Jun 012014
 

Great buy on Zeiss Touit 32 1.8, Fuji or Sony at B&H!

Just found out that B&H released a slew of Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 lenses for $520! A savings of $200! At $520 tho lens is a bargain. which are showing up in their used department but may be refurbished units. Either way, it is a steal ass these lenses are amazing. The Zeiss 32 1.8 on the Sony A6000 is one hell of a lens (my review here). B&H also hasten 12mm Zeiss at a special price as ell. Details and direct links below:

Click here to see the Zeiss Touit Deals at B&H Photo NOW!

970840

B&H PHOTO IS also advertising this INSANE deal of the two tout lenses, the 32 1.8 and 12 2.8 for Sony or Fuji for $919 TOTAL. That is $800 off the normal price. 

See the bundle deal for Sony

See the bundle deal for Fuji

May 022014
 

Testing the real Zeiss Ikon

By Huss Hardan

Leica and Zeiss-1

Many people lust over the Zeiss Ikon ZM – the sadly recently discontinued 35mm rangefinder made by Cosina. This camera always piqued my curiosity but things went the way they did, and I ended up with a brace of Leica M3s.
Of course, I am always on the look out for a bargain, but my searches always turned up another Zeiss Ikon. The Zeiss Ikon Contessa 35.

This was a ‘real’ Zeiss Ikon rangefinder, in as much as it was built-in Stuttgart, Germany in the early 1950s. An incredibly well made camera, really over-built for its use, with a Zeiss Tessar 45mm f 2.8 lens. The lens hid behind a draw bridge style panel, which allowed it to collapse into the body. A nifty design that is all metal, without rubber or fabric bellows that can be quite delicate.

As luck would have it, my girlfriend’s sister came across one and asked me to test it. I first checked it empty with the back open to see if it worked at all. This is when I discovered that the only shutter speeds that functioned were B and anything higher than 1/50. Which would be fine as I would be using it in daylight. To be fair, every old camera that I have bought has needed a clean/lube/adjust before it worked properly. It is just a matter of age and dried out lubricants. But I digress… I loaded the Zeiss with some expired (but refrigerated) Fuji Pro 160S and gave it a shot…

It took a little getting used to, as advancing the film was performed by a dial on the base. Once that was done you had to cock the shutter with a lever that was separate from the shooting lever/button that is next to the lens. Shutter speeds (B-1/500), aperture settings (2.8-22) and focus (linked rangefinder) are all adjusted using dials on the lens. The camera has a built-in light meter, but it has long since expired so I just estimated based on experience.

The upside to the Zeiss Ikon Contessa – it is nice and compact, really fun to use, and people go nuts when you pull it out. They cannot believe that you are using such an antique! The down side is that I compared it to my Leica M3. I picked the dual stroke version as it was built at about the same time. The M3 really has a ‘modern’ film camera lay out, if you know how to use pretty much any modern 35mm camera, you’ll know how to use an M3. But the most glaring difference is the viewfinder. It is tiny and dark on the Zeiss, with no frame lines. So the composition of many of my shots were a bit off.

The M3 has, still, the best viewfinder I have ever used. If you ever get the chance, you really need to take a peak through one.

Back to the Contessa. I shot the test roll in a day down at the beach, dropped it off at Costco for their one hour develop and scan ($4.86!), loaded the jpegs into Lightroom and what you see is what I got. I adjusted a bit for contrast and exposure but nothing major. The camera did do one bad thing, it apparently scratched a bunch of horizontal lines across the negatives. This is what happens when someone hands you a camera from the 1950s and asks you to check it out!

As always, all comments are welcome as long as they are complimentary..
;)

Best regards
Huss
husshardan.com

Pic 1, local VW Bug with a bit of lens flare at the top

Zeiss Ikon Contessa-1
Pic 2, back side of a performing arts building

Zeiss Ikon Contessa-2
Pic 3, beach scene in Santa Monica, CA

Zeiss Ikon Contessa-3
Pic 4, stairs and sandals, Annenberg Beach House, Santa Monica, CA.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa-4

Apr 302014
 

Big and small: in the field with a D800/55mm Otus and an A7r/35mm Summilux

Andrew Paquette

www.paqart.com

My background is as a visual artist, not a photographer. I started out as an editorial artist in New York, then became a comic book artist, a 3D artist in the video game industry, a special effects artist in the feature film business, and then an art director in video games. Throughout my career I have made extensive use of cameras, but only in a utilitarian way. For an illustration I did for Travel & Leisure, I took reference photos with a Polaroid. For an issue of the comic Nightbreed, I used my Nikon 2020 to shoot some friends in my loft, again as reference. For the movie Spider-Man, I used photos taken by one of my colleagues to build part of the 3d New York City set. For my paintings, though I preferred to paint subjects “live”, I sometimes took photos with my D70 for reference. On one painting in particular I had the nagging feeling that if only I’d had a better camera I could have skipped painting it. It turned into a fairly popular poster, but even today I think that a photo of the same scene would have done just as well or even better. Now that I have that better camera, I am fairly sure that is true.

I have read in many places that it doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have if you have a good eye for a picture. I would say that if you don’t have a decent eye for what makes a good picture, it won’t matter as much what kind of equipment you use, but it will still make a difference. If you do have some experience making pictures, the equipment can make a huge difference.

At the moment, my two favorite camera/lens combinations are almost exact opposites. One is huge, the other is tiny. On the big end of the spectrum, I love my D800 when paired with the Zeiss 55mm Otus lens. On the small side of things, I am equally pleased with my Leica 35mm Summilux ASPH when mounted on an A7r. The difference between how these two kits handle cannot be understated. The D800 + Otus is so ponderously heavy that I literally injured my hand using it (and even had to go to the doctor as a result). The A7r + Summilux is so tiny that I can carry it in a hip pouch and forget it is there. At face value, one might think that the small setup is the way to go but I have found the images I get out of the D800 + Otus so compelling that I take it out for a walk just as often as I go out with the A7r. I have not put the Otus on the A7r as others have done because for me, the purpose of the A7r is to have something lightweight and discreet. If I’m going to use the Otus, it won’t be discreet no matter what it’s mounted on, so I may as well have the higher frame rate offered by the D800.

When I bought the A7r, I was planning on switching to an all Sony/Leica system so that I could travel more easily with my photography gear. At first, I thought that was how it would work out, but then the Otus was released and I got curious about it. The next thing I knew, I had the Otus and found that it was capable of a wonderful medium format look. The A7r/Summilux would have been a perfect combination to shoot the subject I painted that was mentioned earlier, but the D800 + Otus would have been better for another painting I made shortly thereafter. Despite the extra weight, I found that I wanted to keep the D800 (and all my Zeiss lenses) and the A7r. Now, I use the A7r whenever I travel by plane, have to stay in a hotel, or if my arm is not feeling up to walking around with the Otus. Otherwise, I almost always use the Otus. For special occasions, other lenses will get a ride on the D800, but these days I almost always use the Otus.

I should also give a plug for Zacuto viewfinders here. After using the Sony’s vastly superior electronic viewfinder on the A7r, I was too spoiled to be satisfied with the optical viewfinder or live view on the D800. I use the Zacuto Z-finder pro 3x on both cameras now, and hardly ever misfocus as a result. As an added bonus, my exposure is much improved thanks to the Zacuto’s ability to isolate the LCD from exterior light. For the D800, I leave the mounting plate attached to the camera body, then snap on the viewfinder when I need it. For the A7r, I do not attach the mounting plate, but wear the Zacuto on a lanyard around my neck instead, then hold it up to the live view panel when needed.

With all that preamble out-of-the-way, here are some photos. Most were taken in Amsterdam, but several were taken on a recent trip to Geneva with the A7r. See the captions for more detailed information.

-

1 The A7r+35mm Leica Summilux ASPH

Carnival ride, Amsterdam. There was a carnival in Dam square a couple weeks ago when I shot this image. The ride was moving so fast that I was amazed I could get any shots at all with the manual focus Summilux, but got several regardless. The real problem was that the seats on this ride spun from the arm they were attached to, meaning that I only occasionally had riders facing the camera.

A7r-01

Breakdancing at Museumplein, Amsterdam. There is a troupe of breakdancers that I have now photographed three times at Museumplein. The first time I shot them on an overcast day with a Zeiss 15mm Distagon, then with a 55mm Zeiss Otus, and here with the 35mm Summilux. Like the carnival ride, I was worried about shooting fast action because of the A7r’s comparatively slow shots per second, but it worked out fine. I didn’t get as many shots as the D800 would have provided, but it was enough to get the exact shots I wanted.

A7r-02

Indian magic trick at Leidseplein, Amsterdam. Although I avoid doing so with my other lenses, I love shooting backlit subjects with the A7r/Summilux combo. It isn’t that I never get decent shots of this type with other lenses, but this combination yields terrific contrast in these situations.

A7r-03

Horse-drawn coach, Amsterdam  I’ve tried several times to get a decent shot of this horse, and finally got it with the A7r. One thing I love about the 35mm Summilux is its ability to provide context to a subject, as in this case by showing the environment around the horse.

A7r-04

Particle beam casing and magnets, CERN, Geneva. My friend, Dr. Richard Breedon, has been associated with one of the experiments at CERN for as long as I’ve known him. Recently he offered me an opportunity to come to Geneva and take some photos. I think he gave me something like two days’ notice, but I’d wanted to do it for quite a while, so I got the plane tickets right away and flew down. Taking pictures at CERN was made difficult by the poor lighting and the bizarre colors almost all the machinery was painted.

A7r-05

Scientist calibrating panel at CERN, Geneva. This was one of a small number of shots I took at CERN that has a human subject in the frame to give a sense of the scale of the beam magnets. This scientist is standing at the base of one of these things, which are about 30 meters in diameter. Like most of the shots taken in this area, I converted it to black and white to get rid of all the brilliant green, red, and yellow painted objects.

A7r-06

Skier at Chamonix. Richard and I drove down to Chamonix the day after photographing CERN, to have a look at the slopes near Mont Blanc. This shot was taken in an ice cave at the top of a perilous cable car ride. From here, it was all downhill. Most of the shots I took in Chamonix were taken with ISO 50, f 16, and 1/4000 shutter speed. This was one of maybe three shots that had more normal settings. I would post some of the others because I like them, but anyone who has ever been to this location will have very similar shots because there are only a few places to take pictures from unless you want to risk life and limb.

A7r-07

Geneva auto show, Geneva. This shot looks pretty bright, but it was an indoor space lit with artificial lights, so it wasn’t that bright. This is where having a 1.4 aperture option comes in extremely handy. At ISO 400 I was able to shoot this at 1/400th of a second. One thing I should mention here is that I avoid shooting the A7r at less than 1/200th of a second to avoid shutter vibration, even if it means a higher ISO than I would normally use. In the 1/60-1/125 range, shutter vibration is noticeable, so I just don’t use those settings at all.

A7r-08

Swan on Lake Geneva. I took about 20 shots of these swans, all in attempt to get one shot of water dripping off their beaks. After thinking I’d missed the shot every time, I found that the first shot got exactly what I wanted.

A7r-09

Pedestrian, Geneva. This was taken after sunset. Streetlights were just coming on and it was starting to get difficult to see. Despite the lack of light, the Summilux delivered a very nice tonal range.

A7r-10

Missing the pocket, Amsterdam. When I spotted this couple walking down the street, I had to get a shot of them. I turned around and snapped about five or six shots before they disappeared into a crowd. I particularly like shooting with the Summilux slightly after sundown because of the rich blue violet shades that permeate images made at that time of night. The same evening I took some other nice shots of boats and lights reflected in the canals. Absolutely gorgeous light.

