Arca-Swiss are known for two things: producing excellent precision photographic gear, and having spotty availability – probably due to very small production runs. This two part review is going to cover what I think are two of the best tripod heads currently available – the P0 and C1 Cube. I picked up the P0 from B&H as a lightweight travel head during my trip to New York earlier in the year; I’ve been using it since – more often than I’d imagined I would. After being very impressed with the little one, I requested a C1 Cube as soon as it finally became available; both out of curiosity, and also to see if the hype was true.
Warning: what follows is an unashamed post about gear. Yes, Ming is writing a gear-centric post. There will be no photography in this article beyond the obligatory camera p***.
Imagine, for a moment, this is an automotive blog. In fact, the precise segment that comes to mind is Richard Hammond’s recent series in Top Gear on driving the classics; every month we see him wrestling his boyhood poster fantasies with a silly grin on his face. After re-reading that sentence, I realize that sounded very, very wrong. I can’t claim to be anywhere near as popular as Hammond or the rest of the Top Gear trio, nor does my enthusiasm for photography extend that far so far back as for me to have boyhood fantasies about it, but I do distinctly remember lusting after a lot of (then) out of reach gear in the early days of my obsession. I admit that one of the high points of this job has been having the opportunity to fulfill those desires. I may never get the opportunity to drive a BMW 3.0 CSL, let alone a 250 GTO SWB or a Bugatti Veyron Supersport, but a 903 SWC is still feasibly within reach…
What follows today’s article is a little mini-series; I wouldn’t really call them reviews, because the context is very different and they’re not really that relevant as current products.
You’re probably wondering why this DP3M doesn’t look anything like the press release photos – my friend attached a RRS grip and plate to it, and rightly so; without it, the camera is not very comfortable to hold.
I eventually caved to both pressure and curiosity, and borrowed the Sigma DP3M from master printer and good friend Wesley Wong – who has the DP Merrill in all three flavors. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, Sigma has been going their own way with the DP series of large sensor compacts; all of their cameras now share the same 14.7 MP (effective) three-layered Foveon sensor, with a 4.99 micron pixel pitch and true color/ true resolution information across all photosites. In a nutshell, the difference between Foveon and Bayer sensors is that the former records actual RGB values for each pixel, but the latter only records R, G or B, interpolating the other values from neighboring photosites. It’s difficult to determine precisely just how much resolution loss Bayer interpolation causes, but in my experience it seems to be around 50% or so. Sigma claims that the camera has the equivalent of 46MP (being 15.3 total MP x3 layers) – but this is really pushing it; images upsampled this far simply do not have the pixel-level ‘bite’ of a good Bayer file.
When the Leica X Vario (Typ 107) was first announced about a month ago, I honestly didn’t quite know what to make of it – though it seemed like a logical evolution of the X line, and a compliment to the M line, the headline spec left most photographers scratching their heads – including this one. It packs the same 16MP Sony-derived APS-C sensor as the X2, a body somewhere between the X2 and the M Typ 240 and a 28-70 equivalent zoom. Actually, it wasn’t any of that which caused the consternation visible in the comments on this earlier post – rather, it was the modest f3.5-6.3 maximum aperture, and the stiff price. At $2,850, it’s a solid $850 more than the X2, which has a faster fixed lens, and well into second-hand M8 territory – including a lens. The challenge is one of product positioning: the price is high enough to deter serious photographers from taking a second look, perhaps steered away from Leica’s claims that it’s meant to be a mini-M. The X Vario has the body size of the X2 mixed with design cues from the M (top plate step, thumb grip, chrome D-pad, new 3″, 921k-dot LCD). What I found during my week of use (so far) is that they’re both right and wrong.
One question you tend to see publicly discussed ad nauseam on forums is the one that goes something along the lines of “If you could only bring one camera/lens to a desert island, what would that be, and why?” I’m sure it’s something even we more serious photographers give some consideration to from time to time; if only because one day we might find ourselves facing such an eventuality. In the greater interests of this site’s readership, I put myself in precisely that situation a couple of weeks ago.
Conventional wisdom states that the bigger the sensor, the better. The bigger the pixels, the better. All things equal, that’s true; however, 10-micron pixels would mean very low resolution compacts, and medium format digital doesn’t sell in sufficient volumes to justify the same sort of R&D spend that consumer or even midrange pro gear would get. I admit I’d always been curious to see just how much the technological improvements from generation to generation offset pixel pitch etc.; some time ago, I did a comparison of the Leica S2 against the then-new Nikon D800E. Today, we go one step further to see exactly what kind of gap exists between the various grades of equipment. Spoiler: it’s not as wide as you might imagine in some areas.
I’ve had the opportunity to shoot with a final production Olympus E-P5 for the last week or so, which means I’ve been able to update the image quality section of the review. You can find the whole thing (including the update, of course) here. MT
Thanks to the folks at Olympus Malaysia for making it happen.
Cintiq 13HD below my 27″ Thunderbolt Display. You can see straight away the problems of having a glossy screen…
Aside from my computer and Photoshop, a graphic tablet is probably the sole piece of equipment that gets used for every single image I shoot. It plays an indispensable role in processing – specifically, for precision dodging and burning, and masking and retouching on more involved images. I’ve been a big fan of the Intuos line since 2004; every couple of years or so, I have to buy a new one because I wear through the surface – that should give you an idea of just how important they are in my photography. I also use them for design work and illustration, too. My Intuos4 has been with me since 2010, and those of you who’ve attended my workshops can attest to how well-used it is: you can see your reflection in the place where my on-screen palettes go.
Thanks to Wacom Malaysia, I’ve had the opportunity to test the new Cintiq 13HD for a couple of weeks now. Thoughts follow…
I don’t normally review ‘consumer’ grade gear for the simple reason that it’s usually built to a price, rather than built to deliver a certain grade of result (or perhaps it is, only the accountants and engineers know for sure). However, sometimes you come across a piece of equipment that fills a need much better than you imagined; this lens is one such example. The Panasonic Lumix Vario PZ 14-42/3.5-5.6 X G (what a mouthful, hereafter known as the 14-42X) is a very small – about the size of the 20/1.7 pancake when collapsed – zoom for Micro Four Thirds. It was the kit lens for the GX1 and a couple of other cameras for a while, and fortunately also available separately.
Not so long ago, Olympus updated both the E-PL series (E-PL5 reviewed here) and the E-PM series with the OM-D’s sensor and other trickle-down technology. Thus it only made sense that it was also about high time for the E-P3 to be refreshed, too. They’ve taken a bit longer over this one; in fact, the new E-P5 has so much of the OM-D’s technology (and a few other things) that picking one over the other is no longer such an easy decision.
Updated 18 June: I’ve had the chance to shoot with a final production E-P5 and VF-4, and have added conclusions on image quality below. The camera looks and feels physically identical to the earlier prototype I tested. In the intervening time, an update to Adobe Camera Raw has also been released that natively supports the E-P5, so I’ve had the ability to evaluate RAW file quality on a comparable basis to the OM-D.