Friday, 26 June 2020

Should You Buy a New Camera?

Coldwater Bridge
D750, Nikkor 20mm f2.8 AF

TL;DR version: No

The above image was taken with a 6 year old camera and a 26+ year old lens. The image speaks for itself.

The reality is that pretty much any DSLR introduced in the last 10 years or any Mirrorless body introduced in the last 7 years is perfectly capable of handling most photography with results that are more than good enough for all but the most demanding High ISO or Speed results.

If there's something you do and your camera is bad at it, then you have a good reason to upgrade. If I was a video guy, I wouldn't be using cameras mostly introduced in the 2013-2014 timeframe. Big DSLR's suck at light carry, all but the latest mirrorless kind of suck at fast action. Small sensors don't do high resolution or big DR well unless you exposure stack, big sensors have diffraction issues when shooting scenes with large DoF and need focus stacking for the best IQ.

So figure out what you need to do the photography you enjoy, and if your current gear doesn't match it, then figure out your budget. Only then should you look at a new camera, and quite frankly, you probably need to buy lenses or accessories, not a body.

This is why camera sales are in the toilet. We hit good enough 6-10 years ago and unless you're a video guy there just really isn't much need for a new camera unless the old one is worn out.

Now personally, I've bounced around a lot for a few reasons.

1. I like smaller & lighter cameras. The X-T1 and E-M1 are pretty much the ideal size & weight for me.
2. I like lots of DR in my RAW files. APS-C is the sweet spot for IQ for me though as I'm less picky on high ISO and resolution. (I'm much less picky about pixel count and high ISO than DR. 24MP is all I actually need, 36MP is overkill, 40+MP is just wasted card space)
3. I need a really good manual focus experience. Ergonomics are a big thing for me in general.
4. I'm on a budget, and even though it's reasonably spacious overall, I'm too cheap to spend large sums in one go. 
5. I like lens lines with consistent rendering. Consistent colour in particular. (Sony's APS-C line is particularly bad for this)

If money wasn't an object, I'd probably just shoot a Z7 or A7RIV and let that be that. As it is I haven't found the right mix of gear yet, although I continue to look.

Items 1 & 2 are the main conflicts for me. I've yet to find a system that has both a really workable high-DR body and a really workable small compact body for me. The kicker has been my love for old manual focus glass. I'm trying to transition that to modern manual focus glass, which really would aid me in settling on a single system

Thursday, 25 June 2020

So Who Survives? Deathrace 2020 Camera Maker Edition

Tree on the River
D750, Laowa 15mm f4 Macro

With yesterday's news about Olympus, the next question that comes up is 'who next?'

It's a safe bet that Sony and Canon will stick around. Both are large corporations for whom cameras are a sideline. Sony could abandon the market if the numbers don't make sense (JIP, who is taking on the Olympus Imaging group made their name taking over Sony's PC business when Sony abandoned it). Canon however is a safe bet. They're an imaging company at the core and the camera business is synergistic with the rest of their business, plus it's core to their corporate identity (they started as a camera company). Unless it becomes a boat anchor, Canon will continue to make cameras.

Fuji is also in the same boat business wise as Canon, and I expect they're safe. Based on current CIPA numbers, they've also been the most insensitive to market contraction over the last 8 years, showing steady and significant growth every year through 2019 and the only maker without double-digit contraction between 2019 and 2020.

As to Panasonic, I also expect them to stick around. They're a huge player in video and they gain a lot from their stills cameras for hybrid shooters. Don't be surprised if they move m43 to a pure video platform as they become the only major player though. For Panasonic L makes more sense for stills if they can bring out some cheaper & smaller bodies and lenses. Their 20-60 is an amazing start and needs a SX body to match (where SX is the L equivalent of the GX series).

Ricoh/Pentax has too many camera brands and too little sales. Frankly I can't understand why the Pentax brand isn't either already gone or now the parent brand for all Ricoh cameras. I don't see this business group surviving 2021. However it is just a hobby for Ricoh, so anything is possible. If it sticks around, I see a transition to online sales only.