A7r-11

Roman Road golf course, Wales. I took this on the last day of a conference I attended in Wales. Until that morning, the region had been buried in deep fog that made it almost impossible to shot anything. I was grateful when the sky opened up a little to allow this image to be taken.

A7r-12

2 The D800+55mm Zeiss Otus

Parked cars, Bergen op Zoom. In the Netherlands, it is very common to see trees trimmed like the ones in this image. Coming from the U.S., I think this looks a bit strange, but interesting. In this shot, I like how the shallow depth of field blends all the twigs together in the background, creating a kind of smoky bramble above the cars.

D800-01

Looking and not looking, Amsterdam. To get this shot, I parked myself in front of the violet lamp-post, focused on it, then waited for people to walk by. When I got home, I was fascinated by how sharp the lamp post is. I’m still not used to this quality the Otus has. The Summilux has terrific color and contrast, but the neutral color and outstanding sharpness of the Otus are mesmerizing to look at.

D800-02

Artist, Spui, Amsterdam. This shot looks about as cold as Siberia, but it wasn’t very cold at all, nor has it been all winter. We didn’t even have snow this year. Normally I don’t like to take pictures of paintings unless they are mine, but in this case I liked the large amount of white space interrupted by these couple of spots of intense color.

D800-03

Couple, Museumplein, Amsterdam. This shot, like many other shots taken with the Otus, looks like medium format photography to me. It also reminds me of the colors one finds in color photography from the 1950’s. The people in the Netherlands tend to be tall, and I like how this man looks like a giant in a tiny seat as he eyeballs my camera.

D800-04

Girl with braid, Amsterdam. The primary reason I shot this is because of the colors in this little girl’s clothing. While I think of the Summilux as being particularly good at dealing with blues and yellows, the Otus seems to like pinks and greens more. This may just be my imagination, but it has led me to shooting specific colors with this lens because I think they look better with it.

D800-05

Hands with tiny camera, Amsterdam. Unlike the monster I shot this with, the camera in these hands is barely visible. I had wanted to get a picture of this man because of the complex pattern on his jacket, but he ducked into an alcove, took a picture of a building across the street, then went back the way he’d come. I took this in anticipation of him coming out of the alcove in a moment, but he didn’t do it.

D800-06

Green and red, Haagse Beemden, Netherlands. I may be the only person in the world that likes this photograph of practically nothing, but I really do like it because of the colors. It is just a garbage can and a big red cylindrical building on the edge of a manmade lake, but I like the combination of red and green.

D800-07

Organ, Amsterdam. I have taken a lot of photos of cathedrals, but not as many of the organs, which are usually so high above the ground that it isn’t worth the trouble to shoot them with less than a 100mm lens. This one was lower than most and had great color.

D800-08

Breakdancer, Amsterdam. A problem had with the Zacuto is that the D800 live view screen will go black after the shutter is pressed until the image is finished saving. This meant that as I tried to follow the breakdancers with the camera, I could only frame the first shot by eye, and then the rest (if shot in continuous mode) I had to guess. For this reason, I have decided to use the Zacuto for initial focus when shooting action, but will remove it after it is focused so that I can track the action. For this type of shot, I thought the A7r was easier to use because I didn’t have to deal with the Zacuto getting in the way of the EVF.

D800-09

Skater, Amsterdam. To me, this skater looks almost like a superhero in this shot. I have at least a hundred shots of skaters in this park, but this is easily the most elegant of the group.

D800-10

Intersection, Amsterdam. It almost seems criminal sometimes to turn some of these images to black and white, but in this case I felt it was worth it to enhance the effect of the light falling between buildings on the opposite side of the street, silhouetting the man on the near traffic island.

D800-11

Bubbles, Carnaval celebration. This is another one of those shots that demonstrates how brilliant the Otus typically is. It’s pictures like this that have me wanting to think up some decent staged shots, find some models, then do some deliberate shoots to get a specific composition instead of hoping to find something interesting while walking around town.

D800-12

3 Conclusion

I have a hard time saying that I think either of these kits is better than the other because they are both clearly very capable systems. A funny thing about the handling of them is that while I wish the Otus didn’t weigh so much and was less bulky, using it is in some ways more comfortable than using the A7r. The A7r is easier to carry and less obtrusive, but I feel less in control of making the image than when I am using the Otus. I think this is because of the long throw on the Otus, which allows more fine focusing. With the A7r, I always worry that I’ve tapped the little focusing knuckle ring a little too far or not enough when taking a photo. Since I can tell whether it is in focus or not by using the EVF or Zacuto viewfinder, it is a silly concern to have, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling more confident when shooting the Otus. Having said all that, when selecting images for this article, I initially had almost twice as many Summilux shots as Otus shots as candidates. Is this because I unconsciously favor the Summilux? I wouldn’t know.

AP

Apr 172014
 

Looking Back to the Zeiss ZM 50mm Sonnar Day

By Zaki Jaihutan

Dear Steve and Brandon, thanks for providing the opportunity to share my nostalgic moment with the beautiful Zeiss ZM 50mm sonnar f1.5 or the Sonnar.

Not long ago I traded my Sonnar (together with one other lens) with the legenday leica 50mm summilux ASPH. I’ve been wanting to get my hand on the Lux for quite some time, it has its own strong rendition different to that of the Sonnar (perhaps “slight”, but it’s there).

I am not going to provide you with comparison between the two lenses. Not only that I dislike technical comparison (though I admit this type of comparison has its own use), but I also like to see a lens for what it is, its overall feel, its drawing if you like, how the lens work with my camera and myself. I am not good in giving objective explanation about this and prefer picture to do the talking. My acquisition of the Lux is a pure aesthetic choice (not to mention the opportunity to obtain the Lux at a very acceptable price), and while I am happy with the result I get from the Lux, I cannot say that the Sonnar is inferior to it. I don’t want to sound like I’m defending an ex girlfriend, but the Lux and the Sonnar are simply two different beauties.

When I first venture into the difficult world of rangefinder by purchasing my M9, the Sonnar is my first lens, and it has been my go to lens until I got my 35 lux ASPH about 8 months ago. I choose the Sonnar not just due to price consideration (voigtlander can give you a more acceptable price range with a good quality glass), but from the result of its images, their artistic feel, and….guess what? From the possible problem in using this lens due to its famous “focus-shift” issue. I was a total rookie in the rangefinder world (which I still am, mine you I started using leica M9 for only around two and a half years  ), and I thought, gee, why not challenge myself more? It just sounds cool, using tricky lens to get a certain artistic look.

Believe it or not, I don’t find any focus shift issue. Most pictures I took are spot on where I want them to be. Perhaps its me that is less critical? Maybe the objects I choose do not reveal this issue (smaller object might show this perhaps, e.g. pencil points or something like that?). I remember someone said somewhere in the web that he did not get any focus shift issue, and someone responded that is impossible!!! Well, maybe my lens, or my camera, was already adjusted …or maybe, someone had skillfully painted a different lens and put the mark ZM sonnar to the lens in order to fool me. Maybe, mabe and maybe.

Anyway, looking back at what I can get from the Sonnar, its imperfection which add up to its artistic look, its “drawing” as many people like to call it, I feel a bit nostalgic and would like to share what the Sonnar has done to my worldview. I realize many samples are already there, but I guess additional view to enjoy are always fun. Perhaps this can reignite interest to this classic lens (and an option to consider for those who like to get a good quality 50mm glass with their M, but finds it hard to justify purchasing the uber expensive Lux). All of these were taken with either the M9 or the new M. Most of them can also be seen at my flickr site at HYPERLINK “http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaihutan/” http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaihutan/

See if you can feel its unique soft way of blending the subject into soft focus, and find it adorable. Enjoy.

With kind regards,
Zaki Jaihutan

Sonnar-2

Sonnar-3

Sonnar-4

Sonnar-5

Sonnar-1

Sonnar-10

Sonnar-8

Sonnar-7

Apr 092014
 

titleotus

The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 on the Sony A7r:

my considerations and experiences (so far)

by Dirk De Paepe

A contradiction?

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

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

But let me make another statement now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two versions of Otus

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

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

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

Which one to choose?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.Aperture on lens

Why the Otus?

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

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

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

The Otus Image Quality

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

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

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

2.Glass doll

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

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

3.Bicyclist under trees

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

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

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

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

4.Overview

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

5.Forest, canal and factory

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

Why not a faster lens than a f/1.4?

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

6.Bicycle parking

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

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

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

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

The issues

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

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

- Loosing the compact concept of the A7r.

- Adapter issues.

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

- Early induced motion blur when shooting OOH.

- Hyper delicate focusing.

- Manual focusing only.

- No image stabilization.

- A very big, heavy and expensive lens.

Let’s look at those issues one by one.

Loosing the compact concept of the A7r

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

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

Adapter issues

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

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

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

Balance

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

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

7.Tripod balance

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

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

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

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

8.Left hand balance

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

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

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

Shooting out of hand at 1/10 sec!

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

9.Selfie

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

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

Delicate focusing

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

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

Manual focusing only

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

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

No image stabilization

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

A very big, heavy and expensive lens

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

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

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

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

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

What to shoot with the Otus

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

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

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

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

My overall conclusion

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

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

That’s more than enough for me!

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

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

Art Center at the Canal

B.Waldmin

Bed and breakfast

Early spring at the canal

Front leaves

Hard Rock Beauty

Kitchen Still Life

So many windows

Train and bicycle

Tree bark

Two ships

Two worlds

You missed something

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

Mar 272014
 

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The Zeiss 15mm F2.8 Distagon T* ZM lens

By Jerry Bei

The Zeiss 15mm F2.8 Distagon T* ZM is a one-of-a-kind lens, it is truly a monster when mounted on a Leica M body that offers exquisite image rendering. In short, this is not a lens for everyone but it offers insanely sharp, highly contrasty and richly saturated images. So if you are looking for an exotic ultra-wide angle lens that generates a unique rendering then look no further.

This lens is not your typical “Made in Japan” Zeiss lens, it is hand-crafted in Germany and Zeiss went all out with this design. The Zeiss 15mm F2.8 ZM used all sorts of exotic types of glass and incorporated aspheric lens elements, which is uncommon for Zeiss designs. All of those factors contribute to making this lens the most expensive lens in the ZM line-up and it is what separates it from all others.

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Build Quality and Ergonomics

The build quality of the Zeiss 15mm Distagon ZM lens is exceptional. It matches the German-made Leica standards and the ergonomics of this lens is excellent. The lens is relatively large when compared to other M mount lenses but it still feels great in the hands of the photographer. The lens comes in at 13oz or around 370 grams, which is not light for a rangefinder lens but it is well-balanced on either the Leica M9 or the Leica M240.

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Practical use

The Zeiss 15mm F2.8 Distagon ZM lens is not rangefinder coupled when using on the Leica M9 but this is overcome by the live-view function on the new Leica M240. Although this lens is not rangefinder coupled, it has the minimum focusing distance advantage down to 0.3m, which is around a person’s forearm length thus allows the photographer to shoot with close objects.

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In terms of Image rendering, there is strong vignetting visible at all apertures and if you a fan of Vignetting effects then this would be the ideal lens for you. Otherwise, this is easily reduced by applying the Central Density Filter (CDF) provided by Zeiss, which is specifically manufactured and designed for this lens. The CDF is a unique density filter that only densifies the central part of the glass which minimises the vignetting overall. (Just a kind reminder, Do not lose the CDF filter, as it does not come cheap to buy it separately at approximately $600 US Dollars. The colour casts can also be noticeable around the corners when taking photos with certain backgrounds, which produces magenta on the left along with cyan on the right but this can be easily fixed by using the CornerFix Software.

