Monday, 31 May 2021

Analysis Paralysis


Nikon Z5, Z 24-50

Did another hike yesterday. It's a great activity for exercise while maintaining social distancing, you don't want other people around if you can avoid it. 11.3KM & 18,000+ steps on a moderate-rated '8km' hike. Yes, I keep getting bit by trail distance ratings being well off from reality. 

Did make a few errors, mostly prior to leaving. First off, I forgot to charge my Z5 and had 52% battery when I got to the trailhead. Big takeaway there is that I need a USB-C PD capable adapter in the car, either a small power USB power panel or a 12V car adapter widget, my current unit just isn't delivering the power necessary to charge my Z5 (or my iPhone and iPad Pro for that matter). I also forgot one charged battery for the E-M5II, and of my 2 spares there, one wasn't charged either. Luckily I caught this early enough that I could use one of my USB charging docks to half-charge the spare BLN-1 on the drive (these docks don't pull a lot of power from the USB port, so they work with my current car adapter, but they're also very slow to charge, ~4 hours to full). Finally I forgot my PD Leash wrist strap, which I really like having for security when working in places where a dropped camera would be a catastrophic loss.

I spent the first half of the hike shooting both bodies, with the 70-300E on the Z5 and the 12-40PRO on the E-M5II. That mostly worked well, although to be honest I was really missing the Z5's better AF system control for some of the work I shot with the E-M5II. I did a bit of long-exposure work on the E-M5II here, and it mostly worked pretty well. The only real issue I had was one really nice shot that could have worked better if I'd bracketed it and merged the two images in post and I didn't think to do so. I took a break about halfway in at a nice shoreline rest spot and did some long-exposure work with both the E-M5II and the Z5. I did not have a re-occurrence of the issues with getting a usable display with ND filters on the Z5, I think now that it was a combination of the polarizer (I did notice both bodies displays darkened more with the polarizer than with a 10-stop ND fitted, but exposures were generally good) and the sun position (shining directly into the EVF sensor)

After the rest stop, I stuck the E-M5II in the pack and shot the rest of the hike only with the Z5 as a test. I used all 3 lenses, the Laowa 15/4 Macro, the Z 24-50 and the 70-300E. This worked generally well, but swapping lenses between the Z 24-50 and 70-300E is a pain when trying to work quickly (the 15 really doesn't suit quick work in the first place, so it's not so much of an annoyance). I really did appreciate the generally quicker control of the body, especially of the AF system. For all that there's some really valid complaints about the limited AF controls on the Z's vs the F mount bodies, they do generally do better than most comparable mirrorless bodies once you get used to the setup.

Moving between the two dissimilar interfaces in the E-M5II and Z5 is an exercise in aggravation, as the UI's are different enough and the capabilities also different enough that I have to context switch too much. The E-M5II has a lot of nice extra features, but I do have to work to access them, most are menu dives, the Z5 is a much faster body to work with and while the Super Control Menu is a lot more capable than the 'i' menu, the 'i' menu is more configurable and quicker to access. 

This shows me that I really would be better off with 2 bodies in the same mount when working in the field, not 2 dissimilar bodies. Nikon is probably the easier to do this with as all the FX Z bodies are essentially identical in UI aside from the mode dial location and presence of a top LCD. Olympus would require two E-M1.2/3 bodies to get full benefit of a similar UI between both bodies, the E-M5's have the same basic menu structure as the E-M1's, but the body control layout is quite different with the E-M1's actually being closer to the Z's in control layout.

If I was to go to a 2 similar body setup on the Z's, I basically need the 24-70S (on my list already as long as I keep the Z5) and a new body to get all the basics covered. That could be a Z6 or Z5, or I could save up a bit more and get a used Z7 and get that glorious 45MP sensor and some extra crop capability. The Z50 is a non-option here as it can't share batteries with the Z5 and the UI is just enough different to make it a less than ideal change from the Z5. 

