Admiring Light http://admiringlight.com/blog Photography Reviews, Photos, News and Musings Fri, 19 Dec 2014 15:09:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Fujifilm X-T1 Firmware 3.0 http://admiringlight.com/blog/fujifilm-x-t1-firmware-3-0/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/fujifilm-x-t1-firmware-3-0/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 23:17:24 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4376 As many Fuji shooters are aware, Fujifilm released major firmware updates for many of the X-Series cameras today. While the venerable X-Pro 1 and X-E1 saw only minor improvements with the addition of full-time manual focus capabilities, X-E2 owners got a more substantial upgrade, adding remote shooting, an intervalometer and the Classic Chrome film simulation …

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As many Fuji shooters are aware, Fujifilm released major firmware updates for many of the X-Series cameras today. While the venerable X-Pro 1 and X-E1 saw only minor improvements with the addition of full-time manual focus capabilities, X-E2 owners got a more substantial upgrade, adding remote shooting, an intervalometer and the Classic Chrome film simulation in addition to the AF/MF update.

However, those cameras received nowhere near the update that Fuji X-T1 owners received. X-T1 Firmware 3.0 adds a total of 27 documented features to the camera, and word is (and my experience seems to show) a 28th that is undocumented. I’ve spent some time today checking out the new features and seeing what Fuji got right, what they missed, and what they still need to address.

X-T1: Firmware 3.0

X-T1: Firmware 3.0

Firmware 3.0

X-T1 owners who haven’t yet made the leap should do so. As Patrick from Fuji Rumors said this morning, “Download your new X-T1.” (X-T1 FW 3.0 via Fujifilm) It’s a great way of wording the announcement, as the sheer size of the update and the number of features included make this an unprecedented firmware update. It really is like getting a version 2 of the camera (though without any major change to core functionality or image quality.) While the link to the firmware posted above gives you a full list of all 27 features, I’m going to touch on what I feel are the most important additions, as well as a few things that aren’t done as well as they should be. Let’s dive in.

Full-Time Manual Focus

This is the one update that all four main X-series cameras received (oddly, the X-M1 and X-A1 were omitted from this upgrade cycle). Basically, much like the functionality that is found on most major camera systems, this allows for manual focus tweaking after you’ve utilized autofocus. Simply half-press the shutter, and then move the focus ring while keeping the shutter pressed, and the camera will go into manual focus mode, allowing you to fine tune focus to your liking. It works like you’d expect, though I haven’t yet found a way to enlarge the viewing area during full-time manual focus like you can when the camera is set to manual focus.

The one down side to Fuji’s implementation? The clutch lenses. The 14mm f/2.8 and 23mm f/1.4 (as well as the upcoming 16mm f/1.4) have manual focus clutch mechanisms to quickly switch between auto and manual focus. Unfortunately, AF/MF in this firmware messes with that functionality a bit. Fuji was likely torn about how to add this functionality to ALL lenses…and frankly, I think they should have simply made it so that the clutch lenses can’t do it.  At the very least, they should have made a menu option to choose how this functionality is handled. As it is now, if AF/MF capability is enabled, pulling back on the focus clutch doesn’t switch you to manual focus. Rather you stay in AF-S mode and turning the ring will allow for full-time manual focus. However, the distance scale doesn’t work in this mode (and you need to make sure it’s more or less centered if you’re using this feature to avoid the hard stops).  A consequence of this is the camera now requires you to both pull back the clutch AND flip the focus selector lever to Manual in order to use the regular manual focus mode, thus negating the convenience of the clutch mechanism in the first place.

Electronic Shutter

Shutter speeds up to 1/32,000 second are now available

Shutter speeds up to 1/32,000 second are now available

In my opinion this is the biggest upgrade in the new firmware.  The X-T1 now features a full electronic shutter for shutter speeds between 1 second and 1/32,000 second. Yes, that’s right, 1/32,000. To my knowledge, that’s the fastest available shutter speed on any mirrorless camera or DSLR. However, due to the rolling shutter required by CMOS sensors, the speed isn’t useful for capturing action. Instead, it is extremely useful for capturing shots in bright sunlight with the super fast f/1.4 and f/1.2 lenses in the XF lineup without the need of a neutral density filter. Indeed, you can now shoot at f/1.2 in broad daylight and have no worry about overexposure, and can even shoot into the sun a bit for wide open silhouettes.

The electronic shutter also allows for completely silent shooting for those times in quiet locations or in situations where a shutter clack would cause distraction. By default, the electronic shutter plays a quiet ‘click’ sound, and you can even select one of three different shutter sounds and select the volume. I personally have selected ‘off’ for the volume so that the shutter is completely silent, and it works as advertised. Note that if you are stopping the lens down at all, you may still hear the quiet click of the aperture blades as they stop down.

Because of the rolling shutter mentioned above, this mode does have some drawbacks that you need to be aware of. First, you can’t use flash with electronic shutter. The sensor readout is just too slow to allow for that. Second, the camera isn’t good for fast-moving action or camera movement while using electronic shutter. Movement in the frame, even with ultra-high shutter speeds, will cause distortion as the readout occurs from top to bottom. Also, Fuji won’t even allow for continuous autofocus during burst modes if electronic shutter is selected.

They took this a step too far by making the very convenient MS+ES selection ALSO disable continuous autofocus in a burst. The MS+ES mode uses the mechanical shutter for speeds between bulb exposures and 1/4000s, then seamlessly switches to the electronic shutter at faster shutter speeds. To use continuous AF during burst shooting, make sure to select Mechanical Shutter (MS) only, and it’ll work just like it did before the firmware update.

Overall, this is a great feature to have on the X-T1, and there are many situations I’ve had where I wished for silent shooting capability or the higher shutter speeds in lieu of whipping out an ND filter.

