Dec 182014
 

Last Minute Photo Christmas Gift Ideas!

With only a week until Christmas day, I sure hope that most of you have completed your Christmas shopping! Me, I just started yesterday and finished today. Love shopping online as it is so easy these days  – avoiding the crowds, the parking lots, the stores…though I do find that to have some charm during this time of year. But this year I have been too busy to get to the mall and shop, so all of my shopping was done online at B&H Photo and Amazon.

If anyone out there is still looking for a nice camera gift for their Husband, Wife, Child or someone special, take a look at my list below of cool photo related items that would make for a fantastic Christmas gift this year! With the same day fast shipping from these online shops, getting the gift in time is not a problem.

How about a list of some cool small photo gifts that will put a smile on anyones face?

Tactile Feel? Check out these little buttons…

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I have a couple sets of these, one on my A7s and I love them. They provide a 100% tactile feel to the buttons and improve the feel and use. For $25 you can’t go wrong if you have been looking for something such as this!

Check out the website HERE.

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Want an awesome NON SCREW IN soft release for your Mirrorless? Artisan Obscura is the place to go!

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I have three of these and they STAY PUT. While I lost every screw in shutter soft release I have ever owned, these are the real deal and you will NOT lose them. Superb!

You can check them out HERE.

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How about a strap or two?

There are a couple that I like on Amazon and some are dirt cheap while being very well made and looking superb..

1. Vintage flower strap – wide – under $26

2. Street Strap LONG – I have three of these! 

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3. Braided Leather Barton strap! One of my all time faves!

4. The most amazing strap ever made for the serious photographer or working pro. The MONEYMAKER.

5. Also check out classicases.com as they have some cool new leather straps that I have on hand and LOVE

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How about small pocket cameras that are easy to use but give amazing image Quality?

B&H Photo has the Hasselblad Stellar’s in stock at 70% off

with the black carbon, white/white and orange in stock at $999. I own the Orange one and LOVE it. Been using it every day or two since getting it and it has gotten the most comments of any camera I have carried around with me to date. Plus, it’s a fantastic camera (Sony RX100) and made in Japan vs China of the Sony version. The style, looks, build, packaging and experience is top notch. Well worth the $1k for me as I have been enjoying it more than some $3k cameras I have had in the past.

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The Stellar is HERE at B&H Photo at 70% Blowout Pricing

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or if you want to save some cash, the Sony RX100 V1 is a tremendous value!

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You can buy the RX100 HERE at Amazon for just under $500

The resale of the Hasselblad Stellar will be much better than the Sony but they are basically the same camera (one made in Japan (stellar) and one in China (Sony) and have different cosmetics ad materials used in build. Still, IQ will be the same. RX100 Review is HERE.

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The Ricoh GR – A serious large sensor pocket camera for photographers

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The Ricoh GR is on blowout right now as well. This is a pro level IQ machine that fits in a pocket. Not as slick as the Sony but this is one that steps it up a notch with image quality due to the large sensor. With a fixed 28mm lens though, make sure the person who will be using it is OK with wide angle! My GR review is HERE!

Buy the Ricoh GR HERE at B&H while it is on special!

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Let’s take it up a notch..more performance but a bit larger..

Compact High Performance Cameras (Not quite pocketable)

The new Leica D-Lux (or Panasonic LX100)

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The new Leica D-Lux is actually a Panasonic LX100 in disguise. Much like the Hasselblad stellar situation, Leica places their outer shell on to the LX100 innards and call it their own. Same camera, same lens, same IQ as the cheaper LX100. With the Leica you get the Leica styling, packaging, red dot, better warranty and better software, so paying the extra $300 or so is worth it to many. Resale is also better with the Leica Panasonic versions and this  has been proven in the past.

The LX100 is under $900 HERE

The Leica D-Lux is $1200 HERE

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The Fuji X100T

The latest and (some will say) greatest X100 is the X100T. I have had one for 2-3 weeks and have been happy with it but to me it is pretty much like the previous S version with a new EVF feature that I actually do not like. In any case, it still uses the X Trans sensor which many love and it is a retro styled camera capable of beautiful images. If you have that retro vibe and want a camera to inspire, take a look at the X100T, prob my fave Fuji in production. Still small, and with a great 35m f/2 lens built right in. You can see my X100s review HERE.

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You can buy the X100T at Amazon, B&H Photo or PopFlash.com

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The Sony A6000

Probably the most bang for the buck APS-C large sensor mirrorless camera on the market today. The Sony A6000 is small, sleek, blazing fast (faster than most DSLRs) and can mount any Sony E mount lens or one of any THOUSANDS of lenses from almost any manufacturer using adapters. Great AF, great response, super video and an all around great camera for under $600 with lens. My review is HERE.

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You can buy the Sony A6000 at Amazon or B&H Photo

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..and finally, some more serious cameras for the real enthusiast…

The Sony A7s

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I LOVE this camera for quite a few reasons. You can read my review HERE if you like but the fact is that this guy is about as versatile as you can get.

1. Will shoot in ANY light. From light to dark. Will also AF in the dark with amazing accuracy. 

2. Best low light HIGH ISO camera made today in full frame 35mm.

3. Shoots fantastic video

4. File sizes stay small due to 12MP sensor. 

5. Can mount native E mount lenses or one of thousands of third-party lenses. M mount, S mount, Contax, Nikon, Canon, etc. 

6. Has a silent mode where you can not even tell it is being used or an image being taken, 100% silent.

7. Small and compact for a full frame camera. 

8 Again, did I say it can be used in ANY light?

This was my #1 camera and now is #2 ever since the next camera on the list showed up..

Buy the Sony A7s at Amazon or B&H Photo!

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The Sony A7 Mark II

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Now with 5 Axis image stabilization, tweaked and improved image quality, faster hybrid AF and fantastic pro level build and feel, the Sony A7II is a redesign and enhancement of one of 2014’s most popular cameras. I am finding the IQ to be better, the speed to be better, the IS to be amazing and the feel and build to be superb. It’s a beefy feeling camera. Solid.

The A7II is a versatile monster camera with stellar video and image performance. Again, mount some cool vintage RF glass for a unique experience and classic image quality results.

You can order the A7II at B&H Photo or Amazon

There are so many photo related items that would make superb gifts. NO way I can list them all but feel free to browse the online shops of Amazon, B&H Photo, PopFlash, Leica Store Miami, and the Pro Shop! All highly recommended dealers!

Dec 152014
 

Sony A7II Review on the way…until then…

Many have been asking “Steve, where is your Sony A7II review?!?!?” – Well, I have only had the camera for a week or so and I need a MINIMUM of two weeks to do a review, sometimes 3-4 weeks. So I am now shooting with it, testing it and trying out the 16-35 f/4 Zeiss with it as well as a few other lenses like the Sony 55 1.8, 35 2.8 and the Voigtlander 40 2.8 and others.

