Monday 17 July 2023

Be Careful of Cheaping Out?


Canon R7, EF-S 10-18mm f4.5-5.6 IS STM

Thom Hogan recently wrote an article called Be Careful of Cheaping Out

I read it, and think it's a pretty problematic take on things. He has some valid points, but is starting from some really bad assumptions about both user intent and budget.

He starts off addressing 3rd party batteries. Yes, most of them are trash, but that doesn't invalidate the claim that 1st party batteries are wildly overpriced. Thom is overly accepting of claims that the price of them is driven by testing and design work. To be blunt, that argument holds no water based on my experience with Electric-powered RC aircraft. RC batteries are pushed much harder than camera batteries, tested far more and cost a small fraction of what camera batteries do. The big brands are not testing more, they're milking for profit. 

The flip side is that he's not wrong in claiming the 3rd party options are mostly cheap trash sold for too much money as well. So it makes sense to buy 1st party even if you are getting ripped off. There's a small number of quality 3rd party options finally starting to show up and I suspect that once a brand or two establishes themselves with a reputation for quality, the camera brands are going to be very unhappy with battery sales.

He gets into cards next, where he seems that users are buying or keeping more reasonably priced cards instead of buying the fastest cards which maximize the performance of the body. And he's not wrong in why you should buy fast cards, if you want the body to perform at its max ability, you need to buy the expensive fast cards. However many people simply don't push their cameras hard enough for this to matter. I personally still use top-end UHS-1 cards as I simply don't run into speed issues with them. I'll upgrade when card performance becomes a limiter for my work or I need new cards for some other reason. Why am I going to buy $200+ cards when I get the performance I need from $25 cards?

The same goes for lenses. Who cares that I'm using a 70 year old lens that wasn't a top performer back then. The real question is 'does the lens deliver the results I am looking for?' not 'am I using the best possible lens?'. Yeah, the Nikkor 24-70/4 S does technically beat the pants off most of the older options in that range, prime or zoom, but it's also boring. The rendering of many of the older/cheaper options can be more interesting, plus they are cheaper and thus more friendly to occasional use. That lets users buy lenses they may only use occasionally and don't want to invest big bucks in (like my recent 70-200L acquisition).

The one spot that Thom was dead on about was the one he only mentioned in passing. That's the tendency for newer photographers to buy cheap crappy tripods, then upgrade in single steps as they discover how bad the unit they bought is. Today, with plenty of relatively inexpensive decent tripods, there's no reason not to go all the way to a good Sirui or similar unit rather than buying cheap junk. This is the one case where penny wise is often pound foolish. The other aspect here is that tripods are not one size fits all. I own 3 currently and use them based on application. My Manfrotto 055XPROB's are for heavy lenses and when I need the steadiest option, my 290's are for when I need light weight and mobility and my Platypod for odd locations and when I want to strap things together or hard mount to a surface. 

At the end of the day, most users buying a $4000USD body are not using the body to its full capacity. They buy it because they want it or it has some feature they need. But they also get to use it with the lenses, cards and batteries that they choose and the only time there are wrong answers are when they are complaining about performance AND that the performance in question is being limited by their equipment choices. 

Saturday 15 July 2023

My First L Lens


Canon R7, EF 70-200L f2.8 IS USM

I've never actually owned a fast telezoom before. I've generally prioritized size & weight over a fast aperture for my zoom lenses, especially telezooms which are naturally larger & heavier than wide & normal zooms, and for what I usually shoot that is definitely the correct choice. However sometimes you just find the right deal at the right time and I did with this 70-200L. 

The main use for a fast telezoom for me is environmental nature shots in shaded forest, the best solution I ever had for that was the m.Zuiko 75/1.8 (150mm-e), but it wasn't very flexible since it was a prime. The m.Zuiko 40-150/4 Pro offered the flexibility (and was the fastest AF telezoom I'd bought previously) and the size/weight, but had no TC compatibility and still was lacking a bit of lens speed in some situations. 

