Jul 292016
 


As I have previously stated, a good camera bag is a necessity for any photographer who decides to use something other than his/her smartphone to capture images. Cameras tend to attract stuff that you always need to have on hand (just in case). But the bag must also protect the camera and its lenses from mishap and mayhem, yet comfortably carry all that stuff and fit into your style of photography. Since I prefer to shoot in urban settings, I need a bag that will carry my mirrorless kit plus my personal stuff in as small a package as possible. While some view leather as a luxury, working-class leather makes for a tough, durable bag that is light and easy to care for. How often do cowboys buy saddles? Same principle applies here.

Copper River Bags of Nevada City, CA makes some excellent bags out of leather, Water Resistant Cotton Duck Canvas and 1000 Denier Cordura. Their line of camera bags come in small (10″ – the size I am reviewing), medium (14″) and large (15″). All of their products are hand made in the USA which is very refreshing to encounter these days. CRB also makes camera accessories like padded camera inserts (one is included with your camera bag), leather camera straps, leather sketchbooks, leather conditioner and leather initial plates. This list only scratches the surface of the list of bags they make. Click here if you want to see the complete catalog of bags they make.

10″ DISTRESSED TAN NAPA SAFARI LEATHER CAMERA BAG

This bag (pictured above) is a very simple design with one main internal compartment (where the camera insert goes), two internal pockets, two external pockets on the sides, and one pocket on the back. It has a messenger style flap cover which is secured by three snap buttons. Opening/closing the bag is a silent operation. There is a handle on top that is padded. The strap is made of leather with a leather shoulder pad and there is an option for a canvas strap. The entire bag is double or triple stitched and made by hand.

Despite this simple design, the bag holds a deceptively large amount of stuff.


Starting with the Copper River bag on the top, going from left-to-right:

  • Rhodia Notebook with CW&T Pen Type B, Meike MK320FT Flash, Olympus Pen-F w/m.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 & RRS Grip
  • Leather Pencil Case for cables and spare batteries, LED Penlight, Lenspen, ThinkTank Card Wallet, m.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8 & m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8
  • Olympus Battery Charger with right angle plug, 2x neoprene lens pouches
  • My glucometer and insulin pump controls (which go in every bag I use)
  • NOT SHOWN – a pile of my business cards squirreled away in the side pocket.

Pros and Cons

Nothing in this world is perfect, not even my wonderful wife (sorry dear) but everything has its good and bad points. Here’s what I have come up with for this bag:

Pros

  • Rugged construction will allow for decades of use. Exterior is made of oil-tanned leather.
  • Bag can be opened near silently.
  • The bag is guaranteed for 100 years!
  • The bag can be repaired at a local cobbler, if you don’t want to send it back for repairs.
  • Made in the USA.

Cons

  • Like all working leather products (saddles, baseball mitts, work boots, etc) this product requires some regular maintenance. CRB offers a wax based leather treatment for purchase, but I used good ol’ boot grease.
  • The inner layout is very simple with no space reserved to keep small items corralled. Plan on adding a small pouch for these items. I used a leather pencil case that fits horizontally inside the bag.
  • The padded liner is not the most heavily padded I have seen, but combined with the oil-tanned leather exterior, will offer good protection for your gear (assuming you close the flap). OK, this isn’t much of a con.

Scoring

I have decided to implement a scoring system for these kinds of reviews because it makes it easier for the reader to quickly see the value of the product being reviewed. The scoring categories are:

  • Construction
  • Design
  • Ergonomics
  • Value for money

Construction: 5 out of 5

Hand made from oil-tanned leather, this well constructed bag can be willed to your great grandchildren (assuming you maintain it properly).

Design: 4 out of 5

The bag’s simple layout is very zen, but it could have used a zippered inner pouch/pocket for for small, loose items that cameras tend to attract.

Ergonomics: 4 out of 5

The bag can be worn as a shoulder bag or cross-body like a small messenger bag. The leather strap could use a slightly better pad to distribute the weight on the shoulder. This is only an issue if you fill it up to the brim with gear.

Value for Money: 5 out of 5

At $189 USD (including the leather strap), this bag is a bargain. Competitive products in this space are more than double the price of this bag and are made overseas.

Final Score: 18 out of 20 – Highly Recommended

I will be traveling with this bag over the course of the next three months so I will be writing a follow-up with any new observations.

May 122016
 

Bags. Ever since cameras became small enough to be truly portable, photographers have been stuffing them into bags/satchels/rucksacks/etc. So, as part of the photographic experience, how you lug your stuff is almost as important as the stuff you are lugging. Cameras and lenses contain lots of glass and fiddly bits, so chucking them in an old burlap bag won’t cut it. Thus the photo bag industry was born.

Adorama has, of late, been introducing their own lines of photographic products: Flashpoint Lighting, Glow Light Modifiers, 3Pod Tripods[1], and now camera bags. Adorama has unveiled their 24/7 line of camera bags starting with the Traffic Collection. The Traffic Collection consists of six bags ranging from a pouch, two holsters, a shoulder bag, a messenger bag and a sling style backpack. I am reviewing the latter.

Disclosure: Adorama contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing their new line of bags. I was sent a review sample for this purpose. No other compensation was provided to me.

Build

The 24/7 Traffic Sling Bag is made of sturdy nylon and features two compartments: a padded main compartment access from the side and a smaller, non-padded compartment accessed from the top. The non-padded compartment has pockets to hold pens, small flashlights and other knickknacks.

Secondary compartments include a zippered padded pocket accommodating up to a 12 inch tablet (I will have to go to the Apple Store to see if an iPad Pro 12.3 fits) and two pockets under the flap.

As this is a sling style bag, there is one main carrying strap and a secondary stabilizing strap. The main strap is well padded, while the stabilizing strap is just nylon webbing (which is Ok because its job is to keep the bag from swinging around your body.)

There is also a rain cover squirreled away in the bottom of the bag.

Zippers are all heavy duty and can be a little stiff to open/close. One nice touch is that the partition separating the two compartments can be opened via an internal zipper combining the two compartments into one (great for big lenses).

Ergonomics

Over the years, I have used far too many bags. My wife can attest to this. Well made backpacks are great for traveling but are hard to get into quickly. Shoulder/messenger bags are easy to access but swing around a bit and cause me shoulder pain when carrying more than air in the bag for any extended period of time. Sling bags are the compromise. Comfy like a backpack but easy-to-access like a shoulder bag. The 24/7 Sling Bag is no exception.

The longish shape of the pack means that it settles nicely between the shoulder blades and hips (depending on how long your torso is). The single sling strap is well padded and does not dig into the shoulder even with a full load. There is a stabilizing strap that clips perpendicularly to the sling strap (rule of diagonals style) and prevents the bag swinging around and walloping whatever you bent down to look at. When not in use, it dangles like a flat orange tail from the bag. I recommend using the strap.

The bag comes with a zippered, removable pouch for the top compartment. This keeps all of the loose bits in one place and prevents them from worming their way into the furthest crannies of the bag making you doubt your memory and sanity. A old friend of my father summed this up eloquently as "the innate perversity of the inanimate."

Overall, this is one of the most comfortable sling bags I have used.