On the Olympus side I'd need an UWA, a 40-150 Pro and eventually 2 bodies (as the E-M5II doesn't match up well to the E-M1's for UI, so the E-M5II+E-M1 combo runs into a lot of the same issues as the E-M5II+Z5 combo). That's more glass, but on the body side I can add one, get the glass, then add another body later. But here I need the glass too, and relatively quickly. Costs are the same short term (a 40-150 Pro + E-M1.2 costs the same as a used Z7, but I could get another Z5 for about the same cost as an E-M1.2) and a 9-18 or Laowa 7.5 cost on par with a 24-70/4 S.

The more I look at this, the more the Z system seems to draw ahead. As much as the computational photography extras help m43, the ones I have today really only serve to match what I can get single-shot with a Z, and the extras on the E-M1's are things that would be nice, but I don't need all that much (like ProCapture and Handheld high-res). LiveBulb is the real kicker here, but I've not used it that much at all. The long shutter limit of the earlier Z bodies (before the Z6II/Z7II) is a real annoyance, I can just use bulb, but then I need to math and hand-time. But I can do that if needed.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Frustrations and Filters


OM-D E-M5 Mark II, m.Zuiko PRO 12-40mm f2.8

Got out yesterday for another hike, same setup as last time, mostly shooting with the Z5/70-300E and E-M5II/12-40PRO combos. I spent a little time with the Z24-50 on the Z5, but I got frustrated with it quite quickly. I was shooting in bright sunlight and wanted to use my 10 stop ND+ Polarizer, but I could not get the Z5 to give me a workable display. Ended up using the 5 stop instead, which was just barely enough. I was a little surprised, as I've used the 10 stop successfully on the Z5/24-50 combo before, but I suspect I was running into a combination of LCD auto-brightness, limited max shutter speed and LV Settings simulation. 

I didn't yet have any ND filters that fit my 12-40 Pro, so I couldn't swap that in for long-exposure work, although somewhat ironically, I got home to find that Amazon had delivered a 62mm 10 stop ND a day early. Really could have used that on the hike.

I'm using Gobe/URTH ND filters, which are a decent budget option. They do have a colour cast (regardless of advertising, all but the most pricey ND filters have colour casts), but it's a relatively easily corrected warming effect. I do want to get a high-end ND/Polarizer setup, but those are expensive enough that I want to know exactly what set I need before investing, which requires my gear setup to settle down.

That means I really do need to settle on my landscape kit. If I continue down the m43 path there I get a much more mature system, a smaller one and a lot of very useful features available right now. Plus if nothing else the bodies are a lot cheaper, especially once the Z9 ships (which should cost double what an E-M1X costs, that's the closest comparable m43 body).

If I go down the Z path, I'll be waiting for stuff and have to carry more weight, but the basics are in place today, the glass is every bit as good and I can go up to 45 or more MP right now and get a lot of flexibility in terms of cropping that way.

The real challenge is every time I go out with the E-M5II, I'm reminded how good and small the E-M1II setup was, and every time I go out with the Z5 I'm reminded how good the performance is there. But when I carry both I get annoyed at the AF of the E-M5II (seriously inferior to the Z5) and how limited the Z5 is on the tripod (seriously inferior in LCD viewing angles and multi-shot capabilities to the E-M5II)

Wednesday, 19 May 2021



Panasonic G1, Super-Takumar 35mm f3.5

The last couple weeks I've been struggling with motivation again. Not to get out and shoot, but to get out and shoot with my film cameras. After a very active March & April where I shot 20-ish rolls of film, I'm just reaching for the digital bodies every time I leave the house.

Some of this is just my usual addiction to shooting flowers in the spring. I don't like doing that on film, but love it on digital, especially with the E-M5II/12-40PRO combo which is a nearly perfect setup for flower photography. Some is that I've pretty much shot everything there is close to home at least 5 times and I only really enjoy constant revisiting when shooting flowers/insects.

The challenge here is that my Film Instagram gets a lot more interest than my digital one does. I generally see 25-30 likes on the first 24 hours of posting to the film IG, and 6-7 likes on the regular IG. This is despite having 50% more followers on the regular one.

So I sort of want to chase Likes, but on the other hand forcing myself to make photographs is a prescription for even more motivation loss. If I push myself too much to make film work, I'll just end up sticking everything in the bag and leaving it alone for a while, and that while might end up being years.

