Jul 142014
 

My favorite cameras for usability, ability and versatility mid 2014

By Steve Huff

Wow. It is already mid 2014. Half of this year has whizzed by faster than ever and as always we have a ton of cameras that we can choose from when it comes to photography. If we want something small that packs a punch, we have that. If we want something for low light, we have that as well. If we want something that is a joy to shoot, hold and use, well, we also have that. Do we have it all in one single camera yet? Well, not really.

There are always new camera seeing released though maybe not as many as the years past. DSLR production, as in new models, has seemed to slow down some from the constant barrage of new models that we used to see. Well, at least it seems like it. Even mirrorless offerings seem to be lasting a little longer between releases these days, and this is GOOD as we are at the point now where almost any camera will give us better results than most of us even need.

So far in 2014 we have had some cool releases and there are still fantastic cameras that were released in the past that are still perfectly usable. The question you need to ask yourself when deciding on a new camera is “What will I be shooting with it”, also “Do I value usability more than overall versatility”? “Will I be shooting mostly low light or in good light”? “Does it need to fit in my pocket”?

Once you decide what it is you want to use the camera for, be it portraits, your kids, vacations, or just an everyday shooter then you need to decide if you want simplicity in a fixed lens model or something that will allow you to choose and change lenses. The choice is yours as there is something out there to fit your needs, and I am going to talk about the cameras I like as of July 2014 with the reasons WHY I really like, if not love them.

My fave cameras made for Versatility

EM1

Micro 4/3, Olympus E-M and E-P series

My favorite camera for ALL OUT versatility as of today is still the Olympus E-M1 or even E-P5. These cameras are beautifully made with a solid feel and gorgeous looks (in the case of the E-P5). They have some of the best lenses made for any system next to Leica from fisheye to telephoto and everything in between including some super fast primes like the Nocticron f/1.2 that is one of the best lenses I have ever used. With Micro 4/3 you have speed, you have the lenses, you have the build, you have the amazing 5-AXIS Image Stabilization and you have a smaller size. The lenses are so good, and not so astronomically priced. The color reproduction is beautiful and the B&W is not too shabby either. A camera like the E-M1 has it all and the only real weakness of this camera is that the sensor is smaller than full frame and smaller than APS-C. For this reason you lose out on some shallow depth of field and the images will be a bit more noisy at high ISO than full frame cameras.

Even so, if you shoot mostly in good light and want one hell of a system with unlimited lens choice and an all around great experience with pro image quality results, the E-M1 is still a gorgeous camera. The E-M10 and E-M5 are as well. I reviewed them all and you can read my reviews of these models HERE, HERE and HERE. Yes, you can indeed get DSLR quality and beyond with these models.

You can buy the E-M1 at Amazon or B&H Photo.

Three from Micro 4/3 – Super versatile cameras that do it all. 

cafeg

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

My fave camera for Point & Shoot, Vacation and SMALL SIZE!

Sony takes it here for me with the new advanced pocket rocket, the RX100 III. 

IMG_392229

The new Sony RX100 III is a hell of a camera in almost every way. It is small, made very well, has a pop up EVF, tilt LCD and stellar IQ for a small pocket camera. It’s a handsome camera as well and gives us an f/1.8 to f/2.8 lens from 24-70 (ff equiv). What is not to like? The color is great. the files are nice and I have seen some do amazing work with the RX100 version 1 and now Version III improves on that model in every way. This is, hands down, the best pocket camera I have ever seen or used, ever. Video is good as well. It does it all but will not give you the all out versatility or IQ of something like a Micro 4/3 or full frame model. For what it is though, it is the perfect camera for every day shooting, vacation, kids, family, events, etc. Whoever buys an RX100 III will not be disappointed. It is the real deal. I have been able to use one for a but thanks to B&H Photo but have not had serious time yet with it. Will be doing that this week. You can buy the RX100 III at B&H Photo or Amazon.

DSC01824

DSC01876

 

My Fave camera for Usability

Without Question, the Leica M reigns supreme here

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Leica M, any of them from film to the M 240 or Monochrom take this one for me in a huge way. These cameras are ones that you cherish and create an emotional bond with. For those who think that is nonsense, then you have never had that bond with a camera, and yes, it is real. The Leica M is a masterpiece of design, build, and usability. All manual focus using a rangefinder it is a very precision tool that actually can teach you a think or two about photography, framing and exposure. It is a tool one can use for a lifetime if you choose a film model, as they last forever. While the price is off-putting to many, think about it in a new way. This is a camera that will give you the most enjoyment from any camera ever..well, it has for me and not everyone is the same. From the moment you take it from its box all of your regrets of the money spent fade away.

The Leica M6, M7, MP, M8, M9, M240 and Mono will give you that Leica experience that no other camera will give you. As for IQ, others can meet or exceed the Leica in that area but nothing can beat it for usability or for creating that emotional connection. You can buy a Leica from many places these days but my faves have always been Ken Hansen, PopFlash.com, The Pro Shop and Leica Store Miami. These guys will treat you right.

