Jan 282015
 

Dirt Cheap Mirrorless Fun

By Ben Bird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tou Five Star 1

Ultron 4

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

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

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

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

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

And I was disgusted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultron 3

Super Takumar 50 4

Nikkor 50mm 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikkor 50mm 1

Micro Nikkor 3

Tou Five Star 6

Tou Five Star 7

Tou Five Star 6

These are the settings I finally settled on:

ISO Auto 200-6400 range

DR 100

WB auto

NR -2

Fine Jpegs

Astia film simulation

Highlight Tone +1

Shadow Tone +2

Color +2

Sharp -2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tou Five Star 4

Tou Five Star 5

Micro Nikkor 1

Super Takumar 35 5

Super Takumar 35 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultron 2

Ultron 1

Ultron 5

Nikkor 50mm 2

Tou Five Star 2

Tou Five Star 3

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

I was clearly relaxing and enjoying photography more now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://mylifeaccordingtofuji.tumblr.com/

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

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

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

Ben Bird

Jan 202015
 

Film and Digital, Digital and Film

By John Tuckey

Film vs Digital? Do we ever get tired of kicking this question around? Here’s a run of three image pairs from recent shoots where I’ve shot film and digital side by side – again. See what you think.

Pair A
digital shot from the Leica M-P (type 240) with ‘Lux 50. The film shot is off a Hasselblad H2 and HC 100mm 2.2 loaded with Ilford Delta 100

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Viewed side by side, I prefer the film. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should throw away your digital camera. In fact the list of ticks in my digital column is pretty long: I began with digital and, even now, tend to consider the digital files from my M to be my ‘main’ files. Digital capture and convenience is my primary workflow. Shooting digital allows me to easily pull gorgeous, rich, detailed and sharp 20×30 prints from my M’s files. And higher ISO flexibility in modern digital cameras gives a more flexible and easier shooting experience in available light.

Pair B
digital shot from the M-P (type 240) with ‘Lux 50. The film shot is off a Leica MP and Zeiss Sonnar 50 2 loaded with Ilford Delta 400

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Of course, digital is the professional norm now and, commercially speaking, there’s no denying film is dead. Yet many artists and amateurs alike continue to use film and not just to learn technique, but because they love it and it gives their work a USP – why?

Pair C
digital shot from the M-P (type 240) with ‘Lux 50. The film shot is off a Hasselblad H2 and HC 100mm 2.2 loaded with Ilford Delta 3200

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Probably for a lot of the same reasons I love film. When I shoot film, I not only enjoy it’s unique signature but see it as a self education tool that’s valuable even in my digital work. I think learning to shoot film builds confidence and knowledge which applies to every camera of any format. In fact, if I had to settle for one single reason to shoot film, that would be it.

35mm Film is rarely as blisteringly sharp as digital can be, and unlikely to enlarge as well without grain becoming an issue (unless you’re taking the medium format path) but…. that’s irrelevant. I took these shots the ‘hard way’, they made me think and learn as I took them, and perhaps as a result they make me smile more.

Smiles. That’s the biggest tick you can put in any list of positives.

http://john.tuckey.photography

Best regards

John Tuckey

 

Jan 142015
 

titleshort

My short and sweet Fuji X100T review

by Steve Huff

You can buy the X100T at B&H Photo, Amazon, or PopFlash.com 

Here we are, just about mid January 2015 and I have had the Fuji X100T on hand for 3 weeks. During those three-week I have used it for about 15 days and have had my ups and downs with it, mostly ups. At the price of $1299, we are still getting the tried and true Fuji X100 formula. Retro small body, light weight, the same 35 f/2 lens and overall, the same feel and vibe as the previous X100s. This is very much still a tried and true X100.

For me though, the X100T is not a HUGE upgrade over the previous X100s. When it comes to handling, speed, AF accuracy and metering, they seem exactly the same. When it comes to feel of the body, weight of the body and controls, it is really the same.

Nope, the X100 has not changed much since the 1st original best-selling X100 except in regards to speed (the X100s and X100T are much faster and more responsive than the original) and the sensor, which is now an X-Trans sensor. The X100 and X100T share the same sensor, so IQ between the two, for me, was exactly the same.

Click any image in this review to see a larger version

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I was and still am a HUGE fan of the original Fuji X100. For its time, it was quite the show stopper. It sold in mass amounts and was touted by many at the time as a ‘Leica M Killer” (which is in no way was). Many also were confused and called the X100 a rangefinder camera when it was and is nothing like a real rangefinder camera. The X100 V1 was something to behold. Fuji colors, a sensor that rendered in a sweet organic way and class leading high ISO for the time. It is the best-selling X100 to date due to the massive BUZZ surrounding it at the time of release.

1st things 1st…Research:

You can read my original huge X100 review HERE. You can see my X100S review HERE. This T version is really the same in most ways which is why this is a “mini review” so if you want more details on the X100 in general, read those two reviews to get the idea of the X100 series and what it does and who it is for.

Back to the X100T

I loved the X100 V1 but the speed of the AF was very frustrating at times. The main drawback of the X100 was SPEED. From AF, to menu browsing lag, to respond lag. The one thing it had going for it was its hybrid EVF that switched between optical and EVF as well as the delicious color and image quality. For me, that sensor in the X100 V1 was the best of the three, but now that Fuji is  using the X-Trans sensor in the S and T we still have a wonderful small camera that is capable of gorgeous results. I may prefer the old X100 sensor but that does not mean my word is final. Many prefer and adore the X Trans sensors and thousands of others can not be wrong.

*Also, for those who are thinking of an original X100, Fuji have improved on the speed dramatically with firmware updates, so while not as fast as the X100s or T, it is much faster than it was at launch. 

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When I was shooting the new X100T I remember thinking on more than one occasion..”I do not feel or see much difference between this and the previous X100s“. IQ appeared to be the same, speed seemed to be the same (though I was missing more shots as the AF seemed to miss 10-20% of what I was focusing on) and the only thing I found to be different in real world use was the new viewfinder, which many were raving on and on about.

Me, I actually was not a huge fan of the new EVF feature that allowed a sort of “picture in picture” effect when shooting with the optical viewfinder. What it was doing was planting a live EVF view in the same viewfinder frame with the optical, but that live EVF view was so small it made it very odd and cramped. It seemed to block the VF and for me, it was more of a hindrance than anything useful so I used it a few times and then just reverted back to the old way. Then it was just like shooting an X100s. The new feature is helpful for one thing though..which I will discuss in a minute..

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So away I went, shooting the X100T and it was a nice experience. Nothing new, nothing extraordinary, nothing surprising and nothing that screamed “I MUST OWN THIS CAMERA”. For me it essentially was the same old X100s. Same body, speed, IQ and bloodlines. After shooting the A7s and A7II extensively and recently I was sort of spoiled by this massively rich full frame color and image quality. I was spoiled by using my Leica M glass on those bodies and when going to the X100T I was a little let down by the flatter files and more limited dynamic range.

Even so, I really enjoyed the X100T as I have a soft spot in my heart for this Fuji series. I adore the X100 series almost as much as I adore the Leica M series. Not because the X100 is in any way like an M but because the X100 was first to come out with a body that resembled a Leica styled body and it had the same message, which was “take me, use me, be motivated by me”. The manual dials and controls were perfect.

The X100, X100S and X100T are all cameras that will make you WANT to use it. It’s fun, it’s stylish, it’s easy to use and all controls are laid out in a super easy way. I did have MANY issues with that damn X100T exposure comp dial though. It seemed 8 times out of 10 when I went to use the camera the EV dial was turned all the way down to the highest negative setting. The wheel is just too easy to turn and it turns constantly when I do not want it to. I would think that Fuji would have fixed this by now in this third X100 version.

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As the title of this review states, this is just a “short and sweet” review as to me, I feel the X100T is just a refresh of the X100s. It’s the latest version but not so much different from the S. Besides the new EVF/OVF features, there really is not much to mention that I did not already say in my X100s and X100 review.

One thing that is also new is the “Classic Chrome” JPEG color setting. This is a cool setting and is supposed to simulate a classic chrome film, and it does pretty well. I used it from time to time but this only really works when shooting JPEG depending on what software you are using to convert the raw files.

A JEPG using the “Classic Chrome” color setting. A bit subdued but nice…

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-

…compared to VIVID which boosts not only the saturation but the contrast and hue as well

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So what else is new in the X100T? 

Besides the new EVF/OVF feature of having the EVF overlay, the X100T now offers something pretty useful..Manual focus parallax adjustment. This will basically allow you to use the OVF and get the shot you wanted. In prior versions of the X100 the frame would be off from what you saw in the OVF, especially for close up focusing. Now this is a non issue as what you see is what you get. The X100T will shift its window to show you exactly what you are going to capture. This is a  godsend for many. Me, I always just used the EVF portion of the VF anyway, so this is a very nice upgrade for those who prefer to use the OVF.

The LCD screen is now 3 inches with a 1.04 million dot resolution.

The shutter speed max is now 1/32,000 of a second. This is cool.

Other than those updates and the new classic chrome filter, the camera is pretty much the same as the X100s.

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Personally, if I were buying an X100 today, I would spring for THIS ONE while there are a few left. If they were sold out I would go with THIS ONE and save some cash. But if I were one who loved the X100 series and always used the OVF instead of the EVF I would go with the X100T as yes, it is the most refined and polished X100 to date. I expect Fuji to do a major overhaul of this camera in the next 1-2 years with a new body style, new sensor and possibly a new lens.

Well, that is what my Crystal Ball sees :)

On our way to Cleator, AZ, passing through Bumble Bee.

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So do I recommend the X100T?

Did it motivate me and push me to get out and shoot? Well, yes it did. Not as much as a Leica but it’s a camera that makes you happy to own it. It is a camera that will reward you with beautiful colors and images. In the right light it can be unstoppable, in the wrong light it can be a bit flat. High ISO performance is pretty much what we had in the X100s (be sure to read that review HERE if you missed it as it goes over more as does the X100 review). 

I had some issues with the AF missing its target (using center point) and I had the same overexposure issues that plagued the camera since the version 1 X100. Those who shoot the X100 series usually dials in some negative EVF comp to make up for  the slight overexposure of the cameras metering system.

X100T vs Same Price Range. Anything better?

For the cost of $1299 I would look into the fabulous and pro level Olympus E-M1 as it is a better camera in every way but size (its a tad larger/thicker) and comes in at $100 less. Of course that is without a lens but man, so many great M 4/3 lenses out there. The E-M1 for me bests all cameras up to full frame where it can not compete but I have yet to use an APS-C or smaller camera that beats out the E-M1 in 90% of situations.

Don’t hate on me now…I just call it like it is. The E-M1 at $100 less has a much better weather sealed build, is much faster, much more accurate, has 5 Axis IS, better video and is much more responsive. It’s a joy to use and own. Of course a good lens will mean you have to spend at least an extra $350 (45 1.8) but in the long-term it is a camera that will last you many years. I still own one myself. It’s too good to let go. Check out what Neil Buchan-Grant does with his E-M1. 

But be warned, the E-M1 though is like a Mini DSLR and does not stand for what the X100 series does, which is simplicity..one focal length and a camera that is nice and slim and more compact. If this is what you seek, the X100T is fantastic.

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Fuji is one of the “Big 3″ for mirrorless cameras in 2015. They are going no where. We have Sony who is IMO leading the pack with the mirrorless bodies and full frame sensors as well as the tech/build and overall usability. Then we have Olympus who IMO makes amazing bodies with gorgeous IQ and the lenses from Olympus are nothing but the finest you can get in the mirrorless world for size and quality. Then we have Fuji who is pushing along with new bodies every year or so and great fast primes that many of us want. For me, these three companies are as good as it gets in the Mirrorless world. The Fuji X100T is the latest and greatest for Fuji’s X100 line, and if this camera attracts you or pulls at you heartstrings, $1299 is what it will cost you, and its worth it.

I wil not buy an X100T because I already own 5 cameras but to those who want to get into Fuji with the most simplicity, beauty and the most zen like camera of all of the Fuji’s, the X100T is your best bet!

Highly recommended.

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You can buy the X100T at B&H Photo, Amazon, or PopFlash.com 

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Hello to all! For the past 7 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 dedicated 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, in money and time. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

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Jan 122015
 

The Panasonic LX7. A $349 Backup to my Leica M

by John Kurniawan

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Hi Steve and Brandon…Wish you both a Great 2015!

Bought a Panasonic LX7 as a back up to my M system.

I choose LX7 as a camera for my daughter as well a back up cam when I am traveling. Why LX7 ? Just love its size and features which suit my need like macro, zoom and manual mode. The manual mode comes handy when in low light condition so I can mimic the RF experience.

Almost a year with LX7, both my girl and me are happy with it, here are some the photo produce by this funtastic cam. Ones can produce good photo no matter what the camera is, most important is how ones capture lights correctly.

Thank you and hope to see more good post by talented photographer at your site

Best Rgds

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Jan 122015
 

My Fuji X100T Experience

by Vasu Jagannathan

Hi Steve,

Here is my User Report on the Fujifilm X100T digital camera.

My X100T is black. It is beautiful to behold and, as befits a Compact, it is easily carried in the hand. But, as I did not find the grip to be super comfortable while shooting, I will be attaching Fujifilm’s MHG-X100 handgrip in the near future. Since that’s my only real caveat one can guess that I really like this camera!

I took it out just one day after receiving it without making any prior practice shots. As I’m one of those who never had either one of the preceding X100 or X100S cameras in the series, it says a lot for the X100T that I was able to get comfortable with it within the space of a single photo shooting session. Just by way of background, the X100T is a 23 mm (or a 35 mm EFOV) fixed-lens camera with an APS-C sized XTrans II sensor packed inside a compact body.

