Feb 252015
 

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Low light photography with the Nikon V3

By Aspen Z

Hi Steve and Brandon, it’s great to be here again! The last time I posted was when I took the V2 to South Africa where it did the entirety of the trip. Since then, I’ve done many more excursions with it and from the tone of that post it shouldn’t be a surprise that I upgraded to the V3 as soon as it was out.

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Most recently, I embarked on a solo trip to Norway with the primary intention of seeing (weather/solar activity permitting) the auroras- a phenomenon I’ve always been fascinated with since young and somewhat sceptical of. Dancing lights of varying colours? Hmm…

There was just a single snowy day spent in Stockholm mainly for ease of flights, but it turned out to be very interesting a place and I’m definitely gonna give it a proper visit someday. For some reason, none of the locals knew where the Nobel Museum was and I found it in a square after crossing a secluded alleyway in Gamla Stan.

Arriving in Tromsø, with skies deep blue, I was abruptly reminded of the possible challenges ahead; polar night just ended and there was no true day to speak of. It meant working with ISOs I’m not usually comfortable with on the V3. I’d admit that there were at least two occasions before the trip I hesitated getting another camera (namely D750) so that I wouldn’t need to fret about noise. Besides, I’ve never photographed the auroras before and common advice online suggested full-frame cameras, fast lenses and possible weather-proofing. There was no telling if the V3 would fail me on multiple levels.

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I did learn a few things, some are tips from the perspective of a first-time aurora shooter, others just discoveries in general.

1) Unofficially, the V3 handles up to -16°C or heavy snow with no problem. I frankly believe most modern cameras can perform in conditions beyond their ‘limits’, much like how the Galaxy S5 can go underwater but isn’t given a special mention for it likely due to unnecessary warranty claims.

2) Test run a shot, i.e. do the highest ISO possible on your camera with a shorter shutter speed and adjust as needed. Suggestions of ISOs, exposure times and other aspects vary wildly from site to site and there’s no telling what light conditions were present or lens they used for such settings. Unfortunately for the V3, the sightings were during the new moon so the landscapes were very dark. Worse still, there’s not a fast ultra-wide lens for the N1 and it meant working with a relatively slow f/3.5. 90% of my shots warranted 15-30 seconds shutter speed with ISOs 1600/3200. These settings are typically not recommended due to noise (and they’re referring to full-frame!) but I knew trying ISO 800 and pushing up exposure was much worse in the V3. My focus was manually adjusted to infinity dialled back a notch. Be sure to check beforehand how long a shutter speed you can pull off before star trails become a problem.

2) The V3’s virtual level was immensely helpful (note: not the same as grid lines!). Except for the occasional compositional advantage, I couldn’t afford to crop with such light conditions/settings and wasting it on straightening horizons is entirely avoidable! Also, the tiltable touchscreen meant easy adjustments and no need for remote shutter.

3) The batteries drain faster but no faster than constantly using AF-C for motorsports/birding (in terms of duration). Warming up a frigid battery did restore some of its charge. I got through a night with two batteries, each left with the final bar of charge.

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Autofocus, as with its predecessors, was a joy to use and very swift even in poor light. At no point did the V3 falter and the magical twilight colours of Tromsø were captured accurately. The N1 lenses in general have stunningly good stabilization (rivalling IBIS?) and typically give you 5 stops of advantage (with the infrequent 6-7 stops from time to time on telephoto lenses). Viewing Tromsø after a cable car ride, I decided to settle with the 32 prime for composition, forcing ISO 6400 due to no stabilization, and it was then I really missed the lenses with VR. Reine was my last destination and I was greeted with much milder weather. The days were just a bit longer and the bright red Rorbu cabins with seaweed sprawling along the intertidal zone lent contrast to the dull light and snowy mountains.

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The auroras were indescribably amazing, with many colours in every form and shape, and they would disappear, capriciously, at times, only to reappear with greater intensity than before. They renewed in me a sense of awe so rarely experienced after childhood. My photos might have been better with a full-frame camera but I’m pleased with the V3’s output and glad that it shared such an experience with me.

More photos to be found here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aspenz/sets/

BUY: The Nikon V3 is available at Amazon.

Feb 102015
 

Second go with the Leica M Monochrom

By Chris H

Not long ago, I published my first blog post via stevehuffphoto.com (Many thanks to Steve for sharing my write up) about my first serious experience with the Leica M Monochrom + Vintage LTM lenses in Paris.

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The Leica M Monochrom has definitely sparked my passion for black and white photography.  I love shooting in black and white but was never as motivated until owning the Leica M Monochrom.  One of the main reasons is because the Leica M Monochrom leaves me no alternatives but to shoot in black and white.  There were times that I struggled to generate great black and white frames but the more I struggled, the harder I pushed myself.  I love keeping myself at the limit because that’s where you unleash your full potential.  Some people might ask why did I not keep a color camera in hand but that is because I like to be completely focused on the one thing I wish to master.  From time to time I seek challenges, keeping myself out of the comfort zone is a method to achieve improvement.

Tokyo, Japan is one of my favourite capitals as it has some of the most astonishing architecture, countless vintage camera stores and of course Japanese food allowing me to enjoy more than 3 meals per day.  Being a frequent traveller, I am always impressed by what I see but to also be able to capture it exactly as how I felt at that moment is not easy.  Often one perfect frame which I already have in mind will take quite long to reproduce through my camera and lens.  This time I have decided to explore a very unfamiliar focal length – 21mm   Knowing that it might not be easy to use since the Leica M 21 F/1.4 ASPH is not a shift lens (I love lenses with shift movement for shooting architecture / landscape) plus the widest focal length I experienced is 28mm.  Being a first timer with the 21mm I had this fear which I might not able to cope with such wide perspective in such a short matter of time.  Finder choice, I picked the Universal Wide-angle Viewfinder.  Yes, not many people like it due to the look, plus it adds weight and size to the M but for me I value its practicality..  It is bright, like a TV screen and features that beloved leveler.  The leveler is a star because I dislike correcting perspective in post-production; dragging or cropping pixels are never a good thing.  For a filter option, I went for a normal UV MRC by B+W which I did not prefer too much and would have loved to have a yellow filter (rarely in stock in Hong Kong) for boosting the shadow detail a little.

First location – Tokyo International Forum

This is a masterpiece location which I visited as part of an architectural tour almost 10 years ago.  There are only bits and pieces in my memory which I can recall unfortunately.  Being able to return and appreciate this beauty after so long has made me very emotional.  The camera was kept in the bag for the first 45 minutes or so after arriving on site. I just wanted to focus on enjoying the atmosphere and every bit of detail like the materials, shape and structure which formed this amazing art piece.  As time went on, the sun found its way out of the clouds.  I have noticed some amazing shadows being cast on the ground through the curtain wall and roof structures.  Walking up and down, standing and kneeling.  People at the Tokyo International Forum must have thought I am a strange person but I could not care less because I knew that there was not much time left for me to enjoy this ultimate wonderland and to make the most of it, I had to focus.  As a first timer to the 21mm the final images are very encouraging; I am pretty much in love with this focal length.

Understand one thing, shooting a non Tilt-shift ultra wide forces you to work harder on composition.  The Leica M 21 F1.4 Summilux Asph is extremely sharp even at wide open (if you own a good copy); to me, stopping down is for extra depth of view plus getting rid of the slight vignette.  There is a bit of pincushion distortion at the edges but is totally acceptable as such fast aperture ultra wide is not easy to design.  Running the lens profile option through Lightroom 4 can correct the distortion instantly.

Second Location – Tokyo Sky Deck

An awesome location that allows you to capture Tokyo’s skyline and sunset without having massive glass windows in front killing the image quality!  Even though you are not that into photography, it is a great location to spend an afternoon with your loved ones.  As the sun goes down, seeing Tokyo lighting up slowly, the atmosphere is just incredible.  If you want a good spot, please be sure you arrive early because there were plenty of photographers that were already there in the early afternoon.

Pre-Owned Leica items

Thanks to the super guide by Tokyo camera style, I was able to check out a few vintage camera stores around Tokyo.  Price wise was not very attractive but you can always find mint to like new condition items in Japan. Therefore if you are looking for collector grade items, Japan is the place to go!

http://kenshukan.net/john/archives/2013/12/26/tokyo-photo-travel-guide-part-2-shinjuku-camera-shop-walk/

I could never get enough of Tokyo.  Revisiting is the only option!

I hope you all enjoy the images. Please be sure to leave any comments and feedback by either emailing me or leaving me a message on my Facebook page! Thank you!

Instagram: FotografiePorter

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FotografiePorter

Website:  www.FotografiePorter.com

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Feb 102015
 

The Light Weight Really Matters!

By Mohamed Hakem

I’ve written before on how Fuji helped me unhinge new passion in the street photography but now I’m back with a new experience. After the switched from DSLR (Nikon D800) to Mirrorless (Fuji X-T1). I wrote before on how this switch helped me discover new genres in photography as street and people. But what I couldn’t imagine is that the mirrorless could outperform the DSLRs in landscape also! I am a landscape photographer and I’ve been a loyal Nikon user all my life. Coming from a monster in the shape of a camera (D800) made me see all other cameras as toys. Huge dynamic range and massive pixels. When I first got into the Fuji’s I was never expecting that it will one day be my main camera and replace the D800, and it did!

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People tend to look at the technical factors only; dynamic range, color depth and charts and come up with a conclusion that DSLRs are much better for landscape. Yes the D800 is much more capable on paper than the fuji, but the fuji can come to you to places that the D800 would be a burden! The Fuji can provide colors and of the nature and sand the Nikon never ever did provide!

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I was going to a hike in Mount Mousa , Sinai,Egypt. This is the second highest mountain in all Egypt 2422m above sea level and it has extremely rough terrain. Its a challenge for an unexperienced hiker like me. Its an over night non stop climb that lasts for 5 hours and you stay up there for 2 hours then come back. So you have to save your energy as everybody will go up there to rest while you will be setting up for your shots. Everybody’s major tip was leave behind all unnecessary things. for me I carried the fuji X-T1, 10-24, 55-200 and 8mm samyung lens and a small 3leggedthing tripod. As we climbed things got heavier and heavier and it was really hard towards the end but we made it.

