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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Close, but no cigar: how to design mirrorless right

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Too large/expensive; too slow and unresponsive, power hungry; no finder or IS

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Limited sensor resolution; overambitious image quality and fragile feel; too many steps to get shooting

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Fixed lens; great UI with terrible ergonomics; classical controls don’t work for digital, sensor limits

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Ergonomic and workflow challenges; IQ limitations from sensor size; needed two years to fix FW

And this is barely half of the mirrorless cameras I’ve used and reviewed on this site in the last couple of years. I still have not found a complete replacement for the DSLR, and I suspect there are many other photographers in the same situation. It isn’t for want of trying or stubbornness; it’s because the product simply does not exist. We’re not asking for the unicorn here, either: there are ergonomic/UI/UX/engineering solutions that have already been implemented and received well in other cameras – just not in the same one. And to clarify (since judging by email and comments, many are missing the point): this post is not to complain mirrorless isn’t a DSLR. It’s recognising that mirrorless is the future for so many reasons – but we are still suffering from stupid design that has already been solved. All of these problems beg the question: just how difficult is it to get it right?

Important: Read this first.

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OpEd: The camera as a luxury item – or, a tale of two cameras

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Here’s a question I’ve been pondering for some time: how is it possible that these cameras (and others) are so similar in some ways, yet wildly different in terms of commercial success? And moreover, what can we deign from our crystal balls about the state of the camera industry? Read on for a little analysis from a photographer and a businessperson’s point of view.

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Premiere and review: The 2015 Leica SL (Typ 601) and lenses

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Minimalist Leica with a hint of several other cameras’ DNA. Doesn’t look that big, does it?

What would you get if you crossed a Q with a T and an S?

Not an unpronounceable algorithm for a consulting firm or a new Cadillac, but the 2015 Leica SL Typ 601. The SL is probably closest to an S (S Light?) and really does blend the choice bits of the DNA from each these three cameras into something that takes the fight to the Japanese brands – albeit with a few caveats.

Notes: I’ve had a few days with a final pre production SL and 24-90 thanks to Leica Asia Pacific, which is enough to form some preliminary impressions but further testing of a production sample will be required to evaluate all elements of the performance envelope. Sean Reid also has additional testing. More images from me with the camera can be found in this flickr set, and you may recognise some images from the Paradise Lost series. Images were processed using Photoshop Workflow II and The Monochrome Masterclass.

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Review: the Zeiss 1.4/28 Otus APO-Distagon

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28, 55, 85. A pretty versatile core set for pretty much any purposes. And now fully filled out by the latest in the Otus series, the recently-announced 1.4/28 APO-Distagon. Advance warning: this is not a general purpose lens, nor is it the kind of thing you can deploy casually. That is merely the nature of steeply diminishing returns; there are no gains without significant incremental effort. And we’re really talking about pushing the last 1% here. If you’ve not felt anything lacking in your images, then I suggest you stop reading here and save yourself a lot of money, because chasing perfection isn’t cheap…

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News: Zeiss Otus 1.4/28 APO-Distagon, 2.8/21 Loxia, RX1RII, 19 October

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Image courtesy Zeiss

The cover was lifted on the new Otus yesterday – a 28mm f1.4, as expected, and a 21mm f2.8 Loxia a couple of days earlier. The Otus is a 16/13 Distagon design and uses quite a large array of exotic glass and aspherical elements; it’s also quite large (95mm front thread) and has significant weight – but then again, what do you expect from an APO-designated f1.4 wide? From my experience with it so far, it is once again proving to be the reference lens in this focal length. Delivery is expected to be in 2Q 2016.

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A visit to Zeiss and thoughts on the Milvus line

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The mothership

I was fortunate enough to spend the last three days at Zeiss with Lloyd Chambers (update: his blog entry is here) – with a level of access that I suspect that has never been granted before to independent external parties. They were gracious and first class hosts – I don’t think I’ve had that many types of non-alcohlic beer before. We asked every question we could think of and more, and received answers which we had never expected and at a level of depth that has left me deeply, deeply impressed with what the lens team is doing out in Oberkochen. This may seem like a strange way to talk about the new announcement, but bear with me for while; there is method to the madness.🙂

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The Sony A7RII (updated, 16 Sep 2015)

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Most asked question via email for July/August 2015: “What do you think of the Sony A7RII?”

Second most asked question via email for July/August 2015: “When will you be reviewing the Sony A7RII?”

Fanboys should stop reading now. There are uncomfortable truths contained within this post. [Read more…]

Long term review: Canon 5DSR

_5R00808 copyWhen the stars (trees) line up

These will be my closing thoughts on the Canon 5DSR, first reviewed here. It turns out there won’t be a part two for a simple reason – I don’t see the point. My opinions that follow are going to appear initially conflicting and probably be misinterpreted by the fanboys, so I’m going to state this upfront: I really, really liked the camera. But in the end, it just isn’t for me. Allow me to explain why.

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Review: The Canon 5DSR, part I – solo

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This is both the first extended review I’ve done in some time, and the first one of a Canon product. Regular readers will know that I only review things that are interesting, and to be interesting, they have to expand the envelope somehow. I am curious as to whether the 5DSR will do this –
I sold my 645Z a few months back because I could not justify ow ning a second system against the need for a larger home for my family; but I won’t deny that I missed its resolution and print flexibility, especially for making larger Ultraprints.

I come to this review as primarily a Nikon D810 shooter. I make no secret of the fact that I have not that much experience with Canon other than a serious evaluation period in 2007 where I decided if I should switch (pre D3); I didn’t because local support at the time left a lot to be desired. However, I also come to this review with an open mind: I’ve tried many other systems previously to expand my toolkit including Leica M, Pentax 645, Hasselblad V and M4/3. And I can guarantee you that I have no self-interest either way, since these experiments have come out of my own pocket. The 5DSR was also purchased at retail and is NOT a loaner. I don’t care what the name plate on my camera says: I care only that it lets me make the images I want to make and doesn’t get in the way, and my clients are the same. If anything, I am biased towards image quality. That said, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before some forum keyboard warrior ‘expert’ asserts I’m now on the Canon payroll.

Note: I will present few full-size samples because I simply don’t have the bandwidth, nor do I trust that they won’t be reused without permission – it’s happened before. Given the limitations of web JPEGs, please go according to what I say and not what you see. Any perceived oversharpening is thanks to Flickr’s overzealous resizing algorithms and not blindness on my part. Read on if you have an open mind. Finally, a special thank you must go to my last client for allowing me to share some of the images from that assignment at the Crawick Multiverse and Garden of Cosmic Speculation. I literally collected the camera a few hours before heading to the airport and this was the first time I’d shot with it properly – no pressure…

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