review

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Fujifilm Finepix S6500fd – a review

What would you say to an 11x f2.8 zoom lens that has few optical issues? How about one with a quality camera body attached? All for $20…

Enter the Fujifilm S6500fd camera, found at my favourite camera store, complete with power supply (not even supplied with the original camera!), original USB and video cables, unopened instructions, original software CD, strap, cap and lenshood. Oh, and a couple of 2 gb 😄 cards… And also 4 re-chargeable Sanyo Eneloop NiMh AA cells, that are worth $25 where I live… They’ve gone into my flash unit already.

This late 2006 camera introduced face detection that was built into the hardware to the world. It is a so-called bridge camera, looking like a regular but small SLR, but with a few differences:

  • a small 1 1/7 inch CCD sensor;
  • no optical viewfinder, but in its place a reflex eye-level electronic viewfinder, as well as a conventional LCD on the back of the camera;
  • uses 4 x AA batteries instead of an expensive proprietary unit;
  • no possibility for interchangeable lenses – instead it has a monster 28-300mm (35mm equivalent) f2.8 zoom, that offers a manual zoom ring – absolutely wonderful – and manual focussing, both via conventional rubber rings on the lens barrel; and
  • no sensor dust.

It’s relatively petite, and very lightweight, especially compared with my regular Canon 5D and lens combo.

So far, I have found that it shoots RAW images that can be opened in ACR (Photoshop’s Camera Raw software), and that it offers simple +/- 1 stop exposure bracketing.

I have tried using a polariser (58mm just like Canon, thanks!) and I can’t see if it makes any difference to the sky through the EVF, but the conditions today were poor for this.

You may wonder why I picked up a 6 megapixel, 4 year old bridge camera when I already have some nice kit? The reason is that I want to leave a cheap camera capable of reasonable image making in my car at all times as I never seem to have one with me when I want one. It all fits into a tiny case that will protect it, and only needs a light (read cheap) tripod for low light work as it is so lightweight and balanced. And yes, I have also got one of those from my favourite camera outfitter, complete with a bag and even its original removable top plate too, which is a rare find for junkshop tripods.

Downsides? In theory plenty, but not enough to really warrant a moan for $20. Here are my thoughts for the record:

  • uses 😄 cards (at least I have a few gb I got with it, so no purchase needed);
  • 1 1/7 inch sensor (but all P&S cameras have these);
  • 6 megapixels (but this is 50% more than on my venerable Lumix DMC-LC5 that can make big prints);
  • limited to only a max. of +/- 1 stop exposure bracketing (but manual control is there);
  • no threaded cable release (but it does have a self timer)
  • no hot shoe or PC socket, (but it does have a popup flash – not even my 5D has this)
  • plastic (ugh)

All in all, actually nothing to complain about.

On to the image quality.

Bridge cameras are named thus as they bridge the gap in the market (size, cost and utility) between P&S cameras and SLRs. This camera started out in life priced at $629 in October 2006 when it was introduced. One would expect that this sort of money would buy pretty reasonable image quality just 4 years ago, and It did. Like just about every other Fujifilm camera I have used, this one is capable of brilliant IQ, even considering its sensor size. Fujifilm just seems to do something special with sensors – I am guessing this is because of the pedigree and experience it has from being a maker of fantastic film emulsions for the past 70-odd years.

A concentration camp in Canberra? No, the Yarralumla Brickworks

The lens is a Fujinon 6.2-66.7mm f2.8 ~ f4.9 beauty, and from the look of the coating colours, it has Fuji’s famed EBC coating on it. It shows almost no barrel distortion, and very little chromatic aberration, and is flare free when shot against the light.

The Govenor-General’s driveway, Yarralumla, Canberra. HDR 3 shot, handheld, sepia via Topaz

As long as you don’t mind limited bokeh as a direct result of the physics arising from small sensor sizes (and a judicious choice of a long focal length when shooting faces will provide quite a bit of this), it is brilliant. Of course it’s not up to 5D capabilities, but for 20 bucks, dollar for dollar, it is just about the best quality camera I have ever used.  It is slower to use that my DSLR, the controls are not as intuitive, and the viewfinder is, well, crap compared to an optical reflex finder, but as a camera for those moments when you need to have one available, it can’t be beaten.

If you can find a better camera for $20, let me know.