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Apr 192017

My Hands on 1st Thoughts on the Sony A9! (Video)

NOTE: I switched this site to a new server last night, and comments may or may not be working. If you have an issue posting comments here, email me at [email protected]

Wow, what a day! I posted something earlier about the A9 right as it was announced and that page has all the specs of this new powerhouse camera. But for now, I wanted to record all of my thoughts of this new A9 while they were fresh in my head.

But MAN OH MAN what a camera. Yes, Sony has created my Desert Island camera…see the video below to hear WHY:


Feb 142017

The HASSELBLAD X1D Street Review

By Thomas Ludwig

When HASSELBLAD presented the X1D medium format mirrorless camera in 2016, I was very impressed. And glad and happy for HASSELBLAD for this bold move after some shaky times in the last two years. Some weeks later I got the chance to hold the X1D in my hands–boy, what an amazing camera! My first thought was that this will be a huge success for HASSELBLAD. And I was asking myself if I could use it in street photography as it is relatively small and unobstrusive. So let’s have a look!

Marc Lethenet from HASSELBLAD was so kind to loan me one of the pre-series X1Ds for a day in the streets of Hamburg. Together with my friend Marco Larousse ( ), street photographer and host of the podcast, I gave the cute Hassi a try. Attached to the X1D was the 45/3.5mm lens, which is roughly 35 mm in FF terms. That’s quite perfect for street photography and furthermore it fits equaly perfect in the new CAMSLINGER Streetomatic+.

Hamburgs new and amazing Elbphilhamonie in the background

Mirrorless technology has come a long way since 2008 and is now entering the medium format world. Hasselblad and FUJI aswell are about to ship there new systems. While the FUJI has a more functional, maybe a bit boring design, the HASSELBLADs shapes, lines and materials are outstanding and inspiring. I would say that’s art. And as soon as you hold it in your hand, you’ll be amazed by the ergonomics too. But how about all the stuff under the hood?

The sensor has 50mp and is well known from other medium format cameras. It’s size of 44 x 33 mm is clearly bigger than full frame 36 x 24 mm, but it’s pretty far away from film medium format with 60 x 45 mm or even 70 x 60 mm. So it is a bit of a deception package. However the image quality should be very good. Unfortunatley the day I had in Hamburg was cloudy and foggy, but the details I saw on my PC screen when editing my shots from that day was simply amazing.

Images are very flexible and cropping is no prob at all

My setup fort he day in Hamburg: HASSELBLAD X1D | HASSELBLAD XCD 45 mm F 3.5 | Spare battery | All packed in a CAMSLINGER Streetomatic+

The orange clothes in this image look like in real life.

Image Quality is amazing! Images have a very natural appearence. Colors are true to life and I have the feeling that one can see that medium format look. This might be subjective, but I think they have more plasticity than smaller sensors could deliver. I’m mostly happy with my micro 43 cameras, but these files play clearly in another league. The look, the colors, dynamic range and of course noise–simply amazing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Hassi was metering rarely spot on. Mostly it was under exposed and if not, images were over exposed. That’s not a big deal, as you have so much dynamic range to work with, but it’s not perfect. Marc from HASSELBLAD told me that my sample unit has not the final firmware installed and this and AF speed will be fixed.

Below are some dynamic range and low light samples up to ISO 3200. The first one, a 70’s TV, got an exposure compensation of +2(!) steps in LR. See the 100% crop and the grain, which is however quite nice.

I’m blown away by the portraits that the X1D and 45/3.5 deliver. People look so real and natural. Maybe portrait photography is the best genre for the HASSELBLAD X1D. As it is so small (for a medium format camera) you can grab street portraits without people getting annoyed. Images right out of cam have so much flexibilty for editing. The image below is edited by Marco Larousse and even if contrast is relatively high, there are plenty of fine details.

The handling oft he X1D is somehow perfect. It is so nice and safe to hold. All knobs and dials are in the right place and the touch screen is quick and easy to operate. The menues are easy to access and everything else than complicated. Well done Hassi!

Due to the not final firmware I cannot say much about operating the camera. My sample however had a long blackout time after taking a photo and needed some seconds to be ready when switched on. So I didn’t switch it off and had it always in stand by. That was eating batteries. I had to change the first one after 150 shots only, but that’s for sure while I needed some time to get used to all the functions while using the display quite a lot. The second battery was lasting another 150 images and was at about 50% at the end of the day.

The viewfinder is big and bright and very responsive. But I would like to see a viewfinder (or at least a backscreen) in the X1D that can be swiveld. It’s so typical to medium format cameras that one can view the scene from above that I really missed this feature.

Focusing abilities are a bit restricted with the current firmware, but single point auto focus was relatively quick and in 95% spot on. The only problem I had with the X1D was the long blackout time after taking a photo. I hope this will be fixed in firmware and that’s what Marc from HASSELBLAD said. As for manual focusing this is pretty easy due to the huge electronic view finder and the magnification abilities.

In the moment there is no face detection available. Especially when taking portraits, this is a neat and deal breaking feature. Hopefully Hassi will introduce it in a future firmware update.

So here is my conclusion: Would I buy a HASSELBLAD X1D for street photography (if I had the budget)? Probably. I think a micro 4/3, aps-c or full frame mirrorless camera has more features, speed and smaller appearence to offer, which makes them on the streets the possibly better choice. For my “normal” days of street photography, I’m happy with an OLYMPUS OM-D or LUMIX. But everyone has their own preferences and when your preference is amazing image quality and a look to your images, that is beyond what smaller sensors can deliver, well, than the X1D might be a camera for you.

However I was extremely impressed by the IQ of the HASSELBLAD X1D and could imagine to use it for fine art projects in street photography or certain projects, especially in street portraiture.

What impressed me on the same level is the georgeous design of this camera. HASSELBLAD did what many others don’t do: They had the courage to walk new ways. And the result is already iconic to my eyes. The HASSELBLAD X1D offers AMAZING image quality and it’s design is contemporary arts. It’s a camera for the fine art street photographer.



COSYSPEED Online Shop USA and Canada:

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Feb 032017

TIPS: Working in Cold Weather with Olympus Cameras

By Olympus Visionary Jay Dickman – His Website is HERE

Snow, rain, fog, all sorts of “atmospherics” that keep most sane people inside, can be very productive photographic environments in which we can work. While everyone else is hunkering before the fire, the avid photographer puts on their or cold weather gear to brave those elements. Why? Because those conditions can provide so many great photographic opportunities.

So how does that photographer prepare for the elements, especially the cold? Here is my list of what you can do to prepare to walk out into that wonderful world of the cold.

Olympus Visionary Jay Dickman out in the Elements with his Olympus Gear – Antartica

Exposure issues When shooting in snow, if in the Antarctic or photographing the kids building a snowman to shooting the skiers, exposure is impacted by those super-bright conditions. Your Olympus has really intelligent design in the metering system and a specific exposure mode for these conditions. On the E-M10, E-M10 MkII, E-M1, E-M5 and E-M5 MkII, there is a “SCN” mode on the exposure mode dial on the top left of the camera. Turn the dial to the SCN mode, on your monitor you’ll see a choice of scenes (a very powerful tool on the camera, as it offers a number of different choices,) scroll through the choices until you come to “Beach & Snow”.

Canadian icebreaker cutting through multi-year ice in the Northwest Passage

Jay Dickman on Mt Washington, New Hampshire, on assignment for National Geographic

In the Canadian High Arctic, a wave breaks in front of an iceberg in Queens Harbour

Weddell seals and Adélie penguins near Brown Bluff in the Antarctic

When taking photos in conditions of super-bright ambient light, the camera’s meter is trying to make that snow or bright sandy beach an average exposure, which is 18% grey. Normal metering of any camera will, in these conditions, create an exposure that looks a bit “muddy.” This is absolutely correct as the meter’s job is to find a bright area, and present the ideal exposure of that mid-gray of 18%. In normal metering mode, what the photographer does is to actually “add” light thru exposure compensation: anywhere from 2/3rd’s of a stop to 1 ½ stops of “+” exposure compensation. “Add light to make it bright” is a great mnemonic to help recall this process. When looking at your histogram, it should be biased towards the bright side, the right, for a correct exposure..not clipped, but definitely biased towards the right.

Ice fjords near Ilulissat, Greenland

Icebergs in the Southern Ocean

Late day sun breaks out on tabular icebergs in Grand Didier Channel in Antarctica

Here’s where that “Beach & Snow” Scene mode can work for you. The engineers at Olympus have cleverly built this mode for these exact conditions as the camera will automatically create a perfect exposure based on algorithms set into the memory of the camera. Pretty clever and very accurate! You don’t have to make any adjustments to you exposure compensation when in this mode that produces a beautiful jpeg.

Jay Dickman while on assignment in the arctic

Protect your gear: If you are the owner of an Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkII (or E-M1) your camera is already well protected from rain and snow, as are your Olympus Pro lenses. Still, I always carry a chamois cloth or two in my bag. Not the artificial ones, but the real, leather based cloth found at your local auto supply or Walmart/Target. I use these to wipe of heavy amounts of precipitation, or use it as a “raincoat” to cover my gear in a downpour. It can be used, if very clean, to wipe of rain from your protective filter, but don’t use it on the front element!

National Geographic Expeditions members fight a blizzard on Whalers Cove along the Antarctic Peninsula

Ultra-cold conditions: I was on a shoot on the Arctic ice, many miles north of Barrow. The air temperature was well below zero, which creates a different world in which the photographer is working. Not only battery life being an issue, but being aware of conditions into which I was carrying my gear. We were staying in an ice station, built for this event, so one could walk into a hut that was 100 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. This could play havoc on the gear, that huge temperature differential causing my camera to instantly turn into a blob of condensation, due to warm interior air meeting a frozen camera. First time I did this, I immediately stepped back out, which only caused that drenched camera to instantly freeze the moisture on its surface. Okay, I learned from that one. After that, when entering the temperate climate of a heated building from a cold exterior, I’d put my camera gear into a large plastic freezer bag, squeezing out as much air as possible. This created a “micro-climate” from which there wasn’t much moisture to create that large amount of moisture. Often, if going in only to warm-up, I’d leave the gear outside so its temperature matched the air temperature. Did I mention batteries take a hit in the cold? I’d always carry extra batteries in a pocket that stayed a bit warm.

Near Baffin Island, a polar bear luxuriates in the cold weather

Whaler’s Cove in the Antarctic, penguins hunker down in teeth of a blizzard

One of the other fun thinks that can happen (and did, several times) is inadvertently placing the frozen camera to my eye, having slid down the protection of my face mask, only to have the camera freeze to my nose. Remember the scene in “A Christmas Story” when Flick stuck his tongue to the pole in freezing temps? Well, it does happen just like that.
Don’t try to blow snow off your camera or lens with your humid breath. This can result in the snow melting to your gear, and possibly refreezing immediately, creating a frustrating situation. Instead, brush that snow or ice off with a small brush or that chamois I convinced you to carry.

At Elephant Island in the Southern Ocean, the spot where Shackleton’s men over-wintered as he sought help, ocean ice with Point Wild landmark in background

Tabular icebergs and sea ice in the Grand Didier Channel in the Antarctic


Keep your Battery Warm: Batteries are such a necessary part of today’s photographic experience as everything in digital is power-based. I always carry a couple of back up batteries, fully charged, and usually residing in a pocket of coat or jeans. This ensures that the battery will operate at its top capability.

Handwarmers: Obvious idea, but too many of us forget these small wonders until the morning we want to go out and photograph in cold conditions. Pick up a package from your local outdoor store—REI, Cabela’s, Sierra Trading Post, Bass Brothers or your local sporting goods store will be a good source for these. In really cold conditions, I’ll stick one in my pocket with the batteries as well as one inside each of my gloves, and interior of boots. A battery of any kind will work better when warm.

Macaroni penguin “porpoising” through waters of South Georgia

A polar bear near Baffin Island in the Canadian high arctic

Gloves: This suggestion will elicit a big “Duh,” but are your gloves ideal for photography? Traditional mittens, which are the warmest hand-coverings are very efficient for maintaining warmth when outdoors, but if not photo-specific, these can be a barrier to the shooting process. The availability of your digit finger & thumb, to press the shutter or change settings is critical, so I’ve listed a few popular styles of photographers gloves. These have either a very think covering over your fingertips, or the fabric can be pulled back to provide that critical tactile feel.

