Nov 172010
 

Hi Steve, have been enjoying your site for about three months now, and I thought I’d take the time to send in some submissions shots for the aforementioned section of your site.

My name is Allan Roney (from Glasgow, Scotland), I take photographs for pleasure, not business. I’ve been shooting for about 3/4 years, after failing at music.

These shots were taken in NYC with a Panasonic GF1; the problem with shooting in NYC is that there’s not many shots that haven’t been taken, so I spent time looking at things from a slightly alternative angle.

The entire set (including some m9 shots taken with a borrowed Leica) can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/allanroney/sets/72157623857537537/

Kind regards,

Al.

Nov 162010
 

It’s on Ebay now…the ULTIMATE Leica M9 Dream Kit. If anyone wants to donate to the site, feel free to buy it for me, ha ha! It’s only $32,000 US dollars and comes with the M9 and 6 super lenses and a snazzy case. Wanna see the listing? You can see it HERE in all its glory - Man…the M9, 50 Noctilux, 75 Summilux NEW IN BOX, 35 Summilux, 28 Summicron, 50 Summilux ASPH, 90 Summicron and all accessories. If I were loaded and had a spare $32k…I’d be soooo tempted :)

Nov 152010
 

 

SLR Magic 35 1.7 Lens Review for the Sony NEX system

SLR Magic? What the heck is SLR Magic? Well, they are a company that sells some interesting camera gear on E-bay and one of those products is a lens that has been modified to work on the Sony NEX mount cameras. This lens is a 35mm f/1.7 lens and it comes with the lens, a sun shade, metal cap and rear cap for only $99. Yep, a fast 35 1.7 lens for your NEX camera for $139. When I started to read about this lens I thought...”For $139, this has to be some cheap piece of plastic that is useless”! But then I saw some samples from a few people online and I became interested in the lens. Keep in mind that the 35mm will become a 52mm equivalent on the NEX with the 1.5 crop factor. SO basically, you have a tiny, super fast 50 for the NEX. The question is, does it suck or is it useful?

I contacted the owner of SLR Magic through their E-Bay listing and within 3 days I had the lens in my hand. They sent me the lens, a cleaning cloth, and even one of their Leica M to Sony NEX adapters. When I opened the lens I was immediately drawn to the small size and I thought it looked super cool on the NEX-5. After some research I realized this lens was much like the Noktor 50 lens I reviewed a while ago (see review here) due to the fact that it is a cine lens converted to the NEX mount. SLR Magic also sells this lens for M4/3 mount. From what I hear these lenses can be found for $30 but then you need an adapter and you will not have the caps or box so to me, the $139 seems worth it to have one already set to mount on the NEX.

I was not terribly thrilled with the Noktor, especially at $799 but this little guy was only $139 so it HAD To be worth it, right? Well, you can not go wrong by adding this lens to your collection and I have to say that if you own a NEX camera, this lens is a must own just for those times you want to get creative and go for a special fun look. This lens almost reminds me of a lensbaby. The effects you get with this lens are dreamy, soft wide open, shallow depth of field and the Bokeh is better than the $799 Noktor I reviewed in the past though not up to exotic glass like Leica or Zeiss.

This is the kind of lens NEX and M4/3 owners have been begging for and is perfect for those who love creative lenses.

ABOVE: Sony NEX-5 and SLR Magic 35 1.7 Lens at 1.7

ABOVE: Sony NEX-5 and 35 1.7 SLR Magic lens at 1.7 – Click image for larger view

ABOVE: Sony NEX-5 and the 35 1.7 SLR Magic lens at 1.7. See how the edges  get soft and give you an almost diorama effect? Click image for larger view.

THE GOOD

The lens arrived FAST from Hong Kong (3 days) and it actually came in a nice box with the lens hood and rear cap. The packaging and presentation was nice and I was still surprised that this was only a $139 lens. The lens itself feels pretty good. Not anything like a Leica lens of course, but for the price, it is very nice feeling. This is an all manual lens meaning it is manual focus and you manually set the aperture. When using it, it’s almost Leica like in the fact that you have to take your time composing the shot because you have to get  the focus just right which usually means using the 7X or 14X magnification on the NEX. Luckily, Sony makes this easy because when you mount a manual lens the right rear button acts as the magnification button. If you want the magnification for a focus aid, just hit the button and  you will get a 7X or 14X view of the subject for critical focus.

The lens can be useful for portraits as it usually renders in a soft, glowing and dreamy type of way. I also like that the minimum focus distance is 0.3 meters, much closer than Leica lenses mounted to the NEX-3 or 5. The image above was shot at the minimum focus distance so for a 35mm lens, you can get pretty close. As I stated earlier, with this lens on the NEX camera you get a 52mm Equivalent so it’s like having a fast 50 on your NEX. Very cool, and for $139 it is well worth owning it just for those times you want that special look.

THE BAD

Well, a super fast 35mm lens for a really good price..there has to be something wrong with it right? Well, that depends on your state of mind and how you look at it. I knew going in that the lens would be soft at the edges and this is what drew me to it. The lens has a unique way of rendering a scene that you will either really enjoy or totally hate. To some, they will say this lens is useless do to it’s softness and weird edges but others will use that to their advantage. The lens can be super soft and if you miss focus it will look even softer, but when you nail focus its actually not so bad at all and sharp in the middle of the frame.

So what is the “Bad”? If I had to say anything I would say that the lens could be sharper but that would take away from its character. I could say that the lens could be built better, but this is a $139 lens, not a $600 lens. I could also say that it should be Auto Focus but nahhh, I love shooting manual lenses. This lens is a great addition to your Sony NEX collection because when you use it you will always get interesting results, no matter what you are shooting with it. Just keep in mind that this is no Leica lens and will not render images in that sparkly, super micro contrast way :) BTW, the SLR Magic lens is a medium to low contrast lens.

Take a look at the images below and you can see how this lens turned ordinary subjects into interesting photos…

One or two of these were not fully in focus and ALL were shot wide open at 1.7…

 

 

 

 

So the bad? For the cost, there really is no “Bad” on this lens. As long as you know what you are getting ahead of time then it should not be a disappointment. I’d buy this lens at the asking price in a heartbeat. Below you can get an idea of how small this little guy is, sitting next to the Sony 18-55 Zoom that came with my NEX-5.

 

 

BELOW: A video showing the SLR Magic 35 1.7 lens

 

SHOOTING THE LENS STOPPED DOWN. DOES IT SHARPEN UP?

So, does this lens sharpen up when you stop down the lens say to f2.8 or f4? Let’s find out! Below is a series of shots from F1.7 to F5.6 to show you how the lens sharpens up as you stop it down. Click on the images for a larger 1500 pixel wide view. I see that this lens remains somewhat soft on the sides/edges, even through f4. It sharpens up a bit at 5.6 but this lens is not about sharpness, it’s about the unique look you can get with it and that look is maximized when wide open at 1.7.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE SLR MAGIC 35 1.7 E-MOUNT LENS

I have to give applause for someone releasing a small fast lens for these small mirror-less cameras. Even though it is not a super sharp Leica lens, this little 35 1.7 is a great buy for $139. PERIOD! It may not be a lens you will use all of the time, but when you do use it be prepared for some interesting images. I consider  this a “Special Effects Lens” much like a Lensbaby but I’d highly recommend this lens if you are like me, and like shallow Depth of Field and a unique look to certain images. I found this lens can do good with portraits and everyday snapshots. I think it is good to have an arsenal of lenses  that do many things and the SLR Magic 35 1.7 is another lens that you could pull out on those days when you feel a but creative. I now own this one, and have been enjoying it and thats what it’s all about!

You can buy this lens from SLR Magic on Ebay HERE and their store is HERE. Thinking of buying into the Sony NEX system? If so, I’d buy mine at B&H Photo HERE.

I NEED YOUR HELP! YOU CAN HELP SUPPORT THIS SITE TO KEEP IT GOING AND GROWING!

Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :)

If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter or facebook! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader! Also, the new forums are NOW OPEN on this site so get involved if you like! Thanks so much for visiting my site!

Nov 122010
 

The links are back! It’s been a while since I posted some but I found a load of them for todays post so here you go….

The New Forum! Register and Participate!

As many of you know on November 1st I opened a forum on this site for you guys to discuss everything photographic! Be sure to check them out HERE and then register and post! With your participation it can be a success and a place where we can hang out and talk about photography in a civilized, fun and useful way :)

You can register for this site in the upper right hand side at any time. Your e-mail remains private and is NEVER EVER used for anything. I will never send e-mails, never sell e-mails and actually, I do not even look or store them. So when you register for this site you will never get spam or newsletters, etc. Enjoy!


