Sunday 28 February 2021

Z5 Up and Downs


Nikon Z5, Z 24-50mm f4-6.3

The first real photowalk with the Z5 happened yesterday, with mixed results.

The bad? My kit lens is bad. It periodically gets confused at wider focal lengths and won't focus past 1m or so. The issue is intermittent and very frustrating. I've already opened a case with Nikon. Normally I'd just do a quick exchange with the store, but I don't want to have to swap the body as well, as I know it's good, I've just about got it setup right and I trust it. This is a little frustrating, I've had the occasional bad bit of kit over the years but I've had two new gear failures in the last 3 weeks, first the original E-M1.2 and now the Z 24-50. 

I've also found a gotcha with the Non-CPU Lens Data implementation. It doesn't write EXIF unless you are using an FTZ adapter. That's annoying for those interested in adapting non-F mount lenses, like myself, or in using 3rd party manual lenses which I'm also interested in. The good? 20 slots in Non-CPU Lens Data vs 9 in most of the DSLR's. Auto ISO and IBIS also still respect the Non-CPU Lens Data set. 

The good? Oh my, that EVF. My favourite OVF's were always the non-HP F3 and the F2 finders. Both are 0.8x and 100%. Guess what the FX Z's all are 0.8x and 100%. Eye relief is very close as well, perfect for me (but not so great for glasses wearers who will prefer lower magnification and a longer eyepoint). The 3.69 Million Dot OLED display is great, best I've owned. I know there are better out there (Leica's 4.4MD, the 5.76MD unit on the A7RIV and the Panasonic S1's and Sony's new 9.44MP unit in the A7SIII and A1) but the Z5 unit is the best I've worked with. I'd seen a similar setup on the X-T3 with 0.75x magnification and wasn't all that impressed compared to the X-T1/2's 2.36MD 0.77x unit, but a lot of that is just implementation. The Fuji's are very good, the Nikon is simply sublime, it feels almost like an OVF. 

Buttons are marginally better than the E-M1.2, for the most part they're very close but the Nikon has 2 real advantages:

1. The Fn buttons on the front are big and easy to find, these are the two most fiddly buttons on the E-M1.2. Only downside here is gloves can hit these buttons on the Z5 and not so much on the E-M 1.2

2. All buttons can be actuated by your right hand except play & delete. The E-M1.2's left shoulder buttons are not reachable by your right hand. This means that you need your left hand to actuate non-lens controls while shooting on the E-M1.2, but not on the Z5. That's a nice bonus. 

The Nikon also has the on/off on the shutter button. I'm kind of ambivalent on this compared to the E-M1.2, because frankly the front control dial around the shutter button on the E-M1.2 was kind of awesome and the Z5's front dial is the weak point in its controls, being very low profile and harder to actuate with gloves. Honestly, the control dial setup on the E-M1.2 was about the best I've seen. The Z5 is quite good, but not quite on the same level. Better button layout on the Z5 though, the different rear dial position makes the dial a little harder to actuate but allows for a better AF-On location.

The older Olympus bodies annoyed me with the on/off location, but the quick sleep feature on the E-M1.2 made this pretty much irrelevant as I could just leave the body on like a DSLR. I need to be a little more cognizant of this as it doesn't sleep or wake up as fast as the E-M1.2. It's not slow, the Z5 is the second most responsive mirrorless body I've owned, the E-M1.2 is just really, really fast. It's actually been quite a while since I've had a body where I just felt it was slow. The last one was the X-E1 I had in early 2019 and I knew going in that it just was an older and slower body. The Fuji X-T1 & X-T2 are quite responsive, as is the A7II, the Z5 and E-M1.2 are noticeably better, with the E-M1.2 on top for things like wake-up speed.

Next up is the files. They're just like the D750 files, just a touch better. That makes them the second-best RAW files I've shot at low ISO (trailing the D800's) and the best at high ISO's (beating the D750 and D700). Just yum. Nikon colour and absolutely outstanding noise performance. Yes, there are better cameras out there, like the Z7 at low ISO and Z6 at high ISO, but the Z5 is already superb. 

I'm pretty surprised by how good the AF is. Not so much the speed, which is good, but how good the tracking is. The tracking features are not something I've ever really used before, but Subject Tracking really does work. Eye AF and face recognition are quite usable, even if it won't track a guy in a 'Fro jumping around and Sony/Canon will. Even with the issues with my kit lens I was able to test this, and I also grabbed a 50/1.8G and have tested it a bit. 

