Lens review: The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon, part I

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I’ve used a lot of 50mm and near-50mm lenses in my time*. I’ve had the privilege of owning or having on long term loan some of the legends – the Leica f0.95 Noctilux, for instance, the 50/2 APO-Summicron-ASPH; the Nikon 58/1.2 Noct-Nikkor; the Zeiss ZF.2 2/50 Makro-Planar. However, I can honestly say, hand on heart, that the Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon is quite possibly the best of them all.

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Book review: Across The Ravaged Land, by Nick Brandt

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I think many of you will recall me being quite blown away by the power of the images and the quality of the printing/ presentation in my review of Nick Brandt’s earlier twin book On This Earth, A Shadow Falls (here). I’m fairly sure many of you were too, judging from my email traffic, the comments, and the number of orders via Amazon. I’ve turned into an enormous fan of Nick’s work: he is the photographer’s photographer, a man who clearly thinks about what he’s doing, photographs with integrity, for a reason, with an idea, with the most appropriate tool for the job, and presents the images in the best possible way. Across The Ravaged Land, the final volume in the trilogy, raises the bar even further. I spent an hour with the book and felt like I’d been smacked upside the head with the Pentax 67II he favours. Allow me to explain why.

Note: in this article, I’ve attempted to reproduce the tonal feel and colour of the images as accurately as possible, but reality is that it’s simply impossible to do so via a screen and a JPEG. Just buy the book, and from the print quality alone you’ll see why every photographer should spend some time making prints. I can’t even begin to imagine the impact of the large format images.

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Xmas 2013 picks

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Here’s one to get you into the spirit of Christmas: either treat yourself, treat a very good friend, or better yet, get somebody to treat you*. This list is mostly composed of new releases for 2013, or new items I’ve discovered during the course of the year. For a complete list of recommendations, see this page. Please note, all links from this page do award me a small referral commission; it doesn’t increase your price, but it does help to pay for all the bandwidth this site uses – thanks for your support!

*Here’s hoping the wife reads one of my articles for a change!

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My love-hate relationship with gear

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The guilt (and equipment) stacks up like tetris: this is only one of my equipment cabinets; if I don’t put everything in just so, then it won’t fit. And lighting gear, accessories, tripods, bags etc. are stored elsewhere.

Any photographer who tells you that they are a hundred percent, completely indifferent to equipment is lying. It is almost (I say almost to cover myself in the unlikely event there really is somebody out there) impossible to be immune to the lull of new cameras, lenses or accessories; we’ve all felt the pull at one time or another, no matter how weak or irrational. Actually, it’s the irrational that I’m going to talk about today – purchases that are necessary from a professional standpoint (e.g. you have to buy lights if you’re going to be a studio product photographer) don’t really require justification; at least insofar as there are degrees.

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Retro for the sake of retro: thoughts on the Nikon Df


Sigh. I swore I’d never do this again after the Sony A7/A7r piece, but I’ve been getting so much email over the last few days that I have no choice. Firstly, I have no special relationship with Nikon beyond standard NPS membership. Their management here in Malaysia chooses to remain aloof. If I’m going to review one of these properly, it’s because I’ve bought it – and again, I think that’s extremely unlikely given the cost and lack of fit with my professional needs. But, here we go anyway: a highly subjective analysis of a camera that hasn’t been released yet based solely on a spec sheet and some conclusions we form from Nikon’s existing parts inventory. So, here we go: the 2013 Nikon Df.

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What am I using now?

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As much as I dislike the ‘what should I buy’ type emails – just buy whatever feels good for you – I realize there’s one other question I’ve never really answered anywhere else on the site; that’s the question of what do I use for what. I did get featured on Japan Camera Hunter’s ‘what’s in your bag’ spot a little while ago; some of that is still current, some of it isn’t. In any case, I’m going to rectify that omission forthwith. These lists/ load manifests are current for the purpose as of the posting date, but I may of course vary them from time to time depending on the objectives of the shoot; they cover core equipment only. Yes, it’s a lot of stuff; do I wish I could get away with less? Absolutely. The problem though is once you’ve used the right tool for the job, and you can tell the difference in the output, it’s almost impossible to go back afterwards. Contrary to popular opinion, we pros don’t actually like to change our gear too often: it introduces uncertainties in the technical and creative processes, and when you’re on assignment, this is a risk that might make the difference between fulfilling the brief or losing a client. Before we take a new bit of gear out, it’s thoroughly tested in a non-critical environment first so we can at least get the measure of it.

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Preview: The 2013 Fujifilm X-E2

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The Fujifilm X-E2 is a welcome update to last year’s popular X-E1. The camera takes the innards of the X100s and puts them in an X-mount body; it isn’t the X-Pro2 that a lot of users were hoping for, but it’s a significant enough update – for those who had issues with AF speed at least – to warrant serious consideration. In fact, I was sent a list of 61 improvements the X-E2 carries; some new to the camera, some inherited from the X-M1 and others from the X100s. I personally have had a rather inconsistent experience with Fujifilm products; on one hand, I absolutely love their films – Acros is my mainstay in all formats – but was left highly expectant and then disappointed by several cameras, first the original X100, then the X-Pro1, the XF1 and finally the X20. These are cameras I wanted to love, but found lacking in several areas; ultimately, I landed up with M4/3 as my compact system choice due to maturity of cameras and lenses. Many have asked why I don’t seriously consider the X system; I was offered a pre-production prototype by Fujifilm Malaysia, and I cleared a few days in the schedule to seriously revisit the system.

Note: the camera’s firmware is not final, so there will be no evaluation of image quality yet, or full size files or crops. Also bear in mind that some of the observations may change after final firmware. Most of the images in this review are mostly SOOC JPEG; a few have minor color corrections and all B&W images were converted from colour source files.There are also more samples in this Flickr set.

I also have the X-Q1 here; I just haven’t had time to shoot with it yet.

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Quick thoughts on the Sony A7 and A7R

Image from B&H.

The internet is going to be full of anticipation, excitement, speculation and various forms of virtual hand-wringing over Sony’s latest announcement: full frame mirrorless. I’m sure some bloggers have already had a chance to use one, but given the local market entity’s attitude, don’t expect to see a review from me anytime soon (if at all). As interesting as it is, I simply won’t be able to get a camera. What I can do is put together a few initial thoughts. I don’t normally join the equipment frenzy, but I think this is significant enough that it warrants some serious consideration.

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Book review: On This Earth, A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt

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Spoiler alert: my product photos in no way do this book justice. Not even close.

This article is going to be much less of a review than a gushing of praise; if you have a single photographic bone in your body, enjoy fine art printing, or photo books, or nature, or animals, or Africa, or any combination of the above – I think you’ll be blown away by this book. And at current discounts, it’s a steal for what you’re getting. I’d actually held off writing the review for some months simply because I wanted to a) have another chance to really study the images without the initial awe (it didn’t work, the awe is still there) and b) find a way to adequately express how they make me feel, as the audience.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 review updated with thoughts on RAW quality

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Now that ACR has preliminary support for E-M1 raw files – amongst a whole load of other cameras – in ACR 8.2 (available here for Mac and Windows), I’ve gone through and reprocessed a few to assess the RAW quality of the E-M1′s sensor; I expect to have more thoughts on this in the longer term after I have a chance to put the camera through a greater variety of scenarios. Sadly, my loaner went back yesterday, so further updates after this one will have to wait until my own cameras arrive in October.

The full updated review is here. MT


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