Hasselblad and Phase/Mamiya? Fuji is eating their lunch at the low end of the MF market. 'Blad is just a luxury brand for DJI anyways and Phase's software business keeps them in the game, but I see them likely killing the Mamiya branding at some point. I see the MF market becoming basically Fuji at the low end and Phase at the high end.

Leica? Their business model is solid as long as there are people who are willing to pay for Veblen goods. That also provides an anchor for the L mount alliance. Not going anywhere except to higher pricetags.

Sigma? Cameras are not a business for them, but a hobby, so they don't care as long as the camera business is small enough to not impact the lens business. Their lenses are the other anchor for L mount.

Now the big question mark. Nikon.

Nikon is traditionally one of the major players. But with the transition to mirrorless they seem to be condemned to fail. Nikon 1 was a slow motion disaster. Z on the other hand is pretty good as a system from a technical standpoint, but the combination of bad pricing, the poor decontenting decisions that have plagued Nikon since the D7500 launch, the DX Z line might as well not exist right now and just plain bad communications (Nikon not addressing complaints and not listening to users) have kept the Z stuff on the shelf rather than out in the wild. 

Nikon simply needs to get their crap together. They're acting like they have years to transition to Z. They don't, they need to get Z moving ASAP or they simply will never make it to the point where Z is carrying their imaging group. Essentially Nikon needs to move the consumer sales to Z ASAP, then clean up the pros and wildlife guys later. That needs them to move on DX Z much faster, get the Z5 out for an aggressive price and make Z lenses that are economic (the f1.8 primes are VERY good, but the 35, 50 & 85 are too expensive compared to the G's and not really smaller, and the 20 & 24 aren't any better than the G's). They've spent too much time chasing margin and forgot that margin doesn't matter if you aren't moving boxes. 

Nikon isn't dead yet though. The rumoured Z5 could kickstart things if its priced aggressively and paired with some reasonably priced lenses (aside from the 24-70/4, which is a great kit lens). A 70-300, an 18-35 and the compact primes can all fill this gap. I'll freely admit the Z5 is on my radar as something to pair with my D750 in a way the Z6 simply isn't, if only for the SD cards. I see no reason to invest in XQD/CFExpress today as they bring no meaningful gains for my work, while having significant cost and compatibility issues.

I don't see hope for DX at all right now though. It's too little, too late. I cannot see any real reason to bother when Fuji, Sony, Canon and Panasonic all have full systems here. Nikon can't rely too much on legacy glass, especially in the DX market where they already are a decade behind where they should be on lenses for F mount.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Goodbye Olympus?

Purple Flower
Olympus E-M1, Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN Art

It was widely reported today that Olympus has made a deal to sell their camera division to JIP, an investment group best known for taking over Sony's VIAO PC brand and turning it from a global but unprofitable brand to a tiny but profitable brand.

What does this mean? IMHO, it means the likely death of Olympus as a widely available brand. Under Sony's ownership VIAO was everywhere. Today it's a niche brand that's basically gone from the global market. I expect much the same to happen to Olympus, possibly with a re-focus on the PEN line to concentrate on the Japanese home market, where Olympus is strongest and also where the PEN's actually sell.

I do not see Olympus disappearing, but rather becoming even more of a niche than it is today, and likely not one available in most camera stores. I'd also expect to see the end of the truly consumer items (OMD E-M10's mostly)

It's possible that they will successfully shift Olympus to a niche luxury brand, but I think that's unlikely overall, at least globally. They are more likely to be successful in the Asian market with this. Olympus missed the luxury boat about 3-5 years ago when they failed to expand on the PEN-F or update many of their mid-range small lenses with sealing to match the E-M5's. Frankly I think Fuji has that market locked up right now with the X-Pro's, although the reaction to the X-Pro3's OVF changes and controversial LCD design has created an opportunity in the next 18 months (as I expect an X-Pro4 iteration to take a step back towards the X-Pro2) 

This is a pity. I always found m43 to be a great system, and liked the results I got from the system for the most part. I left the system largely because I needed the extra RAW file flexibility that a larger sensor system provides, otherwise I'd still be shooting m43. The E-M5II + 9-18 was an almost ideal combo (it just needed a sealed 9-18 to be perfect). 

