Saturday 29 February 2020

A Few Reminders - First Day with the X-T1

Lit Up 
Nikon D750, 105/2.5 AI-S

I had to do a quick grocery run today, so I grabbed the X-T1+XC35 for a quick photowalk on my way down to the local No Frills.

I was reminded of a few things almost immediately:

1. Low weight. The X-T1+XC35 combo is 570g, an ounce (29g) lighter than the bare A7II and 290g lighter than the bare D750. That makes the X-T1 feel like a feather, which is ideal for light carry, although once I add a l bracket/grip, that will grow another 60-80g.

2. Really nice EVF. The X-T1 has the nicest EVF of anything I've owned. It's still an EVF and still washes out in bright sunlight, but it's excellent otherwise. The LCD is also quite nice, very high quality although it doesn't have the dual-tilt feature the X-T2 introduced.

3. AF is quite good. With newer lenses like the XC35, the AF is really fast in single-shot. I know the continuous AF is slower, but I don't really use that.

4. Battery life is adequate at best. Yep, it eats battery, especially if I treat it like the D750, the X-T1 likes to be shut off between shots.

5. Nice wifi implementation. Enable on a button, App is pretty decent. Only real issue is it doesn't transfer RAW's (I have LR on my phone, so I'd actually prefer to have RAW files). Fuji does great JPEG's though.

Friday 28 February 2020

A Few Additions to my Bag

In The Snow 
Fuji X-T1, XC 16-50 OIS II

I got the chance to add a few interesting items to my bag today.

First off is a solid UWA addition for the D750, the Laowa 15mm f4 Macro. Yes, it's a real 1:1 macro in addition to being an UWA, with MFD less than 5mm from the front element. This is also a shift lens, although the image circle is small enough that the shift feature really is only useful on APS-C bodies. That said, I currently have a couple APS-C bodies right now, so the shift feature useful to me (the Laowa is a 22-23mm equivalent on APS-C, a very usable wide).

This wasn't the UWA I'd planned to get (I'd largely settled on getting an 18-35G), but I think it will work out very well in my kit long term. It's also compatible and a useful focal length on everything I own, even the E-PM1 (where it's a 30mm-e shift lens, not that I'm ever likely to use that somewhat ridiculous combo).

I also tripped over a ridiculous deal on a Fuji X-T1, and as I've been looking for a light carry setup, I grabbed it and the new XC 35/2, for basically what I paid for my X-T1 body only last year (which I'd thought was already a deal on a great camera). So now I'll run the Fuji for light carry and the D750 for basically everything else, and I've got the adapters to run my Nikon lenses on Fuji (and the Laowa 15 in particular is a great match for the X-T1)

Finally, I grabbed a $20 MB-D10 for my D300, which seems to have some issue with the battery itself, but all controls are working. That's probably corrosion somewhere in the battery compartment or on the tray, so a dose of contact cleaner should solve it.

The A7II, 28-70 and EF 75-300+Adapter have gone to my SO for now, if she digs them, she'll keep them, if not, it'll go back in the bag for now and work alongside the D750.

That leaves my working kit as the D750 and X-T1, with the D300 available if needed and the E-PM1 as a toy (I still want a tiny prime for it, for fun)

Wednesday 19 February 2020

First Days With The D750

County Road 19
Nikon D750, Nikkor 35/2 AI

I've now had a chance to do a little shooting with the D750, well, around 200 frames from a nice photowalk plus a few incidental bits.

It's light enough that it doesn't aggravate my right shoulder any more than the A7II does (the A7II with an F mount adapter and the massive L bracket weighs basically the same as the D750). Ergonomics are very good, the only beef is the front buttons aren't well placed, but I've tweaked my usual setup to account for that (Put AE lock on the Fn button so it can be reached by my left hand, Pv is Non-CPU lens selection, which is only used when changing lenses, the movie record button is set to crop mode and AE-L/AF-L is AF-On).

It's actually amazing how small & light the package is when combined with the Nikkor-H 28/3.5 or 50/1.8D (my two smallest/lightest lenses). Rather makes me want to track down a CV 40/2 Ultron, Nikkor 45/2.8P, 50/1.8 E or maybe even another 35/2.5 E as they're just about the smallest lenses you can get for F mount. It wouldn't be pocket-able, but it would be a remarkably small combo with any of those lenses.

The grip is about the best I've owned. Marginally better than the D300/D700 which previously set the standard. The viewfinder is brilliant as well, it's the same size/coverage as the D800's but brighter which makes a lot of difference in how easy it is to focus.

LV is average for a DSLR. Not very seamless and slow focusing, but overall just a little smoother to operate than the older bodies like the D800, D600 or D300/700. Most annoying thing remains the slight but noticeable shutter delay that LV introduces.

File sizes are surprising. I was expecting smaller files than the D800, but at 14 bit lossless, the files are coming in around 25MB, half the size of the A7II files. Yes Sony, you need lossless. The D750 doesn't do uncompressed, but there's no reason to ever use it, so it's as vestigial a setting as TIFF (which the D750 also doesn't do).

