Feb 122014
 

New Olympus 7-14 2.8 PRO and 300 f/4 PRO Announced!

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It seems that at least every week or two we hear of something new in the camera world. The funny thing is I only report on a small percent of it! I talk about those products that are interesting to me and the readers here and there is still an endless stream of products to report on.

Olympus is once again paving the way and providing those who invested in the amazing E-M1 with a couple of rewards :) TWO new pro lenses. The 7-14 Wide Angle F/2.8 Zoom and the 300mm f/4 prime (600mm equivalent). These are both PRO lenses and will be dust and weatherproof with all of the good stuff that normally comes along with these great Olympus lenses (Image quality, pristine build and feel..oh and probably a big price tag).

Olympus promised new pro glass, and they seem to be delivering. These new lenses are expected to ship in 2015 so we have a while to go but at least we know what is on the way! The new 12-40 is already out and gaining rave reviews (my review is coming soon) so with these two lenses one would have a nice pro 3 lens kit. 7-14, 12-40 and 300 offering a 14-28, 24-80 and 600mm equivalent. There is also the 40-150 2.8 PRO scheduled to be released THIS year giving an 80-300 Equivalent.

Oly knows how to make fantastic lenses. Now I wonder what they have in store for us in 2015 in regards to a new pro body? Will they have an E-M1 successor already or will they wait a while?

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From Olympus…

“The first interchangeable lens of this series, the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-40mm 1:2.8 PRO is already available while its successor, the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40-150mm 1:2.8 PRO, is scheduled to go on sale in the second half of 2014. The final two Olympus system lenses in the M.ZUIKO PRO quartet, covering everything from super wide angle to super telephoto, are currently under development. Both new lenses are scheduled to be released from 2015 onwards. More details will be announced prior to the launch.”

Aug 282013
 

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The Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95  Micro 4/3 Lens Review

By Steve Huff

Thanks to Camera Quest for sending me this lens one day before it was even released so I could review it. 

Ahhhh, super fast 0.95 aperture glass. You gotta love them even if they are built like a tank and heavier than you really want to go with a mirrorless system that is supposed to be all about high quality in a compact package. Yep, Voigtlander has done it again completing a trio of uber fast 0.95 aperture lenses with this new 42.5mm f/0.95 lens. It is large. It is heavy. It is beautiful. Lenses with a fast aperture of f/0.95 used to be unheard of until Leica designed and released their masterpiece Noctilux f/0.95 a few years ago. Ever since there have been a slew of fast f/0.95 and faster lenses released by other manufacturers showing that yes, it can be done and yes, it can be done for less. They may not be 100% of a Leica lens but they are at least 80%, and that right there is a great feat of engineering by these companies.

Voigtlander is one of these who boldly went for it after seeing there was a market for ultra fast glass, especially in the Micro 4/3 format. With the depth of field of a Micro 4/3 sensor being greater than what we get on a full frame sensor, one way to combat that is by using ultra fast aperture lenses. This way, if you like that smooth and creamy “background blown out of focus” look, or “Subject Isolation”, then this lens, and a few others can easily give it to you while still giving you superb quality all the way around.

But today I am speaking of the 42.5mm f/0.95 Micro 4/3 lens from Voigtlander and this lens is not for the faint hearted due to the size, weight and $999 price tag that comes with it.

When I say it is large and heavy, I mean it is large and heavy in comparison to normal Micro 4/3 prime lenses. Lenses like the Olympus 12mm f/2 or 45 1.8. Lenses like the Panasonic 20 1.7II or the 25 1.4 .Yes Ladies and Gentleman, Voigtlander lenses are built-in the style of good old-fashioned Leica Rangefinder lenses. In my book, this is a good thing. No, a GREAT thing. Why? Well, this means you will have a serious thrill when you open that box and see the quality of the build, the feel of the focus ring and solid click of the aperture dial. It is like you went back in time to the 1950′s..a time when lens construction was top-notch. Quality all the way.

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So as a warning to anyone who is thinking of this lens, or the 17.5 f/0.95 or the 25 f/0.95..just know you are getting a seriously built lens for your money :)

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The Image Quality

With that out-of-the-way, how is the image quality of this lens? Many would think at f/0.95, which is wide open, that the lens may be soft at such a wide open aperture. All I know is that my 1st tests with the lens on an Olympus E-P5 shooting at f/0.95 yielded incredibly sharp results at my focus point.

Speaking of focusing, the E-P5 with the focus peaking and VF-4 made it EASY to focus this beast of a lens and speaking of beasts…my 1st test shots were of the local cows :) All wide open at 0.95. Keep in mind I shoot every day, 5-6 days a week reviewing cameras. So to me, finding a bunch of cows who posed for me was exciting..different. Lol. Moooooooo!

YOU MUST click them to see the larger size and to see how sharp this lens can be at the widest aperture. Quite amazing for Micro 4/3.

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If you noticed any noise or grain in the images above it is because I ran them through a VSCO Agfa Scala filter, which added some fine grain. AGFA Scala is a B&W slide film. Even so, if you click on the image above you will see how sharp this lens is when used with the E-P5. Not far off from the LOOK I GET with the Leica M 240 with a Voigtlander 50 1.5 Nokton even though that is a full frame camera.

The reality is that the cameras made for enthusiasts today are quite exceptional and offer amazing IQ possibilities depending on the lens used. We have DSLR’s, we have small mirrorless solutions like Micro 4/3, we have amazing cameras like the Sony RX1 and many other options (many reviews can be found on these in my “Mirrorless Central” section). It can boggle the brain if you sit and try to figure out what to buy and why to buy and when to buy. Ten years ago the pickings were slim if you wanted amazing quality and when you found it, you had to pay dearly for it. Today, a camera like the $999 Olympus E-P5 performs better than a camera I paid $10,000 for with a couple of lenses back in 2003, the Canon 1Ds (1st version). A camera that was considered a “Holy Grail” by so many back then..yet today..the $999 Olympus E-P5 beats it when used with lenses like these from Voigtlander. The little Olympus beats it in high ISO, speed, and of course, weight. Makes me wonder what we will have in 10 more years. Will it all be phones with high tec cameras and artificial depth of field? Will it be cameras like the Lytro? No one knows but I think some brands will die out and there will still be some around supplying the latest and greatest to the enthusiasts and pros.

Cameras like the Nikon D800E, RX1R, Canon 5D series..are all exceptional when it comes to image quality. They compete head to head with mid scale medium format backs so where do we go from here? Only time will tell but today in August of 2013 what we have to choose from is pretty damn nice.

Wide open, f/0.95 – click it for larger. 

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Walking the Line

As for today..for now..and for right here and right now I am sitting here looking at snapshots I took with this $999 lens and $999 camera body. A $2000 combo and I have to say it is walking a line that used to be reserved for megabuck systems.

The image below was e-mailed to 8 people I know well who are enthusiasts like you and me. The version I emailed had the EXIF stripped and I asked my camera buddies..“what camera took this snapshot? Take a guess”.

Walking the Line – 42.5 at 0.95 – E-P5

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6 of the 8 said “Leica M 240″.  One said “Leica M9″ and one said “OM-D and 45 1.8″

SIX thought I took this image, this basic snapshot of a stray cat walking across a fence with a $7000 Leica body. In the past, even as early as 2009 there was a clearer line between such cameras..today the line is getting rubbed out a bit. Kind of crazy when you think about it because I could spend $4500 on an E-P5 (or new GX7) along with these three amazing super speed Voigtlander lenses:

The 17.5 f/0.95 – This will give you a 35mm equivalent field of view, the preference of many street shooters. The lens is built to a high standard, well above most lenses made for Micro 4/3 or any system besides Leica M. It is heavy, but even at 0.95 it is pretty sharp. Great bokeh, a great look and feel and above all works fantastic on the newer bodies with focus peaking. Just beware of the weight as this will make your Micro 4/3 system larger and heavier. The Olympus 17 1.8 is good but will not give you the same look as this lens so all depends on what you like. I have samples with this lens in my OM-D E-M5 Review.

25 f/0.95 – A classic 50mm field of view. While it will not give you the same depth of field as a 50mm 0.95 on full frame, it will give you the DOF of a 25mm f/0.95 lens because that is exactly what it is. Most importantly you will get that light sucking ability that only a fast 0.95 lens can give you. This one is smaller than the 17.5 and feels pretty nice on the OM-D series or E-P series. Easy to focus with the new VF-4. This is probably my fave of the three due to the 50mm focal length, which is where I am most comfortable. Again, samples can be seen in my original OM-D E-M5 review. 

42.5 f/0.95 – This is the lens that every image on this page was shot with and it will give you the classic 85mm focal length and even more shallow DOF because this is close to a 50mm lens so you will get closer to a 50mm 0.95 Bokeh effect (can anyone say Noctilux)? Beautiful build and feel and for $999, it is a great buy if you like shooting at 85mm/90mm. But it is especially for  those who like BOKEH..and lots of it.

So if you buy or own a Micro 4/3 camera and want lenses that will give your images this effect..in other words,  results that give a “Leica Like” vibe (though it will be a CLASSIC Leica Vibe),  then this is as close as you can get on Micro 4/3.

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Of course I know that just by saying you can get close to the “look and feel” of a Leica M 240 using an E-P5 and these Voigtlander lenses I will probably suffer an attack or two by hardcore Leica users who will mistake what I said for something else. I did not say this was better than any Leica setup with Leica glass. I said you can get close to the look and feel (though some will say equal it and others will say beat it) of a Leica M 240 and certain lenses. :) In fact, these Voigtlander lenses perform much like older classic Leica lenses and is one reason they work so well for B&W.

The Lens comes complete with metal lens hood

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In fact, in the past year alone I have test and used just about EVERY major camera that has been released. The Sony’s, the Fuji’s, the Samsung’s, the Nikon’s, the Ricoh, the Pentax’s, etc. I am in a position to where I get to try it all, and the cool thing is I  tell the truth even when it upsets some readers. I just tell it how it is..MY own experience. I compare cameras and know what I like and what I do not. Contrary to what some believe, no manufacturer “pays me off” to say anything. Camera makers pay no one-off in the blogging/review world because if they did it could hurt them. I pride myself on always telling MY OWN TRUE FEELINGS. That is all. Take it or leave it :)

What I can say is that the newest crop of Micro 4/3 cameras and lenses have been extraordinary. Superb. As good as most will ever need for everything but super fast focus tracking (which some of us need, and some us will never use). So depending on your needs, this system is rocking in 2013. When you add these lenses it takes it up a notch.

Trio

Let us see what happens when we have a Micro 4/3 image, a Leica M 240 image and a Fuji X-E1 and Zeiss image. This is NOT in any way, shape or form anything scientific. In fact, these images were taken on different days, months apart. Same subject. What I want to show here is not sharpness, not detail, not much of anything besides depth of field and color and “pleasing to the eye” results. Of the three, which one suits YOUR tastes the most when it comes to how this scene was rendered? Of course the Olympus has a 2X crop sensor, the Leica is full frame and the Fuji is APS-C, so 1.5 crop.

The Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95 – wide open.

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The Leica M 240 – 50 Voigtlander Nokton at 1.5

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The Fuji X-E1 with Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 – wide open

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Now of course we have the difference of focal length. With the E-P5 we have the Bokeh of a 42.5mm lens at 0.95 but the field of view of an 85mm lens. With the Leica we have the Bokeh of a 50mm 1.5 lens as it is full frame and what you see is what you get. With the Fuji and Zeiss, we have the Bokeh of a 32mm 1.8 lens and the field of view of around 50mm. To my eyes the most pleasing result was with the Leica and Olympus. I love the Leica as it gives me that 50mm FOV I love. If I had the Voigtlander 25 0.95 it would have been a better comparison but you can not fault that Voigtlander. Smooth, rich and creamy all the way with great out of focus background. The Fuji and Zeiss have a pretty busy background and it really shows what a 0.95 aperture can do for you (with the 2X crop of the E-P5). Yep, Micro 4/3 is no longer crippled by that crop factor.

Subject Separation, 3 Dimensional, Bokeh, Background Blur, Depth of Field…

It’s all about subject separation. Something many Micro 4/3 naysayers used to say was not possible but it is indeed possible with these Voigtlander lenses (and many others) and I am very happy that these options are here for those of us who love these little powerhouse cameras.

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There is a downside though. While you can get a nice 3D feel and subject separation with these lenses on a Micro 4/3body, as I stated earlier they are HEAVY and LARGE. Over time they can get cumbersome and remember, these lenses are manual focus only. No blazing auto focus here :)

If you want small, light and fast AF I highly suggest other lenses like the Panasonic 25 1.4 or the Olympus 45 1.8 or 75 1.8. All fantastic pieces of glass that will give you sharp results and the conveniences of the system. So not everyone will enjoy a lens like this 42.5 0.95.

So who will like this lens? Who will not?

If you come from a Leica background you will love this lens. If you enjoy finely crafted lenses, you will adore this lens. If you love that 0.95 look and want it for your Micro 4/3 system..you will  love this lens and appreciate it. If  you are “old school” you may enjoy this lens. If you like ultra modern crisp renderings with huge depth of field, you will NOT like this lens. If you hate heavy and large, you will NOT like this lens. If you hate manual focus, you will NOT like this lens. If you expect a lens like this to be $300, you are not meant for this lens :)

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The Bottom Line

At the end of the day this lens is a firecracker. Extreme build, heavy weight and able to suck in enough light to your sensor while giving you that 3D feel that many of us crave. It’s sharp wide open and sharp throughout the aperture range. It is a lens that will deliver a different look and if it is what you seek, you will not be disappointed with this lovely lens.

