Feb 252014
 

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The Olympus 25 1.8 Lens Review on the E-M1

By Steve Huff

Hello once again to all of you camera crazy readers! Today I am going to talk about the new-ish Olympus 25 1.8 lens as it has recently shipped and is really the only Auto Focus competition to the now legendary Panasonic 25 1.4 lens, which has been known as one of the finest lenses for  the Micro 4/3 system. That lens, on SOME cameras, has been known to have slower focus and a “rattlesnake” sound when just attached to the lens with the camera being powered on. (On the E-M1 I do not hear this effect though). The new Olympus is smaller, sleeker, focuses faster, much shorter with hood attached and comes in at $129 less than the Panasonic counterpart.

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But how does it stack up to the Panasonic? Well, I will tell you right off the bat that while it is not as sharp as the Panasonic, it gets about 99.5% there. It does not have the Micro Contrast of the Panasonic, but gets us about 90% of the way there. It vignettes slightly when wide open where the Panasonic does not but it does focus slightly faster and like I said, it is quite a bit smaller as you will see below in the size comparison.

On the Las Vegas strip at f/2.5 with the Olympus 25 1.8. If you click this image you can see a larger size that is much sharper. In fact, it will show you just how sharp the lens is. I converted this one to B&W. 

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Over the years I have grown fond of certain lenses for the Micro 4/3 system. The Panasonic 25 1.4 is one of them while others like the Olympus 45 1.8, 75 1.8 and even 17 1.8 are up there as well with me. The 60 Macro is astonishing and the 12mm f/2 is one I really enjoy. The new 12-40 Zoom seems pretty versatile and incredible as well. I’d say my #1 most used lens on my E-M1 is the 17 1.8. For me, it has the sharpness, the detail, the color, and the “feel”. I love it but I also have been enjoying the 35mm (equiv) focal length more lately.

Shot at f/1.8 this is close focused and right out of camera. Bold bright color and sharp with a pleasant Bokeh. Click it for larger/sharper!

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The Micro 4/3 Version of a 50mm explained

I go in phases between the 35mm and 50mm being my #1 fave to shoot with and these days it is 35 all the way, so when out shooting with this 25 (50mm equiv) I was once again having to get used to shooting this focal length. After a solid few days of shooting with it daily I remember what it is that makes it my #2 favorite focal length! It has the perfect mix of sharpness and shallow DOF possibilities. While this is indeed a true 25mm lens, and we will get 25mm DOF from the lens, the focal length appears as a 50mm. So imagine the Olympus 25mm as a 50mm with 25mm Depth of Field and “Bokeh”. Due to the shorter focal length we will not get subject isolation as we will get on a real 50mm. It will give us 25mm DOF and isolation and yes, f 1.8 is a true f/1.8. Just on a 25mm lens.

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At the end of the day though, a 25mm acts like a 50mm for focal length/magnification so this is what you are going to see when looking through your viewfinder. It will not be like when you put a 24mm on your full frame camera, but like when you put a 50mm on your full frame camera except for the Depth of Field control. Basically, on Micro 4/3 we are magnifying that 25mm to give us a 50mm field of view.

Other 25mm lenses include the Panasonic 25 1.4, which is one of the highest rated 25mm lenses for Micro 4/3. We also have the amazingly good, and one of my all time manual focus faves, the Voigtlander 25mm f/0.95 which allows you to focus close, get almost full frame quality Depth of Field and Bokeh, and is built like the Voigtlander lenses for the Leica system.

One of our workshop attendees taking a break in the middle of the desert with his Starbucks and Leica M :)

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As always, speed costs and in Micro 4/3 is no exception. The Olympus 25 1.8 costs $399, the Panasonic is $529 and the Voigtlander will run you a cool grand.

You can see my Panasonic review HERE and some Voigtlander shots are HERE.

At the Valley of Fire with Todd Hatakeyama (Master Organizer – foreground) and Pro Photographer Extraordinaire Jay Bartlett (Background)

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Just as with my other Micro 4/3 lens reviews, there is not much to say about the lens. I mean, when a lens is sharp, focuses fast and is small, light and beautiful in design what can you say? It really has no faults so all I can do is write about what I feel when it is compared to the Panasonic 25 1.4, the lens who reigns supreme in this focal length for this format. I already did ONE quick comparison while out on the road (which is why it was quick) so let me go into more detail about this lens VS the mighty Panasonic.

This is an OOC JPEG from the E-m1 and 25 1.8 shot at 2.5

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The Olympus 25 1.8 vs the Panasonic 25 1.4

  • Cost. The Panasonic can be bought HERE for $529. The Olympus can be bought here for $399. So, the Olympus is $129 less expensive than the Panasonic. Makes sense because the Olympus is an f/1.8 lens vs an f/1.4 of the Panasonic. So for cost, and bang for the buck, the Olympus wins.
  • SIZE. The Panasonic is quite a bit larger than the Olympus when the hoods are attached (see below) but the Panasonic is still a very small lens. Only when viewed next to the Olympus does it look large. The Olympus is super small and light where the Panasonic is wider, taller and has more bulk. The Olympus almost appears to be half the size when looking at the image below. So if small size if your thing, the Olympus wins. 

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  • Sharpness. BOTH of these lenses can render a super sharp image. BOTH have slightly different color and contrast signatures though. I would say that the Olympus is just as sharp as the Panasonic..well, 99.5% as sharp when both lenses are shot at 1.8. I’d say the Panasonic has a little bit better Micro Contrast though as when looking at some real world street shooting files on my 27″ display I see it. This is a sign of a very good lens, and is one area where Leica excels with their uber expensive lenses. For example, the Leica 50 Summicron f/2 has amazing micro contrast and one of my all time favorite Leica lenses for the M system (or Sony A7). The Panasonic 25 1.4 is a Leica/Panasonic collaboration so it shares some of that Leica magic. I used to think it did not but it does indeed though not to the level of true Leica glass. The difference is not huge between the Panasonic and Olympus  by any means but you can see it when pixel peeping. So because of this, For overall performance and sharpness, the Panasonic wins.

See the full size files below from each lens at apertures from 1.4 to 1.8 to 5.6..the Panasonic does not appear to be any sharper than the Olympus here:

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Now the Panasonic wide open at 1.4, which the Olympus can not do..

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and both stopped down to f/5.6

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  • AF Speed. When out on the street shooting these lenses I though for sure that the Olympus would smoke the Panasonic with Auto Focus, and that was not the case! Both lenses focused fast on my E-M1, and to be 100% honest, I saw no difference in speed when out in the street at night using both. The Olympus may have a slight edge overall, but it is not a night and day, and for some will not even be noticeable. Remember  though, this is on the E-M1 which may be helping the lenses to focus fast. So I give this one a Tie with a SLIGHT edge going to the Olympus.
  • Bokeh. Well, if Bokeh is what you are after (and many Micro 4/3 shooters are indeed after this) then you will want the Panasonic as it is an f/1.4 lens. While not much of a difference at all, there is indeed a mental difference going on in that head of yours and if speed is what you need then you will not be happy with the f/1.8 of the Olympus. Nope, go for the Panasonic! If speed is not of great concern and you realize that f/1.4 is not a huge step up from f/1.8 then the Olympus may be just the ticket. In reality, when the Panasonic is shot at f/1.4 you will not see much more background blur than the 1.8 of the Olympus. It exists but will you see it? Maybe, maybe not. Both lenses rock this.  Panasonic wins here as it has the ability to create MORE shallow DOF and Bokeh. 

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  • Distortion and CA. The Panasonic has more CA (Purple Fringing) than the Olympus, which is clear and evident. So for this the Olympus wins. See the crop below from each lens. 

