Mar 022015
 

Travel Photography with Medium Format Color Film

By: Logan Norton

www.seeingthelightworkshops.com

As someone who has done quite a bit of photography oriented travel, I have experimented with many different gear configurations in search of the most suitable solution for my travel needs. I have found that using medium format (120/220) color negative film (c-41) offers me the most versatility while ensuring that I can achieve the “look” that I desire. I know that many of you will probably have serious doubts about the practicality/convenience/wisdom of this choice, but I can assure you that I have tried just about every other format and, for me, this is the one that fits the best.

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Knowing that the digital vs. film debate will inevitably arise from this post is, I would like to address that a little before we get any further. This is not meant to be an endorsement of film over digital. I don’t believe there is a universal truth that one format is better than the other. They are both tools with advantages and disadvantages and the beautiful thing is that they both exist. You have a choice as to how you will achieve the goals you seek through the use of one or the other, or both. I have taken a Nikon D800 and a Think Tank bag full of lenses on a two week Costa Rica trip. I’ve spent a week shooting in Austin, TX with a Fuji X100s and I took a Leica M9 and a 1950’s 50mm summicron on a roadtrip up the west coast for two weeks. Recently I spent a couple weekends in San Francisco with nothing but a Leica MM Monochrom and a 35mm cron and these days, the majority of my shooting is done with a Leica M2 loaded with Kodak 400tx and an older 35mm summicron – a setup that I love for its simplicity.

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The point I am trying to make here is that I have enjoyed an assortment of equipment configurations, both film and digital, and I have been able to create wonderful images with each, despite that fact that all of them have unique challenges. Anytime you seek to find the most appropriate tool for a specific job you have to weigh the negatives against the positives for each option. I spent quite a bit of time doing just that before a recent trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I wanted to simplify my travel setup; I didn’t want to carry multiple cameras with different film format, battery or memory card needs. I wanted something that would not distract me from enjoying the process of traveling and photographing.

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The first question was film vs digital. I realized that I didn’t want to be tempted to spend my evenings poring over the thousands of images I had downloaded into my computer, or to spend my lunches thumbing through pictures on my camera screen. It was important to me that I enjoy the experience of traveling while also taking pictures, rather than being preoccupied with the pictures I was taking on my travels. I also knew that I didn’t want to be reliant on batteries as I often spend long days shooting without any opportunity for charging. Another consideration was that a huge amount of travel photography occurs during the brightest part of the day in very changeable light conditions. Film is able to handle these changes more consistently and pleasingly than any digital format I have experimented with. The latitude that film allows, along with its ability to smoothly control transitions between shadows, mid-tones and highlights makes it a more effective tool for mid-day shooting, in my opinion. I also considered the difference in the way I work with film as opposed to digital. With digital I have a tendency to shoot everything knowing that I have virtually unlimited capacity for recording.

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When I’m using film, however, I find my process slows substantially. I search each setting/situation for the right moment, knowing that my shots are limited. I find that film forces me to really get into each moment and to stay there longer, something that I find incredibly important when I travel. In the end, these considerations led me to choose film as the medium for my travel photography needs.

Next I had to settle on the format. 35mm would allow for smaller, lighter gear and many more shots per roll. Medium format would give me incredible dynamic range, detail and latitude while forcing me to be extremely critical while shooting. In the end, the technical advantages of the medium format option won out over the convenience of 35mm. I knew it was going to be medium format film, and because I was going to the amazingly colorful town of San Miguel I knew I wanted color film. I chose to bring Kodak Portra 400 as my only film stock as it affords exceptionally smooth renderings at low iso while also providing excellent push-ability, fantastic highlight retention (imperative for the bright Mexican sun), and great colors. It also translates very well to black and white Continuing my theme of keeping things simple, I chose a Fuji GW670ii rangefinder camera for the trip. These “texas leicas” are all mechanical so there was no battery life to worry about. Since rangefinder cameras are mirrorless, they are nearly silent in operation and they allow the user to utilize slower shutter speeds with less vibration than slr cameras. These cameras all feature a fixed 90mm Fujinon lens that is incredibly sharp with fantastic bokeh characteristics and color rendition.

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Armed with my newly simplified kit I headed off to San Miguel de Allende for 12 days of exploration and shooting. I would be lying if I said I didn’t immediately question my decision upon leaving the rest of my gear behind, but after the first day I was convinced I had made the right choice. The Portra performed as well as I’d hoped in capturing the beautiful colonial architecture and brightly colored haciendas of San Miguel. When shooting in the mid-day sun I was able to rate it at 100 iso without any need to pull the processing when I got home (which was critical while using the Fuji which has a top shutter speed of 1/500) and it produced amazing results pushed as high as 6400 iso at I spent countless hours walking San Miguel’s beautiful cobblestone streets, sampling the local cuisine, meeting locals, and capturing amazing images. I found it to be one of the most welcoming and warm environments for travel that I have ever experienced. My days were spent exploring the magnificent el Charco del Ingenio Botanical Gardens; the el Tianguis Tuesday Market, a huge bazaar that features a little bit of everything; and the central square known as El Jardin that sits right next to the beautiful Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel cathedral, the main architectural landmark of the city. During my trip I was privileged to witness two daylong celebrations in and around this immaculately maintained square, as well as a traditional Mexican wedding at the church. These events provided further insight into Mexican culture and afforded me some amazing photographic opportunities.

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Spread around the city are a number of other spectacular cathedrals, as well as a number of other squares where people gather. I could not help but fall in love with the uniqueness and beauty of the city and its people; and I returned home with 53 rolls of film filled with amazing memories from my time there. I cannot wait for Ultimately I was incredibly happy with my decision to simplify my travel photography setup. I believe that the careful process of selecting the right tools afforded me the ability to be in the moment more during this trip than any other before it.

Feb 272015
 

Kids & Flash

By Warren Street

Love the site and look often. Very informative and fair in an unpretentious way. So right up my alley.

I recently bought a flash cord for my D3100 after seeing some of Larry Finks photos and loving the look and feel that to me really highlight emotions.

Being a 9 to 5 Dad of 3 kids means I’m not home a lot but when I am home it’s my job to get the kids ready for bed. One of the things that strike me is the number of different emotions we go through as we get ready and it’s a perfect time to put the camera in one hand and the flash in the other. I’m always amazed at the results I get. When you look at these you can really see so much. From what’s obvious to the subtleties between the kids.

From a technique perspective I shoot manual so I can stop motion(it’s action after all) and also have a decent depth of field as focus is not always so sharp. I’ve shot a couple of parties just for friend(I’m not a pro) and they always come out interesting and unique.

I hope you enjoy.

Warren Street.

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Feb 262015
 

Using Sony NEX cameras as a digital back for 4×5″ Sinar

By Dierk Topp

What do you get:

The possibility of the use of most of the movements of a large format 4×5″ camera!
And to get very high resolution images (300 MPixel or more) for very large prints. I printed up to 2m wide, I love to “walk” around with my eyes on high res prints :-)

Where and for what can it be used?

for any static object, ideal for studio work and stills
the weight of my set up with tripod is about 10kg, not usable for hiking (the gear of Ansel Adams was 20kg and more, as far as I know)
Therefor for landscapes I use the normal technique shooting hand held or with a tripod and just shift the whole camera.

but:

you should have some experiences with large format and/or want to learn more about it
you have to invest some time for set up and camera alignment
you want to slow down for taking pictures

How do you use it?

set up the camera on a tripod
set the camera on all manual and RAW
use the ground glass of the Rhinocam for rough positioning (the normal ground glass of the Sinar is useless, it is not at the position of the sensor)
move the NEX into position
use the display of the NEX for first focusing
move the camera to the outer edges of the Rhinocam and control the framing of the whole image
use the shift and tilt mechanics of the camera for the desired plane of focus
control the framing again
use the focus lope for exact and final focusing
stop down the lens and do a test shot of an important area for exposure control
adjust flash and or aperture or exposure time for outdoor shots
if necessary, do a test shot with gray card or Colorchecker for color management

You may just shoot the 6 or 8 images by using the movements of the camera within the Rhinocam and get a high res image. If you want or need higher resolution, you move the camera closer to the object. In order to cover the same scene you have to shoot extra rows and columns by shifting the camera rear standard in x and y direction and will end up with 20 or 30 images. The parallax is no problem, as all the images are coming out of the same image circle! Using large format you will know, that the lenses have a huge image circle, in which you may shift the film or today the digital camera.
For example the image circle of the Rodenstock Sironar-N 150mm is 214mm at f/22! (more here: http://www.prograf.ru/rodenstock/largeformat_en.html )
More on Schneider Symmar lenses is here: http://www.schneiderkreuznach.com/en/photo-imaging/product-field/photo-lenses/products/large-format-lenses/analog-lenses/apo-symmar-l/

Sorry, if this is not clear enough, but I tried my very best (and sorry for any strange English :-) ).
The different image sizes of the following images below depend of the use of this shift technique and multi row shooting.

What gear do I use?

a Sony NEX camera (I use the NEX-6)
a 4×5 Sinar P (or Gandolfi Variant) with standard back mount
I prefer the Sinar P, as all movements are geared and can be controlled perfectly
a Rhinocam adapter (there are other adapters, that could be used as well, but I only know and use the Rhinocam today)
a large format lens with 150mm or more for infinity shots,
for studio or close up shots 120mm or less is possible
a good tripod with a good head (Manfroto 055 with Arca Swiss Monoball P0)
two soft boxes for studio work and a remote flash trigger
the X-rite Colorchekcker or gray card for perfect color management
a software for stitching images (ICE from MS for Windows, PTGui, PS or many others)

How much does it cost?
Here are my “investments”:

the price of a APS-C NEX depends on the model and condition
the Sinar P was about 650€ used in perfect condition
the price of the Rhinocam depends on where you buy it
the price of my Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 120mm/5.6 was 350€ (like new)
the price of a tripod and head depends on many factors (if you don’t have a tripod)

you may find more images in my Sinar album at flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/sets/72157641670093123/
and the Gandolfi album:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/sets/72157641081324295/

There is not much more to say. Here are some of my results:
all images are multi row and multi columns stitches images. That is the reason, why the image sizes vary.

Table Top Examples

This is about my standard set up. Only the flash trigger is not mounted. With flash trigger you can only use the camera in landscape orientation as the trigger will hit the ground glass, when you try to rotate the camera into portrait orientation.

in this case the rear standard of the camera is tilted by about 15°, as you can see it on the scale at the bottom of the image

lens used: Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 120mm/5.6

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This is the result
Sinar 4×5″ with Rhinocam adapter and Sony NEX-6, Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 120mm/5.6@ f/11
stitch of 20 images, 15.000×10.000 pixel  = 150 Mpixel

Sinar tilted, f/22

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 5,6/120mm @f/11,
13.000×8.500 pixel = 110 MPixel

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a 1:1 crop

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 5,6/120mm @f/16,
12.000×7.000 pixel = 91 Mpixel

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 5,6/120mm @f/11,
10.000×7.700 pixel = 77 MPixel

80 MPix, stitch of 9 images

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with  Rodenstock Sironar-N 150mm/3.5 MC@f/13,
13.200×7.500 pixel = 99 MPixel

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider APO-SYMMAR MC 5.6/210 @f/16,
13.200×6.000 pixel = 80 MPixel

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This is a test image for the ultimate control of the focus plane by tilting the front and/or rear standard, the focus is exactly parallel to the surface of the book and it looks like the apple was “photoshopped” into the image, but the apple really lies on the book!

Besides control of exposure and contrast this is, what comes out of the camera after stitching the images!

NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider APO-SYMMAR MC 5.6/210 @f/8,
11.500×7.800 pixel = 90 MPixel

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider APO-SYMMAR MC 5.6/210 @f/8,
13.300×7.600 pixel = 100 MPixel

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NEX-6 with Rhinocam on Sinar P 4×5″ with Schneider APO-SYMMAR MC 5.6/210 @f/16,
19.000×8.000 pixel = 150 MPixel

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another set up for the following picture

making of

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NEX-6 on Rhinocam adapter on Sinar P with Schneider Makro-Symmar HM MC 120mm@f/11
stitch of 15 images, 13.400×11.500 pixel = 154 MPixel (I would like to print it in 2x2m :-) )

f/22, stitch of 15 images, 150 MPix

and a 1:1 crop

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this is one of a few outdoor imagesthe set up

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the result, tilted for the focus plane on the ground
NEX-6 on Rhinocam adapter on Sinar P with  Schneider APO-Symmar 210/5.6
13.600×7.800 = 106 MPixel (printed 1,80m wide)

stitch of 2x4 images

this is a comparison of two different tilt settings, where you can see, how easy it is to control the focus with focus peaking
while you tilt the camera, the focus is moving till you see the whole desired plane in focus peaking color
compare this with a dark cloth over your head and a magnifying glass on the ground glass.

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and just for fun, if you want to take your 4×5″ camera into the field, there is a nice “little” box for all that stuff :-)
you may find the tiny NEX somewhere on this picture

my "new" camera bag, very handy for my nex hicking tour :-)

and an explanation, how to use this box for shooting :-)

my "new" camera bag, very handy for my nex hicking tour :-)

and last but not least my little large format camera collection
left the Sinar P, in the middle an old wooden camera and on the right the Gandolfi Variant field camera

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I hope, you enjoyed it and thanks for looking

dierk

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/

Jan 292015
 

USER REPORT : The best tool ever for black and white photography

by Elie Bescont

Hi Steve, hi Brandon,

Happy new year to you and your loved ones, and to all of you reading this article. Thank you again for having me writing on your website.