Customizable Q Menu

Besides the electronic shutter, this feature actually provides the most day-to-day benefit for my shooting, and I’m grateful to have it. Fuji’s excellent 16 option Quick Menu has provided quick access to a variety of settings since the beginning of the X-series, and for X-T1 owners, you now have the ability to customize it.

The new customizable Q menu puts your most needed settings at your fingertips

The new customizable Q menu puts your most needed settings at your fingertips

I’ve grown accustomed to the excellent programmable Fn menu on recent Sony cameras, and the new Q menu on the X-T1 is right up that alley. I’ve always hated having JPEG parameter adjustment on there while more important functions like Flash Exposure Compensation were relegated to the menu. I have placed the self timer in the first position for convenience, then added quick access to the mechanical/electric shutter setting, silent mode, movie options, focus peaking settings and flash exposure compensation. My Q menu is now how I like it.

Fuji has made it so that many functions can be placed on this menu, and have also expanded the functions that can be assigned to the programmable function buttons. Smaller control changes that are quite nice include a quick toggle for Macro mode rather than a menu selection and direct selection of focus points, which many shooters have desired for some time (though I’m not one of them).

Continue: Classic Chrome, Natural EVF, Autofocus and More

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]]> http://admiringlight.com/blog/fujifilm-x-t1-firmware-3-0/feed/ 5 Review: Fujifilm Fujinon XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-fujinon-xf-50-140mm-f2-8-r-lm-ois-wr/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-fujinon-xf-50-140mm-f2-8-r-lm-ois-wr/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 04:50:47 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4341 Fujifilm’s X-Series interchangeable lens system has only been around for a bit less than three years, and in that time, they’ve managed to put together a rather impressive lens lineup.  However, missing from that lineup until recently are pro-grade fast zoom lenses.  While the fast standard zoom is set to be released in 2015, Fuji …

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Fujifilm’s X-Series interchangeable lens system has only been around for a bit less than three years, and in that time, they’ve managed to put together a rather impressive lens lineup.  However, missing from that lineup until recently are pro-grade fast zoom lenses.  While the fast standard zoom is set to be released in 2015, Fuji users get the telephoto zoom just before the holidays.  Today I’ll review the Fuji 50-140mm f/2.8 OIS WR.  This is the second weather resistant Fuji lens, and the first constant f/2.8 zoom lens.  This is a pro-grade zoom lens with a pro-grade price, retailing for $1599.  Can this large mirrorless lens meet the very high expectations that Fuji users demand?  Let’s find out.

The Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8 mounted on an X-T1 with Vertical Grip

The Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8 mounted on an X-T1 with Vertical Grip

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective.  You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those.  I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool in real-world shooting. 

Construction and Handling

The full size of the 50-140mm can be appreciated in this side view

The full size of the 50-140mm can be appreciated in this side view

The Fuji 50-140mm f/2.8 is an extremely solidly built lens, constructed predominantly of metal, with some high-grade plastics in use for the zoom ring.  It definitely feels like a professionally built lens.  There is an integral tripod collar that can’t be removed, though the foot of the tripod mount can be removed.  The zoom ring is extremely smooth and moderately damped while the focus ring is a bit stiffer, but also very smooth.  The aperture ring on the lens is the best of any Fuji lens.  Very firm with nice detents without being difficult to use.  The controls on the lens definitely feel top-notch.

The lens stays constant in length during zooming and focusing and the included lens hood reverses for storage and stays tight to the body.  The constant f/2.8 aperture and telephoto focal lengths necessitate a larger lens than your average mirrorless optic, and the Fuji 50-140mm is indeed a pretty big lens.  It’s notably larger than the XF 50-200mm and it’s not particularly light either, at least compared to other XF lenses. While this is somewhat inevitable due simply due to physics, it’s worth noting because it may change how you carry around your kit if this lens is in it.  The lens is long enough that it wouldn’t fit into my Think Tank Suburban Disguise 20 bag, which is small by DSLR standards but rather spacious for a mirrorless kit.  Well, the lens itself would fit, but there was no way I was getting it in mounted to the camera.  As a result, I utilized my Domke F-803 satchel that I haven’t used since 2009.

If you use a camera with a substantial grip, the 50-140 does handle well in the field, making the size and weight more a concern for transport and bag selection than an actual issue in usage.  However, I view having a camera with a grip a must for using this lens.  An X-Pro-1, X-E1 or X-E2 with accessory grip or an X-T1 are the only things I’d want to use with this lens.  For most of the review period, I used the X-T1 vertical grip as well, as I felt it made the whole combination better balanced and more comfortable.  There is a notable issue with the lens, though, in that the tripod foot really needs to be removed or swung completely out of the way if you’re using the vertical grip, as it is located too far back towards the mount of the camera, and pinches fingers when using the vertical grip.  It’s a shame because the tripod foot is well-balanced and the collar is incredibly smoothly rotating, making it a joy to use on a tripod…just not with the vertical grip.

The convenient knock-out for polarizer access in the lens hood (click to enlarge)

The convenient knock-out for polarizer access in the lens hood (click to enlarge)

The lens is also the second Weather Resistant lens in the Fujifilm XF lineup.  Being a constant length lens, my guess is the sealing will be a bit more robust than the 18-135mm.  I didn’t have a chance to thoroughly test the weather resistance, though I did shoot a bit in some light rain, which posed no problems whatsoever with the lens or the camera. The lens does have the same questionable design of the mount gasket found on the 18-135mm, where the rubber surrounds the mount rather than pressing flush to it.  My shooting in the rain didn’t get the lens soaked enough to see if the same issue I found on the 18-135mm was present, however.

The lens hood I mentioned earlier has a nice little feature: a piece of it can be removed to allow for easy access to a polarizing filter while the hood is mounted.  The opening is on the bottom of the lens hood, so the hood will still be effective in use.  This is just a really nice design touch.