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So at the end of the day BOTH of these lenses will deliver the goods. Me, I prefer the Olympus as I am not losing much at all over the Panasonic but I am gaining the small size, the nice price and the overall look that matches my other Olympus primes AS WELL as almost no CA issues. I could live with EITHER lens long-term. It comes down to if you want small size, slightly faster AF, and f 1.8 or if you want larger, faster aperture at 1.4 and slightly slower AF while paying $129 more.

If you own the Panasonic, keep it. If you do not own either, you can save money and be 100% happy with the Olympus. If you want the Olympus you can sell your Panasonic for as much as it costs to buy the new Olympus. In other words, there is no wrong choice here. Both lenses are fantastic. Those who are putting down the Olympus (and I have already seen it on forums and right here on the comments of this website) are just those who own the Panasonic, never tried the Olympus and are sticking up for their brand. BOTH lenses are wonderful and both will give you the tool you need to express your photographic vision. I have to hand it to Olympus for constantly releasing new amazing lenses. This is another one they can add to the premium list of primes that help make the Micro 4/3 system so enjoyable! Keep ‘em coming Olympus AND Panasonic! PLEASE!

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WHERE TO BUY?

You can order the Olympus 25 1.8 at Amazon HERE or at B&H Photo HERE.

PopFlash also sells the lens here.

This lens has a 46mm filter thread so using my favorite ND filter is possible with this one!

A few more shots with the Olympus 25 1.8 Lens 

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PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS SO EASY AND FREEE for you to HELP OUT!

Hello to all! For the past 5 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

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

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

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

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

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

Feb 242014
 

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Quick Comparison: Olympus 25 1.8 vs Panasonic 25 1.4

So here is the much asked for comparison of the $399 Olympus 25 1.8 vs the $129 more expensive 25 1.4 for Micro 4/3. Besides the slight speed increase of 1.4 vs 1.8, what does the Panasonic offer you for the extra $129..or should I say what DOESNT it offer?

I have shot with them side by side for a few days and found that they are VERY close in regards to image quality/sharpness. So close in fact that if I were buying new today I would buy the Olympus if I was using an Olympus Micro 4/3 camera. It seems to be just as good, it focuses fast, is smaller, and has no issues on the Olympus bodies. Below are a few quick comparison shots so you can judge for yourself.

The test images below.. you can right-click and open them in a new tab or window to see the full size file.

1st, Olympus 25 1.8 with the E-M1 at 1.8, wide open

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Now the Panasonic 25 1.4 at 1.8 on the E-M1

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and the crops..

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The Panasonic is slightly sharper here but not by much at all. To me, the benefits of the Olympus ($129 less, smaller, faster AF, silent focus, more neutral color) beat out that small miniscule sharpness difference.

and speaking of sharpness, here is a full size shot from the E-M1 and 25 1.8 – right-click and open in a new window to see the full size image (from RAW). This was shot at f/2.5.

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Feb 212014
 

Myanmar Traditional Boxing

By Nikko Karki  - www.nikkokarki.com - - http://blog.nikkokarki.com

 

Fighting once a month with nothing but wraps covering their hands, young Burmese men continue their country’s traditional sport, perhaps one of the most brutal in the world. In the olden days, there were no rounds, no points, the only way to win was by a total knockout or concession by the opponent. The men I met had no sort of ego or bravado. Their quiet disposition and positive outlook on training, fighting and life, is unlike a traditional mindset.

Training with broken hands or other seemingly debilitating injuries is not dismissed with any sense of martyrdom, but sincere dedication and selflessness. It was a privilege to witness their humble approach to life, living happily and compassionately as they dedicate themselves to their training.

 Canon 5D mk III - Carl Zeiss ZE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon - Carl Zeiss ZE 100mm f/2.0 Makro planar

Photographer’s note:

I made this film in a day and a half, after spending about a week training and getting to know the fighters. It was truly an honor and privilege to get to know them and I greatly look forward to returning to learn more about Lethwei, Myanmar traditional boxing.

First, a couple of pics of me training with the guys:

NIKKO AND THE GUYS

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Nikko Karki © 2013 Lethwei 1

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Feb 202014
 

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Fuji X100s User Report

By Nicola Bernardi

I finally had the chance to lay my hulking hands on the beautiful Fujifilm X100s, the camera over which I have been drooling night and day for the last year or so. The camera that I always wanted but couldn’t absolutely afford (25 years old freelance photographer here, remember?). The camera that one of my favorite photographers of all times, Zack Arias, described as the “DSLR killer”.

The camera that would surprise the hell out of me, but of course I didn’t know it yet.

On January 9th, Fujifilm Italia agreed to be the main sponsor for my next big project, unCOMMON:Wheels , and I’ll be using only Fujifilm cameras while biking from the southernmost to the northernmost point of Japan starting from March 5th. They also agreed to send me a Fuji X100s a couple of months in advance for me to get acquainted with their system and cameras. Needless to say, I felt like a kid on christmas morning: the freaking happiest I could ever be! And with this new toy in my hands, I did the only thing someone can do when they are in such a hype : take selfies in public toilets with it!

Kidding aside, I’ve been using the Fujifilm X100s for almost a month now, and these are my thoughts about it.

  • This camera is BEAUTIFUL. I mean, I’ve always had a thing for cameras, but this one brings it to a completely new level: it’s the kind of camera that makes you turn when she passes next to you, the kind of camera you go home and tell everyone about, the kind of camera you would invite out to dinner, fall in love with, marry and have wonderful camera babies with. Seriously!

 

  • They say dogs are men’s best friends and most loyal companion. Well, they lie. Truth is, the fujifilm X100s is a man’s best friend and most loyal companion! In the last month, not only have I never left home without it, but I have hardly left the ROOM without it! It’s so light, compact, practical and ready to shoot away at all times, that it becomes a natural extension of yourself. You wouldn’t leave the room without, let’s say, your arms, would you?

 

  • It’s so damn versatile: it doesn’t care whether you are in bright sun, in a candle-lit pub at night, or in a club shooting a concert. For as long as the camera is by your side, it will make you shoot wonderful photos.

 

  • Last and most importantly, it’s FUN. It MAKES you wanna capture the things around you, the people you are with and the life that surrounds you in every moment. It was a feeling that, I have to admit, it was long lost for me.

 

  • But, as weird as it sounds to me now (where I got completely used to shooting with this camera only, when it’s not commissioned work), it wasn’t love at first sight. In the first week especially, I had a hard time getting used to its fixed 23mm ƒ2 lens (35mm equivalent) as it is the ONLY lens range I NEVER USE. With my Nikon, i bounce pretty easily between my fixed 20mm and my fixed 50mm and having to get used to such a range proved itself to be though work. So in the beginning, I was unhappy with the photos I was taking not because of the camera, but because I couldn’t get my eye to “think” and compose for that focal length.

The second reason I was VERY UNHAPPY with the first days worth of photos, is that the raw files of this camera are different from what I normally work with. Don’t get me wrong, the X-Trans sensor produces very good files, and handles the colors, highlights and shadows in a great way! The problem was that I found myself processing the raw files in the same way I usually do with my Nikon files, and the results were noticeably different. It took me some time, but in the end I started to realize that it was my workflow that wasn’t correct for the camera, not the opposite.

Since then, and a few more dozen hours spent shooting with this camera after, I can now say that I fell in love with it and that I completely understand why Zack Arias said “this is the first camera with a SOUL”. Being a portrait photographer, I obviously tried shooting portraits with it and the results are extremely pleasing, granted that 35mm is (in my opinion) NOT a good lens for tight portraits, and it’s suited for a more environmental portraiture. I’ve never been much of a black and white guy, in fact, most of my portraits, concert photos and street photos are densely colorful, but this camera makes me wanna shoot in black and white: it renders shadows, midtones and highlights in such a great, detailed way!