Personal Notes

While this is the largest bag in the 24/7 Traffic Collection, it is by no means a big bag. Adorama claims is can hold a DSLR body, two lenses and a full sized flash. While this can be done, it required the removal of the kit bag and using the upper compartment as well as the main. I loaded my Olympus Pen-F, three (3) prime lenses, and compact speed light all neatly in the main compartment and the charger, 2 spare camera batteries, 6 spare AA Envelops (for the flash), plus my diabetic stuff in the pouch squirreled away in the top compartment. The bag is very well constructed with heavy-duty stitching and zippers but it is not made for trekking in the wilderness. This is a bag for wilds of Flatbush.

In my opinion, this is an excellent day-bag/everyday urban carry bag: big enough to carry all of the bits and bobs you need with you every day, yet keeping a relatively small profile. I feel I can safely stride the aisles of a department store without worrying about knocking over displays, mannequins or little old ladies when I turn around.

Conclusion

The Traffic Collection 24/7 Sling is a well-made bag suitable for everyday urban carry of mirrorless or small bodied DSLR cameras. The bag rides comfortably on the back and slides around easily granting access to the main compartment without having to remove the bag. Heavy duty stitching and zippers ensures that the bag will provide a long service life. A built-in raincoat allows the bag to easily protect you camera from the elements. It is not waterproof and will not protect your gear if dropped in the water or you get caught outside in a monsoon.

The 24/7 Sling bag is sold exclusively by Adorama and retails for $49.95 currently.

1.

For a complete list of Adorama in house brands, visit [http://www.adorama.com/in_house_brands]

Apr 162016
 

The Olympus Pen-F is the latest iteration in the venerable line of PEN cameras. Like all of the PENs of recent vintage, this one is a digital Micro Four-Thirds camera. Unlike the PENs of recent vintage, this one has a built-in viewfinder (FINALLY) and a very sexy retro inspired design (think the digital love child of the film Pen-F and a Voigtländer Bessa R4A rangefinder). And that is just the start.

Made for the street

Technical reviews abound for this camera already, and as usual, I will present my opinions of the camera as it relates to actual use. First, and foremost, this is a street shooter’s camera. Small, discreet, with quick AF and a very quiet shutter. It is hard to hear this camera more than two feet away.

Micro Four-Thirds sensors feature a 2x crop-factor, effectively doubling the focal length of any lens. This is not so good for landscape photographers, but is a tremendous boon for street shooters (and bird watchers). The sensor in the Olympus Pen-F is new with 20 megapixels of resolution. This may not seem like much in this age of 100 megapixel sensors, but it’s a big increase for Olympus who has produced nothing but 16 megapixel sensors for quite some time. The new sensor has the best high-ISO performance I have seen in a Micro Four Thirds camera. To wit:

Adding to this is In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) which allows you to handhold longer exposures using any lens mounted on the camera (even legacy glass). This won’t help you with moving subjects in low light, but then again sharpness is sometimes over-rated. Oh, and for those moments when total stealth is the order of the day, there is a Silent Shutter Mode.

Made for prime lenses

The Pen-F’s smaller body makes prime lenses a natural fit. I personally have the Olympus 25mm f/1.8, the Rokinon 12mm f/2, and plan to add the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 to round it out. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Already picked up the 45mm lens.) The 2x crop factor transforms this to a 24/50/90 combo that gets me wide, normal, and short telephoto fields of view. Here is a shot of the Torii in front of the Japan Pavilion in EPCOT Center:

This does not mean you are limited to primes. Olympus makes some excellent Pro level zooms and I have seen plenty of fine images taken using that combination. I have even seen someone attach the new 300mm f/4 Pro lens (600mm equivalent) to the Pen-F! For larger lenses, Olympus makes a grip that add some more area to hold on to the camera as well as an Arca-Swiss bottom plate for tripod use. Really Right Stuff is taking pre-orders for their grip+plate solution.

Made for JPEG Shooters

Apparently, Olympus listened to Ken Rockwell (the Chuck Norris of photography) and made a camera that excels at shooting JPEGs because "RAW files are unnecessary." The Pen-F does, in fact, shoot in RAW too. But to add to the JPEG fun, there is a dedicated knob on the front of the camera (on the analog Pen-F it was the shutter speed dial) that allows you to quickly switch between color and mono profiles.

Personally, I like the Mono 1 profile, but many photographers are smitten with Mono 2 which looks like Tri-X Pan film. And just like The Most Interesting Photographer In The World, when using color/mono profiles, I will shoot in RAW+JPG. With my 32GB SDHC card, I can capture over 900 images that way (over 1400 is RAW mode).

Made for traveling

When it’s time to hit the road and travel abroad one has to think really hard about exactly what to pack. Even more so if air travel is involved. Camera gear can get heavy quick, so you have to make some hard decisions as to what you are going to carry. The Olympus Pen-F is far smaller than a comparable DSLR and smaller than a lot of other mirrorless systems. Some folks recommend using some species of all-in-one superzoom or a pair of zooms, but I am a little more old school, opting for a three prime travel kit: 12mm f/2 wide, 25mm f/1.8 normal, and 45mm f/1.8 tele.

Now, these are all reasonably fast primes and the Olympus Pen-F is the first micro four thirds camera I have used that has a really usable ISO 3200, however, there is no built-in flash on the Pen-F. To Olympus’ credit they do include a teeny tiny shoe flash. It’s very kawai. It also has a guide number of 6 so you may have better luck packing an LED flashlight. To fix this problem, I went "off the reservation" again and picked up a Meike MK320FT flash for $79. This unit is powered by two AA batteries and if you install rechargeables you can recharge them using a standard micro-USB cable and cellphone charger. That means one less charger to carry! Full TTL and even has an LED video light!

So just to give you my travel/everyday carry kit in list form:

  • Olympus Pen-F (Black)
  • Gariz Half-case (Black)
  • Artisan Obscura Concave Softrelease and matching Hotshoe cover in Bloodwood
  • Classic Gordy Strap (black with red stitching)
  • Meike MK320FT Flash
  • Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS
  • M.Zuiko 25mm f/1.8
  • M.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8
  • Two (2) additional camera batteries (Wasabi) + Olympus charger
  • Right angle NMEA plug (USA)
  • Eight (8) Eneloop AA Rechargeable batteries
  • Adorama 24/7 Sling Bag (to be reviewed soon)

What it’s not made for

  • Foul Weather – A lack of weather sealing on this camera (Why Olympus? Why?) does not make it a good candidate for rainy weather photos.
  • Sports – While the single shot AF is one of the best I have ever used, the same cannot be said about continuous focus AF. I can only hope that Olympus is working on a firmware update to address this.
  • Videographers – while the camera does capture video (1080p HD video and 4K time lapse video) it lacks dedicated microphone/headphone jacks (which makes it difficult to capture high quality audio) relegates it to a B-roll camera.

Other Bits of Fun

The camera also has a high resolution multi-shot mode which can crank out 50 megapixel JPEGs or 80 megapixel RAW files of stationary subjects. A built-in intervalometer makes time-lapse and procedurally removing people from an image (using Photoshop’s Median function) a breeze. The camera sports a built-in WiFi hotspot that allows their iOS app to remotely control and manage the camera. HDR fuctionality can process images in-camera or save the exposure bracketed set of RAW files for post-processing.