What I acquired is an original 70-200L f2.8 IS USM with a touch of Schneideritis (outer edge element separation in glued lens elements) that does not impact IQ. This gives me a fast, TC-compatible lens ideal for use in lower light situations like shady forests, at the cost of a frankly lousy MFD (1.4m) and a bunch of weight (almost 1.5Kg). It's a very situational lens and likely will stay home much of the time, but it is a good lens to have available in case, especially at the incredibly low price I paid for it due to the Schneideritis. With a 1.4x TC on the R7, it's also got enough reach for airshow and limited birding use, so I will have to add a TC to the kit as well. The main reason I would not normally look at a lens like this is it simply costs too much for something that's very situational for me, so getting one at a steep discount addresses the main downside of the lens for me. 

It will be interesting to work with this lens, as it is so different from my usual choices in this focal length range. It will definitely stay home a fair bit due to the weight, but when I do haul it, I do expect to get shots I'd otherwise miss due to lack of light.

It also brings out just how good the experience of adapting EF lenses has been so far on the R7. I've used fully coupled adapters on m43, F and E/FE mounts and always found significant downsides. m43 was just terrible AF, even with a faster body like an E-M1 series, plus big lens/little camera handling issues. On F mount the FTZ adapter worked seamlessly with the 70-300E, but was a little annoying with older lenses, and the physical design made handling suck (the newer FTZII addresses the handling issue by dropping the useless integrated tripod mount that caused the handling issues) and in Sony the integration of mechanical aperture lenses was pretty meh (plus there were only a few SSM/SAM lenses with decent AF), and going with an EF to E adapter resulted in inconsistent performance.

With the EF to RF adapter, the experience so far has been seamless, although I'm only using native Canon glass for coupled adaptation (my Tamron 90mm is uncoupled, being a Nikon lens on a mechanical F to EF adapter). Aside from being a little large, I've had zero issues using the EF-S 10-18 IS STM, the EF 50mm f1.8 STM or the EF 70-200L f2.8 IS USM on the R7 with the standard Adapter. It's worth also noting that Canon actually makes 4 different adapters. There's an inexpensive standard adapter, a Control Ring version which has an additional control ring to substitute for the control ring that's on the RF lenses and not on EF lenses, a filter version which accepts a filter holder (available with either a polarizer or variable ND) and a Speedbooster, marketed for the Super35 cine bodies but which works fine on the RF-S bodies as well. My recommendation is to get the Control Ring adapter unless you have some reason to want one of the others. I have the standard one and plan to add the Control Ring version to my kit later in the fall. 

Friday 14 July 2023

First Goal Down


Brennans Creek, Killaloe, ON
Canon R7, Canon EF-S 10-18 IS STM on EF->RF Adapter

I've got 3 goals for 2023, defined in my 2022 Wrap-up and 2023 Goals post.

As of yesterday, I've achieved Goal #3, to get my Like to Post ratio on FredMiranda up to 60%. 

Since image posts tend to get a lot more likes than gear arguing, this goal was set to push me towards more focus on the images I'm making and less on the gear I'm making those images with. In doing so I discourage my own chasing the dragon and am less likely to take a break from FM because I'm annoyed. 

This one was admittedly set while I was shooting m43, where the low-traffic m43 image threads meant I'd usually get 3-4 likes on a good image. Now with Canon and the higher-traffic threads I'll usually see 10-15 likes per post (Sony was even higher, at 15-20 for a good image). I'm going to keep pushing on this as I might actually be able to get close to my 2022 goal of a 70% ratio. 

Regarding the other two goals

1. 10,000 images on one camera. I'd just broken 3,000 images on the OM-1 when I sold it, of which about 2500 were shot in 2023. I'm now just under 2500 on the R7 after around 1 month of ownership. I think the overall goal is achievable with the R7 as I expect to exceed 3000 images in the next couple weeks. Based on current trends I expect the R7 will be the first camera I've owned in a long while to exceed 5000 images and I'm on track for 10,000 this year.

2. Two major photo outings per quarter. I'm on track for this, although I just barely made it in Q1. This is going to be easy to maintain through the end of Q3, but Q4 and the late fall doldrums will present a challenge. 

