Jun 122013
 

Reviews coming SOON! Leica X Vario, Zeiss Touit Lenses, Voigtlander 50 1.5 Nokton and Olympus E-P5

Hello everyone! It has been a rowdy week with all of the Leica news and the new X Vario camera. I know many of us (most of us) were disappointed as we were really hoping for a real “Mini M”. I think the problem was the fact that Leica teased us with the “Mini M” promo but to be fair, they all called the X2 the “Micro M” so we could have read into it any way we wanted to.

 

The Leica X Vario Camera is on the way!

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Now that the dust is settling and we now know that this is indeed the new Leica camera I have one on the way for a full review. B&H Photo is shipping me one today so I can evaluate it for a couple of weeks. Was shipped out today so I should get it within a few days. I will use it, test it and bring it along to Palouse for the workshop coming up on the 21st of the month. I have no doubt it will make for a fine daylight landscape camera, NO DOUBT AT ALL :) I feel the camera will lose its appeal for me when I take it to lower natural light. With that slow zoom, it just does not seem possible to get nice clean shots in low light. But in any case, I have one on the way for review so I am looking forward to it. I remember hating the Nikon V1 specs and then loving the camera so you never know. I will give my 100% honest evaluation of the camera so stay tuned! All site sponsor dealers have them in stock as of today for anyone feeling the zoom love. Those sponsors are always listed on the right side of any page :)

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The NEW Voigtlander 50 1.5 Nokton Chrome/Brass M Mount

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I am really excited to be getting my very own Chrome Voigtlander 50 1.5 lens from Camera Quest this week! This is the new M mount redesign of the legendary 50 1.5 Nokton screw mount of the past. That old lens competed head on with the Leica Summilux and the new version looks like a classic lens, made of chrome and brass and my guess is that it will be damn good. I am hoping to have mine by the end of the week so when it gets here, expect a 1st look video and snaps with a full review to follow. Camera quest has only a few left in Chrome in their 1st shipment and black is all sold out but if you ask me, Chrome is the way to go as it is limited edition and built just like they used to make them. REAL Brass and Chrome. You can buy one here for shipping this week, but as I said, only a few remain. You can also order a black for shipping in July.

Specs (hey, the lens hood is even included)

Voigtlander 50/1.5 Nokton Leica M mount Aspherical

M Mount

Close Focus .7 Meter

5 Groups, 6 elements

Filter size 49mm

Length 47.7mm

Diameter 53.8mm

f/1.5 to f/16

Black or Chrome (real chrome on brass)

Notice the smaller 49mm filter size compared to the earlier 50/1.5 Screw mount version. Voigtlander has apparently modified the formula slightly

Lens Hood included

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Zeiss Touit Lenses on the Fuji X

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I have also been shooting the X-E1 with the new Zeiss Touit Lenses and they look and feel FANTASTIC.

The Zeiss lenses are a great addition to the Sony NEX and Fuji X line as they feel like solid pro glass should. Amazing build and feel and while the 32 1.8 is about equal to the Fuji 35 1.4 in IQ and output, the construction is indeed much nicer. But I will have that review up very soon as well.

For those joining Ashwin and I in Palouse I will have all of this gear with me including my M 240 for anyone to take a look at. Should be a blast and I can not wait! PopFlash.com now is a Fuji X Dealer and they also carry the full line of Zeiss Touit lenses.

X-E1 and the 32 1.8 Zeiss Touit with nice window light

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The Zeiss Touit 12mm 2.8 in 111 degree heat in Apache Junction AZ :)

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BTW, I will have the Olympus E-P5 HOPEFULLY before Palouse by may not get that one until I return. Either way, it will have a full review!

May 022013
 

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New Zeiss 12 f/2.8 Touit and 32 f/1.8 Touit lenses for Sony E and Fuji X mounts

You can now pre-order these at B&H Photo HERE

Woohoo! Finally, Zeiss has announced the release of brand new lenses for Sony E-Mount and Fuji X-Mount cameras and I have just gotten the invite to NYC to try them out this month in the flesh. Not sure I can make the event but I am thrilled to see Zeiss release some new lenses for these mirrorless systems, and what they are releasing appears to be very nice. A gorgeous 18mm equivalent wide-angle and a 50mm equivalent, both fast and both ZEISS quality! Mirrorless is maturing quite nicely :)

Touit 1.8-32 on Sony NEX and Fujifilm X

The Zeiss 32mm f/1.8 Lens for Sony E or Fuji X Mount. 

Price: $900

For those that want s super high quality fast 50 for your Sony or Fuji camera, here you go. Zeiss optics and design. Finally, some stellar lenses arrive for these capable cameras. Sure Fuji has their own 35 1.4 but I have a feeling that the Zeiss Touit 32mm 1.8 will surpass it in build, speed and quality. I am excited to review these and Zeiss will be sending me the lens to test SOON (within 2-3 weeks). Can’t wait.

Press blurb:

“The best of two worlds. Just like a 50 mm lens in 35 mm photography, the Touit 1.8/32 offers the same angle of view as the human eye. However, optimised for use with APS-C format sensors, it is simultaneously a lens that is so light and compact that it can be taken along simply anywhere and everywhere you go. Whether you are shooting portraits, landscapes or spontaneous snapshots, you will never cease to be amazed by what a Touit 1.8/32 can tease out of your camera. It is quite simply the ideal companion for capturing perspectives and colour- and lighting moods in perfect pictures.”

Read more about it HERE

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The Zeiss 12mm f/2.8 Touit

Price: $1250

The new 12mm 2.8 will be  a wide-angle for your mirrorless system. Available for your NEX or X, this is another Zeiss option that is VERY welcome in the Sony and Fuji world. This will be like an 18mm lens on your Sony or Fuji body, so a true Ultra Wide. Perfect for architecture or landscape.

Press Blurb:

“With an angle of view of 99 degrees, the Touit 2.8/12 wide-angle lens will soon become a firm favourite, particularly for landscapes and architectural photography. Its unique T* multicoating guarantees maximum transmission and outstanding absorption of extraneous light. The result: breathtaking image quality from edge to edge and corner to corner of the entire image field. What’s more, all moving parts of the Touit 2.8/12, conceived specifically for Sony NEX and Fujifilm X Series cameras, are engineered for extreme precision and a long working life. And finally, its strong and rigid metal bayonet mount makes it an absolutely dependable companion for many years to come.”

Read more about it HERE

Apr 162013
 

Using a simple prop in your photos can make it fun and interesting

“The Glasses” – A start of a new portrait series

Since I had a couple of days free this past weekend I decided to have some fun and goof around at home by taking some silly portraits using an old pair of vintage eyeglasses I found at a local goodwill for $1.  I bought the glasses with the purpose of using them for goofy portraits. When I saw the glasses and had my son’s friend put them on he looked quite odd..like a lunatic. It seemed to change his personality which I found interesting. I snapped his pic and of course we all laughed. Yep, a simple “prop” could not only make a fun photo but maybe, possibly a new series of photos that can give you something creative to think about and create. It sparked a silly idea in my head and gave me something fun to try.

I told my son to put them on and I saw the same thing so I bought them and brought them home. I mean, where else can you get fun like this for $1? Later that night I snapped a photo of my son wearing them while outside at 10PM. I used the light by the door to illuminate his face and set the camera to ISO 1600. With those huge frames he kind of resembles a young Bill Gates, or a geeky inventor.

I then had my buddy put them on and he took a knife and made a menacing face..almost Serial Killer like, so I said “you look like a serial killer”! Then Katie, my soon to be stepdaughter put them on and she became the “pyromaniac”.

After these three shots I decided to keep going with these glasses for the next year and when I meet someone or find someone willing I am going to tell them to put them on for a portrait while they tell me what they feel the glasses make them look and feel like. Should be fun :)

Could an old pair of glasses bring out a personality we never knew existed? Probably not, but possibly. Either way it should be interesting and I look forward to seeing what I can get over the next year :) The images below were shot with the Leica Monochrom but I am not limiting myself to using that camera. Future images may be taken with the M, Sony RX1 or even a Fuji or Olympus but I will keep them all B&W.

If you ever get bored and have nothing to shoot try using a simple prop and see what you can drum up!

For those who are wondering, the 1st two shots were with the 50 Lux ASPH and the 3rd was with the Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 at 1.5 and you can see the differences for sure, at least I can. I am loving both lenses but that Sonnar…well..it is rockin’.

The Inventor

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The Serial Killer

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The Pyromaniac

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Apr 112013
 

Zeiss 50 Sonnar on Leica Monochrom

A new look at the Zeiss 50mm C Sonnar T 1.5 Lens

By Steve Huff

Note: all images in this post were shot with the Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 ZM lens and the Leica M 240 except one image with the Monochrom (which was noted). You can click them for larger versions. 

A Beautiful Old Friend

It was 4-5 years ago when I wrote a review on the Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 Lens, the current model that is still sold by Zeiss for $1200. I originally tested it on the Leica M8 and LOVED it. That old review was hosted on my original website but has since been lost..gone..kaput. So no more old review of the Zeiss Sonnar.

