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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