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Dec 222016
 

Voigtlander Nokton 58mm f/1.4 II Lens Review: GOING RETRO

By Craig Litten

I love Voigtlander lenses! I’ve loved them since the first time I discovered them about five years ago. Some say that they are a poor man’s Leica lens, which may be true, but I don’t necessarily agree. I think it’s more like comparing apples to oranges. Many agree that Leica lenses are the best-of-the-best, and they most likely are, but Voigtlander lenses are great too, and have their own character and charm. I know a few Leica owners who shoot Leica and Voigtlander lenses. In fact, my first Leica (the Leica M8.2) was used with a borrowed Voigtlander lens for the first several months, and I loved it. Voigtlander lenses are very affordable too, which is a big plus. You can actually own several of them for the price of just one Leica lens! This lens reminds me of how lenses were built back in the 80’s, when I was a kid and fist got into photography (as the older lenses from the 70’s were still in circulation. It looks very similar to the older Nikon (pre-AI) lenses: all metal, super smooth and built like a tank. What’s not to love? If you’re remotely interested in Voigtlander lenses, I think it is safe to recommend Stephen Gandy’s CameraQuest since he is one of Steve’s sponsors. But be warned though, Camera Quest is a treasure-trove of wonder and knowledge, and if you go there you’re likely to get stuck in his web of Voigtlander goodness and never leave.

As a former photojournalist shooting for a daily newspaper, Voigtlander lenses were off my radar so to speak. To compete in that field you needed to match what the guy next to you has, and that means the old standard f2.8 zooms. When news is happening fast and in front of you, you must get the shot or lose your job—there is no time to change lenses. I can’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure the first time I heard of a Voigtlander lens was right here on Steve Huff Photo back in 2011. This is when I started reading this blog and learning about Leica M lenses and tiny mirrorless cameras like the Sony NEX line. What did it for me was Steve’s review of the NEX 5n HERE. I purchased it along with a pair of Voigtlander lenses from Camera Quest. I got the Voigtlander 21mm f/4 Color Skopar along with one of my all-time favorite lenses, the wonderful Voigtlander 35mm f/2.5 C Color Skopar—I love that tiny lens. But these lenses were VM Mount (Leica M mount) lenses made for the Voitglander Bessa (film) or the Leica M, not a DSLR lens like this Voigtlander Nokton 58mm f/1.4 SL II that I’m reviewing here. This is a Nikon mount SLR or DSLR lens.

I no longer shoot with Nikon cameras, but did back in the film days (the F4 is still one of my favorite cameras of all time), and again in the late 2000’s during this present digital age). But today, I only shoot Sony mirrorless. So I’ll be testing this lens on my Sony a7II and Sony a7s with an adapter. Nonetheless, the review is not about the camera nor its sensor, but about the lens. One of the beautiful things about Sony mirrorless is that you can adapt nearly any lens and still get all of the lens’ goodness. So to be clear, all of the photos in this review were shot with a full frame sensor—no crop-factor here. So if you’re looking to “discuss” sensor size, move along, nothing to see here.

NIFTY FIFTY

I had a lot of fun shooting with this lens, and it was a pure pleasure to use. I love manually focusing on the Sony bodies. It’s easy, fast and accurate, and that extra act of pulling focus really makes you feel like you’re participating in the act of photographing. In fact, if I didn’t have a few other pieces of gear that were pressing right now, I’d look into getting one for myself. Since I’m not shooting with this on a Nikon body, but adapted to my Sony’s, that may be the only negative for me personally.—that it’s not a native E-mount but requires an adapter. But if you’re a Nikon shooter, good news, because this lens has a native Nikon F mount and will fit any Nikon body for the past 30 plus years. CameraQuest has a cool section with a brief history of the Nikon F mount here. Perhaps Voigtlander would consider making this lens for the Sony E-Mount in the future.

Unlike Steve who calls himself a 50mm guy, I have always preferred the 35mm focal length as my all-arounder. If I could only have one single lens, it would be a 35mm f2 lens, but that’s most likely because of my journalistic/documentary background. When you put a 50mm f1.4 on your camera though, oh my, that is when the creative juices begin to flow. Personally I have always thought that those who really want to learn photography should start out with only a 50mm lens only for the first year. It’s such a versatile focal length, and perhaps even more flexible than a 35mm. This lens is a 58mm not a 50mm though, so it’s a tad bit tighter, but it’s close enough.

One of my favorite photographers since the early days is Ralph Gibson. He shoots almost exclusively with a 50mm lens which says a lot about the lenses versatility. He’s build an entire career on one focal length, or close to it. A few years ago I went on vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and decided to take only one lens with me to keep it simple and light. I chose the 50mm (focal length) and never regretted it. In fact, looking over the photos now they sometimes appear to be shot with a wider lens, and sometimes look like they were shot with a telephoto lens, but they were all shot with a 50mm.

MADE IN JAPAN

Physically speaking, this lens is very satisfying. It checks all the boxes and fulfills the nostalgia and dreams of shooting for the White House Press Corps during the Kennedy era, LOL. The lens is made of metal, real metal, and glass—no plastic, bubble gum machine junk here. It is solid, grippy and smooth as silk. If you’ve ever used the 1960’s-early 70’s Nikon F prime lenses, it feels and looks much like they did—almost an exact replica. I love Voigtlander as a company. They are keeping the past alive, giving us new, modern lenses that work for our high resolution digital cameras yet allowing us the control of manual focus and the quality of an all-metal build. And they are affordable and good lenses. Thank you Voigtlander. From the way this lens feels, it will last a lifetime, or probably longer than you’ll want to keep it. Today we have what photographers of the past did not—an incredible amount of choices. The only problem with that is that most of us get “curious” about something new every now and then, and put the old on a shelf. But that is what this site is all about right: showing us what’s new and exciting in the world of photography.

The version I’m testing is the silver version, and it’s simply beautiful. The only difference between the black and the silver version is the color of inner lens barrel itself. Instead of black, it is silver, and it really adds a touch of class. The barrel itself (and front lens element) extends (but doesn’t rotate) in and out as you focus, which reveals more of the silver inner barrel and adds to the nostalgia of the lens. While out shooting I actually had someone comment on the “old” lens I was using, and how much he liked it.

The design of the lens reveals large smooth grooves around the entire lens barrel with matching grooves on the aperture ring. This is where it differs from the Nikkor-S 1959-1962 version. This design looks great and contributes to the old fashioned look of the lens, but it’s more than just cosmetics because it functions even better than it looks. Between each of the grooves is grippy, etched metal (Voigtlander calls it scalloped) to give you a sure grip while focusing. The barrel turns very smoothly, but has resistance or stiffness to it which is just about perfect. You’ll need more than just a single finger or thumb to turn it. These type of lenses usually get better and a tad looser once broken in. The aperture has secure click-stops, and is stiff enough that it won’t be easily bumped our of place. On the top of the lens, at the f5.6 mark, there is a protruding fork. When mounting the pre-AI Nikkor lenses (similar to this one) to the old Nikon film bodies, you had to turn it to the correct f-stop (if memory serves me correctly, it was f5.6) to mount the fork between a lever. It was a very clever design but has long since been discontinued, so I question the reason Voigtlander added this to the lens. If you own any of those old Nikon film bodies, you’re good to go. If not, it’s kind of a nuisance and my only negative mark against the lens. If I were to buy this lens, I think that I would remove it as it got in my way more than a few times.

Looking into the lens and turning the aperture is a thing of beauty, and seeing the large front element and feeling the weight of the glass is very satisfying indeed. The lens has clearly painted numbers and markings on it using the old Nikon colors and fonts, it’s very clear, easy to read and nicely done. One other small negative though is that the focusing line doesn’t stand out as clearly as it could or should. This serves as the aperture mark also. Nonetheless, the colors and design almost fools you into thinking that you’re holding some old Nikon glass. The attention to detail is admirable and should be commended. Even “Lens made in Japan” is beautifully etched into the silver band that surrounds the lens. For build quality alone, it is well worth the asking price. But will the image quality hold up to justify the price?

GRATIFICATION FACTOR

There is something special about shooting with an all-manual lens, especially one built and designed as well as this one is. It is just such a pleasure to use, and you really feel as though you’re participating more in the act of photographing, which I think one of the major appeals of shooting with a Leica rangefinder body: the turn of a shutter, the click of an aperture, and the pulling of focus. When shooting with a camera like that, you’re constantly checking all three, always engaged and always participating in the act of photographing. This is much unlike the wiz-bang DSLR’s we’ve become used to, where it’s essentially a high-powered point-and-shoot. When you miss focus on using a lens like this, it’s your own fault, but that’s part of the fun and challenge of it. Auto focus misses too, a lot—well, not so much on the modern mirrorless cameras, but everyone reading this knows what I mean. When I first started shooting sports, I was using manual focus lenses. The fastest motor drive at the time was about 5 frames per second, and you only got 36 shots per roll of film, then the camera buffered. Buffering back then was in the form of rewinding your film, marking it with a Sharpie, and loading another roll. While covering football back then, I remember literally praying to get one or two good frames from an entire half, which was all the time allotted to shoot because of deadlines. The point is, manual focusing can be learned and mastered, and I especially find that focusing with Nikon lenses are more intuitive, for me anyway, as the focus turns opposite of most other brands. It just feels natural to me.

A manual focus lens like this is a great tool for the amateur, the artist or the enthusiast who wants to really get into photography and feel more a part of the process. It’s also good for the professional who wants to slow down the process, and hone his or her craft while not shooting for a paying client, but for personal work or on a personal project. Your camera may still have all the bells and whistles, but the simple act of pulling focus changes the game. Honestly it does.

