Category Archives: review

X100S: Early Morning at High ISO

x100s high iso -2My first discussion on the X100S was mostly a general overview on first impressions.

So, just for fun, I decided to get up before sunrise on Saturday and kick around the streets of Corvallis with the new camera to practice a bit in some tough low-light conditions.

Most of the morning was spent at ISO 4000 and 5000.  A few of the shots are included here.  Nothing portfolio ready but hopefully they’ll give you a good idea of how well this camera handles at the higher ISO settings.

Though these are not straight-out-of-camera (they have been slightly modified in LR4.4), I purposely did not use the Noise Reduction Slider.

And just in case you’re curious, all shots were handheld, manual mode, in-camera noise reduction off, raw (not jpg), and auto white balance (only slightly adjusted on a couple of the shots – but not dramatically).

To be honest – I find this camera to be stunning in low light.

Hope you find these helpful.  If you have any questions or comments – just let me know.  x100s high iso -1 x100s high iso -5 x100s high iso -3 x100s high iso -4

We’re not in Cansas Anymore: A Weekend with the X100S

cameras-8 Back in the day, you know – those days when we shot film – my favorite camera was the Canon GIII – a little rangefinder with a fixed 40mm f1.7 lens.  I picked mine up used after borrowing one from a friend.  A great camera with a lot of personality.  Was it ever my go-to camera?  No, not really – but I sure enjoyed shooting it.

When the wave of mirrorless cameras started, I had hoped that it might be possible to find some of that charm in the digital world.  And a couple of times, it was close – both the Olympus EM5 and the Fuji X100 inspired me to some serious review reading – but neither prompted me to push the big “Buy” button.cameras-7

The Fuji X100S is similar in size to the Canon GIII (Canonet QL17) rangefinder.

And it was more than just this romantic notion of a cool compact camera that kept me looking.  I also wanted to go out with the family without lookingcameras-9 like I was on  assignment.

Then the X100S charged onto the scene with a reported snappier auto focus.  X-Trans sensor.  And Adobe looked like they were catching up.  A few early reviews.  Pre-ordered.  Delivered.

Bottom line: I find the X100S to be a great camera.  It’s capable, delivers remarkable images, and though there’s been a bit of learning curve – I’ve really enjoyed shooting with it.

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(Just a note about the photos – they shouldn’t be considered straight-out-of-camera (SOOC).  They’ve been post-processed in LR 4.4 and a few of them have seen some Nik software.)

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For the last eight and a half years – I’ve pretty much only shot Canon DSLR’s.  And those tools have complimented my shooting style for action, event, travel, and portrait.  So, to be honest, shooting those first few frames in the backyard with the X100S left me a bit underwhelmed.  Zack’s whole “best camera ever” was ringing a bit hollow for me (though it’s got to be one of the most creative camera reviews of all time).

So back to the camera manual.  Review the menu system. What does this button do again?

We’re not in Cansas anymore.

Then a day later it was off to the tulip festival with the family and the X100S dangling around my neck.  Tossed a couple of batteries, an extra memory card, and a lens cloth (just in case) in the jacket pocket.  And that’s it.  No camera bag.  Felt kinda odd – but nimble.  I almost felt bad for those folks with photo backpacks and full sized tripods – except I knew they were having fun.

x100s test -3 The Mt Angel Sausage Company is a staple at the tulip festival.

x100s test -2 Every X100S review requires a B&W street-inspired photo.

x100s test-10 Trying some close up shots on a steam tractor that was parked at the tulip festival.

Still missed a lot of shots.  Blurry.  Blown highlights.  Under exposed.  Sigh.

Early next morning to Newport, Oregon.  After getting soaked by some morning rain and hail it was kinda nice out there.  But my photos weren’t necessarily following the nice weather.

x100s test -4 Early morning sport fishing boats waiting for departure time.

x100s test -5 A minus tide exposes the footings on this pier.

x100s test -6Stairs leading up to the Yaquina Bay Bridge.

Then a quick afternoon outing with my daughter to Finley Wildlife Refuge (where it seems I test most new gear and lenses).x100s test -7

This barn at Finley makes an appearance in just about all of my gear / lens reviews.

x100s test -8  This oak tree should probably make it into more reviews.

And then another quick trip out to the Rogue Farm for a sheep sheering demonstration.  I still missed a few shots under some pretty tough lighting (the shot here is only at ISO2500 with 1/40 – but I tried some out at ISO5000 with 1/125 second).

x100s test -1 Sheering sheep at ISO2500.

