Mar 282015
 

A Small Pit Bull with Balloons, an A7II User Report

By Brandon Labbe

 sonya7ii-1-1024x682

Much like Godzilla in the 2014 movie “Godzilla,” I recently strolled through the streets of downtown San Francisco. Unlike Mr. Zilla, however, instead of being met with giant moth creatures that blew blue fire, I was met with dragons. Yes, you read that right, dragons! Monstrous creatures that breathe fire and eat every person they come across; at least, that is how one would describe wild dragons. Amazingly, unlike their wild counterparts, the dragons of San Francisco are very well-trained, as they simply stood in place waiting their turn to delight the crowds gathered for the Chinese New Year parade that San Francisco hosts every year a full two weeks after the actual lunar new year day passed, which is like seeing New Year fireworks on the 14th or celebrating St Patrick’s Day on Easter, and trust me, you do not want to celebrate St Patrick’s Day on Easter.

Heavy drinking and easter egg hunts are not a good combination. Of course, when one comes upon a dragon in the middle of one of the most densely populated cities in America, the logical course of action is not to grab your children and run, but instead to take out your A7II and take a picture. I know, we San Franciscans are a strange bunch, but I’d like to think that’s what most people would do if they saw a dragon, as opposed to follow Harry Potter’s lead and jump on its back, but enough dragon jokes, on with the A7II!

If the A7II were an animal, it’d be a lion, because it’s the king of cameras. Unlike a lion, however, it takes amazing pictures and instead of eating zebras it eats batteries. I know what you’re thinking, “please, no more animal jokes!” but this comparison is actually Sony-approved, because I’ve seen ads for the A7 series with a roaring lion behind the cameras, and I must say, an advertisement must be amazing to make someone describe it in detail in a camera review. Sony’s got some geniuses in their ad department. In all seriousness, yes, it eats batteries, in that I used to only need one where as now I need a second one in my pocket if I want the camera to be on all day. You see, I was expecting a horrific battery life based on reviews I’d read of the other A7 models, so the first thing I did with my II, straight out of the box, was put it in airplane mode, and two batteries lasts me an entire day. Battery life aside (and, again, even that isn’t bad), there is absolutely nothing wrong with this camera. Now, it’s not a perfect camera, because, as experts have echoed a thousand times, there is no perfect camera, but I believe you can only get so close to perfection. Can I drop the II out of a plane and expect to recover it without a scratch? Of course not, because whoever was passing by when it fell would snatch it up in an instant because it’s a perfect camera!

I’m not one who is well-versed in camera lingo, I just know a good camera when I see and use it. I could say it’s got a good build, a good sensor, weather sealing, nice grip. Hell, it can probably do your taxes for you. I didn’t really notice these things, though, because they just worked well. When something works well, you don’t really notice. That might seem like an odd statement, but to try to let you see it from my perspective, think of it like this: in movies, you know immediately when someone’s a bad actor because they make certain mistakes or are just all-around unconvincing. However when someone’s a good or even great actor, you almost don’t notice because you’re so subconsciously convinced by their performance that you forget they’re acting. If that was confusing, let me put it this way: you know when a camera is bad because you have a lot of complaints over it. However, if a camera is perfect or near perfect, you don’t really notice. It just works the way you want it to. It complements your style, it doesn’t get in the way when you’re not using it, it doesn’t disturb your or anyone’s experience with a loud shutter at a quiet moment. It doesn’t freeze, crash, miss autofocus, explode in your hand, etc. It really is easier to say what a camera doesn’t do than what it does. That doesn’t just apply to cameras, but anything. If something works well, you don’t really notice. It’s only when something doesn’t work the way it should that you notice. To apply this way of thinking to the II and other cameras and technology in general that I’ve owned, the II is the only thing I’ve never felt the desire to throw against a wall. Though that may seem like a silly thing to say, I assure you that is extremely high praise.

The thing about the body that did stand out, however, was the viewfinder. Though I don’t use the viewfinder to take pictures (see my reason here: http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2015/03/11/what-i-learned-from-trading-a-dslr-for-a-phone-by-brandon-labbe/), I find it incredible. Looking through your pictures with your eye to the viewfinder is like seeing your pictures in 3-d. Have you ever looked through a stereoscope (one of those old-timey 3-d viewers where you have a card with the same image printed twice and you look through the viewer and it looks 3-dimensional)? The viewfinder is like that, but in color and high-quality, and even though I don’t use it to take pictures, I look through pictures with it because it is just a phenomenal viewer. I wish it were detachable so I could plug it into my computer and view all my photos with it because it is just so incredible.

Then there’s the iso. The beautiful, amazing, incredible iso. 10000! Ten-freaking-thousand, and I still got a pic that I could print as large as I’d like. How many cameras can you say that about? And if you can’t tell which one of these I took at 10000, that just proves my point. Okay, I’ll just tell you because it actually looks cleaner than some pictures. It’s the photo of the with the clock tower in the distance.
For a review of the lens, the Zeiss 35/2.8, which may as well be welded to my II, I could sum up my feelings for it by comparing the pictures I take with it to balloons. They’re all colorful and pretty, but when the lens is especially sharp, the pictures pop. Just look at the pictures above to see what I mean.

Also, compared to other cameras I’ve used, pictures I’ve taken with this camera, not all, but some, seem to glow. I think this is a combination of the lens and sensor. I’m sure this sounds like a very amateurish observation, but it’s true. With the right light and shadows, some pictures seem to glow. I like the look so much, I try to find the right conditions to get that glowing effect in as many pictures as I can. I don’t have a very good example of this effect from the parade, but I’ve run into the effect several times in daily shooting around the neighborhood when the sun is just right. I don’t think I’m explaining myself well enough. When I say they glow, I don’t mean some of the pictures look smudged or that blown out highlights somehow look pleasing. What I mean is the way light is reflected and dissipates into shadows is like nothing I’ve ever seen in any camera I’ve used before. Perhaps this is just a full-frame thing – a light sensitivity that smaller sensors couldn’t hope to achieve, but I think there’s more to it than that. I think there’s something really special here, in the II, or maybe even the whole A7 series; something you can’t just be told about, but you have to experience for yourself.

The one flaw that I found was, as good as the auto white balance is in the day, at night it seems to favor a blue tint. This isn’t noticeable a lot of times, because night is rather blue anyway, but, looking back through photos now, and even at the parade itself, I noticed that the live view display and the resulting picture looked noticeably more blue than the scene before me. No great fault if you shoot in raw, but if you shoot in jpeg, I’d recommend going manual on white balance at night, or at least, only if it’s noticeable, because it only happened to me twice.

If you’re curious as to what settings I use, I have it in manual mode, and that includes iso. 95% of pictures are with autofocus, and the autofocus might miss only once in 200 photos, and even when it does, I don’t complain because the photo still looks good. I’ve heard some people have had a bigger problem with autofocus, that it ‘hunts’ sometimes, especially at night. I constantly have the lens in center focus mode so the lens always knows what I want it to focus on  I have the lens at a constant /5.6 because that’s the lens’ sharpest aperture. I only go wider at night or in close-ups.