Today, we are going to talk about black and white photography, but I would recommend you to read this even if you are not into b&w photography because what I am going to discuss here is an important step for color photography too. I will be dealing with black and white photography here because it is the most simple way to explain what I am going to teach some of you.

I have been thinking about writing an article dealing with post-processing for a while now because while it is a key step in creating your own images and developing your own vision, most articles dealing with post-processing on the internet are totally incomprehensible and useless. Most articles I found deal with a particular Photoshop or Lightroom tool, like “today, we are going to show you how to use the liquify tool in Photoshop”. That’s cool, but not really helping actually. You want to develop your own vision to give your images their own character that will allow anyone to identify any of your pictures as one of your pictures just by looking at it, and knowing how to use the “liquify” tool in Photoshop won’t really help you in that matter if you see what I mean. You need a tool to help you develop your style (which is you vision – your own way of seeing things) by using any Photoshop (or whatever) tool at your disposal. You need to develop your own graphic signature and you are tired of browsing the internet for the solution? Keep reading, your might find something interesting.

At this point, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Elie, and that’s how I see the world that surrounds me today: https://www.flickr.com/photos/92813485@N05/sets/72157636422545586/

We all have our own way of seeing the world. We don’t take the same pictures, you have your very own eye and you sould exploit this gift during the shooting process and during the post-processing process too. Today, I will introduce you to the best tool ever for post-processing, and I will apply it to black and white photography. I’m pretty sure you all read books and watched interviews of great photographers explaining how to think your pictures during the shooting process, they mainly deal with composition, timing and that sort of things. There is also a method for post-processing, no matter the software you are using, and no matter if you shoot digital or film. If you don’t use a method, prepare to improve the quality of your photographs.

So the other day, I was walking in Paris with my friend Stan. I brought with me the best camera there is for black and white photography: the Leica M Monochrom, and I decided to take a picture of him with a 35mm lens. Here is the RAW file straight from the camera

93038101L1021970SteveHuffRAW

Well, it looks nice. Focus is a bit off because the rangefinder wasn’t calibrated with the lens but it’s no big deal. What bothers me here is the ultimate flatness of this image. It’s all grey with nothing really standing out and that’s great because it means that I have a great latitude now in creating my own vision of this portrait. Well, what should I do now? Should I start to twist random buttons on Lightroom until I get a satisfying result? Should I just add more contrast and export the image as it is? No. The first thing to do is to take a look at it and think. What is important here? Please, take a look at this picture. Do it and ask yourself the question. What is important? What is key? What is not? Do it. Look at his face, look at his clothes, look at the different parts of the background. We have to select important things that we want to enhance, and unnecessary things that we want to turn the viewer’s attention from.

Here are my thoughts.

Important things:
+ Stan (my subject here).
+ His face.
+ His eyes, nasal base and mouth.
+ His clothes.
+ The ramp of the bridge.

Unnecessary things:
– The empty part on the right.
– The empty part on the top (the sky).

Take another look at the image to make sure you agree with me. What I want here is my subject to stand out from the composition. I also want his face to stand out even more, and particularly key details like his eyes, his nasal base and his mouth. I also think that his clothes are an important part of the subject. I think that all the part on the right of the image is not important except the ramp of the bridge that adds perspective to the composition.

There are basically three ways of enhancing something in black and white photography. You can lighten it, you can add more contrast to it, or you can add more microcontrast (i.e. structure, or clarity) to it. There are three ways of driving one’s attention away from something in black and white photography. You can darken it, you can lessen contrast locally, or you can lessen microcontrast locally. It’s amazing how easy that sounds.

In visual terms, here is my plan

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Green circled parts are zones that I want to lighten. I want to lighten my subject, and I want to lighten his face even more so it stands out and gets the viewer’s attention. I also want to add more contrast to these zones for the same reason.

Blue circled parts are zones where I want more microcontrast to make little details pop. So I want details of his face to get the viewer’s attention, and I want more crisp on his clothes, I want it to look more real. I also want this ramp on the right to stand out.

I want to darken the entire zone further the red line on the right to center the viewer’s attention on my subject. I might lighten the ramp a little bit to balance this effect on the ramp only. I also want to darken the zone above the red line near the top of the image so the sky won’t burst.

What I just did is the logical continuation to the composition of my image, i.e. when I decided what should be in the frame and what shouldn’t. We just went a little further and decided from what’s in the frame, what is important and what is not. Now that we have a raw image and a plan to get the best from it, we can get to work on Lightroom a little bit.

First, we decided to add more light and more contrast to the whole subject so I selected the zone using the brush tool on Lightroom and increased exposure to +0.21 and contrast to +16 (which is a lot, but the files that the Monochrom gives are really flat). I felt that a touch of microcontrast here won’t hurt so I increased clarity to +2.

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Then, I decided to lighten his face so here we go. Exposure +0.14, contrast +16.

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I wanted his eyes, base of nose and mouth to stand out (it’s all on the plan above). Clarity +9.

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I also wanted to add more crisp to his clothes. Clarity +10.

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You can already see a difference between the raw file and what we have now:

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Well, let’s darken the whole part on the right using the graduated filter tool. Exposure -0.21.

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I will use the same tool to darken the top of the image. Exposure -0.14.

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Oh, and I wanted that ramp to stand out a bit. Back with the brush tool. Exposure +0.07, clarity +10. Don’t hesitate to use a big brush with a high gradient so you won’t see a clear separation of the effect.

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That’s where we are now, before and after:

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That was the really important part because you actually have to make a choice between what’s important and what’s not. What comes next is regular processing, like getting the tone curve to your taste (here, to mine). Highlights -1, lights +17, darks -7, shadows -10

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And now a final calibration of the image on Lightroom. Exposure +0.26, contrast +22, whites +13, clarity +3.

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This is where we came from in the begining, and where we are now:

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This is the image we have now

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You might wonder what is the real impact of the choices we’ve made during the first step. Here is on the left the RAW file with the same tonal curve and final calibration than the final image on Lightroom. On the right, where we are now. The only difference between these two images is the plan we elaborated for the image on the right:

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If you can’t see the difference, you will notice it here for sure:

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Let’s finish that image with Silver Efex Pro 2:

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I like to add a bit of grain, it adds some texture to the image.

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On the left, the raw file out of camera. On the right, the final image after a bit of thinking and some work on Lightroom and Silver Efex:

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Who is flat now?

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You might like what I did with that raw image that came out of the camera, you might not, it doesn’t matter. What really matters is that I made my own decisions. I didn’t just twist buttons until the magic happens, I looked at the picture and thought how it should be. And then I applied my decisions to the picture using Lightroom. It doesn’t matter if you are a master of the paint brush tool or not. You don’t wake up in the morning grabbing a hammer and then wondering what you could do with it that day. You first come up with a project, and if it involves sticking nails in walls then you should start to learn a little bit more about that hammer you stored in the backyard cabin. That’s why all these articles about “that particular tool in Photoshop” are absurd. And that’s why the best tool ever for black and white photography is having a plan for your image before you start twisting buttons and playing with tools.

By the way, my friend Stan is a journalist and photographer. Check his images here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stanaron/

Well, a few days before that day, I was still walking in Paris with the Leica Monochrom and I took this picture:

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Here we go again. What is important? The two characters are important, especially her face. The fountain is important too.

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I want more light to her face (the zone in green). I also want more microcontrast on both subjects and on the fountain (the zones in blue). I want more light to the entire scene, and I want the sky to be a little darker above the red line to keep some details there. To begin with, I will apply a correction to the angle of the image here. Angle -0.75.

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Now let’s add more light to the whole scene. Exposure +0.91, Contrast +5, Whites +20.

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I want to darken the sky a little bit to keep a few details there. Exposure -0.28 using the graduated filter tool:

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I will now reduce the highlights around these lamp posts.

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I wanted more microcontrast on this zone here. Clarity +9.

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I needed more light on her face. Exposure +0.28, contrast +3, Clarity +9.

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I wanted more microcontrast to her eye, nasal base, mouth and ear. Clarity +9.

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I also wanted the details of the splashes to crisp a little bit more. Clarity +5.

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Now let’s get the tonal curve to my taste:

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And we are done. Here is the raw image straight out of camera on the left compared to the final image on the right

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To show you the importance of the selective choices I made during the thinking process, here is the final image on the left with all the tonal curve adjustments and everything, but without local adjustments. On the right, the same image but with local adjustments too. See how her face stands out of the composition to the right.

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You don’t see the difference? Try this way:

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And that’s the final image we just created:

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Again, you may like what I did with the raw file, you may not. That’s not important. What really matters is that I made this image like I wanted it to be in the first place, and you should get your images like you want them to be too. This selective method is used in photography since around 1910 and was used to define most of the iconic images you know today. I hope this was a helpful read for the ones who struggle with post-processing. If you shoot color, it’s the exact same method except you enter a fantastic world called chroma which is a bit more complicated than black and white since you can now totally change the color locally. This is a good way to develop your own graphic style because you are the only person in the world who knows exactly what is important in your composition and what is not. I wish you all a happy new year and happy shooting to all of you.

Cheers!
Elie

Jan 272015
 

The Kodak Ektanar f/2.8 Lens on the Sony A7r

by Chris Peters

I recently built a custom lens adapter for the Kodak Ektanar f/2.8 Lens. If you think your readers would be interested, I would love to write this up as a user report. The Kodak Ektanar was part of the Signet 80 rangefinder system that the company produced from 1958 – 1962.

The system came with 3 lenses: a 50mm f/2.8, a 35mm f/3.5, and a 90mm f/4. More info is here:

http://photo.net/classic-cameras-forum/00YOZc

And here are the three lenses mounted with the custom lens adapters on my Sony A7R. The lenses are so obscure I had to build the lens adapters on a 3D printer to use them!

This photograph cannot be modified for commercial or advertising use, nor can it be copied or reproduced in any form without the photographer’s permission.

Here are some photos I took with the lens and adapter:

A WALK THROUGH HOLLYWOOD WITH THE KODAK EKTANAR LENS

This photograph cannot be modified for commercial or advertising use, nor can it be copied or reproduced in any form without the photographer’s permission.

This photograph cannot be modified for commercial or advertising use, nor can it be copied or reproduced in any form without the photographer’s permission.

This photograph cannot be modified for commercial or advertising use, nor can it be copied or reproduced in any form without the photographer’s permission.

This photograph cannot be modified for commercial or advertising use, nor can it be copied or reproduced in any form without the photographer’s permission.

This photograph cannot be modified for commercial or advertising use, nor can it be copied or reproduced in any form without the photographer’s permission.

This photograph cannot be modified for commercial or advertising use, nor can it be copied or reproduced in any form without the photographer’s permission.

This photograph cannot be modified for commercial or advertising use, nor can it be copied or reproduced in any form without the photographer’s permission.

This photograph cannot be modified for commercial or advertising use, nor can it be copied or reproduced in any form without the photographer’s permission.

This photograph cannot be modified for commercial or advertising use, nor can it be copied or reproduced in any form without the photographer’s permission.

Jan 062015
 

Traveling Middle East with a Leica M6

By Johannes Carlsohn

Hi Steve,

I want to share with you and your readers the experiences I had on a trip to the Middle East with only a film Leica. I bought my first Leica (an M6) a year ago, in December 2013.

I fell in love with it instantly and decided to use it as my main camera for all the trips I was planning to do in 2014. So I used it in Madeira, Barcelona, Greece and Georgia, sometimes accompanied by digital cameras.

For the last and longest trip of the year, 3.5 weeks in October to Iran and Oman, I decided to go film only. So I packed my M6 and few lenses (15mm Voigtländer, 50mm Summicron, 35mm Zeiss) and 35 rolls of film.  I relied on my iPhone for quick pictures to share with the family or on Facebook.

Shooting only film gave me a peace of mind I wasn’t used to before. No worrying about batteries or memory cards, no file formats, no settings, hardly switching any lenses (I shot 80% of the pictures with the 35mm), and that all in a small package that was never a burden to carry around.

I have not once had the feeling that focusing manually has slowed me down, but I definitely felt that unobtrusiveness of the Leica, that helps shooting strangers in the streets.

Apart from photography I can only recommend traveling the Middle East. The people, especially in Iran, are friendly, helpful and welcoming on a level I haven’t experienced anywhere else. The cultural heritage, the nature and the way of living there are amazing. And no, we have not felt unsafe at any point of the trip, nor have we had any trouble with authorities.

In the end I shot 29 rolls of film, had only a hand full of badly focused or exposed pictures and a lot more keepers than usually.

In the meantime I switched from my Nikon D600 to a small Ricoh as a digital backup. I planned to buy a digital Leica in 2015, but after having so much fun with the M6, I decided to postpone that investment for at least another year.

Keep up your great work!

Johannes

Munich, Germany
http://500px.com/blende2acht
www.blende2acht.de (has been a work in progress for the last 3 years…)

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Jan 062015
 

My first serious landscape shots with the Linhof Technikardan 69

By Dirk Dom

Hi!

So I wanted to do serious black and white landscape. After almost having gone the digital route with a Sony A7R and a Canon 17mm tilt-shift lens, I decided I’d go with film and a technical camera. I chose a 6×9 rollfilm format camera because I’d have lots of movements with ultrawide lenses and I wanted to do those shots with crazy perspective and depth of field.

It became a Linhof Technikardan 69. So far I have a 150 and a 65mm lens for it. The Linhof is extremely high quality. It feels like Leica. I got it used for a very reasonable price.

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After some trying I figured out how to lug the camera around without getting tired (backpack and un- and repack every shot) and I got familiar with how to work it.

