Monday 29 December 2014

Looking Forward to 2015

Nikon D200, 16-85VR

As I come to the end of 2014, I do have to ponder exactly what I've achieved in the last year.

I've owned 2.5 systems since January (the E mount stuff only counts as half a system since it was used entirely with Nikon lenses), 7 digital bodies, a bunch of lenses and taken just under 5200 exposures, the vast majority of which were shot with a single body and 3 lenses (D200 with the Sigma 10-20, Nikkor 16-85 and Nikkor 35/1.8). That's an awful lot of kit that didn't get used a whole lot. Not a huge spend, since most of the stuff was acquired through the sale of its predecessor, but it's telling that the most used kit is also the one I spent the least on (D200 and 35/1.8).

Quite clearly I need to shoot more and buy less. And that's the plan. I'd like to end the year with no more than a single body change (most likely swapping the D200 out for a D300s or D7x00) and with the D700 remaining as my primary for the year.

In lens terms, my preference is to put together a basic set for the D700 and leave it at that. I'm strongly leaning towards a more basic system than I'd previously been considering. A 20, 35 and 105 is looking solid. All the basics, nothing more. I'll also likely wind down my film kit, I enjoy it, but not enough to seriously invest in it anymore. All I'd like to do there is swap out my current 50/2 for an AI version and maybe add a 28/3.5 on the cheap. I'll probably sell the F80 as well and just shoot with the FE.

For next year, in shooting terms my goal is to get out of the city more. My interests have shifted heavily towards landscape/nature work and I want to do more of that. I'd like to average 250 shots a month if possible (that's about the same as this year), with 2/3rds of that on the D700. D3200 remains the everyday carry body, D200 the long-lens body for now.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

The DX Value Proposition

Four and a Spare
Nikon D700, Nikkor 35/1.8 G DX in FX mode

Having finally found myself with an FX body that I like I find myself considering how to put together a lens kit that both fits my needs and isn't going to cost a huge amount. Which has me looking at the value proposition for DX again.

Simply put, if you don't print huge, or have a solid collection of high-performance ultra-wide to normal lenses that are FX, or shoot a large amount of the time above ISO 800-1600, you should probably skip FX bodies and just shoot DX. There's little practical difference between FX and DX for 95% of uses, aside from the extra cost of FX, and there's quite a bit of extra cost.

Really, what does FX get you for that minimum $1k spend that a new FX body costs you over its DX equivalent (and yes, it's that much, a D7100 may only be around $800 less than a D610, but it's also a lot more body).

1. ~3db SNR. That's 1 stop better performance. You aren't going to see that stop at low ISO, and at high ISO it means you can shoot 1 stop higher ISO. Or of course you can spend that $1000 and buy a lens that's a stop or so faster.

2. 1/2 - 1 stop more DR. This matters more at mid ISO's when DR is starting to drop than it does at base ISO, and modern DX bodies already beat older FX bodies in DR (they also beat Canon bodies).

3. 1 stop less DoF. This is nice when shooting shallow-DoF stuff. It's a right pain when shooting something that needs gobs of DoF. Most people need a little of both and DX is a better tradeoff here.

4. Lens selection. At the wide end, there's just a lot more options for FX, especially if you want fast/wide. The widest DX option for faster than f2.8 is 30mm-e (20/1.8G on DX), while you get f1.4 out to 24mm and f1.8 at 20mm with FX. And nothing in DX can touch the 14-24/2.8 and currently there's no DX VR UWA

Now what do you give up?

1. Money. Not only are you paying extra for the body, but that sweet $500 17-50/2.8 OS that Sigma dominates the fast/regular zoom market with? The closest equivalent is Tamron's $1400 24-70/2.8 VC, and it's the only VR-equipped option. There's a couple steals out there if you look (Tamron's old 28-75/2.8 is remarkably good for not too much money) but in general the equivalent spec zoom is going to run twice as much, maybe 3 times if an UWA. Oh, and you need to buy a $600 1.4x TC to replace the reach you lost with your telezoom (at least the stop of light is offset by that 3db SNR advantage of FX). Primes are different, but only because there's so few DX primes (and half of them have no real reason to exist besides being cheap consumer options to go with the D3x00/D5x00 bodies)

2. Reach. Nothing puts pixels on a subject like DX. The D7000 matches the pixel density of a D810, the 24MP DX bodies all exceed it significantly. When you need reach, especially when you are already using a TC, DX wins. And nothing in F mount can combine reach and speed the way the old D300s can (12MP DX at 8fps)

3. Performance per dollar. When new the D300s was $1800. The closest equivalent FX body, the D700 was $1000 more. Today the only 8fps+ body is $6k+. There's over $1k of difference between the D750 and D7100. The D610 may be cheap for FX, but recall it's notably lower spec than a D7100 in AF, speed and shutter.

What does this mean for me? Not a lot. I'm digging the D700 and still have my pair of DX bodies. But long term? If Nikon actually ever comes out with a D300s successor it's likely I'll move back to a pure DX system. I don't see Nikon making an FX light carry camera for me to replace my current D3200 with and going dual-system is too much of a PITA.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Just a Little Update

Autumn Picnic
D700, 35/1.8G DX

I've been shooting slowly but steadily over the last couple weeks. Nothing wrong, just the late fall weather limits the available subject matter and other commitments have been keeping me busy.

The D200's been semi-shelved for now. Nothing wrong with it, but most of my day-to-day shooting is before and after work and with sunset before 5pm here the D200's limited high ISO capability makes it a poor choice. The D3200 and D700 both do much better when the sun goes down, so they've taken over. Generally the D3200 stays in the bag, but I've been carrying the D700 on and off as it is simply such a good handling camera with gloves on.

One issue I've had with most mirrorless bodies is the small size and fiddly buttons & dials make for a camera that does not play well with gloves. The Fuji's are mostly an exception, as are the Panasonic GH cameras (and the new Samsung NX1 should also fall into that category) but the majority simply don't do well here. The D700 is excellent, and oddly I found the D600 better with gloves on than with gloves off. Most largish DSLR's are good with gloves on. I've not had the D3200 out with gloves on yet, but that's only a matter of time with the unusually cold November Toronto's been having.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Back to FX

The Teeter-Totter
Nikon D700, Nikkor 35/1.8G DX in FX mode

Well, here I am making a second attempt at going FX. This time it's with the FX body I always wanted in the first place, the D700, rather than the D600 I settled with last time.

The last time I went FX, last December, it did not end up working out well. First off I never really liked the ergonomics of the D600. The biggest issue was the grip, I found it extremely shallow and mildly uncomfortable, this is fundamentally what made me dislike carrying the D600. Initially I chalked it up to weight causing the discomfort, but 2 months carrying the similar in size & weight D200 indicates that it was ergonomics rather than weight that was the real issue. The D700 of course has very similar ergonomics to the D200 and much better ergonomics than the D600. The other issue with the D600 is my copy had weather sealing issues, I had some unusual behaviour due to a seal failure which caused an LV/WB fandago. The better sealed D700 should also not have this issue.

I also picked up the classic 28-105D at the same time, but that's gone back as it turned out to be badly decentered when shooting at 28mm and wider than f8.

Saturday the D700 got its first workout. I shot almost entirely with 2 lenses, the 28-105D and my 35/1.8G DX. The 28-105 did pretty well at the long end (the above mentioned issue caused issues with the wide end). Surprisingly the 35DX was outstanding, with very minor hard vignetting at the very outer edges and superb sharpness in Zone A and B. Sharpness does fall off a bit in Zone C (the outer area well outside the DX frame). I've long had a love/hate relationship with 35mm lenses on FX. The right lens gets me shooting constantly in that focal length where a lens that I find even just decent I tend to switch to a 28mm instead. For some reason I prefer shooting with a poor 28mm than a decent 35mm, but an outstanding 35mm beats both. After more than 150 frames on the D700 Saturday, including more than 110 frames with the 35DX, I'm definitely loving it. Not bad for one of the two lenses I expected to be dedicated to my DX bodies (the other being the 16-85VR)

I've also been doing a lot of thinking about lenses for the D700, going forward. I've only got a limited selection of FX glass right now as I am building up my system again. I still need to decide whether or not I want to buy lenses which support FM/FE bodies or not.