Polar bear walking across ice in Canadian high arctic

Two King penguins in morning light on Gold Harbour, South Georgia

Rucpac Professional Tech Gloves for Photographers won’t allow you to pull covering off of digit finger and thumb, but a thin glove that’s well insulated and is touchscreen compatible.

Freehands Stretch Thinsulate Gloves gloves with good insulation and provide the ability to pull back covering for digit and thumb, critical for total tactile feeling.

AquaTech Sensory Gloves—I use these in polar conditions where I may have my hands in or very near frigid water.

The Heart Company’s Heat 3 Smart Cold Weather Gloves—I’ve worked in the arctic (below -45 degrees) and in those conditions, you really can’t expose your skin for more than a few seconds before frostbite or serious freezing can occur. These gloves provide an internal membrane, under the mitten cover, with a fabric that not only provides a great tactile feel, but will work with electronic touchscreens.

Polar bear considering going back into water in Canadian high arctic.

Antarctic peninsula

Iceberg melt, Svalbard

In Canadian high arctic, a polar bear shakes after emerging from the cold water

Polar bear in Canadian high arctic diving back into water


If you’re going to Yellowstone in the winter, or Gates of the Arctic to photograph the aurora, you can be in dangerously cold conditions, be prepared.

Boots: Nothing will bring your cold-weather adventure to an early end quicker that cold feet or hands. A good investment before you go, there are a number of very good brands. Sorel, Kamik, Muck Boot Company, all make good boots for frigid conditions.


Jan 132017

Photography is for memories, not pixel peeping.

By Dennie

Hi Steve!

I hope you are well and happy. I have been reading your website since you review the Olympus PEN E-PL 1.

My name is Dennie, I’m from Bandung, West Java, Indonesia

A lot of people think that a pro photographer is an expert but I say no, not entirely. A Professional is somebody who makes a living by doing it … making money, marketing, dealing, shooting, printing … client happy … job done.

But, in the world of the enthusiast like this one … it is another story. In this world, a lot of dangerous stuff, starting with new lens or new camera body, latest technology, the best high ISO, the best low light, the sharpest lens, the super aperture 0.95, the king of the night, the mega pixel monster, the fastest AF of the world, the lightest body, bokeh king, leather straps, the expensive bags. Even though we buy cameras to take pictures … saving the moment … right?

Thats why I love this site, coz the review is to be USED … not compare the spec!  For the enthusiast of this site, I wonder if the picture is not labeled, or embed with exif, can u tell the difference ?

Some of my images below with various cameras…

I wrote this when I finished reading Steve’s article about “Should we buy camera gear with our heart or our brain?” I just want to say that, what is really important? Your pixel peeping ? Or the moment it self that is being captured?

I will just tell u guys that I use the following:

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 5
  • Olympus E-PL1
  • Olympus E-PL3
  • Olympus E-PL5
  • Canon 600D
  • Canon 5D classic
  • Canon 5D mk2
  • Canon 6D


Jan 022017

Glue and scanning to create Abstract Art

By Dirk Dom

A scanner isn’t a photo camera. Yet it can be used to make images. It has a totally crazy resolution if the object gets a bit bigger. If you scan something four inches on a side at 3,000 DPI, you get a whopping 144 megapixel image. Eat that, you Sony users!

With this project I was making flat objects on a disc, 3.5 inches diameter, so scanning was a much better option than using a macro lens.

What did I do? (It’s O.K. if you judge me crazy)

I put Plexiglas glue on a 3.5 inch glass disc. I mixed it with blue and yellow polyester resin coloring. Put another glass disc on it. Squeezed. Pulled it apart by very carefully putting an X-acto knife between the discs. Let the result dry. Scanned. Photoshopped.

DISCLAIMER: You have to be aware that for me, anything goes in abstract photography. I used Photoshop.

Getting curious?

Well, if Steve actually puts this on his website, here goes:

This is how it actually looked, (almost) no processing:

This is it, solarized:

I wanted it red:

I cleaned the discs with acetone and gave it another try:

Details of the disc:

The detail in the images is incredible. I’m having them printed 24 inches.

If, now, you feel an overwhelming desire to go mess with glue and coloring, you have to be aware that every image had thousands of white and colored little spots and little bubbles. It was three to five hours of non stop retouching per image, even for a three and a half inch disc. I’ve done retouching of scans of old magazines, well, this was ten times worse. I actually had watering eyes.

Now for the serious part.

These patterns are made by the free flowing liquid, the glue. Mathematics and physics still haven’t figured out how to calculate and predict these patterns. They are chaotic. They belong to the same family as the curves a flow of water makes going down an inclined plane without any obstacles. You can see that path in a meandering river.

Well, after two tries, I thought it was enough, just too much retouching. Of course every time you do it again, the pattern will be different, but it’s basically more of the same. You can do the same with varnish, paint, engine or vegetable oil and different colorings in different spots and more or less, longer or shorter pressure. Maybe you should show this to your kids!

That’s about it, hope you enjoyed it, and thanks, Steve!



Nov 292016


How to use Focus Stacking and Bracketing with Olympus Micro 4/3 Cameras

By Olympus Trailblazer Peter Baumgarten

Every autumn, in the forests near my home, a massive reproductive event takes place that I just can’t ignore. It starts during the warm days of summer when long tendrils of mycelium digest their way through the rotting corpses of fallen forest detritus. When autumn arrives, an asexual explosion erupts from the earth, as the fruiting bodies strive to spread their genetically identical spores throughout the forest floor. We’re talking mushrooms here, people! And I love to photograph them.

Mushrooms grow remarkably quickly and decay even quicker. But if you time it right they can be quite photogenic. Many species are so small that a macro lens is an absolute necessity. Anyone who has worked with a macro lens recognizes that it can be a real challenge to achieve a sharp subject from front to back and still maintain a nice, soft, defocused background. In fact, with most subjects it’s an impossible task. Enter focus stacking or focus bracketing.

The concept is quite simple. Take a series of photos with each one being focused at a slightly different point on your subject. Then use software to stack and process them in order to capture a greater depth of field than is capable with just a single shot using a macro lens, all while maintaining nice bokeh in your final image.  Olympus developed built-in focus stacking in their OMD E-M1 with the release of the 4.0 firmware update. That feature has been included and improved in the E-M1 Mark II. Although focus bracketing will be addressed, the main focus of this post is the focus stacking feature. All of the images have been photographed using the new Mark II model.

Olympus OMD E-M1 Mark II, 60mm f/2.8 macro, ISO640, 1/200s, f/3.5, +0.3EV, focus differential 4



The following Olympus cameras have built-in focus bracketing and focus stacking.

OMD E-M1 Mark II
OMD E-M1 (firmware version 4.0)
OMD E-M5 Mark II (firmware version 2.0)
OMD E-M10 Mark II 

Not every lens is compatible with the focus bracketing/stacking feature. The PRO line of lenses have both the bracketing and stacking feature. Other Olympus lenses allow for bracketing, but not the built-in focus stacking.

A tripod is definitely recommended. However, a few of the shots in this post were hand-held and for others I placed the camera on the ground.

The Process

The following steps will set up the camera for focus stacking.

From within the Menu, select the Camera2 options.
• Select Bracketing. You can bracket a variety of settings (Auto Exposure, White Balance, Flash, ISO, Art Filters, and Focus Bracketing). Select Focus BKT.
• Turn Focus Stacking On.
• Select Set Focus Differential. Choose a focus differential from 1 to 10. This determines the difference in focus position between shots. 
• Press OK repeatedly to engage the settings. You should see the letters BKT at the top of the LCD indicating that Focus Bracketing is set. 
 The focus stacking feature will shoot 8 photos at the focus positions you set and then merge them into one jpeg file at full resolution. Achieving good results will take some experimenting since so many variables are at play – subject size, distance from subject, lens choice, aperture setting, and focus differential.  All eight photos are recorded plus the final stacked image.  





The focus stacking feature is accessed through the Bracketing menu. With stacking turned on, the “Set number of shots” is greyed out.

The focus differential will set a wide or narrow focus difference between shots.

Generally I have found that a wider aperture and a narrow focus differential yields excellent results with the fungal subjects in this post. In all of the photos below I have included the lens, basic camera settings and focus differential.

Although I have found the focus stacking feature to yield excellent results, it is not infallible. There are times where the camera cannot process the stacked image and a message pops up stating, “Focus stacking error. Image composite failed.” This is usually due to camera or subject movement, however I have also had it occur when the lighting changes rapidly during the sequence.

60mm f/2.8 macro, ISO640, 1/125s, f/3.5, focus differential 4


60mm f/2.8 macro, ISO 400, 1/250s, f/3.2, -1.3 EV, focus differential 3


40-150mm f/2.8 PRO, ISO 1000, 1/80s, f/3.2


Lens: 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, ISO 400, 1/125s, f/5.0, -0.3EV, focus differential 3


60mm f/2.8 macro, ISO 400, 0.5s, f/5.0, -0.7EV, focus differential 3


60mm f/2.8 macro, ISO 400, 1/20s, f/4.5, focus differential 3


60mm f/2.8 macro, ISO400, 1/13s, f/5.0, focus differential 3


12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, ISO400, 1/20s, f/5.0, -0.3EV, focus differential 5


60mm f/2.8 macro, ISO 640, 1/60s, f/3.5, -1.0 EV, focus differential 2


60mm f/2.8 macro, ISO400, 1/25s, f/5.0, focus differential 3


Using a wide angle lens can provide a bit more context to the shot.

7-14mm f/2.8 PRO, ISO200, 1/640s, f/2.8, -0.3EV, focus differential 2


This animated gif illustrates the focus bracketing process. 8 images are taken based on the pre-set focus differential. In this case the differential was set at 3.


Bracketing vs. Stacking

I have found the built-in focus stacking to be remarkably accurate. So why would you opt for bracketing vs. stacking? Here are a couple of reasons;

The stacked image is trimmed. Regardless of subject, which lens you use, or whether you use a tripod or not, the final stacked image is trimmed along all four edges. The final image remains the same size (5184 x 3888px for the E-M1 Mark II), which means some interpolation must be going on. This must be taken into account when composing the shot.
• Details vs distance. The fungus below had countless stalactite-like fingers and was about 15 cm from front to back, a fair distance for a macro shot. I attempted to use the stacking feature, which only brackets and stacks 8 photos. After some experimenting with the focus differential settings I had to compromise. I could capture the details of the front fingers but loose the details in the back, or I could capture the entire distance, but have too much interpolation that would blur out some of the fingers. Not willing to compromise I opted to use bracketing instead.


To access the bracketing options turn off focus stacking. This allows you to choose from 3 to 999 shots with a focus differential between 1 and 10. For the image above, I selected 20 shots with a focus differential of 2. After the sequence I had a look at each one using the LCD and determined that I had captured sufficient detail throughout the range.

Upon uploading the images I determined that I only needed 12 of those images to clearly capture the fungus from front to back. I then used Photoshop to stack them. This gave me greater control over the process (which I like), and there was no trimming of the final image. That being said, I really do like the convenience of the built-in focus stacking and how easy it is to use.

A Final Photo

It was my interest in the sheer number of mushrooms sprouting up in a local bush lot that inspired me to experiment a bit more with focus bracketing and to write this post. However, there are plenty of subjects out there where focus bracketing can be used. The photograph below is one example, but with full disclosure, it was a complete accident. Shortly after photographing a mushroom, I came across two toads on the trail. I bent down quickly, framed the shot, and pressed the shutter release only to realize I still had focus stacking enabled. Here’s that shot.

12-40mm f/2.8 PRO, ISO 400, 1/160s, f/5.0, focus differential 5


Nov 232016


The Hottest Photo Gear of 2016 Buyers Guide


It’s the most wonderful time of the year! yep, the Holidays are not creeping up on us… they are HERE! Thanksgiving is tomorrow and then just over a month away is Christmas! Each year many out there in internet land click on links, and purchase cameras, lenses, bags or accessories for their photo inspired loved ones. This year I want to post about the gear I loved in 2016, new or old, and talk about the hottest gear coming up as well (only the gear I have tried as I never recommend gear I have not used).

As always, this is focused on MIRRORLESS as that is all I have been shooting for the last 6 years or so. I am not a DSLR guy.

