May 132013
 

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The Voigtlander 21 1.8 Lens Review by Steve Huff

Thanks to new site sponsor CameraQuest for loaning me this lens and viewfinder for review.

Hello to all who lurk here on stevehuffphoto.com! It is once again “review day ” and what I have to talk to you about today is a real GEM of a lens for any and all Leica M shooters, the Voigtlander 21 1.8 M lens. I have already posted many of my thoughts on this lens in my 1st look of it HERE, so if you missed that go take a look if you like.  Wether you shoot an old or new film rangefinder or use one of the digital versions like the M8, M9, M9-P, M-E, MM or M this lens delivers. While I have not shot it on the new M yet, it does well on the M9/ME and is gorgeous on the MM as well. In fact, it does so well I would PERSONALLY take this lens over the Leica equivalent (The Leica 21 Lux) any day of the week, not because it is superior but because it is almost its equal and I would save myself $6000 in cold hard cash, yes…$6000 separates these lenses and the Voigtlander is really good. I’d rather take the 5-10% less build and performance and pocket over $6k to take an amazing vacation/photo trip to really use the lens. If I were a rich man, I’d take the Leica but when it comes to saving money you can do so with this lens and trust me, your photos will not take the quality hit. Hmmm. Did I just finish the whole review? Well, not really, read on…

While not small in size, it is smaller than the Leica 21 Summilux 1.4 and about 90% of the performance..and then some.

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These days, Voigtlander is really rocking it with some of their newest glass and this 21 1.8 is no exception. Compared to the Leica 21 Lux, it has less distortion, is only a teeny bit slower at 1.8 vs 1.4 and is also lighter and smaller. It is just as sharp if not sharper and gives no magenta edges on the M9/M-E, even without coding the lens. It also focuses close at .5 meters though you will lose the RF focusing at .7. I was able to shoot a few at .5 meters by guessing and it works quite well.  Compared to what I remember from the Leica 21 1.4, this Voigtlander has a little bit less micro-contrast and is also a little less contrasty in general and the Leica will win in overall heft and build, but that is about where it ends. When it comes to quality, the Voigtlander and the Leica has it, but this one will cost you MUCH less.

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At $1249 for a fast quality wide angle lens, it is a steal of a deal. Even this little rescue dog thought so :)

The Voigtlander 21 1.8 Lens on the Leica MM, at 1.8

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While this shot is nothing special, the Bokeh quality from this lens is smooth and silky. 

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Shooting WIDE. It can indeed be a challenge. 

I am not really a wide angle shooter, at all. My go to focal lengths have always been 28mm, 35mm and 50mm with rare use of the 28. So shooting a 21, for me, was a challenge when trying to create interesting review snaps. My goal for review images though is to create a mix of interesting shots while showing what the lens can do on a given camera. I look for nice colors if shooting color, I look for shots that will present interesting Bokeh opportunities and I look for detail shots to see what the lens can do with sharpness and detail. I also like to see what the lens can do with B&W photography using the Leica Monochrom, so what you see in this review will helpfully help you to understand what the lens can do on the Leica MM and M9/M-E.

Product shots with the Sony RX1

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Ever since selling off my Leica M 240 to be able to keep the MM (which I already miss… of course) I wondered what this lens would do on a color M. Any color M. I was able to get a hold of a Leica M-E for a few days and took it out with the 21mm. It performed much better than I expected in all areas. Sharpness, color, bokeh, etc. I kept thinking to myself “man, if Voigtlander did this well with a 21mm lens, I can not wait to get my hands on that sweet new 50 Nokton 1.5 that is set to hit in June. While shooting the Leica M-E I was reminded of the M9 color and signature, which is indeed different than what comes from the new M 240. After shooting the M-E again I can easily state that yes, I still and do prefer the new M 240. I hope to have one again within 9-12 months.

When I do get one again I will try out this 21 on it and add to this review.

The Voigtlander 21 at f/4 on the Leica M-E – AWB

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Nature Trail in full AZ sun, mid day. The 21 1.8 at f/4 

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While a challenge to those of us who are “wide angle challenged” the 21mm focal length can be very cool to use sometimes. While not an every day lens, in some situations it can help you capture “more” of the scene. I took the MM and 21 to a local immigration reform March here in Phx (that only had about 100 people show up) and shot some with the 21. It worked out well and using the external viewfinder was a MUST to frame the shots, and man what a nice VF it is. The version II VF from Voigtlander is all metal, hefty but small and just has overall amazing quality. I can HIGHLY recommend the Voigtlander 21mm VF for any 21mm lens you may use. It is large, bright and easy to frame with. One of those products that is a joy to use and at $209, it will not break the bank. If you are using the new Leica M and have the EVF, then you will not need the optical VF of course but this little guy is so clear, bright and well made…in addition to being sexy to look at. (more on the VF later on).

The next three shots ranged from f/2.8-f/4

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The viewfinder… it feels just as high quality (if not more so) than any Leica or Zeiss finder I have tried over the years. It is metal, solid, and feels like it will last a lifetime. Focusing using the rangefinder and then framing with the external is a pain in the ass but if you want to frame correctly, it is needed for this lens and any lens wider than 28mm.

Shooting the lens in B&W on the Monochrom was a pleasant experience as the lens just seemed to be quite amazing for B&W. Just the right amount of contrast and sharpness with pleasant Bokeh makes for a classic yet modern-ish rendering. Shooting at 1.8 also shows that this lens can suck in some light with the best of them. The self portrait shot below (3rd shot) was taken wide open in my kitchen which was actually a bit dim. The lens made it appear brighter than it really was. Great fast lenses do this but not all of them do. For example, the classic Nikkor 3.5cm 1.8 shot in dim lighting results in a duller and darker rendering. Lenses that do suck in the light? Noctilux, Summilux, Canon 85L, Nikon 85 1.4, etc. So this lens is in good company.

This is a crop of an image shot at f/1.8…

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…and this shot was at .5 meters with me guessing the focus by bringing the camera down to the dogs level and moving it in to what I felt was .5 meters…

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…and a self portrait at .5 meters wide open. The Leica 21 Lux focuses to .7 meters while this one gets a little closer :)

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Some smooth bokeh in color – an OOC JPEG at 1.8 on the M-E

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Crop crop till you drop

Using the Leica MM and the 21 1.8 I often found the lens to be too wide for my tastes but at the same time, when viewing that full 21mm frame I kept thinking that I could really grow to love this focal length. To show how wide it is check out the shot below that I snapped in a restaurant. I will first show the original, then a crop and then an almost 100% crop. Click them to see larger and better looking sizes. They look VERY nice on my iMac 27″ display.

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The Monochrom is a gorgeous camera that for me, easily replaces any film camera. It can indeed meet and exceed the quality of any B&W film. Outside of the window in the above scene was the full harsh Phoenix AZ sunshine. The camera and Voigtlander 21 1.8 captured it all, inside and out. This 21 1.8 has a little less contrast than the Leica 21 Summilux so when shooting on a camera such as the Monochrom, it will be easier to avoid blowing highlights as the lens will not render in a harsh way, unless of course you like that look. Then you can just process the photo to give you a higher contrast look like below where I purposely blew out the background to make the image pop more:

This lens has a very pleasing way of rendering on the Leica MM – I blew out the background on purpose to create more pop.

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How sharp is the Voigtlander 21 1.8?

This lens is sharp as any lens I have ever tested, has minimal distortion and during my 2 weeks of use I found no issues with the lens that would deter me from buying one. In fact, if I were more of a 21mm shooter this would indeed be in my kit. I may pick up the luttle brother to this lens, the 21 f/4 as it is much cheaper and smaller and for the amount I use 21mm, it could be just the trick. Then again, if I went that route I would lose the look of the 21 1.8 due to no longer having any shallow DOF capabilities. I love the way this lens renders and it reminds me a bit of classic mixed with modern and somehow they managed to get it all together in the perfect way.

But let’s get back  to sharpness. This lens is as sharp as you can ask for and on the MM and M-E, without any coding at all I did not have any color or vignetting issues, which is quite incredible for a wide angle lens such as this. The lens does vignette wide open at 1.8 a bit but nothing objectionable. Check out the image below which is a 100% full size file from the Leica M-E via RAW conversion. Click it to see the full size detail.

click the images below to see the 21 1.8 in full size on the Leica M-E

1st one at f/4 – focus is one the top of the metal rail, closest to me. Still some shallow DOF here at f/4. Corners are sharp, the ones in focus. The trees in the upper left are not in focus as that is not the focus point, so those are blurred due to shallow DOF.

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This image was shot at f/2.8

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So for me, this lens gives plenty of sharpness and detail, no question. No one would need more.

Below you can see the same shot at various apertures. This lens is sharp at 1.8 and stays that way as you stop down. You can see the slight Vignetting at 1.8 which is all gone by 2.8. Click each image for larger with 100% crop embedded.

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Sharp corner to corner…

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The Voigtlander Viewfinders

Looking through the excellent 21/25mm Viewfinder – All metal construction – $209 

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When shooting a lens wider than 28mm on a Leica M you will need an external viewfinder to frame your subject. You will still use the standard viewfinder/ramgefinder window of your camera to focus, but to frame it all up you will need the external viewfinder with 21mm framelines. This way you can see what you will get on your final image. External viewfinders can look really cool but in reality, for me, they are a pain in the rear. Having to use one VF to focus and another to frame kills any “decisive moment” shots unless you are zone focusing (which is easy to do with a 21mm) but I was able to try out a couple of cool Voigtlander viewfinders. One of them is the 21/25mm all metal designed version 2 viewfinder which is the latest and greatest Voigtlander 21/25mm finder. It is solid, small but has some heft due to its rock solid metal construction. THIS is the VF I would buy with the lens at just over $200.

Comes with a nice little velvety blue bag for storage :)

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There is also the Voigtlander monster of a VF, the 15-35 which will give you 15-35 frame lines. So if you have the excellent 15mm f/4.5 you can use this one for both lenses, all the way up to 35mm. It’s large and bulky but versatile. You can choose between 15, 18, 21, 25 or 35. Also excellent but for those with multiple wide angle lenses.

It’s large and in charge…for those who want one viewfinder that will take on all wide angle lenses. Still smaller than the Leica “Frankenfinder”

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What about the .5 meter close focus? How can you focus this close on an M9/MM/ME?

Here is a quick tip! It may not be the most practical thing to do but as most of you know a Leica M8, M9, MM, ME, etc can not focus closer than .7 meters, even if the lens you are using focuses as close as .5 meters. Old classic lenses usually had a 1 meter limitation. Newer lenses from Leica all focus to .7 meters (most of them) and some other lenses can focus as close as .5 meters, which is about 1.6 feet. Once you turn the lens past .7 meters to go to .5 you lose rangefinder focusing. You can just move in a little closer and guess but it can be hit or miss. If you want to focus close on a regular basis here is a way you can do so and all you need is a string (I used a cable for my example photo so you could see it clearly), a measuring tape and some scissors.