A few notes:

Do I miss some shots having a fixed lens on the camera?  Sure.  But – as the adage goes – constraints drive creativity.

I’m still wrestling with the OVF and EVF.  I try to use OVF as much as possible – I find it brighter much of the time and I imagine it helps on battery life.  That said – there’s a need to remember to consider parallax when framing subjects that are close to the camera.

Battery life.  It’s nothing like your DSLR.  I bought two extra batteries straight away and I’m considering a third (I consider extra batteries and memory less expensive than missing the shot).

Lens hood.  Yes it sticks out and makes it less pocketable but it also makes it easier to hold while shooting (and likely helps with all of those other things that lens hoods are known to help with – such as flare and protection for that glass).  I consider it a must.  That said – the Fuji one is expensive.  Like surf-and-turf expensive – but it matches beautifully.  There are some other options out there.

I picked up a 49mm lens cap.  I highly recommend it with the lens hood as the spiffy cap that came with camera won’t work once the lens hood is attached.

One benefit of the fixed lens?  When I stop down to f16 – I don’t have to clean up the dust bunnies in LR.  🙂

More notes:

The maximum shutter speed at f2 is 1/1000.  On a bright sunny day that won’t be fast enough (it’s a physics thing with the leaf shutter).  Cleverly enough – there’s a 3-stop neutral density filter behind the lens (inside the camera).  I have it assigned to the Fn button for easy deployment (it’s not located in the Q-button menu and I wanted it close at hand).

LR 4.4.  If you’re considering any of the Fuji X series cameras – you’ve probably heard the tales of how Adobe hasn’t quite been able to handle the raw files all that well.  Update your Lightroom to 4.4 and don’t worry about it (I shoot only in raw except for sports).

I kinda wish the ISO5000 shots were good cuz I’d like to have shown them to you (my fault – not the camera).  But, instead, you’re only getting the ISO2500.

Did I mention that this thing is quiet?  I’ve turned off all of the helpful audible camera queues and when out-and-about in the real world – it’s essentially silent.

The camera has a bit of heft to it without feeling like a brick.

When you work with a tool like the 100S it requires you to roll up your sleeves and make something happen.  I kind of like that.

I wouldn’t recommend this camera to most folks.  And that’s OK.  It’s simply not the right tool for every environment or for every shooting style.

Unless your a current X100 owner – read the camera manual.  Yeah – I know, seems obvious.  And after you’ve read it once.  Read it again.  Go shoot a few frames – and then read it again.

The X100S is not your DSLR.  It feels, handles, and shoots much differently – and it will likely require a bit of learning curve.  But I think that if you’re looking for a camera with a compact form factor, large sensor, sharp lens, high ISO performance, and stunning IQ – this is definitely one to put on your list.

Of course, there are more reviews out there.  Be sure to check them out:

Hope that helps (at least a little).  If you have feedback, questions, comments, and/or more thoughts – just let us know.

Review: Lensbaby Sweet 35 Optic

Bottom line:  I think this is my favorite optic to date from the Lensbaby crew.  It’s a versatile focal length on crop sensor DSLR’s – and, to be honest, I dig the new integrated aperture ring.Sweet 35 for Blog (2 of 4)

Sweet 35 for Blog (12 of 1)

Now – I can’t say that Lensbaby was listening to Camera 47 – but here’s my comment on the aperture system from my first Lensbaby review back in January 2009 on the Composer coupled with the Double Glass Optic:

The aperture system sure seems like it could be better – something mechanical.  Instead, they use this awkward disc / magnet system.  Isn’t there some 1973 technology that could be leveraged here for a low cost?

But at the end of the day – it’s not all about the aperture ring – this is also a wider optic.  For all of us ~1.6x crop-sensor camera folks – this sits just about at that “normal” 50mm focal length (practically speaking).   Sweet 35 for Blog (3 of 4)

And between the improved aperture ring and shorter focal length – I just haven’t used the 50mm optic since the Sweet 35 arrived on my door step.

Sweet 35 for Blog (10 of 1)As for image quality – real world use would suggest that it’s on par with the 50mm Double Glass Optic.  Of course, somebody with much more skill in splitting pixels may disagree. The Svens at Imagine Coffee (4 of 5)The lens has an aperture range of f/2.5-22.  As I typically aim for a narrow depth of field – I tend to stay right around f/4.  The images I’ve included here aren’t necessarily ready for a spot above the fireplace – but hopefully they’re able to show you a bit about the lens (OK – the second one may not show you much – but I just thought it was a fun image….)    🙂   .

