Thursday 15 October 2015

Green Bee/Yellow Flower

Green BeeE-M1, Nikkor 50mm f2 K non-AI

Sunflowers and Bees are neverending fun to shoot. But they need a solid close focusing lens to do so. For now I've been using an old Nikkor 50/2 from the mid-70's as one of my close-up options and the G3's kit 14-42 OIS as my other one. The 50's a nice little lens and I do enjoy shooting with it, while the 14-42 is boringly competent. Neither come close to ideal for this sort of work for me.

So I've gone and picked up one of the minor gems of the m43 system, Sigma's cheap and cheerful 60mm f2.8. This is a small lens, smaller than the 50/2 even before the adapter's mounted, dirt cheap and stunningly sharp. If you can live with its limitations, primarily limited close focus (0.5m, 1:7 magnification) and f2.8 max aperture, it's a real gem. This also gives me a rather competent 2 lens kit, with the 17/1.8 and this 60. All I really need would be a 10-12mm at the wide end. If only Sigma or Samyang made a compact 10/2.8 for mirrorless. Sadly Sigma doesn't make anything along those lines and Samyang's 10/2.8 is an SLR lens and rather huge. The best answer right now seems to be the Oly 9-18 zoom. Only time will tell if anything interesting will come along in this space, and if nothing does I can always get one of the two 12/2's available.

Friday 9 October 2015

And What About Film?

Reese Beggar
Nikon FM, 50mm f2 K, Ilford HP5+

Now that I've hopefully settled on a Digital system it's time to consider what I'm going to do about my film shooting. Which brings the following resolutions & considerations.

1. I'm not giving up film. I enjoy shooting it too much
2. I'm sticking with 35mm for now. As much as I enjoy Medium Format, I'm not willing to haul the gear right now.
3. I'm not going to flail around systems. I'll stick to my comfortable choices, IE Contax and/or Nikon
4. I really do need a solid scanning solution.

The first is a simple acceptance of my choices, I've always ended up grabbing a cheap film camera and enjoying it. Not going to give that up anytime soon. Frankly I still prefer shooting with a 35mm manual, mechanical camera over everything else.

The second is simple reality. I like MF. Actually I love MF. But I'm not willing to invest in it today. Maybe if I ever get back to shooting 100+ rolls a year I'll take another look, but not for now.

The third is more of a hope. I've owned pretty much every common system except Leica R, Minolta SR and Canon FD. I keep coming back to Contax and Nikon. Frankly I've got a mild preference for Contax, but have found Nikon more reliable and economic. I'm shooting Nikon now, but if I'm only going to have a handful of film kit I will probably switch to Contax at some point.

The fourth is the real holdup to shooting more film. Flatbeds don't deliver enough quality and simply replacing my Minolta SDIV will just result in more issues. I'll either need to buy a new scanner or save up and acquire a Nikon Coolscan 5000ED, the latter being the dream. But I'm not looking at either option until I break 52 rolls in a year. No point in spending money for something I'm not committed to.

Sunday 27 September 2015

Micro 4/3rds Return - Two Months On

Sun Star
E-M1, m.Zuiko 17/1.8

It's now been a little more than 2 months since my return to shooting Micro 4/3rds kit. The return has been a success, the E-M1 has a little over 500 shots in a month of ownership, while the G3 has seen around 300 in two months (2/3rds of that prior to me picking up the E-M1), contrast that to 425-ish shots for the X-A1 in 5 months.

The G3's a fun little camera. A little basic for my tastes, it was the consumer-end of Panasonic's experimentation with the G series UI, but enough for general use. The EVF is decidedly old-fashioned, being the same unit as the G1, and overall IQ is good until you push the DR or ISO anywhere. Fun little camera though and competent as the backup body it was purchased as. No doubt it will eventually be replaced by an Olympus body so I can share batteries and other accessories.

The E-M1 is just awesome. The control layout is excellent, the only issue is a possible excess of physical controls. Responsiveness is in DSLR territory, AF is snappy, the viewfinder is great and the handling is dead-on. Only gripes I have so far is that the Focus Peaking implementation is still mediocre and I'd really like to be able to disable direct access to some functions (HDR bursts for example) so I didn't accidentally trigger them. The control dials are a little sensitive as well and very easy to accidentally change. This is a camera that rewards paying attention to exactly what it's doing. Not a bad thing, but it leaves the body a little less transparent in use than I'd prefer. That said, it's miles ahead of the E-M5, where I had to think about everything because of poorly positioned controls, now it's just 'be careful with the direct access settings', shooting controls are almost completely transparent and it's just a matter of time before that becomes completely transparent.

