Oct 212014
 

The Shadows are you Friends. Micro 4/3 Creepiness.

By Vince de la Pena

Greetings from Down Under.

My name is Vince de la Pena and I’d like to share my very first personal photographic project. This was shot in the infamous (for photographers) old abandoned Larundel psychiatric hospital in Bundoora, Victoria, Australia.
I purchased an Olympus OM-D E-M5 2 years ago after finding the my Canon 30D and lenses were too heavy and bulky for me. I have recently sold my Canon 6D and 2x L-series lenses to fund more micro 4/3 lenses and a Lumix GM1 body. I have also upgraded from the Panasonic 12-35mm f2.8 to the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 which I find is quite a bit sharper. The majority of the shoot was done with the Olympus 12-40mm and the bunny-eating scene was shot with the Olympus 45mm f1.8.

The Shoot.
This personal project was months in the making. It required scouting out the old hospital and looking for some cool grafitti or murals to shoot against. This is a popular place for budding photographers. The upper level had lots of holes in the roof which would allow beautiful spots of harsh light from above. You can google the images of Larundel and see what I mean. Unfortunately, with the advancement of high ISO sensors and the overuse of HDR to see into the shadows, I felt that the creepiness of the shadows has not been taken to its full potential. I believe that the shadows create the unknown. And that unknown creates fear. Embrace the shadows. The shadows are your friends.

For this particular shoot, we had to bring a lot of props like a door; a mattress with pillows and sheets; lighting, stands, a purpose-built electric chair, ladders, tripods, black blankets, lots of flashlights, etc. I even had to buy some black cherry jam for the bunny rabbit eating scene. Have you ever had generic fake blood in your mouth? It’s freakin’ disgusting. I didn’t want to risk my model Emma pulling the lemon face during the gore scenes.

Finally, I want to thank my mum for her brutally honest feedback. Every time she looks at my photos and just says “Nice”, it makes me go “Whaddayamean NICE?!?!” It makes me try harder to get a shot that has more impact. It makes me see things beyond the pixel peeping, the retouching, the bokeh, the noise and grain, etc.

Happy Halloween, folks!!!

Vince de la Pena

PS: Special thanks to model Emma Jarrett (who flew down from Queensland for the shoot) and to Mikel Magdadaro and Edwin Retuta (assistant photographers).

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Oct 202014
 

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Portraits from the Pub with an Olympus E-M5

By René van Wijck

Hello!

After many years of making photographs I got a little bored by it and I lost my inspiration.

Two years ago I bought myself the Olympus OMD-EM5. This little machine changed my life! It was and is such a pleasure to work with that I have it all the time, wherever I am with me.

I work as a bartender downtown Rotterdam in Holland and started to make pictures of my guests. They all come alone to the pub, and most of the time leave alone.

I gave myself a few rules: no color,no flash,no drinks in the pictures. Most of them I shot with the 45 mm 1.8. I’ll hope you like the results!

You can see more of it on flickr.com/photos/renevanwijck

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Oct 172014
 

Faces of the World Cup

By Caesar Lima – His website is HERE

Every 4 years the World Cup hosts 32 countries and an amazing soccer tournament in a different country. Since it was hosted in Brazil this time and being from Brazil and a photographer, I couldn’t resist making my 6 week trip down there into a project of capturing some of the excitement of this unique event. I decided to take mirrorless cameras because of their smaller size. I took a Sony RX-1, a Leica T with a 23mm and 5 M lenses plus a Sony A7r with 50mm and the new 70-200mm. I was able to take all this gear into the stadiums with no problem.

The games were held in different cities and I also ventured out into the streets and bars to capture the faces of the fans. There were amazing crowds of people from different countries, like a huge party. The Brazilian people are amazing hosts and they love to party. They were very proud to have all these visitors, the combination of great soccer games, 12 brand new stadiums, great food and lots of beer made it the best World Cup ever.

I feel very lucky to have been there and to have been part of such cool event.

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Oct 172014
 

In Praise of Micro 4/3 and a Visit to Monet’s Garden

By Richard Gilsig

Hi Steve. I stumbled onto your site, about a year ago and it was your reviews that led me to choose M4/3 as my small travel system. Thank you very much. Love your Site. Please keep up the great work. About me: Photography has been an on-again, off-again hobby for about 50 years. Without doubt, going digital has been revitalizing. I’m hooked on simple post-processing with iPhoto (minor tweaks but lots of cropping).

As for my shooting experience, I love the convenience of zooms and not missing shots/fumbling with changing lenses (and I fumble a lot). Yet looking back on my photography, my favourite images are almost always from primes. And so began my search for where the smallest possible interchangeable body/lense meets the largest possible sensor. Steve’s high praise of M4/3 glass pointed me in the right direction.

I bucked up for the GM1 with kit 12-32mm and Olympus 45mm f1.8. I’m impressed with I.Q., pleased with the stealth that small size facilitates, and most of all, thrilled that my wife is more tolerant of my new tiny travel rig which does take less of my attention and energy than toting either APS or Full Frame.

I’ve always been a fan of Monet. His ability to capture how colour and reflections change with changing light is ian inspiration to many of us. This past June, I had the opportunity to visit Givernay and Monet’s Garden. These are my favourites from that sunny day late in June.

 

Path to Lily Pond, Lumix 12-32 at 16mm, f8, 1/800sec, iso 200

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1 wing frozen. Olympus 45mm, f1.8. 1/2000sec, iso 200

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Centre Crop (1/3 of original image), Olympus 45mm, f1.8, 1/10,000sec, iso 125

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Bridge, Olympus 45mm, f5, 1/320sec, iso125

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Left Crop (1/3 of original image), f5, 1/400sec, iso 125

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Rowboat, f5.6, 1/100sec, iso 1250

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Oct 162014
 

LESSONS

Three lessons I have learned from shooting the streets.

By Steve Huff

Street Photography has enjoyed a huge resergance in recent years. With the many blogs writing about it, workshops showing others how to do it, and the constant barrage of street shooter hobbyists sharing their photos, street shooting has seemed to meld into all sorts of things, much of the time having nothing to do with the old school style of which most everyone was inspired. My favorite street photographs of all time were shot by none other than Vivian Maier. Not only are her photographs very special, they bring back memories of a time before I was even born. The cool part for me is that her amazing street photos were all shot in my hometown of Chicago, giving me a glimpse of the people of the past. If you are not familiar with her story, I urge you to watch the documentary “Finding Vivian Maier”.

I consider Vivian’s work to be more than “street photography” as many know and practice it today. I see her work as something special, something magical and more along the lines of “street portraits” much of the time. She loved shooting people and she had a talent for it that many of us (including myself) do not. As I browse through the book of her work “Out of the Shadows” (which I HIGHLY recommend, amazon link HERE) I am over-run with emotion as I am taken back to the past, to slices of life that we will never see again. Because Vivian captured this fraction of a second on to film, a memory was made. A time capsule if you will. I have said many times that we already have a time machine here on earth, and it is called a camera. While we can not physically go back in time, looking at old photos will take us there in our hearts and minds. A camera is a powerful tool when used in the right way.

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When I started shooting street images I was horrible at it (and still consider myself a street hobbyist with so much to learn). I was fearful to let anyone know or see that I was taking an image of them. I was afraid to lift it up and make eye contact with the subject, and I usually came away from a day of shooting with nothing to show for it. Eventually I told myself “you must never fear taking a photograph”! Fearing the actual act of taking a photo was killing my passion for photography and that was not good. If I wanted to get out on the street and snap those special moments, those slices of life, the people I meet and those time capsule memories…then I needed to just do it and NOT think about it.

*The 1st lesson I learned is to never fear shooting in public. Just do it, and act as if it is as natural as looking at someone and giving a smile. But also you must use your instincts as to WHEN and when NOT to shoot.*

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After a while I realized  there was absolutely nothing to fear when out shooting people out in public. 99% of the time I get a smile back, a nod or a grumpy face but never have I been attacked and I think that comes from my instinct. What I mean by this is that after a while you start to get an idea of whom to approach, who to raise your camera to and who NOT to do this with. I can sense if someone will have an issue with me taking their photo, and in these cases, I skip it. Many will say “take it anyway” but I believe in respect when shooting on the street in public. I also believe in some sort of acknowledgement if you want a “street portrait”. Not setting up the scene but making sure the person is OK with you taking their portrait.

Rio Brazil: Saw this happy smiling man sitting on the street and sat down to chat with him for a while. He did not speak English but he wanted me to take his portrait after he saw my camera, so I did. For me, making a connection to strangers is one of the appeals of taking street portraits. 

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Las Vegas NV: I noticed a rowdy bunch of guys on the street selling nightclub tickets so I walked up and asked if I could grab a shot of them. When I approached I was calm, cool and confident as confidence usually gets your subject to feel comfortable. Below you can see the shot and below that shot is an image of me taking the shot :) Shot using the Leica Monochrom.

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Walked by this Security guy who was directing traffic and people on the strip in Vegas. I passed him up then decided to walk back over to him. I made eye contact, nodded my head and snapped. It all happened so fast he said “you did not give me time to smile” 

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Many times I will sit down and chat with whoever I want to take a snap of. If they are OK with me shooting them after this, I will. If not, I thank them and wish them a great day.

*So the 2nd lesson I have learned for my style of street shooting is “be respectful to all and use your instincts”. Usually when you do this, you will also be respected back instead of someone getting angry and wanting to tear your camera away and smash it.*

Not all street scenes are portraits of course..all depends on the scene. Many like to catch human interactions and be invisible to the subject. I have seen some astounding images shot in this fashion from others and it is also a style that is nice to take on, but it requires patience. Many street shooters I know who shoot in this fashion will stay in one spot for hours..waiting for the one moment where they will get a nice shot. While I prefer human interaction, I do not always have a chance to chat first, and when this happens I just shoot.

When shooting street it can take years to be able to develop your senses or how to “see” things worthy of a photo. I am no expert on this, not even close but I have learned over the years that you should always keep your eyes peeled as many things happen in a split second while other situations need to be observed for a while.

*The Third thing I have learned is learning how to “see” and “observe” as things usually move quick on the streets*

Rio, Brazil: Seeing this elderly man sit down on the bench I observed his actions for a while. He was just sitting there like a statue for 10-15 minutes, moving very little in this time. What I saw is a man, sitting like a statue next to a real statue. The three younger ladies behind him were enjoying the Ocean view in Rio while this man may have been looking back on his life while listening to the water. 

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St. Petersburg Russia at Midnight (yes midnight) – Saw this couple ready to kiss with the midnight sun behind them and the boat chugging along..raised my Leica M9 and shot. For me this captures the romance of this city perfectly.

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Recife Brazil: This woman was not the friendliest looking person but who knows, she may have been sweet as pie. The look on her face tells me she may punch me if I snap, but then again, maybe not. I wanted to get a profile but as I snapped she looked behind her. This is not a technically great photo but it is edgy. I was recently asked if I like “Beauty” or “Truth” and I always say “TRUTH” as that is reality. Beauty and fake beauty is everywhere but truth trumps all. 

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Seattle: Saw this girl having a great time on the beach. The sun was setting and the weather was amazing. Wanted to catch her laugh to show that in this one moment in time, this person was having a great time in their life. Happy and full of life. 

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Inside of a truck stop somewhere in middle America: Was eating lunch when I saw a kid outside the window begging his grandmother for money so he could buy a toy he saw inside the shop. She refused at first, telling him NO NO NO! She then relaxed, pulled out a smoke and gave him her coin purse. Seems the cigarette gave her some peace :) I was watching the interaction take place for a while before deciding to snap a shot.

