Jul 202015
 
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Getting a Grip on the Leica Q: The Match Technical Thumbs Up EP-SQ grip Review

By Ashwin Rao

Hi everyone,

I recently had a chance to test out a production proof of the Thumbs Up EP-SQ grip for the Leica Q. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Match Technical’ s Thumbs Up grips, they are mountable on a camera’s hot shoe and provide a nice firm rest upon which to rest the thumb. Many people who shoot Leica cameras, which can be slippery in hand at times, prefer to add these grips to the camera. They act similar to how the film-advance levers of days-gone-by work as thumb rests. I can honestly say that this is a great ergonomic addition to the already fantastic Leica Q, adding that little extra bit of purchase that makes Match Technical’s Thumbs Up grips so popular.

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One “criticism” of the Leica Q is that the thumb indent, which Leica astutely placed on the camera’s rear, is a bit too far off to the edge of the camera and creates hand fatigue if solely used for gripping. I definitely found this to be an issue and addressed the issue in part by adding Leica’s own baseplate/grip. The EP-SQ design uses the indent as a method for securing the grip in place, while adding a nice rest that places the photographer’s thumb in a more comfortable position for shooting.

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One important added benefit of this Thumbs Up is that its design limits inadvertently bumping the Diopter adjustment dial(adjacent to the EVF), which often does go out of whack without protection. The grip effectively limits access to this dial, which is a good thing, as it prevents shirts or other factors to bump the deal and cause your EVF to be thrown out of focus.

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Unfortunately, by mounting the Thumbs Up EP-SQ on your Leica Q, lose access to the hotshoe, but with the Q’s ISO capacities, a flash is rarely needed. This, to me, is a small price to play for the ergonomic benefit of having a better grip on the camera.As an owner of the Thumbs Up Grips for the Leica M8, M9, M240, M246, X1, and Fuji XPro-1, I can confidently say that that Thumbs Up EP-SQ does much of the same for the Leica Q as it does for those cameras….it adds a nice secure grip if one feels that they require more than the Leica’s own offerings.

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I personally use the Thumbs Up in conjunction with Leica’s baseplate grip, for a really firm grasp and a camera that’s well balanced for me (not front heavy). However, may prefer to use their cameras with just the Thumbs-Up Grip, and I can confirm that using the camera in this manner feels quite secure as well.

Below are a few more pictures of the grip. I have been a fan of the Match Technical’s Thumbs Up designs for nearly a decade, and I suspect that you too will enjoy the experience of using a Thumbs Up on the Leica Q.

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You can find pre-order options for the EP-SQ through Match Technical’s own site, or through many of Leica’s own authorized dealers.

http://www.matchtechnical.com/Pages/purchase.aspx

Steve’s Leica Q Review – HERE

Ashwin’s Leica Q Review – HERE

Jul 132015
 
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Fingers Crossed: Leica Q Landscape Impressions

By David Nash

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I have to come clean: despite happily sticking with the wonderful Nikon D800e since it came out – and having no wish to change it in the forseeable future – I’ve bought and sold so many “small” cameras over the years that I’ve never settled with. To rub it in they’re all still there to remind me, listed every time I open in my Lightroom metadata tabs. Mmm.

Then along comes the Leica Q and seems to tick so many boxes: weight, size, IQ, DNG, fast sharp lens, full frame, fast autofocus, real dials, build quality, and very important for me with varifocal glasses – a really good built-in EVF (not an ugly plastic one to stick on top!).

Oh, and there’s one more key requirement for a walkabout camera: I have to be able to take photos one-handed while holding leads for to 25kilo poodles in the other hand…….

But like many I was initially slightly put off by the 28mm as opposed to 35mm which seemed about right for a general purpose carry around camera – and also by the emphasis in reviews on street photography (Not my comfort zone. I prefer trees – they don’t move so readily). Then I thought it through – I can easily crop to 35mm and still easily print A3+ and larger, and I can zoom with my feet.

So I took the plunge. Below are some of my first shots. A little work in Lightroom for the black and white images, and I’ve included at the end a color landscape, more or less as shot.

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Touch wood, this really does seem to tick all the “small camera” boxes for me. Your needs might be different. Your dogs might be smaller and lighter than mine. You might not wear varifocals and be happy without a viewfinder.

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Yes there are quirks. I don’t get why there are no tabs on the menus so you have to scroll through them all, why you must have jpegs whether you want them or not. The auto white balance seemed strange at first (7500k in sunlit scenes??) but it does actually seem near enough right. And yes it is very, very expensive.

But the bottom line is so easy to use casually, and fantastic IQ from a fantastic lens. For once Leica seem ahead of the game and listening to potential users. So maybe, just maybe, this one won’t be going on eBay in a month or so…

Thanks for reading and thanks Steve for your great site!

David Nash
Edinburgh, UK

Jul 132015
 
Sakura and Mount Fuji

A Review of the Sony A7II from a Newbie to Photography

by Alex Foon

Sakura and Mount Fuji

Hi Steve!

First of all thanks for hosting such a wonderful, no-nonsense website that I’ve been religiously visiting every single day. The past six months had been a roller coaster ride for me (photographically speaking) and I just managed to find time, sit down and write a photography beginner’s review of the Sony A7 mark II.

Prior to 12 Dec 2014, my tool for photography had been limited to camera phone and then smartphones. Back then, I never understood why some of my friends were into this expensive hobby called “photography” – the hassle to carry DSLRs the size and weight of a bowling ball, lifting it up to your face, adjust the settings for what lasted like an eternity, and then fire in burst; when the simple action of whipping out the iPhone could seemingly produce similar results.

Fast forward to the fateful 12 Dec 2014, I touched down at the airport after a grueling business trip, in my mind I was thinking perhaps I could do a little shopping therapy and so I aimlessly walked into the Sony store. The storekeeper told me that their latest release was the Sony A7II (just launched that day) and 10 minutes later I walked out with the A7II kit bundle, not knowing better what I had gotten myself into.

Of course over the next few days I was quite excited about my new toy, I had absolutely zero idea about what was aperture, shutter speed, metering, exposure, depth of field and etc. (maybe I still don’t quite get it now). It was frustrating to have such a high-end camera and yet the images I captured were not up to my expectation. I started researching online about how to operate the camera and how to capture a photograph properly, and that’s when I chanced upon your review of the A7II. It was almost instinctive that I made another investment in a prime lens (FE Zeiss 55 1.8, still my favorite lens to date) instead of keeping the kit zoom 28-70 (not that it’s a bad lens either).

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And then things started to get very interesting.

I suppose I needed to justify my impulse purchase, hence I brought the A7II with me everywhere I went, from daily grind in the office, to Penang, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, Tokyo, Beijing and many more locales to come. The delectable combo of the lightweight A7II body coupled with solidly build FE lenses means it’s possible for me to carry them in my backpack all the time, and this allowed me to shoot whenever I find pockets of time in between.

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Great Wall Beijing

The improved ergonomics of the second iteration of the A7 series body should not be underestimated. The grip is beefed up for a firmer one handed operations when needed, and coupled with the placement of the shutter button, this alone potentially allows an additional stop of stability over the corresponding mark I’s in the series. And you’ll be surprised that a 45 degrees slant of the C3 button (C2 in mark I’s) can really improve the functionality of the camera especially when using manual focus.

Speaking of focusing, having such a shallow depth of field in full frame bodies makes the autofocus unreliable at times, you thought you might have nailed the focus on the eyes but when you review it again the spectacles were in focus instead. So 90% of the time I opt to use manual focus. MF is made stupidly easy and some might even argue that it is faster than the AF on the A7ii, turn the focus ring and the image magnifies, press my assigned C3 button and the focus magnifier further zooms in for fine tuning.

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With the OLED EVF, what you see is what you get! No more worrying about whether you nailed the exposure or the focus. The in-body 5 axis image stabilizer further supports the notion of WYSIWYG because I could be having seizure and still manage to see through the EVF and get a shot in focus. (alright, I promise this would be my only attempt in over-exaggerating, but you guys get the idea ;-D)

The short flange distance of the full frame A7ii camera body, working in tandem with manual focus assist tools and the IBIS, enable users to mount possibly every single camera lens ever made, as long as there is an adapter made to mount it. From my current favorite and affordable Minoltas, to the wallet breaking but absolutely fantastic Leicas, there is a lens for A7 users on any level of budget.