My L-bracket arrived today, along with my Haoge Sony E to Nikon Z adapter. The L bracket is OK, it was cheap and is bright red, but I don't like the extra spacing of the L portion. I'll probably get a Smallrig bracket eventually. The Haoge adapter lets me stack my Sony adapters for now, mostly my M and C/Y adapters, until I get native ones, and will also give me the option of buying E mount manual focus lenses that aren't available in Z mount, like say the Loxia's.

I'm also on the lookout for a Fuji X to Nikon Z adapter. It should be possible as X mount is almost identical in spec to E mount (0.3mm shorter register, but very similar otherwise). That would let me use all my Fuji lenses except the XC35/2 in DX crop mode on the Z5, at 10.5MP it wouldn't be really high-end IQ, but fine for occasional use.

I expect I'm going to use the 24/50/105 combo a lot on the Z5, right now that's a Nikkor 24/2.8 K non-AI, the 50/1.8G and the legendary 105/2.5 AI-S 'Afghan Girl'. If that works well, I'll pick up an AF 24, maybe Viltrox will bring their new 24 to Z mount soon? I've heard good things about their 85/1.8 and it's on my list of interesting things, along with the 7Artisans 28/1.4 and 35/1.4's (not sure which of those I'll get, the cheaper native mount or the better Wen series in M mount). There's no AF replacement for the 105/2.5 though, which somebody should remedy. I'm expecting a 35/85 kit might work once I have an 85, as I already have 2 35's, the Nikkor 35/2 AI, which is decent enough but I've never been overly fond of it and the Super-Takumar 35/3.5, which I like a lot, but it's slow enough that it's not usable in weak light.

These are all fun lenses though, my hiking/landscape kit is the Laowa 15, the 24-50 (once sorted) and a telezoom, likely the 70-300E, and probably the 55/3.5 Micro.

In terms of buying fun lenses, I'm going to try and stick to 3 kinds:

1. Nikkors, both F and LTM
2. Cheap manual lenses, like 7Artisans and TTArtisan.
3. Takumars, I miss my old setup and they're still reasonably cheap aside from 85's.

Saturday 27 February 2021

A Change in Directions


Nikon Z5, Nikkor 35mm f2 AI

Welp, the E-M1 Mark II didn't last long. It got returned and a Z5 came home with me.

Why? Not anything wrong with the E-M1.2, but entirely looking at what I'd need to get to make m43 a full system for me, then looking over and realizing I already owned most of it in F mount. Why buy a bunch of new lenses when I already own equivalents that I know work for me. I basically needed to build a full system in m43, but I need a telezoom only for Z at this point (I'd arranged to sell my Laowa 15/4 Macro to a friend, but they kindly allowed me to back out of the deal now that I'm back on FX, it's an amazing lens but I couldn't see a real use case for it on m43, a 30mm-e shift/macro is a lot less interesting than a 15mm macro, the shift capability is crop-only)

I'll miss both the E-M1.2 and the 12-40 f2.8 Pro, they were an amazing combo. The Z5 beats the E-M1.2 in some areas, and lags in others. The EVF is one area it's like night & day, the Z5's is much better than the already quite decent E-M1.2, while the E-M1.2 had a better LCD setup as Nikon does tilt-only. The Z5 also has USB-C charge, one thing oddly lacking on the Olympus. I'll miss the 4:3 aspect ratio, although I can shoot in 5:4 crop on the Z5. Only crop mode missing is the 1.2x crop. Nikon is way behind Olympus in the way of multi shot and computational capabilities, but quite frankly I mostly use those to make up for the less flexible RAW files of m43. I will note that I pushed the E-M1.2 pretty hard on DR and found the files very close to my Fuji's in terms of usable DR, a surprise to me and much better than my experience of the 16MP m43 files, which got crunchy when pushed.

As to the Z5, the ergonomics are if anything better than the already excellent E-M1.2, the button layout in particular is better and the grip is just a bit chunkier which I like. The key thing is that I can get a nice 2 zoom setup in the system pretty easily and not too expensively if I'm willing to exploit equivalence and I am. Where the Olympus is ahead is in sealing & cold weather capability, something I don't need at that level, in speed, again something I don't need and in computational photography, which I like, but again I don't actually need. 