Final Verdict:

The Fuji X100s really has something inside of it that makes you wanna take more pictures, that pokes your creativity. It takes away the burden of carrying a heavy camera and leaves you with all the freedom in the world to shoot anything you want, at any time! I really, REALLY like this camera! And here’s some other photos for you to check. Obviously, all shot with none other than the Fujifilm X100s

www.nicolabernardi.com

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Feb 182014
 

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A Year in “M” Monochrom

By Ashwin Rao

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Hello, my friends, the time has come to reflect upon a year seen primarily in black and white (and many, many shades of gray, which really is life, now, isn’t it ?) through the eye of Leica’s amazing Leica M Monochrom. I have previously written about my experiences with the “MM” after 6 months of use, and following journeys with the camera in Paris, Italy, New York City, and the Palouse. In this world of constant camera turnover, where every M9 is replaced by an M240, with Sony and Olympus seemingly staking their claims to fame in the digital camera world in place of Canon and Nikon, and with Fuji surprising and delighting us with every turn, the MM is now a venerable camera that remains unique as the only current mass-produced camera with a black and white sensor. The camera’s sensor, stripped of any ability to see in color, rid of the capacity to block moire, ends up being a photon eater, proving and incredible tool for capturing light in its many presentations.

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While it has not yet been around long enough to be deemed “legendary”, the MM is already ascending that ladder, and for those whom have had the privilege of using it, you’ll see that glimmer in their eyes of the prize that rests in their hands. So come along with me for my ride, should you choose, in words and images, of this camera that is destined for legend.

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Over the past year plus, I have taken over 15,000 shots with the Leica MM. I can truly and honestly say that the camera has delivered me the most joy of any camera that I have owned. The camera’s incredible CCD sensor that seems capable of coaxing the very best out of nearly any lens that you could put on it. In particular, the sensor seems to play particularly well with older rangefinder lenses, which in some cases were designed and coated for black and white photography. It provides a rich modern look with today’s aspherical glass, almost providing “shockingly real” views of the world, which I have yet to see from any camera. For me, the look of the MM with most modern glass is almost surreal, and I have thus primarily stuck with using older, “cheap” rangefinder lenses with the camera to great satisfaction. What’s interesting to me, and what I have heard increasingly from users of the camera, is that the camera’s sensor itself seems capable of coaxing something special out of these lenses, even when the M9 and M240 may not be able to coax the same look, clarity, or detail.

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Seeing in Monochrome

First and foremost, the Leica MM is a tool for image capture, as is really any other camera that the photographer may use. However, the sensor’s capacities and limitations have forced me to change my creative perspective. As I began my journey with the MM, I had to accept the challenge of only “seeing” the world around me in black and white. Color was no longer an option, and could not be used as a crutch or a tool ton lean upon. Having converted many of my M9 images to black and white, I initially did not see an issue with the process of only seeing in black and white, but after using the M monochrome a few times, I suddenly realized at what I had given up. Shooting in color offers its own creative possibilities and limitations, and when I suddenly forced out of this option, I found myself jarred. I decided to re-calibrate and try my best to see the world around me in black and white, before I even composed or took the shot. In a sense, I began to focus on light and dark, highlight and shadow, essentially in luminosity. I began to “ignore color” to the best of my abilities and focus instead on the remaining elements of any scene that I wished to capture Over a few months, what first was a challenge soon became inspiration and motivation. I was starting to see the world in monochrome. Just as switching from the AF-10FPS SLR’s to rangefinders is freeing to many photographers who are stuck in a rut, shooting with the M Monochrom re-invigorated me to explore the world around me in new ways. I called it “Going back to finishing school.”

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Monochrom magic?

There is just something about the MM’s sensor that seems magical to me. I know that this may come off as overly dramatic, but for me and for others out there with whom I have discussed the camera, it is true. The images that I have been able to capture seem to defy my own meager skills as a photographer. Lenses that were forgotten or passed aside on the M8 and M9 suddenly took center stage in the manner of how they interacted with the MM’s sensor. Let me say a few more words about this (The following is entirely theoretical, so feel free to disregard)

I have said in many instances that the MM seems to play particularly well with older lenses. Many vintage lenses from Leitz, Canon, and Nippon Kogaku were designed and used in an area of black and white photography, where color options were rare, limited, or non-existent. Thus, such lenses utilized coatings and design that was suited to capturing monochrome images, or so I have gathered. Whereas some of these older lenses’ coatings provide poor color reproduction on digital cameras, they seem to offer subtleties in tonal capture that modern lenses of aspherical design, aimed at gathering maximal contrast and detail across the frame, seem to miss. I have noted than many modern aspherical designs seem to limit the M Monochrom’s abilities to capture shadow detail, in particular, while older lenses, which tend to capture much lower macrocontrast, save these shadows, and instances, highlights as well.

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Second, I suspect that some of the MM’s magic in interacting with old lenses actually may have come from within. When I consider photographers that have inspired me, I have tended to prefer the “look” of the works of the early Magnum photographers, Sebastio Salgado, and others who shot in an era where my “vintage” lenses was their modern options. In a sense, I learned to prefer a way of seeing in black and white in the manner that was reflective of their gear…i.e. older lenses.

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Third, the MM’s sensor seems to be unique in being able to hold incredible detail with post-processing. This seems to be due to the dynamic range that MM images seem to possess in the mid tones. The MM has been roundly criticized for its tendency to clip highlights, and this is absolutely a reasonable criticism. What is often not discussed, however, is the incredible detail and flexibility of tone that preserved in the midtones captured by the camera, as well as the shadow detail that the camera preserves. When I first used the MM, I was enamored by the near infinite shades of gray captured within the RAW file, and as a result, my initial images with the camera tended to look generally grey. Over time, I found myself exploring these greys more and more, and using Adobe LR and other post processing tools to extract the contrast and detail that I desired from this more “boring” grey. One can push and pull the images in any number of ways, and MM files will not fall part, especially those captured at ISO 3200 or less. When used in “decent light”, the camera does just fine at ISO’s as high as 5000, capturing fine detail and suppressing noise appropriately (not really like film, though, but still pleasing).

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Finally, there may also be something to the M Monochrom’s naked sensor that coaxes the most out of vintage lenses. Lenses such as the Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM, which seem soft and washed out on color rangefinders, simply sparkle on the MM, both in detail and tonal rendition. I was surprised in particular, by the amount of detail and resolution that some lenses, over 50 years old, are capable of capturing when paired to the MM. I theorize that the lack of the low pass filter and Bayer array allows for optimal capture of unfiltered detail. No blur or image loss is imparted upon the captured image, as light does not have to pass through any barriers.

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The journey from new to old

So here I am, a year later, a year older and hopefully a year wiser, and my journey with the MM continues. The MM continues to be my favorite camera and my preferred way to see the world around me. My aspherical lenses continue to be relegated to my M9, while the MM continues to be mated to classic rangefinder lenses. I feel that for me, what was a casual experiment with vintage lenses has turned into a serious enterprise in how I prefer to see the world around me. It mates the rangefinder experience with a unique way of seeing the world around me and brings me closer to my own idols in the photographic world.

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Onward and Upward

The journey continues, and I hope to report back to you as I gain even more experience with this wonderful camera. Obviously, I can no longer wow you with reports of impressive specs, more megapixels, and quieter shutters. I hope to bring you more images, as my explorations with the camera, its files, and my use of processing, continues. These are exciting times for many of us, as photographers. Gear these days is so excellent that it’s really up to you to choose what tool suits you best. For some of you, it may be the camera phone that is always on your person. For others, it’s the latest greatest offering, with ever improving dynamic range, color reproduction, detail capture, and camera performance. For some, it’ll be the increasing capacity of cameras to deliver images and an experience that can be instantaneously shared. For me, it’s the simplicity of a camera that’s not capable of any of this, not even capable of seeing in color, that will continue to inspire and challenge me to grow my photography in new directions and to new summits. All the best to you all in your own journeys, and I’ll be sure to check in again soon!