Three from the Leica M 240

redL1001211

L1001185

debby1

My favorite camera for general every day and low light use

The Sony A7s wins this one easily. 

fronta7s

You guys know how much I adore the Sony A7s and while it is not the most versatile (only due to lack of native lenses when compared to others such as Micro 4/3) camera it is indeed quite powerful. There is no low light situation that this camera can not tackle, period. When used with the 50 0.95 Mitakon I can see in the dark and when used with the native Sony lenses such as the 35 2.8 or 55 1.8 the camera will even AF in the dark. Amazing. The A7 also has better color performance than the A7 and A7r , better AWB, faster AF and better M mount lens compatibility. You can read my review here to see what it is all about but I now have one of these bad boys with a few lenses and love it to pieces. As I said in the review, the A7s is probably puns for pound, dollar for dollar my favorite camera that I have ever reviewed.

Low light shooters, this is a must try or own. The camera also is excellent in daytime shots and video. If more native lenses were around it would be unbeatable for me as of July 2014.

You can buy the A7s at Amazon or B&H Photo.

Three from the A7s, 1st one using the Voigtlander 35 1.2 wide open and a 100% OOC JPEG. 2nd one is from the Mitakon 50 0.95 and third and fourth is from the Zeiss 50 Sonnar 1.5. 

3512debby

DSC00128

DSC02072

DSC02063

Runner Ups

The Fuji X-T1 and Leica T are also very cool and very capable cameras. The Leica is different than other cameras in its interface and joy of use. It is a Leica and gives you the Leica style of IQ and pride of ownership. The Fuji is still a lightweight in the build but for Fuji fans, this is the best of the lot when it comes to Fuji interchangeable lens bodies.

Of course these are not the only cameras I like, but they are my faves as of July 2014. The Sony, the Leica, the Olympus..all superb in so many ways and unlikely  to leave anyone disappointed as long as you use them with good glass. The key is to get out and use them (for me it has been tough since it has been 110-112 every day and me and extreme oven like heat do not jive well for more than 5-10 minutes) and have fun using what you do own. The key is you more than anything, not the gear..though I admit..it is very fun to test and try new cameras!

Jul 112014
 

J.B. Camera Designs wooden grip for the Sony RX100 III

61owP6cuZIL._SL1500_

You are either going to really dig this or really hate it. Me, I think it is pretty damn sweet as it is different, and for me, different is always good. Amazon has a few left in stock (prime eligible) of this very cool and very affordable wooden grip designed by J.B. Camera Designs. I love J.B. stuff and this one is no exception. For the RX100 series the one thing that most people complain about is the grip, or lack of a grip. You can buy a cool half case like this one from Gariz, or you can just add a grip. Richard Franiec sells a black grip similar to the wooden one above (but it is not wood) and many love that one (as I did on the original RX100) as it is basic, simple and black so it blens in with the camera body and looks like it was built that way.

So you have options and this is just one of them.

71kH2gf0JQL._SL1500_

But if you want something cool, something unique and something that is an eye catcher and possibly a conversation starter, give the J.B. Wooden grip a try. At under $25, it will not break the bank and it will add some originality to your little powerhouse camera.

BTW, the RX100 III is one hell of a camera. Sony is going strong my friends, making all kinds of good decisions and the year is not over yet!

If you want to check out the J.B. Wooden Grip, you can see it or order it HERE on Amazon. 

Jul 092014
 

USER REPORT: The Sony RX100 III, a very quick first look

by Rob McKay

Hey Steve,

Picked up the Sony RX100 III (At B&H or Amazon) for my pocket/travel/biking digi rig and love it!

I mainly shoot Leica, and especially love shooting film through my MP and M3 but still need a small digi for quick docu shots and instant chimping satisfaction. My fav pocket digi has to be the Ricoh GR, but the smaller RX100 with its 21mm f/1.8 to 70mm f/2.8 zoom lens can be a bonus and a great range (for me). Unlike the 4/3rd or NEX setups that need the lenses to be taking off (zooms) before truly making them compact/pocketable, the RX100 III is almost flat when turned off.

IMG_392228

First impressions, love it, but time will tell.. Attached a few snaps of the bike trails I recently used the camera on.

Great site and keep up the great work!

Rob McKay

https://www.flickr.com/photos/caughtintheair/
http://bokehenstein.com

Click images for larger and better viewing

DSC00530

DSC00579

DSC00538

DSC00597

DSC00659

Jun 182014
 

titlelimits

The Sony A7s: 1st Look…Testing the limits.

Hello to all! Just to let you all know I received the Sony A7s just today, just about 9 hours ago. In the past few hours I have taken it out and tested it for the one thing that it is claimed to be so good at which is LOW LIGHT and high ISO. I also shot some normal ISO images as well. Armed with the Sony Zeiss 35 2.8, the Sony Zeiss 55 1.8 and the Mighty Mitakon 50 0.95 I gave the A7s a workout with some intensely low light scenarios..even one that needed iso 102,400 with f/0.95. YES, that dark. How about that for a torture test? I mean, if you need ISO 102,400 with an f/0.95 lens then you KNOW it is DARK.

The A7s is a beauty of a camera for many reasons. One of them is that the sensor is a fat full frame with only 12MP. This means the file sizes are small and the low light capability is better. The pixels are nice and fat and this is how I prefer it. I have always preferred UNDER 20MP for my full frame sensors but it seems that most are trying to push the limits of MP on a sensor. Sony decided to make an A7 series camera that will be amazing for video, photo, low light and good light all while allowing for file sizes that will not require a mega computer to process. The shutter is also more damped it seems (not sure if it is or just my imagination but the shutter seems a bit quieter and gentler than the A7 and A7r). There is also the new SILENT mode which means you can use the A7s in complete silence. No beeps, no shutter sound..nada. Silent. That is the beauty of mirrorless.

fronta7s

The camera feels great (same as the A7 and A7r) and again, not sure if it was my imagination but the AF seemed quicker as well to me. I was able to shoot in near darkness, using AF (with AF assist OFF) and the camera would AF. I had no issues with speed or accuracy.

