Sunday 29 December 2013

First Day with the D600

The Falls by Mawz
The Falls, a photo by Mawz on Flickr.

D600, 24-50 f3.3-4.5 AF

Went out with a few folks I know from the TPMG for an unofficial photo excursion in northern Durham Region, along Sideroad 4 up to Uxbridge. I'd never been up that way and we were looking for the afteraffects of the ice storm a week ago, which we did find some of.

This is a small set of waterfalls on East Duffins creek right above an old millpond. Shot with the ancient ZOOM-Nikkor 24-50 f3.3-4.5 AF at 24mm and f4.8. It does surprisingly well on the D600, although the corners are weak. Shadows are lifted about 2 stops to bring some life into the scene, which worked very well. There's definitely more maleability in the D600's files than the D7100 or especially the E-M5.

I found I took to shooting with the D600 almost immediately. Only control-based issue I had was actually the fault of my Sigma macro, as I bumped it into MF mode by accident and had a brief scare when it wouldn't AF. Manual focus is OK, but I was relying a lot on the AF confirm for more distant subjects, especially with the 35/2.8 which just has tons of DoF when I'm not close in.

All in all, I'm looking forward to more shooting with the D600, and trying out some more exotic glass on it, especially an ultra-fast 50. I did try the 28/1.8G briefly and really liked it.

Saturday 28 December 2013

That Didn't Last Long

Liberty Chained by Mawz
Liberty Chained, a photo by Mawz on Flickr.

D7100, 18-70G DX

Well, a couple posts ago I commented that I didn't think the D600 was a great value due to its specs, but that a $1200 price tag would cause me to change my mind. That has turned out to be a pretty good prediction.

The D7100, as much as I liked it, was always intended as an interim step, to hold value until I could get the FF camera I wanted (I was intending that be the Sony A7). I was vacillating on the A7 however because of adapter issues, using G lenses on an adapter is kind of a pain, and I've been shooting a bit with the NEX-5R and my G adapter and while it's workable I still can't help but think a set of the Sigma's would be a better carry kit for the 5R. So I'd also been increasingly considering a Nikon FX body, either the D600 or the D700 (D800 is too expensive and too many pixels).

Well the Henry's Outlet Centre's Boxing Week Sale is 25% off the last ticketed price. And they were already selling open box D600's for $1500. The sale dropped them to a little under $1200. And that price for an essentially new FX body with full warranty is not something I could resist, especially since my D7100 and both my DX lenses (18-70G and 35/1.8G) are within the exchange period and were purchased from Henry's. So I took the DX kit back and walked out with a D600.

After 8 years of digital, always wanting a FF body, but never quite being able to justify it, I'm there. This doesn't change my opinion that DX is where the value is for most any photographer, if I wasn't a big fan of old manual focus lenses I'd have kept the D7100. But the allure of using old MF lenses and modern glass on one body with the intended field of view is too interesting to me to skip FX.

As to the body, I still find it handles a bit worse than the D7100, the difference is all in the grip, which is skinnier and not quite as deep on the mount side on the D600. A small difference, but noticeable. The eyecup is not deep enough, but that's common to all the cameras using the DX-21/DK-23 eyecups. I'll also miss the D7100's AF unit, especially the better frame coverage (in comparison the frame coverage of the D600's AF points is tiny, barely more than the old F80) and the OLED viewfinder display. Controls are a wash, almost everything I liked on the D7100 is identical on the D600. The only thing missing is the ability to use the OK button as an instant magnifier. In return I pick up some extra configuration options with regards to quality and similar. Set & forget for the most part.

Overall I've got the two camera's setup identically. Only difference right now is the DoF preview button is still set as DoF preview on the D600, instead of AE-L as I had it on the D7100. I don't use either option all that much though.

As to lenses, I'm going to miss the all AF-S kit. I added an old 24-50 f3.3-4.5 AF as my everyday wide/normal walkaround lens and my normal will be either my 50/1.8 E, 35/2.8 AI or Anne's 50/1.8D. So I'm back with screwdriver AF (and without the wonders of Minolta's DMF mode). But the updated AF/M switch is easily and readily flipped unlike the old style C/S/M or AF/M switches so I suspect I'll be OK. Long term the 24-50 will get replaced by an AF-S 24-xx lens with more reach, likely one of the Nikkor 24-85 AF-S's (VR or my old favourite non-VR G) or maybe the Sigma 24-105/4 OS if it's not too big.