FUN LINKS

101 Photos taken with the lens Detached – interesting!

M9 Info EXIF reader

Yet another M9 review that I stumbled upon

Leica Spotting – for those who never saw this, it can be a fun and interesting read.

Some great Iphoneography!

Very cool little App for your Iphone – IExposure

Some guy created an interesting Leica concept camera…

This guy had a very cool Halloween costume…

Measure your heart rate with your Iphone 4

The First ever photograph of a Human Being

More Iphone 4 – The Glif tripod and stand...seems like some are getting serious with the Iphone 4 as a camera and HD video tool

WIll be reviewing this in the next few days (JUST got one today!) but looks VERY cool and the price is right – The 35 1.7 SLR Magic lens for the Sony NEX 3 and 5..

A history of Stop Motion presented in Stop Motion!


MY PERSONAL HI-FI FOR SALE

Not sure if there are any HiFi/Audio nuts out there but I am selling my personal home audio high end speakers at a HUGE discount – They are Sonus Faber Guarneri Mementos at less than half the price of new, and mint+! Check them out here…


USED CAMERA AND LENS DEALS

Olympus

WOWfor those wanting to get into Micro 4/3, you can now pick up an Olympus E-P1 with lens for $369 – refurbished.

USED - Olympus 17mm Pancake lens for M4/3

A CLASSIC OM1N – Shoot some film!

Leica

No picture yet but B&H Photo just listed this black paint Leica M4….

Also…here is a Leica 35 Summicron for $999

ANOTHER nice looking Leica M4 for $999

A nice Leica M8 in black…

LEICA 50 2.8 ELMAR for sale…$499

A Really OLD 50 Summicron Collapsible

All used Leica lenses at B&H Photo

B&H DID HAVE some of the new Leica 35 Lux in stock yesterdayhere is the link to keep an eye on it…

Sony

AN OPEN BOX BUY – Sony NEX-3

Nov 122010
 

Hey Steve,

We spent an afternoon at the Texas Renaissance Festival this past weekend. There’s always a ton of great characters to shoot down there. Makes for a fun day of shooting.

I took the M8, the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH (thank you Ken Hansen) and the 90mm f/2.5 Summarit. Such a great kit. In my opinion, the 75 and 90mm Summarits are great lenses – compact, light, and sharp.

These are all from the DNG files and processed in Aperture 3.1 with custom presets.

Hope you’re doing well. Keep up the good work on the site!

Thanks,

Bob Boyd

http://bobboyd.net

Nov 112010
 
Help support stevehuffphoto.com – shop at my sponsors, B&H Photo, Amazon and Dale Photo to keep this site going and growing!

The Leica Tri Elmar 28-35-50 f/4 Aspherical (MATE) Lens Review

By Ashwin Rao

Hello, everyone. It’s Ashwin, here with a review for you all of one of the true engineering gems in Leica’s lens lineup, the Leica Tri-Elmar 28-35-50 mm f/4 aspherical lens, affectionately known as the MATE. In case you are wondering, “MATE” stands for “Medium Angle Tri Elmar”, in comparison to Leica’s 16-18-21 Wide Angle Tri Elmar, which is known as the WATE, which Steve favorably reviewed HERE.

History of the MATE

The MATE was produced for just 9 years, from 1998 through 2007, which is quite a short period as far as M-lenses are concerned. It was produced in 3 versions. The first version of the MATE utilized a E55 filter thread, while the later 2 versions were produced with a E49 filter thread. Over the course of its lifetime and through its 3 iterations, the optical formula of the lens remained unchanged, but cosmetics, lens barrel coatings, and functionality were improved. Some have suggested that there were other changes made to reduce the amount that this lens tended to flare at its 50 mm focal length setting, which is an issue frequently encountered in the first version (E55) of this lens.

During its production run, the MATE was considered a “statement” of Leica’s engineering prowess. A simple look at the cross section of this lens suggests its complexity of design and manufacture. Combined with the expensive cost of some of its optical elements, its complicated design and manufacturing time likely lead to its halted production.

There are a lot of anecdotal reports and quotes from Leica representatives and the forums as to why this very useful lens ended its run rather suddenly. The general consensus is that the front element, which was manufactured by Hoya, became either too rare or prohibitively expensive to justify continued production of this lens, and at last inquiry, Leica has no plans to commence production of this lens in the future.

Thus, the Leica MATE remains a heritage lens, but one with its inherent benefits, if you can get a hold of one.

My attention was drawn to the MATE about a year ago, when the Leica M9 was released. In the film days, where everything was “full frame” (i.e. 35 mm film), the MATE was seen as a great performer with a useful focal length range of 28-50 mm, making it Leica’s version of a normal zoom lens. However, with the introduction of the M8 and its 1.3x crop sensor, the MATE’s focal length range became a bit funky (36-65 mm) , and it seemed to fall out of favor with many photographers. With the return of full frame in the Leica M9, the MATE regained its native focal lengths, and in essence, its intended use.

The Technical Details

The Leica MATE is an elegant design that includes 2 aspherical elements and 2 lens groups which move in position with respect to one another to permit its 3 focal length settings. Many have questions as to whether the MATE’s design is a true continuous zoom. Erwin Puts has stated that the MATE is in fact a true optical zoom lens. However, there are some complications in defining this lens as a zoom lens in the traditional sense. First, The lens moves in focal length from 28 mm to 50 mm, and then to 35 mm focal lengths. One can imagine that such as design would make it hard to predict what focal length the lens is actually zoomed to when between these stepped detents. Further, given that Leica only has optical frame lines for 28, 35, and 50 mm settings, the focal lengths between these settings are not easily interpretable. Thus, while the MATE may mechanically represent a zoom lens, in function, it is only useful to think of this lens as a step zoom design. To boil it down simply, it really only can be used at 3 focal lengths, 28 mm, 35 mm, and 50 mm.

The MATE is composed of 8 elements, organized into 6 groups. It can focus down to 1 meter at each of its focal lengths. Maximal aperture is f/4, while the lens can be stopped down to f/22. It’s f/4 maximum aperture lens the MATE to primarily daytime use, given current limitations in ISO reach for both film and digital cameras (M9’s max ISO is 2,500, and B&W film typically tops out at ISO 3200). At 340 g (12 oz) and 67.8 mm length, it is realitively long for a Leica design, but relatively light for its size. Once you factor in that this really is 3 focal lengths in one design, it becomes far more attractive as a travel lens option. It was made available, especially in later iterations, in both black and chrome versions, though Black versions were produced in larger numbers.

For those of you tech spec nuts out here, here are some technical details for this lens (available on the Leica Wiki site)

Leica Order No. – 11 890 (1st) – 11 625 (2nd + 3rd) – 11 894-chrom / LLC – 132

Production era 1998-2007

Variants – E55 1st version; Body change 2nd version E49-A53, “Improved Mount Redesign” E49-A53 3rd version after Serial No. 3507451 – Black and Chrome versions (black lens shown on left is the E49-A53 version)

Lens mount – Leica M-bayonet

Number of lenses/groups – 8 /6

Focusing range – 1 m / 3.3 ft < ∞

Aperture range – f/4-f/22

Smallest object field – 28 mm focal length: 750 x 1130 mm, 35 mm focal length: 620 x 930 mm, 50 mm focal length: 430 x 650 mm

Reproduction ratio – 28: 1:31 – 35: 1:26 – 50: 1:18

Angle of view (diagonal/horizontal/vertical) – 28 mm: 75° / 65° / 46° – 35 mm: 63° / 54° / 38° – 50 mm: 47° / 40° / 27°

Position of entrance pupil -

Scales – Combined meter/feet graduation

Filter mount – E55 (1st) – E49-A53 (2nd)

Accessories – Hood: 1st 12458 2nd or (Redesign – 3rd) version 12450

Viewfinder – 12011

Materials – Anodized aluminum and optical glass

Length to bayonet flange 67.8 mm / 2.7 in

Largest diameter 55 mm / 2.2 in

Weight – 340 g / 12 oz

My thoughts and “review’


The Leica 28-35-50 mm f/4 asph is a brilliant lens. Other than its wide angle cousin, the WATE, there are no other lenses manufactured by Leica that function as step zooms. One might wonder whether the MATE can hold its own, in terms of optical performance, against Leica’s wonderful prime lenses. If one is coming from the world of SLR’s, he or she would know that Canon and Nikon prime lenses optically outshine their zoom counterparts quite dramatically (well, that’s my opinion at least), so what about the MATE? Well, I am here to say that the Tri-Elmar really competes optically with its Leica prime lens counterparts. It presents a sharply rendered image, with pleasing out-of focus elements, when shot wide open. It stops down well and seems to hit its stride optically at f/5.6 to f/8 during my time with it.

