camera

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.

Pentax Q

It’s been a long time between posts in my blog – far too long, etc, etc.

Enough apologising already, let’s cut to the chase in this year of the Snake.

Regular readers will know my love/hate relationship with point & shoot cameras. I love the size and portability, I hate the compromised results they give. However, I have been persevering, and even took an Olympus XZ-1 as a pocket camera in a recent sojourn to the USA. It did OK in the main, but I missed far too many shots while waiting for the damn thing to focus, decide on the exposure, warn me about stuff, etc. My main workhorse, a Canon 5D2 with an L zoom was too big and conspicuous to push into people’s faces as a street candid, and so I lost even more shots.

Maybe I now have  the answer – enter the tiny, tiny Pentax Q, fitted with a fast prime lens. Meet my new buddy:

Pentax Q with the extras

You can see here how small it really is, even when fitted with a viewfinder (it needs one as I hate arm’s length snapping), and a lens hood. The SD card should give you a suitable visual scale clue. It makes my Olympus EP-2, itself diminutive, look oversized even when that one wears its Lumix 20mm f1.7 prime. I guess Pentax takes being smallest very, very seriously. It even makes the 1950’s vintage Leica IIIf look huge.

The lens is fast – it’s a 5 element unit with an f1.9 aperture – and it is sharp at that opening. Because the real focal length is so short – 8.5 mm, pretending to be a 47mm focal length standard lens – everything has a tendency to be in focus  most of the time. To overcome this, a pet hate of mine, Pentax has equipped the camera with the smarts to have a setting (“BC” for blur or bokeh control, you can see it right there on the front control wheel ) with which to blur the background and separate out a foreground subject as no other tiny sensor camera can actually do.  I am still coming to terms with this feature.

Here is a picture grabbed from the web showing it next to an old Pentax 110 SLR – they are about the same size (yes, I used to have one, even fitted with a motor drive. It’s such a pity that the 110 film format was so crappy.)

It powers on quickly, it focuses quickly and it takes a picture quickly. The only gripe I have so far is that when saving both DNG RAW – yes, it can produce raw images – and large JPGs together it takes a second or two to write to the SD card, eve with a Class 10 speed card. To cut the write time down, I have been breaking my own rule and not saving images in raw format, but relying on the camera’s JPG engine – yes, it’s that good.

Pentax even provides firmware updates for both the camera and the lens.

I will post some snaps with it in a day or two. You will then be able to see what wonders Pentax (now owned and managed by Ricoh, and it’s easy to see Ricoh’s influence on both the design and firmware support, a great leap forward – I so do like Ricoh) have managed with such a tiny sensor.

The latest body firmware (vn 1.10) also adds focus peaking which will be a boon for manual focus control, and yes, even this feature is well implemented. It just awesome what power is packed into this tiny marvel. Another Ricoh benefit.

The Voigtlander finder pictured above is actually a frame-lined as a 75mm unit, but beyond the lines it shows a standard lens field of view. Maybe the Voigtlander Kontur finder (see a couple of posts ago) is what should be fitted until I can find a cheap Leitz SBOOI finder unit at the right price – if you want to sell me one (or a 50mm Voigtlander unit), feel free to contact me.

More soon, dear readers, and I will have proof for you of what I write.

Footnote – The lens hood in the picture is an old German metal unit originally made for a Zeiss Sonnar for a Contax, of 40.5 mm diameter screw fitting. I called around to see if I could buy locally a rubber collapsible hood of the same diameter – guess what – not bloody well available, it will have to be a Chinese unit off the web. What is wrong with camera shops these days?

Ricoh R10 – the GRD’s little brother

Let me say right off that I like Ricoh products. A lot. It is a quirky manufacturer off on its own direction in a sea of identical hardware with features copied from each other now providing almost no differentiation between makers’ offerings. I own a brace of old Ricoh 35mm cameras that go back a fair way, and I like them for the same reasons – for example, my old 500G has a back door that covers the whole of the rear of the camera, having a cut-out for the viewfinder, a very individual (and functional) approach to solving this problem instead of the me too! approach taken by everyone else in Japan in the 1970s for film doors. Ricoh seems to be a quiet achiever, and with little fanfare it has produced about 50 successful compact digital cameras in the past decade with almost no outlets through which to sell them, at least in my city, the capital of Australia.

