Friday, 16 October 2020

A Little Update

 

X-T2, XC 16-50 OIS II

It's been a month since my last update, and there's a few reasons for that. Largely work, the last 2 months have been flat out for various reasons, but I also found myself unexpectedly on the Board of a national non-profit organization as of the end of September. That's been occupying much of my free time right now.

The image above is from the last chance I got to go out and do some photography, a drive up to Bala, ON and back on a Saturday morning before I stopped in at a friends in Barrie for the evening. It was a good, if short trip with some interesting skies.

The X-T2 is now up over 3700 images and continuing to climb. Still very happy with it. That said, we're now heading into a dead zone for me, the gap between fall colour and lush snowy winter. So while I'm hoping to get some late fall colour over the next couple weeks, shooting will die off in November.

On the gear front, I note we've seen a number of new introductions this week.

Canon updated their popular low-end EOS M50 to the EOS M50 II. As far as I can tell, this is entirely functionality that should have been added to the original via a firmware update. It gets a new model in stores, but the old model is pretty much identical.

Nikon launched the Z6II and Z7II. These are a mix of one real improvement (dual processors) and features that the originals should have had (grip, dual slots). Pricing is wise, the Z6II hits the original Z6 price of $2000USD while the Z7II actually launches $400USD below the Z7 price, eliminating the biggest mistake with the initial Z7 launch, it coming in at more than the more capable D850. A couple updates to the lens roadmap, but nothing in the biggest area of concern which is the lack of consumer lens options for the Z5. Now that's an area where all the full-frame systems are weak, but Nikon is the weakest and in a position where they need every sale they can get.

Fuji launched the X-S10, bringing DSLR ergonomics and IBIS to their mid-range. It's a mix of X-H1, X-T4 and X-T200 and looks excellent, taking over from the X-T30 as arguably the best body in its class (and putting a huge shot across the bow of the A6600 which is more money and less capable aside from AF/Buffer). Fuji did miss the chance to bring competitive viewfinder magnification to the mid-range (which I think they should do to better differentiate the mid-line from the X-T200's). They also missed the chance to make the bodies match the mid-range lenses in terms of WR. I don't get why all Fuji's mid-range lenses are getting WR and only the high-end bodies are. Fuji hasn't launched a non-WR XF lens in years. The X-S10 is on my radar though. 



Sunday, 20 September 2020

Three Lenses I Regret Selling

 

FM2n, Nikkor 35mm f1.4 AI-S, Ilford HP5+ @ EI3200

The 35mm f1.4 is a loved & hated lens, largely because it has two very distinctly different characters. Wide open and slightly stopped down it's full of CA & abberations and is very much a character lens, but with some very 3D rendering. Stopped down past f2.8 and it turns into a great landscape lens, sharp across the frame, low distortion, good 3D.

It was a fun lens and it's surprisingly small compared to other 35mm f1.4 options. Not the best 35mm f1.4, in fact from a technical standpoint it's the worst one in F mount. But it's also decades older than the other options, there wouldn't be another f1.4 at this focal length until the 35/1.4G AF-S, followed closely by the ZF.2. Now there are 3 others, with Sigma, Tamron and Samyang all having offerings here.

Definitely on my to re-acquire list as I've only got the 35/2 AI right now and that's my least favourite of the four general-purpose Nikkor options at 35mm.

FM10, Voigtlander Nokton 58mm f1.4 SLII, Ilford HP5+

This is one of my favourite normal lenses. Longer than the typical 50mm, I quite liked the extra bit of reach. It has a fairly soft rendering, but very sharp and very well behaved optically. It was also great on APS-C digital in part because it offered the field of view of an 85mm on FF.

These are still available new, but I don't like the redesigned barrel of the current version nearly as much. Voigtlander went to a knurled metal focus ring similar to classic pre-AI lenses and I definitely prefer the more modern design of the SLII version with its rubber focus ring grip and AI-style cosmetics.

I've never liked Nikon's f1.4 offerings at 50mm and this was a great alternative. Definitely preferred over the f1.4 options, although I'll admit that for the same money a 50/1.2 AI-S is a solid alternative, albeit one with very different rendering. The Nokton has better OOF rendering, the 50/1.2 is punchier, has more vivid colour and an extra half stop.


F2A, Nikkor 85mm f1.8 K AI'd, Agfa APX100 (original)

This is just a gem of a lens. Often overlooked in favour of the later (and larger & heavier) 85/1.4 or the earlier single coated versions (the Nikkor-H 85/1.8), this late Pre-AI lens has AI-style cosmetics and is often confused for an AI lens if equipped with an AI kit. Nikon even sold these with a factory-installed AI kit, so the confusion is partly their fault. It is however very definitely a pre-AI lens, lacking the maximum aperture indexing tab of a real AI lens.

It's very much a character lens when shot wide open. Some swirl in the bokeh and softness outside of the center deliver that very 70's street look. Stop it down and it gets quite good, although it does not have the abrupt personality transition of the 35/1.4 AI-S, you just see the character progressively smooth out and the edges sharpen up quickly as you stop down.

Of the three lenses on this list, this is the one closest to being bought again, as I have no 85mm options except my not very loved 50-135/3.5 AI-S. A 135 is next, but afterwards I will be getting another one of these. Might grab the optically-identical Nikkor-H.C depending on pricing, but I definitely prefer the handling of the K version and its rubberized focus ring.

Friday, 18 September 2020

A Few Updates

Mamiya 645 Super, lens unrecorded but likely the 150/3.5 C, Portra 160VC

 Bravo to Fuji for this week's firmware update. Fuji again proves that they understand the need for back catalog support by releasing updates for all the X-Trans cameras including the very first model, 2012's X-Pro1. The updates are mostly minor aside from support for AF lenses faster than f1.2 (needed for the new XF 50/1.0)

Sony announced the A7c, which is a camera with 2 problems. The price is too big and the viewfinder too small. It's basically a A7III with the EVF hump chopped off, a tiny one added on the corner and a bunch of mild decontenting (it loses a slot, has a lower spec shutter, loses a bunch of controls, but gains the digital audio interface on the hotshoe introduced on the A7RIV and loses some of firmware-level video limitations of the A7III). As it is very much an A7III internally it retains the old menu system and loses most of the AF gains since the A7III release. It does get Real-Time Tracking though.

Nikon dropped two new Z lenses. An utterly massive 50/1.2 and the smallest & lightest 14-24/2.8 anybody's seen so far. Optically both look like winners, but I wouldn't want to haul that 50, or even really use it on a Z body.

As to my work, I recently passed 3000 shots on the X-T2. Very happy with it. I've also received a VERY cheap Super-Takumar 135/3.5 for testing. It has mild fungus so can't live in a bag with other lenses, but it's mild enough that the lens remains usable. It's mostly for play though. So tiny and nicely sharp.

Ordered a black Nikon F2 without a prism for very cheap. The bodies are cheap, but the prisms aren't unless they're the non-AI ones. I'll likely add a DP-11 (AI prism to make an F2a) and I'd like the waistlevel which isn't too expensive. I'd love a plain prism, but you can buy a complete F2a or F2as for the cost of a DE-1 plain prism on its own. They're rare and stupidly popular for some reason. The F2 is usable without a prism, although the experience is better with the waistlevel installed or an eyelevel prism

On the film workflow side I scanned 2 rolls of Superia 200 earlier this week that had been sitting around for 3 years waiting to be scanned. These are the first 2 rolls I've scanned since 2017. Today I mixed up some chemistry and developed 2 rolls of PanF+ in 120, one of which was recently shot in the Super Ricohflex, and 2 rolls of HP5+ in 35mm, one from my most recent FM (I keep buying FM's and having them die on me) and the other I'm not sure of, will figure it out once I look at it. All of them were done in Blazinal (Rodinal), 1:100 stand for the PanF+, 1:25 normal for the HP5+. More developing to come, I have a dozen more rolls of HP5+ to do and 2 rolls of PanF+ in 120. Plus I have to get a bunch of colour neg & slide film processed. I've got 2 rolls of C41 out for processing now and will be cycling the rest through in batchs of 2 or 3. I've had some of this sitting around since 2012 (most of the E-6 is from the 645 Super or Maxxum 7, which I sold off at the same time in 2012)


Sunday, 13 September 2020

A Return to Film

 


Voigtlander Bessa R, Nikkor-S.C 5cm f1.4 LTM, Kodak Tri-X

I’ve definitely been experiencing a resurgence in my interest in shooting film of late. I’m not going to abandon digital any time soon, but I’m pretty sure a large part of what’s driving the renewed interest is simple exhaustion in my interest in shooting digital in my local neighborhood. Flower & bee season is over and that’s all I really enjoyed shooting locally with the digital cameras.