In terms of “look”, I’d place this lens as a “bridging” lens, with a “look” that possesses elements of both Leica’ Mandler-era design and some of its modern aspherical optics. There is a certain smoothness, demonstrated by many classic lenses, that can be seen in images captured with MATE, but microcontrast is maintained. In fact, I have been very impressed by how much detail the MATE captures. Fine details are resolved, but the lens continues to paint with a broader brush. Contrast is medium to high, consistent with its utilization of aspherical optical elements. Color reproduction is quite accurate, though not to the level of Leica’s APO lens designs. Overall, I very much enjoy the look of the MATE, and hope that the images that I share with you are representative of this lens’ output.

In practice, I have come across a couple of issues with the MATE that are worth mentioning. Due to its complicated design, switching focal lengths involves a complex set of movements of the lens elements within the lens. In practice, I have noted that switching between focal lengths occasionally causes errors in frame-line placement. With a bit of gentle fiddling of the focus length barrel, frame lines do snap into place, but in the interest of full disclosure, this behavior appears to one of the MATE’s eccentricities. Second, in conditions where a bright light source is positioned at the edge of the image, the lens can flare. This behavior only seems to be demonstrated, on occasion, at the 50 mm focal length. I have heard that this tendency to flare was corrected in later versions of the lens (I have the first version), via using flare-reducing paints within the lens’ internal barrel.

In use, the MATE is both limiting and liberating. For those of you who are in love with shooting “wide open” and getting dramatic foreground/background separation, the MATE simply is not the tool for the trade, as it is limited by its maximal f/4 aperture. For those of you used to getting close to your subjects with lenses such as the 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux or 35 mm f/2 Summicron (with minimal focus distances of 0.7 meters), the MATE gets you as close as 1 meter from your subject, so your framing of subjects can’t be quite as tight as with many of Leica’s prime lens offerings. The lens is somewhat large for a Leica lens, which might make some purists, who value small lens-size, squirm in discomfort.

Conversely, the MATE can be quite a liberating lens to use. The first, and obvious benefit, is having one lens with 3 utilizable focal lengths. In practice, not having to constantly switch lenses to utilize a particular focal length can be a blessing. This is why Canon and Nikon have been so successful in marketing and selling their zoom lenses, despite reduction in optical performance in those zoom options. Particularly, when traveling, having a one lens, 3-focal-length option, particularly with a focal length range as useful as 28-50 mm, can be a true blessing. Second, when traveling in dusty places and crowded space, keeping the lens attached to the camera will be enough to save your sensor from substantial dust contamination. Third, while some may find the f/4 aperture as a limitation, others might feel that limiting your aperture options to f/4 can promote creativity and increase thehit rate for in-focus captures. The MATE can become more of a “storytelling lens” by producing less background blur, forcing the photographer to consider background elements in his or her compositions. Many photographers suggest that the true test of a skilled photographer is to candidly and successfully frame the photographed subject in its background; in essence, to tell a story in this manner. I’ll leave further debates on this topic to you, but the fact of the matter is that the MATE’s f/4 aperture is absolute.

In my mind, the most important convenience of the MATE comes during travel. In today’s era of minimizing space and traveling compactly, optimizing your equipment choices becomes very important. I have commented before that I believe that the Leica M9 is an outstanding camera to travel with, and part of this is its compact size and form factor. Pairing the MATE with your Leica M proves quite a versatile travel option. One can conceivably use the MATE as a 1 lens-travel solution. Many photographers favor its 3 focal lengths (28, 35, and 50 mm) for 90% of their photographs, and thus the MATE covers the range well. Personally, I’d pair the MATE with a wider aperture prime lnes for low light shooting and a longer lens (such as the wonderful 90 mm elmarit, reviewed by Steve here) for telephoto work. But that’s me.

The Leica Tri-Elmar 28-35-50 mm f/4 stands as a pinnacle of Leica lens engineering and design. It is both optically and mechanically remarkable. It has its limitations, but if you are willing to work within its limitations, it may provide you with a wonderful and versatile option for daytime photography while on the run, or when size and capacity matters. It’s a one-lens option for both travel or circumstances where minimizing kit-size matters.

One final counter point: availability. Given its 9-year product cycle, not many MATE lenses were manufactured. It utilized lens elements that were relatively hard to manufacture, and its mechanical design made it challenging to manufacture. As a result, these lenses were quite costly to manufacture during their product run, and they remain quite expensive even now in the used market. People who buy these lenses tend to hang onto them, and thus, MATE lenses are often hard to come by on the used market. As of this writing, used Tri-Elmars range in price from $2,500-$4000, depending on version, optical condition, and cosmetics.

The Future?

Leica appears to have abandoned its MATE enterprise for the time being. The Wide-Angle Tri-Elmar 16-18-21 mm f/4 Aspherical lens (WATE) remains the sole step zoom lens in Leica’s lens lineup. Leica appears to recognize that lower cost lens options are quite popular, as its Summarit line has been quite successful. With many newbies entering the fray of rangefinder photography, controlling lens costs will remain important. This hasn’t stopped Leica, however, from manufacturing lenses like the Noctilux 50 mm f/0.95 asph and 35 Summilux aspherical, so in my mind, there is a place for pricier and niche lenses in the Leica lens line up. I wouldn’t be surprised if Leica were to decide to manufacture a new MATE someday, but I don’t think that day is coming soon. For the time being, should you have interest in this lens after reading this article, keep your eyes open for a used copy. IF you happen to get one, you’ll be duly rewarded with a lovely lens that’s a powerful photo-making tool!

Summary

Pros:

Versatility: 28 mm, 35 mm, and 50 mm, all in one lens housing

Image quality: Up to par with Leica’s prime offerings

Rich and complex lens rendering, a combo of modern and classic looks.

Travel lens extraordinaire

Build quality: Up to Leica’s usual excellence

Cons

Size. It’s big, but not huge

f/4 maximal aperture. Limiting in some ways, liberating in others

Mechanical complexity. If you break it, good luck getting it repaired.

Occasional flare at the 50 mm setting

Credit

Images of lens were used from Leica’s MATE brochure (PDF), and technical specs were found on the Leica Wiki site.

From Steve: Thanks Ashwin for the great review of this lens. Be sure and visit his blog HERE, and to see all of his other articles on this site, just search for his name in the search box at the top of the page! There are some great articles there!


I NEED YOUR HELP! YOU CAN HELP SUPPORT THIS SITE TO KEEP IT GOING AND GROWING!

Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

Even if  you buy baby food, napkins or toothpicks at amazon it helps this site, and you do not pay anything extra by using the links here. Again, you pay nothing extra by using my links, it is just a way to help support this site, so again, I thank you in advance :)

If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter or facebook! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader! Also, the new forums are NOW OPEN on this site so get involved if you like! Thanks so much for visiting my site!

Nov 092010
 

The Sony A-33 DSLR Camera Review

By Steve Huff

These past two weeks have been crazy. I have been working more than ever on this site, added the new forum section (register and post here!!!) and came down with some sort of sickness that I am now recovered from. I have been to the state fair twice, rode the light rail in Phoenix and put about 3000 miles on my car. In that two weeks I carried around the Sony A33 Camera because I wanted to test out the new “Translucent Mirror Technology” which basically gives this camera blazing AF, even during video and an amazing EVF that is the best I have seen to date. In the past few weeks I have tried out the Nikon D3100 (which I was not thrilled with..just didnt motivate me) and also have been shooting with the Sony NEX-5 which is very similar in image quality to the A33, but there are differences there that I will get to down in this review.

I’m not going to go heavy on tech details here, just my experience shooting it over the past two weeks as well as plenty of image samples, high ISO samples, and some video shot with the camera on a tripod and handheld – at night. The Sony A33 and the new A55 are pretty amazing cameras for the money, but are they the best budget DLR’s going right now? If you do not own ANY glass from other companies and want a DSLR, AND are starting fresh I would say….YES. The A33 is one hell of a camera for the $700 it goes for with its kit lens. Keep reading to find out why I feel this way.

