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Apr 142017
 

Sony Gaining Steam. Takes #2 Spot for the FULL FRAME Market

Whoa! Sony is doing it, and just as I predicted long ago. They are creeping up in the full frame market, and now sit at the #2 spot for all out sales in the interchangeable lens segment (for full frame). Thanks to the A7 series, Sony has kept full frame alive basically and they show no signs of slowing. I feel if this new model comes sometime this year, (rumored A9 pro) they may jump to #1 by next year. Sony is KILLING it and for good reason. If you want to know why I think they are going to be #1 soon, be sure to see this.  But who is #1? I would think Canon holds that spot with their 5D series being so popular for photo and video duties but does that mean Nikon slipped to #3?

BTW, SONY ALWAYS WINS, lol. 

PRESS RELEASE BELOW FROM SONY

SAN DIEGO, April 14, 2017 – Sony Electronics – a worldwide leader in digital imaging and the world’s largest image sensor manufacturer, has announced today that their continued growth has vaulted them into the #2 overall position in the U.S. full-frame interchangeable lens camera market. (see footnote 1)

Sony’s interchangeable lens cameras and lenses have seen record sales in 2017, in particular within the U.S. full-frame camera market, where they have experienced double-digit growth (+23%) (see footnote 2) compared to the same period last year. The popularity of key models including α7R II and α7S II has been paramount to this success.

Additionally, Sony’s rapid growth has helped to drive growth of the overall full-frame interchangeable lens camera market compared to the same period last year. Without Sony’s contributions, the full-frame market would be facing a slight decline. (see footnote 3)

“Our commitment to the industry is stronger than ever,” said Neal Manowitz, VP of Digital Imaging at Sony North America. “We are always listening to our customers, combining their feedback with our intense passion for innovation to deliver products, services and support like no other.”

(1) The NPD Group / Retail Tracking Service, U.S., Detachable Lens Camera, Full Frame, Based on Dollars, Jan- Feb 2017

(2) The NPD Group / Retail Tracking Service, U.S., Detachable Lens Camera, Full Frame, Based on Dollars, Jan/Feb 2016- Jan/Feb 2017

(3) The NPD Group / Retail Tracking Service, U.S., Detachable Lens Camera, Full Frame, Based on Dollars, Jan/Feb 2016- Jan/Feb 2017

Jul 182016
 

The secret to shooting a SMALL camera kit! Sony & Leica. 

by William Yianni Binks

Hey everyone! Steve was nice enough to post a passionate project of mine about my grandmother and her ongoing Alzheimer’s disease in 2015. The main part of the article was how I was working with minimal gear most of the time (35mm Leica summicron V5 and Sony A7s camera)

I wanted to send in this new article, as it’s something I’m also passionate about SMALL KIT shooting!! I feel I have found a secret kit for daily street photography that is unobtrusive that can quickly be transformed (With use of a new M auto focus adapter) for corporate shoots all the way to carrying around HALF the size for club photography!

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Last year on assignment for a big client of mine, CHC Helicopter, in Vancouver, BC and a large golf fundraiser along with Dreamline films I brought along my Sony A7s and only two small prime lenses. Those two lenses were the 35mm Leica Summicon and 75mm Leica Summicron. Along with these two small manual focus lenses was my ONA bag, which fits this kit perfectly.

The point of this article is that you can shoot an event with LESS, and I found I engaged with the people MORE. Less is more? ;)

I see a lot of people shooting events with zoom lens canons, running around sweating and then throwing out 85% of the images. I took a different approach. I engaged with everyone first, with my small Sony a7s and leica lens around my neck. At the CHC helicopter family corporate event, I actually ended up just taking the tour of the helicopter assembly plant as if I was almost just another guest. If, and when I saw a moment, I took out my camera and shot a few photos. Near the end I took some group photos and then had an hour to myself to walk around and take some interesting minimal factory type photos. I took the day in three stages, something I feel this small under the radar kit worked perfectly for, with no holdbacks. Under the radar candid’s, high quality group photos and then slow and steady promo shots for their factory. All while using the best glass I’ve ever used! NO HOLDS BARRED!

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For the golf event, I simply had a golf cart and went and hung out with everyone. I would take my camera out, take a few photos and then get to know some of the groups to get a few fun photos the client wanted. I found that by the time I knew some of the groups they would yell over to me and set up the photo’s themselves! Something I never would have gotten gunning around with a 70-8000mm lens (In production somewhere I’m sure!) ha-ha. In fact, the company I was shooting for put me on the project because of my outgoing nature anyways, so having this kit that wasn’t obtrusive and made people act differently along with having more face time was perfect. The client loved the photos and raved about having us out, perfect for everyone!

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The next step to making life even easier, as many would say- ok that’s a great small kit, but for events I would lose shots focusing! And that is true! At the time of this though, there wasn’t one piece of kit I feel that changed the game for the Sony A series- the new auto focus adapter for M lenses! Due to the large size of auto focus lenses, especially those, which have stabilization (which the new Sony’s have in body anyways!) there’s hardly an argument anymore against M and Sony kits for everything. I plan on getting the auto focus adapter soon once I research the models more. Yes, there are Sony prime lenses now in most configurations, but most of them are still large- and pull by wire.

This kit gives you the connection with your camera and manual focus Leica lenses, and in an instant with an adapter- a small and deadly kit. I feel this is what the A7 series was supposed to be at launch, but subsequently got bloated down by the need for such high-resolution lenses no one really needs (99%). This option brings it back to the unobtrusive, configurable camera you just can’t have with DSLRS. I’m using it for travel, professional photography events, and club photography and then rigging it up like a cinema camera for short films and commercials and shooting Slog 4K. It’s such a well rounder!

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If this seems like it would work for you and your style- look into it! I mention what I’m doing to photography friends and many have followed and love it.

As of those events listed above and photographed in this article, I’ve since added a 24-70 F4 Zeiss lens to the kit. Its small, fits in the ONA bag perfectly with my other lenses, and gives me something for more hectic times to cover all edges. Then, when I want some shallower DOF shots and creative control, I swap to a prime lens and take my time.

Many people complain about the new Sony E mount full frame lenses (myself included) but with the auto focus adapter now and stunning M lenses out there (Zeiss and Voigtlander included) I feel we can in fact once again have a small kit configurable to shoot ANYTHING!!

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For club photographers-

I’ve been shooting with a 21mm Voigtlander M lens which is TINY, and a Nissin i40 flash which is half the size of other flash systems and incredibly powerful. I feel bad when I see someone chugging around a massive camera body and bulging prime lens in a sweaty club.

So there you go, a kit less than half the size of a DSLR (or even many Sony lenses which are getting back to DSLR size, and front heavy and annoying to shoot with all day).

PS. If you have the a7 or a7r (mark 1 or 2) the 1.5x crop mode also is VERY useful and still allows PLENTY of resolution, especially for events where you’re usually compressing files. This in turn can make a 35 and 75 (or 90mm) kit effectively, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm and 130ish mm) all in two tiny lenses!

If you’d like to see the original post on my site with more photo’s that can be found HERE:

http://blackcasemedia.wix.com/wbinks#!corporate-event-photography/c1noh

As well as my Facebook group HERE for my photography and cinematography, Black Case Media:

https://www.facebook.com/blackcasemedia/

(I’m currently residing in London, UK. If anyone wants to collaborate or shoot sometime, as I’m relatively new to the city, let me know!)

Thanks again Steve for the reviews and I hope your readers find this perhaps a problem solver in having a small kit that can be used for just about anything! (Except fast action sports)

Cheers, and I hope you all the best time photographing your lives,

Sincerely,

William Yianni Binks

Jul 082016
 

TML

Thailand with M glass and the Sony A7rII

By Guillaume Dutilh

Travel photography has always been a compromise between quality, bulk, weight and inconspicuousness. Being a minimalist at heart, putting together a travel friendly photo system that would deliver on all these points was a fun challenge to tackle. I used to shoot Nikon full-frame bodies paired with Nikon’s top glass and while the quality was there, the combos quickly became too heavy and cumbersome to carry around. That’s when I decided to switch to the A7 system. But as Sony would release new lenses, I’d fall back into the trap and buy them! I quickly realized that I was facing the same issues as with the Nikon gear: my kit was getting too heavy and bulky again!

A Thai makes lucky charm bracelets – Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar

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Thais maneuvering their longtail boat in front of Koh Tao’s smoggy sunset – Leica 135mm f/4 Tele-Elmar

Thailand - Sony A7rII Leica 135mm f-4 Tele Elmar - 0005

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Thailand for three weeks. It was a backpacking trip and I committed to embracing that lightweight aspect of traveling, even if it meant leaving some of the photo gear home. I’d pack all my belongings in a 33L backpack and all my photography gear in a very small messenger style shoulder bag. To keep the kit minimal yet versatile, I chose all M-mount rangefinder lenses and I did my best to keep the total cost as affordable as possible (for M-mount lenses that is)! Being a scuba diver too, I packed a GoPro, RX100III and underwater housing in the backpack, but in hindsight wish I hadn’t. For the purpose of this article, I’ll ignore the underwater gear and just consider it just wasted space and weight added to my pack.

Feeding rescued elephants at Elephant Nature Park – Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5

Thailand - Sony A7rII Voigtländer 15mm f4.5 II Heliar - 0002

Buddhist statue in Chiang Mai – Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar

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Everything I packed fit in a carry-on sized backpack and camera bag. I won’t lie, I was pretty proud of the achievement! Here is the photo kit I ended up with for Thailand:

  • Sony A7rII
  • Voigtländer Close-Focus Adapter
  • Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5 II Heliar
  • Voigtländer 21mm f/4 Color-Skopar
  • Leica 40mm f/2 Summicron
  • Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar
  • Leica 90mm f/4 Macro-Elmar
  • Leica 135mm f/4 Tele-Elmar

Batteries, memory cards, filters, tools, tiny tripod, small flash, remote, white balance card, small air rocket, cloth, Peak Design strap, pen, lens-pen

It was a little tight but everything listed above fit in a cheap and tiny water-resistant Bestek messenger shoulder camera bag.

The entire travel photo kit!

Thailand Photo Kit

I already owned the 15mm and 40mm lenses before this trip. I even had a tiny Leica 90mm f/2.8 Tele-Elmarit but sold it and splurged on the Macro version because it’s slightly better and collapsible. One of the main reasons I picked the 21mm, 40mm, 90mm and 135mm is because they all use the same 39mm filter thread, greatly simplifying filters. I also splurged on the 50mm because I’ve always wanted to play with that lens.

Standing Buddha in Bangkok – Leica 90mm f/4 Macro-Elmar

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Tourist traps outside of Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai – Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar

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Let me tell you, exploring Thailand with such a small kit was an eye-opening blast. I can’t imagine myself traveling any other way, it’s just not worth it. Here is a brief write-up of my impressions about each lens paired on the A7rII.

Voigtländer Close-Focus Adapter: this guy is a no brainer for mounting M-mount glass on the A7 system (or any E-mount for that matter). It’s very well made and allows for much closer focusing distances than with standard adapters. I was hoping I’d receive the new Techart autofocus adapter for the trip but it didn’t make it in time. That being said, I’ve played a little with the Teacart since and while it works ok (only tried it on the 50mm), it searches a bit, is loud and bulkier. It also gets in the way of the L-Plate I use on the camera, making it almost impossible to use a tripod with an Arca-like plate. But, when it’s not searching for it, it does nail the focus nicely. After playing with it though, I realized I didn’t miss it.

Thai Tourist helper – Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar

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Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5 II Heliar: This one was a little weird. For whatever reason, 15mm ended up being either too wide or not wide enough for what I was shooting. Maybe I’m not very good with super-wides but I just couldn’t find the right framing with it so it didn’t make it out of the bag very often. I might sound like an extremist minimalist but the 52mm filter diameter was a little too big for my taste! Corner performance isn’t the best out there but is still acceptable. Vignetting is probably more of an issue than smearing, but not that much of deal breaker either. I still love the lens for its small size and acceptable image quality. I also own the new Voigtländer E-mount 15mm and while it does perform better, it is significantly larger and has an even larger filter thread. For these reasons, I’m still unsure of which one to get rid of!

Koh Tao secluded beach – Voigtländer 15mm f/4.5 Heliar

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Voigtländer 21mm f/4 Color-Skopar: Awesome little lens! Sure the corners aren’t 100% perfect but they are still pretty darn good. The 39mm filter threads and microscopic size make this lens a winner in my book. It pairs beautifully with the A7 system making for an extremely compact and discrete system.

A blind elephant at the Elephant Nature Park – Voigtländer 21mm f/4 Color-Skopar

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Leica 40mm f/2 Summicron: I owned this lens before Sony came out with the A7 system. It doesn’t have the most pleasing bokeh and is not the sharpest lens on the A7rII but I still love it for it’s mini size and 39mm filter threads (I’m sure you are picking up the pattern here). I wanted a lens between 21mm and 50mm that would have corners more usable then the Zeiss 50mm, which I why I packed this one. It’s about the same size as the 21mm, so small misplacing it on the bag is almost a consideration! In the end though, I didn’t shoot it that much.

The back side of Maya Bay in Ko Phi Phi – Leica 40mm f/2 Summicron

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Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar: This lens is just pure joy to shoot with. It was never designed to be sharp in the corners and therefore won’t be, even at f/8. If you know that going in and are OK with it, it’ll reward you with beautiful captures and a unique look in a very small package. I actually like the pop, colors and contrast of this lens better when it’s shot wide open than when it’s stopped down, even when shooting a distant subject. The 3D effect is intense and bokeh of course is creamy. Ironically though, the out-of-focus corners are somewhat sharper than the out-of-focus center. The only drawback I can think of is the 46mm filter threads. It is now the main lens attached to my A7rII.

Frighteningly realistic wax statue of a Monk – Zeiss 50mm f/2 Sonnar

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Leica 90mm f/4 Macro-Elmar: Stellar performer, nothing bad to report here. I picked it because of it’s super small size, especially collapsed, and 39mm filter threads. Paired with the Voigtländer close-focus adapter, it gets decently close but I’m not sure I’d praise its macro ability just yet. I used to have the Sony E-mount 90mm f/2.8 macro, so it’s tough to compare the macro performance of the Leica to the excellent Sony lens (that I ironically sold because I didn’t find myself shooting much macro, and it was huge). More testing needs to be done with the Leica close-focus adapter (I didn’t carry it on the trip). Maybe even some extension rings? Did I just say I didn’t shoot macro much?

One of the many colorful crabs in Thailand – Leica 90mm f/4 Macro-Elmar (and flash)

Thailand - Sony A7rII Leica 90mm f-4 Macro Elmar - 0005

Leica 135mm f/4 Tele-Elmar: Another stellar performer. It’s about as small as it gets for a lens in that focal range but it is heavy (505gr) and a little too long to fit nicely in the bag I chose. It performs great though, and of course has the beloved 39mm filter diameter.

