with my go-to camera (the dslr) in 2013? Two reasons: first, my phone has a short battery life, limiting the amount of pictures I could take. Second: my phone was pocketable while my dslr was always in my hand. I went rather photo-crazy with my dslr, taking multiple photos a minute, where as with my phone I thought about each picture, sometimes reaching for it, pausing, and putting my hand back down when I realized the image before me wasn’t special enough. I should note that while I can’t pocket the A7II, it’s light enough that it can hang from my neck as opposed to my constantly having to hold the heavier dslr that would give me neck pains if I let go of it. The limited battery of the A7II also keeps me in check, just like the phone. Like countless experts have said, limiting the amount of pictures you can take makes you more selective with taking pictures and that makes you better at thinking about pictures before you take them. This is the argument as to why you should learn photography with film, but a limited battery gives you the same discipline without the anxiety of not knowing if a picture came out well. Also, hanging a camera from your neck as opposed to always holding it in your hand makes you less of a shutter bug. I know these are tips that have been echoed a thousand times before, but what made them so meaningful in this situation is that I learned them without even realizing I was learning them.

2014-11-08 14.04.58 1500

Since it wasn’t till the end of October that I realized it wasn’t photography I was tired of, but dslrs, and the A7II was to be released in just 2 months, I held out on buying a new camera till the A7II came out. It wasn’t until I went lens shopping online that I partially realized another valuable lesson I apparently learned while using my phone as my go-to camera for nearly a year. I was torn between 2 options: the Zeiss 24-70mm 4 and, for reasons I didn’t even know at the time, the 35mm 2.8.

While I luckily never went through a ‘carry everything’ phase that some photographers go through when they’re starting out, from the time I bought my first dslr I always had a zoom lens, an 18-55mm (28-90 full frame) and I’d heard of prime lenses, but I was convinced that I’d die without a zoom lens. With that same mentality, I told myself, when shopping for lenses, “obviously I’m getting the zoom,” but when I saw the size of the lens, I cringed because it would make the A7II as long and nearly as heavy as one of my older, cheaper dslrs, which was still too big, and then I saw the 35mm, and it was like hearing angels singing, because it was a small lens that was rated very well and it hardly added mass to the body. There was just the little problem of “I’d die without a zoom lens,” but when I thought about it, I realized that for the last year with the phone I’d basically been using a prime lens (because I certainly didn’t use the ghastly digital zoom) and I even remembered in the first month wishing I could zoom with it but by the end of the year I never thought that and I was content with the phone’s fixed focal length (and sure enough, when looking up the phone’s specs, the phone’s lens’ focal length was equal to a 35mm full frame lens). I’d wanted to switch to using a prime lens before, because experts say it makes you a better photographer, making you visualize a picture before you take it, but what always held me back was the thought that It would be too limiting for me and I’d miss all sorts of shots, but in using my phone, I made the change I was scared to make without even realizing I made it!

2014-11-12 07.16.30 1500

I was still nervous when I bought the lens that I’d hate it and think it was too limiting, but in the 2 months I’ve owned the A7II I’ve already taken it out of the house more than I took the dslr out in 2014 and not only did I not feel the need for a zoom lens, but I actually felt better without it. With a zoom lens, I’d always find myself stopping and seeing which focal length would make a certain shot perfect, and that took time, perhaps not a lot of time, but seconds add up, and ultimately it just takes you out of the moment more. Well, that and holding the camera in your hand and taking a hundred photos where a dozen or even fewer would suffice, and what’s the point of capturing a moment when you’re detached from it?

If you make all of the mistakes that I made before quitting dslrs (taking too many pictures, using a zoom lens, using gear that’s too big, etc), I wouldn’t tell you to use a phone, but you can skip that step and learn all of the things I did by getting one of the Sony A7 models (with your best bet being the A7II) and a prime lens that suits you’re style of photography. For example, I like 35mm where some people like Henri Cartier Bresson think anything wider than 50mm is blasphemy. To each their own, Mr. Bresson.

2014-06-03 08.26.07 1500

This isn’t really related, but one thing I found myself doing with the A7II from day 1 is using the fully manual mode. I don’t know about Nikon, but manual mode looked so complicated on Canon dslrs that the very sight of the ‘M’ on the mode dial gave me chills. I always had it in automatic, but that wasn’t always a good thing because while I got most of the shots I wanted, I missed some because they were over or underexposed to a degree that I couldn’t do much for them even in photoshop or lightroom.

One final note. Be warned, though, the following isn’t for the faint of heart. Having used a phone as my go-to camera for nearly a year, I grew so used to looking at the screen to compose pictures, as there was no viewfinder, that I find myself only using the lcd screen of the A7II and even find myself wishing it didn’t have the viewfinder, as I feel it’s just unneeded bulk. I know, I’m probably the only person who’s used an A7II and thought that, but it’s true. I’d buy the RX1, but the tech is older and it doesn’t have a grip. If the RX2 is a fixed prime lens (I’ve heard rumors that it might be a zoom; I hope that’s not true) and it has a grip like the A7II, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. Who knows, maybe I’ll warm up to the viewfinder eventually, but right now the live view on the screen is an appealing reminder of a phone where as the viewfinder is like an ugly reminder of my dslr days.

Brandon Labbe

Mar 102015
 

poster

Road Trip – A video from 8000 stills and the Sony RX1

by Ofer Rozenman

sony-rx1-leak-1

I’m a frequent reader of your blog and really like the content you post. Last year you shared a video of mine and recently I’ve finished working on a new stop motion road trip video which I thought you might also like:

On September `14 my wife and I traveled with our friends to eastern Europe. As designated shooter I’ve tried capturing the road trip with this stop motion video made of 200GB and 8000 stills. Enjoy! Sony RX1 for the stills!

Showreel: rozenmanofer.wix.com/showreel

Route: Sarajevo (Bosnia) – Mostar (Bosnia) – Dubrovnik (Croatia) – Lokrum (Croatia) – Cavtat (Croatia) – Prcanj (Montenegro) – Split (Croatia) – Sibenik (Croatia) – Baska (Croatia) – Postojna (Slovenia) – Venice (Italy) – Plitvice lakes (Croatia) – Zagreb (Croatia)

Equipment: Sony RX1.

Music:Big Jet Plane (Radio Edit)” by Angus and Julia Stone 

As themselves: Sanda Krsho, Milen Debensason, Liran Hadaya

Everything else: Ofer Rozenman

Mar 102015
 

Ice Hotel-10

Ice Cool X-Series

By Ben Cherry

A little about me: I’ve written two previous reports for Steve Huff Photo, it is also a pleasure to be involved with this fantastic site. I describe myself as an Environmental Photojournalist with a bit of a travel addiction, so when Untravelled Paths Ltd got in touch about going to photograph an Ice Hotel in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania I jumped at the chance. You can see more of my work through the following links:

Websitewww.bencherryphotos.com
Twitter - https://twitter.com/Benji_Cherry
Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/BenCherryPhotography
Instagramhttp://instagram.com/benji_cherry/

This was my first international assignment using only the X-Series, having recently moved away from a Canon + Fujifilm set up to purely a Fujifilm set up. One of the main reasons for switching to this set up is the compact design of the gear, allowing me to keep much more gear in my carry-on bag without having to store any electronics/glass in the hold (a no-go for me because of the increased likelihood of damage to equipment).

Conditions were cold, as you can guess as it was an ICE hotel, but thankfully the gear didn’t skip a beat. Windchill factor in some instances must have been well into the minus teens celsius.

Ice Hotel-2

Ice Hotel-3

Ice Hotel-4

For much of the trip I was using two X-T1 cameras with the following lenses: 10-24mm, 23mm, 56mm and 50-140mm. These are some of the best lenses I have ever used: fast, sharp and just a pleasure to use. The recently released 16-55mm would have also been helpful because of the weather resistance and the up and coming 16mm looks to be another gorgeous low light prime. I have very few negative words to say about any of this kit, the one thing I wish was different was that the 10-24mm had some weather resistance. Generally I had the 10-24mm on one X-T1 and the 50-140mm on the other. When I was outside in relatively heavy snow and a very sharp wind I was a bit concerned about the lens but it survived!