A little bit about the Sony A33 Camera…

Sony A33 – 24mm with the Kit Zoom at ISO 6400 – click image for larger version

Sony A33 with Kit Zoom – ISO 6400 – Click image for larger version

The Sony A-33 and A-55 are two new Sony cameras with loads of features and superb image quality, especially at their price range. Three weeks ago I went into an electronics store here in Phoenix and there was a Sony rep hyping up the A33 and A55. He said “These are the most exciting cameras out today” and even though I knew all about them I asked him why he thought that. He went onto  tell me about the resolution, the fast AF, the new mirror technology and the EVF. He said the video was outstanding and the speed of the AF, even with moving subjects were some of the best out there beating cameras like the Canon 5DMKII and Nikon D7000. I then told him who I was and about this site and he wrote it down and said he would look for the review. :)

So I acquired the A33 to try for myself (never did receive the A55 to test) and I admit, I was somewhat excited about the camera because it was semi small, and had everything I was looking for in a camera. Great image quality, superb HD video, blazing auto focus, nice EVF and even the gimmicky but very cool Sweep Pano Mode and Handheld Twilight Mode. All of these fatures were in the little NEX-5 but I was curious to see if the A33 was an improvement in any way over the NEX. In reality, these are two different cameras with the NEX-5 going more for SMALL SIZE, HIGH QUALITY and the A33 going more for ULTIMATE VERSATILITY AND HIGH QUALITY.

The A33 is a DSLR, the NEX-5 is not. The A33 has external controls and an actualy Electronic Viewfinder you put up to your eye, like the old days :) The NEX-5 does not, so two different cameras but both with similar qualities.

So comparing the two cameras is not really something that should be done except to see if the little NEX 5 can stand up to a larger DSLR using the same sensor. Depending on what you are looking for you may buy a NEX 3 or 5 if you want small and stealthy or you may buy an A33 if you want more lens options and more external control with the EVF. Others will buy the A55 for even more resolution and the built in GPS. After shooting the A33 and NEX-5 side by side for two weeks I concluded that if I was someone wanting to get into a camera system from scratch and had to keep it under $700 or so, for me it would be the NEX system just due to its size and ability to take Leica M glass via and adapter AND the lens roadmap Sony has mentioned that features Zeiss glass. But dont let that sway you from the A33 because it is one hell of a DSLR. The best IMO for under $700.

Features and what I like about this camera:

  • It has a nice 14.2 MP sensor with superb low light capabilities
  • The Auto Focus is indeed very fast with the Translucent Mirror Technology. Also, there is no mirror slap.
  • The 3″ tiltable LCD screen is very cool and is clear, crisp and colorful.
  • Full HD 1080 Video is clean and clear, even in lower light.
  • 7 frames per second burst
  • Sweep Panorama Mode works! Very easy to get nice Panos once you get the hang of it.
  • Up to 12,800 ISO. I remember a few years ago when the max was 3200 on higher end cameras. Wow.
  • One scene mode that works well is the handheld twilight mode and it allows you to get low light handheld shots that are clear and look very good.

Usually, especially lately, I have not been a fan of these mass produced cheap feeling plasticky DSLR’s that flood the market every 6 months. There have been one or two exceptions. The Pentax K7 was a winner in my book (soon to review the new K5) and  the Pentax Kx was also wonderful for a budget $500 DSLR. Other cameras like the Nikon D3100, Canon rebels, and starter DSLR’s just never did it for me. When I saw the features of this Sony A33 along with the price tag I had to give it a try. I even drove an hour to the Sony store so I could try it out in store with some Zeiss glass and it rocked with the 85 1.4.

The one thing I noticed immediately in this camera was its awesome EVF. The viewfinder is all electronic much like the Panasonic G2, GH2, etc. But it is crystal clear and smooth and gives you tons of great info. It even has a level sensor so all of your shots are level :) Love it! Plus as you can see in the image below, the 3″ LCD tilts down so you can get those angles you cant always get with non tilt-able LCD cameras.

So as you guys can tell already I really enjoyed  the A33 and was having a blast just learning about all of the features of this camera. The one thing I still had to get out and do was take some pictures! I wanted to test it in harsh light, low light and good light. Low ISO, high ISO and even video and that is what I did so read on to see the results of all of my shooting :)

The First Day with the A33

The first day I officially took the A33 out with me I was driving around and realized that the sun was pretty harsh. I said “UH OH, this AZ sun is going to kill my sample photos with blown out highlight and hard looking images!” But I pulled over and  took some shots of a train anyway and when I reviewed the images I was happy to see that the Dynamic Range of the A33 was very good. No blown highlights and the image looked pretty smooth, not hard.

Here is one of the first images I shot with the A33. The sun was HARSH and the camera seemed to do pretty good in the dynamic range department. If you click on the image you will download the full size out of camera shot. This is with the KIT zoom which is all I used during my testing. I FOUND THE kit zoom to be decent with the A33, just like most Kit Zooms :)

ABOVE: CLICK IMAGE FOR FULL SIZE OOC FILE – 6MB – ISO 100 – f8 – 18mm – from RAW

ABOVE: CLICK IMAGE FOR FULL SIZE OOC FILE – ISO 100 – f 5.6 – 18mm – Some sharpening applied during RAW conversion

Above – CLICK image for larger view with 100% crop – Shot in HDR mode in full AZ sun

So when I saw the results I knew the A33 was a nice little high IQ machine. I just had to figure out if I enjoyed shooting with it. In my hands it felt a little fat even though it was small, and it was pretty light but that can be a good thing. I had to get into DSLR mode which is hard after shooting with Leicas and the little NEX5 day after day. But I took the A33 out with me more and more and ended up with some cool shots during my daily travels.

High ISO – How good is it?

The talk about these cameras, and almost all recent cameras is the huge improvement in high ISO capabilities. Cameras today are soooo much better than the cameras of a few years ago. With the A33 you can shoot all day long at ISO1600 and it will look clean. Shoot at 3200 and it will still look pretty clean. At 6400 it starts to get a bit noisy but still usable (depending on what you are shooting). I did notice some differences in the A33 from the NEX5, mainly in color and a little bit in high ISO. Here are some comparisons and crops:

Here are two shots at ISO 200. First one was taken with the A33 and the 2nd with the NEX-5 – both with kit zooms using the “Standard” color preset.

A33

BELOW: NEX-5

I wanted to post this to show the color differences of the out of camera files. The A33 will give you a more vibrant picture than the NEX5 when using the same standard color preset. But what about high ISO? We all know the NEX-5 is fantastic in low light but how does the A33 compare? It should be the same as  they use the same sensor so let’s take a look:

The NEX-5 image looks sharper at ISO 1600 but this could be due to a number of factors like the kit lenses. As far as ISO noise goes, both look awesome for 1600. How about 3200?

It appears the NEX MAY BE just a tad bit cleaner, but it seems to be a small difference. Remember, these are 100% crops so even at 3200, they both look pretty damn good. The color pops more with the A33. Ok, one step farther. ISO 6400...this  time you can click on the full image to download the full size OOC image – This is strictly a high ISO comparison, not sharpness, detail, etc as the F stop was different on each camera. I did use a tripod.

First the A33 at ISO 6400 – click for full size OOC image

Below: Now the NEX-5 at ISO 6400 – Click image for full size OOC file

The biggest thing that pops out at me is the color. To be honest the scene in real life was somewhere in between the two. Not as vibrant as the A33 but not as dull as the NEX-5. Thankfully, none of this matters as each camera can be tweaked to provide the exact amount of color saturation you are looking for.

The Sony A33 HD Video Capabilities

When I was at the fair I brought along my tripod to see how the video quality would be with the A33. I assumed it would be similar to the NEX-5 and i was correct but the focus was faster. If you watch the video below you will see a scene that shows kids sliding down a huge slide. A woman will walk into the scene and  the AF will quickly focus on her face. WHen she walks away, the AF is lightning quick and focus on the slide again. This shows you how fast the AF can be though it did hunt a but when I was taking video of my friend Mike eating his giant corn dog :)

Ok, how about some real world images? Some fun at the fair!

What it is all about, the images! How did I like shooting this camera? Well, I can not lie…I prefer shooting a Leica M or even the little NEX-5 (just due to the size) but the Sony A33 was just small enough to where I felt comfortable taking it with me. I walked streets shooting it, took it to a first friday event, and even shot with it around my house. The A33 proved to have no flaws in the $700 price range. Fast AF? CHECK! Great IQ? CHECK! Easy To Use? CHECK! Extra Features? CHECK! Great HD Video? CHECK! Smooth Sounding Shutter? CHECK! Great at Low Light/HIgh ISO? CHECK! – ok..ok..you get the idea. THIS camera rocks and yes I like it. I usually only write about cameras I like as I feel writing about crap is just a waste of my time and this is a camera I liked. The Sony A33 is a great buy for those wanting a starter DSLR that doesn’t act like a starter DSLR and at a decent price point.

OK..on to some images!

A quick note about the samples – These are my “Real World” results. This means I shot the images with the camera and kit lens, opened the images from RAW and did minor PP to them. Usually this means a slight level adjust or even a filter or border. The images above that I supplied in full size were OOC (the train and the high ISO). The images below are my results with the camera using my normal processing work flow. Remember, you can always click on any image in my reviews to view a larger version!