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I never thought of climbing a mountain before as I would die if I go up without a camera and my corresponding Nikon setup would be (Nikon D800 1KG, 14-24 1KG, 70-200 2KG, tripod 3KG. fisheye 0.5KG. and a decent backpack would sum up to roughly 10KGs! All of this on my back and I could barely walk! Compare this to a 3KG of the Fuji system. So I went up, setup my equipment and was really happy with the results and they sold well on my website. If I were to take the Nikon I would have either gave up during the climb or would have reached the top with no strength to compose and shoot!

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Facebook Page: http://facebook.com/hakemphotography

Website: www.hakemphotography.com

500px: 500px.com/hakem

Feb 092015
 

The Fuji X-Pro 1..My “Soulmate” Camera

by Christina Davis

Thank you for letting me share, once again, with the readers here on this site. I am a Fujifilm camera user (X-Photographer wannabe….I can dream, can’t I?). I sold off all of my DSLR equipment and the XPro1 was my main camera. Like many Fuji enthusiasts I, too, got one of the X-T1 cameras when they came out. While I was less than thrilled with the form, the performance was as described and I happily shot away with it all spring and summer this year. In fact, the XPro1 was gathering dust and as August rolled around, I was considering letting it go. As I thought it over I remembered one photo I took this summer with it. On an outing to The Huntington in Pasadena, California, I took the XT1 and the XPro1. I put on the 18mm lens on the XPro1 “just in case”. Well, this is the photo I made with that “just in case” set up:

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That picture drew me in – it spoke to me, if you will. The tones I got out of the XPro1 that day were far and above any taken by the X-T1 on that same day. So I pondered my decision to sell the XPro1 and then I decided to put the X-T1 aside, except for shooting my son’s sports, and focus once again on using the XPro1. I have been using the XPro1 almost daily since the end of August. It just feels right and even when I do use it for sports shooting, the handling and shooting experience are much more satisfying. The set-up in camera is different and I get many fewer action shots with the XPro1, but it is still possible to shoot a soccer game with it.

On a nit-picky level, one of my biggest issues with the X-T1 was the placement of the movie mode button. I was used to changing ISO on the XPro1 with the function (Fn) button. It is quick, easy and I don’t have to take the camera away from my eye to change ISO settings while in the process of shooting. It just works for me. I can’t count the number of times, while shooting with the X-T1, that I engaged the movie mode. Even while shooting for a number of months on end of the X-T1, that reflex to change ISO with my shooting finger never went away.

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Another thing I notice is the original X-Trans sensor is just a little more….subtle? I can’t put it into words, but there is a difference in the way the original iteration of the X-Trans sensor handles the files when compared to those from the updated sensor in the X-T1. Both are perfectly fine and produce wonderful files. I just find the original X-Trans sensor output more pleasing to my eye and taste.

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Old habits die hard. How many times did I open the battery door to remove the SD card in the X-T1? Every. Single. Time. Every time I went to download the photos, I looked for the card under the battery door. Also, my SD card door on the X-T1 opened up on me constantly while out and about. Minor? Oh yes! Annoying? Yes.

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Feeling in hand? I like the rangefinder styling of the XPro1 over the slr styling of the X-T1. I mentioned in the first paragraph that I was a little disappointed with the style of the X-T1. It handles just fine, I don’t have any major complaints at all – just the minor ones I noted above, but it does not give me the same shooting experience, tactile experience, as I get when holding and using the XPro1.
When I jumped into Fuji I lusted after the XPro1 but avoided it for months due to higher price. I finally broke down and got one, used it and love it – then put it aside for something newer. Now, I can’t believe I actually considered getting rid of it. It is my main camera and camera of choice with the Fuji 35mm lens. I still have the X-T1. It is great for shooting my son’s soccer and football games with the 55-200 lens. I won’t get rid of it, either.

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As corny as it sounds, the XPro1 is my soul-mate camera…unless the X100T takes its place. It is a never-ending cycle of newer and better and I do fall victim to liking the shiny new toys. With the layout and style of the X100T….only time will tell.

If you like what you see, you can see what I’m up to on Instagram @cldavisphotography.

Thanks for letting me share with you again!

Best to you all,
Chris Davis

Jan 282015
 

Dirt Cheap Mirrorless Fun

By Ben Bird

As many of the guest contributors before me have done I want to thank Steve and Brandon for a chance to share my experiences with all of the other readers of Steve’s website. I hope you will find it as enjoyable to read as I have many of your reviews! (Thanks Ben!! – Steve)

I don’t have any exotic gear to review for you, no ultra-rare vintage glass that has been found in an attic and saved from the brink of extinction… nothing terribly exciting… what I do have for you all is a review of a dirt cheap and very fun mirrorless setup that I have been beating around with a lot of average and common legacy glass on some adapters.

Let me back up a bit and give you some context…

(I can assure you it isn’t anything special. You could probably guess the next few paragraphs and be spot on!)
I have been a Canon DSLR shooter for 12 years. I started out with a Rebel XT then moved on to a 20D, a 40D, a 5D Classic and recently a 6D.

I take pictures of anything and everything. I have photographed weddings as a Primary and a second shooter off and on over the last 6 years. I also did portraits, families shoots, seniors and events, but have since retired from those pursuits. I shoot a lot of candid portrait work and spend a lot of my shutter time with family and friends socially.

I also work part-time photographing an amazing local motorcycle shop here in Lincoln Nebraska called Great Plains Cycle Supply. I document the employees, customers, and events for their social media and websites. (Check them out!)

My current full-time day job allows me to work outdoors and I attempt to take my camera with me at all times, never going anywhere without it tagging along… but as we all have experienced, that isn’t always possible.

Eventually the hassle got to me and I started to leave the DSLR at home more and more often.

While I have enjoyed the image quality of my DSLR’s I have long been pining for something smaller and more discreet. The heartbreak of missing a really amazing photo because I simply didn’t want to take my big DSLR along was really taking it’s toll on me. And of course… who doesn’t want to get closer and be ignored more when taking candid photographs of people?

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As you have no doubt realized, it’s going to be another one of “those” reviews… DSLR to mirrorless… we’ve all read them, and everyone is doing it these days… so I will try to hurry past some of the more cliché parts and spend a little more time on what I can offer that is unique.

I really wanted to try a mirrorless system and see if I could make it work for me… but I was concerned that being a full frame DSLR shooter for so long I would never be able to “let go” of my obsession with full frame “look” and embrace the crop sensor files.

Fortunately I have the internet… and if there is one thing I know how to do well; its kill hours of my life while looking at photographs on the web!

I spent a lot of time enjoying thousands of photos taken with mirrorless cameras and at some point I realized I had forgotten that I was supposed to be analyzing the image quality of the photos and had just been enjoying the photographs! The image quality has ceased to be that big of an issue for me… and I also had realized that no matter how amazing the full frame files looked… if that full frame camera wasn’t with me when the photo presented itself… the photos would never be taken at all… and all that sexy full frame goodness was going to waste at home in the camera bag.

Finally I came to the conclusion I had to try for myself. In my circle of friends the only mirrorless cameras were a couple of Fuji’s. So I borrowed an X100 from my friend and took it for a couple of test drives.

And I was disgusted.

I couldn’t get the camera to cooperate with me; I couldn’t take a decent photo to save my life. I worked and worked and was constantly frustrated. But worst of all… I couldn’t seem to do anything to the Fuji files to make them work for me. I was crushed. I was so ready to be on board… I had seen loads of beautiful Fuji photos, so I knew that the system COULD work… but I couldn’t seem to get the hang of it.

I threw up my hands in disgust and went back to my DSLR’s and said I would never switch over to Fuji.

But, the years went by… and I saw more and more beautiful photos taken not only with Fuji, but also with the other mirrorless systems.

I forgot my disgust and frustration and started to daydream of the day I could carry a tiny discreet camera around my neck all the time.

I tried other systems in the camera stores. I lusted after the RX1 and RX1R, the OMD’s the A7’s and thought that maybe they could work for me but everything was out of reach financially.

A friend of mine had recently left Canon and bought a used X100s and an X Pro 1 for not a lot of money and was making beautiful photos with them on a regular basis. He encouraged me that working with the Fuji files was indeed different and that I should be patient and give it some time before I ruled out Fuji entirely.

I would look at the work done by so many of the great photographers on the web and all of the great reader reviews on this site and say to myself:

“Clearly it can be done right. Why can’t I do that? It has got to be me and not the cameras fault. “

Finally I’d had enough… I decided I had to jump in and actually put the hours into learning the system and stop blaming the equipment. After all… that IS what I preach day in and day out: It’s the photographer… not the camera that makes great photos. I was being a hypocrite.

So it was way past time for me to put my money where my mouth was!

It just so happened that my bank account and I weren’t on speaking terms at the time, so I couldn’t just rush out and snatch up a new system.

So, I looked for the cheapest possible way to start shooting Fuji… and I found a mint condition used XE-1 for 300$. I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford glass for a long time, but I had some old manual lenses In the house… some M42, some Nikon and even an old Voigtlander 35mm f/1.7 Ultron that I could use on the Fuji with some adapters.

So I pulled the trigger and got the XE-1 and an adapter for the Voigtlander.

Well… I wish I could say it was a match made in heaven… but it wasn’t.

There were a lot of teething problems and I spent most of my time cussing the Ultron and trying to get the hang of the incredibly bad minimum focusing distance of the lens (somewhere around 2-2.5 feet!) I am so used to being able to shoot closer that it really threw me off. I could never tell if the lens was just a little soft or if I was just always blowing my focus.

Eventually I got a few shots I liked, and started to get the hang of the XE-1… but my poor manual focusing ability and the Ultron butted heads constantly.

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Perhaps I should say a word about the XE-1’s focus peaking here:

While I am grateful for the focusing aid, and it does indeed help me some days… it’s not as fool-proof or precise as it was made out to be to me by some. Perhaps I haven’t gotten it set up right, or am missing something but I can also say there is a HUGE difference on my XE-1 on how the focus peaking works in the viewfinder and the rear LCD. It is MUCH easier to see on the rear LCD and it feels as though it is barely working in the viewfinder. It also seems to work better with some of the other lenses I ended up using on the XE-1 later on down the road.

And for whatever reason… my copy of the Ultron doesn’t seem to play well with the focus peaking. It’s a shame… because the Ultron is the smallest , lightest and the fastest focusing lens I have and I really thought it would be my favorite lens for the Fuji… but it has turned to be a bear for me to nail focus with.

