Nov 202014
 

How I became a Zeiss fan

by Toni Ahvenainen

This article is closely related to my personal photography project called ‘Year of the Alpha – 52 Weeks of Sony Alpha Photography – http://www.yearofthealpha.com.

I have written about it here at Steve Huff’s website before, so I’m not going to repeat all the things I’ve written earlier. Instead I give you the short version: at 1st of January I started a year-long and Sony Alpha related photography project which focuses on creative photography taken with Sony Alpha cameras. Because the positive attention my project has gathered in social media circles I found out that the Zeiss was willing to support my project. They offered me two lenses from their Touit line up, Touit 2.8/12 & Touit 2.8/50M, if I would share my experiences about the lenses through my project. I have never shot with any Zeiss lens before, so I seized for it and the story I’m sharing today is based on my first Zeiss experience. To learn more about my project and its background, I recommend you to check these two articles which I have published here earlier:

Year of the Alpha by Toni Ahvenainen

First time with Zeiss by Toni Ahvenainen

Be sure also to check my website at: www.yearofthealpha.com 

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/12, ISO1250, 1/60sec, f2.8, Raw

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After making an agreement with Zeiss, the lenses finally arrived one Friday afternoon with UPS delivery and I was of course very excited about it. I had read about Zeiss’s legendary reputation from many photography sites likes this, but never believed I would get opportunity to actually shoot with them. To me, like for many others, the most exciting lenses have always been something I can only see through a store display window.

For my photography this was a very unique opportunity and something of which I consider myself to be very lucky. If you haven’t yet become acquainted with the Touit line up before, it is the new family of Zeiss lenses which are targeted to mirrorless system cameras (Sony E-mount & Fuji X-mount). All the lenses have full autofocus capabilities and they represent a modern Zeiss design with black matte finish and more contemporary look – but most importantly they convoy the famous Zeiss optical quality for mirrorless system cameras.

The Touit 2.8/12 is an ultra wide-angle lens with a focal length of 12mm (equivalent of 18mm on a full frame system) and has a relatively large maximum aperture of f/2.8. Then the Touit 2.8/50M, being a macro lens, is kind of opposite with a focal length of 50mm (equivalent of 75mm on a full frame system) and 1:1 reproduction scale.

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO100, 1/400sec, f5.6, Raw (focus stacked)

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My first impression was really good regarding both construction and image quality. Right from the first photo walk with Touit lenses I could see a difference in images I took, but it was really hard to put in words. To be honest, I felt certain cognitive dissonance for the first four weeks, because I didn’t have right terms to conceptualize this difference in images to myself. Sometimes I even thought it was just a placebo and that I was just seeing what I was expecting to see, because of the almost mythical reputation that Zeiss has in many photography forums in the net.

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/12, ISO100, 3,2sec, f7.1, Raw

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Now that I’ve used these lenses for longer period of time, I think I have finally gain better understanding of how good optics will affect the image quality and what one can expect of them in general. In terms of sharpness, both of these lenses do very well indeed. The Touit 2.8/12 is very sharp right from the start and the Touit 2.8/50M is also, perhaps unsurprisingly, also quite sharp wide open and gets very good after that. I could go on and describe how changing aperture size affects the overall sharpness, but truth to be told, I find most of the lens reviews putting too much emphasize on sharpness alone. Let’s just say that both are very much sharp enough. When it comes to high quality lenses, I would much more prefer to emphasize the contrast and colors, because it’s where the quality shows.

To understand where I’m coming from, you need to know that before these Zeiss lenses I was shooting with 18-55mm and 50mm Sony E-mount lenses (SEL1855 & SEL50F18). While the 50mm Sony is a pretty good lens, I was only rarely fully satisfied with my colors (very close but something was missing). While I couldn’t exactly put my finger on my definition of ‘good colors’, all the same I knew when I saw them and especially when I didn’t. Having shot over 30 000 shots with these Sony native E-mount lenses and worked with over 5000 raw-files, I can say for a fact that the Zeiss lenses deliver more contrast and better colors. Because I’m not an optical engineer I really can’t conceptualize my experiences with objective scientific language, but in my experience the better contrast shows with greater clarity while colors stand out better and have certain fidelity in them which makes, for example, the primaries look very pure and good. Together they form pictures that often have a deep colors, but retain their subtle nuances and natural look in overall image.

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO100, 1/2000sec, f5.6, Raw

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Before my Zeiss experience I had a preconception that minor color & contrast differences between lenses is insignificant and something that can be ‘fixed’ and ‘made better’ with computer and post processing. I guess this is still a pretty common conception and while images can and surely are made better with post processing, it is still just the perception of things what we are editing and the actual light signal digitized by the camera isn’t going to get any better (meaning more accurate colors for example). It is in my experience that the Zeiss lenses deliver better contrast than my Sony E-mount lenses. Now, I can try to adjust ‘contrast’, ‘clarity’, ‘curves’ or do some fancy tonal contrast thing with software x for the pictures taken with my Sony lenses and hope to make them as good as Zeiss. In practice I’ve seen that, while this might work for some pictures, most of the time pictures just get congested and stuffy before they reach same overall clarity. And it’s the same with colors. While in theory the usual HSL tab (hue, saturation, lightness) should open the entire color space for editing, in practice it’s often too cumbersome to touch the subtle textures and grading of natural colors. As I said, I’m no optical engineer, and the only way I can explain this experience to myself is to think that with the Zeiss lenses the contrast and colors are captured more accurately and that this accuracy transfers into final pictures as well.