Yours truly,

Ashwin Rao

February, 2014

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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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Feb 142014
 

Hello, Brandon, hello Steve,

Sending three photos for the Daily Inspiration part of your site. It’s this section that I enjoy the most and so I thought I can try to make a small contribution.

Originally from Slovenia, EU, last year and a half I spent travelling in Western Africa. The three photos attached are from Burkina Faso, where I stayed for five months, photographed and wrote. Although most of my photo work can be probably classified as “documentary photography” and “travel photography”, from time to time I do also some studio work. In Burkina Faso this was really a challenge, as I had only two speedlights with me. I had to rely heavily on improvisation and DIY skills to make some light modifiers I desperately needed (a softbox, small beauty dish and different light tunnels) out of cardboard, paper, a broken bowl and pieces of a duct tape. The resulting photos are all made “in-camera”, using lightbrushing and varying focal length techniques. I use different cameras, now on this trip I relied on Olympus E-1, E-3 and EP-2 bodies with different high-grade Zuiko Digital and OM lenses, they all proved to be reliable tools in really dusty conditions of the Sahara and Sahel regions where I worked.

The link to the album with some other examples of West African masks is here: http://tinyurl.com/VrechaWAMasks

Links to my Google+ stream and blog (narration in Slovene language, but photos are multilingual ;-) ) are below, in the signature.

Kind regards

and thank you for your work,

and sorry for my less than perfect English,

Damjan Vrenčur

Overland – cruising blog

Google+

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Feb 132014
 

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The Leica 90 Summarit f/2.5 M Lens Review

By Steve Huff

Welcome to yet another Leica M lens review! It has been a while since I have posted a Leica lens review mainly because I have already reviewed nearly all of them over the past few years. But!!! There are a couple that I have not reviewed and one of them is this 90mm Summarit that I just received from Ken Hansen (Thanks Ken) Yep, the “lower end range” of the Leica line! The 90 Summarit may be lower in price when compared to the mega buck 90 f/2 Summicron but I’ll be damned if I do not like it BETTER than that megabuck 90 cron on the 240, and that is no lie or exaggeration!

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I guess that comes as no surprise as I preferred the old f/2.8 90 Elmarit to the 90 Summicron as well, mainly due to size and weight and of course, COST.

One from the 90 at 2.5, converted to B&W on the M 240

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Always, always click on the images to see the better and larger and sharper versions that are not down sampled like what you see embedded below!

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Many of you have seen my review of that older 90 Elmarit 2.8 lens and 4+ years ago when I wrote that review it was indeed my favorite 90 for the Leica M system. It all came down to size, performance and the fact that I had zero focus issues with that lens which is always nice when it comes to Leica.

I’ll just go ahead and spoil it now but I like the 90 Summarit just as much as the Elmarit and now that I have been shooting with it for a while I realized how much I enjoy this focal length on the Leica M 240. It is a joy to shoot with, a joy to focus and the results coming from this lens with the M 240 ROCK & ROLL non stop all day long. Results are rich, sharp and have nice sharpness and texture. Colors can pop and Bokeh is quite nice.

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In the past, with the M9 and M8 I was not a huge fan of the 90mm focal length because it seemed that no matter what 90mm lens I picked up there was a slight to massive focus problem (Until that old Elmarit). With the M 240 this 90 Summarit is extremely easy to focus and spot on when using the rangefinder, and what a relief that is. There is nothing I hate more than a mis-focusing Leica M camera and on a few occasions it has frustrated me so much that I almost gave up on the M all together. But since the new 240 I have not had any issues with focus (except when I dropped my 1st M, almost off of a cliff during the last Palouse workshop) and it has been smooth sailing ever since its release.

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These days I enjoy the M with a Voigtlander 15, Voigtlander 35, Leica 50 and this Leica 90. I am close to pulling the trigger on the 21 Super Elmar to finish it off and maybe in the next year I will save up for a classic Noctilux F/1. Maybe. But one thing keeps nagging at my brain and that is the fact that these lower cost Summarit lenses are just OH SO GOOD on the M 240. It really is all one needs. A 35 Summarit with a 90 Summarit would be a superb combo and add in a 50 Lux for those times you want that Lux look and you would be all set. A nice mix.

Click the image to see a larger 1800 pixel wide version. Plenty of sharpness with fantastic color pop.

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The size and performance of the Summarit line is perfect and they are just as good in the IQ department, if not better, than their more expensive brothers and sisters (Summicron and Summilux). Yes, just as good in the sharpness, detail and color. They will offer a different “look” in the Bokeh and rendering but this does not make them lesser than the more expensive lenses. What it comes down to is SPEED, and SPEED costs big fat money in Leica land.

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Yes Sir! The Summarit Line is SUPERB but seems to get the least attention…

This is a true statement. I have used all four of the more affordable “Summarit” lenses including the 35 f/2.5, the 50 f/2.5, 75 2.5 and now the 90 f/2.5. All three lenses share the same semi-fast aperture speed, the same build quality and the same price range. They all come with a protective carrying bag instead of a leather case but all are Leica in build, feel and use as well as the most important..IMAGE QUALITY. But for some reason many Leica fanatics disregard these lenses because they feel that if they are less expensive they must be compromised in some way. This is not really true.

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The only compromises that come with the Summarit line is that the aperture is not f/2 or f/1.4, it is f/2.5. So it is all about speed. The focus rings are quite nice and I prefer them to some of the more expensive models. Focus distance is also a tad longer at 0.8 meters instead of 0.7 for the 35, 50 and 0.9 for the 75. The 90 has a 1m minimum focus distance.

All in all, the entire summarit line is quite amazing because they give us a mix of classic and modern rendering. Actually, the 35 Summarit has some of the best Bokeh to be found in a Leica lens and is also smaller than the cron or lux!

Just take a look at the image below of a bird I too a very quick shot with using the 90mm at f/2.5 on the M 240. This is a full size file so RIGHT CLICK it to open in a new window to see it in its full size form.

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If you viewed the entire full size image above in a separate window (right-click the image, then open in a new tab or window) you will see that the Summarit 90 is sharp even when used wide open at f/2.5. The Bokeh melts into a creamy classical blur that resembles a painting with rich color and nice medium to high contrast. In fact, this lens makes my M 240 render somewhat like an M9 but with extended Dynamic Range and better color, and yes, I 100% feel that the M 240 has MUCH better color performance than the M9. Perfect? No, but no digital camera is. NONE. The M 240 offers better color, better dynamic range, better noise performance, better battery life, better LCD, nicer feeling and sounding shutter, better RF experience with the light up frame lines, live view if wanted and so far, no focus issues. After one year with the M240 I still prefer it in every way to the M9. Every way, IQ included.

Like to keep your distance? The 90mm focal length will help you do just that :) 

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So to be clear, the Summarit line of lenses is 100% Leica all the way giving Leica results. The funny thing is that I have shot with them all and NONE of these Summarit line of lenses have ever given me any focus issues (besides an early 75 Summarit that had a loose element inside). The 35, 50, 75 and 90 always focused spot on. I can not say the same for the 90 Summicron..at all. Not only is it large, heavy and very expensive..two of the three that I have had in my possession were a bit off in the focus. That is why I gave up on the 90 cron quite a while ago. Don’t get me wrong, the 90 Summicron is very special and magical when it is “on” but when something is special most of the time and frustrating some of the time I tend to drop it after some time. After four 90 Summicrons over the past 5 years I decided to stick with a slower 90 for my Leica, if I have any 90mm at all.

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One thing to note…Many who own the 90 Summicron and have focus issues feel like it is them who is making the focus errors. I have spoken with quite a few 90 Cron owners who were having issues and two of them I met in person during a meet up. I tested out the lenses on their camera and mine and I was able to verify exactly what I told them it was, which was a mis-focusing lens that needed an adjustment.