So far it is one hell of an amazing camera. Mark my words, this WILL be on many “Camera of the Year” lists as Sony just pushed it out for 2014.

The JPEG rendering is fantastic and the ergonomics, build, and 5 Axis IS have made this new A7II the “creme of the crop” in the mirrorless digital world. There is absolutely NOTHING like it available today. My video on the Sony A7II is HERE. AF is much better than it was with the previous A7 and is almost up there with the A7s in AF capabilities (The A7s can somehow see and AF in the dark).

My review will be up by the end of the month, but here are a couple of shots to check out until then. All JPEGS from camera.

B&H Photo has some in stock HERE with the 28-70 kit zoom. Amazon has some in stock body only from 3rd party vendors HERE.

A full size out of camera JPEG. Click it for full size. This was at 55mm and 1.8 (typo on the JPEG itself says 50 but it was shot with the 55 1.8 Zeiss). 

Brilliant color, sharpness and remember, this is at f/1.8 and an OOC JPEG!

**Right click and open in a new window to see it the way it should be**

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Here is one with the Voigtlander 40 2.8 – Again, a JPEG shot wide open at 2.8 – click it for larger

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The Zeiss 16-35 at f/5.6 – click it for larger

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Dec 122014
 

Did you receive your A7II? If so, send me your thoughts…

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I know many of you ordered the A7II and they started shipping this week, so many of you should have one in you hands by now. I am curious as to what your thoughts are on the camera because I know what mine are. I feel it is a special camera that ticks most of my boxes from the build and feel to the 5-Axis IS to the IQ and color to the video performance. I think Sony hit it out of the park with this release, as well as on the price.

I am planning to post my full review by the end of the month and thought it would be cool to get a few opinions and image samples from the readers here to include in the review, so there is more than my opinion. I feel this would make for a really interesting review with not only my thoughts, but YOURS as well.

If you ordered and received your Sony A7II camera (or will receive it in the next week or so) and would like to write up a paragraph or two on it and share 2-3 photos from it for my big review, then send this info and images to me (JPEGs no larger than 1500 pixels wide) at [email protected] 

Depending on how many replies I get, your images and text may end up at the end of my review in a special section called “Your thoughts on the A7II”.

I think this would be great and informative to have in the review so hope to hear from a few of you!

Thanks!

Steve Huff

Dec 102014
 

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

by Dirk De Paepe

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

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

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

Planar versus Planar

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

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

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

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

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

Improvements

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

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02European Monecrop

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

03. Red beauty

05. Jaguar emblem

04. Jaguar headlight

07. Austin Healey Cockpit

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07B Getting in the mood for Christmas

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

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

All-around

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

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

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

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15. Liège by night

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

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

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Considerations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*pre-order the Zeiss Loxia lenses HERE*

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dirk De Paepe

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Dec 052014
 

1STLOOK

The Sony A7II – First Look and Video!

Order the A7II at Amazon – Amazon says they start shipping on the 11th of December

Order the A7II at B&H Photo – B&H says shipping starts December 9th

Steve

The Sony A7II has arrived and is in my hands and I am much more impressed than I expected to be. I assumed it would be an A7 with 5-Axis IS but it is quite a bit more than that. At the price of $1698, this is THE full frame camera to have for any enthusiast, hobbyist or anyone who has the passion of photography and wants extraordinary results with their camera gear.

1st off, take a look at my video below where I talk about my 1st impressions of the Sony A7 II…

 

The camera feels awesome in the hand, so much better than the old A7, A7r or even A7s. The new button placements are just about perfect and the larger grip (that I thought I would hate) feels JUST right. The camera also looks nicer, and feels much better built  – more solid. Feels like a pro camera in my hand and the 5-Axis worked wonders during some test video footage I took today. Made it appear like I was using a steady cam. The AF is indeed faster than the old A7 and the IQ, just as Sony has claimed, has been improved. I now see the better color, AWB and punch of the A7s but with more detail..amazing detail..even when shooting plain old JPEG.

Three 1st snaps with the A7II in my house, which was dimly lit BTW – One with the Zeiss 35 2.8 and two with the Voigtlander 40 2.8 – you MUST click them for larger and true 100% crop. These are JPEG! AWB did well for all three with no odd color casts.

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Click the image below to see just how rich, deep, colorful and detailed an OOC JPEG is from the A7II using the 35 2.8

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and one in B&W at ISO 2500 – NR turned off – 35 2.8

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So my enthusiasm went sky-high after taking the A7II out of the package and putting it in my hand. My A7s can not be replaced by the A7II as the II can not do low light like the A7s but it will be the PERFECT companion to the A7s (which will be moved to low light status) as  the A7II now has stellar color and IQ.

Sony is kicking ass and I have yet to use a camera this year that feels as good, looks as nice and performs like this one. No Fuji, no Olympus, No Leica, No Nikon has done it. The A7II makes the Nikon Df feel like a toy in the hand, that is how much better it feels over the A7 Mark I. I love the Nikon Df, it is the only DSLR I would own (and did for a while) but the A7II has shown that Sony still means business and they are not backing down.

An OOC JPEG from the A7II and Voigtlander 15 (The A7s is on the table)

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and another shot of the A7II

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As you can tell, I am excited about this one..more so than the LX100 and X100T I have here to review as well (though I prefer the LX100 to the X100T).

I will be posting a full review of the A7 Mark II within 2-3 weeks. I need to make sure I get some quality time with it and snap all kinds of images in all kinds of situations to see just how well it behaves when pushed. 1st impressions are all positive so far!

Just some quick notes: This does NOT have a touch screen, it does not have the silent shutter and it will not perform as well as the A7s with Leica M ultra wide angle lenses. When using manual lenses the 5 Axis works well – you can assign what focal length you are using and the camera does the rest. Easy as pie. Buttons are all customizable..Sony has come a long way since the NEX series! The A&II also has a sturdier/beefier lens mount than the previous A7!

You can order your A7II at the links below, starts shipping December 9th! My order is in ;) 

Order at Amazon – Amazon says they start shipping on the 11th of December

Order at B&H Photo – B&H says shipping starts December 9th

Steve

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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 6 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.

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

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!

Dec 022014
 

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Hasselblad Stellar Special Edition Video & Samples!

**B&H Photo has a few of these left, blowing them out at 70% off at $999**

Many of you e-mailed me asking for an update once I had the Hasselblad Stellar SE in hand. Well, mine did arrive and it is a beautiful little camera. If course we all know it is a Sony RX100 V1 in a Hasselblad disguise but the cameras high end extras, design, wooden grip and sturdier controls as well as offering Adobe Lightroom software makes it stand out from the standard (now $500) RX100 V1. Much like the Leica D-Lux is the same camera as the LX100 yet $400 more expensive. Same concept.

My quick look video is below!