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When shooting with the Zeiss 15mm Distagon ZM lens, It is recommended to purchase a Zeiss 15mm Viewfinder or a cheaper alternative Voigtlander 15mm viewfinder for functional use on the Leica M9 and other rangefinder bodies. As for the lens profile, I tend to mount the lens and leave it to automatic detection mode but you are free to experimenting or try different lens profile which suits you.

My Website: www.jerrybei.com

My Flickr: www.flickr.com/jerrybay

Mar 142014
 

One year with film

By Rikard Landberg

Hi! I would like to share my experience of one year with only film photography with you and your readers. My first rolls I shoot was poster on your blog about a year ago, ”How a 51 Year old Leica made me leave the digital world”.

In a month it has been a year since I sold the last of my digital cameras and went over completely to film photography. The change went surprisingly easy. It was almost as if I ‘ve never photographed with digital cameras at all. I felt the same joy as when I as a teenager switched from film to digital. I rediscovered photography!

What I like shooting with film is the slower pace. It may sound like a cliché but it’s true. Now I focus on the picture and what works, I wait out the right moment. I know I can’t take 10 frames per second (as I could with my digital canon ) which means that I have to learn to see patterns of the objects I photograph and predict what will happen. This way of thinking has not only (according to me) resulted in better pictures , but I have also begun to take in more of what I am experiencing while photographing. With a digital camera, I missed so much since I put a lot of time trying different exposures or retaking an image 100 times for not looking right on the small screen on the back of the camera. With my Leica M5 I do not have that option which allows me to see what’s going on around me instead of wasting time staring into a screen. I’ve learned to trust my eyes and my camera in a whole new way. In short, it’s simply more fun to shoot right now!

The equipment I use is a Leica M5 with a Zeiss 35/2.8 BIOGON. When it ‘s been a year so I will reward myself with a M6, M4-P or a Zeiss Ikon. I will continue using film and rangefinders for a long time!

/ Rikard Landberg , Sweden

My websites

www.rikardlandberg.se

www.flickr.com / Landberg

Some pictures from the past year.

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Brooklyn Bridge MAnTOYP

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Raggare 3TOYP

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Feb 172014
 

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My favorite ND filter for fast Leica lenses!

Finally! I found THE ND filter to own for my fast Leica glass (Thanks Ken Hansen)! Yes my friends, in the past I have owned many ND filters and I always had to figure out which one I would get. When shooting a Summilux lens or Noctilux lens an ND filter is MANDATORY if you want to shoot your ones wide open where they were designed and optimized to be shot. Over the last few years I have had MANY e-mails come in asking me “which ND filter should I get”..and I am happy to say that the one I own now is hands down my #1 favorite that I have ever owned/used.

It is a made in Germany Heliopan Variable ND filter that gives you a range to work with..from 0.3 all the way up to 1.8 or from 1 to 6 stops. This means you can use this single one ND filter for all of your ND filter needs. From slight brightness to brutal harsh light (like I shot the images in below), this ND filter will give you what you need with a smooth twist of the front ring. When Ken Hansen told me about it I had to give it a shot.

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If you are not familiar with the purpose of an ND filter I will break it down for you very quickly.

Let’s say you love shooting your Leica and Noctilux but you love shooting that lens wide open at f/0.95. If it is sunny outside or the light is bright you will not be able to shoot wide open because the shutter speed in your 9 or M 240 only goes to 1/4000s. This means that without an ND filter you will have to stop down the lens to f/4 or f/5.6 or in some situations even f/8.

With an ND filter in place you can shoot that lens wide open as the filter blocks some of the light. With this particular filter you can adjust how much light gets let in and it is marked from 1-10. I tested this filter in the super harsh mid day sun of Phoenix AZ and my filter was usually between #3 and #6 with the Zeiss 50 Sonnar at f/1.5.

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Using this filter it allowed me to shoot wide open to retain that classic Zeiss Sonnar look that disappears once the lens is stopped down. I shot the SLR Magic Hyperprime 0.95 M lens a couple of years ago with an ND filter as well, and all of the images shot in that report were with a Leica M9, the images below were shot with an M 240 and the Zeiss.

You can also use an ND filter if you want to shoot at longer shutter speeds, for example, a running waterfall. The ND will block the light to your sensor and allow you to drag out that shutter for as long as you need.

Anyway, this is an amazing ND filter and is the only one you will need for ANY situation. No need for 2-4 ND’s, just one. The build is superb and of very high quality, the ring to adjust the strength of the filter is smooth as silk and this filter is available from Ken Hansen in the two sizes any Leica shooter would need. 46mm (35 Summilux, 50 Summilux) or 60mm (Noctilux 0.95). These filters are NOT cheap but no good ND filter is. I believe this one goes for $260 but I found it to be a very worthwhile investment because it is the last ND I will ever need and will fit any 46mm lens I attach to my camera.

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I tested it with the Zeiss 50 ZM Sonnar which also has a 46mm filter thread and the filter presented no issues or problems at all. The Zeiss ZM Sonnar is a very unique lens and when shot wide open at f/1.5 it almost resembles a Noctilux in its rendering. Not quite, but close. The best part is that the Sonnar comes in at around $1100. B&H is back-ordered but Tony at PopFlash has one or two in stock right now (in silver) for anyone looking for this now legendary classic lens.

You can e-mail Ken Hansen here if you want one or have a question. ([email protected]) Not sure how many he has but he did tell me he had a “few” available in 46mm and 60mm filter thread sizes and I recommend this filter 100% for ANY users of these filter size fast lenses (Leica). 

Below are the images I shot with the ND attached, all with the Zeiss Sonnar 50mm ZM and all wide open at f/1.5 at the local Ren Fair here in AZ. BTW, it was almost 90 degrees in mid Feb and the sun was HARSH. AZ mid day sun sucks for taking photos, but I purposely took these at the worst time to test this filter, which did fantastic. 

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Dec 102013
 

USER REPORT: Light & Shadow in San Francisco w/ Zeiss 21mm & TMAX 3200 

By Ryan Melideo

First off, I’d like to give a big thanks to Steve for developing this site and providing so many examples and reviews of new gear in the industry. His insight is definitely appreciated and I think we all feel the same way. I also would like to thank him for allowing me to contribute to the content on the site. This is my first guest posting, but second attempt at one. I didn’t get a response to my first idea submission. What’s up with that Steve?? j/k

I have been doing photography for about 2.5 years. What got me started was when I purchased a Canon 7D to shoot video. Over time, I noticed myself using the camera for more photo than video. I have worked with models and actors in the Los Angeles area for the most part, however over the past year, I have been gravitating to photojournalism and documentary photography and also have been experimenting with composited scenes. I currently shoot with a Nikon D800e as my main camera. I also have a Nikon F100 and F5 that I have been able to pick up dirt cheap used, but in impeccable condition. In addition to 35mm,

I have used a Mamiya 7ii (which I am ever so close to purchasing). I really enjoy using film and like the feeling of actually creating something you can touch when shooting on the medium.

The examples I provided here were taken one morning on a recent trip to San Francisco and were shot in the Mission district. I had brought along my Nikon F100 and a Zeiss 21mm f2.8 with the intension of using some Fuji Velvia as I walked around the city. The first morning, when I went to load the Velvia, I noticed that I still had a mostly unused roll of TMAX 3200 loaded inside the camera! I had put it in the camera weeks before when I was going to be doing some indoor shots of a band’s performance. I ended up not going to the performance so the TMAX was left inside to wait. I decided to head out and burn through the roll so I could get my Velvia loaded for the day. I wasn’t used to seeing a high iso film used in the broad daylight. I thought to myself that it might turn out interesting or it might not, but what the hell I’ll try it anyway! I decided to expose mostly for the highlights and fire away. I was using an aperture of f13 or f16 and a shutter speed of 6400 for most of the shots. I quickly shot through the roll in about 45 minutes to an hour.

When I returned from San Francisco I immediately packed up the film rolls to be shipped off for development and scanning. I usually get my film scanned at www.thedarkroom.com. Their turn times are fast and they have a new scanning resolution they refer to as “super scans” which are scanned at a resolution of 4492×6774. While anticipating the scans, I had really not even thought about the roll of TMAX. I was only thinking about the Velvia shots I had taken. It turns out I was much more interested in the TMAX upon review. I thought that they had an interesting and gritty quality to them.

I processed all of the image files in Lightroom 5 and only made adjustments to further enhance exposure (overall exposure, highlight, shadow) and contrast. No sharpening or other effects were applied. By reducing the overall exposure and painting in exposure in certain areas with the adjustment brush I was able to enhance the eerie feel and make the shots that were taken during the bright morning to appear that they were taken at night or dusk.

Please feel free to take a look at my website for samples of my photo and video work if you would like www.ryanmelideo.com

Feel free to drop me a line anytime!

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Nov 292013
 

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The Sony A7 and A7r Camera Review by Steve Huff 

Yes, Sony did it! 

Well here we are near the end of 2013 and finally…in my hand is the Sony A7 and A7r cameras (and they have been for a few weeks), the two little powerhouses that are poised and planned to take over the mirrorless camera world with their small tough design and their full frame class leading sensors. No one else had the balls to make such a camera yet Sony plowed right in, listened to the enthusiasts and DID IT. NOPE! Not Nikon, Not Leica, Not Olympus, Not Samsung, Not Pentax and certainly NOT Canon who have been doing nothing exciting or innovated at all lately in my opinion (I am speaking about Canon in that last statement).

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BUT after extensive real world use with these cameras I am left scratching my bald head…”WHY did Sony make two cameras”? I think they would have been better off with ONE A7 model which IMO would have been the A7 minus the AA filter. Done deal. By releasing TWO it has made everyone confused. I have now spoken to several who have canceled their pre orders only to order the other version and then cancel again because of the conflicting reports online of each model. Poeple are flooding me with questions on a daily basis “which one should I buy”???

Well, to all of you who are confused, let me ease your mind…the A7 is just as good of a camera for 99.2% of users as the A7R is. You will lose nothing and may even gain some by shooting with the A7 over the A7r. But I will get more into  this later on..for now, let me get back to my talk about Sony being revolutionary in the camera world..because they are really the only ones who are at the moment with Olympus right behind them.

The A7r with the Leica 75 Summilux Lens – Stunning Combo. Used the Simple Studio 1344 LED Light kit here. A light kit that is easy to use and packs a HUGE punch. Superbly made as well. 

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Nope, no one else has managed to come in and create something like the A7 series of camera. No one has attempted to put a full frame sensor into a small mirrorless body besides Leica, and they have been doing it since the M9 days (but expect to pay dearly for those red dots). There is a huge enthusiast, amateur and even pro audience for a camera like the A7 and A7r because the price point of the Leica M 240 is out of reach of so many photographers. Many of us wanted a small full frame solution that would not bankrupt us and now it is here in both the A7 and A7r.

After shooting with these new Sony cameras for a while I can safely say that my favorite is…BOTH! I just wanted to let that out up front. I feel the sensor is a little better in the A7r, the detail is better and the camera overall “seems” better when I am out shooting but of course much of that is mental due to the powerhouse sensor. But at the end of the day, more keepers came from the A7 for me, and it has a quieter shutter. So to me, that sums it up in my mind. Both are fantastic, both can do amazing things and both have the same flaws. Either can take a great image.

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The A7 is fantastic but if you want that extra ounce (and I do mean OUNCE) of performance, the A7r is the bell of the ball though for anything besides uber large printing no one will see a difference. Now if you are the type of shooter who sets up his sturdy tripod and does landscape, then the A7r will do the trick for you but shooting handheld in all kinds of light, the A7 gets the nod for me.