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Simple and effective. You could even tape a piece of light string to your camera body when shooting with a close focusing lens.

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The cons of the Voigtlander 21 1.8. What is wrong with it? My final thoughts. 

In the world of 21mm lenses, this is a jewel of a lens for more reason that the quality it gives us in our photos. The reason it is so special is that it has the look as well as the build and feel of an old classic while giving performance that is nearing the $7250 Leica 21 Summilux. When I tell myself that this lens is $6000 less than the Leica 21 Lux, it boggles my mind. The Leica is larger, heavier, uses more expensive filters, has more distortion and is much more expensive. The Voigtlander has a llittle bit less micro contrast, which Leica is very good at but other than that…well, what can I say?

The Voigtlander is still on the large side for a rangefinder lens and the Voigtlander also has less overall contrast than the Leica equivalent. But without any question of a doubt I would not hesitate one moment to buy this lens if I were a wide angle shooter and wanted a fast aperture wide. It offers incredible performance for the price and gives superb quality build to boot.

So there really is nothing wrong with this lens, and for the cost it is a home run it. There is also a Zeiss 21 2.8 lens but the Zeiss is slower at 2.8, not as hefty in the build and more expensive. When you look for a fast 21 mm lens for your M mount camera, be sure to NOT look past this Voigtlander. They are making some superb quality glass these days and buying an all Voigtlander setup could help save you a ton of cash and possibly your marriage :) This lens is HIGHLY recommended if you are in search of a fast 21mm.

If you have the mega-bucks, just go for the Leica and call it a day knowing  you have the ultimate but remember, you can get just about as good for much less :)

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Below: At f/8 this lens is insanely sharp and again, sharpness across the frame which is impressive for such a wide angle lens. 

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Where to buy this lens? 

This lens was sent to me for review by Stephen Gandy at CameraQuest.com. They are also a site sponsor and sell the 21 1.8 lens for $1249 with FREE fast shipping. You can go direct to their 21 1.8 page HERE.

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LENS SPECIFICATIONS:

Mount Type VM for M-mount Cameras

Focal Length 21mm

Aperture Range f/1.8-22

Angle of View 91º

Minimum Focus Distance 19.7″ (0.5 m)

Focus Range 27.6″ – infinity (0.5 m – infinity)

Lens Construction 13 Elements in 11 Groups

Number of Aperture Blades 10

Filter Size 58mm

Dimensions (Diam. x L) 2.7 x 3.6″ (69 x 92 mm) including lens hood

Weight 14.5 oz (412 g)

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May 052013
 

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One Giant Polaroid

by Brad Nichol – His website is HERE

One of the key questions I pose to my photography students is “why do we take photographs”. It usually leads to great discussions where all sorts of reasons are proffered,  commonly the answers centre around ideas such as recording events, serving as memory joggers and story telling.

All good valid reasons, but for me, photography is focused around two drivers.  First I shoot to create photographic art that is in the main “pre-visualised”, normally in bed at 2.00 am.  Secondly and of the most significance I take photographs because it heightens my visual senses and thus provides me with a benefit I carry with me 24 hours a day.  Simply photography has allowed me to enjoy the visual world to a far greater degree and as I tell my students it matters not whether you shoot with a Leica or a Powershot, the visual appreciation benefit potential is the same.

I happily work with any camera, but acknowledge that each tool subtly changes the way I see and guides what I look for, some days are iPhone days, some NEX days, some Alpha days and there are even film days.  I am not a camera buff as such, and certainly not dedicated to a particular brand but in the main I guess I am a mirrorless guy and the NEX series fills my general needs best at present because they are just so adaptable.

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One the other hand I am a bit of a tech tragic, I rigorously test equipment, develop editing and shooting processes and modify gear to suit my needs.  Perhaps later I will provide some posts on these issues.  All this geeky fervour is not however for mere entertainment, it is in fact for the purposes of preparation and practice so that my vision and projects can be realized without compromise.  I often find folk who want to believe they can create great work by just buying the right camera and lenses shooting on Auto,  just letting the creativity flow.  Let me just say, it’s pretty hard to be fully creative if your techniques and lack of planning are getting in the way of your vision and compromising your work. Some folk might jag the odd great shot but I’d rather not treat photography as a lottery, when I go off to shoot I fully intend to come home with the result I am after, so having full technical mastery is for me not just a nice additional option it is an intrinsic part of the process, hence perhaps my rather anal approach.

So here then is a story of a large 8 month  project that I have just completed, perhaps it will inspire some of you, perhaps it will confirm that I have a certain streak of insanity.

Banded Together

I love Polaroids, but in particular ways. I am not enamored with the often poor colour,  unevenly processed edges and poor clarity.  But I just love square composition, I am stylistically at one with the layout of the square beautifully placed within the white border with that extra space underneath for imprinting.  I love that you can tag the image with title and date.  There is something compelling also in the slight edge vignetting of the frame of a well-developed roid, and then there’s the feel of the images in your hand, just lovely.  Most of all I love the subliminal message of the format, it says “hey, here is a moment captured in time and it is important to me”.

What I want however is roids without limitations, fauxlaroids in fact.

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Lets backtrack a little, 8 months ago whilst my body and mind waged war against one another a 2.30 am on cool winters night  I had an idea.  My wife and I were about to fly to the US and Canada for a 6 week holiday and having just moved into our new home I was planning the new artworks for the walls, around 50 in total and at this stage I had planned about 20 of them.

The hatched idea was as follows, shoot a set of 200 images that encapsulated what is different about North America.  Distill these down to 120, edit them to look like Polaroids, print them so they look and feel like Polaroids then mount them in a giant Polaroid frame and hang it in our front entrance way.

The project involved several stages:

Planning what to shoot ( it needs noting that I shot a raft of projects over the 6 weeks, so I had to be careful and efficient with time, after all it was a holiday for both my wife and I.)

Cull and Edit the images.

Have the images custom printed and mounted.

Cut up, name and coat the images, which is far more involved than it might at first seem.

Install the lighting for the final artwork.

Build the Polaroid frame.

Determine the final layout within the frame.

Mount the final work, which again is not straightforward as it weighs about 50 kilograms.

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All of this was worked out before a shot was taken, (I told you I have a mental problem) and it  pretty much went to plan, other than costing a little more than intended and being a bit heavier than estimated. The shots were taken on my iPhone 4S and my NEX 5n, and mainly shot at equivalent focal lengths in the 35-50mm range.

What I consider different between Australia and America may of course be very different to what you consider different, but remember I am an Aussie and this is a personal work.  Of course we found many unplanned  things to add to the collection along the way and often it was a case of finding the  subject that best typified the breed. Unfortunately I missed a couple of subjects because I felt I would find a better example and failed to capture the “bird in the hand”.

Compositionally  most images are quite parred down with strong simple elements, this was deliberate because when the final image is going to be only 10 by 10 cm or so and mixed in close proximity with others complexity will somewhat confuse the effect. Additionally all the images were intended to be colour so potential images that needed “monochromatic contrast punch” to work were not considered for the project donor set.

Editing involved colour grading, DOF simulation adjustments, 3D sharpening, etch sharpening, vignetting, careful cropping and some subtle non-constrained resizing to keep everything homogenous within the square frame format. I estimate around 30 hours of editing but it was probably more.

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In colour terms I aimed for a subtle look, no chromacities are pushed beyond the others which meant in some cases reds needed to be held back. All non-specular whites are fully rendered and blacks show neutrality and just a touch of detail. Saturation levels are stronger around the middle tones but at no point do they  get anywhere near MTV colour where it’s all turned up to 11. Printing was  handled by a local art printing business called Arthead who handle all my printing and we tried several papers to find the right one, I am also a paper tragic, but lets not go there now.

Once printed the images were mounted to mat board, which had just the right thickness for the task.  Once I had the images at home they were cut up with a knife and blade which was really straight forward as I had laid the images out on sheets of 40 with cutting guides added onto sheets. Once trimmed, the edges were blacked and then the images carefully tagged and dated with a very fine CD marking pen. Following on the next step involved etching into the edge of the image with a semi sharp knife to simulate the edge of the border paper on a Polaroid where it overlays the border of the image area. Finally the image areas were masked off and the perimeter matte sprayed twice, which makes the image area pop nicely and adds a subtle lift to the overall look.

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The frame was quite involved as the images actually float on 32 mm thick blocks with the cavities between them being painted flat black.  This makes the images pop better and gives a more 3D look but it meant cutting up 120 MDF blocks and perfectly spacing them out. The outer MDF frame is an exact match to SX 70 frame layout and proportions and has been thinned down on the edges with a router so that even when looked at in profile it looks quite thin and proportional. The frame surface is matte painted with several coats of water based white primer and ceiling paint, which have been sanded with very fine paper to give an eggshell like surface and then lightly Matt sprayed for protection.

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So there it is, I am currently very happy with the result but time will tell, as I often tell my students I am never quite sure if my work is any good until I have had it hanging on the wall for a couple of years.

But at the moment I think it does sum up the North American differences that we saw and over the course of our sojourn this specific project focused my attention on the visual feast that was America.

Brad Nichol

 

Apr 192013
 

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From Steve: Today I want to thank Barnaby Robson for these gorgeous images which goes to show what a camera like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 can do when in good hands. Thanks Barnaby!

A journey in gear

For me, it all started in 2010 with a GF1 + 20mm and 7-14mm lenses.

I loved the small size and relative to a P&S, the image quality, ability to control depth of field, and the focus speed. But the low light performance still wasn’t good enough.

In 2012, the Olympus 45mm, E-M5 and Leica 25mm followed (inspired by stevehuffphoto.com). And they were wonderful. I was a happy photographer: learning, getting technical, becoming more aware more capable and… taking better pictures.

But I was getting full frame IQ lust.

And then… I picked up the Olympus 75mm on my way through Bangkok on route to Yangon. Before purchasing I was worried about:

• The size and weight

• How often I would use the full frame 150mm equivalent focal length

Firstly it feels right at home on the E-M5, and is very similar in proportions to the Panasonic 7-14mm. Compared to all my other lenses the construction is something else, the cool metal feels and looks wonderful in the hand, with the right heft, the focus ring just glides, the lens text is inscribed in the metal… it just feels wonderful. I’ve never had so many complements about a camera-lens combination.

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And as to whether I would use the lens, it’s absolutely my favourite by a mile. I had all my other lenses with me in Burma, but the 75mm remained strapped to the E-M5 as I made my way around the streets of Yangon, across the plains of Bagan, over Inle lake and up Mandalay Hill. The focus is ultra fast and true, including handheld in low light with the lens wide open, the IQ is visibly better than through my other m4/3 lenses and it allows you to achieve genuine shallow depth of field. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

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A real journey (in pictures)

Yangon

Exif: 1/400 sec at f2.5, ISO 200

Taxi E-7959

Notes: One of my first shots in Yangon. Taxi E-7959 stopped at the lights. As I lifted my lens, he looked across. Was so pleased with the accuracy of the focus on this one.

