Wednesday 29 January 2020

Where To From Here

D800, Nikkor 50/1.8D

So now that I have both a D800 and the A7II, what does that mean for my gear choices?

Well simply, the D800 doesn't mean much. As much as I love it, it's simply too big, too heavy and too limited in liveview function and connectivity to be a primary body for me. It's simply a fun body to shoot with a lot of the glass I currently own for not too big an investment.

The A7II is a solid body, but once again I've not really gelled with it, for reasons that are a mix of its weaknesses and simply the fact that the best setups for it don't really match the way I work. I'm not getting rid of it, but I have specific plans for it which will see it somewhere else than my bag in the near future.

So where does that leave me? Well, the A7II is it for now, but it will get replaced as my primary body. The real question is with what?

If I was willing to go back to smaller formats, the choice would be Fuji IMHO. While I did really enjoy working with the m43 stuff, an X-T2 or X-T200 best fits my interests and preferences. The Nikon Z50 would be the second choice, but the lack of a native fast wide to normal prime hurts it badly (and there isn't one in the roadmap, bad Nikon). As good as the f1.8 S FX primes are, they're just too much money for the most part.

Now if I want to stay FF, and I think I do, the options are the following.

1. Stay Sony, get an A7III. That solves many of the minor niggles I've had with the A7II, but keeps a couple notable others (it's still not a great body with gloves for example, and I want more screen articulation). Pricing is still high-ish but probably will drop notably once the expected A7IV releases

2. Go Nikon. The Z6 solves all but one of my issues with the A7II, leaving only the screen articulation as an annoyance. However the lack of USB power (only USB charge is supported) is annoying. But I need new cards (it's XQD only, and I'm standardized on SD for now) and it's pricey, as is the FTZ adapter, and all the lenses are somewhat pricey (but very good) and there's bagel for 3rd party support. The plus side is mostly the best native support for F mount AF-S and AF-P lenses.

3. Go Panasonic with the S1. That nets me high-res multi-shot, superb ergonomics, support for both XQD and SD cards and a best in class EVF. Downside is it's pricey, the lenses are limited (albeit with 3 brands actively releasing options), it's freaking huge (D800-sized) and the system is probably a dead end. There would need to be pretty wild discounts on an S1 before I'd look at it though, it's just way too much money for a ~24MP mid-level body.

4. Go Canon. The first two RF bodies underwhelmed on paper, but seem to be pretty good in the field. The RP in particular is cheap and handles nicely, and it has a flip/twist LCD (Yay!). EF adapters are either cheap or feature-laden (the variable-ND filter lens adapter is VERY neat, if expensive), there's a ton of good & inexpensive EF glass out there (I own 2 EF lenses already). Native lenses are mostly stupid money, stupid big and stupid good, but all indications are that Canon recognizes this and has some more reasonable options on the way to add the the neat 35/1.8 IS Macro and EF adapted lenses behave like native anyways. The downsides really are there's no IBIS currently and the sensors simply aren't as good as the Sony or Nikon sensors. Oh and the RP's battery life sucks (but it uses the same battery as the Rebels and SL's, so batteries are cheap & everywhere).

Honestly, I'd really like to spend a week or two with an RP, a spare battery, and an EF 16-35/4L IS with EF adapter. I'd know then if it would work for me and if it does the 16-35+70-200 F4L IS combo would cover pretty much everything I'd need, along with the 50/1.8 STM I already own.

Saturday 25 January 2020

The Joy of Shooting a D800

Lost Memories 
D800, Nikkor 105/2.5 AI-S

In thinking about the image in the previous post, I was reminded about how enjoyable the D800 was to shoot when I wasn't fighting the focus shift issues I had with the Zeiss 85 Planar.

The D800 is simply a joy to shoot. The ergonomics are nearly perfect (only thing I'd change is a deeper grip), the control layout is dead-on, the viewfinder is really nice aside from needing a bit more tooth in the focus screen for good manual focus, the responsiveness is amazing, especially after coming from mirrorless, the D800 is just on, instantly. AF is very good, the IQ is amazing, producing the best RAW files of any camera I've ever owned.

The downsides really are that manual focus is simply better in an EVF and the body is big & heavy. Oh, and the Live View experience kinda sucks by current standards. No peaking, magnification is a bit flaky and it's basically useless handheld because of the shutter release delay and fixed LCD.

Recently I was made an offer I couldn't refuse on a notionally high mileage D800 (60k on the shutter, which is considered high, but isn't that high when you consider the official design lifetime is 200k). So I took it, and even had a cheap Canon telezoom thrown in for free to use on the A7II, specifically Canon's surprisingly not awful 75-300 f4-5.6 USM III.

So, after a couple weeks with the D800 again, where am I?

I'm clearly in better physical shape than 2 years ago, because carrying the D800 is not causing me some of the shoulder issues it did last time. Some of that is simply being more careful about how I carry it (less in the hand, more in the bag/on the strap), I have right arm issues and I need to be careful about it or I'll end up not shooting anything due to injuries.