Another thing I love about the II is how unassuming it is. I was surrounded by guys with fat dslrs and lenses thicker than my arm, and I actually enjoyed the condescending looks they were giving me, as if I brought a chihuahua to a pit bull fight. If only they knew.

To recap: my II is a pit bull the size of a chihuahua, and my pictures are balloons. I think that sums up the A7II/Zeiss 35 combo very well, a small pit bull with balloons.

Also I should note that the parade isn’t this unorganized. Most of the pics were taken before the parade actually started.

unnamed

unnamed-1

unnamed-2

unnamed-3

unnamed-4

unnamed-5

unnamed-6

unnamed-7

unnamed-8

unnamed-9

Mar 272015
 

cam3voigt

Add-on Review of the Voigtlander Heliar 40mm f/2.8 on the Sony A7II

by Brad Husick

Recently Steve Huff wrote an extensive review of the Voigtlander Heliar 40mm f/2.8 on the Sony A7S.  Rather than repeat his conclusions, with which I agree, my intent here is to add on to his review by shooting the lens on the Sony A7II.

The photos here were taken at ISO 100, RAW, auto-exposure. The lens does not communicate aperture to the camera. They were opened in Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1 with Camera Raw 8.8. No adjustments were made in Lightroom. In the first series across the lake, the images were shot at f/2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11,16, 22. In all the subsequent series the images were captured at f/2.8, 5.6, 11, 22. In each case you first see the entire frame at f/2.8 followed by 100% crops.

The lens displays some interesting characteristics. There is vignetting when wide open at f/2.8 but not severe. The camera chooses an exposure for f/2.8 that is different from all the stopped down exposures and you can see this in the crops. I did not adjust for this in Lightroom so that you could see the effect.

cam1voigt

Also when wide open the focus plane is not uniform across the image when focused on infinity. There are some areas in focus and some out of focus as you travel across the image from left to right. This variation settles down as you stop down the lens, nearly disappearing by the time you get to f/8. This behavior is far less obvious when focusing on closer subjects.

By the time you stop down to the lens’ limit of f/22 you have passed the diffraction limit of the sensor. Without going into gory technical detail, the final image degrades at f/22 so you’re better off limiting yourself to f/16 or so. The lens does not have click stops in the aperture ring, so you can stop anywhere you like. It does have a tendency to move rather freely, so check each time when shooting.

Overall the lens produces lovely images and is about as compact as a lens could possibly be. Build quality is superb and typical for Voigtlander. The nickel finish adds a nice retro look to the camera. I shot all of these images in overcast / light rain conditions with the small built-in hood rather than the longer metal hood and lens cap provided with the lens. My objective was to keep the package as small as possible since that’s one of the key selling features of this lens. If you own the Voigtlander VM-E Close Focus Adapter for the Sony E mount (which you really should own as it is superb) then adding the Voigtlander Heliar 40mm f/2.8 lens should be a natural addition for your setup. You can almost stick the Sony A7II with the collapsed Heliar in a jacket pocket. Note: the lens REQUIRES the aforementioned adapter to enable focusing and it will not function properly without such an adapter.

Thank you to Stephen Gandy of CameraQuest.com for instantly loaning me the lens for review. He’s the best source for Voigtlander and always provides the best customer service. Shop there with confidence. 

The case in the photos is the Angelo Pelle leather half case for the A7II.

ALL IMAGES BELOW should be CLICKED on to see them the right way. Details are on the photos upper left text

SET 1

01

02

03

04

05

06

07

08

-

SET 2

09

10

09

11

12

13

-

SET 3

14

15

16

17

18

-

SET 4

20

21

22

23

24

-

SET 5

25

26

27

28

29

-

SET 6

30

31

32

33

34

Mar 262015
 

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

USER REPORT: The New Sony 28 f/2 on the Sony A7S and A7II…BAM!

by Chad Wadsworth – his website is HERE!

Last week the FedEx guy delivered a box on loan from Sony containing a couple of much-anticipated new FE primes. The 35/1.4 is as good as Steve reported – a near perfect balance of center resolution and bokeh – but what about the little FE 28/2?

61om6hVbFkL._SL1200_

I’m a big fan of the 28mm fov and have owned a few highly regarded lenses (C/Y Zeiss 28/2.8, Zeiss 28/2.8 G, M-Rokkor 28/2.8 & Minolta AF 28/2) and film compacts (Minolta TC-1, Ricoh GR1), so there was a personal expectation for Sony to deliver a modern equivalent of the Minolta AF 28/2.

After a few days shooting and editing, a few things are clear: this little guy is shockingly sharp, renders out of focus transitions smoothly and transmits color with pop. With a price tag under $450, compact size and quick AF, there is little fault to find with. You will notice some minor distortion that should easily be handled by a PS or LR profile, but other than that…no complaints. (Pre-Order it Here at Amazon) – (Pre-order it HERE at B&H Photo)

Early web samples had some forum “experts” calling the bokeh nervous, but my results indicate a good amount of “cream” especially in the foreground. A 28mm is never going to draw the bokeh of a portrait lens but what this lens does produce is attractive to my taste. Samples here are from RAW and processed in LR – most are shot wide open. Stopping down quickly improves the corners but even at f/2 the subject sharpness is just amazing. (From Steve: I also have this lens now and it is just as Chad Describes..a MUST OWN for any A7 series shooter)

With this kind of price/performance level, I hope users reward the FE 28mm with big sales and Sony takes note of the demand for compact, high quality f/2 lenses at reasonable price points. Up to now, I’ve held onto my Minolta AF 28/2, waiting to see if this new FE 28/2 could replace it – I think it is time to let it go…

click images for larger and much better and sharper view!

1st FOUR were shot on the A7II, rest were A7s

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Mick Jenkins - Lifestyle

Venue

Mick Jenkins - Lifestyle

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Infiniti Showcar Run - Austin, TX

Mar 242015
 

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

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

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

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

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

35CRONCOLOR

LOXIACOLOR

-

LEICAM35CRONF2

ZEISSA7II

-

LEICAGREENS

ZEISSGREENS

Mar 232015
 

California Wildflowers

By James Fowler

Dear Steve and Brandon, I have been a daily reader of your blogs for over a year now, and value highly your insights and reviews.  I have followed your advice on replacing film equipment with mirror-less, especially Sony A7 R and A7II, which I use with an assortment of older macro lenses and extension tubes.  I am sending a few macros of spring wildflowers from Marin County near San Francisco;  it is getting to be the height of an early spring.

With all of these photos, I have used a Sony A7II with and adapted Canon 85mm MP-E macro lens that magnifies from 1X to 5X life-size.  These were taken at about 2X to 3X.  I set the mode to Aperture priority and used f:8 to f:11 at ISO 400 in thinly veiled sunlight at midafternoon to get directional lighting for shadows and dimensional popping.