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I understand that Sony had announced the lustrous A7RII, and how willing am I to sell a kidney for that one. Looking at it from another angle, I’m glad Sony had priced the A7II at almost half price of the A7RII. And for all the joy and memories it had brought me over past half a year, I think this was the best impulsive buy that I had ever made. Today, I hope I had at least learnt something about aperture, shutter speed and whatnots, and I might have found a lifelong passion in photography.

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I will check out for now with 10 photos I had taken over the past 6 months with the A7II. Hope to finish my first roll soon on the Minolta SRT Super so I can send some entries in for Film Friday ;)

Till then, keep shooting.
Alex

Flickr: alex.foon
Facebook: facebook.com/sotongball
Email: [email protected]

Jul 082015
 

The crazy colorful world of the LOMO LC-A Art lens

by Huss Hardan

Hello Huffsters!

Brad Husick wrote a nice initial impression piece on the new LOMO LC-A Art lens. A pancake lens, rangefinder coupled for M mount cameras. Which also means that with adapters it can be used on almost anything.

It’s the cheapest, new with full warranty (2 years) M lens currently available. The parts come from Russia (nothing like your Nikon D610), and the bits are assembled in China (just like your Nikon D610).

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Anyway, enough of the small talk. What’s it like? Well….it’s meant for use on film cameras which is what I really bought it for – to use on a Leica MDa (a Leica M4 without a rangefinder or viewfinder). So on a digital Leica like my M it will smear in the corners just like any wide-angle non Leica manufactured lens (think most Cosina Voigtlanders). It will give wild colour casts and deep saturations. It will give sharp results in the center, not so much away from it. It will give some hefty barrel distortion.

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Much of this – the colour casts, the distortion – can be fixed post. But that defeats the purpose of this lens, as if you are going to do that you will just be left with a mediocre boring lens. Instead of a mediocre interesting lens!

It is the flaws that what make it, and so should be embraced. Otherwise shop elsewhere.

Of note: In the images here I did not boost colour saturation. This is what the lens does. I also noticed that I had to increase exposure by one stop in auto mode on the M.

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All images were taken the day I got the lens, down the street from my gallery – www.huzgalleries.com – in San Pedro, CA. Come visit us, it’s lovely!

Peace out

Huss

Jul 022015
 
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A Tribute to the Leica X

by Oliver Angus

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I’m a 35 years old French man (so, I beg your pardon for my far from perfect English), and I’m fond of photography.

In January 2015, I went to my Leica Dealer, In Paris, Bd Beaumarchais, and I bought a Leica X, Typ 113 (who invented such a stupid name ? Hey, man, this is not a car, this is a camera !).

It’s a gorgeous camera, and I will show you, at the end of this post, my first pictures with it, but now, I would like to talk about my previous camera : the leica X1, and to pay tribute to it, in order to say « au revoir ».

I bought this tittle gem in september 2010, a week before the birth of my daughter (another gem, much more precious). Previously, I spend hours on the internet to choose the perfect camera for me.

At this prehistoric times, the choice was much more simple than today : I was looking for a light and silent camera, with a IQ as good as DSLR’s. And the X was the one. Quite expensive, that’s a fact, but similar to a DSLR, IQ speaking, with a good prime lens and much more desirable. 10 days after this purchase, my daughter joined us, and I started to take stills of all this precious moments which flew away so fast.

I took my X1 with me all the time, during holiday, of course, but also, during the week ends, when we went to a park or a playground, or even ay work. I’m not a materialist person, but each time it was a pleasure to open the leather bag of the camera, to turn the aperture ring and to shoot.

Steve recently talk about the X files « that no other camera has » and I can’t be agree more.

During all these years, I’ve read religiously Steve’s posts and reviews, but also Ming Thein’s ones, every day, and I’ve seen all these fantastic new cameras arrived on the market : the fuji X100, the Sony RX1R, the Nikon Df, the Sony A7s, and each time, I asked to myself, Isn’t it the moment to buy a new camera, faster and with a faster lens ? And each time, I answer to myself : yes, this is a nice camera, but I do prefer the ergonomic of the X, I do prefer the leica color rendition (than the fuji, for instance), I don’t need anything else than my 35mm, and even if it’s not able to shoot in the dark, this is not a real issue.

A lot of people talked about the lack of an OVF, but, to be honest, I don’t need one. I’ve learned to focus thanks to the screen, and for portraits, a lot of people are intimidated if they are shot through a VF whereas they are not if they see the eyes of the photographer.

In fact, it was not about reason, but about connection with the camera.

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So I kept my X1, month after month.

But, with the time, the lens took more and more time to protract when I turned the camera on, and, honestly, my G.A.S was stronger and stronger.

I was considering buying a Fuji, and suddenly, the X arrived.

I’ve red Steve Review and I’am agree with the marketing flaw about the 1.7 aperture, but, the truth is : I don’t care.

Post scriptum : after 6 months of use, I’m as fan of the X, than I used to be of the X1. Maybe more, if possible. It’s one million times faster, and this is a huge improvement. The manual focus is easier to make. It’s even more gorgeous thank the X1. Any cons ? It’s a little bigger than the X1 and the color rendition, ooc in raw, was perhaps better in the X1. But as you can see, I rarely use color because, when I take my camera, I see the world in black and white (and greys).

Few weeks ago, Leica announced it’s Leica Q, which is basically an X, with a full frame sensor. It must be a wonderful camera; i have no doubt on this. But, for now, I’ve cured may Gear Acquisition syndrome. Can’t promise I won’t have a relapse in the future, but, before that I will enjoy my damn good X.
So long life to the X’s !

Best regards

Olivier
Here are some pictures with my Leica X.

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A lot more in my Flickr : //www.flickr.com/photos/23366047@N07/

The Leica X is available at B&H Photo, Amazon, Ken Hansen or PopFlash!

Jun 302015
 
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Visiting CHERNOBYL. A Photo Diary

by Gary Mather

 

Here is some brief history –

On Saturday, April 26, 1986, a disaster occurred which has been widely regarded as the worst accident in the history of nuclear power in the world. The accident occurred when the fourth reactor suffered a huge power increase. This led to the core of the reactor exploding. Due to this explosion, large amounts of radioactive materials and fuel were released into the atmosphere. This lit the combustable graphite moderator on fire. This fire greatened the release of radioactive material, which was carried by the smoke of the fire, into the environment and atmosphere.

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Radioactive fallout drifted over parts of the western Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, the UK, and the eastern United States. Large areas of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were badly contaminated. About 60% of the radioactive fallout landed in Belarus. About 350,000 people needed to be evacuated and moved to other places where they could live after the accident.

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Once the seriousness of the situation was known, Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the USSR at the time, quickly gathered the top physicists and nuclear experts at his disposal to assess the situation. Thirty-six hours after the initial explosion, these experts decided the residents of Pripyat must evacuate. Residents were given two hours to gather their belongings. The evacuation of Pripyat’s 43,000 residents took 3.5 hours, using 1,100 buses from Kiev. Residents remember that everyone was in a hurry, but nobody was panicking.

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The residents of Pripyat were initially told they would be evacuated only for three days. However, to this day, the town is uninhabitable. Pripyat city was founded in the 1970s, when the nuclear power plant opened. The site today is practically a museum showing the late Soviet era. With entirely abandoned buildings, including abandoned apartment buildings (four of which were yet to be used), swimming pools and hospitals, everything inside remains, from records to papers to children’s toys and clothing. Prypiat and the surrounding area will not be safe for people to live there for several centuries. Scientists think that the most dangerous radioactive elements will take up to nine hundred years to decay sufficiently to render the area safe.
We were there for a total of 2 days and I can feel we only scratched the surface of what happened on that fateful day.

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I was 13 when this disaster accoured and my only fleeting memory was seeing clips on the news as a child. To me it was something that happened a long way away in a place I could not even pronounce. I have wanted to visit this site for quite some time now, and I was, for want of a better word, lucky to have had that privilage just a few months ago.

