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Mar 062017
 

The Fuji X100F Review. The Fourth Generation of the Fuji is “The One”

By Steve Huff

Order the Fuji X100F at B&H Photo or Amazon.

The X100 series from Fuji has long been dear to my heart. In fact, it is one of the cameras that has taken the ride with me on this journey of life for the last six years or so (see this post from a week or so ago), on and off. It has given me memories of these last six years of my life with some great personal moments (most never published) that quite frankly, no other camera has. As I sat and browsed my thousands of photos taken with the X100, X100S, X100T and now even the X100F I kept saying to myself “wow, I have more personal photos that I love taken with this camera than even my Leica M cameras”. Well, maybe not really but it sure seemed that way as my head got lost in a time machine of memories. Seeing my son younger, and remembering the times we used to have taking all day adventures or even seeing memories from other areas of my life that were important to me. Those moments where I seemed to have a X100 body over anything else.

X100F OOC JPEG using the “CHROME” color preset – Click it for larger

and this one, 10 seconds later – from RAW

I even did this comparison back in the day, an X100 vs Leica M9 and the X100 did very well, if not portraying the images in a somewhat “flatter” way..but at 1/7th the cost, we have to give a little somewhere, right?

Then I sat there and wondered why that was, why I had an X100 body over a Leica or Sony or whatever I was using at the time, but then it hit me. The X100 was easy to carry, always easy to bring with me, always easy to USE. Sure, the 1st one, that original, had some slow focus issues, and some response issues. It was the 1st, and the 1st of anything is usually never perfect. Hell, even the new F is not perfect but it’s still an X100 through and through and for that I am pleased as punch because the X100 to me represents the ultimate take anywhere camera when you just want to capture your life, and with great quality and color to boot. But I took that X100 with me as it was a joy to use and the output of that 1st version (without the Trans sensor) was beautiful.

X100F with the perfect strap I have found for it. The Tie her Up “Snake”  I use the 125mm version as I prefer the strap across my chest. 

Now, of course there are other cameras that do this very well. A Leica M is fantastic for this, and has usually always been my “Go To” for these things. Small, slim, tiny lenses and a joy that comes from manual focus and nailing those shots. For me, lately, my eyesight has been degrading (comes with the territory when you hit mid to late 40’s and I am 47 now) so manual focusing a RF has been tricky lately. When I fell in love HARD for the new M10 I realized it was harder for me to shoot as I never wear my glasses when shooting (though I should). I would now need diopters for using an M reliably. Then I remembered that I never missed a shot with the Leica SL due to its huge picture window EVF. Then I realized…”HEY, I never missed focus with the last two X100’s using the AUTO FOCUS”…lol, even better.

X100F, f/2 – Must click to see larger better version

So with my 47 year old eyes fading and me not liking the whole “shooting with glasses” experience just yet I decided to delve into the new X100F with a thought that this time I may keep this camera instead of selling it. I bought it from Amazon when up for order and had one on the day of release. Sometimes I buy a camera for review, then sell it if I do not feel I want it. To be clear, I have a stable of cameras here and being a camera and lens reviewer allows that. I always keep my faves on hand for comparison sake. Today, in March 2017, I keep the Sony A7rII, An Olympus EM1 MKII and PEN-F, A Leica SL, A Sony A6300 and various lenses. These are the bodies that I enjoy and get the most use from right now, and I doubted if there was a place for the X100F but then I realized there most certainly was. I do not own a Fuji right now, and I need one. The Fuji colors, the newer Acros B&W mode that delivers (IMO) beautiful B&W images out of the camera and the small size mixed with the retro design that always made this series beautiful. I have nothing like that in my stable right now besides the PEN-F and while these two have some similarities, they are quite different. So yea, I will add the X100f to my shelf of favorites, and if that was a spoiler, I apologize :)

I went with the classic Silver and Black model because to me it just give the X100F that vintage look and style, and I already have the normal black SLR style body filled with my other cameras ;)

IF YOU MISSED IT, MY FIRST LOOK VIDEO OF THE X100F


FIRST THINGS FIRST

So first things first. What does this X100F offer than the X100, X100s and X100T did not? Well, as with all of these Fuji releases most improvements have been incremental and each new model brought forth improvements in auto focus speed and capabilities, response time and in the case of the X100F, the new things or improvements over the last model are listed below:

24.3MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS III Sensor and X-Processor Pro

“Utilizing Fujifilm’s unique, randomized pixel array, the 24.3MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS III sensor affords a high degree of image quality and sharpness due to the omission of an optical low-pass filter. Versus conventional pixel patterns, the X-Trans design more closely mimics the organic nature of film in order to produce nuanced colors and smooth tonal transitions, while also reducing moiré and aliasing. Additionally, the sensor is paired with the X-Processor Pro image processor to yield smooth, low-noise results, an extended sensitivity range of ISO 100-51200, and quick performance speeds throughout the camera system, including an 8 fps continuous shooting rate, Full HD 1080p video recording at up to 60 fps, an AF speed of 0.08 seconds, 0.2 second shooting interval, 0.5 second startup time, and a 0.01 second shutter release lag.”

My Brussels Griffon, Olive. X100F, Acros Mode in full sun in my yard. 

Advanced Hybrid Viewfinder

“Both optical and electronic viewing means are incorporated into the unique Advanced Hybrid Viewfinder, which provides both the simplicity of an OVF with the technological advancements of an EVF. Switching between both viewing methods is done with the dedicated OVF/EVF switching lever, enabling quick transitioning between both modes. The OVF has its benefits in providing a clear, unadulterated view of the scene you’re photographing and reduces the shutter lag time to a minimum. For fine-tuning of focus, exposure, white balance, and other camera settings, the EVF gives you the ability to monitor all of the applied settings prior to making the exposure.

An enhanced optical viewfinder now incorporates an electronic rangefinder mode, harking to traditional mechanical rangefinder cameras of which this camera gains its appearance from, and permits refined and comparative manual focusing methods. The magnification of the electronic rangefinder can be adjusted to 2.5x or 6x for improved precision, and real-time parallax correction also enables more accurate framing and focusing in manual focus mode.

In contrast, the high-resolution 2.36m-dot EVF provides you with 100% frame coverage along with the ability to utilize electronic focusing aids for precise manual focus control. By using the phase-detection pixels located on the imaging sensor, Digital Split Image is able to assist in acquiring precise focus by showing comparative in and out of focus areas of the image. Also contributing to manual focus accuracy, focus peaking has been integrated and enables a more objective system of focusing by way of highlighting sharp edges and lines of contrast in a clear manner.

When working with the EVF, you can also utilize Shooting Effect Reflection settings in order to preview and utilize selected camera effects, such as Film Simulation modes. When this setting is turned off, the image will revert to a natural view, void of any exposure or camera settings applied, to better suit working in darker conditions and to greatly reduce any display lag.”

May have been Velvia mode, JPEG – X100F

Body Design

*Rear 3.0″ 1.04m-dot LCD monitor for image playback and review, menu navigation, and for live view shooting.
*A physical ISO dial has been incorporated within the shutter speed dial to allow for intuitive, direct switching of sensitivity settings – This is something cool, and in use I like it. I normally keep my ISO on Auto but here I can easily switch ISO (much like the new Leica M10) and it is very easy to lift up and adjust from Auto, to an actual number or a low or high setting. 
*Focus lever has been added to lens to improve manual focus adjustment – A nice touch here. 
*Rear focus lever is available for intuitive selecting and switching of AF points – A welcome addition. I love the joysticks on cameras, and use it all the time on my Leica SL. Here it is now on the Fuji X100F. 
*The physical exposure compensation dial now features a C position to permit an expanded +/- 5 EV range when working with the control dials – This is also new and nice to have. 
*The majority of the camera’s control buttons and dials have been placed on the right-hand side of the body to enable easier one-handed use – In use this works out very well. A nice clean layout and all on the right side. Perfect. 

91-Point Autofocus System

“Utilizing both contrast- and phase-detection methods, the hybrid autofocus system employs 91 total points, which can be divided into 325 total areas for a high degree of focusing accuracy in a variety of lighting conditions. Approximately 40% of the frame is covered by 49 phase-detection points in order to provide fast AF performance to suit working with moving subjects.”

Film Simulation Modes

Now with the new B&W simulation “Acros” which delivers stunning out of camera B&W images.

Two with the Acros B&W film simulation. I love this mode and will use it for all of my B&W images. Click them for larger. 

More Features of the X100F

*Built-in Wi-Fi lets you wirelessly transfer images or remotely control the camera from a linked mobile device.
*Integrated three-stop neutral density filter benefits working in bright light conditions with wider aperture settings or slower shutter speeds.
*An electronic shutter function affords high shutter speeds up to 1/32,000 sec.
*Auto Macro focusing mode lets you focus on subjects as close a 3.9″ away.
*Digital Teleconverter settings let you simulate the look of a 50mm or 70mm lens.
*Advanced Filters: Toy Camera, Miniature, Pop Color, High Key, Low Key, Dynamic Tone, Soft Focus, and Partial Color (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple).

CLICK FOR LARGER

Shooting with the new X100F vs the old versions…

When the X100F arrived I was excited to use and shoot with the latest version. I was curious as to what Fuji could do to improve upon it from the T or even S. To be honest, I was not a huge fan of the T as I felt it was very similar to the S. Small changes made that really did not affect me at all with it. But this new F, for me is the one that finally surpasses the original for IQ and everything else. To me, this new F is “The One” when it comes to the X100 series. ]

It now uses the same battery as the X-Pro  system so we get better battery life, and the body still stays slim and trim. The body to me feels a tad more beefier in weight though, which is a good thing as I always find Fuji camera too feel hollow and almost too light when compared to other cameras makers. Sony, Olympus or Leica. But this X100F feels great, just as it should. Not too light and not too heavy. It’s fantastic in feel and form.

I basically just took mine out with me wherever I went even though these last two weeks have been filled with personal things I had to get done for life in general, as well as some sickness issues and even losing my passport before a huge out of the country trip and stressing to find it (so far without luck). So while I have been stressed and hectic with life, I managed to evaluate the X100F anyway ;) Truth be told I try not to let myself get stressed out too much, ever, and shooting the X100F seemed to help me forget some of the stress I have been getting thrown at me this week.

Shooting it has been a smooth experience. No lag, no missed Auto Focus shots, no problems with over exposure as I used to get with the older models. Now I seem to be getting a tad but of underexposure which is strange for a Fuji but I usually shoot with a little exposure comp set in to avoid highlights blowing out. Something I became used to with the original Leica monochrome. With the X100F I do not need to do that as it seems to expose the scene perfectly for my worries and the dynamic range is there, as it is with all cameras made today (the good ones).

The EVF is still nice, and how I remember it. Fuji has improved it yet again but in reality, in real use, it is pretty much the same as I remember from the last three. You can shoot full on EVF or use the optical VF that mimics a rangefinder (though not really). So if you like optical, it is here. Like EVF? It’s here as well. I always seem to be drawn to the EVF as I am able to see just what I am getting out of it. If I shoot in Acros mode I can see what the image will look like, and even be exposed like. With the OVF you do not get these luxuries. The EVF is good, but not a “WOW” EVF. For the cost of the camera though ($1299) Fuji has packed in loads of useful features and given us all kinds of goodies. EVF/OVF, the fantastic Fuji Film sim modes, the enhanced AF speed, Better Video (though I still would not use this as a video camera), silent shutter with 1/32,000 speed, they kept the built in ND filter for sunny days when using the mechanical shutter, and an overall package that is just such a joy to use and attractive.

This is a beautiful camera in every way and to be honest, I have fallen for it as it made me remember more than any before it, the good times and memories I made with the original X100 and to some extent the ones that came after it. I have decided that to me, this camera is perfect for making life memories. Even more so than a Leica. It’s cheaper, it’s fast, it’s easy to use yet advanced enough for the geek in us or even a backup for some pros, it has a wonderful sensor as well. Many know I have not been thrilled with the last two Fuji X Trans sensors but this one, I like it. A lot.

No more smudges when using Adobe software, and some of that “flatness” has gone away as well. While not as “deep” as a Leica SL file, what we get for our money here is IMO unmatched in a camera of this type.

X100F, all at f/2 and Acros mode (LOVE this Film Simulation)

The Competition for the X100F?

This camera is a fixed lens 23mm lens camera. This 23mm lens is an f/2 lens and gives us the illusion of being a 35mm lens due to the magnification of the APS-C sensor. This is not a full frame sensor camera and will not give us the huge shallow depth of field we can get from a Sony RX1R system, or even the Leica Q. But those full frame single lens cameras? They run from $3800 to $4300 where this Fuji is $1299.  So with the Fuji we get a similar vibe body for $2500 less money and the X100F actually has more features and things going for it in general over the other two BUT, and this is a huge BUT, the RX1R and Q systems will indeed offer better, richer IQ. The Fuji will offer a tad flatter image, and I still do see some of that “flatness” in this latest X Trans sensor but overall, it is closer than ever.

The Sony will be slower in AF than the Fuji, and the Q is fastest of all. The Sony will offer the best IQ of all three IMO, then the Q, then the X100f. All three are FANTASTIC cameras with the Sony being the smallest form factor in some ways, though not as thin as the Fuji due to the HQ 35mm f/2 Zeiss lens attached. The Q is the largest.

To see my reviews of those cameras, check them out here. Sony RX1RMKII, Leica Q and the older Sony RX1R

To be honest I love all three of those but the Q is priced out of my rage for what I would pay for a camera of this kind. The Sony, I love and adore..but it is not the speed demon that the Q is. That leaves me with the X100f. It’s the cheapest, it’s one of the smallest and it offers quite a bit like the unique OVF/EVF experience and the Fuji color and Fuji cilm simulations that can, in the right hands be delicious ; ) I have not exploited this camera for all it can do just yet. But again, this camera can not compete with the Sony for IQ so if IQ is your all out be all end all, I’d say go with an older Sony RX1R (not the MKII) and you can get one for much less than the MKII and it’s output is gorgeous.

The original Sony RX1R…IMO gives a more smoother cinematic vibe due to the full frame sensor. 