So far so good but take this for what it is. My 1st 8 hours with a Sony A7s. I will be shooting it much more over the next week for a full review that will come within 2 weeks. For now, enjoy the 1st snaps from my 1st day with the camera. For me, it is the most desirable A7 already due to the low light capabilities, the silent mode and the lower pixel count. It truly is the KING OF THE NIGHT TIME WORLD.

You can pre-order the Sony A7s at Amazon HERE or B&H Photo HERE.

Click HERE to see the 1st test with the Voigtlander 15 Heliar and click HERE to see a comparison with the Leica M 240.

The following images are all JPEG. What you see is what you get. ISO ranges from 100-102,400. Click images for larger view. Review within 2 weeks! These are just the 1st snaps I shot in the 8 hours I have had the camera, to wet your appetite. 

-

1st shot, ISO 6,400 indoors. Sony 55 1.8 – click for larger

6400

-

ISO 320 from this afternoon with the 55 1.8

DSC00025

-

ISO 100 – 55 1.8

DSC00039

-

55 1.8 at ISO 100 – f/2

DSC00052

-

VIVID mode, 55 1.8

DSC00056

-

ISO 100 – 55 1.8 at f/2

DSC00059

-

ISO 100, f/3.5 with the 55 1.8

DSC00081

-

55 1.8 – ISO 100

DSC00101

-

ISO 8000 – 55 1.8

DSC00115

-

ISO 400 – 55 1.8 at f/2

DSC00118

-

Mitakon 50 0.95 wide open at ISO 5000

DSC00128

-

ISO 32,000 with the 55 1.8

DSC00140

-

ISO 102,400 at f/0.95 with the Mitakon..insane!

102000

-

ISO 125

DSC00237

-

ISO 125

DSC00239

-

ISO 64,000!

64000iso

ISO 1600 – Mitakon 0.95

DSC00305

-

ISO 1600 – 35 2.8

DSC00335

-

FULL SIZE DIRECT FROM CAMERA – ISO 3200 – 55 1.8

iso3200bl

-

NEXT THREE – ISO 25,600  - 50 0.95 Mitakon

DSC00648

DSC00661

DSC00662

-

and ISO 32,000

iso32000

-

ISO 80,000 – 55 1.8 NR OFF

iso80000

-

Mitakon FLARE – 102.400 ISO, 0.95

mitakonflare

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!

Jun 152014
 

The Sony A7s and Silent Shutter mode!

I just might have the Sony A7s THIS WEEK but check out this video showing the Silent Shutter mode. The #1 complaint of the A7 series, the loud shutter, seems to have been remedied in the new insanely low light capable Sony A7s. Take a look at the video below:


The focus confirm beep should be able to be turned off for a fully silent mode, so this is pretty cool. I should have the A7s any day now for review, hoping to get it before my big road trip. If I get it this week I will do a first look video the day I get it. You can pre-order the A7s at Amazon or B&H Photo. 

Jun 132014
 

titlealan

(From Steve: So I received this email the other day from Allan and really enjoyed the article and the photos. Allan has submitted a daily inspiration before that you can see HERE but this post really struck a chord with me as I get this question constantly! “What camera should I buy”. I was asked about 18 times last week and 11 out of those 18 times I said “Sony RX100″, and there are many reasons for this. First, price. At $500 it is a GREAT buy. Second, it is very versatile and does so much so right. THIRD, it shoots decent video. It fits in your pocket, looks nice, feels nice and does good even in lower light. For most who are looking for an every day camera..those who are not complete photo nerds and enthusiasts and those who want a great all around family or vacation or even semi serious camera, the RX100 is fantastic. Yes, the RX100 III is out any day now and you get even more but it also comes in at $300 more. Then you have the Stellar, which is a pimped out RX100 V1 for $2k. ;) Any way you slice it, the RX100 is a great little camera and Allan’s shots below are some of my fave I have seen from this camera. Enjoy his article and be sure to visit his blog HERE or his Flickr HERE to see more from him!)

—–

What camera should I buy? Why, the RX100 of course!

by Allan Mcleod Roney – His website is HERE

A question I receive regularly, and one I always give a dishonest answer to.

It’s not that it’s my intention to obfuscate. It’s just that the right answer is invariably the one the requestor doesn’t want to hear. A good example of this was one of the more recent “what camera should I buy” questions I received.

“Hi Al, I love your Flickr (always a good start), and I was wondering, should I get a Nikon DXXX or a Canon XXXD?”

“Well, what are you wanting to do with the new camera?”

“I’m wanting to shoot pictures of my pals on holiday, maybe take it hillwalking etc. And if I like that, maybe teach myself photography”

So usually at this point, I will go into my usual spiel about “well, you know, these cameras are ‘much of a muchness’, it’s really based on preferences”. Those preferences usually relate to functionalities of the type a novice really won’t understand. Essentially, they’re the same. This time, I thought I’d try giving them my honest answer;

“You know, there’s another option. Buy yourself a quality compact. Not one of those ‘useless after a hot day’ compacts, but one of the top quality ‘premium’ compacts”

“yeah, but I want a DSLR”

I could regale you of a myriad of people who have taken my advice to buy a Nikon or Canon DSLR, who subsequently had a honeymoon period with said camera, then left it on a shelf to gather dust. The problem is that DSLR’s are big cameras. They’re not made to keep on your person. They only tend to be taken anywhere when your primary motive is to take photos, and given that most times we leave the house is for reasons other than photography, it gets left on the shelf.

