May 172012
 

Last week’s announcement of the Leica M9- Monochrom camera sparked off the Leica bug in me again. Whereas the new camera with its dedicated B&W sensor does not hold all that much appeal, despite my love of B&W photography and the great many images that I convert to B&W, I would still want the colour option in any camera that I might own.

Award winning photographer Edmond Terakopian has had the chance to put the Leica M9-M through its paces and without a doubt the results are mightily impressive.

I have seen some people say that they will now carry two Leicas, the M9 and the M9-M, citing the days of film when they carried two cameras – one loaded with colour film and one with black & white film. In those days, there was little option but to carry two cameras if you wished to shoot both colour and b&w shots but digital photography has freed photographers from that constraint or should I say burden. People are strange.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

The Leica M9 prompts the old head versus heart dilemma in me. The head tells me that in terms of value for money far better cameras than the M9 are to be had. Who in their right mind would pay nearly $7,000 for a camera that boasts a 230,000 dot LCD screen, no AF capability, no live view and a top ISO of 2500?

The heart tells me that the Leica M9 offers unsurpassed full-frame image quality and one only has to look at images shot by skilled photographers to see that they have an image quality often referred to as the “Leica look”.

Factor in the weight of the M9, a mere 585g or 20.64oz, and its size — 139 x 80 x 37 mm or 5.47 x 3.15 x 1.46 ins – and suddenly the heart appears to be winning the argument.

The Canon and Nikon fanboys on DPReview take great delight in slagging off the Leica M9 as an overpriced under-featured camera, the plaything of doctors, dentists and lawyers who can afford the Leica price tag.

I would hazard a guess that many of those same fanboys have no direct experience of film SLR photography and are digital through and through. When they rant and rail against the Leica M9, as they often do, they are missing the point and one that came to me in a moment of epiphany after reading Thorsten Overgaard’s treatise on the Leica M9.

Leica is the only camera manufacturer that made a seamless transition from film cameras to digital ones. It kept the size, shape and form of the Leica M film cameras but gave them a digital heart. Thus those shooting film with a Leica M could switch to a Leica M8 and later M9 with a relatively shallow learning curve and without having an extra pound or two added to the weight of the camera.

For more than 25 years I shot with a Minolta XD-7 SLR camera, known as the Minolta XD-11 in the United States, which weighed 560 g or 19.75 oz and measured 136mm x 86 x 51mm or 5.35 x 3.38 x 2.01ins. My Canon 40D weighs in at 822 g or 29.0 oz and measures 146 x 108 x 74mm or 5.75 x 4.25 x 2.91ins and without the luxury of a being full frame. To achieve comparable performance with the Minolta, I would have to look at the Canon 5D Mark III, all 33.51 oz of it, or the 48.85-oz Canon 1Ds Mark III.

It is easy to see why so many photographers of my generation would love their Minolta XD-7, Nikon FE or Canon AE-1 fitted with a digital sensor. Those people who used to shoot with a Lecia M3, M4, M5 or M6 got exactly that with a Leica M9.

We can also cope with manual focus lenses and centre-weighted metering because that is how we learned our craft. AF is a convenient option but not an essential one if a camera has focusing aids in the viewfinder, which the Leica M9 has unlike the Canon models mentioned above. That being said, I still manage to focus manual Zeiss ZE lenses on my Canon 40D. Admittedly , it is a lot harder than focusing with the Minolta but it is still achievable.

Back in my film days, I kind of negated the weight benefits of the Minolta XD-7 by shooting with a 70-210 mm zoom lense. With age has come wisdom and the decision to only shoot with prime lenses. My days of lugging heavy camera equipment are long gone. If I miss a photo opportunity because of the focal length of the lens on the camera, so be it. I am no longer answerable to the demands of a picture editor. I shoot what I want to shoot.

Leafing through Thorsten Overgaard’s guide to the Leica M9 and reading how he shoots with it – set aperture priority, ISO at 200, manually focus on the subject and fire the shutter – reminded me of shooting with the Minolta XD-7, even down to the centre-weighted metering. And in a Road-to-Damascus moment, I could see the obvious appeal of the Leica M9 and why so many photographers value it so highly.

I think with a Leica M9, two or three Zeiss ZM lenses and possibly the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.2 lens, I would be set up for life. With my Minolta XD-7, I never experienced a moment of camera lust because I had what I considered to be the best camera for my photographic needs. I think the same would hold true for the Leica M9.