That is about all I can say. These days when I review a lens it is tough because most lenses today are superb. That is why I talk mostly about the character and talk about comparisons with gear that is sometimes much more costly. The truth is that we have never had such a choice and selection in cameras and lenses. I am talking QUALITY choices. The upside is that it seems to be gaining more and more steam, so I expect much more to come.

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Where to Buy the Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95

Since CameraQuest sent this out to me before it was even released so I could review it, at no cost to me AND they are the main USA distributor for Voigtlander I would say GO CHECK THEM OUT and if you want this lens, show them some love. Stephen Gandy runs it and he ships FAST. YHe has full stock of this lens and the other Nokton lenses for Micro 4/3.

You can see or buy all of the Micro 4/3 choices HERE. 

Specs of the 42.5:

  • f/.095 to f16 aperture range
  • 11 lens elements in 8 optical groups
  • 10 aperture blades
  • Filter size 58mm
  • Close focus .23 meter
  • Size: length 74.6mm, diameter 64.3mm
  • Lens hood included with lens

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Feb 252013
 

From DSLR to Leica by James Maier

Hi Steve,

I’ve been shooting mainly DSLR for the last few years but, finally, I was compelled to check out the Leica digital rangefinder cameras because of the great time I’d been having (and the excellent photos I’ve been taking) with their little X2 point-and-shoot. (Thanks for the introduction to the X2 BTW!)

The rangefinder paradigm is admittedly not for everybody but I first fell in love with photography by shooting 35mm film in my father’s Contax IIIa when I was a teenager so, in some ways, the M9 was kind of like “coming home” again – only with the convenience of digital files and processing that I’ve grown accustomed to!

I shot Canon gear for years and finally, after some considerable time hands-on with the Leica M9, I’ve completely liquidated my 5DmkII and collection of “L” lenses. The M9, a spare battery and a couple of lenses all fit in a *tiny* Domke F-5XA bag, the whole kit weighing just a few pounds. Compared to the bag I used to lug my DSLR and lenses around in, this is practically effortless, plus it’s much more discrete to carry as well as shoot! The compactness of the M9 is wonderful not only for portability but I find people just don’t *react* in the same way to the M9 as they did to my huge DLSR – they’re more relaxed and comfortable. The have often mistaken it for a vintage film camera. This thing just doesn’t look that imposing. ;)

The Leica M lenses are simply phenomenal – extremely sharp, even in the extreme corners (where my Canon L glass didn’t always fare so well). The lenses are sharp and contrasty even when shot at wide open apertures…and that even applies to the wide-angle lenses! The 50mm Summicron and 35mm Summilux have been excellent partners for this camera, though my favorite is the 21mm ultra-wide Elmarit as it’s helped me to capture stunning landscapes and seascapes in contrast and clarity I could only dream of before.

The CCD sensor in the M9 certainly bucks the CMOS trend of most modern digital cameras but affords the Leica a unique image signature that is absolutely lovely and very film-like to my eyes. From my own experience, I’ve noticed that the M9′s files require much less post-processing than any of my other cameras.

Thanks to you and a few others, I finally found my way to a camera that is a perfect fit that will be a great companion for years to come.

I’ve attached a handful of my M9 shots.

Very Best Regards, James Maier

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Jan 272013
 

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The Olympus 17 1.8 Lens Review by Steve Huff

Another home run for Olympus with their 35mm equivalent lens

Hello again to all! It is time once again for me to sit down and write for a few hours as I tell you all about my experience with the Olympus 17 1.8 Lens for the Micro 4/3 system. Once the news hit about this lens I knew I had to try it as this gives us a 35mm equivalent when shooting our beloved Micro 4/3 cameras and let me tell you…it is a PERFECT everyday mate for  the OM-D E-M5.

I have been shooting with the OM-D and 17 along with the Fuji X-E1 and Sony RX1 and getting out and taking photos, not test charts which reminds me of a time about 4 years ago now when I started this site. When I wrote my very 1st review on the Leica M8 I called it a “Real World” review because at that time there were ZERO websites reviewing cameras in a real world way, meaning, using them for what they were designed for..taking photos. Other sites did massive pixel peeping tests and other tests which never meant squat to anyone who really used the camera for what they were designed for. So when I started writing reviews based on the shooting experience, the feeling and real image quality results I was ridiculed and laughed at by many. But here we are in 2013 and the majority of review sites have gone “real world” which I think is FANTASTIC as it tells more about a camera or lens than any scientific tests do.

As for me, I still do things the way I always have and when I use a new camera, a new lens or a new photographic product I actually use it and if I have an issue with it I say so. If it is amazing I say so. I also show the results to back up what I say and I try my best to let you guys know how it is to use the product. I use it just as you would. I unbox it, charge the battery and get out and shoot.

This new Olympus lens is a beauty and when I say it is a perfect mate on the E-M5, I mean it. If you love the 35mm field of view then you will ADORE this lens on your E-M5. Trust me.

The OM-D E-M5 with the 17 1.8 at f/1.8 – WIDE OPEN – Click image for larger 1800 pixel wide version to see the real deal

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Olympus has been the only company that has TRULY been ROCKING IT non stop in the mirrorless world with one solid release after another. The E-M5 is my runner-up for camera of the year 2012 and it is still one hell of a camera that can give you beautiful results and when paired with this new 17 1.8 the AF is just about instant. It focused about twice as fast as the Fuji X-E1 and 35 1.4 (this is fact) and just like my RX1, nailed it every time.

Olympus, IMO, makes the best Micro 4/3 lenses available. The 12 f/2 is beautiful, the 17 1.8 is gorgeous, the 45 1.8 is magical and the 75 1.8 is a masterpiece for mirrorless. I also can not forget the 60 Macro, which is the best Macro lens I have ever shot with. With that setup there is nothing else you would need for most photography and the beauty of it all is that this whole system is very compact while delivering top results.

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The Lens Arrives

When the 17 1.8 arrived I took it out of the box and smiled. It is SMALL, light, and at the same time, very well made. It reminds me most of the 12 f/2 with its snap manual focus feature where you pull back the focus ring to automatically turn on manual focus. This is a great feature and I love it with the 12mm.

I have to admit, I have not read even one review of this lens because I wanted it to be new and fresh and I wanted to experience it for myself without influence from others. I have had e-mails asking me if I had issues with the lens as others reported but I can happily say I have had NONE. This lens has been phenomenal on the OM-D E-M5 in my use with it but then again I do not critically pixel peep and look at every pixel of the photo at 100%. I look at the photo and if it is pleasing to my eye and if what was captured was what I envisioned then I am happy. I also love character in a lens and this lens has a beautiful character. Not to critically sharp and not overly smooth. It really does provide very pleasing results and reminds me a bit of the Leica 35 Summarit in the way it renders.

UPDATE October 2013: This lens is even better on the new E-M1 and E-P5!

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The lens is Sharp, has super fast AF, gives you beautiful Bokeh and a very nice “MOJO FILLED” character. Wide open and at f/2 the bokeh it produces is lovely and smooth. In that regard it almost reminds me of the “Bokeh King” Leica 35mm Summicron V4 which in reality does not have the smoothest bokeh wide open, but more so stopped down. The Olympus has pretty damn smooth Bokeh though, even when wide open.

Wide open Bokeh – click for larger

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Build, feel, speed – this baby is built for it all when used on the E-M5

When you buy a new lens, especially one coming in at $499 like this one you expect it to be solid, perform well and focus fast and accurately. Well have no worries here because this lens is pretty slick and feels much like the 12mm f/2, focuses lightening fast and is accurate 99% of the time. I only use the center focus point on the E-M5 and it never seems to fail me.

The feel is nice. It is small, and the manual focus ring is smooth. Again, if you have tried out the 12mm f/2 then this is the same. For me, the $499 price is about right for a lens of this quality.

The next two these shots were taken WIDE OPEN at f/1.8 – click for larger views

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Is the Olympus E-M5 still a wise choice in 2013? What about the Fuji X-E1?

I get this question quite often. I see so many people who are buying a new camera and they are stuck between the E-M5, Fuji X-E1 and a NEX-6 or 7. Well, those are all good choices and any will give you nice results but I look at the lenses as the future of any system and I also look at “usability” as that is also very important. Look at Leica, they are known worldwide for  their amazing glass and it is those lenses  that make the magic with their cameras which happen to be the king of amazing “usability”.

To me, Micro 4/3 has some of the best glass in the whole mirrorless world, and the E-M5 is slick as hell in the usability dept. Sony is also kicking some serious tail but they are lacking with good glass for the NEX system and to date they really only have ONE super fantastic offering for the NEX system, the Zeiss 24 1.8. The others are good but not “special”. The premium Olympus primes are all pretty special IMO.

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Fuji X has a couple of good lenses and their 35 1.4 can be spectacular, in good light and when it focuses correctly. I took the X-E1 with the 35 1.4 to the same event and again the Fuji left me frustrated and I missed so many shots due to the AF missing the focus point. When the Fuji is indoor in lower light or funky light the results are not usually very pleasing as the AF is slow and the AWB is not up there with the best. It throws out funky color casts if you are in some indoor low lighting. I am hoping and have faith that the X100s delivers on speed and accuracy (and I think it will) and improved AWB. I feel the X bodies are more like beta models being tested by those who buy them. No offense to whoever owns them and loves them, and MANY of you do, it is just not working for me as they are much to quirky and for my tastes, there are better options out there right now in my opinion.

I can say the X-E1 and 35 1.4 taken out in good light or sunlight or studio light will reward you with a super nice image that draws you in to it with nice depth and colors. But side by side indoors low light other cameras do much better. I know, I shot them all.

So for me, I would take the E-M5 and 17 1.8 or 25 1.4 over the X-E1 and 35 1.4. I just do not get along with the Fuji X bodies. The images I get from the E-M5 are more to my liking, and the best part is, I do not miss shots due to slow or dodgy AF. I would also choose it over a NEX right now just due to the masterpiece lenses available for the Micro 4/3 system. The 12mm, the 45 1.8, the 75 1.8 and the 25 1.4 from Panasonic.

Again, I just write what I feel from MY experience and I am always 100% honest about my experiences. The OM-D E-M5 can give you back very rich and glassy images :)

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The BIG question: This lens or the Panasonic 20 1.7/25 1.4?

Anyone who has shot Micro 4/3 is very aware of the superb 20 1.7 lens from Panasonic, which I have always loved. It has always been the go to lens for many M4/3 shooters and for good reason. It is priced well and delivered the IQ every time. It was the 1st fast prime lens for M4/3 and was a HUGE seller back a few years ago. Today we have so many more choices and even the newer Panasonic 25 1.4 which I LOVE. But if you do not own either of these and you are looking for a fast lens for your E-M5 I would not hesitate to recommend the 17 1.8 or 25 1.4 (if you want a 50mm equivalent). For me, it is the perfect fit for the E-M5. The build, feel, manual focus and AF speed beat out the other two. AF speed especially. The two Panasonic’s will not AF as fast as this Olympus if shot on an OM-D.

As for IQ..the Panasonic 20 1.7 will give you a cooler color cast and the Olympus a warmer one. The Olympus is a little more “organic” in its rendering (this is good) and the Panasonic a little teeny bit “flatter”. Both are pin sharp and my version of the Olympus is VERY sharp just like the other Olympus premium offerings but the Panasonic 20 may be a tad sharper if clinical is more to your liking. The 25 1.4 is superb and the best of the lot in IQ but is larger and slower in operation and is a 50mm equivalent not a 35.

The 17 1.8 lens is very good when it comes to CA. As for vignetting, when wide open it is mild but not an issue to me. If I am shooting a landscape I would stop it down. By f/2 you do not really see any vignetting (see the shot below of the statue which was shot at f/2)

The 17 1.8 is $499 at Amazon or B&H Photo. The 20 1.7 is $349 at Amazon and the Panasonic 25 1.4 is  at $499.

For a 35mm equivalent my money would go to the Olympus 17 1.8 as I just adore all of these Olympus premium offerings and on the OM-D they work extremely well. With that said, the 20 1.7 and 25 1.4 are also super and you can not go wrong with any of them. It all comes down to what works FOR YOU. Hell, I even like the old 17 2.8 from Olympus even though it’s somewhat “soft”. I feel it has a pleasing rendering.

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A quick generic JPEG DOF comparison – Olympus vs Sony RX1

Just a quick JPEG comparison to show the difference between the OM-D with 17 1.8 at f/2 vs the RX1 at f/2 – both 35mm FOV but there will be a difference in DOF. You must click the images to see the larger and better versions of each. The Sony has a full frame sensor, the Olympus a Micro 4/3 sensor which is smaller than full frame or APS-C.

1st shot is with the E-M5 and 17 1.8 at  f/2. Very sharp but pleasing.

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The same shot taken with my main shooter, the full frame Sony RX1. The little Olympus has DOF differences but not bad at all! 

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While I prefer the RX1 version of this image the OM-D did not do too bad in comparison. I also shot this with the X-E1 using the manual focus SLR Magic 35 1.4 but it was not in focus due to my focusing error (or is it the lens)?

Olympus OM-D – f/2 – iso 320 – JPEG

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Detail/Sharpness

While this lens is not as razor-sharp when wide open as the 75 1.8 or even the Panasonic 20 1.7, it is still sharp. You can click the image below for a full size from RAW image. Focus was on the statue.