So check out the list below featuring my fave gear as of November 23rd 2016! You will not see point and shoots, you will not see budget cameras, and you will not see one item I have not used or tested myself. Enjoy!!!




The Olympus EM1 MKII 


The new pro level OMD EM1 MKII is a beautiful camera in every way from design, feel, controls, speed, function, features and even performance. No question, for me, it’s the best Micro 4/3 camera ever developed or offered. Solid weather sealed body, touch LCD, fantastic EVF, and as I said, fast response and fast AF. Fastest yet for M 4/3. Also, the best noise performance yet for M 4/3 with a one stop improvement over the last model, the E-M1.

EM1 MKII, 25 f/1.2 Pro. Yep, I had the camera in this Hot Springs and yes, it was soaked. But it still worked and never gave me an issue. 


The only niggle for some is the Micro 4/3 sensor, but the sensor size is what makes this camera possible in all it does. You will not see full frame cameras with this kind of speed or response anytime soon. The IQ is also very rich, colors are fantastic, dynamic range seems solid and the lenses offered for this system are some of the best made today, in the world.


The EM1 MKII is a beauty, and not a cheap one. When we look at all it offers, and all it can do, and how it can do it whether you are in rain, sleet, snow or whatever the weather..then we have one hell of a pro level camera here. If you shoot M 4/3 and have an old EM1, this one steps up the game. If you own an old generation PEN, this is like the hot rod and your PEN is like the Yugo. Maybe you own a Panasonic M 4/3 camera. Well, none can touch the EM1 MKII as of November 2016. BUT for some, the PEN-F or original EM1 may be the pick as they can be had for half the price of the MKII. Then again, if you want to keep a camera for 6+ years, this is one that qualifies.

If you want the best M 4/3 has to offer, and one of the best cameras available to order today, then take a look at the incredible EM1 MKII. I also highly recommend the new 12-100 f/4 lens. It’s one of the best lenses I have used in recent times. SEE MY PART 1 REVIEW OF THE EM1 MKII HERE

Buy at Amazon, Buy at B&H Photo. 

The Sony RX100 V 


This camera is like lightning in a box. It’s fast as all get out, small enough to slide in your front jeans pocket, light enough to take anywhere and will blow away your phone camera in a big way. This guy is capable as most DSLR’s (or better) when it comes to getting the shot. While you will not have the all out IQ from a larger sensor camera, or the depth, ISO performance or dynamic range it makes up for it in every other way. With a pop up EVF, great color and image quality (better than your phone), speed and a crazy 24fps shooting mode it is designed for all out speed and accuracy. You will never mis a shot if you use this camera how it was meant to be used. It can and does catch the decisive moment. See for yourself HERE. 

Catching the decisive moment can be easy with the RX100 V


You can also see my 1st look here while I was in NYC testing it out a while back. This is the most serious pocket point and shoot ever created but I hate to call it a point and shoot as it is a pretty advanced little machine. I never recommend cameras I have not used or did not like, but this one would make a killer gift for someone wanting a step up from their smart phone camera while giving them amazing speed, video, and features you just do not get with most smart phones. It’s perfect for someone on the go to shoot everyday life as well. Beautiful camera and comes in at just under a grand.

Buy the RX100 V at Amazon or B&H Photo

The Leica Q


While this is a 2015 camera, it is still a popular choice for today at the end of 2016. In fact, just a couple months back we started to see regular supply in stock of the Q. Leica makes these in small batch quantities and they have been selling the Q in good numbers. In fact, I would wager that this is Leica’s best seller right now.

The Q has snap, pop and no crackle. B&W or Color, the IQ has that Leica feel. 


The Q is FANTASTIC if you can deal with only having a 28mm lens. The 28 Summuilux here is nice, has a macro mode, puts out great IQ and colors and has that Leica style and design all the way. You can go as easy as a point and shoot here, or go full on manual. Great for beginners or pros. The Q is a winner.

 My Leica Q Review can be seen HERE

Buy the Q at Ken Hansen (Email: [email protected]), PopFlash, B&H, or Amazon

The Olympus PEN-F


The PEN-F is one of my favorite cameras ever, in my top 10 without question, and possibly my top 6. It’s the best PEN model Olympus has ever created, and yes, I feel it is better than the old film PEN camera without question. What we can do today with imaging is pretty amazing and this camera does it all with style, grace, speed and a fun factor that is missing in many cameras. This is for someone who wants to take great shots and look good while doing it.


You can also enjoy some of the greatest lenses made today with this Micro 4/3 camera. The PEN-F is beautiful and the IQ can be serious, fun or anything in between as there are modes, filters and even a slide film emulation along with a Tri-X emulation. All with a twist of the front dial. See my PEN-F Review HERE

Buy the PEN-F at B&H Photo or Amazon

The Leica SL


My camera of the year of 2015 and for good reason, it is to me, one the best all around digital cameras ever made as of November 2016. Many pass this camera off due to the insane cost to get in to this system, the large native lenses and the size but once you use a Leica SL for any length of time, you will most likely get hooked on it. The HUGE large clear EVF, the solid as all get out build, the weather sealing, the dual card slots, the huge battery, and the functionality and simplicity of the menu and controls.

Tow guys some of you may recognize! Ashwin Rao and Kurt Kamka, two Leica aficionados! Ashwin had his SL (as did I) and Kurt had his Leica S!




The feel of the camera in use is like when you drive a $80-100K luxury sedan. It’s smooth, it’s reliable and it delivers the goods. This is a camera for those who want QUALITY in ALL areas from construction, to handling, to controls, to function and IQ. It’s the most expensive camera here on this list but if you can stretch this guy, you will not be disappointed. With adapters available to shoot M lenses, Canon EF lenses and Nikon lenses we can now shoot almost any lens on this guy. It’s like a Sony A7RII on steroids with a more refined IQ and better build, feel and that EVF..OMG..The EVF.

See my review HERE. I will have an update soon on the SL. More shots here. 

Buy the Leica SL at Ken Hansen (email:[email protected]B&H Photo HERE, HERE, or Amazon HERE.  

The Sony A7RII


No buyers guide would be complete without my #1 most used camera of 2016. The Sony A7RII is a powerhouse of imaging. While it is not the fastest camera out there today, or the most responsive, nor the one with the most is one hell of a camera and video maker. This may be one of the biggest successes Sony has had in recent years.



The A7RII may be a year and a half old already but it has a few more years in her before she retires from this household. Even if an A9 pro were to come out, my A7RII will stick with me as many memories have been made with me and this camera. Highly recommended. See my full A7RII Review HERE.

Buy the A7RII from B&H Photo HERE or Amazon HERE

The Sony A6500


The new Sony A6500 is a pretty awesome under $1400 mirrorless APS-C camera. The speed is astonishing and this one takes the best selling A6300 and adds major speed upgrades along with AF tracking upgrades to make for one hell of a fast action shooter. If you shoot sports, action, concerts or anything that involves a moving subject then this may be the camera of your dreams.

Photos by Chad Wadsworth for using the A6500 in Austin TX



Many will think “This A6500 or the Fuji Xt2″…well, two totally different types of cameras IMO. The Fuji is built like an old school camera with knobs, buttons, controls for everything. The A6500 is much smaller, sleeker, faster, responsive and will excel for any moving subjects. Then the IQ differences, as the Fuji has a unique color signature all its own, as does Sony. Question is, which one is for YOU? The A6500 is a marvel of engineering and tech but it feels more like a high speed computer than a camera. Either way, it still gives results! Beautiful ones at that.

See the 1st hands on look at this camera HERE

Buy the Sony A6500 at Amazon or B&H Photo. 

The Fuji Xt2


The Fuji Xt2, to me, is the best Fuji APS-C sensor sized camera that they have ever made. I prefer it to the X Pro series as well. It has the design, controls and response that we love and the Fuji color that is always sure to please, especially the Fuji fans! The XT2 is not my favorite camera but it is my favorite Fuji camera and it now has a lens arsenal to be reckoned with.


It’s a solid Fuji release, and I would urge those curious about the Fuji system in general to give this one a go, or rent it for a couple of days. Many think I hate Fuji or take jabs at them but that could not be further from the truth. For the past eight years what I have done is tell my honest feelings about the cameras I have tested or shot with. The last Fuji I enjoyed a lot was the XT1, before that the X100 series with a pref for the 1st gen X100 for IQ and color. This XT2 is the only Fuji since those two that I can say I truly like, alot. I feel Fuji has matured a great deal over the last two years and I am liking what I am seeing from them with this camera.

I can not wait for the medium format Fuji in 2017. That is going to be something to behold. My look at the Fuji XT2 is HERE

Buy the Fuji XT2 at Amazon, PopFlash or B&H Photo

The Leica M (Any Variety)


No buyers guide from me would be complete without a Leica M included! I started this blog eight years ago, inspired by the Leica M8. I have always had a Leica M ever since, of some variety. Today I am with the Leica MD, a 28 Lux, a 50 Lux and 90 cron. I also can use those lenses on the SL which is a great experience due to the glorious EVF.




The Leica M has a way of inspiring you, motivating you and making you want to run out for the day and use it. After you use one for a while you start to get an idea of what will look good, and what will not when framing images. Using the rangefinder is quite unique as well. No live view EVF here. The Leica M is legendary, and while it is costly to get into an M system, there is no question it is one of the best camera systems available for those who do street shooting, travel, or even portraits. I know a few who shoot sports with an M ;) See my page with all Leica M images using the M 240 and MD

Buy a Leica M from Ken Hansen (email: [email protected]), PopFlash, Amazon, B&H Photo


Micro 4/3

OLYMPUS 12-100 F/4


Olympus 7-14 Pro f/2.8

The Olympus 25 f/1.2 Pro

The Olympus 12-100 f/4 Pro

The Panasonic Nocticron 42.5 f/1.2

The Olympus 300 mm f/4 Pro

Sony E Mount



Sony 35 1.4

Sony 50 1.4

SONY/ZEISS 16-35 F/4

Zeiss Loxia 85 f/2.4

Zeiss Loxia 21 f/2.8

Leica M or SL

LEICA SL with Zeiss 50 Sonnar at f/1.5


Leica 24-90 SL

Leica 50 Summicron APO – M or SL

Leica 50 Summilux LE – M or SL

Zeiss 35 1.4 Biogon M Mount

Zeiss 50 Sonnar 1.5


Wotancraft Camera Bags


The RYKER from Wotancraft. This has been my GoTo for well over a year now. See my one year update on the bag HERE. This is a quality leather bag. Comes in black or the brown as shown above. This is my day in and out bag most of the time if I am staying local. It holds my camera, 2-3 lenses, accessories and even an iPad. The construction is as good as it gets and beats some super fancy brands that sell for $800 and up. The only weakness I have found it that due to being all leather, it is heavier than most bags. If you want style and function this bag is awesome. The original review is HERE. Any bag you buy from Wotancraft will be up there with the best of the best.

Buy the Ryker direct from Wotancraft HERE. They also have other bags I love like the RAVEN and SCOUT.  

Blackforest Bags


I have been using this bag HEAVILY for the past two months and I am going to post my review of it by the end of the week. It has been a godsend for my long travels as it holds everything I needed. When I traveled to Iceland, it held my camera, lenses, macbook pro 13″, iphone, chargers, cables, batteries, my headphones, sunglasses and a hand towel. This is larger than the Ryker, but full quality here. All leather, with all high end materials. It has the same protective zip up section under the flap that the Ryker does so your gear stays safe and dry.


See more about this bag at BLACKFORESTBAGS.COM


This bag is not for everyone but until you try one, don’t knock it. This is the best buy in camera bags when it comes to convenience, size, ease of use and literally no weight or back pain! This straps around you like a belt, like a holster of sorts. It will hold a camera and lens and will be at the ready in a nanosecond! I love the camslinger bags and even met up with the owner in Las Vegas a couple of years back to try out the bag  on the streets..


So check out the Camslinger. It’s affordable, and very effective.

You can see the ENTIRE Line at B&H Photo



I own several JB Handmade wooden grips for my cameras. I have one for nearly every camera I own and use. They are affordable and beautiful all at the same time. Each grip is made in the USA and all are also available at Amazon via prime shipping. Can’t go wrong with a JB Grip! I love mine with the PEN-F most of all.