It has become the “thing to do” in the photo world to trash this Hasselblad, but this was well deserved as Hasselblad went insane with the pricing out of the gate at $3500 for this SE model. I will tell you now that this camera is in no way worth $3500. So since its launch it was laughed at, trash talked and made fun of (though not as much as the LUNAR which is even more insane with pricing and has an ugly design) ONLY due to price and the fact that it is an RX100 with some new cosmetics and sturdier dials, etc.

Leica has been doing this for years with Panasonic cameras and raising the price, but they kept it in check, sticking with a $400-$600 price premium, not a $3000 price premium as Hasselblad attempted. Now that we can obtain one for $999 instead of $4000, it makes it MUCH easier to swallow and the reality is that this camera is nothing to balk at , laugh at or out down. It is a VER capable and beautiful camera.

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After snapping some images with it I was reminded how lovely the original RX100 renders an image (slightly different and more organic than the II and III) and while the III has the most nag for the buck with the pop up EVF, the Stellar SE, now that it is 70% off ($2300 OFF) it makes for a special buy. B&H Photo have sold out of one color but have a few left of the others and once they are gone they are gone for good. Other shops did not reduce the cost of this camera so stores like Amazon are still selling it for $3500-$4200. Other shops who carry this camera are sticking with the $3500- price tag which means when B&H Sells out, there could be a possible resale on eBay profit so I will buy a couple more to do just that ;)

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In the flesh the camera looks killer (IMO) and I bought the orange as for me, it sticks out and screams “what the hell is that”?!?!? The main thing I prefer over the standard version is the wooden grip, it is perfectly placed for maximum gripe and comfort.

To those who say “you are buying old tech, and it is just GAS” well..I say those who chase the latest tech are the most guilty of gas! This camera, the RX100 V1 is highly capable of gorgeous and stunning results. Just see this post here for proof of that.

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It will take gorgeous images today and in 5 years it will as well. Cameras made in trees last 2-3 years are mostly all fantastic today just as they were years ago. Look at the Nikon DF using the old D4 sensor. Amazing camera.

Differences of the Stellar SE over the standard Sony RX100?

  • Different cosmetics
  • Hasselblad name
  • Italian Leather Strap & Wrist Strap included
  • Wooden Storage/Display box Included
  • Exotic Wooden Grip
  • Metal parts and sturdier dials
  • Adobe Lightroom Included

Now 2X the cost instead of 8X the cost of the RX100 V1 ;) 

In any case, I recommend either the RX100 V1 for under $500 or this Hasselblad version of it for $999. Either would make an awesome X-Mas gift for the special photo enthusiast in your life.  Other great options are the new Panasonic LX100 or even Fuji X100T. 

PS – Oh! Before I forget...For those of you who are angry, bitter, full of negativity and hate about me posting the deal on this camera, get over it. Your negative remarks will not be approved if that is what you decide to leave. Cameras are PERSONAL CHOICE and we buy what we enjoy, like, use and cameras that can be fun, inspirational and ones that get the job done. If someone wants to buy a Leica M for $8000, so be it! If someone wants a Canon Rebel, then good for them. If someone wants a Leica D-Lux over an LX100, more power to them. If someone wants a 70% off Stellar over an RX100 then that is cool as well. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to me this camera is gorgeous. It was just insanely priced before and that is what made it the laughing stock that it was. At $999 it is a great buy, and again, one that can be resold later for more (mark my words), so nothing to lose :) I may buy 3 more just to sell later!

UPDATE Dec 3rd 2014: Some stats..over the past three days nearly 30 of these have been sold from my link to B&H Photo here. This means that 30 of you bought one after reading this. The interesting thing? Orange has been the top color with over 22 sold! White sold 5 and black sold 3. I figured most would go for the classic black but it appears many of you have the same taste as me  and went for the orange! My guess is that B&H has about 20 of each color and it started with two orange combos, one sold out. For those who asked, I will be doing a just for fun crazy compare between this camera, the X100T and the Lx100 soon! 

UPDATE Dec 5th 2014: I just re-read an article I wrote about the Stellar SE when it was announced and it is funny as I said “I would pay $1000 for one” and here we are, at $999. Priced just right. You can see that article here. 

 

You can buy the RX100 V1 HERE or the Hasselblad Stellar SE HERE. 

My 1st three snaps with the Hasselblad Stellar SE at home!

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For reference, Amazon has one listed for $4,250 as of December 2nd 2014 – $999 at BH is a great buy.

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Dec 012014
 

Cyber Monday Deals (Things I would Buy) – Sony, Cosyspeed and more!

Hey guys! It’s “Cyber Monday” and while every year stores and manufacturers try to get me to push their deals on things I would not personally ever buy, every year I do not post 95% of those deals simply because as I said…I would never buy or use these products. But sometimes there are deals that come along that I feel are special, or well worth the cost and sometimes, a downright NO BRAINER. Things I WOULD buy! Last week I posted a couple of deals..one on the Hasselblad Stellar SE at 70% off (and I ordered one myself), the deal on the Sigma DP Quattro, which is almost half off from $999 to $599. The Sigma is a unique camera and was not tempting to me at $999 but at $599 it is something that some will want for its unique IQ and capabilities for certain subjects.

Below are a few more deals on things that I feel are a great bang for the buck…

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Sony also has some AWESOME deals on the A6000 camera (which is FANTASTIC, see my review HERE)..

Sony A6000 with 16-50 Power Zoom lens – $598!

Sony A6000 Body only – $448!

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CosySpeed has a great deal on their Camslinger bags at $69 each! THIS BAG IS A STEAL FOR $69 and is one of the most useful camera carrying cases I have ever used. See my video on it HERE.

Buy the Cosyspeed Camslinger in BLACK for $69 HERE at B&H Photo. A $50 SAVINGS.

Their finger strap is something I actually prefer to a wrist strap, and it can be had for only $12.90. See it here. (Also used in the video at the above link) 

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How about a deal on the Fuji X100S?

$899 in black!

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Also, do not forget Leica has some cool discounts right now. $750 of an M 240 and $250 off of most lenses. You can buy Leica from Ken Hansen, PopFlash.com, The Pro Shop or Leica Store Miami.

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NIKON!

There is a great Nikon Df deal over at Amazon (Through ONECALL) where you can get a Nikon Df and 50 1.8 for $600 off (in black) for a total of $2396 (20% off). Check it out HERE.

Nov 262014
 

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The New Sony A7 Mark II – Pricing and Ship Dates!

**Pre-Order the A7 II at B&H Photo NOW! – $1698 – Ships December 9th**

The KIT Lens version with the 28-70 Zoom is $1998 HERE

As many of you have seen, Sony Japan announced the new A7 Mark II with a slew of improvements. I had a meeting with Sony where I heard all about the new camera last week and wow, they really did their homework. The A7 Mark II is not only going to be just a full frame mirrorless, but a powerhouse of a photographic tool. Yes, I am excited. I fell in love with the A7 series a year ago and even more so when the A7s was released (My current #1 camera). With the A7II, Sony has struck a nerve and finally added the game changing 5 Axis Image Stabilization. YES. This is good.

