Admiring Light http://admiringlight.com/blog Photography Reviews, Photos, News and Musings Fri, 30 Jan 2015 16:17:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Review: Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sony-35mm-f1-8-oss/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sony-35mm-f1-8-oss/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 23:24:27 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4580 Sony’s APS-C lens lineup has grown steadily over the past several years with several quality prime lenses. One of those lenses is the Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS. Almost every camera system in the world has a relatively fast ‘normal’ lens, that is a lens that has a focal length similar to the length of the …

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

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

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

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

Construction and Handling

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

The Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS

The Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS

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

Autofocus and Image Stabilization

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

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

Continue: Image Quality

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Review: Fujifilm 11mm Extension Tube MCEX-11 http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-11mm-extension-tube-mcex-11/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-fujifilm-11mm-extension-tube-mcex-11/#comments Sat, 24 Jan 2015 02:12:28 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4553 Fuji surprised the market by releasing something that is both the first of its kind and something that people have been waiting for since the beginning of mirrorless: Native OEM extension tubes. It’s surprising to me that it took 6 years for the first original equipment manufacturer to create extension tubes for their system.  In November 2014, Fuji …

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Fuji surprised the market by releasing something that is both the first of its kind and something that people have been waiting for since the beginning of mirrorless: Native OEM extension tubes. It’s surprising to me that it took 6 years for the first original equipment manufacturer to create extension tubes for their system.  In November 2014, Fuji announced the MCEX-11 and MCEX-16: 11mm and 16mm extension tubes for their X-Series cameras.  Third party manufacturers have made a handful of extension tubes for various mounts for some time, but these two are the first from the camera manufacturers themselves.  In this short review, I’m going to take a look at the Fuji 11mm extension tube, the MCEX-11, which retails for $99 (available here).

Fuji MCEX-11 11mm Extension Tube

Fuji MCEX-11 11mm Extension Tube

A bit about Extension Tubes

This review is going to be a bit different from many of my other reviews.  I will have some image samples of the tubes used with various lenses, but I’m not doing my standard shooting for this review because I think it’s more important to go over what adding a tube gets you vs. native macro lenses and how it works with the current Fuji lenses.

First off, for those uninitiated, let’s go over what an extension tube does for your photography. An extension tube is simply a small tube that duplicates the lens mount a bit further from the sensor plane than usual.  This has the effect of shortening focus.  As such, lenses will focus significantly closer than usual, while the ability to focus at a distance is removed.  The gist is, an extension tube allows you to do the following things:

  • Get additional magnification for macro lenses
  • Utilize non-macro lenses for macro or close-up work
The MCEX-11

The MCEX-11

Basically, it’s a cheap way to enhance the macro capabilities of macro lenses and turn non-macro lenses into macro lenses (or at least, close-up lenses).  The longer you extend the lens, the closer you can focus.  At the same time, the more the extension, the more of the distant focus capabilities are lost.  With normal and short telephoto lenses, adding an extension tube gives a very narrow range of focusing capabilities, usually from 1:2 magnification to about 1:4 or 1:5 magnification.  Focusing outside of this range is impossible, which makes working with extension tubes a bit more frustrating than with a dedicated macro lens.  This is also the reason why I opted for the 11mm tube instead of the 16mm tube.  I get a bit less maximum magnification, but a bit more workable range of focusing.  In theory, you should be able to stack the two extension tubes to get even greater magnifications.

There are also some optical downsides that need to be considered when using extension tubes.  Some lens designs aren’t conducive to good quality when extended, and with the short register distance of mirrorless cameras, these compromises may be large depending on the design.  I will get into this in more detail later in the review, but it’s worth noting that almost all Fuji X-mount lenses show some corner smearing when used with extension tubes.  More on that later.

Construction

The MCEX-11 is an extension tube.  There’s not much to a tube…it’s an extended lens mount with electrical contacts and a hole in the middle. It’s worth noting that Fuji has done a nice job with construction here.  It’s a very solidly built tube with tight tolerances.  Both the mount to the camera and mount for the lens are tight without slop, and the entire body of the tube is constructed of metal.  The lens release mechanism operates smoothly and surely, and the electronic contacts mean that all lens functions continue to operate as you’d expect, with aperture control, OIS and autofocus remaining intact.

Continue: Use with selected Fuji X-Mount Lenses

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Sony A7 II vs. Sony A6000 – Landscape Use http://admiringlight.com/blog/sony-a7-ii-vs-sony-a6000-landscape-use/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/sony-a7-ii-vs-sony-a6000-landscape-use/#comments Sun, 18 Jan 2015 16:33:36 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4529 There’s a fierce running debate about the merits of full frame vs. APS-C or even smaller sensors like Micro 4/3.  Full frame has an image quality advantage due to the larger sensors, and given the same technology, will produce cleaner images with better tonality and larger dynamic range.  Many people will argue that full frame …

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There’s a fierce running debate about the merits of full frame vs. APS-C or even smaller sensors like Micro 4/3.  Full frame has an image quality advantage due to the larger sensors, and given the same technology, will produce cleaner images with better tonality and larger dynamic range.  Many people will argue that full frame is such a huge leap in image quality that the smaller sensors aren’t even worth their time.  For some shooters, this may well be the case: they need every ounce of image quality out of their cameras that they can get, due to shooting in demanding situations, printing huge or other considerations.  Others prefer full frame because of the ability to provide greater subject separation with fast glass. People who shoot a lot in dim light may want or need the better high ISO performance that comes with the larger sensor.  Those advantages are tangible and real, and while all large sensor cameras produce pretty darn good images at high ISO nowadays, full frame will still provide the cleanest results at high ISO if the sensor technologies are comparable.