This altered perception of clarity, contrast and colors was really an eye-opening experience for me. With these lenses I suddenly felt, for the first time, that I was actually pretty satisfied with the colors I was achieving. Not with every shot of course, but more and more I was amazed how good colors I could achieve with these lenses and some post processing. When looking some of my pictures taken with the Zeiss lenses I sometimes felt my old Sony Nex-5N had transformed into some other camera. In fact, I’m willing to say that this experience is the single most important thing which justifies the Zeiss’s legendary reputation in my eyes. However, I don’t want to claim that there is magic ‘Zeiss color’ or something similar. As much as I liked the colors, claiming something along those lines would just be essentialism and I think there is already enough mythical stories build around Zeiss (and other gear as well). To put it in plain words, I think Zeiss builds high quality lenses and when it comes to colors and contrast they certainly get it right.

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO800, 1/15sec, f14, Raw

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Through this experience I also came to appreciate that these two Zeiss lenses actually gave me a very good reference point regarding image quality. I’m not talking about ‘image quality’ in absolute terms, but as a valuable standing point where I don’t need to speculate if some other piece of gear would have provided me the result I was looking for. If I don’t get it with Zeiss it’s because of me, conditions or something else – and not because the lack of ‘right gear’. This sort of certainty which comes with more expensive high quality gear is something that is often less talked about aspect in gear reviews and forgotten when putting value for photography equipment. Personally to me, it has made my photography easier since I don’t need to worry if I have equipment good enough. Instead I can concentrate on particular situation, getting my images and feel good about it.

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/12, ISO400, 25sec, f2.8, Raw

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Finally for the end of this article, I will try to expand the usual views how we taught to approach the photographic equipment we use. I’ve been talking a lot about sharpness, colors and other things that make up the image quality, and which is, in the end, something you would expect to get for your money when buying Zeiss lenses. However, there are other point of views as well which are often forgotten when approaching from a technical point of view. Zeiss has been manufacturing lenses for a long time, probably longer than any other of the current companies. This means tradition and maybe it’s because of this tradition Zeiss tends offers more information and history about their lenses than other companies. For example, the Zeiss staff scientist Dr Hubert Nasse has written excellent papers explaining the history of their designs like Distagon and Planar. Reading these I got the impression that Zeiss takes its tradition pretty seriously and tries to transfer it into their designs as well. Honoring the tradition and craftsmanship is similar to values which I believe many photographers share as well – at least ideally. Therefore I think using Zeiss is something that can also support one’s identity as a photographer.

I don’t know about others, but at least I enjoy using tools and equipment that are aesthetically, emotionally and intellectually pleasing to me. When I’m trying to capture ‘that moment’ which speaks to me about my life, time and being, I need to get away from all the technical discourses. Using something that I connect with, whether it is the rugged point&shoot, high-end camera or a shoebox with a hole, certainly helps me to see and feel these moments. In the end, I think the Zeiss succeeds very well in this and perhaps even better than most of other lens manufacturers. It is also the final reason why I became a Zeiss fan (might lead to expensive taste, though). Not only did I find that I could finally get the colors I was looking for, but I also found certain intellectual and aesthetic pleasure using Zeiss lenses. And I believe I’m not alone here, these kind of experiences shared by other photographers like me may eventually be the reason for the Zeiss’s high reputation.

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO800, 1/60sec, f13, Raw

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The definition of good photography is, of course, not related to equipment one uses and there are many paths to photographic success. Therefore I don’t want to say with my article that you should run to the nearest camera store and put your last money on Zeiss lenses – there are other ways to succeed as well. But if you already are on a verge and maybe considering the Zeiss, you should know that it’s really more than just ‘image quality’ if you open up to it. And while I can’t tell anyone that Zeiss lenses would be worth of their price for them, I can certainly say that their high quality shows in terms of image quality, construction and total shooting experience, and that they are not overpriced for what they offer.

As for right now, I have just entered into last phase of my photography project. With the ‘Season of Photographic Eye’ I will be discussing about the photographic eye, which is a particular way of seeing things and subjects, which is partly subjective and partly cultural. While I’m trying to explain why I approach the photography the way I do, I will also try offer some inspiration for others to contemplate their own photographic eye. If interested, be sure to check my project at: www.yearofthealpha.com

Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/12, ISO800, 1/20sec, f2.8, Raw

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 Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO800, 1/80sec, f13, Raw

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Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/12, ISO200, 1/60sec, f7.1, Raw

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Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO100, 1/500sec, f5.6, Raw

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Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/12, ISO100, 1/2000sec, f5.0, Raw

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Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO160, 1/80sec, f13, Raw

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Sony Nex-5N, Zeiss Touit 2.8/50M, ISO100, 1/80sec, f2.8, Raw

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Nov 192014
 

Quick 1st Look video on the Sony – Zeiss 16-35 F/4 FE OSS Lens!

A few days ago Fed Ex delivered a brand new Sony 16-35 FE OSS F/4 lens and it is a beauty! While large, it is smaller than a Nikon 14-24 and just as good in the IQ department. This new lens is Sony’s wide angle answer for all A7, A7r and A7s owners as it is a full frame FE mount lens of astounding quality. The color, the sharpness and the pop are here. No need for an f/2.8 lens as f/4 is fantastic and hits the sweet spot right from the get go.

I will be doing a full review of this lens with loads of samples within 1-2 weeks. For now, enjoy the 1st look video I posted on YouTube a couple of days ago as well as a couple of snapshots I took in my house this morning of my dogs sporting their new X-Mas PJ’s. :)

ORDER THE 16-35 AT AMAZON or B&H PHOTO

I have some shots from outside that tell me this lens will be THE lens for wide angle Sony full frame E mount shooters…

BELOW: The 1st look video. This is NOT my review, this is my 1st look :) Enjoy. 