Lots of cool toy advantages for the Olympus beyond the sealing, but in terms of practicality they're pretty non-impacting for my uses. The Z5 has very good IBIS, adapts very well, better than the E-M1.2 thanks to the lack of crop factor, and a best in class viewfinder.

One neat thing is that once I get my adapter situation sorted out, I'll be able to use my beloved Nikkor-S.C 5cm f1.4 lens on an actual Nikon for the first time. It's a Leica Thread Mount lens, so I've never had a Nikon body it fit, but LTM and M mounts are very adaptable to the Z's, like Sony and unlike Canon R (the sensor filtration on R cameras is very unfriendly to M/LTM lenses). This is actually a big reason I want a FF mirrorless, there's been a boom in inexpensive but shockingly good M mount lenses, ranging from Laowa's insane 9mm f5.6, the world's widest rectilinear lens for Full frame, to the 7Artisans 75mm f1.25 and with all sorts of niftiness in between and all for 3 digit USD prices, similar to what Voigtlander's used to cost before they became another premium brand.

In terms of adapters, I have the FTZ, have an E/FE to Z adapter coming and will be acquiring M and C/Y adapters at a minimum, I already have a M42 to C/Y adapter for my 3 M42 lenses and because of how that adapter works, I can stack adapters with no tolerance issues. M42 adapters for C/Y and K mounts actually are only bayonet to screw mount converters and sit entirely inside the mount. That was a unique design and deliberate as both M42 and C/Y mounts were intended as successor mounts to M42 and adaptation was a design requirement.

I still think the E-M1.2 is a great camera, and would have worked quite well for me long-term. However I would still have had the lure of Full Frame and I simply needed to acquire too many lenses to offset the value proposition of the Z5. There's a difference between buying a kit + a telezoom and buying a full setup including UWA, telezoom, macro, a fast AF normal, plus a couple more lenses and buying the kit+telezoom an maybe a fast AF normal. I already have an extensive F mount manual focus setup, covering 15mm, 24mm, 8mm, 35mm, 50mm, 55mm macro, 105mm, 200mm and 300mm, plus a 50-135/3.5 zoom I'm not overly fond of. Plus I have a 35mm f3.5 and 135mm f3.5 in M42 mount, a C/Y mount 70-150/3.8 I quite like and my beloved Nikkor-S.C 5cm f1.4 in LTM. All are very usable on the Z5 and most are kinda questionable on both the Fuji and Olympus bodies, really only the the 55 Macro, the 105/2.5 and the 200/4 are interesting on crop bodies, and the 200 isn't a great match to m43, it doesn't quite deliver enough resolution for the high density 20MP m43 sensor.

More to come on the Z5 as I shoot with it. Lets see if I'll hit 1000 images in a week, like I did with the E-M1.2. Although I will note I was on vacation that week and am working this week.

Sunday 21 February 2021

X-T2 as a Manual Focus Body


Fujifilm X-T2, Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5 AI, Acros+R Film Simulation

The image above is straight out of the camera, Acros film simulation with simulated Red 25 Filter and H+1, S-1 and Sharpness +2 for a bit of extra punch. Cropped down to 1:1 and slightly less than full width.

This is part of why I still love the Fuji's, especially for B&W and cityscape work. The film simulations just give a great starting point to get a great image. I took the X-T2 out with a bag full of primes, native & adapted, and just had some fun shooting in the city. 

I've largely settled on how I'm going to approach my kit for now. The Fuji's will stay and will be paired with manual focus lenses and mostly be used in the city. The Oly will be primarily zoom-based and backpacking/rough weather kit. The 12-40 replaces the XC 16-50 and a 40-150 Pro will replace the departed 55-200. I'll still need a UWA for the Oly, likely a Laowa 7.5mm f2 as I'm just not sure I want to spend on a 7-14 Pro with its lack of filter compatibility and likelihood to just get used at 7.5mm. Maybe I'll look at a zoom when Oly releases their new f4 option (they have 2-3 f4 zooms known to be coming, all of which are interesting to me)

So the X-T2 will mostly get used with the inexpensive Chinese manual focus lenses I've been buying. I really do find manual, mechanical lenses more fun to use than zooms on the Fuji bodies. I've ever liked focus by wire that much and the more I rely on just the physical controls, the more I like the Fuji's. The only physical control I never really liked is the M/S/C AF switch on the front, and shooting MF glass makes it irrelevant. I suspect I will continue to add inexpensive MF lenses to my Fuji kit, but right now I don't really see adding any AF lenses, although that could change, Fuji's primes are excellent and I could totally live with an all-prime Fuji kit if the Olympus kit handles my zoom needs. That also saves me from looking for a second Olympus body, as I'm quite conflicted as to what would be interesting there. No smaller body has battery compatibility with the E-M1.2. 