(5-shot HDR bracket processed in Aurora HDR Pro)

Tips

  • Adjust your AF for the situation – Shooting events with the Olympus Pen-F is a treat because of its small size and low-noise operation. However, Face/Eye Detection AF can sometimes work against you. Sent the AF to a single point in the middle and focus/recompose on your subject. (I am aware that there is a touchscreen AF function. I despise shooting with the rear LCD screen and rubbing my finger on rear screen while holding it up to your eye is a painful act of contortion.)
  • Assign focus peaking to a custom function – When using adapted or manual focus lenses (like my Rokinon) you should set focus peaking to a custom button (Fn1 for me) that way you can bring it up quickly and easily. This does not apply to MFT lenses with electronic contacts – those automtically inform the camera that MF is in action.
  • Disable the Warm White Balance setting – by default Olympus MFT cameras have a very warm white balance setting. By going into the custom menus you can disable this to achieve more neutral looking images.
  • Conserve battery by turning off WiFi and other non-essentials – Wifi is cool, but unless you are wirelessly triggering your camera or live blogging an event, turn it off to conserve power. I also fold my rear display so that it remains covered as much as possible and prevents it from sucking up power as well. I try not to chimp too much either.
  • Disable Red Eye Reduction to speed up flash photography – I recently encountered this. If you have Red Eye Reduction activated with the Meike Flash, the Pen-F tries to use the red AF illuminator to deal with red eye. This adds a 1-2 second delay to the shutter release. Setting it to Auto eliminates this problem.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Drop dead sexy camera – Conversation starter and ice-breaker all in one.
  • Super fast single shot AF – despite it only having CDAF, the Pen-F locks on quickly and accurately. Not perfect (see Cons), but very, very good.
  • Small & easy to carry – great for those long street photo journeys.
  • Vastly improved High-ISO performance – while not the High-ISO king, the Pen-F has the best High-ISO performace I have ever seen in an MFT camera.

Cons

  • Not weather sealed – but then, neither is the Leica M (the de-facto king of street photography).
  • Continuous AF needs work – Hopefully Olympus will address this with a firmware update since they drank the Kaizen Kool-Aid a couple of years ago.
  • Weak video features – lacks an external mike and headphone jacks. Suited for B-roll work.

Please support this site and the photographer by purchasing camera products via the links provided for you here on this site. It won’t cost you a penny extra.

Slideshow

Apr 072016
 

As photographers begin to expand their horizons artistically, they will come to a point that studio lighting becomes a part of their workflow. (OK, birders, sport/street shooters, and photojournalists can go read something else) Studio light kits are a great way to start, but unless you drop some rather large coin for them, corners will have been cut by the lighting maker. This usually is applied to the light stands that are included in the kit. I have owned several kits and I have always found that the included stands are a little bit on the wobbly side. So you run out and buy some beefier lightstands and you discover that their stability (dutifully obeying the laws of physics) is derived from the wide stance of their tripod. That’s great because now your lights are steady.

Until you have to move them.

 

Some lightstands come with wheels but that doesn’t make them any easier to move about. Outside of that, not much has been done to improve that situation. Until now.

Adorama has introduced an automatic lightstand. Automatic? Like in self-deploying? No, not self-deploying, but the next best thing. You have to manually set up this lightstand just like every other one, but once you have done that, that’s when the magic happens. The Flashpoint Auto Lightstand can automatically retract its legs when picked up and deploy its legs when put back down.

 

lightstand270x480

This transforms the stand from what is, in effect, an upside-down open umbrella into a simple pole and back again. You can now move your lightstands without having to worry about tripping over the silly things.

Genius.

The Auto Lightstand comes in two heights (7′ and 9′ – 9′ model shown above) and cost $49.95 and $79.95 respectively. The stand also includes a handy carrying case.

Mar 172016
 

Once upon a time, there was a Danish company that decided to make medium format digital cameras. This company was made up of hard working engineers who wanted to make the best medium format digital camera in the world. To this end, the engineers strived for perfection in all of their endeavors. But the software available for developing the images captured by their very fine cameras did not satisfy them. So they got their software engineering friends to write a program to do the job the way they wanted. They did so and the software they created made their photographs look even more amazing.
Photographers from around the world loved the Danish camera company and their software. But the Danish cameras were very expensive, and some of the poor photographers wept that they could not take such beautiful images with their Japanese cameras. The Danish camera company felt bad for the poor photographers and decided to make their magic software compatible with their Japanese cameras. This made the poor photographers very happy as they could now make images almost as beautiful as the Danish cameras.

-excerpt from Mother Goose’s History of Phase One

 

press-kit-1-675px.jpg

All kidding aside, Phase One has released the 9th version of their excellent RAW editing and conversion software, Capture One Pro.

This latest edition adds several new features and I discovered one that I had not noticed before, despite the release notes indicating that it was included several versions ago.

Capture One Pro is designed for the professional photographer. It does not have a plug-in API for third party filters or methods for uploading images to your favorite online galleries. Those tasks are left for lesser apps.

With its medium format origins, C1 Pro is designed to handle large images. Built for the working studio, it has extensive tethered capture capabilities. It can handle anything from portraits to landscapes. So what sets it apart from its main competitor, Adobe Lightroom?

Phase One has spent a lot of time working with professional photographers and incorporating their special needs in the design of Capture One Pro. Here are some of the highlights:

  1. Configurable Workspaces C1 Pro’s interface can be customized to suit any photographers’ need. Got a panel you never use? Remove it! Got one you can’t live without? Make it part of the default layout! Like the screen to look a certain way on a dual monitor system? Save it as a workspace!
  2. Color Balance Controls for Skin Tones C1 Pro is the only software that I am aware of that offers this function. Most raw converters allow you to adjust the overall white balance of a scene, but C1 pro goes a step further by allowing you to get the skin tones just right.
  3. Layers Corel AfterShot Pro is the only other raw converter I know of that offers this feature. Not even Adobe Lightroom offers this. Built-in masking functions allow you to selectively apply adjustments to parts of the image without having to make a round-trip to Photoshop. One thing you can do easily with this is to selectively apply white balance. To wit: I was shooting a wedding at the Gesu Catholic Church in downtown Miami. I took a flash photograph of the bride and groom standing before the altar. I made the rookie mistake of forgetting to gel my flash to incandescent white balance to match the lighting in the church. The result was either a normal colored bride and groom in front of the Church of El Dorado or having the church look normal and bride and groom looking like they were fished out of the Arctic Ocean. The Layers function of C1 Pro allowed me to selectively apply white balance corrections to them and the background separately.
  4. Luma Curves Most curve tools map a set of input values to an output set. This affects not only brightness, but saturation as well. Luma Curves allows you to fiddle with just the brightness levels and protects the colors.
  5. Send to External Editors I was not aware of this feature, but apparently it has been in C1 Pro since at least V8. My prior experience with sending an image to Photoshop or some other external program involved creating a custom process recipe and having it call the external application from there. You then had to manually import the externally edited image back into C1 Pro. This function does it for you automatically and is customizable.
  6. Tethered Shooting Skip the entire import step by have C1 Pro import images as they are shot. If you have one of the supported cameras, you can even control the shooting experience from the computer. This required connecting your camera to the computer via a USB or network cable. WiFi tethering is not supported directly as file sizes can get pretty large, especially if you are using a Phase One camera.
  7. Catalog or Session-based Shooting C1 Pro offers the choice of importing images into a master catalog or maintaining them in separate sessions. This allows to more easily manage your photo shoots. Either can be chosen at the time of import.
  8. Migration Tools C1Pro includes migration tool to allow you to import your Lightroom catalogs to ease the switch from one platform to another.
  9. Over 400 cameras supported I wasn’t kidding in the opening about Phase One adding support for a massive list of cameras. Subsequent updates add new camera profiles.