The other thing that I wish was different is the ability to fire a flash signal to external flashes/triggers in the continuous shooting modes on the X-T1. This would be really helpful when using quick recycling flashes to photograph scenes which are evolving quickly. After all, the camera should only have to send a signal to fire the flash, even if this was just for manual flashes initially it would be helpful. These two criticisms are made not to spit the products, as I love them to bits, but because I know this will make its way to Fujifilm and they will consider it in future developments. It is refreshing to see a company really take constructive criticism and often implement suitable changes to further the development of already very successful products.

Ice Hotel-5

Ice Hotel-6

Ice Hotel-7

I really enjoyed the different film settings available, it meant that I could quickly change the look of the photos I captured when the conditions changed. However, most of the time I used Velvia as I loved the strong colour saturation, especially when the sun was shining or I was photographing indoors with LED lights imbedded into the ice.

Ice Hotel-8

Ice Hotel-9

Ice Hotel-10

As well as the X-T1s I also had my ever-present X100s with me. This is such a great camera (yes I know the T is out and is a big improvement), so small and discreet, it is brilliant for taking shots in almost every situation. Here is an example where this elderly gentleman didn’t speak any English but we managed to just about communicate, using this little camera he was happy and at ease with me taking his portrait.

Ice Hotel

A large proportion of the shots required were of the buildings interiors. For this I used two Godox V850 manual flashes for large rooms such as the Ice Church. The advantage of these flashes is that they run on lithium rechargeable batteries which are equivalent to 12 AA batteries, this was a major advantage because it meant that I didn’t actually have to change batteries once, even in the cold conditions. However, more often than not I was using the Nissin i40 flash, a brilliant compact TTL flash that really proved its worth on this trip. Being able to use this with a TTL cable and a shoot-through umbrella meant that I could efficiently get through the twelve unique bedrooms in a few hours. The importance of this was being able cope with the cold! Being relatively motionless in a building made of ice for a long period of time means your body temperature quickly falls. Thankfully the six layers I had on at the time kept me working for those few hours.

The X-Series has allowed my photography to really develop over the past two years of using it. It gives me back control through the dials which encourage creativity and certainly makes me think more before shooting. I find myself not missing my old equipment or the full frame sensor aspect, all in all I am very happy with the Fujifilm set up and its ability to cope with harsh conditions.

Feb 272015
 

Kids & Flash

By Warren Street

Love the site and look often. Very informative and fair in an unpretentious way. So right up my alley.

I recently bought a flash cord for my D3100 after seeing some of Larry Finks photos and loving the look and feel that to me really highlight emotions.

Being a 9 to 5 Dad of 3 kids means I’m not home a lot but when I am home it’s my job to get the kids ready for bed. One of the things that strike me is the number of different emotions we go through as we get ready and it’s a perfect time to put the camera in one hand and the flash in the other. I’m always amazed at the results I get. When you look at these you can really see so much. From what’s obvious to the subtleties between the kids.

From a technique perspective I shoot manual so I can stop motion(it’s action after all) and also have a decent depth of field as focus is not always so sharp. I’ve shot a couple of parties just for friend(I’m not a pro) and they always come out interesting and unique.

I hope you enjoy.

Warren Street.

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Feb 202015
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SONY A7s and A7II

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

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

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

CLICK all images for larger and much better view

The A7II and Leica Noctilux at 0.95

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ISO 32,000 with the A7s – Mitakon 50 0.95

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

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The Sony A7s and 55 1.8

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A7s again..

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A7II and Noctilux..and amazing combo

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

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

Fuji X-T1 and X100T

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

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

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

Typical Fuji look in normal light..

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

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

Olympus E-M1 and E-M5II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nocticron goodness…f/1.2

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

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

Leica M 240

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

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

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

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

The M with the 50 APO

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The M with a Voigtlander 50 1.5

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The M with a 90 Elmarit

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50 APO again

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Noctilux

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35 Cron

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

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

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

Feb 192015
 

Crazy Comparison!

Olympus E-M1 with 40-150 f/2.8 vs Sony A7s with 70-200 f/4

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Many have asked for this as well as a Olympus/Sony/Fuji crazy comparison so I will start this one off with a Olympus vs Sony JUST FOR FUN Crazy Comparison! I will be using the E-M1 and the Sony A7s because the E-M1 is the flagship from Olympus and the Sony A7s is closest to the Megapixel count of the E-M1 as well as Sony’s “flagship” A7 series product. If I used the A7II it would have been an 8MP difference vs the 4 MP difference of the A7s and E-M1.

The two lenses used will be the Pro Olympus 40-150 f/2.8 which is a fantastic lens that gives an equivalent of 80-300mm with the light gathering of an f/2.8 lens. The Sony 70-200 f/4 has a constant f/4 aperture yet it is the larger lens with the Olympus being a bit smaller. They are the same price coming in at a cool $1500. The Olympus is weather sealed and has a great integrated slide out hood included.

Next week I will do another more involved comparison, probably my most extensive to date using the Fuji X-T1, Olympus E-M1 and Sony A7s or A7II.

For now, I will keep it simple with two shots. What i am looking for is sharpness, color performance, and overall pop of the shot. Just how much difference will there be using a flagship Micro 4/3 camera and lens vs a killer full frame A7s and premium telephoto?

1st up, a simple shot for detail and color and bokeh…

A simple tree shot to show detail, color and bokeh. 1st up, the Olympus shot. If you right-click and choose “open in new window” you will see the full size image where you can pixel peep to you hearts content. I love the color, sharpness and pop. The bokeh is quite nice as well. Used the 40-150 f/2.8 Zoom at 2.8. On my 27″ screen this image has some real POP and detail.

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Same shot as above but resized with a full 100% crop embedded. To those who can’t see the full size shot for some reason, you can see the crop here. 

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Now the Sony A7s, same shot. 70-200 Lens at f/4. The color is a bit dull in comparison to the Olympus as is the pop. Bokeh is a tad smoother though neither is bad. I love both in this regard. The Olympus is sharper and the edges are sharper as well with the E-M1 file. A tad more shallow DOF due to focal length differences. (True vs Equiv)

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For those who can not see the full size shot above see the same image below resized with a full 100% crop embedded..

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So from what I see here, the Olympus lens and E-M1 combo produce a more exciting image here. More pop, more detail and more OOMPH! You can see the color differences here easily. As for Bokeh/DOF, f/2.8 on the E-M1 is about the same as the f/4 – f/5.6 on the full frame Sony with a tad more blur going to the Sony (for DOF only). This is a true 40mm vs an 80mm here, so this is why. With the Olympus you are getting a TRUE 40mm f/2.8 and with the Sony a TRUE 80mm f/4. Longer focal length = less (more shallow) DOF.  With the Olympus you are indeed getting TRUE f/2.8 light gathering and 40mm (not 80mm) f/2.8 DOF with an 80mm FIELD OF VIEW.

Let’s try one more image …here you can see the DOF differences with the A7s giving you a more shallow DOF at f/4 than the Olympus will give you at f/2.8. For many, they would take the sharper image and larger DOF of the E-M1 over the less detailed and more shallow DOF of the Sony. The same goes for the other way around..many would choose the creamier Sony version over the more sharp Olympus version.

Interesting to see that at 40mm (80 Equivalent on full frame) and at f/2.8 the Olympus E-M1 is bitingly sharp with more depth of field than the Sony file at 80mm and f/4. This is because the Olympus is actually shooting at 40mm, which will always give you more depth of field (less blur) as it is a wider lens. If I plopped the amazing 75 1.8 on the E-M1 and shot at f/4 we would get the same Bokeh as we do from the Sony at f/4 but we would have a 150mm equivalent focal length. It’s all about the lens focal length so even though we are testing a 40mm vs a 80mm, the Olympus 40mm turns into a 80mm for magnification but retains the Bokeh of a 40mm lens. So this is indeed a true 40mm f/2.8 shot for light gathering and bokeh. But we have an 80mm magnification. Understand? Hope so because many do not and get this so wrong. 