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Three snapshots taken today! Direct from camera color – Sony A7s and the lens at f/4
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Nov 182014
 

The new Fuji X100T is IN STOCK now!

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Enough Said…go get it..

Buy it at PopFlash.com, IN STOCK

Buy it at B&H Photo – PRE-ORDER (stock arriving NOW)

Amazon – Out of stock but more arrives every few days..PRE ORDER

and yes, I will be reviewing this one as I do all X100 cameras. The X100 series is my FAVE of all Fuji’s, period.

Nov 182014
 

$400 off on the Awesome Olympus OM-D E-M5!

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Anyone up for a great deal? Getting closer and close to Christmas time again and with there only being 36 days until that big day, maybe some of you will want to buy one of these to place under the tree for that special someone?

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 was the original groundbreaking OM-D digital camera that put Micro 4/3 into the masses. It is still a fantastic camera today, and very similar to the newer E-M1 in image quality. At $599 it is a GREAT buy with a $400 savings going on.

You can check them out or order one at B&H Photo. 

Nov 142014
 

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The Sony A7 and Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Lens Review

by Tomer Vaknin

Dear Steve,

First let me say how much respect I have for you and the other members of your website, I have learned a lot by exploring the wonderful photos you all shared, equipment reviews and inputs. I would like to share my own personal experience with the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* lens.

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As a proud and very happy owner of the Sony Zeiss 55mm, I was hesitant to purchase the Loxia. However, after reading the positive impression of the lens in Photonika 2014 and as a huge fan of M mount lenses that I am, I simply had to try the Loxia. Here are some photos I took with the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* in Amsterdam streets, Marken village and Rennstrecke Zandvoort, during a holiday I took with my wife in the Netherlands.

I hope these photos, along with my personal impression of the lens, will help some of undecided readers in making the right decision for themselves.

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My personal take on the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T*:

- Great 3D feel (Check the box shot that was -take on a bed)

- Wonderful Bokeh

- Lovely Creamy look

- Great character

- Great colors and contrast

- Very sharp!

Overall, The 3D look, the creamy bokeh and feel + the very nice tone and color makes it a winner. The shots taken with the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* looks like they were taken with the Leica lens.

Although the Sony Zeiss 55mm is an amazing lens and you can’t go wrong with it, I personally prefer the Loxia.

www.facebook.com/tomer.vaknin.5

You can order the Zeiss Loxia lenses at B&H Photo HERE

Nov 132014
 

Gigs with the GX7

By Keiron

I decided at the beginning of this year to take the big step from a cellphone camera to a camera that couldn’t make calls and check Facebook (although the Samsung cameras are blurring those lines). After a lot of research (mostly on your site) I settled on the micro four thirds system based on the size of the hardware and the quality of the images and when I saw the Panasonic GX7 I knew it was the camera for me. Size was really important as I do a lot of backpacking and there was no way I could carry a DSLR system with me on my travels.

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Here is my Ninja GX7 next to the classic Olympus Trip 35 and it is crazy to think that both cameras have pretty much the same equivalent focal length. I purposely make my GX7 look this way to make people less aware of me taking pictures and also to reduce the chance of thieves taking a liking to my gear.

I thought I would be a travel/street shooter as that was generally what I used my phone for but as I am a massive music fan I soon realised that I could take some fairly decent pictures of gigs. Due to the fantastic size I started to sneak my GX7 into gigs and take flash free pictures of the smaller concerts that I attended and I must admit I was amazed at the quality. My set up for the GX7 was the Panny 20mm 1.7 on the body and in my coat pocket and this would be great for close to the stage shots, and then I would have the Oly 45mm f1.8 in my pocket for further away scenes.

I found that both lenses compliment each other as the 20mm gives you the “I am in the action” type shots and with the focus assist lamp off the band, and fellow fans, hardly notice you taking pictures.

The Wild Feathers playing at Paradiso in Amsterdam. Shot with the 20mm: f2.2, 1/60 sec at ISO 2500

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The 45mm on the other hand allows you to be a bit further back gives you quite flattering band moments which I really enjoy. The swivel touch screen on the GX7 really allows you to shoot way above your eye line and still focus and compose the shot properly, it really is such a great camera.

TenTemPies at Melkweg in Amsterdam. Shot with the 45mm: f1.8, 1/125 sec at 3200

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I do not think many photographers would ever recommend Micro Four Thirds as a concert set up and to be honest if I went into photography for concerts I would have aimed for the Sony A7 line or the overly discounted Nikon D600. I find that on the GX7 ISO1600 is very usable and up until ISO3200 you start getting grain and detail loss but with some editing afterwards you can rescue the pictures quite well.

TenTemPies at Melkweg in Amsterdam. This picture was massively over exposed but with some lightroom magic it came out ok. Shot with the 45mm: f1.8, 1/125 sec at 3200

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Lighting at concerts will always prove quite a challenge and I find that it forces you to shoot in full manual and using manual focus (magnification and peaking on the GX7 is big help here). The photos are not perfect and the grain can be annoying if you are used to well-lit street shots but at the end of the day live music should be dirty, raw and in the moment so there is no reason why the photos can’t be as well.

The Wild Feathers playing at Paradiso in Amsterdam. Shot with the 20mm: f2.5, 1/50 sec at ISO 3200.

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Even though I would not recommend the system for this kind of shooting I have been very impressed with the results and the versatility of the camera has really shone through.