Picture 1 - Entrance National Gallery of Art 12 Dec 2014-DSCF0002

 

In taking the pictures shown here, I used Aperture Priority, changing the f values as needed. I also used the Auto ISO option with the range 200 to 6400. For Metering I chose the Spot option and Focus was Auto. In order to feel out the camera’s performance, I shot some pictures wide open at f/2.0 (see Pictures 3 to 6), pushed the ISO to 1600 (see Picture 5), and fired off handheld at 1/40s (see Pictures 2, 4 and 5).

 

I also switched in the built-in Neutral Density Filter for Pictures 7 and 11. All pictures were shot in Raw Mode and converted to Jpeg in Adobe LR 5. One small point. When it comes to those Fujifilm cameras that use a XTrans digital sensor, I am really not sure whether Adobe LR is really the best thing to use for demosaicing the XTrans Raw files. I haven’t yet explored using other software such as Iridient which may be more optimal for Xtrans. I believe that aspect should be taken into account when looking at the color rendering in these pictures.

By way of background information, the attached pictures were taken in Washington DC – some inside the National Gallery of Art where the use of Flash is prohibited – and some outside. I am not going to describe every picture word by word as that would be boring. Rather, I would like to point to certain aspects of some of the images that speak to the performance capabilities of the X100T camera.

Pictures 2 through 6 were taken inside the Gallery where the light is subdued mostly for the sake of preserving the paintings. More specifically, Picture 2 was a bit challenging for the X100T because it was shot in a dark tunnel between two wings of the Gallery with myriads of small decorative type of lights that went on and off.

Picture 2 – 1/40ths

 

Picture 2 - Connecting Tunnel National Gallery of Art 12 Dec 2014-DSCF0003

I must have gotten this one in the full-on cycle. The ISO was 1250. Even so, the camera took this in stride at a shutter speed of 1/40s.

Below – Pictures 3, 4 and 5

Picture 3 - Inside The National Gallery of Art 12 Dec 2014-DSCF0006

Picture 4 - Inside The National Gallery of Art 12 Dec 2014-DSCF0007

Picture 5 - Inside The National Gallery of Art 12 Dec 2014-DSCF0009

 

Picture 6 which shows the original Little Dancer sculpture by Degas currently on exhibit here.

Picture 6 - The Little Dancer by Degas in The National Gallery of Art 12 Dec 2014-DSCF0010

The lens was held wide open at f/2.0. Among other things, I think the X100T nicely captured the Dancer’s reflections in the surrounding transparent box. All in all, the light and shadow aspects seemed to be well-handled by X100T in these indoor set of pictures.

Stepping outdoors, Picture 7 was taken in sunlight so bright that I decided to trigger the built-in Neutral Density Filter for this one.

Picture 7, ND filter engaged.

 

Picture 7 - Fountain outside The National Gallery of Art 12 Dec 2014-DSCF0014

Additionally, I shot this one with a shutter speed of 1/2500s just so I could freeze the motion of the fountain’s water jets. In this situation, the X100T set the Auto ISO to 850 and captured a good quality image. In all these pictures, the actual exposure values used in developing the Raw via Adobe LR 5 are of course very subjective, being my personal choices. Someone else may have developed the light and shadow differently but I believe that the intrinsic quality of the image produced by the X100T would still have been just as good.

Pictures 8, 9, and 10

Picture 8 - Pennsylvania Avenue Washington DC 12 Dec 2014-DSCF0015

Picture 9 - The Capitol Washington DC 12 Dec 2014-DSCF0018

Picture 10 - The Supreme Court Washington DC 12 Dec 2014-DSCF0021

 

Picture 11 was a challenge for the X100T due to a great contrast in light (the flaring sunlit cloud) and deep shade (the Library of Congress’ Jefferson building).

Picture 11 – f/16

 

Picture 11 - The Library of Congress Jefferson Building Washington DC 12 Dec 2014-DSCF0022

I switched on the built-in Neutral Density Filter for this one and stopped down the aperture to its smallest f/16 value. I hope the picture is suitably dramatic as well showing a nice performance by X100T. The inspiration for the last picture, Picture 12, was the interesting cloud hovering over Union Station.

Picture 12

 

Picture 12 - Union Station Washington DC 12 Dec 2014-DSCF0024

It’s the kind of situation where a Compact like X100T comes perfectly to hand and the fact that it has a large APS-C sized sensor gives one the confidence that you can pull off a good shot with a decent workable dynamic range in the Raw file. To finish up, I believe that this camera will not substitute for a top notch full frame DSLR or a Leica M Rangefinder in situations where that type of camera is needed. But what the X100T does, it does well. While it is not a pocket camera like the Ricoh GR, still it is easily carried in one hand or in a briefcase or messenger bag.

Its greatest asset, perhaps, is that someday when you are out there and see something so totally photoworthy that it would be a shame to depend on a cell phone camera with all its inherent limitations, then out comes your X100T and, then and there, you will be able to capture a high quality image that is all yours to savor at your leisure. Yes, from that perspective at least, this camera is a keeper.

You can purchase the X100T at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE OR PopFlash.com HERE

The new Thumbs up is now available for the X100T as well, HERE.

Jan 082015
 

Me and my Fuji X100 (original)

by Jonas Luis

Hi, Steve!

I have followed your website for several years, now. I always look forward to new entries especially new reviews and daily inspirations submitted by photographers all over the world.

I started photography 8 years ago and was primarily a Nikon user. Then, came the Fujifilm X100. I just fell in love with the design of that camera. It reminded me of my Dad’s Kodak Retinette. So, I pre-ordered it and read all the online previews and rumors. I kept on waiting, even after production halted in the Fujifilm factory in Sendai, Japan due to the devastating earthquake and tsunami. After almost a year of waiting, I finally received my order. I wanted to use the X100 as my travel camera, not just as my primary travel camera, but my only travel camera. Of course, I had to contend with the built-in lens. I thought having a single lens would be liberating (if you have a DSLR with multiple lenses, you know the mental anguish of choosing which lenses to bring, packing, etc.) I sold all my other Nikon DSLRs but one, and traveled with my little X100. I also put-up a group pool in Flickr called X100rumors for users of the X100 camera and its future variants. Yes, coming from DSLRs, the X100 was frustrating initially: back-focusing issues, useless manual focus, camera freezing up, etc. (all of which were vastly improved and solved by firmware updates). Still, instead of traveling with an entire system, I now travel with “a camera”. In the beginning, the limitation of having a single lens bothered me. Soon after, it became a personal challenge to obtain the best image I can with that single focal length.

Before I took photography as a hobby, I usually buy souvenirs from my travels. Now, traveling with a camera, I am more inspired to bring home photographs of a place – photographs that I could truly call my own. Before traveling to a particular place for the first time, I would Google images of that specific place – trying to see note-worthy attractions, what tourists usually photograph. Then, I would choose which attractions to photograph, and imagine how I would shoot it in a way that probably nobody has ever done before (or at least not shown in Google images, Flickr or 500px). I usually take note of the predicted sunrise, sunset and weather on each day during my travel. As you all know, aside from the Golden Hour, a lot of exquisite images can also be taken in the rain. The following images were taken by my little X100 throughout the years. They were all re-sized for this website in Lightroom.

This first image was taken when I first saw the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I noticed that the other tourists had their cameras with zoom lenses and camera phones aimed only at the bridge. I soon spotted these array of coin-operated binoculars just in a corner, seemingly neglected – seating there while time and technology just whizzed by. They were probably fascinating and a novelty during their time, but now, just a relic. Yes, I was more enchanted by these shiny binoculars than the enormous man-made achievement that everybody flocked here for. I took a photograph of the binoculars, edited the image with Fujifilm’s free SilkyPix software and a free open-source software, Gimp. I ended up calling this piece, “The Old Robot”.

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Image number two: my girlfriend and I traveled to Chicago. I wanted to have a souvenir photograph of the “Cloud Gate” like everyone else who has been there. If you Google it, you would know that this piece of art has been photographed a million times. So, I decided to have our souvenirs by putting my X100 in a Tamrac Zip-shot tripod, attached an infrared filter and with a couple of Cokin neutral-density filters to the lens. I then set the camera on long-exposure. My girlfriend and I took turns photographing each other. The shots were very long exposures, so we would take a comfortable pose while the one photographing would continually wave his or her hand like a conductor in an orchestra – letting the other know that the shutter is still open and for not to move. The image was converted to black and white and edited in Lightroom.

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The third image is a photograph of the Smithsonian garden in Washington, DC using the same tripod and infrared filter. I was carefully composing my shot one afternoon, when a gentleman just sat down on the bench at middle of my frame and unmindfuly read the day’s newspaper. Irritation turned to inspiration when I started seeing the results on my X100’s LCD screen. To me, the resulting image just exuded leisure and relaxation. My office and I ended up gifting a framed print of it to a co-worker who recently retired.

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This photograph of the beach, was taken in Cancun, Mexico. I was initially drawn by the red color of the floaters. Up close, I was amused to see a beer bottle under the lifeguards’ tall chair. Looks like they had a little “refreshment” while at work. To me, the image says, “Chill out! You’re on vacation! You are not in the USA!”. This was edited in Lightroom.

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The fourth image was taken in Richmond, Virginia. While gazing up the monuments and buildings, it reminded me of the architecture in the Eastern Bloc during the cold-war era. So, I edited this image to have a utopian look in Lightroom.

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My foray into street photography is pretty limited. Unlike other photographers, it is hard for me to find something to photograph on the street, that to me, seems worth-while. Maybe, I don’t have an eye for real street photography, or maybe, because of my little experience with a film camera as a child, that I try not to waste a photograph unless I see a potential story in the picture. In my mind, I keep on judging a potential photograph as just a regular snapshot, or a potential story that is worth telling. In this case, my girlfriend and I were crossing the street in Chicago, after a late dinner. I saw this cyclist coming towards us. It was close to midnight, it was cold, it was raining and I thought, “Why is this guy out here on such a miserable night? Is he going home? Going to see his lady, perhaps?” Granted, he could just be a regular commuter but I can’t sometimes help making up crazy stories like these. So, without thinking, I just stopped in the middle of the street and took a photograph while the cyclist and all the cars are rushing towards me. All the while, my girlfriend is shouting at me to cross the street. Until this day, whenever I look at this image, I still wonder where this night cyclist was heading to. This image was edited in Gimp.

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Image seven is a photograph of the outdoor public market in my hometown in the Philippines. During some days of the week, there is a public outdoor market, and vendors are there as early as two in morning, preparing their wares and produce. I took this photograph around sunrise. Now, I don’t know any of these people. I was only walking around taking photographs. I like this particular photograph because when I took it, I was in the middle of the crowd. But as you can see, I was nothing but invisible to everybody. Everyone had their own stance, their own gaze – as if actors on a stage and only I, could notice the play unfolding. Almost like a Renaissance painting. Edited in Lightroom.

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This colorful image of lights was taken at Disney World. I took this hand-held with the X100. I was surprised when I opened this image on my computer because it already looked perfect, straight out of the camera. The X100 has a great low-light capability. I converted it in-camera from RAW to Velvia. I only increased contrast a very tiny bit in Gimp. But you are hard-pressed to tell the difference between the edited from the original.

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This next image of a crashing wave is when my X100 nearly got nearly got killed. I was in Pebble Beach in California. I was trying to take photographs of incoming waves with a small tripod. Because the X100 doesn’t have a zoom lens, you really have to keep the camera a little close to the water, the tripod was set low and and I was almost seating on the rocks. Anyway, while composing my shot, I noticed a rather large wave coming in. I was quickly debating if I should go back and save my camera, or hold my ground and maybe, will have a helluva of a shot. I decided to hold my ground. So, as soon as the wave came crashing in, I took a single frame then immediately, raised my camera with the tripod over my head. My shorts got wet, but that little gamble paid off. Image edited in SilkyPix.

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The last image was taken in Baltimore, Maryland during one summer. There were a bunch of kids playing and running around the fountain. Like in a playground, all these kids were all chasing each other and playing despite being practically strangers to each other, all but these two boys. I saw that they were in their own little world, brothers – probably twins. Somehow, it reminded me of my brother and I, during my own childhood. So, I edited this image in Lightroom in a way that invokes a sense of nostalgia.

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All these images were taken by my beloved Fujifilm X100. It was only more than a year ago, that I upgraded my computer that I was able to embrace Lightroom and Photoshop. For more than five years, I was using a free program called Gimp and also the SilkyPix software that came with my X100. To me, having the X100, limitation became inspiration. Could I have made these shots with a DSLR, given the chance? Most definitely. But I selected a particular tool and made full use of it. Even my choice of editing software is of no importance. Coming home from a travel, I usually personally judge my photographs if they are worth the ink and paper they will be printed on, if not, I usually not bother sharing them. Years ago, I would spend more on gadgets and lenses. Now, I’d rather spend on printing and framing and decorating the house.

Finally, I continually strive for the elusive “6-second photograph”. If a stranger is able to look at a photograph for six seconds or more the first time, then I would consider that as a very successful photograph. Have I tested that silly theory? No. But it’s a lifelong goal that keeps me on clicking.

I hope I can inspire all of you, especially to those who are just starting photography, that regardless of the camera that you have, regardless of the latest editing software, the most important thing is your own vision and the stories you can tell. Only after extensive use of your camera that you will develop your own style and personal inspiration in photography. Even in music, the student plays somebody else’s music in the beginning. Only when they feel comfortable and proficient with their own instrument, when they usually feel inspired making their own tunes. Gadgets, extra lenses and accessories are fun, but most of the time, they just distract you from your own imagination.

Now, with my X100, would I be upgrading? Maybe not anytime, soon. Now unless… Fuji comes up with a X100T in graphite silver? :)
Keep on clicking!

