Jun 112012
 

My New Glass Paintbrush – The SLR Magic 50 f/0.85 for Sony NEX – By Keith Lickteig • www.ScutFish.com

I’ve recently been spending a lot more time in Hong Kong where I have no plane to fly, no hangar to maintain, no giant smoker to sacrifice many tasty chickens upon. There’s few house chores, no gardening, no Jeep to crush shopping carts and sea shells with. I can work, do paper work, make calls, cry about money, but concentrating on nothing but work has truly made Jack a very dull boy. It’s time for a few healthy new hobbies.

What is there to do? It’s another day in Hong Kong with my beautiful Donna who flies me around the globe almost weekly. This alone is incredible. There’s so much to see and share with my family and friends back in the US and UK but the iPhone being my favorite camera doesn’t always cut it. So why not explore proper photography? Hong Kong must be the capital of camera ownership and sales. You can’t walk a minute in any public space without seeing a camera, a camera ad, a camera shop, being in someone else’s photo, or seeing my favorite, the ubiquitous “no photo” sign. The “no photo” sign is everywhere in Hong Kong and China. Heaven forbid someone should take a photo and steal a shops ideas of what are likely pirated goods.

Donna has always been a bit of a photography buff. By that I don’t mean she likes photography in the nude (a man can dream can’t he). Just that she enjoys old cameras and taking pictures, especially with film or mildly unusual formats. She’s helped fund a minute portion of the Impossible Projects instant film redevelopment and did they ever get the marketing name right on that one. It truly is just about “impossible”. She has a few fancy DSLRs with some type of fat fancy lenses that people on the street seem to ‘ooh and ah’ over, but her favorite digital is a small Ricoh point-and-shoot that has a lovely native square format. Of course I mentioned her antique Polaroid which I thought was going to be the coolest thing since, well, the last time I saw a real instant Polaroid in 1979. The black-and-white films currently available give mildly usable results when they don’t get stuck in the cartridge, but the color film is just pure crap. It’s my fault for getting her started on that one. I should have listened to the companies most honest marketing as it was never sold as the “Works Perfect Project”.

One of Donna’s latest acquisition is another giant anvil of a camera made by Fuji that uses near full format film of some sort, 6×6 maybe or something of the nature. Perhaps it is 120mm film judging by the pile of film rolls next to me all with the number 120 plastered on the canisters. Although a very nice camera that takes incredible photos, it’s not what I would say is a great journeying machine. It actually draws more attention than the average DSLR with a monster telephoto cannon of a lens. Whenever she takes it out for a photo people turn and look at her as it seems she’s replaced her head with a giant brick shaped camera. Really, it’s that big … the camera. She’s also begun playing with a few very old Rolleiflex twin lens cameras but we have no results from these as yet. I thought they would make really interesting bookends and had no idea anyone would bother using them. As it turns out the Rolleiflex’s are worth a pretty penny too. I’d have never guessed it by the number of them I see in the dusty old shops around town.

So now it’s my turn to get into the photo game. It’s something Donna and I can participate in together, and it will give me a much-needed mental escape from work. I read a good bit on the web and develop an interest in the smaller interchangeable lens cameras that seem to be really fueling a portion of the market. As we travel an insane amount I want to travel light. I want to be able to use little more than an iPad to edit and publish and would enjoy a camera that weighed-in a little less than Donnas Hubble like instruments (which was 24,000 lbs before it left earth). In the following days while Donna and I are on walkabout we step into a few shops and have a look at the makes and models available. Of all the incredible offerings we come across a little Sony number that seems to have really made quite a “Huff” on the web. It could hardly be any smaller, it supports assorted lenses, and oddly has the same sensor as one of Donna’s monster DSLRs. After a bit of Cantonese debate and haggling Donna hands over her debit card and it’s ours. Notice I said “her” debit card. Women’s liberation is marvelous gentlemen. I highly recommend we sit back and enjoy!

A few days go by with the new little camera and I’m enjoying taking photos while doing my best to not use the talented and more accurate automated modes. However, as hard as I try it’s just not all that exciting. The kit lenses perform very well and make it incredibly easy to capture what was in front of me, but essentially that is all they do, capture what I had no problem remembering in the first place. It quickly becomes time to step it up. It is after all an interchangeable lens machine, there must be options. Time to try out something else.

A quick comment regarding Sony menus (or any camera make for that matter) as I’ve read such horrible things about them. I’m guessing there are only so many buttons and options that can be fit into one square inch. Upon spending a mere six minutes with the cameras user manual I was able to place eight options of my choosing at my finger tips, with all now being less than two “clicks” away. Amazing. I didn’t have to rely on what a Sony engineer deemed to be the best workflow for me, I could choose my own. It was easy and no fuss at all, with no more need to click-through lists of menu options.

Off we go back to the shops to search out a lens that’s more interesting for the little cam. There aren’t many native options until we come across a Zeiss that was very well reviewed and apparently quite “fast”, whatever that meant. Apparently it wasn’t fast enough to get away so we took it home, plugged it in, and headed off to Thailand the very day. Why not?

The Zeiss performed remarkably well. The Zeiss focus was quite fast and the results were for the most part quite bright, colorful, and perfect. Almost too perfect. Perfect to the point of being clinical. I’ve had enough of clinics and “clinical” for one lifetime so upon returning to Hong Kong Donna and I visited more shops and started trying out filters, polarizers, super quasar numerator electron fluctuations among other devices. Again the results improved markedly and now every single pixel was in its exact and proper place, dimension, and hue. All with almost no effort on my part. Lovely, except of all the great works of art I’ve been so fortunate to behold, not one do I ever remember at a pixel level. Donna and I once climbed to the upper rotunda of the Basilica of St. Peters where I didn’t use just my eyes. Trembling, I put my hand against the gorgeous mosaic walls as I walked along and felt more than six-hundred years of history, passion, enlightenment, and sacrifice flown beneath my finger tips. To this day I cannot believe we were given access to such places. Amazingly we had little choice but to touch the mosaics as to step more than a few feet away would have us perched on a ledge with almost 300 feet between our feet and the floor below. It’s was an amazing experience. Grazie Papa!

In order to share my travel photos and journal with friends and family, and being one of a handful of people on the planet not using Facebook, I began studying WordPress and learned how to build a scratch website. After about a week I could load photos into my iPhone and iPad, edit, and publish to my newly created site without ever touching a desktop. Perfect, now I never have to leave my hammock.

As much fun as I was having with my new camera and lenses, there was still much missing. I was able to frame and capture moments to share beautifully, but without a little editing they lacked punch, life, or any character at all. There are times when I enjoy playing with a photo, and other times where I feel it’s important for the moment to speak for itself. No editing, no in camera processing. Just available light, a subject, and the moment. I had no idea how as a novice I could learn to capture such magic in a photo but articles across the web spoke of such things being possible.

Enter the “magic”. Although here in Hong Kong they say “Enter the Dragon”. I had been browsing the web more than ever before, reading about photography, available kit, techniques, reviews and such. Heaven knows there’s nothing worth while on television and I haven’t watched any form of televised news media in more than eight years (hence my great smile and cheerful demeanor). I began discovering images and write-ups of vintage lenses being adapted to smaller cameras like the Sony I’ve been studying. However, I was certain there was no way I’d get positive results from a fully manual lens with my novice skill level. I’m only a few weeks into this. The concept kept eating at me and I continued scouring the web for more information.

While back at work in the States I read a very “Huffed” up article about a company from Hong Kong of all places making native Sony mount lenses that seemed oddly interesting. The lenses were fully manual, very “fast” (that word again), and the demonstrated photos looked really interesting. Over the past weeks Donna and I had become really good at shopping for new camera kit and I knew there wasn’t a lens yet that was “fast” enough to out run me. Immediately upon returning to Hong Kong Donna and I headed out to find the sorcerers shop that made this magical lens. Of course after a hot shower and long nap, Orlando to Hong Kong is a long 24 hours in a seat.

Not long after beginning our search, Donna and I had discovered a handful of shops that carried or could source the lens. (I told you we are really good at the shopping part.) Wandering further we discovered one of the smallest shops in the entire arcade where there they sat, many different well sampled models of the much “Huffed” SLR Magic lenses. After a bit of Canton small talk with the shop owner and many “oohs and ah’s” over his beautiful baby (a real baby not the lens) I was ready to snap on SLR Magic and give it a whirl. I stepped into the hall, switched the cam to on, opened the aperture thingy (making the hole bigger), twisted the focus ring and finally began to grin. “This is absolutely amazing” is all I was thinking. I pointed at any and every thing playing with the dials while letting a kaleidoscope of imagery appear before my eyes. This went on for nearly ten minutes before Donna stepped into the hall and reminded me there was a button on the upper part of the device I was holding that when pressed would cause the images to be captured for later viewing. “Oh, that’s right” I exclaimed rather excitedly. I was having too much fun discovering aperture to remember anything else. I played around for many more minutes and checked out the other SLR Magic offerings. Then Donna asked me, “well honey, are you going to get it?” to which I replied, “Captain Donna (it sometimes helps if I call her captain), make it so!” And yet another lens came home to play.

