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Sony RX1R – Just brilliant, a Leica crusher.

After 6 months of frustration with the Sony Nex 6 I decided to let it go. It is a camera with potential, but the menu system is so bad I didn’t want to use it. Ever. After I sold it, I found a Sony 16-50 power zoom lens on a hillside where it had either been accidentally dropped or thrown away in disgust. Even this spot of unwanted fortune didn’t make me want another Nex.

I loved the 35mm view in the days of film. I loved it so much that I have a 35mm f1.4 L for my 5D2, and it’s just fantastic. But it’s too big for candid work. So I started researching and decided that maybe a Sony RX1 was going to do it for me. I discovered several tasty things – that Sony hadn’t messed this one up with crappy Nex-style impossible and slow menus; that is full-frame; that it has a fantastic 35mm f2 Zeiss lens. And also that it has an accessory electronic viewfinder.

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Enter the RX1 into my stable, in the form of the RX1R with no anti-aliasing filter. I am in love. It produces output as good as my 5D2 can. It is tiny. Even though I normally only shoot RAW, it can produce beautiful JPEGs that are just fantastic. It can also just about see in the dark with its amazing ISO performance.

Here is a grab shot, an image of a co-worker that is a crop from a JPEG shot with no regard to any technical issues. It was at f2 and for everything else, the camera decided what to do. I normally would have shot this as a RAW file, but I had been messing about and it was set to produce just JPEGs.

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JPEG file, cropped: f2, 1/1250 @ 3200 ISO, in mixed fluorescent light and daylight. Great file output eh?

Here’s one that was shot is very low light on a soccer field at night:

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RAW file: f2, 1/80 sec @ 2000 ISO, converted in Nik Silver Efex 2

Some noise has been made on the web about poor focus performance. I can tell you that this is just nonsense. Look at the proof above. It is far and away better then the Fujifilm X100 I couldn’t get on with (see my earlier posts). I surmise that the focus debate has been propelled by people who have never touched and RX1. Did I say that the lens is sensational? That’s an understatement. Bitingly sharp at f2. great contrast and fabulous bokeh – it gives the buttery smoothness of a longer focal length lens of exceptional quality. The camera is small enough to fit into a coat pocket, and it is tough enough to survive. In my opinion it is capable of producing image files that destroy those from a Leica M240 with a Summicron 35mm of any version.

It is also a good action shooter if you are close enough not to need a telephoto:

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Another JPEG: f5.6, 1/500sec  @ 200 ISO

This image of impromptu parkour practice was pumped up a bit in post in terms of colour as the day was flat and overcast.

A couple of tips – set the rear-mounted AEL button to be the focus button (away from the shutter release), set the camera to manual focus and you can have either immediately on hand. Set it to aperture priority, give it a fixed ISO (not auto) again set through a custom button, and you get around the 1/80 second auto-set shutter speed that some people moan about.  Oh, and put a tiny bit of electrician’s tape of the bottom of the EVF and it makes it impossible to lose it by falling out

I say get one – it won’t replace your DSLR, but it will free your creative side significantly, and is a brilliant pairing with a system camera – different horses for different courses. It will make you want to get out and start shooting creatively again.

 

 

 

 

 

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Standard Madness…

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I have had mail suggesting that I don’t actually posses this beautiful trio of three amigos – Canon 5D2, Sony Nex 6, and Pentax Q.  Well, for the doubters, here is a portrait of these amazing picture making machines.  They are all pictured with my favourite lens – the so-called “standard” lens. On the Pentax this is an 8.5mm f1.8; on the Sony, a Sigma 30mm f2.8; and on the Canon, my favourite piece of glass in the universe, the Canon EF 50mm f1.2 L. They all have a similar field of view, if very different apertures and bokeh. With this trio, I feel that I can just about do anything…

I lime the standard lens view so much that I have a bag full of normal lenses that I use (collected over the years), and each is extraordinary in its own way, They range through many eras, from a late 1940s 50mm f1.9 Serenar (Canon), to a Leitz Summicron collapsible (1950s) , to a modern Summicron M (1990s); through Canon’s brilliant f1.2 LTM (1960s) ; to all of the Canon 50mm EF series (f1.2 / f1.4 / f1.8) and a Canon 40mm f2.8 just to mix it up; plus a wad of M42 Takumars of all sorts (1950s-60s, including some zebras). Oh, and many others too too numerous to mention. I just love them all. Most of these lenses can be used on all of these cameras with cheap adapters.