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and one more snapshot at 1.8

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What I do not like about the 17 1.8 lens

I sat here and thought about it and at the end of the day this lens gave me no issues, was plenty sharp enough, was very good for portraits or available light scenes and was a very well made and performing lens. I am aware some think that this lens is not as good as the other Olympus offerings but in my experience, it absolutely is. It may not be a perfect as the 75 1.8 but it is damn good, and would be my pick for this focal length on the OM-D E-M5. But there is one thing I wish Olympus would do, and that is to include a lens hood in the box. Instead it is a $80 accessory and this is kind of ridiculous (as is the Sony $180 lens hood for  the RX1).

That is really my only complaint about the 17 1.8 lens. That and it should be weather sealed since the E-M5 is.

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My final conclusion on the Olympus 17 1.8 Lens

This one is easy. This lens has the build, the speed, the feel, the looks, the design and the performance in IQ that makes it a no brainer for your Olympus Micro 4/3 camera (especially the E-M5). If you shoot a Panasonic camera I can not say how the lens does as I did not test it on a Panasonic body but on the E-M5 it rocks just as much as their other premium lenses.

You will get less “pop” when compared to an APS-C or full frame sensor when it comes to shallow DOF but there is plenty of shallow DOF to be had with this guy. I can not imagine anyone being disappointed with the lens. Some may crave more shallow DOF because with this lens you are getting the Depth of Field of a 17mm lens, as that is what it is. The wider angle the lens the more DOF you will get (less shallow) so you are not going to get the blurred backgrounds of a true 35 f.2 lens like one would get on the Sony RX1. Even so, for Micro 4/3 this lens is pretty damn sweet. I love it.

It may not be critically sharp corner to corner but it doesn’t need to be as it is sharp enough for any photo you may need to take and it has the character that will please you when you actually use it for photo taking :)

Another bravo to Olympus. Just makes me wonder what is to come next from them.

You can buy this lens at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo.

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UPDATE: OK, so I read a review or two after I finished writing my own and came across one that sort of trashed the lens but then again, it was from a site that is more scientific and technical, which really does not tell you much about using it for real photos in the correct way. If I did not own the RX1 I would buy this lens in a nanosecond for the E-M5 and that is a fact but the RX1 is taking care of my 35mm needs just fine :)

Again, compared to the 20 1.7 this lens is faster to AF, has better build, warmer color compared to cool color and has features such as the pull back MF implementation and all of the correction on the Olympus bodies. For $150 more than the Panasonic you get this plus a little more “mojo”. If it is just sharpness you are after get the Panasonic as it is a little sharper of a lens.

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HELP ME TO KEEP THIS SITE GOING AND GROWING!! IT’S EASY TO HELP OUT & I CAN USE ALL THE HELP I CAN GET!

PLEASE Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site (and the cost these days to keep it going is pretty damn high), so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at Amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :) More info is here on how you can help!

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Dec 292012
 

bothtt

Gorgeous new SLR Magic Hyperprime 35mm T0.95 and 35 T1.4 arrives for testing!

The “Noctlux” for your APS-C Mirrorless

The 35 T 0.95 Hyperprime ASP-H M mount Lens

So..you want a super fast, super sharp, super built, super bokeh 50mm equivalent cream machine for your Sony NEX, Fuji X or EOS-M camera? How about a 70mm equivalent for your Micro 4/3?  Want one for each system without having to buy three different lenses? I know I do..and such a lens has just arrived to the Huff Household. Yep,  UPS arrived yesterday with a huge box from SLR Magic and what the box held were two lenses I have been excited to review for a few weeks now. One of them is the premium 35mm APS-H Hyperprime (their premium quality line of lenses)  and I have to say that it is a BEAUTY.

It’s large, hefty, built like a solid brick and is a damn nice T0.95 lens, which in F stop land means about f/0.92! This is the 50mm equivalent 0.95 lens for APS-C mirrorless camera shooters! Almost Like having a Noctilux for your Fuji X or NEX, speed wise anyway :)

t0.95onnex

hyperprimonnex

This is an all manual lens designed for ALL of the popular mirrorless systems. You can shoot this one lens  on the NEX system, Fuji X system, EOS-M or Micro 4/3 system. How so you ask? Well, when ordering you just choose which system you want to use it with but the beauty of it all is that if you own 2 or 3 or all of these systems you only need ONE lens and it will be compatible with all of your cameras using an adapter.

This lens is actually an M mount design but not to be used on an M camera. Instead SLR Magic made it in the M mount because so many adapters are made for this mount. So this one lens can be used on almost any mirrorless system with an adapter. This was a great move IMO. For example, if I have a Fuji X camera and an OM-D and a NEX-6 or 7, this one lens can be shot on all of them. Awesome.

One thing I found while doing test shots is that even with focus peaking set to on with the NEX-6 this lens is a beast to focus correctly when shooting wide open. It has a massively razor thin level of DOF at T0.95 so your focus has to be pinpoint precise or else the images will be slightly soft at the focus point if you miss.

A quick OOC JPEG at T 0.95 and the Sony NEX-6  - remember this is wide open at T0.95 

095atbar

The particular lens that was sent to me was shipped with the Sony E Mount adapter so I will be testing it on the NEX-6 (see 1st three OOC JPEGS above) and then later the Fuji X system as soon as I get an adapter for it. It appears the Fuji adapter will not work correctly but there are some that will and SLR Magic will be shipping them with their own Fuji adapter that will work just fine.

Out of the box, this lens looks pretty bad ass but I can not speak enough about how large it is. IT IS LARGE. So if you are hoping for something small this is not your lens. If you want super quality Bokeh and image quality it just might be your lens. The packaging is solid this time around with the lens and adapter encased in solid foam so there is no chance of shipping damage (unless the UPS guys decide to play soccer with it). I am excited to review this one.

A couple of B&W JPEGS with the NEX-6 wide open at T0.95

debbybw

debby feet

This 35mm T0.95 APS-H Hyperprime  lens will be selling for $1349 starting in February 2013 from SLR Magic and that is a decent price considering their 50 T0.95 for M mount was nearing the $5k mark (this was mainly due to the RF coupling and it being a full frame lens). In the same price range as this lens is the Voigtlander 35 1.4 in M mount. Many use that lens as their fast 35 on their mirrorless systems and love it but from what I have seen, this lens just may surpasses that one in Image Quality and Bokeh when used on mirrorless cameras. The only negative is that you can use the Voigtlander on an M camera as it is a full frame lens. Again, This SLR Magic is NOT full frame so while it has an M mount, it is not compatible with M cameras.

The soon to be released SLR Magic 35 T0.95 HYPERPRIME premium lens. (all product shots with Sony RX1)

35t0.95inbox

35t95side

35t95front

For those of you who have seen my review on the previous SLR Magic hyper prime, the 50 T0.95 for Leica M mount you may remember that I loved it and declared it to be just about equal to the Leica Noctilux f0.95 in image quality (in real world use) and I preferred the Bokeh of the SLR Magic. The construction of the Leica Noctilux is better (as is the resale value) but for all out IQ the HyperPrime was amazing. I never had one issue with it on my Leica M9-P or the Monochrom. It was large and heavy but it packed some serious glass. Unfortunately, as far as I know this lens is no longer shipping in the USA (the 50 T0.95) so if you managed to snag one, you have a rare lens in your collection :)

This new 35 T/0.95 seems to have rock solid construction and design, is much less expensive with maybe even better build quality and is a T0.95 35mm which will be like a T0.95 50mm on APS-C mirror-less cameras. Finally a fast and exotic 50mm for your APS-C. BUT, can it deliver the goods? I am not sure yet as I just got it so I will be shooting it in Vegas next week to give it a workout.

I will not know anything until I thoroughly use it but from the looks and feel it is impressive. This lens will come in at $1349 and will be available from SLR Magic starting February 2013. They are also offering $100 off for early buyers so keep an eye out here for info.

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The SLR Magic 35 T1.4 for APS-C

onthex-e1

SLR Magic also sent me their new 35 T1.4 lens to test out on the Fuji X-E1 and this lens is coming in at only $349. It is a budget lens but it certainly does not look or feel like one. This lens is also available for all other mirrorless systems but will come in whatever mount you order it in. The one that I was sent is for Fuji X and for a $349 lens this is one hell of a well built lens. Metal construction with the weight of a Leica 50 Summilux ASPH. This is no cheap toy lens in the construction department and the packaging is just as nice as the Hyperprime lens.

Andrew from SLR Magic told me they have tweaked their packaging and it shows.

This lens is not up to par with the T0.95 Hyperprime in the IQ department but it is not designed to be. This $349 lens is built for Bokeh it seems as it delivers a rich and creamy out of focus rendering with bit of softness to the images when shot at 1.4 wide open. The lens seems to sharpen up by 2.8 but even wide open will give you a soft etheral look.

35t1.4front

What is nice about this lens is the build and the fact that you can order it NOW in any mount you want. This is what SLR Magic told me about the availability of this lens:

“The 35mm T1.4 is available now. We have it for X mount, E mount, EF-M mount, and mFT mount. It is not up on our website or eBay yet but people can already order by emailing us at [email protected] to get it before it is up on our website. We have already sold a bunch for the mFT version”.

So you can order  this lens now if you desire and what is even better is that if you bought one of their older 35 1.7 toy lenses you can trade it in for a $90 credit towards this new lens (which is a much nicer lens than the toy lens in build and IQ). Also, if you order by Feb 2013 you can take $70 off of the price:

“We have two programs

A) Owners of the SLR Magic 35mm f/1.7 can ship their lens back to Hong Kong for trade-in at $90 value to upgrade.

B) If bought by Feb 2012 from us we have a $70 promotional rebate program.”

So if you buy this lens by Feb 2013 it will come in at only $279. Great buy for any mirrorless camera system if you want great Bokeh and a unique quality. This lens is not a pin sharp lens when used at 1.4 or f/2. It sharpens up by F2.8. I will be reviewing this lens as well with the Fuji X-E1 so stay tuned!

A couple of OOC JPEGS to show Bokeh Quality and expected sharpness at 1.4

“Best Beer in the world Part 2″

351.4bar

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“Goodbyes”

351.4air

 Remember that this is an all manual lens so you will have to manually focus and manually set Aperture on the lens barrel. Much like using a Leica M lens on your mirrorless camera. Both of these new lenses also have clickless aperture rings as they are “Cine” lenses which happen to be great for videos as well.

So if you want to order this 35 T 1.4 lens for your system you can e-mail SLR Magic for details at [email protected]. My full reviews will be coming soon on both of these.

 

HELP ME TO KEEP THIS SITE GOING AND GROWING!! IT’S EASY TO HELP OUT & I CAN USE ALL THE HELP I CAN GET!

PLEASE Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site (and the cost these days to keep it going is pretty damn high), so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at Amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :) More info is here on how you can help even if you are NOT in the USA as I have Amazon links to GermanyUnited Kingdom and Canada as well!

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Dec 052012
 

1 Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 lens for CX format Lens Review

By Craig Litten

See his website HERE

 

INTRO

I’ve been looking forward to getting this lens ever since it was announced. Primes are always welcome, and I hope the Nikon will keep them coming. If you’re a regular reader of Steve Huff Photo, then you probably know that I’m a big fan of the Nikon V1. To keep it in perspective though, the Nikon 1 system has its place. It is not necessarily to be used as your main camera, but rather for specific purposes or shoots. But if you’re a street photographer or you travel a lot, the Nikon V1 could very well be your main camera, it’s that good. As much as I wish there was a one-camera solution for every situation, there isn’t. The Leica M has its place, the Canon EOS-1D X has its place and the Sony X100 has its place. All vastly different cameras to fill different needs or desires. The world would be a very boring place if everyone drove the same car wouldn’t it? But we don’t park next to someone at the mall, get out of our cars and ridicule them for choosing to drive a Nissan Cube do we (I think the Cube is cool by the way)? So Nikon 1 naysayers can look elsewhere because you cannot, nor ever will, be convinced. Secondly, the images in this lens review are not a portfolio, but they are meant to show a variety of situations, angles, f-stops, etc. to give you, the one who is considering a purchase of this lens, an idea of what the lens can do. I see so many poor sample photos shot with new lenses on the Internet than I can hardly believe, which is one reason why I personally come back to Steve’s reviews. If he says it’s good and gives it a thumb’s up, then I don’t think twice about it.