You can see all of the grips on offer from JB Designs at Amazon HERE



This is a lovely lens for your iPhone or Smart Phone that allows you to shoot Anamorphic video to your iPhone. See my demo of it HERE. This can help you create very cinematic videos or films. I have used it a few times now for personal projects and it never disappoints.

You can see all of the options at MOONDOG LABS here

Walter Leica Contrast Lens for the M


These little lenses are fantastic. If you shoot a Leica M camera and want an aid to help you focus, or see more clearly through the Rangefinder then one of these will make you a happy shooter. The Walter Leica contarst lens is now upgraded and comes in a Golden Contrast Lens or a Coral Contrast Lens. I have the coral above and it is awesome.

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-11-34-47-am prod_page_image_golden_coral_contrast-lense-1

To see more info on this great M upgrade, check out the Walter Leica page HERE. 

Renato Lamberti Leica M Grip


Above I spoke of the JB Designs grips. But what I like even better for my Leica M is the Renato Lamberti Grip. It is beautiful, chunky and hand carved. You can email him HERE for info. It’s gorgeous and I believe he has now made one for the Leica Q as well!


For the past 8 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week. Because of this, I could use YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis. 

To help out it is simple, and no, I am not asking you for a penny!!

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

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website, in money and time (250 hours a month, and about $3000 per month).

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link (not the B&H) and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK – (not bookmark able) Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

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

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

One other way to help is by donation. If you want to donate to this site, any amount you choose, even $5, you can do so using the paypal link HERE and enter in your donation amount. All donations help to keep this site going and growing! I do not charge any member fees nor do I (nor will I ever) charge for reviews, so your donations go a long way to keeping this site loaded with useful content. If you choose to help out, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. It is TRULY needed and welcome. Thank you!

Nov 142016

Five Errors of an Amateur Travel Photographer

By Harry Fisch


1. Never Separating from the Group

Novice and umbrella, Bagan
In summary, in order to get a good shot that really transmits something, it is necessary to create a certain atmosphere of comfort, and this is rather hard to do in a collective session where the subject is overwhelmed by many cameras. Often times, one on one is the way to go, and this means taking time off from the larger group.

I understand that for someone who is professionally dedicated to organizing photo tours this sounds like strange advice, but I organize tours with maybe eight or ten people so it doesn’t mean they always have to work with the big group every minute of the day.

The only way to reach a certain level of confidence with a stranger is to establish a personal relationship with them, and this is certainly difficult when the subject is faced with six photographers all firing their cameras at them at once.

On occasion the photographers that come with me complain about the way a stranger they have found on the street is posed. What I normally do in these cases is ask my accompanying photographer to stay still and watch me, and then I aim the camera at him and start a photo session with the group. In the majority of cases the result is an uncomfortable and disconcerting experience. And we have done it with someone who we know and work with habitually. Now we only have to imagine what an Indian, a Burmese person, a Cuban feels when suddenly approached by eight people firing off cameras at them.
2. Taking Too Many (or Too Few) Photographs

Mursis on the road to Key AFter. Ethiopia
This one actually has various schools of thought. On one hand, as many people say less is more, and fewer good shots are better than a slew of bad ones, but also we must consider that

The worst thing that can happen to you is to arrive in some far away place, shoot, return home six thounsand miles later only to find that you missed taking photos of one thing or another.

It is possible to unite the two theories; take sufficient photographs so as to assure yourself a variety and, at the same time, take special care with a series of your photos so there is a more elite selection for certain scenes. I do confess that sometimes I don’t take enough photos and then when I find myself sharing with other photographers who were at the same scene, I realize I hadn’t taken all the shots that I should have.

The style and goal of the photography also denotes the attitude that the photographer must have; a photographer who is taking pictures on vacation isn’t the same as an artist photographer, or a travel photographer who is doing a photo series or a report and cannot return without covering certain predetermined subjects or scenes.
3. Not Sufficiently Analyzing the Light

Baeber Havana

There are photographers who specialize in composition, or color, rhythm, or movement. And there are those that specialize in light. Few achieve uniting all of these possibilities at once. What I always see among photographers is that they do not often take enough time to understand the ‘disposition’ we shall say, of the light in their scene, and sacrifice if necessary, some immediate shots in favor of looking for other angles or other moments.

My recommendation is clear, before shooting, recognize the scene and above all, analyze the light.
a)The origin (direction it is coming from),
b) its quality (is it diffused, hard, warm, cold),
c) the contrast between shadow and light, and movement prediction (where is the light moving to, and will anything get in the way? How will any changes affect the subject which is illuminated?)

We can see a quantity of flat photographs in which the photographer became nervous and didn’t take the necessary time to see how light was going to affect his or her set up.
4. Not Considering the post processing of the Image

The girl in Havana

I recognize that I have a special sensibility in this particular area. It has been a couple of years since I won first place for the global National Geographic Photography Competition (under category ‘places’), and I was then disqualified for taking out one of the seventy three bags of trash that were extant on the scene. It was much more visible than the others, and so I erased it.

There are purists in every discipline, photography is no exception. There are those who maintain that any form of manipulation of the photograph is a capital sin and the only good photography is that which comes directly from the scene to the camera.

Since photography has existed, photographers have always done more than simply develop film, they have processed the images, darkening them, lightening them, developing them in parts, adding and subtracting from them. There is a difference between interpreting reality and manipulation of the photograph in order to confuse or cheat the observer.

For the documentary photographer this is more complicated still, for what is most important is reflecting the environment and what is going on in front of the camera to the best extent possible. The photographer whose objective is to reach a more artistic representation – such as my case – has more liberty.

Without giving more importance to this than the photograph itself…

An intelligent post processing can change a good photo into an excellent photo, but what it will never do is turn a bad photo into a work of art.

5. Paralysis by Analysis

Varanasi, the boat and the man.

In financial theory this is a syndrome that is often discussed. It is the incapacity to make decisions because the person who is doing the analyzing becomes so mired in their analysis, overthinking everything, that they can’t move forward.

In photography, like in almost all aspects of life, it is better to do something than to not do anything.

And in photography, being capable of analyzing what you have made is an important aspect of learning; much more so, keeping in mind that the actual camera is what permits us to get an almost immediate result in our hands.

It is one thing to analyze what style you want to use with your photography, another very distinct thing is overanalyzing to the point where you lose the shot. There are many photographers, especially street photographers, that believe firmly in luck and don’t make mistakes. If you take enough photos but you also have criteria set for when the time comes to make your selection from what you’ve got, without a doubt you’ll get some good results.

Oddly enough this last paragraph seems to contradict the first point in the series of photographic tips (don’t confuse your camera with a machine gun), but like with everything, there must be moderation and balance. With how many photos you take, how much time you take to set up your shots, to analyze them. And sometimes you just need to go with the flow; photography is an art and an unpredictable one, which is not only what separates it from pure technique, but adds that little bit of magic that we are always striving to capture.

Harry Fisch.

“Photography is only an excuse to venture out into the world of the other. And sometimes, trying to become that other, if only for a little while.”
Harry Fisch, travel photographer, has operated photo tours in more than 50 countries. He was selected as a finalist for the 2013 Sony World Photo Awards out of 46,000 participants in over 140 countries, and winner of the 2012 National Geographic Photography Word Competition (later disqualified after editing out a plastic bag) under the category of ‘places’, and finalist in 2012 by Photoespaña – possibly the most prestigious Spanish photography event – under the category of ‘Descubrimientos’.
He publishes regularly not only photographs but also articles in both national and international magazines. He organizes photography tours to exotic destinations with his company Nomad Photo Expeditions.

Oct 312016

Videography Is the New Photography

By Todd Hatakeyama

If “orange is the new black,” then videography is the new photography, at least for this cameraman. With the technology of visual entertainment zooming headlong into the digital realm, where YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat videos on the internet are rapidly supplanting the still photos of print media, I find that videography now offers me better exposure and more interesting creative challenges than shooting photos.



Not that I won’t always love photography. I shot weddings and portraits as a pro for years, then switched to landscapes and travel photos just for fun when my main business became selling photo and video lighting and accessories, like the Street Strap and Micro Lens Pouches, on In the process, I strived to learn everything I could about photography, taking workshops from some famous National Geographic photographers and world class street photographers. I traveled the world and made some great photos along the way. But as visual and online media have evolved, my focus has shifted in order to challenge myself and stay relevant in this fast-changing art form.


Of course, making movies has long been a dream of mine. Back in college, I attempted to write a screenplay with a friend, and I would have loved to go to film school. But breaking into Hollywood has always been extremely difficult, and shooting a celluloid independent movie at the time was prohibitively expensive. The pressure to earn a living grew as I aged, so I got a boring corporate job and my dreams of filmmaking faded.

As the video capability of cameras and smartphones has increased in recent years, more and more people have begun to dabble in video production, with many enterprising amateurs achieving widespread fame and financial success. With the advent of HD quality and digital desktop computer editing, anyone with a DLSR, or even a good point and shoot or smartphone can now become an armchair Spielberg. A relatively modest investment in camera and audio equipment and software can enable you to make a professional-looking video.

Furthermore, the internet offers videographers multiple distribution channels and access to a potential audience of millions of people. No longer must aspiring filmmakers hustle their way into film fests like Sundance and Telluride just to get their work seen; now they can simply upload their work and share it with the world. The shift from watching traditional television to viewing content on mobile devices will only increase the prominence of do-it-yourself videographers. I particularly enjoy Casey Niestat’s YouTube channel, which I watch daily; his editing is outstanding and he comes up with some entertaining content. Indeed, lately I’ve been watching more YouTube than TV, mostly by travel vloggers like Mark Weins, Kara and Nate, and Kyle Le. Seeing them travel to exotic countries and eat amazing food helped motivate me to make the switch from photography to videography.

I’d often been tempted to try videography in the past, but I found the process intimidating. I’d shot some video before, but never really knew how to create a polished production. Video editing always scared me because it seemed so much more complicated than editing photos. Although I watched countless tutorials on how to use Final Cut Pro X, how to shoot footage, how to make documentaries, and so on, I was still not confident with editing. Then I took a four-day videography and editing workshop given by Aron Ranen, and a light went on in my head. I finally understood how to get the footage I needed and how Final Cut Pro X could let me put it together into a coherent visual experience. I couldn’t wait to get home and start making videos.

My knowledge of lighting and composition from photography has helped, but there’s so much more to think about in videography: B-roll, motion, sound, and soundtrack music are all new to me. Since my main camera was the Sony A7rII, I figured I could just start shooting, but quickly learned that good video requires a lot more gear. Some videographers say that sound is even more important than visuals in video footage, so I now own several microphones and sound recorders and am still trying to perfect how to capture quality sound.

Camera movement also has a huge impact on a video’s overall impression. Many videos online are virtually unwatchable because of their shaky footage. That’s why I initially favored the Sony HDR-CX675 camcorder with a floating lens with 5 axis stabilization. Last week, however, I made the decision to sell the Sony A7rII and Sony HDR-CX675, and switch to the Canon XC15 4K Professional Camcorder, which should pair well with my Canon C100 Cinema camera. The new XC15 is much lighter and more compact than the C100, has 5 axis stabilization in 1080p, and adds 4K. I’m hoping it will give a more professional and cinematic look to my videos than the Sony camcorder. I also like using the Evo Pro Gimbal with the GoPro, which is very smooth for pans and general motion.

One of the most difficult transitions I’ve had to make in terms of technique is to slow down while shooting. With photography, I would take a few shots and move on. In videography, though, I need to hold my shots for at least 10 to 20 seconds so I have a few good seconds of usable footage for each scene when editing. I’ve also learned the hard way the importance of shooting more B-roll footage—the varied assortment of shots that video makers use to cover edits and serve as cutaways during the main continuity video of interviews, performances, and so on. When it comes time to sit down and edit, I never seem to have enough B-roll material, so, again, I have to remind myself during shooting to slow down and take time during a scene to think about what other shots I need to get. The more shot variety you have, the better: close ups, medium shots, and wide-angle shots all help you to transition smoothly so your edits don’t look like jump cuts.