If you’re new to photography or perhaps started shooting during the digital age and have never experienced manual cameras or manual focus, you’re in for a real treat should you decide to buy this lens. If I were to recommend just one manual focus lens for your kit, it would be in the 50mm range. If you’re a Nikon shooter, this could be the lens. But after shooting with this on my Sony a7’s, I think that it’s a perfect fit for the Sony’s too, maybe even better because of the high resolution EVF and focus peaking. It is surprisingly well balanced—especially with the MkII bodies, and even with the adapter it’s still shorter in length than my Sony/Zeiss 55mm f1.8. If you’re new to manual focus, and I suspect there are a lot of readers who are, fear not. When pairing this lens to a Sony a7, focusing is a breeze—even if you are brand new at it. You can turn on focus peaking and set it for either red, yellow or white, but you can also set the intensity level to low, medium or high. I have mine set to red and with high intensity. I like red because I shoot in B&W mode (RAW+JPEG) a lot, and red really shows up well in B&W. Red also shows up really well if you have a lot of foliage like here in South Florida. And you can have it set to “zoom in” on the scene as soon as you touch the lens barrel for more critical focus. It’s actually fun.

IQ

Ah, the big question we all want to know is “what is the image quality like?” Well, in answering that I hope that you will take the time to really examine the images, click on them to view them large and download them to your computer—especially if you’re really seriously considering this excellent lens. In shooting for this review I decided to just carry the camera with me as much as possible and shoot everyday, ordinary situations and things. This is different from past reviews where I set out to purposely shoot certain things. For this review I wanted to shoot with this lens the same way I would if I owned it. If the lens belonged to me, I would mostly use it for personal work and daily use. I’d use it for the sheer joy of photographing and the act of participating more in the process by manually focusing. Not that it’s not good enough for paid work, because it is. It’s good enough for any studio portrait session, magazine spread or food shoot (I don’t shoot food), but most of the time I need AF because of the fast-paced nature of my work.

The image quality of this lens stunned me. Several times while out shooting I really didn’t think that I had any really good pictures, or anything special—even when viewing them on the back of the cameras. But when I got home and downloaded them to my computer, I was wow’d several times. Not because my shots were anything special, but because of the way this Voigtlander lens drew the scene and rendered the image. Several of the shots made me feel like I could actually reach into the photo because they have a real 3D effect. I know this term is overused, but in this case it’s true. I also know there will be scoffers out there, which is fine because we are all entitled to our own opinion, but the proof in the photos. Not every photo has this effect of course, but when the light, aperture, distance from the lens and subject-matter all camera together, it’s simply magical. One example is the simply B&W photo of a woman with dark hair sitting in front of a window at night with a plain white wall behind her.

It’s not a great portrait by any means. I caught her in mid-sentence, the frame is crooked, etc., but the way the lens draws the scene is stunning in my opinion. The portrait was shot wide open at f1.4, ISO 2500. Another shot is the one of the three retirees sitting in lawn chairs on the beach facing the ocean (shot at f2).

I also attempted to shoot at each aperture setting, and did, but mostly concentrated on the wider apertures because that’s where most of us who buy this lens will be shooting. At f1.4, the lens is stunning at night in very low light. I’ve included many samples. For some reason the lens seemed to do better wide open at night in low light than it did outside in bright sunlight. The lens is very sharp right from f1.4 in the center. There is some vignetting at f1.4 and f2, but it really starts to clear up by f2.8-f4. Of course this is to be expected for such a wide aperture lens, and it will actually work in your favor for portraits and people shots. The lens renders beautifully from f1.4 on through f8. The shot B&W shot of the rock with the tide hitting it was shot at f8, and it has a beautiful Zeiss-like glow and clarity to it in my opinion.

The bokeh is also very pleasing to my eye, but you may be a little more selective or have a better eye for that than I do. It’s not as smooth as some lenses are (like the Sony FE 28mm f2 which is amazingly smooth for such an inexpensive and wide lens), but it’s never offensive either. Again, the proof is in the photos, but I’ll let you determine that for yourself.

There really isn’t anything negative to say about this lens. The only thing I found is very minor lens flare in a very strange situation. During the time I spent shooting, I only encountered lens flare once (see color photo of tree trunk shot above at f11). It happened when taking a photo of a tree trunk with the sun behind and to the left of camera—nowhere near the lens. Somehow though, the light was reflecting off of the tree causing the lens to flare. I tried a few different angles from the same spot, but all of them caused the lens to flare. I don’t think lens flare is really a problem with the lens, but wanted to mention this one example. I saw similar type of lens flare with the older Voigtlander Ultron 35mm f1.7 VM lens (the pervious version to the one that is currently for sale).

I also attempted to see how the lens renders sunstars. I tried a few shots directly into the sun, stopped all the way down to f16, but wasn’t able to get any satisfactory sunstars. The coating on the lens seems quite good. I did however get sunstars reflecting off of the water in one shot (see attached photo cropped to about 1/3 its original, horizontal frame), so it is possible.

CONCLUSION

If you’re feeling a bit stagnated in your photography, perhaps this lens is just what you need. Will any gear really improve your photography? Perhaps. But this lens could by inspiring you to get out and photograph more because it is satisfying in so many areas. The build is fantastic, it feels great in your hand and makes you just want to hold it and use it. The images, rendering, price, focal length, etc., are all really good. If you’re looking for a good lens in the 50mm range and don’t mind manually focusing, I don’t think this lens will disappoint. In fact, I think just the opposite, that you will be very pleased and proud to own and use such a fine piece of glass. I highly recommend it!

See more on this lens at Cameraquest HERE

Nov 212016
 

paulm

The Sony A7s with Canon 35mm LTM RF Lens

by Paul Marbrook – His website is HERE

I’ve owned a good few lenses over the past 15 years and have learned over time that there is no holy grail when it comes to lenses. My favourite focal length is between 35mm and 58mm which would likely stretch to 60mm could I possibly justify trying the Hexanon 60mm f/1.2 but that will never happen. I have tried so many 55 to 58mm 1.2 lenses that I know there are only two to choose from. The Rokkor 58mm f/1.2 and the Nikkor Noct 58mm f/1.2.

I also have a good number of 50mm lenses including the Canon 50mm f/0.95 ‘Dream Lens’ and the Mitakon 50mm Dark Knight.

35mm lenses hold a particular interest for me especially if fast and I own a good number of these although I’ve never owned a Leica lens (apart from a 40mm f/2).

Being a Sony A7 series user who pre ordered the first A7 on the day it was announced due to it being the exact configuration of a full frame camera I had been waiting for since buying a used Canon 10D in 2004 and disliked the APS-C sensor size and even when I bought a 5D in 2005 I was searching for a solution to use manual focus glass on a full frame digital sensor.

Size and functionality is important to me as is ergonomics and also the user experience when I’m using a camera for personal projects and use. If I could have a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art in RF lens size in manual focus and with an aperture ring then all would be perfect! It’s a truly incredible lens and never fails to amaze me. The Zeiss Distagon FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA is also a superb lens for a native Sony FE mount and one I use for my professional work but it’s also pretty large and heavy as is the Sigma. The Rokinon 35mm 1.4 appears to be pretty perfect with its nice render and aperture ring but again its large.

I’m not a lens collector, if I purchase a lens I intend to use it, it will not sit in a case for all the time I have it.

There’s actually very little review for the Canon 35mm f/1.5 rangefinder lens and this raised my curiosity even though I had not heard anything particularly positive about the lens. It’s not a relatively cheap lens likely due to the number of them available as to its optical performance, but hey it’s an f/1.5 right?!

The lens is pretty small as per most of the RF lenses and on my copy all feels good with aperture ring and focus is very smooth and free. I have it mounted on a Tinray close focus adaptor which required an M39 to Leica-M adaptor to use it. As you can see it looks pretty good as a combination.

Lens design is from the late 1950’s and the rendering really displays this when used wide open. It’s never really bang on sharp if you are used to using a modern lens but for me its sharp enough if you are careful at f/1.5. Centre frame is sharpest as expected but you can do a mild off centre composition and retain enough sharpness to make the shot. Focussing is easy after some practice and you realise that it’s never going to hit a level of sharpness even exact on focus. Contrast is somewhat low so focus peaking may not deliver the best results if used so I find magnification the best tool for accurate focus. Sony could do a lot to help us in the area of manual focus such as implementing a one press 100% magnification button that doesn’t switch off between shots, right now its 3 presses between shots to check focus. At f/1.5 in mild bright light there is a blur to the edges of the frame and brightly coloured or white edges will bleed beyond the edge. I haven’t seen any purple CA at all. More info here at Canon Camera Museum.

Stopped down the lens becomes quite sharp and you could say it doesn’t particularly matter which lens we used once we get past a certain aperture unless we are looking at number of blades and sun stars etc. Wide open is where my interest peaks.

It’s a gorgeous little lens to use and looks very sweet on the Sony A7 series especially the A7/A7s. I would guess it’s rather overpriced for its performance but it does have some uniqueness with it which will completely come down to personal taste. I didn’t find a wow factor with it so my quest will continue….