But there’s no need to fear! A review refresher is here! With the new Leica M I have been testing out all kinds of lenses, mainly the 50mm focal length from Leica and Zeiss and I have to say these Zeiss lenses are really beautiful. I recently fell in love with the 50 Planar for its low price and unique signature but remembered the Sonnar from the old M8 days and when I tested it briefly on the Monochrom. The Sonnar is so much different from the Zeiss Planar or Leica Summicron or Leica Summilux that it is worth checking out if you want to make your shots a bit more interesting..or classic..or beautiful. :)

I always embrace “different” :)

The Dynamic Range of the M 240 is superb and mates well with the Sonnar

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The Zeiss Sonnar is an old 1930′s design (designed in 1929 by Dr. Ludwig Bertele) and this lens as it is sold today uses the same optical formula as the 1934 version but with new modern coatings for enhanced contrast. This modern version of the classic lens does indeed have the classic look but it also has the Zeiss colors and 3D pop to go along with it, which can get addicting because when you go back to Leica glass it is just not there. Leica renders the image in a much different way, technically better but different colors, bokeh, sharpness, etc. There is a Leica look and a Zeiss look. Each look has their share of fans.

Beautiful Fast

It has a 1.5 aperture for shallow depth of field and is beautifully built as well as sexy to look at. Some of the greatest shots by the masters were shot with Sonnar 50mm designs and this design is just as capable today as it was back then. In a day of modern aspherical and APO lenses things can sometimes start to look too perfect, too clinical and too sharp. By going out on a walk with a lens like the Sonnar you will be guaranteed to come back with shots that look much different and unique to what you would get with your normal 50mm lens.

Nice Zeiss color…

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Just a few days ago I revisited the 50 Zeiss Planar, which I adored but even that lens will render a more perfect scene then the Zeiss Sonnar. I argued that it may be wise to own BOTH the Planar and the Sonnar. This way, you get your sharper more perfect look as well as your classic bokeh filled look for just about $2000, or $300 less than a Leica Summicron lens alone :) It’s a win/win.

At $1200 it seems the Sonnar is not cheap but when compared to Leica glass, it is much less expensive in some cases. For example, the Leica Summilux 1.4 comes in at $4000 and yes, the Summilux is the mother of all fast 50′s when it comes to the combo of speed, size, beauty and build. It’s just about the most perfect 50mm lens in existence because it does everything right and never lets you down. The Sonnar is much different because images coming from the Sonnar will not look like what you get from the Summilux ASPH. They will not be perfect, nor modern looking nor will they have the Leica feel.

Part of the beauty of the Sonnar is the flaws and the character that comes along with it. Also, the challenge of shooting it on a digital M body.

Both of these are wide open at 1.5, converted to B&W using Alien Skin Exposure

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BEWARE!

It’s true. This is a lens you will either love or hate! It just so happens to be very challenging to use and there has been controversy surrounding it since its release. When it was released, some users thought it was a very soft lens wide open and there were statements about it being so soft it appeared dreamy. That could not be further from the truth. This lens is pretty damn sharp wide open but the key is to get the focus right, and using a rangefinder makes it tough because this lens is usually calibrated for use at f/2.8 which means focusing with your rangefinder at 1.5 will not be accurate and will result in a soft “dreamy” look. It is called “Focus Shift”. Keep in mind that this only affects rangefinder cameras and using the rangefinder focusing patch. If you use this lens on a mirrorless system with live view you will not experience focus shift. 

There are simple ways around this issue if you want accurate focus every time at 1.5 though, and if you like the character of the lens it is worth it to put a few minutes into figuring it out.

If you have a Zeiss sonnar set and optimized for f/2.8, it will take you a few minutes to learn how to use it at f/1.5 to be reliable, just as I have when taking the images you see here. These were all mostly shot at 1.5 and captured in one shot using the Rangefinder of the Leica M 240, not live view. They are all in focus where I intended the camera to focus.

The newest copy I have here came from B&H Photo and it appears to me that it is optimized more for f/2 than 1.5 or 2.8 because I can focus in the RF at 1.5 and get a sharp result but if I turn the focus ring a hair clockwise after I line up the RF patch I get super sharp results as you can see in the shot below:

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In other words, this copy of the lens is sharp wide open when focusing normally but can get REALLy sharp wide open with one little trick. I basically shot this scene above as a test for 6-7 shots and figured out where my perfect focus was when using the rangefinder, which as stated, was a hair to the right after I lined up the patch. What I mean by this is when I focus normally the shot is a teeny bit soft due to focus shift. If I move the focus barrel a teeny bit more to the right after focusing I will get real spot on focus. If I do this every time I will nail focus every time.

Still, paying $1200 for a lens you have to work with to focus accurately may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it can be worth it because this is one of those lenses some call an “Artists Lens”. The look it gives is unique and super classic. Much like the Noctilux has its own gorgeous signature, the Sonnar has one as well. If it is Bokeh you are after, this lens will give it to you. The image below was a test shot to see Bokeh quality and here it is pretty smooth.

Use it, Learn it, Love It!

This one shot on the Monochrom at ISO 4000 and 1.5

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I have seen some who bought this lens give up on it in frustration because they would focus and get soft results. Some users did not know if it was a problem with their eyes or what but this lens has its share of haters and lovers. I am in the lover camp but let me be honest…there are loads of 50mm choices for your M rangefinder and if you can only have ONE 50mm, I would not recommend this one as an only lens because it does offer such a unique look and you may tire of it after a while. The lens also has a 1 meter close focus limitation where lenses like the Leica 50 Lux let you focus closer t0 0.7 meters.

You can own this as  your only 50, and I know a couple of guys that do, but I feel the 50 Planar or Leica is better as an only one lens solution (which is why I went for both). I am now up to four 50mm lenses but I love my 50′s!

If you learn how to use your Sonnar on your camera it will become quick and easy to focus the way it needs to be focused for sharp results at 1.5, and that is where the magic of the lens happens..wide open.

Leica M 240 and B&W conversion

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In the world of 50mm rangefinder lenses there are many choices from modern Leica perfection to old classic RF lenses from the past like the Canon 50 1.8 LTM (which I also own) and everything in between. The 50mm is a classic focal length and probably the most popular for rangefinder shooters. My #1 recommendation for a 50mm Lens is money is no object is  the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH or new 50 Summicron APO. If money is an object, and for most of us it is, you can still buy a lens or  two that will not hamper you in any way and still give you gorgeous results. Zeiss ZM glass is just one of those options where you get to pay less but still have that special quality that makes  you say “wow” when you nail a special shot.

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The images here were all just test shots around my yard, nothing special at all but it goes to show that a lens like the Sonnar can make things look better than they actually are in some cases. Even a silly shot of some dusty mini blinds (yes, I have now cleaned them after seeing the shot above from my office blinds) have that special Sonnar “look”.

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The Zeiss Sonnar is one of those lenses you buy with your heart. Like I already mentioned, you either love it or you hate it. But for me, it is a lens I will always love and have a soft spot for. I guess you can say this lens has a “romantic” quality, and there is nothing wrong with that because we all need a little romance in our lives every now and then :)

You can buy the Zeiss 50 Sonnar at B&H Photo, PopFlash.com or Amazon!

Apr 092013
 

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A new look at the Zeiss ZM 50mm Planar f/2 Lens

This is not a lens review, just a refresher of a lens I reviewed a few years back. The Zeiss Planar has been with me for a few days via LenRentals.com and I have enjoyed it so much I had to write down some thoughts about using it on the Leica M and MM. Enjoy!

The deal of the century..is that not what many of us are always on the lookout for? Well, the Zeiss 50 Planar f/2 lens for Leica M mount may not be the “Deal of the Century” but it is a slam dunk bang for your hard-earned buck if there ever was one. This little 50mm f/2 lens is SUPERB and I reviewed it a few years back on the Leica M9. It is one of my older reviews so it may not be that long or detailed but it does have plenty of samples that were shot on the M9. The good news? It seems to do just as well on the new generation of Leica cameras and in these days of $4000-$10000 Leica lenses it is refreshing to see an under $900 lens perform just as well as its Leica counterpart.

The Zeiss 50 Planar on the Leica Monochrome – click it for 1600 pixel wide version to see how sharp it is at the focus point (whiskers)

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I remember this lens and ever since that 2009 review period and ever since then I have toyed with the idea of owning it because I remember it gave me those Zeiss colors and Zeiss pop along with the Zeiss 3D depth that the Leica did not give me. I remember the lens being super sharp as well but how will it hold up today on the Leica M 240 and Monochrom? At under $900 how could this lens compete with the legendary Leica 50 Summicron that sells for $2295? Can it? Well yes it does, and it does so very well indeed. In some ways it is better than the Leica 50 Cron (original, not APO) and in others it is not. Well, mainly in one area only, and that is build.

It appears many have had the same question as me: “Which lens should I get? Zeiss ZM 50 Planar or Leica Summicron”? Again, the cron is now $1400 more expensive than the Zeiss Planar and below I will go over how I feel the Zeiss compares with the legendary cron as well as talk a teeny bit about the Zeiss 50 Sonnar C 1.5 as well.

I do not have a 50 Cron here anymore to compare but I have extensive experience with it on film and digital, so I know it well. I know its rendering, its bokeh quality and its build. It is a great lens and a favorite of mine but the Zeiss belongs right up there with it, especially considering the cost. Be sure to click on the images here  to see them larger with more details.