However, all is not beer and skittles over here in the Land of the Danes. All of these powerful features come at a price: $299 USD. EDITOR’S NOTE: As of the newly released version 9.1, you can pay a monthly subscription fee of $12 USD to purchase Capture One Pro v9.1. Also, there are not many books published on Capture One Pro (only one for V9) but Phase One, to its credit, has a YouTube channel you can subscribe to that has all sorts of tutorials on the care and feeding of Capture One Pro. Lens support is also a bit of a sticky wicket. Phase One has complete support for all of their lenses, but limited support outside of that. Modern lenses encode corrections in the photos metadata which C1Pro reads and applies to the image, but this of little help for adapted legacy glass on mirrorless cameras.

UPDATE

Capture One Pro v9.1 has just been released and includes six new camera profiles, improved tethered shooting for Phase One and Canon cameras and even more powerful skin tone adjustments.

Feb 282016
 

In trying to keep my blog well-fed, I am always on the prowl for better methods to efficiently create posts. Sure, I can do it with the built-in editor in WordPress, but sometimes the WP-editor tries too hard and doesn’t make it easy to write. Recently I got hooked on Markdown and its simple syntax for editing content.

I have tried various editor on my Mac and even a Markdown plug-in on WordPress. The latest Mac editor on the block is TextNut. As a test, I am writing this post using TextNut and it has a few things going for it:

  1. Clean Interface – Some editors try to offer every formatting tool imaginable and it gets in the way. Others go for a “zen mode” where you are basically typing on a blank screen. Some even play soothing music (wind chimes, low chanting, and other sleep calm inducing sounds). TextNut attempts a “happy medium” where you have a clean slate to write on, but highlighting and right-clicking some text brings up a simple formatting pop-up menu.
  2. Rich Text Mode – Not a preview, but a slightly better than just text way of writing that uses standard control codes and converts them to Markdown in the background.
  3. Nested Image Support – images can be added to existing formatted elements like this:
  4. Previews in HTML, PDF, and RTF – The default preview is HTML but the other two can be selected via a drop-down menu.
  5. iCloud Integration – files can be stored on the cloud for easy retrieval and sharing among devices. Which leads me to my next point:
  6. iOS Versions – Start typing on your Mac and continue on your iPad (or iPhone if you are really desperate) and vice-versa. Very nice for journalists on the go.
  7. Sidebar Syntax Helper – I wish every Markdown editor had this! It makes it easy to add the formatting codes if you haven’t bothered to memorize them.
  8. Themes – Textnut allows you to assign different themes and backgrounds to the Rich Text and Markdown Modes of editing. This make it easy to identify which mode you are in without having to look at the bottom of the editor window.

However, this product is not perfect (but not all of it is their fault):

  1. No Justification – This is a Markdown issue and not a TextNut one. There are no commands in Markdown to align text and images. This is not an issue if you are publishing to Medium (which left justifies text and centers images automatically), but can lead to messy looking posts in WordPress. I usually have to jump into the editor on WordPress to clean up the formatting and center my images.

That does it for my quick review of TextNut by Edgenius Software. You can download this editor for free the Mac App Store. The free version is limited to the number of libraries you can open. This and any other restriction can be removed via an in-app purchase ($24.95).

Dec 042015
 

Leica SL Hands-On

On November 18, 2015, I was invited to Leica Store Miami to get a hands-on session with newly released Leica SL. The Leica SL is the first full-frame, mirrorless system camera from Leica. Aimed at professional photographers, the camera sports a lot of very interesting features. But will it make professional shooters switch systems?

Leica SL

Build

The Leica SL, like its smaller sibling – the Leica T, has a body that is milled from a solid block of aerospace-grade aluminum (or aluminium for my British readers). This gives the SL a solidity and heft that is unmatched by any other brand. My Sony A7 II felt flimsy beside it. The SL uses the T-mount as well. I always wondered why the mount on the Leica T was so huge considering it is an APS-C sized camera. The Leica SL is completely weather-sealed as long as you use the full-frame SL lenses.

Leica SL Back

The back of the Leica SL is a minimalist’s wet dream: a fixed 2.95" touchscreen display with four unmarked buttons. All four buttons are soft buttons whose function varies with the screen you are displaying. The buttons also distinguish between short-press and long-press, doubling their command capacity. Along the top-plate you have (from left to right):

  • The on/off switch
  • The eyepiece (more on that later)
  • The display switch button
  • The control joystick
  • Rear control dial (clickable)

The door on the right side houses the dual SDXC card slots. The door is weather-sealed as well. The battery is similar to the one used on the Leica Q: the end plate of the battery seals flush to the body negating the need for a battery door. There is an optional grip that allows the mounting of two batteries.

Leica SL + Grip

The grip also adds balance for the use of large lenses. Mind you, the design of the Leica SL targets the professional 35 mm photography and is reflected in the near-DSLR sized body. The body, sans lens, is very light, but will be an issue for photogs with smaller hands. Add the grip and it really gets big. Just to give you an idea, here is a size comparison between the Leica SL and the Sony A7r II (courtesy of Camerasize.com):

Leica SL vs A7r II

Leica SL vs A7r II

Leica SL vs A7r II

Leica SL vs A7r II

Leica SL vs A7r II

Lenses

The native SL lens lineup includes three lenses:

  • Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24–90mm f/2.8-f/4.0 ASPH (available now)
  • Leica APO-Vario-Elmarit-SL 90–280mm f/2.8-f/4.0 (mid 2016)
  • Leica Summilux-SL 50mm f/1.4 ASPH (late 2016)

As you can see from the first image in this review and the last one in the Camerasize shots that these are not small lenses. While some pros will bemoan the fact that the lenses are not fixed aperture, these are by no means some crappy kit lens. I was only able to see the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24–90mm f/2.8-f/4.0 ASPH in action, but AF on this lens is lightning fast. David Farkas of Leica Store Miami explained to me that the focusing element of the lens only has to travel a very short distance. Thus, the “zeroing-in” algorithm used by contrast detection AF can very rapidly acquire focus.

Images taken with the Leica SL

Now, three lenses (of which only one is available) does not make an enticing argument for a professional photographer to jump ship to this platform. However, this being a mirrorless camera means that lenses can be adapted. Leica makes an adapter for their M and R lenses, while Novoflex makes 13 T-mount adapters that work with the Leica SL adapting a wide variety of legacy glass.