The E-M1

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The Sony A7s image at 80mm and f/4 gives us a more shallow DOF as we are truly shooting an 80mm lens. So more blur and a more “organic” looking image. If I shot the Olympus image with the 42 1.2 Nocticron it would offer even more shallow DOF than the Sony image below and be sharper. So again, it all comes down to lens and what we see here is a 40mm f/2.8 lens vs an 80mm f/4 lens and while the magnification appears similar (because it is) the DOF will always be different. For some, shooting full frame is more of a challenge due to the shallow DOF. 

UPDATE: This is the CORRECT Sony image with CORRECT focus. Thank you.

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So at the end of the day I own both of these cameras. My Sony comes out when I want ultra creamy shallow DOF or when I want to shoot with Leica M glass. The Olympus comes out when I want to do video (love my 8mm and 12mm primes with 5 axis video) and use a telephoto or use a special prime such as the Nocticron or Voigtlander 25 0.95 or my 8mm Fisheye..or when I want to do night long exposures or will shoot in adverse weather.

There is no winner here, but there can be a “preference”. What is yours?

More Sharpness with more depth of field (Olympus) or a more creamy shallow DOF look (Sony)? BOTH lenses are around $1500 and having both here side by side I can say with confidence that the Olympus 40-150 f/2.87 is technically the better lens. It is better built, weather sealed, has an amazing pull out hood attached and is probably the best lens made for Micro 4/3 (though my fave is still the Nocticron) as well as giving you the light gathering of an f/2.8 lens, fast and accurate focusing and amazing IQ. The Sony is larger, white for some reason, and f/4 but made for full frame and has OIS built in. Both are $1500. Same price. I own both systems..if I were to buy a lens of this type it would hands down be the Olympus 40-150 over the Sony.

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See the Sony 70-200 at B&H Photo HERE. 

See the Olympus 40-150 at B&H Photo HERE.

Also, For those who say the E-M1 can’t do high ISO, here is a quick snap at night using the Nocticron at 1.2 – ISO 6400 with no noise reduction at all. Click it for larger. Usually 6400 is my max with the E-M1 though I have used 10k ISO images. With the A7s, my cut off is 80K ISO ;) Yes, the A7s is the king of high ISO without question and the Micro 4/3 system can not even get close to what it can do at ultra high ISO.

But at 6400, the E-M1 retains color, sharpness and the files look great. Its all about exposure and NOT using noise reduction…

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…and an ISO 10,000 shot from the E-M1 without any NR..stays sharp as can be, even at f/1.2…

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…and just for fun, a bokeh shot with the 12mm f/2  – Olympus

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Feb 172015
 

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The Leica M 240 – Plasti Dipped!

By Darren Wong

As an industrial designer, ux architect and general photo dude, I’m pretty fond of the processes and physical tools in which we create our work, be it our phones, computers, kitchen knives, pens, or cameras. These tools themselves can be a treasured item to be coddled or handed down to the next or an object that inspires confidence to go out and use them; some of the greater designs out there can be a bit of both. In the end though, tools are just that: a means to create something meaningful in our lives and possibly others.

However, as a lot of folks on this site and other gearheads know, we like to make the tools that we use our own complete with fancy or functional straps, bags, gaffers tape, bling, or sharpies. When the day came to upgrade my Black M9-P, I was presented with the opportunity to score one of the first Silver M240s here in LA and as soon as it popped out of the box, I stripped the red paint off the dot for an instant pseudo M240-P look even before Leica slapped a giant 300 dollar screw on theirs maybe a year later. Since then it’s never really left my side in my daily life and travels and his been a great companion scarred with use. However classic, iconic and beautiful any Silver Leica looks, I couldn’t help but feel it did indeed get a bit more attention while walking around and it was about time for an experiment.

I was looking for a solution that was preferably non-permanent and even though I’ve spent many of hours around model shops and paint booths, I was a bit less familiar with Plasti Dip, a spray-on or paint-on rubberized substance that’s graced the surfaces of workshop tools and used by custom car enthusiasts alike. Known for it’s grippy and durable finish, it’s also completely removable on most finished surfaces leaving little to no residue if the coating is thick enough (~2+ m). My biggest concern was the resolution of pigment in the atomized spray as I didn’t want to gum up any of buttons or internals. I took to the internets to find any information on spraying this stuff on cameras, but came up short with only a few dudes using them on GoPros, repairing camera bellows, and coating circuit boards – at least I knew it wouldn’t affect any of the circuitry if it did happen to penetrate. After a successful test on a beater Nikkormat, it was time to get down on the M240!

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[DISCLAIMER: Use this information at your own risk. I or this site take no responsibility messing up your camera. I have somewhat decent modeling experience but even I was a pretty cautious and/or crazy throughout the process.]

Supplies: M240, Pocket rocket blower thing, Isopropyl 95% alcohol, microfiber cloth, Plasti Dip, carbide Xacto, a standard ¼”-20 screw, some painters/artist tape, some toothpicks, and some scrap wood to mount the parts on. Not in anyway sponsored by any of the above products – brand names are just for contextual use.

With some quick masking of the middle section and a once over with an alcohol wipe to make sure the body was entirely clean (super important), in a well ventilated area away from dust, it took about 3-5 coats at 6 inches with a set time of ~15mins between coats, per surface starting with the small delicate parts first (buttons, toggles, small radii, etc.) and then moving on to the coating the larger body panels. Luckily with the pretty tight tolerances between the buttons and switches on most cameras, Plasti Dip didn’t seem to give me too much of a problem, the spray is thick enough to cover most part-lines without going any deeper or gumming up things like the menu buttons, shutter speed. About 45 mins after the last coat I took my Xacto knife and carefully score around all the (sapphire) windows and used a sharp piece of plastic to score around the non-glass edges. Using the toothpicks, delicately peeled away from all the parts I wanted to leave uncoated. It’s important to score, release buttons, and peel off the rubber at this stage as it’s easier to get cleaner lines around these delicate parts.

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Left to finish curing for another 4 hours or so, I’m pretty stoked. The result is an almost fully murdered out soft-touch rubberized Leica M240 with an overall grippier feel, a bit more durable, and best of all completely reversible! It’s definitely a process but possibly a nice alternative to sharpies, gaffed up bodies, and DigitalRev style pinkentas!

Thanks for letting me share Steve! Shouts to the Todd Hatakeyama and the LA Photo Gang!
Cheers,
Darren Wong

Twitter & Instagram: @sticboy
[email protected]
sticboy.com | zeroninefive.com

Cheers,
Darren Wong

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Feb 172015
 

Another photographer’s 365 project.

By Hilmar Buch

I can hear you guys sighing… but please keeping reading.

As many other photographers I decided to do a 365 project which for me meant to take a photo every single day throughout the entire year of 2013. Yes, we are talking 2013. It’s only a few days ago that I eventually finished off this project. Of course, I took all the photos in 2013 but editing and processing my images took until this time of year (February 2015).

01 January Binoculars

Apart from some wedding jobs I love to do as the primary shooter for friends and colleagues I am not a professional photographer. Thus, carrying out a 365 days photo project forced me to cope with the normal workload in my regular job as well as to convince myself to look for photo opportunities regardless of whether I felt tired or unmotivated. And I can tell you that this happened rather often.

For example, my girlfriend and I did some extensive traveling in 2013 to Namibia (see my earlier report on Steve’s website HERE.  Also Portugal HERE. As easy as it is to go with the flow on your vacation and feel inspired by the people you meet and the landscapes you see, the difficult it is to withstand the creative gap after being back home. If you have a look at the photos I took the days right after returning home, you can clearly see how bad these photos are because I did not feel inspired at all.