So whether this lens is for you or not, you’ll have to decide. But like the wildly popular Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, it checks all the right boxes. It’s cheap, light, fast, sharp and a great bargain. When it was announced I immediately pre-ordered it at B&H Photo, but I probably didn’t need to since I don’t think it will be a hot seller like the Sony 24mm f/1.8 E-Mount Carl Zeiss Sonnar lens or other lenses like it, so it should always be in stock. This lens is not exotic, but more of a utility lens that can be used in almost every situation, everyday and especially in low light. As of writing this, B&H has all three colors, black, silver and white, in stock HERE. So, to summarize the above paragraph: if you are a Nikon 1 hater, please be kind or stop reading now. I’ve always been a fan of the underdog, and that’s exactly what Nikon has here in the Nikon 1 System. It’s a camera that caused a big stir, but then was soon forgotten. But at its current price, $299 HERE at B&H, it’s an absolute steal. Yes STEAL! You can revisit my review HERE or other reviews by Colin Steel HERE on this very website. Maybe now that the price is reasonable to the masses, you may reconsider. Plus you can pick up this fantastic, tiny wonder-of-a lens for under $200. (The V1 Ultimate Kit is now half off as well at B&H)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Immediately after taking the lens out of the box and handling it, I noticed how light it is, it’s a featherweight. It feels almost hallow like the lens consists only of the outer lens barrel, the mount and the front and rear elements but is empty inside. But unlike its DX counterpart, it has a metal mount–a must for any lens I own period. So even though it’s light, it seems to be well built. Not Voightlander well built, but this new-day-of-digital-cheap-lenses well built. I also examined it to see if the lens barrel was metal or plastic. Yesterday I concluded it was plastic, but today I think it may be metal, but I’m not 100% sure and Nikon doesn’t say. I did compare it to my 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 lens, which has a metal barrel and seems heavier and much denser. After having the lens sit on my desk overnight, the barrel is slightly cold to the touch, like the 10mm, which makes me wonder if it is metal after all. I also own the Panasonic Lumix Leica D Summilux 25mm f/1.4 for the Four Thirds system, and it has a metal lens barrel, which seems very cold to the touch. Plastic never feels cold to the touch though. Even though all the 1 Nikkor prototypes were in shiny metal, I have a feeling that this lens is plastic. If anyone can verify this, I’d love to know. No matter, it’s still well put together and you can read about the usual specs at Nikon USA.

There’s not much else to say. It comes with the usual 5-year Nikon USA warranty, which is great. It’s solid, light and doesn’t rattle or move when you shake it. It takes the usual 40.5mm filters, which are slightly hard to find, and the plastic Nikon HB-N101 lens hood fits snugly (I can’t say that about all lens hoods for other systems), looks cool and works perfectly.

WHAT IS IT?

First off, those reading this review that are not familiar with the Nikon 1 system may not know exactly what this lens is. The 1 Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 lens is for Nikon 1 CX format cameras only. The Nikon 1 camera has a small one-inch sensor that you must multiply a given lens focal length by 2.7x to figure out the exact focal length. So this 18.5mm lens is a 50mm equivalent standard f/1.8 lens.

 

USING THE LENS

The lens is slightly smaller and lighter than the standard 10-30mm kit zoom, and balances perfectly on the V1. It has just enough size, protruding out from the camera body, to hold comfortably. And it’s light enough not to be noticed.

1. Focus

Focus is instant and silent just like the 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens. It locks on instantly and rarely racked. The focus did rack (back and forth once not multiple times—in other words, it did not hunt) only a few times, and I shot hundreds of photos, but it always locked on immediately afterwards. But mostly because I was putting the lens through it’s paces shooting every type of situation I could think of. The Nikon 1 system is known for it’s incredible fast and accurate focus, and the 18.5mm f/1.8 was in line with the already existing lenses. I did notice that the 18.5mm racked a bit more than the 10mm pancake though, and it could be because the elements have to travel further, I’m not sure. But it is nothing to worry about or even give a second thought. I was a Canon shooter for 11 years and the Canon lenses rack like crazy (sorry Canon shooters, but it’s true), so even top pro systems and L glass rack focus.

Focus is also very accurate. Only on one or two shots did focus not lock into place, and I didn’t notice until I got back to the computer to edit. I don’t look at every photo I shoot while out in the field. I haven’t used the 10-30mm kit lens a lot, but I feel that the focusing on the 18.5mm lens is better that that of the 30-110mm telephoto 1 Nikkor zoom lens. It was able to focus, in complete darkness over a completely black body of water on a string of lights running across the center of the frame. The string of lights was so small in the frame that they almost couldn’t be seen. The auto focus auto point selector picked it out and instantly focused on it. Amazing. One of the shots included in the article was shot on a pier at night under incredibly low light. The focus didn’t hesitate at all and locked in on the subject immediately. So, in conclusion, the focus is both fast and accurate and in line with the Nikon 1 system and the other 1 Nikkor lenses.

2. Handling

The lens handles perfectly. Again, it’s small and super light, so you hardly notice it, which is one of the pluses of the Nikon 1 system. The lens never gets in the way of itself.

3. Sharpness

I’ll let the test images speak for themselves. I have included several full size copies for you to download and examine. NO sharpening has been applied during processing or in camera. All photos were shot RAW+JPEG, but the samples where from the RAW processed though Lightroom 4. There are many samples shot at f/1.8, an f-stop most of us want to know about to see if this lens is worth the asking price. These are sharp, very sharp. Plus there are also samples at f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 and f/8. I’m a photographer who makes 100% of my living at photography, not a lab technician of a test chart shooter. But I’m personally impressed with the output of this lens. Both wide open and stopped down. I really didn’t notice much difference, but also didn’t spend hours pixel-peeping the files. To me, they look good. This lens, even wide open at f/1.8, is good enough for paying gigs. Enough said.

4. Distortion

In practical use, shooting people and most subjects, you will not notice much if any distortion. But when shooting a horizon such as at the beach, you will notice a slight bend downwards. Also when shooting near a wall. In the photo with the white egret on the black fishing nets you will notice the slight curvature in the barn siding to the bottom left of the frame. You can also see slight rounding on the top and bottom of the night photo of the wooden fish sign shot through a window. Notice the “Bridge Tender Inn” sign at the top and the “fresh fish” sign at the bottom, both have a slight curvature. On the other hand, Vignetting is very slight but I really didn’t “notice” it during practical use. Finally, purple and green fringing reared its ugly head in one photo, the wind chime in front of a screen, shot wide open at f/1.8 and with extreme backlighting. I didn’t notice it any other time though, and don’t think it’s anything to worry about.

CONCLUSION

If you’re a Nikon 1 owner (whether the J1, J2, or V1, V2) this lens is a no-brainer, just buy it. For $186.95 it’s well worth it. It finally gives Nikon 1 owners a fast option for low light. Although I think files out of the V1 are very pleasing up to and including ISO 800, and sometimes even ISO 1600 if exposed correctly, this will give users an option to shoot at much lower ISOs in a given lighting situation, and as you can easily see from the sample photos, some fairly nice bokeh. If you are not currently a Nikon 1 owner, maybe this lens and the currently ridiculously low price of the wonderful V1 will push you over to the dark side. Since I am a photojournalist by profession, I shoot almost exclusively with zoom lenses or I wouldn’t be able to compete. There simply is not enough time to change lenses in this fast-paced profession. So I found it a real pleasure to shoot with a 50mm equivalent prime lens. It is a great focal length and always seemed to be ‘just right.’

ACCESSORIES

As I’ve already mentioned, the Nikon HB-N101 lens hood, designed for the 1 Nikkor 10-30mm kit lens, works perfectly on the 18.5mm lens. But the Nikon HN-N101 metal lens hood, designed for the 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens, works well too with no vignetting in the corners. The metal hood is very low profile and will most likely not give you the coverage that the plastic bayonet hood will. I use the metal hood exclusively on my 10mm pancake, and have never had any flair issues. This entire review was shot with the metal hood on my 18.5mm lens that I borrowed from my 10mm pancake. I just ordered a second one that will live on the 18.5mm lens. I love it because it can also be fitted with a screw-on metal lens cap (which I also own), the HC-N10, to make it a tiny, low profile package but still offering the protection of a lens shade. Nikon also makes a very nice, inexpensive lens pouch, CL-N101, that will easily hold the 18.5mm, the 10mm pancake, the 10-30mm kit zoom and even the new 11-27.5 pancake zoom with hoods attached. It features a stiff, padded bottom, a drawstring interior, and a Velcro flap. It’s also very soft, flexible, easy to store and comes in red, black and white. But for some reason the red and white versions are more expensive.

Craig’s Website is HERE

Craig’s Street Shooting Workshops can be found HERE

Jul 262012
 

The Sony RX100 Digital Camera Review – The best pocket digital compact of the year…actually…EVER!

Holy Pocket Rocket! That is what I said when I shot this camera and brought it back home to take a look at the files. The Sony RX100 is a SMALL pocketable camera, as in front pocket camera, and it packs a mean punch though I guess it should for its $650 price tag. I was a little underwhelmed with the latest NEX-F3 basically because it is more of the same old same old. Don’t get me wrong,  it’s a great camera but to me just a slight upgrade to the NEX-3 and C3. But what I never expected was for Sony to release this RX100 and have it be as good as it is for being so small. Yes my fellow photo enthusiasts, it really is that good and after this and the Nikon V1 I will never again doubt a small sensor camera, ever.

Before I get to the nitty gritty and let you know about my time with the RX100 here is the first look video I made as soon as the RX100 arrived to me:

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You know me..I am not a fan of cameras without an EVF or some type of built in VF. I just feel a VF makes a camera more “complete” and more usable and sometimes, even more fun. I hate holding cameras out at arms length for various reasons but mainly it just seems “anti” photographer not to mention that the LCD screens are usually washed out by the daylight sun.

I had this washed out issue with the Pentax K-01 rendering the camera useless to me in the bright AZ sunlight. I loved the IQ from that Pentax and applaud them for being different with the design but if it had a built in EVF I may have bought one for myself. I am also not a fan of zoom lenses (due to them usually being so slow) and this RX100 seemed (at first) like a dumbed down Nikon V1 without the EVF. Why? Well, because it houses the same size sensor as the Nikon 1 series sensor, which is a 1″ sensor (don’t get me started on sensor “actual” sizes, this is what Sony and Nikon call it, so this is how I am referring to it). This sensor is larger than point and shoot sensors but smaller than even Micro 4/3 or APS-C sensors. The good news is that the sensor in this camera ROCKS and ROCKS hard and I have never seen a small camera such as this deliver this quality in not only photo but video as well.

The good news is that the RX100 doesn’t have an issue with using the LCD in bright light as Sony uses their new “White Magic” technology that keeps the LCD viewable in even this harsh AZ sunlight I live with every day :)

IMPORTANT! WITH all of my reviews and this one as well you must CLICK THE IMAGES to see them larger and in the quality they are meant to be seen in. If you do not do this they will not look as good as they could. 

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The Zoom lens in the Rx100 – Zeiss quality and rendering is here!

I stated that I was not a fan of zoom lenses in most compact or P&S (point and shoot) cameras but the lens in the RX100 is different. It starts out with a fast f/1.8 aperture and offers a 28-100mm zoom range. While the lens doesn’t stay at f/1.8 for long (as soon as you zoom from 28mm it goes to f/2 and then slows down from there) it offers really good quality in “real world” situations. You know, what a camera is built to be used for…photos. I have shot the RX100 in all kinds of situations. Low light, good light, harsh light and at all focal lengths and apertures. Never once did it disappoint me. Shooting at 28 at 1.8 is nice as you get that fast aperture so you can keep ISO’s lower (as low as ISO 80) or jack it up if you need to to shoot in low light.

RX100 – f/2.2 – 30mm – ISO 1000 – JPEG

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The RX100 at 28mm wide open at 1.8. You can get shallow Depth Of Field if you stay close to your subject.

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Another wide open at 1.8 and 28mm – this camera also happens to be SILENT in addition to crazy small. It’s the same shutter sound as the uber quiet Leica X2 and Nikon V1 when using the electronic shutter.

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So I was not disappointed with the lens at all. I found it sharp even wide open. I found the color to be some of the richest I have seen from Sony without the usual color wonkiness the NEX series gives you at times. It’s got a Zeiss feel about it and is smooth with great color pop and contrast. Me like.

Click images below to see full 100% crops embedded in the larger versions!

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The Features of the Sony RX100 – Lots of tech here

This little guy may appear to be just a compact P&S but it is much more than that. I am not going to bullshit here or beat around the bush. THIS my friends is the compact you have been wanting since digital photography started. If the RX100 launched in 1998 people would have been dumbfounded and shocked beyond belief. There are loads of things here that the Sony gives us..

  • Focus Peaking for Manual Focus and using MF with the ring dial is easy.
  • Live out HDMI. You can connect a mini HDMI display if you like and shoot with it in this way.
  • Control Dial on the lens barrel. Not a 1st but it is well implemented as you can program its function quickly.
  • Large sensor quality in a jeans front pocket camera. Wow!
  • “White Magic” LCD screen so you can view and compose in bright light. Works great in sunny harsh AZ so will work wherever you are!
  • Silent as can be shutter. This is a leaf shutter much like what is in the Leica X2. No one would ever know you snapped a shot off.
  • The lens extracts quickly upon power up and closes in at shutdown in a fast motion. When sucked in the body the lens has a built in cap that closes to protect your lens. No more lost lens caps. Also, the camera is very slim with lens retracted.
  • Much improved menus and control over the NEX series.
  • Full manual video! You can set the aperture, shutter speed, etc. No more dumbed down video.
  • Beautiful metal build in an all stealthy and gorgeous BLACK.
  • SteadyShot works great, as always.
  • Close focus abilities when at 28mm, something the Leica X2 can only dream about.
  • Has all of the usual Sony features like Sweep Pano, Color filters, Night modes, and even the new “Superior Auto” mode  that helps you take great pics even if you have no idea what you are doing.
  • AF is fast, almost instant. I have shot in low light, no light and good light. The camera had a hard time in NO light of course but I had no issues in low light, AT ALL. Focus always locked and never gave me a false lock (like the NEX does at times).
  • Built in flash is tillable for bounce.
  • Unique self portrait mode where the camera waits until it sees your face in the frame before it fires. It then takes a shot every three seconds until you move out of  the frame!
  • Zoom is slow and steady for video use.
  • Fast burst mode with 10 frames per second capability.
  • ALL of this in a tiny shirt pocket design. Oh, and it is made in Japan. It reeks of quality inside and out.
RX100 – f/4 – ISO 100 – 28mm

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RX100 – f/1.8 – 1/30 – -0.7 – ISO 125

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After shooting this cam for a few days I found I preferred it to something like a NEX-5 just due to the IQ, size, design and speed. The 1″ sensor must have some kind of special properties as the Nikon V1 also had these qualities but this RX100 is much smaller than even the Nikon V1 and IMO gives a little but better quality and much better high ISO quality. The RX100 literally squashes any previous P&S or pocket camera. The new upcoming Leica D-Lux 6 better have something special inside because it may be tough to beat the RX100. Seriously.

