Monday 23 December 2019

A Few thoughts on FF Mirrorless Today

Last Touches of Green 
Sony A7 II, Nikkor 105mm f2.5 AI-S

So we're at the end of the first full year of competition in the FF mirrorless market. So where are we.

Sony remains the clear leader, having benefited from the competition largely targeting their long-running A7 mkII series in terms of features and performance, despite Sony launching the A7RIII in late 2017 and the A7III in 2018. Now 2019 saw the A7RIV and A9II arrive, and the A7RIV certainly sets a new standard for high-MP bodies, although the A9II truly is little more than an optimization of the A9 design, adding little, but removing a lot of the rough edges of the first generation model.

Sony continues to both round out their lens line and garner increased 3rd party support, especially with Tamron truly coming into the game with their new lens lineup (up to 5 FF lenses, with 6+ more coming) and Samyang turning into a real player in the AF market.

Nikon seems to have quietly become the default alternative. Their bodies are good, but look deliberately designed to come in below the equivalent DSLR body. That works OK with the D850 vs Z7 mix, but the D750 is so much cheaper than the Z6, and arguably more camera in most regards (except video). The lens lineup is steadily growing and aside from the silly 58mm f0.95 it's a very sane and well laid out lens line and growing steadily. The new Z50 is to the D7500 much as the Z6 is to the D750. Nice little body, but some obvious deliberate limitations on features vs a body which is now decidedly cheaper. The FTZ is a solid adapter, but Nikon should do a cheaper ETZ adapter that only works with E lenses to drive adoption of their E lenses on Z mount. This would match up particularly well with exotic lenses like the 105/1.4E and the PF superteles. Nikon really needs to do something to start driving 3rd party support. The Tamron & Samyang small lenses would be great additions for the system.

Canon has launched a dream lens line for the serious shooter, and paired it with two bodies that don't make sense in context. I think their basic RP body is a really nice alternative to the A7II as a discount body, but it lacks a really decent set of kit lenses to match up (Sony at least has the 28-70, but lacks a FE 70-xxx lens to match). The R body seems kinda like a UI test mule that Canon stuffed into production to meet an unexpected release timeline. Not bad, but some odd UI bits that aren't well integrated (mostly the touch bar) and it's otherwise a slightly crippled 5DIV. Canon needs a body that matches their lenses and lenses to match the RP body. Canon's also seen the beginnings of 3rd party support thanks to their reuse of a lot of EF mount engineering.

Panasonic launched 3 bodies, matching Sony's generalist, high-res and video specialized A7 variants. And those bodies promptly sank out of sight almost immediately. The bodies are well designed, but huge, the lenses are huge and insanely priced (and are still cheaper than the alternative Leica lenses) and the lack of any usable Continuous AF at a point where the primary differentiating performance factor in mirrorless is continuous AF performance results in a very good system that just couldn't get any traction.

Sigma did join the market with a very nice little video-oriented body also in L mount, a first for Sigma (best known for their terrible SA mount cameras). And this time it's actually using a proper Bayer sensor instead of the Foveon stuff they were peddling before. Leica also released a new body, but it's basically a SL body with a Panasonic S1R stuffed in, although with Panasonic & Sigma now in L mount, Leica's offerings more practical now and while overpriced the Panasonic lenses are much more reasonable than Leica's own.

Where does that leave me?

Sony for the foreseeable future, although I could transition to Nikon at some point if I don't get too deep into native FE glass. Who knows, I like the Nikon ergos better, but overall the Sony ecosystem fits my needs better for now.

Friday 20 December 2019

December Update

Ice on the Beaver
Sony A7II, FE 28-70 f3.5-5.6 OSS

The Beaver River in Cannington, ON, frozen over.

I'm up around 900 shots on the A7II at this point, and overall it's working out for me fairly well. Very definitely in the comfort zone now, but that was pretty much immediate since it's only been a year since I sold my previous one.

I've had it for 6 weeks or so, so at 900 images I'm a little light on shooting activity compared to what I've done over the summer and early/mid-fall, but that's mostly due to work and the usual late fall blahs. I'm busy, it's cold & dark after work and it's mostly been a dead zone in terms of subject matter until the snow fell. I just have no interest in shooting bare trees and brown soil.

Overall most shooting has been with the kit lens, with some using my Nikkor 50/1.8D and Nikkor 55/3.5 Micro. I have got out my other manual lenses a little, and finally got some time with my Nikkor-H 28/3.5, Super-Takumar 35/3.5, Nikkor-S.C 5cm f1.4 LTM and ZOOM-Nikkor 50-135/3.5 AI-S.

I do like working with the A7II and manual primes. I find the FE 28-70 kit zoom to be acceptable, but there's no love there (nor hate). The 50-135 really sucks to work with. It's actually pretty good in terms of IQ, but the long minimum focus distance everywhere except 50mm, the horrid zoom slop, even for a push-pull zoom and how finicky it can be for focus just makes the experience of using it to be a right PITA. Add in that there's no IBIS unless I'm willing to accept the crapshoot of the IBIS setting and zoom focal length not matching and the end result is I need to replace it with something, or ideally a few somethings.

The ideal replacements would be a 70-200/4 AF for zoom work (likely the Canon L non-IS) and 85, 100/105 and 135mm primes for manual focus use. I'll likely start with either a 100/2.8 Series E or a SMC Takumar 135/3.5, then get the zoom, then fill out the range.

I also need a UWA option. My original plan was the upcoming Tamron 20/2.8, however it looks like the manual focus experience for that lens is going to suck (based on the new 35/2.8 and 24/2.8 reviews) so I may just get a Nikkor 20 AI-S instead. Don't really need AF for that lens anyways.

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Winter on the Gull

Winter on the Gull 
Sony A7II, FE 28-70 f3.5-5.6 OSS

This colourful shot was from my first real photo ramble with the A7II, taken in Minden on the Gull River in the Kawarthas.

I only took about 200 shots on this drive, but that was a combination of not passing any good hiking spots and general winter limits, plus a relatively short drive (left in mid-morning rather than well before sunrise). I was shooting from the car mostly, ie stop, get out, grab a few shots, get back in and drive on. That tends to result in less shots compared to my other style of photo ramble, where I'm doing a fair bit of hiking outside the car. I tend to shoot a lot when hiking, but only grab 3-4 shots per stop when doing the drive+shoot style ramble.

Saturday 9 November 2019

A7II - One Week on the Second Go

One Tree 
Sony A7 II, Nikkor 50mm f1.8D

So I'm a week and around 450 images into the second time through with the A7II.

Things are going a little better this time. A lot of that is simply in the fact that I actually own an AF lens this time around, the FE 28-70 OSS is getting a lot of use. Most of the rest is simply in the fact that I've managed to keep my shooting interest up for most of  the year. I'm at a little less than 1/3 of the images I took with the A7II last year, in only a week.

I'd had 3 main complaints with the A7II the first time.

1. Battery life. After a year shooting with the X-T1 and E-M1/E-M5II pair I have a different take on it. The battery life on the A7II is just enough better than the Fuji or Oly bodies that it's noticeable. Putting the on/off back where it belongs does help manage battery life, as does the relatively fast start time. Much different experience than coming from the long-lived D800.

2. The over-sensitive EVF/LCD switch sensor. Yep, still annoying. It triggers at around twice the distance it should and doesn't disable when the screen is flipped out.

3. The buried format menu option. Still mildly annoying but no worse than Oly or Fuji. Nowhere near as nice as Nikon though. Not really annoying after a year with equally bad menus on other systems.

I do have a new item to add though, Sony's horrid Imaging Edge Mobile app. Whoever wrote this needs to be condemned to actually using it as their only interaction with a camera for a year.

The workflow for image transfer is actually really nice, you hit Fn while viewing an image, pick the images you want to transfer, trigger the transfer, then select the wifi network on your mobile, start the app, watch everything flow over and go from there. This is much nicer than the Fuji and Oly apps.

The downside? 50% or more of the time, the images disappear after the transfer is concluded, meaning you have to repeat the process 1-2 times before you can actually do anything with the transferred images.

Now for camera remote control, it's just a mess. No real control over camera settings, lousy framerates, poor UI and poor focus control. And with the mkIII's and later you lose tap to focus. I guess there's a reason why there's a half-dozen alternative apps for this (one of which I will most certainly buy)

The app, which replaced the already lousy Playmemories app, is just a complete gong show. At a moment where the competition is very rapidly getting better Sony not only got worse, but managed to make the one thing the app did well almost completely unreliable.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

A Pleasant Discovery

Hidden Spider
Panasonic G3, Nikon Series E 100mm f2.8

Not the spider in the picture above, but finding out that manual focus lens prices have come back down to reality after a long bubble driven by the video crowd.

I was very happy to find out that I can again get 100/2.8 Series E's for $100, and 24/2.8 AI-S's for under $200. There's a number of F mount and M42 mount lenses that I regret selling and now I can slowly re-buy them for more than reasonable amounts.

Monday 4 November 2019

Oops, I Did It Again

Knocked On 
Sony A7 II, Nikkor 50mm f1.8D

Well, I succumbed to the lure of Full Frame again, for a few reasons. Traded in my Oly kit and came home with a new Sony A7II and FE 28-70 OSS and a little leftover store credit.

Why did I do this? A couple reasons.