In terms of focal lengths, I'm considering two ranges, in primes. Either 14/20/35/105/180 or 14/20/35/85/150. I'll also likely pick up a 24-85VR for walk-around.

The core kit I'm considering is the new Nikkor 20/1.8G, the Sigma 35/1.4 and either the Sigma 105 OS Macro or the Nikkor 85/1.8G and the Sigma 150 OS Macro. unfortunately none of these lenses are compatible with an FE or FM body. The alternate would be either AI-S lenses (cheaper, not as good) or Zeiss ZF (more expensive, very good). Frankly I could live with AI-S, at least on the low-megapixel D700. I'd at least like the Macro to be VR/OS, however I'm not likely to want to use that lens on the FE or FM so that's a workable tradeoff. The 14 will likely be the Samyang/Bower/Rokinon while the 180 would be the Nikkor, probably the AF-D ED.

Thursday 30 October 2014

A Few Changes

Standing and Running
Nikon D200, Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

The above photo is one of the last I've taken with a favourite bit of kit which has now been sold on. Not the D200 but rather the Sigma 10-20.

I bought my first Sigma 10-20 back in 2008 when I was shooting my D300 and D40. It spent a moderate amount of time on the D300 and pretty much lived on the D40 if I didn't have the 40/2 Ultron mounted. The 10-20 is one of those great values that just stands out. Not too expensive, very good (but not quite outstanding) and not too large to haul. If you shoot DX, like wide angles even a little and haven't already invested in one of the very few better options (Tokina 11-16, Sigma 10-20 f3.5) check this gem out. I picked this one up for the D200, after selling my Fuji kit. Got my money's worth and now it's passed on to a friend.

I'll miss mine, and it's better than the lens that's functionally replacing it for now, but I suspect I'll like the D700 that it funded even more (and yes, I paid the majority of the cost of my new D700 with the proceeds from the Sigma's sale. The D700 was that cheap. For good reason as well, so I'm not buying a pig in a poke).

Friday 24 October 2014

A Little Blue

Bluffs and Blue
Nikon D3200, Nikkor 16-85mm f3.5-5.6 G DX VR

Life's been keeping me busy for the last month or so, so not all that much shooting has happened. I have been shooting a few frames pretty much every day, so my pace actually remains higher than before the return to Nikon.

I've now got a little over 200 shots on the D3200, while the D200 is approaching 2700 shots on the clock (since mid-August). Overall I'm digging the D3200 as a light carry camera and it also can go in the bag for getting the shots the D200 can't, like the above. That's a handheld shot with significantly more dynamic range than the D200 can capture. I still prefer shooting with the D200, but the D3200 pretty clearly comes out ahead when the conditions get challenging for the sensor.

Fall colours are finally out in force in Toronto a couple weeks later than normal. Despite the cold summer, the fall has been warm and extended which has delayed the turning of the leaves. So now in late October we're finally getting the glorious fall colours which were expected to begin at the end of September. Unfortunately I haven't had a chance to do any shooting oriented road-trips, unlike last year, but I have had a couple chances to get out and shoot within the city limits. As can be seen above, that leaves some very good shooting opportunities. This was shot down behind the Don Valley Brickworks, which has a little oasis of trails and nature just off a major local road near downtown Toronto. Well worth visiting if you come to Toronto.

In terms of shooting, the above shot was handheld, with a low shutter speed and VR off (oops). I had to crunch the dynamic range to make the shot look good, there's a very wide range of tones from the clouds down to the dark shadows in the pond and it takes one of the modern high-DR sensors to capture it properly without HDR or a ND grad. I'm not one for HDR and I really don't use filters much. Really should change that as a properly applied ND, ND grad and/or polarizer can do wonders for a scene. The real issue is that my filter kit is built around my old Mamiya 645 system and my Cokin holder set is unsuited to DSLR UWA's. I really need to invest in a 100mm system like the Lee.

Saturday 20 September 2014

The Bodies are in a Row

Last Gasp
Pentax K-x, DA 18-55 II

Well I've got my body situation sorted out for now, at least on the digital side. Traded my 50/1.2 that wasn't really seeing use for a D3200.

This gives me the D200 for rough weather/speed/long-lens shooting and the D3200 for low-light/light carry/high-resolution shooting. Or I can carry both if needed, the D3200 is light enough to just toss in the bag.

This does mirror my old D300/D40 pairing, except now the little body is the high-IQ body instead of vice versa. I can live with that for this fall & winter and when next spring comes hopefully Nikon will have answered the 7D Mark II release with a D300s successor. If not, there will be either a used D800 or a refurb/new D7100 replacing the D200 as a main body (I intend on keeping the D200 as a beater/rough weather body).

In terms of lenses, I am very happy with the Sigma 10-20 and 35/1.8DX. The 16-85's OK for now. The tele/macro situation needs sorting out. I'm considering either acquiring the 85/1.8G and reacquiring the Sigma 105/2.8 OS Macro, or reacquiring the Nikkor 85/3.5 Micro. The former gets me two outstanding FF lenses, the second is a lot cheaper, smaller and will probably handle my needs for the foreseeable future. Needless to say I'm leaning towards the 85 Micro. Aside from that, if I decide to stay DX as my primary (and I'm leaning strongly that way) I'll most likely replace the 16-85 with a Sigma 17-50/2.8 OS at some point, and add a telezoom, either the 70-300VR or a 70-200/4 VR and a TC14EIII. I'm inclined to the latter as it's sealed and better, but it's more money. Not a huge deal since I wouldn't be buying either before next May.

Monday 1 September 2014

State of the Film

Old and Young
Nikon FM2, Nikkor-P.C 105/2.5, Fujifilm Neopan 100SS

The D200 has provided a temporary distraction from film shooting, although it does continue apace. Had to push myself to bring a film body instead of the D200, but haven't regretted it afterwards (well, aside from one day where the D200 and 10-20 would have been useful for some late afternoon intersection shots) Unfortunately my Minolta Scan Dual IV has shuffled off its mortal coil, expiring from excess labour. In short, it's suffered a fatal failure from the over-heating problem to which these scanners are prone and the after effects of around 800 rolls of film scanned. Not disappointing, it lasted me quite a number of years, between the SDIII and SDIV I've gotten over 10 years of scanning, which is pretty reasonable for the money I've spent. I've not decided on a replacement option, so I'm scanning with my Epson 4870 and an ANR holder for now. That works pretty well, if incredibly slowly. Long term I'd love to get a Nikon 5000 ED with the full-roll attachment, but that's a pretty serious investment and I need to know I'm going to continue shooting a serious amount of film to justify, anything less than a roll a week and I can't justify any sort of serious spending on a scanner.

On the gear side, one of my acquisitions for the D200, the 50/1.2 AI-S, has provided a meter-coupled normal for the FM, allowing me to replace for now the 50/2. I'd still love to get another one, just in AI form as I do love how that lens renders, I could also look out for a non-AI body for the one I've got, a FT2 or FTn could be fun to have again. The F80 on the other hand is a victim of its strengths, I just don't have much of a need for an AF film SLR, even if it is light & handy. I intend to keep it for now, but I don't see it getting a lot of mileage. Probably will stuff the last of my Fujifilm 400H through it and then decide where to go. The FM on the other hand continues to work well for me and I anticipate a total roll count for the year up around 30 rolls.

Right now I'm pretty much putting gear acquisitions on hold until the end of the year. The sole exceptions are if I find a good deal on a 28/2.8 AI or 35/2.5 Series E (and by good deal, I mean beer money, which is essentially where the budget would come from). Overall I have all my basics covered except for a proper wide solution for the FM and a Macro, and it's too late in the year for the macro to be really worth it (they're spring/summer lenses for me).

