Mar 252015
 

M9 pop on a M240:  The 35mm Zeiss Distagon T 1.4 

By Howard Shooter

Hi Steve and Brandon,

I decided to take the plunge and purchased the new 35mm Zeiss Distagon T 1.4 (how do they come up with such catchy names?). Now this is the first non Leica lens I’ve purchased and I had just got to the stage where I just couldn’t justify spending so much on the Leica 35mm 1.4 lens. The Zeiss has had a few tentative good reviews and at a third of the price of the Leica seemed like excellent value (if not a bargain). What’s interesting about this lens to me is that it produces the pop and contrast of the M9 with the tonal dynamic range of the M240.

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It is now my favourite lens on my Leica and although a little chunky is beautifully built (Better than it looks in the photos of it). These shots were taken at Delphine’s, a wonderful 1950’s diner in the town of Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Caroline and Pete have given up the rat race to produce the best burgers and milkshakes in Suffolk… If you happen to be passing so hi to them from me! Anyway I’ve processed these in Lightroom but only a little and I think the colour pop is fantastic….

Let me know if you agree,

best

Howard Shooter

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Mar 242015
 

Quick Crazy Comparison! Leica M-P 240 with 35 Cron vs Sony A7II with 35 Zeiss Loxia!

JUST FOR FUN!! I have a Leica M-P 240 here with a Leica 35 Summicron ASPH. I also have my A7II with Zeiss 35 Loxia so I decided to run out back to take a couple of TEST shots, just for fun. I was curious about BOKEH of each lens and for my tastes, the Leica 35 Summicron won the Bokeh test for me. The Loxia is a tad busy in comparison. In either case, both of these cameras and lenses can do wonderful things but there are small differences in IQ and HUGE differences in using the cameras.

I have become so used to my A7II and Manual Lenses I adore the EVF and accurate focusing. With the M I adore the experience of shooting a rangefinder in a mature digital body. I also love the battery life of the M. Below are a couple of shots all wide open at f/2 to see the character of each lens. Nothing more, nothing less.

All were RAW and colors were not tweaked. What you see is what came out of the RAW conversion except for test shot #2 where I converted each to B&W to see if there was a difference. I used Alien Skin for the B&W conversion. Click images for larger versions.

You can read my A7II review HERE or my Leica M Review HERE. 

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Mar 192015
 

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The Zeiss Loxia 35 Biogon f/2 Lens Review on the Sony A7II

Here we are, another day, another week, another month and another year. Man, 2015 is here and it boggles my mind at how fast the time goes by. Seems like it was just yesterday that the camera world was a buzz about the Zeiss Touit lenses for Sony and Fuji. Those were some great lenses but today, for the Sony full frame system, we have something even better. The Zeiss Loxia line.

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The Loxia line of lenses consists of just TWO lenses for now, the 35mm Biogon f/2 and the 50mm f/2 Planar. Thanks to Zeiss,  I have been lucky enough to be shooting with BOTH of these lenses on my beautiful A7II camera (that has taken #1 top spot over the A7s for me) and let me tell you…once you shoot with this setup of an A7II and the Loxia lenses, you will not want to be without them. The only problem is that these are VERY hard to find IN STOCK as they have been much more popular than Zeiss imagined. I expect this review to make them even more desirable as both Loxia lenses are SUPERB.

Click images for larger and better view! All with A7II and the 35 Loxia

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The Size and Build

First off, the size of the Loxia lenses is on the small side. I know when these lenses were first launched many were thinking they would be large or bulky, but that is not the case. The Loxia line is smaller than the Touit line for APS-C and not much larger than their Leica M counterparts. THIS is good news. Also, the lenses feel fantastic in the hand and when on the camera. The build is solid, with metal parts and mount. The focusing ring is silky smooth and the aperture dial is solid yet never stiff.

My video showing the Zeiss Loxia Line of lenses for Sony FE

The Loxia line is all manual focus and I LOVE THEM for this. Because these are manual focus, the size was kept down and compared to DSLR lenses of the same spec (high quality pro DSLR lenses) these are much smaller. Even with the included metal hoods, these lenses are still small, and fit the camera just right. No front heaviness, no bulky huge monster size, no looking like you are pointing a bazooka in someones face when taking an image of them.

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From the packaging to the product itself, the Loxia line is quality all the way.

I used to be a huge fan, and still am, of the Zeiss ZM line, which is the Leica M mount line from Zeiss. Many use these on their Sony A7 bodies and are happy though some have corner issues. Some will have magenta sides, soft edges, and slight issues. The wider the ZM or Leica M mount lens and the more problems there are on the Sony cameras. With the Loxia line, those issues are gone as these are specially made for the Sony full frame sensors. They work, and they work well.

Click any image in this review for a larger sized and much nicer looking image. All with the Loxia 35 f/2 on the Sony A7II. EXIF is embedded.

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The Beauty of Zeiss mixed with the beauty of the A7II

The A7II (my full review here) is one hell of a camera. I have praised it to everyone I meet as it truly is a mature A7 body. It is solid, it is very well designed, and the sensor is fantastic. With the 5 Axis IS that works for ANY lens attached to the camera to the nice EVF and ease of manual focusing, the A7II is truly a fantastic camera. With lenses like the Loxia’s made for these cameras as well as the new and special Sony lenses coming out for it (35 1.4, 28 f/2, 90 Macro, etc) this system is now fully fleshing out. In just a year and a half Sony has pumped out MANY amazing pieces of glass for the A7 system, and today no one can complain about lack of lenses.

With the Zeiss Loxia line though, what we have is a special set of lenses that will appeal strongly to many, and not at all to others. Not everyone can get along with manual focus, and many are not even interested in trying. I do feel though that once someone tries these lenses on their A7 body, they will fall for them hard. There is a certain beauty of using these lenses with the cameras they were designed to be used with. The solid feeling, the smooth focus and the final image is just so nice.

As always, the Zeiss look is here with nice pop, color and separation of background from subject. At f/2 the lens shows its true character and is just what I would expect from a Zeiss lens. Zeiss color, Zeiss sharpness, and the Zeiss signature is all here in the 35 f/2 Biogon.

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What about the Zeiss 35 f/2.8 or the Zeiss 35 1.4 for the FE system?

With the Loxia 35 f/2, we now have THREE native 35mm lenses to choose from for the A7 system. First, we have the original 35 f/2.8 which is an amazing lens. Small, light, auto focus, and also has that Zeiss color and pop. The only issue with the 35 f/2.8 is the aperture. At f/2.8 it is not a speed demon, and today so many love their “fast glass”. Many want f/1.4, which we also have in the new Zeiss 35 1.4 for the FE system. My 1st look is HERE and that is one hell of a lens. Probably the best 35 1.4 I have ever tested, ever. The only issue with that lens is the size. It is a MONSTER. It is HUGE.

See the size comparison of all three of these lenses below:

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The Loxia stands in the middle ground for size, and on camera is the best feeling as well. I admit though, I do prefer the rendering and character of the Zeiss 35 1.4 over the Loxia but for many it will just be too large and cumbersome. Many will prefer the manual focus action and size of the Loxia and some will remain happy as a clam with their 35 f/2.8 Zeiss. You just can not go wrong with any of these. They are all beautiful in their own way.

More images from the Loxia 35 f/2 on the A7II – click them for larger!

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A QUICK COMPARISON:  35 Loxia, 35 1.4, 35 2.8

Below is a quick OOC comparison from all three 35mm FE Native lenses. First, since this is the Loxia review I will start with the Loxia. Then I will show the same shot from the 35 1.4 and again from the 35 2.8. THIS IS JUST to show RENDERING differences and what to expect from 1.4 to 2.8. Which rendering do you prefer? Here, I like the POP of the Loxia but the creaminess of the 35 1.4!

All three images are OOC RAW from the Sony A7II and each lens WIDE OPEN to show differences of Aperture, which is what the differences are here. CLICK THEM for larger!

1st, the Loxia and the A7II, at f/2 – click it!

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Now the awesome Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 at 1.4

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Now the Zeiss 35 2.8

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Before anyone says “these should have all been done at the same aperture..well, no, they should not have. The main reason to get one of these over the other is APERTURE speed! So the shot above shows what each lens will do at its fastest aperture speed. f/1.4, f/2 and f/2.8. Three different lenses, three different sizes, three different price points.

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While this is a short review as most lens reviews for me are, I will still show you two images that will show you more about what this lens will do when stopped down. Below are two shots. The 1st one is a simple shot at f/9 with a crop. Straight from RAW with no sharpening added. The second shot is a full size image from RAW at f/8. You can right click these to open the image in a new window or tab to see the full size out of camera file.

1st shot, click it to see a larger version with 100% crop embedded. This one was at f/9, no sharpening added. From RAW. A7II.

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This next image is a Sedona AZ scene shot with the Loxia 35 at f/8. Right click and open in a new window to see the full size file from RAW. A storm was brewing for sure ;) 

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For me, I always find the rendering of Zeiss glass to be pretty fantastic. Zeiss is up there with Leica, without question but the lenses from Zeiss offer a different character, a different color signature and a different kind of feel. Both are at the top of the heap but which you prefer is up to you. I love Leica M glass and I also adore Zeiss glass. The Loxia line for me strikes that perfect balance between M glass and FE glass. They have the build of the Leica lenses with the feel and smoothness of premium Zeiss glass. The size is nothing like a larger bulky DSLR lens, but instead in between M size and APS-C sized glass. The fit is perfect for the A7 series.