Sony A7 II vs A6000

Sony A7 II vs A6000

These are all valid reasons to choose one format over another, but how does Full Frame stack up against APS-C in a situation where we’re shooting at base ISO on a tripod?  The classic landscape shooting scenario?  Many will still argue there’s a big difference, but how big is that difference?  To try to start to answer that question, I took my a6000 along with me when I was out shooting with the new A7II and 16-35mm OSS.  The A7II + 16-35mm combination pairs a brand-new 24 megapixel full frame camera with a pro-grade ultra-wide angle zoom.  The combination together retails for $3,046.  On the smaller side, I brought the a6000 and the Rokinon 12mm f/2. This is the latest 24 Megapixel APS-C sensor from Sony, along with a very good ultra-wide prime. This combination together retails for $857 at the moment. That’s quite a monetary savings.  The lens and body together weight 549g, which is slightly lighter than the A7 II body by itself.

The Test

First off: a disclaimer.  This test does not test all aspects of full frame vs. APS-C.  It tests it in two typical landscape situations.  I didn’t have a chance to test the cameras in a bright sunlight situation, and I’d have liked to, but this is what you get.  It is also not a test per se between the lenses. These are two lenses that are both very good, but obviously each has strenghts and weaknesses. I’m looking at noise, tonal rolloff, etc as the primary concerns in this test.

In the course of my shooting with the A7 II, I stopped during two scenes to switch to the a6000 and capture a similar scene.  Due to how the body plates attached, I wasn’t able to keep exact framing between the two shots, but they are very close (the tripod was not moved).  All images were taken tripod mounted, stabilization off (in the case of the A7 II), with 2 second remote release.  Image processing was identical (save for white balance adjustments to get them as close as possible in tonal display).  Aperture was adjusted to provide similar depth of field for each image (for instance, f/16 on the A7 II, f/11 on the a6000).  As such, the exposures are longer on the A7 II shot, so water might look slightly smoother as a result.

Image 1: Under the falls.  This shot had a somewhat wide range of tones, with the area under the ledge being quite dark, and the area beyond the falls being light by ambient daylight.  Exposure was adjusted to taste for highlights and shadows and then duplicated on the other camera’s images.  All images are at ISO 100.

Under the Falls - Sony A7 II with Carl Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 18mm, f/14, 20s, ISO 100

Under the Falls – Sony A7 II with Carl Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 18mm, f/14, 20s, ISO 100

Under the Falls - Sony a6000 with Rokinon 12mm f/2 @ 12mm, f/8, 6s, ISO 100

Under the Falls – Sony a6000 with Rokinon 12mm f/2 @ 12mm, f/8, 6s, ISO 100

As you can see from the shots above, the overall images are extremely similar.  But how do they compare when examining the files at full size?  Below I’ve compiled 100% crops from the images at four locations in the frame.  Click on the image to enlarge, then click on the green arrow at the bottom of the screen to view at 100%.

100% Crops - A7 II vs a6000, Image 1

100% Crops – A7 II vs a6000, Image 1

The result?  Well, the A7 II image is better.  Slightly.  VERY slightly.  There is slightly more subtle tonal gradation that can be seen in the last crop, and very slightly smoother quality in the shadow areas.  The thing is, you have to REALLY look to see these differences, and they’re only apparent when viewing images side by side at 100%.  I’m confident that these differences would be invisible until we start printing up around 24″ or larger, and even then, you’d need to be very closely examining the prints.  With different scenes and such?  In my opinion, you’d never be able to tell these apart.

Image 2

For the next image, I had a broad depth of field I was trying to cover, with the close rock (which drops off a ledge) leading to the waterfall.  As such, I was stopped down to f/16 on the FF combo and f/11 on the a6000.  I made a small goof in framing here, setting the 16-35mm to 21mm instead of 18mm, so details will be slightly larger in the A7 II crops as a result, but this isn’t an assessment of lens quality, but rather how the sensor images things.  This is also a good test because both images were underexposed, and therefore pushed in postprocessing by 1.1 stops in Lightroom. This will give us an idea how these cameras respond to somewhat significant exposure adjustments and processing for this type of work.  First, the images:

 

Lower Falls - Sony A7 II with Carl Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 21mm, f/16, ISO 100

Lower Falls – Sony A7 II with Carl Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 21mm, f/16, ISO 100

Lower Falls - Sony a6000 with Rokinon 12mm f/2 @ 12mm, f/11, ISO 100

Lower Falls – Sony a6000 with Rokinon 12mm f/2 @ 12mm, f/11, ISO 100

Again, the two images look awfully similar.  Let’s dive in up close:

100% Crops, Image 2 - Sony A7 II vs. Sony A6000

100% Crops, Image 2 – Sony A7 II vs. Sony A6000

Again, the images are extremely close.  The A7 II has a little lower noise in the pushed shadows from the exposure adjustment, but otherwise, they are very similar images.  If you’re just looking at cost, is the difference above worth over triple the price and double the weight?  That’s something only you can answer. In this situation, I personally think the differences are small enough as to be negligible, but only each photographer can make that determination for how it impacts their photography.