Now, it’s midwinter here in Belgium, real dark, and my folks have a place in Spain, at the Coste Blanca and there it’s sunny and T shirt weather most of the time even now; I got so fed up with the Belgian darkness and frustration not to be able to shoot (exposed a shot eight seconds at 2PM, for God’s sake) that I drove there (1860km) for a week. I’d do my first serious black and white landscape with the Linhof and see what it’s actually worth.

Well, I can tell you, it was sort of a ultimate experience. Now I understand why people lug around with 8×10 camera’s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I eventually got one of these things. Only thing I have to figure out is how do you get such a beast and 50 8×10 plates through the airport security.

They say the main charming thing about a technical camera it that it slows you down; that’s perfectly correct, taking a shot takes five minutes at the least and even shooting a turtle on a Sunday stroll would be problematical. But the real thing is that you make the image happen in a way you don’t experience with any other camera. I’m at a loss for words here, be it said that I have a Canon F1, an Olympus PEN, a Hasselblad Xpan, a Fuji GX 617, a Mamiya C330, a Mamiya 7. All magnificent camera’s which are a profound joy to image with. But I can tell you now, that concerning the joy in picture taking not one of these camera’s comes even close to the Linhof.

This is all of course highly personal. Lots of people may absolutely hate the cumbersome technical camera workflow.

I shot one film (Eight images) a day.

Well, came back yesterday, with 40 images, developed, scanned and postprocessed today.

Here ‘s some results, scanned with an Epson V750 at 2,000 PPI, more than enough. For printing I’ll spend some weeks finetuning the postprocessing. I print 30 x 45cms.

The first day: no clouds! For good black and white you need some clouds. All shots Tmax 400, red filter. In Belgium I had some trouble focusing the 65mm, but that was due to the very low light level. Here it went like a breeze.

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I had overexposed two stops the first day, (forgot to put 400 ASA in the light meter) so I had to go back. I pulled that first film two stops (20% less development time) and it came out perfect. The next day nice clouds.

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I took this shot two years ago with the Mamiya 7, but this one came out nicer.

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An extremely windy day. I was afraid my filters would blow out of my hands and over the cliff, let alone that my tripod and camera would fly off and I’d find it back thirty meters lower. Didn’t happen. I did lose my wire release, though, luckily I had two with me. I have to figure out which spare parts I need, like the dark slide is absolutely essential and I might drop it and not be able to recover it.

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I’m crazy about skies taken through a red filter. 150mm.

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Here I used tilt for more DOF. DOF from 30cms to infinity. Yum, yum… 150mm. Try that with a camera without movements.

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Film doesn’t burn out highlights. I learnt not to compare film with digital or try to emulate digital with film or vice versa. I enjoy the different media for what they render in their own characteristic way.

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Plenty of mountains in the Costa Blanca, right next to the coast.

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And finally, a really overcast day. I discovered these houses and waited until a little spot of sun shone on them. It took four shots and over an hour until I got it the way I wanted it.

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I’m doing this multiyear project, shooting San Francisco. This Easter I’d go there for two weeks to shoot the city and its people in springtime. I’d take the Xpan and the Olympus PEN; in the Summer I’d spend six weeks there with the Linhof and some other gear. Now I’m so hyped I want to take the Linhof with Easter, too. I ‘ve never done this kind of intense shooting for a long time and I don’t know if I ‘d get fed up after a few days. In the summer I’d do different kinds of shooting and take a day off if it gets too crazy. The Linhof with Easter might get too intense because of the limited time. I have to make up my mind.

Bye,

Dirk.

Jan 052015
 

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The Southwest in Infrared 

by Alexandra Shapiro

Last November I attended Steve Huff’s Southwest Workshop along with about two dozen other photographers from all over the world. We visited some beautiful places in Arizona and Utah, including Antelope Canyon, Rattlesnake Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Zion National Park, and Sedona. These sites presented extraordinary opportunities for landscape photography. The workshop was also a great opportunity to meet some amazing photographers and do some hiking (Angel’s Landing at Zion was a particular highlight in terms of stunning scenery and a challenging ascent).

At some of the locations I used a specially converted digital camera that captures infrared light. A few years ago, I began experimenting with digital infrared photography, and found that it to be an interesting way to capture unusual and sometimes surreal images. My earlier user report can be seen HERE.  It provides some basic background on digital infrared technique and examples of infrared photographs that I took before the workshop.

On this trip, I used a converted Canon 5D, which has an “enhanced color” infrared filter, with a Canon 16-35 F4 L lens or a Canon 8-15 F4 L fisheye lens. Even though the 5D model is almost 10 year old, I have found it works extremely well for infrared work and can produce stunning images when paired with the right lens. (The main downsides are an out-of-date LCD and lack of live view, since manual focus is sometimes necessary for infrared work; personally, I don’t mind the 12 megapixel sensor and have even made some relatively large prints from images taken with this camera.) The 16-35 zoom, a relatively new offering from my Canon, is very sharp, and the image stabilization was particular useful in some spots, because the 5D is best shot at low ISOs and I prefer to shoot at f8 to f16 for infrared landscapes. The lens can also produce some amazing sunstars.

These are a few shots from the trip, taken at Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Zion. All but one of the images was taken with the 16-35. I shot in raw and used Capture One for white balance and exposure adjustments, and then converted the images to tiffs. After that, I used photoshop to swap channels, and tweaked the colors and/or converted to black and white using plug-ins such as Nik’s Viveza 2, Alien Skin Exposure 7 or MacPhun’s Tonality Pro. The same image of horseshoe bend appears in both faux color and black and white, so you can see some of the different possibilities with color and black-and-white infrared technique. There are also a couple of examples with strong flare — some may not like this, but I think the flare that infrared photography sometimes produces can create interesting effects.

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Some of my other infrared work can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alexandrashapiro/collections/72157633129472726/

This is my flickr account: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alexandrashapiro/

And here is another guest post I did for Steve: http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/01/14/user-report-iceland-with-the-leica-m-240-by-alexandra-shapiro/

Alexandra Shapiro

Dec 272014
 

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The Sony A7II  Real World Camera Review. My Camera of the Year 2014.

Follow SteveHuffPhoto.com on Facebook!

**Direct Links: Buy the A7 II at B&H Photo HERE or Amazon HERE**

You just gotta love Sony. They are back yet again at the end of 2014 and have released a camera that is not only a fantastic update, but this one is my pick for camera of the year 2014! 

Yep, they squeezed in the last couple of weeks of 2014 and captured my #1 fave camera of the year. My #2 for 2014 is the Sony A7s, and those who know me and know this website know that I LOVE the Sony A7s. If you did not see my A7s review, you can see it by clicking here. 

The low light monster A7s really grabbed me in so many ways, from the full frame 12MP sensor that can literally see in the dark to the beautiful color and quality that comes from it. The fact that I can shoot at ISO 40,000 and get usable images from the A7s is pretty amazing. To my eye (and many others) Sony improved the image quality/color and AWB with the A7s and this made the images POP and have a more beautiful color. The Auto Focus could/can see in and focus in the dark, even without an AF assist light. So the A7s has been my #1 camera ever since it was launched. The silent shutter and ability to shoot wide angle Leica M lenses was icing on the cake.

So now today I am here to sit at my desk in a Log Cabin in the woods I rented for the Holidays..for the long haul..to write about my real word experience with the new and quite popular Sony A7II. As you already know, from my opening statement above…I love the A7II enough to have made it my pick for Camera of the Year 2014.

For me, Sony stepped it up in many ways with the A7II compared to the over one year old A7 yet it will not replace my A7s. Instead it will be an addition to it.

Wow. The Leica Noctilux on the Sony A7II at f/0.95. Look at the color..the depth..the magical rendering that adds emotion and soul to the image. This lens on the A7II is MAGICAL and in no way inferior to  using it on a Leica M, in fact, the color is much better here than with the M. Click image for larger version.

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For one, the build of the A7II is all new and more beefy and solid. The camera feels like a  “pro” camera. It’s very nice.

They also changed the ergonomics by adding a new bigger grip and changing the buttons and dials around a bit. The shutter button and custom buttons are placed in a much better way allowing your fingers to naturally fall where the buttons lay. Perfect. After much use with the A7Ii and A7s, I prefer the shutter button placement of the new A7II. Take a look at my 1st look video below which was shot the day the A7II arrived…

My 1st look video when I received the A7II

 
The AF speed has improved by 30% over the A7 Mark I according to Sony (and I agree) and what may be the biggest news of all comes in the form of in body image stabilization. Sony is now using the 5 Axis IS system which moves the sensor itself to compensate for any hand movement or shake. This means that you will now get up to a 4 stop advantage when shooting low light and needing that extra bit of help keeping things steady…

…and yes, the 5 Axis IS works with classic lenses as well as modern day Leica M mount lenses though the system will revert to a 3 Axis IS (similar to what is in the Olympus E-M10). The 5 Axis will not make the A7II equal the A7s but it does indeed help in low light situations.

The Sony/Zeiss 35 f/2.8 at 2.8, a fantastic lens on the A7II. Click for larger. 

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Sony also upped the Ante with the video, bringing in the same video possibilities as the A7s which has been heralded by some video pros as a fantastic camera for making films. I feel the video works very well with the image stabilization though I am not a video wizard and will be evaluating this camera mainly for photos. Even so, the video I shot with the A7II was fantastic. It has a mic input and the on board mics are quite beefy. By that I mean they are not tinny sounding. They sound nice and full as a good mic should.

With all of these improvements in the A7II you would think Sony would have priced it at the A7s level, or around $2500. Nope! The A7II is $1698 for the body only, which is a HUGE HUGE bang for the buck and worth every penny. Every cent. Every bit of it. I remember many years ago buying an original Canon 1Ds. I spent about $10k on the body and a couple of NON L Canon lenses. Today in 2014 this Sony A7II beats that old Canon 1Ds in EVERY single way from speed to image quality to high ISO to usability and versatility. Digital Photography has come a LONG way over the past 10-15 years.

With the Sony A7II comes a camera that will let YOUR abilities shine or your NON abilities to also shine ;) It is a camera for an amateur, enthusiast or pro, as it has enough to handle almost anything besides fast action sports shooting even though the continuous AF has been improved quite a bit. If you want a camera for the long haul, one that does not cost a fortune yet gives you results that appear that it does, one that will grow with you or allow you to flex your own photographic muscle, then I urge you to read on as this A7II may be just what you have been looking for.

The Voigtlander 40 2.8 for Sony E mount using the Voigtlander close focus adapter. This $400 lens is very nice with a classic rendering though does have some slight vignetting. I reviewed it HERE.

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But the A7II is not perfect, and I will get into all of this as the review goes on.

DISCLAIMER: As you have already seen, I will also show image samples from the A7II using all kinds of lenses from the Sony/Zeiss offerings (35 2.8. 55 1.8 and 16-35) as well as some M mount lenses from Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander. Even a few from the teeny Nikkor 5cm 1.4 S mount. With the A7 series, almost ANY lens can be used from any manufacturer with the use of adapters. For this reason, I will be showing the results from all kinds of cool lenses in addition to my favorite three Sony/Zeiss lenses.

THIS, to me, makes the A7 series so much more desirable than any other camera system available today. Sure, you can mount most lenses to an Olympus E-M1 as well but you lose out on the full frame sensor that gives you the full lens character. So a Leica 50 Summilux or Noctilux will retain the same character that it does on a Leica M, in some cases even better. Amazing!

Just think about how special this is. Many of you will be saying “I have no interest in manual focus lenses” because you probably have a DSLR history or are just so used to AF lenses you are nervous to try a nice manual focus lens. I am here to tell you though  – DO NOT FEAR MANUAL FOCUS lenses on the A7 II! Shooting old classic RF lenses is a joy and SO BEAUTIFUL. Lenses can be had from $30 to $13,000 so there are affordable choices that are quite nice.

Manual focus with a Leica Noctilux, at f/0.95. Added a filter using VSCO filters and with the focus peaking and magnification of the A7II, manual focus is a breeze and is actually in a way more rewarding and makes using the camera even more special. 

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With that said, the original Sony 35 2.8, 55 1.8 and new 16-35 perform fantastic as well on the camera. There is something for everyone with this camera and that is the beauty of it.

The A7II at ISO 8000. An out of camera JPEG with Noise Reduction turned OFF. Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8. 

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The Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 at ISO 1600 – click for larger – OOC JPEG – The color, the crispness and the overall rendering is fantastic here! OOC JPEG at night!

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The Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 once again, at night! OOC JPEG

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The Sony/Zeiss 16-35 with the A7II at ISO 3200, zero noise reduction. OOC JPEG

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The Sony/Zeiss 16-35 at ISO 2000 – OOC JPEG

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The 16-35 2.8 zm Zeiss at my Christmas 2014 Getaway ;) Where I wrote this review!

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The 16-35 and A7II at a Comicon fanfest in Phoenix AZ

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First Impressions & Build

Wow, so many photos already and I am just getting started on this review! Phew!

My very 1st impressions of the Sony A7 Mark II was quite surprising. I was expecting an A7 with 5 Axis thrown in but when I took it out of the box I was a bit shocked to feel how much better built it felt, and the A7 already had a good build as it was. This was different. The new body with new grip and button layout feels more beefy and solid. It is slightly larger now due to the 5 Axis inside but it’s still much smaller and thinner than a DSLR.

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When I held the camera in my hand I was impressed with not only the feel and heft but the new finish of the camera which is now a matte and a slightly rougher finish compared to the almost candy coated glossy black of the A7’s that came before. It has the metal build of the A7r and you can feel it. The camera is not thicker but the grip is, and this makes the camera appear larger than the older A7 and A7r as well as the A7s. Adding in the 5 Axis IS made the body slightly bigger so for some of you, this is good. For others you may not like the extra size.

