Apr 182014
 

The Olympus E-M5 using Dramatic Tone

by Tamer Erdem

Though the basic principles of photography are still valid, digital photography changed the rules of the game when it comes to post/in camera-processing. Post-processing or in camera-processing facilities and potential are almost endless and much more effortless in digital era. Art filters were introduced by Olympus a couple of years ago. After Nikon D300, when I purchased my first Olympus, E-P1, I really fell in love with pinhole effect and grainy black and white art filters.

Then I got E-P2 and like new diorama filter that miniaturize the scene. But the ultimate filter that I can desire was offered by OM-D, E-M5; dramatic tone filter for landscape photography. If you do not have enough time for post-processing and like some punchy, strong and slightly surreal landscape images, go for it without any hesitation. This art filter makes the image, kind of HDR (pseudo-HDR) image by increasing the details in shadow regions and decreasing light exposure in the highlighted regions of image. Also it boosts the color saturation and rendition.
I’d like to show some of my dramatic tone photographs that were taken at Kuşadası seaside in the autumn and Ayder plateau, a unique natural beauty in Turkey. You can also visit Zirkale castle, bridges of Byzantine and Ottoman origin and Fırtına Vadisi ( Storm Valley).

Panasonic Lumix 14mm 2.5, 20mm 1.7 and Leica 45mm 2.8 macro lenses were used.

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Apr 162014
 

The Sony RX1r meets the Olympus E-M1 in Iceland

By Chris Bakker

My website - http://www.chrisbakkerphoto.com

Hi Steve and readers of SteveHuffPhoto.com!

My name is Chris Bakker, a free time photographer from the Netherlands. I began to do photography around Christmas of 2012. I started off with a Sony RX100 by taking photos from all kinds of subjects what surrounded me and It didn’t took me long to really get caught by the beauty of photography . Right from the start I tried to read as many (e)books on photography as I could, follow on a daily basis the online forums and practice the acquired knowledge in the field. I am also a frequent reader of this site and let me tell you this site has giving me so much that I thought it would be time to give a little bit of my contribution in return.

Because I was so into photography I decided in the summer of 2013 to trade in my trusty RX100 for his bigger brother the RX1r. This indeed is a magical powerhouse and capable of delivering some stunning photo’s. This camera has got me even more into photography. Later that year, in November the Olympus OMD E-M1 came out and because I wanted to do different things in photography which needed faster auto focus and different focal length than 35mm, I decided to buy the E-M1 alongside my beloved RX1r and step into the world of micro 4/3.  I can say I have no regrets at all. This camera is so well designed and thought out, it works so well, it just makes you want to go out and shoot.

I often attend workshops and like to learn from the pros. So when the opportunity came by to go to Iceland for 11 days with a pro landscape photographer from the Netherlands, to learn in the field, I decided to go. So on February the 22 I went off to Iceland to return 11 days later home with an overwhelming experience by the beauty of Iceland. Not only did I came home with a lot of photos but also with a lot of acquired knowledge and practical experience.

So l’ll stop the twaddle, let’s get to the photo’s!

E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

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E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

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Kirkjufellsfoss – E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

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Going to Iceland in the winter takes some planning in advance. Although the temperature is about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn’t too cold the wind can be really extreme. And the combination of those two makes it cold. Proper clothing, like multi layers, warm hand cloves and a fur cap is not a luxury. A good windbreaker can be a rain suit. Because of the hard wind, I can advise to take a big and sturdy tripod with you. I have come to situations where I definitely had to hold on to my MEFOTO Globetrotter tripod preventing it from falling over. A tripod can allow you to shoot at times of day when the light is unlike any other. If you want to shoot at sunrise or sunset, and you want to keep the ISO down, you need that long exposure. when you want to work with HDR you need a tripod for sure. Light is everything, don’t miss some of the best light of the day because you didn’t want to carry a tripod. What also comes in handy is to wear knee-pads. The ground is often stony and wet.

Snaefellsjoekull – RX1r

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E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

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Brúarfoss – E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

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Shining stones in river – E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

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While I was out making photos in the field I did quite often use my filters. There are many people that think in digital photography you don’t need filters anymore. Many think that this is also possible in post processing. When you need a slower shutter speed to blur motion, like with waterfalls, or polarizing light to reduce glare, do it with filters. Filters still enable an aesthetic that’s not possible through simple post-production, and in some cases not possible at all, even in Photoshop. Everybody has his own way of working but we people often work in sequence. We start off with 1 go to 2 than react to 3 to get to 4 or so. While this is a quite similar process as in post-production, like Lightroom, it is also a good process at point of capture. When experimenting with filters in the field you see the result immediately and that gives you the change to react to it. So it can definitely be a good thing for creativity. I used mostly a 3 stop ND filter from Singh-Ray and a Big stopper from Hoya the NX400. In a few occasions I used graduated and reverse grad filters, mostly at sunrise or sunset. For Polarizer’s, Singh-Ray Color Combo and the Gold ‘n Blue.

Skógafoss – RX1r

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Northern Lights near Vik – RX1r

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Vik Beach – E-M1 pana 35-100f2.8

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Skaftafell Icecave Vatnajökull – RX1r

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Skaftafell Icecave Vatnajökull – E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

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Sunset JÖKULSÁRLÓN Beach – E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

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Sunrise JÖKULSÁRLÓN Beach – RX1r

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What really fascinates me is that you can learn infinitely, it’s an ongoing process. Photography has become an essential part of my life. It’s so much fun, it’s a way of living. I hope you enjoy watching these photos as much as I did making them.

Chris Bakker

A few more…

Sunrise JÖKULSÁRLÓN Beach – RX1r

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Jökulsárlón Lake – E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

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Jökulsárlón Lake – E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

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Vik Beach – RX1r

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Old Turf Farm House – RX1r

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Icelandic Horse – E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

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Apr 152014
 

A Panasonic GX7 and 20 1.7 II Update..still a great combo!

By Steve Huff

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Just a quick update for all of you Micro 4/3 shooters out there. As some of you know, I have been shooting with Olympus cameras for the past couple of years and LOVING them, specifically the wonderful E-M1. I also enjoyed the Panasonic GX7 when I reviewed it but for me it did not stick around because I was loving the Olympus E-M1 so much. Recently I came across a used Panasonic GX7 in black along with a 20 1.7 II lens and I have been shooting it here and there for the past two weeks. Nothing major, just enjoying it and having fun with it! The only way to be!

Snapped a quick shot of this couple on a chilly day in Sedona. The guy saw me and hammed it up but his girlfriend and dog did not :) The GX7 and 20 1.7 II combo provides very sharp results. Click the images for larger and sharper view.

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After these two weeks I have grown to really enjoy the GX7 more and more. While it is quite a but different from the E-M1 in many ways, the image quality is just as good it seems, just a bit different. The Panasonic cameras always have a different color signature and many love Olympus for the colors and many love Panasonic for the higher contrast look of the files. I find the Panasonic files seem to have more drama..more edge.

ISO 3200 with the 20 1.7 II at 1.7. I used the in camera HC B&W for this one. 

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With the 20 1.7 II, the GX7 is a perfect walk around camera. Giving you a 40mm focal length magnification it is in between the popular 35mm and 50mm that many of us get stuck choosing between. With the 20, no need to choose, just go for the 40mm!

Around 6PM in Sedona AZ – deep colors here due to the fact that I dialed in some negative exposure compensation to richen up the red rocks and blue sky. 

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The GX7 in all black is pretty slick-looking. It looks more discreet than the silver and black version and is nice and light. I have also REALLY enjoyed the swivel EVF even though I am not a huge fan of the EVF quality or size. When compared to the new Fuji X-T1 EVF the GX7 looks tiny with off colors. But it does get the job done because as I have said, it really does not matter these days as ALL cameras can take a fantastic image.

Scorpion Hunting in my backyard at 8pm. These nasty little buggers come out when it gets dark and they hide in the crevices of the block fence. At night, with a backlight in hand it is easy to see them as they start to emerge for the backyard takeover. I’d guess there are probably 20-30 out there every night and one will make it into my house ever couple of weeks. I even had one under my blankets on my side of the bed last year. The sting of the Bark Scorpion is NASTY, they are the most venomous scorpion in the USA and the only one capable of causing DEATH. So much fun huh?

The GX7 and 20 1.7 II up close and personal…ISO 12,800, YES! 12,800 – f/2.8

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Today in 2014 there are so many awesome camera choices that ANYONE can get out there and enjoy photography, even with a lower budget, while getting super high quality images. Big money is not needed for truly spectacular image quality. Even though in todays fast paced tech world, the GX7 is already outdated to many, it is still a fantastic option for those wanting a simple, small, fast and high quality solution for their imaging needs. This camera and one lens would make a great family camera for all situations. Low light, good light, video, etc.

Add on the upcoming 15 1.7 and the delicious 42.5 Nocticron and you have a killer system that can do all kinds of neat tricks :) But the 20mm 1.7 II is a gem. While not the fastest to focus it continues on with the legendary status that version one brought with it in a new shiny metal package. Overall, the GX7 is the first Panasonic I have really enjoyed since the amazing (for its time) GF1.

See the 20 1.7 II Review HERE

The black GX7 can be found at Amazon HERE

The 20 1.7 II can be found at Amazon 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 - Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

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

Apr 142014
 

How the Nikon V1 is changing my approach to Photography

by Francois Kaplan

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Hey guys!

First let me congratulate you for the blog, it is always interesting and refreshing to read!

When I was 13 years old, I got my first serious camera, the Nikkormat EL with a 50mm prime. I enjoyed taking photos for years, mostly during my vacations. For some reason, studies, work, other activities probably, I gradually used it less and less and at one point, like many, I moved to digital cameras, this was the future! I bought a Canon ixus which had great reviews, but it broke, the cost of repair was prohibitive, almost like buying a new one. Anyhow a new one was just announced (of course) so I bought it. Unfortunately it fell also and broke a few months later. Even though I was the one who dropped it, I was upset with this concept of using fragile cameras and being driven to have to buy a new model each time something happened. I got a bit emotional with the whole thing and decided I will stop using digital cameras altogether and came back to my good’old Nikkormat.

This was my first shock! The process of taking photos was maybe a bit more complex than with the digital camera (but at the same time very refreshing and delightful) and when I got the prints back…. wow! They had a completely different quality to them, they had… soul (can I say this?). So here I was, happy again with my Nikkormat, rediscovering a treasure I had and also happy to beat the system.

But a few weeks later (of course) my good’old camera proved too old and broke twice (this time, not my fault, the shutter mechanism stopped working)… L and I was left on one hand with the realization of how much I liked photography and wanted to take photos and on the other hand completely unsatisfied with what I got from digital cameras.

I started to study a bit more, read many articles and in the end, decided to invest in more serious equipment. I did this progressively. I started with the D5000, then moved to the D7000, improved my lenses collection, bought in the middle the X100.

Each time, I went through an up and down process, starting to be enthusiastic with the progress I got from my previous equipment, but after a while feeling I was kinda cheating myself and had to admit I did not get the same “soul” experience than with the Nikkormat.

I definitely got soul with the Fuji (still not as the Nikkormat) which I love, but at the same time, I was also not fully satisfied with having to use the 35mm focal only. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the discipline of having to use one focal only, this limitation drives creativity. I did several trips using only the X100 and enjoyed it a lot, especially when I was visiting cities such as New York or Paris, there the X100 shines.

But at the same time, I also missed the ability to use a wide or a good tele which I had with my Nikons.

After many hesitations, reading more reviews and encouraged by my wife, I made the jump to full frame and bought the D600. I found it was a serious step up from the D7000 (reviews say IQ is similar, but I experienced a real improvement). I still could not get the same “soul” of the Nikkormat or the X100, but it was really top-notch and produced a different type of photos, maybe colder, but definitely better than what I had previously.

In the process, I read your enthusiastic article about the V1 and also bought it when it was around $300 with the kit lens.

It felt OK, toyish, the slow motion movies was nice to play with and the ability to use my 70-300 with the FT1 adaptor was also fun, but I did not relate to it as a serious camera and I almost did not use it. Cheap, but lost investment… or was it truly?

I was quite happy with my Fuji and D600. They lived side by side, I used one or the other, never together as they are not complementary, which was a bit of a shame really. BTW, I happened to use the Fuji more often than the D600 (remember the “soul” aspect, even though the D600 is full frame).

Then, I decided to spoil myself more and bought a top lens, a prime, the Nikon 58mm 1.4.

This was my second shock: the quality of the photos I got from this prime were at a totally different level than with the zooms I was using until now. They finally had the “soul” I was looking for! This was not a quantitative improvement, but a qualitative jump, the D600 was actually overcoming my memories of the Nikkormat (which is quite an achievement, as competing with memory is always unfair).

The recent V3 announcement reminded me that I had a V1 and one day I decided to play a bit with it and adapted the 58mm 1.4 to see what it would give. Third shock! or should I say, third and fourth shock.

Third shock: the photos were really good, sharp, very shallow DOF. See the first flower photo. This made me understand something I read but never really got, which is that glass is more important than camera body. The photos I got with my V1 with the 58mm 1.4 were better than the photos I got with the D600 and the kit 24-85 lens! I did not check at pixel level, but they looked and felt better.

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Fourth shock: even though using the 58mm in the V1 was challenging, it also drove creativity. 58mm on CX is equivalent to 157mm on a FX, which is an odd focal for portrait, it is too long. But I found out this disadvantage could turn into a fun challenge, I had to frame differently, showing only part of the face, the hands, etc… It was more difficult to strike the right balance, but it gave character to the portraits. Plus, the DOF added even more character. See second example of the dog photo:

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I was really not expecting this, the V1 producing photos at that level? Mmm… this was great news as it is so small + it is complementary with my D600! I could now use my prime twice, as a 58 and 157mm!