The next day we of course departed for another adventure with new photo kit in tow. Well, Donna’s kit was in tow, mine easily fit in my shoulder bag. We headed out that night snapping away. The new SLR Magic lens was so cool, and amazing, and really just too much fun to put down. Even for a complete novice as myself there was so much to enjoy. Rather quickly I stopped thinking of it as a mere lens but more of a giant wet paintbrush. The effects, colors, drama one could create was endless. Do I want to capture a single subject, if so, just spin the dial. Do I want the world to appear, spin the other way. Make something glow, turn it a little more. Or how about miss the moment and shot all together in a giant swirling blur, way too easy. Walking down a very dimly lit street I eventually discovered this little dragon could see in the dark, at low ISO, and fast shutter speeds. This was the moment I finally comprehended what a fast lens was, while all this time I had thought I was so young and spritely. What was there not to love about this little lens. I recalled an article I read from a “Rockwell” engineer or photographer. He lambasted the SLR Magic company for even thinking of developing such a lens. According to the article, the author had never even laid his hands on the product, met the company founder or development team, yet found little to like about the company or product. Now that sounds like a magical review and talent to boot. Think of the money saved by reviewing without ever touching. What an amazing business plan.

With camera and lens in hand, I soon began to chat with other photographers on the street that would curiously check out my new kit as both my camera body and lenses were not easy to find on shop shelves at the time. l even became bold enough to take my gear into camera shops along my way and show it off to shop owners and their most curious customers. I’d let their customers try it out and watch them grin just as I did. Then I’d loudly say “talk to Mr. Lee (reading off the shop keeps name badge as if we were old friends), he can find you one I’m certain”. Meanwhile the shop manager hurriedly began researching on his smart phone. Salesmen are fun to play with. Especially in China.

Sitting in a cafe looking at the evenings photos I was questioned by a fella named Gary Tyson who claimed to know a thing or two about how cameras worked. He also mentioned he too was enjoying the Leica version of the same lens which is really not the same at all. The M-mount SLR Magic is a whole new barrel of a beast. Gary shared some of his remarkable photos and commented that there was a bit of “controversy” surrounding the SLR Magic lenses and brand. Once again I thought back to that “Rockwell” fella and so many forum comments from people bashing products that they had never seen, touched, explored, or even attempted to understand. Often only due to product price. It is then that I realized many “forums” can be as bad as news media outlets and not nearly as valuable as parting ones hind quarters from the couch, while getting out and exploring for oneself.

After two months with my SLR Magic I have thoroughly enjoyed every challenging minute with the lens. I don’t seem to care if the company stole the concept from a Happy Meal, painted it pink, and marked it up 500%. The fact is, whatever they did, they built it, they built it well, and made it available for me to purchase, saving me the trouble of building my own. It fits my camera (amazingly as a native lens), it functions beautifully for my tastes and needs, and I thoroughly enjoy the challenge and results. And if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to buy it. If it was too expensive I could have easily chose something else. Fortunately I don’t live in a one size, one price fits all world. If I wasn’t happy with the available product I’m free to search out other offerings. Free markets are amazing. What’s more amazing is how fast products like this are selling in Asia. High-end products of all genres are selling like hot cakes. I’ve recently watched people buy watches that were more than $60,000 usd. Things in these price ranges are flying out of shop doors. To many in this part of the world a $5000 camera body or even a $10000 lens is a mere toy. Something just to have because someone said it was good or “the best”. It’s likely it will rarely be used if ever to the degree of its design. I see it in aviation all the time. People spending hundreds of thousands on aircraft and sometimes millions just to have a spare or say they have “one of those” too. It’s very interesting to witness what motivates different people to spend.

To me texture and grain in a photograph are character. They are the flavor and smell of one-dimensional world.

So now I have a few new paintbrushes to choose from, and I’ve got an entire planet before me to explore along with my great partner in crime. Donna and I are having way too much fun searching out places to shoot. I recently spent more than five hours climbing the back halls, stairwells, and alleyways of one Hong Kong’s most notorious buildings. I observed all facets of life, vice, and underground activities. I met drug dealers, tailors, cooks, traders, you name it. I did my best to capture photos of it all with less than a handful being anything exciting or even remotely sharable. All poor photos due strictly to my lack of skill. The best part is that bodged photos no longer bother me. I’ll happily pack up my iPad, all my new paintbrushes, and head out for another adventure. Each time I try I learn a little more and my technique improves. I get better at choosing my settings, learn to focus faster, and are really learning how to work an area to compose the best shot while not disturbing my subjects. When I get a great shot it really makes me smile and I want to share the moment with my friends. When I don’t, I’m happy to have had the chance.

So where to go next? We never really know. Today we are in Japan and I’m certain our next destination will be as equally exciting. Maybe there will be something worth photographing, or maybe we’ll find one of those stunning spots better quietly enjoyed and remembered within the greatest canvas one has. Wherever Donna and go I know we’ll make the most of it. But perhaps a little more shopping first. I heard something about some “Voigtlander” people I really must explore.

Manual lenses like those from SLR Magic and Voigtlander are turning out to be a real treat for me personally. I enjoy how they help me get more involved with the moment I’m trying to capture. They are in no way easy lenses for a novice to use but that’s all part of the fun and enjoyment of the equipment. Day or night the wide aperture coupled with the appropriate filters and patience makes for great adventure.

Above my bright yellow airplane looked equally interesting in black and white and the old Buick below turned out much too sharp so I had to muck it up a bit. Both taken with the SLR Magic in very strong daylight.

Wide open the SLR Magic delivers great results in very dim light. Days after picking up the lens, George was more than happy to pose quietly for my practice as we waited for our whiskeys to come up to the perfect sipping temperature. Further below Trish tries to hide her cute, tiny, very round cheeks from a shot. The picture here is actually life-size, she’s super cute and tiny.

Although the new paintbrushes I have are more than capable of capturing beautifully clean photographs, it’s still a lot of fun to mess around with the results on iPad with a few editing apps.

Once again practicing wide open is a lot of fun. If I had only remembered that thing called ISO taking this photo would have been so much easier. By raising it I could have had a much cleaner shot without the motion blur and didn’t even recall the option until hours later. It’s of no worry, I’ll just have to head back to Dubai and get a few more shots of my friend Dave.

Shooting through grease splattered glass around the corpses of many fried fowl was a bit of a challenge. But patience gave me interesting results in a great part of town.

I could have spent hours taking photos in this tiny little work shop. It’s located on one of the lower floors of one of Hong Kong’s less than desirable buildings. If you didn’t know it was there you’d never believe it existed. I’m told that most of their customers don’t want to physically visit their shop, but I personally love it. It has great character. Past the double security doors in a room a room only a few meters long and wide, they are turning out some of the highest quality and renowned custom jewelry in the region. The shop has been here since the 1960s I’m guessing and the shop owner was more than happy to let me take photos of the jewelers working away at their work benches. After all, I’m a very good customer. Women’s liberation seems to be a two-way street … Damn.

Oct 062011
 

Building the Perfect and Sexiest Micro 4/3 Camera kit for under $2500

By Steve Huff

So the time has come, the time is now. The format I so wanted to love from the get go but never fully could (due to quality issues and lack of lens issues) has finally arrived. The Olympus Micro 4/3 format has grown quite a bit over the past 2 1/2 years and todays cameras are quite a bit better than the earlier generation models. More important, the lenses have finally gotten really really good. Well, in my opinion anyway, and that is because I am a HUGE fan of Prime single focal length non zoom lenses and Olympus, Panasonic, and even SLR Magic/Noktor has now gotten serious about putting out some great glass.

I was waiting for the day when lenses like the ones below would arrive for this format and now all I am waiting for is the Olympus “Pro Pen” (and I am praying that it will have a built in EVF)! Until then the E-P3 is doing quite nicely. If you are someone who is interested in buying into a new camera system (and many of you are as I get e-mails asking me about it daily) then one option for you is the Micro 4/3 format. It is smaller than a DSLR, it is quite versatile and the quality these days is DAMN GOOD.

Sure there is the Leica M9, that has always been an option of course, but sadly most of us can not always afford the $7-8k for the body and several thousands more for the lenses. If you can, then THAT is the way to go IMO. The M9 is magic once you learn it and get used to how it works. So if you have $15k laying around, just go buy an M9 and a 35 or 50 from one of the site sponsors! But if your budget is under $2500 and  you want a really kick ass versatile camera and lens setup then below is what I deem “The perfect Micro 4/3 Camera Kit for under $2500 or so” – and this is focusing on PHOTO capabilities not video.

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The Camera Body – MY FAVORITE MICRO 4/3 CAMERA TO DATE…

Olympus E-P3 – $899

The original PEN E-P1 was a camera I enjoyed but it’s slow AF, inability to use manual controls for video, and inability to even accept an EVF hindered it. But even with those quirks it was a lovable camera due to it’s retro design and quality feel. The E-P2 was an improvement but still was not perfect though it did look sexy in black :)  Now we have the E-P3 and in my opinion it is the best of the PEN series to date and has become another favorite of mine. It has lighting fast AF, a superb LCD OLED “almost too good” display, the ability to use the VF-2 or VF-3 EVF’s (BTW, the VF-2 is MUCH better quality wise) and it still retains that solid feel and great build quality while improving the grip and including a built in flash (for those who like flash).