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Conclusion:

I won’t beat around the bush here. The Zeiss Loxia line has lived up to the Zeiss reputation and they have delivered two beautiful lenses in the 35 Biogon and 50 Planar. My 50 review will be coming in the next few days and for me, THAT one is the best of the lot. Even so, this 35mm is fantastic and I feel it beats the Zeiss 35 Biogon ZM when being used on a Sony A7 body, as the Loxia is MADE for the FE system. No adapter is needed and the build beats the ZM line from Zeiss as well.

The Zeiss pop, color and rendering are all here. The Bokeh of the 35 f/2 is not the best ever, but it is typical of the 35 Zeiss Biogon ZM, not much difference there at all. I have never seen a perfect Bokeh lens, ever. The best I have seen is from the Leica 50 Noctilux, the Leica 50 APO and the Panasonic Nocticron for Micro 4/3. The 35 f/2 Loxia is nice but Bokeh is a personal thing. What one person loves, another may say is “busy” or not good. I love everything about the Loxia from the detail to the tad bit of glow when shot wide open at f/2. For me, all Zeiss needs is a 21 or 28 and an 85 f/2 Loxia. THAT would be amazing to have a full set of Loxia lenses covering wide to portrait. I can only imagine how good an 85 f/2 would be as the old 85 f/2 ZM was magical.

I highly recommend the Loxia 35 f/2. If you can handle manual focus you will be in heaven. Speaking of manual focus, if you have never done it on the A7 series, using the Loxia may just convert you. It is a wonderful experience and I have had NO out of focus shots in all of the ones I shot with the Loxia line. It is very easy to do, especially as the A7II auto magnifies the scene when you turn the focus ring. Quick, easy, and a fun experience. When you hit that shot you feel rewarded for your work.

As for the Loxia 35 and A7II vs the RX1r? That is a no brainer for me. In fact, the Sony RX1r is $2798 today. The A7II with Loxia 35 is $2998. A difference of $200. With the A7II you gain a nicer body, faster AF, built in EVF (RX1 has no built in EVF), the opportunity to use so many other lenses, the 5 Axis IS, etc. The A7II and Loxia would be the much better buy today. No brainer.

As for the 35 Zeiss ZM vs the Loxia, well, they are very similar in output but with the Loxia you will not have any colored edges. The Biogon Zm and Loxia have nearly the same color signature, bokeh and detail but the Loxia is better made and feels much better in use, and it is made for Sony FE. There ya go.

Most of my shots with the 35 were taken on a stormy overcast day in Sedona AZ during a test run of trails with my new Jeep (that I will use for 3-4 one on one day photo tours this year in Sedona, info and video soon). It was a fun day, and the Loxia and A7II never disappointed. ;)

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Where To Buy?

The Loxia line is available at the recommended dealers below. ALL of whom I vouch for 100%! The Zeiss Loxia 35 f/2 is $1299 and worth every cent!

PopFlash.comThey have the 35 in stock NOW!

B&H PhotoTheir Loxia Page

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Mar 082015
 

Have a good Sunday. One shot, Sony A7II, Zeiss Loxia f/2

Been shooting with the Sony A7II (and A7s) along with the Zeiss Loxia 35 f/2 and 50 f/2. These are fantastic lenses from what I have seen so far (see my 1st look video here) and for me and my tastes I prefer the 50 to the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8 for color, detail, build and overall joy of use on the A7 series.

I’m taking the day off but figured I would post my A7II setup, which I must admit, looks pretty nice :) My A7II is set up with the Gariz Half Case which fits perfect (unlike the case they make for the A7, A7R and A7s) and it is beautiful. The ONA Presidio strap also is a nice fit for this camera. The camera feels hefty but not heavy, the improved build and feel of the II is so nice in the hand and after months of use, I prefer the new body design to the old  – no contest. Take a look below:

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One shot, taken at f/2 with the 50 Loxia. This one is from RAW. Nice Bokeh, color and detail. Teeny bit of CA on the shoulder but my CA torture test shows this lens has less CA than even the Leica 50 Summilux, TONS less than the $11,000 50 Noctilux, and even less than the Leica standard 50 cron. All fast glass has some CA – Nikon, Canon, Leica, Sony, Zeiss, etc. This one less than most.

Have a great rest of your weekend, will be back tomorrow with new posts!

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Mar 042015
 

A first look video and snaps from the new Zeiss Loxia lenses for FE Mount

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A few days ago I received a package from Zeiss. I opened up the box and there they were. TWO lenses. The Zeiss Loxia 35 f/2 and 50 f/2. I opened the packaging expecting these huge big lenses but nope, they were quite small. They were solid, just about as solid as most Leica M lenses, and only slightly larger. I attached them to my A7II and A7s and WOW. The focusing action was smooth as silk, yet damped, almost like it was floating in a barrel of oil, lol.

The aperture rings clicked solidly yet smoothly. Someone at Zeiss did their homework and realized there is a large market for lenses like this for the Sony FE system. I went out, took a few shots (not too many yet as I was busy with the Zeiss 35 1.4 FE) and WOW. It’s all here. The Zeiss POP, the Zeiss COLOR, the Zeiss Depth. No issues. No colored edges. No vignetting. No distortion.

After testing them out for a day I thought “these are priced VERY well for what we get with these lenses”. The 50 f/2, appears to be just as lovely as the Leica 50 APO, at 1/7th the cost and only a little larger. Metal construction, metal hood INCLUDED and fabulous build. THESE are lenses ANY Leica lover wold enjoy on their A7 system.

Oh and they also have close .3 meter focusing!

A video showing the size of these lenses  – smaller than I was led to believe.

I love Zeiss, I love Leica, I love GREAT lenses, period. The Loxias appear to offer much better performance than the Touit line along with smaller size, better build and great usability.

I will have a full review up in the next few weeks but yes, I highly recommend these for your Sony A7 series. I did do a test between the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 and Loxia 35 f/2 which will be in my full Sony Zeiss review, but both are different. I preferred the rendering from the Sony 35 1.4 but the size of  the Loxia. The Loxia was a bit more clinical and the DOF difference, even at f/2 on both lenses was MUCH different with the Sony being more shallow, which is why I feel the Sony gives a true Leica “Lux” look.

In any case, these lenses are very hard to get as Zeiss told me they are doing much better  than anticipated. I can’t wait to see what is next for the Loxia line.

A few quick samples below during my one day of snapshots ;) Will have MANY more in my full review. EXIF is embedded.

Pre-Order these at B&H Photo.

PopFlash is also a Zeiss Dealer.

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The 35 at ISO 1000 – A7II

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The 35 – A7II – ISO 1000 – click to see detail in crop!

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A7s – 35 at f/2 – click to see detail in crop

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Mar 032015
 

Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM Distagon (Leica Mount) on the A7s part 2

by Sean Cook

See Part 1 HERE.

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Hello again Steve!

It’s been two weeks now that I’ve had the Zeiss 35mm 1.4 Distagon ZM on my A7s, and despite my initial reservations, and a lot of mental back and forth, I’ve happily concluded that I’m keeping the lens and it will become one of the three lenses I regularly use (replacing the actually wonderful Sony 35mm 1.4G on the LA-EA4 adapter). It is still not a perfect fit for the Sony A7s (nor is there a perfect E-mount MF 35mm 1.4), and I will be the first in line when a Loxia version is announced, but its character and rendering are just beautiful, and I love the ergonomics, so I can work around the issues.

Much like the A7s itself, there are things that I would change about the Zeiss, and that I will forever work around, but given the options available, and my needs, its beauty and potential as a tool outweigh its shortcomings, and make it a better choice than any other 35mm (again, for me). It’s like deciding to use a Noctilux all the time; you accept its flaws as part of the price for the rendering. (I know that’s a silly comparison, but I think you get the idea).

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My wife and I just took a short vacation to Austin to visit some dear friends, and I was able to use the lens in the way I will be using it in the future — mostly outdoors, in the sun, with couples, wide-open. Now, being that they are dear friends and it was a short trip, I again wasn’t aiming for portfolio photos. Moreso I was just trying to see how the lens reacted to different situations, so forgive that it’s mostly photos of people looking at phones, and of backlit cats. :-)

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To me, the take-home message from the photos below is that if you are shooting a subject within 6 feet or so, you can shoot 1.4 and it will produce magic; the closer the subject, the more incredible. Beyond that, do yourself a favor and shoot at f2.0/2.8. Every photo below, except for the vertical photo of the couple (f16) and the very backlit tree (f2.8), is shot wide open.

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You can see that the photos where the subject is within a few feet (which again is mostly how I will use this lens), the background is a gorgeous blur of colors, and the subject is sharp, with a smooth transition from in-focus to out-of-focus. There is a softness without feeling hazy, and everything is exactly what I want from a high-end 35 1.4.

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However, when the subject is further away than that, things get a little dicey, especially toward the edges. The best example of how to use this lens at a distance can be seen in the different between the photo of the man riding the bike through the alley, and the very backlit tree. The trees to the far left in the man-on-bike-in-alley photo are a CRAZY wash of coma, haze, and blur. But the closeups on the backlit tree (shot at 2.8) show a great retention of contrast, and wonderful sharpness all over.