A while ago I got my hands on a GRD II to try it out and see what all the fuss was about with the evolution to digital of the classic GR film cousin. Sadly, I never really got on well with it. It was a case of being (for me) too slow and not having a great deal of utility in poor light situations. I got rid of it, but then I regretted this move almost immediately. I was increasingly haunted by the wonderful user interface, its sheer usability, its tiny size, and above all its incredible build.

Suddenly, along came a Ricoh R10, just about the bottom of the species from Ricoh, with no pretensions to greatness, but my Ricoh hunger came flooding back and I thought I would give it a go and see if it had anything to offer to me. What a surprise it has turned out to be! It’s actually great!

It is tiny.

It is extremely well built.

It has a wide lens, starting at 28mm.

It has a long zoom – more than 7x range.

It has anti shake built in via sensor agility.

It starts up quickly.

It is fast in operation.

It has brilliant ergonomics.

It seems to be invisible as it is black and tiny and therefore probably not a threat as a street camera.

It is exceptionally cheap (brand new in Australia they cost just $149, or about US144…, a long way down from the original $450).

Best of all, it produces quality images pretty darn quickly. Here’s a snapshot from it taken at a local burger van, shot with absolutely no care:

Gritty realism (above)

Smooth (below)

And its just, oh I don’t know, just so cool.

It has a 3 inch screen, and seems to be able to shoot from shot to shot pretty quickly. JPEGs only though, unfortunately. Rich has provided good support for firmware updates over its three year market lifespan. It reeks of good design – the 7x zoom collapses almost entirely back into the surprisingly thin body. It has (laser engraved?) lettering describing it embossed into the top metal cover instead of gaudy metal foil stickers all over it. The body seems to be predominantly metal. The list goes on – and remember this is a mass-market utilitarian model camera.

Although I am not a big fan of P&S cameras, I have been hankering for a cheapie to keep in a pocket and not worry over much about. It seems that the R10 ticks all of the obvious boxes for me, and it best of all as it seems to be on an end-of-life run out making it now cost about a third of what it was 2 years ago. It’s so inexpensive that it won’t cause me any grief it it eventually gets damaged by being taken everywhere. And this is the real point I am making, I guess – it is a perfect camera to have to get those shots we all miss by not having a camera with us. I am prepared to put aside my loathing of small sensors and their endemic infinite depth of field on the basis of my chance meeting with the R10.

It is also a lot of fun. I wonder what a GRD III might have been like? Here’s a lifted promo banner from the Ricoh web site to further whet your appetite, accompanied by some tasty specifications:

r10

28-200mm 7.1x optical zoom Effective 10 million pixels Large 3.0-inch HVGA LCD monitor CCD shift image stabilizer 1cm macro Face recognition mode High- sensitivity ISO 1600 Long operation approx. 300 pictures 54 MB internal memoryPRINT Image MatchingExifPrintPictBridgeSDHC

Breaking News (8 November 2012) – The price on new R10s has dropped yet again – now A$128 at Officeworks. Incredible. 

 

Voigtlander Kontur Finder

I have a terrific friend, Zoran, who from time-to-time lends me bits and pieces, some rare, some expensive, some commonplace, so I can try them out and see if I like whatever it is.  This time around he has loaned me a remarkable bit of kit – a viewfinder that has no view – the strange but effective Voigtlander Kontur finder. I have borrowed it in my seemingly never-ending current quest for an accessory finder for my Leica IIIf with a 50mm lens.