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Jul 282016
 

Simply…..Prints

By Dirk Dom

I so much wish there were a cheap way to look at my shots the way they deserve it – but there isn’t. An expensive beamer, an Eizo screen, serious prints. About half a year ago, I decided to go for the non-compromise way: portfolio books with high quality inkjet prints. I started doing a book with fifty 24 inch panorama’s from my Xpan to check it out, and now, I’ve almost completed printing my good shots. I’m doing one more with the Xpan, from Spain, a mix of color and B&W:

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 To me, a print is the ultimate. I think the reason is I can look at it from the whole, from a distance, composition, etc., to really close, structure, grain, the stuff I worked on in post, in one sweep. My Eizo gives me the same image, but I can’t look at it the same way. And I can carry my books anywhere, which would be impossible with the Eizo. I have a very good HP laptop I do my processing on, but the screen!… Often, I open a shot on it, and then I think: “ Oh, my! The blacks are without structure”, or: “ The color saturation is way too weak”, and when I open it in Photoshop on my Eizo, everything looks perfect. Whew! I don’t want to carry my laptop to people to show images anymore.

Anyway.

The books are 19 by 13 inches (A3+), ring bound so they open flat, between the shots I have tracing paper. The covers are matte board, I draw something onto them and on top of that I have a protective plastic film.

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The printing is done on a very big inkjet printer with some 11 colors and grey tones and such, I have it done by a pro. He gives me a good price because I send him files which are 100% O.K., he just prints them, everything being calibrated. All the cutting I do myself and the binding gets done at a copy center. I completed one book with 36 black and whites from San Francisco, printed on Hahnemühle baryta. That book cost me a solid 900 dollars. Was it worth it? Yes, every penny.  I’ve never seen my black and white work so beautiful and so perfect, texture in really everything, exactly the way I had done it. This paper is incredible. This is what B&W is made for.

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 The color work is a riot. A friend of mine went to Namibia and as a souvenir he bought these two very high quality offset printed books full of photo’s. Compared to my inkjet prints there is no contrast and everything is flat.

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Looking through my flower shots to decide what I’d print, I rediscovered digital photography. In about 2010, still shooting film with my Canon F1, I started discovering a variety of techniques to shoot flowers and insects. Then, I bought a used Olympus PEN EP-3. Being unlimited in shots, being able to see exactly what I did through the electronic viewfinder and being able to go higher in ISO, I started on an exponential curve of creative discovery and perfection.

Like, being really able to shoot insects, with a 1% keeper percentage.

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And perfecting flowers with another flower as a background, using a 200mm macro

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And shooting flowers with an interesting background.

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Or just beauty

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All this prints like you wouldn’t believe it.  I realized, after two years of exclusively shooting film, that I have to absolutely restart it, it has simply too much potential and it’s too much fun!  My film flower shots, using 3 stops overexposed 800 ASA film, show perhaps the best on my prints. I see everything, from grain, close up, to the impressionistic whole image, all in one sweep.
 

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Is it expensive?  Hell, yes! I could easily have bought a Sony A7S II from it! Is it worth it? Absolutely!
Hope you enjoyed it,
Bye,
Dirk.

Jul 052016
 

TITLECLS

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

By Craig Litten

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

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

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

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

Sharpness

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

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

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Bokeh

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

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Ergonomics and Design

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

Auto Focus

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

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Size/Weight and Handling

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

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

Build Quality:

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

Focus Ring and Zoom Ring

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

Fit and Finish

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

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

Focus Hold Button

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

Zoom Lock

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

AF/MF Focus Switch

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

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

Lens Hood

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

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

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

Filter Size

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

Case

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

Box

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

Macro Ability

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

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Distortion

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

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Conclusion

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

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Bottom Line

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

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

I want to end with a quote from Thorsten Overgaard:

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

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

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


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Mar 072016
 

Hi Steve

Been a keen follower for your site for a few years now and due to your reviews i currently use a Sony A7s and Carl Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM. I used this combo to take a shot of a street performer at the Edinburgh festival. For most of August each year the royal mile leading up to Edinburgh castle is a vibrant bustling location full of energy and colour as street performers from around the world entertain and actors, singers and stage performers promote their evening shows to the crowds, as shown here.

Thanks

Andrew Tracey

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Feb 292016
 

Adventures in Morocco with the Lumix G7

By Jannik Pietzsch
(www.instagram.com/ savethejourney)

As a Christmas present to myself, I got the new Lumix G7 after much, much deliberation. I wanted a good quality mirrorless camera, but didn’t want to spend Sony A7x or Fuji money. And since Sony has such a bad lens selection for their APS-C cameras, I was left with Olympus and Lumix.

I first got the EM10, although it turned out to be way too small for my liking and had a defective lens mount, which resulted in lenses not being recognized. The pins seemingly didn’t match up properly. Lumix then just released the G7 and had some great Christmas deals and the rest is history. Besides the kit lens, I purchased the new Lumix 25mm 1.7 and the, by now classic, Olympus 45mm 1.8.

So first I shot some street and landscape shots in my current home town, Cork in Ireland. All the photos have been edited in a basic manner, just doing slight adjustments in Lightroom of 5-10 min per photo. I got into photography through the film industry, this explains why I chose to shoot a lot of my photos in a wide-screen format. Oh, how I wish there were was modern panorama camera.

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So I snapped a few images and was readily convinced that I had made the right decision, a very relieving moment, as I had gotten rid of my G1 and GF1 for good reasons. The G7 is just not comparable to those cameras, thankfully. Even over the G6, the image quality might not have improved that much, but just through small changes, like removing the zoom stalk and removing the iA button, it has made this camera so much more serious. If I could change a few things about it though, I would wish for the build quality and feel of the EM1, dual SD card slots and buttons which aren’t quite as flush to the body. Otherwise I really like this camera, it also has a much better EVF to the X-E1, a much better menu system than the Olympus or even Nikon, and so many customizable buttons. This is also my first camera with touch screen and wifi. I always assumed the touch screen capability to be a gimmick but I have to admit, it is actually really practical. As cool as wifi is, I feel like it isn’t quite worked out yet. Maybe NFC with its quick connection is a better alternative, but I found myself rather opting to do a batch transfer to my phone at the end of the day instead of doing a few quick transfers throughout the day. But it is clearly one of the greatest additions to modern cameras.

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But off to Morocco!

The camera held up very well with the bright sunlight and all the fine dust. And nailing the perfect exposure is so easy nowadays with the EVF. Couldn’t be easier. Although with hind sight, a ND filer would have been great to shoot at other apertures than f8 or f11. I wonder why only the X100 series has a built in ND filter. Surely it can’t take up that much space?

The 25mm 1.7 really impressed me as well. The focus is so quick and accurate, in comparison the Olympus 45mm felt like a bit of a slouch. I always had a hood on so I had no problem with flare, which this lens is really prone to. But otherwise this lens is such a no brainer if you don’t want to spend the extra money on the 25mm 1.4. I really couldn’t recommend this lens more for Lumix bodies. With my experience and what I have heard though, the focus is much slower and very inaccurate at medium-close distances on Olympus bodies. Another cool feature I really enjoyed is that one can protect the screen by folding it against the body, then just chuck it into your backpack and you’re good to go.

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It’s difficult to write about this camera properly without sounding like a salesman, because I did recognize the limitations of the camera before I bought it and did take this into consideration. If I take a step back and just have a look at the system as a whole, I would have to say that I would love to have better low light performance. Not at an A7s level but having a clean result at 3200 and 6400 iso would be awesome.
Another annoying aspect is that infinity is reached by 3m on most lenses. Now, I am so absolutely not at all into shallow depth of field, not even a little bit. But I do wish sometimes to be able to blur the background a little bit when photographing a subject at 5 or 6m away.

I also knew the camera’s image quality wouldn’t be as brilliant as my old X-E1 or as a new A7x but what I wanted was a camera with quick and accurate auto focus, which wasn’t too bad in filming and wouldn’t cost me an arm and a leg. Added features such as an EVF and wifi were also really welcome. I ended up getting everything I wanted, there’s a very solid lens set up and there’s now even the possibility of getting solid but cheap-er prime lenses. I think next on my list is the Samyang 12mm 2.0 but I am open to any suggestions

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This camera allowed me to have a lot of fun. I ended up photographing way more than usual on my trips because everything just worked. Only 1% of my photos had missed focus and most of the time that was my fault, all were perfectly exposed and I never had any issue because the menu is just so easy to use. This is how it should be. And I think the image quality isn’t actually that bad, especially with a few tweaks. It’s actually really decent.

The camera has clearly matured a lot, and a lot of people claim that Lumix needs to up its game because it is still stuck at 16mp. Now personally, I do not need more than 16mp, but I would much rather prefer some more low light performance and maybe the in body stabilization of the GX8 / EM1?

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Jan 152016
 

best

The Last Best Bit of Him. Capturing my Father Before He’s Gone.

By Greg Turner

Hi Steve,

As ever thanks for all the effort you put into your website. I check it pretty much every day and enjoy the contributions from so many talented photographers as well as your own insights and thoughts. It’s something I look forward to at the end of the day.

Lately my photographic journey has been going through a ‘purple patch’ and I’ve been trying to find an answer to the question ‘what kind of photographer am I?’ Most likely this is just a mid-life crisis but there’s a lot from my childhood that I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to understand and come to terms with and so now I find myself doing that through the medium of photography. Some might think that pretentious. I don’t care. They’re my demons I’ll exercise them any way I like!

One of the things I did over Christmas in pursuit of finding an answer to that question was put together a website. The process of ‘curation’ was fascinating and insightful in itself and it was precisely that process that I hoped would lead me to insight. If I am going to select what I show, I should be able to say why I am showing this and in doing that, come up with an answer to my question.

