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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Jan 132012
 

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

Over the holiday period I seemed to accumulate a lot of images that are still awaiting processing. The backlog is partly explained by the acquisition of new software — Photoshop CS5 and Silver Efex Pro 2 — and the learning curve associated with them.

On Wednesday, I happened to notice this American Sycamore leaf on the back deck and it struck a chord. I think it was a mixture of the angle of the leaf against the legs of a wooden table and the muted brown colour from Nature’s wonderful palette. I went back inside to fetch the Canon 40D and so record my first image of 2012.

I posted a B&W version on another of my Web sites — Tägliches Foto.

I am still wrestling with the issue of where I move next with regard to upgrading my photographic gear. At the moment I am sticking with the Canon 40D and hoping for an announcement in March regarding the Canon 5D Mk III. I remember being in the same position this time last year when those “in the know” — don’t make me laugh — were predicting an announcement in March 2011. Well, it didn’t happen and I am not holding my breath on the Canon 5D Mark III.

As the saying goes — All things come to he who waits.

I like the idea of the Ricoh GXR and an assortment of M-mount lenses. In fact, I tracked down two secondhand lenses — an M-Rokkor Minolta 28mm f/2.8 and Leica Summicron 40mm f/2 — at a fraction of the cost ZM lenses would cost, if you could get hold of them. But I still have my doubts about working with an EVF and one that is attached to the camera rather than being an integral part of the camera body. Besides, like Zeiss ZM lenses, the GXR A12 M-mount is also hard to come by. Ah the joys of supply and demand.

Checking out the specifications of hoped for photographic acquisitions is all very well — it would be foolish to embark on expenditure of a couple of thousand dollars without doing research — but photography is not about lens availability and camera specifications. It is about photographs and too many people seem to forget this fundamental fact.

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Jan 062012
 

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, which is the fairest camera of them all?”

If the various photography fora and photography pundits are to be believed then it is the mirrorless Sony NEX camera, either the NEX-5 or NEX-7 versions.

But wait, Fujifilm is believed to be about to announce a follow up to its retro-styled X100 with the X1 Pro that features interchangeable lenses to give the 35 mm equivalent of 28mm, 52.5mm and 90mm. Already it is being compared to the Contax G2 film rangefinder but without Zeiss lenses.

One thing is clear even after just a few days into the New Year, 2012 seems likely to be an interesting year in terms of new cameras.

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

The year 2012 may also mark a sea change. I know of two photography enthusiasts who are contemplating ditching their high-end Nikon and Canon DSLRs for the Sony NEX. I too have been giving serious thought to making the Ricoh GXR with the A12 M-mount my main camera.

The main sticking point for me is the electronic viewfinder (EVF). They may well be the viewfinder of choice in cameras to come but I am an optical viewfinder (OVF) person. To me a camera isn’t really a camera unless it has an OVF. I know I am living in the past and fearful of embracing the brave new world of EVF mirrorless cameras.

If EVFs are the way of the future, why have Canon and Nikon announced new flagship cameras, the 1DX and D4 respectively, featuring OVFs? Do professional photographers have different demands than those of photography enthusiasts?

I tend to regard the equipment used by press photographers as a yardstick for the kind of camera I would want to use. I worked in newspaper journalism for 14 years, including a spell as a sports/news photographer, and that probably influences my judgment with regard to cameras and lenses.

Back in November, Reuters posted its 100 top pictures of 2011. Each picture was accompanied by a statement by the photographer including the camera and lens used for the shot, as well as the exposure.

Earlier this week, I went through all 100 photographs, noting down the camera and lens used. The list I compiled contained quite a surprise.

Back in my journalism days, the press photographer’s camera of choice was always a Nikon – F3, F4 and F5. Imagine my surprise when Nikon cameras accounted for only eight of the Reuters Top 100 photographs.

Canon DSLR cameras accounted for 84 of the photographs, with the Canon 5D Mk II used in 38 of the shots; the Canon 1D Mk IV accounting for another 16 and the Canon 1D Mk III a further nine, the same number as the Canon 5D. So these four Canon cameras accounted for 72 of the photographs.

For all the talk of the advantages of Micro Four-Thirds and Mirrorless cameras, these types of cameras did not feature, save for the one shot taken with a Leica M9.

I think the camera market is likely to divide into three distinct sectors – professionals, enthusiasts and consumers. The former will continue with the high-end DSLRS, as will many of the enthusiasts but the consumer may well give up on DSLRS in favour of the more compact and convenient mirrorless cameras.

The DSLR has a tremendous hold over me and I will likely wait and see what Canon offers in the shape of its replacement for the Canon 5D Mark II. Rumour has it that the Canon 5D Mark III will be announced in March. However, I recall a similar forecast being made this time last year and nothing materialized.

If I am considered a technological dinosaur then so be it. For me photography is all about lining up a shot by gazing through an OVF. It is what I have been used to for more than 30 years and I am reaching the age where I like my comfort zone.

But at the end of the day, the type of camera matters little in the great scheme of photography. It is what lies behind the camera that is the most important factor in creating photographs of merit and impact.

I can never understand why some people get terribly upset when their camera of choice is criticized – Leica users are notorious for going on the defensive in this regard. And the battle of supremacy between Canon and Nikon will rage for eternity among some of their respective users just as long as photographic fora exist on the Internet. What would these people do if Canon and Nikon ever merged as companies or one took over the other? Methinks lots of tears before bedtime.

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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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