The Nex 6 signage is blacked out with tape as this is primarily a street camera. The Canon is too big to hide so there’s no point for this one, and the Pentax is so small there’s probably no point.

For the doubters, this image was shot with a Canon 5D classic, with the Canon EF 100mm f2.8 USM Macro, another classic

Enjoy them. Just don’t doubt my word.

Goodbye, Fuji X100. Goodbye Canon G12. I hated you equally….

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I’ve been both too busy and too lazy to get involved in posting here for a while, so let’s hope this posting breaks the drought. Please forgive my absence.

EDIT – Image of Nex 6 and Voigtlander 15mm f4.5, with brand identity taped out. Image added 30/09/13

My current photography chore has been thinning down my digital kit so that I have no more than I need (or perhaps I should make that “no more than I want in light of my needs”). Along the way I want to share a few of my observations regarding choice. I have been very busy in this space over the past couple of months.

Goodbye Fuji X100…

I didn’t bond and therefore like this camera.

I used a Fuji X100 for the past six months for my walk-around camera, but I never really got into it as an image making machine. I found that it was far too easy to screw up in too many areas with it that would spoil the images it was capable of capturing – exposure (via the easily rotated +/- compensation dial); focus (as things were very rarely in proper focus thanks to its inflexibility, but they looked great on the LCD only to be a huge let-down in processing); the high ISO performance was not as good as it’s been made out to be by the sympathetic (non-owner/user?) press; and any number of things related to its unique menu structures that could lead to getting lost in the controls and thereby missing a great image opportunity. Even the top retro chrome housing of the camera wasn’t really that great – it was just silver-painted, not chromed, and this finish began to wear off where I held it.

The genuine Fuji lens hood was weird and wouldn’t accept a lens cap, and the filters screwed on backwards. Design clue that led me to believe that Fuji wanted to force an owner into buying only genuine accessories.

I waited months for the promised v.2 firmware update that might resolve my focus issues to no avail. No image stabilisation and no face detect were also spoilers for my snapshot use, so the internet’s favourite pin-up unit has now been disposed of. Maybe its new owner is smarter than me….

Goodbye Canon G12:

I also had a Canon G12 for snapshots, but again I couldn’t get along with it, and ultimately its IQ was not up to scratch because of the tiny-sized and therefore noisy-when-pushed sensor. It was so similar to the disappointment that was the Canon G10 that I also hated. It is also now gone to a new home. I have a Canon A650 IS stuffed in my driver’s door pocket that I like a lot better than either of these cameras, and it only cost me thirty bucks. I also have to confess that I keep a Canon PowerShot A650 IS (apparently a close cousin of the venerable Canon G9) in the car for those moments when I want a chance of shooting something with camera that won’t die from being cooked in the interior of our mobile ovens in Australia over summer – and if it does die from heat exhaustion, well then I have only lost about $30 I guess. It uses AA batteries so I don’t worry about charging it, as you will know that having children means that you keep buying a never-ending supply of batteries.

Both of these cameras I had desperately hoped would be a worthwhile tool for me, but alas, neither of them lived up to the over-hyped expectations I had for them. I am glad they are gone.

But they left a couple of holes that needed filling.

Tiny P&S – Pentax Q:

A while ago you will recall I got hold of a tiny Pentax Q with just a standard prime lens. I was a doubter at first, but I am pleased to say that I have used it sporadically over the past six months, and I am now convinced it’s a great leap forwards on my old Canon PowerShot G12 as a P&S tool even though I don’t have a zoom for it. I love the IQ it can generate, and the standard f1.9 prime lens is outstanding for my needs. Equipped with a super-cheap viewfinder in the hot shoe this is a wonderful tool and is getting a beating now. The killer mode is “bold monochrome” for this one, and mine stays set to it. I understand these cameras are hugely popular in Japan, and I can see why.

