Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sony A7R II - The Best Canon Camera Yet?

No, I am not crazy, and you read the title correctly.  The new Sony A7R II, an upgrade from the very successful A7R, just makes me foam in my mouth; all the useful and practical features all in one body.  I don't even mind the 42MP resolution.  I can live with it.  Let's look at the new features.

42MP BSI Sensor - For a lot of people, this is a big deal.  Back Side Illuminated (BSI) technology is used, along with copper wiring on the sensor to achieve clean high ISO and amazing readout speed.  The biggest, and in my opinion, the best feature of this sensor is the 399 phase detect AF points that makes it possible to auto focus third party lenses in almost native AF speed.  I have tried the smart AF adapter for the Canon lenses, and it's just not workable for me, but from what I have seen, the A7R II is light years ahead and totally usable.  This is the reason for the weird title :)  and this is reason enough for me to eventually buy one.

In-Body-Image-Stabilization (IBIS) -- Like it's older brother, the A7 II, the A7R II now has the 5-Axis IBIS.  I have used the excellent IBIS in the Olympus E-M5 and am spoiled by it.

4K Internal Recording -- Not a feature of interest to me, but for the indy film makers, this is fantastic news.  The Panasonic GH-4 has gotten so much attention being the first mirrorless to record 4K video and the A7R II will prove to be irresistible for this group of people, for sure.

Improved Shutter -- The A7R has a pretty negative reputation for having a very loud and high vibration shutter.  Sony promises the A7R II is 50% better in this regard.  This camera also features the Silent Shutter, first introduced with the A7s.  I will find this invaluable in so many shooting situations.  As for the shutter life, this is even better than some of the professional DSLRs out there, which typically have 350K to 400K shutter life.  For most people, this kind of long life is overkill, but it provides a peace of mind.

The above are the features I feel are most important.  Putting so much new and improved stuff in one camera body, is a breath of fresh air, unlike others that uses a small improvement as a reason for a new model.  Well done Sony.  I look forward to buying one in a year (or two).

Untitled - Sony A7 & Kilfitt Makro Kilar 90mm f2.8

Friday, June 5, 2015

Beautiful Innisfil

Our IT department had the off-site meeting this year at Innisfil Ontario, about a 100 km north of Toronto.  This was my third meeting and I must say Innisfil is the best so far.  We used the Kempenfelt conference centre, which is away from the city and is pretty much all by itself, surrounded by farmland and next to Lake Simcoe.  I brought my bike with me, as I did last time in Belleville and it was a good decision.  I rode around the conference and found a very nice farm to take pictures of.

Speaking of pictures.  I brought with me the Nikon D810 with the AF-S 28-70mm f2.8 and the AF-S 70-200mm f2.8 VR.  The weight and bulk of these three items reminded me why I use the mirrorless cameras as my everyday choice, but in use, they also reminded me that mirrorless cameras still has a way to go to match DSLRs in certain situations.

I really adore the D810.  It's the best DSLR that I have used.  However unexciting it looks, this is the camera that combines image quality with great build and is very easy to use.  I do find the exposure sometimes goes a bit wacky, and the auto white balance could change from frame to frame.  Shooting RAW minimizes these minor issues.

As for the lenses, I am happier still.  Both lenses are very sharp, especially the 70-200mm f2.8 VR, which in my opinion, is much better the Canon first generation equivalent.  I do not hesitate to use both lenses wide open.  My plan is to have only a few practical lenses for the (Nikon) DSLR system; two or three primes, plus two zooms, and this will cover pretty much all my needs.

My trusty Specialized Allez Epic that I put together from the frame I bought.  It only has 8-speed, without the front derailleur but is enough for me -- Nikon D810 & 70-200mm f2.8 VR.

Farm close to the conference centre - Nikon D810 & AF-S 28-70mm f2.8.

Farm close to the conference centre - Nikon D810 & AF-S 28-70mm f2.8.

Logs at the shore of Lake Simcoe - Nikon D810 & AF-S 70-200mm f2.8.