Below: ISO 160

Below: ISO 1600

Below: ISO 640

Below: ISO 1250

Below: ISO 1600

Below: ISO 800 (alien skin exposure 3 Kodachrome filter added)

Below: ISO 1600 (straight from camera)

Below: A sweep pano. I see a couple of snags but overall, if you keep it smooth you can get great results.

The Pro’s and Con’s of the Sony A33 DSLR

Pros

  • It’s small(ish) and superb quality images
  • Auto Focus is FAST as advertised. Probably the fastest entry level DSLR I have tested in regards to AF. It’s also accurate.
  • High ISO is VERY good. About the same as the NEX-5.
  • Handheld Twilight and Sweep Pano are not gimmiks, they really work.
  • The Tilt LCD is also nice and allows you to get unique angles that you couldn’t get with a non tilt LCD.
  • Access to some great Zeiss glass.
  • Color is punchy, even at standard (some will like this, some may not)
  • AWB is superb, no issues and even in low light it is about as accurate as I have seen.
  • Video is easy to shoot and looks beautiful.
  • $700 or so for the camera and kit lens. Superb bang for the buck.
  • I love the EVF and the handy level indicator. Nice touch.
  • Auto HDR mode works well.

Cons

  • Feels a little fat in my hands..and cheap-ish
  • You may lose a little light with the Translucent Mirror.
  • Kit lens has some distortion at the wide end
  • Same IQ as the NEX-5 really, and the NEX is smaller but offers less external control
  • Smile Detection is odd. It works but doesn’t always recognize a smile. Gimmicky.

My Bottom Line Conclusion

The Sony A33 is yet another camera in the LONG line of digital SLR’s that flood the market..the Nikon D3100, D5000, Pentax K7, Kx, K5 and the Canon Rebels are also options in the never ending supply of digital cameras. BUT…I really like what Sony is doing these days. They are pushing technology further than the others and taking risks as well. The A33 and A55 feature their new Translucent Mirror Technology which basically allows the camera to have a mirror but the mirror doesn’t have to slap up every time you take a shot. It also allows for very fast and accurate AF with PHASE DETECTION AF which Sony claims and delivers. If you are looking for a nice DSLR that wont break the  bank and one that will give you loads of features and options as well as the ability to mount some fabulous Zeiss glass on, the A33 would go into my highly recommended list of cameras. I would choose this over the starter DSLR’s from Nikon or Canon UNLESS you specifically want some of the amazing Nikon or Canon glass. The Sony offers rich color, superb auto white balance and the responsiveness of much more expensive cameras. In my opinion, the A33 is a winner and I had a hard time coming up with negatives for this little guy :) You can buy the A33 at AMAZON or B&H Photo! B&H ALSO HAS THE 16.2 MP A55 IN STOCK!

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Nov 082010
 

Above: Leica M6TTL with 28 Elmarit 2.8

 

Above: Leica M9 with 50 Summicron f/2

Leica M6 to a Leica M9 by Adam Marelli

Setting Our Differences Aside

Change can be challenging, especially with tradition at its back. The newest interpretation of the M line shares the same genes of its ancestors, but has a different way of expressing itself.

When things are going well, why make a change? In Leica’s case, things were not actually going that well. Kodak discontinued its epic Kodachrome film, some camera shops canceled orders for new film, and an era of film photography appeared to be drawing to a close. The fate of Leica film cameras was predicted by many people to be sealed. In an ironic twist of fate, Leica’s full frame digital M9 created a resurgence in film, film cameras, and film sales. This massive contribution is the accidental by product of creating a digital camera that feels like its film predecessors.

When the M8 was announced, I was not amazed. It was an over priced imitation of an M camera with a reduced sensor. People I met, who knew still shot film, could not help but asking, “So what do you think?! M8?” Leica was taking a step in the right direction, but they still needed some time to grow. Fast forward to the release of the M9 and a sigh breathed across the rangefinder community that at last a comparable alternative to our film cameras has arrived.

Many of the M9’s features, are like an inside joke, only making sense in context. The detachable base plate, soft release, and manual dials originated over 50 years ago. The roots of Leica’s film cameras are deep, very deep. So when I got the call my M9 was in stock, I could not wait to see how much re-learning needed to be done.

Above: M6 0.58 finder

 

Above – M9 0.68 finder

x 0.58 finder

In hand the M9 feels like a film camera. The body is slightly thicker than the M6 I use and there was no film advance lever to rest my thumb on. Since there is no film, the film rewind button was also missing, giving the M9 a minimal feeling. Holding the camera up to my eye, the viewfinder has a tighter magnification than I was used to. x0.58 is the viewfinder I prefer, mostly because I shoot a 28mm lens. With the lesser magnification, the 28mm is much easier to compose because the frame lines are visible without having to look around the edge of the viewfinder. The M9’s x 0.68 finder pushed the 28mm lines back to the edge of the scene. This was going to make for a little learning curve when using the 28mm.

Meanwhile the 50mm was perfectly suited for the new viewfinder. As a personal trait, I will admit to resisting convention. Leica has paired their 50mm Summicron with their cameras for years in the “Starter Set”. This lead me to try the 21mm and 28mm as my everyday lens. Over time the 50mm Summicron kept sneaking its was back on to the camera, until I conceded. It is a brilliant lens and a focal length that any camera sommelier would select for a successful pairing. It spends most of its time on the M9.

Above: M6 Shutter Dial

 

Above: M9 Shutter Dial

Shutter Dial

– The “A”

I found a large A on the shutter dial of the M9, which promised to give automatic shutter speeds. Having only used an M6 the A feature, which is available on the M7 seemed interesting. I was super excited to try out this new option, which allows you to meter a scene, press slightly harder to lock the reading and then recompose the shot if necessary. It was the closest Leica has ever come to automatic features typically found in DSLRs.

When is it useful…

Walking around cities, waiting to catch some instant moment, I leave the camera on A, set my aperture to 4.0 or 5.6 and feel ready to fire. If something comes up quickly a picture can be taken without thinking, just focus (or pre-focus) point and shoot. It is wonderful.

- 8s, 4s, 2s

Like a godsend, the M9 comes equipped with a self timer (2 or 10 seconds) and exposures on the dial all the way to 8 second. In “A” the shutter will stay open for up to 4 minutes but I prefer to use “B” and a cable release for these situations. The dial settings, of multiple seconds, adds a level of precision to what used to be a tricky task of counting in my head.

- When is it useful…

The difficulty of long exposures is not moving the camera while pressing or releasing the shutter. A cable release allows for a movement free release, but what if you left it at home? By using the self timer and the multiple second presets, low light pictures are infinitely easier with the M9.

Select self timer.

Set the length of the exposure.

Press the release.

Brace the camera for the exposure.

Hold tight until the picture is complete.

Around the World

The added features of “A”, 8s, and faster speeds like 1/4000 make for a very full dial. Leica managed to squeeze all these settings on a dial the same size as an M6 dial. The trouble is, how do you tell what the setting is when you are not looking?

The M6 dial has a few indicators that allows you to know where the setting is without looking. The “Off and B” and “1/30, 1/50, and 1/60” are spaced closer together than the other settings. For example, if the dial is set to 1/125th and the scene you are looking at is dark, as the dial is rotated to longer exposures you can feel a double click as the dial passes over 1/50. Its a great way to know that holding steady is very important. Since the M6 dial stops at the “Off” and the 1/1000, its easy to tell what shutter speed you are on without looking.

The M9, on the other hand, spins 360 degrees with half steps between each shutter speed. In the M6 days, half steps were only possible in the aperture settings, not in the shutter speeds. So if a scene was half a step off, you had to change the aperture to get the right setting. The added feature is welcomed, but now its impossible to tell the shutter speed without periodically at the camera. Its not a big deal, but it takes some getting used to. When I go back to the M6 its nice to know where I am without looking, but I miss the additional settings. (Moral of the story: Owning more than one Leica is fun. They all have their strengths and weaknesses).

Above: Leica M6 Base Plate

 

ABove: Leica M9 Base

Base Plate

The day I picked up the M9, my immediate thoughts were to open everything up and see how it compared to the M6. When I tried to remove the base plate, there was no catch. Leica put the opening mechanism on the other side of the camera. The new battery position of the M9 is where the old catch used to be on the Leica’s earlier M cameras. Fortunately the M9 base plate does not need to be removed as frequently as a film camera. Instead of 38 images, an 8 GB card usually allows for 422 shots.

