Admiring Light http://admiringlight.com/blog Photography Reviews, Photos, News and Musings Sat, 27 Jun 2015 00:31:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 First Impressions: Fujifilm X-T10 http://admiringlight.com/blog/first-impressions-fujifilm-x-t10/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/first-impressions-fujifilm-x-t10/#comments Sat, 27 Jun 2015 00:26:53 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=5168 I just got the new Fuji X-T10 in for review today, and I’ll be shooting with it for the next week or two, getting to know the ins and outs.  For X-T1 owners who are thinking of a smaller, cheaper second body, or for those who like most of what the X-T1 has to offer, …

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I just got the new Fuji X-T10 in for review today, and I’ll be shooting with it for the next week or two, getting to know the ins and outs.  For X-T1 owners who are thinking of a smaller, cheaper second body, or for those who like most of what the X-T1 has to offer, but don’t want to spend the money for it, the X-T10 is an intriguing body.  I’ve only had a few hours to shoot with the camera, but I already have some impressions and thoughts that I figured I’d share.  Be sure to check back soon for my full in-depth review.

Fujifilm X-T10

Fujifilm X-T10

In the Hand

The first thing you’ll notice about the X-T10 is that, design wise, it looks extremely similar to the X-T1.  It really is a mini X-T1 in most ways.   It’s slightly shorter, slightly narrower and slightly thinner, and notably lighter as well.  The weight reduction is in large part due to the use of lighter metals like the X-E series rather than magnesium alloy.  Despite the slightly lower quality materials, the X-T10 is very well constructed and feels quite solid.  The size reduction, like it often is, is both a blessing and a curse.  You do notice the more compact nature of the camera, but it comes at the expense of ergonomics.  The grip on the front just isn’t very large, and the rear thumb grip is slid about 1/4 of an inch too far to the right, making the camera feel slightly awkward to hold.  It became more comfortable when shooting with smaller lenses like the 35mm f/1.4, but the bigger glass doesn’t handle as well as it does on the X-T1.

The Fuji X-T10 and X-T1

The Fuji X-T10 and X-T1

On the positive side, the buttons, mostly, are much clickier than the ones on the X-T1 and provide good tactile feedback.  The exceptions are the AEL and AFL buttons surrounding the rear control dial.  Speaking of the dials, the X-T10 features two just like the X-T1, and BOTH of them are clickable, providing additional functionality without needing an extra button.  Overall, the camera uses space wisely, though I definitely prefer the ergonomics of the X-T1 overall.

Autofocus

The big upgrade in the X-T10 (also coming next week to the X-T1) is the new autofocus system, featuring new wide-field tracking, multi-point zone selection and improved face detection with eye detection.  I only have had limited time to check out these improvements, but I like what I’m seeing so far.  The X-T10 was able to track my son running at me, indoors, using one of the slowest focusing lenses in the Fuji system: the 35mm f/1.4.  I used the 5×3 point zone focus system over the PDAF points, and let the camera do its thing.  While not perfect, I got a high number in focus, which is quite remarkable with this lens.  See below for an example shot from this sequence.

Running - Fujifilm X-T10 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4, C-AF Zone Mode

Running – Fujifilm X-T10 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4, C-AF Zone Mode

The only real downside to the improved autofocus modes is that the X-T10 has an incredibly shallow buffer of only 7 shots in RAW mode.  If you’re shooting with continuous high burst mode at 8 frames per second, make sure you time your shot well! The improved face detection also seemed to work very well, locking onto the nearest eye with good accuracy.  It is interesting that the display will show which eye it’s going to focus on when analyzing the scene, though during actual focusing, the eye outline disappears.  Still, it seems to function quite well.  I’m looking forward to testing this much more thoroughly, so definitely take these early conclusions with a grain of salt.

Number Clock - Fujifilm X-T10 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4

Number Clock – Fujifilm X-T10 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4

So that’s it for now.  I’ll be putting the camera fully through the paces over the coming weeks.  Stay tuned for the full review!

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Review: Sony FE 28mm f/2 http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sony-fe-28mm-f2/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sony-fe-28mm-f2/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 01:21:22 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=5110 Sony’s full frame FE lens lineup is somewhat small, but expanding quite rapidly. While Sony has done a nice job of filling in the gaps of the lineup, one of the downsides to the FE lens lineup has been the relatively high cost of almost all the lenses.  That changes with the addition of the …

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Sony’s full frame FE lens lineup is somewhat small, but expanding quite rapidly. While Sony has done a nice job of filling in the gaps of the lineup, one of the downsides to the FE lens lineup has been the relatively high cost of almost all the lenses.  That changes with the addition of the new FE 28mm f/2.  The FE 28mm is a fast wide-angle prime that is compact and offers some versatility with the addition of two conversion lenses.   Let’s dive into the details.

The Sony FE 28mm f/2 on the Sony A7 II

The Sony FE 28mm f/2 on the Sony A7 II

Construction and Handling

The Sony FE 28mm f/2 is a compact lens constructed predominantly of lightweight metals.  The lens is tightly assembled and has no flex anywhere on the body.  While the metal used is thinner and less substantial than that used in the Sony Zeiss lenses for E-Mount, the FE 28mm still feels like a quality piece.

The front of the lens beyond the focus ring is constructed of high-grade plastics, including the hood/conversion lens bayonet and the front filter threads.  This is the only point I wish was more strongly constructed.  The front bayonet seems small and thin considering it needs to support the weight of the rather weighty 21mm ultra-wide conversion lens and the 16mm fisheye conversion lens.  While I didn’t have any failures using the 21mm conversion lens, I do wonder at the robustness of this connection with long-term use of one of these add-on lenses.