I have a few good shots from the Ultron to share, but let me say it was a LOT of work to get those few shots! My hit rate was terrible!

So, as I was struggling so much I borrowed some adapters from a friend for my M42 and Nikon lenses to see if they would work any better.

At this point I was also still struggling greatly with the Fuji files, and not really able to consistently make photos that I liked.

Part of it was me still trying to learn how the camera “read the light” and where it’s sweet spots were. And another part of it was not finding a look in post that made me happy.

I was very frustrated again and starting to doubt my decision all over again. At this point I was only shooting RAW and bumbling around in Lightroom with every shot.

I decided it was time to try the famous Fuji Jpegs that I had read so much about… so I switched the XE-1 over to Jpeg, fiddled with the settings, put my Super Takumar 50mm F/1.4 onto the Fuji and started playing again.

Well, right away I felt better about the purchase… the Takumar was sharp, as well as having a buttery smooth focus ring. Focus peaking seemed to show up a little better than with the Ultron. However… on the down side… the Takumar was much heavier, and the focusing while being more precise… was much slower and the focus ring has a much longer throw from stop to stop.

So, I had found a lens that started to work well, and I made a little progress with the Jpeg settings. However, I decided I really needed to buckle down and sort out the Jpegs before I went any further.

I spent about a week of hardcore testing with all the jpeg settings in camera. Shooting, comparing and pixel peeping to try to figure out what I liked and how they all worked for me in post.

Eventually I found a setup that allowed me a good starting point with the Jpegs that would allow me to process them in any direction I liked… for the most part.

The color was mostly there and I liked the way they converted to black and white after the fact in Lightroom.

So I started to work with just a single default Jpeg setup that allowed me a consistent baseline to try the various lenses in all sorts of lighting situations so I could learn the sensor and lenses personalities better.

This alone made such a huge difference in my Fuji learning curve… just having a stable baseline to always work off of.

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These are the settings I finally settled on:

ISO Auto 200-6400 range

DR 100

WB auto

NR -2

Fine Jpegs

Astia film simulation

Highlight Tone +1

Shadow Tone +2

Color +2

Sharp -2

Obviously, settings are very personal and this may not work for anyone else, but this is where I start from with every one of my photographs now.

After I got that sorted out I went back to my lens experiments.

Next up was my Super Takumar 35mm F/2. A beautiful looking lens, that is really quite large and heavy. I really thought this lens was going to knock me out of the park. Out of all my legacy lenses this tank has highest quality FEEL to it, and a fairly stiffly dampened focus ring. I also wrongly assumed that at F/2 it would be very sharp wide open.

Well… it’s not. It’s a little soft all over and only a little sharper in the middle. I was disappointed by how much the stiff dampening slowed down my manual focusing on moving subjects and frequently missed shots.

I struggled to find a good way to use this lens and was about to give up and put it back on the shelf when one early morning I took a few flower shots to stay busy and I checked the screen and OH MY GOSH!! WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!

The out of focus rendering when wide open on this lens in AMAZING with the right background, light and distance to your background.
I know this sort of rendering isn’t for everyone… but WOW… this lens has some serious character in the right situations!

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See for yourself… I can’t say much for the weight or the handling as it adds a LOT of weight and size to the little Fuji, but I pull this guy out whenever I want to take some photos where sharpness isn’t critical with some interesting bokeh in the background. I haven’t even come close to exploring this lenses potential but I am most certainly not going to be selling this one anytime soon.

Around this time I realized that I was really getting to enjoy the EVF a lot on the XE-1 when the light was nice. Lots have been written about both Fuji’s EVF’s in general and the lagging of the older models viewfinders and/or LCD screens in low light so I won’t try to quantify it for you in this review but I can say that:

a) (The older models) They leave a lot to be desired in low light.

b) They can be really great to use regardless of the shortcomings.

In nice light it’s really fun and relaxing to use. What you see is what you get. Quite a nice change of pace from the chimping we have come to assume is mandatory with our OVF’s of old.

(Like I said, all of this is old news these days and every “DSLR to mirrorless” review has already broke ground with all these points so I don’t have any shocking revelations for you!)

The camera’s ergonomics were growing on me as well. While using my legacy lenses really makes the XE-1 quite unbalanced and “nose heavy” at times, it is still pretty fun to use and hold. After spending some time with my Super Takumars, I pulled out my Nikkor 50mm F/2 AI and mounted it up.

First impressions were that it was a pretty light lens compared to the Super Takumars and it was quite enjoyable to focus with as well!

The Nikkor has a very lightly dampened focus ring and a very fast action with a pretty short throw stop to stop that makes it very quick to focus and to date is my favorite legacy lens to focus out of my small collection.

The focus peaking seemed to be a bit easier to see with this Nikkor as well, and it really makes an easy to use lens if you like this 75mm equivalent focal length.

I enjoy shooting this lens wide open or stopped down to F/2.8 from time to time as a candid portrait lens, or just a general do everything lens with a little more reach. I’m not an expert in this area but I can say it was plenty sharp wide open for me and I never found a problem with the image quality from this lens. Another keeper for me!

Next up was an old Micro Nikkor 55mm F/2.8 macro lens that I use as my primary macro lens on my Canon DSLR’s.

I am already fond of this lens from my years spent with it, so I can tell you with great confidence that it is slow focusing and precise and it gets nice and close just like you want with a good manual macro. I am not sure what else you need to know! It works, it’s cheap, and it allows the Fuji to really get in there!

If that is your thing, then it’s a great cheap way to go! (Sorry… but that’s the bottom line for me. It works well for me, but I am not a hardcore macro user… so your mileage may vary!) I would love to give you more details but that’s really all I have!

Around this time I realized that I was really feeling a huge weight being lifted from my shoulders… I could shoot in Jpeg and not worry about larger memory cards, filling up my precious hard drive space with monster RAW files, Lightroom was working faster (my CPU is getting a little long in the tooth) and I found that I was less concerned with blowing shots.

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I was trying harder to get the shot exposed and composed the way I wanted it in camera, but if I couldn’t, or I was too slow, or the shot had way too much motion blur… I wasn’t nearly as upset at myself for screwing up a shot… I simply said “oh well” and moved on.

I was clearly relaxing and enjoying photography more now.

But, the flipside was that because I had a hard time confirming that I nailed focus … I ended up taking a LOT more shots to make sure that I got SOMETHING that day. (Thank goodness I was shooting Jpeg!)

I was hedging my bet… which seemed very counterproductive and a little silly to me.

So my time with the XE-1 was being spent wrestling with my desire to nail every shot, get it right… but also to not freak out if I missed something and try to relax and let it go.

It was a confusing time. But slowly I was enjoying it more and more.

I was feeling more and more comfortable with the Fuji files as well. Where they Full Frame Canon files? No. Did they have to be? No.

I haven’t sold my Canon’s yet, and I and I don’t know if I will… but not because I think that one sensor is superior to the other anymore… it’s because I realize they are merely two different ways to render a photo.

Cameras are paintbrushes. Tools. You use different paintbrushes to render a work of art in different ways. You use different tools to do different jobs.

I like the very disparate painting styles of Monet, Davinci, Robert Williams, Salvador Dali, Frank Frazzetta, H.R. Giger, Gil Elvgren, Phil Noto, Simon Bisley, and Alphonse Mucha.

I love the photos of dozens of photographers with very disparate styles like Diado Moriyama, Henri Cartier- Bresson, Joe McNally, Patrick LaRoque, Magdalena Switek, Thierry Nguyen, Gabe Mcclintock, Laurent Nivalle, and Gordon Chalmers just to name a FEW!

All the artists that I love and appreciate use different “brushes” and utilize them in very different ways.

Is one better than another? No. They are merely different… not better.

I had come to realize that I while I hadn’t nailed down the way I preferred to process the Fuji files and they seemed a little mushy to me at times, and I WAS frustrated by the details I was losing here or there compared to my full frame files… I really was becoming quite fond of the way this first generation X Trans sensor rendered photos. It was a look all by itself and I had really grown to love them.

Steve has talked before about how the second generation Fuji sensors can absolutely sing with the right light and the right settings… and he is right… but he is ALSO right that when the ISO’s climb… they can get mushy, muddy and flat looking.

I can say now that I agree with Steve and I prefer the look of the first Gen X-Trans to the high ISO rendering of the second Gen X-trans… but like I said, I had come to find a little charm in the files regardless of the flaws. I am POSITIVE that if I spent more time with a second Gen Fuji sensor I would come to love that look as well… different… not better.

So, as I worked to become more comfortable with my lenses and the new sensor, I was enjoying the learning process more all the time and leaving the DSLR at home pretty often now.

Then one day I realized what was missing from my Fuji experiment: One good do-everything, universal lens.  I really wanted to leave the house with one lens that would do everything (if possible) and have a Fuji setup that worked something like the X100 was designed to be: practical and useful for almost every situation.

I was digging around the web, and hoping to find a cheap option when I checked the back room on a whim… and low and behold… I found an old Minolta XGA that I had forgotten about, with a Tou/Five Star 28mm f/2.8 macro lens attached. Hmm…. That would be about a 42mm equivalent and kind of fast at 2.8. And the close focusing ability would certainly be appreciated.

So I got myself an adapter ordered and crossed my fingers. Well, the day came… I slapped the adapter and lens on the Fuji and took it out for a spin. And it did not disappoint. I can honestly say this is the most practical and enjoyable legacy lens I have ever used. Not flashy, not fancy, not sexy, not rare, it doesn’t have tons of character… it is just really handy for all kinds of photos.

It’s a little heavy, and focuses slower than my 50mm Nikkor, but it’s not terrible. The focal length helps with moving targets, and the macro focusing ability makes it really versatile and quite fun no matter what you are doing. It even will take a decent portrait if you are careful as it doesn’t have a lot of distortion. It’s sharp, has great contrast, nice color rendering and can be purchased for very little money. Yes, it is still a little front heavy, and when it is cold the grease gets sluggish in the action and the focusing can be even more dampened.

There is lots of lens flare with no hood, and it’s not blazing fast at only f/2.8… But it is a really great daily companion for the little Fuji if you want to keep costs down and have a lot of fun like I did. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I was ready to commit to using a Fuji most or perhaps even all of the time. I had come to love the Fuji first Gen X Trans sensor and the small body of the XE-1.