Jonas Luis

JonasLuis.com

Jan 022015
 

Old San Juan! Fuji X Style

By James Conley 

New Year’s greetings!

As we settle into the cold of the North American winter, I thought I’d share some images from sunny and hot Old San Juan.

Puerto Rico is an exceptional place to travel as a photographer. Founded in 1521 by Spanish settlers, and a territory of the United States since 1898, Puerto Rico is a historic jewel in the Caribbean. Although it feels like being in a different country, it’s very convenient for U.S. residents since no passport is required, Puerto Rico uses the dollar, and English is spoken everywhere.

The port city of San Juan provides an ideal background to explore street photography. Continuously in operation as an active port for nearly 500 years, San Juan’s Spanish architecture rivals European cities with its blue cobblestone streets, brightly colored masonry homes, public squares, and massive walls and fortifications. With tropical weather year-round, the people are active and friendly, with a relaxed and open approach to life. Cafes and coffee shops abound, and the ocean is a constant feature of the background. The bright light is filtered through numerous palms, illuminating the town in beautiful light.

As detailed in a prior report I did for your site, I use the Fuji X100s and X-E1 primarily as the poor man’s Monochrom—set to capture achromatic jpegs, as well as use an achromatic EVF. (A few settings does the trick: Shooting Menu 1, select Film Simulation B with a yellow filter. Shooting Menu 2, change Highlight Tone to +1, and Shadow Tone to +1.) Old San Juan is a challenge to the eyes with all the tropical color. But, the contrasty light and the rich textures of stucco and brick lent itself nicely to the Fuji Monochrom. Although I was pleased with the achromatic results, there were a few occasions that cried out for color, and I surrendered to what the town provided.

Most of these images were shot with the X100s. The rest were shot with the X-E1 with either a Fujinon XF 14mm or the Rokinon 8mm.

If the winter cold gets too unbearable, I can’t recommend enough a trip down Puerto Rico way. Even a quick weekend provides a feast for the eyes and thaws the bones.

Here’s my contact info:

website: fjamesconley.com
twitter: @Philatawgrapher

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Dec 272014
 

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The Sony A7II  Real World Camera Review. My Camera of the Year 2014.

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**Direct Links: Buy the A7 II at B&H Photo HERE or Amazon HERE**

You just gotta love Sony. They are back yet again at the end of 2014 and have released a camera that is not only a fantastic update, but this one is my pick for camera of the year 2014! 

Yep, they squeezed in the last couple of weeks of 2014 and captured my #1 fave camera of the year. My #2 for 2014 is the Sony A7s, and those who know me and know this website know that I LOVE the Sony A7s. If you did not see my A7s review, you can see it by clicking here. 

The low light monster A7s really grabbed me in so many ways, from the full frame 12MP sensor that can literally see in the dark to the beautiful color and quality that comes from it. The fact that I can shoot at ISO 40,000 and get usable images from the A7s is pretty amazing. To my eye (and many others) Sony improved the image quality/color and AWB with the A7s and this made the images POP and have a more beautiful color. The Auto Focus could/can see in and focus in the dark, even without an AF assist light. So the A7s has been my #1 camera ever since it was launched. The silent shutter and ability to shoot wide angle Leica M lenses was icing on the cake.

So now today I am here to sit at my desk in a Log Cabin in the woods I rented for the Holidays..for the long haul..to write about my real word experience with the new and quite popular Sony A7II. As you already know, from my opening statement above…I love the A7II enough to have made it my pick for Camera of the Year 2014.

For me, Sony stepped it up in many ways with the A7II compared to the over one year old A7 yet it will not replace my A7s. Instead it will be an addition to it.

Wow. The Leica Noctilux on the Sony A7II at f/0.95. Look at the color..the depth..the magical rendering that adds emotion and soul to the image. This lens on the A7II is MAGICAL and in no way inferior to  using it on a Leica M, in fact, the color is much better here than with the M. Click image for larger version.

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For one, the build of the A7II is all new and more beefy and solid. The camera feels like a  “pro” camera. It’s very nice.

They also changed the ergonomics by adding a new bigger grip and changing the buttons and dials around a bit. The shutter button and custom buttons are placed in a much better way allowing your fingers to naturally fall where the buttons lay. Perfect. After much use with the A7Ii and A7s, I prefer the shutter button placement of the new A7II. Take a look at my 1st look video below which was shot the day the A7II arrived…

My 1st look video when I received the A7II

 
The AF speed has improved by 30% over the A7 Mark I according to Sony (and I agree) and what may be the biggest news of all comes in the form of in body image stabilization. Sony is now using the 5 Axis IS system which moves the sensor itself to compensate for any hand movement or shake. This means that you will now get up to a 4 stop advantage when shooting low light and needing that extra bit of help keeping things steady…

…and yes, the 5 Axis IS works with classic lenses as well as modern day Leica M mount lenses though the system will revert to a 3 Axis IS (similar to what is in the Olympus E-M10). The 5 Axis will not make the A7II equal the A7s but it does indeed help in low light situations.

The Sony/Zeiss 35 f/2.8 at 2.8, a fantastic lens on the A7II. Click for larger. 

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Sony also upped the Ante with the video, bringing in the same video possibilities as the A7s which has been heralded by some video pros as a fantastic camera for making films. I feel the video works very well with the image stabilization though I am not a video wizard and will be evaluating this camera mainly for photos. Even so, the video I shot with the A7II was fantastic. It has a mic input and the on board mics are quite beefy. By that I mean they are not tinny sounding. They sound nice and full as a good mic should.

With all of these improvements in the A7II you would think Sony would have priced it at the A7s level, or around $2500. Nope! The A7II is $1698 for the body only, which is a HUGE HUGE bang for the buck and worth every penny. Every cent. Every bit of it. I remember many years ago buying an original Canon 1Ds. I spent about $10k on the body and a couple of NON L Canon lenses. Today in 2014 this Sony A7II beats that old Canon 1Ds in EVERY single way from speed to image quality to high ISO to usability and versatility. Digital Photography has come a LONG way over the past 10-15 years.

With the Sony A7II comes a camera that will let YOUR abilities shine or your NON abilities to also shine ;) It is a camera for an amateur, enthusiast or pro, as it has enough to handle almost anything besides fast action sports shooting even though the continuous AF has been improved quite a bit. If you want a camera for the long haul, one that does not cost a fortune yet gives you results that appear that it does, one that will grow with you or allow you to flex your own photographic muscle, then I urge you to read on as this A7II may be just what you have been looking for.

The Voigtlander 40 2.8 for Sony E mount using the Voigtlander close focus adapter. This $400 lens is very nice with a classic rendering though does have some slight vignetting. I reviewed it HERE.

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But the A7II is not perfect, and I will get into all of this as the review goes on.

DISCLAIMER: As you have already seen, I will also show image samples from the A7II using all kinds of lenses from the Sony/Zeiss offerings (35 2.8. 55 1.8 and 16-35) as well as some M mount lenses from Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander. Even a few from the teeny Nikkor 5cm 1.4 S mount. With the A7 series, almost ANY lens can be used from any manufacturer with the use of adapters. For this reason, I will be showing the results from all kinds of cool lenses in addition to my favorite three Sony/Zeiss lenses.

THIS, to me, makes the A7 series so much more desirable than any other camera system available today. Sure, you can mount most lenses to an Olympus E-M1 as well but you lose out on the full frame sensor that gives you the full lens character. So a Leica 50 Summilux or Noctilux will retain the same character that it does on a Leica M, in some cases even better. Amazing!

Just think about how special this is. Many of you will be saying “I have no interest in manual focus lenses” because you probably have a DSLR history or are just so used to AF lenses you are nervous to try a nice manual focus lens. I am here to tell you though  – DO NOT FEAR MANUAL FOCUS lenses on the A7 II! Shooting old classic RF lenses is a joy and SO BEAUTIFUL. Lenses can be had from $30 to $13,000 so there are affordable choices that are quite nice.

Manual focus with a Leica Noctilux, at f/0.95. Added a filter using VSCO filters and with the focus peaking and magnification of the A7II, manual focus is a breeze and is actually in a way more rewarding and makes using the camera even more special. 

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With that said, the original Sony 35 2.8, 55 1.8 and new 16-35 perform fantastic as well on the camera. There is something for everyone with this camera and that is the beauty of it.

The A7II at ISO 8000. An out of camera JPEG with Noise Reduction turned OFF. Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8. 

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The Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 at ISO 1600 – click for larger – OOC JPEG – The color, the crispness and the overall rendering is fantastic here! OOC JPEG at night!

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The Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 once again, at night! OOC JPEG

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The Sony/Zeiss 16-35 with the A7II at ISO 3200, zero noise reduction. OOC JPEG

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The Sony/Zeiss 16-35 at ISO 2000 – OOC JPEG

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The 16-35 2.8 zm Zeiss at my Christmas 2014 Getaway ;) Where I wrote this review!

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The 16-35 and A7II at a Comicon fanfest in Phoenix AZ

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First Impressions & Build

Wow, so many photos already and I am just getting started on this review! Phew!

My very 1st impressions of the Sony A7 Mark II was quite surprising. I was expecting an A7 with 5 Axis thrown in but when I took it out of the box I was a bit shocked to feel how much better built it felt, and the A7 already had a good build as it was. This was different. The new body with new grip and button layout feels more beefy and solid. It is slightly larger now due to the 5 Axis inside but it’s still much smaller and thinner than a DSLR.

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When I held the camera in my hand I was impressed with not only the feel and heft but the new finish of the camera which is now a matte and a slightly rougher finish compared to the almost candy coated glossy black of the A7’s that came before. It has the metal build of the A7r and you can feel it. The camera is not thicker but the grip is, and this makes the camera appear larger than the older A7 and A7r as well as the A7s. Adding in the 5 Axis IS made the body slightly bigger so for some of you, this is good. For others you may not like the extra size.

When you hold this camera you instantly know you have something of great quality here, even more than the $1698 that it costs. It feels like a $2500-$3k body and no matter what anyone tells you, it is SMALLER than ANY DSLR and quite a bit smaller than even the Nikon Df. It’s not quite DSLR sized, and the way I love to shoot it is with small rangefinder lenses. BTW, Manual focus is a breeze (as already hinted) with the large EVF (same EVF from the previous A7 series).

You can set up any of the custom buttons to whatever you like. I have the C3 button on the back set up for focus magnification (and yes, you still need to do two button presses to get it magnified) and it makes for a quick and easy way to manually and critically focus any RF lens, such as a Leica Noctilux 50 0.95 which is the most critical lens to focus wide open. Basically, all of the buttons can be assigned to whatever you like meaning your A7II can be customized to your preferences.

Speaking of the Leica Noctilux

When using the Noctilux on the Leica M, you HAVE to make sure your rangefinder is 100% spot on or else it will be a lesson in frustration. Your shots will be slightly out of focus and makes the lens an expensive paperweight. On the A7II, using the Live View EVF with peaking or magnification means you never have to worry about your camera being calibrated. What you see is what you get. As much as I love and adore Leica M bodies, I would be lying if I said I never had Rangefinder calibration issues. When this happens it is NOT fun so using these “best lenses in the world” on the Sony A7II is a joy.

Below are a few examples of this stunning and unique lens on the A7II

All shots using the Leica Noctilux, 0.95, and shows the same gorgeous quality that it does on the Leica M but in some ways, slightly better. 

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and below…ISO 12,800, from RAW, ZERO Noise Reduction. THIS is what makes these Sony cameras special. ISO 12,800 and with a lens like the Noctilux lighting up the scene, it gives the impression that there was light to work with. When shooting this I could not see her with my eyes yet looking through the EVF allowed me to “see in the dark” and the image appears to be lit up when it was not really like this in real life. The A7s or A7II with a Leica Noctilux offers things that are not possible with any other camera system, period. ZERO noise reduction as always.

If anyone is interested in a Noctilux for their A7, A7II, A7s or A7r, I recommend Ken Hansen ([email protected]), the legendary Leica dealer.

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An Artist’s Tool

The buttons on the back are all laid out nicely, in place where you would and could easily access them. I am sitting here writing this and I have a Nikkor 50 1.4 S mount rangefinder lens on the camera. It feels SO SO solid and is nice and compact with this lens on.

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The bonus? This lens has some magic in its rendering and while I once had it for Leica screw mount (which can run you up to $600-$800) this time I was able to buy the S mount for about $100 and pick up an S to E adapter from Cameraquest. Same lens as the screw mount but until now, the S mount lenses were not desirable as they were not usable on any digital cameras. As of today, it is quite easy to find S mount RF glass quite cheap. I have a feeling this may change with so many Sony shooters out there and the new Adapter ;)

There I go again, talking about lenses!

The cheap but super cool Nikkor 5cm 1.4 S mount Rangefinder lens works perfectly with the Sony A7II and S to E adapter (available at CameraQuest here)

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The Sony A7 series is like a true artists tool because you can literally mount ANY lens to it and there are some very cool, very funky and mighty fine lenses out there that can be had for a song. Even my $30 Jupiter 8 does fantastic on the A7II. No DSLR can do this, none. You can not do this on a Fuji body THE RIGHT WAY as the lenses are all compromised seeing that you do not use the full frame of the lens on an APS-C crop sensor. Same goes for Micro 4/3. To date, the ONLY cameras capable of such versatility with lenses is the Sony A7 series. Even the Leica M can not do what the A7II does. The A7 series of cameras are unique for this very reason.

The Jupiter 8, a 50mm f/2 that is light, cheaply made and CHEAP to buy (mine was $30). This lens is even fantastic on the Sony A7II! It’s a Leica screw mount lens so I use a cheap $10 Adapter to turn it to M mount then use my Voigtlander close focus adapter to mount it to the A7II. 

