Admiring Light http://admiringlight.com/blog Photography Reviews, Photos, News and Musings Tue, 02 Sep 2014 16:30:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Review: HandeVision Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 (Sony E-Mount) http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-handevision-ibelux-40mm-f0-85-sony-e-mount/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=review-handevision-ibelux-40mm-f0-85-sony-e-mount http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-handevision-ibelux-40mm-f0-85-sony-e-mount/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:51:19 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=3915 Speed.  It used to be than an f/1.4 lens was considered quite fast and f/1.2 was the pro-grade ultra-fast aperture.  Very, very rarely, a manufacturer would produce a lens at f/1.0 or very slightly faster…the elusive f/0.95.  Until recently, f/0.95 was an exceptionally rare aperture lens, only produced by Leica with their 50mm Noctilux.  However, …

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Speed.  It used to be than an f/1.4 lens was considered quite fast and f/1.2 was the pro-grade ultra-fast aperture.  Very, very rarely, a manufacturer would produce a lens at f/1.0 or very slightly faster…the elusive f/0.95.  Until recently, f/0.95 was an exceptionally rare aperture lens, only produced by Leica with their 50mm Noctilux.  However, with more modern design and mirrorless cameras, there has been a huge push of f/0.95 lenses.

Voigtländer released a trio of f/0.95 lenses for Micro 4/3 that are quite excellent.  Small makers like SLR Magic and more recently Mitakon have released 50mm f/0.95 lenses at varying price points, and usually with quite good optical quality.  With the advent of the Metabones SpeedBooster, it is also possible to create f/0.9 optics by pairing the SpeedBooster with an f/1.2 lens.

Now we have new ground broken: The little known IB/E Optics in Germany has partnered with Kipon to produce the HandeVision Ibelux 40mm f/0.85.  This lens is a half a stop faster than an f/1.0 lens and 1/3 stop faster than the previous fastest production lenses at f/0.95.  For the bragging rights of having that ultra-fast f/0.85 aperture, HandeVision is charging a whopping $2,070.  The lens is available for Sony E-mount (reviewed today), Fuji X-mount, Canon EF-M and Micro 4/3.

HandeVision Ibelux 40mm f/0.85

HandeVision Ibelux 40mm f/0.85

Construction and Handling

To say the Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 is a large and heavy lens is somewhat of an understatement.  Given that it’s intended for mirrorless system cameras, the lens is utterly massive.  It is very long for a 40mm lens (indeed longer than the Sony 18-105mm f/4), and extremely heavy at 2.6 pounds.  To put that in perspective, it’s the same weight as the Canon 300mm f/4 IS or the original Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L. It’s a pound heavier than the Leica 50mm f/0.95 or the Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 and double the weight and size of the Voigtländer 42.5mm f/0.95. This means that the lens doesn’t handle well on these tiny bodies.  In fact, with my NEX-6 and a6000, I fear the lens could damage the lens mount due to the weight and the lack of a tripod collar.  This lens needs a tripod collar.  I can’t think of a modern lens this heavy that doesn’t have one. Every time I pick up the camera with this lens attached, I am surprised by the sheer mass of this lens in relation to its focal length, and it’s not a fun lens to carry around.

The 40mm f/0.85's hood slides out

The 40mm f/0.85′s hood slides out

To that end, in the construction department, it’s a solid chunk of glass and metal.  It’s got a very old-school aesthetic that reminds me of older Vivitar lenses, with a wide ribbed focus ring and thin paint filled engravings.  There is a built-in hood that takes up a large portion of the front of the lens, but only extends about a centimeter, providing minimal shading.  Despite the heavy solid feeling, there are several things that make it feel as if it’s not as well constructed as you may be led to believe by the weight.  The aperture ring has detents that are somewhat weak, and the ring only clicks in full stop increments, which is bizarre for a large modern lens.  The focus ring also has essentially no damping whatsoever.  While this allows you to focus with one finger, it also makes it far to easy to knock focus off once you’ve achieved it.  Those nitpicks aside, it does feel like a solid hunk of a lens, but as you can tell, I am not a fan of how this lens handles.  At all.

One other thing of note is the rather long minimum focus distance.  For a lens with a ‘long normal’ field of view on APS-C cameras, it doesn’t focus closely at all.  The 0.75m minimum focus distance can be somewhat limiting at times.  Additionally, the lowered contrast and very shallow depth of field makes the lens very difficult to focus accurately, especially at further focus distances.

Speed

The Ibelux 40mm has an aperture of f/0.85. This is a half stop faster than f/1.0, and should lend the lens a great ability for use in extreme low light situations.  It IS a very fast lens, though it’s worth noting that due to pixel shading, the lens will not expose like an f/0.85 lens on a digital camera sensor.  Digital sensors are complex devices, and over each photosite sits a ‘micro-lens’ to help funnel the light on to the actual photodiode.  Depending on a number of factors (microlens design, pixel size, sensor stack height etc), these microlenses can limit the light that can be collected.  For the Sony bodies I used for testing this lens, the Ibelux exposes a bit less than 1 stop faster at f/0.85 than it does at f/1.4.  I.e., it exposes slightly slower than an f/1.0 lens ‘should’ based on the aperture alone. Note that depth of field is not affected by pixel shading, only exposure.

Continue: Image Quality

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Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 vs Canon FL 55mm f/1.2+Speed Booster http://admiringlight.com/blog/ibelux-40mm-f0-85-vs-canon-fl-55mm-f1-2speed-booster/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ibelux-40mm-f0-85-vs-canon-fl-55mm-f1-2speed-booster http://admiringlight.com/blog/ibelux-40mm-f0-85-vs-canon-fl-55mm-f1-2speed-booster/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 20:40:52 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=3931 Today we are pitting the brand new HandeVision Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 against an ancient lens with a modern adapter.  The Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 mounted to the Metabones Speed Booster gives us a combination resulting in a 39mm f/0.9 lens. Given the similar maximum aperture and similar focal length of these two optics, I thought …

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Today we are pitting the brand new HandeVision Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 against an ancient lens with a modern adapter.  The Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 mounted to the Metabones Speed Booster gives us a combination resulting in a 39mm f/0.9 lens. Given the similar maximum aperture and similar focal length of these two optics, I thought it fitting to pit them against each other.  The Ibelux is a monster sized lens with the fastest aperture of any lens on the planet, and the Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 is a 50 year old lens designed for film.  Fair fight?  Let’s find out.