It’s only been three months since I started my venture into videography, and I hope the videos have been getting better as I’ve progressed. I’ve gotten good tips from some experienced editors, and that’s helped me become more comfortable and confident in polishing the final product. Oddly enough, my biggest challenge so far has been appearing and speaking in my own videos. Though I love being behind the camera, I’ve never felt comfortable in front of it, but I’m working on being more telegenic!

With my photography, I shot for years before I took a photo I thought was really good. Every photographer goes through a similar progression: your friends and family like your work, then other photographers, then (hopefully) great photographers. I expect a similar learning curve with videography, so I figure it’s going to take a while for me to find my style and create some really top-notch videos.

I am up for the challenge. Videography has given me new motivation to get out and shoot. So far, I’ve taken ten trips in the past three months, and have scheduled upcoming trips to Tokyo, New Orleans, South East Asia, and Iceland, among other places. I’m even considering visiting all 59 National Parks next year. In addition, I’m picking up some corporate video work and wedding shoots as a side business. I don’t really want to pursue videography as a career, but its nice way to pay for my new gear. Overall, it’s been a fun process that reminds me of my days as a fledgling photographer, where every shot I took was a new and exciting experience.

Now, I’m ready to roll with videography. Lights…camera….ACTION!

P.S. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel for new videos!

Aug 292016


HiFi Review: Devialet Phantom Silver Stereo Pair Review. The Future of Serious HiFi is here..

By Steve Huff

UPDATE! My Devialet Phantom GOLD Review is HERE. 

(Note: This is a HIFi Audio Product review. I do these every few months as it’s another Hobby of mine and I came to realize years ago that many camera enthusiasts were also fans of HiFi. So if you do not want to read about audio/stereo/HiFi, this post is not for you ;) )

Never in 100 years would I have imagined that one day my HiFi Hobby that has been with me for almost FOREVER (since I was 13 or so I was bitten by the Audio bug) would lead me to writing a review of a wireless speaker that is shaped like an egg, smaller than most bookshelf speakers… yet has 3000 Watts of power inside each speaker, with a stereo pair coming in at 6000 watts of  total power. I remember back when I was in High School and I was so proud of my cutting edge 100 WPC stereo system. I thought I had the holy grail then, with massive volume and great sound. I listened to that stereo EVERY SINGLE DAY and spent my allowance as a kid on one new record per week.

Man, I bet if I went back in time to those days I would be so disappointed with my system. Compared to what I have to play with these days that old system was muffled, boomy, and had no “air, space, soundstage or magic” to speak of. But man, did it thump out some amazing ZZ Top with a thumpy drive I remember to this day. If you are new to HiFi terminology..words like “air, space and soundstage” refer to the “magical elements” that gives us HiFi buffs a sound from our music that is not possible with single speakers, a car audio system, Sonos system, etc. Once you experience these things, it is tough to not get hooked on “THAT sound”. If you are picky that is.

As I get older, my musical tastes have evolved, as has my tastes in HiFi. When younger I wanted huge speakers, huge power and a stereo to look serious. Today I want refinement, great imaging, a nice wide soundstage and enough power to get my feet tapping but at the same time, Bass performance that is tight, taught and powerful..reaching down to the depths when needed, but without any boom. I also want great off axis listening so I do not HAVE to sit in the “sweet spot” where a stereo was set up to perform its very vest. THAT my friends is tough to get unless you start to get up into the $15, $20 and even $50k systems..and remember, I am talking TWO CHANNEL audio here, old-fashioned stereo. I have listened to systems from one hundred dollars to one million dollars (crazy huh?). While I would never even entertain spending a million on a stereo (even if I had 100 million in the bank which will never ever be a reality) it was interesting to listen to. Remember, diminishing returns is very real in HiFi. The more you spend you get very little back. Usually.

If some of you are not aware, I have been into HIFi for many years (and I started reviewing some pieces a short time ago HERE), and I have been building a system for 20 years or more, upgrading every now and then as many HiFi dealers allow you to upgrade every year by giving you full credit for what you paid toward a new, better piece. That allowed me to spend years upgrading my system until I assembled what I thought was the best for my room, which is my office in my home that is part-time office, part-time dedicated listening room.

After listening almost daily for the last year to my mega system, we decided we were going to move, to a smaller house, quite a ways from my current home. My system would never ever fit in the new home as it consisted of huge Focal speakers, McIntosh separates and a 40lb Turntable. So I decided to look for a smaller, but still amazing quality system I could live with. I tested out the beautiful and small Naim Muso, which is a soundbar looking device that is one of the best wireless speakers you can buy for $1500, truly. It was and is amazing for its size, cost and what it does. But it did not give me the stereo was more like a mono speaker and could not fill my room or energize my room for anything but loud background listening. No imaging, no air, no soundstage width or depth. BUT MAN it sounded so good and the bass performance was off the charts (until I heard the Silver Phantoms) For me, that could not cut it as for my whole life I have had a legit, 2 channel stereo and I love music. So while the Naim Muso was an amazing solution for most, I wanted even more.

See the Silvers in my room playing Vinyl on a Marantz TT15S1 – Late night low level listening sounds amazingly gorgeous…

Seeing that I am a huge fan of what Devialet is doing (and I am a past Devialet 200 owner) and I remembered the big hoopla when they announced the PHANTOM, which promised to be comparable to $50k systems in a wireless all in one speaker that comes in at $1800-$2900 each depending on the model you go with (normal, silver or gold). You can take 700 watts per speaker, or 3000 or even 4500 in the gold edition. A pair of middle of the road silvers and the $350 piece you will need to wirelessly connect them, the Dialog, will set you back around $5100 + when it is all said and done. That’s $5k for 6000 watts of refined stereo power, and the most technologically advanced speaker system I have ever had the pleasure to use, test and now own. Part digital (for the power and overall grunt) and part Analog amplification (for the sound quality). Amazing.



What I mean by that is that these speakers are so freaking crazy amazing for what they are, I can see others trying to copy and even expand on this kind of tech to the point that I think these have laid the groundwork for future HIFi developments. I’ve had these two silver beasts set up in my listening room now and have been listening, and sitting here in shock by what I hear in this room. While not the best I have ever heard, it boggles my brain to think these two small, relatively inexpensive (for what you get and compared to other big $$ audiophile products) speakers are delivering this sound in my room. It may not equal a $50k system but I will say right now that what I am hearing from this properly positioned (and on stands) pair of Silver Phantoms is up there with my old best system that consisted of $25k speakers from Sonus Faber (that took me 10 years to build and upgrade to). It may even best it in some ways, and while it can not match the Sonus Faber’s organic flow and warmth or magical midrange, it beats them with bass PERFORMANCE and clarity and imaging. Just wow. $5k speakers actually meeting and in some cases exceeding a $25k pair of speakers (that still will need a $$ amp) is beyond WOW.

After having these two Silver Phantoms in my room for a while I am gobsmacked. If only I have tried these a year ago. There are so so so many positives to these over a big bulky system of separates. At the same time, there are things one may miss from a big separates system as these are not miracle machines, though they are close. Very close.

Let me explain…

Each Phantom can be used alone, or in a stereo pair or you can add up to 24 of them throughout your house. One in each room, easily controlled via app for whatever music you need, any room you need or want. They are hefty and around 30+ pounds each, and built to what appears to be a crazy high standard. These are not cheap best buy boxes…these are devices that were millions of dollars ($30 mil) and many years in the making (10). You can move these anywhere in your house, easily. Since they are wireless (just a power cord from each one), and need NO amp, NO dac, NO real physical source…just plop them where you want powerful sound. So versatility is amazing here, and the volume you can get from just ONE silver Phantom is insane. NO one would EVER need more volume.

Bluetooth, WiFi, Optical connections can be made, and you can use an airport express hooked to the optical for Airplay functionality. I use my Sonos streamer into the Optical where I then use Tidal, Deezer and stream my local files.

105 Decibels. That’s almost illegal in some countries. That’s what the silver puts out. Alone. In a pair it jumps to 108 Decibels. Watch your windows…

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 11.58.56 AM

Listening to one Phantom reminded me much of the Naim Muso but with a bigger and more impactful sound. When I added in the 2nd Silver Phantom…I mean, WHAT A JUMP in sound quality. It went from a directional mono big beefy sound to a magical performance by the artist right in front of me. Imaging to die for, some of the best imaging I have experienced in my life. Power you feel (when you want to) and low volume night listening is just as good as loud as the bass is still there in low volumes and I have never ever had low level listening sound THIS good and rich. The bass performance of these guys are astonishing, and a part of what makes these desirable.

In my small 12 X 12 room, the bass CAN get overpowering when too loud with some music (electronic mostly) at louder volumes but if that happens I just touch the night mode (in the spark app) which takes off the lowest bass registers. Meant for night listening (as to not wake your house) it also helps cut the bass when it gets too energized ;)

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So let’s see what positives I have so far before I start to talk about the negatives…

They are small but hefty and very well made. Just as well made as any $20k speaker I have seen.

They are POWERFUL, up to 4500 DIGITAL watts each speaker. You will never want for more volume unless you are half deaf already. 

Amps are BUILT in and are part digital and analog. Digital for the power and analog for the sound quality. Brilliant.

Built in DAC’s deliver rich beautiful and yes, AUDIOPHILE quality when set up on stands as a stereo pair.

At the price of $1990-$2990 each (depending on power level) this is one of the best buys in HIGH END HiFi. At the price, I know of NOTHING that can even touch these for what they offer. So they are pricey if you are thinking of them as a wireless boom box, but when you look at them for what they are, a serious modern day audiophile solution…then they become a steal at the price point. You will not need a pre amp, amp, dac, cables, or CD player here…so you are saving a ton while getting amazing sound. Some spend more on speaker cables than a pair of these will cost you!

Easy to place in your room. No expensive cables to buy. Access to almost ANY music via Tidal, Spotify, Deezer or whatever music service you prefer. All from your smart device like your phone, ipad, etc.

Amazing imaging, some of the best I have ever heard for this. Instruments and voices are right where they should be.

The bass is crazy powerful and goes to a crazy low 16hz with the standard and Silver and 14hz with the Gold! Yep, so low we will not hear it but we will damn sure feel it at the right volume in the right room, and I have indeed. 

SO FAR SO GOOD RIGHT? Well, there are some negatives that almost had me give up in frustration and send them back the same day they arrived.

When these two arrived to me via UPS they arrived with the DIALOG which is needed  to connect more than one Phantom together, for stereo purposes. It’s basically a WiFi hub that has an optical, USB and Ethernet connection.

I also received the remote which is a thing of beauty and I also wanted to connect a turntable, digitally to see how good these would sound with an Analog converted to Digital turntable using Optical out.

SO I was all set. My office was cleared out of the big guns to make room for the small but deadly Silver Phantoms.

I set them up according to instructions, using the SPARK app. When they were powered on, they produced a musical hum and the “ears” which are the bass drivers started pulsating. I touched the top of each one and they came back with a click and bass driver “pump” to let me know they were found.

The app said they needed to be updated, so I started the update. Devialet always updates their products and improves them for the life of your product. This is awesome as one day you can wake up and have improved Phantoms and sound quality. BUT all was not good as I spent 3 hours trying to update them, only to have the Update download continually error out.

After spending an hour searching online about others with the same issues, I read I had to update one at a time, while plugged into Ethernet on my router. So another hour goes by and they update. Then when I sit down to test them for the 1st time, I only get sound out of  the left Phantom. Time to reset and start over.

I was frustrated beyond belief. Hours later I am sitting here wasting my day trying to get these things to work, and they are having a hard time with it.

After the reset BINGO, they updated and started working.

I pulled open the spark app, pulled up TIDAL (of which I am a member) and played some of my playlists…NO SOUND. Pulled up DEEZER using the Spark app. It showed music was playing but no sound at all. UGGGG.

I then pulled up internet radio using SPARK and sound! But it sounded weak and trebly to me. Much smaller sound  than my Focal Sopra #2’s.

Hmmmm. Maybe these were all hype..those were my thoughts.

But since I spent 6 hours working on this, I was not about to give up. I plugged my Sonos Connect base station into the DIALOG via Optical and used the SONOS app to play my Tidal and Deezer music. It worked, and it worked SO WELL. I mean…wow.

So while I still to this day can NOT get these streaming services to produce any audio through my Phantom system using the official Devialet Spark app, I can indeed listen using my Sonos Connect and app. So I am happy as the sound is simply amazing…powerful…impactful..and has many tastes of super high end audio while giving us a taste of the future, of what is to come in the next few years. Technology is getting insane and these are some of the most technologically advanced *ANYTHING* I have come across in life.