That said, I think I'll just grab the F2a and 35/2 AI today, along with a spare roll of HP5+. I need to run out and get some milk at lunch and that's always a good walk for film (east on Eglinton Ave West between Allen Rd and Bathurst St)

Sunday, 16 May 2021

A Little Hike


Z5, 70-300 E

So I added the Nikkor 70-300 E to my kit on Friday, which gives me a full hiking kit for the Z5, made up of the Laowa 15mm f4 Macro, the Z 24-50 kit lens and the 70-300E. That's a pretty workable kit overall.

I went out yesterday with it, although I also carried the E-M5II with the m.Zuiko Pro 12-40mm f2.8.

This combo worked pretty well, I pretty much ended up shooting with the 70-300E on the Z5 on the capture clip, and pulling the E-M5II/12-40 out of the belt pouch when I needed the wider lens or closer focus (the 12-40 is a really good near-macro). This let me avoid lens changes in the field a fair bit.

I also had the Z24-50 and a selection of filters in the pouch, and used the 24-50 for the shots I wanted an ND for, as all of my ND's are 52mm right now (I need to invest in larger ND filters). I had a Cokin P mount setup with a polarizer for the 12-40 and 70-300E (it won't work with the 15/4 even though I have the UW mount, it vignettes). I didn't use the 15/4 even though I carried it. I did go in expecting that the 15/4 wouldn't get used, I've hiked the trail before in the fall and knew what I'd be seeing.

I learned a few things from this.

1. Even though neither of my cameras is setup correctly for tripod work, not having proper screen articulation on the Z5 was more frustrating than the lack of an L bracket was on the E-M5II. The L bracket issue is also more readily addressed. I definitely had some issues shooting portrait orientation with the Z5 on the tripod (or really for any low-angle shots). 

2. AF on the Z5 is a LOT better than the E-M5II. This is not an unexpected revelation, the E-M5II is no match for the E-M1II either in terms of AF and lacks both point selection options and performance compared to either.

3. I'm getting really good at manipulating the Z5's AF system. It really does control well considering the lack of direct controls available. Now if only Drive Mode saved to the User Banks.

4. Yes, returning the E-M1II and getting the Z5 was a mistake. I'd have been a fair bit better off if I'd had the E-M1II with a 40-150 Pro instead of the Z5. But the Z5 works very well nonetheless and the Z5/70-300E combo was more achievable right now that selling the Z5 and getting an E-M1II/40-150 Pro would have been. The math here might have been different at the retail price on the 70-300E, but it's on sale now at 25% off list which really adds up.

5. I don't regret owning the Z5, even if I regret buying it. It does work very well for me regardless of whether or not the alternative would have worked better.

So what am I going to do? For now, I'll be looking to get the 24-70/4 S for the Z5, as a 24-50 replacement with better range and better weather sealing & low temperature performance, then I suspect I'll concentrate on building out the m43 kit to where it needs to be to be a complete standalone system. 

The big kicker for me now is what do I do as an UWA for the m43 stuff. Do I go with the obvious and get a 7-14/2.8 (and pay through the nose for filters and a holder), do I wait for the upcoming 8-25/4, or do I get an alternate option like the Laowa 7.5/2 or the Leica 8-18/2.8-4. This will probably be the last hurdle I solve, and it may end up with multiple options (I could readily see having the 7-14 for rough conditions and 1-2 Laowa primes for compact carry)

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Z Musings


Z5, 105/2.5 AI-S

This was one of the first shots I took with the Z5, from the first day of ownership at the end of February (to be exact, shot #36)

Today, in mid-May, I've taken just over 1900 images with the Z5.

That's really not where I expected to be with it, I was expecting about 50% more.

What happened?

1. I started shooting film again in a significant way. More than 20 rolls worth so far this year, the most I've shot in all but one year since 2012. That distracted me from all my digital work.