Ultra Fast Battle: Canon FL55mm f/1.2 + Speed Booster (left) vs. Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 (right)

Ultra Fast Battle: Canon FL55mm f/1.2 + Speed Booster (left) vs. Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 (right)

Tale of the Tape

The FL 55mm f/1.2 with Speed Booster is considerably lighter than the Ibelux 40mm f/0.85

The FL 55mm f/1.2 with Speed Booster is considerably lighter than the Ibelux 40mm f/0.85

For ease of nomenclature, I’m going to refer to the FL 55mm f/1.2 with the Speed Booster simply as a ‘lens’ as when combined, they simply function as a 39mm f/0.9 optic.  So that’s how I’m going to treat it.  

As you can see from the picture above, the two lenses vary drastically in size.  The FL 55mm f/1.2 isn’t that big at all, and the Speed Booster adds only about 1cm of extra length.  The Ibelux is nearly twice as long and just as wide. As you can see in the image to the right, the FL 55mm with Speed Booster also weighs nearly half what the giant Ibelux weighs.  The Canon combo here is slightly slower…about 1/6 of a stop by the numbers, and very slightly shorter. The big important numbers to my eye:

Aperture: Canon+SB: f/0.9; Ibelux: f/0.85
Weight: Canon+SB: 618g; Ibelux: 1,143g
Cost: Canon+SB: ~$625; Ibelux: $2,079

So, in this comparison, the Ibelux is twice as large, twice as heavy and over three times more expensive.  Will that translate to better performance?  Let’s find out.

The Test

I’ve been shooting with the Ibelux 40mm for the past week, and this test pits the two lenses against each other in the range that is the Ibelux’s wheelhouse.  While not shown here, I can confidently say that on distant subjects, the Canon plus Speed Booster handily outperforms the Ibelux, but on closer subjects, the Ibelux rendering is quite beautiful, so I’m testing there, where the Ibelux should have the best shot at competing.

Alas, I wasn’t able to get a copy of the Ibelux in Fuji X-mount, and my Speed Booster is only in Fuji X mount, so there is a camera component to this comparison as well.  The Canon FL 55mm combo was shot on the Fujifilm X-T1, while the Ibelux was shot on the NEX-6.  Both are 16 Megapixel APS-C sensors, and should compare favorably.  Images were processed in Adobe Lightroom 5.6.  This may lend a slight edge to the Ibelux, as Lightroom does better with Bayer sensors, but with this subject matter, I’ve found the results to be quite comparable.

The lenses were set up on a tripod with the book shown below approximately 1 meter away.  There is a crystal decanter in the background and a crystal glass in the foreground to test foreground and background bokeh.  One note, I had to set a second tripod up to support the end of the Ibelux, since I feared the weight could damage the NEX-6 lens mount.

The full Test Image - (This is the Ibelux at f/0.85)

The full Test Image – (This is the Ibelux at f/0.85)

Sharpness

I tested center and corner sharpness, shooting the lenses at f/0.85 (f/0.9 on the FL 55mm), f/1.0, and then full stop increments to f/5.6.  All images were taken on a tripod with 2 second self timer to eliminate shutter press shake.

I took 100% crops from the center of the frame as well as near the upper left corner.  White balance was set using the white letters on the book on the f/1.4 image.  Click on an image, then make sure to click the green arrow at the bottom of the screen to enlarge to 100%.

100% Center Crops

100% Center Crops

100% Corner Crops

100% Corner Crops

Looking at the crops above, a one thing is quite apparent to me.The Canon 55mm f/1.2 Plus Speedbooster, despite the much lower cost, size and weight, is the sharper lens.  In the center, the 55mm combo shows similar resolution and much better contrast wide open, and upon stopping down displays a small but clear lead in detail throughout the aperture range.  The Ibelux catches up by f/1.4 in contrast, but still can’t match the resolution.

In the corners, the same trend continues.  Neither lens gets tack sharp into the corners, but the Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 shows better contrast and detail over more of the frame in this area.  An impressive performance for a 50 year old lens, and a bit disappointing for the Ibelux.

Continue: Bokeh

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First Impressions: HandeVision Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 http://admiringlight.com/blog/first-impressions-handevision-ibelux-40mm-f0-85/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=first-impressions-handevision-ibelux-40mm-f0-85 http://admiringlight.com/blog/first-impressions-handevision-ibelux-40mm-f0-85/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 01:59:53 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=3902 I just received a copy of the HandeVision Ibelux 40mm f/0.85.  This is the fastest lens in production for any system right now, and is available for most of the mirrorless mounts.  This is simply a first impressions post, from a bit of shooting today.  My full review will come sometime in the next week …

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I just received a copy of the HandeVision Ibelux 40mm f/0.85.  This is the fastest lens in production for any system right now, and is available for most of the mirrorless mounts.  This is simply a first impressions post, from a bit of shooting today.  My full review will come sometime in the next week or so, once I’ve really had a chance to put it through its paces.  I have a Sony E-Mount version of the lens, so the conclusions should hold for all the APS-C versions.

The giant Ibelux 40mm f/0.85

The giant Ibelux 40mm f/0.85

Build and Feel

Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 - This shot of the lens was taken at 39mm and f/0.9 with the Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 with a Metabones Speed Booster

Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 – This shot of the lens was taken at 39mm and f/0.9 with the Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 with a Metabones Speed Booster

The first thing you need to know about the Ibelux 40mm f/0.85, aside from the fact that it’s a blazingly fast lens, is that it is an absolutely enormous lens.  The lens is slightly longer than the already not-so-small Sony 18-105mm f/4, and it weighs over two and a half pounds.  Yes, it’s the same weight as a 300mm f/4 for SLRs.  When placed on the small Sony E-Mount bodies, it simply dwarfs them. It also lacks a tripod collar, and given the extreme weight vs. the small body, I don’t really trust the mount to hold the lens when tripod mounted.  It is extremely heavy and unwieldy.

That said, it’s built of solid metal and glass and generally feels nicely constructed, though I feel the operation of the aperture and focus rings to be mediocre at best.  The aperture ring has nice clicks, but they only feature full stop increments.  For a $2,100 lens released in 2014, full stop increments is a bit of an insult to be honest.  The focus ring is broad and has a nice long throw, but is not damped at all…it just spins freely.  This does make it easy to focus, but it also makes it very easy to inadvertently move the focus ring once you’ve acquired focus.