However Oly is overcharging for their newer bodies, and has been since the E-M1II was released, and that has limited their sales, along with the fact that new development basically stopped 3 years ago (we got a few bodies last year, all of which are basically re-hashed 2016 tech, but only one lens and a second one has been promised by MIA for 18 months). They're just not luxury enough to command a premium right now and that's one thing that you can't do halfway. The PEN-F was halfway (as it lacked features like weather sealing present in the OMD line).

What could Oly do?

1. A Pen-F II that takes the PEN-F frame, adds sealing, a top-end touch LCD and a best in class EVF (or even a dual-magnification Hybrid finder) and includes the E-M1III internals. Priced on par with the X-Pro3. 

2. Refresh all the f2/f1.8 primes with sealing, including optical updates on the mediocre 17mm.

3. Get a modern sensor and iterate the E-M1 and E-M5 on it ASAP. The PEN-F III should get the same sensor (the PEN-F II is an interim body with a lot of pre-existing engineering).

4. Price cut the E-M5III to be actually competitive. It needs to be the same cost or less than an X-T30.

Those moves would set the foundation for Olympus becoming a true niche brand and to compete against Fuji in this space. They need to take share from Fuji here, or at least position themselves as the alternate option for the luxury RF-style camera. 

Monday, 22 June 2020

Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 AI - Shooting Fuji on the Cheap Lens #3 Option 1

Bee and Thistle
X-T1, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 AI

The third lens on the list is the mild telephoto. This is your everyday portrait, macro/flower and general use telephoto. I'll cover a few options here as this is one place where there are both many options and those options are somewhat specific to the sort of work you do.

This is a real classic of a lens and well known in the Nikon community for its excellent optical performance at all focus distances and low, low cost. It does 1:2 macro natively and 1:1 when paired with one of the various 27.5mm extension tubes like the PK-13.

They can be had on the used market for as little as $30USD, depending on version. Skip the non-AI preset version, it's collectible and thus wildly more expensive. The other versions are all pretty much the same in performance aside from the coating getting better with each variant.

Combined with a cheap eBay or Amazon sourced Nikon adapter the 55mm Micro-Nikkor makes an excellent do almost everything mild telephoto on APS-C. I've used this lens on Nikon bodies as an APS-C mild tele and a Full Frame normal with excellent results. The only real weakness is the f3.5 maximum aperture. If you want shallow depth of field or a lot of low light work, this isn't the lens for you.

The 55 has had a spot in my bag for the better part of 2 decades on APS-C and Full Frame and if you don't need the speed, it's hard to beat it as a macro & general purpose mild telephoto for the Fuji shooter.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Neewer/7Artisans 25mm f1.8 MC - Shooting Fuji on the Cheap Lens #2

Chive Angel
X-T1, Neewer (7artisans) 25mm f1.8

The second lens I'd recommend buying is your mild wide, in the 17mm to 25mm range for APS-C (28-38mm equivalents). Like the fast(ish) normal this is generally a lens you can leave on the camera and shoot all day long, in fact the image above was taken on a photowalk where I only shot with this lens. 

The mild wide is also the alternate option for your first lens. If you prefer a wider angle, or are a street shooter, you may want to get a lens in this range even before a normal. Others may prefer to only have a lens in this range and not buy the normal (or vice versa). 

The 7Artisans 25mm f1.8 was my choice here. It's equivalent to a 38mm lens on Full Frame, which sounds like an odd focal length but was actually a very common one for fixed-lens film P&S's back in their day. It's just a touch longer than the classic 35mm focal length. 

I picked this lens semi-arbitrarily. I liked the cosmetic design better than the other common 25mm (from Meike and various rebrands) as I like SLR-style lenses more than RF style lenses in terms of looks. I bought the Neewer-branded version for price reasons, but they are just rebranding the 7Artisans lens. There's also an available 22mm f1.8 from Zonlai for those looking for something just a touch wider. Sadly I've yet to see a 17-18mm (28mm equivalent) yet from the various chinese makers. 