I do think it’s clear that, for landscape use at least, the differences between full-frame and APS-C are not quite as big as is often made out to be.  On the flip side, this test doesn’t take into account the other benefits of moving to a full-frame sensor: better noise control and better subject isolation with fast lenses, and the A7 II definitely does still have an advantage in image quality here.  It’s just rather small.  This is just one test among thousands that could be performed, but hopefully this helps you cut through some of the hyperbole that often comes out in discussions of sensor size.  If landscape use is your primary reason for shooting, it is worth looking at the whole picture, and pick a camera and system that fits your needs better.

If you’re interested in more about each of the piece of gear compared here, check out my in-depth reviews for the Sony A7 II, Sony a6000, Zeiss FE 16-35mm, and Rokinon 12mm f/2

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Review: Sony A7II http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sony-a7ii/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-sony-a7ii/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 21:40:28 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4482 It’s been about a year since Sony shook up the mirrorless industry with the release of the full-frame A7 and A7r.  They followed up with a low-light king, the A7s, in the summer, and now the original A7 sees a refresh with the A7II – a camera that is largely about refining the A7 brand, …

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It’s been about a year since Sony shook up the mirrorless industry with the release of the full-frame A7 and A7r.  They followed up with a low-light king, the A7s, in the summer, and now the original A7 sees a refresh with the A7II – a camera that is largely about refining the A7 brand, but adds one key feature to the mix: the world’s first full-frame 5-Axis in-body stabilization. The A7II slots in at the exact same spot its older brother occupied, at the same $1698 price point as well.  Is the addition of in-body IS along with some ergonomic changes enough to up Sony’s game? Let’s find out in our Sony A7II Review.

The Sony A7II

The Sony A7II

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

Construction and Handling

The A7II features an all-new grip and upgraded body construction

The A7II features an all-new grip and upgraded body construction

One of the nicer changes from the original A7 to the new A7II is the tweaking of the exterior design and an upgrade in construction quality. While the original A7 featured a composite and metal hybrid build, the A7II has upgraded the exterior construction to an all magnesium-alloy construction with a durable matte finish.  While this has the great effect of making the camera feel incredibly solid and decidedly like a true professional tool, it has the down side of increasing the weight of the camera body substantially.  In fact, the A7II is nearly 35% heavier than its predecessor, and it can definitely be felt.

However, Sony also changed the main ergonomic complaint of the A7 and have provided a very comfortable hand grip with the shutter button moved forward onto the grip itself.  As a result, the A7II handles beautifully in the field, despite the heavier weight.  The grip on the A7II is the best ever on a Sony mirrorless camera, and is perfectly contoured with a wonderfully textured rubber grip.  The dials on the camera are redesigned as well from the A7 series, and these unfortunately are a bit more fiddly than the original broader dials.  The dial that sits under the shutter button is the worst offender, especially when shooting with gloves, but the redesigned hand grip is worth it.

It may seem odd to go on at length about a simple grip change, but for me, it made all the difference in the world, and made the A7II significantly more fun to shoot than the original A7.  The other controls are very similar to the other A7 series cameras, and this is a good thing.  I also have to remark on the feel of the exposure compensation dial.  This is smaller than the EC dials on many other cameras, but the resistance is absolutely perfect.  It is just firm enough to avoid accidental movement, but not so firm as to prevent easy use of the dial with just the thumb.  It simply feels fantastic to use.  The overall ergonomics and handling of the A7II are big reasons to consider diving in with this body vs. the other full-frame Sony mirrorless cameras.

Operation and Controls

The A7II's rear controls

The A7II’s rear controls

As I mentioned above, the general control scheme of the A7II is largely similar to the original A7. The controls are laid out almost identically to those on the A7 with two minor changes.  First, with the shutter button now moved forward on to the grip, there is additional room on top of the camera, and Sony has added a second customizable function button on the top plate.  C1 and C2 buttons sit in front of the exposure compensation dial, and while they do require a slightly uncomfortable bend of the finger, they are both within easy reach during shooting.  What was the C2 button on the A7 is now the C3 button, and it still sits up and to the left of the AF/MF/AEL button.  This button location was one of the few ergonomic problems I mentioned in my review of the original A7.  However, the simple act of angling the back plate has made this button location significantly easier to access.  Thanks, Sony!

The only controls that sit outside of the main area that can be accessed by the index finger and thumb are the movie record button, which sits on the outside of the right grip and the menu button that sits on the left side of the camera.  The menu button location is a bit odd, but it’s not a major issue.  I like Sony’s positioning of the movie record button, which provides easy access while making it difficult to press accidentally.  A standard PASM mode dial sits on top of the camera and has great resistance to prevent accidental changing of this important setting.

As one who’s been shooting with the a6000 for the past 6 months, I fell naturally into the control system of the A7II.  Sony continues use of their excellently implemented 12 item Function Menu, accessed with the Fn button on the rear of the camera and providing quick access to all the settings you could wish for during shooting.  Especially nice is the ability to place quick access for the in-body stabilizer settings, which comes in very handy when shooting with adapted manual focus lenses.  I’ll get more into the in-body IS a little bit later in the review. Sony also hasn’t changed their tabbed menu interface, which puts a huge number of options into a well organized interface. Frankly, I think it’s great that they didn’t make any changes here.