I looked at the V1 with new eyes and decided to complete this system. I bought the wide angle (6.7-13), which is a type of lens I was missing so much. It is maybe a bit expensive, but not so much actually if you consider wide angles + it is very very small and also very good.

With it I could combine in one small bag 18-35, 58 (close enough to 50) and tele ~160! A full system in a minimal and light space!

I recently went on a business trip in Ireland, and took with me the V1 only with the 6.7-13 and the 58mm. The kit was so small it easily fit in my computer bag. This was a great experience (apart from getting little sleep so I could be at the beach at 6:00 ready to take photos and enjoy the golden hours J), the battery life enabled me to take several hundred shots, the process of taking the photos was fun, I had the sharp wide lens available to photograph the beach from low angles, which I would never had with either my D600 or Fuji, and overall, the IQ was very good, with this famous “film like” quality grain reported in the reviews. See 2 examples of tree1 photo, beach photo and tree2 photo.

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This was my second lesson: a good camera with you is better than a great camera that you left at home.

Added to the first lesson: a good camera with great lenses is better than a great camera with good lenses.

Gave me this conclusion: a small good camera with great lenses is always fun to use!

You can see the folder of my Dublin trip: http://500px.com/francoiskaplan/sets/dublin_april_2014

So here I am now, re-discovering simple truths that have been explained many times on the web, but that I never fully understood until now.

I will now focus more on lenses vs body, prioritize those with great quality, original focal and light weight so I can have them with me at any moment and use them.

The combination of the V1 and the D600 opens many opportunities and combinations here.

Thanks for reading!

Apr 142014
 

Fuji X-T1 Ergonomic DYI Improvements

by Ronald Grauer

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I will not talk to you about the quality of the camera, we all know it’s a good camera with some little problem like every camera has. Of course, I couldn’t do anything about what’s going on inside, but I could do something about 2 of the major problem I’ve found on it:

- The eyecup is to small and not deep enough. Mostly when shooting in bright light. And also after 3 years with the Sony Nex camera (Nex 7 than Nex 6), I missed a bit the left side EVF found on the Nex Camera

- The rear 4 pad, which has been discussed on every single review on the net… Almost a shame to design such a pad.

So If you want to try this little fix, feel free…

For the eyecup I used a Nikon dk-4. But I think most of the wide, round rubber eyecup should fit. Plenty of them on Ebay.

The eyecup is glued on the plastic base from the original Fuji eyecup. Unscrew the 2 screws to remove the Fuji rubber eyecup.

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But you need to use the Sugru material (I have nothing to do with them…!) or any other similar material. Cause just the glue won’t be enough. I’m not a glue expert, but I tried different very good glue, nothing could hold it. The rubber material is a porous material so you need to shape something on top of these 2 elements. And this will make them more homogeneous for the look.

It’s called ”Sugru”, www.sugru.com

I’ve also used this amazing product to customize the rear 4 pad.

It’s made in England.

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You have an hour or so to shape this “king of rubber”. Let it dry for 12 hours and it will keep the shape and have some elasticity. As sugru says, this material sticks to 99% of the material in the world.

It has been awarded as one of the most amazing material invented in the last years…

It cost around 15 euros for 8 little package…

Hope this post will help many other users…

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I’ll finish by telling you that after all, I’m a passionate photographer.

here is my website link: www.ronaldgrauer.com.

Keep with what you’re doing.

Regards,

Ronald.

Apr 102014
 

On safari with the Sony A7+LAEA4+SAL70-300G

By Wim Arys

Hi Steve and Brandon,

My name is Wim Arys, I’m a music producer from Belgium. I’ve been an avid reader of your excellent site for some time now, and enjoy reading your hands on tests of new cameras and equipment. I was very interested in photography as a teenager, but strayed towards music production after high school. My teenage passion was rekindled some years ago when I bought an Iphone 3S, and started taking pictures again.

After a while I became dissatisfied with the image quality and bought myself an EPL5, then an EP-5, a Fuji X100S, a Sony RX1 and earlier this year an Sony A7. My girlfriend and I have a non-profit travel blog www.freeasbirds.com, so we travel as much as possible, exploring the world whilst sharing our mutual passion for photography. For our latest trip to Kenya, I wanted to try out the A7 with a zoom lens on safari. Since there was no E-mount full frame zoom available, I decided to go for the Sony SAL 70300G f4.5-5.6 SSM A-mount with the Sony LA-EA4 converter. Not the fastest zoom, but designed to a high standard, as the G mark indicates and available at a reasonable price point.

I’ve read comments about a zoom lens on an A7, saying that this defeats the purpose of a small(er) mirror-less full frame camera, but this combo is very light and surprisingly easy to handle. I had no problems carrying it around all day and it balances well in hand. Photography on safari has many challenges: the savannah is very dusty, the roads are bumpy and the drivers hardly give you time to frame and focus your shots.

Everything in Africa is supposed to go Polé Polé (take it easy) but these drivers race around the parks like madmen. The SAL70300G with LAEA4 adapter luckily has contrast AF and phase AF on the A7 and our driver John quickly became used the sound of cameras snapping away. The AF is very fast, the only quibble I have is that all the focus points are in the centre of the frame. So if I wanted to focus off-centre, I had to set focus and reframe, which was almost impossible in these conditions. Another problem is the lack of image stabilisation on all A-mount lenses (because the Alpha range of cameras have in camera IS). All my pictures came out a bit bland too (perhaps due to all the dust in the air), but I always shoot in RAW, so with the nice A7 full frame sensor, it was no problem boosting the colours/shadows in post. I normally use Capture One for this, but it seems not to be a good match with the A7. Lightroom did the trick.

I always carry my trusted Olympus E-P5 too, preferably with the fantastic 75mm f1.8 or Panasonic/Leica 25mm. This is still my favourite street camera, although the A7 with 35mm allowed me to take different kinds of pictures when we visited a Masai tribe. After going through my 4000+ pictures at home, I started missing the image quality of my RX1. The sensor and lens combo on this little gem are amazing. It is off course a fixed lens combo, so I never could have gotten these shots with that camera.

The SAL70300G, although a descent lens in good to average lighting, does have its limitations, especially at 300mm. I like the ergonomics and styling of the Sony A7, the ‘loud’ shutter sound does not bother me at all. I think the idea of a stealth camera has become obsolete nowadays, you are fooling yourself if you think people don’t know what you are doing. The autofocus could be faster, compared to the E-P5 but I would not consider it slow. Perhaps just a bit faster than the Fuji X100s. This camera is not a DSLR killer either, I’m guessing in will take a few more versions until Sony (or another brand) gets there.

What the A7 delivers is top image quality in a compact size, though I might return this one and go for the A7r for the added resolution.

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If you would like to submit your own guest article, review, or just talk about your experience with anything photographic, send your idea to Steve HERE. You can also read how to do it HERE. 

Apr 102014
 

Tokyo, Tokyo, home of Moriyama and Nakahiri, deep blacks and stark whites, grainy, blurred, shocking contrasts over a quirky but sensual rhythm .

By Colin Steel – His web site is HERE

Tokyo has long-held a strange magnetism for me but it has been a long and uncomfortable path to even get to the beginning of understanding this magnificently complex city and its wonderful people. I have been travelling there for over six years and trying to make sense of it photographically for the last two years. It bewilders me, hurts me, loves me but above all enthrals me like no other city I know of. Its incredible complexity and compression of space creates a system of polite mannerism that is at wild contrast with the creativity of many of its artists who, for me, have pushed the boundaries of photography with their beat poem rhythms and blatant disregard of conventional structures. I feel honoured to tread the same streets of Shinjuku and Shibuya as Daido and stop into the tiny bars drinking and searching for the internal buzz that will free me from my rational straightjacket. I like to think that every city I visit has a rhythm and Tokyo is my Bill Evans. It has a perfect, hushed, mellow, modal meandering that is all to infrequently punctuated by strange ventures into the upper registers for that short, sharp thrill and excited recognition of something that we all have and glimpse only so very, very rarely. This is what photography is to me now, the never-ending search for encounters with that fleeting spirituality that combines shapes, light, dark, expressions, movements, glances and beauty into sudden realisation of the perfection that exists in our imperfect world, play on Bill Evans…………………

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Apr 092014
 

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The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 on the Sony A7r:

my considerations and experiences (so far)

by Dirk De Paepe

A contradiction?

Putting the largest and heaviest lens on the smallest and lightest body… doesn’t seem to be the smartest move, does it?!

Indeed, no other FF lens of standard focus length weighs more and is bigger than the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55, and no other FF body is smaller and lighter than the Sony A7r (at the time of this writing, April 2014). Combining those two indeed appears to be a major contradiction. Obviously.

But let me make another statement now.

Putting the best lens on the best sensor… makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?!

Indeed, the Otus was developed by Zeiss with only one simple goal: creating a full frame lens with the best possible image quality, to meet the demands of today’s (and tomorrow’s) full frame hi-res sensors, that are able to provide an IQ close to medium format cameras. Zeiss clearly felt the need for lenses that meet (and surpass) those sensor specifications. Therefore the Zeiss engineers received no restrictions whatsoever concerning size, weight and budget. So this lens is indeed big, heavy and expensive. What did you expect.

With the A7r, it’s clear that Sony wanted to come up with nothing less than a masterstroke: combining the most advanced FF sensor with the smallest body, to offer the highest IQ in a FF body of today’s market.

Yet it doesn’t make too much sense to compare Sony’s situation with Zeiss’. Already the life span of both products will differ significantly. The evolution in sensors and bodies rushes further at an incredible pace, with a continuous stream of major new announcements. Still, although every camera body that one can buy today can offer satisfactory results for quite some years, the life span of a good lens remains a lot longer and can be estimated as virtually a lifetime.

Nobody doubts the Otus IQ. And, as far as I followed publications about the A7r, all test reports stated that its IQ is at least at par with, if not surpasses this of the Nikon D800E (until recently the sole standard for hi-res FF sensors). So purely regarding IQ, paring the Otus with the A7r makes a lot of sence. Obviously.

So on Wednesday, October 16, minutes after the first official presentation of the A7/A7r – by Sony Australia on YouTube – I placed my order. This was the camera body that I had been waiting for since about 5 years, when I bought my first NEX-5. Ever since that moment, I had been thinking: “If only they’d make a full frame camera like this, with a good viewfinder and enough knobs for direct manual control of the basic parameters…”

The NEX-7 was already a big step forward, with the EVF as an unexpected bonus. And when the full frame RX-1 was launched, unfortunately not an IC body, I was sure that Sony was in the final straight line towards my dream camera. So that Wednesday morning, I didn’t have to think it over for a second, because I already considered it for five years. During the whole presentation, I thought: “Yes!”

Also when the Zeiss Otus was announced to become available, I placed an order to get one of the first possible lenses that would ship to Belgium. The Otus 1.4/55 immediately tremendously appealed to me. Those who’ve read my first article, being published on this site, won’t be surprised, since my love for Zeiss goes back some 50 years. What I love about Zeiss can be summarized as: achieving the highest possible quality but still selling for reasonable, not Leica-crazy prices (sorry, Leica). All test reports about the Otus spoke of the most extra-ordinary full frame lens of all time, better than the Leica Apo-Summicron, that more than doubles its price. The Otus is said to be virtually perfect in all domains that really matter. OK, it’s not perfect in ALL domains, but that wouldn’t be of this world, would it. It’s big and heavy, actually the biggest and heaviest standard focal length glass on the market. It’s probably not really completely weather sealed, it’s not suitable for autofocus, it has no image stabilization and it scratches pretty easily (that’s what I read, so I try to handle it with great care). Oh yeah, it’s also pretty expensive.

Two versions of Otus

The Zeiss Otus 1.4/50 comes in two versions: the ZE for Canon mount and the ZF.2 for Nikon. Both versions can be used with the A7r – of course with different adapters. (BTW, also the Sony comes in two versions, A7 and A7r, but there has been written enough about this on this website.)

The construction of the optics are identical with both lenses, which implies that the distance from the back lens to the sensor is the same (as it is with all “pairs” of Zeiss ZE and ZF.2 SLR lenses). So the “mounting foot” of each version is adapted to the specific camera body it is designed for, which is a bit shorter (some 3mm) on the ZF.2, due to Nikons longer FFD (flange focal distance = distance from flange to sensor). Thus, when mounting an Otus on the A7r, the appropriate adapter for the ZF.2 version will be 3mm thicker than the one for the ZE. But the total length of the camera/adapter/lens combination will be exactly the same for both – necessarily so, to make the optics work. (The camera is measure from the point where the sensor is mounted in the body.)

Besides the mounting, there are some other obvious differences. The ZF.2 has an aperture ring, which lacks on the ZE. Here the aperture must be set from the camera body. So there is an automation mechanism in the lens that makes the ZE 60g heavier and a bit fatter at the rear end. Yet, on the ZF.2, the aperture ring locks when set to f/16, allowing shutter speed priority (according to the manual), and thus automated aperture setting. With some bodies, it would even be possible to chose whether the aperture is set from the lens or the body. Because the lens manual indicates this, I don’t doubt it for a second. But I didn’t try it.

Which one to choose?