All of this will let me use the two kits at what I like best about them. Oly colours for landscapes, Oly tech for landscape & long exposure work, Oly sealing for rough conditions. Fuji Film Simulations for B&W and night work, classic Fuji handling & big beautiful finders for manual focus lenses and taking advantage of the fact that most manual focus crop lenses are designed for APS-C use (Laowa's MFT lenses being some of the rare exceptions). 

This also lets me continue to focus on the inexpensive lenses that I so enjoy, without giving up performance by settling on 3 higher-end lenses for my landscape work, where I need the absolute quality.

This won't stop me from shooting landscape on my Fuji's, especially while my only UWA option is on that system (I sold my Nikkor 20mm and my Laowa 15mm Macro is already spoken for, eliminating my UWA FF options, outside of my 7Artisans 12mm on Fuji, all my other systems are limited to 24mm-e at the widest for now). I ill just prioritize using the Oly when I have to go somewhere I don't want to carry 4+ primes to.

Friday 19 February 2021

One Week With The E-M1 Mark II

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 Pro

So I've now had a working E-M1 Mark II for a week, as well as the 12-40 Pro. I've gotten out for a few walks and one moderate hike and shot a little over 750 images during that week. 

I've noted that after years of rarely shooting too seriously with any body, I've put a lot of mileage on pretty much every body I've used seriously in 2019 and 2020. That's more from the fact that I've simply found my motivation than anything else. 

I think I may need to update my 3 stages of camera ownership soon, because either just about everything I've had except the A6300 or X-E2 has made it past the equivocation stage. I think that's part motivation getting my shooting rate up and part choosing cameras better. 

I've commented in the past that I think that selling my original X-T1 and buying back into m43 may have been a mistake. Selling the m43 kit to go FF again was an even bigger one. While I did do a lot of good work with my D750, I never gelled with any of the FF gear to the level I did with either the Fuji or m43 kits. The one bit of good news is that I never had much in the way of valuable lenses the last time through, only my 9-18 was actually valuable. This time around I am focusing on higher-end glass to get around some of the limitations I had with my m43 kit last time, specifically getting the 12-40 f2.8 Pro and 40-150 f2.8 Pro instead of the 12-50 f3.5-6.3 EZ and 40-150 f4-5.6 R. It's more carry weight, but much more flexibility at the same time, especially since the 40-150 Pro is TC compatible and is known to play well with the 1.4x TC in particular. 

I've really found the E-M1 Mark II to be extremely easy to get used to, it was almost seamless to start using, even more so than the X-T2 and I took to that body almost immediately. It's so nice to have easily located buttons even when shooting with my heavy gloves. If the A7II was noticeably better than the Fuji's when gloved, the Olympus is pretty much on par with the D300 for gloved handling, it might actually be even better than the D300 simply due to how raised the top buttons are compared to the D300's. There's also grip/lens clearance almost on par with the D300, and much better than the Sony. The Fuji's ergonomics are quite good in terms of lens/finger clearance, but that's due to the small front grip extensions, even with the add-on grips.

AF is notably better than the X-T2, the key thing is that it does much better in the woods with a longer lens than the X-T2+55-200 was. That lens had two frustrations for me, one was the relatively mediocre close focus performance, I'd been spoiled by the better close focus performance of the Olympus lenses, and the other was the tendency of the AF system to get confused in busy conditions, the E-M1 Mark II suffers far less from that than the X-T2.