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Three other things to note in the photos. First, one of my biggest concerns with the lens was that because of the double-image thing, if the subject was slightly out of focus, they would look crazy, and way out of focus despite only being a little out of focus (anyone out there who shoots a lot of manual focus knows all about this; you can’t nail focus everytime, so you need the lens to do you the favor of retaining clarity, even when it’s not sharp). However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. If you look at the vertical photo of the cat, it is not in sharp focus, but still looks satisfyingly clear. A good sign.

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The second thing to note is the vertical photo of Joe with a flare splotch on his face. I included it to show the worst I could get the lens to flare. That is wide open, super backlit, and placing the flare right on the subject. Otherwise, that T* seems to be really doing its job.

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Lastly, look at that cat on the balcony! Not only is it the cutest cat I’ve ever seen, but the bokeh is so rich. I personally enjoy a little more character to the bokeh, and not just completely clinical flatness, and the Zeiss delivers. The super close-focus shot of the cat (yes, is a little out of focus — can’t blame the lens, it’s a cat, at minimum focus with the VME adapter, at 1.4) has some of the most gorgeous bokeh I’ve ever seen.

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Other than that, I think the photos should tell you everything else you need to know. They are once again edited in LR using VSCO, so they have artificial grain, and mostly haven’t been sharpened at all (the exception being the 100% crop of the cat on the balcony — that is no grain added, normal LR sharpening applied. I know it’s not a mountain focused at infinity, but if this is a real world review site, consider that a real world sharpness test ;-) ).

If you have any other questions about how the lens works for me, feel free to comment below, or check out the flickr album full of more photos for more pixel peeping (which is not the way to enjoy this lens, I assure you).

Thanks again for reading, and I hope this has been helpful! Again, part 1 can be seen HERE. 

Sean

www.SeanCookWeddings.com

BTW, PopFlash.com has this lens in stock, in black. 

Feb 242015
 

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The new Zeiss 35 1.4 Zm Distagon on the Sony A7s

by Sean Cook

Hello Steve!

My name is Sean, and I’m a wedding photographer in Detroit.

I just picked up the new Zeiss Distagon 35mm 1.4 ZM from Popflash Photo in California, and I wanted to drop you a line to give you some first impressions of it and how it works on the Sony A7s.

One sentence summary: It’s sharp all over and beautiful with no color cast, but vignettes a lot and can create some strange artifacts in the out of focus areas.

Quick notice: I have had the lens for a day, and it’s cold in Detroit, so these aren’t exactly exhibition-worthy. I also was mostly shooting to test some of the qualities of the lens, and less just out to make great photos.

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To start, the lens is built beautifully, and if you’ve ever held an all-metal Zeiss lens, you know that feeling. It’s also surprisingly heavy. Including the Voigtlander Close-Focus Adapter, it easily heavier than my big Sony/Zeiss 50mm 1.4 ZA, so while it’s compact, don’t expect it to be lightweight — it’s like a condensed Canon 35mm 1.4L.

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Below: 100% crop of above image, wide open at 1.4

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The aperture ring is really perfectly damped, though because there is no EXIF data to know through the viewfinder where you’re f-stop is, it would be nice if there were deeper detents for the full stops (1.4, 2.0, 2.8…) like you would find on most Leica lenses. The focus is also damped really well. I hate a MF lens that takes a lot of push or pull to focus, and fortunately, even for a brand new lens it focuses quickly smoothly and quickly (though shooting outside in the cold gums of the works a bit). It’s also a very short focus throw (about a quarter or a turn or so), making focusing all that much quicker.

Not surprisingly, the lens cap is terrible and hardly feels like it even fits, and for the price of a used car, a lens hood would be nice also, but probably not anything to get too worked up about.

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I’ve only had the lens for a day now, so I have still quite a bit to learn about it and how it performs in different situations, but so far, it really is a joy to use. It is sharp and crisp, resistant to flare, easy to focus, has great character, and makes me want to go outside and shoot! Which, readers of this site will know, is maybe the most important characteristic. I have included a few photos to hopefully show some of those traits — especially the photo of the alarmingly hip older couple.

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However, it is not without its flaws. So far there are two that really worry me. 1. Vignetting and 2. Ghost/double-image.

Vignetting:
Now, certainly vignetting is easy enough to fix in Lightroom or Photoshop, but the amount that it darkens the image at 1.4 makes it difficult to get the correct exposure at times, and does add a little frustration to shooting. Anyone who’s ever shot video using Slog understands the difficulty in having to imagine later what your image will look like — I would LOVE if I could program in an amount of vignette correction for the camera to apply to allow me to really see what I’m working with.

To give you an idea of the amount of darkening that happens, I’ve included some real-world examples before and after correcting it in Lightroom. For reference, I find the amount I need to move the slider in the manual vignette correction for a 1.4 shot is 100! Literally, the amount is all the way, and the midpoint is all the way in the other direction, meaning the whole shot gets much brighter, and I find I need to then bring the exposure slider back about -0.5, which is a ton. But, while it is irritating, and might be a little bothersome in high-ISO situations, ultimately, it is a fixable problem.

Wide Open Vignetting – Before and After correction.

Vignette_Zeiss35mm14zm_02

Double-Image/ghost:
This one is kind of odd. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I can only assume it’s being caused by the thick sensor and close flange distance, but in the areas that are toward the edge and not in focus, a sort of double-image is created. I don’t know that I can describe it anymore than by just saying to look at the photos.

I tested it a few times after noticing it, because it looks like motion blur, but only in the areas that aren’t on the focal plane. In fact, to prove it isn’t some motion blur, you can see that one of the photos where it appears is shot at 1.4 into the sun, meaning the shutter speed was around 1/4000 of a second.

Honestly, I don’t know what to make of this, or how much it will actually show up or bother me, but it’s worth noting that this lens does not work perfectly on the A7s.

DoubleImageSign_Zeiss35mm14zm_02

DoubleImageSign_Zeiss35mm14zm_Closeup_02

DoubleImage01_fullsize

DoubleIMage02_PixelPeep

Beyond those two concerns, the lens is a delight. I shot into the sun, and got only minor CA, and minor flare, and the flare wasn’t especially distracting or ugly — it mostly just gives you a nice glow when backlighting is present.

Flare_CA_wideopen

Pros:
– Incredibly well-built
– Wonderful character
– Great bokeh
– Zeiss pop
– Great sharpness at 1.4 across the image, as long as the subject is in the somewhat curved focal plane (I shoot people, so I don’t especially need tack sharp at 1.4)
– Combined with the Voigtlander VM-E, allows very close focus
– Very well damped aperture ring and focus ring
– Like all Zeiss and Leica lenses, the value doesn’t drop much over the life of the lens

Cons:
– Expensive
– Heavy
– Strange double-image artifacts towards the edges of the A7s
– Very strong vignette at 1.4

Wide Open Sharpness Test – 1st image, then the 100% crop

WIdeopenSharpness_Zeiss35mm14zm_02

WideOpenSharpness_Zeiss35mm14zm_02_Closeup

I am going on a quick vacation this weekend to Texas, and I will send in a follow-up set of photos that will hopefully show more of the lens’ character, and help me determine if its shortcomings outweigh its beauty. I would hate to have to use the upcoming and huge Sony/Zeiss 35mm 1.4 FE! So we’ll see!

Thanks,

Sean

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Sean Cook Wedding Photography
Chicago & Detroit

http://seancookweddings.com

[email protected]

Feb 232015
 

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MIRRORLESS BATTLE! Micro 4/3 vs APS-C vs Full Frame!

E-M1, X-T1, A7s – 8 side by side tests

This was a blast to do, and shows the STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES of Micro 4/3, APS-C and Full Frame cameras, specifically the E-M1, X-T1 and A7s. Even I was surprised at some of these results and I did each test fair and square according to my rules below, which have been my comparison rules for seven years because it shows REAL WORLD shooting (not nonsense that no one does when shooting an not pro studio or lit images from a shooter who is sponsored by a camera company). This is as close as I will ever get to a “scientific test” while keeping it “real world”, and yes, it is what it is. Even so, whatever camera “loses” this test will have the fans of that brand attacking me, no matter which one loses. Should be entertaining in that regard as well. :)

Images and test descriptions will speak for themselves. Just how much difference is there between Micro 4/3,  APS-C and Full Frame when using the same or equivalent focal length? Sharpness, IS, color, detail, B&W conversions and more are tested here. 

  • I let each camera choose exposure. 
  • I am using the E-M1, X-T1 and A7s for this test so take it as just that. 
  • I set the aperture on each camera to match DOF of the smaller sensors the best I could for some tests.
  • For one test I will use each lens wide open to show DOF differences.
  • I shot each camera in the same way for each test, either hand-held or tripod.
  • ALL images are converted straight from RAW, WYSIWYG
  • Used the 25 1.4 on the E-M1, 35 1.4 on the Fuji and 55 1.8 on the Sony
  • I will pick my personal preference winner after each test based on the test itself. Score will be tallied at the end. These will be my preferences and may not be yours, which is OK. 
  • I used Adobe Camera RAW for ALL conversions which is what 95% of us use for our RAW files. No jumping through hoops to help any brand.
  • Was going to use A7II but it has many more MP and I had loaned it out to a friend for a few days so I did not have it. The A7s is the Sony Flagship in the A7 line, and is closest in MP to the Olympus and Fuji.
  • As this is a test of cameras in real world use, I let cameras choose exposure and used AWB so we can see what to expect in the real world. When we go out to shoot these cameras 95% of us use them in this way..auto exposure and auto white balance. So what you see here is what you can expect to get from each systems flagship camera. For detail shots all cameras were set to same ISO and Aperture. 