For starters, we're going into the winter darks, and that means that all my after-work shooting will be after sunset. The Oly bodies are at their weakest here, especially when you get above ISO 1600. The reality is that is the real-world limit for getting really usable results from them, something I'd been hesitant to accept. The A7 is better at ISO 6400 than the E-M5II was at 1600. I needed something that was comfortable shooting in those conditions to get through the winter.

Second, I'd already been looking at what body I should plan for to get around the set of challenges I'd identified with the 16MP m43 bodies, mostly around short telephoto work in lowish light in the forest. What shocked me was the realization that the cheapest usable option was Sony FF, not APS-C or a newer m43 body. The A7II kit is actually cheaper than the E-M5III body only, and comparable in price to getting a Fuji X-T20 kit or Nikon Z50 kit. That's just insane. Combine the cheaper body with the fact that there's a surprising selection of modern, native and inexpensive glass for the Sony, with that selection being wider and cheaper than what's available in the crop systems and that just flips the whole FF cost/benefit ratio on its head. Most of these lenses have shown up in the last 18 months or so, with some being not even on the market quite yet (Tamron's upcoming f2.8 compact 20, 24 and 35mm lenses aren't yet out for example and the 20 at least is a must-buy for me). But Tamron and Samyang have been killing it here, and Sony's set of base FE lenses may be limited, but they're well targeted.

I'd not been looking at FF originally because I thought the economics didn't work. That remains true by and large for FF if DSLR's are off the table. The Nikon Z and PanaSigmaLeica L mount systems don't have any cheap entry level options and due to the poor lens line the EOS RP (a great handling little body for a great price) has no viable lenses without relying on the EF adapter for all your glass except the 35/1.8 Macro. But Sony's choice to keep their older A7 bodies in production and get aggressive on pricing has resulted in a value inversion compared to crop frame options. If you don't shoot fast action, and I don't, an A7II is just a lot more camera than an A6x00, Z50, X-T20/X-T30, or any EOS M or m43 body, and it's cheaper out the door. That's resulted in a boom in inexpensive but good enough glass for FE mount that has not followed to Z, R or L mounts as of yet.

Third, the Sony files let me get in a single shot the same sort of DR I needed to use HDR multishot to get with Oly. I generally didn't mind that, but I can definitely work more efficiently now. I liked the results I was getting, but I was mildly frustrated by the shots I was missing that I probably wouldn't have missed with APS-C or FF. Now I recently described the A7II files as kinda crappy, but before I made the decision I did take a close look at them. The out of camera colour is definitely a big miss, but the dynamic range and detail most certainly is excellent and the colour is fairly easily tweaked in CaptureOne, the files are actually noticeably easier to work on than the Olympus files because of the better data quality. They really look worse at first glance than they actually are. The D600 and D800 files are still better but the A7II to D600 gap is pretty much down to just the default colour rendering.

What am I giving up? Really good sealing, some ergonomics (the E-M1 is just better sorted ergonomically than the A7II), lens size (FF is just bigger in most cases), the touchscreen UI and that brilliant little 9-18 zoom.

What am I getting? Around 3 stops more working room in ISO (2 at the high end, 1 at the low end due to the lower base ISO), 1.5 to 2 stops of DR, my old lens collection becomes much more usable as the wide-ish lenses are now viable for adaptation (28/2.5, 35/3.5) plus my 50-135/3.5 is a more useful range. Oh, and a pretty solid system future. I don't need to worry about whether my investment will still be viable in the future, Sony is the dominant player in FF mirrorless and will remain a viable player for years, while m43 is really on the cusp of becoming a stagnant system with very little development going on since 2017.

So yes, the A7II has become the first FF digital body that I've owned 2 copies of. I even actually bought new this time, they're so inexpensive that going used made no economic sense. Lets see if I manage to take 7500+ images with it, like I did over the last 4 months with the Oly kit. And this time I got an AF lens, so I think I'll take a miss on my biggest frustration with the A7II last year. I like shooting manual lenses, but I don't like being stuck shooting manual lenses.

And on another note, 200 shots into the A7II's career and I've now exceeded my stretch goal of 10233 images for the year. I'm very happy with that.

Saturday 2 November 2019

Cheap FX for Nikon Shooters

D600, Nikkor 24-50mm f3.3-4.5 AF

Sidewalk Flower 
D700, Series E 100mm f2.8

Today, the D600 and D700 have gotten decidedly cheap on the used market. So if you are looking at them, what are the pro's & cons  of each?


Image Quality. The 24MP Sony sensor is simply better in all regards than the older 12MP sensor. It's also semi-usable in DX mode at 11.5MP
Live View. While neither of these two bodies has a great live view experience, the D600's is more useful
Battery. The D600 uses the newer and larger capacity EN-EL15, if nothing else this battery is future-proof for now as pretty much all the enthusiast bodies from Nikon use it, including the Z6 and Z7.
UI. Most people prefer the model dial to the mode buttons, and The U banks are a lot easier to work with than the dual banks of the pro bodies
Lens compatibility. It can use the 70-300E AF-P, the D700 can't.
SD card slot. Yeah, you can use modern cards in it, not obsolete CF

Ergonomics. The grip is poor and the handling inferior to the 'Pro' style D700. Also there's no AF-On/AE-Lock split, they're a single shared button
Robustness. The D600 is built like a D7100, it's good but not great
AF. None of the bodies with the 39 point unit is known for great AF performance.


Build. It's built almost as well as a D3, being essentially a full frame D300
Speed. With the grip and an EN-EL4 or AA battery set it's an 8fps body, only the D850 can match it for speed in the selection of gripped FX bodies
Accessories. It uses the 10 pin interface that all the higher-end Nikons since the F4 and F90 have used.
Ergonomics. They're simply excellent.
AF. The 51 point AF unit is well known for its excellent performance. Even today it's a great performer.

IQ. The 12MP is simply limited in DR and resolution compared to modern sensors. Even a DX camera today delivers better IQ in most situations.
Live View. The LV experience sucks. It's basically useless except for manual focus on a tripod. The D600 isn't great, but it is better
Lens compatibility. You get E lenses, you don't get any AF-P. That writes off the excellent 70-300E AF-P, Nikon's best value in a telephoto zoom.
Battery & Cards. Uses the long obsolete EN-EL3e and CF cards. Not great unless you're sitting on stock (which admittedly I am, I have 5-6 perfectly good EN-EL3e's and a bunch of decent CF cards)

As to the D610? Well it comes close enough to street price on the D800 that I'd just suggest getting a D800 instead. It's really just a D600 with the shutter fix guaranteed to be included, but any D600 with the shutter oil issue should have had the free fix from Nikon by now.

Friday 1 November 2019

Looking Back at Full Frame

Snow On King 
D800, Series E 50mm f1.8

I took a look back at the four Full Frame bodies I've owned over the last few days. I've owned three of the Nikon FX bodies, the D600, D700 and D800, in that (slightly ironic) order, additionally I've had Sony's A7II.

The D600 was my first attempt at full frame. I owned only for a couple months. The files I got from it were excellent, great IQ, lovely colour and the D600+Sigma 105/2.8 pairing in particular was just gangbusters. The downsides were the ergonomics, which were marginal, and I had a weather sealing issue with it.

The D700 was a great beast of a body, everything I disliked about the D600 wasn't an issue with the D700. However the files are merely good. The old 12MP sensor is old enough that the IQ just doesn't stand out. It's pretty good, but I couldn't justify getting a D700 over say a D7200 or D7500 today.

The D800 files are outstanding, just absolutely the best files I've ever had. I have good memories of the body as well. The downside was weight, as I'd been using it as a carry camera which it simply doesn't do well at, and manual focusing, it was marginal with my 28/3.5 AI'd and my Zeiss 85 Planar. I sold the body instead of the lenses, when I should have done the opposite. As great as the Zeiss was, the D800 + Nikkor 85/1.8G would have been better than the Zeiss 85+ A7II.

The A7II doesn't really stand up. The files are simply meh, resolution is good, noise is good, results simply do not excite me. The colour is what stands out, but not in a good way. The handling was OK, nothing to crow about, but not particularly awesome either.

In hindsight, I should have kept the D800 last year, and sold the 85/1.4 Planar instead. Combine that with a decent light carry option (which the NEX-7 almost achieved) and I would have been in a good place overall.

I need to put some serious thought into this, as a D800 + E-M5II could readily achieve that pairing for me. I'd need a couple lenses for this, but the 18-35G, 50/1.8G and a 105 macro would cover most of that (add a 70-300E and everything I need on FF would really be covered)

Wednesday 23 October 2019

What Do I Need To Care About?

Dusk at Big Chute 
Spillway at Big Chute

E-M1,  m.Zuiko 12-50 EZ

So if I'm going to take a badly needed break from obsessing about what camera I'm shooting, where and what do I need to spend some time considering?

First up is shooting technique.

There's some areas I really need to work on, starting with the use of filters. If I'm going to continue concentrating on landscape and wilderness work I need to up my filter game. I generally do not shoot with any filtration, aside from the occasional polarizer use. The first step here is to invest in some ND filters, and eventually a set of ND grads.

As I'm also doing a fair bit of detail/macro work while I'm out in the bush, I need to step up my game there. That means mostly improving my lighting work, which I've started on by getting an actual (almost) modern flash, the Olympus FL-36R, allowing me to do off camera flash to light small details. That also means getting (and carrying) a proper macro lens, probably the Sigma 150/2.8 in 4/3rds mount. Focus stacking is something I need to work on here as well, which means getting and learning Helicon Focus.

