Admiring Light http://admiringlight.com/blog Photography Reviews, Photos, News and Musings Sun, 29 Mar 2015 17:18:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Review: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-olympus-om-d-e-m5-mark-ii/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-olympus-om-d-e-m5-mark-ii/#comments Sat, 28 Mar 2015 23:24:24 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4787 It’s been three years since Olympus first rolled out their highly successful OM-D line of cameras with the E-M5.  That camera redefined what a mirrorless camera could be, and was the first mirrorless camera that truly made a push for the enthusiast photographer.  Since then, the exceptional E-M1 has followed as well as a lower …

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It’s been three years since Olympus first rolled out their highly successful OM-D line of cameras with the E-M5.  That camera redefined what a mirrorless camera could be, and was the first mirrorless camera that truly made a push for the enthusiast photographer.  Since then, the exceptional E-M1 has followed as well as a lower cost E-M10.  This year, Olympus has updated the original, and today I review the E-M5 Mark II.  The E-M5 II is a camera that stays true to its predecessor, but adds a number of key features, including one that breaks serious new ground for Micro 4/3.  Let’s dive in and see what Olympus has managed to do.

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

The Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

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 Olympus E-M5 Mark II stays true to the original E-M5 in its design, but features some notable upgrades in construction.  The camera is still made of magnesium alloy, but it feels harder, denser and simply more solidly built.  It’s the same feeling of quality that I got when I picked up the Sony A7 II.  This is a very sturdily built camera with a nice stippled matte finish. The camera is available in both black and silver.  I reviewed the black, but I have to say, I think the silver version of this camera looks downright amazing.

In any case, the solid construction extends to the dials and switches.  The two main dials sit atop the right side of the camera, allowing for easy access with the index finger and thumb.  Both dials are very beautifully knurled and move smoothly and positively, with nice clicks between settings.  The shutter button sits on top of the front dial and is also metal, unlike the original E-M5’s shutter button.  The buttons on the top and rear of the camera are fairly small, but they are notably bigger than the original E-M5’s, though they don’t have quite the polish and solid feel of the rest of the camera.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8

Despite a very similar appearance, Olympus has made some changes to the main grip of the camera, and those changes are a bit of a double-edged sword.  The grip retains the same subtle curve to grip, but instead of the vertical ridge that the original has, the Mark II features a curving edge as it moves up the body, which allows for a small finger hold near the top.  Combined with the new rubberized covering, the E-M5 Mark II’s grip is notably more secure than the original’s.  However, this comes at the expense of comfort. Despite the better purchase, the grip forced my middle and ring fingers down and towards the lens, making the it feel cramped.  The rubber is less slippery than the original mesh weave grip of the E-M5, but it’s also a very hard rubber, so there’s no cushioning to the cramped grip.  The result is a camera that is easier to hold on to, but less comfortable in the hand.

The E-M5 Mark II features the same improved weather sealing that first appeared on the OM-D E-M1.  The camera is sealed against dust and moisture and is freeze-proof to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.  I didn’t get a chance to shoot in the rain during my time with the camera, but knowing the robustness of both the original E-M5, which I’ve owned since it came out, and the E-M1, I have no doubt the camera would hold up very well when used with a weather sealed lens.

Operation and Controls

The top controls of the E-M5 II

The top controls of the E-M5 II

The OM-D E-M5 Mark II features a number of control updates to the original E-M5 that make it a more capable camera in the field.  First, as I mentioned earlier, the two main control dials are positioned perfectly.  The rear thumb operated dial is moved to the same position as on the E-M1, which makes it far easier to reach when the camera is to your eye.  The PASM mode dial is still on the left side of the camera, but it’s gained a push-button lock that allows you to keep the dial from moving if desired. Bizarrely, it also has switched orientation from the original, so that the selected mode is on the far left of the dial rather than the far right as on the E-M5.  The power switch is on the left side of the viewfinder hump, just like on the E-M1.  I’m not a huge fan of this position since it requires two hands to turn the camera on, but it didn’t pose a problem either.

The big adjustments come in the far greater number of controls available to the shooter without going into the menus.  The original E-M5 featured two programmable function keys, plus the four tiny directional buttons of the rear four-way controller.  The E-M5 Mark II retains these controls, but adds two additional programmable function buttons and adds another button in the center of the 2×2 Dual Control switch that sits above the screen. The top of the camera has the Fn2 button and movie record button in the same places as the original E-M5, but the new Fn3 and Fn4 buttons (which default to EVF control and HDR mode) also sit on top, to the left of the main dials.  All of these buttons are easily accessed with your index finger, though the movie record button is the hardest to press.  However, that is very likely intentional, as it makes accidentally pressing it difficult as well.

The rear of the camera features the four-way controller which has larger and easier to press buttons vs. the E-M5.  The E-M5 II’s 2×2 switch is tucked above the screen to the left of the rear dial.  Surrounding the four-way switch are the Menu, Info, Trash and Play buttons. All of the controls, save for one, are easy to access and difficult to press accidentally.  The control that isn’t easy to use is the 2×2 switch.  While the switch is easily moved from position 1 to position 2, flipping it back isn’t as easy.  The lever gets extremely close to the top of the screen, and there’s very limited space to flick the switch upward.  With bare hands, it’s not too bad, but it becomes very difficult to operate while wearing gloves.

The rear controls and screen of the E-M5 Mark II

The rear controls and screen of the E-M5 Mark II

If you haven’t had a chance to use the 2×2 Dual Control system on an Olympus camera before, it’s a very nice method of doubling the easy to access parameters using the main dials.   You can customize the operation of the dials in each position of the switch, but by default, when the switch is in position 1, the two dials control exposure parameters (shutter speed and aperture in manual mode, aperture and exposure compensation in aperture priority mode, etc).  When the switch is moved to position 2, the dials change to controlling ISO and White Balance (by default).

The overall degree of custom controls that can be had with the E-M5 Mark II is impressive, and after setting up the camera to your liking, it minimizes the amount of time you need to dive into menus during regular shooting.

The incredibly detailed main menu

The incredibly detailed main menu

Speaking of menus, there are two main interfaces for detailed settings on the E-M5 Mark II, and they both should be familiar to existing Olympus shooters.  First is the Super Control Panel, which is finally activated by default.  Pressing the OK button in the center of the four-way brings up this handy menu that allows one to change most of the main shooting settings, from In-Body Image Stabilization modes, self-timer, anti-shock, electronic shutter and High Resolution mode, AF point, Face Detection, JPEG settings, drive mode and more.