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Why these cameras are game changers

The new A7 and A7r have created a whole new genre. Now we have the best full frame sensors available in a smaller package and to be honest quite affordable for what they bring to the table. No, $1700 and  $2300 is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination but it is for what you are getting here. So first of all, the price is right. Many of us thought this camera was going to come in at $4500 and no one knew there would actually be TWO of them with one UNDER $1700 and one just under $2300. So in that respect they are game changers already.

I think the costs are lower due to the fact that these cameras are made in Thailand instead of Japan. But no biggie as the cameras seem very solid in the build and reliability department. If Sony made these in Japan I bet the cost for the A7r would have been over $3k, so I welcome the lower price as long as the long term reliability holds up.

Another way that the Sony will separate itself from the competition is by being able to mount and shoot SOME/MOST Leica M mount lenses with fantastic results and in the full frame native format. No other full frame camera can do this (besides the Leica M itself). We have been able to use these lenses on APS-C sensor cameras but that was not the best way as we were really not using these lenses to their full capacity when using them with a cropped sensor.

Most Leica M mount lenses are full frame lenses and they are gorgeous in size, build and feel. The good news is that 85-90% of them work amazingly well on the A7 and A7r. I found some of the best performing lenses on the A7 and A7r came from Zeiss with the Zeiss ZM line. Lenses like the 50 Zm f/2 Planar and the 50 Sonnar 1.5 are wonderful. They also come in at a much lower cost than the Leica counterparts. Also, one of the most magical lenses I have tried on these cameras has been the 75 Summilux. Gorgeous.

So we now have something that is important and very welcome..a choice!

GRRRRRR – A7r – ISO 800 35 2.8

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So those with Leica M lenses, you now have a full frame alternative to the Leica M.

The Leica M is of course the preffered camera to shoot these lenses with but as I said, not all of us have $7000 to spend on a camera body. Some of us have Leica M’s but want a backup and do not want to spend $7k TWICE :) The Sony A7 and A7r, IMO, are perfect for shooting Leica M mount glass from 28mm and up. I have tested and shot with the Voigtlander 35 1.2, the Zeiss 35 Biogon and 50 Planar ZM and they were amazing on the A7 and A7r. Especially the A7r. The color, the pop, the depth and the detail was all there and dare I say, even more so than with the Leica M in many cases.

In case you missed my earlier reports from a few weeks ago, below are links to each and every one and they have TONS of samples with M glass..

Day 1 – Nashville with the new Sony Cameras – Honky Tonks!

Day 2 – Nashville with the A7!  – Zeiss OTUS!

Day 3 – IN the studio!

Day 4 – Wrap up!

With those reports plus this longer term use review most of you should get an idea as to how the Sony A7 and A7r perform. So yes, these new Sony cameras have paved the way and are leading the mirrorless pack just for these reasons alone. But NO, they are NOT perfect and I do have some negatives I can speak about later. It is just that the IQ will NOT be one of them!

The Zeiss Otus is AMAZING in it’s IQ with the Sony A7 series..these three will show you that :) You can buy this lens HERE. I USED THE Canon Mount with an Adapter.

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The Specs

Full Frame Compact Mirrorless Digital Camera

The Sony Alpha a7 incorporates a full frame 35.8 x 23.9 sensor into the compact, lightweight form of an E-mount mirrorless camera providing the imaging prowess of full frame and the convenience and versatility of mirrorless.

A7: 24.3MP Exmor CMOS Sensor

With 24.3 effective megapixels, the Exmor CMOS sensor captures high-resolution, low-noise images with rich tonal gradation and low-light sensitivity. The normal ISO range on the Alpha a7 is 100-25600.

A7R: 36.4MP Exmor CMOS Sensor with No Optical Low Pass Filter

The 36.4MP resolution and outstanding performance of the Alpha a7R are optimized by removing the optical low-pass filter. In combination with the new BIONZ X image processing engine this design increases resolution and enhances the reproduction of the finest details. In addition, the sensor includes a new gapless lens design that fills the space between neighboring pixels to significantly increase light collecting efficiency and realize high corner-to-corner image quality. Differing from the Sony Alpha a7, the Alpha a7R with its omitted low-pass filter, gapless lens design sensor and contrast-detection AF provides the utmost in high-resolution, finely detailed capture. With 36.4 effective megapixels, the Exmor CMOS sensor captures high-resolution, low-noise images with rich tonal gradation and low-light sensitivity. The normal ISO range on the Alpha a7R is 100-25600.

A7R: Gapless, On-chip Sensor Lenses

Sony optimized the design and positioning of the sensor’s on-chip lens (OCL) covering every pixel to significantly enhance light-gathering efficiency. A gapless on-chip lens design eliminates the gaps between the micro-lenses to collect more light. Moreover, each on-chip lens is optimally positioned depending on its location to accommodate the sharper angle of light entering the periphery, which is caused by larger sensor dimensions being teamed with the E-mount’s short flange-back distance.

BIONZ X Image Processor

The new BIONZ X image processing engine reproduces textures and details in real time via extra high-speed processing capabilities. Together with front-end LSI (large scale integration) that accelerates the earliest processing stages, it enables more natural details, more realistic images, richer tonal gradations, and lower noise whether you shoot still images or movies.

A7: Fast Hybrid Autofocus

Enhanced Fast Hybrid auto focus combines speedy phase-detection AF with accurate contrast-detection AF, which has been accelerated through a new Spatial Object Detection algorithm. Phase-detection AF with 117 densely placed phase-detection AF points swiftly moves the lens to bring the subject nearly into focus, then contrast-detection AF with wide AF coverage fine-tunes precise focusing. A7r does not have the hybrid AF.

A7: Up to 5 fps Continuous Shooting

New faster, more accurate AF tracking, made possible by Fast Hybrid AF allows you to capture action shots and that ‘perfect’ moment with 5 fps continuous shooting in Speed Priority Continuous Shooting Mode. Differing from the Alpha a7R, the Alpha a7 provides a Hybrid Focus system that enables faster focusing and frame rates for photographers who favor performance speed.

Compatibility with Sony’s E-mount Lenses and New Full-Frame Lenses

Maintaining its lightweight form, the Alpha a7 is fully compatible with Sony’s present APS-C E-mount lens system and the new line of E-mount compact full-frame lenses from Carl Zeiss and Sony’s premier G-series.

3.0″ Tilt LCD Monitor

The tiltable 3.0″ Xtra Fine LCD Display offers a 1,229K-dot resolution and makes it easy to photograph from low or high angles, swinging up 84° and down 45°. WhiteMagic technology dramatically increases visibility in bright daylight. The large display delivers brilliant-quality still images and movies while enabling easy focusing operation.

2.4M-dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder

With its 3-lens optical system the viewfinder faithfully displays what will appear in your recording, including the effects of your camera settings. You’ll enjoy rich tonal gradations and improved contrast. High-end features like 100% frame coverage and a wide viewing angle enable comfortable and stable eye-level composition.

Full HD Movie at 24p/60i/60p with Uncompressed HDMI Output

The Alpha a7 supports in-camera AVCHD codec frames rates in super-smooth 60p, standard 60i or cinematic 24p. MP4 codec is also available for smaller files for easier upload to the web. Also, it is possible to capture Full 1080 HD uncompressed clean-screen video files to external recording devices via an HDMI connection in 60p and 60i frame-rates.

Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC

Connectivity with smartphones for One-touch sharing/One-touch remote has been simplified with Wi-Fi/NFC control. In addition to Wi-Fi support for connecting to smartphones, the Alpha a7 also supports NFC (Near Field Communication) providing convenient transfer of images to Android smartphones and tablets. Users need only touch devices to connect; no complex set-up is required. Moreover, when using Smart Remote Control – a feature that allows shutter release to be controlled by a smartphone – connection to the smartphone can be established by simply touching compatible devices.

Direct Access Interface

Quick Navi Pro displays all major shooting options on the LCD screen so you can rapidly confirm settings and make adjustments without searching through dedicated menus. When shooting opportunities arise, you’ll be able to respond swiftly with just the right settings.

New Eye AF control

Even when capturing a subject partially turned away from the camera with a shallow depth of field, the face will be sharply focused thanks to extremely accurate eye detection that can prioritize a single pupil. A green frame appears over the prioritized eye when focus has been achieved for easy confirmation. Eye AF can be used when the function is assigned to a customizable button, allowing users to instantly activate it depending on the scene.

14-bit RAW Output

14-bit RAW image data of extremely high quality is outputted by the Alpha a7. This data preserves the rich detail generated by the image sensor during the 14-bit A/D conversion process. When developed with Sony’s Image Data Converter RAW development software, these images deliver particularly high quality photographic expression and rich gradation.

Wired Remote Control with Video Capture Control

Remote Camera Control allows you to control your Alpha a7 from your computer using a USB cable. It has been updated to include video capture control.

Multi-Interface Shoe

The Alpha a7 features the advanced Multi-Interface Shoe that dramatically expands compatibility with Sony digital imaging accessories such as flash units, microphones, lights, and monitors thus increasing the potential of your photo and movie shooting.

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The Body

OK, so what about this funky looking body that some are calling ugly and some are calling beautiful?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I feel that the Sony A7 and A7r bodies have a 70’s retro vintage vibe mixed with a bit of modern style. In one way, the square body and EVF hump remind me of the old film bodies yet the glossy black and SONY logo do not. For me, I liked it from about 36 seconds after I saw it, especially with the funky thin grip attached. It made me feel like I was holding an old school yet modern camera and when holding it, it gives you that feeling of confidence.

The build is solid on the A7 and A7r. Both have magnesium alloy build with the A7r having a little more metal in the front and within the top dials. Speaking of dials, Sony did it right with these cameras. There are manual dials for anything you need to control and once set up to your liking you will never need to delve into the menu system. Need to change aperture? No problem, turn the thumb dial. Need to change ISO? No problem. Shutter speed? No problem. EV comp? No problem, use the dedicated dial.

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After using these for a few weeks it is obvious that Sony did their homework. To some, it may seem like there are too many dials but there is not. To those who appreciate manual control and being able to instinctivly change a setting, the Sony’s are a treat. Makes me wish my Leica M had an Exposure Compensation dial as I use it often and on the Leica M it is a pain to change. So as you can see, the top of the A7 and A7r have two dials, one for shutter speed, one for aperture. They also have a mode dial and an EV dial. On the back there is a dial that can be programmed to control whatever you want and the C1 button up top can also be set up to do whatever you command it to do (ISO, focus mag, etc)

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So with some long term use I grew to really enjoy the feel, design and control scheme of the A7 and A7r. The build of the cameras is solid and feels good in my had. They do not feel as solid nor as good in my hand as my Leica but remember, these bodies are thousands less than the Leica yet offer the same or better IQ.

Sony A7 and 50 Noctilux F/1

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That LOUD Shutter!

The #1 thing that made waves throughout the online photo community about these new A7’s is the LOUD shutter. Yes, it is louder than about any other digital camera I have used. Is it a big deal? No, not really. I can see where it may be a big deal to those who need to shoot in quite locations but if that is the case, only digital cameras with silent leaf shutters would work anyway. No big DSLR has a quiet shutter so the A7 is about the same as all other major cameras. It has a real shutter.

The A7 is not as loud as the A7r because when you shoot it you will hear ONE shutter click. The A7r has TWO shutter clicks. This is just how it is and I was told it is all due to sensor design and the sensor in the A7r needs that 2nd click. With the A7 you can set the shutter to either way by choosing “first curtain” in the menu to on or off. The A7r does not have this menu item.