I named the site ‘Tears in Rain’, the line comes from the film Blade Runner (which has been my favourite film since way before it was cool to say that!) and references the idea of memories being ‘lost, like tears in rain’. I don’t want the memories to be lost; I want them to be captured after all, that is the essence of photography. And since the film and the book on which it’s based, deals with the notion of what it means to be human, I find myself coming up with my answer.

I’m just an amateur photographer, motivated to understand the world and the people who live in it a little better through the medium of photography. The website address is www.tearsinrain.co.uk

Which brings me to the project I really wanted to share with you and one that has had the most profound impact on me personally.

My father was always my inspiration for my interests in life; my hobbies and pursuits all come from him (I get my work ethic and intellectual drive from my mother). It was he who introduced me to photography for example.

About eight years ago he got quite ill and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. As a consequence of this, he had a small blood clot cause a minor stroke of some sort, which in turn resulted in part of his brain tissue dying, the area around the frontal lobe. The consequence of this has been a slow but very noticeable decline in his cognitive ability, empathy and behaviour. He’s formally diagnosed with ‘frontal lobe dementia’ and the condition is progressive. It took a long time to diagnose and for many years we struggled with the subtle but difficult shift in his behaviour. Now that subtlety has long since passed and being with him is a lot like being with a young child.

So as we all watch him fade, and as we struggle to manage his behaviour, it occurred to me that I really needed to both capture the essence of who he is/was now before it’s gone and also, in the process, reconnect with him in some way. So we arranged a photo shoot and these are the pictures I wanted to share. I don’t think the individual pictures need much commentary. For those that are interested (and I see no problem with that), they were taken with a Sony A7s and either the 35mm Sony Zeiss f/1.4 ZA (the B&W image shot at f/1.4) or the Sony Carl Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 ZA with the LA-EA4 adapter (the colour versions, shot at f/5.6 and with off camera flash). There are other images and these at a larger size under the ‘Projects’ folder on the website. The project is called ‘Dad’.

Rememberance

The Creeping Darkness

The Man In-Front of You

This was also my first attempt to shoot with a flash, either on or off camera, though for this shoot I went off camera with a single light source shot through an umbrella. I think the results, good or otherwise as they are, are more good fortune and luck than anything else. But I am very pleased with the results not least because the process of looking and thinking engages us with the subject and it’s been a long time since I properly did that with my father.

Best regards

Greg

Nov 102015
 

The Sony A7SII Review. The King of The Night gets updated.

By Steve Huff

You can buy the A7sII at Amazon HERE

You can also buy it at B&H Photo HERE.

It seems that every time I sit down to write a review lately it is for a new Sony camera, and believe me, as much Sony as you see written here and all over the web (due to so many new cameras coming from them before the Holidays), it is not stopping here. With the RX1R Mark II on the way within days Sony is like a runaway freight train, except instead of crashing and burning at the end of the road I think Sony is hoping for world domination in the world of Mirrorless cameras. I have to say, their plan is working well for them as I know so many who are shooting with the latest generation A7 bodies these days, and they all love them. The A7II, A7RII, and now the A7SII are fantastic full frame 35mm digital cameras that can do it all. With impressive image and video specs, the new breed of a7 cameras are stunning and surpass the 1st gen A7 bodies by a large margin IMO.

But this review is for the newest Sony in the A7 line, the new and improved a7SII. If you missed the original a7S review, see it here as this will not rehash the things that are the same there. 

Empty Swings – A7SII, Voigtlander 35 1.7 Ultron – Click for lager. 

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After reviewing the INCREDIBLE a7R2, it became my #1 go to camera. It pushed aside my old A7s and A7II as it offered the best of both of those bodies. With the A7SII, Sony’s most sensitive low light camera as well as an amazing video machine, Sony has taken the proven sensor and has now put it in the new body which is more solid, with a  better control layout than the previous A7, A7s and A7r. This body is the same as the new Mark II versions, and as I have said before, it is a pretty substantial improvement. After shooting the new a7sII for a while, it was tough to go back to the old A7s body as it felt so much different…not as nice and the shutter button placement on the new body is so much better and natural it is tough to go back to the old style after using the new breed for a while.

But at the end of the day, did Sony pack enough in the Mark II to make it a worthy upgrade to someone who has an a7S already?

A7SII

Well, maybe. Maybe not. That all depends on YOU and what you want. If you want the new body style, then yes. If you was 5 Axis IS, then yes. If you want even better AF performance and new processing then YES! What you will not get in the new A7SII is a new sensor or better low light performance than its older sibling. It is still the tried and true 12MP sensor from the original A7s, which means low light performance will be about the same and IQ should be about the same. Even so, in my shooting I have found that I was getting slightly better color and pop with the new A7sII, though it could have been because of the lens I was using for much of the review..the Excellent Voigtlander 35 1.7 in Leica M mount.

The uber cool Voigtlander 35 1.7 works so well on the new Sony A7 bodies…and the Leica M of course!

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This particular lens gives a “Leica Look” and it has no issues on the A7RII or the A7SII. It’s small, manual focus is easy and the quality is not far off from the Leica or Zeiss 35’s. When I switched back to the standard Sony lenses, I see the familiar rendering of the original “S” model, unless I used the one Sony/Zeiss lens that also gives this look, the 35 1.4 Distagon. When I use the 35 1.7 M mount, I see images that remind me of the old Leica M9, which is legendary in its image rendering. Nothing like it, even today. That lens can be seen at cameraquest.com HERE. My review of that lens is HERE. 

The Color, Pop, Depth and overall IQ of the A7SII is stunning. This are all JPEGS out of camera! EXIF is embedded. I have not seen rendering like this since the Leica M9 ;) 

Click them for larger and better..to see them correctly! 

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Away We Go! 

So after a couple of weeks with the new A7SII, and while still owning the original A7s I was critical of the new body, mainly because I have bonded with my original. Yep,  it has been here since launch. These cameras are not cheap, so I wanted to see if I would pay the upgrade fee for the SII over my old S Mark 1. Before I get into that, let me tell you what Sony improved in the new A7SII over the A7s Mark 1.

  1. New body style. The new A7SII now has the A7RII and A7II body style. I LOVE the new body style and prefer it to the original in a big way. It feels more solid, it feels more comfy and the controls are laid out more natural for your hands. a7SII WIN. 
  2. Seemingly faster AF. While the original A7s was the best A7 body for Auto Focus the A7sII seems to step it up as I was seeing slightly quicker auto focus and it still has the uncanny ability to focus in the dark, even  when I do not use the Af assist. This is the one Sony a7 body with the best AF performance. a7sII Win!
  3. Slightly different IQ out of camera. It seems the colors and snap and pop are slightly different, in a good way. Many shots remind me of the old Leica M9 in rendering, just with a crazy ISO capability. Could be the lens choice as Leica M lenses seem to give more color saturation and pop.
  4. Improved video specs for the video pros. I am not a video guy, but this camera can shoot pro level video without question and I have shot at ISO 200-400,000 and had results I could actually use. It sees in the dark, without question! Video is fantastic. a7SII Win!

Here is what Sony says about the A7SII sensor and BIONZ processor…

“A 12.2MP full-frame Exmor CMOS sensor and BIONZ X image processor work together to enable an expansive dynamic range with minimal noise and notable sensitivity from ISO 100-102400, which is further expandable to ISO 50-409600. Coupled with the large individual pixel size the 12.2MP sensor affords, this camera is well-suited to use in low-light conditions.

The sensor’s design also features a new-generation RGB color filter array, as well as a gapless on-chip lens design. Together, these two technologies enable truly efficient light-gathering abilities that further reinforce the low noise, high-sensitivity design. Furthermore, an anti-reflective coating has also been applied to the seal glass of the image sensor to minimize surface reflections, glare, and ghosting for contrast-rich, color-neutral imagery.

The sensor and processor combination also avail a wealth of performance-related benefits to still shooting, including a Speed Priority continuous shooting rate of 5 fps, or a 2.5 fps shooting rate with continuous AF.

The Fast Intelligent AF system employs 169 AF points (up from 25 points of the original) , which is comprised of 25 contrast-detection points and nine central AF points that have been split into 16 segments each, in order to provide both speed and accuracy in low-light conditions down to -4 EV.

So in a nutshell, the Af is better and faster than the previous A7 body and that one was already the best A7 Af system out there, and the new a7SII focuses without an issue in just about any light I have had it in.

I also have been enjoying shooting in B&W with the a7SII as I find it does very well in this area. These were all shot B&W in camera, all JPEG up to ISO 25,600

1st two with the Voigtlander 35 1.7 Ultron, 3rd with the Zeiss 24-70 f/4 and the last with the gorgeous 35 1.4 Sony/Zeiss

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Niche?

The a7sII is what some would call a “niche” camera as it has a lower megapixel count than what is generally accepted today by pros and pixel peepers. I find 12 to be great for my uses and I would take a guess that 90% of shooters who read this page would be fine with 12MP in the real world as well. Posting images online, making prints up to 16X20 and general use does not require any more than this. I see many friends who just shoot JPEGS casually yet they are using 30-50 megapixel cameras. I see their images on Facebook and as small JPEGS or prints. For that, nothing more than 12MP is needed. If you want to make huge prints on your wall with detail and finesse, you will want a higher MP camera, but for the average shooter, hobbyist or enthusiast I feel there may be more to like from the a7SII than even the fantastic a7RII, but with that said, the mighty a7RII is not that far off in performance from the A7sII when it comes to AF and ISO.