02 February Travelling across the universe

Or imagine your regular work day that sometimes can be really challenging. Feeling extremely exhausted when leaving the office in the cold dark winter night makes it hard to feel motivated to find a great photo opportunity, in particular if you only want to get home as fast as possible or have other personal obligations to meet. Taking a decent photo under these circumstances is not easy and a few times I felt like stopping my photo project from one day to another.

03 March Munich in the 1960s

These are the bad feeling that naturally arose but I do not want to complain at all as I enjoyed doing what I did! I did not give up.

I did the project just for myself in order to progress and to work with continuity on my photography skills. It definitely paid off I find. Although I do not know whether I got any better in the course of 2013 I can say that going out and just doing it yielded some photos I would never have gotten if I had not taken the effort to try. Without carrying out the project I would have taken far less photos and I would not have carried the camera with me almost all the time (I rather wore the camera than just took it with me…).

04 April Crane Stories - old vs new

05 Mai The silhouette

And often when I had no desire to shoot and when I was sure I would not enjoy it I was rewarded big time. My mood changed while I was taking photos and sometimes I met interesting people or found interesting places I would never have seen if I had stayed at home. So this was something I learned. By hindsight this experience means more to me than improving my photography skills although the latter were the primary reason for getting me started.

07 July Untouchable

09 September Street portrait

10 Oktober Lisboa you love or hate it

When I have a look at my photos these days, I am of course not content with every photo I took. Most of the photos are not special and just depict everyday life. But that is absolutely alright with me. I must not forget that for an entire year I got off my backside every single day and tried to capture something. The project is not about the single image but about my feelings, my challenge for power of endurance and me trying to do the best under the specific conditions.

06 June No standing

As I cannot show off all the photos I took in 2013, I chose one picture per month. If you want to have a look at the entire project, please follow the link to my website which can be found here:
http://hilminson.com/album/threesixfive-13?p=1

Cheers,
Hilmar

Feb 112015
 

The Power of the Olympus E-M5 II – Long Exposures

By Steve Huff

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Remember when I said that Olympus is a company that INNOVATES? They seem to surprise the hell out of me with every camera release. After the amazing E-M5 Mk I I thought…what else can they do? Then they released the E-M1 which is a POWERHOUSE, and I have owned one since release and now own a beautiful silver version. The system, the lenses, the capabilities..are pretty much unrivaled by ANYONE, even the Big C and N.

Now with the E-M5 MkII they did it again. Updated and upgraded the 5 Axis IS to a 5 Stop Performance increase, added a side swivel LCD, put in the large EVF of the E-M1, and added the High Res 40Mp shot mode (creates 107MB RAW files) and the camera also has the Live Time and Live Composite features of the E-M1 and other Olympus Micro 4/3 Cameras.

My review will be coming soon for the E-M5II but just wanted to share an image from last night. I was out with Alex McClure, a friend of mine who lives not too far from me who happens to be an Olympus Visionary. We headed out to a spot in the Desert that he knew of and set out to shoot star trails. With Alex giving me some tips (I have never done this before) it took literally 3 minutes to be off and running.

A video I did showing the E-M5II and E-M1 side by side

The Lens I used was the wonderful Panasonic 8mm Fisheye. The total exposure time? Just around 40 MINUTES! This was using LIVE COMPOSITE which NO OTHER camera system has. Basically you set it to Live Composite…then take ONE image. The camera exposes the scene perfectly so your subject (in my case below, the cacti) is perfectly exposed. You then press the shutter again and it stays open while giving you LIVE Updates on your LCD showing real time exposure. What it was doing was taking 20 second exposures and stacking them in camera. We shot for around 40 minutes at ISO 1000.

After closing the shutter, the finished image popped up on my LCD in about 10 seconds. What you see below is direct from camera, JPEG.

Super easy, super simple. All I needed was the camera, a tripod and a lens. Pretty amazing for 40 minutes of 20 second exposures. Never again will I have to stack images in photoshop. Never again will I have to worry about exposure or over exposure. Normally, just leaving the shutter open would have overexposed the cactus but with Live Composite, no worries. It is genius.

LIVE COMPOSITE MODE  – E-M5 II – Around 40 minutes of 20 second exposures, automatically done in camera. The camera does ALL the work. ISO 1000. The E-M1 also does this. This makes these tools my personal pref for night time long exposure work. It’s just SO easy and foolproof. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

PRE-ORDER the Olympus E-M5II – Ships in less than 2 weeks!

AMAZON 

B&H PHOTO

POPFLASH.COM

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Two more images but these were shot with my E-M1 and were much shorter, using LIVE TIME not LIVE COMPOSITE 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Feb 112015
 

Having fun with incandescent light bulbs

By Dirk Dom

Hi!

Because they’re phasing out incandescent light bulbs, I thought I’d better get a few to show to eventual grandchildren.

Over a few months I obtained 14 1,000 W light bulbs, and now I’ve made a piece in which eight bulbs are connected in series.

Olympus PEN EP-5, macro lens.

Enjoy!

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Jan 302015
 

Not getting the recognition you deserve?

By Brad Husick

Do you shoot with a Leica camera and wish that people would pay homage to you for that expensive purchase? The Leica red dot is supposed to do that, but let’s face it – that dot is just too damn small! In some cases, like the Monochrom or the M9-P there’s no dot at all! What were they thinking??? Why do I use this camera anyway?

Well now there’s a solution. The LBRD. Leica Big Red Dot. Just apply the self-adhesive LBRD to any Leica (or any other camera for that matter) and get the instant recognition you deserve as a photography equipment connoisseur.

Free at your local Leica boutique. I got mine at the Bellevue, WA Leica boutique.

– Brad

big red dot

Jan 292015
 

USER REPORT : The best tool ever for black and white photography

by Elie Bescont

Hi Steve, hi Brandon,

Happy new year to you and your loved ones, and to all of you reading this article. Thank you again for having me writing on your website.

Today, we are going to talk about black and white photography, but I would recommend you to read this even if you are not into b&w photography because what I am going to discuss here is an important step for color photography too. I will be dealing with black and white photography here because it is the most simple way to explain what I am going to teach some of you.

I have been thinking about writing an article dealing with post-processing for a while now because while it is a key step in creating your own images and developing your own vision, most articles dealing with post-processing on the internet are totally incomprehensible and useless. Most articles I found deal with a particular Photoshop or Lightroom tool, like “today, we are going to show you how to use the liquify tool in Photoshop”. That’s cool, but not really helping actually. You want to develop your own vision to give your images their own character that will allow anyone to identify any of your pictures as one of your pictures just by looking at it, and knowing how to use the “liquify” tool in Photoshop won’t really help you in that matter if you see what I mean. You need a tool to help you develop your style (which is you vision – your own way of seeing things) by using any Photoshop (or whatever) tool at your disposal. You need to develop your own graphic signature and you are tired of browsing the internet for the solution? Keep reading, your might find something interesting.

At this point, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Elie, and that’s how I see the world that surrounds me today: https://www.flickr.com/photos/92813485@N05/sets/72157636422545586/

We all have our own way of seeing the world. We don’t take the same pictures, you have your very own eye and you sould exploit this gift during the shooting process and during the post-processing process too. Today, I will introduce you to the best tool ever for post-processing, and I will apply it to black and white photography. I’m pretty sure you all read books and watched interviews of great photographers explaining how to think your pictures during the shooting process, they mainly deal with composition, timing and that sort of things. There is also a method for post-processing, no matter the software you are using, and no matter if you shoot digital or film. If you don’t use a method, prepare to improve the quality of your photographs.