The Zeiss on the Monochrom wide open at f/2

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The Breakdown

Build quality will go to the Leica without question. The Leica, as I said, is legendary. It is a problem free lens and the build has never had any major issues unlike the Zeiss that sometimes can develop “focus slop” over time. The review sample I had years ago had the slop and stickiness and Zeiss sent that one to me direct! It did not affect the focusing performance but it did feel loose and sloppy. The one I am using now is a rental from lensrentals.com and it is perfect in feel and use but build wise, it is lighter than the Leica and you can tell it just is not made as well as the mighty cron. I’d say it is 80% of the Leica build. The Leica also has a built-in slide out hood. The Zeiss hood is an extra $80.

Flare control goes to the Zeiss. I tried to get it to flare and just could not yet the Summicron is known for flare. I never had too many issues with the cron and flare but have experienced it quite a few times last year. The Zeiss is flare free. Period.

The M240 and Planar at f/2

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Sharpness wide open may go to the Summicron but it is close. Sharpness from 2.8 on..the Zeiss is a monster. There is gobs of detail when shooting this lens at f4 to the point that you couldn’t get any sharper.

Bokeh goes to the Zeiss. The Zeiss can get harsh at times but the cron can get harsh more of the time. The Summicron is one lens where you either love or hate the Bokeh. The Zeiss is smoother, creamier and more pleasurable to look at.

M 240 and Planar

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3D Pop/Depth – Zeiss wins in this area.

Color - Zeiss will give you rich saturated colors where the Summicron will render a bit cooler and with less saturation. To some the Zeiss colors may be overkill but they can be toned down if needed. The Zeiss is also more contrasty.

M 240 and 50 Planar at f/2

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Cost - The Zeiss is under $900. The Leica is $2295. Image quality is a little different but I would not classify either as better. You just go with the look you like most but again, $900 for a high quality Zeiss 50 f/2 for your Leica..BRAND NEW? No brainer if you want to save some money. I know how it is after buying a Leica M body..sometimes you have very little left over for a lens.

Resale Value – Leica will always have better resale value with their lenses but if we take a look at resale values of the Zeiss Planar and Leica Summicron 50 (latest non APO version) we can see that the Zeiss is not so bad of a choice when it comes to resale in comparison. I have seen the Zeiss sell for as low as $625, that is $275 less than new. I have seen the 50 cron sell used for $1350-$1500. That is $800 to $950 less than new. You lose less by reselling the Zeiss.

Ive been using this rental for a while and became so tempted to just buy one to add to my 50mm collection. So much so that I just did buy one today. It will be my 4th 50mm so I guess I have a 50mm addiction, lol. It does not give up anything in performance when compared to the Leica equivalent and some will prefer the Zeiss hands down.

Detail and Crops

So how does this lens really do on the M240 or Monochrom? Take a look below at the three shots with 100% crops embedded. You will have to click on them to see the larger views with full 100% crop. BTW, these were all at f/2 but the cat at the bottom from the Mono was at 2.8. Incredible detail here.

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One con with the Zeiss is that there is some distortion if you shoot up close at the minimum focus distance when shooting straight lines. You can see this in the 2nd crop image above with the fly. I do not remember ever seeing this with the Summicron.

What about the C Sonnar 1.5 from Zeiss?

This one is Easy. If you are a 50mm fan then GET BOTH. For $2100, $200 less than the Leica 50 Summicron you can have the Planar and the Sonnar and you will have TWO totally different looks. The Zeiss Sonnar 1.5 is a classic design and your images will have that classic look and feel. Use the Planar when you want sharpness and detail and more “perfection” and use the Sonnar when you want “dreamy and creamy”. I adore both of these lenses and both are gorgeous in their own ways. Here are three shots from the Sonnar using the lovely Leica Monochrom:

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The Sonnar just has a classic look and feel to the images and the Bokeh is much different from the Planar. This one runs about $1200 and is another of my all time favorite 50mm lenses and yes, I caught that butterfly wide open at 1.5  :)

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Zeiss ZM  - Well worth the cost, a true deal. 

I can easily and highly recommend this lens for anyone who shoots with a Leica M8, M9, Monochrom or M 240. It’s a legitimate deal in the world of Leica mount lenses and the lens is a beautiful piece of kit that really does no wrong. It is flare free, easy to focus, has 1/3 aperture click stops, focus dial is smooth (unless you get a sticky one), and from what I hear the service from Zeiss is top-notch if you ever have issues. The Zeiss Planar ZM is a hell of a lens my friends and it will not break the bank when it comes to putting a lens on your Leica M or Zeiss Ikon.

You can buy this lens at B&H Photo HERE. PopFlash also sells it :)

A couple more samples below:

 

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Apr 062013
 

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Leica Monochrom Detail Capabilities and more..take a look

Really? More on the Monochrom?

The Leica Monochrom has been written about many times on this site not only from me, but from many other owners who wanted to share their experiences with the camera. For those who do not want to read any more about it, then close your browser now :) For those asking for the Fuji X20 and Nikon A coverage..hold on..they are coming as well :) For those wanting more on this B&W only camera from the worlds most expensive 35mm camera brand, read on :) Also check out my continually updated sample gallery.

I have recently had a reunion with the Monochrom after selling off my 1st one and yes, it is now back in my hands. Even though my main camera is the Leica M 240 and Sony RX1 and both can do a convincing B&W, the Monochrom does indeed have something about it that I can not put my finger on. Is it mental? Is it silly? Is it an illusion? Well, it could be but not really. The fact is that there is something in the MM files that are different from the M files and especially the M9 files. To make it simple, more micro contrast, more details, and it seems like more shades of grey which all come together to give a bit of a different rendering over what the M gives me with B&W. I love my M 240 with a passion and have used it every single day since it arrived. I have been using it more than I used my old M9 and it is a beautiful camera (just like the M9 is still a beautiful camera).

But the Monochrom is different. It is a specialty tool that does one thing and when a tool is designed to do one thing it usually does that one thing VERY well. 

Is it Better? Most would say “different”. The MM does do better in low light (than the M9 and M) past ISO 3200 and all the way up to 10,000 and if you are a street shooter, the MM is probably the worlds best street shooting digital camera. If you are into fine art B&W, the MM is the worlds best digital 35mm for B&W. If you want to take B&W portraits with amazing silkyness and unique B&W qualities, the MM is the worlds best B&W 35mm digital. If you want to capture the most detail you can possibly capture, to the point that you simply can not capture anymore, the MM is the worlds best digital 35mm B&W dedicated (Nikon D800E is up there as well).

Little Man – Monochrom and Leica 50 Summitar from the 1940s. BTW, this shot is not Photoshopped. The kid has makeup on his face as we were at a Zombie event. He was mad at his parents for some reason and had just been crying. I thought he looked like an older man in a boys body and asked his parents if I could take his picture. They said yes, so I did. But the dark spots on his face are from his makeup, not photoshop :)

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ReVisiting the MM

I attached one of my external hard drives I use for travel and  was going over some older shots I took with the Monochrom (in addition to a couple of new ones) and I was flabbergasted when I opened one of the files up in 100% full size. I spent a good 15 minutes scrolling around and looking at the detail in the photo. The windows, the curtains inside each window, the clothes hanging out to dry. Wow.

*The original file was exposed incorrectly and the house was too dark and I ended up running a Silver Efex Preset through it and it instantly came to life. It also added noise but it doesn’t matter as it looks great.

Many have said “The Monochrom can not look like film” and this is mostly true but these files from the MM are superb and I feel they surpass film. Ive shot thousands of frames with Tri-X and it can be gorgeous but it can also be not so gorgeous. As with any form of photography, it is really all about the light. If we shoot in bad light with film, the results will be flat. If we shoot in bad light with digital, results will be flat. I know there are many film lovers and die hards but for me, I just do not have the time to shoot film and I prefer not to deal with the limitations. We are in an age of “no limitations” and “no compromise” when it comes to photography. Most cameras made today, even $300 models can do amazing in the right hands. Technology has come a log way but a camera like the Monochrom is for the few who prefer a tool that will make them think, work and LEARN.

With the MM you do one thing and one thing only. Shoot B&W photos. You can not fall back on color, you can not shoot video, you can not use an EVF. You simply aim, compose, expose and fire.

I know I have recently done some side by sides with the Leica M but have not yet seen the level of detail from the M that I see in the image below. My crops in my last test were close but for super fine detail it does not beat the MM.

For detail freaks the MM does not disappoint. For those  that do not care, just about any camera can do the job and even the Olympus OM-D E-M5 does a convincing B&W.

Details…

The image below was shot with a 35 Lux FLE and you can see the distortion (that I did not correct) but what is blowing me away is the detail. THIS is the detail everyone speaks of when they praise the Monochrom. I have a 27″ display and it looks amazing when viewing details at 100%. Remember, the noise was added when I ran it through Silver Efex.

Click the image below to see the full size file.

