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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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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Review: the 2019 Olympus ZD 12-200 f3.5-6.3

Olympus has just released the M.Zuiko 12-200mm F3.5-6.3 which joins their current two superzoom lenses, the 12-100mm F4 IS PRO and the 14-150mm F4-5.6. The new 12-200mm lens has weather-sealing but is not positioned as a PRO grade lens. The existing 12-100mm F4 IS PRO (review here) is an exceptionally sharp lens for such a long zoom range. While the non-PRO 14-150mm F4-5.6 lens (article here) may not achieve the same level of optical performance as the 12-100mm PRO, it performs slightly better than basic kit lenses offered by Olympus, and has weather-sealing making it a great all-in-one solution. In this article, I want to test the newly launched 12-200mm lens and find out where it sits in the lineup.

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Guest review: the 2018 Nikon Z6

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MT: Today’s thoughts on the Z6 should be thought of as an accompaniment to my Z7 review and are courtesy of the man behind the scenes and one of the partners in my watch venture, Praneeth Rajsingh, who’s the one keeping me organised and pointing in the right direction these days. I tried to get him to buy the Z7, but he knows his sufficiency threshold…

Hello! While I’m usually involved behind the scenes, Ming thought it might be interesting to have me share my thoughts on the new Nikon Z6 – which I recently acquired. As an amateur photographer who only buys gear to meet his needs (and budget), my review will not be the comprehensive and in-depth coverage that MT excels at, but I hope some of you find it useful.

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Full review: The 2018 Nikon Z7 and Z 24-70/4

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Executive summary: the last bastions of mirrors have both joined the brave new world. Nikon’s effort feels like a D850 and an E-M1.2 met in a bar and had an illegitimate child. Yes, it’s expensive; yes, for the most part, it performs pretty much how you’d expect. It doesn’t feel like a first effort except for a couple of relatively minor things (as it shouldn’t given how long Nikon took to release it) – if anything, they should be commended for releasing it when ready rather than as soon as possible. And yes, I bought one.

I’ve now had a couple of days to do shoot my production/ retail Z7, 24-70/4 and FTZ adaptor, and my thoughts follow. More images to come as I have time to shoot with the camera; I rushed this out in the middle of a family vacation – the first one since before I started photography professionally.

Updated 23/10/18 after extended battery testing.

Updated 28/10/18 after long distance testing of the 24-70.

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Digital classic: Robin reviews the original Canon 5D in 2018

The idea of shooting with a Canon 5D (from 2005) has been on my mind – and I wanted to answer the question “what if I started out with a Canon 5D instead of an Olympus Four Thirds system?”. Larger image sensors provide greater latitude in high ISO shooting and dynamic range, but a camera and its user experience cannot be judged on the spec sheet alone. Having a chance to extensively test a full frame camera, even an obsolete model gave me the opportunity to better understand the advantages and shortcomings of different systems. Special thanks to Nurul Munira Rohaizan for loaning me her Canon 5D.

Before we dive in, let me be clear that this article is not meant to be a full frame vs cropped sensor argument. Some comparisons will be made between using the Canon 5D versus Four Thirds/Micro Four Thirds system but in the context of practical shooting differences. Lets keep the discussion pleasant and not stray too far into an endless debate. I am sure many readers have wondered what my thoughts on full frame cameras are? Therefore, I am answering those questions here from my own personal standpoint. At the end of the day, I believe that we choose the tool that works best for our own shooting needs.

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Second take – the Sigma 16mm f1.4 in the field

As mentioned in my initial review of the Sigma 16mm F1.4 DC DN Contemporary lens, I had the lens for a few more days – enough for a quick round of weekend shutter therapy. Considering I shot mostly at night/low-light for the review, I took this opportunity to test the lens under more favorable light conditions. I also shot images with human subjects as I normally do for my street shooting.

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