Thursday 26 December 2013

Giving Film Another Try

Decay SPFTS by filmic (mawz)
Decay SPFTS, a photo by filmic (mawz) on Flickr.

FM2, 50/1.8 AI, Delta 100

I finally got off my butt and finished scanning the last 3 rolls of C-41 colour film I had laying around. While I was at it, I decided to soup & scan a few rolls of B&W 35mm film. Doing so has really reminded me both why I love shooting film and why I gave it up for the most part.

The C-41 was washed out, grainy as heck and covered in dust. It was also lab processed. This is exactly why I for the most part dislike shooting 35mm colour film, it just looks like crap for the most part. Sometimes you get lucky and it turns out alright, but it's expensive and a pain to scan. Part of this is the need to avoid expired 35mm colour, but even shooting Ektar 100, by far my preferred option, is a struggle in comparison to digital.

On the flip side, the B&W is turning out lovely. It has a gorgeous tonality that I struggle to match with digital, and is a lot less hassle to scan & process given the lack of spooling after hanging and the low dust levels due to my workflow.

This is really pushing me towards shooting a fair bit more 35mm B&W. I do love the results and unlike the colour work I get consistent, repeatable and not too expensive results.

Thursday 12 December 2013

First takes on the D7100

4003 by Mawz
4003, a photo by Mawz on Flickr.

D7100, 18-70G DX

I've got about 100 frames now on the D7100 and am obviously still in new toy mode, where I tend to love a new camera just due to its newness. But I do have a fairly solid first impression of it already.

In terms of handling, it's larger than I'm used to at this point, but it fills my smallish hands quite well, pretty much a perfect grip for me. Weight is similar to the E-M5+halfgrip+14-54 when I've got the 18-70 mounted, this is because the smaller 18-70 offsets the larger body in weight. The button/control layout is excellent although I've come to prefer the Sony-style location of the front wheel. MUCH better than the E-M5 where the wheels were nicely located but all the buttons on the body were difficult to access without looking. Oh, and I love the locking mode dial. No more mode surprises, a continuous bugaboo and one reason I like Sony's virtual mode dial on the NEX-7 and NEX-3/5 lines.

Control setup is pretty simple. I'm in A mode, shooting Auto-ISO with an ISO 100 base, ISO3200 limit and shutter speed in Auto (this means the camera will bump the ISO when the shutter speed hits the 35mm-equivalent focal length. Which is utterly awesome, Auto-ISO that's actually useful). Button assignment is limited, unlike what I'm used to, but it's not a real issue aside from one case. I have Non-CPU lens on the Fn button (lower front), AE-Lock Toggle on the Pv button (upper front, the usual DoF preview button), AF-On on the AE-L/AF-L on the back and easy exposure compensation enabled (puts Exp Comp on the non-primary dial in P/A/S modes). The only disappointment here is I can't reassign the Movie button to something useful, but then again there's nothing I really need to assign to it, my control needs are pretty simple and all of them are already assigned. With Nikon's Two button format and the i button, I doubt I'll ever be in the menus.

The big change though is coming back to an OVF from 4-ish years with an EVF. It's a change, and a pleasant one. I like EVF's, especially for the ease of focusing, with magnification and peaking, the low-light boost and the information displays. But I had forgotten how much better an OVF is in bright light, and how nice the shorter blackout and lack of lag is. I still like EVF's for cameras, but it's good to be reminded that they are not unconditionally better than a good OVF.

In terms of IQ I'm seriously impressed. I never found the 24MP NEX-7 to have a clear advantage over the 16MP NEX or m43 bodies. The D7100 however seems to, it's probably a combination of the lack of an AA filter and the cleaner Toshiba sensor. But I'm digging it. A pleasant surprise is that the 18-70G DX stands up much better than I expected. I always knew it was a good lens, but I expected 24MP to be a bit much for it, however it's standing up pretty well and delivering better initial results than the E-M5+ZD14-54. Is it a better lens than the ZD 14-54 II? Nope. But it's a better combo than that lens on the 16MP Oly.

Monday 9 December 2013

And a Side Journey Ensues

NEX-5R, Nikon 28mm f2.8 E

So I've been research about how to manage my transition from m43 to Sony E mount. This quickly identified a significant issue, like all m43 bodies the E-M5 is in resale free-fall now that a replacement body is available (the E-M1). Essentially this means that if I want to maintain my value I need to convert it to something which will better maintain its value until I'm ready to buy an A7, likely sometime in March.