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So my 1st impressions on Day one of the camera were pretty amazing. In fact, two hours after getting the review unit I placed an order for my own A7II. I put my money where my mouth is as I always do when I rave about something. With that out of the way (and already over 2800 words written, geez) let me get started by breaking down what I LOVE about the camera, and then I will talk about what I think should have been different or improved upon.

I will break this down into oddball sections that pop into my head as I write..when I do my reviews I never have a plan or template or even an idea of what I am going to say…it just flows out as I write, so keep that in mind.

The A7II with the super cool Voigtlander 40 2.8 (my review of that lens is here). Crisp, clean, slight vignetting but super sharp for $400. These are OOC JPEGS.

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The A7II Sharpness and Detail

While I love the Sony A7s and have used it ever since its launch, almost daily, the A7II will obviously have more detail due to the 24MP sensor (vs the 12mp sensor of the A7s). The bonus? For the most part, the A7II gives us the color, AWB and more pop of the A7s, which improved from the A7 and A7r. Below take a look at simple OOC JPEGS, yes Out of Camera JPEGs showing how sharp this camera can be without any muss of fuss of RAW processing. Make sure you click on each image to show the 100% crops correctly!

The 1st shot is from the A7II and 55 1.8 lens, at 1.8 This is a JPEG ladies and gentleman, usually this means mushy details but for this one I was very pleasantly surprised to see Sony improved the JPEG rendering of the A7II. Click for larger,

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This next image shows a 100% crop. I used an old 50 year old Leica 50 2.8 Elmar. Click the image to see the full size crop..the detail and the nice looking JPEG file. Again, OOC JPEG!

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Even more details. Rich deep color using the “CLEAR” JPEG preset. 

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…and one more with a crop..the Voigtlander 40 2.8 at 2.8. This lens give a nice color rendering that borders on watercolor and reality. It’s quite beautiful. JPEG!

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…and a full size image  – out of camera JPEG using the Sony 55 1.8 – YES, A JPEG!

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While we get most of the good stuff from the A7s (color, AWB, pop, video specs) we do not get ALL of the good stuff. For example, with the A7II we do not get the silent shutter option as this is sensor specific. We also do not get usable ISO 40,000 images but we do gain the 5 Axis Image Stabilization which helps with low light. We also gain the build and re-design of the A7II.

So basically the A7II should be compared to the A7 Mark I (which I do not own but have shot extensively) and not the A7s as the A7s is a specialty camera for those who do not mind the 12MP resolution. The A7II when compared to the now $1200 A7 is much better due to all of the improvements.

Let’s break down the details of the A7II..

24.3MP Full-Frame Exmor CMOS Sensor

This sensor is fantastic yet it is the same sensor that we had in the original A7. Sony tweaked things a bit though to deliver the better IQ and color over the A7 Mark I.

BIONZ X Image Processor

Sony’s processing that gives us more speed in the A7II.

5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization

First seen in the Olympus bodies such as the E-M5, E-M1 and E-P5, 5 Axis IS is powerful. For video it is superb and for images it allows you to shoot in lower light than before as the 5 Axis IS will move the sensor itself to compensate for your own hand shakes. It works well and I was able to shoot an image at 1/15th of a second with the 55 1.8. Some will say we should be able to do 1/8th of a second with the 55 but without the 5 Axis I was only able to pull off 1/45th. Click below for my 1/15th shot indoors, ISO 1600 with 100% crop. (click on the image).

So any way you slice it, the 5 Axis IS is a nice help and it is worth having it for photo and video. With video it gives some wide angle lenses such as the 16-35 a steady shot kind of feel. No shakes, no jitters, just smooth video.

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Enhanced Fast Hybrid AF and 5 fps Burst

Sony sped up the Auto Focus speed for the A7II and I can tell that it improved. Continuous AF is also improved with much better tracking of your subject.

Full HD XAVC S Video and S-Log2 Gamma

For the video guys, this is good stuff.

3.0″ 1,228.8k-Dot Tilting LCD Monitor

Same LCD as the previous A7 series

XGA 2.36M-Dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder

Same EVF as the previous A7 series

Weather-Resistant Magnesium Alloy Body

The A7II is weather resistant and has weather seals. Body is made of Magnesium Alloy.

Refined Grip & Robust Lens Mount

We gain a beefier lens mount and the larger more refined grip. This is a nice improvement but some will prefer the smaller grip of the old A7 and some will prefer the A7II grip.

Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC

The A7II still has the WiFi and NFC built in.

So all in all, the A7II uses the Same A7 sensor with tweaked image quality in color, AWB and overall JPEG rendering. The Body is redesigned to feel like a pro body with a beefier grip and lens mount. The 5 Axis IS is the big news here and gives the camera an overall polished feel. The A7II feels complete. It feels like a camera and not a computer. This is good.

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Low Light/High ISO of the A7II 

Ever since I acquired the Sony A7s I have become spoiled by the spectacular ability it has in low light. I have shot images at 102,000 ISO and they were PUBLISHED and usable. Insane capabilities. Of course ISO 102,000 will in no way create a clean image but it does better than any other camera I ave ever used when it comes to cranking up the ISO to get a usable image.

The A7s is quite a bit better than the A7, A7II, A7r when it comes to extreme high ISO because of the 12 MP sensor. Having those big fat megapixels on a full frame sensor helps to kick it into overdrive when it comes to low light abilities. But many could not get along with the 12 MP sensor. Some had a problem with it mentally, others just had a problem with it because they did not want to spend $2500 for a 12MP camera. Me, I printed 20X30’s from my A7s and the prints are gorgeous so I do not need 24, 36 or 54 megapixels to be happy. I am not one who stands an inch from a print trying to see how detailed it is…to me, this is not photography but a pixel peeping disorder. These are the things that can take away the true meaning of photography yet many suffer from it.

With the 24 Megapixels of the A7II we get to a happy medium between low and crazy high. I feel 18-24 MP is perfect and higher is usually when I start to have issues with file sizes, blurred images from hand shake, etc. Also, this is the first Sony body for me that meets or exceeds the legendary Sony RX1R. 

So after using the A7s since launch and not having a worry in the world using Auto ISO up to 80k, low light with the A7II made me nervous. I decided that I would cap it off at 12,800 which to me, is about as high as one would want to go with the A7II. But even so, 12,800 is massive!

Below are some shots taken at various high ISO as well as a side by side with the A7s at ISO 12,800 and 25,600.

ALL with ZERO Noise Reduction. ZERO. 

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Many have asked me how much better the Sony A7s is with high ISO. Well, remember that the max ISO of the A7s is 402,000. The max ISO of the A7II is 25,600. I have shot the A7s at 102,000 ISO and had a shot published at that ISO though it was noisy.

The A7s at 12,800 and 25,600 has an edge over the A7II of course but the difference may not be as huge as you think. I found the A7II is also pumping out even more bold color than the more natural color of the A7s. Still a different rendering than the A7 Mark I though. These files were all Out Of Camera RAW files, meaning, nothing was tweaked at all. No noise reduction was applied at all. What you see is what you get.

Click the images below to see the 12,800 and 25,600 shots. This was taken inside a kitchen without lights on in the kitchen, just some window light.

And now a comparison with the Sony A7s at ISO 12,800 and 25,600 (the max of the A7II)

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So while the A7s is still the king of the night, the A7II does mighty fine at higher ISO’s. I found ISO 8000 is a sweet spot for high ISO work, and ISO 12,800 will work well if needed. Not too shabby! Images above were taken with a Voigtlander 35 1.2 Lens.  Another mighty fine manual lens for the A7 series.

The Wide World Of Lenses for the A7II!

NATIVE LENSES: There are many lenses for the full frame A7 system even though the A7 (FE) mount is only 13 months old! Not sure why people claim there are no lenses. Sony has release a slew of them in a short time with many more to come.

16-35 Zeiss – Superb Ultra Wide Zoom, SUPERB!
28-70 Kit Zoom – CHEAP and Decent..did I say CHEAP?
24-70 Zeiss – Excellent Zoom, just as good as any Canon or Nikon!
35 F/2.8 Zeiss – Bests my Leica 28 Elmarit at 1/2 the cost. Yes, really.
55 1.8 – Gets close to the Leica 50 APO at 1/8th the cost. (I have done side by sides on this site. many preferred the Sony lens)
70-200 f/4 – Here is the 70-200 most people wanted! 
There is also a 28-135 Cinema lens for FE mount by Sony.
Zeiss 35 f/2 Loxia for FE
Zeiss 50 f/2 Loxia for FE

Also, the 50 Mitakon Speedmaster f/0.95 – I reviewed it HERE but this is a full frame FE mount lens. Super speed.

New primes on the way this year. Within 3 years there will be more lenses for FE then you know what to do with as third parties are making them for FE as we speak.

Those lenses above cover 16-200mm right now. The A7 series is only 13 months old. In 13 months that is quite a number of lenses released. More than Fuji managed to release or Olympus for that matter. The FE mount is NEW so for this many lenses to be out already is quite amazing really.

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So if you want NATIVE mount lenses, there are plenty here now with more on the way. If you want to be adventurous there are so many lenses you can use and have more fun with and get even more beautiful results with for not any more effort. It is the most versatile system you can buy right now with more lenses available to shoot than any other system.

To date, my favorite native lenses have been the 55 1.8, the 35 2.8 and the newer 16-35 which is a stellar wide angle lens. So for Sony native lenses you have quite a few excellent choices, even a nice 24-70 Zeiss.

Then we have the new Zeiss Loxia lenses, the 35 f/2 and 50 f/2. These are stellar in quality but are manual focus and a little larger in my opinion. They will offer you great Zeiss color and pop but do not expect the size and feel of the Zeiss ZM lenses, which also perform well on the A7II.

Of course there are all kinds of lenses that can be used on the A7 series with the correct adapters. Leica M mount lenses, Voigtlander M mount lenses, screw mount lenses, Nikkor S mount lenses, Canon and Nikon lenses, Contax lenses, etc.

When you sit down and think about it, the A7II has thousands of lenses that can be mounted and used. From vintage to artsy to creative to modern day masterpieces. I love shooting of rangefinder glass on these cameras as it is a sinch to focus and the results are quite different than the native lenses, with more character and pizzaz as well as being quite a bit smaller and better made.

I use Leica M lenses, Voigtlander M lenses, Zeiss ZM M lenses, and even a Nikkor S mount lens. All are fantastic in their own way, even my $30 Jupiter. ;) All are simple to use and make shooting more fun IMO.

Taken with A vintage Nikkor 50 1.4 in S mount. An old rangefinder lens that I am using thanks to the new Adapter available at CameraQuest.com. If you have old S rangefinder lenses, this adapter will let you use them on the Sony A7 series of camera. 

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The Voigtlander 40 2.8 on the A7II

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So whoever buys into the Sony A7 system, you have thousands of lenses at your disposal to use and have fun with. From a cheap Jupiter to a crazy Leica Noctilux  to the Native lenses from Sony, all will deliver a different feel and vibe which makes using this camera very motivating. You never know what jewel you may uncover on you lens hunts.

If going with a Leica M mount lens, wether it is from Leica, Voigtlander, Zeiss or whoever, I highly recommend THIS adapter from Cameraquest.com. I own two and they are hands down the best adapter available, even allowing close focus with any M lens, something even the M can not do. Pricey but you get what you pay for and I always believe it is better to buy ONCE instead of buying, selling and buying again.

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Shooting Wide Angle M Mount Lenses on the A7II

From my experience, anything less than 28mm will bring in some color distortions with the A7, A7r and yes, A7II. The A7s is the best A7 camera for Leica wide angle lenses and the A7II has done OK with even the Zeiss 25 2.8 Zm lens but not so well with the Voigtlander 15 4.5. So if you mainly shoot wide angle Leica lenses, the A7II will not be your best bet. It is indeed the same sensor as the A7 Mark I, so I did not expect any major improvement there.

Below are three shots using the Zeiss ZM 25 2.8 Lens. A tiny and superb wide angle  that is between a 28 and 21. It did not do quite as well on the Leica M9 or M 240, and was a little off on the A7r due to colored fringing and edges. On the A7s and A7II it seems to do pretty good with the best performance on the A7s.

Three shots with the A7II and Zeiss ZM 25 2.8. You can buy this lens at B&H Photo HERE.

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To my eyes the 25 is not perfect with the A7II but it is perfectly acceptable for me. I am not a massive pixel peeper though and go for the memory/emotional aspect of the photo, not the perfection aspect. Still, I am LOVING the A7II colors with almost any lens I attach to it. With that said, the best choice for Leica lenses from 28mm and wider would be the A7s.

The Video of the A7II

I am not a huge video guy and 96% of my use with the A7II and A7s will be for photo purposes but the A7s and A7II have fantastic video quality from what I have seen, better with the A7II due to the in camera 5 Axis IS. Shooting video with the 16-35 Zeiss was awesome as it stabilized the lens in a way that made the video appear almost steadycamish. NO shakes or jitters, just smooth video.

Some have complained about artifacts in the video but in my short and limited use, I saw no such things. Nothing that would bother me in the slightest. Then again, if I were making a full length pro feature film, I would be using something besides a mirrorless camera to shoot it. If you want the low down on the video I suggest searching the video sites such as eoshd.com. 

Even so, my humble little video using the A7II is below. It is a hodge lodge of nonsense just to show how the 5 Axis works, and you can see just how well it works when I attach the Leica 50 Noctilux to the A7II and then the A7S. The A7S video is much more shaky where the A7II video is smooth and silky.

Video test of the 5 Axis IS and A7II along with a side by side with the A7s to show the difference 5 Axis makes for video

My Fave Accessories for the A7 II

With a new camera always comes new accessories, at least for me. I have to figure out what strap I want to use, what bag, what memory cards, what case (if any) and even things like shutter soft releases and items that sort of pimp out my cameras. Below is a list of the things I will be using with my A7II and things I already have on my A7s:

STRAPS: My most used straps these days are the Street Strap Long (available HERE) and when I want to get serious, the MoneyMaker from HoldFastGear.com. BTW, The Street Strap has outlasted my expensive Artisan and Artist silk strap which was messed up within one week.