It took me quite some time to make up my mind about which version to choose for my A7r. Initially, I made the following considerations. The A7r has two customizable turning knobs on top of the body, one for thumb control, the other for the index finger. Aperture and shutter time control can be programmed to those, which makes sense, when using the ZE version. Also, I noticed that on the press presentation, the ZE was used in combination with the A7r. So this must mean something, no? They used the Metabones Smart Adapter Mark III (make sure to order the Mark III), which is that one adapter on the market that I’d trust to do the job for the Otus ZE. With some cheap EF to E (former NEX) adapters, you just loose the aperture control. (At the time of this writing) I’m really astonished that those are even on the market. Who for heavens sake would settle for only being able to shoot wide open? Then there are adapters that provide build in aperture blades. Neglecting the aperture system of the lens, those adapters offers an “ersatz” set aperture blades… ? I never tried one of those, and I never will, because, for sure, the character of your lens’ bokeh will be lost. So everything else but the Metabones is definitely a no-go for the ZE, IMO. Luckily the Metabones works really well (with one restriction – I’ll come to that later). It transmits all necessary electronic data perfectly back and forward. BTW, (at the moment of this writing and to my knowledge) there is no adapter on the market that does the same job for the ZF.2, so there’s no data exchange, no lens Exif data available, no lens control from the body, although, in case of the ZF.2, that’s not really dramatic, since the aperture can be set on the lens. To finish this off, all ZF.2 controls (Nikon-style) work in reverse to what I’m used to, which I thought can be confusing sometimes. Concerning the weight, I considered the extra 60g of the ZE to be not really important, in regard to the total lens weight of around 1kg. So it’s clear that I ordered a ZE Otus and a Metabones adapter. (Recently I noticed the appearance of some other data exchanging adapters that are a lot cheaper than the Metabones. But I would be very reluctant to buy a cheap adapter for the Otus, in regard to the problems this can cause – I come to that later.)

The adapter arrived first, even before my A7r. When picking up my camera at the shop, first thing I did was mounting the adapter and putting on a Canon EF lens from the shop, to see if everything worked out alright. And it did! Flawlesly. Even the autofocus beeped and nailed. So my A7r’s DSC00001 picture is shot in full automatic mode with a Canon Zoom lens! I just went outside the shop, pointed and shot – no thinking, just pushing the button. Being a 100% manual shooter, using prime lenses solely, this must be a unicum for both my camera and myself! :-)

Later, a friend of mine lent me his Zeiss Planar 1,4/50 ZE, to compare it to my own Planar 2/50 ZM. It also offered me the opportunity to further try out my Metabones adapter, imagining how it would operate with the Otus, once it would arrive. And then I made some remarkable observations. First of all: regardless of the set aperture, the lens always stayed wide open, until the moment the release button is pushed (Canon shooters will be familiar with that). I found that very inconvenient, making it impossible to estimate the DOF in the viewfinder and not consistent at all to what I’m used to with the other lenses I have, like the Zeiss ZMs. But I knew this problem could be solved. Canon has a designated button to check the DOF, and indeed, one can program the implementation of the set aperture under one of the customizable push buttons of the A7r, to obtain this function as well. Problem solved. At least, that’s what I thought initially… The DOF is indeed veraciously visible. But when using my other prime lenses, the A7r makes it possible to check the DOF very precisely in the viewfinder, by magnifying critical zones (as a matter of fact, the EVF can magnify any zone I want). Especially when hyperfocusing, I consider this a unique and major quality – “modern manual shooting”, so to speak. And here the ZE (and all Canon EF mount lenses) cause a problem, since it’s impossible to combine closing the aperture blades to the set value (holding down the designated button) with the viewfinder magnification function (for which we need to push another button – it’s exactly the simultaneous activation of two functions that’s impossible). But again, one has tried to provide a solution. This time, Metabones did an effort by features two operation modes on their adapter: Green and Advanced. First of all, it’s not evident to know of those modes, since there comes no manual with the package, nor is there any mentioning that the manual can be found on the Metabones website. If you’re interested in it, you can find it here: http://www.metabones.com/article/of/green-power-save-mode. The adapter is set to Green mode by default, featuring an operation as described above.

The activation of the Advanced mode is very simple: mount the adapter, switch the camera power on and mount the lens on the adapter, while holding down the “wide open” button of the adapter. In Advanced mode, the lens blades will always directly adjust to the set aperture. So there’s no longer need to activate two functions at the same time, which indeed ensures the detailed checking of the DOF in VF magnification mode. Still there remains a serious handicap with respect to the ZF.2 version, since the ZE doesn’t allow finetuning of the DOF while monitoring in magnification mode. That is, in VF magnification mode, the wheel with which you set the diafragm gets another function, namely moving the magnified zone to the left and right. Maybe Sony will eventually come up with a software upgrade to fix this, but that’s not a certainty of course. So what is the exact difference ? Both versions offer the detailed checking of the DOF in VF magnification mode. But with the ZE, this is done in a static way: set the aperture and magnify to check. If you wanna change, leave the magnification mode, set a different aperture and check again. With the ZF.2 on the other hand, you can do this in a direct interactive way: go to VF magnification mode and determine the DOF by fine tuning the aperture ring on the lens, while monitoring the changes in the VF. Fast, simple and accurate. IMO the ZE version makes a lot of detours to end up with a crippled functionality. And on top of it, it’s pretty battery consuming, since every change of aperture requires battery power.

Anyway, at this moment, it’s a no-go for me, and I guess the ZE will never enthuse me. I really can’t think of any real advantage that a body set aperture has – not one. I consider Exif-data interesting, but not really vital (although I’d welcome a Novoflex ZF.2 adapter with electronic signal transmission to remind me of the set aperture) and I look upon aperture setting on the body as an unnecessary detour. But interactively fine tuning the DOF to precision on the other hand, I consider that to be a vital operation for “modern manual shooting”, especially when using a hi-res lens on a hi-res sensor. (No OVF offers this possibility. That’s one of the reasons why I believe that the EVF has the future.)

So I changed my Otus order to a ZF.2 version, bought a Novoflex NEX/NIK adapter with tripod collar (necessary IMO) and put my Metabones for sale. Yes, I’ll have to live with the inverse settings and mounting of the “Nikon-style” lens, but hey, there’s no ideal world, is there…

Furthermore, choosing the ZF.2 has even more advantages. The possibility to mount a tripod collar on the adapter improves the camera’s balance on the tripod, since the tripod base plate of the collar protrudes a few cm. The Metabones has a tripod base too, but this one is positioned closer to the body, changing the balance. And when shooting OOH, you can’t remove this plate, which “scratched” my left hands fingers from time to time (nothing serious really, but still…). Another point: when using the Otus, I like to mount the vertical grip on the body (which is a no-go in combination with the Metabones, because it inhibits any upwards tilting). This grip substantially contributes to improve the balance of the lens/body combination. I’ve read in several reviews that the Otus would not really be suitable for the A7r, for reasons of unbalance when OOH shooting. I strongly disagree! (See hereunder in the “Balance” chapter.) Just buy the vertical grip and you’ll experience a completely different story. I know some criticized the A7r’s ergonomics, the knobs not being positioned in the places where they expected them. But isn’t that just a matter of getting used to it? I know that’s how it worked for me. And of course, some thorough consideration, about where to program the functions you always wanna keep at hand, helps a lot. What I like about the A7r is that it offers all the possibilities to work without having to pass through the menu and that I can blindly find all the functions I need.

Oh yeah, last advantage of my choice for the ZF.2 version: it gives me the instant overview of focal distance, aperture and DOF scale with a single glance on the lens – as traditional primes do and as it should IMO (I’m old fashioned in that department). This is shown in my picture “Aperture on lens” below:

1.Aperture on lens

Why the Otus?

Why should any A7r owner buy the Otus anyway? Well, I can only tell you why I bought it.

Since the time Leica launched its M8, I started dreaming of it and later of the M9. I also could see very interesting lenses being reviewed for those cameras. Now I don’t easily sell my lenses, since good ones can virtually last a lifetime, and it’s the glass above all that determines the character of the image (next to the photographer of course). Some of those reviewed lenses were very appealing to me indeed, but most of them crazy expensive. First of all I think of the Noctilux and Summilux. The latter, being a lot less expensive, was still a no-go for me, regarding it’s price/performance relation. I found a much healthier relation offered by Zeiss, still being of top level (sometimes even outperforming Leica IMO) but being sold for 2 to 3 times less money. It’s clear I went for Zeiss.

The first reports on the Otus immediately pulled me over. Here was a lens that outperforms all my former dream-lenses and is still payable – with some effort admittedly (but that’s a personal matter). That’s my motivation, plain and simple.

The Otus Image Quality

From the very first reports, literally everybody that tried this lens was somewhere between impressed and flabbergasted by its IQ. What I read was that it performs close to perfection for all criteria, at all apertures and in the whole picture up to the extreme corners. The superlatives were flying around. It has the finest detail in all apertures and throughout the whole image, (close to) no flare, no distortion, no CA, incredible micro contrast, the smoothest bokeq (front and hind equally). Read the reviews for all the details… The comments of the reviewers are that homogeneous that I couldn’t but believe them. And having a more than 50 years experience with Zeiss myself, it only allowed me to be even more confident. So I really immediately ordered without any doubt.

But the question is: now that I’ve got it, does it live up to my expectations? Short answer: indeed it does, in every way! I had been searching for all possible Otus pictures online, but still, looking at the first images that I shot myself, really made my jaw drop. I spend minutes, looking at all details on all places, trying to absorb what I saw. Yes, this was really happening! No anomalies in whatever parameter. Detail and (micro) contrast like I’ve never seen before in my pictures. No need for sharpening. An incredibly soft bokeh, with super smooth transitions, especially when setting the sharpening to zero. And the bokeh is of an equal beauty in front and behind the focus point. Do I need to say more? Well, I’ll try: think of anything you want and the Otus will probably outperform any FF lens you know.

Combined with the A7r, the files offer not only tremendous detail, they are very workable as well. Not that you need to process them a lot, but you can, if you wanna go for a certain image that you have in mind. Of course the sensor has a huge participation herein. In “Glass Doll”, I wanted to emphasize the green color in the glass.

2.Glass doll

I literally pushed every relevant parameter in RAW conversion to the limit (really to the max), just to see how far I could go. And the result still remains very credible IMO. Notwithstanding the very fierce processing, the bokeh and the color transitions remain a treat for the eyes. This one was shot at f/1.4 and the focusing took half a minute or so, to have it exactly on and equally divided amongst the eye, noose and mouth of the doll. The full size version is available on my flickr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/12444908724/sizes/o/in/photostream/) – I advise you to look at it to really see what’s going on with the color transitions and the details in the glass. All of a sudden, all the tiny faults in the glass become visible in a way that refers to macro shooting. The small focal distance, close to the minimum of 45cm, combined with the hi-res sensor makes this happen.

The Otus is specially conceived for hi-res sensors. So the detail is really important. That’s why I wanted to apply this detail in some of my pictures. In “Bicyclist under trees” I hyperfocused, wanting to get everything sharp, from closest to farthest object.

3.Bicyclist under trees

Hyperfocusing with a 55mm lens is far from obvious, the DOF getting considerably smaller with this focal lenght. A Zeiss sales manager told me: “I wouldn’t buy this lens that much for hyperfocusing purposes.” But personally, I believe it’s really possible, although this requires a very precise focus setting. The detail remains at such a high level throughout the whole field, that IMO it is absolutely possible to hyperfocus with the Otus. The EVF of the A7r, that combines checking the DOF (the amount of detail) in focus magnification really helps in this case. (I don’t wanna work without EVF anymore!) I absolutely wanted to try hyperfocusing, since this is an excellent way to get detail all over the picture, and as such to prove the exceptional quality of the Otus. Looking at this picture, you can see that even in the corners (especially obvious in the upper left and lower right corners) the IQ remains excellent and consistent.

When looking at the objects far beyond the focal point, there is still detail, but the image is unmistakably becoming a bit softer, because those objects are situated at the very end of the field, if not slightly beyond (indicated by the DOF scale). It’s still at par with most lenses at “normal” aperture, while this one was being taken at f/16. In this picture, I really pushed the hyperfocal possibilities to the limit, by focusing at around 7m. On flickr you can get a 100% image, for you to really see what I’m talking about. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/12294747935/sizes/o/in/photostream/) I thought the detail, especially in the branches on the left, is flat out amazing.

I guess IQ is best experienced when shooting yourself, because everybody is used to get a certain IQ level, when opening his own pictures out of camera. You never now what kind of processing was done on somebody else’s picture, but when looking with a fresh eye at your own shots, you can more easily compare. I can honestly say, that I was really deeply impressed when looking at the first shots of my A7r, but I was flat out flabbergasted when looking at the first shots of my Otus. And what I absolutely wanna emphasize on, is how workable those Otus/A7r files are. You can really underexpose and retrieve beautiful natural colors out of close to black zones. Also the opposite is possible: retrieving colors from over exposure. This PP can be done to a really amazing level as I never new before – not by far. Again, the sensor has a huge participation herein.

Why should any A7r owner buy the Otus? There is only one answer: for its flabbergasting image quality, especially combined with the A7r. IMO those two pair amazingly well. This combination will not only deliver a top level IQ, you will also have great cropping power. “Overview” is an example hereof. Cutting off the woman from her surroundings, was an obvious choice. But since I couldn’t get any closer, I needed to crop this picture to 27,5%. Still the image remains pretty detailed. Who needs a zoom?!

4.Overview

I’d like to add something now, about the character of the Otus 1.4/55, when shooting with very large DOF. This is done by using the hyperfocal DOF technique: small aperture and (with this lens) focusing around 7m renders a picture where pretty much everything is in “acceptable focus”. To my experience, typical for Otus is that the image remains very sharp with a defined but still gentle transition to blur in front of the focus point, and that it renders a bit of softness in the farthest zone of the field, while still retaining a lot of detail. As a result of this character (razor sharp detail versus a bit softer detail), the Otus can render an amazing 3D separation, even when applying the widest possible DOF and thus retaining detail all over the picture. This was definitely a very pleasant surprise to me, literally granting an extra dimension to the picture. I had always thought that, to obtain a good separation, one needed to shoot with larger apertures, but Otus expanded the boundaries here. In “Forest, canal and factory”, you can see what I mean, the trees and bushes really popping out of the background.