Autofocus and Optical Stabilization

The Fuji 50-140mm features a new triple linear motor for fast and quiet autofocus operation, and for the most part, it’s a very nicely focusing lens.  In good light, AF is very fast and extremely accurate when used with a body like the X-T1.  Indoors, however, it slows down rather considerably, and on lower contrast subjects can hunt a bit.  If you have strong contrast, it does fine indoors, but it isn’t the holy grail of focusing.

The good news is that in good light, it is definitely fast enough to be used for tracking action.  I took some shots of cyclists and joggers coming towards me and got a very high hit rate of perfectly in focus shots when using the 8fps burst of the X-T1 in continuous focus mode.

Now we’re on to the 50-140’s optical stabilization.  The 50-140mm uses a similar stabilizer to that used in the XF 18-135mm, with a claimed effectiveness of 5 stops.  I found the 50-140’s to be even slightly better than the outstanding stabilizer on the 18-135mm.  While I didn’t regularly achieve the full five stops on the 18-135mm, I was able to get sharp shots somewhat consistently at 1/6 second at 140mm on the 50-140mm.  Simply put, the stabilizer on the 50-140mm f/2.8 is the best on any lens I’ve used, by any manufacturer.

Continue: Image Quality

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Fuji 50-140mm f/2.8 vs. Fuji 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 http://admiringlight.com/blog/fuji-50-140mm-f2-8-vs-fuji-55-200mm-f3-5-4-8/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/fuji-50-140mm-f2-8-vs-fuji-55-200mm-f3-5-4-8/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 03:57:26 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4323 The latest telephoto lens from Fujifilm is their long-awaited pro-grade 50-140mm f/2.8 OIS WR.  The lens fills the role of the typical 70-200mm zoom lens in the Fujifilm system.  Fuji already has a well-regarded telephoto zoom in a more compact package in the 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 OIS.  The 55-200mm is, of course, slower in aperture and …

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The latest telephoto lens from Fujifilm is their long-awaited pro-grade 50-140mm f/2.8 OIS WR.  The lens fills the role of the typical 70-200mm zoom lens in the Fujifilm system.  Fuji already has a well-regarded telephoto zoom in a more compact package in the 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 OIS.  The 55-200mm is, of course, slower in aperture and notably smaller in size than its constant-aperture sibling.  But how do the two lenses compare in the overlapping range?  That’s what I wanted to find out.

The Fuji Telephoto Zooms - 50-140mm f/2.8 on the left, 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 on the right

The Fuji Telephoto Zooms – 50-140mm f/2.8 on the left, 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 on the right

Construction and Handling

While the two lenses share much of their range, they are certainly not identical lenses.  The 55-200mm is about 2/3 the length, features a body made predominantly of high-grade plastics and features a non-weathersealed extending zoom mechanism.  The 50-140mm f/2.8 is an internally zooming, weathersealed lens made of metal and plastics that is not only larger but notably heavier than the 55-200mm.  In fact, it’s 71% heavier than its slower sibling.

The 50-140mm is by far the largest current lens for the Fuji X System, and it’s one of the largest mirrorless lenses period.  However, it’s still roughly the same size as a full frame 70-200mm f/4 lens, so we’re not talking enormous, but it definitely will require a good size bag.  Overall, the 50-140mm is the better constructed lens, while the 55-200mm handles much easier and fits better within the ‘small camera system’ mentality. There’s also a rather hefty price difference, with the 55-200mm available right now for only $550 (regularly $700), while the 50-140mm will run you a whopping $1599.

Sharpness

To test sharpness, I took a series of photographs at infinity at 55mm, 90mm and 140mm, from wide open through f/8.  Center and edge/corner crops are presented in the images below.  All images were taken with the lens and camera on a tripod, with 2 second self timer and OIS set to off. 100% crops are presented below. To see the images at full size, click on the image, and when it loads, click the green arrow at the bottom to enlarge to 100%.

100% Crops @ 55mm

100% Crops @ 55mm

At 55mm, the 50-140mm starts out very strong in the center right from f/2.8 and is even very good in the corner. An outstanding performance here. At f/3.5, which is the widest aperture for the 55-200mm, you can see that the 55-200mm is average at best here.  The 50-140mm is clearly superior in both the center and the corner.  The corner has sharpened up a bit here on the 50-140mm, yielding quite good resolution.  At f/5.6 and f/8, the 55-200mm improves significantly, producing very sharp images in the center and good corners, though both still lag behind the 50-140mm, which is producing outstanding resolution across the frame at smaller apertures.

100% Crops @ 90mm

100% Crops @ 90mm

At 90mm, the 50-140mm is a smidgen softer than it was at 55mm when wide open, but is still producing good results here.  At f/4 (the widest aperture for the 55-200mm), both lenses are quite good, though the 50-140mm stays ahead both in the center and on the edge (the corners were not at the same distance for this focal length).  Stopping down to f/5.6 and then to f/8 brings both lenses into excellent territory, with the 50-140mm still maintaining a very slight edge, though it’s quite small here.

100% Crops at 140mm

100% Crops at 140mm

At 140mm, frankly both lenses are very good right from their maximum apertures, and both are excellent across the frame at f/8, with the 50-140mm again holding a very slim lead.

Overall, it’s clear the 50-140mm is the superior lens when it comes to resolution.  It produces excellent resolution at all focal lengths and apertures.  While I didn’t have time this evening to pull crops at all distances close up, I can describe that the differences between the lenses are quite similar to the distant test, though the 50-140mm is actually even sharper at closer distances producing outstanding resolution across the frame at any setting.  The 55-200mm lags a bit, especially at the wide end, but by a margin similar to what’s shown in these tests.