More detailed customization settings are found in the main menu. This too should be familiar to Olympus shooters and infuriatingly confusing to those new to the camera.  While it’s admirable that Olympus provides the ability to change behavior on an extremely wide variety of option, but despite their best efforts at organization, the sheer volume of options can be overwhelming until you become intimately familiar with the system.  There are five main sections of options, but the Custom Menu (gears) is where the real meat comes in, with a simply staggering number of options.  If this becomes your main camera, however, you’ll eventually become proficient in figuring out where things are.  The biggest reason to not worry too much is that after initial setup, you really don’t need to delve into the menu system that often, due to the customized buttons and the Super Control Panel.

Continue: Viewfinder, Performance and Flash

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Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II – A Quick Test of 40MP Mode http://admiringlight.com/blog/olympus-om-d-e-m5-mark-ii-a-quick-test-of-40mp-mode/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/olympus-om-d-e-m5-mark-ii-a-quick-test-of-40mp-mode/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 01:00:24 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4773 I just received the Olympus E-M5 Mark II in for review today, and I’ve only had a few hours to shoot so far.  However, like anyone interested in this camera, the very first thing I had to test was the 40 megapixel Hi-Res mode.  The E-M5 Mark II has a feature that shifts the sensor …

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I just received the Olympus E-M5 Mark II in for review today, and I’ve only had a few hours to shoot so far.  However, like anyone interested in this camera, the very first thing I had to test was the 40 megapixel Hi-Res mode.  The E-M5 Mark II has a feature that shifts the sensor in 1/2 pixel increments for 8 shots, then assembles a final image that yields a true 40 Megapixel image.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

For this rather informal test, I put the E-M5 II on a tripod and took back to back shots: the first at the native 16 megapixel resolution and the second in the 40 Megapixel Hi-Res Mode.  IS was turned off for the 16MP shot, and triggered with a 2 second self timer to ensure the sharpest shot possible.  Hi-Res mode was triggered with a 1 second delay before the sequence started.

The first test I performed was a simple shot near infinity of the city skyline, with the Scioto River in the foreground.  The 40MP mode requires no movement in the scene (and no movement of the camera), so I was curious how it would fare with the moving water.  The full shot, reduced from the 40MP original, is below:

Test 1: City Skyline - Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II - 40MP High-Res mode

Test 1: City Skyline – Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II – 40MP High-Res mode

I then took the 16MP image and enlarged it to the same pixel dimensions as the 40MP image.  This will allow a direct comparison of the extra level of detail offered by the 40MP mode.  I could show both at 100%, but then discerning the real detail is harder…viewing both at the same magnification (as one would if you were printing both to, say 36″ wide), makes a lot more sense, as I’ve done here.  The 16MP image is on the left, while the 40MP image is on the right.  Click to enlarge the image and see it full size. Verdict?  If you take care and use a sturdy tripod on a static scene, you get a massive increase in true resolution and detail with the 40 Megapixel mode.

100% Crops (Click to Enlarge) - 16MP image to the left, 40MP image to the right

100% Crops (Click to Enlarge) – 16MP image to the left, 40MP image to the right

About that moving water: Indeed, the river shows some artifacts in the 40 megapixel image, as expected.  However, at least in this scene, they are fairly minor.  A 100% crop is seen below.  It’s worth noting that taking the 40 megapixel image and downsampling to 16 megapixels will eliminate the artifacts seen in the crop below.  It also results in an extremely sharp 16MP file that shows more detail than the standard 16MP file from the E-M5…so even if minor motion artifacts appear, a very good image can still be had throughout, though you will lose some of that resolution that you’d gain if the whole image were still.

Artifacts caused by moving water in the 40MP image

Artifacts caused by moving water in the 40MP image

For the next image, I did a closer image of something completely static.  The processed image is below:

Vines and Door - Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II  - 40MP High-Res Mode

Vines and Door – Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II – 40MP High-Res Mode

Again, I took 100% crops of the two images, with the upsampled 16MP image to the left, and the full 40MP image to the right.  Note that the crops below are from the unprocessed image, straight out of the camera. Again, the 40 megapixel image shows a very stark advantage in detail.  Again, click the image to view the crops at full size.

100% Crops - 16 MP Image (left), 40MP image (right) - Click to Enlarge

100% Crops – 16 MP Image (left), 40MP image (right) – Click to Enlarge

Early conclusions?  If care is taken on a truly static scene, the 40 Megapixel high-resolution mode is no gimmick: it really does produce a massively high-resolution file with a very clear advantage in detail.

I’ll be exploring more about the 40MP mode as well as everything else about the new E-M5 Mark II in my upcoming review.  Come back for that shortly!

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Shooting on the California Coast http://admiringlight.com/blog/shooting-on-the-california-coast/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/shooting-on-the-california-coast/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2015 16:16:26 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4757 I recently went to San Diego, California for a seminar.  The timing was tight, with travel on two of the three days I was there, and attendance at the seminar for large portions of the day.  The only real time to get out and take a few pictures was the afternoon of the day I …

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I recently went to San Diego, California for a seminar.  The timing was tight, with travel on two of the three days I was there, and attendance at the seminar for large portions of the day.  The only real time to get out and take a few pictures was the afternoon of the day I arrived, and early in the morning and one of the evenings.  Still, the inner photographer in me awoke, and I made sure to get out and shoot, getting up early before the sun rose to be in position for pre-dawn shooting, and planning a spot via prior research to snag a nice sunset over the Pacific. That involved climbing down a cliff side to get to the rocks jutting into the sea, but it was well worth it. All told, I’m quite pleased with the results I achieved in the limited time I was there, and I thought I’d share several of my photos from the quick trip.  I hope you enjoy!