SOFT RELEASE: Amazing soft release for Any A7 camera? The Artisan Obscura Sticky Back release is beautiful. One has been on my A7s since I got it and it has never fallen off. I love these as they will not come off or come loose. Check them out here. 

TACTILE: I attached these little metal buttons to my A7s and love them. They give the camera a better tactile feel when button hunting and works on the A7 or mostly all digital cameras. You can check them out at rluther.com 

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BAG: My favorite bag EVER. The Wotancraft Ryker. Black or Brown, either one is GORGEOUS. My review is HERE.

WRIST STRAP: The nicest wrist strap I have used lately is from Classic Cases. It’s high quality leather and super comfortable. You can see them or order them HERE.  I have one of these attached to the A7II and a Street Strap on my A7s.

MEMORY CARDS: I use a Transcend 64GB and it has been reliable, fast and it was affordable. It is a 60MBPS card and you can nab one on Amazon for under $34. I bought FIVE. 

BATTERIES: I saved some cash and bought a few of these Vivitar replacements as they are cheaper and work just as well as the Sony branded batteries. THIS is the exact deal I bought..TWO batteries, a charger, a rocket blower , lens brush and cloth..all for $24.95. THIS is a steal! Just to verify, these are the A7 batteries and will work in the A7, A7r, A7s and A7II.

LEICA M ADAPTER: My #1 recommended adapter for Leica M lens use is the Voigtlander Close Focus adapter. To me, it is the best made, and allows for close focus. No lens play, just a solid locking connection. I bought mine from Cameraquest.com. 

NIKON S/CONTX RF ADAPTER: Picked up one of these new Adapters and was impressed with the quality and the fact that I can now use Nikkor S mount RF lenses on the A7 series. These are fantastic well made TINY lenses and can be found at great prices. Get it HERE.

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OFFICIAL SONY BATTERY GRIP (above) – This grip is all new for the A7II as the old one will not work. This is a weather sealed grip built to a pro standard and when it is on the camera, it feels like a PRO camera. It makes the camera much larger of course but also doubles the battery life. If I were to buy this I would only use it on heavy days when I needed lots of battery life. The price seems steep to me at $349 but some of you LOVE your battery grips, so Sony is offering this one for the A7II (and possibly whatever comes next to replace the A7r). You can order the grip HERE.

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JB WOODEN GRIP (above): JB has released a new wooden grip for the A7II. You can order it here for under $70

A7II – ISO 6400, Zeiss 35 2.8, OOC JPEG. It was dark! – ZERO Noise Reduction!

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My Favorite Lenses for the A7II, Native and otherwise

I often get e-mails asking me..”what is the best lens for XXXX” – I get this question day in and day out. Truth be told, there is no “best” lens as what lens you choose depends on what you like to shoot! Me, I have always been a 35 and 50 guy and I love fast primes. Even so, the Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 SHINES on the A7II, more so than it did on any other A7 body. Same goes for the 55 1.8. No idea why the is but others have noticed it as well.

These two lenses are my go to lenses when I want AF, and reliable performance.

The Sony 35 2.8 Can be seen HERE

The Sony 55 1.8 Can be seen HERE

Other lenses I adore with the A7s and A7II are the Voigtlander 35 1.2, the Leica Noctilux 0.95, the Zeiss 50 1.5 Sonnar ZM, the Zeiss 50 f/2 Planar ZM and even the Voigtlander 21 1.8. 

So many lenses are amazing with these bodies, just choose what you enjoy the most and have at it! If you are unsure you can always rent lenses from lensrentals.com.

PopFlash.com also has deals on Leica M glass most of the time.

16-35 Zeiss at f/4

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The Shutter Sound of the A7II

Many people were not happy with the loud shutter of the original A7R. In fact, it is the loudest of all A7 cameras. The A7II takes it down a notch from the A7R and is pretty much the same as the A7. My A7II is a bit more subdued though and sounds a little more muted than my A7s. While it does not have the silent shutter of the A7s, the shutter sound never caused me one issue when shooting street, portraits or anything. Below is my video showing the shutter sound of MY A7s and the A7II I have on hand.

A few more words about the Leica Noctilux with the A7II (or any A7 body)

I am a lucky guy and thanks to Ken Hansen, who has been part of this site since day 1 (Ken is a legendary Leica dealer with over 50 years experience) by helping me to get it going, I was recently able to obtain a Leica Noctilux again after selling off my last one 1 1/2 years ago due to needing funds more than the lens.

It has been a year and half since I shot with the Noctilux on the Leica M 240 (see a post here) and while it is always a magical lens and what I call a “Lifetime Lens”, it is a lens that is not only hard to justify for mere mortals, it is a lens that is so unique it may be the most lusted after rangefinder lens in history. It is a controversial lens due to the cost where half of the people never understand it and the other half 100% do.

The draw and rendering of this lens is nothing short of breathtaking in the right circumstances, something that is not easy to achieve every time you use it but one thing is for sure, when you DO use this lens it will deliver a WOW rendering that most non camera people will rave over. But be careful, overuse will make it boring after a while so use it sparingly. Bring it out once a month or so and it will retain that wow factor.

From the f/0.95 aperture to the legendary Leica build to the shallow and dreamy depth of field as well as the rich color and contrast, this is a lens that can deliver deep emotion. At $11,000 it is a hard one to swallow and is quite ridiculous in pricing IMO. Even so, I love it, I adore it and I hope that I can keep this one (and plan to). Seeing friends like Ashwin Rao who still has his original Noctilux (also from Ken Hansen) and still loving it makes me feel lucky to own one again.

On the A7II you will get 3 Axis IS with manual Leica M lenses, still a wonderful IS system that helps eliminate the shakes. (same as the Olympus E-M10 which uses 3 Axis IS). Just set the A7II menu to 50mm and shoot away!

Also, Anyone who shoots this lens on the M or the A7 series I HIGHLY recommend the Variable ND filter for it (Ken Hansen has loads of them). Best ND I have ever used and allows wide open aperture in full sunlight which gives an altogether different effect. You can contact Ken at [email protected] and ask him about it. Tell him I sent ya!

A few more images from the combo of Noct and A7II are below…

PS – The Leica M and Noct will cost you $19k. The A7II and Noct will set you back $12500 or so. Insane I know, and it is NOT for everyone but just showing that you can save some cash by using it on the A7 bodies. Keep this lens for 7 years or more and you will make money if you ever decide to sell it. It IS one of the rare lenses that can indeed be considered a true investment. For example I bought a brand new F/1 Noctilux long before the 0.95 was released. I paid $3500 from B&H Photo. NEW. Today I see them going for $8000 if new in the box or true mint with box. Amazing. In 10 years the f/0.95 may be up to $18k or more. You never know, but Leica lenses have a history of appreciating over the years.

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The three images below had filters applied using VSCO film filters – B&W is not a problem for the A7II ;) 

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As you can see, the combo of Noctilux and the A7II seriously rocks. These were all wide open at f/0.95. When you stop down to f/1.4 you get the performance of a Leica Summilux ASPH. Stop down to f/2 and you get the performance of a Summicron but with the added benefit of the 50 APO colors, and the contrast of the Noctilux. To me, the Noctilux beats the old F/1 version handily.

The Bokeh of this lens is legendary, the stuff of fantasy and dreams. I have seen some pretty special photos with this lens when in super  talented hands. Get the light right, the mood right and the scene right and masterpieces can be made with this lens.

Things about the A7II that I wish would have been different

The A7II is one hell of a camera, and again, my “Camera of the Year 2014″ but it is not perfect. Yes, the IQ is stunning. Yes, the 5 Axis IS is wonderful. Yes, the color saturation and depth of the 24 MP sensor is fantastic. Yes, the fact that so many lenses can be used and mounted is awesome. Yes, the new design and beefy build is welcomed and yes the video is stellar. Yes, you can shoot at ISO 8000 and up to 12,800 and get usable results.

But if I could make a change or two the 1st would be to the BATTERY. The battery life is not so hot with the A7II and seems worse than it does with my A7s. It uses the same battery as the previous A7 series but with the new 5 Axis IS being used, it seems that the battery life is even shorter. I found I needed a couple of batteries for a full day of shooting, and I am a light shooter. If you get the A7II I suggest buying 2 or 3 extra batteries. I bought 3-4 Vivitar branded batteries for mine off of Amazon and saved a bundle while getting batteries that work just as well as the Sony branded batteries. The link to the Vivitar batteries is HERE and what a deal it is. Just click it and see what you get for under $25..it’s amazing.

So it seems the battery should have been made better. The Nikon Df battery is awesome and I wish Sony would develop something similar.

Also, I wish the A7II had the silent shutter of the A7s. I use it every now and again and while it is not mandatory it does help sometimes when you need ultimate silence.

One last thing…if the Auto Focus was maybe 15% faster it would be hard it fault at all. As it is, the Af may hunt in low light (The A7s does not) but the good news is that the Auto Focus is CRAZY accurate. I have never gotten a false AF hit with the A7II (but did a few times with the A7 and A7r). In low light it is much faster than the old A7 but not up to the A7s for low light AF. Still, its just as good if not better as most mirrorless cameras that are out these days. I have been testing the Fuji X100T and it has been frustrating the hell out of me with its constant AF misses (though the camera says it is locked). The A7II never has this issue.

The A7II and Sony Zeiss 16-35, a SUPERB wide angle for your A7 body.

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The Sony A7II vs the Leica M 240. 

Many have asked me this question lately and it is not an easy one to answer. The M 240 is a special camera with a special build, feel, emotion AND price. Coming in at $7k (deals can be had) and limited in high ISO and close focus and video use, it is mainly for those who want and love to shoot a rangefinder. The RF system makes the Leica M a 100% different camera to shoot than just about ANYTHING out there today.

The M feels fantastic, one of the best feeling cameras made today. The battery life is amazing, and the quality is superb. But, compared to the A7II, I feel the A7II can give better image quality, better color, and even more detail with 85% of Leica M lenses. Plus, the A7II beats the M in low light as well. Video? Sony 100%, no question. At the end of the day the Sony has a better sensor than the custom made one in the M 240.

All in all I find the only thing the M has over the A7II is the user experience and shooting ultra wide Leica branded coded M glass such as the 18, 21, Tri Elmar, etc. . Shooting an RF camera is a wonderful thing..a state of mind..an inspiration and brings passion into my shooting. I get some of this with the A7II but not as much.

At the end of the day, $1600 for an A7II that puts out better IQ and color and has more versatility is a steal compared to the $7000 M. Even so, I love the M. Always will. This is something that is personal preference and only you can decide. Have the cash? Buy both :) Bank account suffering after the holidays? Buy an A7II and know you ill be getting image quality that actually surpasses the Leica M in good light, low light, high ISO, low ISO, with much better video capabilities (if that’s your thing). I am not knocking the M at all, but I always speak the truth and 2 years after the M 240 arrived, we now have a camera from Sony that literally kicks its bootie in most areas, for 1/5th the cost.

Even so, the M will always have a place in my heart as it provides a “connection” to the user. It’s a thing of beauty.

Night time, Sony A7II and Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 – No issues focusing!

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The Sony A7II Vs the Fuji X-T1

Here there really is no contest for me. I like the X-T1. I feel it is as good as it gets for Fuji, but for me, many of you know that I dislike the X-Trans sensor. The IQ from that sensor excels in perfect lighting but in anything other than that, it fails. You lose punch, sparkle, depth, color, and pop. You gain flatness and a dull sheen. I have seen 10’s of thousands of Fuji images and I have seen some that blew me away (perfect light, natural or studio) and most, around 95%, are flat and dull to me. They are “nice” but lack depth and punch and seeing that the Fuji uses an APS-C sensor you will also lose out on other things such as using 3rd party lenses to their full potential.

For me there is no contest here, if I were offered a Sony A7II at $1698 or a Fuji X-T1 at $499 I would splurge for the Sony. The Sony is $500 more than the Fuji ($1698 vs $1198) for the body only but I always say “you get what you pay for” and this is usually 99% true. I’d rather spend the extra $500 and be 100% happy then spend $500 less and wonder “what if”. I have learned that lesson in life many years ago.

With that said, the Fuji X-T1 is fantastic, and I feel Fuji’s best mirrorless to date. It’s fast, looks great, feels great, has great controls and some wonderful lenses. But when directly comparing, for me, I prefer the A7II in every way from build, feel, IQ, abilities, lenses that can be used, and so on.

To those that love their X-T1 that is awesome, as it can indeed put out some beautiful colors and images but for me, full frame will win out due to DR, Punch, Pop, etc. If there were no full frame Sony mirrorless, then the Fuji would be near the top of the heap but with the A7II and A7s, the Fuji drops below them for me.

You can read my X-T1 review HERE.  As you can see, I raved about it as Fuji got it right and it is something that will make any Fuji fan proud.

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The Sony A7II vs the Olympus E-M1

Another AMAZING camera even two years after its release. The E-M1 is the pro grade Micro 4/3 and does just about everything right. The body is awesome, the feel is superb, the controls just work and the speed of this thing is impressive. The lenses available are 2nd to none and it was the 1st camera with 5 Axis inside. It’s a jewel for sure and many poo poo’ed it due to the smaller sensor but this sensor in the E-M1 easily stands toe to toe with any APS-C sensor around except for low light ability. The one main weakness of the E-M1 these days is the high ISO performance which lacks. Shoot in low light at ISO 3200 and you will get noise. Low light is a great test for high ISO and while many reviewers test it in studio light (which is silly) the real test is using it when you would need it..low light. So the E-M1 falls short for low light work when compared to most modern day cameras.

