Fully mirrorless, six months in

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At the end of last year, I sold my last DSLRs. In a way, they represented the apex of development in the smaller format: the D850, with high frame rates, resolution, high ISO capability, color accuracy, AF tracking and a great viewfinder – if you must still have an optical finder, and unless you need much lighter weight or crazy frame rates, this is probably as good as a DSLR is going to get. The D8xx line proved so good that the D3X high resolution pro body never even got a successor – there was simply no need. It challenged the medium format cameras of its day, and arguably still continues to do so at the 50MP 44x33mm end, especially if you need AF tracking, frame rates, or do a lot of low light work that needs fast lenses. Sitting at the other end of the spectrum, I also bid farewell to the D3500 – the synthesis of consumer manufacturing efficiency; complete with a decently performing, stabilised lens and state of the art sensor at a price less than most entry level mirrorless – or even a decent 1″ compact. Cheaper even, than a spare battery for some cameras. Yet with all of this, you get performance and image quality pros would have done highly immoral things for not that long ago. Despite my various hardware experimentations and diversions, I’ve always kept a DSLR of some sort somewhere in the lineup – even if not primary body. Since then, I’ve been living a mirrorless life – to make up for it, today I offer some reflections on the topic.

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Brave new world: the surprising iPhone 11 Pro

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Field dispatch, Berlin, December 2019: I normally don’t write things on the road, both because I prefer to see where I’m going and because I find observations on anything need some sitting time; think of it as a curation of thoughts. But I’ve been slapped upside the head a little bit on this trip. Firstly, it isn’t a photographic one – it’s a spend-time-with-the-family one; even so, I’ve been paring down gear more and more of late to the point that a Nikon Z7 and two lenses is about the most I’ll do. In this case, the 24-70/4 S and the 85/1.8 S. Both are excellent but I find myself hardly using both the camera, and when I do, the 24-70 is left feeling lonely. Why? Well, I picked up the iPhone 11 Pro shortly before I left.

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A compact death

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In the last few years, our ‘serious’ compact (larger than tiny sensor) options have dwindled to just a small handful: the Ricoh GR, Canon GX, Panasonic TZ and LX, and the Sony RX100. I don’t know if the RX0 qualifies, but I suppose since it has a 1″ sensor – and anything else is thin on the ground. But that’s really about it – what used to be an abundance has now turned into a paucity. Even at the low end, other than all-weather mild-submersible things – it’s been quiet. I don’t think it’s entirely the fault of smartphones, either – because there are some capabilities unique to larger sensor compacts that mean there’s probably an opportunity here to a camera brand willing to take a small risk*. Here’s my thinking…

*That unfortunately probably means nobody, in the current market.

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Quick review: the 2019 Fuji XF10

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Some camera purchases begin with much research, planning and deliberation; not to mention angst and hand-wringing. Others begin at airport duty free with too much time on one’s hands, and subsequent serendipity in locating a second hand unit. This falls into the latter category. I make no secret to being a big fan of large sensor compacts for their versatility and image quality. I liked the original APS-C GR, the Coolpix A and to a lesser degree, the original RX100; the RX0II is in my bag. You see, I had some time to kill at Heathrow, and landed up playing with some things I wouldn’t have done so otherwise. Those touch-and-try display counters are dangerous things.

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Review: The 2019 Sony RX0 Mark II, as a still photographer

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I admit to several things. Firstly, serious curiosity about the shooting experience of a tiny waist-level device (the RX0 Mark II has a flip screen). Secondly, the desire of every photographer to have hardware that’s small and of good quality. Finally, the usual healthy scepticism about the cost-to-value equation of such a device given Sony’s track record for a) price inflation and b) extremely short lifecycles. At $700, this is both the most expensive camera by volume I’ve ever bought, and one with one of the narrowest shooting envelopes (though not that far off the original APSC Ricoh GR, actually). So: why?

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Testing the E-M1 Mark II’s AF with updated FW v3.0

Back in 2017, I covered the first Let’s Rock mini concert here and when the gang returned for Let’s Rock 2 this year, I was privileged to be invited to shoot the dress rehearsal. The timing could not have been better, as the date of the shoot coincided with the release of the new firmware. I took the opportunity to test out the new and improved AF algorithm on the new Olympus E-M1 Mark II’s (as of firmware 3.0) while immersing myself in some awesome rock music. I equipped myself with the E-M1 Mark II, 45mm F1.8, 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens and 12mm F2 lens but mostly used the 40-150mm PRO lens for this shoot.