It would have been sweet if it had a built in EVF but as it is now, it is my favorite Micro 4/3 camera to date. There are also the Panasonic’s like the newer GF3 and G3 (that DOES have a built in EVF) and they are good, but to me there is just something classic about the E-P3 (and no, I am not referring to its somewhat dated 12MP sensor, lol). When I hold the E-P3 I WANT to go out and shoot. When I hold a G3 I do not. Call me strange but I feel that when you have a “connection” with a camera then you can do great things with it and it inspires you. Besides, the image quality difference between the E-P3 and G3 is crazy minimal and not even evident in prints. These days 12MP is plenty for almost EVERYONE. Yes, this is true even though the newest crop of “enthusiast” cameras coming out in 2012 are 24MP and up.

The fact is that the E-P3 inspires and it is much less expensive than buying into Leica. So for  those of us with limited funds, this is a fantastic option for those looking to get into a new camera system. I get the e-mails daily that read something like this “I am in the market for a new camera and  have no idea what to buy, but I can not afford Leica. Any suggestions”?

Camera purchases are personal. I can not tell you what to buy as what I like, you may not like BUT I do get to use just about any camera I want. Out of everything that I have tried recently I feel the best system as a whole for someone with limited funds is this E-P3 in the M4/3 line due to its qualities, versatility and the new lenses available for it. I also love the Fuji X100 but it is not as versatile and not really a “system” camera. The NEX-7 that is on the horizon looks AMAZING but it is not out yet and lenses are lacking at this moment.

What CAN the E-P3 do? It can do macro, it can do fast wide angle, it can do fast telephoto, it can do HD video (though not the best in this dept.), it can do sleek and sexy. It can focus and fire almost instantly just by touching any area of the LCD. It can do all of these  things while giving back really great quality up to ISO 1600 and even 3200. With the EVF using manual focus glass like a Leica 50 Summilux via an Adapter can also bring good results but remember the 2X crop involved with the Micro 4/3 sized sensor. Your 50 becomes a 100mm equivilant. This camera is also a conversation starter. Walk around with it in silver and a vintage looking strap attached and get ready for the comments. Every time I take this out I get a comment on it as everyone thinks it’s a vintage camera. Fun fun fun!

So if you have around $2500 budget, give or take, and are in the market for a really nice kit I would suggest the E-P3 as your base camera. The cost is $899 with the kit lens of choice and you can buy it in black, silver or white. The silver is beautiful and is my choice for my personal E-P3.

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THE LENSES

The Olympus 12mm f/2 or the new high quality SLR Magic (Noktor) 12 f/1.6

The Olympus 12mm f/2 – $799

 

The 1st lens that really threw me for a loop for this format was the Olympus 12mm f/2. Not only due to the wide angle equivalent of 24mm but the speed of f/2 as well as the close focus ability and super fast AF speed when attached to the E-P3. ALSO, the superb build quality, design, manual focus control and distance scale. Almost Leica like with it’s execution and style. Also, the performance is exceptional. The lens is quite expensive though at $799. It is unique with all of its qualities but there is another choice in a fast 12…

The Olympus 12mm f/2 is fantastic but expensive…

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The SLR Magic/Noktor 12mm f/1.6 – $499

The newest lens on the block comes from slrmagic.com and they are taking this seriously with their 12mm f/1.6. It’s big, it’s bad and it’s output is wonderful and dramatic. DISCLAIMER: SLR Magic is a site sponsor but I do not sugar coat their products. Their 50 Noktor 0.95 is mediocre in my opinion, and it has been their “flagship” until now. This is their “1st serious lens” as they told me and I was expecting less but when I started shooting it I got more that I expected. The lens is long..heavy..and manual focus. So if this is OK with you, the output is, IMO, more “cinematic” than the Oly 12. At $499 it is also not a cheap lens but this lens is great for video AND photo. My 1st look of this lens is HERE and my full review will be up in the next 2 weeks and the lens will be out in December in the USA. It is one to look out for.

The SLR Magic 12mm f/1.6 puts out a more “Cinematic” rendering than the Olympus 12 though no AF and its larger/heavier

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The Panasonic 20 f/1.7 or 25 1.4 lens – $349

The Panasonic 20 1.7 is legendary in the M4/3 world. It has been a great seller and for good reason. It was the 1st “fast” prime made available for this format and the quality is well worth its $350 price tag. Above it actually. The 20 1.7 is a deal and a MUST OWN, especially if you never owned this lens. Attach it to your camera, set it to 1.7 and shoot! With this lens we were finally able to get some shallow depth of field control on our cameras. If you want to spend a but more, $250 more to be exact you can get the Pansonic/Leica 25 1.4 Summilux. YES, a Summilux for your Micro 4/3 camera! It is made by Panasonic, not Leica, though Panny builds it according to Leica design specs. We don’t get the exotic Leica glass but it’s still a Leica design. The Summilux is a better lens but also more money at $599.

Below: A test shot from the 20 1.7 (at 1.7) shot on the E-P3. Click on it for a larger and better view. Love the sharpness and contrast of the 20. It is already a classic and at $350 well worth the cost!

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The Olympus 45 1.8

This is the newest and hardest to find lens from Olympus and it’s a beauty. Olympus really hit it out of the park this year with the 12 and this 45 1.8 lens, more so than the E-P3. These lenses are important because they work equally as well with the Panasonic cameras and they are both the highest quality lenses yet from Olympus for this format. At $399 it too punches above its weight class. A MUST OWN if you want a 90mm equivalent that is also built well, beautiful and FAST with a 1.8 aperture. I do not use 90mm too much but for those times when I do, this lens will be the one I use. My review is here.

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The Olympus VF-2 and VF-3 EVF – $179-$249

To really finish off this kit I had ego recommend one of the EVF’s. The VF-2  will give you the best quality when looking through the EVF but the VF-3  will lock into place and cost you less. I have the VF-3 though I admit the VF-2 was much more pleasurable to look through. I ended up sticking with the VF-3 due to the fact that the VF-2 always fell off my camera. This never leaves my camera though it does make it a but bulky. I find it useful in the daytime when the full sun is out, and here in AZ that is every single day.

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The Barton Braided Leather Strap – $79

I tried out one of these straps from Barton 1972.com and it has become my favorite strap for the E-P3 hands down. It is all leather, hand braided, and is soft and has some stretch to it so it will not hurt your neck or shoulder. I Highly recommend it!

So there you have it…

If you have about $2500 to spend and want to buy a new camera kit that is small, sexy, capable, AND versatile then the E-P3 and lenses/accessories above can give you quite a bit of “BANG for your BUCK”. Sure, with $250o you could buy many other cameras but none will be an entire package like the one above. Sure you can spend less and buy a new Olympus E-PL1 or old E-P1 but the list as I typed it out above is sort of an “Ultimate” list for this format, what I deem to be the best of the best that this format has to offer for photography. The best of the lot. The camera, the lenses, the accessories. It is what I love and I have been using this setup more and more lately and thoroughly enjoying it.

To recap:

  • The Olympus E-P3 camera with kit lens – $899
  • Olympus 12mm or SLR Magic/Noktor 12mm – $499-$799
  • Panasonic 20mm 1.7 – $349
  • Olympus 45 1.8 – $399
  • Olympus EVF – $179-$249
  • Barton Strap – $79
Grand Total – $2404 – $2774 depending on configuration. If you shoot Micro 4/3 let me know what YOUR fave setup is in the comments below! Oh, and if you are looking for a BUDGET Micro 4/3 setup, check out THIS POST

Aug 292011
 

VOTE NOW! The top 10 in the Noktor/SLR Magic Lens give-away has been posted!

Here we go! I received just over 300 entries in the Noktor/SLR Magic Lens give-away and the top 10 are posted below. Before I get to that I wanted to say that there were MANY great entries and also MANY SUPERB entries did not follow the rules 100%, so because of this I could not consider them! Just to be clear, the rules are reposted here as they are posted on the contest page:

RULES, follow them or else your image will NOT be entered!

  • Images must not be any larger than 1600 pixels wide horizontal or 1000 pixels wide vertical.
  • ONLY ONE IMAGE can be submitted. JUST ONE! If you send more than one you will be disqualified!
  • Post Processing is allowed but nothing so crazy that it changes the image. In other words, no “photo art” or additions to the image in PS. Just things like levels, contrast, color, etc.
  • Images MUST be shot with a SONY NEX camera. NEX-3 , 5, VG-10, 3C, etc.
  • Old or new images can be submitted but must be with a SONY NEX
  • EXIF data MUST be intact.
  • Submit image with your full name and mailing address.
So if you did not follow all of the rules above your image was not considered. 

 

Ok, on to the top 10! The images are numbers #1-#10. YOU will be picking the winner so vote for your favorite in the poll under the images. The top three vote getters will win! The 1st prize is the NOKTOR f/0.95 50mm for NEX mount. The 2nd place prize is the SLR Magic 28 2.8 lens for NEX mount. The third place prize is a Think Tank photo Retrospective 5 bag.
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#1 – Audun Brekke – NORWAY
#2 – Roger Lim – Singapore
#3 – Chris Su – Japan
#4 - Elaine Dudzinski – Gilbert, AZ
#5 – William Harris – Fayettville, NC
#6  - Nicolas Vedrenne – France
#7 – Fabrizio Siano – Miami, FL

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#8 – Andy Tran – Singapore


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#9 – Jeff Mesko – Rolling Meadows, Ill

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#10 – Maria Avramidou – Greece

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There you have it! The top ten chosen out of the entries that were submitted that followed the rules. To be honest, there were 2-3 images that did not make it but could have won. I could not break the rules as it would not be fair to those who did. So vote now for your favorite image! The voting will last through Sunday September 4th and the winners will be announced on September 5th 2011.