Continue: Bokeh and 40-150mm f/2.8 First Impressions

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Review: Olympus M. Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-olympus-m-zuiko-40-150mm-f2-8-pro/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-olympus-m-zuiko-40-150mm-f2-8-pro/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 03:41:11 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4283 2014 is shaping up to be the year of the professional grade telephoto zoom lens.  Sony started off the year with their full frame 70-200mm f/4 for E-mount, and Olympus, Fuji and Samsung all announced new f/2.8 zooms at Photokina this year.  Today we’re looking at Olympus’ brand new M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lens, which …

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2014 is shaping up to be the year of the professional grade telephoto zoom lens.  Sony started off the year with their full frame 70-200mm f/4 for E-mount, and Olympus, Fuji and Samsung all announced new f/2.8 zooms at Photokina this year.  Today we’re looking at Olympus’ brand new M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro lens, which is the only one of the new lenses to go longer than the typical 200mm equivalent. The 40-150mm f/2.8 has a field of view similar to an 80-300mm lens on full frame, with a constant f/2.8 aperture and a professional grade build with weathersealing.  This is the second f/2.8 telephoto lens for the Micro 4/3 system, after Panasonic released their excellent 35-100mm f/2.8 a few years back.  Olympus is really focusing on high-grade optics with their PRO line, and expectations are high for this lens.  The lens retails for $1,499, but given the range, speed and build quality, that price point isn’t unreasonable, given that the lens performs to expectations.  Let’s see if it does.

The Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 with vertical grip.

The Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 with vertical grip.

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective.  You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here.  There are plenty of other sites that cover those.  I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool in real-world shooting. 

Build Quality and Handling

The 40-150mm f/2.8

The 40-150mm f/2.8

As you’d expect from an f/2.8 telephoto zoom, the 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO is not a small lens.  Well, it’s not a small lens for the Micro 4/3 system, anyway.  While the 40-150mm is compact in comparison to full frame 70-200mm lenses, compared to the other lenses in the Micro 4/3 system, it’s a monster.  This is not a discreet lens that fits in a tiny bag.  It’s got some size and some heft, and you definitely feel the weight when you first pull it out.  However, after walking around with it for a while, you do realize the benefits of the smaller Micro 4/3 system. Even with the battery grip as outfitted above, the camera and lens did not weigh me down while I was out shooting with it.  I definitely recommend shooting with some sort of gripped camera, however, with either the accessory grip on an E-M5 or an Olympus E-M1.  The lens will handle well on the larger Panasonic bodies as well, such as the GH3 or GH4, but given the lack of optical stabilization, you’ll want to use a camera with in-body IS if you can.

The lens is extremely solidly constructed of high-grade metals on the tripod collar, lens barrel and mount, with top grade plastics for the hood, zoom and focus rings.  The zoom ring is well damped and moves extremely smoothly.  The lens is both internally focusing and zooming, so the overall length stays constant at any focal length.

The focus ring utilizes a focus clutch mechanism to easily switch between autofocus and manual focus operations, much like the Olympus 12mm f/2 and the 17mm f/1.8.  When the focus ring is forward, the lens will utilize autofocus, but the focus ring can still be turned for full-time manual focus adjustment and fine tuning after utilizing the autofocus motor.  When the ring is pulled back, a distance scale is revealed and the lens switches to manual focus mode.  There are hard stops at each end when the ring is pulled back, and while the feel is nice, it’s still a focus-by-wire system.  Much like the 12mm f/2, though, manual focus with the ring pulled back is in discrete steps, and, especially at further focus distances, this makes achieving extremely precise focus during manual focusing somewhat more challenging.  I’m not sure why the same fine focusing ability that is available in autofocus isn’t there in manual focus mode.

The 40-150mm's tripod collar can be removed to minimize size.

The 40-150mm’s tripod collar can be removed to minimize size.

Being a relatively heavy and long lens, the 40-150mm comes with an included tripod collar.  Like all collars, turning the knob on the foot will allow you to rotate the camera between horizontal and vertical orientations without adjusting your tripod.  The collar turns smoothly and is well constructed.  The collar can be removed from the lens by flipping the foot to the top of the lens and sliding it off the mount end.  While this may be desirable in an effort to reduce overall size, I preferred to simply leave the collar on all the time.

One nice feature of the 40-150mm f/2.8 is the included lens hood.  After years of failing to include accessories like lens hoods with even their high-end lenses, it’s nice to see Olympus has reversed the trend recently.  Not only do you get the tripod collar in the package, but a very ingeniously designed lens hood is included as well.  The hood clips on like any other bayonet-mount lens hood, but instead of reversing, the hood slides back and forth in a similar manner to that of the hood for the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro.  To extend the hood, you simply pull on it until it clicks into place.  To retract the hood, a gentle twist on the spring-loaded ring around the outside of the hood will release the lock and allow you to slide the hood back into the compact position.  This mechanism improves speed of operation and convenience, and it was really nice to use in practice.  I have to say, though, with the hood retracted, the lens looks really fat. It is reminiscent of a shrunken version of a 200mm f/2.0 lens for full frame cameras.

The 40-150mm f/2.8 lens hood extends and retracts easily

The 40-150mm f/2.8 lens hood extends and retracts easily

The lens also features a programmable function button that works with Olympus cameras.  Any of the programmable functions of the camera can be programmed to the L-Fn button, giving some extra versatility when using the lens.

Focus Performance

The 40-150mm f/2.8 is billed as a pro lens, and as such, focus speed is important.  For the most part, I found the 40-150mm f/2.8 to focus extremely quietly, quickly and accurately.  In good light, focus was nearly instantaneous, and accuracy was outstanding.  Unfortunately, I don’t own a Micro 4/3 body that has Phase-Detect AF capability, so I couldn’t really test continuous autofocus, but the focus speed is fast enough that I have no doubt it would perform as well or better than the other very fast focusing Micro 4/3 lenses.