Out of the box my copy had a rough focus ring, which broke in fairly quickly and focuses well past infinity (infinity is at the 15' mark). These do not come with the focus calibrated. Thus I recommend buying from Amazon, and sending it back if it doesn't reach infinity focus (past infinity is fine for most uses, although it does limit close focus). As this lens is made in 4-5 different mounts, be sure to get the Fuji X mount version. 

I've found the optical performance to be surprisingly good for the very low cost. At well under $100USD, this may end up being the cheapest lens in the series, depending on which path I go down for a mild telephoto. Is it world class? Not at all. But it can get very sharp in the centre, acceptable at the edges and actually outperforms Fuji's other-wise excellent 23mmf 2 at minimum focus distance. 

Compared to adapting a rangefinder lens in this focal length, the 25/1.8 is cheaper and faster than anything even vaguely affordable (like the Cosina Voigtlander 25/4 Snapshot-Skopar)

Next up will be the mild telephoto options in the 55-60mm range. That will cover a few posts as there are a number of viable options there as that's where adapting really comes into its own. 

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Fujinon XC 35mm f2 - Shooting Fuji on the Cheap Lens #1

Golden Fog
X-E2, XC 35mm f2

On a budget and shooting Fuji? Start with this lens.

It's a fastish normal for $199, sharing the optics and AF drive of the very well regarded XF 35mm f2 WR 'Fujicron', but in an inexpensive plastic housing. It also shares the (not included) hood of the XF35/2. Hint: Never buy Fuji hoods, get cheap knockoffs from eBay or Amazon. The Fuji hoods are ridiculously priced for a single piece of plastic. 

Every compromise here is in the barrel. It's plastic with a plastic mount, it's not weather sealed, there's no aperture ring, the cosmetics are 'modern tube' rather than 'classic gem'. The focus ring is large and well damped, the optics are great and the AF is fast. Fuji cut corners in exactly the right places to produce an inexpensive lens that doesn't actual feel cheap when you're actually using it.

And it's literally half the price of its big brother ($199 vs $399)

While there are some neat 35mm options available from 3rd parties on the cheap, this is the way to start. It gets you an AF lens in a classic focal length for very little money with proven outstanding performance and zero hassles to acquire. This frankly is the lens you buy with the body, or the moment you have the body (I bought mine new when I got my used X-T1). 

As to performance, it's sharp, flare is very well controlled (little need for the hood), colour is the usual excellent Fuji colour, and out of focus rendering is delightful. However close focus is adequate but nothing to write home about and the lens does focus breath significantly (the field of view gets wider as you focus closer). Don't expect to do any pseudo-macro work with this lens. 

Friday, 19 June 2020

Shooting Fuji on the Cheap

Out for a Walk
X-T1, Neewer (7Artisans) 25mm f1.8

And now back to my regular gear-related focus.

This is the first in a series of posts as I explore how to build a Fuji system on a budget. It will be focused on prime lenses, as frankly the answer to zooms is buy the 2 XC zooms, a cheap EF adapter and whatever EF-S UWA zoom you can afford. There's really not a lot of options around zooms beyond the obvious.

I'm going to make a few assumptions here.

The first is you have a 16MP X-Trans II body (X-E2, X-E2s, X-T1, X-T10) or an X-T100. What I say applies to Fuji in general, but these bodies are the cheapest really useful bodies in X mount. I'd generally avoid EVF-less bodies as primary bodies (X-A's, X-M1) and I find the X-E1 just too slow to use. The X-Pro1 is interesting as it's a very unique body, but I can't recommend it as an only body due to performance.

The second is the following. Cheap lenses sell for $200USD or less, inexpensive lenses sell for $200USD to $500USD. I'll be using these definitions throughout. The dividing lines are arbitrary, but accurate I think.

I'll be focusing on cheap lenses to start with, then move into the inexpensive realm.

To start with I'll be putting together a 5 lens kit covering UWA, mild wide, normal, mild tele/portrait/macro and moderate telephoto. 

Where to start? That was a difficult question until a few months ago. Now it's easy, there's one Fuji AF lens that is a given for a cheap system, the $199USD XC 35mm f2. This will be the only AF lens on the list, but buy it first. I have this one. There are cheaper manual focus options, but a first-class 35mm for $199? How can you go wrong. 