Continue: Viewfinder and Performance

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Review: Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 Vario-Tessar ZA OSS http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-carl-zeiss-fe-16-35mm-f4-vario-tessar-za-oss/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/review-carl-zeiss-fe-16-35mm-f4-vario-tessar-za-oss/#comments Fri, 09 Jan 2015 02:19:07 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4453 As Sony expands their full frame mirrorless lineup, the system as a whole becomes more complete, and one of the key pieces of that more encompassing lineup is the first native ultra-wide-angle lens.  In this case, it’s the Carl Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 OSS, which covers a great range in a pro-grade lens for Sony’s E-Mount. …

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As Sony expands their full frame mirrorless lineup, the system as a whole becomes more complete, and one of the key pieces of that more encompassing lineup is the first native ultra-wide-angle lens.  In this case, it’s the Carl Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 OSS, which covers a great range in a pro-grade lens for Sony’s E-Mount. The 16-35mm f/4 covers a wide focal range from ultra-wide angle to moderate wide angle, and features an optical stabilizer to aid in hand-holding. The lens isn’t cheap at $1348 US, but promises outstanding optical quality and a top-notch build. In this 16-35mm review, we’ll see whether the Zeiss name holds up to its reputation for optical excellence.

Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4

Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4

Construction and Handling

The FE 16-35mm with its hood

The FE 16-35mm with its hood

The Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 OSS is a full-frame ultra-wide angle zoom lens with optical stabilization, and as such, it’s not exactly a petite lens. In fact, there is essentially zero size and weight savings when compared to full frame DSLR ultra-wide zoom lenses. It’s also a rather dense lens, with a solid heft that oozes quality.

The lens barrel and external design is entirely constructed of metal (likely aluminum) and is finished with the Sony/Zeiss satin black finish. Construction quality is top-notch, with absolutely no creaks or flex anywhere in the lens body. The broad finely ribbed zoom ring is beautifully damped and has a smooth solid action when zooming. The focus ring is also wonderfully damped and silky smooth. The lens is also sealed against dust and moisture, and the overall package is definitely impressive.

The lens handles quite well on the new A7 II, which was the body used for testing the 16-35mm. While the lens and body together are a somewhat hefty package to carry, the balance is right and the excellent feel of the lens contributes to an assurance of quality. The only down side is that the lens does not stay constant in length. The lens extends about an inch during zooming and is longest at the 16mm wide-angle focal length. However, this is a minor point.

The 16-35mm f/4 OSS comes with a reversible petal shaped hood that is well constructed, but extremely short, providing rather limited coverage for the front element. I have to imagine there was more room to shade the lens given the other lenses with similar fields of view that have more substantial lens hoods.

The barrel extends towards the wide end of the zoom range

The barrel extends towards the wide end of the zoom range

Autofocus and Stabilization

The 16-35mm f/4 features a fast and silent autofocus motor that acquires focus very quickly and very accurately. I had no issues at all with the focus performance of the lens, even grabbing focus surely in lower light situations.

The lens features optical stabilization, and as I tested the lens on the A7 II, it was tested in conjunction with that body’s new in-body stabilization system, with the lens utilizing its optical sensors and element shifts, with the body picking up the other three axes of movement. While stabilization was decent, it fell short of the best stabilizers I’ve used, even among ultra-wide zoom lenses. I generally found the stabilizer was good for around two extra stops of handholdability, with around 1/5s generally yielding sharp shots at 16mm and around 1/10s for shots at 35mm. This is still rather handy, but nothing exceptional.

Continue: Image Quality

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Icy Waterfalls with the Sony a7 II http://admiringlight.com/blog/icy-waterfalls-sony-a7-ii/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/icy-waterfalls-sony-a7-ii/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 04:08:03 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4444 I had a chance this past Friday to head down to Hocking Hills State Park here in Ohio, and was pleasantly surprised to see that the waterfalls were in full bloom.  I didn’t expect there to be much water flowing, as we haven’t had much rain or snow in the past few weeks, but was …

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I had a chance this past Friday to head down to Hocking Hills State Park here in Ohio, and was pleasantly surprised to see that the waterfalls were in full bloom.  I didn’t expect there to be much water flowing, as we haven’t had much rain or snow in the past few weeks, but was grateful for the opportunity to catch some lovely winter waterfalls.  I got there just before dawn, and one other photographer had a similar idea and we crossed paths a few times on our ways up and down the gorge.

I was taking the new Sony a7 II out for a spin, along with the new FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS.  I’ll have full reviews on both the camera and the lens in the coming week or so.  For now, enjoy the images!  I was quite pleased with the morning shoot.