Third is using the tripod more. I've added a small Sirui Arca-Swiss ballhead to my Manfrotto 290 legs, which are small & light and ideally suited to use with my small Olympus bodies. I need to get L-brackets, a Platypod and heads for the Platypod & my larger Manfrotto 055XProB so I can get more flexibility. The Platypod is key, as I really like low-angle work and that will solve my biggest issues working down low which right now involves putting the camera on the ground or lots of crouching (an issue for a guy who already has bad knees)

Fourth is bags. I need two of them, initially I need a day hiking bag. This needs to have enough space for my basic kit as planned, some food, a camelback water pouch and assorted gear bits. I need this pretty quickly. Longer-term I need a larger pack for overnighting. That will form the basis of a overnight hiking kit so I can get further away from the car. Of course then I'll need a tent, sleeping bag, cooking kit & incidentals. The first bag needs to be photography-centric while I expect the second one will be a hiking pack with a camera insert.

I'm hoping to do more hiking & even some camping next year, so I'll likely steadily invest in the necessary gear for that to be done comfortably.

Sunday 20 October 2019

What Next?

Above the Rapids 
Above the Oxtongue Rapids

E-M1, m.Zuiko 12-50 EZ

So if I'm going to do the smart thing and stick with m43, what does that mean for planned gear acquisitions? My current kit covers the basics, but I'm regularly bouncing off its limits these days.

An E-M1.2 or E-M5III is in my future. Probably the E-M1.2 unless the E-M5III price crashes as a used E-M1.2 gets me more of what I need than the E-M5III (most notably in terms of battery life) and will cost me less.



50-200 f2.8-3.5 SWD
12-40/2.8 Pro

Nice to have:

EC14 and EC20 TC's
Sigma 150 macro
Leica 8-18 f2.8-4
Assorted primes for everyday use (7.5mm Laowa, Oly 12/2, PL 15/1.7, P42.5/1.7, Oly 75/1.8)
12-100/4 Pro, PL 100-400

Assorted other gear


ND filters. REALLY need a good set of ND's (4, 6, 8 & 10 stop)

Nice to have
ND Grads, better quality Polarizers, Better quality holder. Staying with 84/85mm setup for now as I have some Cokin kit around and the holders are decent even if the filters are trash.
Platypod (really neat near ground level/mountable tripod) with the accessory kit
2-ish Arca Swiss-compatible ballheads. Thinking a midsize Sirui for the Platypod and going all-out on an Acratech for my Manfrotto 055XPRO4 legs.

Where am I going to concentrate?

ND Filter(s)
12-40 Pro
Platypod/Sirui head

in pretty much that order, the other stuff is more long-distance dreaming. A body maybe next year.

Saturday 19 October 2019

A Breath of Reality

Fall Pasture 
Farm on Golden Beach Rd, west of Bracebridge

E-M1, m.Zuiko 12-50 EZ

For all the systems angst I've been having lately, it doesn't mean much in the field.

I got up to the Muskokas yesterday for some fall colours. 15 hours of driving and shooting later I came home with a lot of images, around 750 on the E-M1 and another 100 or so with the E-M5II. Usually things are more balanced but I was working with subject matter that best suited the 12-50 rather than the 9-18. I normally have the 9-18 basically glued to the E-M5II, while any other lenses end up on the E-M1, and that means if the other lenses are mostly used, the E-M1 gets all the work. Spent the day with the 12-50 EZ mostly welded to the E-M1 and most of the other shots were with the 40-150R on the E-M1.

While I was out, I noticed 2 real gaps in my system, and only one was body side. The first was I really do need a better telephoto than the 40-150R. It's a great little lens, but it's only 150 at the long end, is f5.6 at the long end and focuses fairly slowly. I ran into all 3 as issues yesterday trying to shoot Chipmunks & Squirrels in the woods. The second was AF performance in low light/low contrast situations. The E-M1 + 40-150R combo struggled to lock on at times. These are two separate issues, as the former kept driving me to ISO6400, while the latter caused lost shots from misfocus or failure to lock.

In both cases the first solution is to get a 50-200 SWD. It's longer (400mm equivalent before TC), supports TC's (1.4 for 280mm at f4.5 effective, 2x for 400mm at f7 effective, both at 200mm), focuses faster than the 40-150R and gives more light for the AF system to work with. I already have the weather-sealed adapter (MMF-3) so I'm good overall. The second issue would also be helped by getting an E-M1.2 or E-M5III to get cross-type PDAF instead of the line type that the E-M1 has. In neither case do I need a non-m43 solution.

I also could really have used a stop or two more on the 12-50 EZ as well, but that didn't result in lost shots, unlike the 40-150R.

On the drive back, I spent some time thinking. I can spend money Chasing the Dragon again, or I can just buy glass that solves the problems in question. I know there's good reason why I keep coming back to m43 (and also what draws me to Fuji) and I need to run with it rather than chasing capabilities in other systems that don't actually solve needs I have. I can't justify going full frame, and if I don't I'm pretty much stuck with m43 or Fuji, and as much as I do like Fuji, m43 covers my needs a touch better (and definitely for less money).

Sunday 13 October 2019

The Last Frame

The Last Stop

Fujifilm X-T1, XF 23mm f2 WR

This was the last image I ever took with the X-T1, less than 12 hours later it would be gone from my kit.

This is one of the rare cases where I sold on a camera I very much liked, and got along with very well. And I sold it for a somewhat unusual reason, the need for one specific lens, a compact UWA zoom. Oly's 9-18 was made almost exactly for my needs (I just wish it was 8mm on the wide end and sealed).

I really like the Fuji system today. The Fujicron's are brilliant, the bodies are well sorted and the rest of the lens lineup works with a couple exceptions.

The exceptions are:

1. The XC 50-230 is about twice the cost it should be. Decent lens, should be $200USD retail not double that.

2. No consumer UWA, the 10-24/4 is great (but needs a WR update) but spendy, the 8-16 is even better, but even spendier. There should be a compact XC 12-24 or 10-18 for around $400 (like the Nikkor 10-20VR DX in F mount).

3. No consumer fast prime. Again, as great as the Fujicrons are, the guy buying an X-A or X-Tx00 body is looking for a $200 fast prime like the Panasonic 25/1.7, the Nikkor 35/1.8DX or the Canon 22/2. I think if Fuji shrank the 35/1.4 to a 35/1.8 design and rehoused it in plastic it would be perfect. It doesn't need to be as small as the 35/2, or sealed, or as well built, or as fast to focus. Just cheap & decent. 

Aside from that Fuji does still need to fill the gaps. They need an 80-300 to pair with the 16-80, they need a 135 prime and a 300/4 prime quickly, and a 200-600 zoom for the wildlife guys who need more reach than the 100-400 delivers.  But those are mostly lenses I'd not buy anytime soon.

In another note, the second last X-T1 pic I posted was one of two of my images to hit explore today. Very happy with that, I've never had 2 images in Explore on the same day before. I'm up to 12 images in Explore for the year, 2 less than my previous record from over a decade ago.

I've also been thinking seriously about what's driving my system angst. The reality is aside from a couple edge cases around telephoto performance, the m43 system I have now delivers very well, and frankly even if the E-M5III turns out to be underwhelming, at the likely cost of it I'd be better off just getting an E-M1.2 off the used market to replace the E-M1. After some research I'm also convinced that getting a 4/3rds 50-200SWD will also alleviate a lot of my challenges in this area, at a fairly low cost. They aren't repairable, but you can buy 4-5 of them for the cost of a PL50-200 and TC's are cheap and superb for these.

The other thing that seems to be driving my system angst is having something to play with old glass on as m43 is not really a great adaptation platform unless you really like manual focus telephotos (which I'm not exactly big on, being a wide guy mostly). Not sure I really want to invest in that even if I do like old glass. I think I need to hold off there unless I trip over the right deal on a 2nd gen A7 or A7R or maybe a D800. But that would be a toy, not a primary camera, much like my FE is today (and frankly, my D300 is the same, a toy for occasional use). Alternatively I might just get another Fuji and a Speedbooster. I do love the X-T series, the pricing is right (an X-T2 costs about the same as a D800 or A7II) and that would give me FF equivalence when using the Speedbooster, and APS-C reach using my current adapters. Might even justify eventually getting the Fujicron set, but nothing much more for a secondary system.

Friday 11 October 2019

A Lovely View

First Signs of Fall

E-M1, m.Zuiko 12-50

So I'm still suffering from some system angst. Don't get me wrong, for the most part the m43 kit is working quite well for me.

The challenge is really how long will that remain the case.

Nikon's now announced their first APS-C mirrorless body, the Z50. It's solidly mid-range but does add a couple higher-end bits like dual control wheels and the kit zoom is impressively tiny. Not 14-42 EZ tiny, but respectably close.

The specs have also leaked on next weeks E-M5 III announcement, and they fail to impress. It really looks like Olympus stuffed the E-M1II's now 3 year old sensor and processor into an E-M10III body with weather sealing and a bit bigger EVF. The UI honestly looks like something of a downgrade over the mkII, the EVF is smaller, the battery is smaller and there's really no capability evolution based on what's known now. No Live ND or Handheld Highres. Unless there's a real surprise next week on items not in the spec list leak I just don't see what I'd get out of getting this body. And since this would be the body I'd otherwise be looking at as an eventual replacement for my current E-M1, that brings up the question of what do I replace the E-M1 with.