Only one vote per person will count and be registered! GOOD LUCK TO ALL!

Aug 192011
 

 


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Testing the Noktor 50 f/0.95 for the Sony E Mount with the new NEX-C3

Hello to all! It’s been a LONG LONG day for me but I am back in my office and doing what I love to do most, and that is to sit here at my desk while in my big comfy chair and tell you guys about my experiences when shooting with new gear :)

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The 24 Hour Adventure

Yesterday afternoon my buddy Mike and I took a drive to Las Vegas, which is about a 4-5 hour drive from Phoenix. I brought along a very light kit consisting only of the Olympus E-P3 and 12mm lens and the brand new Sony NEX-C3 camera. I decided last minute to drive to Vegas just so I could have a change of scenery to test out the Noktor Sony “E” mount 50mm f/0.95 Hyperprime, which is basically the same lens (though now made in a new factory with better fit and finish) as the Micro 4/3 version I reviewed over a year ago. Seeing new things can inspire and I needed it after spending day in and day out in the hot blazing sun and brown desert that is PHOENIX. Yep, this was gonna be a quick 24 hour trip but I was excited.

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Another Noktor Hyperprime?

Some of you probably remember that I was the 1st in the world to review the Noktor 50mm Hyperprime for Micro 4/3.  I was also the first to say I didn’t care for it. It was OK for what it was, but it was very soft, very low contrast, and the colors were not so hot. I did manage to get some decent shots at a wedding with it attached to an Olympus E-P2 but at the end of the day, the lens just was not for me. Shortly after that review Noktor seems to have disapeared and then later resurfaced when SLR Magic bought them out.

SLR Magic made a few tweaks to the lens design and started manufacture of the lens in a totally different factory, and then they released it for the Sony E mount. Yep, a 50mm f/0.95 lens for the Sony NEX mount cameras, which will give you a 75MM equivalent, unlike the 100mm equivalent on Micro 4/3.

Many out there argue that this lens (well, not THIS specific version) can be bought on ebay (but without the “E” or M4/3″ mount) for less than the $1000 or so Noktor charges for it. Well, the lens as it is now is pretty slick looking and does indeed come complete with the mount of your choice, a box, metal screw in lens cap, etc. None of this means SQUAT if the lens sucks though, so my curiosity was aroused.

After asking SLR Magic about this lens they shipped out the Sony version to me so I could give it away to one lucky reader in my SLR Magic/NEX contest. That was pretty cool of them to just donate the lens for me to give away. Since I had the lens here, I decided to take it out and see if it performed better on the NEX with it’s larger sensor than it did on the E-P2 and to see if the color and contrast was any better (it was pretty bad when I reviewed the 1st version of this lens on Micro 4/3)

I will make this quick as this is really just a quick look at the lens. I only shot with it for one night so all I am qualified to talk about is my quick experience with the lens.

 

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FIT AND FINISH

The lens feel and looks GREAT. It’s metal, it’s very solid, and it’s built very well. This lens is actually a lens designed for cinema so the aperture ring does not click. Instead it is just free and smooth and you can lock it down with a twist of a metal knob. I left it wide open all night at f/0.95. I have NO COMPLAINTS on the build or look/feel. The build of the Hyperprime gets a B+ in my book and a lens like the Leica Noctilux gets an A+, which is a TANK. So a B+ is actually quite good for a $1000 f/0.95 lens.

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PERFORMANCE

 

I will not lie or sugar coat it. As with the Micro 4/3 version, this lens is a CHALLENGE to use. I shot it all night in the Fremont street area of Las Vegas and it was tough to get sharp images. Why? Well, this lens is NOT really that sharp when wide open. It CAN be a teeny bit sharp if you nail the focus, or if you stop it down to 1.4 but using focus peaking, shooting quick, and shooting wide open was a HUGE challenge. I love challenges though so what did I think after a few hours of use? Well, I do indeed like it better on the NEX than I did on Micro 4/3 but it is still a challenge to use due to the shallow DOF.

I ONLY used the focus peaking feature of the NEX-C3 when shooting this lens. Basically, when you manually focus there are bright red areas on the screen that pop up on the in focus areas of the image. Never once did I stop and magnify the back LCD. Shooting in this manner with the Noktor and NEX was a breeze and I want to give Sony huge props for implementing this peaking feature. It works very well. BUT as I already stated the Noktor lens itself IS INDEED a somewhat soft lens when shot wide open. I mean, it is a f/0.95 50mm for around $1000 so we can not expect miracles.

The lens felt good on the NEX-C3 but the camera is just a bit too small for my tastes when using lenses like this. The grip is semi useless and everything is just too cramped. IN use, I MUCH prefer shooting the Olympus E-P3 as it is a little larger, has better controls, and feels great in my hands. The C3 was just too small for me to really get into it with the Noktor and if I were buying a NEX today, I would go with a NEX-5 over the C3, no contest. It has a better grip, feels more solid and because of this, it feels better in my hand. I can say that with the 16mm kit lens, the NEX-C3 felt good but still a little small. Maybe I am just so used to the larger grip on the NEX-5?

Ok, how about the images? I did say this was a “quick look” so let’s get to what is important, the RESULTS!

You can click on any image for a larger view and to see the pictures how they should be seen. Also please note, every image in this review was shot as a JPEG. Photoshop/Lightroom does not process NEX-C3 RAW files yet. Some of  the JPEGs had minor enhancements – Levels, contrast, color saturation, etc.

Shot wide open and from a distance using the Focus Peaking of the NEX-C3 – The Noktor gives you the dreamy creamy look. Color does seem pretty good, and better than what I got on the M4/3 version over a year ago.

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You can get good results if you concentrate. Again, the colors are saturated and bold here. Wide open, click for larger.

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These girls were taking photos of themselves with all of the cool lights behind them.

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The Bokeh? What do YOU think?

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I did NOT focus on the letters here but instead on the cable/wire in front of them. Again, wide open and you can see the look you can expect from this lens on the NEX cameras.

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Shot very quickly as I walked by and was lucky to nail it. Again, click image for larger view!

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A walk by shot. I raised the camera, aimed, quickly focused and when the NEX told me I had focus I fired away!

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Another quick raise and shoot! 

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What a combo, spongebob and chucky.

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More Bokeh testing….Vegas is so colorful!


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In the mirror :)

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and stopped down to 1.4..it sharpens up quite a bit when you stop it down a little

Click the image below for a straight from camera JPEG and 100% crop shot at 0.95, wide open. 

So what is the verdict on the Noktor Hyperprime f/0.95 E mount? YOU be the judge!

Ok, some of you may have not even read what I wrote above about how I disliked the Micro 4/3 version of this lens. Well, as you can see from the images above, the lens does seem to do better in most areas when using the larger image sensor of the NEX. The color is better and the contrast is better. Period. STILL, this lens is a challenge to use. MANY shots that I took WERE soft and out of focus so I did not always nail it. I thought I did when shooting but when I looked back there were many that were just a bit off. So yes, this lens can be a challenge if you are shooting street, wide open at night! Hell, ANY fast lens is a challenge at night! This IS f/0.95!

Also, NOKTOR IS a site sponsor (see their ad to the right) and  they did send me this lens to give away as part of my contest BUT this does not mean I am going to tell you that this lens is superb. I am just telling you MY THOUGHTS after one night of use. That’s it. The build is great, the feel is great, it’s a fast 0.95 aperture lens BUT it IS SOFT wide open. It IS a challenge to shoot on the NEX and always get good results. It DOES have a dreamy creamy look, and you will either like it or you will not. YOU CAN buy a Voigtlander 50 1.1 and adapter and shoot it on the NEX but it will run you a little bit more money and it will be bigger. It will also be sharper and more correct. So it is up to you as to what you are looking for.

I guess it will come down to if you like the look of the Noktor or not. Personal preference. I mean, a Leica M9 and 50 Noctilux 0.95 will set you back $18,000. The NEX-C3 and Hyperprime will set you back well under $2000. A savings of $16,000. That is A BIG DEAL. Will you get Leica performance from this combo? NO. It MAY get you somewhat close to the look and feel of the old Leica F/1 Nocti but not quite. This combo is pretty cool though. Even with its quirks and challenges, it is indeed looking better on the NEX system that it did on Micro 4/3. Only you can decide if it is something that floats your boat! YOU be the judge!

Remember, every image in this review was shot as a JPEG as Photoshop/Lightroom does not process NEX-C3 RAW files yet. So, what you see here is not representative of the NEX-C3 and Noktor RAW performance.

Also, do not forget to enter the contest so you can WIN THIS EXACT lens! Click here to read about it and enter!

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A Few Words on the Sony NEX-C3…nice but nothing groundbreaking

As you guys know, I have been a fan of the Sony NEX-5 since its release and have written many articles on it. The review, shooting it with Leica glass, comparisons, etc. The NEX-5 was never a perfect camera but the one thing it had going for it was its large APS-C sensor, nice construction, great grip, and swivel LCD. The weak link in the NEX cameras have always been the Sony lenses. Simply put, they kind of suck for any kind of critical shooting and they fail to please most “enthusiasts”.  This is why many who shoot the NEX cameras use adapters and slap on Leica glass. BUT in the past this has been slow, cumbersome, and tricky because you would have to magnify the LCD, compose, focus, then shrink the LCD and take your shot. I was never a fan of this so I always shot it with the Sony branded 16mm.