I had realized that I could have fun and take nice pics even with slower manual lenses. The Fuji was coming along with me everywhere, was fairly quiet, and fairly unobtrusive and I decided that if I could enjoy my time with the older lenses, then the Fuji autofocus lenses might be alright for me as well.

Three days ago I managed to scrape up enough money to buy my first AF Fuji lens, the XF27mm F/2.8 pancake lens.

Initial impressions are great and I love having such a feather light lens on the XE-1 after a lot of the heavy legacy lenses. It’s not a blazing fast autofocus camera, but I have already been working around that slower speed so it was actually quite an upgrade for me!

In conclusion, I think that if any of you readers out there would like to give Fuji a try, but don’t want to invest huge amounts of money into a system that you might not like… give the old XE-1 or X-Pro 1 a long hard look. Start with a few cheap adapters and beg, borrow or steal some old legacy lenses to try.

And please… give yourself a while to get use to the system and to learn how to work with the files… I am almost 4 months into this experiment now… and I was really struggling until about my 3rdmonth.

Have some patience and invest some time into getting the camera set up like you want and see what you can do with it.

The final word for me is this… I am absolutely certain I can nail my photos 90% of my time with my Canons. I am confident I will get my shot, I will make it work, and I will be able to process it the way I want 90% of the time.

Why? Is it the sensor? Is it the camera?

It’s neither. It’s the 12 years of practice and one million photos I took with that same system.

I’ve been using a Fuji for just a few months… come back and see me in 12 years and I am certain I will say the same thing about my Fuji’s.

If you would like to see more of my Fuji experiments you can see them on my Tumblr that I set up just to share the Fuji shots. I have been tagging all the photos with lens information for the curious!

http://mylifeaccordingtofuji.tumblr.com/

Or you can see a larger sample of all of my photos both Canon and Fuji here on my Flickr page:

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

Thanks again to Steve and Brandon for giving us all such a great site to enjoy!

Ben Bird

Jan 232015
 

RX1TTH

6 Months With The Sony RX1

By Simi Tometi

Hello Steve, Brandon, and fellow site readers. My name is Simi Tometi, and I am a medical student from Dallas, Texas. School usually keeps me busy(and broke) for the most part but whenever I do have some spare time I indulge in photography.

Last summer I was presented with an opportunity to purchase the Sony RX1(with viewfinder) in immaculate condition for roughly 1/2 of its initial price. With the Fujifilm X100S selling on Amazon for as low as $850(used), I was a bit hesitant. After reading countless reviews and analyzing the specs sheets I went with the RX1. To be honest the deciding factor was that I didn’t want to look back months later wishing I would have just spent the extra cash on the RX1 instead of the X100s.

It’s been just over 6 months, and I’m glad to say I’m more than happy with my purchase. Though the camera as a whole isn’t perfect, it never ceases to amaze me.

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When I purchased the camera, the first thing I noticed was its cold utilitarian build. The whole camera is composed of metal, giving it a solid feel reminiscent of the Canon 5D Mark III(however I’m not completely sure if it’s made up of the same magnesium alloy). The buttons and dials are laid out logically, except for the record button, which is positioned between the rear and right side of the camera. I didn’t find this placement problematic until I added a Black label braided silk strap to the camera, which often presses the button activating the movie mode function.

The Carl Zeiss 35mm f/2 lens, is nothing short of a masterpiece. From its buttery smooth focus ring, to its clickable aperture dial, it just does not disappoint. Wide open, it’s just a treat to use due to how jaw-droppingly sharp it is. Stopped down sharpness really doesn’t increase much, yet the increase in micro-contrast may make you think otherwise. Optical performance is just stunning; rarely do I find any traces of chromatic aberration.

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In regards to ISO performance, the camera once again doesn’t disappoint. At 6400, noise is present but very well controlled with files retaining plenty of detail and files still being remarkably flexible.

Together, the Carl Zeiss lens, functional camera body, and full frame 35mm sensor(from Sony’s flagship a99) make a formidable little camera that best nearly every other comparable option. When shooting the rear LCD screen only gives you a taste of the outstanding 16-bit raw files did this beast is able to capture.

Admittedly, the RX1 falls short in numerous areas that can’t ignored due to its initial price tag of $2800.

Most notably the auto focus of this camera just plain sucks. It really is hit or miss. I feel as if this issue could be resolved with a firmware update, but the RX1 hasn’t received any since launch. For this type of investment one would expect more than this sluggish contrast detection AF system.

Regarding accessories, they’re just too expensive. I understand this is a premium item, and should be surrounded by such, but seriously… Why would anyone pay $250 for the Sony leather case(with no access to the SD card or battery when attached), when the Gariz version can purchased for $125? The Sony brand lens hood sells for $120, while the third-party metal hood that looks and feels the same is being sold on amazon for $7. Really the only individuals I could see purchasing these accessories are those who’ve previously considered purchasing the Hasselblad Lunar(rebranded Sony Nex-7) for $5000.

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For my style of shooting the EVF($450) is a must have, and without it I probably would have went with the Fuji X100s. I really wish Sony included it with the camera or implemented the same way they did in the RX100 III.

Weather sealing is something I feel Sony could have added at this price point. When you own something of this value, you’d like to be assured its protected against the elements(e.g. Unexpected light drizzle).

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To sum it up, the Sony RX1 is stellar tool for few photographers. If you can tolerate the sluggish autofocus and the daunting price tag, you’ll be rewarded with outstanding build, superb high-ISO performance, and top tier image quality.

Simi Tometi

http://instagram.com/justsimi_

https://www.facebook.com/simi.tometi

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

Jan 052015
 

All Rights Reserved

The Southwest in Infrared 

by Alexandra Shapiro

Last November I attended Steve Huff’s Southwest Workshop along with about two dozen other photographers from all over the world. We visited some beautiful places in Arizona and Utah, including Antelope Canyon, Rattlesnake Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Zion National Park, and Sedona. These sites presented extraordinary opportunities for landscape photography. The workshop was also a great opportunity to meet some amazing photographers and do some hiking (Angel’s Landing at Zion was a particular highlight in terms of stunning scenery and a challenging ascent).

At some of the locations I used a specially converted digital camera that captures infrared light. A few years ago, I began experimenting with digital infrared photography, and found that it to be an interesting way to capture unusual and sometimes surreal images. My earlier user report can be seen HERE.  It provides some basic background on digital infrared technique and examples of infrared photographs that I took before the workshop.

On this trip, I used a converted Canon 5D, which has an “enhanced color” infrared filter, with a Canon 16-35 F4 L lens or a Canon 8-15 F4 L fisheye lens. Even though the 5D model is almost 10 year old, I have found it works extremely well for infrared work and can produce stunning images when paired with the right lens. (The main downsides are an out-of-date LCD and lack of live view, since manual focus is sometimes necessary for infrared work; personally, I don’t mind the 12 megapixel sensor and have even made some relatively large prints from images taken with this camera.) The 16-35 zoom, a relatively new offering from my Canon, is very sharp, and the image stabilization was particular useful in some spots, because the 5D is best shot at low ISOs and I prefer to shoot at f8 to f16 for infrared landscapes. The lens can also produce some amazing sunstars.

These are a few shots from the trip, taken at Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Zion. All but one of the images was taken with the 16-35. I shot in raw and used Capture One for white balance and exposure adjustments, and then converted the images to tiffs. After that, I used photoshop to swap channels, and tweaked the colors and/or converted to black and white using plug-ins such as Nik’s Viveza 2, Alien Skin Exposure 7 or MacPhun’s Tonality Pro. The same image of horseshoe bend appears in both faux color and black and white, so you can see some of the different possibilities with color and black-and-white infrared technique. There are also a couple of examples with strong flare — some may not like this, but I think the flare that infrared photography sometimes produces can create interesting effects.

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Some of my other infrared work can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alexandrashapiro/collections/72157633129472726/

This is my flickr account: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alexandrashapiro/

And here is another guest post I did for Steve: http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/01/14/user-report-iceland-with-the-leica-m-240-by-alexandra-shapiro/

Alexandra Shapiro

Jan 022015
 

London with my new Coolpix A

By Kelsey Horne

Hi Brandon and Steve,

Before travelling to London this Christmas, I wanted to get a camera that didn’t sacrifice on image quality but would still fit in my jacket pocket, no case, no strap, no heavy DSLR around my neck all day. After seeing the great deal on your site for the Nikon Coolpix A, I decided to pick one up after reading your review. I figure $700 off the retail price is a good deal:)

GLAD I LISTENED TO YOU!!!

There is something about the way this camera renders the image that feels special to me. I wasn’t sure how I would like the 28mm focal length but after a couple of days of shooting it grew on me and I found it hit the sweet spot for shooting landscape and people. Sure it has some issues but having a large sensor in camera that is truly pocketable is worth dealing with the slow auto focus.

London is beautiful this time of year with the lights – contrasted by the old architecture. I shot more than usual because the camera was so easy to take with me no matter where we ventured.

Enjoy.

Kelsey

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Dec 302014
 

Readers chime in on the Sony A7II!

Before posting my own Sony A7II Review I asked if any readers had gotten their A7Ii yet and if so, send in some thoughts about it. A couple of you sent in your own thoughts after getting the camera, so here they are!

The A7II can be ordered at Amazon or B&H Photo

My full A7II review is HERE

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David Scott

Steve — I’m a long-time reader of your blog and solidly am with you on the Sony A7, A7s and A7II. I’ve all but abandoned Nikon, having sold everything save one D600 and a couple of lenses — but they never get used.

This message, however, is about the fabulous (in my opinion) combo of A7II and the Tamron 150-600mm for Sony (mounted with an LA-EA4 adapter). Below is one of the very first shots I’ve made using this duo. Top is the original, bottom a crop. So far, virtually every image I’ve captured at 600mm has been tack sharp. Autofocus seems very fast. However, I haven’t yet had a chance to try nailing birds in flight. At the moment, the hawks and buzzards that ordinarily circle the skies here are nowhere to be seen.

I literally have had the camera and lens for only a couple of days and December wildlife north of Atlanta has been, well, sparse. I don’t send this image as an example of fine art but, rather, a demonstration of the how well the A7II and Tamron get along.

