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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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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Review: Sony Cyber-Shot RX100 Mark III

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In full Transformer mode

Two of the most interesting cameras in recent memory – the 645Z and RX100III, at completely opposite ends of the imaging spectrum but both pushing image quality – are arriving this week and I have a fundamental problem: a lack of light. Kuala Lumpur is blanketed in a horrible 100+API haze again that’s eating light and turning the sky into a giant drybox; right after two weeks of fantastic crystal-clear weather during which we had stars every night. I’ve made the most of the windows of opportunity, but in an ideal world I’d have liked to push the dynamic range of the thing a bit more.

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Photoessay-review: the Nikon AFS 70-200/4 VR and Havana cityscapes, part I

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This will be the first in my new review format for ‘light’ reviews – pieces of equipment that perhaps don’t necessarily need a full blown magnum opus, but benefit from some context in deployment and typical usage. A short piece on the D4 will follow next.

One of the few lenses in the Canon system I’ve long been jealous of is their 70-200/4 IS (in addition to the 17TSE). Until not so long ago, Nikon users have been missing a light/ compact high quality telephoto option. Sure, there’s been the 70-300/4.5-5.6 VR, but that was only a decent performer up to 200mm; anything else was emergency territory. And it simply wasn’t that good on the D800E, nor a pro build. Finally, we have the AF-S 70-200mm f4 G VR ED IF (what a mouthful). I’m going to address two questions in this review: firstly, is it any good, and secondly, f2.8* or f4? I suspect the latter question is going to be of interest to many still sitting on the fence.

*It’s important to note there are two versions of the 70-200/2.8 G VR. I’ll go into the differences in more detail later.

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World premiere: The 2014 Leica T (Typ 701) review

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Caveat: this review was produced with a final production beta camera and lenses; this means that whilst we’re probably 99% of the way there, there will almost certainly be some small changes before the camera finally ships. All sample images were shot in DNG and converted via ACR, with the 18-56 and 23mm native T-mount lenses.

Let me say up front that whilst I have been very clear that innovation has been somewhat lacking in the camera industry across the board of late, there have been a few standouts that do so precisely because they push various aspects of the game – be it image quality or more rarely, ergonomics. I’ve long had the feeling that Apple’s latest camera implementations – touch once to lock exposure and focus, again to shoot – have really distilled the essence of the camera down to its bare minimum. It uses technology not to pad out a spec sheet, but to free the photographer to concentrate solely on composition. Shame then, that none of the more capable cameras have really gotten this implementation right – until now. I believe the Leica T is the first generation of a paradigm shift in the way we control and interact with our cameras.

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MF digital goes mainstream: early thoughts on the Pentax 645Z

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Image from Pentax UK.

A couple of days ago, Pentax threw down the gauntlet to the other medium format digital camera makers in the form of the 645Z. It uses the same ~50MP 44x33mm CMOS as the Hasselblad H5D-50C and Phase One IQ250, but with one critical difference: unlike the Hasselblad and Phase One, it’s feasibly within the reach of a whole load more people. And it isn’t just the shocking price – $8,500 plays $29,000 (Hasselblad) or $37,000 (Phase) – it’s the UI and operating gestalt, too. I think what we’ve just seen is an early game changer.

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Medium format digital in the field

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There are quite a number of medium format digital cameras available today; the vast majority are designed to handle like oversize DSLRs, and in some cases, there’s very little difference size- and control-wise between these cameras – take the Leica S, for instance. This makes them both familiar and easy to use, but also somewhat liable to catch out the unweary. My digital field work with medium format is done with a Hasselblad CFV-39, mounted on a 501CM body. The method of operation constantly reminds you that this is most certainly not another DSLR; not least because you have to wind the camera after every shot to recock the shutter and lower the mirror! The intention of this article is to look at the practicalities – or impracticalities – of using medium format digital in the field or while travelling as a DSLR replacement, and more importantly, in a way that lets you actually see enough of a difference to justify it in the first place.

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