Click it and take a look at the amazing detail at 100% – you can even see me in the doorway reflection :)

L9810237

or you can click on the 100% crop below to see the detail at 100%

crophouse

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High ISO

I was out with my fiancée last night and brought the Monochrom with the Zeiss 50 Planar along. ISO 6400, f/2 – click it for larger. No PP, this is direct from camera..at 6400 in a very low light room.

debby6400

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One more quick snap direct from the RAW file. Shot a Hummingbird while taking a walk in full AZ sun with the Ziess planar and the 100% crop is embedded when you click the image…

L1002371

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I have to say that after testing the Zeiss Planar 50 on the M and MM…I have come to the conclusion that it is one of the best 50′s available in regards to IQ that you can buy for these cameras if you love detail, pop, smoother Bokeh than a standard summicron and VERY rich colors. I will have a new look at the Zeiss 50 Zm on the M and MM soon. At under $900 it is a deal if you can swing for a Leica lens after spending so much on the body. It is not equal in build  to the Leica cron but IQ in many ways surpasses it. For $2100 or the cost of a 50 Summicron you could pick up the Ziess PLanar f/2 and Zeiss Sonnar f/1.5. I feel the Planar does best on the M and the Sonnar does best on the MM. Both are stunning lenses.

Finally a shot at night with a 35 Lux FLE at ISO 1000. Click it and take a look at the detail. I originally underexposed so had to bring out some shadow detail which brought out more noise.

But this was shot around midnight in San Francisco.

baratnight

The Monochrom is camera that has brought with it excitement, controversy, anger, hatred and passion/love. Some adore it, some hate it, some act like anyone who owns one is not right in the head for spending that kind of cash on one. One thing remains constant. Those who do own it seem to be VERY passionate about it. More so than any other camera I have seen. I have spoken with many MM owners and they all tell me it is a camera that will stay with them until they or it dies. That says a lot. It even works extremely well with classic and cheaper lenses.

Do you need this camera to shoot decent Black & White? Absolutely not! Like I mentioned earlier cameras like the OM-D E-M5 do great as well. So does 90% of other digitals on the market. The Mono is for  those who want a tool that will help them grow, give them no other options and also give them the worlds best B&W output in the 35mm digital world.

Steve

Nov 162012
 

New Camera Friday! Sony RX1 arrives!

The Sony RX1 has arrived to me today, and I am excited about this one. It has been a few weeks since I shot with it at the Sony event and when I opened the box today I was reminded why I fell for it in the 1st place. SIZE and BUILD and QUALITY! I plan on a huge review for this camera but it just arrived so I will need some time with it before I can do that. For now I made a new video below showing some size comparisons with the RX1 alongside the OM-D, D-Lux 6, NEX-6 and the Leica Monochrom. You can hopefully get an idea of how small it is. I also gave a quick example of the AF in my living room. It is quick as in faster than the Fuji X cameras. About on par with the NEX-6, etc.

Watch the video below…just press play :)

I also took it outside to test the crop feature with a quick and dirty test shot because that is one of the most asked questions I have been getting about the RX1. 

The crop mode is basically a crop mode. You do lose resolution and size but quality stays. Also, this is only available to use in JPEG mode. I have an example below of a quick test shot showing what to expect with the crop modes. Basically the camera has a built in 35 f2 Zeiss lens. With a press of a button you can switch to a 50mm crop mode. One more press and you are in a 75mm crop mode. This can come in handy if you are shooting JPEG and you want more reach.

But you do lose resolution as it is like cropping the photo yourself though Sony does some kind of processing in camera to keep the IQ up there which I can say it does very well.

 

1st shot is the native 35mm shot, then the 50mm crop, then th e75mm crop – straight from camera JPEG.

 

So look for a full review of the RX1 soon along with reviews of the Sony NEX-6, Olympus 60 Macro and a quick review of the NEX-5R with it’s new features. You can pre-order the RX1 at Amazon HERE if you like.

Just a few of the RX1 images I may or may not have posted previously…

ISO 2000, JPEG

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ISO 8000 at night with 100% crop (click image)

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Speaking of the new Olympus 60mm Macro..WOW!!!

This lens is the best Macro I have ever shot with, hands down. Now, I have not shot with them all, nor am I some Macro guru, not even close. BUT I do know quality when I see it and this Olympus 60 2.8 is razors sharp even wide open, getting surgical when you stop down. One sample before my review…click it for latger. BTW, this was handheld at f/2.8. The 5-Axis IS works well with this lens. You can order this one at B&H Photo or Amazon.

So stay tuned everyone for much more on these cameras and lenses! Have a GREAT weekend, I will be out shooting!

One more from the Leica Monochrom and Zeiss 50 Sonnar, which is gorgeous on the MM!

My soon to be Stepdaughter. She had a clay mask on and still let me snap a pic :) 50 Sonnar wide open at 1.5

Oct 252012
 

My Camera

by Ofri Wolfus

Hi Steve, I thought I’d share with you the story of my cameras. It turned out quite long, so feel free to post it if you like (I’ll be honored :). Also, English is not my mother language, so sorry for any mistakes.

The Nikon D90

I started being interested in photography about 5 years ago. Having no experience at all, I started doing my homework before deciding which camera to buy. At this time my only experience has been with phone cameras and P&S, and I didn’t even know what a DSLR was. Scanning the universe of the internet taught me about DSLRs, lenses and so on, but it was all theoretical. I never used one, and had to base my decisions about what other people say, having no self preference. Finally, after a lot of hours reading reviews, I got my very own, brand new, Nikon D90 with the a 18-105mm kit lens, a nikon tripod and a small camera bag that fitted the kit.

I remember taking my first shot with the D90 – I was absolutely blown away! I never experienced shallow DOF before, and the quality compared to my old P&S was simply stunning. Soon I started to learn anything I can about this camera. I learned what the Shutter, Aperture and ISO are. I learned about different lenses, RAW, JPEG, saturation, contrast, etc, and the more I learned, the more I wanted a wide-angle lens. It turned out that my favourite subjects are landscapes, and so I bought myself a Tokina 11-16mm. Other lenses came in as well, but this Tokina has been (and still is) my favourite by far. It is sharp, really fast for its focal length (f/2.8), takes regular screw in filters, and most importantly – ultra wide. It’s also worth to note that I quickly found the joy of using primes rather than zooms, and didn’t touch the 18-105 ever since.

I had a lot of my best shots taken with the D90 and the Tokina. They served me well in almost any situation, from long trips to late night shooting (it’s amazing what you can shoot handheld with an f/2.8 ultra wide). The problem for me was that the more I used this combination, the more I suffered. I really liked the shots that came out, but the actual picture taking experience has been a pain. The D90′s interface has tons of features that I don’t use and don’t care about, and together with the Tokina it’s a pig. It’s heavy, big, and doesn’t fit in my bags (I became a hater of dedicated camera bags, and use only “regular”, unpadded, bags). Also the fact that I always carried an extra normal fast lens (either the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 D or the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX) with me didn’t help. And so my search for alternatives has began.

The Zeiss Ikon

IIRC, this search is what had led me to your site, Steve, and your passion about Leica made me spend many hours reading about rangefinders. Unable to afford a digital Leica, I realized I’ll had to use a film camera if I wanted the best possible combination of price, quality and compactness. This was not an easy choice. I never shot film in my life before. At some point, I finally made my mind and decided to give it a shot. I bought a new silver Zeiss Ikon together with three lenses: Voigtlander 15mm, Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 MC, and a Zeiss ZM Planar 50mm f/2 (the last two thanks to your reviews! :).

I started by getting a bunch of films like Tri-X, Velvia 50, Provia and more. It was such an alien feeling after the D90, but every time I held this Zeiss with any of these lenses I simply had a huge smile smeared on my face. I can’t explain it. It’s such a unique feeling shooting a film rangefinder.

This part of my story sadly has a sad ending. Before I got a chance at being any good, the only store in my area that developed slides stopped doing it. This was a major problem but I hadn’t given up yet. I bought myself a Plustek OpticFilm 7600i from B&H together with a bunch of tools for home development. I also went to a local store, and got myself a kit of E6 and BW chemicals. Now all I was missing is actually knowing how to develop… :)

The more I learned about E6 (which was my main interest), I realized I’ll have to somehow control the temperature of the development tank, but I couldn’t find a reasonably priced solution. That also didn’t stop me, and I sorta built my own. I took a big polystyrene box and filled it with a mix of hot/cool water until I reached the desired temperature. Now in order to maintain that temperature, I took a big resistor and connected it to a variable transformer. I then threw the resistor into the water and varied the voltage in order to control the heat produced by the resistor. This was mostly a trial and error, but after playing with it for a while I was able to keep the temperature constant enough for about an hour or so.

As you can probably imagine, this setup is far from ideal. I had to keep an eye for too much stuff simultaneously, and more often than not I’d ruin the films. I even got electrocuted at some point. Since the voltage was low no harm has been done, but it’s not something I’d like to do for fun :) That said, what finally made me give up on film was the scanning. It took forever and it wasn’t easy (at least for me) to get good colors out of the scanned files. At some point I found myself finishing a bunch of rolls and simply avoiding developing them knowing it’d take me a full day to get everything done. And that’s for 3 rolls at best.

The Ricoh GXR

At this point I was again looking for alternatives. Lucky for me, I found about the wonderful Ricoh GXR. At that time the M mount module was not yet available, but it has already been announced. Again, following your reviews I decided to get myself the 50mm module and wait for the M mount to arrive. Shortly after receiving the 50mm module I went on a two weeks trip, and took the D90, Tokina 11-16 and the Ricoh with me. During that trip I found myself using the Ricoh much more than the D90 for two main reasons – color and portability. The GXR produced so much better colors and was so much easier to carry. Even though I’m a landscape addict I kept using the Ricoh for these two reasons. Honestly, I had about zero keepers from the 50mm, but it was so much more fun.