2. I'm somewhat less than really happy with the FTZ experience. It's not the camera's fault, it's mine. I've never really got along with adapted SLR primes on mirrorless as a primary shooting setup, but I keep trying it. Need to quit doing that, it never works out like I'd planned. Not that the results aren't good, but that the shooting experience is not what I really enjoy, more from a handling perspective than anything. The longer the lens, the better here, I'm much fonder of the 105/2.5 on the FTZ than I am of say the 35/2 (which is probably my least favourite lens on the Z5, at probably my favourite focal length for general shooting. Of course, I'm starting from a bad spot since I just don't like the 35/2 AI that much in general). 

3. I got aggravated quickly by the Z 24-50's focus issues in the cold. Took a while to figure out what was going on (and Nikon Canada Support was utterly worthless in helping me out). Suffice it to say I will have an alternate solution before fall comes. That really made the first few weeks with the Z5 less of a New Toy experience and more of an intermittent frustration experience, for something I can't blame the body for.

4. I rapidly started missing the m.Zuiko PRO 12-40mm f2.8, partly because of #3, partly because it's just an amazing bit of glass. Now I have the E-M5II for it and am enjoying that, although I do not see the E-M5II as a primary body anytime soon, it really replaces the X-T1 as my occasional/light use body. I will be rounding out that setup, but I'm not sure what that really means yet. The last post covers what a full m43 setup would be for me, but the Z5 complicates things.

Now I really like the Z5 body itself. The files are amazing, the handling great and it just works. Plus it has all the extra bits I like (USB-C power/charge, wireless inc/remote functionality). It is a bit of a chonker for mirrorless, by far the biggest & heaviest one I've used, but you gain a great grip and no finger clearance issues (unlike what I experienced with the Sony's)

I took the Z5 out for a walk today while I had some time to kill near Sunnybrook, and came home with a bunch of work. Very much enjoyed it and shot mostly with the 24-50, although I did use the 15/4 as well. While I had the 105 and 200 with me, I didn't use them at all (I did mount the 200 at one point, but couldn't focus fast enough for it to matter). I came home thinking a 70-300E would have been extremely useful and probably allow for a much simpler kit than carrying 4 lenses (I'd drop both telephoto primes for the 70-300E). 

The kicker for me is what is going to be a solid rough conditions kit. I've heard good things about the sealing on the Z's, but I have zero trust for the 24-50 in any sort of challenging conditions. So I'd be buying new glass for that.

What would a Z system look like for me?

Z5, 14-30/4, 50/1.8G, 70-300E would work, I could also sub the 24-70/4S in for the 50/1.8G, the 3 zoom kit would be more flexible for hiking, but both would work (the upcoming Z 50 micro could replace the 50/1.8G as well).

In terms of primes, I'm thinking the S lenses are mostly out for me, the 20 is interesting for its absolute performance and I'm really loving what I see from the 35, but the 28 and 40 Muffin lenses are probably where it's at for me, plus the Viltrox 85mm. Alternatively I might add the other Viltrox FF lenses if they come to Z mount (they have a 24/1.8 and are doing a 35/1.8 and 50/1.8 too, but so far they're FE mount only and the 85 is the only one in multiple mounts).

I don't see any high-end lenses short term, they're just too heavy and too expensive. 

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

m43 Musings


E-M1, m.Zuiko 12-50 EZ

The more I shoot with the E-M5.2, the more I'm reminded of just how flexible this little camera is. It really is a good little camera, especially when paired with a solid mid-range zoom. I think that the perfect 1 lens setup for this would be the 12-45/4 Pro, which is smaller & lighter than the 12-40/2.8 Pro I'm using this time around, but faster and better than the 12-50 EZ I used on my previous E-M5's. The 12-40 does work very well, but it's in some ways just a bit too much lens for the E-M5.2 to balance perfectly. 

If I do build my m43 kit back out, and that's looking very likely, this is what it would likely look like. 

Small kit:

E-M5.2, 9-18, 40-150R, either a 14-42 EZ or a 25/1.8

Around the city:

E-M5.2, Laowa 10/2, P14/2.5,  17/1.8, 25/1.8, 45/1.8


E-M1.2/3, wide, 12-40 Pro, 40-150 Pro, 1.4x TC?