I spent some time in a camera store today looking over my options. Frankly, a DSLR is just out, I'm not interested in the large body and heavy weight. Sony has nothing I'd be happy with short of the very spendy A7RIV. I was quite pleasantly surprised by how nice the EOS RP handles, a pity that there's no small & compact lenses in the system at all. the EOS M stuff is a dead end, and I don't like the handling that much.  I already know I like the handling on the Fuji and Nikon mirrorless bodies but Fuji has a couple gaps in their lens line and Nikon basically doesn't have a lens line in APS-C. That will change, but not quick enough for this cycle.

I came home with the conclusion that regardless of how things are going with Oly's body development, there's nothing better out there for my needs. I could see a return in the future to Fuji or maybe Nikon, depending on how things evolve there. frankly if Fuji brings a WR UWA to match the 16-80, it would be pretty much all set for me.

Monday 30 September 2019

A Lock and Some Thoughts

The Dam at Lock 2 
E-M1, m.Zuiko 12-50

Lock 2 on the Trent-Severn Canal, north of Trenton, ON

2 months into m43 and I'll admit I'm having a little system angst. I'm still loving the E-M5II as a light carry setup, but can't help but think the E-M1 isn't quite delivering as a high end body in my usual high/low mix. the reality is I'm just not seeing any real-world performance advantages to the E-M1 beyond slightly better handling with big lenses. I'm also hitting certain lens limitations quicker with what I tend to use the E-M1 for (particularly aperture limits on the 40-150R)

That said, when I look at my alternatives, m43 still keeps coming out on top. I just don't want to haul another kilo of kit to get fairly marginal increases in performance for 90% of my uses.

I think the answer is going to end up being acquiring a couple 4/3rds lenses. The two I'd be looking at are the Sigma 150/2.8 Macro and the Olympus 50-200 SWD. That would net me a real gain in capability, better AF-C on the E-M1 and would work well with a pair of higher-end native lenses (to be acquired later), specifically the 12-40 Pro and PanaLeica 8-18. And in the case of the 50-200, it would likely later get replaced with a native lens (either the 40-150 Pro or the PL50-200).

The alternative is to go to a real high/low mix, most likely another D800 combined with the current m43 kit. I'd probably go minimalist on the D800 kit, starting off with an UWA and normal zoom and that's it, then add a 70-300E and collect some AI glass for giggles. The alternative here would be to look for a A7R or A7RII instead of the D800. But I don't think I could get in for the same money, and the D800 (or a D810 for A7RII money) would be able to replace my D300 fully as well.

Tuesday 17 September 2019

A Painterly Sky

Blue on Blue 
E-M1, m.Zuiko 9-18

Bond Head @ Newcastle, ON at dusk

Loved the look in the sky that evening. So much colour looking over Lake Ontario.

This was from a day of much photography, as I drove up through the Kawartha's doing a big loop and shooting along the way. Ended the day in Newcastle, ON before heading home after dark on the 401.

Monday 9 September 2019

Grey County Sunset

Grey Sunset 
E-M1, m.Zuiko 12-50

Well, I think I can pretty much call all of my goals for 2019 as achieved.

I checked off new location number 7 for the year yesterday, I have 300 curated shots in the to be developed pool and over 180 posted for the year, I'm seeing a steady 1000 views a day on Flickr and I've passed my shooting goal for 2019 by over 300 images and it's still mid-September.

In terms of gear, the E-M1 has now exceeded the X-T1 for shots counted, becoming the #4 most used mirrorless body, with the E-M5II trailing slightly behind it, although again, just a tad more use than the X-T1. If I count the shots from the original E-M1, I'm somewhere over 3000 images total on the body.

Current goals:

1. Add two more new locations to the list for 2019, bringing me to 9 total and 50% more than the original goal
2. Exceed 10233 shots for the year, to officially return to my former active shooting ways. That was my 2012 total, right before things dropped off.
3. Keep my current bodies long enough for them to achieve a significant frame count (with significant being defined as more than the ~5600 images taken with my original E-M5). Given that the E-M5II is a current body and the E-M1 for the most part covers my needs, I think this is achievable. I can see upgrading one of these bodies next year, but frankly they meet my needs pretty well overall.

Tuesday 3 September 2019

One Goal Down

Smoke Lake Tree 
E-M5 II, m.Zuiko 9-18

This weekend I knocked off locations 4, 5 &6 of my goal to shoot at 6 entirely new locations this year.

They are:

1. Sutton, ON
2. Fenelon Falls, ON
3. Bond Head at Newcastle, ON
4. Orillia, ON
5. Huntsville, ON
6. Algonquin Park on the Highway 60 corridor.

That's one of my 3 major goals for the year, and with 270 shots in my selects folder, the goal of producing 365 quality images can be called complete as well. That leaves maintaining 1000 views a day average on Flickr, which I am reliably achieving. And with 6900 images total for the year, I expect my unofficial goal of 7220 images will wrap up in the next couple weeks.

In gear terms, both of my bodies are now right around 2000 frames each, and solidly in Stage 3/Comfort of the 3 Stages of Camera Ownership

I've found that when working with both, I pretty naturally seem to leave the 9-18 on the E-M5 II and swap out lenses on the E-M1 as needed. That matches up to the E-M1's better handling with longer/heavier lenses while the tiny E-M5 II/9-18 combo works outstandingly.

Now what remains is to keep a steady cadence of shooting through until mid-fall. I inevitably take a break between the end of fall colour and the arrival of the winter's snow, simply because it's a photographic dead zone for me (the gap between spring melt and the first flowers is as well)

Thursday 29 August 2019

Micro 43rds Take Four - One Month in

King of the Hill 
E-M5 II, 40-150 f4-5.6 R

Yes, this is my fourth entry into Micro 4/3rds. I had the G1 in 2009, the E-M5 in 2012, the G3/E-M1/GX7 in 2015/2016 and now I'm back again.

The above image is the sixth of seven images I've had hit Explore on Flickr this year, and the second of those shot with Oly kit. I'm still uploading from the Fuji archive every second day so the most recent Explore hit was a Fuji shot from the archive.

I'm now just over a month into my return to shooting micro 4/3rds and things are going very well. I've been able to acquire the 9-18 that helped drive my initial change as well as getting a second body (an E-M1) and the neat little 14-42 EZ pancake zoom, although the latter came solely because the seller wouldn't split it from the E-M1.

Frame counts are climbing steadily, I'm at 1750 on the E-M5 II and an additional 500 on the E-M1, for a total equal to what I shot on the X-T1 between February and July. That puts me just shy of 4900 images for the year and less than 2400 shy of my unofficial goal of 7220 images for 2019.

After acquiring the E-M1, I took the Fotodiox grip off the E-M5 II and with the 14-42 and 9-18 it's making a tiny but excellent everyday carry kit. I setup the E-M1 to be as close as I could to the E-M5 II's control layout and it's working nicely. I couldn't quite match the layouts due to the lack of one option on the older E-M1, but as it comes with a couple extra Fn buttons and the missing function put 2 controls on one button (one per wheel), it's a wash. I also came to the realization that as long as I don't use it as a bag camera (or put it back in a bag while turned on), the issue with changing settings from the left shoulder buttons becomes moot. As that was my primary UI issue with the E-M1 I owned back in 2015, things are going better now. Having the far more capable E-M5 II as an alternate choice as a bag camera, vs the Panasonic G3, helps as I have little incentive to try and haul the E-M1 around all the time. Yes, that makes the notionally higher-end body my backup for all intents & purposes, but hey, it works. The better base setup I've developed makes the Oly's work much better for me than they have in the past in terms of getting out of my way while shooting. Really wish I'd tried a similar setup back in 2015 on that E-M1, but I kept trying to set it up so everything was available rather than just making sure the few controls I actually use are directly available. It's not like I actually change more than a couple settings regularly.

One interesting note is that while the E-M1 is grossly superior in C-AF performance, the E-M5 II is noticeably better in S-AF performance, the E-M1 lags the E-M5 II in lockon speed.

In terms of shooting kits, the 9-18+14-42 set matches the E-M5 II most days, while the 9-18+12-50+40-150 forms the core of the E-M1 kit. The primes float as needed, and as I was able to acquire an MMF-3 adapter for 4/3rds lenses I can now use my Nikon->4/3rds adapters to give me a macro (55/3.5) and two telephoto options (200/4 and 300/4.5) on the rare occasion they are needed. They're pretty much E-M1 only for handling reasons, although the 300/4.5 can work with the E-M5 II on the tripod. Kinda would like to find a Sigma 150/2.8 macro one day, it's a unique lens in the system, the only AF macro longer than 60mm and the only one with real working distance.

In other goal-related notes, I'm now up to 3 of the 6 new locations that I was aiming for, with Sutton, Fenelon Falls and Coboconk added to the list. Should get a couple more this weekend. I'm well on track for both of my other goals for 2019.