I have become a thorough Sony A7-line fan and only wish the A7II had a silent shutter option like my beloved A7s. Still, it’s extra megapixels and stabilization feature mean I’ll be carrying both bodies on every shoot. Since most of my regular work is indoors under ordinary, daylight-balanced fluorescents, the A7s has been my go-to camera.

For me, smaller, lighter, quieter — and now steadier — rocks!

www.davidscottimages.com

Handheld at full tele (600mm), ISO 1000, 1/500th sec., f/6.3 (wide open); SteadyShot set manually at 600mm via the camera menu.

(Keep in mind this is at 600mm and HANDHELD! If you never tried this it is NOT easy and about impossible without good IS)

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David Fonseca

Hey Steve! You asked for A7II impressions and here are mine. Hopefully they are useful to you. You were the main reason why I purchased my EM1 and A7 so here is my help to you in return! I am including some test shots I took with my 2 Canon FD powerhouses, the 50mm 1.2L and 80-200 F4L. This is what I wrote on a forum site I contribute to, talkemount.com. The original post is here: http://www.talkemount.com/showthread.php?t=9372

So the A7II arrived today, a day later than I expected when I first put in the preorder but a day earlier then I expected from just a few days ago. I own the A7 and love it. It has become my go to camera. Reasons I felt the upgrade were important to me were, hated the original grip and button placements, no IBIS, a tad slow, poor video features. The A7II seemed to cover these very well. The things I wished for but didn’t make the cut was, silent shooting and a newer improved sensor.

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1st impression out of the box are pretty consistent with what we have seen from online reviewers. Noticeably heavier but the grip is fantastic. Very comfortable shooting without a strap with a heavy solid metal lens like the FD 50mm 1.2L that I have on it now. Overall construction is VERY good. Buttons, dials and screen. Very smooth but solid movement and actuations. Startup time is fast. Almost instant for me in most cases. Shutter is definitely quieter but not stealthy by any means.

Things I’m not sure about yet. The front dial on the grip is a little hard to get to with my fingers and I have to struggle a bit to get to it. Tilt screen is also hard to get to. Not a lot of edge to grab a hold of (Tip From Steve: On the right side of the LCD, underneath, is a lip to grab onto to pull out the LCD). The self-cleaning shutter-clang at power down still happens sometimes. Also when you turn it on and the SteadyShot is engaged there is a small vibration in the body right at boot-up. I tried it a few times and got it to do it fairly constantly. EVF is identical to the A7.

OK so now for a quick steady shot comparison. These are shot with the FD 50mm 1.2L. The steady shot ability with non electronic manual focus lenses was what I was most looking to get with this camera and so far I think its working really nice.

First set. Shot at 1/10 at f8 ISO 200 handheld with dim desk lamp as only source of light. I cropped in a lot. This figure stands at about 3.8″ tall

Without SSI (5 Axis)

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With SSI 

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This next one surprised me so much that I had to take it twice to be sure. Shot at 1/6 at f8 ISO 50. Same desk lamp

Without SSI

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With SSI

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So SteadyShot Inside is not too shabby on a 40+yo lens. Now I know some of us were wondering if the steady shot is engaged in the preview. Id say it is engaged with a shutter half press but using it on a 50mm lens is hard to tell. However when using the focus zoom feature, it doesn’t seem to engage as I couldn’t tell much movement change with it on/off. This weekend I plan on trying it on my 80-200mm and see how it fairs with the longer FL. So far so good though

And then here is a follow up with the 80-200mm f4L:

Ok so finally home and playing around with my 80-200mm. The steady shot is way more noticeable at 200 mm. Also it’s very comfortable holding the camera with this beast on it. A few other things I am noticing.

Menu and C3 buttons are much easier to get to than previously.

I was able to map the FL selection to C3. Very convenient for me to be able to make quick adjustments with a legacy zoom lens.

The higher resolution screen seems to allow you to magnify the image in review a lot closer than previously.

Wi-Fi access is much more reliable – A big plus for me as I use this feature often!

Emount is definitely more robust. I nice solid ‘click’ when you engage the lens

Not seeing steady shot when using focus magnification. Will have to check the manual to see if there is a way to engage it.

Here is two shots indoors and hand held.

200mm f4 ISO 100, 1/25, with and without steady shot

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Here is what the 80-200mm fdn looks like on it

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Mikee Catacutan

Wow, this things feels like a brick. Not a bad brick but just a really solid magnesium alloy framed brick. I like the weight of the original A7 but definitely like the feel of the mark II better and if I had to choose, I’d go with the more solid feel as I think it could withstand some serious traveling.

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Other physical difference include the finish. It’s way more premium looking and feeling over the original A7’s shiny plastic like finish. As we all know, the grip is also larger. It feels good but I also didn’t have a problem with the original, however the added real estate for the placement of the shutter button absolutely feels perfect.

On the original A7, there was a little movement between the body and lens. I’ve used the camera in light showers with no problems but the A7II has a much more improved lens mount. The click you hear when mounting a lens sounds confident and there’s absolutely no wiggle between body and lens.

All the button feel similar, with a few feeling more solid adding to the premium aspect of the camera. I thought the screen would be exactly the same however the black borders on the LCD are reversed with the thicker border being on the right of the LCD. That means the A7 screen protector won’t align with the A7II unless you flip it upside down resulting in an upside down Sony logo. I ended up leaving it on for the time being for protection and will change it out later, or maybe not. It doesn’t bother me. You can see it below:

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So without a doubt, the camera feels great. I will admit needing to get use to the added weight. It’s not heavy, it’s just different from the original A7, which I’ve been using extensively for a year.

As far as internal improvements go, I can already feel the auto focus has improved greatly in that I don’t feel it’s a concern anymore. We’ll see how it goes as I do more shooting but I’m super happy with it. Start up time is a bit faster. Not by a lot but it’s definitely less annoying.

And then there’s IBIS. This is why I decided to sell my A7 and upgrade. Any help in taking care of camera shake, I’m all for it and I think it’s definitely worth it for me. Especially when I’m shooting in constantly changing scenes/light and without the ability to set a minimum shutter speed but want to keep my lens wide open, the added image stabilization will give me more confidence that if it does go down to say 1/30th of a second, I’ll still be ok. I don’t venture too far below 1/80th for handheld shots because I absolutely hate blurry images, so now that I can feel more comfortable at lowers shutter speeds, I’ll worry less and focus more on composition.

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So there you have it. My first impressions of this beast. I have a shoot on Saturday so I’m excited to put this guy to work. I’m already a fan of the quality of the A7 so I’m sure I’ll be just as happy, if not more, with these files.

And some images from Mikee Catacutan

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Beau Reyes

Hello, Steve im a long time Sony alpha user and just received my A7II. The camera reminds me of my old a900 but shrunk down. I take pictures for an adult basketball league and was able to test out the camera this past weekend. While they say the af is 30% faster id say its 100% more accurate. Aside from having to shoot at high iso, the camera performed beautifully paired with the 70-200mm f4 G.

Thanks for running an amazing website.

Take Care,
Beau Reyes

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Richard M Poniarski

Steve;

I saw your page about people who got the A7mII recently and thought I would send you a couple of shots I took. I got mine last Friday and the next day headed into New York City to the International Motorcycle show, where two of the shots were taken, and then to a local car show on Long Island, where I took the blue Coupe de Ville picture. All were jpgs, as Lightroom didn’t have support for the new Sony, though the update now does and I am returning to shooting RAW.

As to the camera, it is really awesome. All the shots were taken with the Sony/Zeiss 24-70mm f4 FE OSS lens and the combination of the lens’s stabilization and the IBIS is stunning. I have been able to take shots at much slower shutter speeds than I ever have, something very important to me as I have a familial neurological condition that causes my hands to shake. I love the deeper grip and the shutter button placement is perfect. Only thing making it less than perfect is that there still aren’t enough FE lenses to complete my kit. Once that is done, I will be a very happy camper.

Thanks a lot for all your work and keep it up!

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Dec 172014
 

Quick User Report: Using the Voigtlander 40 1.4 on the Sony A7s

by Devin Jameson

Just wanted to post a few images recently made with the Sony a7s and Nokton 40mm 1.4 SC.

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Pros:

Sharp at the focus point, even wide open—IF you nail the focus

Sharpness picks up quickly when stopped down if you prefer a clinical look or are shooting landscapes (also vignetting goes away by f/2.8 or so)

Very compact size, even with the Voigtlander Close-Focus adapter

Character is very “interesting”

Great build quality with smooth focusing ring and aperture clicks

Randomness factor–you never know what you might get when shooting wide open!

0.7 meter minimum focus distance—closer to 0.3 meter with VM-E adapter

 

Cons:

It’s not a Leica 50 Lux

Rather heavy vignetting

Bokeh is somewhat nervous (I’ve learned to love this)

Flare (I like the randomness of flare, so this isn’t a con for me)

I expect to see a 50mm focal length, so the transition to 40mm is a little tough, but should be fine in time

All in all, it’s a fun lens that lives on my a7s. Check out the sample images below—most were shot wide open.

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Dec 102014
 

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

by Dirk De Paepe

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

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

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

Planar versus Planar

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

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

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

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

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

Improvements

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

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02European Monecrop

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

03. Red beauty

05. Jaguar emblem

04. Jaguar headlight

07. Austin Healey Cockpit

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07B Getting in the mood for Christmas

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

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

All-around

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

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

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

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15. Liège by night

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

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

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Considerations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*pre-order the Zeiss Loxia lenses HERE*

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dirk De Paepe

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Nov 172014
 

retina

The New 27” Apple iMac 5k, Trick or Treat?

by Charlie Webster – See his Flickr HERE

For high-performance digital photography you need a great body. And, you’d like a great lens. Finally, you’d like a great way to view your results. A fundamental Troika. In analog, this could be a M6, 28 Cron and a really fine print. You get the picture.

I’m a photographer and ski instructor in Sun Valley, Idaho, where I’ve lived since 1978, but my main business is computer consulting. For years I had almost all my clients on Windows machines, and I built many of them myself. Since the introduction of Windows 8, I’ve been switching them all to Apple. After years with fast Windows machines, my main rig has been a Mac for two years now.

For me, it pays to keep up, so on October 16th I caught the live feed for the “Apple Event”. I’m cleaning the house while silly skits play to raucous fanboy cheers, etc, when suddenly the subject is a new “5K iMac retina”. My ears prick up like a labrador who hears a hand in the milkbone box. Rut-ro, 14 million pixels? Woof! 70% more than 4K display, which I’ve been drooling over! By the end of the presentation I know one thing: the earth has moved and I must have one of these. I smell the third leg in a digital troika: M9, M Lens, and now……. 5K 27” Retina display.

