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 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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Sep 012011
 

I seldom get the chance to photograph people. On Saturday afternoon, I was out with my camera and stopped to take a shot of a building with a slogan painted on the walls.

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

Within a minute, the owner of the building was out, asking what I was doing. After explaining my business, we got talking and boy could he talk. I listened to a 40-minutes diatribe on the subject of corruption among Jacksonville’s police, city government, the FBI and the federal government.

I nodded politely at such assertions that the FBI was withholding a vaccine against AIDS and dealing in drugs. He seemed to know all the inside knowledge on a recent corruption trial regarding the director of Jacksonville Port Authority.

The guy’s name was Stefan. He was originally from Romania but spent some time in Italy before coming to the United States. He was convinced that the spirit of the Lord would protect him from those who wished to do him harm.

Having allowed him to spout forth for such a length of time, I was determined to get something for my trouble. So as I made to get him to wind up his monologue, I asked if I could take his photograph. Stefan agreed.

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

Although the focus is not tack sharp – an aperture of f/2 was always going to be a stiff challenge to my manual focusing skills – I am quite pleased with the image. And I think you can well understand why I asked to photograph Stefan.

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Jul 082011
 

I sat through most of How The West Was Won (1962) the other night and the song Home In The Meadow, sung by Debbie Reynolds, struck a chord. It is an adaption of the English folk song Greensleeves that dates back to the 16th century, possibly even earlier.

Whenever I am overcome by a wave of nostalgia for England, I tend to play a CD featuring the Last Night of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. As Fantasia on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughan Williams plays, I close my eyes and instantly conjure up an image of the rolling English countryside – a generic image of fields with cattle grazing or seeking the shade of a majestic oak tree.

Last weekend something approaching that mental image met my gaze when I visited Camp Milton, a historic site within Jacksonville’s city limits. During the U.S. Civil War, the camp at one point was home to 8,000 Confederate troops – a bulwark against possible Union expansion into central Florida.

Heading back to the car, I witnessed across the road a scene reminiscent of the kind I used to see in England – cattle grazing in a lush pasture. A run-of-the-mill shot in England was treated by me as if it were an exclusive shot of Pippa Middleton.

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

Such pastoral scenes have been rare since I moved to the United States. In Texas, I became ensconced in suburban America and remote from fields and streams, farms and country lanes, which had been just a 10-minute walk from my house in England. In Jacksonville, my daily routine is confined to the inner city areas of Riverside and Avondale.

The English tradition of a run out in the car to the countryside does not translate to my part of America because the fields, woods, streams and lakes are not as accessible.

After 11 years living in the United States, I have still to find the equivalent of an Ordnance Survey map showing public rights of way. I fear the concept of public footpaths across private land is an anathema in states where the motto “Don’t Tread On Me” holds good for a great many folks.

Access to the countryside is largely restricted to state parks and historic preserves – no, that is not Robertson’s jam from the 1920s. Grateful as I am for that access, it is a little too organized and regimented for my taste, although better than no access at all.

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