Let’s talk a bit about that f/0.85 aperture.  This is exactly half a stop faster than an f/1.0 lens, which puts it in extremely rarified air.  However, due to pixel shading (where the pixel micro lenses themselves actually form a secondary aperture), exposure-wise, you won’t get all of that speed.  Looking at some of my test images, the lens tops out on the Sony a6000 with exposure like an f/1-f/1.1 lens.  You’ll still get the depth of field of the full f/0.85 aperture (which is similar to a 60mm f/1.2 lens on full frame), but you won’t get more than about 2/3 stop advantage over an f/1.4 lens with regards to exposure.

Addressing size, weight and price

One of the big concerns many people, including myself, have with the Ibelux is its extreme size coupled with a very hefty pricetag.  While f/0.85 is extremely rare, with the advent of the Metabones Speedbooster and similar focal reducers, APS-C shooters can get very similar focal lengths and depth of field for a fraction of the cost.  I have an old Canon FL 55mm f/1.2, which cost me about $230.  I also have a Metabones Speedbooster, which costs $400.  This combination results in a 39mm f/0.9 (the speedbooster is limited to f/0.9), at a total cost of $630, and the combination is half the length and half the weight of the Ibelux.  While I haven’t done a bunch of controlled tests yet, early comparisons I’ve done between the two show the 55+SpeedBooster combo to have higher contrast, less spherical aberration and similar sharpness to the Ibelux, though the Ibelux has a smoother bokeh.  I’ll try to do some more controlled comparisons later. Edit: full comparison here.

Image Quality First Impressions

My first impressions of the Ibelux are that overall it produces a very pleasing and unique rendering wide open, though some of this is due to some really hefty spherical aberrations, longitudinal CA and heavy vignetting.  Central sharpness is quite good, with very nice resolution in the center, and even OK detail out a bit towards the edges.  However, when stopping down to smaller apertures, while the central 2/3 of the frame gets very sharp, the far edges and corners never get sharp, and indeed stay rather soft.  That’s quite disappointing for a $2,000+ optic.  However, the overall look is very unique and pleasing.  I’ll be looking forward to putting the lens through a lot more situations and lighting conditions as the week goes by.

Odd Banding with the a6000

100% crop of the first sample image, showing banding that appears on the a6000 at super-fast apertures. (click to enlarge)

100% crop of the first sample image, showing banding that appears on the a6000 at super-fast apertures. (click to enlarge)

One very odd thing that I feel I must mention (and I hope Sony is listening), is that this lens has exposed a weakness in the a6000′s sensor:  Ultra-fast glass induces banding.  I’m not sure exactly why, but it is very clear.  When shooting this lens at f/0.85 or f/1.0, in ANY lighting condition, out of focus areas have fine regular lines through them.  This banding is even visible in the live view preview when you magnify for focusing.  Stopping down to f/1.4 eliminates it almost completely, and by f/2.0 it’s completely gone.  Again, this is in EVERY shot at f/0.85 and f/1.0, regardless of exposure or lighting conditions, as long as there is some out of focus area.  At first I thought my sensor was on the fritz, but as I mentioned, it’s completely gone by f/2 (and only noticeable if you really look hard at f/1.4), and never appears with any of my other slower lenses.  This banding is not present at all on my NEX-6, so it’s not a lens issue, but a sensor issue.  I don’t know what would cause that, but it may be related to PDAF pixels on the smaller pixel pitch of the 24MP sensor.  That is simply a guess, though.  The image up and to the right is a 100% crop of the first sample image, showing the banding that I’m seeing (click to enlarge).

I was able to eliminate the banding mostly by using the banding correction in Topaz Denoise.  The web size samples below with the a6000 at f/0.85 have all had this performed before resize (otherwise it’s quite visible in the resized image).

Check out my comparison between the 40mm f/0.85 and the Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 + Speed Booster, which you can find here. Please stay tuned for my full review, which I hope to have complete sometime next week. edit: my full review is now complete.

Now, for a few samples: (click to enlarge)

Block - Sony a6000 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/0.85

Block – Sony a6000 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/0.85

Henry - Sony a6000 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/0.85

Henry – Sony a6000 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/0.85

Flower in the City - Sony a6000 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/0.85

Flower in the City – Sony a6000 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/0.85

Fish - Sony a6000 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/0.85

Fish – Sony a6000 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/0.85

Drinking Milk - Sony NEX-6 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/0.85

Drinking Milk – Sony NEX-6 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/0.85

Fish Fountain - Sony a6000 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/1.4

Fish Fountain – Sony a6000 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/1.4

Knocker - Sony a6000 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/0.85

Knocker – Sony a6000 with Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 @ f/0.85

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Photokina 2014 Preview http://admiringlight.com/blog/photokina-2014-preview/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=photokina-2014-preview http://admiringlight.com/blog/photokina-2014-preview/#comments Sun, 17 Aug 2014 14:08:43 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=3881 It’s that time again: Photokina is less than a month away, and this year’s show promises to be huge. Photokina occurs every two years in Cologne, Germany and is the largest photography trade show in the world.   Photokina 2014 takes place between September 16 and 21, and will feature over 1,000 photographic exhibitors to …

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It’s that time again: Photokina is less than a month away, and this year’s show promises to be huge. Photokina occurs every two years in Cologne, Germany and is the largest photography trade show in the world.   Photokina 2014 takes place between September 16 and 21, and will feature over 1,000 photographic exhibitors to showcase their products.  All the big names will be there, and this year: I will be there too.

Admiring Light will be providing in-depth coverage of photokina 2014, bringing you the latest news, hands on impressions and images of all the interesting new products that will be on display.  Given the focus of this site, I’ll primarily be reporting on the big names in the mirrorless industry, with reports from the Olympus, Panasonic, Fuji, and Sony booths, along with Leica, Canon, Nikon, Samsung, Carl Zeiss and more. While the new mirrorless announcements will be my first priority, I also plan on exploring the countless other booths for unique and interesting things that are important to my readers, and I will probably check out the new DSLR announcements as well.

Photograph:Koelnmesse

Photograph:Koelnmesse

If you are planning on visiting photokina this year, buy your tickets as soon as you can (if you haven’t already) and start planing your trip.  TTI Travel is photokina’s New York based travel partner, and they have arranged for a variety of room blocks in Cologne, and has advice and information for your trip, specific to North American visitors.  You can reach them at 212-674-3476 or via email at customerservice@traveltradeint.com.

If you’re not going to be able to attend the show, I’ll have you covered.  Let’s take a quick look at what we expect to see at the show this year:

Fujifilm

Will the X-Pro 1 finally be replaced?