Sunday 14 February 2021

E-M1 Mark II - Second Try

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 Pro

I picked up the replacement E-M1 Mark II body on Friday afternoon. It did cost me extra over the previous body I returned as non-functional, but I think I got a lot of value out of the upcharge, getting all the accessories instead of just strap & charger, including the box, and also going from a high mileage body (95k) to one with less than 1000 shots on the clock. I was surprised this body was not rated 9, given the mint condition and extremely low mileage (881 shots when I got it)

 With a properly working body now I'm very impressed. The handling is very much the E-M1's handling, improved. The grip is a little bigger and fills the hand better, the buttons are a little better positioned and the firmware is a fair bit more capable.

One very nice thing is there is a neat Quick Sleep mode, this sleeps in 10 seconds when using the body in EVF-only mode. Now that does mean you need to manually switch in and out of LV mode on the rear LCD, but the battery life is improved immensely. I've shot over 300 images and not dropped below 60% charge. That's seriously impressive battery life for any mirrorless body, and especially for the BLH-1 which is of the smaller 'big' batteries in the mirrorless world.

The gloved handling of the body is excellent. MUCH better than the Fuji's, with nice large and easy to find buttons and easier to activate control dials. I was surprised with how much nicer the dials are than the X-T1 or 2. Still love the Fuji's classic layout for basic controls, especially when using manual primes, but the Olympus beats it hands down for AF/Zoom handling

Capability-wise, it's very impressive. That said, it's very complex as well. Lots of neat functions but lots of menu options to configure them, and very lousy explanations, especially for stuff that's iconography. 

The real surprise for me has been the m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 Pro. I've looked at this lens several times in the past and always chosen to go with the less expensive 12-50 EZ, which is quite a solid lens, but much slower. There's a couple things that makes me wish I'd bought this lens long ago. It's very well built, quite small and the close focus performance is very impressive, at 0.2m for all focal lengths. That's much easier to work with than the macro mode on the 12-50. Plus of course it's f2.8 and extremely high performance optically. I'm extremely happy with the lens so far, great range, fast, close focusing and optically excellent.

Friday 12 February 2021

One Body Leaves, One Body Enters. Sort-Of


Olympus E-M1, m.Zuiko 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 EZ

So my D300 has pretty much shuffled off its mortal coil. Control dial failure on the front control dial is the cause. This is the body I've owned the longest of any digital body, at about 4 years ownership at this point. Not bad at all. I only shot about 1500 shots with this body, as it was my backup Nikon body for most of that time. With D300's in general I've shot almost 20,000 frames over 3 bodies. 

I traded in 3 lenses Wednesday, the Fuji XF 55-200 and XC 16-50 along with my Nikkor 20/2.8 AF to get an E-M1 mk II. Sadly, this body is going back due to failure, it has major lockup issues. I will be coming home with another one though, as I was impressed with what I got when the body wasn't locking up. Acceptably sharp shots at 1s handheld and 105mm actual focal length (210mm FF equivalent) is outstanding. The IQ in quick tests was significantly better at higher ISO's than the 16MP E-M1 & E-M5II. Only real issues I had was I couldn't figure out how to set the Fn level to select AF/MF and focus peaking required a button press and couldn't be tied to MF mode. 

EVF is not on par with the X-T1/2, but better than the A7II and closer to the Fuji's than the Sony. Grip ergonomics are excellent as is button layout. I don't like the on/off location but can live with it. Battery is much larger, but suffers from the fact it can be inserted backwards, although it won't seat. That's something I dislike on every body without shape-keyed batteries (Fuji's equally guilty, the NP-126 has the same issue)

The menu is the usual messy and overly complex Olympus menu system with excessive iconography. I still don't know the difference between one fish and three fish, or what functionality that setting relates to. But unless you use all sorts of oddball functions regularly, once setup you really don't have to menu-dive for much more than card formatting. 

I've arranged a body exchange for tomorrow, so I should be up and running one that's done. 

I've still got my Fuji bodies, and all my primes for them. We'll see how things play out long term, but I see the Fuji's getting used with manual lenses in the city and the Oly gear being my hiking & backcountry setup with occasional crossovers to stretch things out. 

Postscript: One Fish/Three Fish is apparently a function that when assigned to a button toggles powerzoom lenses between the widest and longest zoom positions, it's for underwater housing use where you can't easily control the zoom. Totally makes sense in context, but as usual for Oly, there's absolutely no context in the menu system for their iconography. At least there are no Invalid Operation buttons.