So at the end of the day, those 6-7 hours of setting these up was well worth the effort and I am so glad I did not pack them back up to ship them back. These are simply amazing on the next level. No hype, no BS. 



So after all was settled I left them in the room and played them all night and beyond. As I sat in my listening chair, the same spot I have auditioned super high end pieces from, I was just amazed at what I was hearing. It was as if my brain did not want to accept that these little guys were putting out HUGE HUGE rich powerful sound even at lower to mid volumes. Again, power or volume will NEVER leave you wanting, but we all know if a speaker has all bass and power it usually fails on delicate, intimate listening tests. Most bass heavy speakers muddle up the mis bass as well, making the speaker sound muffled and closed off. It’s a balancing act, and one the Focal Sopra #2’s do so well. But believe it or not, these do it better.

But can the Phantoms match the sound of my Sopra #2’s that come in around $14k? Well, YES, and also NO. Will they match my old $25k Sonus Fabers? Yes and NO. Will they match my old Wilson Beneche speakers? YES with ease.

It’s tricky.

While these Phantoms deliver earth shattering impact and power, they are also VERY good at low level listening, with vocals and instruments. I always look for an emotional experience with speakers and audio gear. If I can get that, I know I have something I can live with. By that I mean if I can get pulled into the performance, if I can feel like the artist is in the room with me, or if I feel a huge rock band is playing 10 feet in front of me or if I listen to a great classical performance and it gives me goosebumps….a connection to the music. This is not easy, and for me I have achieved this only a few times in life with my Audio hobby.


One of the best was my Sonus Faber Guarneri Evolution mated with a Line Magnetic tube amp. That system delivered so much magic for vocals and jazz and blues and acoustic instruments (try the album Fingers and Thumbs from Adrien Legg) but they also lacked a bit with high energy music like metal and rock as the bass, while plentiful, did not have “impact” anything like the Phantoms. Not even close. They also did not have the clarity or imaging performance of the Silver Phantoms. The Guarneris though, did sound bigger and looked more beautiful.

So as I sit with these Silver beauties, no matter what I put on…Jazz, Vocal, Bluegrass, Rock, Metal, 70’s music or Electronic/Ambient I am blown away by what I am hearing in regards to the size of these guys, and even if they were MUCH larger I would be shocked for what we get for the money. I know I said this already but it can not be understated. If you own ONE Phantom you seriously owe it to yourself to save for two. It takes up the experience 100X. One phantom is “good” for a boombox experience but add two, set them up right and you will be blown away. These need to be taken VERY seriously in the Audiophile world as it will only get better as time goes on.

With one Phantom I preferred the $1500 Naim Muso. With two, I am preferring the pair to some of my best systems I have owned in most ways, but not all.



So did the Silver Phantoms pass my “emotional” test…well, I did not think they would but THEY DID. I mean, they are NOT PERFECT but they do lack in a few areas from my other systems I have owned but I would say that these beat out most $10k speakers, and a few $20k speakers and maybe even fewer $30k speakers. Let’s dig in a bit…

SOUNDSTAGE – The soundstage width of the Silver Phantoms could be a little better. They get nowhere close to my Sonus Faber Guarneri’s but do match and surpass the Focal Sopra #2 in this regard. Instead of the sound expanding to the side walls, with imaging placed in that sound stage, I am getting a narrower stage..but..BUT…I am getting superior imaging from these over any speaker I have owned or tested. Up to $30k. THAT IS NUTS.

THE IMAGING IS INCREDIBLE –  Instruments are placed right where they should be with no exaggerations or artificial space added by cables or cords. To some this will be bad, for others it will be preferred. With all of this said, there is a soundstage with the Phantoms, but not to the level of $20-50K speakers. They are close. Excellent but not the Holy Grail for those who crave a huge enveloping stage.

AIR – When listening to Enya I do get the huge sense of space and air as the vocals float in front of the speakers in the middle and the sound, the music behind the vocals is rich, full and NEVER weak. Even at low volumes of 20-30 at night. This is quite the feat as some speakers and amps can do vocals magically perfect but the music usually is obscured in the background on some tracks with light bass and weight. These Phantoms deliver it as one solid coherent package. It’s an amazing thing to hear, and SEE when you are looking at these robot egg looking  things and making your brain try to accept what is happening.

TREBLE and MIDS: If there is one weakness of the Silver Phantom, and only to VERY picky Audiophiles it would be the treble. To me, the vocals of say Enya, or Flo Morrissey (try “I only like his hat not him” for hauntingly gorgeous vocals on ANY system) sound fantastic and intimate but if I had to be picky I would say the treble could be more refined to add some magic in. Supposedly the GOLD Phantom coming in at around $3k each has changed up the sound signature a tad, and improved upon it with a titanium tweeter. I have not heard the gold but at $1400 more for a pair over Silver, not sure it would be worth it as the Silvers are 95% there. That last 5% will cost you. In comparison to my Focal Sopra #2, the treble on the Phantoms is not as refined or smooth. The mids are 95% as good. But overall, the sound of the Silver’s are just flat out amazing (again, in the right room, as a pair and set up correctly).

BASS – Everything you have heard about the amazing bass performance of the Phantoms is true. It exceeds what most think could be possible. These deliver more solid bass  than any speaker I have owned, ever. The sheer amount of bass depth (that you can feel) is amazing. 16hz. Unreal. Low volume listening is never thin, or lacking. It’s also never muffled in any way. There is never ANY distortion, never any muddled mix at higher volumes and never a sense of strain, at all, ever. But in my small room (12X12) the bass can be a tad much with SOME electronic music when jammed. If I tweaked the placement more I probably could improve on that. With the Phantom we get the  bass we crave without it harming the mids and treble or muddying up the sound. It’s quite the feat.

Also, we just can’t blow these guys as there is protection from SAM enabled, Devialets amazing way of making these sound and perform so well.

The bass of the 6L sized silver goes down to 16Hz. This full size 120L speaker goes down to 30hz. Wow. THIS IS THE FUTURE MY FRIENDS!



YES, you can use ANY turntable with the Phantoms, and yes, it’s worth it if you love your vinyl. I purposely hooked up a $289 Audio Technica LP 120 with an AT100 cartridge using an Analog to Digital adapter that cost me $11. This allowed me to plug the TT into the Phantom’s dialog box using an Optical digital cable that cost me $8 on Amazon.

So for $300 or so I had a complete low budget TT setup. How would it sound?

To my disappointment it sounded about 85% as good as my $6k turntable. I mean, here I was with a high megabuck TT and this low budget solution was sounding almost as good…not as clean, not as detailed but rich, full, fluid and had me tapping my feet. Wow. It worked well. I then added a $249 phono stage and that improved the detail and sound dramatically. So $460 for a TT that now sounds about 80-90% of my megabuck setup, in my room. Crazy. There goes those diminishing returns again!

This is the best most well made TT I have seen under $900 and while it may not be the be all end all, the AT 120 is a STEAL. A STEAL. Let me repeat that…A STEAL. You can not lose if you want your 1st or 2nd TT or like me, considering dialing back your TT costs. With the Silver’s the TT sounded gorgeous. Just as Vinyl should sound. Left me wanting for nothing really though 80% of my listening is through Tidal, Deezer, etc.

I will admit I also put in a Marantz TT15S1 with a Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood and it took me PAST my old $6k Turntable. BAM. It sounded 20% better than my old rig, while coming in at $1300 with cartridge, set up and new. (I have a great local dealer, $1500 at Amazon).


To see what I bought for my TT solution with the Phantoms, see the links to Amazon below (I bought my 120 TT locally for $239 though)

Audio Technica 120 TT

Cambridge Audio Phono Stage

Analog to Digital Converter

Optical Cable from Converter to Phantom Dialog

Added later: Marantz TT15S1 and it is just a perfect match to the Phantoms. I now get that wide enveloping soundstage, with VINYL!

Added: Audioquest VODKA Optical Cable from A to D converter into Phantom. Also one from Sonos to the Dialog Hub.

So as I have it now, the Phantoms are set up in my dedicated listening space using a Sonos CONNECT to stream Deezer, Tidal, Radio and my own music. I then have the turntable setup above for my Vinyl fix every now and again. That’s it. No uber expensive cables to buy, no external components to add, and so far the only frustration and disappointment I had with these was all with the initial setup, which some go through in five minutes.



What can I say? I was shocked at the performance of these Silver Phantoms only due to their size. I NEVER thought they could fill my room with music in such a powerful and intriguing way yet they did. They not only fill my small room but out in my living room which is much larger than my listening room they do just as well and fill the room without effort.

While I am missing that huge wide deep soundstage of my megabuck system, this system was 1/5th the cost and gets 95% of the way there (Update: With the new TT15 and Virtuoso Cart the soundstage is much improved).

That tells you about “diminishing returns” right there.

These speakers are doing so much right that I can only imagine what the next few years will bring for HiFi. If Devialet can get the setup process as smooth as silk (its not there yet), if they can refine and improve the treble (they may have already in the Gold), and if they can get their Spark app fully functional (I still get no sound from my Tidal or Deezer using their Spark app) then this will be the end game for many and I mean MANY. I used that term before with HiFi but that was before this technology and these Phantoms.

Some will use them solo as a general wireless speaker. Some will use them as computer speakers and some will use them as I am here, as a fully setup 2 channel audiophile solution. As a two channel system they are unrivaled for the money and even if you spend quite a bit more you may not get better sound.

NO they may not have the total refinement of a $50k system but did anyone think they would? Me, I would take these over systems costing up to $20k, all for $5-6K. They are versatile and can be moved easily to any room in your house. They are amazing in sound and performance and the looks…well, some will love them and some may be cold on them.

Me, I feel the treble and midrange needs some work to be truly “magical” and to please most Audiophiles, but again, this may have happened with the new GOLD Phantom that is rolling out now at $2900 or so for each Phantom. After extended listening I find the treble to be somewhat soft, and these lean to the warm side of neutral in my room due to the tweeter and the bass which is not lacking at all.

I’d love to test the Gold’s because if the tweeter is improved, and the bass has been tweaked to be less powerful (sometimes it can be too much of a good thing) I feel Devialet will have literally struck gold.

THEY DO look like an Apple product from packaging to presentation. The remote (that you must buy separate) is so worth the cost. It’s a thing of beauty with a large weighted dial. To activate it you just hover it over the Phantom. Pairs instantly.

Other than that I would love to see these in a gloss black with rose gold highlights ;) I see a gloss black Phantom with rose gold tweeter cover while the sides that are now white, silver or rose gold being black, maybe matte black. That rose gold tweeter cover would make them pop and they would look pretty classy IMO. Who knows, maybe Devialet will offer a color choice in years to come.


If you are coming from wireless bluetooth speakers, these will blow your mind. If you are coming from a Sonos speaker system, you will be in disbelief when you hear these. If you are coming from an Audiophile background you will think they need a tad bit of refinement in the treble but when set up carefully and correctly on stands you will appreciate them very much.  Not sure how anyone could NOT be impressed with a stereo pair of these.

I feel these Phantoms are truly giving us a sneak peek into the future of HIFi. There is NO wireless speaker better than a pair of these. There are very few high end speakers from 15-$20k that would be worth the expense over these. If you can deal with wireless audio and a digital turntable solution, take along hard look at these Phantoms, as they are unbeatable for the money. Just put them on a good stand if you want to get the best from them. Devialet offer the TREE here. 

To those picky audiophiles who say these can not be up to par with higher end separates and systems that cost a bit more than the set of Silvers, I say “You have not heard a pair of these set up correctly, in a good room”. These are just as much audiophile as any serious system I have owned and while they are not as refined or transparent as a $40-$50k system, what they do offer makes up for that last 10% of performance (size, no cables needed, sound quality, bass performance, wireless, imaging, cost) in a much smaller, much less expensive package. The Silver Phantoms are amazing and a peek into the future of HiFi and these are what I chose for my new home listening room, and I am thrilled with my choice.

If you do not need the crazy volume and slam of the 3000 WPC Silvers, you can save some cash by going with the standard Phantom.  Me, I am excited to test out the GOLD’s if I can get a pair ;)

See more details and specs on all of the Phantom line at Devialet. 