5.Forest, canal and factory

I’d like to add something now, about the character of the Otus 1.4/55, when shooting with very large DOF. This is done by using the hyperfocal DOF technique: small aperture and (with this lens) focusing around 7m renders a picture where pretty much everything is in “acceptable focus”. To my experience, typical for Otus is that the image remains very sharp with a defined but still gentle transition to blur in front of the focus point, and that it renders a bit of softness in the farthest zone of the field, while still retaining a lot of detail. As a result of this character (razor sharp detail versus a bit softer detail), the Otus can render an amazing 3D separation, even when applying the widest possible DOF and thus retaining detail all over the picture. This was definitely a very pleasant surprise to me, literally granting an extra dimension to the picture. I had always thought that, to obtain a good separation, one needed to shoot with larger apertures, but Otus expanded the boundaries here. In “Forest, canal and factory” above, you can see what I mean, the trees and bushes really popping out of the background.

Why not a faster lens than a f/1.4?

I have been fantasizing about a Leica Noctilux for years, I have even been very close to buying an SLR Magic Hyperprime T0.95 and I reckon I’m not the only one. I guess many would have liked Zeiss as well to come up with such a hyper fast lens, for them to “play in the same league”. But I have only seen pictures shot with those hyper fast lenses of at most 24MP. By stepping up from the NEX-7 (24MP) to the A7r, I experienced that with a 36MP sensor (let alone even more MPs in the future), focusing at f/1,4 becomes extremely critical – the more with the hyper detailed Otus. I guess Zeiss regarded it as useless to go any faster, in any case, that’s exactly how I feel it, now that I own and shoot with the Otus.

6.Bicycle parking

In pictures like “Bicycle parking” (above), a typical OOH street shot, where the moving subject obliges you to focus fast and constantly readjust, it’s extremely difficult to nail the focus perfectly. I took four shots of this girl, trying to catch the most significant moment, but only in half of them I nailed the focus to what I consider an acceptable level, when looking at full size, that is. I was pretty pleased with this one, beautifully illustrating the scene, but as a matter of fact, the focus is perfect on the handle bars of the bike and “acceptable” on the girls face. I would rather have it the other way round, but if I would be that demanding, my percentage of keepers would drop dramatically. I have to say, it’s only when looking at 100% that one can see the difference in focus quality, but if you don’t look in that much a detail, what’s the use of using the Otus anyway? (Yes, I know, there’s a lot more to the Otus than just the detail, but still we can’t disregard it.) All in all, with a f/0.95 lens of this optical quality, combined with a 36MP sensor, I guess nailing the focus in this kind of circumstances would be a matter of sheer luck…

Even to exactly nail the focus on a still subject at f/1.4, the Otus requires an extremely careful and precise setting, regarding how quick the blur occurs (again, when looking at 100%), to the extend that I absolutely wonder if I would even want to use any faster glass, and, in regard of the wonderful 3D separation and the absolutely gorgeous bokeh of the Otus, if there’s really anything further to gain. When I think of how much bigger and (even more important) how much heavier such a f/0.95 lens would be, provided that Zeiss would want to obtain the same optical quality, there’s no way that I would have even considered for a second to buy such a lens. I really don’t want to carry and handle a standard focal length lens of >2kg! You think I exaggerate? Just think of the Noctilux being more than twice as heavy as the Summilux… BTW, such a lens would probably sell for about double the price. So it’s a no-go on all fronts. But most importantly, I truly believe that the gain would be of very little use, if not virtually nonexistent because of it being next to impossible to exploit. And if Zeiss was to produce a f/0.95 lens of about the same size, weight and price of the Otus, in addition to the present 1.4/55, the choice would go between a significantly better optical quality in the 1.4/55 version, versus a very questionable gain of speed in the f/0.95 version. As far as I’m concerned, I’m absolutely happy with the choices Zeiss made and I’m 100% “cured” from my “hyper fast lens fever”. :-)

Another few words on the Bicycle Parking picture. I slid the sharpening in the RAW converter back to 0% and didn’t use any unsharp mask, preferring to preserve the hyper smooth bokeh and grain, which would always become harsher when adding even the smallest amount of sharpening or unsharp mask. I really would like you to go watch this picture on my flickr page in full size version, to appreciate the quality of grain and bokeh that this lens renders. To my taste, although the background buildings make for pretty nervous and busy surroundings, the grain and transitions are still from an utterly butter-smooth quality as I’ve never seen before and, what’s even more exceptional, this counts for both front and hind bokeh to the same extend. In the places where the focus is perfect, the detail is absolutely impressive, until recently pretty unthinkable at f/1.4. Still, there is indeed a tiny slight degree of softness here, where at smaller apertures the Otus becomes bitingly sharp. But IMO this slight softness is absolutely desirable when going for bokeh. To conclude about this picture, this wasn’t an attempt to realize the most spectacular shallow DOF – the focus distance was way to long for that – rather than it was to 3D-separate the subject and realize a beautiful bokeh, while still transmitting information of the surroundings. This is how I prefer to use shallow DOF. Oh yeah, this picture was first cropped to 88% and than (obviously) cropped to square, which diminishes the shallow DOF effect to some extend. But I’m not one who’s really into pursuing the most spectacular shallow DOF, merely for the sake of the “effect”.

It’s also important to look at the 100% size picture (flickr), to see how shallow the DOF really becomes, when shooting with the Otus on a 36MP sensor – or in other words, how early the blur occurs, when looking in full detail. Looking at 100%, you’ll see how precarious the focusing becomes (compare the handle bars and the face) and you’ll probably agree that f/1.4 really is the widest meaningful aperture.

The issues

No concept is without issues. No camera serves every purpose. No lens pleases every photographer. So how do I deal with the most common published issues of the Otus, particularly in combination with my A7r? And do I experience some issues myself?

Here are the possible issues that I can think of and/or that I read about:

- Loosing the compact concept of the A7r.

- Adapter issues.

- Ending up with a poorly balanced camera/lens combination with poor handling.

- Early induced motion blur when shooting OOH.

- Hyper delicate focusing.

- Manual focusing only.

- No image stabilization.

- A very big, heavy and expensive lens.

Let’s look at those issues one by one.

Loosing the compact concept of the A7r

As a matter of fact, I don’t feel like loosing this. Like probably any buyer, I chose the A7r for it’s compact size and light weight, combined with its FF sensor. Steve mentioned it frequently: “With a heavy DSLR, I’d miss a lot of pictures, because 85% of the time, I’d leave it at home.” Same for me. So most of the time I have my A7r in my bag, body without vertical grip, the Zeiss Planar ZM on it and two extra lenses of different focal length as backup. Total weight around 1,6kg, bag included. That’s the weight of my wife’s purse. Camera/lens in a smaller bag (without backup lenses) will weigh around 900gr. When I go out shooting with the Otus, this will mostly be the only lens I carry, because I will more have a plan on forehand of what to shoot. Camera with grip plus lens weigh a good 1900gr. My tripod another 1300gr. Adding the bags gives me a total weight of 4,25kg. Too much to carry all the time, IMO (that’s why I have my “compact formula”), but not that much when going out on a dedicated “shooting trip”. Last situation, when going out for OOH shooting with the Otus, I carry 2,4kg with me. Still very manageable.

I often think of my A7r as a kind of chameleon. It can really adapt to any situation. So do I loose the compact concept of my camera? Not at all. I believe the A7r only offers opportunities. Whenever I wanna travel light, the A7r offers me this possibility. On other times, when I wanna go for uncompromising quality, again the A7r helps me out. I don’t wanna go compact on every shoot, but whenever I want, I can. So what did I loose? Nothing. I only gained.

Adapter issues

The most important problem (that I experienced) with inferior adapters are planarity issues. No surface is perfectly plane. But if the deviation is too big, one side will focus closer then the other. So it will be impossible to focus consistently throughout the whole image. For many pictures, this will hardly be seen, but on some occasions (for instance technical or architectural pictures), you really can get into trouble. Surely, you don’t wanna ruin your Otus with a lousy cheap adapter. So my advice is not to economize on the adapter and always perform test shots immediately after buying. Personally, I’ve put my trust in Novoflex adapters. I even tried putting two on top of each other (NEX-M and M-FD) and then shooting a flat surface positioned perpendicular in regard to the lens. I shot with the Canon FD 1,4/50mm wide open, to induce the blur as early as possible, focused on one corner and I could not observe any irregularity in how blur occurred in the four corners. This was not a scientific test, but it was good enough for me. I’m sure that Novoflex stays way below acceptable tolerances. Still, testing every new purchase remains mandatory IMO.

Another adapter issue is that often the adapter makes the lens to focus beyond infinite. But the Zeiss engineers themselves conceived the Otus to focus beyond infinite, to oblige the photographer to carefully focus in all circumstances. So can we really talk about an issue here? Not regarding it having percussions on the focusing process anyway. But if the shift is too big (which was the case with some cheap adapters I’ve tried), you’ll lose a considerable part of your closest focal distance. And again, that’s a no-go.

Conclusion: don’t economize on the adapter(s).

Balance

First thing I thought when I started shooting the Otus was: this is a lens for tripod use! So let’s talk about that first.

Until I got the Otus 1.4/55, my “personal” photography (that is: for personal use, just for fun, the shots that were not mentioned for our publications) was almost all shot OOH. But I knew from what I read that with the Otus, I’d want a tripod. So I bought a new one, since the one we use for product shooting is much to heavy to carry. Now I have to admit that my experience with tripods “on the road” was non-existent. After reading some articles and talking with a few guys, I bought a Sirui lightweight one (1310gr, ballhead included). But a few days later, when commenting on an editorial online, I started to doubt wether or not I made the right choice, after someone said he was sorry that I didn’t buy a really good and more stable tripod, like a Gitzo. That was even before the Otus arrived. So to check it out, I mounted a Canon FD 200mm tele with 2x-A Extender on my A7r, to get a weight that matched the Otus and I shot the same images with the Sirui tripod and a heavy Benbo. Looking at 100%, indeed I saw some slight but still noticeable motion blur with the Sirui – about half of what I got when shooting OOH. But then I thought of the hook, at the bottom of the central pole, and attached my bag to it to increase the weight, in an attempt to enhance stabilization. And it did the job: the motion blur was gone. Since I didn’t want to spend another €1500 or so at this time, after the €3500 for the Otus, I planned to stick to the Sirui and just use my bag as extra weight.

7.Tripod balance

But then I got the Otus. And since I bought the ZF.2 version, I use the dedicated Novoflex collar, attached on the adapter of the same brand, to mount the camera/lens on the tripod. This collar provides a mounting point a few cm further away from the camera body. And to my pleasant surprise, when also mounting the vertical grip to the body (which I always do when using the Otus), I got nothing less than a perfect balance from this camera/lens combination. Even with the clamping knobs completely loosened (hold your breath!), the camera stays perfectly horizontal, thus in absolute balance. My picture “Tripod balance” shows the camera on the tripod with completely loosened clamping knobs, the camera still not falling aside. This perfect balance has two consequences: 1) the framing can easily and quickly be performed to perfection, since there is no more movement whatsoever after tightening the clamping knob, and 2) the weight is equally distributed amongst the three legs, increasing the stability and as such eliminating motion blur even without hanging extra weight to the central pole hook. Conclusion: chances are real that I will never have to buy a €1000+ tripod. I simply don’t see where it could improve my performance. Oh, and when comparing tripod work between the A7r and a traditional DSLR (like the D800): since you’ll mount the DSLR with the body on the tripod, instead of via a collar, the weight of the Otus (1kg!) will cause some serious unbalance, compared to the A7r. So I guess the advantage clearly goes to the A7r in this department.

After a week or two of tripod work, I felt the urge growing, to use the Otus for OOH shooting as well. In the articles that I read, there were quite some questions put, regarding OOH shooting with the Otus on the A7r. Those made me reluctant to shoot OOH for some time. But like I said, the urge was growing.

Anyway, in the meanwhile, I removed the tripod collar, because its long tightening screw really sits in the way of the right hand fingers, when shooting OOH. If you’d wanna go back and forward between tripod and OOH shooting, you can also twist the collar to the left, to move it out of the way of your fingers. BTW, twisting the color gave me the idea to use this position for vertical framing on tripod as well, since as such the perfect balance on the ballhead is remained. Indeed, it can remain upright, because the 90° twist is performed by the camera within the collar.

But let’s get back to OOH shooting. When holding the camera with the right hand and using a “free” left hand for focusing (as I’m used to do with a lightweight camera/lens), the 1kg Otus makes the front really too heavy. Your right hand will get tired very quickly. I think this is a no-go. The balance is absolutely lost. Already after a very short while, it will be very hard to hold the camera still and you will induce motion blur very quickly, needing even faster shutter times. In short: your performance will suffer from it. A 36MP sensor already asks for a faster shutter speed, since the motion blur is earlier induced – that’s a fact. Coming from the 24MP NEX-7, I didn’t expect this to be that prominent, but It’s as if a threshold has been taken: I really need to set the shutter speed faster. Of course, when reducing the resolution of the picture in PP, I can shoot with the same speeds as before, but with an A7r, you wanna use its full abilities at least sometimes, don’t you. So the faster shutter speed becomes a reality at that point. When using an A7r with a lightweight lens like a Zeiss Planar ZM, resulting in a mere 720gr for the camera/lens combination, it’s not easy to hold everything stable. One simply needs to shoot with extra care. But when mounting a hyper precise, super detailed lens like the Otus, that ads 1kg front weight, you might expect it to get worse. But as a matter of fact the weight will help a lot, if you carry it with your left hand. I did some experimenting with holding technique and got some extra-ordinary results.