When you hold this camera you instantly know you have something of great quality here, even more than the $1698 that it costs. It feels like a $2500-$3k body and no matter what anyone tells you, it is SMALLER than ANY DSLR and quite a bit smaller than even the Nikon Df. It’s not quite DSLR sized, and the way I love to shoot it is with small rangefinder lenses. BTW, Manual focus is a breeze (as already hinted) with the large EVF (same EVF from the previous A7 series).

You can set up any of the custom buttons to whatever you like. I have the C3 button on the back set up for focus magnification (and yes, you still need to do two button presses to get it magnified) and it makes for a quick and easy way to manually and critically focus any RF lens, such as a Leica Noctilux 50 0.95 which is the most critical lens to focus wide open. Basically, all of the buttons can be assigned to whatever you like meaning your A7II can be customized to your preferences.

Speaking of the Leica Noctilux

When using the Noctilux on the Leica M, you HAVE to make sure your rangefinder is 100% spot on or else it will be a lesson in frustration. Your shots will be slightly out of focus and makes the lens an expensive paperweight. On the A7II, using the Live View EVF with peaking or magnification means you never have to worry about your camera being calibrated. What you see is what you get. As much as I love and adore Leica M bodies, I would be lying if I said I never had Rangefinder calibration issues. When this happens it is NOT fun so using these “best lenses in the world” on the Sony A7II is a joy.

Below are a few examples of this stunning and unique lens on the A7II

All shots using the Leica Noctilux, 0.95, and shows the same gorgeous quality that it does on the Leica M but in some ways, slightly better. 

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and below…ISO 12,800, from RAW, ZERO Noise Reduction. THIS is what makes these Sony cameras special. ISO 12,800 and with a lens like the Noctilux lighting up the scene, it gives the impression that there was light to work with. When shooting this I could not see her with my eyes yet looking through the EVF allowed me to “see in the dark” and the image appears to be lit up when it was not really like this in real life. The A7s or A7II with a Leica Noctilux offers things that are not possible with any other camera system, period. ZERO noise reduction as always.

If anyone is interested in a Noctilux for their A7, A7II, A7s or A7r, I recommend Ken Hansen ([email protected]), the legendary Leica dealer.

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An Artist’s Tool

The buttons on the back are all laid out nicely, in place where you would and could easily access them. I am sitting here writing this and I have a Nikkor 50 1.4 S mount rangefinder lens on the camera. It feels SO SO solid and is nice and compact with this lens on.

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The bonus? This lens has some magic in its rendering and while I once had it for Leica screw mount (which can run you up to $600-$800) this time I was able to buy the S mount for about $100 and pick up an S to E adapter from Cameraquest. Same lens as the screw mount but until now, the S mount lenses were not desirable as they were not usable on any digital cameras. As of today, it is quite easy to find S mount RF glass quite cheap. I have a feeling this may change with so many Sony shooters out there and the new Adapter ;)

There I go again, talking about lenses!

The cheap but super cool Nikkor 5cm 1.4 S mount Rangefinder lens works perfectly with the Sony A7II and S to E adapter (available at CameraQuest here)

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The Sony A7 series is like a true artists tool because you can literally mount ANY lens to it and there are some very cool, very funky and mighty fine lenses out there that can be had for a song. Even my $30 Jupiter 8 does fantastic on the A7II. No DSLR can do this, none. You can not do this on a Fuji body THE RIGHT WAY as the lenses are all compromised seeing that you do not use the full frame of the lens on an APS-C crop sensor. Same goes for Micro 4/3. To date, the ONLY cameras capable of such versatility with lenses is the Sony A7 series. Even the Leica M can not do what the A7II does. The A7 series of cameras are unique for this very reason.

The Jupiter 8, a 50mm f/2 that is light, cheaply made and CHEAP to buy (mine was $30). This lens is even fantastic on the Sony A7II! It’s a Leica screw mount lens so I use a cheap $10 Adapter to turn it to M mount then use my Voigtlander close focus adapter to mount it to the A7II. 

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So my 1st impressions on Day one of the camera were pretty amazing. In fact, two hours after getting the review unit I placed an order for my own A7II. I put my money where my mouth is as I always do when I rave about something. With that out of the way (and already over 2800 words written, geez) let me get started by breaking down what I LOVE about the camera, and then I will talk about what I think should have been different or improved upon.

I will break this down into oddball sections that pop into my head as I write..when I do my reviews I never have a plan or template or even an idea of what I am going to say…it just flows out as I write, so keep that in mind.

The A7II with the super cool Voigtlander 40 2.8 (my review of that lens is here). Crisp, clean, slight vignetting but super sharp for $400. These are OOC JPEGS.

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The A7II Sharpness and Detail

While I love the Sony A7s and have used it ever since its launch, almost daily, the A7II will obviously have more detail due to the 24MP sensor (vs the 12mp sensor of the A7s). The bonus? For the most part, the A7II gives us the color, AWB and more pop of the A7s, which improved from the A7 and A7r. Below take a look at simple OOC JPEGS, yes Out of Camera JPEGs showing how sharp this camera can be without any muss of fuss of RAW processing. Make sure you click on each image to show the 100% crops correctly!

The 1st shot is from the A7II and 55 1.8 lens, at 1.8 This is a JPEG ladies and gentleman, usually this means mushy details but for this one I was very pleasantly surprised to see Sony improved the JPEG rendering of the A7II. Click for larger,

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This next image shows a 100% crop. I used an old 50 year old Leica 50 2.8 Elmar. Click the image to see the full size crop..the detail and the nice looking JPEG file. Again, OOC JPEG!

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Even more details. Rich deep color using the “CLEAR” JPEG preset. 

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…and one more with a crop..the Voigtlander 40 2.8 at 2.8. This lens give a nice color rendering that borders on watercolor and reality. It’s quite beautiful. JPEG!

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…and a full size image  – out of camera JPEG using the Sony 55 1.8 – YES, A JPEG!

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While we get most of the good stuff from the A7s (color, AWB, pop, video specs) we do not get ALL of the good stuff. For example, with the A7II we do not get the silent shutter option as this is sensor specific. We also do not get usable ISO 40,000 images but we do gain the 5 Axis Image Stabilization which helps with low light. We also gain the build and re-design of the A7II.

So basically the A7II should be compared to the A7 Mark I (which I do not own but have shot extensively) and not the A7s as the A7s is a specialty camera for those who do not mind the 12MP resolution. The A7II when compared to the now $1200 A7 is much better due to all of the improvements.

Let’s break down the details of the A7II..

24.3MP Full-Frame Exmor CMOS Sensor

This sensor is fantastic yet it is the same sensor that we had in the original A7. Sony tweaked things a bit though to deliver the better IQ and color over the A7 Mark I.

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Sony’s processing that gives us more speed in the A7II.

5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization

First seen in the Olympus bodies such as the E-M5, E-M1 and E-P5, 5 Axis IS is powerful. For video it is superb and for images it allows you to shoot in lower light than before as the 5 Axis IS will move the sensor itself to compensate for your own hand shakes. It works well and I was able to shoot an image at 1/15th of a second with the 55 1.8. Some will say we should be able to do 1/8th of a second with the 55 but without the 5 Axis I was only able to pull off 1/45th. Click below for my 1/15th shot indoors, ISO 1600 with 100% crop. (click on the image).

So any way you slice it, the 5 Axis IS is a nice help and it is worth having it for photo and video. With video it gives some wide angle lenses such as the 16-35 a steady shot kind of feel. No shakes, no jitters, just smooth video.

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Enhanced Fast Hybrid AF and 5 fps Burst

Sony sped up the Auto Focus speed for the A7II and I can tell that it improved. Continuous AF is also improved with much better tracking of your subject.

Full HD XAVC S Video and S-Log2 Gamma

For the video guys, this is good stuff.

3.0″ 1,228.8k-Dot Tilting LCD Monitor

Same LCD as the previous A7 series

XGA 2.36M-Dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder

Same EVF as the previous A7 series

Weather-Resistant Magnesium Alloy Body

The A7II is weather resistant and has weather seals. Body is made of Magnesium Alloy.

Refined Grip & Robust Lens Mount

We gain a beefier lens mount and the larger more refined grip. This is a nice improvement but some will prefer the smaller grip of the old A7 and some will prefer the A7II grip.

Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC

The A7II still has the WiFi and NFC built in.

So all in all, the A7II uses the Same A7 sensor with tweaked image quality in color, AWB and overall JPEG rendering. The Body is redesigned to feel like a pro body with a beefier grip and lens mount. The 5 Axis IS is the big news here and gives the camera an overall polished feel. The A7II feels complete. It feels like a camera and not a computer. This is good.

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Low Light/High ISO of the A7II 

Ever since I acquired the Sony A7s I have become spoiled by the spectacular ability it has in low light. I have shot images at 102,000 ISO and they were PUBLISHED and usable. Insane capabilities. Of course ISO 102,000 will in no way create a clean image but it does better than any other camera I ave ever used when it comes to cranking up the ISO to get a usable image.

The A7s is quite a bit better than the A7, A7II, A7r when it comes to extreme high ISO because of the 12 MP sensor. Having those big fat megapixels on a full frame sensor helps to kick it into overdrive when it comes to low light abilities. But many could not get along with the 12 MP sensor. Some had a problem with it mentally, others just had a problem with it because they did not want to spend $2500 for a 12MP camera. Me, I printed 20X30’s from my A7s and the prints are gorgeous so I do not need 24, 36 or 54 megapixels to be happy. I am not one who stands an inch from a print trying to see how detailed it is…to me, this is not photography but a pixel peeping disorder. These are the things that can take away the true meaning of photography yet many suffer from it.

With the 24 Megapixels of the A7II we get to a happy medium between low and crazy high. I feel 18-24 MP is perfect and higher is usually when I start to have issues with file sizes, blurred images from hand shake, etc. Also, this is the first Sony body for me that meets or exceeds the legendary Sony RX1R. 

So after using the A7s since launch and not having a worry in the world using Auto ISO up to 80k, low light with the A7II made me nervous. I decided that I would cap it off at 12,800 which to me, is about as high as one would want to go with the A7II. But even so, 12,800 is massive!

Below are some shots taken at various high ISO as well as a side by side with the A7s at ISO 12,800 and 25,600.

ALL with ZERO Noise Reduction. ZERO. 

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Many have asked me how much better the Sony A7s is with high ISO. Well, remember that the max ISO of the A7s is 402,000. The max ISO of the A7II is 25,600. I have shot the A7s at 102,000 ISO and had a shot published at that ISO though it was noisy.

The A7s at 12,800 and 25,600 has an edge over the A7II of course but the difference may not be as huge as you think. I found the A7II is also pumping out even more bold color than the more natural color of the A7s. Still a different rendering than the A7 Mark I though. These files were all Out Of Camera RAW files, meaning, nothing was tweaked at all. No noise reduction was applied at all. What you see is what you get.

Click the images below to see the 12,800 and 25,600 shots. This was taken inside a kitchen without lights on in the kitchen, just some window light.

And now a comparison with the Sony A7s at ISO 12,800 and 25,600 (the max of the A7II)

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So while the A7s is still the king of the night, the A7II does mighty fine at higher ISO’s. I found ISO 8000 is a sweet spot for high ISO work, and ISO 12,800 will work well if needed. Not too shabby! Images above were taken with a Voigtlander 35 1.2 Lens.  Another mighty fine manual lens for the A7 series.

The Wide World Of Lenses for the A7II!

NATIVE LENSES: There are many lenses for the full frame A7 system even though the A7 (FE) mount is only 13 months old! Not sure why people claim there are no lenses. Sony has release a slew of them in a short time with many more to come.

16-35 Zeiss – Superb Ultra Wide Zoom, SUPERB!
28-70 Kit Zoom – CHEAP and Decent..did I say CHEAP?
24-70 Zeiss – Excellent Zoom, just as good as any Canon or Nikon!
35 F/2.8 Zeiss – Bests my Leica 28 Elmarit at 1/2 the cost. Yes, really.
55 1.8 – Gets close to the Leica 50 APO at 1/8th the cost. (I have done side by sides on this site. many preferred the Sony lens)
70-200 f/4 – Here is the 70-200 most people wanted! 
There is also a 28-135 Cinema lens for FE mount by Sony.
Zeiss 35 f/2 Loxia for FE
Zeiss 50 f/2 Loxia for FE

Also, the 50 Mitakon Speedmaster f/0.95 – I reviewed it HERE but this is a full frame FE mount lens. Super speed.

New primes on the way this year. Within 3 years there will be more lenses for FE then you know what to do with as third parties are making them for FE as we speak.

Those lenses above cover 16-200mm right now. The A7 series is only 13 months old. In 13 months that is quite a number of lenses released. More than Fuji managed to release or Olympus for that matter. The FE mount is NEW so for this many lenses to be out already is quite amazing really.

More details…

So if you want NATIVE mount lenses, there are plenty here now with more on the way. If you want to be adventurous there are so many lenses you can use and have more fun with and get even more beautiful results with for not any more effort. It is the most versatile system you can buy right now with more lenses available to shoot than any other system.

To date, my favorite native lenses have been the 55 1.8, the 35 2.8 and the newer 16-35 which is a stellar wide angle lens. So for Sony native lenses you have quite a few excellent choices, even a nice 24-70 Zeiss.

Then we have the new Zeiss Loxia lenses, the 35 f/2 and 50 f/2. These are stellar in quality but are manual focus and a little larger in my opinion. They will offer you great Zeiss color and pop but do not expect the size and feel of the Zeiss ZM lenses, which also perform well on the A7II.