Mid-size street-shooter – Hello Sony Nex 6:

The mid-size dilemma was a very tough one to solve. I have used Micro 4/3 kit since its release, and although it is capable of getting the goods, I also picked up a Fuji X100 to give this much-hyped camera a workout. I had begun to suspect that I could do better – a lot better. I loved the Olympus E-P2’s accessory electronic viewfinder, but I had tired of it falling off whenever I carried the camera over my shoulder. I tried an old Leica M8 and hated it, so I kept on looking. My daughter uses a dated Lumix G1 body (she’s 11 and has already won a couple of school photo contests – I am so proud of her), and so my dilemma was solved by just keeping this kit with its lenses for her use, and sourcing a Sony Nex 6 with the bog standard kit lens and the wonderful Sigma 30mm f2.8 prime for my use in this very important street-shooting space.

I am going to service my extra lens needs as and when they arise through my existing 35mm manual lens pool and a couple of super cheap-but-perfect adapters for Leica M bayonet (and therefore M39 screw mount too) and M42 screw mount lenses. The 1.5 crop factor of the industry-leading true APS-C sized sensor allows them to work almost as intended on this body. So far I am liking the Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Heliar (see the photo above), and the 28mm f2 Ultron.

The Nex 6 is capable of fantastic quality results (spectacular 3D quality images jump off the print and screen alike even just from using the JPG setting and the kit lens, far better results from my first day of Nex 6 shooting than I ever got with the Fuji X100, period), and in the kit form I have it is a small, discrete unit with few issues – no-one looks at you when you are using it, just like with the retro-looking X100. Fabulous features abound for my use – RAW files (although I had to update to Photoshop CS6 to use them, many thanks Adobe for the endless upgrade cycle forced on us – I will NEVER use your cloud solution, BTW); great auto sweep panoramas; and multi-stop auto exposure bracketing that was absent from my Nex F3 (also gone!) and also in a usable from from the X100.

About my only gripe with the Nex 6 is that it is too easy to accidentally change exposure settings through bumping the rear selector wheel, although this camera isn’t in the same league as the Fuji X100 for this annoying problem. It seems a bit slow to start, but I suspect that’s from my use of a huge 32 gb SD card so far – I need to try a smaller one. The Fuji X100 also suffered from slow starts with a big memory card fitted.

Full-size camera – the Canon 5D2 is still my favourite:

I also have a Canon 5D Mk 2 which I continue to absolutely love and always look forward to using as I know the results will always exceed my expectations. Although it is big, it is so easy to use that it never gets in my way, allowing me to not worry about the camera at all and to concentrate on the image instead. The Canon L glass is brilliant and never loses its value once acquired. The Nex will get a workout when I don’t want to take a big DSLR kit.

These three cameras are now the backbone of my image making toolset – the Pentax Q for pocket duties, the Nex-6 for bulging pocket duties when I want flexibility and quality, and the mighty Canon 5D2 for anything needing ultimate quality and guaranteed results, or when i need to use studio-style lighting.

However, I am still looking for the ideal kit bag(s) so that I don’t have to think about which one to grab when the urge overtakes me as I know they can all cut the image quality mustard, and are also fun to use to boot!

What is your photo kit comprised of, now we are well into the second decade of consumer digital cameras? Do let me know by leaving a comment.

Summicron twins


I have been too busy these past couple of weeks to do any meaningful image making. Instead, here is an image for the first day of the new financial year – A pair of beautiful rangefinders, each fitted with the incredible Summicron 50mm f2 so-called “standard” lens, both showing the iris at f16.

The screw mount collapsible chrome unit on the Barnack IIIf body is the very first version (mine was made in 1953, long before I was born, and the black version on the M6 is the last (current) version of this lens, perhaps the best rendering and most perfect lens on the planet today.

These words from”The Tao of Leica” are far better describing the science of the Summicron than I am able to put together in my tired state tonight:

The Summicron lens was introduced in 1953, slightly ahead of the Leica M camera, that came in 1954. The Summicron design started in 1943 and was derived from the Summitar. In those days, the available optical glasses restricted the designer in his wishes for ever better image quality. They had to use different methods to crate improved imagery. One of the ‘tricks’ is to split a lens element in two separate elements. Then the incoming rays can be bend more smoothly when traveling through the glass. The Summitar design has two lenses in the front group, consisting of cemented elements. The first one was split into separate lenses (distance of the air lens was 0.78mm), but the glass (BK7) had a too low index of refraction. In 1947 there is a new design where the front element has a higher index. (SK2). In 1949 the final design was derived with a smaller distance between the front elements (0.28mm) and glass of higher index (1.69100). made by Chance Brothers in England. This glass (SBC) had a thorium oxide in its formula and was slightly radio active. In 1954 the Glass lab of Leitz and Schott created a new glass with the same properties and without the thorium oxide: this is the well known LaK9.