Overall, the R7 continues to be a success for me. I enjoy shooting with it, and I increasingly am looking for reasons to use it, which is a big win. 

Thursday 29 June 2023

Regrets - I've Had a Few

 "The Road Ahead"

Sony A7RIV, FE 28-60mm

That's the last image I'll post from the A7RIV. 

Regrets have been something of a bane for me. Often my gear decisions have been driven by 'I really miss that lens', notably getting both my last E-M5II and my OM-1 have been driven by my love for the m.Zuiko Pro 12-40/2.8. Then I inevitably end up regretting not having those great FF RAW files, or not being able to adapt FF glass the way I want. I really need to put an end to this vicious cycle, as the end result is inevitably I have a more constrained set of gear than I should because I lost value on the last system switch. 

In looking back, and at the lenses Sony has announced this year (or is rumoured to be about to drop) I'd started to build up some regret at selling off the A7RIV. It was a good camera, and if it didn't really make me want to get out and shoot, it didn't stop me either. I'd likely still be shooting it if I'd still had it when the 20-70/4G was announced, that would have been the perfect replacement for the FE 28-60, which was a decent little lens but not quite wide enough and didn't focus close enough for me. And there's so much cool glass in E mount that I do miss the option to drool over all the options. Which of course had a flip side of I didn't buy them because I didn't have budget to buy every lens that takes my fancy, even if they are cheap, and never could pick which cheap lens to buy. There are some advantages of a more constrained lens lineup, less analysis paralysis. 

The regrets around the A7RIV have me looking closer at FF options again and I found yet another surprise with Canon RF glass. I've realized that I really should have taken a closer look at the RF stuff a couple years ago. 

My biggest complaint about FF kit after size has long been that the close focus usually sucks, especially compared to m43 Olympus glass, and I do a LOT of near macro work (bees, flowers, mushrooms, etc). In RF mount, it doesn't. In fact the lenses seem to be overall better than the already outstanding OM glass in MFD. I'm kicking myself a little bit now, as if I'd bought into RF instead of the A7RIV, I'd almost assuredly be still using it today as essentially none of my relatively minor frustrations with the A7RIV and Sony exist in RF mount. Flip/twist LCD's on everything except the lowly R100, an APS-C option with good ergonomics, compact and reasonably priced zooms, and zooms with good MFD. Also better grip ergonomics and weather sealing. The only remaining frustration from Sony is the IBIS/EXIF data issue for manual glass and that's comparatively minor as I shoot less and less adapted glass. 

What does this mean overall? First off, I'll almost assuredly grow into FF again. For landscape an R5, 14-35, 24-105L and 100-400 kit simply makes the most sense overall as a long-term setup. Since that kit is decent for the R7 as well, I'll likely head that way before any FF body is acquired (the RF100-400 will almost assuredly be a late July acquisition). That would make my light hiking kit that R5 based setup eventually, and I'd add the R7 and a macro lens for a 'heavy' kit.

Now if I can just pull off staying in a single system long-term...

Monday 26 June 2023

R7 at 2000


R7, RF-S 18-150mm f3.5-6.3 IS STM, frame 2002 from the R7, cropped vertically to m43-ish.

Today is my 14th day of ownership of the R7, and yesterday I exceeded 2000 shots on it. That's something of a record for me, I've not gone all-out shooting with a new camera this way since I briefly had my E-M1.2 a couple years ago. 

I'm not entirely sure why either. The OM-1 was objectively a better camera than the R7 (as it should be given the cost difference between the two), I got along with it reasonably well and I had great glass for it, but it didn't make me want to shoot it. The R7 I just want to pick up and shoot and I've been looking for reasons to get out with it. It's just a fun camera and I can't even tell you why that is. I do think one part of it is the EM-1/OM-1's do require thinking to operate, they are such complex beasts with so many direct controls and multi-use options that they don't get out of my way as well as the somewhat simpler but still very capable R7 does. 