Other cameras, like IC cameras are not really competition for this camera. If one is pondering an X100F, I doubt they are pondering something like a Leica M or Sony A7 or Olympus PEN because all of those are so different from each other. This camera, you can not ever change the lens. So when you buy one, get ready to set into the 35mm state of mind as 35mm is the equiv focal length you will shoot at with this guy. All the time! No 50, no 75, and now 21. Just 35. So if this is scary to you, you should be looking at an interchangeable lens camera.

The Olympus PEN-F on the left with the AMAZING 25 f/1.2 lens. The X100f on the right. 

The closest IC camera to this one is the Olympus PEN-F. It’s look are similar, and the feel is similar and even the PEN-F has a cool Tri X B&W film simulation mode ;) IN fact, since I have both here, let me compare them a bit, B&W mode to B&W mode ;) I will use the 25 1.2 lens on the Olympus (closest I have to the 23mm lens on the Fuji). With the APS-C of the Fuji this brings us a 35mm magnification. With the Olympus and the M 4/3 sensor that doubles and gives us a 50mm effective FOV. I do not have one of the 17mm M 4/3 lenses on hand to do a 35vs 35 thing but either way, the Fuji is a 23mm lens, pure and simple. The Only is a 25mm lens. So they are close and this will be a WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET comparison…

SHOT 1, Fuji X100F vs Olympus PEN-F – Acros vs Tri-X

These are OOC JPEGS from each camera using their own B&W film simulations. The Only does Tri-X (though I turned off grain for sake of comparison) and the Fuji does Acros…let’s see if they differ and how..

Immediately I see the Fuji delivers a softer less contrasty look to the conversion. The Only looks a little more “WOW” but that is due to the higher contrast of Tri-X  so it is going for that look. Also, the lens on the Old delivers a tad more pop due to the f/1.2 aperture. The Fuji was shot at f/2 and the Only at f/1.2. both wide open to show what you get with each camera and respective lens (23mm on the Fuji and 25mm on the Olympus). The Only has a 2X crop so that 25 will look like a 50 where the Fuji is APS-C. The Fuji’s 23 will appear as a 35mm in regards to FOV. CLICK THE IMAGES for larger.

FUJI

OLYMPUS

In the 2nd image I see more DR with Fuji out of the box for these JPEG’s as well as a more even tonality to the B&W look. Again, Acros vs TriX but I see that more grey look much like the original Leica Monochrom. This gives us a more unique B&W look IMO, at least for my eyes. I prefer the Fuji here. While the Only is doing the shallow DOF thing better it appears to look a tad more digital. THOUGH I have to say, I like both and would use both. If I wanted a more harder look like TriX can give, I’d choose the Oly. If I wanted softer beautiful portraits I would choose the Fuji. Of course, each can be edited to taste as well. These are right out of the box. 

FUJI

OLYMPUS

How about color? The Olympus has a Slide film emulation and the Fuji has Velvia..let’s see how they look

The Fuji has more glowing color and here the Old is a but more subdued. Again, both wide open and since they are around the same focal length we get more shallow DOF from the f/1.2 of the Olympus over the f/2 of the Fuji. THIS IS NOT A sharpness or detail comparison, just color and to show what we can expect from each combo wide open. 

FUJI

OLYMPUS

and one more…

FUJI

OLYMPUS

So to me, I slightly prefer the Fuji renderings for the B&W and for the color, I prefer the Olympus color tones (Velvia vs Slide) in these modes but also look at the OOC DR of the Fuji vs Olympus. Interesting. Of course if these were shot in RAW I could have adjusted the Olympus to be just fine but the SLIDE FILM emulation would have left, so these are all what you see is what you get out of camera JPEGS.

HOW ABOUT VS A FULL FRAME? 

Just for fun I pulled out the Leica SL and a 35 Zm f/1.4 Lens to shoot a test image of Debby with each. How would the X100F compare against the big SL which is a $10k combo? Yep, a just for fun $1300 vs $10k combo comparison…heeheehee.

Here the 1st one is from the Leica SL and the 35 f/1.4 Zeiss ZM Lens. A $10k combo, or just under. ($7500 for the SL, $2300 for the lens) – Click for larger to see them correctly!

X100F with Standard color

Now while I feel the SL blows the Fuji away here in all areas, I have to say..this Fuji, especially at 1st glance gives us the impression that it is not far behind the SL with Zeiss lens. Yep, the aging 23mm f.2 on the Fuji vs a true 35mm f/1.4 on the Leica yet the Fuji is  holding its own. While the SL is in another league in build and feel and control, the X100F has the IQ, and for some that is all that matters. I will say the color is closer from the SL than the Fuji (to reality) but both are lovely. This makes a good argument when spending our hard earned money…do we go for what we WANT or what we NEED?

Now, the SL is a pro camera and can be used in all pro situations. It beats the X100f in all areas and you can use any lens you desire on it, almost. Even Canon and Nikon. It’s a versatile beast and it also has amazing video quality. The X100f is a cheaper made smaller take anywhere camera that can slide in any bag, or be grabbed running out the door. No muss, no fuss. Pick your poison and cost : )

MY BOTTOM LINE CONCLUSION ON THE FUJI X100F

Fuji has delivered yet another X100 camera, the fourth one since 2011. That is a new X100 every year and a half on average. This version is absolutely the best of the X100 models and the reason why is because it is fully matured, it feels better than ever, has a good battery system for its size, has a wonderful EVF/OVF hybrid and has beautiful color from the standard presets or the custom film emulations. It has wide dynamic range and the lens, while aging, offers a bit of classic and modern thrown in. Not bitingly sharp but pleasing and beautiful in its character.

Many wanted Fuji to release this with an f/1.4 lens but that would have made it larger, and most likely slower. It has taken Fuji 6 years to get this lens to be pretty quick in AF as it is, adding a new bigger lens with a wider aperture would probably have been clunky and slow, and for me the X100 series is about having a beautiful take anywhere capable camera with one 35mm equivalent lens on it to you anywhere you need to go, while learning how to “see” as well. A 35mm lens (or equivalent as we have here) will teach you more than using a zoom for a year and when using a camera like this, day in and out, you will learn how to get the most from the focal length and this can result in better images through time and getting comfy with the system.

ISO 6400 at night, one small table lamp to my right. ACROS mode. NR was at -3

The X100F is a camera you can bond with and while never perfect, and not for everyone, for the money there is nothing that beats it. That is important to know..FOR THE MONEY. If you want a fixed lens camera this and the two full frame beasts, the Leica Q and Sony RX1R series are the only game in town. This one is much cheaper and if you can deal with less shallow DOF and an escape from the richness of a full frame sensor then you will be ecstatic to save $2500 or so on the Fuji X100F over the other two. For those who want all out IQ and pop and wow, the Sony and Leica would be your best bet but it will cost you. For me, I am very happy with the X100F and have decided to keep this one on my shelf to add with my other cameras that have stood the test of time in my house. A good way to have a take anywhere no muss or fuss camera companion and a great way to have Fuji color when I want it without having to invest in lenses for another system.

A WIN/WIN. 

This is the best Fuji X100 to date, and you can take that to the bank. I recommend setting your noise reduction to -4 though as these cameras (Fuji’s in general) have a tendency to really be aggressive with NR if cranked up.

WHERE TO BUY?

My top recommended dealers are below. You will never get screwed over by them and I have used these shops forever. Class A all the way:

B&H Photo Fuji X100F Info and Order Page

Amazon Fuji X100F info and order page

PopFlash.com Info and Order page

CameraQuest Fuji X100F Page


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Sep 262016
 

ttgr300

The Olympus 300mm Pro F/4 Official Lens Review

by Craig Litten

You can buy the Olympus 300mm F/4 Pro HERE. 

Intro

A 600mm lens is the lens we all dream about. It’s the crème de la crème, the one that makes people drool, the one that when carrying it people ask, “Are you a professional?” I think it’s safe to say that just about everyone who gets into photography dreams of one day owning the big daddy of them all, a telephoto lens like the 600mm.

600mm is the preferred focal length for wildlife and sports photography—and anything else that you can’t get close enough to. With wildlife we know that animals are naturally afraid of humans and keep their distance, thus the need of a super-telephoto lens. But when it comes to sports, we have logistics to deal with like sidelines and size of venue, etc. For instance, in baseball center field is a long way away from the position of the photographer, so the photographer needs a long lens like a 600mm to get close enough to grab a shot of the center fielder snatching a would-be home run near the top of the fence at 400 feet.

The Olympus at 300mm (Pen-F) giving you a 600mm equivalent focal length. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But you say: This is the Olympus 300mm f4 you are reviewing, why do you keep calling it a 600mm? Well, 300mm is the lens’ actual focal length, but with the 2x crop factor of a Mirco Four Thirds camera, the 35mm equivalent focal length is 600mm. It may not have the same shallow depth-of-field as a true 600mm on a full frame camera, but this lens is a true f4 lens (as far as light gathering is concerned), and its actual focal length, when factoring in the 2x crop, becomes 600mm. So, from this point forward I will be referring to this Olympus 300mm f4 Pro lens as a 600mm. Because when you’re out in the real world shooting with it, you will be framing your subjects as if it was a true 600mm lens, and you’ll have to get way back to fit whatever it is you are trying to photograph in the frame, and it does take some practice.

Try this on for size. The Sony below will get you 70-200mm. The Olympus will get you 600mm f/4 (equiv) and the Canon, also 600mm f/4. Here is where M 4/3 shows it’s massive size advantage. 

just-for-fun_camera_size-text

For instance, if you had three cameras next to one another in a row; the first being a Canon 600mm f4 lens on a 5D MkIII (on the left), with a Sony RX10 III zoomed all the way out to its longest focal length—a 600mm equivalent (on the right), and placed the Olympus E-M5 MkII with the Olympus 300mm f4 Pro lens attached (in the center), whatever object you are photographing should be exactly the same size when viewing it on the back of each camera.

Who in the World Needs a 600mm Lens Anyway?

Personally, I am pretty amazed that Olympus released this lens. The fact that it’s currently on backorder here in the US seems to give credence to its success. But make no mistake, it’s an exotic piece of glass to be sure. It’s also outside the normal kit that most people would buy, which in my opinion would be between the 24mm (35mm equivalent) to 200mm or 300mm (35mm equivalent). Traditionally, going back to the film days, very few photographers ever purchased lenses wider than 20-24mm (35mm equivalent), but today with the advent of digital, a vast array of sensor sizes allowing smaller lens design, plus computer aided lens designs, super wide lenses are becoming much, much more common. And fewer still ever purchased a lens longer than 300mm, but things are changing. Because of the aforementioned mentioned, it is now feasible to make cameras like the Sony RX10 III with its 24-600mm (35mm equivalent) lens, the amazing Nikon 1 Nikkor 70-300mm zoom (190-810mm in 35mm equivalent), the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm zoom (200-800mm in 35mm equivalent) and this Olympus 300mm (600mm in 35mm equivalent).

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So who is this lens for? Well, as mentioned above this lens is certainly for wildlife and sports photographers, which I think will be the main user base who will purchase it, but it’s certainly not limited to those types of photographers. Because of the current lack of DSLR-like focus tracking in most mirrorless cameras, I think this lens’ greatest potential is yet to be discovered.

To be fair though, I am testing it with Steve’s little Pen F. My hunch though, is that the recently announced Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II will close the gap between mirrorless and DSLR-level focus tracking. Who knows, it may even match it. But I don’t think the limitation is in the lens, but in the bodies. In other words, I think the lens will focus just as fast as a given camera body would allow it to. So as the years pass and mirrorless technology grows, this lens will be able to keep up. Single focus accusation, by the way, is lighting fast and instant—no hesitation (on the Pen F). If I had to guess from what I’m currently seeing in the mirrorless market, mirrorless camera’s focus tracking limitation will not be a factor in the next two years. So those who purchase this lens now will be making a solid investment knowing that focus tracking will continue to improve and most likely match anything offered by all but the top pro DSLR cameras like the Canon EOS 1D X-series and the Nikon D5, D6, etc.

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Because this lens is so small and compact compared to an actual full frame 600mm f4 lens, it’s one that you can carry around as easily as any full frame 70-200 f2.8, with which it compares with very well in size and weight. I included a photo of it next to my Sony FE 70-200 f4 to give you a better idea of its size.

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The Sony 70-200 f4 is very close in size to its Canon or Nikon counterparts also in case you’re more familiar with them. The size of this lens alone opens it up to so many more photographers outside the camp of wildlife or sports. If you’ve already built up your m43 lens kit and have the basics covered, and you want to get closer, this is lens you’re looking for. Or if you just love telephoto lenses, you’re in for a real treat as very few photographers have ever had the chance to shoot with a lens of this focal length. This is not a lens you’d keep in your bag everyday though, but I feel that it fits in more as another tool in your photo toolbox to be used when it’s needed. Just like a flash, tripod or a fisheye lens. You have it when you need it, but it won’t be used everyday like lenses that cover the 24mm to 200mm (35mm equivalent) range—the bread and butter lenses.

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Also, the Olympus 300mm f4 Pro would be a great alternative for dedicated DSLR shooters who many have never considered mirrorless, and who desire a super telephoto lens in a smaller, lighter package but don’t want to sacrifice image quality (meaning lens quality—as this lens is equal in quality with any top-of-the-line lenses from other manufacturers). This, along with the Olympus 7-14mm (which I’m reviewing next) may just be the ticket as an alternate camera kit to compliment your current DSLR system. And it won’t take up a lot of room.

Build, Construction & Design

What is the build quality like? Think: Sherman M4 Medium Tank-like. Or in the photo world, think Leica R lenses or old-school, manual focus Nikon AIS lenses. It’s that good.

A few decades ago I was in downtown Homestead, Fla., just south of Miami toward the Keys. While walking around I stumbled upon a very nice camera store (I doubt that it still exists), and bumped into a guy who was coming out of the store. He had an old manual AIS Nikkor zoom lens that had been shot with a powerful handgun at close range (I don’t remember how or why it happened) and he wanted to show it to me. When I looked at the lens I noticed that it had a nice size “dent” in it, that’s it. The most amazing thing about this was that the lens still worked perfectly. In my opinion, the Olympus 300mm f4 Pro lens is in that same realm of quality, and just may be able to take a bullet and keep on ticking. OK, so we just added combat photographers to the mix of who this lens may be for. Wildlife photographers, check; sports photographers, check; combat photographers, check.

