Tuesday 29 June 2021

Nikon Z fc - Neo Retro from Nikon


Fujifilm X-T2, XC 35mm f2

Nikon just announced the Z50II Z fc

What is it? Most of the expected Z50II updates in a classic UI body.

At first glance, Nikon seems to mostly have listened to the complaints about the Df's absolutely atrocious integration of the classic and modern UI. This body clearly prioritizes the classic UI for most things.

It also fixes a couple complaints I had with the Z50, namely the poor choice of a USB Micro-B connector (now USB-C with PD like all the other Z's except the Z50) and the tilting LCD is replaced by a proper flip/twist LCD. It also gets a completely new feature, you can now update firmware via Snapbridge, which is nice. Now give us settings and Picture Controls that way Nikon...

Still uses the EN-EL25 battery, which is unique to the Z DX bodies, no wired remote support at all (less of an issue in a world with Snapbridge, in-camera interval shooting and tap shutter, but still annoying) and the SD card slot is with the battery.

Some AF updates come as well, derived from the Z6II/Z7II, but otherwise this is a Z50II in FA clothing. And yes, I say FA clothing very intentionally. In UI terms this is an FA, it uses the same sort of mode control the FA did (where the mode switch controls which dials are active). I kind of dig that, it's enough different from Fuji's style of UI (which is very Pentax/Contax in terms of how modes are selected) to not be a copy, while hewing close to a classic Nikon, even if a slightly obscure one.

There's a bolt-on grip, but I'm going to strongly suggest avoiding it and waiting for the Smallrig option instead. The grip is clearly undersized and is not Arca-swiss compatible.

Kits are the 16-50 and a new FX 28/2.8 SE, which is the upcoming Z 28/2.8 with some very Series E cosmetics tacked on top. Same price add, and we now have pricing on the 28/2.8 ($300USD, right where I was expecting it to be). Sadly Nikon has not released a date when the 28 will be available separately (just 'in the fall')

We also got a development announcement for the Z 18-140 DX, which is about the least needed lens right now on the roadmap. 

To be honest, this is a really nice little camera that was an utter waste of resources for Nikon. They need a high-end DX camera FAR more than this, they need to get needed lenses out the door far more than this camera (or the 18-140 DX) and they just trolled all the Z5 owners with the 28SE, as getting that will require flipping a Z fc for the next few months (which I expect is actually going to happen, I suspect Nikon will be quite happy with sales on the Z fc + 28 kit while the market is going to end up with a bunch of Z fc's being sold body-only as a result)

So Nikon - Bravo on the design, but the product planning needs some real work. Ain't nobody in Z right now that wants this release more than what you've already announced development of (namely the two compact primes and the Z9). 

Oh, and Canon just dropped their 15-35/4. They now have a full f4 trio for the hiker, plus a working 3 lens 15-500mm combo, all native. Where's yours Nikon? 

Thursday 24 June 2021

Third Time's a Charm


Olympus E-M1, Panasonic G Vario 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 OIS

I burned my remaining Henry's store credit yesterday to pick up another E-M1. This is the third I've owned, matching the D300 for the digital body I've owned the most copies of (the image above is from my first E-M1 in 2015)

I've owned many more bodies twice, including the Pentax *ist DS, the Nikon D7100, D800 and IIRC the D3200, as well as the NEX-7, one of the NEX-5R or 5N (I've owned 3 NEX-5's, but not sure if I had 2 of the 5R or 2 of the 5N), A7II and Olympus E-M5II

Why did I pick it up? To minimize lens changes while I'm hiking. I noticed I kept losing shots when I needed a telephoto lens on the E-M5II and I had the 12-40 mounted, but I kept swapping to get wide/closeup shots with the 12-40. This will let me leave the 75 or the 40-150 on the E-M1 and the 12-40 on the E-M5II while hiking. This is the one spot where the Z5/E-M5II combo worked better than a single body with a full set of lenses. This will probably become the 40-150 Pro on the E-M1 and the 12-40 on the E-M5II. Long term goal on the lens setup is probably the 8-25/4 as the wide and the 40-150 Pro as the tele option, with the 12-40 covering the middle if needed.

Why the E-M1? I know the body, know it will deliver a better long-lens experience than the E-M5II, it uses the same batteries as the E-M5II and it's cheap. I fully intend on getting a newer 20MP body eventually, at which point I'll probably demote the E-M1 to webcam usage (which is where it will spend most of the time anyways, it'll come off Webcam duty only when I need it)

The main downside to the E-M1 is the tilt screen. Yeah, it's one reason I sold the Z5, but with the E-M1 I'm not limited to using certain lenses only with that body, I can swap between the two bodies as needed since they have identical lens compatibility.