Mostly I've been shooting with the 18-150. It's a killer little lens for a kit lens. Good range, even if I do wish it was just a bit wider (15-150 would have been perfect). Good close focus, fast AF (it will track BiF) and I can really crop down to get m43-level reach out of it since the R7 has the same pixel density as the OM-1. The optics are quite decent too. Nothing to write home about, but also quite acceptable with good resolution and colour and decent contrast. Not as good as my OM Pro lenses, but as good or better than the non-Pro Oly zooms I've had in this range (14-42 and 40-150 R)

Honestly, despite it being slower and softer than the 40-150/4 Pro, I actually like it better for everyday use because of the much better close focus. I do miss the 12-40 Pro though. The shot above I could not have got with the 40-150 Pro, it just didn't focus close enough. The 12-40 did, but didn't have the working distance needed for this sort of shot. The combo of 150mm, 0.45m close focus (at 150mm) and m43-level pixel density makes the R7/18-150 a great bugging combo. 

In terms of the number of shots, it's a measure that's sort of irrelevant and sort of not. I've been trying for a few years to quit chasing the dragon and never quite succeeded. Right now it seems I've generally had cameras I got along with last for 8-9 months and around 3000 or so shots. That's where I had the OM-1 when I sold it, the A7RIV, the last E-M5II, even the Z5 was there on shot count if not on time. The last camera I had that broke that was the X-T2 (which got up around 4500 frames). So I'm trying to break that trend, more in terms of time than shots, but shots too (hence my 10,000 frames on one body goal for this year). I don't see myself completely breaking the cycle, but if I can stick to a single system I'd be pretty happy. So let's see where I am next March (which would be 9 months on the R7). I'm expecting I'll have added at least one body to the mix (likely the R10 or R50 as a B-cam) but I want the R7 to remain a key part of my setup for a good long while, so I can focus instead on rounding out my lens collection. 

Saturday 24 June 2023

TTArtisan 25/2 and some related R7 thoughts

 R7, TTArtisan 25/2 RF

I don't know why I never really took to the idea of using manual m43 lenses on the OM-1. Despite the OM-1 being well setup for it, manual lenses on m43 somehow never appeal to me despite my enjoyment of the use on the Fuji kit and now on the R7. Kind of weird, but my brain is sometimes that way.

I grabbed the TTArtisan 25/2 for the R7 pretty much immediately when I got the camera. It's a compact wide/normal, 40mm-e, prime on RF mount and I think it's a bit of a gem. I was expecting something very close to the Neewer/7Artisan 25/1.8 I had in Fuji mount when last I shot that mount, which was about the same price and frankly was a cheap lens that felt cheap to use but had kind of nice optical performance in the right conditions. The 25/1.8 also had a terrible manual focus feel until the helical wore in (and clearly it was going to wear out at the helical in a few years).

The TTArtisan lens on the other hand is very nicely built, came with infinity focus dead on in a nice presentation box. Optically it's maybe a touch better, but the real nice aspect is the solid construction and well damped focus ring. It's a fun little lens to use in a way the 25/1.8 wasn't. I will definitely be adding a few more inexpensive manual focus lenses to the R7 kit. They're just fun to use and the results are pretty good to excellent. The 18/6.3 body cap and 12/2.8, both from 7Artisans, are on my list as are more TTArtisan lenses. 

The R7 is pretty good in actual use for these manual lenses. The Focus Peaking implementation is essentially the Olympus experience inverted. It's active by default, but disables when the shutter is half pressed or magnify is on, vs having to be activated by a button each time like on the OM-1. IBIS/Lens Data is pretty much the same experience as Sony, no EXIF and you have to put in the Focal Length each time for IBIS. Handling is very good and Manual Mode with Exposure Comp and Auto ISO is supported, so the shutter speed essentially is an on the fly adjustable auto-ISO step control. 

The one other thing is that I just want to get out and shoot with the R7, at least so far. I never quite felt that way with the OM-1. Really not sure why, the camera fit me well but lacked excitement for me in some fashion I just don't understand.