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The surface of the lens is silky smooth and handles fingerprints really well. In fact, it’s so smooth that if you are like me and decide to remove the tripod collar, you must take extra care when mounting and un-mounting the lens as to not let it slip from your fingers, as it’s a tad bit slippery. But shooting with it feels great as it just glides into your hand.

The focus collar is metal, as is the entire lens including, of course, the mount. The focus ring has a very nice grippy surface too. This is especially helpful when manually focusing of course. If you have used or own any of the other Olympus Pro series lenses, you will immediately be familiar with how nice it is.

I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the Auto Focus/Manual Focus Clutch mechanism of the other Olympus Pro lenses, well this lens uses the same implementation. I personally love the idea of this feature, and feel that it’s a real necessity especially on the wider prime lenses where you may choose to zone focus. The biggest benefit to this is instant manual focus override in cases where your focus gets fooled. You simply pull back and turn. Probably the greatest feature of this is that even though this is a focus-by-wire lens, Olympus choose to add hard stops at either end just like the old manual focus SLR lenses. This is a wonderful feature and actually fools your senses into thinking that you are shooting with a manual focus lens. The focus is, as they say, buttery smooth, with no discernible lag.

On the Pen F it’s amazingly realistic feeling and precise. The one downside of the clutch mechanism is that I think that it needs to be stiffer, if possible, to keep one from accidentally activating it. Many times I accidentally bumped it, went to take a picture, and found the camera not responding. I then realized that it was in manual focus mode and therefore missed the opportunity. This might sound like a small thing, but if you’re a working pro, this could mean you missed a very important shot. Perhaps, on larger lenses as this, Olympus could add a locking mechanism. But the downside of that is that it could negate the whole purpose of the clutch mechanism in the first place.

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The Cool Stuff

Olympus went all out with this lens, so I want to mention a few very cool features that you may not already know about. First up is the fact that the tripod foot has an ARCA-Swiss compatible tripod foot built in. Amazing! So if you are using an ARCA-Swiss type tripod head, such as those made by Really Right Stuff, etc., you won’t need to slap another lens tripod plate onto you lens because it’s built in. This is not only super convenient, but can save you anywhere from $65 to well over $100. If you have another brand/style of tripod head or plate, no problem, as you simply attach it to the 1/4-20 thread on the bottom of the tripod mount. Secondly, the lens has an extra assignable Fn (L-Fn) button on it (like Sony). It can be used as a focus hold button when in continuous auto focus, or can be assigned to one of many other customizable functions of your choosing.

Finally, for those of you who won’t be mounting the lens to a tripod often, and want to remove the tripod collar altogether, which is quick and easy to do, you can purchase the Olympus DR-79 Decoration Ring. What?! This is amazing and unheard of attention to detail in my opinion. What’s a decoration ring? The decoration ring slides into place to “fill” the spot left vacated by your tripod collar to make the lens look more ascetically pleasing. How cool is that?! Your lens will now look great with or without the tripod collar, and no more embarrassing moments with your Canon or Nikon friends.

FULL SIZE: CLICK IT TO SEE (PEN-F)

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Finally, the lens meets the usual expectations for those who have owned such telephoto lenses before, such as a manual Image Stabilization On/Off switch, and a Focus Limitation switch with three different settings. 1.4-4m, 1.4m to infinity, and 4m to infinity. This is very helpful when you know you’ll be shooting subjects farther away than normal or close up, as it limits the travel distance of any possible focus hunting. And the lens hood is not only supplied with the lens, but it’s built in and implemented very well. It appears to be constructed of hard plastic, is well made and has knurling on the edge, similar to the focus ring, for easy gripping when turning it. It simply slides out into place, and turns to lock. It’s as simple as that. The hood stays firmly locked too until you decide to turn and slide it back into place for storage. It’s so well designed that it barely adds any circumference to the lens, so packing it into your camera bag will be easy. A built-in lens hood that is implemented well is an excellent idea, but unfortunately it’s a two-edged sword as some may want to remove it. I know many photographers who choose not to ever shoot with a lens hood, so this might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Click to see the image with a full 100% crop

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Auto Focus & Image Stabilization

The Image Stabilization in this lens is rock-solid, super steady and honestly, probably the very best I’ve seen in any lens I’ve ever used. In one word: Amazing. And remember, I’m using the Pen F, so I imagine it will be even more spectacular on the upcoming E-M1 Mark II. As is, you will have no complaints. Not only does it lock in and activate, but it causes the LCD viewfinder to become super smooth and clear even in very dim light. I have been able to shoot photos with shutter speeds as low as 1/20th of a second, and included a sample of some glassware in my wife’s china cabinet, at night, under extremely low lighting conditions at ISO 3200. To take advantage of this amazing image stabilization, I recommend shooting in High/Silent Mode. This will give you the greatest advantage in getting a perfectly sharp photo even in the worst lighting conditions. Of course, this won’t help if your subject is fast moving, but only for things that are static.

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The auto focus is completely silent, or let’s say, very, very inaudible, and in single shot AF mode, it is instant and without hesitation—which is an amazing feat for such a big lens lens. Again, I’m using the Pen F, but there is no hunting or hesitation for single shot mode in good light. There were a few times I struggled with acquiring focus, but I blame the camera, not the lens. As started above, this is a lens that will be as good as the cameras body you’re mounting it to. As for continuous auto focus, it’s a work in progress. I was able to shoot surfing with it, but knowing how to overcome autofocus systems is my job. You can shoot just about anything with any camera/lens combo if you understand that camera’s auto focus system. For instance, if any of you have ever shot with the Canon 5D Mark II, you’ll know right away that it is not a great auto focus system (not until the 5D Mark IIII did it become really great). But I was able to cover night time high school football (think the worst lighting possible coupled with fast action) for a few seasons with that camera. That being said, with the right body and as technology increases, this lens should be able to keep up with a cheetah in full sprint.

Image Quality

Just how good is the Olympus 300mm f4 lens? To me the biggest deciding factor in purchasing a lens is its image quality, this is first and foremost. But many times you have to give a little on certain preferences such as build quality, auto focus speed, size and weight, etc., when purchasing a lens. Fortunately, the image quality with this lens is nothing short of stunning. Olympus hits the trifecta, so to speak, with the 300mm f4 Pro lens, as it has stunning image quality, an incredible tank-like build and instant auto focus. What’s not to like? It’s a fast f4 lens with the 35mm equivalent focal length of 600mm, it is approximately the size and weight of a standard 70-200mm f2.8 lens (so it’s portable), it has a tank-like build, amazing built-in image stabilization, macro-like close focusing ability (4.6 feet) at a very reasonable price (in my opinion—as Olympus didn’t hold anything back) and it features exotic glass with letters like HR, E-HR, ED and Z with MSC (which is all Greek to me).

Comparing focal length only, Canon’s 600mm f4 lens cannot be handheld, has close focusing ability of only just under 15 feet, and cost $9000 more. I know that’s not a fair comparison, but if your main goal is to shoot far-away subjects and bring them close, this mighty little super lens will do just that, and will draw very little attention from people around you. Pull out a big, white Canon super telephoto lens and you’ll draw crowds plus need a monopod to use it, and a case to carry it in. I know this for a fact because I had regular access to a 200 f2, 300 f2.8, 400 f2.8, 500 f4 and 600 f4 in the past as a newspaper staff photojournalist.

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As for the image quality, I am quite impressed with it. It draws an image beautifully, is sharp and contrasty, creates smooth, subtle transitions with very pleasant blurred backgrounds. This is a lens that you want to shoot wide open most of the time. In fact, there are few reasons to ever stop it down more than one or two stops. Super telephoto lenses were created to shoot wide open, and this lens is no exception. Fear not, it is excellent right from the get-go, wide open. In fact, most of my sample shots were taken at f4.

From my testing I feel that this lens performs at its very best with closer to medium subjects. One example is photo of the man reading a book on the beach—the text is crystal clear and easily readible.

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On the other hand, the shot of the loading docks, which are in my estimation just over a mile away, is incredibly clear. You can easily read the numbers and letters on the boat, shipping containers, crane and tower.

CLICK THE IMAGE TO SEE A 100% CROP EMBEDDED

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So again, this piece of glass is a great investment because sensor technology will only get better adding more megapixels and greater resolving power. Shooting subjects far away, like this loading dock or the 100% crop of the boat out in the Atlantic (see photo of boat with license number FL 9610 FN on it below) is what makes owning such a lens so much fun.

100% OOC crop of 600mm

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This particular boat was so far away that the naked eye couldn’t make out any of the fine details. But in this 100% crop, you can see who is on board, the name of the boat, the tiny red light on the port side of the boat, the window air conditioning unit, the white two-way radio mic and cord, the type of hat the captain was wearing and the fact that he was wearing a wedding band. Amazing!

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If you’re wondering, and image quality is your deciding factor for this lens, you can stop worrying and just order it, you won’t be disappointed. I’ll say it again, the image quality is nothing short of stunning, and with the amazing image stabilization you’ll be able to shoot at almost any shutter speed and in almost any light. I’m afraid to say 3-D like rendering, because that phrase seems to set some people off, but the images have a beautiful depth to them that I didn’t think possible from cameras with such small sensors. Some much liked lenses from top manufacturers are sharp, contrasty and do the job, but leave you feeling flat. Not this lens, as it has some character of its own.

600mm, a whole new way of seeing

As we know 600mm is a very specialized focal length, and if you’ve never shot with such a super telephoto lens before, there will be a fairly steep learning curve, and it may take quite a bit of time to get used to. Many, many times I went to photograph something while testing it and found that I was just too close to my subject. If you’re not used to shooting sports, 600mm is tight and it can be quite challenging to keep up with the action, as well as staying back far enough to give context to your subject matter. My recommendation, should you buy this lens, is to be patient and allow yourself time to adjust. Don’t get discouraged as you will eventually “feel” where you need to be to frame up your subject just like you currently do with your 200mm (equivalent) lens, or your 50mm (equivalent) lens. But on the flip side, it’s a lot of fun, as there is a whole new world out there to discover. If you look at the photo with the pale yellow boat in the background and the light green boat with a dog on it to the left, you’ll see a perfect example. This is a 100% zoom-in and crop from the original photo, but it’s a perfect example of all the things this lens allows you to see that go basically unnoticed with the naked eye because they are just too far away. When I shot this photo, I was on the shore sitting on a rock in the shade just shooting whatever caught my attention as boats and people moved in and out of the frame. With my naked eye, I couldn’t tell there was a dog on the boat, make out what was written on a T-shirt or read what type of engine the boat had. Not until I got home, downloaded the photo and zoomed in to a 100% crop, did I notice all of this. It’s a whole new world of discovery. Secondly, if you look back to the photo of the loading docks and view it full sized, you will notice people wading in ankle deep water to the left of the frame, and that one of the guys is holding a bottle. Amazing detail.

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One thing that might double your fun with this lens, or at least make it 1.4x more fun, is using the Olympus MC-14 1.4x Teleconverter as it will give you an astounding 840mm equivalent lens that you can hold in your hand! That’s more fun than a barrel of Leica’s!

Conclusion

Olympus knows how to make glass and build lenses. They have a great legacy and they aren’t a company who knows compromise. Olympus is going all out with their pro lens line, and now have in their lineup: The 8mm f1.8 fisheye (16mm equivalent) which is over a stop faster than the competition—and tiny to boot, the 25mm f1.2 (50mm equivalent) which looks amazing—look out Canon, and the 300mm f4 (600mm equivalent) to round out the primes. In their pro f2.8 zoom range they have you covered from 14mm to 300mm with: The 7-14mm f2.8 (14-28mm equivalent), the 12-40mm f2.8 (24-80mm equivalent) and the 40-150 f2.8 (80-300mm equivalent) which is 100mm closer than the competition. And finally, the newly announced, very practical all-in-one lens, the 12-100mm f4 (24-200mm equivalent) which is the first f4 lens of the bunch. Olympus is on fire! My prediction is that Olympus isn’t finished and has a few more lenses yet to be released in the pro line. By looking at their history, I predict that Olympus will also produce some super fast telephoto lenses. Possibly a 150mm f2 lens (300mm equivalent) and a 300mm f2.8 lens (600mm equivalent) like in their current 4/3rd’s lineup. Let’s also hope they revise the 90-250mm f2.8 lens (180-500mm equivalent). I think that once the camera bodies can match the continuous auto focus ability of a DSLR, this system will be able to compete on the sports field. Of course, they will never match the shallow depth-of-field offered by a full frame DSLR, but keep in mind that until the game-changing Nikon D3 (Canon only had the “S” series full frame cameras at that time which were too slow for sports) was announced in 2007, ALL cameras used in the digital sports world were shot on an APS-C sized chip.

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Recommendations

If I were to buy this lens, there is no doubt that I’d get it with the newly announced E-M1 Mark II (with the grip) to take advantage of all that new technology—especially the reported blazingly fast auto focus. There is nothing more fun than shooting a sporting event while having the right tool that can actually keep up with the action. And of all the Olympus bodies available, the E-M1 Mark II should give you the best of everything. If you have an inkling for a super-tele, I don’t think it gets any better than this.

I’m Craig Litten, and I approve this lens.

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You can order the Olympus 300mm Pro at the approved and recommended shops below:

B&H Photo

Amazon

 


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Jul 052016
 

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Sony Hits a Grand Slam. The 24-70 G Master Lens Review

By Craig Litten

This lens instills confidence. Not in a “I-didn’t-prepare-for-the-shoot-but-my-lens-will-help-me-pull-it-off-‘cause-it’s-awesome,” kind of way, but in a “This-is-professional-grade-and-it-will-help-me-achieve-my-vision-because-it-will-perform-and-stay-out-of-my-way” manner. Yep, that’s it. Spoiler Alert: If you’re a working pro, CLICK HERE to order immediately (Steve didn’t put me up to this). If you’re a working pro and you’re making money with your gear, you can’t afford not to own the bread-and-butter of all pro lenses, the 24-70 f2.8—and a top-notch one at that. And the best part is, it’s a native E-Mount—how sweet is that?