However, I did notice that in lower light, the lens had a lot more problems.  While the lens did OK in most situations in dimmer light, there were plenty of times it went sort of crazy hunting.  Because of the sheer speed of the focus motor, it hunts very quickly, but there is no doubt that, at least on the E-M5, it does have a tendency to hunt in some instances indoors and at night.

One nice feature is the great close-focusing ability of the lens.  With the broad focal range to 300mm equivalent and the close focusing distance of only 0.7m, the 40-150mm f/2.8 is capable of capturing subjects as small as about 3 inches across. While this is well out of macro territory, it is great for closeups of flowers or other small objects, as well as extremely tight portrait work.

Continue: Image Quality

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Review: Panasonic Lumix LX100 http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-panasonic-lumix-lx100/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-panasonic-lumix-lx100/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 22:37:54 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4224 Panasonic has had a long line of premium compact cameras in their LX lineup.  Previously, these cameras featured fast lenses, premium construction and fairly good image quality, considering the relatively small sensor.  However, with the rise of high-end compact cameras with large sensors, such as the Sony RX100 series and Canon’s G1X lineup, Panasonic felt …

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Panasonic has had a long line of premium compact cameras in their LX lineup.  Previously, these cameras featured fast lenses, premium construction and fairly good image quality, considering the relatively small sensor.  However, with the rise of high-end compact cameras with large sensors, such as the Sony RX100 series and Canon’s G1X lineup, Panasonic felt the pressure to up their game, and they’ve responded with their new LX100.  This premium compact camera features a Micro 4/3 sized sensor and a fast f/1.7 to f/2.8 zoom lens covering a range equivalent to 24-75mm on a 35mm camera.  In addition to the new innards, Panasonic has also revamped the controls, opting for direct control dials and a built-in corner EVF.  The LX100’s steep pricetag of $899 (available at B&H Photo Here) sets some lofty expectations, but can it meet them?

Panasonic Lumix LX100

Panasonic Lumix LX100

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool.  I am not a videographer, so my reviews concentrate on the still imaging capabilities of a camera.

Construction and Handling

The Lumix LX100 is a camera with a fast zoom lens and a large sensor, which makes achieving extremely small size rather difficult.  While the LX100 isn’t as small as the Sony RX100 III, it still manages a petite body given the innards.  The LX100 contains a 4/3 sized sensor, though a small part of that sensor is cropped, yielding a sensor with an approximately 2.2x crop factor.  However, the biggest reason for the larger size is coupling that larger image circle with the fast 10.9-34mm f/1.7-2.8 zoom lens.  The lens features 11 elements in 8 groups with a whopping 5 aspherical elements.  As a result, the lens protrudes about an inch from the camera body.

Panasonic Lumix LX100

Panasonic Lumix LX100

The LX100 isn’t super small, but it is small enough to fit in a jacket pocket, though you can forget about fitting it in a typical jeans pocket.  While some have expressed disappointment with the chunky size, I found it to be quite nice in actual use.  While Panasonic makes an even smaller interchangeable lens camera in the GM1 and now the GM5, those cameras are so small that handling suffers a fair bit.  The LX100, on the other hand, features a small but comfortable grip, along with a nice thumb rest.  The camera nestles comfortably into your hand and shooting for long periods with the camera is likewise comfortable.  The larger size also makes room for a nice EVF without cramping your face against your hand while shooting.

The LX100 is constructed predominantly of high-grade aluminum, and it feels incredibly solid.  The dials, including the rather substantial aperture ring, are also made of metal and have a wonderful feel with positive clicks with the perfect amount of resistance.  Overall, the package exudes quality, and feels great in use.

Operation and Controls

The Top Controls of the LX100

The Top Controls of the LX100

With the LX100, Panasonic has taken a page out of Fujifilm’s book and created a camera with retro-style controls.  In fact, they’ve essentially exactly copied Fujifilm’s control scheme, at least for the major exposure parameters, as the top and front controls are essentially identical to the Fuji X100 series.  A nicely knurled aperture ring with firm detents and an A setting for autoaperture selection surround the front of the lens housing, while a multi-function ring sits behind it.  This ring can be set to a number of different functions, from zoom control to ISO and focusing.  I preferred to utilize the ring for controlling the zoom, as I naturally expect zoom controls to sit in that location.  Unfortunately, zoom speed is rather pokey, even when utilizing the ring on the lens barrel.  However, when in manual focus mode, this ring is naturally used for focusing, and here the speed and tactile feedback are essentially perfect.

Also located on the somewhat crowded, yet still functional lens barrel are two switches.  One controls focus operation, allowing you to choose from Autofocus, Autofocus with close focusing and Manual focus.  The switch on top of the lens barrel directly changes the aspect ratio of the image.  In the introduction, I noted that the LX100 doesn’t use the complete Micro 4/3 sensor, and it uses the extra area for true multi-aspect usage.  Instead of cropping the image circle for different aspect ratios, each aspect ratio uses the full image circle projected by the lens, which means 4:3 has a greater vertical field of view than the other ratios, while the 16:9 ratio gains significant horizontal field of view.

The switches are nice and firm, which will prevent you from accidentally changing the settings.  However, I found the two switches are located a bit too close to the body, which makes them somewhat awkward to operate.

On top of the camera sits a shutter speed dial with markings to 1/4000 second, along with a dedicated exposure compensation dial that sits at the upper right.  As someone who shoots Fujifilm cameras regularly, I fell right into familiarity with this control scheme.  The top also features the shutter button, which is surrounded by a typical zoom rocker switch if you choose to zoom this way.  Beside the shutter button sits a dedicated button for art filters.  While the Panasonic art filters are actually really well done, I was rather disappointed that they garnered their own dedicated button that can’t be reprogrammed.  I’d have much preferred this prime button position to be programmable for other functions.