The first is a Checker Bloom, a common meadow flower, at about 2x magnification in camera. f:11, 1/320 sec. ISO 400

unnamed

The second is a flower head with small florets, from a common Plantain, a weed lawn lovers love to hate.  They’ve gone wild in California.  f:4  1/1250 sec.  ISO400 4x magnification.

unnamed-1

The third is a California Poppy looking down at the anthers.  2x magnification, f:8 at 1/320 sec.  ISO 400

unnamed-2

Next is a common meadow flower, a Coastal Sun Cup.  2x – 3x magnification, f:11, 1/320 sec.  ISO 400

unnamed-3

Last, #5, is the Coastal Sun Cup with shadows cast by the anther and pistil. f:11, 1/320 sec. ISO 400 3x magnification.

unnamed-4

I have been using the A7II since January, and find it easier to use than the A7R, which I have had for a year, mainly because of the quieter shutter and the stabilization. I am getting a better percentage of stable motion-free shots, which enables me to use f:11 or even f:16 with macro, at ISO 400. I am not getting any noise to speak of at ISO 400. I am also having great results with a new Zeiss Makro-Planar 100mm f:2 ZF.2 which I have just received.

I would like to express my appreciation to Steve and Brandon for giving all of us an opportunity to show some of our work. Cheers!

Some Web links: http://www.digitalrev.com/jmfowler4 https://www.flickr.com/photos/james_iv/ https://500px.com/jmfowler4

Best wishes, Jim Fowler

Mar 232015
 

24-240 bh

Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 Lens First Look

by Brad Husick

Yesterday I received the new Sony 24-240mm super zoom lens for full frame Sony FE mount cameras. I had a chance to shoot some ultimate frisbee with it and I thought I’d share my first impressions.

I have been a professional sports photographer for the NLL (National Lacrosse League) and for that I generally have used the big gear – Canon EOS and Nikon D3 and D4 cameras and lenses. In the low light of indoor sports I need the speed and precision of these monster camera systems to give me reliable results.

For this first taste I shot outdoors in relatively good late evening light. I was anywhere from 5 yards to 50 yards from my subjects, shooting on a Sony A7II using auto ISO limited to 3200. This was my first chance to try the A7II for sports.

20150321-_DSC0249

20150321-_DSC0230

20150321-_DSC0236

20150321-_DSC0219

The incredible reach of this lens at 240mm made the job easier. It’s quite long when extended to the maximum zoom, but not particularly heavy or unbalanced on the camera. I did not feel the need to shoot on a monopod, which is my typical setup for sports. The combined weight of the camera and lens were more than manageable for the 60 minute game. This would not be true of my Nikon D4 and 70-200 lens.

I also found the wide-angle end of the lens useful when the action came close to me on the sidelines. If I had my 70-200 mounted I would have missed some of this action.

20150321-_DSC0222

20150321-_DSC0108

Overall I can say I am pleasantly surprised with the optical quality of the lens. I don’t see any major flaws at either end of the range. I do wish it could be a little faster than f/3.5-6.3 – a constant f/4 would be nice, but I am sure we’d be looking at a much larger lens in that case. It’s a tradeoff I am willing to make here.

Build quality is excellent. The zoom throw is a bit stiff but it doesn’t creep when you hang the camera down at your hip. The hood is plastic but nicely finished and no so large that it gets in the way. I do wish all these lenses had real aperture rings, but leaving the camera on A mode wide open does the trick most of the time.

Image stabilization combined with the in-camera stabilization of the A7II is superb, perhaps the best I have used. I can’t measure the benefit in stops, but I’d say it’s very, very useful especially at the far end of this big zoom.

20150321-_DSC0103

20150321-_DSC0126

20150321-_DSC0134

Autofocus was an interesting combination of good and fair. The subject tracking capability of the camera was very good, locking on and not letting go despite players running in front of the subject. I was pleasantly surprised by this. On the not-so-good end, the lens wouldn’t always lock on to the intended subject immediately. I am quite spoiled by the performance of the Nikon D4 and its lenses and their ability to almost magically lock on to the subject. I didn’t expect the Sony to knock the Nikon out of first place for this application, but it was a reminder that there are certainly different tools for different jobs. I am not ready to replace the D4 when I am being paid for my sports work.

20150321-_DSC0158

20150321-_DSC0172

20150321-_DSC0208

20150321-_DSC0175

In summary, I think the combination of the 24-240 and the A7II is a great setup for parents and family to get the shots of their children they have wanted and missed in the past.

I look forward to getting more shooting time with this combo and learning the subtleties of this system.

You can order  the Sony 24-240 Lens at AMAZON or B&H Photo

Mar 212015
 

HANDS ON: The New Voigtlander 15 f/4.5 V3 VM lens – Quick 1st test vs the V2

Lens now available and in stock at CAMERAQUEST.COM

Just arrived! The all new Voigtlander 15 f/4.5 Version 3 Lens, in VM mount (Leica M Mount) and so far so good! As we all know, Version 1 and 2 had issues when used on a Leica M camera or the Sony A7 series as we would get colored magenta edges or massive vignetting. Voigtlander HAS indeed seemed to fix this issue in the new version of the 15 f/4.5 Lens. While the lens is a little larger, and a little more expensive at $750, it seems to perform MUCH better on the Sony A7II vs the old version of this lens.

oncamera

It actually JUST arrived to my house 20 minutes ago. First thing I did was take it out and do a quick side by side test. One shot with the new V3 lens and one shot with the older V2 lens. The new version has no colored edges or issues which means we finally have a usable 15mm wide-angle prime for our A7 and M cameras that will not break the bank!

Next week I will post real samples from this lens on the A7II, A7s and Leica M 240.

SIZE: New V3 on the right vs the older V2 on the left

sidebyside

sidebysidetop

For now, one quick sample – full size images shot on the A7II. This is a TEST shot, not a “photograph” that has any meaning.

The original seems to do OK on the A7II but with dark corners and edges. The new version clears that up. Looks good, so I can not wait to test this lens thoroughly on the A7II and Leica M 240. 

Right click each image and open in a new window for full size file

V3A7IIs

V2A7II

-

Two shots to show no issues at the edges on the A7II, AT ALL! 2nd shot is ISO 4000 with Zero NR – click for larger

a7IInew15

ayIInewtr

Mar 202015
 

Battle of the Champions. Part 2. The Leica 50 APO.

by Brad Husick 

See Part 1 HERE.

At the request of several readers, I have conducted some new tests using the Leica 50mm APO Summicron f/2 lens on three camera bodies: the Sony A7II using the Voigtlander VM-E Close Focus Adapter, the Leica M240 and the Leica Monochrom.

All these are shot RAW, wide open at f/2 and indoor shots are at ISO 1600, outdoor at ISO 200. All other camera settings were left on AUTO (WB, exposure, etc.)