Click on an image to enlarge

Rocks Before Dawn - LaJolla Cove Beach, LaJolla, California - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 OIS @ 24mm, f/16, 3 min 30s

Rocks Before Dawn – LaJolla Cove Beach, LaJolla, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 24mm, f/16, 3m 30s, ISO 200

Scripps Pier, La Jolla, CA - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 10mm, f/8, 2m 40s, ISO 200

Scripps Pier, La Jolla, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 10mm, f/8, 2m 40s, ISO 200

Scripps Pier, La Jolla, CA - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 24mm, f/16, 1m 30s, ISO 200

Scripps Pier, La Jolla, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 24mm, f/16, 1m 30s, ISO 200

Pacific Sunset - Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, San Diego, CA - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 21mm, f/11, 1/80s, ISO 200

Pacific Sunset – Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, San Diego, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 21mm, f/11, 1/80s, ISO 200

Sea Lion on the Rocks, La Jolla Cove Beach, La Jolla CA - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 @ 200mm, f/4.8, 0.7s, ISO 1000

Sea Lion on the Rocks, La Jolla Cove Beach, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 @ 200mm, f/4.8, 0.7s, ISO 1000

Scripps Pier, La Jolla, CA - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 55mm, f/8, 2.1s, ISO 200

Scripps Pier, La Jolla, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 55mm, f/8, 2.1s, ISO 200

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, San Diego, CA - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 10mm, f/8, 1/150s, ISO 200

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, San Diego, CA – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm @ 10mm, f/8, 1/150s, ISO 200

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Thoughts on Tripods http://admiringlight.com/blog/thoughts-on-tripods/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/thoughts-on-tripods/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2015 01:26:59 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4741 Ahh, tripods.  Those stalwart things from times of yore, still fundamentally the same as those used over a hundred years ago.  Of course, the materials have changed, the heads have improved dramatically, and there’s more choice than ever before.  A lot of people, especially newer shooters with small kits, don’t want to carry around a …

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Ahh, tripods.  Those stalwart things from times of yore, still fundamentally the same as those used over a hundred years ago.  Of course, the materials have changed, the heads have improved dramatically, and there’s more choice than ever before.  A lot of people, especially newer shooters with small kits, don’t want to carry around a big tripod, and even fewer want to spend a significant amount of money on one. Today I’m going to discuss both why it’s essential that you have a tripod, and why it’s imperative that you don’t skimp.

Why you need a tripod

If you’re like most shooters nowadays, you do most, if not all, of your shooting handheld.  I also fall into that camp, especially when it comes to candid portraiture and a lot of my city shooting.   It frees you to explore the area you’re in, allows you to be stealthier and more nimble.  There’s definitely a place for handheld shooting.  However, when the light drops, when I’m doing serious architectural shooting and for almost all my landscape shooting, my tripod comes out.  Not only does it enable many techniques that aren’t available when you’re shooting hand-held, but I find I get significantly better shots when I’m shooting with a tripod in these situations.

There are a few key reasons to grab a tripod for shooting scenes, even in good light.

Slow Shutter Speeds

Main Street Bridge - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 16mm, f/8, 1.9s

Main Street Bridge – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 16mm, f/8, 1.9s

Of course, one of the biggest reasons to shoot with a tripod is to allow for shooting with slow shutter speeds.  Whether shooting landscapes and cityscapes at night, long exposures to show movement of people or exposures in conjunction with dark ND filters to show movement during daylight scenes, slow shutter speeds open up a world of shooting that you simply can’t do without a tripod or other stable support system.

If you’ve never shot at night, you’re missing out on a huge world of shooting.  Places look different at night.  Cities light up with streetlights, windows glow and signs blare in rich vivid color.  The motion of headlights and tail lights add interesting trails to your images.  Using a tripod makes capturing these scenes easy, and the rich color of twilight is one of the ideal times to be out shooting.  Sure, with today’s sensors and fast glass, you can capture scenes at night while shooting handheld, but this invariably means very high ISOs and shallower depth of field.  This can be great in the right circumstances, but often you’ll want the added depth of field and sharpness from shooting at f/8 or f/11, combined with the silky smooth images and better tonal and color response of shooting at base ISO instead of ISO 6400 or 12,800.

Fallsville Falls - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 30mm, f/16, 40s, ISO 200 with Polarizer

Fallsville Falls – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 30mm, f/16, 40s, ISO 200 with Polarizer

Another key reason to use slow shutter speeds is to convey movement.  Whether showing the motion of flowing water to obtain that silky look to waterfalls, blurring the movement of people while the background stay sharp or capturing the sweep of clouds over time, long exposures can add a dynamic element to your photos.  This can open a new avenue for creativity that isn’t there when you’re limited to shutter speeds of 1/4 second or faster, even with the very best image stabilizer systems.

Precise Framing

Precise framing can be done handheld, but having a tripod allows you to truly crop in camera, making sure the camera is positioned exactly where you want it.  It also allows you to get shots that are dangerous or uncomfortable to get otherwise.  The image to the right is a key example.

Devil's Bathtub, Hocking Hills State Park, OH - Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 16mm, f/11, 15s, ISO 100

Devil’s Bathtub – Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 16mm, f/11, 15s, ISO 100

I’d taken shots of this little pool in the middle of a waterfall on several occasions, but this angle is nearly impossible to get without a tripod, at least without putting yourself at serious risk for harm.  There’s no easy access to the front of this waterfall, as the water empties into a deep gorge pool before the stream continuous on and thins out.  The ground level area where shooting is available is in a much lower position, and the pool becomes invisible.  There’s a bridge (that forms the top of the image) that allows shots from above, and shots from behind the falls are also easy to get.  But this angle?  There’s no position to get there shooting handheld.

My tripod allows the center column to come out and swivel, providing a boom arm of sorts.  It’s not the most stable in this position, but it works fine if there’s no wind.  I braced two of the tripod legs against the side of the gorge wall, then held the third with my hands against the rock on top.  The camera was then pushed out away from me over the center of the gorge.  Doing this handheld would have put me at extreme risk of falling into the gorge.  Instead, I was able to position the camera perfectly and stably (this is a 15 second exposure).

Position is also important when shooting low to the ground.  It’s very awkward to try to shoot low to the ground without a tripod, but with today’s mirrorless cameras, it’s easy.  Tilt screens add visibility from above, and in the worst cases, remote shooting with your phone allows you to see the scene and position your tripod for the exact composition you desire.  The image below was just such a shot.

Fire and Ice - Samsung NX1 with Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8 @ 16mm, f/14, 1/10s, ISO 100

Fire and Ice – Samsung NX1 with Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8 @ 16mm, f/14, 1/10s, ISO 100

It slows you down

Slowing yourself down is often a good thing.  You pay more attention to precise composition and you have time to sweep the frame for distracting elements and adjust.  This is something that all photographers should do, and having time to evaluate the image on the rear LCD or in the viewfinder makes a world of difference.  If I go out for an hour shooting handheld, I might come back with 50-60 images.  If I go out with a tripod for an hour, I might only come back with 10-20.  And invariably, I have more keepers in the 20 shots from a tripod, predominantly due to better composition.