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It is only when you are actually there can you understand the impact of such a huge global disaster, the heroism of the firefighters and the people first on the scene. It will be a memory that will stay with me for a very long time, It’s just a shame our time here was so fleeting.

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We explored hospitals, schools and the fairground where stands the almost iconic ferris wheel still waiting to be ridden to this very day. The piano still standing in the music hall and the 3 empty seats left in the burn out lecture room. In the hospital maternity dept room full of empty cots sit silent. Of the whole trip the most poignant moment was seeing the childrens gas masks littered all over the floor of the elementry school in the town of Pripyat.

Gary Mather

Jun 292015
 

Sony A7II with FE 35 1.4 and A7R with 55 1.8

by Kenneth Wang

Hi Steve,

I’m a old school amateur photographer who waited until 2009 to change from film to digital cameras. Prior to making the switch, I searched the internet for information about digital photography, when I found your site, your reviews and user reports provided a good guide for me to make the leap.

I now take pictures with Sony equipment, and in my recent trip to Japan and Alaska, I used a Sony A7II with the new FE 35mm 1.4 lens, along with a Sony A7r with the FE 55mm 1.8 lens.

Both the A7II and A7r systems take great pictures, but the character of the pictures are different as you compare them in the following pictures. The A7II has a natural rendering, while the A7r has a 3D pop.

Both the FE 35mm 1.4 lens and the FE 55mm 1.8 lens are sharp, precise and colorful.

Pictures 1 – 4 were taken with the A7r system, pictures 5 -8 were taken with the A7II system

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A7ii 35mm ISO 200 640th sec f 4 pic 6

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A7r 55mm ISO 100 80th sec f 10 pic 1

A7r 55mm ISO 100 200th sec f 4 pic 4

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A7r 55mm ISO 100 500th sec f 4 pic 3

Jun 292015
 
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Instax fun, fun, fun!

In memory of my father, Andre Lietaert.

By Ivan Lietaert

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On the 28th of February, my father, Andre Lietaert died. As my family and I were coming terms with this loss, we were going through old shoe boxes filled with pictures and old photographic albums, sifting through the pictures covering a whole life of 78 years. Then I suddenly came across a picture I had totally forgotten it even existed: a polaroid picture of me and my dad, shaky and awkward in color, between 35 and 40 years old. It must be the oldest picture I have of the two of us. In the days and weeks that followed, I was on an emotional ride, and my attention shifted to organising the funeral and more mundane tasks that needed to be done.

But that polaroid had nested deep inside my brain and soon after, I started doing research about instant pictures anno 2015. I quickly came across Fujifilm’s take on the instant picture: the Instax cameras. Until some weeks ago, I was so preoccupied with digital photography (and video), I didn’t even know that instant film is still around, or put to words even better: instant film is coming back. Polaroid stopped producing their instant film, but enthusiasts recreated the original film, and now have a huge following with their “Impossible Project”, I learned. And then there is Fujifilm’s Instax, quite popular in Asia, but less known here in Europe.

After quite extensive research, I decided to jump the wagon and I bought the Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic, Fujifilm’s most advanced camera, targeted towards the creative enthusiast.

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Now, the thing is that using this camera requires a whole different approach and technique compared to digital photography. There is no chimping, no snapping, no shooting tens or hundreds of pictures and then simply deleting the bad ones. No! Taking an Instax picture is an event, it produces a unique print, that will cost you about 1 euro or 1 dollar. So immediately it makes you much more considerate and careful about the framing and the lighting, and even then, you will from time feel guilty when a shot failed. Basically, as when shooting film, it slows down the whole photographic process, and then, of course, there is the exciting waiting game as the picture is developing right there in your hands. As the picture leaves the camera after exposure, a rolling mechanism spreads the developing chemicals across the photographic paper and the development starts. After a minute or so – speed depends on the ambient temperature – the first details appear, and the picture is fully developed after approximately 10 minutes, when the chemical process comes to a halt.

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So I took my little daughter to the park and shot my first packet of 10 instax pictures there. I soon found out that this kind of photography is definitely lo-fi, with quite unsharp results, and the lighting/metering is tricky as well, with various degrees of success. But I found the whole thing so intriguing, I was hooked, I guess, and by the end of the week, I had ordered an Instax 210 online, which takes Instax Wide pictures, double the size of the Instax Mini. Both Instax cameras have been around for several years now, and I find them to be both quite well built, though plastic, of course.

Instax has been marketed in various ways. First, there is the ‘fun approach’. Young children love instant pictures; they are fascinated by the pictures as they slowly, as if by magic, appear. Kids (and their parents!) will love it when you give them the pictures to take home, much more than staring at your phone, or the back of your camera. It is great fun at parties – for the young and the old – and the people take home a lasting memory of the event.

Second, Instax is also targeted towards the hipster crowd, male and female; the younger generation of creative people, fashionable, who appreciate the things that really matter. Especially the Mini 90, with its sleek, retro-modern Fujifilm design, seems targeted at young fashionistas and cool, macho hipsters.
There is yet another, more relevant argument to consider: Print It Or Loose It! As this campaign article explains, up to 70 per cent of the youth between 16 and 24 already have lost pictures of important events in their life (due to drive crashes, faulty memory cards, stolen phones etc). Not convinced? Read more about the phenomenon called data rot here. With the Instax camera, you get instantly printed pictures and they will last a lifetime, and beyond. So even in the scenario a global, cataclysmic event, in let’s say 50 years time, your Instax pictures will survive and be a testament to posterity! So here are a couple of my pictures that illustrate how families are likely to take advantage of the Instax cameras.

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None of the Instax cameras have a true manual mode; in fact, I tend to get good results in auto mode, but still the outcome of each shot is quite unpredictable. My Instax Mini 90 has a tendency to slightly overexpose, which can be a nuisance. Also, the flash seems to have a mind of its own, ignoring my input. Both cameras have a fixed aperture (F12), there is no zoom and there is little tweaking possible as far as exposure is concerned: one can darken or lighten a picture, and that is it. The Mini 90 has a built in macro mode which allows the closest distance to be 30 cm. The Instax Wide comes with a macro/selfie clip-on lens. The macro mode is interesting for detailed close ups, and it also allows to create a background blur… sort of.

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I have used both cameras for some weeks now, and I have still not made up my mind which camera I like best: they both have their positive sides, and their drawbacks. The Mini 90 is small and has lots of creative modes (macro mode, party, kids, double exposure, bulb, darken/lighten). The mini pictures are slightly smaller than a credit card. The Instax Wide is much bulkier, ridiculous really, but renders a picture double the resolution and size of the Mini; also, the great Robert Frank, yes the one of the legendary, groundbreaking photographic book ‘The Americans’, owns one and was quoted saying it takes pictures of “very high quality”. Mind you, this Instax 210 costs only about 70 euros… If you can’t seem to choose between the mini and the wide, like me, buy both because they are dirt cheap anyhow!

The Mini 90 has the most creative modes and my favourite is the ‘double exposure’; here are two results. Again, the outcome of the technique is quite unpredictable, which is actually a good thing, because it is all very exciting.

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Really, these Instax cameras stimulate creativity a lot, and soon I was laying out the pictures on my scanner, with various fabrics, cloths and shirts on top them giving this as a result, like a scrapbook. It is great fun, and if you don’t have a scanner, just organise the instants on a nice surface, take out your mobile phone, and take a digital picture of them. Remember: it is likely that the original instant picture will outlive yourself and the digital scan/picture you made of them!

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Admittedly, these two fun, dumbed down, plastic toy cameras had rekindled my photographic enthusiasm! I have even dreamed about them, really! But then I started wondering about how useful they would be in a more serious context. What about the unimpressive latitude/dynamic range of the Instax? And, when you start pixel peeping, these instax pictures are awfully unsharp, aren’t they? So my next step was to look at what could be done with them in post, creating a digitally remastered instant picture! I soon discovered that these Instax prints get even better when you add a bit of sharpness and detail. Then I discovered that they can be easily successfully worked upon in post, with various, very unique results. I prefer using the official Google+ app, these days, for my post work, and usually, adding just a few tweaks and effects, will give quite a spectacular, atmospheric result. Below is a picture I took at Polygon Wood, a World War One cemetery nearby where I live – the Ypres/Passchendaele region in Flanders, Belgium. The first is a scan of the original Instax. Those under that one are various tweaked images I got in Google+. Now, I’m not saying these are masterpieces, but they clearly illustrate my point.