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Berlin Germany: While in Berlin I saw this couple cuddling and holding hands so I followed them down the street for one minute. At a street crossing I saw her embrace him and right after I shot this she smiled at me as she knew I captured some love right there :) 

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New York City: Hanging around NYC was a blast and it is a street shooters dream. I love this one that I caught of a man coming out Penn Station

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Rio Brazil: A woman massaging her man’s neck and back as she whispered sweet nothings to him. They acted like they were all alone and oblivious to the surroundings. I squatted down, snapped the shot and afterwards the guy looked and gave me a  thumbs up. I was alone on this walk in Brazil with my Leica and never hesitated to shoot.

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Scottsdale AZ: At a bar just before Christmas I was greeted by a dog at the bar. He was shaking everyone’s hand who came in and was just like an old bartender, but friendlier. I had to snap this hand shaking dog so I could always remember the laughs we had that night. 

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Berlin: Shooting people on a bus can be interesting. This woman looked deep in thought and I wondered what she was thinking about..of course I will never know that, or her, but I like the photo. 

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Somewhere in Brazil…another Bus shot. 

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Rio: I was eating lunch at an outdoor cafe near the beach when I saw these two guys. I raised my camera, gave them a nod and they gave me a pose :) 

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Seattle: A street performer who has been here for a long time singing to all of the tourists…

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Berlin: I saw this man riding a bike with some pretty nifty socks.Had to get a shot.

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While walking down the street I saw  these two parking attendants arguing. Usually one would stay out-of-the-way of  two guys getting into an argument but I snapped without them knowing until AFTER I snapped the shot. They were cool with it and ended up laughing at themselves in the end. 

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Seattle: Seeing this little boy skipping, dancing and enjoying an apple at the Gum Wall. I snapped when he looked over at me as he was taking a bite out of his apple

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So basically the moral of MY story is when I dropped the fear of taking images of strangers, and when I learned to use my instincts of when and when not to shoot and when I learned how to “see” better it all added up to improve my street photography to a higher level than when I first started. While I have lots to learn, and I do not do too much street shooting these days, I always have fun with it, which to me is the most important! If you do not have fun with photography then it will get old..fast. So always shoot what YOU enjoy shooting, even if it is flowers, leaves or trees. Whatever makes YOU happy is all that matters!

OF COURSE there is much more to it than those three things but that is a good starting point. Also being comfortable with your camera and lens will help you along the way. ;)

Recife Brazil: Two girls on the beach. This was late night and I was out with my M9 and Noctilux. When they saw my camera they said “TAKE OUR PHOTO”!! To me, this is what it is all about..interaction with others, having a great time and nailing a nice photo to take you back to that moment.

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SMILE! This one was taken somewhere in Seattle and she loved having the attention and her photo taken :) 

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Talin Estonia: Shot this girl on the street during an early morning walk

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To those who want to get better at shooting images on the street can start with losing the fear of shooting strangers, learn to develop their eye and how to observe and also to be respectful to those we approach and want to photograph. Most of all, have fun.  While I will never be a master of the street. I have loads of fun doing it :)

Steve

Oct 132014
 

Unfortunately Awesome – Samsung Galaxy NX real world review

By Moritz Wellner

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After my recent switch from NX11 to NX20 I’ve now got the opportunity to test the Samsung Galaxy NX on loan, while my NX20 is in for repair. Big thanks to the Photohaus!

The Galaxy NX is Samsung’s first Android powered camera with interchangeable lenses. The other Galaxy cameras have fixed super zoom lenses and small sensors whereas the Samsung NX is an NX camera with an APS-C sized sensor combined with a Galaxy phone somewhere between Galaxy S3 and S4 spec wise. The camera part is taken from the NX300 featuring the same sensor with phase detect pixels and the same processor.
The camera was and still is an interesting experiment which had one major drawback on launch. It was hideously overpriced at 1499€. That price has come down to about 900€ now, which makes it a lot more interesting. Another amazing information about this camera is, that it is the first camera from Samsung where every single part is made in-house including the shutter mechanism. Samsung seems to become more and more self-confident with their camera division.

My first impressions with this camera have been the same as last year, when it came out. This is a big but extremely comfortable mirrorless camera! In fact after using it for a week now, I have to say that it is much less big than I thought. The body is much slimmer than my NX20 and the big grip ends on nearly the same height as the front element of one of Samsungs pancake lenses when mounted. That makes it a similarly pocketable brick. Jacket pockets are no problem and it even fits nicely into the pockets of a hoody sweater.

The comfortable exterior is made of polycarbonate but of the good and strong feeling kind. The tolerances on all moving parts are very tight and the body feels very dense. It is a sturdy camera even though it is sadly not weather sealed like the newer NX30.

Another contrast to the NX30, and also the NX20, is the absence of many direct buttons. In fact the Galaxy NX has not even one button on the back. It has a shutter button on the front of the grips top and a video record button right behind it. The rest of the right side of the top plate houses the clickwheel and the On/Off button. On the left of the viewfinder is a big and very comfortable dioptre adjustment wheel and the button for the flash release. This is a very uncluttered camera!

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Everything about the outside operation of the Galaxy just feels comfortable! Much more so than the NX20 actually. The buttons give a very positive feedback and the clickwheel sits comfortably in reach for one-handed use. It is nicely textured and needs just enough force to not be pressed by accident. The shutter button has a firm and well-defined pressure to it. The sound of the shutter underlines that feeling. It’s smooth and doesn’t sound as electrical. The viewfinder has the same specs as the NX20 but you have a much bigger area around. Where I can’t see the whole image with my glasses on the NX20 I have a full nice view on the Galaxy NX. Another change is the bigger dioptre wheel on the Galaxy NX which is both more substantial and tighter than on the NX20. I really like that as I constantly hit my dioptre adjustment on the NX20 out-of-place when the camera is just bouncing at my side.

The back of the camera is dominated be the huge 4.77” touch screen. It is covered by Gorilla glas which is pretty nice as it is less scratch prone than my other cameras. The touch screen reacts fast, smooth and precisely to my touches and ignores my palm 90% of the time. It is nice focusing with the screen. I sometimes miss the tilting screen of my NX20 but the pretty good viewing angles make up part of it. The screen shows rich colors and deep blacks, as you would expect from a Samsung AMOLED.
The camera app has its main control buttons mode dial, shutter release and video record on the right side. They are easily operated with the right thumb while holding the camera. If you choose a mode on the digital wheel, the app extends to a second digital wheel giving you the appropriate value to change. So I choose A and the extending ring show me my current aperture and lets me change it. Very sweet and easily done one-handed. On the left side of the screen are three function buttons with two of them being customizable with 7 different operations like custom white balance or AF Area. The third button is always giving AE Lock. Below the three buttons is a direct link into the gallery to review your images. Above the function buttons is a home button to go into Android and a popup menu to control flash, HDR and some other settings. To the right of this menu in the upper middle of the screen are controls for aperture, shutterspeed, exposure compensation and ISO. Those are operated with the click wheel. You choose a setting by clicking the wheel and then turning to your desired value. Easy and fast forward on the display or in the viewfinder. Nice and … comfortable!

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The menu system is one of the simplest and nicest I’ve seen in a camera to date. I haven’t found anything where it is falling short of the one in my NX20. It is much faster though and the touch screen makes it easy and smooth to change the settings compared to the four-way controller on the traditional NX20.

Hit the home button on the top left and the camera takes you to a standard Samsung Touchwiz covered Android. It works the same as any other Android phone. You can install Dropbox, Flickr, Googledrive and anything you want and start sharing your pictures. I even changed the launcher from Touchwiz to Noca launcher without any problem. The hardware in the Galaxy is fast enough to handle even RAWDroid with ease to directly rate and tag your raw files in camera, process them and post them directly to your tumblr feed.

Frankly I don’t know how much I would really use this aside from playing around at the moment. What I like about Android in the backround is that I was able to download Laps It pro and enhance my camera with a time lapse feature that would not be present normally.

Sadly it is still Android 4.2.2 and there seems to be no upgrade at the horizon. This is a missed chance as 4.4 is so much more battery and performance friendly that it could really be a way of improving the camera all around.
On a side note the huge 4300mAh battery powers your camera with ease and gets only drained fast when using the Android part excessively. When using the camera on its own it provides about 600 shots per charge. It takes about two hours to charge in the camera which is very usable. You can purchase a separate external charger combined with a second battery for about 60€.

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Going back to the camera you get a very capable photographic tool. The operation is generally fast and painless. The hybrid autofocus works very nicely and delivers even some usefull tracking performance. In single AF it finds its target fast and secure and the continous series I did looked very promising. The manual focussing has lost the 10x magnification of the NX20 but gained focus peaking with three different intensities and three different colours. This was a smart move I think. 5x feels more than enough magnification considering the huge display and focus peaking makes manual focussing much faster than before.

Sadly the Galaxy NX is let down by the same issue that bothers every Samsung camera to date. The buffer performance is not up there with the shooting speed. The camera is able to shoot at a blazing 8.6 frames per second but it can only record 5-6 raw images that way. Please, Samsung, fix this issue!

Single shot to shot times are very nice and you won’t run into any big time waiting if you don’t use continous. The camera handles fast and every operation has direct feedback.
I have to say it again at this point, the shutter sound of the Galaxy NX is so much nicer than the NX20.

The image quality of the sensor is like the NX20. It has nice high ISO capabilities I use up to ISO 1600 without hesitation. ISO 3200 and 6400 work well with carefull post processing. The dynamic range of the sensor is a real strong point of the Samsung. I normally underexpose by 0.6 -1 EV and never had any hassle recovering the shadows without introducing a lot of noise. In fact the noise performance at base ISO is better than the old 14MP sensor even though there are 6 more megapixels cramped onto the sensor. I was worried that it would be worse after shooting with the E-M5 and getting more noise even at base ISO than my old NX11.

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The 20MP sensor delivers great detail and colors coupled with Samsungs high quality lenses. The 85mm f1.4 and the 12-24mm f4-5.6 really show what this sensor is capable of. I’am looking forward to the 16-50mm f2-2.8 on this!
The enclosed samples where all shot with original Samsung lenses although the performance with legacy lenses was very promising. All images were processed using Lightroom 5. I haven’t bothered uploading the out of camera jpegs as I never thought Samsung to be particularly good at those and it wouldn’t be real world to me shooting something else than raw!

Why did I write so much about operating and handling the camera and so little about the image quality? Well the image quality is really nice and nobody really argues on that big time. The real difference of the Galaxy NX compared to the rest of the mirrorless crowd and its NX brethren is how it is operated and how it feels. Samsung has come out with a pleasing mixture of slim body, substantial grip and high quality control layout.

I though it would be a nice experiment and I would happily go back to my NX20 without hesitation but the Galaxy NX is really Unfortunately Awesome!

Moritz Wellner

Oct 122014
 

A new Leica M Monochrom and Special Artist Edition soon?

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It appears Leica has been working on a new Monochrom camera based on the M 240 (as I hinted at long ago). Gone will be the current monochrome and in its place the new version which will be like an M 240/M-P but with its sensor receiving the B&W treatment just as the M9 did for the current Monochrom camera. It will give a different look just as the M 240 gives a different look over the M9, and IMO, it will be better with a higher Dynamic Range as well as giving better high ISO performance. My guess? ISO 25,000 max. Just a guess of course. :)

So when will this new Monochrom hit the streets? NO idea, as for now it is just really rumors as nothing is official yet but somehow info has leaked (as it always seems to do).

The other big news/rumor is that there will be a full on raw brass M 240 “Lenny Kravitz” special edition. Not sure I get this one at all but hey, some may enjoy it. Usually if there is a celebs name on it, expect to pay more and being unique it will end up being a limited run priced higher than any standard M 240 or M-P. I will predict it is nothing more than cosmetics as it will have the same sensor as the M 240 and M-P. Nothing is confirmed as to it being a “Lenny Kravitz” edition but that is the word on the street (Lenny is an avid Leica shooter).