Shortly after the GXR M Mount was available, and after seeing a bunch of reviews about it, I got myself one. It was probably the best camera purchase I’ve made. Using it is so much fun and the results are so rewarding that I always want to take it with me. I have three lens combinations that I use. My goto choice is only the 50mm Zeiss. Every time I use it I’m simply stunned by the IQ. However, 50mm f/2 on the crop sensor is sometimes too long for me. For these occasions, as well as when shooting at night or when feeling nostalgic, I pick the Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4. It’s qualities are nowhere near the Zeiss but it has its uses. It’s also the smallest of all my lenses and so if I’m not sure whether I’m going to use the camera or not it’s a nice fit. Finally, there’s my trip configuration. When going on a trip I take the Voigtlander 15mm together with the 50mm Zeiss, and leave the 35mm at home/the hotel. For me these are the ultimate combinations that fit everything I do.

Finally, I’d like to talk a bit about the GXR body. IMO it’s a spectacular camera. It’s incredibly compact and produces wonderful results. It’s by far, the most capable and fun camera I’ve ever seen. There are, however a few things I’d like Ricoh to fix:

1. Take away all the junk menus. When I first bought the GXR it had a few simple menus with all the needed functionality and then some. However it was still focused enough that I could take advantage of everything I needed. Sadly with every firmware update they’ve been cramming more and more stuff into the poor menus and now I can’t find anything. It takes forever to get to the right option.

2. Somewhat repeating the above, Ricoh please remember we really only need shutter, ISO, exposure control and color control. Actually even color control is usually done afterwards on the computer. Personally, I leave shutter and ISO on auto all the time and only touch the color presets. Fuji seems to get it with their X100 (so I heard), so why can’t you?

3. There are way too many buttons on the body that have useless functions. Really Ricoh, how often do you use the self timer that you need a dedicated button for it?

4. Why is magnification hard wired to a long press on the OK button? It drives me crazy if I do it by mistake and now have to circle through all magnification ratios in order to get back to the full frame.

5. Finally, please add a full frame sensor. It’s such a shame to waste half the area of the wonderful M lenses, but it’s also incredibly annoying to work with the crop factor. Want a fast 35mm equivalent? Have fun finding a 24mm with f/2 or faster. AFAIK the only option is the Leica SUMMILUX 24mm f/1.4 which is way above my budget.

To sum up, I think there are three groups of people: those that only care about the final photos, those that care only about their cameras and their technical abilities, and then there are people like me who care the most about the experience. I may not take the best photos or own the best cameras, but I try to have the best possible experience and simply have fun :)
Yours,
Ofri Wolfus

His Flickr is HERE and he has some gorgeous photos so check it out!

Jun 072012
 

 

My time with the Nikon D800 and Zeiss 35 1.4 – A quick 1st look report.

I have only had this Nikon D800 for a short time so instead of writing a big long-winded real world use report, I decided to just keep it basic and short, much like I did when I wrote my old original D700 review almost 3 years ago (So this is only a 1st look report). The D700 was and still is a pretty special DSLR. It was the camera to come along and take on the original Canon 5D and in my opinion, it beat the 5D (Mark I) in every way. IQ, AF, Build, etc. I loved the D700. The build, the feel, the control, the whole Nikon thing…yea, I preferred it to the 5D though I also had a warm spot for the 5D’s creamy rendering. The reality is that the D700 and original Canon 5D are both beautiful cameras capable of professional output. Which one to choose back then came down to ergonomics and lens selection. Also, personal preference. I’ve had my love affairs with both Nikon and Canon DSLR’s over the years but it was the D700 that really hooked me into full frame digital for some reason, I think because back then when I was in to DSLR’s more the Nikon’s always seemed to have better and more rugged body styles. Better ergonomics as well. I also always seemed to see more documentary photos shot with Nikon cameras over the years, whether it was film or digital. Nikon’s have always had a way of putting out rich color and I enjoyed the files coning out of their DSLR’s for many years. From the D100 to the D700.

The richness of the D800 files can be intense at times. This is a shot with the Zeiss 35 of the AZ wildfires still smoking

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Full Frame – There is still an advantage

90% of cameras today are not full frame. What I mean by this is, that most cameras today have smaller than full frame 35mm format sensors. Point & Shoots have teeny tiny sensors, hobbyist cameras go a little bigger, enthusiast models go for APS-C and finally we have a couple of “full frame” sensor cameras which belong to Nikon and Canon. The D700, D800 and the Canon 5D and 1ds series. These cameras are considered “pro” cameras because they have the build, the speed, the low light capabilities and the overall image quality that can satisfy just about anyone. A DSLR has the capability to shoot just about anything. Sports, wildlife, macro, portraits, fashion, studio. They are the true workhorse of the industry and while I love my Leica M9 and shoot it in pro situations (weddings, converts, and even some studio work over the years) you can not deny it is the DSLR that is the tried and true camera of the professional.

With full frame you can take amazing images with shallow depth of field or even crisp images with HUGE depth of field. As mentioned, DSLR’s are the most versatile cameras you can buy and can shoot everything from still life to portraits to sports to macro to wildlife, all without a hiccup.

When I reviewed the NIkon D3s I was BLOWN AWAY at what I could get out of that camera inn low light. ISO 102,000? yep. Didn’t even break a sweat. While I was amazed I was also sore! That D3s was and is a beast of a camera and taking it out for a few hours killed my wrist. It was much more enjoyable at that time take out my Leica M9. So while I really appreciated what the D3s brought to the table, I knew it was not a camera for my personal use as it was just too big.

Since that review we have had so many new cameras come out that are much smaller and really good enough for most shooters. The fact is that a huge percentage of D800 buyers will be hobbyists, enthusiasts and passionate people who just want “the” hot DSLR and for many, it is overkill IMO. The D800 will pump out AMAZING results and image with high dynamic range and superb color and detail, but if you are just going  to resize for web use…you can save money and your arm with a much less expensive camera that will also give gorgeous results.

Cameras that come to mind that have tremendous IQ in a small package? Leica X1 and X2, Fuji X100, Olympus E-M5…all fantastic. Are they a D800? NO they are not but each of these cameras can give you output that is just as pleasing as what comes out of a D800 (minus the crazy resolution of course). But for full-time or part-time pros or those who really want the best bang for the professional buck, the D800 is a winner and at $3000 it is not overpriced as you do get what you pay for and  the D800 gives you quite a bit for that cashola.

The file sizes are huge, the files are sharp and detailed and rich, the color is nice and you will have really good low light performance as well. The build is solid and pro and  the speed is as fast as anyone can ask for. In my eyes, the ONLY weakness of this system is the SIZE and WEIGHT. That is about it and users of this camera really do not seem to care about size and weight :) The full frame sensor here is really nice but it is my personal opinion the 12MP of the D700 was plenty though I feel 18MP is the sweet spot in the digital world. Yep, 36MP is almost overkill for my uses but it does give you nice Medium Format results.

Is this TOO much resolution for a digital 35mm format camera?

Sometimes too much of a good thing is just too much. The D700 was 12MP of sweetness. Easy to work with and open the files, gorgeous prints, nice fat quality pixels on that big sensor. Yep, it was and still is a winner. The D800 is now more advanced with HD video, 36MP of resolution and a slightly differently designed body. But damn, opening these files on my iMac (3 years old) reminded me why I prefer 12-18MP cameras :) For me and my needs this kind of resolution is ridiculously too much. Why on earth would someone need this much resolution when a few years ago there were billboards being printed with a 4Mp Nikon D2hs file? Hmmmm.

My Leica M9 can produce the most amazing prints I have ever seen at 18MP. What does this much power bring to the table? I really don’t know besides more memory card space and a more powerful computer needed. Lol. Well, I really DO know but for me it is not needed. For you? Maybe.

I could easily be happy with the D700 today, probably more so than the D800 only because I will never need this kind of resolution in a camera, unless it is doing something crazy magical but overall what I see in the D800 is a similar look to the D700, just not as much detail and resolution. Does that mean I am trashing the D800? Hell no, it is one hell of a camera with gobs of power and features. Owning it means you have the capability to create some true art, but again, that capability lies in YOUR hands more than the camera. DSLR fans are flocking to this camera and there is a reason why this is so, the D800 is a flat-out amazing DSLR.

OK, sorry for that MegaPixel rant :) Just letting some of my personal thoughts through as I always tend to do. My time with the D800 was short. I did not have the ability to really put it through its paces in a way that I would have liked so what you are reading here is only a 1st look report. Maybe for a full review I will be able to grab a D800E and take it on a nice photo trip.

Resolution

The detail and resolution of the D800 is remarkable. The fat 36MP files are huge and there is a reason for this. If you like zooming in on details in your photos while browsing them at 100% (like it or not, many do this every day) then you will love the D800. If you want resolution, this DSLR has it.

Click image for larger view and full 100% crop – D800 with Zeiss 35 1.4 at f/5.6

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The 35 at 1.4 – click image for full size

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one with the cheap Nikon 50 1.4 at 2.8

and the crop – you MUST click it to see the full 100% crop – pretty nice and this is with the cheap-o 50 1.4 lens!