Recently Sony updated the firmware to give filters similar to Olympus’s own Art Filters as well as “Focus Peaking”. THIS is the winning feature as we can now shoot with fast 3rd party lenses and get focus MUCH quicker! No need to magnify the screen. Many of the test shots above were taken VERY quickly. I would raise the camera and quickly focus until I saw the bright red lines showing me what was in focus. BOOM! Thats it. Even with a fast 0.95 lens it was easy and do-able.

The NEX-C3 is the latest camera from Sony in the NEX lineup. It replaces the NEX-3 and what we get is now an even smaller body, a two tone black and silver trim that is very slick looking and the C3 also gets a new sensor with 2 more megapixels (went from 14 to 16). The C3 has the new “BIONZ” image processing (who thinks of these names?, lol). Everything else, in all reality is the same as the NEX-3. So new smaller and slicker body style, new sensor, and new processing. Sony also separated the SD card from the battery compartment and it now has its own little space and door. I do like  this improvement. Sony kept the same menu system and it is exactly the same as the NEX-3 and 5 with the new firmware.

I really do not see why anyone would choose a C3 over the NEX-5 right now, especially when they are about the same price, $599. I do see the NEX-5 has been discontinued as the new C5 is on the way, and then the NEX-7 which is still in the rumor phase but very likely.

The C3 is a very sweet and cool looking camera with the Sony 16mm mounted but IMO it is almost too tiny, especially if you are going to mount glass like this Noktor Hyperprime. Personally, I can’t wait for the NEX-7 as if this camera pans out as we are thinking, it is going to be a 100% winner. The NEX-C3 is sort of just here and there. Not really much of an improvement over the 3 and hard for me to get excited about. If you are looking into the NEX system, and never bought a NEX camera then I could recommend the C3 or the 5. To see the specs of the NEX-C3 and read more about it, OR TO BUY IT then click HERE. 

If you are wondering if the C3 is worth upgrading to from the NEX-3 then I would say not really. The new firmware will work just fine on your current NEX and give you the new features like Focus Peaking and the picture effects. Save your case. But if you want a new NEX then the C3 is worth considering if you want to get in to it for the least amount of money. B&H Photo usually has it in stock HERE. The NEX -C3 can indeed give you some stellar IQ with the right lenses. I’m getting fantastic results with the SLR Magic 28.28 (review coming soon).

Click image for larger – NEX-C3 with SLR Magic 28 2.8 – Out of camera JPEG!

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PERSONALLY, I am still LOVING this Olympus E-P3 and can not recommend it more highly with the 12mm f/2 lens. It is just a joy to use and LIGHTNING fast (faster AF than the NEX). I shot with it a ton in Vegas and will post some shots later but here is one comparison I did with the E-P3 and 12mm at f/5.6 and the NEX-C3 and the 16mm 924) at f/5.6. You can click each image below to download the full size out of camera JPEGS from each camera. The NEX gives more megapixels and a different color signature but the Oly file is great as well, and the camera is soooo much fun to use. Love it! BUT, the Oly combo is about $1100 MORE expensive than the C3 combo and the C3 gives you a smoother IQ due to the larger sensor. Once again, it all depends on what you are looking for in a camera.

SONY NEX-C3 – CLICK IMAGE FOR FULL SIZE OOC JPEG – 16mm (24) – f/5.6

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OLYMPUS  E-P3 – CLICK IMAGE FOR FULL SIZE OOC JPEG – 12mm (24) – f/5.6

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Remember, anytime you follow my links here and buy from B&H or AMAZON, this helps to keep my site going. If it was not for these links, there would be no way to fund this site, so I thank you in advance if you visit these links. I thank you more if you make a purchase! I have nifty search bars at the upper right of each page so you easily search for something at either store! I currently spend 10-14 hours a day working on this site and the only way that I can pay for it is with your help, so thank you! Currently my traffic has been increasing but my funds to pay for the site has been decreasing, so any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

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If you enjoyed this article/review, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page and also be sure to join me on twitter or my new facebook fan page! Also, you can subscribe to my feed at my subscribe page HERE and read these posts in your browser or news reader! Be sure and visit the all new forums on the site HERE.

Aug 112011
 

SLR MAGIC CONTEST EXTENDED, NEW GRAND PRIZE OFFERED! Now THREE Prizes!

WOOHOO! As I posted over a week ago, I am giving away a SLR Magic 28 2.8 Manual lens for the NEX E-Mount cameras (NEX-5, 3, C3, etc) and the contest is underway with some fantastic submissions already sent in to me. To enter and read the rules, be sure to go to the contest page!

SLR Magic/NOKTOR donated the lens for a giveaway and they wanted to sweeten the pot a bit so they sent me another super cool prize to GIVE AWAY for this contest and it is their top of the line E-Mount offering, the Noktor 50 f/0.95 Hyper Prime for E-Mount. I already announced that Noktor is releasing a 50 0.95 for Leica mount, which will be an ALL NEW Lens design but this one for the E mount is similar to the Micro 4/3 version. I did a few test snaps around my house with the lens and it looks pretty good so far. I did NOT get to take it out anywhere so I have no idea of the quality but I am going to do my best to review it before shipping it to the winner :) It would also be cool if the winner wrote up an article with some images shot with the lens…hmmmmm.

The lens is new, in box. It has the end cap and screw on metal lens cap. The lens is all metal, solid and heavy and seems to perform a bit better on the NEX than M4/3, probably due to the larger sensor. THANK YOU Noktor for donating this lens for the contest! Free stuff for the readers here is always VERY cool!

 

ANYWAY, keep sending in your submissions to the contest! I have extended the deadline now to August 26th 2011 at noon. All other rules remain the same and the top ten will now be posted on this site on September 1st 2011. THEN you will vote for your favorites and the top three vote getters will win!

1st place: Noktor Hyperprime E Mount 50 f/0.95 lens

2nd place: SLR Magic 28 2.8 E mount lens

3rd place: ThinkTank Photo Retrospective 5 Bag

To see the official contest page and the rules and how to enter, CLICK HERE! 

GOOD LUCK TO ALL and remember, all you have to do to get a chance to win is to send in your best shot taken with a Sony NEX camera!

Aug 012011
 

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Just spoke with SLR Magic/Noktor and was told that the new lens they are releasing soon is indeed a Leica M mount 0.95 50mm lens. This is an all new lens by Noktor and is made for the full frame Leica M9 as well as Leica M film cameras. The previous Noktor lens that was released for Micro 4/3 and the Sony E-Mount is a smaller lens and would not work for a full frame sensor.

This will be 6-bit coded as well. Yep, a new 50m f/0.95 lens for the M mount that will be MUCH less expensive than the Noctilux. The lens is coming soon but Noktor is still doing some design enhancements and they asked me to post a poll so you guys can help!

NOKTOR NEEDS YOUR HELP!

As you can see from the image of the prototype, the focusing ring does not appear to give much grip. I mentioned to them my preference but they had the idea of me putting up the poll to ask you for your preference.

They asked me which type of focusing ring Leica users would prefer. Scalloped, Round Barrel, or Focus Tab? Also, would you prefer a green ring on the front of the lens or a black ring? Vote in the poll below so Noktor can finish the design and get this lens released!

Jul 292011
 

FULL FRAME 50 0.95 from Noktor. Coming soon.

So this new lens is on the way from Noktor…you remember Noktor. They were a new company over a year ago, released a micro 4/3 0.95 25mm and them faded away. Well, Noktor was recently bought by SLR Magic and they are dedicated to creating more new lenses and this one will be a doozy. Now, I do not have confirmation on anything here but I was told that this lens is NOT for Nikon. NOT for Canon. It is an all new lens made by NOKTOR and the image above is their prototype.

AGAIN, it is an ALL NEW LENS and is getting ready to be announced SOON. It is not an E mount, not a micro 4/3 mount as they already sell a lens in that mount. THIS is a different beast altogether. I have spoken with SLR Magic and Noktor, so this I know.

Hmmm. What do I see? After studying the image for a while I think I see a slide out hood much like the Noctilux 0.95. Could this be a Leica M mount 50 f/0.95? If so, this can be very interesting as the price for this lens would probably be way way less although the quality will also be less.

If it is an M mount, I’d drop the green ring and replace it with black AND if you are listening Noktor, give it a scalloped focus ring. If you remember Noktor was toying with the idea of creating a 90 F/2 M MOUNT lens for a few hundred dollars a while back. Key word is M MOUNT…would they make this for Sony full frame DSLRs? Unlikely. They have already confirmed it is not for Canon or Nikon. That leaves Leica. This could get VERY interesting! Also, check out the rounded aperture blades!

If I hear anything with details or confirmation of mount I will post it here 1st! If it is for Sony, well, that could be interesting too but if I were a betting man….

Whatever mount I really hope the quality is there and the price is reasonable. It’s always cool to have an 0.95 in the bag without spending $10k to do so. Lol. If and when this thing is released I will be reviewing it no doubt!

Jun 132011
 

Today I welcome a new site sponsor, NOKTOR! Just recently SLR Magic has resurrected the Noktor brand and has re-released the 50 f/0.95 for the Micro 4/3 mount as well as the Sony NEX E-Mount! SLR Magic and Noktor have some exciting things planned for  the near future so be sure to keep a lookout for the reviews of ALL of their new products on this very website. Welcome Noktor/SLR Magic!