Monday 19 June 2023

More R7 Thoughts and Damn You Sony


Canon R7, EF 75-300 f4-5.6 III USM on EF to EF Adapter

Canon R7, RF-S 18-150mm f3.5-6.3, 3 shot/1 stop bracket to HDR

First off, Sony - Why couldn't you have announced your 2023 f4 zooms in 2022? I likely would have kept the A7RIV if the 20-70/4 and the rumoured new 70-200/4 Macro (to be announced July 12th) had been available. Those two lenses would address most of my lens complaints with FE mount. Compact, good range, excellent glass unlike the mediocre ZA 24-70 and G70-200/4 and better close focus. My only beef is the 16-35/4 being Power Zoom and I'd probably just run a 15/16mm prime instead as a complement to the 20-70/4 if I was still running Sony kit. 

When I saw the rumour for the 70-200/4 Macro I had some regret that I didn't stay Sony, which lasted until I saw the rumours for the A6700, which looks to be based on the A7c body design (which I dislike immensely). It solves none of the ergonomic issues of the A6600, even if the internals will no doubt be excellent. I still say Sony needs an A7000 which is the A6700 internals, possibly with more buffer in an A7IV body. 

Guess I didn't wait long enough before jumping ship to OM System. That said, I'm not unhappy with where I ended up. 

I've had the R7 now for a week and I'm getting used to it. I need to do a manual dive though, there has to be an easier way to engage AE Bracketing than how I'm doing it, I just need to figure that out. I also miss bracketing burst being automatic, but you can get it by setting a continuous advance mode. I'm thinking I need AEB to be setup on a Custom setting, so I can access it quicker. C2 likely makes sense (and C3 can be my wildlife/bugging set)

I'm up over 1300 images so far with the R7 now. Yesterday was an 830km day with many stops for photography. I went up north-east of Barry's Bay towards Algonquin for the first time, and revisited some places I'd seen last year south of Killaloe and north of Highway 7. 

I did some RAW Bursts of Dragonflies and some regular 15fps bursts of Redwing Blackbirds. Two takeaways are that an EF 75-300 II USM is not a viable lens for this due to both IQ and slow focus and my AF settings are not very optimal. I'm not exactly experienced as a bird photographer, but it was fun. 

I also shot a lot of bracketing bursts, 3 shot/1 stop bursts which is my standard for any landscape shooting. That worked very well and having track & recompose back was really nice. The R7 does that on par with the A7RIV, the OM-1's AF didn't do that well at all (AF-C+TR would lose the track point very quickly). This is a method I started using the the A7RIV and have come to love, it's like focus & recompose, but with the subject staying locked. One nice thing with the R7 is it will subject detect automatically while using this so, as long as I get a bird/bug near the point, it will lock on and I can start tracking it. 

Overall I'm getting comfortable quickly with the R7. I've added the 10-18 STM and a TTArtisan 25/2 to the collection (and borrowed my partner's 75-300 yesterday). That gives me 16-240mm-e setup (vs the 24-300mm-e I had with the OM-1), but since the pixel density is similar between the R7 and OM-1, I can crop down to m43 to get 300mm-e. I'm really losing aperture and IQ with the 18-150 vs the 40-150/4 Pro, but gaining better close focus. 

I do like having a proper UWA zoom back, I've been using primes for that role since I sold the m.Zuiko 9-18 a few years back (excepting some brief use of the ZA 16-35/4 in fall 2021), and having a zoom for that is a nice change.  With the OM-1 I did't have any wider than 24mm-e options, but I didn't really miss it either, the subjects I shot with the OM-1 didn't really benefit much from wider, although I would have missed a wider option for sure if I'd been carrying the OM-1 yesterday.

I am planning on adding a telephoto next (likely the RF100-400) and then a higher-end normal zoom to replace the good but not quite excellent 18-150 as my go-to midrange zoom. Good chance that will be a Sigma 17-50/2.8 in EF mount if Canon doesn't bring something to the table soon or allow Sigma/Tamron to make 3rd party RF lenses. After that a native Macro is on the table, but I suspect I'll stick to the cheap manual focus primes for anything else short term.