8.Left hand balance

Having never been afraid of exploring new paths, I experimented with alternative ways of holding the camera, to tackle the weight and balance issues. And it didn’t take me long to find out the most stable way to hold the camera – it almost came to me spontaneously. The Otus has large fixed zones, that can easily be used to hold and support the camera+lens. I have the A7r handgrip rested on the cushion of my hand palm, near my wrist. My thumb supports the fixed ring between focus and aperture. My index finger points forward and supports the lens, centrally below the front end. My middle finger is located at the right side on the focus ring. My ring finger holds on to the same fixed ring as my thumb. And my little finger is on the aperture ring. Middle and little finger can operate their respective rings. Zeiss has coated those rings with the exact covering material (and provided a butterly smooth yet perfect feedback giving operation) to be set easily with one finger. Of course the focus can only be fine tuned in this way, since it features a 270° turn from min to max. But it’s exactly the fine focusing that’s really delicate and takes extra care, right before pushing the release button, so that works out perfectly. A 270° turn is large indeed, but IMO that’s what’s absolutely needed, to offer enough “play” when fine focusing this lens at f/1.4! Also the aperture doesn’t need more than to be fine-tuned, when looking through the viewfinder, that is: I only might want to adjust the DOF very slighty at that point. Anyway, holding the camera in this way provides an absolutely exceptional stability, the index finger playing a crucial role, by supporting the very front of the lens and the whole camera resting on one stable surface. You absolutely don’t need to “grab” the camera – it’s just lying relaxed and comfortably in your left hand. And with your elbow resting on your chest, you barely need to use any muscle power to hold it, and your hand has a direct connection with your body.

My picture “Left hand balance” (above) shows you how the camera is lying in my left hand. You’ll use your right hand for operation of all functions (except for focus and aperture) – all knobs of the A7r are very conveniently located at the right side of the body for that matter, except the menu button, that you never have to use during shooting, since every function that you need can be programmed under the customizable buttons. And of course the right hand also provides extra safety, should anybody give you an unexpected push. Thanks to this really exceptional stability and balance, you only need to use very little muscle power and wont get tired that soon. Muscle power induces instability, hence motion blur. No muscle power means relaxation. Relaxation means stability, hence absence of motion blur. As a matter of fact, the size (enabling a large support surface) and weight (largely contributing to the stability without becoming too heavy) of the Otus/A7r (with grip) have become big advantages as far as OOH shooting is concerned. Of coarse it’s still a considerable weight that you’re holding. And after several minutes staying in the same position without moving, some tension will arise. But it’s very rare to stay unmoved that long.

An unexpected stroke of luck: while my hand has a reverse position (thumb to the left) with this lens in comparison to its position with other lenses (thumb to the right), there’s actually no other technique needed, to set focus and aperture, neutralizing the “inverse Nikon-style”. Streching my middle finger results in focusing closer in both cases, pulling it back moves the focus point further towards infinite.

Shooting out of hand at 1/10 sec!

I can understand you being skeptical when reading this. Therefore I wanted to give you some kind of proof and I wanted to push it to the limit. My “Selfie” was shot in manual mode in front of a mirror, giving you proof that it’s absolutely an OOH shot.

9.Selfie

I’ve also put this picture on my flickr pages, in full resolution, with published Exif data. Please check it to verify. You’ll notice that this is indeed a 1/10s shot, with the Otus mounted on the 36MP A7r. Pretty amazing, isn’t it. Please click on the link to choose the full size 36MP file. This is a converted RAW file with zero sharpening applied. I only flipped this picture 180° to get rid of the mirror image. I focused on the text at the bottom of the lens. And as a matter of fact, the lens front is the only thing in focus in the whole picture, whereby the in focus area is that small, that it almost seems as if the whole picture is blurred. Still, what I wanted to show here was the extreme balance of the camera and so I chose one precisely defined focus point, with zero margin for error. In this case, you absolutely must look at 100% to even notice that there really is something in perfect focus. The extreme shallow DOF, due to the f/1.4 aperture, makes the blur set in very quickly. So the stability of the camera was not only required in left/right and up/down directions, but also in back/forward. OK, on tripod, the result would probably have been yet even a bit better. Still, to my eye, this is a pretty good OOH shot – as good as it gets. But remember, this one was shot at 1/10s. Needless to say that this would be plain impossible if the A7r/Otus combination would offer less than a perfect OOH balance. I wonder (and even doubt) if this can be improved by the D-800E/Otus combination. So in this department, I guess the A7r is at least at par with the best DSLRs. I rest my case.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that 1/10s is a normal OOH shutter speed for the A7r/Otus, because it isn’t. What I’m saying is that, with the right technique, this camera/lens combination provides an exceptional balance, otherwise I could impossibly have succeeded in taking this shot. What I’m also saying is, that, where one expects to need faster shutter speeds, due to the hi-res sensor and hyper precise lens, one can actually work with “normal” speeds and even go slower. When applying a minimum of care, I consider 1/30s as a normal feasible shutter speed for this combination. I took my first Selfie-testshots in aperture priority mode. I operated very carefully and succeeded from the first shot, which appeared to be taken at 1/13s. That’s when I thought; let’s push this to the limit. So I switched to Manual mode, kept the aperture at f/1.4 and set the shutter speed at 1/10. I missed the first two shots and realized that I needed to hold the release button longer, beyond the moment of the shutter’s closing. Keeping it down gave me my third picture, the one you can see. BTW, the A7r release button helps a lot for this kind of shots. It has a very soft action, without resistance point – some call it “spongy” and that’s correct. For many applications, one could prefer more definition, but for this kind of use, it’s absolutely a benefit. Furthermore, and this is IMO, for normal “action” shots (in my case that’s mostly candid people shooting) the shutter release button requires some habituation, but isn’t problematic at all.

Delicate focusing

This is absolutely the matter. This lens/sensor combination reveals every detail, as no other FF does (the D800E does as well, of course). Result: when looking in 100% size (and again, you need to do this – where would you otherwise use this combination for), the out-of-focus is induced quite a bit earlier than what we were used to. Of course, with smaller apertures the margin gets bigger, but as you approach the f/1.4 it really gets tough. And wide open, even on a tripod, you need to proceed with great care. The viewfinder magnification function is no unnecessary luxury in this.

Yet I need to add that when shooting for “normal” formats (using less MP), the focusing can be done as easy and fast as with any other lens. And with the A7r EVF, you don’t need any special assistance. In the parts that are in focus, the EVF produces an almost overly sharp image. It’s difficult to describe, but when you’d try it, you’d notice immediately what I mean. With some experience, you even don’t really need the focus peaking anymore for those shots, let alone the VF magnification. But as I said, at large apertures, with very shallow DOF, and at full resolution, it’s another story. The focusing becomes absolutely very delicate.

Manual focusing only

I’m a MF guy. So I can’t really compare with AF systems. But I read in different reviews, that AF is not always absolutely precise on a 36MP sensor. Another statement I remember was that the EVF of the A7r does a better job in focusing than the OVF of the D800E. That, and my own focusing experience with the Otus, makes me understand why Zeiss chose to make it a manual focus lens. I guess with (today’s) AF systems, it’s not possible to set the focus to the same level of precision as one can perform manually. For instance in “Glass Doll”, I wonder how an AF system would manage to determine the exact in focus zone where I wanted it (eye, nose and lips).

Moreover, Zeiss has a vast tradition in manufacturing MF lenses. And personally, that’s exactly what I want.

No image stabilization

This is my personal opinion. After reading the “Shooting out of hand at 1/10 sec” chapter, you’ll understand that I really don’t care the Otus not having any image stabilization. Nor the A7r for that matter. I’ve never been missing or wanting it. But I can absolutely get that some people would’t wanna shoot without it. So this is a personal matter. This lens is not for them. Nevertheless I still think that one should work on improving his shooting skills first. But, OK, this is not my domain of experience.

A very big, heavy and expensive lens

I heard the rumor that Zeiss developed the Otus as if it were a medium format lens. In that way, by cropping the corners of the image, we’d get rid of the zones with less than optimal performance. I don’t know if this is really true, but I guess all lenses follow the same optical laws, performing less in the corners. So it makes sense to me: if you want your lens to perform optimally in the corners, you need to crop – which makes you end up with a bigger and heavier lens.

And if you want an image that’s (virtually) free of distortion, you need to correct the image internally. This means more glass elements (12 in the Otus 1.4/55). Again: bigger and heavier.

There are no miracles in optics, I guess. Only choices and consequences. If you want a smaller lens, settle with less perfect performance. I do anyway, when I wanna go compact. I surely don’t always need the Otus performance. But I have to admit, it’s tempting and it’s kind of addictive. It’s inspirational too.

Then the price. Is it expensive? Sure it is! But is it crazy expensive? Sure it isn’t! Being less expensive than the 50mm Leica M Summilux, let go the Apo-Summicron or Noctilux that double and triple it’s price and that the Otus still optically outperforms(!), I guess we gotta stay reasonable concerning the price. To all that criticize its price, I can only say: what do you expect anyway?

I’d say the Otus is not cheap at all, but still it’s absolutely very attractively priced. I love Zeiss for that.

What to shoot with the Otus

What I wanna tell you in this last chapter is about the considerations I made, when starting to shoot with the Otus – considerations about what kind of images to shoot, about how to select the subjects.

This is the best lens in the world, so obviously, my pictures should have to show it, no? Since the subject is the most important element of any picture, I started thinking about what kind of subjects would prove those exceptional Otus qualities. This made me shoot mainly at f/1.4 and f/16 initially, because at the widest and narrowest apertures, Otus still renders exceptional detail, where normally we’d expect a lens to get a lot softer. Another matter, that kept me busy, was how to show that this detail is rendered all over the image, not only at widest and narrowest apertures but also in the corners. And then there is the matter of the incredible micro contrast. And the lack of distortion, flare, etc… To make a long story short, finding “Otus-worthy” subjects quickly became a worrisome task.

But then I thought of how I always have compared musicians, that merely show off their technique, with a circus act (“look what I can do!”) – impressive, but having not much to do with music. Since, as a matter of fact, my professional education has been in music, it always helps my photography to think of comparable situations in music. All of a sudden, I realized that I absolutely don’t have to show off the Otus’ superiority. Whatever lens is used, one rather just needs to think about the picture, and how to shoot it in the best possible way, but not about how to come up with the most “virtuoso” images, using this exceptional lens. That would only have a paralyzing effect and stand in the way of creativity. From that moment on, I felt kind of liberated an relieved. I could use all apertures again in regard of the most favorable DOF and not regarding the “applause” I’d get for the “stunning technicality” of the picture. Every Otus image would already have a superior quality, compared to what I would have gotten, should I have used another lens. Thinking about this lens in this way, makes me absolutely enjoy every shot, also the most simple and modest ones, and makes me use it without restraint whenever I feel like it. In every picture, I see the extra that is contributed by the lens, as I also did, when upgrading from the NEX-7 to the A7r.

Besides that, this lens/camera combination is particularly appropriate for large format printing and extreme cropping, two things that for most of today’s photographers are pretty exceptional. Still, as I said, owning and enjoying one myself, I simply use it, whenever I feel for it and whenever its focal length makes sense – as I do with all my lenses. It’ll never let me down when I employ in that way.

My overall conclusion

The A7r absolutely offers the widest variety of lens/body combinations amongst FF camera’s on the market today (surely for MF shooters that are not afraid of buying some good-quality adapters). Of all those combinations, the A7r/Otus is probably the most extreme concerning size and weight, since in that department, they differ the most (which can be harmonized by mounting the grip on the A7r). Still, both have pretty much all other characteristics in common. It’s not the case, but when combining them, it surely feels as if they were meant for one another. Indeed, this turned out to be a very workable combination for me, one that not only offers the summit in IQ, it’s also surprisingly well balanced, as well on tripod as in the hand. Thanks to the latter, and with the right technique, one can shoot OOH at surprisingly slow shutter speeds, significantly slower than average. So the Otus performs wonderfully great on the A7r, but this is no “plug-and-play” lens. You need to know what you’re doing and if you wanna exploit it fully, you need to proceed with great care.

The Otus 1.4/55 is not cheap, but still it’s very competitively prised. (Same counts for the A7r, BTW.) This lens is not compact at all, but still it’s a tremendous joy to use, because it’s so well made. It really feels good to operate and it’s so extremely rewarding regarding IQ, the more in combination with the A7r, that it easily becomes an addiction.

That’s more than enough for me!

(There are some more pictures hereunder. You can look at all pictures in bigger size in a dedicated set on flickr, by clicking on http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/sets/72157641276669365/)

Thanks for reading, guys! I hope you enjoyed it.

Art Center at the Canal

B.Waldmin

Bed and breakfast

Early spring at the canal

Front leaves

Hard Rock Beauty

Kitchen Still Life

So many windows

Train and bicycle

Tree bark

Two ships

Two worlds

You missed something

There are more Zeiss Otus images in Steve’s A7 and A7r review HERE.

Apr 082014
 

tt

Year of the Alpha – 52 Weeks of Sony Alpha Photography

by Toni Ahvenainen

Introduction

My name is Toni Ahvenainen and I am a 37 years old photography enthusiast who works as a graphics and web designer in Finland. I bought my first own digital camera, Sony Nex-5N, about two years ago and was immediately bitten by a photo bug. During my first year I took over 26,000 pictures, but as much as I liked it, after year and a half I found myself going in circles. I felt I was taking same pictures repeatedly and that there wasn’t anything new to shoot. I could take a couple of interesting shots every now and then, but never found a real reason to do it, because I didn’t have any meaningful place to put them – even in my hard drive I never found appropriate folder name for them. In short, I had locked myself inside my own perception and I needed to find a new direction to my photography.