The a7SII focuses faster. It will focus in the dark. It has amazing low light video capabilities and can shoot in places you never could before…of course once you start cranking the ISO past 60,000 or so you will get some offensive noise, but I have images shot at even the max, as a torture test at 409,000 in NO light (only in B&W) just to see what that setting would yield.

High ISO. One strength of the a7s and a7SII both. Same sensor, same ISO capability. 

Now if shooting at 409,000 forget about shooting in color. Turn that camera to HC B&W (high contrast) and take a shot in the dark, literally. The image below was shot in DARKNESS. As in, where I stood I could not even see the ocean! The camera, at this setting gave me an image full of noise and grit but at the same time, it reminds me of some fast film I used to shoot. ISO 6400 film, but this is 409,000 ISO! I can see someone doing a very moody portrait session on the beach at midnight, no lights or flash…may not be ideal but could yield interesting results. I am not afraid of grain, never have been which is why I turn off all noise reduction as soon as I get a new camera. 

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If we step down the ISO a tad…

1st two, 128,000

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ISO 102,800

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Color at 256,000 and lit by the moon

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25,600 at night…

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All samples above were without any noise reduction, zero. All were out of camera JPEG’s, so nothing here is from RAW as Adobe has not updated their software yet for this camera at the time I did teh review. Also, be sure you click the images for the real deal, to see them larger and better and to see the real noise.

Overall the a7SII keeps with the tradition of amazing low light performance, and for me, even after trying all of the others that do well in low light (yes, even the Nikon D750, Canon’s, etc) nothing can do what the a7S series is really capable of. By the time you hit 12,800 on the others you want to stop..with the a7S II you can keep working…yes, with some noise, but you can keep working or maybe even get shots no one else could even dare to try and get. It’s that kind of camera and makes you want to push the crazy limits.

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I even shot some personal video on the beach at ISO 256,000 and 409,000 and it was useable.. I was amazed at what it was doing for me in no light. The a7RII was not too far behind, but it couldn’t match the SII in the dark, focus wise or with ULTRA high ISO as the RII stops at 102,000 ISO. The SII can go up past 400,000 but expect serious grain at that level. In other words, the RII is close  to the SII in Af speed and ISO but the SII does indeed edge it out in both areas.

But it’s just as good in GOOD light!

So while many feel this camera is a one or two trick pony (low light or video) it offers so much more like class leading AF speed and AF in the dark, it offers 5 Axis IS, it offers solid build and great button placement and amazing video. Oh, and it also does DAMN well in great or good or decent light!

Loving the color and pop of the a7SII files..EXIF is embedded on all images but these are shot with a mix of the New Voigtlander 35 1.7 and Sony Zeiss 35 1.4, two fabulous 35’s for the A7 series. OOC JPEGS!

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As with the original Mark I a7s, I see the character and almost medium format look of the files. Many were afraid of this camera due to the 12MP sensor (too low for many) but to the friends I know who bought an a7S, they LOVED it tremendously and created some amazing images with it. Believe me my friends, there is nothing to worry about with the a7S or a7SIi. If you like shooting in low light, or lower than low light, you should seriously consider this camera as it opens up a whole new “nighttime” world where flash or light is not needed. It’s a cool thing and even though other cameras today can shoot in low light or even lower than low light, none of them can do it like this “S” series from Sony. I can only image what they will be doing in 5 more years.

ISO 4,000 with the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 at 1.4 – OOC JPEG, zero NR

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But is it worth the upgrade if you own an a7S?

Even after 2 weeks with the a7SII I am still not 100% sure I would spend the extra on the new version. The a7s sells for $2200 and the new Mark II is $3000. That is a $800 difference. If you already own an A7s, then trying to sell it means you will get around $1400 for it and then have to pony up $1600 MORE for the new version. If this is the case, you have to ask yourself if you want the following:

  • New body style and control layout
  • New 5 Axis IS for image stabilization in video and photos
  • Faster AF, best AF in the A7 line
  • Better video specs over the original  – 4K capable now in camera

Speaking of video, here is the blurb for the new video specs:

“Internal UHD 4K Recording and Full Pixel Readout – Internal recording of UHD 4K movies is possible in multiple frame rates up to 30 fps and, based on the 12.2MP resolution, full pixel readout is possible that is void of pixel binning for higher quality imagery with reduced moiré and aliasing. Full HD 1080p recording is also supported in frame rates up to 120 fps, and both resolutions utilize the 100 Mbps XAVC S format contained within an MP4 wrapper with 4:2:0 sampling. The high-speed, 120 fps recording also enables 4x and 5x slow-motion movie recording with the frame rate set to either 30p or 24p.

In addition to high-resolution internal recording, uncompressed HDMI output also enables the use of an optional external recorder for clean 4K recording with 4:2:2 sampling.”

So you get the 120fps slo motion features as well over the a7s. With the new firmware update from Sony, the a7SII can also shoot uncompressed RAW files. Just what everyone has been asking for.

A7s vs A7sII vs A7rII – QUICK IMAGE COMPARISON for Color and ISO at 25,600. 

Many would call this a silly test. I mean, who shoots at 25,600 ISO? Some do, but not many. The a7SII can go on to ISO 400,000+ so 25,600 should be a piece of cake. This was in my office, late afternoon, one light on in the corner BEHIND the dog toy. Each file is from the camera, as a JPEG. The a7RII file has been resized down to 12 MP so it is a fair fight. Click each one to see the OOC file (again, a7RII was downsized to 12MP)

They all look pretty similar showing the RII hanging with the big boy in the high ISO arena, at least at 25,600!

 

A7SII25600

A7SISO25600

A7RII25600

As you can see, the a7S and a7SII are about the same, while the a7RII is hanging right in there! Not too shabby!

So, again..would you buy an A7sII if you have an A7s?

So while I enjoy the hell out of the new a7SII, I do not think I would sell my a7s and pay $1500 more to get the new version. $700 maybe, $1500 no.

If I was new to the a7 family, I would 100% go with the a7sII over the old model simply due to the fact that 12MP is plenty for me, and I prefer the faster AF, and the best low light performance I can get. It’s got everything one would need BESIDES massive resolution. and while the new A7rII is no slouch in low light, its not quite at the level of the a7SII once it gets darker and  the ISO gets cranked past 25,600.

Few more images with the a7SII. Even in low or mixed light, the camera does very well. Remember, I have all noise reduction OFF. I use NONE. These are all OOC JPEGS. 

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lemon

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My Final Conclusion

Sony seems to be really shooting for the stars as these new Mark II series of A7 have all been phenomenal. Mirrorless is taking off in a huge way. DSLR sales are down, way down..mirrorless sales are UP, way up. I remember when the A7 arrived, the original..many predicted the doom of Mirrorless while I was predicting the slow death of DSLR’s. The slow death of DSLR’s IS happening as many have been switching to mirrorless  – some do it every single day and companies like Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and now even Leica are leading the way for those who want a great mirorrless experience with not many limitations.

In the case of the Sony a7SII, the ability to shoot in any light, with almost any lens made and having 5 Axis IS inside with a great EVF and LCD along with perfect button and control placement, well it just makes it a cool and very capable camera. Nothing quite like it out there right now.

If 12MP doesn’t bother you, I see no reason to go for the A7II or RII over this one. With some M mount lenses this guy will give you an almost Leica M9 feel, not 100% but close. The color pops, OOC JPEGS are fantastic and in the hands of someone with uber talent there would be nothing this camera can’t do..well, even today these cameras are not better than a DSLR for continuous AF but I feel we will be there within a year or two, so sports shooters..I’d stick with your DSLR even though these cameras are plenty fast for just about everything else.

With cel phones taking over as the most used camera in the world, us enthusiasts and hobbyists are becoming a niche breed ourselves. Me, I can’t stand using a phone for any real serious shooting. As good as the iPhone camera is, it does not match something like the Sony A7 series or Leica or Olympus or most other serious cameras. I will take a real camera anyway over a phone, and always will. There will always be a desire for REAL cameras and while one day they may get close to extinction, they never really will. Kind of like Viny Records. They are still being made today for most new music releases. Yep, good old records and they sound GLORIOUS and give a much more “real” experience over digital files or CD. Same way I see a real camera vs a phone. :)

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Pro’s and Con’s of the A7sII

Pros

  1. New body style, better controls and more solid feel
  2. 5 Axis IS inside!
  3. Improved video specs over the original A7s. 4K, slo motion, etc..
  4. Improved AF speed, also focuses in extremely low light
  5. Beautiful IQ with saturated colors and 3D pop 
  6. Built in mics for video are fantastic
  7. Low light capabilities are best in class, without question
  8. Sony has many lenses available now for the FE mount system
  9. Almost any lens can be used here, and M lenses work well with the SII

 

Cons

  1. Same sensor as the original so do not expect ISO improvements or massive changes to IQ
  2. Battery life not the best, as with all Sony A7 series bodies.
  3. Price..at $3,000 it is not cheap, but IMO worth it if you want versatile camera that can shoot anywhere, anytime
  4. No real weather sealing here
  5. Continuous AF could be improved to get to pro DSLR level

So should you buy an a7SII? Well, that is up to you.

This review was shorter than my normal 7-10K word reviews because this is basically an a7s but with a few nice improvements and upgrades along with the new body style. Nothing revolutionary or mind blowing over the original but still enough for many to lust for and want to shoot with this beautiful camera, and it is a beautiful machine. As I shoot it I think back to just 10 years ago at what we had in the digital camera market and if someone would have told me that today in 2015 we would have cameras doing 4K video, ISO 400,000+ and using live view EVF’s that are actually usable..I may not have believed it. We are living in that future and the choices are here. It’s an amazing thing and I can only imagine what the next 10 years will bring to the digital photography world.