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When any Leica lens is adjusted and focusing properly it is EASY to nail focus. This goes for the Noctilux 0.95, 90 Summicron, 50 Summilux, etc. Focusing a 50 0.95 at 0.95 is just as easy as focusing a 28 Elmarit at 2.8. When that focus patch lines up you are in focus. If your image shows you otherwise something is out of whack.

The 90 Summarit is never frustrating. It just seems to deliver the goods no matter what I decide to aim my M at and not one shot was out of focus during this review period.

Click the image below to see my dog in all her sharp glory :) The 90 at f/2.5..no problem-o!

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Compared to the classic and legendary 90 Elmarit f/2.8

As already mentioned, back in 2010 I reviewed the now discontinued Leica 90 2.8 Elmarit. I LOVED and still do LOVE that lens. I no longer own it but do remember when I reviewed it that I enjoyed it immensely. That lens along with the M9 created eye-popping quality and sharpness. I am not sure why Leica discontinued the lens but they did, and its replacement is this lens here, the Summarit. They did downgrade the hood as the 90 Elmarit 2.8 had a built-in slide out hood where the Summarit has a screw in hood. (sold separately) I much prefer the slide out hood but you can’t always get what you want. Some prefer a screw in hood. Leica wanted to create the Summarit line of lenses as sort of a classic styled lens. They give a classic metal lens cap with the Leica logo and hoods are screw in.

Whatever the reason, I remember when I used this 90 Summarit on the M9 I found it to be a little more clinical than the Elmarit. When shooting the Elmarit the results seemed organic and very rich. When shooting the Summarit back then on the M9 it seems al title “colder” and not as rich or warm.

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Now with the M 240 being the hot M I decided to give the Summarit another shot and I am glad I did as it gives me much of what I enjoyed with the Elmarit on the M9 – contrast, pop, color depth and sharpness. There is a very evident color difference with the new M 240 over the M9 (warmth vs cool) , and I prefer the M 240 100%. I feel it is much more natural though there may indeed be a pinkish hue going on with the M 240 but then again, it could be the off color hue of the M9 images making the M 240 look off because I now see a green/yellowish hue to the M9 images that I shot back then.

One thing I learned is that when editing images I just go with what looks good to MY EYE instead of worrying and stressing over calibrated displays, etc. I have sold images for thousands of dollars without stressing about any of that. I just enjoy shooting and eyeball the color. With the new M it seems easier to get a rich warm color I like. The M9 with this Summarit was cooler in the output. Take a look below…

First the 90 Summarit on the M240 here in 2014

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…and now the 90 Elmarit on the M9 in 2010

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This is the least expensive NEW 90mm Leica lens for your M! 

When the Summarit line was launched (BEFORE the M9 was launched during the end of the M8 days) the 90 came in at $1600 or so. Today it is $2150 because Leica lenses go up in price every single year. This means if you bought a Summarit back then and wanted to sell it today you could probably get about what you paid for it.

This is the good thing about Leica. If you buy a lens and keep it for a long time you will not lose money. The Leica lenses are legendary and due to the fact that they have the balls to raise prices every year means that a Leica lens is indeed and can be an “investment” if you keep them long-term.

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At $2150 the 90mm Summarit is NOT cheap..no way, no how. BUT, it is a REAL Leica German optic and a REAL Leica lens! Anyone who says differently has no idea what they are talking about. It feels, shoots and gives the IQ of a pure Leica lens and like I said, the value does not drop like a rock after a few years, instead, it holds value. You also get the warranty when buying new so that is always a good thing. The 90 is on the higher contrast side when looking at out of camera images (most of what you see here) but of course with the extended DR of the M 240 you can make  them much loess contrasty if you wish.

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Detail..is this lens sharp?

Yes, this lens is sharp. Take a look below and click on the image to see the 100% crop embedded inside.

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My conclusion on the Leica 90 Summarit Lens

My lens reviews always seem to be short, especially when a lens is fantastic and has no real weakness. The 90 Summarit is one of those lenses. It is small, light, high quality in build and feel and performs exceptionally well. The rendering is a mix of modern and classic and can be as sharp as a tac. The colors are rich, saturated and lovely, especially on the new M 240. (See my M 240 review here). While I have not traditionally been a 90mm shooter I am starting to enjoy it more and more and understand why so many love this focal length.

An all summarit kit would be killer for those wanting the true 100% Leica experience without going bankrupt buying the Summilux and Summicron models. All you lose is some speed (which may not really even be needed), a slightly longer minimum focus distance and the Leica leather case (instead you get a nice felt style cloth bag).

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If you are not 100% committed to the 90mm focal length I suggest giving the 90 Summarit a try. It may not be as exotic as the Summicron but for me it was more enjoyable to shoot due to weight and no focus issues with the Summarit. Highly recommended for those wanting a 90mm solution for their Leica M!

Mine came from the legendary Ken Hansen who is a TOP Leica dealer with amazing service that has to be experienced. Ken is the man. He has this lens in stock and if you mention me, who knows..he may cut you a deal. (Don’t hold me to that though..I have no idea if he can or not). :)

You can e-mail Ken at [email protected]

I will leave you with a few more snaps that I shot around town from the 90 Summarit on the Leica M 240!

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**PLEASE! I NEED YOUR HELP TO KEEP THIS WEBSITE RUNNING, IT IS SO EASY AND FREEE for you to HELP OUT!**

Hello to all! For the past 5 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

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

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

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

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

Feb 122014
 

New Olympus 7-14 2.8 PRO and 300 f/4 PRO Announced!

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It seems that at least every week or two we hear of something new in the camera world. The funny thing is I only report on a small percent of it! I talk about those products that are interesting to me and the readers here and there is still an endless stream of products to report on.

Olympus is once again paving the way and providing those who invested in the amazing E-M1 with a couple of rewards :) TWO new pro lenses. The 7-14 Wide Angle F/2.8 Zoom and the 300mm f/4 prime (600mm equivalent). These are both PRO lenses and will be dust and weatherproof with all of the good stuff that normally comes along with these great Olympus lenses (Image quality, pristine build and feel..oh and probably a big price tag).

Olympus promised new pro glass, and they seem to be delivering. These new lenses are expected to ship in 2015 so we have a while to go but at least we know what is on the way! The new 12-40 is already out and gaining rave reviews (my review is coming soon) so with these two lenses one would have a nice pro 3 lens kit. 7-14, 12-40 and 300 offering a 14-28, 24-80 and 600mm equivalent. There is also the 40-150 2.8 PRO scheduled to be released THIS year giving an 80-300 Equivalent.

Oly knows how to make fantastic lenses. Now I wonder what they have in store for us in 2015 in regards to a new pro body? Will they have an E-M1 successor already or will they wait a while?

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From Olympus…

“The first interchangeable lens of this series, the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 12-40mm 1:2.8 PRO is already available while its successor, the M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 40-150mm 1:2.8 PRO, is scheduled to go on sale in the second half of 2014. The final two Olympus system lenses in the M.ZUIKO PRO quartet, covering everything from super wide angle to super telephoto, are currently under development. Both new lenses are scheduled to be released from 2015 onwards. More details will be announced prior to the launch.”

Feb 112014
 

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Amazon has the new Olympus 25 1.8 IN STOCK NOW in black for $399. This is a STEAL of a DEAL for this lens and I will have mine tomorrow. Full review soon but I have seen loads of photos with this lens and it is superb, fast focusing, silent and gorgeous! Get it HERE! This will give you the classic 50mm field of view on your Micro 4/3 camera with a fast 1.8 aperture!

B&H PHOTO ALSO IS NOW SHIPPING THIS LENS!

Feb 112014
 

The new Sony A 6000! World’s Fastest Auto Focus camera!

ILCE-6000_wSELP1650_front_top_black-1200PRE-ORDER THE NEW A6000 AT B&H Photo!