Lower Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH - Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 28mm, f/18, 1.3s, ISO 100

Lower Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH – Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 28mm, f/18, 1.3s, ISO 100

Middle Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH - Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 29mm, f/14, 13s, ISO 100

Middle Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH – Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 29mm, f/14, 13s, ISO 100

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

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

Ice at the Lower Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH - Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 19mm, f/18, 0.8s, ISO 100

Ice at the Lower Falls, Hocking Hills State Park, OH – Sony a7 II with Carl Zeiss FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS @ 19mm, f/18, 0.8s, ISO 100

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Mirrorless Year in Review 2014 http://admiringlight.com/blog/mirrorless-year-review-2014/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/mirrorless-year-review-2014/#comments Wed, 31 Dec 2014 19:43:22 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4431 It’s the last day of 2014, and we’re about to embark on what is hopefully an excellent 2015.  The mirrorless market has been surging when it comes to realizing fully developed gear, while the actual consumer market for the devices has been somewhat tepid as the overall photography market declines.  Still, I think there’s reason …

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It’s the last day of 2014, and we’re about to embark on what is hopefully an excellent 2015.  The mirrorless market has been surging when it comes to realizing fully developed gear, while the actual consumer market for the devices has been somewhat tepid as the overall photography market declines.  Still, I think there’s reason to be optimistic if you’ve invested in a mirrorless system, as it’s the one category that has shown steady sales (or even mild growth) while the rest of the camera industry seems to be in somewhat of a freefall. I’m going to go over the major mirrorless systems and look at this year as a whole, plus I’ll have some thoughts on the future of the industry and each of these systems.

From a site perspective, 2014 was fairly busy for me: I wrote 25 in-depth reviews of cameras, lenses and accessories this year. For the first time, I provided full coverage of Photokina 2014 in Cologne, Germany, which was my first trade show I attended as part of the press.  That plus nearly 40 additional articles kept me busy. It was an exciting year, and I hope to bring you an even broader array of reviews and articles this year.  Anyway, thanks for coming!  Now, let’s dive in. Links go to the Admiring Light review or article about those products highlighted.

The Market Goes Enthusiast

Sony A7 II

Sony a7 II

The biggest development this year was the expansion of the enthusiast and professional grade lineups for all the major mirrorless players.  This began last year and continued throughout 2014.  While there were plenty of consumer-grade releases as well, everyone filled out the high-end a fair bit.  Additionally, nearly everyone now has phase-detect autofocus in their cameras, making mirrorless a viable option for many types of moving subjects.

Sony expanded their outstanding a7 lineup with the 12 Megapixel a7s, which features perhaps the best low-light performance of any 35mm format or smaller camera ever made.  They also upgraded the original a7 with the a7 II, adding better ergonomics, better build quality and 5-axis in-body image stabilization – a first for a full-frame camera.  I have the a7 II in my hands for the next week, so look for a full review on that camera soon.  Sony also looked to expand enthusiast offerings in the APS-C space and did so aggressively with the excellent a6000.  The a6000 packs a huge amount of features and an excellent 24 megapixel sensor into a small and surprisingly affordable camera.  The a6000 is my vote for best value camera of 2014.

Sony also expanded the lens lineup to cater a bit more to professionals.  The pro-grade FE 70-200mm f/4 OSS and FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS (which I’ll be reviewing for the next week as well) highlighted the additions.  Sony also announced (but has yet to release) high-end lenses such as a 35mm f/1.4, 90mm f/2.8 Macro and 28mm f/2.0.  Zeiss (without Sony) also released the manual focus Loxia line of lenses for the E-mount.  Sony seems fully committed to the enthusiast market, and this can only be good for the industry as a whole.

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

The Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2

After experimenting a bit with the consumer arena in late 2013, Fujifilm realized their bread and butter was the enthusiast market and focused wholly on that segment.  The biggest splash was made by the Fujifilm X-T1, replacing the X-Pro 1 as the new flagship of the X-Series.  The X-T1 packed a huge host of features into a ruggedly built weather-sealed body with amazing external controls and the best electronic viewfinder on the market.  I fell in love with the camera immediately and it has become my primary body for my personal shooting. They also gave the camera a massive firmware update this month that added 27 new features including an electronic shutter capable of 1/32,000 second shooting.

On the lens side of things, Fuji added the incredible 56mm f/1.2, which has quickly become one of my favorite lenses of all time.  They also released their 10-24mm ultra-wide zoom as well as two new weather sealed lenses: an 18-135mm super zoom and the long-awaited 50-140mm f/2.8 OIS, which is a truly exceptional optic.  Zeiss also released their Touit 50mm f/2.8 Macro for both Fuji X and Sony E mount cameras.  In all, Fuji has really fleshed out their system in 2014, and with the 16mm f/1.4, 16-55 f/2.8, 90mm f/2.0 and 140-400mm super telephoto on the horizon, that trend looks to continue in 2015.  The wildcard?  Will the X-Pro 1 ever get replaced?

Micro 4/3 had a somewhat quiet year for the majority of 2014.  Panasonic released the excellent 4K capable GH4, but the remainder of the year only refreshes of existing cameras, with the E-M10 from Olympus being a somewhat bargain version of the E-M5, and the new E-PL7 and Panasonic GM5 that were announced at Photokina adding a handful of features over their predecessors.  My favorite camera out of the two manufacturers was the 4/3 sensor compact Panasonic LX100, which was released a few months ago.

The Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron on the Olympus OM-D E-M5, with the included metal hood

The Panasonic Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron

On the lens side, however, there were certainly some very nice developments.  Olympus released the tiny and very good 25mm f/1.8, adding a fast normal to go with the excellent 45mm f/1.8.  Panasonic released two Leica branded lenses: the very good 15mm f/1.7 and the truly amazing 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron.  The Nocticron is one of the finest lenses in pure optical quality that I have ever had the pleasure of using. If this is the direction Panasonic is going with Micro 4/3, then there is a lot to be excited about for the future.  Olympus also released their long-awaited pro-grade telephoto zoom, the excellent 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro. They’ve got two more Pro grade lenses in the wings for 2015 with a 300mm f/4 and 7-14mm f/2.8 both set to be released in this coming year.