Will the X-Pro 1 finally be replaced?

Fuji has a range of potential announcements, though information has been somewhat sparse.  We know they have added a range of new lenses for the X-Series to their roadmap, including a 16mm f/1.4, 16-50mm f/2.8 WR, 50-140mm, f/2.8, 90mm f/2, and a yet-to-be specified super telephoto zoom lens.  I expect many of these new lenses to be on display at the show.

What is less clear is the camera situation.  We know a new X30 is almost certain to be announced, with an integral EVF and similar sensor and lens to the X20.  A revision to the X100s is also possible.  One thing we don’t really know, but seems like a very good possibility to me, is whether the venerable X-Pro 1 will finally see a successor.  If so, I expect Fuji will want to blow everyone away with this one.  Perhaps a new higher resolution sensor, the X-T1′s electronic viewfinder plus improvements to the optical finder, weather sealing, faster autofocus and more.  I think Fuji is waiting to make sure this camera is one serious machine when it’s released.  We can only hope!

Micro 4/3

Leaked image of the Olympus E-PL7

Leaked image of the Olympus E-PL7

This year’s show promises to be a big one for the Micro 4/3 mount.  We should still see at least one new camera from Panasonic and the E-PL7 from Olympus (rumored photo courtesy of Digicame-info.com at the left).  The E-PL7 is to the E-M10 what the E-P5 is to the E-M5.  It’s rumored to be essentially an E-M10 without the viewfinder. My biggest concern for the camera?  Price.  Olympus has priced their Pen cameras out of the market a bit as of late, and we can only hope the E-PL7 comes in with an aggressive price point.  I’m hoping for a camera under $500.

Additionally, there’s a rumored huge firmware update for the Olympus E-M1, which could potentially add 4K video to that camera.  Panasonic is also rumored to be releasing a fixed-lens camera with a 4/3 sensor inside.  Exciting news!

The big Micro 4/3 story at photokina this year should be the lenses.  Olympus is slated to officially announce three new lenses to their ‘Pro’ line: a 40-150mm f/2.8, a 300mm f/4 and a 7-14mm f/2.8.  All of these should be optically stellar, weather sealed and expertly constructed.  I know many Micro 4/3 shooters are eagerly awaiting the 300mm f/4.

Potential other announcements include the long-teased Panasonic 150mm f/2.8, as well as a smaller and slower 35-100mm lens.  There are unsubstantiated rumors of a 9mm prime lens from Olympus as well.

Sony

Leaked image of the Sony a5100, courtesy of digicame-info.com

Leaked image of the Sony a5100, courtesy of digicame-info.com

Sony has been leading the way in sensor innovation over the past few years, and have released a huge number of very good cameras.  More cameras are on tap at photokina this year, though I hope we also see quite a few more lenses to fill out both the APS-C and Full frame E-Mount lineups.  Next week, Sony should announce their new a5100 camera, which appears to be essentially an a6000 without the EVF and hotshoe.  Given the aggressive pricing on the a6000, I’d expect this camera to come in at a ridiculously low price of entry (putting even more pressure on Olympus to have a low price on the E-PL7).

Additionally, it appears the Sony RX1 fixed-lens full-frame camera will be succeeded with a new RX2 utilizing Sony’s brand-new curved sensor technology.  This could be a camera that breaks new ground for compact optics and quality in a small package.

On the lens front, the Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 for FE mount will almost certainly be announced, and signs point to a fast 85mm prime as well.  Additionally, we should see Carl Zeiss announce a line of manual focus FE mount lenses and potentially an additional fast autofocus prime.  Sony should also have a range of new DSLR products.

Canon, Nikon and Others

While I won’t be focusing my efforts on the big two due to the audience of this site, I will pop over and take a look at the new Canon 7D Mark II, which is almost certain to be announced.   Nikon should have a new full-frame camera and both makers may surprise us with some much more interesting mirrorless gear, though I’m not holding my breath.

I’ll also make sure to stop by the Leica booth and check out the new Leica T (I hope to have a review sample of this camera sometime in the next two months), as well as any other interesting new cameras and lenses there.  Sigma and Samyang also have been making small but significant splashes in the mirrorless world, and I’ll be sure to head over there and get as much information as I can on any new products.

Stay Tuned

Remember to check back here when the show begins to see all the show reports and my thoughts on all the new and exciting things that will be presented at photokina 2014.  I’ll be doing daily show reports and hopefully some interviews with the big players in the industry.  If you have anything you’d specifically like me to cover, please leave a comment and I will do my best to make it happen!

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Review: Fujifilm Fujinon XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-fujinon-xf-18-135mm-f3-5-5-6-r-lm-ois-wr/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=review-fujifilm-fujinon-xf-18-135mm-f3-5-5-6-r-lm-ois-wr http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-fujinon-xf-18-135mm-f3-5-5-6-r-lm-ois-wr/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 20:59:19 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=3838 Fuji has done a great job in building a robust lineup for their X-Series mirrorless cameras, but despite releasing the weathersealed X-T1 earlier this year, they hadn’t created a weathersealed lens until now.  The XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R OIS WR is a wide range super-zoom lens that features Fuji’s new Weather Resistant tag, with rubber …

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Fuji has done a great job in building a robust lineup for their X-Series mirrorless cameras, but despite releasing the weathersealed X-T1 earlier this year, they hadn’t created a weathersealed lens until now.  The XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R OIS WR is a wide range super-zoom lens that features Fuji’s new Weather Resistant tag, with rubber gaskets around all points of entry and even a novel ventilation system to allow air to enter and leave the lens without sucking in moisture and dust.  The lens covers a great range of focal lengths, equivalent to the field of view that a 27-205mm lens would have on a full frame camera.  The one big up front question with this lens is whether it’s worth the rather high $899 price of entry.  Let’s take a look.

The XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR on the Fujifilm X-T1

The XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR on the Fujifilm X-T1

Construction and Handling

If you are familiar with Fuji’s 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 telezoom, then you already know predominantly how the new XF 18-135mm is constructed.  The lens has a similar build with a metal mount, high quality plastic body shell, aperture ring, well-damped and rubberized zoom ring and a metal front filter ring and hood bayonet ring.  However, the 18-135mm is a weather resistant lens, and as such, there are subtle differences in the construction and feel.  The aperture ring still moves similarly to those on the 55-200mm or 18-55mm, but there is a different feel to its motion due to the weather sealing.  Likewise, the zoom action is mostly similar, except near the end of the zoom range.  There is gasketing in the zoom extension mechanism to prevent water intrusion when using the lens at longer focal lengths, and you bump up against it as you near 135mm.  As a result, there is a spongy resistance at the long end of the zoom that makes it more difficult to turn to 135mm than to other focal lengths, which, to be honest, is a bit annoying.