I believe that the Kontur was made for the Voigtlander Vitessa fitted with an accessory shoe as an alternate finder to optical finders for quick snapshot use (although my version doesn’t sport one). Here it is fitted to my favourite Canonet (a QL19 that took me a month of lunchtimes to repair, hence the red leather skin, but that’s another story for another post):

It is a chunky black plastic cube, with an eyepiece at the rear, and no obvious viewing window on the front, just a black nameplate in a metal frame that notes it is for 24×36 and 35mm – yes, a viewfinder without a view. Check that again – a viewfinder with no view. When you pick it up and look through it with the customary one eye open, one eye closed viewing arrangement most of us use, all you you see a black field, outlined with a solid white frame line and a dotted parallax frame. Oh yes, and a white dot in the center. A very strange unit, this, for a finder. If you switch eyes, you see the same thing:

Not very promising, eh? But now if you open both eyes, all of a sudden the design reveals it brilliance, a breathtakingly simple and blindingly clever finder for fast work. This is an approximation of what you see (I hope that it is an internet first):

Clever, eh? All you do is set the lens to a suitable hyper-focal distance, and shoot away. It is fast, just perfect for street shooting.  I believe that the viewing lens allows you to focus on the back illuminated frame lines – the central dot is to give your eye something to look at to make it all work in focus (but there is no straining to see the image at all). The other open eye sees the scene, and the brain superimposes the images, “seeing through” the blackness to give you a pretty damn fine rendering of the scene in front of you. Photo-journalist’s heaven. The finder works very well in dim conditions too. Confusingly, the numbers on the finder’s front screen mean that it is for a 35mm camera with a frame of 24 x 36mm, however this model gives a view of a standard lens – a 50mm unit on a 35mm camera, and not that of a 35mm lens.

Zoran might have a hard time getting this loaner back off me – I love it.

Olympus 35 RD – at last

Olympus 35 RD

The power of he internet has come to the rescue for the subject of today’s post – one of my adoring fans contacted me and as a result I am happy to reveal my new buddy, the venerable (and beautiful) Olympus 35 RD rangefinder:

This is the brother of the fully auto 35 DC I showed a few weeks ago, but is a manual as well as automatic, aperture priority unit. It shares the same 6 element 40mm f1.7 Zuiko lens, the same basic body, and well, just about everything else that is wonderful about the DC model. This one, though, has speeds down to 1/2 second, not the paltry (but realistic) 1/15th that limits the DC’s available light use.

Here are the twins together so you can see how much DNA they share:

The 35RD was introduced in 1974, and was was the last ‘classic’ fully manual mechanical shutter fixed-lens rangefinder to be introduced by Olympus. The RD’s 40mm focal length is closer to the “ideal” standard length of 43mm – the diagonal measurement of a 35mm frame – than most SLR standard lenses of 50mm. This is true for most of the classic fast rangefinders of this era, such as the Canon QL17 GIII, the Yashica Electro 35, and my available light secret weapon, the Yashica Lynx 14E.

This one needs some minor attention – light seals, a rangefinder clean, and the usual oil-on-shutter-blades syndrome. When sorted, this will be a beautiful object from nearly four decades ago that can compete and still outclass the current crop of midget sensor P&S cameras. With a fine-grain film, my Nikon 500ED scanner allows this (and all of the others too) to be a 21 megapixel full-frame camera capable of producing nice bokeh – try that with your G12…

The cameras from the Olympus 35 line that I hold span a fairly lengthy family timeline of production.

Olympus introduced the 35LC in 1965.  This was the father of the beautiful SP that followed, as it featured the same fast f1.7 Zuiko G seven element prime lens, but had less ability than the SP as it was equipped with automatic exposure.

 

 

The Olympus 35SP, my earliest, ran from 1969 to 1975. You can see the beauty of this fantastic camera earlier in my blog entries.

 

 

 

The 35RC, the smallest fully automatic rangefinder of the time, appeared in 1970, and was still in production after 1975 when I bought mine.