I am loving my silver chrome Monochrom which is already a classic. Will be interesting to see when this new version arrives but we all knew it was only a matter of time.

As soon as more details and news or release info hits I will share it here. Seeing that I am not a rumor site though, you may want to check LeicaRumors.com to see if they have more info.

Steve

 

Oct 112014
 

The IBELUX 40mm f/0.85 Lens. World’s Shortest Review

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The new Ibelux lens has arrived to me for a quick review and I have shot a few frames with it since the video below was made and have to say I do not find it worth the $2300 asking price, and I know this just from my 1st couple of uses. I have found the lens to be much too large, much too heavy and a bit soft when wide open, which means I would not use it wide open. I feel it was made for the f/0.85 aperture so it can be presented as one of the worlds fastest lenses over anything else BUT it lacks sharpness as well as character.

Being an APS-C lens (not full frame) it just seems a bit too “much” in everything from weight, size and price.

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Also, was shooting with it and went to twist out the Leica copy slide out hood and it just fell off, during my 1st use with the lens (it is not supposed to come off). This does not inspire confidence in build IMO. The shots I have taken also lack any kind of special character IMO. By f/1.4-f/2 its sharpens up but at this price there are MUCH better lenses to be had. For example, a Zeiss 50 Planar at $800 or a Zeiss ZM 50 1.5 Sonnar for $1100 or even better a real Leica 50 Summicron f/2 which will be sharper at f/2 than this lens at about 1/7th the size. The Zeiss Touit 50 f/2.8 is STUNNING in sharpness, colors, 3D pop and comes in at $999 and is MUCH smaller and lighter. Sure it is not an f/0.85 lens but my professional opinion is that this lens was made  to be 0.85 for marketing reasons, not performance reasons.

This lens also has an issue on the Sony A6000 as there is banding when using it at any ISO. I have shot with MANY if not ALL uber fast lenses and this one has left me the most disappointed.

Below is the lens on the A6000 at f/1 – click to see 100% crop and banding. 

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Long story short, I will not be doing a full review of this lens because it is something I would never recommend due to the cost, size, the fact that it is APS-C only, the heavy weight and underwhelming performance when shot wide open, which is what the main draw to the lens is. Also the fact that on the A6000 Sony it has a banding issue as well as construction concerns. I would recommend a Zeiss ZM lens any day over this for less money and better performance. Usually I would not write anything, I would have just passed on it but many have asked me to start to write about the things I use and DO NOT like as well, so here you go :)

It seems like they concentrated on packaging and making the lens look like a uber large Leica lens, with Leica style case and all to give the appearance of high quality. They also made a point to say “Designed in Germany” yet the lens is made in China.

One more thing..the lens is VERY long as you can see in the image at the top of the screen.

If the lens was $899 it would be a different story but at $2079.00, for me, it is a no go.

Below is my 1st look video before I even shot with the lens..when I was more optimistic about it.

You can read more on this lens at B&H Photo HERE.

If you do not mind a large size and weight then you may actually dig this lens, but be warned..it’s HEAVY!

Oct 082014
 

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The Lomography Petzval Art Lens Review

You can buy the Petzval Art Lens at Cameraquest using the direct link HERE

A long time ago in a land far far away there was a special and important portrait lens invented. The 1st usable portrait lens ever created, and it was designed by  Joseph Petzval in 1840. It was made of brass and it was very large, intended for cameras of the time. The unique look of the images from this lens was normal at the time, as it was the only useful portrait lens around. Even so it was a lens designed to cut down on exposure time from 30 minutes to mere seconds.

More on Joseph Petzval from Wikipedia:

Joseph_Petzval

“Petzval’s greatest achievements lie in his work with geometric optics. In 1839, Louis Daguerre presented the Daguerreotype, the first commercially successful photographic process. Fox Talbot’s calotype was discovered earlier but did not enjoy commercial success. Petzval learned of the invention from his friend, Viennese professor Andreas von Ettingshausen. The daguerreotype was problematic in that it required exposure times as long as 30 minutes to create a portrait. With Ettingshausen’s urging, Petzval set up a workshop and laboratory at Kahlenberg in Vienna and, after six months of complex computations, produced designs for improved objective lenses for both portraiture and landscape photography. Because the artillery was one of the few occupations that used advanced mathematical computations at the time, Archduke Ludwig lent eight artillery cannoners and three corporals to the computational efforts. The calculations these men carried out in tandem with each other have been regarded as an early (albeit human) example of a parallel computer.

Petzval’s portrait objective lens (Petzval Porträtobjektiv) was an almost distortionless Anachromatischer vierlinser (double achromatic objective lens, with four lenses in three groups). The luminous intensity of this flat “portrait lens” was substantially higher than the daguerre standard of 1839, the Wollaston Chevalier lens (f/16). The screen f/3.6 with a focal length of 160 mm made crucially shorter exposure times possible — using exposures of only about 15 to 30 seconds compared to the 10 minutes previously. Thus, snapshots became possible for the first time.”

So Mr. Petzval is an important guy in history as he was responsible for creating the first usable portrait lens. Photos from that time all have a unique classic yet surreal look due to the photo process AND the lens being used.

Enter Today’s Re-Creation of the famous Petzval Lens

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As time went on of course lens design became more of an advanced art and therefore lenses became sharper, well corrected, and with more sharpness across the frame. Today most lenses are perfected for optimum performance as we can do things today that could not be done in 1840.

Personally, I would say that many of the expensive lenses made today are almost too corrected! Sure, there are many more uses for a perfect lens than a not so perfect one but sometimes I get bored with that “perfect” look as it is the same look everyone has in their images today. Many of us are constantly seeking perfection it seems when it comes to our cameras and lenses, so I say it is a good thing when we take a slight curve or u-turn into a surreal dreamy world ever now and again :)

When something unique comes along TODAY that goes against the normal then I am always interested to take a look, so this new Petzval lens made by Lomo attracted my attention from the get go. Over a year ago now in August of 2013 Lomography put up a kickstarter for an exciting new portrait lens. This lens was the NEW Petzval, recreated in a smaller for full frame Nikon and Canon mounts. While much smaller than the Petzval of the old days, this one retained the same shape, design and brass construction. It also kept the insane swirly bokeh, soft edges and classic out of this world fantasy land look. The new Petzval inspired lens was announced as an 85mm f/2.2 design and promised a classic look just like the old version put out.

As you can see, an original Petzval lens is on the left..the new version (which was a prototype) is on the right. Much more manageable in size :)

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As soon as I saw the Kickstarter I WANTED THIS LENS but for some reason my funds were low so I was going to wait to contribute enough to get one of the first lenses. Then, I forgot about it and before I knew it the Kickstarter raised 1.4 Million (they had a $100,000 goal). It was insane! Almost one and a half million was raised which really showed not only the power of Kickstarter but also showed there was a true demand for this amazing new recreation/re-imagining of the first classic portrait lens. So while the signature of the bokeh and rendering is not for everyone, plenty of backers contributed and gave money for this project so they would be assured of a lens for themselves.

 Even though this is an f/2.2 lens and not an f/0.95 design, the Bokeh effect is insane. Some will HATE it, some will LOVE it. Me, I adore it and feel it is a great “every now and then when the time is right” kind of lens. To be honest, the lens is so beautiful to see and hold, I wanted one just to have it on my shelf! Even if I use it only a few times each year it will be worth it just to have this tool in my arsenal. I shoot it on my Sony A7s which is IMO, the best camera available today for using all kinds of cool lens via adapters. Can’t beat a small full frame with intense low light capabilities.

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So yes, I wanted to try one…

A year or so went by and I forgot about the lens until a site sponsor, Cameraquest.com informed me that they were now a Lomo Art Lens dealer and they had the lens IN STOCK! $599 with free shipping.

I was asked if I wanted to review it so of course I could not pass it up. Soon, Stephen Gandy shipped me the lens and when it arrived I was literally blown away by the gorgeous packaging that went into the lens. A gorgeous quality box, a full book about the lens and the history of it with many sample photos, the aperture system and a few other things. For $599, to me, this seemed like a steal. When I pulled the shiny brass lens out of the bag it was in I was very impressed. The look, design, weight and quality was so nice down to the engraving of the name on the lens barrel.

The lens is made in Russia, and it looks and feels TOP NOTCH. The only issue I have found is that the lens cap, which is also brass, always falls off. It is not tight enough so I always find it at the bottom of my bag. Lomo may want to adjust this in future production runs.

Below is the video I made when the lens arrived. You can see the packaging and hear my very 1st thoughts on it:

Love at 1st Sight

After I had the lens for 3-4 days I knew I wanted to commit and buy it. I contacted Stephen at Cameraquest and told him I was going to make the purchase. I also needed the adapter as I was using a Nikon mount version on a Sony A7s, so I needed a Nikon to Sony E-Mount adapter, which Stephen also sells and sent out to me for my testing and eventual purchase as well.

A lens I recently re-reviewed here on these pages was the Canon Dream lens. A lens I had bought not once, but twice in Leica M mount and when I bought my 2nd copy for $3100 I vowed to NEVER sell it… until I received an offer impossible to pass up for it via email. Then I did indeed sell it as I knew I would be a fool to pass up that offer. Even though I sold that lens for much more than I paid, I missed it as soon as it went out the door and started searching for something unique again..something that could give me a similar vibe..and when the Petzval arrived, THERE IT WAS! Just what I was looking for.

With this Petzval lens coming in at only $599 I can get a taste of that Canon dream lens..a bit of that flavor for MUCH MUCH less. While this lens is not the same as the Dream Lens I owned (IMO) I do feel it is a bit similar in rendering with a different signature at the edges and slightly in the Bokeh. I like the dream lens better but for the money, now that my 2nd dream lens was gone, buying the Petzval for my special effect lens was a no brainer.

Color or B&W..does not matter. What you will get is the same Petzval rendering and look. 

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Using the Petzval Lens…

As stated, my Petzval was purchased in Nikon mount which makes it easy to convert for use on the Sony A7s or Leica M 240. The lens is slightly long and manual focus only. The Aperture system is the old waterhouse system meaning there are aperture plates you put into the cameras aperture slit. Me, I use this lens at f/2.2 or f/2.8. By f/4 it sharpens up so much it almost renders like a normal lens, making the Petzval a Jeckyl and Hyde kind of lens. I feel the unique selling point of the lens is the swirly Bokeh effect and soft edges. So I basically always leave the f/2.2 aperture plate in. If you remove the plate you get a TEENY bit more speed according to Lomography and possible flare issues but when I tested this I saw no real difference in Bokeh or Exposure or flare. For those hoping to see more craziness without a plate, there really is none. Many would ask “Why use any plate at all”? Well, without an aperture plate inserted you are allowing dust to float down into the lens, and this is never a good thing :)

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The way you focus the lens is also unique. There is a dial on the left of the lens and this is what you rotate to focus. It is VERY simple and works well. In fact, I wish more lenses worked like this! It seems much more precise. It was so easy to focus on the Sony A7s with the nice big clear EVF that I never had a focus issue. It’s brilliant!

More in COLOR – All wide open at f/2.2

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On the Sony A7s I just plopped on the Nikon to E Mount adapter and then the lens. That was it, ready to rock and swirly roll. Using the lens was a piece of cake. I feel an EVF based mirrorless makes it easier to use this lens because with a Nikon DSLR you are looking through an optical viewfinder and it makes it very very hard to nail focus using the Petzval. I prefer the what you see is what you get type of thing.

It’s NOT an Everyday Lens!