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Finally, I must warn you, dear reader, on at least two points. First, shooting Instax is highly addictive, and it is not a cheap addiction. So before you go out with one of these, make sure you are in a serene, meditative, controlled mood; if not, Instax costs will eat your wallet empty soon enough.
Second, using Instax may open the gate to analogue photography. I may introduce you, like it did with me, to a whole different photographic universe of laid back, slow paced photography… which, of course, is not a bad thing, is it?

Ivan Lietaert,
Belgium

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ivanlietaert/

BUY THE INSTANX AT B&H PHOTO HERE

Jun 222015
 
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The Leica Q…in Review

By Ashwin Rao

Buy/Order the Q from Ken Hansen, PopFlash.com, or B&H Photo. 
Let me just start by saying that the Leica Q is one of the most engaging, inspiring cameras that I have owned to date. I would also suggest that it is this decade’s version of the legendary Digilux-2…read more below to understand why….

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If that’s all that you take away from the review, that’s great. An educator once told me that you should say what you are about to say, then say it, and finish by saying what you jyst said. With this article, I intend to proceed as such. The Leica Q is a great camera… Even at it’s price. Even though it’s not a rangefinder. Even though it’s unlikely to be a Leica through and through. It’s capable of harnessing one’s spirit, capturing the decisive moment, and challenging the photographer all at once, all in the most facile of ways. See there you go, I have gone and said it again, in a slightly different way. Okay, now getting that out of the way, let’s dig deeper.

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Hello, my friends and photographers. By now, many of you have read the glowing reviews that came alongside the announcement of the Leica Q. Such luminaries as Steve himself, Jono Slack, Ming Thien, Sean Ried, Michael Reichmann, and others deconstruct, reconstruct, and then deconstruct the camera again. I am not here to re-hash this territory, other than to say that I agree with much, if not all, of what these reviews have said in their uniform praise of the Q. I am here to give you my own impressions and take on the camera, it’s build, its DNA, it’s capacities as a tool for photography, and it’s operation, and I have now had the chance to spend a bit more time with the camera, having been one of the first lucky few to have received my camera from the Leica Store Bellevue.

For those of you who have not read the reviews, here’s the low down. The Leica Q is a fixed-lens autofocus, Leica M-styled camera that’s not an M camera at all. It’s built to an incredibly high standard and sports a 24 MP full frame sensor and a fast 28 mm f/1.7 Aspherical Summilux Lens. It sports an industry leading 3.7 megapixel non-OLED EVF with a solid refresh rate (read not many shuddering images while moving the camera through the scene) and a design that allows for easy use even with glasses on (thanks for thinking of us old folks wearing glasses, Leica). It’s not weather sealed. It has a mechanical leaf shutter that moves from 1+ sec through 1/2000 sec, after which an electronic shutter kicks in, capable of achieving shutter speeds as high as 1/16,000 sec (thus, there is zero issue with shooting wide open in the brightest of daylight settings). The leaf shutter is nearly silent in and of itself, and the camera is thus very operationally discrete, while obviating issues such as shutter shake. There’s no built in flash, but this can be added via hot shoe. It records video, for those who care about video (I don’t). It’s layout is very simple. 5 buttons to the left of the screen, and a click wheel to the right. There are only 2 other dials up top, one for shutter speed and one to adjust exposure compensation, which is not marked. There’s the On-off toggle switch, which houses the shutter release. Oh yes, that video button (I don’t use it, unless I inadvertently push it). The awesome 28 mm f/1.7 Summilux lens has a very “M-lens” like feel, with a hood that echoes the most recent Summarit line. The hood screws on, once you remove the included protective retainer ring. The focusing tab on the ring allows you to easily focus manual, as the lens has a nice, shot focus throw, but also readily clicks into full AF mode by turning the barrel fully counter clockwise until it clicks into place. There’s a macro ring, that can be turned to enable a lovely macro option, that allows focus between 0.17 and 0.13 meters, while the standard non-macro setting focuses between 0.3 meters and infinity. The menu system is very clean and simply laid out, more so than even the current generation of M digital cameras. The screen is a touch screen, and one can use finger touch to set focus if desired. In image review mode, images can be swiped or pinched to allow for zooming or image review. Finally, there’s a small unmarked button on the back of the camera just below the shutter speed dial, that allows you to enable 35 mm of 50 mm “frame lines”, basically a digital crop for those who wish to use the camera at “other focal lengths”.

These are details that most of you already know, but I wanted to summarize it all in one place. With that summary out of the way, let’s dig deeper.

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Colors

The Leica Q offers a moderately different color palette than either the Leica M240 or the M9 before it. Leica has not announced from whom the sensor comes from. I have my theories, and will get to that later in the article, but suffice it to say that colors are punchy even for out-of-camera DNG files. Unlike the muted palette of the M9 and M8, there’s a lot more color pop up front from the Q, which can take some adjustment. However, once you get adjusted, what you are left with is a camera that produces some of the best colors seen in Leica land.

I struggled mightily with skin tones and colors when attempting to use the M240 during my brief sojourn with that camera. Suffice to say, I was quite concerned about a “repeat performance” with the Q, but thankfully, this is not the case. For those of you who enjoy the M240’s color palette, prepare for a different experience. Same goes for you who preferred the M9 color palette. However, I must say that many of us M shooters who enjoyed the M9’s color palette may be quite pleased by what the Q offers.

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At times, skin tones can drift towards an “orange” bias, but this is easy to fix in Lightroom or other similar applications when encountered. Fact of the matter is that most of the time, colors coming out of the camera properly represent the color palette of the scene. The camera is nicely transparent in this ways. Auto white balance does great outdoors, slightly less so indoors, but this too is easily correctible during editing, and truth be told, most of the time, colors under incandescent or fluorescent light are appropriate.

All in all, the camera performs very well in this department.

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ISO performance

Let’s get this out of the way. This camera is middle-of-the-road for full frame ISO performance. It’s totally adequate and appropriate in the ISO department through ISO 6400, but once ISO 12,500 is reached, things can get a bit iffy, particularly if processing heavily. If properly exposed, you get a very useable file through 12,500, but in general, I would hesitate going any higher, due to noticeable horizontal banding that is encountered within shadows. But with a fast lens attached at f/1.7, I rarely felt challenged by any low light limitation. While the Q is no Sony A7s, it stands up quite well to the Sony A7 and other cameras considered to be low-light stars or keepers of the night.

 

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Image quality

The image quality coming from the Leica Q is astounding. The 28 mm Summilux is capable of achieving incredible detail, while producing a pleasant, non-distracting, painterly out of focus. If I were rating bokeh, as I have in the past, the Q’s 28 mm Summilux rates as a 9/10. Images are nicely sharp, particularly in the center, at f/1.7, and by f/4, the images sharpen up from corner to corner. I suspect that the lens produces a slight curvature of field that contributes to softer edges on plane when shooting brick walls, but in real world application, this slight curvature of field may actually enhance subject isolation (for aspects of the image that are in focus) while creating a 3 dimensional effect, which can be very pleasing even for a lens this wide. Coupled with a fast open aperture, the whole image is rendered beautifully. While I will leave it to others to do ISO test and aperture comparisons, I will say that the Leica Q has simply never let me down in the image quality department. Coupled with the color performance of the sensor, the lack of an anti-aliasing (AA) filter, the Leica Q becomes a powerhouse, if judged only by the retina-searing quality of image that it produces.

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The 28 mm lens

did Leica use a 28 mm lens? For many, 28 mm is too wide. It is nearly impossible to get a portrait shot, and if you do, you’ll get a ton of distortion, and your subjects will be mad at you, unless you step back a few feet.