One thing I do to save time and that I find improves my shooting: I find the spot and framing before setting up the tripod.  I look for the perspective I want by adjusting my distance to the subject.  Then I move my head up and down, from side to side, refining the alignment of elements in the frame and finding the best angle from which to shoot with the field of view I plan on capturing in the back of my  mind as a consideration.  Then I set my tripod up in that exact position, select the focal length I want to capture the field of view I want, fine tune the composition and take the photo.

So, while shooting with a tripod isn’t always practical or desirable, I find it an essential piece of kit, especially for landscape work, and may other types of shooting benefit greatly when a tripod is added to the mix.

However, there are tons of tripods out there: How do you pick one?

Continue: Choosing the Right Tripod

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Review: Fujifilm Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-fujinon-xf-16-55mm-f2-8-r-lm-wr/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-fujinon-xf-16-55mm-f2-8-r-lm-wr/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 03:20:37 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4705 The past year has seen Fujifilm release several new high-quality lenses.  The latest is the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR.  While the Fuji X-Series has had a relatively fast standard zoom for a few years now, with the 18-55mm f/2.8-4, the 16-55mm fills the need for a constant f/2.8 zoom with a wider 16mm …

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The past year has seen Fujifilm release several new high-quality lenses.  The latest is the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR.  While the Fuji X-Series has had a relatively fast standard zoom for a few years now, with the 18-55mm f/2.8-4, the 16-55mm fills the need for a constant f/2.8 zoom with a wider 16mm starting point.  The 16-55mm f/2.8 lacks optical stabilization like its older brother, but promises to make up for that fact with exceptional optics.  Fuji seems to have gone all out on the optical design of the 16-55, sacrificing a compact size in the process as well.  The XF 50-140mm f/2.8 released at the end of 2014 has already proven to be a top-notch optic.  Can the 16-55mm follow suit?

The Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 Review

The Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 Review

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.

Construction and Handling

The XF 16-55mm f/2.8 is Fuji’s top-end professional-grade standard zoom lens.  It’s apparent that Fujifilm wasn’t particularly set on minimizing size with this lens, as it’s quite large in comparison to its only slightly slower brother, the 18-55mm f/2.8-4, and it lacks an optical stabilizer as well.  However, despite the large size, the lens is well constructed and handles decently on a Fuji body with a substantial grip.  This is a lens for the X-T1 or one of the X-E or X-Pro bodies with the additional handgrip. Fuji includes a nice petal lens hood that reverses for storage, though it does add extra width to an already rather fat lens.

The 16-55mm f/2.8 is a large lens for an APS-C standard zoom for mirrorless cameras

The 16-55mm f/2.8 is a large lens for an APS-C standard zoom for mirrorless cameras

The lens is constructed predominantly of metal, with high-grade plastics making up the extending inner tube of the lens. The rubber-gripped zoom ring operates smoothly and evenly, with no stickiness or zoom creep.  I was surprised by the relatively light damping on the zoom ring, which feels similar to that on the 18-55mm.  I would have preferred a bit more resistance here.  Luckily, both the focus ring and aperture ring have just the right amount of resistance.  The Focus ring is well damped and smooth to operate while the aperture ring is almost identical to the one on the 50-140mm f/2.8, which is a good thing.  It’s nice and firm with solid detents at each 1/3 stop, making it easy to move by difficult to accidentally change the f-stop.

The lens is weather-sealed and has the same air exhaust slots on the bottom that the 18-135mm features, but thankfully doesn’t have the spongy feel to the end of the zoom range like the 18-135 did.  Given that it’s the middle of winter here (and we had a particularly cold stretch during my testing of the lens), I didn’t use the lens in rain, though I did shoot quite a bit in moderate snowfall, and the lens performed admirably.  I’m still not a fan of the ‘surrounding’ rubber gasket at the lens mount, and would prefer one that gets sandwiched against the mount plate.  Still, the lens didn’t allow any moisture into the lens body or camera during my shooting, even after thawing with snow on it.

Overall construction of the lens is fairly solid, though it falls a bit short of the very best built lenses for other systems, and even against the 50-140mm.  There is a very small amount of wobble and flex to the extending lens tube that isn’t present on other lenses I’ve recently reviewed (the Samsung 16-50mm and the Sony 16-35mm).  The lens does extend about an inch and a half at the long end, as seen below.

The 16-55mm at 16mm (left) and 55mm (right)

The 16-55mm at 16mm (left) and 55mm (right)

Autofocus performance

The 16-55mm features a linear motor that is quite fast and essentially silent.  In good light, focus locks on nearly instantly, and while it slows down slightly in dimmer light, the lens maintains acceptable speed.  I had excellent focus accuracy with the XF 16-55, in both good and poor light.

This paragraph is where I would normally review the optical stabilizer in a lens, which the 16-55mm controversially lacks.  While many pro-grade DSLR standard zooms lack stabilizers, for systems that rely on optical stabilization, the lack of one in this day and age is somewhat unusual.  Fuji claims they removed the OIS system from the 16-55mm to allow for better image quality while still keeping the size manageable.  This may be true, but I wonder about the size differences.  The lens is considerably larger than the 18-55mm f/2.8-4.  That lens is the same speed at the wide end and one stop slower at the long end, but has an OIS unit.  It’s also half the weight and significantly smaller in both length and width.

I do wish that Fuji had included OIS in the 16-55mm, but to be honest, the situations where I wished for a stabilizer weren’t all that common.  Now let’s see if the lens lives up to the hype with regards to image quality.

Continue: Image Quality

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Shooting in the Cold http://admiringlight.com/blog/shooting-cold/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/shooting-cold/#comments Sun, 22 Feb 2015 02:25:49 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4690 Well, as we near the end of the winter months, many of us in the northern parts of the world are experiencing some final punches from mother nature, with cold temperatures and heavy snowfalls for many. We’ve been spared they heaviest snow here in central Ohio, but have had our share of chilly days in …

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Well, as we near the end of the winter months, many of us in the northern parts of the world are experiencing some final punches from mother nature, with cold temperatures and heavy snowfalls for many. We’ve been spared they heaviest snow here in central Ohio, but have had our share of chilly days in the past few weeks.