I know I could just set the X-T2 to Classic Chrome or Acros, stick the 25/1.8 on it and wander about shooting film style, and I Actually have been doing that some, but there’s a shooting experience and process experience aspect to this and I just find myself unable to divorce the film process from this sort of shooting without losing some of the enjoyment. A couple rolls through the FE last week reminded me of the joys of shooting film for cityscape work.

I’ve also found my interest in larger formats returning. I shot 2 rolls of 120 yesterday, the first two I’d shot since 2012. One was finishing a roll in my Coronet Twelve-20 box camera, a roll that had been sitting in there for more than a decade as I honestly don’t much like shooting with a box camera. The second was a fresh roll of FP4 in my a Super Ricohflex TLR, which I quite enjoy using.

On the development side, I have a large backlog as I pretty much stopped cold with developing when I stopped actively shooting film in 2017. I even have a few rolls of 120 from 2012 that need development. I’m out of fixer and Rodinal, as well as 35mm neg sleeves, so a supply run will have to happen before anything else.

So expect some film work to start appearing here over the next little while.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Three Cameras That I Regret Selling

 


Nikon F2a, 85mm f1.8 K

While my favourite Nikon film camera remains the FM2n, the F2a is my second favourite and in some regards the better film shooting experience. It’s bigger & heavier and has a truly amazing finder, but lacks the 1/4000 max shutter of the FM2n. I had a nearly mint F2a in black and really wish I’d held onto it. It’s simply difficult to beat the shooting experience of the F2a, it’s just pure zen, as close to a meditative shooting experience as I’ve ever had with a small format camera.


VoigtlƤnder Bessa R, Color-Skopar 35mm F2.5

I’ve had a few rangefinders over the years and mostly never bonded with them, I am fundamentally a SLR guy. The Bessa R was the one that lasted quite long in my bag, it might actually be the 135 format camera that I owned the longest. While it certainly is no Leica M, it’s compact and nice to shoot and it brings much of what I love about the Cosina SLR’s to the rangefinder experience. That’s not too surprising since it is a development of those Cosina SLR’s. The only weak point is the use of M39 screwmount, which was solved with the R2 and later bodies, which are M mount.

I got great results and shot a lot with it. I’d love to have another, or even better an R2 or R3 so I could pair it with the new M lenses from 7ARTISANS and TTARTISAN.


Mamiya 645 Super, lens unrecorded 

I shot more film with this camera than any other single camera I owned. It is big, heavy & clunky without giving the massive negs of the larger MF cameras. But it delivered for roll upon roll of film. I honestly think my best body of work was shot with this camera and I miss it. I should have set it aside for a while rather than selling it

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Three Cameras On My Dream List

Super Ricohflex, Fujifilm Acros 100

I've been thinking about film again lately, and took the FE out today for my lunchtime walk and enjoyed it. Yesterday I took the X-T1 and only shot B&W, also enjoying it,

That's brought to mind 3 film cameras that I've never owned but would enjoy owning.

The first is the Contax S2(b). This was one of the last premium manual mechanical 35mm SLR's ever made. It's also the closest any other maker to capturing the essence of the Nikon FM2n, which I still consider the best all-round 35mm manual focus film SLR. And the S2 achieved this largely by simply copying the essence of the FM2n, being a simple mechanical SLR with a wide shutter speed range (1/4000 max), a great viewfinder, relatively compact size and no weird control setups. The only odd thing with the original S2 was it had spot metering only, the later S2b replaced the spot meter with a traditional centre weighted meter. Like the FM2n, the only thing the battery powers is the meter, you can walk around all day shooting with a dead battery. The biggest miss? The plastic wind lever.

Despite the fact these go for somewhat stupid money these days I'd still like to own one someday. I've honestly never had a really good Contax body, just various semi-flaky old ones and a couple cheapo FX-3's. I even have a few lenses which would work on it today, as I have an M42 adapter for Contax mount and an old Vivitar 70-150 in Contax mount.

The second camera is a Hasselblad 500C or one of its successors (through the 501CM). Waistlevel, a 80/2.8 CF and an A12 back and I'd be set. This is the one camera on this list that I actually have shot with, I borrowed a friends some years ago when he wanted to borrow my 645 Super and quite enjoyed putting 5 or so rolls of film through the Hassy. It's such a simple yet workable camera and the IQ is amazing. I've always liked shooting square and still have my old Super Ricohflex TLR which I should put some film through one of these days. But the Hassy is still on my radar as something I'd love. They're not that cheap these days, so this one is a bit pie in the sky.

The third and final camera really isn't a specific camera but rather a type of camera. I would absolutely love to own a wood 4x5 field camera one day. I've had a 4x5 in the past, but it was a monorail and didn't work very well for the sort of shooting I like to do. A field camera is designed for my sorts of uses and they're actually surprisingly light & compact. Give me a 90-110mm lens and 2-3 film holders, plus a decent neg holder for my developing tanks and I'd be set. There's just nothing like holding a huge neg or slide and 4x5 delivers the big negs/slides while not being too overwhelmingly sized like the larger formats.

Honestly, of the three, the 4x5 is actually the most practical. I'd only ever want maybe 2 lenses (a portrait lens could also be fun), the basic camera is actually the cheapest of the three and it's something you only shoot in small doses anyways.

 

Monday, 7 September 2020

Fuji on the Cheap - Lens #4 7Artisans 12mm f2.8

 


Fujifilm X-T2, 7Artisans 12mm f2.8

The 4th lens in your basic 5 prime set is your Ultra-Wide Angle lens. We've covered the wide/normal (25mm f1.8), the normal (35mm f2) and one good option for the mild telephoto (the 55/3.5 Macro).

Rounding out the kit on the wide end for now is the moderate Ultra-wide. This is going to be in the 18-21mm range in terms of 35mm equivalent, so 12-14mm. Keeping the focus on cheap options, below $200 USD, there's really only a couple options in this area, specifically the Meike and 7Artisans 12mm f2.8's. These are different designs, not the same lens rebadged (as is so common for these Chinese lenses) and 7Artisans has the better overall reputation for quality, although their offering is a little more expensive (about $10USD more). 

I've selected the 7Artisans and have been shooting it for about 6 weeks now. I was extremely impressed with it from the initial presentation through the handling and image quality. 

The 7Artisans lens arrives in a very nice presentation box, frankly a much nicer one than many far more expensive lenses. it's nestled in quality foam (no styrofoam or cardboard like Zeiss or Sony/Nikon/Canon respectively) and includes a good rear cap, a push-on front cap, a microfibre pouch, a microfibre lens cleaning cloth and a stick-on focusing tab. 

The build quality of the lens is excellent. It's all metal, smooth focusing, no wobble/wiggle anywhere. My stick-on focusing tab did unstick after 6 weeks, but that's just going to happen with anything stick-on. It was a nice add and I'm looking at more permanent attachment options for it. 

Optically, it's quite good. Don't expect something that will embarrass the XF 14/2.8 or Touit 12/2.8, but it's sharp everywhere except the extreme corners, has nice colour and a nice overall rendering. The flare control is very 70's, with some loss of contrast and mild to moderate ghosting. Nice sunstars, but expect to deal with ghosts if you include the sun in the frame. 

I do recommend this lens quite highly. It's a much better experience in terms of handling and quality than the 25, which was merely nice for the price. The 7Artisans lens could easily command twice the price or more if 7Artisans got access to better coating technology. As it is, I think it's still worth $300USD or so, which is pretty good for a $180 lens. 

More images from the 12/2.8 can be found here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mawz/tags/12mmf28/

 


Thursday, 3 September 2020

2500 on the X-T2

 

 


Fujifilm X-T2, Fujinon XF 55-200mm f3.5-4.8 LM OIS


I passed 2500 shots on the X-T2 today, after less than 2 months ownership, making it my most used Fuji body (I have shot more with X-T1's, but that's evenly split across two bodies with ~2250 shots each). It simply continues to deliver a great shooting experience in a compact and mostly well thought out package. I don't regret at all making it my primary body. The handling is excellent, the IQ is very good and it just makes me want to shoot.

I've been shooting a lot lately with the 55-200, it's a good flower and bugging lens and that's all I've been able to do lately due to work, I'm in the middle of a major project release and it will be at least 2 weeks before I can get out for a real hike again so shooting lately has been in the neighbourhood or in Cedarvale Ravine. But for the work I've been able to do, the 55-200 is doing very well and I look forward to trying it out in the bush. So far the handling is good, the images sharp and the OIS is surprisingly good, I've gotten good results down to 1/20 handheld at 200mm. The only thing I'd knock is the merely average close focus ability, it's enough for what I need but I'd love a little more.