Leica states that the 28 mm lens was designed in-house with a goal of allowing those who chose to use the camera a great option for street and reportage photography. While I think some of this is marketing know-how, I do feel that the 28 mm lens may well have been chosen for a few other reasons. First, the camera’s implementation and design makes it clear to me that Leica’s positioning itself for both its base (aging shooters with progressive vision deterioration), alongside a younger customer base with money to spend), bringing the camera’s operational capacities into the 21st century, with amenities such as wifi, NFC, phone apps for teathering, and a touch screen. 28 mm is exciting to the Leica base, as a lens that offers great opportunities for street and reportage photography. 28 mm is a popular focal length particularly popular with many shooters who don’t even know it: cell phone shooters. The iPhone, for example, has historically employed a 28 mm equivalent lens. It’s a great option not only for street photos, but for selfies, for family outings, for gatherings with friends. It’s the focal length that’s social-media savvy, and Leica knows it.

Second, Leica is trying to establish a branding identity and a sense of novelty in the market. Never has a fixed full frame digital camera been released with a fast-wide lens such as the incredible 28 mm Summilux. Most people who have shot the Q or thought about the purchase wonder: why not 35 mm or 50 mm for the lens? Leica saw the success of the Sony RX1/R with it’s 35 mm f/2 Sonnar lens, and saw an opportunity to make something similar, yet slightly different, to separate it from Sony’s past offering to which the camera is most often compared, as well as to any future RX2, which is likely to come sporting some of Sony’s latest and greatest tech.

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The lens does include a separate ring for macro photography mode. One turn of the inner most ring into “MACRO” allows the camera to focus (manual or AF) between 0.17 m and 0.3 M. In fact, turning the ring procures a separate focusing scale, which is hidden from view when the camera is used in standard operation. This feature is incredibly handily when shooting near-field objects (think food photography). The implementation of the MACRO ring itself is one of the camera’s few weaknesses, as it’s a bit hard to turn the ring when desired. Maybe that’s by intention, but it feels that the ring could have been designed for smoother operational execution.

I also suspect that Leica introduced the 28 mm lens, as it may have been particularly adept at working with the sensor that they are using in the camera. I find it incredibly fascinating that Leica is choosing not to disclose the manufacturer of the sensor, but here again, I have my theory, so read on to find this out . Ultimately, I suspect that to some degree, lens and sensor were designed with one another in mind, and the performance of the lens-sensor combination in the Leica Q is astounding.

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In hand

I find that Leica Q’s haptics to be fantastic. I have been using the camera since day one with the accessory handgrip and attached loop. The grip and loop make the camera very easy to hold steadily, with confidence and no fear that it may slip out of hand. The Q itself is a slightly airy camera, clearly lighter than the M line, but with the added grip, there’s an addition of slight heft that gives the camera more confident feel. Without the grip, the camera is truly a bit slippery, and the thumb indent that Leica added is positioned to far to the far edge of the camera to permit comfortable hand holding. The grip fixes this issue. ‘’

The camera’s edges are nicely rounded, and unlike the Leica T, with it’s more angular build, the Q does not seem to cut into skin as much. The Q is substantially heftier than the T series and it’s girth and bulk will feel quite familiar to users of the M system. Some may raise concerns that it’s not nearly as compact as Sony’s RX1/R, but then again, I think Leica made the proper choice in proportioning the camera as a Leica M to attract its base of M camera users. To the Leica M shooter, the camera will feel “familiar” in hand.

I do wish Leica would use traditional vulcanite leatherette, as the pebbled texture of Vulcanite used for older M cameras truly enhances the photographer’s hold on the camera. The Q comes equipped with a grip that may be familiar to X camera owners. It’s not as tactile, and looks decidedly more modern. It’s a decent look, but one that could use refinement.

With the accessory grip added, the camera’s haptics feel more complete. It’s heft is pleasant. The grip firms up the hold on the camera.

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In operation

It’s at this point that I will begin to GUSH about the Leica Q. Leica (and Panasonic) did their homework on this camera, and it shows. The camera is truly a dream to operate. The menu system is well laid out, complementing the camera’s operational simplicity. In fact, this is a camera that one can pick up, figure out within a few minutes, and begin shooting happily. It produces RAW files in the DNG format, thus immediately portable into most photo editing applications (in my case, Adobe Lightroom)

Autofocus is fast and accurate. This has not been talked about in glowing detail, but deserves to be highlighted. In my experience, the Leica Q has the most responsive autofocus of any mirrorless camera that I have tried. Not only is AF responsive, but also focusing is accurate. The Q gives the photographer the brilliant option of setting the focus point anywhere on the screen, and this system works well when the photographer is permitted the time to set the focus point (be it center or off to the side). Once focus zone is set, the camera nails focus every time. For many of us whose eyesight wanes with each year, having a camera with accurate and responsive AF in the design/build of a M camera (yes, not an M, but it sure feels like one, doesn’t it?) is a marvelous thing.

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While most of us will use the camera in single-shot focus mode (AF-S), the camera is quite adept at tracking focus if using the AF-C mode. Whole it’s not a sports shooter, it can easily track faster moving children and nail focus. The camera can be set to single- or multi-shot modes, and can acquire up to 9 frames in a second using the high speed burst rate. I was suitably impressed while employing AF-C with a high burst rate, while capturing fast moving children on a slip-n-slide, for example, to feel that the continuous AF mode coupled with burst shooting would allow me to capture a “mobile” decisive moment opportunity .
Using the lens in the field is also great. One can easily click into autofocus mode if one chooses, but one can also use the manual focusing option by rotating the focus wheel out of the AF position, at which point the camera uses focus magnification and peaking to aid the photographer in achieving focus. Coupled with the camera’s magnificent 3.7 megapixel EVF, focusing is not challenging. Added to the mix is diopter control, allowing the operator of the camera to adjust the diopter to his/her liking.
Menu layout is clear, clean, and intuitive, and the LCD screen can be used in broad daylight without much difficulty. Some may sight that the camera does not possess an articulating LCD, but this stands against Leica’s simplicity-is-utility design ethos, and I am fine with it. The less fiddly the camera, the better, in my opinion. With a clean user layout, and clean menu structure, operational simplicity, and very fast autofocus, what we are left with is a camera that is incredibly inspiring in operation. The Leica Q is a camera that simply does not get in the way of the photographer’s experience. I would say that the Leica Q’s operations enhance photographer’s user experience and motivates and inspires those who shoot it…to shoot it more. It’s that good. Really!

Crop Mode

I wanted to discuss crop mode briefly, as most simply cast this “feature” aside when discussing the camera. I belive that Leica considers the crop mode to be important, or else they would not have included a dedicated button to enable digital cropping. Implementation of the crop mode is fantastic. By clicking the button once, the EVF is “enhanced” by frame lines, thus producing a very rangefinder like experience. Shooting in 35 mm produces a 15 MP image, which is plenty sufficient to adjust in processing. Given that 28 mm and 35 mm are not that far apart, the camera can be used quite comfortably in 35 mm crop mode without much loss of feel.

Once cropped again, into 50 mm mode, things get a bit murkier. Now, the file produced is digitally cropped down to 7 MP. Editing becomes more of a chore, since less of the image is present to work with. Further, distortions present due to the 28 mm effective field of view are introduced, making portraiture in the 50 mm crop less than ideal.

I suspect that Leica envisions a certain group of photographers using the digital crop button to permit the camera to be used as a “Tri-Elmar” , but the compromises at play, while seeming acceptable at 35 mm, are less so at 50 mm.

All of that said, it’s nice to have a digital crop when operating the camera. Further, it’s nice to know that the camera has saved the full 28 mm field of view in the RAW file, so it’s easy to reclaim “lost data” in post processing if needed.

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Compared to the RX1

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Herein lies another question that comes up often, since the Leica Q was introduced. What’s Leica doing that Sony was not doing 2 years ago, when the RX1 was introduced and made its splash? Should I get the RX1 for it’s more desired 35 mm lens?

The choice of lens is a very personal. I would say that for those who don’t enjoy wide-angle photography and prefer 35 mm to 28, the Leica Q may not be an ideal companion. Further, the Q feels and is truly a bigger camera than the RX1, so if compactness is the ultimate goal, the RX1 achieves this better than the Q. Finally, image quality. The RX1/R produced and still produces brilliant files. This is no different today, and in fact, many, myself included, consider the Sony RX1 to be a modern legend in digital photography. Is the Q better? In a word: YES.