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To this point I’ve always built my own desktop machines. Never dreamed I’d buy an iMac. Build a hackintosh? Sure. Spend thousands on a big all-in-one? Not this chump! But the luscious Scoobie-snack prospect of seeing M9 files at near full resolution on a 27 inch monitor brushes my DIY ethos aside in an instant, and I dig out “the card”. Fundamentally cheap at heart, I pull the trigger on a basic model with one upgrade: a 3 TB fusion drive. I order an extra 16 gigs of RAM from a third-party vendor to save some money. I’m spending the value of a 50 Lux on the used market today for my brand new Apple 5K. Will it be worth it?

*See the new iMac 5k Right HERE*

I track the iMac from the factory in China, to Japan, to Memphis, to Salt Lake, and finally to Hailey, a few miles away. It arrives, I fire it up, transfer my stuff from Time Machine, set desktops/spaces to cycle my better shots, open several tabs in Safari to follow some discussions, then get into some of my huge libraries of Sony and Leica Raws in Lightroom, resizing some favorites to 16×9 to use every pixel. All the time I’m checking my desktops for the full size images they show.

How do the files look?

Remember when you opened your own full frame digital files for the first time? Maybe it felt like you’d left the earth and taken flight once you saw the rich depth in those images. The 5K gives that sort of rush; and then some. This is the M9 of displays, even calibrated with the same feel and rich contrast of color slide film. Words cannot describe a mountain landscape with the 21SEM pushed to your eyeballs by 14,700,000 pixels on the 27” Retina display. You feel at once astounded, and instantly entitled: of course my shots should look like this! I knew I was a genius!

My first days with the rig were spent figuring out the best ways to view and edit Sony A7 and Leica M9 images, while carrying on with day-to-day computing. On background, I learned there are some great 27ish 4K screens under $2000 which may have a wider color gamut and superior calibration potential for printing than the Apple 5K. Users report that Windows operating systems scaling to 4K, let alone 5K, renders icons, menus and even web pages in curious, not optimal ways. Ideally you would want a 2560x1440ish display for surfing and GUI interaction, and 4k to look at fine stuff.

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With the 5K iMac, Apple has tackled the scaling issue head-on. When “Best for Retina” is selected in display options, this beast runs 2 resolutions simultaneously! One mode is 2560×1440, like a standard thunderbolt display. So your dock icons look normal and webpages are normal size, but Velvia clear, with 4 pixels making one, or something like that. We don’t realize the pixel noise in a native 2560×1440.

Imagine Safari taking up a box about 40% of the total screen space with an interior resolution of 2560×1440, with Steve’s site looking creamy smooth, surrounded by a desktop background—glittering as if from another world. Maybe some sweet shot with a CV 35/1.2 and lots of character, or a sharp UWA landscape with lots of tiny details. What rez will that be? 5120×2880, AKA 5K. Right behind your Safari window! I’ve been using cmd + h to hide Safari and check out my backgrounds as they rotate every minute, then cmd + tab brings back your work window. When you see a favorite shot on the 5k for the first time…

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Some programs, or sites appear to do exactly the same thing. Flickr, for example, seems to really “rez up” images for the 5k. In Lightroom you pull up that sweet etching of light from a wide open 28 cron, and how do you see it? 5120×2880, while sliders and controls are normal size. That sight will drop your jaw and change your workflow. Here is the crux of this quantum leap: with an M9 RAW up on the 5K we interact with the whole image, like a great print. When we study a smaller part of the image, the rest is still attached. You want to know if your ZM18 managed to resolve tiny details deep in the corners? Just look. Don’t zoom, just look. It’s obvious. You want to really check it out? Move your head closer. You don’t see pixels till your nose is getting close. Both lens and image character are revealed in breaking clarity. You find yourself exploring parts of shots you made which you’d never really appreciated.

Only a high quality print could compare and I doubt many are sharper than this. If the color gamut is richer in print, colors still look great on the 27 Retina. As I read in board discussions, the Eizos and NEC monitors may have a wider gamut and can be better calibrated for printing accurately. Yet, in person the 5k Imac is routinely described as “the best display I’ve ever seen” by geeks who’ve seen all the wide gamut 4k stuff. Which is not to say it’s the best predictor of print colors.

The 5K 27” display has an aspect ration of 16×9. Of course, it should have been 5212×3468, like the M9, but oh well. Many of my shots go from pleasing to not so pleasing in composition when cropped 16×9. A few look better. You put the right shot in there and it looks awesome. In future, I make some images especially for this aspect ration with the M9. Meanwhile, pristine un-cropped images glisten with two thin border edges. They look fantastic on the thing. And you can put some icons on the sides, too.

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How does it perform? Well 14.7 million pixels require considerable attention, so this generally snappy rig does gasp here and there in the heavy lifting, like some tasks in full screen photo editing. It doesn’t freeze, but it will drop frames or hesitate at certain times. We are at the frontier of what’s possible, after all.

After playing around quite a bit in LR, my conclusion is: once again library size may matter. In my large catalog, I was surprised to see the machine hesitate to apply a 16×9 crop and stagger to adjust the orientation of a graduated filter, while in other aspects and other spaces the machine was running fine. Finally, getting this report ready, I made a fresh library to edit shots for this piece, and the machine really ripped, very smooth with all the features at full screen. Going back to the big library it seems better, perhaps there is some resizing of thumbnails going on etc, which will make a big library run fast in the future. But short-term, you may want to use smaller libraries if performance becomes an issue. There is also the option, with a few quick clicks, to reduce the overall resolution for heavy editing, which does increase performance, then return to “Best for Retina” for viewing pleasure. 5K quirky? A tad, but like with the M9, the pudding just tastes too good to really care.

My advice is to get as many extras as you can afford in configuring a 5K Retina. It’s Apple so there aren’t many. A faster Card, a faster processor and some drive and ram options, that’s it. Get everything you can afford, but if you can’t afford anything more than the base price of $2499, my advice is: order tomorrow. A few staggers with tough tasks is small ransom to release your images from the smeared filter of coarse sub-4k pixels. Let your images blaze on one of these things and they will inspire you all over again. Here is a new and fundamental piece of digital kit, like the camera body and lens. Finally…..we have a display at the level of an M9 and 50 Lux, which can show you those results with a click and little compromise.

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Bottomline: 5K iMac Retina is a game changer for digital photography and desktop computing. Nothing like this has ever been built before. Like a digital Leica, it’s a wonderful step into the future and an incredible tool to use. Not without quirks of course. Thumbs up, Cupertino!

Thanks to Steve for his wonderful site and I hope everyone enjoys my take on the new 5K. “K” is for “Keeper”!

Charlie Webster
My Flickr:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/55299472@N07/

I shot the images in this report with A7 + Bokina 90/2.5 and M9 + CV 35/1.2

*See the new iMac 5k Right HERE*

Nov 052014
 

rx1r

My RX1r Experience

by R.A. Krajnyak

Hi Steve and Brandon.

First, let me start off with thanks to you both for the great site and the work you put into it. Your site is an integral part of my daily web surfing routine and your insight, Steve, has been influential in my development as a photographer.

Secondly, let me thank you for turning me on to the I Shot It website. I was honored to be among the first nine runner-ups who receive their $20 entry fee back in the most recent B&W contest and was awarded a Mark of Excellence for the following photograph taken with my Sony RX1r:

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Lastly, I wanted to share my RX1r experience with you and your readers along with some images taken with this incredible camera. Anyone who is interested in viewing the images in this post at greater resolution can view them on my website in a gallery specifically set up with just these images. The smaller resolution here just doesn’t do this camera justice. The gallery is located here: http://www.quintaquad.com/Steve-Huff-Blog/n-dwFzN/

A bit of background on me. I’m 60 years old and have been involved with photography off and on for 40 years. My first good cameras were Nikon film SLR’s (Fm & Fe2). However my interest waned and they soon saw little use.

When digital came along I got the D40 and then the D5100. Like many enthusiasts, I ended up rarely taking my camera out due to the size and weight. About 1 1/2 years ago a friend of mine turned me on to the Sony RX100. I was blown away by the size and IQ along with the ability to shoot RAW. I began taking my camera everywhere and photographing everything. This piqued my interest in upgrading to a small interchangeable lens system.

I started researching on-line and discovered the M4/3 cameras as well as your site. I loved the size and IQ of the system and ended up with a Panny GX7. In addition, I have since added an Oly E-M10 which I love. I also discovered the Sony RX1 and was intrigued by it. However the price was out of my range.

Last October I received an unexpected small inheritance and decided to splurge on an RX1 or RX1r. I wasn’t sure which one but after researching further I decided on the RX1r. Your reviews were very influential in my decision. A year later I can truly say that I’m thrilled with my choice.

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The RX1r is in my mind a true classic…a small powerhouse FF camera with a fast, high quality 35mm Zeiss lens that is designed specifically for the sensor. The rendering of the Zeiss lens is gorgeous. You have aptly described it as “creamy” and I heartily agree. I’m not a pixel-peeping tech kind of guy nor am I into debating the quality of bokeh…I just know what I like and the RX1r definitely floats my boat when it comes to size, weight and IQ.

I added a few accessories that for me are essential…optional Sony EVF, Gordy leather wrist strap, Fotodiox grip and Fotodiox lens hood.

I shoot in manual mode but primarily use auto focus. Control layout is minimal and fairly well laid out. That being said I do have a few small niggles with the camera. AF could be better, I would prefer an EVF built into the body like the A7 series and I would like an articulated LCD. There is also a bit of a CA issue in high contrast situations such as foliage against a bright sky.

DR and low light high ISO is excellent (the David Grissom band image and my self-portrait were both shot hand-held at 3200).The quality of the noise is very pleasing and grain-like IMHO. I shoot strictly RAW so I can’t comment on JPEGs. The image detail is outstanding as is the RAW conversion out of camera color and contrast, although the last two things aren’t as important to me as I do extensive post work on the RAWs.