I'm honestly not really missing AF, right now I only have the one AF lens (the 50/1.8D) and everything else in use is manual focus. I mostly just use the 35/2 and 105/2.5 and I expect I'll mostly round that out with a wide prime (17-21mm), likely manual focus. I will get an UWA and telephoto zoom for hiking, but long-term I don't see myself buying a lot of AF glass. I just don't really need it for most of my uses, really only telephoto coverage is what I'd use AF for a lot, plus 1-2 primes for street shooting. I'll get an AF UWA, but only because all the good ones are AF (hmm, wonder if I could find a 17-35 AF-S with a bad motor cheaply....great lens and I don't need the AF)

Saturday 15 February 2020

Solution Found

Blue, Green and White 
Sony A7II, FE 28-70 f3.5-5.6 OSS

Well, I think I've found my solution to the question of what body to use to cover all 4 of my use cases.

The answer is a D750.  It's just about 250g lighter than the D800, has a nicer finder (same one as the D810 in fact), better handgrip, a flip-out LCD and Wifi. And it's faster at 6.5fps (vs 4 or 5 in crop mode for the D800) and has dual SD cards, instead of CF+SD (I don't own any CF larger than 8GB and don't intend to buy any as they're obsolete cards). Oh, and Auto-ISO respects Non-CPU lens Focal Length on later firmware versions.

The downsides are the loss of some physical controls & build, and the viewfinder dimming outside of the crop area feature.

The mixed blessing is the sensor. I lose the crop-ability of the 36MP sensor, and the useful DX mode, but the D750 has 1.2 crop (unlike the D6x0's) at 16.7MP and is better at high ISO's. And I've long known 24MP is more than enough for my actual needs.

So I traded the D800 for a D750. We'll see how it goes, but I expect it will work out pretty well. It feels better in the hand than the already excellent D800, and a few of the things I was missing with the D800 (flip-out LCD and Wifi most notably).

Wednesday 12 February 2020

Evaluating Use Cases for Gear

Leaf with Snow 
D800, 105/2.5 AI-S

In evaluating what you should look at for gear, it pays to understand how you shoot and what gear you need to support that.

For me, I have pretty much 4 modes of shooting.

1. Daily carry. I try to always carry a camera to and from work, often shooting at lunch as well. This needs to be a reasonably compact & light body with 1-2 primes (I prefer not to work with zooms for this use).

2. Light landscape kit. This is my minimalist kit for landscape, and it's basically a UWA and a telephoto zoom. Body should be lighter as well, but bulks up a bit over #1 via adding an L-bracket.

3. Heavy landscape kit. This is what I use when working close to the car, I'll carry more lens options (often carrying everything in the car and just grabbing 1-2 lenses when working)

4. Fun kit. I'll take a body with 2-3 primes around the city or elsewhere to shoot. Weight doesn't matter, experience does.

Right now I don't have an answer for #1 but the D800 seems to be getting used the most although it's way too heavy to be ideal, am using the A7II for #2, the A7II+D800 for #3 and the D800 or FE for #4.

For #1, the best setup I've found was my Fuji kit, specifically the X-T1.Most of the crop mirrorless systems will do OK, except Nikon (no small native primes for Z/DX) DSLR's just don't work, and FF Mirrorless seems to be too close to smaller FF DSLR's in size/weight.

For #2, I've never really had a kit that's ideal. Closest was probably the D300+10-20+70-300VR, the Oly bodies with the 9-18 and 40-150 was a close second, but not quite there (the 40-150 was too slow for the sensor & the IQ was marginal if I needed to push).

#3 is easy, stick kits #1 & #2 in a bag and add anything else lying around. Stick bag in the passenger seat footwell and I'm set.

#4 has been all over the place, but I generally prefer a 35mm SLR (film or digital) with 2-3 classic manual focus primes. The D800 is close to perfect for this.

This keeps bringing me back to a few conclusions.

1. Sony doesn't offer the lenses I want at a price I'm willing to pay, and the 3rd party options just don't quite do it. Plus I don't like the ergonomics of their APS-C bodies and the FF bodies + lenses are bigger than I'd like.

2. m43 almost works. I like the lens lineup, it mostly works for me, the pricing is good. But the IQ just doesn't work enough of the time when I can't do HighRes or multishot HDR shots.

4. The Canon and Nikon lens lines in crop mirrorless aren't there and adapting DSLR lenses just doesn't quite do it. I'm actually more amenable to Canon here, because their cameras are cheaper, their adapters are cheaper and they have the 22/2.

5. Crop DSLR's almost work, but the small ones have crap viewfinders and the big ones are heavy. They're also physically less ideal for use #1, due to the mirrorbox size. But they'd be fine for use #2 & 3 with the right pair of lenses, and the lens options are MUCH wider.

