Thursday, October 1, 2015

Signs that You Are Addicted to Gear and May Have G.A.S

G.A.S = Gear Acquisition Syndrome.  A disease that affects mostly men.  It infects the central reasoning area of the brain and makes men vulnerable into thinking more gear make them better photographers, and thus buying gear that they don't need.  There is no known cure, but there is a silver lining; some men are able to recover as the photographs they make shift from pictures of cameras, lenses, brick walls, and resolution charts to other form of pictures.

I just realized I have a lot of "normal" lenses between 40mm and 58mm, probably in the 40 to 50 in total, so I decided to see how many of them are f1.4.  The tally?  13.  Just the f1.4 lenses.  I thought I should write down some of the things that might be signs of gear addiction, and was very surprised how quickly the list came out.  Duh!  Of course it's quick.  Most of these apply to me!  Without further ado, here is the list.  Feel free to add your own in the comments:

  • You buy printed photo magazines just to look at the ads
  • You have a copy of A Lens Collector's Vade Meccum
  • You know exactly what a "normal" lens is
  • You have all 5 versions of the same lens
  • Words like Noctilux and Otus motivate you to make more money so that you can buy them
  • You name your daughter Tessar, and your son's name Noktorn is not misspelled, and your dog's name is Skopar
  • You think Hologon is the most beautiful word in the world
  • You scare your partner at night uttering words like "Fisheye", "Bigma", in your sleep
  • You justify all your gear purchases as investment
  • You buy similar looking cameras so that your significant other can't tell the one that you use is not the same as the 4 others in the locked closet that only you have the key to
  • You tell your wife it's worth the expense of the 85mm f1.2L because it would make her look more beautiful in the picture
  • You convince yourself that the purchase of a Leica Summilux will one day make you as good as Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Every time you see a red band, or gold band, it reminds you of your favourite lens
  • You are a Pentaxian, and you know the word "Limited" is not a disadvantage
  • You have been buying K-Mount lenses for the last ten years, because you believe one day, there will be a full frame Pentax camera, like you believe in Santa Claus
  • You get excited when you hear words like Holly Trinity, Magic Drainpipe, The Dust Pump, Sigmarit, and you know exactly what they refer to
  • You use Ikea shelves to store your cameras/lenses because you can't afford better shelves since you spent all your money on cameras/lenses
  • Decimal numbers like 0.95, 1.0, 1.2, 1.4 bring tears to your eyes
  • You just realized that the lens you bought yesterday is exactly the same as 2 others that you didn't know you had
  • You take pictures with enlarging, projection, and printing cell lenses on your mirrorless camera
  • You have many lenses without apertures
  • You have many lenses without focus mechanism
  • You have drawers full of lens adapters
  • You have a large bin of lens hoods, and most of them don't fit your lenses, but you tell yourself one day, you will get the lenses that will fit the hoods
  • You can't understand why anyone needs to use the aperture on the lens, since you always shoot wide open
  • You feel no shame when others look at your ugly self-made lens contraption in disgust
  • 100% of your pictures contains 99% bokeh, and 1% subject that's in focus.
  • Your favourite pastime is to browse antique/flea market for vintage cameras/lenses
  • You never miss a single camera show
  • You created an app with a SQL database to catalogue and keep track of your cameras/lenses because a spreadsheet has reached its capacity
  • You remember the minute details of a lens, but forget your kids birthdays
  • Your wife is annoyed that you spend more time with your gear than with the kids, or with her
  • You blog about your favourite lens in length, and the only picture that accompanies the blog entry is the picture of the lens
  • You have 9 camera bags, and all of them are full of gear
  • You have 8 different tripod heads, and each one has a specific purpose, and each one is used exactly once
  • You fondle your cameras/lenses and talk to them like they are your lover
  • You spend more time on Flickr and online forums than taking pictures
  • You carry your camera with you everywhere you go, but you hardly take any pictures
  • You can't understand why anyone would read whatever Ken Rockwell has to say, and you visit Michael Johnston's theonlinephotographer blog religiously
  • You tell your wife you paid $20 for the very beat-up Speed Panchro that you actually paid $2000 for and she believed you
  • 80% of the photo in your Flickr stream is picture of cameras and lenses
  • Your wife thinks your planar is something to organize your daily tasks
  • Your wife can not understand why all your lenses do not zooms or focus themselves
  • You made your kids call you Prime Master
  • You have a RAID 10 storage setup to protect the terabytes of pictures you took of your cameras and lenses
  • You have another RAID 10 storage setup to protect the setup above
  • You drove 4 hours to photograph a sunrise, only to find out you shot everything wide open out of habit, and all the pictures are overexposed