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If you’re a serious amateur who cares about his/her gear and wants the best image quality you can get in an all-in-one zoom lens, CLICK HERE to order (Really, Steve didn’t put me up to this). If you’re an enthusiast and just love gear, want the highest image quality and bragging rights, and here’s the caveat, don’t mind the size and weight, CLICK HERE to order. For casual shooters, I’d rent it first to see if you really need such a beast. I say this not to degrade anyone—if you have the funds, have at it as you won’t be disappointed, but that it’s really overkill for many. Why? Because one, it’s not cheap as everyone knows. But mainly, because it’s very large and quite heavy and you won’t want to lug this puppy to dinner parties or on vacation. The great thing is though, you don’t need to because the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f4 is a fine lens no matter what you’re heard or read, and for the right price I’d purchase one myself. I’ve rented it once for a job and thought it quite good—way better than I expected given the poor reviews. I was also surprised at how small it is. It’s not stellar in the corners though if you’re a pixel-peeper, but it’s sharp in the center, and perfect for all-around shooting, people photos (where the corners don’t matter anyway) and everyday use. I used the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f4 on high-end, paid commercial shoot on my A7r last year, before my Batis twins showed up, and the client made large poster prints for a point-of-sale ad. It’s that good, really. I don’t have one to compare side-by-side with the GM 24-70 f2.8, but I’m sure the GM would win for the way it draws a scene and it’s beautiful, soft bokeh.

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This is the lens that you’ve been waiting for if you’re a Canon or Nikon shooter wanting to switch over to the Sony mirrorless system. This is the one; it’s time to take the plunge. The Sony FE GM 70-200 f2.8, along with converters, will follow soon. And I’m quite sure it will be a stellar lens as well. There, I said it at the beginning of the review, this is a stellar lens. With these two lenses you can do 95% of most photography work. Also, Sony is not going to rest on it’s laurels, it is out to be number one (their own words, not mine), so I imagine they have some great stuff up their sleeves. They seem to listen to their Artisans and their user base too, so get online and let your voice be heard. So if you’re really wanting to switch, and the thing that was holding you back was pro zoom lenses, your wish has been granted. Is this 24-70 better than the Canon and Nikon versions? That I wouldn’t judge, but it is easily on par. In the past I’ve used (while a staff newspaper photographer) or owned the Canon 28-70 f2.8, two different Canon 24-70 f2.8’s and the Nikon 24-70 f2.8. I’ve also used the Olympus Zuiko 14-35 f2.0 (28-70 equivalent) for the full 4/3 system, as well as the Pentax Pentax smc DA* 16-50mm f/2.8 (24-75mm equivalent). The Sony G Master 24-70 f2.8 is a real pro lens, with pro build and pro features. This is a lens that you can make money with. Besides, only you can determine if it’s for you or not, that’s your job in this equation. My job is to tell you my observations, my experience and my opinion. But at the end of the day, it’s only “my” opinion.

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If you’re already a Sony shooter and you’ve been waiting for a pro quality 24-70 f2.8 zoom to complete your system, don’t hesitate, Sony has delivered the goods.

Sharpness

I won’t pretend as knowledgeable as Steve (or my friend Roger the Leica guy) on how they draw, what signature they possess, etc., all I can say is this lens is plenty sharp, even wide open where it counts. I’ve owned and shot with just about every pro lens from Canon and Nikon in the past also (from 14mm to 600mm), so I have something to compare it to. I will say this, an f2.8 zoom is meant to be shot wide open! Is it prime sharp? That I can’t really answer, but again, it’s a premium lens and I haven’t seen anything yet to make me think otherwise. I’ve tried to include plenty of images samples (it’s up to Steve on how many actually get posted), at every focal length and almost every aperture, so you can judge yourself. The lens does remind me of the other Sony/Zeiss lenses I own though, which is a very good thing. I’ve also attempted to offer a variety of subject matter too, placing the subject all over the frame. The shot of the turtles sunning themselves is a great example. They were a little too far away to get a close-up shot with a 24-70, so I placed them towards the upper corner of the frame and shot wide open at f2.8 at 70mm. The file is large enough that if you zoom in, you can see the great clarity and contrast of the lens. It’s an out of camera (OOC) jpeg shot on an a7II.

ALL IMAGES FROM THE SONY 24-70 GM – CLICK THEM FOR LARGER

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Bokeh

The proof is in the pudding here as bokeh is something that can be seen no matter how large the file is. All I can really say is that it’s lovely—especially for a zoom. The B&W shot of the girl in a Jaguars T-shirt climbing on the rocks really displays the amazing 3-D look this lens has the ability to render. The shot of the guy carrying the guitar is another. This really surprised me, as I don’t think I’ve seen an f2.8 zoom render quite like this before. It reminds me of the Leica Summarit lenses I used to own, and I’m quite impressed.

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Ergonomics and Design

As I mention in the size/weight category, this lens “feels” slightly front-heavy when on the camera, but it is slight. It really isn’t a big deal though because the lens’ ergonomics are very nice—from fit and finish to the way it falls into your hand. When you hold then lens by itself though, it seems perfectly balanced, so I think it’s a matter of perception. I use a Neewer Quick Release L-Plate Hand Grip on all my A7’s with the vertical side removed. It’s only $22 on Amazon, and it offers a little more grip, including a place for you pinky finger, which helps balance a lens of this girth. It’s a great bargain too. All-in-all I’d say the ergonomics are near perfect, as is the design. I love the fact that it has a Focus Hold Button that falls perfectly under your left thumb. And a short distance away is a AF/MF (Auto Focus/Manual Focus) switch for quick access, without menu diving, that can be reached by the same thumb. The lens hood is well thought out and snaps on securely. This is a little thing that’s bigger than it seems. I’ve owned lenses that I would constantly bump the hood while working, and not notice it until I saw it in the frame of the photos. This can ruin a good shot, and the only remedy is gaffers tape. The lens is branded Sony on one side and it has a silver and red G on the other side indicating that it’s in Sony’s premium G Master line. I think most people will be very satisfied with the way that this lens is designed and how good it fits into their hand.

Auto Focus

In good light, focus is fast, silent and nails the subject about every time. You know a lens has good auto focus when you never think about auto focus. That being said, in the Sony ecosystem a lenses auto focus is only as good as the camera you’re using it on. In this case, most of my shots with the Sony 24-70 f2.8 G Master are with the Sony a7II, but also on the original A7s. As is, the AF is excellent and I don’t suspect you’ll ever have any problems with auto focus. What is promising though is that Sony will continue to up the AF capabilities of their newer cameras, thus AF on this lens should only improve as new generations of cameras are released. If you’re concerned about the AF, don’t be. It’s great and will keep improving with successive camera body releases.

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Size/Weight and Handling

The lens is a beast and it’s heavy, as I’m sure you’ve already read online. But that being said, if you’re a working pro, who cares! It’s a tool, and what a tool it is! Again, this lens instills confidence in every way. Or, if you’re a photographer who doesn’t want to sacrifice image quality, it matters not either. Again, the lens is a tool. Imagine if an anvil were made smaller and lighter because it was just too unruly? It wouldn’t get the job done (no, the lens doesn’t feel like an anvil). So does the size and weight matter? For those who are working pros, no, not at all. For anyone else desiring top image quality without sacrifice or without carrying four prime lenses, no, it doesn’t matter either. But for travelers who have to keep size and weight to a minimum, it may be a factor, and is in my opinion. Also for those who must ‘wear’ their camera all day long, it will have the tendency to wear you out. You’d be better off with the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f4, as mentioned before, or a smaller prime lens.

The lens feels slightly front-heavy, but is well balanced and feels great in your hand when using it. The way the lens is designed by getting progressively larger is great for photographers with smaller hands. I remember owning the original 28-70 f2.8 (Canon made this lens prior to the 24-70 f2.8), then the Canon 24-70 f2.8 (version I), and always felt it a bit large for my hands and that I might drop it. The 24-70 G Master feels perfect to my hands and instills confidence in handling because it’s smaller at the base, and the nice, stiff rubber zoom grip to grab onto. I’m not saying that the Sony is better than the Canon, but a better fit for smaller hands.

Build Quality:

This lens is stellar in every way. Again, the lens appears to be mostly plastic, but a high-quality plastic. The inner zoom portion of the lens, the part that extends when zooming out to 70mm, appears to be made of metal. But this is just my conclusion and not the final word. Nevertheless, the build quality is top notch and what you’d expect from a lens costing over two grand. This lens is pro in every way. By the way, the lens is Made in Japan.

Focus Ring and Zoom Ring

Both the focus ring and the zoom ring are rubber coated and have a very nice grippy feel to them. Those who don’t like the focus/zoom rings of the Sony/Zeiss lenses will be pleased with these. They feel great to the touch, have the perfect grippiness (I don’t think that word will hold up in Scrabble), and are more pro-grade in form and function that the existing lenses in the Sony FE lineup. The zoom ring is well dampened and has just the right amount of resistance. The focus ring is buttery smooth—is that even possible in a fly-by-wire lens? Yes, it is. When in manual focus mode the focus ring can be spun easily by a single index finger or thumb. Finally, the rubber on the rings feels rock solid and doesn’t slide around, unlike some Canon lenses (sorry Canon shooters, it’s nothing personal as I shot Canon for 11 years, but it’s true). It feels like you’ll never have to replace it.

Fit and Finish

The fit and finish of the lens is top notch, you won’t be disappointed here. The finish is smooth to your hand and doesn’t show fingerprints at all like the Sony/Zeiss lenses (which I personally love the feel and look of, but many do not). Most of the lens appears to be high-quality plastic (yes, I’m disappointed too), but it is very high quality. The inner zoom ring (the part that extends when you zoom OUT towards 70mm) appears to be metal. I’m not 100% sure about this, but that’s my conclusion. Nevertheless, I can’t see anyone complaining about the finish of the lens. It has kind of a dull matte finish just like the a7 II, a7sII and a7rII and it matches those cameras perfectly. Fit is very tight and feels perfect to me, and I’ve owned, used or handled many, many, many high-end lenses during my career as a photojournalist. For more on this see “Build Quality.”

On a side note, the serial number for the lens is a sticker as amazing as that sounds. I don’t understand why Sony doesn’t engrave their lenses with the serial number. The sticker seems more secure that the one’s on the Sony/Zeiss lenses, but it’s still a sticker and stickers can come off. There is no text, branding or a serial number around the front element.

Focus Hold Button

This is a first for a non-telephoto lens as far as I know. I could be wrong so I’m not stating this as a fact, but I have personally never seen and AF Hold Button on a wide angle zoom. This is a wonderful feature. The reason I like it, and I suspect many wedding photographers will love it, is that it allows you to keep the auto focus setting on continuous (servo) AF all the time, but allows you to lock or hold focus should you need to focus, recompose and then shoot, for example, an off-center portrait. As long as the button is held in, the lens won’t refocus. Back in my photojournalism days I ALWAYS keep my cameras set to continuous (servo) AF because things were always moving quickly, and I always had to be ready for the action. The same goes for wedding photographers as things are always moving during a wedding too, and it can save a lot of time not having to continually switch between Single Shot AF to Continuous AF all the time, which could cause you to miss a shot. That being said, Sony has a lot of new AF technology that didn’t exist (and still doesn’t on most DSLRs) a few years ago like face recognition, eye AF, etc., so the need might not be as great now for an AF hold button as it once was. Fortunately though the button has mass appeal, and can act as another custom button (C5), and can also be set to a whole list of other things— I counted 57 different custom settings on the menu including Eye AF. What a great, overlooked feature!

Zoom Lock

The lens has a zoom lock to keep the lens from “creeping” (zooming) when carrying it, but the zoom ring is stiff and nicely dampened, so there really is no need for the zoom ring lock as the lens would probably never creep. I suppose that Sony added a zoom ring lock because it’s a premium lens so nothing should be left out.

AF/MF Focus Switch

I thought it worth mentioning that this lens has an AF/MF focus switch. This is a great feature to have as it is always instantly ready and useable should you run across a tricky focusing situation or want to fine-tune your focus. Another premium feature on this loaded professional lens.

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One word of warning though: this switch could get bumped and flicked to manual focus (assuming AF is your default setting), and cause you to shoot an out-of-focus picture. If you have focus peaking turned on as default, you’ll realize it immediately. But if not, it is possible to shoot a photo and not realize the shot is out of focus if the subject is just slightly off. Back in my Canon days, I always kept gaffers tape on my lens switches.

Lens Hood

What can one say about a lens hood? They really don’t excite me, and I always laugh when people doing an unboxing (that’s a funny term too) video and they examine the lens hood before the actual lens—let’s get to the good stuff first people, LOL. Anyway, this hood is nicely designed and has a small, spring-loaded button on one side that locks the hood in place when you rotate it on. To remove the hood you simply press the button and turn. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but again, if you happen to be a working pro every little thing, like a locking lens hood, helps you concentrate less on your gear and more on making great photographs.

The hood is typical plastic though and feel like most hoods—kind of cheap, but it does have its purpose. A plastic lens hood can absorb the impact should you drop your lens front element first, and this is a good thing. During a drop like this usually the hood pops off, but it acts as an added protection taking some of the impact from the drop. The hood also has a nice black velvet lining to absorb reflection, and it reverses for storage.

Another small observance of the hood is that if you like to set you camera face down with the lens as the base resting on the lens hood, this hood allows you to do this because it is flat on the extended edges of the petals, but it’s not secure and could easily tip if slightly bumped. On its own though, when not mounted on the camera, you can rest the lens on the hood without too much worry.

Filter Size

The filter size is 82mm, but it doesn’t seem any larger than the typical 77mm size of f2.8 zooms of the past. In other words, I thought it would appear huge, but it doesn’t. In fact, 82mm seems to be the new standard as both of the 24-70 f2.8 lens by Nikon and Canon take an 82mm filter.

Case

The lens comes with a premium case that is much nicer than the faux leather cases that ship with other high end Sony G or Sony/Zeiss lenses. The case has a front double zipper with a velcro flap, is fairly well padded, has a premium feel, has a belt loop and a small top loop handle, and comes with a shoulder strap. What more could you ask for $2200 USD? And the Sony branding is minimalistic and could be cut off should you want to fool your friends into thinking you have a Sigma lens from the 80’s in your case.

Box

I wasn’t expecting a box to come with the review sample that Steve sent me, so I was surprised when I saw it. It’s a typical box but Sony has made the packaging a bit more appealing on the GM lenses, as now only one side is bright orange, the rest black and one side has an image of the lens on it. So, for all you box fans out there, you’re going to be happy. It’s no Leica box, but beats the old orange boxes any day of the week.