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The Zeiss 35 1.4 Manual Focus ZF.2 lens

a quick snap I shot with my phone of the D800 and Zeiss 25 1.4 next to my Olympus OM-D :)

Just about 98% of the images in this report were all shot with the $1850 Zeiss 35 1.4 ZF lens on the D800. I have always had a weak spot for Zeiss glass on Nikon DSLR’s and this lens is GORGEOUS in its build, feel and 3D rendering. The only problem when shooting with a lens like this is that it is manual focus only, and it is not always easy to nail the focus on a stock D700 or D800. There are times when you think the image is in focus and it is not. The camera does have a focus indicator in the viewfinder that displays a dot when you are in focus, but even that can be wrong when shooting with a lens like the Zeiss 35 1.4.

The depth of field is amazingly shallow for a 35mm lens and helps to create that magical Zeiss look and feel. The lens is larger than my entire OM-D camera though and heavy as a brick (literally). Magical but Heavy.

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So what did I think with my limited time with the D800?

If you want a truly state of the art DSLR with gobs of power, resolution, speed, color, and a medium format feel – the Nikon D800 may be your camera. If you do not mind size and weight it would due nearly impossible to dislike this camera. The files are gorgeous and have “pro” quality written all over them. By that I mean the Dynamic ranges HUGE, the color is beautiful and the files are very hardy so when editing you can get away with just about anything. The D800 is an improvement over the D700 but I could still be happy as a clam with the now classic D700, as that is also a gorgeous beast or a camera. As for high ISO I did not have the time to do a thorough test but can say the high ISO is a step back from the D3s which was the most incredible high ISO camera I have ever experienced. Still, the D800 offers superb low light performance that would please anyone.

I did not even get a chance to dip into the video modes on the D800 which are said to offer jaw dropping quality.

If I were a DSLR guy today I would have already bought a D800 or the D800E. If I get to spend more time with one or shoot something cool with one I will write a much longer thorough review, maybe even the D800E, which does not have an AA filter so the files are insanely sharp and detailed. I admit, I love full frame sensors and the look they are capable of. After shooting smaller sensor cameras for a while and then coming back to a full frame you can immediately notice the richness and depth and while cameras that I mentioned earlier (X100, X2, OM-D, etc) are more than capable for the majority of us, there is always something sweet about the power of a nice big fat sensor :)

I hope you found this an enjoyable read and thank YOU for reading it! More to come soon so always check back!

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May 162012
 

Grab this card now, or a bunch of them as this deal JUST popped up at B&H Photo. $6.99 for a Lexar 8GB Platinum II SDHC card. I need to grab about 10 of these so act quick if you have been needing some good SD cards! YOU CAN BUY THEM HERE.

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Also, for the Leica people…the wonderful Zeiss Sonnar 50 1.5 ZM lens is IN STOCK in Black and Silver right now as well. Enjoy!

Apr 202012
 

Crazy Comparison HIGH ISO! OM-D E-M5 vs Fuji X-Pro 1 vs Sony NEX-7 – JPEG

I always get those who complain about  these crazy comparisons but hey, I find them fun and useful for my own curiosities so I am sure some of you guys do as well! Since I have all three of the latest and greatest mirrorless cameras here with me right now, the OM-D, the X-Pro 1 and the NEX-7 I decided…why not do a JPEG only test to show OUT OF CAMERA files at high ISO in low indoor light at night, and even outdoor at night (using a tripod).

I was just certain the X-Pro 1 would wipe the floor with the other two but by how much? The results are interesting…and I have to say that out of all three, the one that focused just about instantaneously was the OM-D E-M5. I mean, it was just press and fire. The Sony hunted a but and the Fuji hunted the most.

I shot each camera at ISO 1600, 3200 and 6400. JPEG only. I turned OFF in camera NR on the Olympus to LOW on the Fuji and  Sony  (they can not be disabled). I also included a sample from the Olympus with NR on low, just to be fair. I chose JPEG as there is still not support from Adobe for the Olympus and Fuji.

When I do these comparisons I always show you what the camera puts out. If someone owns one of these, takes it outside, sets it on a tripod and lets the camera choose exposure..this is what you will get. So this is not only a test of each cameras night-time high ISO performance but a test of how well each one will expose the scene.

I DID resize the Sony file to 16MP to be ultra fair as the Sony crowd would yell at me if I did not. Keep in mind, I now OWN the Sony NEX-7 and Olympus. I do not own the Fuji. So which one killed it? Look at the images below and decide. All are straight from camera, how each camera exposed the scene. I also used Auto White Balance. Since different lenses were used they can not be exact, and this is NOT a test of sharpness but each lens was shot at f/2.

For the Olympus I used the 12mm f/2 at f/2. The Fuji has the 18mm at f/2 and the Sony the Zeiss 24 at f/2..are you ready? Let’s get it on!

1st I shot this indoor scene handheld. 9pm at night, just my living room light is on here. ISO 3200 for each camera. 

Click on each image to see a larger version and true 100% crop.

1st the Olympus E-M5 NOT E-P3 (it was late and I mistyped on the image..will fix later today)

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now the Fuji – NR was set to low not OFF as it does not let you set it to off

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and the Sony – NR low

as I stated in my NEX-7 review, the Sony has the tendency to underexpose. But this is not only an ISO test, it is also a test of how each camera will expose the scene on its own.

Now for some outdoor NIGHT TIME shots using a tripod

Keep in mind again that all Sony shots were resized to 16MP before getting the crop. Also, I let each camera choose their white balance and exposure as this is how most will shoot them. Finally, the Fuji told me it locked focus each time but every shot was out of focus somewhat and/or soft. Also, the Fuji tends to overexpose as you can see in the below examples. Again, this is a test showing ISO and exposure of each camera. I just set the lenses to f/2 on each and fired the shot after focus was locked. The Olympus locked it in an instant.

The Olympus at 3200 (IS was turned off as all shots were on a tripod)

click images for larger view and true 100% crop – NR set to OFF

and the Olympus at ISO 6400 – NR set to OFF

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Now the Fuji at ISO 3200, tripod mounted and the camera said focus was locked – NR low not OFF

and the Fuji and 18mm at ISO 6400 – NR is set to LOW not off as it does not let you turn it off.

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and finally the Sony NEX-7 and Zeiss 24 at f/2 at ISO 3200 – NR set to low

and the Sony at 6400

So there you go. The one thing I found by doing this is that Micro 4/3 has come a loooong way since the days of the GF1 and E-P1 in regards to high ISO :) The OM-D is now really good at higher ISO, even at night and these are with all NR turned off! Why did I turn NR off? Well, mainly because the Oly is the only one that lets you disable it totally and also was curious how it would hold up without any at all.

So the OM-D was set to OFF. The Fuji to LOW (-2) and the Sony to LOW. The Fuji and Sony do NOT let you turn it OFF. So.. I knew I would get some of you asking me why I did not take a shot with the Olympus set to LOW. Makes sense right? So below you can see the shots with the Olympus set to LOW. Enjoy and have a GREAT weekend!

The Olympus was the fastest to focus, no contest. The Fuji hunted and never really locked on correctly even though it said it did and the Sony hunted a bit as well, but on the 3rd try I got it to focus. There you go!

UPDATE: With all of the comments from Fuji users who claimed I did not know how to use the AF of the X-Pro 1..really? Of course I know how to use the AF of the X-Pro 1. The question is, does the X-Pro 1 know how to use the AF? I used single point, same spot as with the other two cameras, which had no difficulties locking focus. The Sony was slower than the Olympus but the Fuji wad down SEVERAL times with the same result. I could have went to manual focus but why? This was to show what each camera puts out as is. With AF on all cameras. If the Fuji requires going in to MF mode to shoot in the dark with just street lights when the other two nailed it then that tells me the Fuji AF lags behind. One thing to note is that the Fuji told me it locked focus, so I was surprised at the result.

One more thing. As I stated in this post, I let the cameras choose exposure so I shot in A mode. I was curious to see how each camera would expose the same scene. The X-Pro always overexposes for me and the Sony usually underexposes. The Olympus was the one that exposed just right though the Sony AWB was the best of the lot.

Apr 092012
 

The Great 35mm Rangefinder Lens Shootout – Part 2 – Close-Up and Wide-Open

By Brad Husick

In part one of “The Great 35mm Rangefinder Lens Shootout” we tested several lenses in a typical landscape scene, setting the lenses at their infinity focus points and shooting at f/4. This represented a fairly typical scenario of grabbing a lens off the shelf, setting it for mid-aperture and taking a photo of a picturesque subject.

Quite often 35mm rangefinder lenses are used in other photographic opportunities. The 35mm focal length is excellent for tighter, indoor settings where the subject is closer. These situations also often call for wider apertures, demanding higher performance from the lenses. In part two of this test we have tested the lenses in both ways – A) a closer indoor setting and then, B) wide-open to see how they render out of focus areas – their bokeh.

For both parts of the test the subject was illuminated by a single 5500K continuous fluorescent light source in a small softbox and outside light was reduced to a minimum. The Leica M9-P camera was set to ISO 640, white balance of 5600K and each lens was shot at f/2.8, with the exception of the Perar that was shot at its maximum of f/3.5. For some of the lenses f/2.8 was also the maximum aperture, while others had wider apertures available. Shutter speed was set to 1/180 second.

In the part B “bokeh” part of this test the same light source was used while each lens was opened to its maximum aperture. For example, the FLE was shot at f/1.4 while the Zeiss was shot at f/2. Shutter speed was adjusted to maintain the same overall exposure. ISO was maintained at 640.