For many, when the temperatures drop and the snow starts falling, the first impulse is to cozy up inside and pack the gear away. However, I’ve found that the coldest mornings and sometimes even during somewhat heavy snowfall, the conditions can align to provide something special. Obviously, shooting in a blizzard isn’t a great idea most of the time: it can be dangerous as well as yield poor images, as very little can be visible in these situations, but steady snowfall or cold temperatures can lead to some very nice opportunities.

Frozen Dawn - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 @ f/16, 25s, ISO 200

Frozen Dawn (-11F) – Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 @ f/16, 25s, ISO 200

Be Prepared

A cold morning in Columbus - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm @ 14mm, f/11

A cold morning in Columbus (-2F) – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm @ 14mm, f/11, 58s

One of the key things about shooting in the cold is to be prepared, and I’m not talking about the photography gear, but rather to be prepared for yourself.  It may seem obvious, but if you’re preparing for a winter shoot, proper planning for your clothing is essential.  Warm coats, thermals under your pants, snow boots, warm gloves that allow for some dexterity when shooting, and especially protection for your ears, face and head.  I’ve shot a lot in the cold this past year, and the absolute number one item that has made shooting enjoyable has been a full face covering balaclava.  I’m a glasses wearer, and when fully enclosing your nose, the breath has a tendency to rise up and steam my glasses, so I sometimes will take my glasses off in order to keep my face protected. In any case, having a fleece balaclava has been fantastic, allowing for my ears, head, neck, mouth and nose to be fully covered.  I add a stocking cap on top to keep even more warmth in.  For the most part, when combined with good footwear and a warm coat, I feel warm and comfortable, even when shooting in sub-zero temperatures.

The second part of preparation is having the right gear on hand.  I tend to shoot with a tripod when I’m shooting in very cold conditions, which may seem somewhat counter-intuitive.  However, I find the ability to frame the shot, have the camera set and stable makes for easier operation of the camera without worrying about dropping it.  It also allows for easier lens changes and the ability to put your hands in your pockets from time to time.  Plus, I usually get better shots if I’m working from a tripod, as I think about the composition a bit more.

Finally, plan your equipment with regards to lenses.  If I’m shooting in the cold with gloves on, I don’t want to change lenses very often.  For that reason, I will tend to shoot with zoom lenses in winter conditions more than primes, simply to minimize changing lenses in the field.  This is especially important if you’re shooting during snowfall, as you don’t want snow blowing into the sensor chamber during a lens change.

Why shoot in the cold?

So I mentioned at the beginning that cold conditions can often yield great images, but why?  Of course snowfall can add drama to a scene, but even on a crystal clear or partly clouding morning or evening, really cold days can lead to some excellent light and uncommon weather phenomena.

First of all, when the temperatures drop, the atmosphere tends to yield extremely clear skies, which can produce very rich and vibrant color, even if there aren’t a lot of clouds.  The shot below was shot this past week, with the thermometer reading -3°F.  The sky at more moderate temperatures at this time of the morning tends to be a more serene blue, but on this morning, the blue mixed with vibrant purples to produce the sky seen in the image.  Very little contrast and color enhancement was done to the RAW file below.

Main Street Bridge - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 16mm, f/8, 1.9s

Main Street Bridge – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 16mm, f/8, 1.9s

Second, if you are near a river or lake that hasn’t completely frozen over, and temperatures suddenly drop to very cold temperatures, there’s the potential for things like sea smoke.  Some areas may experience hoar frost, which forms intricate ice crystals on trees, the ground or man-made structures.  All of these can lead to some very interesting imagery that’s worth exploring.

Finally, standard snowy weather can be beautiful, and add some drama to a scene that would otherwise be fairly ordinary.

Some final considerations

A few final notes.  First, when coming in from shooting for an extended period of time, leave your camera in the camera bag before moving from a very cold environment to a warm one, as sudden temperature changes can cause condensation to form inside your camera or lens, which is not a good thing.  Simply put the camera in the bag (provided it’s been outside with you), close it up, and bring the bag inside with you, leaving it for an hour or so for the temperature to slowly rise.

Shooting in cold conditions can be challenging, and it can be uncomfortable if you aren’t prepared, but I’ve found it to be very rewarding overall.  If you live in a wintry area, don’t let the winter slow down your shooting: embrace it and get those great shots.

Below are a smattering of recent winter photos, many of which were taken this past week in temperatures ranging from 10ºF (with high winds) to -6ºF.  Click on any image to enlarge.

Frozen Cart - Sony a6000 with Sigma 60mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8

Frozen Cart – Sony a6000 with Sigma 60mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8

Snow Covered Scioto - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @  f/8

Snow Covered Scioto – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 55mm, f/8

Looking Out at the Cold - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 18mm, f/2.8

Looking Out at the Cold – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 18mm, f/2.8

Columbus through the Trellis - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 16mm, f/11

Columbus through the Trellis – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 16mm, f/11

Snowy Sundial - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 40mm, f/2.8

Snowy Sundial – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 40mm, f/2.8

Cold Columbus Morning - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 33mm, f/8

Cold Columbus Morning – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 33mm, f/8

Ice Reflected Skyline - Sony a6000 with Rokinon 12mm f/2 @ f/11

Ice Reflected Skyline – Sony a6000 with Rokinon 12mm f/2 @ f/11

Hayden Falls - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm @ 10mm, f/16

Hayden Falls – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm @ 10mm, f/16

Ohio Statehouse - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 33mm, f/5.6

Ohio Statehouse – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 @ 33mm, f/5.6

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Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 vs 18-55mm f/2.8-4 http://admiringlight.com/blog/fuji-16-55mm-f2-8-vs-18-55mm-f2-8-4/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/fuji-16-55mm-f2-8-vs-18-55mm-f2-8-4/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 02:06:27 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4681 Fuji’s brand new pro-grade standard zoom, the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 WR, has just been released.  It’s a fast weathersealed lens that promises excellent optical quality at a premium price.  Fuji has two other standard zoom lenses, and for those considering the 16-55mm, there has been much thought about how much of an improvement can be …

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Fuji’s brand new pro-grade standard zoom, the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 WR, has just been released.  It’s a fast weathersealed lens that promises excellent optical quality at a premium price.  Fuji has two other standard zoom lenses, and for those considering the 16-55mm, there has been much thought about how much of an improvement can be expected when upgrading to the newer zoom lens from the venerable Fuji XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 OIS.  The latter lens has been around for a while, and is very highly regarded.  It’s the ‘kit zoom’ that doesn’t perform like a kit zoom.  It’s also fairly close in absolute aperture capabilities as well, with the same f/2.8 aperture at the wide end of the zoom, and slowing to f/4 at the long end of the zoom.  However, the 18-55 carries a few trump cards: it’s significantly smaller and has an optical stabilizer.