Sony FE 28mm f/2

Sony FE 28mm f/2

The FE 28mm is lightweight and handles very well on any of the E-mount cameras.  The focus ring is finely ribbed metal and moves very smoothly with a very nice lightly damped feel. The lens includes a bayonet mount lens hood that locks securely into place.  The hood is a more simple all-plastic hood that lacks the metal accent of the Zeiss branded FE lenses.  Still, for the price, it’s hard to complain.

Autofocus

The FE 28mm f/2 features a generally quick and quiet autofocus motor.  In good light, the lens locks fairly swiftly and silently, with good accuracy.  However, I found AF to falter a bit in lower light, especially on subjects that are in a bit of shadow.  Here, I frequently experienced hunting through the focus range and often found the lens to misfocus when it did ‘lock’ in these situations.  These situations happen with most lenses with the A7 series autofocus system, but the 28mm seemed to fare worse than other FE lenses I’ve used on my A7 II.  It would have been nice to see a better performance in this department.

Sony FE 28mm f/2 on Sony A7 II

Sony FE 28mm f/2 on Sony A7 II

Conversion Lenses

The FE 28mm f/2 adds some versatility by the ability to add two specialized conversion lenses to the front, changing the combination into a 21mm ultra-wide angle or a 16mm fisheye lens.  My full review of the 21mm ultra-wide conversion lens can be found here.  The ability to add a 21mm lens or fisheye lens to your bag with minimal cost does add considerable value to the FE 28mm, especially considering the current minimal choice at the wide-angle end of things in the lens lineup. With the exception of the rather large and expensive Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS, these conversion lenses are the only other way to get an ultra-wide field of view, and they do so without breaking the bank.

I will say that it can be somewhat unwieldy to switch between these converters, but overall it’s a very nice and affordable way to add ultra-wide or fisheye capability to your kit.  This is especially useful for the casual ultra-wide shooter.  Be sure to check out my 21mm review for a much more in-depth discussion of using the converter with image samples.

Continue: Image Quality

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Review: Sony 21mm Ultra-Wide Conversion Lens (SEL075UWC) http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sony-21mm-ultra-wide-conversion-lens-sel075uwc/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sony-21mm-ultra-wide-conversion-lens-sel075uwc/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 01:20:40 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=5151 Alongside the new FE 28mm f/2, Sony released two conversion lenses that attach to the 28mm and turn the combination into a 21mm ultra-wide lens and a 16mm fisheye lens.  Today, I’m reviewing the 21mm ultra-wide conversion lens, otherwise known as the SEL075UWC.  The 21mm conversion lens attaches to the front of the FE 28mm …

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Alongside the new FE 28mm f/2, Sony released two conversion lenses that attach to the 28mm and turn the combination into a 21mm ultra-wide lens and a 16mm fisheye lens.  Today, I’m reviewing the 21mm ultra-wide conversion lens, otherwise known as the SEL075UWC.  The 21mm conversion lens attaches to the front of the FE 28mm and creates a 21mm f/2.8 lens combination with full autofocus and autoaperture.  EXIF data is passed along as well, so the in-body image stabilization of the A7 II and new A7R II will automatically work at the correct focal length. The 21mm conversion lens retails for $249, so it’s an inexpensive way to gain an autofocus ultra-wide for your full-frame E-Mount camera. Sometimes these add-on lenses are more hype than real imaging solution, so I was very interested to see which of these things is true of the 21mm lens.  One thing before we start: If you haven’t seen my review of the FE 28mm f/2, make sure you check that out as well.

The Sony 21mm Ultra-Wide Conversion Lens on the FE 28mm

The Sony 21mm Ultra-Wide Conversion Lens on the FE 28mm

Construction and Handling

Ok, to get one thing out of the way, writing “21mm Ultra-Wide Conversion Lens” is something that I don’t feel the need to do throughout this article.  Likewise, I’ve never been fond of referring to Sony lenses by their stock number.  So, at many points throughout the review, I’ll refer to the 28mm f/2 + 21mm UWA conversion lens as the “FE 21mm f/2.8.”  There are two reasons for this.  First, it’s a lot easier.  Second, it’s the nomenclature that Sony uses in the EXIF data when the conversion lens is mounted.  If it’s good enough for Sony, it’s good enough for this review.

The conversion lens is a simply plastic and glass lens with no moving parts and no electronics.  The lens attaches to the FE 28mm f/2 via the hood bayonet mount, and it locks securely into place.  A magnet sensor in the conversion lens tells the FE 28mm that it is mounted, and all camera information then views the lens as the FE 21mm f/2.8.  The conversion lens is simple and sturdily built, but the connection feels a bit too flimsy to me.  This doesn’t mean it wobbles excessively or anything, but rather I don’t know how much I would trust the lens to a solid knock near the front, and I don’t know how well that slim connector will hold up to repeated use.  I would have preferred the bayonet on both pieces to be metal and a bit larger and more robust.

Sony FE 21mm f/2.8 combination

Sony FE 21mm f/2.8 combination

The FE 21mm f/2.8 combo turns the compact FE 28mm f/2 into a rather long and moderately heavy lens.  I found the lens to handle well when shooting, though the process of detaching the UWA converter from the 28mm and putting it away, especially with the more difficult to attach rear cap, was less convenient than switching between two dedicated lenses, though the space saved in the bag vs. two different lenses is a nice bonus.

The FE 21mm has a unique lens cap that fits inside the fixed lens hood to seal the whole front of the lens.  The cap is well designed and clicks securely in place.  The reason for the oddly designed cap, is that the FE 21mm lacks any filter threads, so using a polarizer or neutral density filter is impossible without rigging up some ad-hoc square filter holder.