The fact of the matter is that the Q does so many things better than the RX1/R that the comparison is somewhat silly. The Q sports a built in EVF, which allows the camera to be used more like a traditional camera. Autofocus and operational implementation is far superior. The Q features a far more intuitive layout, with a less-is-more approach. While the RX1 is more compact, the Q feels fantastic in hand and retains enough compactness that it will fit in many of the same outfits for which the RX1 was purposed. Certainly, Sony’s RX2 (you know it’s coming) will feature a new degree of compactness, but Sony have never been known to design a camera for those who value simplicity and intention of use. Some complain that Sony cameras feel like computers. I don’t feel strongly, in this regard, but I will say that the Leica Q feels convincingly like a camera designed by and for photographers who appreciate simplicity of design. With the Leica Q, all of the key controls are readily accessible, while the rest are found easily in the camera’s sub menus.

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Compared to the Ricoh GR

Ricoh produced the pocket dynamite Ricoh GR 2 years ago, and it’s truly held up to the test of time as a camera that many street and documentary photographers carry in the pocket. Like the Q, the Ricoh GR sports a 28 mm equivalent lens, albeit on a APS-C size sensor.

The Ricoh GR has been one of my favorite cameras, and it’s a camera that I have had by my side for 2 years. It’s a dramatically different camera than the Q, as it is much smaller and is truly pocketable. Thus, the Leica Q will not replace or supplant the GR for my purposes. It’s form factor is just too different.

I would say that the GR’s file quality is more clinical, with better edge-to-edge sharpness wide open than the Leica Q demonstrates even when stopped to f/2.8. However, the Q offers a full frame sensor, Leica’s operational simplicity and haptics, and a fast/remarkable lens.

Both cameras are great. Choose the one that fits your needs the best. I chose both.

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Panasonic collaboration

Here’s the topic that no one’s really gotten into, and I wanted to shake a few trees and see what leaves fall down…Bottom line.: think it’s too much to say that Leica designed and implemented this most of this camera on their own. While the camera proudly reads “Leica Camera Wetzlar Germany” above the rear LCD, it does not clearly state “Made in Germany by Leica”, now does it? Nor does it say Leica Camera AG Germany. I say all this while laughing a bit, because none of it matters, other than in branding efforts. If you are reading this article, would you rather be buying a Leica or a Panasonic camera? I know where I’d fall in this regard
If one looks closely, the Leica Q has Panasonic’s fingerprints all over it. From implementation of the touch screen, to the wifi implementation, to the use of a Panasonic battery (DMW-BLC12) that’s been used extensively for Panasonic’s FZ1000 and Leica’s V-Lux line, this camera “reeks” of Panasonic influence. Heck, it’s clear to me that Panasonic had a strong hand in designing the Leica Q’s autofocus system. It’s too good to be a Leica design of its own. Some have gone as far as to say that it maybe Panasonic through and through, including the Summilux lens with an interesting f/1.7 maximum aperture, which is rare for Leica lenses but a common choice for Panasonic-designed lenses. Oh yeah, then there’s that sensor, which Leica refuses to disclose it’s source of manufacture, other than to say that the sensor is not manufactured by CMOSIS or Sony…Well, Panasonic is another company who sits ideally positioned, through its relationship with Leica, to offer up a chip of this high regard. Might not the sensor be of Panasonic manufacture? These are all of my theories, but ultimately, I suspect that Panasonic had a strong hand in designing the camera’s innards. From the outside, the Leica Q is truly, thoroughly a Leica, just like the Pana-Leica Digilux 2 before it….

Thus for me, the Leica Q is this generation’s Digilux!

 

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I find the Leica Q to be a fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable camera, one that’s inspired new levels of creativity in me. I am truly fascinated by the camera and would easily say that it’s one of my favorite digital cameras of all time. It’s really a perfect, take everywhere companion. It’s incredibly well thought out, laid out, and implemented in a way to appeal to photographers who want their camera out of the way and photographers who want to grow into their photographer ever more. The Leica Q forces you to grow, and for that growth, you will be rewarded by fantastic images.

I hope that you have enjoyed the photos, all taken during my first week with the camera. For those of you who want to see more, follow this link to my flickr site:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ashwinrao1/sets/72157654470404392
Enjoy the ride, and I will see you soon enough, just down the road, around the corner, Q in hand.

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Jun 192015
 

Love my Sony A7II…it inspires me!

by Jens Niedzielski

Hello Steve!

I’ve been reading your website / blog quite a bit lately, as I have become an avid user – and fan – of the Sony A7 (Mark II). After following your experiences with the A7 and A7s, and trying the A7s myself during a shoot in the Maldives in March, I decided to get the A7ii, and I am using it extensively ever since (darn, they just announced the A7R Mark II…).

I’d say the Sony really makes me want to take photos so much more than any other camera before – one reason being the fact that I can throw an endless array of vintage MF lenses on it. Lately I shoot almost exclusively manually, even fast-moving objects (kids (haha), horses etc). And I got hold of really nice vintage glass, from Canon FD lenses, to old Nikkor lenses, Rokkor, Takumar, Zeiss Jena, Jupiter, Industar, MIR, to name a few.

Anyway – thanks for pointing me in the right direction :) Attached please find 3 recent photos taken, and I hope they are somewhat inspiring… All taken with the A7II.

1. GO.RIDE – I am currently residing in Thailand, and some of my friends are some of the very few people in the country who are into horse trail riding. Outdoor, no strings attached. Most people who ride are staying in the safe and sound environment of horse riding clubs and rings – but these guys and girls are going out rinding in forests, farmland and so forth. The real deal, so to say. They often abuse me to take their pictures LOL, but I also feels it’s quite a privilege as this is a really rewarding subject to photograph.

The photo was taken with the A7II x Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS Lens (Silver). That day I decided to challenge myself by shooting horse riding with a portrait lens, while keeping it under control otherwise thanks to AF (as the other day I shot arena / ring horse riding with an MF portrait lens, which despite the fact that they were waaaaay slower in there still was really difficult). The setting should be ISO100, f/2.8 which I chose as a sweet spot of shallow depth of field combined with ‘getting something in focus’.

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2. LAST LIGHT – this is an ‘after sunset’ / blue hour shot across Bangkok’s high rises. This is one of the very few unobstructed views into sunset direction in Bangkok, and literally was shot during the last seconds of having noticeable light that day; it went dark after that even for the A7II (I guess the A7s would have had a fun time after that).

For this one, I had paired the A7II with a Tokina 17mm f/3.5 RMC. Taken at 50 ISO, f16, about 30sec exposure I believe.

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3. THE TRAIN HAS LEFT THE STATION – this shot was taken inside Bangkok’s iconic Hua Lamphong train station. That day I went inside late at night to avoid people ruining my photos :) It turned out that the station is very heavily and brightly lit inside making it difficult to show the vintage look and feel of the station due to cold, bright and clinical light.

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Apart from taking some great shots in b/w and of the old trains that night, I decided to try some creative shot around the empty tracks that would give me the feeling of an empty old train station, or a station late at night, without resorting to more common techniques like b/w.

This was once again shot with the A7II x Tokina 17mm f/3.5 RMC.

P.S. I am aware / really quite a bit into post-production of images, but I am not using ‘filters’. All post processing is done only in LR and PS. Whenever I shoot, photos or VDOs, apart from trying to capture a really nice shot, fun for me starts when working the RAW files or VDO clips in post to see into what direction I can tweak them. Any photo, given the circumstance, inspires me to give them a certain treatment based on my perceived mood and tone of the moment. It may not be everyone’s taste, but it’s mine :)

Thanks a lot and best wishes,

Jens

INFO:

J (Jens Niedzielski)

Bangkok, Thailand

http://www.krop.com/jphotography

Jun 152015
 
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Test Driving the Leica Q… the first shots from a potentially long and happy relationship.