The new Sony A6000 has just been announced by Sony along with a few other Cybershot models. The A6000 sits just under the NEX-7 and replaces the NEX-6. This is NOT a NEX-7 replacement :)

The new A6000 camera continues on with the brand renaming from NEX to ALPHA. Just like the A7 and A7r, the A6000 carries along the same NEX design but without those awful NEX menus.

The A6000 is NOT full frame like the A7 and A7r but instead offers a brand new APS-C chip with many advancements over the now aging NEX-7. Take a look below at what the A6000 brings to the table:

  • 24.3 Megapixel APS-C HD CMOS sensor with Bionz X – High IQ up to 25,600 ISO
  • Gapless on chip lens design on the sensor
  • 0.06 Second Auto Focus, now the world’s fastest
  • 11 Frames per second continuous shooting
  • Fast hybrid AF for video
  • 179 AF points
  • OLED EVF
  • WIFI and NFX
  • $799 with Kit Zoom to ship Mid April 2014
  • Body only $650

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Looks like another solid offering from Sony and I hear it is quite nice to shoot with. I will hopefully be getting a review unit soon so will put it through its paces. I am a fan of Sony as many of you know and I have a feeling this will be a great performer. I am excited about the AF speed as well as the IQ performance of the new sensor. I also have a feeling that Sony has something special coming up for the end of 2014…we shall see!

For those looking  to stay with APS-C and not ready to invest the hefty sum for full frame, the A6000 at $799 could be the solution for those with the “Heavy DSLR Blues” :)

From Sony…

“With the world’s fastest autofocus system1, the ability to capture a blazing 11 frames per second and a 24.3 MP sensor, the new α6000 rivals even the best DSLRs in the market today in terms of performance, and does this in half of the size and weight at an extremely attractive price point,” said Neal Manowitz, director of the alpha interchangeable lens camera division at Sony. “It’s an ideal choice for photo enthusiasts eager to ‘go light’ and take their photography to the next level.”

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“The new α6000 camera is simply the latest in a recent line of awe-inspiring product introductions from our digital imaging group – one of the key pillars of our core electronics business. As a leader in the imaging industry, we’re continuing to push the limits of innovation, offering products and experiences that only Sony can deliver.”

PRE-ORDER THE NEW A6000 AT B&H Photo!

New ultra-fast AF system

Even quicker than most professional DSLRs, the phenomenal autofocus speed of the α6000 camera is powered by Sony’s advanced Hybrid AF system. The new model features a focal plane phase-detection AF sensor with an extremely wide autofocus coverage area – 179 focal points– that is teamed with high-precision contrast-detection AF. This potent combination allows the camera to accurately track and respond to a subject moving through nearly the entire frame, and to shoot at an eye-popping speed of up to 11 frames per second with continuous autofocus. It’s an unprecedented combination of speed and frame coverage in today’s market.

Design and Controls

The new camera’s clear, bright OLED Tru-Finder lets you see a live preview of all setting adjustments before the shot is taken, so what you see is exactly what you get. Conveniently placed mode and control dials on top of the camera give easy access to commonly used settings. Additionally, a ‘Function’ button and two additional customizable buttons give quick access to any one of 47 assignable functions. There’s also a built-in flash for extra flexibility in any shooting situation.

Wi-Fi® and PlayMemories™

The α6000 camera has built-in Wi-Fi, giving consumers one-touch connection with Xperia® or NFC-compatible Android™ smartphones or tablets for instant image transfer and sharing2. A single touch also activates Smart Remote Control, linking the camera with a smartphone or tablet for a live image preview, to fire the shutter from a distance and to review shots instantly.

For devices without NFC one-touch capabilities, users can wirelessly transfer images and videos and activate Smart Remote Control through Sony’s free PlayMemories Mobile™ application, available for the iOS and Android platforms.

The camera is also compatible with downloadable Sony PlayMemories Camera Apps, adding a range of exciting and creative capabilities. Currently there are a total of 10 different applications available with several others to be released this spring. Learn more at www.sony.net/pmca .

Pricing and Availability

The Sony α6000 compact interchangeable lens camera will be available in April 2014 in black and silver in a kit with a compact, versatile 16-50mm motorized zoom lens (model SELP1650) for about $800. It will also be offered separately as a body for about $650.

Sony has also announced the price of its previously announced full frame E-mount 70-200mm F4 G OSS telephoto zoom lens (model SEL70200G). This lens will be available in March for about $1500.

The new camera and all compatible lenses and accessories will be available at Sony retail stores (www.store.sony.com) and other authorized dealers nationwide.

Sony α Lenses Assortment

The α6000 camera is compatible with Sony’s ever-growing assortment of E-mount interchangeable lenses, and uses the same Sony E-mount as the α3000, α5000 and acclaimed α7 and α7R models, as well as all the previous α ‘NEX’ cameras. All Sony ‘FE’ and ‘E’ lenses are compatible with all E-mount cameras.

Outlined below, the E-mount family now includes 20 different models with several premium models from Carl Zeiss® and G Series Lenses:

• E 16mm F2.8

• E 20mm F2.8

• E 35mm F1.8 OSS

• E 50mm F1.8 OSS

• E 30mm F3.5 Macro

• E 24mm F1.8 ZEISS

• E 10-18mm F4 OSS

• E PZ 16-50mm F3.5 – F5.6 OSS

• E 18-55mm F3.5 – F5.6 OSS

• E 18-200mm F3.5 – F6.3 OSS

• E 18-200mm F3.5 – F6.3 OSS LE

• E PZ 18-200mm F3.5 – F5.6 OSS

• E 55-210mm F4.5 – F6.3 OSS

• E PZ 18-105mm F4 G OSS

• E 16-70mm F4 ZEISS OSS

• FE 28-70mm F3.5 – 5.6 OSS

• FE 35mm F2.8 ZEISS

• FE 55mm F1.8 ZEISS

• FE 24-70mm F4 ZEISS OSS

• FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS

PRE-ORDER THE NEW A6000 AT B&H Photo! 

 

Feb 102014
 

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The new Sigma Dp Quattro – Cutting edge design meets Foveon.

So most of you probably have already seen the new Sigma DP Quattro which came out of left field surprising many with the all original and oddball design. Yep, Sigma is taking their DP series to a new high with a new sensor, higher resolution, faster speeds and an all new body designed to be comfortable to shoot. From the looks of it I have to say that this may be the very 1st Sigma that I buy. I personally LOVE LOVE LOVE this design. It is all original, nothing like it. A+ for that. It looks sleek, slick, and serious. A+ for  that. It houses the amazing Sigma Foveon sensor which will render in a Medium Format kind of way (as we saw in the last series of cameras) with rich color and crazy detail while supplying nice dynamic range and tonality. A+ for that.

But what about the #1 thing that killed the last DP series? SPEED.

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Well, thanks to a new processor Sigma says these new line of Quattro cameras are much faster which means if the AF is fast and the processing is fast then this will be ONE HELL of a camera for travel or anyone wanting high quality in a small nice form.

They are even offering an optical viewfinder for those that want the option.

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If the speed is up, the quality is still there and the battery life is better then this camera will be mine, even if I use it twice a year because I find it beautiful and I love originality. I am sure will find it ugly but some will appreciate the design.

The 1st of the three new Quattro cameras will be released with a 20 MP Foveon X3 sensor, the new faster True III processor and a 30 f/2.8 lens attached. This will be the new DP2 Quattro. The DP1 will come in with a 19mm lens and the DP3 will come equipped with a 50mm lens. There is a new battery for this guy so I am guessing it will offer much better shooting time. I just hope the camera is made well and feels good.

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No price or availability has been announced as of yet but I will keep you all informed as these will be reviewed right here. To see the last Sigma DP review click HERE.

 

Feb 102014
 

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Concert Photography with Fuji X

By Piao Yishi 

My name is Piao Yishi ( aka “Park” ). I’m an amateur photographer based in Hangzhou, China. The genre that interests me the most is environmental portrait and photojournalism. My curiosity constantly drives me into the exploration of people’s lives. And photography paves the way.