The photos in this series are taken from the same positions in the same composition as the previous “Battle of the Image Champions” article, so I won’t include the full frames here again. These are all 100% crops and are labeled with the camera used. The indoor lighting matches the previous series. The outdoor conditions were overcast today, no wind.

The comparisons that include the Monochrom use a simple 100% desaturation in Lightroom rather than a more ideal black and white conversion that I would use if these were meant to be shown or printed for their artistic qualities. Again, these are not meant to highlight my skills as a photographer but rather to show the differences between cameras using the same high quality lens.

Enjoy and good shooting. -Brad

m4

mono-m240 lake

mono-sony lake

sony-m240 lake desat

m240 mono corner

sony-mono desat corner

m240-mono edge

sony-mono desat edge

-

m3

sony-m240 troll

sony-m240 troll desat
sony-mono troll

-

m6

sony-m240 palm

Mar 192015
 

TITLE

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

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

imagelens

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

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

DSC07075

DSC07115

The Size and Build

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

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

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

cam

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

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

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

DSC07102

steps

DSC07081

The Beauty of Zeiss mixed with the beauty of the A7II

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

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

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

DSC07122

DSC07121v

DSC07123

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

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

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

sizes

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

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

DSC07137

DSC07134

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

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

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

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

LOXIA

-

Now the awesome Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 at 1.4

ZEISS3514

-

Now the Zeiss 35 2.8

ZEISS3528

crops35

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

Crops and Full size images

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

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

f9crop

-

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

full2

sedon3

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

DSC07099

DSC07114

DSC07100

Conclusion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC07093

DSC07091

DSC07058

Where To Buy?

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

PopFlash.comThey have the 35 in stock NOW!

B&H PhotoTheir Loxia Page

—————————–

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 7 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 dedicated 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, and no, I am not asking you for a penny!

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, in money and time. 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 – (not bookmark able) Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

Outside of the USA? Use my worldwide Amazon links HERE!

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

One other way to help is by donation. If you want to donate to this site, any amount you choose, even $5, you can do so using the paypal link HERE and enter in your donation amount. All donations help to keep this site going and growing! I do not charge any member fees so your donations go a long way to keeping this site loaded with useful content. Thank you!

Mar 162015
 

battle-title

Battle of the Champions: Leica M & 50 APO vs Sony A7II & 50 Zeiss Loxia

by Brad Husick

It has been an exciting few years in the development of high-end digital cameras. With the advent of full frame sensors in compact mirrorless bodies, it is now possible to obtain truly outstanding results that can be printed at virtually any size for the home or gallery.

My objective in running this test was to examine the image quality of two of the most highly regarded full frame digital mirrors cameras today – the Leica M model 240 ($7,250) and the Sony A7-II ($1,699), paired with the best available standard optics for each. For the Leica the choice was obvious in the Leica 50mm f/2 APO Summicron ($8,250) and for the Sony the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T* ($949). The prices listed here are retail. Street prices can be lower.

The cameras are very different from each other and there are many articles and reviews that go into these differences. My purpose here is to look only at image quality regardless of other factors such as price, functionality, shooting style, build quality, etc. The key question here is which camera and lens combination produces the best images under a variety of real world shooting conditions. This is not a scientific laboratory bench test, it is meant to see how well the cameras do under reasonable realistic conditions.

My methodology was wherever possible to shoot the lenses wide open at f/2 and match the other shooting settings as closely as possible, including ISO and shutter speeds. Both cameras were shot in RAW and the images are displayed in Adobe Lightroom 5.7.1. No adjustments other than tiny overall exposure movements used to match the images were made. Settings were left in default positions and do not differ between camera images.

These lenses are both manual focus lenses so I used each camera’s focus magnifying tool at maximum to obtain the sharpest images I could. I did not achieve 100% focus accuracy despite using a tripod for all the indoor shots and high shutter speeds for the outdoor shots. This points to my abilities and the nature of f/2 lenses having very thin depth-of-field when wide open. The indoor shots were taken at ISO 1600 and the outdoor shots at base ISO 200. The wind was blowing at about 5 mph outdoors. The cameras were set on manual exposure and automatic color balance. I did not re-adjust color balance once in Lightroom. These are “as-shot” images.

Each comparison starts with a “master” image showing the entire frame, followed by a few 100% zoom details taken from various positions around the frame.

Rather than try to make this a guessing game, I will tell you up front that each of the side-by-side comparisons has the Sony on the left and the Leica on the right.

I leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions about the relative strengths of each image.

My conclusion, with which you should feel free to disagree, is that there is a surprisingly small difference here. Based on image quality alone, it’s very difficult to choose. I must conclude that both systems are capable of producing outstanding images, and other factors such as price, preferred shooting style, features and functions, and others are much larger influencers in the decision between these cameras and lenses. One might come to the conclusion that if you choose to invest $15,000 in a Leica system then $2,700 for the Sony system is cheaper than buying one more Leica lens, so why not own both if you care to?

I hope you enjoy this comparison.

IMAGE ONE – FULL FRAME

m1

-

Sony crops on left – Leica crops on the right – click them for full size crops!

(Steve’s Opinion: The Loxia is sharper here in these MAP crops to my eye)

d1-1

d1-2

d1-3

-

IMAGE TWO – FULL FRAME

m2

-

Sony crops on the left, Leica crops on the right – click them for full size crops

(Steve’s Opinion: These appear to be so close, I would call it a tie)

d2-1

d2-2

-

IMAGE THREE – FULL FRAME

m3

-

Sony crops on the left – Leica crops on the right – click them for full size crops

(Steve’s Opinion: What sticks out to me here is the warmer WB of the Leica, sharpness seems similar)

d3-1

d3-2

-

IMAGE FOUR – FULL FRAME

m4

-

SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT – CLICK ‘EM!

(Steve’s Opinion: The LOXIA seems sharper in crop 2 and 3 with Leica for the 1st)

d4-1

d4-2

d4-3

-

IMAGE FIVE – FULL FRAME

m5

-

SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT – YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO!

(Steve’s Opinion: To my eye, APO wins this one)

d5-1

d5-2

d5-3

-

IMAGE SIX – FULL FRAME

m6

-

SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT

(Steve’s Opinion: LOXIA wins this one – less CA and sharper)

d6-1

d6-2

-

IMAGE SEVEN

m7

-

SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT

(Steve’s Opinion: These are close, VERY close)

d7-1

d7-2

d7-3

-

IMAGE EIGHT

m8

-

SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT

(Steve’s Opinion: Again, VERY close but I pick APO for this one)

d8-1

d8-2

d9-2

-

IMAGE NINE

m9

-

SONY LEFT – LEICA RIGHT

(Steve’s Opinion: Almost a draw again but the APO Bokeh is a TAD smoother)

d9-3

d9-4

Best regards,
Brad

Mar 132015
 

A Sony A7r User Report: A Year of YESSS!!!