The second one for me is a mild wide. I went with the Neewer 25mm f1.8 here. Around $70-80 new it's proved to be a good performance. This is a rebrand of the 7Artisans lens, but there's 2-3 different options here that are all decent performers. None are exceptional, but we're talking lenses that retail for well under $100USD new. I may acquire a couple of the others for the heck of it.

For the third, today I'm using a Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 AI on a Nikon adapter. It works well, but I will be exploring inexpensive native alternatives, midspeed, fast and macro options all abound here, all in the 50-60mm range.

The next one for me is the UWA. On the cheap side and wider than 16mm you really have two options, get the 7Artisans 12mm f2.8 or hunt for a deal on a used Rokinon/Samyang 12mm f2. I'll start with the first one. This is the one lens I don't have an entry into my kit for (the widest I have now is my Laowa 15mm f4, but that's not a cheap lens, and it's also kind of unwieldy on APS-C mirrorless as it's an FF DSLR UWA, I will cover it when we get to the inexpensive kit as it has a couple unique capabilities that make it truly interesting).

Finally the telephoto. Right now I have a Nikkor 200mm f4 AI on a Nikon adapter. That's just too long. I've also used my Nikkor 105mm f2.5 AI-S as an alternative, but it's a tad too short. A 135 should be just right. There's no cheap new 135's that I've seen, so I'll likely get a Nikkor 135mm f2.8 AI-S (why this one? It's got much better close focus capability than the other Nikkor 135's, otherwise I'd go for a cheaper 135/3.5). What you pick here is really dependent on what sort of shooting you do. Anything from 75mm on is viable if available cheaply. The go-to lenses I'd recommend here are 100/105's, 135's or 200/4's, all can be had cheaply in whatever mount you might desire and most in this space are at least quite good.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Some Thoughts on Photography

The Takeout
D750, Laowa 15mm f4 Macro

This post is going to be a little different. It's not about gear or technique, or even my experiences on my most recent photo excursion.

It's about why I make photographs in the first place.

A friend asked me something recently that got me thinking about this.

Now I'm a very social photographer. I like talking to other photographers about photography and related subjects and I enjoy taking photographs of my friends and others when I'm around them. Photography has long been a way for me to connect with people, something I sometimes struggle with due to my generally introverted nature.

However I am quite solitary when making photographs.

Now that sounds like a contradiction, but it isn't. The process of photography can be very social for me. However the art of making photographs for me is all about solitude. 

When I'm doing social photography I'm taking photographs for sure, but they are candids and grab shots, intended solely for sharing amongst the group in question and part of the social interaction of the group I'm with. It's also something that's both allowed me to connect with people I'd otherwise have difficulties relating to (like classmates 10-15 years younger than me when I was in University) and staying a little aloof when I was uncomfortable. I've found many valuable friendships this way, including some of my most enduring and valued friendships.

When I'm making photographs however (and note 'making' vs 'taking' here), it's always an exploration of my solitude and disconnection from the environment around me. I've never felt at home in large cities and my move from taking snapshots to making photographic art was largely built on an attempt to connect to Toronto, the city I've spent pretty much my entire adult life in. It's something I failed at doing, but I learned a lot and built a body of work which explores that isolation I feel with regards to Toronto. That is in a large part why I started calling this part of my work Cityscapes rather than Street Photography (I'm not the first to use the term by far, but I did come up with it on my own). It's not about the people, it's the city itself I'm shooting and the city I find myself isolated in. 

Likewise Landscape photography for me is also about isolation, but it's the inverse experience. I find a connection to the landscape when I'm isolated from others and from signs of human influence. This is especially true when shooting the BC Interior and the Canadian Shield, two landscapes closely tied to my childhood and teen years. And I believe this is also why I've rediscovered my love for photography as an art form and a process as I've moved to shooting primarily Landscape work, because with Landscape work I can relish my connections to nature and the wilderness rather than my photography being a failed search for a connection to a concrete jungle that I just can't relate to truly.