I suggest a compact for a very simple reason – it will go most places with you. You don’t need a reason to take it. You just stick it in a bag or pocket, and it’s there with you wherever you go. Of course there’s a natural counter argument that is “I have an 8MP phone”. Yes, you do. But it doesn’t have an optical zoom, it doesn’t quite have the picture quality if you’re ‘thinking of taking it seriously’, and you can’t take photos in less than ideal light.

So for the price of a cheap DSLR kit, you can get yourself a quality compact. My favourite (and most used) camera is my wee compact, a Sony RX100 (now available for about £300 or $500 US) – I’ve added photos below taken with this camera where I wouldn’t have got the shot if I had a DSLR – it simply would not have been on me at the time. You’ll take on your holidays, you’ll take it on your hill walks and if you’re serious about taking photos as a hobby, you’ll concentrate on the basics of light & composition with a camera that will serve you better that a DSLR will. And that’s my honest advice.

As always, click-through for larger pictures:

8054735750_e013622cc3_o

8097538970_9f811068d4_o

8155680655_2025636c18_o

8259678048_7feedbd791_o

8606839365_1f39cf2af5_o

9166847089_2faf60f704_o

9307751018_a2a4178773_o

9313687676_556f0cfeaf_o

9336186060_9dad01c45d_h

9357430484_aac836f078_h

9519764700_51cacdb97d_h

11057104025_8e16dc1632_o

11470915013_9ab10fee16_h

11502867355_b67667ce7a_h

12415554973_6ee5eb0550_h

12443276635_043530b62b_h

12629186544_d67a021f50_h

13111702374_f946f89eca_h

Jun 022014
 

Zeiss Touit Deals BACK IN STOCK NOW! ACT FAST!

 

See the bundle deal for Sony - The Zeiss 12mm and 32 1.8 for $919!

See the bundle deal for Fuji - The Zeiss 12 and 32 1.8 for $919!

BACK IN STOCK NOW BUT WILL GO FAST!!! 

Both of these lenses are superb and are a steal of a deal at $919 for the set. Deals like this one rarely come around, so if you have been wanting a sweet lens for your Sony or Fuji X, these are both fantastic. But do not wait too long…

The Zeiss 32 1.8 on the Sony A6000 is one hell of a lens (my review here). B&H also has the 12mm Zeiss at a special price as well. Details and direct links below on these new in box lenses!

Click here to see all of the Zeiss Touit Deals at B&H Photo NOW!

970840

B&H PHOTO IS also advertising this INSANE deal of the two tout lenses, the 32 1.8 and 12 2.8 for Sony or Fuji for $919 TOTAL. That is $800 off the normal price. 

See the bundle deal for Sony

See the bundle deal for Fuji

IN STOCK NOW!

May 272014
 

 L1000985

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. 

katiecolor

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.

L1000983

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. 

DSC00791

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:

P1030668

DSC00029

DSC00454

DSC0004l

DSC00199

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. 

DSC00370

DSC00386

DSC00356

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.

L1000975

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!

DSC00790

DSC00773

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. 

DSC00797

DSC00730s

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

picture

-

The Crops

iso1600crop

iso3200

iso6400

iso12800

iso25600

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. 

a6000moachines

leicamachines

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.

DSC00435

DSC00698

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. 

DSC00699

-

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

DSC00714

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.

DSC00787

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 PhotoAll 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!

-

katiebw

katiebw2

DSC00830

DSC00822

DSC00747

DSC00703

DSC00294

 

May 182014
 

The new Sony RX100III may be the hit of the year!

The new Sony RX100III was announced a couple of days ago and it looks like the best of the series to date, by far. The original RX100 was a killer camera that offered best in class IQ and speed and performance for a great price. The RX100 was a special camera, unlike any other at the time. The only issue with it was that there was not an EVF or viewfinder. The RX100II changed this by allowing the use of the Sony external EVF. They also added a backlit sensor for increased performance. Overall though, it was more of a refresh (which I am not a fan of) than a full-blown new camera.

IMG_392229

So now the RX100III is announced and it appears to be a stunner. What is super cool about this one is that Sony has added a POP UP EVF! Press a button and have an instant EVF of you want it. If you do not want it, keep it embedded in the body and used the LCD. Genius. They also kept the built-in flash that also hides in the camera when not in use. They also added a type of 3 Axis IS.

The camera looks the same, is still tiny and pocketable and has a Zeiss lens that will give you an f/1.8-2.8 aperture (a true 1.8 to 2.8 for light gathering) while zooming from 24-70 in 35mm equivalent terms. The sensor is a backlit 20.1 MP 1″ sized monster capable of ISO 12,800. It is said to have much better noise reduction techniques as well over the RX100II and I. The camera also has the Bionz X processor for fast operation and fast AF. The camera also has a built-in ND filter for those times you want to shoot in full sun while keeping the aperture wide open.