The Light - Nikon D810 & AF-S 28-70mm f2.8.

Water Skier - Nikon D810 & AF-S 70-200mm f2.8.

The Light #2 - Nikon D810 & AF-S 28-70mm f2.8.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Goodbye, Captain John's

The Jadran, or Captain John's Seafood Restaurant boat, was towed away from its location of 40 years today.  In its hay days as a restaurant, it was a popular place for dining but things turned really bad in its later years and was eventually forced to close few years ago.  The Toronto Port Authority wanted it gone long ago but couldn't find a buyer who could safely move the boat.  At the end, it had to pay to get it towed to Port Colborne to be recycled.

Despite the many people who said the boat was an eye sore, I really didn't mind it.  Over the years, I have had many pictures taken of it, especially the last two years, where my work place is right next to the boat.  I think I will miss its presence.  The dock where it used to be, is already looking empty.

At around 10:30, media and onlookers gather around the boat.

Flanked and pulled by two tugboats, Captain John's was slowly leaving its resting place of 40 years

Quite a few boats gather around to watch this "historical" moment.

Goodbye, Captain John's.  You will be missed.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Walk Along the Keating Channel

I have been walking to work and back for the last three weeks, instead of biking like I have done for the last 15+ years.  The joints in my upper body is starting to hurt me, so I decided to walk for a month.  It takes about an hour each way.  Many would think this is nuts, but I rather enjoy the walk, except for the first few days when it was really tough.  The best thing is that I can now walk through sections of the of the road that I could not bike to, and this provides more photography opportunities and biking.

Today I decided to walk along the Keating Channel since I have been wanting to photograph it for a long time, but never made it a reality until today.  The south side of the Channel is not open to the public, and the north side borders on Lakeshore Blvd., and I wouldn't suggest anyone to walk the entire length from Cherry street to Don Roadway, as it kind of dangerous on some sections; you have to walk very close to the road, or very close to the channel.  You could get hit by a car, or fall on the channel.

In any case, I did take quite a few pictures along the channel, with the newly acquired Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar 5cm f2.9 lens from the Balda folder camera.  This lens has a good reputation, and I can confirm that it performs admirably, considering how old it is.  The most amazing part is that I didn't even need a hood for the lens, even though it's not coated, and flare was very well controlled, especially when stopped down.  At f2.9, the lens is very sharp at the center, and by f8, the edges are very good and at its best at about f11.  Contrast is a bit on the low side at wider apertures, but the bokeh is lovely.  With a bit of processing, the files come out quite nicely.

All the pictures were taken with the Sony A7 & Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar 5cm f2.9.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Voigtlander Lanthar 50mm f2.8 from Vitoret D

Scored 3 broken rangefinder cameras from the antique market on Sunday.  One of them is the Voigtlander Vitoret D with a Lanthar 50mm f2.8 lens, which I have been using for the last few days and I really enjoy it.

It's commonly believed that the original Lanthar lenses were made with glass containing lanthanum, a rare earth element that gives the glass high refractive index.  Later ones made by Cosina, like the Lanthar 90mm f3.5 and the 125mm f2.5, do not contain lanthanum, I believe.  Of course, lenses containing lanthanum does not automatically mean great lens by default.  The Color-Lanthar 42mm f2.8 that I tried was OK, but not great.  This 50mm f2.8 Lanthar, I like it quite a bit more.

The Lanthar 50mm f2.8 contains 4 aperture blades, as oppose to most of the old Voigtlander rangefinder lenses with 5.  This creates interesting bokeh, like the enlarging lenses I tried, here, here, and here.  But when shot wide open, the bokeh looks normal, of course, and it's quite nice in fact.

I also have no complains about the optical performance of the lens, given that it's not top of the line lens.  Wide open the center of the frame is acceptably sharp, but the outer edges are mushy, but improves as the lens is stopped down, but the edges are still not critically sharp until f16.  It's interesting how much difference between f11 and f16.  But of course the overall sharpness starts to suffer a bit at f16 due to diffraction limit, though still excellent.