This fundamentally also explains why there's such a lack of images  on my Flickr from the many photo walks and other events around people. My Flickr has very much become the home for my serious work, and that has steadily progressed from dabbling in street photography and snapshots to a more serious body of Cityscape and Landscape work. It also makes me wonder if I should cull some of the less related work I have on my Flickr that didn't get culled largely because of its popularity.

Monday, 15 June 2020

Thoughts on Hiking and Gear

Mossy Stump
D750, Nikkor 105mm f2.5 AI-S

Yesterday marked the third major hiking outing of the year, and the first one after I acquired a proper usable backpack and finally ditched the sling packs.

Yesterday was a 9.5KM hike (out of a total of 15.5KM walked in total yesterday, for just under 20k steps). That was a bit of a change vs previous multiple shorter hikes, where I'd gone 4-5km at 2-3 different sites. 

The key enablers and limiters here were water and the pack itself. With the backpack I can carry up to 4 bottles of water along with my gear. I was carrying 2 bottles yesterday and as it was an out & back, I turned back when the first bottle was empty. That was a good choice as I turned out to be at my limit for steady hiking when I got back to the car.

As to the pack, it was significantly better for carrying gear into the bush. There was one issue, strap slide, which means I need to get a chest strap to prevent the shoulder straps from sliding out. That proved to be somewhat irritating later on the hike as the straps rubbed on my underarms as a result. 

One other takeaway is that I carried way too much gear. I had the D750, Platypod Ultra with head, Manfrotto 293M4 with head, Laowa 15mm f4 Macro, Nikkor 20mm f2.8 AF, Nikkor-H 28mm f3.5, Nikkor 35mm f2 AI, Yongnuo 50mm f1.8, Nikkor 105mm f2.5 AI-S, Nikkor 70-300 f4-5.6 ED AF-D, a set of extension tubes, the basic accessories (adjustable ND, polarizer, remote, lens cloth, etc), 2 water bottles and a couple Cliff bars.

That's simply too much gear for what I was doing. I didn't even use the 35, 105 or extension tubes and mostly shot with the 70-300D and 20 (in that order). The reality is that I could have ditched the 105, tubes and 2 of the 28, 35 and 50 could have been left at home, really I could have gotten away with just having the 35. Probably also could have left the tripod and carried only the Platypod, but that's so situational that I really do need both.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Buying Cheap Lenses

Barn at Laughlin Falls
D750, Nikkor 20mm f2.8 AF

Here's a little guide to buying lenses on the cheap.

First off, quit caring about cosmetic condition. Pretty lenses cost more. They don't work better (with 1-2 specific exceptions). Beat up lenses work as well and might even look cooler (brassing looks cool, worn plastic or paint on a non-brass lens not so much)

Second, don't buy zooms. If you want cheap and not junk, you want to be shooting primes. Cheap zooms are usually a bad deal, although there are a few exceptions. If you want to find those exceptions, be prepared to spend a lot of time researching them, and don't be surprised when the 'cheap but awesome' lenses turn out to be anything but. I've owned a good copy of the legendary Minolta 70-210mm f4 'Beercan'. It was a nice lens on film and 12MP APS-C. Stuck it on 24MP APS-C and it was a dog, just didn't have enough resolution. I've been bit a few other times by this. If you want cheap zooms, buy new designs, there's some surprisingly good lenses out there as current kit lenses, especially for f8 performance.

The flip side is sometimes you get lucky, I've gotten some great shots with my $50 Nikkor 70-300 f4-5.6 AF-D, which hasn't been considered a good lens since the transition to digital. My 24-85mm f3.5-4.5G AF-S non-VR was good enough that 10 years later I still regret selling it.

What do you want to care about?

The first thing is to pick a system if you are a mirrorless shooter (or looking to use manual focus lenses on Canon EF). If you shoot Nikon or Pentax, congratulations, aside from mount conversions you are stuck with native or semi-native (M42 on K) lenses. Buying 1-2 adapters is cheap, more adapters add up.