Late 2013 I decided that the year 2014 would be my year of photography, in which I would concentrate in developing my own photographic eye and also get some publicity to my work. With some planning and inspiration from various ’365 days’ projects I decided to put up a similar photo blog. After couple of months of hard work Year of the Alpha – 52 Weeks of Sony Alpha Photography’ was born and I started my year of photography at January 1st (and will end it at 31st December). So far it has surpassed all my expectations. In first month my photo blog gathered over 40,000 page views, which is quite nice considering that couple of months ago I was just taking pictures on my own and never sharing them with anyone. I’ve also received so much encouraging and positive comments from friendly photographers that it has really affected me deeply. Starting a photo blog has really been a magic carpet ride for me and my photography.

In this article I will introduce my photo blog and share some of the photographs I’ve taken during the first three months. I will also discuss some methods and ideas I’ve found useful while trying to develop my photography. I hope it will be an inspiring read because one of my goals has been to share inspiration with others.

What is Year of the Alpha?


Year of the Alpha – 52 Weeks of Sony Alpha Photography’ is a photo blog where I share my work on a weekly basis at least two images per week and often more. Name of my the blog refers to Sony Alpha brand (no affiliation with Sony corporation) and with this conscious choice as I’m searching for followers who use Sony Alpha photography equipment – but as photography is pretty universal I believe anyone can enjoy it. Chronologically Year of the Alpha is divided into five seasons. With every season I will explore a different theme, all of which are attached to my subjective taste and perception of photography. So far only the first season has been completed. Season of Blackness concentrated on lo-key photography with creative edge and most of the photographs you see here are from that season.

You can find my photo blog here: http://www.yearofthealpha.com

As I said earlier, Year of the Alpha has surpassed all my expectations. I’m mostly surprised about the way it has triggered my creative spot and make me take photographs I never dreamed of before. It’s been a good start and since it’s all about sharing inspiration, here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1. Being able to create photographs continuously is a state of mind 
When I started my endeavor the first thing came to my mind was, how I’m going to find something meaningful to shoot every week continuously for full year. It takes a fair bit of commitment to keep on working with your photography for full year and that’s what the most people are afraid with similar photography projects. Before I started I had, like everyone else, different concerns regarding why it might be difficult to find anything to shoot. You know the story, it’s the lack of ideas and inspiration, bad weather and lighting conditions, mundane close environment, not enough time, bad camera gear etc. Now when I look back after three months of shooting, I’ve come to realize that these reasons are not really about circumstances, they are about state of mind.

If there is one lesson that I’ve learned so far, it is that active photography creates new opportunities and great photographs by its own weight. If you just take your camera everywhere you go and keep on shooting even when circumstances don’t seem fruitful at first sight, you’ll be amazed how much there is good photography to be made. It’s not about ‘finding good subjects or circumstances’, but expanding your own consciousness regarding what you think is good photography. Learning to find new creative possibilities is a process which will happen in one’s mind, not by acquiring new gear or just wandering about in hope of a good situation. Limitations are good, because creativity happens if it has framework which it can challenge. If there is no framework, in other words limitations, there is no creativity either. It’s a self-strengthening process, first you just need to let go of perception that there isn’t anything to shoot – there is, you just have to shoot to see it.

2. Finishing your photographs will close the feedback circuit
The second thing I’ve learned with my project is to finish my photographs. With today’s digital cameras and their massive memory storages, it’s easy to keep on shooting actively but never sit down to really look what you have done. The problem with unfinished photographs is that you are not truly engaged with your photography. Not selecting the best shot, not cropping it for best composition, not post processing it and not declaring it ‘ready’ is same as leaving your work halfway. Half-cooked pictures will not provide you enough feedback neither will they guide your learning process, because they will leave backdoor of your mind open for all kinds of excuses. 

Once I started my photo and was forced to finish my photographs properly, I quickly learned that finishing them will essentially close the feedback circuit of my own mind. After I’ve selected my shot, post processed it and declared to myself ‘it’s ready’, I can evaluate my success and failures more clearly. I would also recommend to put your finished photographs in a special place where you can see them all at once. When you see them there next to each other, you can finally start asking questions. ‘Why I like these shots better than those ones’, What’s common with most of my photographs’, etc. This kind of evaluative view over your own work will help you build up understanding of yourself as a photographer. But it requires that you have engaged with your photographs, which rarely happens if one doesn’t them finish in the first place.

3. Develop your photographic eye with goals and limits
The third thing I’ve learned with my photo blog is that I can develop my photographic eye by setting myself different tasks with goals and limits. My tasks are related to five different seasons which I’m carrying out, but they can obviously be anything from single photographs to total body of work. Setting yourself goals and limits will greatly benefit your photography. First of all, they will give you a guideline which to follow. Persistently diversified paths of endless possibilities will narrow down to something meaningful one can actually hope to realize. Having a goal makes it possible for you to plan your photography and planning means that photographs are something you make, not just randomly take from your surroundings. Secondly, the limits you impose will determine if you are succeeding or not. It’s soothing to have at least to some extent a clear indicator for succeeding. Of course you can make great pictures without limits too, but it’s easy to shoot too diverse stuff and not have a clear understanding of what makes them great in the end. Thirdly, the goals will make your work ready. They will define the stage when you’ve done your job. Without the goals defining the limits, one will easily splash across different objectives and nothing gets done to an end. And finally in the end, how you solve these tasks will shape you as a photographer. Starting a 365 days or 52 weeks project is great way to concentrate on developing your photographic eye, but one still needs to guide it with goals and limits to make most of it.

4. Anyone can do it
If I would have to raise up one thing from this lengthy article, it would be that anyone can do it. Internet opens up a new ground for creative ideas and it’s not meant just for big software developers like Flickr or 500px. It’s also a playground for single individuals who want to find new ways to refresh their photography. With all the diverse services available, one can build up their ideas and get them running very fast with very little costs. It’s been quite fascinating to see what I’ve achieved with my photo blog so far, but it’s not anything unseen before – others have done it before me and with much larger scale. In fact my photo blog was very much inspired by Italian photographer Luca Rossini, to whom I need express my gratitude for all the inspiration and help. But the bottom line is, anyone can do it.

What’s next?
I’m currently running my second season, Season of Tilt, in which I will try to guide my photography to more personal realms. Season of Tilt could be described as a psychologically tilted season which merges things from my dreams, memories and inner feelings. Name of this season also implies to Lensbaby which has been kind enough to support me with their most interesting lenses. With Season of Tilt I’ll be using exclusively Lensbaby Composer Pro with three of their most sought after optics: Double Glass, Sweet 35 and Edge 80. If interested, you might want to follow it through just to learn more about them. 

Thank you for reading my article.

Now, get inspired, create your own project and enjoy doing it!

Sony Nex-5N, SEL50F18, ISO400, f/4.0, 1/1250sec

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Sony Nex-5N, SEL50F18, ISO200, f/2.8, 1/13sec

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Sony Nex-5N, SEL50F18, ISO3200, f/4.0, 1/400sec

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Sony Nex-5N, SEL50F18, ISO640, f/1.8, 1/80sec

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Sony Nex-5N, SEL50F18, ISO100, f/6.3, 1/800sec

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Sony Nex-5N, SEL1855, ISO1600, f/11, 1/4sec

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Sony Nex-5N, SEL50F18, ISO200, f/2.8, 1/30sec

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Sony Nex-5N, SEL50F18, ISO250, f/4.0, 1/80sec

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Sony Nex-5N, Lensbaby Edge 80, ISO400, f/4.0, 0.8sec

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Sony Nex-5N, Lensbaby Edge 80, ISO100, f/2.8, 1/80sec

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Sony Nex-5N, Lensbaby Edge 80, ISO100, f/5.6, 1/1250sec

Image-11Sony Nex-5N, Lensbaby Edge 80, ISO100, f/5.6, 1/1250sec, Raw

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Apr 032014
 

Streetshooting the Olympus OM-D E-M1

By Robin Schimko

The last couple of years I was shooting DSLR full frame bodies only and I didn’t care much about mirrorless cameras. After a while I realized that taking candid pictures out on the streets is a lot of fun. The only problem was the bulkiness of my camera that seemed a little intimidating when people noticed me taking their picture. It would have been an easy solution just to step back a little and take a longer lens, but that’s not me since I like to get close. So I got myself a Fuji X100s but even though I really loved it, the AF frustrated me from time to time and I sold it.

Then I started researching about mFT cameras and that’s when I stumbled upon stevehuffphoto.com and I was blown away by his work. That’s why decided to jump into the Olympus system and I bought the E-P5. I was shocked about the super-fast AF system and the pretty good image quality. The only thing I was really missing was a proper grip and suddenly Olympus came out with their new flagship, the E-M1. A couple of weeks later my local camera store had the E-M1 in stock and I went there to try it out. I couldn’t resist and bought one. Usually I am not that guy who is changing his gear so rapidly but the mirrorless world was new to me and I had to find out what would work best for me.

10

So, how does the E-M1 perform out on the streets? Well to date it’s the best camera I have ever used for street shooting and there are several reasons to back this up:

Ease of use:

It has a proper grip and looks like an old SLR camera but it’s still lightweight and very comfortable to hold, even though it’s really small compared to a DSLR. The buttons and controls are very well designed and they are all very accessible. The only thing I don’t like is the power switch on the left side, because it’s much tougher to use the camera with one hand only, but it’s definitely no deal breaker. And then there are the custom profiles you can link to the mode dial on top. That’s pretty handy and allows you to change the set-up of the camera in the blink of an eye. Did I mention the viewfinder yet? It’s amazing how good the EVF is even though I don’t use it that often. Coming from a DSLR I was used to use an OVF but with a mirrorless camera I discovered how convenient it is to compose by using the display.

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Reliability

The E-M1 is considered to be a professional camera and after using it for a while now I am absolutely sure it really is a proper tool. There was not a single second where the camera failed on me. I’ve never dropped it but I read stories about people who did and the camera had not one single scratch afterwards. I can’t imagine a place where I wouldn’t take the E-M1.

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Precision

Out on the streets it’s sometimes essential to be really quick to capture a certain moment and here is where the E-M1 really shines. It’s absolutely amazing how fast and responsive the AF works. Sometimes I even use face detection and it can be really useful especially when there is no time to manually change the focus points.

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Quality

Of course, when it comes to image quality, it’s no D800, but it’s not as far away as the numbers might suggest. I am very comfortable with cranking the ISO up to 6400. Yeah, there will be grain visible, but at least to me it looks really pleasing. What surprises me the most was the dynamic range of this fairly small sensor. In post it is very easy to push the shadows like hell, wow that’s something my old D700 wouldn’t have done better.

I think at the moment the E-M1 is a damn good choice for all you street photographers out there. It’s lightweight, powerful and can deliver very decent image quality. At the moment I am testing the Fuji X-T1 with the 23/1.4 and it seems to be a nice combo, but even though both bodies have nearly the same size, the E-M1 with the 17/1.8 is a lot smaller and the focus is noticeably quicker.

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Oh, did I mention that I dumped my D800? I am going mirrorless only and I am happy with that decision.

If you want to check out my websites:

http://www.fotodesign-rs.de/

http://www.hochzeitsfotograf-rs.de/

or follow me on facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/RobinSchimkoPicture

Thank you all for reading,

Robin

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Apr 022014
 

It’s Circus Time with the Leica M

By John Goerten

During the Christmas and New Year period, Trier, the oldest city of Germany, traditionally is hosting a circus with a non-permanent tent and a non-permanent group of artists. http://weihnachtscircus-trier.romanza-circusproduction.de

All shows during this period are sold out. Children get exited about the glamor of the world of the Salvini-Clowns, the Sevriukov family with their flying trapezes, Andy Ortmann with his exotic animals and many other artists. So last January I have been with my family to one of the shows. A fotoshooting was of course my main interrest, and I had prepared my Leica M240 with a 90mm f2.8 Elmarit-M lens. Although I was a bit sceptical about the low light performance of this lens, the final results that I achieved were surprisingly good.

All pictures were hand-held shot wide open at f2.8 at ISO 1250. Post processing was done on DNG files with LR5.

In the past I had been using a few R-lenses both with a Novoflex adapter and later with the original Leica adapter. Although the results with R lenses on the M were very satisfactory, I found the handling of the M with a Vario-Elmar-R 80-200mm f/4.0 lens not suitable for me due to size and weight.

First golden rule for a foto shooting at a circus : Get places in the front row! No kids will be jumping in front of you while you are taking your favourite shot of a spectacular jump or of a clown in front of you.

Second rule: It has turned out that the 90mm focal length was the perfect combo to shoot with my FF camera. A 35 mm would have resulted in too much cropping.

Third rule: shoot in color. Circus is a colourful world, B&W pics will not give the same glamor.

After the last show, the artists go back to their home-circus to continue their show, the tent is packed in boxes, and kept in Trier until December 2015 when the circus will re-open again. I was concentrated to shoot the activities in the manege, and missed the shining eyes of the children around me. Maybe next time I will let my camera turn to the audience as well.

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Apr 022014
 

Using Sony NEX-7 and NEX-5n for Travel, Street and Casual Shooting

By Ernest Karl Roco Del Rosario

Hi Steve!

I’m Roco del Rosario from the Philippines. I’ve been wanting to send you a user report since last year but somehow I can’t find anything to say.

It was year 2011 when i first stumbled into your website. I was searching for a camera that is small and good for travel.

That was the time when I saw your review of the Sony NEX-5n, which eventually led me to choosing it as my first camera. Actually it was my girlfriend who first bought it then I purchased after her. Ever since, I visited your site everyday and have been a loyal follower. I learned to shoot by researching online and practicing with my little nex. Because of my enthusiasm and love for casual shooting, I soon bought a cheap Canon fd 50mm f1.4 lens, Sony 16mm f2.8 pancake plus wide-angle converter then the excellent Sony 50mm f1.8. These lenses are all really cheap and advisable to people who wants to start learning photography without draining the wallet.

During the day, I use NEX7 because the viewfinder is really helpful especially when the sun is up and shining brightly. The NEX-5n, on the other hand, is really great and enough for low light situations.