Thursday 1 August 2019

This and That

Purple and Green 
E-M5 II, Sigma 19mm f2.8 DN Art

I've now settled into a basic shooting kit for the E-M5 II, I've got the 12-50 & 40-150 R from Olympus, the Panasonic 25/1.7 and the Sigma 19/2.8. That covers me from 24mm-e to 300mm-e, as well as a fast normal and fastish/wideish prime. Three of the four I've owned before (the P25/1.7 is the first copy I've owned) and all are good choices for competent but inexpensive lenses. None of these really is a standout optically except the Sigma 19. I've said bad things about the 12-50 before, but that was in comparison to its $600+ list price. For what I paid for my new copy (about half that before counting the trade-in, next to nothing with the trade-in) it's more than good enough. I just never thought the performance matched the cost.  And it really is good in macro mode.

That kit will last me for a while, and really is a lot more functional than what I had with the X-T1 (which mostly ended up being 35mm-e and 85mm-e primes, supplanted on occasion by a 24-75mm-e kit zoom. Good glass, but much less flexible than what I have now). the only real 'I want it now' items are a UWA zoom and a fast tele prime. Those will be the Oly 9-18 and the Sigma 56/1.4 almost assuredly as both are quite reasonably priced, compact and good.

As such, I've been shooting a lot of late. I'm also past 1300 exposures on the E-M5 II, and just under 4000 total for the year.

The grip on the E-M5 II is definitely lacking, although it's better than the original E-M5 mostly because of the more pronounced thumb grip. Due to this, I picked up a Fotodiox grip, which adds some real meat to the foregrip. For $40 it's a no-brainer. I would like an ECG-2 however, as that has the grip and an Arca-Swiss L bracket integrated. Much more expensive though.

I definitely miss the power switch of the X-T1, the left-side switch on the E-M5 II is annoying because it makes powering on the camera a 2 hand procedure. Given that the E-M5 II will totally power itself off when left on for a set period, this means that a camera that appears to the eye to be on can actually be off. The X-T1 would sleep, but still chew battery, when left on, leaving you with a dead battery eventually. Both are annoying, but the X-T1 was always in the state that you saw visually, the E-M5 II can lie to you and need a power cycle before shooting.

I've gotten a definite handle on the button setup, settling on using the Lever for the 2x2 interface on controlling AF mode. It selects between MF and C-AF modes, and I have S-AF on Fn1 in MF mode and AF-On on Fn1 in C-AF mode. Fn2 switches the dials to ISO & WB in push on/push off, instead of the useless Multimode. Fn3 is stock (display mode, switches between Info and LV modes for the rear LCD) and Fn4 becomes Magnification instead of HDR. DoF preview on the front remains stock and the Movie button is set to AF point mode/selection. I've yet to take the camera out of Aperture Priority and the locking Mode Dial is a godsend, at least one I realized the lock was push on/push off, not hold & twist. I've also not used any JPEG modes other than Vivid

Sunday 28 July 2019

E-M5 II at 1000

Stopping for Lunch 
 E-M5 II, m.Zuiko 40-150 f4-5.6 R

So 5 days of ownership , and I'm already over 1000 shots on the E-M5 II

Why so many, so quickly? The X-T1 took around 3 weeks to get to that shot count, and it climbed relatively fast.

The answer is that I've had the chance to do 4 serious photowalks since I acquired the E-M5 II on Monday, three of those were urban, and I came home with my usual 150 or so shots from 2-3 hours of walking. The last one was a park/nature walk and it was a dream day for bug shooting, which tends to end up driving a high shot count (they can be difficult little buggers to shoot, pun intended, and I tend to end up taking 4-5 shots per bug to ensure I get something usable). I just got home from that one after almost 6 hours of walking with a little over 500 images to go through. Note I also got 2 good photowalks in last weekend with the X-T1 prior to trading it in, so it went out with 2100 shots on the clock, which is better than most of the bodies I've had in the last few years (and exceeds all the other Fuji's I've owned, combined).

Now usually exceeding 1000 shots would mean that a camera had passed the Equivocation zone (stage 2 of my 3 Stages of Camera Ownership) but I'm not sure with the E-M5 II, it's half in Comfort and half in New Toy, with no Equivocation. The reality is that it definitely has its weaknesses (AF-C performance is somewhere in the bad joke territory, battery life is low, menus are way too complex) but like the X-T1, those weaknesses generally have little effect on my actual shooting. I got comfortable with using it remarkably quickly, and it actually has gotten out of my way, which is not something I remember the E-M5 or E-M1 doing, although I suspect if I set up the E-M1 like I have the E-M5II setup that it would be more transparent. I've learned a few things about camera setup in the 4 years since I sold the E-M1.

So far the E-M5 II is working very well for me. It helps that all 3 of my lenses are working well, with the 25/1.7 in particular showing its strengths as a close-in lens compared to the XF 23/2 (which was at its weakest close in and wide open). The 40-150R has also proven yet again that it's just shockingly good for its unbelievably low cost (remember, this is a $150 slow kit zoom lens, bought new). All three lenses I own are incredible bargains for their performance. The 25/1.7 is definitely growing on me even though it's the weakest of the three optically, it's just a nice all-round performance with pleasant rendering even if it isn't as sharp as the other 25's in m43 mount.

I definitely don't have a full working kit yet, but I can see a straight path to one now, and for an investment I'm a lot more comfortable with. Next steps look like the 9-18 and a mid-range zoom (likely either another 12-50EZ or the Panasonic 12-60)

Saturday 27 July 2019

Progress Report - 2019 Goals

Curls of Doom 
X-T1, XC 16-50 OIS II

Where am I at in terms of Goals?

For Goal 1, 365 high quality images, I'm solidly on track to succeed at that, at about 200 images right now.

For Goal 2, Raise my average views to 1500, I'd actually succeeded at that until Flickr's Month of Hell. It looks like they have re-jiggered the view counter after all their troubles, so I'm resetting that goal to 1,000 views a day as Flickr has reduced the miscounting of their algorithm (it used to be you'd see 2 views on the daily total for every view recorded on an image, now it's not quite 1:1).

For Goal 3, I'm still 0 for 6 new locations. Looking to fix that over the back half of the year. I've some time off coming soon, so I hope to knock 1-2 of these off during that.

And for the volume goal, I'm now at 3,600 shots of a goal of 7220, leaving me to get another 3600 shots or so. I think that's quite achievable as long as I can stay shooting steadily. I'm more than on track to exceed last year's volume of 5491 images, which is a good fallback.

Friday 26 July 2019

So What Changed?

Taking a Walk

E-M5, m.Zuiko 12-50 EZ

The last couple times I've taken a serious look at m43, I went elsewhere.

So why am I back now?

For the longest time the issue was simple, I liked m43 as a pure digital system, but I was shooting film and digital and wanted one single system. I never really achieved that, but I also effectively quit shooting film over the last 2 years. So that problem was off the table. That really clears me to concentrate on a single system.

The reason I didn't go m43 at the beginning of the year was also simple, my options at the time were an E-M10 of some variation, or the original E-M5. Both of those options have too many compromises as a primary camera for me today. I really didn't like the E-M10III finder in fluorescent light, it actually hurt my eyes in addition to being small & squinty. The older E-M5 has enough UI issues that I'm just not willing to revisit it as a primary body, although it might do as a second body (I'd still rather have an EM-1/E-M5II or dual E-M5II mix though)

This time around both E-M1 and E-M5II's were workable options and I have no need to support a film system alongside my digital, so going back to m43 works, especially given the lens lineup advantages vs Fuji (really the primes are a wash, but mid-range zooms are a real advantage for m43)

Thursday 25 July 2019

E-M5 II - First Thoughts

Blue on Black 
E-M5 II, m.Zuiko 40-150 f4-5.6 R

1. Argh, Proprietary USB connectors and computer-based firmware updating is a terrible combination. I understand why Olympus uses an app for firmware updates, so you don't have to chase your body & lens firmware (you can update both from the app), but given my used body didn't come with the cable, and it's totally proprietary at the camera end, I can't update the firmware (and I'm on 2.1 with 4.1 as latest, with some major updates in there). And of course the cable is $30 in true camera maker style. 3rd party cable ordered from Amazon along with 2 spare batteries and a USB charger (I really do like the 2 battery+USB charge kits Amazon sells for $30CDN, had one for the X-T1 as well). Camera maker's excessive accessory markup yet again spawns a 3rd party sale. I'd pay $40 for a first-party battery, but never again will I pay $75+ for $10 worth of battery.

2. Ahh, so nice to be back to 4:3, I've never truly liked the 3:2 aspect ratio and all the Full Frame & APS-C bodies use that. 4:3 is just more comfortable to me.

3. The Sigma 19 and Oly 40-150 are little gems. The Panasonic 25mm f1.7 is merely quite good. The 25 reminds me of the Oly 17/1.8 in performance, except for less than 1/3 the cost I'm a lot more willing to accept merely good performance than I was with the 17. One thing that does amaze me is how noticeable the difference between the Sigma 19's 0.2m MFD and the Panny 25's 0.25m MFD is, despite the latter being a longer focal length. The Sigma is just much better as a close-up lens. The odd thing is the Panasonic actually has a slightly higher reproduction level (1:7.1 vs 1:7.4). It feels less close up, probably due to the difference in field of view.

4. Handling is good, not as good as the X-T1, but good enough. My main beef with the original E-M5's buttons has been solved (by replacing the 2 Fn buttons over the screen with 1 easier to find button and the mode lever). Viewfinder is close to the X-T1, but not all the way there. Same as the E-M1 finder which I did like. Handgrip is OK, the more prominent thumb rest helps offset the smaller finger grip. Lens release is back where it belongs (I never liked the Fuji/Pentax/Leica location where the DoF preview button belongs since it complicates lens changes). AF performance is good. Oly's menus suck and are WAY too complex with really poor descriptions about what it does. I still don't understand what the difference between 1 fish and 3 fish is, or even what subsystem that applies to (and yes, that's a real setting).