There's a few other issues of course, the E-M1 lacks the level of control over the EVF/LCD switching the E-M5II has and I use that a lot, the control layout isn't quite the same (that's more an issue for the E-M5II, the E-M1 layout is better) and there's no way to fast-sleep the E-M1 (the E-M5II can sort-of do it when the LCD is turned in and the EVF is set to activate on the eye sensor)

Sunday 13 June 2021

m.Zuiko 45mm f1.8 - Whoa!


Olympus E-M5 Mark II, m.Zuiko 45mm f1.8

For some reason I've never owned this lens before, despite having been in and out of the m43 system on and off for over 12 years. It's long been known as a cheap and excellent portrait lens for m43 users.

I had to run a minor errand this morning and decided to walk with the 3 f1.8's. This was mostly to really try out the 17 and 45, I had the 75 along just in case but shot mostly with the 17 on my way out and entirely with the 45 on my way back. 

The 17 is just like I remembered it, a good but not exceptional lens in terms of sharpness and pop, but nice out of focus rendering, good colour and excellent handling. It'll do for a nice walkaround lens, but I'll definitely want a 25 or the 15/1.7 long-term for a serious shooting lens. It really reminds me of the 35/2 AI in a lot of ways, except with more pleasant rendering.

The 45 is nowhere near as nicely built as the 17. It's mostly plastic, lacks the MF clutch and uses the awkwardly small 37mm filter size, instead of the more common 46mm of the 17 & 25. Oh, and the MFD is a disappointing 0.5m, on the poor side for the focal length as 0.45m is more common for 45-55mm lenses. It is truly tiny, but you pay for that in a couple ways. Now 0.5m MFD is actually good by 85-90mm standards, so in terms of usage it's less bad than it initially sounds, but if the lens was a little bigger and had 46mm filters and say a 0.35m MFD it would be amazing.

On the flip side? It's sharp. I mean really sharp. I was blown away by the level of detail in the flower shot above. And that's at minimum focus distance, where most lenses of this type are at their weakest. The colour is good as well, and the backgrounds render very nicely.

I'm very much digging this little gem. I will however get a 37mm to 46mm step-up ring so I can have consistent filters across my small primes. But I see this lens getting a lot of use around town. 

The best part? It's so small that it can just be tossed in a pocket along with a battery when I'm out shooting with the 17mm. I could totally see eventually getting one of the Laowa UWA's (7.5mm or 10mm) for an ultra-compact and tiny 3 lens kit that fits in a small belt pouch or large pocket when paired with an E-M5 series body. 

Saturday 12 June 2021

I Did It Again

Olympus E-M5 Mark II, m.Zuiko 17mm f1.8

After a lot of serious thought and plenty of hemming and hawing, I've broken through my analysis paralysis and made a decision.

The Z5 is gone, Olympus it is for the foreseeable future. Knowing me, it's not going to be permanent, but I'd love to finally stick to a system.

There's two basic reasons for the decision.

1. Flip/Twist LCD. I like low-angle shooting. I like shooting portrait orientation on a tripod. The LCD setup on the E-M5II is just WAY better for both of these than the Z5 because the Z's all lack more than one axis of LCD articulation.

2. The 12-40 Pro. This lens is just so bloody good. And the Z 24-50 was always kind of frustrating because it was good, but got in my way at the same time. The key difference isn't aperture, but close focus. The 12-40 Pro is extremely good at close focus, with 0.2m MFD and the crop factor effectively doubling the magnification in 'fill the frame' terms. The Z 24-50 is not terrible with a 0.34m MFD, but it could not even come close to the 12-40 Pro in close focus.

The end result is that more and more I would just grab the E-M5II when leaving the house. I'd barely shot a frame on the Z5 in two weeks and as of right now I've shot 2100 frames in 6 weeks with the E-M5II and 3300 in 14 weeks with the Z5. That really shows just how much more I'm using the E-M5II than I was the Z5.

 Don't get me wrong, I still think the Z5's a great camera, and it's definitely a better low-light & long lens camera than the E-M5II. But I'm more a wide angle guy and the Z5's advantages (better AF, better sensor, better EVF) are less useful to me than the E-M5's advantages (better LCD articulation, better normal zoom, better IBIS)

So I traded in the Z5/24-50 kit, FTZ, 50/1.8G and 70-300E and came home with a 40-150 f4-5.6 R, 17/1.8, 45/1.8 and 75/1.8. That gives me a basic tele zoom for good light that I know performs well (it's copy #3 at least for me, maybe #4), and a fast and compact AF 35mm equivalent (the 17/1.8), I've owned it before and while it's not amazing, it's quite compact. 