1 Puka Beach Boracay - Nex 7 + Sony 16mm

2 Nex 7 + sony 50mm

3 Nex 7 + Sony 16mm

4 White Beach, Camiguin Nex 5n + kit lens

5 nex 5n + kit lens

6 nex-5n + sony 16mm

7 nex-5n + Sony 50mm

8 Moonset over Calaguas Island Nex-5n + Canon fd 50mm f1.4

10 Nex-5n + Canon fd 50mm f1.4

11 Nex-5n + Sony 16mm

12 Tarsier- Nex-5n + Canon fd 50mm f1.4

Processed with VSCOcam

Thanks!

Regards,

Roco

Apr 012014
 

The new Olympus SH-1 compact delivers style and performance for under $400

16MP, TRU PIC VII, 11.5 FPS, FAST AF, ISO 6400, 1080P 60FPS, 25-600 ZOOM, TOUCH SCREEN AND 5-AXIS IS! 

OLYSH-1

Available for Pre-Order in SILVER from B&H Photo

Available for Pre-Order in BLACK from B&H Photo

MAN, OLYMPUS IS ON A ROLL! This new SH-1 looks phenomenal and PRICED RIGHT. Look at all of the features packed into this compact beauty:

INFO:

The silver Olympus Stylus SH-1 Digital Camera is a sleek, PEN-styled point-and-shoot featuring a 16MP BSI CMOS sensor and TruePic VII image processor to produce high-resolution imagery with notable low-light sensitivity and quality. The combination of these two technologies form Olympus’ iHS technology, which serves to realize fast performance throughout the camera system, including a full-resolution continuous shooting rate of 11.5 fps and the FAST AF system, while also maintaining low image noise with a native sensitivity of ISO 6400. The sensor and processor also support recording full HD 1080p movies at 60 fps as well as HD 720p movies at up to 120 fps.

Benefitting the imaging capabilities of the SH-1 is an expansive 24x zoom lens, which provides a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 25-600mm. Counterbalancing this lens’ long reach, as well as aiding this camera’s use in low lighting, is an advanced 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization system that corrects for angular, rotational, and translational types of camera blur.

For image monitoring and review, a 3.0″ 460k-dot touchscreen LCD is incorporated into the camera’s design. Its touchscreen capabilities avail an intuitive means for navigating the menu system and for utilizing a host of camera features, including touch AF control, a built-in intervalometer, and adjustment of Live Guide settings, as well as for accessing the built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for seamless sharing of imagery to, and remote control from, a linked mobile device.

16MP BSI CMOS Sensor and TruePic VII Image Processor

A 16 megapixel 1/2.3″ backside-illuminated CMOS sensor and TruePic VII image processor work together to enable iHS (Intelligent High Speed) Technology, which benefits both the overall image quality and performance throughout the SH-1. The BSI design of the image sensor realizes notable sensitivity to ISO 6400 along with reduced noise levels to enhance image quality, especially in regard to working in difficult lighting conditions. Complementing the sensor’s duties is an apt image processor, which benefits both the look and feel of imagery as well as enables a top full-resolution continuous shooting rate of 11.5 fps for working with fast-moving subjects. Furthermore, iHS technology also supports the use of the Intelligent Auto shooting mode, with accelerated scene recognition, as well as an enhanced FAST AF system.

24x Optical Zoom Lens and 5-Axis Image Stabilization

Incorporated into the compact body design is far-reaching 24x optical zoom lens, which provides a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 25-600mm, covering wide-angle to telephoto perspectives. 2x Super Resolution Zoom and 4x digital zoom can also be utilized to effectively increase the zoom magnification for working with even more distant subjects.

Benefitting this lens’ expansive zoom range is 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization, which minimizes the appearance of yaw, pitch, roll, up and down, and left to right types of camera movement, to realize sharper imagery with slower shutter speeds, longer focal lengths, and during macro shooting. In addition to the 5-axis sensor-shift stabilization, a hybrid 5-axis electronic stabilization system can also be applied for further refinement.

Full HD Movie Recording

Full HD 1920 x 1080p video recording is supported at 60 fps, as well as high-speed 120 fps or 240 fps recording, for slow-motion playback, in the HD 1280 x 720 format or 432 x 324 format, respectively. Beyond straight movie capture, full-resolution photographs can be simultaneously recorded during filming and a dedicated Time-Lapse Movie mode automatically compresses up to 5 hours of interval shooting into a 20 second movie.

Body Design

The SH-1′s PEN-inspired body design incorporates a large 3.0″ 460k-dot touchscreen LCD monitor to allow clear, bright live view monitoring, image playback, and intuitive menu navigation. The touchscreen functionality enables the ability to touch to focus and release the shutter as well as a simple means for navigating controls and settings.

Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity

Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity enables seamless sharing of photos and movies from the camera to a linked mobile device for instant sharing online. Utilizing the Olympus Image Share app, you can also remotely control the camera from the smartphone or tablet, including the ability to zoom in or out, adjust exposure and focus, and release the shutter. Additionally, utilizing the location data from a mobile device, you can geotag your imagery for plotting to an interactive map.

Other Camera Features

A built-in electronic level gauge helps to ensure level horizons and plumb verticals when shooting.

Interval shooting allows you to choose between 1-99 frames, with 10 second to 1 hour intervals and up to a 60 minute timer, to create time lapse imagery of slowly moving subjects.

The manual exposure mode permits control over the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings, with the ability to check the results on the LCD prior to shooting.

The intuitive Live Guide settings allow direct adjustment over brightness, color saturation, and color tone settings using an intuitive slider system facilitated by the touchscreen monitor.

Face Detection AF, AF Tracking, Selective AF area (using the touchscreen interface), and AF Lock focus modes are available to suit working with a wide variety of subject types.

Photo Story is a creative mode allowing you to create a multi-perspective narrative within a single image, with multiple templates available to choose from.

Backlight HDR automatically combines multiple exposures within a single frame to realize an extended range of tones with greater shadow and highlight detail than a single exposure can record.

Hand-Held Starlight mode helps to create sharp, blur-free images of nighttime scenes without the use of a tripod.

A built-in Panorama mode allows you to create in-camera panoramic imagery, up to 360° across, by simply panning the camera about the scene.

11 different Art Filters can be applied to creatively enhance imagery: Pop Art, Soft Focus, Pale & Light Color, Grainy Film, Pin Hole, Diorama, Dramatic Tone, Fish Eye, Sparkle, Reflection, and Fragmented.

Three different Picture Modes can be applied to alter the overall quality of imagery: Vivid, Neutral, and Muted.

In-addition to the standard 2 second and 12 second self-timer delays, a custom self-timer can be set to record 1-10 pictures in a 1-3 second interval with a 1-30 second start timer.

In-camera image editing: Resize, Crop, Audio Clip (record 4 sec. audio clip for an image file), Red Eye Fix, Shadow Adjustment, Rotate Image, and e-Portrait (smoothes skin tone for viewing on an HDTV).

In-camera movie editing: In-Movie Image Capture (captures pictures from a movie file) and Movie Trimming (erase unwanted portions from a movie file).

Language support: English, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, European Portuguese, German, Italian, Russian, Czech, Dutch, Danish, Polish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Croatian, Slovenian, Hungarian, Greek, Slovak, Turkish, Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Korean, Simple Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Thai, Arabic, Bulgarian, Romanian, Persian, Indonesian, Hebrew, Malay, Vietnamese, and Japanese.

Available for Pre-Order in SILVER from B&H Photo

Available for Pre-Order in BLACK from B&H Photo

Mar 312014
 

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The Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5 f/1.2 Lens Review & Comparison

By Steve Huff

BUY THE NOCTICRON AT AMAZON HERE

BUY THE NOCTICRON AT B&H PHOTO HERE

Hey hey! It is review time again and I have been a busy man shooting this Panasonic/Leica Nocticron lens for the past two weeks and let me tell ya, it is a serious lens my friends. It is large, it is expensive, and it is FAST with an f/1.2 aperture for those “NOCTurnal” moments.

Panasonic decided to create a “statement lens” to show that Micro 4/3 users can have some fun with shallow DOF, subject isolation and 3 Dimensional POP just as much as the APS-C guys :) The only problem is that they must have forgotten that Olympus has the 45 1.8 Lens that one can now buy for $350 or so. Yep, almost the same focal length and almost as fast in the aperture department for about $1100+ less. Oops.

But is it really an Oops? I do not think so because this Nocticron is so so so good that it beats the 45 1.8 in most ways (besides size and weight and cost). Is this Panasonic jewel $1100 better? No, but the Nocticron is a lens for those who want the best of the best..the unique draw and style, a taste of a real Noctilux and yes, the LEICA name.

Indoors, a coffee shop..I raised the Panasonic GX7, aimed, and fired. F/1.2 wide open and sharp as a tac. This Nocticron offers it all. Color, contrast, sharpness, gorgeous bokeh, build and more. Click the image below for a larger and much better view. 

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It seems that some think that Leica makes this lens. They do not. It also seems that some feel Leica supplies the glass for this lens. They do not. This is a made in Japan Panasonic lens made by Panasonic. Panasonic has a deal with Leica where they use the Leica name on certain lenses because Leica helped with the design. So in reality, Leica did help with the design but the construction is all Panasonic, made in Japan.

So does the LEICA name on the front of the lens mean that this lens at least has some of that Leica mojo and magic? Previous lenses from Panasonic with the Leica name included the now legendary 25 1.4, which has been considered as the best Micro 4/3 lens available when you want that Leica look and quality. There is also been the older 45 2.8 Macro, which was astounding in the IQ department though slow to focus. Panasonic also recently announced the new 15mm f 1.7 with the Leica name and that one looks like a 100% winner at $599. A 30mm equivalent with a fast 1.7 aperture. Yummy.

After using this lens extensively I would say that YES, it does indeed have a little of that Leica look, feel and rendering..or as I call it “MoJo”. I will go a bit farther and say that this is an overall better lens that the old Leica F/1 Noctilux that sells for $6500 or so used.

Olympus E-M1 with Panasonic Nocticron at f/1.2 – IMO, nothing beats Olympus colors.

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So if we look at pricing..the “PanaLeica” 25mm 1.4 is around $529. The 45 2.8 comes in at $719. The new 17 1.7 will be $599.

So why is this Nocticron nearly $1600?

Well, the real answer is because it is a costly design AND an amazing performing lens and as I said earlier, a Statement piece from Panasonic. Panasonic will not sell loads of these due to the cost and the fact that it is really a specialty lens. So they can not spend millions to design and create it only to sell it for $500! Even the old 45 2.8 is $720, for an f/2.8! This Nocticron is not or in any way a $500 lens. In fact, when I first saw it and held it it reminded me of the real deal, the $11,000 Leica Noctilux f/0.95. It has the same design on the outside. In that regard it has some “Noctilux” character to it. The Leica is $11,000 for a 50mm f/0.95 and that lens is a tour de force of optical magic. Is it worth $11,000? No. But it sells well at that cost for Leica because there is nothing like it, at all. It is one of a kind and sharp even at 0.95 with a creamy Bokeh that melts into the frame.

The Panasonic is $1600, or $9400 less than the Leica Noctilux! While the Panasonic is NOT a Leica Noctilux it does indeed offer some of the flavor of that big money lens, for MUCH less money..MUCH less. I will state right up front that the Panasonic Nocticron has the best Bokeh I have seen next to the real deal. It competes and compares with the Leica Noctilux in this area 100%. The Bokeh is amazingly creamy, dreamy and NOT headache inducing like some lenses. Many exotic lenses fall short in this area..the out of focus background areas. Not this lens!

This is also the area where the 45 1.8 falls a bit short as the Bokeh can get busy and neurotic during certain scenes. The Panasonic has gorgeous Bokeh quality above and beyond any Micro 4/3 lens I have seen to date. In fact, I will call it the “Bokeh Master” of the Micro 4/3 world.

E-M1 and Nocticron at f/1.2 – click it for larger

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Is smooth and creamy background blur worth $1600? No, not really but in this review I will be taking a look at this lens as a whole from build, to O.I.S., to AF speed to sharpness at all apertures, bokeh and a comparison with the Olympus 45 1.8 and Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95 (that comes in at $1000 but is manual focus only). Then I will decide if as a whole “is this lens worth $1600″?

I have used this lens exclusively for the past two weeks and what you will read below is my experience with it in all aspects. If you do not want to read the full review let me just say that after my time with the lens I bought one for myself from Amazon right HERE. Yep. I found it is just as special as the real Leica Noctilux (in a Micro 4/3 kind of way) and offered me more character, more pop, better contrast,  and much nicer Bokeh than the $350 Olympus (which I also own). I guess that answered my question of “is it worth it” pretty quickly! I will get more into why I bought one of these expensive lenses when I already own the $350 marvel in the conclusion of the review :)

The Nocticron Arrives

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I originally rented this lens because I did not want to buy one to review it. I figured I would rent it for a week or two, use it, review it and say “Buy the Olympus 45″ and be done with it. But as it went, I was wrong. When the lens rental arrived I pulled it out of a case only to say “wow, this LOOKs like the Noctilux”! It is not built like the Leica Noctilux, not even close…but it does resemble it. It is much lighter than the Noctilux as well. Still, this lens looks and feels mighty impressive for a Micro 4/3 lens. I instantly knew that this was the best built AF lens for the system, hands down. While all Olympus primes are built nicely and feel like little light jewels, this Panasonic is more of a brute..a serious light gathering machine..more importantly “An Artist’s Tool”.

Olympus E-M1 and Nocticron at 1.2 – ISO 12,800

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I say “An Artist’s Tool” because this lens has that capability, that extra something that is lacking in most lenses to call it just that. The rendering when wide open, at the right distance from your subject gives you the 3Dimensional Pop (not as much as an f/1.2 lens in full frame) as well as the color and contrast characteristics of high end lenses. The Micro Contrast is also very good here, among the best I have seen with Micro 4/3 (Olympus 75 1.8) and the Bokeh is phenomenal.