The next rule is simple. Everybody makes pretty good 50mm and 135mm lenses. While 28mm's are everywhere, that rule doesn't cross over to them. Most manual focus 28mm lenses are trash. You need to be using a popular system for something other than those 3 lenses to be findable for non-silly money. That means, Nikon F, Pentax K, Canon FD, Minolta MD, Olympus OM and M42 mounts. Beware Contax/Yashica mount. It sucks you in because ML lenses are cheap & decent. Then you find out that all the really good stuff is Carl Zeiss and expensive. Great...but expensive and that is not the name of this game.

Suggestions: For mirrorless shooters Canon FD and Minolta MD are the way to go, these are the least adaptable lens lines to DSLR mounts and both have a selection of excellent glass available. For Canon EF shooters it's Olympus OM because they share adapters the easiest, but they can be pricier than FD or MD due to the wider adaptability. Nikon and Pentax should stick to their native mounts (and m42 for Pentax).

In general, skip 3rd party lenses if you're looking for good but cheap older lenses. With a few exceptions old 3rd party glass isn't all that good, and the exceptions are largely well known and not cheap. Sigma and Tamron's 24 & 28mm primes are the main exceptions here, they're actually pretty decent and not very popular so they can be had cheap. I like Tamron's 28mm f2.5 better than the Sigma 28mm f2.8 Super Mini Wide, but I like the Sigma 24mm f2.8 better than the Tamron 24mm f2.5 (and yes, at some point I've owned all 4 of these lenses)

When picking a lens, check for 5 things.

1. Focus ring works well. Don't get it if it's grinding or sticky as the lens needs disassembly
2. Filter ring is in good condition. Don't buy a lens with a bad filter ring (dinged, chewed up), you will regret it.
3. No rear element damage. Mild front element damage usually just adds a touch of flare, rear element damage directly affects IQ. Note minor scratches and coating discoloration on the front element can lead to superb deals.
4. Functional aperture. if you shoot Mirrorless (or adapted to EF), then a slow aperture isn't an issue, but a sticky one always is because it will fail inevitably in the field at the worst aperture it could (usually stopped all the way down).
5. Fungus. Never buy a lens with fungus, don't take one even if offered for free. Fungus can infect the other lenses in your bag.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Some Thoughts on System Selection in 2020

Youth and Age
D750, Laowa 15mm f4 Macro

I've long been a proponent of the idea that Full Frame was largely cost-ineffective for the photographer with any sort of mild budgetary constraint. However I'm rapidly changing my mind on this for a few reasons.

1. Crop DSLR's are basically abandoned by their manufacturers. Seriously, when was the last serious lens introduction for APS-C DSLR's from Nikon, Canon or Pentax?

2. Chinese lens manufacturers are making dirt cheap lenses for FF DSLR & mirrorless mounts that range from adequate to excellent. They're doing very little for APS-C DSLR's. The cost advantage for APS-C was always mostly in the lenses, that's rapidly fading.

3. Only Fuji, Olympus and Panasonic take crop mirrorless seriously. Of those 3 only Panasonic even sells FF and the L mount is the least cost-effective FF mount out there (even M is cheaper to shoot for the budget-conscious and frankly GFX can be cheaper to shoot than L mount). Canon's system is a dead-end and consumer focused, Sony throws some spaghetti periodically on lenses (like the excellent 16-55 and 70-350 last years) but couldn't be bothered to make a serious body. 

So, if you're shooting on a budget, where should you look to get started.

1. Nikon 24MP bodies, or Canon 6D/6DII's. They're cheap on the used market, especially the D600 and original 6D. They're very good for most uses. They won't make cheap glass look bad unlike the higher-MP bodies (especially D8x0's). 

Don't be afraid to use manual focus lenses. There's now a wide selection of inexpensive and decent new manual focus lenses, ranging from high-end Zeiss to mid-range Irix and Venus/Laowa, to inexpensive Samyang/Rokinon and even dirt cheap stuff like Neewer and 7Artisans. Plus Samyang/Rokinon and Yongnuo are doing cheap AF glass too. The limitation here is that you're pretty much stuck with primes if you want cheap & decent. Nobody does good zooms in the same pricerange.

