Review: The Sony A7 Mark II; nearly there…(Updated, 21 Jan)

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We now have no less than four full frame mirrorless options from Sony; the A7R (previously reviewed here); the A7, the A7S, and now the A7II. This appears to be typical Sony strategy: rather than making a product that’s a definite improvement on the previous model, we get many attempts hoping that each one will find its’ own niche. The A7II brings one thing that makes me curious enough to give it a try despite an uninspiring experience with its predecessor: the first full-frame mirrorless camera to have in body stabilization.

I reviewed a production A7II with the Zeiss 55/1.8 and 24-70/4 OSS lenses, running firmware 1.10. Unfortunately, the 24-70 was either a poor sample or just optically a dog – very soft off-axis and with significant CA, so all of these images were shot with the 55/1.8. I will upload more to this flickr set in due course.

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Picking a tripod

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This article continues from a discourse of why a tripod is the most underrated piece of photographic equipment.

There is a lot of obsession online over whether camera and lens A is better than camera and lens B – forgetting entirely that the creative vision and shot discipline of the photographer using the equipment is not just a great equaliser, but can very well turn the tables entirely. Tripods and heads are one of the very few areas in which this is not actually true – i.e. better equipment is better equipment and there are no equalisers – and are almost completely ignored. No amount of creativity or technique can make up for a poor tripod, but poor technique can certainly spoil a good tripod.

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The fast compact normal conundrum

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Diamonds

I’ve been receiving a lot of email lately. This in itself is not unusual, but it appears that something I quietly bought has stirred the pot somewhat. You see, I’m now a Fuji user (again; I owned the first original X100 in Malaysia, and an X20 and XF1 and XQ1 since). The Fuji fanboys have always said I was biased and paid by the other companies not to use Fuji; the other fanboys have now started emailing me saying I sold out. Sorry guys, the simple truth is nothing so exciting. I bought an X-T1 at retail from my usual dealer in KL with my own money. Two things changed: firstly, ACR in its very latest iteration appears to have changed something in the soup to make X-trans file workflow at least acceptable, if not perfect; secondly, the fast compact normal conundrum demanded a solution.

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Long term experiences: the Pentax 645Z, six months in

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Morning paper, Chicago

Buying into any camera system is a big deal – not just because of the financial investment involved, but because you’re probably going to have to make a decision on what to buy based on conjecture rather than any actual first hand experience. Whilst some of the luckier people may be able to test drive a system, sadly most camera companies don’t really offer this. It doesn’t help either if the camera you want to try isn’t something particularly easy to get hold of our mainstream. There’s only so much you can determine from a quick fiddle at a camera store, assuming a physical one even exists near you anymore. And that brings us to the purpose of this report – there was a lot of interest in the 645Z at launch, but I’ve been made to understand that locally at least, sales haven’t quite been the runaway success one would expect for a camera that’s a quarter to a third the price of the competition. Think of this as a continuation of my initial three part review, here, here and here.

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Opinion-review: the Panasonic LX100/ Leica D-Lux 109

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Sony has the RX100 series. Canon has their G Powershots. Nikon…never mind. But Panasonic has the ooseX series, and the accompanying Leica D Lux redesign; I reviewed its predecessor, the LX7/ D Lux 6 some time back, and owned an LX3 back when it was pretty much the only choice for a serious compact – variable aspect ratios and all. In the intervening years since the last generation, sensors have grown – even in compacts – and the bar has been raised. I’ve spent a few days with the LX100/D Lux 109 twins and have some rather polarising thoughts…

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Staying on the bleeding edge: an economic strategy

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All photographers like gear; there’s no question that to some extent we’re all equipment hoarders and collectors. But it gets expensive quickly, even if we are lucky enough to be able to write off purchases as business expenses. This post will explain my strategy to minimize expense but still keep yourself happily distracted.

In reality, I think there are three options that work, but you must stick to them religiously – otherwise the costs start to spiral when you ‘jump grades’. Here’s the rundown; in each case, the aim is to take as little of a depreciation hit as possible, and of course keep yourself entertained…

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A new way of looking at reviews

I’ve done quite a few of these things now – both in the course of the site, and in my previous capacity as editor of a photo magazine – and each time I do one, it gets just a bit more refined and hopefully, a bit more useful. But there are some practical and creative constraints to take into account, too. Let me be very straightforward upfront: I am a commercial photographer, not a career reviewer or blogger. Which means that if I review something, it takes time out of my commercial schedule, which is unbillable. It takes two to three (sometimes more, if the product is complex) days to review something properly; anything less and you’ve probably not done it justice. And in the current economics of photography, if you’re going to trade something billable for something that isn’t, you’d better really like it or use it in the course of your normal work – because it’s not as though this is a lucrative industry to begin with. Forget referral fees and free cameras – they don’t exist, or they’re so small as to be negligible. The referral fees for this site just about covers hosting, and that’s about it. It certainly doesn’t cover the average of 6-7 hours a day, every day, I spend making content or replying email. Yes, that’s on top of my normal work, and no, I don’t sleep very much.

But, I think I have a solution that will work for everybody.

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What camera should I buy?

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Click here for full resolution

I have the answer for you right here, only partially tongue in cheek… :)

And if you need a more detailed, considered list, try my Recommended Gear List. Education though, we have in plentiful supply on the Teaching Video Store here. MT

On a more serious note, there’s a special offer going on with the Nikon D750 and excellent all-round AFS 24-120/4 VR lens (I have both) at B&H – $600 off to a total just below $3,000; you can get that here. The Pentax 645Z is also back in stock.

So…I bought a Nikon D750. Here’s why

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Reference bear #1 wonders what on earth has Ming done now?

I admit to having a change of heart. Yes, I was rather lukewarm bout the initial announcement at Photokina; but I do also remember saying that this would be the camera for a lot of people: right size, right price, right spec. It has “enough” resolution; “enough” performance; and isn’t too large or intimidating. In fact, I’d venture to say that it blows way past sufficiency, but then again, the whole idea of sufficiency is relative anyway. In many ways, this purchase is both rationally driven and a form of recognisance on my part. Bottom line: am I happy? Very much so.

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Quick review: the Lumu light meter

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Every serious photographer has found themselves needing a light meter at some point in their careers – usually an incident one, because most cameras have very good built in reflected spot meters anyway these days. An incident meter is one that measures the amount of light actually falling on your subject; it is of course not always usable simply because you may not be able to go up to your subject to take a reading. But remembering to carry it, or charge it, or how to work it between infrequent uses probably means you don’t use it at all. And if you use an older film camera without meter, I’m sure it’s pretty obvious how a small, unobtrusive one might be useful. Today’s quick review is of the little blob that attaches to a smartphone in the images above – yes, that’s a light meter, and perhaps the most unobtrusive of them all.

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