Apr 172015
 

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Mamiya 6 with Rollei Crossbird

By Frank Stelzer

Hi Steve, Brandon,

Being a long time follower, I thought I submit a story for your Film Friday series. I have been enjoying your site since 2010, when I was soaking in your Leica M9 and lens reviews all night. It was the first time that I got to know about Leica in detail; what they are, what you can do and what you cannot do, and I have been infected with the Leica virus ever since. I also value your Daily Inspirations and Film Friday series as platform to get to know other approaches, techniques and cameras.

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Quickly about myself, I have been fascinated with the process of making photographs since I was a teenager. My first equipment has been a viewfinder film camera in the 1980’s. I basically clicked what I found interesting enough to preserve as a memory. In the late 90’s I made the move from an Olympus mju-I to a film Pentax SLR and a monster 28-200 3.8- 5.6, because I thought, the bigger the camera and the lens, the better my photos. Little to nothing I knew about film sizes, f-stops and most importantly light. This changed gradually over the past 15 years, but there is still so much to learn. Somewhere in between I jumped on the digital bandwagon, enjoying the instant gratification of seeing the image immediately.

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I don’t remember since when I had this growing curiosity about medium format film, maybe it was your GF670 review. But it really accelerated after getting Jonathan Canlas’ book “Film is not dead” two years ago. Since then I gathered information about MF from almost everywhere.
I thought a portable camera would be nice, so I can easily take it with me when travelling. This sort of narrowed it down to a couple of rangefinder cameras: Fujifilm GF670, Mamiya 6 and 7.  I went for the Mamiya 6, which ticked the boxes in my book. It just feels right in your hand. The grip is fantastic, letting your hand mold around it nicely. Not only while shooting, but also when just walking around with the camera in the hand and the strap around the wrist. That’s one of the differences which made me go for the Mamiya instead of the Fujifilm GF670. One reason I preferred the Mamiya 6 over the Mamiya 7 was the retractable lens of the former, making it easy to put into a messenger bag (with Hadley Pro insert) without getting too bulky.

I only got the 75mm lens. There are also 2 more lenses (50mm and 150mm) available for the Mamiya 6, making it a nice system. There is a dark slide in the Mamiya 6 that you have to open and close manually when changing lenses when there is film inside the camera. This could lead to missing shots if you forgot to open the dark slides after a lens change. But for me it was not a problem with one lens only. The RF patch had a bit less contrast for my taste, which made focusing taking a bit longer at times. I did not consider 645 format at that time, since I was intrigued by the bigger 6×6/6×7 format.

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When my wife and I visited Australia last year, I decided to try Rollei Crossbird film for shooting some urban landscape. I never did cross-processing before, but I was curious to see what color-shift effects I would get. This film is marketed especially for cross-processing, but at the end you can take any film and cross-process it. As it seems, this film has a tendency to develop a green cast and also some visible grain. Nothing you can’t do with a digital camera and Lightroom, but definitely more fun. I am more than happy about the result I got with the Mamiya 6 and Rollei Crossbird. It’s sounds strange, but limiting yourself can be quite liberating. When shooting digital, there are endless post-processing options, that it’s easy to get carried away if you don’t know exactly what you are aiming for.

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Many people say that shooting film is a different experience compared to a digital camera. And I totally agree with them. I take more time thinking about the composition and exposure settings. Then there is the uncertainty and waiting for the film getting developed. Well, you could put tape on your DSLR’s screen and wait a week or so putting the SD card into your computer, but it’s not the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to start any film vs. digital discussion. For me it’s both film and digital. Since I am an amateur, I have the freedom to decide depending on my mood, whether to go out with film or digital camera. I enjoy both. We live in a time where we have all these many different photographic tools and formats available, where everybody can find something according to his/her own interest and budget. The good thing about film cameras is that you can sell them almost at the same price you bought them, because they don’t depreciate anymore. This makes it easy to try different formats and systems until you find the one you like most.

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I should mention that I sold the Mamiya 6 meanwhile. Not because I didn’t like it, but because the shooting experience was very similar to the Leica, both being rangefinder cameras. I wanted something more challenging for my medium format adventures, so I traded it for a Hasselblad 503CX. Admittedly, it’s a not as travel-friendly as the Mamiya 6. In fact, it is a completely different beast and lets me discover photography from another angle. But that might be another Film Friday story.

My social media links:
Website: www.frankstelzerphotography.com
Instagram: https://instagram.com/frankstelzer
Twitter: https://twitter.com/frankstelzer

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Apr 172015
 

Hasselblad Xpan and Kodak Ektar: Port of Antwerp

By Dirk Dom

Hi!

Last Monday, my friend Ivo Smets and I went to shoot in the Port of Antwerp; Ivo with his M240, and me with the Xpan. I think that is the most delightful camera I own; I shot Kodak Ektar and because that film is so special, I expected some sparks.

First, we went to the Berendrechtsluis. The weather was nice, sunny and a bit hazy, which gave for sort of a high key atmosphere.

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We were lucky enough to find a gate open so we could get right next to the water.

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But shooting through the wire is fun, too. It sort of adds to the composition.

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Here’s some more fun, looking through stuff:

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In Lillo, a little village right in the middle of the port, we ate lunch. The tide was low, which made for a nice image:

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Lots of current in the river.

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We continued through the port. Antwerp is the largest petrochemical industry center in the world.

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There used to be a lot of fortresses around Antwerp. This one is from Spanish times. It’s covered by sand. It’s a forbidden entry zone, and right next to it is a lake where birders set up and shoot.

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We continued to the old crane museum near downtown Antwerp.

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We walked along the river to downtown Antwerp; the sun was setting. I had taken 4 films with me, which is 84 photographs, 21 a film. I was running out of film.

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My last shot of the day:

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I shot the Xpan with its 45mm lens. The negative size is 24 x 65mm, which makes the lens (horizontally) equivalent to 24mm on full frame. I scanned with an Epson V750 with Silverfast. Ektar scans great.

Bye,
Dirk.

Apr 162015
 

Shooting the Sony A7r at 12800 ISO

by Dirk De Paepe

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Dear Steve, Brandon and all site visitors. Here’s a very brief post of mine. It’s about my camera, the Sony A7r, and its ability to shoot at higher ISO’s.

I’m posting this because I’d like to put a bit of counterweight to so many opinions in this matter, that have been posted all over the internet, regarding the A7r. I even have the impression that many even see the “r” as the underdog of the A7 family, the more now the A7II has been succeeding the A7. Reason is said to be because the “r” has “bad” high ISO performance. … ??!

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Well, I never experienced that as such anyway. Of course I acknowledge that the “s” has the best low light performance. But I really never experienced that my “r” is falling short in this department, the more while I have so much more pixels at my disposal and I can seriously boost its low light performance by reducing its resolution in post production. After all, there’s a long way to go, before I “drop” to the A7s’s resolution. And when I have a reduction of pixels in mind, I even can perform some “Luminance” in Adobe’s Raw Converter. This isn’t a process without danger though, because it diminishes the detail and needs to be done with great care. So how do I proceed?

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Applying Luminance can in a way be compared to applying Unsharp Mask. Both need to be done with great care, otherwise you end up with a result that you really don’t want. Important in both cases is to look at the largest size that you want to use, when fine tuning. When sharpening I guess you’ll look at 100%, probably ending up with some limited sharpening at 0,5px. But when you shoot at very high ISO with the “r” and you want to reduce the size, there’s no use in judging the IQ at 100%. So what I do is applying the Luminance at full size, but judging at for instance 66%. Reducing afterwards the resolution to 66% still gives you a 16MP file. Up till now I often applied this technique with good results for ISO’s up to about 4000, largely reducing the gap with the “s”. (I don’t proclaim that it eliminates it completely.)

