The ultimate lens list, at Nov 2016 (part II)

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Continued from part 1.

Remember: what constitutes ‘ultimate’ is actually highly subjective; some value smooth drawing quality and tonal transitions over outright resolution; others require zero distortion or high color accuracy or secondary color correction. If anything, my personal preferences tend to lean towards resolution and microcontrast; I can accept some vignetting, distortion, secondary lateral CA (but not longitudinal) – because these are easy to fix in post. Field curvature, smearing, coma etc. are not. Not all lenses on this list are here because of technical perfection or MTF chart performance, either. On top of that, there are two lenses that are not system options, but included anyway because they deserve honourable mentions. There are probably also better lenses I’ve not used yet (and so obviously can’t include them). I’ve tried to give justifications where possible. With that in mind, and in no particular order, here we go.

**Items denoted with two stars are lenses I currently own. *One star, lenses I’ve owned. Links are to reviews or affiliate suppliers. Images shot with the respective lenses mentioned.

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The ultimate lens list, at Nov 2016 (part I)

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Following a couple of recent email exchanges I’ve had, I thought I’d tidy things up and publish them here for the benefit of the general readership. This is a list of what I consider to be the ultimate lenses, on their native systems (and irrespective of system, actually). Lenses also tend to have significantly greater longevity (especially if without electronics) especially compared to camera bodies; you could buy one set of Otuses and adapt it to just about everything now and to come. In that sense, whilst good glass is expensive – the long term cost of ownership is significantly less than cutting edge bodies, and given residuals are high, generally worth the investment.

Of course, what constitutes ‘ultimate’ is actually highly subjective; some value smooth drawing quality and tonal transitions over outright resolution; others require zero distortion or high color accuracy or secondary color correction. If anything, my personal preferences tend to lean towards resolution and microcontrast; I can accept some vignetting, distortion, secondary lateral CA (but not longitudinal) – because these are easy to fix in post. Field curvature, smearing, coma etc. are not. Not all lenses on this list are here because of technical perfection or MTF chart performance, either. On top of that, there are two lenses that are not system options, but included anyway because they deserve honourable mentions. There are probably also better lenses I’ve not used yet (and so obviously can’t include them). I’ve tried to give justifications where possible. With that in mind, and in no particular order, here we go.

**Items denoted with two stars are lenses I currently own. *One star, lenses I’ve owned. Links are to reviews or affiliate suppliers. Images shot with the respective lenses mentioned.

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Review: The Olympus E-M1 Mark II

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I’ve had the chance to use a final preproduction (i.e. should be no difference to shipping units) Olympus E-M1 Mark II for the last couple of weeks, thanks to Olympus Malaysia*. The camera was supplied with the new 12-100/4 IS PRO and the 25/1.2 PRO lenses. What follows will be not so much the traditional ‘review’ as series of thoughts on the camera (hereby abbreviated to EM1.2); I’ve previously made my current position on hardware and reviews clear and will again state upfront that this evaluation is performed in the context of the images I usually make, not every possible photographic situation. There are some subjects I just don’t shoot, and it would not be very useful for me to comment on the camera’s performance in these areas anyway. With that aside, let’s proceed.

Important note (and you’ll see why, later): all accompanying images were shot handheld, and edited from camera JPEGs – there is no ACR support for the E-M1.2 yet. This of course means tonality and color will likely deviate from my ideal output intention. Images are clickable for larger versions. I’ll also be adding more images to the flickr gallery here.

*Though some people were apparently paid by the mothership to go to Iceland…

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A lighting conundrum

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The portrait and wedding photographers are all over their lighting gear – everything off camera is fair game to creating a look, and the more unique the look, the crazier the light, why not? Fair enough. Documentary photographers are mostly allergic to flashes because they can ruin the atmosphere and create the impression of something which perhaps isn’t necessarily accurate, or truthful. Product photographers just use what they need and quietly get on with the job. Amateurs will dabble and land up falling on one side of the fence or the other, usually staying away from the hassle of the weight and setup that comes with a ‘proper’ solution. Here’s my problem: I sit somewhere between the latter two points on the continuum, and finding a longer term, larger, lighting solution has been seriously overdue for me. I still don’t have a solution, but on the off chance somebody might find the logic and musings useful, here goes.

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Hasselblad X1D: Very early shooting impressions (with full size samples)

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Firstly, Selamat Hari Raya to my local readers! Secondly, and perhaps of more importance to the global audience, about 36 hours ago, the X1D arrived – plus both lenses and the system bag. I’m currently in the middle of a masterclass in Singapore and have had about four hours in total to shoot with it. Regular readers will know that normally, I wouldn’t post anything this early on in my usage of the camera for several reasons – firstly, firmware is not final, so not all functionality has been implemented and there are a lot of thing which will be improved before retail release. A large part of my responsibilities also include debugging and finding as many of those glitches as possible. Secondly, you really need to use it under a wide range of conditions to make a useful and comprehensive assessment of its capabilities. However, my inbox has been overflowing from the number of questions and requests for information, plus there’s been so much speculation over image quality, it’s more efficient for me to address this here. I also have clearance from Hasselblad to post full size images, linked in the article – I think they are also the first full size samples available anywhere. They are of sufficient technical standard but I’ll be the first to admit, it’s early days and I’ve not had as much time to shoot with it as usual – so the subject matter is somewhat limited. I have attempted to assess several things with these tests, though – quality of bokeh, edge sharpness, flare resistance, dynamic range, lateral CA etc. You may print or download them for your own use, but not commercial redistribution. For early impressions, read on. For full size files, click the images. I will attempt to answer questions left in comments HOWEVER please note that I am on the road for the next couple of days, so internet access will be limited. (Update: links to full size fixed; please let me know if they still don’t work.)

Important note: this is NOT final hardware, and subject to significant changes: and these changes will be only be improvements.

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Mid term assessment of Hasselblad H lenses (UPDATED 29/5)

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Having used the H5D-50c and a good number of lenses for a while now, I wanted to round off the post from a couple of days ago (which was my mid term assessment of the camera) with some more detailed comments on the lenses – especially since practical reviews of these things are not common, and I’ve been receiving a lot of email of late. This is understandable, since medium format glass is both a serious and not so liquid – at least compared to 35mm – investment and therefore not the kind of thing you want to make a mistake buying. For those who don’t know, Hasselblad H lenses are built by Fujinon in Japan. The good news is that what I’ve used is pretty much excellent across the board – there are some exceptions, but few. I’ve also added some rough numerical scores, relative to other lenses available at the time of writing. I’ve also updated the Camerapedia, too.

I know this post is probably for a very small audience, but why not read on and live vicariously…

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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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To filter or not to filter?

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For some odd reason, one of the most frequently asked questions I encounter is which, if any, filters I use on my lenses. “Especially to protect the Otuses and other rare glass”, I’m asked. I would point such questions to an article here, except I found I didn’t have one – today’s post is to rectify that oversight. The answer might surprise you somewhat…

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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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