The only problem with using Zeiss ZM lenses is that they are not 6-bit coded. I am not sure how much of a disadvantage that would be, especially since I would shoot RAW rather than JPEG. And by not using Leica lenses, I probably wouldn’t achieve that 100 per cent Leica look but I think I would get close enough for my tastes.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

All that remains is to find the several thousand dollars it will take to make a photographic dream come true. I have already checked out a couple of secondhand Leica M9s to reduce the potential outlay, one of them being the M9-P, which appeals because of its understated appearance – it doesn’t carry the red dot or M9 motif – but, more importantly, because of the virtually unbreakable sapphire crystal covering on the LCD screen. This camera would be the last one that I would ever buy, so I would want it to last in good condition for as long as possible.

With that all settled, I am off to buy a lottery ticket or two. Wish me luck!

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May 042012
 

Adobe has announced an update to its Camera Raw and DNG Converter plug-ins.

ACR 6.7 will be the last update of Camera Raw for Photoshop CS5. Fortunately, most of the cameras that have appeared on my radar in recent months as possible purchases are supported, namely Canon 1DX, Canon 5D Mark III and Olympus E-M5 OM-D. The one notable exception is Fujifilm’s X-Pro1.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

The absence of RAW support effectively brings the curtain down on my interest. Sure, the X-Pro1  comes with Silky Pix to handle RAW images. I would love to meet the marketing executive who came up with the name Silky Pix. It would be better named Silky Pants because its performance is regarded by many photographers as being just that — pants!

What version of ACR will eventually support the X-Pro1 is anyone’s guess. It does mean, however, that for someone like myself, if I were to buy the X-Pro1, I would also have to factor in an extra $199 to upgrade my version of Photoshop.

As much as I genuinely admire the image quality the X-Pro1 produces, I still cannot get past this cameras quirks and foibles.

The absence of the X-Pro1 from ACR 6.7 also coincided with an assessment by British photographer David Taylor-Hughes as to its usefulness as a camera for street photography.

Now if you idea of street photography is a photograph of random strangers doing nothing particular out of the ordinary or the photograph of a homeless person asleep in a doorway then the X-Pro1 will do just fine. But if street photography means capturing a decisive moment or a fleeting expression then, according to Taylor-Hughes, the Fujifilm X-Pro1 isn’t up to the task.

On his blog SoundImagePlus, he concludes:

So, I can’t say that I recommend the Fuji X-Pro 1 for fast reaction photography in a crowded constantly changing environment. Try as I might, I couldn’t get it to do what I wanted, and I tried virtually everything to see if I could get it quicker, but failed.

He commends the image quality of the X-Pro1, as most photographers do, but what use is fabulous image quality if the camera cannot deliver the shot the photographer had in mind?

No doubt photographers will be quick to point out that my assertion is wrong or that Taylor-Hughes needs to hone his skills and it is not the camera’s fault. Whatever!

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

I am grateful to a photographer like Taylor-Hughes for giving an honest assessment and one based on personal experience.

Don’t get me wrong you will see street photography shots taken with the X-Pro1 and they really do come alive because of the image quality, particularly at a high ISO. But look at them a little more closely and many of them are capturing a static subject. And for those who do manage to capture a shot with motion, the photographer will rarely disclose how many attempts he had to make before getting the shot.

As Taylor-Hughes states, he did get some successes but also missed out on a lot of shots that other cameras would have taken in their stride and delivered the goods. And it is the inconsistency of the X-Pro1 that may lead to frustration and missed photo opportunities.

Talking of missed opportunites leads me to the M-mount adapter for the Fujifilm X-Pro1. It was the announcement that the X-Pro1 would be compatible with M-mount lenses that really fired my interest in the camera.

But where is it?

Third party manufacturers have got M-mount adapters in the marketplace. Now unless the Fujifilm adaptor offers something above and beyond what the third-party manufactures can offer, they may well have missed the boat. If Fujifilm’s M-mount adapter is only comparable to those of third-party adapters, people are unlikely to ditch the third party-adapters for the Fujifilm version, are they? Although a great many people who buy cameras seem to have more money than sense, so maybe Fujifilm does know what it is doing.

Time will tell.

Apr 062012
 

With the new Canon 5D Mark III in the hands of early adopters, some indications of this camera’s ability are beginning to emerge. Since Canon announced that it would not be possible to change the focusing screen on the 5D Mark III that brought into question its compatibility with the Zeiss ZE manual lenses.

Quite a few hearts fell when camera enthusiast and former software engineer Lloyd Chambers pronounced that the focusing screen on the 5D Mark III made it impossible to achieve accurate focus, although he did concede that the green dot focus assist worked well for chipped lenses, such as the Zeiss ZE lenses.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

The difficulty I have with people like Chambers is their lack of credentials. He is simply a self-appointed expert answerable to no-one. The sheeple flock to his site and hang on his every utterance as if he were some kind of a technology shaman.

I do not for one minute doubt the technical competence and knowledge of Chambers but he is simply expressing his opinion as a camera enthusiast, a more knowledgeable hobbyist, if you will, than most hobbyists who frequent the Internet.

But it took a hobbyist on the Alternative Gear & Lenses forum at Fredmiranda.com to reveal that the Canon 5D Mark III is perfectly suited to the manual Zeiss ZE lenses.

Philippe, based in France, who posts under the name of Philber wrote:

I do not find that the standard VF screen makes it any harder to focus than my 5DII’s Eg-S. BUT the much improved AF is a game changer for MF! Now I haven’t had the time to micro-adjust my lenses, or to select the best AF configuration for my needs (essentially landscape). I just turned noise reduction off, and started shooting JPEGs to see if I could focus my MF lenses. And the result blew me away, because of the MF assist. The AF will focus even in an almost dark room. It will lead the camera in P mode to go for f:1.4, 1/80s and ISO 12.800 with my ZE 85, and the focus is spot on every time, something that was simply not possible on the 5D II.

Bob Israel went even further and posted some photographs taken with the Zeiss ZE 2/100 Makro shot wide open.

Tongue-in-cheek, Bob wrote:

According to some recent writings, I must have been one lucky SOB to nail the (manual) focus!

With Bob’s photographs, the proof of the pudding is there for all to see. And it seems that the fears many Canon 5D Mark II shooters had about the 5D Mark III have proved to be unfounded.

Canon has at long last rectified the poor AF system associated with the 5D Mark II. The 5D Mark III borrows the AF system of Canon’s flagship model , the soon to be released Canon 1DX, and it appears to deliver the goods.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

In a comparison between the Canon 5D Mk III and Nikon D800, Calgary-based fashion and portrait photographer Nathan Elson said that AF focus on the Canon was faster and more precise than the Nikon. For the record, Nathan shoots with Nikon cameras.

And, as a working photographer, Nathan considers both the Canon 5D Mk III and Nikon D800 to be fine cameras. One can almost hear the cries of “Sacrilege!” emanating from the respective forums of DPReview.

Happy Easter!

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Mar 302012
 

I took delivery of a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens last Thursday, my first autofocus lens. I had planned to shoot with it quite a bit this week but unfortunately I was laid low with a viral infection that can best be described as 48-hour flu. I am over the worst of it but its effects are lingering on in the form of feeling listless and lethargic. I did manage to get out and about at the weekend and was mightily pleased with the results.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Using an AF lens has involved a learning curve for me, albeit not a steep one. I am using back button focus, a method I read about a while back and considered by many to be preferable to half pressing the shutter to achieve focus. My thumb has quickly learned the position of the AE Lock button and I must say I enjoy this method of shooting. It did involve making a couple of adjustments to the Custom Functions of the Canon 40D and I have also set one of the camera settings C1 to shooting with AF.

When I go back to my trusty manual focus Zeiss Planar T*, I will simply switch back to Av mode.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

A few weeks ago on this blog I was lamenting the way that camera manufacturers do not seem to cater to the wishes of photographers like me by producing the digital equivalent of the Nikon F2, Nikon FM, Canon AE-1, Minolta XD7 or Pentax K1000.

My photographic friend Bob, in England, echoed my thoughts when we were corresponding about the specifications of the new Canon 5D Mark III.

Bob wrote:

It all seems so far removed from my type of photography (and I use the latter word to describe the whole exercise/experience in the field). The phrase “great quality sound” just about sums it up. How have we managed to get to the point where these three words apply to a Single Lens Reflex camera!!! If this were an old-fashioned letter, this would be the point at which my pencil broke on the page.

I wonder if anyone will ever take something like a Pentax Spotmatic F as a model, simply put a sensor where the film plane used to be, bung some elementary digital electronic gubbins and a battery where the film/cannister was and market it as the “Jurassodigimatic”. Race you to the front of the queue.

Bob is a down-to-earth Lancastrian who has been photographing for more than 40 years. He specializes in landscape photography, industrial photography and railway photography, particularly steam locomotives. His work has been published in British steam railway enthusiast magazines. His approach to photography often involves meticulous planning and the use of a tripod and is diametrically opposed to my journalist on-the-fly hand-held approach.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I read an interview with one of my favourite contemporary photographers, David Burnett, on The Online Photographer Web site. I admire Burnett’s reportage work immensely and he also comes across as a genuinely nice guy.

While the kindergarten classes on DPReview are arguing the merits of the Canon 5D Mk III versus the Nikon D800, Burnett is still shooting with a pair of the original Canon 5D cameras. To Burnett, and any self-respecting professional photographer, cameras are simply tools. It is how those tools are used that separates the men from the boys.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Burnett admitted that he does not own a digital camera capable of shooting at 100,000 ISO but did say that he had recently acquired a Leica M9 and went on to extol the virtues of rangefinder photography.

Burnett said:

I have been quite amazed, actually, that neither Canon nor Nikon has come out with their own re-creation of one of their classic rangefinder cameras. In all the advances in photo technology, it just surprises me that none of the traditional makers other than Leica (the preeminent) has seen fit to create a camera (please, no harping about the Epson) which recreates all those great 1950s cameras.

The interview garnered plenty of comments, many from young photographers admiring Burnett’s work. As befitting the man, he added a comment to the interview, acknowledging those kind comments.

He went on to say:

My issue with the RFDR cameras is take a Nikon D700/Canon5D chip (proven, capable, cheap) put it in a new SPdigi, CanonP/7 digi body, put a screen on the back as good as any $400 point/shoot (there are plenty), and PUT A FRICKEN RANGEFINDER with an M mount on the body. It’s not rocket science though perhaps it’s being seen that way. God bless all the x100/X-Pro1, Sony 5NEX, etc., etc., etc. cameras. Let them all fight for the wannabe crowd but make a $1500 RFDR body, (no need for video, let it just be a PHOTO camera) and you will be a) Camera of the Year; b) unable to keep up with demand; and c) loved by a very loveable group of shooters.

On reading that, I immediately thought of Bob’s e-mail and my own wish for a digital version of the great SLRs of the 1960s and 1970s.

Of course, it begs the question as to why major camera manufacturers will not produce such a camera but continue to produce the behemoths that full-frame DSLR cameras have become and why a generation of photographers, those of us 45 years and plus, is being ignored by the camera giants.

Over to you Canon, Nikon, et al!

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Mar 192012
 

When a new camera is announced, the press release always makes it out to be flawless and the best thing since sliced bread. With the passage of time, reviews begin to appear and a more balanced view begins to emerge. Finally, the camera reaches the hands of early adopters – I mean people who have actually paid out hard earned money to buy the camera rather than photographers invited to try out the new product. With the latter, it is hard to know just how critical they can be about the product. Human nature being what it is, people are reluctant to pan something they have had free access to.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

When the Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera was announced, its specifications on paper certainly impressed me – a camera with a hybrid OVF/EVF viewfinder, the former was a great plus; a compact retro design; three small prime lenses; Fujifilm-designed revolutionary 16MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor with no anti-aliasing filter; and a much improved menu from that in the X100.

Most important of all was the mention of an M-mount adapter. Fujifilm has yet to release this adapter but third-party manufacturers have wasted no time in bringing one to market. Such an adapter would allow the use of Zeiss ZM lenses, and you all know how fond I am of Zeiss lenses, as well as Leica M lenses.

The X-Pro1 seems to offer what the Ricoh A12 M-mount lacks, namely a built-in viewfinder; the option of using an optical viewfinder and a 16MP sensor.

Of the three newly-designed lenses for the X-Pr01 — Fujinon XF 18mm f/2 R; Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4R; and Fujinon XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro – the first two interested me the most. Given that the crop factor is 1.5, those lenses are the 35mm equivalent of 27mm, 52.5mm and 90mm respectively. The f/2 wide-angle lens would be faster than those offered by Zeiss and Voigtlander. The AF on the 35mm f/1.4 lens would be of great benefit to my ageing eyes.

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera was beginning to look good and ticked a great many of the boxes with regard to what I am looking for in a camera.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

At this point, I have to make it clear that I have never held an X-Pro1 let alone shot with one. The comments I am about to make are based on reviews I have read and comments posted by early adopters.

No one can argue that the image quality produced by the X-Pro1 is phenomenal, rivaling even full-frame cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark II. Fujifilm gets full marks for the design of the sensor and its new approach to sensor technology. In its review, What Digital Camera, gives the X-Pro1 a score of 20/20 for image quality. Some of the examples I have seen taken by enthusiasts have caused my jaw to drop in terms of the colour and clarity of the images.

The final product emerging from the X-Pro1 can look amazingly good but it is how that final product is achieved where things start to go a little awry.

The AF focus although adequate is described as slow and some users have found a degree of inconsistency. The AF also has a tendency to hunt, particularly in low light. While the AF is fine for static objects, in continuous AF mode it can only keep up with fairly slow-moving subjects.

The three lenses offer manual focus but it is manual focus by wire. Of greater concern is the difficulty in obtaining critical sharpness in both the OVF and EVF modes of the viewfinder. Unlike the Sony NEX range and Ricoh’s A12 M-mount, the X-Pro1 does not feature focus peaking. Fujifilm dropped the ball there and it is hoped it can be introduced with a firmware upgrade. With the lack of focus peaking, the X-Pro1 began to slip off my radar. Techradar’s review concludes by saying:

The hybrid viewfinder is also excellent, although it doesn’t work as well as we might hope when focusing manually.

Several posters on DPReview have also commented on the difficulty of manual focusing and also the EVF freezing when focus is attained. Basically that means the image taken when the shutter is fired is not the image seen in the EVF at the time of focus. That seems a bit of a handicap when it comes to portrait and street photography, two subject areas for which the X-Pro1 is designed.

I have not been overly impressed by the performance of the 18mm f/2 lens, particularly when shot wide open. The lens does not create a pleasant bokeh.

Some samples shot with the 35mm f/1.4 also display a harsh bokeh that deflects the eye from the main subject. The 35mm lens also suffers from “aperture chattering” as it attempts to achieve focus. I think I would find that annoying.

EV compensation is adjusted by a dial on the top of the camera, which offers convenient access but some people have reported accidentally moving this dial while using the camera.

The problem of write speeds is highlighted by Photography Blog. It states:

Shooting a single RAW + Fine JPEG takes about 8 seconds to record to the card, although thankfully you can take another shot almost straight away.

Although the reviews commend the X-Pro1 for being a solidly built camera, What Digital Camera did report that the black paint began to peel off after just a couple of days use. Given the camera body costs $1,700, a “well-used” look after just a couple of days is something most people would expect to find so soon and after such an outlay.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

I really wanted to like the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and for a time saw it as the replacement to a bulky DSLR camera but I am afraid my interest has completely waned in the light of the reviews and hands-on experience. And that is a great pity because the image quality it produces really is outstanding.

Until Fujifilm irons out some of the flaws with updated firmware, it is a case for me of the cons outweighing the pros of the X-Pro1.

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Mar 122012
 

The long wait and endless rumours have come to an end. Canon has announced its replacement for its 5D Mark II camera, imaginatively called the Canon 5D Mark III. I am sure Ron Howard will be gushing over that.

The 5D Mark III boasts a 22.3 megapixel full frame sensor, a 61-point AF system borrowed from Canon’s flagship 1DX camera, a 63-zone metering system and the ability to shoot at 6 frames per second. The enhanced video specifications mean absolutely nothing to me, so there is no point in me mentioning them.

Nor am I going to comment on the fact that the Canon 5D Mark III lags some 14 megapixels behind its Nikon rival the D800 and D800E. To be honest, I would be quite happy with the 18 megapixels of the 1DX but not so happy with the bulk of the camera or its $6,000-plus price tag.

According to Canon UK’s press release, the specifications of the 5D Mark III are allegedly the result of Canon listening to the wishes of photographers from all over the world.

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Kieran Magee, Marketing Director, Professional Imaging, Canon Europe, stated:

The EOS 5D Mark III is an exceptional camera and we’ve listened carefully to feedback from its passionate community of users to improve performance in every area. This camera has been designed to meet virtually any creative challenge – it’s faster, more responsive and features the tools to adapt to everything from studio photography to creative videography, while producing results of the highest quality.

That all sounds fine and dandy but there is one group of photographers whose wishes have been completely ignored, namely those who shoot with Zeiss ZE manual focus lenses.

Like all DSLR camera manufacturers, Canon make no provision for focusing aids in their viewfinder but hitherto have provided interchangeable focusing screens to aid manual focus.

Most people shooting with Zeiss ZE lenses on their 5D Mark II swap the standard focusing screen for the Eg-S Super Precision Matte Focusing Screen. A similar screen, the EF-S, is available for the Canon 40D and one is fitted to mine. It is optimized for lenses f/2.8 and faster. Once this screen is installed, a custom function in the camera’s menu must be changed so that the exposure correction matches the focusing screen.

With the Canon 5D Mark III it will probably be possible to install a third-party screen to aid manual focusing, but with no provision for changing the exposure correction, metering issues could be a problem.

So it appears Canon has ignored the wishes of those photographers who love to shoot with the Zeiss ZE lenses. Now it could be that the improved AF on the Canon 5D Mark III might yield AF confirmation that is spot on. I will not be holding my breath on that one but would love to be pleasantly surprised.

Of course, the 5D Mark II is still available and is a credible alternative. However, with electronic equipment – let’s face it cameras these days are a computer with a lens attached — I always like to buy the latest model available just to keep ahead of the technology curve if only briefly. That is precisely the reasons I have been hanging on to see just what the 5D Mark III offered. And while it offers a lot, and is a great improvement on the 5D Mark II, the lack of an interchangeable focusing screen is a big minus for me. The only other option would be to go for a Canon 1DX. Yeah, right! For one thing, the price is close to $7,000, virtually double the price of the Canon 5D Mark III, which is already considerably more expensive than the 5D Mark II. More importantly, do I really want to lug a heavy professional camera round with me all day long? If I were 35 years old, I probably wouldn’t think twice but I am not.

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

The Canon 5D Mark III is available for pre-order and will go on sale on March 22 in the USA and Canada. I hope some of the contributors to the Alternative Gear & Lenses Forum at Fred Miranda.com will be among the early adopters and provide some feedback on the use of Zeiss ZE lenses with the 5D Mark III.

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Feb 242012
 

I seem to be going through something of a stressful period at the moment and one thing I have learned in life is that too much stress and worry curbs creativity, at least when it comes to writing. It also makes you forgetful.

Two days ago, I suddenly thought back to my last trip to St Marys, Georgia, on February 4, and wondered why I hadn’t posted any of the photographs. Simple answer — I had never gotten round to processing them.

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

On the camera front, the Canon 5D Mark III or 5DX will be announced in four days time if the rumours are to be believed. I think it is fairly clear Canon does have a replacement for its 5D Mark II in the pipeline but I will only believe it when I see it or details of it. Fingers crossed that it is next Tuesday.

Olympus has answered the plea I made in my last post by announcing the OM-D EM-5 camera and it has been well received by digital photography pundits and photographers. Based on the film camera classic, the OM-4 SLR, it is naturally small and compact but like its predecessor has a system of lenses built around it. That system is also destined to grow in the future. And of course, it can avail itself of the lenses produced by Panasonic for its Micro Four Thirds cameras.

I could easily be tempted by the M.Zuiko ED 12mm f/2,  M.Zuiko ED 45mm f/1.8 and Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH Micro Four Thirds lenses, which would give a kit comprising the equivalent of 24mm, 50mm and 90mm focal lengths in 35mm format.

A lot of people have been waxing lyrical about the Olympus OM-D, saying it is the future of photography and people will be abandoning their DSLR cameras in droves. However, with a lot of those camera sages, it seems to be a question of do as I say and not do as I do. For some strange and inexplicable reason, they all hang on to their full-frame DSLRs. I wonder why?

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Tempted as I am by the size, capability and lenses of the OM-D, I am afraid I have reservations about the Micro Four Thirds format and size of sensor. I know the sensors of the latest cameras are head and shoulders above those of the early variants of this system but I am old school and firmly believe that sensor size does matter. Yes, APS-C sensors of today can match the full-frame sensors of a camera introduced three years ago in terms of picture quality, at least that is the boast of the Sony NEX.

But isn’t it logical that the latest incarnation of the older camera — the Canon 5D Mark III or Canon 5DX — is likely to show similar improvements in image quality and raise the bar again?

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Feb 072012
 

Nikon yesterday announced its replacement for the D700 and the rumours and speculation about the specifications of the D800 came to an end.

The new D800 features a massive 36.3 MP on a full frame sensor. Given the size of files such a huge amount of megapixels will create, I should imagine hard drive manufacturers are rubbing their hands with glee. I just hope they can start making hard drives readily available again and at the prices they were before the flooding in Thailand hit production. Something tells me the prices will be kept high in an attempt to recoup losses.

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Nikon announced two versions of the camera — the D800 and the D800E. The latter strips away the anti-aliasing filter, a feature of the Leica M9 and Ricoh GXR A12 M-mount cameras — to increase resolution even further. Actually, the anti-aliasing filter is not physically removed from the D800E but its effects are cancelled. A potential buyer of the D800E will pay $300 more than the D800 for this option.  More details of the D800s can be found at Nikon USA.

B&H is taking pre-orders for the D800 and D800E, expected to be available in March and April respectively. Perhaps B&H might give me a hefty discount for that shameless plug.

But I am a Canon user and likely to remain one for the foreseeable future. It will be interesting to see how Canon responds to its arch-rival when it   releases details of the long-waited Canon 5D Mark III. Canon users keep waiting and waiting and waiting for details of this camera to be released. Perhaps the announcement of the Nikon D800 will spur Canon into a timely response.

The Canon 5D Mark II and Nikon D700 were always viewed as head-to-head rivals. When it came to megapixels, the 5D Mark II trounced the D700, offering 21 MP to the latter’s 12.1 MP but Nikon had the edge in terms of low-light ability.

Will Canon surrender to Nikon in the megapixel race or will it respond with an even higher megapixel count in the 5D Mark III to take the wind out of Nikon’s sails?

The greater amount of megapixels is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, 36.3 MP will provide greater detail in photographs and make cropping easier. On the other hand, it will test the resolving attributes of the lenses used and many lenses will fall short of delivering the goods.

One lens manufacturer likely to be able to take advantage of the increased number of megapixesl in the D800s is Zeiss. I would be interested to learn what provision the D800 makes to aid focusing for those photographers choosing to shoot with Zeiss MF lenses.

The D800 will no doubt have many photographers salivating at the prospect of adding it to their photographic gear. Me, I just wish camera manufacturers would get back to basics and provide the digital equivalent of the Nikon F2, Nikon FM, Canon AE-1, Minolta XD7, Olympus OM film cameras.

The video capabilities of the Nikon D800, as with the Canon 5D Mark II, are wasted on me. I am not a videographer and have no desire to use a DSLR as a video camera. It would be most unlikely that the producers of the TV series House would ask me to film an episode with a DSLR, if indeed I had one that boasted video capability.

To me a photograph packs far more impact, and a lasting impact, than any moving video footage. The image of the naked girl running down a road in Vietnam after a napalm attack still lingers in my cerebral cortex, whereas the various graphic newsreels of that war no longer register and have disappeared without trace from my memory.

Perhaps that is where Leica with its uncomplicated M9 camera scores so highly with photographers — it keeps things simple. It is just a pity about the exorbitant price.

Since originally writing this piece, a rumour has surfaced that the replacement for the Canon 5D Mark II will be announced on February 28 and it will be known as the Canon EOS-5D X. Speculation has it that the camera will be available in April in order to deflect attention and potential purchasers from the Nikon D800.

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Jan 302012
 

In the days of film photography, I was always more circumspect when it came to deciding when to press the shutter and capture an image.  With the film and developing costing money, I was always strived to try and get value for my money. I didn’t always succeed.

With the advent of digital photography, once a memory card has been bought, whether you shoot 10 frames or 1,000, the operating cost is the same. I am not factoring in the cost of a camera, computer and the software needed to process the images. On a day-to-day basis of shooting photographs, digital photography is essentially free.

The downside to that situation is the tendency to shoot a lot more images, followed by a much longer process of deciding which are keepers and which can be deleted.

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Nikon guru and photography sage Thom Hogan, what Thom doesn’t know about Nikon cameras isn’t worth knowing, advocates limiting the number of images shot in an attempt to reduce the processing workflow.

In article about dealing with lots of digital images, Thom even harks back to the days of film and advises photographers to wrap each memory card in a 20-dollar bill to remind themselves that images cost money. He recommends “chimping”, looking at the images just after they have been shot and deleting the failures.

On the computer, Thom advises classifying the images into three categories — winners; keepers; and delete. He then further classifies the first two categories into winners, stock and keepers. Thom rates the winners with five stars; stock images with three stars; and keepers with one star. The three rankings correspond to Galen Rowell’s ABC system of classification: A for winners; B for stock; C for keepers.

Winners — five-stars or A —  are few and far between. Thom writes:

You don’t have very many. Ansel Adams once said that if you shoot a dozen great images a year, you’re doing well. If your A category gets much higher than a 100 images over a few years of shooting, you’re probably not being critical enough.

Three-star or B images are those sold for stock. Thom defines images in this category as “a very publishable and it’s an image that I’m proud to have my name associated with”.

One-star or C images are basically reference photographs. Thom defines them as “images that someone would find publishable, but you wouldn’t care if your name was or wasn’t associated with them.”

Renowned Danish photographer Thorsten Overgaard, a man whose photographs regularly grace some of the most presitigious publications in the world, takes a  somewhat different approach. Thorsten advises never to delete anything and certainly not on the basis of reviewing the image on the camera’s LCD screen. For Thorsten time is more costly than hard drive space.

At the computer, Thorsten recommends reviewing a shoot backwards when trying to determine the merits of the various images shot. By the end of a shoot the creative process is likely in full flow and better images will result than at the beginning. In Thorsten’s words you are “warmed up”. He adopts a binary system of classification. Either an image is one worthy of saving or it is not and even the latter are not deleted, they just become images that he does not spend time on.

Thorsten writes:

Hence you only have yes and no images. You don’t rate images with 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 stars. You either select it as an image or disregard it. You harvest images.

He marks his yes images with three stars. Those are the images he works on and eventually exports as high resolution JPEGs. His “harvest” will consist of “two, five, 10 or 14 images that are in fact professional”.

Thorsten concludes:

You may show your two, five, ten or fourteen images to people. And they will recognize that you have talent, because they have never met anyone who could make ten pictures that were all that perfect!

The emphasis must always be on quality when it comes to selecting images. I know at times that my quality control regarding what I post on various blog sites is not all that it should be. I kind of made a rod for my own back by starting a blog site called Tägliches Foto, which requires me to post a photograph every single day.

My method of sorting and selecting images consists of several stages. When shooting with the Canon 40D and the manual focus Zeiss lens, my initial selection is based on the image with the sharpest focus. This step involves using the loupe in Adobe Bridge and comparing several images of the same subject.  The image with the sharpest focus is marked with one star.

I then review all the one-star images and more in keeping with Thorsten’s approach make a selection on yes and no. The former are marked with two stars and these are the images I will spend time working on. During the course of processing the RAW images in Photoshop CS5 and Silver Efex Pro 2, I usually come to the conclusion that some of the two-star images are not really worth spending time on. They remain as two-star images while the processed ones become three-star JPEGs.

With the Ricoh GRD III, I mark all the RAW files with one star. I do wish Ricoh would facilitate the ability to just shoot in RAW rather than providing RAW plus a JPEG image. I then choose those that are worth working on and mark them with two-stars. As with the Canon, the two-star list is not definitive at this stage and some two-star images fail to make it as three-star JPEGs.

When it comes to deleting. When I have processed all the images from a shoot with the Canon, I delete those RAW files that were not quite in focus but i retain all the rest. With the Ricoh GRD III, I eventually delete the in-camera JPEG images.

When it comes to deciding which photographs will eventually appear on Calvin Palmer Photography, the choice is made from the three-star JPEGs and those selected are designated with four-stars.

The important thing to remember is succintly put by Thorsten: “No photographer has a hit rate of 100 per cent.”

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Jan 202012
 

I am a regular visitor to The Online Photographer Web site. I admire the writing style of founder and editor Mike Johnson, and the site provides a valuable  insight into the wide spectrum of photographic subjects. This week saw a piece by guest contributor Ken Tanaka who wrote about January being a time for self-assessment.

Ken posed the question: How do you feel? He went on:

This may seem an odd question but the answer is fundamental to realizing how you can best pursue photography.  How is your health?  How’s your weight, your energy, your mobility, and most importantly your eyesight?  Are you unrealistically pursuing a style of photography that’s become too physically demanding for you?  I don’t mean just arduous treks with heavy kits but also long hours on your feet in a studio or darkroom.

More than ever, photography offers virtually everyone with eyesight the opportunity to participate.  Indeed, today’s small, light, powerful cameras enable you to achieve spectacular success even with rather restrictive physical limitations.  You no longer have to carry heavy camera kits to get good technical-quality imagery. So if you’ve not already done so, now’s a good time to evaluate if your equipment, subjects, and style are really good choices for your age and physical condition as well as for your goals.

Now for you  20-, 30- and 40-year-olds these sentiments probably do not strike a chord and rightly so. Barring misfortune, you are good to go for 20 years at least. But for someone who will be 60 in 18 months time, Ken’s words hit home.

I do have health issues — blood pressure that is kept in check with daily Lisinopril — but that is not going to impinge too much on my photography. I also have  issues with the optic nerve in my right eye as well as the onset of glaucoma. Those issues obviously do concern me as a photographer. Luckily, my left eye is my sighting eye, the one I use to gauge focus when manual focusing my Zeiss lens.

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

After reading Ken’s article, the balance once more swung towards the Ricoh GXR with the A12 M-mount. Ricoh, like Sony with the Sony NEX, has incorporated focus peaking to assist in the nailing the focus with manual lenses. That function appeals to me a lot.

In the course of this afternoon, I received an e-mail from a friend in London who had visited the Landscape Photographer of the Year 2011 exhibition at the National Theatre. She said she was disappointed not to see any of my photographs on show. Right!  She did go on to mention that the work of photographer Sandra Bartocha appealed to her greatly.

Checking out Sandra’s portfolio, I can understand why. Sandra’s landscape photography does not go in for sweeping vistas but tends to concentrate on a single element of the landscape, exploring colour and texture. Sandra is a hardy soul, regularly venturing out in the cold and snow to capture exquisite shots. Her portfolio is well worth a view.

Sandra’s work also shows that you do not have to live or visit some great scenic area of the world to produce fantastic landscape photography. Great opportunities are probably right on your doorstep or just a short drive away. It is knowing where to look and seeing the potential for a great photograph. Sandra possesses this talent and an abundance of it.

I read up a bit more about Sandra and discovered that she shoots with a Nikon D700 and her favourite lens is the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 VR.

You can probably see where I am heading and you are absolutely right. The balance has swung back to the acquisition of a full-frame DSLR and my case it would be a Canon, preferably the still-to-be-announced Canon 5D Mark III, rather than a Nikon.

But by this time next week, I will probably have found another article and good reason to swing back to the Ricoh GXR M-mount again. Like the old joke goes: I used to be indecisive, now I am not so sure.

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