Bottom Line: If you want an A7 body, I’d go for this one or the RII. Both are “End Game” cameras, at least for a few years until the next big thing. I still have the original A7s and love it. With the SII and RII, there would be no situation you couldn’t cover.

Oops! Sony did it again!

WHERE TO BUY?

You can buy the A7sII at Amazon HERE

You can also buy it at B&H Photo HERE.

Both shops 100% recommended by me!

HLPHH

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

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I 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, and no, I am not asking you for a penny!

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

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

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Oct 282015
 

Hello Steve,

In 2014 I had an article on your website “portraits from the pub” in B/W, all pictures I made with my beloved  Olympus OMD EM5. Nowadays I shoot most of my work with the Sony A7s the incredible low-light monster with the FE 55mm 1.8. I still make portraits in the pub.

This is an example. Keep up going with your wonderful website!

bobbier

If you want to see more go to flickr.com/rene van wijck

Oct 262015
 

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Shooting at ISO 409,600 with the Sony A7SII

By Steve Huff

NOTE: THIS IS NOT MY A7SII REVIEW! Just an EXTREME High ISO demonstration. My review will be up within 2 weeks as I will be traveling to Key West next week to do more testing with the camera. 

You can order the A7SII at B&H Photo HERE or at Amazon HERE.  ISO range 50 – 409,600 

I have been shooting with the Sony A7SII for about a week now and I am again in love. Ever since the Sony A7II, then A7RII I have really been enjoying my Sony cameras. The A7RII is VERY hard to beat for a high res monster camera, and I have put many snaps on the RII I have here. It’s my daily shooter. Now that Sony sent me an A7SII to review I am just amazed at what can be accomplished in ANY light, at ANY time and yes, even up to the max ISO of 409,600. Now, of course there will be lots of noise at ISO 409,600 but I have NEVER seen ANY camera, film or digital, that can do what the AS7II does in low light or even darkness.

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Using the 16-35 or 35 1.4 Sony the A7SII focuses lightning fast, even in darkness WITHOUT an AF assist lamp. Oh, it has one, but I turn it off as it doesn’t need it.

I recently was at the state fair shooting and then went off to San Diego this past weekend to see how far I could push the limits of high ISO with the new A7SII. I pushed the limits with the original A7S in the past, and have a post up about that HERE.  Only thing is now that I look back, I did not go past 102,000 ISO with the original A7S. This time I wanted to go to the MAX or ISO 409,600 with the new A7SII just to see if it would be usable AT ALL. What I found was that while shooting in the DARK with no light source besides the moon the A7SII was giving me results that I actually liked at ISO 409,600. I would not use that on a regular basis but if you are in a situation without light, in the dark and want a camera that can actually get a shot in this situation, the only one that will do it is the A7SII.

Using Native lenses with AF, the A7SII never once failed to lock focus quickly, even in 90% DARKNESS. Using Manual M mount lenses was a breeze and gave me color and pop that reminded me so much of the Leica M9. Imagine Leica M9 output but with capability to ISO 409,600. At 409,600 the Sony A7sII looks like the Leica M9 at ISO 2500. Technology has evolved GREATLY.

Below I will show you some EXTREME ISO examples, all the way up to ISO 409,600 but shot in near darkness. Again, shooting color at 409,600 would not be advisable but shooting B&W is quite nice. With color I stop at 256,000 ISO with the A7SII. Think about that. Remember the old Canon 1Ds, the 1st one? At ISO 640 it was very noisy. Now we have a camera that is a fraction of the cost, same size sensor, can use almost any lens made and shoots up to ISO 409,600 while giving Auto Focus performance in crazy low light situations that no other camera made can do. Insane how far the digital camera world has come.

All I know is now I want the A7SII for those very low light scenarios. I also shot some video at ISO 256,000 and it was STUNNING, again, in virtually NO light. This camera will be able to break down barriers as you can shoot it in ANY light, period. In good light, as I said, it is very M9-ish…

Two shots below..click them to see better versions. These are not crazy high ISO but show the color and pop that reminds me of  the M9. 1st Shot was the 35 1.4 Sony, 2nd the 35 1.7 Voigtlander M mount. 

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This one is at IS) 4000 and with this camera I consider that low ISO ;) 

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If you clicked on the above images and are on a large screen you will see the depth and pop of the files from this camera at lower ISO’s. You can see more HERE if you missed my post last week.

ULTRA LOW LIGHT AND EXTREME HIGH ISO UP TO 409,600

So this is what this post is about, take a look at some extreme high ISO samples from the A7SII. All are OOC JPEGS, ZERO NR (turned OFF in camera so no noise reduction).

This 1st shot at 10,000 ISO  – well, it was 90% dark. My iPhone would have caught this as a black scene as would my GoPro I had. The A7SII cranked to 10,000 ISO without any Noise Reduction lit up the scene dramatically. It did NOT look anything like this in reality. It was dark. The lights in the BG were not lighting up the cemetery. The darker the scene, the harder it is for any camera to get a noise free image, but at 10,000 ISO and zero NR, no camera could match this under these shooting situations. 

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All images above should be clicked on to see them correctly. But the only light source on the beach was the moon. In person my GoPro would see nothing but blackness. No other camera would be able to see anything unless you had a tripod and a  long exposure. A friend of mine was shooting his A7RII at max ISO and it was looking good as well but the A7SII takes it further with capability to 409,600. With an ISO range from 50 to 409,600…just wow. Thats all I got.

You can order the A7S Mark II at B&H Photo HERE or Amazon HERE.

MORE TO COME IN THE NEXT 1-2 MONTHS:

Sony A7SII review

Sony RX1R II review

Leica SL Review

and more..

 

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HLPHH

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

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I 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, and no, I am not asking you for a penny!

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

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

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

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

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

Oct 202015
 

Hi Steve,

A talented dancer, Jen recently graduated from Duke University and was awarded a Benenson Award to pursue independent arts-centered projects. Her project was to explore the New York dance scene by taking classes at different studios in many different disciplines.

The brick-paved road, still glistening with the recent NY rain, served as our backdrop for a fun photoshoot during her last week in NY.

Jen is on her way to China to teach dance workshops at the non-profit foundation, IDEAS, to high-schoolers about self-expression and creativity through movement.

—————-
Shot on A7s, 35mm/1.4, edited in VSCO mobile

For more pictures: www.instagram.com/scrumphsus

Processed with VSCOcam with c4 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with c4 preset

Sep 232015
 

title35

The Voigtlander 35 1.7 Ultron VM (Leica Mount) Lens Review

By Steve Huff

We are living in a GREAT  time for our hobby or our profession or our obsession..no matter what you call it..it is Photography. Today we have some pretty technologically advanced marvel cameras, simple basic cameras, amazing mid level cameras and even fantastic lower end cameras. Today we have more camera tech available at our disposal than at anytime in history. Even though the worlds #1 camera today is the iPhone, if you are reading this article then that must mean you are here because you appreciate quality and the process of photography, something you lose with an iPhone as you main camera.

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Today I will be taking a look at the new Voigtlander 35 f/1.7 VM lens (Leica M Mount) but I will be shooting it on the Sony A7RII as that is now my #1 camera around here, and for me, the best full frame 35mm mirrorless camera made today. With the new backlit sensor tech, Sony has eliminated mostly all of the old issues when using wider angle Leica glass, at least the color issues ;) This lens works very well on the Sony A7RII, so every image in this review will have been shot with that camera and this lens (as well as the Zeiss ZM 35 1.4 Leica Mount for comparison).

One of my 1st shots with the lens which was indoors so not a ton of light. I opened up the lens, focused and shot. To me, the color is very good as is the OOF background rendering. Smooth rendering with a sharp subject. No issues.

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When Stephen Gandy, head dude over at Cameraquest emailed me and said “The new 35 1.7’s are in, do you want to review one”? Of course I said YES YES YES! I have been curious about this lens but I wasn’t excited about it as I “assumed” it would be average. Not sure why I thought that when the Voigtlander 50 1.5 Nokton hit it out of the park with bang for the buck. That little 50 1.5 came so close to the Leica 50 Summilux at 1/4 the cost it was a no brainer for those who wanted that fast 50 rangefinder lens experience without spending $4000. You can see my review of that lens HERE, well worth a read and look if you missed it as that lens is a stunner for the money. Then again, Voigtlander has always been known to be big on “bang for the buck” but what I have noticed over the past 7 years is that each time Voigtlander releases a new lens, it seems to be notch up in quality from design, build, operation and image quality. Yep, in 2015 Voigtlander lenses are kicking some serious bootie, and the new 35 1.7 VM is no exception.

My dog Olive who is a total ham. She knows when I am taking her picture, and when I aim the camera she sits and looks, as if to pose. She also watches full TV shows, interacts with animals on TV and sleeps like a human, on her back. Odd ball dog, but here she is at f/1.7 with the new 35 VM. 2nd shot wide open again!