Fabulous Fifty f1.4s 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sony A7 After 48,000 Images

When I bought my A7 from the Sony store as a demo unit, I didn't know how many actuations it had, and it turned out to be quite a bit. 13,505 to be exact.  Yesterday I did a shutter count check and the current count is more than 61,000.  I shot more than 48,000 pictures in 16 months.  That's quite a bit for someone who only uses the camera for leisure.  I guess it's a good time to follow up on my initial review of the camera.

The Build
Other than some brassing on the edges of the top plate, the camera is physically in very good shape.  I bring a camera with me to work each day, or whenever I go out, without fail, and the camera is either the Sony A7, Olympus E-M5, or very rarely the Canon 20D Infrared camera, and a few times the Nikon D810.  I would say 99% of the time, the A7 was in my bag.  That means the camera is in my backpack (not a camera bag), enduring the sometimes rough biking trips, and it has held up extremely well.  The camera has worked flawlessly without fail so far.

The Annoyances
1.  the proximity sensor that switches between LCD screen and EVF is far too sensitive.  One fix for this, devised by Matt, is to cut a thin piece of black electrical tape and put in the middle of the IR LEDs window on top of the viewfinder.  This works well most of the time, but sometimes the sensitivity goes a bit wonky, probably because the tape moved, so at the end, I just removed it and reverted it back to its virgin state.

2.  Sensor dust.  Compared to the Olympus E-M5, or the Nikon D810, the Sony sensor-shake dust reduction system, like the Canon version, isn't as effective.  It's a royal pain to clean.  Luckily, most of the pictures I shoot are wide open and this is not a big deal, but when a slow lens is used, say f5.6 or slower, the pictures will have many dust specks.

3.  Image Magnify button.  In early NEX cameras, the magnify button is the OK button, which is within the reach of the thumb when the camera is held. Pressing it after the image is taken instantly magnifies the image.  But in the A7, the &#$%@#  magnify button has its dedicated button, located next to the EVF.  To press this button, I have hold the camera with my left hand loosen the grip of the right hand to press it.  As far as I know, this function could not be re-programmed.  Still drive me crazy after 16 months.

4.  I miss the fully articulated swivel LCD screen on the Panasonic G1, Canon T2i, and even the original 3.2 MP Canon G1 that I used.  This is especially useful for vertical shots when not using the EVF.  A minor annoyance.

Storage and Computer Issues
As the resolution of the cameras increased, so is the storage and computing requirements.  It's true that storage is cheap, but after losing 250GB of pictures, I now store my pictures with at least two copies on magnetic hard drive, plus one copy on BluRay disc, which triples the storage requirement.  At the moment, I have roughly 18TB of hard drive storage, and it's almost near capacity, and I am way behind on BluRay backup.  The computer I am using is a 7-year old Dell XPS Studio with an Intel Core i7-920, and 18GB of RAM.  Adequate at the moment, though painful when processing D810 images.  I can't even begin to fathom what it would be like if I ever get the 42MP A7R II.

Other Thoughts
I thought the lack of an external charger would be an big issue for me, but it turns out not so, for the kind of shooting I do.  I hardly spend more than 45 minutes per shooting session, since 90% of my shooting is done during my lunch time, or on my way to or from work.  I do not need an extra battery (although I do have one).  Once charged, it's good for at least a couple of days.  I actually find it convenient to be able to charge the battery in-camera, because more than a few occasions, I found the battery almost depleted, but was able to charge it at work through the computer before heading out.