Sunday 31 August 2014

Airshow Aftermath

One Bee
Nikon D200, Nikkor 135/3.5 AI

I shot the Canadian International Airshow yesterday, with the D200, an old Nikkor 300/4.5 AI'd and a cheapo 70-300G non-VR. The conditions and particulars of the show were against me this year, haze was a constant issue and they pushed the performers to use the west end as entry and exit if possible rather than the east so they could limit the need to schedule around activity at the Toronto Island Airport. Unfortunately the CIAS is a difficult show to shoot, because the best view is north of the flightline and you end up with a lot of backlit aircraft, the only venue south of the flightline is Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island, which is normally pretty good, but a bit far from the centre of the flightline. If there's any haze or too much clouds it becomes an exercise in which issue causes more trouble. I think next year I may shoot from the lakeshore instead of Gibraltar Point.

Total count for the day was 1553 frames, about average for me at an airshow and 50% more than last year. As expected, both lenses delivered an adequate but not exceptional performance and showed less weakness on the low-MP D200 than they would on a newer and higher-MP body. AF on the 70-300G was actually pretty good aside from a couple cases where it lost lock and racked through the range. Overall focus hit rate was around 90%, pretty good when most shots were with the manual focus 300. Initial selects from the shoot left me with 50 images, which I'll trim down to 25 or so for final posting. A couple will end up on Flickr and the rest on Facebook.

The D200 continues to work well for me. I've now got more frames on it than on anything else I've shot this year, combined. I'm at 4155 frames for the year, 2399 of which were on the D200, which means that I've got 846 frames on the  D200 not counting the airshow, that's more than the X-A1 (805 frames in 4 months) and significantly more than the ~500 frames each on the X-E1, D7100 and D600. And yes, the math doesn't add up as the D600's framecount is split between 2013 and 2014 and the D7100's is all 2013, I'm comparing frame counts per body seperately from the year's totals.

The X-E1's been sold. It was pretty clear when I hit 500 frames on the D200 that I'd made a good decision in buying that cheap body, so the X-E1 and both lenses went and in return I picked up a Sigma 10-20 f4-5.6, a 35/1.8G DX and a 50/1.2 AI-S and a week later a 70-300G non-VR with the remainder of the Fuji proceeds. This pretty much duplicates my old setup with the D300, just with a couple slightly different primes, the 35DX replaces the CV 40/2 Ultron and the 50/1.2 replaces the CV 58/1.4 Nokton. I'm planning on sticking with this basic setup through the end of winter, and next spring I'll look at upgrading from the 16-85 and 70-300 to some more modern and better performing glass.

The downside to all this? I've got a ton of processing backlog now. I'd actually cleared out almost my entire backlog (1 set from July remained) but now I need to deal with a couple thousand shots from August. Naturally I won't be processing all of those, but they do need a pair of selection passes and then I need to process the final selections, and I need to fine-tune my processing for the D200 as the settings I was using for modern cameras will not work as well for the D200 with its stronger AA filter, more limited DR and noise at mid-ISO's.

Sunday 24 August 2014

The Easiest Upgrade

Galley Food Market
Nikon D200, 16-85 VR

If you're shooting an older camera, chances are you're still using RAW conversion software from the same era. Unless it's something unusual this is not an ideal situation.

If you are in this situation, the easiest and probably the cheapest upgrade you can do to improve Image Quality is to update to a current RAW conversion package. Software has come a long way over the last 10-15 years and it shows, in speed, quality and features.

The image above is a good example. The current version of Lightroom (5) gives me IQ from the D200 which approaches what I was getting from the D300 back in 2008, and it's all in the greatly improved RAW conversion algorithms, especially in terms of Noise Control and Noise Reduction. Simply put, there's less noise in the initial RAW conversion and you can get rid of it easier and with less impact on the detail present in the image. Colour is also improved, LR and ACR have long struggled with colour from cameras that aren't Canon's, but things are a lot better than they used to be.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Mojo Rising

The Ace
Nikon D200, Nikkor 16-85mm f3.5-5.6G VR DX

I've been struggling in artistic terms for a few years now. Frankly, my will to shoot's been increasingly erratic, and the last year or two have been the worst. I normally shoot a little over 10k frames a year. Last year was under 6K, up until last week I'd shot about 1700 frames for the year.

The odd thing here is I'm not terribly unhappy with the work that resulted. Most of it has been up to my standards and some, especially from last fall, was among the best work I've shot. But I've been struggling to get out and shoot, and that's been something which has driven a lot of my gear shuffling.

In considering this, I've come to the realization that this issue dates back more than a couple years, and it had simply been masked by the amount of event work I shot from 2009-2013 while I was in school. The last year I really shot a lot of my own work was 2008, although 2012 was an OK year for my work as well.

The flip side of this? I've shot 400 frames since Saturday. Frankly, I've really got my mojo on. And 360 frames of that has been with the D200. Now some of this might be new toy syndrome, except for the fact that the D200 is the sixth camera I've bought in the last year, and only one of the other 5 saw more than 600 frames (the X-A1, with 800 frames in 3 months).

So what am I going to do about this? Keep shooting the D200 as long as it tickles my fancy. If I keep shooting like this I'm going to put something close to my 2008 kit together. That kit was a D300 and a D40 with a 10-20, 16-85VR and a selection of primes, plus an FM2n for film. Well I've got the D200, that self-same 16-85 (on loan) and an FM for film. we'll see how the rest works out.

Sunday 17 August 2014

It Just Feels Right

Leaving On A Jet Plane
Nikon D300, Nikkor 16-85 VR

There are some cameras that just feel right in the hand. Sometimes you pick up a camera and know right away that it'll work for you.

I've owned 3 digital cameras that I could say this about, and for the most part it was accurate. Those cameras were the D300, A700 and NEX-7. Ironically the A700 was the first of those I tried, but I would not own one until several years later as I chose to buy the D300 instead due to my then-copious collection of Nikon lenses.

I've regretted selling all three to some degree, once again the A700 stands out as I regretted selling it the least, of course that would be because I was shooting with the NEX-7 at the time. Selling the D300 was a serious mistake, I had a great setup and selling it really started me off on chasing the dragon, I wouldn't end up with a really comparable setup until I put together my A700 kit. The NEX-7 on the other hand I regret selling as it was a great walkabout kit, but it really didn't cover the entirety of my needs.

There's been a couple other cameras that I didn't get that initial bond with but nonetheless quickly bonded to. The D7100 was one and the Pentax K10D another. I don't regret selling the K10D, as good as it was, switching to the D300 was a major gain for me. The D7100 on the other hand I should have kept rather than swapping it for the D600. I strongly suspect I would be shooting it today if I'd kept it then (Frankly, if I'd been smart and kept the D300, I suspect I would have kept it until the D7100 came out and then moved to the D7100).

I'm honestly having a similar reaction to the D200. Unsurprisingly in a lot of ways it's just like having the D300 back in my bag, just without the good high ISO and ridiculous AF performance. I've actually done a fair bit of shooting with it already, having done a couple separate walks over the last day and having shot around 250 frames (in comparison, the X-E1's at around 550 frames since it was acquired in May). This does point out that in some ways I like the idea of mirrorless more than the actuality. I'd probably be willing to swap my X-E1 for a D3300 if there was a solid AF replacement for the 18/2, the 35/1.8DX can easily replace the 35/1.4, the Fuji's a better lens but the Nikkor is no slouch and I quite liked it during the brief period I had it on the D7100 and once again, system performance due to the better sensor can outweigh a better lens on a lesser sensor.

