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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Sep 132011
 

Saturday night was spent at the Florida Theatre, attending the Delbert McClinton concert.

McClinton hails from Lubbock, Texas, and moved to Fort Worth when he was 11. My wife was born and grew up in Fort Worth, so McClinton is something of a local hero.

I have to confess that prior to moving to Texas in 2000, I had never heard of Delbert. I have since learned the error of my ways and have seen him three times.

His mix of blues and country is infectious. It is impossible to walk away from a McClinton concert not feeling that you have had a good time. That was certainly true again on Saturday.

With second row seats, the Ricoh GRD III was not out of its depth for a few stage shots.

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

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

I find in these situations, it is best to set the camera on Program mode and let the camera’s processor figure out the best exposure. That is why some people term the P mode, the professional mode. A camera joke there, I doubt it will be appreciated by “serious” photographers.

Believe me, a lot of people out there take themselves far too seriously when it comes to the business of taking photographs or even talking about photography. An essential ingredient for any photographer, in my opinion, is a well-developed sense of humour.

After the show, 70-year-old Delbert was at the stage door signing autographs. Lighting conditions were not the best but I fired off a couple of shots.

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

Someone doing a Master’s degree in Photography could probably write a dissertation on the technical flaws contained in the image. For one thing, flash should have been used. But I detest using flash photography and knew that the GRD III, with a little help from Photoshop, would provide an image.

Despite its flaws, after conversion to B&W in Silver Efex Pro, the image has a certain appeal for me. It captures the essence of McClinton. He is something of a rough and ready character, the image is likewise.

Feel free to comment as to whether the Delbert McClinton shot works.

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Jun 162011
 

Returning to the theme of the inferiority of LCD screens, as compared to a viewfinder of a DSLR when it comes to the ease of viewing camera settings, I picked up my Leica D-Lux 3 yesterday to take a shot of the haze hanging over Jacksonville.

Wildfires in Florida and Georgia have filled the air with the acrid smell of wood smoke for the past three days. Yesterday the smoke formed a haze that reduced visibility at street level.

I decided to use the little Leica, thinking that I would probably need its zoom capability to frame the shot. Indeed, I ended up shooting at the equivalent of 42 mm.

I set the camera to Aperture Priority and framed the shot. I could tell from the image on the LCD screen that it looked somewhat overexposed. I looked at the f-stop and it was almost impossible to read. I eventually managed to discern it was f/4.0, which should have given a decent exposure.

I took a second shot and once again the image looked washed out. There was only one thing for it – set the camera to Program AE mode and let it work out the aperture and shutter speed for a perfect exposure. Success!

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved. B&W conversion in Silver Efex Pro.

While there is a lot I admire about the Leica D-Lux 3, the problem with reading information on the LCD has plagued me from the start. And the 207,000 dots LCD screen doesn’t cut it in the bright sunshine of Florida. Many a time, I have virtually shot blind, being unable to compose my shot on the screen because of the reflection from the sun.

Using the D-Lux 3 yesterday did remind me, however, of what a superb camera the Ricoh GRD III is. Its 920,000 dot LCD screen really does stand up to bright conditions and the choice of an amber colour to depict aperture, EV compensation and ISO also helps to make the information easily readable 98 percent of the time.

The strengths of the compact Leica are its lens, image processing engine – Leica seems to handle blue skies like no other camera – and optical image stabilization rather than sensor shift.

But with its larger sensor, fantastic user interface, and customized settings, the Ricoh GRD III leaves the D-Lux 3 standing. The improved D-Lux 4 and D-Lux 5, both boasting large sensors, might equal the GRD III in terms of image quality but would still be hard pressed to match Ricoh’s handling.

Feb 052011
 

This week Ricoh announced it was developing an M-mount module for its GXR cameras. As much as I love Ricoh cameras, this module and the GXR will not be at the top of my shopping list.

I do not own any Leica M-mount lenses; if I did, I would be shooting with a Leica M9 camera, which blows the GXR, fine camera that it is, out of the water.

I am also somewhat troubled by this announcement because it seems to fly in the face of what Ricoh was saying when it first launched the GXR system — a system where the lens and sensor are combined into a module that some call a lensor.

Introducing this new concept in digital cameras, Ricoh stated:

It is the lens that gives life to the photograph. In interchangeable lens camera systems up to now, the distance from the mount and the back of the lens to the sensor image plane was subject to requirements for flange back distance and back focal length. This made it difficult to achieve both compactness and high optical performance. Eliminating the lens mount, however, means that the back focal length can be freely defined for the GXR, enabling the new system to use the most optically efficient lens designs and giving it excellent potential for future expansion. This practical concept has given birth to camera units that achieve compact size without compromising image quality.

In order to make the best use of the inherent power of the lens and the image sensor, the ideal solution is to combine both in a single unit. Consider, for example, the low-pass filter covering the surface of the image sensor. The dilemma faced is that while the filter helps prevent color noise and color moiré, increasing this benefit results in an ever greater sacrifice in lens resolution. Traditional interchangeable lens systems use a single low-pass filter for all lenses so they are unable to avoid situations where the filter effect is excessive or inadequate. With the GXR, on the other hand, we can design a filter optimized for the resolution of the specific lens. In this way, Ricoh has succeeded in effectively preventing color noise while suppressing filter influence on lens resolution.

The ease with which dust can adhere to image sensors has been a system problem for interchangeable lens digital cameras up to now. In the case of GXR camera units, however, the lens and the image sensor are integrated into a single unit. This structure makes it difficult for dust to get in since it is not necessary to expose the inside of the camera when changing lenses. In addition, the inside of the units are highly airtight with light-shielded walls. Even in highly dusty shooting environments, camera units can be changed without hesitation.

The planned introduction of an interchangeable lens mount in autumn suggests to me that all the above was advertizing hype. Having made the case for not introducing a camera that allows interchangeable lenses, Ricoh appear to have done a U-turn.

The M-mount module has been well received by most people on the Ricoh Forum of DPReview, although a few people do express concerns similar to mine.

In theory it sounds fine to be able to fit one of the the best lenses in the world, Leica lenses undoubtedly are as their cost reflects, but focusing them is not going to be an easy task. The electronic viewfinder that can be bought as an accessory for the GXR will become an essential item for anyone wishing to use manual focus lenses. Trying to focus a heavy lens at arm’s length using the LCD will not be easy, unless your arms have muscles of steel.

No doubt those people who persevere with the GXR and an attached Leica lens will produce good results but not with every shot they take. They will have to get used bracket focusing, for want of a better term, whereby you get the subject in focus and then keep tweaking the focus a fraction on successive shots. Viewing all the shots on a computer screen will reveal the one truly in focus. That approach is fine for static subjects, not so good for anything that moves. And those that think focus confirmation is the answer are in for a rude awakening. Focus confirmation can assist but it will not nail the sharpest focus.

When I bought my GRD III, I was torn between waiting six months or so for the launch of the GXR with a 28mm lens module. The great advantage the GRD III has over the GXR is its compactness, which means the GRD is always with me. There is no denying that the APS-C sensor of the GXR is far superior to the CCD sensor in the GRD III but that superiority only becomes really marked at higher ISO settings. But what good would that superior image quality be if the camera is sitting on the desk in my office.

As the saying goes, the best camera is the one that you have with you and for me that is the Ricoh GRD III.

I would have much preferred Ricoh to have expanded its range of lens modules for the GXR and so make it a more complete, as well as innovative system, to compete with the micro four-thirds cameras.