If you are looking for ONE lens and one lens only, this would not be it. While fun, interesting and unique, the look can be overdone so I would reserve it for certain situations or scenarios. I have seen GORGEOUS portraits with this lens and I have seen AWFUL portraits and mis-use of this lens. Using it takes some practice as not everything will look good with it. Some subjects may look really awful using this lens and it probably takes a month or two to really get to know it inside and out. Me, I have been shooting with it for only two weeks so I still have some learning to do before I create my own Petzval “Masterpiece”.

I bought the lens for those few times a year I get the itch for an “artistic” lens. Lenses like the Noctilux, the Canon Dream Lens, Canon 85L and this lens are what I call “Art Lenses” because they create images that can sometimes appear as paintings. They specialize in the surreal and I LOVE these kind of lenses.

Take a look at a few more samples using this very crazy lens – click them for larger versions that look better, especially if you are using a large display (I use a 27″)

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What to expect from the Petzval

If you buy this lens one thing to keep in mind is that when shot wide open you will get images just like you see here. Swirly Bokeh, soft edges and corners, sharp in the dead center of the frame and lower contrast (which is easily fixing in post). All of these ingredients add up to create the signature look of this lens. I can already make a prediction: Many comments here will say “The Bokeh makes me dizzy or sick”, “Those shots are awful”, “I could never use this lens”…then others will say “Wow, that is a cool lens” or “I own one and love it” or “I want one”!

People are usually split on these kinds of swirly lenses. This is one thing that makes the world so great and interesting, no two individuals are alike :) 

Many classic lenses render in a similar way though not so extreme. When shooting this lens remember it is manual focus, manual aperture and will work perfect with the camera set to aperture priority mode. Focusing via a nice EVF is, for me, a breeze. Also, this lens was made for full frame sensors and to get the most out of it this is how I would recommend using it. When taking a full frame lens and using an APS-C or smaller sensor you lose part of the lens signature which is why I never use Leica M glass in Micro 4/3. This lens would be fantastic on the A7s (all images here with the Sony) or even the Leica M 240. All you need is the adapter for each and you are in business. Of course, you can also use it on any Nikon DSLR or if you buy the Canon mount, any Canon DLSR.

This lens is indeed an “Art” lens and I would love to see a 35 or 50mm made just like it as sometimes I find this focal length of 85mm a little long. Lomo should create wider versions with the same design..a trio if you will.

Man I just love the swirl in this shot. Surreal, dreamy, with just the right amount of softness for the portrait. I shot this to show the background rendering of foliage as well as the swirl.

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When shooting this lens expect the Bokeh performance of a faster lens. For some reason it blows out the background like an f/1 lens. It’s crazy but for me, it is beautiful (on most occasions).

My Bottom Line Conclusion on the Petzval Lens

When this lens was announced I WANTED ONE in a bad way. Then I was busy and forgot about it. When it was finally released and I saw samples, the early samples, I was not so impressed. As time went on I studied some of the amazing samples available online and knew I would eventually own one. When Stephen Gandy offered the lens up for review I could not pass it up. I would be able to test it and if I liked it, I could purchase it. Once I saw the attention to detail in the packaging and design as well as the build of the lens and accessories, I was hooked. After shooting off 10 frames or so I was sold.

The lens is not an everyday lens but it is one that will be used from time to time when I want that special dreamy effect. Much like the Canon Dream Lens I recently re-visited, this lens has some craziness to the rendering, but I am a crazy guy so I love it. But…I would tire of it if I used it daily, really quick.

Depending on the background of your subject you could end up with a nasty busy mess or a beautiful ethereal image that looks like a painting. It takes reality and distorts it a little, giving us a taste of what it is like to be an artist. Those photographers with the eye and vision for the unique will get it. Others will not. 100% personal preference. But it does take practice to determine the best distance from subject to lens and subject to background. Get these just right and the images deliver the look you want. It’s a hell of a lens! While shooting it in Las Vegas I had so many ask me about the lens. When eating a waitress saw it and had to ask all about it telling me she wanted one for her son. It will get attention, but it was all good attention. People were genuinely curious about it due to the design and looks.

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I am happy I decided to make the purchase as it can be used on my Sony A7s or on a Leica M-P. It also sharpens up more at f/2.8 and by f/4 will give you pretty nice consistent results without the swirl. Using the old-fashioned aperture system is quite nice actually. I haven’t lost one yet and I love the process of pulling one out and using the next, though I admit, I feel this lens is made for wide open use so I RARELY change it.

If this type of image rendering suits you, I highly recommend this lens. I feel in 10 years it will be desirable and one day even collectible if they stop production of it. Look at the Canon Dream lens. A few years ago you could buy one for $900, now expect to pay $4500-$5000 and up for a clean M mount version. (what I sold my last one for).

At $599, it is priced more than right IMO. You get a great experience from opening of the box, to holding the lens, to using it. There is only ONE complaint from me and that is the lens cap. It always falls off, so I usually leave mine off unless it is sitting on the shelf. Other than that it is just what I expected and I am really surprised that this lens was not priced a little higher due to the superb packaging, build quality, brass design and novelty of it.

Thanks Lomography!

You can buy this lens from Stephen Gandy at the link HERE. He ships FAST and is a great guy to deal with.

You can buy the Nikon to E-Mount adapter from him as well, using the direct link HERE.

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Oct 062014
 

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The Leica X Typ 113  Review in under 3500 words. Gorgeous IQ, but with a flaw.

by Steve Huff

When I found out that Leica created a new “X” camera with a Summilux lens and a faster aperture of F/1.7 I was VERY happy. FINALLY! Leica created the X many of us have wanted…or did they? With all new stylish looks, a larger size using the X-Vario body, and a very GORGEOUS brown and silver color along with the stealthy black Leica has left out the built in EVF that 90% of us have been begging for. Why oh why? If an EVF was put in this camera it would have flown off the shelves!

Since the X was announced I have had no less than 100 e-mails telling me something like this:

“Steve! If the new X had an integrated EVF I would have pre-ordered instantly”!!

This also happened with the X2 to some extent but not like this. See, the X2 did not sell as well as the X1 due to the fact that it was so much like the X1. Same body, same lens, same everything besides a new sensor that at the time helped with high ISO. The X1 sold VERY well, it flew off of the shelves because it was the 1st of its kind, at the time. The X2 did not do as well as the X1 sales wise and Leica assumed it was because it did not have a zoom lens, so they made the X-Vario with a slow slow aperture zoom. The Vario sold even less than the X2. Ugg.

So this time, here in 2014, Leica decided to give us Leica fans (almost) what they wanted! An X camera with a FAST fixed Summilux lens. Usually a Summilux is an f/1.4 design but on the X it is (supposedly) an f/1.7 design. But before I get into the lens, let us get back to the missing EVF, that so many cameras today have.

I think I know why Leica did NOT include it (intreated EVF) in the new X, and in my opinion it is for a couple of reasons. Mainly, I think and would guess that they used the X Vario shells that did not sell to make the new X. The X-Vario did not have a built-in EVF so this one could not as well. It also seems they do not have the know how to do it as none of their German-made non Panasonic cameras have an EVF built-in. It could also be that they just want to milk us for more money so we buy the external $600 EVF that kills the beauty of the X camera (IN MY OPINION).

Who knows the true story but I was willing to overlook the EVF issue and just enjoy the camera, because it is one hell of a beautiful looking camera.

But is that beauty only skin deep?

The X look is here in full effect! I shot this at night as I was flying high in the sky in Las Vegas. I love the crisp look and vibrant colors. ISO 1,000, and this one was shot wide open as the subject was very far away, allowing the f /1.7 aperture to be used.

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With the excitement of the new faster Summilux lens I was ready to try it out and take some close up portraits just to see how nice the Bokeh would be when shot at f/1.7. Finally, we can get shallow DOF with an X! YES!

With a 23mm lens giving a 35mm equivalent this camera will still not be capable of extreme Bokeh effects because with the wide-angle lens (23mm) it is tough to get a very shallow DOF unless you shoot up close to your subject. No biggie right? I mean, how much shallow DOF do you need? Shooting this lens/camera up close at 1.7 would and should provide plenty of shallow DOF if that is what you are looking for. Better yet, it will open up to allow more light in for when you are in low light. Well, this is what I thought anyway.

First off, The X has the same 16.2 MP APS-C sensor as the X2 and X-Vario. Nothing new. It is basically an X-Vario with a new faster Summilux prime. Period. Basically the same AF performance, same IQ, same color signature, etc. So there is no need for me to re-hash the IQ performance. You can see that in my X2 and X-Vario reviews.

So off I go to start shooting the new X and I immediately see the same beautiful image quality that I was able to squeeze out of the X2 and Vario but one  thing was frustrating me…

This camera will NOT let you shoot at f/1.7 much of the time, unless your subject is far away! Well, FOUR FEET away.

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Frustration was kicking in as I was manually setting the aperture to f/1.7 using the MANUAL dials yet when I went to shoot an image the camera would change the aperture electronically to 2.5 or 2.8, even when the dial said 1.7! I thought it was a glitch, a firmware issue… but nope, I soon found out that this was done purposely by Leica!

What has been said is that this lens is not so good at close focus wide open when it does to image quality..meaning, the IQ suffers when shooting close wide open. So if you try to shoot wide open, for a head and shoulders portrait for example, you will not be able to. You lose that extra shallow DOF ability and what you get is VERY similar to what you would get from an X2. In fact, for 90% of my use the camera always went to f/2.5 or f/2.8. Why would I want to shoot a landscape at f/1.7? Close to mid focus distance will get you f/2.2 to f/2.8. Leica should have said this was a “Variable Aperture” lens as this is what it acts like I am sad to say.

Out of 100 images during my testing the camera shot around 4 or 5 at f/1.7  – the rest were between f/2.2 to f2.8. For me this negates the whole reason for the faster lens!! I mean, I may as well have been shooting with an X2! It is smaller, has no lens quirks and offers the same good looks and can be found for less money.

For me, if a lens is advertised as an f/1.7 lens it should shoot at f/1.7 when you want it to, not when IT wants to. No Leica should override your manual settings, period.

You need to be at around 4 feet from your subject to use f/1.7. Before that it works like a sliding scale from 1.7 at four feet down to 2.8 at its minimum focus distance. It will give you f/2, f/2.2 and f/2.5 depending on how close you are. 

Leica X – set for f/1.7 and camera shot it a 2.2 – self-reflection

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That X Image Quality..so beautiful!

As always with the X series, what struck me was the image quality. I love it. The crispness, the colors, the sharpness across the frame. Same as the X2 and Vario 100%. It is nice, I will give it that. The camera looks fantastic around you or when pulling it out of your bag and  it delivers gorgeous image quality in good light and good IQ in semi low light. It starts to fall apart in real low light and the focus starts to hunt some. Speed wise, it is pretty good considering this is a Leica :) With each release Leica seems to improve the AF ever so slightly.

Take a look at my X2 review HERE and my Vario review HERE to see the similarities in IQ. 

This is the DOF you can expect at f/2.8

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Basically though, this camera is pretty much an X2 in a Vario body and/or a Vario with a 23mm fixed prime lens. I have written extensively about those two cameras and to just write more of the same would be silly. This new X has the Vario body with an X2 and Vario sensor. Leica have done away with the small X1 and X2 size bodies and from now on will produce the X in this larger size, which is more like an M4 when it comes to size.

Truth be told, without a built-in EVF, it is not very inspiring to shoot. I had my A7s, Leica MM and this X with me for a Las Vegas weekend and using the X was odd compared to the other two cameras. I was constantly holding it out looking like an amateur or tourist and for me, this goes against the whole Leica philosophy!

Leica cameras have always had a viewfinder (in the past, the golden years) and these days, even with thousands asking for an X with a Summilux lens and built-in EVF they cripple it without an EVF and even cripple the lens by not allowing us to use it wide open in most scenarios! As I said, a bit odd but Leica has always been a bit odd, a bit quirky and a bit “we do it how we want, deal with it”.