The focus switch can be seen along the lens barrel.  This image shows the lens at full extension at 34mm

The focus switch can be seen along the lens barrel. This image shows the lens at full extension at 34mm

The rear of the camera features a typical four-way control pad with integral rear dial, which activates focus selection, ISO, drive mode and white balance.  There are two programmable function buttons and the movie record button as well, plus a dedicated display button for changing view modes.

Button operation is predominantly well done, though things can still be a bit cramped given the small size of the camera.  I fell into a nice routine with this camera quite quickly, with the controls feeling natural after only a few hours of shooting.

The only major issue I have with the controls on this camera is the inexplicable omission of a touch-sensitive rear screen, and I wouldn’t have minded some tilt capability as well.  Panasonic has been putting in touch screens on their Micro 4/3 cameras for years now, and so the lack of one here is particularly glaring.  While most functions are easily handled by the dials and buttons, selecting a focus point quickly was much more of a chore without a touch screen.  While the camera can be configured for direct focus point adjustment, there are simply so many fine steps where the point can be placed that it makes it a slow process to change the focus point.

The menu system for the LX100 is taken more or less directly from Panasonic’s recent Micro 4/3 cameras, so if you are familiar with that system, you’ll be right at home with the LX100.  The menus are clearly organized and easy to navigate.  I think Panasonic has one of the better menu systems around among the compact and mirrorless manufacturers.

Continue: Viewfinder and Performance

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First Impressions: Panasonic LX100 http://admiringlight.com/blog/first-impressions-panasonic-lx100/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/first-impressions-panasonic-lx100/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 11:23:26 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4215 I’ve got the Panasonic Lumix LX100 advanced compact in for review this week, and I’ve had a few days to play around with it so far.  The LX100 is Panasonic’s first real high end compact camera with a large sensor, packing a 16 Megapixel 4/3 sized sensor with a fast 24-75mm equivalent f/1.7-2.8 zoom lens. …

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I’ve got the Panasonic Lumix LX100 advanced compact in for review this week, and I’ve had a few days to play around with it so far.  The LX100 is Panasonic’s first real high end compact camera with a large sensor, packing a 16 Megapixel 4/3 sized sensor with a fast 24-75mm equivalent f/1.7-2.8 zoom lens. It retails for $899 and can be ordered from B&H here.  Due to the lens image circle, the full area of the 4/3 sensor isn’t used, so it acts as a 12 megapixel sensor that is slightly smaller than 4/3.  Instead of the typical 2x crop factor, the LX100 features a 2.2x crop factor.

Panasonic Lumix LX100

Panasonic Lumix LX100

The camera is a bit larger than some of the large sensor compact competitors, but I’ve found I really like the size.  It’s small enough to fit in a jacket pocket (though forget your pants), but big enough to actually feel nice in the hand.  Overall ergonomics and controls are excellent, though there are definitely some improvements that could be made, such as the addition of a touch screen. In fact, the omission of a touch screen on this camera is perhaps its most glaring weakness, as moving the AF points around is a bit of a chore without the touch capabilities we’ve come to know on almost all other Panasonic Micro 4/3 cameras.  AF is blisteringly fast and the EVF is quite nice for a camera this small.  Image quality is a small step behind the 16MP m4/3 cameras, due to the cropping of the sensor, but it produces rather nice images overall.

Unfortunately, the big RAW converters don’t have support for the LX100, so I’ve been processing RAW files using Photo Ninja, which can demosaic most any file.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the lens profile corrections since it’s not officially supported, and as you’ll see in my review in the coming week, this camera needs lens profile correction, especially at the wide angle end of the zoom range.

I’ll get much more in-depth with the camera in my full review, which is coming up in the next week!  Stay tuned!

First Snow, Columbus, OH - Panasonic Lumix LX100 @ 10.9mm, f/8

First Snow, Columbus, OH – Panasonic Lumix LX100 @ 10.9mm, f/8, ISO 200

Snowy Trail - Panasonic Lumix LX100 @ 10.9mm, f/1.7, ISO 200

Snowy Trail – Panasonic Lumix LX100 @ 10.9mm, f/1.7, ISO 200

 

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Review: Sigma 19mm f/2.8 DN Art (Sony E-Mount) http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sigma-19mm-f2-8-dn-art-sony-e-mount/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sigma-19mm-f2-8-dn-art-sony-e-mount/#comments Sun, 02 Nov 2014 22:00:47 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4183 Sigma’s mirrorless lens lineup at the moment consists of a trinity of prime lenses, from wide-angle to short telephoto. We take a look at the widest of the current Sigma DN lenses for mirrorless lenses, the 19mm f/2.8 DN Art. The Sigma 19mm has been around for a little while, but, along with the 30mm …

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Sigma’s mirrorless lens lineup at the moment consists of a trinity of prime lenses, from wide-angle to short telephoto. We take a look at the widest of the current Sigma DN lenses for mirrorless lenses, the 19mm f/2.8 DN Art. The Sigma 19mm has been around for a little while, but, along with the 30mm f/2.8, received an overhaul in the past year when the lens was added to the ‘Art’ lineup. The lens is available for Sony E-Mount and Micro 4/3. I reviewed the Sigma 19mm f/2.8 for Micro 4/3 in January 2013, though it was obvious it was designed with the larger APS-C Sensor in mind. Sigma has made some updates with the Art version of this lens, so let’s see how this newer version fares. The Sigma 19mm retails for $199, and can be purchased at B&H Photo here.

Sigma 19mm f/2.8 DN Art on the Sony A6000

Sigma 19mm f/2.8 DN Art on the Sony A6000

Build Quality and Handling

Like the other two Sigma DN Art series lenses, the 19mm f/2.8 DN Art is a compact lens finished with a two-tone metal body. The lens comes in both silver and black, and the black version is reviewed here.