Lonely Thai long tail boat in the sunset in Koh Tao – Leica 135mm f/4 Tele-Elmar

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I came back from the trip with loads of photos and a desire to minimize the rig even more! The 40mm and 50mm are too close and I shouldn’t have packed both after all, which I suspected might happen. I didn’t need as much corner sharpness in the 50mm focal range after all. I also preferred using the 21mm over the 15mm. I really enjoyed shooting the 135mm, but it’s just so large and heavy compared with the others lenses that I think I would’ve been fine with the 90mm only.

Thai boxing in Chiang Mai – Leica 135mm f/4 Tele-Elmar

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James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay – Leica 40mm f/2 Summicron

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Shooting for three weeks with this ensemble was way more fun than I expected. The drawbacks that come with using rangefinder glass on the Sony A7 system (corner performance for some lenses, challenging manual focus for others) were quickly eclipsed by the size advantage, build and image quality, unique look and by the feeling you get manipulating such nice optics. As a matter of fact, it was such an enjoyable experience that most of my native E-mount lenses are now going up for sale! Having to switch between primes and shooting in manual focus greatly improved the percentage of “keepers” I came back with.

Fire dancers on Ko Phi Phi – Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar

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A Thai fisherman works his line in Phang Nga Bay – Leica 135mm f/4 Tele-Elmar

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Ever since I returned, I’ve been using the same bag but the only lenses you’ll find in it are the 21mm, 50mm and 90mm and it’s been great. I’m wondering if one of the 28mm or 35mm M-mount would be a good addition to this kit, especially for more landscape and street photography. But honestly, I haven’t felt a dire need for it and I can’t really afford the 28mm or 35mm I want! Maybe some of your readers have recommendations in that range. The only different set up I’d be interested in testing is traveling with the two Leica Tri-Elmar, though I have no idea how they perform on the A7rII sensor and if I can’t afford a 28mm Summicron, I certainly can’t afford the Tri-Elmar. Or maybe it’s time to sell even more lenses?

A paddle-boarding couple enjoys the warmth of the setting sun in Koh Tao – Leica 90mm f/4 Macro-Elmar

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Kabu broke her ankle in an illegal logging accident. Since she couldn’t pull logs anymore, her owners started using her as a trek elephant to carry tourists 10hrs per day. Elephant Nature Park purchased her from her abusers and gave her a loving home outside of Chiang Mai. – Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 Sonnar

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Thank you Steve for allowing me to contribute to the great photographic resource you’ve created. I hope this article helps some of your photographer readers looking for alternative shooting on Sony A7 bodies. If you like my photography style, consider following my Instagram account and visiting my website: PhotoXplorer.

Take care,

Guillaume Dutilh
PhotoXplorer
http://photoxplorer.com
http://instagram.com/photoxplorer

Sep 292015
 

The Sony A7R (Mk 1) in Japan

by Michael Morris

Dear Steve and Brandon:

I have been reading your site daily for the last few years and have enjoyed reading your reviews and guest posts. I started my venture into the mirrorless world from Nikon with the purchase of the Leica M9 and 3 Leica M lenses in 2010. I tried micro four thirds and APS –C sensors and came to the conclusion that I am a full frame shooter. Over the last year I made some changes in my list of cameras. I sold my Olympus OMD–EM5, my Fujifilm XT-1, and my Leica M9. I now have a Nikon D800E, which I use for portrait work and sports, and a Sony A7R which I use for travel or when I want to travel light. I am anxiously waiting for my A7Rii to ship.

I recently traveled to Japan and brought my Sony A7R with the Sony/Zeiss FE 55mm f 1.8, Sony/Zeiss FE 35 mm f 1.4, Leica M 90 mm f 2.0 APO, Leica Super-Elmer 21 mm f 3.4 (borrowed), and my Nikkor G 14-24 mm f 2.8. I strongly considered purchasing the Sony/Zeiss FE 16-35mm for the trip. In the end I decided to bring the Nikkor zoom despite its size, and use something that I already owned. I used Novoflex adapters for both the Leica and Nikkor lenses.

Here are some sample photos.

Shibuya Crossing – Sony A7R with Nikkor G 14-24 mm f 2.8 ISO 200 1/250 sec

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Sumo Wrestling Close shot – Sony A7R with Leica M 90 mm f 2.0 APO – ISO 1600 1/640 sec f 3.4

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Sumo wrestling – Wide shot – Sony A7R with Leica Super-Elmer 21 mm f 3.4 – ISO 1600 1/100 sec f 3.4

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Leica Store Tokyo – Sony A7R with Sony/Zeiss FE 35 mm ISO 200 1/100 sec f 5.6

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Mount Fuji taken from the Shinkansen Nozomi at 170 mph Sony/Zeiss FE 35 mm ISO 200 – 1/200 sec f 4.0

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Lobby of Ritz Carlton Kyoto –Sony A7R with Sony/Zeiss FE 35 mm ISO 200 1/4000 sec f 2.0

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Maiko – Sony A7R with Sony/Zeiss FE 35 mm ISO 6400 1/250 f 4.0

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Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion) Kyoto – Sony A7R with Sony/Zeiss FE 35 mm ISO 400 1/640 sec f 4.0

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Michael Morris MD

Ocala, Florida USA

Jul 182015
 

My Experience with the Voigtlander 15 Mark III

by David Farina

VL15mmVIII

This is my second article here. My first one was a short review of the amazing and tiny Voigtlander 40mm 1.4. Since then, a new Voigtlander lens found its way to my camera bag; the Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 III. I have to admit that I’m a total ultrawide-angle lover. Images produces by such extreme wide-angle lenses have something to them that makes you feel like you were there on that moment. And this is after all one of my biggest goals in photography. I want the viewer of my images to feel the way I felt when taking the pictures. I want the viewer to have an idea how the place looked, and this works best with an UWA in my opinion.

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I primarily bought that lens because I became a total fan of the 40mm 1.4 from Voigtlander, and this lens surely does not disappoint. The lens itself is not as small as the 40mm but its still tiny compared to the Sony FE 16-35. The finish and build quality is as good as can be. The aperture smoothly clicks in half stops, the focus ring is dampened nicely and generally this lens feels good in my hands. This lens has a built in lens hood, so forget about using your existing filters on that one (except you own 58mm filters). When I received the lens, it felt like the focus ring would be a bit stuck when I turned it. However, this disappeared after a few days so I guess it just needed to get used – and thats what I did:

Why did I get this lens? One could say that it is redundant getting this lens when you already have the superb Sony FE 16-35, but theres a clear difference. First, 15mm is quite a bit wider than 16mm, I was actually surprised that it is substantially wider. The second thing is, it is extremely small. I wanted to have choices when I go out to take pictures; a small and light set for travelling or quick trips consisting of the A7R, A7S, 40mm 1.4 and this lens. This pretty much covers all my needs, and weights as much as my 6D (that I sold yesterday) with one lens. That way, I dont need to swap lenses, I just grab the right camera.

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and a crop:

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I think the boring part was hard enough to read, so lets get to the interesting things like sharpness! I’ve been using that lens on my A7R most of the time, which is great for testing sharpness of a lens. The lens seems to be plenty sharp, already by f/4.5 which is wide open for this lens. When stopping down to f/8 or f/11 which is the lens’ sweet spot, you get tack sharp images from corner to corner. Yes, it competes the Sony FE 16-35 in that regard! I found it best to shoot at f/8 or higher and just leave the focus at 1m on the distance scale for hyperfocal focusing. This is better than autofocus as you don’t have to focus at all! Without hesitating I can say that this lens is amongst my top 3 sharpest UWA lenses I’ve ever used, which is impressive considering the size and cost of the Voigtlander 15mm. There are, however, some drawbacks. It is a rather slow lens in terms of aperture, which makes it a lot less useful for example for astrophotography than the Samyang 14mm 2.8. If you shoot interior or real estate handheld, you might also be limited when light is not that great.

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How do the colors render with this lens? I found the Sony FE 16-35 to be too sterile in many situations but when I took the Voigtlander out for the first time, I found it gave me rich and popping colors. The colors are nicely saturated but still natural. I also found that it renders green and blue tones better than the 16-35 which is fantastic for landscape photographers. Pair the sharpness with the amazing colors of this lens and you get a fantastic UWA for landscapes. Like the Voigtl‰nder 40mm 1.4, this lens also seemed to render brown tones in a very pleasant way.

A drawback of that lens is purple fringing. This lens has plenty of chromatic abberations in contrasty, sometimes also in less contrasty areas in edges and near the frame. I also found it to be quite difficult to remove in post-processing, althought I was able to get totally rid of it with a few tricks. This is maybe this’ lens biggest fault, but I can live with that.

What really surprised me is the amount of distortion this lens has. I found it to have almost no distortion other than perspective distortion. This makes this lens also suitable for architecture and other subjects with a lot of straight, perpendicular and/or symmetrical lines. It is impressive how well corrected this lens is, as I find 15mm to be extremely wide (widest I’ve used so far). What I think is also worth a mention is how this lens renders flares. Sunstars look great and flare occurs only when directly pointing at a bright light source. The coating of this lens prevents a lot of flares and ghosts, which is surely a good thing, as the sun or a street lamp often find its way into the image. This lens also renders beautiful 10-pointed sunstars!

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Many people were asking if this lens works better on the A7R than the version 2. I can say that the images do look great, but in very rare occasions it can happen that there is a slight magenta cast or vignetting. It seems to happen when it is very bright, but I can’t say for sure. Due to the fact that in real world this issue only happens maybe in one of a few hundred shots, it is negligible for me and will not hinder me to come to a positive conclusion:

Now will this lens stay in my kit in coexistence with my 16-35, or does one of them need to go?
This lens is very good, period. It is plenty sharp corner to corner, it has fantastic colors which I found to be way more appealing than colors some modern lenses give, it has not much distortion, it is small and the price is just about right. Did I mention it is sharp? I’ve never used a Leica lens, but judging from samples I’ve seen I’d say if you’re about to expect Leica-like micro contrast you’ll probably be disappointed. But like I already said, this lens is as sharp as Sonys fantastic FE 16-35. This little lens is definitely a keeper!

You can check out more images on my new website and 500px:

www.davidfarina.com
www.500px.com/david_farina

Happy shooting everybody!

Steve’s thoughts on this lens can be seen HERE.

Jul 152015
 

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sunning it up with the Sony A7s and A7II

by Craig Litten

Hey Steve & Brandon,

And hello to all of the followers of Steve Huff Photo! I’ve totally switched over to the Sony system late last year, and have been loving the system since then. I have your review of the A7s to thank for getting me really interested. I have now shot about four big jobs with the Sony’s, and they have performed nearly flawlessly so far. I own the A7s and the a6000, but have rented the A7II and the A7r trying to decide which body if a good fit, and I may just go with the newly announced a7rII. Attached are a few shots from my latest shoot with my Sony a7s and a rented Sony a7r along with the Sony/Zeiss FE 35mm f/2.8 and Sony/Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8. lenses. I really love the size and rendering of the FE 35mm f/2.8!

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

I also like to keep it simple: two bodies, two lenses, a bunch of batteries and memory cards and normally zero lighting. But this shoot was different. It was a catalog shoot for Sun Bum (www.trustthebum.com); makers of sun products and a hot new company who is sweeping the industry. The company started in surf shops, but are now nationwide in Target as well as other stores. I shot their last catalog two years ago…

… and the photos from that shoot can be seen here on my website: www.craiglitten.com/galleries/#sun-bum

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Since Sun Bum is a sun-based company, the plan was to shoot all day in the bright sunlight, but the weather wasn’t cooperating and we had two days of rainy weather as a big storm passed by in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida. We had models coming in from everywhere, and Sun Bum staff members coming from California (the company is located in Cocoa Beach where we did the shoot), so scratching the entire shoot would have been very expensive. Besides, we also rented a house on the beach, so we had to improvise. My background is as a newspaper photojournalist (since 1991), so part of that job description was to make something out of nothing daily.

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

I also hate using strobes, and no longer own any lighting gear, but prefer to shoot in natural light. So one of the assistants went to Home Depot to purchase a couple sets of 500 watt halogen lights costing $35 each. These are the kind of lights that you utilize while working on a car in your garage or use at a construction site, but they were a perfect solution and created what I call “liquid sunshine” giving the gloomy day the warmth it needed. We still have to reshoot to supplement these photos with “fun in the sun” photos, but they were pretty happy with the results.

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

Sun Bum catalog shoot 2015 in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Photo ©2015 Craig Litten/All Rights Reserved

May 042015
 

Voigtlander 40 1.4 Review on the Sony A7r

By David Farina

Hi everyone, I am David.

I am checking out this site since some time and thought that I would finally write something up myself. First of all, I want to thank Steve for this great site. For enthusiasts and professionals it is really the best way to evaluate new cameras, lenses or even bags and accessories, as everything here is real world testing!

Little Introduction: I am 22 years old and live in Zürich, Switzerland. My INTEREST in photography was always there, but it came over me when I went to Hong Kong, Thailand and China in 2012. I simply was not satisfied with what I got with my old Nikon (mostly because I had no clue). I got myself a Canon 650D, then a 6D, and with the Full Frame my LOVE for photography was born. Gear lust was always a big factor in my development of learning and making pictures as I really enjoy trying out new things and new lenses etc. As I was a bit tired of taking the 6D with 5 lenses with me around the globe, I got myself an A7R and fell in love again. Converting more and more from the Canon lineup to a Mirrorless lineup has a lot of advantages, but that is something I will not cover here. Since moving to Sony I built my setup containing of an A7R, A7S with the Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 and the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm f/1.4 MC. This makes a great travel kit, as well as a very light weight option without too much compromises.

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What I’m going to do here is giving you an idea of how well an adapted M-Mount lens can do on a Sony A7 body. So let’s take a look at the physics of the Voigtländer 40mm 1.4:

This lens is extremely small and light. It weights only 6.2 oz (175 g) and is built nicely with an all metal barrel. Unbelievable for an f/1.4 lens! I find it to be the perfect size for a walkaround lens on my A7’s, and that’s why it is!

But what’s it all about with the unusual 40mm focal length? In my Canon days I was a die hard 50mm fan and the Canon 50L was glued to my 6D when I was traveling. But when I got the Fuji x100s I found 35mm (which is the equivalent of its 23mm lens on full frame) quite handy, as you don’t have to back up that much when space is limited. The 40mm fits in between those two more conventional focal lengths, making it really versatile.

The lens itself features a grippy aperture ring on the front of it, and a focus ring which has a tab to place the finger on it for focusing. The operation of those rings is very smooth and feels well made. The focus turns from close focus to infinity in a bit more than 90 degrees, which is nice because you can focus fast as the travel is short. The aperture ring clicks in half stops.