I could sell off the m43 kit and bank the money. That's the best way to preserve value but it leaves me lacking a primary body in the meantime (the NEX-5R is great as a light-carry camera, but I'd need to invest in wide lens options and the EVF to replace the E-M5, neither of which would realistically maintain value). I could invest in an interim option, either something which has plateaued in its value, something new enough to be maintaining a solid value or the third option, just buy the glass I need for the A7 and suffer for a while.

The constraints on either variant of option two are essentially that the options would have to be E mount or Nikon F mount, to maintain a modicum of compatibility with my current system options. And there are no good E mount options which meet my criteria (the NEX-7 is hitting the freefall value point and the NEX-6 is basically the 5R with a built-in EVF anyways, so not much of a difference). F mount gives more options, particularly the D7000 and D7100 with the former pretty much solidly plateaued at the $5-600 pricepoint and the latter floating around at like-new pricing.

The third option, just by glass, pretty much means I'd be doing only occasional shooting for the next 4 months, which I'd prefer not to be the case.

So I headed into the Henry's Outlet Centre on my day off today to see what my options would realistically be. As it turns out they were a D7000 and 2-3 lenses or a D7100 with either the 18-70 or the 18-55VR. Just buy glass was off the table, nothing I wanted was available (I prefer to buy used gear via the HOC due to their excellent support, I've been dealing with my sales rep for 10+ years and Marc's great). So option 2 it was.

The next option is which of the two packages to get. There were some great deals on 18-70's, so that was obviously lens #1. And then there was nothing. All the interesting lenses were well out of my pricerange and anything I could afford and also wanted was not in stock (the HOC only carries used, refurb and open box, so no full lens line). If I'm just getting the 18-70, the D7100 is the choice to go, and is conveniently on sale for pretty much exactly the discount of what I'd lose from a trade-in instead of a private sale (the freefall in m43 pricing and qualifying for half-back almost balanced out, the trade-in value being applied pre-tax covered the rest of the difference).

So now I find my kit is the D7100 and NEX-5R, with 18-70G, 28E, 35/2.8AI, 50E, 100E and 300/4.5AI'D. Should be interesting for the winter.

Oh and why the D7x00 series? Well they're exactly the camera I wanted when I bought the D300 (the D300 was always too much camera for me, in size/weight and un-needed performance, while the D90 lacked the non-CPU lens support I consider critical in an F mount camera). The D7100 also gets a best in class sensor and the ability to crop down to a 15MP m43 crop mode for speed/reach. Pretty sweet all told. And of course I get good battery life. We'll see what I'm thinking of the mirrorless tradeoffs in a couple months after shooting with my first DSLR in almost 2 years. Who knows, maybe I'll go D800E instead of A7. I'm not a D6x0 fan, don't like the handling which is just enough different from the D7x00's to go from great to lousy, and I find the shutter and lack of interchangeable focusing screens to be a poor tradeoff on a $1500+ camera. But the right price could sway me anyways (a $1200 D600 would offset a LOT of tradeoffs).