The other adjustment Leica made was putting the tripod thread in the center of the base plate. Traditionally the tripod threads were on the right had side of the camera. When I transitioned from a Hasselblad to a Leica, I thought this was a strange place to put a threaded attachment. It meant that the camera was asymmetrically balanced on a tripod. With a full size tripod this makes almost no difference, but when using a table top tripod you must be careful otherwise the solid M body will tip over a light weight tripod. Over the years, the right handed threads proved to be useful. Whenever I would use the tripod against a wall, instead of on a horizontal surface, the M6 would be cantilevered away from the tripod, giving my face plenty of clearance to compose and image.

The M9, has centered itself, both literally and figuratively to some of the trends of modern DSLRs, namely a centrally located tripod thread. This allows the camera to balance on a tripod. With this small change, Leica has eliminated two problems. Number one, the camera does not pull the tripod off balance by being cantilevered out in space. Number two, when the ball head is released the lopsided camera does not drop out of position. Obviously if the ball head is completely loosened the camera will drop all the way to once side, but with the threads in the center of the camera, smaller adjustments are easier.

Above: M6 Leatherette

Above: M9 Vulcanite

Exotic coverings for cameras never attracted my attention. The idea of having some nearly extinct animal wrapped around my shoes or camera does not appeal to me. This is not my rant on animal rights, but I figure, I eat beef. There is no sense throwing the skin away, better to use it. Recently I noticed that Leica said their ostrich covering was not actual ostrich. Good news I believe.

The M6 comes with a standard black leatherette wrap, identical to that found on the M7. It is smooth to the touch and very durable. My camera was built in the 1993, was bought used, and still looks new. On the M9, Leica decided to offer the black camera with the traditional vulcanite wrap used on M3’s. It gives the newest addition to the M line a retro look. For those who do not like the textured feel of the vulcanite, the grey M9 has the smooth leatherette cladding that you will recognize from the MP’s. Vulcanite is a heavily textured mixture of silicone mixed with latex. There was some criticism on the internet that vulcanite was inherently unstable. UV rays supposedly cause it to break down and turn to dust. I trust Leica has solved this issue before wrapping a few thousand M9s in vulcanite.

Beyond the chemical properties of the wraps, I am not partial to one over the other. It is helpful having the M6 and M9 with different finishes. This way their “feel” of the camera is obvious from the first second I pick them up. If I could ask Leica for my ideal camera covering it would be the suede side of way ward calves leather. Andy Warhol once had the Parisian shoe designer, Olga Berlutti, make him a pair of shoes. When she asked him what type of leather to use, he wanted the skins from cows that were rejected from production for inconsistencies. As a result, his shoes were imperfect from the beginning. This is consistent commentary made by the man obsessed with repeating the same picture, slightly different every time, imperfections and all.

ISO

Most photographers who shoot film stick to a handful of film speeds, manufacturers, and film types. My M6 is usually loaded with Fuji Provia 100 slide film. Its a great all around travel film. The color saturation is strong, but not outrageous. Its grain is small due to the relative slow speed of 100 ISO. And per roll Provia 100 ($6.99 per roll) is more cost effective than Provia 400x ($10-$14 per roll). There are occasions where I would prefer to shoot higher speed films, but the draw back with any film camera is, once the film is loaded there is not much wiggle room to change film speed.

Enter the M9. The setting with the highest dynamic range and color saturation is 160 ISO. This is familiar to my brain and helps me estimate exposure when I need to set up for a shot without using the cameras meter. I tried using the “A” setting for a while on the M9, but I just don’t like the metering lock enough to use the feature. Using the shutter manually is just my preference. It does not mean you should do it too. Use whatever system works best for you.

The flexibility of adjusting the ISO is a relief. It has allowed me to to take sharp pictures in darker situations with a greater depth of field. Unlike the popular trend of shooting everything wide open, I enjoy the challenge of creating a picture that utilizes more of the scene. Being able to bump up from ISO 160 to 640 with a quick flick of the adjustment wheel is a welcomed feature. Even at 1250 the images are surprisingly good. Initially I was skeptical and thought, I will shoot the M9 just like the M6. But by trying to aspire to the greatest saturation, I realized that I was missing pictures. Now its more fun to run wild with the ISO.

Notice the magenta around the edge of the image. In Black and White, the cast is less of an issue, but in color it requires some serious correction to eliminate the cast.

Ultra Wides

Some people have asked me, has the M9 rendered the M6 obsolete? By solving the full frame rangefinder dilemma while maintaining Leica’s tradition, why didn’t I sell the M6? Now this can be a difficult conversation to have with someone who has never shot film. Without explaining that film images look different than digital and that the experience of shooting a film camera does not compare to shooting in digital, there is still one area where the M9 cannot compete with the M6, Ultra Wides. The Voigtlander 15mm is not my everyday lens, but when I need it, nothing else does the job.

Because of the close distance between the back of the 15mm lens and the M9 sensor, the peripheral light rays to not make proper contact with the sensor. To explain why that would occur, I will let Erwin Puts explain it. He is much more qualified than me. But, the results of a rear element being too close to the sensor means that the corners of the image go magenta, REALLY magenta. It can be corrected in post production, but it is strong enough to keep me from using the 15mm on the M9 with any frequency. Ultra Wide lenses like the Voigtlander 12mm and 15mm Heliars perform much better on film cameras. Since the 15mm requires and external finder, I leave the M6 set up for wide angle, while I rotate my 28mm and 50mm lenses on the M9.

Conclusion

For those of us who are used to shooting film, the transition to an M9 is easy. It looks and behaves like a film camera with a few bonus buttons. Picking up an M6 after weeks of shooting the M9, is not too shocking. Leica pulled off a remarkable feat, by making a new digital camera that retained almost everything their photographers have enjoyed since the 1920’s. That doesn’t mean its a flawless camera and there are not improvements that could be made.

Like most Leica cameras, it comes with its eccentricities. It will not convert millions of Canon and Nikon users and is by no means the “Best Camera Ever.” That, aside from being a profoundly inaccurate statement, implies a hierarchy that does not actually exist in photography. All cameras, in every format and at every price point, come with their pluses and minuses. For me, Adam Marelli, at this moment in time, it IS the best camera ever. Will this change? Sure, but in the mean time, it is doing its job supremely well. Thank you Leica.

BTW, the M9 is currently available from DALE PHOTO, Ken Hansen and B&H Photo! My most trusted sources for Leica gear!

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Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter or facebook! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HEREand read these posts in your browser or news reader!
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Nov 072010
 

ROCHESTER, N.Y., November 2, 2010 – Eastman Kodak Company (NYSE:EK) has set a new benchmark for high-resolution image capture with announcement of the KODAK KAI-29050 Image Sensor, the highest resolution CCD image sensor based on Interline Transfer technology.

With 29 million pixels, the KODAK KAI-29050 Image Sensor provides the critical level of detail required in demanding applied imaging applications such as industrial inspection, aerial photography, and security. Based on Interline Transfer CCD technology, the device combines exceptional image quality with a true electronic (or “global“) shutter – allowing high-quality image capture without the need for a mechanical shutter.

The KAI-29050 is the latest product to be based on the KODAK TRUESENSE 5.5-Micron Interline Transfer CCD Platform, an advanced technology that provides significant advances in pixel size, frame rate, and image quality. The entire family of products – ranging in resolution from 1 to 29 megapixels, and in 17 different resolution and color combinations – can be supported from a single set of electronics, simplifying camera design for manufacturers and shortening time-to-market for new camera products. The KAI-29050, as well as Kodak’s entire portfolio of Image Sensor products, will be on display at the Vision 2010 Trade Show, which opens Nov. 9 in Stuttgart, Germany.

“Camera manufacturers have responded very favorably to the ‘plug-and-play’ design of our 5.5-micron pixel product family, and have encouraged us to continue extending this platform to additional formats to allow them to serve an even broader set of customers,“ said Chris McNiffe, general manager of Kodak’s Image Sensor Solutions group. “Our new 29-megapixel image sensor nearly quadruples the resolution available in this product family, and brings the wide-ranging features of this platform to applications that require the highest level of image detail. With a portfolio that spans from 1 to 29 million pixels, customers now have great flexibility in selecting the best image sensor for their application without the need to sacrifice image quality or performance.“

The 29-megapixel KODAK KAI-29050 Image Sensor sets a new benchmark for high-resolution, low noise image capture for applied imaging markets. Designed in a 35mm optical format and supporting frame rates of up to four images per second, the new device shares the progressive-scan readout, broad dynamic range and excellent smear rejection available from other members of the KODAK TRUESENSE 5.5-Micron Interline Transfer CCD product family. Like other members of the 5.5-micron pixel portfolio, the image sensor is housed in a Pin Grid Array (PGA) package that shares pin-out and electrical definitions with the entire family of products, including the use of one package pin that can be used to identify the specific sensor being used. Lower resolution members of the portfolio, including the 1-megapixel KODAK KAI-01050 and 2-megapixel KODAK KAI-02050 Image Sensors, are also now available in a common Ceramic Leadless Chip Carrier (CLCC) package that enables development of more compact camera designs without sacrificing imaging performance.