May 102011
 

Just found out today that Noktor, the company that started out with a bang over a year ago has decided to close its doors for good. When they started they took the photo community by storm with the announcement of the 50mm f/0.95 lens for micro 4/3 mount. This was a rebranded CCTV lens that Noktor added their name to along with a green neon ring to brand it.

I was the very first person to review the lens and after spending time with it and even shooting it at a wedding, I did not care for the lens. It was way too soft, had no contrast, colors were murky and the bokeh was way too busy. Noktor charged $700-$800 for this lens and shortly after its announcement they stopped taking orders and just today announced the end of the company.

They had the marketing down, but that was about it. The lens was over priced for what it was. My question is, did they ever ship even one lens? R.I.P Noktor!

Mar 032010
 
lensp

This Noktor 50 0.95 lens review diary should be read from the bottom up. The conclusion is up top, early thoughts and samples at the bottom so if this is your first visit to this review diary, start there!

For another review of this lens which is a little more positive and geared towards video use,  you can check out Phillip Bloom


Entry #11 – March 08th 2010 – 6:27 PM –

The lens is being sent back to Noktor in the morning and I am done shooting with it. During my time with the lens I went from liking the lens, to hating the lens, to somewhat liking the lens. I mean, it’s an OK lens but I have to be 100% honest here.

I have to say that you can buy another 50mm lens that will perform better in almost every way for an extra $300 or so. I am talking about the Voigtlander 50 Nokton 1.1. It is a sharper lens, has better color, better contrast and is almost as fast with a 1.1 aperture. But, that lens is for Leica M mount and you will need an adapter to use it, so more expense. It’s also a fatter (larger) lens. But if 0.95 is what you want then the Noktor may be the lens you are looking for.

The NOKTOR 50 left me feeling a bit cold. Yes, it’s a superfast 0.95 aperture lens but it is really hit or miss when using it at that aperture. From its softness and low contrast to it being very hard to focus accurately when wide open I am not sure sure that it is worth the hassle. The fact is, this lens is sort of like what a Leica Noctilux F0.95 would vomit out if it were sick. It’s technically not a very good lens and many will consider it unusable until it is stopped down to F2, and at that aperture you have other choices in a 50mm lens for your m4/3 camera.

Does it allow M4/3 users to shoot in low light? Yep. Can it give good results doing so? Sometimes, but those results are very soft, and the color is very weak. The best way I can describe the color this lens puts out is that it is “dirty”. That is the term I use when a lens gives me blah color. I rarely see it these days in modern lenses but the Noktor obviously does not use any kind of exotic glass. Hell, my 1943 Leica Summitar beats the pants off of the Noktor for color and bokeh, but it’s an F2 lens so it is not quite the speed demon.

You may have seen some not so nice comments in this review/post by those who say this lens is garbage and that there are better and less expensive alternatives. Let me say that A: The lens is not garbage and it does have its uses but B: It is probably a bit pricey for what it gives you in performance and C: There is no other lens like this available new with warranty for M4/3, so maybe it is priced right. It all depends on your needs and expectations.

It may sound like I am being VERY hard on the lens but in all honesty I do like it for certain applications. For example, I think some of the wedding test shots came out nice and the bokeh in those shots is not bad at all, and in B&W they look “pleasant”. Someone here said the lens is a “Jeckyl & Hyde” and I agree. Sometimes I hate it, sometimes I like it and 1 time out of 20 times I really like it. It does seem to do best in low light situations, and this my friends is what the lens is all about. It’s the 0.95 speed that potential buyers want and those shooters do not want 1.1 or 1.4. They want 0.95.

So, who would want this lens? Someone who wants the fastest lens they can buy new for their M4/3 camera and does not mind softness wide open, busy bokeh in certain scenarios, low contrast, and dull color out of the camera. If you want .95 then this is the only game in town for a new lens and with all of my complaining, keep in mind I am kind of spoiled by Leica glass. For what it is, the Noktor can (maybe) satisfy those night owls who want to go nocturnal with their M4/3 camera. Just do not expect perfection or Leica Noctilux performance because it’s not there. Yes, I was excited about the lens the first day and even considered buying one but after using it for the past week or so I decided NOT to buy one. It’s not for me, but I know some of you out there will enjoy it.

Bottom Line: The Noktor Hyperprime 50 f/0.95 does indeed do what the company advertises. It’s a super fast lens that will let you shoot at night with your M4/3 camera. They even tell you that you will get a dreamy and unique look. This is 100% fact. Noktor never tells you that the lens is sharp, or contrasty, or puts out a bright, colorful image. The lens delivers on what they claim and if the samples I have provided look good to you then you will probably be happy with the lens. Just be ready for some softness and missed focus. Also, the files will need some contrast and color boost in your favorite editing software to look their best. The main negatives? The bokeh, the softness, the contrast when wide open. The main positives? Build, from F2 down it is sharp, snappy and looks great.

You can read more at NOKTOR.COM. It appears they closed the ordering and now have an email list for stock notification. My guess is they took as many orders as they can handle for now because the BUZZ WAS HIGH with this lens. The day I posted my first look there were 40,000 visitors to this site. That’s 3X more than a normal day :)

Anyway, thanks for coming along with me on this Noktor test! It was fun and I enjoyed shooting with it while I had it. Some of you will love this lens, some will hate it but at least you know what to expect :)

Entry #10 – March 07th 2010 – 10:50PM -

One more wide open with contrast and color tweaked in Aperture 3. I kind of like the look of this one…

Entry #9 – March 07th 2010 – 10:09 AM –

I decided yesterday to do some “REAL” real world testing of this lens so I brought my E-P2/Noktor combo with me to a wedding where I shot a few images. These have been converted to B&W to fit with the others I shot w/the M9. Most were wide open because I wanted to see what this lens could do in this area for something like this. I was not the main wedding shooter so I had no problem experimenting. But when looking at these think of them as “Noktor Test Shots” not “Wedding Images” :)

f0.95

F2

f0.95

f0.95

f 0.95

f0.95

So when actually shooting in challenging light the Noktor, while soft at 0.95 did come through and allowed me to shoot in low light where other lenses would have given up. Also, by F2 the lens is very sharp so I look at this lens as an F2 lens with the capabilities to go faster IF NEEDED. Once you go wider  than F2 you suffer some imperfections that may or may not be a big deal to you.

My wrap up to this review will be up tomorrow!

Entry #8 – March 06th 2010 – 8:42 AM –

I have had quite a few e-mails asking for this so here it goes. Below you will see an image shot at 0.95 followed by a 100% crop at every aperture. These were all shot on a tripod, self timer mode and focus was critically set using the magnified LCD on the back of the camera.

The Noktor is soft wide open and at 1.4 but then starts to sharpen up as it hits F2. The lens is at its sharpest from F5.6-F8. But at this aperture, the Kit zoom would be just as sharp if not sharper. The question you have to ask yourself is why you would want this lens. If it is for the 0.95 aperture, which is why most people are interested in this lens, then be aware the lens will be soft when wide open. The lens loses contrast, color and sharpness at .95-1.4. This may be the look you are after though :)

Entry #7 – March 05th 2010 – 12:06 PM –

Grabbed some quick shots this morning during the soft golden light hour. Lens did better in this light. So far I have had issues with the lens in bright light, at all apertures. In low light, the lens did good. In soft light like this the lens seems to do best. I also think a lens like this would do even better on a camera with a larger sensor and more dynamic range. But, the samples below look pretty good. They can be clicked on for a larger view. I am hoping to have a sharpness test up later with crops from each aperture so we can see how sharp the lens gets as it is stopped down.

All at F0.95 – straight from camera images. Minimum focus ditance on all three.

Entry #6 – March 04th 2010 – 9:34 PM –

Been shooting more tonight and became frustrated with this lens again. For some reason I was getting bad blown highlights even when trying to shoot a silly coke can under a table lamp. Not sure if this was the lens or the sensor so I tried it with the 20 1.7 as well. First the Noktor…

ISO 200, 1/125s. f0.95

and now the 20 1.7…

So it appears to be a sensor thing. The 20 1.7 gave me the same color and the same blown area though not as bad, but I was at 1.7 on the 20. Notice how smooth the 20 1.7 bokeh is :) These are right out of camera images BTW…

One thing I noticed today is that the out of camera Noktor files could really use some PP to liven them up. So here are a couple of shots that I did some processing to in CS4. I think they look much better than the samples from earlier which were right from camera samples…

Here is one I did not post earlier but it has had some PP..color boost, levels, contrast, dodge and vignette. Click for larger. This was wide open at 0.95.

Here is one I did post earlier and the out of camera image was a little bland, a little dull and a little boring. I livened this one up with some levels, contrast, color and some burning as well.

I will have this review wrapped up by the weekend for sure. Just have to do a few more tests and then post my final word. Check back soon :)

Entry #5 – March 04th 2010 – 12:53 PM -

Well, well, well! Finally. This update was planned for earlier but something just did not feel right. I felt like I needed more shooting time with this lens before I made any final judgements on it. My wife had the day off and we had some sunshine and nice weather so we took a drive to an old abandoned factory that I have been to before. This building will really test any camera or lens because the deeper you go in the darker it gets. I had the chance to shoot with diffused light, direct light, and almost no light. So the shots I took yesterday were scrapped because I had some that were out of focus (not sure if it was me or the lens here) and the light was not really  that great. I really wanted one more crack with this lens before I gave up on it.