With all of that out-of-the-way, remember that the tests here are all dependent on lenses used. Some lenses on some systems will render differently when it comes to sharpness, color, bokeh, etc. I used a well-regarded lens for each system, lenses that have had rave reviews. OLY: 25 1.4 Panaleica. FUJI – 35 1.4 Fuji. SONY – 55 1.8 Zeiss.

Hand held test at 1/60th s. and basic overall IQ.

My pick for best IQ here at 1/60th is the Olympus E-M1 for sharpness and color. Right click on each image and open in a new tab or window for full size files.

The reason the E-M1 did so well and WON the 1st test below? The 5 Axis IS kept it steady letting me shoot in lower light at a minimal ISO. The other two bumped ISO but also were stopped down a little more. ALL were at 1/60th S. If each image was sharp, it would almost be a wash here and would have to go by color preferences. I still prefer the E-M1 color here as well but what is important is it shows how useful the 5 Axis can be, even for 1/60th s.

YOU MUST CLICK IMAGES FOR LARGER AND CORRECT VERSIONS

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fujimeter

a7smeter

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Tripod Test Stopped Down for DETAIL – Same aperture on each camera.

The winner to my eyes is Olympus yet again.

Here I stopped down each lens to F/4. NO, I did not stop down the larger sensors more as this is in no way a DOF test, it is a detail test and each lens should be at the same aperture to be 100% fair. So the Olympus E-M1 and 25 1.4 was set to F/4, the Fuji X-T1 and 35 1.4 was set to f/4 and the Sony A7s and 55 1.8 was set to f/4. All were ISO 200, all were shot from a tripod that was in the same exact position for each camera.

YOU MUST CLICK THE IMAGES TO SEE THE LARGER VERSIONS AS  TRUE 100% LARGE CROPS

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SMALLER CROPS 

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Each Lens Wide Open – A Shallow DOF Test

For me, there is no substitute for Full Frame if you want shallow DOF, but some will prefer a little bit of a larger DOF that you get from Micro 4/3 or APS-C. The reason being is that with the Olympus, you can still get some shallow DOF but you image will be sharper with more detail in most cases, if using a good lens. Same with APS-C in most cases. With full frame you can miss focus easily due to the shallow DOF. BUT if you nail it with FF the results are indisputable. For this reason, I choose the SONY as the winner here as it has the most capability for SHALLOW DOF or LARGE DOF and  this is a shallow DOF test :)

 BTW, the most detail at 100% came from the E-M1 but for shallow DOF, nothing beats full frame. The differences you see are from the lens focal length, not the sensor. The wider the less the larger the DOF (less blur), the longer the lens the more shallow DOF (more blur). Olympus used a 25mm, Fuji a 35mm and the Sony a 55mm. All give the same equivalent field of view but each lens has an effect on Depth of Field which is why you see a more shallow DOF on the Sony. As you can see, the difference between the DOF with the APS-C Fuji and Olympus are actually slight. Nothing to stress over.

YOU MUST CLICK IMAGES FOR LARGER AND CORRECT VERSIONS

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B&W Conversion Test

I did a crazy comparison test once showing how the E-M1 could replicate the Leica Monochrom to some extent, when it came to tonality (not detail) so how will this test go for B&W conversion between these three powerhouse cameras? For this test I shot in color and then converted to B&W using the same exact Alien Skin B&W filter for each file. Many claim Fuji has an amazing capability for B&W conversion, above other standard cameras. I never noticed this at all, so  let’s see how that holds up…

CLICK EACH IMAGE TO SEE IT CORRECTLY! 

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FUJI1

SONY3

For me, and my tastes, I prefer the Olympus rendering the most. To me, it resembles the Leica Monochrom more than the others, and that is a camera I consider to be the best B&W camera ever made (next to film of course). In fact, this E-M1 file looks eerily similar to a Monochom file. There seems to be more grayish tones and more black details which is preferred, especially for post processing. The Fuji is 2nd place for my tastes and the Sony 3rd but they look the same as any camera B&W conversion. For the most grey tones, the Olympus somehow gets it.  You can see more details when clicking on the images for larger sizes (as long as you are not viewing on a phone).

But let us see another B&W example…CLICK THEM TO SEE THEM CORRECTLY!

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FUJI2

SONY2

Again, here I slightly prefer the Olympus but ALL are great. I see none here that are a huge step above the others though the Olympus has the most detail yet again. Interesting huh?

SCORE SO FAR: So far we have Olympus with 2, Sony with 1 and Fuji with 0. Let’s keep on moving.

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Color Test

Just to show how each camera renders colors. These are all from RAW so any in camera color choice will not come into play.  Shot outdoors in natural direct light to give all cameras the best chance at showing their stuff. This will be 100% personal preference as what I like in color you may not. I did three color shots and chose three different winners, so this one is a draw as color can be quite good from all of these cameras.

The 1st sample is for color accuracy only. After looking at the crayons with my own eyes and looking at these images I feel the Sony comes closest to reality, with Olympus being 2nd and Fuji 3rd. 100% crops are embedded when you click on the image for a larger view. 

OLYCOLORTEST1

FUJICOLORTEST1

SONYCOLORTEST1

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Another color test and this one was between the Fuji and Olympus with the edge for me going to the Fuji. I feel Olympus is equally as good but the Fuji shot has a teeny bit more something that I like. Either are superb. The sony has a yellow cast here so it gets last place. 

OLYCOLORTEST2

FUJICOLORTEST2

SONYCOLORTEST2

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Finally another color shot in beautiful morning light. My grass, up close. ;) This time I much preferred the Olympus shot with the color, the light and the highlights all working for me. Then the Fuji. The Sony here is a bit dull but that is only in direct comparison. Many may prefer the Fuji or Sony here.  All from RAW. There is no “winner” – just preference. 

OLYMPUSCOLORTEST3

FUJICOLOR3

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Portrait Test

Many of us love portraits, so how will each camera do with a basic portrait? Let us see which YOU prefer. I prefer the Olympus as the Sony AWB really screwed the pooch creating a much too cool image. The Fuji is a bit overdone with color and INCORRECT color IMO while the Olympus strikes a balance that is most pleasing to me. This was just a simple indoor natural light test shot and nothing more. I am not a huge fan of the rendering of any of these to be honest as it was a quick indoor portrait with no good light, but it had to do.

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fuji

sony

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Here they are converted to B&W using the VSCO T-Max Preset. Click them for larger 1800 pixel wide versions to see the detail and rendering better. The Fuji has the most contrast here,but it looks better than the color version. The Olympus stays nice and neutral and the Sony looks much nicer in B&W due  to the color being off in the original. But one is Micro 4/3, one is APS-C and one is full frame. NOT that huge of a difference. 

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fujibw

sonybw

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DR Test

Dynamic Range is good from all three of these cameras, and the Olympus E-M1, contrary to popular belief has is about equal in DR to the Fuji X-T1 with 12.7 stops of DR. The Fuji, in RAW (it is less in JPEG) can do between 9 and 13 stops of DR and the Sony has 13.2. So all are similar but the Sony has the most (as you can see below). The Olympus is quite amazing for its smaller sensor to have 12.7 stops but in the real world, the full frame sensor shows its stuff. Here is a shot that was blown out. I recovered the highlights the best I could for each file.

Below is the Sony file AFTER I brought back the highlights that were blown to shreds. The SONY has the most DR hands down, which is what I figured due to the full frame sensor and big fat pixels. 

fullsonyafter

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Low Light HIGH ISO Test 

Sony Wins ISO, no contest. ;) What is interesting is that Olympus had the most detailed file at high ISO. For some reason the Fuji, even though tripod mounted and focus point selected manually, looks very soft (and yes, this is the sharpest part of the Fuji image) and that may be due to the NR Fuji applies that you can not turn off. The Sony looks softer but this is due to DOF even though I stopped down the Sony. It also appears that the Fuji RAW files are also doing some sort of Noise reduction even when turned off, which also loses detail. Me, I much prefer detail which is why I turn NR off on all cameras that allow it. (Fuji does not).

It seems here that the Fuji is even or slightly better than the A7s, but remember, the A7s allows you to go above and beyond most cameras with 102,000 ISO capability. Shooting at ISO 32,000 on the Sony provides usable and nice files. Not possible on the Fuji  or Olympus.

The Fuji, as I said, is applying NR to the RAW file and the Sony and Olympus are not. So not a fair test as the Fuji does not allow removing all NR. You can see the noise is smeared. The TRUE winner for high ISO is the Sony A7s. The winner for most detail at high ISO is the Olympus E-M1. The CA in the OLy shot is a result of using a Panasonic 25 1.4 which is an awful performer for CA.

FULL

ISO 3200

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fuji3200

sony3200

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Now ISO 6400

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fuji6400

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Again, (many do not read what is written above the tests) the Fuji has NR as it can not be turned off, which is why you see the noise is actually smoothed and smeared. So in the above examples the Fuji has NR and the others do not. The Fuji is also the softest (which some has to do with NR as it robs details) – a shame you can not turn it off on the Fuji. It is even applied to RAW files.

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My Final Thoughts and which camera I prefer out of all of these..and WHY.

Moral of this story? Anyone who tells you Micro 4/3 cannot hang with larger sensors is 100% incorrect, as I have said for years.  Also, what was not mentioned yet is the fact that the best made and designed body here is the Olympus E-M1. It is built to a higher standard the the Fuji X-T1 from solidity, quality of dials and buttons, and unlike the Fuji  – ZERO hollowness and zero cheap feeling parts without much extra weight at all.