The touchscreen is really picky, it likes my left thumb but not my right index finger when using the Super Control Panel.

D-pad is significantly better than the X-T1's, just because you can find it by feel. Buttons on the E-M5 II are much less prone to getting unexpected setting issues than the E-M1, but you do have to watch the lever. This is marginally better than the X-T1 because only one control needs a visual check (lever vs metering switch + exp comp dial on the X-T1)

It's noticeably smaller than the X-T1, or at least feels it. Some of that is in the chunkier lenses, as both my smaller primes are wider diameter than the XF23/2, even if they are actually a tad shorter. Makes the body feel smaller in comparison.

I'm ambivalent about choosing a Flip-Twist screen over a flip-up screen. The flip-twist is good in a LOT more orientations, but flip-up is awesome for easy street shooting as it's much quicker to get into position.

I can't wait to try high-res mode. That was the key feature that had me looking at the E-M5 II over another m43 body. Having D800 class resolution for tripod work/static subjects while otherwise only needing to deal with 16MP is a great feature for somebody who shoots like I do. 90% of the time I don't need the resolution, when I do I'm on a tripod shooting static stuff. Pixel shift is perfect for this style of working.

Real BBAF is possible, the X-T1 can't really do that (it's configurability is quite limited in comparison) although like many things later Fuji's solve that, extended ISO's work in RAW (they don't on Fuji, rendering them useless), simpler access to card formating, and more flexible AF setup.

Overall, I still have a mild preference for the X-T1 as a body. Easier to setup and more obvious handling. But the E-M5II looks like it will do just fine

Wednesday 24 July 2019

What Did I Do?

Red on Green 
 OM-D E-M5, SMC Pentax-M 50/4 Macro

I did a bad thing. I traded in my X-T1 for something else.

Why? Not because I disliked the X-T1, I'd been getting along with it as well as I had from the get-go, I'd even found an MHG-XT grip for it.

But I also took a long hard look at the lenses I wanted for the system and the associated costs. The Fujicrons are all well and good (and both reasonably priced and excellent), but I wanted a wide zoom and the 10-24/4 is not weather sealed and a lot of cash (although excellent), I also wanted a telezoom and there really are no really great options. The 50-230 is good, but pricey for what it is, ditto the even more expensive 55-200. The high-end stuff is excellent, but out of my price range.

And Olympus sells the 40-150R for $150 new (half of what a 50-230 goes for used, for a slightly better lens) and Panasonic's 25/1.7 is a mere $200. And then there's Sigma's DN Art lenses, the f2.8 trio are $269 new each and superb, and there's a f1.4 trio as well for merely twice the price.

The question then becomes what body? I know I'd need an E-M1 or a G85 to really match the X-T1, but as a go-everywhere body an E-M5, E-M5 II, GX85 or GX7 would work very well. And I found a deal on a E-M5 II. So I traded in the Fuji stuff and came out with a E-M5 II, Sigma 19/2.8, Panasonic 25/1.7 and Olympus 40-150 f4-5.6 R

That setup covers most of my needs right out the door, and I'd really only need to add a wide (Panny 7-14/4 or Oly 9-18) which can be had for reasonable money, and a normal zoom (tons of options from reasonable to unreasonable pricing). At some point in the future a macro and/or short fast telephoto can be added.

As much as I liked the Fuji, the reality is that I wasn't going to build the system I wanted in the time I wanted. A return to m43 on the other hand allows for that.

Tuesday 23 July 2019

USB Chargers - Where Are They

Never Cross the Streams 
X-T1, XC 16-50 OIS II

There's one product I cannot figure out why camera makers aren't making.

Today all the devices I want to use in the field are now coming with USB-C. My laptop uses it for power/connectivity, my phone does, new tablets do (I'm still on older units), even the cameras themselves are now starting to show up with USB-C for connectivity and charging.

So why is the last thing in the bag without it the camera's battery charger?

Imagine if the camera came with a charger, USB-C cable and USB charge adapter, instead of charger, charger cable, USB cable, etc.

That way you could charge your batteries off a Power Bank while working with the camera unencumbered, and share 1-2 chargers between all your devices in the field. Additionally if properly implemented you could power your camera off that same USB-C cable and charge adapter/Power Bank.

Much better eh?

There's some cheap 3rd party USB chargers for most battery types, but they're slow and using old USB 2.0 with its low wattage output. Still better than nothing, but the camera makers have a chance to make a real difference in an area that's mostly ignored.

Sunday 21 July 2019

July Update

One Ant 
X-T1, Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 AI

I've been on an unexpected 2 month break from shooting, which finally ended this weekend. Buried in work, RC flying season arrived and ate up my limited free time and a humid June/July were all factors.

The X-T1 broke 2000 shots this weekend, putting it well up on the A7II, and I'm still really enjoying it as an all-round camera. I acquired an MHG-XT Large handgrip or it which takes the handling from good to great (and is also an Arca-Swiss rail, for tripod mounting). I'd also come into an XF 18/2, but sold it on because it's just too close to the 23/2 and the 23/2's better AF and close focus wins. My everyday kit is for now the 23/2 and the Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5, which works pretty well all told. I do need a wide in the 12/14/16mm range to fill things out though.

I'm planning on making a more significant effort to get out and shooting through July & August. I need the shutter therapy and the walking.

Thursday 11 April 2019

Thoughts on the X-H1

Still Hanging On 
X-T1, Nikkor 50-135/3.5 AI-S

There's been a lot of discussion over at Fred Miranda on the X-H1, especially with regards to its apparent recent discontinuation so shortly after it was released a little over a year ago.

The X-H1 sits uneasily at the top of the X Series line. It really doesn't fit either silo that the X series is split into, not the classic SLR style of the various X-T bodies or the RF-ish style of the other X bodies. That does limit its appeal to Fuji shooters, who in many cases were largely attracted by the classic UI and non-DSLR ergonomics of the lineup.

That said, it does bring a number of things to the lineup, the larger build allows better handling with the big Red Badge series zooms, it offers IBIS, heftier build and a better EVF and more powerful processor than the other 3rd gen bodies.

The caveat is that in being released only about 6 months before the X-T3 brought the 4th generation of the platform it really only had a short run before it was exceeded in terms of performance. Combine that with a somewhat high number of bugs on release and it's been a bit of a lackluster release that is to some extent undeserved.

I do think Fuji needs an X-H2, and to bring it out sooner rather than later. IMHO they need to give it clear performance advantages over the X-T3 as well. Keep the IBIS, give it a deeper buffer (100 RAW @20fps minimum), try and improve the readout speed and either add a second processor or clock the current one faster so that AF tracking can see an increase in performance (some of these will also benefit video, especially any improvements in readout speed).

As to me, I've been thinking where my kit will eventually evolve. I'd been thinking of the X-T1 as the high end of my usual high/low body mix, but it really does well with the uses that traditionally were the low side of my high/low mix. The X-H1's better large lens handling, overall performance improvement over a 2nd gen body like the X-t1 and IBIS to me make me think that it could readily be paired with the X-T1 as the high end of an X-H1/X-T1 mix, and also replace the D300 permanently. Not anything I'd buy soon, but maybe in the fall...

Wednesday 10 April 2019

Rules of Acquisition

Golden Hour in the 'Hood
X-T1, XC 16-50 OIS II

With a couple months and ~1700 images on the X-T1, I've settled into a decent working system. Right now I have 2 native lenses, the XC 16-50 f3.5-5.6 OIS II kit zoom and the 23/2 WR 'Fujinon' weather-sealed wide/normal prime, I also have the correct adapters to use all but one of the lenses I have lying around. I usually have at least 1 adapted lens with me as well as the native lenses.

In terms of what I have lying around, right now that covers 3 mounts. Specifically Nikon F, where I have a 28/3.5, 50/1.8D, 55/3.5 Micro, 50-135/3.5, 200/4 and 300/4.5, plus access to a 16-85 f3.5-5.6 VR. I also have my Nikkor 5cm f1.4 in LTM mount (with 50/75 M adapter) and an SMC Takumar 35/3.5 in M42 mount. The SMC Tak is the only lens I cannot use today on my X-T1. Thankfully it's probably the least interesting of my lenses for those uses.

In terms of currently used adapted lenses, the 55/3.5 Micro sees the most use, the 200/4 and 50-135 have also seen a fair bit and I'm pretty happy with the results from the 55 and 200. The 50-135 is a mixed bag due to handling and optics.

I'm looking at a kit which will be a mix of native lenses and a selection of adapted primes, mostly in the mild telephoto range where Fuji's selection is most limited, to round out my needs. My mount priorities as such are pretty much X & F mounts, and I want to support Leica M, Contax/Yashica & M42 because I find those interesting.

The adapter front is a little frustrating for a single reason. There are good AF adapters for Canon EF lenses, but not for Nikon F lenses (not even the all-electronic E lenses). There's certain parts of the system that I would like to pad out with less expensive small Nikon SLR lenses (I'd love the Nikkor 10-20VR for example) especially as I still have my D300 and have zero interest in getting rid of it anytime soon.

