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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Long term review: The Nikon D810

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Cold forest I

It’s very easy to write a polarized review – positive or negative – about a new piece of equipment; it’s much harder to commit to really using and learning it inside out for months until you are intimately familiar with its peccadilloes and able to extract every last drop of performance from it. It’s obviously not practical to do this for everything; it’s clear that some bits of hardware just don’t quite make it as long term tools after a few days of use. But the ones that stick are probably the ones that are really interesting.

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Review of a rare bird: the Voigtlander 180/4 APO-Lanthar

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According to multiple sources, total production of this optic is somewhere between 700 and 1000 units in Nikon AI-S (unchipped F) mount; there were a few more made in Pentax K, and M42. The lens came out of the Cosina Voigtlander factory in the early 2000s, on the heels of the now-legendary 125/2.5 APO-Lanthar and more common 90/3.5 APO-Lanthar. All of these lenses had very short production runs, probably because it was right about the time the CV factory was switching over to produce the modern Zeiss lenses. This is a shame, because they’re relevant lenses more than ever. During my last trip to Tokyo in December, I found not one – but two of the very rare 180mm lenses. Bellamy at Japan Camera Hunter says this is the first time he’s seen one for sale – let alone two. Naturally, it followed me home. The other lens found a home with one of the site regulars…

Samples were shot on a Nikon D750 and D810.

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The mystery camera, revealed

After seeing the slew of positive, curious, speculative, accurate* and sarcastic reactions to the review/preview of the mystery camera from last week, it’s time for the reveal.

*Congratulations: the clues were deliberate.

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Review: The mystery camera

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A question of orientation

Post-CP+, and in a stunning reversal of recent events, I’ve been given a camera to test. Not just any camera; one that is not even currently available. It is light, portable and sits in a class of its own amongst all cameras I have used. I can’t say yet what this camera is, but I was told I can post a review and images from it so long as I don’t reveal anything about appearance or specifications for the time being. This is obviously a rather unusual state of affairs, but I felt that there were some greater lessons to be learned from such restrictions, so here we go. I’ll start by saying that this is a singular device: it is a professional’s camera ne plus ultra. You must know what you’re doing to get a decent image out of it, and if you do, it’ll reward you in unexpected ways. Read on, if you’re curious.

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Review: The Sigma DP2 Quattro

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Normally, we  look at a camera from a holistic point of view and compare it to the competition or the class leader. This unfortunately doesn’t make sense for extreme outliers like the DP2Q; we’ll have to do something a bit different. This review will look primarily from the point of view of image quality, and whether we can live with everything else. This is the opposite from every other review I’ve written to date, and the reasons for this will become clear soon enough. The other big change will be considering workflow and software as part of the camera package: it’s impossible to do anything else, since unlike every other camera, there is no universal workflow we can apply. Those of you who do not like caveats, are unable to look at something objectively, or are not open minded, I suggest you save yourselves some angst and stop reading now.

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Review: The Sony A7 Mark II; nearly there…(Updated, 21 Jan)

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We now have no less than four full frame mirrorless options from Sony; the A7R (previously reviewed here); the A7, the A7S, and now the A7II. This appears to be typical Sony strategy: rather than making a product that’s a definite improvement on the previous model, we get many attempts hoping that each one will find its’ own niche. The A7II brings one thing that makes me curious enough to give it a try despite an uninspiring experience with its predecessor: the first full-frame mirrorless camera to have in body stabilization.

I reviewed a production A7II with the Zeiss 55/1.8 and 24-70/4 OSS lenses, running firmware 1.10. Unfortunately, the 24-70 was either a poor sample or just optically a dog – very soft off-axis and with significant CA, so all of these images were shot with the 55/1.8. I will upload more to this flickr set in due course.

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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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