RX100 and Nikon V1 – The V1 is much thicker and larger but is also an interchangeable lens camera, which ultimately will give more versatility. The RX100 is a “super” compact meant to fit in a shirt pocket or pants pocket or purse. Literally TAKE ANYWHERE. Now there are no excuses.

Low Light and High ISO

One issue with most compacts is that they may give you nice output most of the time but to me they have always appeared digital and hard in the way they rendered the photos coming out of them. The old Canon S100, IMO, was a prime example of this. It was very digital, kind of “hard”, built a bit flimsy and had horrible low light performance with awful grain at ISO 800 even. Oh how times have changed..you have no idea!

Shooting the RX100 up to ISO 1600 is not a problem. Keep in mind that EVERY IMAGE in this review was shot as JPEG as at this time there is no Adobe support for the RX100 RAW files. So what you see in this review is the WORST this camera will deliver as it only gets better when shooting RAW. With RAW you can control the amount of Noise Reduction and therefore avoid smearing. You can control color, white balance, exposure AFTER the fact. I always shoot RAW but I have been very impressed with JPEGS coming from the Sony as is. This RX100 has better Auto White Balance and color than my NEX-7.

As for low light and high ISO I have been amazed at what I have seen. I turned the Noise Reduction to “LOW” and I shot a few images at various higher ISO’s in various light conditions:

RX100 – JPEG  - ISO 3200 – f/4.9 – 95mm

I shot the above image as a JPEG, Vivid mode I believe. It was around 8PM and I was at the Wildlife World Zoo here in Phx, AZ. The camera was on Auto ISO and it picked 3200 for this exposure. I zoomed in and fired. This is what came out. I have not added any Noise Reduction, I have not added any filters or effects. I simply resized this image to include in the review and adjusted contrast and levels. For a shirt pocket camera I have never seen anything close to this performance at ISO 3200, and this was at night!

I also did a long exposure around 8:45 PM in the same spot:

This is a 5 second exposure, ISO 80 at f/1.8. I set the camera on a ledge as i did not have a tripod with me.

A few more high ISO examples including 6400 ISO:

RX100 – ISO 1250 with 100% crop embedded when you click the image!

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How about another ISO 3200?

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or ISO 6400?

So why did I shoot the 6400 examples in B&W? I do not know really but if I were to shoot at this ISO it probably would be in B&W. I can not wait to see RAW results without the NR and noise smearing. I have a feeling ISO 6400 and B&W will be reminiscent of film with a tight grain, much like the Nikon V1 does at 1600 and 3200 with B&W. I have no complaints with the RX100 high ISO capabilities.

Why would I spend $650 on this over a DSLR? 

Man, you can go buy a full blown Sony A57 for about the cost of this little teeny pocket rocket. Why on earth would someone buy THIS RX100 over a DSLR? Some of you have already asked me this. I am one of those in the camp that feels the cost of the RX100 is NOT overpriced. For me, an RX100 brings me much more joy than lugging a DSLR anywhere. A DSLR and huge lenses have their place but they are not small or pocketable and I never would bring one everywhere with me.

This Sony RX100 has all of the features, and even more, than a huge DSLR. The image quality makes no apologies to it’s bigger DSLR brothers. Sure, you can go buy a DSLR and pro lens and get sharper images and make huge ass prints but you can also do this with the RX100. You lose some versatility as you are stuck with the zoom lens but man I would personally spend my hard earned cash on this over any DSLR in this price range any day. If it came down to a RX100 or Nikon starter DSLR it would be this one because it fits in my pocket and gives me 85-90% of the larger cameras quality. It’s nice to have this in addition to your workhorse or something like an M9, D800, 5D, etc.

Add to all of this the  panorama capabilities, HDR capabilities, color filters, a Zeiss lens, zoom versatility, great HD video, and some unique Sony only modes that you won’t find on other brands. Built in steady shot, made in Japan heritage. I mean, this little guy means business and I am not hyping here. Just writing what I feel, as I have done for years.

When I write reviews I may be enthusiastic but one thing I am not is dry and dull. When my excitement is there it shines through these pages and extrudes out to you. That is when you know I feel a camera is REALLY exceptional. The RX100 is exceptional for what it is. It is not an M9, it is not a OM-D, it is not a DSLR. It is a camera that many will buy in addition to their DSLR or larger kit. $650 is a bargain for what you get here as this is a camera  that will get massive amounts of use, at least for me it will. I bought my copy. :)

Motivation. I love being motivated to shoot and even though it’s the middle of summer here in AZ, a time when I am NOT motivated to go out and shoot..the RX100 did in fact get me out to shoot. I had no massive projects underway but I shoot just like most of you. My everyday life. My son, my friends, my girlfriend, my dog and things I see and do. It’s real world as it gets and the RX100 is a camera made for ANYONE and EVERYONE. That is what is so cool about it. It does what it does and does it well with little in the way of compromise.

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Speaking of compromise, what is wrong with the RX100?

With all of this gushing over the RX100 there has to be something wrong with it, right? Well if I could redesign a thing or two I would try to add a swivel LCD as I think this would be really useful and add versatility allowing you to shoot in creative angles. I would try to add a VF of some kind, inside. Even an optical to keep size down if need be. The camera is so small and slick, there really is not much of a grip so a grip could be nice. A constant 2.8 aperture would also be amazing. BUT if you add all of the things I am suggesting it would make the camera quite a bit larger, taking away from what it is meant to be, which is a high quality take anywhere pocket camera.

This means that maybe Sony can work on a RX10 or RX1000 – a bit larger, 2.8 aperture throughout, grip, swivel LCD and EVF. Then again, this sounds like a NEX-7. Now that I think about it Sony nailed it with this. It falls in between their DSLR and NEX series and provides one more way for us photo nuts to get our fix.

Now that I think a bit more I would also like to see the shutter speed increased to 1/4000s as 1/2000ths is what it tops out at now and shooting in sunlight is tough at 1.8 if you want a creamier looking background. Also after some use by me I noticed the finish on one side scratched a little so there is already black finish that has come off on my body. It may have scraped up against another camera so my fault, but it will scratch if you are not careful! The battery door and USB door could also be a little more sturdy.

Where f/1.8 can come in handy! Low light, 1/30s, f/1.8, ISO 160

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ISO 1600, B&W, 1/40s, f/2.2

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ISO 640 – f/1.8 – 1/30s

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Concerts? No problem. The RX100 Shoots Seal!

This little dynamo can also shoot grain free concert performances it seems. Check out these shots of Seal taken with the RX100 but know that these were not shot by me, but reader Barry Burris in Tulsa OK! Thanks Barry! I love the way the RX100 rendered these challenging shots as no other pocketable compact made to date could tackle this and give such great performance. Amazing. For comparison, you can see my live shots of Seal all shot with Leica gear HERE.

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So this camera even does HD video? YES it does! 1080P

The RX100 also shoot HD video and you have options here. You can shoot in AVCHD or MP4. Tou can choose your recording settings such as 60i or 60p and the cool thing is you have full manual control if you desire when shooting video. You can also let the camera take over and choose settings. I like shooting in Aperture priority mode so I can choose the Aperture. There is also a wind noise reduction setting because this camera will pick up wind noise, no doubt. The RX100 will not give you video as rich as the NEX-5n or NEX-7 or even Olympus OM-D with a nice lens BUT it will give you perfectly acceptable video that is rich and with great IS. Below is a video sample I made with the camera. BTW, you can NOT add an external mic to the camera, which would have been cool so you are stuck with the internal microphone.

RX100 Sony Features – Panorama, Picture Effects, etc

For JPEG shooters who want simplicity and some cool out of camera effects Sony has included their Picture Effects and Sweep Panorama modes just as they do in all of their cameras. You get Toy Camera, POP Color, Posterization Effect, Retro, Soft High Key, Partial Color, High Contrast Monochrome, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich Tone B&W, Miniature, Watercolor Effect and the Illustration effect which makes your subject look like it was drawn.

Most of these are garbage, I admit that. I do like the High Contrast Monochrome though as it gives a nice contrasty B&W result. I would throw away most of the others :)

High Contrast B&W

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Illustration Mode 

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Watercolor Effect

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Sweep Panorama Mode

So the RX100 keeps the effects we know from previous Sony digital cameras. They are there if you want them, and if you do not then you can ignore them. The camera also focuses very close at 28mm. While not a true macro performance the camera can get VERY close at 1.97″ away from your subject. In comparison, the $2000 Leica X2 will get you 11.81 inches away at its closest focus. One weakness of the X2 I would love to see improved in an X3.

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Compared to the Nikon V1, Olympus OM-D and Leica X2

So how would this little Sony RX100 Dynamo do against the Nikon V1? The V1 has the same sensor size but is 10Mp where the Sony is 20MP, twice the megapixel count of the Nikon V1. This should spell disaster for Sony but the results may surprise you. I am a Nikon V1 fan but have to give credit where credit is due. Take a look for yourself and be sure to click on the images for the full size files to see them in better quality! I also added comparison with the Olympus OM-D and 12-50 Zoom and the Leica X2!

You can see how much smaller the RX100 is to the fatter Leica X2. The RX100 is truly a pocket camera.

These are all OOC JPEGS using the same aperture. I let camera choose exposure. To me, it appears that the X100 and X2 gave me the best exposure. Click the images to see larger size and 100% crops to see how each camera delivered. Keep in mind the Olympus had the 12-50 kit zoom and the V1 used the 10-30 Kit zoom. I have to say the most accurate color wise, and I looked at this dumpster for a few minutes to embed it in my memory…comes from the Sony RX100.

Sony RX100 with Crop:

Nikon V1 with crop:

Olympus OM-D with crop:

Leica X2 with crop:

So as you can see there are differences in exposure and how each camera exposes the scene. This was full sun at 2pm and the sun was BRIGHT. The X2 pumped up the contrast and color a tad and the RX100 exposed it pretty spot on. The Sony has a smooth character with pleasing colors that are quite a bit different than the NEX series look and color. I

Pros and Cons of the Sony RX100

Pros

  • Small size, HIGH quality
  • Superb and shockingly good high ISO performance
  • JPEG or RAW or BOTH
  • HD 1080 Video in 60i or 60p
  • Zeiss Zoom lens is fantastic. Rich, smooth, great color and pop
  • Camera is fast to AF, and locks on quickly and accurately
  • Control dial can be customized to your preferences
  • Much better menu system than the NEX series
  • WhiteMagic technology  LCD allows use in bright light. LCD is 3″ and very good quality.
  • The image quality is the best I have seen of any pocket compact made to date, ever (not counting Leica X2, which isn’t a “pocket camera”
  • Blows away cameras like S100, G12, and even the D-Lux and Lumix compacts
  • Made in Japan and quality is high – build and feel is very nice
  • All of the filters and gimmicks of the NEX and Alpha series is here
  • Fits in my shirt or pants pocket and beats phone images, even the Nokia 808
  • Great for any photo situation
  • All in one piece of camera dynamite!

Cons

  • It may be TOO small for many
  • No swivel LCD
  • No EVF or VF at all!
  • 1/2000th second top shutter speed
  • Lens slows down as soon as you start to zoom so 1.8 is only good at 28mm, the widest setting
  • Can scratch easily
  • No real super shallow DOF but it is possible with 1.8 aperture at wide setting up close
  • Doesn’t come with a proper battery charger which seems to be the new thing with Sony. You get an AC wall wart with a USB cable and must charge the battery while it is in the camera.
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My bottom line final word conclusion on the Sony RX100

As you can tell, I really fell for the RX100. I did not think I would as I saw it as just another average quality Sony compact. The RX100 is a different breed of Sony compact though and it’s quite remarkable in its capabilities for its size and sensor size. If a 1″ sensor can do this good imagine what is to come with APS-C or full frame sensors in the near future. The RX100 must have other manufacturers freaking out a bit. Here we have a small P&S size compact, Zeiss lens, superb ISO performance, Fast AF, 1080 HD video, quiet leaf shutter, discreet and beautiful design, made in Japan quality and IQ that sets it apart from any other compact to date.

I will keep this simple. The Sony RX100 is the best compact camera to ever be released in the digital world. Ever. Period. End of story. Will to be the best for long? Who knows but I do know it is not a camera that will hold you back from taking any kind of photos you want. If you have the passion, the creativity and drive you can make amazing photos with the RX100. I highly recommend it. I bought it :)-

Where to buy the RX100

You can buy the X100 at two of my most shopped stores. B&H Photo should have it in stock at all times. Amazon also sells the RX100 and we all know Amazon. I highly recommend both of these dealers for your photo nee

Buy the Sony RX100 at B&H Photo HERE

Buy the Sony RX100 at Amazon HERE

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Jun 152012
 

New high end lenses for Micro 4/3 on the way from Schneider Kreuznach and Olympus

Like I said in my Olympus OM-D E-M5 review, Micro 4/3 has finally matured and it is now a valid force to be reckoned with. With the quality of this new Olympus it doesn’t matter what you shoot as it will be up to the task. With the right glass the camera is a powerhouse of IQ, Speed, and overall quality. I was excited to read the news that not only is the new Olympus 75 1.8 available for pre-order (B&H, Amazon, Popflash) but there is also some new super high-end stuff coming from Schneider Kreuznach for those who want the best quality they can get from their Micro 4/3 cameras.