Of course there are all kinds of lenses that can be used on the A7 series with the correct adapters. Leica M mount lenses, Voigtlander M mount lenses, screw mount lenses, Nikkor S mount lenses, Canon and Nikon lenses, Contax lenses, etc.

When you sit down and think about it, the A7II has thousands of lenses that can be mounted and used. From vintage to artsy to creative to modern day masterpieces. I love shooting of rangefinder glass on these cameras as it is a sinch to focus and the results are quite different than the native lenses, with more character and pizzaz as well as being quite a bit smaller and better made.

I use Leica M lenses, Voigtlander M lenses, Zeiss ZM M lenses, and even a Nikkor S mount lens. All are fantastic in their own way, even my $30 Jupiter. ;) All are simple to use and make shooting more fun IMO.

Taken with A vintage Nikkor 50 1.4 in S mount. An old rangefinder lens that I am using thanks to the new Adapter available at CameraQuest.com. If you have old S rangefinder lenses, this adapter will let you use them on the Sony A7 series of camera. 

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The Voigtlander 40 2.8 on the A7II

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So whoever buys into the Sony A7 system, you have thousands of lenses at your disposal to use and have fun with. From a cheap Jupiter to a crazy Leica Noctilux  to the Native lenses from Sony, all will deliver a different feel and vibe which makes using this camera very motivating. You never know what jewel you may uncover on you lens hunts.

If going with a Leica M mount lens, wether it is from Leica, Voigtlander, Zeiss or whoever, I highly recommend THIS adapter from Cameraquest.com. I own two and they are hands down the best adapter available, even allowing close focus with any M lens, something even the M can not do. Pricey but you get what you pay for and I always believe it is better to buy ONCE instead of buying, selling and buying again.

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Shooting Wide Angle M Mount Lenses on the A7II

From my experience, anything less than 28mm will bring in some color distortions with the A7, A7r and yes, A7II. The A7s is the best A7 camera for Leica wide angle lenses and the A7II has done OK with even the Zeiss 25 2.8 Zm lens but not so well with the Voigtlander 15 4.5. So if you mainly shoot wide angle Leica lenses, the A7II will not be your best bet. It is indeed the same sensor as the A7 Mark I, so I did not expect any major improvement there.

Below are three shots using the Zeiss ZM 25 2.8 Lens. A tiny and superb wide angle  that is between a 28 and 21. It did not do quite as well on the Leica M9 or M 240, and was a little off on the A7r due to colored fringing and edges. On the A7s and A7II it seems to do pretty good with the best performance on the A7s.

Three shots with the A7II and Zeiss ZM 25 2.8. You can buy this lens at B&H Photo HERE.

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To my eyes the 25 is not perfect with the A7II but it is perfectly acceptable for me. I am not a massive pixel peeper though and go for the memory/emotional aspect of the photo, not the perfection aspect. Still, I am LOVING the A7II colors with almost any lens I attach to it. With that said, the best choice for Leica lenses from 28mm and wider would be the A7s.

The Video of the A7II

I am not a huge video guy and 96% of my use with the A7II and A7s will be for photo purposes but the A7s and A7II have fantastic video quality from what I have seen, better with the A7II due to the in camera 5 Axis IS. Shooting video with the 16-35 Zeiss was awesome as it stabilized the lens in a way that made the video appear almost steadycamish. NO shakes or jitters, just smooth video.

Some have complained about artifacts in the video but in my short and limited use, I saw no such things. Nothing that would bother me in the slightest. Then again, if I were making a full length pro feature film, I would be using something besides a mirrorless camera to shoot it. If you want the low down on the video I suggest searching the video sites such as eoshd.com. 

Even so, my humble little video using the A7II is below. It is a hodge lodge of nonsense just to show how the 5 Axis works, and you can see just how well it works when I attach the Leica 50 Noctilux to the A7II and then the A7S. The A7S video is much more shaky where the A7II video is smooth and silky.

Video test of the 5 Axis IS and A7II along with a side by side with the A7s to show the difference 5 Axis makes for video

My Fave Accessories for the A7 II

With a new camera always comes new accessories, at least for me. I have to figure out what strap I want to use, what bag, what memory cards, what case (if any) and even things like shutter soft releases and items that sort of pimp out my cameras. Below is a list of the things I will be using with my A7II and things I already have on my A7s:

STRAPS: My most used straps these days are the Street Strap Long (available HERE) and when I want to get serious, the MoneyMaker from HoldFastGear.com. BTW, The Street Strap has outlasted my expensive Artisan and Artist silk strap which was messed up within one week.

SOFT RELEASE: Amazing soft release for Any A7 camera? The Artisan Obscura Sticky Back release is beautiful. One has been on my A7s since I got it and it has never fallen off. I love these as they will not come off or come loose. Check them out here. 

TACTILE: I attached these little metal buttons to my A7s and love them. They give the camera a better tactile feel when button hunting and works on the A7 or mostly all digital cameras. You can check them out at rluther.com 

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BAG: My favorite bag EVER. The Wotancraft Ryker. Black or Brown, either one is GORGEOUS. My review is HERE.

WRIST STRAP: The nicest wrist strap I have used lately is from Classic Cases. It’s high quality leather and super comfortable. You can see them or order them HERE.  I have one of these attached to the A7II and a Street Strap on my A7s.

MEMORY CARDS: I use a Transcend 64GB and it has been reliable, fast and it was affordable. It is a 60MBPS card and you can nab one on Amazon for under $34. I bought FIVE. 

BATTERIES: I saved some cash and bought a few of these Vivitar replacements as they are cheaper and work just as well as the Sony branded batteries. THIS is the exact deal I bought..TWO batteries, a charger, a rocket blower , lens brush and cloth..all for $24.95. THIS is a steal! Just to verify, these are the A7 batteries and will work in the A7, A7r, A7s and A7II.

LEICA M ADAPTER: My #1 recommended adapter for Leica M lens use is the Voigtlander Close Focus adapter. To me, it is the best made, and allows for close focus. No lens play, just a solid locking connection. I bought mine from Cameraquest.com. 

NIKON S/CONTX RF ADAPTER: Picked up one of these new Adapters and was impressed with the quality and the fact that I can now use Nikkor S mount RF lenses on the A7 series. These are fantastic well made TINY lenses and can be found at great prices. Get it HERE.

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OFFICIAL SONY BATTERY GRIP (above) – This grip is all new for the A7II as the old one will not work. This is a weather sealed grip built to a pro standard and when it is on the camera, it feels like a PRO camera. It makes the camera much larger of course but also doubles the battery life. If I were to buy this I would only use it on heavy days when I needed lots of battery life. The price seems steep to me at $349 but some of you LOVE your battery grips, so Sony is offering this one for the A7II (and possibly whatever comes next to replace the A7r). You can order the grip HERE.

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JB WOODEN GRIP (above): JB has released a new wooden grip for the A7II. You can order it here for under $70

A7II – ISO 6400, Zeiss 35 2.8, OOC JPEG. It was dark! – ZERO Noise Reduction!

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My Favorite Lenses for the A7II, Native and otherwise

I often get e-mails asking me..”what is the best lens for XXXX” – I get this question day in and day out. Truth be told, there is no “best” lens as what lens you choose depends on what you like to shoot! Me, I have always been a 35 and 50 guy and I love fast primes. Even so, the Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 SHINES on the A7II, more so than it did on any other A7 body. Same goes for the 55 1.8. No idea why the is but others have noticed it as well.

These two lenses are my go to lenses when I want AF, and reliable performance.

The Sony 35 2.8 Can be seen HERE

The Sony 55 1.8 Can be seen HERE

Other lenses I adore with the A7s and A7II are the Voigtlander 35 1.2, the Leica Noctilux 0.95, the Zeiss 50 1.5 Sonnar ZM, the Zeiss 50 f/2 Planar ZM and even the Voigtlander 21 1.8. 

So many lenses are amazing with these bodies, just choose what you enjoy the most and have at it! If you are unsure you can always rent lenses from lensrentals.com.

PopFlash.com also has deals on Leica M glass most of the time.

16-35 Zeiss at f/4

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The Shutter Sound of the A7II

Many people were not happy with the loud shutter of the original A7R. In fact, it is the loudest of all A7 cameras. The A7II takes it down a notch from the A7R and is pretty much the same as the A7. My A7II is a bit more subdued though and sounds a little more muted than my A7s. While it does not have the silent shutter of the A7s, the shutter sound never caused me one issue when shooting street, portraits or anything. Below is my video showing the shutter sound of MY A7s and the A7II I have on hand.

A few more words about the Leica Noctilux with the A7II (or any A7 body)

I am a lucky guy and thanks to Ken Hansen, who has been part of this site since day 1 (Ken is a legendary Leica dealer with over 50 years experience) by helping me to get it going, I was recently able to obtain a Leica Noctilux again after selling off my last one 1 1/2 years ago due to needing funds more than the lens.

It has been a year and half since I shot with the Noctilux on the Leica M 240 (see a post here) and while it is always a magical lens and what I call a “Lifetime Lens”, it is a lens that is not only hard to justify for mere mortals, it is a lens that is so unique it may be the most lusted after rangefinder lens in history. It is a controversial lens due to the cost where half of the people never understand it and the other half 100% do.

The draw and rendering of this lens is nothing short of breathtaking in the right circumstances, something that is not easy to achieve every time you use it but one thing is for sure, when you DO use this lens it will deliver a WOW rendering that most non camera people will rave over. But be careful, overuse will make it boring after a while so use it sparingly. Bring it out once a month or so and it will retain that wow factor.

From the f/0.95 aperture to the legendary Leica build to the shallow and dreamy depth of field as well as the rich color and contrast, this is a lens that can deliver deep emotion. At $11,000 it is a hard one to swallow and is quite ridiculous in pricing IMO. Even so, I love it, I adore it and I hope that I can keep this one (and plan to). Seeing friends like Ashwin Rao who still has his original Noctilux (also from Ken Hansen) and still loving it makes me feel lucky to own one again.

On the A7II you will get 3 Axis IS with manual Leica M lenses, still a wonderful IS system that helps eliminate the shakes. (same as the Olympus E-M10 which uses 3 Axis IS). Just set the A7II menu to 50mm and shoot away!

Also, Anyone who shoots this lens on the M or the A7 series I HIGHLY recommend the Variable ND filter for it (Ken Hansen has loads of them). Best ND I have ever used and allows wide open aperture in full sunlight which gives an altogether different effect. You can contact Ken at [email protected] and ask him about it. Tell him I sent ya!

A few more images from the combo of Noct and A7II are below…

PS – The Leica M and Noct will cost you $19k. The A7II and Noct will set you back $12500 or so. Insane I know, and it is NOT for everyone but just showing that you can save some cash by using it on the A7 bodies. Keep this lens for 7 years or more and you will make money if you ever decide to sell it. It IS one of the rare lenses that can indeed be considered a true investment. For example I bought a brand new F/1 Noctilux long before the 0.95 was released. I paid $3500 from B&H Photo. NEW. Today I see them going for $8000 if new in the box or true mint with box. Amazing. In 10 years the f/0.95 may be up to $18k or more. You never know, but Leica lenses have a history of appreciating over the years.

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The three images below had filters applied using VSCO film filters – B&W is not a problem for the A7II ;) 

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As you can see, the combo of Noctilux and the A7II seriously rocks. These were all wide open at f/0.95. When you stop down to f/1.4 you get the performance of a Leica Summilux ASPH. Stop down to f/2 and you get the performance of a Summicron but with the added benefit of the 50 APO colors, and the contrast of the Noctilux. To me, the Noctilux beats the old F/1 version handily.

The Bokeh of this lens is legendary, the stuff of fantasy and dreams. I have seen some pretty special photos with this lens when in super  talented hands. Get the light right, the mood right and the scene right and masterpieces can be made with this lens.

Things about the A7II that I wish would have been different

The A7II is one hell of a camera, and again, my “Camera of the Year 2014″ but it is not perfect. Yes, the IQ is stunning. Yes, the 5 Axis IS is wonderful. Yes, the color saturation and depth of the 24 MP sensor is fantastic. Yes, the fact that so many lenses can be used and mounted is awesome. Yes, the new design and beefy build is welcomed and yes the video is stellar. Yes, you can shoot at ISO 8000 and up to 12,800 and get usable results.

But if I could make a change or two the 1st would be to the BATTERY. The battery life is not so hot with the A7II and seems worse than it does with my A7s. It uses the same battery as the previous A7 series but with the new 5 Axis IS being used, it seems that the battery life is even shorter. I found I needed a couple of batteries for a full day of shooting, and I am a light shooter. If you get the A7II I suggest buying 2 or 3 extra batteries. I bought 3-4 Vivitar branded batteries for mine off of Amazon and saved a bundle while getting batteries that work just as well as the Sony branded batteries. The link to the Vivitar batteries is HERE and what a deal it is. Just click it and see what you get for under $25..it’s amazing.

So it seems the battery should have been made better. The Nikon Df battery is awesome and I wish Sony would develop something similar.

Also, I wish the A7II had the silent shutter of the A7s. I use it every now and again and while it is not mandatory it does help sometimes when you need ultimate silence.

One last thing…if the Auto Focus was maybe 15% faster it would be hard it fault at all. As it is, the Af may hunt in low light (The A7s does not) but the good news is that the Auto Focus is CRAZY accurate. I have never gotten a false AF hit with the A7II (but did a few times with the A7 and A7r). In low light it is much faster than the old A7 but not up to the A7s for low light AF. Still, its just as good if not better as most mirrorless cameras that are out these days. I have been testing the Fuji X100T and it has been frustrating the hell out of me with its constant AF misses (though the camera says it is locked). The A7II never has this issue.

The A7II and Sony Zeiss 16-35, a SUPERB wide angle for your A7 body.