While it retains the beautiful design, build and gorgeous IQ, it is less versatile than something like the Sony RX1. The RX1 is smaller, is full frame, will focus closer and has a magical Zeiss 35 f/2 lens built-in. The Sony also left out the EVF but I have a feeling that if and when an RX2 arrives it just night have an EVF. I sure hope so. The RX1 delivers more in low light with as much shallow DOF as you could want and while it does not have the brilliant color and crispness of the X files, it has its own unique full frame quality and look that is very desirable.

Many have asked me this question and NO, the new X typ 113 is in no way a Sony RX1 killer. Not at all. The X is a camera for those who want a beautiful camera to look at and use during decent light without expecting too much in the way of shallow DOF or high ISO abilities. At ISO 3200 it starts to get noisy and the AF lacks in these low light scenarios as well. This is not a low light camera even with the new lens. When I say low light I mean night-time indoors, or even evening indoors. This will not be a camera for those low light moody shots in a bar, for musicians on a lowly lit stage or even  on the street once the light goes down. Instead, the X excels in decent light where it can show off the amazing color and snap it has to the files that no other camera has.

It’s a strange thing really…

I love the camera for its design and image quality in most situations but I dislike that it has been crippled with the aperture as well as having to buy an expensive add on EVF that kills the looks and design (as well as making it harder to put into a bag). So for me, I will not be purchasing an X but I can understand how some will want to. Many of you may not have interest in shallow DOF or low light high ISO work. For you, this camera is a treat. It is smaller than the Vario due to the smaller lens and it feels really nice in the hand (unlike the vario which was odd with the long lens) and as I have said many times already, the IQ is fantastic with that Leica feel and look.

Click the image below to see them larger and see what I mean about the crisp Look.

The 1st one was shot at 1.7 but the camera gave me f/2.5, ISO 500

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 A reflection shot  – this one was shot at f/9

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Below at f/11. Good light, stopped down..nice looking files. Look at the red color how rich and distinct it looks. 

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So who will want this camera? X or T?

If you have been wanting a German-made Leica that has the beautiful looks of an M with the image quality of the X and you do not mind the aperture issue when shooting closer subjects OR the fact that the high ISO in low light is not as good as other competing cameras then I suspect you could be extremely happy with the X.

FULL SIZE SAMPLES:

Below are two full size samples from the new X. The first one is full light at f/2.8, ISO 100 and the second in actually quite good light, indoors with dull open doors and windows allowing light to flood in, yet the camera needed ISO 1600 at f/2.8. Click them for full size.

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FOCUS:

The AF is decent, and I had no issues with focus, at all. Engaging manual focus is easy, just twist the lens out of AF mode and away you go. There is even a distance scale on the lens for manual focus use that seemed to work well. Also, The LCD will show you the expanded magnified view so you can easily nail it, but for me, this method of focusing is slow. AF works just fine.

Nothing else gives the unique IQ of the X Series of cameras, but the T does since it shares the same sensor. I love the Leica T and the fact that M lenses can be used on it. It provides the X IQ but with a choice of lenses and in a more modern styled unibody. You can read my full T review HERE. The T will set you back more than the X because it is $1900 for the body only, and lenses are NOT cheap. The EVF for the X or the T will set you back $600. Yes, $600 for a wart that sits on top of the camera, IMO, destroying the looks of the X but with the T it seems to fit. The X is classic looking Leica, the T is modern-day Leica.

Again, set to f/1.7 but camera decided to shoot it at f/2.5. B&W High Contrast out of camera JPEG

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ISO 3200. If you click it you can see the camera starts to lose some DR at higher ISO, as well as color changes but still looks very nice and is 100% usable.

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Set for f/1.7 but camera gave me f/2.8 – ISO 1000  – put of camera B&W JPEG

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My final word on the Leica X with 23 f/1.7 Lens

I have been seeing a sort of backlash against Leica from new early owners of the X camera who are a bit upset at the fact that this camera will not let you shoot with the aperture set to f/1.7, as advertised, in many and most situations. If you want to shoot a head and shoulders portrait at 1.7, you can’t. If you want to shoot up close for a Bokeh effect at 1.7, forget it. Many have e-mailed ME complaining about it as if I were Leica and as soon as those emails started coming in I knew there would be more to come.

Leica probably could fix the issue with firmware but I am not sure they will as they chose to cripple the lens for a reason, supposedly that reason is due to the fact that the lens close focus wide open performance is below the quality levels they want to see. They do not want images online showing softness when wide open so to fix this they set the camera to automatically change the aperture if shooting up close wide open. Yet they advertise it as the new X with a Summilux f/1.7 lens even though you need to be around four feet from your subject or more to use the lens at f/1.7. Leica does not advertise this in their marketing blurbs, they just advertise it as an f/1.7 lens:

“The extremely fast initial aperture of its Leica-Summilux 35 mm f/1.7 ASPH. lens creates an exceptionally beautiful bokeh, as a result, the exploration of the creative possibilities of selective focus is fascinating and particularly rewarding with the Leica X. The lens is almost completely insensitive to flare and ghosting affects. And all this is possible without an extra lens hood. It delivers bright, clear, and incredibly sharp photos – from infinity to a close-focus distance of only 0.2 metres. As well the CMOS sensor of the Leica X fulfills what its APS-C format promises: outstanding photos with exceptional colour fidelity and the finest rendition of details – even in unfavorable light.”

Odd.

With that said, if you are up close, just like with the X2, you can shoot at f/2.8 and still get a shallow DOF, but you have to be CLOSE. The bag was my subject.

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For some this will not be a deal breaker, for others it will. Add to this the fact that they once again ignored the option of an integrated EVF and we have more who will not buy this camera. Then we have the same old sensor from the X2 and Vario, with no real enhancements to low light performance. Some are saying this is an old sensor in a snazzy new body.

The fact is that the new X CAN AND DOES deliver in image quality, giving that unique X look that other cameras do not give you. Even at f/2.8 you can still get some shallow DOF when shooting up close (as shown above) but still not as much as we expected to get at f/1.7. It is a gorgeous camera made to Leica standards and is like owning an X Vario body with a faster fixed prime lens. If the X-Vario was something you lusted after but with a smaller and faster prime, here you go. Just be aware that in many situations you will not be able to shoot wide open. Also keep in mind that this is still not a night-time or very low light camera. It is still at its best with good light.

The Leica X comes in at $2295, not as much as I thought considering the X2 came in at $1995 with the slower lens and smaller more compact body. At this price point there are many options out there from Sony, Fuji, and others. For example, the new X100T looks fantastic and comes in at $1295. It also has an APS-C sensor, and an f/2 35mm equivalent lens with a classic RF styled body including an integrated and super nice hybrid EVF/VF. It is a proven design that many adore. The Leica X has easy to navigate menus and is simple to set up and operate. That is one thing Leica excels at..simplicity…but are they trying to be too many things at one time?

I feel Leica should stop trying to be so many things for so many people. I believe they should offer just the M and T series but make another T with a built in EVF. Then we have an APS-C modern Leica and the classic full frame M series (both the MM and M versions). Both interchangeable lens cameras, and systems they could focus on 100%. I personally feel they should just drop the rest along with the Panasonic clones. Of course this will not happen but it seems that Leica may be losing sight of who they once were and what they need to offer to those who love Leica and what they stand for. With a C, X, M, T, D-Lux and V-Lux it just seems to be to much IMO.

Do you want the new X? The questions to ask yourself is: “Do I want a real German made Leica”? “Would I mind the negatives of this camera”?

$2295 is not cheap. It is a lot of money. For me, I was  bit let down due to the fact that when shooting I had to hold out the camera like a  tourist and in most cases, unless focusing close, the images lacked pop (for example, street shots). No internal EVF takes the excitement of the X down for me, as does the lens issue but at the end of the day I will always love that X IQ. It’s a tough call but one thing that can not be discounted is the IQ. It is superb. It is pure Leica X, and for that, for many, will be enough.

Steve

Below is my 1st look video on the Leica X before I discovered the Aperture issue:

WHERE TO BUY?

You can buy the Leica X from the 100% trusted and recommended dealers below:

Ken Hansen – email him at [email protected] (tell him I sent you!)

PopFlash.com

The Pro Shop

Amazon

B&H Photo

Leica Store Miami

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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.

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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.

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Oct 032014
 

Testing the Zeiss Loxia, ZM 35 1.4 and Otus lenses on the A7r

(some quick shots from Photokina)

by Dirk De Paepe

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Recapitulation of a Problem

Perhaps you look upon the Sony A7x series as the first full frame alternative to the Leica M: a compact, high quality full frame camera, that’s about perfect for manual shooting – although not without issues, but then, I’ve yet to see the first perfect camera. :-)

Today the A7s gets a lot of applause, not only for its high ISO capability, but also because it “fixed” some of the issues of the A7r: the shutter sound is one, but IMO the questionable compatibility with quite some M-mount wide-angle lenses is an even more important item.

For many photographers, the possibility of using the compact M-mount lenses on the A7x, via adapter, is one of the attractive features of those cameras. But particularly the corner problems that primarily the A7r poses, when used with (quite some) wide-angle M-mount lenses, are mentioned frequently as a set back, reducing the A7r owner’s choice regarding compact wide-angle glass. Not all M-mount wide angles pose this problem though: some of the Voigtländers work flawlessly. But most Leica M en Zeiss ZM wide angles render this purple/magenta color shift and smearing in the corners, which we really don’t want.

I own the Zeiss Biogon 28 ZM and have experienced it too. Although with certain apertures it’s possible to avoid almost all of the smearing and the color shift can most of the time easily be neutralized in Photoshop, still it limits the possibilities and ease of work. So I mainly use the Voigtländer Nokton 35/1.4 (very compact M-mount) and some wider Canon FDs as WAs for now. For now, indeed, because I was pretty confident that a “solution” would be in the make. As a matter of fact, I hoped for some time that Sony would somehow fix this problem. But is it really Sony’s problem to fix? Well, recently I changed my mind about it…

The solution has a name: Loxia.

When Zeiss announced its new Loxia series for Sony’s FE mount and when I saw that those were based on the compact ZM series, I immediately wondered: what about the corners when shooting a Biogon wide-angle on the A7r? The so far published images (that I’ve seen) didn’t mention which A7-type was used (there was no Exif data available), or they were taken with the A7s, on which the WA M-mount glass poses no problems. So I was stuck with the question: how will the new Loxia Biogon 2/35 perform on my A7r?

The Loxia Biogon 2/35 on the A7r

Living at less than 2 hours from Cologne, I decided to make the trip to Photokina, to get the answer. I was there on Saturday, when the fairground was pretty crowded, with lots of people thronging at the Zeiss technicians counter, wanting to get answers to their questions and trying all kinds of Zeiss lenses on all kinds of cameras.

So I had to take my shots pretty fast and I had to take them all from the same spot: my position at the technicians counter. Sorry for that. But my goal was not to shoot nice pictures, my goal was to get answers. Does the Biogon perform well on the A7r?

Short answer: YES it does! Absolutely!

I first checked if there was any color shift at the corners, putting the aperture wide open – the most sensible setting. With a booth made from white/greyish panels, it was easy to check. It’s very clear: the Biogon produces no color shift what so ever! It was immediately absolutely clear, from the first shot, but I can add to that: in none of my shots, at whatever aperture, there was even the faintest glimpse of color shift to be noticed.