Compared to the A7II you are saving $300 with an E-M1 (not much) but losing the full frame sensor, better high ISO capability and all that comes with this such as DR, less noise at base ISO, etc. To me, these two are much closer than the Fuji X-T1 and A7II as the E-M1 is one of my all time faves. I still own one. Will take a lot for anything to get me  to remove it from my collection. Even so, I can get more use, better IQ and color, and better low light and DR from the A7II for $300 more. I feel the E-M1 may need to see a price reduction to $999 in the very near future. Will be interesting to see what Olympus comes up with in 2015.

The Sony A7II vs the Sony A7r

The A7r has not yet been replaced and Sony may be pairing down the A7 system to the A7 and A7s and creating a “pro” A9 to replace the A7r. Of course this is speculation as I know nothing at all about what is to come but rumors have been pointing to this.

If choosing today I would take the A7II over the A7r, 100%. No contest.

The A7r is clunky, loud, slower, worse in low light, no IS inside, has inferior AWB and color performance, and has too many MP when they are not needed for 99.5% of people. Every aspect of the II beats the R for me, all of it. The body, the performance, the IS, the video, the experience.

The II is more responsive and again, quieter. The R is the loudest of all A7 bodies (no, they are not all the same).

So to those who asked which one I would go for, the answer is clear. The one I did go for over the R, the A7II. It’s a more finished product and more enjoyable in real world use.

A7II vs the A7s

As for which camera I will use more, my A7s or A7II, that is hard to say as I love both. I see myself using the A7s in the low light scenarios or when I need the silent shutter. The A7II puts out such beautiful images in normal light that I may prefer it for my day to day shooting as it has slightly more oomph to the final image (though not a huge difference). Add in the 5 Axis, pro beefy build and feel and it bumps the A7s from daily driver to 2nd fiddle. Both have a place in my bag. The cool thing is the A7II is $1698 vs the $2498 of the A7s. That is quite the price difference so for new buyers I say go A7II. I own both and love both but if buying one it would be the A7II for me.

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Pros and Cons of the Sony A7II

PROS (for me)

  1. Fantastic build, better ergonomics than old A7
  2. Button placement much better than previous A7
  3. 5 Axis IS really works well (for video as well)
  4. Video is stepped up from A7
  5. Weather Sealed
  6. Can mount almost any lens made for 35mm (this is huge)
  7. Improved color, pop, and overall IQ over A7
  8. Faster AF and overall response than A7
  9. Nice detail and sharpness
  10. Improved OOC JPEGS means you could shoot this as a JPEG camera!
  11. PRICE! $1698 is a GREAT buy. No one can say this is overpriced.
  12. Same great EVF/LCD from previous A7 bodies.
  13. Makes a great 2nd camera to a Leica M or A7s
  14. Still smaller than the smallest DSLR’s, MUCH smaller than a D800 style camera
  15. More Sony Native lenses (and primes) on the way in 2015!
  16. Still usable images at ISO 12,800, which is fantastic.
  17. Sony/Zeiss 35 and 55 seem to take on a new life on this camera for some reason.
  18. Worlds 1st full frame with 5 Axis IS!

CONS (for me)

  1. Battery life is disappointing. Needs a better battery. 250-350 shots per charge. Should be 1000.
  2. No silent shutter that is in the A7s – Boo.
  3. In really low light AF slows down. My A7s is faster in low light.
  4. Still no go for ultra wide Leica M mounts such as Voigtlander 15. Color issues with these lenses.
  5. Can have Moire in certain situations as the sensor is VERY detailed and has loads of resolution (but rare)

Sony/Zeiss 16-35 – crisp and clean – This is a stellar wide angle zoom besting my old Canon 16-35 from back in the day, easily. 

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My Final Word on the Sony A7II

Sony is just hitting it out of the park lately (last 2-3 years)  – The RX1, the RX100, the RX1R, the A7 and now the A7s and A7II are all superb cameras that are pushing the tech and the experience up a notch compared to anyone else. It’s pretty amazing what they have done over the last 3 years.

When the original A7 bodies were released I spoke with Sony about their passion for this project. Basically, I was told they are not holding back and will be pushing forward to develop this system, lenses and all, for the long haul. They have many lenses on the way in 2015 (and ten lenses already for the FE full frame A7 system within a years time)  and it appears they are just getting started. I had the feeling that this was their baby..the one they were banking on (instead of DSLR production) and from my experience, it is working.

The Sony A series update cycle seems to be on a 12-15 month thing right now since it has been just over a year since the A7 and we now have the A7II. I am guessing the A7r replacement will be the rumored “Pro A9″ but believe me when I say it will be much more expensive and have a larger MP count. Many may want to hold out for that one even though right now it is all speculation and rumor (and no, I know nothing). Rumors say Feb 2015.

I was a fan of the A7 and A7r but did not buy one for myself after much thought. The things that held me back were slower than expected AF in low light, a teeny bit of clunkiness and in the case of the R, too noisy of a shutter and too high of a MP count for my tastes. When the A7s arrived I was in heaven as it solved these issues and became the most capable camera I have ever owned or shot with. The A7s, for me, was and is a game changer in the world of mirrorless photography and I am fine with nits 12 MP resolution as it does all I will ever need.

With the A7II Sony has done it again, and damn them! When a company releases a camera that is so good it motivates me to go out every day and shoot, then they have done something right. In 2014 it was a slow year IMO for stellar camera releases. Even the Fuji X100T failed to excite me (AF misses, X Trans Sensor, same old same old). The Panasonic LX100 failed to ignite the passion in me (massive lens flare issues, mushy details). It was not until the Sony A7s and now A7II that my passion was kickstarted in 2014. Passion, motivation and endless possibilities are what these cameras brought me. Sony is costing me more money…Ugh.

No one NEEDS a camera upgrade if you have one that works well already. I did not NEED an A7II as I have a few other cameras already. But when I saw what it could do, how it did it and the endless creative possibilities with it, I knew I WANTED it and the last few weeks have been so much fun discovering what this camera can do. To me, the price of the camera already was worth it for the joy it has brought and the many memories I created with it. Could I have done this with the A7s? Probably, but having the extra punch and 5 Axis in the A7II is what sold me. If and when the Pro A9 comes out looks like I will have THREE Sony cameras as long as it is not some crazy 50+ MP sensor.

The most impressive thing to me about the A7 series in general, especially the A7s and A7II is the fact that not only can we use so many cool lenses on these bodies to the lenses full potential, but now they are ALL stabilized with the internal 5 Axis IS. THIS is impressive and many blow it off as it is nothing, but to me and many others it is a HUGE deal. Many like to trash Sony because they just hate the name Sony. Many will never give this camera chance because they are stuck on Leica, Canon, Nikon, etc. That is the wrong way to look at it as the A7II is one hell of a camera. IN fact ,when I tested a Nikon D810 lately I found the Af to be OK (missed some shots), the body much too large and fat, and the weight an issue. The A7II performed just as well for me in every situation and did so while remaining light, small and with that 5 Axis IS. Again, a pretty big deal. The ability to throw on a tiny Leica 50 Summicron or Summilux, something that you can not do on a DSLR is quite amazing as well.

Yes you can do this on a Fuji but the results are MUCH different when dealing with APS-C as you will not use the entire lens so the lens character goes out the window. Overall, the A7II is a fantastic update and well worth the $1698 price tag. Doesn’t get any better for this price, period.

2014 may have been a slow camera year but Sony came in and snuck this one in last minute. For me, nothing else released in 2014 betters it. To me, this is what I would have called the “ULTIMATE DIGITAL CAMERA” just 6 years ago. Today, I still feel it is just that and I can only imagine what Sony has up their sleeves.

I highly recommend the A7II. I had no issues with it besides the sucky battery life. Everything else is beautiful from the buttons, dials and ergonomics (for me), 5 Axis and IQ. 

No matter if you want to shoot the native AF lenses, Leica M mount lenses, funky mount lenses or anything in between the A7II is going to bring you beautiful image quality, fantastic low light ability, super nice video and pretty fast and responsive (but not the best) AF. Bravo yet again to Sony. I can not wait to see what lies ahead for 2015 as I expect the A7r replacement and near the end of 2015 an S replacement.

I will go ahead and say it…I have been reviewing cameras for 7 years. This Sony A7II is the most versatile, fantastic, useful and all around best priced for what you get camera I have ever reviewed. Bam! I also feel that the review image samples here are among the best quality I have put in ANY of my reviews in those 7 years. 

You can buy the Sony A7II at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE. My two #1 recommended Sony dealers. 

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A few more images below, 1st three should be from the Zeiss 16-35 with the 2nd one at ISO 12,800 outside at night…

ZERO NOISE REFUCTION

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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 7 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 dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple, and no, I am not asking you for a penny!

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, in money and time. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

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

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

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

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

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

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

Dec 252014
 

Sony 55 1.8 and the Voigtlander 21mm Ultron for Landscape

By Julien Ducenne

Hi Steve and Brandon,

Thank you very much for publishing my previous article.
http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/05/07/the-sony-a7r-55-1-8-along-with-the-m9-noctilux-f1-by-julien-ducenne/

I would like to share my experience with 2 very special lenses, the Sony FE55mm f1.8 and the CV 21mm ultron f1.8

A couple of months ago I had the chance to visit the isle of Skye in Scotland with my son, wife and of course my camera. For this trip I kept it simple and picked only 2 lenses to go along my Sony A7r.

A great place on the island is ‘The Old Man of Storr’, It’s a beautiful rocky hill that you can see in film like prometheus. After just a couple of hours walk you can take already pictures of some beautiful landscape. My first try with the FE55mm was great for the details and colours but I thought that lens was not wide enough to show the magnificence of the view.

So I chose instead the 21mm ultron and straight away knew that this lens was much better to capture my point of view, where I wanted to get all of it. However put together with the a7r, that lens brings you a ton of details but the downside is the magenta vignetting on the edges (you can watch the issue on left side of the sheep picture), and if you don’t work in B&W you will need some adjustment in light room or Photoshop to work out the issue with the magentas.

We travelled some place else and can take fantastic pictures pretty much anywhere else. A perfect example of that is the last picture of bunch that was taken from the hotel we stayed in. For this one I chose the FE55mm to capture as much as I can the clouds details.

This island is definitely a great destination for landscape photography.

Have a great Christmas and Happy New Year.

Julien Ducenne

My Flicker : http://www.flickr.com/photos/ducenne/

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Dec 242014
 

My Favorite Camera Shops & Dealers. Ever.

There are so many camera shops, store, internet sites and dealers out there ready to take our cash and send us a new fresh box of happiness. If you are like me, receiving a new package from the Fed Ex or UPS man brings  not only a smile, but a rush of energy, happiness and joy.

I love my cameras and over the last 20 years I have learned WHERE To buy from to get the most hassle free and enjoyable experience, as well as the best deals sometimes.

I always get e-mails asking me “where should I buy XXX camera”? Well, here you go. These shops are also site sponsors because I accepted them as sponsors (I turn down many every year). 

Over the years I have recommended the same dealers here. Those that I have worked with and bought from on many occasions. I have shopped from a few other sources but sometimes have had a negative experience so this is why I only recommend those who I trust and those who have really went above and beyond. I only allow advertisers and sponsors whom I trust and support back and know would never rip anyone off.

Look what the USPS man drug in..direct from Ken Hansen. The Leica Monochrom in silver chrome and the new M-P in black. 

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Below is a list of whom I buy from, who I have had great experiences with and all of those that I trust and put my name behind when it comes to camera dealers and shops!

1. Ken Hansen – This guy is everything LEICA. He has been a Leica dealer forever and used to own a store in NY. He now works from his home as he is semi-retired but his Leica business is still going strong with many Leica shooters praising his name every day. Ken has become a legend..legendary. I have never in my life experienced anything like Ken from ANY shop, dealer or store, ever. He goes above and beyond and the funny thing is he does not even have a web site, a Facebook or twitter ;) He runs it all from his home via phone or e-mail. He has been with me since day one and you may have seen his ad in the sidebar before. It will be there for the life of the site because if it not for Ken (and a couple of other friends) this site may not have made it!

Ken has new Leica and often times has used items and unique items as well. Just call him at 212-879-3263 or send him an e-mail at [email protected] and let him know what you want, need or are looking for. Most likely, he will have it. Plus, mention my name and you may get a bit of a deal..maybe. I stand 100% behind Ken Hansen.

2. B&H PhotoThese guys are the king of Retail and Online sales. They do MASSIVE volume. I mean MASSIVE. I have been to the store and it is a sight to see. Hundreds of customers at any given time, long lines to check out (but they go fast) and conveyer belts that travel through the store to deliver your goods when you exit. Amazing. They have the best online experience I have encountered. First, if an item is in stock and ready to ship, it says so clearly. If it is not, it clearly states this. No guessing games. They ship same day as well if you order before a certain cut off time. So technically you could order a lens on a Monday morning and have it arrive Tuesday. They also are top notch on their returns, undo nay to Amazon. It is an online automated process, never needing to email someone or call someone for an RA number. B&H Is the king of camera retailers. You can see their site here and they sell all kinds of goodies, not just photo related. They are sort of a giant electronics megastore. I give them a 100%!

3. Amazon- Who does not shop from Amazon? Myself and everyone I know shop at Amazon and they are doing amazing things..amazing. Amazon is the future of internet shopping, food shopping and everything in between. I believe in 10 years Amazon will have the most amazing services. You can get anything and everything from Amazon. I have certain household items get delivered every month using their subscribe and save feature and I also buy tons of music (LP’s) and camera accessories such as Gariz cases, caps, batteries, lights, etc. They have anything and everything. Click here for a link to Amazon and see for yourself. Never an issue with them, ever! The return policy and process is painless and simple. You even get a label to print for easy return. My score = 100%!