This points out a MAJOR weakness of Nikon's (and also of Canon). APS-C lenses for enthusiast shooters. Nikon's come out with an overabundance of consumer zooms for APS-C, but for the enthusiast shooter you have the choice of elderly, overpriced and underperforming 'Pro' lenses, ie the 12-24/4 and 17-55/2.8, both of which are not up to the demands of the 16MP sensors, let alone the 24MP AA-less sensors that are used on all current Nikon APS-C bodies, or a pair of wider-range variable-aperture zooms (10-24, 16-85VR) that are reasonably good, but outperformed by the 3rd party lenses and slow. On the prime front it's even worse, there's the ancient 10.5 DX Fisheye, a lens so old it's screwdriver AF (the only DX lens so equipped), the 35/1.8DX, the 40DX Macro and the 85 DX Macro. Of those, only the 35 and maybe the 85 appeal to the serious enthusiast. Sure there's some FX lenses that appeal, especially on the longer side of normal, but there's a bunch of bread & butter lenses that desperately need to exist (or updating). At a minimum Nikon needs the following:

10-xx f4 or f2.8 wide zoom, weather sealed. Replace the ancient 12-24. VR would be nice
16-50/2.8 VR. Replace the old and underwhelming 17-55 with something that can hang with the competition. VR a must, flare control (the bugaboo of the 17-55) a must.
16-85/4VRII. There's a patent, release the lens. This is a go-to lens for folks looking for a landscape or walkabout zoom.

And on the prime side:

16/2 or 2.8DX: A standard wide prime. Must-have in a system.
24/1.8DX: Fastish 35 equivalent. Another must-have, even bigger miss than the 16.

Frankly, it seems Nikon has completely abandoned high-end DX, aside from iterating the D7x00 series bodies. With current DSLR sales in the tank and Mirrorless eating the D3x00 and D5x00 market I'm wondering why Nikon hasn't addressed the core of the enthusiast market. If they announced two of the lenses I list above and the long-needed D300s successor I'd think Nikon would see a very noticeable uptick in sales. Sales are dropping in a large part because people don't need to upgrade, especially with the mid-range bodies where we've seen two essentially unchanged generations. But Nikon is sitting on two major untapped markets in terms of upgrades, that being the D300(s) shooters, who want both DX and real high-speed performance in a bulletproof body with pro-grade controls and the D700 shooters, who want a performance equivalent to the D810 (ie speed instead of resolution). Nikon seems to want to drive D300 shooters in particular up to FX, but offers them no body meeting the needs of a D300 shooter below the D4s, and there remains compelling reasons to shoot DX for performance (pixels on subject without overloading the processing chain) and as great as the D7100 is, it lacks the build, controls and buffer to truly replace a D300(s) for the shooter who actually needs what that body could do.

Coming back to lenses, I'd also love to see a prime in the 10-12mm range and a 18-19mm, both DX (actually, a new 20/2.8G if priced reasonably could cover the second one). A price-drop for the overpriced but interesting 58/1.4 (a very nice length for DX portraiture) would be nice. It's a good lens, but it costs significantly more than the optically superior Sigma 50/1.4 Art or the Zeiss ZA FE 55/1.8.

Frankly, the 24/1.8 could be welded onto a D3300 for me as a replacement for my mirrorless kit. I do love my Fuji lenses, but the X-E1 is merely adequate and I'm ambivalent right now about investing further in that kit. I'm just going to keep using it for walkabout & light carry for now and see what Fuji has in store in terms of next-generation bodies.

Saturday 16 August 2014

Two Unloved Gems

Breaking Up
Nikon D300, Sigma EX 10-20 f4-5.6 HSM

Over the last couple days I've had a chance to pick up a pair of relatively unloved Nikon bodies for next to nothing. Yesterday's score was a Nikon F80 for all of $10, today's was a D200 for $100. Both of these bodies are well worth owning, but are often maligned for certain design faults.

The F80, introduced in 2000 as Nikon's high-end consumer body, under the F100 and the lingering F90x in the line. It's a very compact body (slightly larger than a D5300), offers a proper pentaprism finder, dual control wheels and full VR and AF-S support. If you are a Nikon shooter and use AF or CPU-Equipped MF lenses (including Zeiss ZF, Voigtlander SLII and Samyang AE lenses), this is your cheapest and best entry into shooting film. It's weakness is simple, no support for metering with Non-CPU lenses, and being the first body at this level to lack that feature as it's predecessor, the F70, supported AI metering. This would be a long-standing beef at this level of body, the F80's successors (D100, D70, D70s, D80, D90) would all lack it until the feature was re-introduced with the D7000 a few years ago. It's also got somewhat pedestrian AF (the same basic 5-point AF that was unloved on so many Nikon DSLR's), a really limited framerate (2.5fps). Upsides include a solid 1/4000 max shutter and 1/125 flash sync. Recall this is a film camera, so you can get shots with those limits that would require a 1/8000 max shutter or 1/250 sync on Digital, thanks to the forgotten ISO range, ISO 50 film is a wonder, and pulling it to ISO 25 nets you even more. Batteries are the expensive CR123's, which do last a while, but you can add an MB-16 for AA support, but sadly no vertical release. Since this is one of only 4 fully-featured film bodies which support modern VR lenses (the F5, F6 and F100 are the others, the F65 and F75 also support VR, but not necessarily AF-S and are crippled in other ways) it's probably your best starter option if you have a nice selection of modern AF-S and VR lenses. Do note that because of the small size, big AF-S lenses will be a little unwieldy on it, I tried out a 16-35VR and found it slightly awkward in terms of handling.

The D200 was a smash hit for Nikon when it arrived, but it would be quickly eclipsed by its successor, the D300, and then quickly forgotten outside of a legion of users who were satisfied and didn't need to upgrade. When it was introduced, it was a huge upgrade over the earlier D100 and D70(s), offering a F100-level build & ergonomics, the first truly great finder in a non-Pro Nikon digital, very good IQ, upgraded AF and a solid 5fps framerate, again the first fast non-Pro Nikon digital and non-CP/AI metering, finally reappearing in the non-Pro line. Once people got their hands on it, they quickly discovered that the upgraded AF was pretty much the old 5 point AF unit originally from the F80, just with some extra points added for additional coverage and so the promised AF upgrade really didn't exist. This was the first of several Nikon's to use Sony's 10MP CCD sensor, a brilliant sensor at low ISO's and with improved high ISO performance compared to the older 6MP sensor. Once the D300 arrived with the 12MP CMOS sensor, the 10MP sensor was widely considered to be wildly obsolete and well avoided, a pity for a sensor which delivered excellent results at lower ISO's and offered native ISO 100, which the newer CMOS sensors did not.

For me, the F80 is a toy, for playing with AF lenses on film, the FM remains my primary film body. The D200 was bought as an Airshow camera, to shoot the CIAS in concert with my Nikkor 300/4.5 AI'd, as it cost me about as much as the batteries I'd need to do that with the X-E1, and will do better anyways. I also plan to use the D200 to beta-test the idea of a split system. I've been planning on adding an X-T1, but for some of my needs a DSLR would just be better. if the D200 handles those needs well alongside the X-E1, I'll be looking at getting another D7100 as I do miss that camera (Oddly I don't miss the D600, probably sense I really just didn't get along with it). I don't expect to dump my Fuji kit, but it may stay as a light carry kit for my general shooting rather than as a true primary kit.

Thursday 7 August 2014

The Holy Grail

Nikon FM2, Nikkor-P.C 105/2.5, Ilford Delta 100

I've been shooting digital now for a little less than 9 years and film seriously for 23 years. I've also gone through an awful lot of kit since digital came on the scene. And there's a simple reason for that.

A long while ago I discovered that my tastes in film cameras was simple. I prefer a simple, well built manual SLR with a bright finder and a solid set of lenses. The Nikon FM2(n) is pretty much the penultimate example of what I want in a camera. Take an FM2n, add a couple wides (17-20mm + 28-35mm), a normal, a couple tele's (85-90mm, 135-150mm) and I'm set. In a pinch I can do much the same set with a Maxxum 7, but that's about the only AF SLR that really works for me (Maybe an Elan 7N if my poor luck with Canon was to change, the F100 is close but too large & heavy).