Sigma 19mm f/2.8 DN Art

Sigma 19mm f/2.8 DN Art

The Sigma 19mm is a well constructed lens built with high quality plastics, a metal mount and metal lens body. The rear ring of the lens is metal clad and finished with a matte black finish, while the front of the lens features the broad focus ring, which is a high gloss black metal. While the lens isn’t particularly dense, it still feels very nicely built, especially given the price. The only down side is that the focus group does rattle around in the lens body when the camera is powered down.

The lens is lightweight and relatively compact, allowing for easy handling and storage. A short bayonet mount lens hood is included, and is the same hood that comes with the Sigma 30mm and 60mm lenses.

The focus ring is prone to fingerprints, but the black finish fares better than the silver in this regard. The ring is well damped and easy to operate, but the smooth finish can be a bit slippery if you’re wearing wool gloves or the like. While it doesn’t offer great grip, the focus ring is still rather pleasant to use when manual focus is needed.

Autofocus Performance

The 19mm f/2.8 focuses quickly and surely. While there are faster focusing lenses around, there’s nothing to complain about with regards to speed. I found accuracy to be quite good. One down side is that it is not compatible with the phase-detect autofocus available in most of the modern Sony camera bodies, so tracking autofocus isn’t going to be particularly amazing.

Continue: Image Quality

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Fall Reflections http://admiringlight.com/blog/fall-reflections-2/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/fall-reflections-2/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:43:00 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4172 I stopped by one of my new favorite locations, Fallsville Falls, in order to try to capture the beautiful waterfall surrounded by fall colors.  Unfortunately, despite somewhat steady rain off and on the past few weeks, the waterfall was essentially dry.  Only a trickle of water dripped off the edge of the highest ledge, though …

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I stopped by one of my new favorite locations, Fallsville Falls, in order to try to capture the beautiful waterfall surrounded by fall colors.  Unfortunately, despite somewhat steady rain off and on the past few weeks, the waterfall was essentially dry.  Only a trickle of water dripped off the edge of the highest ledge, though still pools of water were everywhere.  However, as is often the case, there’s usually something else interesting to shoot, and indeed, the lower part of the gorge stream well below the waterfall had filled up somewhat and the still water with rich fall colors presented some excellent opportunities for capturing some great images.

Key here is one thing: don’t forget to turn around.  A lot of times when you get to a location, you get fixated on the ‘main feature’ of a location, and turning around can often get you some excellent images, and even better: more unique images.

Autumn Stream - Sony a6000 with Rokinon 12mm f/2 @ f/16

Autumn Stream – Sony a6000 with Rokinon 12mm f/2 @ f/16

Fall Reflections - Sony a6000 with Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN Art @ f/11

Fall Reflections – Sony a6000 with Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN Art @ f/11

Golden Reflections - Sony a6000 with Carl Zeiss 90mm f/2.8 Sonnar (Contax G) @ f/11

Golden Reflections – Sony a6000 with Carl Zeiss 90mm f/2.8 Sonnar (Contax G) @ f/11

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Review: Fujifilm VG-XT1 Vertical Battery Grip http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-vg-xt1-vertical-battery-grip/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-vg-xt1-vertical-battery-grip/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 21:37:24 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4159 One accessory that is common among most manufacturers is an add-on vertical grip with duplicated controls and space for one or two extra batteries. Fuji didn’t provide one of these vertical grips for any of the rangefinder-styled X-series cameras, but with the SLR-styled X-T1, the vertical grip has followed. I’ve had the VG-XT1 vertical battery …

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One accessory that is common among most manufacturers is an add-on vertical grip with duplicated controls and space for one or two extra batteries. Fuji didn’t provide one of these vertical grips for any of the rangefinder-styled X-series cameras, but with the SLR-styled X-T1, the vertical grip has followed. I’ve had the VG-XT1 vertical battery grip for my X-T1 for a few months now, and I thought I’d share the pros and cons of this important accessory.

The Fujifilm X-T1 with battery grip VG-XT1 and the Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2

The Fujifilm X-T1 with battery grip VG-XT1 and the Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2

Battery grips for mirrorless cameras are often met with one of two different schools of thought.  Some view them as essential to add better handling to cameras that are a bit too small for their hands, while others wonder why you would intentionally make a camera larger that is designed to be small.

Well, the reasons for a grip such as this are twofold: First, the grip does allow for better handling, especially with larger lenses.  It extends the regular hand grip, but more importantly adds a vertical grip allowing you to shoot much more comfortably with the camera in the portrait orientation.  Second, the grip contains a slot for a spare battery, which will allow you to shoot longer without stopping for more power.  This can be crucial when you’re shooting events.  So how well did Fuji make the VG-XT1?

Construction and Handling

The grip, detached from the camera body

The grip, detached from the camera body

The VG-XT1 is a single piece accessory that screws into the bottom of your Fuji X-T1.  The grip is constructed predominantly of high-grade plastics with a slightly textured finish that matches the magnesium body of the X-T1 fairly well.  The grip is covered on all sides by grippy rubber of the same style and texture as the main camera grip.  Like the X-T1 body, the VG-XT1 is sealed against dust and moisture.  When the grip doesn’t contain an extra battery, it’s very lightweight, and adding that spare battery actually helps make the camera balance a bit better.

To attach the grip to the camera, you must first remove the rubber cover on the base of the camera to reveal the grip contacts.  Fuji has added a recess in the grip to store the rubber cover so that you won’t lose it. You then simply screw the grip into the tripod socket using the locking wheel.  Two metal posts insert into the base of the camera to prevent any twisting or flexing.  Indeed, with the grip attached, there is no movement or twisting at all, and the VG-XT1 simply feels like part of the camera. Fuji has provided a lug on the bottom of the grip to attach a wrist strap to, which is the best attachment point when using the grip, as the strap works equally well for both camera orientations.