Macro Ability

Sony lists the close focus ability at 38cm, exactly the same as the current Canon and Nikon 24-70 f2.8 zooms. In other words, very good.

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Distortion

On the RAW shots I used LR 6 to convert them, but it has not been updated yet with a profile for this lens unless you use the CC version. So the little distortion that the lens may exhibit, has not been corrected and can be seen. But I only really notice it, and it’s very slight, in the shot of the wooden fence and gate with the pelican sign on it. Distortion seems to be well controlled optically.

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Conclusion

In this review I shared a lot more details about the physical characteristics of the lens than I normally would, because many people reading this blog live in areas where they just cannot get their hands on one to see and test it for themselves. And many don’t want to spend the extra money on renting the lens. I attempted to give some of the information I would want to know myself to help you determine if this lens is for you. Hopefully the photos will speak for themselves and demonstrate just what this lens can do, and how it renders a scene including sharpness, contrast and bokeh. I also tested it thoroughly. Nothing surprised me. As a matter of fact, the lens is quite boring in the sense there were really no challenges or problems. It is what claims to be, it does what it’s supposed to do, and it performs like it is promised to perform. Sony truly didn’t hold back.

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Bottom Line

Is this lens for you? Only you can determine that. The information is here. I wrote a lot about what pros, advanced amateurs or enthusiasts may want because this lens is aimed at pros, advanced amateurs and enthusiasts. For everyone else I think this lens is too large, too heavy and too expensive for common, everyday use. Save a grand, and your back, and purchase the Sony/Zeiss 24-70 f4, or, if you’re an APS-C shooter (a6000/a6300, etc.), get the seriously good Sony/Zeiss 16-70 f4 (24-105 equivalent). It’s much smaller and lighter still and gives a great range up to 105mm.

If you’re a working pro, don’t think twice, buy it now. If you’re an advanced amateur or enthusiast who wants the best image quality and doesn’t mind the weight, I highly recommend this lens. It’s so good that you’ll forget the size and weight as soon as you view your images. But remember, photography is ultimately about the final image, not about the gear. It’s about the emotion, not about the sharpness. It’s about being happy with the art you produce, not about technical perfection.

I want to end with a quote from Thorsten Overgaard:

“It is often forgotten that what hits you first when you see an image, is the emotional impact. It always was, and that is why some of the greatest photographs throughout time are also not a great display of technical superiority. Nobody ever discussed how Henri Cartier-Bresson achieved such sharpness and amazing shadow details; simply because he never did achieve any of that.”

I highly recommend the Sony G Master 24-70 f2.8 lens.

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Thank you to Craig Litten for this fantastic real world review! Craig is a brand new addition (but no stranger) to SteveHuffPhoto.com and will be reviewing various gear in this real world style in the near future! See his website HERE for more of his work. His reviews here will mean MORE reviews for this site in addition to my own, so double the fun!


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Jun 242016
 

GX85F

Shooting with the Panasonic GX85. Small with a huge punch!

By Steve Huff

Hey guys! I’m back again with a real world look at a little Micro 4/3 camera, the Panasonic GX85. I recently took a look at the Panasonic GX8, and it is a nice, but chunky camera but overall Panasonic’s best Micro 4/3 to date IMO. With the constant competition between Olympus and Panasonic, I often find there are just as many Panasonic fans as Olympus.

My video on the GX85

Some like the look, feel and performance of Panasonic, and others, well, they prefer Olympus. Even though both use the Micro 4/3 format, the IQ differences are there, mostly in color, snap and contrast with the Panasonic line usually being more “BAM, IN YOUR FACE”, which…is good. Reminds me of how the Leica Q renders over the Sony RX1RII.

Sony is more gentle and organic, and the Leica just has that slam in your face POP BAM WOW kind of IQ and presentation.

Debby with the GX85 and Panasonic 25 f/1.7 wide open – click for larger

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So the way I see the two Micro 4/3 brands is sort of the same. Panasonic has that edgy, contrasty sharp pop and Olympus has a smooth, gentle, well…quite different way of rendering the colors. Some prefer choice A, some prefer choice B. I admit, I always fell into the Olympus camp when it came to the color and look but I feel I may be switching, as I feel the Panasonic’s can deliver a bit more “excitement” to the images. Ive noticed it for years, even with the Panasonic lenses, of which there are some amazing choices.

The Color and pop from this camera and the two lower cost lenses, the 25 1.7 and 42.5 1.7 is quite stunning. I mean, I can not get this kind of look with my Sony A7RII, and I like this look!

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When the GX85 arrived, I also recieved the 25 1.7 and 42.5 1.7 lenses, which are SMALL, LIGHT and FAN FREAKING TASTIC. Olympus has the f/1.8 versions of these lenses that have bee legendary forever, but these, I feel, especially the 42.5 take it up a slight notch. Not only is the aperture SLIGHTLY faster these lenses have that snap, pop, bite and color of the more pricey versions. (which is the 25 1.4 and 42.5 1.2)

The little 42.5 f/1.7 is like a baby NOCTICRON (Which is my fave M 4/3 lens ever).

The little 42.5 f/1.7 is light, hollow and tiny but it packs a punch and is affordable at under $400

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So the camera, and two lenses arrived and I was quite pleased when I took the GX85 body out of the box. It was more hefty than I thought it would be, and felt very nice in my hand. It felt better than my E-M10II which I have in my office and I really enjoyed the look and feel. Small, discreet, and like a Mini GX8.

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The little GX85 has a tilt LCD, touch screen at that..it has 5 Axis IS that works STUNNINGLY well. Just as good as the Olympus bodies, so now Panasonic is just as competitive in this area as far as I am concerned. With lenses that have IS, this little guy can function with DUAL IS for even better image stabilization performance. These days, with this type of performance against the shakes, we can shoot in situations that were not possible 5-6 years ago. This is one area where digital imaging has really upped the game IMO. For photos, or for video.

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This camera has 4K video and stills, and while many video based sites will go over the video performance, that is not my thing, so I will only be focused on a few things with this guy…the things us real world camera geeks like to know as this is a real world use report…

  1. BUILD AND FEEL
  2. AF SPEED AND CAPABILITIES
  3. EVF, LCD
  4. ISO PERFORMANCE
  5. IMAGE QUALITY
  6. BATTERY LIFE
  7. ANY PROBLEMS?

So these are what I will focus on, as those of you who know me realize I have never written a scientific over the top geek out review with technical scientific tests. I like to focus on the fun factor, the performance, the bang for the buck and the things that matter to most of us, the use of it as a photographic tool. Yep, this has WiFi just as most middle to high end cameras have today, and yes this has all of the old classics..like photo filters that we will never use and gimmiky features that are lost in the menu.

Me, I’m going to talk about WHY I love this little guy and WHY it has made me take a new look at the bigger brother, the GX8, of which prior I preferred the lovely PEN-F to…maybe..I am leaning back over to Panasonic. As I write this I have visions in my head of a GX8, 12mm f/1.7, 25 1.4 and 42.5 1.2 along with a nice long HQ zoom. Then I snap out of it and realize I am sitting here with 8-12 cameras flooding my office and wonder what I would do with more. GEEZ, I HAVE ISSUES!

The GX85 has no issues with stunning IQ…

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It’s strange, even though I am here with cameras and  gear EVERY DAY, I still dream of owning more. This disease STILL has a hold of me! I guess that says a lot of this GX85 if it is making this jaded reviewer who has worked with cameras DAILY for 8 years now, getting excited about it and the brand. Again.

CLICK THE IMAGES FOR BETTER VERSIONS!

1st image, Olympus 7-14 Pro Zoom, f/2.8 (My fave ultra wide zoom)

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GX85, 25 1.7 wide open

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7-14 Pro

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THE BUILD

So let’s get to it. I will keep this as short as possible, while giving my thoughts in a cleat concise way. As for build, it does not feel as good as my Olympus PEN-F but the PEN-F is also $500 more expensive. This camera should be compared to the Olympus EM10II, which is the same class of camera. When I compare the two of these, I prefer the Panasonic GX85 slightly, as it seems to feel better, respond quicker, and give me IQ I prefer, more snap, crackle and pop.

The build of the GX85 is perfectly in line with its price point and truth be told, slightly better than I expected. It’s solid, and while not a pro level body, we should not expect it to be for the money. To those used to small point & shoot’s, this would be a HUGE upgrade!

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AUTO FOCUS

The GX85 has pretty speedy AF. As in, its fast as I expected it to be and maybe a snap faster. The GX85 has a new mode called “Depth from Defocus Af Technology”. I will post the details on what Panasonic says its does below:

“Depth-From-Defocus AF Technology. For accelerated autofocus performance, DFD (Depth-From-Defocus) technology is employed to quickly calculate the distance to subjects and adjust the focusing position in order to suit working with continuous shooting rates up to 6 fps with continuous AF. This contrast-detection type focus method benefits both still and video recording modes, as well as subject tracking applications where subject color, size, and motion vectors are used to intelligently lock-onto the moving subjects and ensure precise focus. Additionally, supporting working in low-light conditions, a Starlight AF feature enables accurate AF performance down to -4 EV.

Benefitting manual focus operation, focus peaking is available that highlights bright edges of contrast with a colored outline for quickly recognizing your focus point, as well as Touch MF Assist for touch-to-focus operation.”

For me, the AF was excellent, and I missed no shots due to AF speed or inaccuracies. In fact, the only cameras I feel do not have good AF today are the Sigma Quattro series of cameras. Those are DOG slow, but most mirrorless bodies today have very fast AF that is faster than almost all DSLR’s of old. Today, the pro DSLRs still reign supreme for sports shooting, action, etc but Mirrorless cameras have come a LONG LONG way since those early days of the GF1 and PEN.

The first three were with the Olympus 7-14 which allows crazy close focus as well. The only ultra wide one would ever need for Micro 4/3 IMO (though I am lusting after the new 12mm f/1.4 from Panasonic)

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The one shot below was with the 42.5 f/1.7 at f/4.5. This lens is a stunner for the money!

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THE EVF and LCD

The EVF on the GX85 is its weak point IMO, but then again, I am spoiled by the picture window display of the Leica SL.  I prefer the EVF in almost all of my other cameras but when compared with the E-M10II, its a wash. So you get what you would expect in this class of camera. The LCD has a 1 million dot resolution, the EVF 2.7, so technically it is a bit better than the EM10II’s EVF. The LCD is a touch screen which did come in handy from time to time as well. I used it often to set my focus point by using my finger.

ISO

The ISP performance was very good, beating out the Olympus E-M10II slightly at the ultra high ISO’s though from 3200 – 12800 they were pretty close. By the time the cameras hit the max of 25,600 the GX85 took the lead, but then again, who shoots at ISO 25,600? Not many, not very often.

So for ISO, you get very good performance. The shots below were all shot RAW with ZERO noise reduction and zero PP. Take a look:

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GX3200

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OVERALL IMAGE QUALITY

The overall IQ is fantastic. In fact, I could not expect or ask for better from this camera. The IQ is on par with even more expensive Micro 4/3 bodies like the E-M1, PEN-F, etc. IQ is not an issue with the GX85 but there are differences between the Olympus and Panasonic bodies in regards to color, contrast, and overall rendering. As I mentioned earlier, the Olympus bodies seems to pump out a more “fun” color signature, have a slightly softer presentation and have lower contrast, out of camera. The GX85 delivers, IMO, richer color, more contrast and more “bite” which gives a Leica like look (Think Leica Q, Leica T, etc)

The IQ from this camera can get addictive in some situations but remember, it is MICRO 4/3 so you will lose out on Dynamic Range, Ultra low light and Shallow DOF over full frame cameras. If we keep the fight fair, between Micro 4/3 bodies, then this little guy is up there with the best for image quality.

These days most camera over $600 offer loads of dynamic range, highly capable high ISO performance, fast AF and ease of use. The GX85 is no different.

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4K Photo Modes

This camera also allows 4K photo mode, which allows one to grab a still from the 4K video, meaning if you shot this way, you would never miss that “decisive moment” because you would have every frame captured..then you pick and choose your “frame”…here is more on that…

Utilizing the 4K video recording capabilities, a trio of still shooting modes are available for recording continuous 8MP stills at a 30 fps shooting rate:

4K Burst: Just as with video recording, this mode will allow you to continuously record 8MP images at 30 fps for up to 29 min. 59 sec., making it ideal for instances where you need a fast frame rate in order to capture the best moment.

4K Pre-Burst: This mode is ideal for times when you’re unsure of the critical moment to press the shutter button and will record 8MP images at 30 fps one second prior to and one second after pressing the shutter button in order to give you 60 frames to choose from.

4K Burst (S/S): This mode most closely follows the 4K video recording process, and allows you to playback your video, pause at the chosen moment, and use the shutter button to mark a chosen frame from the video and save it as a single 8MP frame.

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COMPARISONS

I did a couple of “Crazy Comparisons” of this camera with the PEN-F and even the full frame Sony A7RII.

See them HERE and HERE

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PROS CONS

Pros

  1. It’s small and light but still well made for the price point of under $800
  2. Touch screen swivel LCD works great
  3. AF is fast, new AF modes work well
  4. 5 Axis IS works just as well as Olympus bodies, this was a hugely welcome addition for me
  5. LOADS of amazing lenses from cheap to pricey. 95% of them amazing!
  6. Video capabilities seem strong
  7. 4K photo modes could be handy for some
  8. IQ is rich, deep and has bite. Lovely.
  9. Has all features one could want from photo filters, to WiFi to everything in between.
  10. Battery life is good, I shot all week on one charge (but I select and shoot carefully and do not chimp)
  11. Price is right at under $800 with a kit lens.
  12. CAN USE Panasonic lenses with the aperture ring (Can not do this on Olympus)

Cons

  1. EVF could be larger, but for this price point its good
  2. Not as “fun” to use as a PEN-F but also $500 less
  3. Could be a tad small for someone with larger hands

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FINAL WORD

I love the Panasonic GX85. If I were starting FRESH, and only had a phone camera or point and shoot, I KNOW I would be so overwhelmed by today’s choices. 1″ sensors, Micro 4/3, APS-C, full frame, even MEDIUM FORMAT is now mirrorless and hand holdable with the new Hasselblad.