The lens is fairly large for a mirrorless lens, and weighs slightly less than the 55-200mm.  It’s not a lens that I would recommend for use on the small X-M1 and X-A1 bodies, but it handles fine on the X-T1 and the X-E2 (with the added grip).  Considering the range, its primary use will be as a single lens solution that can take the place of multiple lenses when you want to simplify what you’re carrying, and due to that, its size isn’t a major issue.  The lens does extend towards the long end, adding several additional inches to the length.  Below is a size comparison of the lens with the 18-55mm f/2.8-4 and the 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8.

The XF 18-55mm, XF 18-135mm, and XF 55-200mm, at their shortest focal lengths

The XF 18-55mm, XF 18-135mm, and XF 55-200mm, at their shortest focal lengths

XF 18-55mm, XF 18-135mm, XF 55-200mm, lenses at their longest focal lengths

XF 18-55mm, XF 18-135mm, XF 55-200mm, lenses at their longest focal lengths

Weather Sealing

As has been mentioned, the XF 18-135mm is Fuji’s first weather-sealed lens.  There are gaskets around moving parts on the lens, a rubber gasket around the lens mount and a unique ventilation system to ensure water and dust don’t get sucked into the lens while zooming.  I took the lens out on my X-T1 in some rain to shoot for a few minutes to test out the sealing, and for the most part, it performed well.  No moisture made it into any part of the lens or camera body, and everything worked flawlessly.

18135_wet

The XF 18-135mm is Fuji’s first ‘weather resistant’ lens.

However, I am disappointed in the sealing at the lens mount.  I’ve owned several weather sealed bodies and lenses, and most use a thin rubber gasket that presses up against the lens mount on the camera to create a seal.  Oddly enough, the rubber gasket that surrounds the mount on the 18-135mm doesn’t actually make contact with the face of the lens mount on the camera.  Instead, it surrounds the metal of the camera mount.  Unfortunately, this relies on the rubber properly fitting flush to the outside of the mount, and the problem is that it doesn’t fit flush to the surround.  As a result, the rubber mount gasket only serves to deflect the water around the mount instead of actually creating a seal against it.

After I came in from my brief shoot in the rain, I toweled off the lens and camera.  To my surprise there were several drops of water that had made it past the gasket and were sandwiched between the metal mounting surfaces of the lens mount.  While no water made it beyond the lens bayonet and into the camera, I have to think that if you’re shooting in heavy rain for more than a few minutes, the potential for water to make it into the camera is there.  So while the weather sealing for the 18-135mm is good enough to keep your lens and camera safe in some light drizzle or if you are caught unexpectedly in a storm, I would not rely on it for protection of your gear in a steady rain.  Frankly, I’m quite surprised that this oversight was made considering the apparent quality of the sealing everywhere else on the lens.

Autofocus and Image Stabilization

Like the other recent Fuji zoom lenses, the 18-135mm features a very quiet linear motor (the LM in the lens designation).  This gives the lens rather quick focusing capabilities. In good light, focus is fast and accurate, and can be used for most any purpose, including continuous autofocus outdoors.  In lower light, the slower f/5.6 maximum aperture at the long end limits the light that can be used for focusing and results in the lens slowing down a bit.  In dark conditions, autofocus is fairly slow, but in most situations, I had no complaints.

One thing that is excellent about the 18-135mm is the ability for the lens to focus to .48m at all focal lengths.  As a result, the lens is excellent for shooting closeups, and this ability truly makes the 18-135mm a versatile lens. While you’re not going to shoot macro images with the 18-135, the maximum magnification is approximately 1:4, which is great for closeups of flowers or larger insects like butterflies or dragonflies.

One of the big features of the 18-135mm is its new refined optical image stabilization (OIS). Fuji is claiming an unheard-of 5 stops of stabilization for this lens, and for the most part, it’s a fairly accurate claim.  While I wasn’t able to regularly achieve 5 stops of handholdability (which is equivalent to around 1/6 second at 135mm), I was able to consistently get sharp shots at 1/10 second at 135mm, for a gain of more than four stops, and I did occasionally get a 1/5 second sharp shot at the long end.  It is among the most effective optical stabilizers I’ve used.

Continue: Image Quality

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Review: Rokinon (Samyang) 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS (Sony E-Mount) http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-rokinon-samyang-12mm-f2-0-ncs-cs-sony-e-mount/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=review-rokinon-samyang-12mm-f2-0-ncs-cs-sony-e-mount http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-rokinon-samyang-12mm-f2-0-ncs-cs-sony-e-mount/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 00:01:12 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=3804 Samyang Optics has been around for over 40 years, but has gained recent notoriety in the past decade by releasing some truly outstanding lenses for SLRs and mirrorless cameras that provide high-end image quality at bargain prices, under a variety of brand names including Rokinon, Bower, Walimex and a few more.  The company has been active …

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Samyang Optics has been around for over 40 years, but has gained recent notoriety in the past decade by releasing some truly outstanding lenses for SLRs and mirrorless cameras that provide high-end image quality at bargain prices, under a variety of brand names including Rokinon, Bower, Walimex and a few more.  The company has been active in the mirrorless space over the past few years, starting with excellent manual focus fisheye lenses.  While they’ve also released most of their SLR lenses in native mirrorless camera mounts, the new 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS is the second non-fisheye that has been specifically designed for mirrorless cameras (the other is their 300mm f/6.3 mirror lens).

The 12mm f/2 is available for Sony E-Mount, Fujifilm X-mount, Micro 4/3, Samsung NX and Canon EF-M mount.  On the APS-C cameras, the 12mm f/2 has a field of view similar to an 18mm lens on full frame, and the lens is still rather wide on Micro 4/3 (24mm equivalent).  What’s remarkable about this lens is the ultra-wide-angle focal length combined with the very fast aperture of f/2.0.  Making an f/2.0 ultra-wide of this width is no easy feat of optical engineering, especially given the modest price of $399.

We’re looking at the Rokinon-branded Sony E-Mount version here, but the findings should hold for all the APS-C mirrorless mounts, as the optics are identical.

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS UC on the Sony a6000

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS UC 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 in real-world shooting. 

