Mid term review: The Hasselblad H5D-50c and CFV-50c

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H5D-50c with HC 3.5/50 II; 501CM with 4/50 CF T* FLE, HC1 prism and custom grip. The design lineage between the V and H cameras is very clear in this configuration…

Today’s report is a twofer, for the simple reason that both cameras share the same electronics and imaging pipeline: the backs are effectively the same apart from a power button and battery holder, plus some communication points with the camera body in the case of the H mount version. For all intents and purposes, image quality and performance are identical. I’ve owned the CFV-50c since early December 2015, and have had a H5D-50c firstly as a loaner in January and then from February onwards as part of the Hasselblad Ambassador program. I’m going on six months and norhtof 12,000 frames with Hasselblad medium format as my primary system, which makes now a good time to pause and see if I made the right choice. This will be a calmer analysis in the same vein as my long term reports on the D700, D800E, D810, 645Z and 5DSR. Since switching, I can count the number of occasions I shot with my other cameras on the fingers of one hand; I have to make sure my batteries are still charged before taking them out – which is something that has never previously happened. I suppose this is a good sign…read on if you wish to put your wallet at risk.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am a Hasselblad Ambassador, so my objectivity may be in question. But I do have a significant amount of skin in the game, too – all of the V system (including CFV) was acquired prior to my appointment, and good chunk of the H system was purchased by me at retail.

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Announcing the Hasselblad H6D, in 50 and 100MP flavours

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Out of idle curiosity, I wondered what they shot the product images with: EXIF data reveals a H5D-200c MS
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It turns out those April 7 rumours were true after all: there’s a new H in town. The H5 I’ve been using for the last couple of months was announced in 2012, with the CMOS version arriving mid 2014. Given the long product cycle times in medium format land, four years is not too bad between iterations. In any case, following Phase One’s XF-100MP announcement and innovative suite of features, Hasselblad would have to do something not to get left behind. The important features are here: 50MP on 44x33mm, 100MP on 54x40mm, leaf shutter up to 1/2000s with new/updated lenses, a new 3″ VGA touch panel, improved live view, RAW video out (Apple ProRes) at 1080P30 on the 50MP version and 4K30 on the 100MP version. Firewire is now USB3.0, along with HDMI out and audio IO. Oh, and no more CompactFlash – it’s now SD and CFast. Lastly, there’s a new version of the tethering and workflow software – Phocus 3.0.

Today’s post is going to be a bit more than just a spec sheet: it’s also a little analysis of the state of medium format at the moment.

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The Switch

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Advance warning: this post contains nothing but gear p***, since it is an equipment-centric post after all…and I make no apologies whatsoever for that. And that thing isn’t a carrying handle, it’s the HTS.

I suppose many of you will have seen this coming: I have switched primary camera systems from Nikon to Hasselblad. And you’ll also probably know I’ve got extremely good reasons for doing so, even more so since this is a significant commitment by any standards. I’ve also had several conversations with various people in the organisation that have convinced me that their future is also going to be pretty exciting indeed. Judging by the number of people who commented and emailed me after the previous recent posts on medium format (here, here) – there’s quite a lot of curiosity and more medium format shooters here than I previously thought. Today’s post is an explanation of that rationale, and the comments will be an attempt to answer any questions from the curious.

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A question of value, accessibility and medium format…

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Let’s say you’re in the market for a new camera – which face it, most of us find ourselves in frequently, often for reasons of our own doing. It has to be something reasonably exciting, and having played this game and gone through this cycle many times, for argument’s sake, it’s probably going to be at the higher end of the spectrum. We have a lot of choices. What I’ve shown above represents the full spectrum of choices, from the best of conventional high performance DSLR, to the top end of mirrorless, to entry level medium format, to something a bit more unconventional. Figure on spending say ~$12k by the time you’re done – body, a lens or two, and the usual plethora of system-specific accessories.