So the other day, I was walking in Paris with my friend Stan. I brought with me the best camera there is for black and white photography: the Leica M Monochrom, and I decided to take a picture of him with a 35mm lens. Here is the RAW file straight from the camera

93038101L1021970SteveHuffRAW

Well, it looks nice. Focus is a bit off because the rangefinder wasn’t calibrated with the lens but it’s no big deal. What bothers me here is the ultimate flatness of this image. It’s all grey with nothing really standing out and that’s great because it means that I have a great latitude now in creating my own vision of this portrait. Well, what should I do now? Should I start to twist random buttons on Lightroom until I get a satisfying result? Should I just add more contrast and export the image as it is? No. The first thing to do is to take a look at it and think. What is important here? Please, take a look at this picture. Do it and ask yourself the question. What is important? What is key? What is not? Do it. Look at his face, look at his clothes, look at the different parts of the background. We have to select important things that we want to enhance, and unnecessary things that we want to turn the viewer’s attention from.

Here are my thoughts.

Important things:
+ Stan (my subject here).
+ His face.
+ His eyes, nasal base and mouth.
+ His clothes.
+ The ramp of the bridge.

Unnecessary things:
– The empty part on the right.
– The empty part on the top (the sky).

Take another look at the image to make sure you agree with me. What I want here is my subject to stand out from the composition. I also want his face to stand out even more, and particularly key details like his eyes, his nasal base and his mouth. I also think that his clothes are an important part of the subject. I think that all the part on the right of the image is not important except the ramp of the bridge that adds perspective to the composition.

There are basically three ways of enhancing something in black and white photography. You can lighten it, you can add more contrast to it, or you can add more microcontrast (i.e. structure, or clarity) to it. There are three ways of driving one’s attention away from something in black and white photography. You can darken it, you can lessen contrast locally, or you can lessen microcontrast locally. It’s amazing how easy that sounds.

In visual terms, here is my plan

91016902L1021970plan

Green circled parts are zones that I want to lighten. I want to lighten my subject, and I want to lighten his face even more so it stands out and gets the viewer’s attention. I also want to add more contrast to these zones for the same reason.

Blue circled parts are zones where I want more microcontrast to make little details pop. So I want details of his face to get the viewer’s attention, and I want more crisp on his clothes, I want it to look more real. I also want this ramp on the right to stand out.

I want to darken the entire zone further the red line on the right to center the viewer’s attention on my subject. I might lighten the ramp a little bit to balance this effect on the ramp only. I also want to darken the zone above the red line near the top of the image so the sky won’t burst.

What I just did is the logical continuation to the composition of my image, i.e. when I decided what should be in the frame and what shouldn’t. We just went a little further and decided from what’s in the frame, what is important and what is not. Now that we have a raw image and a plan to get the best from it, we can get to work on Lightroom a little bit.

First, we decided to add more light and more contrast to the whole subject so I selected the zone using the brush tool on Lightroom and increased exposure to +0.21 and contrast to +16 (which is a lot, but the files that the Monochrom gives are really flat). I felt that a touch of microcontrast here won’t hurt so I increased clarity to +2.

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Then, I decided to lighten his face so here we go. Exposure +0.14, contrast +16.

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I wanted his eyes, base of nose and mouth to stand out (it’s all on the plan above). Clarity +9.

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I also wanted to add more crisp to his clothes. Clarity +10.

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You can already see a difference between the raw file and what we have now:

7735647507 2652789308

Well, let’s darken the whole part on the right using the graduated filter tool. Exposure -0.21.

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I will use the same tool to darken the top of the image. Exposure -0.14.

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Oh, and I wanted that ramp to stand out a bit. Back with the brush tool. Exposure +0.07, clarity +10. Don’t hesitate to use a big brush with a high gradient so you won’t see a clear separation of the effect.

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That’s where we are now, before and after:

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That was the really important part because you actually have to make a choice between what’s important and what’s not. What comes next is regular processing, like getting the tone curve to your taste (here, to mine). Highlights -1, lights +17, darks -7, shadows -10

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And now a final calibration of the image on Lightroom. Exposure +0.26, contrast +22, whites +13, clarity +3.

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This is where we came from in the begining, and where we are now:

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This is the image we have now

96870216L10219702SteveHuffFinal

You might wonder what is the real impact of the choices we’ve made during the first step. Here is on the left the RAW file with the same tonal curve and final calibration than the final image on Lightroom. On the right, where we are now. The only difference between these two images is the plan we elaborated for the image on the right:

154443Stanbeforeafter

If you can’t see the difference, you will notice it here for sure:

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Let’s finish that image with Silver Efex Pro 2:

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I like to add a bit of grain, it adds some texture to the image.

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On the left, the raw file out of camera. On the right, the final image after a bit of thinking and some work on Lightroom and Silver Efex:

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Who is flat now?

59551520L1021970Modifier2

You might like what I did with that raw image that came out of the camera, you might not, it doesn’t matter. What really matters is that I made my own decisions. I didn’t just twist buttons until the magic happens, I looked at the picture and thought how it should be. And then I applied my decisions to the picture using Lightroom. It doesn’t matter if you are a master of the paint brush tool or not. You don’t wake up in the morning grabbing a hammer and then wondering what you could do with it that day. You first come up with a project, and if it involves sticking nails in walls then you should start to learn a little bit more about that hammer you stored in the backyard cabin. That’s why all these articles about “that particular tool in Photoshop” are absurd. And that’s why the best tool ever for black and white photography is having a plan for your image before you start twisting buttons and playing with tools.

By the way, my friend Stan is a journalist and photographer. Check his images here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanaron/

Well, a few days before that day, I was still walking in Paris with the Leica Monochrom and I took this picture:

6807228421

Here we go again. What is important? The two characters are important, especially her face. The fountain is important too.

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I want more light to her face (the zone in green). I also want more microcontrast on both subjects and on the fountain (the zones in blue). I want more light to the entire scene, and I want the sky to be a little darker above the red line to keep some details there. To begin with, I will apply a correction to the angle of the image here. Angle -0.75.

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Now let’s add more light to the whole scene. Exposure +0.91, Contrast +5, Whites +20.

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I want to darken the sky a little bit to keep a few details there. Exposure -0.28 using the graduated filter tool:

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I will now reduce the highlights around these lamp posts.

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I wanted more microcontrast on this zone here. Clarity +9.

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I needed more light on her face. Exposure +0.28, contrast +3, Clarity +9.

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I wanted more microcontrast to her eye, nasal base, mouth and ear. Clarity +9.

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I also wanted the details of the splashes to crisp a little bit more. Clarity +5.

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Now let’s get the tonal curve to my taste:

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And we are done. Here is the raw image straight out of camera on the left compared to the final image on the right

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To show you the importance of the selective choices I made during the thinking process, here is the final image on the left with all the tonal curve adjustments and everything, but without local adjustments. On the right, the same image but with local adjustments too. See how her face stands out of the composition to the right.

379361Fountainbeforeafter

You don’t see the difference? Try this way:

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And that’s the final image we just created:

70924133L10118982final

Again, you may like what I did with the raw file, you may not. That’s not important. What really matters is that I made this image like I wanted it to be in the first place, and you should get your images like you want them to be too. This selective method is used in photography since around 1910 and was used to define most of the iconic images you know today. I hope this was a helpful read for the ones who struggle with post-processing. If you shoot color, it’s the exact same method except you enter a fantastic world called chroma which is a bit more complicated than black and white since you can now totally change the color locally. This is a good way to develop your own graphic style because you are the only person in the world who knows exactly what is important in your composition and what is not. I wish you all a happy new year and happy shooting to all of you.

Cheers!
Elie

Jan 282015
 

Dirt Cheap Mirrorless Fun

By Ben Bird

As many of the guest contributors before me have done I want to thank Steve and Brandon for a chance to share my experiences with all of the other readers of Steve’s website. I hope you will find it as enjoyable to read as I have many of your reviews! (Thanks Ben!! – Steve)

I don’t have any exotic gear to review for you, no ultra-rare vintage glass that has been found in an attic and saved from the brink of extinction… nothing terribly exciting… what I do have for you all is a review of a dirt cheap and very fun mirrorless setup that I have been beating around with a lot of average and common legacy glass on some adapters.