 

 

 

The 35DC followed in 1971.  The introduction of this model seems to mark a very similar genesis as the earlier LC and SP models before it, as this and the RD that followed a couple of years later shared the same body and lens, but the earlier camera had an auto exposure system that limited some functions in comparison to the line leader that followed some time later. Perhaps this is a model that Olympus likes to follow in camera development?

 

The 35RD was introduced in 1975, using much of the 35DC’s DNA, thereby replacing and effectively retiring the SP as Olympus’ top of the line classic fixed lens rangefinder. This was a generational change, and the RD model lasted until the end of the 1970s when the 35 line as it stood was killed off and replaced by the innovative and ground-breaking XA series in 1979.

During this amazing period of activity and innovation, Olympus still had time to introduce perhaps the longest- lasting quality camera ever, the Trip 35. This first went on sale in 1968.  The TRIP 35 became very popular as a camera that combined ease of use, reliability and a low price with excellent performance. It remained a best-seller for many years, and over the next 20 years over 10 million were produced. I have four of these amazing little workhorses, all of which still work all these years later.

I have been hanging out for a very long while to find a 35RD, and hey presto, one walks into my life with no effort. The internet is truly capable of making magic…


Olympus 35 SP

Olympus 35 SP

This is another great find, but this time I paid $10 for it instead of my customary five dollars. “Why so expensive?” you might be thinking. Because it is a very special Olympus rangefinder, possibly the best fixed lens 35mm rangefinder camera that was ever made. This one dates from between 1969 and 1974.

The Olympus 35 SP  has two unique features, raising it head and shoulders above the common herd – switchable light metering that provides a spot meter facility as well as three more common center-weighted averaging method, and a seven element G Zuiko 42 mm f1.7 lens with unit focusing. This combination – of an exquisitely sharp and contrasty distortion-free prime lens combined with very precise metering – has made it a very sought-after little camera. I say little, but it has grown a fair bit beyond the 35 RC’s svelte form. It is perhaps a quarter-inch longer than the mighty Canon QL17 GIII recently featured here, but it has a better lens making the slightly bigger size well worth putting up with. Here it is:

Left to right, here’s the relative sizes of the SP – DC – RC:

The 35 RC on the right is absolutely tiny. The comparative sizes displayed  in this image makes the 35 SP appear as a behemoth, but trust me, its not. It’s still small in comparison with a Leica M. Talking of Leicas, the spot meter on the 35 SP appeared in 1969, years ahead of the spot meter in the Leica M5, which doesn’t have a center-weighted alternative mode. Score 1 to the SP. The purists will cry, but the G-Zuiko is every bit as good as glass of the same era from Wetzlar. The G designates seven elements, as it is the seventh letter… The camera that came after the 35 SP, the again lusted-after 35 RD (yes, I want one too) was a great camera, but it only was given an F Zuiko – yes, a 6 element lens. The SP has a 7th correcting element, making this one absolutely outstanding and just about unique. (The middle camera above – the 35 DC – is the same size as the RC version.)

The viewfinder is pure Olympus rangefinder. However, instead of displaying aperture and/or shutter speeds, the viewfinder top line shows – exposure values. Arcane in this digital day, but to anyone who grew up with an exposure meter this is pure gold. All you do is set the EV reading from the viewfinder onto the scale on the lens barrel. The pairing of exposure against shutter speed is fast and accurate – open the lens one stop, reduce the exposure by half – the same EV results. My first SLR, my dad’s Zeiss Icon Contaflex Super had the same system, and it worked very, very well.

Footnote – The background to these images is the cover of the vinyl version of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. I thought it appropriate as it is from the same era as the 35 SP. It’s a classic, too.

They’re both worth more than ten bucks. I love them.

Postscript – See a later blog entry – 25 August 2011 –  about the rehabilitation of this beautiful camera, covering many, many issues – wobbly lens, light seals, rangefinder alignment, removing the top, light meter, and batteries.  If you have one of these cameras in less than perfect condition, don’t despair – either consider getting it fixed, doing it yourself (but be very careful), or contact me and I might take it off your hands.