In other words, I found the Fuji’s build quality to be the lowest of the three from body to dials and switches to the D-Pad, etc. This is not just talk, it is fact.

The E-M1 feels and operates like a pro camera, the Fuji *feels* more toy like (though it is NOT a toy, at all). The Sony is solid and hefty without any cheap feeling parts but again, the E-M1 slightly beats it in build quality and feel and control. The new Sony A7II stepped it up and is now about equal to or better the E-M1 in build.

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Of these three cameras my money would be spent on the Olympus 1st and Sony 2nd (and it was). I would skip the Fuji for my tastes. Just not my cup of tea from feel, focus, usability, speed and IQ in most lighting scenarios. For me the E-M1 has it all from build, speed, looks, feel, features, In body IS, lens selection, IQ and capabilities. The Sony A7s is a low light champ and works great with 3rd party and Leica glass but overall, the best all around general use every day and pro camera *of this lot* is the E-M1 by Olympus, and I say that without hesitation.

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So take this for what it is, a few tests with a few cameras using one lens each, all 50mm or so equivalent. Any IQ discrepancies there may be with Micro 4/3 (and there really are none besides shallow DOF possibilities of full frame) are easily over ridden by the amazing tech in the body and the features, usability, and overall quality of the images. It’s not only a superb camera to use, but it is a very FUN and enjoyable one to use. Many times the Fuji, again, frustrated me (dials would move too easily so settings were changed just from placing the camera in my bag, the way to change the drive mode is odd, with a cheap lever that also switches way too easily…overexposure on many occasions…etc). The Sony was fine besides a few AWB issues that I never noticed until doing these side by sides. So seeing the files next to each other and handling each body one after the other told me a lot.

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At  the end of the day these cameras can all do a great job, but it will be personal preference as to which one is best for you. Do some PP and the images can go to the next level, so remember that as well.

So for me, I love these two plus the Leica M, which will always have a place in my heart.

At the end of the test, here is the score with my eyes on all of the tests: Olympus with 6 wins, Sony with 4 wins and Fuji with 1 win. Your score may be different of course, as this is not a cut and dry thing. It is personal preference. So for you, Fuji may win or Sony may win. That is the beauty of it. It is not about WINNING or LOSING it is about WHAT YOU PREFER. 

Even though this test is what it is..some owners will come here to defend their choices, which is fine. But it doesn’t change reality. Also, no need to say ‘Fuji needs Capture 1, Fuji needs EV comp set at -1, Fuji needs sharpening, Fuji is light and hollow feeling  because of weight, Fuji needs a special technique for AF, etc etc”. To me, these are all excuses and we should not have to fly through hoops to get the best quality from our cameras. It should NEVER be “work”. All cameras were tested the same with no special treatment to any of them, that was important. Enjoy ;)

REFERENCE: See my Olympus E-M1 Review HERE, my Fuji X-T1 Review HERE and my Sony A7s Review HERE.  For the record over the past seven years I have been called a Leica, Fuji, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Ricoh, Nikon and Pentax fanboy. Lol. Why? Because I love many cameras from all of these manufacturers. 

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Feb 162015
 

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Testing the Zeiss Loxia 2/35 Biogon: the future of manual focusing

By Dirk De Paepe

Loxia. The name that enthused me the most during the last year. It’s the lens line that my life long favorite manufacturer, Zeiss, dedicates to my favorite camera, the Sony A7R. I love Sony for daring to explore new paths, resulting in the launch of the A7 family, the full frame/compact size bodies that finally offered a worthy alternative for the Leica M, and… at a reasonable price! I love Zeiss for believing in Sony’s boldness, and supporting them with excellent glass, Loxia being the most recent in the line.

From the moment they were launched, I knew this was it for me. That’s why I ordered them right away, both A7r and Loxia, and up till now, I didn’t regret it for one moment.
For this article, I did some shooting with the second and latest addition to the still young Loxia line, the 2/35 Biogon. And of course I shot it with my Sony A7r. The pictures that go with this review are all shot at the Antwerp Central Station (more info in the last paragraph of this article), and are available at a larger resolution on my flickr pages

(https://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/).  I gathered them in a dedicated album, named “Loxia 2/35 Biogon at the Antwerp Central Station”. Quite some of those pics are in full resolution, i.e. as a full 36MP file. Please check them out for image details and exif data, if you want, by clicking here.https://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/sets/72157650231351238/

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The importance of Loxia
Loxia is Zeiss’s lens line, dedicated to mirrorless camera bodies, like ZE/ZF.2 is a line for classic DSLRs and ZM is for rangefinders. When first announced, I read that some publishers doubted if it really was going to happen, if Zeiss was going to push through with it, creating a whole line for “yet another” new Sony development. In other words, they adviced their readers to be cautious and not buy a system that was not fully deployed yet. I have never shared their opinion. From the start, I was absolutely convinced that fullframe E mount was going to be very important and therefore that the Loxia line was going to be thé way to go for me. I’ll explain why.

It all begins with the most important evolution in photography of the last decades: the digital sensor and its dramatic progression in two domains: resolution and ISO. Although ISO has the most impact on the IQ, resolution has the biggest commercial impact and is responsible for the decline of the film camera. Nevertheless, many masterly pictures have been made with a lot less MPs than today’s average, which causes the reaction amongst many serious photographers that you’d better go for ISO than for MP – or, regarding the A7 line, that you’d better go for the A7s than for the A7r. (I’m not referring to the A7II here because this is just the next evolution of the hardware, with indeed some significant improvements, but eventually we will see those in all A7 models. At this point, I’m purely referring to ISO versus MP.) Personally, I want them both, ISO and MP. So I bought the A7r. And I still would buy it today, because it kind of offers me both. How so? Well, when shooting at high ISO, one càn apply some noise reduction (I prefer to do it in post production), when shooting with the A7r. This is often being contested, because NR reduces the detail of your picture. But this occurs at pixel level, which means that you will partly loose the benefit of your extra MPs. Correct. When shooting for instance at 3200 ISO, after some carefully dosed NR, I reduce the picture size to 66%, and get a pretty clean image, significantly diminishing the gap with the A7s in this regard and ending up with a 16MP file, which is still more than the resolution the A7s offers.

As a matter of fact, the higher the ISO, the smaller my files will get, if I want them to be pretty clean, but that counts for every sensor, also the A7s’s. So I prefer the A7r, because at least it gives me the opportunity to also go for a large, detailed 36MP file, when there is sufficient light, which mostly is the case. So in the A7 family, I prefer the higher resolution. And let’s not kid ourselves, this increase of MPs will not stop! Yes, it asks for more processing power, but the processing speed of computers will further improve as well. Anyway, with my iMac, I experience not the slightest problem, when processing the A7r’s files. I’m sure my next computer won’t have problems with my next sensor neither…

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The increase of MPs is a fact. Even the “low MP” A7s offers a multitude of the pixels, of what we had a few years back. Let’s not deny this any further. We will all shoot at higher MPs ten years from now. But this has consequences regarding focusing. The more pixels in our frame, the more critical the focusing gets. If you wanna focus very precisely at high MP, you need to do this manually. Although the AF systems will further improve, critical focusing also means selective focusing, and there will always be photographers that want to keep things 100% under control and perform the focusing themselves, not relying on whatever sophisticated system. To perform this kind of critical focusing, an optical viewfinder simply doesn’t do the job. That’s why the EVF is mandatory. There has been a lot of criticism, with many photographers rejecting the EVF. I believe they’re wrong. Already today, the EVF outclasses the OVF, regarding focusing precision. And the EVF quality will only further improve. The gap with the OVF will further increase and eventually the OVF will become totally obsolete. Is that a bad thing? I don’t see why. We’re talking about digital images anyway. One can argue that the OVF is closer to reality, but the EVF is surely closer to the final picture. And photography is all about creating a picture. So I see only advantages here.

Let’s resume. MPs will further increase and this will make the OVF obsolete. This means that the mirror is no longer needed in the camera body. Or in other words: mirrorless is the future! IMO this is ineluctable. And I believe that Zeiss nows this as well. And Sony is leading the pack in this department. Well, guys. That’s why I firmly believe in the Sony E mount, and that’s why I’m absolutely sure that Zeiss will further develop the Loxia range to become a very comprehensive product line. BTW, from what I read, the sales numbers of both the A7 family and the Loxias significantly surpass the initial  expectations, (hense the backorders for Loxia), which further confirms my point.
The importance of Loxia is that it will be thė MF lens line for the camera system of the future: mirrorless.

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Classic lenses versus Loxia
For many manual A7x shooters, M-mount lenses seem to be the preferred choice, because their compact size matches the compact A7x bodies very well. But we all now about the “issues” that arise with most wide angle M-mount lenses on the A7x, especially the A7r: corner color shift and smearing. At the Photokina Zeiss booth, I was told that the ZM line was, as a matter of fact, developed for film camera’s, not for sensors, and that they are therefore not intended to be used with modern sensors. I guess this also counts for (most of the) Leica M-lenses, because the digital Leica M-bodies correct their lenses with dedicated profiles. Loxia is completely issue free in this regard. But besides offering issue free lenses for modern mirrorless fullframe bodies, Zeiss announced from the start that the Loxia lenses would render state-of-the-art IQ. And I have to say: as far as now, they deliver! The 2/50 Planar is a clear step forward from the very familiar ZM Planar – what I didn’t expect, as you can read in my formar post. (http://www.stevehuffphoto. com/2014/12/10/ten-weeks-with- the-zeiss-loxia-planar-250- and-the-sony-a7r-by-dirk-de- paepe/) This Loxia 2/50 Planar made me think of Otus more than once. And how the 2/35 Biogon performs, is what I’m about to report here. But I can already tell you that this one surprised me even more!