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Many people asked me how I manage to use a manual lens as my everyday shooting and walkaround lens. The answer is, I don’t! Really, with the Sony A7’s focus peaking help and magnifier feature it feels very easy to nail the shots, even on moving subjects. And this is not coming from someone who’s been shooting manual glass 20 years ago, this is my first manual lens, and I really have fun with that. Off course I missed the one or the other shot, but for each I missed, I gained 3 others because if I still would use my 6D + 50L, I would not have taken it anywhere with me as I do with the A7R/S and this tiny lens. And manual focussing is somehow like when I first used a prime lens – it makes you think what you do! You can’t just snap away a few pics like some do with smartphones, and this influences the quality of the photographs taken. When I would have to measure the amount of images I’ve taken until I felt really confident with manual focusing this lens, I’d say I’ve shot maybe 100 shots until I fully got the hang of it. It really takes not a lot of patience and fiddling, so if you’re having problems deciding whether you need AF or want to benefit from a small and light wide-aperture lens, just take the plunge. I’ve had the same doubt and am now glad I did.

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But I guess what you are all wondering is if this lens is capable to deliver sharp results, right? I was sceptical at first, because of the size and the wide aperture. Since looking out for lenses I learned that quality glass is never cheap, and only very seldom it is small and light. Man, were I wrong! This lens is top notch. It is very sharp in the center, maybe even outresolves the A7R in the center of the frame at wide open aperture. The edges don’t look smeared, but are not very crisp at all. But hey, does it really matter on a lens like this? Obviously you’re not going to shoot landscapes with it, and for uses as a street photography, dreamy portrait or candid lens the center is the most important part of the frame, I’d say. However, stopping down improves the sides greatly. At f/8 we are able to get an overall crisp look. I don’t pixel peep (anymore, lol) and of course the sides and edges won’t be as sharp as the center, but overall the sharpness is highly convincing. Now we have a lens which is small, light, has an all metal body built to high standards, has no operational flaws on the aperture and focus rings and is amazingly sharp! The only trade off is autofocus, but I can live with that!

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So far so well, the lens is great built and sharpness is satisfying. But what about the colors? What about rendering of out-of-focus areas? What about the dimensionality?

Okey, lets start with the colors. On the A7R the lens has very natural, almost uber-natural colors. It renders colors appealing and has a bit of a warm touch. On the A7S I feel like it is not as saturated or clean like on the A7R, but still has a wonderful tone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m talking about minor differences. But where this lens shines on the A7S is when you raise the ISO beyond 6400. This makes it a perfect companion for the A7S in lowlight, and the colors are kept great all up to ISO 51200. Beyond that, it gets really noisy, but what do you expect at that high ISOs.

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When I did research prior to getting this lens, a lot of reviews claimed that this lens had a tad of a nervous bokeh. I see what they meant, but to me this is in no way bad. The background melts away nicely while keeping sharp details on your subject. This lens is able to open up the aperture to f/1.4, which makes the 40mm lens also suitable for portraits. I expected this lens to have a lot less bokeh (quantity) due to the fact that it is actually a wide angle lens. But I find the amount of background softness not that different to my 50L at f/1.2. Highlights in the background can end up a bit nervous, showing some onion-ring bokeh, but only in certain occasions. After using this lens extensively the last 3 months I must admit that I had occasions where the bokeh was not as smooth as with the 50L, but 99% of the time it renders nice, big and round out-of-focus balls.

But what I like the most on that lens, is not how it melts away the background. It’s about how this lens has a certain pop! It is hard to describe, and for that purpose I have selectively chosen a lot of images which demonstrate that pop. What I’m talking about is how the separation from subject and background makes the subject stand out. It has a 3D look to the pictures if you want so. I think this comes down to the fact that this is a wide-angle lens with a wide aperture, but is still resolving incredible sharpness and details on subjects. This is, in my opinion, the most valuable feature of this lens. How often do I look at a nice picture I’ve shot, but think that something’s missing or that it looks rather flat. This lens is the opposite, as it is able to make even uninteresting subjects pop out of the picture, giving you a nice overall look and feel of the image.

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I will not dive down deeper on topics like flare and abberations. But I can tell you that this lens is not bad in both aspects. I have the multicoated version, but flaring occurs from time to time. But it is really not that “ahh that flare looks ugly and lowers the contrast tremendously”. More of a “hey theres a flare, maybe I can use it for artistic purpose?” :)
I did not notice any abberations, but like I already said, I’m not anymore a pixel-peeper (excuse the 200% crop on the trumpeter, but I couldn’t resist as this really shows how amazing sharp this lens can be!).

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All in all, this lens is my perfect walkaround lens. Due to its rather unusual focal length it is pretty versatile, has a nice 3D look and melts backgrounds away nicely wide open, but still resolves great when stopping down, all in a very light, very small package. Paired with a Sony A7 body this is in my opinion one of the best combinations for travel, street and everyday photography.

I hope you enjoyed my review and pictures of the A7R/S with the Voigtländer Nokton 40mm 1.4, and wish you good shooting!

You can buy the 40 1.4 at Cameraquest or B&H Photo. 

Dec 102014
 

Ten weeks with the Zeiss Loxia Planar 2/50 and the Sony A7r

by Dirk De Paepe

After ten weeks with the Zeiss Loxia Planar 2/50 I thought it was a good idea, to share my findings.

This Loxia Planar, as you probably already know, is the first one of the new Loxia series, that was put in the market by Zeiss right after Photokina, where the first two Loxias were launched. Being thrilled by Zeiss coming up with those lenses, dedicated to mirrorless cameras, I ordered both the Planar 2/50 and the Biogon 2/35 immediately, but the latter probably won’t be available before the end of the year.

Well guys and gals, I can tell you right away that in several domains this Planar offers even more than I expected – and I had really high hopes! But at the same time, in a few other fields, I had pictured something different. Luckily those don’t concern essential issues, so all in all I’m absolutely thrilled with this Loxia, to the point that it quickly became my absolute favorite lens. It’s the one that I always have on my camera when traveling, as my “ready-to-shoot-in-all-circumstances” lens. Before this Loxia, the ZM Planar 2/50 played this role. No surprise, since those two Planars are very familiar lenses in concept (click here to read the ZM Planar 2/50 review on this website). Where the ZM Planar is without any doubt an exquisite lens, the Loxia Planar is even better.

Planar versus Planar

In a former article that Steve published here, right after Photokina, I wrote about the Loxias and already explained the main differences between Loxia and ZM. (Click here to read this article.) So I’ll resume the additional Loxia features here: transmission of Exif data, shorter minimal focal distance (45 versus 70cm), automatic enlargement in the VF when turning the focus ring, de-click possibility of the aperture ring and last but not least improved optical performance for mirrorless cameras.

Optically both Planars are pretty familiar – to my eye, the produced images have the same character, the same color signature, the same clarity, the same detail, etc… As a matter of fact, it’s hard to tell which Planar took which picture, unless you do an A/B comparison. Of course I didn’t perform any measurements, since I’m a user, not a professional photo journalist, but still, in a direct comparison, it was immediately clear that the Loxia performs better in the corners. Although the ZM Planar files remain detailed until pretty far in the corners, I’d say Loxia diminishes the (already small) “vague zones” with at least three-quarters and also the vignetting is less. I have been thinking of publishing A/B pictures here to illustrate the corner performance, but abandoned this idea, since it’s only visible looking at full size, and I really never experienced this matter as a problem with my ZM. Like I said, although the ZM performs excellent, the Loxia just performs quite a tad better. I expect that their will be some improvements measured on other domains as well – we’ll probably read about it soon in different reviews.

But fact is that Zeiss really reworked the optics for Loxia, so this is absolutely no “adapted ZM lens“. It also shows by the field of view, that’s a tiny bit narrower (I reckon some 4%) with the Loxia Planar, compared to the ZM.

Maybe you wonder if this is sufficient to switch from the ZM Planar to Loxia, since the ZM already works so terrificly well on the A7x. Well, I have been wondering about this as well. But I made the move to Loxia, because first of all the wide angles (like the Biogon 2/35 that I tried at Photokina) will perform better with my A7r than most of the M-mounts, but also because I truly believe in FE-mount and Loxia will be totally dedicated to FE. Further it will offer the most modern MF applications, which simply will make me perform better as a photographer, and will be optically 100% developed for mirrorless bodies. I also saw it as a kind of statement: “Loxia is the way to go for manual focus with FE bodies!”. Loxia is dedicated to mirrorless indeed, so to me it feels right being dedicated to Loxia. And the fact that it’s Zeiss (my first and lifelong love in photography) that comes with this modern, all manual lenses for mirrorless generates only one spontaneous reaction in my mind: yes!

Now that I really own and use the Loxia Planar 2/50, I’m feeling for 100% that this was the right choice, and this feeling is even a lot stronger than I expected. The satisfaction and joy to experience this fully dedicated lens, it’s extra features, IQ, styling, and ergonomics is simply bigger than I expected. Yes, some of my reasons are subjective, only based on feeling, but subjectivity is a reality in life, so it’s something that has value to me. Maybe you will feel it differently, because this is partly a personal matter, but still there’s a lot of really objective criteria here as well.

Improvements

I love the shorter minimal focal distance a lot. Combined with the A7r, with its 36MP and its cropping power, it enables “near to makro” pictures. “European Money” is an example hereof. When looking at the 100% crop in the second picture (please remember that you can enlarge all pictures by clicking on them and that you get the real colors only then), you can see that lens and sensor are absolutely keeping up, with no real visible loss of IQ when looking at 100%. I think this indicates that Loxia probably can deliver at resolutions that are even a lot higher. I was pretty flabbergasted, when I looked at this detail. What I see here reminds me of what I get with the Otus 55 (although the Otus delivers exceptional in virtually all circumstances, and the Loxia needs be used with greater care to deliver at this level, for instance regarding choice of aperture). On my monitor, the real world dimensions are enlarged by 7 (the surface by 49), revealing details that aren’t visible with the bare eye. IMO the detail that is rendered here, is simply top-notch.

01money

02European Monecrop

But apart from this detail power, shooting at smaller distances further narrows the DOF, significantly increasing the bokeh abilities. The bokeh character is pretty much comparable with that of the ZM Planar, but by enacting its formation, it becomes the more clear that this is really a very smooth bokeh, in hind as well as in front focus. Its character reminds me of the Otus again, although I find the latter producing even an a tad more creamy bokeh. But bokeh is a matter of personal taste, so I let you judge for yourself. I’ve shot some wide open pictures, specially for this report, because I know that many followers of this site care a lot about shallow dof and bokeh. The pictures show bokeh in different combinations – front and hind with close and further focus – all shot wide open at f/2. Here they come.

03. Red beauty

05. Jaguar emblem

04. Jaguar headlight

07. Austin Healey Cockpit

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07B Getting in the mood for Christmas

When street shooting wide open, one needs to focus fast. If you do this manually, the modern manual focusing features of this lens/body combination do a terrific job. The two following pictures illustrate this. In the first, I focused on the cigaret smoke and only had a time frame of around two seconds to frame and focus. IMO, this is a typical shot to benefit from those modern manual focus features. I used the automatic VF enlargement here.

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home

Personally I like the front bokeh yet a bit more than the hind one. IMO, the latter sometimes can get a bit nervous, especially when a very detailed background is involved, like leaves, while the front bokeh always remains super creamy in all circumstances.

All-around

Although this is only a f/2 lens, I find it usable in very divers light conditions. In the White Ochid picture the backlight from the bright white sky made the flower almost transparent. With the focal distance at 45cm, I set the aperture at f/4, in order to obtain the desired dof and a very slight but subtile blur in the hind part of the flower. To provide the right exposure, the setting of the shutter time was very delicate, because 1/3 step away killed the transparency effect.

10WhiteOrchid

In “Watershow”, the exposure and processing was delicate as well, to combine the obscurity of the people with the clarity of the water. The EVF is a great tool for shooting that kind of pictures – if you read any of my former articles, you’ll probably remember that I’m a big EVF fan.

watershow

The chiaroscuro was even pulled a bit further in the B&W “Evening at the Efteling”. And in “Compelling Show” I think I proved that also with the A7r and an f/2 lens, shooting in near dark environments is possible. This was of course shot wide open, at ISO8000 and 1/30sec. Here are some more low light pictures.

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show

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15. Liège by night

This lens really is a high quality all-around piece of equipment – not that much a “specialised shallow dof lens”. IMO it specially shines, when you want to apply blur in a moderate, delicate and precisely controlled way or when you want to apply zone focusing and even hyperfocusing. It’ll capture light terrificly well. It’ll provide a color richness that allows you to work in post production with the colors in any way you want. On the Sony A7x this lens feels perfectly in balance, allowing very fast, spontaneous and precise shooting. Here are some different kinds of pictures to illustrate this.

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splash

blows

personal

inclement

unaware

The Loxia Planar 2/50 is a very fine lens. It produces almost no barrel distortion (IMO the distortion is negligible), making it very useful for architectural shooting. And combined with the A7r, you get enough pixels to perform some “substitutional tilt/shift” work in post production. I went to the beautiful Liege Guillemins train station (Belgium) to live it up.

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Considerations

I guess you wonder if this Loxia has been a windfall to me for 100%. Well, no. In a few domains I had hoped for something slightly different.

First of all size and weight. This Loxia Planar is really a category larger than the ZM Planar (adapter included) and it simply weighs more (some 75gr – I use the Novoflex adpater for the ZM). I feel like it puts the lens/camera combination really in the next category, regarding size and weight, the more when carrying a few lenses in your bag (I will need a larger bag!). It feels like regarding size and weight it’s more to be compared now with the Leica M as a system, where in the past there was a real gain in this department for the Sony. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty comparable with my old Canon A1 with (latest generation) FD lenses. Strange how our perception changes, since at that time the A1/FD was regarded as a full size system. Although this Sony/Zeiss combination is still working fine for me, I’d say: this is the limit, guys – don’t make it grow any further!

Compared to the NEX bodies, like my NEX-7, this combination (A7x/Loxia) allows a bit less stealth shooting, particularly when the lens shade is mounted (although I believe stealth shooting is mainly a photographer’s attitude, as long you don’t use a large DSLR). Seen from a distance, the shade gives this lens the look of a medium zoom lens. When you really want to perform discrete shooting, you need to take away the shade, bringing the size “back to normal”. This is a massive lens shade, that does a great job in its own, but it’s large. For transportation, its size doesn’t pose a problem though, since you can mount it the other way round on the lens, so that it doesn’t take extra space in your bag, because it’s no longer sticking out. So all in all it’s a great working shade, that you only need to remove when you want to shoot discretely.

