Preview: The 2013 Fujifilm X-E2

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The Fujifilm X-E2 is a welcome update to last year’s popular X-E1. The camera takes the innards of the X100s and puts them in an X-mount body; it isn’t the X-Pro2 that a lot of users were hoping for, but it’s a significant enough update – for those who had issues with AF speed at least – to warrant serious consideration. In fact, I was sent a list of 61 improvements the X-E2 carries; some new to the camera, some inherited from the X-M1 and others from the X100s. I personally have had a rather inconsistent experience with Fujifilm products; on one hand, I absolutely love their films – Acros is my mainstay in all formats – but was left highly expectant and then disappointed by several cameras, first the original X100, then the X-Pro1, the XF1 and finally the X20. These are cameras I wanted to love, but found lacking in several areas; ultimately, I landed up with M4/3 as my compact system choice due to maturity of cameras and lenses. Many have asked why I don’t seriously consider the X system; I was offered a pre-production prototype by Fujifilm Malaysia, and I cleared a few days in the schedule to seriously revisit the system.

Note: the camera’s firmware is not final, so there will be no evaluation of image quality yet, or full size files or crops. Also bear in mind that some of the observations may change after final firmware. Most of the images in this review are mostly SOOC JPEG; a few have minor color corrections and all B&W images were converted from colour source files.There are also more samples in this Flickr set.

I also have the X-Q1 here; I just haven’t had time to shoot with it yet.

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Book review: On This Earth, A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt

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Spoiler alert: my product photos in no way do this book justice. Not even close.

This article is going to be much less of a review than a gushing of praise; if you have a single photographic bone in your body, enjoy fine art printing, or photo books, or nature, or animals, or Africa, or any combination of the above – I think you’ll be blown away by this book. And at current discounts, it’s a steal for what you’re getting. I’d actually held off writing the review for some months simply because I wanted to a) have another chance to really study the images without the initial awe (it didn’t work, the awe is still there) and b) find a way to adequately express how they make me feel, as the audience.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 review updated with thoughts on RAW quality

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Now that ACR has preliminary support for E-M1 raw files – amongst a whole load of other cameras – in ACR 8.2 (available here for Mac and Windows), I’ve gone through and reprocessed a few to assess the RAW quality of the E-M1′s sensor; I expect to have more thoughts on this in the longer term after I have a chance to put the camera through a greater variety of scenarios. Sadly, my loaner went back yesterday, so further updates after this one will have to wait until my own cameras arrive in October.

The full updated review is here. MT

Lens review: The Olympus 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko PRO

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Announced and available together with the new OM-D E-M1 (reviewed here), the 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko Digital PRO (24-80mm equivalent) is the first in a new line of M.Zuiko Digital PRO lenses. Development of an equivalent-grade f2.8 fast telephoto zoom was also announced, with a 2014 release. Thanks to the folks at Olympus Malaysia, I’ve had the opportunity to use this lens together with the new camera for some time now. Read on for my review.

Advanced warning: Flickr will apparently be down for maintenance for a little while on Friday 13/9, so if some images don’t appear, it’s because they’re hosted there…

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The 2013 Olympus OM-D E-M1 review, part two: some comparisons

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In part one yesterday, I looked at the camera as a standalone device with few references to its predecessor or competition; today we’re going to examine some of the technical differences in a bit more detail against two benchmarks: the outgoing OM-D E-M5, and the Nikon D600. Both are 2012 cameras, and cameras that I’m intimately familiar with because I use them heavily in the course of my normal work – the E-M5 as my travel/teaching camera, and the D600 for video and backup to the D800E. The former is a no-brainer; the latter is perhaps a bit more of a stretch: not only is there a significant price difference, but the sensor goes up in size by two whole notches – it’s effectively four times the size of that in the E-M1. Surely this is an unfair fight?

Update: ISO comparison chart mislabelling fixed, and I am checking on the 12 vs 14bit issue.

