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Posts from the ‘Reviews’ category

Reviews of photographic equipment

Medium Format Redefined

S Body
THE NEW LEICA S
Medium format redefined
Latest news from Germany (hopefully in Australia soon)
Introducing the new flagship model in the Leica S-System range. Offering a host of new features, in particular, the innovative Leica Max CMOS image sensor in Leica Pro Format and the Leica Maestro II image processor with a continuous shooting rate of up to 3.5 frames per second – the new Leica S sets a new record in the medium format category. Experience shooting speed and versatility that you won’t find in other medium format cameras. The body and monitor screen of the new Leica S are extremely resilient, and numerous seals provide all components with full protection against dust and moisture.
Also new in this model is an enhanced predictive autofocus system for dynamic photography, and medium format moving pictures in ‘cine-look’ with outstanding image quality. The entire 45 mm width of the sensor is used for video recording in full-HD resolution. Combined with the exceptional quality of the S-System lenses, this advanced camera delivers a particularly outstanding visual experience for cineasts! Discover the new Leica S and an entirely new dimension in medium format photography now.
S Lenses
Lens performance at its best
The unique combination of many years of experience and state-of-the-art production methods makes Leica the only manufacturer with the ability to produce large-diameter, aspherically ground lenses of the highest quality in series production. Leica S-Lenses deliver excellent imaging performance at all focusing distances and at all apertures. Most S-Lenses are available with an innovative central shutter to guarantee maximum flexibility when using additional light sources.

Score vs Performance

Ansel Adams once said that the negative was the music score and the darkroom work was the performance. This still holds true today, although we now shoot digital. When you shoot RAW then the sensor will capture as much data as it can, but the image appears flat and lifeless. If you shoot JPG then it’s the camera that ‘performs’, e.g. makes the decision what algorithms to apply to get a good final result. But your scope of manipulating a JPG image is a lot more restrictive than working with a RAW file. I have heard the analogy that if you bake a cake and it doesn’t taste right you can add a bit of extra icing or inject some sugar syrup and try to resurrect it; that’s working with a JPG. However the changes you can make are limited. If you work with RAW however, it’s like baking a new cake from scratch, every time you change the way you work with it.

Let me try and illustrate what I mean. (A picture is worth a thousand words).
Here is a RAW file, shot near Cameron Corner in Australia’s Outback:

Cameron Corner RAW

Cameron Corner RAW

Here is a JPG file I worked on:

Cameron Corner JPG

Cameron Corner JPG

You can see the difference: from lifeless to ‘in your face’ 🙂
I’ve adjusted overall contrast, pre-sharpened the RAW file and adjusted the exposure selectively. I applied saturation and adjusted brightness level, again selectively and then applied ‘output’ sharpening to the overall image. I also use noise reduction (although that’s hardly an issue at ISO 100). The final result has punch and matches what your eye sees a lot closer.

I import my RAW files into Adobe Lightroom and do all my editing in Adobe Photoshop. This is purely my preference, there is nothing wrong with using different software. One reason I do use Lightroom extensively is that I shoot a lot of stuff with a LEICA S (*medium format) and Adobe Lightroom has camera presets in the software that are from Leica themselves. It sets a great starting point.

Samyang 14mm Super Wide Angle

LensImage
The Samyang f2.8/14mm IF ED UMC ultra wide-angle lens has an aperture range from 2.8 to 22. It is compatible with APS-C and Full Frame sensor cameras and is a hybrid aspherical lens, producing super sharp images with literally no distortion when levelled. It’s multi-layered coating reduces flare to almost zero, even when shooting directly into the sun.
In the box: The lens arrives with front and real lens caps, and an inbuilt, petal-type lens hood. It is available for Canon, Nikon or Sony A mount.
This lens is fully manual. Manual focus is not a problem as with such a wide angle lens the focus is not critical and the depth of field phenomenal. Manual setting of aperture, again, is not a problem, although the image does get darker in the viewfinder as you close the aperture down. IF you’re using a Sony body you will have to set it to fire without a lens connected, as the camera body does not recognise a fully manual lens.