By Rob Lieber

Hello Steve, First of all thanks for the opportunity to write in my user report! I am an “enthusiast” photographer and have used entry-level DSLRs and the Sony NEX mirrorless system for the better part of 10 years. I first got interested in bettering my photographic experiences and technique when I visited the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC and got some macro-like images of the cherry blossoms and “magic- hour” shots of the monuments with my Casio Exilim point and shoot camera. I was hooked. These weren’t mind blowingly good images, but the comments from friends and family about my “good eye” were enough to get me going.

I bought the Sony a100 when it first released in the U.S., went back and forth between Nikon (D3000) and NEX (5 and 3N) cameras, but around 2012, I started researching more about sensor size and became just a teeny bit obsessed with getting a full-frame (FF) digital camera. The only thing stopping me was a budget of “nowhere close” to the 5-6K required for a body and lens. So I put the idea out of my head and kept rolling with my NEX 5.

Soon after, as I was still researching FF cameras, I came across Steve’s site and in particular a review about the A7 and A7r from Sony. After using different cameras, I had always liked the a100 and I was intrigued about what Sony was doing to develop a more pro-style offering. The real world perspective from Steve’s review is what helped me make the jump to a FF camera. Even at the time I didn’t fully appreciate the benefits of upgrading to better gear. “It’s the photographer who makes the image, not the camera right?”

While that is a different debate, I thought that a FF would be forever out of reach. I just couldn’t afford one, until Steve puts things in great perspective. This camera as a FF mirrorless was a game changer! And it is affordable for what you get. It is small and light, it is quality equipment and gets you excited to get out and shoot! That’s not a direct quote, but that was the message. The jump is worth it!

So I made the upgrade and got the Sony Zeiss 55/1.8 lens as well. I knew the lens lineup was severely  limited for FF E-mount, so over the next few months I also bought the “A to E-mount” adapter LA-EA4. This adapter allows for full control of AF FF lenses. I also acquired, little by little, a Minolta 100mm f2.8 macro lens, a Minolta 70-210 f4 (beercan) lens, the Sony 85mm f2.8 prime, a Bower 24mm f1.4 manual lens, and finally, recently acquired the Sony 70-300G (OH BABY!) to replace the 70-210. My wallet is now on ebay because I can’t afford money anymore.

I hope the audience can learn from my gear and images and decide for themselves if upgrading to a Sony FF, or if any upgrade in gear, is something they are considering to be worth it.

I have lived in Mexico City, Mexico (it’s not as dangerous as you think) for the last 6 years working for the U.S. Embassy and in the last year have travelled to Guadalajara, Oaxaca, Acapulco, and Miami. That’s where my images come from and that’s enough of the boring stuff! On to the photos 

Bower 24mm f1.4 with LAEA4 adapter

Let me start out with the manual 3rd party lens and Sony branded adapter. The adapter itself is pretty light and is great for AF lenses. If you are shooting manual though, it’s just a fancy adapter that will allow the camera to set white balance and ISO.

The lens is a bit heavy but its quality made with aluminum and plastic construction. I have used it for over six months and the only issues I have are the cheap lens cap and hood which keep falling off in my bag. I think the images I can produce with this 400 dollar lens are great!

Temple in Oaxaca, Mexico-Bower 24mm/1.4 ISO 320 1/1250 (manual lens does not communicate f stop data)

temple

This is one of the better examples of what the wider angle (wide for FF) does for you. I only had about 8 feet to step back from the balcony. I could not have composed this shot with the Zeiss 55. Otherwise, believe me, I would have.

Cloudy stars-Bower 35mm/1.4 ISO 1600 13 sec exposure AWB

stars

One thing I wanted to try was a star trail image or even just a night sky, but in Mexico City there is too much light pollution and it takes about two hours just to get to an area where the city lights don’t corrupt the image. So on a recent trip to Miami I took advantage of Key Biscayne National Park. Not what I was expecting but I thought it was a cool looking result.

As you can see on the above photo there is some barrel distortion in the corners at 24mm but this was from a lens made for A-mount FF cameras like the Sony A99. The bottom line for non-native lenses on any camera body is test before you buy. In this shot the barrel distortion doesn’t bother me, but to someone else it might be entirely off-putting.

Sony 30mm f3.5 e-mount (NEX) macro lens 

Smiley- E 30mm/3.5 Macro ISO 200 1/400th at f3.5 very light skin smoothing layer applied in Aperture

smiley

It’s my daughter in the park on a bench smiling; what could be better? One of the fun things about having a full frame digital camera is the ability to put a “cropped” lens or an apsc sized lens on it and it will be able to crop the image it records so you don’t have to manually adjust and crop your image afterthe fact. It’s a neat trick and opens up your lens options a bit more. Besides, the apsc lenses are usually a bit cheaper.

Sony 85mm f2.8 prime + LAEA4 adapter (one of the best bargains to be had in a full frame lens!)

 Ice Cream Man-Sony 85mm/2.8 ISO 2000 1/6400 at f2.8

ice cream man

I still change shutter speed to affect exposure more than anything and this guy was driving so I didn’t have a chance to check my other settings. I like that even at ISO 2000 there isn’t a ton of noise.

Minolta 70-210mm f4 (beercan lens) + LAEA4 adapter.

Truly one of the advantages of getting the A to E mount adapter is all the legacy glass from the Minolta cameras. There were some pretty decent lenses produced for that system and now you can get them for cheap rather than paying 1k dollars or more for the equivalent native e-mount lens today. I especially like this because it allows me to see if I like the concept of a particular lens, and if I do, I can almost always sell a used lens for about what I paid for it and invest in the more modern version. It really is a win-win.

Waiting to parade-Minolta 70-210/f4 ISO 1000 1/200 at f4 180mm

parade

The above image was taken while waiting for a military parade down Paseo de la Reforma, one of Mexico City’s busiest avenues, on Mexico’s Independence Day last year. The road was shut down so tens of thousands of people lined the streets in anticipation of the parade.

Commemorating Memorial Day in Mexico-Minolta 70-210/f4 ISO 320 1/320 210mm at f5

ambo

In Mexico City there is an American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) cemetery to mark the American soldiers who lost their lives in wars abroad. Most of the names on the walls here were from the Mexican-American war, but each year on Memorial Day there is a small ceremony. This past year Ambassador to Mexico Anthony Wayne spoke and the Marine Security Guard (MSG) detachment, which is assigned to protect the U.S. Embassy, presented the flag and colors. It is an honor to visit each year and remember those in our military who have given the ultimate sacrifice in service.

MSG presents colors- Minolta 70-210/f4 ISO 320 1/320 210mm at f5

marines

Minolta AF 100mm/2.8 macro lens

One of the amazing things about photography is macro. I love seeing details that you don’t normally think about. Disclosure: These images were shot at a butterfly sanctuary and not in the wild.