By Howard Shooter

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So I have been waiting for a Sony RX1 replacement for about 2 years now, sold my Fuji X100s (which I really enjoyed), and waited quietly for the rumor mill of the RX whatever to start gaining momentum. As a proper user of the Leica M240 rangefinder with various lenses, I wanted a point and shoot version to complement the system. There have been occasions when I might have missed shots or, quite frankly wanted a more instant snapper instead of the M240, which is a commitment. As a full time food photographer I want to state now that I use my Leica, I don’t put it in a glass cabinet, I don’t look at the beautiful brass German engineering before I go to bed lovingly (maybe once or twice!), but I drag the M240 around with me and really appreciate the quality and user experience, which for me is second to none. Sometimes I just want to pick up a camera and snap away. I am in a position where, as a professional I can afford and justify (at least to my wife), the extraordinary cost, but I haven’t found anything that suits my style or work flow better out of the studio than the Leica M240.

And then came the Q.

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I saw the various rumors and was initially tuned off by the 28mm fixed lens, but then I thought, what better compliment to my wonderful 35mm and 50mm primes than a 28mm fixed lens camera. The initial reviews were excellent and last week I phone up the Leica Store in Mayfair and put myself on the waiting list. I was told I was one of the first and two days later; I received the Leica Q, which without question has the potential to be one of the best cameras I have owned.

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My advice if you buy a new camera is to test drive it…. don’t wait for the special trip, the holiday, the wedding or whatever… go out and shoot the camera in a variety of conditions because there is always a steep initial learning curve. Understanding lens characteristics, sensor anomalies, the feel of the camera in the digital age is something which is organically learnt through enjoyed practice and repetitive use. It’s easy to get a correct exposure nowadays but less straightforward to get the best out of a camera until you understand it’s signature. For example the move from the Leica M9 to the M240 was a steep learning curve as the colour signature was completely different but, once understood it was a camera, which is more adaptable than it’s predecessor.

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I decided to forgo breakfast this morning, waved goodbye to my children and wife and jumped into the car. My studio is in Camden, London… so I know the market and local pretty well. I wanted to get there before the lovely tourists got in the way of a good chat with the traders and an intimate shot. I arrived at 9.00am on a Saturday morning….

It was unnervingly quiet which is perfect shooting conditions for what I wanted, but the light was directionless, muggy, cloudy, flat and miserable so I started shooting indoors to test the ISO performance. I shoot in Aperture Priority mode using exposure compensation and this time kept the ISO on auto. The autofocus is exceptionally quick, the EVF viewfinder is as good as I’ve seen (still not as good as a rangefinder), and the camera is built and responded beautifully. After shooting for a couple of hours I’ve processed them in Adobe Lightroom and added a little here and there but not much. I always shoot and use RAW and they’ve been a pleasure to convert. That’s as much technical detail as I want to go into.

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The Leica Q is a wonderful camera and will change the direction and perception of Leica as a business as it surpasses or equals most Japanese rivals. Here is the future of Leica. I must say that it isn’t an M240 replacement, it still doesn’t have the same simplistic user experience but the image quality is exceptional. The camera isn’t perfect and the EVF viewfinder has a quirky way of hiding the top and bottom parts of the image, which may be a setting I have failed to see as nobody else, seems to have picked up on this. But it’s such an enjoyable camera to use and displays pop and the Leica signature, which is filmic and creamy and old school loveliness in a modern camera which works for me. What more could you ask for…… As incredible coincidences go I saw a Japanese man using a Fuji X100T eyeing up my camera and so I said hello and asked him what he did and if he was enjoying photographing Camden. It turned out to be the Global Marketing manager of Fuji cameras, just having a break after a European conference on the future of Fuji. He was obviously very pleased to see the Leica Q and seemed very impressed with the EVF.

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Thanks you to the traders in Camden for being so accommodating. I’ve shot both colour and black and white to demonstrate how they render and also because some of the artificial tungsten was so dreadful that converting them to black and white seemed like the only option. These are Jpegs from the Tiffs, converted from the Raw files…. the originals look even better. You can see more examples at my blog.

http://www.howardshooter.com/journal/2015/06/the-leica-q-in-camden-london-2015-the-first-test-drive

as always, thanks for reading

Howard Shooter

You can buy the Leica Q at B&H Photo,, Ken Hansen, Leica Store Miami or PopFlash.com

Jun 082015
 
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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

Jun 042015
 
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SEEING RED! The Redhead Days Festival

by Ori Cohen

Hi Steve,

My name is Ori Cohen and I have been following your website for many years. I am an avid photographer, a computer science Phd student, and a graphic artist, but first and foremost I am a redhead, a redhead married to a redhead. As you well know redheads are usually singled out most of their lives and the and it may come as a surprise to everyone, but redheads share this unexplained bond; to a point where you walk down the street, lock eyes with another redhead and instantly there is some connection. You can probably guess why I married a redhead.

Once a year at the beginning of September there is a special weekend for all redheads. In the town of Breda, Holland, thousands of redheads from around the world gather in the redhead days festival. Our first time was two years ago, we went to the festival in order to see for once, how does it feel to be the same as everyone else around us. It is hard to explain the first shock of seeing so many people who kind of resemble you, and in many ways it is intoxicating. In the festival I had the opportunity to photograph a lot redheads; many became our friends and today we have a growing community of redheads on facebook. In fact, last year while travelling abroad, we randomly met a redhead that recognised us from the festival.

Photography wise, I like carrying as little gear as possible. I usually carry several small near-weightless primes. On our first visit I brought my trusty Sony A300 and a Minolta 50mm f/1.4, and on our second visit I had a Sony NEX-7 Sony 16mm\F2.8, Minolta 24mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2, Sigma 30mm f/1.4 and a Minolta 50mm f/1.4. For portraits on a crop sensor I tend to use 30mm, 35m, and 50mm as they allow me to shoot in situations when people are around me. For group shots, crowds, and In doors I used the 16mm or the 24mm, which allows me to get a better sense of the atmosphere in the room.

The festival holds several main events: the pub-crawl, the opening ceremony, and the gathering in the park. There is an atmosphere of friendliness all around, and I can shoot anyone without asking for permission. I usually just aim the camera at random people and they stop for me, for as long as I need.

The pub-crawl provides a wonderful opportunity to get to know new people and capture some of the conversations and playfulness that happens after dark when people are drinking A LOT of beer, and it’s also a wonderful opportunity to get to know new people from around the world.

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During the ceremony I try to find a spot on the balcony, which overlooks a crowd of several hundred redheads, while trying not to lose sight of my wife. I usually don’t need to worry about losing my wife in a crowd, but when everybody has the same hair color as her, I need to keep a watchful eye :). You will be surprise to learn that there are many types of “ginger” genes out there, not just for fair skinned people, even dark skinned people can get a reddish hue in their hair, as seen in some of my photos.

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Immediately after the ceremony, people walk slowly toward the park for the annual record-breaking count of redheads. Two years ago we even broke a Guinness world record. While crammed in one spot, it is a perfect opportunity to shoot portraits of people. My wife thinks that I only shoot pretty redhead girls, but I actually try to do as many portraits as possible (of everyone!).

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The festival is not only for redheads but also for their friends, anyone who wishes to participate can come, in fact the city is crawling with photographers and videographers from all around the world. Everyone is welcome!

Thank you for reading.

My facebook photography blog: https://www.facebook.com/oricohenphotography

May 192015
 
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Camera? Doesn’t matter, shoot what you love!

By Thomas Rhee

I’ve been a visitor of your site for a number of years now and while it’s not the most polished looking site, the content is what speaks to me. It’s honest and down to earth.

Anyways, I’ve been into photography since my high school days starting with film, on and off again thru the years until around 10 years when I started taking it more seriously. Like you (Steve), I’m also very much into high-end audio, currently mostly Naim gear along with a Mac Mini and a Mytek 192 DSD DAC that acts as my music server.

Recently, my GF knowing how much I love photography, gave me a Fuji X100T along with the WCL-X100 wide conversion lens as a gift for my birthday. Also, my birthday gift to myself this year was the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk.II,. My other cameras include the Olympus OM-D E-M1, Fuji X100, Ricoh GR Digital III and a Canon 5D Mk.II. Of course, I’ve been shooting non-stop with my two new cameras so my submissions will be from those two, all of which were taken within the last two weeks.

