Dec 302011
 

I have spent quite a bit of this week researching lenses for possible use with the Ricoh A12 M-mount. With my penchant for Zeiss lenses, and the qualities they bring to photographic images, those were an obvious target.

With the A12 M-mount one has to remember that there is a 1.5 crop factor, which means a really wide-angle lens is needed to achieve the 35mm equivalent of a moderate 28mm wide-angle lense.

With Zeiss, the choice is the Distagon T* 18mm f/4, not the fastest of lenses but its rendition is quite wonderful and it would certainly enhance any landscape shots. The only drawback is that it is somewhat pricey.

I also looked at the Biogon T* 35mm f/2, a lens famed for its sharpness at the corners. While looking at the 35mm focal length I came across the Voigtlander Nokton Aspherical 35mm f/1.2. A second version of this lens is due in the stores in January. It is slightly lighter than the original version, which is highly sought after in the second-hand market for the qualities so eloquently admired by a Canadian photographer, known to the world only as Peter, who posts under the nom de plume of Prosophos and has a web site of the same name.

Peter aka Prosophos is a talented photographer. His people shots are something quite special. He has the knack of capturing the perfect expression in his subjects.

His field report on the original version of the Voigtlander Nokton Aspherical 35mm f/1.2  is well worth checking out.

A third focal length I have been looking at is 50mm, which would translate into a 35mm equivalent of 75mm on the GXR A12 M-mount and ideally suited to portraits. Zeiss offers two 50mm ZM lenses – the C Sonnar T* 50mm f/1.5, the ‘C’ denotes compact and classic, and the Planar T* 50mm f/2 .

The C Sonnar T* does have issues with focus shift, which Zeiss acknowledges, and involves a little more care and attention when focusing but the results can be quite sublime, as Mikael Törnwall attests on Luminous Landscape.

Törnwall reports that Zeiss recommends the C Sonnar T* is best used for “emotional, artistic, narrative images, portraits or atmospheric landscapes. For documentation or technical subjects, Zeiss recommends to stop down the lens at least to f/5.6 or to use the Planar T* 2/50 ZM lens”.

Those three focal lengths – 15mm; 35mm and 50mm – would make for an ideal three-lens outfit for the GXR A12 Mount. If I were to add one more it would be the Biogon T* 28mm f/2.8 to give me the 35mm equivalent of a 40mm lens. Remember the classic Minolta CLE film camera had a three-lens kit comprising 28mm, 40mm and 90mm lenses. The Biogon T* 28mm would help fit in with that tradition.

In doing my research, I was thankful that I am not in a position to buy at the moment. Why? None of the above mentioned lenses are in stock anywhere. They seemingly cannot be had for love nor money. The same goes for Leica M-mount lenses. With the advent of the Sony NEX cameras and the A12 M-mount is it a case of the demand for these lenses has grown to where it outstrips supply? Previously the only market for these lenses was people owning Leica, Zeiss or Voigtlander rangefinder cameras and out of those three brands, only Leica offers a digital version.

As much as the Ricoh GXR camera with the A12 M-mount holds considerable appeal in terms of size and weight — the three Zeiss lenses in my proposed three-lens kit have a combined weight just 18g heavier than my Canon 40D body – I still have reservations about using an electronic viewfinder.

I am old school and for me a camera is all about lining up a shot staring through an optical viewfinder. It is what I have been used to for more than 30 years and old habits die hard.

It may be that I am worrying unnecessarily about the EVF. If people would like to share their experiences of using a camera that relies on an EVF, I would be most grateful.

It just remains for me to wish everyone a Happy New Year and all the best for 2012.

Happy trails!

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

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Dec 232011
 

One of the photography blogs I visit regularly is One Day, One Picture run by Cristian Sorega.

Cristian is a fabulous photographer, especially his street photography work, and is also knowledgeable about Ricoh cameras. What Cristian doesn’t know about a Ricoh camera both from the technical and hands-on perspectives is probably not worth knowing.

It has been my good fortune to have made his acquaintance in terms of his technical expertise and the wonderful images he creates.

Cristian has been shooting exclusively with the Ricoh GXR and A12 M-mount of late, to which he attaches a variety of legacy lenses and rangefinder lenses.

Rangefinder lenses usually mean either outrageously expensive Leica lenses or the more moderately-priced, but still quite expensive, Zeiss lenses. The quality of both goes without saying.

Recent shots by Cristian with the GXR A12 M-mount have featured Voigtlander lenses and I was impressed by the results so much that I did some research into them. The quality across the range may not match that of Leica and Zeiss lenses but it is certainly good enough for any serious photographer. The great advantage is their price.