But if I was looking for a camera under $1000 with lens, I would take a SERIOUS look at the GX85 with a 25 1.7 Panasonic lens. This would be a small solution, discreet but packing LOADS more power and IQ potential over a 1″ sensor camera or phone camera. It’s a beautiful sleek design that builds on the original GF1 from so long ago.

Today, a camera like this offers so much for so little. Speed, gorgeous IQ, low light performance that blows away 1″ sensors and cel phones and lenses that range from $200 and up, all very good. I feel M 4/3 hits a “sweet spot” in sensor design. Not too large to make  the camera large bulky and sluggish, yet not too small to bring in the noise and lack of dynamic range that most 1″ sensors bring. Micro 4/3 to me, competes with any APS-C out there as it has some cons over it but also some pros.

As one can see here, the IQ is not lacking and I feel I have some better looking shots here than in my full frame camera reviews, and to note, the GX85 does not have a low pass filter (AA filter) which could lead to its crisp photos that truly POP. I am in the camp that no camera should have an AA filter, as every time I use one without I fall in love.  This little guys offers small size, huge lens selection, great IQ and a great price. I mean, what is not to like?

Highly recommended. 

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WHERE TO BUY?

For Panasonic, my fave dealers ever are B&H Photo and Amazon. TWO HUGE trusted shops with great ease of ordering, great return policies and they ALWAYS deliver (I only use Amazon prime for Amazon though). Use the links below  to see more or order, and if you do, it helps this site continue on, and these days I NEED IT!! So thank you in advance if you use my links below to make a purchase, its what you can do to help these free reviews and content to forge on for the next years ahead. THANK YOU!!

Buy the GX85 at B&H PHOTO in Black

Buy the GX85 at B&H Photo in SILVER

Buy the GX85 at Amazon in BLACK or SILVER

Also, the 25 1.7 is HERE and the 42.5 f/1.7 is HERE. BOTH are AMAZING for the $$! The 42.5 is averaging a 5 star review on Amazon, so it is not just me saying it!

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

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I receive 100-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I could use YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis. 

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

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

Not only do I spend money on fast hosting but I also spend it on cameras to buy to review, lenses to review, bags to review, gas and travel, and a slew of other things. You would be amazed at what it costs me just to maintain this website, in money and time (250 hours a month, and about $3000 per month).

So all I ask is that if you find the free info on this website useful AND you ever need to make a purchase at B&H Photo or Amazon, just use the links below. You can even bookmark the Amazon link (not the B&H) and use it anytime you buy something. It costs you nothing extra but will provide me and this site with a dollar or two to keep on trucking along.

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK – (not bookmark able) Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

Outside of the USA? Use my worldwide Amazon links HERE!

You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. ;)

One other way to help is by donation. If you want to donate to this site, any amount you choose, even $5, you can do so using the paypal link HERE and enter in your donation amount. All donations help to keep this site going and growing! I do not charge any member fees nor do I (nor will I ever) charge for reviews, so your donations go a long way to keeping this site loaded with useful content. If you choose to help out, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Mar 162016
 

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A Fuji X-Pro 2 Real World Review from a Fuji Fan

by Amy Medina

Since the purchase of my first Fuji back in 2012, I’ve been an enthusiastic user of their cameras. Having owned several of their bodies and being such a fan, there were a few new features the X-Pro2 promised that convinced me to jump in as an early adopter, and so far I haven’t been disappointed.

First, let me start off by saying that this isn’t going to be an overly technical review, since those aren’t the type I like to write. These will just be some examples and practical thoughts about a camera I was excited to buy because of the specifications promised in their January announcement. There were three main things that excited me about the prospect of buying the X-Pro2 when Fuji announced it to the world: The new sensor, the weather-sealing and overall improved performance.

Fuji X-Pro 2 + Fuji 18mm f/2

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Should I start with my complaints? Let’s get those out of the way first…

Let me just say that in today’s day and age, there’s absolutely no reason to make a camera that doesn’t have an articulating LCD. In my travels around the internet, I’ve heard it said that Fuji insinuated that “professionals” don’t need an LCD that rotates or pivots. If true, that’s a ridiculous assertion. Anyone who puts their camera on a tripod or needs to get their camera up high or down low benefits from an articulating LCD. Here’s one example of professional use that the X-Pro2 will not able to do for me: Quick, high-vantage point photography. I’m often on job sites where I need to take photos using an elevation pole, where the camera is a good 10-20 feet above me. I have to work quickly and can’t fumble around with the phone app in one hand and the elevation pole in another… I need to set the camera on intervals of 8 second shots and walk around and take the photographs with the camera way out of reach… and the only way to frame the shot is with an LCD that can be pointed down at me. With the X-Pro2 I can’t do that. Isn’t it ridiculous that the inferior, inexpensive XA1 can accomplish something the more professional X-Pro2 cannot?

Like it or not, it’s a poor decision Fuji made to not include an LCD that rotates in some fashion… and it really really irks me. I think it’s my biggest complaint.

Fuji X-Pro 2 + Rokinon 12mm f/2 (and PS… being older and having joint issues, this shot would have been so much easier with a rotating LCD!)

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The EVF.

This isn’t a big complaint, but it’s one I seem to remember being an issue when the XE1 was released… that it had a better electronic viewfinder than the pro-level X-Pro1. That seems to be the case, at least in some regard, with the X-Pro2 vs. other Fujis. I haven’t studied the spec sheet on all their bodies, but the EVF is smaller than some of the other Fuji cameras (like the XT1), though there are improvements like a much better frame rate and less blackout time after each photo. I’ve personally had a problem with the EVF’s brightness, which was never an issue I remember with any of my previous Fuji bodies, at least that I noticed. I did end up turning off the auto brightness feature in the settings and that has helped, but I’ve still run into issues where I was straining more to see the image and I can’t exactly explain why. Coming from the XT10 where I never thought the EVF was an issue, I don’t understand why the X-Pro2 is giving me a harder time in this regard… but it is. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but Fuji’s top-of-the-line, pro body, well it should have the very best-of-the-best and biggest EVF shouldn’t it?

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Another complaint I have is in regards to specific ergonomic choices. Fuji’s placement of dials and buttons and the fact they are highly customizable is one of the reasons I think many of us enjoy using Fuji bodies more than others. I don’t understand how buttons or dials can become “worse” in a new body.

The thing I noticed immediately as compared to my much smaller XT10 was that the thumb dial/button is way more recessed on the X-Pro2 — FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER. I don’t know why Fuji made a choice to do this, but it’s much more flush with the body, making it much harder to use. This is the dial/button that also controls magnification when manually focusing, which I do a great deal of the time, so I noticed it immediately. I’m getting used to it, but honestly there was absolutely no reason to make this dial/button so much more recessed. I’ve heard similar complaints from other X-Pro2 users with regards to this and other buttons, like the AFL and Q buttons. I don’t use the Q button a lot, but it is quite flush with the body and hard to detect by feel alone. I’ve noticed that there seems to be less customization options as well, and there are certainly a few that would be welcome, like the new joystick they added (which in general I love). It would be amazing to be able to customize the joystick’s center click to activate magnification for us manual-focusers, or to let us customize the front-dial to ISO settings (like I had it on my XT10).

Fuji X-Pro 2 + Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon — Acros Film Simulation — No Grain

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The old-style ISO dial as I mentioned above leaves a lot to be desired, partially because there’s no other way to select a specific ISO. In theory, it seems like a neat idea and such a cool throwback to cameras of yesteryear. Look, I’m a big fan of the antique camera bodies Fuji uses as its inspiration, but sometimes there’s a reason certain design details get replaced. The pull-and-turn ISO dial is one of them… it’s not easy to change without taking your eye off the viewfinder and it feels a bit fiddly even when you’re staring right at it making changes.

However, as I also mentioned above, this is much less of an issue in practice because of the three customizable auto ISO settings that can be assigned to a funtion button for easy changing. I’ve set up three distinct choices for myself from very wide to very narrow settings, and assigned one of the various function buttons to get to those settings quickly. It helps. It would, however, be a welcome change to have an ISO override setting so you don’t need the dial at all. Not all Fuji bodies include an ISO dial and I know some love it on the XT1, but that’s a dedicated ISO dial, not one combined with the shutter speed dial. I feel Fuji was trying to cram this feature in and I would have welcomed it being either more like the XT1 or XT10.

It Only Gets Better from Here! On with the gushing…

Fuji X-Pro 2 + Fuji 18mm f/2

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The Hybrid OVF/EVF viewfinder is one of the things Fuji fans will gush over because it’s so unique. There’s nothing quite like it out there in the digital camera world, and it’s probably about as close to a true electronic rangefinder you’re going to find that isn’t actually a rangefinder.

With its bright frame-lines and electronic details overlay, plus the “ERF” (electronic rangefinder) mode, you’re going to get a really cool modern-retro experience, and that wonderful optical viewfinder, outside-the-frame view. Your focusing patch can use two levels of magnification and can focus either by standard, peaking or split image assistance, and it’s easy enough to toggle between them (though would be easier if that darn thumb dial wasn’t so recessed). This Hybrid Viewfinder is something so completely unique to a handful of Fuji bodies, it’s one of the reasons many will choose the X-Pro2 over others.

The body itself is physically the largest in the Fuji arsenal. It’s weather-sealed, which was one of the items on my own personal checklist of necessities. Compared to my previous XT10 though, it feels massive… but of course it’s all relative. I was in love with shooting with my Leica M8 for a long time, and I’d compare it in size to that body, so it certainly isn’t what I would call “too big”. If you put it side-by-side with something like the new Olympus Pen, the Fuji will look downright giant, but compared to a Nikon D500 it seems quite small. Having used it now for almost two weeks and generally being a big fan of small mirrorless bodies, I don’t feel like the X-Pro2’s size will be something that bothers me, either in weight or physical dimensions.

Fuji X-Pro 2 + Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Nokton

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The X-Pro2 certainly seems to have a spotless build. It feels absolutely solid to hold and like it was machined in an impeccable manner. It claims 61 points of weather sealing against water, dust and cold. The two SD card slots are a welcome addition, and I’m glad they are separated from the battery compartment (a pet-peeve of mine with other bodies). However, we’re still using the same Fuji batteries as with all other Fuji bodies, which is a plus and minus. It’s great I didn’t have to go out and replace all my extra batteries… however, I think this body could have seriously used a bigger, more powerful energy source. Not exclusively Fuji’s issue… it’s always a problem with the more compact mirrorless bodies: the batteries are smaller, the cameras use more power and ultimately don’t last as long.

The new focal plane shutter with maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 is also part of what drew me to the X-Pro 2. That and the electronic shutter option allows for more flexibility in a variety of shooting situations, including shooting wider apertures in brighter weather conditions. The electronic shutter option is also great as someone who does timelapse as part of my job — I feel more at ease with using the camera for extended timelapse shoots without fear of putting tons of mileage on the shutter.

Fuji X-Pro 2 + Fuji 18mm f/2

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Overall performance is so much better with the X-Pro2 than with any other Fuji camera I’ve used to date. One of my gripes with my XT10 (and the XE2, XA1, XE1) was the “wake up” time when it was sleeping… I often found it a little frustrating. With the X-Pro2 it’s not an issue. Everything is just faster… startup time is fast, there is virtually no shutter lag, autofocus is much quicker, continuous shooting speeds are improved, even the speed in which the camera writes to the SD card is faster. With previous Fuji bodies I sometimes felt like operational speed occasionally got in the way of getting the shot I wanted, but I haven’t run into that feeling with the X-Pro2. The camera performs so fast that I’ve been shooting a bit in film-simulation bracketing mode because there’s almost no lag in the camera taking/processing the three shots at once.

Ergonomics are a mixed bag. It’s still a Fuji, and there’s no doubt that Fuji knows how to make a camera suited to a photographer’s needs when it comes to style and function, but like mentioned the push-pull ISO dial is a bit wonky, and that recessed rear dial annoying. Of course the Q “quick” menu is great for a fast settings change, and I like that it’s customizable. The dedicated photometry/metering button is a nice addition, and it’s great to have all the customization options Fuji offers for the others buttons, but they need to expand some of this to include the front and rear dials, and the Joystick center button.

And lets talk about the new Focus-Point Joystick.

This is an absolute pleasure to use and such a welcome addition! I use manual focus lenses a great deal of the time and I like to move the focus point around to the appropriate spot, but lets face it, sometimes that can be a hassle and we end up doing the focus-recompose thing. Well not anymore! The joystick makes it so incredibly easy to move that point around that there’s no reason not to use it. I cannot go on enough about how cool this feature is other than to say all cameras should have it… it’s genius, whether for autofocusing or manual focusing. My only gripe with it is what I said above… I wish I could customize the center click to be magnification (and then a different button to be the “re-center” option, or maybe click and hold to re-center).

Fuji X-Pro 2 + Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Nokton

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Now, getting down to it, the real reason I jumped on buying the X-Pro2 for it’s fairly substantial price-tag is the new sensor, and I suspect this will be the reason for many. Fuji seems to have been “stuck” at 16mp for a long time, so finally jumping up to 24.3mp with their new X-Trans CMOS III sensor was very welcomed, especially for someone like me who shoots a lot of landscapes, seascapes and architectural stuff. I never was, nor am I a megapixel chaser, but the increased detail is absolutely welcome.

Now, mind you, I’m a huge fan of the Fuji’s X-Trans way of doing things. I find I prefer their color and sharpness over other bodies, and I’m a big fan of their film simulations as a starting point for my own creativity. For the short time I gave up my Fuji gear in favor of Sony, I ended up missing it and going back, and though Sony makes some very nice cameras, I just prefer what Fuji is doing so much more — from their bodies and lenses to the image file quality. I wish it was something I could easily quantify and put into words, but it just isn’t. To me, in additional to just having really high quality files with great tone, Fuji also has a little bit of magic going on that others are missing. Of course, some of that is just personal taste and quite subjective.

The Fuji X-Pro2 produces more of what Fuji fans have come to love… excellent files, and now with a little more resolution. I suspect if you weren’t a fan of the X-Trans files before, you might not be a fan now, though some of the “waxy” skin features people complained about (that I never ran into) seems to have been resolved. I can’t answer your questions about RAW files since on my Fuji cameras I shoot JPG exclusively. I love what I’m getting out of the XPro 2 so far.

Fuji X-Pro 2 + 18mm f/2

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Noise performance seems on par with what the XT10 and other Fuji bodies was doing, maybe slightly better, so if you like shooting things in low light, you won’t be disappointed.