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In one of his articles Steve stated about the next Leica M that it had to deliver acceptable IQ at 12800 ISO. I guess he often shoot with less light than I do, because I really never need that kind of ISO. Still it encouraged me to go for an little experiment. So I just put the ISO at 12800 and went for some shots, seeing where I would end up. In the pictures hereunder, you can see the result. Of course there is some more grain than at low ISO (but the “s” as well produces grain at higher ISO’s), still I can say that I was pleasantly surprised with this IQ and, again IMO, I’d call this IQ very acceptable for sure. BTW, looking online for A7s pictures, I didn’t really find a lot of pictures, shot at this ISO, let alone higher, even not at sites that call themselves specialized in high ISO.

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As I wrote in a former article, IMO the A7r offers very good high ISO performance. Of course it’s outclassed by the “s”. But when processing the pics as described, one can come a long way, reducing the gap enough for me to largely prefer “r”. Personally, I definitely prefer this sensor, that offers me very good ISO as well as superb resolution. I rank it well above the 12MP sensor of the “s” that is too dedicated to situations that I virtually never meet. Again IMO.

To conclude, with the A7rII coming very soon now, that will offer even better IQ than the present “r”, that will feature the new and improved body of the A7II and the silent shutter of the “s” (if I’m well-informed), the high-resolution version within the A7 family will more than ever be thé way to go for me.

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All shots posted here were shot at 12800 ISO, even although it really wasn’t necessary. But, like I said, this was an experiment. Although I’d normally would have taken all of those shots quite a bit slower, putting the ISO that high resulted in producing a certain character, a character that one really can look for – like one used to (or still can) choose a very fast film for its grain. When shooting digital, part of this “creative process” needs to be done in post, and needs to be repeated with every picture. But I’m sure, with some experience, one can do it pretty fast.

For the first four pictures, shot in the garage, I used the Zeiss Loxia 2/50. The next four were shot with the Canon Lens FD 85mm 1:1.2 S.S.C. Aspherical, which is still one of my favorite 85s. As said, the resolution was reduced, but in all pics it still exceeds the A7s resolution. Don’t forget to click on them for a better quality. And on my flickr pages, you can find a dedicated album, called “12800 ISO”, with all those pics in full resolution.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/sets/72157650993342429/

Thanks for reading to everybody and for publishing to Steve and Brandon. This site really is the best, don’t you think!…

Apr 162015
 

Artistic vs. Technical Perfection

By Olaf Sztaba

When browsing photography on the Internet it appears to be one huge quest for technical perfection. Message boards are groaning with perpetual arguments about the superiority of one camera system over another.

Then, there are thousands of photos so immaculately processed and photo-shopped that their technical perfection creates awe and envy in aspiring photographers. But many of the photos remind us of others we have seen before. They somehow feel plastic, artificial and cold. They lack emotion and authenticity.

In contrast, when you look at the images from the masters such as Henri Cartier-Bresson or Sebastiao Salgado and others, you find thoughtful compositions, subtle moments and moods. Are they the most technically perfect photographs and the sharpest images you have ever seen? I don’t think so but somehow your eye feels content, your brain slows down and your visual emotions are elevated.

What strikes us is that those who produce a body of great work often don’t consider themselves photographers. They grab any camera and create art – they are artists. When Cartier-Bresson started shooting with the 35mm camera, other photographers of his time dismissed his new tool as a toy (back then only large format cameras were considered serious). But we should learn from artists. They see way beyond pixels and MTF charts. For them technical augmentation is just a distraction.

So why are we so occupied with a litany of technical do’s and don’ts? Why do we ask the wrong questions so many times: Which camera should I buy? How do I sharpen photos? How do I apply layers? Which software should I use? and so on.

Don’t get us wrong – we like photo gear and are well aware of our ‘contribution’ to this plaque. However, each time we put everything technical in the back seat and let our emotions and inner artistic self rule our photographic process the results always astound us.

Sure, it’s not easy. But the next time you think your photo is not sharp enough, your images are grainy or your camera doesn’t have elephant resolution this may be the best thing that has happened to you. Maybe it is the right moment to stop and re-focus on seeing.

All images were taken with the Fuji X100S/T, Fuji X-T1 paired with XF 14mm F2.8 and XF 50-140 F2.8.

Regards,
Olaf Sztaba

www.olafphotoblog.com
www.olafphoto.squarespace.com

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Apr 152015
 

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

The 2015 Moto GP with the Sony A7II

By Chad Wadsworth – His Website is HERE

With overcast skies, rain and major storms threatening all weekend, the 2015 Moto GP Grand Prix of the Americas went off with only a minor hitch (debris on the track prior to start). Just before the race, the skies opened up and the sun broke through, lighting up the brilliant red, white and blue track elements. Red Bull racer, Spaniard Marc Marquez, pulled off the “three-peat” with his third consecutive victory at the annual event held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX.

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Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

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I packed relatively light for the event, considering the number of 600mm bazookas being hauled around by circuit photographers. The Sony A7II, A7S, the new FE 28mm f2, FE 55mm f1.8, Minolta High Speed APO 200mm f2.8 (A-mount) and rain gear were all stashed away into a small Think Tank backpack.

For Saturday’s qualifying, using the adapted Minolta (a legendary lens) was like bringing a knife to a gunfight. The combination of 1987 screw drive AF motor and adapter just couldn’t keep up with the action, even with the a7II advanced AF tracking. Luckily, Sony had the FE 70-200mm f4 enroute, with a just-in-time delivery for Sunday.

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What a difference the native FE lens made for AF tracking. On the A7II using Pre-AF, CAF and tracking, the lens picked up focus almost instantly and was able to stay on subject during some of the fastest racing (220mph on the straights) on the planet. Certainly, the combination had its limits but I was shocked at the number of keepers it produced. At the end of the day, I walked away confident in the current ability of the alpha platform and optimistic about future capabilities.

Until Sony has big gun lenses and a true professional body, this solution is not ideal for the tiny percentage of working pros who deal with these ultra high-speed environments but the writing is on the wall – expect that improvements in processing speed, hardware and software will soon make these cameras viable at the extreme niches of photography.

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Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

The combination of small, lightweight bodies and lenses was a boon for reportage style coverage of the event. The new FE 28mm continues to amaze with sharp rendering that reminds me of my old Ricoh GR1 and Minolta TC-1. The quick focus also came in handy when shooting some flatland BMX and Trials demos. I was just feet away from the bikes (another photographer got his foot run over) and the camera nailed focus every time. This lens is such a tremendous value! Mate the 28mm with the 55mm f1.8 and you have a dynamic duo that covers four useful focal lengths (28mm, 40mm, 55mm, 83mm) if you utilize APS-C mode on occasion.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

By the end of the race, I was exhausted but high on the adrenaline from covering this prestigious event. The Circuit of the Americas is one of the finest tracks in the world and still under appreciated by the US motorsport community. If you are a fan, you owe it to yourself to make it out to Austin for the upcoming American LeMans and Formula One races later this year.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Third annual MotoGP at COTA in Austin, TX, USA on 12 April, 2015.

Apr 152015
 

West Coast Monochrom

by Phillipp Wortmann

These are photographs taken along the California West Coast during a trip in march 2015. The route was roughly LA – San Clemente – Joshua Tree – Morro Bay – Big Sur – Santa Cruz – Point Reyes – San Francisco.
As I like to keep it simple I brought only my M6, 35 Summicron IV and a bunch of Kodak TriX film. It doesn’t matter if it’s cameras, lenses or film – if I bring more than one I can never decide what to use so limiting myself in that way actually gives me a lot more peace of mind.