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Premiere and review: The Olympus PEN F

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After being limited to 16MP for nearly four years, we now have a marginal increase in resolution – to 20MP, matching the Panasonic GX8 announced last year (and quite possibly sharing the same sensor, too). The PEN F is another retro-tastic design clearly inspired by the original film half-frame PEN F, right down to the knob on the front vertical face of the camera. It is also yet another subdivision of a niche by Olympus of its EVF cameras – we have the photo-centric E-M1, the video-centric E-M5II, the budget-centric E-M10II, and now the PEN F. One thing that struck me throughout the test period was that the camera really feels as though it’s geared towards the JPEG shooter (or, more likely, the social media crowd). It’s the first all-new ‘serious’ camera from Olympus in a couple of years – so how does it perform?

Thank you to Olympus Malaysia for the loan. Note that all images were processed in Olympus Raw Viewer 3, and then run through my usual photoshop workflow; as such it’s difficult for me to make objective and comparative statements about image quality as this is not my normal workflow and one cannot compare it to other cameras easily. What I can do for now is assess how this particular workflow performs, and that’s what I’ll be doing later. Additional images will be posted to this flickr gallery.

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On making lenses, inside Sigma, and the 18-300…

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Monochrome images in this article from the factory were shot with a Leica Q. Color images were shot with a Nikon D5500 and Sigma 18-300/3.5-6.3 DC OS Macro C.

Following the interview I conducted with him last year, Sigma CEO Kazuto Yamaki invited me to ‘visit home’, as it were, should I ever be in Japan. I took him up on that offer following the Tokyo Masterclass in November. Of course, Sigma’s production facilities aren’t located in Tokyo (even though the design and marketing parts of the firm are): far from it; a number of modes of transport brings us to Bandai, where the factory is. We were graciously hosted by Kazuto-san and Shinji-san, who works in international marketing and is Kazuto-san’s cousin. Sigma, as I found out earlier, has always been a family business. And that allows them to take an interesting approach to lensmaking.

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Review: The Nikon D5500 (or, a solution to the compact 50-e problem)

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Yes, it still balances. Not taped up because I hadn’t gotten around to it at this point.

I’ll be the first to admit this is an unusual camera for me to bother reviewing, and an even more unusual one for me to land up buying and using fairly extensively. But I think all will make sense by the end of the post. The D5500 is the fifth and latest in the line of consumer-grade articulating-screen Nikon DSLRs, starting with the D5000. It has a single control dial, a fully tilting and reversing touch LCD, the 24MP AA-less Sony sensor of its senior D7200 sibling, 5fps 14bit (compressed, though) shooting capability, and the lightest, smallest, most compact body of any Nikon DSLR to date. Did I mention it has a carbon fiber monocoque to keep weight down and rigidity up?

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Xmas 2015 hardware picks

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Let it never be said I don’t put my money where my mouth is. The full recommended gear list is here.

Another year is coming to a rapid close (where did it go?) and we find ourselves at the end of one of the best years in some time for both the photographer and the equipment collector. We’ve seen some genuinely innovative technology, some yawns, some WTFs, and some boundary pushing to find that last 0.01%. What follows is both my year in review and a wishlist in case you don’t know how to spend your year end bonuses…

Note: some of you may have seen a different post go up this morning. I apologise – that’s meant to be for another day, and once again the WordPress scheduler has messed up after my computer changed timezones…

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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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A guide to Zeiss lens choices for Sony FE

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The challenge we have now is no longer one of insufficient lenses: it’s almost one of too many. Having spent the last few months navigating the options and trying to figure out which of them work best for me, I now feel qualified to write this post which will a) explain the differences, b) make some recommendations both for the various series of lenses and within them as a whole. It’s worth noting that these comments and lens options apply to mirrorless cameras in general, though I’ve chosen Sony FE specifically because a) I own the A7RII, and b) there are several ‘native mount’ options that are available for Sony that aren’t for other systems – the first three on the list for starters, and won’t adapt because they require electronics*. I do honestly wish they’d thought out some of the naming better, though – it just lands up being both confusing for photographers and a bit of nightmare for their marketing team.

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