Optically the current Summicron can still claim to be the world’s best 50mm lens. This is not the same as saying that the Summicron 50mm is the best lens in the world. it is a very versatile lens, that performs very well in close up and infinity settings and at intermediate distances and at every aperture. You can use it without reservation at f2 and 70cm and can expect excellent quality. The current Summicron offers performance that exceeds the capabilities of most users.”

The fist version was designed by (I think) Max Berek, and the 4th version (“blackie”) was designed by Dr Walter Mandler. If Im’m wrong about this, please let me know.

Here’s some more information about the original Summicron:

“In 1953, Leitz, of West Germany, makers of the Leica camera, introduced the 7-element 50mm Summicron, which went on to become one of the most famous of all camera lenses. It’s not often remembered now, but Leitz was probably responding to Japanese competition: many Korean War combat photographers, led by David Douglas Duncan, had discovered the screwmount lenses made by a resurgent Japanese company called Nippon Kogaku, and it had become all the rage among them to use the impressively sharp Nippon Kogaku lenses on their Leica camera bodies. We know Nippon Kogaku today, of course, by its later name: Nikon.

The 7-element SOOIC, with narrow air spaces in both of the front two groups and then-state-of-the-art high-refractive-index lanthanum crown glass, was impressively difficult to manufacture and even more impressive in performance, bettering the Summars and Elmars it supplanted by no small margin. It went on to become the first “normal” lens for the M3, a new model that combined a huge viewfinder with the rangefinder patch in the same window and used a proprietary bayonet mount. Modern Photography magazine called the 50mm Summicron the sharpest lens it had ever tested, and the Summicron was the lens that Henri Cartier-Bresson was to use on various cameras for the rest of his life. Although he also carried a 35mm and a 90mm, and experimented occasionally with other lenses, the overwhelming majority of his pictures were taken with the collapsible 7-element Summicron.”

For all of the M6’s beauty, I am drawn to the simple elegance of the 1954 Leica. Why? Primarily because it’s smaller:

Three rangefinders

Film rangefinders – you either understand true lust or have paased them over and are into digital everything. There’s room in my heart for these beautiful cameras.
Here are a few from my small collection, all with interchangeable lenses.
The Leica M6 classic in my favourite chrome, 1997, fitted with its current model Summicron 50mm f2.
The old box it sits on really appeals to me – I have kept prints in it for 25 years.
I know they are not fashionable, but the M5 really appeals to me – solid, reliable, and with a TTL meter.  My trusty Canon 50mm f1.2 with its vented hood is a great lens in its own right, but I felt that now I needed a Summicron 50, so the Canon could go back to its Canon 7 body and not feel guilty about being in a mixed marriage.
I had the luxury of a choice of 2 Summicron possibilities – a 1958 chrome rigid, or a 1981 black Canada tab. I ended up with neither – I eventually got the one on the M6, a modern, sharp, version 4 from the 1990s. Just beautiful.

Last, but certainly not least, the wonderful Canon 7, up close and personal, coupled with the fantastic Canon 50mm f1.2 lens, an optic made well before the release of the fabled Leitz Noctilux, is capable of incredible imagery. This camera and its CdS-equipped siblings are the pinnacle of the screw mount rangefinder camera design.

Postscript – The M5 has had to go to pay for the M6…

Street photography so vibrant you can almost smell it

Shot as a grab whilst buying dinner. I always feel odd doing shots like this, I guess I am self-conscious poking a camera at people I don’t know in small places. I suppose the best way to get over this is to keep shooting.

Pizza in mono:

or the same image, pizza in colour:

Same image, same RAW file, different processing. Which image is more relevant for the scene?  I love the strength of the colours, but I also love the raw power of the B&W image.

Colour processing – get the white balance sorted, and then Topaz Adjust. Mono processing then done on top of the Topaz colour image. Shot on an Olympus E-P2 digital Pen, with the kit lens. I think as a P&S camera, it is just awesome. No-one noticed except the guy on the left, who asked for a look at it.