Yes, I was about to give up on this lens. Why? Well, in most shooting situations and light this lens will have virtually no contrast when shot wide open. It also flares quite easily, and sharpness, well, it is just not a really sharp lens. I am the first to say that sharpness is not everything but the lens seemed like it was extra soft and the color was on the dull side. If the lighting is diffused and soft you can get some sharp results and by pumping up the contrast in photoshop you can come away with an attractive photo. It all just seemed like too much work but then again, there was still something drawing me to this lens. I think it may be the fact that it is a 0.95 aperture AND for micro 4/3. This is a lens that the m4/3 crowd needs and it does have its own character though with really ugly bokeh at times. Other times though, the Bokeh can be pleasant.

I am glad I took out the lens today because these are the best results I have gotten with it so far and also show what it can do in low light, wide open, and even a little stopped down. I also brought along my M9 with a 35 Summilux and while the M9 files are flat out GORGEOUS, the NOKTOR images have a totally different look and feel. Here are the images with many available in FULL size. These are straight from the E-P2. RAW conversion was in ACR 5.6 and this is the best I could do with this lens after 3 days, and I was taking my time to critically focus with the EVF and magnification ON.

First my wife at f0.95, ISO 200 – CLICK FOR FULL SIZE JPEG

SO here, the lens looks like it would make for a really nice portrait lens. It’s soft, it has some glow and in this scenario, the bokeh is not bad at all. Here is another wide open…again, click for full size JPEG

Now HERE is what impressed me. Stopeed down to 1.4 the lens gave me some contrast and some detail…click for full size JPEG

will provide samples at f2-F11 tomorrow!

The best way I can describe the performance of this lens is that it is like comparing HDTV to the old Analog TV’s. Don’t buy the Noktor for detail as it doesn’t really have any (WHEN WIDE OPEN). I have to be honest though, the company does not claim this lens has amazing resolution. Instead they talk about its low light abilities, so what about that? THIS IS indeed what an 0.95 aperture is made for. The only issue I have with this is that the M4/3 sensors are not really ideal for lowlight or high ISO. But, let’s go deeper into the factory and into Noct territory…

I bumped up the E-P2 to ISO 640 and set the lens to f 0.95 as this room was pretty dark. There was one streak of light coming in but this was 0.95, 1/30s and ISO 640…

Now this I like. I really think that this is where this lens shines. Low light, wide open. Using it in bright light is what seemed to bring in the flare, the duller color and the unpleasant bokeh. Here is another at ISO 640, 1/60s, 0.95 – click this one for a larger look

So in this dark room the lens did indeed suck in the light when it was set at 0.95. If you were in the room you would have seen how dark it actually was. So the lens did do as advertised and I feel it would make for a useful lens in any low light scenario. Here is one that surprised me with its sharpness and color wide open. I did add contrast in CS4 for this one…click it for the full size JPEG…

and a couple more low light shots wide open…

So after reviewing these samples in low light I was impressed. The fact that I had a $750 lens in my hand that opened up to a 0.95 aperture was a big deal. Again, this lens is not up to the Noctilux level of excellence but remember, you could buy almost 15 Noktors for the price of one Noctilux 0.95 :) For those with a m4/3 camera this lens is a welcome addition to the lens lineup.

Now, with that said let me go over some things so far that I like/dislike with the lens, so far:

LIKES SO FAR:

  • Build is solid.
  • Aperture ring is nice, smooth and “clickless” but can be locked down easily
  • The speed of course. The 0.95 Aperture allows you to take your m4/3 to places you have not taken it before (unless you already have one of these kinds of lenses)
  • In certain lighting like evening, diffused or warm the lens can give great results.
  • It has its own unique character. Different from the Noctilux, Nokton, etc. Some may like it, some may not. When the bokeh is not so ugly, I like it :)
  • Focuses closer than M lenses.

DISLIKES SO FAR:

  • Green ring on the front is a little gaudy.
  • Wide open, the lens is very soft, has low contrast, and in bright light seems to blow the highlights out if you are in bright light.
  • Color is not very good out of the camera. It’s dull but can be pumped up in post.

Remember, this is an ongoing review and I was going to end it today but I may continue for a few days as I found new motivation today with the factory images. No, this camera and lens will not get me the results that my M9 will but I am reviewing this for you guys, the ones who are really interested in this lens and shoot Micro 4/3. So what I am going to do is keep the lens for a little while longer and you guys can let me know what kind of tests you want to see. Remember, I can not always do side by sides with other lenses as I do not own a ton of lenses. Many ask about the Voigtlander Nokton 1.1 compared to this. All I can tell you is that yes, I have shot the Nokton 1.1 and it is sharper, has more contrast, more punchy color and the bokeh is smoother. It renders like a modern lens. The Noktor renders like an old lens with all of their faults. Many enjoy this and it can give you imteresting results. Again, this lens has a place for those who want to get creative :)

I may be able to update later today with more so keep an eye out here. I am hoping to shoot in some evening light with the lens today.

Yes, I went from hot to cold to very warm with this lens over the past 3 days so more real world use is in order. I also want to do some tripod stuff to eliminate any focus error. Stay tuned…

OH YEA! Some of you have requested some more examples from the M9 in the same situations…Here is one from the M9 and 35 Lux ASPH at 1.4…


Entry #4 – March 04th 2010, 8:26AM -

Stay tuned for more in a couple of hours. I will have some full size samples and some commentary about this lens which will actually wrap up this review. I have been shooting with it non stop (in good and bad light) and already reached a conclusion about it. Update soon….

Entry #3 – March 03rd 2010, 2:04PM –

Ok guys, one more update on this lens for today and then tomorrow I will have more. Here are two more shots I just grabbed and the 2nd one surprised me a bit. The dead ladybug was shot wide open using the LCD of the E-P2 (with the magnification of course) and focus was dead on.

1st, more bokeh…the same lights in the background, just farther away…

click images for larger view


Entry #2 – March 03rd 2010, 11:52AM –
It’s NOKTOR MANIA! Just some quick test shots on a tripod to show bokeh. These images are only to show the bokeh qualities of this lens from wide open through F8. They are not to judge sharpness. I will have full size samples this week for sharpness testing. I also included a shot from the same spot with the Panny 20 1.7 as well as a couple of Leica lenses on the M9, just for fun :) If I am posting too much, let me know. I’ll slow down :)

BTW, this lens seems to at times have nice bokeh and other times have horrendous bokeh. Shooting with any trees in the background when wide open will result in some pretty distracting eye numbing effects. The shots below are better than the ones I shot yesterday in regards to Bokeh but as someone already stated in one of the comments, this lens appears to be a Jeckyll & Hyde in regards to Bokeh (out of focus rendering). Tomorrow I will have more real images as well as some 100% shots to judge how sharp it is at all apertures.

Friday I plan on getting some portraits in nice light and to see if I can avoid the harsh bokeh effects, so more real world stuff coming.


Entry #1 – March 03rd 2010, 8:22 AM – Entries may be added 1-3X per day, or once a day depending on what I can do for that day. So check back to this page for updates over the next 1-2 weeks.

The Noktor 50 f/0.95 Hyperprime Lens Review Diary, Updated DAILY – OK guys! I have decided to do a “Review Diary” on this Noktor 50 because A: I want to try something new, B: This gives all of you something new to look at every day, and C: It will probably end up having more samples than my usual reviews due to daily shooting :) Oh yea, and also due to the mass amounts of e-mail asking me for more, more, more!

As most of you know I received this lens on Tuesday March 2nd 2010 and started shooting with it immediately. Over the next week or two I will be shooting images, posting medium samples, posting some full size samples, and yes, even posting some video shot with the lens on the Olympus E-P2. Why the Olympus E-P2? Well, because it is the only Micro 4/3 camera I have here and also the EVF is good enough for critical manual focus.

First of all, here is what I know about Noktor, the new USA based company that is responsible for releasing this ultra fast prime lens for the Micro 4/3 mount.

  • They are called NOKTOR. Seems like a play on the famous “Noctilux” name from Leica. Noct of course, meaning Nocturnal. Their official website is HERE.
  • They popped up put of the blue with their twitter account a few weeks back and announced this lens. No website at that time, just the twitter page.
  • On March 1st 2010 Noktor released their official website announcing an April 15th ship date of the 50 f/0.95 lens
  • A sample was shipped to me  for review. Now I can share my experience with all of you!

Now, some have e-mailed me asking me if I know these guys. No, I do not. My only communication with them has been through a couple of e-mails. They are also not paying me one cent to advertise or write a review. They just let me use the lens for a little while.

Enter the The Senko 50 f/0.95

It appears to me that this lens is a direct copy of the Senko 50mm f/0.95 C-mount CCTV lens. Either that or it is actually that lens. There is a green band on the front of the Noktor lens which could in fact be covering any names or info.