But every downside has its upside. I have to admit that the extra mass ads to the shooting control. In one of his articles, Steve mentioned that he felt like the size and weight of the M-system offered the ideal combination of compactness/weight and handyness and I wonder if I don’t need to share his opinion here, now that I feel the A7x/Loxia combination is playing in the same league…
The lens is bigger than the ZM, this mainly means thicker. Less stealth (a bit) and more weight on the downside, but more feeling from the focus ring at the upside. With its large (but not too large) swivel range, it allows very precise focusing. The smoothness/resistance is absolutely perfect for “one finger operation”.
The larger diameter of the barrel also makes for a bigger lens cap – less “wobbly” than the ZM caps. And as far as I heard, Zeiss has the plan to provide all Loxias with the same diameter, which would economize on the filter budget. I hope this doesn’t result in a limited lens offer, because then I’d prefer buying a few extra filters! I wonder though if this diameter will allow for a super fast 85mm. I guess and hope they’ll come at least with an f/2 which I reckon must be possible with this diameter – but wouldn’t an f/1.4 in time be nice!…

To conclude about size and weight, I initially had hoped for a lighter, more compact Loxia. But I guess, when able to choose between the two, eventually I’d probably agree with Zeiss’ choice, since it handles better. I think they had the perfect “manual focusing machine for out of hand shooting” in mind, and I have to agree that they both (Zeiss as well as Sony) have come pretty close. Furthermore, the Loxia sure looks absolutely beautiful on the Sony body.

The build quality is very good. The barrel is all metal, which gives confidence. Both the rings feel like they’ve been engineered with the finest precision. Their operation is super smooth with the perfect resistance to give you the right feedback about what you’re doing. The finish, with both rings being perfectly integrated in the barrel surface of the lens, is perfect. The look and feel is wonderful. With one consideration.

What initially disappointed me, was the design of the aperture ring. It’s placed close to the body, where on the ZM you’ll find it at the end of the lens. The placement is a matter of habit, of course, so no comments here. But because of the aperture ring being perfectly integrated in the surface of the lens barrel, I had it more difficult to feel it and thus to find it anyway. It took me a while to find my way here, missing it quite often at first. After a while however, I started using just my thumb (no second finger) at the underside of the lens to turn it. It’s really easy to find the aperture ring in this way, because the body is your guide. Both the aperture and focus rings have small knurls that provide excellent grip and both have a wonderfully smooth action, that make it easy to operate them with one finger. With my thumb on the aperture ring under the lens and my middle finger on the focus ring on top of the lens, I find it very easy and adequate to set both rings at quasi the same time, making the setting of focus and dof easier and faster then ever. Zeiss needed to place the aperture ring close to the body, to make this happen. In this position, my index finger is supporting the body in a quasi symmetric position to the right hand, which provides and equal pressure on both sides of the body, when relaxing both arms, and as such creates a perfect balans, that enables shooting out of hand with exceptionally long shutter speeds as well as allowing very fast setting and shooting. I have been shooting out of hand up till 1/15sec (the night shot with the Coca-Cola umbrellas), without really paying special attention (well, in fact, I always kind of pay special attention when pushing the button) and when looking at 100% (visible at my flickr page) you’ll see that even the fishnets are sharp.

I have been wondering if Zeiss had this way of shooting in mind when designing the lens, because it’s exactly this design that directed me to this way of handling, opening up the most effective way of shooting with manual focusing lenses that I experienced up till now. I wouldn’t be surprised of it, since Zeiss is primarly a specialist of manual lenses and Loxia is developed for mirrorless, which, due to it’s compact size, is the most handy option for manual shooting. Still, up till now, this new way of holding and setting has not yet become an automatism to me. I need to initially concentrate on the way I hold and handle camera and lens. But when I do, it’s really working excellent and faster than with any other lens I know. I’m sure, eventually, I’ll get used to it and it wìll become an automatism. But I also fear that quite some people, who are less keen on experimenting with different ways of handling, will find this recessed aperture ring to be less convenient in action than the one on the ZMs. Too bad, since it really can help you to perform better than ever.

To finish this of, a word about the price. Looking online at the Zeiss lens shop, this Loxia costs 849.00€, which is 100.00€ more expensive than the ZM. Regarding the extra functions, I’d say it’s more than worthwhile. And when you buy the ZM plus a good adapter, you’ll be spending even more money. (The Voigtländer adapter, with close focus ability, even costs a good 300€!)

*pre-order the Zeiss Loxia lenses HERE*

Conclusion

Well, I hope I elucidated the pro’s as well as the con’s of this new Loxia, as far as I could pinpoint them, that is. All in all, to me, it’s the pro’s that prevail. Largely. It asked for a period of adjustment, regarding the handling of the aperture ring, but once I did it right, it allowed for the greatest manual shooting experience that I ever had.

Regarding IQ, this Loxia offers exceptional value for money, it sometimes it even makes me think of my Otus 55, regarding IQ, not regardin budget :-), without the size and weight and without giving in that much on IQ as the price difference suggests.

My “old” ZM Planar is a great all-around lens. The new Loxia Planar improves this concept on all domains where improvements were possible. For all those manual shooting enthusiasts: IMO Loxia is absolutely the way to go with mirrorless bodies – Sony today, other brands to come really soon, for sure.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures that I added, many of them were specially shot for this user report. I also placed them in a dedicated folder on my flickr page, where you can look at some of them in full resolution, to even better illustrate the IQ in all detail and where you can check full exif data of all pictures. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/sets/72157649262134498/)

All shots were taken out of hand, with the exception of the “European Money” and “White Orchid” pictures (tripod) and “Liege by Night (holding the camera against a tree). Of course shooting out of hand renders a bit less detail than when using a tripod. But I just love shooting out of hand, since this gives me more possibility to react to a moment’s. Some of the shots weren’t even possible to take with tripod, like the ones of the ceiling and tracks on the train station that I shot from a moving escalator.

Two pictures (Seagulls and Splashing Boat) actually were pretty heavy crops, to illustrate the A7r’s cropping power.

I leave you with a few extra shots now, taken at the beautiful Liege train station. Thanks for reading, guys! And I specially thank Steve and Brandon for their fabulous work on this site!

Dirk De Paepe

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May 052014
 

masterlight

The Mitakon 50 f/0.95 Lens is up for Pre-Order!

I promised that I would post the order info for the Mitakon 50 0.95 lens as soon as it went up, so here you go! You can see my 1st look of the Mitakon HERE if you missed it. This is a full frame 50mm 0.95 lens with super high build quality, sharp performance even wider open with some very interesting and unique bokeh that you may love or you may hate but one thing is for sure, at $799 this lens is priced right.

You can now pre-order the lens HERE for a June delivery. This lens works well on the Sony A7, A7r and I assume it will be an amazing match to teh new A7s. It also works well on APS-C Sony E- Mount cameras such as the A6000..as is or with the lens turbo attachment (giving a full frame look).

Official Announcement:

Today, Mitakon is pleased to introduce the SpeedMaster Series FE 50mm f/0.95 Ultra-fast standard lens. Operate with Sony A7 full frame mirror-less camera;
all the A7 family users can enjoy the extreme performance from f/0.95. Step-less aperture control and Silence Manual focus design, perfect for cinema and video shooting.

More detail:
http://mxcamera.com/mitakon/en/mitakon50mm095.html

We are now accepting pre-orders  and the date of shipment will be the 1st week of June 2014
Thank you so much.

Best regards
Lau
MX Camera

Apr 302014
 

Big and small: in the field with a D800/55mm Otus and an A7r/35mm Summilux

Andrew Paquette

www.paqart.com

My background is as a visual artist, not a photographer. I started out as an editorial artist in New York, then became a comic book artist, a 3D artist in the video game industry, a special effects artist in the feature film business, and then an art director in video games. Throughout my career I have made extensive use of cameras, but only in a utilitarian way. For an illustration I did for Travel & Leisure, I took reference photos with a Polaroid. For an issue of the comic Nightbreed, I used my Nikon 2020 to shoot some friends in my loft, again as reference. For the movie Spider-Man, I used photos taken by one of my colleagues to build part of the 3d New York City set. For my paintings, though I preferred to paint subjects “live”, I sometimes took photos with my D70 for reference. On one painting in particular I had the nagging feeling that if only I’d had a better camera I could have skipped painting it. It turned into a fairly popular poster, but even today I think that a photo of the same scene would have done just as well or even better. Now that I have that better camera, I am fairly sure that is true.

I have read in many places that it doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have if you have a good eye for a picture. I would say that if you don’t have a decent eye for what makes a good picture, it won’t matter as much what kind of equipment you use, but it will still make a difference. If you do have some experience making pictures, the equipment can make a huge difference.

At the moment, my two favorite camera/lens combinations are almost exact opposites. One is huge, the other is tiny. On the big end of the spectrum, I love my D800 when paired with the Zeiss 55mm Otus lens. On the small side of things, I am equally pleased with my Leica 35mm Summilux ASPH when mounted on an A7r. The difference between how these two kits handle cannot be understated. The D800 + Otus is so ponderously heavy that I literally injured my hand using it (and even had to go to the doctor as a result). The A7r + Summilux is so tiny that I can carry it in a hip pouch and forget it is there. At face value, one might think that the small setup is the way to go but I have found the images I get out of the D800 + Otus so compelling that I take it out for a walk just as often as I go out with the A7r. I have not put the Otus on the A7r as others have done because for me, the purpose of the A7r is to have something lightweight and discreet. If I’m going to use the Otus, it won’t be discreet no matter what it’s mounted on, so I may as well have the higher frame rate offered by the D800.

When I bought the A7r, I was planning on switching to an all Sony/Leica system so that I could travel more easily with my photography gear. At first, I thought that was how it would work out, but then the Otus was released and I got curious about it. The next thing I knew, I had the Otus and found that it was capable of a wonderful medium format look. The A7r/Summilux would have been a perfect combination to shoot the subject I painted that was mentioned earlier, but the D800 + Otus would have been better for another painting I made shortly thereafter. Despite the extra weight, I found that I wanted to keep the D800 (and all my Zeiss lenses) and the A7r. Now, I use the A7r whenever I travel by plane, have to stay in a hotel, or if my arm is not feeling up to walking around with the Otus. Otherwise, I almost always use the Otus. For special occasions, other lenses will get a ride on the D800, but these days I almost always use the Otus.

I should also give a plug for Zacuto viewfinders here. After using the Sony’s vastly superior electronic viewfinder on the A7r, I was too spoiled to be satisfied with the optical viewfinder or live view on the D800. I use the Zacuto Z-finder pro 3x on both cameras now, and hardly ever misfocus as a result. As an added bonus, my exposure is much improved thanks to the Zacuto’s ability to isolate the LCD from exterior light. For the D800, I leave the mounting plate attached to the camera body, then snap on the viewfinder when I need it. For the A7r, I do not attach the mounting plate, but wear the Zacuto on a lanyard around my neck instead, then hold it up to the live view panel when needed.

With all that preamble out-of-the-way, here are some photos. Most were taken in Amsterdam, but several were taken on a recent trip to Geneva with the A7r. See the captions for more detailed information.

1 The A7r+35mm Leica Summilux ASPH

Carnival ride, Amsterdam. There was a carnival in Dam square a couple weeks ago when I shot this image. The ride was moving so fast that I was amazed I could get any shots at all with the manual focus Summilux, but got several regardless. The real problem was that the seats on this ride spun from the arm they were attached to, meaning that I only occasionally had riders facing the camera.

A7r-01

Breakdancing at Museumplein, Amsterdam. There is a troupe of breakdancers that I have now photographed three times at Museumplein. The first time I shot them on an overcast day with a Zeiss 15mm Distagon, then with a 55mm Zeiss Otus, and here with the 35mm Summilux. Like the carnival ride, I was worried about shooting fast action because of the A7r’s comparatively slow shots per second, but it worked out fine. I didn’t get as many shots as the D800 would have provided, but it was enough to get the exact shots I wanted.

A7r-02

Indian magic trick at Leidseplein, Amsterdam. Although I avoid doing so with my other lenses, I love shooting backlit subjects with the A7r/Summilux combo. It isn’t that I never get decent shots of this type with other lenses, but this combination yields terrific contrast in these situations.

A7r-03

Horse-drawn coach, Amsterdam  I’ve tried several times to get a decent shot of this horse, and finally got it with the A7r. One thing I love about the 35mm Summilux is its ability to provide context to a subject, as in this case by showing the environment around the horse.

A7r-04

Particle beam casing and magnets, CERN, Geneva. My friend, Dr. Richard Breedon, has been associated with one of the experiments at CERN for as long as I’ve known him. Recently he offered me an opportunity to come to Geneva and take some photos. I think he gave me something like two days’ notice, but I’d wanted to do it for quite a while, so I got the plane tickets right away and flew down. Taking pictures at CERN was made difficult by the poor lighting and the bizarre colors almost all the machinery was painted.

A7r-05

Scientist calibrating panel at CERN, Geneva. This was one of a small number of shots I took at CERN that has a human subject in the frame to give a sense of the scale of the beam magnets. This scientist is standing at the base of one of these things, which are about 30 meters in diameter. Like most of the shots taken in this area, I converted it to black and white to get rid of all the brilliant green, red, and yellow painted objects.

A7r-06

Skier at Chamonix. Richard and I drove down to Chamonix the day after photographing CERN, to have a look at the slopes near Mont Blanc. This shot was taken in an ice cave at the top of a perilous cable car ride. From here, it was all downhill. Most of the shots I took in Chamonix were taken with ISO 50, f 16, and 1/4000 shutter speed. This was one of maybe three shots that had more normal settings. I would post some of the others because I like them, but anyone who has ever been to this location will have very similar shots because there are only a few places to take pictures from unless you want to risk life and limb.

A7r-07

Geneva auto show, Geneva. This shot looks pretty bright, but it was an indoor space lit with artificial lights, so it wasn’t that bright. This is where having a 1.4 aperture option comes in extremely handy. At ISO 400 I was able to shoot this at 1/400th of a second. One thing I should mention here is that I avoid shooting the A7r at less than 1/200th of a second to avoid shutter vibration, even if it means a higher ISO than I would normally use. In the 1/60-1/125 range, shutter vibration is noticeable, so I just don’t use those settings at all.

A7r-08

Swan on Lake Geneva. I took about 20 shots of these swans, all in attempt to get one shot of water dripping off their beaks. After thinking I’d missed the shot every time, I found that the first shot got exactly what I wanted.

A7r-09

Pedestrian, Geneva. This was taken after sunset. Streetlights were just coming on and it was starting to get difficult to see. Despite the lack of light, the Summilux delivered a very nice tonal range.

A7r-10

Missing the pocket, Amsterdam. When I spotted this couple walking down the street, I had to get a shot of them. I turned around and snapped about five or six shots before they disappeared into a crowd. I particularly like shooting with the Summilux slightly after sundown because of the rich blue violet shades that permeate images made at that time of night. The same evening I took some other nice shots of boats and lights reflected in the canals. Absolutely gorgeous light.

A7r-11

Roman Road golf course, Wales. I took this on the last day of a conference I attended in Wales. Until that morning, the region had been buried in deep fog that made it almost impossible to shot anything. I was grateful when the sky opened up a little to allow this image to be taken.

A7r-12

2 The D800+55mm Zeiss Otus

Parked cars, Bergen op Zoom. In the Netherlands, it is very common to see trees trimmed like the ones in this image. Coming from the U.S., I think this looks a bit strange, but interesting. In this shot, I like how the shallow depth of field blends all the twigs together in the background, creating a kind of smoky bramble above the cars.