There are a few improvements over the old A7 and the best news is that you can PRE-ORDER the A7II (links coming today) at $1699. yep, $1699. Sony did not gouge the price of the A7II, instead they kept it the same as the older A7 and have now lowered the price of the original A7 to $1299 (as of this weekend)! A full frame mirrorless that accepts ANY lens made (just about) for $1299.

Order the original A7 here. It will be lowered to $1299 by Friday. 

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But the A7II is the one I am lusting for just due to the fact that it is now even beefier in build with a new more robust mount, better weather sealing and now 5-Axis Image Stabilization. This is the best IS you can get in a digital camera, period. Better than ANY lens, or any in body IS. This is basically what we have in the Olympus E-M1 and it is AMAZING. The best news is that this 5-AXIS will work with ANY lens, even Leica M glass, Canon or Nikon. Sweet! You will gain 4.5 stops by using 5-Axis. This seems like a polished and very capable camera. The 5-Axis IS is what set apart the Olympus E-M1 from the pack, and now Sony has it.

Sony tells me IQ of the A7 II is improved from the A7 even though the A7II is using the same sensor as the A7. Yes, it is the SAME exact 24MP sensor, but the processing has been tweaked (hopefully to match the superb A7s).

The Af is now 30% faster than the A7, video has been improved to A7s specs, and the re-design places the shutter button in a much more comfy spot as well as adding a bit more grip to hold on to.

Sony is on fire yet again and I can not wait to see what else is coming down the road from them. Rumors of a PRO A9 series is making my mouth water and I can only imagine the possibilities.

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PRE-ORDER the SONY A7II for $1699 – Shipping starts December 9th!! Just in time for X-Mas!

Order at Amazon – – – – Order at B&H Photo

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  • Higher bitrate video – 50MBPS – same as Sony A7s, which is astounding
  • Same Sensor – No changes to sensor but A7II has improved IQ due to new processing
  • Worlds first 5 – Axis IS on a full frame camera model
  • IQ improved over A7
  • ALL lenses stabilized – even Leica, Canon, Nikon, etc
  • 30% faster AF, improved tracking
  • More robust mount
  • Body redesign, new shutter placement

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PRICING of the Sony A7 Mark II:

$1699 BODY ONLY – Ships December 9th 2014!

$1999 KIT lens  – Ships December 9th 2014!

AND YES, I will be doing a full “real world” review of this new Sony A7II as soon as I can one shipped to me for review, which should be less than a week from now!

 

PRE-ORDER the SONY A7II NOW for $1699 – Shipping starts December 9th!! Just in time for X-Mas!

Order at Amazon – – – – Order at B&H Photo

Nov 202014
 

The new Sony A7II! 5-Axis IS, Faster AF and more!

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Sony Japan has unveiled the latest and greatest from Sony in the form of the A7 II (Mark II). This is a pretty major release as it now includes the amazing 5-Axis Image Stabilization (as used in Olympus bodies) and marks the very 1st full frame camera with this technology. The 5-Axis IS is jaw dropping good and now  that it is inside a Sony full frame A7 body, the possibilities are endless. THIS IS HUGE, believe me. It will make this series THAT much better.

Of course, this is only one announcement so far and I am sure Sony has much more up their sleeve..as in a super high res “pro” version and maybe something else.

The A7II has a 30% AF speed increase as well as much improved AF tracking capabilities and a 40% quicker start up rate over the original A7. Video is beefed up with the A7II as well to the A7s specs.

The A7 body is improved as well with a beefier grip and a tilted shutter release for more comfort and ease of use. Buttons and dials have improved sealing to prevent water and dust from getting inside the camera. There is also a newly designed battery grip which is also weather sealed. The camera retains the same 24 MP sensor as the A7 as well as the same Bionz processor.

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This camera was announced in Japan and so far no announcement from Sony USA. No date of release or price as of yet but if I know Sony, this means more is on the way really soon :) This is not a rumor and you can read more about it at B&H Photo HERE.

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I can’t wait to slap the Leica 50 APO on this guy!

Steve

SPECS OF THE A7II:

Lens Mount Sony E (Full Frame)
Image Sensor Exmor CMOS; 35.8 x 23.9 mm
Effective Pixels 24.3MP
Total Pixels 24.7MP
Still Image File Format JPEG, RAW
Storage Media SD/SDHC/SDXC, Memory Stick PRO Duo/PRO-HG Duo/XC-HG Duo
Card Slot 1x memory card slot
Viewfinder Type XGA OLED Tru-Finder electronic viewfinder
Viewfinder Resolution 2,359,296 dot
Frame Coverage 100%
Magnification Approx. 0.71x
Shutter Type Electronic first curtain shutter available
Shutter Speed 30 to 1/8000 sec.
Flash Sync Speed 1/250 sec
Image Stabilization 5-axis in-body image stabilization equivalent to 4.5 stops
Drive Modes Single shot, Continuous High, Continuous Low
Top Continuous Shooting Rate Up to 5 fps in continuous high; 2.5 fps in continuous low
Exposure Metering System Advanced 1200-zone evaluative metering
Metering Method Multi-metering, center-weighted, spot
Metering Range -1 – +20 EV
Exposure Modes Aperture-Priority (A), Manual (M), Programmed auto (P), Shutter-Priority Auto (S)
ISO Sensitivity ISO 100-25600 (expandable to ISO 50-51200 with multi-shot NR)
Autofocus System Fast Hybrid AF
Number of Focus Points Phase detection: 117 / contrast-detection: 25
Autofocus Sensitivity -1 – +20 EV
Built-In Flash No; Multi-Interface Shoe to accept optional external flash
Movie Recording 1920 x 1080; 60p, 60i, 24p
File Format XAVC S, AVCHD Ver. 2.0, MP4 (YCbCr 4:2:2 8-bit, RGB 8-bit)
Video Data Rate XAVC S: 50 Mbps
AVCHD: 28 Mbps (60p, PS), 24 Mbps (60i & 24p, FX), 17 Mbps (60i & 24p, FH)
MP4: 12 Mbps (1440 x 1080, 30 fps), 3 Mbps (640 x 480, 30 fps)
Audio Recording Built-in stereo microphone, optional external stereo microphone
Audio File Format XAVC S: Linear PCM, 2 channel
AVCHD: Dolby Digital AC3 2 channel
MP4: MPEG-4 AAC-LC 2 channel
Maximum Recording Time 29 min.
Monitor 3.0″ 1.228.8k-dot TFT LCD monitor
Tilting Design 107° upward; 41° downward
Interface HDMI micro (type D), multi/micro USB, Multi-interface Shoe, 3.5mm stereo microphone jack, 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
Wi-Fi Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity (IEEE 802.11b/g/n, 2.4GHz band); NFC Forum Type 3 Tag
Power Source NP-FW50 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
Battery Life With Viewfinder: 270 shots
With LCD Screen: 330 shots
Operating Environment 32-104 °F / 0-40 °C
Dimensions 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.4″ / 126.9 x 95.7 x 59.7mm
Weight 1.3lb / 599g (with battery and memory card)

 

Oct 292014
 

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SONY DIGITAL IMAGING ANNOUNCES “PRO SUPPORT” SERVICE PROGRAM FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS

SAN DIEGO, CA (Oct. 29, 2014) – Sony, a worldwide leader in digital imaging, has announced the formal launch of their “PRO Support” service program, offering premium service, repair, support, equipment loans and more to working professional photographers.