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Modularity

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What do the Sigma FP and the Hasselblad CFV-50CII/907X have in common? Hint: it’s in the title. Of course, modularity is nothing new, but for whatever reasons it’s been restricted to very niche applications in the past – medium or large format, cinema, or strange mutations like the Ricoh GXR. We’ve seen the CFV backs before, of course – but this is the first one with an integrated battery, electronic shutter and full controls, plus electronic system support. It’s only in recent years with the growth of mirrorless cameras that we’ve seen the first tentative steps towards true universality – in the form of adaptors. Any lens with a longer flange distance can be used on any body with a shorter one, so long as the lens has mechanical controls and the camera has its own shutter. There are some cross-platform fully electronic adaptations, but they obviously don’t work as well as something native thanks to the protocol reverse engineering required. Still, it’s impressive that they work at all – moreso when you consider the mount mechanisms and the electronics are crammed into something as thin as a couple of millimetres, in the case of the Sony E to Nikon Z adaptor. Adaptation is now commonplace on pretty much every format – from 1″ to medium format; but read on for the reasons I think these two specific “cameras”* might be the start of something greater.

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Cheap and long: The Nikon AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 DX VR G review

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A little while ago, I reviewed the other end of Nikon’s discount spectrum: the equally-a-mouthful AF-P 10-20mm f4.5-5.6 DX VR. Together with the equally plastic AF-P 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 DX VR G, these three lenses make up the antithesis of the usual professional ‘holy trinity’. They are not fast, they are not weather sealed, they are not built like tanks, they are not bristling with switches and cutting edge features, and they’re most likely to be the first thing any hobbyist getting ‘serious’ is going to upgrade out of their kit. Hell, they’re the most likely things to be given away as promotional loss leaders in said kit to begin with. Yet – somewhat unexpectedly, I find myself rather liking them. The 10-20 is a solid lens with some caveats, but unbeatable at the price. Today’s post will examine the AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 DX VR G* – and it has even fewer caveats than the 10-20 and 18-55, making it honestly downright impressive. Read on if you feel like making your other glass uncomfortable.

*Nikon apparently couldn’t decide what to make, so we have in current production:
AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 DX G (new)
AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-6.3 DX VR G (new, this review)
AF-P 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 E VR G (new, FX version)
AF-S 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 VR G (old, and barely held up on 16MP FX let alone today’s cameras)
AF-S 55-300mm f4.5-5.6 DX VR G (old)
AF-D 70-300mm f4-5.6 G (very old, very bad)

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Wider please, but on a budget: the Nikon AF-P 10-20mm f4.5-5.6 DX VR review

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Most of you know me for being at the bleeding edge of hardware and being able to deploy the difference – that was true at least until my back injury last year, which has severely limited what I’m able to carry for any length of time. It has forced me to look at things I would normally have ignored; for whatever reason, in this industry light and small is usually also synonymous for ‘entry level’ and ‘cheap’. But in doing so, I’ve found some surprising hidden gems: hardware that most people pass over at face value for lack of bragging rights or seemingly ‘obvious’ deficiencies. Be prepared to be surprised, I was. This will be the first in a series of el cheapo reviews.

When I started off with DSLRs, the king of Nikon wides – DX only at the time, of course – was the AF-S 12-24/4. It was a decent performer even on the 12MP bodies, but started to fall apart with anything much more resolving than that. Distortion was…spectacular and not easily correctable. It was also very much a prosumer build lens, with light plastic everything, the slower AF-S motor and a non-prosumer whopping $1200 price tag or thereabouts. Fast forward fifteen years and we now have a successor (there was also the AF-S 10-24mm f3.5-4.5 DX, which sits somewhere between the two in price, build and optics). It takes many things away: it isn’t as long (20mm vs 24mm); it has an even plastickier build – even the mount is plastic – and it’s pretty much a stop slower across most of the range. BUT: it is $280 or so, new, from your choice of online outlet, and has VR, the new fast AF-P pulse motor, and weighs just 230g. It even covers FX from 13mm upwards, though the Z6 and Z7 will auto-crop to DX and you can’t override this. If you are not a fan of long reviews, then just enjoy the images, skim through the rest, and click the buy link at the bottom of the post.

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Long term field test: Olympus ZD 25/1.2 Pro

If I were to choose one of the three available F1.2 prime lenses from Olympus (17mm, 25mm and 45mm), most people would guess 45mm which is not a surprise considering that is my favourite focal length. However when the decision was finally made, I chose the M.Zuiko 25mm F1.2 PRO lens instead. Of course I wanted all three F1.2 lenses but that will seriously burn a huge hole in my wallet. The choice of 25mm PRO has a lot to do with the nature of my commercial photography jobs and also practical use in street photography and most casual shooting environment, which I shall explore in this article. Bear in mind this is not a review of the lens – I published my full review in 2016 here in case you missed it.

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