Sunday 8 December 2013

Sony it is

NEX-7, A 85mm f2.8 SAM

The PEN Mini (E-PM1) was a bit of a failed experiment. I did like the size of the package, and the IQ was nice as long as I kept it to ISO 200-400, but the handling was just awful and the ISO limitations pretty much put it back on the shelf in early november once dusk caught up to the end of my work shift and pushed me out of my comfort zone in terms of its ISO performance. I also didn't like that I couldn't start post-processing from my default settings due to the sensor's limited DR. In terms of handling the biggest issue was the bar of soap shape. I've acquired a severe dislike for cameras without some sort of grip (or a thumb-grip/wind lever) so I don't have to actively grip the camera whenever it's in my hand. So the E-PM1 and its kit lens are gone. The replacement isn't an m43 camera though, instead I chose the compact mirrorless design with the best grip, the NEX-5 series. The specific model is the NEX-5R, although I would have been happy with the 5N or 5T as well (it came down to what was available at the right price). The 5R of course has the wifi feature, so it has a proper remote release option (yay!). I've dug out my NEX adapters and all my Alt glass will now live on the 5R (which it's better suited to than my E-M5).
I've also been pondering my next steps. The E-M5 is getting replaced, it was the best option for me at the time but there are now several better options out there for a reasonable cost. Also I've increasingly regretted selling off my basic NEX-7 kit.
To explain this, I've pretty much got two modes of shooting. The first is my general mode. I'm carrying a small kit of primes, wandering around the city or mild wilderness area. I'm shooting in manual focus and the weather is OK. This is what the NEX-7 excelled at. in the last year I'd done rather much less of it than is normal for me, but since I started my new job in late August I'm doing more of this sort of shooting.
The second mode is I'm out hiking in inclement weather and/or in the bush. I'm shooting a mix of tripod & handheld and switching between a telezoom and a wide/normal zoom, focus is a mix of MF and AF. The NEX-7 purely sucked at this due to the lack (at the time) of good zoom options and also its lousy tripod handling (no remote release whatsoever, a tripod mount that barely qualified as a joke). This is what I bought the E-M5 for and what it does well.
The E-M5 is OK in mode 1 (a lot better than the NEX-7 was at mode 2) but not ideal due to the smaller EVF without peaking and the poorly layed out buttons, none of the assignable buttons on the E-M5 fall right under the thumb, so there's no good choice for AF-on or magnification (ironically the vertical grip button layout is great). IQ on the E-M5 is more than acceptable, the only issues being a little noise in the skies even at base ISO and a tendency to a little bit of crunchiness, neither of which I'm really averse to (hey, old film shooter here. grain in the skies is something I recall fondly). The handling issues and generally average manual focus experience are why I'm looking at replacing it. Two options have come up that I'm interested in, the E-M1, which solves pretty much all my issues except focus peaking (which it has, but its a poor implementation) and the A7, which would finally allow me to share a single set of lenses between a film camera and a digital.
Yesterday I finally got to try the A7 at the Sony Store. It's got the same basic handling as the NEX-7, which I loved shooting handheld. It's got a better control wheel layout (I would always start on the wrong top-wheel on the NEX-7 as they were side-by-side) and a better EVF. It's also got a real tripod mount, two different remote release options (the hotshoe-based wired release and the wifi app) and I was very pleased to discover that Sony finally got a clue and allowed you to disable the auto MF assist feature, where the camera zooms in for focus when you turn the focus ring in MF and DMF modes (and I dislike), without also disabling the MF assist assigned to a button. It always annoyed me on the NEX-7, enough that I sold off all but 1 native lens and used that one mostly in AF. The A7 however only disables the Auto MF Assist when you select that option, manual MF assist remains available as long as it's assigned to a button. essentially it fixes every real issue I had with the NEX-7, and offers some nice upgrades. Sadly the NEX-5R retains the old, broken, behaviour but I can live with that in a backup camera.
That proved to be the deciding factor. I will be selling off my m43 kit and purchasing an A7. I will also be primarily using my small Nikon manual focus kit as the core of my A7 lens kit. This is a major win for me, I have not been able to stay away from Nikon manual focus stuff. I just like shooting with them. But I really want to keep a simplified kit, rather than getting back to the point I was a few years ago with a ridiculous selection of bodies, lenses and systems. I just want to stick to 1-1.5 systems and one basic set of primes that I use for most shooting (plus a couple AF lenses for the digital side). The A7 will accomplish this better than the E-M1 would. Honestly, if I was more of an AF user I'd probably go the other way, although m43 continues to lack lenses in one area, the high-quality mid-range zooms that are my preferred sort of zoom (comparable to the ZD 14-54 or the Nikkor 16-85 or the Sony/Zeiss 16-80 DT or even the Canon 24-105L). I'm willing to give up some speed for range since I'll shoot primes when I need the speed. In m43 the only real lenses with that design philosophy are the 12-50 (which is mediocre at best, certainly not delivering the optical quality I want. It's also too slow, being f6.3 at the long end where I'm looking for something in the f4-4.5 range) and the 45-175, which is pretty good all-round, but too expensive compared to the cheapo 40-150.
Do I regret buying the E-M5? No. It's a great little camera overall and did what it was bought for very well. I do however regret selling off the NEX-7 and its core kit (24/1.8, Nikkor 50/1.8 AI and Sony 85/2.8 SAM + LA-EA1 adapter), I should have just kept that around for walk-around shooting. That said, my NEX-5R/A7 kit will not feature the same set of lenses. I'm likely to re-acquire the 50/1.8 AI as it's a personal favourite but the 24/1.8 Sonnar, as much as I loved it, will not be returning nor will the 85/2.8. Why not? The 24's simply too expensive for an APS-C lens in a mixed APS-C/FF kit. I'll probably get the FE 35/2.8 Sonnar at some point as its equivalent (AF wide/normal for walkabout) and the only native lenses I'm likely to get for the 5R are the 16/2.8 and Sigma 19/2.8. As to the 85, well I want to keep the adapted lenses acquired to F mount, maybe with a couple M lenses. So I'll be looking at alternatives for an 85, likely the 85/2 AI-S.
Looking at my current Nikon kit I've got the 28/2.8 E, the 35/2.8 AI, the 50/1.8 E, the 100/2.8 E and the 300/4.5 K AI'd. Short-term I need something wider (thinking a 20, likely the 20/2.8 AI-S), the 28/2.8 E needs replacing (it's OK on APS-C but a bit of a dog on FF, even film). It was bought solely because it was cheap and I needed a 28. 28/2.8 AI-S will be the likely replacement. The 35/2.8 is harder, it's a nice lens but slowish and big. long-term the replacement will be probably the pair of the FE 35/2.8 and a 35/1.4 of some sort (Nikkor, Samyang or Zeiss), might also replace it with the 35/2.5 E short-term. The longer lenses are OK for now, but long-term will get upgraded. I'd also like to add a 135 and a 180-200 to fill in the kit out to 300mm.