Besides M-mounts, there are so many other lenses to be used with the A7x. All that beautiful classic glass, with so many different characters, that now can be shot on modern sensors, isn’t it wonderful?! For me too, this is a very important motivation to go for mirrorless bodies: thanks to their short FFD (flange focal distance), virtually all classic lenses can be mounted, with the right adapter. Those lenses often have a unique character, which I guess we all can quite appreciate and would like to exploit. However, most of the time, when used on modern hi-res sensors, those “classics” fall short in the IQ department. I own a few very nice vintage Jupiter lenses, with lovely signature, but it really makes no sense to go for the full 36MP resolution with them, since you simply can’t get a detailed image, when looking at full size. Luckily, most of the time, we don’t really need that much pixels, so I keep on using them from time to time. Classic glass on the A7x is absolutely a go!

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However, with Loxia, I experience something else. This is modern glass, completely up to date, regarding functionality ànd performance. To me, this is a joy of shooting beyond compare and with a fantastic image quality, at par with the modern hi-res sensors. IMO their IQ is only topped by Otus (although Loxia makes me think of Otus more than once). Add to that their compact size and a weight of roughly 1/3 of Otus and you can image that nowadays I prefer to put my Loxia 2/50 in my bag, rather than my Otus 55. So I use the Otus a lot less these days: really only when I have a very specific project at hand, where  the highest possible IQ is mandatory and gear transportation is no issue. Loxia is thàt good that I have even considered selling my Otus. But as far as now, it still feels good owning it, for those very special occasions.

Of course, Otus typically is a DSLR lens. But why not using SLR lenses on the A7X?! Think of old Leica R glass for instance. Makes a lot of sense, although of course we have to take the extra size and weight for granted with those SLR lenses.
What counts for all those classic lenses, is that they lack the data communication, which means that they can’t allow the “modern manual focusing” features that contribute to the joy of shooting with Loxia.

Loxia offers advanced functionality (top level in manual focusing) in a pretty compact package (only slightly outdone by M-mount) with excellent IQ (IMO only slightly surpassed by Otus). All in all, Loxia is undoubtably the best choice for MF shooting with fullframe E-mount camera’s, by combining in a unique way great performance in functionality, size and IQ. Nothing else comes close.

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General Loxia features
Of course many of the features of the new 2/35 Biogon are common with the Loxia 2/50 Planar, that was the subject of my latest article, published on this website. Since I already talked about general Loxia features in formar posts, I’ll confine myself to resuming the most important general Loxia features here.
The Loxia lenses are intended for manual shooting. They have no Auto Focus, and even don’t offer Auto Aperture. So you have to shoot in Aperture Priority mode or in Manual. No Shutter Priority available. If you’re not feeling happy with this, there’s only one simple conclusion to make: don’t buy Loxia. But if you want to have 100% control about everything, those Loxias are a dream come thru.

The Loxias not only match the A7x style perfectly, from an aesthetical point of view, they also bring manual shooting ergonomics to a height, never known before. This is thanks to the automatic “VF-zooming” feature, when moving the focus ring (a function that you can turn on/off in the menu), and also thanks to the perfectly designed and smoothly operating focus and aperture rings. They allow almost simultaneous “one finger” ajustment, thus featuring the fastest thinkable way of manual focusing and DOF determining. (Again, read my 2/50 article for more details, please.) The de-click option of the aperture ring (normally in 1/3 stop steps) will in certain ultra-critical situations allow for hyper precise determining of the dof  – of course besides it’s applications for filming, but that’s not my thing. The data exchange between lens and body, necessary to perform the automatic VF zooming, at the same time enables full exif data transmission.
When shooting with a hi-res sensor, like the 36MP one of the A7r, manual shooting is the way to go for critical focusing and, as I said, as well is the electronic viewfinder. The automatic zooming in the VF and the focus peaking add to that and together they make for very precise focusing. When you wanna shoot full frame in this way, with a pretty compact system, there is only one combination today: the A7x and Loxia.

Last advantage of the Loxias, compared to there ZM sisters, is their closer minimal focus distance. For the 2/35 Biogon, this is 30cm, compared to 70cm for the ZM. Big difference!
As a critical remark, again in comparison with ZM, I need to say that the Loxias are bigger (thicker, that is) ànd heavier. This makes your total system less compact than when using ZMs. In my smallest bag, I used to cary three ZM lenses plus body. With Loxia, that’s only two. A bit less compact indeed, but offering a better feeling. I guess this size must be about the ideal compromise between size, weight and ergonomics.

BTW the A7x/Loxia system still has a very big advantage, compared to a DSLR system, in this regard. The handling is still typically that of a handy, compact camera. Compared to a clumsy DSLR with big, heavy lenses, this is heaven on earth to me.

The Loxia 2/35 Biogon performance
Like the 2/50 Planar, this Loxia 2/35 Biogon was derived from its M-mount counterpart, the Biogon 2/35 ZM. But this doesn’t mean at all that it’s just an “adaption” of this lens. No way! Although those two Loxia lenses are admittedly familiar with the ZMs, they are thoroughly reworked. I don’t own the ZM 2/35 Biogon, so I couldn’t make a direct comparison, but I do own both 2/50 Planars (ZM and Loxia) and although there were no optical issues with the ZM Planar on the A7x, I could clearly see the difference in IQ and even in view angle. (Again, read my 2/50 article for details.) The ZM Biogons on the other hand unmistakably pose problems with the A7r: the known corner color shift and smearing. One could work around them and correct a great deal in post production, but franckly, this  was not to be preferred, as I experienced with my ZM 2.8/28 Biogon. So I was very anxious about the Loxia 2/35, when I read, just before its launch at Photokina, that it was going to be a Biogon design. So I went to Photokina, to do a few quick shots – just to see if there was going to be corner problems. In “Testing the Zeiss Loxia, ZM 35 1.4 and Otus lenses on the A7R” (click here to read this article on this website http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/10/03/testing-the-zeiss-loxia-zm-35-1-4-and-otus-lenses-on-the-a7r-by-dirk-de-paepe/) I reported that there was no question of color shift, nor smearing with the 2/35. A great relief that made me order both Loxias right away. But of course, I couldn’t be absolutely conclusive after only a few quick shots. Owning the new 2/35 Biogon for some weeks now, I can report with a bit more background. So let’s go a bit more in detail.

Color shift. There is no color shift what so ever. Never, at no matter what aperture. I can be very conclusive about this. I never noticed the slightest corner color shift in any picture I took. None of my pics in this review were corrected for color shift, not even in the slightest way. So no color shift. Period.

Distortion. There’s no distortion – well, nothing that matters. I add quite some pictures here for this report, with straight lines at the borders. In none of my pics, I performed any compensation for barrel distortion. Zero. So to me, in this regard, the performance is simply perfect. Look for yourself. I have to say that I did as a matter of fact perform quite some test shots with grids, to check for distortion. Well, indeed a few times I noticed a minimum of inverse distortion, barely noticeable though. I think I push it over the edge, to even mention it here. In real life pictures, even the very demanding once like the Station’s front view from behind the window, nobody can or will speak of even the slightest distortion. This is an excellent performance IMO. It makes this lens very suitable for shooting buildings and the like.

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Fringing. OK, there is some fringing, mainly at larger apertures. But it’s very limited and very controllable, should you want to correct it. IMO fringing mainly matters when shooting with large DOF, because then, you want a lot of cleanness and detail on all plans. You’ll find quite some pictures here, that I shot hyperfocally. On my flickr page, you can look at some at full size. I think in this regard, this Biogon’s performance is really amazing. Look for instance at the “Swirl” picture (placed first after the “Detail” paragraph), go to the right upper side to see a zone with great contrasts, very sensitive for fringing. I think the lens’s performance is astonishing here. In another picture, Left Arm (first image after the “Bokeh” paragraph), you can see about the maximum of fringing I got (green fringing here). Of course this was shot at f/2, with very close focusing, so that the out of focus effect was about maximal. It was still pretty easily correctable, but in a bokeh shot, I feel no need to correct any fringing, so what you see is what you get here. And in a third shot, Coffee Addiction (pictured hereunder), also shot at f/2 you get some magenta fringing around the lamps. Well, I don’t feel the need to correct this neither, but again, this can very easily be done, should you want it. So IMO the fringing with this Biogon is very limited, always easily correctable if you’d want, and at larger DOF non-existing or only very slightly visible, and only when looking at 100%. I think this is an excellent performance in this department.