For the past year or so I have been almost exclusively shooting 35mm color film but for this trip I wanted to give the black and white another go. This decision was actually made a couple of weeks prior to the trip when I went through my archive and rediscovered some of my older black and white film photos. You can check my little user report on that HERE.

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Another reason for going with black and white was that I had already been to do southwestern US the year before where I shot all Kodak Portra 160. So to avoid ending up with very similar photos from two different trips using Kodak TriX 400 made sense. If you like you can see the color shots from last year here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/derphilipppp/sets/72157648794789646/

So overall the trip was a blast and although I didn’t shoot as much as I had hoped/planned/anticipated I’m really happy with some of the shots I got. I will probably need to find a darkroom to do some prints soon.

The entire album can be viewed here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/derphilipppp/sets/72157651692347201/

You can also see more of my photos here: lifeon35.tumblr.com and instagram.com/derphilipppp/

Best regards and thanks for the opportunity to showcase my work!

Philipp

Apr 142015
 

Black & White with Leica M6, M9 and MM

By Dan Bar

Hi Steve & Brandon! About 8 years ago a friend of mine , a well-known photographer in Israel told me he wanted to buy the new digital Leica M8. I thought very highly of him and decided to go and see the new wonder. Yes it was a Leica, looked like one and was VERY expensive.

I have always dreamed of one but never wanted to spend so much , so I offered the salesman my Canon 5D + some lenses and to my great amazement he agreed to switch. I had to add some money of course as I also wanted 2 lenses with it. Since then I sold the M8, bought the M9, than sold it for the MM .

I also had the M6 for some time but the trouble dealing with film and development made me sell it too.

The purchase of the M8 , MM and M6 incited my love for black and white again. With my Canon 5D I only shot color. There is something about Leica that draws the user to b&w and I don’t know why. This odd attraction made me buy the Leica MM which I think is a fantastic b&w camera, as close to film as can be ( at least in my opinion. ) I know Steve prefers the 240 and so does Mr. Thorsten Overgaard, ( he told me so). I love the 240 but i mainly use it for color photos but here are some of my B&W photos which I like and hope you will like too.

Thank you
Danny

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It is not easy to decide which photos to send, I am not saying I dont like color photos and yet BLACK & White has its uniqueness. I love your site and look at it on a daily basis.

Thanks
Danny

Apr 102015
 

Wales in B&W. Film.

By Ibraar Hussain

Hi Steve and Brandon, I hope you had a joyous Easter. it’s almost Friday, and I thought I might submit an article again! How the weeks roll past!

To all those bored witless of the endless ramblings from I Hussain ESQ please turn away now!

I love going to visit Wales, fascinating place, and as magical and beautiful as can be. For all the delights and marvels of foreign lands, the East and the High Karakoram and Himalaya, the magic of Wales is right up there with the best of them and luckily I can return there again and again – being but a couple of hours drive West from London.

I think Black and White is suited in many ways to the broody landscape of fell and moor, beacon and megalithic standing stones and circles which are to be found in Wales. The landscape can be very bleak, and moody, with expansive skies and cloud. It can also be stunningly beautiful and uplifting with majestic coast lines and water features.

There were a couple of Films in my camera bag which I eventually decided, after a long hiatus, to develop. A roll of Rollei Retro 400s and a roll of Rollei Pan 25 – both shot with my Rolleiflex 3.5F. Both of these Films were exposed last Summer! Apart from my recent trip to Pakistan (March 2015) of which I’ve written already, I did absolutely no photography from August 2014 to March this year! Hard to believe but true! Rollei Retro 400s is a 400 ISO Film. I have never used it before, but have had exceptional results with the 80 speed Retro 80s before so had nothing but positive feelings about the results.

It’s a fine grained middle speed Film and has a nice character with slight red sensitivity it should give nice contrasty yet balanced results when developed with Rodinal. It has fine grain and has high sharpness. It features a tear proof clear polyester base which makes it excellent for scanning (the clear film base).

The other was another first for me; Rollei Pan 25. This is allegedly Agfa Pan 25. It is a very fine grained very slow ISO 25 speed Film with high sharpness and resolving power. It features extended Red sensitivity and a clear plastic base, so scanning again is very easy. This gave me a stiff lesson in how to meter for B&W. I have been using a Minolta Autometer III incident meter. The problem with this is that for B&W sometimes one should expose for the shadows and then control highlights in development. High contrast situations can mean a lack of shadow detail using this type of meter without being careful. Me being me took a light reading in the SUN rather than shade and off I went snapping away.

I shot this Film at Llanthony Priory, a ruin of an ancient priory which fell into decay after King Henry VIII ’s dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538.
It is a fascinating place with a wonderful remote atmosphere, and a photographers paradise. it has been photographed to death but there aren’t many B&W photos compared to colour. Anyway, needless to say the developed negatives were very contrasty and I had to work them in the Digital Darkroom (Photoshop CS4 Mac).

Rollei retro 400s was more forgiving but I made the same mistakes again. I shot this Film at the Waterfalls Walk by the River Ned, in the Brecon Beacons National Park. A magical place, full of delightful waterfalls, brooks and features, all in glorious woodland. I also managed one of an ancient Megalithic Standing Stone in the beacons. It can be tricky snapping away using a fully manual TLR and an incident light meter, but the whole process gave me some vital lessons which I have taken away and will not make the same mistakes again.

In future I will follow the golden rule of exposing for the shadows unless I want some more creative effect by adjusting exposure. Of course, with a 35mm Contax G2/T2/Tvs or SLR with an inbuilt centre weighted or matrix meter – it’s more straight forward, and incident meters are very useful too and 9 times out of 10 are superb, especially when dealing with backlighting, but for BW especially I think I need to be more careful.

Even with the exposure errors, I managed to get two rolls of mostly keepers! (20 shots all in) I’ve included some from each here, and have tried to reflect the atmosphere, mood and beauty of the places I visited.
I took some portraits of my Missus with a Rolleinar I and Rolleinar II but unfortunately they’re not for public show – the Rolleinar I especially is, I think, essential for the 3.5F if you want to shoot portraits with a very very shallow depth of field!
Black and White can be a very rewarding pursuit, and the more so with a manual camera and light meter, I waited 8 months to see my results – a far cry from instant Digital.
And Wales is a magical place.

All photographs:

Rolleiflex 3.5F, Rollei Gelb-Hell Yellow Filter, Minolta Autometer III.
Developed in Rodinal R09 1+50.
Scanned with an Epson 4990 flatbed using Epson Scan software.
Worked on in Photoshop CS4 Mac
I’ve used Overlay and brush tool to dodge and burn, used levels and curves. I then toned using a Pantone 7518c. then added a border.

Rollei retro 400s Maen Llia standing stone, Brecon Beacons.

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Sgwd Clun-Gwyn Waterfall, Brecon Beacons.

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Walk in the sunlit woods. Waterfall Country, woodland, Brecon Beacons

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Water. A brook in the Brecon Beacons.