Both bands are great and you should check their music out:

The Wild Feathers

Ricky Young, Joel King, Taylor Burns and Preston Wimberly, grew up steeped in music; playing solo gigs, touring with local bands and working at venues. The four guys came together in Austin in 2010 through coincidence, mutual friends, and a shared love of the classics: Petty, Dylan, Cash, The Band, Allman Bros, Neil Young and Willie Nelson. They immediately began playing together and became The Wild Feathers. The young band spent the next year writing and defining their sound and touring around the country, sharing the stage with Delta Spirit, Surfer Blood and The Heavy, even landing an opening spot on Paul Simon’s 2011 fall tour.

http://www.thewildfeathers.com/

TenTemPies

TenTemPiés is an international collective of musicians based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Their music is a powerful and innovative blend of flavours, mixing Latin Rock with Reggae and Ska with an Amsterdam twist: Damsko Mestizo!

http://www.tentempies.com/

Have a great day,

Keiron

Nov 132014
 

Photographing the bride on my own wedding

by Milan Swolfs

On the 27th September this year my wife and I got married in Belgium. We both like vintage clothing and love all things from the 20s, 30s, 40s till 50s. My wife www.macheried.com is my muse and we often do (commercial) shoots together.

I couldn’t resist taking some pics of my wife during our wedding with my Leica M9P and Noctilux f0.95 ASPH.

Thanks to your excellent reviews Steve I bought now the Sony A7S together with the Voigtlander Close Up adapter and use it with my Noctilux too. It’s much easier to focus and I can use it at night.

More of our work you can see on my website www.milanswolfs.com

Keep up the good work.

Kind regards

Milan

Milan Swolfs

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Nov 122014
 

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The Ricoh GR in Havana Cuba

by Lorenzo Moscia – See his website HERE with some beautiful photos

This trip to Cuba was for family reasons. My wife has not see her father since 2008, so it was basically a pretty intense trip. I decided to go very light with photographic equipment because for the first time in the past 8/9 years I was travelling abroad with no photo assignment on my shoulders or any particularly freelance plan on my mind.

But Cuba and la Habana are always a very good place to be with a camera.

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I bought a Canon 6D with a 50 1.2, and a Ricoh Gr V 28mm fix lens.

Each time I was walking down the street and take out the Canon all sort of people would approach me because I would represent the typical “yankee” with dollars. I would start to talk to them in a sort of cuban slang (I have been married to my cuban wife for the pst 14 years) so they would let me alone. But going around with the Ricoh was a totally new experience for me. I rediscovered the pure pleasure of the “street photo”, just going around with no particularly subject in mind with a little camera in one hand, and none would be pay attention to me.

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I usually use it with A, and find very easy to play with the apertures. But I love as well the TAV function, where I set the aperture (lets say 5.6 or 8) and the speed ( something above 125) and the camera just find the ISO to match the timing. That is very useful when you walk around and you just shoot on the move and you don’t want panning pics.

No one gave me any attention with that camera even in some more extreme “barrio” neighborhoods where the average tourist does not normally go. I really felt like I was invisible.

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The bad part about Ricoh is battery life very poor even if I had the “blind screen” option. I will have to buy an extra battery. The problem is here in Rome is very difficult to find.

Second issue is the auto focus in low light condition which is a bit slow,  even if there is a manual and snap options wich are very good by the way. The files look amazing with very balanced color and a very good dynamic range.

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The Canon stayed in the bag most of the time and I used it basically for the portrait series (See Below). Some days I went around with just the Ricoh inside the pocket of my shorts and I would take it outside holding in one hand like a pocket of cigarettes, spot a scene from a distance get closer and take pictures without looking at the screen. If I would go buying “fuel” at the local market down the road, for the family, the Ricoh would be always in one hand allowed me to take pictures even if I was carrying market bags on bought hands.

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I m sort of happy because I can see that in the market there are more and more new options each day of small compact cameras with even better sensors, quicker focus and more general functions. Using this camera in the streets of Havana It was not exactly like my first love, the one and only Contax G2 black with the 28mm, but, I must admit that the feeling it come pretty closer.

Lorenzo Moscia

http://www.lorenzomoscia.com

You can buy the Ricoh GR these days for under $700 at Amazon – HERE.

Nov 112014
 

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The Voigtlander 40 2.8 Heliar Aspherical Lens for Sony FE Review

*See my full Sony A7s review HERE*

I have had this new Voigtlander 40mm f.2.8 Heliar lens for almost 2 weeks now (Thanks to CameraQuest.com) and it is a unique lens to be sure. On one hand, it looks like an old classic lens and on the other, it is actually a modern-day lens made to modern-day standards by Voigtlander. It is a lens made for the Sony E or FE mount (It is a full frame lens) yet it was made in Leica M mount. Even while being made with a Leica M mount, it can not be used on a Leica M as there would be no way to focus the lens…

Yes, this lens does not have any focusing mechanism built into it. It is not auto focus or manual focus! As it comes out of the box, it is NO FOCUS as you will need an adapter to focus this lens.

If you have not watched my video on this lens, do so below to get an idea of what I am talking about

It all sounds confusing but it really isn’t. What Voigtlander has done is create a lens for the Sony system, cameras such as the A7, A7r and A7s while keeping the lens tiny and jewel like. It’s al metal construction and nickel finish is gorgeous and the lens is collapsible as well making for a very compact lens on any Sony camera. All you need is the Voigtlander VM-E close focus adapter, which is the Leica M to Sony E adapter. When using this adapter (which is a must) you use the adapters focusing mechanism to focus the lens. I keep my VM-E Close Focus adapter on the A7s all of the time as most of the lenses I use on it are M mount lenses. So snapping this guy on is no problem at all.