The UWA conversion lens with its front and rear caps

The UWA conversion lens with its front and rear caps

Autofocus

The FE 21mm f/2.8 focuses effectively as fast as the bare FE 28mm f/2 lens, which  was a nice surprise.  Despite the one stop slower aperture, there was no apparent difference to me in how the lens focused, both in speed and in accuracy. As the FE 28mm can struggle somewhat in dimmer light or backlit scenarios, so too can the combination with the UWA converter.

Continue: Image Quality

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Sony Drops the Mic http://admiringlight.com/blog/sony-drops-the-mic/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/sony-drops-the-mic/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 12:23:03 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=5103 Yesterday, Sony surprised almost everyone with the un-leaked announcement of the new Sony A7R II.  Of course many expected an A7R II after Sony updated the original A7 with the A7 II last December.  However, the feeling by many was that Sony would give the A7R II the same treatment it gave the A7 II …

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Yesterday, Sony surprised almost everyone with the un-leaked announcement of the new Sony A7R II.  Of course many expected an A7R II after Sony updated the original A7 with the A7 II last December.  However, the feeling by many was that Sony would give the A7R II the same treatment it gave the A7 II – similar sensor, added in-body stabilization, new body type.  However, the actual release ended up being so much more.

Sony's new Alpha A7R II

Sony’s new Alpha A7R II

What Sony released really is a wake-up call to the entire industry.  Even in the mirrorless space, where companies like Fuji and Olympus keep pushing the envelope with unique controls and great tech features, the sensor situation with all the other mirrorless players, save for Samsung, has been very stagnant the last three years.  Fuji’s using largely the same sensor (save for PDAF pixels) as they did in the original X-Pro 1.  Olympus and Panasonic have been using the same 16 Megapixel sensors (with slight variations) since the E-M5 and GH2.  In the past year and a half, Sony has released full frame cameras with no less than FOUR new sensors, and the A7R II gains a sensor that hasn’t been used by any other maker: it appears to be Sony’s newest technology, and they saved it for themselves.

The new sensor in the A7R II is the world’s first backside illuminated full-frame sensor, and it packs 42 megapixels into its 36x24mm wafer.  While this trails the new Canon 5Ds series and is only a modest increase from the 36 megapixels found in the original A7R, the new technology and Sony’s excellent sensor track record indicates that this sensor may be the overall best performing full-frame sensor ever released.  Sony’s confident enough in improved noise performance to increase max ISO to 102,400.

Of course, the A7R II gains all the improvements from the A7 II: the body style is the same as the A7 II, with the improved grip and more robust build quality, and it gains a slightly modified version of the 5-axis in-body images stabilization of its brother.  With the high-resolution, improved high ISO and in-body IS, this camera should really be able to manage excellent photos in almost all lighting conditions.

ILCE-7RM2_rear

However, Sony didn’t stop with those improvements: they’ve introduced a new shutter mechanism, rated for 500,000 actuations and with much lower vibration than the original A7R.  Plus it gains electronic first curtain shutter and completely electronic shutter capabilities. They also added 399 phase-detect autofocus points to the sensor, which should give improved AF, even compared to the A7 II.  The biggest thing with the new AF system?  Adapted A mount lenses can use the PDAF autofocus system and focus as quickly as on the native DSLR (or at least as fast as the native E-Mount lenses can focus.  DPReview noted that their testing even showed Canon EF mount lenses via the Metabones EF-E adapter to utilize the PDAF points and focus as quickly as a native Canon body.  This is HUGE.  Canon shooters can switch over now and use their lenses with near native AF speed if they so choose.

Sony also improved the viewfinder, at least with regards to the optics.  The EVF now sports the largest magnification on a DSLR or mirrorless body, at 0.78x (just exceeding the Fuji X-T1’s 0.77x). Oh, and they added native internal 4K video recording.  Almost every wish list item for the A7R II was actually added to the A7R II.  The only down side?  It’s an expensive camera at $3,200.  But with no one racing to catch them in this segment, Sony can afford to start a bit high.

The mirrorless industry has been the seat of a lot of innovation in cameras lately, but with many manufacturers producing somewhat incremental upgrades, Sony just came in, took the wraps off the A7R II and dropped the mic.  Will anyone else have an answer?

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2015 Memorial Tournament Pro-Am http://admiringlight.com/blog/2015-memorial-tournament-pro-am/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/2015-memorial-tournament-pro-am/#comments Sun, 07 Jun 2015 14:27:21 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=5093 The Memorial Tournament is once again being contested this week at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, just outside of Columbus.  I have shot practice rounds many times over the years when the golfers come in, and it’s generally been a fun time.  I missed last year, so I was excited to get back out …

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The Memorial Tournament is once again being contested this week at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, just outside of Columbus.  I have shot practice rounds many times over the years when the golfers come in, and it’s generally been a fun time.  I missed last year, so I was excited to get back out to Muirfield and shoot the annual Pro-Am that’s held on the Wednesday before the tournament begins.

As I have for most of the years I’ve gone, I shot with entirely manual focus glass.  I very rarely shoot sports, and when I do, it’s almost always golf out here during this week, so it doesn’t make sense for me to own big supertelephotos that cost thousands of dollar.s  For the past several years, I’ve used mirrorless cameras with my trust Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L.  It’s a large lens with very good image quality, despite being 30 years old.