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Rollei pan 25 Llanthony priory

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Apr 102015
 

Medium format goes medieval: comparing a Nikon DSLR with the latest from PhaseOne

By Andrew Paquette – His Website is HERE

A couple weeks ago I started making plans to do a photo shoot at the ruins of a local castle. I intended to bring my D800 and a Zeiss 55mm Otus as the primary rig, along with an A7r with a Zeiss ZA 135mm for action and close-up shots. However, a few days before the shoot, my wife and I were talking about medium format systems, the photographer Jason Bell, and then PhaseOne medium format cameras. To find out more about PhaseOne, I performed a few searches on the Internet, but didn’t get very far with pricing information because every page led me to a form that I could use to get a free test drive of a PhaseOne system. I was primarily interested in knowing what a refurbished system cost, but since I had to fill out the form to find out, I filled it out. A few days passed, and then on the day before the shoot, I got a call from PhaseOne. Would I like to borrow a camera for a test drive? The rig suggested by the salesman was the 645DF+, the IQ250 50MP digital back (their first CMOS sensor), and a Schneider Kreuznach 80MM f/2.8 leaf shutter lens. This is the exact same rig Bell mentioned when talking about one of his shoots. Curious to see how it would work out, and with a little trepidation that GAS syndrome may have just had a peek in the room, I decided to try it out.

Dungeon corridor, shot with a PhaseOne 645DF+ and Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8

Settings: f/2.8, 1/5 ISO 400
Considering the slow shutter speed here, I really should have shot this at a higher ISO

Dungeon corridor

—-

Shot with a PhaseOne 645DF+ and Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8
Settings: f/3.2, 1/60 ISO 400

Robin in red

The primary reason I was curious about medium format in the first place had to do with my discovery that almost all of the photos I like the most were shot on medium format systems. In one case, a photographer had one shoot of many on her site that I liked a lot, while the rest were good but not as creatively inspiring. That one shoot was done with a PhaseOne. The more I looked, the more references to medium format and PhaseOne I saw. What finally decided me to look into it was a photographer who wrote how he had tried and tried to make images that had qualities he associated with his favourite photographers, like Annie Liebowitz, but couldn’t do it until he switched to medium format. Until then, he thought there was some problem with the way he was taking the photos, setting up the lights, or editing them in software. It wasn’t any of those things—it was the type of camera he used. After switching, he was able to get the look he wanted.

The D800 and the Zeiss 55mm Otus is a very nice combination for DSLR shooting. Short of the D800E or D810, it is about as good as it gets. The lens is the second-highest ranking lens rated by DxO labs (after the 85mm Otus), and the camera is one of the highest rated among DSLRs. The Phase One is similarly one of the best offerings from a brand that is popular among professional photographers. From my perspective, I wanted to know if the image quality difference would be noticeable, and if it would be worth the huge price difference between the two systems. Lately I have been gravitating toward portraits and fashion, both of which genres seem to benefit from medium format cameras.

Disclaimer:

This purpose of this article is to provide some information about how a high end DSLR system compares to a well-regarded medium format system, for those who are considering a switch. This is not meant to be a definitive scientific test. There are plenty of examples of beautiful work by professional photographers on the PhaseOne website, as well as on Nikon’s and Zeiss’s websites. These are great for showing the best possible results from the most highly regarded photographers, but it is hard to know from these gallery images what went into the shoots. What I found difficult to find were articles that compared DSLRs and medium format cameras by shooting something outside the range of normal technical tests, which are usually just a couple of distant buildings, a girl in the forest, and head shots of the camera salesmen at Photokina.

Expectations:

When I rode the train up to the PhaseOne dealer, I was fantasizing about getting some pretty amazing shots simply because I was using a PhaseOne. That said, I knew the possibility of that happening was remote. The D800 and Otus are an excellent combination and I had been using them for a year. Comparing that to an unfamiliar system automatically puts the PhaseOne at a disadvantage. Another problem is that the DSLR is much more useable in low light than the PhaseOne—or at least most medium format cameras, which operate best at 100 to 200 ISO (with 400 ISO the maximum). The IQ250 back I was using was different because it could go up to 6400 ISO. Despite this, I was thinking of the PhaseOne as a system that required studio lights, as opposed to the D800, which worked fine without them. I was planning on using a reflector and sunlight for the shoot, and had no room in my transportation for lighting gear. I hoped this wouldn’t compromise the PhaseOne too much, but that was what I had to work with so I’d just have to see how it turned out.

At the store, the salesman gave me a quick tour of the camera. During this short tutorial I shot a couple images of objects in the store. What I saw really surprised me: there were prominent green and magenta bands running along the edges of many white objects in the scene. Most of the Zeiss lens line have very little fringing problems, and the Otus has none. I literally hadn’t seen fringing for months because I have been using the Otus as my go-to lens. Even when I use other Zeiss lenses, like the ZA 135mm f/1.8, I rarely have fringing issues. Seeing fringing on the first couple of shots taken with the PhaseOne was disheartening, but on the other hand, the system I had in my hands was the same one used by the royal family’s photographer. There had to be a way around it.

Because of my concerns about the lighting and the lens, I was prepared for the test to go either way, but was rooting for the PhaseOne, if for no other reason but that it is always fun to discover a way to improve the quality of one’s images. It was a fairly dark day, so most of the shots were made with the camera mounted on a tripod.

Conclusions:

Ergonomics… The 645DF+ felt great in my hands, the menus on the touchscreen were easy to understand and big buttons were easy to press without accidentally pushing something else (as I do more often than I like with the D800 and A7r). The optical viewfinder was like looking into the detachable Zacuto viewfinder I use on my Nikon, but integrated with the camera and brighter. The live view screen was very nice, slightly higher resolution than the LV on the D800, and most importantly, the IQ250 has the built-in ability to transmit the live view and preview photos to an iDevice. I tested this on my iPad and it worked very well, using the free app provided by PhaseOne, Capture Pilot. This app can also be used as a remote trigger for the camera. This functionality makes focus checking trivially easy compared to the D800 (and probably the D810 as well) because of the much larger iPad screen. Overall, I felt that the camera was easier to hold, to carry, and to use in some ways than the D800. The only exception to this are the aperture and shutter control dials, which are smaller and thinner than their Nikon counterparts. This isn’t a big deal, but I found them more difficult to find and use than on the D800, probably because I’m not used to them.
The case this camera came in was much bigger and heavier than it needed to be for a camera that felt to be about the same weight as the D800 + Otus. As for overall dimensions, they weren’t much different there either. If I were to get one of these, I’d probably opt for a backpack instead of the gorilla-proof case I was handed for the tryout.

Image quality… Overall, I liked several of the shots from both cameras. In all but one of the examples where I shot exactly the same subject with both cameras, I preferred the PhaseOne result. I shot the PhaseOne in aperture priority mode because I wanted to avoid an excessively shallow depth of field in shots with multiple actors. This worked against the PhaseOne because I was able to use much faster shutter speeds with the Nikon. I initially had the impression that the Schneider-Kreuznach lens was softer than the Otus because the images themselves were softer overall, but the slower shutter speeds almost certainly allowed enough motion to lose some sharpness compared to the Nikon.
Despite the slight softness to images shot with the PhaseOne, in all but one example where I shot the same scene with both cameras, I preferred the PhaseOne because of the superior colours and tonal range. Both camera/lens combinations produced nice images, but the colours that came out of the PhaseOne were noticeably stronger.

I’m not totally convinced that the PhaseOne is hands-down better than the Nikon/Otus combination, but am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt until I have the opportunity to test it again*. I do know that the colour from the PhaseOne system and richer tones are very appealing compared to the more limited range available in the Nikon system.

*Update: I have retested the Phase One system and answered some of the questions left with the previous shoot.

1) The colour differences between the two systems are partly attributable to having used Capture One to process the Phase One shots but Lightroom for the Nikon shots. Despite this, the greater dynamic range of the IQ250 over the D800 is obvious.