Images

I was allowed to take test images using my own SD card. However, being a dual card system (not common on Leica) I wrote most of my test images to somebody else’s SD card. My bad. Here are the few I managed to write to my own card:

Leica SL + 18mm M-Lens

Leica SL + 18mm M-Lens B&W

Leica SL + 24-90mm Zoom OOC JPEG

At this stage of the game most RAW converters do not have custom profiles for the Leica SL. Leica’s choice to use the Adobe DNG format means that RAW files can be processed right away, but it is going to take a version or two to get the conversions optimized.

I found this most evident in the ISO 3200 images (the one’s shot with an M-lens), I found the images much grainier than similar images taken by my Sony A7 II. Again optimization will help greatly in this regard, eventually.

The next two shots were to compare color rendition between the Leica SL and Sony A7 II. The Leica SL was sporting a APO-Summicron 50 mm f/2 ASPH lens via M-mount adapter and the Sony A7 II had a Zeiss Loxia 50/2 Planar (courtesy of Carl Zeiss USA).

The first image was shot with the Sony. As I have an optimized workflow, my system color corrected the image. The second was shot with the Leica SL. This image had to be cropped because the APO-Summicron 50 mm f/2 Asph has a much longer minimum focusing distance than the Zeiss Loxia. I will be honest and say that the Leica got the color right without adjustment, however, this is not an objective test. This is more a test of the AWB sensor than the image sensor’s color rendering ability.

Early Verdict

Based on my extremely short hands-on time with the Leica SL, I can safely say that this is the most professionally oriented Leica digital 35 mm camera to date. That being said, the lack of native lenses, lack of a system flash, non-existent 3rd party eco-system of accessories and equipment, and all of the other baggage that comes with a new camera system, working professionals will probably adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude regarding the use of this camera in the job. Remember, working pros need a camera that can get the job done reliably and the company has to have the chops to support them quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately for Leica, Canon and Nikon have sent the support bar pretty high. Sony is now growing its professional support services and they vastly larger resources than Leica. Also, the $12k entry fee does not help.

So who is buying this camera?

Professionally, I see fine art photographers purchasing this camera. These are pros who shoot images to be displayed in galleries. They are beholden to no one but themselves and (as DigitalRev’s Kai states) often wear hats. They often print their own images. As a professional photographer myself, I can safely say that the vast majority of my customers cannot tell the difference between images taken with a $1600 camera or one costing 8x as much. Fine Art photographers (and amateurs caught in the Leica Reality Distortion Field) can spot the differences that justify the additional expense.

Nov 242014
 

I have now had the Nikon Df for several months and have travelled quite a bit with it. The Nikon Df is the simplest full-frame Nikon in terms of features, but the design point of this camera is a retro throwback to the “good old days” when cameras took pictures, period.

Nikon Df + Sigma 24-105 f/4 DG A Lens

As such, the Nikon Df sports old school touches like a threaded cable release which allows for the use of soft-release buttons (aka “softies”). Other customizations I added were a Gordy Strap and a Gariz half-case in black. Why is this important? While the camera is indeed a tool, it is a tool that can inspire and elicit emotions in some owners. Part of the craft of photography is getting comfortable with your gear so that is becomes an extension of your hand and eye. Modern camera designs have done ergonomics to death, so much so that modern cameras all look fairly alike and follow the same design trends. Retro style camera harken back to the days when camera makers wanted to have their cameras distinctive and recognizable on sight. Cases, straps, soft-releases and the like helped make the camera your own and Nikon captured this ethos very well with the Nikon Df.

Unless I am traveling for a photo shoot, I like to keep things simple. A one or two lens kit, a small flash unit (I despise pop-up flashes), a smallish bag (I have medical supplies that have to travel with me all the time) and a device to let me review/upload my photos back home (more on that later). For this review, I selected the Sigma 24-105 f/4 OS DG A lens and Meike 310N flash gun. 

Me and Doc Brown

The Camera

The Nikon Df sports the same sensor as the Nikon D4 pro level body. This is a 16 megapixel full-frame sensor with excellent low-light capabilities. The high ISO is so good, that I never needed to use a tripod, even for the night shots. It’s that good. Here are some samples:

Universal at night

CityWalk

DJ & Hard Rock

London

M.I.B.

This camera excels at street photography and capturing nightlife. The shutter is very quiet even with the camera held up to my eye (which usually sounds like a .38 Special revolver going off). The raw files produced by the camera are very flexible and contain lots of leeway when post processing. Here are some samples that required a bit of massaging:

UM - Campus Life

Chariots of Fire

Belen Hispanic Heritage Festival 2014

Gringotts Bank II

Happy Halloween!

Tarrytown Reservoir

UM - Lake Osceola

Cape Florida

For the record, all of the panoramas are hand stitched using Adobe Photoshop. The Nikon Df lacks any fancy art modes or built-in panoramas. You want to do fancy stuff? You have to do it (new) old-school. 

The Lens

I went with the Sigma 24-105 f/4 DG OS lens for a couple of reasons: it out scored the Nikon AF-S 24-120mm f/4 G VR lens over at DxOMark (which intrigued me) and Sigma was willing to lend me the lens (as opposed to Nikon). That being said, the lens is a hefty beast, weighing in at 885g (31.2 oz), and feels solid in the hand. Fit and finish are on par with top-of-the-line lenses from the Big Three. Here are the MTF charts and the lens construction diagram (if you are into that stuff):

635 24 105mm f4 angle 150dpi

635 mtf chart

635 mtf chart 2

635 lens construction 0

Suffice it to say that the lens is sharp, sharp, sharp! The relatively slow speed of the lens (f/4) is compensated by the camera’s excellent ISO performance. The optical stabilization system is very good as is evidenced by the night shots I took. At $899 retail, this lens is a steal!

It also makes a sweet portrait lens:

A Class Act

Part of the mystique of the Df (as was heavily promoted by Nikon) is that it is a camera dedicated to photography. I know that sounds a bit stupid, but if you consider that modern cameras always come laden with a zillion scene modes, art filters, panorama functions, as well as video capabilities, the Df is very simplistic. The mode dial has four settings: PASM. That’s it. Yes, it has DRO and some in-camera profiles, but it is a minimalist design (even more so than a Leica M Typ 240 which has video but no AF). The fellow above would probably appreciate that in a digital camera.

The lack of system accessories like battery grips may put off some buyers, but it keeps the camera small.

Conclusion (and Scorecard):

The Nikon Df is the first full-frame camera I have reviewed that would be considered a travel camera. Paired with a pro quality lens like the Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS lens and a small flash you have a travel kit that is a tad heavier than the mirrorless systems I have previous tested but provides you with plenty of wide angle performance, great low light/high ISO images, and a camera design that does not get in your way.

Camera System Type Image Quality Carry-ability Overall Score
Sony NEX-7 Mirrorless CSC 5 8 6.5
Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mirrorless CSC 5 9 7
Fujifilm X-E1 Mirrorless CSC 8 9 8.5
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mirrorless CSC 7 9 8
Fujifilm X-T1 Mirrorless CSC 9 9 9
Nikon Df FF DSLR 9 7 8
Jun 262014
 

Fujifilm’s X-Series of cameras have set new standards for mirrorless camera systems. Combining a retro look and feel with cutting edge technology in an attempt to marry the old and new schools, Fuji’s latest entry, the Fujifilm X-T1 adds weather sealing, an industry leading EVF, truly outstanding lenses and pro level accessories packed in a small retro SLR package. Has the mirrorless camera finally gone pro?