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Exif: 1/400 sec at f2.8, ISO 200.

Bettlenut vendors

Post processing: Cropped then edited with an Alien Skin Exposure 4 preset (can’t recall which) to bring out the vibrancy.

Notes: Love the vibrancy, clarity and depth of field from the 75mm in this shot.

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Exif: 1/80 sec at f1.8, ISO 3200.

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Post processing: Cropped, but otherwise straight from camera,

Notes: Taken on the other side of four-lane Mahabandoola Road (busiest road in Yangon). I could see the opp for a great photo (looks like a scene from a 1970s movie to me), but kept on getting interrupted by traffic passing across the field of view. Finally there was a gap in the traffic and the camera/lens hit the nail on the head first time. Shot handheld.

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Bagan

 

Exif: 1 1/320 sec at f 2.5, ISO 200.

Bagan

Post processing: Edited with the Alien Skin Exposure 4, Fuji Provia 100f preset.

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Exif: 1/800 sec at f3.5, ISO 200.

Amazing Bagan

Post processing: I spent more time then I care to remember bringing out the colours to the desired taste in Lightroom.

Notes: The Bagan sunsets were absolutely stunning. Easily the highlight of the trip.

 

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Exif: 1/60 sec at f 1.8, ISO 3200.

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Post processing: Edited in Alien Skin Exposure 4 to bring out the blue-black haze (the dark areas were brown in the raw file). Finished off with a vignette.

Notes: Shot handheld (as were all these photos). This is probably my favourite shot from the trip. Again, this wouldn’t have been possible on m4/3 pre E-M5.

 

INLE LAKE

Exif: 1/640 sec at f 8.0. ISO 200.

Inle Lake Clichég

Post processing: Edited heavily in lightroom to bring out the colours, vibrancy and tones, from a rather flat raw file. It’s brilliant how malleable the E-M5 raw images are.

Notes: Inle Lake fishermen are renowned for practicing this distinctive rowing style, which involves standing at the stern on one leg and wrapping the other leg around the oar. Shot handheld from a moving boat. The light was excessively bright. The 75mm has a lot of glass and suffers from lens flare – I would recommend buying the very expensive but beautifully constructed Olympus hood.

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Exif: 1/400 sec at f 6.3. ISO 200.

Rebels without a cause.

Post processing: Edited in Lightroom – played with the vibrancy, temp and tint to bring out the blues & greens to my taste.

Notes: The guy on the left is wearing a ‘Fuck the Police’ T-shirt. Given Myanmar is still a hardcore military state, I think this is so cool.

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MANDALAY

Exif: 1/100 at f 4.0. ISO 200.

Mist-ery

Post processing: Edited in Lightroom – used split toning to bring out the yellow – green colour scheme.

Notes: U Bein bridge was absolutely mystical. I was worried there would be loads of tourists, but there were blissfully few.

 

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Exif: 1/500 sec at f3.2

U Bein's bridge

Post processing: Edited in Lightroom – using colour settings and graduated filters to bring out the mist and greens.

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It should come as no surprise that I am in love with this beautiful lens. Something about it has gotten me to take more photos in the last four months than I have in the last two years combined. In fact, this lens is one of the impetuses for a current travel lust that I haven’t felt for many a year — I want an exotic subject on which to use it. The lens is looking for a muse…

If you want to see more from the 75mm (and me) check out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/barnabyrobson

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Apr 152013
 

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Easter in Sicily with the New Fuji’s

By Colin Steel

(From Steve: Enjoy this superb article and photography from Colin Steel. Colin once again proves it is not about the gear at all..but about skill and vision. Thanks Colin! BTW, if anyone out there wants me to feature their own article or guest post or user report, send me an e-mail HERE. Thanks!)

Hey folks, I am just freshly returned from my two-week trip to Sicily where I photographed the Easter festivals and celebrations. For the Sicilians this as an extremely important and often very emotional event for them and it culminated in following and shooting the highly charged 24 hour procession of twenty-four alters through the regional town of Trapani. Just to add a little fun for me I managed to purchase the new Fujis (X20 and X100s A really useful review by Steve Huff) specially for the trip and I will share my thoughts on them for this type of event based documentary photography. As anyone who has read my posts before will know, what I wont do is dwell on the image quality and technical aspects of the cameras as I find that most cameras nowadays can produce acceptable technical quality results and, given that all of the shots had some post processing in SilverEffexPro, the differences become largely redundant for my purposes. What ‘image quality’ means to me is how effectively can I create interesting photographs with these tools ? Not what do the files look like at 100% enlargement of stamps, bottles or walls. For that reason I wont even say which shots were taken with which camera (mainly because I can’t remember and can’t be bothered re-checking each one :)

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Before I go into some background on the shooting and make some observations about the cameras, I think it would be good to mention something important that emerged in my approach to some of the photographs. Never having been to Sicily before or having previously attended an event of this nature, I was taken by the iconic imagery of the paintings and statues within the churches and halls that I was shooting in and I tried my best to imitate that look whenever it was appropriate. I did that by watching for the right light and compositions where I could remove background distractions and create a ‘painterly’ appearance to the photographs. I also used the Tri-X film simulation in silverefexpro2 to add to the feel of the images (more on the editing and PP later)

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Background

I have been very lucky to meet many fantastic people on my travels and a few of them have become very good friends despite being from extremely diverse locations such as Costa Rica, Chicago and Geneva. As we share a joint passion for photography and travel we decided to try to meet up this year at a location that none of us have visited before. Also, having previously enjoyed attending workshops hosted by knowledgeable photographers whose work we admired, we decided to combine both and attend an Ernesto Bazan workshop in his home country of Sicily. This turned out to be an inspired decision and I will talk about the workshop experience later as I am beginning to think that, when wisely chosen, these are the best single photography learning and educational investments you can make to improve your skills and style.

The context for Ernesto’s Sicily workshop was to locate everyone in a gorgeous traditional villa by the seaside and near to the town of Marsala as a base and then make the short trips to shoot the various processions and festivities that took place over the Easter week. I think its fair to say that Ernesto’s approach is to encourage the search for emotional and poetic inspiration and as we all know, that is not so easy at the best of times and even more difficult when you are shooting in throngs of people with myriad distractions and ‘shot-killing’ elements. To this end he set a very high standard for everyone and immersed himself with us in trying to interpret the events as we individually and uniquely saw them.

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As I said earlier, my own main focus was to try to use the light as best I could to create the iconic, painting look that I had observed in the many churches we visited. Additionally, it appeared to me that there was somewhat of a ‘dark’ and mysterious side to Sicily that I also wanted to try to incorporate without becoming cliched. Given this approach that emerged as to my interpretation of sicily and these festivals, how did the equipment I used help or hinder in achieving the results that I was looking for?

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The Cameras (X20 & X100s)

Firstly, as readers of previous articles will know, I have been shooting in a square 1:1 crop and in Black and White for some time now. I am at a loss to explain the square crop other than that I like the tightness and symmetry of the results I get. Although it could be argued that it is more suited to portraits and still life, for me (and many more superior photographers than me like Vivian Maier, Diane Arbus and any of the TLR users) it is not difficult to adapt to documentary style photography although you do lose the undoubted advantage of the 3:2 narrative style. Anyway, I have settled on this format in the meantime and now find it extremely difficult to frame outside of that and this is one of the major benefits of these cameras and in particular the delightful X100s, let me try to explain. The X100s has a marvelous optical viewfinder that frames like a rangefinder and when 1:1 crop is selected the frame lines adapt to a centered square with lots of space around the lines so that you can tighten your composition just like in a Leica or other rangefinder. I appreciate that the vast majority of people shoot 3:2 and the frame-lines are nearly as good in that format and are reasonably accurate. Additionally, the X100s now has an extraordinarily good manual focusing system that is deadly accurate. At first when I read about this feature I thought it was a bit gimmicky but believe me, this is the real deal. If, like me, you like to shoot with a lot of depth of field whenever possible, this manual focusing system is fantastic and lends itself very well to zone focusing at set distances. If you have ever used a split screen to focus (as in old film slr’s) this is based on a similar principle with the added benefit of enlargement to aid and also a ‘focus peaking’ type shimmer on the focused area. I used this a lot and found the best way was to aim and press the AF button which is very conveniently located and then fine tune if needed via the light focusing ring on the lens. For my purposes I find this much simpler, easier and quicker than trying to change AF points and I found that I could get very nice tight results even in very low light.

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Having praised the manual focus which I used a lot, the auto focus on the X100s is also vastly improved as well although, despite Fuji’s claims and what I have read, I personally did not find it to be as fast as the Olympus OMD or Nikon V1, but it is more than adequate. On that subject, I still don’t find this camera to be a speed merchant in any area however, I did find that for the type of shooting I do it worked an absolute treat and I was extremely happy with it’s all round performance. I wont bore everyone by re-iterating the key selling points of the Fuji X range but suffice to say that this is one extremely well made camera with exactly the type of manual controls that photographers who concern themselves with the final image rather than playing about with endless mode settings and menu trickiness will value. The ability to have a clear optical viewfinder with superb frame-lines, just the right minimal amount of shooting information required to make a shot and the ability to use the nicely weighted exposure compensation dial with your thumb when you know the meter is going to make a mistake, is all that I can ask from a camera so well done Fuji, this is a classic. Of all of the camera manufacturers these are the guys that are really homing in on what real photographers want and need.

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Just to round out on the X100s, like its older variant the X100 the lens is fast and sharp and the silky aperture ring around the lens is a joy to use. For what its worth my preferred set up for the camera is to use the square format, aperture priority, optical viewfinder, B&W film mode with yellow filter and manual focus. As I mentioned earlier, this gives me complete manual control of all of the critical photo making aspects of the camera as a creative tool and it all becomes extremely intuitive and very fast to use. The only other point worth mentioning is that I shoot RAW plus Fine JPG and this gives me the margin for error with the crop in the 3:2 RAW file if I need it (which isn’t often thankfully) I hope you begin to get a sense of how much I enjoyed this camera and the pleasure I got from its ability to get out-of-the-way when I was looking for interesting light, form and content to shoot.

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The Fuji X20 is a very different but complimentary camera to the X100 (and nearly any other camera I can think of) for a few very key reasons. Like my much-loved X10 before it, it is stunningly well made and is essentially manual in control of the key creative photographic functions. As you will all probably be aware, Fuji have updated the sensor and processing engine and critically added shooting and focus information to the optical viewfinder. This transforms the camera into a superb, compact shooting tool and I found it even faster than the X100s in practical shooting use as it seemed to me to focus more quickly. Although I very much liked the viewfinder improvements I still found myself shooting more with the rear screen on this camera to compose and this allowed me to shoot from higher or lower angles when I needed to.