Pic 1. Loxia 3/35, f/2, &/500s, ISO200. No color shift whatsoever. I focused in the left upper corner, to check the corner detail at f/2. IMO a bit ridiculous to absolutely want perfect corners when shooting wide open, but since some people come up with this issue, I wanted to check it. Next picture gives a 100% view of that corner

01. Loxia2-35 f2 corner focus

And what about the smearing? Well, again when shooting wide open the image remained pretty clear and detailed in the corners, with only some loss of detail in the farthest reaches and (IMO) no smearing. Considering how deep in the corners I’m talking about, I’d say only a slight loss of detail in the corners. But let’s be honest, when you really want every spot of your picture to be clear, you don’t shoot wide open, do you… In general I was absolutely astonished with the level of detail this Biogon renders at f/2. Without ever getting razor-sharp, the amount of detail is pretty amazing, even when looking at 100% and shooting with a 36MP sensor. And also the vignetting is at a very low-level, IMO negligible.

Pic 2. 100% crop. In the farthest reaches of the corners, there is some loss of detail. Not too much, I’d say, because I can even read numbers there. I certainly wouldn’t talk of smearing. There is some difference in detail to be noticed, due to some items being positioned slightly out of focus, like in the text on the left box. Don’t be mistaken there. Anyway, I find the detail that this Biogon renders wide open to be really astonishing. 

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Pic 3. Loxia 2/35, f/2, 1/60s, ISO250. Also the vignetting is negligible, even wide open. Focusing in the center.

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Pic 4. 100% crop (click to see full size).. Without being razor-sharp, all the detail is there. No added sharpness.

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Pic 5. Loxia 2/35, f/2, 1/60s, ISO250. No 2/35mm renders a spectacular bokeh. Still this one is pretty smooth and for sure renders a nice 3D separation.

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Pic 6. Loxia 2/35, f/4, 1/60s, ISO400. DOF is a bit larger, still with beautiful bokeh, also in front.

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Pic 7. 100% crop (click to see full size).. Even at f/4 focusing needs to be done with care on the A7r. I missed the focus on the watch here and placed it on the guy’s shirt, revealing all the shirt’s detail…

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At the more narrow apertures, those that are used when pursuing a wide dof, the detail is excellent all over. Is it absolutely perfect? Well, no. This is no Otus, but a three times less expensive Loxia. Still, IMO, the IQ is excellent, with clear detail all over, although still slightly soft when looking at 100%, but not at all to the extend that one can call this a weakness.

Pic 8. Loxia 2/35, f/11, 1/40s, ISO400. Only cropped horizontally.

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Pic 9. Loxia 2/35, f/14, 1/10s, ISO400. Only cropped horizontally.

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Pic 10. 100% crop (click to see full size)..

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This is absolutely not a lens test, so I won’t go into all lens characteristics. I couldn’t take enough different pictures, nor perform tests to do that. I’m sure there will be enough articles in the near future from professional photography journalist that will come up with all the details.

Still, what I also noticed is some fringing (diminishing with narrower apertures of course), which I always could correct with great ease in Photoshop. I didn’t check the distortion, but personally I don’t mind that too much, since this is also easily correctable. BTW, I understand that Zeiss also gave extra care in that department, so again, I have no worries here. Overall, I liked very much what I saw, also regarding the OOC color balance, dynamic range etc. – so I’m very confident that I won’t be disappointed in this Biogon and that it’ll render a typical Zeiss IQ – I expect it to be even slightly better than my ZMs.

Improved optics

When I told the technician that I was pleasantly surprised, after being worried when I noticed the great similarity between the Loxia and ZM Biogons, and that I wondered how Zeiss has solved the corner problems without considerably lengthening the distance between back lens and sensor, he told me that the two Loxia lenses are admittedly built after classic Zeiss concepts, but that the whole calculation has been redone, resulting in differences in the thickness of the glasses and the space between them, whereby the light approaches the sensor in different angles, thus avoiding the known problems of the older ZM lenses (lenses that were conceived for film cameras and Leica digital cameras, not for mirrorless sensors). Even the Planar, that in ZM version doesn’t pose any problem at all on the A7r (and is BTW my personal favorite lens) has been reworked and optimized with enhanced performance. Regarding the Biogon, even after a few shots, I can without a doubt state, that they did a great job. I leave it to the professional reviewers to determine exactly how great. But I’m impressed. And excited. There simply is not a shred of color shift in the corners and wide open there’s only a slight decrease of detail in the farthest corners, which I wouldn’t call smearing at (far from what we know from the ZM Biogons, when used on the A7r). What I also noticed was that this lens renders about the same detail wide open as it does stopped down (with the exception of the farthest corners, as I said), which was a véry pleasant surprise. There is some vignetting wide open (but really not much) and some fringing as well (always very easily removable in Photoshop). What did you expect. This is no Otus, it’s not perfect. It’s three to four times cheaper than Otus and still is an excellent lens. I’m sure future tests will confirm this.

General Loxia advantages for Sony’s A7x

So the Biogon is absolutely “good to go” on the A7r IMO, or in other words, it’s a great option to buy, if you’re into manual prime glass. You won’t be surprised that I placed my order for both Loxias. Also the Planar, which maybe will surprise you, since I own the ZM Planar that really is without issues on the A7r. But Loxia offers a lot more than ZM. First there is the better optical performance (reworked for E-mount), then there is the shorter minimal focal distance (30cm for the Biogon and 45cm for the Planar versus 70cm for both ZMs), further there is the transmission of full Exif info, which I applaud because after a series of shots with different lenses I tend to forget what lens I used for which shot, let alone what aperture. Often I can “see the lens in the shot”, but really not always with absolute certainty. And I find it very interesting to know the exact aperture afterwards. And finally, the last big advantage of Loxia over ZM is the activation (which is to be programmed on your A7x) of the automatic enlargement in the VF, by the slightest movement of the focus ring, which completes all means for performing “modern manual focusing” on the A7x. IMHO, all the focusing functionalities of the A7x/Loxia strongly outperform any optical viewfinder. OK, a range finder is something special, but personally, I don’t wanna do without the modern EVF functionality anymore. No way. They abundantly outweigh the range finder’s advantages (all IMO of course).

Pic 11. Left half: Loxia Planar 2/50, f/16, 1/40s, ISO1600. Right half: ZM Planar 2/50, f/16, 1/40s, ISO1600. Both picture were shot at minimal focal distance – Loxia at 45cm, ZM at 70cm and they were only horizontally cropped. Impressive difference. A big advantage of the Loxia. (The ZM picture was shot back home.)

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Personally, I’m really thrilled about Zeiss developing the Loxia line. There has been lots of reactions on it, with many complaining about the first two lenses being 50 and 35mm again. Why not chosing other focal lenghts that people miss right now? The answer is really simple. Loxia is for a totally different type of photographer, namely the typical manual shooter, like I am. As much as I admire the image quality of the AF Zeiss lenses, I’ll never buy them because I don’t feel good when the camera decides for me. The only “automation” that I use is aperture priority and still, I’ll determine the exposure with the compensation dial or by holding the release button halfway while reframing.

The core of any optical system is, no doubt, the lens. I think we can say that Zeiss plays in the same league as Leica. Both have passionate proponents. I guess it’s probably the kind of photography one practices, that make one belong to either camp. Personally, I’d mix both brands, if the Leica prices were at Zeiss level. But they aren’t. So I don’t buy Leica… a personal matter.
The core of the body is, without any doubt, the sensor. Sony, a leader amongst sensor manufacturers has an excellent position in this department. The rest of the body is functionality, in other words advanced electronic applications, and build quality. It needs no saying that Sony is an electronics giant and in many branches, and in general the Sony quality is legendary. I’m not saying there are never issues with Sony products, everybody makes “mistakes”, but this a giant and I believe that this giant is determined to succeed in photography. So the Sony/Zeiss combination has for sure a lot of things in its favor. Now, with Loxia, the glass is perfectly maching the body, adapter free, with transmitted Exif data, automated magnification in the EVF and a design and feel that perfectly matches the body.

I told you that I already placed my order, even for the Planar, while I’m owning an Otus 55 ànd ZM Planar 2/50. But the Planar is my all time favorite lens. Its compact size, ease of use and always reliable IQ grants it this status. This is the lens that I always carry on my camera, making it possible to carry a high-res/high-IQ camera with me whenever I want, wherever I go to, without ever being bothered by it. Now, with the Loxia Planar, my carry-all-time lens will match my body for 100% and add some functionality that I welcome very much.

Loxia is made for sensors of mirrorless cameras, Zeiss ZM (and Leica M) is made for film. In its digital M bodies, Leica corrects its lenses with software. The Zeiss Loxia doesn’t need to be corrected, because it’s optically designed for sensor. BTW, I wonder if Zeiss doesn’t think of making Loxias in M-mount, or at least come up with a new generation ZMs, that would have the Loxia optics. Makes sense IMO.

The Otus 85 on the A7r

With so many Otus lenses on their Photokina booth, ready to try out, of course I asked for the new 1.4/85. You probably already knew from a former article that I own the Otus 55 and believe that Otus is a great combination with the A7r. This top-level Zeiss line is developed for the latest (and future) generations of hi-res sensors, and Sony plays a leading role in this, with the A7r still leading the pack. So I pulled out my Novoflex adapter and mounted the Otus 85 on the body. The bystanders payed extra attention, when I then pulled a vertical grip out of my bag and mounted it with some swift moves on the A7r body.
My goal was in no way to test the lens on itself. Knowing the 55 and reading from all thrustful sources that the 85 is even a todd better (is it really possible?), I have not the slightest doubt that this lens will perform to its expectations. What I was curious about was how it felt in the hand, when mounted on the A7r, and I also wanted to get the “focus experience” at f/1.4, because already with the 55, focusing at 1.4 needs to be done with great care.
I immediately felt that the 85 is an even heavier and thicker beast than the 55. It’s a muscle trainer for sure. I don’t know how long I would be able to shoot continuously with it, I can only say that I felt it considerably more than when holding the 55. But I can’t tell if it’s only because the physical geometry is different and that it’s gonna be a matter of getting used to it, or if it really would tire me out faster. But what I can tell you for sure is, that, with the same way of holding it as I described in my Otus 55 article, this lens/body combination lies incredibly stable and well-balanced in the hand. I already said that the shots were to be made fast at the Zeiss technicians booth, so I took a fast picture of the gentle technician that was helping me. He was standing pretty close, at the other side of the counter. I focused on his eyelashes and took the shot at 1/25sec, which is in fact insanely slow for an OOH shot with a 85mm lens. But the total absence of motion blur proves the perfect balance of this lens/body combination, again indicating that the A7r is a body worth considering for use with the Otus 85, as it is with the Otus 55. That’s exactly what I wanted to know with my trial shots.

Pic 12. Otus 1.4/85, f/1.4, 1/25s, ISO100. Shooting at this shutter speed with an 85mm lens is only possible when the lens/body combination is in perfect balanse, which IMO is the case with the A7r + vertical grip. At the crowded Zeiss booth, this shot of a (very busy) Zeiss technician needed to be taken in seconds.

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Pic 13. 100% crop (click to see full size). What stroke me is the extremely shallow dof. I don’t know how this can be possible (maybe somebody can explain), but I have the impression that the Otus 85 produces an even more shallow dof than the Canon FD85 at f/1.2, that I also own. And if not, it must be véry close. But for sure, I’d swear it’s the Otus that wins this trophy. While the eyelashes are in focus, the eyeball is already out of focus. The eyebrow is only partly in focus. At this distance, I normally wouldn’t take this shot at f/1.4, because I’d surely want a somewhat larger dof. Still it’s nice to have the potential at hand and for greater distances it will surely do a great job.

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Focusing at f/1.4, for use at full size images with a 36MP sensor (or more in the near future), must be done with the greatest care. This was no surprise to me, with my experience with the Otus 55, it was just a confirmation. It’s odd that I have the impression that focusing the Otus 85 at f/1.4 requires even more precision than with my Canon FD85 at F/1.2. I even think to notice an even shallower dof with the Otus. It’s just an impression, a feeling. But a strong one. Maybe it’s because of the incredible detail Otus renders, combined with 36 megapixels. Again, I didn’t perform test procedures with this in mind, it’s just a feeling. BTW, I love the FD85/1.4.
Last thing about the Otus 85: I absolutely love the super creamy bokeh!