The dark horse this year was Samsung, and they put in a huge showing at Photokina this year with the release of their NX1 mirrorless camera.  This is a big camera in the mirrorless world, fitting in similar in size to most small DSLRs, but it packs seriously impressive punch, including the ability to track motion while firing off an astounding 15 frame per second burst.  I handled the NX1 at Photokina and found it to be supremely impressive, even picking it as my ‘best in show’ after the event.  Samsung also added a fast telephoto zoom, releasing a 50-150mm f/2.8 in a compact and very well-built body.  Samsung has quietly built a very impressive lens lineup, including a very wide aperture 16-50mm f/2-2.8 standard zoom and an 85mm f/1.4 portrait prime.  I haven’t had a chance to review the NX1 yet, but I hope to do so in the near future.

Continue: What to expect in 2015

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My Favorite Photos of 2014 http://admiringlight.com/blog/favorite-photos-2014/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/favorite-photos-2014/#comments Tue, 30 Dec 2014 18:23:41 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4408 Every year I like to go back and look at the photos I’ve taken and see how my photography has changed.  After a mediocre 2012, I was very pleased with the work I produced in 2013. 2014 continued that trend, and I made some of my all-time favorite images.  Here’s hoping for an even better …

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Every year I like to go back and look at the photos I’ve taken and see how my photography has changed.  After a mediocre 2012, I was very pleased with the work I produced in 2013. 2014 continued that trend, and I made some of my all-time favorite images.  Here’s hoping for an even better 2015!

I’d also like to thank all of you for coming to my site this year.  2014 saw continued growth here at Admiring Light, pushing 2 million page views, which was over a 50% increase from last year.  I hope I was able to provide informative reviews and interesting articles that help you in your photographic endeavors.  I hope to have one more article finished tomorrow (though it may wait until just into the new year), recapping 2014 in the mirrorless industry and taking a look forward.  The first order of business in the new year?  In-depth reviews of the Sony Alpha A7 II, and the Sony FE 16-35mm f/4 OSS.  I’ve got both coming in tomorrow for review, and will be putting them through the paces.

Anyway, on to my favorite photos of the year, in no particular order.  These are my 20 personal favorites from 2014, so not necessarily my ‘best’ images of the year.  Keep on shooting in the new year! Click on an image to enlarge.

Corkscrew Falls - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 @ 90mm, f/11, 9s, ISO 200

Corkscrew Falls – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 @ 90mm, f/11, 9s, ISO 200 with polarizer

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

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

Union Station, Cincinnati, OH - Sony a6000 with Rokinon 12mm f/2 @ f/5.6, 1/50s, ISO 1600

Union Station, Cincinnati, OH – Sony a6000 with Rokinon 12mm f/2 @ f/5.6, 1/50s, ISO 1600

Red Sunset - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 @ 200mm, f/16, 1/640s, ISO 200 with 3 stop ND filter

Red Sunset – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 @ 200mm, f/16, 1/640s, ISO 200 with 3 stop ND filter

Conkle's Hollow - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 @ f/14, 140s, ISO 200, with polarizer

Conkle’s Hollow – Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 @ f/14, 140s, ISO 200, with polarizer

Under Broad Street - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 10mm, f/8, 30s, ISO 200

Under Broad Street – Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 @ 10mm, f/8, 30s, ISO 200

Eyes to the Soul - Sony a6000 with Sigma 60mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 320

Eyes to the Soul – Sony a6000 with Sigma 60mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 320

Lunar Eclipse over Columbus - Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L @ 50mm, f/8, 6s, ISO 200, 10 image stitch

Lunar Eclipse over Columbus – Olympus OM-D E-M5 with Canon FD 50-300mm f/4.5L @ 50mm, f/8, 6s, ISO 200, 10 image stitch

Bumblebee - - Fujifilm X-T1 with Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Macro @ f/5, 1/250s, ISO 500

Bumblebee – – Fujifilm X-T1 with Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Macro @ f/5, 1/250s, ISO 500

Alone in the Great Cathedral - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4, 1/60s, ISO 4000

Alone in the Great Cathedral – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4, 1/60s, ISO 4000

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

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

Bria - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 @ f/1.2, 1/350s, ISO 200

Bria – Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 @ f/1.2, 1/350s, ISO 200

Aachen Cathedral Hallway - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 @ f/4, 1/30s, ISO 3200

Aachen Cathedral Hallway – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 @ f/4, 1/30s, ISO 3200

Homework - Fujifilm X-T1 with Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 @ f/1.2, 1/125s, ISO 640

Homework – Fujifilm X-E2 with Canon FL 55mm f/1.2 @ f/1.2, 1/125s, ISO 640

Cologne Cathedral - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 44mm, f/9, 6s, ISO 200

Cologne Cathedral – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 44mm, f/9, 6s, ISO 200

Tree at Sunrise - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 @ 141mm, f/5, 1/25s, ISO 800

Tree at Sunrise – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 @ 141mm, f/5, 1/25s, ISO 800

Butterfly - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 60mm f/2.4 Macro @ f/2.4, 1/160s, ISO 500