The problem then becomes how do I match my film kit with digital. Nobody makes a digital FM2n, although the X-T1 comes closest. Nobody makes a digital Maxxum 7, although the K-3 comes closest. Finally I'd really prefer to use the same set of lenses for film and digital, so I only need to stick the bodies I want in my bag.

Sony would be the easiest, pair a Maxxum 7 with an A99 or A-7. And I tried. But the A mount lenses I want aren't there. The problem is at the wide end and normal. The only good , 28, 35 & 50's are huge & expensive (Sigma 35/1.4, 50/1.4 Art, ZA 50/1.4) or rare as hens teeth (Minolta 28/2, 35/2). I don't do large lenses and don't have time or inclination to pay too much money for those rare Minolta gems.

With Nikon it would be easy in a sense. Pair the glass I want with a D600 or Df and an FM2n (or even the FM I currently shoot). The problem becomes the D600's poor viewfinder for manual focus, and the Df's is quite similar. Plus both options are bigger than they need to be, by a lot, and the Df is way too much money for what it is. I could see the Df as a maybe with a 3rd party focusing screen and a price drop (it's already started to come down to sanity but even today it's around $700 more than a D610).

Pentax offers the K-3, but then I'd have to deal with an APS-C/FF split in the system as well as the fact I just don't get along with any Pentax film body except the LX and even the LX isn't as much too my taste as an FM2n. Oh, and again finding interesting glass gets difficult, although much better than A mount. If Pentax chose to do an LX-D I'd have to strongly consider this option, but I consider a Pentax FF body to be unlikely, Pentax only makes a handful of FF or FF-capable lenses today.

Fuji offers the X-T1. This is the closest digital to a FM2n in terms of controls and handling. You have the APS-C/FF split but that can be mostly solved with a SpeedBooster, allowing my F mount lenses to work at their designed FoV's on X mount, even better, I can also use a regular adapter and net the reach advantages of APS-C if needed. This would of course allow my film camera to be an FM body. Main downside is the attraction of Fuji's lovely lens lineup, which is a pretty nice downside.

Micro-4/3rds is out if I'm going to be shooting film as well. I do like the system but it doesn't balance well with a film system.

Sony E mount on the other hand becomes a strong option. The A7 bodies can play well with F mount via adapters, just like the Fuji's and/or a Speedbooster could be used with the APS-C bodies. I don't like the handling or native lenses as much as the Fuji's, but that could be a net benefit, since it reduces the temptation to buy native glass I can't use on film. The main downside here is the body handling (not as nice as Fuji, although adequate). Main benefit is the high-resolution full frame A7r and A7 bodies.

This becomes an interesting question, I won't be keeping the X-E1 as a primary body long-term. I simply don't gel well enough with the body. On the other hand I do love the lenses. The kicker is that an X-T1+Speedbooster costs pretty much exactly the same as an A7, and either option works well enough for me. With the Fuji I'd be tempted by native glass as it's wonderful. With the Sony the temptation is adapting other mounts, starting with M mount as I have one LTM lens with an M adapter, my beloved Nikkor-S.C 5cm f1.4. Sure I could adapt other mounts with X mount as well, but unlike E mount for which I own a selection of adapters, I'd need to buy adapters for all X mount options and I only really see that happening for F and maybe M mounts.

So where will I be next year? Dunno, but it won't be here and it will involve a modicum of shooting.

Saturday 26 July 2014

Back to Film, At Least For a Bit

Nikon FM2, Nikkor-P.C 105/2.5, Ilford HP5+

A little over a week after picking up the FM, I now have 4 rolls though it (66% of this year's film shooting and 40% of what I shot last year, it's been a while since I've shot a lot of film) and have added a 135/3.5 AI to the kit (I'll also be borrowing a Tamron 19-35 to round out the kit for now). I really have been reminded why I like shooting with classic manual mechanical SLR's.

And why is that? Simplicity. I was speaking with a friend over beers last week and had the FM with me. They mentioned that they were looking for a simple camera, and I noted that there is nothing simpler than a manual, mechanical camera like the FM. There's no automation beyond a mechanical instant-return mirror, the electronics assist but are not essential and there's only a few controls. What the friend was actually looking for was a camera that would do everything for them (easy, not simple), but it did remind me of my preference for simplicity. I don't want the camera doing anything for me, I don't want to have to worry about the charge on my batteries or whether I've dumped my cards. I simply want to grab my camera bag, dump a few rolls of film in and go shoot.

Does this mean I'm giving up digital? Nope. There's too much it does better than film today, and I do enjoy shooting with the X-E1, even if I haven't bonded strongly with it. And I love those Fuji lenses. on the other hand I'll be shooting more film if it all works out.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Summer is Here and Living is Lazy

Nikon FM2, Nikkor-P.C 105/2.5, Ilford HP5+

Haven't posted in a while, as usual I've been busy with work and while I have been shooting, it's been relatively light.

After struggling with shooting near-macro stuff on the X-A1, I ended up selling it off along with the 16-50 and my FM10 kit and purchased an X-E1 at the end of May. The X-E1's proved to be a better fit for my shooting than the X-A1, and I wasn't really shooting much with the FM10 anyways. I've around 500 shots on the clock on the X-E1 now and while I can't say I love the body (it's decent, but not one of the bodies I've bonded strongly with) I do love the glass, especially the 18/2. Despite a LR5 based workflow I haven't had any problems with X-Trans RAW conversions yet, which is a good thing. The Fuji kit is working pretty well overall although I will either end up getting the X-T1 or I expect I'll do another system shuffle, although to what I couldn't tell you. Sony lacks a body I want, m43 has interesting bodies and primes (especially now that the 15/1.7 DG-Summicron is out) but continues to lack the 24-105-equivalent zoom that I really want as an everyday lens. That said, I suspect if I do get the X-T1 eventually that I might actually stick to a system for a while.

On the film front, the FM10 just wasn't doing it for me, which was a bit of a headscratcher as I've always liked the body. Some of it was lenses, my setup (28, 50 and 100 Series E and a 35/2.8 AI) nailed the focal lengths but not the lens performance, of those I'm only really fond of the 100, but some of it was the body. I've been getting the film bug back more than a bit of late, so I stopped by the Henry's Outlet and picked up a replacement for the FM10, I ended up with a near-mint black FM and a 50/2 K (non-AI lens with AI cosmetics). Taking it for a spin reminded me both why the FM10 wasn't doing it for me and why I do like the FM10. Both come down to haptics. The FM is a far more hefty and solid body than the FM10 and that's what I was missing. On the flip side, because I was missing that I wasn't experiencing the strength of the FM10, which was its small size & weight, especially when paired with a 35 or 50 Series E lens. I suspect I'll buy another FM10, probably with the 35/2.5 Series E, but only as a second body to an FM or FM2(n), it's not going to be a primary film body for me. The FM just feels better. Only downside to the FM is I'm losing a stop of shutter speed (max 1/1000 instead of 1/2000), but I'm sure eventually I'll find the right FM2 and that will be solved.

Next steps on the film front will be a couple lenses (28 and 85 or 105) and maybe replacing the 50/2 non-AI with an AI version, or my other favourite Nikon 50, the 50/1.8 AI (not the pancake model which I don't like nearly as much as the older designs). on digital it's a wide angle, sometime this fall there will be a 14/2.8 added.

Sunday 4 May 2014

Still Kicking 2.0

Snow Ball
Nikon D600, Sigma 105 OS HSM Macro

It's been a very busy month for me with work, and the grey weather has limited the amount of interest in shooting, so I've basically been offline since March.

The above photo was in fact taken shortly before my D600 began misbehaving on Feb 1st, and is from the last batch of D600 photos I'll post. It certainly reminds me of what I liked about the D600 and especially the D600 with the Sigma 105. Lovely IQ, good colour and great DoF isolation.