Construction and Handling

The Rokinon 12mm f/2 is constructed of a mix of high-quality plastic and metal. The bottom portion of the lens including the mount flanges is metal, while the remainder of the exterior is plastic.  Samyang has upgraded their plastic a bit in the past year, so the outer shell is very solid and the finish is rather durable.

The Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 with and without the included lens hood

The Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 with and without the included lens hood

The lens is rather small for an ultra-wide-angle, especially so when considering the f/2.0 maximum aperture.  In length and size it’s roughly the size of the Fujifilm 14mm f/2.8, and notably smaller than the other 12mm lens available for mirrorless cameras: the Zeiss 12mm f/2.8.  The Rokinon 12mm has a narrow barrel that is actually slightly narrower than the outer rim of the E-mount itself, and it flares to the somewhat wide 67mm filter thread.  The front element is bulbous, almost spherical, and juts out a bit, but stays back enough so that standard screw-in filters can be used.

Samyang includes a good size petal hood that is reversible, and while the plastic quality on the hood isn’t quite as nice as the lens itself, it secures firmly on the lens and provides some extra protection and shading while in use.  Having used the Zeiss 12mm f/2.8, it was refreshing to see the more modest proportions on the Rokinon 12mm.  The Zeiss 12mm felt somewhat unwieldy due to the huge flare at the end, and the Rokinon manages to keep things small and manageable, even on a small body like the a6000.  The lens is also rather light weight considering the width and speed.

The 12mm f/2 is a fully manual lens, and as such you will need to perform stop down metering and manual focus.  Stop down metering isn’t an issue, as the EVF of mirrorless cameras can compensate in dim environments for the working aperture when stopping down.  Manual focus is also not generally an issue, especially when shooting outdoors.  The focus setting you see on the lens in the pictures above is the ideal setting for outdoor shooting.  This puts the lens extremely close to the hyperfocal distance at f/2, allowing you to simply set your aperture and shoot.  When stopping down to f/5.6 or f/8, this gives you a nice sharp field of focus from around 3 feet to infinity.   If you’re shooting at wider apertures and closer subjects, it may make more sense to focus at f/2 while zooming the view and nail the focus, then stop down.  You will absolutely have to do this when shooting near the quite close 8 inch minimum focus distance.

The aperture ring features nice solid detents every half stop and the focus ring is well damped and smooth, allowing for precise manual focus and helping to prevent accidentally knocking it out of the set focus point accidentally.

Continue: Image Quality

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Review: Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN Art (Sony E-Mount) http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sigma-60mm-f2-8-dn-art-sony-e-mount/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=review-sigma-60mm-f2-8-dn-art-sony-e-mount http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sigma-60mm-f2-8-dn-art-sony-e-mount/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 01:56:38 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=3779 Today I’m taking a look at the newest member of Sigma’s trio of lenses for mirrorless cameras, the 60mm f/2.8 DN Art, which is available for Sony E-mount and Micro 4/3.  The 60mm keeps a similar body style and the same f/2.8 maximum aperture as the 19mm and 30mm lenses that preceded it.  The DN …

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Today I’m taking a look at the newest member of Sigma’s trio of lenses for mirrorless cameras, the 60mm f/2.8 DN Art, which is available for Sony E-mount and Micro 4/3.  The 60mm keeps a similar body style and the same f/2.8 maximum aperture as the 19mm and 30mm lenses that preceded it.  The DN series has a reputation for low-cost and high optical quality, and the 60mm f/2.8, which is priced at a mere $239, hopes to match or exceed the other two lenses in this new line.

The Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN Art on the Sony a6000

The Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN Art 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 in real-world shooting. 

Construction and Handling

The Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN Art is built with the same body construction as the other two DN Art lenses.  The 60mm is a compact and lightweight lens with a thin metal shell in a two-tone black or silver finish and a metal mount.  The copy reviewed here is the black model.  The base of the lens shell is a matte finished black with a silver inset ‘A’ for the ‘Art’ designation.  The rest of the lens body is taken up by the broad focus ring, which is finished in a very shiny black paint.  While the overall effect looks fantastic, the smooth shiny black finish on the focus ring is quite prone to fingerprints. The lens includes a nice lens case as well as a lens hood.  In another appreciated twice, the three DN primes all utilize the same hood and lens caps, allowing you to bring one and share if desired.

Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN Art with supplied hood

Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN Art with supplied hood

The focus ring turns smoothly and has a bit of damping to provide a nice manual focus feel when using the ring.  The lens is a bit longer than the other two Sigma mirrorless primes, but it’s still a small and lightweight lens that will handle beautifully on any of the E-Mount cameras.  The lens also shares the same floating focus group with the other two lenses, which will rattle when the lens is jostled and the camera is off.  While the construction isn’t up to the standards of a pro-grade lens, it is tightly assembled and quite well-built considering the low price.

Autofocus Performance

The Sigma 60mm features a very quiet and relatively fast autofocus motor.  The focusing is notably faster than that of the Sigma 30mm f/2.8, though it falls short of the fastest lenses available for E-mount.  still, focus is quick and very accurate in single shot mode.

Unfortunately, the Sigma 60mm doesn’t appear to be compatible with the phase-detect focusing in recent Sony cameras, and as such doesn’t provide a good experience when shooting on continuous autofocus.  Some have mentioned that it will work with the center AF point, but I was unable to get the camera to track focus on a moving subject with the 60mm f/2.8.

Continue: Image Quality

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Review: Sony a6000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sony-a6000/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=review-sony-a6000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sony-a6000/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 02:25:33 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=3718 Earlier this year, Sony abandoned the NEX nomenclature in its lineup of mirrorless cameras, bringing everything into the Alpha line.  The first enthusiast APS-C camera in this new lineup is the Sony Alpha a6000, which replaces the earlier NEX-6 in the Sony lineup, though it could also be argued that the a6000 takes the place …

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Earlier this year, Sony abandoned the NEX nomenclature in its lineup of mirrorless cameras, bringing everything into the Alpha line.  The first enthusiast APS-C camera in this new lineup is the Sony Alpha a6000, which replaces the earlier NEX-6 in the Sony lineup, though it could also be argued that the a6000 takes the place of the NEX-7 as well.  The new camera is aggressively priced at $649 for the body only, while including a built-in EVF, a new 24 megapixel sensor, Wi-Fi, blazing fast hybrid autofocus and a somewhat insane burst shooting rate of 11 frames per second.  Fitting that many features into a camera at this price point is a daunting proposition.  Let’s see if Sony pulled it off.