2) The CA problem with the SK lens is very real but goes away at higher f-stops. I did some shots of dark tree branches against the sun at f/2.8 (heavy fringing) and f/5 (no fringing) as a test. If shooting at less contrasty subjects, the bigger apertures can be used. The Otus remains the winner in this category.

3) The SK lens is very sharp when setup properly. It really doesn’t like low light situations, and ‘low light’ for the Phase One is a lot brighter than for the D800. I had been setting the Phase One to match the Nikon settings—a big mistake because medium format requires more light than a 35mm.

4) The Capture Pilot utility is really awesome to use. It helps get steadier shots, and allows high resolution exposure and focus checks in the field.

Below are some more of the images from the shoot (and at the end, a couple of bonus shots from the more recent test):

Brigands. Shot with a PhaseOne 645DF+ and Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8
Settings: f/6.3, 1/15 ISO 200

Brigands

Dejeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the grass). Shot with a PhaseOne 645DF+ and Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8
Settings: f/2.8, 1/223 ISO 200

Renaissance battle_4

Thom. Shot with a PhaseOne 645DF+ and Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8
Settings: f/3.5, 1/111 ISO 200

Thom

Merlyn. Shot with a PhaseOne 645DF+ and Schneider Kreuznach 80mm LS f/2.8
Settings: f/9, 1/7 ISO 100

Merlyn 1

Merlyn. Shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4
Settings: f/7.1, 1/125 ISO 125

Merlyn 2

Unruffled. Shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4
Settings: f/5.6, 1/100 ISO 1200

Unruffled

Sparring. Shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4
Settings: f/7.1, 1/30 ISO 125

Sparring

Triple portrait. Shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4
Settings: f/4, 1/200 ISO 125

Triple portrait

Robin. Shot with a Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4
Settings: f/3.5, 1/100 ISO 200

Robin at the window

_______________________
The new test shots were made primarily to check CA and sharpness of the SK lens. All were shot with the 645 DF+, IQ250, and SK 80mm LS lens. Here they are:

Sunset fence 014

mirrored wetlands

RiverBend

Apr 062015
 

Picture 1

A Change Of Perspective – The Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 III

By Alan Schaller – My Flickr linkhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/alanschaller/

Buy the 15 lens HERE at CameraQuest or HERE at B&H Photo

Hello everyone. First off, a big thank you to Steve for giving me the opportunity to write again on his great site.

I heard very good things about the first and second versions of the Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5, namely their low price, compact size and classy rendering. They were however known to colour shift on the M9, M240 and the A7 series, meaning many digital users used the lens as a black and white tool. From what I can tell from my pictures colour shifting has been completely sorted in this third version of the lens, which of course is a great thing. Also worth mentioning is the incredible lack of distortion.

I happened to have a holiday booked to the South of France a few days after I received my lens, and thought it would be the perfect place to let this super wide-angle flex its muscles! The region I went to (The Côte d’Azur) features crazily photogenic villages, street scenes, the sea and mountainous areas, so I had a lot fun shooting in a variety of environments with the 15mm on my Sony A7s and Leica Monochrom. The shots in this review were all taken on that trip.

Sony A7s ISO 2500 – f/4.5 – 1/40 sec

Picture 2

I had not extensively used a lens wider than a 35mm before getting this 15mm prime. My main reason for buying a super wide angle lens was to shake up my shooting style. I can confirm that it has, and recommend trying one if you haven’t already! I enjoy the 50mm focal length most of all, and being so used to looking for photo opportunities through the ‘eye’ of a 50, what I was seeing through the 15mm viewfinder initially seemed almost comical. The first day I had the lens, I walked around London with it on the Monochrom, initially marvelling like a child at how I could get whole buildings in frame whilst standing a few meters away from them.

I eventually calmed down and started thinking about how I could get the most out of my new lens. It seemed immediately obvious that it would be useful for shooting landscapes or epic sky scenes, but being primarily a street photographer, I wanted to try and use it on the streets too. Initial test shots proved this to be tricky! A lot of the time you have to get extremely close to the subject to make an interesting shot. The silent shutter on the A7s made me feel more confident to do so. It’s something I am going to enjoy experimenting with.

The thing I have found most interesting and creatively rewarding about using this super wide angle lens is the way it presents an image with such an unfamiliar perspective to the human eye. A 50mm lens is great as it is so familiar to our field of view, but I am really interested by the way this lens is so unfamiliar. Certain scenes that would be very mundane with a standard focal length can become surprisingly interesting when you use a super wide angle. This one was taken on the plane going to France:

Leica Monochrom – ISO 320 – f/4.5 – 1/30 sec

Picture 3

The Monochrom gets on very nicely with this lens! Images are detailed and have great contrast. If you stop down to f/8 the depth of field is impressive. Also, as the DOF is so deep on a lens this wide, at f8 the lens is focusing from its closest point of 0.5 meters all the way to infinity, so there is zero need to adjust focus! This is a welcome attribute as it takes more consideration to get a shot perfect with a 15mm due to the extra surrounding context inevitably being in frame, and not having to worry about nailing focus helps speed up the whole process.

I have found sharpening to be totally unnecessary when using this lens on the Mono. This lens and camera combo feels great to use, and is perfect in terms of size and weight. They feel seriously solid together in the hand, and look great too! Same goes when it is used on the A7s. It feels well-balanced.

I expected the lens to work fantastically on the Monochrom (as the previous version did too), but I have been super impressed with the results on my Sony A7s. The colour is to die for!

Sony A7s – ISO 100 – f/8 – 1/200 sec

Picture 4

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Sony A7s – ISO 100 – f/8 – 1/250 sec

Picture 5

As many people know the A7s is a low light monster, which meant I could shoot at any time of night despite the fact that this is a pretty slow lens. Simply crank the ISO to 8 or 10 thousand and snap away handheld, knowing the images will retain great detail and colour. Simple! As I mentioned before, the edges retain their colour well, even under pixel peeping scrutiny, so hats off to Voigtlander for taking the time and putting in the R&D to revise this lens so well for digital sensors. Chromatic aberration seems very well controlled, but can still be spotted if you pixel peep. I am sure Voigtlander will sell many of these, as the price, although an increase from the previous generations of the f/4.5 15, is still way way below the outlay for similar offerings from Leica or Zeiss. Despite being relatively cheap, the lens is built excellently, has a metal hood and body, and takes sensible 58mm filters. Most importantly, from what I can tell, the image quality is right up there with those more pricey offerings from Leica and Zeiss.

Leica Monchrom – ISO 320 – f/5.7 – 1/125 sec

Picture 6

I can already tell that this lens is a keeper, which means more of my shots taken with this lens will be going up on my Flickr page for the foreseeable future! So if you are interested in seeing more shots, feel free to have a look!

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

Apr 032015
 

Punjab part 2 – with the Contax G2 and 3 Film selection

By Ibraar Hussain – His flickr is HERE

I thought I’d just add a Part 2 to my Punjab trip here for you and for stevehuffphoto.com viewers and lovers.

I really enjoyed shooting with my Panasonic Lumix GX7 with the couple of lenses I had with it. But as usual whenever I travel I take my Contax G2 along with me.  Unfortunately, out of a 15 day trip, 9 days were rained off so I was unable to go where I wanted to and shoot the exotic things at the places I had in mind and planned.

I was able to expose 3 rolls of Film though and experiment with my seldom used lens – the 90mm Sonnar T*. Now this is a lovely portrait lens, great contrast and sharpness and a perfect portrait length – there is one problem though, shooting wide open with it is tricky as the focus on it for some bizarre reason doesn’t always hit right. When nailed the results are spectacular, but more often than not most people have difficulty with this lens. I have hardly ever used it in the past and then not often at f2.8 so I decided to give it a bit of liberal use.