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When the action was getting faster at the end of the parades, I found myself using the two cameras in tandem by using the X20 when I had to do something fast and reactively and the X100s when I had more room and time to compose. I also sometimes used the X20 at 50mm equivalent on the odd occasion when I couldn’t get as close as I needed for the X100s’ 35mm equivalent. Did I need two cameras to do this? Of course not but I did find that the similarity in controls, function and results meshed very nicely to the extent that I can unreservedly recommend these as a delightful and highly usable pairing for anyone in a similar shooting situation.

I don’t want to go over all of the aspects of this camera that I liked again as they are identical to the ones I mentioned in the previous X10 article but the manual switch on and zoom which I can now guide to 35mm or 50mm by touch is exceptional and the exposure compensation dial which is similarly placed and functional to the X100s completes the control package. Because of the family similarity of controls and menus these cameras make using them together a very simple and attractive proposition. On that compatibility advantage, because I was unsure of how the lighting conditions would play out, I took along the wonderful Fuji EF-X20 flash unit which is a beautifully built but tiny marvel that works equally well on either camera. I did use it very sparingly but once or twice it got me shots that would have been impossible to light otherwise.

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I know this will get me in deep trouble with the strobist community but I am personally very fond of the flat, shadowy, frontal look of camera mounted flash and that is exactly where I used this little marvel as it added so little size or weight to the camera. I kind of like the almost grotesque, paparazzi look that can be achieved with it. If anyone is interested in how this style can work as show by a master creative photographer, have a look at Jacob Aue Sobol’s work with the Leica MM where for almost every shot he took he used on camera flash. I had the very good fortune to meet Jacob in Singapore and he explained to me that he had a very unique, high contrast processing style for film which up until that point he had used exclusively and to get similar contrasty results with digital he had to use the on camera flash.

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I think by now you can all tell how pleased I was with the Fuji cameras and the ultimate functionality and simplicity of using them to make photographs. To finish off on the X20 my preferred set up is again RAW plus fine JPG in square crop (the square crop does not show in the X20 viewfinder but it’s not difficult to judge) B&W film mode with yellow filter and aperture priority.

Post Processing

Every shot shown here was processed in a similar fashion and here it is: Although I set up for fine JPG in B&W I tend to use that more for review to make sure I am getting the look I want and the actual PP images are taken from the RAW files. The process I used is ultra simple as I hate spending time on the computer. As the RAW files are presented in square in Lightroom, unless I need to change the crop slightly (and that is unusual thankfully) they go straight into silverefexpro2 where I normally apply the Tri-X film look filter and occasionally selectively darken or lighten a distracting area with the simple to use control points. I generally then add a little vignette using the lightest option unless something a bit more severe is required for the mood and that’s it. If it takes more than a few minutes something is very wrong and I usually give up on the shot at that point. Despite never having shot film, I have become a huge fan of the Tri-X 400 look and the contrast and grain is gorgeous. In one or two of the low light shots here this has become pronounced and I love it as it creates exactly the look and mood that I am after. It never fails to astonish me how simple the modern processing tools have made it to achieve this look and this is the reason why I think conversations about the sensor quality and output in modern cameras are pretty irrelevant. To my mind the files output by both of these cameras are very robust and they seem to adapt to the Tri-X look beautifully. I would imagine that if you are a fine art or salon type photographer the X100s could be a dream for you with its sexy smooth looking images.

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Photography Workshops

This has been the longest post I have written in a very long time as I completely lost enthusiasm and felt that I had run dry on photography as a subject. I feel the need to change topic here or I will talk to much about equipment rather than the creative photographic art and that is exactly why I lost enthusiasm in the first place !! :) A couple of events changed my life in many ways last year and they were both photography workshops with people who I consider to be at the absolute top of the game for the type of photography I like and it has now happened again this year and I consider it critical to share this with anyone who is reading this that has the drive and passion to try to improve their photography to both better understand humanity and express their uniqueness in their own style. As regular readers will know, I love travel and out of that developed a love of photography however I began to feel that the type of travel photography I was doing (even though it was commercially successful) was very unsatisfying and clearly not expressing any of my personality or thoughts on the world. I still wanted to travel to unique places but also wanted to learn from photographers who to me were credible and whose work I admired. With this in mind I travelled to Sicily, where these photographs were taken, to a workshop with Ernesto Bazan having researched his work and found myself admiring his work on Cuba very much. This turned out to be a completely inspired decision and the environment that Ernesto created and his out-and-out humanity, openness and passion made this a truly life enriching experience. I know some of you may think I am getting carried away here but it’s very true and I think any of the 10 other students would say the same. I am beginning to form an opinion that if you are open to it these type of workshops somehow give you better insight into yourself both from a human and personality perspective and from this comes moments of insight into the gorgeous diversity of this world and the endless visual richness that light reveals to us. Personally, I feel that it is this combination of personal insight and increased sensitivity to visual possibility that transcends technical competence and conventional structure to allow you to be more creative and to express yourself in your own way, this is what Ernesto enabled for me.

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In conclusion then, if you are thinking of a photography workshop I would advise going through the following simple thought process before you make your choice; firstly, select a location or event that interests you a lot, this is more important than you may think, secondly, look at which photographers run workshops there (I will add links of my favorites at the end), thirdly extensively research their work, it is vitally important that you admire their work greatly. I think if you follow these simple steps you will find the workshop to be the single best investment that you can make to improve your photography. Forget about new equipment, on-line training and college classes as a properly chosen, minimum 7 day workshop with a real creative artist will reward you with greater satisfaction and development than all of these put together.

If anyone is interested, I have a simple way of funding my passion to learn and develop (and to buy the equipment that I am addicted to….) and that is that I simply stick $50 every time I think on it in my Starbuck mugs that I have collected from the cities I have visited. I am continually amazed at how this accumulates and finances my photography :)

I am sorry if this has been a bit too much of a ramble for any of you but there was a lot in my head that I wanted to get out and writing doesn’t come easily to me so apologies for any grammar, spelling and structural errors :) I do hope that you have found at least something of interest in here and even more hopefully, something that helps you to enjoy photography more.

the links:

Ernesto Bazan

Peter Turnley

Nikos Economopoulos

Best Wishes,

Colin

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Apr 022013
 

More Leica in Asia photos by George Sutton

I recently had an opportunity to travel to Myanmar. It is just opening to tourists after being essentially closed since WWII. The military has governed (using that term charitably) most of that time repressing all opposition and otherwise living apart from the general population and controlling all the wealth. The rest of the nation mostly lives as it always has. Today it is one of the most impoverished nations in Asia but that only means a lack of material wealth, not the kind of desperate living on the street and scavenging in garbage dumps for things to eat and wear found in other places. We didn’t see beggars or people crushed by poverty. It is a fully intact society frozen in time in one of the richest Buddhist cultures anywhere (rich in a spiritual, not material sense). For now, taking a tour is unavoidable. The food is excellent but you have to know which restaurants to pick. Paying for anything is very difficult because credit cards are not accepted and US currency can only be exchanged for the local money at some places and they only take crisp new unwrinkled dollars. There are excellent hotels but getting a room can be difficult.

This was a photo tour led by a guy (Karl Grobl) who specializes in photographing Asian people particularly in remote areas or places affected by a disaster. He mostly works for humanitarian organizations but leads a few photo tours to fill his schedule. His style of shooting is interesting. He shoots hundreds of photos then sends them via the internet to clients who select shots to use and do all the post processing. It works best to shoot jpegs. Limited internet access and bandwidth makes it impractical to send raw files. He carries two DSLRs, one with a zoom telephoto and the other with a wide-angle zoom. He clips these cameras on each side of a belt designed to carry cameras. That enables him to quickly grab either camera and get a shot of any scene he may encounter. He currently shoots Nikon D3s because of its high ISO quality and ability to get a rapid sequence of shots. He has adjusted the camera to get the saturation, contrast and sharpening he wants in the jpeg then sends the batch as it comes out of the camera at the end of each day or as soon as he reaches a place with internet access.

I took a DSLR but shot raw. I also took a Leica M9 mostly to try it out and to see if it would work better in some places like walking around a city or village. It worked great in those situations. The DSLR was indispensable in many other places like inside dark temples, when a very wide or long lens was needed, or in rainy weather. I first tried the Leica in a market where I figured it would not be a big loss if the shots were not as good as the DSLR and ended up with some of my favorite shots of the trip. Some of those shots follow.

The first is of a lady who spends hours every day sitting before a statue of Buddha in a monastery. Buddhists don’t worship Buddha. They practice good karma because that is what enables them to live a better life in the next reincarnation and with enough good karma one can escape the cycle of birth and rebirth. They revere Buddha for teaching that and revering him is itself good karma.

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The next shot is of men making the alms bowls that monks carry to collect food. Lacking automation, these guys take lids cut from the top of used oil drums and beat them in the bowl shape with hammers. This is literally the main shop of the biggest bowl maker in Myanmar. Once the bowl is pounded out it is painted with a thick lacquer and fitted with a lid and handle made from bamboo.

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The next shots are scenes from a typical city marketplace. The old guy has just finished his morning soup and is enjoying a cigar watching a soap opera.

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The guy on the large tricycle is a typical delivery man. These are the equivalent of a delivery van in a modern city.

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The girl was probably on her way to school. The decoration on her face is a kind of wood dust made into a paste. For her it is makeup but for most people it is a kind of sunburn protection.

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The last shot shows a kind of truck used for just about everything outside the cities. I was told it is made in China. These haul people or other loads. The bed can operate like a small dump truck. This one is delivering people to a monastery in a small town in the center of the country.

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I hope you like them.

George

Feb 142013
 

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Traveling through the land of color with a Leica Monochrom and M9 by Daniel Maissan

I think it’s always nice to put myself up for new challenges in life and not take the easy way. Most of the time it ends well, even though I tend to get a bit frustrated and impatient at the start. As I was leaving the Netherlands two months ago on a photographic journey through India, I got the idea of giving myself an extra handicap once again.

So traveling through the land of color I decided to bring a Leica M Monochrom and see what that would do. Since a year and a half I’m completely in love with my Leica M9 combined with the Summicron 35mm. So of course I brought these as well.

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At first I did get the frustration that I expected. Several times I switched my lens back to the M9, to capture the beautiful colors of the saris. Writing blogs and facebook  posts on not knowing what to do. Should I just shoot black and white and obey my challenge or should I capture the trip of a lifetime with that what I was comfortable with? After a while though, I did start to get the hang of looking at life in black & white. I soon started to notice that the lack of color made me focus more on what was happening. No distraction of color, only the light, movement and most important the contact with my subjects. For me photography isn’t so much about making the perfect shot. The main reason I use my camera is to make contact with a world I understand less every day.