But do I really see much more than I get with the X-A1? Nope. I'm pretty happy with my little Fuji, although I definitely need to add something with a viewfinder, I don't like composing from the LCD all the time. Given my current cash flow situation (tight due to other non-photographic projects), the X-E1 is looking like a good interim solution, with the X-T1 coming maybe in late fall. We'll see, I won't be adding anything before July anyways.

Monday 31 March 2014

Still Kicking

The Bottom
E-M5, ZD 14-54 II

I haven't abandoned this blog, just haven't had time to do much shooting of late. Also the late winter/early spring blahs have kicked in, there's just not much that interests me from a shooting perspective in the period between the beginning of the melt and the arrival of new growth.

Once spring truly begins in mid-April, I'll get my mojo back and you'll see some more posts. In the meantime there may be a few photo-only posts.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

A Wet Leaf, and a Few Thoughts

Olympus OM-D E-M5, m.Zuiko 40-150 R

This is mostly just a photography post. The above image is one of my favourite shots from my late September visit to the High Falls at Onaping Falls, ON. This was on the edge of a small stream that skirts the edge of the falls. High Falls is a classic example of Northern Ontario scenery and in mid-fall colour as it was is an absolutely stunning area to visit. Living down in the relative flat & bland landscape of Southern Ontario, I really do miss the epic landscapes of my youth in Southern BC and Northern Ontario. Northern Ontario in particular gives you so many chances at gorgeous intimate nature shots as well as some epic rocky landscapes.

On the gear front, I've cancelled my pre-order for the Fuji 35/1.4, I still intend to acquire it at some point, but I felt that the investment would be more valuable if applied to other items right now. So instead I acquired a Voigtlander 28mm finder, the HG-XM1 grip for the X-M1/X-A1 and a Domke F-802 bag. The finder is well suited to my preference for working primarily with the 18/2, it's a little bit tight in framing (the 18/2 is a 27mm equivalent in 135 format terms) but is nice & bright and works pretty well so far. There's a slight intrusion from the lens hood, but it's minor. I'll probably do the same thing with the Voigtlander 21/25mm finder when I acquire the XF 14/2.8 R, although I expect more VF intrusion with the combo of a wider finder and a larger lens. The grip really does improve the handling, although it also has to be removed for access to the battery/card compartment. I do wish Fuji would do a MHG series grip for the X-M1/X-A1 twins, as those grips have Arca-Swiss rails and cutouts for the battery compartment, but I do understand why Fuji wouldn't do a $150 grip for a $400 camera. The bag is just another stop on the way in my search for the perfect camera bag. In this case I'm looking for a good everyday shoulder bag for my 13" MacBook Air + accessories and camera+lenses, preferably with some extra storage for purchases and other items I might need. This is going to be my everyday bag, the one I carry everywhere.

On the online presence front, I'm abandoning Google+ again. After a month or so of participation it's clear that G+ does not work for me, I simply don't like the apersonal level of interaction and the UI drives me to distraction. The lousy integration between accessing your image albums via G+ and via Picasa Web Albums is also annoying, why do I need to switch UI's just to get a simple direct link to my image for posting? Flickr, for all its weaknesses, is simply less painful to use and better supports getting my content in and out of it. G+ makes it almost impossible to link posts from elsewhere automatically and difficult to push posts out to other platforms. Frankly at this point I see G+ as Twitter for people who have an attention span, the interaction model is quite similar, although the content is FAR better. But I only use twitter as a method of broadcast interaction, and it's automated, and G+ doesn't really allow for the sort of integration I can do with Twitter.

Monday 17 February 2014

A Day Out

Fujifilm X-A1, XF 18mm f2 R, Silver Efex Pro 2

Got out for my first walk with the X-A1 yesterday. I had to head downtown for an errand and decided to grab the camera and walk rather than taking the TTC.

It was a solid intro to working with the X-A1, I shot 80ish frames with the 18/2 and a half dozen or so with the 60 Macro, there just wasn't much along my route that suited the longer lens.

I do have to say I'm liking the 18/2, my initial impression is that this is a highly underrated lens. It's quite sharp in the centre even at f2, is nice and compact and handles very well, cross-frame sharpness is very good at f8. I also like the hood/hood cap combo (much nicer than Fuji's chintzy lenscaps). The 60 didn't impress much, but most of that likely was just the way I was shooting it and what I was shooting, once I get the chance to take it out for the environment I bought it for (portraits & macros) I expect better.

Only one surprise while shooting, which was related to the DR expansion feature. I was shooting RAW only, and aside from configuring ISO Auto (min ISO 200 max 6400, 1/60 minimum shutter) and enabling it was just using the default settings. But I kept getting ISO400 at shutter speeds in the 1/300-1/400 range. I eventually figured out that the Dynamic range expansion feature remains active in RAW and was bumping the ISO up by one stop to allow that feature to function. If you don't want this, set the DR setting to 100 and it will not happen.

The files from the X-A1 look excellent, although it's clear that LR's default profile is well off the Standard JPEG settings from the camera (and not in a good way, the camera's rending is superior). Given all the talk about the Fuji's awesome JPEG's, I'm going to give them a shot. Who knows, I might end up a JPEG shooter.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Light(weight) Matters

OM-D E-M5, DG Summilux 25/1.4

System carry weight matters a great deal to me, for a few reasons.

The first reason, and one essentially unique to me, is that last June I injured my right elbow and now can't walk around for long periods carrying a heavy camera. I hadn't really noticed the issue until I acquired the D600 and got a chance to shoot it in my normal fashion (my first outing with it was car-based so weight wasn't an issue). This was something of a surprise to me, I'd thought my elbow was pretty much fully recovered and it's clear that it isn't. That also seriously affects my gear choices. I was ambivalent about the D600 prior to my last outing with it, but once I realized the effect it had on my elbow it was clear I had to make the switch. Non-ideal gear is one thing, but gear that causes physical problems is a whole different story. I'd been wondering why my elbow was acting up in the evenings, since I quit carrying the D600 it's not been an issue.

The second one is similar, but more generalized. A larger, heavier camera with larger, heavier lenses means more weight out in the field for the same shooting kit and also needs a heavier tripod. Also SLR's need eye-height tripods (always an issue at 6'3") for reasonable composition through the viewfinder, while Mirrorless cameras, especially those with articulated LCD's, can get away with a far smaller tripod. My SLR tripod is a Manfrotto 055XPROB, while for mirrorless I normally carry a 290 series (at about half the weight, albeit also a much shorter tripod). That means I can either carry non-photo items (lunch, hiking gear) or just go lightweight and not get tired.

The third is straps. I like wrist-straps, I dislike neck straps. Not sure about slings, but they seem awkward to me, I don't like things bumping about my waist. Wrist straps only work with a lightweight camera/lens combo. The D600+Sigma 105 OS wouldn't work with a wrist strap, the X-A1 with the 60/2.4 will.

The wild card here is camera bags. I've got one well suited to ultra-light carry, the Crumpler 5 Million Dollar Home (new style), which surprisingly (just) fit the D600 and 3 lenses, but does very well with 3-4 lenses and a mirrorless body. But I do need an everyday bag, which can carry my MacBook Air 13", mouse & AC adapter, plus my basic shooting kit to work and elsewhere. There's plenty of small carry bags out there, but it seems almost all fit either a 10" tablet/netbook + cameras, or a 15" laptop and an acre of gear. I want something comfortably in the middle. Right now I'm using a crappy laptop bag, but I really do need to replace it with something better suited to my shooting. No idea what though, all the options look either too big or too small.

I also need a good hiking backpack. I've got my eye on the rotation180 Panoramic from MindShift gear, it looks pretty much ideal, while it's designed for an SLR plus a couple lenses, the marketing material shows an E-M5 kit fitting perfectly, and plenty of storage for non-camera gear without being too huge.