Family of beggars
GT Road
Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 45mm Planar T* Kodak Ektar 100

sargodha28

sargodha29

My usual lenses are the unparalleled 45mm f2 Planar and the 21mm f2.8 Biogon, but this time I was after portraits of local people in villages around the town of Sarai Alamgir in District Gujrat, Punjab.  The town straddles the Jhelum River and lies close to the city of Jhelum – Ancient Hydaspes of Alexander The Great fame.

I decided to shoot a roll of some different Films than my usual Kodak Ektachrome e100vs and Fujichrome Velvia. I had two rolls of The Original Fujichrome Astia 100 (not the later inferior 100F) my rolls were procured from eBay at a high cost as allegedly they had been frozen and gave accurate colors. I managed to shoot one of these.

My other roll was of a rare Film by Adox – Adox Silverman 21 at 100 ISO. This is a German made B&W Film which allegedly has a high Silver content and gives some unique results. And finally a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 people tend to rave about.

Shoe Shine and Repair Man
GT Road
Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 45mm Planar T* Kodak Ektar 100

sargodha30

My results were a mixed bag. The 4mm Planar shots were nailed as usual and keepers.  The 90mm Sonnar T* shots wide open at f2.8 were hit and miss. I had as many off focus shots as nailed ones and I was very disappointed with this lens. Sure, the nailed shots are beautiful, but I want to be in charge and not subject to the whims of a focussing system. Anyway, the Astia 100 was pretty nice, not as nice as my beloved Kodak e100vs but not bad. The Adox Silvermax I shot with and without a Hoya Orange filter. I gathered the higher contrast Filter may give some good effects outdoors.

Kashmiri Child
Sargodha, Punjab
Contax G2 45mm Planar T* Kodak Ektar 100

tazzi999123

I developed the Adox Silverman in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned everything using my Plustek Opticfilm 8100 scanner. I cleaned up the scanned Astia Slides in Photoshop (rid dust and spots), resized and gave them a border – hardly any post processing. The Adox Silverman results were very pleasing, I did foolishly drop the negatives after drying and there was hence some dust but very nice tones and feel – I’d love to print these. I used Photoshop Layers to dodge and burn and levels, then resized and border applied – not USM at all here!

The retired Soldier
Jhelum, Punjab
Contax G2 45mm Planar T* Kodak Ektar 100

sargodha4-

The Matriarch
Jhelum, Punjab
Contax G2 45mm Planar T* Kodak Ektar 100
90mm Sonnar T* (bottom)

sargodha3sargodha1

The Kodak Ektar is a nightmare. I cannot understand why people use this stuff. In almost all respects it is Inferior to a decent E6 Slide film – the only reason to use this would be latitude and I had no need of such huge Dynamic Range. So this is the last time I will use this or any other C41 Colour Film (unless forced to). Give me Slides, BW or Digital any day. A royal pain to scan and to get the colours and contrast right – at least Slides (and in camera Jpegs) give me everything as I want with no fluffing around – shooting C41 is worse than RAW capture (which I find to be a total waste of time and effort and of vital minutes of ones life).

Anyway, enough ranting, here are even some samples. The others can be found on my Flickr.

Cheers!

Punjabi Widow
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 90mm Sonnar T* Fujichrome Astia 100

sargodha8

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Old lady with a Hukkah pipe
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 90mm Sonnar T* Fujichrome Astia 100

sargodha18

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Jatt Villager
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 90mm Sonnar T* Fujichrome Astia 100

sargodha24

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Jatt Village women
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 90mm Sonnar T* Fujichrome Astia 100

sargodha15

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Happy Village child
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 90mm Sonnar T* Fujichrome Astia 100

sargodha21

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Blind Kashmiri Gent
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 90mm Sonnar T* Fujichrome Astia 100

sargodha19

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Retired Village Gentleman
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 45mm Planar T*
Adox Silvermax 21
Rodinal

Adox1

-

Man with Motorbike
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 45mm Planar T*
Adox Silvermax 21
Rodinal

Adox25

-

Old Matriarch
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 45mm Planar T*
Adox Silvermax 21
Rodinal

Adox21

-

Servant Girl
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 45mm Planar T*
Adox Silvermax 21
Rodinal

Adox15

-

Punjabi Matriarch
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 45mm Planar T*
Hoya Orange Filter
Adox Silvermax 21
Rodinal

Adox24

-

Brothers
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 45mm Planar T*
Hoya Orange Filter
Adox Silvermax 21
Rodinal

Adox13

-

Retired Village Gentleman
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 45mm Planar T*
Adox Silvermax 21
Rodinal

Adox6

-

Kashmiri Village Girl
Near Sarai Alamgir, Punjab
Contax G2 45mm Planar T*
Adox Silvermax 21
Rodinal

Adox3

Apr 022015
 

There is no “I” in Team

by John Tuckey

Team Efforts

I wouldn’t advise anyone to overload a shoot with unnecessary bodies. The fewer people cluttering your space, the better. The less people to organise the better. It’s an absolute if you’re trying to create a sense of intimacy or intrigue and a simple practicality when you’re working to a budget or a tight time scale as most of us are. But ‘one man and his lens’ is not always enough – indeed, modern professional work is hardly ever created so. It’s a creative collaboration between the photographer, an art director, a stylist, a make up artist, a hair stylist, a lighting technician and possibly a set dresser. That amazing image in magazine ‘X’ is usually the result of a tight team who have a good working dynamic – not ‘one man and his lens’.

If you’re thinking about crossing this river and working your shots with a team it can be daunting at first. My advice is to keep it simple and pick your team carefully, don’t waste your resources and know who you can and can’t live without. I get my moments, but I’m still no pro – so I won’t worry about an assistant until i try a complicated location set-up. And a stylist isn’t even on my list unless I get involved in a commercial fashion shoot and the client specifically requests one – and even then they will probably be chosen by the art director.

So I’d suggest that for an amateur or hobbyist, the bodies to make sure you have covered on a model orientated shoot are the make up artist and the hair stylist. Sometimes the model can cover this off herself, but indispensable doesn’t even come close to describing the best I’ve worked with. And without even thinking I can give you three very good reasons why they’re always worth stretching the budget for.

Transformation

A skilled makeup artist can simply transform a face. Try these two of Emily, one with ‘normal’ self done makeup and the Next from a Make Up artist.

emily-1

emily-2

The Devil is in the Detail

Much of my work revolves around vintage themes. Having the right make up or a particular hair style makes the world of difference. In these portraits of Olivia, the lighting may well have achieved the look on its own, but the work of the hair stylist in those thirties style fingerwaves added the polish – making the vintage feel of the final image effortless and complete.

olivia-1

olivia-2

olivia-film

Tricks, Shortcuts and FX

These Lonsdale shots aren’t just about beauty and boxing, but also strength, character and control. The make up artist on this shoot pulled the FX off with ease: Jammy the model was engaged with the concept and we got some great shots as a result.

jammy-1

jammy-2

jammy-film

Saving Time in Post

Doesn’t digital mean make up artists are a waste of money? If you don’t think of the hours you’ll spend in post-production as money, then I’ll grant you that a hair or make up artist might not be your best use of budget. But I’d rather get it right for real on the day and trade that time in front of a screen for more time with a camera thanks – a good MUA allows that.