Hanging out-Minolta 100mm/2.8 ISO6400 1/250 at f4 adjusted for contrast, exposure, saturation, and vibrancy in Aperture.

hanging out

Leggy-Minolta 100mm/2.8 ISO 2000 1/100 at f5 adjusted for exposure, shadows, saturation and vibrancy in Aperture

leggy

Macro photography is fun and I love exploring new ways to look at the world around me.

Sony G 70-300/4.5-5.6 + LAEA4 adapter

This lens is super fun because of the zoom capabilities. You can use the full zoom range just hand-held if there is plenty of light. Unless you are cropping 100% you can just support it with your left hand and shoot away. I have shot a few different sessions for over an hour with this lens and have not yet gotten tired from using it. That said it is ideal if you have a monopod to say, walk around the town.

Angel Monument 1- Sony G 70-300 ISO 1000 1/250 300mm at f5.6 edited for contrast, exposure, highlights, shadows and converted to B&W in Aperture.

lion

There is a famous monument on Paseo de la Reforma called the Angel de Independencia (Angel of Independence)

Angel Monument 2- Sony G 70-300 ISO 1000 1/250 250mm at f/5.6 (no adjustments except for resizing).

sitting

Both of the above images were shot completely hand held at sunset, across the street. To me, it amazing to think we have these types of technology that make it so easy to make great images. It’s all about sharing that moment and this image captures that sunset moment just as I remember it.

Angel of Independence-Sony G 70-300 ISO 1600 1/125 230mm at f9

angel

The top of the monument shows the Angel of Independence. This angle is from almost directly below the 5-story column and shows detail not usually seen with the naked eye or in other photos I have seen of the same monument. That’s the fun of the versatile 70-300 and even though it’s relatively heavy for a lens, I almost always take it with me for more possibilities.

Now for the cream of the crop: Sony Zeiss 55mm/1.8 ZA FE Lens

This was my first lens for the A7r and is definitely still my favorite. I keep coming back to it because it works so well. And after a year of getting tossed around inside my bag and shoots on the beach and in dusty Mexico, you might expect it to have dust or perhaps spots, but it works as well as the first day I got it. The mounting ring is still a tight connection to the body and the images produced in my opinion are worth every penny. And that is what it really comes down to for all our gear. The question is “Are you still excited to shoot with it?” With the A7r and the Sony Zeiss 55, a resounding yes. I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

Cathedral section-Zeiss 55/1.8 ISO 200 1/320 at f11 converted to b&w in Aperture

cathedral

The amount of detail drawn out with the 36MP sensor is amazing. To see the detail in a small image, you realize is something special. And then you can zoom in 100 percent and still get a usable image. I love it!

Angel wings- Zeiss 55/1.8 ISO 200 1/1000th at f2.2

angel wings

This photo was taken not far from the crowd parade image, just on a different day. It’s a pair of wings that many people take a photo posing in front of. I got in close and angled up to try and minimize the steel frame which holds up the wings and focus on my daughter. There is too much going on in the background to get a good image and framing the entire thing.

Acapulco Sunset-Zeiss 55/1.8 ISO 800 1/100 at f10 adjusted for white balance, shadows, contrast, definition and saturation in Aperture

Acapulco Sunset

Birthday girl-Zeiss 55/1.8 ISO 500 1/160 at f2.2 (Fill flash w/F43M; sony’s intermediate flash unit) adjusted for saturation, exposure, slight skin smoothing and contrast in Aperture.

dress

This dress is a typical one from Oaxaca. It was hand made and cost around 35 USD. It was my daughter’s birthday. Mom put on makeup, which I usually don’t like, but it makes a nice image.

Overall it has been an incredible journey to look back on the last year and not only have images to show where I’ve been but to have amazing equipment that challenges me to get better. And I know I have a ton to learn still.

As far as the cons go, it is a bit disappointing to not have focus tracking. It makes it difficult to be confident offering photography to families with little kids. The shutter noise makes the camera borderline inappropriate for weddings and taking photos inside cathedrals. Wedding receptions are no problem but anything with an intimate or reverent setting may be distracting (A7s here I come!). On the other hand when taking portraits your subject knows when you have pressed the shutter and can relax between frames. I have yet to have someone say, “Did you take it?”

I could also do with better battery life but it’s usually okay. I have one note on batteries and that is I have used both Sony batteries and aftermarket. The aftermarket batteries only gave me a problem once. The shutter locked up and I had to remove the battery and reset the camera because no-matter what button I pressed, the camera wouldn’t respond. I attribute it to the battery because as soon as I put in a Sony battery the issue no longer continued. That was enough to get me off the aftermarket batteries, though I reiterate that I had used them for a long time without issues and it may have been something else altogether. But I figure why risk it to save 30 bucks? And that is really it for me for the cons.

My FF camera has been a great teaching tool, not just for the FF experience, but also for all the other capabilities that comes with owning a flagship type device.

For example, the customizable buttons, extra dials and overall layout of the A7r are so much better than any of the entry-level cameras I have used before. These dials and buttons are what define and distinguish the experience between an entry-level camera and a FF camera. It allows you the satisfaction of changing settings instead of dreading digging through endless menus. It creates joy because you are using the camera to setup your shot. The camera becomes a tool. And a fun one at that!

Many of you may know this already, but I didn’t before I got my A7r, and I think it’s important to know for those who may still be deciding on upgrading their system.

The bottom line, and what I hope you learn from my experience, is that you can be quite happy making images with whatever gear you have. And that is important! It’s not healthy to keep chasing new gear, unless your name is Steve Huff and you have a website, of course.

You can also learn quite a bit from upgrading to more advanced equipment. I consider myself self-taught insofar as I will read or hear or watch a new technique or see an image and then try to acquire that skill through trial and error. Techniques, lenses, cameras, you name it; you can learn and get more consistent results if you invest a little time and money into your hobby and into better lenses. You can have that eureka moment; a little “YES!” That is what made the upgrade to the A7r worth it. It keeps me excited to get out there and shoot.

I have a camera backpack and take my gear everywhere because I love to capture moments for others and myself. And sharing those moments, either in print or digitally, and spreading the excitement of photography and the wonder of discovering something new…well, isn’t that why we do all this stuff?

I encourage you to find the equipment that will give you that drive to keep discovering and keep learning. Mine was my first full frame digital and a Zeiss branded lens.

Adios from México

For more please check out www.shoeboxfoto.smugmug.com/browse or look for shoeboxfoto on Facebook. Thanks!

Mar 132015
 

The Sony A7s with the Zeiss Loxia 50mm Planar and the Leica 50mm Summicron V5.

By Alan Schaller

Flickr link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/127753524@N02/

Picture 0

I am sure everybody reading this will be aware that Zeiss and Leica prime lenses are fantastic. This article is not going to be focused around laboratory grade comparisons of which one delivers the sharpest corners wide open, or the most pleasing bokeh or the nicest rendering. I shall go into my findings regarding these things a little bit later on, but surely it is safe to say that at this level of lens construction everything is more than good enough to help capture great images!