Let me back up a bit and give you some context…

(I can assure you it isn’t anything special. You could probably guess the next few paragraphs and be spot on!)
I have been a Canon DSLR shooter for 12 years. I started out with a Rebel XT then moved on to a 20D, a 40D, a 5D Classic and recently a 6D.

I take pictures of anything and everything. I have photographed weddings as a Primary and a second shooter off and on over the last 6 years. I also did portraits, families shoots, seniors and events, but have since retired from those pursuits. I shoot a lot of candid portrait work and spend a lot of my shutter time with family and friends socially.

I also work part-time photographing an amazing local motorcycle shop here in Lincoln Nebraska called Great Plains Cycle Supply. I document the employees, customers, and events for their social media and websites. (Check them out!)

My current full-time day job allows me to work outdoors and I attempt to take my camera with me at all times, never going anywhere without it tagging along… but as we all have experienced, that isn’t always possible.

Eventually the hassle got to me and I started to leave the DSLR at home more and more often.

While I have enjoyed the image quality of my DSLR’s I have long been pining for something smaller and more discreet. The heartbreak of missing a really amazing photo because I simply didn’t want to take my big DSLR along was really taking it’s toll on me. And of course… who doesn’t want to get closer and be ignored more when taking candid photographs of people?

Tou Five Star 1

Ultron 4

As you have no doubt realized, it’s going to be another one of “those” reviews… DSLR to mirrorless… we’ve all read them, and everyone is doing it these days… so I will try to hurry past some of the more cliché parts and spend a little more time on what I can offer that is unique.

I really wanted to try a mirrorless system and see if I could make it work for me… but I was concerned that being a full frame DSLR shooter for so long I would never be able to “let go” of my obsession with full frame “look” and embrace the crop sensor files.

Fortunately I have the internet… and if there is one thing I know how to do well; its kill hours of my life while looking at photographs on the web!

I spent a lot of time enjoying thousands of photos taken with mirrorless cameras and at some point I realized I had forgotten that I was supposed to be analyzing the image quality of the photos and had just been enjoying the photographs! The image quality has ceased to be that big of an issue for me… and I also had realized that no matter how amazing the full frame files looked… if that full frame camera wasn’t with me when the photo presented itself… the photos would never be taken at all… and all that sexy full frame goodness was going to waste at home in the camera bag.

Finally I came to the conclusion I had to try for myself. In my circle of friends the only mirrorless cameras were a couple of Fuji’s. So I borrowed an X100 from my friend and took it for a couple of test drives.

And I was disgusted.

I couldn’t get the camera to cooperate with me; I couldn’t take a decent photo to save my life. I worked and worked and was constantly frustrated. But worst of all… I couldn’t seem to do anything to the Fuji files to make them work for me. I was crushed. I was so ready to be on board… I had seen loads of beautiful Fuji photos, so I knew that the system COULD work… but I couldn’t seem to get the hang of it.

I threw up my hands in disgust and went back to my DSLR’s and said I would never switch over to Fuji.

But, the years went by… and I saw more and more beautiful photos taken not only with Fuji, but also with the other mirrorless systems.

I forgot my disgust and frustration and started to daydream of the day I could carry a tiny discreet camera around my neck all the time.

I tried other systems in the camera stores. I lusted after the RX1 and RX1R, the OMD’s the A7’s and thought that maybe they could work for me but everything was out of reach financially.

A friend of mine had recently left Canon and bought a used X100s and an X Pro 1 for not a lot of money and was making beautiful photos with them on a regular basis. He encouraged me that working with the Fuji files was indeed different and that I should be patient and give it some time before I ruled out Fuji entirely.

I would look at the work done by so many of the great photographers on the web and all of the great reader reviews on this site and say to myself:

“Clearly it can be done right. Why can’t I do that? It has got to be me and not the cameras fault. “

Finally I’d had enough… I decided I had to jump in and actually put the hours into learning the system and stop blaming the equipment. After all… that IS what I preach day in and day out: It’s the photographer… not the camera that makes great photos. I was being a hypocrite.

So it was way past time for me to put my money where my mouth was!

It just so happened that my bank account and I weren’t on speaking terms at the time, so I couldn’t just rush out and snatch up a new system.

So, I looked for the cheapest possible way to start shooting Fuji… and I found a mint condition used XE-1 for 300$. I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford glass for a long time, but I had some old manual lenses In the house… some M42, some Nikon and even an old Voigtlander 35mm f/1.7 Ultron that I could use on the Fuji with some adapters.

So I pulled the trigger and got the XE-1 and an adapter for the Voigtlander.

Well… I wish I could say it was a match made in heaven… but it wasn’t.

There were a lot of teething problems and I spent most of my time cussing the Ultron and trying to get the hang of the incredibly bad minimum focusing distance of the lens (somewhere around 2-2.5 feet!) I am so used to being able to shoot closer that it really threw me off. I could never tell if the lens was just a little soft or if I was just always blowing my focus.

Eventually I got a few shots I liked, and started to get the hang of the XE-1… but my poor manual focusing ability and the Ultron butted heads constantly.

Ultron 3

Super Takumar 50 4

Nikkor 50mm 3

Perhaps I should say a word about the XE-1’s focus peaking here:

While I am grateful for the focusing aid, and it does indeed help me some days… it’s not as fool-proof or precise as it was made out to be to me by some. Perhaps I haven’t gotten it set up right, or am missing something but I can also say there is a HUGE difference on my XE-1 on how the focus peaking works in the viewfinder and the rear LCD. It is MUCH easier to see on the rear LCD and it feels as though it is barely working in the viewfinder. It also seems to work better with some of the other lenses I ended up using on the XE-1 later on down the road.

And for whatever reason… my copy of the Ultron doesn’t seem to play well with the focus peaking. It’s a shame… because the Ultron is the smallest , lightest and the fastest focusing lens I have and I really thought it would be my favorite lens for the Fuji… but it has turned to be a bear for me to nail focus with.

I have a few good shots from the Ultron to share, but let me say it was a LOT of work to get those few shots! My hit rate was terrible!

So, as I was struggling so much I borrowed some adapters from a friend for my M42 and Nikon lenses to see if they would work any better.

At this point I was also still struggling greatly with the Fuji files, and not really able to consistently make photos that I liked.

Part of it was me still trying to learn how the camera “read the light” and where it’s sweet spots were. And another part of it was not finding a look in post that made me happy.

I was very frustrated again and starting to doubt my decision all over again. At this point I was only shooting RAW and bumbling around in Lightroom with every shot.

I decided it was time to try the famous Fuji Jpegs that I had read so much about… so I switched the XE-1 over to Jpeg, fiddled with the settings, put my Super Takumar 50mm F/1.4 onto the Fuji and started playing again.

Well, right away I felt better about the purchase… the Takumar was sharp, as well as having a buttery smooth focus ring. Focus peaking seemed to show up a little better than with the Ultron. However… on the down side… the Takumar was much heavier, and the focusing while being more precise… was much slower and the focus ring has a much longer throw from stop to stop.

So, I had found a lens that started to work well, and I made a little progress with the Jpeg settings. However, I decided I really needed to buckle down and sort out the Jpegs before I went any further.

I spent about a week of hardcore testing with all the jpeg settings in camera. Shooting, comparing and pixel peeping to try to figure out what I liked and how they all worked for me in post.

Eventually I found a setup that allowed me a good starting point with the Jpegs that would allow me to process them in any direction I liked… for the most part.

The color was mostly there and I liked the way they converted to black and white after the fact in Lightroom.

So I started to work with just a single default Jpeg setup that allowed me a consistent baseline to try the various lenses in all sorts of lighting situations so I could learn the sensor and lenses personalities better.

This alone made such a huge difference in my Fuji learning curve… just having a stable baseline to always work off of.

Nikkor 50mm 1

Micro Nikkor 3

Tou Five Star 6

Tou Five Star 7

Tou Five Star 6

These are the settings I finally settled on:

ISO Auto 200-6400 range

DR 100

WB auto

NR -2

Fine Jpegs

Astia film simulation

Highlight Tone +1

Shadow Tone +2

Color +2

Sharp -2

Obviously, settings are very personal and this may not work for anyone else, but this is where I start from with every one of my photographs now.