Friday 17 July 2015

And Back I Go to Micro 4/3rds

Dead Against Sky
Panasonic DMC-G3, m.Zuiko 17/1.8

So another system switch has occured for me. Why? Value Proposition again.

I've been running up against the limitations of a viewfinderless camera again. I like the idea and the handling, but just can't wrap myself around using one steadily. I've now owned 5 cameras of this type over the years, the NEX-5N, NEX-5R, E-PM1 and 2 X-A1's. I like them in the bag, they're small, compact, convenient and have generally good IQ. I like the results. I just don't find them especially nice to shoot with, and utterly impractical to shoot longer lenses with (a normal is pretty much the limit).

I'd been looking at adding a second body to my kit, one with an EVF. Specifically I was looking at an X-E2 or an X-T10, which both give similar spec for similar cost (the X-T10 is essentially a SLR-style X-E2 with a flip-up LCD). I've also been looking at lens options to round out my system. Then the GX8 got announced, which had me take another look at m43.

The conclusion? m43 IQ from the 16MP sensors is good enough for me. m43 eliminates the potential for RAW conversion issues from X-Trans. m43 glass is every bit as good as Fuji's, and generally around 20-30% cheaper, albeit at an aperture cost as I'm looking at f1.8 lenses instead of f1.4. m43 glass is a LOT smaller. m43 has a solid selection of Macro lenses (3, all solid offerings vs 1 with problematic handling) And m43 offers IBIS. Fuji offers aperture rings on most primes (only a couple Panasonic lenses have this) and a better selection of wide primes.

So the X-A1 is out, replaced by a G3 with kit 14-42 and the m.Zuiko 17/1.8 for now, an E-M1 will follow from the budget originally assigned to the X-T10 and I expect to add a few lenses as needed. And as a bonus, my SO also shoots m43 (she's happy with my old G1) so we can now share glass.

Thursday 4 June 2015

Still Kicking, Still Shooting

Just Hangin'
Nikon FM, Nikkor 50mm f2 K, Ilford HP5+

It's been a busy month or two for me since my last post. No gear changes (for once), but slow and steady shooting and mostly with the F3. The one downside to switching my commute to driving is it makes just wandering about after work rather more difficult. But I've got an upcoming vacation in 2 weeks that will take me out to southern BC, a photographic wonderland. Looking forward to coming back with some good stuff from the Southern Okanagan.

Thursday 16 April 2015

A Few Notes of No Particular Relevance

The Lockup
Nikon FM, 50/1.2 AI-S, Fujifilm Neopan 100SS

Really shouldn't have sold that lens. Right call at the time, but 6 months later I'd rather have the lens than the body I got for it (which I sold off to put together the down payment for my new car).

Yes Virginia, Rodinal Does Expire. I recently fell victim to what I'd thought was fixer expiry, supported by the fact that the remainder of my fixer concentrate was completely separated into some liquid and a lot of white goo. Turns out my bottle of Rodinal was shuffling off its mortal coil. Note it may have a shelf life measured in decades when sealed, but unsealed it looks more like 5 years. Still pretty damned good. Losses were two rolls of HP5+, completely ruined and 3 rolls of Neopan 100SS, just very thin. Thankfully I'd used stand development for the Neopan, which saved those rolls.

I need a better scanning solution. After years using dedicated 35mm scanners, a flatbed, even with ANR inserts, just does not stack up. Scans are barely acceptable for web use, totally not up to printing. Not going to do anything yet, we'll see how much use the F3 gets in the next couple of months and make the call then. I'm not going to spend the price of a good dedicated scanner unless I'll get some real use out of it. I did well with the Minolta's (both of which lasted 650+ rolls, closer to 1k for the SDIV) but I'd be hesitant to buy another due to age and the alternate option, a used Coolscan IV, V, 4000 or 5000ED ranges from expensive (IV/V) to ridiculous (5000 ED) although I do drool over the full-roll fitting which would massively reduce scanning annoyance.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Back after a Break

The Roastery
Olympus E-M5, DG Summilux 25/1.4

It's been a couple months since I've posted and nearly no shooting has occurred. That's mostly because of the weather, late winter/early spring is dead zone for me from a photographic standpoint, being especially dreary & grey here in Toronto, not exactly a photographic wonderland. The end result is almost no shooting from me. November is usually the same for the same reasons.

