Review: The Olympus E-M5 Mark II

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 My usual deployment: handheld video, with HLD-8 battery grip, Zeiss ZM 1.4/35 Distagon rin an adaptor, and a Zoom H5 audio recorder. I am working on fixing the hard/sharp/uncomfortable edges of the battery grip with a silicone putty compound called Sugru, and will post the results in a future post.

Better late than never (or, I finally get around to trying out the second coming): the Olympus’ E-M5 Mark II. Many of the long-suffering readers of this site will know that I had a period of enthusiasm for M4/3 gear (and specifically the original E-M5) before that abruptly came to a halt in early 2014. The reasons were simple: firstly, camera technology has moved on; what was an impressive size/quality ratio in 2012 is not in 2015. Secondly, my output requirements have changed; the cameras have never had sufficient resolution to make a meaningfully-sized Ultraprint. Thirdly, there was no real solution to the shutter shock problem of the E-M1, which produced unusable images under basically every shooting condition – from 1/90s to 1/350s*. We were amongst the first to use the original E-M5 for video because of its stabiliser, and continued to use the E-M1s for video (including all of the workshop videos after The Fundamentals), Olympus and I then parted ways, and it appears they found new champions less demanding of their equipment. But, why the change of heart for me?

*I demand critically sharp pixels and can achieve them with the same camera under other conditions. Different users may have different thresholds of acceptability and different levels of shot discipline and not see any problems. On top of that, I tested >80 E-M1 bodies including >70 at Olympus Malaysia HQ, all of which exhibited the problem. The initial review unit did not, because it was a preproduction unit with a shutter module from a different batch. A firmware update was subsequently released with EFC, but it only works in single shot mode.

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Long term lens review: the Nikon AF-S 24-120 f4 VR G

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Yes yes, I know I’m late to the party. Very late, in fact. The AFS 24-120 f4 VR G has been available for a good four years now, replacing the much-maligned AFS 24-120 f3.5-5.6 VR G. By a curious coincidence, I’ve actually owned and shot extensively with both versions. And even more curiously, my experiences have been fairly similar with both lenses. You could say you’d be glad you had them if you did, but you could also probably do without if you didn’t. And then there’s the 900-pound (or $1700 dollar) gorilla in the corner: why not just buy the 24-70/2.8 and be done with it?

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Apple PC hardware choices for the photographer

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Choices, choices. Image from the Apple Malaysia homepage.

At some point early on in the digital era, the world decided that Apple was the way to go for serious photographers and graphics professionals – granted, there were applications that were Mac-specific or just worked so much better on a Mac than a PC that it made sense. I’m sure some of that was image and hubris, too pricing be damnmed, the hardware just looked sooo much cooler. There was also a point in not so distant history at which we weren’t held hostage by Apple’s upgrade options, either: you could buy the base version, and upgrade certain components yourself if you were handy with a screwdriver, which brought the cost of performance down. The cost of ownership wasn’t (and still isn’t) as bad because Macs maintain their resale value – probably because the new machines are never much cheaper than the old ones. But a) does Apple hardware still make sense for photographers, and b) if so, what hardware?

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A question of enjoyment: ‘fun’ cameras

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Blocked up

Why do we photograph? For the vast majority of the population, it’s because we want to record or document something. However, if you’re reading this site, I suspect it’s either because you really, really enjoy it, or it’s your job, or perhaps both. And I suspect that even if you do do this for a living, you’d have to have fallen into the former category at some point in time in order to think that it might even have been a slightly worthwhile exercise to undertake the current masochism that is professional photography, over say, banking. I know I did. In fact, I enjoyed photography in the early days (looking back, probably around 2001-2002) to the point it was probably slightly unhealthy and obsessive. But it did provide a creative outlet and set the foundations for today. Bottom line: we shoot because we enjoy it.

This article will be a sort of evolution of the Compact Fast Normal Conundrum…

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Nikon 300/4 VR: anybody else seeing double images?

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100% here.

So I attempted to buy the new Nikon AFS 300/4 PF ED VR today, for the third time. This seems like an odd thing to write, so please hear me out. Every sample of this lens I’ve tried, on every D810 body (now three of each) produces very strange double-image artefacts only with VR on. With VR off, the optics look consistently excellent. With VR on, I couldn’t get a single sharp image regardless of drive mode, shutter speed, EFC on/off, tripod or handheld. The funny thing is that I did not see this on any other body than the D810: the D800E was just fine with VR on, as were the D3, D4 and D750. I initially ruled this out as sample issues or QC, but now that I’ve tried several lenses from different batches and from different country stock with a range of bodies, I think there may be something much more serious afoot. I have reported my findings to Nikon and they are investigating…

I can only hypothesise that there is some very strange interference going on between the VR mechanism and the D810’s shutter unit. It appears plenty stable in the viewfinder – perhaps moreso than any other lens I’ve mounted – but the results are unusable. Is anybody else seeing this with their lenses, or is it just my bad luck with every sample and body?

There is a folder of full size samples here on dropbox.

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Long term review: The Nikon D810

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Cold forest I

It’s very easy to write a polarized review – positive or negative – about a new piece of equipment; it’s much harder to commit to really using and learning it inside out for months until you are intimately familiar with its peccadilloes and able to extract every last drop of performance from it. It’s obviously not practical to do this for everything; it’s clear that some bits of hardware just don’t quite make it as long term tools after a few days of use. But the ones that stick are probably the ones that are really interesting.

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Review of a rare bird: the Voigtlander 180/4 APO-Lanthar

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According to multiple sources, total production of this optic is somewhere between 700 and 1000 units in Nikon AI-S (unchipped F) mount; there were a few more made in Pentax K, and M42. The lens came out of the Cosina Voigtlander factory in the early 2000s, on the heels of the now-legendary 125/2.5 APO-Lanthar and more common 90/3.5 APO-Lanthar. All of these lenses had very short production runs, probably because it was right about the time the CV factory was switching over to produce the modern Zeiss lenses. This is a shame, because they’re relevant lenses more than ever. During my last trip to Tokyo in December, I found not one – but two of the very rare 180mm lenses. Bellamy at Japan Camera Hunter says this is the first time he’s seen one for sale – let alone two. Naturally, it followed me home. The other lens found a home with one of the site regulars…

Samples were shot on a Nikon D750 and D810.

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The mystery camera, revealed

After seeing the slew of positive, curious, speculative, accurate* and sarcastic reactions to the review/preview of the mystery camera from last week, it’s time for the reveal.

*Congratulations: the clues were deliberate.

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Review: The mystery camera

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A question of orientation

Post-CP+, and in a stunning reversal of recent events, I’ve been given a camera to test. Not just any camera; one that is not even currently available. It is light, portable and sits in a class of its own amongst all cameras I have used. I can’t say yet what this camera is, but I was told I can post a review and images from it so long as I don’t reveal anything about appearance or specifications for the time being. This is obviously a rather unusual state of affairs, but I felt that there were some greater lessons to be learned from such restrictions, so here we go. I’ll start by saying that this is a singular device: it is a professional’s camera ne plus ultra. You must know what you’re doing to get a decent image out of it, and if you do, it’ll reward you in unexpected ways. Read on, if you’re curious.

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Review: The Sigma DP2 Quattro

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Normally, we  look at a camera from a holistic point of view and compare it to the competition or the class leader. This unfortunately doesn’t make sense for extreme outliers like the DP2Q; we’ll have to do something a bit different. This review will look primarily from the point of view of image quality, and whether we can live with everything else. This is the opposite from every other review I’ve written to date, and the reasons for this will become clear soon enough. The other big change will be considering workflow and software as part of the camera package: it’s impossible to do anything else, since unlike every other camera, there is no universal workflow we can apply. Those of you who do not like caveats, are unable to look at something objectively, or are not open minded, I suggest you save yourselves some angst and stop reading now.

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