This is a file from RAW, NOT HDR. The DR of the Sony A7s is HUGE and the things you can do with one file is astonishing. Shot at f/5.6 and ISO 100

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and a crop from the above scene

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At $400 or so for the lens itself, it seems VERY inexpensive when you consider it is a small, well made collapsible f/2.8 prime that comes with a metal hood. metal cap, and smaller cap for those who do not want to use the hood. $400 is nothing in the world of lenses like this, and yes, this is very much like a Leica M mount Voigtlander lens. The lens gets more expensive when you add in the $300 Adapter but even so, at $700 it is a lens that after using it for a couple of weeks I wanted to keep. IN fact, I slightly preferred it to a mint+++ Leica 50 ELmar f/2.8 collapsable when it came to IQ, sharpness, and Bokeh.

WOW.

Using this lens on the Sony A7s (my Fave Sony A7 camera) I tested it in high contrast B&W JPEG mode. I love HC B&W and while I feel the Sony delivers TOO much contrast (as I found out when reviewing the images) the lens had no fault. It was sharp even when wide open and provided the typical Voigtlander Bokeh which delivers a classic look reminiscent of rangefinder glass. Click images for larger. Remember, these were in HIGH CONTRAST B&W JPEG mode on the A7s, so this is why they are so dramatic and high contrast!

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When I opened the box the lens was so tiny I was thinking…”this may not be a good lens”. Coming in at $400 or so, it seems like this would be an average lens with average optics. When I put the lens on my Sony A7s with the Voigtlander Adapter I was impressed with the build quality and feel. The collapsible action was easy and smooth, just as easy and smooth as any classic Leica I have used. When I twisted the aperture dial is when I was surprised. It is a clickless design so it is EASY to move. This was the only thing about this lens that I did not care for. There were 2-3 times when I thought the lens was at f2.8 and I later found out the dial slipped to f/22.

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I feel that they could have added clicks or at least made it a little stiffer.

After evaluating the build and feel I started to shoot with it..and I was very surprised by the performance in color and B&W. It was very nice..organic…flowing…and yes, it had some of that rangefinder glass rendering. I also found the lens to be super sharp at the focus point with pleasing Bokeh and contrast/snap.

Just a JPEG here but this was mid day in Phx AZ yet the lens rendered the scene in a non harsh way (think I had the camera set to VIVID)

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Here is an out of camera image set to f/2.8 – click it for larger. One thing I found with this lens wide open is that it will vignette slightly. You can see evidence of this in the photo below..

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The color is fantastic with this lens…

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The more I shot with the combo of A7s and this Voigtlander 40 2.8 the more I really enjoyed it. The color rendering was beautiful, and the bokeh was very pleasing as already stated. It is always nice to slow down and use a beautiful prime lens that is built to OLD standards. Standards that give you that solid and small build, smooth operation and great image quality overall. I could not believe how sharp this lens was, even wide open. It beat my Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 which is larger, built to a lower standard, and is more expensive. The Sony has AF but this Voigtlander was a sinch to manually focus on the A7 series of bodies. I use focus peaking and I nail it 95% of the time. When the situation is more critical, like a portrait I may use magnification as well.

Click on this one to see a larger and better version. I focused on the eyes and having f/2.8 is just right for this type of shot as the eyes, nose and face will be in focus unlike using an f/1.4 aperture for a similar shot. This is right out of camera from RAW and was just a quick snapshot, INSIDE without any lighting or flash. NO problem for the Sony A7s, which is a master of ANY light. 

This lens is very nice for portraits…

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Putting it to the test…

I decided to bring the lens to my Southwest Road Trip which was AMAZING! Almost 30 of us embarked on a FIVE day journey aboard a fully chartered bus as we hit Zion National Park, Antelope Canyon and Sedona AZ. It was my best workshop/road trip EVER and if I ever do another one, this will be the one that all others are based on. It was fantastic. I shot the 40 2.8 for portraits and some scenic shots to give it a test and it never let me down though it did have the slight vignetting and in one case, flare. When points into the sun directly you will get some flare, much like the standard Leica 50 Summicron.

What I loved about this combo is that I could use it in any light with the Sony A7s even though the lens is a “slower” f/2.8 design and not an f/1.4. As I get older I am noticing that I am starting to appreciate slower lenses such as f/2.8 designs because it allows for great shaprness, easier focus and still some fantastic shallow DOF when used on full frame sensors such as the Sony A7 series. Below is a series of portraits I did in JPEG with the camera once again set to high contrast B&W. Again, you can use this setup in ANY light from bright to almost pitch darkness.

Yes, they are contrasty but this is due to the camera setting.

This first image was shot at ISO 8000 inside a somewhat dim restaurant. Shot wide open at f/2.8 and direct from camera. 

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Another in very harsh light but I like it. Wide open once again…

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…and a few more in the same lighting…all JPEG HC B&W on the A7s with 40 at 2.8

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 After using this lens and having so many see it and ask me about it I decided that I enjoyed it so much that I should buy it. I already have the $300 adapter so spending $400 for a gorgeous collapsible lens that gives stellar performance is a no brainer. It is small, it is gorgeous, it is stellar in its  rendering. It has three faults, or things that could have been improved upon…

  • The clicks aperture dial that moves too easy
  • It can flare if shooting direct into sun
  • It will vignette slightly wide open and it is noticeable on a full frame Sony.

Aimed direct to the sun (which was above the frame) the lens flared here…

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Other than that, I really feel that Voigtlander has been upping their game lately with the lenses they have released in the past year or so. This is another one that will go down in history as a beautiful and awesome Voigtlander lens. It gives us that little bit of classic (Vignette and Bokeh), little bit of modern (sharpness and pop) and overall a very nice and pleasing rendering.