With expanded sensitivity turned on, you have the option to shoot from ISO 100 to 51,200. I’ve had absolutely no issues with shooting up to ISO 6400 and keep my primary auto ISO settings with that set as my maximum, and even ISO 12,800 is usable. I’ve always found that I liked the way Fuji balances its handling of noise with less detail smearing that other cameras, and the noise it does produce is a very fine “grain-type” of noise. You’ll hear similar proclamations from other Fuji users, the general consensus being that Fuji does a great job when it comes to reducing noise in low-light-high-iso situations, and doing it in a pleasing way. It’s really more of the same with the X-Pro2. I don’t think there’s any big jump in low-light performance from previous bodies, but there’s no step backwards because of the increased resolution either.

Fuji X-Pro 2 + Fuji 18mm f/2 — ISO 5000 (starring my granddaughter!)

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I’ve also had a lot of fun shooting with the new Acros film simulation Fuji has included in the X-Pro2. You can shoot it straight or choose a Red, Yellow or Green filter and you can use no grain or add weak or strong grain. I enjoy sometimes shooting B&W right in the camera and this new film mode is done really well. It has really nice contrast without being overdone (and you can always add more in post processing to taste), and the tones are just so good. It’s probably one of the nicest black and white film modes I’ve seen in a digital camera.

The grain itself has an interesting, artistic quality to it. As someone who actually still shoots film, I’m not sure I’m convinced it really mimics that look … though when combined with high ISOs the noise and grain mix really well and give a VERY good film-like grainy look. At lower ISOs, it reminds me more of a pen-and-ink drawing in it’s perfection, but I find the overall texture really pleasing.

Fuji X-Pro 2 + Fuji 18mm f/2 — Acros Film Simulation — No Grain

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Fuji X-Pro 2 + Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon — Acros Film Simulation — Grain: Weak and ISO 6400

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Fuji X-Pro 2 + Fuji 18mm f/2 — Acros Film Simulation Red Filter — Grain Weak

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100% Crops of Acros with Grain

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In Conclusion…

In reality, in today’s day and age most modern cameras are capable of excellent results. We aren’t going to be limited by equipment, at least not in 2016. A lot of what we decide to buy when we pick our camera-of-choice comes down to a subjective opinion on the photo-files, the way we will use the camera day-to-day, the style and ergonomics of the camera itself, and what we feel inspires us most to pick it up and take it with us. At least those are the things that matter to me. I picked Fuji because of the rich and smooth colors with outstanding detail sharpness and because I can customize the settings in-camera to exactly what I want… like picking the film I’m going to use. I enjoy the way the camera feels in my hand and hanging on my shoulder. I love the ability to use that fantastic Fuji glass and also my Leica, Voigtlander, Zeiss and even Minolta lenses. For me, Fuji strikes the right balance of flexibility, fun, form and function.

The X-Pro2 continues to give me all these things with some new added advantages. I’ve been incredibly happy with the results I’m getting, and the improved performance overall is a pleasure. As someone who takes photos every single day without fail, I’m glad the X-Pro 2 is quickly becoming my go-to camera.

You can purchase the Fuji X-Pro 2 at: AmazonB&H PhotoPopFlash.com 

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More from Amy

Website: www.DangRabbit.com
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More Fuji X-Pro 2 Samples:

Fuji X-Pro 2 + Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon — Acros Film Simulation

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Fuji X-Pro 2 + 18mm f/2

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Fuji X-Pro 2 + Fuji 18mm f/2 — Acros Film Simulation Red Filter — Grain Weak

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Fuji X-Pro 2 + Fuji 18mm f/2 — Acros Film Simulation Red Filter — Grain Weak

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Fuji X-Pro 2 + Voigtlander 75mm f/2.5 Heliar

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Fuji X-Pro 2 + Zeiss 35mm f/2 Biogon

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Fuji X-Pro 2 + Fuji 18mm f/2

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Fuji X-Pro 2 + Fuji 18mm f/2 — Acros Film Simulation Red Filter — Grain Weak

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Fuji X-Pro 2 + Rokinon 12mm f/2

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Fuji X-Pro 2 + Fuji 18mm f/2

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Fuji X-Pro 2 + Voigtlander 50mm f/1.5 Nokton

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May 272014
 

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The Sony A6000 Digital Camera Review by Steve Huff

Sony is back once again with a camera that may appear to be just like the previous NEX-6 but takes it to the next level with new branding (No more NEX name or Menu, this is the ALPHA 6000), a new more robust and square body, and a very good price. The new Alpha line came about when Sony released the A7 and A7r and renamed them from NEX to Alpha. With the NEX camera line, Sony always had loads of complaints that the menu..well..sucked. It sort of did. I even complained about it on a few occasions and said “why do they not just use the Alpha menu system”!?!? Well, now they do and it is so much nicer than the old NEX menu system. Much quicker, easier, and laid out better in every way. The last NEX, the NEX-6 was and is a great camera. Nice size, built-in EVF, good speed and finally, some great lenses for the system. The new A6000 kicks it up a notch and the result is Sony’s best APS-C NEX style body to date. This one is a screamer and a sleeper that many will pass up.

Before I get into the review and the images, let me state that I have had this body for 3 weeks, thanks to Sony sending me the review sample. So thank you Sony! If they did not send it I myself may have passed on reviewing it as I originally thought it was just another re-hash of the NEX cameras. While it is a rehash to some extent it is so much better than any NEX camera that if I were to offer an Editors Choice” or “Steve’s Pick”, this would be one of them. In the past I have reviewed all of the NEX cameras (almost) and you can see those reviews HERE at Mirrorless Central in the Sony section, the place where I archive all of my mirrorless reviews. BTW, This review will be of the shorter variety so I AM NOT re-hashing my reviews.

Most of what I felt of the NEX-5, NEX-7 and NEX-6 is the same with the A6000 because at its core and heart, it is still a NEX camera in design, in feel and in use. Basically we are getting the new menus, faster speed and the best IQ in a NEX type of camera to date. We also get the WiFi and camera apps but WiFi is in almost every camera today so it is a must for most companies to throw it in, and it works great here in the A6000. The apps are cool but I never use them as it slows me down too much. Some love them though. For me, the A6000 is a REAL camera that can offer someone wanting to step up from a P&S to professional quality images (with the right lens). It can also offer owners of the NEX cameras the new interface and the super fast speeds.

My biggest bang for the buck system of the year – The A600 and Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 – Under $1400 for the set. This one was shot at f/2.2 and is a JPEG from the camera. Click it to see it MUCH better. This impressed me, especially being a JPEG. 

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The A6000. What are the specs?

The best of the  A6000 specs are below:

24.3MP Exmor APS HD CMOS Sensor and BIONZ X Image Processor – The latest processing power and the latest Sony APS-C sensor. Sony always leads the way in Sensor design IMO.

Fast Hybrid AF System – The Fast Hybrid AF system utilizes both a 179-point phase-detection system and 25-point contrast-detection system to achieve precise focus in as little as 0.06 sec. This system also provides AF tracking when shooting up to 11 fps in continuous high mode and functions seamlessly when recording full HD movies. In real world use, this camera is FAST. One of the most responsive cameras I have ever used. No slowness here. I remember the very 1st NEX-3 and NEX-5. They were so slow when compared to this new A6000. How things have improved.

There is also Eye AF! A detail-oriented focusing function that can prioritize a subject’s pupil and dedicate focusing performance on that for sharply rendered portraits; Lock-on AF is a dedicated focusing method for use with moving subjects and adjusts the target frame size as the subject moves throughout the image frame; AF area settings allow you to prioritize specific regions within the frame for increased accuracy; and AF-A (Automatic AF), AF-S (Single-shot AF), AF-C (Continuous AF), DMF (Direct Manual Focus), and Manual Focus modes can also be chosen.

Full HD Video Recording – Full HD 1080i/p video recording is supported at both 60 and 24 fps frame rates to produce high-resolution movies with a smooth, cinematic look. Full HD videos are recorded using the high-quality AVCHD codec, while 1440 x 1080 and 640 x 480 formats are also supported in the Internet-friendly MP4 format.

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Body Design – The Tru-Finder 0.39″ 1,440k-dot OLED EVF features a refined optical system that integrates four double-sided aspherical elements to provide 100% frame coverage and a wide 33° viewing angle for clear edge-to-edge viewing. The electronic viewfinder’s design offers a true live view image, which is able to simulate the appearance of the finalized image prior to shooting and also avails focusing aids, such as MF Assist and the Peaking function. The 3.0″ 921k-dot rear Xtra Fine monitor is a larger alternative, suitable for making accurate compositions, reviewing imagery, and navigating the menu system. It features a tilting design that can tilt upward approximately 90° or downward 45° to benefit working from high and low angles. Additionally, WhiteMagic technology works to increase the overall brightness of the screen to better support use in bright or sunlit conditions.

Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity

Additionally, PlayMemories Camera Apps are also supported via the built-in Wi-Fi connection, and allow you to personalize the camera’s features depending on specific shooting styles. Apps are available to suit creating portraits, detailed close-ups, sports, time lapse, motion shot, and other specific types of imagery.
Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Retractable Zoom Lens.

The Zeiss 32 1.8 on the A6000 is fantastic though the front bokeh can be a bit odd at times. Still, one of the best lenses i have used on a Sony camera. I was not a HUGE fan of the Touit 32 1.8 on the Fuji system but love it on the Sony. 

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My First thought on the A6000 after it arrived

When the A6000 box arrived I was thinking “Great, a variation of the old NEX-6..not exciting”.  Then I took it out of the box and thought..“Damn! This is the best feeling and looking NEX style body ever”. Sony sent me the silver version and it looked pretty sharp. All I had was a kit zoom so I knew I had to try something better but even so, the kit zoom was doing great. I love the fact that the new 16-50 is so small and sleek when compared to the old long and fat 18-55. Yes, these Sony’s are getting better and better with each release. The best part about the A6000 kit is the price. Coming in at $798 for the camera body AND kit zoom, it makes me feel dirty to recommend other APS-C cameras that cost more because the A6000 is so good in so many ways. It is a little on the lightweight side but feels just as good in build, if not a little better, than the Fuji offerings. So again, good bang for the buck.

I looked the body over and remembered I also had that Mitakon 50 0.95 and it was a native E mount lens! Why not slap it on and give it a try? I did just that and the snapshots I snapped with it are below (all were at f/0.95), as well as a look at the A6000 with the lens attached:

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The combo of A6000 and the Mitakon ROCKED! Not as good as it was with the A7 but it was nice to have that shallow DOF and a super fast WELL MADE lens on the camera. It felt solid, it inspired confidence and for me, was easy to focus just using the EVF. While not a perfect lens (it has some odd Bokeh qualities) at $799 it gives you a taste of those super shallow DOF lenses like the Leica Noctilux that comes in at $11,000. While I feel the Sony 55 1.8 or Zeiss 32 1.8 are overall better choices if you are only going to have one lens, the Mitakon is great if you want to add some artistic flair to your photos. The thing is a beast of a lens and well worth the $799.

With more use of the A6000 I started to realize that this camera was actually pretty special. For under $800 I was seeing the fastest response of any camera in recent memory (mirror less). The response, the AF and even the shutter were fast and gave me an actual sense of speed while using it. Like AIM, FIRE, FIRE – BAM! Done! As I said I have reviewed nearly all Sony NEX cameras and while the A6000 is VERY similar to all of them in many ways, it is the most responsive in all areas without question.

Oops, they did it again! But no biggie. 

After looking through the box more I realized that Oops, Sony did it again. No external dedicated battery charger. This time I will forgive them though as for $798 (yes I keep relating the price because it is such a value) they could not have given it all. If this camera were $1200 I would have been upset at the fact that all we get is a USB cable to charge while the battery sits in the camera. At $798, it is fine. You can buy an external charger for Sony batteries at Amazon for cheap, so no big deal. Look at this crazy deal. For $19.99, and using Amazon prime, you can get a dedicated charger and extra battery. Yes, a battery and charger for under $20. SNAG IT if you have an A6000 or A7 as they use the same battery.

The Kit Zoom is pretty nice. 

Usually I am not too fond of the kit zoom’s that are included with camera kits. They are usually slow, soft and cheap in build. The A6000 includes the better Sony Kit Zoom, which is the 16-50 OSS lens that normally sells for $350 on its own.  Some people are not a fan of it but I happen to think it does great on the A6000. If you have light and need the versatility that a zoom offers, it is a great lens and gets the job done. I used it while walking around rural areas in Southern Illinois with my Mother over Mothers Day and it did great.

These are all OOC JPEGS using the kit zoom and A6000. Click them for larger! 1st two shot by Brandon. 

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So while I am still not a fan of zoom lenses (I prefer primes) the kit zoom is actually a nice and small little lens. Not perfect, not high end, not anything giving a WOW factor but when it is included in a camera of this price it is very nice indeed. The color is very nice right from the camera as well, which is not the case with many of the cameras that are even priced into the thousands.

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The need for MORE speed!

The Sony A6000 is a monster in the speed department. It can shoot 11 frames per second and due to its crazy focus points covering 92% of the sensor, it is uber fast. It has contrast and phase detect AF, which in laymen’s terms means IT IS FAST. When I was shooting with the bundled kit lens the camera was lightning fast. I shot the camera in all kinds of light and never once had an issue with Auto Focus. As i mentioned earlier, I do not remember any other camera being this fast. It is faster than my old fave, the Nikon V1..faster than ANY other Sony to date (much quicker than the A7 flagship) and faster than any Fuji. I think it even edged out my Olympus E-M1 which has been my benchmark for speed and response. While the Sony system does not offer the lenses that Micro 4/3 does, nor does the A6000 offer the build and features of the E-M1…it is up there and maybe faster in the speed department.

Sony also excels here with focus tracking. If you want to shoot sports or action, this is probably the best mirror less to date to do just that. In fact, I know it is. So I will say it clearly: In May of 2014, the A6000 is the best mirror less camera for tracking moving subjects as well as overall speed. 

An APS-C sensor that is super fast, responsive and has amazing AF? Yep, that has finally become a reality in the Sony A6000. Every year cameras get faster and add more features. Sometimes they are not really worth the upgrade and sometimes they are. If you value speed and an APS-C sensor, you MUST try the A6000.