Manual focus, even with golf, can be a bit tricky.  This year, I shot using my Sony A7 II and Sony a6000, and the shallower depth of field when using the A7 II made focusing even more critical. You wouldn’t think a golf swing would pose problems, but when shooting at 300mm and f/4.5, the depth of field is quite thin, and the golfer’s head moves throughout the swing.  Focus accurately during address, and you’ll more than likely be focused behind the golfer’s face after contact.  I’ve learned to quickly hit focus as the golfer addresses the ball, and then, depending on which angle I’m at to the golfer, adjust focus slightly forward or behind, so that the focus plane is where it needs to be during the follow through.  This takes some trial and error, but I’ve gotten used to it over the years.  Continuous AF with a modern autofocus lens would make things much simpler.  Anyway, I thought I’d share a few shots from Wednesday.  Click to enlarge.

Tiger Woods, 4th Hole - Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

Tiger Woods, 4th Hole – Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

Ricky Fowler - Sony A6000 with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

Ricky Fowler, 6th Hole – Sony A6000 with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

Phil Mickelson, 1st Hole - Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

Phil Mickelson, 1st Hole – Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

Jordan Spieth, 7th Hole - Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

Jordan Spieth, 7th Hole – Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

Jason Dufner, 6th Hole - Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

Jason Dufner, 6th Hole – Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

Jordan Spieth, 5th Tee - Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

Jordan Spieth, 5th Tee – Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

Ernie Els, 4th Hole - Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

Ernie Els, 4th Hole – Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

John Senden, 6th Hole - Sony A6000 with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

John Senden, 6th Hole – Sony A6000 with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L

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Review: Fujifilm Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-fujinon-xf-16mm-f1-4-r-wr/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-fujinon-xf-16mm-f1-4-r-wr/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 22:05:29 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=5065 The Fuji 16mm f/1.4 R WR represents the latest fast prime lens to be added to the Fujifilm X lineup. There are now four prime lenses that feature apertures f/1.4 or faster spanning from super wide to short telephoto. Unlike the other Fuji X primes, the 16mm f/1.4 is the first weathersealed prime lens in the …

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The Fuji 16mm f/1.4 R WR represents the latest fast prime lens to be added to the Fujifilm X lineup. There are now four prime lenses that feature apertures f/1.4 or faster spanning from super wide to short telephoto. Unlike the other Fuji X primes, the 16mm f/1.4 is the first weathersealed prime lens in the Fuji lineup, and it fills the niche for a fast super-wide lens.  The 16mm f/1.4 has the same field of view as a 24mm lens on a full frame camera, and so is useful for a very wide range of applications, from landscape and architecture to environmental portraiture.  Can this lens hold its own with the other excellent Fuji primes?

The Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR on the Fujifilm X-T1

The Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR on the Fujifilm X-T1

Construction and Handling

The 16mm f/1.4 R WR shares its design philosophy with the established Fujinon XF lenses, and most closely resembles the 23mm f/1.4, though as you’ll see below, it’s slightly longer and slightly larger in diameter.  The overall construction is excellent, with an all metal exterior shell and lens mount, and a solid and smooth focus clutch mechanism for manual focus.  Perhaps it’s due to the size, or perhaps some small changes that are individually hard to pick out, but the 16 mm f/1.4 feels like the most solidly constructed Fuji lens I’ve used, even if only by a hair.

The Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 is slightly larger than the 23mm f/1.4 and 56mm f/1.2, but maintains a similar construction and feel.

The Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 is slightly larger than the 23mm f/1.4 and 56mm f/1.2, but maintains a similar construction and feel.

Despite the slightly larger design, the lens handles as well as any of the other fast Fuji primes.  You’ll probably want a camera with a bit of grip, so the X-T1 or X-T10 would work very well.  The other Fuji X cameras will work beautifully too, though I’d recommend one of the add-on grips when shooting with the 16mm, just to make things feel a bit more balanced.

The 16mm f/1.4 WR is the first weather-sealed Fuji prime lens, and so features a rubber gasket at the lens mount and some internal sealing as well to help resist water and dust.  I didn’t shoot in any particularly heavy rain conditions, but I did shoot with it during a passing shower for a short time, and the lens performed admirably, with no apparent intrusion of water into the lens or camera.

The lens comes with a petal shaped lens hood that reverses easily on the lens and snaps confidently into place.  The hood provides good shading and front element protection without being overly bulky.

The 16mm f/1.4 with its included hood

The 16mm f/1.4 with its included hood

The focus ring on the 16mm f/1.4 features the same focus-clutch mechanism found on the 14mm f/2.8 and 23mm f/1.4.  Pull back the focus ring to enter manual focus mode, and you get a full distance and depth of field scale and hard stops at either end of the range.  Note that on newer camera firmware versions, you must also select manual focus on the camera before it’s enabled.  The focus ring is smooth to operate, though damping is light.

The lens also has an aperture ring like most of Fuji’s lenses, and in continuing the tradition of varying aperture ring resistance, it is a looser ring than the recent WR zoom lenses, and has a similar feel to that of the 23mm f/1.4.  I’m not sure why Fuji can’t decide on a ring resistance and use that for all of their lenses.  It can’t be that hard to do.  There are loose rings like the 14mm f/2.8, slightly tighter like on this lens and the 23mm, and stiffer rings such as the 60mm macro or 16-55mm f/2.8 and 50-140mm f/2.8.  Personally, I’d like all of the rings to operate similar to those on the f/2.8 zooms, which have the perfect blend of resistance and ease of use.

Autofocus performance

The 16mm f/1.4 doesn’t feature one of Fuji’s quietest linear motors like many of the zoom lenses, but the autofocus performance is quite good nonetheless.  Focus locks on swiftly and very quietly.  There is some noise if you really listen for it, but unless you are in an exceptionally quiet room, you won’t hear it during normal operation.  Focus accuracy was very good, and I don’t believe I had a single misfocus during the testing period.

Focus does slow somewhat in lower light, like all the Fuji lenses, but the speed remains usable in these conditions.