The lossy RAW format that Sony employs ticked off more than a few people.  It bothers me a little, but not to the point where I find it a show stopper.  In most cases, this does not affect the image quality, at least not something clearly visible.  I don't see why Sony would not allow the user an option to use compressed or losslessly compressed RAW.

What I like most about this camera is that it's a very balanced camera.  Obviously, it's not an action camera.  Focus speed, especially focus tracking, leaves much to be desired, but you would be buying a wrong camera if the majority of your shoot is action based.  A DSLR is a better tool in that case.  The small size with a full frame sensor and very short flange distance, coupled with excellent image quality, is a dream tool for legacy lens addicts like me.  I thank Sony for making an affordable camera like this, that no one cared to make.  It's by far the best camera I have used for my shooting style.  I look forward to the A7R II.

Anchor - Sony A7 & Minolta RF 250mm f5.6 Mirror Lens

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Why I hesitate to buy E-Mount AF Lenses

The introduction of high quality lenses, like the Batis series from Zeiss, makes buying E-Mount lenses very tempting.  The thought of selling all my Canon AF lenses and buy Sony equivalent (or close to) lenses crossed my mind a few times, but I always resisted.  What's holding me back?  One experience taught me something about selling gear in the used market.  As many of you know, I was a Canon shooter for more than a decade, and more if counting the film days, and I have amassed quite a few Canon lenses.  My Canon camera bodies are gone, but the lenses remained (except the 16-35mm f2.8L II, and the 70-200mm f4L IS, which I sold to buy the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR).  All this time, I never had trouble selling any Canon equipment, because there are such a huge Canon user base and finding a buyer is relatively easy.  While "sampling" other cameras, I bought a Sony A-Mount camera and a few AF lenses, Minolta 50mm f1.7, Sigma 28-300mm and Tamron 90mm f2.8 Macro to try.  At the end of the sampling period, I found that it was hugely difficult to sell Sony gear.  Eventually, they were sold rather cheaply and took a long time, compared to the Canon equivalent.  One example is the Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro lens.  I sold the Sony version at about half the price of the Canon version; there were simply not many Sony Alpha-Mount users out there, especially for a relatively specialized lens like a macro.

The introduction of the A7R II makes the decision even harder for me.  The advanced phase-detect AF capabilities in the A7R II allows Canon auto focus lenses to AF much faster with a smart adapter, to a point where it's actually usable.  Previous Sony E-mount cameras AF very slowly with smart adapters, that's practically useless.

For the time being, I am going to keep the Canon lenses and wait for the A7R II to become more affordable to buy one.  If the AF is actually good enough, the Canon lenses will become my main lenses to be used on Sony whenever AF is required.

Blue Dreams - Meyer-Optik Primoplan 58mm f1.9 & Sony A7.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Muskoka Bike Ride

Dillon, Megan and I signed up for the Muskoka bike ride organized by MEC, and lead by Michael and Dede Berry.  This was our first organized group ride and it has been a great experience.  The ride started and finished in Gravenhurst, a town in the Muskoka region, and the birthplace of Dr. Henry Normal Bethune, a doctor who gave his life in helping others. The ride was divided into two course, one for 90KM and the other was 160KM.  Megan and I did the 90K while Dillon did the 160K.

Dock in Lake Muskoka in the morning.  E-M5 & Panasonic 14-45mm OIS

Being the first time in a group ride, I never saw so many nice bikes in one place!  There were many CervĂ©los, especially in the group that rode the 160K route, a testament to great bikes made by a Canadian company.  Of course, there were many high end Specialized, Trek, Colnago, Ridley and other nice bikes.  One brave soul was there with a Supercycle mountain bike with big tires.  If he could finish the course in that bike, my hats off to him.

Getting Ready for the ride.  Picture taken with a cell phone.