IMG_392241 IMG_392242The RX100 was a HUGE hit for Sony. A massive seller. The RX100II was a big hit, but not as huge as the RX100 I. The new RX100III may be the runaway hit of the summer for its small size, fast performance, stellar IQ and cool features. For me, having that pop up EVF nails it. With the RX100 II you needed the $500 external which made the cost of a nice RX100II system well over $1200! The new RX100III is $798 and if it performs as well as the other two will be well worth it. With that said, I have yet to handle one so I hope it does indeed live up to the reputation of the previous two RX100 offerings. But this one is all about take anywhere, front pocket, and quality. I will be reviewing this one, so stay tuned.

You can pre-order the RX100III at B&H Photo HERE or Amazon HERE. Price is $798.

 IMG_392238 1049537

Details:

20.1MP 1″ Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor and BIONZ X Image Processor

The large 20.1 megapixel 1″ Exmor R CMOS sensor features backside-illuminated technology to enhance its low-light capabilities to a native ISO 12800 while still retaining vivid clarity. Using Sony’s Column A/D Conversion and area-specified noise reduction, images are rendered with impressive quality and smooth gradations between tones and colors due to the marked, intelligent reduction in apparent noise. Further enhancing imaging quality, detail reproduction technology works to increase the fine detail rendering capabilities for a more three-dimensional, realistic image quality while diffraction-reducing technology helps to enhance the optical qualities of the lens by suppressing diffraction that is common when working at smaller apertures. Additionally, aiding working in difficult lighting conditions, the sensitivity can be extended to an effective ISO 25600 when using Multi-Frame NR, which records and composites sequential images in order to attain high sensitivity with minimal noise.

Also benefitting the image quality, as well as overall camera performance, is the BIONZ X image processor, which provides continuous shooting up to 10 fps in Speed Priority Mode, 2.9 fps shooting with single-shot AF, a shutter lag time of just 0.008 sec., and a start-up time of 1.6 sec.

Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* Lens

The built-in Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens provides a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 24-70mm, covering wide-angle to portrait length perspectives to suit working in a wide variety of shooting conditions. An f/1.8-2.8 maximum aperture benefits working in difficult lighting conditions throughout the entire zoom range and also enables greater control over focus placement for shallow depth of field imagery, which is further accentuated by a seven-blade diaphragm to produce a smooth out-of-focus quality. Nine aspherical elements, including two cemented AA (advanced aspherical) elements, are incorporated into the lens design to minimize chromatic aberrations throughout the zoom range to benefit creating sharp, clear imagery. The lens also features a Zeiss T* anti-reflective multi-layered coating to help minimize lens flare and ghosting in order to produce imagery with rich contrast and color neutrality.

Benefitting the 2.9x reach of this lens, as well as supporting working in difficult lighting conditions and with longer shutter speeds, is Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, which helps to offset the effects of camera shake. When recording movies, the image stabilization utilizes an Intelligent Active Mode, which also uses electronic image stabilization to compensate for both camera shake and rolling shutter effects.

Additionally, a neutral density 0.9 filter is incorporated into the camera’s design, which provides a reduction of three stops in exposure to enable working in bright conditions with wider aperture settings and for greater control over how subject movement is rendered.

Camera Design

Within the compact design of the RX100 III is both a high-resolution electronic viewfinder and a large rear LCD monitor. The 0.39″ 1,440k-dot SVGA OLED Tru-Finder EVF provides a bright, clear means for eye-level monitoring, which is well-suited to critical compositions and working in bright conditions. It features 100% frame coverage, a unique pop-up mechanism, and a Zeiss T* coating on the optics to reduce surface reflections and flare for enhanced visibility. Alternatively, a 3.0″ 1,229k-dot Xtra Fine LCD screen is also available and features a tilting design (180° up, 45° down) to benefit working from high, low, and front-facing angles. WhiteMagic technology has been applied to the LCD’s design, too, to increase effective brightness for easier viewing in bright lighting. When working with both viewing means, an integrated eye sensor automatically switches between both the EVF and LCD. Additionally, the camera can be turned on simply by popping the EVF into place.

For intuitive, SLR-like adjustments over a variety of camera settings, a manual control ring surrounds the lens and features a smooth, click-less design for quick and quiet changing of settings. The ring can be assigned to control a variety of features, at different values, such as zoom, aperture, and Picture Effects. A step-zoom feature can be utilized, too, to allow instant switching between commonly used focal lengths.

Full HD Video Recording

Full HD 1920 x 1080 movies can be recorded in the high-quality XAVC S format, which uses a Long GOP (Group of Pictures) structure, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 video compression, and linear PCM audio compression, and saves within the MP4 container format. These compressed files permit recording times up to 29 minutes while allowing 50 Mbps video recording at 1080/60p, 1080/30p, 1080/24p, and 720/120p frame rates. Full-pixel readout helps to minimize any artifacts in recordings due to the ability to utilize data from the entire image sensor, which ultimately results in smooth, high-resolution recordings. Movies can also be recorded in the AVCHD format, which is ideal for HDTV playback and Blu-ray disc burning, and the MP4 format, which is ideal for uploading online. Additionally, when shooting for two purposes in mind, dual recording is possible in different formats-XAVC S and MP4 or AVCHD and MP4-for the ability to instantly share footage while also having a higher quality version for subsequent editing.