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Getting more comfortable with the Monochrom along the way, I started to experiment a bit more with it. Compare black and whites that I shot with the M9 and then converted in Silver Efex, with the ones I made with the Monochrom. The difference was huge. Specially when shooting at dusk or at night, the higher ISO options were very welcome. Also the amount of detail in dark areas and the sharpness of the pictures were a treat. I was starting to fall in love with this new way of working.

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After a month I shot almost everything with the new Leica, my M9 was drastically neglected at the bottom of my bag. I noticed that the way I looked at things had changed. A lot of times it looked like I didn’t even see colors anymore. Not until I arrived in Jodhpur, the bleu city. There was no way around color here… the bleu houses, the beautiful dresses of the Rajasthan women, the colorful turbans of men. It was time to bring out my old precious again.

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Now I’m comfortable with both cameras. The two rangefinders again have done, what Leica did to me the very first time I used one. They make me think about what I am doing every single time. They force me to slow down, make decisions on the settings I’m using, and anticipate on what is going to happen. From now on I also have to decide whether to use color or black and white. I believe these cameras actually make me a better photographer.

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Working with the two different cameras changed my perspective of the world I’m traveling through as well. They made me even more aware of what is happening, what situation I’m in and who the person I’m photographing really is. Therefor they make me understand a little bit more.

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Don’t forget guys, if you have a GREAT B&W shot and feel lucky, the I-SHOT-IT premium Monochrom competition is underway and heating up. Prize is a Leica monochrom and thousands in cash. How cool would it be if a reader of this site won? AWESOME! – Steve

Feb 112013
 

My Wicked Journey (back) to the Fuji X100

by Kevin Preblud

My own photographic odyssey began while in Junior High School, shooting black and white on a Nikon FE. I learned about f stops, shutter speeds, film speed, as well as how to develop my own film and print my own photos in an old fashioned darkroom. There was rarely a moment when that Nikon wasn’t slung across my shoulder like a musician with his guitar.

Over the years the depth of my passion ebbed and flowed depending on various life factors, but ultimately the birth of my first child in the early 1990’s, conveniently coinciding with the availability of affordable consumer digital cameras, was the convergence of events that put me on the road that has led me to where I am today.

Over the years, another child was born and various individual and family milestones were recorded for digital posterity. But it wasn’t until my children became involved in a variety of youth sports, that I truly picked up where I had left off with that Nikon at the end of my own childhood. It was time to jettison the pro-sumer digital point and shoot, and get back to the SLR world, albeit a digital one.

Once again my trusty dSLR was rarely missing from my side, shooting every sporting and school event that was on the calendar, at times, even for other parents who knew they could count on me to capture those precious moments of their children while I was for mine.

With both kids now in High School and still active in several sports, I spend many fall and spring afternoons photographing their various games, again now not only for myself, but for the teams as well. While this is the worst paying job I have ever had, the satisfaction of seeing the kids faces as they view their action photos online, like a professional athlete, is payment and satisfaction enough.

But like many fans of this site, while researching the mirrorless revolution, in an effort to add a less bulky camera to my toolbox, I found Steve’s review of the Fujifilm X100. That was it! I didn’t have to read another review. The X100 appealed to me in on so many levels; form, function, image quality, size, and most importantly, a return to the basics I remembered from my Nikon FE. It had a dedicated aperture ring, shutter speed dial, and exposure compensation dial; all the basics I had started with nearly a quarter century earlier.

I immediately went online and made my purchase. Upon arrival, the X100 did not disappoint. It was a rare combination of art and utility, like a fine writing instrument, not usually found outside of the Leica world. I must however admit, it took a bit of time to re-acclimate myself with non-automatic photography, but the more I did, the better the results and my personal satisfaction. As well, like so many others have said elsewhere, the X100 is an eye-catcher. The uninformed don’t know if it’s new or old, film or digital, but the intrigue easily draws them in front of the lens with little anxiety. People want to be photographed with this camera. People want to touch and feel it, making the whole photographer/subject dance much less intimidating and far more engaging.

Sadly however, I suffer from technology BBD (bigger better deal). Despite how much I had come to enjoy the X100, and how much I saw my candid and street photography improve, I wanted the next best thing. No thanks to Steve, I abandoned and sold my X100 for what sounded like the next best Fuji, the X-E1. Sure, there were AF improvements, interchangeable lens capability, and a better sensor, but I quickly realized that although the X-E1 was an improvement on paper, I missed my trust X100. In short order, I returned the X-E1 and went back online to eBay in this case, and re-acquired my trusted companion, another X100.

The bliss returned and we were back in business. You would think the lesson was learned, but yet again, and in no small thanks to Steve and his wonderful review, I was back on the BBD program looking to acquire a Sony NEX 6. So, out the door X100 No. 2 went and in the door came the NEX 6. Certainly the Sony is an able and accomplished camera, but I quickly realized it was no Fuji X100. All the reviews said it has better AF, better IQ, and better functionality, but at the end of the day, it just didn’t “fit” me like the X100. So, once again, back went the NEX for return, and back I went to eBay for X100 No. 3. While I’m not sure how much I have cost myself thru the various exchanges, I can promise that this is the last time the X100 goes out the door……..until of course the recently announced FujiFilm X100s I have pre-ordered, arrives at my door step. I promise I will remain faithful until then!!

The following photos are from a nighttime shooting excursion along Colfax Avenue in Denver. Colfax was the primary East-West artery thru Denver before the advent of the Interstate Highway System. Playboy magazine once called Colfax “the longest, wickedest street in America.” Colfax still continues to provide a variety of photo opportunities; from old neon-lit hourly motels and dive bars to recent urban redevelopment including outdoor shopping malls and the latest trends in fine dining.

Oddly, for one of the X100’s most harsh criticisms, low light shooting, I found it to be a jewel to work with, and I was very pleased with the results. Sure it takes care to be certain of your focus point, but like anything, once you get used to its intricacies; both positive and negative, they become practically insignificant.

And so, although not slung over my shoulder like the old film Nikon FE, my Fuji X100 is once again a constant and convenient companion in my coat pocket……My Journey (back) to the FujiFilm X100!

MY NIGHT ON COLFAX WITH MY FUJI X100:

“THE WICKEDEST STREET IN AMERICA“

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Want to write an article about  your favorite camera, lens or photo experience? It’s simple! Just write to me for details HERE!

Feb 042013
 

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The Sony RX1 in B&W by Steve Huff and other RX1 owners

The Sony RX1 has been out for a few months now and many owners have been happily shooting with the camera, myself included. Sure, I have access to just about any camera out there on the market but for my personal use I keep 2-3 cameras on hand and lately, my RX1 has taken the #1 spot for my personal shots, family use, etc. It is a jewel of a camera and I have been using it almost daily since it arrived to me and I have yet to have any issues with the camera, no matter what my situation.

That is not to say that if the new Leica M 240 is everything it is cracked up to be that it will not be added to my arsenal, but I can state with 100% certainty that this RX1 is here for the long haul, much like my M9 was.

It is just such a joy and pleasure to use and while not perfect (no camera is) the results that come from this little guy are so damn pleasing. I have recently found out that due to the dynamic range and high ISO capability and sharpness/character of the Zeiss lens that has been matched and attached to the camera that when shooting plain old B&W JPEG with the camera set to B&W the output is quite amazing.

In my review I touched on how easy and simple it is to get results with this camera..without having to fight it for those results. When you mix that with everything else the camera offers, your JPEGS come out looking GREAT and if you want that last ounce of performance then shooting RAW will take you there. I have been hearing from many owners of the RX1 who feel the same way as I do and they also love shooting it in B&W and for the most part, these shooters are just like me, enthusiasts who appreciate great cameras and gear but also LOVE shooting and capturing those memories.

Just a few days ago I noticed that many of the photos posted in the RX1 group on facebook were being posted in B&W. It seems others were coming to the same conclusions that I was..that the RX1 is a great B&W shooter and a fantastic street camera as well.

It also happens to be amazing in color and if you have not yet seen the shots over at the RX1 files HERE or my RX1 gallery HERE then take a look :) Yes, it is expensive. But it does what it is advertised to do and it does it very well while being very solidly built and like I said, it has never given me one issue.

Direct from camera JPEG. Had the camera set to shoot in B&W with lower contrast by 1. Click it to see a larger image, and yes, this is my Son Brandon. Time flies huh?

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and how about one at ISO 25,600 in a dark restaurant? With Todd Hatakeyama

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EXIF is embedded in all photos and you must click them for larger views or to download them

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Others who own and shoot the RX1..

Phillip Lieu

Waterfall-for-Steve

“Due to the extremely high tonal/dynamic range achieved by the RX1 sensor, B&W output from this tiny wonder is producing results that are so rich and mesmerizing, it redefines the genre altogether!” 

Sincerely,

Philip Liew

BTW, There’s a link to DXO labs that I setup which you may find helpful -http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/Cameras/Compare-Camera-Sensors/Compare-cameras-side-by-side/(appareil1)/833%7C0/(brand)/Sony/(appareil2)/793%7C0/(brand2)/Olympus/(appareil3)/695%7C0/(brand3)/Fujifilm . It’s comparing RX1, OMD-5 & Fuji X100 head to head. As this is a B&W review, please click > Measurement > Tonal range. As you move the mouse cursor to the vertical color bar on the right, it shows how having a great Tonal Range vs ISO affects the B&W output.

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Steve Wong

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Why I like the RX1:

I love having a compact camera that allows for stunning captures in any light. Despite the drawbacks, it is simply the most enjoyable camera I’ve ever had a chance to use.

Steven Wong

http://www.flickr.com/photos/silvernitratephoto/

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Justin Greene

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“Full frame goodness in a small package.”

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Alexander Ess

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The RX1 is for me a good tool for my passion street photography. Street photography is to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary, to highlight the poetry and the simple feeling of human endeavor.
simply moments of life.  If you won’t mind I would be very grateful if you could find some time and look on my photos
Sincerely
Alex
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Eric Berg
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I love shooting with the RX1 for black & white images, as a digital student of photography it is quite difficult to see in black & white. The RX1 and its evf not only inspire but aid in training your eye to see in black & white.
Eric Berg
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Syuck Saito
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I sent you two photos taken with the RX1. Best camera I have ever had, period. Thanks for your reviews which helped me make the purchase.

SK Saito
Blue35photography

 

 

Feb 012013
 

HAS

Using the Hasselblad 200 FC/M for Street Photography by Jerry Bei

“UFO” Kodak Ektar 100

UFO

Hi Steve:

I am a street photographer based in Sydney and I have a strong passion for photography in general. I used the Leica M9 and MP as my main tools for street photography in the past couple of years but recently decided to acquire something different. The temptation of medium format have always been there but I could not justify the cost of digital medium format cameras, at least for now.