After I got that sorted out I went back to my lens experiments.

Next up was my Super Takumar 35mm F/2. A beautiful looking lens, that is really quite large and heavy. I really thought this lens was going to knock me out of the park. Out of all my legacy lenses this tank has highest quality FEEL to it, and a fairly stiffly dampened focus ring. I also wrongly assumed that at F/2 it would be very sharp wide open.

Well… it’s not. It’s a little soft all over and only a little sharper in the middle. I was disappointed by how much the stiff dampening slowed down my manual focusing on moving subjects and frequently missed shots.

I struggled to find a good way to use this lens and was about to give up and put it back on the shelf when one early morning I took a few flower shots to stay busy and I checked the screen and OH MY GOSH!! WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!

The out of focus rendering when wide open on this lens in AMAZING with the right background, light and distance to your background.
I know this sort of rendering isn’t for everyone… but WOW… this lens has some serious character in the right situations!

Tou Five Star 4

Tou Five Star 5

Micro Nikkor 1

Super Takumar 35 5

Super Takumar 35 2

See for yourself… I can’t say much for the weight or the handling as it adds a LOT of weight and size to the little Fuji, but I pull this guy out whenever I want to take some photos where sharpness isn’t critical with some interesting bokeh in the background. I haven’t even come close to exploring this lenses potential but I am most certainly not going to be selling this one anytime soon.

Around this time I realized that I was really getting to enjoy the EVF a lot on the XE-1 when the light was nice. Lots have been written about both Fuji’s EVF’s in general and the lagging of the older models viewfinders and/or LCD screens in low light so I won’t try to quantify it for you in this review but I can say that:

a) (The older models) They leave a lot to be desired in low light.

b) They can be really great to use regardless of the shortcomings.

In nice light it’s really fun and relaxing to use. What you see is what you get. Quite a nice change of pace from the chimping we have come to assume is mandatory with our OVF’s of old.

(Like I said, all of this is old news these days and every “DSLR to mirrorless” review has already broke ground with all these points so I don’t have any shocking revelations for you!)

The camera’s ergonomics were growing on me as well. While using my legacy lenses really makes the XE-1 quite unbalanced and “nose heavy” at times, it is still pretty fun to use and hold. After spending some time with my Super Takumars, I pulled out my Nikkor 50mm F/2 AI and mounted it up.

First impressions were that it was a pretty light lens compared to the Super Takumars and it was quite enjoyable to focus with as well!

The Nikkor has a very lightly dampened focus ring and a very fast action with a pretty short throw stop to stop that makes it very quick to focus and to date is my favorite legacy lens to focus out of my small collection.

The focus peaking seemed to be a bit easier to see with this Nikkor as well, and it really makes an easy to use lens if you like this 75mm equivalent focal length.

I enjoy shooting this lens wide open or stopped down to F/2.8 from time to time as a candid portrait lens, or just a general do everything lens with a little more reach. I’m not an expert in this area but I can say it was plenty sharp wide open for me and I never found a problem with the image quality from this lens. Another keeper for me!

Next up was an old Micro Nikkor 55mm F/2.8 macro lens that I use as my primary macro lens on my Canon DSLR’s.

I am already fond of this lens from my years spent with it, so I can tell you with great confidence that it is slow focusing and precise and it gets nice and close just like you want with a good manual macro. I am not sure what else you need to know! It works, it’s cheap, and it allows the Fuji to really get in there!

If that is your thing, then it’s a great cheap way to go! (Sorry… but that’s the bottom line for me. It works well for me, but I am not a hardcore macro user… so your mileage may vary!) I would love to give you more details but that’s really all I have!

Around this time I realized that I was really feeling a huge weight being lifted from my shoulders… I could shoot in Jpeg and not worry about larger memory cards, filling up my precious hard drive space with monster RAW files, Lightroom was working faster (my CPU is getting a little long in the tooth) and I found that I was less concerned with blowing shots.

Ultron 2

Ultron 1

Ultron 5

Nikkor 50mm 2

Tou Five Star 2

Tou Five Star 3

I was trying harder to get the shot exposed and composed the way I wanted it in camera, but if I couldn’t, or I was too slow, or the shot had way too much motion blur… I wasn’t nearly as upset at myself for screwing up a shot… I simply said “oh well” and moved on.

I was clearly relaxing and enjoying photography more now.

But, the flipside was that because I had a hard time confirming that I nailed focus … I ended up taking a LOT more shots to make sure that I got SOMETHING that day. (Thank goodness I was shooting Jpeg!)

I was hedging my bet… which seemed very counterproductive and a little silly to me.

So my time with the XE-1 was being spent wrestling with my desire to nail every shot, get it right… but also to not freak out if I missed something and try to relax and let it go.

It was a confusing time. But slowly I was enjoying it more and more.

I was feeling more and more comfortable with the Fuji files as well. Where they Full Frame Canon files? No. Did they have to be? No.

I haven’t sold my Canon’s yet, and I and I don’t know if I will… but not because I think that one sensor is superior to the other anymore… it’s because I realize they are merely two different ways to render a photo.

Cameras are paintbrushes. Tools. You use different paintbrushes to render a work of art in different ways. You use different tools to do different jobs.

I like the very disparate painting styles of Monet, Davinci, Robert Williams, Salvador Dali, Frank Frazzetta, H.R. Giger, Gil Elvgren, Phil Noto, Simon Bisley, and Alphonse Mucha.

I love the photos of dozens of photographers with very disparate styles like Diado Moriyama, Henri Cartier- Bresson, Joe McNally, Patrick LaRoque, Magdalena Switek, Thierry Nguyen, Gabe Mcclintock, Laurent Nivalle, and Gordon Chalmers just to name a FEW!

All the artists that I love and appreciate use different “brushes” and utilize them in very different ways.

Is one better than another? No. They are merely different… not better.

I had come to realize that I while I hadn’t nailed down the way I preferred to process the Fuji files and they seemed a little mushy to me at times, and I WAS frustrated by the details I was losing here or there compared to my full frame files… I really was becoming quite fond of the way this first generation X Trans sensor rendered photos. It was a look all by itself and I had really grown to love them.

Steve has talked before about how the second generation Fuji sensors can absolutely sing with the right light and the right settings… and he is right… but he is ALSO right that when the ISO’s climb… they can get mushy, muddy and flat looking.

I can say now that I agree with Steve and I prefer the look of the first Gen X-Trans to the high ISO rendering of the second Gen X-trans… but like I said, I had come to find a little charm in the files regardless of the flaws. I am POSITIVE that if I spent more time with a second Gen Fuji sensor I would come to love that look as well… different… not better.

So, as I worked to become more comfortable with my lenses and the new sensor, I was enjoying the learning process more all the time and leaving the DSLR at home pretty often now.

Then one day I realized what was missing from my Fuji experiment: One good do-everything, universal lens.  I really wanted to leave the house with one lens that would do everything (if possible) and have a Fuji setup that worked something like the X100 was designed to be: practical and useful for almost every situation.

I was digging around the web, and hoping to find a cheap option when I checked the back room on a whim… and low and behold… I found an old Minolta XGA that I had forgotten about, with a Tou/Five Star 28mm f/2.8 macro lens attached. Hmm…. That would be about a 42mm equivalent and kind of fast at 2.8. And the close focusing ability would certainly be appreciated.

So I got myself an adapter ordered and crossed my fingers. Well, the day came… I slapped the adapter and lens on the Fuji and took it out for a spin. And it did not disappoint. I can honestly say this is the most practical and enjoyable legacy lens I have ever used. Not flashy, not fancy, not sexy, not rare, it doesn’t have tons of character… it is just really handy for all kinds of photos.