Image sharpness: superb
Image distortion: minimal
Image angle: Full frame: 115.7º APS-C 58.9º
Focus: 27.4cm to ∞
Size: 87 x 96.1mm
Weight: 552g

Best news: Less than Au $500

Verdict: Value for money this is a real gem. Produced in Korea, this lens is extremely well built, durable and as good as many lens out there that costs 10 x as much.
Sony A900 Test

SONY DSC

Dee Why Beach

Carl Zeiss Tele-Tessar FE 4/24-70mm OSS

Lens
Does this lens get a bum rap?
By Franz Scheurer

The Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar FE 4/24-70mm ZA OSS lens for full frame Sony Alpha 7 cameras manages what very few manufacturers even contemplate doing: mimicking the quality of a prime lens in the wide-angle and short telephoto focal lengths and anything in between.

Is this lens not quite as good as a 24mm or 35mm or 50mm or 70mm prime? Yes, it is not; if it were, then there would be no reasons to own prime lenses

Is this lens better than the Sony 3.5/5.6 28-70mm FE OSS lens? Yes, absolutely.

So why buy the Carl Zeiss lens over the Sony?

At first glance you might ask yourself the question is the Carl Zeiss lens really worth 4 times more than the Sony equivalent? Well, the answer lies in the details.

Firstly there is a difference in focal length. There is a very big difference between using a 24mm wide angle to a 28mm wide angle.

Secondly the Carl Zeiss lens has a constant maximum aperture of f4 where as the Sony varies from 3.4 to 5.6 depending on focal length.

Size and weight wise the Sony is slightly lighter and the Carl Zeiss lens is a little bigger (it is a wider zoom range) and also a little heavier as it is a much better build, using stronger materials. The weather seal is pretty much the same and the filter size on the Carl Zeiss lens is larger. Both come with front and rear caps and a lens hood and the Carl Zeiss lens also comes with a leather bag.

The centre sharpness is far superior on the Carl Zeiss lens but the edge sharpens is what has drawn a bit of flack from other reviewers who find that the Carl Zeiss lens is not as good as they expected, compared to a prime. Yes, compared to a prime, that is true, however does it matter in practice? I’d say no. With the incredible versatility of this zoom range and the inherent sharpness and superior colour rendition and anti-flare coating I’d have the Carl Zeiss version over the Sony Zoom anytime and I absolutely love the bokeh of the Carl Zeiss lens. I do use a Carl Zeiss 35mm quite often with my Alpha 7R and I love it; it enables me to carry a camera package that is considerably smaller and much better suited to street photography, but if you’re looking for an all-rounder then I don’t think you can beat the 24-70mm at this stage.

So would I buy the Carl Zeiss over the Sony zoom? Yes, after all, I did. (I bought the Sony first, then tried out the Carl Zeiss and gave the Sony lens away)

Test Shot with Carl Zeiss Tele-Tessar 4/24-70 FE OSS

Test Shot with Carl Zeiss Tele-Tessar 4/24-70 FE OSS

ISO 25,600

For all of us growing up with film we were used to emulsions from 25 ASA to a high of 400 ASA and in special circumstances we even used a rare beast like ‘Kodak Recording Film’ which was rated at 1,000 ASA and could be pushed, with an acceptable grain, to 1,600 ASA. Once we entered the digital world (and many said: this has no future… how wrong they were) things changed pretty dramatically and pretty quickly. ASA changed to ISO (but it was basically just a name change) and suddenly when a camera ‘only’ went to ISO 6,000 is was counted as a limitation. How things have changed.