Below is a video I did showing the shutter sounds of the Sony and the Leica M side by side:

So if you need to know ANYTHING at all about these two models it is that the shutter is on the loud side so do NOT expect silence when shooting :)

The Native Sony and Zeiss Lenses and my thoughts

The Sony A7 cameras have a total of THREE Native lenses at or near launch. The Zeiss 35 2.8, the Zeiss 55 1.8 (coming a few weeks after launch), and the 28-70 Kit Zoom. The 35 2.8 and 55 1.8 are SUPERB lenses and for me the 35 takes the cake for the best launch lens. It is small, fast to AF and has a gorgeous Leica like quality about it. Even being an f/2.8 lens it is fantastic and gives off a shallow DOF that I would not expect from an f/2.8 lens.

The kit zoom is average. It is somewhat larger than the other two, and a slow aperture zoom that I just could not get into..at all. I am expecting the upcoming Zeiss 24-70 to rock it out of the park but this kit version is just average when it comes to kit zooms. Still one thing I will never understand. Why does a company release an amazing camera with a sensor that can resolve the most detail EVER in 35mm but they release it with a slow below average kit zoom lens? Makes no sense other than it makes the kit cheap and more affordable which is good for sales but bad for image when people are like “Hey, my images do not look like those I saw on the internet”..

The Zeiss 35 2.8 is a GREAT lens for the system. 

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The 35 at 2.8 and ISO 500

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The 35 2.8 at 2.8

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IMO, the 35 2.8 is a must buy lens for anyone with an A7 or A7r. It seems like it was made for the camera and was my fave during the review period.

The Zeiss 55 1.8 is also fantastic and not as large as many have made it out to be. Sure it is larger than a Leica 50 Summicron, and much lighter, but it is still fantastic. The AF speed is good but not amazingly good. I have had this lens miss the AF point when shooting in low light as well as up close. Still, it is amazingly brutally sharp even wide open.

I still find the AF of the A7 and A7r to be quicker and more accurate than the last Fuji bodies I have tried.

The A7 and 55 1.8

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DETAIL EXTREME: In the Studio with Nikki Leigh and the Zeiss 55 1.8

So how much detail can we expect from the A7 or A7r? My quick answer? Either one will offer PLENTY of detail and resolution.  Here is proof.

I shot model Nikki Leigh using the A7 and A7r using some FANTASTIC new LED lights..in fact, they are the best and coolest LED lights I have ever seen or touched. You can check them out here but they are small, compact, built like a tank and pack 1344 LED’s into each unit. They are dimmable and VERY easy to set up.

The results were great and the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8 showed its stuff, even wide open and close to it.  The two photos below were converted from RAW with some sharpening applied but these are the full size files. Click on them for the full size.

Note both are from the A7 as the same shots I did with the A7r were actually softer for some reason. So to those who were afraid of lack of detail in the A7, no worries :)

The A7 and 55

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The A7 and 55 

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and here is a video of me using these lights

I am not usually a light guy but these little powerhouses come packed in their own pelican style case and are ultra portable. I have never seen this kind of power from an LED. If you are into lighting and do not want to mess with strobes, these can be a great alternative. Very very cool and super high quality. The Simple Studio 1344’s are very simple but very serious lights. Again, they can be seen HERE or HERE.

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DETAIL EXTREME: Sony A7R and Zeiss OTUS 55 1.4

The most mystical, magical and sharpest lens I have used on these cameras (as well as having the best color) is the Zeiss Otus lens in Canon EF mount. An adapter is required but MAN this lens is AMAZING. Probably the best lens I have used in the 50mm range, ever. BUT the main drawback is that it is HUGE and pricey at $4000. Click the image below and you will see the full size from RAW file. Focus was on the eyelashes.

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The EVF and Manual Focus of the A7 and A7r

The EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) in the Sony A7 and A7r is the same EVF that Sony sells for $450 (for the RX1, RX100II, etc) so yea, it is good, and BUILT IN. While not as large or clear as the Olympus EVF-4 that resides in their flagship E-M1, the Sony has the 2nd best EVF I have ever used. These days I much prefer a good EVF over an optical VF (though I love the rangefinder and VF in the Leica M equally).

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So for those afraid of jumping to an EVF..don’t be. This is 2013, almost 2014 and EVF quality has come a long long way in the past 10 years. It can be a beautiful thing when looking through the EVF as what you see is what you get. No need to worry about VF coverage or any of that. It is easy to frame and you know what you are getting when you press that shutter button.

I have no complaints on the EVF in the Sony A7 and A7r. BOTH have the same EVF.

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The Speed and overall usability of the cameras

The A7 and A7r both feel good in the hand but both have loud shutters. Some love the sound as it takes us back to the old mechanical days of a real shutter firing. Some shutters are quieter than others and the Sony A7 and A7r are on the louder end of the spectrum and I think that due to this it gives us the impression that the camera is slower or clunky. These cameras do indeed feel slower than an Olympus E-M1 or RX1 in use and I kind of compare them to shooting medium format. Slow paced and steady. Aim, compose, fire. These are not the cameras for sports shooters or machine gun blazing shutter crazies as they are not. Still, I managed to catch this little horse pulling this guy in a buggy and they were CRUISING! But oh..I shot it with a manual focus Zeiss Otus :)

Still, the A7 and A7r are faster to AF than the NEX-7 and most Fuji X bodies. So it is not slow, it is just not blazing fast. Also, do not expect too many frames per second with that A7r (up to 4).

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The Menus & WiFi

The Sony A7 and A7r menus are a BIG step up from those found on the NEX series. In fact, the A7 series now has the Alpha menu so those who are familiar with the RX1, A99 or any A camera of recent times will be right at home with the menu on the A7 series of cameras. I find the menu clean and quick and easy to navigate. You can see more in the video below:

Below is my video I shot when I was able to use these cameras at a Sony Media Event in Nashville, TN – I go over the cameras and give my early thoughts on them. 

WiFi is also included and it works like a charm. It is super easy to set up and start sending images to your tablet, phone or device. I was taking shots out on the road, instantly sending them to my iPhone and then instantly posting to Facebook. Amazing how far technology has come in the past few years. Amazing.

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The battery life

The Battery life of the Sony cameras is not the best. I do NOT shoot at a high frame rate and I calculate my shooting. If I see a shot, I frame it and take it. I am not into chomping too much either. Usually with the A7 and A7r I found myself at 40% left at the end of a day with 150-200 shots taken. Others who shoot with the A7 find themselves running out of battery mid day so I would suggest buying 1-2 extra batteries with this camera. The good news is that it uses the same battery as the NEX series so if you are upgrading from a NEX system camera you already have a spare or two. They will deplete faster than a NEX-6 or 7 will.

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The High ISO Performance of the A7 and A7r

High ISO performance is as good as can be expected. I ALWAYS test these without ANY noise reduction, so NR is OFF 100%. I also test indoor under low light, not with studio light as that makes zero sense..at all. No one shoots high ISO in the studio or in good light so the best way to test the ISO performance is under low light, indoor, when most of us will want to use it. It boggles my mind that so many sites still test high ISO with studio lighting. Below is a test scene in my office with 100% crops of each ISO from 640-25,600. The A7 and A7r are so close in high ISO it really is a draw when it comes down to looking at the images, weather resized or prints.

Take a look below but you MUST click on the crops to see them as 100% crops. 

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TWO SHOTS at ISO 6400 with the A7r  – 1st one with the Sony Zeiss 35 2.8 and the 2nd with the Voigtlander 21 1.8 M mount lens.

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You can see an ISO comparison that I did HERE between the A7, A7r and Leica M.  I am hoping to also ass some side by side M comparisons to this review in the next week or two but for now, here is one that I did last week. 

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Using Leica M Mount Lenses

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Shooting with Leica lenses is a treat for me because this is one part of the camera I was really excited about. When you shoot Leica lenses for many years it is tough to go back to cheap plastic primes and zooms and when I realized that these two cameras were coming I knew it would be huge for those who shoot Leica M glass.

I tested this camera with loads of M mount lenses including those from Leica, Zeiss, and Voigtlander. All worked great besides the ultra wide M mount glass (Though the Leica W.A.T.E. 16-18-21 works very well without any real issues). The Zeiss 35 Biogon f/2 performed wonderfully for me as did the 50 f.2 Planar. The Voigtlander 35 1.2 Ii was amazing (the image above was taken with this lens) and the Leica 50 Noctilux f/1 and 75 Summilux also knocked it out of the park with results bettering what came out of the Leica M for me. Crisper, more detail from the A7 and A7r.

So for me, the A7 and A7r represent a tremendous value because I can take it out and shoot with the fabulous auto focus 35 2.8 Zeiss or use a Leica M mount lens and fire away.

Shot with the A7 and Zeiss 35 Biogon at f/2 inside a music studio

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Below – the A7R and Leica 50 Noctilux F/1 – Amazing combo. One can find a used Leica Noctilux F1 for around $5k these days..add that to the $1700 A7 and you have a drop dead gorgeous combo for less than the cost of a Leica M alone. This lens works just as magical as it does on any Leica M camera. I manually focused this shot at f/1 and did not use peaking or magnification. Focused on my eye and due to the large EVF, it was easy to do. 

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The Zeiss 50 ZM PLanar f/2 is a tremendous bargain in the M mount world. Competes with the $2200 Summicron at less than half the cost but provides the same sharpness but with punchier color and more 3D pop.

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For mounting the M lenses I mainly used the best in th ebusiness M mount to Sony E mount adapter, the Novoflex. It is expensive for an adapter but when you are using lenses that are worth multiple thousands of dollars, spending $250 on the best adapter should not be an issue. But if you do not want to spend $250 on an adapter or are all tapped out from the camera and a lens, then you can also buy a $15 adapter from Amazon, as they work also. They are not made as well, have looser tolerances and can come loose after a few weeks but $15 vs $250..you cold buy 10 of them and still save $100.

Below is a link to the adapters:

The Novoflex M mount to E mount top use Leica M mount lenses on the A7 or A7r – B&H Photo

The generic adapter for $15 – Buy at Amazon

I bought my adapters before the big A7 and A7r storm and as of this writing they seem to be out of stock everywhere but should be back in stock soon.

So the bottom line is that the Sony A7 and A7r will both work with most Leica M mount glass but some wide angles or ultra wide angles will give you bad color shifts on BOTH cameras so just beware of some lenses 28mm and under as some will work, some will not. I have no way to test them all so search around the internet for more info on this subject.

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Manually Focusing with the A7 or A7r

As for manually focusing these lenses, I had NO PROBLEM. I did NOT use focus peaking as I found that when shooting super fast aperture lenses at f/1 or f/1.2 it hampered the focusing. I also really did not use the focus magnification as it took too long to activate with two button presses. When I looked through that big fat EVF and just used my eyes to see when the image was in focus, it just worked. So concentrate and use your eyes. Your mileage may vary depending on your eyesight and comfort level. If it is tough for you to manually focus just by using the EVF, feel free to use the peaking feature or the magnification. Both tools are there for this purpose.

An OOC JPEG from the A7r and Voigtlander 21 1.8

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Video Performance

The Sony A7 and A7r both offer full HD video and Sony usually does video very well. I have not yet had the time to test video but will be doing so soon and then will add my thoughts and video sample HERE. So check back soon!

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The Pros and Cons of the A7 cameras

Pros

  • Full frame in a smaller sized and well made body
  • Monster resolution for both cameras!
  • Super rich files!
  • No AA filter in the A7r should give you a little more detail to work with.
  • Solid buid, small body – yum.
  • Built in EVF is fantastic..big, clear and easy to frame
  • Easy to navigate menu system
  • Dials, dials and more dials. Easy to manually control!
  • Focus Peaking is helpful but not necessary.
  • Works great with classic manual focus lenses, a joy to use.
  • Easy to adapt many lens mounts! Canon, Nikon, Leica..
  • Price Point is perfect!
  • Nothing else like it anywhere near this price – PERIOD

Cons

  • Cameras feel slow/clunky in use.
  • Shutter sound is loud, especially with A7r
  • Kit Zoom is lacking in quality.
  • Some wide angle Leica M mount lenses have issues when adapted (but this should not be a con)
  • Lack of lenses at launch (only the 35 and kit zoom on launch day)
  • Very High ISO is a little better on last years RX1 and RX1r it seems.
  • May cause you to spend more money on M mount lenses :)
  • The A7r can indeed be a little challenging to handhold in lower light without blur.