“I’m very pleased to launch our PRO Support program here in the US” said Neal Manowitz, director of the interchangeable lens camera business at Sony. “We’ve seen such a strong response to Sony cameras from working pros, and are proud to offer this versatile program to cater to their demands. It’s a premium support experience that will ensure our pros are constantly ready for business and remain up-to-date with all of our leading innovations.”

Brian Smith, Sony Artisan of Imagery, added “As a professional photographer, my Sony cameras take a beating while they hold up to the rigors of the road. Yet it’s great to know that Sony PRO Support has my back – so I can finish the job even when shooting in the harshest conditions.”

The program, already in beta, will launch on October 30th at (www.sony.com/PROServices). A formal overview of its membership benefits and requirements is below:
PRO Support Program Benefits:

• Welcome Kit
• Dedicated phone support
• Expedited turnaround time for repair service
• Repair facilitation loans
• Access to loan equipment for evaluation purposes
• Free camera maintenance services
• No out-of-pocket shipping expenses
• Discounts on out-of-warranty repairs
Membership Eligibility requirements:
• Owner of two (2) Sony Alpha Full Frame Interchangeable Lens Cameras and three (3) Sony ZEISS™ and/or G-Series Lenses
• Apply through host URL (www.sony.com/PROServices) + receive official invitation from Sony
• $100 annual membership fee
• Active professional photographer (self-employed or member of professional imaging business)

For more information on Sony’s PRO Support Service program or to formally apply, please visit (www.sony.com/PROServices).

Oct 202014
 

Which is Which? Leica Monochrome vs Sony A6000

UPDATE: #1 is the A6000 and #2 is the Monochrome! You guys got it right, (most of you)!

Have not done one of these in a while and I always get asked to do these crazy comparisons so here we go. Which is which?

ONE image was taken with a Sony A6000 and one with a Leica Monochrome. Not going to say what lenses were used with each but let’s do a fun poll to see who can guess it right.

So seeing that the Leica is an $8000 camera vs the Sony at $648 pick which one you feel is from the Leica. EXIF has been stripped. 

IMAGE 1

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IMAGE 2

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If you are unsure which is from which camera, then just take your best guess. :)

UPDATE: Sony is #1 and Leica is #2!

Oct 132014
 

My First time with Zeiss

by Toni Ahvenainen – His blog is HERE
About eight months ago I started my Sony Alpha related photography project called ‘ Year of the Alpha – 52 Weeks of Sony Alpha Photography‘. The aim of my project was to find my inspiration again for photography and gain better understanding of my own photographic eye. On top of that I decided to set up a photo blog, where I would share my images at least two images per week and hoped it would gain some interest plus convoy inspiration to other photographers like me. Right from the start I got lucky and my site had much more traffic than I ever believed would be possible. Because of this the project turned into something that has given me a lot of inspiration and energy, not only for photography, but for life in general. It is also partial reason why I am doing this story here today.

As I have already introduced my photography project here before and with greater length I won’t go anymore into details. You can find the earlier story about my project here.

Because of my photography project and the way it had drawn attention in social media circles, an unexpected opportunity came to me: Zeiss was willing to support my photography project and they would let me use two lenses from their Touit line up. If you haven’t yet become acquainted with the Touit line up before, it is the new family of Zeiss lenses which are targeted to mirrorless system cameras (Sony E-mount & Fuji X-mount). All the lenses have full autofocus capabilities and they represent a modern Zeiss design with black matte finish and more contemporary look – but most importantly they convoy the famous Zeiss optical quality for mirrorless system cameras.

So, at one Friday afternoon, after UPS delivery had brought me a parcel which I had opened with child-like enthusiasm, I had two Zeiss lenses in my hands that in real life would be very much out of my reach: Touit 2.8/12 & Touit 2.8/50M. I had of course read about the famous Zeiss from countless photography sites likes this, but never believed I would get opportunity to actually shoot with them. Like for many other photographers the most exciting lenses and their magical qualities were always something I could just see through a store display window. And while the Touit is not exactly an Otus (optically the most advanced DSLR lenses currently available, also build by Zeiss), for my photography it was a unique opportunity and something of which I consider myself to be very lucky. For return favor I would need to tell story of my experience with the Zeiss lenses.

Like any true and committed photography enthusiast, I was very interested to see how these lenses would affect my photography. What will be my first impressions? How will they fit into my shooting habits? How I will be using these lenses? What kind of optical qualities will they have and will I be able to find the famous ‘Zeiss look’, described with terms like Zeiss contrast, punchy colors and 3D-pop? In short, what will be my first time experience with Zeiss?

I will be exploring these and other questions as well for 10 weeks in my photo blog. The Zeiss lenses will accompany me with a theme called ‘Season of Touit’. With this theme I will move away from the standard focal lengths that I’ve used thorough the year so far and concentrate doing ultra wide and close-up photography which are, regarding the perception of the depth, kind of extreme ends. If you are interested, you are most welcome to follow my story through this season. Later on I will do a more complete story about my findings right here at the Steve Huff’s website where it will surely find the most friendly and kind audience one could ever hope. (Thanks for the opportunity, Steve!)

To give you some insight right now, I can already say I’m very impressed by colors and contrast the Zeiss Touit lenses convoy. At the first day, right after I had opened the parcels, I did a short photo walk and immediately noticed that the images looked a bit different from my cameras lcd. Maybe more vibrant and subtle regarding the overall look. Am I imagine things, is this just the placebo effect, I thought to myself. Even at home, looking pictures from computer screen, I felt certain anxiety because the pictures looked different and better, but felt that I didn’t have right terms to conceptualize this difference to myself. After using these lenses for about a month, I honestly feel they have trained my eyes for better understanding of how good optics will affect the contrast and colors.

I’ll show couple of examples here taken with Touit 2.8/12 & Touit 2.8/50M. Everything you see here has been post processed with my own regular methods and with a help of VSCO film pack 4. While the pictures in this state doesn’t offer a neutral starting point, if there even exist one, for detailed analysis of Zeiss look, they however represent the great results I’ve been able achieve with these lenses – and which I think are extraordinary regarding color & contrast. In future article I might also present images that will be better suitable for detailed analysis, if I find meaningful ways to do it.

Thank for reading my story and if interested you can follow it at: www.yearofthealpha.com. Also remember that within five or six weeks I’m going to do a longer story which I’m going to share right here at the Steve Huff’s website.