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Color signature and nuances. This 2/35 Biogon clearly has its own color signature. There’s a kind of slight silky softness in the colors, which goes together with very subtile nuances. An absolute joy to watch, IMO. It’s different than the Planar, that is more cool and strict, always correct and neutral. But I honestly can’t say that the Biogon is incorrect in any way. Of course performing “laboratory test shots”, with the necessary measurements could give more precise information. In real life though, I can only say, those “somewhat silky” colors please me a lot. And, BTW, with very little input, you can correct or change or enhance those colors in any direction you like. Everything you need is there, to be processed in any way you want. In every picture, I could easily get the final look, that I had in mind. One consideration though, when a lens has a specific signature, probably it will be disliked by some – the more by those who are stuck to the signature of another lens that they already own. With every new lens, I’m trying to keep an open mind and see what this lens can do for me. With every picture that I take with this Biogon, I enjoy the aesthetics of the colors, I feel inspired by them and I quickly get the exact image that I want. The words that pop into my mind, thinking about this Biogon’s color signature are: pictorial, subtle, versatile, silky. All are very positive. The latter involves personal taste. I like it very much.

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Detail. In a former article, published on this site, I reported about this lens, after some quick shots at Photokina. I wrote that the 2/35 renders a somewhat softer detail than the Planar. Well, I have to correct this. I guess I was misled by its silkier color signature and because one always get less detail, when shooting out of hand (all shots at Photokina were OOH). I invite you to look in detail to some pics, shot with tripod. Go to my flickr page and select the full size image. You’ll find a “36MP file” indication at the full size pictures. Again, I didn’t perform measurements, but I have the strong impression that this Biogon produces as much detail as the Planar. And (!) it performs even better in the corners – there’s a bit more softening in the very deep corners with the Planar IMO. This was a big surprise to me. Maybe it is a small fraction softer all over, but really, with the bare eye and in normal pictures, like published here, I really couldn’t tell. Maybe it even renders a fraction more. But I càn tell you about the better performance in the corners, although the Planar was already outstanding there. To me it’s clear, detail is no issue at all –  not in the slightest way. Incredible detail, when using a tripod, but also OOH, when taking care, the detail is still pretty amazing. The first picture in this post was shot OOH – you can get a 36MP from my flickr account. BTW, with its closest focusing distance of 30 cm, the minimal FOV can even be smaller than with the Planar, revealing even more detail of a certain object for sure! Regarding detail, this Loxia 2/35 is high class! As good as it gets!

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Aperture range. We often think about a lens having a sweet spot, i.e. the aperture at which the performance is at its best. The designated way to determine the sweet spot is by performing specific test shots to measure, which I didn’t do. I just took “normal” shots throughout the whole aperture range. But I looked in detail and the results were pretty remarkable. Concerning detail, the 2/35 definitely renders a softer image wide open, at f/2. But already when closing one click (f/2.2), you can see a clear increase of detail. At f/4, you get as much detail as you’ll ever get (looking at 100%). Regarding detail, this stays that way up till f/16. Closing further towards f/22, the diffraction gradually occurs, with some loss of detail. Also the color dynamic range gets a bit poorer. I’d say the dynamic range is virtually optimal as from f/14 and wider. Regarding vignetting, there indeed is some at wide apertures. By f/3.5 I’d say it’s negligible and past f/4 it’s completely gone. As from f/2.8 you can completely correct the vignetting in the Adobe raw-converter, if you’d want. I’d say, the vignetting is never a problem. So what is the sweet spot of this Loxia 2/35? Well, I couldn’t tell. I’d rather speak about a “sweet zone”, that I’d place from f/4 to f/13, with this regard that the outer zones still produce very acceptable IQ, performing ever better than many “classic” lenses. The wideness of this sweet zone really surprised me. This means that I can use this lens at whatever DOF (at f/13 you can have acceptable focus from about 1,5m to infinite) and never have to worry about lesser IQ. Wow!

Large DOF shooting. This lens is really at its best, IMO, when zone focusing or even hyperfocusing. I thank Zeiss for continuing to put a DOF scale on their MF lenses – a great tool for zone and hyperfocusing! With its focal length and speed range, this lens is about ideal for street shooting, IMO. Again, I invite you to look in detail to some of the pictures here, that I shot with large DOF. On my flickr page is indicated which ones are shot with tripod and have a full 36MP resolution. Some of them, like the station front from behind the window (called “Dirty windows”) is a remarkable illustration hereof. This picture was shot a few hours after a melting snow storm. When looking at full size, you can clearly see the dirt that the storm left on the windows in the front plan and at the same time, you get tremendous detail from the station’s facade in the hind plan.
This lens’s ability to render amazing detail with constant clearness from front to hind plan is incredible. Again, I was quite astonished here. I can say it outclasses anything I saw up till now. (Again, I didn’t try every lens on the market, of course.) But what’s remarkable here is that one often (rightfully) speaks about acceptable focus, when talking about hyperfocusing and that some photographers even doubt that hyperfocusing is still possible anyway with a 36MP image, because “acceptible focus” becomes trickier as resolution increases – something I experienced clearly when upgrading from a 24 to a 36MP sensor. But this Biogon surprised me again! Indeed, I could realize pictures that showed clear detail all over – with no visible loss in IQ throughout the plans, even when looking at 100%. Simply jawdropping!

Smearing.This is really non existing. When I’m absolutely critical, I think I can see a very, ever so slight softening in the deepest corners, and only when looking at full size, like I mentioned above. I feel almost ashamed to mention this. Either way, I now of no lens that performs better in this department (of course I didn’t try all possible lenses). But smearing, I just don’t see any, up till the very tip of the corners. IMO, this performance is no less than Otus level. A big, very pleasant surprise to me, after what we’ve seen from the ZM Biogons. Also the Leica 2/35 Summicron, that I owned for a while, performed really not good in this department (on my A7r, that is) – that’s why I sold it.

Bokeh. Let’s be clear. This is no bokeh monster. It’s just not that kind of lens. Wide angle and f/2, what do you expect?! If you really want to create and explicit bokeh with this 2/35, you need to focus very close (or very far with very close OOF objects). But when you really go for it, like in the “Left Arm” and “Coffee Addiction” pictures, you get a really beautiful and soft bokeh IMO, both in front and hind. I believe it’s even softer than the Planar’s. But again, you really need to go looking for the right circumstances to achieve this. And in my kind of shooting, the bokeh is always a result, not a goal. BTW, even at f/2, the detail is not bad at all, as you can see, when looking at the next two pictures in full size, via my flickr account.

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Low light and artificial light shots. I wanna talk about this for two reasons. First, low light almost automatically means artificial light. And artificial light implies specific white balance. When it gets dark, the Antwerp Central Station is illuminated by many different kinds of light, each requiring a specific white balance. Some of the shots combine different light sources in one picture. Colors created by artificial light are different from daylight colors, but still they require a correct white balance to make them look right. Therefore a specific post processing was mandatory for those picture, and to perform this, the basic material, provided by the raw-file, must be of good quality. Well, the files that the Biogon/A7r provided me, gave me the impression that I could do whatever I wanted. What a joy to work with! Oh, and another thing that I wanted to do, was showing the high ISO capabilities of the A7r. I’d like to illustrate this with “Evening Hall” (next picture). This was shot at 4000 ISO. After some processing, I reduced the file to 66%, ending up with a 16MP file (still 4MP more than what the A7s delivers!) and I must say that I’m very pleased with the result – cleanness, detail and overall rendering. I hope you understand why I prefer the A7r above the A7s, offering me the best of both worlds. On my flickr page, you can see this picture in full 16MP format.

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Black and White. Concerning black and white shooting, let me first tell you that I deliberately had to decide to add some B&W pictures here, because in every shot, I loved the colors that much, that I just wanted to keep them. Of course, when you intentionally go shooting for B&W pictures, this is another matter, but I didn’t do that for this review – I was just trying out my newest lens. :-) Anyway, IMO, when shooting for B&W with a color sensor, you first need to get a good color balance, before converting the picture to B&W. The files you get from this Loxia 2/35 are a pleasure to work with, also in this regard.

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The figures

The Zeiss online lens shop announces this Loxia 2/35 Biogon for €1149,- which is considerably more than the €849,- for the Loxia 2/50 Planar. But this difference is well justified, because the Biogon features 9 elements in 6 groups, whereas the Planar 6 elements in 4 groups. Nevertheless, the Biogon weighs a bit less: 320gr instead of 340gr for the Planar. This is probably due to the lens elements being a lot smaller in diameter and probably also in thickness. I don’t know if the lens shade, obviously being shorter for a wider angle lens, place a roll herein a well. Measurements are the same: 66x62mm, caps included.

Conclusion

Like with the Loxia 2/50 Planar (and I’m sure this will count for all future Loxias), it’s a tremendous joy to shoot with this Loxia 2/35 Biogon. Thanks to its great ergonomics and advanced features, it really accomplishes what I call “modern manual focusing”. In combination with the A7x, this is a wonderful and very powerful performance machine for so many different kinds of shooting. But I’m convinced that Zeiss mainly had the kind of photographer in mind, that takes profit from a compact camera. The OOH street shooter is probably the stereotype hereof. Although I wouldn’t be surprised when the wonderful colors would convert quite some B&W shooters.  :-) Thanks to its compact size, out of hand street shooting is a great joy, as I said. This is probably the most handy combination on the market today for this kind of shooting, but at the same time it offers a remarkable IQ, at a surprisingly wide aperture range. So this is also a great choice for tripod work. This Biogon reveals itself in that case as a very precise tool with a very beautiful color palette and a personal signature, that I love.
I am so very glad that I immediately ordered this Loxia 2/35 Biogon!