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The quick bottom line on the Voigtlander 40 2.8 Heliar for the Sony E mount

If you want an old school looking lens with fabulous performance in color or B&W and you shoot with a Sony A7 series camera or even a Sony NEX or APS-C body, then this one is a cracking lens. The lens claim to fame is that it is VERY compact! When collapsed, it is only 12.6mm and when expanded for use it is only 21.4mm in length. As stated previously, it is usable on full frame or APS-C NEX cameras. The lens has a 37mm filter size and will close focus to .5m. I love the classic Nickel finish. If you do not mind manual focusing and slowing down, all the better. I found it easy to focus on the A7s and it was a pleasure to use. The 40mm focal length is interesting as it is in between the famous and classic 35 and 50 focal lengths. It took a few days of using it to really get where it was but after I got it I loved it :) Many of you know I really only review and recommend gear that I LOVE and would buy myself…and yes, I purchased this one for keeps!

Highly Recommended!

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Where To Buy?

Mine came from CameraQuest.com and you can purchase the lens or adapter at the direct links below:

Order the Voigtalander 40mm f/2.8 HERE

Order the Voigtlander VM-E Close Focus Adapter HERE

Order the Sony A7s (My #1 Camera since its launch) – at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE

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

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

To help out it is simple. 

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

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

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

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

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

Nov 052014
 

Getting back into Underwater Photography with an E-M1

By Thomas Streng

Hi there,

In spring 2014 I decided to go for a dive-vacation, after 10 years not diving at all and I wanted to bring a camera underwater.

In earlier times I had used a Nikonos V camera setup with film. But this time I decided to want the advantages of digital for underwater photography. I own several camera-systems for “land” photography already, including FF-DSLR, rangefinder and micro4/3 as well as a compact RX100. But which was the best system for my underwater needs?

My criteria were:

  • A fast AF-system – fishes can be fast
  • A fast flash synch – under water you often have a mix of natural light and flash (to get the colors). So if you want to shoot moving subjects with flash you want a fast synch speed
  • Good wide-angle lenses – because that’s what you want underwater to keep the distance short between you and the subject
  • It should be easy to control underwater – especially fast access to ISO, F-stop, Exp-comp and WB

In the end I decided to use my Olympus EM1 since it seemed like the best compromise for me, offering more speed and options than a compact, but being less bulky and expensive than FF-DSLR and their underwater housings. Also M43 offers nice lenses for underwater use (I have used the Panasonic 8mm Fisheye, the Oly 9-18mm and the Oly 12-40mm). Other great lenses for underwater should be the 7-14mm and the 60mm Macro. 

There are a couple of options for EM1-underwater housings. I decided for a Nauticam-Housing: It is solid, has handles included where you mount the flashes, and for my hand size it allows really good access to all important functions. Aquatica, Subal, Olympus and others also offer very nice housings. I included a vacuum valve system. You suck a low pressure in the housing before you go underwater and a green light indicates that the housing doesn’t leak. This gave me some mental “freedom” underwater.I combined the housing with a 100mm glass Dome for the 8mm FE and a 170mm glass dome (ZEN) for using the 9-18mm and 12-40mm lenses.

The 12-40mm is not a typical underwater lens, because most people use either ultra-wideangle, Fisheye or Macro lenses. But for me the 12-40mm in combination with a Dome offers great flexibility. You get 12mm wide-angle which is fine for many things, and you can get pretty close at the 40mm end, close enough for Fish-portraits and other smaller creatures. That’s why the 12-40mm became the lens I have used most often. As flash I used 2 Sea & Sea YS-D1.

Finally we went for our dive trip to Zakynthos, a wonderful Greek Island. You don’t have as many and big fishes as in the Red Sea or on the Maledives, but it’s a beautiful underwater landscapes, many caves and interesting creatures. I did 15 dives during that trip and really enjoyed the time under water. My #1 goal was to enjoy the dives – so getting good images was “just” #2. I mention this because I have met people who told me they were so busy with their camera that they could not really enjoy the dive and underwater environment.

The EM1 in the Nauticam housing has worked very well. I believe m43 is great for underwater photography. It handles quite easy and allows good image quality.

Here are some of the results, I hope you like them. You can find more images here https://www.flickr.com/photos/111665084@N07/sets/72157646745077278/

I encourage every diver who hasn’t been underwater for a longer time: Go out and dive, it´s fun.

Kind Regards, Tom

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Nov 042014
 

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The new Artisan & Artist CLCAM-1000 Camera Bag

Artisan & Artist have released a new camera bag, the CLCAM-1000 in a new Navy Color, and it is a beauty! This bag is perfect for a mirrorless system or Leica M system. In fact, a Leica M would be perfect for this bag as it would fit a 1-2 bodies and 2-3 lenses as well as a charger and accessories. It has “Rangefinder Bag” written all over it and is up there in quality with the best I have seen (in this niche) :) It is made of canvas and Leather.

Artisan & Artist sent me the CLCAM-1000 for review and it is one clean-looking design with the typical Artisan & Artist usability and functionality…and of course, the usual A&A BEAUTY.  The new Navy color is fantastic and is not usually seen in higher end camera bags. It is a step away from the typical black or brown leather and canvas we usually see in these sorts of bags. Artisan & Artist have always been in my top three bag companies with my #1 longest lasting bag coming from them. These days I enjoy a few bags from Wotancraft, Hold Fast Gear, CosySpeed and Ona but also have fallen for this bag from Artisan & Artist. I may need an extra room in my house soon to house all of my camera bags, lol. (maybe a giveaway soon)?

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Many love higher end fashion camera bags and many complain about them not understanding why anyone would want such a pricey bag. Me, I love all bags but there are so many fantastic camera bags out there. How do we find the “right one” for our needs when there are so many awesome companies making these higher end super quality bags today?