I’m a Fuji fanboy. I’ve been shooting with a Fuji x100 ( my first serious camera ) for 16 months and added an X-E2 with 18-55 lens to my arsenal just two months ago. Oh, I also own two legacy fast telephoto lenses, namely Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AI and Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 ED AI-s, both of which are over thirty years old. Despite the age, they managed to contribute most of the pictures in this article.

In the hope of capturing interesting people in interesting environments, I shot a lot of events in the past months, including parties, alumni gatherings and stage performances. They’re great. But none is better than a symphony concert. Why? A symphony concert involves many people ( several dozen performers and many hundred audiences ) in strong emotions, and you don’t see one in town every day. ( Not sure if it’s the same case in Austria though. ) That is why I got really excited when I was offered an opportunity to shoot the New Year Symphony Concert in Hangzhou, performed by the Wenqin Orchestra of Zhejiang University.

Well, how do I shoot such a grand event? Google didn’t have a lot of articles on that topic. There are some good suggestions in them, but my biggest takeaway was “it’s a rare opportunity, you better get ready”.  So I packed my equipments tight and hoped for the best. Here are some of the key learnings from my first symphony concert shot.

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Arrive early.

If you arrive at the venue before audiences are allowed inside, you’ll get shots of a clean stage with all setups and some of the bigger instruments on it, you’ll learn where each instruments are located on the stage. With some luck, you’ll find the conductor sitting alone somewhere off the stage and you’re the only photographers to find it.

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Well, how do you get inside before audiences are allowed to? Be resourceful, talk to the organizer, be nice to people but don’t be shy, and hope for the best. In my case, I was refused to get inside early by one of the staffs that day. When I tried another guy five minutes later, however, I got the greenlight and a badge.

If there’s a rehearsal or a pilot performance prior to the main concert, do everything you can to get inside and rehearse your shots. How do you get in? Same as above.

Talk to people.

The better you know your subject, the easier and more profound your shot is likely to be. How do you know a bunch of performers to whom you are a complete stranger in a symphony concert? Talk to them whenever you feel they will not be disturbed. Your camera is your passport. The retro looking Fujis makes me look more of an safe fanboy and less of a hard nosed journalist. ( Sorry, DSLR guys. ) But at the end of the day, it is you who’s gonna open the mouth and talk to people.

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When I saw the conductor sitting alone far from the stage that day, I went to him without hesitations, showed one of the pictures I took him during the pilot performance two days before ( Go to rehearsal or pilot performances, and keep your best pictures in your phone! ). And guess what, he liked it and asked me to send it to him. So I knew he’s Russian and his name’s Mik. Then I asked if I could take a posed shot for him and a friend of mine who’s a gorgeous looking girl. He happily accepted. During that shot, I saw what a humorous, romantic and interesting man he is. Knowing him in person made possible some close shots of him later that day. And understanding his personalities helped me capturing the best moment of him on stage.

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Another story happened in the back stage when I was trying to photograph a college boy who plays the flute. At first, he was a bit shy and didn’t know what to do in front of a camera. I said to him, when I was in college, my “Venus” was a flute girl, but she never played in front of me, which was why I stopped at him and wanted a shot of him playing that beautiful shiny flute. Then immediately, he started playing without the slightest hint of discomfort. There you see the shot.

Go to the back stage.

Having access to the back stage will give you two advantages.

First of all, during the play, the conductor will be facing his orchestra and therefore backstage all the time. Unless in the rare moments he turn back and say thank you to the audience, you won’t get front facing shots of the conductor if you physically shoot from off the stage. And shooting from there is a big annoyance to your fellow audiences around you. It’s not a rock concert! Symfony fans are not likely to swear to or attack you, but don’t spoil their evening and let them hate you. Plus, you’ll like the beautiful side light falling on players’ heads if you shoot from either side from the back stage!

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Then, you’ll witness plenty of interesting stories in the back stage when performers are anxiously waiting for the prime time. In that tense atmosphere, you’ll see their personalities written all over their faces. And it’s a great place talking with your subjects.

Just don’t skip the back stage if you can get the access.

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Fast long lens, ISO 6400 and a monopod.

We all know a good picture is NOT about the camera. When you take pictures in a challenging situation, however, some features of equipments will make your life much easier. Photographing a symphony concert is the most challenging job I ever did, because:

The stage is relatively large  and you can’t go anywhere you want ( e.g. on the stage, or in front of the first row off the stage ). It’s difficult for the photographer to get very close or very high physically.

Ambient light can be dim. And you are not allowed to use flash. The lighting conditions can vary wildly among different venues. In the pilot performance, with f/2.8 and 1/160 seconds, I was able to get away with ISO 800 most of the time. In the real show however, I constantly needed ISO 6400 for similar shots on the stage. Without a light meter, the performers confirmed they felt the same. I heard one of the venue staffs saying they intentionally dimmed the lighting to prevent details blown out on players’ faces.

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The stage is extremely crowed. With limited point of view options, it requires good observation and creativity to get interesting compositions unless you have shot such events numerous times.

On the stage, you’ll make a few wide angle shots, but not too many, because you can’t get close. Telephoto lenses with big aperture are your friend. Use more than one focal lengths for varying FOV and potentially more interesting shots. For the stage shots, I used the two legacy lenses mentioned earlier. Their 35mm equivalent focal lengths are 158mm and 270mm. They’re all sharp enough wide open. ( In my bag, Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 ED AI-s’s main use is astrophotography. ) I felt they were adequate for the stage that evening. I’m sure there will be larger or smaller stages so adjust accordingly. A 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom will do a better job if your wife plays ball.

And a camera body with usable ISO 6400 is highly recommended. Fuji XE-2 does that very well. I used a shutter speed of 1/200 seconds whenever lighting conditions permit when shooting the stage. In the pilot performance, I found that 1/160 seconds couldn’t freeze the conductor’s fiercest hand motion completely.

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Even if you have all the low light equipments recommended above, you’ll still find occasions where the shutter speed drops below 1/200 or even 1/50. ( I used Fuji’s auto ISO feature. ) I found a monopod extremely useful for such a job. It helped stabilizing my shots and making my arm and shoulder less stressful. Most importantly, it gave me a pivot for experimenting different composition ideas and pull out the best one.

With my legacy lenses, I had to live with manual focus. I didn’t find it a huge obstacle though. Fuji X-E2 has a usable focus peaking feature. ( But add more color options to the peaking pixels, Fuji! ) And during the play, your subjects don’t generally move towards or away from your camera, but remain in more or less the same focal plane no matter how fast they move. Auto focus lenses are definitely more convenient to use. But with those legacy lens, I was able ( and forced ) to shoot more slowly and care for every detail without breaking the bank. A compromise I have to live with, and perhaps a good one. Some of the my pictures ended up not in perfect focus for pixel peepers, but overall most of them are acceptable, IMO.

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Oh, the Fuji X100 always stayed on my neck. This beautiful non-threatening creature is still my best friend for storytelling in those behind-the-scene shots, all of which I shot one-handed. And when I need a wider field of view, I used Fuji XE-2 with 18-55mm on 18mm.

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Shoot long lenses with a wide-angle mind.

For a whole year after I stepped into the world of photography, Fuji X100 was my only camera. It’s a small camera with a fixed 23mm f/2 lens ( 35mm in full frame equivalent ). I had to live with its fixed and wide view of the world, which turned out to be a good thing. It taught me to observe, care for and make use of the connections between subjects and the background. It’s just too wide to ignore the background or the connections between things and just point and shoot.

Back to the super crowded symphony stage, yes, you can play with that shallow depth of field. What you cannot do, however, is simply ignoring, blurring or blackening out all the surroundings of your subject, because they’re too close together, lighted too evenly and you can’t get your camera very high.