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My Final word on the Sony A7 and A7r

I really enjoyed the A7 and A7r cameras. At launch I was insanely excited about them because there is simply nothing else like them at this price point, and even my beloved Leica M..well, the A7 and A7r surpass it in overall IQ. While they do not offer the same build, feel or joy of use as my Leica M, they can compete and surpass in overall IQ, and do. At a fraction of the cost as well.

Still, I love and adore my Leica for many reasons, not just the great IQ. To those who own one and shoot with one you will know exactly what I mean. It is the quintessential photographers camera.

As for the Sony, you will get a ton for your money with these guys but not everyone will fall in love with them. While there is nothing to complain about in the image quality department, the camera does have some quirks. It has a loud shutter sound, so forget about being sneaky..at all. They feel a little but slow and clunky in use and it may just seem that way due to that noisy shutter – a mental thing. Which one to choose? I feel that Sony should have released ONE camera as even for me reviewing them and trying to connect with one of them..it was tough. BOTH are fantastic and there really is not enough separating the two to warrant two separate models. That is just my opinion but a super A7 with a mix of both cameras would have been great at $1995.

The build is good but not Leica M or Nikon D800 or Olympus E-M1 good. They are sort of an in-between. They feel more hefty than the NEX-6 and NEX-7 but not up there with the top of the heap. Some things could have been made to be more sturdy..the battery door for one. With a premium camera and one that is making a statement I feel Sony should have REALLY made a statement like they used to do back in the day with certain products outside of the camera line (anyone know of the SCD-1)?. But it is what it is and the cameras are excellent but not perfect (No camera is though). Note that I am NOT saying the build is cheap or low quality as it is NOT, it just could be a little better.

One thing is for certain…the A7 and A7r do fantastic with old school manual focusing lenses. I had no issues focusing, even when testing out a Leica 50 Noctilux f/1 and I do not even use magnification or peaking..just the big EVF and my eyeballs. There is no question that these offer huge bang for the buck and some of the best IQ you can get in 35mm but is that enough to overlook the fact that there is really only 2 quality lenses available at or near launch? (the 35 and 55).

The EVF is fantastic, 2nd only to the one in the Olympus E-M1. The files are rich, detailed and full of information. Creamy, dreamy and shallow if you so desire. The lenses have great quality and bokeh and would really be all I needed with the camera.

Like I said, I really enjoyed these cameras and I took many fantastic images without any issues or problems but for the 1st 2 weeks I was not bonding with them, and I could not put my finger on it as to why that is. Then it hit me.

I like the build, the feel, the design and the features but I think the response is just not there when compared to my Olympus E-M1, which is lightning fast in response. I have been shooting that E-M1 like mad and when I switched it up to the A7 and A7r it seemed like I was working in slow motion..and I am not talking about AF, just overall response time of the camera.

So after I realized this I started to take out the A7 and I thought  of it as a medium format rig. It is right at home when shooting it slow and steady and by doing so it can reward  you with some astonishing files and images. In fact, I started to like it more and more and more because in this regard, it started to remind me of my Leica. Slow..steady..and take that one shot you know will be a keeper. Now it is faster than a medium format camera but when you go out with that mindset you can bring home some amazing imagery.

That is when it started to attach itself to me and I really saw the beauty and the value in the A7 cameras.

At the end of the day, if you want a fantastic full frame camera that is at the top of the heap in the IQ department, one that is smaller than all of the bulky SLRs and one that is much less expensive than the Leica M, take a long hard look at the Sony A7 or A7r. If you want to shoot Leica M glass or even Nikon or Canon glass..you can. If you have a stash of Sony Alpha DSLR glass, you can also shoot with that (with adapters of course). So the name of the game with the Sony’s are VALUE. You get a lot of BANG for your BUCK, especially with the A7.

These are an EASY recommendation and if you are out there trying to decide which model to go for, I can not see anyone being unhappy with the A7 over the A7r. At under $1700 for the A7, it is a steal for what you are getting. The 1st lens I would get is the Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8. It has a gorgeous rendering that reminds me of the highest quality Zeiss lenses of the past.

I love what Sony is doing and I can only imagine that in a year or two these cameras will get even better, faster and slicker. I am happy to support a company that just “gets it” when it comes to what we want in a camera. Go Sony GO!

**Later tonight or tomorrow I will post a first look review from Ashwin Rao who shot the A7r with a slew of Leica M mount lenses. So if you want tons of results and thoughts on that subject, be sure to come back here later or tomorrow for more! Thanks for reading!

Steve

The 7R at ISO 1250 with the 35 2.8

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WHERE TO BUY THE A7, A7R and Accessories such as Lens Adapters, Lenses, etc. 

The A7 and A7r where to buy page is HERE but you can also use the links below:

Buy the Sony A7 Body – B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony A7r body B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony A7 Kit Zoom Bundle - B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 – B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8 – B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 Zoom – B&H Photo or Amazon

Buy Leica M mount lenses from Ken Hansen (E-Mail him at [email protected]), PopFlash or The Pro Shop

Buy Voigtlander M Mount Lenses from CameraQuest.com

Buy Zeiss ZM Lenses HERE

Buy The Novoflex Leica M to Sony E mount HERE

Buy the Generic M to Sony E mount HERE

Buy the two LED light set I used HERE

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PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS EASY!

Hello to all! For the past 5 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week. Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple. 

If you ever decide to make a purchase from B&H Photo or Amazon, for ANYTHING, even diapers..you can help me without spending a penny to do so. If you use my links to make your purchase (when you click a link here and it takes you to B&H or Amazon, that is using my links as once there you can buy anything and I will get a teeny small credit) you will in turn be helping this site to keep on going and keep on growing.

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website.

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

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK – Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

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

I thank you ALL!

Nov 212013
 

Shooting the legend: Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 with Leica m Monochrom

By Dierk Topp

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 on Leica M Monochrom

This lens fascinates me since it was announced in the late sixties in a version as a fixed lens in a Zeiss Ikon body. And some time ago I bought this very special lens with Leica M mount and used it on the Leica M Monocrome. It is a Contax G lens, converted to Leica M mount. The price for one of the few original Hologon 15mm/8 lenses are about 17.000$ (if you find one). My price was less than 3.000€, still a lot but it is for a very special lens.

If you are interested, you may find some interesting information on this site:

http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/companies/nikon/nikkoresources/RF-Nikkor/Contax_RF/Zeiss-Hologon/index4.htm

The lens has a fixed aperture of f/8 and uses a ND center filter against the severe vignetting making it an effective fixed f/16!

Due to its almost symmetrical construction it has near zero distortion and superior DOF at f/8 and it is ideal for architecture and images for great DOF. The severe color/magenta shift is no problem on the MM.

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8

If you are interested, I would like to prepare some explaining text and and as many images, as you want.

My Hologon album is here on flickr:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/sets/72157636630037335/

and I append a few images, to show, what I am talking about :-)

regards

Dierk

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 on Leica M Monochrom with center filter

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 on Leica M Monochrom, ND center filter

Zeiss Hologon 16mm/f8 on Leica M Monochrom, ND center filter

Oct 312013
 

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My 1st look wrap up of the Sony A7 and A7r cameras!

NOTE: All images posted here are JPEGS from the cameras, NOT RAW. 

Hello to all and good morning on this spooky Halloween day. I decided to take the morning off from this Sony event (off-road driving) because I am so backed up on work as well as tired and in need of a refresh. So I have a few hours free this morning to catch up on work, doing some tests that have been requested and charging my internal battery.

An OOC Jpeg with the A7r – 55 1.4 Otus

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Over the past few days I have been writing and showing samples from the new Sony A7 cameras. This will be my final wrap up on my 1st look of them from using these bad boys all week. To catch up you can see parts 1-3 below:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

I have also stated that this is basically a first hands on look, and NOT a full review. When I get a review sample at home I will do a full review of the cameras. (As for all of the requests..there is simply no way to get them all done during this week as every minute of every day is jammed packed but I will be posting my first look wrap up and opinion on my experience with the new camera so far).

Sony A7r and Zeiss Otus

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Auto Focus, Lenses and more…

So are these the dream cameras many of us have waited years  for? Is it the “RX1 with IC lenses” that many of us wanted? Is it a Leica M replacement for a fraction of the cost? Well, that remains to be seen but the camera is not perfect (no camera really is) and its biggest issue right now is native lens availability. At launch we have the Kit Zoom 24-70, a 35 2.8 and a 55 1.8 (a couple of weeks later). The 35 2.8 and 55 1.8 are superb lenses. Lightweight and sharp as can be. BUT in low light, with either of these cameras, these lenses can hunt for AF which has always been a Sony thing it seems. It’s not “bad” and you CAN get the cameras to AF in really low light, it is just there me be a time when the camera hunts and misses if shooting in low light conditions.

The Sony 55 1.8 at 1.8 on the A7 – OOC JPEG

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Sony 55 1.8 on the A7 – ISO 6400

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55 1.8 on the A7

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If you have at least SOME light then you are good to go but I can state right now that these Sony’s will not win AF speed awards with either of these cameras. Keep in mind, my reference is the Olympus E-M1 as I have found this camera to be the fastest to AF of any I have ever used, period. The Sony’s in comparison to that reference are nearly as fast in daylight but in low light they drop to about 50% as fast. I noticed this last night when shooting Ben Folds at the historic Ryman Theater using the 55 1.8 and A mount 70-400. There were a couple of occasions where it would hunt for AF due to the lights being so low.

In other words..FAST AF in daylight. Slower AF in low light. This goes for both the A7 and A7r. 

Ben Folds with the 55 1.8 and A7

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Using the 70-400 A mount lens with Adapter at 400mm, ISO 6400 and I accidentally had my camera set for -2 EV comp!

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The 55 once again..during soundcheck

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Before you read any further, take a look at the video I made for the A7 cameras comparing them side by side, taking a listen to the shutter sound of each and sharing my verbal thoughts about using the cameras.

The 1st Look Video on the A7 and A7r

The Build

The build of the A7 and A7r are fantastic. I have had no issues with this and while to me, the OM-D E-M1 feels slightly better made, I am not sure this is really the case. Both are built nice though the E-M1 may feel better in my hand. I am comparing it to the E-M1 as I have that camera with me on this trip and just held both side by side.

Same size, both feel great but the Oly is a little more “slick” in its design.

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The A7 and A7r are weather sealed as well so should not be an issue in the rain if you need to grab some shots while it is coming down.

As for the differences in build, the A7r has better made dials but in use you really do not notice this. Both feel the same to me in the hand as well as look the same. To me the build feels like a beefed up NEX-7.

No issues there.

The 55 1.8 on the A7 at 1.8 – Country Music legend Porter Wagner’s old suit and guitar displayed at the Ryman Theater in Nashville, TN

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General Use

In use the A7 and A7r are just fine. Menus are easy to navigate as they use the Alpha menu system and NOT the NEX menu system. To those who were saying it has the NEX Menu system available, it DOES NOT. End of story.

After setting up the camera to your own preferences it is simple as pie to use.

Exposure:

Some who are with me that have been using the camera have been saying they were having overexposure issues. Well, I have not had any when using most lenses..until I was shooting with the 55 1.8. Then I noticed the camera was over exposing just a little and I had to dial it down with some negative exposure compensation. When using the manual lenses I had no issues so not sure if this is a firmware thing or a lens thing but do know that overall I had no issues with exposure. I am sure that if any bugs are found that Sony will address these before the camera ships in the form of firmware updates.