The Fuji 18-55mm (left) vs. the Fuji 16-55mm (right)

The Fuji 18-55mm (left) vs. the Fuji 16-55mm (right)

The Contenders

Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS

The Fuji 18-55mm is a small standard zoom lens with a fairly fast f/2.8-4 variable aperture. The 18-55mm was introduced alongside the X-E1 and has served as the ‘kit lens’ in camera body packages since then. The lens features a solid metal build while remaining quite small and compact.  The lens has an optical image stabilizer that can help with handholding around 2-3 stops slower than you would be able to without the OIS.  The 18-55mm weighs in at 330g, while measuring 65x70mm in diameter and length.

Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR

The new Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 has almost the same focal range as the 18-55, but has an extra 2mm on the wide end, allowing for a more expansive field of view, if only just.  It also is a constant f/2.8 lens, so adds an additional stop of light at 55mm vs. the 18-55mm.  The 16-55mm f/2.8 is a solidly built professional-grade lens with weathersealing, but controversially lacks optical image stabilization.  The 16-55mm is a large lens, weighing in at nearly double the weight of the 18-55mm, at 655g.  It also is significantly longer and wider, measuring 83.3mm x 106mm in diameter and length.

The Test

This test looks at performance closer up.  If I have a chance later in the week, I will try to do a test for more distant subjects outdoors.  I put two books at approximately 1m from the camera position, and ensured they were square to the camera.  I placed a crystal decanter in the background to evaluate bokeh.  The camera was mounted on a tripod and photos were taken with the 2 second timer.  Camera position was not changed between exposures.

Below are 100% crops from three focal lengths, 18mm, 35mm and 55mm.  To view the images at full size, click on the image, then click on the green arrow at the bottom of the screen to view at 100%.

18mm Test: 100% Crops.  Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

18mm Test: 100% Crops. Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

At 18mm, the new 16-55mm f/2.8 shows a marked advantage in central sharpness at f/2.8, while holding a very slim edge in the image corners.  At smaller apertures, the 16-55mm maintains a lead both in the center and in the corner, though by f/8 the lenses are extremely close to each other.  Interestingly enough, the 18-55mm is a bit sharper in the corner at f/4.  I even retook the 16-55mm images to ensure there wasn’t an error with the f/4 shot, but got the same result.

35mm Test: 100% Crops.  Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

35mm Test: 100% Crops. Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

At 35mm, the two lenses perform extremely similarly.  The 16-55mm holds a very slight edge in central sharpness at f/3.6 (the 18-55mm’s wide open aperture at this focal length), but otherwise the two lenses are essentially a wash here.

55mm Test: 100% Crops.  Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

55mm Test: 100% Crops. Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

At 55mm, which is the 18-55mm’s weak spot, the 16-55mm shows a clear advantage throughout the aperture range.  The 16-55mm is extremely sharp across the frame right from f/2.8, while the 18-55mm shows a bit of softness at its wide open aperture of f/4.  Stopping down improves the 18-55mm considerably, especially in the corners, but the 16-55mm keeps a lead throughout the image frame.  The 16-55mm performs so well here that its image at f/2.8 is essentially as sharp as the 18-55mm is at f/8.  An impressive performance here.

Bokeh

Below are 100% crops from the out of focus areas around the crystal decanter in the background of the test setup.  Crops are included for f/2.8, f/3.6 (at 35mm) f/4 (at 55mm) and f/5.6, for both lenses at the 35mm and 55mm focal lengths.

Bokeh Test: 100% Crops.  Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

Bokeh Test: 100% Crops. Click to enlarge, then click the green arrow to view at 100%.

Neither lens shows ultra-creamy bokeh, though they aren’t terrible either.  Both lenses show some bright outlining on specular highlights, as well as some onion-ring like texture due to the aspherical elements.  However, the 16-55mm is clearly smoother at both focal lengths and at all tested apertures.  The 18-55mm has a funky double donut look to the specular highlights that doesn’t appear on the 16-55m.  One nice thing is to see that aside from the highlights, the blur does fade gently away for both lenses, which should provide pleasing background blur in most situations.

Conclusion

From this test, it’s clear that the 16-55mm f/2.8 WR is the superior optic when it comes to resolution and bokeh, at least at this closer focusing distance.  The 16-55mm holds a small edge at wide apertures at the wide end of the zoom range and a pronounced advantage in resolution at the long end of the zoom range, while also producing more pleasing bokeh.  Image contrast is also a bit higher on the 16-55mm.  However, it’s worth noting that the 18-55mm does a very nice job stopped down, and at wide apertures from 18-35mm, while producing acceptable images at 55mm and f/4.  The 18-55mm’s significantly smaller size and the fact that it’s optically stabilized and significantly cheaper make it a lens still worth considering for many shooters.  In pure optical quality, however, the new 16-55mm appears to be well worth its pricetag and weight penalty.  I’ll be shooting with the 16-55mm over the next week or so and will have my full in-depth review of this new lens coming sometime next week, so make sure to stop by the site again to check that out.

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Review: Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8 S ED OIS http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-samsung-16-50mm-f2-2-8-s-ed-ois/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-samsung-16-50mm-f2-2-8-s-ed-ois/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 02:12:46 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4667 Samsung has been somewhat stealthily building a fairly strong lens lineup for their NX cameras over the past few years, and today I’m taking a look at what is often the core lens in a high-end lens lineup: the fast standard zoom.  Samsung’s 16-50mm f/2-2.8 joins an elite group of standard zooms for interchangeable lens …

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Samsung has been somewhat stealthily building a fairly strong lens lineup for their NX cameras over the past few years, and today I’m taking a look at what is often the core lens in a high-end lens lineup: the fast standard zoom.  Samsung’s 16-50mm f/2-2.8 joins an elite group of standard zooms for interchangeable lens cameras that have maximum apertures faster than f/2.8.  The 16-50mm is the first lens in Samsung’s pro-grade ‘S’ lineup, which has now been joined by the new 50-150mm f/2.8 to create a two zoom pair to cover a wide range of photographic needs.

The Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8 S ED OIS

The Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8 S ED OIS

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.