As in part one of the shootout, the RAW images were brought into Adobe Lightroom 4 and default settings were used to output full resolution JPEG images. 100% crops were taken in Adobe Photoshop CS5. The “bokeh” shots were reduced to 800 pixels wide for web display.

In this test we included six lenses from part one:

MS Super Triplet Perar f3.5 Mark II (Perar)

Zeiss Biogon f2.0 T* ZM Silver (Zeiss)

Leica Summilux f1.4 ASPH FLE (FLE)

Leica Summicron-M f2.0 ASPH Chrome (Cron)

Voigtlander C Color Skopar Classic f2.5 (Skopar)

Leitz Summaron f2.8 LTM/M circa 1959 (Summaron)

 

Part A: The Closer Subject

Despite careful focusing, slight variations in focus occurred across the different lenses. This is an important factor – precise focusing, even when using a tripod as in these photos, can be tricky. I suggest using a viewfinder magnifier when possible, and focus-bracketing your shots with minuscule changes in focus so that you can evaluate the images at 100% zoom on your computer to choose the best one. Leica makes the M9 without the capability of tethered shooting (some workarounds are possible but are mostly unreliable), the camera doesn’t offer live-view, and the LCD is not high-resolution, so critical focus is challenging in many situations. Many Leica shooters are hoping that Leica includes a more state-of-the-art LCD and perhaps live-view in a future M digital camera.

In the center crops of these photos all of the test lenses performed well. In fact, the images were all surprisingly good, from the least expensive to the most expensive lens. Center crops showed very little chromatic aberration, as was expected. There’s little variation here that can inform a decision to choose one lens over another.

At the corners the lenses started telling a more interesting tale. Corner sharpness of the Leica FLE was astonishing. It’s as if Leica engineers were told to solve this problem above all others when developing this new lens. Not far behind in corner rendering were the Zeiss and, surprisingly, the old Summaron. In general the Summaron is a lower contrast lens than the modern formulas, but that doesn’t reduce its ability to render detail. Post processing can add more contrast if desired, but it can’t make a contrasty lens softer without a loss of detail. The Summicron showed some about of distortion in the corner that the others did not. The Skopar is a lens that can achieve sharp results at the center but in my experience this falls away at the corners. Adding to the challenge is the fact that the Skopar has a very short focus throw – the number of degrees of rotation between infinity and close focus endpoints. This means that the smallest movement of the focus ring results in large changes. I resorted to focus-bracketing when shooting the Skopar, taking multiple photos with tiny adjustments to the focus in successive shots, then comparing the results in Lightroom and choosing the sharpest image. This is not my idea of entertainment.  The Perar was particularly challenged in the corners, showing distortion and lower resolution.

Interestingly and rather unexpectedly, the FLE lens showed a fairly high level of chromatic aberration in the specular highlights in the corners. I am including a couple of crops here to show you the unprocessed corner and the same shot when processed by Lightroom 4 using the “Defringe – All Edges” control in the Manual setting of the Lens Corrections panel of the Develop module. Default lens corrections using Lightroom’s preset lens profiles of Leica lenses reduced but did not eliminate the color fringing while the defringe control did a more complete correction. Again, the purpose of this test is not to show what’s ultimately possible with each lens given any amount of post-processing, but this example is particularly illustrative of how good software can help even super-expensive setups.

Leica 35 Summilux FLE corner crop

and after the Lightroom 4 “Defringe – All edges”

 

To my eye the old Summaron did a splendid job in this part of the test. I have a feeling the demand for Summaron lenses will increase soon!

-

-

Perar Center 

and corner

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Zeiss Center

and corner

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FLE Center

and corner

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Summicron Center

and corner

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Skopar Center

and corner

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Summaron Center

and corner

 

Part B: Bokeh

I have included full frames reduced to 800 pixels wide for the comparison of the bokeh rendered by each of the lenses. I find little value in comparing 100% crops of the out of focus areas. Obviously the lenses that have the largest maximum aperture create the shallowest depth of field. These lenses throw the background out of focus most, usually giving the smoothest rendering and a very three-dimensional look to the images. The Leica FLE is an excellent example of this shallow depth of field.

In the time when film was dominant, most photographers were limited to relatively slow color films (ASA 25 or 64) and fairly slow black and white films (ASA 100 or 400). Consequently, large aperture lenses were necessary for most indoor subjects. There simply wasn’t a choice – you needed a fast lens to get any photo at all.

With the advent of today’s digital cameras, it’s common to shoot at ISO 640, 1250 or even higher. Lens speed isn’t critical to getting the shot, it’s now more of a creative choice. Photographers who love the look of a shallow depth of field reach for the Summilux (f/1.4) or even Noctilux (f/1 or f/0.95) lenses to give their photos that “look”. Many choose these lenses in bright light situations, mounting neutral density (ND) filters on the lenses to reduce incoming light by as much as 9 f-stops or more depending on the available light. The Leica M8 has a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 second while the M9 has a maximum of 1/4000 second, requiring one slower stop of light for wide open shooting.

Rather than trying to rank order the bokeh test shots, I present them here for you to study and draw your own conclusions about what type of rendering is most pleasing to your eye. Naturally, the Perar lens with its maximum aperture of f/3.5 will have the most in-focus background. There are small variations in the lighting between shots, but the overall look of the photos are easy to compare.

Perar

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Zeiss

-

Leica Lux FLE

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Summicron

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Skopar

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Summaron

 

Bokeh is an image attribute that can also be achieved in software. Alien Skin makes a Photoshop plug-in product called Bokeh 2.0 that does an admirable job of creating bokeh in images after they were shot, even going so far as to model the attributes of several well known fast lenses, although not Leica lenses. Photoshop 6 (now in beta test) has an advanced blur filter that also mimics the behavior of different lenses to give a natural-looking bokeh effect.

Some photographers eagerly use many tools to give them the look they desire in their photographs while others see the digital manipulation of images as something to be avoided, something that diminishes from the photographic experience. My personal view is that except for photojournalism where truth is paramount, creative control is in the hands of the photographer and creative tools have always been at our disposal, in the analog and digital worlds. The development of more advanced and even easier digital tools is not taking us further away from “real” photographs, it is making it possible for photographers to show us how they “saw” a scene from their own perspective.

Finally, it’s important to consider several factors when choosing from among these lenses. The size and weight of lenses can be important, so clearly the Perar, Summaron and Skopar are the leaders here. If size and weight are not an issue, the Biogon, FLE and Cron are the image quality leaders. One of these lenses is remarkably heavier than the others – the Summicron ASPH Chrome. It’s a solid-brass lens that feels extremely dense when you lift it to mount on the camera. All of these 35mm rangefinder lenses are small and light in comparison to 35mm SLR lenses from Canon or Nikon.

All of these lenses are easy to handle, except the Skopar due to its short focus throw. Even the tiny Perar with its pin-shaped focusing tab is easy to focus with just a little practice. As I pointed out in part one of this test, prices vary widely among this group of lenses, starting at just over $300 for the Color Skopar to more than $6000 for the Leica Summilux ASPH.

My advice is to first decide what type of look you like most in your photos, then see what choices there are at the prices you’re willing to spend for a 35mm lens in your kit. Some photographers like to have two lens “kits” to choose from – a “small-and-light kit” for maximum portability and a “fast kit” for low-light situations. At the 35mm focal length there are plenty of good choices for the rangefinder shooter.

Brad Husick

Feb 292012
 

Just saw this deal at Amazon! For those wanting to give Micro 4/3 a try this is a steal of a deal. The Olympus E-PL1 with kit zoom, brand new in box for $266. It’s even fulfilled by Amazon. My review of this camera is HERE.

GET IN ON THIS CRAZY DEAL NOW! $266! 

AND

Also, just saw that the black Zeiss 50 Sonnar f/1.5 is IN STOCK at B&H Photo today! These ALWAYS sell out within minutes.

Feb 102012
 

USER REPORT: The Sony Nex-7 with Zeiss ZM lenses.

By Dirk De Paepe 

Hello Steve,

First of all, I’m not a photographer. I’m a publisher (living in Belgium, so pardon my English language mistakes) of a trade magazine for the music business (that’s really a niche market). Besides that, I’m a photography enthusiast for more than 50 years, since my late father (who was nothing more than an enthusiast himself) learned me how to shoot with a Zeiss Ikon. Beside that, I never had any photography education what so ever. My education was music, and maybe (I hope) I got a sense of aesthetics from there.

Because I wrote some comments to some articles on your website before, maybe you know that I love your site very much, because of your real life and “human” approach that really appeals to me.

The reason why I write you this time is double. First of all, I use the Sony Nex-7 (one of the most anticipated camera’s of the last year) now for quite some time, since December 30 to be precise. And I think that I’m probably (one of) the prototype(s) of the Nex-7 user: a real enthusiast who wants to enjoy shooting pictures as much as possible.

Second reason is that I’m also a huge Carl Zeiss fan. And with the Novoflex adaptor, I can use my ZM lenses on the NEX-7 body. I use three lenses: the Biogon 2,8/28 ZM, the Planar 2/50 ZM and the Tele-Tessar 4/85 ZM. When I bought my previous camera, a NEX-5, it came with the Sony E 3.5-6.3/18-200 OSS. I’m keeping this lens, because of its 200mm capability, but I have to say that up till now, I never felt the need to use it, because I find shooting with the Zeiss glass to be so much more fun!