Continue: Image Quality

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Review: Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Sonnar T* http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-zeiss-fe-55mm-f1-8-za-sonnar-t/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-zeiss-fe-55mm-f1-8-za-sonnar-t/#comments Thu, 21 May 2015 01:38:27 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=5031 The Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 Sonnar has been around since the beginning of Sony’s full frame E-Mount launch, and a lot of people consider it an outstanding lens.  I thought about not doing an FE 55mm f/1.8 review, as it’s been out for a while, but after using the lens over the past two weeks, …

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The Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 Sonnar has been around since the beginning of Sony’s full frame E-Mount launch, and a lot of people consider it an outstanding lens.  I thought about not doing an FE 55mm f/1.8 review, as it’s been out for a while, but after using the lens over the past two weeks, I simply have to share my thoughts and feelings on this lens.

Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 Sonnar on the Sony A7 II

Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 Sonnar on the Sony A7 II

Construction and Handling

The FE 55mm f/1.8 shares the same all-metal construction that is found on essentially all the Sony Zeiss lenses.  The smooth aluminum barrel has no creaks or movement at all, and the only control is the finely ribbed focus ring. The lens is reassuringly solid and has a subtle heft to it.  It’s not a huge lens, though it is a bit longer than most normal prime lenses.  Overall, the 55mm f/1.8 balances well on pretty much any Sony body. One somewhat interesting, though inconsequential fact about this lens is that the front element is concave, rather than the typical convex elements seen in most lenses.  This doesn’t affect use in any way, but I thought it was somewhat interesting.

Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Sonnar T*

Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA Sonnar T*

The manual focus ring is well damped and very smooth to operate. Like all the Sony E-mount native lenses, the focus is fly-by-wire, so there are no hard stops and no focus scales present.  The lens comes with caps, a case and a lens hood.  The hood is somewhat large in comparison to the lens body, but provides good shading and protection. It’s nicely constructed of plastic with a metal band around the base near the lens.  This band doesn’t do anything, but it feels nice and a bit more premium as a result.  It’s a nice touch. The bayonet mount for the hood is recessed slightly, and is similar to the hood attachments for many of the other Sony/Zeiss E-mount lenses.

The FE 55mm f/1.8 isn't the most compact normal lens, but it's not large either.

The FE 55mm f/1.8 isn’t the most compact normal lens, but it’s not large either.

Autofocus

The FE 55mm f/1.8 sports a very fast and quiet autofocus motor.  The lens locks focus very quickly on both the A7 II and the APS-C a6000 in good light, and slows somewhat it dimmer light.  However, that slowing is relatively minor for the most part, and speed is still pretty good when shooting higher contrast subjects in low light. I have noticed that when shooting people in lower light situations, that sometimes the lens will hunt through the range a bit, which can slow things down somewhat.  Part of this is that I found it best to use the smallest focus point setting on the camera, due to the relatively shallow depth of field that an f/1.8 lens can generate on a full-frame body.  Using larger focus points, especially when shooting closer up to people, would often have the lens focus on eyebrows instead of eyes, which can be notable in these situations.

The lens does not feature an optical image stabilizer, which is common among normal prime lenses.  It would have been nice, given the APS-C normal prime from Sony has optical stabilization, but I don’t view it as a major downside, especially if you’re shooting on the A7 II.

Continue: Image Quality

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Review: Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Distagon T* http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-zeiss-fe-35mm-f1-4-za-distagon-t/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-zeiss-fe-35mm-f1-4-za-distagon-t/#comments Wed, 13 May 2015 01:01:25 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4979 Sony’s been fleshing out their full frame FE lens lineup for E-Mount fairly quickly over the past year and a half, as the total FE system is now up to 11 native AF lenses.  One of the newest lenses to hit the street is aimed squarely at the professional and enthusiast with the no-compromises Zeiss …

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Sony’s been fleshing out their full frame FE lens lineup for E-Mount fairly quickly over the past year and a half, as the total FE system is now up to 11 native AF lenses.  One of the newest lenses to hit the street is aimed squarely at the professional and enthusiast with the no-compromises Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon.  In stark contrast to the slower and significantly smaller Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar, released at the launch of the FE line, the 35mm f/1.4 is a huge lens with a large aperture, and promises top-flight image quality.  With a $1,600 US price tag to go along with the large size, the lens will need to be an optical gem to be worth the price, size and weight penalties.  Let’s see if it meets the mark.

Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon on the Sony A7 II

Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 Distagon on the Sony A7 II

Construction and Handling

The Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 is a robust fast wide-angle lens that looks more like a telephoto lens than a mirrorless wide-angle.  Sony and Zeiss have thrown any pretense of size reduction out the window with this optic, and have instead focused on premium build and premium image quality.  The lens certainly lives up to expectations with regards to construction.

The Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 is a large, moderately heavy lens with a solid all metal exterior construction.  The lens is very tightly assembled with a flawlessly finished matte black metal lens barrel and a wide ribbed focus ring for easy manual focus.  The focus ring is well damped and silky smooth to operate.

The lens includes a metal and plastic lens hood, which adds another two inches to the length.

The lens includes a metal and plastic lens hood, which adds another two inches to the length.

The lens is unique in the Sony world, being one of only two native lenses for E-Mount with an aperture ring.  The relatively wide aperture ring features 1/3 stop detents that are individually marked.  Damping on the aperture ring is almost perfect.  It’s stiff enough to avoid accidental aperture changes, but not too tight to make changing the aperture difficult.  In a very nice nod to video shooters, the FE 35mm f/1.4 includes a switch to remove the detents for the aperture ring, allowing the aperture to be changed smoothly and silently.  The only real issue I had with the aperture ring is the area marked with f-stops and hash marks does not have any ribbing on it, which can make it hard to grip with the left hand in some positions.