Now we see ISO ratings up into six figures but there are limitations where we pay with noise for the privilege of sensitivity. As technology advances we expect more and more and when Sony brought out the Alpha 7R, full size sensor with a 36.4 megapixel resolution it was probably the most exciting Sony release to date. The ISO range goes all the way to ISO 25,600 and I decided to test this with the constant f4 70-200 Sony G Zoom lens. The results were nothing short of astounding, and perfectly useable on a professional level. The sensor size and high megapixels, combined with in-camera noise reduction that really works, gives you a sharp, almost noiseless result. The future has indeed arrived…

The images below were taken with a Sony Alpha 7R and a Sony f4/70-200G Zoon, on Aperture priority (set to F8), all hand-held at a party, available light only, at ISO 25,600

WHisky Event at Andrew Derbige's House WHisky Event at Andrew Derbige's House WHisky Event at Andrew Derbige's House

 

New life for an old friend

Carl Zeiss always took a big risk producing a 500mm lens for Hasselblad as commercial realities simply dictated a cut off point between the ultimate quality and saleability – the lens had to be affordable. So the Carl Zeiss f8/500mm Tele Tessar for Hasselblad always displayed a bit of colour aberration at the edges and a little fall-off in the corners. Nothing drastic and it certainly was a perfectly usable lens and I loved it for landscape photography for more than 30 years. Many ugly reviews have been out there as people picked this lens to pieces and all I could say is that they either would never pay for a ‘perfect’ lens and they also probably never owned one and used it for long enough to be able to really write a detailed review; Be that as it may, I have found the perfect use for this super lens:
Hasselblad Carl Zeiss 8/500mm Tele Tessar on Sony Alpha 7R
Stick it on a Sony Alpha 7R body; Now the Sony Alpha 7R resolves 36.4 megapixels and when you use the Carl Zeiss 8/500 Tele Tessar on it then you are really only using the ‘sweet spot’ of the lens as the coverage circle (being a medium format lens) is much larger than the full-frame sensor the 7R is using. Ergo, no colour aberration and no fall off.
This lens is available on Ebay for somewhere between $700 and $1200 and the adaptor from the 7R’s E-mount to Hasselblad is available from B&H in New York and it’s going to be the best investment you’ll ever make!
Here are some quick test shots for you.

DSC05940-Edit

DSC05909-Edit

Pentax WG-III GPS

A review by Franz Scheurer

The Pentax WG-III GPS rugged pocket camera is available in various colour combinations, e.g. purple, orange, black, red and the one I tested: green. Let me say up front that I liked this camera so much I bought one.

It’s small (fits into your pocket, backpack, bag, etc. and you hardly notice it. You don’t need a pouch or a camera case as this has to be the most rugged camera on the market at present that is not in a dedicated housing, like the GoPros. It’s waterproof (to 45 feet), it’s crushproof (I can attest to that as I stepped on it by mistake) and of course it’s dustproof as well.

The camera is equipped with a 16 megapixel, backlit CMOS sensor and a new-generation imagine engine and that’s just as well as the model before this one had issues with resolution. The top sensitivity is ISO 6400 and at that it is fairly noisy, but a good noise reduction program like NIK’s Define will fix that mostly.

One of the things I found impossible with the earlier model was that there was no ‘anti shake’ technology and having such small buttons it was easy to move the camera downwards when you pressed the shutter release. This has now been fixed with a ‘sensor shift image stabilisation) and it makes a world of difference.

The camera does full 1080p30 HD video recording with h.264 compression, so that means widescreen, 1920×1080 and all that at 30 frames p/sec. An inbuilt micro-HDMI terminal in the camera lets you output video and sound simultaneously to external devices. Nice in theory but not much use when you’re filming the Attack of the Killer Yabby in 3 feet of water.

The camera is equipped with a 4x Optical Zoom (25-100mm in a 35mm camera) and the largest aperture is f2, which is really quite fast for this type of camera. The camera’s autofocus system works well and the ‘press and hold’ exposure memory works well, too. This model is also equipped with two more focus modes, ‘macro’ and ‘1cm macro’. It’s really easy to take good close up shots with the ‘macro’ mode and for the users who have the patience to do a ‘real’ close-up the camera is equipped with six LED macro lights, arranged in a circle around the lens, which lets you illuminate the subject evenly in the ‘1cm macro’ mode. A bright, anti-reflection, 3” high resolution (460,000 dots) offers a good view and re-view.