That leads me back to Fuji. They're ideal for #1, an X-T or X-E body with the Fujicrons is my basic standard that nobody else has yet matched.

For #2 Fuji isn't ideal due to the relatively high cost of the 10-24 compared to something like Sigma's 10-20's in DSLR mounts or the Oly 9-18. But it's at worst comparable in cost to Tamron's 17-28 in FE mount and the Fuji is wider, longer and IS. Sony's 16-35's are significantly more money and either worse or massive in comparison. The X-T2, X-T3 and X-T200 give me screen articulation I want, the wifi implementation is excellent and they have the best USB setup on the market (power & charge), allowing you to charge on the fly from the car or while shooting from a USB power bank. Fuji also offers a 14mm prime option (21mm-e) and Zeiss offers a 12mm (18mm-e), which is more wide AF primes than any other crop system. The Zeiss is also available in E mount, but there's no 14, the next widest prime in the other systems are all 24mm-e (16mm in EOS M or E, 12mm in m43).

I could be pretty happy with an X-T2, 10-24 and 55-200 for #2, or any of the newer 24 or 26MP bodies with a 23+50 pair of Fujicrons for use #1.

What does this mean? Not sure, but I'm already planning on passing the Sony A7II to my SO as a replacement for her now over 10 year old G1, so I need a replacement anyways and the Fuji just makes a lot of sense. The other option that seems to make surprising sense would be an EOS RP with adapted EF lenses, that works fine for use #2 and has potential for use #1. But I just come back to the Fujis.

Tuesday 11 February 2020

An Alternative For Light Carry

The Pumpkin Pile 
Nikon FE, Nikkor-H 28mm f3.5, Fuji Superia 400

I've been pondering what's the best light carry option for me. I realized that I had a potential option sitting right next to me.

What is it? My Nikon FE. It's fairly small, reasonably light (590g), gorgeous viewfinder, obvious controls.

So I took it to work today. I'm reminded why I still like shooting manual focus film SLR's, They're still the nicest cameras to shoot for me. Simple, direct, obvious controls, nothing unexpected, ideal size and I love the experience.

The downside, and it pains me to say this, is it's film. Now I was a film hold-on for a good decade after most everybody had switched, but these days I'm pretty set on digital, largely due to the workflow advantages. I like being able to take a shot and get it out on Instagram in seconds. Film slows that down, a lot. And that's even though I do develop my own B&W film.

So what does that mean for me? Not sure, I'll still shoot film on occasion, as I do still enjoy shooting it, but I think at this point film is a niche for me, not a daily shooter. That's a big change to admit for a guy who shot significant amounts of film through 2012, and at a lower rate through the end of 2017. Oh, and I'm still looking for the right light carry camera.

Honestly, I'd kill if somebody made an F mount digital body that was basically an FE or FM. The Epson R-D1 or the Leica MD would be the model. Good sensor, classic viewfinder (95% is fine, as long as it's big) controls for ISO, shutter speed and maybe WB, RAW only and a small display or gauge for card space & battery. maybe add Aperture Priority and exposure comp/AE lock. That's it, that's all. Use a small battery like an EN-EL14 and I'd even be happy with microSD, although SD is preferred. Really, this is what the Df should have been, rather than a D600-ish with a new top/front.

Friday 7 February 2020

A Neat Little App

Birds in the Snow 
D800, Nikkor 105/2.5 AI-S

I came across a neat little app called Camera Connect & Control. This app does a couple things, one it allows me to import photos directly from my D800 over USB connection (USB Micro to USB-C cable required)  which is why I got it, but it also allows control of the camera by a smartphone or tablet over the USB connection.

What this means is the phone+cable combo basically can become a flip/twist live view display with remote camera control. That solves my one big caveat about using the D800 on the tripod vs a mirrorless body. The only real downside is this capability is Android-only, the iOS version cannot use USB connections (although it can handle WiFi camera control on iOS if a supported camera has WiFi). Heck, you even get focus peaking on a D800....That's pretty sweet. Tethered only, but I can just get a 6' or longer cable for field work. As it turns out TetherTools sells a 15' cable that's ideal for this usage (complete with 90 degree connector on the camera end), although that cable is pricey, I'll probably start with a cheap Amazon cable for now.

Ironically, the app is less useful with the newer A7II, because there's no zoom feature. But I checked and of course, that's a camera limitation, not the app. It'll do everything the Sony app will do, likely more reliably, but Sony's wireless implementation is rather limited and there's nothing the app developer can do about that.

It also does photo download, which Android can't reliably do with the D800 on its own.

Honestly, the photo download bit is good enough but not awesome, I don't like the hassle of a cable compared to wireless for download, but the overall experience is definitely better than most of the wireless apps. It gives me my On The Move workflow for the D800 though, and I could use it for the A7II if I really want to, and over the wire it can do RAW files, which lets me suck stuff into Lightroom Mobile (and later sync that wirelessly to my PC)