All three images below were shot as JPEG using the Zeiss 32 1.8 Touit lens. The 1st one was converted to B&W using Alien Skin. STILL my fave filters!

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Overall Image Quality

I knew from the get go that the A6000 would have excellent IQ. I mean, would Sony release this camera with anything but at least as good of IQ as the older NEX-6? No. In fact, I feel it surpasses any NEX to date for IQ and I am just talking about JPEGS! The JPEG quality from the A6000 is fantastic. I shot this camera as a JPEG shooter to make it more challenging and to see what kind of color and quality would come out. I was surprised as every JPEG I looked at was sharp (though would be better and cleaner with RAW), clear and with pleasing color. The A6000 has the same color modes as previous NEX cameras so you have the usual Standard, Vivid, Nutral, Clear, Light, etc. While I feel they should drop 75% of those and just concentrate on the core color modes, the Sony’s always offer all  kinds of gimmicks and things to try. Still here is the Sweep Panorama mode, the Intelligent Auto and the Picture Effects, none of which I ever use. For me, just give me Aperture Priority and a good Auto ISO and I am off to the races.

As for JPEG shooting, below are a couple of direct from camera JPEGS. You can right-click on them to open them in a new window and see the full size file. Both were shot with the A6000 and Zeiss Touit 32 1.8. 

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High ISO and low light. Is it any better than previous models?

High ISO on the A600 is excellent as one would expect. Today we should not have to worry about ISO capabilities of modern-day cameras as they give us so much more in this area than film ever did. EVER. We can shoot clean with many cameras right up to ISO 3200, some even 6400. With the new Sony A7s coming soon we can go to levels we would have ever thought possible in our lifetime just a few years ago. So shooting the A6000 in low light with higher ISO is as good as one would expect but below is some ISO crops from 1600 and up.

The A6000 has very good high ISO performance all the way up to 6400 ISO, which is all anyone would really ever need. I mean, how many of you shoot past ISO 1600 on a regular basis? The test image below was shot in my office with natural light coming in through slightly open blinds. Noise Reduction was turned off 100% in camera and what you see below is all OOC JPEG.

Bottom line, the ISO capability rocks on the A6000 but then again, Sony has always been good at this. You can see the detail at 6400 and it gets lost at 12,800 so 6400 is as high as I would want to go.

The Test Image

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The Crops

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A Crazy JPEG Comparison! The A6000 and Zeiss 32 1.8 Touit vs the Leica M and 50 Summicron APO

Ok, here we go. I was not going to do this but I had to! I mean, I have in my possession the A600 and Zeiss Touuit 32 1,8 which gives us a 50mm full frame equivalent. The Zeiss Touit lens and A600 come in at under $1400 TOTAL, FOR BOTH! I also have the Leica M 240 and Leica 50 Summicron APO. This kit comes in at OVER $14,000! 10X the cost of the Sony combo. YES, you read that right. $14,000! So how do they do against each other in pure IMAGE QUALITY results only? Judge for yourself. But before I show you I want to state that shooting these cameras is 100% different as is the build and camera construction quality. As you would expect the Leica is in another stratosphere when it comes to build, feel and quality of the camera itself. It is also a rangefinder. The ONLY digital rangefinder available today. It is a unique experience and it is a Leica. With that said, when looking at Image Quality ONLY, the little Sony A6000 is quite good. ;) Take a look. IMO, IQ alone does not warrant 10X the cost here. Not even close, and I love and adore my Leica system. Yes the Leica is better but $13k better? Nope.

THIS IS AN OOC JPEG COMPARISON! What it shows is that the JPEG out of the Sony is fantastic. It is average out of the Leica. 

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Things I did not like about the A6000?

There are only a couple of things I did not like about the A6000, and they were not major dealbrakers in any way. For the under $800 cost (with lens) of the A6000, I really have ZERO complaints. It is a mature system camera and when you attach a great lens it will reward you with good color, great IQ and detail and uber fast operation. I would have liked it to be a little more solid in feel..maybe even a pro version with waterproofing and a more robust feel. I would have loved to have a better EVF like the one Sony offers externally for the RX1 camera. The problem is that my wishes would have propelled the cost of the camera to $1300 and up. The beauty of the A6000 is the fact that it allows us to get into a mature system camera that has it all. Speed, nice build and design, great lenses, built-in flash and EVF, swivel LCD, good battery life, innovative features such as Eye Af and great face recognition AF. It has the best tracking of any mirrorless to date as well. All for under $800 with a nice (normally $350) kit zoom. I mean, for those looking for a new camera under $1000 the Sony A6000 MUST be looked at! Small size is the key for me.

So at the end of the day I really can not fault the A6000 because for the cost of admission it offers way more than it should.

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Pros and Cons of the Sony A6000

Pros

  1. The price! Under $800 for camera and lens – MASSIVE Bang for the Buck.
  2. The sensor is fantastic with awesome color and detail.
  3. JPEGS are very good. Better than most camera.
  4. Fast AF and Response. Fastest in the mirror less world right now.
  5. Nice design and look to the camera.
  6. Built in EVF is always nice to have, and the A600 has one
  7. Tilt LCD
  8. Great high ISO performance
  9. Kit Lens is quite nice
  10. Small size and light weight
  11. Built in flash for those who like that sort of thing
  12. All new Alpha menu!
  13. Retains the gimmicky modes
  14. Nice control and customization
  15. Can use many lenses via adapters
  16. Good at AF tracking
  17. High ISO Noise Reduction can be turned off 100%! (which is good)

Cons

  1. No weather sealing
  2. No in body Image Stabilization
  3. EVF could be better

So there thou go. For me, 16 pros and 3 cons. This is after 3 weeks of use, which was not daily use but 3-4 times per week.

The OOC color can be gorgeous! Rich, beautiful color and tones. Zeiss 32 1.8 Touit. 

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and B&W is also nice! Once again, the awesome Touit 32 1.8

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My Bottom Line conclusion of the A6000 

To be honest I was not incredibly excited to review this camera. Why? Well, when I review a camera I do not just go through the motions nor do I have any kind of template that I use. Some reviews I do are more detailed, some are more exciting and some are short and sweet. ALL are based in real world use with the camera and never do I get technical or talk nerd talk. I simply use the camera and if it excited me you will know by the way I write (see an example of that here) and if I do not like it, you will know (an example here). Sometimes though I am surprised by what I think will be average or mediocre when it turns out to be much better than I expected. The Sony A6000 is an example of just that. I thought it would just be an average NEX-6 update with new Alpha menus. But as is the case on many occasions, I was once again wrong!

While I am not raving about how it is the best thing since sliced bread, I am very happy with the camera and feel it is indeed the best APS-C NEX type of camera to date and one of the best if not the best APS-C cameras available. I prefer it to most Fuji’s (besides the X-T1, slightly) and prefer it to any other APS-C Sony and almost every other APS-C camera. I have to keep reminding myself that this camera is only $798 with a lens as when you use it seems to perform and feel like a $1200 and up camera.

Sony did good with the A6000. Those who never shot a Sony and those who own something like  NEX-5, NEX-6 or even NEX-7 would be thrilled with the A6000. If I spent even more time with it I may have even fallen harder for it and ordered one. It truly does give outstanding performance and speed all in one small nice looking package. I review and use so many cameras each and every year it is easy to get a little burn out with cameras and new products but the A6000 is one of those cameras that makes os much sense on many levels and is fun to shoot, so it made me want to head out with it every time I took it out.

This is an important price point and Sony knows it, so it will appeal to a much wider audience than the over $1000 enthusiast cameras. I think if the A6000 was shown to a group of 50 people who were in the market for an under $1000 camera system, and they were able to use it for an hour, I feel that 40 would buy it on the spot (if they were in the market and ready to buy).

The only faults are with the smaller EVF, no touchscreen, no in body IS and no weather sealing. But add those and it will add to the price so in reality, when judging the A6000 at the current price point it has no flaws at all.

The Sony A6000 is one small step for camera fan and one giant leap for the masses who really do not follow the camera world or care about sensors and tech. By that I mean that ANYONE who takes pictures would be thrilled with this mid range offering from Sony. It does what it does extremely well and all you have to worry about is what lens you want to attach.

Speaking of lenses, I really enjoyed the Zeiss Touit for its rich color and nice overall rendering. At under $800 it is a fabulous lens that will give you the 50mm focal length equivalent and some nice shallow depth of field effects. If I owned the A6000 I would also own the Zeiss. The Mitakon 50 0.95 is also unique and built like a classic Leica lens in feel and the solidness of it. The Mitakon is manual focus only though so beware of that. At $799 it offers a more artistic approach in use and results. You can read about the Mitakon HERE.  Sony now has many lenses available for the E-Mount. From zooms to primes to expensive to cheap. Take your pic.

Bottom Line? If I offered an “Editor’s Choice” the A6000 would  take that title easily. Highly Recommended for those looking for a quality camera with DSLR quality and speed without the size. Also good to note is that during the review period I never had a mis focused shot or any issues at all with the camera. When I snapped I knew what would come out of the camera would be fantastic.

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Where to Buy?

You can buy the Sony A6000 at my recommended and preferred dealers below. Just click the link to go direct to the A6000 page to check stock status, price and to order if you so desire!

Amazon – Sony A6000 in BLACK or SILVER with Kit Zoom.

Amazon – Sony A600 in BLACK or SIlVER without Kit Zoom.

B&H Photo – All variations of the A6000 are HERE!

Zeiss Touit 32 1.8 Lens for Sony E-Mount at Amazon or B&H Photo

SMILE!

eric

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

Hello to all! For the past 5 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I received 200-300 emails a DAY). Because of this, I need YOUR help to cover my costs for this free information that is provided on a daily basis.

To help out it is simple. 

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

B&H PHOTO LINK – (not bookmark able) Can also use my search bar on the right side or links within reviews, anytime.

You can also follow me on Facebook, TwitterGoogle + or YouTube. ;)

One other way to help is by donation. If you want to donate to this site, any amount you choose, even $5, you can do so using the paypal link HERE and enter in your donation amount. All donations help to keep this site going and growing! I do not charge any member fees so your donations go a long way to keeping this site loaded with useful content. Thank you!

A few more images from the A6000! Enjoy and THANK YOU for reading!

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Apr 012014
 

Isle of Skye. My Fuji X-series review

By Ben Cherry

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A bit of background about me, I am a Zoology student at the University of Sheffield and have been passionate about photography for the past ten years with my main interests being travel and wildlife. Fujifilm UK currently sponsors me with X-series cameras but that doesn’t factor in my opinions here, as they want my honest views on their equipment.

I have already written a review of some of the gear that I took to Malaysian Borneo for Steve Huff here: http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2013/12/31/experiencing-borneo-with-the-fuji-x-series-by-ben-cherry/

Please see more of my work and follow me through the following avenues:

http://www.bencherryphotos.com/

https://www.facebook.com/BenCherryPhotography

https://twitter.com/Benji_Cherry

My views from the previous trip haven’t change; in fact my affection for the X-series has been boosted by some hands-on time with the X-T1, 56mm f1.2 and 10-24mm f4 at the Photography Show in the UK earlier this week. For this trip I took the X-Pro1, X-E1, X100s, 14mm f2.8, 18-55mm, 35mm f1.4, 60mm f2.4 and the 55-200mm all in a Domke shoulder bag. I love compact systems purely for the space and weight saving possibilities! This trip is quite different to the last, though not in the baking tropical heat, it was still a very enjoyable experience in the relative wilderness that the Isle of Skye offers compared to the rest of the UK.

January is often a tough month at the best of times, but combined with university exams it is the worst month of the year by far. However there was an opportunity to get away to my godparents house on the Isle of Skye, which offered some sanctuary away from the stresses of revising and a much-needed opportunity to take some photos. The weather was on my side during the trip, the strong winds that had battered the west of Scotland for much of December had receded leaving the week calm and almost dry! Unlike the previous trip I brought along both zooms and the X-E1. These ended up being used extensively, with the X-E1 often using the 55-200mm and the X-Pro1 usually with the 18-55mm while driving around the island. This meant that as fleeting ‘special’ moments came around, where the weather was particularly beautiful, the opportunities were rarely missed. Straight out I am very impressed by the image quality of the zooms, for landscape work I would without hesitation use them over the primes I had with me at the time.

I enjoyed using the telephoto zoom; it focused as quickly as the other lenses (can’t wait to try it on a X-T1) and produced punchy, sharp images like the close up of the highland cattle and the sunlight over the bay.

The X-E1 performed very similar to the X-Pro1, which makes me want to try the XE2 as I assume Fuji’s brilliant updates will have struck again making it a more refined camera. All the camera bodies performed flawlessly in the cold weather and despite the fact I stated we had good weather, they still went through the occasional rain shower and sea spray (don’t tell Fuji!) with no negative effects.

Because I drove up to the Isle of Skye I had the luxury of space that I didn’t while travelling around Borneo, this meant I could also throw in my Pelican case that housed my Canon equipment. However, I found that I didn’t once want to use it; I find shooting with the X-series cameras so much more enjoyable and satisfying. The tactile design of the cameras makes the whole experience feel like you’re in control instead of responding to what the camera suggests. For me this is improved by the EVF’s that allow the instant preview of exposure compensation, which I find invaluable especially in situations where the light is constantly changing. This was the biggest surprise moving from SLRs, I couldn’t get enough of it and this made me stop chimping my shots. An example of this is the silhouette of the Highland cattle against the moody sky that I was able to accurately compensate for using the EVF.

Overall I am very happy with the X-series for my uses, as it produces great image quality; not least the jpeg presets which really pop. In my opinion raw files could still be developed better in lightroom but I’m sure improvements will continue to roll out. This negative point is outweighed by the better quality high ISOs as a result of the sensor design.

Fuji have struck the perfect balance between small, discrete gear and good enough image quality that make the system superb for travel as well as many other genres. It will be very interesting to see the performance of the future weather sealed lenses, opening up the wildlife and sports market for X-series.

I am off to Switzerland for the premier of a snowboarding film I worked on with the White Line Crew: http://www.thewhitelinecrew.com/ and intend to get hold of the latest Fuji gear to test against some action in the cold conditions. I will let Steve know if this works out and will try to put together another user review.

You can see a larger gallery from the Isle of Skye here: http://www.bencherryphotos.com/isle_of_skye

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