Thursday 5 December 2013

And we're live

Cliffs and River
E-M5, ZD 15-54 II

So I’m just shy of 5600 shots on the clock with the E-M5. Overall I still like it, although I don’t have the level of bonding I had with the NEX-7, nor am I likely to. The NEX-7 was all about love, except when it was hate (mainly the issues with no remote release, the almost unusable tripod foot and the annoying inability to disable auto-magnification for focusing without also disabling manual magnification). The main annoyances  with the E-M5 remain the poor location of buttons, particularly the Fn1 button and the annoyance of having to remove the horizontal grip to replace the battery. annoyances vs hates, as the issues don’t get in my face while shooting. I may have to get the RRS grip though, as it doesn’t block the battery compartment.

The E-M1 continues to look like a significant upgrade for me. IQ is essentially the same as the E-M5, aside from gaining the ISO 100 setting, which looks to essentially remove the base ISO noise, at the cost of a noticeable drop in DR, which is a tradeoff I can live with. But the greatly improved EVF, AF becoming usable with 4/3rds lenses and integrated grip are really big wins, as is the improved button layout. That said, I can’t help but think that just replacing my ZD 14-54 II with the new 12-40 would be a bigger win for half the cost. I’d get rid of my only 4/3rds lens, negating the AF issue and the price difference could get me either the 60 Macro or most of the 75/1.8’s cost. I could then consider upgrading to the E-M1 when the price inevitably drops in a year or two, while investing in my lens kit. Right now my real needs in terms of a kit are simple, I need a macro and an ultra-wide and would like a wide prime and a fast portrait lens, A high quality normal zoom with weather-sealing and usable AF is high on the list as well.

Speaking of lens kits, I’ve added the original Sigma 19/2.8 and 30/2.8 primes after finding a pair of open box items for a very low price. I haven’t had much time to shoot with them, but in quick play I am liking the 19 as a wide normal. Time will tell how I eventually find them. Right now I’m thinking of them as a set for the E-PM1, while the Leica 25 will live on the E-M5, but on the other hand I do like having a wide normal for everyday usage and with the E-PM1’s poor performance above ISO 400 it’s a lot less usable for after-work shooting until spring. I really do wish there was a 16MP version of the E-PM1 body (the E-PM2 lacks the really nice build of the E-PM1). I dunno, may have to consider the GM1 or a GX1 as an alternative at some point in the future.

As to the E-PM1, I love its base ISO performance, well I love the colour, it is somewhat lacking in DR and you don’t have anything like the processing malleability of the E-M5’s files, in fact my standard preset for post actually destroys E-PM1 files as it lifts the shadows far too much, bring all sorts of noise up to viewable levels. But I am liking the results if I process for the files rather than using my E-M5 oriented presets. And the pocketability is a big win, a GX1 or E-P5 would be marginal for this use. That said, I can’t help but think an E-P5 would be a fun everyday camera, with the same IS and sensor as the E-M5, a footprint that’s enough smaller and also being able to share the E-M5’s batteries. I don’t really see myself keeping the E-PM1 longterm, it fundamentally has too many limitations to be anything more than an occasional ultra-light carry camera.