D800-01

Looking and not looking, Amsterdam. To get this shot, I parked myself in front of the violet lamp-post, focused on it, then waited for people to walk by. When I got home, I was fascinated by how sharp the lamp post is. I’m still not used to this quality the Otus has. The Summilux has terrific color and contrast, but the neutral color and outstanding sharpness of the Otus are mesmerizing to look at.

D800-02

Artist, Spui, Amsterdam. This shot looks about as cold as Siberia, but it wasn’t very cold at all, nor has it been all winter. We didn’t even have snow this year. Normally I don’t like to take pictures of paintings unless they are mine, but in this case I liked the large amount of white space interrupted by these couple of spots of intense color.

D800-03

Couple, Museumplein, Amsterdam. This shot, like many other shots taken with the Otus, looks like medium format photography to me. It also reminds me of the colors one finds in color photography from the 1950’s. The people in the Netherlands tend to be tall, and I like how this man looks like a giant in a tiny seat as he eyeballs my camera.

D800-04

Girl with braid, Amsterdam. The primary reason I shot this is because of the colors in this little girl’s clothing. While I think of the Summilux as being particularly good at dealing with blues and yellows, the Otus seems to like pinks and greens more. This may just be my imagination, but it has led me to shooting specific colors with this lens because I think they look better with it.

D800-05

Hands with tiny camera, Amsterdam. Unlike the monster I shot this with, the camera in these hands is barely visible. I had wanted to get a picture of this man because of the complex pattern on his jacket, but he ducked into an alcove, took a picture of a building across the street, then went back the way he’d come. I took this in anticipation of him coming out of the alcove in a moment, but he didn’t do it.

D800-06

Green and red, Haagse Beemden, Netherlands. I may be the only person in the world that likes this photograph of practically nothing, but I really do like it because of the colors. It is just a garbage can and a big red cylindrical building on the edge of a manmade lake, but I like the combination of red and green.

D800-07

Organ, Amsterdam. I have taken a lot of photos of cathedrals, but not as many of the organs, which are usually so high above the ground that it isn’t worth the trouble to shoot them with less than a 100mm lens. This one was lower than most and had great color.

D800-08

Breakdancer, Amsterdam. A problem had with the Zacuto is that the D800 live view screen will go black after the shutter is pressed until the image is finished saving. This meant that as I tried to follow the breakdancers with the camera, I could only frame the first shot by eye, and then the rest (if shot in continuous mode) I had to guess. For this reason, I have decided to use the Zacuto for initial focus when shooting action, but will remove it after it is focused so that I can track the action. For this type of shot, I thought the A7r was easier to use because I didn’t have to deal with the Zacuto getting in the way of the EVF.

D800-09

Skater, Amsterdam. To me, this skater looks almost like a superhero in this shot. I have at least a hundred shots of skaters in this park, but this is easily the most elegant of the group.

D800-10

Intersection, Amsterdam. It almost seems criminal sometimes to turn some of these images to black and white, but in this case I felt it was worth it to enhance the effect of the light falling between buildings on the opposite side of the street, silhouetting the man on the near traffic island.

D800-11

Bubbles, Carnaval celebration. This is another one of those shots that demonstrates how brilliant the Otus typically is. It’s pictures like this that have me wanting to think up some decent staged shots, find some models, then do some deliberate shoots to get a specific composition instead of hoping to find something interesting while walking around town.

D800-12

3 Conclusion

I have a hard time saying that I think either of these kits is better than the other because they are both clearly very capable systems. A funny thing about the handling of them is that while I wish the Otus didn’t weigh so much and was less bulky, using it is in some ways more comfortable than using the A7r. The A7r is easier to carry and less obtrusive, but I feel less in control of making the image than when I am using the Otus. I think this is because of the long throw on the Otus, which allows more fine focusing. With the A7r, I always worry that I’ve tapped the little focusing knuckle ring a little too far or not enough when taking a photo. Since I can tell whether it is in focus or not by using the EVF or Zacuto viewfinder, it is a silly concern to have, but it doesn’t stop me from feeling more confident when shooting the Otus. Having said all that, when selecting images for this article, I initially had almost twice as many Summilux shots as Otus shots as candidates. Is this because I unconsciously favor the Summilux? I wouldn’t know.

AP

Apr 092014
 

titleotus

The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 on the Sony A7r:

my considerations and experiences (so far)

by Dirk De Paepe

A contradiction?

Putting the largest and heaviest lens on the smallest and lightest body… doesn’t seem to be the smartest move, does it?!

Indeed, no other FF lens of standard focus length weighs more and is bigger than the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55, and no other FF body is smaller and lighter than the Sony A7r (at the time of this writing, April 2014). Combining those two indeed appears to be a major contradiction. Obviously.

But let me make another statement now.

Putting the best lens on the best sensor… makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?!

Indeed, the Otus was developed by Zeiss with only one simple goal: creating a full frame lens with the best possible image quality, to meet the demands of today’s (and tomorrow’s) full frame hi-res sensors, that are able to provide an IQ close to medium format cameras. Zeiss clearly felt the need for lenses that meet (and surpass) those sensor specifications. Therefore the Zeiss engineers received no restrictions whatsoever concerning size, weight and budget. So this lens is indeed big, heavy and expensive. What did you expect.

With the A7r, it’s clear that Sony wanted to come up with nothing less than a masterstroke: combining the most advanced FF sensor with the smallest body, to offer the highest IQ in a FF body of today’s market.

Yet it doesn’t make too much sense to compare Sony’s situation with Zeiss’. Already the life span of both products will differ significantly. The evolution in sensors and bodies rushes further at an incredible pace, with a continuous stream of major new announcements. Still, although every camera body that one can buy today can offer satisfactory results for quite some years, the life span of a good lens remains a lot longer and can be estimated as virtually a lifetime.

Nobody doubts the Otus IQ. And, as far as I followed publications about the A7r, all test reports stated that its IQ is at least at par with, if not surpasses this of the Nikon D800E (until recently the sole standard for hi-res FF sensors). So purely regarding IQ, paring the Otus with the A7r makes a lot of sence. Obviously.

So on Wednesday, October 16, minutes after the first official presentation of the A7/A7r – by Sony Australia on YouTube – I placed my order. This was the camera body that I had been waiting for since about 5 years, when I bought my first NEX-5. Ever since that moment, I had been thinking: “If only they’d make a full frame camera like this, with a good viewfinder and enough knobs for direct manual control of the basic parameters…”

The NEX-7 was already a big step forward, with the EVF as an unexpected bonus. And when the full frame RX-1 was launched, unfortunately not an IC body, I was sure that Sony was in the final straight line towards my dream camera. So that Wednesday morning, I didn’t have to think it over for a second, because I already considered it for five years. During the whole presentation, I thought: “Yes!”

Also when the Zeiss Otus was announced to become available, I placed an order to get one of the first possible lenses that would ship to Belgium. The Otus 1.4/55 immediately tremendously appealed to me. Those who’ve read my first article, being published on this site, won’t be surprised, since my love for Zeiss goes back some 50 years. What I love about Zeiss can be summarized as: achieving the highest possible quality but still selling for reasonable, not Leica-crazy prices (sorry, Leica). All test reports about the Otus spoke of the most extra-ordinary full frame lens of all time, better than the Leica Apo-Summicron, that more than doubles its price. The Otus is said to be virtually perfect in all domains that really matter. OK, it’s not perfect in ALL domains, but that wouldn’t be of this world, would it. It’s big and heavy, actually the biggest and heaviest standard focal length glass on the market. It’s probably not really completely weather sealed, it’s not suitable for autofocus, it has no image stabilization and it scratches pretty easily (that’s what I read, so I try to handle it with great care). Oh yeah, it’s also pretty expensive.

Two versions of Otus

The Zeiss Otus 1.4/50 comes in two versions: the ZE for Canon mount and the ZF.2 for Nikon. Both versions can be used with the A7r – of course with different adapters. (BTW, also the Sony comes in two versions, A7 and A7r, but there has been written enough about this on this website.)

The construction of the optics are identical with both lenses, which implies that the distance from the back lens to the sensor is the same (as it is with all “pairs” of Zeiss ZE and ZF.2 SLR lenses). So the “mounting foot” of each version is adapted to the specific camera body it is designed for, which is a bit shorter (some 3mm) on the ZF.2, due to Nikons longer FFD (flange focal distance = distance from flange to sensor). Thus, when mounting an Otus on the A7r, the appropriate adapter for the ZF.2 version will be 3mm thicker than the one for the ZE. But the total length of the camera/adapter/lens combination will be exactly the same for both – necessarily so, to make the optics work. (The camera is measure from the point where the sensor is mounted in the body.)

Besides the mounting, there are some other obvious differences. The ZF.2 has an aperture ring, which lacks on the ZE. Here the aperture must be set from the camera body. So there is an automation mechanism in the lens that makes the ZE 60g heavier and a bit fatter at the rear end. Yet, on the ZF.2, the aperture ring locks when set to f/16, allowing shutter speed priority (according to the manual), and thus automated aperture setting. With some bodies, it would even be possible to chose whether the aperture is set from the lens or the body. Because the lens manual indicates this, I don’t doubt it for a second. But I didn’t try it.

Which one to choose?

It took me quite some time to make up my mind about which version to choose for my A7r. Initially, I made the following considerations. The A7r has two customizable turning knobs on top of the body, one for thumb control, the other for the index finger. Aperture and shutter time control can be programmed to those, which makes sense, when using the ZE version. Also, I noticed that on the press presentation, the ZE was used in combination with the A7r. So this must mean something, no? They used the Metabones Smart Adapter Mark III (make sure to order the Mark III), which is that one adapter on the market that I’d trust to do the job for the Otus ZE. With some cheap EF to E (former NEX) adapters, you just loose the aperture control. (At the time of this writing) I’m really astonished that those are even on the market. Who for heavens sake would settle for only being able to shoot wide open? Then there are adapters that provide build in aperture blades. Neglecting the aperture system of the lens, those adapters offers an “ersatz” set aperture blades… ? I never tried one of those, and I never will, because, for sure, the character of your lens’ bokeh will be lost. So everything else but the Metabones is definitely a no-go for the ZE, IMO. Luckily the Metabones works really well (with one restriction – I’ll come to that later). It transmits all necessary electronic data perfectly back and forward. BTW, (at the moment of this writing and to my knowledge) there is no adapter on the market that does the same job for the ZF.2, so there’s no data exchange, no lens Exif data available, no lens control from the body, although, in case of the ZF.2, that’s not really dramatic, since the aperture can be set on the lens. To finish this off, all ZF.2 controls (Nikon-style) work in reverse to what I’m used to, which I thought can be confusing sometimes. Concerning the weight, I considered the extra 60g of the ZE to be not really important, in regard to the total lens weight of around 1kg. So it’s clear that I ordered a ZE Otus and a Metabones adapter. (Recently I noticed the appearance of some other data exchanging adapters that are a lot cheaper than the Metabones. But I would be very reluctant to buy a cheap adapter for the Otus, in regard to the problems this can cause – I come to that later.)

The adapter arrived first, even before my A7r. When picking up my camera at the shop, first thing I did was mounting the adapter and putting on a Canon EF lens from the shop, to see if everything worked out alright. And it did! Flawlesly. Even the autofocus beeped and nailed. So my A7r’s DSC00001 picture is shot in full automatic mode with a Canon Zoom lens! I just went outside the shop, pointed and shot – no thinking, just pushing the button. Being a 100% manual shooter, using prime lenses solely, this must be a unicum for both my camera and myself! :-)

Later, a friend of mine lent me his Zeiss Planar 1,4/50 ZE, to compare it to my own Planar 2/50 ZM. It also offered me the opportunity to further try out my Metabones adapter, imagining how it would operate with the Otus, once it would arrive. And then I made some remarkable observations. First of all: regardless of the set aperture, the lens always stayed wide open, until the moment the release button is pushed (Canon shooters will be familiar with that). I found that very inconvenient, making it impossible to estimate the DOF in the viewfinder and not consistent at all to what I’m used to with the other lenses I have, like the Zeiss ZMs. But I knew this problem could be solved. Canon has a designated button to check the DOF, and indeed, one can program the implementation of the set aperture under one of the customizable push buttons of the A7r, to obtain this function as well. Problem solved. At least, that’s what I thought initially… The DOF is indeed veraciously visible. But when using my other prime lenses, the A7r makes it possible to check the DOF very precisely in the viewfinder, by magnifying critical zones (as a matter of fact, the EVF can magnify any zone I want). Especially when hyperfocusing, I consider this a unique and major quality – “modern manual shooting”, so to speak. And here the ZE (and all Canon EF mount lenses) cause a problem, since it’s impossible to combine closing the aperture blades to the set value (holding down the designated button) with the viewfinder magnification function (for which we need to push another button – it’s exactly the simultaneous activation of two functions that’s impossible). But again, one has tried to provide a solution. This time, Metabones did an effort by features two operation modes on their adapter: Green and Advanced. First of all, it’s not evident to know of those modes, since there comes no manual with the package, nor is there any mentioning that the manual can be found on the Metabones website. If you’re interested in it, you can find it here: http://www.metabones.com/article/of/green-power-save-mode. The adapter is set to Green mode by default, featuring an operation as described above.

The activation of the Advanced mode is very simple: mount the adapter, switch the camera power on and mount the lens on the adapter, while holding down the “wide open” button of the adapter. In Advanced mode, the lens blades will always directly adjust to the set aperture. So there’s no longer need to activate two functions at the same time, which indeed ensures the detailed checking of the DOF in VF magnification mode. Still there remains a serious handicap with respect to the ZF.2 version, since the ZE doesn’t allow finetuning of the DOF while monitoring in magnification mode. That is, in VF magnification mode, the wheel with which you set the diafragm gets another function, namely moving the magnified zone to the left and right. Maybe Sony will eventually come up with a software upgrade to fix this, but that’s not a certainty of course. So what is the exact difference ? Both versions offer the detailed checking of the DOF in VF magnification mode. But with the ZE, this is done in a static way: set the aperture and magnify to check. If you wanna change, leave the magnification mode, set a different aperture and check again. With the ZF.2 on the other hand, you can do this in a direct interactive way: go to VF magnification mode and determine the DOF by fine tuning the aperture ring on the lens, while monitoring the changes in the VF. Fast, simple and accurate. IMO the ZE version makes a lot of detours to end up with a crippled functionality. And on top of it, it’s pretty battery consuming, since every change of aperture requires battery power.

Anyway, at this moment, it’s a no-go for me, and I guess the ZE will never enthuse me. I really can’t think of any real advantage that a body set aperture has – not one. I consider Exif-data interesting, but not really vital (although I’d welcome a Novoflex ZF.2 adapter with electronic signal transmission to remind me of the set aperture) and I look upon aperture setting on the body as an unnecessary detour. But interactively fine tuning the DOF to precision on the other hand, I consider that to be a vital operation for “modern manual shooting”, especially when using a hi-res lens on a hi-res sensor. (No OVF offers this possibility. That’s one of the reasons why I believe that the EVF has the future.)