Fuji did a great job with the ergonomics of the grip, with a nice contour to the vertical grip and a comfortable finger notch near the vertical shutter release.  In fact, it’s good enough that the vertical grip is actually a fair bit more comfortable than the main grip of the camera.  It simply feels great in the hand, and when shooting vertically, it’s significantly easier on your arms, and allows for a more steady shooting position.

Operation and Controls

The rear grip controls

The rear grip controls

The Fuji VG-XT1 duplicates most of the main controls operated by the right hand for use in the vertical orientation.  The most important of these is the shutter release, which sits on top of the grip (when shooting vertically) in essentially the same position as the main release.  While a little shorter in travel, Fuji has done a good job in replicating the pressure for half and full press on the vertical shutter release.

Also present on the grip are the Focus Assist button, the AE-L and AF-L buttons and both front and rear dials.  The dials feel a little less robust than their main camera counterparts, but they operate with similar resistance and fall in generally the same spots as on the camera. The buttons feel the same too, but unfortunately, due to layout restrictions, they are not placed in the same spots.  While this doesn’t bother me too much with the AE-L and AF-L buttons, as I don’t use them all that often, I don’t like how they’ve arranged the buttons with regards to Focus Assist.  I use the focus assist button quite often, especially when manually focusing, and the FA button sits higher than it does on the camera.  In fact, the AE-L button sits in roughly the same position on the vertical grip as the FA button is on the camera, which leads to a lot of accidental AE-L pressing in my case.  In my opinion, the AE-L and FA buttons should swap positions.

It would have been very nice to have a duplicate exposure compensation dial on the vertical grip as well, but I understand the difficulty in properly implementing this. While I eventually adjusted to reaching left for EC when shooting vertical shots, it took some getting used to.

Because of how it attaches to the camera, the grip prevents quick changing of the battery in the camera body, but you can, of course, change the battery in the grip when it’s depleted.  Because of this, the camera is programmed to use the battery in the grip before using the battery in the camera.

In all, the grip worked very well in real world usage.  I shot a Bar Mitzvah using my X-T1 with the VG-XT1 attached, and the extra battery life and comfort in portrait orientation were very welcome, especially as I was wearing a suit jacket throughout the ceremony, which is awkward to wear when shooting vertical shots without the vertical grip.

The VG-XT1 from the back, attached to the camera

The VG-XT1 from the back, attached to the camera

Conclusion

The Fuji VG-XT1 vertical battery grip is an accessory that will certainly not be required for most shooters, but is something that is worth checking out if you shoot a lot of events or do other long shoots, both for added comfort as well as a doubling of battery life.  It’s a well made accessory that fits beautifully on the camera and operates well, though a few of the design decisions with regards to button placement could be better thought out.  

If you need extra battery life or think you might need a vertical grip for your X-T1, the VG-XT1 is a well executed addition.  If you prefer to keep the camera as small as possible, however, you’ll want to give it a pass.  While the grip is off my camera most of the time, when I need it, I’m very glad that it’s in my kit.  Recommended!

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Planning the Eclipse Shoot http://admiringlight.com/blog/planning-eclipse-shoot/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/planning-eclipse-shoot/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 01:41:50 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4149 One of the keys of successful outdoor photography is planning.  While many great shots have been made simply by ending up in a good spot by chance, and then having a great composition catch your eye, for many types of shoots, especially with landscapes, prior planning can make the difference between coming back with a …

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One of the keys of successful outdoor photography is planning.  While many great shots have been made simply by ending up in a good spot by chance, and then having a great composition catch your eye, for many types of shoots, especially with landscapes, prior planning can make the difference between coming back with a good shot, and coming back with nothing.

Shooting a scene with a lunar eclipse in it is one of those things that really requires prior planning to make the best of the situation.  Today we had a total lunar eclipse over a large portion of the earth.  It so happens that in the Eastern United States, the eclipse was to happen near moonset.  A few days prior to the eclipse I saw that it would just after 5 AM, with total eclipse beginning around 6:25.  I pulled out the Photographer’s Ephemeris (a fantastic app, which is available as a web app, and as standalone apps that you can get here on iOS and here for Android), and began looking at potential angles.  If you don’t know about The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE), it allows you to do a multitude of research on conditions at specific locations and times.  The most useful for me is the ability to pinpoint a location, then see how the sun and moon will move across the sky for a specific time and date.  I plugged in today’s date, and played with the time slider around the time of the eclipse.  It turned out that the moon would be aligned with one of the major roadways in my city (Columbus, Ohio), just before the total eclipse, and would be at approximately 18 degrees of elevation around that time.  Knowing the three prominent skyscrapers in the city are approximately 500 feet tall, I did some quick trigonometry to figure out how far from the buildings I’d need to be to have the moon situated below the peak of the buildings but still somewhat high in the frame.

This gave me an intersection in the city from which to shoot, and allowed me to contemplate compositions knowing where the moon would be in advance. I went downtown this morning and looked to park near that spot, so I’d be the right distance back to get the framing I was after.  There was a public garage right near the intersection I had planned in advance, and I parked my car.  As luck would have it, the garage itself turned out to have a better vantage point than my original street level location, though it all came about because of the initial planning to determine the proper distance and knowing the framing of the moon between the buildings.  After taking a few shots from my original location, I went back to the garage, taking the elevator all the way to the roof, 11 stories up, for an excellent city vantage point, with the moon placed right between two of the larger skyscrapers in the city.  Good planning and advance timing let me get the shot, and no time was wasted walking up and down the blocks hoping for the right angle or the right distance to frame the moon vertically.

Of course, I also took a handful of shots of the moon itself, close up, but frankly those shots are ones that millions of people took today.

Lunar Eclipse over Columbus – 10 Image Stitch, Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

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