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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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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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…]

Long term review: Canon 5DSR

_5R00808 copyWhen the stars (trees) line up

These will be my closing thoughts on the Canon 5DSR, first reviewed here. It turns out there won’t be a part two for a simple reason – I don’t see the point. My opinions that follow are going to appear initially conflicting and probably be misinterpreted by the fanboys, so I’m going to state this upfront: I really, really liked the camera. But in the end, it just isn’t for me. Allow me to explain why.

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Review: The Canon 5DSR, part I – solo

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This is both the first extended review I’ve done in some time, and the first one of a Canon product. Regular readers will know that I only review things that are interesting, and to be interesting, they have to expand the envelope somehow. I am curious as to whether the 5DSR will do this –
I sold my 645Z a few months back because I could not justify ow ning a second system against the need for a larger home for my family; but I won’t deny that I missed its resolution and print flexibility, especially for making larger Ultraprints.

I come to this review as primarily a Nikon D810 shooter. I make no secret of the fact that I have not that much experience with Canon other than a serious evaluation period in 2007 where I decided if I should switch (pre D3); I didn’t because local support at the time left a lot to be desired. However, I also come to this review with an open mind: I’ve tried many other systems previously to expand my toolkit including Leica M, Pentax 645, Hasselblad V and M4/3. And I can guarantee you that I have no self-interest either way, since these experiments have come out of my own pocket. The 5DSR was also purchased at retail and is NOT a loaner. I don’t care what the name plate on my camera says: I care only that it lets me make the images I want to make and doesn’t get in the way, and my clients are the same. If anything, I am biased towards image quality. That said, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before some forum keyboard warrior ‘expert’ asserts I’m now on the Canon payroll.

Note: I will present few full-size samples because I simply don’t have the bandwidth, nor do I trust that they won’t be reused without permission – it’s happened before. Given the limitations of web JPEGs, please go according to what I say and not what you see. Any perceived oversharpening is thanks to Flickr’s overzealous resizing algorithms and not blindness on my part. Read on if you have an open mind. Finally, a special thank you must go to my last client for allowing me to share some of the images from that assignment at the Crawick Multiverse and Garden of Cosmic Speculation. I literally collected the camera a few hours before heading to the airport and this was the first time I’d shot with it properly – no pressure…

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Fresh off the boat: Canon 5DSR and some early thoughts

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My Canon 5DSR arrived a couple of days ago. Surprise #1: it’s not a loaner. Surprise #2: I haven’t had time to shoot with it yet. For somebody who’s not known for having any particular interest in ‘the other side’, questions are bound to be asked. And I’m sure somebody will also mention the A7RII. But, there is a method to the madness – it’s not wanton equipment lust that I’ve fallen victim to, though my bank account will certainly need some time to recover from the shock of both a Leica Q and 5DSR within the space of a week. I would love to share images, but – see Surprise #2. Since early June, I’ve been back to back on assignments, the hanging, opening and related activities around my exhibition Connection in Hong Kong – during which we raised $2.4m for two charities in print sales, auctions and sponsorships – and I was back in Kuala Lumpur just long enough to attend the Q launch party, pick up the 5DSR and make sure my family still remembered me. Images will therefore continue to be forthcoming.

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Premiere and review: The 2015 Leica Q (Typ 116)

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It is refreshing to be surprised, for a change – and refreshing to have something that comes somewhat unexpectedly but scratches an itch that you didn’t really know existed. I have owned and reviewed many Leicas in the past, from Ms, to the S system, to the T, X/1/2/113/Vario, to various ahem…rebodies. All have excited me in some way or other, but also left me with the feeling ‘if only’. If only the M had a built in EVF…if only the S had more pixels…if only the T was a bit smoother operationally…if only the Xs had viewfinders (and were 28mm). I was disappointed I couldn’t get a M246 Monochrom to test, especially against the D810. Instead, I was offered the Q.

Images in this review were all shot with a final production Q Typ 116 running firmware 1.0. I wil be uploading additional images as time goes along with to this set on Flickr. As you can probably tell from the sample images, during the limited time I’ve had to shot with the camera, the weather/light quality has best been described as ‘hmmm, painterly’. And a big thank you must be given to the folks at Leica Malaysia for the loan camera. Images in this review were processed with Photoshop Workflow II.

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Review: The Olympus E-M5 Mark II

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 My usual deployment: handheld video, with HLD-8 battery grip, Zeiss ZM 1.4/35 Distagon rin an adaptor, and a Zoom H5 audio recorder. I am working on fixing the hard/sharp/uncomfortable edges of the battery grip with a silicone putty compound called Sugru, and will post the results in a future post.

Better late than never (or, I finally get around to trying out the second coming): the Olympus’ E-M5 Mark II. Many of the long-suffering readers of this site will know that I had a period of enthusiasm for M4/3 gear (and specifically the original E-M5) before that abruptly came to a halt in early 2014. The reasons were simple: firstly, camera technology has moved on; what was an impressive size/quality ratio in 2012 is not in 2015. Secondly, my output requirements have changed; the cameras have never had sufficient resolution to make a meaningfully-sized Ultraprint. Thirdly, there was no real solution to the shutter shock problem of the E-M1, which produced unusable images under basically every shooting condition – from 1/90s to 1/350s*. We were amongst the first to use the original E-M5 for video because of its stabiliser, and continued to use the E-M1s for video (including all of the workshop videos after The Fundamentals), Olympus and I then parted ways, and it appears they found new champions less demanding of their equipment. But, why the change of heart for me?

*I demand critically sharp pixels and can achieve them with the same camera under other conditions. Different users may have different thresholds of acceptability and different levels of shot discipline and not see any problems. On top of that, I tested >80 E-M1 bodies including >70 at Olympus Malaysia HQ, all of which exhibited the problem. The initial review unit did not, because it was a preproduction unit with a shutter module from a different batch. A firmware update was subsequently released with EFC, but it only works in single shot mode.

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Long term lens review: the Nikon AF-S 24-120 f4 VR G

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Yes yes, I know I’m late to the party. Very late, in fact. The AFS 24-120 f4 VR G has been available for a good four years now, replacing the much-maligned AFS 24-120 f3.5-5.6 VR G. By a curious coincidence, I’ve actually owned and shot extensively with both versions. And even more curiously, my experiences have been fairly similar with both lenses. You could say you’d be glad you had them if you did, but you could also probably do without if you didn’t. And then there’s the 900-pound (or $1700 dollar) gorilla in the corner: why not just buy the 24-70/2.8 and be done with it?

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