This high degree of portfolio integration – based on the use of a common, high-performance pixel as well a shared package design – allows manufacturers to develop a single set of “plug-and-play“ camera electronics that can be used with all members of the image sensor family, simplifying camera development and shortening time to market for a full suite of cameras.

The KAI-29050 joins two other products – the 720p format KODAK KAI-01150 Image Sensor and the 1080p format KODAK KAI-02150 Image Sensor – as the first devices to use the KODAK TRUESENSE Color Filter Pattern. This advanced technology provides a 2x to 4x increase in light sensitivity compared to a standard Bayer color sensor by adding panchromatic (or “clear“) pixels to the standard red, green, and blue elements that form the image sensor array. By offering full color image capture with the light sensitivity normally associated with a monochrome camera, this technology provides a critical performance advantage for light starved applications that require access to color detail. All three devices are also available in standard Bayer color and monochrome configurations.

The KODAK KAI-29050 Image Sensor is sampling today in limited quantities, with production scheduled for mid-2011. The KODAK KAI-01050 and KAI-02050 Image Sensors are available today in PGA packages, with CLCC packages scheduled to be available Q1, 2011. Engineering Grade devices of the KODAK KAI-01150 Image Sensor are available today in both PGA and CLCC packages, with Standard Grade devices scheduled to be available Q1, 2011. The KODAK KAI-02150 Image Sensor is available today in both PGA and CLCC packages.

Nov 052010
 

I love gear. I love the feel of opening up a box and taking out a brand new camera for the first time. I love the click of a soft shutter and the zip sound of the rewind lever. I love opening up an old camera and seeing how the parts move. I love seeing how my picture looks on the back of a camera’s gorgeous LCD screen. I use to love camera rumors. I use to love bashing other cameras on forums. I used to love converting others to my camera of choice. I use to spend countless hours reading like-minded posts. I’ve spent lots of money on various review sites.

Then my son was born.

I started to see the world through his eyes. Not everything was tact sharp. Not everything was color perfect. Not everything was in focus. The only thing he needed was love. I want my son to look back and see his pictures through my eyes. I don’t need him to see how film like the files look. I don’t need him to see the magic of ISO12,000. I don’t need him to see the difference between Fuji Pro 400H and Kodak Portra 400. I just want him to see my love for him through my love of photography.

John Fong

Canon S95

Contax G2

Leica D-Lux 4

Leica M8

Olympus Stylus Epic

Nov 042010
 

B&H Photo has just released some refurb Zeiss glass in the ZM mount (for your Leica M mount). They even have my fave, the 50 Sonnar. Here is what is available and the direct links to each lens!

The Zeiss Super Wide 18mm f/4 DistagonClick here to check stock and price!

The Zeiss 21MM 2.8 BiogonClick here to check stock and price!

The Zeiss ZM 28 2.8 Biogon - Click here to check stock and price!

The Zeiss ZM 50 1.5 SonnarClick here to check stock and price!

Nov 032010
 

Hey guys! Here is a guest article I decided to publish even though it is a bit hard on my favorite camera ever, the M9 AND I do not agree with what the author has said here or shown.

Not everyone may agree with what everything David says here but maybe it can fuel some discussion? This is one mans view (David Babsky) of the “Leica Rangefinder Philosophy” – Enjoy :)

Don’t forget you can now discuss all things Leica in the new Leica forum here on the site :) Steve


Dear Steve,

I’ve been reading your photo blog for many months – and sent a donation, too! – but I just can’t see what’s so wonderful about the ancient Portugese-built M9 ..’ancient’ because it’s a 1950s-era camera with a 2009 Kodak sensor inside. Incredibly, its 1954 grandfather, the M3, is actually smaller and quieter, despite being built purely of mechanical cogs and spring-driven clockwork.

Here’s my take on the (my) Leica M9 ..with a few accompanying photos..

‘Leica Rangefinder Philosophy’ by David Babsky

Image A

I’ve now had my Leica M9 for just over a year, and it’s been my most miserable year of photography ever.

Image B

Looking back through my photo library (..the pics on my Mac..) I realise what wonderful, joyous shots I’d had from a huge variety of cameras (..though I haven’t yet digitised my zillion rolls of film..) and they all gave me so much pleasure and gave me the shots I wanted ..compared with this farce of an interchangeable-lens rangefinder.

Image C

Leicas were extremely capable – but very expensive – pocket cameras when they were first made in the 1920s. A pocketable – yes, pocketable! – camera which, by the 1930s, offered easily-interchangeable lenses, too.

Image D

With one lens on the camera and another two in your pocket – if you could afford them – you could go anywhere and shoot anything! ..Unobtrusively, surreptitiously, or just plain conveniently.

Image E

30 years after the original Leica, the camera was completely updated in 1954: the M series was born. These were heavier and bulkier, but with the improvement of a lever to wind the film, a short-twist bayonet connection for attaching lenses, three different viewfinder lines for three different lenses (automatically selected when you attached the relevant lens) with those ‘finder lines sliding down and to the right as you focused closer, to avoid chopping off heads at short distances ..the closest you could focus was a metre: three feet ..A single dial for all shutter speeds, an (optional) coupled light meter to set the right shutter speed as you took a light reading, simple and easy flash synchronisation – for both long-burn flash bulbs and for short-burn electronic flash.

Image F

So after another 30 years, in 1984, the M was due for an upgrade: a zooming ‘finder for zoom lenses, and an extra peg or cam in those lenses to activate the finder’s zoom. Single-lens reflex cameras had overtaken rangefinders in the ‘60s, and zooms had really arrived by the ‘70s, so a camera which still couldn’t accommodate a zoom was way behind the times in the ‘80s. Leitz recognised this, and offered their big, heavy, slow, cumbersome R series reflex cameras with zooms ..but who wanted a massive, heavy R when an Olympus OM-2 single-lens reflex was about two-thirds the size and weight, with a brighter viewfinder, and with very crisp lenses from 8mm to 1000mm? Leica finally put the R series out of its misery late last year.

Image G

I’d never seen the point of a Leica M – or CL, or Minolta CLE – rangefinder: you’re restricted to a maximum 135mm lens (though my Komura 200mm works fairly well) because the 10:1 lens-to-rangefinder gearing is imprecise beyond that. You have to carry a whole pocketful of different lenses – which Leica’s marketing never mentions – to get the shots you want ..otherwise, with just a single lens on the camera, you’re simply carrying a hugely expensive ‘point-&-shoot’ – like the ridiculous new Leica X1, but costing even more. And with the price of Leica lenses around $2000-$4000 each new, don’t fumble and drop that glass while you swap them ..by which time, of course, the shot you wanted went. With just a single 50mm or 35mm lens on the front, many Leica M photographers justify that restricted non-zoom capability of the M by invoking the “street photography” pseudo-genre: grabbing pointless shots of nearby strangers, as if those reveal views of humanity we’d never seen before. But all that was done so very much more interestingly by the people who did it first back in the ‘30s and ‘40s, seventy or eighty years ago.

Image H

Henri Cartier-Bresson sold his Leica “street photographs” to the emerging pictorial magazines. He got paid commissions to go and report back from the streets of other countries. Those photos were novel and intriguing sixty years ago. Today? Today’s “street photographs” are just uninventive onanism resulting from the lack of choice of view ..a choice of view which any zoom-fitted SLR, or zoom compact, provides for just a fraction of the cost of a one-lens-at-a-time Leica.

Image I

It’s all so very silly: the Leica M is a dinosaur. Would you buy a new car with 56-year-old 1950s-style shoe brakes, 56-year-old leaf suspension, or 56-year-old non-powered steering? No. Yet people queue up to buy an M9 with its 56-year-old restrictive focusing system, no zooming to frame your picture how you want it (except for the quirky less-than-1.5x Leica 16mm-21mm zoom), no close-ups, no facility for long lenses (except by using mediaeval Visoflex paraphernalia), slow-as-a-glacier picture review, poor-quality daylight & auto white balance, so-called centre-weighted (but no spot) easily-fooled metering (when the camera’s held vertically), all for what? ..For the reason that people buy a Breitling: it doesn’t tell the time any better than a $5.99 watch, but it looks good on your wrist ..to simple souls who are impressed by that kind of extravagance.