Order the Phantoms, standard or Silver, at Amazon (they ship from Amazon using prime). 

Order the Dialog (needed for more than one phantom)

Order the Remote




Jul 122016


The Mighty Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 Lens. The best of the best?

By Steve Huff

“DISCLAIMER: Some shots here are of when I covered a protest in downtown Phoenix from the recent tragedies, as I am a photographer. My belief is ALL LIVES MATTER no matter who you are, what color you are, what race you are, what gender you are, what political affiliation you are,  or no matter what your sexual preference is. I believe EVERY life matters in this entire world, all of us, including police officers and civilians on the street. To kill or murder ANYONE for race, religion, gender, revenge or ANY reason is simply evil and wrong. We need to love, respect and help each other in this world, as it appears we need it these days. So when looking at some of these photos keep in mind it is what I do, I am a photographer, so please do not bring Politics in to it. If you do, or leave nasty racist comments they will not be posted. Let’s keep the discussion to the lens. Thank you, Steve”

and now…the review…

Hey to all! It’s another day and WELL WELL…look at this, another 50mm (ish) lens to review! Hot on the heels of the Sony 50 1.4 from yesterday, today I have the Zeiss Otus 55 1.4 which is not quite a 50mm, but close enough to meld it into the 50mm camp. As many of you know, I have used a TON of 50’s and there are endless 50mm reviews on this website from over the years. I mean ENDLESS.

But…this…one…is…different. According to most, this is the KING BABY!!…the Zeiss OTUS! Or is it? This is what most online reviewers have stated so I wanted to know myself as I have been on a big 50mm kick lately…again, and I have some personal projects coming up that require a 50mm that I can truly adore and get into so I am trying out various 50’s to see which will fit the bill for these projects or travel, portraiture and scenic beauty.

A couple of weeks ago I tested the new Sony/Zeiss 50 1.4 and that started the old itch back up for my love of 50’s. When I saw just how gorgeous that Sony was (My review was just posted YESTERDAY and you can see it HERE) , the wheels started spinning in my head about this Zeiss OTUS. Many proclaim it as the best 50 ever made and if it was better than the truly great Sony or Leica 50 APO then I KNEW I had to try it, and coming it at more than double the cost than the Sony, I figured it HAD TO be better. This lens has been out for a while now but I never reviewed back when it was new as I knew it was HUGE, HEABY and for Nikon and Canon DSLR’s. So I skipped it. I should not have done that!


So since I had a Nikon to Sony E adapter on hand, I rented the Nikon version of the 55 Otus from  which is a rental shop I HIGHLY recommend. Not only have they been a site sponsor for YEARS, they have just about anything one could want to rent for their photo needs. Give them a visit and see for yourself.

The lens arrived and as I took it out of the box I was WOWED by its build, design and yes…SIZE. I remember using the 85 which was like a Cannon. I loved that 85 and realized it was the best I had ever used, but there was no way I would buy one for MY USE as I am not a HUGE 85 guy and it was so so large. If I were wedding or portrait pro I would have bought one in a nano second, but since I adopt more of a casual, street, journalistic style of shooting, I knew that 85 would be way to huge for me and it would be left at home most of the time.


The good news is that this 55 1.4 is just as delicious as the 85 when it comes  to quality of build and IQ but sadly its about the same size as the 85, just slimmer and a hair longer. Since it has a slimmer profile than the 85, it may just to the point where it is acceptable to me to possibly purchase and use often. It is heavy at 2.3lbs, and with the Nikon to Sony E Adapter it does add a good 1″ + to the length when on the camera. So much for the “small” mirrorless solution huh? hehehe. Then again, this lens is meant for DSLR’s, so it is not a mirrorless lens that is supposed to be small. 

Then again, shooting this lens on a Sony A7RII over a DSLR allows for MUCH easier focusing. It’s not even a contest as its a joy to use, shoot and focus on a good EVF camera. I mean..I can not stress this enough. I remember trying the 85 Otus on a Nikon DF and it was challenging and frustrating  to get an image in focus as using an optical viewfinder, even with Nikons confirmation just did not work. With the Sony, I missed focus twice of all shots I have snapped with this lens.



As I sit there on my couch admiring this lens with how it is made and designed, I saw on the news that there was to be a “peaceful protest” in Downtown Phoenix AZ, about 30 minutes from me. I looked at Debby who was already in her comfy pajamas (was to be a lazy day for us) and said “Let’s Go, I can test the lens and we can also see what is going on down there”. Now this is not the normal Zeiss Otus territory as many use it in studio, for weddings or for portraits. Me, I was going to use it in the streets, in the dark and I thought it was really going to test and push my manual focus skills to the limit. I remember reading a review of  this lens on B&H or Amazon and the photographer reviewing it said “This is not a lens for street shooting”. After my use with it, I will have to disagree wholeheartedly with that as I found it to be a phenomenal street lens. Just on the larger size.

In any case, soon after I saw the news about the protest we were on our way there. When we arrived there were maybe 30 people waiting around. I took out the lens and started shooting here and there for a few minutes. Everyone was in good spirits. There were LOADS of photographers there as well, which was cool to see and expected.


After a few shots, and only what seemed to be five minutes, I looked behind me and started seeing mass amounts of people filling the streets. More and more were coming in, and it was still peaceful and a photographers dream due to the emotion and passion in these individuals who were there to protest their beliefs on this hot topic subject. Their passion, to my eyes, was strong and filled with so much emotion that when I looked through my viewfinder in my Sony A7RII, I could see the shots happen right before my eyes. I did not chimp AT ALL, so I had no idea if my shots were in focus, out of focus or even any good at all at the time. Usually not smart with an ALL manual lens in hand! I was hoping that I was not missing shots as I was indeed shooting wide open at f/1.4, as the sun was going down fast.

Many say shooting wide open at an aperture of f/1.4 using manual focus in the dark is a nightmare. Well maybe with a Nikon, yea, I can see that as the MF system on the Nikon DSLR’s leave a ton to be desired. With the Sony EVF it was a dream. No issues at all.





Just a note: for these black and white shots, they are all shot in JPEG mode with “high contrast B&W” as I like the look of this mode in the camera. It fits documentary photography VERY well IMO and that was my goal on this night, DOCUMENTARY photography. In this regard, using the Zeiss was a PLEASURE. Manually focusing seemed so easy, so natural…and the way the lens is built and designed made it easy to do just that. Smooth focus ring (smoothest I have used in a LONG LONG time) and great solid clicking aperture dial which ensures you stay in whatever aperture you are clicked into tells me this lens means business, and it truly did. This is a serious pro lens, and there really is nothing quite like it in build, feel, and even its unique rendering. For street shooting, this lens is amazing and I feel I may have missed so many shots using slow AF. With MF, in the low light it was so easy to nail those shots. Like it was made for the Sony. (Zeiss needs OTUS versions for FE mount!)

My energy was high, my camera was clicking and I was in the moment doing what I used to do so much more often…in the streets documenting life. I missed this type of photography, and it made me realize I need to get out in the streets much more in the future. Using the OTUS was like I had a direct connection to the camera, reminded me quite a bit of shooting a Leica as the lens was up to or above Leica quality, and using manual focus added to the charm…made me feel like I was truly working for my shots and this is a good thing. I was starting to think…Hmmm, maybe I need to buy THIS lens as it will reward me in a few ways. One with IQ, one with low light shooting (no slow low light AF to worry about) and it will also reward me in a way that makes me feel like I actually worked it, instead of just aiming and shooting. No matter what someone may say, using a manual lens will make you take more time with the shots, and IMO, get you better shots. It may be a mental thing but it’s true for me.

Now of course one could set ANY AF lens to manual focus, so using this lens or the Sony 50 1.4 in manual should be about the same experience. So will the OTUS deliver IQ that I prefer over the Sony I just reviewed? When I was shooting I did not know the answers to that question, but when I arrived home to review the images I really liked what I saw especially since the conditions were low light and higher ISO and street style shooting.







It’s as if the lens was drawing the frames with a brush, delivering beautiful Bokeh and amazing subject isolation. Almost as if the lens was faithfully recording the passion and emotion of the night in a way most 50’s can not. The way this lens renders your image in some situations is just gorgeous and organic.

As I continued to shoot, at one point it looked as if things were going to get a bit rowdy and it was at this time I thought “what the hell am I doing here”?!?! I do not need to be pepper sprayed or trampled for getting these shots but I also knew good shots do not come from running away… and I was in the moment, in the rush, in the heat and with the A7RII and Otus lens I was firing away at full manual focus speed. Yep, $7500 worth of gear around my neck in the middle of a crowd of protesters…but I have to say, it was quite amazing to see, and to shoot.

I saw one man spit in another mans face who was using a speaker to yell at the protesters, calling them names (the man below who was the one spat on as he was yelling out not so nice words…yea, he was the one causing trouble..even so, he should not have been spat on regardless), which was not cool imo. As I said, I feel ANY AND ALL violence, hate or disrespect is a waste and 100% unnecessary. I am against HATE in all forms, so seeing this man who was also exercising his free speech right get spit on, it did not make me feel too good, even if he was egging the protesters on. Protesting is fine on either side of the fence but when it turns to violence it is just wrong. I believe violence NEVER EVER solves anything, period. No matter what political side you are on.

I think as humans, we are all equal, and we should try to help each other instead of tear each other down. I am losing hope for that in this country though day by day, as it seems hate is the new flavor of the day in the USA. I see it everywhere, on all sides and in many aspects of life, even here on this website from time to time, and for me, it sickens my soul.

It was at this time we left the protest but it was a great experience shooting in this scenario, especially with a manual lens.








THE OTUS EXCELLED in night shooting, BIG TIME.

This lens is very very special, just as the 85 OTUS is. Zeiss, just as Leica are top in their game for lens design, and this lens is one of the best 50mm (ish) lenses I have ever used. It has a rendering that is 70% the new Zeiss/Sony 50 1.4 and 30% Leica 50 APO. In use, this lens was a dream, it really was. Manual Focus was a PLUS for me here and the smooth focus ring with a long throw aided in my focusing attempts. After I arrived home, I had 2 out of focus images and they were just SLIGHTLY off. This tells me that this lens is an easy focus on a Sony A7RII, or a good EVF camera.

The build is tough as nails as well. It feels like if I needed to, I could have used it as a weapon, or even a hammer. Yea, it is that tough. I would have no fear of using this in a hectic professional situation. So using it as a street shooter at night worked for me, so much so I started thinking to myself “DAMN! Which one do I buy…the Sony or the Otus”? I am still trying to figure this one out.

But let’s switch it up….with some color and some other style of shots…

Christmas in July! Click images for larger view!



Let’s move on from the protest and low light B&W. This lens simply ROCKS no matter the situation, and when I compare it to the shots I took with the Sony, there is a difference though admittedly, it’s not a huge one. The Sony is smaller, has AF, and is $1500. The Zeiss Otus is $3300-$4000 depending on where you buy, and is manual focus and larger. So in that regard the Sony appears to be the no brainer as it is also an IQ king, in its own way.

*Don’t pay $4k for this lens, you can get it via Amazon PRIME for $3200 HERE*

But this Zeiss has something mystical about it that I am having a tough time putting my finger on. The way it  render is painterly, the colors are accurate and gorgeous, the smooth bokeh makes the images appear like they were shot with medium format. This is as close to medium format as one will get in 35mm full frame. Using this lens delivers the goods. It delivers IQ in a cinematic way…just full of beauty and smoothness while giving gobs of detail at the same time.

Again, click on these for the best look at the images and quality!








The OTUS 55 1.4 is not perfect, in fact there is some slight vignetting (which most Leica lenses have wide open as well) and some slight barrel distortion. Other than that, it is about perfect.