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The Sony A7II vs the Leica M 240. 

Many have asked me this question lately and it is not an easy one to answer. The M 240 is a special camera with a special build, feel, emotion AND price. Coming in at $7k (deals can be had) and limited in high ISO and close focus and video use, it is mainly for those who want and love to shoot a rangefinder. The RF system makes the Leica M a 100% different camera to shoot than just about ANYTHING out there today.

The M feels fantastic, one of the best feeling cameras made today. The battery life is amazing, and the quality is superb. But, compared to the A7II, I feel the A7II can give better image quality, better color, and even more detail with 85% of Leica M lenses. Plus, the A7II beats the M in low light as well. Video? Sony 100%, no question. At the end of the day the Sony has a better sensor than the custom made one in the M 240.

All in all I find the only thing the M has over the A7II is the user experience and shooting ultra wide Leica branded coded M glass such as the 18, 21, Tri Elmar, etc. . Shooting an RF camera is a wonderful thing..a state of mind..an inspiration and brings passion into my shooting. I get some of this with the A7II but not as much.

At the end of the day, $1600 for an A7II that puts out better IQ and color and has more versatility is a steal compared to the $7000 M. Even so, I love the M. Always will. This is something that is personal preference and only you can decide. Have the cash? Buy both :) Bank account suffering after the holidays? Buy an A7II and know you ill be getting image quality that actually surpasses the Leica M in good light, low light, high ISO, low ISO, with much better video capabilities (if that’s your thing). I am not knocking the M at all, but I always speak the truth and 2 years after the M 240 arrived, we now have a camera from Sony that literally kicks its bootie in most areas, for 1/5th the cost.

Even so, the M will always have a place in my heart as it provides a “connection” to the user. It’s a thing of beauty.

Night time, Sony A7II and Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8 – No issues focusing!

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The Sony A7II Vs the Fuji X-T1

Here there really is no contest for me. I like the X-T1. I feel it is as good as it gets for Fuji, but for me, many of you know that I dislike the X-Trans sensor. The IQ from that sensor excels in perfect lighting but in anything other than that, it fails. You lose punch, sparkle, depth, color, and pop. You gain flatness and a dull sheen. I have seen 10’s of thousands of Fuji images and I have seen some that blew me away (perfect light, natural or studio) and most, around 95%, are flat and dull to me. They are “nice” but lack depth and punch and seeing that the Fuji uses an APS-C sensor you will also lose out on other things such as using 3rd party lenses to their full potential.

For me there is no contest here, if I were offered a Sony A7II at $1698 or a Fuji X-T1 at $499 I would splurge for the Sony. The Sony is $500 more than the Fuji ($1698 vs $1198) for the body only but I always say “you get what you pay for” and this is usually 99% true. I’d rather spend the extra $500 and be 100% happy then spend $500 less and wonder “what if”. I have learned that lesson in life many years ago.

With that said, the Fuji X-T1 is fantastic, and I feel Fuji’s best mirrorless to date. It’s fast, looks great, feels great, has great controls and some wonderful lenses. But when directly comparing, for me, I prefer the A7II in every way from build, feel, IQ, abilities, lenses that can be used, and so on.

To those that love their X-T1 that is awesome, as it can indeed put out some beautiful colors and images but for me, full frame will win out due to DR, Punch, Pop, etc. If there were no full frame Sony mirrorless, then the Fuji would be near the top of the heap but with the A7II and A7s, the Fuji drops below them for me.

You can read my X-T1 review HERE.  As you can see, I raved about it as Fuji got it right and it is something that will make any Fuji fan proud.

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The Sony A7II vs the Olympus E-M1

Another AMAZING camera even two years after its release. The E-M1 is the pro grade Micro 4/3 and does just about everything right. The body is awesome, the feel is superb, the controls just work and the speed of this thing is impressive. The lenses available are 2nd to none and it was the 1st camera with 5 Axis inside. It’s a jewel for sure and many poo poo’ed it due to the smaller sensor but this sensor in the E-M1 easily stands toe to toe with any APS-C sensor around except for low light ability. The one main weakness of the E-M1 these days is the high ISO performance which lacks. Shoot in low light at ISO 3200 and you will get noise. Low light is a great test for high ISO and while many reviewers test it in studio light (which is silly) the real test is using it when you would need it..low light. So the E-M1 falls short for low light work when compared to most modern day cameras.

Compared to the A7II you are saving $300 with an E-M1 (not much) but losing the full frame sensor, better high ISO capability and all that comes with this such as DR, less noise at base ISO, etc. To me, these two are much closer than the Fuji X-T1 and A7II as the E-M1 is one of my all time faves. I still own one. Will take a lot for anything to get me  to remove it from my collection. Even so, I can get more use, better IQ and color, and better low light and DR from the A7II for $300 more. I feel the E-M1 may need to see a price reduction to $999 in the very near future. Will be interesting to see what Olympus comes up with in 2015.

The Sony A7II vs the Sony A7r

The A7r has not yet been replaced and Sony may be pairing down the A7 system to the A7 and A7s and creating a “pro” A9 to replace the A7r. Of course this is speculation as I know nothing at all about what is to come but rumors have been pointing to this.

If choosing today I would take the A7II over the A7r, 100%. No contest.

The A7r is clunky, loud, slower, worse in low light, no IS inside, has inferior AWB and color performance, and has too many MP when they are not needed for 99.5% of people. Every aspect of the II beats the R for me, all of it. The body, the performance, the IS, the video, the experience.

The II is more responsive and again, quieter. The R is the loudest of all A7 bodies (no, they are not all the same).

So to those who asked which one I would go for, the answer is clear. The one I did go for over the R, the A7II. It’s a more finished product and more enjoyable in real world use.

A7II vs the A7s

As for which camera I will use more, my A7s or A7II, that is hard to say as I love both. I see myself using the A7s in the low light scenarios or when I need the silent shutter. The A7II puts out such beautiful images in normal light that I may prefer it for my day to day shooting as it has slightly more oomph to the final image (though not a huge difference). Add in the 5 Axis, pro beefy build and feel and it bumps the A7s from daily driver to 2nd fiddle. Both have a place in my bag. The cool thing is the A7II is $1698 vs the $2498 of the A7s. That is quite the price difference so for new buyers I say go A7II. I own both and love both but if buying one it would be the A7II for me.

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Pros and Cons of the Sony A7II

PROS (for me)

  1. Fantastic build, better ergonomics than old A7
  2. Button placement much better than previous A7
  3. 5 Axis IS really works well (for video as well)
  4. Video is stepped up from A7
  5. Weather Sealed
  6. Can mount almost any lens made for 35mm (this is huge)
  7. Improved color, pop, and overall IQ over A7
  8. Faster AF and overall response than A7
  9. Nice detail and sharpness
  10. Improved OOC JPEGS means you could shoot this as a JPEG camera!
  11. PRICE! $1698 is a GREAT buy. No one can say this is overpriced.
  12. Same great EVF/LCD from previous A7 bodies.
  13. Makes a great 2nd camera to a Leica M or A7s
  14. Still smaller than the smallest DSLR’s, MUCH smaller than a D800 style camera
  15. More Sony Native lenses (and primes) on the way in 2015!
  16. Still usable images at ISO 12,800, which is fantastic.
  17. Sony/Zeiss 35 and 55 seem to take on a new life on this camera for some reason.
  18. Worlds 1st full frame with 5 Axis IS!

CONS (for me)

  1. Battery life is disappointing. Needs a better battery. 250-350 shots per charge. Should be 1000.
  2. No silent shutter that is in the A7s – Boo.
  3. In really low light AF slows down. My A7s is faster in low light.
  4. Still no go for ultra wide Leica M mounts such as Voigtlander 15. Color issues with these lenses.
  5. Can have Moire in certain situations as the sensor is VERY detailed and has loads of resolution (but rare)

Sony/Zeiss 16-35 – crisp and clean – This is a stellar wide angle zoom besting my old Canon 16-35 from back in the day, easily. 

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My Final Word on the Sony A7II

Sony is just hitting it out of the park lately (last 2-3 years)  – The RX1, the RX100, the RX1R, the A7 and now the A7s and A7II are all superb cameras that are pushing the tech and the experience up a notch compared to anyone else. It’s pretty amazing what they have done over the last 3 years.

When the original A7 bodies were released I spoke with Sony about their passion for this project. Basically, I was told they are not holding back and will be pushing forward to develop this system, lenses and all, for the long haul. They have many lenses on the way in 2015 (and ten lenses already for the FE full frame A7 system within a years time)  and it appears they are just getting started. I had the feeling that this was their baby..the one they were banking on (instead of DSLR production) and from my experience, it is working.

The Sony A series update cycle seems to be on a 12-15 month thing right now since it has been just over a year since the A7 and we now have the A7II. I am guessing the A7r replacement will be the rumored “Pro A9″ but believe me when I say it will be much more expensive and have a larger MP count. Many may want to hold out for that one even though right now it is all speculation and rumor (and no, I know nothing). Rumors say Feb 2015.

I was a fan of the A7 and A7r but did not buy one for myself after much thought. The things that held me back were slower than expected AF in low light, a teeny bit of clunkiness and in the case of the R, too noisy of a shutter and too high of a MP count for my tastes. When the A7s arrived I was in heaven as it solved these issues and became the most capable camera I have ever owned or shot with. The A7s, for me, was and is a game changer in the world of mirrorless photography and I am fine with nits 12 MP resolution as it does all I will ever need.

With the A7II Sony has done it again, and damn them! When a company releases a camera that is so good it motivates me to go out every day and shoot, then they have done something right. In 2014 it was a slow year IMO for stellar camera releases. Even the Fuji X100T failed to excite me (AF misses, X Trans Sensor, same old same old). The Panasonic LX100 failed to ignite the passion in me (massive lens flare issues, mushy details). It was not until the Sony A7s and now A7II that my passion was kickstarted in 2014. Passion, motivation and endless possibilities are what these cameras brought me. Sony is costing me more money…Ugh.

No one NEEDS a camera upgrade if you have one that works well already. I did not NEED an A7II as I have a few other cameras already. But when I saw what it could do, how it did it and the endless creative possibilities with it, I knew I WANTED it and the last few weeks have been so much fun discovering what this camera can do. To me, the price of the camera already was worth it for the joy it has brought and the many memories I created with it. Could I have done this with the A7s? Probably, but having the extra punch and 5 Axis in the A7II is what sold me. If and when the Pro A9 comes out looks like I will have THREE Sony cameras as long as it is not some crazy 50+ MP sensor.

The most impressive thing to me about the A7 series in general, especially the A7s and A7II is the fact that not only can we use so many cool lenses on these bodies to the lenses full potential, but now they are ALL stabilized with the internal 5 Axis IS. THIS is impressive and many blow it off as it is nothing, but to me and many others it is a HUGE deal. Many like to trash Sony because they just hate the name Sony. Many will never give this camera chance because they are stuck on Leica, Canon, Nikon, etc. That is the wrong way to look at it as the A7II is one hell of a camera. IN fact ,when I tested a Nikon D810 lately I found the Af to be OK (missed some shots), the body much too large and fat, and the weight an issue. The A7II performed just as well for me in every situation and did so while remaining light, small and with that 5 Axis IS. Again, a pretty big deal. The ability to throw on a tiny Leica 50 Summicron or Summilux, something that you can not do on a DSLR is quite amazing as well.

Yes you can do this on a Fuji but the results are MUCH different when dealing with APS-C as you will not use the entire lens so the lens character goes out the window. Overall, the A7II is a fantastic update and well worth the $1698 price tag. Doesn’t get any better for this price, period.

2014 may have been a slow camera year but Sony came in and snuck this one in last minute. For me, nothing else released in 2014 betters it. To me, this is what I would have called the “ULTIMATE DIGITAL CAMERA” just 6 years ago. Today, I still feel it is just that and I can only imagine what Sony has up their sleeves.

I highly recommend the A7II. I had no issues with it besides the sucky battery life. Everything else is beautiful from the buttons, dials and ergonomics (for me), 5 Axis and IQ. 

No matter if you want to shoot the native AF lenses, Leica M mount lenses, funky mount lenses or anything in between the A7II is going to bring you beautiful image quality, fantastic low light ability, super nice video and pretty fast and responsive (but not the best) AF. Bravo yet again to Sony. I can not wait to see what lies ahead for 2015 as I expect the A7r replacement and near the end of 2015 an S replacement.

I will go ahead and say it…I have been reviewing cameras for 7 years. This Sony A7II is the most versatile, fantastic, useful and all around best priced for what you get camera I have ever reviewed. Bam! I also feel that the review image samples here are among the best quality I have put in ANY of my reviews in those 7 years. 

You can buy the Sony A7II at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE. My two #1 recommended Sony dealers. 

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A few more images below, 1st three should be from the Zeiss 16-35 with the 2nd one at ISO 12,800 outside at night…

ZERO NOISE REFUCTION

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

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

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

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

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website, in money and time. Many times I give away these items in contests to help give back you all of YOU.

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

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

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Dec 272014
 

Perfect and Special Shots

by Dirk Dom -See a few more posts from Dirk HERE

Hi!

I’m a mechanical engineer, specialized in machining. I never had any kind of art training. I made the switch from technically competent to artistic photographer four years ago. I’m sorry if that sounds like bragging, but to me the switch was very obvious: my productivity increased tenfold, I discovered images everywhere and my images got different. I think a lot about my work, and I put out the following to check out if this makes sense.