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Over the years I have reviewed many Voigtlander lenses on these very pages. Usually on a Leica M, but these days the Sony A7 series has improved considerably since the beginning about 2 1/2 years ago. While the Leica M is a gorgeous body, camera and the ultimate in “pride of ownership”, it is expensive and many are buying the Sony’s as an alternate to the full frame M and many M owners have an A7 of some sort as a backup and extra camera to their M. Many ask me daily how these lenses do on the A7RII, so this is where I will be concentrating. Of all the Voigtlander lenses I have used, reviewed, and tested the 50 1.5 is my fave, followed by this one. While I loved many of the lenses these two recent additions are really showing what this company can do when they set their mind to it.

The Lens Arrives

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When I received the lens and opened it up I saw I had been sent the CHROME version, and it looks quite a bit like the 50 1.5 I have been speaking about here. This is good as it is a retro but cool design and it is easy to focus and change your aperture. Smooth yet solid, and the lens is a joy to use. It is also thin and small which is nice. MUCH smaller than the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4, smaller than the Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM and while not as small as the Sony 35 2.8, it is a much different type of lens.

When I attached it to the camera and took my 1st shots I was happy to see the color performance was gorgeous and the lens was pretty damn sharp wide open. It offered that “Voigtlander Look” but to me, it seemed sharper, crisper, better bokeh and color than normal. I liked it. Maybe it was the Sony but what was coming out of the camera with this lens wide open made me happy :)

Both shots below were shot wide open at f/1.7. 1st one I had some natural light coming in, the 2nd image was different. It was much dimmer here than the 1st image but the fast aperture let me get as much light in as I could. 

CLICK them for larger

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As I used the lens more and more over the 2 weeks I had it, I was liking it and decided that I wanted to see how it would stand up to the Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM that comes in at $2300. The Voigtlander comes in at under $900, so it is more than 2X less than the Zeiss. I would expect the Zeiss to come out ahead but had to see for myself what an extra $1300 would buy me ;)

Zeiss vs Voigtlander

The Voigtlander 35 1.7 next to the Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM

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Below are some images comparing both the Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM and  the Voigtlander 35 1.7 VM, both Leica M mount and mounted to my A7RII with the Voigtlander close focus M adapter.

Click the images to see larger and full 100% crops. These are right from the camera with no tweaks at all. FROM RAW.

1st one is the Voigtlander, 2nd is the Zeiss. 

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For this set the Zeiss is showing a tad more color pop and sharpness in the crop (click them for full crop)

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At the end of the day, the Zeiss is a tad better for sharpness at 1.7 but I prefer the bokeh of the Voigtlander which also seems to be giving a more shallow DOF than the Zeiss wen using the same aperture. Very odd but I have seen this before with different lens brands. I love the Zeiss, and it’s about as good as it gets in a 35mm for Leica M mount (it has been compared favorably to the Leica 35 Summilux that comes in at $5500). The Voigtlander is really only a teeny but behind in sharpness wide open. Both are fantastic but one is $1300 less expensive and smaller. Hmmmm.

The Voigtlander also focuses closer than the Zeiss. 

Ultimately it is up to the user which one is preferred, if any. In the world of 35mm for Leica we have many choices from old to modern. For Sony FE we have a load of lenses as well that can be used, so they should be chosen like an artist would choose his brush or pencil. Choose the lens for the desired “look” or “character” of what you want to see in your final image. This lens will give you a creamy look with you subject popping from a 3D background when shot wide open. Just like a good fast 35 should do. It has a decent background blur (Bokeh) rendering and I find it quite pleasing, even better than the Zeiss. It is small, well made (feels leica-ish) and gorgeous in black or chrome. Can’t go wrong.

#1, mailbox at f/1.7. #2, Hula Hoopers at The Duce. #3, Mailbox up close (and the top is OOF due to the depth of field being so shallow, not a lens issue)

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ONE MORE BIG COMPARISON – “Against all the others”

Left to right: Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 Distagon, Zeiss Loxia 35 f/2, Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM, Voigtlander 35 1.7 VM and the Sony/Zeiss 35 2.8

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Many have asked me just this morning to add a quick comparison to the Sony 35 1.4, Loxia 35, and Sony 35 2.8 in addition to the Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM. Well, see the image above for the size differences, and see below for the image samples with each lens! Your wish is my command! (sometimes, lol).

I am using the Sony A7s for  this one and below are full size images from camera (RAW) without any modifications. What I am looking at  here is sharpness of the subject (face of the bottle) and the Bokeh (background blur quality) as well as the color performance. What do YOU think? Leave a comment and let me know! For me, the ultimate IQ comes from the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 but it is huge. The 2nd fave of mine is now the Voigtlander, then the Loxia, then the Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM and then the 2.8.

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So there ya go ;) Let me know in the comments which rendering you prefer. 

ISSUES?

No wide angle lens will be perfect on the Sony A7 series, even the RII. While the A7RII has improved considerably with M lenses, there is still one issue that seems to remain. SOFT edges with some lenses. Instead of magenta side we now will be left with soft sides on many occasions. THIS only comes into play if you are stopped down and wanting perfect corner to corner sharpness. ON the Leica M it will work well, on the Sony not so much.

If you shoot this lens wide open you will never see it. That is where the character lies in this lens anyway. Stopping it down to f/8 will give you no better quality than almost any other 35mm that will fit on the Sony. For me it is a non issue, but for many they want that stopped down corner to corner performance. If that is the case, and you shoot with a Sony A7 series camera, I highly recommend the Sony 35 1.4 which is STUNNING but HUGE. See that review HERE.

You will also see some slight vignetting with this lens when wide open on the Sony A7RII or A7s or A7II, but you will also get that with the Zeiss 35 1.4 ZM on the Sony. You will also get the slight vignetting wide open when using it on the Leica M.

If you want perfection in 35mm, buy either a Leica M and a Leica 35 Summilux FLE or buy an A7RII and the Sony/Zeiss 35 1.4 Distagon. Both of those will offer you about the best 35mm performance you will see in full frame, no matter the type of camera. If you want a fun unique lens that also comes with a very cool and fun user experience of using an all manual lens all while getting massive character and IQ, take a look at the Voigtlander. I love it just as much as I do the 50 1.5 Nokton. I highly recommend it for Leica M or A7RII shooters!!! 

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WHERE TO BUY?

You can buy this lens at Cameraquest HERE. Best prices, and free filter and overnight shipping.  

They are the official USA distributor for Voigtlander and top notch all the way!! 

——————————————-

HLPHH

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

Hello to all! For the past 7 years I have been running this website and it has grown to beyond my wildest dreams. Some days this very website has over 200,000 visitors and because of this I need and use superfast dedicated web servers to host the site. Running this site costs quite a bit of cash every single month and on top of that, I work full-time 60+ hours a week on it each and every single day of the week (I 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, and no, I am not asking you for a penny!

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

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

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

AMAZON LINK (you can bookmark this one)

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

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

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

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

Sep 182015
 

Steve/Brandon,

I’ve been a longtime reader of your site. Your reviews helped me purchase a Leica M7, Summicron 50, M-P (type 240) and a Sony A7S.

The photo I’m submitting for Quick Shot is from my Leica M-P with the Summicron 50mm. I shot Courtney Refakes (@courtneyrefakes) on a photo walk in Los Angeles called Street Meet LA (@streetmeetla). I’ve done photo walks before but none with models. It was a great walk and I got some really fantastic shots and met some really creative photographers. The photo walk was in a park under Pasadena’s Colorado Street bridge with fantastic backlit sunlight, as you can see.

Thanks again for your great blog!

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Anthony Dalesandro
http://www.anthonydalesandro.com

Sep 082015
 

A Visual Review of the Sony a7RII

By Marc Weisberg

Steve and Brandon, thank you for the opportunity to post with you for a second time. What you do for the photography community worldwide, is raise the bar on awareness and vision and provide an opportunity to be seen and heard. I applaud your continued efforts. I know first hand that it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and passion to keep fresh content on your site, and that it is a labor of love.

I’ve always believed in picking the best tool for the job. Since selling all my Canon gear last January {and I had lots} I’ve slowly purchased many new tools. To wit: Sony a6000, Sony a7s, Sony a7II and recently I acquired the a7RII.

My Sony glass collection has also grown to include: Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA, Sony FE 16-35mm f/4.0 Z OSS, FE 24-70mm f/2.8 Z OSS, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA , Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS {for me is a life changing lens} I use the 90 for portraits, landscapes and macro photography, and the Sony 70-200 f/4.0 G OSS.

You may be thinking….”Hey dude. Overkill!” However, I use everybody and every lens for specific purposes. I have five different photography sites and specialize in a broad range of photography. Broad range – specialize…oxymoron? As I mentioned above the right tool for the right job.

Recently I headed out on a 2,700 mile road trip with my family. Orange County, CA –> Moab –> Aspen–> Denver –> Albuquerque –> Sedona for twelve days. In the first two days I photographed over 128gb of RAW images on the a7RII. I brought two bodies with me the a7RII and the a7s and all my lenses, sans the Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA.

How is the a7RII Compared to the Sony a7II and Sony a7s?

The a7RII has a more pro feel to it. For all purposed the a7RII exterior body is identical to the a7II in feel and texture. Both have a more beefier grip than the a7s and the same matte finish. External buttons and controls are the same too with the exception of a lock button that now resides in the middle of the top wheel that controls M,S,A,P etc. Its what’s inside the camera that make the a7RII a megapixel beast compared to the a7II and a7s. I’ve never used the original a7R nor even held it in my hands so I can not speak to the differences between the original a7R and the new a7RII. The one thing that sticks out to me that is quite different is the shutter sound. Its more of a soft mechanical Shushing sound reminiscent of a mechanical film camera. A welcomed and reassuring sound.