Check out the Olympus 75 1.8 on the OM-D. This is going to be one hell of a hunk of glass and is coming it at $899

These new Schneider lenses look like they are designed and made very well and the 1st lens to be released will be a 14mm f/2 which will equal a 28mm  after the 2X crop on a  Micro 4/3 camera. It appears that other mounts will be coming as well as they appear to be joking in on the “mirrorless movement” in the digital world. I think these lenses will help Micro 4/3 cameras such as the OM-D E-M5 even more in establishing itself as a serious photographic tool. For the record, I still feel the Olympus OM-D is the best all around mirrorless camera you can buy right now as long as you shoot it with decent glass. I’ve been shooting with it constantly and have yet to find any problems or issues with it at all. It has everything everyone could want in a digital camera. The manual control, the IQ, low light performance, weatherproofing, swivel LCD, EVF built-in and quality lenses available.

The new 75 from Olympus should be out in the next 30-60 days and the Schneider lenses are set to officially be shown and introduced at Photokina in September.

The Schneider 14mm f/2 Super Angulon  - $1499 – 10 elements, and 4 aspheric surfaces. Other lenses planned for announcement will be a 30mm 1.4 and 60 2.4 Macro. CAN NOT WAIT!

Jun 052012
 

Sony’s New Advanced Cyber-shot RX100 Camera Packs Large Sensor and Bright Lens into Stylish, Pocket-Size Body

So is this Sony’s answer to cameras like the Fuji X100, the Leica X2, and Canon G12X?

With a name like the RX100 (much like Fuji’s X100) it would appear so as Sony is now jumping on the “X” bandwagon! This little bad boy appears to have great specs though including a 1 inch CMOS sensor (four times larger than your average P&S camera) and a Zeiss 1.8 lens. No built-in EVF though, but I would not expect it in a Sony camera like this anyway. It does have a nice 3″ 1.229 dot LCD (about a million more than the Leica X2). At 1st glance it reminds me of the Olympus XZ-1 but I do admit it is a good-looking compact. Sony says this will ship this month, in July for $650 and I look forward to testing one out. If it has good IQ, fast operation and good HD video then it could be a solution for those who want small, easy and quick. No muss, no fuss. We shall see! Press release is below and makes for an interesting read. ISO 25,600? Yep!

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PRESS RELEASE:

New Model Contains World’s First 1.0-inch type 20.2 MP Exmor CMOS Sensor and Ultra-bright F1.8 Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* Fixed Lens to Deliver Outstanding Picture Quality

SAN DIEGO, May 16, 2012 – Travelling light no longer means compromising on picture quality with the Cyber-shot® DSC-RX100 camera, Sony’s new flagship compact camera.

Striking the ultimate balance of form and function, the stylish, aluminium-built RX100 camera inherits many advanced imaging features from Sony’s α range of A-mount and E-mount cameras, delivering beautiful still images, crisp full HD videos and a level of manual control and creativity unmatched by any other camera of its size.

“This camera is ideal for travel, portraits or street photography, delivering impressive results in a variety of lighting conditions with an intuitive, customizable control interface,” said Yosuke Tomoda, director of the Cyber-shot business at Sony Electronics.  “It’s a perfect step-up model for point and shoot users not interested in larger DSLR or compact system cameras, and also an outstanding choice for enthusiasts who may already own a large DSLR and are looking for a high-quality, pocket-sized ‘all-in-one’ second camera.”

 At the heart of the Cyber-shot RX100 is the world’s first 1.0-inch type Exmor® CMOS sensor with a resolution of 20.2 effective megapixels. Specially developed by Sony, the sensor has an area that’s approximately four times larger than the 1/2.3-type sensors in traditional point-and-shoot cameras. The sensor’s larger area takes in more light while capturing content, resulting in beautiful, detail-packed images and Full HD movie clips with very low noise.

The larger sensor is partnered with an exceptionally bright Carl Zeiss® Vario-Sonnar T* fixed lens with 3.6x optical zoom range.  In contrast to standard point-and-shoot cameras, it has a wide F1.8 maximum aperture to let in additional light and complement the resolving power of the larger sensor.

Similar to high-performance DSLR optics, the lens features seven- bladed circular aperture. This makes it easy to produce images with subjects in sharp focus against a smoothly-blurred, beautifully defocused background. The lens also features an Advanced Aspherical (AA) lens element that contributes to the camera’s extremely compact dimensions without sacrificing optical zoom performance or resolution.

Newly optimized to complement the 1.0-inch type sensor and lens, the camera’s powerful BIONZ® image processor maximizes shooting response times while helping assure exceptionally clean, natural images. It also extends sensitivity right up to ISO 25600 (using Multi Frame Noise Reduction), allowing for exceptionally clear handheld images in low light conditions. To capture fast-moving subjects, the RX100 camera can also shoot at up to 10 frames per second (in full resolution) and has high-speed autofocus that locks onto a subject in as quickly as 0.13 seconds (depends on scene and lighting conditions).

The new RX100 camera features a high-resolution 3-inch 1,229k dot Xtra Fine LCD™ display and also adds a new feature: WhiteMagic™ technology. This uses additional white pixels to boost screen brightness, allowing users to see subtle details and tones on the screen in all types of shooting environments, including outdoors in bright sunlight.

For making manual adjustments while shooting both still images and movies, the new camera has a smooth control ring around the lens body, which can be used to alter exposure, zoom, creative picture effects and a variety of other customizable functions.   Additionally, frequently used functions can be assigned to the Fn (function) button for instant access, and the Memory Recall feature can store up to three groups of customized shooting settings based on user preference.

Similar to a DSLR-style interface, there’s a choice of auto and manual focus modes on the Cyber-shot RX100 camera for enhanced image control. For those that prefer focusing manually, MF Assist magnifies images to simplify fine adjustments, and there’s also a pro-style peaking function that highlights sharply-focused areas of the image on screen.

The RX100 camera offers a generous choice of artistic options to expand creative shooting possibilities.  It includes the option for six different creative styles and a variety of popular picture effects including Toy Camera, Partial Color, HDR Painting and several others, most of which can be previewed directly on screen before shooting.

The new Cyber-shot features Auto Portrait Framing – a feature found on Sony’s latest α range of A-mount and E-mount cameras — making it simple to create sharp, perfectly framed portraits. This unique feature automatically detects faces in a scene, crops the picture accordingly creates a tighter, pro-style composition at full resolution.  Both the original and cropped photo are saved for review.

New accessories include a spare battery, dedicated carrying case and a battery charger designed to complement to the new camera.

Pricing and Availability

The Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 digital camera will be available this July for about $650.  The camera and accessories will be available at Sony retail stores (www.store.sony.com) and other authorized dealers nationwide.

Jun 022012
 

Some fun low light shooting with the Fuji X100, Olympus E-M5 and Leica X2

Here I am, wide awake. It’s early Saturday morning, around 2AM. I have been up at my computer for the last 2 hours checking out some photos I shot last night in Phoenix at “first friday”. I drove down there to see if there would be any cool photo opps and to test out the Black X100 , OM-D and Leica X2 in low light, night-time situations. Mainly I wanted to see how the AF did with all cameras in challenging situations so why not? I had nothing else to do and it WAS Friday!

My 1st shot of the night was with the X100 and I did not nail the exposure perfectly but it came out nicely anyway. The camera focused FAST..much faster than it did when I reviewed it long ago. The new firmware did indeed fix a few things like AF speed, menu speed, and overall gave it a snappy feel. I am impressed with what Fuji has been able to do. Click image for larger. It was shot at ISO 1600.

If you saw my post from yesterday you would have seen I had a black Fuji X100 kit arrive to my house. Yes, I caved and bought one after dwelling on it for months. With all of the talk of the new firmware greatly enhancing the speed I had to give it a shot. I also wanted to see how it did side by side with the Leica X2 and seeing that the X2 is brand spanking new I figured it would trounce the X100, but that was not the case. But in reality, the X2 focused amazingly well in the dark. MUCH better than the X1 but IMO it still did not beat the X100. They are about equal in IQ (with the Fuji possibly taking the lead) but the X2 did impress me with its new-found speed and high ISO performance. ISO 3200 wasn’t a problem, even in low light. It is indeed a nice improvement to the X1 in regards to AF speed and high ISO performance when using it for taking photos :)

The X2 at ISO 3200

As I sat here at my desk and reviewed the photos I shot I was amazed at how far these small cameras have come. It has gotten to the point now where you can literally take a small and light camera like and X2 or X100 with you anywhere and anytime and get AMAZING results, even at night. Fast AF, great low noise performance and overall amazing designs. I applaud both of these cameras for night low light use. I did prefer using the VF on the X100 though and felt a bit odd holding the X2 out (did not bring the EVF) at arm’s length.

Another ISO 1600 X100 shot. I focused on the barrel in front so she would be out of focus with the flame in the sky. I like this one.

I was having so much fun shooting the “X” cameras that I forgot I brought along my little OM-D powerhouse. On the camera was the Panasonic 25 1.4 and I have to tell you, this combo seems like they were made for each other. Fast AF, no rattlesnake noises and superb sharpness/bokeh, even when wide open.

OM-D E-M5 ISO 640 with 25 1.4 at 1.4 and then 6400! – click for larger

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even adding noise to this ISO 1600 image looks great. BTW, this is the girl who was breathing fire in the images above..

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and ISO 6400 on the little Olympus? No problem..the next 4 images were all shot at ISO 6400 on the E-M5. No way the E-P3 could have pulled this ISO off. Also,  THIS WAS the fastest focusing setup of the night.

So while I only shot about 30 shots in all, I had fun with all three cameras because they all performed without fail. They all focused quickly and gave me great results and they all have their own kind of user experience and file quality. Yes, I have been talking quite a bit about these cameras lately but I believe in not only talking about my experiences but also showing images from my experiences so you guys can see what comes out of these new cameras.

Take your pic. They are all good and yes, It’s a good time to be into photography. :)

In case you missed them, you can see see my original reviews of the Fuji X100, Olympus OM-D and Leica X2

OM-D at ISO 1250

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X2 at ISO 320

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X100 at ISO 1600

Jun 012012
 

Look what popped into my house. The Black Special Edition Fuji X100!

I could not resist. I went ahead and ordered a black X100 kit. Partly because I love all black, partly because I really do like the X100 quite a bit and partly because i wanted to see how it is with the new firmware, which I have not yet experienced. I also wanted to see how it stands up next to the new Leica X2. I made a video showing me taking it out of the box and I have to say it is much sexier in person that it is in photos. MUCH better looking than the X-Pro 1 IMO. Sleeker, smaller, and even more stealthy. Yes, this black kit is $500 more than the standard X100 but still $400 less than a Leica X2.

The SE kit has the extra though and when you pick up one of these kits you also get a black full case that strips down to a half case, and it fits very well. You get a filter for your lens and a lens hood and adapter. These are all extras that you would have to buy for your standard X100 so in reality, buying this black kit sets you back an extra $250 or so just to have all black and a limited edition set. This is Fuji milking the X100 much like Leica milks their models. If it works for Leica, why not Fuji?

In any case upon taking it all out and looking it over I have to say it is amazingly gorgeous and much nicer looking than the silver, but this is my opinion. The case is quality, the camera feels a little bit more sturdy than an X2 and as for focus speed? Well, I updated the FW to the latest and greatest and have to say it is much much faster than it used to be. MUCH more responsive than the X-Pro 1 and 35 1.4. The whole menu system is fast as well. So far so good.

Check out the video of the black X100 below to witness its sexiness :)

So my house is loaded with cameras and I feel a bit overwhelmed but am happy as can be as I love it! I also just received a Sony A57 and a couple of lenses and just had to return the D800 which put out some amazing files (more on this one soon). But today, right now, I am in the mini mode of the X2 and X100. Seeing that the X2 is new I was curious to see if the X100 could still match it in all aspects. So this weekend I will be doing some shooting with the X100, X2, NEX-7 and OM-D. I attached the Olympus 17mm 2.8 to the OM-D to see how it would do and it’s doing mighty fine on the new Olympus. Giving me the same 35mm view as the X2 and X100.

The facts are that today, in 2012, all of these cameras are REALLY great at image quality. The ones we choose to work with are all down to our hearts and preferences. It is getting to the point where digital has matured that any something like an OM-D or X100 could last us for MANY MANY years.

In any case, I am doing this comparison all weekend but here is a quick sample from the X100, X2 and OM-D. All at f/4, all with a 35mm equiv lens.

UPDATE – THE COMPARISON WAS RE-DONE AND IS NOW POSTED HERE. THANK YOU!

Apr 242012
 

Olympus OM-D HD Video Samples and Fuji X-Pro 1 side by side video test!

So today I took a stroll to the Zoo to test the video of the OM-D and Fuji X-Pro 1 inside the aquariums where the light is low and the color is plentiful. I brought along the OM-D E-M5 with the Olympus 12mm and 45mm lenses. The Fuji was armed with the 18mm f/2. I have shot some fun clips while testing the OM-D E-M5 and my 1st impression was “WOW! This 5-Axis IS works GREAT”!