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The 2013 Olympus OM-D E-M1 review, part one: the camera

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The late-2013 OM-D E-M1 is the successor and upgrade to the very popular early-2012 OM-D E-M5. It’s now clear why the camera was launched with a mouthful of two names: OM-D is a line of products, E-Mx is the model. In this review, we will refer to them as E-M1 and E-M5 respectively to avoid confusion. As you all probably know, I’m very familiar with the E-M5; this camera has served as my travel and teaching camera for the last year, and has now clocked somewhere north of 40,000 exposures (I also reviewed it here). What’s changed in a year? Quite a lot, it seems: certainly enough to get excited about. There’s also a new confirmed lens – the 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko PRO, available with the camera, and a matching f2.8 telephoto for next year.

This review will be in three parts for ease of reading (this part is already north of 4,400 words) – the camera itself, today; a relative comparison with two other benchmarks, tomorrow; and a review of one of the two lenses announced with the camera shortly thereafter – the 12-40/2.8 M.Zuiko PRO. A quick note on testing methodology: a range of lenses were used for the review, including the new 12-40, the 50-200/2.8-3.5 SWD for 4/3rds, the 12, 45, 60 and 75mm primes, and the Panasonic 14-42X. You won’t find full size images here due to image theft/ IP issues; go by what I say not what you see – there’s an enormous difference between a small web JPEG that’s been attacked and oversharpened by Flickr’s downsizing algorithm and a full sized one or a RAW file in any case, plus of course the monitor matters. There will be 100% crops where noted, however.

A set of images shot with the E-M1 will be here on my flickr page, and continuously updated as I use the camera more.

Review updated 18 September to include comments on RAW file quality, post ACR 8.2 release.

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Tilt shift world cup: Korea vs. Japan: Rokinon/Samyang 24/3.5 T-S vs Nikon PCE 24/3.5

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In the left corner: the Rokinon (a.k.a ‘Samyang’, in some parts of the world) T-S 3.5/24 ED AS UMC, from Korea. In the right corner: the Nikon PC-E 24/3.5 ED. One weighs in at a hair under $2,000, the other, closer to $850. I have to be honest, the Samyang has only come onto my radar because of the enormous difference in price – I admit curiosity as to what we’re really giving up for the delta. The only real uses for these lenses – other than bragging rights – are to shoot architecture; Putrajaya’s Putra Mosque plays host to us for this testing session.

Technical notes: During this test, I shot both lenses from the same tripod position with the same settings on the barrels – distance, tilt, shift, aperture. Nevertheless, there are still some slight differences, which I think are a combination of sample variation and lack of precision in the focusing scales of both lenses; infinity to 1m are barely five millimeters apart on the barrel – about seven degrees of travel, by my reckoning. Live view was used to match subject sharpness as closely as possible. Testing was done on a D800E body, at base ISO with self timer used at all times, on a locked down solid tripod – a Gitzo 5-series carbon systematic and Arca-Swiss Cube head. Whole-shot sample images were shot using the Nikon; in the A-B comparisons, the Rokinon is always the warmer image.

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Ultimate tripod heads, part two: the Arca-Swiss P0 Monoball

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The P0 Monoball; Manfrotto 394 RC4 QR plate is for me to standardize my connectors across heads, and also because the QR version of this head costs nearly 50% more than the standard one – you can buy the adaptor AND a lot of spare plates for the difference. I’ve since replaced it with an Arca-style clamp I found on eBay for about $25 - surprisingly well made, and cost-efficient, too.

Today’s conclusion of the two-part review (part one covering the Arca-Swiss C1 Cube is here) covers the much simpler, cheaper, but no less well built P0 Monoball. They aren’t direct competitors or replacements for each other; to be honest, there’s ample room in a gear bag for both since they fulfil very different photographic needs.

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Ultimate tripod heads, part one: the Arca-Swiss C1 Cube

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Arca-Swiss C1 Cube with D800E mounted via universal L bracket.

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.

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Review: The Sigma DP3 Merrill

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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.

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