Why am I not a Leica fan? Well, in fact I am, but more in the sence that the Leica M9-P is my dream camera. But it’s simply to expensive for my kind of use. It’s simply not justifiable. So I guess it will remain a dream. But hey, isn’t it nice to have a dream?!!

In my opinion a photography enthusiast is somebody who’s not taking pictures as a profession (although in my job I regularly use my own pictures), as such he doesn’t take as many pictures as a pro, but he nevertheless tries to use his equipment to the fullest and is always looking for the best possible shot. So he’s definitely not a point and shoot photographer. We both now that many of your site visitors are enthusiasts, so what I write about my NEX-7/Zeiss ZM experience is probably very relevant to many of them. When I look at the “Daily Inspiration” publications on your site, sometimes I see pictures that really “Waw!” me. They are shot by great pro photographers, who can do things with their camera that I simply can’t. Maybe they shoot in better light circumstances, most likely they know better how to process the image afterwords and surely they use different material (the Leica M9 sensor for instance is clearly superior to the NEX’s). Not to forget that they developed “a better eye” than most enthusiast ever will. So many of your site visitors will, like me, never be able to reach that level. The more relevant I guess it is, to see what an average, but nevertheless serious enthusiast can realize with this material.

I know you did some testing of the NEX-7 with Leica glass, but honestly, I don’t think that this combination is really relevant for enthusiasts. When I’d want to spend that kind of money for my lenses, I wouldn’t doubt for a second to by an M9. But I simply can’t justify to spend Leica kind of money for my “on the road” camera. Nevertheless the idea is good: the NEX body can easily work with M-mount lenses. To me it’s almost as if the NEX-7 was conceived to be used with M-mount glass. And luckily there are other brands then Leica that make this glass for a considerably lower cost. Amongst them, Zeiss has always been my favorite, being of the same brand as that fabulous first camera of mine, a Zeis Ikon Ikonta C, that shot so unbelievably sharp on 90x60mm film, although it had no light meter, and no focus system what so ever. But it learned you right away what the technique of photographing was really all about… :-)

From a budget point of view the combination of NEX-7 with Zeiss ZM lenses is about the best one can get. And I know that in some circumstances there is a magenta color shift on the NEX-7 with M-mount glass. But really, when I consider that I just took shots as always, I must say that as far as now, it has never bothered me. And I even shot the Biogon wide open sometimes. But, probably like many enthusiasts, I don’t ALWAYS shote wide open. I recently visited the NAMM show, a big music trade show in Anaheim, CA, for my job and took quite some pictures there for our publication and just for fun. (Unfortunately the skies were grey during our visit.) When I shoot the exposition booth of our clients, it’s important that one can see as much as possible, so the DOF must be as large as possible. Also when I want to give a general impression of the fair, I think one must see as much as possible. In those pictures, my goal is probably different of yours. When I want to paint the atmosphere – I don’t want to focus on only one particular detail, but I need to show everything that’s going on there. This is important for our readers and our clients as well. Coming from that background, I always have been oriented towards an as large as possible DOF, with as much as possible detail. And that’s where the Zeiss lenses (in my opinion) outshine.

It’s only since buying the NEX-7 and finding the SteveHuffPhoto website, that I also targeted towards shallow DOF and that I tried to achieve this very beautiful 3D effect, just for fun. How come? Well it’s undoubtedly thanks to the NEX-7/Zeiss combination. To me the camera size and weight is perfect. I can have it around my neck permanently, without being bothered by it in the slightest way. Yet it’s just a little bit bigger than the NEX-5, that a found just too small to be practical. And of course the wonderful view finder (I NEVER AGAIN want to shoot with a camera without view finder!) and the extra control knobs make it such a tremendous joy to work with. I have never shot that much pictures just for fun! I can do everything manually again, but now in a very easy and smooth way. And this brings me the real joy of photographing.

You know, I’m an enthusiast. My goal is not to shoot “The Picture of The Year”. My goal is to enjoy shooting pictures, and at the same time trying to take nice pictures and to continue improving. The NEX-7 gave me already so much more inspiration and ideas to improve my photographic skills, mainly about where to look at while focussing, and how to do this fast. I believe that if one is really trained in manual focussing, he will focus almost as fast as an automatic focussing system, surely when using the ingenious focus peaking, and a good lens like the Zeiss ZM. The focus peaking allows you to immediately and purposefully focus on any point in the view finder. In my opinion (correct me if I’m wrong) this beats any automatic focussing system – surely in joy of use (and remember, that’s my #1 motivation!). To me this opened a new world. Where I used to really take time for every shot, thinking about DOF, pointing, focussing, holding the release knob half ways and reframing, I now enjoy instant shooting, but still framing and focussing in the best possible way. Only now I can do this instantly. What a joy! Many of you will think that it’s pretty remarkable that I only begin to shoot in this way in my late fifties, but hey, I’m just an enthusiast! Of course, shallow depth of field is something I’ve known for whole my life. But I never achieved it in my pictures so much until recently. Nevertheless, I don’t get why anyone would ALWAYS want to achieve THE MOST shallow DOF possible. Sometimes, like in my waitress picture, I want it to be 3D with a shallow background, but I believe it’s better for the atmosphere of the picture to still have some notice of the surroundings, instead off just having some light stains “to make a nice bouquet”.

Do I have other remarks on the NEX-7? Yes. Well, everybody must communicate to Sony that in a future software update, they must provide that the camera can stay in standby while hanging around your neck. “Waking it up” by touching the release knob seems a good idea to me. When I’m out to take fast shots, I’d want it in the on-position all the time. Now this drains the battery in a few hours time. (I measured around 3.5 hours, but maybe that depends on the light circumstances.) Luckily, the battery is small and I have three of them, thanks to my NEX-5. So it’s not a big deal to me. But still…

And yes, I sometimes accidentally start filming. So I delete those. That’s about it guys, and it really doesn’t spoil my joy of using this camera. For the rest, the balance and the feel of the camera is superb. And with the ZM lenses on it, my hand just doesn’t get tired. Ever!

Do I have other remarks on the Zeiss ZM lenses? No. I’m utterly pleased by them. They are sharp, nice bouquet, great 3D, fairly lightweight (without feeling cheap), so easy to use, beautiful and offer the best quality for the money, by far. I told you, I’m a fifty year Zeiss fan. I’m probably not the most objective person, when it comes to Zeiss (after a love of 50 years, who can blame me), but you know, I’m no photography reporter, nor a professional photographer, so I think I can permit me more… :-)

Do I have special comments on the NEX-7/Zeiss ZM combination? Yes. To work with, it’s just a perfect combination. The joy of use is tremendous. Never experienced that in my 50 years of shooting! (I owned more than 10 different camera’s.) Also, the price is right. Lenses and body “play in the same league”. They seem to be meant for one another.

And then there is the magenta color shift. I can’t deny that it’s there. It is. Sometimes. Very rarely in my use. And only with the Biogon. With large aperture. But even then not always, or not noticeable. And when it appears, sometimes it’s only very slightly. Which doesn’t bother me. You know I don’t shoot wide open all the time. From the about 1000 pictures I took up till now, the magenta really bothered me only a very few times – two or maybe three, I already forgot it… Would I want to get rid of it? Sure! Will I buy another camera for it? No way!! Maybe Sony can fix it in a later software update, although I doubt it and I don’t hope for it. But if they do, I surely want the update. If the don’t I stay happy as it is.

My only real comment and regret on the NEX-7 is it not having a full frame sensor. I really would like to get rid of the cropping factor! So maybe the last camera I’ll ever buy will be a full frame NEX-10?? ;-)

I hope you still can enjoy the pictures of a non-pro, who, I’m sure, sometimes will do things that “are not done” in a professionals opinion. If you can give critic of any kind, that can improve my shooting, you are so very welcome! Besides that, I guess the pictures can be very relevant for all those enthusiasts, who want to see what quality they can expect from this NEX-7/Zeiss ZM combination for themselves. Me being one of them!

The pictures shown here are all taken out of hand, without flash, as jpg’s and often slightly processed with Photoshop Elements. I find the Shadows/Highlights function to be very effective, I sometimes somewhat skew and of course sometimes crop a little. Also I sometimes use a very small amount of Unsharp Mask. Oh yeah, also the Adjust Color for Skin Tone sometimes works very effectively. Those functions make it possible to work very fast, being designed to process photo’s and some of them are not available in the regular Photoshop. That’s why I prefer Photoshop Elements for my “normal” pictures, and Photoshop CS Extended for pictures that need to be printed in the magazine.

Have fun shooting!

Feb 082012
 

Just Announced! The Sony NEX “E” Mount Lens Roadmap 2012 and into 2013 – 8 new lenses!

Just received this roadmap from Sony today which shows the new lenses coming down the pike for their NEX system.

Looks like we have a High Performance G Standard Zoom, a new High Magnification Zoom, a normal standard zoom and wide-angle zoom for 2012. In the prime department we will be seeing a Large aperture standard lens in 2012 as well as a middle tele prime and pancake lens. Looks like Sony is invested in this system and will be delivering what many NEX users have been asking for. MORE LENSES. The G zoom and large aperture standard lens seems the most intriguing to me along with the new pancake. Seems like 2012 is shaping up to be one of the most release filled years ever for photography gear.

 

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