The results speak for themselves. This is a really impressive little ‘throw it in’ type of camera that doesn’t care if the going gets tough; this one keeps on going.

Price? Well with all those features you’d expect this to be quite expensive but surprise, surprise, this camera is VERY affordable.
I did (and would again) buy this camera from B&H Photo Video Pro Audio in New York where you’ll pay an astonishingly low $ 296.95 and they ship to Australia (you don’t pay any duties or customs as Australia has an agreement with the US for parcels up to $2000) and it will be yours in less than a week.

For more information

 

 

 

PX WG-III GPS

Sony Alpha 7R

Review by Franz Scheurer

I lost my Sony RX1 and not having a pocket camera was not an option. Looking at the RX1R was irrelevant as it wasn’t available in Sydney anywhere, so I looked for an alternative. My requirements were simple:

–       small

–       light

–       full size sensor

–       top quality prime lens

The only one that matched all criteria was the Sony Alpha 7R and it was available.

Small, full frame sensor, interchangeable lens system camera

Small, full frame sensor, interchangeable lens system camera

So I bought it and here is what I found to differentiate it immediately from the RX1:

–       interchangeable lenses

–       viewfinder

–       36.3 MP

Now I use this camera as a pocket camera so I don’t really want any other lenses and the 2.8/35mm Carl Zeiss is an amazingly sharp lens with great colour correction and it even comes with a lens hood. (The lens hood for the 35mm RX1 fixed lens was absurdly expensive). The viewfinder is superb and adds considerably to the usability of the camera, especially in really challenging light situations.

Lenses available in the new FE style are:

–       4/24-70mm Carl Zeiss OSS

–       3.5-5.6/28-70mm Sony OSS

–       4/70-200mm Sony G OSS

–       2.8/35mm Carl Zeiss and finally

–       1.8/55mm Carl Zeiss

The choice of two zooms in a similar range and no ultra wide angles seems a little odd, so is the omission of a macro lens, but no doubt they will hit the market soon. Please note that the Sony Alpha 7R has an E-mount but you will need the new FE lenses to take full advantage of the full-size sensor. There are a fair few APS-C lenses out there that will fit (and crop) and there are a number of A mount to E mount converters available. In reality, if you invest in an Sony Alpha 7R buy the FE lenses and although you can use other lenses on the camera, even Leica lenses, you won’t get the perfect quality/size balance and easy of use that you will get with the FE lenses.

The camera is available with the 24.3MP or the 36.3MP sensor and again, why settle for second best? The resolution and depth of detail that you get with the 36.2MP sensor are astounding. A friend of mine once likened the smaller as against the larger sensor as: chocolate cake versus chocolate mousse. He was bang on target.

A Bionz X sensor allows for more sophisticated processing over the previous one and it even offers ‘diffraction reduction’ lessening the diffraction softness you get when you stop down a lens. Of course the camera not only offers the standard aperture or shutter priority settings, program and panorama, but also a full manual override and manual focus with optional focus peaking etc. etc. I adore the ergonomics of the camera; whoever designed this really understood the way a photographer naturally works and every single control is exactly where you would expect it.

They do also offer an optional battery grip, a first for an E mount camera, and it will help with vertical shooting and holds an extra battery, but it also adds significantly to the bulk of the camera. Personally as I don’t use the Sony Alpha 7R as a system camera but as a pocket camera, I would not consider this. I’d rather just carry a spare battery.

I am impressed that all the new generation Sony cameras are chargeable via an USB cable; be that from a charger, from a computer, from the car, etc. It certainly expands usability tremendously.

Sony has certainly gone down just about every possible digital path with their cameras in the past, from dual autofocus to translucent mirror technology, to their NEX system but the Sony Alpha 7R is probably the single-most exciting release in years of our digital camera life.

The Sony Alpha 7R is not cheap; on the other hand it is superb value for money and in the end that is what counts.