Image J

I didn’t buy my M9 – well, only a third of it: my beloved bought me an M8.2, which was such a disgrace that I sent it straight back to the shop. You couldn’t shoot indoors, the lenses were all wrong ..and that was a Leica? Made by the firm – we-ell, supposedly the same company – which brought us the definitive 1-inch by 1-and-a-half-inch 35mm film format? The M8 and 8.2 were like a Rolls-Royce with square wheels: when enough people complained, the makers said “sorry, we’ll give you two free circular wheels, if that’s any help” ..two free infra-red filters. My fluffy bedside brown toy dog came out PURPLE ..as did any unpredictable number of black or brown formal suits and so many other objects. This was a Leica? This was expensive rubbish, and the company should have been reported to Trading Standards. (From Steve: I DISAGREE with this statement as I LOVE the M8.2, GREAT camera that is highly capable of GREAT results in the right hands)

Image K

When I sent back my month-old 8.2, Meister-Camera offered a derisory 1600 Euros for it. I sold it on eBay instead, and coughed up the difference for a brand-new eBay M9 ..at least this was a proper working camera, with a 50mm lens behaving as a 50mm lens. (I’d bought myself a 2nd-hand Epson/Cosina R-D1 the year before; that ‘retro’ mechanical/digital APS-sensor device which shoots with Leica-bayonet lenses at 1.5x their nominal focal length, so a 50mm becomes a 75mm, not a weird in-between 66mm as on an M8.) When my (cheap, new) M9 arrived I now had a full-35mm-frame digital Leica-lens camera, which would finally deliver accurate colours, indoors under tungsten light, without turning anything black into purple.

Image L

Its pictures are great: they should be at Leica prices, no? My collection of 2nd or 3rd hand) lenses deliver sharp, colourful results, but there’s still that nuisance of having to carry several, and needing to change them for each situation (my pocket Panny/Leica TZ10/V-Lux-20 with its Leica-brand lens zooms from the equivalent of 25mm to 300mm to cover any and every situation, offers up to 1600 ISO, shoots close-ups, has image-stabilisation, spot-metering too. And, of course, it also shoots high-definition video ..I could buy more than *ten* of those for the price of one M9 body; and is my M9 ten times ‘better’? ..of course not).

Image M

Would I recommend an M9? ..to anyone happy to stand in the street burning 500 Euro notes. For anyone else wanting a retro rangefinder (..but why?..) I’d suggest a used R-D1. (You can fit that wonderfully sharp Leica close-focus Dual-Range 50mm on the R-D1 to shoot from half-a-metre to infinity ..but on the M9 it won’t focus further away than 4 metres because – what were they thinking?! – the lens’ lower focusing cam bangs against the M9′s internal light-meter housing. And on the M8 and 8.2 it focuses to only 2 metres away!)

Image N

Now that I’ve had, this last year, an M9, I do – sometimes – use it: mainly with the 16mm-21mm Leica zoom for shots in confined spaces and room interiors. I like wide shots, so I bought a 24mm f1.4 (mainly to use with what had been my father-in-law’s 1954 M3) for shallow depth-of-field at wide angles. I sometimes use a 135mm f4, and I bought a 135mm f2.8, but that’s a massive, heavy thing to trundle around ..and hardly in keeping with the original Leica philosophy – now apparently abandoned – which was to make a small, *pocketable*, lightweight all-purpose camera.

Image O

All these accompanying photos could have been taken with ANY camera which had the right lens on it. The make or brand of camera is immaterial, as long as it gives the focal length you want when you want it, offers appropriate apertures and ISO, and shoots the instant you squeeze your finger with no delay. Which of these pictures was shot with a Leica, and which with what lens? Is there any definable “Leica look” to any of these? (..no..) and what possible difference does it make WHICH camera or lens was used to take a picture as long as you get the shot you want? D’you check whether your local cinema uses an Isco lens or a Bausch & Lomb to show its films? D’you boycott a movie if the cinematographer used a Panavision instead of a Zeiss, or a Mitchell camera instead of an Arri? Who cares what camera was used to shoot ‘Casablanca’ or ‘Blade Runner’? What camera and lens were used on your favourite TV show – Sony, Ikegami, JVC or Canon?

Image P

I’ve spent a year hunting for the right selection of lenses for my M9, and rationalising ownership of this hugely limiting and slow-as-an-ox dodo, trying to decide which (minimum number of) lenses to carry and how to haul them around ..when all I need is a little lightweight camera with one great zoom to frame and shoot anything! As Dorothy Parker, supposedly, once said: “Me no Leica”.

Image Q

Test your skill – or guesswork.. can you tell which camera and lens was used for each shot? ..but don’t cheat. Answers below.

Image R

All these comments so far have been ‘cons’; items counting against the M9. Do I have any ‘pros’? Here are half a dozen to counterbalance – just – all my arguments against the M9..

(1) 18 megapixel sensor. This means that with Leitz/Leica super-sharp lenses any picture may be ‘cropped’ (..have unwanted area cut out..) still leaving a sharp multi-megapixel picture. So you can shoot with, say, a 24mm lens, and later – if you want – crop shots to the view you’d have seen with a 50mm lens, and still have sharp results. Crop, too, 135mm pictures to a 200mm view, for example. That way, you can carry (..and buy, and use..) only half as many lenses as you’d otherwise need. You can’t trim away much when you use the cheaper 6 megapixel Epson/Cosina R-D1 rangefinder – or other fewer-megapixel cameras – because the results would have many fewer pixels remaining after cropping, and so have correspondingly lower resolution.

(2) Leitz/Leica lenses. Many recent Leica lenses out-resolve the M9‘s 18 megapixel sensor (..though Canon’s wonderful autofocus 85mm F1.2 is hard to beat!..) and they’re far sharper, and with fewer aberrations, than many zooms. This doesn’t matter much if you frame your photos exactly how you want them before shooting. But if you want to crop (trim) pictures afterwards – see above – you’d probably want the sharpest possible images to begin with. But I find that autofocus cameras will focus far faster than I can with manual lenses. There is no point in having the sharpest possible Leica lenses, with deliciously shallow depth-of-field, if what I wanted to shoot has gone before I can get it into focus.

(3) Sorry: no more ‘pros’ for an M9 come to mind. But for 21 megapixels in a full-frame 35mm sensor ..and for terrific, but bulkier than M9, interchangeable-lens versatility.. a Canon 5D MkII is hard to beat – at half the price of an M9 (see a recent LFI magazine for a good comparison). For wonderful 12 megapixel pictures and a built-in (no dust on the sensor) 25mm-300mm (equivalent) Leica-brand lens, the pocket-sized Panasonic TZ10 compact – also branded as a Leica V-Lux 20 – is second to none. The new 14 megapixel Leica V-Lux 2 (same as the Panasonic FZ100) with a 25mm-600mm (equivalent) zoom, that’s smaller than a full-size interchangeable-lens SLR, really is the ultimate in versatility if you think you’ll want a longer-than-300mm lens. If none of those looks ‘exclusive’ or ‘distinguished’ enough, just slash your own stripe of coloured paint (or a band of chrome or titanium metallic lustre) across any of those bodies. It won’t make any difference to the photos, of course, but it may make you feel better about having a camera that’s different from everyone else’s! (Don’t worry about wrecking its resale value: digital cameras have next to no resale value.)

Image S

Camera and lens used for each of the above photos by David Babsky

a: Canon 300D and Tamron 18-270 zoom

b: Leica IIIf and Canon screwfit 85mm at f/1.8, Kodacolor 200

c: Leica M9 and Leica 24mm at f/1.4

d: Leica M3 and Konica Hexanon 50mm at f/1.2, Ilford Delta ISO 3200

e: Leica M3 and Komura 200mm at f/22

f: Leica M9 and Komura 200mm at f/8

g: Panasonic TZ10 compact

h: Canon 300D and Canon 85mm at f/1.2

i: Leica M9 and Komura 200mm at f/8

j: Panasonic TZ10 compact

k: Panasonic TZ10 compact

l: Panasonic TZ10 compact

m: Leica M3 and Konica Hexanon 50mm at f/1.2

n: Leica M3 and Komura 200mm at f/22

o: Sony Cybershot compact

p: Sony Cybershot compact

q: Leica M9 and Leica 16-21mm zoom at f/4, ISO 2500

r: Leica M3 and Leica 24mm at f/4

s: Leica M3 and Leica 24mm at f/8, Kodak 400MAX at ISO 400

David Babsky was, many years ago, Technical Editor of the UK’s best-selling ‘Practical Photography’ magazine. Years later he bought, and ran, his own 3-screen cinema. Now he teaches photography, mainly in Greece and Thailand.

From Steve - If you want to read a great little review of the Leica M8 besides my own, here is one to check out which explains why so many love the digital M’s :) Also, here is a thread in the forums that seemed to spawn from this article…check it out!


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