So I changed my Otus order to a ZF.2 version, bought a Novoflex NEX/NIK adapter with tripod collar (necessary IMO) and put my Metabones for sale. Yes, I’ll have to live with the inverse settings and mounting of the “Nikon-style” lens, but hey, there’s no ideal world, is there…

Furthermore, choosing the ZF.2 has even more advantages. The possibility to mount a tripod collar on the adapter improves the camera’s balance on the tripod, since the tripod base plate of the collar protrudes a few cm. The Metabones has a tripod base too, but this one is positioned closer to the body, changing the balance. And when shooting OOH, you can’t remove this plate, which “scratched” my left hands fingers from time to time (nothing serious really, but still…). Another point: when using the Otus, I like to mount the vertical grip on the body (which is a no-go in combination with the Metabones, because it inhibits any upwards tilting). This grip substantially contributes to improve the balance of the lens/body combination. I’ve read in several reviews that the Otus would not really be suitable for the A7r, for reasons of unbalance when OOH shooting. I strongly disagree! (See hereunder in the “Balance” chapter.) Just buy the vertical grip and you’ll experience a completely different story. I know some criticized the A7r’s ergonomics, the knobs not being positioned in the places where they expected them. But isn’t that just a matter of getting used to it? I know that’s how it worked for me. And of course, some thorough consideration, about where to program the functions you always wanna keep at hand, helps a lot. What I like about the A7r is that it offers all the possibilities to work without having to pass through the menu and that I can blindly find all the functions I need.

Oh yeah, last advantage of my choice for the ZF.2 version: it gives me the instant overview of focal distance, aperture and DOF scale with a single glance on the lens – as traditional primes do and as it should IMO (I’m old fashioned in that department). This is shown in my picture “Aperture on lens” below:

1.Aperture on lens

Why the Otus?

Why should any A7r owner buy the Otus anyway? Well, I can only tell you why I bought it.

Since the time Leica launched its M8, I started dreaming of it and later of the M9. I also could see very interesting lenses being reviewed for those cameras. Now I don’t easily sell my lenses, since good ones can virtually last a lifetime, and it’s the glass above all that determines the character of the image (next to the photographer of course). Some of those reviewed lenses were very appealing to me indeed, but most of them crazy expensive. First of all I think of the Noctilux and Summilux. The latter, being a lot less expensive, was still a no-go for me, regarding it’s price/performance relation. I found a much healthier relation offered by Zeiss, still being of top level (sometimes even outperforming Leica IMO) but being sold for 2 to 3 times less money. It’s clear I went for Zeiss.

The first reports on the Otus immediately pulled me over. Here was a lens that outperforms all my former dream-lenses and is still payable – with some effort admittedly (but that’s a personal matter). That’s my motivation, plain and simple.

The Otus Image Quality

From the very first reports, literally everybody that tried this lens was somewhere between impressed and flabbergasted by its IQ. What I read was that it performs close to perfection for all criteria, at all apertures and in the whole picture up to the extreme corners. The superlatives were flying around. It has the finest detail in all apertures and throughout the whole image, (close to) no flare, no distortion, no CA, incredible micro contrast, the smoothest bokeq (front and hind equally). Read the reviews for all the details… The comments of the reviewers are that homogeneous that I couldn’t but believe them. And having a more than 50 years experience with Zeiss myself, it only allowed me to be even more confident. So I really immediately ordered without any doubt.

But the question is: now that I’ve got it, does it live up to my expectations? Short answer: indeed it does, in every way! I had been searching for all possible Otus pictures online, but still, looking at the first images that I shot myself, really made my jaw drop. I spend minutes, looking at all details on all places, trying to absorb what I saw. Yes, this was really happening! No anomalies in whatever parameter. Detail and (micro) contrast like I’ve never seen before in my pictures. No need for sharpening. An incredibly soft bokeh, with super smooth transitions, especially when setting the sharpening to zero. And the bokeh is of an equal beauty in front and behind the focus point. Do I need to say more? Well, I’ll try: think of anything you want and the Otus will probably outperform any FF lens you know.

Combined with the A7r, the files offer not only tremendous detail, they are very workable as well. Not that you need to process them a lot, but you can, if you wanna go for a certain image that you have in mind. Of course the sensor has a huge participation herein. In “Glass Doll”, I wanted to emphasize the green color in the glass.

2.Glass doll

I literally pushed every relevant parameter in RAW conversion to the limit (really to the max), just to see how far I could go. And the result still remains very credible IMO. Notwithstanding the very fierce processing, the bokeh and the color transitions remain a treat for the eyes. This one was shot at f/1.4 and the focusing took half a minute or so, to have it exactly on and equally divided amongst the eye, noose and mouth of the doll. The full size version is available on my flickr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/12444908724/sizes/o/in/photostream/) – I advise you to look at it to really see what’s going on with the color transitions and the details in the glass. All of a sudden, all the tiny faults in the glass become visible in a way that refers to macro shooting. The small focal distance, close to the minimum of 45cm, combined with the hi-res sensor makes this happen.

The Otus is specially conceived for hi-res sensors. So the detail is really important. That’s why I wanted to apply this detail in some of my pictures. In “Bicyclist under trees” I hyperfocused, wanting to get everything sharp, from closest to farthest object.

3.Bicyclist under trees

Hyperfocusing with a 55mm lens is far from obvious, the DOF getting considerably smaller with this focal lenght. A Zeiss sales manager told me: “I wouldn’t buy this lens that much for hyperfocusing purposes.” But personally, I believe it’s really possible, although this requires a very precise focus setting. The detail remains at such a high level throughout the whole field, that IMO it is absolutely possible to hyperfocus with the Otus. The EVF of the A7r, that combines checking the DOF (the amount of detail) in focus magnification really helps in this case. (I don’t wanna work without EVF anymore!) I absolutely wanted to try hyperfocusing, since this is an excellent way to get detail all over the picture, and as such to prove the exceptional quality of the Otus. Looking at this picture, you can see that even in the corners (especially obvious in the upper left and lower right corners) the IQ remains excellent and consistent.

When looking at the objects far beyond the focal point, there is still detail, but the image is unmistakably becoming a bit softer, because those objects are situated at the very end of the field, if not slightly beyond (indicated by the DOF scale). It’s still at par with most lenses at “normal” aperture, while this one was being taken at f/16. In this picture, I really pushed the hyperfocal possibilities to the limit, by focusing at around 7m. On flickr you can get a 100% image, for you to really see what I’m talking about. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/12294747935/sizes/o/in/photostream/) I thought the detail, especially in the branches on the left, is flat out amazing.

I guess IQ is best experienced when shooting yourself, because everybody is used to get a certain IQ level, when opening his own pictures out of camera. You never now what kind of processing was done on somebody else’s picture, but when looking with a fresh eye at your own shots, you can more easily compare. I can honestly say, that I was really deeply impressed when looking at the first shots of my A7r, but I was flat out flabbergasted when looking at the first shots of my Otus. And what I absolutely wanna emphasize on, is how workable those Otus/A7r files are. You can really underexpose and retrieve beautiful natural colors out of close to black zones. Also the opposite is possible: retrieving colors from over exposure. This PP can be done to a really amazing level as I never new before – not by far. Again, the sensor has a huge participation herein.

Why should any A7r owner buy the Otus? There is only one answer: for its flabbergasting image quality, especially combined with the A7r. IMO those two pair amazingly well. This combination will not only deliver a top level IQ, you will also have great cropping power. “Overview” is an example hereof. Cutting off the woman from her surroundings, was an obvious choice. But since I couldn’t get any closer, I needed to crop this picture to 27,5%. Still the image remains pretty detailed. Who needs a zoom?!

4.Overview

I’d like to add something now, about the character of the Otus 1.4/55, when shooting with very large DOF. This is done by using the hyperfocal DOF technique: small aperture and (with this lens) focusing around 7m renders a picture where pretty much everything is in “acceptable focus”. To my experience, typical for Otus is that the image remains very sharp with a defined but still gentle transition to blur in front of the focus point, and that it renders a bit of softness in the farthest zone of the field, while still retaining a lot of detail. As a result of this character (razor sharp detail versus a bit softer detail), the Otus can render an amazing 3D separation, even when applying the widest possible DOF and thus retaining detail all over the picture. This was definitely a very pleasant surprise to me, literally granting an extra dimension to the picture. I had always thought that, to obtain a good separation, one needed to shoot with larger apertures, but Otus expanded the boundaries here. In “Forest, canal and factory”, you can see what I mean, the trees and bushes really popping out of the background.

5.Forest, canal and factory

I’d like to add something now, about the character of the Otus 1.4/55, when shooting with very large DOF. This is done by using the hyperfocal DOF technique: small aperture and (with this lens) focusing around 7m renders a picture where pretty much everything is in “acceptable focus”. To my experience, typical for Otus is that the image remains very sharp with a defined but still gentle transition to blur in front of the focus point, and that it renders a bit of softness in the farthest zone of the field, while still retaining a lot of detail. As a result of this character (razor sharp detail versus a bit softer detail), the Otus can render an amazing 3D separation, even when applying the widest possible DOF and thus retaining detail all over the picture. This was definitely a very pleasant surprise to me, literally granting an extra dimension to the picture. I had always thought that, to obtain a good separation, one needed to shoot with larger apertures, but Otus expanded the boundaries here. In “Forest, canal and factory” above, you can see what I mean, the trees and bushes really popping out of the background.

Why not a faster lens than a f/1.4?

I have been fantasizing about a Leica Noctilux for years, I have even been very close to buying an SLR Magic Hyperprime T0.95 and I reckon I’m not the only one. I guess many would have liked Zeiss as well to come up with such a hyper fast lens, for them to “play in the same league”. But I have only seen pictures shot with those hyper fast lenses of at most 24MP. By stepping up from the NEX-7 (24MP) to the A7r, I experienced that with a 36MP sensor (let alone even more MPs in the future), focusing at f/1,4 becomes extremely critical – the more with the hyper detailed Otus. I guess Zeiss regarded it as useless to go any faster, in any case, that’s exactly how I feel it, now that I own and shoot with the Otus.

6.Bicycle parking

In pictures like “Bicycle parking” (above), a typical OOH street shot, where the moving subject obliges you to focus fast and constantly readjust, it’s extremely difficult to nail the focus perfectly. I took four shots of this girl, trying to catch the most significant moment, but only in half of them I nailed the focus to what I consider an acceptable level, when looking at full size, that is. I was pretty pleased with this one, beautifully illustrating the scene, but as a matter of fact, the focus is perfect on the handle bars of the bike and “acceptable” on the girls face. I would rather have it the other way round, but if I would be that demanding, my percentage of keepers would drop dramatically. I have to say, it’s only when looking at 100% that one can see the difference in focus quality, but if you don’t look in that much a detail, what’s the use of using the Otus anyway? (Yes, I know, there’s a lot more to the Otus than just the detail, but still we can’t disregard it.) All in all, with a f/0.95 lens of this optical quality, combined with a 36MP sensor, I guess nailing the focus in this kind of circumstances would be a matter of sheer luck…

Even to exactly nail the focus on a still subject at f/1.4, the Otus requires an extremely careful and precise setting, regarding how quick the blur occurs (again, when looking at 100%), to the extend that I absolutely wonder if I would even want to use any faster glass, and, in regard of the wonderful 3D separation and the absolutely gorgeous bokeh of the Otus, if there’s really anything further to gain. When I think of how much bigger and (even more important) how much heavier such a f/0.95 lens would be, provided that Zeiss would want to obtain the same optical quality, there’s no way that I would have even considered for a second to buy such a lens. I really don’t want to carry and handle a standard focal length lens of >2kg! You think I exaggerate? Just think of the Noctilux being more than twice as heavy as the Summilux… BTW, such a lens would probably sell for about double the price. So it’s a no-go on all fronts. But most importantly, I truly believe that the gain would be of very little use, if not virtually nonexistent because of it being next to impossible to exploit. And if Zeiss was to produce a f/0.95 lens of about the same size, weight and price of the Otus, in addition to the present 1.4/55, the choice would go between a significantly better optical quality in the 1.4/55 version, versus a very questionable gain of speed in the f/0.95 version. As far as I’m concerned, I’m absolutely happy with the choices Zeiss made and I’m 100% “cured” from my “hyper fast lens fever”. :-)

Another few words on the Bicycle Parking picture. I slid the sharpening in the RAW converter back to 0% and didn’t use any unsharp mask, preferring to preserve the hyper smooth bokeh and grain, which would always become harsher when adding even the smallest amount of sharpening or unsharp mask. I really would like you to go watch this picture on my flickr page in full size version, to appreciate the quality of grain and bokeh that this lens renders. To my taste, although the background buildings make for pretty nervous and busy surroundings, the grain and transitions are still from an utterly butter-smooth quality as I’ve never seen before and, what’s even more exceptional, this counts for both front and hind bokeh to the same extend. In the places where the focus is perfect, the detail is absolutely impressive, until recently pretty unthinkable at f/1.4. Still, there is indeed a tiny slight degree of softness here, where at smaller apertures the Otus becomes bitingly sharp. But IMO this slight softness is absolutely desirable when going for bokeh. To conclude about this picture, this wasn’t an attempt to realize the most spectacular shallow DOF – the focus distance was way to long for that – rather than it was to 3D-separate the subject and realize a beautiful bokeh, while still transmitting information of the surroundings. This is how I prefer to use shallow DOF. Oh yeah, this picture was first cropped to 88% and than (obviously) cropped to square, which diminishes the shallow DOF effect to some extend. But I’m not one who’s really into pursuing the most spectacular shallow DOF, merely for the sake of the “effect”.

It’s also important to look at the 100% size picture (flickr), to see how shallow the DOF really becomes, when shooting with the Otus on a 36MP sensor – or in other words, how early the blur occurs, when looking in full detail. Looking at 100%, you’ll see how precarious the focusing becomes (compare the handle bars and the face) and you’ll probably agree that f/1.4 really is the widest meaningful aperture.

The issues

No concept is without issues. No camera serves every purpose. No lens pleases every photographer. So how do I deal with the most common published issues of the Otus, particularly in combination with my A7r? And do I experience some issues myself?

Here are the possible issues that I can think of and/or that I read about:

Loosing the compact concept of the A7r.

– Adapter issues.

– Ending up with a poorly balanced camera/lens combination with poor handling.

– Early induced motion blur when shooting OOH.

– Hyper delicate focusing.

– Manual focusing only.

– No image stabilization.

– A very big, heavy and expensive lens.

Let’s look at those issues one by one.