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The RAW files are extremely malleable which is important to me since post work is a major part of the overall photography experience for me personally and this is where the magic happens with this camera. I’ve been working with Photoshop since 1996 and have incorporated Lightroom along with Topaz, Nik and On One plug-ins as well. The RX1r files stand up beautifully under heavy processing. I love both B&W and color as you can tell from my photos. I’m not above doing extensive processing but I love a simple B&W image too. I just love all the different aspects and styles of photography in general. Due to my eclectic tastes I don’t focus on one specific genre…possibly to the detriment of developing my own signature style.

Many people think of the RX1/r as limiting because of the fixed 35mm lens. Not so in my experience. I find the RX1r to be fantastic for all kinds of photography in general from landscapes to macro. Granted it’s not useful for sports or birding but those are genres of photography that require fairly specific equipment in the form of long lenses. In addition to its versatility the RX1r is inconspicuous and quiet. I tried to select a wide range of photos to showcase what I think is the RX1r’s versatility.

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My favorite subject is my 90 year old mother who suffers from dementia in the form of severe short term memory loss and lives with me. We go walking every afternoon on the local nature trails and afterwards stop at the local coffee shop for hot chocolate or coffee. I always take my camera with me and document our walks. Although I only included three images with her as the subject (the portrait of her, the image of her in the straw hat from behind and the image of her hand on the gear cog) you can find many photos of her at my website, particularly in the two galleries, The Memories Of Margaret V. and A Walk Through The Seasons: Portraits In Dementia.

The first is highly processed, conceptual composite images while the latter is simple B&W photos. Both are photo essays meant to be viewed as an whole rather than as individual images. Note that not all the images from those were taken with the RX1r. The Memories gallery also contains a video of the images with an accompanying music track which was written, played and recorded by me as well. Unfortunately the image quality isn’t that great due to SmugMug’s video size restrictions.

I’ll end by saying I enjoyed your recent article about what you’ve learned from street photography. I had to laugh when I read the line about photographing what you love even if it’s flowers, trees and leaves. Those are three of my favorite subjects, in particular leaves. But the advice rings true…photograph what you love and forget about what others think. That’s not to say you should ignore criticism. On the contrary, constructive criticism is how we learn and improve at our craft. But take criticism with a grain of salt and stay true to yourself, not worrying about what others think. Never hesitate to take chances and stretch yourself in order to grow.

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Thanks again for all you do for photography and for the opportunity to share about the hobby and camera I love.

R.A. Krajnyak AKA QuintaQuad

quintaquad.com

Nov 042014
 

A year with the Panasonic GH2

By Aaron Hayman

First of all, I’d like to thank Steve for hosting such a great site. I spend a lot of time looking at and learning about photography on the web and this site is definitely on a very short list of favorites. The quality of the work tends to be on a level well beyond what I see in other places. I draw a lot of inspiration for my own work from the diversity and imagination of the work shown on these pages. There’s also the fact that the gear is very much biased towards mirrorless, compact cameras. I thought a bit about getting a DSLR, but since I saw so many really great images taken with mirrorless and since I’m a great believer in having something compact and therefore being more likely to have it with you, the mirrorless tech was what I gravitated towards. There are of course other advantages as well in going mirrorless…

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About a year ago, I bought a Panasonic GH2. I’ve been interested in photography for quite a while; I studied in college where I learned all kinds of darkroom processes as well as lots about the history and theory of the art form. I switched to digital some years ago when I picked up a Canon A630 point and shoot and though I did some work with that camera that I was quite happy with (I posted some photos I took with it before on this site), I eventually got tired of “working within limitations” and yearned for a more versatile tool. I did a fair bit of research and came to the conclusion that a used GH2 represented the features that I was looking for at a cost that I could afford. I have to say that despite the fact that there are a few more recent offerings with a little bit better IQ and more contemporary features that are certainly able to stir the gear lust within me, I’ve been quite happy with the GH2. Of course with only the very old and very simple A630 to compare it to, the GH2 obviously wins in every category. Still, I think that it’s much better than that. I’m consistently impressed with the IQ, I love that I can use old legacy lenses with it (and the macro focusing definitely helps), it seems very fast to focus with low shutter lag (unlike the A630, which seemed to be expressly designed to miss the moment!), all of the controls seem to be very logically laid out, the EVF shows me just what I need to see and when I’m shooting at some odd angle, the tiltable LCD really comes in handy.

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In the year that I’ve owned the camera, I’ve used it more than I have any other camera that I’ve had in any given year; I’ve owned a few and done a lot of photography over the years. Part of it has to do with the simple fact that with digital “the film is free,” but also because the GH2 is beautifully handling camera. I’m a firm believer in the idea that it’s the brain behind the lens that’s the most important factor in making an image. Nonetheless, a well designed, high performing camera can make the act of photography much more of a joy and to that effect, the GH2 has really helped to inspire me to get out and take photos. As for the photos, I’ve shot them in several different locales and experimented with a number of different subjects and approaches… I’m always experimenting and working under the influence of different ideas. My work though really isn’t so all-over-the-map as this collection of images might suggest; most of these photos are part of a larger series, each with a consistent theme. The most recent series that I’ve been working on involves shooting little details in my neighborhood. I don’t feel like I live in the most glamorous, scenic place and my surroundings seem rather ordinary… and yet I feel that there are compelling images to be made of my less-than-spectaular surroundings. It’s more difficult to feel like I’ve gotten a really good photo in this type of situation but also a greater challenge and I like that. I’m often thinking of what one of my favorite photographers, Garry Winogrand said, “Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.” When I think more of how the subject “looks photographed” then I’m able to worry less about what the subject is and I feel like I can produce more surprise in my photography by creating something out of materials that don’t usually get a second look.

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Initially, I used just the kit zoom on my GH2, a 14-42mm thing. As a kit lens that comes with the camera, I didn’t expect to like it that much, but it seems capable of some really sharp images… I’ve been quite happy with it. Later I got around to buying adaptors for some old 35mm film lenses I had, a Canon 28mm f2.8 and a Nikon 50mm f1.8. I’m really happy with the Nikon in particular in that it’s fast and just the right length for some musical events that I’ve gotten into photographing. The fact that as with any old lens like that, it isn’t capable of auto focus isn’t a problem at all as in the low-light situations where I’m using it, the autofocus in the camera doesn’t work very reliably anyway. The Canon, though it seems to be sharp enough has gotten less use as the focal length and max aperture aren’t ideal for me. I’ve messed around with a Nikon E series 70-150mm zoom as well and gotten better results than I thought that I might with a lens like this. Folks generally don’t seem to be so hot on adapting those old manual focus zooms. The lens I’ve really come to love to use with this camera the most is the only other one that I’ve got that’s designed for it (as opposed to adapted) and that’s the Panasonic/Leica 25mm f1.4. Perhaps I’m projecting something special onto it because I spent nearly the cost of the camera with the kit lens on it, but it certainly does seem like there is something very, very nice about the quality that I’m getting with this lens. It’s very fast, which has been proven to be useful in shooting indoor musical events, which are typically not so well lit. I bought it for these low light situations, but I’ve come to love the look that it’s capable of even more than the speed that I get with that low F-stop. I’m not so great at describing this sort of thing (Steve is really brilliant at it!) but suffice to say, it gives me a look that I haven’t gotten with other lenses. I’ve been using it a lot more than I thought that I would because I usually favor a wider field of view and have felt kind of addicted to the convenience of a zoom. I think that I’m starting to lose a bit of my bias toward the wide-angle lately though and when I go out shooting I’m thinking more in terms of what works with the 25mm.

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As for processing (very important to me!), I’ve been using a free program for RAW conversion called LightZone that I’ve been really happy with. I use Photoshop as well from time to time for certain kinds of effects, but I always start with LightZone. I always shoot in the RAW format and really like to spend time adjusting the images with software. I believe that the creative choices I make with the software are nearly as important to creating the images as the parts of the process that I do in the camera…

Thanks for looking and I hope that you enjoy the images. For more of my work, please see: www.flickr.com/photos/128435329@N08/sets

 

Oct 312014
 

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From the Leica M9 to the Leica M240…and Back to the M9

By Ashwin Rao – Follow him on Facebook HERE

Hello my friends. It’s Ashwin, back to talk about my recent GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) journey with Leica. I have been a huge fan of both the Leica M9 and Leica M Monochrom over the course of the life cycles of these cameras. I have always enjoyed the rangefinder way of seeing, from the time I first came upon my very first rangefinder, an M6 TTL. I joined the digital rangefinder transition, as did many others, with the Leica M8, and while that camera had many benefits (incredibly clear and crisp sensor), it was not quite ready for prime time due to its IR sensitivity issues and operational foibles, all of which have been well documented. That being said, many Leica M8’s remain in service today, over 8 years after it first came into production in September of 2006. The Leica M9 was released to much fanfare on September 9th 2009, heralded as the first full frame digital rangefinder, featuring a high quality CCD sensor with the same pixel pitch as the M8, and some cosmetic and operational refinements. The infrared sensitivity issue ,which plagued the M8, was mitigated for the M9, and for many, it is considered a modern legend of digital photography. I received my first Leica M9 in December of 2009, and soon thereafter wrote my first article for Steve, reviewing the M9 and a “travel camera extraordinaire.” 5 years later, I believe those same words hold true. The Leica M9 remains a remarkable camera, capable of capturing the decisive moment and motivating the eager photographer.

Leica M9 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH

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M240 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH

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Leica M9 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux-ASPH

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With time comes progress (right?) and in September of 2012, Leica announced the Leica M240, or in short, the Leica “M”, the first full frame sensor to feature a new CMOS sensor, which would permit higher ISO shooting, and importantly, live view. In theory, the Leica M240 boasted many performance and design refinements learned from the limitations of the M9. It also allowed rangefinders to compete with other modern cameras in providing an option to focus lenses with live view and it can shoot video. For many rangefinder enthusiasts, particularly those with aging eyes and a large collection of R lenses, the M240 represented an option by which to focus more accurately and use their R lenses, which have not been supported by a modern digital Leica R.

Like many, I was very curious when the M240 was launched. I kept a close eye on those who were able to use the camera early in its production cycle, such as Steve, Jono Slack, Gary Tyson, and others. As the camera became more widely available, I regularly browsed online photo forums and facebook enthusiast pages to find compelling images and reasons to justify upgrade….this process was a year long journey, and one accompanied by great struggle. I truly loved my M9, the “CCD look” that I perceived to be true, and had truly bonded with the camera over years of use, but new cameras are always compelling and entice the prospective buyer with the promise of new features and improved image quality. I also struggled with the concept of investing another $7000 in a camera, when I had just done this a few years back.