Other than that, the exposure metering seems solid to me. I know there have been some reports about exposure issues but I have been posting loads of JPEGS..do they look overexposed? :)

Manual Focus:

When shooting any lens in manual focus, even a Sony FE lens, for me it was easy to nail focus without a problem. Some have been saying the focus peaking is not accurate..well..focus peaking is more of an aid, not a sure-fire way for critically manually focusing. I think that many testing the camera now have never really used peaking much, but using it requires some practice as well as making sure to not just rely on the peaking but on the subject in the EVF as well. I kind of mesh both..when the peaking is telling me something is in focus, and shooting wide open at 1.4 or close to it, any slight movement of the focus barrel can knock it out of whack. You have to be precise and peaking is not really precise (nor is it on any camera). Just remember it is an aid to manual focus and does not replace your own eyeball. It can also be turned off if you do not want it. You can also press a button and have instant magnification if you want to critically focus.

For every photo I posted here over the past few days using a manual lens I used peaking without magnification. I had no issues and 98% of my images were in focus. But I have used peaking quite a bit over the past few years so I am used to it and know what to expect from it and what not to.

For those who are not used to it, practice makes perfect and after 2-3 days of shooting using peaking it should not be an issue.

As for manual focusing the Sony FE lenses, I had to switch on MF last night while taking photos in a bar where Sony had us gather for some really low light shooting. Now, the place was DARK and while I could AF on some things I had to MF for others. Manually focusing a Sony lens will automatically bring up magnification when you turn the focus barrel. This makes it foolproof to nail the AF.

So for me, I had no issues with manually focusing any lens and nailing focus. At all. In fact, I found it quite easy..just as easy as manually focusing on the E-M1.

Using Leica M Mount Lenses

The Leica 50 Summilux ASPH at 1.4 – Sharp just how I remember it from the M9 days…through a store window at 12AM..Hmmm, I used focus peaking here :) Wide open…and it worked!

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After using these cameras extensively with a variety of Leica M mount glass I can say that if you shoot 35mm and up, there will be no issues on the A7 or A7r with color fringing or magenta edges or focusing. If shooting lenses such as the crazy 12mm Voigtlander or the 15mm or a Zeiss 21 2.8 or Voigtlander 28 f/2 you will see different degrees of either Vignetting or Color issues on the edges.

This also happens on the worlds only other full frame mirrorless camera, the Leica M 240 (and previous M9)

The next few are from the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH, wide open at 1.4 on the A7. I am happy to see that it keeps its signature look. It works just as well on the A7r, was a breeze to manually focus and the color is great, even in these plain old JPEGS from the A7.

EXIF is embedded so be sure to check out the ISO on these :) AND click them for larger versions! THESE ARE ALL JPEGS, NO RAWS YET.

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I am happy to see the 50 Lux retain its quality and look on the new A7 and A7r. For some, an A7r and 50 Lux would be all they would ever need. Throw in a 35 f/1.2 or 35 f2 and then 75 or 90 and you would have a nice little tiny lens kit with a powerhouse camera. Truth be told, I loved  shooting the A7 and A7r with these tiny RF lenses. Not only did it feel good in the hand, they were easy to work with and focus as well as putting out amazing results. Anyone who is saying this lens will not do good on the A7 or A7r do not know how to use them correctly on such a camera (or are trying to knock it down for Leica’s sake).

But back to the wide-angle thing…some of these ultra wides lenses are just not meant to work well with full frame digital bodies. The good news is that if you like B&W you can use the 12, 15 or any ultra wide you like. Just convert to B&W and you will not have problems. :) Lol. But seriously, if you are primarily an ultra wide Leica M lens shooter, you may want to skip these bodies. If you shoot 35mm and up, to me, these two cameras put out better IQ than the Leica M. Quite the fear for Sony so I applaud them for that.

Many of you have asked for a slew of samples on each body with different lenses. First of all, I am not a Leica lens storage cabinet, I only have certain lenses I was able to borrow for this trip (from cameraquest.com) and they are mostly Voigtlander and some Zeiss (which came from lensrentals.com). I have also had zero time until today (only because I skipped the morning trip) to do ANY sort of testing. I can tell you this though…

What I have found is that my favorite lenses on the A7 or A7r have been the Voigtlander 35 1.2 II, the Zeiss 35 Biogon f/2 and  the Leica 50 Summilux ASPH as well as the little tiny Zeiss 50 ZM Planar (amazing colors). All amazingly beautiful in color, sharpness and overall look. I am a huge fan of rangefinder lenses so I am happy to see that the Sony A7 and A7r can use most of them to their full potential without issue. (besides ultra wides).

A friend of mine, Ashwin Rao has a slew of Leica M mount lenses..something like 30 of them or so. If I can get an A7 and A7r to review and take home I will fly to Seattle to test these lenses with Ashwin, one by one, spending a full day or two to do it right. He has lenses ranging from 16mm to 135mm and also ranging from vintage to modern.

THAT would be a cool test. I will let you guys know who have interest in that soon if it will be a reality.

For now though, seeing that I am in a hotel room in Nashville, all I could do is what you see below:

Lens Testing – M Mount from 15 to 50mm

1st set on the A7R

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2nd set on the A7

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a7voigt21

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So there you go. What you see is what you get with each lens on each camera. These are direct from camera JPEG using AWB. Exactly as I expected from shooting them over the last few days. The A7 will give you slightly better performance with ultra wides though none will give you clean files with the 15mm Voigtlander. No full frame camera in digital can. The A7 with all of the lenses besides the 15 look pretty damn good though. As I said, my faves are the Voigtlander 35 1.2, the Zeiss 35 f/2 and  the Zeiss 50 f/2 (as well as the 50 lux).

Wrap it up!

There you have it! My 1st look wrap up after using these cameras for the past 4 days. Sony has  created a unique camera with a nice build and feel, a full frame sensor and the ability to not only use their new lenses, but adapted lenses as well (with some exceptions in wide angle M mount) as their older E Mount lenses (which will crop on these cameras, killing the full frame look they are bought for).

I saw a guy yesterday shooting the Nikon 14-24 on the A7R without issues and man oh man was it sharp. So the camera is very versatile when you think about the possibilities of what lenses can be attached to this little guy. There are hundreds of classic RF lenses to try and loads of Canon glass as well. Pretty limitless.

I have not yet been able to test things such as continuous AF speed or full on ISO comparisons but I can say that by using both, I really did see the resolution increase in the 7… but do I need it? Not really. Do I want it? Probably.

Many have been asking me…”Which one do I get”?

To answer that ask yourself if you want powerhouse resolution or huge resolution. Either one delivers plenty of detail and resolution but the A7r takes it up a notch. For Leica users who want to use M glass, I recommend the A7 if you want to shoot with some wide angles (some work fine) and the A7r if you are 35mm and up. It’s that simple. Both excel at low light and high ISO, both feel the same and work the same.

What about the 35 2.8 Zeiss Lens? 

For those wanting more from the new Sony 35 2.8 FE, I have posted samples and thoughts in previous posts but will do more in my  upcoming full review. The 35 is a SUPERB lens and if you want AF it will be tough to find a sharper 35mm for this system. In fact, that would be impossible. It focuses fast, is sharp as you could ever need and it is small.

Below is a full size JPEG from the 35 2.8 at 5.6 on the A7R, Handheld out of my hotel window..click it for full size (saved as a level 8 JPEG)

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A7 or E-M1?

For those asking me if they should buy an A7 or Olympus E-M1, that is not for me  to decide. Best thing to do is read reviews and go from there. As I said a few weeks ago, I will own both and will explain why in a future detailed article because it may cause some commotion :) The E-M1 will focus faster, feels even better in the hand, is more repsonsive and has many more lenses available. BUT it is not full frame, which is what the A7 and A7r are all about.

Also, many have asked about the new RX10 as well, and I have not even touched one yet but will be doing so today for the halloween costume contest Sony is putting on later. Again, it will just be my 1st thoughts, not  a full review.

So with all of that I must leave now to go get ready for the rest of the day ahead of me, this took me a few hours to put together so time to join back up with the group. Will be back home tomorrow evening so looking forward to getting back and resuming my normal schedule!

Happy Halloween!

OH and if you want to order one of the Sony cameras, doing so at my list of links will greatly help me out here on this site. Those tiny commissions I get help to keep this site up and running everytime one of you use my links to buy ANYTHING. CLICK HERE FOR THE SONY a7 PRE ORDER PAGE!

Also, big thanks to Stephen Gandy from Camera Quest once again for letting me use these lenses! His site is HERE. 

Steve

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Oct 302013
 

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Day 3 with the Sony A7 and A7r – Nashville Musicians and Models!

See Day 1 HERE

See Day 2 HERE

NEW: Final 1st look Wrap Up with loads of thoughts, samples and more (Wwas posted AFTER this article you see here)

Just an afternoon update while I have an hour or so to write. Half of the long day os over and this morning I was able to shoot the A7 and A7r in a Nashville Recording Studio to shoot a new up and coming performer, Leah Turner . She put on a GREAT soulful show and sounded amazing. It was such a great experience to shoot inside of a studio while the artist was recording. I have shot artists on stage quite a few times but never in a studio, so I enjoyed it.

We were treated to a small private 3 song concert and were allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. Many of you who know me know that I go for the emotion in the shot..waiting until the one moment that shows me something..soul..excitement..passion..love or whatever that may be. So I waited and waited and was able to capture a few that I really liked. I also am not a fan of zooming into the face as I would rather capture the entire scene and what is happening.

I mixed it up with the A7 and A7r and swapped between the Zeiss Otus and Zeiss 35 Zm f/2, which is also quite amazing on the A7 or A7r.

Leah in action with the A7 and 35mm Zeiss f/2 – click for larger. This, as with all of my A7 and A7r samples is a JPEG.

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The next few shots of Leah were shot with the A7r and Zeiss Otus..the monster 55 1.4 in Canon mount. I used the Metabones adapter and seeing that this is a manual focus lens it feels really nice when shooting. 

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After the mini concert we went downstairs to shoot a model who was there waiting for all of us crazy photographers. 

This one is shot with the Sony FE 55 1.8 lens, which is also a gem – A7

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This one was shot with the Otus at 1.4 as was the image after this one. A7r

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and a full size OOC JPEG using the Otus 55 1.4 from Sony along with the A7R – click it for full size. Is this enough detail? Keep in mind, this is an OOC JPEG, the RAW will be even more detailed. 

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Finally we took a walk to another Studio where artist Ben Folds was recording his next album. We kind of surprised him I think and when 47 of us poured into the small studio he seemed a bit overwhelmed but it was awesome to meet a man I have been a fan of for 15 years. In fact, he sings the song “The Luckiest” which happens to be a special song to me and my finacee. I put in a request with him because later on today we get to go to his sound check and then shoot his concert at the Ryman Theater here in Nashville.

Ben Folds testing out the Sony A7 – He is also an avid photographer so he seemed interested in this new camera. He said he has been shooting a Sony RX100 and loves it. 

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This is going to be a great night! More to come tomorrow with pics from Ben’s performance with the A7 and A7r as well as some late night Honky Tonk. Not sure if we will be able to get close to the stage (maybe not) for Ben’s show but either way I will be having a good time.

Tomorrow we will be doing some off road driving as well as partaking in a Halloween costume contest..all being shot. I am hoping to test the RX10 tomorrow!