My Fuji X-T1

To be honest, the idea for the retro styled mirrorless camera really goes to Olympus with the OM-D series. I have owned and tested both the OM-D EM-5 and EM-1 and both are very well built, but Fuji came along and ate their lunch with the X-series of cameras starting with the X100, the X-Pro1, X-E1 & 2, and now the X-T1. My review will not cover the technical features of the camera. There are plenty of those already out on the web. My review will be on real-world usage of the camera both in studio, out in the field and while traveling.

DISCLAIMER

These are my opinions and observations. I was not hired, aided or abetted by Fujifilm for this review. I purchased the camera with my own money (I don’t have credit cards anymore) along with lenses and accessories in order to really give a workout on my own terms. If you like this review or not, please help me out by clicking on the donate buttons to the right. This will help me greatly with getting the gear I need for my next review.

HANDLING

The X-T1 feels solid in the hand. This is due to its magnesium shell. The controls are fairly well placed and easy to learn. Following the retro design of the X Series of cameras, Fuji has opted for more traditional controls (dials, aperture rings, and switches) instead of more modern designs. The combination works well, but if you are coming from the DSLR world, you have to adapt to a couple of things:

  1. There is no mode dial. If you want Aperture Priority: take the lens off of A mode (switch), turn the shutter speed to A mode. Optionally, you can leave the ISO on A mode for Auto-ISO. Reverse for Shutter Priority. Set both to A mode for Program Mode. Take all off A for Manual Mode.
  2. There are locks on the dials, but they are inconsistent. Both the Shutter and ISO dials have locks (small buttons in the center that you have to press to turn the dial), but they operate differently. The shutter dial lock only applies to A mode. To get it out of A mode, press the button and turn the dial. After that, the dial turns freely. The ISO dial lock applies to all settings. You have to press it and hold it for all positions. This can get in your way if you are trying to manually set things in a hurry. Just underneath the ISO dial is a secondary dial that switches drive modes. This secondary dial has no lock. When fiddling with the ISO dial, fat-fingered me switched the drive mode to one of the “art modes” and all of a sudden my shots where in “Toy Camera” mode. This doesn’t help you look professional in front of customers, so double check all secondary controls after you modify the primes.
  3. Short battery life. The X-T1 is a small camera with a small battery. Fuji claims the battery is good for 350 shots but that depends on how much chimping you do. This is far cry from the battery life in my D800e + Grip or the Sony A99 + Grip that I have used professionally. I purchased the battery grip not only for my big, fat hands but for the additional battery it provides. You can pick up 3rd party batteries cheaply on Amazon or B&H. Wasabi and Watson are good brands.
  4. Electronic Viewfinder. This only applies to Canon/Nikon users as Sony users have been using EVF’s for a couple of years now. The X-T1 EVF does indeed live up to the hype. For general situations, you will be hard pressed to switch back to optical viewfinders. Give this technology another iteration or two and you will wonder why you ever used an OVF. That said, there are some more extreme lighting conditions where it performs OK but loses ground to the more traditional OVF. Like I said, give it another iteration or two and it will be a dream come true.

The camera can be a little on the smallish side as most mirrorless cameras are. The optional VG-XT1 battery grip ameliorates this and adds a second battery extending operating life. The Fuji X lenses are all very well made and their optics are superb. Fuji has opted for lens-based optical stabilization instead of sensor-based stabilization like the Olympus OM-D E-M1.

One other accessory that I like to add to small cameras is a soft release. This is an oversized button that usually screws into the shutter release button’s cable release threads and makes it easier to depress the shutter release without introducing shake. The snag here is that for all of it’s retro design cues, the X-T1 doesn’t support cable releases (unlike the rest of the X cameras). Enter a new company called Lolumina which has designed a soft release for just such cameras. Using an all aluminum design and some 3M VHB (Very High Bond) adhesive, the Lolumina soft release makes a perfect addition to the X-T1.

IMG_20140512_0102

SHOOTING

The X-T1 focuses very quickly and accurately. It may be a hair slower than the AF Champ (OM-D E-M1), but is no slouch. Odd was the shot that missed the focus. The hybrid AF system (phase and contrast detection) works.

Fuji uses their X-Trans sensor design in the X-T1 as well. This uses a 6×6 matrix of red, green and blue filters to gather color information instead of the traditional 2×2 Bayer matrix. This still gives some RAW file converters fits (most notably DxO who have not included any X-Trans sensor support to date) but Capture One 7, Apple Aperture, Adobe Camera Raw & Lightroom, Irident Developer and Photo Ninja all support the X-Trans sensor. Fuji also incorporated their knowledge of film formulation to include some rather excellent film emulations in camera. Velvia, Provia, and Astia plus a bunch of filtered and unfiltered monochrome modes are at your disposal. They can even be applied in-camera to RAW files after the shot. Very nice. The X-T1 has a very usable panoramic shooting mode.

IMG_20140425_1954

A Day at the Beach

One of my vertical panos is hanging in the Coral Gables Museum.

Biltmore Hotel Vertical Pano

The X-Trans sensor does rather well in low-light and contrasty situations. The RAW files it produces are very flexible and can tolerate a lot of post processing. Here are some samples:

Biltmore Hotel Lobby

Parliament of Clouds

IMG_20140424_1901-Edit

IMG_20140424_1904

IMG_20140425_1986

Wooden Expression

All of these images are shot handheld. The combination of optical stabilization and great high ISO performance leads to a lot of keepers. Even non stabilized lenses benefit from the X-Trans great low-light capabilities:

Eighth at Sunset

This was shot with the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 lens for Fuji X-mount (courtesy of Carl Zeiss AG).

IN THE STUDIO

Professionals do not always work outdoors. Sometimes work happens indoors in our fancy-shmancy studios. (I am working on a fancy-shmancy studio. Right now, my studio is in two bags that I haul out to my patio.) Fuji wants this camera to be picked up by pros, so I decided to give the once over in the studio environment.

Track Star

This shot was inspired by the works of Joel Grimes. As such, I shot the background separate from the subject. The background image was shot handheld and processed in Topaz Adjust to bring out the colors. The subject (my son) was shot in my patio studio with a white backdrop, a monolight + softbox aiming up at 45 degrees and a second fill light with a beauty dish lighting his hair. I processed his image with my usual sauce plus some clarity to bring out the skin details.

To make this happen with the Fuji X-T1, I had to dive into the menus and change some settings. Most notably, I had to deactivate the exposure preview in manual mode. The awesome electronic viewfinder tries to preview the shot in the viewfinder, but since we are in manual mode and the camera has no idea that strobes will be adding light to the shot, the EVF will display inky blackness instead of the image. By turning this feature off, the EVF display what is in front of it regardless of settings. The other challenge to studio work is the X-T1’s rather slow sync speed of 1/180th of a second. Most of us are used to speeds of 1/200-1/250th of a second and even faster with High Speed Sync (HSS), but the Fuji has none of this. Hopefully your strobes will be enough to freeze any motion.