For more information and pricing look up the Sony website. In Australia http://www.sony.com.au

The Mouse That Roared

By Franz Scheurer

Today’s rapidly moving technology can leave even experts confused and make it hard to choose a camera that can ‘do it all’. If you want a high level of control, a large range of lenses, good usability in bad light and the option of taking great pics and high definition movies, then you either lug a DSLR outfit along or you look at one of the new mirror-less cameras.

But if you also want a camera that is easy and fast to use and delivers amazing results set to fully automatic, then, in my opinion, your only choice is the Leica V-Lux 4.

Great all-round camera with a decent zoom

Great all-round camera with a decent zoom

This camera is light and ridiculously small for what it does. It delivers pin-sharp images throughout an enormous zoom range from 25mm to 600mm (35mm equivalent). An ISO range from 50 to 3200, which is set to ‘auto’ by default and a Leica first, and a zoom lens that maintains maximum aperture of 2.8 throughout the zoom range, guarantee good images in low light. Set it to multiple images (from 2 up to 60 per second) and you have a perfect safari camera, making it easy to capture those big cats or birds in flight plus giving you High Definition video. The auto-focus is quick, throughout the range, and much more accurate than most human eyes. The results with the whole camera set to automatic are unbelievably good; it’s like having your own professional photographer in your pocket.

The camera comes with an inbuilt, pop-up flash, full manual control if you so desire, a strap and a lens hood. The only thing I suggest you buy on top of what’s in the box is a UV filter to protect your lens. It’s a lot cheaper to buy a new filter should you scratch it than replace the camera.

It truly is a ‘Mouse that Roared’.

Leica S System

German medium format camera that leaves a big impression

Leica S-System

If you have a thirsty passion for photography, and happen to be looking for one of the best medium formats there is on the market right now, you could do a lot worse than the Leica S.

Leica’s reputation precedes them, like most producers of luxury goods. Naturally, upon entering the medium format market they are not in it to cut corners, neither with the body nor the lenses, but of all the challenges that lie in producing a successful system camera, getting photographers to change system is perhaps the most difficult.

Entrenched would be the accurate word – photographers, both professional or enthusiasts of the highest motivation, will likely have invested large sums of money in a range of lenses; familiarised and perhaps more importantly comfortable with the equipment chosen after careful consideration. A newcomer (the S) has to be better and, crucially, to be perceived as better. The Leica S not only lives up to this premise, but excels at it – in a field they have never entered before.

Leica S and attached Adapter C – enabling the use of Contax 645 SLR  lense

As a medium format, the Leica S’ technical difference comes from the huge sensor incorporated in the body; it does not use a digital back. There is no possibility for the sensor to be misaligned with the body, a real danger in other cameras that is more pronounced when subjected to the elements and wear and tear of travel.

Optimal image quality is guaranteed through the combination of large sensor, superior processing and a lightning fast autofocus system. The camera body itself is surprisingly small giving a pleasant experience when using the camera handheld. A 2GB buffer memory assists when continuously shooting – able to capture up to 32 consecutive raw images with lossless compression at a rate of 1.5 frames a second.

Fast, intuitive and offering all the mod-cons of a professional medium camera (even inbuilt GPS), the through-the-lens viewfinder is a stand-out feature; comfortably the largest in the camera world. The 3-inch display on the back of the camera, at 920,000 pixels, does the 16.7 million colours justice with a brightness and legibility that carries through even in unkind lighting conditions. The body boasts dual memory card support for simultaneous writing of data, DNG raw files and JPGs to separate cards.

The S lens range stretches from an astounding 24mm ultra wide angle to a 180mm telephoto, incorporating a 30-90x zoom and a superbly crisp 120mm macro. With the lens range expanding rapidly, the desired focal length is likely not far away. To the benefit of system-switchers and lens-aholics alike, Leica produce adapters that allow compatibility with Hasselblad and Contax lenses.

Proving its worth out of studio, the S range is splash proof. Situations in the rain or snow should pass without the worry that such a precious investment will suffer.

An exceptionally worthy choice at the top end of the medium format market, the Leica S has many tricks we feel make it worth getting to know a little better