The Senko lens can be found online as a C-Mount lens but it sells for over $800. Sure, you could buy it and then buy an adapter but Noktor is selling this lens, or a direct copy of it for $750 with a 2 year warranty. So I am not 100% sure as to what the deal is with the lens just yet (as in, where it comes from) but it looks exactly like, and its specs are exactly like, the Senko. The only differences are the green band and the NOKTOR engraved text on the lens. In any case the lens looks and feels nice. I may have preferred the big “NOKTOR” to be smaller and placed at the rear of the lens though :)

For those who are not aware, or have stumbled on to this page and are just now hearing about this lens, the Noktor 50 f/0.95 is a super fast prime lens for the micro 4/3 mount. Basically, a lens you can shoot in low light AND obtain creative shallow depth of field effects with. It is MANUAL focus and you will choose your Aperture on the lens barrel, not in the camera. Shooting in Aperture Priority mode (A mode) on your camera will allow you to concentrate on focus and let the camera take care of the exposure.

More tests…

I have shot this lens a little bit more this morning as I was curious how it would do when stopped down a bit, say to F4. I basically stepped out of my back door and shot this bird feeder. The first shot is wide open at f/0.95 and the second is at F4. You can see that by F4 the bokeh cleans up a bit and the lens gets rather sharp. These were converted from RAW and have only had slight contrast adjust from with the RAW converter.

The Noktor at F/0.95 – wide open. See the glow? It’s also a bit soft when at 0.95 but seriously, you can not expect Leica performance in a $750 lens on a M 4/3 camera. IMO, for the money, this is pretty good for F 0.95. Here, the bokeh is not as crazy as when you have trees in the background :) You can click the image for a 2000 pixel wide version.

and now the same scene at F4. The lens gets pretty sharp by F4 and the bokeh gets a bit smoother.

If you are reading this I am sure you have seen my other two “first look” posts. I have found some interesting comments within those posts. A couple of guys have said that you can buy this lens for $20. Ok, if I can by THIS lens, or the Senko version, meaning the 50 0.95, let me know where because I will buy 20 of them. Everything I have seen about THIS lens is that it sells for $800+ in the C-Mount. I have seen others say that Noktor is taking a $250 lens, putting an M4/3 mount on it and selling it for $750. I can say a few things about that but again, where can I buy this lens for $250? Is this for a NEW lens?

Noktor is a business. A goal of any business is to make money. Even if they pay $250 for this lens they have to install the m4/3 mount, have the NOKTOR name embedded on each lens, pay for packaging, and also pay for all of the other costs associated with running their business. They also include a 2 year warranty. I am assuming they want to grow their business not go out of business.

More on the price…as I have stated above, $750 is not really a bad price for what you get here. If you want an f0.95 lens for your m4/3 camera WITH an m4/3 mount and you want this lens to be new with a warranty then there is no other option. I found this lens (senko version) online for over $800 in C mount new so $750 is right in the ballpark of where it should be and I expect they will sell quite a few.

My Impressions So Far…

OK, my impressions so far? This lens is a bit soft wide open, and focusing at this wide of an aperture can be a challenge. The depth of field is RAZOR thin. The contrast is low, but fixable in your RAW conversion or in your image editing software if you need more. The lens also has a dreamy glow when wide open and I am expecting to get MUCH nicer color as soon as I have some sunshine! C’mon SUN! As for the bokeh…ummm, well…sometimes it seems nice and other times it seems ugly. I will be doing some Bokeh tests showing bokeh at all apertures. I am setting up a “Bokeh Test Scene” so that should be posted in the next few days.

The lens build is nice, solid, and it focuses smooth. The aperture ring does not click but it can be locked down at your aperture of choice. I feel this is the most creative lens for the m4/3 mount to date. This is NOT a lens to buy if you want crisp, sharp and smooth. It is a lens to consider if you like that soft glow, lower contrast, crazy bokeh and need a fast lens for low light :) Basically, this is a great lens for “creative” uses.

Is it comparable to the legendary Leica Noctilux F1? No. Is it comparable to the Leica Noctilux F 0.95 Double NO. Those lenses are brilliant and I love the old classic Noctilux. Its rendering is like nothing else out there really and this Noktor is not a challenger to those lenses. With that said, this could be the new “Poor Mans Noctilux” as it will get you the speed but at the expense of busy bokeh and some softness wide open. Yes, M4/3 is shaping up to be a nice little system for those who like fast lenses.

Check back every day over the next week or so for more. I will add to THIS page, so bookmark it. Updates will be AT THE TOP of the page. Who knows, if the sun shines today I may add more this evening :) Thanks for reading!


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Mar 032010
 

Just thought I would post these as they were shot at the same time as the other examples I posted yesterday. In other words, these were also shot in that first hour with the lens. Out of 20 images taken, only 2 or 3 were OOF. Not bad for a 0.95 lens! Again, these were shot on the Olympus E-P2 using the EVF (see my E-P2 review here). I found the EVF worked perfectly for manual focus. Olympus also just released the E-PL1 but these do not have the EVF. They are also nearly half the price of the E-P2 at $599 so for those whose budget does not extend to the E-P2, the E-PL1 seems to be a nice choice. Also, we can’t forget about the killer Panasonic GF1 which this lens will also mount to.

These will be the last samples I post until my full review, so enjoy! All samples below are at 0.95…

NOTE: Yes, I find the bokeh in 2, 3 and 4 to be pretty awful. More bokeh tests on the way…

Mar 022010
 

Be sure to visit my Noktor Lens review Diary with much more on this lens – Click HERE to check it out!

Ok guys and gals! It’s no joke, no hoax, and yes it has arrived! The NOKTOR 50 0.95 lens is here and I only had time to snap a few shots of my son and wife to get this first look up today. Let me say only this. So far, I AM IMPRESSED (UPDATE: Well, after more shooting the bokeh is starting to bug me in some situations). No, this lens is not a “Noctilux Killer’ but it has GOBS AND GOBS of (classic) character, even on the OLYMPUS E-P2. I can not wait to shoot this in some good light and low light situations. We are supposed to get some nice sun on Thursday so I am hoping to do some nice evening portraits with this combo. By the way, in case you have not seen it yet, my E-P2 review can be read HERE.

For those of you who may not have heard about this lens it is a 50mm 0.95 aperture lens for the Micro 4/3 mount from an internet company that popped up out of the blue. After they showed up on Twitter there were speculations that this was a joke, a fake…blah blah blah. Then, I happened to get in contact with the company and they offered me a loaner to test out. I accepted of course and it arrived today, as promised!

Basically what this lens will let you do is shoot in low light using a superfast f0.95 aperture. Leica has their Noctilux f/0.95 which is absolute PERFECTION but it comes in at $10,000 and will only work on a Leica M camera. This little guy is $750 and will let all Micro 4/3 shooters go nocturnal. It will not be as sharp, as contrasty, or anywhere near as smooth as a Leica Noctilux but it doesn’t matter. This one is all about that classic look, low light shooting, and finally an offering for Micro 4/3 users to go fast without trying to find old lenses on ebay and then buying the adapters.

Which leads me to buying old used lenses on e-bay. Yes, you can search for the old C mount lenses, many of which are fast aperture like this. Sometimes you can get a deal, sometimes you can not. Many times you never know what you are getting as far as condition is concerned. I think it is great to have an option to buy a NEW lens and Noktor is providing that option, with a 2 year warranty I might add,

But, what many of us want to know is “How good is the Noktor?” – Well, I will be testing it over the next two weeks and will report all of my finding to you in a full review. I will be shooting on the Olympus E-P2. You can see the company web site at NOKTOR.COM and even place your order if you want one. They ship in April and I am guessing that I may be buying one myself because I LOVE fast glass and I love lenses with Character. This one has both :) I may end up disappointed once I get out there and really shoot it, who knows? But, so far so good.

The cool thing is that this lens is ready to rock out of the box. No adapter required, and yes, it’s a 50mm so it becomes a 100mm on M4/3 cameras. Here is a short “first look” video I put up on youtube so you can see it in my hand and in more detail…

Keep in mind, I only had this lens for maybe AN HOUR before I posted this because I have been getting hammered with e-mails asking where my first samples were! I promised some today, so here ya go!

Here it is at F0.95 with a 100% crop. You must click the image below to see the crop at 100%!

Wide open you can now get those really cool shallow depth of field effects on your Micro 4/3 camera!

I added a cross processing filter here with Nik Color Efex Pro – This was shot WIDE OPEN at f/0.95 and this is the shot that has me placing an order for this lens. Love the classic look and honestly, I have not been able to achieve this with any other lens to date on my E-P1.

Bokeh looks good to me here…

Converted this one to B&W with Nik SIlver Efex Pro

and one up close – you can see the softness and “glow” creep in but this is at 0.95 and they were both moving :)

Looks great so far! This lens may be THE reason to buy an Olympus E-P2 with its great EVF. Easy manual focus and a great looking combo (if not a tad long). Below are a couple of more shots of the lens and the lens on the camera. Check back soon for more!! BTW, B&H Photo now has the BLUE and CHAMPAGNE E-PL1′S IN STOCK! This lens will mount to these right out of the box and they are a bit less than the E-P2 at $599.

Feb 272010
 

Ok guys and gals! I received my Fed Ex tracking# from Noktor and this lens will be in my hands on TUESDAY! I will be doing a full review of this Noktor 50 f/0.95 on the Olympus E-P2. The company is launching this lens “officially” on March 1st and I am truly excited to try this out on the E-P2. This is a 50mm f/0.95 lens for m4/3. No adapter needed. So be sure to check back next week for some 1st look samples. Hopefully ON Tuesday! Until then you can keep an eye on their website at NOKTOR.COM. I am guessing it will be updated on March 1st.

UPDATE MARCH 1st: The lens has been launched and you can see the details, price and even order HERE.

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