I wonder what impact my prints have on other people, who just see them. People get such a barrage of extremely beautiful, interesting and spectacular images during the 40,000 photorealistically engineered images they get on TV commercials every year that it’s little use trying to compete with that with just your own photographs. For me, every print is a work. I searched for it, waited for it, discovered it, shot it, went back for it, processed it, printed it, etc. To people, it’s just one of a hundred thousand nice images. Maybe I should go for images with more than just beauty. I got sent thirty images from a friend, all supposed to be the very best in the world, you know one of these typical things that get sent on the Net. Four or five I considered interesting, these had something extra. I looked at ten years’ worth of winners in a big photo contest and four images appealed to me. I think the shots I selected now for my spring portfolio all have something extra, but other people may not think so. Perfection and something extra aren’t the same. Perfection does get boring: I got the comment with my former shots that, yes, again, all just perfect and extremely beautiful, but all the same and boring.

I did a show in the Arboretum in Kalmthout, three months, with twenty-three 2 foot 8 inch prints, flowers and insects. All extremely beautiful images, but without something extra, I now see. No feedback at all. People couldn’t care less. When I took these and processed them, I wasn’t at the stage I’m at now yet. A year ago I almost stopped flower photography because there was no challenge in it anymore. I started doing flower shots with something extra this spring, and I think that now, I’m on the right track: the challenge is back.

Here’s what I mean by having a perfect shot and a shot with something extra:

This is a perfect shot. It can’t get any better, but there are thousands and thousands like it. To me, taking a shot like this is routine and boring. Put me anywhere in a place with flowers and I’ll make twenty like these, all perfect, without any effort.

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This is flax. I simplified the shot. Very beautiful, perfect. Although nice and pleasing, there are thousands of shots like this.

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This is a shot with something extra. The background is not what you expect, the framing is different, it reads from right to left and the middle flower isn’t perfect. Discovering it while shooting is a true surprise and the outcome is, too. I now know how to search for such a shot, I discovered it two years ago.

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Shots like this one above are extremely rare, I have maybe ten of these, but it’s also gotten routine.

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Here’s another one:
Who’d shoot a stupid green flower which isn’t perfect? Yet it has a great impact to me.

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An insect shot I consider interesting. Such images don’t just happen. You need to discover your subject. This shot took me ten minutes of gradually improving until I got it right.

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My nuclear blast images fall into the interesting category I think, but they’re so rare, I shoot max. one or two a year and I only figured out how to discover and make them reliably four months ago. But here we get into another problem: although this image is made in the forest and only had minimal postprocessing, no one is going to believe that. It’s instantly dismissed as a Photoshop gimmick and so it’s worth is zero.

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Of course I do photoshop gimmicks. They are too much fun!! This is an image of a little seed and a flower. I call it “Alien Encounter”. It reminds me of the “Doomsday machine” episode of Star Trek. I think this is an interesting shot. It took me many minutes to discover it after I saw the plush.

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Perfection has its price. For four years I shot hamamelis in February, I took hundreds of shots, searching like mad amongst the hundreds of thousands of flowers, all nice, maybe close to perfect, but boring.
Then this shot happened to me:

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This was what I had been striving for. I never shot Hamamelis again.

But maybe I shouldn’t go for the gimmick effects but for the truly exceptional:

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I’ve been shooting this kind of flower for thirty years, until I discovered this one in deep shade in the forest, with just one petal remaining. That was four years ago. The shot took no effort at all. Only at home I discovered what I had. I haven’t bothered shooting this flower again because I can’t top it.

I’ll never make an image of this simplicity with this kind of light again. I consider it the best I’ve ever made.

There is no info about stuff like this at all on the Net. I don’t know where to go to get tutoring on such things. I really wish I could do art school, but that ‘ll have to wait until I’m retired.

I realize I put myself wide open to sarcasm by calling my own shots beautiful and interesting. So be it. What I’d like to know is if I’m on the right track here. What do you think about perfect and interesting shots?

Bye,

Dirk.

Dec 192014
 

The Linhof Technikardan 69 and Schneider Super-Angulon 65mm f/5.6

By Dirk Dom

Hi, everyone!

About half a year ago I decided to go into serious black and white landscape. First I wanted to buy a Sony A7R, with a Canon 17mm tilt-shift lens. That would have cost me some 6,000 Euro’s. But my love for black and white film (You can’t emulate grain) and mechanical camera’s made me change my mind and I bought a Linhof Technikardan 6×9, which shoots 6×9 on rollfilm.

I had a 150mm lens (equivalent to a 60mm on 35mm) and I proceeded to shoot this camera.

It was a disappointing experience. I put the camera on my big tripod and with that combination on my shoulder I walked around. After an hour I was in pain and I was exhausted. Setting up tripod with the camera on it was very difficult.

Then, last month, I got the idea of putting camera and everything in a Lowepro backpack and walk around with backpack, and tripod in hand, and setting up, getting everything out of the backpack, shooting, and putting everything back into the backpack. This worked, now I didn’t get tired anymore and could really shoot with this camera.

I’m working on a project: shooting San Francisco. Two years ago I spent six weeks there with my Olympus PEN and FD lenses, I’m going back for two weeks with Easter to shoot Spring there, and next summer I’m going back for another six weeks. Now that I had the logistics of the Linhof figured out, I want to spend the summer six weeks in San Francisco shooting black and white with it.

I want to shoot with four lenses (on a walk I always carry one lens), a 47mm (eq. to 19mm), a 65 (eq. to 26mm), my 150mm, and a 300, eq. to 120mm.

Today my 65mm arrived.

This is it

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On the camera it is like this

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I went to the forest to shoot it. There was a lot of traffic and I only got there at 3PM, so there wasn’t much light anymore. I had left my spotmeter on, and the battery was dead, I had to guess the light. The negs came out good.

Here’s my first shots with the 65mm: At last a wide angle on this camera!

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Here I used tilt to get more DOF, but I overdid it. With the wide lens the edges of the image on the ground glass are very dark, and there was only little light. The top of the trees is unsharp. Focusing with this lens must be real accurate, much more than with the 150mm.

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And here I did some serious burning in Photoshop.

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I scan the negs on an Epson 750 flatbed at 2,400PPI, this gives me enough for an enlargement of 2 ft 4 inches at 300DPI.

Everything you read on the Net about these camera’s slowing you down is true. Shooting with the Linhof is a unique experience, not in the least to work with a piece of fine mechanics. I know that image quality wise, the Leica M240 or the Sony A7R are better than this camera, but I’m glad I decided for the Linhof.

Bye,
Dirk.

 

Dec 182014
 

From a Nikon D800 (DSLR) to Olympus and Fuji (Mirrorless)

by Robin Schimko

Three months ago I had the opportunity to do a reportage on a sailing boat cruising along the coastline of Crete, in the Mediterranean Sea. Last year I did the same thing in the Caribbean but this time I didn’t bring a heavy and bulky DSLR, since I‘ve gone fully mirrorless at the beginning of 2014. For this trip I brought a Fuji X-T1, 23/1.4, Samyang 12/2, Samyang 8/2.8 fisheye and of course my Olympus E-M1, 42.5/1.2 and 75/1.8 with me. I was basically covered for almost any possible situation and at the same time my kit was relatively lightweight and compact.

The day I arrived I met up with my client and the moment he saw my gear he became skeptical. For him it was hard to believe that a camera this small is able to deliver good image quality and a certain look that screams “professionally” taken images. He was very pleased with the images I took in the Caribbean with my D800. So I gave him my tablet to have a look at some of my pictures I took prior this trip just to make him feel more secure and it worked fine.

So, how did it work out?

Well, the mirroless set up had two major advantages over my former D800. The first one is really obvious and that is the small form factor and the light weight. Compared to my DSLR, the Fuji for instance with attached lens is less than half the weight and that makes a huge difference. On a shaky sailing boat it can be really tough to move around safely, especially if you’re carrying heavy gear which needs to be secured with one hand to make sure it’s not bumping into something or someone. The mirrorless kit was much easier to handle and it was a breeze to use. Attached to the Fuji was the Easy Slider by Artisan & Artist which allowed me fit the camera very tightly to my chest, so I could use both hands to secure myself in case I needed to. With a bulky DSLR that would have been much more uncomfortable over the duration of a whole day or at least a couple of hours. The second advantage was the ability to shoot from the hip incorporating the tilting screen. When you look through the viewfinder it can easily happen that you punch yourself in the face with the camera and yeah that had happened to me in the past. :D Like I wrote before, the boat is constantly shaking around and the intensity of those shakes can vary randomly.

In two weeks there was only one thing I wasn’t really keen about and that’s the battery life. Especially the X-T1 tends to eat batteries very quickly and that did concern me. One could say that this is not a big issue if you bring enough spare ones. That’s totally true and I had five batteries with me, but I had no idea that these batteries had to last up to three days. Last year I could recharge every day, but not this time. The boat was quite old and electricity was only available every now and then. That was indeed the only issue I had using mirrorless cameras.

The sailing itself again was a very nice experience. The first week the weather was crazy good and we did sail a lot. The second week everything changed dramatically not just the crew and the second boat that joined us, but also the weather. There was a storm approaching and we couldn’t leave the harbor for two days. Eventually we left on the third day, but the sea was still very rough and half of the crew got seasick. Luckily I wasn’t one of them, but taking photos was almost impossible without a waterproof housing, because every couple of minutes there was a big wave coming in.

Here are some shots I took during my trip and if you like my work, you can follow me on facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RobinSchimkoPicture)
or check out my blog (http://www.fotodesign-rs.de/)

Thank you all for reading,

Robin

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Dec 132014
 

Switching to Mirrorless from a DSLR

By Mohamed Hakem

Hello Steve!

Whenever I’m into any stage of photography I come to my passionate website :)

Mirrorless really helped me unhinge a new passion for photography.

I always considered myself as a nature/landscape. I had a D800 and all what I was interested in was landscape, nature and architecture. I was never a people’s photographer, not because I couldn’t but because I’m a little bit shy and not the right personality for doing weddings and commercials. Despite loving street photography and portraits of normal people in the street, it is an absurd dream for me in Egypt. In conservative cultures, people get offended when you point a camera and snap a picture, they might even get aggressive. So for me this category was off the list. Until when I got a Fuji X100 and things change! magically people in the street began accepting the photos! I had more and more confidence and I liked the Idea of having a camera with me 100% of the time! I found myself leaving the D800 and other lenses at home despite knowing that they are way more capable.

I gradually began shifting towards Fuji, I got an Xpro-1 and a couple of lenses and began traveling with the Xpro-1 18mm F/2 + 35mm F1.4. I started to discover new horizons for me in street photography. I really liked it! It wasn’t long since I got an XT-1 and sold all my nikon glass and committed myself to Fuji.

I started to get the courage to get closer to people here in my country and surprisingly having a retro style camera shifts you towards an artist more than a spy or a CIA agent or even a journalist!. I went with some friends all lugging around huge backpacks full of equipment and I really pitted them, I was going light with just the Fuji XT-1, 35mm and a 23mm. I could move more easily, having just a small shoulder bag that doesn’t even look like a camera bag I was able to get closer to people. I took some portraits of amazingly kind and simple people all with a friendly spirit.

I just LOVED mirrorless more and I knew that I took the right decision. believe me people it’s not sensor sizes or charts or dynamic ranges. It’s only you who really knows what makes you happy, Don’t just sit and read articles like mirrorless VS DSLR or buying gears just because it has a PRO marks all over it! for me, being light and mobile allowed me to get more! to discover more and to move more!

before I had the D800 and Nikon’s trinity, I couldn’t wish for more quality and supreme performance, but with the Fuji, going around more and having a clearer mind allowed me to do settings more wisely, intuitively and faster. Yes the Fuji is a slower less capable camera than the Nikon, but its combination with ME is a faster package, even the Landscape that I come from is much easier and nicer.

It reminded me with the good old days when I had the Nikon FM2 and a couple of lenses.

My website:

http://www.hakemphotography.com

http://500px.com/hakem

below are some street photos that I took with my XPRO-1 and X-T1

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Nov 242014
 

Character Style and Mood in Photography

By Peter Maynard

Adelaide, South Australia

Hello Steve. Allow me to open by saying thank you for running this site. It is one that I visit regularly for inspiration and information. I thought it was time I went about trying to inspire by providing some thoughts on the importance of character, style and mood in photography. It is a wee bit lengthy but I hope it’s worth it, so here goes.

In photography, many of us start our journey by studying and learning from the masters of the art. But my belief is that many of us will eventually develop a desire to create their own personal photographic style, rather than just copying others. This requires experimentation, learning, effort and creativity. In my case, I approach photography as an art form, not just a mechanism for documenting and recording events. This more expressive approach influences my work greatly and my ability to use photography to express myself artistically is the thing that constantly challenges, engages, enthuses and energizes me. Oh, and did I say frustrates?

What really counts for me is the creative process itself and ultimately what is important is whether I like the resulting image. I understand that not everyone approaches photography in this way and that is fine but this is my way so it is all I can tell you about. What this article is about really is the need for photographers to develop character and style in their work and in particular I would like to demonstrate the role that mood can play in image making as a part of this.

Although like many photographers, I started “serious” photography by shooting black and white, my preferred style now most often involves using colour because I find it lends itself better to artistic interpretation for my type of work. This is not invariably the case though – I like to let the image “decide” if it wants to be in colour or in monochrome, if that makes sense. It is a simple fact of life that some images work best in monochrome and some in colour. Part of our job in image making is to work out which is which. So I usually shoot in full colour then convert later if needed. Here is one where monochrome seemed to work better to convey the feeling I thought the image was crying out to convey – solitary, thoughtful, a little gloomy. I can’t say it’s a perfect photo – it has too many blown highlights for that, but it has mood in bucket loads and that is what I wanted.

