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.