2. Fuji or m43. Great and not too expensive 1st party glass, lots of cheap 3rd party stuff. Nice bodies. You may find the RAW file quality limiting on m43 (I always seem to find it good, right until I need the advantages of RAW over JPEG, then I hit a wall) and may run into some RAW conversion challenges with Fuji. Lots of good used gear as well, and Fuji's 24MP bodies in particular are both reasonably priced on the used market and very good. Buy plenty of spare batteries though.

3. Sony A7 II/A7R II. Cheap on the used market, good IQ, even can be had new for surprisingly low money. Lots of cheap & decent glass. Adapts well and smart adapters for EF and Nikon F mounts exist (even can be cheap in the case of EF). 

Lots of cheap lenses are the real win here, and you can readily mix & match systems to adapt. I do recommend picking one or two systems max for adaptation though, otherwise you end up with a dozen random adapters on various lenses.  All the same players as F and EF mounts, plus a couple extra randoms. 

4. Canon EOS RP. It's cheap new, basically a mirrorless 6DII, and is very adaptable. Downside is there's basically two affordable 1st party AF lenses (the 24-105 STM and 35 IS macro) but unlike Z mount the DSLR adapter is cheap and there's actually 3rd party support starting to show up. This is a great solution for adapting if you want a better UI than the Sony mII bodies deliver. Downside is that the sensor is barely competitive with APS-C for Dynamic range, although it had FF high ISO performance. Skip the R though, the upcoming R5 and R6 will make it irrelevant and the R6 should be basically the same price.

To avoid:

1. Nikon Z. FX is expensive with zero 3rd party support, DX might as well not exist (1 body, 2 kit zooms). Nikon somehow made adapting even non-CPU F mount lenses a worse experience than their DSLR's despite adding IBIS. FX is a good system, just not for the budget-conscious, DX might as well not exist.

2. Canon EF-M. While this is the best-selling mirrorless mount in terms of units sold, it's purely a consumer mount with no growth potential. It does have 3rd party support, but not as good as Sony or Fuji. 

3. Pentax K, Sony/Minolta A mounts. Both are undead and have almost no actual support. A pity since the K-1 in particular would be a brilliant do-everything body for the budget-minded shooter if you had a better lens selection (That said, if you can get K mount lenses that work for you, the K-1 is a solid choice).

4. L mount. Expensive. Nice. Expensive. REALLY nice glass. With a side dose of Huge and Expensive. 

5. Nikon F DX, Canon EF-S. Unless you are a long-lens shooter on a real budget, there's no point to these mounts anymore. A good body isn't really much cheaper than a FF body, and lens selection is poor at best now. For wildlife/sports shooters on a budget only (and they shouldn't look at anything other than a D500, 90D or D7500 in that order)

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Pondering Fuji Colour

Bee and Thistle
Fuji X-T1, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 AI

In my previous post, I made a comment about being unhappy with Fuji colour for landscape/nature work.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about that.

The reality is I was actually having two issues.

1. Fuji's expose quite differently from most other cameras. That means that relying on the meter gives me overexposed images with limited ability to recover highlights (the flip side is there is FF-level data in the shadows, as all that missing headroom is sitting down there).

2. Fuji's blues are lighter and warmer than Nikon or Olympus blues.

The first is easy to address, underexpose by 0.7 to 1.3 EV and lift the shadows in post. That will darken down the blues in the sky to start.

The second is harder to address. It's linked to how the Fuji's render colour. They simply have less resolution in the blues and reds and Fuji's very distinct colour signature tends to a warm shift and a mild green shift, both of which compromise the blues.

I'm still working on a solution for #2. The reality is these colour rendering items are predictable, so may be solvable with presets (unlike the Sony colour challenges, which I just never liked it in any regard, with Fuji it's just the blue skies that I have some challenges with). 

Note in looking through my Fuji archives here:

I can see some great skies. I don't see that deep indigo I get from some of my Nikon shots, but I do have some lovely blues. I'd love to get that indigo look, but can probably live without it. 

So in summary - I need to work on how I expose with the Fuji's, and need to see if I can come up with a  preset that gets me closer to those Nikon and Olympus blues I love, but I can already get good skies from the Fuji's if I don't accidentally overexpose them.