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I always feel that photographs are at their most interesting when they require some degree of interpretation by the viewer. And as I have already hinted, as much as anything this is about creating mood in images rather than just capturing a scene accurately. It is about what is suggested in the image more than what is recorded. My personal belief is that this kind of photography is at its best, not necessarily when the images are technically perfect, but rather when they either capture or create a mood that “speaks” to the viewer. of course a viewer may interpret my photographs as having a very different mood or message from the one I intended, because of course the viewer will interpret the image through his or her own eyes and own experiences.

Here is a colour example I happen to like very much. Like many images that I like the best, it is not technically perfect. And like many presented here, it was shot through a window and as a result is distorted and softened by flare and reflections. Technically it may be questionable, but artistically I feel it works. This image reminds me very much of early autochrome colour images which have a lovely softness and pastel quality. And it has a lovely intimate mood which sets me thinking: who are they, why are they here, what are they talking about? That is exactly what mood should be able to achieve – set the viewer thinking.

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I am happiest with my own photos when they are somewhat ambiguous (one reason I often make liberal use of reflections when I can – think Saul Leiter who had a similar approach for, I imagine, similar reasons). I think of a good image as being one which allows room for viewer interpretation as I mentioned earlier. Here is another example. Again, it’s an image of a group of people in a warm café; sitting, passing the time, drinking coffee and enjoying each other’s company. Once more, critics could be forgiven for saying it’s a bad photo – excessively dark, soft, indistinct and vague. But these are exactly the things I love about it. It has an intimate mood that draws me back to this place and time. Hopefully it does something similar for others who may remember times when they have sat amongst just such an intimate group of friends. Once more this photo is all about its mood.

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Why is it that looking in through a window on a scene so often creates that feeling of intimacy and warmth? I find this again and again – it is like looking in on a secret and private world. Here is a further example, an image that speaks to me once more of comfort, intimacy, congeniality and friendship.

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Of course the same technique can be applied in other settings. In the following two images, shot through windows in Kowloon, Hong Kong I captured the staff of two of the many small restaurants that line the streets in this part of town, at work in their kitchens. Shadows and light complemented by the blur of steam on what probably has to be admitted were grimy windows transport me back to my time in that place. To me this type of travel photo is more evocative than any number of wide-angle scenes of iconic buildings and skylines, perhaps because the images’ human scale because they capture the feeling of the places depicted. They are photos which make the most of mood and looking at them transports me back to that place and time. This is what mood can do when it works for the viewer.

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But of course, mood does not always rely upon reflections in a window. In the following shot my aim was for the image to be about the triangle made by this mother’s face, her hands and the face of her child to emphasize the relationship between them. So after making the image I applied a vignette to emphasise those elements and not much else – perhaps just enough to give context. I have often felt that in image making a successful image is as much about what you leave out as what you capture. And that is a key creative choice that photographers should keep in mind.

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The same kind of technique can be successfully applied to other types of photograph to create mood. In this image of a city skyline, the natural shadows have been enhanced to focus the eye where it needs to be – on the juxtaposition between old and new as represented by the buildings in the image.

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In all of the above images there has been some degree of post processing to draw out final image. Perhaps it is surprising for many people to learn that the processing has involved taking detail out – not maximizing it. As I said at the outset, to me a photograph can often work best when it is a little ambiguous and allows room for personal interpretation by the viewer. This can often only be achieved if the image has lost some detail that might otherwise distract the viewer from the main message or make the main point of interest in the image less obvious. But there are times when little effort is needed to achieve this.

Sometimes, as in this photo all you need to do is to rely on natural light to capture the mood that was present when the image was made. And then maybe tweak it a smidge in post.

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But I can never quite let go of the idea of using reflections so here is one final photo to illustrate a variation on this theme. In this example it was as simple as photographing the distorted image of a crane against the sky, with both elements reflected in a grimy upper story window of a warehouse. No tricks, little processing, just an image that is both vague and at the same time, somehow evocative. You may have guessed. I love reflections for their ability to create mood.

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So there you have it, some thoughts on creating mood in photography to illustrate my central message of the importance of photographers creating a personal style for themselves. And of course to illustrate this I have shown you something of my own personal style. Your task is to find a style that works for you – a style which gives you a voice. And what about creating mood? Well, unsurprisingly I find that much of it is about using shadows and light. Speaking personally I just wait till I see an image that looks as if it is interesting then compose and press the shutter. Then when I am processing it and begin to see an image emerging that I like, I may add a bit of shadow here, subtract a bit of light there – or visa versa, till I am happy. No secret, just experience and a certain sensitivity to an image that in some way makes me go “wow, I like that, I think I will stop now!” If there is interest and |Steve agrees I am happy to prepare another article for his site on how to use post processing to enhance mood and style in photographs.
I recently found a photography book containing photos of Australia in the 1950’s and 1960s. A sentence in it caught my attention, part of which referred to “the ability of a lens to give a vision not seen by the eye”. How true that is. If we are doing our job right as photographers we will sometimes manage to capture an image that no eye, including our own has ever seen. We have caught a moment in time and when we first see the photo realise we have really seen it for the first time. I am sure we all have had that experience and am constantly amazed by the ability of photography to do this. But my central idea in this article is that even though a photo can capture something not seen directly by the eye, if done well it can tell an even deeper truth about the image by speaking directly to our emotions. That is the elusive frustrating demon I constantly chase. Maybe we all do.

I hope you have enjoyed this and even more, I hope you have found it useful or at least thought-provoking. More of my photos can be seen on my Flickr page. Nothing fancy, just photos from my everyday life and travels. Some good, perhaps some indifferent, but I hope not many that are bad.

Please visit and if you feel so inclined, leave comments. https://www.flickr.com/photos/life_in_shadows/

Or you can visit some I have placed on Pinterest for a more succinct overview of some of my images. http://www.pinterest.com/peterm1001/

Nov 172014
 

retina

The New 27” Apple iMac 5k, Trick or Treat?

by Charlie Webster – See his Flickr HERE

For high-performance digital photography you need a great body. And, you’d like a great lens. Finally, you’d like a great way to view your results. A fundamental Troika. In analog, this could be a M6, 28 Cron and a really fine print. You get the picture.

I’m a photographer and ski instructor in Sun Valley, Idaho, where I’ve lived since 1978, but my main business is computer consulting. For years I had almost all my clients on Windows machines, and I built many of them myself. Since the introduction of Windows 8, I’ve been switching them all to Apple. After years with fast Windows machines, my main rig has been a Mac for two years now.

For me, it pays to keep up, so on October 16th I caught the live feed for the “Apple Event”. I’m cleaning the house while silly skits play to raucous fanboy cheers, etc, when suddenly the subject is a new “5K iMac retina”. My ears prick up like a labrador who hears a hand in the milkbone box. Rut-ro, 14 million pixels? Woof! 70% more than 4K display, which I’ve been drooling over! By the end of the presentation I know one thing: the earth has moved and I must have one of these. I smell the third leg in a digital troika: M9, M Lens, and now……. 5K 27” Retina display.

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To this point I’ve always built my own desktop machines. Never dreamed I’d buy an iMac. Build a hackintosh? Sure. Spend thousands on a big all-in-one? Not this chump! But the luscious Scoobie-snack prospect of seeing M9 files at near full resolution on a 27 inch monitor brushes my DIY ethos aside in an instant, and I dig out “the card”. Fundamentally cheap at heart, I pull the trigger on a basic model with one upgrade: a 3 TB fusion drive. I order an extra 16 gigs of RAM from a third-party vendor to save some money. I’m spending the value of a 50 Lux on the used market today for my brand new Apple 5K. Will it be worth it?

*See the new iMac 5k Right HERE*

I track the iMac from the factory in China, to Japan, to Memphis, to Salt Lake, and finally to Hailey, a few miles away. It arrives, I fire it up, transfer my stuff from Time Machine, set desktops/spaces to cycle my better shots, open several tabs in Safari to follow some discussions, then get into some of my huge libraries of Sony and Leica Raws in Lightroom, resizing some favorites to 16×9 to use every pixel. All the time I’m checking my desktops for the full size images they show.

How do the files look?

Remember when you opened your own full frame digital files for the first time? Maybe it felt like you’d left the earth and taken flight once you saw the rich depth in those images. The 5K gives that sort of rush; and then some. This is the M9 of displays, even calibrated with the same feel and rich contrast of color slide film. Words cannot describe a mountain landscape with the 21SEM pushed to your eyeballs by 14,700,000 pixels on the 27” Retina display. You feel at once astounded, and instantly entitled: of course my shots should look like this! I knew I was a genius!

My first days with the rig were spent figuring out the best ways to view and edit Sony A7 and Leica M9 images, while carrying on with day-to-day computing. On background, I learned there are some great 27ish 4K screens under $2000 which may have a wider color gamut and superior calibration potential for printing than the Apple 5K. Users report that Windows operating systems scaling to 4K, let alone 5K, renders icons, menus and even web pages in curious, not optimal ways. Ideally you would want a 2560x1440ish display for surfing and GUI interaction, and 4k to look at fine stuff.

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With the 5K iMac, Apple has tackled the scaling issue head-on. When “Best for Retina” is selected in display options, this beast runs 2 resolutions simultaneously! One mode is 2560×1440, like a standard thunderbolt display. So your dock icons look normal and webpages are normal size, but Velvia clear, with 4 pixels making one, or something like that. We don’t realize the pixel noise in a native 2560×1440.

Imagine Safari taking up a box about 40% of the total screen space with an interior resolution of 2560×1440, with Steve’s site looking creamy smooth, surrounded by a desktop background—glittering as if from another world. Maybe some sweet shot with a CV 35/1.2 and lots of character, or a sharp UWA landscape with lots of tiny details. What rez will that be? 5120×2880, AKA 5K. Right behind your Safari window! I’ve been using cmd + h to hide Safari and check out my backgrounds as they rotate every minute, then cmd + tab brings back your work window. When you see a favorite shot on the 5k for the first time…

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Some programs, or sites appear to do exactly the same thing. Flickr, for example, seems to really “rez up” images for the 5k. In Lightroom you pull up that sweet etching of light from a wide open 28 cron, and how do you see it? 5120×2880, while sliders and controls are normal size. That sight will drop your jaw and change your workflow. Here is the crux of this quantum leap: with an M9 RAW up on the 5K we interact with the whole image, like a great print. When we study a smaller part of the image, the rest is still attached. You want to know if your ZM18 managed to resolve tiny details deep in the corners? Just look. Don’t zoom, just look. It’s obvious. You want to really check it out? Move your head closer. You don’t see pixels till your nose is getting close. Both lens and image character are revealed in breaking clarity. You find yourself exploring parts of shots you made which you’d never really appreciated.

Only a high quality print could compare and I doubt many are sharper than this. If the color gamut is richer in print, colors still look great on the 27 Retina. As I read in board discussions, the Eizos and NEC monitors may have a wider gamut and can be better calibrated for printing accurately. Yet, in person the 5k Imac is routinely described as “the best display I’ve ever seen” by geeks who’ve seen all the wide gamut 4k stuff. Which is not to say it’s the best predictor of print colors.

The 5K 27” display has an aspect ration of 16×9. Of course, it should have been 5212×3468, like the M9, but oh well. Many of my shots go from pleasing to not so pleasing in composition when cropped 16×9. A few look better. You put the right shot in there and it looks awesome. In future, I make some images especially for this aspect ration with the M9. Meanwhile, pristine un-cropped images glisten with two thin border edges. They look fantastic on the thing. And you can put some icons on the sides, too.

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How does it perform? Well 14.7 million pixels require considerable attention, so this generally snappy rig does gasp here and there in the heavy lifting, like some tasks in full screen photo editing. It doesn’t freeze, but it will drop frames or hesitate at certain times. We are at the frontier of what’s possible, after all.

After playing around quite a bit in LR, my conclusion is: once again library size may matter. In my large catalog, I was surprised to see the machine hesitate to apply a 16×9 crop and stagger to adjust the orientation of a graduated filter, while in other aspects and other spaces the machine was running fine. Finally, getting this report ready, I made a fresh library to edit shots for this piece, and the machine really ripped, very smooth with all the features at full screen. Going back to the big library it seems better, perhaps there is some resizing of thumbnails going on etc, which will make a big library run fast in the future. But short-term, you may want to use smaller libraries if performance becomes an issue. There is also the option, with a few quick clicks, to reduce the overall resolution for heavy editing, which does increase performance, then return to “Best for Retina” for viewing pleasure. 5K quirky? A tad, but like with the M9, the pudding just tastes too good to really care.

My advice is to get as many extras as you can afford in configuring a 5K Retina. It’s Apple so there aren’t many. A faster Card, a faster processor and some drive and ram options, that’s it. Get everything you can afford, but if you can’t afford anything more than the base price of $2499, my advice is: order tomorrow. A few staggers with tough tasks is small ransom to release your images from the smeared filter of coarse sub-4k pixels. Let your images blaze on one of these things and they will inspire you all over again. Here is a new and fundamental piece of digital kit, like the camera body and lens. Finally…..we have a display at the level of an M9 and 50 Lux, which can show you those results with a click and little compromise.

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Bottomline: 5K iMac Retina is a game changer for digital photography and desktop computing. Nothing like this has ever been built before. Like a digital Leica, it’s a wonderful step into the future and an incredible tool to use. Not without quirks of course. Thumbs up, Cupertino!

Thanks to Steve for his wonderful site and I hope everyone enjoys my take on the new 5K. “K” is for “Keeper”!

Charlie Webster
My Flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/55299472@N07/

I shot the images in this report with A7 + Bokina 90/2.5 and M9 + CV 35/1.2

*See the new iMac 5k Right HERE*

© 2009-2015 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved