Jun 122014
 

Update on the Pentax K-3 “Mirror-Flop” from Amy Medina

PentaxK32

IMPORTANT UPDATE (as of June 11th, 2014)

Just wanted to come back and fill you all in on what has happened since writing this article.

First, reports have continued to come in on the Forum Post I started on PentaxForums.com… we are up to a total of 114 members of that forum who have encountered the problem, with three people possibly having other more severe problems occurring to their cameras as a result of the mirror-flapping. Reports and all the information are here:
http://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/172-pentax-k-3/254464-k3-crazy-mirror-sickness-mirror-flapping-lockup-report-yours-here.html

More importantly though, as of last week, Pentax is now responding differently to people who report the problem directly to them. This started with someone from Germany reporting that he was told he could send his camera in for repair, specifically for the mirror-flapping problem, and that it would be a software-fix that could only be done at a service center. He sent me copies of his paperwork, which seemed to confirm the issue being addressed was mirror-flapping.

I then contact the rep I’ve been dealing with at Pentax USA who replied and informed me that indeed they were offering a fix now for the crazy mirror-flapping. Though the email is a bit vague in its nature, at least progress. There is no indication as to what the cause is, or what exactly is being fixed/adjusted. The part of evaluation and testing is a bit concerning, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Another member also inquired about a fix for the problem received a similar reply.

Below are copies of the emalis:

- – – – -

Thanks for the followup. I can confirm that U.S. customers who are experiencing the “mirror-flop” issue (evaluation and testing are still ongoing) with their K-3s will be advised to send their cameras into our main service center in Chandler, AZ for adjustment to help resolve the issue.

Thanks again,

Mark Davis
Product Specialist
RICOH IMAGING AMERICAS CORPORATION

Thank you for contacting RICOH.

We have been informed that there is now a shop adjustment that can be made to help resolve/reduce the reported K-3 “mirror-flop” issue. I recommend you return your camera directly to RICOH Imaging Company at the address listed below for examination.

RICOH Service Department
250 North 54th St.
Chandler, AZ 85226

May 122014
 

steve-review-xt1

People, Places and Things… and Neil Patrick Harris. A Review of the Fuji XT-1

By Amy Medina

So I’ve been a Fuji XT1 owner now for a few months. I decided to sell my x100 and XE1 both to help fund the purchase, two of the biggest reasons being the new EVF and that weather-sealing is something that comes in handy when I shoot in the rain and snow often. The latter actually leads to one of my biggest gripes with the camera, of which I have very few, and in the grands scheme of things, isn’t much of a gripe at all… at least not yet.

But let’s get it over with. I’m not completely convinced the weather-sealing is all that solid on the XT1. The SD card door doesn’t seem to slide-snap into place as solidly as I’d like, and it’s easier than it should be to accidentally open it. This is the biggest point of weather-sealing weakness, so it seems. Also, when I was researching to buy this camera, I was having a hard time finding an answer — for sure — whether that the kit lens that came with it would be weather sealed or not… and of course, now I know it’s not. Call it a minor annoyance, but I found it irksome that a newly weather-sealed body was sold with a lens that wasn’t equally weather-sealed, especially when there’s no other weather-sealed lenses available yet. I ended up almost immediately trading the kit lens for the SLR Magic 35mm.

Fuji XT1 + SLR Magic 35mm

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Fuji XT1 + SLR Magic 35mm

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So lets take my gripe with the new weather-sealing out of the equation for now (since there’s no real way to test it)…

When I first held the camera, I was otherwise pretty impressed. The camera feels more solid than the XE1, because it weighs just a bit more and is ever-so-slightly bigger. It has a magnesium alloy construction and a rubberized exterior that have a nice feel in heft and which looks nice in design. The dials are not wishy-washy — I often found it was too easy to accidentally knock the exposure compensation dial out-of-place on the XE1, but that’s not the case at all with the XT1, where each position snaps into its setting firmly. The camera fits in my hand nicely, and I love the small molded “grip” that is part of the front of the body, and combined with the molded thumb rest on the back, it just makes for a really comfortable fit holding the camera. Occasionally, I found the XE1 a little too small, so the faintly larger size of the XT1 is actually a nice one — and if you know me, I like a small camera, so by no means is the XT1 “big”.

There’s been a little talk in the Fuji community about “mushy” buttons on the back. I find them to provide mostly, a good experience to use. Lets face it, we often have to use these buttons blind, because we don’t want to take our eye off the viewfinder. I don’t find it difficult to do. However, I would suggest they could provide a little more tactile feedback… especially the AF Assist button (see below) and the Q.Menu button.

Image quality on the camera is outstanding. If you’re familiar with the XE1 and XE2, you won’t be disappointed with the XT1, as the sensor is essentially the same. Color and contrast are deliciously good, and it’s startling how sharp the files can be. Performance of the XT1 however, beats other Fuji’s easily, simply because there’s no contest when it comes to autofocus speed, EVF refresh rates, and continuous focus tracking.

Since many of the X-Trans cameras and XT1 share the same sensor, the reason for upgrading is really going to be focus speed and EVF improvements (and hypothetically at this point, the weather-sealing). The focus speed is much improved over the XE1… In operation, it’s a noticeable difference, not one only measured in labs. In fairness though, I didn’t find I missed all that many shots with the old Fuji either, and for me it was more the improved EVF that drew me to upgrade; I shoot quite a bit with manual lenses like the SLR Magic, and Leica and Voigtlander M-Glass.

Fuji XT1 + Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 Nokton

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Yes, the new EVF is as amazing as you’ve heard from others. The bigger eye-cup is nice, and the fact they offer an even bigger one as an accessory is a nice option. It’s a bit of a dust magnet though, so I’m extremely happy with the ability to snap the eye-cup off for cleaning. With the XE1, the lag time that was sometimes present in the EVF could be a real displeasure, so having nearly a lag-free experience with the XT1 has been a delight. The image your see when looking through the EVF is large and immersive, and from someone who has become accustomed to EVF cameras, it’s clearly the nicest one I’ve worked with. For those of you with glasses, it does offer diopter adjustment, and in my opinion, it sits in a better spot than it did on the XE1, which I seemed to accidentally knock out of position constantly.

Manual focusing is such a pleasure with the Fuji XT1. With the bright and clear image from this amazing new EVF and the multiple options for focus-assisting — different peak colors and levels, or digital split image — it’s just a great experience. I was manual focusing with the XE1 back before Fuji even offered peaking or split image, and I was always able to get the shot with the “jaggies” trick that a lot of Fuji users are familiar with, but now with peaking and split image, I never have to strain-and-pray or guess to get a shot in focus.

I tend to use focus peaking the most, set to “white” and “high”, but the split image option is an interesting one, giving an almost rangefinder-like experience. In split image, the focus patch in the middle is black and white, and you have to line up the vertical lines of the item you are trying to focus on. You can also switch between the different focus-assist modes by simply pressing and holding the Focus Assist button. A nice feature indeed.

Of course, this does lead me to another little gripe though. On the Fuji XE1, the thumb wheel on the back was also a toggle button. So when manually focusing, you simple had to press the wheel to magnify, then could move your thumb to turn the wheel to increase/decrease magnification. This isn’t the case with the XT1, where Fuji decided to separate this functionality. There is now a dedicated “focus assist” button you press to get the magnified view, and then the separate thumb wheel will increase or decrease your magnification. This is a minor hassle to me, since I loved the way it was on the XE1 previously, being much more intuitive all in one, easy-to-find-by-feel, point of control. Separating it into two seems counterproductive for us manual-lens shooters. However, over time, I have found I don’t increase magnification all that often, so it’s really just a quibble. More importantly, Fuji if you’re listening, make the Focus Assist button a little easy to find, not so flush with the body!

Fuji XT1 + Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 Nokton

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Most of my “issues” with the camera come down to minor things like this, and interesting ergonomic choices that Fuji decided to make.

Let’s talk about the ISO dial. This is a feature I wanted to love on the XT1, and I often find myself switching ISO quite a bit when I’m shooting. Annoyingly, the dial is the type that locks, with a center button that you have to press in order to turn it. Some people love it. For me, it makes switching the ISO a whole lot more finicky. Personally, I would be enjoying the ISO dial a whole lot more if it were similar in operation to the exposure compensation dial, but at the very least, it should have had the option to lock the dial, similar to how the mode dial on the Pentax K3 can be locked for button-push-required-turning, or unlocked for free-turning.

I know a lot of you will say “well just use auto ISO”. That’s fine and I’ve tried it, but it doesn’t fit the way I like to shoot, as I’m not always looking for the lowest ISO possible. Sometime you just need the shutter speed to be faster, and the camera can’t always make the smartest choice for you. I don’t want to always have to be changing the minimum shutter setting in the auto ISO menu either. The way I had the XE1 set up, I could switch ISO pretty quickly with it assigned to a function (Fn) button. Because of the locked dial that requires the button to be pushed to turn, I can’t say I find it any quicker with the ISO dial, which really, should have made it simpler.

There are lots of customization options with the additional Function (Fn) buttons though, which is great. There is one on the front of the body, one on the top, and four on the back, and all can be customized with a variety of different options. I love customizable buttons. I use them often, and set them up for how I like to shoot. For example, the one on the front, I have that set to focus area, so I can very quickly move the focus area box around.

Fuji XT1 + Fuji 18mm f/2

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With the Fuji X Cameras, there are so many choices for image settings, and I often have people ask me what settings I use. Let’s get it out of the way and state again, the X-Trans sensor is capable of SHARP images. Really sharp. Sharper than you’re likely used to if you haven’t shot with a Fuji before, or if you’ve never shot a camera without an AA filter.

So, I tend to shoot with sharpness at -1. I also keep noise reduction at -1 or -2. And highlight-tone (H-Tone) is at -2 and shadow-tone (S-Tone) is at -1. I start with the Astia (Soft) preset and customize from there. That’s typical, but I sometimes adjust the shadow and highlight tone to 0 depending on the shooting conditions. All of this gives me a more-than-decent out-of-camera jpeg to then work with.

Why don’t I shoot RAW? I’ve never been a big RAW shooter. I’ve always been a JPG shooter in general. And since I can still take my JPGs through ACR just fine, and since Fuji has done such an amazing job with it’s JPGs, there’s just no benefit for me to shoot RAW with this camera. Seeing is believing when it comes to the Fuji JPGs. I’ve had large amazing prints on display in shows and in New York museums, so it’s not something I’m concerned with. And before you start commenting and yelling at me that I’m ridiculous, please note it’s my choice only. You’re welcome to shoot RAW if you like; Just be very cautious using Lightroom or ACR for processing the Fuji RAW files, because from what I’ve heard, they don’t play nice together since Adobe can’t seem to, or doesn’t want to, figure out a new algorithm for dealing with X-Trans files.

Fuji XT1 + Fuji 18mm f/2

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The image quality straight out of the camera is nothing short of exceptional.

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‘ve seriously been enjoying the flip-up-flip-out LCD. It’s been a while since I’ve had a camera with this feature. As someone who has primarily shot Leica, Fuji and Pentax in the last few years, most of the bodies I’ve chosen didn’t seem to also offer a nice articulating LCD… until now. I’ve been known to contort myself into some pretty bizarre positions to try to get the low shot, or climb up onto my car to get the high shots. As someone who is now in her forties and who can’t carry a step-ladder everywhere, I so appreciate not having to do that. LOL

The LCD is big and bright and wonderfully clear, and the fact it will flip down so I can shoot over my head, or flip up so I can get down real low is a delight.

Fuji XT1 + 27mm Pancake

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Fuji XT1 + Fuji 18mm f/2

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The overall performance of the XT1 has been splendid for me. I don’t find the camera getting in my way when trying to take a shot. I’m not fumbling with menus or waiting for the camera to respond. It just take pictures the way I need it to. This seems like a simple thing, but there are a lot of cameras out there, and many of them require menu-diving or are ergonomically awkward, are too big and heavy to carry everywhere or, simply aren’t fun to use. Fuji hits all points for me… small, light, and enjoyable to shoot with, and rarely do I have to dive into a menu.

With most cameras produced in the last couple of years, you are going to get very good high ISO performance. The Fuji is no exception. While I’m not someone who has to utilize high ISO all that often, it’s certainly nice to not have to worry when the need arises. When you’re in New York City, you just never know when you and your family might have the opportunity to meet a celebrity outside a dark Broadway theater at 11pm, so being able to use ISO 6400 with a fast enough shutter speed, while holding the camera up high over the crowd… well lets just say it comes in handy. And yes, my daughter got Neil Patrick Harris’ autograph.

Fuji XT1 + Fuji 27mm Pancake at ISO 6400

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Fuji XT1 + Fuji 27mm Pancake at ISO 6400

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Fuji XT1 + Fuji 27mm Pancake at ISO 6400

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Overall, I’m someone who has been a huge fan of the Fuji cameras. I got into them with the x100 and I really enjoyed it. Then I bought the XE1 and used it religiously all last year, to the point I was wearing off the silver finish at its edges. And now I’ve spent my hard-earned money on the Fuji XT1. I absolutely love what Fuji is doing with its cameras. They are pretty close to being about as perfect a mirrorless camera body as it can be. I’m also exceedingly impressed with Fuji’s ability to listen to it’s customers, to address issues that arise, to provide fairly quick service, and to strive to continue to produce an even more-perfect mirrorless as times goes on. They certainly are committed to producing a camera that not only provides a good experience, but a fantastic image.

Some of my minor hair-spliting aside — which I only hope all of you and Fuji will take as constructive — I’m predominantly a very happy customer, and someone who will keep using the Fuji X-Cameras as long as they stay on this path. For a long time, I’ve had this dream camera in my mind, and so far, the Fuji XT1 comes closest to fulfilling my fantasies… to being the type of small camera body I’ve hoped for all along. We’ve often had to make compromises in buying these small, mirrorless bodies, and this one makes me feel like there aren’t any.

It’s amazing how far we’ve come with mirrorless in just a few years, and I’m excited about what the future holds, especially with Fuji.

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Fuji XT1 + Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 Notkon

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Fuji XT1 + Fuji 27mm Pancake

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Fuji XT1 + 18mm f/2

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Fuji XT1 + Fuji 18mm f/2

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Fuji XT1 + Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 Nokton

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Fuji XT1 + SLR Magic 35mm

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Fuji XT1 + Fuji 27mm Pancake

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Fuji XT1 + Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 Nokton

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Fuji XT1 + Fuji 27mm Pancake

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Fuji XT1 + Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 Nokton

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Apr 152014
 

PentaxK32

Oh Pentax… I tried, I really did.

The Pentax K3 and the Crazy-Acting Mirror Sickness

by Amy Medina

What a frustrating few months it has been. I am going to preface this article by stating this: Pentax really did bend over backwards to try to make me happy, and in the end they did do the right thing for me individually, even if it doesn’t solve the issue (yet) for the many others who may come across it

So it all began back in July. Yes, July. I started having issues with my original K5 and took it to a local retailer for service, being under the silly impression they might be able to fix it there. Their salesman did not tell me otherwise, despite the fact I told him I needed the camera back in a week. Well, Mr. Salesman gave it to Mr. Repairman, not relaying my urgent need for the camera back, and off it went to Pentax without my knowledge.

To keep this long story as short as I can, I’ll spare you all the phone calls and back and forth trying to figure out what was going on with my camera and how much it was going to cost to fix, and who messed up by sending it in the first place (because I could have done that myself)… etc. etc. and fast forward to OCTOBER when I finally got the camera back, not fixed. It was then they finally agreed to fix it for free after all my trouble, and the local Pentax Rep got involved and gave me a K5-II loaner to use. My K5 went back to Pentax.

Then the K3 came out, so I decided to jump in. I was getting a lot more professional work and, though I was frustrated with my recent experience, gave Pentax and my local retailer another chance. The retailer knocked some money off the price of the camera for all my trouble, so I set out to shoot lots of timelapse for my client with my new K3 and my loaner K5-II.

And little did I know, the drama had barely begun.

Almost right away I started having issues with the K3 locking up. In Pentax-Land, we call this “runaway mirror syndrome” or as I like to call it, “Crazy-Acting (or Crazy-Ass) Mirror Sickness” (CAMS). What happens is this: You’re going about your business taking photos or shooting timelapse or whatever, and suddenly, without warning, the mirror goes nuts, starting to slap away rapidly, like a machine gun. The camera goes completely unresponsive when this happens and all you can typically do is pop out the battery to get it to stop. It takes no photos while it’s going nuts either, so whatever shot you were trying to take, well that moment is lost forever. Whatever timelapse you were trying to capture is now lost and interrupted until you stop the camera and get it set back up again to start reshooting.

At first, I obviously thought it was a fluke. Or then maybe it was caused by the weather (it was very cold here). But as time went on, with almost every timelapse shoot I went to, the camera would lock up and go mirror-crazy. I’ve been doing anywhere from one to three of these timelapse shoots per week, so me and the crazy flapping mirror became good friends. And there have been other “silent” lockups too, where the camera just stops shooting and responding.

Having had the contact with the Pentax Rep and Pentax Repair directly now (because of those original K5 problems), I used those contacts to report this problem. And for a long while, I was happy to do testing for them (and for me) to see if we could narrow the problem down. Here’s what I found out.

Crazy-Acting Mirror Sickness (CAMS) of the K3 – A Summary

  • It happens in any temperature, from 10º (F) to 50º (F). So it’s not just in cold weather.
  • It happens in humid (even drippy foggy) weather, as well as dry. Not likely static.
  • It happens indoors and outdoors. So that eliminates most environmental causes.
  • It happens with a multitude of SD cards… different brands and sizes.
  • It happens with a multitude of batteries, from old original K5 batteries to brand spanking new K3 batteries.
  • Pentax even sent me a shiny new NEW battery to try, and it happened with that too.
  • All batteries I’ve used and tried are genuine Pentax ones.
  • I’ve never used third-party batteries, but I’ve heard of others with the issue who have.
  • It happens whether the battery is fully charged, or much more depleted. Doesn’t matter.
  • It happens with all my lenses, not just one.
  • It happens whether you use live-view or not.
  • It happens with one SD card in the camera, or with two.
  • It happens with Shake Reduction on, or with it off.
  • It happens in M (Manual) mode, Av (Aperture Priority Mode) and User Mode.
  • It happened to me shooting timelapse, but reports indicate it happens in all drive modes, including single-shot and continuous shooting.

Another Pentaxian I met online set out to recreate the issue himself, and it happened to him the first day he tried to recreate it. He had the issue crop up with the battery grip. I have never used the battery grip. So it happens with and without.

One user had it happen with the AC Adaptor.

It has happened with all firmware versions, including the latest 1.03.

First part of the video shows a silent lockup. Second half shows the CAMS issue…

 

And worst of all… it happened to me across two K3 bodies.

After all this testing and writing to Pentax Repair about it, they finally told me to exchange the body for a new one. That happened in February. I went to my retailer and he gave me a new K3. That was a Saturday. The following Monday I went to a time-lapse shoot, got half way through the day without a problem (and was feeling optimistic)… and then, just after lunch, this out-of-the-box, new K3 body fell into Crazy-Ass Mirror Sickness.

You can imagine, I wasn’t happy.

Where does that leave me now? Well, very frustrated and disappointed.

Through all of this I’d been communicating with Pentax Repair, who liked to tell me they couldn’t reproduce the issue, which honestly, leaves me asking if they are trying hard enough. It happens to me at nearly every shoot. I know the tech is trying to be helpful when he asks me a lot of questions, but when they are the same questions over and over I get a little irritated. When I send him video of the problem and he tells me “it doesn’t show me anything but your settings” until I tell him to turn up his volume, well you can imagine more than frustration.

And now, my time with the K3 is over. It has been returned in favor of two K5-IIs bodies. So far, with 25,000 shutter actuations on one and 15,000 on the other, I haven’t had any issues. I’ve also bought the Fuji XT1, and since that is time lapse capable, I’ll be testing that out while researching and exploring other options out there as well.

And I will repeat, I am disappointed. Mostly, because I liked the K3 in every other way!

  • Image quality: Outstanding
  • Performance (other than CAMS and random silent lockups): Great
  • High ISO performance: Excellent
  • Autofocus: Much better (more accurate) than original K5
  • Feature-Set: Impressive
  • Size & Weight: Perfect for DSLR
  • Battery Life: Nothing short of amazing
  • Value vs. price: Excellent

but…

  • Service: Very slow.

and…

  • Reliability: Very poor.

… and the end bit, well that’s actually most important when you’re shooting stuff for a paying client.

 

In the end, Pentax is taking care of me. They have let me exchange the K3 out for something else. They fixed that original K5 for me for free because of the retailer’s debacle. They have tried to make me happy. They’ve heard my complaints for months (and to my own credit, have had the benefit of my patient testing for all that time too).

But it makes me sad they haven’t come to a conclusion as to what causes this problem on their flagship DSLR. If they don’t figure it out, it’s possible future bodies will suffer the same problem. If they won’t take the time to reproduce it so they can see what’s happening, it won’t be solved for the other people who run into the issue. I know my shooting is somewhat unique… and because of the weekly timelapse shoots, I run into the issue more regularly, by sheer law of averages. But I’ve heard stories from other Pentaxians who are just shooting regular, typical photography and run into the issue as well. Not good. Not good at all.

Matter of fact, I started a thread at the PentaxForums for people to report the issue, and in a month’s time, it’s accumulated 74 reports of this same issue. And most of those people weren’t shooting timelapse at all.

Other K3 Users Reporting the Issue

I’m not a kid having a tantrum here. My only hope is that Pentax sees this as the serious issue it truly is and decides it’s important enough to track down, address and fix. I’ve actually recommended Pentax cameras directly and indirectly (through reviews) over the years, and have converted several photographers into Pentaxians, amateurs and professionals alike. I want Pentax to be my go-to work camera. And they want me on their side… especially when I’m one of the few who actually likes the K-01. LOL

A great number of you may never run into this issue… and for that I’m glad.

If you don’t shoot time-lapse or weddings/events professionally, journalism or even birds/animals/nature, it’s probably not an issue to worry too much about… at least in the sense that it will cause you wide-spread problems. If you have to depend on it to get specific shots that you cannot “do over”, and if the camera is getting heavy use, then I’d rethink relying on the K3 until this issue is fixed.

The silver lining in all of this is that as much testing as I’ve done to the K3, I’ve also done to the K5-II… and the K5-II has been rock solid. Not a second of trouble in all the same conditions at all the same shoots. No lockups, no mirror gone cray-cray, no corrupt SD cards or files… not one issue at all. The K5-IIs bodies are proving just as reliable so far. At least we know it’s possible for Pentax/Ricoh to produce a dependable, well performing camera. What is frustrating is that their newest model, with all it’s wonderful new features appears not to be that camera.

I didn’t WANT to give up the K3. In every other way I was truly impressed by the camera and the K5-IIs/K5-II is a step backwards. They have tried to help me, but the exchange isn’t a solution to the problem, only a solution to my predicament at the moment. If it is never fixed, does that mean we’ll all have to worry about the same issue coming up again in their next model? At this point, I’d say that is likely, and that is quite unfortunate.

Below I will share some of the photos I’ve taken for my own enjoyment in the time I’ve owned the K3, and timelapse videos for you to see. I hope you enjoy them. If you’re a Pentax user who has experienced CAMS, please report it to Pentax, even if it only happened to you once. Don’t be silent. If you haven’t had the issue, I hope you never do… and truly, just go forth and enjoy your Pentax K3. But for this issue, there’s a lot to enjoy there.

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icecreamandbridge

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Aug 292013
 

sandy

Salted Wounds – Hurricane Sandy Book 

Hey to everyone! Today is a gorgeous Thursday and I am taking it slow for the next few days because I know there is a slew of new stuff right around the corner, sO I am gearing up for it. New Micro 4/3, New Sony, and maybe a surprise or two from other camera companies. Also have a couple of new bags on the way for review, more on the “Stylish” and “Functional” side. So I will have a busy week next week. That means today, I am answering e-mails, catching up with news, cleaning my home office and trying to decide what I want for lunch.

While browsing around I remembered a project that a friend of mine is doing and many of you should know her. Amy Medina is working on a book called “Salted Wounds” about Hurricane Sandy. Amy has written many articles and  reviews here in the past few years and Hurricane Sandy affected her personally with damage to her roof (that is now leaking). Being the passionate photographer that she is, she went out after the storm and shot much of the aftermath and is now compiling all of those into a beautiful book and e-book. Her Indiegogo goal of $1000 has been met to cover costs of the books, printing and work involved and Amy is now going to donate some of the proceeds to a Hurricane Sandy Charity as well.

I’ve met Amy as she has attended two of my meet ups/workshops in the past. Great person and 100% passionate about what she does.

Go check out her Indigogo project page and if you would like to pitch in you can for as little as $7 for the e-book. Also, FYI, I was in early and paid $57 for the full book and print :) Good luck Amy!

Check it out HERE.

 

Jun 032013
 

title_lookmanohandss

SLR Magic 35mm f/1.4: Is it Magical?

a mixed bag of tricks, with an outstanding prestige…

by Amy Medina

Since I’ve been considering buying the new SLR Magic 23mm f/1.7 for my Fuji XE1, Steve was kind enough to lend me his 35mm f/1.4 to try out for a week or so to see how I got along with it. I was excited when it arrived, and quickly got it out of the packaging and onto my camera, where it would live permanently for over a week.

The lens itself feels like it’s made well. It has a bit of heft to it, and I liked the size on the Fuji XE1; Not too fat, and a bit longer than the Fuji 35mm lens. It’s made of metal, and balances well on the camera, with a little bit of weight behind it, to give it a sturdy feel, not like a lens that will fall apart or easily break.

I’m not a fan of the screw-on lens cap. Not even a little bit. It’s annoying and impractical. Of course, because this wasn’t my own lens, I kept the lens cap on when not in use, but I can tell you, if I were to purchase one, that would not be the case. The lens cap would likely come off in the morning and not return to its home until the end of the day, when all photography is complete. Screwing the darn thing on and off is just a pain in the neck, so I’d likely end up spending a few dollars to find a cheap snap-on one that fits properly.

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Other than the cheaper CCTV lenses I’ve used on my Olympus camera, this was my first time using a lens that had a smooth rotating aperture dial, without click-stops. This was another aspect of the SLR Magic I didn’t like much, because setting the f-stop blind is nearly impossible to do. I also found it was too easy to knock it or accidentally rotate it off the setting you want, because it doesn’t stay put with the help of a click-stop. It theory, I would have considered this a minor annoyance, and one that wouldn’t prevent me from buying the lens — but in real-world practice, I found I accidentally moved it more than I would have liked.

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The focusing of the SLR Magic 35mm is something that made me wonder if I was going crazy. I realize, focusing at f/1.4 is not always easy, and the slightest self-movement can cause you to find your subject with less than ideal focus. However, there were times with this lens that I was convinced I had not moved, but the focus still “fell out” of its position. It is not sharp edge-to-edge, and where in the finder you have your focus point seems to be more important with this lens that with other f/1.4s. I’m a focus-recompose shooter, but I got along better with the SLR Magic when I composed first, and then moved the Fuji XE1′s focus point to my subject prior to attempting to focus, rather than leaving it in the center and then recomposing the shot after focusing.

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The focus pull itself was a little wishy-washy for my taste… I like a stiffer focusing ring than the SLR Magic 35mm provides. It’s really just a bit loose feeling, especially when critical focus wide-open seems to “float out” too easily (or is that just me going crazy again?)… I do shoot with quite a few lenses that are anywhere from f/1.4 to f/2 wide open, and I’ve never had this problem with any of them, but maybe I’m a bit spoiled shooting with a lot of M-Glass.

All that said, it sounds like overall I wasn’t happy with this lens… but that surprisingly isn’t the case. While its form was good, and it’s function sometimes argued with me, the fact-of-the-matter is that I really enjoyed the character of the files this lens was capable of producing. Focus fall-off was often dramatic, and the bokeh was smooth and pleasing. I was rarely disappointed with the photos I took using this lens, even if I sometimes felt it took a little extra shooting time to get the end result. The looks of the photos produced using the SLR Magic 35mm seemed unique and full of character… qualities I absolutely adore in a lens, because ultimately it’s really all about the photos themselves, right?

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An interesting aspect of this lens, unlike a lot of M-Glass, is that the closest focusing distance is less than a foot, which allows for a little more creative freedom doing close-up shots of subjects. Funny, because I’m so used to shoot with M-Glass, that I often don’t think to even try to focus closer than 2-3 feet, and ended up discovering it purely by accident one afternoon at the beach (see the bamboo shot below). LOL!

Other than the crazy “drifting” I mentioned above, I really didn’t find it difficult to manually focus this lens on the Fuji body… but I will add a disclaimer to that by saying that I’ve been using manual glass so much on my Fuji, that I’ve gotten quite good at manual focusing overall. I’d still welcome focus peaking on the body, but the “jaggies” are often good enough (and those of you familiar with the X-Series body and manual focusing probably already know what I’m talking about).

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And, at the end of my time with this little magical 35, the thought of having to ship the lens back to Steve was downright depressing. It arrived to me in the midst of some dental issues, and my time with it was bounced between dental appointments and some down-time after having a tooth pulled. However, it’s arrival timing was good because it provided me with a point of pleasure in the middle of it all. When it was time to send it back, I felt like it had become my friend, so I had to pack her up quickly, as if pulling off a bandaid.

So even with all my complaints, I still feel in love… or at least strong like, with the SLR Magic 35mm f/1.4. When work is more steady and I’m not scraping together pennies to buy gear more suited to freelance work, I’ll be putting some aside for its 23mm cousin, because I think in the end, we’ll get along just fine. If I wasn’t currently and unfortunately unemployed, I’d likely buy both the 23mm and 35mm!

Apr 112013
 

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Cheese is for Sandwiches by Amy Medina

I’m notoriously bad at taking family photos. What I mean is that even though I always have a camera with me, and even though you’ll often find me contorted in the grass trying desperately to get the perfect shot of some obscure object, I don’t often think of taking shots at family functions. I’m great at watching and absorbing what is going on around me, but when I’m with loved-ones, I don’t always think to take pictures. A good example was this past weekend at a family party. My niece was partaking in some great imagination adventure, moving rocks from her little toddler car to the garden, and I watched in amazement. It never occurred to me to take a picture of this bizarre ritual.

And you will NEVER find me asking people to pose; to stand in a row, grouped all together facing the camera, commanding them to say “cheese”.

I suppose those standard, “everyone line up now” shots have their place in family photo albums, and we do all appreciate seeing them years later. However, for me, when I do decide to hold my camera up to my face during a family function, I like to capture the spirit of the memory (if I can). I don’t want to wonder exactly which family gathering it was, because there’s no context in which to identify what was happening that day.

I love when I see a photo I’ve taken of family members, and the day comes flooding back to me… I can remember the laughter, or the significance of the day, or even the fear.

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I suppose I don’t shoot as many family photos as most because I like to challenge myself to shoot something that would be interesting to anyone, even a complete stranger. Filtering it through my own bias, of course I probably don’t accomplish that as often as I like to think I do, but I believe it’s a good challenge none-the-less.

Another contributor to this site, Peter, is an expert at this — a master of family photos that could be presented as beautiful art. It’s something to strive for, to have a collection of photos of family and friends that is a little more intriguing than a group of people shouting “cheese” at the camera.

We live in an age where snapping the photo itself is easy to do, since nearly everyone has an iPhone or some pocket device that will take a picture. At every family function I go to, there are lots of loved-ones with cameras, shooting away taking tons of photos, but all I need is one or two well-timed, well-executed shots to remind me of the day.

 

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The silent beauty of photography is that ability to capture a moment in time, and all the little details that can so easily be forgotten. Those little details get lost in our memory, but they tell a complete story when you see them again months or years later. They remind us of the conversations we were having just before, or the feelings we had just after. If the photo lacks any context and could easily just be any sunny day on the lawn posed under a tree, while it may make you happy to look at, it won’t be accompanied by the same wondrous thoughts that arise from the specific elements missing.

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My own family photos rarely show a group shot posed with everyone smiling. I mean, sure, I probably have a few, but the ones that are the real keepers are the ones where everyone is sticking out their tongue, or the moment just after when they all relaxed and started joking around, poking each other.

The absolute best ones are always those photos when the subjects don’t even realize I’m there, or are basically ignoring the fact that I’m pointing the camera at them.

It’s like shooting street except with people you love.

You aren’t hiding the fact that you’re there with a camera, but you’d prefer they go about their business and forget about you and your equipment. Candid, unposed people photography is when the magic can happen, and what better subjects to make magical than the family and friends you love most.

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There’s also something funny about those forced, over-the-top camera smiles my family occasionally graces me with. My daughter has been caught more than once making a face she’d kill me for if I shared here today — but you can bet they pop up on my screen saver or television slideshow from time to time… and they always end up in a year-end photo book on my coffee table.

A corny grin, or an animated gesture just for the purposes of that photo in that particular setting, always bring a big smile to my face.

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And don’t forget the surprise photos as well… you know the technique, which works best on teenagers who want to be defiant about you taking a shot of them. Just call their name and when they turn around, steal the shot. I’ve had more than one teenager tell me to “delete that!” right after… but I don’t always (evil grin – LOL).

 

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I’m mostly a seascape, still-life, random street scene type of photographer… and that’s where I enjoy taking my photography seriously. But it wasn’t until recently that I really started to appreciate what family photos mean to me. I just can’t be the “say cheese” type of photographer.

Though we, as photographers, may be out photographing street, or landscapes or some other subject, our family photos are some of the most important ones we will take in our lifetime. We may want to be recognized for our other work, or hope to be taken seriously in the art world or more commercial venues, but photographing our loved ones shouldn’t be left to posed, after-thought snapshots.

On any given day with my loved-ones, there are a sea of impressions left upon us, by the people themselves and the scene in which life plays itself out. I like to try to capture all of it, not everyone outside of that moment thinking about having their photo taken. I want the photos to depict what was actually happening, and to be able to relive that tale in a single glimpse, having it spark an hour of reminiscing.

Telling your subjects to “say cheese” ends up being some kind of warning, or cue to pose in the exact same way they always pose for pictures, and I know that’s not what I want. Maybe it goes back to the days when people had to stand still for a long time to get that portrait photo taken, but we’re well passed that now… and I want my subjects to do anything but stand still.

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…except maybe when I’m taking a photo of myself and my husband… LOL

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See more from Amy below:

Mar 182013
 

Visiting with My Father – Do You Print Your Photos?

by Amy Medina

Saint Patricks Day makes me think of my dad. Though auto parts and cars were his trade, he was into photography, and enjoyed taking photos. He unfortunately passed away in 2001, prior to my passion for photography taking full bloom, and I often wonder how he would view my love for it, especially in the digital realm.

Of course, like many kids who grew up in the 70′s, I have faux leather-bound photo albums of the family photos, showing their age and faded, filled with the silly shots and the out-of-focus posed family shots, where my dad handed his camera to someone and our heads are partially cut off. There are photos taken by him, by my mom I’m sure, and by other people with cameras who gave us their doubles. Many of us have these albums laying around or tucked into a cabinet… and I’ve only really come to appreciate their existence as I’ve gotten older.

And then, a couple of years ago, my brother discovered a box of my father’s slides in the bottom of a closet. I knew of them, but years ago; I remember curiously looking through them as child and teenager, squinting through the plastic magnifying loop and holding them up to a window. But I had forgotten about them over the years, in the back of my mind assuming they got lost when my father sold the house I grew up in, or even thrown away just to save space. When my brother found them again after decades of not seeing them, and years after my father had passed, it was like digging up buried treasure.

We sat on my living room floor looking through the mysterious photos that focus in mostly on my father’s time in the service, stationed in Okinawa during the Vietnam War. There are also early family photos, from before I was born and into my toddler years. What pops up are faces of family members long gone, and faces of dear family friends we’ve since rekindled relationships with, and photos of beaches and towns all the way around the world, during a very different era. There are only a few, but there are even photos of my dad himself, where his fellow soldiers and friends seemingly grabbed his camera a stole a shot, like the one of of him sleeping.

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It was a renewed glimpse into my dad’s life, and something my brother and I could experience together, being reintroduced to the man he was — the one we knew and the side of him we knew less about. We talked about our memories and the shots that reminded us of his unique character. We made jokes about some of the things he focused in on. This experience itself created our own new memories, some of which will now always be jokes between us, and something quite special.
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And we shared the photos. I went on EBay and for $15 bought a working slide projector. We were blessed last Memorial Day with spending time with old family friends — friends of my mother and father from “back in the day” who I called Aunt and Uncle and cousins… and we had an evening slide show, projecting the old images and memories across the room onto a screen that brought us thoughtful moments, melancholy feelings and laughter. It was a weekend of unique bonding and closeness, filled with new experiences, and refreshed memories brought to us through stories and my father’s photos.
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All of this gets me thinking: what happens to all of our photos that are sitting on hard drives decades from now? How will our memories be relived by our children and grandchildren? Are we to leave instructions behind on how to access our achives, and is that experience the same as finding an old box of photos in the attic? If a hard drive is disconnected and stored away, reducing our stories to zeros and ones, will our children and grandchildren be able to just plug them in and enjoy them if discovered years later?

There is a tangibility to printing out photos, or leaving behind slides and negatives. It’s something we are losing as a society. I don’t pretend to not enjoy technology… quite the contrary, I’m about as geeky as they come, appreciating all that computers and electronics have to offer, and I take full advantage of the advances. I also think several generations from now, a lot of this will have been worked out somehow by our great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren; the dilemma of common formats and how to access our deceased relatives’ digital footprint. Or at least I have great hopes it will be all worked out. But what happens in the meantime?

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At the end of every year now I print all my photos. I know that may seem excessive and I suppose many of you take a whole lot more photos than I do. There may be a different process you have to take in self-editing first, though be careful not to edit out that blurry photo of grandma because years later you will appreciate it as one of the shots that exist of her. The point is, I want to leave behind boxes of actual photos for my loved-ones to discover and savor… instantly. And I want you to do the same. We should leave behind something tangible that takes no effort to enjoy.

Of course, I’m not talking here about the artistic prints or the gallery canvas, or even the occasional photo book. I do all those myself, but it’s not the same thing. My coffee table books are always there to be browsed through, with the best chosen photos inside them. The prints I hang can always be seen. The people who buys prints, they enjoy them as they do in the room of their choice. What I am talking about is the undiscovered treasure that the rest of your photos will be to your family members and the people who love you: The ones you didn’t share. The ones you shared online that got a zillion “likes” but were forgotten about 3 days later. The shots you thought were mistakes and the ones you took of other family members that they don’t even remember you taking. The photos of places you loved and sights you enjoyed and that picture you took of your feet in the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

At 12¢ per print (more or less) it’s a no-brainer to just take stock at the end of each year and have some 4×6′s made to throw in a box and put in the back of closet or drawer, the same way our parents and grandparents did back in the day after having rolls of film developed. Think of it as your analogue backup. And one that your children and grandchildren may one day appreciate.-

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And my dad (white shirt) with his army buddies in Okinawa in 1966
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Mar 052013
 

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This is a bit off topic but hey, loads of stuff I post is sometimes :) Some of you may know Amy Medina (dangrabbit) as she has posted many articles here on this site. Just do a search in the search bar above with her name “Amy Medina” to see what she has done here. I have known Amy for many years and not only is she a wonderful and dedicated photographer who shoots every single day no matter what, she has a great family and is one of the friendliest people you can ever meet.

No for the help. Amy and her family are huge fans of the TV show “The Walking Dead” and they are getting close to reaching the top 10 in a Walking Dead contest where they created an original video to enter.

Seeing that Amy has always been good to me I decided why not post about her contest entry here so you guys can help get her to the top 10? She is soooo close!

If you want to help her out all it takes is a vote. It does seem to go through Facebook.

YOU CAN VIEW HER VIDEO AND VOTE HERE

I am sure she would appreciate any vote, even if just a few of you go press that VOTE FOR VIDEO button! Thanks to all in advance!

ALSO, I am shooting the new M 240 like mad and have some great shots so far. I have started writing my review as I experience the camera and I expect to be done with the full review within 2 weeks or so. I will be using it every single day and exploring everything, including video (already have the plug-in mic and EVF for it). What many of you want to know is if it can replace the M9 for me..as in “will I be happy to replace the M9 with the M”? That answer will be in my full review, which will be the most thorough real world review of this camera to date. Guaranteed. Stay tuned!

Jan 022013
 

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A quick look at the “new’ Polaroid Z340 instant print camera by Amy Medina.

So my quick thoughts on my new Polaroid camera…

It’s a “new” Polaroid. I do have a few old-school “real” Polaroids… this one is not that. This is the z340, which is a digital Polaroid and instant printer. It uses something called Zink (Zero Ink) technology (uses heat on special paper) to create a smudge-proof 3×4 photo.

It is also a 14mp digital camera that saves to internal memory or an SD card. The files are somewhat like you’d expect from a half-way decent point-and-shoot, with usable results up to ISO 800 (mostly), though it does shoot at higher than that if needed. I like having the digital “negative” but at the end of the day, this camera is really about instant-printing… and that’s the fun of it.

What I like:

The instant printing. Duh! LOL

You have the option to do it without borders or with the traditional Polaroid border (as seen in earlier examples from today – and below). There are also some other cheesy borders, but they are pretty useless. You even have the ability to upload two of your own custom borders to the camera (via SD card).

It takes about 45 seconds to print. It doesn’t spit the photo out as quick as an old Polaroid does, but it takes less time to “develop”… once it’s out, it’s done, dry and will not smudge. I ever had two of my prints out in the rain today and they are 99% of what they were before they got covered with water-droplets.

Physically, It looks like an old Polaroid camera, but has a nifty digital screen on it. Wish it had a viewfinder thought. It reminds me of the old Polaroid Spectra.

It also has built-in editing, so you don’t HAVE to print the second it takes the photo, or exactly what you already took and see on screen. You can shoot directly in B&W or some vintage color mode; You can also shoot in normal mode and then edit the picture after you shoot it and convert to B&W or one of the vintage color modes. You can also crop and reposition.

There are some basic camera functions… choose ISO or select auto, there’s different metering options, EV compensation and bracketing, different focus modes, different size options, a macro mode, different flash settings, and there’s also a digital zoom or intelligent zoom to choose from.

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Print Quality:

You aren’t going to use this to get the sharpest, most color accurate photos. The idea of it is to mimic an old Polaroid camera. Even when you shoot normal color prints (and the digital files will look typical to any decent pocket camera), there can be some odd color shifts. I’ve heard there is old paper and new paper but I don’t know much about that yet… I used what came with the camera. Sometimes you get streaks. Extreme heat or cold will affect the paper.

I would call the quality of the prints somewhat unique. They have a pleasant soft appearance (that is still somehow sharp, if that makes sense) and reminds me of an old Polaroid film print. The black and white prints truly look like something out of the 60′s or 70′s (and there are two B&W modes… one more contrasty than the other). There’s also a “LOMO” setting to get more saturated colors and a pin-hole effect, which is rather cool if you like that sort of thing ;)

What I think could use improvement:

Needs a real battery charger. The battery charges inside the camera and the whole camera has to be plugged in. However, I wouldn’t lose this feature as it’s nice if you’re just printing (which eats up battery life). It just needs a separate battery charger too. And while Polaroid is at it, they could make the battery and battery compartment a little easier to deal with. Getting the battery out isn’t all that easy.

Zink paper could be a little cheaper I think, even if the camera is just a bit more upfront. Currently, they end up costing about 60 cents per print.

I’d love to see a viewfinder on the camera. The camera is shaped to hold up to the eye, but you can’t really do that.

More “vintage” color options. The ones to pick from are a bit limited. Some customization of them would be nice.

Make the AUCTION MODE shoot at a higher resolution, and call it PHOTO BOOTH. People aren’t going to use this camera for product photography… that’s not the audience. Being able to use it like a photo booth with proper size photos would be AWESOME! If you’re wondering what I’m on about here… easy. This “Auction Mode” shoots 3 or 4 images and combines them onto one photo. Their idea in the manual is for selling stuff on ebay, so they limit the resolution to 640×480 for each photo. I instantly saw this as a photo booth opportunity… and it can work that way currently, but the photos aren’t clear enough when printed because of the resolution limit!

It needs a proper power button. The one on the camera doesn’t feel like it will hold up to the test of time. The other buttons all seem fine.

And lastly, if I choose to shoot with the official Polaroid border, the LCD should show me that, or at least the correct crop. Now, I’m pretty good at judging and guessing, but it doesn’t ALWAYS work out 100% of the time. When the paper costs what it does, I’d like to know what it’s going to look like ahead of time. At the very least, they could offer an option to turn on guidelines in the display (they already have an option for a rule-of-third overlay).

Overall…

It’s just a FUN camera… which is really what it’s meant to be. I posted some photos earlier today which I’ll include again at the bottom of this article to give you an idea of how it might be used in today’s modern age. I can also imagine at a family gathering it’s going to be a blast. I can’t wait to bring it to my in-laws in a couple of weeks! I also like the idea of giving photos to random strangers (which I did today). I’ll be giving more thought on other ways to use it creatively, but I’ve already had a great time using it in just 24 hours. We are a society losing tangible things — mp3 instead of CDs/tapes/albums — PDFs instead of books — and digital files instead of printed photos — I like the touchy-feeling instant nature of this, married to modern technology. It’s just neat.

First shot is just a picture of some of the prints I made, followed by a collage of the digital files straight out of the camera.

Printed Photos (no border)

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The digital “negatives” that came straight out of the camera, most at ISO 800

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The next two are photos I took today with my Fuji XE1, incorporating the Polaroids I had taken into the shot.

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LINK TO SEE PHOTOS BIGGER: You can also see all photos HERE

Feel free to ask any questions… follow me on Facebook (for my Picture-A-Day project and other photography related things). More links below to other ways you can follow me.

My websitehttp://www.DangRabbit.com/Photography

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DangRabbit

Google+ http://gplus.to/DangRabbit

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DangRabbitPhotography

Nov 012012
 

From Long Island, NY – Documenting Hurricane Sandy by Amy Medina

So, here I sit with my laptop, tethered to my iPhone getting spotty internet service after Hurricane Sandy has hit. We’ve had no power since Monday afternoon (along with nearly a million more people on Long Island, and many more across the tri-state area). It’s forty-five degrees tonight and I’m curled under the blankets staying warm as I write this.

While we lost some shingles from our roof and saw our chimney suffer a bit of damage, for the most part we are just fine. So many people got hit so much worse than us, with severe flooding to our south and many more trees down to the north. The trains have only started to come back into service, keeping my husband home from work and my daughter’s college is being used as a shelter, so no school for her either. Unlike some of the major catastrophes such as Breezy Point, NY, we are very lucky.

I’ve been out and about with my family seeing the toll the storm took around the Suffolk County area, and taking photos with my Fuji XE1 and iPhone. I thought I’d share them. The video is above, which is mostly a slideshow of the iPhone snapshots, just to record damage. I know they aren’t quite as exciting as the ones from New York City, but none-the-less, I thought I’d share them.

From Steve: Stay safe Amy, my prayers are with you and everyone who has been affected by this storm.

In the wake of the storm, my web server might still be down, but you can reach me on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ too.
Twitter: www. twitter.com/DangRabbit
Oct 222012
 

My First Week Fuji X-E1 Review… with X and M-Lenses by Amy Medina

By Amy Medina 

I’ve been watching the mirrorless market evolve from its beginning. Small and light cameras have become a top priority for me in the last few years, and it was one of the original reasons I switched from a Canon 5D (the first one) to a Leica M8 back in 2007. I’m a woman who never carries a purse and who hates lugging around a camera bag, so if it doesn’t easily sling over my shoulder and fit in my pocket, it doesn’t come with me. I have always been a fan of what Olympus has been doing, but have also been watching Fuji closely.

The new Fuji XE1 is the closest thing to perfection to come along since the dawn of the eletronic-viewfinder, large sensor camera, at least when it comes to my needs. The image quality of the files is nothing short of amazing. They are sharp but natural — “film like” I’ve heard said by others. High ISO performance is clearly one of the best in the APS-C market, and it leaves me amazed at just how good it performs in low light. I’m not primarily a low-light shooter, but it’s certainly nice to be able to set the camera to AUTO-3200 — and even AUTO-6400 — and not in the slightest way be worried about too much noise. The color rendition of the files is beautiful, and the auto white balance seem to be bang-on. The hype you’ve heard about the JPG files? It’s true… with both the x100 and now the XE1, I don’t bother shooting RAW because the JPGs are just that good. And did I mention sharp? Wow, is the XE1 ever capable of producing some really sharp results, due in part to its lack of AA filter. But disclaimer: I’m not a technical person :)

A lot of questions about this camera revolve around the new electronic viewfinder (EVF) Fuji has put inside it. I’ve been shooting with EVF cameras for quite a while now and have become quite used to them. I will put it out there to all of you, if you’ve never shot with a camera that only has an EVF, you need to give yourself at least two weeks of steady use before you can even begin to make a decision whether you like it or not; one or two tries in the store isn’t enough. ALL viewfinder methods, from DSLR optical to rangefinder to EVF have their downsides, and to make a fair judgement you should give yourself enough time to get used to it before you decide either way. Some people legitimately don’t like EVF-only cameras and that’s fair enough, but don’t make that judgement based on borrowing a friend’s camera for a day or only trying it out at the photography counter in a store.

The EVF on the Fuji XE1 is probably one of the best I’ve used in color, contrast and clarity. It’s essentially the same one used in the NEX-7, though with lower refresh rates. Where this matters most is in darker settings. I haven’t noticed too many problems outside or in brightly lit environments. The only issue that arrises is in poorly lit spaces… this is where the slower refresh rate becomes more noticeable. In practice, with a fast lens like the 35mm f/1.4, I wouldn’t anticipate too many snags — however, manual focusing in a darkly lit environment, because of the slower EVF, might be more challenging. For me, if I’m going to shoot in that kind of dark environment, I might leave the M-lenses at home in favor of Fuji’s very good (and fast) primes.

Compared to the x100′s EVF, the color is better, resolution is clearly better, and the contrast is better. In the brightest sunshine it sometimes still requires a hand cupped over the top of the eye-piece to be able to see it best. I don’t know if EVFs are usually judged by dynamic range, but it seems like the XE1 does better seeing the difference from highs to lows. For example, when pointed at a window with bright sunshine outside, I can see the details in the shadows better than I can on the x100.

The size of the camera is nearly identical to the Fuji x100, and obviously smaller than the XPro1, but it feels solid and well-built. I went for the silver one, and the silver is a very slightly lighter color than on the x100. The little grip on the front and thumb “ridge” on the back make the camera feel great in the hand. On my x100 I have a thumbs-up, but I won’t need that on the XE1, which is good because it would probably cover the magnify wheel anyway (more on that later). Ergonomics of the camera are also similar to it’s fixed-lens cousin, with a few added buttons (like the Quick Menu button, which is well placed and a nice feature to access common settings). The AFS/AFC/MF switch is on the front of the camera, easy to access when needing to switch focusing methods. Shutter speed and exposure compensation are still in the same spots on top, along with the little Fn button for quick changing the ISO (the default setting). There is no wheel-pad on the back like with the x100, instead there are four directional buttons — and personally, I like it better; I always found the wheel-pad a little fiddly and the directional buttons feels more solid.

For manual focusing M-lenses, it’s quite easy. Put the camera in MF mode (switch on front). With camera up to your eye (or using the LCD), you can push in the mini-thumb wheel and it magnifies to 3x. Rotating the mini-thumb wheel to the right changes to 10x magnification (and back to the left for 3x again). I find the 3x much more useful for a few reasons. First, you’re seeing more of the scene, so it’s easier to get your baring on just what it is you’re focusing on. Second, in the 3x mode there is almost a “shimmer” that happens when the area you’re focusing on actually comes into focus. This is a hard thing to explain, but it’s almost as if the edges of the focused area appear over-sharpened… and it’s most noticeable in the 3x magnification mode. The 10x magnification mode is great for double-checking focus in more difficult situations, and it’s so simple to toggle between the two.

There is no focus-peaking feature. This would be a welcome addition to the camera for using manual focus lenses… However, I will say that so far, with the CV 21mm f/4, the 40mm f/1.4 Nokton and the 50mm f/1.5 Nokton, I’ve had no problems getting my shots in good focus. However, it’s important to note that the longer the lens and the wider the aperture, obviously, the harder it is.

I did not spring the extra money for the Fuji M-Adaptor… but went for the cheaper Fotodiox one. I’m not sure if it makes a huge difference as I’m not using many genuine Leica lenses, and the ones I am using are the “antiques” with lots of flaws and character. There is no button on the Fotodiox adaptor, so getting into the manual focus lens menu requires going into the camera’s menu system the traditional way (to change focal length). Also, the built-in correction options are grayed out (like distortion correction). It’s not a deal-breaker for me, but if it is for you, spend the extra money for the Fuji adaptor.

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So far I’ve tried out a few M-lenses…. so I’ll give my impressions along with photos:

The Voigtlander 21mm f/4 Skopar 

This one has been my favorite so far. I do wish it had a wider maximum aperture, but I can live with the f/4 for now. Focusing was a breeze, as expected with a wide f/4 lens. This lens has a great reputation on Leica cameras… sharp and contrasty, and quite small. It’s a great size-match for the Fuji XE1, and makes for a really nice street shooter, especially if you like to zone focus or set for hyperfocal shooting. The downside — and this is well-known on many mirrorless cameras using M-lenses, not just the Fuji — is that there can be “smearing” on the edges (due to the way the light enters the lens and hits the digital sensor at greater than 90 degrees — not something I completely understand). I knew this when I bought the lens, but can live with it for my style of shooting. If you want your photos tack-sharp edge-to-edge, look elsewhere. It’s important to note as well, from the research I’ve done, having the Fuji adaptor doesn’t makes a difference. It cannot correct for this smearing. It comes down to the specific M-lens… and some do better than others.

The Voigtlander 40mm f/1.4 Nokton

This is my favorite lens on my film rangefinder… and the focal length was quite nice on the XE1 (60mm equivalent). It’s small size was also a nice match for the Fuji body, and focusing was quite easy, even wide open. Because it’s slightly wider than the 50mm Nokton, it was slightly easier to manually focus. The 21 and 40 together make a nice kit for a day out shooting; The lenses are both small and their 31mm/60mm field-of-view equivalence is a great combination.

The Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Nokton

50mm on APS-C starts to get just a little long for my taste, but this lens didn’t disappoint either. It was harder to focus wide open than the 40mm Nokton, especially in very bright conditions because of the “glow” around edges that is characteristic of this lens. I did notice that bokeh was just a little harsher on the XE1 than the way it renders on my M8, which is usually buttery smooth — though in fairness, the day I was out testing the light was pretty harsh. Honestly, I’m probably not likely to use this one much on the XE1 unless I need the added focal length… the 40 was just a better match to the Fuji for me. Of course, the results were so nice, I might change my mind on that.

Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon

This one surprised me most, mainly because it’s my favorite lens on the Leica M8. I got some of that “smearing” at the edges, which I didn’t expect with a focal length of 35mm. And though it was easy enough to focus, I didn’t find the results as sharp as they should be. This lens is super-tack sharp on my M8, and performed very well on my Olympus EP2 and EPM1 the times I used it there, so I was a little disappointed it didn’t pair up as nicely with my new XE1. However, Fuji’s own 35mm f/1.4 lens is just so good, I think I’ll survive without the Biogon on this camera. In defense of the Zeiss, I was pretty short on time the day I tested it and the light has been pretty harsh all week, so take my opinion on this one with a grain of salt.

Leica 50mm f/2 Summitar

This was the last one I tested out paired up with the Fuji… and keep in mind, I expect warts and wackiness with this lens! You don’t buy a 1953 inexpensive Summitar without expecting unique bokeh and unusual flare and flaws. It was a fun one to use, and retains its wonderful character across to the Fuji camera — but admittedly for me it has a specific purpose and doesn’t get used all that often. However, its performance surprised me on the XE1 (better than I expected), so it may get more use than I originally thought!

For the Fuji Lenses

I have the 18mm f/2 and the 35mm f/1.4… and the latter will likely stay on the camera a great majority of the time.

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Fuji’s 35mm f/1.4

I love the 40-50mm field-of-view in general and this lens performs so well that there’s honestly no reason to look elsewhere for a 35mm lens. Fuji has done a great job with it, and the reviews you hear from others on just how good it is are true. It’s light but well-built, renders smooth out-of-focus areas and produces sharp, contrasty results. My only complaint is that I wish it was just a little smaller, but it’s undoubtedly not all that large either; its light weight more than makes up for it’s slightly larger than maybe-unexpected girth. It renders in a way that reminds me of the M8 + 50mm f/1.5 Notkon, which is a good thing since it’s one of my favorite combos to shoot with.

And the 18mm f/2

The 18mm on the other hand, it one I wasn’t sure about when I got it. I’m not always a fan of the 28mm field-of-view as it’s just a tad wide for me. Of course, it’s very appealing because it’s got a pancake style design: very small and very light; and the f/2 maximum aperture is welcomed, if not a little surprising for something this wide. I decided to give it a chance because I enjoy the 14mm f/2.5 on the Olympus EPM1 (28mm equivalent)… and it didn’t at all disappoint.

One of the problems with the 18mm Fuji lens is that the 35mm one is just so good, so expectations are high going into its little brother. Honestly, I certainly find it easily sharp enough, and its small size and quick performance are reasons alone to give it a chance. From what I’ve read about it, you’d sometimes think this lens is a bad egg, but that’s far from the case. Though there is some distortion present, it’s quite a capable little lens, and certainly sharp enough for me.

Other thoughts…

The XE1 feels mature. I think Fuji has learned a lot over the last year from the release of the x100 and XPro1, and they’ve done a good job listening to feedback from the photographers out there using their cameras. Overall operational speed on the XE1 is good; not blazing fast like a high-end DSLR, but certainly fast enough for many of us. It’s less fiddly than the x100 (keeping in mind I’ve enjoyed the x100 immensily!), and from what I hear from XPro1 owners, autofocus speed is drastically improved with the latest firmware, which is already on the XE1 and available since September on the XPro1. I was a late adopter of the x100, with the latest firmware, and never understood what all the fuss what about with focus speed… but that’s likely because I bought it late, after Fuji had already made big improvements.

Autofocus is certainly fast enough (at least for me), though on some occasions with the 35mm lens, it had a little trouble locking on exactly what you want it to. I’d say it’s comparable in speed to the latest round of Olympus cameras when paired with the 20mm f/1.7 lens (which admittedly isn’t their quickest lens) — or at least it seems pretty close. to that, maybe just slightly faster. The biggest problem in judging autofocus speed is that some of it ends up feeling quite subjective… what is fast enough for me, is probably not fast enough for someone else. As an M-shooter, as someone who has been pleased with all the olympus cameras (back to the EP1) and as someone who never shoots sports or wildlife, in day-to-day use, the Fuji is certainly focusing quick enough.

A lot of photographers want to know whether to buy the XPro1 or the XE1 — and that’s a question I struggled with myself, especially since there are some great deals out there for the XPro1 right now. Both cameras have the same autofocus speed (when the XP1 has the latest firmware), and both have the same image quality (same exact sensor). So the differences come down to just a few things:

The Fuji XE1 is smaller and lighter. It has built-in popup flash you can even bounce. It has an EVF only, but the EVF is better quality.

The Fuji XPro1 is slightly bigger and heavier. It doesn’t have a built-in flash. It has the hybrid viewfinder for optical or electronic views, but the EVF is lower quality.

Since I like small, and since I plan to use the camera with M-lenses, I decided the XE1 was the way to go. I want all the help I can get with manually focusing, so the better EVF seemed the right decision for me. Also, having had the x100 with hybrid viewfinder, I find I never use the optical view, so giving that up was easy. I know others who swear by the optical view of the hybrid finder, so for them (or you) it might be harder to give it up. That comes down to a personal choice.

More 35mm f/1.4 Photos

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I expected to like the x100 when I first bought it, but I didn’t expect to like it quite as much as I did. It was the first camera I’ve bought in a really long time that I felt I enjoyed as much as the M8, and that’s saying a lot. I bought the M8 in 2007 and still use it to this day… I will never sell it. The x100 was my introduction into the Fuji world and it helped me seal the decision on buying the XE1, and in this first week of use I can already tell that my M8 will be staying home even more. Don’t get me wrong… I will love my Leica until the day it ceases to function, but now that it’s five years old, I fear I’m closer to that reality and need a camera that I can “jell” with just as well… it feels like the XE1 can be that camera… to the point where I may have this one five years from now (but don’t hold me to it)!
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I’ve already gone on way longer than I expected, but I’ll end by saying that I’m happy Fuji dared to put these cameras out. They have given us something interesting: cameras aimed at photographers who want a great mix of modern technology and tactile, ergonomically well-designed, but small bodies; And these are cameras capable of stunning image quality. I also appreciate that Fuji seems to be a company trying to listen to what it’s customers want, and they will be a fun company to follow over the next few years; they already have been this last year. With the x100 and XE1, they definitely have me on their side.
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Jan 162012
 

 

USER REPORT: Vintage Glass is Fun
a Mini-Review of a 1961 Leica 90mm Elmarit f/2.8
by Amy Medina – DangRabbit Photography
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Nothing too technical here, I just wanted to share my delight with a recent lens I got for my upcoming birthday (yes, I got my gift early!). It’s an old version 1 of the 90mm Elmarit, and what a joy it’s turning out to be.
I’ve wanted a 90 for quite a while, ever since last year when I found myself in a situation where the 50 just wasn’t long enough and there was no way to get closer with my feet. Two very interesting fellows were sitting in chairs conversing on the other side of small boat canal, and I only wished to have something longer to capture more of their wonderfully interesting personalities.
So I finally decided to take a chance with this old Elmarit. While I’d love a newer one, it’s just not in the budget for me.
It arrived on Thursday morning and I immediately set out to give it a try… down to a favorite marina on a misty day. This is one of my first shots with the lens, wide open, of a favorite subject:

 

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This old Elmarit renders in a very classic way, with focus-fall-off that isn’t harsh or dramatic, but silky smooth. Wide open, the lens is surprisingly sharp. Contrast is more of what you’d expect in an old classic like this — the contrast is not at all punchy  – but lets face it, in the digital age we can always give contrast a little boost in post if necessary. It has a fantastic character about it, the way an old Summitar does (but the bokeh isn’t swirly). Straight out of the camera, the files have a vintage look to them, not in color, but in their rendering… and it takes to a retro-style post-processing treatment quite nicely.

 

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The downside is that the lens is quite prone to flare. Though I didn’t get a hood with the lens, I’ve heard it actually makes little difference, and since it’s a bit long already without the hood, I’m not sure I’d use it anyway. It is something to be aware of though. The flare is of the soft hazy kind.
The lens isn’t heavy, but as mentioned, long. You can see in the photo of my camera with the lens mounted, it’s almost silly looking… almost. Focus is smooth, and the throw isn’t too long. Adjusting focus with the Elmarit is quite comfortable and easy, though with any 90 you’ll want to be sure your rangefinder mechanism is aligned properly. Luckily, mine is spot on, even after almost 5 years. I love my M8.

Also, focusing can be a little challenging with a long lens like this. I have a 1.25 magnifier screwed onto my M8 and it really does help in a big way. And I have one of the cheaper, “from Hong Kong” magnifiers I got on EBay and it works a charm.

 

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Overall, for under $400 I am thrilled with this star-of-a-lens… and it’s a gem worth exploring if your budget doesn’t allow for a more modern 90, or if you just want to try some vintage Leica glass. I’ve been having a ball with it for the last four days, and though I was a little worried 90mm might be long for every-day use, it’s proving to be just a new focal length to explore, and a fun one at that.

 

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and Follow me…
Thanks for reading and looking!
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Jul 062011
 
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Drive-By Shootings in Queens, NY
by Amy Medina

When most people think of New York City, they think of Manhattan, and while yes, Times Square, Central Park and Soho are all amazing places to photograph, you’d do yourself a disservice not to cross a bridge and get yourself into Brooklyn and Queens.

I recently thought this would make a great series for a book, until I discovered from a friend that a taxi-cab driver in New York City already published the idea himself. Regardless, I love to embark on what I call drive-bys. Often, when my family and I are driving around on a weekend, exploring the sites and sounds, I keep my eyes keenly focused on the sidewalk ahead of us. If I see an interesting scene, I attempt to set my camera and capture it as we pass. With practice, I’m getting pretty good at this; getting the shot I want, framed and focused as I’d hoped. Pre-focusing, high shutter speeds, good timing and a bit of luck are really the key. I love framing them like a slice of sidewalk life, where the overall setting is as important as the people in them; and to me, they have a bit of a unique look being from the perspective of a car. Distant, but close. Intimate, but separate. I’m not sure how to describe it…

Though nothing will ever change my love for the Leica M8, which itself makes a good drive-by shooter, I’ve recently been shooting quite a bit with the Pentax K-5. Combined with the pancake limited primes, I’m finding it an immensely enjoyable kit, especially for street photography. It’s comfortable to hold, light and fairly small, with a bit of a retro look that doesn’t intimidate people (similar to the M8 or M9). And it’s QUIET… amazingly quiet. I’m finding that for street photography in general, the DA 21mm and DA 35mm Macro are stupendous performers.

So, all that said, here are the latest of my drive-bys… most of which are from this past weekend (July 3rd). They all capture life on the sidewalks of Queens… and a few different communities within the Borough itself. I hope you enjoy them!

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Jun 092010
 

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Most of you have seen my (long) review of the Leica X1 but today Amy Medina sent me her short but sweet thoughts on shooting the X1 after buying one of her own. Amy has been shooting with a Leica M8 for quite some time and it sounds like she loves her new X1, quirks and all :)

My thoughts on the Leica X1…By Amy Medina

So I recently bought one. I’d been thinking about it for a while with my hesitation being the fixed lens, but seeing how 28-50mm has really become a sweet spot for me, I decided to go for it.

The Good: The camera itself is beautiful. It is small and light but still feels well-made. I’ve heard complaints about the dials on top, but I haven’t really had any issue with them getting knocked out of position. They are certainly not as stiff-feeling as on the M8, but they do click into position.

I like the ergonomics of the camera. The way it seamlessly goes into shutter-priority or aperture-priority mode is brilliant, and makes switching into full-manual-exposure mode very easy (which you’ll read below is important). ISO is one button away. The shutter is virtually silent.

Image quality is outstanding! I was nothing short of amazed when I sat at the computer to review my first batch of X1 photos. The way the camera renders color is wonderful, and the files have this fantastically smooth but sharp quality to them. And, the 35mm FOV is perfect for me.

All of this makes the next batch of comments a little easier to swallow…

The Bad: Auto-Focus is indeed slow. What you’ve read about it already is true. If you’re coming from a manual-focus M camera it probably won’t bother you. However, if you expect it to perform like a GH-1 or dSLR you will be disappointed. It reminds me a lot of the Olympus E-P1 before the firmware updates.

The Ugly: a camera in the year 2010 should not lack AEL (auto-exposure lock). As it stands now, there is no easy way to separate the focus spot and the metering spot; at least not while you are shooting in the shutter-priority or aperture-priority modes. Thankfully, it is fairly easy, as mentioned earlier, to adjust your exposure manually, but combine the slow auto-focus with lack of AEL and frustration can brew.

The handling overall can be a bit slow. Reviewing your photos in playback can get pokey. Getting back to shooting a photo isn’t as quick as it should be. Waking from sleep can be downright painful.

And the battery life is awful. I’m lucky to get 100-125 shots on one charge. To be fair, I’ve been told by other X1 users that this will improve after the battery has been through a few charge cycles, but I won’t be going anywhere without an extra battery.

Conclusion: Focus on the “Good” if you are the type of shorter that is used to working slowly and wants amazing image quality in a small and nearly silent package. For my purposes and my style of photography the X1 is actually a good fit and, though it may not sound like it with some of my criticism, I really have enjoyed shooting with it the vast majority of the time.

Focus on the “bad” or the “ugly” if you’re considering a GF-1 or E -PL1 because of their snappy performance. The X1 kills them both in the image-quality department, especially at any ISO higher than 200, but it’s no contest if you need a camera closer to dSLR speed.

I am holding out hope that a firmware update from Leica can improve on some of the “bad” and the “ugly” … And if they do, I’ll be sure to come back and update my thoughts!

In the meantime, I’ll still be shooting my PAD project primarily with my Leica cameras. .. my M8 and my new X1. The “good” absolutely outweighs the other stuff for me…

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