Loosing the compact concept of the A7r

As a matter of fact, I don’t feel like loosing this. Like probably any buyer, I chose the A7r for it’s compact size and light weight, combined with its FF sensor. Steve mentioned it frequently: “With a heavy DSLR, I’d miss a lot of pictures, because 85% of the time, I’d leave it at home.” Same for me. So most of the time I have my A7r in my bag, body without vertical grip, the Zeiss Planar ZM on it and two extra lenses of different focal length as backup. Total weight around 1,6kg, bag included. That’s the weight of my wife’s purse. Camera/lens in a smaller bag (without backup lenses) will weigh around 900gr. When I go out shooting with the Otus, this will mostly be the only lens I carry, because I will more have a plan on forehand of what to shoot. Camera with grip plus lens weigh a good 1900gr. My tripod another 1300gr. Adding the bags gives me a total weight of 4,25kg. Too much to carry all the time, IMO (that’s why I have my “compact formula”), but not that much when going out on a dedicated “shooting trip”. Last situation, when going out for OOH shooting with the Otus, I carry 2,4kg with me. Still very manageable.

I often think of my A7r as a kind of chameleon. It can really adapt to any situation. So do I loose the compact concept of my camera? Not at all. I believe the A7r only offers opportunities. Whenever I wanna travel light, the A7r offers me this possibility. On other times, when I wanna go for uncompromising quality, again the A7r helps me out. I don’t wanna go compact on every shoot, but whenever I want, I can. So what did I loose? Nothing. I only gained.

Adapter issues

The most important problem (that I experienced) with inferior adapters are planarity issues. No surface is perfectly plane. But if the deviation is too big, one side will focus closer then the other. So it will be impossible to focus consistently throughout the whole image. For many pictures, this will hardly be seen, but on some occasions (for instance technical or architectural pictures), you really can get into trouble. Surely, you don’t wanna ruin your Otus with a lousy cheap adapter. So my advice is not to economize on the adapter and always perform test shots immediately after buying. Personally, I’ve put my trust in Novoflex adapters. I even tried putting two on top of each other (NEX-M and M-FD) and then shooting a flat surface positioned perpendicular in regard to the lens. I shot with the Canon FD 1,4/50mm wide open, to induce the blur as early as possible, focused on one corner and I could not observe any irregularity in how blur occurred in the four corners. This was not a scientific test, but it was good enough for me. I’m sure that Novoflex stays way below acceptable tolerances. Still, testing every new purchase remains mandatory IMO.

Another adapter issue is that often the adapter makes the lens to focus beyond infinite. But the Zeiss engineers themselves conceived the Otus to focus beyond infinite, to oblige the photographer to carefully focus in all circumstances. So can we really talk about an issue here? Not regarding it having percussions on the focusing process anyway. But if the shift is too big (which was the case with some cheap adapters I’ve tried), you’ll lose a considerable part of your closest focal distance. And again, that’s a no-go.

Conclusion: don’t economize on the adapter(s).

Balance

First thing I thought when I started shooting the Otus was: this is a lens for tripod use! So let’s talk about that first.

Until I got the Otus 1.4/55, my “personal” photography (that is: for personal use, just for fun, the shots that were not mentioned for our publications) was almost all shot OOH. But I knew from what I read that with the Otus, I’d want a tripod. So I bought a new one, since the one we use for product shooting is much to heavy to carry. Now I have to admit that my experience with tripods “on the road” was non-existent. After reading some articles and talking with a few guys, I bought a Sirui lightweight one (1310gr, ballhead included). But a few days later, when commenting on an editorial online, I started to doubt wether or not I made the right choice, after someone said he was sorry that I didn’t buy a really good and more stable tripod, like a Gitzo. That was even before the Otus arrived. So to check it out, I mounted a Canon FD 200mm tele with 2x-A Extender on my A7r, to get a weight that matched the Otus and I shot the same images with the Sirui tripod and a heavy Benbo. Looking at 100%, indeed I saw some slight but still noticeable motion blur with the Sirui – about half of what I got when shooting OOH. But then I thought of the hook, at the bottom of the central pole, and attached my bag to it to increase the weight, in an attempt to enhance stabilization. And it did the job: the motion blur was gone. Since I didn’t want to spend another €1500 or so at this time, after the €3500 for the Otus, I planned to stick to the Sirui and just use my bag as extra weight.

7.Tripod balance

But then I got the Otus. And since I bought the ZF.2 version, I use the dedicated Novoflex collar, attached on the adapter of the same brand, to mount the camera/lens on the tripod. This collar provides a mounting point a few cm further away from the camera body. And to my pleasant surprise, when also mounting the vertical grip to the body (which I always do when using the Otus), I got nothing less than a perfect balance from this camera/lens combination. Even with the clamping knobs completely loosened (hold your breath!), the camera stays perfectly horizontal, thus in absolute balance. My picture “Tripod balance” shows the camera on the tripod with completely loosened clamping knobs, the camera still not falling aside. This perfect balance has two consequences: 1) the framing can easily and quickly be performed to perfection, since there is no more movement whatsoever after tightening the clamping knob, and 2) the weight is equally distributed amongst the three legs, increasing the stability and as such eliminating motion blur even without hanging extra weight to the central pole hook. Conclusion: chances are real that I will never have to buy a €1000+ tripod. I simply don’t see where it could improve my performance. Oh, and when comparing tripod work between the A7r and a traditional DSLR (like the D800): since you’ll mount the DSLR with the body on the tripod, instead of via a collar, the weight of the Otus (1kg!) will cause some serious unbalance, compared to the A7r. So I guess the advantage clearly goes to the A7r in this department.

After a week or two of tripod work, I felt the urge growing, to use the Otus for OOH shooting as well. In the articles that I read, there were quite some questions put, regarding OOH shooting with the Otus on the A7r. Those made me reluctant to shoot OOH for some time. But like I said, the urge was growing.

Anyway, in the meanwhile, I removed the tripod collar, because its long tightening screw really sits in the way of the right hand fingers, when shooting OOH. If you’d wanna go back and forward between tripod and OOH shooting, you can also twist the collar to the left, to move it out of the way of your fingers. BTW, twisting the color gave me the idea to use this position for vertical framing on tripod as well, since as such the perfect balance on the ballhead is remained. Indeed, it can remain upright, because the 90° twist is performed by the camera within the collar.

But let’s get back to OOH shooting. When holding the camera with the right hand and using a “free” left hand for focusing (as I’m used to do with a lightweight camera/lens), the 1kg Otus makes the front really too heavy. Your right hand will get tired very quickly. I think this is a no-go. The balance is absolutely lost. Already after a very short while, it will be very hard to hold the camera still and you will induce motion blur very quickly, needing even faster shutter times. In short: your performance will suffer from it. A 36MP sensor already asks for a faster shutter speed, since the motion blur is earlier induced – that’s a fact. Coming from the 24MP NEX-7, I didn’t expect this to be that prominent, but It’s as if a threshold has been taken: I really need to set the shutter speed faster. Of course, when reducing the resolution of the picture in PP, I can shoot with the same speeds as before, but with an A7r, you wanna use its full abilities at least sometimes, don’t you. So the faster shutter speed becomes a reality at that point. When using an A7r with a lightweight lens like a Zeiss Planar ZM, resulting in a mere 720gr for the camera/lens combination, it’s not easy to hold everything stable. One simply needs to shoot with extra care. But when mounting a hyper precise, super detailed lens like the Otus, that ads 1kg front weight, you might expect it to get worse. But as a matter of fact the weight will help a lot, if you carry it with your left hand. I did some experimenting with holding technique and got some extra-ordinary results.

8.Left hand balance

Having never been afraid of exploring new paths, I experimented with alternative ways of holding the camera, to tackle the weight and balance issues. And it didn’t take me long to find out the most stable way to hold the camera – it almost came to me spontaneously. The Otus has large fixed zones, that can easily be used to hold and support the camera+lens. I have the A7r handgrip rested on the cushion of my hand palm, near my wrist. My thumb supports the fixed ring between focus and aperture. My index finger points forward and supports the lens, centrally below the front end. My middle finger is located at the right side on the focus ring. My ring finger holds on to the same fixed ring as my thumb. And my little finger is on the aperture ring. Middle and little finger can operate their respective rings. Zeiss has coated those rings with the exact covering material (and provided a butterly smooth yet perfect feedback giving operation) to be set easily with one finger. Of course the focus can only be fine tuned in this way, since it features a 270° turn from min to max. But it’s exactly the fine focusing that’s really delicate and takes extra care, right before pushing the release button, so that works out perfectly. A 270° turn is large indeed, but IMO that’s what’s absolutely needed, to offer enough “play” when fine focusing this lens at f/1.4! Also the aperture doesn’t need more than to be fine-tuned, when looking through the viewfinder, that is: I only might want to adjust the DOF very slighty at that point. Anyway, holding the camera in this way provides an absolutely exceptional stability, the index finger playing a crucial role, by supporting the very front of the lens and the whole camera resting on one stable surface. You absolutely don’t need to “grab” the camera – it’s just lying relaxed and comfortably in your left hand. And with your elbow resting on your chest, you barely need to use any muscle power to hold it, and your hand has a direct connection with your body.

My picture “Left hand balance” (above) shows you how the camera is lying in my left hand. You’ll use your right hand for operation of all functions (except for focus and aperture) – all knobs of the A7r are very conveniently located at the right side of the body for that matter, except the menu button, that you never have to use during shooting, since every function that you need can be programmed under the customizable buttons. And of course the right hand also provides extra safety, should anybody give you an unexpected push. Thanks to this really exceptional stability and balance, you only need to use very little muscle power and wont get tired that soon. Muscle power induces instability, hence motion blur. No muscle power means relaxation. Relaxation means stability, hence absence of motion blur. As a matter of fact, the size (enabling a large support surface) and weight (largely contributing to the stability without becoming too heavy) of the Otus/A7r (with grip) have become big advantages as far as OOH shooting is concerned. Of coarse it’s still a considerable weight that you’re holding. And after several minutes staying in the same position without moving, some tension will arise. But it’s very rare to stay unmoved that long.

An unexpected stroke of luck: while my hand has a reverse position (thumb to the left) with this lens in comparison to its position with other lenses (thumb to the right), there’s actually no other technique needed, to set focus and aperture, neutralizing the “inverse Nikon-style”. Streching my middle finger results in focusing closer in both cases, pulling it back moves the focus point further towards infinite.

Shooting out of hand at 1/10 sec!

I can understand you being skeptical when reading this. Therefore I wanted to give you some kind of proof and I wanted to push it to the limit. My “Selfie” was shot in manual mode in front of a mirror, giving you proof that it’s absolutely an OOH shot.

9.Selfie

I’ve also put this picture on my flickr pages, in full resolution, with published Exif data. Please check it to verify. You’ll notice that this is indeed a 1/10s shot, with the Otus mounted on the 36MP A7r. Pretty amazing, isn’t it. Please click on the link to choose the full size 36MP file. This is a converted RAW file with zero sharpening applied. I only flipped this picture 180° to get rid of the mirror image. I focused on the text at the bottom of the lens. And as a matter of fact, the lens front is the only thing in focus in the whole picture, whereby the in focus area is that small, that it almost seems as if the whole picture is blurred. Still, what I wanted to show here was the extreme balance of the camera and so I chose one precisely defined focus point, with zero margin for error. In this case, you absolutely must look at 100% to even notice that there really is something in perfect focus. The extreme shallow DOF, due to the f/1.4 aperture, makes the blur set in very quickly. So the stability of the camera was not only required in left/right and up/down directions, but also in back/forward. OK, on tripod, the result would probably have been yet even a bit better. Still, to my eye, this is a pretty good OOH shot – as good as it gets. But remember, this one was shot at 1/10s. Needless to say that this would be plain impossible if the A7r/Otus combination would offer less than a perfect OOH balance. I wonder (and even doubt) if this can be improved by the D-800E/Otus combination. So in this department, I guess the A7r is at least at par with the best DSLRs. I rest my case.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that 1/10s is a normal OOH shutter speed for the A7r/Otus, because it isn’t. What I’m saying is that, with the right technique, this camera/lens combination provides an exceptional balance, otherwise I could impossibly have succeeded in taking this shot. What I’m also saying is, that, where one expects to need faster shutter speeds, due to the hi-res sensor and hyper precise lens, one can actually work with “normal” speeds and even go slower. When applying a minimum of care, I consider 1/30s as a normal feasible shutter speed for this combination. I took my first Selfie-testshots in aperture priority mode. I operated very carefully and succeeded from the first shot, which appeared to be taken at 1/13s. That’s when I thought; let’s push this to the limit. So I switched to Manual mode, kept the aperture at f/1.4 and set the shutter speed at 1/10. I missed the first two shots and realized that I needed to hold the release button longer, beyond the moment of the shutter’s closing. Keeping it down gave me my third picture, the one you can see. BTW, the A7r release button helps a lot for this kind of shots. It has a very soft action, without resistance point – some call it “spongy” and that’s correct. For many applications, one could prefer more definition, but for this kind of use, it’s absolutely a benefit. Furthermore, and this is IMO, for normal “action” shots (in my case that’s mostly candid people shooting) the shutter release button requires some habituation, but isn’t problematic at all.

Delicate focusing

This is absolutely the matter. This lens/sensor combination reveals every detail, as no other FF does (the D800E does as well, of course). Result: when looking in 100% size (and again, you need to do this – where would you otherwise use this combination for), the out-of-focus is induced quite a bit earlier than what we were used to. Of course, with smaller apertures the margin gets bigger, but as you approach the f/1.4 it really gets tough. And wide open, even on a tripod, you need to proceed with great care. The viewfinder magnification function is no unnecessary luxury in this.

Yet I need to add that when shooting for “normal” formats (using less MP), the focusing can be done as easy and fast as with any other lens. And with the A7r EVF, you don’t need any special assistance. In the parts that are in focus, the EVF produces an almost overly sharp image. It’s difficult to describe, but when you’d try it, you’d notice immediately what I mean. With some experience, you even don’t really need the focus peaking anymore for those shots, let alone the VF magnification. But as I said, at large apertures, with very shallow DOF, and at full resolution, it’s another story. The focusing becomes absolutely very delicate.

Manual focusing only

I’m a MF guy. So I can’t really compare with AF systems. But I read in different reviews, that AF is not always absolutely precise on a 36MP sensor. Another statement I remember was that the EVF of the A7r does a better job in focusing than the OVF of the D800E. That, and my own focusing experience with the Otus, makes me understand why Zeiss chose to make it a manual focus lens. I guess with (today’s) AF systems, it’s not possible to set the focus to the same level of precision as one can perform manually. For instance in “Glass Doll”, I wonder how an AF system would manage to determine the exact in focus zone where I wanted it (eye, nose and lips).

Moreover, Zeiss has a vast tradition in manufacturing MF lenses. And personally, that’s exactly what I want.

No image stabilization

This is my personal opinion. After reading the “Shooting out of hand at 1/10 sec” chapter, you’ll understand that I really don’t care the Otus not having any image stabilization. Nor the A7r for that matter. I’ve never been missing or wanting it. But I can absolutely get that some people would’t wanna shoot without it. So this is a personal matter. This lens is not for them. Nevertheless I still think that one should work on improving his shooting skills first. But, OK, this is not my domain of experience.