Naturally, I've also had another gear shuffle. I've essentially decided that for now APS-C is where I'll be for Digital work. I'd sold the D700 and D200, along with the FE (just never got along with FE's) and some minor incidentals and snagged another X-A1 kit and the XF 18/2 R, probably my favourite lens from the last go at Fuji. I'd kept the D3200, 35/1.8DX and 50/1.8G with the view of using the X-A1 for light carry and getting a D7x00 body for more serious shooting, but a non-camera expense led to selling off the Nikon stuff leaving me with just the X-A1, my two X mount lenses (the 18/2 and the kit 16-50 OIS) and some Nikon manual focus lenses (well, I also have access to a trio of Nikon AF lenses that don't belong to me, including the 16-85VR I've always been fond of). Since this occurred in late February/early March not much changed, I'm still on the fence about a higher-end digital kit and the X-A1 handles basic needs just fine.

I'd also been pondering film again. I just rather like shooting film cameras, even if the post process is a pain. Because of this, I recently decided I was going to pick up another manual film body, likely an FM2, and a couple primes to round out my system and shoot with that for a bit. What ended up happening instead is I tripped over a superb deal on an F3 and a 35/2 AI and went that way instead. I've owned the F3 before and do like them aside from the terrible metering display. I expect the F3, 35 and 100/2.8 Series E will become my go-to shooting kit for a while.

Essentially I've gone with the Fuck It All option I've described previously, only choosing the F3 over the FM2n. This isn't because there was anything wrong with the D700, just because I don't see myself spending the cash necessary to build the lens kit which a modern FX body needs to make it worth owning over a DX/APS-C setup.

Saturday 7 February 2015

Is FX Worth It?

Sunrise Over Oakwood
D700, 28/2.8 AI

A couple recent announcements and the expected Nikon announcement next week have me seriously considering if FX is worth it for me. Don't get me wrong, I still like my D700, but the reality is I need to buy a solid set of wides for it and a macro before my system can handle my needs and I'm not oversupplied with budget.

I'm pretty much looking at either of the following wide setups: 20, 28, FX fast 35, or wide zoom, FX fast 35. Plus a macro. The first would ideally be the two Nikon 1.8's and the Sigma Art. That's about $900 a pop for the 35 and 20, $750 for the 28 for a total around $2550 before the Macro. The zoom I'd be leaning most towards is the 16-35VR, plus that same 35 Art for $2200 before the Macro. I could knock about $500 off each option by getting the Nikon 35/1.8 FX and selling my 35DX (selling the 35DX isn't an option with the 35 Art because the latter cannot be realistically used as a light carry lens on the D3200).

That's a pretty serious chunk of change.

If I were to go back to DX, I'd be looking at a wide zoom, a wide prime and a Macro. The zoom would almost assuredly be the Sigma 10-20, which can be readily had for $350 used. the wide prime is up in the air, but probably the Nikon 20/1.8 (and could realistically wait for a bit). That's $1250 and at least half of that could be funded by the D700. I'd want a high-end body at some point (D7x00 or D300s or the notional D9300 if it shows up) but that's either relatively far away or not too expensive. I'm expecting the D7200 to be a nice upgrade to the D7100, but not a must-have (Pretty much I expect AF updates, a flip-up LCD, powered aperture for LV/video and double the buffer). Frankly I'd either look to trade my D700 for a D7100 or wait until the fall to upgrade and use the D700 to fund the glass (the D200 will actually handle most of my needs in the meantime and the D3200 the rest).

The gripping hand option is do FX option 1, but go old school with the lenses. I can get a 20/3.5 AIS or 2.8 AI-S for ~$400, a 28/2 for $400 and a 35/1.4 for $500. That's a much more readily achievable $1300 and if I went with a 28/2.8 and 35/2 I'd drop that to a mere $800 or less all-in. The FE would get regular exercise with this option because carrying it alongside the D700 with one lens kit works. I don't enjoy the F80 enough to do that with the all-in FX options.