Saturday 15 February 2014

A Broken Resolution, To My Benefit

Fujifilm X-A1, XC 16-50 f3.5-5.6 OIS

So I've broken my previous resolution to just shoot film for the next couple of weeks. Why?, because after going through and processing 9 rolls of B&W leftover from the last 1.5 years I was reminded of both why I love film (tonality, simplicity of a manual, mechanical SLR) and why I don't (IQ in general, the process after film leaves the camera). I also spent some time going over my options for a D600 replacement as I've decided it will be replaced, if only because it's simply too large & heavy for me to be comfortable carrying it in the manner to which I've become accustomed.

Tried the Pentax K-3. Awesome ergonomics. Smallish. Heavy. It seriously weighs more than the D600 and you feel every gram. The K-50 just isn't there in ergonomics, it's too much the budget camera.

Looked closer at the E-M1 system. Honestly, if there wasn't IMHO a better option, this is the way I would go. The 12-40's awesome, the camera itself is too and I could get by with one of the light carry options. I really do want a second light carry body to stick in my bag for days when I don't want my main camera, I used this method back when shooting the D300/D40, the E-30/G1, A700/A33 and E-M5/E-PM1 kits.

I looked at the E mount system again. I've already got the light carry option there, the NEX-5R. And it's got all my basics covered for lenses (ZA 16-70/4 OSS, Touit 12/2.8, ZA E 24/1.8, ZA FE 55/1.8) except a macro, and that's coming later this year. Downsides are lens costs, every lens I want is $1k+, and the lack of a more serious body. The new A6000 is IMHO a NEX-5/6 replacement, and I'm not impressed by a lower-end EVF, but there's no high-end APS-C body to replace the NEX-7 and fill the gap between the $700 A600 and the $1700 A7 (and I want to remain on a single format, no FF/APS-C splits).

I also decided to set aside some previous opinions about the Fuji X system. There's no doubts I like the lens lineup, from the day they launched the X Pro1 I've been drooling over the lenses. But I was always skeptical about X-Trans, especially with the RAW conversion issues with LR4 in particular, and the fact remains that X-Trans does trade off some low ISO performance for better colour noise performance at high ISO's, a tradeoff that is the opposite of my needs. But with the announcement of the X-T1, the closest thing out there to a digital FM2n that I so want, and taking a closer look at the X-M1/X-A1 twins, as well as some discussion on the Alt Gear forum over at I decided that while the X-Ex and X Pro1 bodies aren't really what I want, the other two options in the line could work very well for me. I chose to acquire the X-A1 because it both lets me dip my feet into the system without worrying about X-Trans (the X-A1 has a conventional Bayer sensor, its twin the X-M1 is the same camera with the X-Trans sensor) and because it's just about right as a light carry camera.  I also really do like the lens lineup, all the primes look great to me, although the system does need a mid-range zoom (a 16-70 or similar, the upcoming 18-135 is too much range for my tastes, although if it's good I'll probably get it).

So I sold my Sigma 105 OS Macro and purchased the X-A1 kit with the 16-50 kit lens. I'll be adding to it slowly over the next few months, with pretty much every prime on my list, and possibly the 55-200 (it's very good, but I'm not sure if I really need it). The D600 is going to be sold on to fund the initial prime acquisitions, as will my 24-50 AF-Nikkor and the NEX-5R. Not sure what I'm going to do with the film stuff. It's just not there for me anymore, except for occasional dabbling. Might just keep it for that (or maybe just the Chinon CM-5, the FM10 can actually be sold for some value).

Saturday 8 February 2014

B&W Film Choices

Ilford FP4+, Nikon FM2

In my previous post I was discussing my issues with GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and my decision to temporarily halt and spend some time shooting film again. I'd noted that I had 300' of HP5+ and a brick of Neopan 100SS.

Just to explain the terminology here, 135 format film comes packaged two ways, the first is in the standard, ready to shoot, 135 format cannisters, usually (and incorrectly, although I'll use the common terms) called rolls. Rolls are truly rollfilm, 120 and 220 typically, that come spooled on rolls with paper backing. A brick of film is a bulk package of these preloaded cannisters, typically a plastic-wrapped package containing 10 individually boxed 135 format cannisters, but can also refer to items like Fuji's Press Packs, with 20 rolls, packages in plastic containers but not individually boxed, in one large box.

The other way that 35mm film comes is in bulk rolls, usually 100' for stills emulsions (movie 35mm emulsions are usually much longer). You load these 100' rolls into a bulk loader, and use that to load your own reloadable 135 format cannisters to shoot. This illustrates one of the long-forgotten oddities of naming conventions. Because 35mm film is originally a motion picture stock, and motion picture films are denoted by their nominal width, to this day we refer to 135 format film as 35mm. But correctly 35mm is the film stock, and 135 format is the result of loading 35mm film stock into a 135 type cannister.

So what I've got is 3 100' bulk rolls of Ilford HP5+ for bulk loading, this is generally the cheapest way to shoot 35mm film in large quantities, as you get 18-20 rolls per bulk roll (depending on how you load, I do 35 frames so they fit on a single 7x5 type archival negative holder). This tends to run me about $2.50 a roll for Tri-X, my usual film choice. I'm shooting HP5+ right now because I got 4 bulk rolls cheaply due to water-damaged packaging, the film was fine. I'm a fan of both films, but normally shoot Tri-X because it's significantly cheaper in bulk rolls (about $20/roll last time I purchased any, that's about $1/roll once loaded), the price difference these days seems to be reversed so my next purchase will likely be HP5+ again.

And the second thing I have is 10 rolls of Fujifilm Neopan 100SS, I got a couple bricks of this cheaply (about $1/roll) due to it being short dated, or close to its expiry date. Note that film, if properly refridgerated, can last well beyond its expiry date, especially if it's slower film and/or B&W film. Now Neopan 100SS is not a personal favourite, but it's a solid perfomer and I typically shoot 3-4 rolls of HP5 or Tri-X for a single roll of anything else so I tend to experiment more with my slow film choices.

Now in terms of film choices for B&W film, the first thing you need to do is choose whether or not you're going to buy a modern grain (or T-grain) film, or a classic grain film. Modern grain films have a much more regular sizing of the film grains and tend to produce a smoother, less grainy look. They also tend to be pickier about exposure & developing. Classic grain films tend to be grainier, and have that rougher, classic B&W look. Personally I prefer the classic grain films, with the exception of Fuji's Neopan Acros 100, which combines the smooth grain of a modern grain film with exceptional reciprocity characteristics and a complete lack of the developing and exposure sensitivity usually associated with modern grain films. I also don't shoot any of the super-speed films. If I need more than ISO 400 I will push-process an ISO 400 film rather than shoot one of the ISO 1600 or 3200 films.

In terms of film choices, my first choices are almost always Tri-X or HP5+ for a fast film (ISO400) and Acros or PanF+ for slow films (ISO50-100). I tend to avoid the modern films both because they are not to my taste and because they're typically more expensive than the classic grain films I prefer. Other films I've been fond of were the Agfa APX line (25, 100 and 400), and to some extent the Kentmere branded films from Ilford, which are Ilford's budget films. I've tried some of the eastern-european stuff and while interesting they generally are more trouble to work with than the Ilford films I'm semi-standardized on. Once the Neopan is gone I'll likely just buy a couple bricks of PanF+ and stick with that and HP5+ for the long term.

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Chasing the Dragon

Delta 100, Nikon FM2,  Most likely the Nikkor 28/3.5 AI

 I've pretty clearly been chasing the dragon of late with regards to my digital gear. Frankly, I've always been bad for this, I've averaged one major camera and/or system change per year. But the last few months have been my worst, with two primary system switches and almost a third. That's just getting ridiculous and I need to get over it.

 So I'm taking a break from digital. I'm going to carry the FM10 instead as a primary for a few weeks and shoot some film. I've got pretty much all the kit I need for that sort of shooting (I'd like a 20 and/or a 135 or 200, but I've got the basics covered for now). We'll see in March where I am and where I really want to go. Who knows, I might just stick to film for a while as my primary medium. Well, at least until it's time for some landscape work again, I'm not going back to the hassles of scanning colour film.