Fellow violinists playing together covering each other’s heads? Notebooks in the front blocking your view of the subjects on the other side? None is gonna make a good solo composition. But who said solo compositions are better? Think about how to live with and make use of all things in the field of view. Search for the connections between them. Capture eye contacts between the conductor and his players. Search for moments when the conductor’s baton and violinist’s’ bows point to the same direction. Use the darker audiences as a backdrop for players at the edge of stage, even if you can only see her back. Don’t be afraid to crop tight and try out impossible ideas when composing the shots. Be creative and bold.

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Looking at the show through those long lenses, I felt a sense of similarity and familiarity, because it felt so much like viewing though my X100’s 35mm lens. If you didn’t take good care of the background and connections among different things, you’d spoil the shot. But If you did, you’d be blessed with a chance of getting a more interesting shot than most 85mm f/1.4 portraits.

Leave late and get to know the performers.

The performance lasted more than two hours before the audiences stood up and applauded with the Radetzky March. It was time to pack the bag, right? I didn’t think so. There must be interesting stories going on after the show. And I really wanted to get to know the performers better, get their contact information and send them their pictures the next day.

It turned out they appreciated it. A flute player who has played the new year concerts for seven consecutive years later told me, that all flute players were grateful for the pictures featuring them, because on the stage they sit in the back and normally don’t get much attention. And the violinist who got her back captured said she was very excited to see her picture on the homepage of a local website, even if it was only her back.

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All players are college kids. It was the peak of their life so far so they overreacted, didn’t they? Well, I know a professional model who, after seeing my pictures of those kids’ symphony concert, told me that she was moved and regretted how few pictures she had kept for her own performances. She said normally photographers didn’t care to give the pictures to her after a show. It may or may not be a license thing.

Those kids have stories. The more I know about them, the more I’m confident that I can take my storytelling and photography to the next level in their next performance.

As a storyteller, I’ll make sure I can give away my pictures to my subjects, because what I did is merely freezing, capturing and presenting a split second of their lives. They own their lives. The more they feel the pictures are important to them, the more successful I am as a storytelling photographer.

Park

Feb 092014
 

Munichs oldest cemetery with Leica M and Monochrom

by Andreas Cornet

Dear Steve, my name is Andreas and I live in Munich, Germany. I follow your great blog for about a year but so far did not post anything. My photographic life started some 11 years ago when our daughter was born. I started shooting with several Nikon DSLRs with growing fascination. My entry into the Leica world happened with the D-Lux 3 and the brand did a nice job in “trading me up” with a M8 via a M9 to a M240 and a MM right now.

For a long time already I had the idea to start a photographic project on Munich cemeteries. Steves recent article on post mortem photography and Jim Fishers great cemetery shots together with fantastic light two weeks ago finally got me going. I chose the “old south cemetery” in Munich which was founded in 1563 for the many poor victims of the pest epidemic. At that time it was “extra muros” – outside the city borders. No need to explain that this has changed with the growth of the city … .

In terms of gear I took the M240 and MM together with a 35mm Summilux, a 50 mm Noctilux, and a 90mm Summarit. I did not use 50 mm a lot in the past but since buying a used Noctilux 1.0 (not the current 0.95 version) this has changed significantly. Most of the shots you see are done with this lens, only few are 35mm or 90mm. However, I do not use it wide open only. I also like it very much at 5.6 or 8.

Great winter sun, several crows/ravens and some nuns going for a walk created an almost surreal atmosphere. Like a quite island in the middle of the city bringing back the past. I hope you get part of that from the pictures. Although I liked some of the photos in color very much I decided to transfer the M240 files to b/w using Nik Silver Efex. If you are comparing the M240 with the MM files (that’s what I did …) keep in mind the MM shots were taken a bit later with sun fading away already.

Next will be the “old north cemetery” as soon as the light gets right … .

Thank you and best regards,

Andreas

Pic 1, M240, 50mm, f 5.6

Pic 2, M240, 50mm, f 1.7

Pic 3, M240, 50mm, f 1.0

Pic 4, M240, 50mm, f 11

Pic 5, M240, 50mm, f 1.7

Pic 6, M240, 50mm, f 1.4

Pic 7, MM, 35mm, f 1.4

Pic 8, MM, 90mm, f 2.5

Pic 9, M240, 50mm, f 1.2

Pic 10, M240, 50mm, f 1.4

Pic 11, M240, 50mm, f 8

Feb 062014
 

The $11,500 Hasselblad HV! Oops, I mean Sony A99! 

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The new Hasselblad HV. A DSLR that offers no compromises with tough as nails build, jaw dropping beauty and is already a proven winner because it is indeed a Sony A99! All for $11,500! Woohoo!

Yes, this was announced 3-4 days ago or so but I had to wrap my head around this one and decide if I even wanted to give it exposure. Then I figured..well..why not, not many, if any, will buy one of these anyway! I mean, restyling a NEX-7 could have been cool as the NEX-7 is a cool camera. Restyling the mighty mite RX100 could also have been cool, as it is one hell of a pocket camera. Hasselblad accomplished to screw both of those up and turned the “could have been” into “Damn..we screwed up”.  The slow selling Lunar and Stellar prove that one.

But fear not, Hasselblad is forging on with the Sony morphs with the new Hasselblad HV 99 mainly because they had to as it has been in the works for a long while already.

I call this new Hasselblad the “HPV 99″ (there really is no 99 in the name, nor a “P”) because it is the Sony A99 with a new coat of paint and cosmetics at an almost $9000 premium, which to me sounds like a big old genital wart on the camera industry. Yep, should be called the HPV 99.

Yes, that is correct… the now older A99 that sells for $2700 can be had for $11,500 featuring the same shape, sensor, image quality, speed, and using the same Sony lenses for $11,500 US. Basically, we get a wooden case and fancy styling for our $9k and nothing more. Oh yea, “tough as nails” build quality.

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Someone at Hasselblad has either lost their minds or they are trying to only sell 50 of these worldwide. 

Like I said, I can see them blinging out the small and cool and capable mirror less cameras. Hell, even I held the Lunar and Stellar and liked the Stellar (RX100) quite a bit but could not bring myself to pay $3500 for a $600 camera, no matter how cool it looked and how good it felt.

The HPV 99 comes with a pelican style case because Hasselblad KNOWS that us photographers always like to carry our camera not in a bag or with a strap, but in a suitcase. 

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But why is Hasselblad giving this treatment to a fat bulky DSLR that will use the same fat bulky Sony DSLR lenses? I mean, who here would pay $11,500 for a Sony A99 with a new coat of paint when you can get a standard black A99 for $2700?!?!? This is not the same as Leica with their special editions as Leica is not taking an OM-D E-M1 that sells for $1600 and pimping it out with a Leica logo, blinging it out and charging $8,000 for it. Leica does not take a Fuji X-E2 and throw a coat on it and charge $7500. Leica takes their own premium M design and puts out a special edition here and there with very few units being made. What they do with Panasonic does not count as even when they give this treatment to the Panasonic P&S cameras they come in at a $200-$300 premium yet offer longer warranty, better software and better aesthetics.

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I am just confused as to what Hasselblad are doing but maybe I am cranky because I did not have my morning cup of coffee. One one hand Hasselblad seem to want to be like Leica yet at the same time they have no clue how to go about it. But I am here to offer my help to them.

Hasselblad..DESIGN YOUR OWN MASTERPIECE OF A CAMERA that lives up to the Hasselblad name. When you do that you will have something special. 

I am sure the HV will be beautiful, solid and extremely well made. But it is still an A99 any way you slice it. My question for you is..who here will be ordering the Hasselblad HV? $11,500 can buy you an amazing camera and a few lenses  - say a Sony A99 with $9k left for glass ;)

Vote in the poll below and feel free to comment!

Steve

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