Tuesday 9 February 2021

Taking a Look Back - My Time with the E-M1 + E-M5 II kit

Olympus E-M1, m.Zuiko 9-18

I did a review of the images I've posted from my period shooting Olympus in 2019, as a result of the conversation that triggered my last post.

This made several things clear.

1. I prefer Olympus colour to Fuji colour for landscape work, by a fair margin. In the city it's a wash, but for landscape Olympus simply delivers the blue tones I can never quite get with any other system except Nikon.

2. I miss shooting 4:3 aspect ratio. I simply like it better than 3:2. This is not really news, I've liked squarer formats ever since I was introduced to them.

3. I do miss Olympus IBIS performance. It remains the only IBIS system I've shot that I've really found effective.

4. Fuji's LCD setup remains better. Dual-tilt beats flip/twist beats single tilt beats fixed, at least from a photographer's perspective. 

5. I'm less convinced now that the extra malleability of the Fuji files are winning me anything, since I have to push them more to get close to what I want as compared to the Olympus files. Full Frame is still better, but not by that much. I've never been sold on X-Trans anyways.

6. I'm unconvinced I would be happy with 16MP as a primary body in either Fuji or Olympus.

7. E-M1 II prices are now down to a level that I consider very reasonable. And they're USB-C but not USB Power/Charge, X-T2 is USB Micro-B 3.0, but does do power/charge. The 20MP m43 sensor is supposed to be a real improvement.

8. E-M1 II handling is MUCH better gloved than the X-T2, even with the bracket and marginally better ungloved.

9. m43 lenses are getting cheap.

What does this mean? Probably another system switch for me, and possibly something of a draw-down in my overall setup. Notionally I'd ditch the X-T2 and the 3 AF lenses, but keep the X-T1 and all my manual lenses. That would get me into the E-M1 II, another 12-50 and maybe either a 25/1.7 or a 40-150 R, rounding out my personal favourite cheap yet decent kit for m43.

I'd sell my Laowa 15mm f4 to fund a proper UWA (9-18 or a 7.5-10mm prime) and possibly sell off some Nikkors, keeping the 55/3.5 (a gift from my Aunt) and probably the 105/2.5 as well (such a good lens) long-term. Then troll the used market to add a 45/1.8, 17/1.8 and a 12-40 or 12-45and wait for the rumoured 45-200/4 Pro that's supposed to match the 12-45/4 (maybe a matching UWA zoom too?)

I'd keep the X-T1 around with the 12/18/25 primes and probably add a 35 and 55 for fun. That's just a great street shooting kit and cheap but fun. Eventually I'd want a compact body for m43 to share lenses, but that can wait. And if I sold off most of the Nikkors I'd be less tempted by another FX body.


Some Thoughts on Micro-4/3rds


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

A friend asked me today for some advice on camera gear for serious adverse weather shooting after having their older DSLR quite literally freeze up solid while shooting Aurora images in -50C weather. 

I immediately recommended an Olympus E-M1 II with the m.Zuiko 12-40/2.8 Pro as just about the best option for that sort of work for the dollar due to the absolutely outstanding sealing and the electronic shutter (allowing the camera to take images without moving the probably frozen shutter).

Now I left Olympus in 2019 because I thought I needed a more capable sensor than I could get in that system for the sort of work I do, but I continue to think they are by far the best option for severe-condition work. OM Digital Solutions seems to agree with me as their marketing is shifting rapidly in that direction compared to the more general marketing Olympus did.

Looking back at the system, I honestly think I jumped too quickly. I don't regret where I ended up, but I think that if I'd upgraded to an E-M1 II with the newer 20MP sensor I probably would have been OK, especially with the improved multi shot capabilities the E-M1 II has as well as the improvements of the 20MP sensor over the 16MP sensor I used on the E-M5II, E-M1 and E-M5.

I do miss a lot from m43. The absolutely amazing IBIS performance, which is unmatched on any other system, although Canon RF comes close until you get down to >1s exposures, the build quality, the colour (Yes, I do like it better than Fuji colour) and that little gem of a 9-18mm lens. 

I think there is a real niche out there for OM Digital Solutions, the new successor to Olympus Imaging. That niche is severe conditions/backcountry photography. OM cameras are small, tough and can do certain things handheld that require a tripod in all other systems (live ND mode on the E-M1 III and E-M1X especially). The lenses are outstanding as well. That's perfect for situations where you're size/weight limited, operating in all conditions and cannot miss the shot. 