Butterfly – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 60mm f/2.4 Macro @ f/2.4, 1/160s, ISO 500

In the Limo - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 @ f/3.2, 1/125s, ISO 2500

In the Limo – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 @ f/3.2, 1/125s, ISO 2500

Fallsville Falls - Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 48mm, f/13, 9s, ISO 200

Fallsville Falls – Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 @ 48mm, f/13, 9s, ISO 200

Autumn Stream - Sony a6000 with Rokinon 12mm f/2 @ f/16, 2.5s, ISO 100

Autumn Stream – Sony a6000 with Rokinon 12mm f/2 @ f/16, 2.5s, ISO 100

 

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The World of Printing http://admiringlight.com/blog/world-printing/ http://admiringlight.com/blog/world-printing/#comments Wed, 24 Dec 2014 19:04:13 +0000 http://admiringlight.com/blog/?p=4397 Last summer I wrote an article encouraging every photographer, both serious and casual, to ensure that they make prints of their photographs, to ensure that there is both a physical record of their photography, as well as to enjoy the wonders of a great photographic print. At the time, I had just a little 4×6 …

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Last summer I wrote an article encouraging every photographer, both serious and casual, to ensure that they make prints of their photographs, to ensure that there is both a physical record of their photography, as well as to enjoy the wonders of a great photographic print.

At the time, I had just a little 4×6 printer for family shots and I made my larger prints for display through a lab.  I don’t have the room for a large format printer that can print 36″ wide prints, so big enlargements still go to my lab.  (By the way, I’ve recently switched over to using ProDPI, and the image quality and profiling is impeccable).

However, I’ve very recently started printing photographic prints at home, having acquired a new Canon Pixma Pro-100 printer, capable of 13×19″ prints.  Since i don’t have lots of experience with the current range of high-end printers, I didn’t feel it entirely appropriate to do an in-depth review of the printer, so instead I’m going to talk more about my experiences getting into this world: the very important other half of photography.  As Ansel Adams famously said, “The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.”

printer

 

Choosing a Printer

Some of you who have been printing a while may be asking: why did I go for the Pro-100, which is a dye ink printer, instead of something like the Pro-1, Pro-10 or Epson R3000 or other pigment based printer.  Why Canon and not Epson?  Well, some of it is historical, some is practical.  First, I tend to print in fits and starts.  I don’t print daily, but may go a week or two (or even a month) between larger prints, and pigment based systems tend to clog the print head nozzles significantly more than dye-based printers if you don’t print on a very regular basis.  I’ve owned Epson pigment printers in the past, and while the print quality was excellent (for the time), I experienced clogged nozzles on a quite regular basis and wasted tons of time and tremendous amounts of ink in the process.  I also knew I wanted a 13″ wide printer because I don’t have space for a 17″ or larger printer and the cost would be prohibitive for me at this time.  Dye based inks also have the ability for a bit better color saturation and a wider gamut.  The downside is print life: Pigment inks will last for decades, perhaps even 100 years framed.  Dye inks fade faster, though Canon claims 30 years on the ChromaLife+ inks used in the Pro-100, so dye inks are improving in this regard. I’m in no way saying that the Pro-100 is the best printer, just that it fits my needs better than others at the moment.  All of the current 13″ wide Epson and Canon inkjet printers produce stunning image quality.

The Printer

Just a quick blurb about the Canon Pro-100 for those interested.  The price is $400 regularly, though Canon has a huge rebate through January 3, 2015 for $250 off, making the printer itself a steal.  It can print up to 13×19″ borderless prints, and features 8 individual ink tanks (Magenta, Yellow, Cyan, Photo Cyan, Photo Magenta, Black, Gray and Light Gray).  Print quality is exceptional.  Incredible levels of detail, rich deep blacks and great color response.  Using simple papers like Canon’s Pro Luster and comparing them to the luster papers used by my lab, the Canon Pro-100 produces prints easily on par or better than my lab. Using better paper the results improve further.

The printer is WiFi capable, which is very nice for me, as I have a ton of peripheral devices already wired into my machine, so being able to print without a wired connection has been great.  There is a main feed and a rear manual feed for thicker papers, though the Pro-100 seems to handle thicker stock from the main tray without issue.  I am extremely pleased with the output I’m getting out of the printer.  There’s really not much more to ask for aside from larger ink tanks.

The Paper

Getting into printing at home is a bit daunting at first, at least if you are out to make the most of your photographic output.  Both Epson and Canon have a line of papers that cover the most common types of media: matte, glossy and luster.  Some of these are cheap papers that get the job done, but won’t impress.  Others are high-end stock that looks fantastic.  I tried out several of the Canon papers and I have to say…they’re pretty darn good.  For standard luster and glossy prints, I think I’ll be sticking with the Canon papers, simply because they are inexpensive and very nice.  I found the Canon Pro Platinum glossy to be a very nice glossy stock.  Thick, with a very durable finish and excellent tonal separation.  It’s better than the glossies I have gotten from labs over the past few years.  Likewise, the Canon Photo Paper Pro Luster is an excellent luster paper that is very similar in feel and image quality to the luster papers used by top labs.  The Luster is a paper that will get quite a lot of use for my rotating print wall at work, where images stay framed for about 3-12 months at most.