I am not going to lie, even for the 90KM (actually it was slight longer than 100K as measured by my, and other's bike computers), it was extremely tough for me.  It was relatively easy for the first 50KM, as we started fresh in the morning with full strength, but as the ride went on, we faced lots of steep hills, and this proved to be too much for Megan, who was feeling dizzy and I was concerned that she might faint.  At about 60KM, she had to be picked up by the MEC staff and driven back to the base.  Understandably, she wasn't happy that she couldn't finish the ride, but it's better safe than sorry.

Break at one of the Pit Stops at Port Carling (50KM mark).  This is the cut off point for the 160K ride.  Any rider who didn't make it here by 11:30AM would be directed to the 90K route.  You can see a police car in the background.  They were directing traffic at a few points of the ride.  

Here I must say that the ride was extremely well organized.  The routes were well marked with signs, and at critical turning points, staff were there to direct riders to ensure they didn't turn to the wrong route.  There was medical units with patrols cars.  One of the cars stopped by when they saw we were walking up the hill, and Megan was picked up and driven back.  There were four Pit Stops along the way, and they were stocked with complimentary energy gels and bars and water, with bike mechanics there in case anyone's bike needs service.  It really ensured a peace of mind and made the ride much more enjoyable.

I finished in 5 and a half  hours, with breaks and some walking with Megan.  The last 20K was brutally difficult with lots of hills.  Near the end of the 90KM, I kept telling myself it was almost there, but it wasn't.  The route was about 102KM long.  

Dillon finished the 160K route in 6 and a half hours, only one hour behind me for almost twice the distance, which was amazing, considering he was riding a heavier bike.

At the end, I was very tired, especially the neck and the leg muscles.  I felt shamefully and utterly out of shape, though I was happy to finish the ride.

Finished at last.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

New Flickr Group for the Die-Hard Gear-Head

Matt on Flickr has created a new group called Fixed Lens Group (Refit for Digital).  Basically the group will showcase pictures, tutorials, techniques, tip, and other useful information for users or to-be users who use lenses taken from rangefinders or folder cameras that weren't meant to be used on other cameras.  I have been doing this for a while and I did a few tutorials on my blog as well, but I think a Flickr group is a lot more interactive and flexible.  Matt has been great and adapting weird and wonderful lenses to use on his many cameras with great results.  If you are interested, or have experience in adapting non-standard lenses, please join the group.

Autumn Colours in Summer - Enna Werk Correlar 8cm f2.9 & Sony A7

Chinon 55mm f1.7 VS Chinon 55mm f1.4 - Part III

Part II is here.

Last time we looked at the sharpness of both the Chinon 55mm f1.7 and the 55mm f1.4 multi-coated. This time it's the bokeh of the two lenses we are going to compare.  I will let you decide which one you prefer.

Bokeh - Chinon 55mm f1.4 @ f1.4. Click for larger version.

Bokeh - Chinon 55mm f1.7 @ f1.7. Click for larger version.

Bokeh - Chinon 55mm f1.4 @ f1.4. Click for larger version. 

Bokeh - Chinon 55mm f1.7 @ f1.7. Click for larger version.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Chinon 55mm f1.7 VS Chinon 55mm f1.4 - Part II

Part I is here.

In today's used market, the Chinon 55mm f1.7 lens simply don't get no respect, to para quote Rodney Dangerfield; the f1.4 version is far better known but still quite inexpensive.  Does the f1.4 version justify two to three times the price of the 55mm f1.7 for half a stop of more light?  Would you be missing out much by using the cheaper f1.7 lens?  The short answer is no.  The Chinon (and many other makes with the same design) 55mm f1.7 is simply a superb lens for the price.   In fact, I think the f1.7 version is a better lens in terms of sharpness across the frame in larger apertures.

Please keep in mind that I am shooting with one copy of each of these lenses.  They are at least 30 years old and who knows what kind of abuse they went through before I got them.  So, take the test images with a grain of salt, and test them yourself if possible.