I've done a bit with the XC 16-50 OIS II as well, and confirmed I have another good copy of that small but competent lens. It won't win any awards, but it does what it does quite well and for not much investment. I'd call it probably the best all-round kit lens in its class, being wider than the Olympus or Panasonic 14-42's, quite sharp, good close focus, it's big enough to handle well even on a larger body and small enough that it's non-collapsible operation really isn't that much of a downside. The only knock is it's not pocketable on a body, unlike the 15-45 or the various pancake zooms from the competition (everybody but Canon makes a collapsible pancake in at least one mount).

In terms of workflow, I've been doing everything on the iPhone/iPad Pro combo for the last week and have sorted out most of the challenges. I'd kill for a good Blogger app though, right now I have to edit in the browser which is less fun on a tablet and definitely need to get a keyboard cover & Apple Pencil 2 for editing. LR Mobile has been giving good results with the 24MP X-Trans files so far, so fingers crossed that I won't run into any issues, of course if I do, I can just edit on the desktop. I am still working on the best way to handle sync back to the desktop for Archival purposes. I don't trust Adobe Cloud as the sole repository for my RAW files. I'd also like finer grained control over on-device caching with LR Mobile. It's supposed to manage it for me automatically, but until I see it clean up old cache files to allow a big import, I won't trust it entirely.

I have actually found import to iPhone useful when out shooting. I can dump the card, do a quick edit for Instagram on the phone and post it while on the move, then let it sync when I get home and do selects/edits on the iPad. The only annoyance is that I need to proxy any posts through Photos, rather than sharing directly from LR Mobile. LR Mobile can DM a pic, but not post to my feed.

Right now it seems with both Instagram and Flickr I have to post then edit to do some key stuff. When posting to Instagram, right now I'm blocked on editing hashtags with suggestions and direct to Facebook flow. With Flickr it's groups, I can add to Albums but not Groups on upload. I also can't get BBCode or an Embed link from Flickr's app, have to use the browser for that. For the most part it's not more difficult, just different.

I have been following the recent announcements. Panasonic's S5 looks killer for landscape work, between the highres multishot, Live long exposures and that 20-60mm compact zoom (the perfect wide zoom for hiking). And Panasonic is bringing a set of f1.8 primes, hopefully at reasonable prices.

The S5 is pricey though, plus the EVF is low spec for the pricepoint. The video features keep the price up (it's worth it if you care about the video). We'll see what a 2 lens kit ends up looking like after their 70-300 ships later this year and frankly if the free Sigma 45/2.8 deal comes to Canada it's a lot better value.

The Nikon Z5 looks great and has much better pricing on the body, but honestly I'd rather a 20-60 than a 24-50 any day of the week, especially since the 20-60 costs the same. Still have an interest in the Z5 though, it's a steal for its price already and will only get cheaper. A pity that Nikon is so lacking in the cheap but good Z lenses the Z5 deserves. The current Z lineup is great, but none of them are inexpensive and Nikon needs some consumer glass to go with their consumer body. Z5 customers just aren't interested in spending $800CDN for a nifty fifty.


Sunday, 30 August 2020

A6300 Gone

Four Flowers Fujifilm X-T2, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 AI

I've been enjoying the A6300 over the last week or so. It really is a nice little camera and a lot better than I was expecting in terms of ergonomics.

However something was bugging me about it, and I figured out what it was.

Basically, I'd got it because of Sony's better lens selection compared to Fuji, specifically in the case of telephoto zooms. But I'd still need to buy that zoom. The ability to share kit with my partner (who shoots my former A7II) and have access to some other interesting glass was secondary.

What was bugging me? In short, the A6300 cost me pretty much what a Fuji XF 55-200 does. That lens is basically the right answer for my long lens challenges. So the A6300 went back, along with the E 16-50, and a 55-200 and XC 16-50 came home in its place.

Friday, 28 August 2020

Workflow Thoughts

Fujifilm XT-2, AF Nikon 70-300mm f4-5.6 D


I hate doing post. Post is however a key component of getting quality images.


Right now I do pretty much all of my post in CaptureOne on my PC, with files backed up to OneDrive. It works and I like the end results but the process is clunky and I’d like something both more mobile and smoother. 


I’ve long maintained an Adobe Create Cloud subscription to get access to Lightroom Mobile for quick on the go editing. I also have a 1st gen iPad Pro on long-term loan from work. So I’m going to do some testing to see if I can put together a functional workflow on the iPad Pro. It is only a 32GB model, so a serious workflow would involve investing in a newer model with more reasonable storage, but 32GB is enough for testing if I don’t keep files on the iPad but delete after sync to Adobe Cloud.


This will also let me try out some of the neater presets out there. Lightroom has a much healthier 3rd party ecosystem than CaptureOne.
 

Thursday, 27 August 2020

200 Posts

Chippy on a Rock Nikon D750, AF Nikkor 70-300mm f4-5.6 D

I first posted on this incarnation of this blog on the 5th of December, 2013 and would be talking about switching to Sony on the very second post. I hit 100 posts on 10th February 2019, where I first discussed why I bought my original X-T1 despite my previous challenges with Fuji X-Trans bodies.

This is my 200th post here, having posted as much in the last 18 months as I did in the previous 5 years.

There's been more system switching and grass is greener posts than I'd like and far less 'good gear on a budget' and photography philosophy and technique posts. Here's hoping that my brain will slowly stop hating me and let me settle on one or a pair of systems so I can concentrate on writing about things that actually matter for photography. Most of my system switching of late has been about comfort or perceived value, the only real exception was dumping m43 last year so I could skip doing so much multi-shot work to get files I liked.

What's next? First up is finishing up the Fuji on the Cheap series of posts. I need to get a proper 135mm option and maybe a 7Artisans 55mm f1.4 to round that up. Then it will probably be a Sony APS-C zooms on the cheap, featuring adapted Canon zooms on Sony (specifically pairing Canon's excellent & inexpensive 10-18 STM and 55-250 STM with the Sony 16-50 to get an inexpensive and functional zoom kit for a low, low investment).

I also want to talk about long-exposure landscape work some, which means I need to buy a 6 stop ND (the most basic filter for this sort of work) and some step-up rings.

So, any bets on me hitting 300 posts by February, 2021?

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Nikon's Z5 Pricing Problem

Tagged Box Sony A7 II, Nikkor 28mm f3.5 H


The Z5 looks like a great little camera, and the price for the body itself is quite reasonable at $1899CAD, some $500CAD cheaper than the A7III from Sony. The kits maintain a gap, but it narrows to merely $300 ($2299 for the Z5 with 24-50 vs $2599 for the A7III with FE28-70)

However, when you look into what a kit will cost you, things start to fall apart. Nikon's lens prices in Z mount are so high that it offsets the reasonable price for the body.

Want a 50mm f1.8? Well, that will cost you some $2699 with a Z5, and $2749 with an A7III. Hmm...where did the price gap go?

The rest of the f1.8's have smaller price gaps, with one exception. Those gaps range from $300 for the 35's down to $200 for the 20's. The exception? 24mm, as Sony only offers the $1899 24mm f1.4 GM, to Nikon's $1299 24mm f1.8 S. Too bad for the Nikon that the Sony is faster, smaller, 5gm lighter and arguably better optically. Seriously Nikon, you couldn't make a 24mm f1.8 that's smaller than your competition's class-leading f1.4 version?

That brings up the other issue with Nikon's f1.8 primes. They're frikkin huge. Sony's 50/1.8, at 186g, is less than half the weight of the 450g Nikkor. It's 8mm thinner and 26mm (yes a full inch) shorter. The 35/1.8's are closer, being the same length, but again the Sony is thinner and this time a mere 90g lighter (280g vs 370g). At 85mm the Sony is fatter by 3mm, but still 17mm shorter and 99g lighter. At 20mm, the Nikkor is 12mm wider, 24mm longer and 127g heaver.

Now in the case of the 35, 50 & 85 Nikon can at least claim that their lenses are decidedly better optically. But the two 20mm's are on par and Sony's 24mm GM is the better of the two 24mm's, arguably being the best 24mm on the market (and one of the smallest & lightest for those faster than f2.8).

And remember, you can buy 6+ native telephoto zooms from Sony, Tamron or Sigma, vs you might be able to get a single one from Nikon next week (and it's large, heavy and expensive and limited to 200mm vs out to 600mm with the Sony), otherwise I hope you got the FTZ with the bundle discount, it's $329 otherwise. Plus the A7II has a vertical grip, albeit at a ridiculously high price ($469CAD) but Nikon charging $269 for a battery grip with no controls is even sillier.

So Nikon, bravo on the Z5 itself, although that 24-50 ain't worth a $400 jump in the kit price. Now work on the rest of the package, you've got a window because Sony still doesn't have a FE UWA at consumer prices or a consumer-priced telezoom (Tamron has that coming though)

Monday, 24 August 2020

How Does the A6300 Fit?

Stump and Sky

Nikon D750, Laowa 15mm f4 Macro

So all random musings aside, how does the A6300 fit into my gear.

1. It provides me a more capable light/compact carry body than the X-E2. Frankly, I'd just been leaving the X-E2 at home, carrying the X-T's or no camera at all. While the X-E2 is a perfectly capable camera, I wanted a larger finder (X-E2 finder is 0.62x), a better grip and a flip-up screen. I got all of those from the X-T's with plates attached, but the A6300 delivers that in a smaller & lighter package.

2. It lets me adapt lenses I didn't have the right adapters for on Fuji. Specifically Canon EF lenses and Nikon G lenses (I still have a 16-85G VR DX). The Fuji EF adapters are very pricey, and I have access to the decent performing Fotodiox Fusion adapter in E mount (plus I own an EF 50mm f1.8 STM and can borrow a 75-300 USM III).

3. It gives me long lens with AF options. Fuji is VERY weak here, while E mount has a bunch of options, plus EF adapting is more viable opening even more options up. I just have had a hard time trying to justify getting Fuji's 50-230 OIS when the similar performing EF 55-250 IS STM can be had for half the price. For 55-200 money I can get into a 70-350 or a used 70-200/4 IS USM, a native 100-400 is cheaper & lighter than the Fuji 100-400. Fuji's strength is 1st party primes and wide zooms, but they're not that far ahead in wide zooms on APS-C (one Sony G UWA and it's a wash) and frankly Sigma and Samyang are doing well enough on the primes side that you can mostly ignore Sony's weak APS-C prime offerings.

4. I can share glass, batteries & other accessories with my partner in the field, as she now shoots my A7II. 

I'm not getting rid of the X-T's for now, frankly even if I did I'd keep the X-T1 and the 12 & 25mm lenses just to play with. If I did get rid of the X-T2, it would be for another A7 body, likely an A7III or A7RII or later. I can see myself carrying the X-T2 for wide and A6300 for long when hiking though.  

Sunday, 23 August 2020

More Random Thoughts on the A6300

The Path is Lined

Fujifilm X-T2, 7Artisans 12mm f2.8

I got out yesterday for a hike on the Seaton Hiking Trail with the A6300, giving me a chance to really use it for more than just some neighbourhood flower shots. With 340-ish shots on it, we're still in New Toy mode. 

Frankly, it's clear that I was not giving the A series APS-C cameras a fair shake. I've been avoiding them for a while largely due to my mixed experiences with the earlier NEX bodies, specifically the 3 different NEX-5 variants I've owned and the two NEX-7's. 

The A6300 was the mid-range body of its generation, sitting between the older A6000 (which replaced the NEX-6) and the slightly newer A6500. The A6300 was for all intents & purposes the NEX-7 replacement body, delivering the build & EVF experience that a NEX-7 user would not have found on either the NEX-6 or the A6000. 

Compared to Fuji, it really sits in between the X-T20 and X-T2 in terms of capability, but is closer overall to the X-T20 in features and target market. Sony's flagship of this generation was the A6500, which featured IBIS and a truly impressively deep buffer (100 RAWs vs 48 max for the X-T2) plus a touchscreen, vs the better sealing, pro-grade shutter (1/8000 mechanical, 1/250 sync) and higher max fps (14 vs 11) of the X-T2, plus the X-T2's bigger finder (0.77x vs 0.71x for the Sony's). Interestingly, both Sony's were priced between the X-T2 and the X-T20, with the A6500 coming in a little below the X-T2 and the A6300 coming in just above the X-T20.  The pricing really does reflect the relative capabilities of these bodies, aside from AF performance, the A6300 and A6500 took the APS-C Mirrorless AF performance crown back from Fuji and have kept it ever since.

In terms of ergonomics, the A6300 is better than I expected, as I noted in the last post. I do like how many options Sony made assignable to buttons, there's about 50% more options that are assignable compared to on the Fuji's. You do have less buttons to assign to, but the switch allows you to overload one of them. The lack of a MyMenu is annoying, but Sony's Fn menu is more configurable than Fuji's Q menu. 

Sony's JPEG's are decent out of the box, but you're very limited on how you can tweak them (contrast, saturation & sharpening only) and there's no custom slots unlike Fuji or Nikon. Sony, you REALLY can do better here. The defaults are good, and there's actually more options there including some very specific ones (Autumn Leaves, Sunset) but the lack of tweaking limits you compared to the Fujis or Nikons.

Auto ISO is better than on older Sony bodies, but you still need to set a custom speed for lenses which need a speed higher than 1/60th if they're not electronically coupled. Luckily this is assignable directly to a switch (On Fuji, you can assign Auto ISO options to a switch and dive into a second menu from there, or put Focal Length on your MyMenu, which also writes EXIF and lets you leave Auto ISO on Auto shutter speed. Sony's quicker, Fuji's more powerful).

For IQ, frankly the RAW's aren't quite as good as the Fuji overall, as they're 14-bit lossy compressed (12-bit in continuous) and I like the default colours less. That said, there's more room to recover in the highlights on the A6300 than on the X-T2, meaning I can bring back sky using my Nikon D750 presets without too much issues. The Sony's are losing more data in the shadows from the compression and the shifting of 1EV or so of data into the highlights. Also the green rendering is closer to the Nikon's so it's easier to get that punchy green and deep blue look for landscapes that I love. Can't quite get the Nikon Indigo's yet, but I think that might be achievable from the Sony files, it's not on Fuji. 

I did a quick ISO test to see how the different bodies metered. I set the X-T2 to ISO 200, mounted my Nikkor 50/1.8D set to f5.6 and got a shutter speed of 1/1250. Swapped the lens onto the A6300 and matched the shutter speed at ISO 160. Then I swapped it onto the A7II and matched shutter speed at ISO 125. I was metering against blank sky with the same aperture, so the Field of View differences between the A7II and the two APS-C bodies shouldn't matter, at f5.6 there's little vignetting on the Nikkor so that shouldn't have affected metering either.

The takeaway from this is that there's about 1/3 stop difference in how the two APS-C bodies meter and/or rate ISO. That gives me effectively 2/3rd a stop lower ISO range on the A6300 (base of 100 vs 200 on the X-T2), which should be good for longer-exposure work when shooting rivers & streams. Combined with the extra RAW headroom in the highlights, I should be able to worry less about blowing highlights when shooting the Sony vs the Fuji.


Saturday, 22 August 2020

First Thoughts on the A6300

Watered

Sony A6300, Sony E 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OSS PZ

I had to make a quick run to the local grocery store last night, which gave me a chance to try out the A6300. Mostly I shot with the tiny 16-50 Power Zoom that's been the kit lens for all the APS-C Sony bodies since the late NEX era. Note I've owned the older 18-55 OSS with my first couple NEX's (the 5N and 7) and didn't like it much, it was too big and no great shakes optically. 

I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable the grip is. The camera is a soapbox with a grip, and it's not a large grip, but it fits my medium-sized hands reasonably well. The thumb rest could do with some more definition, but that's all I can complain about.

I was also surprised by how thick the bodies are. After owning several NEX's, I was expecting pretty similar form factor (despite the pictures making the body changes obvious). The A6300 body is about twice as deep as the NEX bodies, including the 7 and that brings 2 real changes to the handling. The first is the palm section of the grip becomes much deeper, which is a good thing. The second is that there is now some actual surface for a tripod plate to stabilize against.

None of the NEX bodies paired well with tripods because of how unstable the plates were (the NEX-6 started to get usable, but I found I had to use adapted lenses on the NEX-7 when shooting on a tripod if only to be able to use the much better tripod feed on the adapters, particularly the LA-EA1 I used with my selection of A mount glass back then)

Control layout is good for the most part. The AF/MF+AEL button/switch combo is better located than on the A7II, and that makes it more useful as AF-On. C1 and C2 are in lousy locations though, C2 is basically unusable when holding the camera in shooting position (same issue with C4 on the A7II which is in the same spot) and C1 is just awkward. As such, I threw AE Lock on C1 (as I don't use it that much) and the Auto ISO Minimum Shutter Speed onto C2 (C4 on the A7II is Focal Length for manual lenses, but since Sony only uses that for IBIS and the A6300 doesn't have IBIS, that's not an option on the A6300). For the switch, in AF/MF I set it to AF-On, in AEL the button is Focus Magnification, so I can just flip the switch when using manual focus lenses. I disabled the movie button outside of movie mode, but sadly Sony still doesn't make it assignable in this body (better than the NEX-7 initially, but Sony added the disable there via firmware update and nothing has changed since then). I wish it was dual-wheel like the NEX-7 rather than having a mode dial, I was fine with Mode as a menu item, but most people do change Mode a lot more than I do (and I only really use 2 modes anyways, A & M)

Performance is good. The camera is responsive in most regards, although it does feel slower than the X-T2. Frankly, in terms of responsiveness it feels a lot like the X-T1, very good but not outstanding. AF is a little odd, it feels slower than the X-T2 (for the little AF shooting I've done), but it definitely tracks much better. I think the actual single-shot AF lockon time is a touch slower, but the AF tracking (and thus Video and AF-C performance) are decidedly better. Face detect is usable (it's not on the X-T2).

One thing I've missed from the Sony's is that they auto-switch to Manual Focus mode when mounting a manual lens or non-electronic adapter. One of my few annoyances with the Fuji's is you have to still flip the focus mode switch to M to get access to the manual focus assists, and that switch is awkwardly placed on the front of the camera (one of the few cases where I wish Fuji would ditch the dedicated physical control). This is minor, but it was a delight when I mounted my Nikkor 105/2.5 and realized that the camera went into MF mode by itself. I don't mind automation when it does the right thing.

As to the 16-50, it's impressively unimpressive. I can't think of a lens I've shot with that's as thoroughly mediocre without annoying me. Now I don't really like Power Zoom, but this thing is a pancake when retracted so I'll give it a little there. It's optically unimpressive, not bad, just not good either. Acceptable seems to have been the design requirement and they've hit it dead on. The one thing I will call out is that the close focus performance at 50mm is pretty good. I was expecting it to be mediocre, much as the FE 28-70 is (with 0.45m at 70mm), but it gets down to 0.3m at 50mm, which is actually very good for any 50mm non-Macro. 

Now I generally found the FE 28-70 to be a decent and arguably underrated lens, and optically I'd say it's visibly better than the 16-50, but the 16-50 is noticeably wider, a touch longer and just more flexible thanks to the closer MFD. 

At the end of the day, the 16-50 is an acceptable kit lens and a useful bag lens thanks to adequate performance, low cost and utterly tiny size when collapsed. Plus being Power Zoom, it collapses itself like Fuji's 15-45 but unlike Nikon's 16-50 or Olympus's 14-42 R. Sadly it's not the gem than the Oly 14-42 EZ is, but again, it's acceptable, cheap and tiny. Very useful as a small lens for light carry or light video work on the APS-C or A7R series bodies (in crop mode for the latter)

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Sometimes I Hate My Brain

West Duffins U-Turn Fujifilm X-T2, 7Artisans 12mm f2.8 

My brain's been telling me it's time to get rid of the D750 for a while now. I've been unable to stop thinking about what the next option should be. I've been happy with the D750, but I'd like to get back to a setup where I have more mount adaptation flexibility.

Today I finally settled on that. For now it's a mixed Sony/Fuji system, we'll see what the future holds.

One of the drivers of this was knowing that my high-mileage D750's value was facing a cliff. As DSLR's drop in value on the used market, high mileage ones, like my 235k D750, drop further and faster. I was given the option to sell the D750 for basically what I had in it and took it. I also dumped 3 of my Nikon lenses (both AF zooms and my Yongnuo 50/1.8N) and the mostly unused Fuji X-E2 body (it just kept getting left at home in favour of the X-T1, X-T2 or both). I've retained the rest of the Fuji kit and all the Nikon MF lenses plus the 20/2.8 AF.

What did I get? An A6300. I still can borrow my partner's A7II when I want to shoot FF and I've never owned any of the non-NEX APS-C bodies. There's a wide variety of lenses available for it, many of which are not available in X mount and it has performance largely similar to the X-T2. I'll no doubt get another FF body at some point in the not too distant future, hoping it will be an A7III next time. This nets me a relatively high performance APS-C body to partner with an FF setup, as well as the ability to share batteries/lenses with my partner when we're out.

I'm not getting rid of the X-T's though, I enjoy them too much. Even if I was to do some sort of trade-in on a new body, I'd keep the X-T1 and the 7Artisans lenses. They're fun and not worth getting rid of.

 

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

2AM Wakeups

Golden Light on Smoke Lake

Fujifilm X-T2, Fujinon XC 35mm f2

If you're a landscape photographer, you've probably been asked the question 'why the heck are you getting up so early', if your partner, parent or child is a landscape photographer, you're probably the one who asked the question. The other question is always 'so when will you get home', with an answer that's often hours after dark. 

The image above is a partial answer. That image was taken at 6:41AM, and I'd already been shooting at that location for an hour when I took it. I arrived at 5:30AM and was setup 10 minutes later after going digging for a fleece jacket, it was 11C when I arrived onsite. I should have worn pants instead of shorts, August in the bush may be hot, but it gets quite cool overnight when you're that far north, Algonquin Park in this case, I'm less than 40 meters from Highway 60 here.

To get to this location, which is some 250km from my home, I left at 2:20AM after a 2AM wakeup call. Needless to say my partner did ask me if I really had to wake up that early, a thoroughly understandable question. Yes, I did have to. I could not have taken a shot like this without that early departure. 

The sad reality of landscape photography is that so much of your work ends up happening in a pair of roughly 2 hour windows, covering the hour before dawn to the hour after, and the hour before dark to the hour after. That's when the light is the best on most scenes, when there's colour in the skies and also when you get things like mist on the water. 

The challenge to the photographer, especially in the summer when dawn can be before 6AM and dusk after 9pm, is what do you do for the rest of the day. For me, I hike, or I drive around looking for something interesting. There's actually a lot of nature and more intimate landscape work that can be done even in noonday sun when you're in the woods. In fact for some stuff you really only can shoot it during the mid-day as that's the only time you're getting enough light between the trees. I also love stopping at little knick-knack shops, coffee shops and bakeries in small towns, although that's restricted these days with the COVID-19 issues. As such I really do try and avoid people and shops entirely when going out for a day's shooting. 

Napping is another valid option for killing the time between Golden Hours, especially if you're camping. Get the rest when the light is bland, so you can be awake when it's not (or for those moonrise and Milky Way shots at night). 

Monday, 17 August 2020

A Good Hike, and Peak Design Changes My World Again

Lilies and Grass

Fujifilm X-T2, Fujinon XC 35mm f2

Saturday was a very early day for me. I got up at 2AM to leave for Algonquin Park hoping to get some pre-dawn misty lake shots as well as a good sunrise from a favourite spot of mine on Smoke Lake. I ended up with some amazing mist shots, but the sunrise was a little disappointing, it was too clear to get a really epic one.

After the sunrise, I headed a bit up Highway 60 to hike the Mizzy Lake Trail, which is a moderate trail listed as 11.1KM, just a touch more than the longest hike I've done to date. They lied, it was actually 12.4km, almost 25% longer than my previous best.

It was a good hike though. I got through it in better shape than any of my previous longer hikes. Did 12.4km in 4.5  hours of walking, a little over 5 hours all told including stops for photography and to get stuff out of my shoes.

A couple gear changes made this a lot easier. First off, I carried my Deuter Race EXP AIR pack instead of a camera bag. This pack is a fairly small hydration pack, which let me carry a fairly minimal kit (X-T2, 12, 25, 35, 55, 135 primes, 70-300 zoom, Platypod and Manfrotto 293 tripod) plus 3L of water in the reservoir. For the first time this year I came back with water left over, having drank 2L of water over the course of the hike. This pack also has a mesh backrest with an air gap, reducing back sweat immensely. I'd stuffed an internal 2 lens separator into it and that worked very well for the small kit I was carrying (multiple lenses, but small & light ones)

The second and frankly more important change was that I got a Peak Design Capture Clip and used it heavily on the hike. This is a clip that allows you to hang your camera securely from a shoulder strap or belt.

I have some lingering injury issues with my right elbow that limits how long I can carry a camera in my hand, and the heavier the camera+lens, the less time I can carry it. I also hate neck straps in general, I find they get in the way when shooting and I can only carry a camera on my neck for an hour or two anyways, again the heavier the camera+lens, the shorter a period I can carry it that way. I'd been looking at both the PD Capture Clip and the Cotton Carrier solutions for a while, but hesitated to buy in because of the cost, especially the Capture Clip which is decidedly more expensive than the Cotton Carrier. I did like that the Capture Clip plates are Arca-Swiss compatible unlike the standard Cotton Carrier plate and the Capture Clip attaches to what I'm already carrying rather than requiring me to wear a dedicated harness. 

I decided to pick up a Capture Clip and try it out, because I really did need to find a better solution than a neckstrap. 

I initially tried the Capture Clip on my belt, which carried fine but was finicky to get the X-T2 clipped in. I then moved it to my left shoulder strap and that worked very well for 2/3rds of the hike. I've later found out that Peak Design has a solution for Belt use that will solve the issue I had.

The more important aspect of the Capture Clip however is the test I did today on my lunchtime walk. I put the Capture Clip retainer on my D750 and went for a walk with it and the Deuter pack. Carrying the D750 with a lens set but no water worked extremely well and I barely felt the D750 on the clip. That means that the D750 just became a viable hiking option again and I can stick to shooting interesting primes on the Fuji's and a mix of primes & zooms on the D750, which is my preferred setup anyways. So I'll definitely be keeping the D750 for now and probably investing in some more Capture Clips & plates.

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Competing Gear Philosophies

Blue and Snow 

Nikon D800, Nikkor 105mm f2.5

One of my challenges around gear is conflicting philosophies about it.

One one hand I like a setup where I can just grab & go, everything works together and I have exactly what I need in the bag at all times. This is the desire that pushed me into selling my first X-T1 and going Olympus, and why I bought Fuji in the first place.

On the other hand I love neat & odd gear and old lenses. This is why I end up buying into Sony and Nikon mounts.

The challenge is that I can only readily do one of these. Either I have a single consistent kit, or I have a bag full of odd glass that leaves me hauling pounds of gear but having fun buying & shooting weird stuff.

Historically, getting the odd stuff has always meant vintage SLR lenses for me. I think the recent explosion of interesting 3rd party manual glass in mirrorless mounts can readily replace that.

The question then becomes what happens to my Nikon kit. Short term that's nothing, I'll keep it around. But I can see the day coming where I dump the wide & normal stuff for a single mirrorless mount. Only time will tell if that mount is X mount, but it's likely.


Monday, 10 August 2020

Remembering My Forgotten Gear

Tree in the Storm 

Fujifilm X-T2, 7Artisans 12mm f2.8


Yesterday's post on my experiences with adapting lenses, and especially the frustrations of adapting older wides on APS-C inspired me to take the recently-neglected X-T1 out, along with my Nikkor 24/2.8 K and Super-Takumar 35/3.5 and do some shooting.

This reminded me just how good these lenses actually are, even if the maximum aperture is pedestrian. The handling is also pretty good. While these lenses are a fair bit larger than the native Fuji X options I have, they're still not so large or heavy that they handle poorly on the X-T1.

I didn't come back with too much, the light was honestly lousy even by noonday standards and while I took around 50 shots, only a couple were really usable.

I do have to shoot some more with these lenses. The 24 is frankly better in all regards except speed, size and MFD than the Neewer 25mm f1.8, and it's pretty close on MFD, with its 0.3m MFD. Hmm, maybe I need to find a 28/2.8 AI-S, which focuses to 0.2m and is legendary in its close focus performance...

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Some Thoughts on Adapting Vintage Lenses

Sun over Seaton 

Fujifilm X-T2, 7Artisans 12mm f2.8


I've been adapting vintage lenses to digital cameras since the day I got my first DSLR back in 2005. I love manual focus and manual lenses and I've learned a few lessons the hard way.

Here's a few thoughts.

For APS-C shooters, don't bother adapting anything vintage wider than 35mm, and frankly most vintage 35's aren't worth your time. At 40mm or longer, adapting comes into its own. This goes doubly for Mirrorless, where you pay a significant size penalty for adapting lenses wider than 35mm as compared to simply buying a cheap and native manual focus lens. The issue is that you're already somewhat more dependent on lens speed than a FF shooter and vintage glass wider than 35mm is very rarely faster than f2.8, and when it is it's usually very low contrast wide open. That makes focus all but impossible on DSLR's and merely a pain on Mirrorless. Also most folks just find largish f3.5 normals kinda useless. 50mm and longer? Have fun, 50-200mm in particular is a sweet spot (longer and I find AF just becomes more and more useful for the sort of shooting you'll want 300mm+ lenses for)

For m43 shooters (or the few remaining Nikon 1 shooters). Don't waste your time. The crop factor hits you far worse and frankly anything on either side of the 50-100mm range is just going to suck as a shooting experience. I'd only bother really with macro's, and especially ~100mm ones. The more I shot m43, the more I just left everything vintage except macros at home.

For FF shooters, go nuts. You're not paying any penalty for adapting, especially on mirrorless, that you wouldn't have on the original camera, with one glaring exception. The exception is the use of classic RF wides (or the handful of SLR wides that require MLU to mount) on non-Leica cameras. These lenses have some interesting colour shift issues and require care to use with success.

As somebody who doesn't own much in the way of AF lenses, with one single one for my Fuji's (the XC35mm f2) and only a handful for my D750 (4 in my shooting kit and a spare 50mm) as compared to the 15 or so vintage lenses I own

Saturday, 8 August 2020

First Real Hike With The X-T2

Sun over Seaton

Fujifilm X-T2, 7Artisans 12mm f2.8

Today was the first time I  got a chance to do a real hike with the X-T2, for the last 3 weeks I've only been shooting in the neighbourhood aside from one trip up to Torrance Barrens for Comet Neowise. Today I got out to the Seaton Hiking Tail in Pickering to hike the second segment (Whitevale to Taunton Rd). I did take all 3 Fuji bodies, but only because I was intending to do a family shot of my basic Fuji shooting kit

 Aside from that, I packed the X-T1 also as a backup/second body but ended up shooting everything on the X-T2.

And I shot a lot with the X-T2. 526 shots in fact, on the high side of average for me when hiking. Yes, I shoot a lot. I also edit ruthlessly afterwards. I'm not one of those folks who spends 8 hours hiking and comes home with 5 frames, more the opposite. Of course most of my shots are the nature shots, where I tend to take a lot of similar frames and pick the best, for landscape shots I took maybe 40 frames all day.

That puts the X-T2 well over 1000 frames and well into my comfort zone. Well, to be frank it went pretty much directly from 'New Toy' to 'Comfort' somewhere around 3-400 shots in, with no 'Equivocation' stage. (the stages of camera ownership are from my 1101 Shots In post from 2018). In fact at this point, with 1400+ shots on it, I've shot more with the X-T2 than with any of the Fuji bodies I've owned aside from the X-T1's.

Overall, the X-T2 is really an X-T1 with most of the annoyances solved. And I already like the X-T1 a lot.

For today, I was pleasantly surprised to only use 1 battery all day. Now I pretty much ran it all the way down, but 526 shots is better than I typically got with the A7II and I wasn't doing anything to manage battery beyond turning the camera off when I wasn't using it. Having a properly sized on/off around the shutter helps, making this as easy as on the Sony or Nikon bodies, and better than the X-T1 or X-E2 (which have too small a switch) and far better than the Oly's (which put the switch on the left where it's unreachable). It's not D750 battery life, but this is the second time I've been favourably impressed by the battery life on this body, after the good impression it left at Torrance Barrens a couple weeks ago.

In terms of IQ, I'm finding three things. First off it doesn't expose hot like the 16MP bodies do. So I don't have to worry nearly as much about holding the highlights as I do with them. Secondly I have more recovery room than the 16MP bodies, especially in the highlights but also in the shadows. Third, while the colour signature is very distinctly Fuji, I can get a landscape rendering I like out of it fairly easily, which I never quite nailed with the X-T1 or X-E2. Add to that the fact that CaptureOne natively supports the Film Simulations on the X-T2, unlike on the older bodies (only the 24MP & 26MP Fuji's have Film Simulation support in C1) and my processing goes from more laborious than the Nikons to less so. That's a win overall as it means that rather than having to choose between easy to carry and easy to process, I get all in one package.

In terms of glass, I took the 7Artisans 12mm f2.8, the Laowa 15mm 4 Macro, the Neewer 25mm f1.8, the Fujinon XC 35mm f2, the Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 AI and the Vivitar 70-150mm f3.8 C/Y. I used all the lenses except the Laowa, although the XC35 got barely any use. I should have left the Vivitar at home and carried either the Nikkor 70-300mm f4-5.6D or the Nikkor 50-135mm f3.5 AI-S. I'm not happy with the Vivitar's performance on 24MP APS-C. It does fine on the A7II, but just isn't up to the higher pixel density APS-C sensors unless I stop down to f8, which eliminates the reason to carry it over the 70-300D. For the first half of the walk, I used the 12mm, 25mm and 70-150. On the way back I used the 12mm, 35mm and 55mm, but mostly just the 55mm as I'd got most of the good 12mm shots on the way out.

The takeaways from lens usage is that I could largely get away with the 12mm, another 16-50 and a 50-230 or 55-200 for Hiking, eventually going to the 10-24/55-200 pair (or a 10-24/70-300 pair with a 35-55mm prime in there too, once the XF70-300 arrives). That would let me cut down significant on lens count, which also means I might be able to get away with using my light hydration pack over a camera pack, allowing me more water and a cooler carry (that pack has a mesh section which keeps the main pack away from the back).

I didn't carry a tripod today, knowing it would get no use. I did have the Platypod just in case but didn't need it. I do like having it so I know I have a support system if needed, but without the size & weight penalty of even my smaller tripod.

For next time, I'll carry the 12, 25 and 55, plus either the 50-135 or the Nikkor 105mm f2.5 AI-S. I'm slowly getting the kit down to something truly manageable for longer hikes.

 

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

7Artisans 12mm f2.8 FX - Initial Impressions


Two Trees
Fujifilm X-T2, 7Artisans 12mm f2.8

My 7Artisans 12mm f2.8 arrived yesterday, after a surprisingly long wait for an Amazon Prime order (ordered last Friday, man I've become spoiled by next day shipping). This will be my go-to UWA on my Fuji bodies for the foreseeable future.

Initial impressions are very good. My expectations in terms of presentation were for something akin to my Neewer 25mm f1.8, ie a lens in a decent little leather pouch, in a simple cardboard box. The Neewer is a re-branded 7Artisans lens and led me to that conclusion.

What I got was much different. A slick black box with 7Artisans LENS filigreed on it, opened it up to find a lens cloth (nice, but in the listing so no extra points), a slick microfibre lens pouch and a little plastic pouch containing a stick-on focusing tab, plus the lens paperwork (Warranty card and a little manual with some useful bits and some Warm Ticks). Lifting those out finds a removable closed-cell foam insert, which can be removed to find the lens securely cradled in a second closed-cell foam insert, contained in a small plastic bag. Really impressive packaging, better than my Laowa 15mm for sure, and for a lens which sells for 1/3 the price. Frankly, most camera makers do not package their lenses this well, even at far higher costs (my Zeiss 85mm f1.4 came in good old styrofoam)

Taking the lens out of the package, I continued to be impressed. Again, I was basing my expectations on the Neewer/7Artisans 25mm f1.8, which has an OK build, completely uncalibrated focusing and a very grindy focus feel when new (the helical needed to be broken in, it's quite nice now). The 12mm on the other hand has excellent build, just about on par with the Laowa 15mm. Infinity focus appears to be dead-on (and I mean exactly on) and the focusing is buttery smooth, with just the right amount of damping to make the focusing tab a useful add-on. The lens cap is a metal push-on cap that fits over the integrated hood. It's not that wide to not include a filter ring, but 7Artisans sells a 77mm filter adapter as a $25CDN addition, I'll be ordering that eventually and I like that it's optional as this is a surprisingly compact lens without it, barely larger than the XC35/2. The aperture ring is clickless and ranges from f2.8-f16, a little surprising that it doesn't make it to f22 or smaller for those deep-DoF shots. Not an issue for me, I'll pretty much leave it at f5.6 or f8 for the most part.

A couple quick test shots showed that the sharpness is good in the centre at least. Close focus is 20cm, more than adequate for a lens like this, even if I'm spoiled by the Laowa 15mm and its 1:1 close focus. No flare/coating tests yet, and I expect that to be the biggest weak point of this lens, I have lenses from 4 different Chinese brands and 3 different factories (Laowa, 7Artisans/Neewer, Yongnuo) and all of them have lousy coatings, even the $500USD Laowa 15mm f4 Macro.

Overall the presentation and quality are far better than I'd expected for a $240CDN Ultra-wide angle lens. Well done 7Artisans.


Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Olympus Underwhelms Again


Nature in Miniature
Fuji X-T2, Neewer (7Artisans) 25mm f1.8

Olympus had two announcements today, the E-M10 Mark IV and a 100-400 f5-6.3 IS.

Surprisingly, the 100-400 IS will ship in early September. I was not expecting that and this lens should appeal to quite a number of m43 folks looking for a lightweight supertele option that is fully compatible with the advanced focusing features of the 20MP PDAF bodies. It's a little pricey at $1500USD, but no doubt will see discounts fairly quickly. I'd expect it will be hard to get for a while, as this is the perfect match to the 12-100/4 Pro for a lot of backpackers. Say what you will about the bodies, but Olympus is now 2 for 2 on interesting lenses in 2020 with the 12-45/4 (after a 2 year dead zone in 2018 & 2019, where they announced 2 lenses and delivered only one of them, a thoroughly uninteresting consumer ridicuzoom, we're still waiting for the 150-400/4.5 that I frankly never expect to see released at this point)

On the body side Olympus managed to undershoot my already low expectations. I'd expected it to be nothing more than the 20MP sensor and processing stuffed into an E-M10 III body. Olympus delivered that, but they used the Pen-F variant of the sensor without PDAF rather than the PDAF variant that's used in all their current 20MP bodies, so despite the speed boost (up 1.5fps to a still-low 6.3fps) and gaining face/eye detection it remains utterly worthless for continuous advance or movie AF. It also got a Nikon Z50 style extended articulation of the LCD so you could use it for hand-held selfies, but not any where you are using camera support. On the plus side, it has a very reasonable 360 shot CIPA rating for LCD use, that's better than average for a class where sub-300 shots is not unheard of.

The pricing would have been alright if the body had been what I'd originally expected, coming in at the same pricing as the X-T200 ($699USD body-only, $799 with 14-42 EZ kit lens). But without PDAF this is a $500 stripper body in this market, with performance on par with the Fuji X-T100 and Sony A6000 and as such it's about $200USD overpriced for what it is.

Verdict? Don't buy at list, if you really want it wait for the fire sale in 3 months. Or better yet, get the E-M5III when it hits fire sale territory as it's just a massively better body in all regards, even at its current wildly overpriced state.

Friday, 31 July 2020

The Ever-Present Lure of Film


Lonely Vendor
Nikon FM10, Voigtlander Nokton 58mm f1.4 SLII, HP5+

Film continues to be an interest of mine. While I've pretty much stopped shooting it for the last few years, I'm always tempted to come back to it. I've dabbled enough over the last few years that I do still have a backlog of film to process.

There's a few reasons for this. 

First off, I like the cameras and process of shooting film. Manual, mechanical 35mm cameras in particular are just so very enjoyable to use. It's not surprising that I currently shoot the digital system that's closest to a classic Nikon film SLR in UI (Fuji that is, the X-T line is the closest thing ever done to a digital FM2n). I also like classic manual focus lenses. Unsurprising that the vast majority of my lenses even today are manual focus classics. They're just my bag.

Second I like the results. Film just looks good, we've been exposed to the look for so long that it's how we expect photographs to look. This is why Fuji's film simulations are so popular and why there's a big market for film mimicing presets and plugins for post-processing. This is especially true for B&W work, but of late we've seen a lot of attempts to mimic classic films like Kodachrome or Portra. Some of these were even successful (Fuji's Classic Chrome for example is clearly a Kodachrome simulation)

Third, I still do like the process, especially in the case of B&W. While I know find the workflow more problematic than I do for digital, the art of developing remains a meditative experience for me.

The odd thing is that I've never really liked shooting landscapes with film however I've always preferred film as a cityscape medium. That does explain a lot about my move away from shooting film as I've transitioned from primarily shooting Cityscape to primarily shooting Landscape & Nature. 

I really do need to get out and shoot some film. I also should really acquire a second Nikon body so I can load one with colour and one with B&W. I do find having only one body limiting in terms of film choice.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

What Should Nikon Do?


The Milky Way
D750, Laowa 15mm f4 Macro

Nikon needs to get some movement with the Z system, here's what I think they should do.

1. Put a stake through Z DX. It's dead Jim, it's pining for the fjords. Serious crop shooters went Fuji, Olympus or maybe Sony and Nikon's current offerings won't pick up the folks now bailing out on Olympus. The consumer market is busy buying EF-M or maybe an A6100 if they even bother with a real camera instead of using their phone. Figure something out to apologize to the few Z50 buyers.

2. Get Viltrox, Tamron and Sigma releasing their lenses in Z mount. Whatever that costs Nikon, it will be worth it in the long run, especially if those lenses arrive in Z mount before R mount (and be sure they're already coming in R mount thanks to the R5/R6 announcement success)

3. Go wave some money at Kodak's remains and secure rights to the film names. Then come up with a set of Picture Controls that mimics those films and make them available for all cameras with Picture Control support (or at least the D750/D6x0 and consumer bodies, along with all Z's). Fuji's made a killing here and Kodak's far more legendary names are ripe for the picking now. 

4. Get even more aggressive on price with the Z5 ($1199 I think, with the 24-50 being a $100 add), and bring out a Z3 for $899. Start pushing consumer Z lenses now that the core f2.8 trinity is done.

5. Folks shoot DX because it's small and/or they like the reach it brings. For the former, small bodies combined with lenses like the 24-50 cover it. For the latter, Nikon needs some cheap and long lenses. A consumer 200-500/8 would work well here. Canon's F11 telephotos are their answer, Nikon needs its own answer. A small and cheap set of primes are also needed. 18 & 24 f2.8's, 35, 50 and 75 f2's. These need to be good performers, but not S level, and should sell between $150 and $400 USD. That fills the compact needs and the cheap needs, while still delivering solid performance. Fuji's Fujicron line is the pattern here, but without the fancy build that drives up the price. 

What should the Z3 be? A full frame Z50. Start with the Z50 body, stuff the Z5 sensor in it, delete all the ports except a USB-C PD port or two. Cameras have been suffering from port sprawl for years. The reality is that everything in terms of ports can be replaced by USB-C. Don't include a charger, the consumer will be happy charging from their phone/laptop charger. Do come out with a USB-C PD dual charger for the battery (same battery as Z50 of course) that's an available accessory (and actually on shelves at launch, unlike the Z6/Z7 battery grip)

This does need to be paired with a USB-C version of the remote release cable, but that's really it. By pairing this way, Nikon can support a larger selection of accessories while minimizing the hardware cost. USB-C can support HDMI output, audio in/out, power delivery, remote releases, external storage, tethering, etc. And thanks to being a USB variant, it can do all of those at once via hubs.

One thing that should definitely be supported is the ability to write to USB-C storage directly, with support for typical filesystems (FAT32, ExFAT, NTFS and whatever Mac OS is doing these days). More capability with less hardware is a win for everybody. The users get more camera and it costs Nikon less to deliver.

Where possible, any USB-C capability added should be given to all bodies in the line. 

No IBIS, but a cheap, small and slow 24-105 VR zoom for it. Make sure there's also a 70-300VR for Z users (that will sell to Z5 users and weight conscious higher-end users if it's as competent as the current 70-300 AF-P DX. It can also be slower at the long end to cut size/weight, f6.3 or f7.1 is viable). 

Next go pay somebody competent to write a new Android/iOS/Windows app for it and work with the firmware designers for the Z so that connectivity is seamless and sharing can be triggered from the camera (you want people able to post to Instagram or Facebook directly from the camera, via the phone). 

Users should also be able to configure the camera from the phone and create/trade Picture Controls loaded off SD or via the phone app. These capabilities should come to the other Z bodies as well, based on BT/Wifi connectivity. Heck, you should be able to trade Picture Controls in the field with another user, just leveraging the built-in sharing ability of the app (BT file transfer et al). the one mistake Fuji made is you can't share your custom Film Simulation beyond posting settings recipes in text form.




Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Film Simulations on Your Nikon


Creek on 118
D750, Nikkor 20mm f2.8 AF

Fuji gets a LOT of love, and deservedly so for their Film Simulations, one of the signature features of the X and GFX camera lines.

Nikon on the other hand has delivered a more powerful capability starting with the D3 & D300, and left it largely ignored and poorly documented.

Fuji put a lot of time and effort into developing their Film Simulations, but there remains a lot of customization that Fuji users have done, and have traded recipes online. Sadly you can't simply export a recipe and share it with others, you can only document your settings.

Nikon on the other hand has stuck with a set of generic Picture Controls, their name for the various JPEG settings that you can pick when shooting Nikon. Far more poorly known is the fact that you can load anywhere from 3 to 9 custom Picture Controls onto your compatible Nikon camera, in addition to being able to edit the Picture Controls using the Nikon Picture Control Utility 2 app on your PC or Mac. And the camera can also edit and export Picture Controls.

There is at least one public repository of Picture Controls, along with an online editor at https://nikonpc.com/ and this one included many similar options to the Fuji ones (Kodachrome 2 should match up with Classic Chrome). You can download from there and then import them on your camera directly by putting the files in a folder on the card called NIKON\CUSTOMPC\ or use the PCU2 app to manage them and write the ones selected to the card.

Why Nikon hasn't done anything more with this amazing feature, I don't know. It would be well worth them licensing some classic film names (I'm sure Kodak's remains would happily license their brands to Nikon for a reasonable cost).

The only downside is custom Picture Controls are only respected by Capture NX-D right now, and who wants to actually use that, so unlike Fuji's Film Simulations, they're less useful for the RAW shooter (although there may be some support coming in CaptureOne now that they have an official Nikon variant)

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Random Thoughts on a Lazy Sunday


Highland Red
X-T2, XC 35mm f2

The above shot is from Highland Pond at the Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve. I do need to get up there and shoot some daylight shots on the hiking trails, as well as some night shots when the Milky Way is on the horizon (rather than in the middle of the sky). Really nice spot with some unique landscapes and should be fun when it's not over-run by comet watchers.

I've realized that I do shoot a lot more with the cheap little Neewer 25mm f1.8 than I do with the XC 35mm f2. It's sort of a pity, as I do love the XC35, but my tastes in an everyday lens have really shifted from a normal to a wide normal. I also do love the excellent close-focus performance of the Neewer 25mm, something unexpected for a <$100CDN lens and the one spot where it beats the pants off the XF 23mm f2 WR (great lens, except at MFD). The XC35 is a gem though, and I need to spend more time with it. 

One interesting aspect of the X-T2 is that the 24MP sensor has lost a fair bit of the X-Trans signature rendering that made the 16MP X-Trans bodies so controversial (it's really a love-hate thing, I'm a rarity in that I neither love nor hate that X-Trans look). This is largely a good thing from my perspective, as I always like the rendering from the bayer Fuji's better and the X-T2 renders closer to the X-A1 than the X-T1. 

The Nikon Z5 has got me looking seriously at where I'm going kit wise. The reality is that if Nikon had released the Z5 last year, I likely wouldn't be shooting Fuji right now. The Z5 is the Z body that hits all my needs, and it's shortcomings (speed mostly) are irrelevant to a guys who lives in manual focus and 3fps Cl or single-shot advance 95% of the time. However with the X-T2 in my kit now, the Z5 doesn't really bring much to the table for me beyond being a potential replacement for the D750 at some point. My D750 is quite high mileage (250k shots) and likely not economic to repair if the shutter fails. I just can't justify the spend on a Z5 as just a body for adapting my legacy Nikkors, especially not when I could just buy another A7II for half the money and I already have the adapters for the A7II (and it has better lens selection anyways). The one downside for the Z5 is for a photographer like me, all it brings for the cost difference from an A7II is a smaller and better kit lens and some ergonomic improvements. 

The thing is that all my UWA options are on the D750 right now. For wider than 23mm-e right now my only options are the Laowa 15mm and my Nikkor 20mm AF on the D750, as those become 23mm-e and 30mm-e on the Fuji's and D300. So the D750 remains a key piece of kit for me for landscape work until I can get some ultra-wide options on the Fuji side. It's also the best AF telephoto setup I have for ad-hoc wildlife shooting when hiking when paired with the 70-300D. Not the perfect setup, but it gets the job done.

What that means for the most part is that I need to concentrate on getting UWA options for the Fuji. The obvious one is to get the 7Artisans 12mm f2.8 ASAP, that's already on my list for the Cheap Lenses on Fuji series I've been posting, but I'd intended to get it after I wrapped the mild tele posts with the 7Artisans 55/1.4 and 60/2.8 macro. I'll be swapping that and getting those afterwards. Long-term there will be a Laowa 9mm f2.8 for sure, and probably a Fuji 10-24 eventually. 

I also need to get an AF telephoto zoom for the Fuji's. I'd always intended to get both the XC 50-230 (to pair with an XC 16-50 to have a 2 lens loaner kit based around my X-E2) and the 55-200 with the latter being the second lens in a 2 lens hiking kit paired with the 10-24. I think I'll have to accelerate that as well.