TRAVEL

The X-T1, like most other mirrorless cameras are quite a bit smaller than DSLRs. This makes them ideal for traveling. Here are my two cameras side-by-side:

D800e vs XT1

Some stats:

  • Nikon D800E is 13% (17 mm) wider and 37% (33.2 mm) taller than FujiFilm X-T1.
  • Nikon D800E is 75% (34.8 mm) thicker than FujiFilm X-T1.
  • Nikon D800E [1000 g] weighs 127% (560 grams) more than FujiFilm X-T1 [440 g] (*inc. batteries and memory card).
  • Nikon D800E dimensions: 146x123x81.5 mm (camera body only, excluding protrusion)
  • FujiFilm X-T1 dimensions: 129×89.8×46.7 mm (camera body only, excluding protrusion)

See more at: Camerasize.com

The X-T1 weighs less than half the weight of the D800e and this is before you mount lenses on them! This may not seem like much when you are filled with youth and exuberance, but as you succumb to the ravages of time, it will. That, or always have an obedient, exuberant youth handy to carry your DSLR kit. Just remember, exuberant youths can eat their body weight of food daily, so factor that into your travel budget.

The most flexible lens configuration for travel with this camera (if money is no object):

Three Lens Kit:

  • FUJINON LENS XF10-24mmF4 R OIS
  • FUJINON LENS XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS
  • FUJINON LENS XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS

Two Lens Kit:

  • FUJINON LENS XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS
  • FUJINON LENS XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS

One Lens Kit:

  • FUJINON LENS XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

This last lens is a new arrival despite the fact that it was announced with the X-T1. It is a great lens for a one lens travel kit with an effective focal length of 27-206 mm and is weather resistant which activates the weather resistance on the rest of the camera (the camera has weather seals, but it’s kind of pointless if the lens does not and this is Fuji’s first weather resistant lens). The lens is optically stabilized as well.

X T1 Front Left 18 135mm WhiteBK

CONCLUSION

At the start of this I asked whether mirrorless has finally gone pro. With the X-T1, it has mostly. Yes, the launch was plagued with some light leaks and quality control issues, plus some folks complaining about the D-pad on the back not having enough tactile response and don’t get me started about the truckers’ strike in the Port of Vancouver gumming it up for a bunch of us who were trying to take advantage of some sweet deals from Fuji Canada and favorable USD-CAD exchanges.

But what exactly is a pro camera? Is it one you make money with? Yes. Does it have to be super-expensive? No. Does is have to be able to keep up with what you are doing? BIG YES. Does it need weather sealing? Depends on what you are shooting. Does it need two card slots? That is always a plus so you can have a backup of the shots you are being paid to take, otherwise, you will have to have a bit more discipline in your workflow (and probably an assistant).

The Fujifilm X-T1 pretty much hits all marks except for the dual card slots. I have used it successfully in the field and in the studio. Gotten paying gigs with it and even have four photos taken with it hanging in a museum this summer. So to answer the original question, “has mirrorless finally gone pro?”

To me, it has.

Well done, Fuji.

Mar 252014
 

The Canadian Container Truckers Strike continues with no reasonable end in sight, so I have cancelled my order with Henry’s Camera. I have placed an order with PopFlash in the USA and my X-T1 ships out today. There are no grips available yet in the USA, but I expect that to be rectified shortly. On a positive note, Really Right Stuff has posted a pre-order page for an L-plate for the X-T1 + Battery Grip – a first for compact system cameras. Carl Zeiss was also kind enough to loan me a Touit 12mm f/2.8 lens for my review. This should be fun!

VerticalGrip
Mar 072014
 

Photo review sites are always going on about cameras and lenses. Very few take the time to review some of the other gear that enables you to get the shot. Major photographic retailers have been taking advantage of the global marketplace and expanding their product lines with in-house branded accessories. Adorama graciously sponsored my site with a pair of neat accessories from in-house Flashpoint line:

The Flashpoint Glow Hexapop 24” Off Camera Softbox and the 3Pod P4CFH Carbon Fiber Fold Flat Tripod.

Fpsbsm24hpFp3pp4cfh 10
[DISCLAIMER: Adorama has provided me with the equipment used in this review. I have been instructed by Adorama to review them honestly and not hold back. Their funeral.]

Continue reading »

Feb 262014
 

Just a quick update. I have an order placed for a Fuji X-T1 for review. Originally, I placed the order with Amazon, but later cancelled it and ordered with Henry’s of Canada.

Canada?

Yes, despite the fact that I live in Miami, FL I ordered from a Canadian camera store. Why, you ask? Well, Fujifilm Canada seems to have better marketing sense than Fujifilm USA. If you buy a Fuji X-T1 body from a Canadian dealer, you get the VG-XT1 battery grip for free. Yep, free. Plus, the exchange rate favors the USD (1.079 CAD to 1 USD) so even with the expedited shipping ($12.95 CAD) I ended up spending a lot less. I just have to be patient and wait for Henry’s to get their first shipment in and pray that enough people jumped ship from the pre-order line ahead of me so that I can get my camera on the first batch.

Cross your fingers.

X-T1_Front-Left_VerticalGrip_BlackBK

Feb 052014
 

For the E-M1’s travel test, we headed off to where all Cubans go to experience snow: Gatlinburg , TN. I was asked by some friends of our who own a cabin to take some nice photos of the property to update their rental website. More on that later.

Gatlinburg, TN
 5 shot panoramic shot with the panoramic assist function.
 
Carry-ability
The E-M1, like the X-E1, is small and easy to carry. Unlike the X-E1, the E-M1 sports more robust construction including dust and weather sealing. Please note that not all of Olympus’ M.Zuiko lenses are weather sealed. Neither camera caused me any neck or shoulder pain during the trip. As I previously noted, the E-M1 is almost 19mm taller than the X-E1, mostly due to the E-M1’s OM SLR heritage.
Em1vsxe1
 
Recently, Fuji Introduced a new camera in the X line: the X-T1 which sports the Retro SLR look as well (it looks like a mini Contax RTS to me) and here is a size comparison:
X t1 vs e m1 front
 
As you can see, they are practically the same size. Looks like someone started a trend. Expect my X-T1 review in March (I am not Phil nor Steve so I don’t get early access – yet). 
 
Handling
The E-M1’s ergonomics are very well designed. A generous grip provides easy hand holding without resorting to add-on grips. If you are planning to use large legacy 4/3 lenses, you may want to spring for the optional HLD-7 battery grip which also sports a complete set of controls for easy portrait shooting. Olympus included their best-in-class 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS) and improved it by allowing it to work with all lenses including legacy glass from film lenses mounted via an adapter. Fuji uses optically stabilized lenses (of which there are currently three with two more on the way).
 
In the Field
The OM-D E-M1’s sensor is a Micro Four-Thirds 16 Mp affair similar to it’s older sibling, the E-M5 (don’t ask about the numbering scheme, no one is quite sure). However, the similarities stop there. The E-M1’s sensor does not have an anti-aliasing filter, leading to increased image sharpness. The E-M1’s sensor is usable to ISO 3200 (with post processing) whereas the E-M5 was usable up to ISO 1600. The E-M5 sensor has phase detection AF (PDAF) sensors built-in, while the E-M5 had only contrast detection AF (CDAF). While the E-M5’s autofocus speed rocked in single shot, the E-M1’s AF rocks even harder and the addition of PDAF sensors has fixed that pesky AF tracking issue.
 