To me, it's acceptable for a lens to have at least one aperture that provides uniform sharpness when needed.  My shooting style does not require uniform sharpness most of the time and when I do need it, I can stop it down to get it.

Overall, I think it's a very good lens for the money.  The Vitoret D I got was $20, and it was very easy to remove the lens.

All pictures below were taken with the Voigtlander Lanthar 50mm f2.8 and Sony A7.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

P. Angenieux 45mm f2.8 Lens from Tiranty ST280

Got the Tiranty ST280 last week, and the sole reason was for the lens.  I really don't care much if the camera body does not work, but I love French lenses.  All the French lenses I have used produce exquisite and beautiful bokeh, and this 45mm f2.8 is no exception.

I removed the main lens from the ST280, which was quite easy to do, but the aperture and focusing rings are another story.  I decided to just use my Yeenon 18-33mm focus helicoid instead, and it worked out quite well.

Went to Allan Garden yesterday and shot some flowers; wanted to see what the bokeh is like.  When I downloaded the pictures and looked at them on the screen, I was wowed and captivated by how beautiful the bokeh was.  The French sure knows a thing or two how to design lenses that produce mouth watering bokeh.  Wide open, the lens shows some astigmatism on distance objects, but I have not noticed the same effect with close up shots.  The center of the lens is reasonably sharp wide open, but with low contrast.  Stopping down improved sharpness markedly and the astigmatism is gone by about f4, at least at the middle of the frame.  The long edges aren't great even at about f8, but passable.  You will be disappointed if you care about the edge sharpness.  But I think the strength of this lens lies in its gorgeous colour and bokeh rendering.  Seriously, I could lose myself in it.

All lenses below were taken with the Angenieux 45mm f2.8 and Sony A7:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Gift From John

I am extremely fortunate, and very blessed, to have "met" so many wonderful people in my life around the world; some I have never actually met and only interacted through the internet, and others I actually met face to face.  John was one of those that I have met.  He bought my Canon 1D III, and he brought with him an Aires 4.5cm f1.9 rangefinder lens to give me as a gift.  He knew me through my blog.  I am very grateful to John, and all who have been so generous to me.

The Aires Coral 4.5cm f1.9 lens has a proprietory lens mount, and the focus, presumably is on the camera body since the lens does not have it.  The aperture does not completely open at maximum.  Perhaps that may have caused the strange looking, but still interesting bokeh.  The lens is quite sharp, especially when stopped down.  It has decentering problem, no doubt caused by my home made adapter.  In all, an uncommon lens that produces interesting results.  Thanks John!

Aires Coral 4.5cm f1.9.  Click for larger.

All pictures below were taken with the Aires Coral 4.5cm f1.9 and Sony A7

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Goodbye Canon. Hello Nikon!

Last week, I sold my last Canon body (1D Mark III), and for the first time since 2001, I do not have a Canon camera, except the infrared modified 20D.  After a long relationship with Canon, I have found the Canon cameras of late are getting stale; same iterations over and over again without much in ways of innovation. It's time for a change.

The Micro 4/3 and Sony mirrorless have been my primary camera system for the last few years, and the Canon was only used two to three times a year for swimming shoots, and occasionally used by Dillon for his school sports.  It was pure coincidence that I ended up with a Nikon D810, which was never even on my radar screen but after handling the camera, I found myself really drawn to it. This camera oozes quality but the one thing that sold me was the shutter. It's light, quiet, but with authority that instills confidence.  The 6 frames per second in crop mode is fast enough for my occasional swimming shoots.  I decided to buy it, essentially replacing my Canon 1D III.  But this has brought with it a dilemma for me.

I only have a few Nikon mount manual focus lenses, mostly Tamron Adaptall lenses plus the Sima 100mm f2 soft focus, Vivitar 24mm f2, and the Nikkor 105mm f2.5 in original F-mount that I bought from the camera show last year.  This camera really deserves a few nice fast primes, and hence the thought of selling some or all of the Canon lenses to fund the Nikon lenses.