There's also the fuck it all option. Which is the gripping hand option, but sell the D700 anyways, buy an FM2n and just shoot film plus the occasional bit of digital with the DX bodies. Could even sell off the D3200 and 50/1.8 and snag a cheap mirrorless body for a better light carry option (NEX-5 series with a Siggy 19 maybe, or an E-PM2, or even a Samsung with one of their nice pancakes). Don't see any point in selling the D200 though, not enough value to offset having an airshow body handy.

Do I know where I'm going? Nope. But I'm pretty sure the all-in options for FX are off the plate. I just cannot make the cost/benefit ratio work out, regardless of how nice the options are. What does make sense from a cost/benefit ratio is either all-in DX or my primary kit becomes the D700/FE pairing with AI glass all-around. The fuck it all option has one big caveat, what to do about scanning. My Scan Dual IV is all but dead now so it would need replacement. I could maybe fund that replacement with the D700, but the best option (Nikon 5000 ED) goes for silly money on the used market (about 50% over MSRP). Really it seems to come down to do I want to keep shooting with manual focus glass and film on the side, or go to AF glass and mostly digital. I need to make that decision and the rest will settle out.

Saturday 17 January 2015

The D700 a Couple Months Later

Nikon D700, 50mm f1.8D

I've had the D700 for a little over 2 months now. Shooting hasn't been too terribly intense, due to other commitments and a lack of interesting subjects. Late fall just isn't all that photographically interesting to me and even 3 weeks into winter all we have here in Toronto is a colder late fall look.

That said, I am liking the D700 a fair bit. The ergonomics are great and the results are as well. It's a bit of a beast to carry around daily due to the size, but that is something I expected. A compact mirrorless system this is not, and I had gotten spoiled by the portability of those systems.

In terms of IQ I'm quite happy. Like the D200 I don't really miss the extra pixels of the newer bodies. For my actual uses, i.e. posting online and prints up to 16x24 in size, 10-12MP is actually just fine. Unlike the D200 I'm not losing the high ISO capabilities of the newer bodies, while the D700 does trail the current best of breed bodies, it's still better than any DX body at high ISO's and within shouting distance of the FX bodies. On the DR front it remains weaker than today's sensors, but is notably better than the D200. My D3200 is still my best body for DR, although the D700 is not really far behind it. I can still rescue more highlights with the D3200, but I can pull up more shadows with the D700, although some of that is my ability to shoot in 14 bit mode with the D700 (D3200 is 12bit only) which means I have more data in the shadows.

In terms of handling, I'm even happier. The D700 is damned near perfect for handling at that body size. The controls are well located and well chosen. It's still got a proper metering control around the AE-lock button unlike the newer bodies and the rest of the controls are well located. I'm naturally running AF on the AF-on button, and since two of the three AF lenses I use on a regular basis are AF-S, this works very well Unfortunately this works less well with screwdriver AF since there is no DMF mode in Nikon land.

On the lens side of things I have a pretty decent set of primes for everyday use. Currently I've got a 28, 100 and 135 manual focus primes, the 35/1.8DX (which covers FX for the most part) and the 50/1.8G as my regular kit. I've also got a 300/4.5 prime for long-lens work and a 19-35 and 70-300G zooms to cover the ranges outside my prime set. All do pretty well on the D700 except the 19-35 which is just not up to the demands of FX. I'll probably replace it with a 17-20mm prime since it really is just a 19mm prime as I use it. The 70-300G is somewhat of a surprise, it was a $50 insurance policy for last falls airshow, but it actually performs pretty decently if you avoid situations which generate lots of CA. I wouldn't try it on a high-MP body but on my low MP D700 and D200 it's quite acceptable for my rare usage in the 135-300mm range. For the future, I'm still undecided on whether or not to go all-in on modern Nikon AF glass or stick to classic manual focus lenses. My recent acquisitions (50G and 28/2.8 AI) split the difference. I am leaning to a mix for now, primarily MF with a couple duplications in AF land for when I want the convenience, like a 50.