The IQ and shooting experience is simply better than the A7II. There's two aspects to this really. The first is the grip, the D800's grip is further from the mount, so my fingers don't get squished by the lens/adapter (my Fotodiox EF adapter is bad for this, as is the FE 28-70), that just makes the D800 more comfortable to hold. The second is button layout, the D800's is simply more natural. As to the IQ, well aside from the range above ISO 6400, the D800's sensor is better and I like Nikon colour better. At high ISO the A7II comes into its own.

The other aspect is that the quality of the A7II's EVF and LCD is pretty low compared to similar cost bodies. It's just not on par with the Olympus or Fuji bodies I've also had over the last year. Don't get me wrong, it's not awful at all, in fact it's acceptably good, but an X-T1 or E-M5II's EVF and LCD are a step above, as is the D800's LCD.

Where does that leave me for now? I'll continue to concentrate on F mount lenses, I'm not going to get any native glass for FE. I'll adapt to the A7II for now and continue to use it as a carry camera (it remains a LOT lighter than the D800, even with an adapter in the mix). But I could really be tempted by another Fuji in the everyday carry space, especially with the XC35 that was just announced.

Tuesday 7 January 2020

Pondering Nikon

Flyers and Construction 
D800, Zeiss ZF.2 1,4/85 Planar T*

I do have to say, when that combo was on, man I do love the results. The pity was it was a crapshoot as to whether or not focus shift cost me the image.

Nikon just announced what's likely it's last non-pro FX DSLR, the D780. It's a nice body, essentially a cross between the Z6 internals, D750 body and D7500 AF system. Loses vertical grip compatibility & a popup flash, neither of which is an issue for me, although the grip in particular is a loss for a lot of shooters (Nikon: your poor grip sales are due to wildly excessive pricing driving 3rd party sales, not a lack of interest. Price sanely and you'll move a ton of them but nobody wants to spend $400 on a plastic piece with a battery tray and a handful of buttons & wheels, especially when Velbon et al will sell a good copy for $80)

But that has me pondering Nikon again. Prices on used FX bodies have crashed, I'm seeing used D810's below $1500CDN (as low as $1250), D800's are solidly under $1k and D750's which were $1250+ used before thanksgiving are $500 cheaper now.

Thinking about it, I would not want to give up my A7II, which is working pretty well for me. But I could readily use it as the light body in a light/heavy mix, especially with a D800 or D810. It's not like most of my lenses aren't F mount anyways. The Z6 is tempting but as much as I'd like one, I'm not really sure whether or not it's worth it to me. The better ergonomics and EVF/LCD are the big things, but that's offset by the new (and expensive) XQD cards.

Pretty sure I should just invest in more glass instead...

Sunday 5 January 2020

2020 Goals

The Path to Colour 
Olympus E-M1, m.Zuiko 12-50 f3.5-6.3 EZ

I set goals for myself somewhat successfully in 2018 and 2019.

For 2020 I'm going to do so again. I'm setting 3 achievements and one volume goal.


1. Make 12 (or more) photography-specific day trips in 2020, ideally I'd like at least one of those to be in BC. I did 8 of these from July-December 2019, so I think this is a very achievable goal.
2. Increase my average daily Flickr views to 2000+. I'm hovering around 1600-1700 right now so this is very achievable as well
3. Post 52 times on Instagram (once a week on average) and 312 times on Flickr (6 times a week)

And the volume goal will for once be actually lower than what was shot last year. My goal in 2019 was 7220 images but I shot 11527 images. For 2020 my goal will be a clean 10,000 images.

Saturday 4 January 2020

Where To In 2020 Pt 3 - Location

Take a Seat 
Olympus E-M1, m.Zuiko 12-50 f3.5-6.3 EZ

Exploring new locations was a major part of my 2019 shooting. I've now seen a lot more of Southern Ontario than I'd ever had prior to 2019, especially in the Kawartha's and Muskokas. In 2020 I want to extend that to exploring areas I've not been before, especially east towards Ottawa, and west past London.

In addition, there's a number of areas I really want to see near where I've been before, especially northeast of Peterborough and northeast of Huntsville. Warsaw Caverns, Petryglyphs and many other spots I drove by getting to somewhere else.

I'm pretty tapped out on the inner GTA, After 20 years of living here and 16 years of shooting the area, I'm just not that interested anymore, but there's a lot of Ontario yet to see. I expanded my photography a lot by travelling this year, lets see what I can do next year.

Friday 3 January 2020

Where To In 2020 Pt 2 - Technique

Stump In The Midst 
Sony A7 II, Nikkor 105mm f2.5 AI-S

There's three areas where I really want to work on my technique in 2020.

The first is long exposure work. I've not done much in this space although I dabbled a little bit in it this year, but I really want to work on this area in 2020. I love the sort of look you can get with long exposures and look forward to seeing what I can do with it.

