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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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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Jun 132011
 

As an experienced photographer I like to think I have all the bases covered when taking a shot. Most times I do but every now and again, I am prone to a moment of madness, forgetfulness or call it what you will. Senior moment is the phrase I like to use.

On Saturday, I attended a social function at a gated community on Fleming Island, which afforded me access to Doctor’s Lake and the chance to fire off a few shots.  It was a bright sunny day. I lined up my first shot in aperture priority mode  and the camera told me I needed to set  a smaller aperture. I turned the aperture wheel to f/5.6. That wasn’t enough for the conditions. Eventually, the camera was happy with an aperture of f/8.

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

Now in all the time I have owned the Ricoh GRD III, the smallest aperture I have shot with is f/6.3. I just assumed that surrounded by a large area of water on a bright day, light was reflecting off the water to create even brighter conditions than normal.

It is to the credit of the LCD screen of the GRD III that I was still able to frame my compositions with ease. Reading the shutter speed, aperture and ISO setting was a little more difficult. And therein lay my problem.

The day before I had been shooting indoors and ramped the ISO setting up to ISO 400. Usually, when I get the camera ready for my next shoot, I first delete the previous files and check the camera settings. On this occasion, I did the former but forgot about the latter. I was shooting in bright sun with ISO 400. Small wonder that I was having to use f/8. It was only when I came to work on the RAW images that I discovered my oversight.

©Calvin Palmer 2011. All Rights Reserved.

This kind of scenario sums up why I much prefer to shoot with a camera with a viewfinder. On my Canon 40D, I would have noticed the high ISO setting instantly and made the necessary change. But the small numerals on the LCD of the Ricoh don’t always register, especially following cataract surgery. And I refuse to wear reading glasses because I would be constantly putting them on and taking them off for each shot. My distance vision is good.

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

In a nutshell, that is many a photographer’s dilemma. We don’t always want to carry the weight of a DSLR with us, particularly at a social function, and so resort to compact cameras where we are reliant on the LCD screen. Like I say, the Ricoh GRD III LCD does an excellent job 98 percent of the time and is a thousand-fold better than the LCD on my Leica D-Lux 3 where both settings and composition are in the lap of the gods on a bright sunny day.

Ricoh’s GXR camera comes with an EVF, at a price, which does contain the same kind of information visible in the viewfinder of a DSLR. Maybe that is a compromise worth making to avoid my kind of senior moments, although I have my doubts whether I would take to an electonric viewfinder. My only experience of using one was with a Panasonic LC1 camera in a pawn shop. It was better than nothing but I didn’t like it. Of course EVFs have made rapid strides since Panasonic’s early model and Ricoh’s EVF has the second highest resolution after the EVF for the Olympus PEN cameras. Maybe it is time to check out EVFs again.

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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.