Wide Open at f/1.4, you can see the dust floating around my dog Olive :) 




  1. The IQ is stunning in contrast, bokeh, color, and detail.
  2. The lens is built to a  very high standard and feels amazing in the hand.
  3. The price is not cheap, but when compared to similar lenses, it sort of is.
  4. Comes with a hefty all metal hood
  5. Solid clicks on the Aperture dial
  6. Smooth silky focus ring
  7. Medium Format look to images
  8. Stunning in low light
  9. Even great for street style shooting
  10. One of the best 50mm lenses ever made


  1. Price ranges from $3300-$4000 depending on where you buy it, so it is not cheap!
  2. Only for Canon or Nikon at this time (My crystal ball sees OTUS for E mount later)
  3. ONLY Manual Focus, so for some this is a turn off
  4. It’s larger than most 50mm lenses
  5. It’s 55mm, so a tad longer than 50. This may throw die hard 50mm users off




What would a review of mine be without my dog Baby being in it? Lol…f/1.4



What can I say? I have been on a 50mm roll most of my photographic life but VERY few have inspired me to get up off of my ass at night, after I was in my pajamas, to get out and shoot while having to drive 30 minutes away. This lens did. There is just something special about this OTUS that is hard to describe but it’s magical, sweet, and has all of the ingredients that a pro or even photo enthusiast or geek would love. Most of us could not warrant the purchase of this lens, as most of you reading this shoot out of passion, not professionally. At the same time, this lens is one that most enthusiasts and geeks WOULD WANT as it is just so gorgeous and special. It’s rare to find a lens like  this that ticks all boxes, but this one does and while it is not perfect, I can get one new for $4k less than a Leica 50 APO, and get the same IQ.

Compared to the Sony/Zeiss 50 1.4 I just reviewed, this one is different, and does have qualities I do like better like the Bokeh, the Color and the way it seems to paint the images. I will be doing a side by side soon with real photographs (not just static test shots). This is a lens that even excels over the Leica Noctilux for me, and while not f/0.95 it delivers a similar look and feel (sort of), for much much less. This will turn your Sony into a IQ monster.

The Sony/Zeiss 50 1.4 is STUNNING. This OTUS is STUNNING +1. Is that worth the extra $1700 or so it will cost you to go with this over the Sony? For most, NO. For some, it will be a yes. Maybe it is the design and look with the black and yellow. Maybe it is the pure Zeiss name. Maybe it is the heart that is saying so but I think I fell in love with this one, and I will be thinking long and hard which one I will be buying over the next few days, as I need a 50 like this or the Sony for a huge personal project that requires quality such as this.

If you can justify an all manual focus fast 50, and want the best there is, and have $3300 to spare, and want buttery smooth magical quality, then the Zeiss Otus is the KING and you can take that to the bank.

Buy at Amazon or PopFlash



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Jun 152016

WOW, I want this lens! The new Panasonic Leica 12mm f/1.4 for Micro 4/3

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.46.27 AM

LEICA AND PANASONIC have announced an awesome new lens for the ever-growing and impressive Micro 4/3 lineup! This time, Leica has brought some of its magic to M 4/3 in the way of a 12mm f/1.4! This will give us a 24mm equivalent, just like the old Olympus 12mm f/2 but with a faster aperture of f/1.4, and I suspect, better performance as the Leica Micro 4/3 lenses have all been STELLAR.

I will be pre-ordering this for my Pen-F or who knows, maybe by the time it is released in August I will also own a Panasonic GX85, as I have one on the way TOMORROW for review with a couple of great lenses.

I feel this one will deliver amazing performance as these collaborations between these two giants have NEVER EVER disappointed.

You can pre order this lens HERE at B&H Photo but watch out, its pricey at $1299. Even so, I expect it to be STUNNING. Some already have tested it with great feedback.

I will be doing a full review of this lens soon. Next week be on the lookout for my Panasonic GX85 review, as well as a crazy comparison between the GX-85 and the Sony A7RII, just for fun of course ;)

Amazon also is selling this lens via prime, and they do not charge until it ships, so if you change your mind, it is easily canceled. My order is in!

Dec 022015

Steve’s Picks: Unique Products of the Year from Cameras to Gadgets to Audio

It’s no secret that I love tech, gadgets and gear. I love photography and great camera gear. I love Hi Fi audio and all things Paranormal. Basically, I live my life as happy as I can be, and always try to do the things I love and try things that bring pleasure to my life. I test and try so many gadgets every year I am toying with the idea of branching off to a 2nd review website for Gadgets, tech and Hi Fi. Maybe one day. Until then, below is a list of cool items I tried this year, some with reviews you may have ever realized I wrote ;)


Leica SL – My camera of the year for 2015! (full review here)


The Leica SL is a masterpiece in the world of Mirrorless Cameras. Why? Well, read my review if you missed it (here) and bask in the beauty of the SL. Leica got it so right here and for so many reasons. First, it’s built to a level like I have never seen in any camera. Weather sealed, solid metal construction without being overly heavy and a solid and pro feeling to all the buttons and controls. The shutter is so smooth, the response nice and fast, the EVF is class leading…best in the world at this time. The ISO capability is beyond anything Leica has ever done and the IQ, color and DR is all at the top of the heap. The only real competitor to the SL in the Mirrorless world is the Sony A7RII (review here) and while close, it just can not compete with the SL in build, feel, speed, control, AWB/color, EVF and inspiration/joy of use. With that said, The Sony A7RII is my #2 camera of the year for me and would have taken it if not for the SL being delivered mid November. 

The Sony A7RII – Camera of the year Runner Up – Buy it HERE


In 2nd place for the cam of the year, for me, is the Sony A7RII. For the money, $3200, you get very close to the Leica SL in performance and with its full frame 42 MP sensor, you get class leading resolution (but use good lenses to get the most from it). With its nice EVF, tilt LCD and growing collection of lenses there really is nothing quite like the A7RII in the Mirrorless world for the price and what it offers. See my full review HERE.

Honorable Mention – Leica Q and Sony RX1RII and Olympus E-M5II


HiFi Audio

Focal Sopra #2  – My Speaker of the Year 2015 – Review is HERE


For anyone into HI end HiFi Audio, the Focal Sopra #2 is a groundbreaking speaker. if you thought Leica cameras were pricey then do not get into high end Home Audio! The Sopra speakers while not cheap are very cheap when you consider what they offer, which is sound that normally is reserved for $35-50,000 loudspeakers. Coming in at $13,000, these are the most amazing speakers I have heard up to $50,000. For 15-20 years I have been into high end audio, and today in 2015, due to these speakers my system is 100% amazing and complete leaving me wanting for nothing more. The Sopras are backordered by 6-9 months right now, for good reason. Best bang for the buck in high end audio today.

McIntosh MA8000 – Integrated Amp of the Year – Review is HERE

With its amazing 110lbs of serious American Muscle the McIntosh MA8000 is built right here in the good old USA and it is built to last a lifetime. Much like Leica, the McIntosh brand has a reputation for being one of the “best” by many and for some the brand is not authentic HIFI as in the past McIntosh offered a sound that was warm, thick and direct. Today the sound coming from the MA8000 is absolutely amazing. 3D, holographic and plenty of weight while never being warm, mushy or old school. I have had amps in my room from Audio Research, Devialet, Line Magnetic, Cary, Leben and so many high end brands and products. For me, the MA8000 is the best integrated I have ever heard or owned. In 2nd comes the Devialet I used to own.


The McIntosh is a serious piece of Audio gear offering a great built-in DAC, a fantastic phono stage for MC or MM carts and of course those huge blue meters. You can see the full review HERE for details on this 300WPC powerhouse, but this is an all new McIntosh sound that is absolutely gorgeous. Also a perfect match for the Sopra #2 above.



DJI Phantom 3 drone. Amazon has them HERE

This is an amazing piece of tech my friends. Sure, I know about the DJI Phantom 1 and 2 as well as the Inspire. I know about every drone made available under $4000 and have tried many. The Phantom 3 Professional is the best bang for the buck in the drone world, period. With its familiar form factor and design, the 3 is so simple to use and fly it almost flies itself. Not sure how anyone could crash a Phantom 3 Pro as it truly is phenomenal, and with its included 4K camera the video you can capture is out of this world. Smooth, cinematic and crazy good quality.


With a range of 1.2 miles, the Phantom 3 pro can be flown far away all while you view the real-time video feed coming back to you so you can pilot by line of sight or on your display. The Phantom is rock solid stable in the air due to GPS and if you let go of controls it will just hover wherever it is. You can do a one button press to return to home and land and even if you get out of range or your controller runs out of battery the copter will return home  to where it took off from and land.

For me it is about the footage one can capture with the Phantom 3 pro and I already started to implement it into video’s I do/shoot/create and my 1st tests have been wonderful. Well worth the $1200. I had mine out on maybe 12 flights so far and never an issue. One time it did get out of range and lost up in the clouds. I thought it was gone so I turned off my transmitter and within minutes it was back and landing at my feet. Incredible technology from DJI.

You can order a Phantom 3 at B&H Photo or Amazon and they are a BLAST. Below is one of my Paranormal videos I did while testing the DJI and you can spot the drone footage in the beginning.

Yes, I also run and own Huff Paranormal and have also had software developed for what I do. In fact, I have 2X the following in the para world than I do here! You can check me out on YouTube HERE or at my Para Facebook with over 135k followers HERE. I have been featured and interviewed on the nationwide COAST TO COAST AM and several radio shows across the country. I have been featured on TV and been offered TV shows from many cable networks, all of which I refused for ethical reasons (they require staging and faking which I will never do). My software is used by thousands of individuals, teams, and paranormal researchers around the world who are always looking for answers. I just completed a documentary in Key West FL with another team that will be released in 2016. You can see my software that I designed and had developed for me HERE and HERE. Of course, only those with a paranormal fascination will get it :)

This DJI Phantom will be used in future productions and I am happy to have it. For someone looking for a much cheaper drone for around the house, I recommend THIS ONE at $32. Yea, it’s a toy but it works decent and records ok video.

Video Stabilizer

DJI Osmo camera and stabilized Gimbal – See it at Amazon HERE


The DJI Osmo is a handheld 4K camera and gimbal that allows you to get smooth and fluid video much like you see in films and Television. It’s quite incredible on the video front but the OSMO has a huge weakness in the audio because the built-in mic is the worst I have ever heard, ever. It was not until I purchased this RODE Video Micro mic that I fell in love with the OSMO.  The video is incredible though… and as I do more and more work with it I will be reviewing it here at NOt cheap at $650 but it offers a stunning 4k camera, a beautiful gimbal that keeps your video rock steady and gorgeous and a comfy handle as well as an app that allows you to use your iPhone or smart phone as a real-time monitor of what you are shooting. You WILL need a mic, and after trying 6 mics, the best I found was the above mentioned RODE MICRO.

You can find the OSMO at B&H Photo or Amazon. I will be shooting my family Christmas with the OSMO and my footage will look so so cool and so so good. While flawed in the audio area, once a mic is added the OSMO is quite fantastic.


New Acoustic Guitar Amp Tech

The Fender Acoustic SFX Acoustic Guitar Amp – More about it HERE

Wow, this guy is not only beautiful and well made, it is getting attention from many as the best Acoustic guitar amp ever created. With its 3D sound, 4 speakers that surround the amp, left, right, center and back you get a crystal clear sound that is sweet and rich with stereo effects like delays, chorus and vibrato. This looks furniture grade quality and sounds so good, better than any Acoustic amp I have ever heard, I had to buy one for my acoustic/electric. If you play acoustic/electric and am looking for an amp, look no further. This is the best I have ever heard or used. I now own one. You can order or see more about the Fender Acoustic SFX HERE.




HiFiMan HE-1000 – See them at Amazon HERE

In 2015 what I feel to be the best Headphone ever created was released. The HiFiMan HE-1000 was released and not only was the design crazy cool, the sound, with the right amp was UNREAL! If you are into HeadFi and want the best try the HE1000 and an ALO Audio Studio 6 Amp. Delicious. At $3000 they better be amazing, and they are. Amazon sells them via prime ;) My review is HERE but one needs “Golden Ears” to appreciate these and an amp is mandatory.


Bose QC25 NC Headphones – See them at Amazon

Also, for travelers and those needed noise cancelling headphones I found the latest version of the Bose Noise Canceling tech to be the best yet. The newer QC25 are my #1 choice for air, subway, train or any travel where you need to cut the noise as they block out the noise better than any NC headphone I have used, and now we can use them without battery or using the noise reduction. Comfy, long battery life and looks that work when traveling :) If bose can do one thing very well, it is noise canceling headphones.


There are so many more gizmos I have tried out in 2016 but the above are my faves and the ones that stick out in my mind. These days I get so many things sent to me to review and test, and it’s always loads of fun.


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