But before I go on and on about the qualities of this lens, let me start by talking about the specs:

Focal Length 42.5mm - Comparable 35mm Focal Length: 85 mm (classic portrait lens)

Aperture Maximum: f/1.2 – 16.0 (starting at a super fast f/1.2 this gives us true light gathering of an f/1.2 lens, so for night this is #1 in M4/3)

Camera Mount Type Micro Four Thirds

Minimum Focus Distance 1.64′ (.5 m) (pretty close min focus, Leica Noctilus has a 1 meter min distance)

Elements/Groups 14/11 – (14 elements, 11 groups)

Diaphragm Blades 9 (for better and smoother Bokeh. The Fuji 56 1.2 has 7 blades)

Image Stabilization Yes – (built in O.I.S. which is what makes it so large)

Autofocus Yes

Filter Thread 67 mm

Weight 14.99 oz (425 g)  -(Leica Noctilux is 700 grams)

Additionally, there is an Extra-low Dispersion element that increases contrast and sharpness and an Ultra High Refractive Index element allows for a uniform look to the edges of the frame.

The above specs are impressive for this lens no doubt and one of the most controversial will be the f/1.2 aperture. Micro 4/3 hater and naysayers always are quick to point out that an f/1.2 lens in Micro 4/3 is like having an f/2.4 lens in full frame. Well, this is not true. FOR LIGHT GATHERING AND LOW LIGHT USE, this is a true F/1.2 lens. Period. For DEPTH OF FIELD it is more like a 90mm f/2.5 lens. Something like the $1800 Leica 90 f/2.5 Summarit but with a closer minimum focus distance and true f/1.2 light gathering ability and for less money. :)

The lens breakdown…

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The key to this lens is that you are getting pure state of the art performance for your Micro 4/3 camera and yes, Micro 4/3 is a legitimate format that is used by pros, enthusiasts, amateurs and every day camera Joe’s. The performance of the latest M 4/3 camera bodies (specifically from Olympus) is up there with any APS-C, and as I have reported about before, in some areas they are better. Cameras like the E-M1 are a whirlwind of performance in every way. I also feel, after using everything out there, that Micro 4/3 offers the BEST quality lenses for any mirror less camera system (besides Leica M). They are that good in build, speed, and IQ.

These Leica/Panasonic lenses take it up another notch when it comes to color, contrast, micro-contrast and overall IQ.

Was in my kitchen table at night, Brandon was in front of me and I called his name and fired. The E-M1 was at ISO 800, lens was at f/1.2. CLICK it for larger and sharper.

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This lens will work for portraits..

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or even candid street moments..

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Bokeh is smooth and free of the nasties, even in a bokeh torture test condition like the one below  - click for larger. E-M1

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Yes this lens works well with Olympus or Panasonic bodies

This lens works with the Olympus Micro 4/3 bodies just as well as it does with the Panasonic bodies. Yes, I have been shooting a GX7 and E-M1 side by side and I get consistent results with the E-M1 in regards to color and lower noise. The GX7 files have SLIGHTLY more noise (RAW, without NR) even at base ISO and I prefer the color rendering, build, and quick menu of the Oly system. But the GX7 produces IQ almost the same as the E-M1 with some color differences but the build is of a lower standard with the Panasonic GX7 vs the E-P5 or E-M1.

It is a fact! The Olympus bodies are built so so well. The E-P5 feels like a solid brick of metal with quality switches and dials. The GX7 feels plastic with lower quality dials and levers.

But with that said, the lens works well on either camera and on Panasonic bodies you will be able to use the manual aperture dial. On Olympus bodies the Aperture ring is useless and can not be used so you just use the normal aperture thumb dial on the E-M1. It is a give and take I guess.

The manual aperture dial reminds me of quality Leica M glass, much like the real $11k Noctilux (which I have owned long term in the past). 

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So wether you have an Olympus OM-D or PEN this lens works wonderfully. If you have a Panasonic you get the Aperture dial function.

Inside of a restaurant at f/1.2 – Olympus E-M1

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Built in OPTICAL IMAGE STABILISATION

The Panasonic Nocticron has O.I.S. built in, so for all of you Panasonic body shooters this is very important and useful. For Olympus shooters that have one of the 3 or 5 Axis IS bodies then you will want to use the in body 3 or 5 Axis over the lens O.I.S. as the Olympus IS system beats the lens O.I.S. hands down. I have said it before and I will say it again, there is NOTHING like the 5 Axis IS of the Olympus bodies, nothing. The few who put it down just do not shoot Olympus and prefer Panasonic but the real story is that the 5 and 3 Axis IS systems of the Olympus bodies is revolutionary and offers HUGE benefits, even for video use.

Below is a snippet where I tested the built in O.I.S. of the lens vs the Olympus E-M1′s 5-Axis IS – same shutter speed but the 5Axis provided a clear image vs the lens OIS blur.

lensoisc

So having the OIS in the lens is good for those who shoot without a body that has the advanced IS built in. On the GX7 this is mandatory to have in a lens like this so it is good that Olympus packed it in, they really had no choice.

A Closer Look

Below is a comparison between the amazing little Olympus 45 1.8 that comes in at around $350 as well as the Voigtlander 42.5 f/0.95. It seems I had an issue focusing the Voigtlander on the Panasonic GX7 due to the small EVF. When the 42.5 Voigtlander is focused correctly it is razor sharp, even wide open, in the center of the frame. See my review HERE. 

1st up, YOU MUST click on the images below to see them correctly. 

The Nocticron is 1st at f/1.6, then the Olympus at 1.8 and then the Voigtlander (slightly mis-focused, sorry!)  The Olympus has more magnification going from 85mm to 90mm and is quite good for a $350 lens! The Olympus offers more of a “telephoto” look with more compression..flatter. The Nocticron offers a gentler more 3D rendering similar to a real Leica lens.

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Below is a more visible example of the difference between the Nocticron rendering and the Olympus 45 1.8.

Click the images for correct and larger versions..

The 1st image below was shot with the Noctiron and GX7 at f/1.2, wide open. Here you can see the 3D pop between the subject and the background. There is a clear distinction between Debby and the background, with a superb fall off from in focus to out. This is the hallmark of a good lens IMO. 

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Below is the Olympus 45 1.8 and when you click and view this side by side with the Nocticron you can see the differences. To some, you may not even see it. To others it will be huge and to some it will be slight. The 45 rendered the image in a duller way from color to a flatter look. As good as the 45 1.8 is, it does not approach the Nocticron, which is one reason why the Noct is so expensive. 

oly45debby

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And now and image from over a year ago in the same spot taken with the Leica Noctilux at f/0.95 on an M 240. This is the most 3D of them all but it should be considering the combo of lens and body will run you about $18,000. :)

realnoct

Full Size Files and a crop

I am finding the Nocticron to be sharp even wide open but at the same time it is not clinical in any way. It is more organic and flowing, much like the original F/1 Noctilux from Leica. It has a certain character to it wide open that I like, a lot. Below are two full size files, one wide open at f/1.2 and one that should have been f/4 but the EXIF reads at f/3.2

Thanks to “Baby” my little Chihuahua we rescued for being extremely still while modeling :)

1st up, wide open at f/1.2. Right click image and open in new tab or window for full size from RAW

babyfullwideopen

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again, right click and open in new tab or window for full size at f/3.2

babyfullat3.2

The lens is RAZOR sharp wide open and gets sharper as it is stopped down. I actually love the lens at f/4 as well as f/1.2. It is an all around great performer and for this focal length, the ultimate lens for Micro 4/3. HERE IS ONE MORE wide open at f/1.2 – look at the sharpness, color, detail and Bokeh. Amazing..

CLICK IT for larger and better version – the way it was meant to be seen..AMAZING detail at f/1.2, superb color and Bokeh. This was shot with the GX7. THIS simple test shot reveals why this lens is so special. Bokeh gets an A, sharpness gets an A+, color gets an A, 3D pop gets an A. 

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Distortions

While shooting this lens in real word scenarios I never saw any kind of distortion or had an issue with CA. I do not do scientific tests nor do I shoot white walls looking for vignetting, because if I do not see an issue while using the lens for what it was designed to do (take photos) then I do not see a problem. When shooting the Panasonic Nocticron I had no issues with Vignetting or Distortion. Period. The lens does have slight vignetting wide open though but so does the Noctilux f/1 and 0.95.

The one shot that slightly missed focus but this so reminds me of the Leica Noctilux F/1 Rendering! I love it.

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AF Speed

The Af speed of the lens is VERY quick in good light and slows down in low light but it always locks on and the only time it missed for me is in the above shot of the dog but I think it was trying to focus on the dirty glass instead of the dog, so maybe it did NOT miss. AF speed was a TAD faster on the E-M1 vs the GX7 but both were comparable.

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VIDEO USE

This lens SHOULD be a video shooters dream. I have yet to shoot video with this guy but plan on it soon and when I do I will post a sample video right here :) So check back in a week or two!

Bottom Line Conclusion

So is this lens worth $1600? THAT is the question, especially when we have lenses like the Olympus 45 1.8 which is similar in focal length and slightly slower in aperture speed for $350. The Olympus is also MUCH smaller and MUCH lighter and slightly faster to AF. So wouldn’t the Olympus be the “No Brainer” decision? Why yes, it would.

BUT! If you are like me, and DO notice those small differences such as contrast, color, bokeh quality and rendering then you might want to take a serious look at this Nocticron. The Panasonic/Leica lenses have all been SUPERB. The 25 1.4, the 45 2.8 and now the Nocticron all use a Leica design and in the case of this Nocticron, more exotic glass than a normal Panasonic lens. When good glass is used you can tell and this lens has a way of lighting up a scene just like a real Noctilux does.

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Sometimes a lens comes along that is special. This is one of those lenses. It has it all built into one monster shell, though it still comes in smaller in size and lighter in weight than a comparable full frame lens. Built in O.I.S., great sharpness and rendering at f/1.2 AND Auto Focus, something that the Voigtlander lenses are missing and those lenses can be tricky on a smaller EVF camera like the GX7. I am thrilled that Panasonic created this lens.

Many will argue that this is not an F/1.2 lens, but it is indeed a true f/1.2 aperture lens. I will repeat: THIS IS A TRUE 42.5MM f/1.2 LENS.

Yo will get f/1.2 light gathering capability. You will be able to shoot at f/1.2 in the dark and you will be using a true f/1.2 aperture with 1.2 light gathering ability. THIS is what an f/1.2 lens is made for..low light and in that regards the Nocticron is true to its name..NOCTURNAL.

The image below was shot on the E-M1 at ISO 10,000 at f/1.2. It was inside my house at night with barely ANY light at all. ZERO noise reduction. Reminds me of something that would have come out of the Leica Monochrom! Good lenses can make all of the difference in the world. 

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So if you shoot Micro 4/3, Olympus or Panasonic, and you want a fast portrait length prime that offers a bit of EVERYTHING such as fast aperture, delicious bokeh, amazing sharpness and detail/micro-contrast which also happens to shoot great video then PUT THIS LENS ON YOUR LIST. Yes, it is $1600 and yes it is expensive but this lens will hold value over the long-term, moreso than a standard M 4/3 lens.

Micro 4/3 has come a long long way since the early days and today it offers astounding IQ, fast speed, the best built mirror less bodies as well as the fastest and the best collection of glass out of any mirror less system. From wide to tele and macro, there is nothing that a Micro 4/3 system can not do. Olympus and Panasonic are rocking it big time and this lens just solidifies the fact that Micro 4/3 will NOT go away despite the doom and gloom of some large sensor fans. Many have asked me about the new Fuji 56 1.2, which is also a fast portrait prime for the X system. I have NOT tried the Fuji yet but HAVE handled it. The build of the Panasonic is better. I have seen numerous shots from the Fuji and they look gorgeous as well but no OIS in the lens OR body for Fuji. Also, the Bokeh from the Fuji is a little on the busy side in comparison.

If a man came up to me and said pick one and keep it..for free. Either a Fuji X-T1 and 56 1.2 or an Olympus PEN E-P5  with finder and the Nocticron, I would not hesitate for a nano-second. It would be the PEN and Nocticron. Easy choice for me. Still, Fuji is another company that seems to “get it” when it comes to releasing what many of us enthusiasts want. I say, keep ‘em coming!

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I feel that the Panasonic Nocticron 42.5 f/1.2 lens is the best built AF lens for the Micro 4/3 system. Period. It is also the fastest aperture AF prime for the system. It is a true “Noct” lens in its rendering and style and deserves to be up there with other well-known “Noct” lenses that cost MUCH more than this one does. For me, I had to own one so I bought one after shooting the review sample for 2 weeks, so that may say something right there.

In regards to the 45 1.8 which I also own, I bought the Noct as it inspires me more to go out and shoot with it. It offers am ore creamy and organic rendering over the 45 1.8, better color and contrast and is more of an Artists tool than a lens. I am a sucker for fast glass and I did not believe for a nanosecond that I would spurge and purchase this lens, but it is that good. It has more Leica than Panasonic it seems, and that is a good thing as you can not get a real Leica lens for less than a few grand new (50 Summilux f/1.4 is $4300). This is why I purchased one for myself.

So I highly recommend this lens for any and all Micro 4/3 shooters who WANT and DESIRE a lens such as this.

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WHERE TO BUY THE NOCTICRON!

You can buy the Nocticron using the direct links below to Amazon or B&H Photo. Using these links will help me to keep this site going and costs you NOTHING extra so if this review helped your decision, I thank you for using the links below!

BUY THE NOCTICRON AT AMAZON HERE

BUY THE NOCTICRON AT B&H PHOTO HERE

More samples from the Nocticron!

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