4. PopFlash.com - PopFlash has been around for a long long time and Tony Rose is the man who owns and runs it. He is well-known among Leica shooters but he also sells Fuji, Olympus, Zeiss and many other brands at his online shop. I have purchased Leica lenses, cameras and Artisan and Artist bags and cases from PopFlash and Tony always comes through. They have some superb prices as well and when you see the “used/mint” pricing on some Leica items you may be super tempted to go for it. Check out the site at PopFlash.com! 100%

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5. The Pro Shop - These guys are great and know their stuff. They have years of experience and sell Leica, Nikon, and even the Hasselblad Stellar and Lunar line. They have so much to choose from so here is where I would go for not only the best camera brands but for some of the best advice and experience. 100% for these guys as well! You can call them for info at 561-253-2606 or see their website HERE.

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6. CAMERAQUEST - Run by Stephen Gandy this long time Voigtlander dealer has just about anything you could ever want from the brand. There are a few Voigtlander lenses that stick out to me and some I like better than Leica glass! The 35 1.2 II, the 15 4.5, the 50 1.5 Nokton, all superb and all a fraction of the cost of a Leica lens. If you want a great buy and fast shipping on Voigtlander lenses then you must check out CAMERAQUEST! 100%! Check out the shopping site HERE!

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7. Leica Store Miami – These guys are in actuality Dale Photo in Florida, but this site is much improved and all about LEICA. This shop has it all from cameras, lenses, cases, accessories and even used Leica cameras and lenses. I bought my fancy Leica case from them and my shipment arrived in one day. You must check them out! I give them an easy 100%. Never an issue. Never a problem. You can see their site HERE. 

As you can see, all six shops/dealers get a full 100% from me because I would not recommend anyone who I did not shop with, buy from or feel 100% about. If I was 90% I would not recommend them! If you buy from ANY of the above dealers you will not be disappointed. With Amazon, if you have an issue the return policy is so good you can just return it. No questions asked. Just be sure to buy from Amazon and not a third-party (or prime). Same with B&H and some of the others. For me it should be about customer satisfaction and all of these do it very well.

So there you go, my fave dealers and vendors. When you want to buy a camera or lens or accessory or ANYTHING, check them out! They are what help to keep this site running!

Dec 182014
 

From a Nikon D800 (DSLR) to Olympus and Fuji (Mirrorless)

by Robin Schimko

Three months ago I had the opportunity to do a reportage on a sailing boat cruising along the coastline of Crete, in the Mediterranean Sea. Last year I did the same thing in the Caribbean but this time I didn’t bring a heavy and bulky DSLR, since I‘ve gone fully mirrorless at the beginning of 2014. For this trip I brought a Fuji X-T1, 23/1.4, Samyang 12/2, Samyang 8/2.8 fisheye and of course my Olympus E-M1, 42.5/1.2 and 75/1.8 with me. I was basically covered for almost any possible situation and at the same time my kit was relatively lightweight and compact.

The day I arrived I met up with my client and the moment he saw my gear he became skeptical. For him it was hard to believe that a camera this small is able to deliver good image quality and a certain look that screams “professionally” taken images. He was very pleased with the images I took in the Caribbean with my D800. So I gave him my tablet to have a look at some of my pictures I took prior this trip just to make him feel more secure and it worked fine.

So, how did it work out?

Well, the mirroless set up had two major advantages over my former D800. The first one is really obvious and that is the small form factor and the light weight. Compared to my DSLR, the Fuji for instance with attached lens is less than half the weight and that makes a huge difference. On a shaky sailing boat it can be really tough to move around safely, especially if you’re carrying heavy gear which needs to be secured with one hand to make sure it’s not bumping into something or someone. The mirrorless kit was much easier to handle and it was a breeze to use. Attached to the Fuji was the Easy Slider by Artisan & Artist which allowed me fit the camera very tightly to my chest, so I could use both hands to secure myself in case I needed to. With a bulky DSLR that would have been much more uncomfortable over the duration of a whole day or at least a couple of hours. The second advantage was the ability to shoot from the hip incorporating the tilting screen. When you look through the viewfinder it can easily happen that you punch yourself in the face with the camera and yeah that had happened to me in the past. :D Like I wrote before, the boat is constantly shaking around and the intensity of those shakes can vary randomly.

In two weeks there was only one thing I wasn’t really keen about and that’s the battery life. Especially the X-T1 tends to eat batteries very quickly and that did concern me. One could say that this is not a big issue if you bring enough spare ones. That’s totally true and I had five batteries with me, but I had no idea that these batteries had to last up to three days. Last year I could recharge every day, but not this time. The boat was quite old and electricity was only available every now and then. That was indeed the only issue I had using mirrorless cameras.

The sailing itself again was a very nice experience. The first week the weather was crazy good and we did sail a lot. The second week everything changed dramatically not just the crew and the second boat that joined us, but also the weather. There was a storm approaching and we couldn’t leave the harbor for two days. Eventually we left on the third day, but the sea was still very rough and half of the crew got seasick. Luckily I wasn’t one of them, but taking photos was almost impossible without a waterproof housing, because every couple of minutes there was a big wave coming in.

Here are some shots I took during my trip and if you like my work, you can follow me on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RobinSchimkoPicture)
or check out my blog (http://www.fotodesign-rs.de/)

Thank you all for reading,

Robin

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Dec 172014
 

Quick User Report: Using the Voigtlander 40 1.4 on the Sony A7s

by Devin Jameson

Just wanted to post a few images recently made with the Sony a7s and Nokton 40mm 1.4 SC.

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Pros:

Sharp at the focus point, even wide open—IF you nail the focus

Sharpness picks up quickly when stopped down if you prefer a clinical look or are shooting landscapes (also vignetting goes away by f/2.8 or so)

Very compact size, even with the Voigtlander Close-Focus adapter

Character is very “interesting”

Great build quality with smooth focusing ring and aperture clicks

Randomness factor–you never know what you might get when shooting wide open!

0.7 meter minimum focus distance—closer to 0.3 meter with VM-E adapter

 

Cons:

It’s not a Leica 50 Lux

Rather heavy vignetting

Bokeh is somewhat nervous (I’ve learned to love this)

Flare (I like the randomness of flare, so this isn’t a con for me)

I expect to see a 50mm focal length, so the transition to 40mm is a little tough, but should be fine in time

All in all, it’s a fun lens that lives on my a7s. Check out the sample images below—most were shot wide open.

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Dec 132014
 

Switching to Mirrorless from a DSLR

By Mohamed Hakem

Hello Steve!

Whenever I’m into any stage of photography I come to my passionate website :)

Mirrorless really helped me unhinge a new passion for photography.

I always considered myself as a nature/landscape. I had a D800 and all what I was interested in was landscape, nature and architecture. I was never a people’s photographer, not because I couldn’t but because I’m a little bit shy and not the right personality for doing weddings and commercials. Despite loving street photography and portraits of normal people in the street, it is an absurd dream for me in Egypt. In conservative cultures, people get offended when you point a camera and snap a picture, they might even get aggressive. So for me this category was off the list. Until when I got a Fuji X100 and things change! magically people in the street began accepting the photos! I had more and more confidence and I liked the Idea of having a camera with me 100% of the time! I found myself leaving the D800 and other lenses at home despite knowing that they are way more capable.

I gradually began shifting towards Fuji, I got an Xpro-1 and a couple of lenses and began traveling with the Xpro-1 18mm F/2 + 35mm F1.4. I started to discover new horizons for me in street photography. I really liked it! It wasn’t long since I got an XT-1 and sold all my nikon glass and committed myself to Fuji.

I started to get the courage to get closer to people here in my country and surprisingly having a retro style camera shifts you towards an artist more than a spy or a CIA agent or even a journalist!. I went with some friends all lugging around huge backpacks full of equipment and I really pitted them, I was going light with just the Fuji XT-1, 35mm and a 23mm. I could move more easily, having just a small shoulder bag that doesn’t even look like a camera bag I was able to get closer to people. I took some portraits of amazingly kind and simple people all with a friendly spirit.

I just LOVED mirrorless more and I knew that I took the right decision. believe me people it’s not sensor sizes or charts or dynamic ranges. It’s only you who really knows what makes you happy, Don’t just sit and read articles like mirrorless VS DSLR or buying gears just because it has a PRO marks all over it! for me, being light and mobile allowed me to get more! to discover more and to move more!

before I had the D800 and Nikon’s trinity, I couldn’t wish for more quality and supreme performance, but with the Fuji, going around more and having a clearer mind allowed me to do settings more wisely, intuitively and faster. Yes the Fuji is a slower less capable camera than the Nikon, but its combination with ME is a faster package, even the Landscape that I come from is much easier and nicer.

It reminded me with the good old days when I had the Nikon FM2 and a couple of lenses.

My website:

http://www.hakemphotography.com

http://500px.com/hakem

below are some street photos that I took with my XPRO-1 and X-T1

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Dec 122014
 

Fuji X30 does CycLavia Los Angeles

By Art Codron

There are many situations where I do not feel like lugging my bigger cameras but want something better than my iPhone to shoot with. Enter the Fuji X30… I had one of the original X10’s when they first came out and while it was a pretty good point and shoot (orbs and all), I moved on and sold it fairly quickly. I reached a point where I was over the “point and shoot” thing and used my iPhone for my casual photography like many other people. After awhile I started to get real frustrated with the noisy images that had no dynamic range and few controls over exposure. Unless the light was perfect, the picture quality was poor. It was also hard for me to get used to holding my phone out to take a picture. It just lacked the “tactile” feel of a real camera. Meanwhile, the compact camera field has changed. Far less of them are being sold, but there are now some very solid performers such as the Sony RX series and the like. I had been looking at the new Panasonic LX100 as well. I ultimately settled on the X30 as it seemed closest in feel to my Fuji X-Pro1 and X-T1 which I adore. I know many of the other higher end point and shoots have bigger sensors which have better resolution and noise performance than the X30, but none of them have both the longer lens (112 equiv for Fuji) and fast aperture (1.8-2.8). The longer lens is important to me due to my shooting style. I like to hold the camera to my eye so I wanted a good viewfinder as well. I also factored in the lower cost and tank like build. Then when I considered the Fuji X aesthetic, it was an easy decision. While they are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, the Fuji cameras have a real “soul” to me.

This past weekend, another CycLAvia event was held in Los Angeles. For these events, a large swath of city streets are closed off to vehicular traffic and are taken over by Bicyclists such as myself and 100,000 of my closest friends. Walking is also encouraged for those that choose to not ride. There are many zones along the way to stop and experience the culture of the various neighborhoods on the route. This past weekend, the ride went through the Central Avenue corridor to Leimert Park. There was of course plenty of photo opportunities along the 12 mile round trip route as well… so it’s a way to combine two of my passions: Cycling and Photography. The Fuji X30 was the perfect camera for me on this day as I was able to sling it over my shoulder and hardly feel like it was there. It stayed out-of-the-way till I needed it. While the files have less resolution than a 4/3 sensor or even a 1” inch sensor, they are still pretty good. The photos from the x30’s 2/3 sensor are far better than standard point and shoots. The lens is very sharp and the files have the Fuji look that I love. Operation is very fast and tactile. Controls are at your fingertips and the new control ring is pretty cool. I have it set up to control aperture but I wish it had click stops. My only big complaint is that the X30 does not have a built-in ND filter like my x100s. It would have been nice to have this as it was quite sunny and I could not take advantage of the wide aperture on the lens. While this camera is no Bokeh monster, a little bit of background blur can go a long way. A prime example is the B&W shot of the gentleman below with the high-rise handlebars… It would have been far better if the BG was blurred slightly.

Thanks for the great website!

More of my general photography can be seen here:

https://500px.com/acodron748

http://acodron748.tumblr.com

Cheers, Art

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Dec 102014
 

Ten weeks with the Zeiss Loxia Planar 2/50 and the Sony A7r

by Dirk De Paepe

After ten weeks with the Zeiss Loxia Planar 2/50 I thought it was a good idea, to share my findings.

This Loxia Planar, as you probably already know, is the first one of the new Loxia series, that was put in the market by Zeiss right after Photokina, where the first two Loxias were launched. Being thrilled by Zeiss coming up with those lenses, dedicated to mirrorless cameras, I ordered both the Planar 2/50 and the Biogon 2/35 immediately, but the latter probably won’t be available before the end of the year.

Well guys and gals, I can tell you right away that in several domains this Planar offers even more than I expected – and I had really high hopes! But at the same time, in a few other fields, I had pictured something different. Luckily those don’t concern essential issues, so all in all I’m absolutely thrilled with this Loxia, to the point that it quickly became my absolute favorite lens. It’s the one that I always have on my camera when traveling, as my “ready-to-shoot-in-all-circumstances” lens. Before this Loxia, the ZM Planar 2/50 played this role. No surprise, since those two Planars are very familiar lenses in concept (click here to read the ZM Planar 2/50 review on this website). Where the ZM Planar is without any doubt an exquisite lens, the Loxia Planar is even better.

Planar versus Planar

In a former article that Steve published here, right after Photokina, I wrote about the Loxias and already explained the main differences between Loxia and ZM. (Click here to read this article.) So I’ll resume the additional Loxia features here: transmission of Exif data, shorter minimal focal distance (45 versus 70cm), automatic enlargement in the VF when turning the focus ring, de-click possibility of the aperture ring and last but not least improved optical performance for mirrorless cameras.