Hasselblad has always been my dream medium format camera and luckily I got the chance to buy a Hasselblad 2000FC/M camera body with a A12 magazine at a very reasonable price that got me started into medium format. The world of medium format film photography was new to me so I had to learn everything from the start. I got a grasp of how the Hasselblad V system works very quickly since I had quite a bit of experience shooting film before.

“J&M” Fuji Pro400H

J&M

First thing I noticed when holding the camera is its superb build quality, I have held many Leica cameras before but this thing is different, it is built like a tank; heavy and solid. The Hasselblad 2000FC/M with a lens attached is significantly heavier than my Leica M9 with a 50 Summilux ASPH combo but still lighter than a full-frame DSLR setup.

“Black Riders” Ilford HP5+

Black Riders

The viewfinder on the Hasselblad V system is like nothing else I have experienced, big and beautiful. It is almost like a live-view 3 inch LCD screen in the modern days but even better since it is all optical rather than electronic. Viewing through the viewfinder is a pleasure and truly a treat to eyes. I have upgraded the original stock viewscreen to a even brighter Accute Matte D screen that helps to achieve faster and more accurate focusing for street photography.

The Hasselblad V system is equipped with a waist-level viewfinder and it is perfect for street photography. You can simply hold the camera at your waist aimed at your subject and most people don’t even know that you are taking a picture. It’s discreteness is perfect for the streets. The shutter click sound is no where as quite as a leaf shutter or Leica quietness but it is still a pleasure to hear the mirror flipping when the shutter fires.

“Circus Lady” Kodak Portra 400

Circus Lady

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“Gossip Girls” Kodak Portra 400

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One of the big advantage of the Hasselblad system over other medium format film systems is its inter-changeable backs, which allows swap between different films on the go. There are several different types of film magazines available that can shoot different number of exposures. The most common is the A12 magazine, which allows photographers to shoot 12 frames of 6×6 exposures of 120mm film. You simply insert the dark slide to remove the film back and apply another back loaded with the film you desire. Therefore, you don’t have to wait until all exposures to be finished and able to shoot B&W or Colour during the same photo-shoot.

The lenses are made by Carl Zeiss thus equates to superior image quality. There are several different types of lenses for the V system, some with lens built-in Synchro Compur shutter like in C and CF lenses and some without that uses the in-camera shutter like the F lenses. My Hasselblad 2000FC/M can uses all three types of lenses since it has a built-in shutter and a top shutter speed of 1/2000 second. The optics are all made by Carl Zeiss and has the typical Zeiss quality with its renowned 3D rendition. Some people buy the system because of their famous lenses. There are also difference in lens coating and are noted by the T* sign. The lenses I used are the Carl Zeiss 150mm F4.0 CF T* lens which is equivalent to 94mm in 35mm format, which is the perfect lens for head and shoulder portraits. I am also using the “magical” lens in the Hasselblad world , the Carl Zeiss 100mm F3.5 C T* lens that is equivalent to 63mm and it is a mysterious lens that is rarely used but contains some magical qualities. One day I hope to get the “Noctilux” of Hasselblad, which is the Carl Zeiss 110mm F2 lens that will produce stunning bokeh!

I loved shooting with 35mm film on my MP, although the film qualities are presented i.e. the great exposure latitude, dynamic range and tonality but the sharpness is not up to the standard that I desired. Medium format film seems to be the “Perfect” solution for this, it has incredible sharpness, even at 100% crop looks tack-sharp amazing to me. Although with the significant gain of resolution over 35mm film but it still retains all the film qualities that makes it so attractive. There is also a great gain in shallower Depth-of-Field and the bokeh from the lenses are incredible. The frame is 6×6 which makes it a unique square shape that stands out from all other images. I have yet to print those images in large sizes but have heard that you can even blown them up to 2 by 2 meters prints, which is perfect for commercial usage.

It has been a real joy to use the hasselblad and I am still amazed at its quality. While my journey in the medium format world continues that I would highly recommend for anyone wanting try out medium format film photography : do not hesitate!

Please feel free to visit my Flickr or 500px to see more of my work:

Flickr: HYPERLINK “http://www.flickr.com/photos/jerrybay/” http://www.flickr.com/photos/jerrybay/

500px: HYPERLINK “http://500px.com/jerrybay” http://500px.com/jerrybay

 

“Father & Son” Ilford Delta 400

Father & Son

 

“Hairy Chest” Ilford HP5+

Hairy Chest 

“1958 Chevrolet Corvette” Ilford HP5+ 

1958 Chevrolet Corvette

“French Nun” Fuji Reala 100

French Nun 

“In the Wind” Fuji 400H

In the Wind

Jan 212013
 

Street Photography in Paris by Paul Perton

It’s late May and I’ve been very glad of the central heating in my room when I’ve got up at 06:00 and stottered back into my room after 23:00 most nights. When I first arrived, I was puzzled that the central heating was still on. Now I’m very glad of it and on a number of occasions used the radiator as a clothes horse to get shirts and fleeces dry before my daily routine kicks-in once again.

Why am I mentioning this? I’m in Paris and was expecting the weather to be somewhat better, as did the thousands of tourists that flock every street, corner, restaurant, café and museum.

Peter Turnley is the reason I’m here. He’s a sometime Paris resident going back three decades and a street photographer somewhat in the mould of Cartier-Bresson and Doisneau, albeit younger. Peter’s street workshop started on Saturday and has eleven of us walking the streets photographing les Parisiennes as they go about their daily business.

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The chilly and damp tourists are of little interest to us; they only hide the real city; ancient, full of light and entirely enchanting.

I haven’t been in Paris for some years and find my hard-learned post-school colloquial French has completely deserted me. In it’s place the awkward sounds and flat vowels of Afrikaans spring to mind as I try to make myself understood. This is a solo trip; Mrs P is at home dealing with builders and so, no use in the translation department.

Despite my clear British heritage, I lie a lot when I’m in France; “Non. J’habite á l’Afrique du Suid” being my biggest porkie. That immediately seems to put the French at ease and like me, which wouldn’t usually happen were I to confess to my real pom roots. At that point experience has taught me that the French invariably sneer, or shrug, but either way, provide absolutely no assistance or succour, depending on what I seek. Pretending to be South African is expedient to say the least.

Curiously, the city does seem to have become somewhat less parochial and on this trip and I hear English spoken everywhere, including the Metro. That’s a definite plus.

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Back to the workshop. Peter Turnley is one of a rare breed; a photojournalist that has managed to forge a hard-won reputation for being in the right place at the right time, camera in hand. He is attempting to inculcate us with some of his street wisdom and I for one have felt a significant change in my photographic attitude since arriving here.

The ten others on the workshop are having similar experiences, with varying degrees of photographic success. Peter’s style is as you’d expect for a successful photojournalist; direct and somewhat confrontational. The streets of Paris aren’t a war zone, or a refugee camp in Somalia and I find myself wondering whether such an in-your-face style is justified. His photographs speak otherwise and we are all finding ways to adapt his guidance to our own styles.

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After an orientation meeting and dinner on Sunday evening, the pattern of our days quickly takes shape; shoot, edit and submit a day’s images for group discussion and selection, then it’s back out on to the streets for another go-round.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are chilly, overcast and rainy by turns. As the week progresses however, the weather improves as do our skills. Those readers familiar with my early morning habits won’t be remotely surprised to find I was out on the streets at around 07:00 – earlier than that and there really wasn’t sufficient light pour la photographie.

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Slowly, we each built a group of selected images on Peter’s computer, the aim being 15 photographs from each of us that would be collected into an end-of-workshop show featuring the work of the entire group.

Interwoven with shooting and discussion were two guest discussions; Voya Mitrovic the Serbian-born darkroom superstar who printed for Cartier-Bresson and an entire galaxy of other Paris-based photographers of that era. He also prints for Peter and his work is full of the love, care and tonality that only a master of his craft can produce.

The second talk came from Gerard Uferas, a master photographer, with a passion for the opera, ballet and haute couture. By his own admission, a sensitive and complexed man, he showed us a collection of the most exquisite, textured and colored photographs. Unusually with a group of people all from various walks of life, the impact Uferas’ work left every one of silenced and awed by it’s sheer beauty.

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Meanwhile, my meanderings saw almost 100km disappear under the soles of my shoes, countless cups of café créme, beer and as is to be expected, fine food. On the latter, I should mention a plât du jour lunch of lamb rib chops, a cassoulet fit for a king and on two separate occasions, a wing of exquisitely prepared skate with beurre noisette and capers. For food like that, I’d (almost) live here.

Friday was deadline day for our photographs, as the final show was due on Saturday morning, along with a viewing of the individual portfolios we bought from our various homes. An unusual decision to view this work so late in the day, defended by Peter who makes the valid point that to see this work before setting-out might reveal a professional, or specialist photographer, whose input could adversely impact the hopes and plans of everyone else. Good point.

So, that was it. a week in Paris. Howling wind and rain at La Défense, mellow afternoon sunshine at Pont des Arts, magnificent buildings and some of the worlds most visually interesting people. How bad could that be?

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Jan 152013
 

WORKSHOP: Daytona Bike week with Craig Litten 

March 14-17th 2013 – Daytona Beach, FL

Workshop Signup Page and more details are HERE

 

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UPDATE: I will not be able to make the workshop with Craig but it is going on 100% full steam ahead as it is Craig’s workshop, and I HIGHLY recommend it.

Come one, come all! This is going to be one hell of a photo workshop with so many photo opportunities surrounding you at all times you may just go into sensory overload. Craig Litten and I have teamed up to bring you this AMAZING opportunity to explore your photography limits as you learn how to get comfortable shooting people. In fact, you will have no choice but to get comfortable shooting people as that is all we will be doing!

This workshop is just that, a workshop. Craig Litten will be the main teacher for this one and I will be on hand as well for any questions and of course to shoot with everyone. Craig has done this event many times before and has shot some amazing images that make you say “I wish I was there to document it all”!

Well, now you can be as this will be a 3 day workshop allowing you to grow and open up as a photographer in a crazy environment filled with all kinds of opportunities.

All photos on this page were shot by Craig during his last Bike Week workshop.

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Itinerary

So what will we be doing for three nights? TONS! This will be an action packed photo filled weekend and believe me, by the time it is over you will have some amazing photo memories of your Bike Week workshop! Take a look at what we have planned and yes, this is not for the timid because we will be out in the thick of it until 1AM on the 1st night, just when the action is heating up!