Construction and Handling

The 16-50mm f/2-2.8 mounted on the Samsung NX1

The 16-50mm f/2-2.8 mounted on the Samsung NX1

The Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8 S is billed as a professional grade lens, and it certainly lives up to that standing in terms of construction.  The lens is extremely solid, with the exterior constructed entirely of metal. Like most standard zooms, the lens barrel extends when zooming towards the long end, and even the extension barrel is solid metal and extremely rigid.  There is absolutely no movement or wobble in the zoom extension, even when applying gentle pressure to the end.  As a nice touch, the interior ring of the outer barrel is painted metallic blue to give a subtle pop to the lens when zoomed out to 50mm.  The zoom ring is covered in a nice ribbed rubber that provides excellent grip.  The zoom and focus rings are both very well damped and move smoothly and surely.  The lens features switches for the optical stabilizer and manual focus switches, along with Samsung’s excellent iFunction button to allow the focus ring to change other settings.  The 16-50mm is a lens that feels premium in its construction.

The lens is quite large, however, as you might expect from a zoom with such a large aperture.  It’s a moderately long and quite fat lens with some real heft.  However, it handles beautifully on a camera such as the NX1 (reviewed here) which features a prominent hand grip, and I’d imagine cameras like the NX30 would work just fine with it as well.  I don’t think it would handle particularly well on some of the smaller NX bodies such as the new NX500.

Going back to the iFunction button mentioned earlier, the button is a nice large and easy to find rubberized button, so accessing the iFunction capabilities are quick and easy.  Simply press the button, and a menu comes up in the camera’s viewfinder or rear screen to change one of several settings, such as aperture, ISO, shutter speed or white balance.  The photographer can quickly change the settings by turning the focus ring on the front of the lens.  It’s a nice extra feature that can help to quickly adjust certain shooting parameters.

The lens extends towards the longer focal lengths

The lens extends towards the longer focal lengths

Autofocus and Image Stabilization

The Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8 features a very fast and quiet stepping focus motor that was able to accurately lock focus nearly instantly in good light.  I found the focusing consistent throughout the focal range.  In good light, the focus is as fast as most any lens I’ve had the pleasure to use, and this speed is present for continuous autofocus as well.  The quiet focus motor also makes the lens good for use with video shooting.

I did notice that the lens tended to slow down substantially when shooting in dimmer light.  This is likely primarily due to the limitations of the focusing system of the camera, and with the bright aperture and fast focus motor, there is potential for low light focus speed to improve with future camera releases.

The 16-50mm comes complete with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), and the stabilizer used in this lens is fairly standard when it comes to reducing camera shake.  I found the OIS unit capable of reducing shake for approximately 2-3 stops of extra stability.  At the wide end, shutter speeds in the 1/5 second range were fairly common, while I was able to manage approximately 1/10-1/15s at the telephoto end of the zoom.  It’s a capable stabilizer unit, but merely average when compared to today’s competition.

Continue: Image Quality

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Review: Samsung NX1 http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-samsung-nx1/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-samsung-nx1/#comments Wed, 04 Feb 2015 20:57:20 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4605 Samsung.  It’s not a brand that one typically associates with high-end photographic gear, but rather all manner of other electronics products such as televisions and now smartphones.  But as they’ve done with smartphones and televisions, Samsung has proven the ability to make a splash in new industries and not only compete, but dominate.  Samsung entered …

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Samsung.  It’s not a brand that one typically associates with high-end photographic gear, but rather all manner of other electronics products such as televisions and now smartphones.  But as they’ve done with smartphones and televisions, Samsung has proven the ability to make a splash in new industries and not only compete, but dominate.  Samsung entered the interchangeable lens camera market back in 2010, with their first NX mount APS-C mirrorless camera.  They’ve been expanding their lens line, improving their cameras, and made a big splash at Photokina this year with the release of their high-end NX1 mirrorless camera.  I’ve wanted to review the Samsung NX1 ever since I first held it at Photokina, as I was immediately impressed by the responsiveness and thoughtfulness of the design.  Samsung doesn’t seem satisfied being an afterthought in the industry, and they are hopeful that the NX1 is the camera that serves as a wake-up call to photographers to pay a bit more attention at the Korean manufacturer.  The NX1 is a pro-grade weathersealed body with a new 28 megapixel APS-C sensor, fast hybrid autofocus and the ability to track motion while rattling off an impressive 15 frames per second.  Does it hit the mark?  Let’s find out.

The Samsung NX1

The Samsung NX1

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.

The NX1 was reviewed with Firmware version 1.2.

Construction and Handling

The Samsung NX1 is a mirrorless camera that sort of eschews the common thinking about mirrorless.  It’s not just about small size, but simply a different way of viewing through a camera lens.  The NX1 is not a small camera.  It’s one of the largest mirrorless cameras around, with an SLR style and an SLR size.  It’s similar in dimension to a prosumer grade DSLR such as the Canon 70D or NIkon D7100, though the NX1 is a fair bit lighter than either of those two cameras.  However, the NX1 is targeting professionals with this camera, who may not care about being super discreet, but want a camera that is robust, handles well and feels comfortable with big fast glass.  And on that note, the NX1 succeeds.

The Samsung NX1 with Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8

The Samsung NX1 with Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8

The NX1 is a solidly built camera with a magnesium-alloy shell, robust weathersealing and generally well conceived and constructed controls.  The main grip is large and contoured to your hand, with a nice soft rubber for extra grip.  The camera feels wonderful in the hand.  It’s extremely comfortable to shoot, even when a large lens like the new 16-50mm f/2-2.8 zoom (reviewed here) is mounted to the camera. I shot with the 16-50mm primarily during the testing period.  This is a fairly hefty combination, and the NX1 handled quite well with this large lens strapped to the front.  Samsung has previewed an upcoming 300mm f/2.8, and the NX1 should handle great with that supertelephoto on as well.  It’s not a camera that can easily slip in a jacket pocket, but that’s certainly not the shooter that Samsung is targeting with the camera.

The dials and switches all have nice positive action, with the mode dial and drive mode dial feeling great.  The rear screen tilts up and down and the tilting mechanism is quite robust, though I wish the little tabs for facilitating the tilt were slightly larger. A few of the buttons are a bit small, such as the four buttons that sit on top of the drive mode dial, which can make operation with gloves a bit fiddly, but overall Samsung has done a great job with ergonomics and construction.

The only real issue I had with the construction of the camera was the small area for the memory card door.  The door is on the side of the grip, which is a great place for it, but the cutout is deep when the door is open, and the card slot is very close to the door.  As a result, removing the SD card can be quite difficult.  I eventually started trying to ‘shoot’ the card out by pressing down on the spring-loaded release and popping my finger off the card so the card would come out further.