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The menu system has some welcomed upgrades {9 frame built-in bracketing, bracketing with self timer and many, many more,} a new full-frame backlit CMOS sensor, in camera stabilization, amazing dynamic range, 4k video capabilities and the 42.3 megapixels {which have the ability to capture stunning clarity and detail} that is sending shockwaves through the photographic community. And yes there are 399 focusing points, on sensor phase detection for faster auto focusing, as well as contrast detection. The a7RII also allows any lens, Canon, Nikon, Leica, vintage etc. to be used on the body via an adapter. Essentially making its usage available every person who delights in using their favorite lens or lenses.

To see a full list of menu upgrades head on over to my friend and fellow Sony Artisan Brian Smith’s (http://briansmith.com/ten-great-new-settings-on-sony-a7rii/) web page. And of course Silent Mode is built into the a7RII body so you can shoot in complete silence. No sound…not even a whisper.

The Proof

Although I pride myself on knowing the technical aspects and details of the craft of photography…for me the proof is always in the captured image. I’m simply blown away by the amazing detail and clarity of imagery I’m able to capture with the Sony a7RII and Sony lens line up. Now I know what all the fuss is with fan boys about medium format digital cameras. The detail and clarity is amazing. Each time I brought up an image on screen from the a7RII I would sit in front of my computer and go WOW! I’ve been photographing for 17 years now and for 15 years professionally. I started out with Canon 35mm, moved to a Hasselblad 503, then got the first Canon 1D when it came out. But never have I owned a camera this capable or seen this type of detail and clarity which is coming out of the a7RII.

Below I’ll share a few single capture images from the a7RII. Each image is captured RAW. I’m a RAW shooter period. Images are culled in PhotoMechanic and post processed in Lightroom 6.1.1 Crops are 100% to show the clarity, detail and dynamic range of each image. After the A7RII images I’ll discuss briefly why I have so many bodies and what I use them for.

IMAGE 1. Moab, Canyonlands National Park, Utah. a7RII, 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS, ISO 100, 1/125th/sec, f/6.3. Tripod.

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IMAGE 2. 100% crop.

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IMAGE 3. Maroon Bells, Aspen, CO. a7RII, FE 16-35mm f/4.0 Z OSS, ISO 200, 1/3 sec. f/16. Tripod.

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IMAGE 4. 100% crop.

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IMAGE 5. Independence Pass, Aspen, CO. a7RII, Sony 70-200 f/4.0 G OSS, ISO 400, 1.160th/sec, f/10. Tripod.

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IMAGE 6. 100% crop.

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IMAGE 7. Abandoned home, 1800’s Stage Coach town, Lake County, CO. a7RII, Sony 70-200 f/4.0 G OSS, ISO 400, 1/160th/sec. f/10. Handheld.

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IMAGE 8. 100% crop.

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IMAGE 9. Old silver and gold mining town of Leadville, CO. a7RII, FE 24-70mm f/2.8 Z OSS, ISO 200, 1/160th/sec., f/10. Handheld.

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IMAGE 10. 100% crop.

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IMAGE 11. 100% crop.

IMAGE 12. Enchantment Resort, Sedona AZ. a7RII, Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS. ISO 200, 1/250th/sec., f/14. Hand held.

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IMAGE 13. 100% crop.

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The Verdict

The a7RII produces stellar, clean files with superb clarity and detail. I haven’t profiled the camera for my computer yet. But noticed that I do need to spend a bit more time getting the landscape colors where I wanted them. The files from the a7RII are almost 2x the size of my a7II and almost 4x the size of my a7s.

The only thing that I noticed on ingest into Adobe LR 6.1.1 is when building the previews, it took substantially longer than my a7II and a7s files. But that is to be expected when you are dealing with 42.3 megapixel files. When taking successive shots with the a7RII the buffer will take a while to store the images to the SD card. During this time menus can not be accessed. During my 12 days on the road and pressing the camera into use in severe locations with 102 degree temperatures I experienced ZERO glitches. The a7RII performed perfectly. Battery life appears to be the same for the a7RII as for my other a7 series cameras. Shooting in harsh conditions, sensor dust is expected and was easily blown off. Once during my trip I wet cleaned both sensors. Again, to be expected for 12 days of continuous outdoor shooting in harsh element.

The Proper Tool for the Job

As I mentioned above I have five different sites: my overall site, luxury real estate and architectural photography, pet photography, weddings and wine and food. During the course of a month I typically am photographing a weddings, family and children’s portraits, ridiculously wonderful pet photography ®, doing video and stills for wine and food, and several luxury real estate and architectural shoots destined for web and print. Often during the course of the month I’ll be photographing for magazines, both articles and cover images. And to satisfy my soul, I’ll throw some street photography into the mix.

Wedding & Family Photography

a7s can capture clean images up to ISO 51,200. Light is always changing and its my go to event camera. I may purchase a second a7s body. A7RII for portraits at weddings and for families and children – on a tripod. A7II is my back up camera for family portraits and children’s portraits – on a tripod

Luxury Real Estate Photography

a7s because of its low light capabilities and super clean files. a7RII for luxury real estate photography magazine work.

Pet Photography

a7s for quick focusing clean files in changing outdoor lighting conditions, and the a7RII, if it will be for a magazine cover work.

Wine and Food Photography

a7s for on location shooting 1080p video. And the a7RII for tripod macro stills and 4k video.

Personal Work and Street Shooting

The a6000 with the Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA. Super compact, highly capable set up and very discreet.

About Marc

Marc Weisberg is a photographer, photography educator and blogger based in Irvine, California. He specializes in a broad genre of photography including luxury real estate photography, wine & food, family events, and ridiculously wonderful pet photography. You’ll find Marc’s trademark – magazine style imagery published internationally in books and magazines. In early 2015 Marc aligned with Sony to become a member of the Sony Artisan of Imagery program. You can see more of Marc’s work at www.marcweisberg.com

Jun 082015
 

darnight

The Mitakon Dark Night 50 0.95

By Isi Akahome

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Hi, my name is Isi, and I’m a bokeholic. It all started when I first shot with a rebel t2i in Target, and I fell in love with blurred backgrounds. Ever since then, I’ve chased after the widest aperture lenses. I remember drooling over the Leica Noticlux 50mm 0.95 when Steve and Digitalrev did their reviews on the lens. I wanted one, but unfortunately, the acquisition cost was laughable. My favorite lens on my old Nikon D800 was the 50mm 1.4, and then mirrorless cameras came out and that opened up the opportunity to get even wider apertures on a full frame sensor. Last November, I got the AMAZING Sony A7S and I started looking into moderately priced manual lenses with good optics. The thought of manually focusing was scary, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. The first lens I got was the Canon fd 58mm f/1.2, but it wasn’t as sharp as I would have liked and didn’t provide the amount of contrast I was looking for. This image below is a perfect example. The lens does render bokeh quite nicely.

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Then the Mitakon lens was announced! 50mm f/0.95 for under $1,000? It was like a dream come true. I remember scouring the internet for reviews and sample images for weeks. The comparison Steve did with the Noctilux was very helpful, because the difference in performance wasn’t nearly as close as the difference in price. In fact, in my opinion, it was negligible. After a lot of contemplation, I decided to get one. I found a demo copy on eBay for $750. The packaging was exceptional. It made me feel like I just purchased a priceless work of art. The box the lens comes in is quite spectacular, and the lens has a nice heft to it. It looks very well built, and for the price, I have no quibbles about the build quality. I decided this was going to be the lens I would use for most of my assignments. It seemed like it would be up to the task. I just had to master focusing with the lens wide open with that razor thin depth of field. The results have been nothing short of amazing. The subject isolation I was getting was just so unique that I was only shooting at f/0.95.

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Getting sharp focus accurately and consistently is quite challenging, but focus peaking comes in quite handy, and my accuracy has gone up substantially. Sometimes I just move a couple of inches back or forward as my subject(s) move, instead of turning the focus ring, and that makes a world of difference in getting shots in focus. When the focus is spot on, the sharpness wide open is very good, especially for portraits. Here a few shots I did for clients in varying situations.

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The one advantage that’s rarely mentioned about wide aperture lenses is the amount of shadow detail you get in situations when the subject is backlit. The faces of subjects are much brighter than with any of the other fast lenses I’ve used. Even in this photo with the harsh backlight from the sunset, the amount of shadow detail is quite impressive.

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Wedding season is about to start, and I’m both nervous and excited to use this bad boy to shoot full weddings. I think the difference between f1.2 and f0.95 is noticeable, it could be due to the fact that the lens has a certain look and character that makes the images unique to my eye. I don’t really have any complaints, except for the distracting bokeh rendering of foliage or busy backgrounds I sometimes get.

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I also shot the lens at smaller apertures because I had to in studio conditions, and it performed just as well as I would expect. These were shot at f5.6.

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I am very pleased with the results I have been getting with this lens. Even for random shots, it works fantastically. I took this as our plane was taking off from New Jersey.

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Mitakon has done something special with this lens. It is such a bargain considering what the lens can do. I would recommend this lens to anyone looking for a fast 50mm lens for their Sony A7 series camera, or other bokeholics who just want the shallowest depth of field with the added benefit of a versatile focal length. It’s a lot of fun to use, and you get all the bokeh you can handle. Don’t worry about manually focusing either. With focus peaking, it’s a breeze, and it almost forces you to compose your shots with more thought, purpose, and precision.

Thanks for reading. You can see more samples of my work on: www.isispiks.com.

Keep up the awesome work Steve! You’re a rockstar.

Isi Akahome

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