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Shooting at the Antwerp Central Station

For this article, I gave myself an assignment: making a kind of pictural essay of the Antwerp Central Train Station. So all shots were taken of or in the station building. I like working at assignments and thought this was a nice one. Indeed, Antwerp Central is one of greatest stations in the world.
The original building of the Antwerp Central Station was constructed between 1895 and 1905 as a terminal train station. The hall is 75m (246 ft) high, while the tracks and platforms are covered by a vast iron and glass trainshed of 185m (607 ft) long and 44m (144 ft) high. The complex has for more than a century been regarded as one of the finest examples of railway architecture in Europe. Between 1998 and 2007, large scale reconstruction works converted the station from a terminus to a through station, allowing high-speed trains to frequent Antwerp Central without the need to turn around. To accomplish this goal, a tunnel has been excavated under the station and a good part of the city, with added platforms on two underground levels. A central pit under the glass roof brings daylight to the underground platforms. Since the reconstruction, the station has 14 tracks and 4 levels. Today the Antwerp Central Station is an even more impressive infrastructure than it has been in the last century. In 2009 the American magazine Newsweek judged it the world’s fourth greatest train station and, according to the Brittish/American newssite Mashable, it’s even the most beautiful train station in the world. That aside, to me it’s as impressive as it is beautiful and a real “feel-good” place. If you ever can spare some time in Belgium, I advice you to make a train trip from Antwerp to Liege, to visit two exceptional stations.

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Feb 092015
 

New Zeiss ZM 35 1.4 Distagon Leica M Mount lens IN STOCK!

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The new and SUPER HOT Zeiss ZM 35 1.4 M mount lens is NOW IN STOCK through PopFlash.com. I have spoken with quite a few who have either bought or shot with this lens and most have said they prefer it to the Leica 35 Summilux 1.4 FLE! It is supposed to be one hell of a lens and is perfect for your Leica M or Sony A7 camera.

PopFlash.com has them in stock in SILVER, right now! CLICK HERE to check it out!

 

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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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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Dec 082014
 

The Zeiss 35 1.4 Distagon ZM (Leica mount) Lens Review

by Cemal Sagnak

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Many People belief, a Leica Camera needs native Leica lenses, although there are Alternatives by other German Companies like Carl Zeiss with a long optical history in making lenses and Rangefinder cameras. As a passionate Leica Photographer, I always search and look for high quality alternative lenses for my Leica M Typ 240.

One of my favorite lenses is the Carl Zeiss Biogon T* 2/35 ZM, a versatile documentary and Photojournalist lens with outstanding optical performance and my standard Lens on the M.

I was very tempted to read the announcement during the last Photokina in September about a new fast 35mm f/1.4 hoping this can match with my Biogon 35/2 in optical performance but with a fast f1.4 aperture.
I could not be happier when last week my Demo Lens arrived.

My initial impression was extremely good, although the Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM is larger (lengths 87,3 49mm Filter, 381gr) vs. the Biogon T* 2/35 ZM (lengths 68mm, Filter size 43mm, 240gr) the finder blockage is still moderate. You get immediately a feel of the build quality, all metal finish, robust and made for the next generation, something I definitely expected from a Carl Zeiss Lens.

The Distagon is build with 10 Elements in 7 groups with and the10 blades can be set in 1/3 steps giving you a good haptic feedback, you can feel comfortably each click on the aperture wheel. The focus wheel is on the right spot, perfectly accessible and smooth in handling, Rotating is not to tight and not to loose, which is important for a fast lens shooting at f/1.4 to achieve precise results.

The lens is equipped with the T* anti-reflective coating to control flare we will see later how good it performs using the Distagon against strong sunlight. The Distagon is made to be used under low light condition or for a clear separation of the subject from the background, don’t be surprised to see many pictures shot at f/1.4.

The Data sheet is promising; with a relative distortion of less than -1% the Distagon beats the Summilux –M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH on paper. Lets see how it performs.

Non-Leica Users need to know that sharpness of a rangefinder lens is relative and depending on the skills and eyesight of the User behind the Finder.

Before I took the Lens out, I did some shots at home on a tripod to see if there is a focus shift or misalignment. One shot through the RF and one with the LCD of the M and no surprise, all was good, as you can see in the crop of the image taken through the RF.

BTW, I tried the EVF of the M240 but I come to the conclusion that I am better and faster with the optical RF and composing is much easier. I turn on the LCD just when I use a 21mm lens to control the frame. I maybe would use the EVF if someone puts me a Noctilux under the Xmas tree and for sure with Leica – R lenses. But coming back to the Distagon…

My first session was taken in my new hometown Cologne, known as the capital of German Photography and this is not because of the Photokina only.  Pictures are DNG files converted into jpg in LR 5.7 I took some random street shots including the Xmas market to get warmed up with the character of the lens.

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The Bicycle shot shows rich and contrasts colors with a nice background blur and a great sharpness on the flowers. I tried similar with people, I am glad my daughters share my passion so they are always great models to try new Gear.
My second opportunity using the Distagon was a fashion shooting with the lovely Dana, who is running a fashion blog and needs regular shots of her in the seasons dress-up.

A 35mm lens is not the first choice for Portraits and People. Still the results were highly satisfying, color and focus are as well. Flare is not always welcome but in this case I used it as an element. Unfortunately Zeiss did not deliver a Lens Hood with this demo unit. I recommend purchasing a hood with the Lens.

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Beside some lens flare, I identified chromatic aberration, which appears when shooting wide open. Nowadays nothing software cant fix and also visible in some of my Summilux pictures. The third part of my Test was the low light capability of the lens, using it in some urban lightning and using it for what it was made for, wide open in low light, I travel much, so taking a tripod with me is a hassle and 100% of my shots outside are handheld. Maybe this is the case for many Leica Users.

This leads me to the Part 3 of my test…. Paris! A perfect Place using a Leica Camera and going for a photo walk along the river Seine and visiting places where Grandmasters of Photography took many iconic pictures. The Zeiss Distagon performs well wide open and paired with the great ISO abilities and Dynamic range of the M240, you will be able to get extraordinary results shooting this combo in the dark.

Here one Bokehlicious shot from a brigde in Paris.

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After all, I am pretty impressed by this new lens. I have owned the Leica Summilux 35mm ASPH (pre-FLE) and use currently the Biogon 35/2 which are the natural competitors. Before I come to my personal conclusion here is a price overview (Prices in Euro )

LEICA SUMMILUX-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH – 4200 Euros
CZ Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM – 2000 Euros
CZ Biogon T* 2/35 ZM – 1050 Euros

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Now my question before I started this lens test: is it worth to pay almost double the price compared to the Biogon 35/2 for one f stop faster? For me it is, not that everybody needs an f1.4 lens but if you like shooting fast lenses, this is the lens, which delivers the image quality sharpness and details starting from f1.4.

Please find below the comparison shot at f2.0 between the Distagon and the Biogon. The Distagon is clearly sharper, I plan some more shots for a detailed comparison. Is the Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM capable to compete with one of the best available lenses the Leica Summilux 35mm ASPH FL?

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35 Distagon 1.4 at f/2

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Based on my experience with the Summilux , the Distagon is definitely worth to consider and not only because its half the price. Sharpness is on par between both lenses. I would like to do a lens comparison but I assume difference is very small and can be better measured in a LAB test rather then comparing pixel.

35 1.4 Distagon and then a crop

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The Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 1,4/35 ZM is announced to be ship at the end of 2014.

You can order the lens HERE at B&H Photo.

Cemal Sagnak

https://cemalsagnak.wordpress.com

Dec 082014
 

The Zeiss Loxia 50 f/2 on the streets of NYC 

By Tomer Vaknin

Dear Steve,

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

As a proud and very happy owner of the Sony Zeiss 55mm, I was hesitant to purchase the Loxia. However, after reading your positive impression of the lens in Photonika 2014 and as a huge fan of M mount lenses that I am, I simply had to try the Loxia.

Here are some photos I took with the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* in Amsterdam streets, Marken village and Rennstrecke Zandvoort, during a holiday I took with my wife in the Netherlands. I hope these photos, along with my personal impression of the lens, will help some of undecided readers in making the right decision for themselves.

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

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

- Wonderful Bokeh

- Lovely Creamy look

- Great character

- Great colors and contrast

- Very sharp!

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

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

www.facebook.com/tomer.vaknin.5

Dec 032014
 

The Great Venice Beach Fire of 2014

By Huss Hardan

Hello Steve and Brandon,

The night of Saturday, October 25 started off like most in Venice Beach, CA. Tourists, drunks, drunk tourists. The usual motley crew including yours truly. But then things changed with the smell of smoke. Now this wasn’t the usual smoke smell that wafts through the neighbourhood – due to 90% of the population suffering from glaucoma – but an acrid smell that warned of more serious events afoot. Something was on fire, so the normal reaction was to grab a camera and go take a look.
It was easy to track down, as I just followed the plumes of smoke, and the sound of sirens. A storage facility was the culprit, one that required 365 firemen to be summoned!

More at : http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20141026/venice-storage-fire-burns-for-14-hours-injures-eight-firefighters

It was quite the scene with moments of absurdity mixed in. One that sticks with me is the dood cycling through the fire trucks holding his munchies, without a care in the world! Ahh, Venice, don’t ever change!

I used a Leica M-E with Zeiss ZM 50mm Sonnar 1.5. All shots were at 1.5 and ISO 1250 1/125 sec . The intense strobe lights from the trucks made the auto meter go nuts – exposure readings flickering from 1/4000 to 1/30 sec, so I set it manually and stuck with that. As the Leica has an optical view finder, the viewing image was constant, but I wonder how an EVF would have coped with the strobe lights.

Peace out

Huss

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