Steve

Oct 242013
 

Some images from Photo Plus in NYC today. Sony, Zeiss, Leica…

What a day! Whew…

Yesterday I flew out of Sunny AZ at 6am headed to NYC for the Photo Plus show going on this week. When I arrived in NY I did a big “UH OH” because I realized I only brought a light jacket with me, and here I was in NYC in 48 degree weather! The good thing is that it was not THAT cold so I survived a short walk to dinner with some friends and had a great evening. As always, I had a camera with me so for the chilly walk back I snapped a shot or two..

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This morning I woke up later than I expected, around 8:30AM. Had a business phone call at 9 through 9:30 and by the time I headed out to the show it was 10:30.

On my way I had to take a picture of myself in front of B&H Photo, the “Candy Land” for photo and tech geeks!

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I only had a 15 minute walk to the convention center from my hotel, and was cool that B&H is one block from my hotel. Makes it too easy to spend money though!

As I walked I snapped a few shots with a fisheye that I have been playing around with…

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When I arrived to Photo Plus I saw a few familiar faces and made my way to pick up my press pass.

I ended up walking around and it seemed every few steps someone who knew me would walk up to me to chat! Was so cool to meet so many readers of this site today, all were super nice and wonderful people.

I eventually found my way to the most crowded section of the show (from what I saw) and it was the Sony Booth. They had the A7 and A7r on display, as well as the new RX10 (which is  looking better and better to me the more I mess with it). I even had a chance to borrow a Zeiss 50 1.5 Sonnar from a woman who was testing some old lenses on the A7. She was kind enough to let me take a shot or two with her lens mounted on the A7.

I snapped a shot of a guy who was chatting with me (a reader here) at 1.5, wide open. Sony would NOT let me put an SD card in the camera (they are saying the camera is still not FINAL in FW, so pre-production) but when I saw the playback it had the full on Zeiss character and was beautiful. I am telling you this..the camera was a breeze to manually focus with this Zeiss ZM lens. No focus shift because you are using Live View, so what you see is what you get.

The OOF transitions were creamy, the color was nice for being indoors with horrible light and I can tell that this camera is going to deliver on IQ, no doubt in my mind at all. After more hands on time with the A7 and A7r I can tell you that yes, the A7r does have metal dials on top where the A7 has plastic. They both feel great and I noticed no difference in feel or build when in my hand. I have a feeling that the a7r is going to be the Godzilla of resolution. A beast.

Shot with the 50 Zeiss Zm Sonnar at 1.5

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So after messing around and chatting with a few folks a woman walks up from Zeiss to show me the new Otus lens. This lens is a statement piece from Zeiss and coming in at $4000. The 55 1.4 design is gorgeous but man, this lens is HUGE (though light).

She wanted me to try it on the A7r and I used the Metabones Adapter to do so. When I looked at the results on the screen..WOWOWOWOWOW. This lens is something the perfectionist will want. Those who want ultimate IQ..this lens will do the trick and seeing that it is a pro manual focus lens (NO AF), it feels REALLY good in use. It is just large.

I HEARD MUMBLINGS…Sony was telling Zeiss..MAKE THIS FOR FE MOUNT! So we shall see. Below is the lens with hood attached and Metabones EF to E mount adapter. I may get to shoot with this lens on the A7r NEXT WEEK and this time, with an SD card in the camera :)

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So as I left Sony I headed toward Nikon, Canon, Fuji and Panasonic. Not much new there. Saw the GX7 but I already reviewed it here. I saw the All weather Nikon 1 which was larger and much more solid than I expected and I saw a few other things around the convention center that were more interesting than what Nikon was offering..

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I stopped by the Olympus booth and they were busy with everyone checking out the E-M1 and even E-P5. I saw quite a few walking around today with OM-D E-M5’s and E-P5’s. The woman above was doing an act for Olympus demoing their wifi smartphone/ipad remote feature. Before I shot this I cracked a joke which was probably not good because she could have lost her concentration :) But she didn’t. Behind here you can see every Olympus Micro 4/3 and 4/3 lens ever made.

The Leica booth had a few gawkers but they were not showing anything new besides their “Glossy Black” D-Lux 6. Yet another refresh of the same old D-Lux 6 which appeared to be slapped together just for the show..I mean, they had to have SOMETHING new right?

They did have this on display…

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I stopped by Fuji as well and took a look at the new X-E2. Looks and feels like an X-E1. Same build. AF seemed faster but not a dramatic difference. The new 23 1.4 was fantastic though.  This is a lens I would buy if I owned a Fuji. Smaller than you think as well.

So after the show I walked back to my room, stopped off at B&H Photo once again and am now laying in my hotel bed writing this update. What I learned today from Photo Plus is that there is MASS interest in the Sony A7 and A7r as well as  the new RX10. Olympus is hot with the E-M1 and Nikon and Canon are still Nikon and Canon with their usual DSLR updates. (yawwwn)

Leica is holding steady with M sales doing very well for them and Panasonic had quite the crowd as well.

So without a doubt, the biggest thing here this year is the Sony A7 and A7r. Sales are STRONG, results are looking AMAZING and the camera is well made, solid and has very fast AF. When something this good comes along, it gets noticed and the people I spoke with today who were giving it a spin all said the same thing..”I pre ordered one already”. They were all happy with the fact that they did.

Remember, starting on the 28th I will have loads of samples and news and videos on the new A7 and A7r and RX10, so bookmark and come back because you will NOT want to miss it.

For those wondering, all photos posted here were shot with an Olympus E-P5.

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I will beheading back to the show tomorrow morning to throw a Voigtlander 12mm on the Sony A7 and A7r and to see what I see on the LCD. Of course, what I see you will see here right after :)

 

Oct 042013
 

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Crazy Comparison Part 2: Fuji X-M1, Leica M 240, Olympus E-M1 and Panasonic GX7

Woooooooo! It never fails, ever! Every time I have done a crazy comparison (and I have done many over the years) people get all kinds of bent out of shape. Anyone who knows me or this site will know I do these comparisons FOR FUN. They are real results, posted for all to see but these are cameras that are not even meant to be compared! The X-M1 is the budget Fuji. The GX7 is the top end Panasonic and the Leica..well, we all know what that is.

But it is fun sometimes to put underdogs in a race to see if they can get close to winning. It’s a classic game really. Does anyone not remember the tortoise racing the rabbit in old Saturday Morning cartoons? So to all of you getting all bent out of shape and the Fuji owners feeling like they need to attack and defend, relax. All I am doing is showing real results from all cameras. I was motivated to do this because so many trash Micro 4.3 as a system when they have zero clue about what it is, what it does or the results that can indeed come from it. It’s just as capable as APS-C as i have always said but in many ways MORE SO. Why? Because you will never miss a shot due to dodgy AF. You will have a solid well made machine that inspires you. You will have a selection of some of the best fast primes available. But a camera is a personal choice. We all have different likes, different passions and different opinions.

So as I showed in the 1st test, Micro 4/3 can hang with the big guys, and it appears I ruffled some Fuji feathers with my own opinions on the Fuji build and AF. I have been saying it since the X-Pro 1 launch and it still remains. The Fujis need work to be exceptional. I strongly feel Fuji is working on this and in 2014 we may see something special from them. Then when everyone upgrades and says “Wow, it is so much faster to focus and I never miss a shot“…well, then my honest comments on the current X bodies will prove to be true :) It will happen. Watch and see.

When you own a camera system and are dedicated to it there is something that happens along the way. You forgive it for its shortcomings..you bond with it and you have no idea what other cameras can do because you shoot your camera. I do that with the Leica! I like shooting it so much that I forgive it for its off-color in some lighting, I forgive it for being $7000 and I forgive it for having a slow clunky EVF :) Many feel the way I do about their Fuji or Olympus or Sony or Panasonic as I do about my Leica. But whatever we do, we should never lose track of WHY we use what we use. Because we love it, enjoy it and it makes us want to go out and photograph. Whatever that camera is for you it is the right one :)

In fact, we should not even worry about new cameras or new tech as long as we are happy with our current camera. But we live in a “Disposable Society” where we buy, sell, buy sell and buy and sell. Sites like mine do not help this either! Believe me, I am well aware.

At the same time, many of us love technology. We enjoy using new cameras, testing them, trying out new lenses. It brings us joy as it is apart of our passion. So in many ways it is perfectly fine because we only live once, might as well enjoy it while we can.

What I am getting at is that these comparisons are called “Crazy Comparisons’ for a reason. Have fun with it and take it for what it is, a comparison of mismatched cameras. :)

I will always stand by my word though as I do not lie or make up nonsense for  the sake of it. I report my true feelings so if I say the Fuji bodies feel cheap to me, that is what I mean. If I say the Pansonic GX7 has a cheap feeling dial it is because I feel it does. If I say the Leica is overpriced it means I feel it is. None of this means camera A, B or C is crap. They are all fantastic in their own way.

In any case, enjoy the next set of comparisons which will include a high ISO test and another image shot at f/2 with each camera.

BTW, to those who say I hate Fuji, I do not. The fuji X100 and X100s are some of the best cameras you can get and the X100s focuses as a Fuji should. It is one that Fuji improved and they did a great job. They need to do this in a new X-Pro 2 and X-E2 and then we will be getting somewhere.

HIGH ISO TEST

For this test I am testing ISO as I ALWAYS have for the past 5 years, so those who want to complain about it I suggest you do not even look at the results. 

I test cameras in a real world way, always have, always will. I take a camera and use it as 99% of buyers would. I turn it on and use it. I do not set the metering to match another brand of camera, I use the cameras metering as is. ALL cameras have different ISO discrepancies. ALL of them. What is ISO 1600 on one camera is not really 1600 on another. Just how it is. But when I use say a GX7 I am not trying to set it to meter like a Sony RX1. No, I use it as it is. So this test will be done with each camera metering how  they meter at any given ISO so you see WHAT YOU WILL GET from said camera. Real world. 

So each camera was set to ISO 3200 for this test as that is as high as most of us ever will go and many will not even touch that high of an ISO these days. But for the sake of testing, ISO 3200 sounds good.

With all of that out-of-the-way, let us take a look at three cameras with three different sensor sizes and what to expect from ISO 3200 with each one in a normally lit home environment. Testing high ISO with studio lights is ridiculous. Who shoots high ISO in a studio light environment? No one. Again, real world because with less light we see the true ISO performance when we will really be using high ISO. 

YOU MUST CLICK THEM FOR FULL SIZE and The Olympus E-M1 was delivered just as I was setting up this test so I included it in this ISO test!

Leica M 240 ISO 3200 – f/8

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Fuji X-M1 ISO 3200 – f/8

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Panasonic GX7 ISO 3200 – f/8

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and the Olympus E-M1 which was delivered just as I was setting up this test! – ISO 3200 – f/8

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100% crops to make it easier

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The CLEAR winner at ISO 3200 is the Leica – richness, color, noise..all beats the other three. The Fuji is next in line with a sharp image (all were shot at f/8 on a tripod) and some noise where the Micro 4/3 are still looking good IMO and up there with many APS-C cameras. In print or web size, you would not even see the noise and this is at 3200! Even so, the Leica is VERY far ahead here IMO, as it should be for that kind of premium :)

One more image from RAW test (Olympus E-M1 was not in my hands for this one)

Leica M 240 – 50 Summilux at f/2 – MUST click it to see larger/full size

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Fuji X-M1 – Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 at f/2 – MUST click it to see larger size

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GX7 – Nokton 25 at f/2 – from RAW – resized – MUST click it to see it correctly

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So there you go. You can take a look at the samples and see for yourself. They are all good at producing lovely looking files. :) Me, I prefer the GX7 and M 240 as I find the Fuji to be off color and not as good looking of a file. If this were taken in Studio light, the Fuji would have shined. But in natural light, the other two, to me, do a better job.

Steve

I will leave you with one from the GX7 and 25 0.95 wide open and up at the closest focus distance. Some funky color PP here as well :) 

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