Now Featured at Eat Art!

EALogo-artfully I was trying to craft the perfect intro line to tell you all about Eat Art – but instead – let me just give you the first lines from their About page:

Eat Art is an eclectic collection of photographers, painters & designers committed to artfully ending hunger.  Whenever art or apparel is purchased, meals are sent to hungry children around the world.   You get the art … the kids get to eat.

Kinda cool, eh?

ScreenShotappBut – how does it work?

Well – let’s say you’re looking for a print for your living room or office.  You check out the Eat Art site and you see a print that you’d like to hang on your wall.   When you select your print size – alongside the prices – you’ll also see how many meals your buying.  If the print is $20 – well, you just bought 100 meals – enough to feed one child for a month.1-1-1 art

Their partner, Children’s Hunger Fund, then helps distribute the food in countries like Dominican Republic, Ghana, Peru, Haiti, Guatemala, Mexico, Nepal, Rwanda, Thailand, and Zimbabwe.

And right now – there is no paid staff.  So funds from art purchases, apparel, and donations go directly towards sending meals to kids and the creation of art.

As for the photos – in most cases they are printed using Endura Metallic photo printing from MPix (good stuff!).  And if you prefer a Canvas Gallery Wrap – they have those, too!

I’m also excited to let you know that among all of the great artists they already have on board over there – they’ve added some of my images, too.

So, check ‘em out – and then pass the word!

Check Out the New PhotographyBB!

Issue #45 of the digital magazine PhotographyBB is now available.  This new issue is packed with a number of different photo articles – and best of all – it’s free!

On top of that – I had the opportunity to be a guest author this month – writing an expanded version of my 11 tips for shooting hot air balloons.

You can find Issue #45 and all of the back editions here (just a heads up – registration required – but I found it to be pretty straightforward).

pbb45-hotairballoons

Bag Review: Timbuk2 Messenger + Domke Insert

For my “daily” shooting bag – I’ve been using the ThinkTank Retrospective 10.  A great bag that I reviewed last summer.  However – in Uganda – I figured I was going to be out in the field for some long hours – and I was probably going to want to a bit more gear on hand.bag reviews-6

What to do?  Well – I dug around the web for some options – but nothing really struck me as the solution I wanted to haul halfway across the world.  And as it turns out – I had this almost 10 year old Timbuk2 messenger around (medium) – and a Domke insert that I’d picked up out of curiosity.

So – how did the combo work?  In a word – great!

I could carry two cameras with lenses attached, another lens, a small water bottle or two, a table top Gitzo tripod, and the other stuff often found in camera bags – comfortably all day.

That’s not to say that it felt “weightless” – but it was quite comfortable.

The insert only extends to about 2/3 the width of the bag.  That extra space in the bag (below – it’s shown on the right side) – is where I stuffed my water bottles.  I had originally thought that I wanted water bottle holders or pockets on the outside of my bag – but – once in the field – it worked to be an advantage to have room in the bag for the bottles.

Of course – that extra room is also good for a light jacket, snack, and other stuff that you might want to throw in your bag.

As for the brown color – well – 10 years later – I might have ordered a black one (or a dark gray) – but hey, it was already in my closet.  And – it definitely didn’t look like a camera bag.

If you were to build this collection from scratch – it’ll probably be about $130-$140 after you add the Timbuk2 shoulder strap pad.

Bottom line?  Highly recommended for those times when you’d like to carry a bit more gear, have it quickly accessible, not spend a bunch of cash, and like to keep a low visual profile.

bag reviews-5

 

Bag Review: F-Stop Loka

Historically, I’ve picked my bags and backpacks with some rigor (really, that goes for most gear).  I’ll even admit that there have been times I’ve turned to spreadsheets to compare gear.

There I said it…   🙂

As for bags – I’m pretty picky.  Patagonia.  The North Face.  Mountainsmith.  Timbuk2.  Think Tank.  Dana Design.  MacPac (yes – my bag reviews-2current long trail pack beckons from New Zealand.  It’s a great pack).  And now F-Stop.