 I've got 300' of HP5+ and a brick of Neopan 100SS, and an FM10 with 28, 35, 50 and 100mm lenses. Lets see where it takes me.

Monday 3 February 2014

Second Thoughts with the D600

Fort George by Mawz
Fort George, a photo by Mawz on Flickr.

OM-D E-M5, m.Zuiko 12-50

The above shot was taken in light rain with the weather-sealed E-M5/m.Zuiko 12-50 combo.

On Saturday I was out in light snow with my D600, which proceeded to lock itself up 1.5 hours into a 6 hour photowalk. All indications are that the cause was a limited failure of the weather sealing, specifically on the WB and LV buttons, causing them to lock on (I was not using either mode, and had not pressed these buttons). The D600 is supposed to have limited weather sealing, by which I'd expect it handle this sort of situation, but not heavy rain or serious splashes. However this experience is causing me to re-evaluate this decision and consider if I need a camera with a better grade of sealing.

If I consider that, I'm left with pretty much 3 options.

1. Get the E-M1/12-40 kit I'd considered to be one of my primary options when selling off the E-M5 kit.

Probably the best normal zoom in my price range
good lens selection

IQ is at the low end of my preferred range
generally not well suited to adaptation
No compact bodies I really like as NEX-5R replacement
Limited battery life

The second option is getting a Pentax K-3

Best IQ available for this level of weathersealing
Good compatibility with MF lenses
good LV implementation for a DSLR
good battery life
Has fully supported interchangeable focus screens
Can use NEX-5R with K adapter as second camera.

OVF not ideal for manual focusing
fixed LCD
No really outstanding weather-sealed normal zoom (DA* 16-50 is pretty good, but the Oly 12-40 is distinctly better)
Limited selection of older lenses readily available (tempered by option of buying Samyang lenses).

The third option is to buy a K-50/30/60

Cost, can buy glass right away.
AA battery compatibility
remarkably good OVF for the cost (100% 0.92x)
Can use NEX-5R as second camera

IQ not all that much better than E-M1 (for 30/50, 60 is expected to have identical IQ to K-3)
Limited capability body compared to K-3 or E-M1
lousy battery life for a DSLR (but still better than E-M1).
And all the K-3's downsides.

Of course all options would come at a cost.

1. I'd lose the ability to share lenses with other Nikon shooters (I regularly go out shooting with them).
2. Have to sell my Sigma 105 OS Macro (damn, I do love that lens). I'd put the proceeds towards another one (Pentax) or the comparably performing Oly 60/2.8.
3. Lower IQ. I'd definitely be giving up some IQ by going down to a crop body again, a small loss in the case of the 24MP bodies (K-3, rumoured K-60), somewhat more notable in the case of the other 16MP bodies.
4. Lenses, I do love the wide selection of Nikkors out there, used & new, AF & MF. None of the options I'm looking at can match the selection, and even less of those lenses are actually sealed.
5. I still do shoot a little film. If I go m43, then I'd keep the FM10 and my small set of manual focus lenses. If I go K mount, it's off to find a late Cosina body to replace the FM10.

Upsides to going to a truly sealed body:
1. Trust. I'd know I don't have to worry about weather conditions since the camera would exceed my personal limits. And no worries about oil on my sensor (which it looks like I might have). This is huge for me.
2. Ergonomics. While the D600's ergonomics are better than I'd thought at the first try, I'm still not 100% on them, particularly the undersized grip. All options I'd be looking at have better grip designs and the E-M1 and K-3 both have better control layouts
3. Performance. All options have higher max shutter speeds and faster continuous shooting. The latter doesn't matter to me but the former definitely does.
4. Lenses. A reduced selection does mean less GAS, and what are available are generally excellent. In the case of the Pentax, there would remain the option of buying some extremely good legacy glass in the future.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

The Forgotten ISO Range

Reflections in the Water by Mawz
Reflections in the Water, a photo by Mawz on Flickr.

D600, Sigma 105 OS HSM Macro

For all the concentration on high ISO performance on digital, with camera's reaching as far as ISO ~200,000, there's an equally useful ISO range being completely ignored. This range is the other end, the range between ISO 6 and ISO 100. Once upon a time ISO 25-50 in particular was where landscape photographers lived, shooting Velvia pulled to ISO 40, or Tech Pan at ISO 25 or any of a dozen other films in this range. Today we shoot at ISO 100 if we're lucky, ISO 200 if we're not and then have to dig out filters if we need to get the shutter speed down to blur water or let us get a lens wide open for some planar separation.

I can count on one hand the number of images I've taken above ISO 6400, but I constantly wish I could drop the ISO below the 100 (or 50 extended base) on most of the recent camera's I shoot. And I keep getting reminded that my F3's ISO range was 6-6400, a far more useful range for most shooting than the current 50-51,200 my D600 offers.

So come on camera makers. Do something different for a change and give me a camera designed for the ultimate low ISO performance, at an actual low ISO.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Golden Liberty

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

Olympus E-PM1, Leica DG Summilux 25/1.4

Post-rain golden sunset in Liberty Village.

Saturday 11 January 2014

That FX Look and Some Thoughts on Social Networking

Private Property by Mawz
Private Property, a photo by Mawz on Flickr.

D600, Sigma 105mm f2.8 HSM OS Macro

This shot is a great example of the FX look that many are looking for. This is at f4, but you still have some real DoF separation, and it would be difficult to achieve on APS-C as you'd need a ~70mm f2 lens stopped down to about f2.5 to achieve this look. Ironically it would be easier to get this look with m43 as 50/1.4's are commonly adapted (however most aren't nearly as good at f2 as the Sigma 105 is at f4). But this sort of mid-aperture subject separation is a constant struggle to achieve with smaller sensors and can really deliver when you are shooting subjects with planar separation like this one.

This is also a good example of what I don't like with FX, I'd have had to stop down a fair bit more to get the deeper DoF I generally go for, if it wasn't for how planar the subject was I'd have been struggling down at f8-11 to get the shot.

On to social media. I hate Facebook, just like everybody else. I'm regularly tempted to just walk away, but it provides too easy a capability to interact with people who I don't see face to face on a regular basis (and to plan events with those I do). I also do Flickr, which once was a great photographic community but now is mostly a mediocre hosting site with wide-spread support. And I do several subject-specific forums, notably Fred Miranda for photography and a couple forums for model aircraft. Frankly, I'm pretty unsatisfied with the entire setup, I'd like more integration, especially between the community I am involved with on Fred Miranda and the photo hosting on Flickr.

That leaves a few options:

500px - Great photography, almost non-existent community outside the semi-payed blogging/commenting interface. They've essentially fixed what used to be wrong with flickr (masses of lousy photos drowning everything else), but not the result (the interesting flickr users abandoning the community aspects). It's also even more photography specific than Flickr, and lacks the hosting capabilities of Flickr, so it's of interest to me, but never will be a primary area of action.

G+ - I'm still not sure what G+ is supposed to be. There's a strong community of photographers involved, but overall the interactions are stunted. And there's the Google Walled Garden aspect, as Google promotes interaction within their ecosystem it's easy to get content pushed out of G+ but difficult to push it in from non-Google sources (like say Flickr). This makes transitioning to G+ difficult for non-Facebook uses (and for FB, all you really have is the ability to push posts from G+ to FB). From what I've read it should also be a great replacement for subject-specific fora, but it fails there due to the lack of uptake outside of techie circles (very few of the typically middle-aged to elderly men who build model airplanes even realize G+ exists, so I can hardly replace the 4 fora I'm active on for that interest with G+). Oh and Hangouts? Supposedly the killer feature for G+, but I still can't see any attraction to them. But I never liked Chat in any form, especially not group chats, and Video chat is even less interesting. Of course I am a bit of an introvert which might explain that. Chat is hard, and not something I do for fun, rather something I do when I'm already somewhere with some people.