They do need to do some work to get there, mostly on the lens line. All of their mid-range lenses need to be sealed. The f1.8/2 primes and the 9-18 most notably. Oly should only have 2 unsealed lenses in the lineup, and that's the 14-42 and 40-150 kit lenses for the E-M10's. I do find it slightly ironic that Fuji, with no sealed mid-range bodies has a full set of sealed mid-range lenses and Oly is in exactly the opposite situation, having the bodies but not the lenses.

Monday 8 February 2021

The Last Frame, Revisited


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

About 18 months ago I posted The Last Frame, my goodbye to my first X-T1 and a short summary of what I thought Fuji needed to do.

I noted 3 issues in their lens line.

1. The XC 50-230 is too expensive - Still true today, and more so now with the space getting more aggressive. Fuji needs to drop the price, the XF70-300 will result in a flood of used XF55-200's which will make the XC50-230's pricing even more difficult to sell at.

2. Consumer UWA. I said the 10-24 needed a WR update, which arrived last fall, and they needed a cheap UWA option. With used original 10-24's coming down and a plethora of cheap 3rd party options around 12-14mm, I think this is much less critical although I still want an XC10-xx zoom for ~400USD

3. No consumer Fast prime. The XC35/2 solve that a year ago. Fuji too the other option from what I suggested, cloning the XF35/2 into a cheap barrel rather than doing a slower 35/1.4

In addition I noted they needed a 80-300, a 135 and 300/4 prime and a 200-600. We got the XF70-300 and a 150-600 is now a strong rumour, which will cover the zoom side of things. I still think they need the telephoto primes as well. 

In addition we got 2 lenses that I happen to think were a complete waste of time and effort.

The XF50/1.0, which has not been well received. It's clearly a good lens, but it's not exceptional and the price is, and Fuji dropped the ball badly when they decided to change track from a needed XF33/1.0 to an unneeded XF50/1.0. They'd have been much better off doing a WR/AF update of the well loved XF56. 

The XF27 updates a lens which is beloved and ignored. The original lens was optically excellent and quite liked by a small but vocal group of users. The rest thought it too expensive for a lens without an aperture ring (it is the only XF lens like that), too large for a f2.8 APS-C pancake and/or too slow for a large APS-C pancake. Fuji's updated added WR and an aperture ring, but didn't solve the fundamental issue with the lens for many, it's too big for its speed, or too slow for its size. I'd rather have seen it either become a 27/2 on the same size budget or be tiny and an XC27/2.8.

The 10-24 and 27 updates now set the expectation that Fuji will be updating or replacing their older XF lenses. And I agree they should. But not all of them.

1. The primes - all should get WR and AF drive updates. The 23/1.4 probably should get a full redesign. I'd like to see the 35/1.4 keep its optical design and Fuji should launch a XF 35/1.2 WR to deliver that fast modern lens. Note we already know that a XF18/1.4 is coming that will replace the XF18/2

As noted above, I want to see a 135 and 300, I think Fuji needs a 70/1.8 or 70/2.8 and a 180-200/2.8 as well on the long end (a 500/5.6 PF would be amazing). They also need some work on the wide end, a 8-10mm prime would bring some real love in an area Fuji has mostly ignored for years.

2. The zooms need some work too. As I noted above, I think Fuji needs to get a consumer UWA out. The 150-600 is even more important as telephotos remain Fuji's weakest area system-wise.

What else I'd like to see:

XF18-55 and XF55-200 need either an update or a price drop. The XF16-80 and XF70-300 functionally replace them for the higher-end user, but the older 2 lenses are still smaller, faster at the wide end and cheaper, but they aren't cheaper enough for non-WR lenses.

I'd like to see an XC100-400 as well, say f4.5-7.1 or 5.6-7.1 and compact. This is a 'nice to have' as for many the XF70-300+TC14 will cover this need. But if they can get this really small, it will sell.

I'd also like to see an XC18-135, essentially the same idea as the XC35, stick the current good optics into a cheaper barrel.

The idea here is largely building the right lens options for the X-S10 user. 

On the Body side, Fuji has 3 issues that I see.