Toni Ahvenainen


Snap from the street – Didn’t do much of post processing with this snap, but immediately thought that nothing from my camera has looked so good before regarding colors & contrast. (Sony Nex-5N with Touit 2.8/50M — ISO100, f/6.3, 1/400sec, raw)

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The Great Divide – Touit 2.8/50M doubles as a macro lens and let’s one approach the wonders of the macro world. (Sony Nex-5N with Touit 2.8/50M — ISO250, f/10, 1/80sec, raw)

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Simple landscape – I just love how easy it to get great clarity and contrast with these Zeiss lenses. (Sony Nex-5N with Touit 2.8/12 — ISO100, f/4.5, 1/200, raw)

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Unusual church ceiling – Relatively fast wide-angle lens like Touit 2.8/12 offers certain freedom in dim lighted interiors like churches. (Sony Nex-5N with Touit 2.8/12 — ISO400, f/2.8, 1/25sec, raw)

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From Steve: Thanks Toni! If anyone would like to submit a user report or guest article, just click here for details!

Sep 152014
 

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Black & White with the Sony A7s, Leica Monochrom and Cheap lenses!

There is a beauty to B&W that is oftentimes not seen in color. Sure, there is place for color photography as our own vision is in color, this is how we see but there is something classic about B&W that just pulls at the heartstrings for many of us. When I was growing up the big thing was Polaroid cameras and instant film. Even 110 cameras and those silly disc cameras with disc film were in. There was NOTHING quite like what we have today and photography, while well-loved by so many back then, was not practiced nearly as much as it is today.

The Sony A7s with the Voigtlander 15 f/4.5. For ANY Leica Monochrome or Sony A7s shooter, his lens is a MUST own. It does well on color on the A7s as well. One of my faves. At $599 shipped, you can not go wrong for those times when you want wide-angle on your full frame. 

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With so many color filled images on Facebook and in all of the social circles I have become quite fond of pure, simple B&W photography.

Yesterday I went out to shoot some portraits of my (soon to be) stepdaughter Katie. I brought along my Monochrom, a Sony A7s and even a Mamiya 645 with Leaf Credo 40 back (have it for testing now) and the HoldFast Money Maker and Roamographer bag I just reviewed. I have to say, this Sony A7s just keeps on impressing the hell out of me. Seriously. It seems there is NOTHING it can  not do. From ultra low light to super bright light. From rich color to pleasing B&W. From using Sony FE lenses to using Leica mount lenses. It just seems to do it all, very well. I won’t even get into the video aspect, which is its main feature.

Even the 85mm f/2 Jupiter 9 that I paid $80 for is a fun lens. This is another Russian Leica screw mount lens and while it is a bit soft wide open it is well worth the cost for when you want a soft look. Sony A7s.

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For me, so far, the Sony A7s has been the best camera release of the year. Even with all of the new stuff at Photokina, so far, nothing has gotten me more than the A7s in 2014. I was shooting it yesterday with a $30 Jupiter 8 lens I picked up locally, which is a Russian Leica Screw mount 50 f/2. Yes, $30. How can ANY $30 lens be any good? Well, it may not be anything like a Leica or Zeiss 50 but it has its charms for sure.

Below is an image I shot with the A7s and Jupiter 8 lens, wide open at f/2. For $30 it can render a beautiful soft image. This was shot on the Sony A7s.

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As I mentioned earlier, I also brought along the Leica Monochrom, which for me is an instant classic. I feel Leica will release a new Monochrome in a year or two based on the M240 or whatever the next M will be. If they do, it will not be like the current monochrome due to the CCD sensor. Again, as with the M9 vs M 240, there will be fans of each model. The Monochrom has something about it that makes you just want to use it, shoot it and LOVE it. Is it worth $8,000? No. But it is a wonderful camera to own and use and it has results that can be superb, depending on the lenses you use with it.

The Leica Monochrom with Voigtlander 15 (cropped)

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The MM is simple in its design, it is an M after all. It has simple menus, basic settings, and is small yet very sturdy and solid. Many scoff at buying a camera that can only do B&W but if you love pure and true B&W imaging and have a true passion for it, there is no other alternative. For me it is like having a Leica film camera loaded with every B&W film type on the market and then some. You can dial in any look you want from Tri-X to Neopan to Delta.

The Leica MM with the Voigtlander 15 – cropped

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So how much difference is there between a file from the Sony A7s and Leica Monochrom when both are done in B&W? Well, the Monochrom will have much more fine detail for super large prints and a more subtle shift of grey tones throughout but the A7s is also very nice with B&W imaging. For the images here I used VSCO filters for ALL of the images so they will all have a similar signature and look. Without those filters the differences are more pronounced with the Monochrom giving a deeper range of grey tones to the image. But I have to hand it to the A7s. It rocks with color or B&W. Daytime or night use. But I still love my Leica MM! Also, use it with some great lenses and it will really strut its stuff.

You must click on these images to see them correctly and larger/better quality. This one is a full wide image from the MM and 15.

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For this shoot I used not only the Voigtlander and the Russian glass, I also use the Sony/Zeiss 55 1.8 which is a fantastic lens. Contrasty, sharp even when wide open and has Auto Focus so you do not have to be critical with your eyeball :) Both images below were with the A7s and 55 1.8 lens.

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So while B&W may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I love it. For me it pays homage to Photography’s past while also allowing a purity to come through. No white balance to worry about, no color shifts, no problems. Just pure. simple. photography. I would like to thanks my model, Katie Casey for her time and patience with me while I tried to manually focus those old lenses in the 100 degree heat :)

You will notice I did not include any images from the Leaf Credo/Mamiya system. I shot about 20 images with that setup yesterday and it was a BEAST. Heavy, cumbersome, large and loud.

 With that said, here is one from the Leaf setup though the shadow of my head ruined the shot:

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and again, the similar shot with the A7s and $30 Jupiter lens which shows the soft Jupiter signature:

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You can read my full Sony A7s review HERE or buy one HERE at Amazon or at B&H Photo HERE.

You can read my full four-part Leica MM review HERE, see my gallery HERE or buy one at Ken Hansen ([email protected]), PopFlash.com, Leica Store Miami or Pro Shop. Also at B&H Photo or Amazon.

Sep 152014
 

Photokina! New mirrorless releases from Canon, Panasonic, Olympus, and more!

Photokina is upon us and today there were loads of cameras and lenses announced today from many of the usual suspects. It seems that Canon and Panasonic are jumping on the Sony RX100 bandwagon but Panasonic did it right by making an RX100 style camera but with a full on 4/3 sensor inside which means this guy will deliver the best quality in a compact camera! So far it is my favorite Photokina release (but that silver E-M1 is gorgeous, making it my #2 fave) but there is more to come. Let’s take a look at the cool stuff being announced today!

PANASONIC

The LX100 Compact powerhouse!