The good news is that there's really only 3 major investments here, the E-M1.2 or 1.3, the 40-150 Pro and a backcountry wide (if I go for a zoom rather than the Laowa 7.5mm). Almost everything else can be acquired cheaply except the 9-18 and Laowa 10/2, and frankly I could get away with only one of those for a good while and they're not that big an investment in the first place.

What about the Z5? To be frank, I'm not sure. I'm leaning towards keeping it, because if I sell it I'll just buy another Full Frame body because I can't resist the idea of FF and using all that lovely classic FF glass on it, and if I do that I'll probably do something silly like sell the m43 kit like I did to get my last A7II and also to get the Z5. What I really need to decide is if I'm going to add a 70-300E to my kit so I have a fully working hiking kit with the Z5. There's an insanely good sale on that lens this month, so I could grab one on Friday and then have a Z5 hiking kit of the 15/4, 24-50 and 70-300E for now (and eventually the E-M1 kit would semi-replace it with something that's better for bad conditions). Plus the Z5 could continue as a fun lens/bad light system long-term as well as being the digital in the film bag, a role m43 simply cannot do for me. I'd probably see the Z system grow with a few M or LTM lenses.

My film kit doesn't need much, I need a better 35mm, a small 20mm, a 85/90mm and a 135mm. Oh, and the tools I need to clean up my 200/4 so it can be used on film again (it's got a stuck aperture and I only use it on digital as a result, but I really do like the lens). The lenses will get added slowly over time but I really don't need much investment in my 35mm film kit, it's pretty complete even now.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Film Thoughts


Super Ricohflex, Velvia 50 

One of the challenges in going back to working with film seriously is that for a lot of work I really prefer shooting Medium Format to 135, and MF isn't cheap anymore. From an economic perspective one of the purely dumbest moves I ever made was selling my very complete Mamiya 645 Super setup back in 2012. I got maybe $400 for the lot and it probably would cost me north of $3000 to replace today, especially since I had the extremely desirable 80/1.9. Admittedly today I have generally less interest in 645 than I used to, largely because if I'm going to go in on MF, I want the larger negs you get from 6x6 or larger formats on 120 film.

I'd just pull out the Super Ricohflex, but it needs a CLA and a focus calibration (I'm not sure if it's just misaligned, or if the focus helical is frozen and the front elements are unscrewing themselves as a result). Alternatively, I could just pull the lens unit as a whole and mount it in a helical to use with my Goodman Zone. Might actually do that instead of putting money into what's still a sub-$100 camera. And I could always get the CLA later, pulling the taking lens from the Super Ricohflex is completely reversible. The challenge around cheap MF cameras like the Ricohflex's is that any service immediately exceeds the value of the camera, but replacing it usually puts you back in exactly the same position because none of these cameras have had a CLA in decades.

I think from this aspect, I really need to get my Goodman Zone build completed before I do anything else. That would give me a very workable 6x6/6x7 body with Zone or groundglass focusing. I need to buy hardware for it, plus a back and a lens. I'll probably just start by ordering the hardware to finish building the basic body.

Monday, 10 May 2021

Random Musings

Pentax 6x7, SMC Takumar 105/2.4, Agfa Scala 100

Been involved in an interesting discussion on FredMiranda based off a Professional Photographer's social media posting about why they continue to stick with DSLR's.

One of the commenters was going on about how Mirrorless isn't ready for prime time. A few of us started quizzing them about what they meant. Turned out it was a combination of buying Sony offerings obviously unsuited to their uses (A6x00's don't handle well with long lenses) and more importantly, refusing to read the manual. They had a number of issues with performance on the Olympus E-M1.2 that come down to they left the default settings then complained that the default settings didn't do what they wanted and rather than read the manual (the E-M1 series are insanely configurable and almost everything can be setup 5 different ways) they just used non-optimal workarounds and complained about it.

Rule #1. Learn your camera. Especially if switching systems (the guy in question was a long-time Nikon guy and seemed to expect identical behaviour from another brand's camera). If you don't learn your camera, don't expect to enjoy the experience. 

