Wednesday 27 October 2021

It's Announcement Week


E-M5.2, 12-40 Pro

Sony kicked things off last week with the A7IV, a significant update of their aging A7III. It gets the new body design from the A7SIII, the new processor platform, CFE-A support on slot 1, lossless RAW compression, all the new AF algorithms from the A1 and a new and promising 33MP sensor, but also gets a 25% price increase (to $2500USD/$3200CAD) and it's now limited to 6fps or lower in Uncompressed or Lossless Compressed RAW (the A7III did 10fps in Uncompressed, but didn't offer Lossless). Oh, and a flip/twist LCD. The sensor readout speed stays the same, so AF is not on the level of the A9 or A1 series, but it has a real touch UI, not the spec-sheet only touch of the A7III, and the UI responsiveness is increased to be actually comparable to a Nikon or Canon body.

I'm ambivalent on this. On paper it's perfect for my uses as it's very much the sort of balanced camera that I like, not too much MP, but enough to be a boost over 24MP, enough speed and the flip/twist LCD. The problem is I can now get a good high-MP camera for the same or less money and with current card prices, extra MP isn't really a downside. At the previous model's intro pricing this would have been a winner, but I just struggle to justify the price jump for a body that actually has more tradeoffs compared to the higher-end bodies than its predecessor did, even if the A7IV is a big upgrade over the aging A7III.

OMDS and Panasonic had big events advertised for today, both of which underwhelmed. OMDS announced they're dropping the Olympus branding in favour of OM System, a new slogan and a lot of clear focus on adventure photography. It's very clear where they're going and it's the right focus. But no lens announcements and only vague words about the upcoming 'wow' body that they've been hinting at in interviews.

Panasonic did even less. They had the 20th anniversary of the Lumix brand, a few weasel words about the GH6, but no announcement and a bunch more that basically come out as 'L is our future, we'll support m43 for video as long as it sells, forget m43 stills from Panasonic'. Not really surprising that pretty much every stills-focused Lumix Ambassador seems to have dropped either their Ambassadorship or their use of the Lumix system as a whole. 

There were also some lens announcements. Tokina announced that they will now sell rebadged Viltrox lenses in E mount too, and their pricing is saner (only slightly more than Viltrox this time) and Samyang dropped their AF 12/2 in Fuji X mount. 

Nikon's big day is tomorrow. Expected is the Z9, a new FTZII adapter addressing at least some of the complaints about the current one, plus 2 lenses and a development announcement for a third. The lenses expected are an f4 standard zoom (probably the 24-105 S on the roadmap), the 100-400 S and the announcement is expected to be the 400/2.8 S. This is a critical announcement for Nikon, their previous Z releases have all been very competent cameras, but have been overshadowed by their competition, even if they actually compare much better in the field than they do on paper. The Z9 is Nikon's first real attempt at making a body that truly is a world-beater and it needs to deliver. Nikon also needs to continue to build out the lens line, particularly at the long end where they remain weakest. 

As for me, how does this affect things? I honestly don't know right now. I frankly like the Nikon body options better than what I can get for the same budget from Sony, but I like the Sony lens options better in general (the 24-70/4 being the big exception right now). I can't help but think that the Techart TZE-01 might be the real solution here, letting me use E mount lenses (Samyang excepted) on Z. Get one, a Z body and just use a mix of E and Z lenses until Z catches up.

Tuesday 19 October 2021

Out for a Hike


Sony A7II, ZA 16-35/4

I got out Sunday for some hiking with the new lenses. Didn't really get what I was looking for as the section of the Credit River I was hiking was mostly surrounded by Cedars rather than deciduous trees with fall colour, but the light was interesting and while it held I did get some nice shots of the river.

The shot above demonstrates two things I do like about the Sony A7/A7R MkII's. The dynamic range and the Smooth Reflections App. Yes, this shot was taken in broad daylight at f11 and ISO 100 with only a polarizer. It's an 84-shot in camera stack using the Smooth Reflections app that Sony offered on the first two generations of FE Alpha bodies and sadly discarded on the newer bodies (these apps are also on the A6300 and A6500, I'm not sure about the A6000). With the Oly's I would not have been able to retain as much detail in the clouds while also keeping detail in the water in the foreground, and I would have been stuck using an ND filter where I could get away with just a polarizer on the Sony (that said, on a current Sony body I'd have been stuck with the ND filter as well).

Overall in terms of package size, the A7II/16-35 package is actually pretty reasonable in size. I didn't find it too big or heavy for hiking. It's definitely bigger than the Oly setup, but not too big. Same goes for the A7II/70-300 combo which I found much better to carry than the Z5/70-300E combo, unsurprising since the Tamron 70-300 is 135g lighter than and marginally smaller than the 70-300E alone, and I needed to add an FTZ to the 70-300E to use on the Z5, which made the 70-300E/FTZ package almost 30mm longer and another 135g heavier compared to the Tamron 70-300E. That's worth 1/3 stop penalty at the long end and no lens IS for me, at least on an IBIS-capable body. 

Nikon really does need to round out its telephoto options on Z mount and it's not just the exotics that are missing. Actually, if Nikon could just get Tamron to release their FE lenses in Z it would go a long way to improving things. The telephoto trio in particular would be great in Z (70-300 f4.5-6.3, 70-180/2.8 and 150-500) although the 28-75 and 17-28 would probably interest some for their size/weight advantages while maintaining f2.8.

One thing that did drive me nuts however is classic Sony bad UI design. The Smooth Reflections app locks out BBAF, but if you don't have Shutter AF enabled and you do have the AF mode set to S-AF, you literally cannot focus while using the app. I lost a couple shots (and this one is web-size only) due to AF issues from this. I'll have to use the app in manual focus mode (which is an App setting and cannot be changed from the Fn button). Frankly, this is just one of many cases where it's clear that the firmware developers were not photographers but rather were building menus from a spec sheet. All the bits are there, they just conflict with each other and provide the world's least helpful error messages (aka the 'Invalid Operation' button issue, where one button on my A33 gave that error if pressed while the image quality is set to RAW) 

Saturday 16 October 2021

Some Changes


Sony A7II, Zeiss ZA FE 4/16-35 OSS

As you can probably guess from the image above, I picked up a new lens, and a Sony lens at that.

In fact I've bought two. One is the 16-35/4 OSS, the other is the Tamron 70-300 f4.5-6.3 in FE mount.

I've let some gear go as well. The E-M1 is gone, as are the 45/1.8 and 75/1.8 in m43 mount. The E-M1 was really only needed if I was going to run a 2-body m43 kit, and with those lenses gone I didn't have as much of a need for that. The 45 I let go because I barely used it at all. It's a REALLY good lens, but for the way I shoot the 12-40 at 40mm simply works better. The 75 I used as a faster alternative to the 40-150 f4-5.6R, but while the results were amazing, I always found it either too long, too short or too limited in MFD. All 3 of these went to get the Tamron 70-300, which is one half of a 2 lens Sony hiking kit.

The other lens is the Zeiss 16-35/4. I'd originally planned on getting the Tamron 17-28/2.8, but I was able to get a much better deal on the 16-35 and when working with only two lenses that 28-35mm range will give me more flexibility than f2.8 will for what I do. Biggest downside is the 16-35mm is 72mm filters while the 17-28 takes 67mm filters like the 70-300. I'm shooting these on my partner's A7II for now (actually, I expect she'll get the 70-300 long-term to replace her current telephoto, a Canon 75-300 on an adapter, I'll likely switch eventually to a 70-200/4)

For now, I'm not getting out of Micro 4/3rds. I've still got the E-M5II and 3 lenses, the 12-40/2.8 (which I love), the 17/18 (my webcam lens, also a nice street lens) and the 40-150R (the plastic fantastic of consumer telezooms).

As to why Sony, well there's two reasons.

1. My Partner already shoots it. We can share gear and for now I can just use her body, while she can use my lenses when we're out together.

2. All sorts of neat stuff available. Sigma's I series lenses, Sony's G compact primes, Samyang and Viltrox AF lenses, TTArtisans and 7Artisans manual lenses, etc. 

I do like the Nikon bodies in my price range better, but the Sony ecosystem just works better for me right now. Of course, I could just get an AF adapter and use the Sony lenses on a Z6 or Z7 in the future. Who knows? It's not like I've settled on a body for myself in E mount yet, although it's basically down to an A7III or an A7RII at this point. 

Monday 11 October 2021

More GAS Struggles


Nikon Z5, 50mm f1.8G

It’s times like this that I kind of wish I’d kept the Z5 even when I went all-in on m43. That would have given me an easy-out for my current GAS struggles, just get something for the Z5 and shoot it for a while. 

I’m currently fighting off an attempt by my brain to argue that I should get rid of the Oly kit and go all-in on Sony. The reason being that I can get so much interesting stuff for Sony cameras. This of course ignores the reality that I already have the basics of a solid m43 kit and I’d be starting almost from scratch with Sony (I can borrow lenses from my partner, who has a basic Sony A7II kit)

What would Sony bring me?

1. Commonality with my Partner’s kit. She can borrow my glass, in a pinch I can borrow hers.

2. Better suited for adapting my solid selection of film lenses. I still have 24mm, 28mm, 2x35mm, 2x50mm, 55mm Macro, 105mm, 2x135mm, 200mm and 300mm options. 

3. WIDE selection of available lenses. E/FE mount is the best supported mount today, especially for inexpensive primes, both manual and AF.

4. High-MP single-shot options. 36MP+

5. Fast AF if I get newer bodies (mkIII+)

What would it cost me?

1. Flip/Twist LCD. None of the bodies I’d be looking at would have anything other than a tilt LCD.

2. Multi-shot capabilities. If I get a MKIII body, I lose any in-body multishot capability. If I got an A7R, A7RII or A7II I’d at least have the Smooth Reflections app, which is actually better than Oly’s E-M1.3-only equivalent (LiveND). But going with the older body costs me the AF and handling improvements.

3. Lens selection. I currently have 5 m43 lenses covering 24mm-e to 300mm-e, and only one is at all weak (my little 40-150 f4-5.6R). While I still have gaps, it’s a pretty solid lens selection overall. I’d be starting from almost-scratch with AF lenses in any other mount. 

One challenge is I know I just don’t love using primes when hiking. I get by, but I do prefer using compact, high-quality zooms like the m.Zuiko 12-40 f2.8 Pro. That lens is simply the hardest lens to replace in my kit and the biggest draw for remaining in m43. It’s quite literally why I sold the Z5 (which in hindsight might have been as big a mistake as selling the E-M1.2 was)

With regards to my other lenses, I’ve never quite gelled with the 75/1.8, it’s an amazing bit of glass but it doesn’t focus close enough and the focal length always seems either too long or too short. I continue to use it solely because it’s f1.8 and on m43 that matters a lot when I’m in darker areas of the forest, so it replaces the more flexible 40-150R due to that extra 2-3 stops of speed needed to make up for the noise limits of  the m43 kit.

The 17/1.8 is pretty much just a webcam lens for me. I do use it when walking around in the city, but that’s generally it. The 45/1.8 is something I just don’t use much, the length makes it a people/street lens for me and I barely every do that these days. At its current cost, it’s a keeper for sure, but it’s not something I’m really needing either. I bought it as much because I found the 105mm too long too often on the Z5 as anything else. 

The gripping hand here is that Z6’s and Z7’s are comparatively cheap on the used market right now. As bodies, they will work well for me based on my experience with the Z5. The challenge there is glass, it’s very good, but doesn’t really feed my cheap/fun glass addiction the way Sony can. 

What do I really want? A Z7 with FE lens selection, flip-twist screen and Oly software…

Saturday 9 October 2021

GAS - The Gear Nut’s Bane


E-M5.2, m.Zuiko 17/1.8

With fall well along now, I find myself suffering from a bout of GAS, aka Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

This has been the general bane of my existence for years. No matter what I have, I always want something different. I’ve often referred to my particular brand of GAS as ‘Chasing the Dragon’, because I keep switching systems to get something ‘Better’, which has led to an almost endless round of Nikon->m43->Sony->Nikon switching, with Fuji and Pentax stuffed in there occasionally.

The challenge for me is that each system fits me adequately, but not perfectly and each brings something to the table.

Olympus/m43 brings small, good selection of options, good ergonomics and really good IBIS (good enough for me to find it useful)

Nikon brings great ergonomics and IQ, but somewhat limited selection and a lack of customizability (speaking Z here, I’m not going back to DSLR’s). Oh and great EVF’s for the money.

Sony brings selection. All the cool/odd/cheap lenses, the best 3rd party support, etc. 

Plus my partner shoots Sony these days, and still has some m43. My small film kit is also Nikon (all manual focus stuff).

I’ve not bought any gear in months, since I got the E-M1 in late June. That’s something of a record for me when I’ve actually been shooting, and I have at least at the beginning and end of that period. I did take some time off from serious shooting though, as I discussed in my last post. 

The challenge now is I keep looking at all the neat stuff available for E mount, and find myself wanting another Sony. However I also remember some of the frustrations I’d be dealing with, especially with screen articulation (tilt only), which is an area where I’ve simply become so accustomed to increased flexibility that I’d have issues giving it up. I probably would have kept the Z5 if it had been flip/twist or even dual-tilt (and it looks like the Z9 will be dual-tilt like the Fuji’s, hopefully that will come down to the lower end Z’s as they refresh)

I think I will be getting another body soon. But I’m going to try and do the right thing and get another m43 body, ideally an E-M1.2/3, but I might try a G9 as an alternative, the pricing is really good on them right now, enough so that it could outweigh the software features that Oly would give me by going E-M1.2/3 

I still really do feel an attraction to shooting Full Frame though. Not sure how that will play out long term. But I could see also buying a cheap Z7 at some point just to play with. They seem to be dropping nicely in price. While I definitely am attracted to the Sony system, I’m just not that interested in the bodies that I could realistically get at the moment.