The Sony Alpha a6000

The Sony Alpha 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. I am not a videographer, so my reviews concentrate on the still imaging capabilities of a camera.

Body and Ergonomics

The a6000 is a compact mirrorless camera that takes most of its design cues from its predecessor, the NEX-6.  The camera is very nearly the same size as the NEX-6, and has a similar button layout, though as I’ll discuss in a moment, those controls have been improved dramatically in my opinion.  The a6000 is a composite (read: plastic) bodied camera that is simultaneously a step up and a step down from the NEX-6.  It’s a step up in that they have created a more sculpted hand grip that is, in my opinion, notably more comfortable to hold than the one on the NEX-6 (or the NEX-7).  While I think the grip is still a bit too close to the lens mount, it is one of the more comfortable Sony mirrorless cameras I’ve used.

The Sony NEX-6 (left) and the new a6000 (right)

The Sony NEX-6 (left) and the new a6000 (right)

On the down side, I think Sony has taken a small step back when it comes to construction.  While the camera is tightly assembled for the most part, and doesn’t experience any flex or creakiness, the finish on the plastic isn’t nearly as robust as the finish on the NEX-6.  Sony has opted for a flat smooth painted finish with the a6000, and the result is a body that is going to be a bit more prone to scratches than the pebbled durable finish of the NEX-6.  The camera comes in both silver and black versions, and I have the silver version.  The silver camera (which is a bit warm, so bordering on champagne in color) is quite attractive, but I can already tell that over time the paint will likely wear off on the corners of the camera, revealing the black plastic beneath.  I can already see some paint wear on the supporting nubs on the bottom of the camera.  Additionally, the rear screen isn’t nearly as rigid as the one on the NEX-6.  When the a6000′s screen is retracted flat against the camera body, there is still a slight bit of play if you touch the corners of the screen.  It’s not loose or poorly attached, but it does wobble, and it becomes apparent that this is the area where some of the cost corners were cut.

However, those concerns aside, the a6000 handles quite well for a small camera.  The dials and buttons fall under your thumb easily, and the corner mounted viewfinder is comfortable to use.  The camera is exceedingly lightweight and  the nice grip allows both smaller and larger lenses to handle well.  The hand grip rubber starts at the front of the grip and wraps completely around the side of the camera to the rear thumb rest, which is comfortable and provides a secure grip on the camera.

Controls and Operation

The top controls of the a6000, with the Mode dial, the main dial, shutter button and C1 button

The top controls of the a6000, with the Mode dial, the main dial, shutter button and C1 button

With the a6000, Sony has started to get away from the soft button paradigm that was used in earlier models in favor of dedicated control buttons, and I for one am thankful.  The NEX-6 was a powerful camera, but there were several usability issues that personally bothered me immensely.  I am happy to say that the a6000 has remedied almost all of them.  The camera utilizes a single top function dial in conjunction with a rear dial to control the imaging parameters.  When in aperture or shutter priority mode, the main dial controls the priority function.  While the rear dial is turned off by default, a quick settings change enables direct access to exposure compensation on the rear dial.  This is a welcome change.  Many people have complained that the position of the mode dial and the main dial should have been switched, and I’ll admit that this probably would have been the way to go, but as I am rather accustomed to reaching to the upper right to adjust a dial on other cameras, this wasn’t something that bothered me at all.

In addition to the dials, the a6000 features a total of seven programmable buttons: the left, right and down buttons on the four-way dial, two dedicated Custom buttons (C1 and C2) as well as the center button and the AEL button.  I have chosen to have most of these buttons perform their default functions and I’ve assigned face detection toggle to the C2 button, and focus magnification to the C1 button, which is located right next to the shutter button.  In addition to the programmable buttons, the a6000 features the same customizable function menu as the A7 and A7r, which allows for up to twelve different functions to be available simply by pressing the Fn button.  For me, this means easy access to settings like flash exposure compensation and turning SteadyShot on and off.  The end result is a camera that can be customized to how you shoot.  As such, it’s not hard to set up the camera to be a responsive and agile companion for photography.

The rear of the a6000, with the host of programmable buttons, the rear dial and the tilting rear screen.

The rear of the a6000, with the host of programmable buttons, the rear dial and the tilting rear screen.

In addition to the removal of the ‘soft buttons’ that the previous NEX cameras had, the a6000 gains another big part of the Alpha lineup: actually decent menus.  The menu system of the NEX line was among the worst in the industry in my opinion, with page after page of settings in a single list format that boggled the mind.

The a6000's menu system is much improved over its predecessor

The a6000′s menu system is much improved over its predecessor

The NEX-6 has 66 items in the ‘setup menu,’ in a single list.  Sixty-six! Thankfully, with the a6000, these options are now blissfully broken down into a well-organized set of six tabs, with multiple screens per tab and six items per screen.  It helps tremendously with organization.  While there are still a tremendous of options available in the menus, the organization makes it significantly easier to navigate and find what you are looking for.  The much expanded Fn menu I spoke about earlier also lets you select the more important functions and put them front and center rather than digging through the menu system.

As a result of these changes, I have found the a6000 to be a very enjoyable camera to use.  The annoyances that kept me from really enjoying shooting with a Sony body in the past have been rectified, and as a result, the a6000 is one of the first Sony cameras I’ve truly enjoyed shooting with right from the start.

The a6000 also has a small pop-up flash located directly next to the hotshoe.  This tiny flash, like many nowadays, can be bent back to provide some rudimentary bounce capability, though the low power often makes this impractical.  Exposure on the flash was good at most distances, but tended to overexpose closer subjects.  The flash isn’t powerful enough to rely on for typical shooting situations, but can make for a decent fill flash in the right circumstances.

Continue: Viewfinder and Performance

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Early Morning Skyline http://admiringlight.com/blog/early-morning-skyline/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=early-morning-skyline http://admiringlight.com/blog/early-morning-skyline/#comments Sun, 13 Jul 2014 14:10:56 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=3711 Last Thursday, I had an early meeting, and decided to wake up a bit earlier and take some shots of the Columbus skyline in the pre-dawn morning.  I’d been meaning for some time to try some shots from this vantage point, which is up near a bridge over the highway, to get some trails of the …

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Last Thursday, I had an early meeting, and decided to wake up a bit earlier and take some shots of the Columbus skyline in the pre-dawn morning.  I’d been meaning for some time to try some shots from this vantage point, which is up near a bridge over the highway, to get some trails of the highway traffic leading into the city.  So I arrived around 5:30 AM, as the first light of the day was starting to turn the sky purple, set up my camera and tripod and framed a few shots.  I ended up rather pleased with the results, though it made me wish I could construct a 100 foot tower on the spot to get an even better vantage point.  Click to enlarge the images.

