Xmas 2015 hardware picks

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Let it never be said I don’t put my money where my mouth is. The full recommended gear list is here.

Another year is coming to a rapid close (where did it go?) and we find ourselves at the end of one of the best years in some time for both the photographer and the equipment collector. We’ve seen some genuinely innovative technology, some yawns, some WTFs, and some boundary pushing to find that last 0.01%. What follows is both my year in review and a wishlist in case you don’t know how to spend your year end bonuses…

Note: some of you may have seen a different post go up this morning. I apologise – that’s meant to be for another day, and once again the WordPress scheduler has messed up after my computer changed timezones…

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Battle of the best 20/21s: Sigma 20/1.4 Art vs Zeiss 2.8/21 Loxia

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Images courtesy respective manufacturers, composited to roughly correct relative size – my samples had to return home before I got a chance to put them together in the studio for th usual product shoot, and I’m still awaiting delivery of my own personal lenses.

I’ve recently had a chance to shoot a) the best two wide angles available at the moment, and b) shoot them against each other on the same camera body. This is not a direct comparison. There are however limitations to the testing – very limited time* and no way to mount one without. Furthermore, the lenses were both final preproduction prototypes, which could mean they are either good samples because they’re hand adjusted…or there’s some variance, because…they’re hand adjusted. Tests were performed on a Sony A7RII body mounted on a Arca-Swiss P0 head and RRS24L tripod – i.e. sturdy – and released via IR remote. The adaptor used was a Metabones Nikon G-NEX model, tested and found to be good with various other lenses including the Zeiss 28 Otus. However, it’s worth noting that the shorter the focal length, the more sensitive a lens is to small skew because only very small movements are needed to change effective focusing distance. I’m sure many other limitations in methodology can be found, but remember we are aiming for the best we can do in field conditions without giving one lens or the other a sensor-based advantage. Observations must therefore be taken as preliminary.

*Literally, about an hour after dark during a recent visit to Sigma HQ in Aizu, Japan. Crops are 100% where stated; I will not be posting full size images because IP rights sadly don’t seem to mean a thing online.

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A guide to Zeiss lens choices for Sony FE

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The challenge we have now is no longer one of insufficient lenses: it’s almost one of too many. Having spent the last few months navigating the options and trying to figure out which of them work best for me, I now feel qualified to write this post which will a) explain the differences, b) make some recommendations both for the various series of lenses and within them as a whole. It’s worth noting that these comments and lens options apply to mirrorless cameras in general, though I’ve chosen Sony FE specifically because a) I own the A7RII, and b) there are several ‘native mount’ options that are available for Sony that aren’t for other systems – the first three on the list for starters, and won’t adapt because they require electronics*. I do honestly wish they’d thought out some of the naming better, though – it just lands up being both confusing for photographers and a bit of nightmare for their marketing team.

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Close, but no cigar: how to design mirrorless right

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Too large/expensive; too slow and unresponsive, power hungry; no finder or IS

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Limited sensor resolution; overambitious image quality and fragile feel; too many steps to get shooting

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Fixed lens; great UI with terrible ergonomics; classical controls don’t work for digital, sensor limits

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Ergonomic and workflow challenges; IQ limitations from sensor size; needed two years to fix FW

And this is barely half of the mirrorless cameras I’ve used and reviewed on this site in the last couple of years. I still have not found a complete replacement for the DSLR, and I suspect there are many other photographers in the same situation. It isn’t for want of trying or stubbornness; it’s because the product simply does not exist. We’re not asking for the unicorn here, either: there are ergonomic/UI/UX/engineering solutions that have already been implemented and received well in other cameras – just not in the same one. And to clarify (since judging by email and comments, many are missing the point): this post is not to complain mirrorless isn’t a DSLR. It’s recognising that mirrorless is the future for so many reasons – but we are still suffering from stupid design that has already been solved. All of these problems beg the question: just how difficult is it to get it right?

Important: Read this first.

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OpEd: The camera as a luxury item – or, a tale of two cameras

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Here’s a question I’ve been pondering for some time: how is it possible that these cameras (and others) are so similar in some ways, yet wildly different in terms of commercial success? And moreover, what can we deign from our crystal balls about the state of the camera industry? Read on for a little analysis from a photographer and a businessperson’s point of view.

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Premiere and review: The 2015 Leica SL (Typ 601) and lenses

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Minimalist Leica with a hint of several other cameras’ DNA. Doesn’t look that big, does it?

What would you get if you crossed a Q with a T and an S?

Not an unpronounceable algorithm for a consulting firm or a new Cadillac, but the 2015 Leica SL Typ 601. The SL is probably closest to an S (S Light?) and really does blend the choice bits of the DNA from each these three cameras into something that takes the fight to the Japanese brands – albeit with a few caveats.

Notes: I’ve had a few days with a final pre production SL and 24-90 thanks to Leica Asia Pacific, which is enough to form some preliminary impressions but further testing of a production sample will be required to evaluate all elements of the performance envelope. Sean Reid also has additional testing. More images from me with the camera can be found in this flickr set, and you may recognise some images from the Paradise Lost series. Images were processed using Photoshop Workflow II and The Monochrome Masterclass.

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Review: the Zeiss 1.4/28 Otus APO-Distagon

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28, 55, 85. A pretty versatile core set for pretty much any purposes. And now fully filled out by the latest in the Otus series, the recently-announced 1.4/28 APO-Distagon. Advance warning: this is not a general purpose lens, nor is it the kind of thing you can deploy casually. That is merely the nature of steeply diminishing returns; there are no gains without significant incremental effort. And we’re really talking about pushing the last 1% here. If you’ve not felt anything lacking in your images, then I suggest you stop reading here and save yourself a lot of money, because chasing perfection isn’t cheap…

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News: Zeiss Otus 1.4/28 APO-Distagon, 2.8/21 Loxia, RX1RII, 19 October

Image courtesy Zeiss

The cover was lifted on the new Otus yesterday – a 28mm f1.4, as expected, and a 21mm f2.8 Loxia a couple of days earlier. The Otus is a 16/13 Distagon design and uses quite a large array of exotic glass and aspherical elements; it’s also quite large (95mm front thread) and has significant weight – but then again, what do you expect from an APO-designated f1.4 wide? From my experience with it so far, it is once again proving to be the reference lens in this focal length. Delivery is expected to be in 2Q 2016.

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A visit to Zeiss and thoughts on the Milvus line

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The mothership

I was fortunate enough to spend the last three days at Zeiss with Lloyd Chambers (update: his blog entry is here) – with a level of access that I suspect that has never been granted before to independent external parties. They were gracious and first class hosts – I don’t think I’ve had that many types of non-alcohlic beer before. We asked every question we could think of and more, and received answers which we had never expected and at a level of depth that has left me deeply, deeply impressed with what the lens team is doing out in Oberkochen. This may seem like a strange way to talk about the new announcement, but bear with me for while; there is method to the madness. :)

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The Sony A7RII (updated, 16 Sep 2015)

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Most asked question via email for July/August 2015: “What do you think of the Sony A7RII?”

Second most asked question via email for July/August 2015: “When will you be reviewing the Sony A7RII?”

Fanboys should stop reading now. There are uncomfortable truths contained within this post. [Read more…]


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