A very big, heavy and expensive lens

I heard the rumor that Zeiss developed the Otus as if it were a medium format lens. In that way, by cropping the corners of the image, we’d get rid of the zones with less than optimal performance. I don’t know if this is really true, but I guess all lenses follow the same optical laws, performing less in the corners. So it makes sense to me: if you want your lens to perform optimally in the corners, you need to crop – which makes you end up with a bigger and heavier lens.

And if you want an image that’s (virtually) free of distortion, you need to correct the image internally. This means more glass elements (12 in the Otus 1.4/55). Again: bigger and heavier.

There are no miracles in optics, I guess. Only choices and consequences. If you want a smaller lens, settle with less perfect performance. I do anyway, when I wanna go compact. I surely don’t always need the Otus performance. But I have to admit, it’s tempting and it’s kind of addictive. It’s inspirational too.

Then the price. Is it expensive? Sure it is! But is it crazy expensive? Sure it isn’t! Being less expensive than the 50mm Leica M Summilux, let go the Apo-Summicron or Noctilux that double and triple it’s price and that the Otus still optically outperforms(!), I guess we gotta stay reasonable concerning the price. To all that criticize its price, I can only say: what do you expect anyway?

I’d say the Otus is not cheap at all, but still it’s absolutely very attractively priced. I love Zeiss for that.

What to shoot with the Otus

What I wanna tell you in this last chapter is about the considerations I made, when starting to shoot with the Otus – considerations about what kind of images to shoot, about how to select the subjects.

This is the best lens in the world, so obviously, my pictures should have to show it, no? Since the subject is the most important element of any picture, I started thinking about what kind of subjects would prove those exceptional Otus qualities. This made me shoot mainly at f/1.4 and f/16 initially, because at the widest and narrowest apertures, Otus still renders exceptional detail, where normally we’d expect a lens to get a lot softer. Another matter, that kept me busy, was how to show that this detail is rendered all over the image, not only at widest and narrowest apertures but also in the corners. And then there is the matter of the incredible micro contrast. And the lack of distortion, flare, etc… To make a long story short, finding “Otus-worthy” subjects quickly became a worrisome task.

But then I thought of how I always have compared musicians, that merely show off their technique, with a circus act (“look what I can do!”) – impressive, but having not much to do with music. Since, as a matter of fact, my professional education has been in music, it always helps my photography to think of comparable situations in music. All of a sudden, I realized that I absolutely don’t have to show off the Otus’ superiority. Whatever lens is used, one rather just needs to think about the picture, and how to shoot it in the best possible way, but not about how to come up with the most “virtuoso” images, using this exceptional lens. That would only have a paralyzing effect and stand in the way of creativity. From that moment on, I felt kind of liberated an relieved. I could use all apertures again in regard of the most favorable DOF and not regarding the “applause” I’d get for the “stunning technicality” of the picture. Every Otus image would already have a superior quality, compared to what I would have gotten, should I have used another lens. Thinking about this lens in this way, makes me absolutely enjoy every shot, also the most simple and modest ones, and makes me use it without restraint whenever I feel like it. In every picture, I see the extra that is contributed by the lens, as I also did, when upgrading from the NEX-7 to the A7r.

Besides that, this lens/camera combination is particularly appropriate for large format printing and extreme cropping, two things that for most of today’s photographers are pretty exceptional. Still, as I said, owning and enjoying one myself, I simply use it, whenever I feel for it and whenever its focal length makes sense – as I do with all my lenses. It’ll never let me down when I employ in that way.

My overall conclusion

The A7r absolutely offers the widest variety of lens/body combinations amongst FF camera’s on the market today (surely for MF shooters that are not afraid of buying some good-quality adapters). Of all those combinations, the A7r/Otus is probably the most extreme concerning size and weight, since in that department, they differ the most (which can be harmonized by mounting the grip on the A7r). Still, both have pretty much all other characteristics in common. It’s not the case, but when combining them, it surely feels as if they were meant for one another. Indeed, this turned out to be a very workable combination for me, one that not only offers the summit in IQ, it’s also surprisingly well balanced, as well on tripod as in the hand. Thanks to the latter, and with the right technique, one can shoot OOH at surprisingly slow shutter speeds, significantly slower than average. So the Otus performs wonderfully great on the A7r, but this is no “plug-and-play” lens. You need to know what you’re doing and if you wanna exploit it fully, you need to proceed with great care.

The Otus 1.4/55 is not cheap, but still it’s very competitively prised. (Same counts for the A7r, BTW.) This lens is not compact at all, but still it’s a tremendous joy to use, because it’s so well made. It really feels good to operate and it’s so extremely rewarding regarding IQ, the more in combination with the A7r, that it easily becomes an addiction.

That’s more than enough for me!

(There are some more pictures hereunder. You can look at all pictures in bigger size in a dedicated set on flickr, by clicking on http://www.flickr.com/photos/keepnitgood/sets/72157641276669365/)

Thanks for reading, guys! I hope you enjoyed it.

Art Center at the Canal

B.Waldmin

Bed and breakfast

Early spring at the canal

Front leaves

Hard Rock Beauty

Kitchen Still Life

So many windows

Train and bicycle

Tree bark

Two ships

Two worlds

You missed something

There are more Zeiss Otus images in Steve’s A7 and A7r review HERE.

Nov 252013
 

The Sony A7r – A Short Review by Tianyu Zhao

(Note: This is a guest user report, my full A7 and A7r review should be up within 5-7 days, Steve)

Hi Steve,

I’ve been reading your blog since I got serious into photography a couple of months back. Can’t say how much your real world reviews have helped me when choosing my lenses, so I’ve decided to share my experience with the new A7R and hopefully it can be of help to others.

I’m by no means a professional photographer, just an amateur who loves to play his camera and taking candids on the street. I pre-ordered the A7R once it was put up online as an upgrade to my NEX7. As of now I own 3 RF lenses: ZM35f2, ZM50f2 and ZM18f4. The first two have been reviewed by Steve and received quite some positive feedbacks and needless to say my results replicated the findings. The two lenses were excellent on the A7R, with the ZM50f2 being a stellar performer and while the 35f2 had some vignetting and slight magenta cast (which you won’t be able to notice for everyday shots), I found it more than comfortably tolerable. Overall the two lenses rendered superbly, and for those who want an extra stop over the FE35f2.8, you won’t go wrong with the little ZM35. On the other hand, the ZM18f4 is an interesting lens. While I’ve heard comments saying how lenses of asymmetrical design should fare better on A7/A7R, there were still noticeable vignetting and magenta cast. Although a simple Cornerfix profile creation would solve this issue rather easily, for those who would prefer not to go through this additional step I would recommend that you wait for Sony’s FE wide-angle zoom to come out (heard it’s about mid next year), or pick one of the SLR WAs – if you can’t live without a WA and can tolerate the added weight. That being said, the images produced by this lens is quite good with rich Zeiss colours and no visible distortion. Definitely among the better performing M Mount WAs.

Back to the camera itself, I found the new A7R to be an exceptional little beast. It’s extremely well-built, though I’ve had problems with the placement of the shutter and some of the control wheels were a bit too tight for my liking. With regard to the shutter sound, it would definitely be picked up if you intend to shoot street with it, but I’ve grown to like the shutter sound a lot – a firm mechanical noise that would give you a sense of security as you snap a shot. Image quality wise it’s pretty impressive, though high ISO performance is falls a little short of my expectation (the A7 will be better in this area due to the lower MP). I’ve had no problems shooting candids with this camera – it is a little bit ‘slow’ and obtrusive as compared to my NEX7 and other street cameras such as X100S and Ricoh GR, but it is definitely manageable and the image quality is stunning.

Here are three images I’ve taken in Shanghai using A7R + ZM35f2 and ZM50f2 (the last image). The images are RAW files processed and converted using Lightroom 5.3. Hope you’ll like them!

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Nov 172013
 

Sony A7 and A7r in the house..review in progress!

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Hope all of you are having a great relaxing or fun weekend! Just wanted to let you all know that I now have the Soy A7 and A7r in hand along with the 35 2.8, 55 1.8 and 28-70 kit zoom. When I was in Nashville shooting these a few weeks ago I mainly shot them with Leica M  glass and LOVED It. I have now been shooting them with the Native glass and yesterday shot them indoors at a reptile show in Phx and did notice the AF missing a bit with the 55 1.8 lens (when shooting at its minimum focus distance). I found  that using selective spot focus helped but still was not what I had hoped. Not horrible but not 100% spot on either. Keep in mind this was INDOOR in lower light and the 55 1.8 was on the A7 not the A7r.

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The 35 2.8 did great and I LOVE the rendering of this lens! At 2.8 it is sharp yet creamy and gives off a very nice look. I can see the Zeiss signature here. I have a long way to go to review these cameras, compare them and see what they can and can not do. I also had my Leica M out with me along with an old 35 Summaron (which is so so so good and classical, even for being an f/3.5 lens) and the M shooting experience, I have to say, is 2nd to none though the Sony’s can put out even better IQ and detail.

So I look forward to shooting with these Sony cameras but can already tell you that the IQ abilities are up there with the best in full frame 35mm, if not THE best. Using Leica glass on them is a JOY. For some, buying an A7 and a Leica M mount 35 or 50 will be all that is needed :) The Sony Zeiss 35 2.8 is stellar as well, with AF.

Click snaps below for larger view – all JPEGS

1st shot below.. A7 and 55 1.8 at 1.8 – ISO 500

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A7 and 55 1.8 at 1.8 – JPEG

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A7r ad 35 2.8 at 2.8

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So stay tuned for more over the next few weeks! 

Steve

Oct 242013
 

Some images from Photo Plus in NYC today. Sony, Zeiss, Leica…

What a day! Whew…

Yesterday I flew out of Sunny AZ at 6am headed to NYC for the Photo Plus show going on this week. When I arrived in NY I did a big “UH OH” because I realized I only brought a light jacket with me, and here I was in NYC in 48 degree weather! The good thing is that it was not THAT cold so I survived a short walk to dinner with some friends and had a great evening. As always, I had a camera with me so for the chilly walk back I snapped a shot or two..

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This morning I woke up later than I expected, around 8:30AM. Had a business phone call at 9 through 9:30 and by the time I headed out to the show it was 10:30.

On my way I had to take a picture of myself in front of B&H Photo, the “Candy Land” for photo and tech geeks!

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I only had a 15 minute walk to the convention center from my hotel, and was cool that B&H is one block from my hotel. Makes it too easy to spend money though!

As I walked I snapped a few shots with a fisheye that I have been playing around with…

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When I arrived to Photo Plus I saw a few familiar faces and made my way to pick up my press pass.

I ended up walking around and it seemed every few steps someone who knew me would walk up to me to chat! Was so cool to meet so many readers of this site today, all were super nice and wonderful people.

I eventually found my way to the most crowded section of the show (from what I saw) and it was the Sony Booth. They had the A7 and A7r on display, as well as the new RX10 (which is  looking better and better to me the more I mess with it). I even had a chance to borrow a Zeiss 50 1.5 Sonnar from a woman who was testing some old lenses on the A7. She was kind enough to let me take a shot or two with her lens mounted on the A7.

I snapped a shot of a guy who was chatting with me (a reader here) at 1.5, wide open. Sony would NOT let me put an SD card in the camera (they are saying the camera is still not FINAL in FW, so pre-production) but when I saw the playback it had the full on Zeiss character and was beautiful. I am telling you this..the camera was a breeze to manually focus with this Zeiss ZM lens. No focus shift because you are using Live View, so what you see is what you get.

The OOF transitions were creamy, the color was nice for being indoors with horrible light and I can tell that this camera is going to deliver on IQ, no doubt in my mind at all. After more hands on time with the A7 and A7r I can tell you that yes, the A7r does have metal dials on top where the A7 has plastic. They both feel great and I noticed no difference in feel or build when in my hand. I have a feeling that the a7r is going to be the Godzilla of resolution. A beast.

Shot with the 50 Zeiss Zm Sonnar at 1.5

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So after messing around and chatting with a few folks a woman walks up from Zeiss to show me the new Otus lens. This lens is a statement piece from Zeiss and coming in at $4000. The 55 1.4 design is gorgeous but man, this lens is HUGE (though light).

She wanted me to try it on the A7r and I used the Metabones Adapter to do so. When I looked at the results on the screen..WOWOWOWOWOW. This lens is something the perfectionist will want. Those who want ultimate IQ..this lens will do the trick and seeing that it is a pro manual focus lens (NO AF), it feels REALLY good in use. It is just large.

I HEARD MUMBLINGS…Sony was telling Zeiss..MAKE THIS FOR FE MOUNT! So we shall see. Below is the lens with hood attached and Metabones EF to E mount adapter. I may get to shoot with this lens on the A7r NEXT WEEK and this time, with an SD card in the camera :)

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So as I left Sony I headed toward Nikon, Canon, Fuji and Panasonic. Not much new there. Saw the GX7 but I already reviewed it here. I saw the All weather Nikon 1 which was larger and much more solid than I expected and I saw a few other things around the convention center that were more interesting than what Nikon was offering..

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I stopped by the Olympus booth and they were busy with everyone checking out the E-M1 and even E-P5. I saw quite a few walking around today with OM-D E-M5’s and E-P5’s. The woman above was doing an act for Olympus demoing their wifi smartphone/ipad remote feature. Before I shot this I cracked a joke which was probably not good because she could have lost her concentration :) But she didn’t. Behind here you can see every Olympus Micro 4/3 and 4/3 lens ever made.

The Leica booth had a few gawkers but they were not showing anything new besides their “Glossy Black” D-Lux 6. Yet another refresh of the same old D-Lux 6 which appeared to be slapped together just for the show..I mean, they had to have SOMETHING new right?

They did have this on display…

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I stopped by Fuji as well and took a look at the new X-E2. Looks and feels like an X-E1. Same build. AF seemed faster but not a dramatic difference. The new 23 1.4 was fantastic though.  This is a lens I would buy if I owned a Fuji. Smaller than you think as well.

So after the show I walked back to my room, stopped off at B&H Photo once again and am now laying in my hotel bed writing this update. What I learned today from Photo Plus is that there is MASS interest in the Sony A7 and A7r as well as  the new RX10. Olympus is hot with the E-M1 and Nikon and Canon are still Nikon and Canon with their usual DSLR updates. (yawwwn)

Leica is holding steady with M sales doing very well for them and Panasonic had quite the crowd as well.

So without a doubt, the biggest thing here this year is the Sony A7 and A7r. Sales are STRONG, results are looking AMAZING and the camera is well made, solid and has very fast AF. When something this good comes along, it gets noticed and the people I spoke with today who were giving it a spin all said the same thing..”I pre ordered one already”. They were all happy with the fact that they did.

Remember, starting on the 28th I will have loads of samples and news and videos on the new A7 and A7r and RX10, so bookmark and come back because you will NOT want to miss it.

For those wondering, all photos posted here were shot with an Olympus E-P5.

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I will beheading back to the show tomorrow morning to throw a Voigtlander 12mm on the Sony A7 and A7r and to see what I see on the LCD. Of course, what I see you will see here right after :)

 

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