Pic 14. Otus 1.4/85, f/1.4, 1/20s, ISO100. Only horizontally cropped. Is this a creamy bokeh or what?…

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The ZM Distagon 1.4/35

By then, after shooting the Otus 85, the guys behind me were increasingly insisting to get a place at the counter. But still I managed to get the new ZM Distagon 1.4/35 for a few super fast shots. I simply wondered whether Zeiss, knowing of the problems that some of the ZMs have with modern hi-res sensors, would take this into account when developing new wide-angle ZMs. I quickly took two shots with the new ZM Distagon. In the first I just shot the grey-ish white wall, to check for color shift. The picture is absolutely dull, of course, but it was conclusive: no color shift.

In the second (and last) super fast taken shot, I focused on a guy in the upper left corner, to check for smearing. No smearing (although the picture isn’t perfect, with a tiny bit of motion blur, but no smearing). What I did notice in those shots was that, wide open, the vignetting and fringing was more prominent than with the Loxia Biogon. But then, this is a f/1.4 vs. the f/2 Loxia. So this is normal. And nothing that I couldn’t correct in Photoshop.

So I guess that future Zeiss ZM lenses will work perfectly on film bodies, Leica M bodies ànd fullframe mirrorless bodies – from Sony and other brands to follow.
And I’m very much looking forward for future new products in their new lines, Otus and surely Loxia. I’ve been having a soft spot for Zeiss for about 50 years now. I think this spot is only going to further grow in the years to come… :-)

Pic 15. ZM 1.4/35, f/1.4, 1/25, ISO100. A clearly more explicit bokeh than with the Loxia 2/35, but also more fringing (as well as vignetting, which this pic doesn’t show clearly) – though nothing that can’t be corrected, I guess.

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Pic 16. Defringed crop. I thought, since the shot was not really OK, it wouldn’t be fair to show the fringing. So I corrected it in Photoshop for this crop.

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Epilogue

IMO, the Loxia line, once it’s to be completed as yet, will definitely turn the A7x series into today’s superior compact system for manual shooting, offering a more modern concept than Leica. I can truly say that I don’t dream of Leica anymore. This Sony/Zeiss FE-system really is more desirable to me than the Leica M-system – outperforming it (again IMO) and… reasonably priced! My personal dream of today: owning both the A7r (for resolution) and A7s (for ISO) with a complete set of Loxias. But what I expect (of course I can’t be absolutely sure about it) is a future Sony sensor that will combine resolution and high ISO. I’m sure it will happen, maybe in some years time, but probably earlier than I expect. And it will be mounted in an FE-mount Alpha body! Thàt will be my next camera…

Dirk De Paepe

B&H Photo sells the Loxia lenses HERE, the OTUS is HERE and the new Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM is HERE

Oct 022014
 

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The Leica M: A Working Review

by Sam Stroud – His website can be seen HERE

A few weeks ago I picked up Leica’s M typ 240. In my own research, while looking to buy one, I couldn’t find a lot of reviews from the wedding industry on those who were using it. I wanted to post a little bit of my thoughts about it now that I have had a few weddings under my belt with it.

First let me say, what this wont be. I am not going to talk about the technical details much. As odd as this sounds, I don’t quite care about that. I am not a pixel counter. I knew well in advanced that the quality of the image was going to be fantastic. No surprises there. For me shooting with this camera had to be about a few things;

1. It couldn’t inhibit the process of creating
2. It absolutely had to push me beyond the place I was currently in. I didn’t want to spend money on something that would allow me to just keep doing what I am doing. What’s the point in that?

Those two seem kind of vague I know. But it was important to me that I could get the image I set out to create, and that at the same time I wouldn’t be tied to creating the same kind of work I have been.

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The Basics

The M typ 240 is a 24MP Full Frame, Manual focusing camera with a CMOS sensor. It comes in Black and silver. (I chose black) It also has an optical view finder that is easily used to frame and compose your subjects. There are a lot of other really neat technical details that I honestly couldn’t care any less about. Oooh wait… it has a movie mode.

There aren’t a lot of features to brag about. I think it is purely a digital rangefinder. No frills. It wont shoot 100 frames per second and it wont HDR an image for you. Looking through the viewfinder is about one thing and one thing only. Composing, framing and taking the shot. There IS a red dot above the lens mount that reads “Leica”. So there is that.

Using It For Work

Focusing

I don’t think there is any question you could buy this camera and without feeling any pressure to get anything right, could go and shoot some street photography and be really pleased. But for me, in my work, there is a certain level of pressure not to miss anything. With that pressure, for me, comes the absolute need to know my camera. To know how everything works together. And to be honest I struggled with it at first. And that has nothing to do with any kind of limitation of the M. It has everything to do with my current system and setup. I could legitimately close my eyes and in a matter of seconds set my MK3 to be ready to shoot in any situation and get the image I want right away.

That isn’t a bad thing at all. But when you introduce an entirely different system it becomes a problem. So at first I kept it simple. The first wedding I stuck with using it exclusively for the getting ready shots and portraits. Focusing was tough. What can I say? The MK3’s auto focusing system is incredibly fast. I don’t know how it compares to a Nikon and I don’t care. For me, the MK3 AF system works and acquires focus so quickly!

So to move to a completely manual system was again, intimidating. And slow. You want to be precise, and you don’t want to miss. At first, yes I was slow with it. And for me photographing natural expression, including during the bride and groom’s portrait sessions, is paramount. It’s tough to try to be precise without making it, seemingly, awkward. But I knew the more I did it. The faster I would get.
Once you’re used to it there isn’t an issue. Focusing is as easy and as fast as moving the focusing ring clock or counter clock wise. There is a box in the center of the view finder. Find your subject, and align the boxes. That’s it.

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Low Light

Again the MK3 is king. Throw the 50mm 1.2 on and you are ready for any situation. I was really excited to see totally usable images up to 6400. I had read online, some people saying files were only really usable up to 3200. I found that not to be true at all. The beauty of this is that I knew I could totally use the M in darker spaces like during the reception. More specifically during the first dances where really beautiful images can be created.

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Battery Life

I will keep this short… I shot two weddings this past weekend on one charge. The battery is big. The charger is kind of awkward. But it did come with a car charger. So that’s cool. I am not sure I will use it. But regardless, the fact that the battery lasted two weddings is a huge positive.

The Experience

Handling the camera feels amazing. From the moment I picked it up I was impressed. It feels good. I don’t know how to properly describe that. It just feels like a camera should feel. The dials are tight, the size just right, and the sound of the shutter click is quietly sweet. The menus and buttons are minimal to say the least. You can quickly and easily move around once you are familiar with where everything is located. It is a sturdy build and is surprisingly heavy.

Here is where I really care about this camera. Using this camera has been a completely different experience for me. I started out using the Canon 5D, and have been using Canon exclusively. So with that in mind, from the moment I picked up the Leica I was both intimidated and confused. And I am not new to the rangefinder. But first using the M I could tell I was going to have to undo a lot of terrible habits I have picked up over the past 4 years.

The look and feel instantly creates a different atmosphere for creating your work. It also requires from you a level of patience and “slowing down” that I haven’t experienced in quite some time. I think the initial inclination is to fear what you may miss. But when you think about it, if you are comfortable with your gear, and you are required to slow down and pay more attention to whats happening, you will be infinitely more connected to your subject. And if you are connected to your subject you will create better work.

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Conclusion

I have now been asked on so many occasions (so many times that now every time I hear it I want to smash my face with a mallet) one of two things;

1. “Is it worth spending $7500 to shoot with something that is on par with other cheaper systems like the MK3 or D800″

2. “Can you really tell a difference? You can’t really tell a difference.”

Honestly, I cant answer that for you. All I can tell you is that for me it absolutely is worth every single penny. For now at least. And if you are asking for my recommendation, I would tell you unequivocally, yes buy it! And for so many reasons. But mainly because of the experience. There is an experience that exists between me and my subject that is realized when shooting with this camera. And I would of paid double to have it because of that reason alone. Yes, the images are beautiful. Yes the technology behind it is fantastic. And yes there are very very few companies who make a better lens. All of that absolutely matters. But more than anything and above all of that, it is about the simple and beautiful process of creating and nothing else.

Sam Stroud

Oct 022014
 

One year with the Sony A7r

By Pascal Jappy

Website http://dearsusan.net

It’s been just over one year since my A7r was delivered to my door and few of my cameras had been so intensely anticipated as this one. I vividly remember watching Steve’s Memphis images, particularly those made with the ZM35/2, Voigtlander 35/1.2 and crazy OTUS 55 lenses and mopping up the drool from my keyboard.

A long-time lover of the Mamiya 7 camera, I had never really been able to match the usability and image quality of that camera with any of the – too numerous – digital cameras owned since turning my back to film in the early days, not even my technically excellent D800e. But this Sony certainly felt like a potential candidate with its exciting mix of size, resolution, dynamic range and je ne sais quoi in pixel level fluidity.

So has it lived up to the Mega Mamiya ?

Mostly, yes.

For anyone following the “f/8 and be there” motto, being there has certainly never been easier than with this small, yet robust camera. It’s been with me in the freezing Lapland winter, hot Mediterranean summer and torrential rain that afflicted my neck of the wood in between. It has always delivered the goods in spades and, although a friend’s sample died on him in Greenland, mine has been blessed with excellent reliability.

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One year later, with several new cameras on the market, there still isn’t one I’d want to trade it in for. And the reason I’m writing this so long after the release of this camera is that its price has dropped significantly and will continue to do so with the introduction of its successors in the near future. So, to me, it has become the bargain of a lifetime for many to step into a world of affordable ultra-high quality. Yes, its successors may have more pixels, but not enough to discard this pocket monster. After all, the rumoured 46Mpix successor only offers a negligible 13% increase in resolution on each axis …

So why “mostly” ?

Are you familiar with Guns n Roses’ November Rain video? Well, if you’ll excuse the musical metaphor, my (really, really) beautiful A7r bride snores and sometimes makes me feel like I too “need some time on my own” …

But since the beauty far outweighs the beast, let me get the snoring out-of-the-way first and elaborate on the goodness after that.

Wakey, wakey !
So you’re walking down the street in KL, a monkey is looking eagerly at a lady’s ice cream. You switch your A7r on with the intuition that something funny is going to happen. And it does. And the A7r is still asleep. And the monkey eats the ice cream, particularly relishing the best chocolatey bit down the bottom of the cone. But the A7r is still gathering its wits. The monkey backflips its way to the rooftop, the sun sets, you have a delicious indian curry and, suddenly, the A7r has come to life.

OK, possibly a slight exaggeration here, but you get my angry drift. There are few slower cameras on the market anywhere near this price point. And as a street photography tool, it will mess with your Zen like little else can.

Happily there’s a way around this inconvenience. In the 2nd screen of the toolbox camera menu, you can set the Pwr Save Start Time to 10 seconds and leave the camera on. It takes a full press on the shutter button to wake the camera on so there’s little risk you’ll do it by accident. And doing so normally brings the camera back to life in a much more manageable 1.5s (compared to the sluggish 2-4 seconds from OFF). Since battery life is fairly good, that’s one big issue partly taken care of.

Marshmallow autofocus
My only AF lens on this camera is the (fantastic) Zeiss/Sony Sonnar FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA. Aside from the typically poor construction of the Zeiss lens cap, this is an exceptional performer and could easily be my only lens.

Bu however wonderful, it is let down by the unpredictable autofocus on the A7r.
AF isn’t the fastest, but isn’t slow either. It’s also very accurate when it focuses.
It’s main drawback is the occasional inability to focus at all.