If you are interested in my images or my workshops you can follow me on facebook at http://www.facebook/jrtvintage, on twitter where I’m @jrtvintage, at my own site at http://john.tuckey.photography or on my gallery page at Saatchi Art http://www.saatchiart.com/jrtvintage

Credits:

Models: Emily, Olivia Harriett, and Jammy Lou
http://purpleport.com/portfolio/oliviaharriet/
http://purpleport.com/portfolio/raspberryjam/

Emily and Jammys Make Up: James Minahan

https://www.facebook.com/pages/James-Minahan-Makeup-artist/482722908502345?pnref=lhc

Olivia’s Hair: Le Keux Salon
http://www.lekeuxvintagesalon.co.uk/
Best regards

John Tuckey

Mar 312015
 

50tt

DUAL Review: Zeiss Loxia 50 F/2

by Bill Danby and Steve Huff

Hey everyone! I have been shooting the Zeiss Loxia 50 f/2 for 2-3 weeks now and LOVE it. I also received a guest report on the Loxia 50 and decided to post both my thoughts and Bill Danby’s thoughts at the same time. First, I will let Bill say what he thinks about the Loxia 50 as he says all that needs to be said! Enjoy!

Bill Danby Loxia Review:

Just about every discussion of the Loxia 50mm also mentions the most likely alternative, the Sony/Zeiss 55mm. (And now, I suppose, I have too.) But this is very rarefied air we’re breathing here. They’re both outstanding lenses designed specifically for the Sony A7 series cameras. Any idea that one will leave the other in the dust is entirely misplaced.

I have used my 55mm extensively; but this will not be a “This vs That” review. Just because there’s an elephant in the room, doesn’t mean you have to pet it.

I don’t do video, so this review won’t be helpful for photographers looking to use the Loxia for that.

I’m not going to be coy. I REALLY like this lens. But I’m not going to recommend it willy-nilly. I’d like to tell you about the lens, and let you decide. But as they say in the small print: The following is provided on an “as is” basis. Your mileage may vary, etc.

Bill_Danby20150308_mt_tamborine_0031

So, why the Loxia 50mm?

The “Ifs:”
If you prefer primes lenses; and
if you prefer a “normal” (50mm) lens; and
if the manual focus is a serious plus for you; and
if you can live without some of the very attractive features of autofocus; and
if only having a manual aperture isn’t a practical negative,
then the Loxia 50mm might be the lens for you.

Image quality

The most important thing to know about the Loxia 50mm is that it’s balanced in terms of its qualities. Zeiss calls it a “flexible all-rounder.” There’s a lot of truth in that; but only for those that got through the “ifs” without having to think too hard about it.

The Loxia’s colour rendering and contrast are both great, and it has its share of Zeiss “pop.” Not OMG “pop;” but it’s a Zeiss Planar and it does what Zeiss Planar lenses do. Apparently the present level of contrast is more the result of the coating than the Planar design. The Planar design has almost 120 years of history and the Zeiss T* coating goes back almost 80 years.

It has extremely low distortion and very little chromatic aberration.

F/2.0 is pretty fast. To get to f/1.4 would have required a bigger lens and that would not have been in keeping with the brief. This is the same speed as its sister, the Loxia 35mm. You have to keep in mind that this is f/2.0 on a full-frame. That means that at f/2.0 on the full frame camera, depth-of-field is slightly more shallow than at f/1.4 with a 32mm (50mm equivalent) lens on an APS-C (crop sensor) camera. So, this affords acceptably narrow depth of field for isolation of a subject, such as for some portraits.

Apparently, the Inuit people have at least 53 words for snow. We seem to be working toward that number of adjectives to describe bokeh. The Loxia’s bokeh isn’t the very creamy style prized by some; but it’s not “nervous” either. I find the bokeh from the Loxia to be both attractive and useful.

This is an outstandingly sharp lens, with a slight softening at the corners, wide open. I had to look for it. It’s not a problem for me.

The lens is an equal partner for the Sony A7II. And from the other reports I’ve read, it also meets the demands of the A7r (which I don’t have).

It’s not a zoom

Prime lenses held pride of place for many years, but times have changed. The quality improvements in zooms have been revolutionary. So now, while there’s a bit of image quality in it, the main difference is lens speed.

Zooms for the A7 series (even the lowly 28-70mm kit lens) usually have their own stabilisation. So if you’re not going to be using an A7II (or, seemingly soon, the A7rII), then using the Loxia over a zoom will cost you the stabilisation as well.

Almost everyone who has had occasion to use my camera, has asked where the zoom ring is. Their reaction on learning there isn’t one, can only be described as pitying. Now, with the Loxia, they’ll be wondering why it isn’t focusing. (I fear that things will be moving from pity to something else.)

Manual focus

Manual focusing seems to have “old school” written all over it. It’s unfortunate that some think that manual focusing is just for “old guys” (apologies for the sexist terminology) trying to recapture their experiences from the day. Feeding such a view is the fact that old guys started in photography without any autofocus. So, they, or those with experience in using legacy lenses, adjust to manual focus more quickly.

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I hate thinking I’ve nailed the focus on a shot, only to find out when I get it into Lightroom that the system has chosen something else to focus on. (That, of course, is the camera rather than the lens.) So, while I still may occasionally miss the exact focus with the Loxia, I don’t get those surprises.

Any movement of the focus ring triggers an immediate magnified view. And a half-press of the shutter button brings you back the full view ahead of whatever timing you’ve set. You can, of course, turn that off and magnify when you want.

It took me a little time to get used to that magnification arrangement because I had been used to giving the shutter a half-press to force an autofocus.

Focusing with the Loxia is fast. It’s not always as fast as some autofocus systems, but it’s more reliable. Manual focus, however, rarely gets lost in the hunt. I usually leave focus peaking on, but I depend on the magnified view.

I’ve also assigned the magnified view to the A7II’s “C1″ soft key. That allows me to get an even higher magnification quickly when I need it.

If you’ve come to depend on Sony’s great, eye-focus feature (or faces, or smiles, or face recognition, or tracking focus), those don’t happen with the Loxia. Except for the loss of the eye focus (which is very accurate, and simple even on a tripod), I’m relieved. There’s no grid of phase detection points, or boxes around people’s faces, or green dots to signal focus.

It’s just point, focus, and shoot.

Zone focusing is not just for street photographers. Once you get used to a hard infinity limit and a hard close focus limit (at about 18 inches), then it’s easy to estimate where a shot is going to be.

I haven’t tried astrophotography, but my lens sets accurately to infinity. So, if you’re trying to focus on the stars, it’ll probably be easier on the Loxia.

It’s ironic for me that after years of watching the developments and discussing the relative merits of phase detection and contrast detection autofocus, I’ve decided to skip both — just when they’re getting really fast.

Handling

The lens is all metal, so it’s relatively heavy, although Zeiss calls it light. Zeiss says it’s 320gm, but with the hood and front lens cap mine was 358gm). My kit (the A7II with the Loxia, but without a strap, ) comes in at 970gm. With the strap, call it a kilogram (2.2lbs).

I find that the on-camera balance is perfect.

I’ve heard the lens called ugly. That, of course, is personal taste; but it doesn’t seem ugly to me.

The focus ring is well placed and wide enough. The ring begins just behind the lens hood when the hood’s attached, so the ring is quick to find. Yes, yes, the focus ring is very smooth. It’s a Zeiss manual lens — it needed to be.

The full, focus rotation for the Loxia is 180 degrees — a manageable spin. But, that’s not the useful information. What you need to know is that the focus rotation to go from 2 meters (6 feet) to infinity is only about 35 degrees (about a tenth of a turn of the focus ring). This means that for most situations I can focus within that range without taking my fingers off the lens.

I wouldn’t have minded a slightly wider aperture ring. No big thing.

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Manual aperture

If you’re not a dedicated aperture-priority shooter, then the Loxia isn’t the lens for you. It’s an absolute manual aperture.