However, there’s another world out there of fine art inkjet papers that I’ve only partially stepped into.  So far, I’ve gone through about 30 different fine art papers for evaluation, obtaining sample paper packs from Hahnemuhle as well as Red River Paper.  Hahnemuhle is one of the oldest paper makers, and they produce very high-end inkjet papers, while Red River Paper is more of a ‘bargain’ brand that produces quality stuff at prices about half the cost of the high-end papers from other manufacturers.  I’m itching to try out the top papers from Canson and I really want to get my hands on a few sheets of Museo Silver Rag.

Some fine art papers: Red River Aurora Art Natural, Red River Polar Pearl Metallic, Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl and Red River San Gabriel SemiGloss Fiber

Some fine art papers: Red River Aurora Art Natural, Red River Polar Pearl Metallic, Hahnemuhle Fine Art Pearl and Red River San Gabriel SemiGloss Fiber

After trying these, it became tremendously apparent: choosing a paper for the type of print you want to make is one of the very most important and personal decisions you can make in producing a final photographic print.  Some images look amazing on one paper but terrible on another.  Some papers do really well with both color and black and white, others are better suited to one rather than the other.  I found out a few things about myself as well.  For the most part, I don’t particularly prefer the matte papers for most of my work.  I know people who love it, but the matte papers I’ve tried all just seem a bit duller than most, and some feel cheap as well.  Some of the nicest cotton rag matte papers feel great and look fine, but it’s just not to my taste.  My favorite matte paper I’ve tried so far is Red River’s Arctic Polar Matte, which is very bright and has a velvety texture while producing deep rich tones and good contrast.  The less contrasty matte papers are well suited to some images, but not as many in my opinion.

Of all the papers I’ve printed on so far, there are four that really stood out to me, plus a few others that I may want to use for certain images.  From Hahnemuhle, I absolutely loved their Photo Rag Satin paper, which is an almost matte, almost semi-gloss stock that is thick and textured and produces images with simply incredible depth while preserving tremendous detail.  The images almost look like you can reach into them.  However, it’s something that will not be suited to certain images, as there’s an intentional gloss-differential with this paper, producing matte areas in light parts of the image and a light sheen on darker parts.

I also loved Hahnemuhle’s Fine Art Pearl paper, which is a low textured semi-gloss paper with stunningly beautiful tonality.  I also truly loved the tonal separation, detail and depth of the Photo Rag Baryta paper from Hahnemuhle.  There are a lot of baryta based papers out now, which use barium sulfate to provide a semi-gloss bright white surface without the use of optical brighteners that can fade over time.  Hahnemuhle has several baryta papers, and interestingly enough, the Photo Rag Baryta was the only one I really liked. They have different surface textures and levels of gloss, and I preferred the lower gloss and finer texture of the Photo Rag  It’s worth noting that the ICC profiles provided by Hahnemuhle are slightly warm, so it may be worth purchasing an ICC profiler to make my own profile for these papers, but for the Photo Rag Satin and Fine Art Pearl, I found them quite nice.

So I’ve mentioned three, and the fourth, and probably my favorite overall, is Red River’s baryta paper: San Gabriel Semi-gloss Fiber.  It’s a beautifully finished baryta paper on an alpha-cellulose base that feels great in the hand and produces simply gorgeous images.  The look is very similar to the Photo Rag Baryta discussed above, but Red River’s ICC profiles are significantly more accurate, providing very accurate color and neutral black and white prints.  It’s my current go-to for black and white and I’m loving the fine contrast and detail I’m getting out of the color prints as well.  The best part? It’s half the price of the Hahnemuhle.

Display

I've replaced most of my frames with non-glare acrylic.  Can you guess which one I haven't replaced yet?

I’ve replaced most of my frames with non-glare acrylic. Can you guess which one I haven’t replaced yet?

Finally, I’m realizing after spending this time and effort to get a print on great paper that looks just how you want it, that my standard cheapo-frames and glass obscured some of that fine detail, mostly through glare.  After checking around, I’ve decided to start framing most of my prints with an anti-glare acrylic, specifically Acrylite Non-Glare acrylic.  The Acrylite cuts out 92% of reflections , allowing the print to show through much more clearly.  With thinner mats there’s no loss of sharpness or resolution either (deep set photos would lose some sharpness behind this glazing.)  There’s also the more expensive Museum Glass, which cuts out 98% of reflections at a bit more than double the cost of the Acrylite….I have to draw the line somewhere.  Even more expensive is Optium Museum Acrylic, which is simply astronomical in cost.  One way to lengthen the life of your photos is to cut UV to them, and that’s a nice side benefit of Acrylite.  It cuts 66% of UV, and for about 15% more, you can get UV filtering non-glare Acrylite, which will cut 99% of UV out.  These are great for fine-art papers that don’t use optical brighteners, but aren’t ideal for standard papers that do use optical brighteners, as they rely on some UV exposure to produce that bright white color.

To sum up: this is a whole new world of experimentation and skill, and I’m really enjoying the journey so far.  While I still have a ton to learn and a lot of prints to make, it’s brought that last dimension to my photography, creating the print from capture to framed final product, and it’s very satisfying.

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

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

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

X-T1: Firmware 3.0

X-T1: Firmware 3.0

Firmware 3.0

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

Full-Time Manual Focus

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

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

Electronic Shutter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customizable Q Menu

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

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

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

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

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

Continue: Classic Chrome, Natural EVF, Autofocus and More

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