OK, so how does this compare to X-E1 (the point of this story)?
 
The E-M1’s AF crushes the X-E1 to powder. It is not in the same league. The X-E2 and X-T1 are equipped with much better AF systems (including PDAF), but how it compares to the E-M1 remains to be seen (by me). Both the E-M1 and X-E1 lack anti-aliasing filters, so good glass will be stressed to the fullest (along with your photographic technique). High ISO on the X-E1 is clean all the way up to ISO 3200, whereas I am willing go up to ISO 2500 on the E-M1 with a little post-processing. YMMV.  Still, the E-M1’s combo of IBIS and fast glass rendered most high-ISO situations pretty moot as it compensated nicely and helped keep the ISO values down.
 
Here are some night shots (all handheld):
 
IMG_20131228_0142
 
IMG_20131228_0133
 
IMG_20131229_0163
 
IMG_20131229_0166
 
IMG_20131229_0172
 
IMG_20131229_0173
 
IMG_20131229_0178
 
IMG_20131229_0181
 
IMG_20131231_0301
 
IMG_20140102_0669
 
Moving targets
As I mentioned, the tracking AF on the E-M1 is much improved over its predecessor, the E-M5. Is it perfect? No, but it’s pretty close. We took the kids tubing up at the Ober Gatlinburg ski resort and gave the low budget 40-150mm f/3.5-5.6 R II lens a workout. Here’s what I found: the E-M1’s abundance of AF points (which pretty much cover the screen) can also get squirrelly and start locking on to objects that pass in front of your subject! How to combat this? Reduce the AF area to allow the camera to better track the subject. This will require a bit of skill on your part to keep the subject with the receded AF array. The 10 fps burst rate helps but actually using the 6 fps setting got better results.

IMG_20140102_0608

IMG_20140102_0543

IMG_20140102_0363

Well, that’s about it for now. I will be wrapping up this series with the next installment. Take care and please leave comments. Also, if you want to help out the site, please donate (we accept Bitcoin now) or click on the ads from our fine sponsors. Take care and keep shooting! 
Jan 142014
 

In our last episode, I wrapped up my final thoughts on the Fuji X-E1, a very capable camera (sans a few AF quirks that have been dealt with in the new model) with an excellent form factor for travel. Now I move on to the second half of this protracted review: the Olympus OM-D E-M1.

My OM-D E-M1
 
Here is my E-M1 decked out with a Gariz half-case and strap. The lens is a classic OM Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 I got off eBay for $70.

Continue reading »

Nov 302013
 

With travel preparations complete (aided in no small part by my wife, who is a closet travel agent), we boarded our Air Berlin flight and made our way to Vienna. The netbook that I mentioned in the previous installment was not placed in my camera bag, but travelled in another carry-on bag. Putting that little guy into my Think Tank Retrospective 10 would have sent me to the chiropractor. It usually traveled via suitcase and stayed in our hotel room awaiting our return at night.

I am not going to bore you with the details of the trip (I have tortured enough relatives already, no point in harming innocent bystanders) but I will go over my findings and back them up with images.

Carry-ability

Mirrorless cameras’ major selling point is small camera size with big camera images. Fuji scores well in this area. The X-E1 is pretty small. Here is a comparison to the Leica M (courtesy of camerasize.com):

Mvsxe1
 
Now to be fair, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 does well in this category as well. Here is the same comparison to the Leica M:
 
Em1vsm
 
And now, I am obligated to show the two contenders side-by-side:
 
Em1vsxe1
 
So, aside from the SLR-style viewfinder hump, the X-E1 and E-M1 are very close in size generally. Here are the two cameras compared to my main camera, the Nikon D800E:
 
Em1xe1vsd800e
 
It’s actually much more pronounced than that because I have the MB-D12 battery grip permanently bolted on the bottom of my D800E. So, I can safely conclude that both cameras are much more carry-able than a mainstream DSLR. On the trip, I had no issues carrying the Fuji X-E1 for extended periods of time. I must mention that I am generally averse to camera neck straps. I prefer to attach a wrist strap to the smaller cameras or a hand strap to the larger bodied ones. For the Fuji X-E1, I ordered a custom wrist strap from Gordy Straps. These are excellent, hand-made leather straps that are durable, comfortable, and relatively inexpensive. I paid around $35 for the one I used.
 
Now I have fairly large hands. One thing I had to do on the Fuji was to add a grip. Fuji offers one, but it covers the battery/card door and that adds a step to the entire process. Good for ergonomics, bad for workflow. ReallyRightStuff sells a grip/L-plate combo that adds Arca Swiss style rails to the camera and bulks up the grip while maintaining access to the battery/card door. RRS gear is top of the line and their prices reflect it. Sadly, that put them out of my budget. However, eBay came to my rescue in the form of the iShoot Grip. The iShoot Grip also included Arca Swiss style rails, all metal construction and maintained clear access to the battery/card door all at nearly ⅓ the cost of the RRS grip. Ka-ching! Since the X-E1 sports a rangefinder style body, it also inherited some other design quirks from it’s parentage. Most notably, a place to put your thumb and a relatively small shutter release button. These two issues were solved by adding a Lensmate Thumbrest and a soft release. There are several makers of soft releases, but I chose one from newcomer Artisan Obscura. The AO soft releases are made out of wood; furniture grade exotics like Blood Wood, Ebony, Olive Wood, Cherry Burl and Figured Walnut to name a few. The soft release screws into the cable release threads and increases the diameter and height of the shutter release allowing for smoother operation and therefor, less camera shake. In the end, my X-E1 ended up looking like this:
 
My Fuji X-E1
 
 
On the other hand, for the OM-D E-M1 I have ordered the following: A Gariz Design leather half-case and a matching Gariz Design Wrist Strap. The OM-D E-M1 has sufficient grip already that a leather case and wrist strap was all that was needed to complete it. This says something for the design engineering that goes into these cameras.
 
Garizdesigncaseem1
 
Garizdesigncaseem1 bottom
 
Garizdesignstrap
 
I fully expect the E-M1 to be just as carry-able as the X-E1, but for now I can conclude that the X-E1 was much more carry-able than my D800E. The ergonomics are OK, but when you add all of the extras, it becomes very comfortable to use. Granted, if you have smaller hands, you may not encounter these issues, but this is what I had to do to make it work for me.
 
In the field

As the trip progressed, I discovered a couple of things about the X-E1: First, the OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) in the kit lens is very, very good. This combined with the excellent quality of the lens, and the X-E1 lack of an anti-aliasing filter led to some pretty amazing captures (with my photographic skill being the main limitation). Second, the X-E1’s high ISO performance is only exceeded by pro level DSLR’s like the Nikon D3 & D4. These two factors combined allowed me to shoot most all of my night shots hand held.
 
Grand Canal
 
Il Campinario di San Marco
 
St. Mark's after Dark
 
Santa Maria della Salute
 
Lido Noir
 
Salute Noir
 
The only reason to use the tripod with this camera is include yourself in the picture (assuming there is no one around to take the shot for you). That’s it for this installment. In the next article I will cover some of the features of the X-E1 that I really found useful.