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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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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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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Review: The 2014 Leica X Typ 113

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Photokina 2014 saw the release of an updated Leica X model – the typ 113. I’ve decided to review it for two reasons: firstly, to make another attempt at overcoming my personal lack of enthusiasm for the 35mm FOV, and secondly, out of curiosity to see how good the new lens is – it’s now a newly-designed 23/1.7, changed from the previous 23/2.8 which I believe is a derivative of the M-mount design. The sensor remains the same as the X2 at 16MP, and APS-C. Finally, some design updates complete the package – leaving the X looking more like a mini-M than ever.

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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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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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