The aperture ring can be 'de-clicked' for silent aperture adjustment during video

The aperture ring can be ‘de-clicked’ for silent aperture adjustment during video

In my introduction, I’ve mentioned the size of this lens several times, and for good reason.  Optical quality can sometimes come with a size penalty, and such is the case here.  The lens is larger than many 35mm f/1.4 lenses for DSLRs and significantly larger than its slower sibling, the FE 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar.  Of course, with an aperture two stops faster, you’d expect a notable size increase.  In this case, the increase is triple the length and over five times the weight.  That’s right, five times heavier.

When the lens is mounted on a body like the A7 II, the overall package is anything but discreet.  However, the ample grip on the A7 II does allow the lens to handle fairly well in the field.  Balance is a bit front heavy, but when supporting with two hands, the lens feels good.  It does, however, begin to wear on your wrist after a day’s shooting if you are like me and shoot your mirrorless cameras by carrying the camera and using a wrist strap.

The big 72mm front element of the FE 35mm f/1.4

The big 72mm front element of the FE 35mm f/1.4

The bigger issue to size is in the added heft to your bag and the sometimes greater intimidation for your subject that can come with larger lenses.   While I definitely noticed the weight and size every time I pulled the 35mm f/1.4 out of my bag, the size wasn’t as big a detriment as I originally envisioned it would be during actual shooting.  Still, for those looking for a light flexible setup, you may want to look to the 35mm f/2.8 or the manual focus Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2.0.  This is not a lens you’re going to grab for a casual single lens outing.

Autofocus Performance

The Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon features a very fast and quiet autofocus motor capable of locking quickly onto your subject with good accuracy.  Overall performance in most lighting situations was quite good, though I found the lens slowed down quite a bit in lower light and especially in backlit scenarios, where I’d sometimes get full-range hunting before finally locking on.

Scooter - Sony A7 II with Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ f/1.4 (continuous AF)

Scooter – Sony A7 II with Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon @ f/1.4 (continuous AF)

I tested the lens for continuous autofocus using the A7 II, and the 35mm f/1.4 was able to turn in a decent performance in this area. While I can’t say that almost all the shots were in focus in this scenario, I was getting around a 50-60% hit rate at f/1.4.  While not the greatest performance in the world, some of this is likely due to the A7 II’s capabilities as well.  The shot above was captured in continuous focus mode at f/1.4.

Continue: Image Quality

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Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 vs. Fuji XF 23mm f/1.4 http://admiringlight.com/blog/sony-zeiss-fe-35mm-f1-4-vs-fuji-xf-23mm-f1-4/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/sony-zeiss-fe-35mm-f1-4-vs-fuji-xf-23mm-f1-4/#comments Sat, 09 May 2015 02:31:59 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4954 Ok, so this is one of those comparisons that really isn’t particularly fair.  You’ve got a $1,600 Zeiss prime up against a $900 Fuji prime, and the test bed cameras aren’t the same resolution.  There are lots of problems with testing like this, but I’m going to do it anyway.  Why?  It’s fun!  Today I’m …

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Ok, so this is one of those comparisons that really isn’t particularly fair.  You’ve got a $1,600 Zeiss prime up against a $900 Fuji prime, and the test bed cameras aren’t the same resolution.  There are lots of problems with testing like this, but I’m going to do it anyway.  Why?  It’s fun!  Today I’m comparing the Sony Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 (reviewed here), mounted on the Sony A7 II and the Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 (reviewed here), mounted on the Fuji X-T1.  Both of these lenses have approximately the same field of view, and they both have the same fast f/1.4 maximum aperture.  They are also both highly regarded lenses for their respective systems, so let’s see how they stack up.  And please, please take these tests with a grain of salt.  This is a fun comparison, and both of these lenses are really quite excellent.

Sony A7 II with Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 - Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4

Sony A7 II with Zeiss FE 35mm f/1.4 – Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4

The Contenders

Fujinon XF 24mm f/1.4

Diameter: 72mm
Length: 63mm
Weight: 301g
Price: $899

Sony Zeiss Distagon FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA

Diameter: 78.5mm
Length: 112mm
Weight: 630g
Price: $1,598

From the picture and specifications above, you can see that the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 is roughly double the, well, everything, of the Fuji 23mm f/1.4.  It’s nearly twice as long, over twice as heavy and almost twice as expensive.  It’s a monster sized lens, especially considering it’s a mirrorless optic.  The Fuji is considerably more compact and easy to carry.  It’s worth pointing out that the two lenses share the same maximum aperture, but due to the focal length differences, the Sony should provide around 1 stop shallower depth of field at the same aperture, allowing for greater subject separation.  Some would say I should be comparing the Fuji to the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2.0 instead.  It’s a valid point, but again…this is for fun: the two flagship lenses at this angle of view for each system.

The Test

This is a simple test, taken at a focus distance of approximately 2 meters.  This is a general focus distance that is good for environmental portraiture and other similar shots.  The lenses were tripod mounted and the blocks in the crops you’ll see were set at the center and the very left edge of the frame.  The full frame examined can be seen below (this is the Sony 35mm shot at f/2.0):

The Test Scene - Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.0

The Test Scene – Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/2.0

I took images focused on the center set of blocks, at full stop apertures, starting at f/1.4, and crops are presented below.  Now, let’s talk about the difference in test bed resolution.  The A7 II has a 24 megapixel full frame sensor, while the Fuji X-T1 has a 16 megapixel APS-C sensor.  I could compare full resolution between the two, and you’d see a pretty big difference.  Let me clue you in: The Sony combo shows more detail.  In some cases, a LOT more detail.  There’s just more detail that can be captured.  On one hand, this is certainly a big advantage to the Sony system, and we shouldn’t discount it.  On the other hand, it’s not really helpful to compare lenses when the sensors behind those lenses are of differing resolutions.