When I get a new camera I usually buy a guide (Thom Hogan's guides for Nikon, other writers handle other systems. There's excellent guides out there for Olympus and Fuji that I'm aware of, and I'm sure Canon, Sony, Panasonic and Leica all have 3rd party guides as well). I always spend a bunch of time figuring out what the bits I expect to use will do. I also have a pretty standard set of features I use (A & M modes, Auto ISO, FL settings for IBIS/Non-CPU lenses, bracketing and if the camera is capable of doing it in RAW mode, HDR/stacking) so going through and figuring out how the features I use regularly work is part of the new camera experience.

Rule #2. If you are doing something that challenges the camera, like Bird in Flight photography, go read some on doing that sort of work on that camera before complaining about the camera. There's plenty of guides online. Olympus for example has a great starter guide for BiF on their website which will give you good settings to start from. The defaults are almost never right for anything past general walkabout shooting.

 Moving on to other randomness, I'm a little frustrated with shooting the Z5 these days, and frankly am kind of regretting getting rid of the E-M1.2 to get it.

I still think the Z5 is a great camera, the body itself is not the source of my frustrations. It's the lens situation. 

There's three aspects to this.

1. I'm very hesitant about the Z 24-50. It screwed me in the cold. It handles poorly. The close focus isn't as good as I'd like. On the plus side it's excellent optically, the AF is speedy and the 52mm filter size is great when pairing with AI lenses, as it's the standard filter size for older Nikon glass.

2. The FTZ handling is meh at best. The chonky tripod mount blocks the body mount in many setups, so I need to have an L-bracket mounted to use a capture clip with the body + FTZ. The tripod mount also doesn't fit the hand well, and it's simply kinda porky and adds a lot of weight to the Z5+manual lens combos. I think I'm just going to have to accept at some point that adapting SLR lenses is just not working for me as a regular use setup. I love the idea, but I didn't like the reality on the A7II, I didn't like the reality on m43, I didn't like the reality on the Fuji's and I don't like the reality on the Z5 either, at least with the FTZ. I might try a 3rd party F mount adapter, but that will cost me EXIF.

3. Native Nikkor lenses. They're big, they're expensive and I just don't see myself buying into a system that pricey to deliver IQ that I just don't need. 

The challenge is that I REALLY like the body itself. My challenges are all around what to put in front of it. I'll admit I've been spoiled by the m.Zuiko PRO 12-40/2.8 for its small size, ridiculously good close focus performance (0.2m and SHARP) and optical quality. 

I see three options.

1. The simplification option. Trade Z5 kit in on an E-M1.2 as soon as Henry's gets one in used (or special order a new one at the current pricing, which gets me a new one for $200). I get hosed on my investment, but get a working kit relatively quickly.

2. The glass option. Trade Z5 in and use the credit for glass for m43 and/or film kit. That could get me a really awesome couple lenses for film (ZF.2 25/2.8 and 50/1.4) which pair well with my 105/2.5, or some nice options for m43. I'd re-buy the E-M1.2 at a later date. Still get hosed on my Z5 investment here but it could round out one of the kits very quickly.

3. Keep the Z5, move to using it with native 3rd party lenses/adapted M/LTM/FE lenses. I like the Z5 better than any Sony bodies, so I'd effectively remove my reliance on adapting SLR lenses for more compact adaptation options like M and FE mounts, and/or buying some of the 3rd party manual lenses from TTArtisan, 7Artisans and Laowa. I end up with a bunch of capital tied up in a body that's basically a side project, but on the flip side I keep a body I really do enjoy while investing in glass that better suits how I work with it and removes some of the handling warts. And I still have the FTZ to use with F mount lenses if and when it's needed. I'd put more into the m43 side as that would become my primary hiking kit. 

Frankly, what will likely happen is either #1 or #3. #1 if I continue to get more frustrated with the Z5 lens situation, #3 otherwise. #2 option 1 puts the investment in an area I'm unwilling to bet on, I'm still not sure if film is going to remain a major part of my work, it's really enjoying a boost right now because of the level of instagram engagement I'm getting and generally liking film for around town/found item work. I'm not sure I've any interest in expanding it beyond that though, and I kind of expect the rate of shooting to taper off some as things open up and I can get out in the woods again.