The Morning Commute - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.5 OIS @ f/11, 40 seconds

The Morning Commute – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 OIS @ 110mm, f/11, 30 seconds

Traffic in the City - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 OIS @

Traffic in the City – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 OIS @ 149mm, f/16, 15 seconds

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Review: Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar T* (Fuji X) http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-zeiss-touit-50mm-f2-8-makro-planar-t-fuji-x-mount/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=review-zeiss-touit-50mm-f2-8-makro-planar-t-fuji-x-mount http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-zeiss-touit-50mm-f2-8-makro-planar-t-fuji-x-mount/#comments Sat, 12 Jul 2014 01:07:08 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=3669 The Zeiss 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar, which fills out the trio of Touit lenses for mirrorless cameras, has finally arrived.  This line, for both Fuji X-mount and Sony E-mount, is separate from the lenses that Zeiss creates with Sony specifically for their E-Mount and A-mount cameras.  The Touit 50mm is a true 1:1 macro lens and …

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The Zeiss 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar, which fills out the trio of Touit lenses for mirrorless cameras, has finally arrived.  This line, for both Fuji X-mount and Sony E-mount, is separate from the lenses that Zeiss creates with Sony specifically for their E-Mount and A-mount cameras.  The Touit 50mm is a true 1:1 macro lens and with a short telephoto focal length can potentially pull double duty as a portrait and general purpose lens.  While the version reviewed here is for the Fuji X-Mount, the E-Mount version of the lens should be identical in every way, save for the absence of an aperture ring. This lens has been anticipated for quite some time, so let’s dive in.

The Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar T* on the Fujifilm X-T1

The Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar T* on the Fujifilm X-T1

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

Build Quality and Handling

The Zeiss 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar with the included hood

The Zeiss 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar with the included hood

The Zeiss 50mm f/2.8 Macro is a solidly built lens with a sturdy metal barrel, a metal lens mount and grippy rubber aperture and focus rings. I am not really a fan of the rubber control rings, as I think it reduces the tactile feedback when using the lens, but it does provide for a nice grip.  The lens is fairly dense, and significantly larger than the Fuji 60mm f/2.4, though still small enough to handle well on the Fuji X-T1.  It would be a bit unwieldy on a smaller body such as the X-M1 or X-A1, but should handle well on all the other Fuji bodies.  The weight and metal build lend the Touit a feeling of extremely solid construction.  This feels like a premium lens.

The focus ring, as mentioned, has that thick rubber grip, which should provide good purchase in all weather.  While I am not a big fan of the rubber feel, the focus ring is damped quite well, with nice resistance and smooth focusing action for manual focus.  Given the less than stellar macro-range autofocus capabilities that I’ll talk about shortly, manual focus will get a fair bit of use with this lens when shooting near maximum magnification.

The lens also features an aperture ring for the Fuji X-mount, with 1/3 stop detents from f/2.8 to f/22 and the A setting for automatic aperture selection.  The aperture ring is nice and firm with very solid selection points.  It may even be slightly too firm, as there is some tendency to jump multiple steps when the ring gives, but overall, I would prefer it to be stiff like it is than loose.

Focus and Performance

The Touit 50mm has a split personality with regards to autofocus.  The lens features a focus motor that is significantly quieter than the motors in the other two Touit lenses, and for typical subjects in good light, focus is quite quick.  If there is adequate light and you’re using the phase-detect points on an X-E2 or X-T1, the focus will snap into place nearly instantly.  If phase detection doesn’t lock on, it’s still reasonably quick in good light.  In fact, the lens keeps up quite well in continuous autofocus on my X-T1.  Be sure to check out the samples of my daughter on her bike, both of which were taken as she rode directly at me while the X-T1 and Touit 50mm tracked her.  Overall focus accuracy in good light is excellent, as you’d expect from a hybrid AF system.

The Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar

The Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar

However, once the light gets dim or you begin to focus closer up, the Zeiss 50mm f/2.8 starts to falter a fair bit.  When trying to get some candid shots of my son in my family room, the lens was very hit and miss.  Sometimes it would lock on fine, other times it would fail completely.  I would not recommend using AF in dimmer light for anything that requires quick response.  The speed slows down considerably and there’s a good chance you’ll miss your target entirely.

The same can be said when using AF at high magnifications. Once you begin focusing in the macro range, the lens becomes extremely slow to focus.  For some reason, even when the ‘macro’ mode is enabled, the Touit 50mm will very often have a preference for the background instead of your close-up subject. I missed a lot of shots when shooting butterflies at our local conservatory due to the lens suddenly switching from the butterfly in my view to the plants 20 feet behind it.  It was very frustrating.

The point of both of these main problems is that the Touit 50mm desperately needs a focus limiter.  Fuji cameras have a semi-limited ‘macro mode’ , but it doesn’t do much with this lens.  There is still far too much of the range that is accessible when Macro Mode is off.  As a result, if you’re in lower light and you do a full button press and the camera misses focus…the lens will go completely through the range and back before firing off a shot and allowing you to refocus.  It does this slowly, and in some cases, if I missed focus, it was two to three seconds before I could attempt to refocus again.

Things are worse when Macro Mode is enabled.  While this will allow the lens to focus right up to 1:1, there is nothing to keep the lens from focusing OUT of the macro range.  The result is that tendency to focus on the background, which can make it very difficult to get the lens to focus back in the range of your subject.  I can’t imagine why Zeiss would design a 1:1 macro lens and put no form of focus limiting switch on the lens.  In any case, when shooting in the macro range, you’re almost certainly going to want to use manual focus with this lens.  The good news is that it is very easy to see the focus point with a good EVF like the one on the X-T1, and manual focus is a breeze.

One other point about handling and focus.  Because this is an internally focusing macro lens, the real focal length will get shorter as you focus closer.  With the Touit 50mm, that results in an extremely short working distance at 1:2 and closer.  When comparing to the Fuji 60mm, which is nominally only 20% longer, you need to be almost half the distance to your subject at 1:2 than you need to be with the 60mm.  At 1:1, working distance is only about 2 inches (without the hood), making lighting difficult and potentially spooking insects.  With the hood attached, the lens focuses essentially to the edge of the hood at 1:1.

Continue: Image Quality

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