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It’s all a personal choice really. Wether we go for a high end beautiful luxury bag or a low end $49 special, all that matters is that WE like what we use and buy. If I hate a bag I will not use it. If I love a bag it will go with me everywhere and be functional, doing more than just carrying my camera. When I first started getting into really nice bags, Artisan & Artist was my 1st choice. I used some of their bags for years..taking them all over the world in rain, sleet, snow and blistering heat. From airport to airport and on the streets, on the beach and everywhere in between. I had a nice large one that I used for travel and it never let me down in construction or stealthy looks. These days I use a very sweet Hold Fast Roamographer for my travel but when I need to go on a day outing with a Leica M I have found that this new A&A CLCAM-1000 can easily fit the bill. Sure, many bags can but some may adore the classic styling of this bag as well as the gorgeously functional interior. The front flap snaps into place instead of using buckles or velcro, which is nice.

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The new CLCAM-1000 exudes class and is yet another bag in the A&A line that will get compliments on the design and looks of the bag itself. The padded interior is typical Artisan & Artist Red and as stated, large enough for 1-2 Leica M’s and a couple of lenses. A Sony A7 and 3 lenses or something like an Olympus E-M1 and a few lenses. It’s a mirrorless bag for sure, not really for a DSLR system. I was able to fit my 13″ Macbook Air inside but it was tight. I think it would be best with an iPad Air or the smaller Macbook Air. I see this as a day trip bag or something to keep you beloved mirrorless safe and sound when in use and when not in use.

Some bags I have used over the years age very well and some do not. The ones that have has always been from Ona, Artisan & Artist and Domke. I have not used my other bags long enough to speak about longevity but this one gives me no doubts. The inner flap is lined with zipper pockets to hold memory cards, film, or cables. Even your iPhone.

Overall this is a fantastic looking, feeling and functional bag. Add it to the growing list of useful camera bags that not only perform but look the part as well. The price for this bag in the USA comes in at around $500.00. I was not able to find any dealers selling this bag, nor was I able to find any information about the bag on A&A’s own website, which was odd..but I did see one on E-Bay for $530 and shipping from Japan. I am sure the USA dealers will get a hold of this bag SOON. It is expensive, and there are many other options out there for the same or less money but if you are an Artisan & Artist fan like me you may just fall for this one.

Things I would have changed about this bag? Maybe a rear pocket could have been added (I find these very useful). That is about it.

Artisan & Artist dealers I recommend are PopFlash.com and LeicaStoreMiami.com

 

 

Nov 042014
 

A year with the Panasonic GH2

By Aaron Hayman

First of all, I’d like to thank Steve for hosting such a great site. I spend a lot of time looking at and learning about photography on the web and this site is definitely on a very short list of favorites. The quality of the work tends to be on a level well beyond what I see in other places. I draw a lot of inspiration for my own work from the diversity and imagination of the work shown on these pages. There’s also the fact that the gear is very much biased towards mirrorless, compact cameras. I thought a bit about getting a DSLR, but since I saw so many really great images taken with mirrorless and since I’m a great believer in having something compact and therefore being more likely to have it with you, the mirrorless tech was what I gravitated towards. There are of course other advantages as well in going mirrorless…

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About a year ago, I bought a Panasonic GH2. I’ve been interested in photography for quite a while; I studied in college where I learned all kinds of darkroom processes as well as lots about the history and theory of the art form. I switched to digital some years ago when I picked up a Canon A630 point and shoot and though I did some work with that camera that I was quite happy with (I posted some photos I took with it before on this site), I eventually got tired of “working within limitations” and yearned for a more versatile tool. I did a fair bit of research and came to the conclusion that a used GH2 represented the features that I was looking for at a cost that I could afford. I have to say that despite the fact that there are a few more recent offerings with a little bit better IQ and more contemporary features that are certainly able to stir the gear lust within me, I’ve been quite happy with the GH2. Of course with only the very old and very simple A630 to compare it to, the GH2 obviously wins in every category. Still, I think that it’s much better than that. I’m consistently impressed with the IQ, I love that I can use old legacy lenses with it (and the macro focusing definitely helps), it seems very fast to focus with low shutter lag (unlike the A630, which seemed to be expressly designed to miss the moment!), all of the controls seem to be very logically laid out, the EVF shows me just what I need to see and when I’m shooting at some odd angle, the tiltable LCD really comes in handy.

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In the year that I’ve owned the camera, I’ve used it more than I have any other camera that I’ve had in any given year; I’ve owned a few and done a lot of photography over the years. Part of it has to do with the simple fact that with digital “the film is free,” but also because the GH2 is beautifully handling camera. I’m a firm believer in the idea that it’s the brain behind the lens that’s the most important factor in making an image. Nonetheless, a well designed, high performing camera can make the act of photography much more of a joy and to that effect, the GH2 has really helped to inspire me to get out and take photos. As for the photos, I’ve shot them in several different locales and experimented with a number of different subjects and approaches… I’m always experimenting and working under the influence of different ideas. My work though really isn’t so all-over-the-map as this collection of images might suggest; most of these photos are part of a larger series, each with a consistent theme. The most recent series that I’ve been working on involves shooting little details in my neighborhood. I don’t feel like I live in the most glamorous, scenic place and my surroundings seem rather ordinary… and yet I feel that there are compelling images to be made of my less-than-spectaular surroundings. It’s more difficult to feel like I’ve gotten a really good photo in this type of situation but also a greater challenge and I like that. I’m often thinking of what one of my favorite photographers, Garry Winogrand said, “Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.” When I think more of how the subject “looks photographed” then I’m able to worry less about what the subject is and I feel like I can produce more surprise in my photography by creating something out of materials that don’t usually get a second look.