Out of the extensive Voigtlander M-mount range, from a focal length of 12mm up to 75mm, only two lenses are priced at above $1,000 – the Nokton 50mm f/1.1 and the soon-to-be-released Nokton Aspherical 35mm f/1.2. The other lenses are within a $409 to $849 range.

Sean Reid on the Luminous Landscape Web site compared several of the Voigtlander lenses with their Zeiss, Leica and Canon FD counterparts and his analysis is both comprehensive and thorough. We would expect nothing less from Sean. One of the Voigtlander lenses impressed him so much that he ended up buying it. The others he reviewed also received favourable comments.

I have to say that through Cristian Sorega’s images, the favourable reviews of Voiglander lenses and their affordability, I am being tempted more and more by the GXR with the A12 M-mount.

I would still prefer an in-built EVF, such as the one featured on the Sony NEX-7, but I like Ricoh cameras and am familiar with their UIF, probably the best of any camera produced.

I will certainly be looking at the GXR with serious intent in the New Year and with a view to acquiring probably a mix of Zeiss and Voigtlander lenses, depending on the availability of funds.

The GXR with the A12 M-mount appears to be the nearest thing in this digital age to the legendary Minolta CLE. Many’s the time I rue not buying the Minolta camera with its three Rokkor lenses — 28mm, 40mm and 90mm — to complement my Minolta XD-7 SLR back in the days of film. For one thing, I would not have to go out and buy lenses for the GXR and in the Rokkor 40mm f/2 I would have a gem of a lens. But there is no use dwelling on what might have been.

In the meantime, I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I will leave you with a picture of Christmas lights adorning houses in my neighbourhood.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

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Dec 162011
 

The Sony NEX-7 received its review from Digital Photography Review, the place where loud obnoxious people like to pretend they are professional photographers, without offering a shred of evidence to support their claim, and pour scorn on the images submitted by enthusiasts, particularly those owning Leica M9 cameras. I doubt a true professional photographer, certainly not the ones I have known, would conduct themselves in such a manner.

This week, dpreview gave the Sony NEX-7, the latest offering in the new breed of mirrorless cameras, a huge thumbs up. The reviews by dpreview provide a useful yardstick in assessing a camera, although the fan-boys of various camera manufactures regard its words as gospel.

The review by dpreview is a good source of reference and an instant port of call for anyone wishing to know the specifications of the 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor Sony NEX-7.

I found an article by working professional photographer Peter Sills far greater benefit along with the hands-on experience of esteemed photographer and photoblogger, Michael Reichmann at his Luminous Landscape Web site.

Sills took his copy of the NEX-7 with him on a trip to Cuba. He also took along his trusty workhorse, the Canon 5D Mk II. Sills shot with both cameras but increasingly favoured the smaller Sony over the Canon.

The Sony came into its own for taking candid photographs in situations where the larger Canon would become too noticeable and kill the moment.

Sills concludes:

I am now totally convinced that the future of digital photography will incorporate high-quality EVF in almost all cameras. This is just the beginning of this technology. Also, the need for the large SLR may also be starting to end. Given the capabilities of the new mirror less cameras, I see no reason for overly large bodies (except that they can currently support much larger batteries).

I am already planning my return trip to Cuba. The country is a photographer’s dream. My Canon gear will be staying at home.

Over at Luminous Landscape, Reichmann has just concluded a rolling review of the Sony NEX-7, even to the extent of comparing its resolution with the Leica M9.

Reichmann concludes:

The NEX-7 is the most exciting camera that I’ve had the pleasure of using in the past five years.

Praise indeed and Reichmann then goes on to list the NEX-7 features that impressed him the most.

I have to admit the NEX-7 has aroused my interest, partly because of its size but more importantly because of the link between Sony and Carl Zeiss lenses. Zeiss has already produced one E-mount lens for the NEX range of cameras, a 24mm/f/1.8, which is the equivalent of the 36mm lens in 35 mm format because of the Sony’s 1.5 crop factor. I expect other Zeiss lenses will follow. The NEX-7/Zeiss 24mm lens combination will set you back $2199.98 and is not expected to be readily available until January.

Interestingly enough, B&H has the Canon EOS 5D Mk II body on offer for $1995.99. The price also includes a 16GB Sandisk Extremem Pro CF card, Lowepro Adventura 170 Shoulder Bag & Red Giant B&H Video Production Software Bundle ($719.85 Total Value) .

Until the NEX-7, the only mirrorless camera that appealed to me was the Ricoh GXR, mainly because I am familiar with Ricoh cameras and also Ricoh boasts the one of the best UIF for photographers.

The NEX-7, however, has one distinct advantage over Ricoh’s GXR, the in-built EVF. I find the thought of having to attach an electronic viewfinder to the hot-shoe of the GXR offputting and, besides, the NEX viewfinder far surpasses the Ricoh one in terms of image quality.

My great hope is that Ricoh responds to the NEX by producing a GXR II with a comparable in-built EVF. I would much prefer a Ricoh offering and the A12 m-mount affords the opportunity to mount manual Zeiss lenses. Ricoh also trumps the Sony camera when it comes to the customization of camera settings. The NEX at present allows no customized settings.

At the moment it is all academic to me but I like to keep my eye on future camera options.

I am not sure I would agree with Sills’ assertion that the DSLR is about to become extinct. I can see how people who own a DSLR for family snaps may find the compact and lighter mirrorless cameras more to their liking. I can see professional photographers whose genre is street photography favouring something like the NEX-7 but in terms of press, sports and fashion photography, a high-end DSLR will always reign supreme.

Reports of the death of the DSLR are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain.

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Dec 092011
 

I took advantage of Adobe’s generous Black Friday deal and upgraded to Photoshop CS5 I was perfectly happy with Photoshop CS3 until I heard about an announcement from Adobe that it was ceasing its upgrade policy when CS6 comes into existence and intends to follow a monthly subscription approach regarding future upgrades.

Moving to CS5 also meant I had to upgrade my Mac OSX.

In terms of delivery, both orders were placed on the same day, Adobe trounced Apple. I opted for ground shipping to keep costs down and the CS5 upgrade arrived four days before the Mac OSX. Apple’s effort was not helped by the United States Postal Service who contrived to deliver it initially to the wrong address. Technically, Adobe’s winning margin was only three days.

It took most of Wednesday to install the OSX. The upgrade of the OSX was straightforward enough, it was updating the myriad of other applications on my Mac Pro, notably music software, which took time.

Yesterday, it was the turn of CS5. Again it took most of the day, largely due to adjusting preferences and the like, particularly getting the appearance of Adobe Bridge CS5to resemble the CS3 version.

The emphasis these days seems to be to make Bridge resemble a lightbox or virtual contact sheet from which to make selections of the best images.

I shoot with manual lenses and it is important for me to select not only the best shots but also those that are spot on in terms of focus. To this end, I much prefer the file strip of RAW images running down the right-hand side of the Bridge window.

The new features in Photoshop CS5 are impressive. The technology employed is simply amazing and I doff my cap to the computer wizards who create this software.

Straightening a horizon takes seconds as opposed to the old method of messing about with a crop box and aligning it to the horizon.

Content aware fill is an amazing tool and will result in tidier images from me in the future.

Today, I tried my usual workflow and was proceeding apace until I hit my one major disappointment. The original version of Silver Efex Pro will not work in Photoshop CS5 if the more efficient 64-bit architecture of latter is used, which it is by default

In order to use Silver Efex Pro, I would have to go back to 32-bit architecture. A bit of research on Google found a way, rather convoluted and time consuming, to still use the older version of Silver Efex Pro. It entails quitting CS5, clicking on the folder and selecting Info. This action brings up a dialogue box where 32-bit can be selected. Sure enough, Silver Efex Pro duly appeared but when the processing was done I needed to repeat those initial steps to get back to 64-bit.

The only work around I can think of is to process all my images from a shoot as colour files and then have a session on the computer where I convert them all to B&W images in Silver Efex Pro.

It looks like an upgrade to Silver Efex Pro 2 is on the cards.

Reading the box in which Silver Efex Pro came did reveal this shortfall. But who reads boxes?

Faced by this setback, I decided to see what Photoshop CS5 offered in terms of B&W conversion and was quite impressed by the results. I had to work on the image a little longer than I would in Silver Efex Pro but the result was pleasing, as can be seen below.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

To compare with Silver Efex Pro, I did switch to 32-bit in CS5. The conversion and adjustments were a lot quicker and I had greater control, particularly in lightening the foreground In Silver Efex Pro.Please help support this site by clicking on the Amazon link on this page if you are shopping for an item.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Putting both images side by side in Bridge CS5 Preview, I found myself liking the Photoshop CS5 version better than the one produced by Silver Efex Pro.

The two images had minimal processing in PhotoshopCS5, as a test exercise I was more interested in the B&W conversion.

I would be interested hear from others as to which version they prefer.

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Dec 032011
 

Dark Entry Creek, St Marys, Georgia. Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

The photograph above serves as an allegory of the early part of my week. I had a sunny disposition but it was under threat from the looming clouds.

The clouds in my case were my Mac Pro dying, a credit card transaction being refused and the temporary loss of my Internet access just as I was about to upload my entries for a photo contest.

My Mac Pro will be five years old next week, with a PC I would be braced for things to start going wrong but not with a Mac. You can imagine my shock, not to say disbelief, when it died. It would begin to power up but then stopped and the screen remained black.

A few procedures aimed at restoring an ailing Mac all failed. The Mac message boards provided no instant solutions, in fact they compounded my concern with mention of logic board failure. Logic boards do not come cheap and it looked as if I was facing a bill in excess of $1,000.

The one ray of sunshine amidst all this gloom was the presence of an authorized Apple repair shop only four miles from my home. I called Mac + PC Tech Pro and was told to bring my Mac in. I figured I would not only be facing a large bill but also the loss of the computer for several days.

The deadline for the photo contest was Wednesday. Sorting through all my photographs for suitable images and getting them ready for submission looked to have been a wasted effort. It probably was a wasted effort in terms of actually winning but that is a totally different issue.

In the middle of the afternoon, Jake at Mac + PC Tech Pro called back to say that testing of my Mac had revealed that the memory boards were shot and one stick of memory had failed. He said he had everything in stock and I could pick my computer up in 30 minutes. The total bill was going to be several hundred dollars but a long way short of the $1,000 I thought it would cost.

Anyone in the Jacksonville area who has a problem with their Mac should contact Mac + PC Tech Pro. You are treated like a customer rather than a number by the helpful staff. I highly recommend the company and the service it provides.

The return of my Mac also meant I would be able to submit my photographs a day before the closing date.

On Tuesday, I found that AOL had decided to change the inbox of my e-mail. They call it a unified inbox. I call it a disaster. My inbox had e-mails going back to 2009. I much preferred the old system of new mail and old mail being kept in separate inboxes.

My first attempt to switch back didn’t work and I contacted the online help service. I was being given instructions on what to do when the phone rang. It was the fraud protection unit of my credit card company, asking about a couple of recent transactions. They kept referring to today (Wednesday) when the transactions had taken place the day before.

I had decided to take up Adobe’s generous Black Friday deal on upgrading Photoshop to CS5 but my credit card company had refused to authorize the transaction. When I pointed out that I had made the transaction and made it in good faith, I was told I would have to reorder from Adobe.

“Just a minute,” I said, “yesterday was the last day of the special discount. You can telephone Adobe and put it straight.”

Moments later, I had Eric from Adobe on the line informing me that they had no record of my order placed on Nov 29.

“Excuse me, Eric,” I said,” but how is it that I have record of the order in My Adobe.” I read out the details including the order number and ended, “If I have a record of the order and you do not, I think something must be dreadfully wrong with your computer system.”

“I am going to transfer you to someone else,” Eric said sheepishly.

I was put through to a sales associate who could not have been more helpful. I got the Black Friday deal discount during which he happened to mention that the billing address on the initial order was an address in Morrisville, North Carolina and different from my shipping address in Jacksonville.

Now I could understand why my credit card company had refused to the let the order go through.

A Google search revealed the Morrisville address was vacant office premises. I contacted my credit card company with this information and also Adobe. The former assured me everything was all right with my account, the latter were not the slightest bit concerned that a bogus address had been attached to my credit card while placing an order.

With that problem sorted, I turned my attention to uploading the competition photographs, a task I had intended to start some two hours earlier.

I clicked the computer mouse and noticed that all my e-mails were grey, gray for American readers. I clicked the mouse again and nothing happened. Glancing across at the modem, I saw that all the lights were out save for the power light. Great! It was beginning to look as if I was destined not to enter this competition. I unplugged all the leads to the modem and waited for a minute, plugged them back in again but the modem remained dead. I tried a second time and got the same result. I had no recourse other than to call AT&T – that paragon of timeliness and efficiency.

I gathered together the information in order to contact AT&T, knowing full well it would be at least a day before anyone could come round to investigate the problem. With that thought in mind, I decided I needed a cup of coffee and a cigarette to calm me down.

With a heavy heart, I climbed the stairs back to my office. I was in a state of disbelief at the events that had befallen me. Then at last, a piece of good fortune struck. From the top of the stairs I could see the modem and all its lights were lit up.

“You shall go to the ball, Cinders!”

I spent the next hour uploading my photographs. I am officially an entrant in the contest. The blue skies came back.

My upgrade to Photoshop CS5 should arrive next week along with a Mac OSX upgrade to Snow Leopard. I hope the learning curve is not a steep one and I can quickly get back into my workflow and make use of the new features the upgrade brings.

I am back on track.

St Marys, Georgia. Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

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