The second area I want to work on is using tripods & other camera supports to extend the angles I can work from. Shooting at low/odd angles is very hard at times when handholding, but a tripod or other camera support can allow this, especially if combined with remote tethering to a smartphone. Again, this is something I dabbled in during 2019 and want to take it further.

And the third area is filters. I've traditionally been very light on my filter use, but I really want to see what I can achieve with ND & ND grads as well as an increased use of polarizers. As I'm shooting more landscape work, these are key tools in achieving the best results and I need to develop my use of them.

Thursday 2 January 2020

Where To In 2020 Pt1 - Gear

Mississauga Blue Skies 
Sony A7 II, FE 28-70 f3.5-5.6 OSS

In 2020 I hope to concentrate on the sort of gear I've long ignored. Specifically non-system specific accessories like building up a proper square filter system (or two), improving my camera support systems and revisiting my bag setup.

Specifically I need a good 85mm square filter system for ND's and ND grads, likely will try and leverage my Cokin holders but I probably will also need to invest in a 100mm or 150mm system once I acquire a good modern UWA.

In terms of camera support, I currently have a good ultralight setup in my Manfrotto 290 and a small Sirui head. I need to upgrade the head on my main legs to an Arca-Swiss design (likely a larger Sirui unit) and also want to acquire a Platypod Ultra (plus head) for low-angle and odd surface shooting (they're cheap and really cool little units)

And in the case of bags & carry gear I need at least 2 and probably 3 new bags. First off my Domke that I use as a briefcase and street carry setup needs replacing. It's old, worn out & doesn't fit my kit. I'll need a new one that can handle my work laptop, my usual street setup (body plus 2-3 small lenses) and a lunchbag. I also need a small backpack for day hikes which can carry my system, tripod and food/water/jacket and eventually a larger pack for longer hikes and overnighting. I also want a Cotton Carrier or Peak Design clip setup so I can hike with my camera clipped on my chest for easy access.

On lenses, I'm planning on rounding out my current Nikon manual focus kit, which is 24, 28, 35, 50, 55 macro, 105, 200 and 300 right now. Need something wider (or two somethings), plus a couple gaps filled in the mid-telephoto range (either side of 105). I also need to expand my AF setup, which right now is just the 28-70. Eventually that will be a full kit, likely a mix of adapted Canon EF glass and native FE glass. Not sure exactly how it will look, but a 18, 20 or 21mm prime plus a 70-200/4L non-IS will be the start of it, after that I'll expand as needed.I may get the Commlite F mount adapter to see how AF F mount kit works via that adapter.

As to bodies, nothing planned, although the right deal on a Z6, S1 or A7III might tempt me around bonus time to expand my system. I just can't justify a high-MP body for my current uses, much as I'd like one (we'll see when I start seeing A7RII's below $1200CDN). I really would like to end the year shooting much of the same stuff I started it with. The good thing about most of my system being F mount right now is that the body doesn't really matter as long as I have a workable adapter, only one of my lenses is native and it would stay with the A7II anyways.

Wednesday 1 January 2020

2019 in Review

Wintry Gull 
Sony A7 II, FE 28-70 f3.5-5.6 OSS

 So 2019 is a wrap, and where am I photographically?

I started the year off in a dead spot, I'd sold my A7II in fall 2018 and basically didn't shoot anything until the beginning of February 2019. At that point I sold my Zeiss 85/1.4 ZF.2 and used the money to (briefly) acquire a D7100 to try and kickstart my shooting. I quickly discovered that as a everyday camera it just didn't work and returned it and got a Fuji X-T1 and 16-50 instead. That got me out & shooting steadily until late spring. It was a great little kit, but shooting dropped off through May, June & July as conditions moved from the sort of weather that was best for Street to more landscape like conditions and I got bogged down with work. I did shoot around 2200 shots with the X-T1 and got some great results.

At the end of July I traded my Fuji kit in on a Olympus E-M5II and some lenses, that triggered me to get out and shoot more, and to do more nature & landscape work, triggering one of the most productive photographic periods I've had and I took around 7800 images between late July and the end of October. However I was still not entirely happy with what I was getting from the body and decided to make a fourth system shift and sold the Olympus stuff to acquire another A7II, this time with the kit 28-70 OSS lens. While I'd not entirely bonded with the A7II when I owned it in 2018, this time things went somewhat smoother and I've shot as much with it as I did with the X-T1 in my first two months of ownership, around 1600 images. I intend to keep the A7II for the near future and slowly build out my kit.

So where does that leave my Goals for 2019

1. Way more than 365 images produced. I still have 250+ curated images in my to be edited collection. Rating: Exceeded
2. Average daily views on Flickr are floating just below 2000, I'm very active on Fred Miranda. Rating: Successful
3. So many new locations photographed that I lost count by the end of August. Rating: Wildly Successful

And the 11526 images in my library exceed the goal of 7220 images by more than 50%. Rating: Wildly Successful.

Additionally, with 16 images for 2019 in Flickr Explore, I set a new personal best (beating the 14 I had in 2007)

So all in all, a very successful year for me photographically.