The Sony A7s has replaced my beloved Leica M9, which I sold after trying out the Sony in a camera shop in London. The M9 can deliver outrageously nice images in the right conditions, but I feel my reasons for wanting to keep it after trying the A7s were emotional rather than practical. The A7s has delivered stunning image quality in pretty much every environment in which I’ve used it, and as a bonus is compatible with my Leica lenses (50mm Summicron and 35mm Summicron ASPH). I am keeping my Leica Monochrom however, which to me still has unique qualities, but having said that the A7s does make some worryingly impressive B&W conversions, this one using Silver FX:

Sony A7s -Zeiss Loxia 50mm – ISO 2000 – f2.2 – 1/100 sec.

Picture 1

I have never used a camera that gets out of your way and lets you be creative like this one. Yes the Leicas are purer in operation, which I love, but with the A7s you don’t have to worry about noise at high ISOs (within reason, I have found up to 64000 to be really useable), and consequently you don’t have to worry about setting high shutter speeds or not being able to stop down your lenses in lower light, which is so liberating!! Also, it can be set to be completely silent.

I am one of those people who prefers using a great feeling manual focus lens over anything else. I prefer the experience to using autofocus to the point where I shot a wedding last month entirely using manual focus because I feel I deliver better results that way. I consider myself first and foremost a street photographer, and when in a street environment, being able to pre focus and having a small discreet manual lens suits my needs well, and outweighs the potential benefits of having a machine gun autofocus beast of a lens!

The Loxia series of lenses have been designed specifically for the A7 range, and have been optimised for digital sensors. These two bits of information got me sufficiently interested to check them out. When I first twisted this updated 50mm Planar onto the A7s, I was struck by the high quality feel of the focus ring, which has a considerably longer throw than my 50mm Summicron. I must admit I have never thought to myself “I wish my Summicron was capable of more precise focusing”, so initially I thought it was a bit unnecessary. After using it for a few days however, I got used to it, and it soon blended into the background, letting me get on with snapping.

It feels great mounted on the A7s and is at the same time reassuringly weighty but not overly bulky, reminding you every time you interact with it that it is a quality 50mm lens. Being well accustomed to the tiny retractable hood of my 50mm Summicron, the twist-on metal hood of the Loxia appeared quite large at first, but in reality, the A7s/Loxia combo is still very compact and discreet compared to Canikon offerings capable of comparable image quality.

The colours it produces are natural and at the same time characterful. The files show a touch less contrast than that of the Leica lens, and the colours are not as bold (or are more neutral depending on how you look at it!), but I find this great for editing purposes, where the relative honesty and neutrality of the Loxia means you can have great scope for saturating the colours and boosting contrast without the risk of them looking ugly.

The Sony A7s has inspired me to shoot in colour again. The main reason for this is simply that the colours out of this camera are amazing. They speak to me in a way the colours from my M9 did not, for some unquantifiable reason! Colours as you will see, come out quite differently on each of the two lenses:

 Sony A7s – Leica Summicron 50mm V5 – ISO 250 – f2.0 – 1/100 sec.

Picture 4

 Sony A7s – Leica Summicron 50mm – ISO 50 – f16 1 – 1/125

Picture 7

The Loxia to my eyes is a bit more ‘forgiving’ in terms of sharpness wide open than the Summicron, and appears a little softer at f2, which I think is a great thing for portraiture, where the Summicron can be brutally honest! By the time both are stopped down to f4, the sharpness and detail these lenses capture is incredible. I shoot wide, or close to wide open most of the time, so it is great to see the Loxia performing so nicely in this way. I can’t see a particularly modern character in the rendering of my Loxia images, unlike the ones I took on the blisteringly sharp Zeiss/Sony 55mm 1.8. Whilst being an outstanding performer it looks a bit clinical to my eyes compared to the Loxia and Leica glass I have experienced. This is in no way an attack on that lens, for many people it will be a perfect choice. I just like a smoother classic character voicing to my lenses.

Both lenses perform equally well, albeit differently, for B&W duties. The Loxia 50mm is more than capable of the famous ‘3D’ effect, which is more exaggerated than that of the Leica lens. The Loxia’s ability to focus 25cm closer to a subject than the Summicron is a welcome feature. Both lenses draw the OOF areas very nicely, and the Sony’s fantastic full frame sensor helps this along too.

Zeiss POP! Sony A7s – Zeiss Loxia 50mm – ISO 250 – f2.0 – 1/160 sec

Picture 8

 Sony A7s – Lecia Summicron 50mm – ISO 1250 – f2.0 – 1/200 sec

Picture 9

 Sony A7s – Leica Summicron 50mm – ISO 2000 – f2.0 – 1/100 sec

Picture 10

One thing the Loxia lens does on the A7s which the Leica cannot, is automatically magnifying the image onto your subject when you turn the focusing ring. I have found that I am getting close to rangefinder focusing speeds with this feature, after only a week of practice. This should improve over time. Unlike rangefinders however, you can be 100% guaranteed that you have focused accurately using the magnification function, and when looking through the EVF, you get a 100% accurate representation of your framing, unlike the quirky Leica rangefinder system! This is something I have come to appreciate. The Summicron has to be attached to the Sony A7s via an M to E mount adapter. I chose one by Novoflex, as it felt well made. As it is attached by the adapter it cannot transmit the aperture data to the camera body, and it cannot automatically trigger the magnifier. This is not an issue unless you want to use the focus magnifier obviously, and I am sure some people will not.

To summarise, I think the Zeiss Loxia 50mm is a perfect mate for the A7s. The images are just plain great. If you are more into your 35mm lenses, the Loxia 35mm Biogon is equally capable I am sure. If you already have a 50mm M mount lens that you use on a Sony camera, I think it is justifiable to have both, as they present images differently, and offer a different user experience. If you do decide to get one or have one already, you have chosen well and are in for a treat!

Mar 112015
 

What I learned from trading a DSLR for a phone.

By Brandon Labbe

NOTE: All images in this post are phone images. 

It is expected that a photographer wouldn’t revert to a lesser camera once they’ve used a professional one, however my experience has proven otherwise, and while I did indeed go back to using a professional camera in the end, I learned a lot along the way.

I could go into painstaking detail on the cameras I’ve owned, how they compared with each other and with other brands, but that would take much too long. I’ll at least name what I was planning on upgrading to, the Canon 6D, because for subconscious psychological reasons I don’t have the time or credentials to delve into, I am one who normally practices a sort of brand loyalty that could be described as borderline religious. That being said, in the year 2014 I had not shied away from photography itself, but from dslrs. In the years before, I’d taken a dslr nearly everywhere with me, but I’d noticed something in 2014 about my camera that I hadn’t noticed before. There was dust on it. Without even being aware of it, so much time passed between the few times I used it that a noticeable amount of dust gathered on it like one would expect to find on a book. An even bigger surprise met me at the end of the year: I had only taken the camera out of the house 4 times, as opposed to 40 times in 2013. When I was trying to think of what could explain the dramatic decline in my photography between the two years, it hit me: at the end of 2013, and I mean quite literally the very end of 2013 (it came in the mail late in the afternoon on December 31st), I had bought my first smart phone, a Samsung Galaxy S (not an S5 or S4, just a plain old S).