Benefitting advanced video applications, the RX100 III also supports clean HDMI output for recording uncompressed video via an optional external recorder and for real-time viewing on an accessory monitor. Recording frame rates include 24p, 60p, and 60i, and the shooting info display can be turned off during recording for a cleaner view when utilizing an external monitor.

Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC

Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity enables instant transferring of imagery to mobile devices for direct sharing online to social networking, via email, and to cloud storage sites. NFC (Near Field Communication) is also supported, which allows for one-touch connection between the camera and compatible mobile devices, with no complex set-up required. Once connected, the linked mobile device can also display a live view image on its screen and, using Smart Remote Control, remotely control the camera’s shutter release.

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.

Other Camera Features

A contrast-detection autofocus system works to acquire precise focus using single-shot or continuous AF modes. When working with moving subjects, Lock-on AF, with wide, center, and flexible spots, adjusts the target frame size as the subject moves throughout the image frame. Face detection and face registration technologies can be used to base focus on recognized faces and Eye AF is also available, which is a detail-oriented focusing function that prioritizes and dedicates focusing performance on a subject’s pupil for sharply-rendered portraits.

For manual focus control, DMF (Direct Manual Focus) and standard manual focus options are available. Benefitting precise manual focus, focus peaking can be used, which highlights edges of contrast within the frame for a more objective means of determining critical sharpness, or MF Assist is available, which enlarges the image for a better view of important details.

A zebra function can be used for easier detection of exposure clipping to prevent overexposure.

A dedicated Custom button permits assigning of one of 42 possible functions for instant, one-touch access to a chosen control.

A digital level gauge detects pitch and roll types of movement and helps to produce even, consistent horizons and plumb verticals.

Smile Shutter technology enables the camera to automatically release the shutter when a subject’s smile is detected

Multi Frame NR records consecutive images at a reduced ISO sensitivity and then composites them into a single image to realize higher effective sensitivity (up to an equivalent ISO 25600) with minimal image noise. Standard image compositing is comprised of four exposures and High image compositing utilizes 12 distinct exposures.

Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) works to improve images featuring backlit subjects or scenes with high contrast where details can be lost in the shadows or highlights. This mode can be controlled automatically or fine-tuned using five settings.
Picture Effect modes allow you to apply creative settings and emphasize certain facets of individual images for a richer, more aesthetic picture quality. Posterization (Color/B&W), Pop Color, Retro Photo, Partial Color (R/G/B/Y), High Contrast Monochrome, Toy Camera, Soft High-Key, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-Tone Monochrome, Miniature, Watercolor, and Illustration modes are available.

Creative Style settings provide control over how the camera processes images based on different predetermined styles: Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Clear, Deep, Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night Scene, Autumn Leaves, Black & White, Sepia, and Style Box. Within these settings, contrast, saturation, and sharpness can also be adjusted depending on personal preference.

To extend the effective reach of the optical zoom lens, Clear Image digital zoom can be used to intelligently magnify scenes up to 5.8x at full-resolution. This digital zoom technology uses an intelligent interpolation process to minimize the amount of image degradation in order to produce realistic, high-quality images.

In-camera creation of 4K slide shows is possible for rich playback to ultra high definition televisions. An HDMI port is incorporated into the camera’s design, too, to enable direct connection to HDTVs.
TRILUMINOS Color support is supported to produce rich, natural colors when imagery is viewed on a TRILUMINOS Display.

May 072014
 

The Sony A7r & 55 1.8 along with the M9 & Noctiluxf1

By Julien Ducenne

Hi Steve and Brandon,

My Name is Julien Ducenne, I am a filmmaker living in London and working on images for about 12 years now.

Since long time my dream was to have a Leica M and couple years ago I bought the M9 with a CV 35f1.2, I was amazed by the quality of both and quickly bought a Noctilux f1 to continue my personal learning and exploration on images. I really love shallow depth of field, and the bokeh was great…
Until the day when the Sony A7r was available, I bought it with the FE55mm 1.8 and with a bokeh result really close to the Noctilux ( at equal aperture), I had more details and Sharpness on my pictures. I did not regret the Noctilux at all and I will continue to Buy M mount lenses but I will use both…

…At the end gear is only gear and the result only matter…

Have a great day.

Julien Ducenne

My Flicker : http://www.flickr.com/photos/ducenne/

A7r_55mm_02

not alone

escape

M9_50f1_01

M9_35CV12_01

May 052014
 

masterlight

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

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

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

Official Announcement:

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

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

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

Best regards
Lau
MX Camera

Apr 192014
 

Crunching Sony Jpeg in the French Countryside

By Peter Pulp

Last winter I enjoyed walking though the early morning fog, trying to capture the grim ambience surrounding me.
Lately I have been shooting Jpeg again, and I’ve discovered that if I pushed the limits of Jpeg in Lightroom, I would achieve a digital crunch that I really liked. The photograph of the house is something I could have shot with my Diana Mini!
I still enjoy shooting my father’s old sony Alpha, especially with the big consumer zooms he has. On that camera I don’t worry about image quality and just have fun looking for shots. The flapping mirror gives a nice reassuring clack that yes, you have taken the picture. Timeless.

I am still planning to share a few photos and thoughts, to talk about my new camera the X100s and what I’ve been doing with it, but that will come with a substantial amount of words, and I’ll leave it for another day.
I hope you enjoy the photographs.