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The LX100 that has been rumored forever is now official. The 1st of the so called RX100 clones (even keeping the 100 name) this one is quite nice and will present a challenge to the Sony pocket cam. Basically this little guy has a Leica/Panasonic 24-70 equivalent f 1.7-2.8 lens, 4K video, solid build, great looks, a built-in EVF and wonderful ergonomics and control. It is easy to see that this one will be popular without question.

Coming in at $899 you can pre-order it at B&H Photo HERE.  

I see this as a direct hit to the RX100III but with a larger sensor and LARGER body as well of course.  Wi-Fi, NFC and manual control rings round off this polished looking offering from Panasonic.

Amazon is also taking pre-orders for the LX100.

Even though the LX100 is priced at $899, which may be a little bit high, it is priced appropriately to the RX100III due to the larger sensor. As you can see in the image below of the camera, it is larger than a Sony RX100 but it is still rather compact. This will deliver 4/3 quality in a solid, modern, stylish and usable lens range camera. It has it most of what everyone needs and I see it as a perfect take anywhere, vacation, kids and everyday life camera. With 4K video there is not much this guy can not do (besides long telephoto of course).  An instant winner here IMO and even has ISO up to 25k!

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The Panasonic GM5

Panasonic also released the GM5, a super compact micro 4/3 camera much like the old GM1. From B&H Photo: It features a similar magnesium-alloy body as the GM1, but replaces the pop-up flash with a 1,166k-dot electronic viewfinder, as well as a hot-shoe mount, creating a more full-featured camera system. The GM5 also features a 16-megapixel Digital Live MOS sensor and Venus Engine image processor to produce detailed still images and a heighted sensitivity up to ISO 25600. It is also capable of recording Full HD video at 60 fps.

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The GM5 is a TINY, attractive and useful powerhouse as it is pocketable but also will take any micro 4/3 lens available. If you want SMALL and a TRUE “Micro” 4/3 then be on the lookout for the GM5.

You can pre-order it at B&H Photo for $899 with a 12-32 (24-68) kit lens.

This guy with the 20 1.7 II would make for a great compact camera that would provide beautiful IQ and video.

Amazon also is taking pre-orders for the GM5.

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CANON

The 7D MARK II AND G7X has arrived.

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Canon has released a new 7D Mark II which for me is a YAWN. The 7D is fantastic but as you guys know I am not a DSLR guy. I could fake it and act like I am just to make affiliate sales but hey, I have to be honest. After using cameras such as all of the mirrorless option these days, DSLR’s have become un-necessary. I have done pro work with my Leica’s, with my Sony A7s and with my E-M1 and never did I wish for a DSLR. So yes, Canon released the 7DII but I am going to talk about the G7X which is yet ANOTHER camera from Canon that is 3 years behind the times. It seems that Canon just can not be innovative in the small pocket cam or mirrorless area. They want to keep their DSLR sales strong so they are afraid to release anything revolutionary (like Sony is doing many times per year). Instead they copy others and release little flops like the EOS M. This time it is an RX100 copy in the form of a G7X.

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The G7X comes in at $699 but has a 1″ sensor like the Sony RX100 and Nikon 1 series cameras. Already the Panasonic above beats the Canon for sensor size. The lens has more reach at 24-100 but does not have the “Leica” name attached to it. No 4K video but it does have 1080 video on board. No EVF. BASICALLY IT IS a Sony RX100 in disguise as a Canon. Not really, but for me, nothing exciting. I would pay the $200 more and buy the Panasonic in a NANO second over the Canon.

You can pre-order the Canon G7X here at B&H Photo if you just love Canon :) 

Amazon is also taking pre-orders for the G7X HERE.

OLYMPUS

The new Silver E-M1

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Olympus did not create a new E-M2 powerhouse (and frankly, I am glad they didn’t as the E-M1 is still a massive powerhouse of a camera that is capable of APS-C quality) but they did upgrade the E-M1 firmware with new features as well as release a pimped out version in Silver and black. Many have been asking why they did not originally create the E-M1 in silver like they did with the E-M5 and now Olympus has created it! I have to say, it looks mighty sharp in silver! I am a huge fan of the E-m1 and if for some reason you missed my old review of it you can see it here. 

The new firmware is pre-loaded onto the Silver E-M1 so right out of the box you get all of the new benefits and features. For those who already own an E-M1 there will be a firmware download so you too can benefit from the new features. So what are the new features?

“Features for improved performance include improved EVF display time lag. The display time lag has been reduced to 16 msec when the frame rate has been set to high-speed. New Photo Story themes “Zoom In/Out” and “Layout” have been added. The addition of a hold function has also made it possible to temporarily save a photo story while shooting, and complete it, later. Live Guide makes it possible to layer on multiple effects simultaneously*. Remote shooting features in the OI.Share™ App have been further advanced, with the addition of a self-timer sequential and interval shooting, allowing for rich variations in movement and expression. A new Scene Mode “Panning” allows you to set the optimal shutter speed automatically to match the movements of an object. “Shade” Art Effect inserts bands of shading on the left and right side of the image (or top and bottom) for a sense of wideness. A new Movie Effect “Old Film” turns your videos into flickering images with noise, scratches and dust, for the vintage look of old movies shot on film.”

em1silver2Firmware Upgrade Availability
Firmware Version 2.0 is pre-installed on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 silver model. Existing OM-D E-M1 camera owners can also enjoy the features of this new firmware by upgrading their camera using Olympus Viewer software.

U.S. Pricing and Availability
The OM-D E-M1 in Silver will be available in September 2014.
Estimated Street Price: $1,399.99

You can pre-order the Silver E-M1 at B&H Photo HERE

Also at Amazon HERE. This one ships THIS month! PopFlash.com also will have the new silver E-M1! 

The new 40-150 Pro f/2.8 Lens

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Olympus has also finally released the new 40-150 Pro Zoom! This long-awaited zoom lens has been in the works for a long time now and will round out the systems pro zoom category which also includes the new 7-14 f/2.8. The 12-40 is already known to be an amazing zoom lens and now the 40-150 will give you some reach, at the expense of size and $$$. IT IS NOT CHEAP AT $1,499.00 but those who know the quality of Olympus pro glass will know that this is well worth it. For those telephoto shooters out there who own a Micro 4/3 camera, it will not get any better than this. YES this is a 40-150 f/2.8 zoom, bringing you a 80-300 equivalent! NOW THIS is an amazing lens!

You can pre-order the 40-150 f/2.8 pro zoom lens at B&H Photo HERE 

PopFlash.com is also an Olympus dealer, and a site sponsor!

SONY

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Sony has announced today the new wide angle FE mount (full frame E mount) 16-35 f/4 OSS lens, something many have been waiting for. This one will fill your wide angle needs for the A7 system and comes in at $1349.

You can pre-order it at B&H Photo HERE.

Amazon is also taking pre-orders HERE!