So, for the 100% crop comparisons below, I have resized the Sony images to the same pixel dimensions as the Fuji files.  This should still give a slight advantage to the Sony, but makes comparing the two a bit easier.  Don’t worry…I’ll post a few full size crops at the end.

So, let’s look at the center.  Click on the image, which will bring you to a full size image in a new window.  You may need to zoom in after the image loads to see the images at full size.

100% Crops - Center (Sony resized to 16MP) - Click to view full size

100% Crops – Center (Sony resized to 16MP) – Click to view full size

A few things can be seen here.  First, at f/1.4, the Sony is clearly sharper, even when reduced to 16 megapixels.  There is incredible contrast and clarity to the image straight from f/1.4.  If you compare the f/2.0 Sony shot to the f/1.4 Fuji shot, which would provide comparable depth of field, the difference is perhaps even greater. Looking at the top edges of the blocks, you can see that the Fuji controls CA slightly better, as a light-colored fringe can be seen along the top edge of the block at f/1.4. Stopping down improves the Fuji quickly, such that by f/2.0, the two are quite close, and by f/4, it’s hard to really pick between them.  The Zeiss still may hold a slight edge here, but it’s very close indeed.  I only show to f/4 on the center crops because neither lens improves upon stopping down further.

Now let’s look at the far edge crops.

Edge Crops - Click to View Full Size

100% Edge Crops (Sony resized to 16MP) – Click to View Full Size

Here things are a fair bit more lopsided.  The FE 35mm puts in an absolutely stunning performance here, with still extremely sharp images even right at the frame edge from f/1.4.  The Fuji does OK here, but simply can’t keep up.  Stopping down helps equalize things, and by f/2.8 both lenses are producing very strong resolution.  By f/5.6, the Zeiss still has a very slim edge, but it’s very close at these smaller apertures.

It’s clear that both lenses are very good, but the Zeiss is simply in a league of its own.  I’ve never seen a 35mm lens (or equivalent angle of view) with such a wide aperture perform this strongly.  it’s quite remarkable.  To get an idea of the full advantage this lens on the higher resolution sensor gives you, take a look at the f/1.4 edge crops at full size:

100% Edge Crops, f/1.4 - Click to Enlarge

100% Edge Crops, f/1.4 – Click to Enlarge

Bokeh

With a fast moderate wide-angle, the quality of out of focus blur is also of great importance.  While the full frame lens will allow for about one stop shallower depth of field due to the longer focal length, both lenses are very capable of providing for excellent subject isolation.  Below are crops showing how the background is rendered in this scene:

100% Crops - Bokeh (Sony resized to 16MP) - Click to view full size

100% Crops – Bokeh (Sony resized to 16MP) – Click to view full size

You can clearly see the depth of field differences here, but if you want to compare for similar depth of field, then simply look at crops down diagonally (f/1.4 on Fuji, f/2 on Sony and so on).  Both lenses are fine here, but the FE is once again a cut above.  It’s really quite remarkable that the lens designers were able to make this lens as sharp as it is while still providing for excellent background blur.

Another Note:

I also took one other scene, though crops don’t make much sense here, and it led me to discover something.  Focus breathing is a phenomenon that many lenses experience, and often it is due to a lens shortening actual focal length the closer one focuses.  Close up, I was able to see that the FE 35mm exhibits rather pronounced focus breathing, except it lengthens the focal length.  I’d estimate that the FE 35mm is actually closer to a 42mm lens at close focus.

The shots below I originally took tripod mounted again, but the FE shot was considerably tighter in framing and also produced blur that was more pronounced than the usual 1 stop difference.  I retook the Fuji shot at the lens’ minimum focus distance (which is the same as the Sony’s), but it still didn’t match.  This can actually be seen in the magnification factors.  The Fuji at MFD is 0.1x (0.15x framing in full frame terms), while the Sony is 0.18x at MFD.  In any case, here’s what you can expect when going for maximum subject isolation with these lenses:

Purple and Green - Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4

Purple and Green – Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4

 

Purple and Green - Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.4

Purple and Green – Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/1.4 ZA @ f/1.4

Final Thoughts


I said up front that this wasn’t really a fair test, and it really isn’t.  The Zeiss was tested with a higher resolution body, and the lens itself is nearly double the cost.  However, despite the resolution difference, it’s easy to see that the FE 35mm f/1.4 is exceptional.  It takes an extremely good Fuji 23mm f/1.4 and makes it look mediocre in comparison.  Zeiss has done something rather incredible with the lens.

Of course, this performance comes at a cost.  Two costs, really. The first, of course, is actual cost.  The Zeiss will run you an extra $700 more than the Fuji.  The second cost is in size, with the lens being nearly twice as long and more than twice as heavy.  If you’re willing to carry the weight, it’s a lens that may very well be worth the cash.  However, size can really make a difference, both in your comfort shooting and even the way your subjects react to the camera.  Pick what’s right for you.  The FE 35mm f/1.4 is an incredible optic, though I personally would rather have something like the Fuji 23 to carry on a daily basis.  The Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2.0 is also worth a strong look for those in the Sony camp who want a fairly fast lens but don’t want the bulk.  But I have to give credit where credit is due: Bravo Sony and Zeiss.