And though there appear to be a lot of great photo packs out there – I had some specific criteria:  slim design (overhead bin / carry-on friendly), could be considered for both trail and travel, and didn’t yell – “hey, look at me, I’m a camera bag.”

The reviews I found online were glowing for the F-stop Loka – but I wondered if it could really be that good?

So – it was with some nervousness that I ordered the pack and two ICU’s (Internal Camera Units) – the Small and Medium.  And, the next day, I received a very polite call from F-Stop letting me know that the color I wanted (green) was out of stock and not expected for 3-4 months.

With a bit of reluctance, I got the black one (which, of course, holds gear just as well as the green one).

The strategy with purchasing both the Small and Medium ICU’s was that when used together – they equal a large ICU – and maximizes the amount of photo gear that can be carried in the pack – but if I’m carrying less photo gear on a day hike – I could use one or the other – and have plenty of room for a jacket and lunch.

When the pack first arrived – it was quickly apparent that this was a backpack.  Maybe that sounds a bit funny – since it’s advertised as a backpack – but this isn’t simply a padded box with straps (which are great for some occasions) – this is a “real” backpack – ready for work.  (Woohoo!)

bag reviews-1My daughter saw the pack and said that it was a lot like her Hello Kitty backpack – except that this one was black – and a bit bigger.  Who am I to argue?  🙂

The first trip for the backpack was to Uganda.  I loaded it with cameras, lenses, batteries, chargers, filters, and a bunch of odds-n-ends.  After it was loaded – it both carried well – and fit easily in those cavernous overhead bins often found on the 747 / A300 type airplanes.

As for protection?  Well – I wasn’t keen on drop testing a fully loaded pack – but the padding seemed to be adequate – without being too much.

As for the zippers, straps, material, workmanship – all top notch.

The Cons?  Honestly – there’s not many – and mostly they’re my own nitpicks.

First: The waist belt is great – when you’re sloshing down a trail.  However – when trekking across an airport – I didn’t need it.  One of two things would help keep it out of the way when traveling: (1) a small little pocket/sleeve to slide it behind or (2) simply make it removable.

And second: I’m not super fond of F-Stop’s naming scheme for their backpacks.  Thankfully – it’s not plastered all over the pack.

Bottom line:  Of course, no camera bag is going to be perfect – but I was pleasantly surprised with this F-stop bag.  It’s a great pack.  Highly recommended.

More Hasselblad-to-EOS Tilt Adapter – this time at 50mm

Previously I wrote about the Hasselblad-to-EOS tilt adapter with the 80 f/2.8.  Brilliant glass – and a lot of fun – just a bit long.    So – I began scanning the pages of KEH – hoping to find a good bargain on a 50mm Hasselblad lens (anything wider than 50mm is quite expensive – especially for as often that I’d use the glass).

And pretty quickly – I found another “Bargain” lens.

After it arrived – I took it out for a morning shoot just to see how the whole combination worked.  And generally – I’d have to say – I liked it.

Of course – it’s Hasselblad glass.  And – if you haven’t yet had a chance to shoot with some of this old glass – it’s just fun.  I also liked the 50mm focal length – and the price was great.  However – after a bit of time with the lens – it became evident that this one had a rough spot in the focus ring – so – with some reluctance – I returned it.  Of course – KEH has been great throughout the process – and I look forward to working with them again.  I imagine they didn’t even know about the focus ring on this one before sending it out.  Heck – it wasn’t until I was already in the field shooting that I stumbled onto it.

But – as I had the lens out and about – here are a few of the images from it coupled to the Hasselblad tilt adapter on a Canon 50D.  Nothing here for the walls – but hopefully an idea of how it performed.

 

tilt 50mm test - sept 2011 - low res-4tilt 50mm test - sept 2011 - low res-5

tilt 50mm test - sept 2011 - low res-3

tilt 50mm test - sept 2011 - low res-6

Hasselblad-to-EOS Tilt Lens

tilt test - March 2011-8

Bottom line: For less than half the price of a new Canon tilt-shift lens – the Hasselblad-to-EOS tilt adapter plus a used 80mm Carl Zeiss Planar lens are a serviceable tilt alternative.  Some may not prefer the “mechanical” nature of this setup – but I dig it.

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A few years ago – I borrowed a neighbor’s Canon tilt-shift lens for a family portrait session – and – as you might imagine – it was very cool.  Since then – I’ve been looking for a reasonably priced tilt system.