Wide-range zoom lens designed for full-frame FE-mount cameras

Constant f/4 maximum aperture enables greater consistency throughout the zoom range and benefits working in dim conditions

Features a circular that, through the use of curved blades, keeps the aperture almost perfectly circular from its wide-open setting to when it is closed for smoother, more natural defocusing highlights

Optical SteadyShot image stabilization works to minimize the appearance of camera shake by up to four shutter speed steps to benefit shooting handheld in dim lighting

Five aspherical elements, including one AA (advanced aspherical) element, and three ED elements helps to reduce chromatic aberrations throughout the zoom range while also maintaining a compact form-factor

Carl Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating enhances contrast, clarity, and color reproduction by countering the effects of lens flare and ghosting

Only the middle groups of the optical system move to achieve focus, so the overall length of the lens does not change when focusing. Also, the filter thread at the front of the lens does not rotate, which is convenient when using a polarizing filter

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So there are my fave releases today. For me Canon was the biggest disappointment. They have the funds and ability to create something extraordinary but they never ever seem to do it. They are happy sticking to their DSLR model. Same with Nikon. Nothing exciting at all from them besides the D750 DSLR. No real innovation from the two “Big Guns”. Sony has been constantly releasing new exciting products, Olympus has been keeping the momentum going with amazing lenses and Leica, well, they have yet to make their full announcements but I think we will hear from them by tomorrow.

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SAMSUNG

oops, I almost forgot the NX1

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Samsung has announced the NX1, their flagship mirrorless coming in at A WHOPPING $2799 with kit lens but that one leaves me scratching my head. The price is out there IMO. I will say that the ‘kit” lens seems more like a pro lens with a 16-50 range and a variable aperture starting out at f/2 and going to f/2.8. Still, $2799 for the set is a bit much I think. It looks like a DSLR, the lens is huge and for the money I would take the fantastic Canon 6D with a 24-105 for the full frame performance. I reviewed the 6D and loved the IQ and usability, just hated the weight with those big L lenses, but the quality is stunning. I am finding it hard to see how Samsung can sell this for $2799 with lens. Seems overpriced to me. It may be a stellar camera but not sure how many will plunk down that kind of cash to SWITCH systems. I think only some the current Samsung base will go for it.

Amazon is also taking pre-orders HERE.

Sep 112014
 

The most Interesting Pre-Photokina Releases so far…to me.

With only a few days to go until Photokina kicks off we have already had some pre announcements from Fuji, Sony, Olympus and others. Nothing MAJOR and nothing WOW but I feel these big announcements will come VERY soon ;) They better! So far we have the below announcements that are somewhat interesting, but nothing ground breaking.

FUJI

As I reported the other day, Fuji has announced the X100T, the new 56 1.2, new X-T1 color/finish and even the X30. The X100T is an ongoing evolution of the X100 series camera and for me, the best Fuji has announced yet (more to come i am sure). Me, call me nuts but I prefer the original X100 even today over the X100s. After using both side by side I feel the sensor in the original is a bit more organic and dare I say..more Leica like? The X100T uses the same sensor as the X100s, which is also a fabulous camera that many swear by (my review is here). The X100 series for me is where it is at for Fuji. While I like the X-T1 a lot, the simplicity and classic lines of the X100 is what gets my blood pumping to shoot. For me, it is about simplicity. Period. Simple, clean, easy to use and shoot, fixed 35 f.2. What more can you ask for besides a full frame sensor? (See Sony RX1 for that). The X100T is available for $1299. Priced right for a super camera system.

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The new X30 is also an evolution of the X10, X20 and appears to be a super little camera as well. New EVF, new told LCD, new Classic Chrome simulation and new Large capacity battery that will give you a powerhouse 470 shots makes it sound like the little X30 may be the bang for the buck in the Fuji lineup. It looks sweet as well, the best X10 type camera to date in the design department I think. The cost is also right at $599. 

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You can pre-order all of the new Fuji from my list of recommended Fuji dealers: B&H Photo, PopFlash.com, or Amazon.

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OLYMPUS

Olympus has some new goodies on the way as well…a few that I can not mention just yet but so far they have announced a minor release or two. For example, one is the all black 12mm f/2. The 12 f/2 has long been one of my fave Olympus lenses but to date they have only released it in Silver and a black limited edition that had some extras but also was extra in the $$ department. Olympus has now released the black for normal production so you can get one for $799. This lens is so good on a Olympus body and has given me some fantastic shots. But the lens is nothing exciting if you are looking for something new and fresh. Let’s wait and see what the official Olympus releases will be as compared to the rumor sites :)

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SONY

Sony has announced a new QX camera, the QX1 which is actually an E-Mount in the size and shape of a lens. Basically it helps to turn your iPhone into a high-end APS-C camera. You can use it as is or with your phone. Me, I was never a fan of these oddball cameras. Many love them but for me, if I am going to have something like this, I think I would just use my phone as it is. I love what Sony is doing with the A and RX series but am not sold on the QX yet. Maybe once I give it a try I will enjoy it :) Coming it at $398 you will also need to add an E-Mount lens to this QX1. It is rumored that Sony will be saving its big WOW announcements for 2-4 months AFTER Photokina. Is there truth to this? NO idea but if so it seems odd as they would miss the Christmas season with those big releases. The last two years were huge for the Sony A7 and RX1 with huge holiday sales at launch. I am anxious to see the rumored new RX2 ;)

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ZEISS

As I posted about last week, Zeiss has announced two new full frame manual lenses for the Sony E-Mount system. The Loxia 35 and 50 f/2 will be superb I think and give Sony A7 users more choices when it comes to a high quality fast prime lens, and Zeiss is a name that means quality. I use Zeiss ZM with my Leica’s and love them. Zeiss also announced the 85mm OTUS which has already been tested by DXO and they claim it is the best portrait lens ever made. Coming in at $4,490 IT IS NOT cheap! But damn, it will venice. The Nikon mount can be converted to use on Leica or Sony cameras.  Zeiss rocks for sure but be prepared to pay for the Otus if you want the best!

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What is to come?

I feel that this Photokina will not be as ground breaking as previous years. I see Fuji bringing out the X-Pro 2, which is just about due for a full on refresh new EVF, sensor, etc. I also see Sony releasing new FE lenses for the A7 series, as that is what is needed for the A7 cameras! More fast primes IMO! Olympus will be releasing new lenses I am sure..maybe some pro zooms that are expected and possibly a new prime or two. Panasonic I feel will not be doing anything huge this year and Leica, well, I think they will be releasing something really cool, really expensive and really limited edition. I also feel some new T lenses will be shown as well. The new 28 Summilux will also be announced but I expect it to come it at around $7k. Also, MAYBE a new X camera and D-Lux? Maybe. I think Sony has some big guns that will be special on the way but not sure when they will make them official. Pentax, Nikon, Canon, Samsung…I have not heard anything major going in with any of them though Samsung may have something really interesting coming in a few days.

I guess we will find out VERY soon, so I am looking forward to seeing what actually is announced!

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