It’s a little heavy, and focuses slower than my 50mm Nikkor, but it’s not terrible. The focal length helps with moving targets, and the macro focusing ability makes it really versatile and quite fun no matter what you are doing. It even will take a decent portrait if you are careful as it doesn’t have a lot of distortion. It’s sharp, has great contrast, nice color rendering and can be purchased for very little money. Yes, it is still a little front heavy, and when it is cold the grease gets sluggish in the action and the focusing can be even more dampened.

There is lots of lens flare with no hood, and it’s not blazing fast at only f/2.8… But it is a really great daily companion for the little Fuji if you want to keep costs down and have a lot of fun like I did. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I was ready to commit to using a Fuji most or perhaps even all of the time. I had come to love the Fuji first Gen X Trans sensor and the small body of the XE-1.

I had realized that I could have fun and take nice pics even with slower manual lenses. The Fuji was coming along with me everywhere, was fairly quiet, and fairly unobtrusive and I decided that if I could enjoy my time with the older lenses, then the Fuji autofocus lenses might be alright for me as well.

Three days ago I managed to scrape up enough money to buy my first AF Fuji lens, the XF27mm F/2.8 pancake lens.

Initial impressions are great and I love having such a feather light lens on the XE-1 after a lot of the heavy legacy lenses. It’s not a blazing fast autofocus camera, but I have already been working around that slower speed so it was actually quite an upgrade for me!

In conclusion, I think that if any of you readers out there would like to give Fuji a try, but don’t want to invest huge amounts of money into a system that you might not like… give the old XE-1 or X-Pro 1 a long hard look. Start with a few cheap adapters and beg, borrow or steal some old legacy lenses to try.

And please… give yourself a while to get use to the system and to learn how to work with the files… I am almost 4 months into this experiment now… and I was really struggling until about my 3rdmonth.

Have some patience and invest some time into getting the camera set up like you want and see what you can do with it.

The final word for me is this… I am absolutely certain I can nail my photos 90% of my time with my Canons. I am confident I will get my shot, I will make it work, and I will be able to process it the way I want 90% of the time.

Why? Is it the sensor? Is it the camera?

It’s neither. It’s the 12 years of practice and one million photos I took with that same system.

I’ve been using a Fuji for just a few months… come back and see me in 12 years and I am certain I will say the same thing about my Fuji’s.

If you would like to see more of my Fuji experiments you can see them on my Tumblr that I set up just to share the Fuji shots. I have been tagging all the photos with lens information for the curious!

http://mylifeaccordingtofuji.tumblr.com/

Or you can see a larger sample of all of my photos both Canon and Fuji here on my Flickr page:

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

Thanks again to Steve and Brandon for giving us all such a great site to enjoy!

Ben Bird

Jan 272015
 

Schidt Optics FF58 Lens on the Sony A6000

by Jeroen de Lang

What is this Schidt?

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Dog Schidt Optiks is a small British company that re-purposes salvaged Russian and East German lenses. Their FF58 is built around the Helios 44 that were made in the former USSR by the thousands (some claim millions) between the 1950’s and 1980’s. They were usually supplied as a kit lens with Zenit cameras and thus usable with other M42 lens mount cameras. The Helios-44 is a 58mm f2-f16 prime. At the end of WW2 the Russians acquired the Carl Zeiss Biotar optical formula and factory. The Helios-44 is basically a Biotar copy.

Each lens is completely dissembled, cleaned, relubed and rebuilt with uprated mechanical components, then individually configured to the clients’ specification. Dog Schidt Optiks (DSO) are able to apply a variety of optical degradations depending on your desired look. This, in combination with what they call their non-production line, craft based approach means each lens has its own nuances in character. It costs more than picking up a Helios-44 on eBay, but it is not the same lens!

Whether you want a subtle low contrast lens that absorbs and reacts with the natural ambient hues of your shooting location, a nearly unusable ultra-low contrast lens with wild tinted and almost light leak type reactivity to light sources, or a lens that simply imparts oval deformed bokeh to replicate the look from an anamorphic lens system, the FF58 can be configured to deliver these and many other qualities. You could even go for a restoration only, completely without degrading or tinting with the original contrast intact. This option is not on the site, but DSO will build whatever you specify. The FF58 is available in Canon EF, Nikon or Arri PL mount.

A lower contrast lens absorbs the natural light and creates a shadow lift. This shadow lift causes degradations in the shadow information, but using a typical lens the darker areas would simply be masked by more noise since the shadow lift would no longer be feeding the sensor with light. This makes for milky images or a distinctive lo-fi aesthetic if contrast is raised in post.

The FF38 is another beast entirely. Newly designed as a direct extension to the optical make-up of the FF58’s double gauss design, the FF38 Optical Attachment delivers a 38mm effective focal length without degrading the optical performance of the FF58, even when used wide open. The FF38’s primary goal is to deliver around a 1.5x wider field of view while maintaining the aesthetic and flare characteristics of the FF58 it is installed onto.

The FF38 Optical Attachment boasts an 80mm front diameter suitable for direct matte box attachment, and 77mm filter threads for filters. FF25 and FF88 Optical Attachments and an FF58 Non-optical Attachment are under development – each sharing the same external body design and 77mm filter thread. This strategy makes it possible to build up a shooting set where optical characteristics and aperture settings (dictated by the configuration of the FF58) are uniform across all four focal lengths (25mm, 38mm, 58mm and 88mm). Therefore it is possible to build up a set of various FF58’s of different optical configurations while only needing one of each front mounted Optical Attachments. With the supplied adapter ring the FF38 will also work with other 55mm thread lenses.

A FF58 will set you back between £140 ($225) for Canon EF mount to £260 ($420) for Arri PL mount. The FF38 is still on pre-order and is priced at £280 ($450).
The ordering process has been slow. Lead times have been between 4-6 weeks from the date when I placed my orders to the date where I get a confirmation of shipping. Email contact during the process is limited. DSO is essentially a one man operation and the process is fully bespoke, with each lens built one by one. This takes time. DSO will test your patience. Just so you know. But all good things come to those who wait, right?

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Is it the Schidt?

Digital photos have become too clean in my book. The FF58 adds a more lo-fi look with an analogue aesthetic that you cannot get elsewhere at this price, as far as I know. I am but an amateur so using old glass is beyond me. I would not even be able to perform even the simplest of repairs.

As for the tinted options, unlike typical front mounted filters, they only activate when exposed to large amounts of light pooling the lens barrel. The lens creates dynamic shifts in overall hue which are often unpredictable. Since this effect originates within the physical domain rather than software, the ‘baked in’ look and tactile nuances impart a beautifully analogue feel to digitally acquired and processed imagery. And you can see them real-time as they occur in your viewfinder or camera screen.

My first FF58 has a low contrast but no tinting or degrading. Flaring can be controlled, but when it flares, it flares! The FF38 opens more possibilities by changing the focal length of the FF58, but maintaining my selected optical characteristics. On my Sony Alpha 6000 I use it with a Roksen Focal Reducer Speed Booster Adapter Canon EOS EF mount lens to Sony NEX E A6000 converter. This applies a 0.7 times magnification so I can use it at the original 58mm focal length even on the APS-C sensor.

I liked shooting with the FF58 so much that I was one of the first to pre-order an FF38 attachment. Mine is number six. I also now own a second FF58. This is an amber / gold tinted one with a fixed F4 triangular aperture.

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My lenses are one of a kind and have clearly been lovingly crafted to my own spec. I only wish the bokeh would be smoother, but at this price I can live with it. It is also the price you pay for shooting with a lens based on a 70 year old design.

One more thing: the aperture is labelled wrong. F2 is actually f16 and vice versa. This does not bother me. I shoot with three aperture settings: f2 when I want a shallow depth of field, f16 when I want clarity and somewhere close to f2 when I shoot portraits and want more of the face to be in focus. But such a thing could drive some people up the wall.

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A word of warning

These are not modern lenses. Character means imperfections. Lots of them. If you want to pixel peep you will find all kinds of wackiness. They are fully manual as well. Definitely no auto-focus and such.

See the lens here at Dog Schidt Optics. 

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