Optically both Planars are pretty familiar – to my eye, the produced images have the same character, the same color signature, the same clarity, the same detail, etc… As a matter of fact, it’s hard to tell which Planar took which picture, unless you do an A/B comparison. Of course I didn’t perform any measurements, since I’m a user, not a professional photo journalist, but still, in a direct comparison, it was immediately clear that the Loxia performs better in the corners. Although the ZM Planar files remain detailed until pretty far in the corners, I’d say Loxia diminishes the (already small) “vague zones” with at least three-quarters and also the vignetting is less. I have been thinking of publishing A/B pictures here to illustrate the corner performance, but abandoned this idea, since it’s only visible looking at full size, and I really never experienced this matter as a problem with my ZM. Like I said, although the ZM performs excellent, the Loxia just performs quite a tad better. I expect that their will be some improvements measured on other domains as well – we’ll probably read about it soon in different reviews.

But fact is that Zeiss really reworked the optics for Loxia, so this is absolutely no “adapted ZM lens“. It also shows by the field of view, that’s a tiny bit narrower (I reckon some 4%) with the Loxia Planar, compared to the ZM.

Maybe you wonder if this is sufficient to switch from the ZM Planar to Loxia, since the ZM already works so terrificly well on the A7x. Well, I have been wondering about this as well. But I made the move to Loxia, because first of all the wide angles (like the Biogon 2/35 that I tried at Photokina) will perform better with my A7r than most of the M-mounts, but also because I truly believe in FE-mount and Loxia will be totally dedicated to FE. Further it will offer the most modern MF applications, which simply will make me perform better as a photographer, and will be optically 100% developed for mirrorless bodies. I also saw it as a kind of statement: “Loxia is the way to go for manual focus with FE bodies!”. Loxia is dedicated to mirrorless indeed, so to me it feels right being dedicated to Loxia. And the fact that it’s Zeiss (my first and lifelong love in photography) that comes with this modern, all manual lenses for mirrorless generates only one spontaneous reaction in my mind: yes!

Now that I really own and use the Loxia Planar 2/50, I’m feeling for 100% that this was the right choice, and this feeling is even a lot stronger than I expected. The satisfaction and joy to experience this fully dedicated lens, it’s extra features, IQ, styling, and ergonomics is simply bigger than I expected. Yes, some of my reasons are subjective, only based on feeling, but subjectivity is a reality in life, so it’s something that has value to me. Maybe you will feel it differently, because this is partly a personal matter, but still there’s a lot of really objective criteria here as well.

Improvements

I love the shorter minimal focal distance a lot. Combined with the A7r, with its 36MP and its cropping power, it enables “near to makro” pictures. “European Money” is an example hereof. When looking at the 100% crop in the second picture (please remember that you can enlarge all pictures by clicking on them and that you get the real colors only then), you can see that lens and sensor are absolutely keeping up, with no real visible loss of IQ when looking at 100%. I think this indicates that Loxia probably can deliver at resolutions that are even a lot higher. I was pretty flabbergasted, when I looked at this detail. What I see here reminds me of what I get with the Otus 55 (although the Otus delivers exceptional in virtually all circumstances, and the Loxia needs be used with greater care to deliver at this level, for instance regarding choice of aperture). On my monitor, the real world dimensions are enlarged by 7 (the surface by 49), revealing details that aren’t visible with the bare eye. IMO the detail that is rendered here, is simply top-notch.

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02European Monecrop

But apart from this detail power, shooting at smaller distances further narrows the DOF, significantly increasing the bokeh abilities. The bokeh character is pretty much comparable with that of the ZM Planar, but by enacting its formation, it becomes the more clear that this is really a very smooth bokeh, in hind as well as in front focus. Its character reminds me of the Otus again, although I find the latter producing even an a tad more creamy bokeh. But bokeh is a matter of personal taste, so I let you judge for yourself. I’ve shot some wide open pictures, specially for this report, because I know that many followers of this site care a lot about shallow dof and bokeh. The pictures show bokeh in different combinations – front and hind with close and further focus – all shot wide open at f/2. Here they come.

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05. Jaguar emblem

04. Jaguar headlight

07. Austin Healey Cockpit

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07B Getting in the mood for Christmas

When street shooting wide open, one needs to focus fast. If you do this manually, the modern manual focusing features of this lens/body combination do a terrific job. The two following pictures illustrate this. In the first, I focused on the cigaret smoke and only had a time frame of around two seconds to frame and focus. IMO, this is a typical shot to benefit from those modern manual focus features. I used the automatic VF enlargement here.

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Personally I like the front bokeh yet a bit more than the hind one. IMO, the latter sometimes can get a bit nervous, especially when a very detailed background is involved, like leaves, while the front bokeh always remains super creamy in all circumstances.

All-around

Although this is only a f/2 lens, I find it usable in very divers light conditions. In the White Ochid picture the backlight from the bright white sky made the flower almost transparent. With the focal distance at 45cm, I set the aperture at f/4, in order to obtain the desired dof and a very slight but subtile blur in the hind part of the flower. To provide the right exposure, the setting of the shutter time was very delicate, because 1/3 step away killed the transparency effect.

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In “Watershow”, the exposure and processing was delicate as well, to combine the obscurity of the people with the clarity of the water. The EVF is a great tool for shooting that kind of pictures – if you read any of my former articles, you’ll probably remember that I’m a big EVF fan.

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The chiaroscuro was even pulled a bit further in the B&W “Evening at the Efteling”. And in “Compelling Show” I think I proved that also with the A7r and an f/2 lens, shooting in near dark environments is possible. This was of course shot wide open, at ISO8000 and 1/30sec. Here are some more low light pictures.

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15. Liège by night

This lens really is a high quality all-around piece of equipment – not that much a “specialised shallow dof lens”. IMO it specially shines, when you want to apply blur in a moderate, delicate and precisely controlled way or when you want to apply zone focusing and even hyperfocusing. It’ll capture light terrificly well. It’ll provide a color richness that allows you to work in post production with the colors in any way you want. On the Sony A7x this lens feels perfectly in balance, allowing very fast, spontaneous and precise shooting. Here are some different kinds of pictures to illustrate this.

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The Loxia Planar 2/50 is a very fine lens. It produces almost no barrel distortion (IMO the distortion is negligible), making it very useful for architectural shooting. And combined with the A7r, you get enough pixels to perform some “substitutional tilt/shift” work in post production. I went to the beautiful Liege Guillemins train station (Belgium) to live it up.

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Considerations

I guess you wonder if this Loxia has been a windfall to me for 100%. Well, no. In a few domains I had hoped for something slightly different.

First of all size and weight. This Loxia Planar is really a category larger than the ZM Planar (adapter included) and it simply weighs more (some 75gr – I use the Novoflex adpater for the ZM). I feel like it puts the lens/camera combination really in the next category, regarding size and weight, the more when carrying a few lenses in your bag (I will need a larger bag!). It feels like regarding size and weight it’s more to be compared now with the Leica M as a system, where in the past there was a real gain in this department for the Sony. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty comparable with my old Canon A1 with (latest generation) FD lenses. Strange how our perception changes, since at that time the A1/FD was regarded as a full size system. Although this Sony/Zeiss combination is still working fine for me, I’d say: this is the limit, guys – don’t make it grow any further!

Compared to the NEX bodies, like my NEX-7, this combination (A7x/Loxia) allows a bit less stealth shooting, particularly when the lens shade is mounted (although I believe stealth shooting is mainly a photographer’s attitude, as long you don’t use a large DSLR). Seen from a distance, the shade gives this lens the look of a medium zoom lens. When you really want to perform discrete shooting, you need to take away the shade, bringing the size “back to normal”. This is a massive lens shade, that does a great job in its own, but it’s large. For transportation, its size doesn’t pose a problem though, since you can mount it the other way round on the lens, so that it doesn’t take extra space in your bag, because it’s no longer sticking out. So all in all it’s a great working shade, that you only need to remove when you want to shoot discretely.

But every downside has its upside. I have to admit that the extra mass ads to the shooting control. In one of his articles, Steve mentioned that he felt like the size and weight of the M-system offered the ideal combination of compactness/weight and handyness and I wonder if I don’t need to share his opinion here, now that I feel the A7x/Loxia combination is playing in the same league…
The lens is bigger than the ZM, this mainly means thicker. Less stealth (a bit) and more weight on the downside, but more feeling from the focus ring at the upside. With its large (but not too large) swivel range, it allows very precise focusing. The smoothness/resistance is absolutely perfect for “one finger operation”.
The larger diameter of the barrel also makes for a bigger lens cap – less “wobbly” than the ZM caps. And as far as I heard, Zeiss has the plan to provide all Loxias with the same diameter, which would economize on the filter budget. I hope this doesn’t result in a limited lens offer, because then I’d prefer buying a few extra filters! I wonder though if this diameter will allow for a super fast 85mm. I guess and hope they’ll come at least with an f/2 which I reckon must be possible with this diameter – but wouldn’t an f/1.4 in time be nice!…

To conclude about size and weight, I initially had hoped for a lighter, more compact Loxia. But I guess, when able to choose between the two, eventually I’d probably agree with Zeiss’ choice, since it handles better. I think they had the perfect “manual focusing machine for out of hand shooting” in mind, and I have to agree that they both (Zeiss as well as Sony) have come pretty close. Furthermore, the Loxia sure looks absolutely beautiful on the Sony body.

The build quality is very good. The barrel is all metal, which gives confidence. Both the rings feel like they’ve been engineered with the finest precision. Their operation is super smooth with the perfect resistance to give you the right feedback about what you’re doing. The finish, with both rings being perfectly integrated in the barrel surface of the lens, is perfect. The look and feel is wonderful. With one consideration.

What initially disappointed me, was the design of the aperture ring. It’s placed close to the body, where on the ZM you’ll find it at the end of the lens. The placement is a matter of habit, of course, so no comments here. But because of the aperture ring being perfectly integrated in the surface of the lens barrel, I had it more difficult to feel it and thus to find it anyway. It took me a while to find my way here, missing it quite often at first. After a while however, I started using just my thumb (no second finger) at the underside of the lens to turn it. It’s really easy to find the aperture ring in this way, because the body is your guide. Both the aperture and focus rings have small knurls that provide excellent grip and both have a wonderfully smooth action, that make it easy to operate them with one finger. With my thumb on the aperture ring under the lens and my middle finger on the focus ring on top of the lens, I find it very easy and adequate to set both rings at quasi the same time, making the setting of focus and dof easier and faster then ever. Zeiss needed to place the aperture ring close to the body, to make this happen. In this position, my index finger is supporting the body in a quasi symmetric position to the right hand, which provides and equal pressure on both sides of the body, when relaxing both arms, and as such creates a perfect balans, that enables shooting out of hand with exceptionally long shutter speeds as well as allowing very fast setting and shooting. I have been shooting out of hand up till 1/15sec (the night shot with the Coca-Cola umbrellas), without really paying special attention (well, in fact, I always kind of pay special attention when pushing the button) and when looking at 100% (visible at my flickr page) you’ll see that even the fishnets are sharp.

I have been wondering if Zeiss had this way of shooting in mind when designing the lens, because it’s exactly this design that directed me to this way of handling, opening up the most effective way of shooting with manual focusing lenses that I experienced up till now. I wouldn’t be surprised of it, since Zeiss is primarly a specialist of manual lenses and Loxia is developed for mirrorless, which, due to it’s compact size, is the most handy option for manual shooting. Still, up till now, this new way of holding and setting has not yet become an automatism to me. I need to initially concentrate on the way I hold and handle camera and lens. But when I do, it’s really working excellent and faster than with any other lens I know. I’m sure, eventually, I’ll get used to it and it wìll become an automatism. But I also fear that quite some people, who are less keen on experimenting with different ways of handling, will find this recessed aperture ring to be less convenient in action than the one on the ZMs. Too bad, since it really can help you to perform better than ever.

To finish this of, a word about the price. Looking online at the Zeiss lens shop, this Loxia costs 849.00€, which is 100.00€ more expensive than the ZM. Regarding the extra functions, I’d say it’s more than worthwhile. And when you buy the ZM plus a good adapter, you’ll be spending even more money. (The Voigtländer adapter, with close focus ability, even costs a good 300€!)

*pre-order the Zeiss Loxia lenses HERE*

Conclusion

Well, I hope I elucidated the pro’s as well as the con’s of this new Loxia, as far as I could pinpoint them, that is. All in all, to me, it’s the pro’s that prevail. Largely. It asked for a period of adjustment, regarding the handling of the aperture ring, but once I did it right, it allowed for the greatest manual shooting experience that I ever had.

Regarding IQ, this Loxia offers exceptional value for money, it sometimes it even makes me think of my Otus 55, regarding IQ, not regardin budget :-), without the size and weight and without giving in that much on IQ as the price difference suggests.

My “old” ZM Planar is a great all-around lens. The new Loxia Planar improves this concept on all domains where improvements were possible. For all those manual shooting enthusiasts: IMO Loxia is absolutely the way to go with mirrorless bodies – Sony today, other brands to come really soon, for sure.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures that I added, many of them were specially shot for this user report. I also placed them in a dedicated folder on my flickr page, where you can look at some of them in full resolution, to even better illustrate the IQ in all detail and where you can check full exif data of all pictures. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/sets/72157649262134498/)

All shots were taken out of hand, with the exception of the “European Money” and “White Orchid” pictures (tripod) and “Liege by Night (holding the camera against a tree). Of course shooting out of hand renders a bit less detail than when using a tripod. But I just love shooting out of hand, since this gives me more possibility to react to a moment’s. Some of the shots weren’t even possible to take with tripod, like the ones of the ceiling and tracks on the train station that I shot from a moving escalator.

Two pictures (Seagulls and Splashing Boat) actually were pretty heavy crops, to illustrate the A7r’s cropping power.

I leave you with a few extra shots now, taken at the beautiful Liege train station. Thanks for reading, guys! And I specially thank Steve and Brandon for their fabulous work on this site!

Dirk De Paepe

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