As to the current state of my adapters. I have F & M adapters today. I need to add a C/Y adapter, as that nets me C/Y and M42 support as I already have an M42 to C/Y adapter. Additionally I'd like to add a Speedbooster type adapter for Nikon F at a minimum, as that really expands what I can realistically do with Nikon kit on Fuji lenses.

Speedboosters, if you have not run across them, are adapters with integrated telecompressors, or focal length reducers. These are basically teleconverters with multipliers below 1.0. The effect is the focal length gets shorter and as a result, the f number gets wider. For a typical Speedbooster with an 0.67 multiplier, your 35/1.4 becomes a 23/1.0 which is a big win. And a 105/2.5 becomes a 70/1.7, filling a gap in the Fuji system for the very popular 105 equivalent. And for the 135/2.8, it can do double duty, functioning as a 200mm-e on the regular adapter and replacing the Fuji 90/2 when on a Speedbooster (as the 90/2 is a 135/3 equivalent in full-frame terms)

So my next steps in the system are really to acquire the 2 adapters I need, the C/Y and the F mount speedbooster. A C/&Y Speedbooster might be fun in the future, but isn't needed now. That's not a large investment thankfully. After that I'll be looking for a couple Nikkor's, specifically the 105/2.5 and 135/2.8 and probably a couple of the cheap chinese X mount primes, the Meike 35/1.7 for sure and something wider than 16mm.

All of that leads into the need to define Rules of Acquisition (lens edition).

They are, as follows:

Only buy X, F, M, C/Y or M42 lenses, in that order of priority
Only spend significant money on X or F lenses unless there is something truly unique, and even then it should be M or C/Y mount
Never sell Adapters.
No EF, no matter how tempting

Thursday 4 April 2019

2 Months and 1600 Images

Old Man & the Kids 
X-T1, Nikkor 50-135/3.5 AI-S

So I'm a couple days short of 2 months into owning the X-T1 and a couple dozen images over 1600 taken with it.

It continues to impress. With the need for gloves gone, most of the caveats about the buttons are gone (although the D-pad remains marginal) and overall the camera continues to work very well for me.

The first teasers of spring have arrived and flowers are starting to come up, which gives me some more reason to get out which was largely missing in March (and I'm mostly recovered from the cold that plagued me for all of March).

Thursday 14 March 2019

X-T1 at 1200 Frames

Rent Me! 
X-T1, XC 16-50 OIS II

So I'm at 6 weeks and 1200 frames with the X-T1. Yes, shooting has taken a nosedive over the last two weeks, largely because the weather was cold and I've been sick. Now we're heading into the March blah's, where the city is grey and bland and uninteresting until the new growth arrives. For this year, I'm going to try and get some street shooting in to carry me over as normally this is a real dead zone for my shooting (as is the late fall/early winter blahs between the leaves coming down and the snow arriving).

I've now shot 50% more work with the X-T1 than with my previous Fuji's. I expect that by mid-April I will be up to the point that the work with the X-T1 exceeds all previous Fuji work.

I  traded a lens and an old Nikon body for another X-E1, which is mostly for backup to the X-T1, but may become a bag camera with one of the neat little cheapo Chinese primes that are available now, I'm thinking the 7artisans 25/1.7 might be neat, and it's all of $80 new. I don't expect to shoot much with the X-E1, it's really just a spare. It did remind me just what a big jump there was in responsiveness between the 1st gen X bodies (X-Pro1, X-E1) and the 2nd gen ones (X-T1, X-T10, X-E2)

I continue to really enjoy shooting with the X-T1. At this point I'm a few weeks away from exceeding how much I shot with the A7II last year. As long as the X-T1 keeps making me want to get out and shoot it will be staying in the bag. Fundamentally I'm just really happy with it.

Also as a result of this I've been doing more street shooting, most of which has been headed to Instagram. My Instagram is now dedicated to shooting & posting on the fly, nothing new gets posted after coming home and being culled (that goes to Flickr).

Monday 4 March 2019

Looking Back - The NEX-7

NEX-7, Micro-Nikkor 85/3.5 VR G DX

The NEX-7 is one of the three mirrorless bodies that I shot a truly significant amount of work with, the other two being the Panasonic G1 and the original Olympus OM-D E-M5.

I found the NEX-7 to be an outstanding street & walkabout camera, but despite its then class-leading resolution, it was a truly poor landscape camera due to the utterly terrible tripod mount and complete lack of any remote release option. It simply wasn't possible to sturdily mount the NEX-7 to a tripod, you had to use a tripod foot on an adapter and/or lens for a solid mount. Ironically that made the NEX-7 the best landscape shooting option for APS-C A mount shooters as it had the best low-ISO IQ of all the APS-C Sony bodies since it did not give up noise/IQ performance for a light-stealing pellical mirror unlike its sibling the A77.

For street shooting the combination of small size, good overall handling and a high quality EVF made it work quite well for street shooting. The only real downside was the relatively large size of the E ZA 24/1.8, which was the go-to street lens for this camera. One overall challenge with E mount was the general lack of mid-speed/mid-size lenses. There eventually was a nice selection of smallish f2.8 lenses from Sony (16/2.8, 20/2.8 pancakes) and Sigma (the 19, 30 and 60 f2.8 trio) but aside from the 35/1.8 OSS, there aren't any really compact APS-C options. That's a significant contrast to m43 and Fuji X mounts, both of which are well supplied with compact f1.7-2 lenses in the mild wide to mild tele range.

As I was an early adopter (I had one of the very first NEX-7's to hit Canada, some 6 months after it was announced) this was even worse, as the earlier NEX bodies hadn't really driven development of lenses. Even with Sony's general ignoring of the APS-C side of things there is a really solid selection of lenses for APS-C E mount users, especially if you are willing to manual focus.

I also briefly picked up a NEX-7 last May, which I returned fairly quickly. While the handling remained good, what was class-leading AF in early 2012 was noticeably slow in 2018, and of course I made the decision to replace the NEX-7 and D800 with a single A7II. That mostly worked, and probably would have worked better if I'd had a single AF lens for the system.

The NEX-7 did have some distinct issues that Sony could have resolved. The biggest was the lack of configurability of the Manual Focus assist. This was an ongoing issue for me, as you could not set the zoom function to button only, it was either button with manual lenses and auto with AF lenses, or off.

Overall, I produced excellent work with this system, but can't really see myself looking at APS-C E mount unless Sony actually puts some effort into it and introduces an SLR-style body and a selection of APS-C oriented primes. Oh, and I'd have to want to give up the X-T1, which seems unlikely right now.

Wednesday 27 February 2019

X-T1 at 900

98 MissingX-A1, XF 18/2 R

I'm now up to 950 or so shots on the X-T1 after two and a half weeks of ownership. That's more than I shot with any of my previous X bodies (the X-E1 or either X-A1).

I'm still really enjoying shooting it. It's not perfect my any means, I really understand the complaints about button size, especially when wearing gloves. The drive, metering and exposure comp are a touch prone to getting knocked out of their settings, but that's very livable, especially since the settings are so readily visible (both on the camera and in the viewfinder.

I've taken to mostly shooting in the EVF+Eye Sensor mode, which turns on the EVF when the camera is at my face and leaves it off otherwise. That helps with battery life. Since the EVF/LCD mode is controlled by a button on the EVF hump, it's easy to cycle through all 4 modes (Eye Sensor switching, EVF Only, LCD only and EVF+Eye Sensor). This is true even with gloves due to the location of the button.

The big thing though is the camera just gets out of my way. It's rare that I even have to think about something with it. What's odd about that is that I've had the camera for less than 3 weeks, and it's in a system I haven't shot with in years, and with a different UI than either of the previous bodies I've owned (the X-A1 has a pretty typical single-dial interface and the X-E1 has a shutter speed dial, but otherwise fairly modern UI). The only time I have to really think about things is with the focus magnification. I think I need to find a little stick-on dot to make that button more noticeable, but it should largely go away once we get out of glove weather.

Sunday 24 February 2019

A Few Thoughts On What's Worked Best For Me

Uma Night 
E-M5, Sigma 19/2.8 DN

Looking back through my Flickr stream has shown me some interesting things. Back in 2017 I noted that I'd actually had more posted work from my Minolta bodies than the Nikon's that have been the most common film camera in my bag for the last 18 years. The quality of work posted is in a lot of ways the final arbiter of how well a camera has worked for me.

Looking back at my Digital archives, it's clear that my period with the E-M5 was the most productive period on digital I posted 234 images on my Flickr stream from it, around 10% of my total work on the stream, and those have survived 2 culls (one prior to posting, then the periodic culls that I do of my stream to remove the weaker work from it). After that the NEX-7 and D300 have produced the most lasting work (151 and 143 items respectively). The D800, D200 and A33 come next, (84, 74 and 72 items respectively). That's unsurprising, I shot a LOT with the A33, but the majority was event & bar work which never hit my Flickr, while the D800 and D200 didn't last long, but coincided with major jumps in my shooting activity. The D800 number will grow as there's 23 more shots in the backlog that haven't been posted. Honestly, if I was looking for a tripod body to complement the Fuji system for high-resolution work, I could do a lot worse than another D800.