Despite my less than enthusiastic feeling towards recent Canon cameras, I love the L lenses currently still in my possession.  Some of these lenses have no Nikon equivalent, like the 50mm f1.2L, 85mm f1.2L, and the 180mm f3.5L Macro.  So I have decided to sell the Canon zooms and I will just get a smaller set of Nikon mount AF lenses: wide zoom, Sigma Art 50mm f1.4, and a tele zoom(probably a 70-200mm or 80-200mm f2.8) which will allow me to do the occasional swimming shoots if needed.

So far, I have no problems with the D810.  It really is a nicely balanced camera that produces exceptionally good image quality.  I do hope that I will use it more often than now departed Canon 1D III.

Sony A7 compared to Nikon D810 in size.  Click for larger.

Fire Hydrant - Nikon D810 & Tamron SP 90mm f2.5 Adaptall.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Voigtlander Color-Skopar X 50mm f2.8

I am a big fan of the original Voigtlander lenses.  I would buy them whenever the price is reasonable.  There are many, many Voigtlander lenses out there, from large format, folder, to 35mm format.  They made a series of lenses in the DKL mount.  This Color-Skopar X 50mm f2.8 is one of them, which was used in some Voigtlander and Kodak reflex cameras.  The lens itself has a modified Tessar design and is very well corrected for chromatic aberration (colour fringing).  Quite amazing for a lens designed in the late 1940s when you compare it to today's modern lenses and many of them show heavy chromatic aberration.

The lens is very small, but made beautifully, like most lenses in DKL mount.  Sharpness at the centre of the frame is excellent even at f2.8.  Stopping down to f11 and the edges are also very good at the slight loss of sharpness.  The bokeh produced by this lens is exquisite and pleasing.  Colours tend to be more saturated than many other lenses from the same era.

The only negative, is the rather slow maximum aperture for a standard 50mm lens.  However, it should be considered an amazing feat to produce such a small lens with an f2.8 aperture more than 60 years ago.

Overall, a very enjoyable lens that produces nice results.

All pictures below were taken with the Voigtlander Color-Skopar X 50mm f2.8 & Sony A7

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Commlite EOS to E-Mount AF Adapter with Canon EF 135mm f2.8 Soft Focus

This is sort of a sleeper lens that most Canon shooters don't even realize it exists. Even if they do know, the lens is often overlooked, and made worse by the Soft Focus description in the lens which make people think it can only be used as a soft focus lens.  The fact is that this lens is very sharp, and the soft settings can be disabled and be used as a normal lens.  There are only two things going against it; very terrible build (though not as bad as the plastic fantastic 50mm f1.8 II) and it sucks dust like a vacuum.  I have two of these lenses and both have lots of dust inside.  Both of my lenses were dropped and became inoperative.  I have one fixed by Sun camera and they did a good job, but the other one is still dead.  Looks like this lens can not take any abuse :)  I might as well add that this lens focuses very loud, since it uses a Arc-Form Drive (AFD) motor, like the original EF 24mm/28mm/35mm/50mm lenses.

I took this lens to Allan Gardens (along with the 180L macro) to test.  The light in the greenhouse is actually quite bright, but autofocus was very bad with the Commlite and often the adapter is unable to achieve focus, especially when the subject is near the minimum focus distance.  I gave up after the first few shots and used the lens in manual focus mode for the rest of the shoot, and it worked out quite well.  This lens, unlike the 180L macro, did not behave erratically like the macro lenses (100mm and 180mm) and stayed at its intended mode.

At this point, I am pretty disappointed with the Commlite adapter. It's quite obvious that it has not gone through thorough testing with each lens, or perhaps, they know of the issues, but could not do anything about it.  I would not recommend this adapter if you intend to use the Canon lenses as your primary or only lenses.  It will simply drive you up the wall.

All pictures below were taken with the Sony A7 & Canon EF 135mm f2.8 SF + Commlite AF adapter.