Leica M9 and 35 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH pre-FLE

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Finally, in the spring of this year (2014), I purchased the M240. It was a harrowing, yet exciting moment. In the year that I had debated whether or not to purchase the M240, I remarked that the color palette, dynamic range and look of files from the M240 was vastly different M9 files. Initially, the M240 seemed to be plagued by inconsistent white balance, but over the year, through firmware upgrades, Leica seemed to improve upon this. Yet, the colors coming from the camera, and skin tones in particular, seemed so different, warmer and more red/orange (a common problem with CMOS digital sensors, by the way), than what I had accommodated to with my M9, which provided a seemingly cooler skin tone profile. As I reviewed images, I came to compare the M9 and M240 images to different image stock. Ultimately, I was compelled to try the M240 to see if I could adjust to this different way of seeing.

M9 and 50 mm Noctilux f/0.95

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M240 and 50 mm APO Summicron-ASPH

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In the process of buying my M240, I quickly sold my M9 to be able to focus on one color rangefinder option. I set into getting to learn my camera, and was able to have the M240 around for a very important part of my life, that is, my wedding and the months around this event. I managed to shoot the camera regularly.

What were my conclusions, you might ask? What was my conclusion from this costly experiment? Well, the title of the article summarizes the basic experience, but let me elaborate. I simply couldn’t get used to the M240 and I could not find a bond with the camera. First, and most challenging for me, was the color reproduction of the camera and its inconsistent white balance reproductions under artificial light, particularly in rendering skin complexion. I often found skin tones to render excessively yellow or orange, and I simply could not find ways in Adobe Lightroom, to get skin tones to look as I enjoyed. I could get close, but adjusting skin tones would often affect the color reproduction of the rest of the image. Apparently, I had accommodated to the look of the M9, and I could not get close enough with the M240. Second, and disappointing to me, was an issue with banding at higher ISO’s. Whenever I took a shot that was underexposed, lifting the shadows resulted in noticeable banding at ISO’s of 3200 and higher (and occasionally at ISO 1600). I was able to remedy the banding issue using software fixes (Nik software’s has a de-banding tool that’s very useful). In practice, shooting in low light was nearly as limited for the M240 as it was for the M9, which has a practical ISO limit of around 640, after which banding behaviors are the norm with image adjustment.

M240 and Summicron 28 ASPH

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Leica M9 and Noctilux 50 mm f/0.95

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For the M240, I also struggled mightily with the “start up time” of the camera. When powering the camera on, it takes about 2-3 seconds before the photographer can actually take a shot. Initially, I thought this was a camera defect, but trying a few friends’ M240’s, I found the behavior to be universal. I tried to remedy this by leaving the camera on all of the time, given that the M240 sports a much-improved battery than the M9. However, after prolonged periods when the camera went back to sleep, I noticed the same lag. There were several instances where I missed an important shot , and this became an increasing turn off as I used the camera more.

M240 and Noctilux f/0.95 – Lauren

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As I used the M240 more, I became increasingly aware of the weight of the camera. At first, I felt that the camera felt more confident, more solid, less “airy” in hand, but after some time, I found the added bulk to be unwanted. My shooting arm would get sore. Not a huge deal, but enough of a difference to be annoying. After all, there was an outcry when the M8 and M9 were built with much thicker bodies than previous film M bodies, and here was a camera that provided even more bulk and heft to a shooter (myself) who valued size and discretion in his camera.

M240 and Noctilux f/0.95 – Andi

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M9 and Noctilux f/0.95

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Finally, I became increasingly annoyed over time with the menu layout. I wasn’t entirely sure when to press the “Menu”, “set”, and Info buttons. It was not nearly as intuitive an experience as to how best to adjust settings on the fly as it was with the M9. Even the ISO adjustment methodology seemed more cumbersome to me, who had gotten used to the simplicity of the M9’s menu and button implementation. The M240 had new buttons in unexpected places, and on occasion, which thought I was capturing images, I had accidentally triggered video shooting.

M240 and 90 mm f/4 Macro Elmar

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M9 and Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2 (v2)

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As you read this, you may feel that I am unfairly bashing the M240, and that with more time, I would have adjusted to the cameras many quirks. While this may be true, I kept coming back to my struggles with the M240’s image rendering. As I looked on my screen at old M9 shots, and compared them to the M240 images that I had captured, I took note of several things. I find the M9 to have rendered a more “crisp” pixel, while the M240 renders a slightly softer pixel. Further, the M240 renders with much more dynamic range, but for some reason, images taken with this camera seemed to exhibit less 3D pop that I saw with my M9.

In summary, I began to find reasons to return to my Leica M9, and in August, after 4 months, I sold my Leica M240 and returned to the M9. I can say that I am happy with this choice and much more settled with keeping the M9 and its awesome CCD sensor and way of rendering.

Well, I spent a lot of time bashing the M240, no? Let me bash the M9 for some balance. The M9 is a camera full of quirks and deficiencies. First off, it has a completely inadequate and dated 200,000+ pixel LCD. It was an out of date LCD the moment it was released, and 8 years later, it’s ridiculously poor…One cannot count on confirming clear focus with the M9’s LCD. Further, there’s a slight delay between when the image snaps into focus on the LCD, making images seem blurry for a moment.

There are times when the M9 freezes operationally and won’t take a shot. And I don’t just mean when the buffer is full. At times, I have missed important shots because the M9 simply refused to take the shot. Further, battery life is quite poor (300-400 shots), compared to the far improved M240 sensor. The M9 has an ISO limitation that stems from its CCD sensor. It’s only capable of being shot reliably through ISO 640 (or 800 if you are willing to live with lost dynamic range, muddier images). Compared to today’s sensors (think Sony, Fuji, Olympus, and Panasonic), this ISO limitation seems arcane. Compared to the M240, which offers clean ISO’s through 1600 and inconsistent but occasionally decent performance at ISO 3200, it seems old as well. Yet, at base ISO through ISO 400, the M9 offers something unique. It offers a lovely color palette. Images, particularly of people jump off the screen. Skin tones and rendering can take on a lifelike look, while the M240 occasionally presents skin tones in a waxy (CMOS) manner. You’d never see this on your cell phone or laptop monitor, but on a calibrated larger home monitor or large print, there’s a difference there that’s continued to be noticeable to me.

Ultimately, I came to accept the limitations of the Leica M9 to gain its benefits. The M9 turns on and is ready to shoot instantaneously. It’s silent shooting mode is cleverly implemented and useful when employed. It’s a lighter and airier camera and is less fatiguing to hold in the hand for prolonged shoots. It’s menus offer operational simplicity, which seems to echo the rangefinder way of seeing. It’s CCD rendering (yes, I believe that the CCD “look” is real…sorry to all of the naysayers) is awesome and increasingly unique in a world where CMOS sensors have taken over.

I believe that the Leica M9 continues to represent the pinnacle of Leica’s imaging achievement. Like many countless others who’d hope for a camera that offers the best of all worlds, I strongly suspect that such a camera will never materialize. I doubt that there will ever be another CCD-sensor Leica. And thus, I am “stuck” with the M9, and of course, my beloved Leica M Monchrom. For those times when I desire revelatory ISO performance, I have moved to the Sony A7s, which I have used extensively (nearly exclusively) with Leica M lenses, and I find that its limitations (primarily the 12 megapixel sensor and tunnel view SLR way of seeing) don’t bother me all that much. The Sony is not built anywhere as confidently as the Leica (in terms of feel), but it’s a great camera worth checking out for a modern CMOS option. IT’s colors are not Leica colors, but I have found that I can get skin tones that I like with this camera.

Leica M9 and 35 Summuilux FLE

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Leica M9 and 50 mm f/1.4 Summilux ASPH

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Thus, for me, the Leica M240 is now part of my photographic past. The Leica M9 has returned to my kit. It represents my photographic present. I certainly hope and expect that Leica will continue to re-invent itself with new innovative products and improved rangefinders. The Leica M240 was not the right camera for me, but I hope that the next iteration will be a better fit. At that time, the M9 will remain with me. It’s a lifetime camera, unless Leica finds the guts to go back to CCD or a sensor the renders similarly. It offers a unique rendering that blends so well with M lenses. It’s a great option for photography, even today.

M240 and 50 mm APO-Summicron ASPH

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I imagine that many of you will take exception to my thoughts and comments. I welcome your thoughts, your debate, and your criticisms to this argument. It simply represents my opinion and current thinking on the matter.

Here’s a summary of what I consider the strengths and weaknesses of the 2 cameras discussed:

Pros of the Leica M9
• CCD sensor – per pixel microontrast and dynamic range at low ISO
• Menu and operational simplicigty
• Weight
• Heft
• Instant On
• Silent shooting mode

Cons of the Leica M9
• ISO limitation
• Rear LCD is terrible
• Poor battery life
• Indoor and outdoor white balance inconsistency
• Reduced dynamic range compared to modern sensors
• Occasionally the shutter doesn’t fire
• IR sensitivity is still there, though less so?

Pros of the M240
• ISO improvements (though banding limits realistic ISO to < 3200, and in some cases, 1600
• Moderate Dynamic range improvement
• Solid battery life
• Build Quality
• EVF capacity, for those who want it
• Much improved shutter sound and less shutter shake
• Fantastic Black and White Conversions

Cons of the M240
• Heavier
• Meno complexity and dials
• Adds complication to a simple RF concept (i.e. video, EVF, etc)
• Unnatural Color reproduction of skin tones
• Indoor white balance inconsistency
• Shooting lag, when camera is first activated
• More IR sensitivity?

Feasible areas of improvement for the next Leica M:
• Improved color stability for white balance
• Improved color rendering of skin tones
• Reduced banding artifacts for high ISO, particularly when adjusting images
• Baseplate access to the battery and SD card
• Make the camera thinner, rather than thicker
In fairness to bias, my time with the M240 was self-limited to 4 months. My time with the M9 has extended to nearly 5 years. There may be much in that difference in experience that may explain some of my experiences with these cameras. All the best to you, and most importantly, keep your hand on the shutter and keep making images, regardless of camera.

M240 and Rigid Summicron 50 mm f/2 (v2)

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M240 and 35 mm Summilux ASPH FLE

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