1. No consistent UI. There are 5 current X bodies, the X-T4, X-T30, X-Pro3, X-E4 and X-S10. There are 5 current UI variants in that line. You cannot buy 2 different model bodies and have consistent UI unless you buy a body and its predecessor. Fuji only has bad choices here, but I can't help thinking that it's going to settle out with the X-Pro series + the X-S series. As much as I love the UI on the X-Tx series, when I look at how I use the cameras I'd get much more use of a camera laid out like the X-S10 or GFX100s and having real Custom Settings banks. And I'm probably about as close as you can get to someone for whom the X-Tx is perfect for in terms of UI. 

2. No WR bodies to match the lower-end WR XF lenses. It's interesting as Olympus has the exact opposite problem, no WR lenses to match their mid-level WR bodies. One of the X-S10, X-T30 and X-E4 replacements needs to be WR. The X-T40 is the obvious one, as the X-T30 has really lost its relevance in the current lineup, it's not small like the X-E4 but it's not got the ergonomics or IBIS of the X-S10. 

3. The $850-999 model jumble. This was bad enough when it was just the X-T30 and X-T200, now it's 3 bodies targeting the same pricepoint. That really should be one consumer body or two wider spaced models. Killing the X-T30 would largely solve this, as there's enough price and capability gap between the X-S10 and X-E4 to make them make more sense. The big issue is that the X-T30 competes against both the X-E4 and the X-S10, while those two bodies are so different that they only sort-of compete on price.

I can't help but think that Fuji needs to get back to the two line split. I'd like to see one of two model lines:

X-S1, X-S10, X-S100, X-Pro3

or X-S1, X-S10, X-Pro3, X-E4

I don't see Fuji going back into the low end of the market now that the X-T200 and X-A7 are done and Fuji has dropped their relationship with the 3rd party that was doing those bodies for them. So the second line makes more sense. 

I would be sad to see the X-T line die, but as much as I love those bodies, the X-S UI style would let Fuji grow their system. I think that Fuji would have introduced custom setting banks

I'd like to see it play out like this. X-T30 is quietly discontinued. X-S1 or X-H2 is released with an updated sensor, improved processing and GFX100s-derived ergonomics, but with a flip/twist screen for the hybrid shooters. X-T4 soldiers on until sales dry up or relative sales vs the X-S1/X-H2 show the market doesn't like the change.

Fuji could then either treat the X-Tx line like the X-Pro line and make it a specialty body (a X-T5 that's reverted back to a pure stills-oriented body at a premium cost and with the double-tilt screen returning could work alright, as  long as it is a niche body like the X-Pro3)

Wednesday 3 February 2021

Playing Some More With The A7II

A7II, Nikkor 105/2.5 AI-S

I've had the A7II out a couple times more, and have been having fun with it and my Nikkor manual focus lenses. It's just a solid platform for those uses and somewhat nicer than the Fuji's for adapting old 35mm lenses. This is for a couple reasons.

1. Field of view. Because there's no crop factor, the lenses have the same field of view as they do on film. Since my current selection was largely built with FF in mind (film and the D800 and/or D750 I bought them for) this works better than they do on crop like the Fuji's, or even my D300

2. IBIS. Yeah, the A7II's IBIS is nothing to write home about, giving at best 2 stops of stabilization. But it's there and it does save shots.

3. Better handling in winter. Bigger buttons beat dials when you tend to leave things in Aperture Priority and are wearing gloves. I do retain a preference for Fuji's ergonomics when ungloved, if only for the joystick (Need a Mark 3 on Sony to get that).

It's not perfect though, the big issues as a MF platform are:

1. No focal length written to EXIF. This is key for figuring out which lens you used where. Even my X-T1 has this even though it gains no functionality beyond EXIF from that.

2. Over-sensitive EVF eye sensor causes inconsistent LCD/EVF switching when using the LCD tilted. The Fuji's suffer from this too, but much less due to a better tuned sensor

3. Crap battery life. The main issue this time is self-discharge. the Fuji's sit better with a battery in the camera and their batteries self-discharge slower when sitting. You always have to charge the Sony batteries if the camera has been sitting for a while, not so much with the Fuji's.

All in all, I'm really looking at a platform for shooting FF manual lenses, and it's GOT to be mirrorless this time. Need to be patient though, as a work award I received may result in a free camera (usually it's a trip, but this year they can't really do that, the question is how are they going to handle alternate prizes)