There were essentially two options that I found:  used EOS tilt-lenses (still very cool – and still very expensive) – and tilt adapters.

tilt test - March 2011-3Of the adapters – there appeared to be two options: (1) hard to find – with few reviews or (2) DIY (plunger lenses and the like).

Now – I think the DIY route is pretty cool – but I was hesitant to commit to that path for daily use (though I’m persuaded it is the most economical path to tilt photography).

Of the hard-to-find adapters – a few have recently become available on Amazon in two flavors: the Pentacon 6 mount (the lenses that most folks talk about on the web for this application) and Hasselblad.

The P6 lenses seem to be reasonably priced – but can be tough to come by if you’re in North America.  I was considering one on eBay when I became intrigued by the Hasselblads – and found some used at KEH.  The one I settled on was a 80mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Planar C rated “Bargain” for under $350 (maybe ‘cuz it didn’t come with caps or a hood). The glass is essentially in new condition – and mechanically it’s clean and smooth.  This particular one is an older copy – and it’s chrome.

tilt test - March 2011-4And how rare are the Hasselblad-to-EOS adapters?  Well – the web seems to be pretty light on examples and write ups – except for a few images that have been posted to Flickr.  And – I guess as it’s Hasselblad – and not Pentacon 6 – the adapter is roughly twice the cost.

On Amazon – it’s listed as being made by Zykkor – and it does what it’s supposed to do.  It tilts from 0 to 8 degrees – and rotates 360 degrees (with about 12 stops within that rotation).  However – my copy was pretty dirty / grimy on the EOS side when I received it (from the machining process?). So – I spent a bit of time cleaning it with rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) and paper towels – then I took the rocket blower to it – and let it air dry for a few hours (pretty easy to let it just sit there – as the lens hadn’t yet arrived).

tilt test - March 2011-5The Hasselblad-to-adapter connection is pretty good – and the adapter-to-EOS connection is better.  Of course – don’t expect any lens information or auto settings to work.  Simply shooting your camera in either aperture priority or manual will likely work best.

It is possible to stop the lens down mechanically – but for these images – I kept the lens wide open (f/2.8).

As for the focal length – 80mm is a bit longer than I’d prefer – but it was the least expensive option.  As I understand – the 80mm lenses for medium format cameras are much like the 50mm’s for SLR’s – good quality, abundant, and lower cost than other fixed lenses in its class.

As for the trio of tree photos?  They’re from one of my favorite spots to test lenses – Finley tilt test - March 2011-7Wildlife Refuge.  Now none of these photos are magazine covers – but my primary purpose was to test the tilt and the glass.

So – why isn’t everyone running to pick these systems up? Well – a few reasons – I think.

First – there’s no “shift” with this system.  Serious architectural – and some landscape folks will want to be able to control the perspective with “shift”.

Second – well – the parts can be hard to find.  For example – the Pentacon 6 lenses seem to be mostly hanging out in Europe and there doesn’t appear to be a lot of copies available in North America.  As for the adapters – they seem to be floating around in dusty corners of the web (though – as mentioned above – a few have recently popped up in the Amazon marketplace – and some are available on eBay).

tilt test - March 2011-9Third – not everyone is interested in tilt photography.  It’s sort of a niche.

And fourth – it’s a pretty mechanical setup, has manual focus, and (in this case) manual aperture setting.

So – Hasselblad?  Pentacon 6? Which system to go with?  Probably doesn’t matter a whole lot.  If you can get your hands on Pentacon glass – you’ll likely pay less – and still be quite happy with the results.  But – I just liked the idea of shooting with some of that vintage Zeiss glass.

Blog Update: Check out the new Gear & Resources Tabs

If you look up towards the top of this blog – you’ll see Home and About and two new spiffy tabs – one for Gear and another for Resources.  Under those tabs – you’ll find lists of the gear I use – and resources that I recommend.

No fluff – no filler – no extra calories.  This is simply the gear that I drag into the field (not the stuff sitting at home getting dusty) – and the resources that I recommend to friends when they have questions.

As for my gear – let me just warn you –  it’s not all of the cool sparkly stuff – or the latest and greatest from the most recent trade show.  I’m a part-time photographer – and the tools I use need to be durable – and often sit in (what I consider to be) that sweet spot between performance and price.  I’m not here to tell you that the brand I use is better than another brand – these are just the tools I’m using today to make photos.

So – check it out the new tabs and let me know how I can make them better.