INTRO

Thursday Night, March 14

8-9 pm – Introduction – Intro to workshop, meeting each other

9:30 – Daytona Ale House Restaurant “for Captain Jacks Buried Treasure” (informal group)

11 pm-1 am – Night Shoot 1 “Hit the Mean Streets of Daytona”

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DAY ONE

Friday, March 15

10 am-noon – Group Meeting 1 – Intro to Photo Mechanic, download night shoot

1-5 – Mid Afternoon Shoot – “take advantage of that great mid-day sun”

6–9 – Group Meeting 2 – Street Shooting Techniques, downloading and editing

10-Midnight – Night Shoot 2

 

DAY TWO

Saturday, March 16

9 am-11 – Morning Shoot – “morning light is pure and beautiful”

1-3 – Group Meeting 3 – one-on-one editing help

4-8 – Late Afternoon Shoot – “evening light, you can’t beat it”

8-10 Free (edit or shoot more, your choice)

 

FINAL DAY

Sunday, March 17

9-10:30 am – Peach Valley “Best breakfast in Daytona Beach” (informal group)

11-3 – Group Meeting 4

3 pm – Slideshow of everyone’s work and final thoughts

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This workshop will be pretty amazing. If you want to get in on it the fee is $699 for the entire 4 day, three night workshop. This does NOT include Hotel, Travel or Food. For more details and info please visit the signup page at streetphotograohyworkshops.com . Craig will be taking the deposits and payments and for all of you who want to get in on it, I will see you there! Expect one hell of a time! It will be a time of amazing photography, new friendships and non stop craziness! SIGN UP NOW as spaces are limited.

I will be trying to get some cool gear to bring as well Maybe the new Leica M? New Fuji X100s? No guarantees but I’m on it and will keep everyone updated!

BTW, ONLY 12 spots available for this one, PERIOD.

Steve Huff

Jan 112013
 

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THE SONY RX1 IN INDIA

By Richard Geltman

I ordered the Sony RX1 in September 2012 from Amazon and expected delivery in December. Departure for India was set for the 15th and it seemed likely that the camera would not arrive in time and I would be “forced” to rely upon a NEX-7 and/or the Sigma DP1/2M cameras that I had recently acquired. Happily, the camera came on December 3rd giving me some time to use it before leaving and to become accustomed with its behavior in different situations.

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The camera is weighty-feeling and very solid. It feels like a miniature M9. I was unable to obtain the EVF so used, in addition to the LCD, an optical viewfinder. I found after a few experiments that the Voightlander 28 mm finder gave the best match for the 35 mm lens field of view. I’m sure the Zeiss finder made specifically for the RX1 is nice but I think it somewhat over-priced. I fitted the lens with a 49 mm B+W clear filter and purchased a very inexpensive screw-in vented lens hood on Ebay for around $10. These two served to protect the front surface of the lens throughout 3 weeks of travel. The lens cap (solid metal) was never used at all. While a wrist strap would be quite comfortable with this device I prefer the 60 cm Lance loop-type strap which allows the camera to lie diagonally across my chest and rest on my left hip, making it quickly available yet at the same time unobtrusive and fairly safe from being snatched or damaged.

The ergonomics are pretty good. It never slipped or dropped and was never uncomfortable when shooting in any position. The EV adjustment dial lies at the top right of the body and is fairly firm. I did accidentally dislodge it two times in three weeks. The movie button lies laterally and below the EV dial. While not as bad as the NEX-7 I did inadvertently actuate the video mode once or twice as well. Otherwise, I didn’t use video so have little to say about it. This camera is really small, almost too small for my hands. The shutter is nearly silent but for shooting with an OVF, I used the focus confirmation sound (unavoidably linked to an imitation shutter noise.) This noise was not a problem on the street and generally did not draw any unwanted attention. You quickly start to know where the focus point in the OVF is although I experienced plenty of misses as well. I experienced focus misses with the NEX-7 and the RX1 is faster and more accurate. The lens is large but feels solid and substantial. The markings are engraved rather than painted on. The aperture control ring which encircles the lens is also very solid feeling but lies adjacent to the camera body. For me this makes it somewhat hard to adjust. There is a macro mode ring at the far end of the lens which allows close focus (~22 cm.) I never used this and would rather have the aperture ring in this position as with most Leica lenses, making it more accessible and more usable.

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Battery life is acceptable for my type of shooting and generally I would get more than 250 exposures when fully charged. I always carry a spare but needed to use it only once or twice. The camera will shoot slightly more than two frames per second so one tends not to shoot many frames at a time. Rather one or two and then moving on. As has been mentioned numerous times, Sony requires that the battery be charged in the camera. I find this inconvenient and so purchased some spare generic batteries as well as an external charger. Several types are available and Steve just posted about a particularly nice one. Parenthetically, the non-Sony batteries worked perfectly well.

The only other feature of the camera I would describe is the fact the when using aperture-priority along with auto-iso, which I do much of the time, the camera always tends to a shutter speed of 1/80; rather than lowing the f/stop it will raise the iso and keep the shutter speed at 1/80. Given the pixel density and, perhaps, personal issues such as age, eyesight, balance and steadiness, I would like to be able to set a minimum shutter speed, perhaps 1/125, but the camera doesn’t allow this. Annoying. While you can use shutter priority instead, you get f/4 almost all the time. Again, pretty annoying. The only way around this is to go fully manual but I’m not too adept at it and I generally find it too slow for rapid street use.

All of the above being said, this is a wonderful camera: lovely in feeling, fast in focus (without the accessory lamp,) quiet in operation, smooth and threaded shutter release (as opposed to the halting Leica,) wonderful high iso performance (out to iso 6400 if not beyond,) great malleable files fully supported by Lightroom (unlike the Sigmas,) and ultimately, very small, compact, unobtrusive and with a huge sensor. As has been said elsewhere, you can set the camera to aperture priority, the auto-iso from 100 to 6400 and go out and shoot anything and everything without any problem.

INDIA

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Travel to India was a goal for me for a number of years. I have experienced tourist travel in western Europe, Argentina, Japan, Hong Kong and China and of course the US as I’m a native New Yorker. I assumed the experience would be challenging but rewarding. In this I underestimated India. It was extremely challenging and rewarding but also revelatory, invigorating, infuriating, spiritually awakening, amazing and wonderful. There is a sense of life and vitality in India that I’ve not felt elsewhere. And this in a place with tremendous poverty, social and legal problems (witness the recent rape/murder,) and dramatic disparities in education, economics and social equality. One sees women in saris using primitive hand tools while working on construction projects. One can walk down a street in Udaipur and see a gleaming, black Audi A6 next to a cart carrying the freshest produce pulled by two water buffaloes and guided by a partially toothless old man looking straight out of the 14th century. Driving is a nerve-wracking, chaotic dance of continuous darting in and out, weaving around animal-powered carts, vehicles traveling the wrong direction (even on the few significant highways,) truly horrible roads and passing and endlessly tooting one’s horn. Frequently I was told that driving in India requires a good horn, good brakes and good luck. It also requires nerves of steel, white knuckles and continuous vigilance.

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Mumbai is the city in India that evokes the most usual sense of urban life in me. It has a population of about 21 million and at any given time more than 57% live on the street and are, strictly speaking, homeless. This does not mean that a large percentage of the homeless don’t work and to support them, as well as all the other Mumbai denizens, are vast systems of services such as outdoor laundries, lunch box delivery services and all manner of unbelievably inexpensive goods and services. A vegetarian Indian “burger” sold on the street that costs 5 cents and is wildly popular; shoe shines in the railroad station (that of “Slumdog Millionaire”) for 2.5 cents; street-level haircuts, shaves and dental extractions! India has to be the most entrepreneurial nation on earth. Everybody is selling everything and something. Everything has some value and is recycled and sold by someone who can earn a living from it one rupee at a time. All this, also, from a people who quite generally are curious and friendly with foreign travelers. There is often a sense of over all gentleness that Indians project but, of course, all generalizations such as this are easy to prove false in at least some regard.

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Chaos, dirt, clutter, litter and crowd anxiety can be a deterrent to many contemplating travel to India. Also, fear of contagion, e.g., Delhi-belly, dengue fever, malaria or worse. I experienced no illness or inconvenient health problem while there for three weeks of travel from the north of the country to the southern tip although admittedly I was careful in my habits, never ate street food (as India has the world’s highest rate of toxigenic E. Coli enteritis,) avoided raw vegetables and fruit everywhere but in the best hotels and drank only carbonated water, beer, sodas or wine. If you can overcome some of these common anxieties then India offers an unequaled travel, photographic and personal experience and I would encourage all who are intrigued to take the plunge.

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The photos that accompany this article were all taken with the RX1 rig described above. I hope they convey some of the emotions and raw beauty of the people and the country.

Richard

Dec 172012
 

Street Shooting in Iran

by Nate Robert – See his blog HERE

Hi Steve,

I wanted to make you aware of my journey to photograph the streets of many countries around the world. Very recently, I spent a month in Iran. A country that is very misunderstood, and quite mysterious to most. Of course, what I found is that street shooting in Iran, is just like anywhere else on Earth. Why? Because as the song goes – people are people. It needs to be said that Iranians are the most friendly and welcoming people I have encountered, and I’ve been to 37 countries so far (and counting), all in the name of cultural experience. The people of Iran hold no animosity towards Americans, or Westerners in general – they really do see the issues of governments as totally beyond the control of the citizens – whether that be their own government, or the US government. We’re all human, and we’re all in this together, right?

I’m traveling the world indefinitely, and at this point, I’m only using a single camera, with a single lens. The Fuji X-Pro 1, and the 18mm F2. This combination is in my opinion, the best travel camera set-up available. I’ve gone from a Nikon DSLR, to a Leica M6, to the Fuji. When you’re traveling, you need a light-weight setup – so that rules out DLSR’s. I love film, especially black and white, but it’s a chore to constantly be finding places that will develop my work when I’m in a foreign place. A digital Leica M would be nice, but it’s out of my budget. In my opinion, the IQ of the Fuji, combined with the shutter dial/aperture ring/exposure compensation adjustments and the optical viewfinder, make it the best camera for me. Of course, the X-Pro is not without quirks, and not for everyone.

I found it difficult to shoot street photography at first, not knowing what photographic regulations I needed to adhere to, nor knowing how the people would react to me. However, I slowly got into the groove, and a month later I had a small portfolio of images that I can look back at again and again, to remember such an incredible country.

If any of your readers would like to follow the journey, I think they would find it interesting – one lens, one camera, one world. I’m blogging as I go, and try to do a new set of street photos every few weeks or so.

Keep on doing your thing Steve, we all appreciate it. (Thank’s Nate)!