When shooting video on the Olympus there is no more Jello effect that plagued the E-P3. The 5-Axis IS makes the video almost “steady cam-ish” with its fluidity. The color is solid and the noise well controlled and when I put the video side by side with the Fuji video shot at the same time, well….you can see what happened.

My review is in progress but I have more shooting to do before I publish it. Also, updating the Fuji firmware tonight and will check that out as well. I am very happy Fuji fixed the chatter problem and while it was a non issue to many, it was an issue to some. Good to see Fuji releasing an update so soon, so way to go Fuji!

Now..on to the video! Yes, all of it was handheld. Don’t forget to set quality to 1080P!

Apr 202012
 

Crazy Comparison HIGH ISO! OM-D E-M5 vs Fuji X-Pro 1 vs Sony NEX-7 – JPEG

I always get those who complain about  these crazy comparisons but hey, I find them fun and useful for my own curiosities so I am sure some of you guys do as well! Since I have all three of the latest and greatest mirrorless cameras here with me right now, the OM-D, the X-Pro 1 and the NEX-7 I decided…why not do a JPEG only test to show OUT OF CAMERA files at high ISO in low indoor light at night, and even outdoor at night (using a tripod).

I was just certain the X-Pro 1 would wipe the floor with the other two but by how much? The results are interesting…and I have to say that out of all three, the one that focused just about instantaneously was the OM-D E-M5. I mean, it was just press and fire. The Sony hunted a but and the Fuji hunted the most.

I shot each camera at ISO 1600, 3200 and 6400. JPEG only. I turned OFF in camera NR on the Olympus to LOW on the Fuji and  Sony  (they can not be disabled). I also included a sample from the Olympus with NR on low, just to be fair. I chose JPEG as there is still not support from Adobe for the Olympus and Fuji.

When I do these comparisons I always show you what the camera puts out. If someone owns one of these, takes it outside, sets it on a tripod and lets the camera choose exposure..this is what you will get. So this is not only a test of each cameras night-time high ISO performance but a test of how well each one will expose the scene.

I DID resize the Sony file to 16MP to be ultra fair as the Sony crowd would yell at me if I did not. Keep in mind, I now OWN the Sony NEX-7 and Olympus. I do not own the Fuji. So which one killed it? Look at the images below and decide. All are straight from camera, how each camera exposed the scene. I also used Auto White Balance. Since different lenses were used they can not be exact, and this is NOT a test of sharpness but each lens was shot at f/2.

For the Olympus I used the 12mm f/2 at f/2. The Fuji has the 18mm at f/2 and the Sony the Zeiss 24 at f/2..are you ready? Let’s get it on!

1st I shot this indoor scene handheld. 9pm at night, just my living room light is on here. ISO 3200 for each camera. 

Click on each image to see a larger version and true 100% crop.

1st the Olympus E-M5 NOT E-P3 (it was late and I mistyped on the image..will fix later today)

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now the Fuji – NR was set to low not OFF as it does not let you set it to off

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and the Sony – NR low

as I stated in my NEX-7 review, the Sony has the tendency to underexpose. But this is not only an ISO test, it is also a test of how each camera will expose the scene on its own.

Now for some outdoor NIGHT TIME shots using a tripod

Keep in mind again that all Sony shots were resized to 16MP before getting the crop. Also, I let each camera choose their white balance and exposure as this is how most will shoot them. Finally, the Fuji told me it locked focus each time but every shot was out of focus somewhat and/or soft. Also, the Fuji tends to overexpose as you can see in the below examples. Again, this is a test showing ISO and exposure of each camera. I just set the lenses to f/2 on each and fired the shot after focus was locked. The Olympus locked it in an instant.

The Olympus at 3200 (IS was turned off as all shots were on a tripod)

click images for larger view and true 100% crop – NR set to OFF

and the Olympus at ISO 6400 – NR set to OFF

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Now the Fuji at ISO 3200, tripod mounted and the camera said focus was locked – NR low not OFF

and the Fuji and 18mm at ISO 6400 – NR is set to LOW not off as it does not let you turn it off.

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and finally the Sony NEX-7 and Zeiss 24 at f/2 at ISO 3200 – NR set to low

and the Sony at 6400

So there you go. The one thing I found by doing this is that Micro 4/3 has come a loooong way since the days of the GF1 and E-P1 in regards to high ISO :) The OM-D is now really good at higher ISO, even at night and these are with all NR turned off! Why did I turn NR off? Well, mainly because the Oly is the only one that lets you disable it totally and also was curious how it would hold up without any at all.

So the OM-D was set to OFF. The Fuji to LOW (-2) and the Sony to LOW. The Fuji and Sony do NOT let you turn it OFF. So.. I knew I would get some of you asking me why I did not take a shot with the Olympus set to LOW. Makes sense right? So below you can see the shots with the Olympus set to LOW. Enjoy and have a GREAT weekend!

The Olympus was the fastest to focus, no contest. The Fuji hunted and never really locked on correctly even though it said it did and the Sony hunted a bit as well, but on the 3rd try I got it to focus. There you go!

UPDATE: With all of the comments from Fuji users who claimed I did not know how to use the AF of the X-Pro 1..really? Of course I know how to use the AF of the X-Pro 1. The question is, does the X-Pro 1 know how to use the AF? I used single point, same spot as with the other two cameras, which had no difficulties locking focus. The Sony was slower than the Olympus but the Fuji wad down SEVERAL times with the same result. I could have went to manual focus but why? This was to show what each camera puts out as is. With AF on all cameras. If the Fuji requires going in to MF mode to shoot in the dark with just street lights when the other two nailed it then that tells me the Fuji AF lags behind. One thing to note is that the Fuji told me it locked focus, so I was surprised at the result.

One more thing. As I stated in this post, I let the cameras choose exposure so I shot in A mode. I was curious to see how each camera would expose the same scene. The X-Pro always overexposes for me and the Sony usually underexposes. The Olympus was the one that exposed just right though the Sony AWB was the best of the lot.

Mar 262012
 

The First Look Video of the Fuji X-Pro 1 and all of the lenses by Steve Huff

1st things 1st, this is NOT my review, just a quick 1st look preview! So with that…OK guys! The Fuji X-Pro 1 has finally arrived! A week or so late but better late than never. Fed Ex rang my bell this afternoon and there it was, a big box from FujiFilm USA. Inside was the X-pro 1 body and all three of the lenses. The 18 f/2, the 35 1.4 and the 60 2.4 Macro. They also sent me the VERY cool hang grip accessory which I can highly recommend as it adds a really nice grip to the camera.

I have only had this camera in hand for a few hours but will be evaluating it over the next 2-3 weeks before I write my full and thorough final review. For now, my VERY 1st few hours impression can be seen in the 19 minute video ABOVE. So far I love the feel of the camera (with the grip) and it is absolutely beautiful in person. AF is faster than the X100, but not blazing fast. In other words, it still has the Fuji AF but with about 20 shots taken this afternoon (just snapshots) I had no issues with mis-focus or non focus. The camera is larger than the X100 and feels MUCH better in my hand, and it is about the same size as an M9.

 

I will have some images up this weekend (or Monday) as I will be shooting this camera in Las Vegas this weekend for my mini meet up at the Palm hotel. To those joining me, you will be able to check it out Saturday :) If anyone knows where I can get a Leica to Fuji adapter for this let me know as I’d really like to try my Leica glass on this camera :)

Stay tuned to this site for X-pro 1 updates and in about 2-3 weeks I will have my final review up where I will go over everything with the X-Pro 1 and all three lenses. So far, so good. The images below were all shot JPEG and they are all straight from camera files, just resized. All were shot with the 35 1.4, mostly all wide open, you can click them for larger version. Enjoy!

BTW, You can still pre-order the X-Pro 1 at B&H Photo HERE. 

The 35 1.4 HERE

The 18 f/2 HERE

and the 60 2.4 Macro HERE.

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Below – 35 1.4 at 1.6 – ISO 320

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Below – 35 1.4 at 1.4 – ISO 250 – Monochrome

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Below: ISO 800 – 35 1.4 at 1.4 – OOC JPEG – Velvia Mode

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Below – 35 1.4 at 1.4 – JPEG

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Below: 35 1.4 at 1.4 – OOC JPEG

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Below: 35 1.4 at 1.4 – OOC JPEG

Mar 202012
 

Traveling in South America with the Sony NEX-7 & Leica glass

By Ashwin Rao – See his Blog HERE

 

Sony NEX-7, Zeiss 24 mm f/1.8 Sonnar

Hi everyone, recently I had the good luck to receive on of this past year’s most desired cameras, the Sony NEX-7. I initially considered myself a long shot to purchase this camera, due to early reports of difficulties of this camera’s ability to handle wider Leica lenses. On top of this, I am a dedicated Leica M user, and already have a similar camera in the Ricoh GXR/M-mount. Thus, why even bother with a new camera, with 2 ways to already use M lenses?’

Well, the answer is a bit multifactorial. For one, I am, like many of you, a bit of a gear head, and GAS bothers me on occasion, as well. Second, I was curious about the NEX system, and in particular, the innovative NEX-7 and it’s Tri-Navi system. Third, at 24 MP, the NEX-7 has the potential to out-resolve the M9, especially if the rumors at true that it possesses a weak anti-aliasing/blur filter. Fourth, I was curious about how enjoyable it could be to focus Leica lenses via the NEX-7’s wonderful 2.4 MP EVF.  The form factor of the NEX, with it’s integrated EVF, tiltable external viewfinder, and compact build, also was very intriguing. Finally, over the past few months, as the camera has become gradually more available, a slow trickle of positive reviews have come in, including comments in which Leica glass behaved favorably on this camera.  And thus, I started to feel that I needed to give this camera a try.

Sony NEX-7, Leica 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH FLE

I had hoped to procure the NEX-7 in time for a coming trip to Argentina and Uruguay, but after reviewing a few sites and talking to dealers with long waiting lines, I started to doubt the possibility to taking this camera on the road for a real world work-out. Then, this February, my chance finally came, as a good friend, who had ordered 2 NEX cameras, found himself with 1 too many, and contacted me. The combination of my overall curiosity, along with some of the factors discussed above, sent me over the edge, and I found myself with the lovely NEX-7 in hand.

At this point, I decided to make a bold leap. I would take ONLY the NEX-7 to South America. No Leica. No GXR. Just the NEX-7. Along with me would come a Zeiss 24 mm f/1.8 lens, for wide-angle work, and a host of Leica lenses, from the 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH FLE to the Leica APO-Telyt 135 mm f/3.4, a notoriously difficult lens to use on the M9 (due primarily to its miniscule frame lines). I purchased a spare battery and a Novoflex Leica M-to-NEX adapter, and decided to go it solo. NEX-7 or bust, in South America! What follows are my thoughts and experiences shooting this system in Argentina and Uruguay in March, 2011:

Sony NEX-7, Leica 75 mm f/2 APO-Summicron ASPH

Gear

When putting together my kit for the trip, I realized that I had to make some careful choices on what gear to take along with the NEX-7. If the rumors were true, shooting with lenses wider than 28 mm would potentially lead to images with the dreaded red edge and cyan drift. Some say that this is a problem particularly noted in the NEX-7, and not the NEX-5N, and I decided to avoid the problem altogether by purchasing a Ziess 24 mm f/1.8 Sonnar, which acts as a 35 mm focal length equivalent on the NEX-7. Along with this lens, I decided to bring the 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph FLE, essentially a 50 mm equivalent lens, my lovely and often underused Leica 75 mm f/2 APO Summicron asph, and the challenging but wonderful Leica 135 mm f/3.4 APO-Telyt. Both of these lenses are somewhat ugly ducklings in the M-system for a couple of reasons, particularly due to challenges in use. The 75 mm framelines are a bit wonky on the M9 and film M’s, making it a challenge for some to use on a full frame body. Similarly, the 135 mm APO-Telyt is a lens that many don’t even consider when using the M system, given that the framelines for this lens are tiny, and adequate use of this lens requires an additional magnifier for many of us with less than perfect vision. This set of lenses represented a useful range from 35 mm-200 mm equivalent, and I was satisfied that all lenses could see frequent use in a land far away. Below is a list of my entire photographic travel kit, all of which fit into my camera bag.

Sony NEX-7, Leica 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH FLE

My Travel Kit

 

Camera: Sony NEX-7

Lenses:

Zeiss 24 mm f/1.8 Sonnar (35 mm equiv)

Leica 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH FLE (50 mm equiv) (See Steve’s review HERE)

Leica 75 mm f/2 APO-Summicron ASPH (110 equiv) (See Steve’s review HERE)

Leica 135 mm f/3.4 APO-Telyt ASPH (200 mm equivalent)

 

Bag: Fogg B-Laika Black/Charcoal bag

 

Miscellaneous gear:

Artisan and Artist silk strap mounted on the NEX7

Novoflex Leica M-mount-to-NEX adapter

Microfiber cleaning cloth

2 NEX batteries & Charger

4 SanDisk Extreme Pro (90 mb/sec) SD cards

 

Computer:

MacBook Air 11 inch, with supplemental SD card reader

A wonderful thing about this kit is that the whole system listed above, save my computer,  fit easily into my Fogg bag, which is nicely discrete and doesn’t look much like a camera bag at all. Not once during my trip did I feel threatened, and further, the kit fit comfortably on my shoulder for 2 straight weeks as I travelled through Argentina and Uruguay.