Forget taking AF photographs of clouds. You’ll have to find a distant tall building or mountain range to approximate infinity and recompose your shot once focus has locked.

AF really needs subjects with high edge contrast to function properly. And when it does, near-far situations are a constant worry, the camera always making the strange decision of focusing on the background. The example below of my daughter in the car is very typical.

In car blur

That being said, manual focusing is – by a wide margin – the best I have ever experienced on a digital camera. Focus peaking works brilliantly and offers the certainty of 0% miss when combined with the elegant digital zoom system. Given how excellently this camera deals with most third-party lenses, this truly makes up for the occasional inadequacies of the  AF.

Noise
Handling noise seems inversely proportional to electronic noise, in this camera.
A lot has been written about the shutter noise, and there’s very little I can add, other than the camera can even scare you with a very loud noise when powering down.

How bad is it in real-life ? Well, if I’m out walking and making pictures for a few hours, I actually don’t notice and forget all about it. It’s loud, but actually rather pleasant, in a positive, clunky way.

After a long day, it does get tiring to the point that I resist making more pictures unless they really beg to be made. In a way, that’s a good thing, because restraint is always advised after a day’s shooting. But I doubt that Sony intended that way and that noise is really something you could do without when you feel tired. That’s one of the only occasions the camera doesn’t feel like a close friend you want to take along everywhere.

Church in Marken

Churches, theatres and ceremonies when silence are expected are also obvious turn offs. A couple of years ago, I visited 20 churches in Venice to create a collection of photographs. That’s definitely not something I would like to attempt with this camera. Which is a shame considering how brilliantly it would handle the low light and tonal ranges found in these places.

Ergonomics
Mostly excellent. The size is right. Anything smaller would be pain to work with. The camera is light yet feels very robust. There is a – highly subjective but very real –  tactile pleasure to handling it.

And the EVF is so good and informative I would never want to go back to optical. Having fought the D800e to focus manual lenses using its abysmal live view, the EVF on this A7r is an absolute godsend. The artificial horizon is such a help with wide angles too. My percentage of frames requiring no cropping or rotation has increased dramatically thanks to this EVF.

Buttons and dials are firm and positive, although placement seems governed by some inexplicable alien logic or usage scenario.

Automatic white balance
The ease of bulk modification of white balance in editing software such as LightRoom or Capture One kind of makes this a non issue, but AWB is a bit flaky on the A7r. It often seems in a happy mood and makes everything appear a bit more golden than in real-life. That works well in most scenes but adds a slightly sickly mustardy tinge to others. Still, you can set 500 frames to auto-WB in a matter of seconds in any editing software, so no problems here.

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Now the good stuff. There’s no suspense as many others have reported on the superb image quality offered by this little gem. But let me qualify that from my personal point of view.

Sharp, yet organic look at pixel level
36Mpix is a lot. Probably enough for 99% of photographers in the world and certainly enough for me. Obviously, it makes it easy to crop severely to recompose or enlarge a portion of the frame yet retain enough information to obtain quality prints. Which, in turn, means I never need a lens longer than 135mm for any of my shots.

Enchanting forest

But, beyond the pixel count, it’s the actual pixel-level quality that I find lovely. At 100% – at base ISO – the quality is silky smooth with an organic feel to it that I don’t remember with my D800e. Images are fluid and look beautiful viewed at full scale, provided I have been careful to avoid shake. As mentioned above, focusing using peaking in the glorious EVF is easy and very efficient (another major strong point over the D800e). But shake is a very real issue and one of the areas where the greater mass of the D800e helps stabilize. Still, when proper technique is applied, the results are incredibly gorgeous to look at, time after time. When everything comes together, there is a real sense of achievement that is quite similar to browsing through a large format slide with a loupe or examining a great print.

Remarkable tolerance to older glass
Don’t ask me why, but some sensors seem to emphasize the technical blemishes in some of the older lenses we own and love. Edges can seem mushy and lifeless, for instance.

Not so with the A7r. It may be because of that apparent fluidity, or it may be something else, but the A7r just loves older glass and proves very tolerant to designs that would not work so well on other cameras.

Thanks to some kind friends, I’ve used this camera with a great variety of legacy lenses from Olympus, Nikon, Leica (M & R), Zeiss and Mamiya 645. Roughly 20 lenses in total. Not one has been bad ! Most have been superb.

Yes, I steered clear of the known offenders such as some wide-angle Biogons but, from the superb 19mm (Leica Elmarit-R) to the great 135mm (Leica Apo-Telyt-M) it’s been a bed of roses. Some variation in sharpness, some strong flaring, but definitely no deal-breaking nasties.

So, in keeping with the dropping price of the camera itself, it is quite possible to equip yourself with a slew of fantastic lenses that will never disappoint you.

In the cheap and lovely pantheon, I would state many from the Olympus stable (28, 50, 135) as well as most of the Leica-R offerings (50/2, 35-70/4, 90/2.8). The adapter adds a bit of visual heft to these lenses, but they are not overly large, or heavy, in your bag.

Disneyland 35-70

And at the top of the price ladder, lenses such as the Leica Elmarit-R 19/2.8 II and Leica Apo-Telyt-M 135/3.4 are true stunners. Special mention goes to the specialty Leica Summilux-R 80/1.4 with its gorgeous bokeh. But even the cheaper lenses perform brilliantly as Steve’s recent reviews of the Jupiter 8 and Petzval lenses (among others) illustrate.

Huge dynamic range
I’ve long been fascinated by the aesthetics produced by some of the digital medium-format photographers. The silky smooth tonal range is particularly appealing to me.

The Sony comes closer to producing that look than any other digital camera I have owned. And I strongly believe the astounding dynamic range has a lot to do with these great results. There is very rarely any harshness in the highlights, gone are grad filters, and dark shadows always lift with very little noise.

It’s truly amazing and – to me – the single most fantastic feature of this camera (shared with others using its sensor, such as the Nikon D800 range) which opens up so many new possibilities

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I could go on. The camera is a never-ending source of pleasure; interspersed with some frustrating episodes, but mainly a gem. It has been my constant companion for a year. I have smuggled it in deep pockets, work bags and suitcases to document my daily life, travels, family parties and it has been equally at ease on all subjects – provided they didn’t move too fast ;)

More importantly, in spite of a slightly warm tinge that’s easy to correct, I think this camera is neutral and can suit many styles. With most lenses, its huge dynamic range makes it a treat in B&W.

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But colour landscapes are just as glorious and the detail is formidable.

The only real type of shooting location it wasn’t designed for is whenever silence is a necessity. Churches are one example and you’ll soon feel conspicuous. However, that’s a small price to pay for the other opportunities opened-up by the amazing sensor, light weight and the form factor which doesn’t attract attention.

The reason I’m writing this now is that it will inevitable be replaced. Probably sooner than later. The sensor is 3 years-old and Sony probably have new tricks up their sleeves by next year. But whatever comes up to replace will signal a fantastic opportunity to acquire this level of technology at significantly discounted price. If I was shopping for the almost-perfect-yet-affordable camera today, I’d wait for the A7r’s replacement and buy an A7r :) It’s that good.

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Oct 012014
 

joetitlemoon

Supermoon Photoshoot at 1620mm with Nikon V3

By Joe Marquez – see his website at http://www.thesmokingcamera.com

(from Steve: This is one of the coolest posts I have placed here in a long time…love it! Thank you Joe for the beautiful work and showing what the Nikon 1 system is capable of)

A couple of months ago, while out shooting with the mirrorless Nikon V3 and 70-300cx lens (189-810mm equivalent field of view – FOV), I noticed a hiker on a nearby ridge top – and a beautiful, bright moon above. I took a few shots and was quite pleased with the results. The V3 and it’s tiny sensor does surprisingly well in good light. Now I wondered how it would look if I attached a super telephoto lens and photographed the hiker directly in front of the moon. What about a ballerina silhouette? I decided to find out.

As you may know, the Nikon V3’s one-inch sensor results in the equivalent of a 2.7 increase in FOV. In essence when a Nikon FX lens is attached via the Ft-1 adapter, the V3 becomes a 2.7 teleconverter with no loss of light. Thus a 600mm lens becomes 1620mm.

Initially my plan was to photograph a single ballerina in front of the super moon. However, I began considering everything that could go wrong: weather, inability to focus at night, DOF issues, instability, inaccessibility and of course all the unforeseen inevitable mistakes I normally make. So I decided to increase the number of shoots to insure I would get a decent image or two.

Now I had to get my hands on a $10,000 Nikon 600mm f4 lens. So, I went to the only camera store in Hawaii with uber cool rental equipment, told them about my project and they agreed to sponsor my efforts. Here’s a formal thank you to Hawaii Camera (www.hawaiicamera.com) for supporting this little moon project of mine.

Using a number of online programs I determined optimum times and locations to photograph the moon as it crossed the ridge. And because the ridge runs north south I was able to shoot as the moon rose in the east and several hours later as it set in the west. Thus, everyday I had two opportunities at the moon. So over the course of a week I planned fourteen separate photo shoots. Only later I realized, I didn’t factor in time for sleep. Oh well, can’t think of everything.

I then called upon many friends – models, performers, cosplayers, ballerinas and dancers as well as fellow photographers to assist. Altogether 43 people were involved in this moon project. Call times ranged from late afternoon to early morning before sunrise. Most participants had to hike the steep ridge at night with headlamps. We required a spotter or assistant for safety and we communicated via two-way radios or cell phone. One cosplayer’s outfit weighs 133 pounds and required ten trips to get the costume into position. A super thank you to everyone who participated.

While the models and spotters were climbing the ridge, I and an assistant down below had to deal with traffic, trees, wires, poles, houses, basketball players, dogs, golfers and sprinklers.

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In the end everyone had a fun and unique experience and a good number of wonderful photos. In addition, I learned a tremendous amount about shooting the moon. Foremost is the moon moves so quickly when viewed at 1620mm there is often only a moment or two to get the shot. Secondly, the moon has quite a variety of looks due to clouds, time of day or night and so on and I had to constantly and quickly change my exposure settings. Finally, the Nikon V3 did an excellent job on this project and I wouldn’t hesitate using this little camera for other super telephoto projects.

In fact next month at full moon, I plan to again use the Nikon V3 and experiment with lighting, fashion, a bride in her wedding dress, video and a surprise or two. Amazing what is possible when you utilize a camera’s strength to its fullest.

Sep 302014
 

A year with rangefinder camera 

By John Kurniawan

Dear Steve and Brandon,

Glad to see both of you doing great and happy as ever!

Appreciate that you post my report on Tibet a couple of months back and this is my anniversary flash back with a rangefinder. This is a flash back from a DSLR casual photographer to an enthusiast rangefinder photographer. My first 4 weeks full of disappointment from everything auto to almost everything manual (as was using A mode), from forgetting to take off the lens caps, mis-focus to wrong metering. Now I will take out the lens cap most of the time with the power ON, preset ISO, Aperture mode or manual, set focus distance to around 2-3 meter, see something interesting just take up the cam and click for street shot and do focusing for something static.

Here a few of my works during this past one year, am still learning to take better picture with this lovely M9 which now accompany me every where I go with 1 cam 1 lens policy. For a year 95% of the time use 35mm lens (35% with Summicron and rest with Summilux FLE) and lately trying out 21mm Elmarit F2.8 and settle with SEM F3.4 There is room to improve my works, so critic for improvement are welcome

Cheers,

John Kurniawan

Photo series :

 OldMonk

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 Nannie

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 Gondola

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 Delman

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 Silent

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 LovingParent

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 Lovers

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 SealwithaKiss

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 SoSweet

SoSweet_Lux35Fle
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DontShot

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 SunBathing

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 Golfers

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