Shooting side by side, the two lenses behaved very similarly in terms of bokeh, but the f1.7 version has a lead on the edges from the wide open on.  Strangely, the 55mm f1.4 lens seems a tiny bit shorter than the 55mm f1.7.  This is more apparent when flipping between the pictures taken by both lenses.

Note the colour temperatures of the images from the two lenses.  The f1.4 version is warmer than the f1.7 version, but the colour changes slightly to the cooler side as the lens is stopped down on the Chinon 55mm f1.4.  These images were converted from RAW but with no adjustments for the white balance, or sharpness.

A note of Auto White Balance.  I have used digital cameras long enough to not to trust the consistency of automatic white balance.  The colours sometimes change seemingly without any change in ambient temperature.  This happens with Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony, in my experience. I always shoot RAW and if necessary, adjust colour before the RAW conversion, but NOT in this test.

Wide Open

Wide open, both lenses are very good in the centre, with the f1.7 version slightly better at the edges.  On both lenses, the left side is less sharp than the right side, a possible cause of the adapter that I use is not perfectly flat.  Not shown in the crops, but the Chinon 55mm f1.4 vignettes quite a bit more than the 55mm f1.7.  You can see the left edge of both lenses are quite poor wide open, but on the 55mm f1.7, it's quite a bit sharper on the right side.  Both lenses show good sharpness at the center but contrast is a bit low.

Wide Open.  Click on the picture to see a 100% crop.

At f2.8

By f2.8, both lenses sharpened up quite a bit more at the center, but the left edges are still poor on both lenses.  Contrast has improved markedly and the right edge has become very good on the 55mm f1.7 but remains blurry on the f1.4.

f2.8.  Click on the picture to see a 100% crop.

At f5.6

At this aperture, both lenses are quite sharp across the frame.  Note the 55mm f1.4's left edge.  The change is like day and night, though the right edge is still no match for the 55mm f1.7, which by this time, is as sharp as the center.

f5.6.  Click on the picture to see a 100% crop.

At f11

This is probably the optimum aperture for sharpness across the frame for both lenses.  A very slight softness caused by diffraction can be seen in the center of the frame, but not enough to cause concern.  Even at f11, the 55mm f1.4's right edge is still out performed by the 55mm f1.7.  Note the colour of the 55mm f1.4 is approaching that of the 55mm f1.7.  Strange how aperture affects white balance.

f11.  Click on the picture to see a 100% crop.

In Part III, we will compare the bokeh of both lenses.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Chinon 55mm f1.7 VS Chinon 55mm f1.4 - Part I

Chinon, founded in 1948, as a maker of lenses, was quite uninteresting and ordinary.  As far as I know, they didn't make any lenses consider exotic, or highly sought after, perhaps, with the exception of the Tomioka made Chinon 55mm f1.2.  It was one of the players in the universal (M42) mount market, dominated mostly by Pentax at the time.  They later switched to K-Mount and produced a lot of consumer grade cameras and lenses.  Chinon became a subsidiary of Kodak Japan in 2004 and I believe they still produce digital cameras/camcorders, amount other stuff. Two of the lenses they made (or marketed) was the 55mm f1.7, and the 55mm f1.4 that we are going to look at today.

There are at least 3 versions of the Chinon 55mm f1.4 in M42 mount.  One was originally marked Auto Chinon Tomioka 55mm f1.4, and later simply called Auto Chinon 55mm f1.4, and the last version had multi-coating applied.  All of these version were either made by Tomioka or designed by them.  I believe this lens also came in Pentax K-Mount.  A 55mm f1.4 Tomioka lens will fetch two to three times the amount of money then a lens simply called Auto Chinon 55mm f1.4, being the exact same lens.  To a lens collector, this might make a difference, but if you are just buying the lens to make photographs, it makes no sense to pay more.

The Chinon Brothers

For the Chinon 55mm f1.7, there are also multiple versions.  The original M42 version did not have multi-coating, and later ones did.  This lens also came in Pentax K-Mount.

In Part II, we will compare the images from the two lenses.

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.