The first photo is a street photo taken with my E-M5 Mk.II after having dinner at a restaurant located deep inside of a few alleyways here in Seoul, Korea. The image is of a waitress getting hot coals for a table-side Korean BBQ restaurant. The alley was pretty dark but fortunately there was a light in front of her that acted as a spotlight as well as the two open doors (two different restaurants) that brought in some light. Nonetheless, the ISO had to brought up to 3200 to bring up a reasonable shutter speed with the lens wide open.

“Waitress”

OLYMPUS OM-D E-M5 Mk.II, 25MM, F1.8, 1/50, ISO 3200

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The second image was taken on Buddha’s Birthday here in Seoul, Korea. Like most other Asian countries, Buddhism is prevalent and Buddha’s Birthday is a big event where thousands come out to celebrate. This image was taken at one of the Buddhist temples here, nearby where the parade was happening. There was a homeless man surrounded by families, children on a field trip as well as devout Buddhists who came out to pray that day. The homeless man kind of stuck out from the crowd and I captured this while he was eating a popsicle although I have no idea where he obtained it from. The tree in the middle signifies to me a the disparity of how others see him as well as how he sees himself.

“Disparity”

OLYMPUS OM-D E-M5 MK.II, 45MM, F6.3, 1/60, ISO 3200

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The third and last image was taken this past Sunday where my GF and I decided to go to a botanical garden just to have a leisurely Sunday and get away from the hustle and bustle of living here in Seoul. The place was amazingly beautiful and when I came across this scene, with a Juniper tree, decided to take a snap.

“Juniper & The Garden Of Morning Calm”

FUJIFILM X100T, 19MM (28MM EQUIVALENT), F8, 1/1100, ISO 400 (FUJIFILM WCL-X100 WIDE CONVERSION LENS)

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Anyways, thanks for reading and looking,

Thomas Y. Rhee

https://www.eyeem.com/u/tyrphoto

May 182015
 

The Aesthetic of Lostness: Inside Iran with the Fuji X100s

 

By James Conley

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Iran. Although home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, (dating back more than 5,000 years), since 1979 Iran is most commonly known for the Islamic Revolution that toppled Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and took 66 Americans hostage, holding them for 444 days. Iran is daily in the news, with its military activities in Syria and Yemen, its support of Hezbollah, endless negotiations over its nuclear program, and its detention of reporters like the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian. “Death to America” is a chant heard in televised demonstrations in Tehran, setting the outside view of Iran as a hostile one to the West.

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In contrast to this public view, I’ve been fortunate to know many Iranians who live in the United States, as well as abroad. Without exception, they love the United States and the common theme among them is a love of life and all it has to offer. With these contrasting experiences in mind, I determined to make a trip to Iran.

Getting into Iran as an American is no easy task. Reams of paperwork, multiple passport photographs, and multiple visits to the Iranian Interest Section in Washington, D.C., are required. Iranians work on a different time scale, and waiting (and waiting, and waiting) are part of the process. The government of Iran is suspicious of one’s prior travel, and does a thorough investigation into who you are. (It’s possible to go with a tour group, but tours are heavily monitored by the government and I wanted freedom of movement.) In the end, it took me over a year to obtain permission to visit Iran.

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Visa in hand, I scheduled a flight. Since 1979, Iran has been subject to a range of economic sanctions, including ones which eliminated direct flights from the United States. Iran is not a close destination. My flight took me through Istanbul, Turkey—with a 7 hour layover. Layover included, total travel time from Dulles to Tehran was 20 hours.

Arriving in Iran was a bit of an emotional let down. Based on my experiences with Iranian officials in the United States, I had expected a high degree of security and curiosity about an American’s arrival. At the airport, I found only a single disinterested official at Passport Control. A glance at my visa, a scan into the computer, and I was on my way without even eye contact or a single question about the purpose of my visit. (I have reason to believe that the arrival experience is highly variable, and your visit may go a very different way!)

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My first experience of the country was an extremely long drive from the airport to my host’s house in northern Tehran. Tehran is one of the biggest cities in the world, with more than 17 million people. It is spread out over more than 200 square miles, and the airport is more than 30 miles south of the city. It was an appropriate introduction to a city and country that are impossible to pigeon-hole, with variety and diversity which are difficult to comprehend.

 

Being inside Iran is much different from hearing about it from the outside. While not an easy country to absorb or function in, the people are warm and welcoming, and there is a vast range of poverty and wealth among a people who have been isolated from much of the West for more than a generation. (Although only the United States and Canada have official sanctions against Iran, the complexity of those sections affects travel, banking, postal services, and foreign businesses who also do business with the United States.) Despite all the international conflict concerning Iran’s political role and its present history, the people within Iran continue to flourish in an environment that’s all their own.

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Working as a photographer in Iran is beset with challenges. I was based in the northern part of Tehran, making day trips to other parts of the country. Each place presented unique difficulties and opportunities.

The primary challenge I try to address in any place is blending in. As a street photographer, my goal is to be an observer. This means being as unobtrusive as possible while maintaining enough involvement to understand and appreciate unfolding events so that I can time decisive moments. In most western countries, these needs are solved by being mindful of one’s dress and manners, and generally taking the “when in Rome” approach is enough that I can fade into the background. Not so in Iran. One can’t blend bone structure and skin color. Although there is a fair bit of ethnic diversity in Iran, it’s all diversity from within the region and, unsurprisingly, I was immediately identifiable as a foreigner no matter where I went, simply because of the color of my skin, hair, and the structure of my facial bones. No matter my efforts to adapt, I was regularly approached by strangers who started every conversation in broken English. Being mistaken for a local wasn’t going to happen. While this interfered with my ability to blend, it also led to some opportunities for interaction which otherwise wouldn’t have taken place.

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Photography inside Iran is not common. I occasionally saw some Iranians at famous places making images with cell phone cameras, but I didn’t see any DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, or film cameras, except a camera carried by a German tourist. Carrying a camera definitely singles you out.

I work as unobtrusively and quickly as possible, and make it habit to have only one camera out at a time. I try to carry only a single camera with lenses in my pockets, or at most carry only a small courier bag. I use Fuji X-Series cameras, which are smaller and quieter than a Leica, and to the uninitiated appear to be amateur pocket cameras. I wouldn’t advise carrying a large DSLR with a zoom lens because you’ll appear to be a journalist (read: spy). That said, most Iranians had little to no reaction if they saw the camera.

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The images here were made with the X100s and its Wide and Tele companions. This set up of 28mm, 35mm, and 50mm (equivalents) allowed me to do 90% of my work while remaining extremely unobtrusive. The Wide converter stays on my camera most of the time, so I was able to carry just one lens, a spare battery, and a spare memory card. In a place where you want to stand out the least amount possible, this was a great kit. It is also relatively fast to change lenses without attracting attention.

 

A few shots required pulling out the X-E1, however. Architecture in Iran is immense, and even the 8mm Rokinon ultra wide angle (12mm equivalent) that I carry struggled to pull in the details. (None of those shots are included in this post—these are all X100s. Additional images can be seen here: http://fjamesconley.com/iran)

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Traveling to places where one doesn’t speak or read the language is not uncommon. Traveling to places where one has little chance of grasping the culture, however, is rare. It’s extremely stressful and overwhelming, taxing one’s creativity as well as one’s emotions. But it’s also liberating to be lost. Removed from even absentminded awareness of so much of what’s going on, the mind has little choice but to double its efforts to observe and make sense of things. Lost, it’s easier to perceive humanistic patterns. Lost, it’s easier to put attention on the gestalt. Lost, it’s easier to let your deeper self emerge.

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The aesthetics of lostness have a quality of their own. The feeling on many levels is one of isolation and disconnectedness. Like any state of mind, these aspects are revealed in the work. My interpretation of the images I made in Iran reflect this: isolated moments; overwhelming scale; and a puzzlement of things. I endeavored to embrace the lostness, however, because the alternative was to find a false narrative which would devolve into stereotype. In the lostness, I sought the commonality of humanity instead of looking for the superficiality of difference.

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Iran is a country, and not a political entity. Whatever its government’s present role on the world stage, Iran’s people and the country itself are magical. I look forward to returning again.

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Additional images can be seen here: http://fjamesconley.com/iran

Here’s my contact info:
website: fjamesconley.com
twitter: @Philatawgrapher

© 2009-2015 STEVE HUFF PHOTOS All Rights Reserved
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