It's when I get down to the everything else that things get interesting. The D7100 in particular resulted in a shockingly high amount of good work, with 31 items posted from less than a month of ownership across 2 bodies. That really does speak to how poor a decision to trade it in for the D600 was (the D600 only produced 23 posts from its 2-ish months of ownership). There's really very little Pentax work, but the m43 stuff and Nikon stuff dominates overall.

Oh, and the Fuji stuff previously is pretty much middle of the pack, slightly surprising given my memories of the X-E1. The X-T1 is obviously low (7 items posted), but will climb quickly, especially given I'm almost at 900 shots after two weeks of ownership and already have 1 Explore from that work.

Saturday 23 February 2019

Thoughts From the Past - Photography as Therapy

Snowy Queen St 03 
*istD, Tamron SP 28-7/2.8 XR Di

This is a repost from Sept 2007

I was having a conversation with an acquaintance today at lunch (one of the myriad of photogs I run into at the local camera stores, I work around the corner from two of the main camera stores in Toronto, so I'm in there alot) and the conversation moved to how I justify the money I spend on photography (both on kit and on expendables like film, ink, paper and chemicals).

The answer? It's still cheaper than a good shrink. And it's true. My job is relatively high-stress, I'm on-call 24x7 for the most part. I'd have burnt out long ago if I didn't have some good stress relief that didn't cause cancer or liver disease. And photography helps me stay sane. It does so in a number of ways:

1. Retail Therapy. Buying stuff is fun. Buying stuff for yourself can help cheer you up and take your mind off of stress. Yes, this works. If in doubt, ask your girlfriend's purse collection ;-)

2. Meditation. For me, the mindless rhythm of developing is good meditation. It's one of the reasons why developing doesn't annoy me or seem like a waste of time (unlike doing RAW conversions). And the slow pace of working with a MF camera on a tripod is also meditation (I suspect LF is the photographic equivalent of Yoga, gotta get into LF one of these days).

3. Escape. Photography is a great escape from the pressures of life. I don't have time to think about work when I'm out shooting. I can only think about the shooting itself.

It's interesting that 12 years later, this really still applies, although it's become less effective for me. I think that's because I've not done as much of #2 and #3 since I went back to school in late 2008.

Friday 22 February 2019

Looking Back on 10 Years of Mirrorless

In The Snow 
X-T1, XC 16-50 OIS II

I bought my first mirrorless camera in January of 2009, a Panasonic G1. Since that time I've also owned Fujifilm, Olympus and Sony mirrorless bodies, one Sony SLT and a number of Nikon, Pentax, Sony and Olympus DSLR's. I'm a constant horse-trader, so these have mostly been purchased used with the proceeds of a previous sale.

Mirrorless is ideal for the way I work. The small sized bodies are around the same size & weight of the classic manual focus SLR's I prefer for film work, as are the lenses. The focusing experience is much better than AF DSLR's for manual work and I generally don't care about Continuous AF performance, which has always been the weak point for mirrorless. They're also small and unobtrusive, always a bonus for street & cityscape work.

As to the cameras:

The G1 worked very well for me initially, but I always had some challenges with its weakpoints, really with low light shooting which is what I was mostly doing in 2009 and 2010 when I owned it (it's still in the family, but the replacements have moved on).

The Panasonics have mostly worked pretty well for me. I've also had the G3 and GX7 and I purely loved the GX7, however it was the nadir of my shooting and I sold it off because I just wasn't really using anything at all. Frankly, if I'd kept the GX7 I might still be shooting it today, it really was a pretty good fit.

Olympus has always looked good on the initial experience, but come up short over time. With the E-M5 and E-M1 it was a combination of fiddly buttons and the camera getting in my way, I really liked the results and as long as the camera came out of the bag in the mode I expected it to be in. That said, IMHO the best work I've shot in the last 10 years on digital was with the E-M5. The E-PM1 was a nice bag camera and while it was useless in low light, I did like it in better light, especially when paired with the PL 25/1.4.

Sony was a mixed bag for me. The NEX-5's produced great images, but have terrible handling and all the limitations of a viewfinderless camera. I mostly loved the NEX-7's for street/walkabout photography, but they were useless on a tripod. The A7II went from mild like to mild dislike over time, I loved the ability to nail focus, especially with the ZF.2 85/1.4, but everything else slowly annoyed me, although never by very much. I really could have kept it if I had a reason to.

Fujifilm is interesting. I loved the X-A1's, my favourite viewfinderless camera. But it never worked as a primary for me. The X-E1 in 2014 was just not workable, the RAW conversion issues and speed were just too slow. It probably could be a successful alternative to the X-A1 as a bag camera though. Given my experience so far with the X-T1, I really wish I'd stuck with the Fuji stuff the second time around and added an X-T1 then, or even the first time and just shot JPEG until the RAW issues were solved.

The reality is looking back I never should have got out of m43 until the X-T1 showed up, and even then probably not. I would have had a much better experience if I'd just stayed the course rather than chasing the dragon. My basic m43 kit with the E-M5 covered all my real needs. Even today, I'd probably be just fine with an E-M1 or later GX series body and a handful of primes (12/2, 15/1.7, 25/1.8 or 25/1.4, 45/1.8 or 42.5/1.7, 60) And I could easily have put that kit together over the years. The same really goes for Fuji the second time through. It's clear than Sony and I don't get along.

Thursday 21 February 2019

Red Sky Over St Clair West

Red Sky Over St Clair West 
X-T1, Nikkor 200mm f4 AI

Pretty much the first actual shooting with adapted lenses I've done with the X-T1. Transferring buses at St Clair & Ossington on my way home let me see this gorgeous sky at dusk. Took a few shots with the 16-50, but I just couldn't get what I wanted. So I took a gamble by throwing on the 200/4 and it paid off in spades. Caught the red sky reflecting off the tracks and two of the new Bombardier Streetcars eastbound. I'd thought about trying the 50-135/3.5 instead, but decided on the extra reach and I'm glad I did.

Wednesday 20 February 2019

Workflow Thoughts

Girl Pop Suckers 
Maxxum 7, Sony DT 35/1.8 SAM, Neopan 100SS in Rodinal

I've been spending a lot of thought on my workflows of late.

I currently have two separate workflows for very different roles.

1. Camera RAW's imported to desktop, processed in CaptureOne 12 and then uploaded to Flickr
2. Camera RAW's developed in-camera, transferred wirelessly to the phone as JPEG, processed in Snapseed and uploaded to Instagram.

The first workflow is my serious, highly-curated workflow for serious work. The second started as me playing with the wireless capability of the X-T1, but I'm enjoying it as well. The photos I'm selecting for Instagram are largely cityscape shots, although I expect it will largely mimic the sort of work I post to Flickr, just in a more off the cuff, less curated fashion.

I'm still working on coming up with a workable mobile processing workflow for Flickr posting that is independent of my desktop. That is a major goal for this year, and I have some ideas but I'm not really there yet. I suspect the Gnarbox might form the core of the answer, if it will let me edit shots on my iPad directly off it.

I hope the Gnarbox workflow would be:

Import RAW images from SD card (in the field or back at home/hotel/etc), edit on iPad with some RAW conversion software, save to OneDrive, upload to Flickr/instagram.

Then on arrival at home, the Gnarbox could be sync'd to the PC for archiving and/or further work in C1.

What would make this work best would be if we got an actual C1 Mobile app. Lightroom CC Mobile is a non-starter due to the poor Fuji conversions and pretty much everything else uses Apple's built-in RAW conversion (which is at least better than Adobe's for Fuji stuff).

I also wish the Fujifilm wireless app would transfer RAW's, so I could do a better job of conversion (the in-camera conversion is quite limited, I only use it because that lets me pick the Film Simulation right before transfer rather than prior to making the image).

Tuesday 19 February 2019

Goals - 2018 and 2019

St Clair on the Go 
X-T1, XC 16-50 OIS II

I'd set 3 Goals for 2018
These were:

1. Produce 365 high quality images for posting on Flickr. That's 1 a day for a 1 year period.
2. Raise my average daily views on Flickr to 1500. Right now I'm averaging around 1000.
3. Photograph 6 completely new locations.

And while I didn't actually list it, I had also wanted to exceed the 5224 images I shot in 2014.

How did I do?

1. Successful, while I didn't post 365 images, I did produce them. Goal achieved
2. Near miss. I was trending at 13-1400 views a day and since I came back to activity on Flickr, I've been averaging well over 1500 views.
3. Fail. I got 2 for sure (Niagara Falls and the Niagara Parkway) and can probably say 1-2 more from some other shooting. But at best that's 2/3rds of my goal.

And for the unofficial goal, the 5491 images I took in 2018 did exceed my 2014 numbers.

For 2019, this is what I'm looking to achieve Photographically.

1. Create 365 high-quality images for Flickr, and post 3-5 images to Instagram per week
2. Increase my engagement on Flickr, Instagram and Fred Miranda, especially within the Fujifilm communities through regular image posting and interaction with other's posts.
3. Photograph 6 completely new locations.

The volume goal this year is the 7220 images I made in 2013.

While the first 3 goals are really the important ones, as they drive what I actually want to achieve with my photography, the volume goal is largely there to push me to get out with a camera and shoot. I can't achieve the other goals if I'm not shooting, and my endgame is to get back to making 10,000 images a year, with a 5% or so hit rate (ie 5% of my images make it through the editing chain to become postable images). Honestly, I need to increase how selective I am with my work, but if I want to also achieve the daily posting goals that means shooting more. I think this is achievable.