I am a 24 year old parent of one and producer of polymorphic psychedelic music. Feel free to hear a glimpse of my coming release here (http://soundcloud.com/arthurmaslo/some-wine-for-your-whining) and come connect on Facebook here ( https://www.facebook.com/pages/Art-Ur/157155172205?ref=br_tf ) if you like what’s happening! I have been working at this album for the past 2 years and you will here more about it as we near the release date.

Thanks for reading me, have a super day, and I hope you enjoy these shots of the Orleans forest in the fog. There are taken right on the break of the forest which stretches accross a 100km of the region called Le Loiret. Regarded by the ancient Gaul Druids as a place of mystical energies, and dubbed by them “the belly button of the world”, the forest was also refuge to the french resistance during World War II, and saw the blood of many decisive battles. A place full of history, which remains in evolution to this day.

Arthur Maslo

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

Apr 162014
 

The Sony RX1r meets the Olympus E-M1 in Iceland

By Chris Bakker

My website - http://www.chrisbakkerphoto.com

Hi Steve and readers of SteveHuffPhoto.com!

My name is Chris Bakker, a free time photographer from the Netherlands. I began to do photography around Christmas of 2012. I started off with a Sony RX100 by taking photos from all kinds of subjects what surrounded me and It didn’t took me long to really get caught by the beauty of photography . Right from the start I tried to read as many (e)books on photography as I could, follow on a daily basis the online forums and practice the acquired knowledge in the field. I am also a frequent reader of this site and let me tell you this site has giving me so much that I thought it would be time to give a little bit of my contribution in return.

Because I was so into photography I decided in the summer of 2013 to trade in my trusty RX100 for his bigger brother the RX1r. This indeed is a magical powerhouse and capable of delivering some stunning photo’s. This camera has got me even more into photography. Later that year, in November the Olympus OMD E-M1 came out and because I wanted to do different things in photography which needed faster auto focus and different focal length than 35mm, I decided to buy the E-M1 alongside my beloved RX1r and step into the world of micro 4/3.  I can say I have no regrets at all. This camera is so well designed and thought out, it works so well, it just makes you want to go out and shoot.

I often attend workshops and like to learn from the pros. So when the opportunity came by to go to Iceland for 11 days with a pro landscape photographer from the Netherlands, to learn in the field, I decided to go. So on February the 22 I went off to Iceland to return 11 days later home with an overwhelming experience by the beauty of Iceland. Not only did I came home with a lot of photos but also with a lot of acquired knowledge and practical experience.

So l’ll stop the twaddle, let’s get to the photo’s!

E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

-

E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

-

Kirkjufellsfoss – E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Going to Iceland in the winter takes some planning in advance. Although the temperature is about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, which isn’t too cold the wind can be really extreme. And the combination of those two makes it cold. Proper clothing, like multi layers, warm hand cloves and a fur cap is not a luxury. A good windbreaker can be a rain suit. Because of the hard wind, I can advise to take a big and sturdy tripod with you. I have come to situations where I definitely had to hold on to my MEFOTO Globetrotter tripod preventing it from falling over. A tripod can allow you to shoot at times of day when the light is unlike any other. If you want to shoot at sunrise or sunset, and you want to keep the ISO down, you need that long exposure. when you want to work with HDR you need a tripod for sure. Light is everything, don’t miss some of the best light of the day because you didn’t want to carry a tripod. What also comes in handy is to wear knee-pads. The ground is often stony and wet.

Snaefellsjoekull – RX1r

04

-

E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

-

Brúarfoss – E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

-

Shining stones in river – E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While I was out making photos in the field I did quite often use my filters. There are many people that think in digital photography you don’t need filters anymore. Many think that this is also possible in post processing. When you need a slower shutter speed to blur motion, like with waterfalls, or polarizing light to reduce glare, do it with filters. Filters still enable an aesthetic that’s not possible through simple post-production, and in some cases not possible at all, even in Photoshop. Everybody has his own way of working but we people often work in sequence. We start off with 1 go to 2 than react to 3 to get to 4 or so. While this is a quite similar process as in post-production, like Lightroom, it is also a good process at point of capture. When experimenting with filters in the field you see the result immediately and that gives you the change to react to it. So it can definitely be a good thing for creativity. I used mostly a 3 stop ND filter from Singh-Ray and a Big stopper from Hoya the NX400. In a few occasions I used graduated and reverse grad filters, mostly at sunrise or sunset. For Polarizer’s, Singh-Ray Color Combo and the Gold ‘n Blue.

Skógafoss – RX1r

08

-

Northern Lights near Vik – RX1r

09

-

Vik Beach – E-M1 pana 35-100f2.8

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

-

Skaftafell Icecave Vatnajökull – RX1r

11

-

Skaftafell Icecave Vatnajökull – E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

-

Sunset JÖKULSÁRLÓN Beach – E-M1 Oly 12mm f2.0

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

-

Sunrise JÖKULSÁRLÓN Beach – RX1r

14

What really fascinates me is that you can learn infinitely, it’s an ongoing process. Photography has become an essential part of my life. It’s so much fun, it’s a way of living. I hope you enjoy watching these photos as much as I did making them.