 

Sony NEX-7, Leica 135 mm f/3.4 APO-Telyt ASPH

The Travel Itinerary

Now that the kit was assembled, next up to consider was the itinerary. Ultimately, we decided on an itinerary that focused on northern Argentina and Uruguay.

Buenos Aires

Our travels began in Buenos Aires, where we spent 3 days enjoying the city’s plentitude of offerings, photographic opportunities, and fantastic cuisine. Buenos Aires is a wonderfully walkable city with excellent public transportation, and it’s very easy to get around on foot, by bike, or via their subway system. While in Buenos Aires, we visited the amazing Recoleta cemetery, the politically charged San Telmo neighborhood, the colorful La Boca neighborhood, the uber-chique Palermo Neighborood, and a variety of other locals. We sampled the wonderful Tango culture and vibrant nightlife. Buenos Aires is a city that simply doesn’t sleep (well, maybe during the day, LOL), and is well worth a visit.

 Sony NEX-7, Leica 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH FLE

 

Sony NEX-7, Zeiss 24 mm f/1.8 Sonnar

Iguazu Falls

Upon leaving Buenos Aires, we made our way north to the stunning Iguazu Falls. considered by many to be one of the most powerful and awe-inspiring natural wonders in the world, Iguazu Falls is an amazing showing of how the force of nature can carve true beauty on this world. Some of you may be familiar with these waterfalls from movies such as “The Mission”, but for those of you haven’t experienced them, please do. The closest comparison in the U.S. is Niagara Falls, while Zimbabwe houses the inspiring Victoria Falls. I have seen Niagara falls before, but Iguazu Falls makes Niagara falls look ordinary.

Sony NEX-7, Leica 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH FLE

Sony NEX-7, Leica 75 mm f/2 APO-Summicron ASPH

Montevideo, Uruguay

Once we had taken in our fill of Iguazu falls, it was off to Montevideo, Uruguay. Talk about a cool city. Tie together this seaside city’s laid back atmosphere with dashes of San Diego and Miami, and you get an idea of Montevideo’s vibe. This was city of evening culture, music, and cuisine. It was the place that surprised me the most and served as the greatest inspiration for my photography. Montevideo’s old quarter and seaside boardwalk were both fantastic places to find Uruguay’s wonderful people living their own lives.

Sony NEX-7, Leica 35 mm f1/4 Summilux ASPH FLE

 

Sony NEX-7, Leica 75 mm f/2 APO-Summicron ASPH

Colonia, Uruguay

Having enjoyed Montevideo’s laidback vibe and photographic inspiration, it was off to Colonia, Uruguay, which is Uruguay’s oldest city and a designated UNESCO world heritage site. While having a bit of a Disney World-feel, it was full of many opportunities to photograph beautiful sunsets and beautifully crafted colonial architecture. It’s little shops, old cars, and overgrown alleyways make for more fun photographs.

Sony NEX-7, Zeiss 24 mm f/1.8 Sonnar

Back to Buenos Aires and Home

Our last day of travel was spent taking a ferry back to Beunos Aires from Colonia, and catching one of the city’s well-known tango shows, which document a colorful side of Argentine culture. It was a chance to test out the NEX-7’s low light capabilities in an exciting setting.

Sony NEX-7, Leica 35 mm f1/4 Summilux ASPH FLE

 

Impressions of the NEX-7 while on the road

During the trip, I began to formulate several thoughts on the NEX-7. First and foremost, I found it to be an enjoyable camera for regular use, and additionally, a wonderful format by which to utilize Leica M lenses. M lenses are, in many cases, far more compact than Sony’s own native E-mount lenses, and they seem to balance well on the camera, giving it a dense, weighty, and confident feel.  The NEX-7’s tiltable viewfinder, in many instances, allowed for discrete shooting in circumstances where discretion was helpful. Further, the camera’s EVF, which in my opinion is one of the camera’s true innovations, was a joy to use.

Focus Peaking- Good, bad, or ugly?

Regarding focus peaking, I have had extensive experience using this method to manually focus M glass when using the Ricoh GXR. With the higher resolution EVF on the NEX-7 and multiple selectable colors (white, red, or yellow on the NEX-7, versus only white on the GXR), the NEX-7 offers an enjoyable focusing experience. However, the experience is far from perfect. At times, the focus peaking feature is not as sensitive enough to critically focus M lenses, particularly when shot wide open. While the focus peaking does work best when lenses are opened to their widest aperture, I found that at times, my images appeared out-of-focus upon returning home or checking the image review on the screen’s rear LCD. Thus, I often found it best to pre-focus on a scene with the lens wide open, and then stop down to get images that were better focused. I could imagine that this system could be difficult with lenses in which stopping down leads to focus shift, but in this case, none of the Leica lenses that I traveled with are known to have a bad case of focus shift.

That being said, in most cases, focus peaking works fine, and it’s a fun way to use Leica glass. Is focus peaking “better” than using a standard rangefinder focusing technique? In my opinion, the answer is “No”. In my experience, focus peaking is inferior to the RF mechanism for focusing wide and normal lenses, especially the 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH FLE.

On the other hand, I found focus peaking and the NEX-7, paradoxically, to be more facile at using longer lenses. Whereas the Leica M system does a wonderful job at 28-50 mm focal lengths, many complain of using longer focal lengths on the M system. While I have never had this issue and comfortably have used lenses as long as 135 mm on the M system, I did find it truly enjoyable to use both the 75 mm f/2 Summicron and the 135 mm f/3.4 APO-Telyt on the NEX system. Both lenses seemed to handle well on the M system, and for reasons that were and remain unclear to me, I achieved a higher percentage of in-focus images on the M system than I was able to with the 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux FLE lens. I’ll let you all debate why this may be the case. But it was my experience.

Sony NEX-7, Leica 135 mm f/3.4 APO-Telyt ASPH

Sony NEX-7, Zeiss 24 mm f/1.8 Sonnar

Ergonomics

Ergonomically, the NEX-7 is a good fit in my hand. In fact, I found the NEX-7 to be a pure joy to hold in hand. Whereas I have had difficulty holding other NEX cameras in hand, given their diminutive size, the NEX-7 and it’s fantastic grip are a far better ergonomic fit for me. I found the Tri-Navi feature set to be a wonderful way to adjust ISO, exposure compensation, and shutter speed parameters. Having all of these parameters easily accessible via on-camera controls, in addition to having aperture control directly on Leica’s lenses, afforded me with a terrific degree of control over image making parameters, and I found the Tri-Navi system to be a joy to use. Further, the EVF was appropriately placed and easy to use in concert with the rear LCD screen. In a few instances, I found that my camera strap would cover the EVF’s eye sensor, and in these instances, the rear LCD would go black, inappropriately. While this was not a common experience, it was a bit annoying when it happened.

Another minor quibble is the menu system and layout of the NEX -7. While the menu system is laid out in a reasonably logical way, I simply didn’t find it intuitive, even after prolonged use. Having to press different buttons to access different aspects of the menu was something that I got used to, but only with a lot of work. The menu system of other cameras, such as the Leica M9 and Ricoh GXR, are far more intuitive in regular use. Despite this, once you set up the NEX-7 in a manner in which you feel comfortable, you rarely have to delve into the menu system, and it essentially disappears, which is a good thing.

My final quibble with the NEX-7 was placement of the video record button. I found it very annoying when I was going for a photo, and the video record had been inadvertently triggered by my larger fingers. For future iterations of this camera, I’d like to see it lock out or different placement for this button.

Minor quibbles aside, using the Sony NEX-7 was a joy, in terms of pure usage. This was the case both with adapted Leica lenses and the Zeiss E mount 24 mm Sonnar.

Sony NEX-7, Leica 135 mm f/3.4 APO Telyt ASPH

 

A word on the Zeiss 24 mm f/1.8 Sonnar

At the onset of my trip, I elected to purchase the Zeiss 24 mm f/1.8 Sonnar to accompany my Leica M kit. I did this for several reasons. For one, I thought that it would be nice to have one high-quality AF lens to couple my manual focus kit, in events where I could hand off my camera to others who were not used to manual focus. For example, for moments where I wanted pictures of myself of my traveling group, it’s nice to have an AF lens to hand off, as using this lens is far more intuitive to the majority of users.

Second, I figured that wide Leica M lenses, such as the Summilux 24 mm f/1.4 are equally large and have a higher chance of producing images with color shifts. This phenomenon, to my knowledge, hasn’t been widely characterized for the Sonnar.

Finally, given that this was Zeiss behind the design of this lens, I hoped that image quality would be comparable to that produced by Leica M lenses, despite the price differential. Sure enough, the Zeiss performed admirably on the trip. I found it’s autofocus speed to be sufficient, and image quality to be exemplary. All in all, I have been very happy with this added purchase to my Sony NEX-7 kit.

Image quality

After all, this is what we are all about, right? LOL. Seriously, as a Leica M shooter, I am used to some of the best IQ available in 35 mm photography. Reading accounts from around the web, I was being lead to believe that the NEX-7 was capable of producing outstanding detail in its image. I was also led to believe that Leica lenses seemed to talk well with the NEX-7 sensor, particularly wide normal, normal, and telephoto M lenses.

Sony NEX-7, Leica 135 mm f/3.4 APO Telyt ASPH

So what do I think about IQ, after several weeks and over 1000 images taken while on the road? Here’s my impression….

The Sony NEX-7 does an admirable job of bonding with Leica M lenses, but it is No M9, in terms of IQ. Images, when brought up on my high Gamut 27 inch home monitor, are slightly flatter and less “3D” than M9 images. The pop that I am so often blown away by when looking at M9 files, isn’t quite there. There seems to be less foreground-background separation, maybe due in part to the 1.5x crop factor that the NEX-7’s sensor imparts. It may be due to the NEX-7’s AA filter, which I suspect is light. It may be due to the CMOS versus CCD properties. It may simply be due to my own perceptions or false perceptions, but while I don’t have side-by-side comparisons, I feel that there is a slight lag in IQ at base ISO’s, when comparing the Leica M9 and Sony NEX-7. Take that with a large grain of salt, but I say it with confidence.

Further, I find that noise is more apparent in NEX-7 files, when compared to M9 files, at lower ISO’s. Maybe it’s the added megapixels, thus leading to an increased on-screen magnification, but I definitely see more noise, particularly in the shadows, in NEX-7 files than M9 files. In stark contrast however, NEX-7 files are fare more useable in High ISO settings than digital Leica M files. I tend to avoid pushing ISO’s above 800 on the Leica M9, but I’d be comfortable using the NEX-7 up to nearly ISO 3200, and certainly to ISO 1600. In one instance, I accidentally ratcheted up the NEX-7’s ISO to 16,000 during a Tango show, and coming home, the images still looked great. Below is one example:

Sony NEX-7, Leica 75 mm f/2 APO-Summicron, ISO 16,000!

And an image at the same show, at a far more reasonable ISO:

Sony NEX-7, Leica 75 mm f/2 APO-Summicron, IS0 800

Even with post-processing NEX-7 RAW files, I don’t see much banding or digital artifacts. The noise properties of NEX-7 files at high ISO is generally pleasing. Overall, I find the NEX-7 to be a better low light machine, by quite a bit, than the M9. But I don’t think that many would be surprised to hear that statement.

In terms of post processing NEX-7 files, I found these files to be quite responsive to editing in Adobe Lightroom. NEX-7 files are a joy to work with, and don’t break apart with digital pushing and pulling, dodging/burning, or other techniques. NEX-7 RAW files do in fact offer a fair bit of creative latitude in post processing, and I’d like to commend Sony on a job well done in this department

Conclusion

All in all, was I satisfied my  Sony NEX-7 travel experience? Absolutely! Would I use this as a primary system for Leica M lenses? Once again, absolutely? Am I satisfied with image quality coming from this camera? Yup. IQ is right up there with high-end digital SLR’s and mirrorless camera offerings? Is IQ comparable to image quality coming from the Leica M9? As stated, to my eyes, the images produced by the NEX-7 are slightly flatter, with less 3D pop, than what I see coming from my Leica M9 at lower ISO’s. In contrast, I find the high ISO capabilities of the Sony NEX-7 to be far better than that of the Leica M9. Would any of these things matter for web-sized images or smaller prints? Nope, I doubt it. But for the pixel peepers among you, I feel that it is fair to convey my impressions. And that’s all they really are: impressions of a camera that I have greatly enjoyed and plan to keep in my kit for some time.

NEX-7, Leica 35 mm f1.4 Summilux ASPH FLE

Further, for the photographically inclined, both Argentina and Uruguay have so much to offer. I suggest that you consider these destinations for your future travel plans. The people, the food, the sites, and the culture are all remarkable and worth directing your collective lenses toward.

I hope that you have enjoyed the words and images (which, by the way, were all edited and processed on the road, using the 11 inch MacBook Air). Until the next time, my dear Huffites, it’s Ashwin, signing out.

NEX-7, Leica 35 mm f1.4 Summilux ASPH FLE

Sony NEX-7, Leica 75 mm f/2 APO-Summicron ASPH

 

NEX-7, Zeiss 24 mm f/1.8 Sonnar

 

 

Sony NEX-7, Leica 135 mm f/3.4 APO Telyt ASPH

 

From Steve: I want to thank Ashwin for yet another wonderful report! To see Ashwin’s blog just click HERE.  His Flickr stream can be seen HERE

 

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