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Using the Sony A7 II as a Digital Canon FD Camera http://admiringlight.com/blog/using-the-sony-a7-ii-as-a-digital-canon-fd-camera/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/using-the-sony-a7-ii-as-a-digital-canon-fd-camera/#comments Sun, 03 May 2015 20:20:47 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4944 I’ve written in the past about adapting old manual focus lenses to mirrorless cameras, something that I think that most everyone should try out from time to time. With the release of Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, using old manual focus lenses becomes even easier, as these lenses were designed for a 35mm frame, and so …

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I’ve written in the past about adapting old manual focus lenses to mirrorless cameras, something that I think that most everyone should try out from time to time. With the release of Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, using old manual focus lenses becomes even easier, as these lenses were designed for a 35mm frame, and so the native fields of view are intact.  With the release of the Sony A7 Mark II (reviewed here), using adapted lenses becomes even more exciting, as these old lenses suddenly become image stabilized lenses.

My Canon FD system with the A7 II - 24mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.8, 70-210mm f/4, 50-300mm f/4.5L

My Canon FD system with the A7 II – 24mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.8, 70-210mm f/4, 50-300mm f/4.5L

I use my A7 II with predominantly Canon FD lenses, though I have the FE 28-70mm and will likely soon add the FE 55mm f/1.8 to the stable, but the FD glass makes for a great kit for a few key reasons, and I thought I’d share them with you.  The reasons below will, in many cases, be similar for any other adapted lens system.  I use Canon FD because over the years I simply happened to pick up quite a few FD lenses, so when adding the few remaining gaps, it made sense to stick with FD. Your experience would be quite similar with, say, Contax/Yashica mount lenses, or Nikon F, Leica M, Leica R, Minolta MD or Olympus OM.  All of these systems had some seriously excellent glass.  So, let’s cut to the chase.

Lens Size

One thing that is somewhat lost when moving from a Micro 4/3 or APS-C mirrorless camera to the Sony A7 series is that the lenses start getting large.  The major benefits of full frame are the ability to have shallower depth of field, as well as some improved dynamic range and high ISO noise control. However, these advantages largely disappear if you are using slower lenses on the full frame kit.  Sure, a 35mm f/2.8 is still a small lens, but something like Fuji’s excellent 23mm f/1.4 will still have the capabilities for shallower depth of field. Fast full frame AF glass isn’t particularly small, with even something like the FE 55mm f/1.8, which is a fairly compact lens, being still larger than something like the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 or the Olympus 25mm f/1.8.  It’s simply a matter of physics.  However, manual focus lenses, especially those from rangefinder systems or older SLR systems, are significantly smaller than their modern AF counterparts.  The FD 50mm f/1.4 is only 235g, which is lighter than the FE 55mm, despite being 2/3 stop faster.  Of course, the FE is a significantly better lens optically, but the FD 50mm is actually quite good.  It’s even better than the EF 50mm f/1.4, despite being an older design. This goes for any of the other systems.  A LOT of the manual focus 50mm or 55mm lenses are really good optically, with some, such as the Zeiss 50mm f/1.7 for Contax/Yashica mount, being nearly on par with the FE.   Similar size reductions are available throughout the lenses.

To give an example, my daily carry for typical use covers me from 24mm wide-angle to 85mm short telephoto, with excellent image quality and generally fast lenses.  I carry the FD 24mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2.0, 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1.8.  All four lenses are very good wide open and outstanding stopped down, and each lens is pretty lightweight. All except the 85mm f/1.8 are less than 300g, and the 85mm is only 345g. The lenses are small too, with all sharing a 52mm filter thread size. The overall feel is still of a small kit.  If you’re an Olympus OM or even a Leica M shooter, you can even dramatically go smaller than this.  While a native FE lens lineup with primes can be made fairly small, it’s simply nice to know that if you go the adapted route, you’ll keep the size of the kit very small.

Centennial Morning - Sony A7 II with Canon FD 24mm f/2.8 @ f/11

Centennial Morning – Sony A7 II with Canon FD 24mm f/2.8 @ f/11

Price

For some lens mounts, this won’t really be an advantage (I’m looking at you, Leica), but for the most part, you can pick up excellent lenses for a fraction of the cost of a native solution.  That four lens kit I mentioned above can be had for under $700 in excellent condition, providing outstanding optical quality and lens speed for a fraction of what the native lenses would set you back.  It’s a great option for those who want a lot of the benefits of full frame, but don’t necessarily need autofocus.

It forces you to slow down

This may be seen as a negative by many, but I know I get my best shots when I’m using a tripod, and part of the reason is that the process of setting things up meticulously lets you slow down and really concentrate on the composition.  The same is true here.  You can’t just spray and pray when using manual lenses, and focusing on composition and precise focus placement and correct aperture can result in tangible benefits to your images.

Ultimately, my little experiment with FD glass on the A7 II has been a success.  There are certainly many reasons to favor the native glass.  Many of the native FE lenses are simply spectacular optically and have modern lens coatings and more precise design to limit aberrations.  You also get quick autofocus for times it’s really needed, among others.  But the ability to use these cameras as essentially a new digital mount for an old lens system is a great way to bring new life into old lenses you may have, or simply to help get great results while keeping the kit small and your pocketbook heavier.

Skyward - Sony A7 II with Canon FD 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Skyward – Sony A7 II with Canon FD 85mm f/1.8 @ f/1.8

Milk - Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4

Milk – Sony A7 II with Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4

Lower Falls, Hocking Hills State Park - Sony A7II with Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 @ f/11, 1/2s, ISO 100

Lower Falls, Hocking Hills State Park – Sony A7II with Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 @ f/11, 1/2s, ISO 100

Driveway - Sony A7 II with Canon FD 35mm f/2 @ f/2

Driveway – Sony A7 II with Canon FD 35mm f/2 @ f/2

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