Chris Bakker

A few more…

Sunrise JÖKULSÁRLÓN Beach – RX1r

15

-

Jökulsárlón Lake – E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

-

Jökulsárlón Lake – E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

-

E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

-

Vik Beach – RX1r

19

-

Old Turf Farm House – RX1r

20

-

Icelandic Horse – E-M1 pana 35-100 f2.8

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Apr 102014
 

On safari with the Sony A7+LAEA4+SAL70-300G

By Wim Arys

Hi Steve and Brandon,

My name is Wim Arys, I’m a music producer from Belgium. I’ve been an avid reader of your excellent site for some time now, and enjoy reading your hands on tests of new cameras and equipment. I was very interested in photography as a teenager, but strayed towards music production after high school. My teenage passion was rekindled some years ago when I bought an Iphone 3S, and started taking pictures again.

After a while I became dissatisfied with the image quality and bought myself an EPL5, then an EP-5, a Fuji X100S, a Sony RX1 and earlier this year an Sony A7. My girlfriend and I have a non-profit travel blog www.freeasbirds.com, so we travel as much as possible, exploring the world whilst sharing our mutual passion for photography. For our latest trip to Kenya, I wanted to try out the A7 with a zoom lens on safari. Since there was no E-mount full frame zoom available, I decided to go for the Sony SAL 70300G f4.5-5.6 SSM A-mount with the Sony LA-EA4 converter. Not the fastest zoom, but designed to a high standard, as the G mark indicates and available at a reasonable price point.

I’ve read comments about a zoom lens on an A7, saying that this defeats the purpose of a small(er) mirror-less full frame camera, but this combo is very light and surprisingly easy to handle. I had no problems carrying it around all day and it balances well in hand. Photography on safari has many challenges: the savannah is very dusty, the roads are bumpy and the drivers hardly give you time to frame and focus your shots.

Everything in Africa is supposed to go Polé Polé (take it easy) but these drivers race around the parks like madmen. The SAL70300G with LAEA4 adapter luckily has contrast AF and phase AF on the A7 and our driver John quickly became used the sound of cameras snapping away. The AF is very fast, the only quibble I have is that all the focus points are in the centre of the frame. So if I wanted to focus off-centre, I had to set focus and reframe, which was almost impossible in these conditions. Another problem is the lack of image stabilisation on all A-mount lenses (because the Alpha range of cameras have in camera IS). All my pictures came out a bit bland too (perhaps due to all the dust in the air), but I always shoot in RAW, so with the nice A7 full frame sensor, it was no problem boosting the colours/shadows in post. I normally use Capture One for this, but it seems not to be a good match with the A7. Lightroom did the trick.

I always carry my trusted Olympus E-P5 too, preferably with the fantastic 75mm f1.8 or Panasonic/Leica 25mm. This is still my favourite street camera, although the A7 with 35mm allowed me to take different kinds of pictures when we visited a Masai tribe. After going through my 4000+ pictures at home, I started missing the image quality of my RX1. The sensor and lens combo on this little gem are amazing. It is off course a fixed lens combo, so I never could have gotten these shots with that camera.

The SAL70300G, although a descent lens in good to average lighting, does have its limitations, especially at 300mm. I like the ergonomics and styling of the Sony A7, the ‘loud’ shutter sound does not bother me at all. I think the idea of a stealth camera has become obsolete nowadays, you are fooling yourself if you think people don’t know what you are doing. The autofocus could be faster, compared to the E-P5 but I would not consider it slow. Perhaps just a bit faster than the Fuji X100s. This camera is not a DSLR killer either, I’m guessing in will take a few more versions until Sony (or another brand) gets there.

What the A7 delivers is top image quality in a compact size, though I might return this one and go for the A7r for the added resolution.

Kenya-8

Kenya-10

Kenya-12

Kenya-14

Kenya-19

Kenya-22

Kenya-25

Kenya-26

Kenya-29

Kenya-32

Kenya-35

Kenya-36

Kenya-20

If you would like to submit your own guest article, review, or just talk about your experience with anything photographic, send your idea to Steve HERE. You can also read how to do it HERE. 

Apr 092014
 

titleotus

The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 on the Sony A7r:

my considerations and experiences (so far)

by Dirk De Paepe

A contradiction?

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

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

But let me make another statement now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two versions of Otus

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

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

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

Which one to choose?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.Aperture on lens

Why the Otus?

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

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

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

The Otus Image Quality

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

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

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

2.Glass doll

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

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

3.Bicyclist under trees

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

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

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

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

4.Overview

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

5.Forest, canal and factory

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

Why not a faster lens than a f/1.4?

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

6.Bicycle parking

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

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

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

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

The issues

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

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

- Loosing the compact concept of the A7r.

- Adapter issues.

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

- Early induced motion blur when shooting OOH.

- Hyper delicate focusing.

- Manual focusing only.

- No image stabilization.

- A very big, heavy and expensive lens.

Let’s look at those issues one by one.

Loosing the compact concept of the A7r

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

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

Adapter issues

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

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

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

Balance

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

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

7.Tripod balance

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

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

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

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

8.Left hand balance

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

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

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

Shooting out of hand at 1/10 sec!

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

9.Selfie

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

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

Delicate focusing

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

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

Manual focusing only

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

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

No image stabilization

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

A very big, heavy and expensive lens

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

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

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

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

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

What to shoot with the Otus

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

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

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

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

My overall conclusion

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

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

That’s more than enough for me!

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

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

Art Center at the Canal

B.Waldmin

Bed and breakfast

Early spring at the canal

Front leaves

Hard Rock Beauty

Kitchen Still Life

So many windows

Train and bicycle

Tree bark

Two ships

Two worlds

You missed something

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

© 2009-2014 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved
21