2014-05-30 15.28.45 1500

 

I’d owned phones with cameras before, but as anyone who ever used those would know, flip-phone cameras are pathetic. They took pictures that were never really meant to leave the phone, as on a computer they only looked good when viewed at the size of a thumbnail, but I digress. On the night I received the phone, I was heading out to view the New Year fireworks, and even though I hadn’t had the phone for more than 3 hours, and I used the camera on it only once to test the quality, when it came time to leave, I made a last-minute decision to just take my phone and leave my dslr behind. I didn’t know why I did it. I’d never done it before, but it just felt right to leave it. I just knew I wouldn’t miss it. I think you can see where this is going. Throughout the year there were many times I felt comfortable enough with my phone to leave my dslr behind, and after some months there wasn’t even a question about it. I just packed my dslr into its never-used camera bag to keep it from getting dustier, and I practically forgot I even owned it. Sure enough, by the end of the year I’d amassed 1500 photos on my phone. Not nearly as many as I took with my dslr the year before, but still quite a lot.

2014-05-30 15.34.53 1500

Why did I do this? I didn’t think about it at the time, but it was the weight and size of the dslr that I apparently found repulsive compared to the phone. That much was obvious, but the amount of photos was a curious thing. Why did I take much fewer photos with my go-to camera (the phone) in 2014 than with my go-to camera (the dslr) in 2013? Two reasons: first, my phone has a short battery life, limiting the amount of pictures I could take. Second: my phone was pocketable while my dslr was always in my hand. I went rather photo-crazy with my dslr, taking multiple photos a minute, where as with my phone I thought about each picture, sometimes reaching for it, pausing, and putting my hand back down when I realized the image before me wasn’t special enough. I should note that while I can’t pocket the A7II, it’s light enough that it can hang from my neck as opposed to my constantly having to hold the heavier dslr that would give me neck pains if I let go of it. The limited battery of the A7II also keeps me in check, just like the phone. Like countless experts have said, limiting the amount of pictures you can take makes you more selective with taking pictures and that makes you better at thinking about pictures before you take them. This is the argument as to why you should learn photography with film, but a limited battery gives you the same discipline without the anxiety of not knowing if a picture came out well. Also, hanging a camera from your neck as opposed to always holding it in your hand makes you less of a shutter bug. I know these are tips that have been echoed a thousand times before, but what made them so meaningful in this situation is that I learned them without even realizing I was learning them.

2014-11-08 14.04.58 1500

Since it wasn’t till the end of October that I realized it wasn’t photography I was tired of, but dslrs, and the A7II was to be released in just 2 months, I held out on buying a new camera till the A7II came out. It wasn’t until I went lens shopping online that I partially realized another valuable lesson I apparently learned while using my phone as my go-to camera for nearly a year. I was torn between 2 options: the Zeiss 24-70mm 4 and, for reasons I didn’t even know at the time, the 35mm 2.8.

While I luckily never went through a ‘carry everything’ phase that some photographers go through when they’re starting out, from the time I bought my first dslr I always had a zoom lens, an 18-55mm (28-90 full frame) and I’d heard of prime lenses, but I was convinced that I’d die without a zoom lens. With that same mentality, I told myself, when shopping for lenses, “obviously I’m getting the zoom,” but when I saw the size of the lens, I cringed because it would make the A7II as long and nearly as heavy as one of my older, cheaper dslrs, which was still too big, and then I saw the 35mm, and it was like hearing angels singing, because it was a small lens that was rated very well and it hardly added mass to the body. There was just the little problem of “I’d die without a zoom lens,” but when I thought about it, I realized that for the last year with the phone I’d basically been using a prime lens (because I certainly didn’t use the ghastly digital zoom) and I even remembered in the first month wishing I could zoom with it but by the end of the year I never thought that and I was content with the phone’s fixed focal length (and sure enough, when looking up the phone’s specs, the phone’s lens’ focal length was equal to a 35mm full frame lens). I’d wanted to switch to using a prime lens before, because experts say it makes you a better photographer, making you visualize a picture before you take it, but what always held me back was the thought that It would be too limiting for me and I’d miss all sorts of shots, but in using my phone, I made the change I was scared to make without even realizing I made it!

2014-11-12 07.16.30 1500

I was still nervous when I bought the lens that I’d hate it and think it was too limiting, but in the 2 months I’ve owned the A7II I’ve already taken it out of the house more than I took the dslr out in 2014 and not only did I not feel the need for a zoom lens, but I actually felt better without it. With a zoom lens, I’d always find myself stopping and seeing which focal length would make a certain shot perfect, and that took time, perhaps not a lot of time, but seconds add up, and ultimately it just takes you out of the moment more. Well, that and holding the camera in your hand and taking a hundred photos where a dozen or even fewer would suffice, and what’s the point of capturing a moment when you’re detached from it?

If you make all of the mistakes that I made before quitting dslrs (taking too many pictures, using a zoom lens, using gear that’s too big, etc), I wouldn’t tell you to use a phone, but you can skip that step and learn all of the things I did by getting one of the Sony A7 models (with your best bet being the A7II) and a prime lens that suits you’re style of photography. For example, I like 35mm where some people like Henri Cartier Bresson think anything wider than 50mm is blasphemy. To each their own, Mr. Bresson.

2014-06-03 08.26.07 1500

This isn’t really related, but one thing I found myself doing with the A7II from day 1 is using the fully manual mode. I don’t know about Nikon, but manual mode looked so complicated on Canon dslrs that the very sight of the ‘M’ on the mode dial gave me chills. I always had it in automatic, but that wasn’t always a good thing because while I got most of the shots I wanted, I missed some because they were over or underexposed to a degree that I couldn’t do much for them even in photoshop or lightroom.

One final note. Be warned, though, the following isn’t for the faint of heart. Having used a phone as my go-to camera for nearly a year, I grew so used to looking at the screen to compose pictures, as there was no viewfinder, that I find myself only using the lcd screen of the A7II and even find myself wishing it didn’t have the viewfinder, as I feel it’s just unneeded bulk. I know, I’m probably the only person who’s used an A7II and thought that, but it’s true. I’d buy the RX1, but the tech is older and it doesn’t have a grip. If the RX2 is a fixed prime lens (I’ve heard rumors that it might be a zoom; I hope that’s not true) and it has a grip like the A7II, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. Who knows, maybe I’ll warm up to the viewfinder eventually, but right now the live view on the screen is an appealing reminder of a phone where as the viewfinder is like an ugly reminder of my dslr days.

Brandon Labbe

© 2009-2015 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved