System thinking

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Choices, choices, choices. From the ultimate image quality shootout.

We have a rather strange hardware problem: on casual observation, simultaneously too much choice, but at the same time, when all things are taken into account, a lack of it. It isn’t the problem of the perfect camera not existing, but rather that we have to jump through a lot of hoops for a complete solution. There are digital systems with sensor sizes ranging from 2/3” (Pentax Q) to 645 (Phase One, Hasselblad) – and to make things more confusing, surprising amounts of interchangeability*. So what is a serious photographer to do?

*Practically, this is nothing more than an illusion and a bunch of empty promises: even if you can do it, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea.

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Digital maturity

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State of the art – but for how long?

We’re now into ten years into the mainstream DSLR revolution started by the Nikon D70 and Canon 300D; that’s a decent amount of time by any measure, and by consumer technology standards, an eternity. I suspect many readers of this site will remember those cameras well – they probably marked the point of switching from film, a revival in interest in photography, or the beginning of a new passion. For me, it was the latter: I go into the digital game in late 2002, with a Sony compact that I carried pretty much everywhere (and made zero memorable images with). A bridge camera followed in 2003, and was swiftly replaced with a D70 on release day in 2004. I would say that was personally the opening of the floodgates: I had good enough, and I didn’t have the inconvienience or cost of film. The rest was up to me.

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Thoughts on the Photokina 2014 announcements

Every two years, photographers and gear heads alike gather eagerly to see what we should spend our money on next: it’s the circus of Photokina. Today’s post is a collection of thoughts on the more notable new announcements.

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What’s in the bag – USA workshop tour

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One last minute change: I went with a Think Tank Airport International roller instead of the backpack – less fatiguing.

I’m on the road for three weeks. I’m teaching a Masterclass and a Making Outstanding Images workshop. I’m shooting for myself. I’m shooting an architectural assignment, and then capping it off with a private teaching session. These are a lot of very, very different objectives. So what did I bring, and why?

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Lens review: The Zeiss ZF.2 1.4/85 Otus APO-Planar

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One year after the 1.4/55 Otus APO-Distagon, Zeiss is back as promised with the second installment in the new line of super-lenses: the 1.4/85 Otus APO-Planar. Announced unofficially on facebook several months back, the lens makes its official debut at Photokina. I’ve had the opportunity to shoot with a final-pre-production prototype for the last two months; in fact, through pure coincidence, I got the email from my contact at Zeiss saying they had a surprise for me on my birthday…

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The Nikon D810 review: a worthy D800E upgrade?

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This article will not be a review in the conventional sense. I’ve covered the original D800 here, a mid-term report here, and a long term report of the D800E here; after more than 70,000 frames with one D800 and two D800Es, I think I can say I know these cameras pretty well. Instead, this report will focus on the important differences, and the reasons why I eventually caved and upgraded one of the cameras – and not just because I had that conversation with Lloyd Chambers. Whether these differences are significant enough is something that you will have to answer on your own, based on your own requirements.

Note: though I’ve completed enough bench testing to evaluate the camera’s image quality, between poor atmospheric conditions, testing of other prototypes (of course unpublishable) and family commitments around the festive season I have not had an opportunity to produce any images I’d consider worthy of publication. I aim to remedy this in the next couple of weeks, however; check my flickr stream for updates. So, I must apologize in advance for a review that’s somewhat lacking in the usual eye candy.

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Too little, too late – or, rebirth?

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CFV-50c, image courtesy Hasselblad.

It’s no secret that Hasselblad has been in much financial trouble lately. And it’s also no secret that the company appears to have lost its direction following a large number of private equity CEOs, who frankly, appear not to understand the photography market at all. So it was with some surprise that I opened my email getting off the plane home from London to find that not only had they made an interesting product, but one that hinted at a return to common sense and a somewhat brighter future, too.

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The Pentax 645Z review, part III: SDM lenses and long exposures

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Exif data is intact for all files – click through to flickr to view it, and larger versions of the images.

Having a bit more time with the relatively new Pentax 645Z under my belt has given me the opportunity to try a couple of things I’ve been curious about: long exposures, and a more thorough evaluation of the three SDM lenses currently available for the 645 system. The former is probably only of interest to landscapists, architectural photographers and people who have severe allergies to controlled lighting, but I feel the latter is probably a critically important topic in itself. Let’s start there.

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Review: The Pentax 645Z, part II: compared to the 645D, Nikon D800E and Hasselblad CFV-39

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The contenders. From L-R: Pentax 645D, Pentax 645Z, Hasselblad 501CM with CFV-39 digital back, Nikon D800E.

Four cameras, 166 megapixels, no sensor smaller than 36MP and 36x24mm. It’d have been nice to get the Phase One IQ250 and Leica S along for the ride too – sadly there’s no Phase distributor in Malaysia and nobody from P1 has ever replied any email I’ve sent though. So we’ll make do with four: two from the old CCD guard and two from the new CMOS challengers. Lining up on the right are the Pentax 645D (33x44mm, 40MP) and Hasselblad CFV-39 on a 501CM body (49x37mm, 39MP) against the Pentax 645Z (33x44mm, 51MP) and Nikon D800E (24x36mm, 36MP). Perhaps we should have gotten one of the 41MP Nokia PureView phones along for kicks, too. That said, the rationale behind these choices is as follows a) I had access to them; b) to build a more or less complete system would be roughly the same price; Nikon and Pentax new lenses are more expensive than the used screwdriver Pentax FA or Hasselblad V glass; by the time you add everything in, the 645Z is obviously the most expensive option – but also arguably has the highest IQ potential. Welcome to part two of the Pentax 645Z review – the first part can be found here.

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Review: The Pentax 645Z, part I

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After a bit of – drought, it’s review bonanza week: at the opposite ends of the spectrum. First we had the Sony RX100 Mark III, and today will be the first part of the Pentax 645Z review; to be split into an assessment of the camera itself and a relative comparison to its predecessor, a previous generation CCD-equipped Hasselblad CFV-39 digital back, and the Nikon D800E. As far as I can tell, this is the first review of a production 645Z, anywhere. This part alone is going to be a 4500+ word monster, so grab a large coffee and settle in for a bit. Unfortunately the weather at the moment in Kuala Lumpur is extremely hazy – 120+ APIs thanks to various burning vegetation – which is not ideal for camera reviewing. However, as the 645Z is part of my personal equipment, bought at retail from Malaysia, it will be with me for some time and be subject to mid and long term updates – much like the Nikon D800E.

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