Nate Robert

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Dec 052012
 

1 Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 lens for CX format Lens Review

By Craig Litten

See his website HERE

 

INTRO

I’ve been looking forward to getting this lens ever since it was announced. Primes are always welcome, and I hope the Nikon will keep them coming. If you’re a regular reader of Steve Huff Photo, then you probably know that I’m a big fan of the Nikon V1. To keep it in perspective though, the Nikon 1 system has its place. It is not necessarily to be used as your main camera, but rather for specific purposes or shoots. But if you’re a street photographer or you travel a lot, the Nikon V1 could very well be your main camera, it’s that good. As much as I wish there was a one-camera solution for every situation, there isn’t. The Leica M has its place, the Canon EOS-1D X has its place and the Sony X100 has its place. All vastly different cameras to fill different needs or desires. The world would be a very boring place if everyone drove the same car wouldn’t it? But we don’t park next to someone at the mall, get out of our cars and ridicule them for choosing to drive a Nissan Cube do we (I think the Cube is cool by the way)? So Nikon 1 naysayers can look elsewhere because you cannot, nor ever will, be convinced. Secondly, the images in this lens review are not a portfolio, but they are meant to show a variety of situations, angles, f-stops, etc. to give you, the one who is considering a purchase of this lens, an idea of what the lens can do. I see so many poor sample photos shot with new lenses on the Internet than I can hardly believe, which is one reason why I personally come back to Steve’s reviews. If he says it’s good and gives it a thumb’s up, then I don’t think twice about it.

So whether this lens is for you or not, you’ll have to decide. But like the wildly popular Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 DX lens, it checks all the right boxes. It’s cheap, light, fast, sharp and a great bargain. When it was announced I immediately pre-ordered it at B&H Photo, but I probably didn’t need to since I don’t think it will be a hot seller like the Sony 24mm f/1.8 E-Mount Carl Zeiss Sonnar lens or other lenses like it, so it should always be in stock. This lens is not exotic, but more of a utility lens that can be used in almost every situation, everyday and especially in low light. As of writing this, B&H has all three colors, black, silver and white, in stock HERE. So, to summarize the above paragraph: if you are a Nikon 1 hater, please be kind or stop reading now. I’ve always been a fan of the underdog, and that’s exactly what Nikon has here in the Nikon 1 System. It’s a camera that caused a big stir, but then was soon forgotten. But at its current price, $299 HERE at B&H, it’s an absolute steal. Yes STEAL! You can revisit my review HERE or other reviews by Colin Steel HERE on this very website. Maybe now that the price is reasonable to the masses, you may reconsider. Plus you can pick up this fantastic, tiny wonder-of-a lens for under $200. (The V1 Ultimate Kit is now half off as well at B&H)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Immediately after taking the lens out of the box and handling it, I noticed how light it is, it’s a featherweight. It feels almost hallow like the lens consists only of the outer lens barrel, the mount and the front and rear elements but is empty inside. But unlike its DX counterpart, it has a metal mount–a must for any lens I own period. So even though it’s light, it seems to be well built. Not Voightlander well built, but this new-day-of-digital-cheap-lenses well built. I also examined it to see if the lens barrel was metal or plastic. Yesterday I concluded it was plastic, but today I think it may be metal, but I’m not 100% sure and Nikon doesn’t say. I did compare it to my 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 lens, which has a metal barrel and seems heavier and much denser. After having the lens sit on my desk overnight, the barrel is slightly cold to the touch, like the 10mm, which makes me wonder if it is metal after all. I also own the Panasonic Lumix Leica D Summilux 25mm f/1.4 for the Four Thirds system, and it has a metal lens barrel, which seems very cold to the touch. Plastic never feels cold to the touch though. Even though all the 1 Nikkor prototypes were in shiny metal, I have a feeling that this lens is plastic. If anyone can verify this, I’d love to know. No matter, it’s still well put together and you can read about the usual specs at Nikon USA.

There’s not much else to say. It comes with the usual 5-year Nikon USA warranty, which is great. It’s solid, light and doesn’t rattle or move when you shake it. It takes the usual 40.5mm filters, which are slightly hard to find, and the plastic Nikon HB-N101 lens hood fits snugly (I can’t say that about all lens hoods for other systems), looks cool and works perfectly.

WHAT IS IT?

First off, those reading this review that are not familiar with the Nikon 1 system may not know exactly what this lens is. The 1 Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 lens is for Nikon 1 CX format cameras only. The Nikon 1 camera has a small one-inch sensor that you must multiply a given lens focal length by 2.7x to figure out the exact focal length. So this 18.5mm lens is a 50mm equivalent standard f/1.8 lens.

 

USING THE LENS

The lens is slightly smaller and lighter than the standard 10-30mm kit zoom, and balances perfectly on the V1. It has just enough size, protruding out from the camera body, to hold comfortably. And it’s light enough not to be noticed.

1. Focus

Focus is instant and silent just like the 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens. It locks on instantly and rarely racked. The focus did rack (back and forth once not multiple times—in other words, it did not hunt) only a few times, and I shot hundreds of photos, but it always locked on immediately afterwards. But mostly because I was putting the lens through it’s paces shooting every type of situation I could think of. The Nikon 1 system is known for it’s incredible fast and accurate focus, and the 18.5mm f/1.8 was in line with the already existing lenses. I did notice that the 18.5mm racked a bit more than the 10mm pancake though, and it could be because the elements have to travel further, I’m not sure. But it is nothing to worry about or even give a second thought. I was a Canon shooter for 11 years and the Canon lenses rack like crazy (sorry Canon shooters, but it’s true), so even top pro systems and L glass rack focus.

Focus is also very accurate. Only on one or two shots did focus not lock into place, and I didn’t notice until I got back to the computer to edit. I don’t look at every photo I shoot while out in the field. I haven’t used the 10-30mm kit lens a lot, but I feel that the focusing on the 18.5mm lens is better that that of the 30-110mm telephoto 1 Nikkor zoom lens. It was able to focus, in complete darkness over a completely black body of water on a string of lights running across the center of the frame. The string of lights was so small in the frame that they almost couldn’t be seen. The auto focus auto point selector picked it out and instantly focused on it. Amazing. One of the shots included in the article was shot on a pier at night under incredibly low light. The focus didn’t hesitate at all and locked in on the subject immediately. So, in conclusion, the focus is both fast and accurate and in line with the Nikon 1 system and the other 1 Nikkor lenses.

2. Handling

The lens handles perfectly. Again, it’s small and super light, so you hardly notice it, which is one of the pluses of the Nikon 1 system. The lens never gets in the way of itself.

3. Sharpness

I’ll let the test images speak for themselves. I have included several full size copies for you to download and examine. NO sharpening has been applied during processing or in camera. All photos were shot RAW+JPEG, but the samples where from the RAW processed though Lightroom 4. There are many samples shot at f/1.8, an f-stop most of us want to know about to see if this lens is worth the asking price. These are sharp, very sharp. Plus there are also samples at f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 and f/8. I’m a photographer who makes 100% of my living at photography, not a lab technician of a test chart shooter. But I’m personally impressed with the output of this lens. Both wide open and stopped down. I really didn’t notice much difference, but also didn’t spend hours pixel-peeping the files. To me, they look good. This lens, even wide open at f/1.8, is good enough for paying gigs. Enough said.

4. Distortion

In practical use, shooting people and most subjects, you will not notice much if any distortion. But when shooting a horizon such as at the beach, you will notice a slight bend downwards. Also when shooting near a wall. In the photo with the white egret on the black fishing nets you will notice the slight curvature in the barn siding to the bottom left of the frame. You can also see slight rounding on the top and bottom of the night photo of the wooden fish sign shot through a window. Notice the “Bridge Tender Inn” sign at the top and the “fresh fish” sign at the bottom, both have a slight curvature. On the other hand, Vignetting is very slight but I really didn’t “notice” it during practical use. Finally, purple and green fringing reared its ugly head in one photo, the wind chime in front of a screen, shot wide open at f/1.8 and with extreme backlighting. I didn’t notice it any other time though, and don’t think it’s anything to worry about.

CONCLUSION

If you’re a Nikon 1 owner (whether the J1, J2, or V1, V2) this lens is a no-brainer, just buy it. For $186.95 it’s well worth it. It finally gives Nikon 1 owners a fast option for low light. Although I think files out of the V1 are very pleasing up to and including ISO 800, and sometimes even ISO 1600 if exposed correctly, this will give users an option to shoot at much lower ISOs in a given lighting situation, and as you can easily see from the sample photos, some fairly nice bokeh. If you are not currently a Nikon 1 owner, maybe this lens and the currently ridiculously low price of the wonderful V1 will push you over to the dark side. Since I am a photojournalist by profession, I shoot almost exclusively with zoom lenses or I wouldn’t be able to compete. There simply is not enough time to change lenses in this fast-paced profession. So I found it a real pleasure to shoot with a 50mm equivalent prime lens. It is a great focal length and always seemed to be ‘just right.’

ACCESSORIES

As I’ve already mentioned, the Nikon HB-N101 lens hood, designed for the 1 Nikkor 10-30mm kit lens, works perfectly on the 18.5mm lens. But the Nikon HN-N101 metal lens hood, designed for the 1 Nikkor 10mm f/2.8 pancake lens, works well too with no vignetting in the corners. The metal hood is very low profile and will most likely not give you the coverage that the plastic bayonet hood will. I use the metal hood exclusively on my 10mm pancake, and have never had any flair issues. This entire review was shot with the metal hood on my 18.5mm lens that I borrowed from my 10mm pancake. I just ordered a second one that will live on the 18.5mm lens. I love it because it can also be fitted with a screw-on metal lens cap (which I also own), the HC-N10, to make it a tiny, low profile package but still offering the protection of a lens shade. Nikon also makes a very nice, inexpensive lens pouch, CL-N101, that will easily hold the 18.5mm, the 10mm pancake, the 10-30mm kit zoom and even the new 11-27.5 pancake zoom with hoods attached. It features a stiff, padded bottom, a drawstring interior, and a Velcro flap. It’s also very soft, flexible, easy to store and comes in red, black and white. But for some reason the red and white versions are more expensive.

Craig’s Website is HERE

Craig’s Street Shooting Workshops can be found HERE

Nov 252012
 

A few more Sony RX1 B&W Night Samples…

This is NOT part 2 of the RX1 review but it is just a lazy Sunday post with a few more samples using higher ISO at night along with an on board flash shot as well. I shot it in B&W JPEG mode and what you see is what came out of the camera. Since part 2 of the review will focus on RAW files I decided to throw these up in case anyone happens to be browsing around today :) I’ve been taking a couple of days off for the holiday and will be back full force tomorrow! Until then, enjoy these new RX1 JPED ooc samples!

BTW, these were all using Auto Focus and I had no issues locking focus on any of these shots. The couple of shots with blur is motion blur not mis-focus. Enjoy!

YOU MUST CLICK THE IMAGES FOR LARGER AND BETTER VIEWS

ISO is on the image and EXID is embedded if you want to see it

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Order the Sony RX1 HERE or HERE. Ships in ABOUT 2 WEEKS from what I am seeing/hearing. B&H Says after Dec 5th.

© 2009-2014 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved
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