The other two lenses I've not owned before, but they give me a truly tiny 90mm equivalent and a nicely sized and extremely good performing 150mm equivalent, both with f1.8. Both have long been on the list of m43 lenses I've wanted to own. 

I will need a second body though, the AF-C of the E-M5II is just not usable. That will no doubt be an E-M1 Mark II or III. An UWA is also needed, as is the 40-150 f2.8 Pro. And I'll probably pick up a fast normal as well.

But for now I have two really usable 2-lens kits with the E-M5II. The 12-40 can pair with the 75 very well, and the 17 & 45 pair well. One for really light carry, one for serious work. And the 40-150 can be thrown in the bag whenever I want a little long-lens coverage. 

Plus the 17 can stay on the E-M5II when using it as a webcam, so when I have that second body I can have a kit ready to go while still having the webcam hooked up.

Friday 11 June 2021

More Toys for Micro 4/3rds

Nikon Z5, 50mm f1.8 G

Laowa announced an updated version of their 7.5mm f2 UWA for m43 today. The main change is this is now a fully coupled lens with electronic aperture control and a linked focus ring (so focus ring movement can trigger focus assists like peaking or magnification). It's still manual focus, still 46mm filter threads, close focus is 0.12m and it now has 5 aperture blades (vs 7 on the older versions).

Laowa joined the m43 consortium a while ago and that lets them do fully-integrated lenses. This is the third one from them, after the 50/2.8 Macro and the 10/2 UWA. Of course they've done uncoupled manual lenses before, including two variations of the 7.5mm (the standard and an ultralight one for drone use) and those continue in the line.

 It's good to see more functionality coming here. Laowa's one of the most innovative lens manufacturers today, specializing in UWA's and macro's, although they're starting to branch out into general fast primes. They are also offering something that's been really lacking in m43 since day one, which is primes wider than 12mm (24mm-e). As a bonus their stuff is small, optically good and has unusually excellent close focus. 

It's no secret I'm very fond of my Laowa 15mm f4 Macro in F mount, and this really is the m43 equivalent, just without the 1:1 magnification. I can live without that for a much smaller lens and 46mm filters.

The size of this lens makes it an absolutely amazing small wide option for the E-M5, E-M10 or Pen shooter and it's practical on the regular E-M1's, although I'd expect a lens this small would be somewhat hilarious to use on the E-M1X.

Between this and the new 8-25 PRO, it's been a killer week for m43 wide shooters. It's great to see some movement in a system that has had so little action in terms of new gear over the last few years. 

I'd love one of these for my E-M5II

Wednesday 9 June 2021

Effective Magnification - What is it?


Olympus E-M5 Mark II, m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 Pro

OMDS announced the 8-25/4 Pro today, alongside the E-P7. The body is pretty much an E-M10 Mark IV stuffed inside a Pen body, with the neat color/mono switch from the Pen-F added. Small, inexpensive and really adjustable JPEG profiles, but aside from being dual dial (why it's an E-P body instead of an E-PL body) there's nothing particularly stand-out. Asia/EU only though, but that's the real market for these.

The 8-25 however is the real standout. CDN pricing is a bit better than I expected at $1399 (I was expecting $1449). It's a collapsing lens, which is unexpected. Good close focus performance, which was expected, what looks like excellent flare performance and a really solid range. 72mm filter size is also outstanding, it's the smallest filter thread on a zoom this wide and also allows shared filters between the 40-150 Pro and the 8-25, which is a really nice bonus. Unlike some makers (Nikon, cough, cough) Oly seems to be trying to minimize the filter size options, with the Pro lenses mostly using 62mm or 72mm filters (the outliers are the compact 12-45 which is 58mm like many of the non-Pro line and the 150-400 which takes 95mm filters, plus the 7-14 and 8mm fisheye which do not allow screw-in filters due to front element shape) 

The press release however talks about the 0.42x effective magnification at 25mm and MFD, which has the internet up in arms as that's not the real magnification of the lens (which is 0.21x, and is actually in the tech specs for the lens). This complaint is technically correct, but useless for folks who are not doing the very few types of photography where knowing the reproduction ratio is key. For most photographers doing close-up work, including myself, the key aspect is filling the frame, and for that effective magnification allows you to readily compare with Full Frame, which has become everybody's standard point for comparison.

I've actually found this very useful, especially with my 55mm Micro-Nikkor, which does 1:2 macro (0.5x), and is much more useful on m43 for macro work than on FF, where working distance for a given framing is very limited. You effectively get more working distance for a given framing from m43 with a lens of a given actual magnification, which makes the 1:2 macros much more useful on m43 than on FF. 

For comparison, at 1:1  magnification on my Z5, the new Nikkor Z MC 50mm has 16cm working distance, the Z MC 105mm has 31cm working distance and at the same composition the Micro-Nikkor 55mm has 24cm working distance on m43. Going from 16cm to 24cm for the same composition is a big gain in working distance which is a major benefit when doing macro work.

Sunday 6 June 2021

A Few Thoughts

Fujifilm X-T2, 7Artisans 12mm f2.8

Processed the last few X-T2 images in my backlog today. There's still some to be posted, but the Fuji stuff is pretty close to being done, wrapping up my latest adventure with that system. Still have 2 X-T1 images to post, but I processed the last X-T1 images weeks ago.

I still do feel affection for the system, it's a solid choice but not for me for landscape work. I just don't get along with the colour science. Not enough deep blue. REALLY nice B&W output though, Fuji is probably my favourite for B&W tones out of the box. I still do think it's odd I can't get Provia colour from the camera made by Provia's maker and which includes a 'Provia' setting (which looks nothing like Provia btw)

At this point I've taken almost 1400 images with the E-M5 Mark II that replaced the Fuji stuff, that's in about 5 weeks with some hiking involved. That's reasonable, especially since I'm basically shooting with one lens welded on, namely the 12-40 f2.8 Pro. 

I did use my Micro-Nikkor 55/3.5 AI a bunch today, it's really nice on the E-M5 II, much more usable than on the Z5 where the working distance limits me more (in terms of filling the frame, the crop factor makes the 55 Micro at 1:2 actual magnification functionally the same as a 110 Macro at 1:1 on Full Frame)

The Z5 is coming up on 3400 shots, with 2 months more ownership. That's a solid increase since early May, but overall a lower rate than the E-M5 II so far. A lot of that is that the E-M5 II is just a better walkabout camera in most regards, with a much more flexible normal zoom, in terms of range, close focus ability and speed. 

The close focus ability is the real game changer here, it just makes the 12-40 so much more useable for around the neighbourhood shooting than the Z 24-50 is. Even the 24-70/4 S cannot match the close focus of the 12-40 Pro. 

The more flexible flip/twist LCD setup on the E-M5 II also contributes here. It makes low and odd angle shooting so much easier it's not funny, especially as I shoot a lot of portrait orientation work. If I did mostly landscape orientation the Z5's LCD would be way less limiting.

 I would love a Z5-level EVF on the Oly's. The difference in EVF quality and transparency is immense. With the Oly's you are clearly looking at an electronic display, the Z5 however just seems to show what's going on, like a regular OVF with more data. 

The Z5 also comes out ahead in terms of AF. More flexibility and more control than the E-M5 II. The one thing the E-M5 II does particularly well is handle when the scene is totally out of focus. The Z5 struggles, the E-M5 II pauses for a bit then starts racking through the focus range to try and find a subject.

A wildcard that's been thrown in on system selection for me is that Olympus/OMDS is no longer regular stock items at any major retailer. Henry's, Vistek and Downtown Camera all now treat it as Special Order. I need to figure out if I can live with that. That said, it's not like there's a lot of kit I'd be looking to add either way. 

For now, I'm going to keep tracking my usage to see if a clear winner emerges between the two cameras. If not, I'll have to make some sort of decision later this summer.

Thursday 3 June 2021

Olympus Rumours and the Other Road


Olympus OM-D E-M5II, m.Zuiko PRO 12-40mm f2.8

The first images of the upcoming m.Zuiko PRO 8-25mm f4 leaked today, along with the upcoming E-P7 body (the first new body in that line in years). 

The E-P7 doesn't much interest me, although it looks competent at what it is, especially if it gets the PDAF variant of the 20MP sensor and is priced in a sane manner.

But the 8-25/4 on the other hand is extremely interesting as I pretty much am the target market for a compact UWA to normal zoom. In full-frame terms it's a 16-50mm lens, it's weather sealed, f4 across the range, reasonably compact and a 72mm filter thread.

In practical matters that means it's an extremely viable foundation for a 1-lens kit, and it matches extremely well with the 40-150 f2.8 Pro as a 2 lens kit, especially since both use 72mm filters.

I could do a lot of work successfully pairing the 8-25 with a 60 macro, 75/1.8 or the 40-150 f2.8 PRO as needed. Nikon does offer an excellent 14-30/4, but that is much larger and uses more expensive 82mm filters vs the much less expensive 72mm filters. 

While I've been expecting this lens for a while, it's been on the roadmap since last year, getting some details means that the release should be soon and that means it should be out before I truly commit one way or another to m43 or Z as my future system.

I went over the hiking kits a couple posts ago, the 8-25 would let me drop a lens from that kit, the 8-25 would be the UWA and Normal zoom and could let me leave the 12-40 at home when I'm going really light, with a 2 body kit no lens changes at all would be needed when shooting, just switch bodies as I go. I wouldn't get rid of the 12-40, but I suspect it would get a lot less use.

The real gripping hand here is light carry. With m43 the E-M5 series fills that need very well, especially if paired with the ultra-compact primes available in the system. With Z, there is no really good option. The Z50 is not as small, Z has few to no small primes available and you're dealing with a split format system. 

The reality is that as much as I like Z, m43 is a far more mature system. Unsurprising as one has been around for 13 years and the other for 3. Nikon's done an amazing job so far with Z and you can cover the gaps with F glass (at a size/weight cost), but if I pick on maturity and flexibility, m43 delivers far more, and even more if I look at size and weight alongside that. I just need to do more work to get the same level of IQ for landscape work and I lose a decent amount of high ISO capability, offset by a better availability of fast glass for more reasonable cost.

When comparing costs, for the base hiking kit, Z makes more sense for sure, even if I go dual body I'm a lot closer to completion. 

However for a full kit, the m43 can get there quicker and cheaper, as pretty much everything except the 8-25 is already available and most of it is decidedly cheaper than the Z options. 

So yep, back in analysis paralysis.....If I could just stick to a system that would be nice....

Wednesday 2 June 2021

New Toys From Nikon

Nikon Z5, Z 24-50

Today Nikon finally launched some new gear. After a long drought since last fall's Z6II & Z7II, Nikon announced both of the Macro lenses on their Z roadmap, the Nikkor MC 105mm f2.8 S VR and the Nikkor MC 50mm f2.8, which will be shipping in the next few weeks.

The 105 is looking very good. Nikon launched it at a lower price than I expected ($999USD, $100 more than the somewhat unimpressive 105VR it replaces) and delivered a lens that they are promising to deliver both excellent macro performance and excellent performance if using as a portrait lens. Still no real VR/IBIS integration though. This lens is on my wishlist for sure, I love doing macro and close focus work and often find my current options too limiting. 62mm filter size, which is somewhat annoying (Can't Nikon settle on a standard set of filter sizes? Right now it's almost one of each size in the Z lineup)

The 50 also looks good. It's $50USD more than the 60mm f2.8G it replaces, which is reasonable. Interestingly it uses 46mm filters, same as the 16-50DX. not a cheap lens, but it would be a great gap lens between the 14-30/4 S and a 70-300 for a lightweight and mobile kit. Interesting, but not a must-buy for me. I do like that it's 50mm rather than 60mm, as that gaps better (although I'd rather have 55mm or 60mm on DX).

We also got pictures and a couple specs on the 28 & 40mm Muffin lenses. Yes, they aren't pancakes. The 28 is f2.8 and the 40 is f2, the filter size is 52mm (yes!) and the mount is plastic. No pricing, optical specs or ETA beyond 'before end of 2021'. The plastic mount suggests some nice aggressive pricing on these two lenses and they're both pretty much must-haves for me. Love to see a 85/2.8 or 100/2.8 to round out a nice trio of inexpensive primes for the Z5. I don't care about plastic mounts as long as the pricepoint isn't too high. Rather trash a $200 lens than a $1k+ camera.

The 40/2 in particular goes a LONG way to addressing my biggest issue with the Z5, which is 'cheap body, expensive glass'. A Nifty 40 is perfect for this, without being too close to either the 35/1.8 S or 50/1.8 S.

Actually, that reminds me that a 55/2 Muffin would be a nice choice to round out this line as well, as it would be a great portrait lens on the Z50 while being a nice long normal that a 40/2 user might consider as well. But Nikon needs to get the 28 & 40 into stores first. They've promised a LOT for FY 2021 (30 lenses released in Z mount, do note that due to Nikon's fiscal year, their promise is for the period of April 1, 2021 through March 31, 2022, not by end of calendar year 2021)