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Initially, I used just the kit zoom on my GH2, a 14-42mm thing. As a kit lens that comes with the camera, I didn’t expect to like it that much, but it seems capable of some really sharp images… I’ve been quite happy with it. Later I got around to buying adaptors for some old 35mm film lenses I had, a Canon 28mm f2.8 and a Nikon 50mm f1.8. I’m really happy with the Nikon in particular in that it’s fast and just the right length for some musical events that I’ve gotten into photographing. The fact that as with any old lens like that, it isn’t capable of auto focus isn’t a problem at all as in the low-light situations where I’m using it, the autofocus in the camera doesn’t work very reliably anyway. The Canon, though it seems to be sharp enough has gotten less use as the focal length and max aperture aren’t ideal for me. I’ve messed around with a Nikon E series 70-150mm zoom as well and gotten better results than I thought that I might with a lens like this. Folks generally don’t seem to be so hot on adapting those old manual focus zooms. The lens I’ve really come to love to use with this camera the most is the only other one that I’ve got that’s designed for it (as opposed to adapted) and that’s the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f1.4. Perhaps I’m projecting something special onto it because I spent nearly the cost of the camera with the kit lens on it, but it certainly does seem like there is something very, very nice about the quality that I’m getting with this lens. It’s very fast, which has been proven to be useful in shooting indoor musical events, which are typically not so well lit. I bought it for these low light situations, but I’ve come to love the look that it’s capable of even more than the speed that I get with that low F-stop. I’m not so great at describing this sort of thing (Steve is really brilliant at it!) but suffice to say, it gives me a look that I haven’t gotten with other lenses. I’ve been using it a lot more than I thought that I would because I usually favor a wider field of view and have felt kind of addicted to the convenience of a zoom. I think that I’m starting to lose a bit of my bias toward the wide-angle lately though and when I go out shooting I’m thinking more in terms of what works with the 25mm.

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As for processing (very important to me!), I’ve been using a free program for RAW conversion called LightZone that I’ve been really happy with. I use Photoshop as well from time to time for certain kinds of effects, but I always start with LightZone. I always shoot in the RAW format and really like to spend time adjusting the images with software. I believe that the creative choices I make with the software are nearly as important to creating the images as the parts of the process that I do in the camera…

Thanks for looking and I hope that you enjoy the images. For more of my work, please see: www.flickr.com/photos/128435329@N08/sets

 

Nov 032014
 

NIKONADEAL

B&H Photo is having a big sale on the Nikon Coolpix A (which I think does a bit better than the Ricoh GR). It feels great, is made to a high standard and has the large APS-C with superb color and sharpness. At launch it was a bit pricey but now you can get a brand new Coolpix A WITH the $395 finder for FREE for a grand total of $699 – Saving  $400 (they ran out of the finder). This camera launched at $1099 and I loved it, you can see my review HERE. At $699 with finder, it is a great buy for anyone looking for a great all around compact large sensor camera with beautiful IQ.

YOU CAN VIEW IT OR BUY IT HERE

 

Oct 302014
 

cams

Which one? Sony Zeiss 35 2.8 FE and the Voigtlander 40 f/2.8 Heliar

HELLO TO ALL OF YOU PHOTO AND GEAR NUTS OUT THERE!

I posted a very 1st quick look at the new Voigtlander 40 2.8 Heliar a few days ago and one question was: “Why would I want this when there is already the Sony 35 2.8 Zeiss lens that has Auto Focus”?

My answer to that is that not everyone will! Some of us NEED Auto Focus and others much prefer a mechanical old school lens with a solid build, gorgeous appearance and the fact that we need to manually focus the lens! When you have an old school (but brand new like this lens is) lens on the Sony A7 series of camera, manually focusing is not only very fun, it is also a way to slow you down, take your time, calculate your shots. It is an alternative to the quick AF snaps we so often do. It will have us looking more and taking our time with the composition.

In other words, I much prefer a solid manual focus lens over an AF lens when using the A7 series. Especially M mount glass, classics and new lenses alike.

The Voigtlander 40 2.8 is TINY but hefty and solid. It has a Nickel finish and looks amazing. The sharpness? Just as sharp as the Sony/Zeiss at half the size and cost. All you miss out on is Auto Focus yet you gain small size, solid build and a much more beautiful lens to look at..as well as a $400 savings.

Below is a video I made on the two lenses with my thoughts on them and after that a quick comparison shot with full size images direct from RAW from the Sony A7S. Also in the video you will see the striking new strap from Artisan & Artist, which is their new ACAM-310 silk strap. Also, the wooden sticky shutter release from Artisan Obscura and the shiny metal buttons on the back of my A7s from rluther.com. 


This is how each lens performed on the camera, and I let the camera choose exposure for each lens to show how each lens will behave on the camera. They are similar for sure..both are sharp yet each lens made the camera expose slightly different. I also see more of a 3D look to the Voigtlander lens. Both of these were shot wide open at f/2.8. Click them for full size.

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So which one is for you? That is easy..the one you feel most drawn to! Do you need AF? If so, the Sony is the one! If you prefer manual focus and some old school charm, plus a smaller and better made lens, the Voigtlander is the one to beat. :)

Where to Buy?

You can order the Voigtlander 40 2.8 at cameraquest.com HERE

You can order the Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 at Amazon HERE

You can order the cool all wood sticky shutter release at Artisan Obscura HERE

You can order the Shiny Buttons or read about them HERE

© 2009-2014 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved
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