While I didn’t shoot in lots of inclement weather, the weathersealing seems quite robust, and the gasket that surrounds the 16-50mm zoom presses tight to the lens mount, ensuring that no moisture can make it into the camera.  The overall impression when handling the camera is one of quality.

Operation and Controls

The top features an LCD and an array of controls

The top features an LCD and an array of controls

The NX1 is built around a modern control system, with a standard PASM dial for changing modes and two main command dials for controlling major image parameters. The front command dial is situated behind the shutter button, which will feel right at home for Canon shooters. The rear command dial sits just above the rear thumb rest.

There is a third dial on the back, which Samsung calls the ‘custom dial,’ that also functions as a four-way controller. Prior to firmware 1.2, the customization of these dials was a bit limited, but Samsung removed these limitations with the latest firmware update and now allows for any of the main exposure elements to be controlled by these dials.

As I shoot in Aperture Priority mode for a large portion of my shooting, my preferred setup was to utilize the front dial for aperture and the rear command dial for exposure compensation. I then put direct access to ISO on the custom dial. In manual mode, the command dials take care of shutter speed and aperture.

One of the nice touches Samsung has added is something that is standard on pretty much any DSLR, but is conspicuously absent on mirrorless cameras.  The NX1 features an informational LCD display on the top of the camera that notes the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, AF setting, shots remaining, metering, file size, battery level and white balance.  Part of the reason other mirrorless cameras don’t have such a display is that there isn’t room, so the NX1’s larger size allows for this addition.

The NX1's Drive Dial

The NX1’s Drive Dial

The NX1 also features a dedicated drive mode dial that sits on the upper left shoulder of the camera and allows quick access to high-speed burst drive, self time, bracketing modes and so on. Thankfully, the hard to operate drive mode lock switch that was present on the pre-production version of the NX1 that I handled in September has been removed from the camera.

On top of the drive mode dial sit four buttons providing direct access to ISO, autofocus settings, metering and white balance. Additional controls on top of the camera include an exposure lock button, the move record button and a button that formerly was the only way to access exposure compensation, but has now been made less important since exposure compensation can now be assigned to a dial. The EC button oddly cannot be reprogrammed (at least, it’s not in the keymapping menu).

nx1_rear

The rear of the NX1 has a fairly standard complement of buttons, with the aforementioned custom dial serving as both a third wheel and a four-way controller.  Each of the four control directions can be programmed to a variety of functions.  There is a dedicated Fn button, an AF On button, a dedicated Wi-Fi access button and the standard Menu, Playback and Trash buttons.  On the upper left side sits a toggle for the EVF behavior.  There’s nothing out of place on the rear and the only flaw in the design is that the four-way controller buttons can sometimes be activated while utilizing the custom dial.  The front of the camera features a lone button, which serves as a depth of field preview button, which is a nice touch.

The menus of the NX1

The menus of the NX1

The menu system on the NX1 is broken down into four tabs for still shooting, movie recording, customization and camera settings. As this was the first time I’d really shot with a Samsung camera, the menu system took a bit of getting used to.  Most things are where you’d expect them to be based on the major tab groups, but a few things are in odd locations.  For instance, bracketing options are a sub-menu under Drive Settings, which is an odd choice in my opinion.

The menu can be navigated using the touch screen, but I found that the sensitivity of the screen was a bit too high, which often caused me to scroll past items in the menu.  Eventually, I settled into navigating the menus simply by using the four-way controller.

Continue: Viewfinder and Performance

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Review: Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sony-35mm-f1-8-oss/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sony-35mm-f1-8-oss/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 23:24:27 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4580 Sony’s APS-C lens lineup has grown steadily over the past several years with several quality prime lenses. One of those lenses is the Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS. Almost every camera system in the world has a relatively fast ‘normal’ lens, that is a lens that has a focal length similar to the length of the …

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Sony’s APS-C lens lineup has grown steadily over the past several years with several quality prime lenses. One of those lenses is the Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS. Almost every camera system in the world has a relatively fast ‘normal’ lens, that is a lens that has a focal length similar to the length of the diagonal of the film or image sensor. While the fast normal prime lens is ubiquitous, only rarely has that normal lens been equipped with optical image stabilization. Of course, stabilization alone without optics to make use of that OSS system doesn’t mean much, so let’s see how this lens performs.

The Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS on the Sony a6000

The Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS on the Sony a6000

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.

Construction and Handling

The Sony 35mm f/1.8 is a compact, lightweight lens that is rather unremarkable in the looks department. Frankly, in pictures, I thought it was a somewhat ugly and cheap looking lens, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the feel of the barrel and fit and finish are actually quite nice in person. The lens barrel is constructed of lightweight metal and the lens stays constant length while focusing. The broad focus ring is the only external control, and it too is metal and finely ribbed. The front filter threads and bayonet hood mount are plastic. Overall, the package is tightly assembled and feels very nice in the hand. The focus ring is nicely damped and turns smoothly.

The Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS

The Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS

Given the small size of the APS-C Sony bodies, a small lens is a great thing to have, and the 35mm f/1.8 handles very well on something like the a6000, and should handle well on any E-mount body. Sony includes a petal-type lens hood made of high quality plastics that snaps securely in place and reverses tight to the lens body to keep the overall package very small when stowed in a camera bag.

Autofocus and Image Stabilization

The 35mm f/1.8 OSS is equipped with a very quiet and quick linear focus motor. The lens focuses quite quickly in almost any situation on the a6000. In dim light, focus definitely slows down, but even in these situations, it’s acceptable in speed and maintains high accuracy, even wide open.

One of the key features of the 35mm f/1.8 is the Optical Steady Shot (OSS) system, which is Sony’s name for optical image stabilization. The OSS system is marketed as allowing for an additional 4 stops of stabilization for hand-holding. As with most stabilization claims, Sony’s assertion of 4 stops is a bit optimistic. Using the 1/(35mm effective focal length) rule (which works for me), this would correspond to a typical shutter speed of around 1/3 second, which is rarely achievable. I do think that 3 stops is a decent estimate of effectiveness, however, as I am able to get consistently sharp shots at speeds between 1/6 and 1/10 second. While this isn’t among the best optical stabilization systems I’ve used, it is quite a good showing and adds great extra value for low light shooting.

Continue: Image Quality

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