The Loxia’s manual aperture benefit, as with manual focus, is that you not only set it on the lens, you can see what you set; and you can see it even if the camera is “sleeping,” or off.

With an auto lens you can select aperture priority, or not. No such choice with a Loxia. (This means that you can’t put the camera on “auto” to hand to a bystander to take your picture.)

I rarely use the video on my camera, so I don’t need to switch off the aperture clicks. But I was curious to see if the small screwdriver from my Swiss Army Knife (usually used to tighten the screws on eye glasses) would work on the Loxia’s click/declick selector switch, that’s located on the lens mount. It’s not a great fit, but it does.

Exif data reporting

Because the lens reports the exif data to the camera, the f/stop appears in the electronic viewfinder as well. Cool.

The exif data, however, is not just information for idle curiosity. The information feeds the exposure calculations. And when images arrive in Lightroom, you’ll have aperture data with those shots.

The focus data is also used by the A7II’s stabilisation to afford the full, five-axis assistance, rather than the three-axis available to other manual focus lenses. This also means that when you attach a Loxia, the Sony recognises it and sets the system to the lens just as it does for Sony lenses.

The details

The lens shade is metal, but light. It reverses, but the hood is deep. So, when it’s reversed it pretty much covers the focusing ring. There’s only the slightest sliver of ring available in a pinch. You really have to remove the hood to focus the lens. I mentioned that it’s metal, but it has a plastic ring on the inside for the actual connection to the lens. The inside of the barrel of the shade feels as if it has a coating and it’s BLACK. It takes a quarter turn to lock it into place, so if you start with the Zeiss logo at the top, then a quarter-turn will lock it into place and bring the “Loxia 2/50″ to the top.

I shoot almost exclusively in RAW, so most of the “features” of the camera are irrelevant to me. I love the manual focus and I welcome the manual aperture because I used to shoot in aperture priority anyway.

On A7 lens mounts there’s a white dot for aligning the lens when attaching. The corresponding dot on the Loxia 50mm is blue, and almost invisible in poor light. I use the words “E-mount” in (noticeable) white lettering that’s right next to the blue dot as my guide.

The Loxia is a much tighter fit on the A7II than on the A7. That’s a good thing, because the lens mount has been strengthened on the A7II. The only problem is that there’s very little finger purchase on the Loxia 50mm in the space between the aperture ring and the camera for giving it that twist. It’s a bit easier to use the space between the aperture ring and the focus ring.

I haven’t done any testing, but without an autofocus motor, I think I’m getting better battery life.

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Conclusion

I have the Loxia, and I’m keeping it. It’s my everyday, “walking around” lens. And, I’m hoping for Zeiss to release a Loxia 85mm in the future.

I’d like to think that after reading this, you’ll come away with an idea about whether this is a lens for you. But it’s serious money, so if you’re in a big city, you might want to rent one for a couple of days.

Alternatively, when these lenses are more available, head to your local dealer, put one on your Sony, and take it for a spin (focus-ring play-on-words intended).

I have to agree that autofocus has become incredibly good on mirrorless cameras, and you can still manually focus those lenses with fly-by-wire. So, I admit that the Loxia’s manual focus may provide more lens control than actual photographic control. But I’ve used fly-by-wire manual focusing as an adjunct to “auto” on many autofocus lenses, and I don’t miss those experiences.

Good luck with your Loxia, or whatever lens you choose.

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Steve’s thoughts on the Loxia 50:

After my 35 Loxia review I knew I would have fun using the 50 Loxia. For me, this lens is fantastic in size, feel build, and use. I am one who is used to manual focus primes, so this is always my preference. I love Leica M glass and using them, so the Loxia was a natural fit for me and my uses and tastes.

The build is fantastic, feels almost like a Leica lens. At least feels as good as the standard 50 Summicron. Image quality wise it is also fantastic with very little CA, distortion and the lens is razor sharp.

My 1st shot with the 50 Loxia gave me 50 APO detail and rendering, all on my Sony A7S

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I will not repeat what Bill said above as he nailed it when he described the lens qualities. He basically said what I would have said, which is cool as now I do not have to write it all ;) Even so, this lens is priced VERY RIGHT at $949. For under $1,000 you can get a lens that performs almost to the level of  the Leica 50 APO which comes in at $7500 or so. See Brad Husik’s test HERE between this lens and the 50 APO. 

The A7II and the Loxia is a match made in heaven. Color, detail and pop. 

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The build and feel is much nicer than the M mount version from Zeiss. It is a perfect match for the Sony A7 system, and it works well on my A7s and A7II. Beautiful. From the packaging to the all metal lens hood to the silky manual focus feel to the auto magnify when you touch the focus ring, this lens is a winner in every way. If you love manual focus primes with some speed, then this is a lens you will adore. For me, this lens and my A7II is really all I ever need. Sure, I own wide-angle lenses and longer lenses but for me, the 50mm is the true classic prime delivering closest to what our eyes see.

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During my use with the lens I enjoyed every second of it. I never once had frustration nor did I ever wish I had a faster or different lens. I never yearned for auto focus as this lens is as easy to AF as the 35 was, and these rank among the easiest MF lenses I have used. With the auto magnify of the A7 series, it was a breeze to lock in critical focus. It is really quite fun to use the Loxia line.

All images below from the A7II and Zeiss Loxia at f/2 – Various ISO EXIF is embedded.

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Color is delicious, typical of Zeiss glass. It has the sharpness and detail, the build and feel, the great usability and the super pop and color that one would expect. All in a small prime under $950. A must buy for those who love this type of lens. I would take this over a Leica M 50 converted for use on the A7 series. Easy. In fact, this is one of my favorite lenses for the A7 series camera. I enjoy it much more than the Sony 55 1.8 (which I own) as the build is nicer, the lens is smaller yet heavier (better build) and again, I prefer the manual focus. I also feel the images have more character than the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8. Price wise, they are about the same.

Below are more of my photos with the 50 Loxia during my time with it. All on the Sony A7II (my #1 camera of choice today) – my A7II review is HERE.

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Where to Buy the Loxia Lenses:

PopFlash.com is an authorized Zeiss dealer and they carry the Loxia line HERE

B&H Photo also sells the Zeiss Loxia line HERE

Mar 282015
 

A Small Pit Bull with Balloons, an A7II User Report

By Brandon Labbe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar 272015
 

One Camera, One Lens and One Faraway Destination

By Fahad A

Hey Brandon,

Thank you for featuring my previous post I shared earlier this year.

Last summer I decided to go on a quick vacation somewhere far, somewhere I have never been before or even thought about visiting. Looked up the map, found Korea to be distant, far, interesting and not top of mind destination for someone who wants to roam around and take pictures.

Without any preconceptions about South Korea, I took a plane to Seoul, accompanied with a small suitcase that barely carries a couple of shirts, and a backpack that for my laptop and camera.

Few hours before the flight, I had a quick debate with myself about which gear should I take along with my Leica M + Summicron 50mm (V4), should i take the tiny Fuji 100s ? or should I take along the Nokton 35mm 1.2.

I decided to keep both Fuji and Nokton lens at home. went to Seoul with only one camera, and one lens! which means I’m stuck with 50mm focal length for the entire trip.

Did I regret it? I don’t think so. I enjoyed the limitation of only one lens. and how I should adapt with the focal length rather than replacing it or take out another camera with a different lens whenever I need to.

I might have missed few shots that were easier with a wider lens, however I’d sacrifice them anytime for the experience I got from limiting myself to 50mm.

Fahad A

For the full set, please take a look here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fahad85/sets/72157648593556971/

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